IN ORCHARD GLEN
AUTHOR OF "TREASURE VALLEY," "THE SILVER MAPLE," ETC.
McCLELLAND AND STEWART
PUBLISHERS : : TORONTO
By George H. Doran Company
Printed in the United States of America
I APPLE-BLOSSOM DAYS II AWAY FROM ORCHARD GLEN III "WHOSOEVER WILL LOSE HIS LIFE" IV CRAIG-ELLACHIE V "HEY! JOHNNIE COPE" VI ST. VALENTINE'S PRANK VII OFF WITH THE OLD LOVE VIII THE WAR DRUM IX THE DREAM KNIGHT X CALLED TO THE COLORS XI "LAST LEAVE" XII "ALL THE BLUE BONNETS ARE OVER THE BORDER!" XIII "THE PLIGHTED RING" XIV "OVER THE TOP" XV THE GARDEN BLOOMS AGAIN XVI THE HILLS ABOVE ORCHARD GLEN
IN ORCHARD GLEN
It was on Christina Lindsay's nineteenth birthday that she made the second Great Discovery about herself. The first one had been made when she was only eleven, and like the second it had proved an unpleasant surprise.
It was midsummer holidays, that time when she was only eleven, and raspberry time too, and Christina and her brother Sandy were picking berries in the "Slash," a wild bit of semi-woodland away up on the hills that divided her home farm from the land of the Grant Sisters. The Grant Girls—they were all three over fifty but everybody rightly called them girls,—the Grant Girls were there picking berries too, with Mrs. Johnnie Dunn, and several other friends; and there were many more groups scattered here and there through the green tangle of bushes and saplings. For a berry-patch was community property, and when the crop was plentiful, as it was this year, a berry-picking became a pleasant social function, where one met friends from near and far, and picnicked with them under the trees.
Christina was working with furious speed. She and Sandy had been racing all morning to see who would be the first to fill a four-quart pail. For Uncle Neil had promised the winner unheard-of wealth, a whole quarter of a dollar to spend as one wished, and Christina was determined that the money should be hers.
She had found a wonderful patch and was fairly pouring the berries into her pail in a red and black shower. She was keeping well down behind a clump of alder, too, out of range of Sandy's roving eye. For Sandy had a habit of allowing you to find the best place, and then swooping down upon it like a plague of grasshoppers. She was working so hard that she did not notice a group of berry pickers who had taken up their station right opposite her on the Grant side of the low fence, and was suddenly attracted by the discovery that they were discussing her own family.
"Them Lindsay lassies are that bonnie, I jist like to sit and look at them, even in church when I ought to be looking at my Bible."
It was Miss Flora Grant's soft voice that came through the screen of sumach and alder.
"They've all taken after their mother's folks." It was Miss Elspie's still softer voice. "The MacDonald women of that family was all good lookin'."
"Well, my grief! You don't call that long-legged youngest thing good-lookin', do you?" sang out the loud voice of Mrs. Johnnie Dunn. "She's as homely as a day-old colt!"
The long-legged youngest thing nearly jumped out of her hiding place on the other side of the bushes. She caught a fleeting glimpse of the last speaker, her long, thin neck and green sunbonnet sticking up out of a tangle of bushes, like a stinging nettle in a garden.
"Oh, you mean little Christina," said Flora Grant gently, "I jist didn't mind about her. No, she's a nice bit lassock, but she's not bonnie. Eh, Sarah, jist look at yon patch over there; the bushes is jist as rid as roses!"
They all moved away with a sound of tearing briars, and the Lindsay lass that was not bonnie crawled deeper into her leafy hiding-place, making a brave effort to choke back something that was causing her throat to swell and her eyes to smart. Crying was a luxury never indulged in, in the Lindsay family, except in the case of a real calamity like falling out of the hay mow, or tearing your Sunday dress, and Christina dared not run the risk of having Sandy find her in tears over mere hurt feelings.
Nevertheless it was a very dreadful thing, quite worth crying over, this discovery that she was homely. She knew it was a tragedy, from what Ellen and Mary said about girls who were not pretty. And the worst of it was that even the Grant Girls, who were her mother's very best and closest friends, admitted the shameful fact. Mrs. Johnnie Dunn would say even Joanna Falls was ugly, just to be mean, but the Grant Girls always said the very best about any one that could be said. Flora Grant had admitted that she was a "Nice bit lassock," but that was small comfort. Christina would have preferred to be pronounced the most disagreeable little girl in all the Province of Ontario, provided her accuser had added that she was a beauty. Character might be improved, but what hope was there for an ugly face?
The Lindsay habit of industry forbade that she sit long under a bush covered with berries bewailing her lack of comeliness, for even a person as homely as a day-old colt might make use of twenty-five cents. So she wiped her eyes on her blue-checked pinafore, and crawling out from her hiding-place, set stoically to work.
She had been following a path led by the ripest and largest fruit, and rounding a clump of briars, she came upon some one's dinner basket, tucked away in a cool corner. There was a pink silk sash folded on the top of the basket, and from underneath peeped the edge of a hand mirror. The basket undoubtedly belonged to Joanna Falls, who was here with a party of girls from the village. Joanna was quite the handsomest girl in Orchard Glen, and Mrs. Johnnie Dunn said she believed she never went even to church without a looking-glass in her pocket. Christina glanced about her guiltily, and then, trembling, took up the little mirror. For the first time in her life she looked carefully and critically at her own countenance.
She saw a thin, little, brown face, framed by a blue sunbonnet, big blue eyes that made the sunbonnet look faded, some untidy wisps of straight fair hair, and a great many freckles scattered over a shapely nose. Christina carefully replaced the mirror and moved on feeling like a thief.
Yes, she understood now why she was homely. It was her straight hair and those dreadful freckles. Mary had beautiful long black curls, and Ellen had brown wavy hair, and both of them tanned a lovely even brown with never a spot or blemish. Well, she would cure both maladies, see if she wouldn't! Mary said Joanna Falls washed her face and hands every night of her life in tansy and buttermilk. Christina would do the same, and she would buy some of that pink complexion cure that was in the corner store window, and which Tilly Holmes, the store-keeper's daughter, said would wash anything off your face, even a scar. And she would put her hair up in curl-papers every night, and best of all, she would take the twenty-five cents that Uncle Neil would give her, and after she had paid for the complexion cure, she would buy a yard of pink satin ribbon and tie up her hair and she would look as fine and handsome as Joanna Falls herself, and even Mrs. Johnnie Dunn would have to admit that she was as good-looking as any of the Lindsays!
And as if to put emphasis upon her vow, she tossed the last cupful of berries into her pail, and found it heaping full! She had won the money! She caught up her pail and hurried joyfully to the spot where she had last seen Sandy, her spirits rising at every step. She was already on the way to beauty and success, by way of tansy and buttermilk and twenty-five; cents worth of complexion cure and pink ribbon!
Unmindful of many scratches, she tore through a clump of briars, and almost tumbled over a small figure crouched in the pathway. It was a boy in a ragged shirt and a pair of trousers many sizes too large for him. He was kneeling beside an overturned pail, and was striving desperately to gather up a mashed heap of berries and sand.
"Oh," cried Christina, stopping short in sympathetic dismay, "oh, Gavin. What did you do?"
The boy looked up. He was holding his mouth in a tight line, manfully keeping back the misery his eyes could not hide. "I—I jist fell over them," he said with a desperate effort at nonchalance.
Christina put down her pail and tried to help. She had never liked Gavin Hume. He was a Scotch boy, whom old Skinflint Jenkins' folks had adopted from an Orphan Asylum. He was dirty and shy, and at school the girls laughed at him and the boys teased him. But to-day he was in trouble, and rumour had it that Gavin's life was one long period of trouble, for the Jenkinses were hard people.
"It's no use," declared Christina at last, examining the dreadful mess, and thinking of what her mother would do with it, "they're too dirty to use, Gavin. Never mind," she added comfortingly, "she won't scold, will she?"
The boy gave a half-contemptuous gesture. "Scold? I wouldn't care about that. He said he'd give me the horse-whip when I got home if it wasn't full."
Christina shuddered. "But you did fill it," she cried indignantly. "Won't he believe you?"
The boy looked at her as an old man might look at a prattling child. Gavin was only a couple of years older than Christina and no bigger, but there were ages of hardship in his experience, which her sheltered childhood could not know. But Christina's heart was always far in advance of her head, and it guessed much. That look told her volumes. Quick as a flash, she righted his pail, caught up her own, and tumbled its fresh rosy wealth into his, heaping it high.
"Oh, Christine! Oh, you mustn't!" The boy caught her hand to stop her, but Christina jerked away, and ran from him down the twisting green pathway. And as she ran she heard Mrs. Skinflint's terrible voice calling,
"Gav-in! Is that pail not full yet, you lazy lump?" and Gavin's prompt reply, "Yes'm. It's heapin'."
And that was some comfort to the homely young person who, with a pail only half full, and without prospect of either wealth or beauty, was wending her way down the green tangle of the berry patch. Somehow the comfort seemed to outweigh the misfortune. Gavin's escape from dire punishment gave her a feeling of exultation that even a pink satin ribbon would fail to produce.
A shout from Sandy away down in the green nook where they had left their dinner pail under a log, quickened her footsteps. She found him trampling down the berry-bushes in a vain search for the refreshments, for Sandy was thirteen and in a chronic state of starvation.
"Where on earth you been?" he enquired, in mingled relief and wrath. "I thought you must be dead and buried. I'm so hungry my back-bone's comin' out at the front."
Christina giggled. One could never remember one's troubles in Sandy's gay presence. She dived into the cool cavern beneath the mossy log and came out with their dinner. Sandy helped her unpack it feverishly. Mother had put up a very comforting lunch for a starving boy and girl; thick sandwiches of bread and pork, scones soaked in Maple Syrup, a half-dozen cookies, a bottle of milk and two generous wedges of pie.
When Sandy had eaten enough to make speech possible he pointed triumphantly to his full pail.
"Say! What do you think? I've beat you!" He cried in amazement, "I did a perfect moose of a day's work. The quarter's mine!"
"Well, I've just as much right to it as you have," declared Christina, who did not believe in letting her good deeds waste their sweetness on the desert air of a berry patch. "I had my pail heaped a dozen times, and shook down too, and Gavin Hume spilled all his on an ant hill, and he said Old Skinflint would thrash him, so I gave him mine."
"You did!" Sandy grunted. Christina was always doing things like that. "Well you're a silly. Why can't he keep his berries when he picks 'em? Never mind," he added, having reached the pie, and feeling generous, "I'll give you half the money, and we'll get some gum and a box o' paints."
Christina did not dare confess how she had planned to spend the money, and was not much comforted by his offer. Even paints would not permanently improve one's complexion.
"Sandy," she said at last, with much hesitation, "do you,—who do you think is the prettiest girl in our school?"
Sandy stared. He belonged to the Stone Age as yet, and knew nothing of the decorative, and less about girls. He had no notion that they were classified at all, except as little girls and big girls.
"How do I know?" he enquired, rather indignantly, as though his sister had suspected him of secret knowledge of a crime. "I don't know any that's good lookin'," he added conclusively.
"Our Mary's awful pretty," suggested Christina pensively.
"Is she?" Sandy lay back in gorged content, and gazed up into the swaying green sea of the Maples. "I bet she knows it mighty well, then, let me tell you."
"I heard the Grant Girls and Mrs. Johnnie Dunn talkin', when I was away back by Grants' fence. They were talkin' about our girls, and Flora Grant said they were all,—said that Ellen and Mary were so good-lookin' that she watched them in church."
Sandy was showing signs of interest. He sat up. "What did they say about you?"
"Flora said I was a 'nice bit lassock,' but Mrs. Johnnie said,"—Christina could not bring herself to tell the humiliating truth—"she said I wasn't like the rest," she finished falteringly.
Sandy was beginning to wake up to the fact that Christina was in distress. Why any human being should worry about her appearance was something far beyond Sandy's comprehension, but he could not endure to see Christina worried. He caught up a stone and shied it across the sunny tangle at an old Crow perched on a tall black stump.
"Sugar," he declared. "Who cares for what Mrs. Johnnie says? She looks like our old brindle cow herself. Duke Simms says she's got chilblains on her temper."
His stormy attack upon the enemy proved very bracing to the one who had been so recently overthrown by her.
"But the Grant girls said so too," she added, searching for more comfort.
"Just as if they knew," scoffed Sandy. "They're a lot of old rainbows, Duke says they are. Looks don't matter anyhow. It don't get you on any faster in school."
Christina, much encouraged, reflected upon this aspect of the case.
"I don't care," she decided courageously, making a new resolve, that had nothing to do with hair or complexion. "I'm going to study awful hard at school and beat everybody in the class, and then I'm going to college some day and be a lady. You'll just see if I don't. And it'll be far better to be clever than to be good-lookin', won't it, Sandy?"
That was just eight years ago, and now on her nineteenth birthday Christina was calling to mind with some amusement the humiliation of that day, and with some discouragement, that the high resolve of that occasion was far from being realised.
She came up the path from the barn, where the rays of the early sun made rosy lanes between the pink and white boughs of the orchard. For Christina had been born in the joyous May-time, and the whole farm was bedecked for the occasion. She was tall and straight and carried her two pails of milk with easy grace. The light through the orchard boughs touched her fair hair and made it shining gold. Her eyes were as blue as the strip of sky above her, and her cheeks were as pink as the apple blossoms. Mrs. Johnnie Dunn's judgment had not been reversed by the years, Christina was still a long way from being one of the Lindsay beauties. But she possessed an abundance of that loveliness that always accompanies youth and health and a merry heart.
She was not quite so gay as usual this morning. She felt that she ought to be grave and dignified, as befitted a person who was so old. It was no joke, this being nineteen, just next-door to twenty, when you wanted still to play with the dog or chase Sandy round the stack. Age makes one retrospective, too, and she was reflecting how far short she had come of attaining the great ambition born eight years ago in the raspberry patch. For here she was, on her nineteenth birthday, still milking cows and feeding calves, with not even a school teacher's certificate to her credit.
She had not failed to put forth every effort to attain, but somehow each high endeavour had turned out like the race for the quarter dollar in the berry patch; she was always just about to grasp the prize, when some unfortunate picker fell across her path with a spilled pail.
There was that day when she and Mary and Sandy were all ready to go to High School together. But Father died that summer, and it was decreed that the expense of three in the town could not be met. So Christina stayed, partly because the other two were older, but mostly because Mary cried bitterly at the suggestion that Christina go in her place.
Then there came a second chance when Sandy had graduated and started to teach school, but Grandpa took very ill and could not bear that she leave him. The third time proved the charm, for she did get away, and for a whole year spread her wings gloriously in Algonquin High School. She did wonders, too, taking two years' work in one, but the crops were poor the next year and Mary had to take her term at the Teachers' Training School, and the expense for two could not be met.
And so here she was at nineteen, burning to be up and away, and vowing to herself that not another year would pass over her head and find her still in Orchard Glen milking cows and feeding chickens.
The world about her did not seem to be in accord with her thoughts. It was full of joy and contentment with its beautiful lot. The robins in the gay orchard boughs were shouting that it was a glorious place to live in. Away up in the elm tree before the house an oriole was blowing his little golden trumpet, his flashing coat rivalling the row of scarlet and golden tulips that bordered the garden path. The little green lawn before the house sparkled under a diamond-spangled web.
From beyond the pink and white screen of the orchard came the happy sounds of the barnyard; the clatter of the bars as Sandy turned the cows into the back lane; Old Sport's bark; Jimmie's high voice scolding the calf that was trying to swallow the pail for breakfast; the squeal of hungry little pigs; the clatter of hens and many other voices making up the Barnyard Spring Song.
Christina's pet kitten, a tiny black blot on the pink and green, came daintily down the path to meet her, mindful of her two pails of warm milk. Sport, who had succeeded in putting the cows into their places, came bounding up in a fit of boisterous familiarity, and leaped at the little black ball with a gay,
"Woof! How are you this morning, you useless black mite?"
Two indignant green spots flamed up in the blackness and the mite itself turned into a fierce little bow, bent to shoot, and in a flash, bow quiver and all shot like lightning up the tree, spitting arrows in all directions.
Christina forgot all about her ambitions and laughed aloud, and Sport joined her, leaping around her and laughing silently in his own dog fashion with tongue and tail. It was very hard to remember that one was nineteen and had never been anywhere nor attained anything, impossible to remember when the orchard was aflame in the sunrise, and the oriole was shouting from the elm tree. Christina burst into song, just as spontaneously as the robins.
It was a very foolish song, too, one that Jimmie had brought home from Algonquin High School:
"Oh, Judy O'Toole, It's you that's the fool, For lavin' the county o' Cork. Oh, Judy O'Toole, It's you that's the fool, That iver ye came to New York!"
Ellen, her eldest sister, was frying the pork and potatoes for breakfast in the old summer kitchen. She looked through the door as the singer passed.
"Christine!" she called reprovingly. "Whatever will that girl sing next?"
Uncle Neil, who was drying his hands on the roller towel at the door, laughed indulgently.
"It isn't jist the kind of a hymn that would do for prayer-meeting," he said. "Hi, Christine! Is that a new psalm tune you're practisin'?"
But, Christina and her song had disappeared into the spring house. This was a little stone structure, built into the grassy hill behind the house. Down beside it, overhung with willows, a little spring gushed out of the sand, clear and cold on the hottest summer days. And so, in the little stone building, Christina's butter was always sweet and hard, like golden bricks.
She set about her work with swift motions. It was necessary to work harder than usual to-day, to get rid of the ache to be away doing something else. She set the separator whirling, giving out its droning song of plenty—the farm Matins and Vespers.
