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Big John Wallace
Chapter 8

I AM going to say but little concerning the peaceful and fruitful years which followed that eventful Winter and Spring. Like the stream which flows its happy course between level meadows a-flower with God’s choicest offerings, our lives flowed on their way, sweet with the contentment that comes of honest toil and the satisfying fruits of endeavour.

Swiftly the forest disappeared, and more broad farms grew up until as far as eye could see lay a vast checker-board of waving grain.

The crude log houses and barns vanished, and in their stead appeared more commodious ones of lumber. We were a flourishing community indeed. God had been good, and well we realized it. Great schooners now winged their way across the lake and through the narrows of Round Water to the big grain warehouse at Shooper’s Wharf, and went away laden to capacity with our wheat and other grains.

And standing shoulder to shoulder with us throughout these fruitful years were those indefatigable and loyal men of inventive mind, to give us the wonderful labour-saving tools of our craft, without which, I reiterate, the farming industry could never have been what it is to-day.

Like my neighbours, I had gradually extended my holdings of land until I now owned five hundred acres, most of which was tillable. I had as helpers a man named Bob Shaver and his two sons, Frank and George. Mrs. Shaver looked after my home, as well as their own, a pretty frame cottage standing near the creek on the back pasture lands. And so for twenty-five years the Shavers were my loyal helpers—and are to-day.

Of course, time cannot go on without registering its changes. The little cemetery beneath the twin elms, in which my dear mother and father lay, had grown. Neil Cameron and his wife and many others now slept beside my loved ones. Red McDonald and his gentle wife, Anne, were resting on some heath-ered steep in those old home hills; for, with the coming of age, homesickness had drawn them to the land of their birth.

Sometimes, after a long day’s pleasant work in my fields, with the scented wind to cheer and the glory of heaven itself on varitinted growing things, as filled with the contentment of having fulfilled a task and with the weariness that comes of healthy mind and muscles, I returned at twilight up the road to my home, would come the realization that I was nearing the milestone of staid middle-age. I was a trifle slower. I was given to pausing longeT to listen to song of twilight bird, also I was more content to sit at dusk beside my door and dream than stray, as had been my custom, down old and dear by-paths.

I say these things brought home to me the fact that youth lay far behind me, although my heart has never grown old.

Then there were my children—I called them my children— those bright-faced, eager youngsters of this new generation— who would come trooping to my door with laughter and merriment, and take possession of me and mine. Young men and women grown, almost, and yet to me they were simply little folk who were willing to lend some of their sunshine toward my happiness.

Jack Cameron had grown into a thoughtful and thrifty man, one of the wealthiest farmers of the district was he, excepting only Bob McDonald, who had married Kathie O’Doone and possessed a family of six strapping boys and girls. The old rivalry between the Camerons and McDonalds was as active as in the days of their fathers; but it was a friendly rivalry, and no better friends than they could be found throughout the countryside.

To sweet Flora and Dan Whitelaw had been given a daughter, and through that stretch of years—so like the sluggish current of the meadow stream—little Anne was of endless comfort and cheer to me. I watched her grow from a slender bloom of a thing into a blossom of wonderful beauty, and lived much of my youth again; for she was wonderfully like her mother as I had known her in the olden days. I do not think that had I possessed a daughter of my own, I could have loved her more than I loved little Anne Then, too, of the youth of the neighbourhood, Malcolm, only child of my friend Jack Cameron, was most like a son to me. What more natural than with the passing of years, I should take to dreaming of the future of each of these young people, and hope that some day they would join hands at the altar and so add another flower to my wreath of fulfilment.

And the years went on. There was in Flora’s face now less of the look of girlish carefreeness, but more of maternal tenderness. Yet in her fathomless eyes of grey were still those lights which land nor sea have never known. And I was thankful that she was as much mine as she ever was, and could still feel the sweet intoxication of her presence. For she and Dan came often to the Elms—for such my home was called—and in the big heart of him I knew lay only pity for me whose secret he had guessed.

The morning that saw Anne Whitelaw and Malcolm Cameron wedded was white with apple blossonjs. Little clouds flecked the skies, drifting like homing doves against the unfathomable blue. It was after the happy pair had gone on their way, and I stood bareheaded in the orchard of flowering apple trees, gazing after them, misty-eyed, that Flora came to me, and placing her hands on mine, spoke softly.

“Big John, you love them both?”

“Aye, Flora,” I answered, “I love them both.”

“John,” she whispered, “why have you never married?”

I do not know what she read in the face I turned to hers, but the wide eyes opened wider still and the lily face of her grew whiter. And then she raised these big, calloused hands and pressed her warm lips against them—and was gone.

That was the last I saw of Flora for many days.

Followed a glorious Summer, a fruitful harvest and the garnering of the Fall crops. Autumn hovered with her cloak of haze and magic coloring of leaf and bramble. Then came shorter days with lowering skies and spiteful winds a-down which came the whistle of wild ducks’ wings, as the flocks sought the marshes. The sheep huddled in a corner of the pasture; the horses stood with their necks one across the other; the cattle strayed into the barnyard in early afternoon.

The Winter which followed was severe, and it was at the beginning of this Winter that the smallpox plague swept down upon us and took deadly toll of the lives of young and old.

