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

Big John Wallace
Chapter 7

WHAT a wonderful thing is true friendship, but a still more wonderful thing, I think, is a friendship that has been broken and welded again.

For years the people of the Settlement spoke of the grand reunion of the Camerons and McDonalds, the feast and the dance which followed the gripping of hands between Red McDonald and Neil Cameron when the true facts concerning the burning of the wheat stacks became known.

I can see them yet, these two gaunt men, seated side by side beside the ruddy fire, the light of true understanding in their seamed faces and the spirit of happiness stirring their hearts to song and mirth, the while the younger folk danced and made merry in the great, brown-raftered room.

Flora McDonald was here and there like a fairy, chatting with this one, laughing with that and dancing with still another. Fiddler O’Doone, at his best, played reel and cotillion with a power sufficient to make the staidest set of toes itch to tap the floor, opening his eyes only at the end of the set to peer about for the squat demijohn from which he derived his inspiration.

Kathie O’Doone and Bob McDonald danced much together that night, and even I, stupid about such things as I was, sensed something more than mere friendship in the manner they held together.

One event of that night stands out very clearly in my memory. It was the dancing of the “Scotch Four” by Anne McDonald, Neil Cameron, Flora McDonald and myself, to the sweet music of the pipes played by Red McDonald. Always to me, who could scarcely play even three bars on the jewsharp without discord, and was never allowed to sing in chorus on account of my bellow drowning the voices of the other singers, music has had the power to draw me back to those things sweetest and most tender in life; and this night, as the pipes called and my soul answered, the big room with its shadow-painted walls faded back—and in its place was the sward of my native hills, soft in the moonlight; the spice of the mountain craigs and forest was in my mouth, and the daring of youth which trusts aljl things was in my heart, while near me hovered the sweet Flora McDonald of yesterday, grey-eyed and tender as in those days before the realization had come to me that she must leave me.

Never before had I seen her so beautiful. In her face was the rapt look of one who dreams, and while the casual looker-on might think her smile and merry quip was for me alone, I knew better. Dull as I was, I sensed in her that intoxicating spirit of daring and adventure which bids the lured one seek new paths for old; and I knew that soon she would go out from my life and I must face the trail alone. God help me, that time was closer at hand than I thought.

I say we danced the dance of our home hills that night, and when it was done, with a dewy tenderness shining in her eyes, she beckoned to me, and led the way out into the dark, spacious store-room.

“John,” she whispered when we were alone, “he was here to-day.”

“Yes?” I answered, knowing too well to whom she referred.

“He talked with father, John.”

I waited to hear more. It was too dark to see her face, but I knew from the tremor in her voice that tears stood in her eyes.

“Father sent for me after he had gone,” she faltered. “He says I must never see Dan again.”

I sought her hand and held it close in mine. “And your mother?” I questioned, “what did she say, Flora?”

“Mother would have me do even as she herself did,” she answered, “marry the man I love.”

“In spite of what your father commands?” I asked.

She was silent, but I felt her form tremble.

“John,” she almost choked, “some day you will love, and then you will understand that there can be no obstacle to that you desire.”

Great God, if she could have but read my heart!

I could not speak to her. My veins were frozen; my heart and voice numb with the pain her words has so unwittingly brought.

Neil Cameron’s voice was heard calling lustily.

“John, Flora, come! Supper is waiting and we are languishing for food.”

He came striding into the store-room, laughing happily as a boy.

“There was something more I wished to tell you, John,” Flora whispered as we followed Neil into the dining-room.

In my soul I was glad that Neil Cameron had come when he did. I was beginning to be afraid of myself. I was but flesh and blood after all.

I did not see Flora alone again that night. Others claimed her. She fluttered like a butterfly among her guests.

I went home early. Strangely, the realization of the unutterable loss I was about to suffer—aye, was already suffering —struck me this night more forcibly than ever before.

In the darkness of my cabin I sat down with my misery; the dog, Snarl, beside me, his head on my knee.

It was in the chill, drab dawn of a wintery morning when a knock on my cabin door stirred me from a half sleeping stupor. Snarl raised his heavy head and whined. I knew then who stood without, and for a moment, numbed by the chill that had crept into me, I was powerless to rise; then the conflicting emotions that swept hotly through me at the knowledge of sweet Flora's nearness, dispelled the numbness which bound me and, springing up, I threw open the door.

There against the shadow of the forest, like a lily against the sable meshes of night, she stood, tall and beautiful. The light of love and happiness was in her face, and in the clustering ringlets that framed it was dawn’s pale sheen and sunset’s russet gold.

“John,” she faltered, “dear John.”

“Flora,” I cried, taking her wee, cold hands in mine, “what is wrong? Why are you here and dressed as though for a journey?”

She pointed toward the dim corduroy; and then it was I discerned waiting in the edge of the grove, a man on horseback. Another saddled horse was beside him.

“Flora,” I said, drawing her into the room, “you are not running away?”

She nodded, laughing happily; for love, like the warmth of spring, knows only its own fire and power and sees naught of the frozen banks between which it melts its way.

“With him, Flora?” I asked.

“Yes, Big John,” she answered softly. “I love him. You would have me happy, wouldn’t you, John.”

“God knows I would,” I answered, “and that is why I fear the consequences of this rash thing you are doing, Flora.”

“There is no other way, Big John,” she sighed. “You know my father. He would never consent to my marrying Dan. By and by, when he learns to know how he has misjudged him, he will forgive.”

I stood there gazing down on her dear face. There was no conflict within me; only a doubt, grim and sharp-taloned, ripped my soul. I loved Flora McDonald, had loved her always. But never during those wilderness years when our paths ran parallel had I for one moment forgotten that she was of the Clan McDonald and I but the servant of her pe6ple. And I had told myself that some day she must go out from me as she was going now.

“Wait you here a moment,” I said almost gruffly, and turned to the door.

“John,” she whispered agonizingly, “you will not hurt him?” I shook my head, unable to trust my voice, and striding out, went down to where Gypsy Dan waited in the shadow of the elms. He saw me coming and dismounted. He was standing there slender and graceful when I came up to him.

For a long moment we looked into each other’s eyes. Then he spoke. “John,” he said earnestly, “I love her. You may set your fears at rest.”

“Gypsy Dan,” I answered him, “God help you if you harm her in any way, for if you do, I shall seek you out and tear you limb from limb.”

At my words a look of surprise and pity came into his handsome face. He reached out a hand and laid it on my arm.

I shook it off angrily.

“John,” he said gently, “I didn’t know it was like this; you’re a real man, by God!”

I turned fiercely upon him. “She must never guess" I commenced, but his grip on my hand told me he understood.

I took a strong hold on myself and faced him. “Where do you go?” I asked.

“To St. Tobias,” he answered. “The circuit minister is there waiting.”

“Then,” I said, “I go with you.”

He stared at me. “Surely you trust me now, John,” he said. “I swear ”

“It is not that I do not trust you,” I told him, “but it is her great day, and I would be there to see it dawn for her and wish her happiness.”

“But Red McDonald will think perhaps that you abetted us,” he protested, “I would not have him misjudge you.”

“Let him think as he will,” I flung back, “I am going with you.”

So it was that we three rode away down the dim trail together toward the lifting dawn. The horse I bestrode was a powerful roan which I had recently purchased from a dealer who was glad to let him go on account of his vicious temper. The slender-legged mounts of Flora and Dan—two from Hallibut’s string of thoroughbreds, I knew them to be—minced their way through the silent-sheeted forest, paying not the slightest heed to my stallion’s snorted threats and evil rolling of eye. And as I watched those twain who rode before me, young, handsome, each with the poise that is born of blue blood, my heart sunk like lead in my breast and a mist came to my eyes.

But, like one who follows the bier of one long loved and soon forever lost, I followed Flora and Gypsy Dan. It was my hour. She was still mine until the law of God made her another’s.

The light of morning grew up and painted the dead forest with glories. Their happy voices came back to me; but I rode with head bowed and chin on my breast.

* * *

At noon I returned to the Settlement. Red McDonald was waiting for me in my cabin. He got up from his chair as I entered, and the look in his face smote me. He had aged greatly during the past few weeks. I had expected a stormy time with him, and was unprepared for what he now did.

“John,” he said brokenly, “is this thing that Anne tells me true? Has Flora gone with with?”

“It is true,” I answered. “They were married this morning by the preacher, Lloyd, at St. Tobias.”

He rasied his eyes, and there was a dazed, hurt look in them. “She disobeyed me, John,” he said, and his voice quavered. “Sweet and obedient as she has always been, she disobeyed me in this thing.”

“It broke her heart to be obliged to do it,” I answered. “Aye,” he nodded, “I can understand that. But, John, the fact stands that she went against the wishes of her father. She is no longer daughter of mine, John.”

“Then, Red McDonald,” I cried, banging my first on the table so that the cabin shook with the impact, “I am no longer your friend and neighbour!”

“Tut, tut!” he exclaimed, “surely you would not turn against me, Big John?”

“Flora has not turned against you,” I told him, “and you know it. She has married the man she loves. Would you have her do otherwise?”