"Jimmie," she called up the little stone stairway, "hurry down here, Lazybones, and turn the Gramophone."
A big clumsy boy, whose body was getting ahead of his mind in the race for maturity, came thumping down the steps with the calves' empty pails. He pulled a loose strand of his sister's hair as he seized the handle of the separator.
"Now, Mrs. Johnnie Dunn," he warned, "don't go orderin' your betters round."
Their work was brightened with a great deal of merry nonsense. For Christina always made holiday of all toil, and even Jimmie, who was passing through the weary period of boyhood, when any effort is insupportable, found it amusing to work with her.
"I suppose, now that you're nineteen, you'll be gettin' a fellow," he teased, as he watched her wash the separator and put it out in the sun. "It's time you had one."
"Yes, I was thinking that too," said Christina agreeably. "I was planning that I would get Mike Duffy to be my beau, now that you're so sweet on Big Rosie. It would be so nice to be married into the same family."
Jimmie gave a squall of rage and disgust. Rosie Duffy was a huge freckled-faced girl, to whom, in a moment of generous weakness, he had given a ride from town, and Christina had used the fact to his undoing ever since.
He caught up the calves' pails of milk and fled up into the sunshine. It was never safe to tease Christina, you always got back far worse than you gave.
When he came back to the house the family was gathering for its breakfast, and a fine big family it was. There were just two absent, the father, who was taking his well-earned rest in the grassy church yard on the hill, and Allister, the eldest son, who had gone west ten years ago to make his fortune and had not been home since.
Uncle Neil MacDonald took his place at the head of the table, where he had sat ever since the father left it. Uncle Neil was very much beloved, but he was in no sense the head of the family. He was a gay, easy-going body, given to singing songs and playing the fiddle, and not at all calculated to keep a virile group of boys and girls in order. So, John, the eldest son at home, was the real head of the family, and his mother's support. For John was wise and strong and many, many years older than Uncle Neil.
Ellen, the busy housewife, came next. She was just as handsome as when Miss Flora Grant used to look at her in church, and since she had grown up many other admiring eyes looked her way. Neil, who was going to be a minister, but who was very much of a farmer this morning, sat by John. Neil was already in College, and Mr. Sinclair, the minister of Orchard Glen, who made it his boast that in twenty-five years of his ministry the Orchard Glen church had not been without its representative in Knox College, declared that not one of the train had come up to Neil Lindsay in intellect, and that the world and the church would hear of him one day.
Mary was the family beauty, all pink and white with glossy curls, and Sandy was still Christina's chum and confidant, and the last was Jimmie, hovering between boyhood and manhood. There was a plate set for Grandpa Lindsay, who had not yet appeared. He was rarely quite in time for the early farm breakfast, but he was always on the scene before they separated, to conduct family worship. His bedroom was off the winter kitchen, where the breakfast was laid, and they could hear him moving about singing and talking to himself.
Mrs. Lindsay was a little woman with a sweet, strong face covered with a network of wrinkles. Her hands were calloused and discoloured and her back was bent with hard work, but her eyes were bright, and her heart was still as young as her family.
"And it's nineteen you are to-day, hinny," she cried, looking at Christina fondly.
Christina made a wry face. "Yes, isn't it awful? I don't want to be so old."
"Hut, tut, old," laughed Uncle Neil. "Your mother and father were on their way from the Old Country when she was nineteen, and Allister was a baby."
Christina mentally decided that even crossing the ocean to a strange country was not at all as bad as staying for nineteen years in the same place, but she did not say so.
"Well, it's pretty nice to be nineteen, isn't it?" said Neil. "If it wasn't seeding time John and I would take a day off and go on a picnic."
"I wish something would happen," said Christina recklessly, "something awfully surprising."
"You might go out and hoe up that back field of corn," suggested Sandy. "That would surprise John and me more than anything."
"But it wouldn't surprise me a bit and I'm the person concerned. Nothing in the shape of work could possibly surprise me any more. It would have to be a spree of some sort."
"Well," said Ellen, who was always sensible and practical, "be thankful that nothing unpleasant is happening. Anybody would think you would like the barn to burn down."
It was rather a noisy breakfast, for the Lindsays were a bright crowd in spite of much hard work, and Christina and Sandy were always making merry over something. They were just finishing when Grandpa came in with his toddling step and his usual exclamation of pleased surprised, "Eh, well, well, and you're all here!"
Christina ran for the ancient Bible that lay on the shelf in the corner, with Grandpa's spectacles upon it. Ellen fetched his old red cushion from the sofa in the corner, and Grandpa sat down slowly and heavily. He had never been heard to complain in all his hard-worked life, nor in his years of approaching age, but at the morning worship he always chose a portion of scripture that accorded with his feelings. So when he read the 103rd psalm, his sister smiled, evidently he felt in accord with the radiant May morning. Grandpa was very deaf and laboured under the idea that every one else was similarly afflicted, so he read and prayed in a very loud voice. But the Lindsays were all used to it. This early morning worship set the standard for the day's work. And led by Grandpa who had travelled far up on the road of saintship, it fortified young and old for the day's toil and temptations.
When it was over the family hurried away to their tasks. John and the preacher-farmer went off to the brown fields, Ellen went to her baking and washing. Jimmie shouldered his books and set off on his Monday morning tramp to the High School in Algonquin, from which he would not return until Friday night. Sandy put off his farm overalls, and drove up from the barn with the single buggy; and Mary, with a trim dust-coat over her pretty blue dress, came tripping down the orchard path and climbed into the buggy at his side. Mary taught school at a little corner called Greenwood, a couple of miles down the concession, and Sandy taught just two miles farther on. So every morning the two drove away to their schools and returned in the evening. Christina ran down the lane to open the gate for them.
"Now, be good, and don't go and do anything very wild just because it's your birthday," called Sandy.
"Oh, Christine," cried Mary, "don't let Ellen forget to wash my pink dress; I got some mud on it yesterday. And if you could iron it like a dear, I'd be ever so much obliged."
Christina promised willingly, and waved them a gay good-bye. She stood at the gate watching them as they turned down the broad white road. That road could be seen for miles from where she stood, winding away down over hill and through wooded hollow. It disappeared in a belt of forest but came into view again running along the margin of Lake Simcoe far off on the horizon, and away beyond her view it ended in a great city where Christina had never been. But that road always set her heart beating faster. It was the great highway that led out into the world, the road she longed to take. And always in the morning when she stood at the gate thus, just before turning back to the tasks that held her, it seemed to beckon her to come away.
And then she ran back to the barnyard to feed her chickens, and made the second Great Discovery about herself.
Uncle Neil came out of the noisy enclosure where the pigs were fighting with their morning meal, and helped her throw the feed to her quarrelsome brood. Uncle Neil had for years been a semi-invalid and spent his time doing the lighter work of the farm and garden. Though he had attended school only a few years in his childhood, he had a mind stored with the wealth of years of reading, held by an unfailing memory. And now that his physical ailments gave him more leisure, he was reading everything that was worth while that came to his hand. And he gave out his wealth generously to Christina as they did their work every morning in the barnyard.
They laughed together at one old hen whom Christina had named Mrs. Johnnie Dunn, after the one woman in Orchard Glen who managed everything and everybody on her farm. Her namesake of the barnyard ruled all the other hens and saw to it that she was well provided herself.
"She never waits for Opportunity's bald spot, now does she?" said Uncle Neil, admiringly, as the busy, fussy lady made a leap and caught a grain of corn, in mid-air, while another hen was watching for it to fall upon the ground.
"What's Opportunity's bald spot?" enquired Christina. "How dare you have some information you haven't given me?"
"Don't you know the old story about Opportunity and his bald spot?" enquired Uncle Neil delighted.
And then he told the ancient tale of Opportunity and his lock of hair that hung in front, and Christina listened with more than her usual absorption. She was making her second discovery.
"There!" she exclaimed, with an energy that sent the hens scurrying away, alarmed, from her feet. "That's just what's the matter with me. I am always letting Mr. Opportunity walk past and then when I try to grab him I catch hold of his bald spot and he slips away."
"Well, well," said Uncle Neil, "I don't think he's walked past you very often. You're but nineteen to-day."
"I'm sure that's bad enough. That's nearly twenty, and then you're out of your teens. When I was eleven I made a solemn vow that I'd get a good education and go away off somewhere and attend college and be a lady. And here I am at nineteen, still feeding the pigs and milking the cows. I guess I haven't any of the Lindsay luck."
"The Lindsay luck was always spelled with a p in front, my lass, and a capital P at that. You can have all of that ye want."
They went back up the blossoming orchard path, stopping at the pump, which was mid-way to the house, to take up a pail of water. They left it at the back door under the vines, and Uncle Neil went round to the garden at the other side of the old rambling house, to help his sister with her onions. Christina ran round to the side door where Grandpa was sitting in the sun on the old sloping porch. The old man saw her coming and drew back behind the vines. As she shot round the corner of the house he poked out his head suddenly with a loud and alarming "Boo!"
Christina jumped back with a scream that set the old man laughing heartily and kept him chuckling for an hour afterwards. Every morning of her life Grandpa played this little trick upon her from some corner, and Christina never forgot to scream in terror, and Grandpa's amusement was never abated.
She slapped him for frightening her, adding hugely to his enjoyment, and ran on into the kitchen. Ellen was almost ready to put the clothes on the line and Christina gave her a helping hand before going on with her own work, reminding her meanwhile of the pink dress that must be ready before the evening.
"We'll have to hire a woman to do the baking, and I guess Grandpa'll have to do the washing when you leave," declared Christina. "I'd make a bargain with Bruce, if I were you, that he's to do the washing himself, before I'd marry him."
Ellen laughed gaily. She and Bruce McKenzie had been sweethearts ever since their public school days, and the next Christmas they were going to start life together on Bruce's farm. Ellen was very radiant these days and Christina's warnings were a source of amusement.
When the snowy array was hung in the sunshine, Christina went down into the cool spring house to her churning. She stood at the door, whirling the dasher and looking up into the blossoming orchard, but seeing none of it. She was really very much concerned over this bald spot of Mr. Opportunity. She had surely let him slip past her many a time, and here she was at nineteen and who knew if he would come again?
"I just won't stay here working at you forever, now, mind that," she cried, slapping the butter viciously with her wooden paddle. "Just let Mr. Opportunity come along once more, and see if I let him go! Never again!"
And then she made a daring resolution. She would dress up, even if it was Monday morning, and go away down to the village, and see if some event wouldn't happen. Something told her that a great adventure was awaiting her just out there on the road if she would only go to meet it.
She packed away the butter in its firm golden bars, and went into the house. As she crossed the grassy open space, an old-fashioned double buggy went rattling down the road. Some one in the back seat waved a gay parasol at her, and Christina responded with a flap of her apron.
It was two of the three Miss Grants going to town with their adopted nephew, Gavin Hume, who was now Gavin Grant. For the very summer that Christina had given her berries to the abused little orphan, the Grant sisters had rescued him from the dire possibility of being taken West by the Skinflint Jenkinses who were moving to the prairies. Gavin had grown very dear to the old ladies, and indeed it was the joke of the neighbourhood how much they petted him.
"There's Oor Gavie with two of his Aunties," called Christina to Ellen, who was looking through the door to see who was passing. "I guess they are taking him to town to help him choose a new necktie."
Ellen laughed. The Grant Girls, as they were still called, were certainly foolish enough over Gavin to do it. They were still Mrs. Lindsay's closest friends, and "Oor Gavie's" virtues were well known in the Lindsay family.
"I'm all done now," declared Christina, standing in the middle of the kitchen, and waving her apron vigorously. "And as it is my birthday, I think I'll go off and look for an adventure. I feel as if something's got to happen to-day, or I'll set fire to the house."
Her elder sister turned from her pie-baking to look at her. "Well, my goodness," she exclaimed, "sometimes I think you're not in your right mind." Ellen was staid and steady and well behaved and could never comprehend Christina's restlessness. "Whatever do you want now?"
"I want to go to the University; that's the exact truth. But as I can't go before dinner, I believe I'll walk down into the village instead, and see if I can meet Mr. Opportunity."
"Mr. What?" asked Ellen in alarm. If Christina had any smallest notion of dressing up and parading the village street when the young men came down to the corner, as some of the girls did, she, Ellen, would look after her right thoroughly. "Who's he?"
Christina laughed uproariously. "Oh, I must tell Uncle Neil!" she cried. "Don't worry, he's awfully old and bald, so there's no danger."
She darted out to the garden to share the joke with Uncle Neil, and then she slipped into the house, unnoticed, and up to her own room. She felt as excited as if she were planning to run away. She dressed very carefully in her afternoon gingham of blue that looked pale beside the colour of her eyes. She made a coronal of her heavy golden brown braids, winding them round her shapely head, making a face at herself in the glass because the hair was so straight and her nose was so freckled. And then she slipped down the stairs like a thief and ran down the path behind the spring house. She would not have confessed it, even for a college course, but she was wondering if, in this wild expedition to meet Mr. Opportunity, one might not meet one's Dream Knight riding out there on the highway. For though Christina had never had a lover, she had her true Knight, who rode just beyond the horizon. And why shouldn't she meet him to-day? Anything wonderful was liable to happen on a May morning when you were just nineteen and were running away from the beaten track in search of adventure.
The path that ran down behind the spring house and across the corner of the clover field was the Short Cut to the village. It ran into a little grove, and there Sandy had made a very primitive stile to enable Mary to get over the fence without spoiling her Sunday clothes. All the fields were bordered with a fringe of feathery green bushes, from which rose the sweet roundelays of the song sparrows. The meadow larks soared and called to each other over the green-brown carpet of the earth, and away up against the dazzling blue of the sky the bob-o'-links danced and trilled. Christina gave a joyous skip as she entered the little grove. There the sunlight lay on the underbrush in great golden splashes, and the White Throat called "Canada, Canada, Canada," as if he could never leave off.
She ran joyously down the pathway that led to the road, and there, just at the edge of the stile, under the low bushes, her sharp eye caught something white. Her heart gave a leap; here, surely, was the Great Adventure waiting for her. She ran forward and found a basket hidden away under the stile. It was covered carefully with a newspaper, and, wonder of wonders, bore a card with her name, "Miss Christina Lindsay." She pulled it out breathlessly and tore off the cover. Beneath was a perfect glory of garden flowers, great crimson and golden tulips, narcissi, waxy white with golden hearts, purple hyacinths, filling the woods with their perfume, and such a wealth of daffodils as would take away the breath.
Christina stood with her arms full, and looked at them with a feeling that was very much like dismay. There was only one garden in the township that could produce a basket like that, and it belonged to her mother's friends, the Grant Girls, but Christina well knew they had not sent her the birthday gift. In a corner of the card was written in very small letters, "From G. G."
Though Christina was nineteen she had never had what was termed in Orchard Glen society, "a fellow." There was no girl having reached such an age without the pleasant experience of a special notice from some young man, but must stop and ask herself the reason. Christina had long ago put her poverty down to her lack of beauty. But she was not very much troubled over it, for her Dream Knight still rode gaily just beyond the horizon, and who knew when he might not ride up to her door? But though his outlines were very hazy, Christina knew in her heart that he was altogether and entirely unlike Gavin Grant.
Gavin was shy and awkward, and had lived so long away on the back concession with his Aunties, where the grass grew in the middle of the corduroy road, that he had grown as queer and old-fashioned as they were. But ever since the day Christina had saved him from Skinflint Jenkins' horse-whip, he had shown a tendency to follow her with adoringly humble eyes. He had made no further attempt to attract her attention until now. And here was his first gift! And worst of all he must have told his Aunts about it! Christina hastily pushed the basket back, and seating herself upon the stile, looked down at it.
The first offering from Love's treasure house could not but make the heart beat faster; but what a disappointment that it should come through Gavin Grant of all people! How Jimmie would tease her, and how Mary would laugh—Mary, who had so many beaux sending her presents that she did not know what to do with them all. And Sandy,—no, Sandy would not laugh. Sandy liked Gavin and said he was one of the best fellows he knew. But his virtues were not the sort that a Dream Knight possessed, especially when you were only nineteen and out on the road for adventure.
Christina sat on the stile and gazed down the road that crossed the little brown stream and then became the village street. She could see the church spire above the orchard trees, and hear the "cling clung" of Mark Falls' blacksmith shop, and the shouts of the school children out for their morning recess. But there was no smallest sign of an additional adventure. Evidently this was the announcement of her fate. And as she sat there, filled with restless longing, a car appeared in a cloud of dust away on the hilltop at the other end of the village, and even in the midst of her disappointment Opportunity was speeding towards her on rapid wheels.
AWAY FROM ORCHARD GLEN
Mrs. Johnnie Dunn, driving home from town in her new Ford car, spun down the hill and through the village, without even stopping at the post office.
Mrs. Dunn was the only truly emancipated woman of Orchard Glen; her husband was a quiet, shy little man, whom every one called "Marthy," and he always referred proudly to his clever wife as "The Woman." She managed her husband, her household, her farm, and a dozen other enterprises such as no woman was ever supposed to be able to manage, and did it all in such a thoroughly capable manner that she was the envy and the scandal of the whole neighbourhood.
Her latest escapade had been to buy up the old Simms place, next to her own farm, turn it all into pasture for cows, buy a milking machine and a Ford car, and go dashing into town every morning with milk for a list of customers that astonished all the milkmen of the district. And she often came tearing back to her day's work when the lazy village folk were shaking the breakfast tablecloth out of the back door!
