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In Orchard Glen, Page 2

Mary Esther Miller MacGregor



  Mrs. Johnnie Dunn, driving home from town in her new Ford car, spundown the hill and through the village, without even stopping at thepost office.

  Mrs. Dunn was the only truly emancipated woman of Orchard Glen; herhusband was a quiet, shy little man, whom every one called "Marthy,"and he always referred proudly to his clever wife as "The Woman." Shemanaged her husband, her household, her farm, and a dozen otherenterprises 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 theenvy and the scandal of the whole neighbourhood.

  Her latest escapade had been to buy up the old Simms place, next to herown farm, turn it all into pasture for cows, buy a milking machine anda Ford car, and go dashing into town every morning with milk for a listof customers that astonished all the milkmen of the district. And sheoften came tearing back to her day's work when the lazy village folkwere 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 pegleg 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 inthe 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 inthe field before her return, and now, when her car appeared upon thehill half-an-hour earlier than it should have come, he gave a start ofdismay.

  "Great Ghosts," cried Marmaduke, "it's The Woman, sure as death!"

  Trooper Tom gathered his long limbs together in one swift spasm, andleaped to cover through the store door-way.

  "I ain't a bit scairt of her, Tilly," he remarked to the store-keeper'sdaughter, as he landed tumultuously against the counter, "but I justremembered 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 apassenger, 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, sureenough, Trooper," said Tilly, with a giggle. "Guess she's goin' togive you the sack, and she's brought him out to do the seedin'."

  "Too good to be true," sighed the young man mournfully. "'Most likelyit's an implement agent. The Woman's always buyin' something new madeo' wheels."

  "She'll be gettin' a machine to wind you up and set you goin' at fourin 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 thecreek and went storming up the opposite hill. And at the top of thehill sat Christina Lindsay on the fence top wishing with all her mightand main that Mr. Opportunity would come out and meet her.

  As soon as Mrs. Johnnie Dunn saw her, she stopped her car opposite thestile with a word to the man at her side. He picked up his suit-caseand stepped hurriedly from the car.

  "Hello, there, Christine!" shouted The Woman, over the stranger'sshoulder, "here's a man from Algonquin wants a place to board. Do youthink your mother'd take him?"

  The stranger came forward looking intently at Christina, with a twinklein his eye. He was stout, with iron-grey hair. His bronzed face wasgood 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. "Iheard that the Lindsays are noted for their hospitality."

  "I'm afraid we can't, but I'll ask mother," said Christina, coming downoff the fence to a more formal position. She spoke rather stiffly, forthe stranger's air of easy familiarity rather put her on her dignity.

  Mrs. Johnnie Dunn still sat in her churning car and looked on withlaughing eyes. "Take him along up home and show him to your Ma, andsee if she likes him," she shouted "'cause if youse folks won't keephim, 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 uphis eyes just the way Sandy did, and he showed his two rows of teethjust like Neil, and he threw back his head exactly like John, and itsurely couldn't be, and yet it really was,----

  "Allister!" screamed Christina, and the next moment she was over thefence, with her arms tight round the stranger's neck, and was sayingover and over, "Oh, Allister, Allister, I just knew something awfullygood was going to happen, and it's you!"

  And The Woman, who could carry through a business deal with a high handand was a terror in a bargain, sat in her car and watched the brotherand sister, with the tears blurring her vision.

  It was not until the day's work was done and the reunited family weregathered round the supper table that the Lindsays had time to realisethe wonderful fact that Allister had come home.

  He sat in the centre of an admiring circle and told all his experiencesof the past ten years, shouting occasional bits of the history toGrandpa, who was sitting devouring him with his eyes.

  There were the first hard years when everything went wrong; the year hewas hailed out, and the year the frost got everything, and the year ofthe great prairie fires when he was on the verge of throwing everythingup and coming back to Ontario. But there had been good years inbetween and finally he had begun to move up the hill. Everything inthe West moved in the same direction, and now he had a big ranch andsome coal mine shares, and building lots in Prairie Park where realestate was going up like a sky rocket.

