Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

The McGregors

After their talk with Andrew Murdoch the idea of a new house took hold of Janet and Jim, and they decided to consider it carefully. Jim had already gathered stones suitable for the new house; these littered the farm and had to be removed from the land before it could be tilled. Most were granite, but there was limestone for special trim and other mottled stones, as well as sparkling quartz.

Jim went to see Adam Buie at Kincardine, for Adam was reputed to be the best stone-mason in South Bruce. Jim found him working with two helpers on a barn foundation. One helper, a large, broad-shouldered man, was swinging the big stone hammer to break the larger blocks; the other, a boy of fifteen, mixed mortar in a flat trough. Adam himself was a big man, but now in his fifties, stooped; his legs were bowed and his arms always seemed to be a little akimbo, never hanging straight at his sides. His hands were large and rough from the constant handling of stone without gloves. He peered now at Jim from under the brim of an ancient hat.

"So you want a house built, do ye? And I suppose you want it built right away, starting next week. Well, I'll have ye know, man, that I have two houses and a ween of walls to set up and only this pair of hands to work with. Best see someone else, lad. I can't promise so far ahead."

"I'm told you're the best man there is." Jim exaggerated only slightly. "I want my house to be the best, and I must have a good builder. I would break the stone for you, Mr. Buie, if you would come some day and show me how you want it. I broke stone for my father's barn wall, though I was just a boy at the time, and I liked the work well enough. I have a lot of the stone gathered from my own place, and there is more close by. They are coloured nicely; I'm sure they will look well in a wall. There is limestone, too, for the windows. If you build it, the house will be the handsomest in the township."

Adam stepped out of the trench where he had been placing the foundation stones. He sat down on a wheelbarrow and looked at Jim with more interest. He spent some time filling a pipe and lighting it. The two helpers felt free to rest as well and sat down on whatever was handy. Adam took a deep draw on his pipe and exhaled with a satisfied sigh.

"I see you may be one who has a regard for how these things should be done. In this country they are all in a great hurry, Mr. McGregor. They cut down the trees, plough the land, put up barns and houses, and sorry-built things they are. I learned my trade in Aberdeen, and there is no place it may be learned better. My father was a mason before me and his father before that. And when I was but a wee lad my father would say to me, `When you build with stone you build forever; it must be true, it must be right, or it is there to shame your memory forever and a day.' In the old country they respected men who worked true; here they hardly look at a stone wall. As long as it isn't leaning a foot out of line, they think it will do very well.

"I would like to build your house, Mr. McGregor, but I must see where you want to put it and how you mean to have things about it, for I am a hard man to please, as you will find. If I think all is fit, then we can put the foundation in this fall. It is best to let that settle over the winter, and we can build on it next year."

Adam began to get up, and his two assistants immediately picked up their tools and began to work. "But there must be no thought of hurry, my boy. I am tired of getting things done before the harvest or before the threshing or before the snow flies. When there is time to work right, then there is pleasure in it, and a man can be happy doing the small things that he does well." Jim thought to himself what a talkative lot his fellow Scots could be when they set off on a subject dear to their hearts. But Adam Buie's reply pleased him, and he decided to press his advantage, in case, after he had gone, the builder decided to change his mind.

"Might I come for you then, Mr. Buie, when you have time free, perhaps on a Sunday? Then you can look over the stone and let me show you where my wife and I plan to place the house."

"Nae, man, I'll nae break the Sabbath, but this weak-minded pair here who work for me, naught will do but they must be off on the twelfth of July coming and march in their finery behind King William. And I must give them the day off. I can go on that day - that is, if you are not away marching yourself."

The weak-minded pair grinned discreetly. They had not been sure whether they would get the day off or not.

Jim agreed. "I will pick you up at seven in the morning then, if agreeable, and bring you home at what time you wish. Perhaps in time for the parade, if you wish to walk yourself, Mr. Buie."

The craggy face smiled. "Ah, lad, I think ye are poking fun at me, for it is well known that I have little use for the marching and the drumming and the tootling. But it is a bright day for a lot of people and little harm done. I will see you then on the morning of the twelfth."

On the morning of the holiday Janet was waiting at the door of her cabin as Adam got down stiffly from Jim's buggy. She had been careful to dress attractively, and the housedress that she had made herself showed a good bit of her summer tan. It was cut lower at the neck than those worn by most of the farm women, and the sleek brown arms were bare to the shoulders. She had just left a mirror where some slight adjustments had been made; a pinch on either cheek and a nip of teeth on lips had added a bit of colour; her hazel eyes shone with the sparkle of youth and health; and about her was a warm glow that is sometimes seen on a well-loved woman.

"I am glad to see you, Mr. Buie. Jim has been so anxious to have you build our house. Will you step inside please and let me get you some tea, or perhaps a dram of something stronger would not be amiss."

Adam looked from under his number-one hat, only slightly more respectable than number two, which he wore at work, and found himself responding to the undoubted charm of this young woman. He shifted a cud of tobacco to a corner of his cheek where it could lie dormant for a while and doffed his hat with a small bow. He did not exactly place a hand over his heart but it seemed that he did.

"A pleasure to greet you, missus, and a bonny sight ye are to be sure. I would be happy to drink a dram in your house when you are so kind."

Adam sat down at the kitchen table and Janet placed a water glass in front of him. Jim set the whiskey bottle on the table.

"Help yourself, Mr. Buie; and here's a pitcher of water too."

Janet watched wide-eyed as Adam poured the glass full and drank half of it at once. He ignored the water.