As she came storming down into the village on this bright May morning, Marmaduke Simms was sitting on the store veranda as usual, with his peg leg displayed upon a soap box, as his eternal excuse for his idleness. But there was no excuse for Trooper Tom Boyd, The Woman's own nephew, whose two perfectly good legs were stretched out beside him, and all in the middle of a morning in the middle of seeding!
Trooper Tom had once ridden the prairies in the Mounted Police force, but though he had been one of the most fearless riders of the plains, he was frankly afraid of his Aunt. He had fully intended to be back in the field before her return, and now, when her car appeared upon the hill half-an-hour earlier than it should have come, he gave a start of dismay.
"Great Ghosts," cried Marmaduke, "it's The Woman, sure as death!"
Trooper Tom gathered his long limbs together in one swift spasm, and leaped to cover through the store door-way.
"I ain't a bit scairt of her, Tilly," he remarked to the store-keeper's daughter, as he landed tumultuously against the counter, "but I just remembered all of a sudden that I wanted to buy a box o' matches."
Tilly leaned against the counter and went off into a spasm of giggles, while the car stormed past the store in a cloud of reproving dust. Marmaduke reached his head around the door-post. "She's gone, Trooper," he whispered, as though afraid that The Woman might hear, "and, say, I guess you're goin' to have swell company. She's got a passenger, and he waved his hat at me and yelled."
Trooper ventured out upon the veranda, followed by Tilly.
"Like as not he was yellin' for help," he suggested. "It's a man, sure enough, Trooper," said Tilly, with a giggle. "Guess she's goin' to give you the sack, and she's brought him out to do the seedin'."
"Too good to be true," sighed the young man mournfully. "'Most likely it's an implement agent. The Woman's always buyin' something new made o' wheels."
"She'll be gettin' a machine to wind you up and set you goin' at four in the mornin'," said Duke comfortingly. "Sit down and have a smoke, she'll know you're gone in a minit anyhow."
Meanwhile the car bumped across the little bridge that spanned the creek and went storming up the opposite hill. And at the top of the hill sat Christina Lindsay on the fence top wishing with all her might and main that Mr. Opportunity would come out and meet her.
As soon as Mrs. Johnnie Dunn saw her, she stopped her car opposite the stile with a word to the man at her side. He picked up his suit-case and stepped hurriedly from the car.
"Hello, there, Christine!" shouted The Woman, over the stranger's shoulder, "here's a man from Algonquin wants a place to board. Do you think your mother'd take him?"
The stranger came forward looking intently at Christina, with a twinkle in his eye. He was stout, with iron-grey hair. His bronzed face was good to look at, and he had a loud hearty voice, and a breezy manner. He raised his hat with elaborate politeness.
"I hope you can take a stranger in for a week or two," he said. "I heard that the Lindsays are noted for their hospitality."
"I'm afraid we can't, but I'll ask mother," said Christina, coming down off the fence to a more formal position. She spoke rather stiffly, for the stranger's air of easy familiarity rather put her on her dignity.
Mrs. Johnnie Dunn still sat in her churning car and looked on with laughing eyes. "Take him along up home and show him to your Ma, and see if she likes him," she shouted "'cause if youse folks won't keep him, I'll have to cart him back to town."
The stranger burst into a laugh. It was a big, hearty, noisy laugh, with something in it that arrested Christina's attention. He shut up his eyes just the way Sandy did, and he showed his two rows of teeth just like Neil, and he threw back his head exactly like John, and it surely couldn't be, and yet it really was,——
"Allister!" screamed Christina, and the next moment she was over the fence, with her arms tight round the stranger's neck, and was saying over and over, "Oh, Allister, Allister, I just knew something awfully good was going to happen, and it's you!"
And The Woman, who could carry through a business deal with a high hand and was a terror in a bargain, sat in her car and watched the brother and sister, with the tears blurring her vision.
It was not until the day's work was done and the reunited family were gathered round the supper table that the Lindsays had time to realise the wonderful fact that Allister had come home.
He sat in the centre of an admiring circle and told all his experiences of the past ten years, shouting occasional bits of the history to Grandpa, who was sitting devouring him with his eyes.
There were the first hard years when everything went wrong; the year he was hailed out, and the year the frost got everything, and the year of the great prairie fires when he was on the verge of throwing everything up and coming back to Ontario. But there had been good years in between and finally he had begun to move up the hill. Everything in the West moved in the same direction, and now he had a big ranch and some coal mine shares, and building lots in Prairie Park where real estate was going up like a sky rocket.
And the truth of the matter was that if everything went all right he would be a rich man some day not far distant. And he was planning that when he sold out and got from under some of his schemes he would come home and fix up the old farm and make it the finest place in Ontario. He was going to buy all the new machinery for John, and have electric light,——
"And a piano," put in Christina, "we need one far worse than we need a hay loader, don't we, Mary?"
"You'll have one some day if I go bust," shouted Allister, and went on to tell of profits and prices and real estate deals. His mother's face looked a little wistful, but if there was rather much talk of money and none of the wealth that thieves cannot steal, she put aside her disappointment. Allister was home, he was well and prosperous and that was surely enough happiness for one day. She sat beside him, keeping tight hold of his hand, patting it occasionally and repeating Gaelic words of endearment, precious words he had not heard since he was a child and which brought a sting to his eyes.
The family conference did not last long, for the neighbours had heard that Allister Lindsay was home from the West, and the chores were not nearly completed when visitors began to arrive to welcome the long absent one. The girls hurried about their work, while Allister ran here and there and got in every one's way. He followed Christina down to the milking and back again to the spring house and helped her with the separator, and she was rapturously happy that he should single her out for special notice.
He was back at the barnyard with Uncle Neil again, when she came out of the barn with a basket of eggs. Uncle Neil was turning the cows into the back lane to drive them up to the pasture.
"Here, Uncle Neil, let me do that," cried Allister. "I want to see what it feels like to drive the cows to the back pasture again. Hurrah here, Christine! Come along with me, for fear I get lost!"
Christina fairly threw her basket of eggs at Uncle Neil, and ran after her brother. They walked hand in hand up the lane like a couple of children.
"Maybe you wanted to go back to the house and get dolled up before the boys come," he said, looking down at her big milking apron.
Christina eyed him suspiciously. She was wondering if he was thinking that she needed much more fixing up than her sisters.
"No," she answered, "I'm beautiful enough without. It's just girls like Ellen and Mary that need to be fussing over their looks."
Allister looked down at her in admiration that was impossible to mistake.
"By ginger, you're right," he shouted heartily; "you're the sort of a girl for me. Say, what would you say to coming out West and keeping house for me?"
Here was Opportunity come back to her! Christina seized him tightly.
"Oh, my! Wouldn't that be grand. It would be the very best—well, the second best thing in the world!"
"And what would be the very best?"
"To go to the University with Sandy next Fall!" she answered promptly.
"Well, I declare!" Allister laughed, "you've all been bitten by the education bug. Mr. Sinclair used to say that if father was to change the catechism, he'd have it read: 'Man's chief end is to glorify God and get a good education.'"
"Just what I believe exactly!" declared Christina, who was trembling with excitement.
"But girls go and get married, or ought to," said Allister practically.
"Well, I hope I will some day," confessed Christina. "I don't want to be an old maid like the Auntie Grants. But I want to go away from Orchard Glen first, and see what the world's like—and get a grand education and know heaps and do something great—oh, I don't know what, but just something like you read about in the papers!"
The cows were in the pasture by this time, and as Allister put up the bars he said,
"Let's set down here for a few minutes and settle this matter."
Christina perched herself at his side on the top of the low rail fence. The soft May mists were gathering in the valleys, the orchards shone pink in the sunset. Away down in the beaver meadow the frogs were tuning up for their first overture of evening, and a whippoorwill far up in the Slash had begun to sing his lonely song to the dark hillside. Allister looked about him and uttered a great sigh of contentment.
"Oh, it's great to be home again," he breathed. "Now that I don't have to keep my nose to the grindstone I'm going to come home oftener. Things change so. We may never all be home again together."
"Well, I'd be sorry for that," said Christina, who was fairly dancing with impatience. "But I'd be sorrier if I thought things wouldn't change. We don't want to live here for ever and ever just as we are."
"No, of course not. But I hope some of us will always be in Orchard Glen. John always will."
"I suppose so. John's spent all his life working hard for the rest of us," cried Christina, "and I suppose he'll go on doing it to the end."
"There's nobody better than John," declared Allister. "But let me tell you this, that the man or woman, either, who gives up all his chance in life to somebody else is bound to come out with the small end of the stick. It sounds fine, but it don't pay." Allister spoke with the assurance of the successful man of business. "There's a certain amount of looking out for Number One that's necessary in this pleasant world."
Christina was silent. Her heart told her he must be wrong, but she could not have argued the matter if she would. It did not seem possible that John's life of self-sacrifice and devotion had been a mistake. Something that Neil was always quoting was running through her head, "There is no gain except by loss." She could not recall it fully, but she remembered distinctly another quotation, "Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it."