  And the truth of the matter was that if everything went all right hewould be a rich man some day not far distant. And he was planning thatwhen he sold out and got from under some of his schemes he would comehome 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 electriclight,----

  "And a piano," put in Christina, "we need one far worse than we need ahay loader, don't we, Mary?"

  "You'll have one some day if I go bust," shouted Allister, and went onto tell of profits and prices and real estate deals. His mother's facelooked a little wistful, but if there was rather much talk of money andnone of the wealth that thieves cannot steal, she put aside herdisappointment. Allister was home, he was well and prosperous and thatwas surely enough happiness for one day. She sat beside him, keepingtight hold of his hand, patting it occasionally and repeating Gaelicwords of endearment, precious words he had not heard since he was achild and which brought a sting to his eyes.

  The family conference did not last long, for the neighbours had heardthat Allister Lindsay was home from the West, and the chores were notnearly completed when visitors began to arrive to welcome the longabsent one. The girls hurried about their work, while Allister ranhere and there and got in every one's way. He followed Christina downto the milking and back again to the spring house and helped her withthe separator, and she was rapturously happy that he should single herout for special notice.

  He was back at the barnyard with Uncle Neil again, when she came out ofthe barn with a basket of eggs. Uncle Neil was turning the cows intothe back lane to drive them up to the pasture.

  "Here, Uncle Neil, let me do that," cried Allister. "I want to seewhat it feels like to drive the cows to the back pasture again. Hurrahhere, Christine! Come along with me, for fear I get lost!"

  Christina fairly threw her basket of eggs at Uncle Neil, and ran afterher brother. They walked hand in hand up the lane like a couple ofchildren.

  "Maybe you wanted to go back to the house and get dolled up before theboys come," he said, looking down at her big milking apron.

  Christina eyed him suspiciously. She was wondering if he was thinkingthat she needed much more fixing up than her sisters.

  "No," she answered, "I'm beautiful enough without. It's just girlslike Ellen and Mary that need to be fussing over their looks."

  Allister looked down at her in admiration that was impossible tomistake.

  "By ginger, you're right," he shouted heartily; "you're the sort of agirl for me. Say, what would you say to coming out West and keepinghouse 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 theeducation bug. Mr. Sinclair used to say that if father was to changethe catechism, he'd have it read: 'Man's chief end is to glorify Godand get a good education.'"

  "Just what I believe exactly!" declared Christina, who was tremblingwith 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 tobe an old maid like the Auntie Grants. But I want to go away fromOrchard Glen first, and see what the world's like--and get a grandeducation 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 thebars 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 shonepink in the sunset. Away down in the beaver meadow the frogs weretuning up for their first overture of evening, and a whippoorwill farup 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 haveto 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 dancingwith impatience. "But I'd be sorrier if I thought things wouldn'tchange. 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 OrchardGlen. John always will."

  "I suppose so. John's spent all his life working hard for the rest ofus," 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 tellyou this, that the man or woman, either, who gives up all his chance inlife to somebody else is bound to come out with the small end of thestick. It sounds fine, but it don't pay." Allister spoke with theassurance of the successful man of business. "There's a certain amountof looking out for Number One that's necessary in this pleasant world."

  Christina was silent. Her heart told her he must be wrong, but shecould not have argued the matter if she would. It did not seempossible that John's life of self-sacrifice and devotion had been amistake. Something that Neil was always quoting was running throughher head, "There is no gain except by loss." She could not recall itfully, but she remembered distinctly another quotation, "Whosoever willlose his life for my sake, shall find it."

  "Well, we're all getting on in the world all right," cried Allisterheartily. "I tell you, our family's doing fine. And if I make my pileas I hope to, we'll all do better. I'd like to be able to give Neiland Sandy a lift, but Sandy's ready to go next Fall to the Universityanyway. And it'll be a good while before Jimmie's ready."

  "Ellen and Bruce will be married some time next Fall, I expect," saidChristina, 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 hadher out West I'd do better than that for her, but I suppose I might aswell tell her I wanted to cut her head off."

  "I should think so!" laughed Christina; "it's a dreadful thing to be inlove."

  "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 andbake 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 bakesthe pies and cakes for Christmas when the family come home!"

