The Silver Maple
Author of "Duncan Polite"
THE WESTMINSTER COMPANY LIMITED
I. IN THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS II. A NEW NAME III. WINNING HIS SPURS IV. "CAPE CANADA" V. THE REFORMATION VI. AN IGNOMINIOUS TASK VII. THE AVENGING OF GLENCOE VIII. THE END OF THE FEUD IX. RALPH STANWELL AGAIN X. IN THE REALMS OF GOLD XI. THE WEAVER'S REWARD XII. A WELL-MEANT PLOT XIII. THE VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS XIV. THE VOYAGEURS XV. THE SECRET OF THE NILE XVI. RE-VOYAGE XVII. THE PROMISED LAND
THE SILVER MAPLE
IN THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS
Like the great rest that cometh after pain, The calm that follows storm, the great surcease, This folding slumber comforts wood and plain In one white mantling peace. —WILLIAM WILFRED CAMPBELL.
The storm was over, the snow had ceased falling, and under its muffling mantle, white and spent with the day's struggle, lay the great swamp of the Oro. It seemed to hold in its motionless bosom the very spirit of silence and death. The delicately traced pattern of a rabbit or weasel track, and a narrow human pathway that wound tortuously into the sepulchral depths, were the only signs of life in all the white stillness. Away down the dim, cathedral-like aisles, that fainted into softest grey in the distance, the crackling of an overburdened twig rang startlingly clear in the awesome hush. The tall firs and pines swept the white earth with their snow-laden branches, the drooping limbs looking like throngs of cowled heads, bent to worship in the sacred stillness of a vast temple. For the forest was, indeed, a place in which to wonder and to pray, a place all white and holy, filled with the mystery and awe of death.
But suddenly into this softly curtained sanctuary came a profaning sound; a clear, joyous shout rang through the sacred aisles; and, down the narrow pathway, leaping over fallen logs, whipping aside the laden branches and scattering their snow-crowns in a whirling mist about him, destroying, in his ruthless progress, both the sanctity and the beauty of the place, came a human figure, a little figure, straight and sturdy, and as lithe and active as any other wild, forest-creature. His small, red-mittened hands, the scarlet woollen scarf about his neck, and his rosy cheeks made a bold dash of colour in the sombre gloom, as his abounding life disturbed the winter death-sleep.
On he came, leaping from log to log like a hare, and setting the stately forest arches ringing to a rollicking Scottish song, tuneful and incongruous,—
"Wi' a hundred pipers an' a', an' a', Wi' a hundred pipers an' a', an' a', We'll up an gie them a blaw, a blaw! Wi' a hundred pipers an' a', an' a'!"
But as he plunged down the hill into the grey depths he suddenly ceased singing. The awe of the place touched his child's spirit. Reared in the forest though he had been, he suddenly felt strangely unfamiliar with his surroundings. He had never before experienced anything like fear in the woods. The rigours of seven Canadian winters had bred a hardy spirit in this little backwoodsman, and besides what was there to dread in the forest? It had been his playground ever since he was first able to steal away from Granny and toddle off to "the bush" to gather blue flags and poke up the goggle-eyed frogs from their fragrant musk-pools. But here was something unfamiliar; a strange uncanny place the swamp seemed to-day; and, being Nature's intimate, he fell into sudden sympathy with her awe-stricken mood.
He sped silently forward, glancing fearfully down the dim, shadowy aisles, so ghostly, so mysterious, dreading he knew not what.
"Eh, eh, it will be a fearsome place," he whispered. "It's jist,—eh, it must be the 'valley of the shadow'!" And then he suddenly remembered the psalm that Granny had taught him as soon as he could speak,—
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
He whispered it over from beginning to end, not because he comprehended its meaning as applied to his case, but because it was associated with Granny and all things good, and, therefore, gave him a sense of comfort. For he felt as though he were home by the fireside, and she was smoothing his curls and singing those words, as she so often did when he was falling asleep.
"And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
As he whispered the last line he reached the top of the hill and suddenly emerged from the valley of shadows and fears into the light of day. Just ahead lay a clearing, with the rose-coloured sunset flooding its white expanse and glowing between the dark tree-stems. He ran forward with joyful relief and leaped out into an open world of beauty, all ablaze in the dazzling rays of the setting sun. Here was light and safety—yes, and friends!
He had emerged upon the public highway, known in that part of the country as the "Scotch Line," and there, coming swiftly down the glittering hill, was a low, rough sleigh, drawn by a pair of bell-less horses. The driver was an elderly man, tall, straight, and fierce-looking, with a fine, noble head and a long, sweeping, grey beard, which gave him a patriarchal appearance. By his side sat a young man, almost his exact counterpart in face and figure, but lacking the stately dignity of years. Behind, on the edge of the sleigh, swinging their feet in the snow, sat two more youths, both showing in face and figure unmistakable signs of close relationship to the elderly man on the front seat.
As the little figure came bounding out from the forest the whole quartette broke into a welcoming shout. With an answering whoop the boy darted forward and pitched himself upon the sleigh.
"Horo, Scotty!" "Woohoo!" "How's our big college-student?"
He was caught up and flung from one to another like a bundle of hay, until he landed, laughing and breathless, in the arms of the driver. Big Malcolm MacDonald stood the boy up between his knees, his deep eyes shining with pride.
"Hey, hey!" he cried. "And how's our big man that will be going to school?"
The boy's dark eyes were blazing with excitement.
"Oh, Grandad, it would jist be fine! It's jist grand! An' me an' Big Sandy's Archie and Peter Jimmie is all readin' in one place, an' the master says I can read jist fine, whatever!"
"Didn't you get a lickin'?" demanded a voice from the rear of the sleigh.
The bright face suddenly fell, one could never aspire to be a hero until one had braved the master's tawse.
"No," was the reluctant admission. "The master would be jist fearsome to the big lads, but he would not be saying anything to me. But," he added, brightening, "I would be having a fight!"
"Horo!" the three young men laughed delightedly. "That will be a fine start, jist keep it up!" cried the youth on the front seat.
"Hoots, whist ye, Callum!" cried the elder man, reprovingly, while his dancing eyes contradicted his tongue. "What will his Granny be sayin' to such goin's on, an' the first day at school, too!"
"And who would you be fightin', Scotty?" asked Uncle Rory, leaning eagerly forward.
"Danny Murphy!" he announced truculently, "an' I would be lickin' him good, too!"
There was a chorus of joyous approval.
"Good for you!" shouted Callum; "jist you pitch into any o' yon Irish crew every time you get a chance!"
"Be quate, will ye, Callum!" cried his father more sternly. "The lad will be jist like yerself, too ready with his fists, whatever. A brave man will never be a boaster, Scotty, man."
The would-be hero's head drooped; he looked slightly abashed.
"What would Danny be doin' to you?" inquired Callum.
At the question, the proud little head came up swiftly.
"He said—he said!" cried its owner, stammering in his wrath, "he said I would be an Englishman!"
Small comfort he received, for the report of this deadly insult produced yells of laughter.
"Yon was a black-hearted Irish trick, an' jist like one o' Pat Murphy's tribe, whatever," said Callum, with a sudden affectation of solemnity that somewhat appeased the child's rising indignation.
"An' you would be pitchin' into him good for his lies, wouldn't you?" inquired Rory, encouragingly.
The boy looked up shyly at his grandfather. "A wee bit," he admitted modestly.
The father glanced significantly at his eldest son. "School will be the place to learn many things," he said in a low tone. The young man laughed easily. "He's bound to be finding it out some time, anyway," he answered, but not so low that the boy's quick ears could not catch the words. He looked up intently into the faces of the two men, a startled expression in his big eyes. Then he suddenly scrambled out from between them, and went behind to where Hamish, his youngest uncle, sat. He felt vaguely that he was approaching some strange, unforeseen trouble, and Hamish was always sympathetic.
The sleigh had been moving swiftly through long, narrow forest aisles, and now it suddenly turned into view of a small farm, a "clearing," plentifully besprinkled with snow-crowned stumps and surrounded by the still unconquered forest, dark and menacing, but sullenly and slowly retreating.
Here was a home, nevertheless; a home wrested by heroic struggles from the wilderness. In the centre, on the face of a little sloping hill, stood the citadel of this newly-conquered territory,—a farmhouse and out-buildings.
They were all rough log structures, but the dwelling house had about it the unmistakable atmosphere of a home. Around it, even under the snowdrifts, were vague signs of a garden; from the low, wide chimney poured forth a blue column of smoke; and at one of the windows a candle twinkled cheerfully; both speaking of warmth and welcome within, very grateful in the chill, winter dusk. And at the side of the house, on a small knoll, spreading its bare branches over the roof as though to shield the home from the biting blasts, grew a gigantic silver maple, a welcome shelter alike in summer and winter.
As the sleigh swept past the house on its way to the barn. Big Malcolm pushed the boy gently forward. "Run away in, Scotty, man," he said; "see, Granny will be watchin' for you at the window."
Scotty hesitated; he wanted to go on to the stable, and there give Rory and Hamish a more detailed account of his glorious battle of the morning. But Granny was expecting him, and he must not disappoint her; even Callum dared not do that, and Callum dared almost anything else. So the boy leaped down and ran swiftly up the rough little pathway. At his approach the old, weather-beaten door flew open; and he sprang into a pair of outstretched arms.
A NEW NAME
Outside, the ghostly rampikes, Those armies of the moon, Stood while the ranks of stars drew on To that more spacious noon,—
While over them in silence Waved on the dusk afar The gold flags of the Northern light Streaming with ancient war. —BLISS CARMAN.
Scotty lay stretched before the wide fireplace, his tousled, curly head upon his small, brown hand, his eyes fastened dreamily upon the glowing mass of coals. He was waiting anxiously for the rest of the family to join him. Supper was over; and just as soon as his grandfather and "the boys" returned from the barn he was going to recount, for the fourth time, the great events of this, his first day at school. He felt like a hero just returned from an overwhelming victory. The whole family seemed conscious of his added importance. Even Bruce, his collie dog, sat close beside him, poking him occasionally with his nose, that he might have a share in his master's glory. And as for Granny, she stopped every few moments in her work of straining and putting away the milk to exclaim:
"Eh, eh, but it's Granny would be the lonesome old body this day without her boy!"
The little candle on the bare, pine table shed only a small ring of light, and the goblin shadows danced away from the wide hearth into the corners of the room. In the darkest one stood an old four-post bed with a billowy feather mattress, covered by a tartan quilt. Beside it hung a quantity of rough coats and caps, and beneath them stood the "boot-jack," an instrument for drawing off the long, high-topped boots, and one Scotty yearned to be big enough to use. In another corner stood Granny's spinning-wheel, which whizzed cheerily the whole long day, and beside it was a low bench with a tin wash-basin, a cake of home-made soap and a coarse towel. There was very little furniture besides, except a few chairs, the big table, the clock with the long chains and the noisy pendulum, the picture of Queen Victoria, and the big, high cupboard into which Granny was putting the supper dishes. This last article of furniture was always of great interest to Scotty. For away up on the top shelf, made doubly valuable by being unattainable, stood some wonderful pieces of crockery; among them a sugar-bowl that Granny had brought from the old country, and which had blue boys and girls dancing in a gay ring about it. Then there was the glass jar with the tin lid in which Grandaddy kept some mysterious papers; one piece was called money. Scotty had actually seen it once, in Grandaddy's hands, and wondered secretly why such ugly, crumpled, green paper should be considered so precious.
"An' would Peter Lauchie not be coming across the swamp with you, m' eudail bheg?" his grandmother was asking for the fifth time.
"Noh!" The boy's answer was quick and disdainful. Somehow he would rather Granny would not pat his head and lavish endearing Gaelic epithets upon him to-night; such things had been very soothing in the past when he was sleepy and wanted to go to bed; but now he was a big boy, going to school, and had fought and defeated in single combat one of the MacDonalds' enemies, and he could not be expected to endure petting.
"Why, Granny!" he cried, "I would be knowing the road all right. Peter Lauchie jist came to his clearin', and I would be coming to the line all alone, and then I met Grandaddy an' the boys there."
"Eh, indeed, it is the great man you will be, whatever," she said, regarding him wistfully. This child, her last baby, and the best-beloved, was growing up swiftly to manhood, and like all the others would soon have interests beyond her. "An' would Granny's boy not be fearing to cross the swamp alone?" Her voice was almost pleading. She bent down, and her thin, hard hand rested caressingly on his dark, tumbled curls. She yearned to hear him confess himself her baby still. He threw back his head and looked up into her tender, wrinkled face; and one little hand went up suddenly to caress its rough surface. For Scotty had a heart quite out of proportion to the size of his body, and a look of grief on Granny's face could move him quicker than the sternest command of his grandfather.
"Yes," he confessed in a whisper, "I would be fearing jist once, and then I spoke the piece about 'the Lord is my Shepherd' and then I wouldn't be minding much. Sing it, Granny."
So Granny sang the Shepherd's psalm in Gaelic, as she went slowly about her household tasks; sang it in a thin, quavering voice to a weird old Scottish melody that had in it the wail of winds over lone heather moors, and the sob of waves on a wild, rock-bound coast. She came and went, in and out of the dancing ring of fire-light, a tall, thin figure, stooped and aged-looking, apparently more from hard work than from advanced years. But her toil-bent frame, her rough hands and coarse grey homespun dress could not quite hide the air of gentle dignity that clothed her. There was a certain lofty refinement in her movements; and on her wrinkled face and in her beautiful grey eyes the imprint of a soul that toil and pain had only strengthened and sweetened. Hers was the face of a woman who had suffered much, but had conquered, and always would conquer through faith and love.
To the little boy on the hearthstone, at least, the thin, stooped figure and worn face made up the most beautiful personality the world could produce. But he turned to the fire, and his dreams floated far away beyond the ring of fire-light, and beyond Granny's gentle voice. For he had entered a new world that day, the great new world of school, and his imagination had a wider field in which to run riot.
He was still dreaming, and Granny was half-way through the psalm for the second time, when the stamping of snowy feet at the door announced the return of Big Malcolm and his sons. Callum came swinging in first, Callum who was such a gay, handsome, rollicking fellow that he was Scotty's hero and copy. The boy sprang up, pitching himself upon him, and was promptly swung over the young man's shoulders, until his feet kicked the raftered ceiling. Scotty yelled with glee, Bruce leaped up barking, and the room was in an uproar.
"Hooch! be quate!" shouted Big Malcolm. "It is a child you are yourself, Callum!"'
At the sounds of the noise and laughter a small figure stirred in the shadowy chimney-corner, the figure of a little, bent, old man, with a queer, elfish, hairy visage. He sat up and his small, red eyes blinked wonderingly. "Hech, hech, and it will be the cold night, Malcolm!" he said in Gaelic.
"A cold night it is, Farquhar," cried Big Malcolm, piling the wood upon the fire. "But we will soon be fixing that, whatever."
"It will be a good thing to be by a warm fire this night," continued Old Farquhar solemnly, "och, hone, a good thing, indeed!"
Outside the wind had once more gathered its forces, and was howling about the house, and the swaying branches of the silver maple were tapping upon the roof as though to remind the inhabitants that it was still there to protect them. But the little old man shivered at the sound, for he had once known what it was to be homeless on those hills over which the blast was sweeping.
How Old Farquhar came to be a member of Big Malcolm MacDonald's family no one could quite tell. He was one of those unattached fragments of humanity often found in a new country. A sort of wandering minstrel was Farquhar, content so long as he could pay for a meal or a night's lodging at a wayside tavern by a song, or a tune on his fiddle. Thus he had drifted musically for years through the Canadian backwoods, until homeless old age had overtaken him. Four years before he had spent a summer at Big Malcolm's, helping perfunctorily in the harvest fields, working little and singing much, and when the first hard frost had set the forest aflame he had gathered his poor, scant bundle of clothes into his carpet-bag preparatory to taking the road again.
"And where will you be going for the winter?" Big Malcolm had asked.
"She'll not know," said Old Farquhar, glancing tremulously over the great stretches of dying forest, "she'll not know."
"Hooch!" cried his host angrily, "sit down with ye!" He snatched up Old Farquhar's carpet-bag and flung it into a corner, and there it had lain ever since.
And in another corner, the warm one by the chimney, Old Farquhar had sat every winter since, too, smoking his pipe in utter content. Always in summer his Bohemian nature asserted itself again, and he would take his stick and wander away, remaining, perhaps, for months; but as soon as the silver maple beside the house began to turn to gold he would come hobbling back, sure of a warm welcome in the home where there was no stint.
The family gathered about the cheerful hearth: every one of them, to Scotty's great delight, for there was not half the fun at home when "the boys" went off in the evenings. At one side of the fire sat his grandmother, her peaceful face bent over her knitting, and opposite her Big Malcolm smoking and happy. Hamish, as usual, retired to the old bench behind the table, and with the one candle close to him, was soon absorbed in a book. In some miraculous way Hamish always managed to have reading material at hand, though the luxury sometimes cost him a tramp half-way across the township of Oro. Near the fire, balanced uneasily on the woodbox and whittling a stick, sat Callum; for Callum could never sit down quietly, even at home. Callum Fiach, or Wild Malcolm, they called him in this land of many MacDonalds, where the dearth of names necessitated a descriptive title. Unfortunately, Callum's especial cognomen was quite appropriate and the cause of much anxiety to his gentle mother. But Scotty thought it was fine; he intended to be just like Callum when he grew up. He would stand up straight and grand and cut down great trees and fight the Murphys, and go off in the evenings and be chaffed about having a sweetheart. Rory was always teasing Callum about Long Lauchie's Mary, and Scotty was resolved that, when he was big, he would go to see Mary's sister, Betty; for then he and Callum could go together. He cordially despised the chosen Betty as a girl and a cry-baby, who gave her brother, Peter, endless trouble; but he was determined to shirk no task, however unpleasant, that would make him more like his hero.
When they were all ready to listen to him, the boy seated himself upon a bench beside Rory, and proceeded to relate once more to his admiring family the wonderful experiences of the day; the greatness of the schoolmaster; the magnificence of the school itself; the prowess of Peter Lauchie and Roarin' Sandy's Archie, how they declared they weren't afraid of even the master; the number of boys old McAllister could thrash in a day, and the amount he knew; such fearsome long words as he could spell, and the places he could point out on the map! He chattered on to his delighted audience; but for some strange reason he made no further allusion to his fight.
When there was no more to tell, Rory crossed the room and with elaborate care took down a box from a shelf above the bed. From it he tenderly took out a violin, and after much strumming and tuning up he seated himself upon a chair in the middle of the room and struck up the lively air of "The MacDonalds' Reel." Scotty leaped to the floor; Rory's fiddle could do anything with him, make him dance with mad joy until he was exhausted, stir him up to a wild longing to go away and do deeds of impossible prowess, or even make him creep into the shadows behind Granny's chair and weep heart-broken tears into her ample skirts.
To-night the tune was gay, and Callum came out into the ring of light, and sitting astride a chair with his arms crossed over its back, put his nephew through the intricacies of the Highland Fling until he was gasping for breath. Granny saw, and stopped the dance by a nod and smile to Rory; the music instantly changed to a slow, wailing melody, and the boy dropped into a chair and sat gazing into the fire, dreaming dreams of mystery and wonder.
Then they all sang old-fashioned Scottish songs; songs that were old before Burns came to give Scotland a new voice. And Old Farquhar struck in, during a short pause, with one of Ossian's songs of war-like doings and glorious deaths. He sang in a cracked, weird voice to a wild Gaelic air that had neither melody nor rhythm, but somehow contained the poetic fire of the impromptu songs of the old bards. Rory followed, putting in a note here and there; but as the song wavered on and showed no signs of coming to an end, he struck up, "The Hundred Pipers an' a' an' a'," and drowned out the old man's wail. Then Burns was not forgotten, and they were all in the midst of "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon," a song that always made Scotty's heart ache as though it would burst, he knew not why, when the door opened suddenly, letting in a rush of frosty air, and a visitor.
No one ever knocked at a neighbour's door in the Canadian backwoods, and James MacDonald, or Weaver Jimmie, as he was called, was such a familiar figure at Big Malcolm's that even Bruce merely raised his eyes as he entered. Mrs. MacDonald smiled her welcome, Big Malcolm shoved forward a chair, and the music flowed on uninterrupted.
Weaver Jimmie was a young man, short, and thick-set. He was something of an anomaly; for, while he was the coolest fighter in the township of Oro, and gloried in strife, he was nervous and embarrassed to the verge of distraction when in company, particularly if it consisted of the fair sex. This diffidence partly arose from the fact that poor Jimmie was hopelessly ugly, and painfully aware of his shortcomings. His chief characteristics were a brilliant and bristling red beard and a pair of long, flat feet. He realised to the full that these obtrusive features were anything but things of beauty, and found them a sorrow forever in his vain attempts to conceal them.
At Big Malcolm's invitation he moved up to the fire in nervous haste, and with a deprecating smile; dropped suddenly into a chair, and tilted it back in imitation of Callum's easy nonchalance; but finding the character difficult to maintain in view of his feet, he suddenly came down to the horizontal once more, and in so doing descended upon poor Bruce's tail. That unoffending canine uttered a yelp of pain, echoed by Scotty, who sprang to comfort him; and Rory, whose musical ear had been irritated by the disturbance, suddenly drew his bow with a discordant rasp across the strings, and ended the melodious song with a long, wolf-like howl.
"Hoots, toots, Rory lad!" cried his mother reproachfully. "Come away, Jimmie man, come away to the fire, it will be a cold night indeed."
But Weaver Jimmie was so overcome by his embarrassing mistake that, instead of obeying, he backed away into the shadows like a restive horse.
"And how will all the folk in the glen be, Jimmie?" asked Big Malcolm.
Under cover of the conversation that ensued, Rory gently drew his bow across the strings, and softly sang an old ditty that had an especial meaning for their guest—
"Oh, Jinny banged, Jinny banged, Jinny banged the Weaver! Ah cackled like a clockin' hen, When Jinny banged the Weaver!"
Callum Fiach's eyes danced, and Weaver Jimmie laughed sheepishly. He took off his cap, replaced it again, smoothed his whiskers furiously, and then gazed around as if seeking a means of escape.
"Don't you be heedin' the lad, Jimmie," cried Mrs. MacDonald. "It is jist his foolishness."
"Hooch," cried Weaver Jimmie, with a fine assumption of disdain, "it's little I'll be carin' for the likes o' him, whatever."
"D'ye think she'll ever have you, Jimmie?" inquired the musician with great seriousness.
"I'll not be knowing for sure," replied the Weaver, throwing one knee over the other in a vain attempt to appear at ease. "She would be lookin' a deal better these days, though!" he added, hopefully, as though the young lady of his choice had been suffering from some wasting disease.
"Hang me, but I believe I'll go sparkin' Kirsty John myself!" said Callum resolutely. "I'll be wantin' a wife bad when the north clearin' is ready, and I believe Kirsty's got a fancy for me."
"You'd better be mindin' your own business indeed, Callum Fiach!" cried Weaver Jimmie, with a sudden fierceness that contrasted strangely with his habitual diffidence. "She will be a smarter woman than you'll be ever gettin' with your feckless ways, indeed!"
"Well, I'm afraid there isn't much chance that you'll be gettin' her either," said Callum very seriously. "Man, she would be givin' you a fine black eye the last time you asked her."
Scotty turned away impatiently. The boys always seemed to get a great deal of fun out of Weaver Jimmie's tempestuous love-affair, but he found it very uninteresting. He slipped under the table, clambered upon the bench beside Hamish, and stuck his curly head between the book and the young man's face; for he had long ago discovered this to be the only effectual means of bringing Hamish back to actualities. Such a proceeding would not have been safe with Callum or Rory, but Hamish was always patient. "What ye readin', Hamish?" he inquired coaxingly.
"Jist a book," said Hamish dreamily. "Be careful of it now. It belongs to the Captain!"
"Captain Herbert? The Englishman Grandaddy hates?"
"Yes; whisht, will ye? I didn't get it from him, though. Kirsty John's mother had it, and lent it to me."
"Was you ever at the Captain's place?"
"Is it fearful grand?"
"Yes, I suppose so. But I would jist be at the back door. Take care, now, and let me read!"
"The back door!" Scotty's eyes ranged wonderingly round the walls. With the exception of the trap-door leading to the loft the house had but one opening. "Eh, the Captain's folks must be awful grand, Hamish, to be having two doors to their house."
Hamish laughed. "There's grander things than that there; there's carpets on the floor, an' a piano to play on, an' a whole roomful o' books! Losh!" he exclaimed, "I'd like to get my hands on them jist for a day!"
"How did Kirsty John's mother get this one?"
"The lady that lives there lent it to her. Kirsty's mother used to work for them. Go on away now, and let me read!" for the boy was running his fingers through the pages. "There's no pictures; go and play with Bruce."
But Scotty had turned to the fly-leaf and had discovered some writing. "What's that, Hamish?"
Hamish read the inscription, which was written in a round boyish scrawl, "Isabel Douglas Herbert, from her loving cousin, Harold."
"The boy's the Captain's son, and the little girl is his niece. I saw her once at Kirsty's. She's a pretty, wee thing."
"Huh!" Scotty was disdainful. "I don't like girls. They will jist be cry-babies. Is the boy as big as me?"
"He's a little bigger, I guess. He goes to school away in Toronto."
"Bet I could fight him. Is Toronto away over in the old country?"
"No, it's in Canada. Be quiet. I want to read."
"Oh! Is Canady very far away?"
"No, it's right here; this is Canada."
"Oh! An' will the school-house be in Canady too?"
"An' the Captain's house?"
"Oh! An' all, Oro, an' Lake Simcoe? What will you be laughing at?"
"Wait till old McAllister learns you some geography. You'll hear something about Canada that'll surprise you, whatever."
"It won't be as big as the old country, though, will it?" But Hamish did not answer. He was far away with David Copperfield once more. The boy raised the fly-leaf and took another peep at the name. He sat very quiet for a few moment's and then he crept closer to his uncle, a red flush creeping up under the tan of his cheeks, his black eyes shining.
"Hamish!" he whispered, "Hamish, will that be an—English name?"
"Eh? What name?" Hamish awoke reluctantly to the troublesome realities. "I'll not know."
"Aw, tell me, Hamish!"
"My, but you will be a bother! Yes, Herbert will be an English name, but Isabel Douglas is Scotch, an' a fine Hielan' name, too. But what in the world would you be wanting to know for?"
Scotty hesitated. He hung his black, curly head, and swung his feet in embarrassment; but finally he looked up desperately.
"Do you know what made Danny Murphy say I was an Englishman?" he whispered.
Hamish stifled a laugh. "It would likely jist be his natural Irish villainy," he suggested solemnly.
But Scotty shook his head at even such a natural explanation. "No, it would not be that, it would be—because—the master said it, Hamish!"
"The master?" Hamish's look of amusement changed to one of deep interest. "Why? What would he be saying?"
The boy glanced around the room apprehensively, but the rest of the family were still absorbed in Weaver Jimmie. "When we would be coming into the school," he whispered hurriedly, "the master would be calling all the new ones to the front. An' he says to me, 'What's your name, child?' An I says, 'It's Scotty,—Scotty MacDonald.' An' he says, 'Hut tut, another MacDonald! Yon's no name. Whose bairn are ye?' An' I told him I belonged to Grandaddy an' the boys; an' he says,—an' he says, 'Oh tuts, I know you now. You're Big Malcolm's English grandson!' He would be saying that, Hamish! An' he wrote a name for me; see!" He had been growing more and more excited as the recital proceeded, and at this point he jerked from his bosom a torn and battered primer that had done duty in the few days that Hamish had attended school. Under the scrawling marks that stood for Hamish's name was written in a fine scholarly flourish, "Ralph Everett Stanwell."
"Humph!" Hamish gazed at the book, and a look of sadness crept into his kind, brown eyes. He glanced across the room at his father. Weaver Jimmie had just departed, and Callum was leaning over the back of his chair laughing immoderately, while Rory was out in the middle of the floor executing a lively step-dance accompanied by voice and fiddle to the words, "Ha! Ha! the wooin' o't!"
"Look here, father," called Hamish, "do you see what the schoolmaster would be writing in Scotty's book?"
Big Malcolm took the primer, adjusted his spectacles, and moved the little book up and down before the candle to get the proper focus. "Ralph Everett Stanwell," he read slowly. "What kind o' a name would that be, whatever!" he cried, with a twinkle in his eye.
"It's got a fearsome kind of a sough to it," said Callum apprehensively.
"It will be an English name!" cried Scotty fiercely, "an' Peter Lauchie would be saying it is jist no name at all!"
The young men burst into laughter, which served only to increase their nephew's wrath. He sprang out upon the floor, his black eyes blazing, and stamped his small foot.
"I'll not be English!" he shouted. "It's jist them louts from the Tenth is English! An' I'll be Hielan'. An' it's not my name!"
"Eh, eh, mannie!" cried his grandmother gently. She laid her hand on the boy's arm and drew him toward her. "That will be no way for a big boy that will be going to school to behave," she whispered. The child turned to her and saw to his amazement that her eyes were full of tears. His sturdy little figure stiffened suddenly, and he made a desperate effort for self-control.
"But it would be a great lie, Granny!" he faltered appealingly.
"Hoots, never you mind!" cried his grandfather, with strange leniency; and even in the midst of his passion Scotty dimly wondered that he did not receive a summary chastisement for his fit of temper. There was a strange, sad look in the man's eyes that alarmed the child more than anger would have done.
"Granny will be telling you all about it," he said, rising. "Come, lads, it will be getting late."
The three young men followed their father out to the stable. Ordinarily they attended to the evening duties there themselves, but to-night Big Malcolm wished to leave the boy alone with his grandmother, realising that the situation needed a woman's delicate handling.
This new proceeding filled Scotty with an added alarm. He clambered up on his grandmother's knee as soon as they were alone and demanded an explanation; surely that English name wasn't his. He whispered the momentous question, for though Old Farquhar was snoring loudly in his corner, Bruce was there, wide awake and looking up inquiringly, as though he could understand.
And so, with her arms about him, Granny told him for the first time the story of his birth. How Granny had had only one little girl, older than Callum, eh, and such a sweet lassie she was; how just when they had landed in Canada she had married a young Englishman who had come over with them on the great ship; how they had left them in Toronto when they came north to the forests of Oro; how their baby had come, the most beautiful baby, Granny's little girl wrote, and how she had written also that they, too, were coming north to live near the old folks when,—Granny's voice faltered,—when the fever came, and both Granny's beautiful little girl and her Englishman died, and Grandaddy and Callum had journeyed miles through the bush to bring Granny her baby, and how Kirsty John's mother had carried him all the way, and how he was all Granny had left of her bright lass!
At the sound of grief in his grandmother's voice, the child put up his hand to stroke her face, and found it wet with tears. Instantly he forgot his own trouble in sympathy for hers, and clasping his hands about her neck he soothed her in the best way he knew. He scarcely understood her grief; was Granny crying because he was only an Englishman after all? For to him, bereavement and death were but names, and in the midst of abounding love he had never realised the lack of parents.
He had often heard of them before, of his beautiful mother, whose eyes were so dark and whose hair was so curly like his own; and how his father had been such a fine, big, young man, and a gentleman too, though Scotty had often vaguely wondered just what that meant. But that his parents had left him an inheritance of a name and lineage other than MacDonald he had never dreamed. And now there was no denying the humiliating truth; his father had been an Englishman, he himself was English, and that disgraceful name, at which Peter Lauchie had sneered, was his very own. Henceforth he must be an outcast among the MacDonalds, and be classed with the English crew that lived over on the Tenth, and whom, everyone knew, the MacDonalds despised. Yes, and he belonged to the same class as that stuck-up Captain Herbert, who lived in that grand house on the north shore of Lake Oro, and whom his grandfather hated!
He managed to check his tears by the time the boys returned, but during prayers he crouched miserably in a dark corner behind Hamish, a victim of despair. He derived very little comfort from the fact that Grandaddy was reading, "And thou shalt be called by a new name"; it seemed only an advertisement of his disgrace. He wondered drearily who else was so unfortunate as to be presented with one, and if it would be an English name. And afterwards, when they had gone up to the loft to bed, he crept in behind Hamish, and cried himself to sleep because of that, which, in after years, he always remembered with pride.
WINNING HIS SPURS
The Saxon force, the Celtic fire, These are thy manhood's heritage! —C. G. D. ROBERTS.
Old Ian McAllister, schoolmaster of Section Number Nine, Oro, was calling his flock into the educational fold. It was no clarion ring that summoned the youths from the forest, for the times were early and a settlement might be proud to possess a school, without going to the extremity of such foolishness as a bell, and Number Nine was not extravagant. But the schoolmaster's ingenuity had improvised a very good substitute. He stood in the doorway, hammering upon the doorpost with a long, flexible ruler, and making a peremptory clatter that echoed far away into the arches of the forest and hastened the steps of any tardy youths approaching from its depths. Good cause they had to be expeditious, too, for well they knew, did they linger, the master would be apt to resume the bastinado upon their belated persons when they did arrive. This original method had other advantages, from the schoolmaster's point of view, for, as his pupils crowded past him through the narrow doorway, he had many a fine opportunity to transfer occasional whacks to the heads of such boys, and girls, too, as he felt would need the admonition before the day was over, and who could not manage to dodge him. So those approaching the school, even before they came within sight of the place, could reckon exactly the state of the master's temper, and the number of victims sacrificed thereto, by the intermittent sounds of the summoning stick. Indeed, Number Nine possessed an almost superhuman knowledge of their master's mental workings. When he was fiercest then they were most hopeful; for they knew that, like other active volcanoes, having once indulged in a terrible eruption he was not likely to break forth again for some time. He was quite dependable, for his conduct followed certain fixed rules. First came about a fortnight of stern discipline and faithful and terrifying attention to duty. During this period a subdued and busy hum pervaded Number Nine and much knowledge was gained. For Ian McAllister was a man of no mean parts, and, as the trustees of the section were wont to boast, there was not such another man in the county of Simcoe for "bringing the scholars on—when he was at it." But the trouble was he could never stay "at it" very long. A much more joyous, though less profitable, season followed, during which the schoolmaster's energies were taken up in a bitter and losing fight with an appetite for strong drink. Poor McAllister had been intended for a fine, scholarly, upright character, and he struggled desperately to maintain his integrity. But about once in two months he yielded to temptation. During these "spells," as Number Nine called his lapses from duty, he still taught, but in a perfunctory manner, being prone to play practical jokes upon his pupils, which, of course, they returned with interest. When he finally succumbed in sleep, with his feet on the desk and his red spotted handkerchief over his face, Number Nine took to the bush and proceeded to enjoy life. That they did not altogether give themselves over to unbounded riot was due to the fact that the master's awakening might occur at any moment. And well they knew he was apt to come out of his lethargy with awful suddenness, with a conscience lashing him for his weakness and with a stern determination to work out tremendous reparation for the lost hours.
But Number Nine suffered little from this changeable conduct. They had studied their master so faithfully that they could generally calculate what would be the state of his temper at a given time, and guided themselves accordingly. Indeed, Roarin' Sandy's Archie, a giant MacDonald who had attended every winter since the schoolhouse was built, could tell almost to a day when the master was likely to relax, and he acted as a sort of barometer to the whole school.
But to-day McAllister showed no signs of relaxation as they dodged past him and scrambled into their places. The room was soon filled, for the winter term had commenced and all the big boys and girls of the section were in attendance. The schoolroom was small, with rough log walls and a raftered ceiling. Down the middle ran a row of long forms for the younger children, and along the sides were ranged a few well carved desks, at which the elder pupils sat when they wrote in their copy-books. At the end nearest the door stood a huge rusty stove, always red-hot in winter, and near it were a big wooden water-pail and tin dipper. At the other end of the room stood the master's desk, a long-legged rickety structure, with a stool to match, from which lofty throne the ruler of Number Nine could command a view of his realm and spy out its most remote region of insubordination. Behind him was the blackboard, a piece of sheep-skin used as an eraser, and an ancient and tattered map of Europe.
Scotty was already in his place; he had hurried to his seat as soon as he arrived for fear someone might ask him his name, and in dread lest he might be claimed by those English boys from the Tenth, whom his soul loathed.
He had started to school at a time when the several nationalities that were being welded together to make the Canadian race were by no means one, and he had inherited all the prejudices of his own people. Number Nine was a school eminently calculated to keep alive all the small race animosities that characterised the times; for English, Irish and Scotch, both Highland and Lowland, had settled in small communities with the schoolhouse as a central point.
The building was situated in a hollow made by a bend in the Oro River; to the north among the green hills surrounding Lake Oro, was the Oa, a district named after a part of Islay, and there dwelt the Highlanders; all MacDonalds, all related, all tenaciously clannish, and all such famous warriors that they had earned the name throughout the whole County of Simcoe of the "Fighting MacDonalds," a name which their progeny who attended Number Nine School strove valiantly to perpetuate.
From the low-lying lands at the south, a region called the Flats, which sloped gently southward until it sank beneath the blue waters of Lake Simcoe, came the Irish contingent, always merry, always quarrelling, and always headed by young Pat Murphy and Nancy Caldwell, who were the chief warriors of the section.
And over on the western plains that stretched away from the banks of the Oro, on a concession locally styled "the Tenth," lived a class of pupils whose chief representative had been overheard by a Highland enemy to say, as he named the forest trees along his path to school, "That there's a hoak, an' that there's a hash, an' that there's a helm." Though the youth bore the highly respectable and historic name of Tommy Tucker, he was forever after branded as "Hoak" Tucker, and his two innocent brothers were dubbed, respectively, "Helm" and "Hash."
One more nationality was represented in Number Nine, those who approached the school-house with the rising sun behind them. They were Scotch to a man; what was more, they proclaimed the fact upon the fence-tops and made themselves obnoxious to even the MacDonalds, for after all they were only Lowlanders, and how could the Celt be expected to treat them as equals?
When this heterogeneous assembly had all passed under the rod and seated themselves, the master tramped up to his desk and a solemn hush fell over the room. This was remarkable, for unless McAllister was in an unusually bad humour Number Nine buzzed like a saw-mill. But this morning the silence was intense and ominous, and for a very good reason. For only the evening before Number Nine had for once miscalculated their ruler's condition, and a flagrant act of disobedience had been perpetrated. McAllister had commanded that all fighting cease, and in the face of his interdict the MacDonalds and the Murphys, according to the established custom of the country, had manfully striven to exterminate each other. For between the Oa and the Flats there was an undying feud; partly hereditary, and partly owing to the fact that Pat Murphy considered it an impertinence on the part of anyone to come from the north when he chose to approach from the opposite direction.
During school-hours a truce was preserved, all factions being united against a common foe; but as soon as school was dismissed the lines of demarcation became too obvious to be overlooked. The outlandish Gaelic the MacDonalds spoke when among their brethren, their irritating way of gathering clan-like for the journey home, always aroused resentment in the breasts of the assembling Murphys. So, five o'clock fights had long ago become one of the institutions of the school, and in the winter when the big boys were present the encounters were frequent and sanguinary.
The schoolmaster objected to all strife in which he had no part, and since the opening of the winter term he had set his face like adamant against this international warfare. But his opposition served only to increase the ardour of the combatants. In vain he scolded and thrashed. In vain he imprisoned the Scots until the Hibernians had had a reasonable time to make an honourable retreat. The liberated party only waited behind stumps and fallen logs, with the faithfulness of a lover to his tryst.
So at last McAllister arose in his might and announced that the next time such an affair occurred he would thrash the leaders of each party within an inch of their lives. On such occasions the schoolmaster was not to be trifled with, and for a few days even the Murphys were cowed.
But as time passed there grew up between the belligerents a tacit understanding that just as soon as the master entered upon a less rigid frame of mind they would settle the fast accumulating scores.
So the night succeeding Scotty's first day at school they felt the time was ripe. Roarin' Sandy's Archie assured all that a fight would be perfectly safe. The master's tropical season was already overdue some days, and on the morrow he was sure to be jolly. So the forbidden campaign had opened just a day too soon. It proved to be an Armageddon, too; Lowlander and Highlander, Sassenach and Hibernian, they battered each other right royally, and now here they were ranged before their judge to find to their dismay that he was clear-eyed, clear-headed, and ready to inflict upon the culprits the severest penalties of the law.