"Well, we're all getting on in the world all right," cried Allister heartily. "I tell you, our family's doing fine. And if I make my pile as I hope to, we'll all do better. I'd like to be able to give Neil and Sandy a lift, but Sandy's ready to go next Fall to the University anyway. And it'll be a good while before Jimmie's ready."
"Ellen and Bruce will be married some time next Fall, I expect," said Christina, going over the members of the family in her mind.
"I hate to think of her as a farmer's wife," said Allister. "If I had her out West I'd do better than that for her, but I suppose I might as well tell her I wanted to cut her head off."
"I should think so!" laughed Christina; "it's a dreadful thing to be in love."
"Look as if Mary wouldn't be teaching school long either, eh? Mother'll soon be without a girl if they all keep going off like that. What about the one they call Christina?"
"Goody! We've come to Christina at last! Let's settle her case. Christina will stay at home and milk the cows and feed the pigs and bake and scrub and take the eggs and butter to Algonquin on Saturdays. She will be the old maid sister with the horny hands, who always bakes the pies and cakes for Christmas when the family come home!"
Allister threw back his head and laughed into the coloured heavens till the echoes came back sharply from the whippoorwill's sanctuary on the hillside.
"Never!" he cried heroically, waving the long stick with which he had driven the cows up the lane. "Never! Let me die before I see the day! No, siree! Christina will go to the University and take all the gold medals, or whatever truck it is they get there, and she'll be a high-brow and go travelling over the country lecturing on Women's Rights!"
"I do believe I'd do it, even the lecturing part, for the sake of the college course," she declared. "Oh, Allister, I'm simply aching to get away and have a good education and be—be somebody—even if it's only a Woman's Righter!"
"Hooroo! I'm with you. I guess your education won't break me. You've got the kind of spirit that's bound to win, so off you go. You get your sunbonnet and all the fal-lals girls have to get, and be ready next Fall to finish your High School and then it's you for college!"
"Allister!" She turned to look at him. It just could not be that he meant what he said. Her eyes were like stars in the twilight, her voice sank to a whisper.
"Allister! What are you saying?"
He laughed joyfully. "I'm saying that you can start out on the road to glory next September and I'll foot the bills!" he shouted. "You're deaf as Grandpa!"
Christina suddenly realised that he really meant it; that the glorious unbelievable thing upon which she had set her heart was hers. She gave a sudden spring from her seat to throw herself in an abandon of gratitude upon her brother. But the leap had an entirely different result. The unsteady fence rail upon which she sat gave a lurch, turned over and Christina and it together went crashing into the raspberry and gooseberry bushes and thistles and stones of the fence corner.
Allister jumped from his perch to her assistance.
"Gosh hang it, girl," he cried, "you might have killed yourself!"
Christina staggered to her feet, scratched and dishevelled. "Oh, my goodness!" she cried, "to think of killing myself at this supreme moment! If I had I'd never, never speak to myself again for missing that University course!"
When they got back to the house Christina went about in a happy daze. There was no opportunity to do more than whisper the wonderful news to Sandy, and then she had to fly about to help put everything in order before the guests arrived.
The Lindsay home was at all times a popular gathering-place of an evening, for there was always plenty of company and music there, and a jolly time. Indeed Uncle Neil was in the habit of saying that, when the milk pails were hung out along the shed they were like the Standard on the Braes o' Mar, for when the young fellows of the countryside saw them, they came flocking over the hills. And indeed the last pail had scarcely been washed and put in its place to-night when the first visitor appeared in the lane.
Uncle Neil, coming up from the pump in the orchard, with two pails of fresh water, announced that the whole MacKenzie family were coming across the field, and burst into the song that always set Ellen's cheeks flaming.
"MacDonald's men, Clan Donald's men, MacKenzie's men, MacGillivray's men, Strath Allan's men, the Lowland men Are coming late and early!"
"MacGillivray's man's coming early to-night, Mary!" called Sandy. "There's his buggy comin' up the line! Man, it's easy to see he hasn't any chores in the evening!"
"I'm all behind the times!" cried the new brother. "Tell me all about this MacGillivray man. He's a new one!"
He caught hold of Mary as she came in from the spring house, but she dodged him. This MacGillivray man was a new and quite special cavalier. He was no country boy from a neighbouring farm, but a prosperous young merchant from Port Stewart, a town some dozen miles away on the lake shore. Driving through the country one bright day in early spring, he had met Mary on her way to school, and had never got over the sight. Since then he had driven out all the way to Orchard Glen many a night for a repetition of the vision.
"Will you finish for me, Christine?" Mary whispered in a panic. "I'm not fixed up yet, and he's coming up the lane."
Christina promised and hurried her away. It didn't matter, she reflected, whether she was dressed in her best or her milking apron. There was no MacGillivray's man or MacKenzie's man, Highland or Lowland, coming over the hills to see her. And then she suddenly remembered with dismay the flowers that must be still lying under the bushes at the stile!
She hurried through her work, threw off her apron, smoothed her hair, and ran down the path to the grove. The evening shadows had full possession now, and there were no splashes of gold on the undergrowth. The veeries were ringing their bells in the tree tops and a cat bird was fairly spilling out music of a dozen delightful varieties from a hidden corner behind a basswood bush. Christina ran down the path and parted the undergrowth. The basket was gone! She searched in every corner. And then she remembered that on her way out to the milking she had seen Gavin driving home from town. He had taken the basket back, lest she should not find it! She turned and went slowly back up the path, feeling ashamed and a little relieved. He would never know that she had seen it, and yet it seemed too bad not to thank him for such a beautiful gift!
She hastened back to help Grandpa to bed. Grandpa always sang his evening hymn just before he went to sleep, and as he lived in the belief that every one was as deaf as himself, it was well to get the performance over before the house was filled with company.
Grandpa had a very ancient little hymn book with an orange cotton cover which had been one of Grandma's treasures, and which was now his most prized possession. Grandma Lindsay had been a Methodist before her marriage, and under her influence Grandpa had often been in danger of wandering from the paths of Presbyterianism. He would have considered it a great sin to confess that this old hymn book with its gospel songs was more to him than the psalms of David, and he would never have dreamed of introducing one of them into family worship. But he loved every line inside the tattered orange covers, and their bright melodies had helped him over many a hard place after Grandma had left him. His favourite hymn was the last in the book, "The Hindmost Hymn," Grandpa called it, and every night of his life, unless he were too ill, he sang at least one verse of its sweet promise,
"On the other side of Jordan, In the sweet fields of Eden, Where the tree of Life is blooming, There is rest for you. There is rest for the weary, There is rest for the weary, There is rest for the weary, There is rest for you!"
"Aren't you too tired to sing the Hindmost Hymn to-night, Grandpa?" asked Christina slyly. But Grandpa did not fall into the trap.
"Tired? Hoh! Me tired! And the Lad jist come home! Indeed it will be more than a hymn I'll be raising to the Lord this night. I'll jist be singing Him a psalm, too, for He has brought Joseph back to the land of Israel."
Christina was ashamed of her subterfuge, and joined him in his psalm of gratitude, feeling that she, too, should raise a song of thanksgiving for all that had come to her on this wonderful day. So she joined Grandpa's shaking notes in
"Oh, thou, my soul, bless God the Lord; And all that in me is Be stirred up by His holy name To magnify and bless!"
And then they finished with every verse of the Hindmost Hymn. Though Grandpa never confessed it, he had a secret hope, every night, as he lay down to sleep, that all his aches and pains might be at an end and that the next morning he would waken "on the other side of Jordan, in the sweet fields of Eden," and he liked to close the day with the cheering words.
So Christina sang it with him to the very end and then tucked him into his big feather bed. She left his door into the winter kitchen ajar so that he could hear the singing, which they were sure to have. Then she helped her mother air the spare room for Allister, and put a little fire in the shiny box stove in the hall, for the May evening was chilly.
By the time she had finished all her little duties the house was full of visitors. Mrs. Johnnie Dunn and "Marthy" were the first, the former eager to retell the manner of her introduction of Allister to his family.
The McKenzies, who lived on the next farm above, were all there, and Bruce was helping Ellen carry chairs out to the veranda. The Browns, a big family who lived just across the road from the Lindsays, were in the kitchen, and young Mr. MacGillivray's horse was in the stable and he himself was seated in the parlour talking to Uncle Neil, and looking at Mary.
Then there was quite a little crowd coming up from the village, Tilly Holmes and Joanna Falls, the blacksmith's handsome daughter, and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who owned the mill, people of some consequence in Orchard Glen, for Mrs. Martin had been a school teacher before her marriage. Then there was Burke Wright, who worked in the mill, and his little wife; Trooper Tom Boyd and his chum Marmaduke, and even Mr. Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister, and his wife, all come to do honour to the long-absent son of Orchard Glen.