  Allister threw back his head and laughed into the coloured heavens tillthe echoes came back sharply from the whippoorwill's sanctuary on thehillside.

  "Never!" he cried heroically, waving the long stick with which he haddriven 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 goldmedals, or whatever truck it is they get there, and she'll be ahigh-brow and go travelling over the country lecturing on Women'sRights!"

  "I do believe I'd do it, even the lecturing part, for the sake of thecollege course," she declared. "Oh, Allister, I'm simply _aching_ toget away and have a good education and be--be _somebody_--even if it'sonly a Woman's Righter!"

  "Hooroo! I'm with you. I guess your education won't break me. You'vegot the kind of spirit that's bound to win, so off you go. You getyour sunbonnet and all the fal-lals girls have to get, and be readynext 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 hemeant what he said. Her eyes were like stars in the twilight, hervoice sank to a whisper.

  "Allister! What are you saying?"

  He laughed joyfully. "I'm saying that you can start out on the road toglory next September and I'll foot the bills!" he shouted. "You'redeaf as Grandpa!"

  Christina suddenly realised that he really meant it; that the gloriousunbelievable thing upon which she had set her heart was hers. She gavea sudden spring from her seat to throw herself in an abandon ofgratitude upon her brother. But the leap had an entirely differentresult. The unsteady fence rail upon which she sat gave a lurch,turned over and Christina and it together went crashing into theraspberry and gooseberry bushes and thistles and stones of the fencecorner.

  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, mygoodness!" she cried, "to think of killing myself at this suprememoment! If I had I'd never, never speak to myself again for missingthat 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 toSandy, and then she had to fly about to help put everything in orderbefore the guests arrived.

  The Lindsay home was at all times a popular gathering-place of anevening, for there was always plenty of company and music there, and ajolly time. Indeed Uncle Neil was in the habit of saying that, whenthe milk pails were hung out along the shed they were like the Standardon the Braes o' Mar, for when the young fellows of the countryside sawthem, they came flocking over the hills. And indeed the last pail hadscarcely been washed and put in its place to-night when the firstvisitor appeared in the lane.

  Uncle Neil, coming up from the pump in the orchard, with two pails offresh water, announced that the whole MacKenzie family were comingacross the field, and burst into the song that always set Ellen'scheeks 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'tany chores in the evening!"

  "I'm all behind the times!" cried the new brother. "Tell me all aboutthis MacGillivray man. He's a new one!"

  He caught hold of Mary as she came in from the spring house, but shedodged him. This MacGillivray man was a new and quite specialcavalier. He was no country boy from a neighbouring farm, but aprosperous young merchant from Port Stewart, a town some dozen milesaway on the lake shore. Driving through the country one bright day inearly spring, he had met Mary on her way to school, and had never gotover the sight. Since then he had driven out all the way to OrchardGlen many a night for a repetition of the vision.

  "Will you finish for me, Christine?" Mary whispered in a panic. "I'mnot fixed up yet, and he's coming up the lane."

  Christina promised and hurried her away. It didn't matter, shereflected, whether she was dressed in her best or her milking apron.There was no MacGillivray's man or MacKenzie's man, Highland orLowland, coming over the hills to see her. And then she suddenlyremembered with dismay the flowers that must be still lying under thebushes 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 fullpossession now, and there were no splashes of gold on the undergrowth.The veeries were ringing their bells in the tree tops and a cat birdwas fairly spilling out music of a dozen delightful varieties from ahidden corner behind a basswood bush. Christina ran down the path andparted the undergrowth. The basket was gone! She searched in everycorner. And then she remembered that on her way out to the milking shehad 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 thepath, feeling ashamed and a little relieved. He would never know thatshe had seen it, and yet it seemed too bad not to thank him for such abeautiful gift!

  She hastened back to help Grandpa to bed. Grandpa always sang hisevening hymn just before he went to sleep, and as he lived in thebelief that every one was as deaf as himself, it was well to get theperformance over before the house was filled with company.