The strange, tense atmosphere filled Scotty with vague alarm. He felt that the air was pregnant with disaster. Danny Murphy nudged him when the master closed his eyes for prayer and whispered that "Somebody was goin' to get an awful hidin', likely the MacDonalds." Prayers were extremely lengthy, always a bad sign, and Scotty felt his hair rise as at their close the master banged his desk lid, and glared fiercely about him. Perhaps McAllister was going to thrash him for pretending he was a MacDonald, he reflected fearfully.
The master lost no time in going straight to the point, he knew his period of weakness was coming over him with overwhelming rapidity; one more visit to that which lay in his desk would, he knew, destroy his judgment; and struggling desperately to do what he deemed right, he put his fists firmly upon the desk lid as if to crush down the tempter and proceeded to business.
"So, ye've been fighting again!" he cried, fixing the row of bigger boys with his eye. "Ye uncivilised MacDonald pack, an' ye savage Murphy crew! Tearin' at each other like wolves! Aye! Roarin' an' rantin' an' ragin' like a pack o' blood-hounds! Ah, ye're nothing but a pack o' savages! Jist uncivilised savages! But Ah'll have no wild beasts in my school. Ah'll teach ye! Ah'll take some o' the fight out o' ye!" He glared meaningly at Peter Lauchie, one of the most bellicose Highlanders, but that young man dodged cleverly behind Pat Murphy's broad shoulders. "Ye'll think Ah'll not find ye out?" the master shouted triumphantly. "But Ah'll soon do that! Aye, it was at the Birch Crick ye were fightin' like a pack o' wild beasts; ye thought ye were far enough away to be safe. But Ah'll find out who started it!" His eye ranged quickly round the room and fell upon Scotty, sitting open-mouthed straight in front of him. McAllister was not above extorting information from the younger pupils, and Scotty went by the Scotch Line and could be made to tell. "You, Ralph Stanwell!" he cried, fixing the boy with an admonitory finger. "Yon's your road. Now, jist tell me all about this fight!"
Now, Scotty, in his eagerness to get home, had taken the short road across the swamp and knew nothing of the affray. But he scarcely heard the master's question; he had caught only that hateful name, the name that made him an alien from the MacDonalds and classed him with that baby, "Hash" Tucker, who was even now weeping behind his slate lest his big brother should be thrashed. Scotty's face flushed crimson, his hands clenched.
"Are ye deef?" roared the master. "Answer me my question, Ralph Stanwell!"
The boy leaped as if he had been struck. "That will not be my name!" he cried defiantly.
McAllister glared at him with wild bloodshot eyes; under other circumstances he would have been ashamed of the part he was playing; but now his nerves were raw and his temper was rendered wild by his craving.
"Are ye ashamed o' yer name, ye young English upstart?" he roared.
That opprobrious epithet "English" swept all fear and discretion from Scotty's mind. "I'll not be English!" he shouted back, "I'll be Scotch, an' my name will jist be MacDonald, whatever!"
A low growl of approval came from the region of the MacDonalds at the back of the school, and Peter Lauchie MacDonald, who was Scotty's next of kin, came out from behind Pat Murphy and snorted triumphantly. The master reached out his powerful arm and swept the boy up onto his desk, holding him there in a terrible grip. "Ah'll MacDonald ye!" he shouted, shaking him to and fro. "Another MacDonald to be a wild beast in the school! Ah'll knock the MacDonald out o' ye! Ye young English wasp, ye!"
Scotty's face was white; but he remembered Callum and held his lips firmly to keep from crying out. Peter Lauchie half rose, "He'll be no more English than you!" he shouted. The master turned; he was facing rebellion. "Peter MacDonald," he said in a low, thrilling tone, "you will go out and cut me a stick, an' when Ah've taught this ill piece with it Ah'll break it over your back!"
Peter Lauchie's defiance melted in the white glare of the master's wrath. He arose and stumbled sullenly out of doors on his unpleasant errand. Scotty had been placed in his especial care both by the boy's grandmother and his own mother, and his soul writhed under the master's command. Outside the door he paused, weighing the chances of returning without the weapon; the master's tawse had been removed the night before, and he might put off the day of judgment until the judge collapsed. As he stood, miserably irresolute, a low hiss sounded from beneath the door. Roarin' Sandy's Archie had crept to it on all fours. "Don't be hurryin' back," he whispered eagerly, "I'll tell ye when to come!"
Peter Lauchie stepped behind a hemlock and peeped through the window. The first glance convinced him of the wisdom of his friend's advice; delay was the watchword, for trouble had arisen in a new quarter.
At one of the side desks near the platform sat Nancy Caldwell. Nancy was the biggest girl in the school and the only person in the township of Oro whom old McAllister feared. She was a handsome girl, belonging to one of the leading Protestant families of the Flats; she was bold and fearless and had withal such a feminine ingenuity for inventing schemes to circumvent the schoolmaster that he regarded her with something akin to superstitious awe.
Nancy had a big, Irish heart, and it swelled with indignation when Scotty was put up for execution. She shrewdly guessed that McAllister was nearing the limit of his strength, and thought she might try a tilt with him. So as he tramped angrily up and down the platform, she reached out, when his back was turned, and whisked the boy under her desk.
"Lie still!" she whispered. "Sure, I'll murder him if he touches ye!"
McAllister marched over to her, his arm raised threateningly; the girl sat and stared coolly back. For a moment the baffled man stood glaring at her. He would rather have met all the big boys in concerted rebellion than Nancy Caldwell, and felt that he must be fortified within before he could successfully combat her. He stepped up to his desk and clutching a half-empty bottle from it, drained the contents.
The tension of the school was immediately relaxed; the pupils nudged each other and giggled and Nancy Caldwell laughed aloud and pulled Scotty out from his hiding place.
As everyone expected, McAllister sank into his chair and glared sheepishly about him, making a desperate attempt to retain his dignity.
Peter Lauchie stepped out from his post of observation, with a light heart; and strolled off leisurely in search of a weapon. Since the master was now on his way to a better frame of mind, Peter was not the one to retard his happy progress; so he sauntered about, knowing that Roarin' Sandy's Archie would summon him when the time was ripe.
His commander did not fail him. With the keen eye of an old campaigner, Roarin' Sandy's Archie saw the moment to strike. The master had worked up a little energy and was again making for Nancy; now was the time to divert his attention; he beckoned to his henchman. As Peter Lauchie entered he showed himself a worthy follower of a worthy leader, for he strode solemnly up the aisle, dragging in his wake a respectably-sized hemlock tree, the branches of which swept up the floor and whipped the boys and girls in the faces, evoking shrieks of laughter. He paused before the master's desk and solemnly handed him the sapling.
"Here's the switch to hide Scotty MacDonald, sir," he said with great seriousness, and a fine emphasis on the name.
The master turned like an animal at bay, and the school broke into a torrent of laughter. He grasped the tree and raised it above his head. "Ah'll batter the cursed impidence out o' ye, ye curse o' a MacDonald!" he roared, making a drive at the boy.
But Peter Lauchie knew that the master need not now be taken seriously; he darted down the aisle, McAllister after him, bearing his clumsy weapon, and mowing down all within three yards of his path. The boy leaped over the wood box, dodged round the stove, upset the water pail over the girls and came careering back.
Number Nine rose to the occasion; their year of Jubilee, so long delayed, had come at last. The boys joined in the chase, and soon the master became the pursued as well as the pursuer. The girls shrieked and fled to the wall, all except such amazons as Nancy Caldwell and Roarin' Sandy's Teenie, who joined in the race, materially assisting Peter by getting in the master's way or catching hold of his flying coat-tails.
The chase did not last long; the prey, exhausted, fled out of doors and the master subsided into a chair. He brought the school to some semblance of order and made a feeble attempt at teaching. But by the afternoon he was uproariously genial. He spent an hour conducting a competition in which the boy who could stand longest on the hot stove received the highest marks, and finally went to sleep with his feet on the desk and his red handkerchief spread over his face.
But the affair was not without material benefit to Scotty. In his gallant refutation of the charge against him, and in the miraculous way he had averted the master's vengeance, he had won a place in the heart of every MacDonald. Thereafter, no one outside the clan dared give him his English name, and at last the fact that he possessed one almost faded from his friends', as well as his own, mind.
The ocean bursts in very wrath, The waters rush and whirl As the hardy diver cleaves a path Down to the treasured pearl. —GEORGE HERBERT CLARKE.
The days sped swiftly, and Scotty learned many things both in and out of school. In the latter department his chief instructor was his nearest neighbour. Peter Lauchie was fourteen, and a wonderful man of the world in Scotty's eyes; but in spite of the great disparity of years the two were much together. From his companion Scotty learned many great lessons. The first and cardinal principle laid down was that all who hailed from the Oa must wage internecine war upon the Flats and must despise and ignore all English and Lowlanders. Another was that one might as well make up one's mind to attend to business during McAllister's glacial period, but that, when a more genial atmosphere pervaded the school, the farther one went in inventing new forms of mischief the more likely was one to become a hero.
Peter Lauchie further explained that all Pat Murphy's crew were nothing but Fenians. He pronounced the evil word in a whisper, and added in a more sepulchral tone that the Caldwell boys and a lot more Irish from the Flats, yes, and "Hoak" Tucker's people, too, were Orangemen. These terrible disclosures filled Scotty with vague alarm; for, though he strove to keep his companionship a secret, there could be no doubt that most of his time at school was spent in the very pleasant company of Danny Murphy and "Hash" Tucker; and furthermore that, since the day she had saved him from old McAllister's clutches, Nancy Caldwell had been the bright, particular star of his existence. He had no doubt that Nancy returned his devotion, either; for she brought him big lumps of maple sugar and the rosiest apples, and was always anxious that he should share her cake. Of course, she was apt to exact payment for these favours, and would chase him all over the school and kiss him in spite of his fiercest struggles. But, nevertheless, Nancy held his heart. Surely she could not be anything very wicked. Fenians he knew something about; the Fenian Raids had been talked of in his home ever since he could remember. Orangemen might not be quite so bad. He made up his mind he would ask Hamish all about it.