"A most pleasant way to begin the business of the day. I'm sure we can all work very well together. I have some plans with me." He pulled a folder from an inner pocket and laid it on the table. "Now if you will tell me what you have in mind. I have only three or four basic designs, though they can be changed or shifted about somewhat. Here is a square two-storey house, quite large. Had you thought of anything like that?"

"I'm afraid not, Mr. Buie." Jim was apologetic. "We have to cut the suit to fit the cloth, so to speak. Five or six rooms were all we had planned."

"And is that the house that was to be the best in Bruce County and the one you must have old Adam build! Ah well, perhaps you are right, Jim." Adam sighed and shifted around in his coat pocket for his pipe. "I love to build the big houses, but people do rattle around inside them, and they must run about all winter with firewood to keep the stoves going. Here now is a very good kind of house. Storey-and-a-half as they call it. It can be six or seven rooms. The ell is for the kitchen, of course, and can be one or two storeys. There is a good pitch to the roof, very needful in the snow country, and your shingles last longer. I have planned it with a double chimney for a fireplace, as you see. I am overfond of fireplaces; that is, I am fond of building them, though I find little time to sit by a fire and to tell the truth they are drafty things at best."

"May we keep the plans for a few days, Mr. Buie, and choose later?" asked Janet. "It seems now that the rest of our lives are to be lived here. A stone house seems so permanent. You don't put a new door here or push out a wall there. We must think about it."

"Very well said, missus. I will be happy to leave the plans with you." Adam drank the rest of his whiskey and casually filled the glass again. "But I must ask you both to call me Adam. It is a plain name, and I feel more at ease with it. That is one of the best things about this country; there are more first names used and not so much doffing of the cap, as in the old land, to a gentry no better than they should be, if the truth was known." Jim and Janet exchanged quick glances of amusement as it became obvious to them that Mr. Buie was warming to his subject and would go on for quite some time. Janet thought that perhaps the effect of the whiskey was not as slight as it seemed.

"My father and grandfather were respected workmen, but any two-penny landowner ranked above them, living off what some poor crofters scratched out of the soil. I see about us signs of such a gentry here, shoving up like rye in a wheat field, anxious to be a little above the general run. We can do without them, but we must not live only at a workman's level. We must train ourselves to see beauty around us and to make and build the things that are beautiful. We need not wait for lords and ladies to tell us what to do." Suddenly Mr. Buie stopped. "But I am running on here; we must look at where you would place the house. That is most important." He drained the whiskey in the tumbler as though it were water, and the stiff muscles almost creaked as he rose.

Jim led the way outside. "We had thought of putting the house in front of the log cabin and using that for a summer kitchen and a woodshed."

Adam did not reply; he brought the tobacco into play again and spat reflectively to one side. He walked about for some time in silence.

"You seemed anxious to have my help, Jim, and confident that I was the builder you wanted. Now I must ask you to take my advice. I think I see things differently from you. I see the place as it could be ten or twenty years from now. I would like to put the house there where the land slopes to the east, and you must plant trees behind it, Jim, to break the wind and make a background; and don't put them too close to the house."

"But, Adam, I just got through cutting down trees there, and now you want me to plant some. There's bush on the next lot, enough for a windbreak."

"And who owns the next lot?"

"I'm not sure. I think some company owns it, as well as the lot to the east of us."

"Those trees could come down any time, Jim, and then you will have a bare hillside behind your fine, new house. Get the trees in: maple, poplar, and some spruce, they look best in winter. The poplar and spruce will grow fast, and the maples will shade your children. There is no shade tree in this country to equal the maple. Don't plant your spruce too close together, nor too near the house. You have to remember what they will look like full grown. And about that place next to you. Buy it if you can. It would be a good investment if you get it before some tree-hog cuts all the timber off it."

Janet and Jim listened closely, feeling that the man's advice was sound. The three of them walked around the land discussing the proper site for the house. Mr. Buie seemed to bring the house and the garden up before their eyes. As he described it to them they could see it.

"If you build on the easy slope there, then the drainage is good and you can have lawns and flower beds coming out to your driveway. You must plant trees there, too - ornamental trees. There are many to choose from: horse chestnut or mountain ash. Your house will front to the road and you must have lawn there, too." Adam turned to Janet. "Use the front door; make a practice of it. There are some who forget all about the front of their house and use the door only for a funeral or a wedding. Change the driveway if you have to, but use the front door. And I hope you do not plan to make a room into a parlour and close it up into a musty-smelling place, fit only for a corpse. Have a big living room and use it."

The men discussed measurements for the basement and looked over the pile of stones while Janet prepared the lunch. She had cooked a roast of beef with new potatoes and some baby carrots from the garden. There were biscuits, brown and light - the old stove performed well with biscuits and bread and a juicy pie with rhubarb from the MacDonalds' rhubarb patch. Adam fell to with enthusiasm and thanked her graciously when he finished.

"A wonderful meal, missus. I get nothing like this at my boarding house. I look forward to the time when I will eat with you, in your new house."

"Thank you, Adam." Janet looked for the bulge in the cheek where the tobacco had been, but could see nothing. "He must have gotten rid of it," she thought. "And the whisky might as well have been poured on the ground for all the effect it has on him. I hope he supplies his own while he does the building."

When Adam left she walked up and down the driveway trying to visualize the house and the lawn and the flower beds again.

"it could be beautiful. The man is right, he sees things others do not see. It could be the whisky after all."

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus