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