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The McGregors

As John entered the kitchen Janet was standing over the kitchen stove preparing the evening meal. Years after, when he thought of her, it would be to picture her thus: in the large apron that covered all the front of her dress, smiling across at him, one hand holding a fork or spoon, watchful of the food into which so much labour had gone. The meat, the bread, the milk and eggs, the vegetables, all had come from their own farm. And this was the final touch, the last bit of painstaking care to see that her family was fed with all these good things, and that they went onto the table well cooked and attractively served.

She greeted him in her usual offhand, cheerful way. "Hello, Farmer John. Trust you to be just in time for the food."

"I have a food clock in my stomach, Mom. What's for supper?"

"Just the usual, ham and warmed-up potatoes, but there are fresh strawberries with ice cream."

"That's what the Ryans are having. I gave Katie a ride, but when she thought about the strawberries and ice cream the wagon was too slow. The last I saw of her she was going across the field on wings, or so it looked."

"That's a fiery youngster. It will take a lot of ice cream to cool her down. I can't help but like the little imp though," Janet sighed. "I'd like to have the handling of her for a while. She's such a bright thing."

Again John had the strange feeling, the feeling that this moment had happened before, would happen again, and would go on happening to the end of time. It was a glimpse perhaps of that other world we live beside, in which the present, the past, and the future are all one.

When Jim came in the supper was served: the potatoes fluffy, chopped with an inverted baking-powder tin, minus the lid, and tangy with pepper and a bit of onion. The ham was in large pink slices on a platter, and beside it was a plate of home-made bread cut thick. The ice cream was still in a bucket where it had been stirred, surrounded by chopped ice and salt. Ice cream meant hard work for someone, starting with the trip to the ice house and the prying of a block of ice out of the sawdust.

"What's new in town, John?" This from Jim. They talked freely enough at the table, for Janet's presence provided the oil that lubricated the exchange between them. It was when the two were by themselves that they talked little, a strange embarrassment shutting off easy conversation.

"King Edward is pretty sick, they say. He might not last long, and we'll have a new king and queen."

"The old boy is a hard drinker, I guess," Jim said, "though we are not supposed to mention that. I wouldn't wonder if it isn't his liver that's given out."

"Poor man, he hasn't had much time to be king. The old queen lived so long the poor man has just had these few years when he is already old himself."

John could not help thinking of the farm that was to be his when his father tired of it. There was no sign of this now, and it seemed to him that he would finish up like the king. He quickly changed the subject.

"There's a row started up in our new church. It's about the organ. Most want to buy one, but a few won't hear of it. They'll leave the church first, they say."

"Surely there's nothing wrong with an organ," Janet said, "and a choir too. The service goes so much nicer with good music and good singing."

"But that's just the point. Those opposed to the organ say worship is not supposed to be entertaining. Alex Stewart says it smacks of Popery. He will leave, he says, if they bring in an organ."

"Where will he go? All the churches have organ music now.

"There's none at Langside; he says he'll go there."

"But that is such a long drive, and Mr. Stewart is an old man. It will take years off his life."

Jim laughed. "If I know old Alex, it will add ten years to his life instead. He'll love being a martyr. There's nothing like a row in the church to perk things up. I heard some rumours of the McKellars leaving, and they only went to service about twice a year."

"I'm sorry for Mr. McLean though," John continued doling out the information. "He prays for guidance in the matter and gets no clear answer. The poor old man is very upset. So Mrs. McLean told Amy Phillips in strict confidence and Amy told Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. Campbell told Matty Wilson and Matty told me, but don't breathe a word of it, she said."

"No, we wouldn't think of it." Janet reached out and pulled John's ear. "And let's hope old blabbermouth John McGregor keeps quiet, too."

John grinned. He was noted for being close-mouthed. His budget of news for the day was unusual.

"Mr. McLean is pretty old," said Jim reflectively. "He's been in that pulpit close to forty years. Time he retired; but who's to tell the man?"

"Who indeed," thought John. "Why do people not see when it is time for a change?"

A month later Mr. McLean collapsed in the pulpit. His friend Ian McLeod hurried to help him. The old man looked up, his eyes blurred.

"It's been too long, Ian, too long."

As the men carried him out to the fresh air, he died.

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