Christina joined Tilly Holmes and Bell Brown and some more girls of her own age in a corner of the veranda and told them all about Allister's sudden appearance, and how she had taken him for a stranger looking for a place to board, and how he had promised to send her to the High School next Fall and then to the University with Sandy!
The young folk bunched together in the semi-darkness of the veranda, laughing and teasing, the older women gathered with Mrs. Lindsay in the parlour, and the men collected about Allister in the greater freedom of the kitchen, where coats could be laid aside and pipes taken out, and they sat astride their chairs in the smoke and listened to him tell about the prairies and the wheat crop of Alberta and the prices of real estate.
It was just like a party, Christina felt, as she ran here and there, waiting on the guests, and trying hard not to think about the glory of the future.
Uncle Neil came to the veranda door in his stocking feet and shirt sleeves.
"Come away in here, you musicians," he called, "Allister wants to hear some of the old songs!"
There was much holding back and shoving of others forward, and many declarations of heavy colds and a rooted inability to sing at any time, but finally some of the girls were persuaded to move inside, and the boys followed.
Minnie Brown was organist in the Methodist church, so she was invited to the place of honour on the organ stool. Ellen lit the big lamp with the pink shade, and Trem. Henderson, who was the leader in musical circles and whom everybody called Tremendous K., was called in from the smoky region of the kitchen to start the singing.
They sang several of the old hymns first, so that Grandpa might enjoy them; and then Allister sent Sandy in from the kitchen to say that he must have some of the good old rousing Scotch songs they used to sing when he was home. So Mary brought out the old tartan-covered song-book and they sang it through, from the dreamy wail of "Ye Banks and Braes" to the rollicking lilt of the Hundred Pipers when
"Twa thousand swam ower to fell English ground, An' danced themselves dry to the pibroch's sound!"
It was a grand old-time evening, such as was not so often indulged in as when times were newer and money scarce. When Mrs. Lindsay and the girls had passed around cake and pie and big cups of tea thick with cream the festivity was over, and the company moved away down the lane in the soft May moonlight.
And Christina and Sandy hung over the garden gate, like a pair of lovers, long after the last guest had gone, and made wonderful plans for the future, when they would be going to the University together.
"WHOSOEVER WILL LOSE HIS LIFE"
Christina was sitting in the old hammock on the veranda, ready for church. She had already done a big morning's work. For, though the Sabbath was rigidly kept in the Lindsay home, and made a day of rest as much as possible, the usual multitude of barnyard duties had to be attended to, for the chickens and the pigs and the calves clamoured just as loudly for their breakfast on Sabbath morning as any week day.
But Christina's work was all done and she was neatly dressed; her heavy golden brown braids were placed in a shining crown about her head, and her freshly ironed white dress and her white canvas shoes were immaculate. For her keen sense of a lack of beauty had taught her the value of scrupulous neatness. She was studying her Sunday School lesson, and her white gown and her bright head bent over the open Bible on her lap, made her look not unlike a young saint at her meditations; which was an entirely misleading picture, for Christina's mind was rioting joyously across the University campus, far away from Orchard Glen and Sabbath calm, even though her eyes were reading words such as never man spake,
"Therefore, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or drink ... is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?"
"Are you really ready?" cried Sandy in admiring astonishment, as he settled himself beside her in the hammock. "You never take half as much time as the other girls to get dolled up!"
It was more than two months since Allister had gone back to the West, and Neil had left for his summer Mission Field away out on the prairies. July was marching over the hills, trailing the glory of her clover-blossom gowns, her arms ladened with sweet-smelling hay. The pink blossoms were blown from the orchard and instead the trees were hung with a wealth of tiny green globes. Inside the house and about the barnyard there were changes also, for Allister had been very generous, especially to John, and his labours had been very much lightened by machinery.
Christina sat with her fingers between the leaves of her Bible, her thoughts far away on the shining road to success which she and Sandy were so soon to take. For her the days could not move fast enough.
"My, but I wish I didn't have that year of High School to put in first," she declared. "But then I suppose I wouldn't be satisfied if I were a B. A. and you a Ph. D. But I'm going to study like a runaway horse next winter," she added, growing incoherent in her joy, "and maybe I'll catch up to you, Mr. Alexander Lindsay."
Sandy lay back in the hammock and gazed up at the festoons of little green balls, hanging in the trees. He did not respond with his usual readiness to his sister's nonsense. His gaiety seemed to have deserted him lately.
"I don't see how you can help getting up on the barn and yelling for joy, Sandy," she declared impatiently. "I know I would, every time I think about going to college, if I were a boy. But I have several good reasons for not expressing myself in that manner. Ellen's one, and Mrs. Sinclair's another, and then I'm really a very well behaved young woman anyway, and I'm going to be a lady some day, and it might not be well to have such dark places in my past."
Sandy laughed rather forcedly. "It'll be time enough for me to yell, when I've got something to yell about," he said. "'Don't holler till you're out of the bush,' is a good old adage. And I'm a long way from being out of it yet."
"What do you mean?" asked Christina in alarm.
"I was talking things over with John last night, and we're afraid we can't manage for me to go this year. Allister lost some money in real estate last month, and can't be depended on to help John as much as he expected. I've almost decided to go down and see Mitchell about the Anondell school. They wrote yesterday asking me to take it again."
"Oh, Sandy! Oh!" Christina's tone was full of unbelieving dismay. "I can't believe it. Surely,—oh, John won't let you stay! Something can be done surely——"
"Oh, of course John wants me to go and he'd manage somehow. But I won't let him. It would cut Neil short too. It's no use making a row over it," he concluded stoically. "It just can't be helped."
But Christina was inconsolable. It required a great deal of explaining to convince her that it was not all an evil dream. She just couldn't and wouldn't believe it. It was harder to bear Sandy's disappointment than if it had been her own. He found he had to undertake the role of comforter and try to convince her it was not such a disaster after all. There was no use making a row over what couldn't be helped, he repeated again and again. She would catch up to him in the year she would have at school, and who knew but they might enter college together.
But Christina could only sit and stare in silence down the orchard aisle to where the sun was glowing, richly purple, on the last uncut clover field. The glory had departed from the morning, and the glory had departed too, from the road to success which she and Sandy were to have taken together. For she alone realised what a bitter disappointment this was to Sandy. He would never complain, she well knew, nor indulge in self-pity, but she did know that there was grave danger of his throwing away the hope of a University education altogether, and going into business or perhaps back to the farm. For if he did not start this year, how was one to know what might happen before the next year? She sat perfectly silent, and when Christina was silent she was in deep trouble. Sandy strove in vain to cheer her. "Never mind. Don't let it worry you," he said bravely. "I can study nights and perhaps I won't lose so much time. And if I can't manage it next year I can go out West with Allister. Come along, let's get to church."
She rose slowly, and as slowly went into the house to see if Grandpa were comfortable. They left him in a cool corner of the winter kitchen with his Bible and hymn-book and Sport at his feet. The family gathered on the veranda, and though Christina's mind was so disturbed, she did not forget to see that her mother had a clean handkerchief, and that her bonnet was on straight.
Mary was like a fairy in her white muslin dress, and Ellen looked unusually radiant, in a new blue silk, a present from Allister. But Ellen had an especial reason for looking radiant these days. For a long time she and Bruce had nursed the hope that he might study medicine one day, and Dr. McGarry had promised to hand him over all his practice the day he graduated. Times had been too hard on the McKenzie farm for Bruce to leave, but crops had been good for several years now, and he had almost decided to try the University. And Ellen, who shared the Lindsay ambition to the full, was sharing his joy and urging him on.
John walked by his mother's side, and Christina fell behind between Sandy and Jimmie. Usually her mother had to rebuke the hilarity of these three on Sabbath mornings, but to-day Christina was so quiet that Jimmie enquired if she were sick.
They passed silently through the little gate between the lilac bushes, and down the lane to where the tall poplars stood guard at the entrance to the farm. When their mother accompanied them the Lindsays never went by the Short Cut, for even Sandy's stile was too difficult a climb for her.
As they passed out onto the Highway they were joined here and there by groups of church goers. For everybody in Orchard Glen except two or three odd characters, went to church, and Sunday was a day of pleasant social intercourse, such as no other time of the busy week afforded.
It was a real relief, too, from the long strain of six days' toil, and as yet neither the pleasure-seeker nor the money-getter had interfered seriously with its grateful peace. It was a day when you took yourself out of your toilsome environment, dressed in your best, and drove or walked leisurely to church, with a feeling of ease and well-being that no hurried pleasure-seeking could ever give. And you met all your friends and neighbours there, and had a word with them, and incidentally you were reminded that while crops and cattle and fine horses and motor cars and a swelling bank account were good things to possess; like the work of the past week, they would be put away one day, while the unseen things would remain.
The McKenzies came down the path from the farm above, the whole family, from Old Johnnie, who was an elder, to Katie, who was Christina's age. They paired off with the Lindsays, and Bruce and Ellen dropped behind, for they had gotten so far on their courtship, that they even walked to church together, in broad daylight, a stage that was supposed to immediately precede a wedding.