“Her first duty was to me,” he said doggedly.

“Supposing,” I said, “the girl Anne whom you wooed and won in the Highlands, had told you that her first duty was to the father *who refused you her hand? What about it, Red McDonald?”

His big head drooped. “Then,” he said brokenly, “I must have lost a great deal, John.”

He was silent for a long time, and I did not interrupt his thoughts.

When he looked up his eyes were misty.

“Big John,” he said, “will you go and bring them home?” “Gladly,” I answered.

Just here a voice raised in profanity mingled with the growling of dogs sounded without.

I opened the door. Seated astride a beautiful black horse was a big man whom I guessed at once to be the eccentric Englishman, Colonel Hallibut. Half a dozen lean dogs frisked about his horse’s heels, baying and snarling and behaving as dogs will after loosed from confinement.

“Hullo!” exclaimed the rider, catching sight of me. “Young man, will you oblige me by taking your gun and shooting every damned dog in this pack?”

He leaned over and brought his heavy quirt down close beside an angry hound. The dog whined, and leaping up, left a damp caress on the hand that was doubled on the whip.

“Curse me!” exploded the man, “they’ll be the death of me yet, those dogs.”

“They don’t appear to be greatly frightened at you, at any rate, sir,” I said, coming forward.

A smile lit up his coarse, red face.    '

“I’m afraid I spoil the devils,” he confessed. They know I love ’em, and they take advantage of it.”  

I ran my eye over the dogs. I was glad that Snarl was safely shut in the stable. He would be gazing through a chink in the logs, I knew, voiceless and tense, and eager to resent the coming of these strangers into his realm.

“I’m Hallibut,” my visitor informed me, “and from your looks, I take you to be this Big John Wallace I’ve been hearing about.”

I bowed.

“I was told that Red McDonald was here,” he went on. “May I have a word or two with that gent?”

“He’s inside,” I answered.

The Colonel dismounted, puffing and rubbing his stiffened joints; for he was no longer a young man, and high living had given his great frame too much weight.

He went inside and I led his horse to the stable.

When I returned to the cabin, Colonel Hallibut and Red McDonald were seated opposite each other at table. I could see at a glance that McDonald was greatly interested in what our visitor was telling him.

“This chap known to you as Gypsy Dan,” Hallibut was saying, “is my nephew. His true name is Dan Whitelaw. He comes from good English stock, and in spite of the fact that I’ve done my best to spoil him, the young beggar’s got a lot of good in him. I’m glad he married your daughter, McDonald. It’ll be the making of the boy.

“Now,” he rap on, “I’ll tell you what we’ll do, you and I. I’m Dan’s uncle, but I’m more than that. Since he lost his father and mother I’ve been his foster father. And I’ll say this: he’s always done what I commanded him to do.

“You’ll wonder perhaps why he didn’t tell you all I’ve just told you? Well, the reason is likely this: Dan’s got a lot of pride, and the chances are, when he approached you, and asked you for your daughter, you put the gaff in him and froze him up. Nevertheless, the young cub should have enlightened you, and I told him so. But I’m doing it now, and I hope it isn’t too late to put a different aspect on things.

“Now, here’s what I’ve got to propose. He’s got money of his own, a good education, and he’s an A1 judge of timber. He wants to start in business in this section, so I’m going to build him a big sawmill near the mouth of Indian Creek. And I want to say right here, McDonald, with you and Flora and myself believing in him—he’s going to make good.”

He sat back, his booted legs spread wide, a smile of huge satisfaction on his big face.

I went into the bedroom and brought out the bottle which my father had carried with him from Scotland. Heaven only knows how old the amber liquor it contained was, but, judging from the way that connoisseur Hallibut and Red McDonald smacked their lips after drinking to the health of the newly wedded pair, and again to their prosperity, and once more to their own better acquaintance, and again to myself—I know it was sufficiently potent to bring those two men into closer understanding of each other; and that was a great deal.

In the weeks that followed I was busy with the woodcutting and the building of new racks and outbuildings. My stock of cattle was growing. Twelve new lambs were among my sheep and others were expected. In March I bought another horse. I did not sell my oxen. Somehow, I couldn’t bear to see them go. Father had broken that span of steers, and—of course, I know it was only a fancy—but somehow, when they raised their heavy heads in the morning when I went out to feed them, their soft eyes seemed to watch for him, their ears twitch for the sound of his footstep.

Jack Cameron and Nance were now living in a house close to the Cameron home. Dan Whitelaw and Flora were living with her parents until his own house of lumber could be built near the site of this mill in the spring. Colonel Hallibut often rode over to visit McDonald now; the two had become great friends.

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