There was quite a little circle of friends about the fire that evening; Long Lauchie MacDonald and three of his grown-up sons had come over for a chat, and of course Weaver Jimmie was there, having been turned out of Kirsty John's house at the point of the potato masher.
Like most of the Highlanders, Long Lauchie was aptly described by his name. He was a tall, thin, attenuated man. Everything about him seemed to run to a point and vanish; his long, thin hands, his flimsy pointed beard, even his long nose and ears helped out his character. He rarely indulged in conversation, coming out of an habitual reverie only occasionally to make a remark. Nevertheless he was of a sociable turn and was often seen at Big Malcolm's fireside.
The company sat round in a comfortable, hump-backed circle, emitting clouds of smoke and discussing the affairs of the Empire; for these men's affections were still set on the old land, and that which touched Britain was vital to them.
Then Old Farquhar started upon a tale, so long and rambling that Rory took his fiddle and strummed impatiently in the background. Scotty understood enough of Gaelic to gather that it was the story of a beautiful maiden who had died that night when her father and brother and lover lay slain in the bloody massacre of Glencoe.
Impatient of the high-flown Gaelic phrases, Scotty flew to Hamish, and his indulgent chum put aside the book and told him the story, and why the MacDonalds hated the name of Orange. Scotty went back to the fire, his cheeks aflame with excitement. Hereafter he would fight everything and anything remotely connected with the name of Orange. See if he wouldn't!
The conversation had turned to quite a different subject. Weaver Jimmie had the floor now, and had almost forgotten his embarrassing appendages in the thrill of relating his one great story; the story of how his brother fought the Fenians at Ridgeway.
"Eh, eh," sighed Long Lauchie, "it would maybe be what the prophets would be telling, indeed, about wars and rumours of wars!"
For Long Lauchie not only saw sermons in stones, and books in the running brooks, but discerned in the everyday occurrences about him fulfilment of dire prophecy.
"Hooch!" cried Big Malcolm, "I would rather be having a Fenian raid any day than an Orangeman living in the same township."
Long Lauchie sadly shook his head and went off into a series of sighs and ejaculations, as was his way, receding farther and farther until his voice died away and he sat gazing into space.
"Aye, indeed, and mebby you'll be gettin' one," cried Weaver Jimmie, wagging his head. "Pete Nash himself told me that Dan Murphy and that Connor crew an' all them low Irish would be saying at the corner the other night that they would jist be gettin' up a Fenian Raid o' their own some o' these fine days, an' be takin' the Glen, whatever."
"Horo!" Callum Fiach arose and came forward, the joy of a conflict dancing in his eyes. "Hech, but I wish they would!"
"Whisht ye, Callum!" cried his father sternly. "Let the evil one alone. I'll have no son o' mine mixin' with such goin's on!"
The young man eyed his father laughingly. "You'd stay at home if there was a Fenian Raid, wouldn't you?" he asked teasingly.
Big Malcolm glanced uneasily towards his wife. His was a hard position to fill amid the fighting MacDonalds; his whole life was a struggle between his inherited tendencies and his religious convictions. He preached peace on earth and good will towards all men; and believed implicitly that the meek should inherit the earth; but his warlike spirit was always clamouring to be up in arms, and sometimes, in spite even of the strong influence of his wife, it broke all bounds. He shook his head at his son's raillery and made no reply. Not for a long time had he yielded to temptation, but he felt it was not safe to boast.
"Well, if the Fenians ever come to take Canady again, I hope I'll be there!" cried Rory gaily, breaking into an old warlike Jacobite air.
Weaver Jimmie threw one leg over the other, with great nonchalance. "They may take Canady, whatever; but they'll not be taking Oro!" he remarked firmly.
"Kirsty 'll be lookin' after Oro!" cried Callum. "Losh, but she'd bang the senses out of the wildest Fenian that ever grew, if she got after him!"
"They didn't take much when they did come," said Long Lauchie's Hugh. "Only a few bullets. Say, though, don't you wish you'd been there?"
Scotty listened, his heart torn with conflicting emotions. He wanted to fight the Fenians now, but with Danny a Fenian, and Nancy and Hash Orangemen, what would become of him? He guessed that Callum had some scheme afoot and he kept close to him all evening and heard him conferring with Long Lauchie's boys in low tones. There was something about the Murphys, and getting them stirred up, and finally a compact to all be at the glen the following afternoon.
The next day Scotty used all his powers to effect a journey to the glen, too. He had some difficulty, however, for it was Saturday and Granny wanted him with her; but by dint of assistance from Hamish he accomplished his aim, and in the afternoon he drove away on the front seat of the big sleigh between Grandaddy and Callum, full of exuberant joy.
The Glen was a small community at a bend in the River Oro, just a mile east of the schoolhouse. Though it was near his home, Scotty had not been in it since he was a baby. He was wildly eager to see the place. To him it was a great metropolis, for it contained a tavern and a store, yes, and a real mill where they made flour. And Hamish had promised to show him the great water wheel that made the mill go, and they were to spend an hour at Thompson's store, and most of all he was anxious to learn the outcome of the boys' mysterious plans of the night before.
The day was delightful, with all the world a gleam of blue and silver, the glittering landscape softened here and there by the restful grey tints of the forest. The blue skies with their dazzling white clouds, and the shimmering white earth with its bright blue shadows, were so bewilderingly alike that one might well wonder whether he was in heaven or on earth. The air was electric, setting the blood tingling, and, as the sleigh slipped along down the winding road that led to the river, Scotty churned up and down on the seat and could with difficulty restrain himself from leaping out and turning somersaults in the snow.
The highway suddenly emerged from a belt of pine forest and descended into a little round valley made by the bend in the river. Here lay "the Glen," the central point of the surrounding communities. Scotty grew quieter and his eyes bigger as they followed the winding steep road that led into its depths. There was the mill by the river, giving out a strange rumbling sound; and beside it the house of old Sandy Hamilton, the miller; and there, on the northern slope of the river bank, was Weaver Jimmie's little shanty, with the loom clattering away inside; and right at the corner stood Thompson's store and opposite it Peter Nash's tavern.
So many houses all in one clearing! Scotty could scarcely believe his eyes. And yet the poor little place had, after all, a greater importance than the child could imagine. The Glen was to the grown part of the community what the school was to the younger portion. It lay within the boundaries of the four different settlements, and as clearings began to widen and social intercourse became easier, it had gradually become a place where men met for mutual help or hindrance, as the case might be. Here the several nationalities mingled, and though they did not realise the fact, here they were laying the foundations of a great nation. Such a vast work as this could scarcely be carried on without some commotion; the chemist must look for explosions when he produces a strange new compound from diverse elements; and it was, therefore, no wonder that the crucible in the valley of the Oro was often the scene of much boiling and seething. Then the tavern came, with its brain-destroying fire, and sometimes after harvest, when the Fighting MacDonalds and the belligerent Murphys met before it, the noise of the fray might be heard in the farthest-off clearing of the Oa.
Scotty's eyes rested fearfully on the tavern. It was a common log building, wider than the ordinary ones and with a porch in front and a lean-to behind. To the boy its appearance was a great surprise and some disappointment. Grandaddy always spoke of it as "a den of iniquity"; and Scotty's fancy had pictured such a den as Daniel had been cast into, which he had seen many times in Granny's big Bible.
He was rather sorry they did not stop there, the inside might be more romantic; but he soon forgot it in the excitement of other scenes; for they went to the mill and Sandy Hamilton, all floury and smiling, took him down to where the water came thundering over the big wheel; and then, while the boys went off with the team, Big Malcolm took his grandson to the most wonderful place yet, the store.
This was the most important place in the Glen, and the man who kept it, James Thompson, or Store Thompson, as the neighbours called him, was the most important and influential member of the community. He was a fine, upright, intelligent man and was known far and wide for his learning. He possessed a vocabulary of polysyllables that never failed to confound an opponent in argument, and all the township could tell how he once vanquished a great university graduate, who was visiting Captain Herbert at Lake Oro. He was often identified by this illustrious deed, and was pointed out to strangers as, "Store Thompson, him that downed the Captain's college man."
Big Malcolm and Store Thompson, though the latter was a Lowlander, had been fast friends ever since they had come to Canada. They were slightly above the average pioneer in intelligence and had many interests in common; so for this reason, as well as a matter of principle, Big Malcolm avoided the tavern and spent his leisure moments with his friend.
As they entered, Store Thompson was busy weighing out sugar for a customer, and glanced up. He was a tall man, with a kind, intelligent face and a high, bland forehead. He wore steel-rimmed spectacles, but, when not reading, had them pushed up to the scant line of hair on the top of his head, and his pale blue eyes blinked kindly at all around. He stopped in the midst of his calculations to welcome his friends.
"Eh, eh, Malcolm, an' is yon yersel'?" he cried heartily. "It's jist a lang, lang time since Ah seen ye, man; aye, an' it's the wee man ye hae. It's a lang time since ye've been to the Glen; jist an unconscionably lang time; aye, jist that, jist unconscionably like!" He lingered over the word as he shook hands, and then, after inquiring for the wife and family, he turned his attention to Scotty, remarked upon his wonderful growth, and his sturdy limbs, asked him how he was getting on at school and if he could spell "phthisis."
Scotty hung shyly behind his grandfather, and as soon as the host's attention was turned from him he escaped. He seated himself carefully upon a box of red herring, and his eyes wandered wonderingly around the shop. It was a marvellous place for a boy with sharp eyes and an inquiring mind. Down one side ran a counter made of smoothed pine boards and behind it rose a row of shelves reaching to the raftered ceiling and containing everything the farmers could need, from the glass jar of peppermint drops on the top shelf to the web of factory cotton near the floor. The remaining space was crammed with merchandise. There were boxes of boots, bales of cloth, barrels of sugar and salt and kerosene, kegs of nails, chests of tea and boxes of patent medicines; and the combination of odours was not the least wonderful thing in this wonderful museum. Nothing escaped Scotty's eyes, from the festoons of dried apples suspended from the dark raftered ceiling to the pile of axe-handles on the floor in the corner. He sat utterly absorbed, while his grandfather and Store Thompson talked. There was much to tell on one side, at least, for Store Thompson and the schoolmaster took a weekly newspaper between them, and it all had to be gone over, especially the news from Scotland.
Store Thompson's wife, a bright, little red-checked woman came hustling in to greet Big Malcolm, and ask him in for a cup of tea. "Ah've had the Captain an' his sister an' the wee leddy to denner," she whispered proudly, "an' they'll jist be goin' in a minit, an' ye'll come an' have a cup o' tea with them, jist."
But Big Malcolm, who had arisen at her invitation, suddenly sat down again. His face darkened, and he stoutly refused the joint invitations of husband and wife. Then the lady espied Scotty in his corner, and bore down upon him; she secured a handful of pink "bull's-eyes" from a jar behind the counter, and slipped them into his chubby fist, patted his curly head and declared he was "jist Callum over again." And Scotty smiled up at her, well pleased at being likened to his hero; but when she caught his face between her hands and tried to kiss him, he dodged successfully; for, now that he was a big boy and going to school, not even Granny might kiss him in public.
When she had trotted back to her guests in the house, Scotty caught a few words of the conversation that aroused his interest.
"Ye hae the boys in wi' ye the day, Malcolm?" Store Thompson asked, with a note of anxiety in his voice.
"Yes?" Big Malcolm looked up inquiringly.
"Oh, Ah suppose it's jist naething, jist a—a triviality, like; but Ah see there's a great crood frae the Oa, the day, an' jist as many Murphys an' Connors; an' Ah heerd a lot o' wild talk aboot Fenians, an' the like. They would be sayin' Pat Murphy was a Fenian; an' that Tam Caldwell would be for sendin' him oot o' the Glen. Ah'm hopin' there'll be nae trouble."
Big Malcolm's face was full of anxiety. "Indeed, I will be hopin' so too," he said in an embarrassed tone. "You will be knowin' my weakness. I would not be hearin' about it. I hope the lads——"
"Oh, Ah suppose it's jist naething," said Store Thompson reassuringly. "Indeed it's yersel' that's past all sich things as yon, Malcolm, never fear."
But Big Malcolm shook his head; for years he had purposely avoided the Glen, to be out of the way of temptation; for the sound of strife was to him like the bugle call to a war charger. He fidgeted in his seat and looked anxiously towards the door.
Scotty went over to the window and stood watching the crowds of men come and go across the street.
He could not quite make out what was going on, but there seemed to be a great commotion, for a big crowd of men had suddenly appeared from nowhere. And there was Danny's father, and Nancy's father, apparently having high words; and yes, there was Callum right in the centre of the seething mass.
There were mingled cries of "Popery" and "Fenians" and "Orangemen." Then suddenly above the noise there came a roar, "The Oa! The Oa! MacDonald! MacDonald!"
"Grandaddy! oh, Grandaddy!" cried Scotty shrilly, "they're killin' Callum, they're killin' Rory!"
At the first sound of the MacDonalds' battle-cry Big Malcolm raised his head like a stag who has heard a challenge, and, at the boy's cry, he cleared the intervening space with one bound, flung open the door and shot out into the street.
"Malcolm, Malcolm!" cried Store Thompson in dismay, but Big Malcolm had heard the call to arms and nothing in the township of Oro could hold him back.
Scotty sprang to follow him, but Store Thompson closed the door, and his wife, who had re-entered, put her arms about the boy and drew him back.
"Ye mustna gang oot there, ma lad," said the storekeeper. "Yon's no place for a child; aye," he added, "an' no place for yer grandfather either!"
"Lemme go!" shouted Scotty, struggling equally with his captor and his sobs. "They—'re—killin'—Rory! Lemme go!"
"Yer Grandaddy said ye were to bide here, laddie, mind ye!" cried Store Thompson's wife soothingly.
At the reminder of his grandfather's commands Scotty collapsed. He retired to the window once more, bathed in tears of helpless rage. But another shout from the MacDonalds sent him flying again to the door, where he once more encountered the ample skirts of his keeper.
"Ah'd niver look Marget Malcolm in the face again, Jeames, if onything happened the bairn," she cried, struggling with Scotty's sturdy muscles. "He maun jist bide!"
"What in heaven's name is the matter with that child?" demanded a laughing voice from the rear of the shop. "Has he an attack of spasms?"
Scotty stopped struggling and looked up. In his absorption over the battle outside he had not noticed that three strangers had entered the shop with Store Thompson's wife, and he drew back abashed. The speaker was a short, well-built man under middle age, with an air and appearance quite different from the rough exterior of Scotty's own people. There was a look of command in his merry blue eyes and an air of superiority in his straight, trim figure, that impressed the child. The other two strangers stood back by the stove; one, a tall lady, the rustle of whose black silk dress gave Scotty a feeling of awe, the other a tiny girl, so wrapped up in furs and shawls that he could see nothing of her, except a bunch of golden curls.
"What's the matter with the confounded little fire-eater?" asked the man, coming forward.
"It's all his kin that's in yon fecht oot by, sir," said Store Thompson's wife apologetically. "The puir wee mannie!"
"Oh, I see; he's starting early. I never come to the Glen but you entertain me with a battle, James. A bad crowd, those fellows from the Flats. What's your name, youngster? Murphy, eh?"
"NO!" Scotty shouted the refutation in indignant horror. This was worse than being English! "It will be MacDonald!"
"Oh, by Jove, one of the Fighting MacDonalds!" The man burst into a hearty laugh. "I might have known."
"But yon's not yer real name, laddie," said Store Thompson's wife. "Tell Captain Herbert yer name; it's jist a fine one. He's Big Malcolm MacDonald's grandson, Captain, but his faether was an English gentleman, like yersel, an' his mither was a bonny, bonny bit lassie; aye, an' puir Marget lost her."
The man was gazing down at the boy absorbedly. "What's his name?" he demanded sharply. But Scotty stood silent and scowling. Confess his disgrace to this man whom he knew Granddaddy despised? Never!
"His patronymic," said Store Thompson ceremoniously, "is Stanwell, Captain; and his baptismal name is jist the same as his father's was, Ralph Everett; Ralph Everett Stanwell!"
When Store Thompson delivered himself of any such high-sounding speech he was always rewarded by signs of a deep impression made upon his hearers. He had come to look for such results; but he was totally unprepared for the expression of aghast wonder that his words produced in the face of Captain Herbert.
"Stanwell!" he cried, "Ralph Stanwell!" He glanced hurriedly at the two standing at the other end of the shop and an expression of relief passed over his face when he saw the tall lady was not attending. "It can't be!" he said, lowering his tone, "Captain Stanwell's child died with the parents!"
"No, sir," said Store Thompson wonderingly. "Big Malcolm an' his son brought him from Toronto when he was jist an infant."
The man still stood gazing down at the boy. Scotty's face was dark with anger. Store Thompson, who pretended to be his grandfather's friend, to publish his disgrace before these strangers! It was unbearable! "I'll not be English," he muttered. "I'll jist be Scotch, an' my name's MacDonald!" He clenched his fists and wagged his curly head threateningly. "He must be right," said the man eagerly. "He should certainly know."
Store Thompson shook his head smilingly. "He lives in the Oa, sir," he confided in a low tone, "an' he wants to be a MacDonald. But yon's his name, nevertheless!"
Captain Herbert turned away abruptly, as though he had not heard. "Eleanor, I shall be ready almost immediately," he said to the lady in the silk gown, and, with a hasty good-bye, he stepped outside, Store Thompson following. Scotty slipped out behind them; the fight was over, the Murphys and their friends were evidently retreating. He could see his grandfather's tall, commanding form in the midst of a victorious crowd. He drew a great breath of relief. As he stood gazing proudly at them, he felt his hand touched gently by little, soft, gloved fingers. He wheeled round to find a pair of big, blue eyes looking at him from out of the coquettish rim of a fur-trimmed hood. The eyes were very sympathetic. "I'm Scotch, too," came in a whisper from inside the wrappings, "an' it's nice to be Scotch, isn't it?"
Scotty's heart opened immediately; here was someone who evidently believed in him.
"But—but, won't you be Captain Herbert's little girl?" he asked, wonderingly.
"Yes," she answered with a baby-lisp, that made him feel very big and superior. "He's my uncle Walter; but my mamma was Scotch, an' my name's Isabel Douglas Herbert, an' Uncle Walter says I'm his Scotch lassie!"
"Oh!" Scotty looked at her with new interest. "An' you're Kirsty John's little girl, too, ain't you?"
"Yes," she cried delightedly. "Do you know Kirsty?"
"Oh, an' Gran'mamma MacDonald? An' Weaver Jimmie?"
"I love Jimmie; he tells lovely stories when I go to see Kirsty, 'bout fairies, an'—an' everything. Do you know any stories?"
A silken rustle in the doorway made Scotty draw back. "Come, Isabel," said the tall lady. She was a very pale lady, with a haughty, weary look in her eyes; and Scotty wondered how the little girl could catch hold of that silk dress so fearlessly.
"Goo-bye," she said, pausing a moment. "Goo-bye, little boy." She poked the fur-lined hood very close to his face, and Scotty drew back in alarm for fear she might be going to kiss him. The little girl looked disappointed, nevertheless she smiled radiantly.
"I like you," she whispered, "an' I'm comin' to visit you next time I go to Kirsty's; goo-bye!"
She danced off towards the sleigh, and was bundled in among the warm robes. She waved her hand to Scotty as they dashed away, and turned back to gaze at him standing on the step.
"Man," said Store Thompson, stamping the snow from his feet as he entered, "Ah niver saw the Captain act like yon before. He was jist,—aye, he was jist what Ah would call inimical; aye, jist inimical, like!"
Store Thompson was more perturbed over the hearty Captain's strange behaviour than he was over the commotion that had just taken place at his door. Such affairs were of too frequent occurrence to call for comment. But when Big Malcolm returned for Scotty, the fierce heat of the conflict still blazed in his eyes and his friend suddenly remembered what had happened.
"Eh, Malcolm, Malcolm, Ah'm sorry for this!" he cried. "These fichts are no work for a Chreestian man!"
"And would I be sitting here, James Thompson, an' see that piece o' Popish iniquity kill my son?" demanded Big Malcolm fiercely.
Store Thompson held up his hands. "What, what?" he cried, "would it be the Murphys and the MacDonalds again?"
"It was a Fenian raid, James!" shouted Tom Caldwell, coming up to the sleigh, with a proud swagger, "an' Malcolm here was helpin' us Orangemen put it down, sure!"
Weaver Jimmie, his diffidence all vanished, threw his cap into the air and shouted his old shibboleth, "They may take Canady, but they'll not be taking Oro!"
"The Orangemen 'll kape Canada!" cried Tom Caldwell reassuringly.
"Hoh, him an' his 'kape Canada,'" cried Callum Fiach in disgust, as he pitched himself into the sleigh. "Let's get out o' this!"
"Eh, eh!" cried Store Thompson, standing in the doorway to see them depart, "ye MacDonalds are aye too ready wi' the neeves!"
Big Malcolm took the reins and drove away without another word. The joy of battle was always succeeded by a season of depression. His old friend's reproof had already begun to work repentance in his breast.
The homeward drive was silent and gloomy. Even Callum forbore to talk; for he was uncomfortably conscious that he had had more to do with setting the Orangemen and the Catholics against each other than he would like Big Malcolm to know. He had not foreseen that all the MacDonalds would plunge into it, and his father with them, and was rather uneasy at the havoc he had caused. For this would bring sorrow upon the mother at home.
But Scotty could not be silent, he was alive with curiosity; and, taking advantage of his grandfather's gloomy absorption, he crept out from between the two on the front seat, and got close to the source of all knowledge, Hamish.
He overflowed with questions. Why should the MacDonalds be helping Orangemen? And hadn't Hash Tucker's father and a lot more from the Tenth been on their side, too? And how in the name of all nationalities did it happen that the Caldwells and the Tuckers came to be fighting together against the Murphys? And weren't Orangemen far worse than Fenians, anyway?
The confusion in Scotty's mind was like that which befell the builders of the Tower of Babel; and for once Hamish failed to satisfy him. He seemed rather ashamed of the fact that they had helped a Caldwell in battle, and was rather inclined to drop the subject.
That evening at home was something new to Scotty. A gloomy silence pervaded the place, and there was a look in Granny's eyes that made the boy want to put his head into her lap and cry. There were no prayers before they retired, either; there always came a stage in Big Malcolm's repentence which consisted almost entirely of religious exercises, but that was not yet.
Scotty felt vaguely that there was something terribly wrong, for the boys, even Hamish, went off after supper, and Old Farquhar did not sing his accustomed song before retiring. And when Scotty went up to bed in the loft he left Granny praying by the bed in the corner, and he could hear the steady tramp, tramp of his grandfather's feet up and down in the snow outside. He half woke late in the night and found that Hamish was beside him; the problems of the day were still troubling his dreams.
"Hamish," he whispered, "where's Cape Canady?"
"What?" growled Hamish sleepily.
"Where's Cape Canady? Tom Caldwell said somethin' about it, an' the Master learned the Fourth Class all about capes yesterday, an' he wouldn't be saying anything about that one!"
But Hamish was snoring; and outside the steady tramp, tramp of feet went up and down in the snow.
O strong hearts, guarding the birthright of our glory, Worth your best blood this heritage that ye guard! These mighty streams resplendent with our story, These iron coasts by rage of seas unjarred— What fields of peace these bulwarks will secure! What vales of plenty these calm floods supply! Shall not our love this rough, sweet land make sure, Her bounds preserve inviolate, though we die? —C. G. D. ROBERTS.
The fathers of the Scottish settlement were gathered about the stove in Store Thompson's shop. This emporium was a respectable rival of Pete Nash's tavern across the way. Anyone, weary of the noise and wrangling which characterised that lively establishment, might step across to Store Thompson's haven and find rest and quiet, a never-failing hospitality and a much better social atmosphere. To-night the company represented the best the settlement could produce, several of the MacDonalds and a few of the inhabitants of the Glen.
Big Malcolm was among them. It was his first visit to the Glen since the day of his disgrace, and he had not yet quite recovered his old genial spirits.
One small lamp burned dimly on the counter and the forms of boxes and barrels loomed up fantastically in shadowy corners. In the circle about the stove the men's faces shone out spectrally from the cloud of smoke produced by some half-dozen pipes.
As usual, Store Thompson was taking the lead in the conversation. He stood leaning over the counter in the little ring of light, his spectacles pushed up on his benign-looking forehead, his finger-tips brought carefully together. In company with the schoolmaster, Store Thompson had begun his winter's course of reading and was more than usually oratorical.
"Aye," he was saying, "a dictionary 's a graund institution; aye, jist a graund institution, like. When me an' the master now meets a word we dinna ken, we jist run him doon in the dictionary, an' there he is, ye see!"
"Oh, books will be fine things," said Big Malcolm, "but that Hamish of ours will jist be no use when he will be getting his nose into one, whatever. And he will be making the wee man jist as bad. Eh, it's him that'll make the reader!" His eyes shone as they always did at any mention of his grandson.
"Aye, Hamish is the man for the books!" cried Store Thompson enthusiastically. "How is he gettin' on wi' Ivanhoe?"
"Och, he would be finishing it the night after he brought it home, indeed; and now the little upstart will be trying his hand at it whatever."
"Feenishin' it in twa nichts!" cried Store Thompson, aghast at such extravagance. "Hut, tut! yon's no way to use a book. When me an' the wife read Ivanhoe last winter, we jist read a wee bit at a time for fear it wouldna last; it wes that interestin'. Aye, books is too scarce to be used yon way."
"And what will you and the master be reading, this winter, James?" inquired Long Lauchie, who had just returned from one of his mental excursions.
Store Thompson's face beamed. "Eh, it's a graund book this time, Lauchie, jist an Astronomy, like."
"Eh, losh, an' what would it be about?"
"All aboot the stars, aye an' the moon an' the constellations, like."
"Eh, eh!" Long Lauchie was very much impressed. "And would it be telling about the comets, whatever?"
Store Thompson stood erect and put his finger tips together.
"A comet," he declared solemnly, "a comet, Lauchlan, so far as Ah can mak' oot frae the book, is jist naething more nor less than an indestructible, incomprehensible combustion o' matter; aye, jist that, like."
There was an impressive silence. When Store Thompson took his flights through the vast spaces of knowledge he was always hard to follow, but when he soared to the heights of astronomy the district fathers felt him to be unapproachable.
"'Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion.'" The silence was broken by a deep, rolling voice; a voice so powerful that even when softened, as it now was, it gave the impression of vast possibilities. The speaker was like his voice, huge and strong; the thick, waving hair covering his massive head, and his bushy beard were a dark iron-grey, which, with his strong features and bristling eyebrows, gave him the appearance of a man carved from iron. It was Praying Donald, the earliest pioneer of the Oa, and the most pious man in many settlements.
"'Seek Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion,' that will be the word of the Holy Book, and it will be a poor thing to be seeking the stars first."
Every eye was turned upon the speaker. Praying Donald was a man who spoke seldom, but when he did everyone listened.
"Yes, indeed, it is the Word of Jehovah we should be reading," he continued, "for I would be reading last night, and the Lord would be speaking to me through the Word, and it was, 'Blow ye the trumpet in Zion.... Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at hand; a day of darkness and gloominess and of thick darkness.' And it will be this land that it will be coming upon. For there will be the drink and the fighting, and there will be no minister, and no house of the Lord, for we will be in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.
"Yes, we must be praying, praying night and day, and maybe that the Lord in His mercy will be sending us a minister; for if He will not be visiting us in His mercy, He will be coming in His wrath, and who shall stand in the day of His judgment?"
Weaver Jimmie flung one leg over the other nervously. Long Lauchie sighed, and Store Thompson murmured, "Undeniable, undeniable." But Big Malcolm sat staring at the speaker as if fascinated. Praying Donald's life of stern piety, and his knowledge of the laws governing human action, had often enabled him to foresee events, and had given him the reputation of a prophet. The memory of the scene in which he had so lately taken part came over Big Malcolm with overwhelming force.
"It is the true word," he whispered, as though smitten with a sudden fear. "Och, and it will be Malcolm MacDonald that will be visited in wrath for his sins, whatever!"
"Ye're richt, Donald," said Store Thompson, at length, "what wi' the whuskey an' the wild goin's on this place is jist in a bad state. But it's thae Eerish. Man," he continued emphatically, "thae Eerish, whether Catholic or Protestant, are jist a menace to the country, aye, jist yon, jist a menace, like!"
"It is the Oa that will be as bad as the Flats," said Praying Donald relentlessly. "They will be forsaking their God and be following after their own evil desires!"
Long Lauchie suddenly opened his eyes. He was in the habit of seizing upon a remark and retiring with it slowly, repeating it over and over in a lessening whisper until he was lost in the echoing caverns of imagination, and was wont to emerge from these absent fits suddenly with the air of a diver who comes to the surface with a great treasure. He came to life at this moment, his eyes wide open, his manner alert; "Eh, it will be a fulfilment o' the prophecy o' Jeremiah, 'Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land.' Eh, eh, out o' the north—the north—it would perhaps be meaning the Oa," he whispered fearfully to Weaver Jimmie. "Out of the north—the north——" His voice gradually died away and he was lost in meditation.
"This place is not like the auld land," said old Sandy Hamilton, moodily. "Man, we werna bothered wi' ony Fenians, nor Orangemen, nor sik like there!"
"Times'll be better now the Murphys know their place," said Weaver Jimmie confidently, pitching one leg over the other. "Callum led a fine charge. The Fenians may take Canady, but they'll not——"
"Hooch!" Big Malcolm broke in fiercely. Weaver Jimmie did not properly belong either by age or sentiments to this gathering, and his remark regarding Callum was very much out of place. "Yon son o' mine will jist be a breeder o' mischief in this place, James MacDonald!" he cried, "an' it's little check you will be on him, whatever. It is high time, indeed, that ye were both settlin' down an' stoppin' such doings! But och, och," he added with a sudden change of tone, "it is myself will be the worst of them all."
Weaver Jimmie heaved a sentimental sigh. "It will not be any fault of mine that I will not be settled down," he muttered gloomily.