  Grandpa had a very ancient little hymn book with an orange cotton coverwhich had been one of Grandma's treasures, and which was now his mostprized possession. Grandma Lindsay had been a Methodist before hermarriage, and under her influence Grandpa had often been in danger ofwandering from the paths of Presbyterianism. He would have consideredit a great sin to confess that this old hymn book with its gospel songswas more to him than the psalms of David, and he would never havedreamed of introducing one of them into family worship. But he lovedevery line inside the tattered orange covers, and their bright melodieshad helped him over many a hard place after Grandma had left him. Hisfavourite hymn was the last in the book, "The Hindmost Hymn," Grandpacalled it, and every night of his life, unless he were too ill, he sangat 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 willbe more than a hymn I'll be raising to the Lord this night. I'll jistbe singing Him a psalm, too, for He has brought Joseph back to the landof Israel."

  Christina was ashamed of her subterfuge, and joined him in his psalm ofgratitude, feeling that she, too, should raise a song of thanksgivingfor all that had come to her on this wonderful day. So she joinedGrandpa'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. ThoughGrandpa never confessed it, he had a secret hope, every night, as helay down to sleep, that all his aches and pains might be at an end andthat the next morning he would waken "on the other side of Jordan, inthe sweet fields of Eden," and he liked to close the day with thecheering words.

  So Christina sang it with him to the very end and then tucked him intohis big feather bed. She left his door into the winter kitchen ajar sothat he could hear the singing, which they were sure to have. Then shehelped her mother air the spare room for Allister, and put a littlefire 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 fullof visitors. Mrs. Johnnie Dunn and "Marthy" were the first, the formereager to retell the manner of her introduction of Allister to hisfamily.

  The McKenzies, who lived on the next farm above, were all there, andBruce was helping Ellen carry chairs out to the veranda. The Browns, abig family who lived just across the road from the Lindsays, were inthe kitchen, and young Mr. MacGillivray's horse was in the stable andhe himself was seated in the parlour talking to Uncle Neil, and lookingat Mary.

  Then there was quite a little crowd coming up from the village, TillyHolmes and Joanna Falls, the blacksmith's handsome daughter, and Mr.and Mrs. Martin, who owned the mill, people of some consequence inOrchard Glen, for Mrs. Martin had been a school teacher before hermarriage. Then there was Burke Wright, who worked in the mill, and hislittle wife; Trooper Tom Boyd and his chum Marmaduke, and even Mr.Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister, and his wife, all come to dohonour to the long-absent son of Orchard Glen.

  Christina joined Tilly Holmes and Bell Brown and some more girls of herown age in a corner of the veranda and told them all about Allister'ssudden appearance, and how she had taken him for a stranger looking fora place to board, and how he had promised to send her to the HighSchool 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 theparlour, and the men collected about Allister in the greater freedom ofthe kitchen, where coats could be laid aside and pipes taken out, andthey sat astride their chairs in the smoke and listened to him tellabout the prairies and the wheat crop of Alberta and the prices of realestate.

  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 ofthe future.

  Uncle Neil came to the veranda door in his stocking feet and shirtsleeves.

  "Come away in here, you musicians," he called, "Allister wants to hearsome of the old songs!"

  There was much holding back and shoving of others forward, and manydeclarations of heavy colds and a rooted inability to sing at any time,but finally some of the girls were persuaded to move inside, and theboys followed.

  Minnie Brown was organist in the Methodist church, so she was invitedto the place of honour on the organ stool. Ellen lit the big lamp withthe pink shade, and Trem. Henderson, who was the leader in musicalcircles and whom everybody called Tremendous K., was called in from thesmoky region of the kitchen to start the singing.

  They sang several of the old hymns first, so that Grandpa might enjoythem; and then Allister sent Sandy in from the kitchen to say that hemust have some of the good old rousing Scotch songs they used to singwhen he was home. So Mary brought out the old tartan-covered song-bookand 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 inas when times were newer and money scarce. When Mrs. Lindsay and thegirls had passed around cake and pie and big cups of tea thick withcream the festivity was over, and the company moved away down the lanein the soft May moonlight.

  And Christina and Sandy hung over the gard
en gate, like a pair oflovers, long after the last guest had gone, and made wonderful plansfor the future, when they would be going to the University together.