The young folk from the Browns came pouring out of their gate. The Browns were Methodists and the old folk went only to their own church which held its meetings in the evening. But youthful Orchard Glen practised Church Union very persistently, and the Browns were only following the usual custom when they went to each church impartially.
Mrs. Johnnie Dunn and Marthy came bouncing past in their car. The Woman was a Methodist, but Marthy was a Presbyterian so they went to both churches. Trooper Tom never went with his Aunt anywhere that could be avoided and he came down the pathway with the wide stride that marked him for a rider of the plains, and walked beside Sandy.
They were down in the village proper now, and every house sent out its representatives. The village did not begin until the Lindsay hill had been descended and the little bridge that spanned the brown stream crossed, and right on the bank stood the tiny cottage where little Mitty Minns and her old invalid grandmother lived. Mitty had lately married Burke Wright who worked in the flour mill, and was now emerging from the gate with her new husband, fairly bubbling over with joy and pride at being off alone with him for a few hours, away from Granny's complainings.
Across the street stood a much more imposing residence, Dr. McGarry's red brick, white pillared home. Mrs. Sutherland, his widowed sister who kept house for him, came rustling out in her best black silk, and wonder of wonders, the Doctor with her!
Joanna Falls, the blacksmith's daughter, burst from the next gate, like a beautiful butterfly from a green cocoon. Joanna was glorious in a pink silk and white shoes, and a hat trimmed with pink roses. She was a very handsome girl, but she was fast nearing the danger line of thirty, and a long attachment to Trooper Tom Boyd, who was a gay lad, attached to nobody, had rather soured Joanna's temper and sharpened her tongue.
Her father, in his shirt sleeves, was sitting in the most conspicuous part of the little veranda with his stockinged feet on the railing, smoking his pipe and reading the newspaper. Mark Falls always managed, when the weather permitted, to arrange himself in this position on a Sunday before the church goers. He knew it scandalised the worshippers and especially angered the good old Presbyterians who were strict Sabbatarians. Mark made a great parade of his extreme irreligiousness, and could tell stories all day long about duplicity of ministers and the hypocrisy of church members. Joanna was his one orphan child and he was not a very kind father, which had added not a little to his daughter's acidity of temper. But they went their several ways quite independently, and Joanna's way was always where Trooper Tom Boyd was to be found.
She happened to come out of her gate just as Trooper and Sandy Lindsay were passing together, and of course they walked with her. It was surprising how many times little coincidents like this happened. Trooper whispered something to her and Joanna's happy laugh could be heard all down the line of demure church goers.
The procession passed the closed and deserted store, but Marmaduke Simms was perched on the veranda, and Trooper meanly deserted his fair partner, and swung himself up beside his chum, there to wait until the sound of the first hymn would assure them they were in no danger of being too early for church.
Tilly Holmes came tripping out of the side door and through the garden gate, an entrance used only on the Sabbath. The Holmeses were strict Baptists, and their service was not held until the afternoon. But they found it impossible to keep their children from the promiscuous church-going habits of the village and long ago had given up the struggle. They even allowed Tilly to belong to the Union Presbyterian-and-Methodist Choir, knowing that youth will be wayward and you can't put old heads on young shoulders.
Tilly was trying hard not to giggle, seeing it was Sunday, but she found it particularly difficult, for she had to walk beside Joanna, and since Trooper had dropped away Joanna's tongue had become more than usually sarcastic.
The unusual sight of Dr. McGarry going to church proved an irresistible opportunity. Mrs. Sutherland was never done telling Mrs. Sinclair how the Doctor struggled to get to church on Sundays, and all in vain. It seemed as though the whole countryside selfishly arranged their maladies to prevent his attending the sanctuary.
"Well my sakes," declared Joanna, "the Doctor's goin' to church! Everybody must a' got awful healthy all at once, or else they've all up and died on him."
She turned to Mary and Christina who were walking behind her. The unimpaired success of the Lindsays was particularly trying to Joanna's temper.
"Well, how's that rich brother o' yours gettin' on, Christine?" she asked, her black eyes snapping. "I see he hasn't sent you to college yet."
"It's very kind of you to ask after him, Joanna," said Mary smoothly. Mary Lindsay was the one girl in Orchard Glen who could put Joanna in her place. "If Trooper was of a jealous nature he might object, but he doesn't seem to be that kind at all."
Joanna whirled around and addressed herself to Tilly, her cheeks flaming. Her love for Trooper Tom, who was but a wayward cavalier, was the cause of much bitterness and heart-burning.
They were turning in at the church gate, when an old-fashioned double-buggy rattled past, drawn by a heavy shining team. A young man was driving and there were three very gaily-dressed ladies with him.
Gavin Grant's three Aunts were always a sight worth seeing on a Sunday. They were lovely ladies, who, by the calendar, might have been termed old; but they had stopped aging somewhere in the happiest period of girlhood. So it was not unfitting that they should dress in their girlhood clothes, though they were all of a fashion of some thirty years previous. And so, though Auntie Elspie's hair was white and her face wrinkled, and Auntie Flora was stooped and rheumatic and Auntie Janet stout and matronly, their hearts were young and light, and they arrayed themselves accordingly. They owned the most wonderful flower garden in the countryside and the old democrat looked as if all its hollyhocks had come to church, as Gavin pulled up at the door. The Grant Girls were all dressed in ancient silks and velvets made in the fashion of an early Alexandra period, with much silk fringe and old heavy jewellery as accessories.
Gavin carefully helped each of them alight, for the Aunties had given much time to their boy's manners and had seen to it that he did not fail in little acts of courtesy. And though the women declared that they had "babied" him beyond belief, and the girls said he was as much an old maid as any one of them, their kindness had not spoiled him for he was as generous and unselfish as they were.
Christina felt the blood mount to her cheeks as she caught Gavin's glance. She had never mentioned her flowers to him, and always felt ashamed when she saw him.
The three Grant Girls were immediately surrounded by friends. Everybody loved them, and their arrival at church always caused a pleasant stir.
Gavin came back from putting his horses into the shed and showed them to their seats, where he sat with them until it was time for him to go into the choir.
Christina always went to choir practice, but like many another, she did not sing in the choir on Sundays, so she went to the family pew with her mother while Mary and Ellen joined the singers in the vestibule.
The congregation were almost all seated, when the choir, with Tremendous K. at their head, came hurrying down the aisle, and took their places in seats beside the pulpit. Joanna Falls was leading soprano, by virtue of a voice of peculiar strength and carrying power, Gavin Grant, who had the best baritone voice in the countryside, led the boys, and Minnie McKenzie, whose father was an elder, and Martha Henderson, Tremendous K.'s sister, played the organ on alternate Sundays—an arrangement necessary to prevent a split in the church.
Mr. Sinclair had been in Orchard Glen for twenty-five years, and knew his people better than they knew themselves. He realised that the week's toil was absorbing, and on Sundays he tried hard to turn his people's eyes away from the things that are passing to those that are eternal. And on this morning it seemed to Christina that he had chosen his sermon entirely for her benefit.
"For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it;" the divine paradox was his text, and he told Christina plainly that by saving for herself this life of wider experience and greater opportunity, she was missing the one great opportunity that comes to all souls. She was losing her life.
When church was over and Mr. Sinclair was moving about among the people, he came down the aisle and gave one hand to Sandy and the other to Christina at the same time.
"Well, well! and you'll both be leaving me soon!" he cried heartily. "I'm getting used to sending off my boys to the University, but it's a great event when I send one of my girls! Sandy, I want to hear of you in Knox yet. That's your destination, don't forget. You'll make as good a preacher as Neil any day. Well, well, and how are you to-day, Miss Flora—and you Janet—?" He had passed on and was shaking hands with the Grant Girls, giving Christina no chance to reply. She glanced at Sandy; his eyes were on the floor, but she could read his face, and she knew he was struggling with the bitterness of disappointment.
She was even more silent on the road home from church. Bell Brown and Tilly Holmes chattered away on either side of her, asking questions about where she would board in Algonquin, and what new dresses she would get, and how long she would be at school before she would be ready for the University, and wasn't she scared stiff at the thought of studying hard for years and years the way folks had to do at college?
Christina answered absently and when she parted with them she surprised herself by suddenly exclaiming:
"Oh, don't talk about my going any more, girls. Maybe I won't go after all!" and fled from them before they could demand explanations.
That Sunday marked the opening of a period of misery for Christina. She worked furiously in house and barnyard, striving to smother the insistent voice that kept reiterating, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it."
She had caught Opportunity as he came to meet her, determined not to fall into her old error, and now that she held him, her full hands were unable to grasp a greater prize that was slipping away. Christina did not realise all this; she only knew with a feeling of sick dismay that Sandy was not going to college and that it lay within her power to let him go.