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Big John Wallace
Chapter 4

AS I have said before, in that land across the ocean, the Wallaces had always been the servants of the McDonalds; farmers all, with a love for the freshly turned loam and the honey sweetness of swaying grain. And although in this new land my father and Red McDonald were on equal footing—man and man instead of man and master—the habit of service could not be wholly shaken off, and to his dying day, I think, my father shaped his life more or less to McDonald’s dictates: which was perhaps well, for Red McDonald was fair and square and a man of rare foresight and ability.

Our farm joined his and it was not unusual for him to give father certain directions when he and I dropped over—as we often did after supper—to the McDonald cabin.

“You had best put corn in the new field, Rodney,” he would say, as he blew huge smoke rings from his pipe, or “I notice the ground near the new stumpage is water-soaked, Rodney. It should be hoe-drained at once.”

And father would promise to do it.

“What had I better do with the new-weaned pigs?” he would ask. “Pen ’em?”

“No, let ’em loose in the straw. They’ll do better so.”

Only at rare intervals would these two, friends from boyhood, become reminiscent and converse of the days that were no more.

At such times they spoke in Gaelic, and little of what they said was understood by us younger ones, but a new light was always in their eyes; and by and by Red McDonald would rise and from his bedroom fetch a squat demijohn. And they would drink—God bless them—to the memory of the old days and the prosperity of the new. At still rarer intervals, they would take their bag-pipes and sojourn to the sward floor, beneath the butternut grove, seamed with the white arrows of moonlight, and shoulder to shoulder march to their favorite tune.

Looking back I can understand the homesickness which was in their hearts, understand the strange whiteness that used to steal into the sweet face of Anne McDonald as she listened. But we youngsters were just healthy young animals who felt only a strange urge, which was ours by inheritance, awake within us to the whining drone of those pipes, and providing it was not school night—when we had to sit before Anne McDonald and recite our lessons— with the music stirring that in our souls which had made our forefathers the terror of the Scottish hills, we were very liable to steal forth and commit some depredation in neighbours’ plum tree or melon patch.

I have much to thank that sweet, patient woman, Anne McDonald, for; how gentle she was and how anxiously she watched our progress as we did our best with the reading, arithmetic and other things it was well to know.

When the log school was built at last, and a real schoolteacher secured to thunder, reason and whip us into shape, Anne McDonald sent us forth with a smile. And it was then we found that the foundation she had given us upon which to build an education crude but nevertheless thorough, was of the true materials.

I would like to say a word or two about Flora McDonald just here. She was seventeen now, two years younger than myself, tall and straight as an arrow. I do not think a more beautiful girl ever lived. Her face pale and high bred, like her mother’s, was softened by large eyes of glass-grey, long-lashed as a fawn’s. Her mouth, which seldom smiled, was tender as a dew-filled rose, upon her shapely head was piled masses of hair, wilful and curling as wild honeysuckle tendrils, and as coppery-gold in hue. But apart from these marks of distinction and beauty, her voice alone would have made you love her, liquid soft as a spring of her native hills it was, and when she sang—your soul was carried up a silvery pathway to an infinity of rapture.

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