A half-breed named Babette, whose French father had been friend to Jake Hood, who, after leaving our Settlement had lived squarely as a timber-marker in the Quebec forest, and who had lost his life in the waters of the St. Lawrence, had come up from the Three Rivers with papers, left by Hood for his daughter Nance, and had unwittingly carried the terrible scourge into our midst. Two days after his arrival he took ill. The doctor from the nearest village was summoned, but made light of the case. Babette died a day later. Jack Cameron took down with the diesase, and before its deadly power was known, case after case had developed throughout the neighbourhood. Death stalked amongst us like a grim spectre. Bob Shaver, my farm helper, went down and died two days later. His wife was stricken also, but, through the help of skilled doctors brought from a great distance, we managed to save her life. The two sons, now married, took the disease. Frank, the older, never recovered.

Word reached me that Dan Whitelaw, whom the plague had claimed, was dying. I had done my utmost—God knows it was little enough—to lend a helping hand to those who had been laid low by the dread scourge (why I myself never took it I cannot explain), and now I lost no time in going to Dan’s home.

Flora met me at the door. Her face was white as the snow that banked the bleak hillside. Her eyes were wide with a new sorrow.

“He is dead, John,” she said calmly, and fainted in my arms.

We buried Dan Whitelaw, chiselling a grave through the frozen earth in the plot beneath the bare elms. And that night sweet Flora succumbed to the disease.

The way of God is past all understanding. We bow humbly to His wisdom, knowing that “Whatever is, is best.” And still, as I sat beside Flora as slowly she was wafted back to the faint billows of life, I could not but wonder why she had not been allowed to follow him whom she loved into the Valley of the Shadow.

But this was not to be. Flora lived. And when at last she came into the sunlight—it was late spring again, I remember, and the wild birds were a-song—and gave me her two dear wasted hands, I could have wept at the ravages the disease had made on her beauty. Her cheeks were sunken and deeply pitted, and grief had frozen the tranquil pools of her eyes, so that the lights I had seen so often come and go there were shut out from me.

But, God bless her, she was still sweet Flora, and when I lifted her frail form and carried her into the grove of leafing maples, and placed her in the seat prepared for her, I was a-tremble with a glorious happiness.

Summer saw a cessation of the disease, and by early Fall it had been entirely stamped out. Malcolm Cameron and Anne had taken Flora home with them.

Never a day passed but I managed to see her, and strove, in my poor way, to cheer her. At such times she had always a smile for me, although she might sit silent after, her eyes staring into distance and heedless of my presence.

She had little strength; but when she spoke—which was seldom—in her voice was the same soft cadence of olden, golden days.

Never had I loved her as I loved her now in her pitiful frailty and helplessness.

A year passed, two. Flora was now greatly improved in health and spirits.

It was on a June night, with the scent of fern and water plants astray in the walnut grove beside the bay marshes, and a full moon lifting above the Point of Pines to sheen the bay with golden glory, that she and I stood at the water’s edge, drinking in the beauty of the night and listening to the low call of a whip-poor-will, fluting from the bramble shadows to his mate.

“John,” she spoke softly at length, “surely there can be no more perfect farming community than this one which we and ours have shaped out of the wilderness we found here.”

“I doubt if there is any,” I answered.

“Everything is changed, John,” she sighed, “except—pointing to the dim forest across the bay, “the Point yonder and the bay and marshes.”

I was silent.

Her hand stole into mine with the old familiar trust and affection.

“I was wrong, Big John,” she smiled, “for you have not changed.”

“No, Flora,” I said. “In one respect, at least, I have not changed.”

I felt her hand flutter in mine.

“But I have, John,” she spoke wistfully. “Look at me, dear. I am a faded, scarred, old woman. Isn’t that what you see? Answer me truthfully, John.”

I stood gazing into her eyes, and what I saw there was the same sweet charm, the same warmth and tenderness of soul that had held my heart in her keeping for so many years.

And then I did that which I had struggled against doing all my life. I forgot myself, and in the urge of a love I could no longer master, I drew her to me and held her close in my arms.

I do not know how long I held her thus. There was in the love I bore her a tranquility akin to the soft mood of that June night; sweet, passionless, pure, and alive like the soft glow resting on the waters.

When we went back along the path, the frogs were piping and all the world was white with the silvery wash of a high moon. And my soul was a-song with a great joy, for sweet Flora had given herself into my keeping.

We were married quietly a month later, and I do not think there was one, old or young, in the neighbourhood, but was glad I had found such happiness.    .

* * *

By rights I suppose my story should end here—as most stories do, with marriage bells and hopes fulfilled and the promise of happiness ever after. And indeed there is little more I have to tell, for although a long span of years bridges that sweet moment when I knew Flora was mine, and mine alone, they have been for the most part uneventful years. But they have been years of fruitful progress for that sturdy, staunch-hearted army to which I have the honour to belong—the Land Makers.

To-day as far as eye can measure distance, throughout this fertile farming community, as monuments to their thrift and endeavour, stand splendid homes, great barns and lofty silos. The old order has changed. The tractor purrs its course across level, well-tilled acres; the grain is garnered by machinery which marks the last thought in efficiency; glimmering rails of steel link up the distances; the telephone and the automobile are ours, our electric light and power have been drawn from the harnessed rivers.

And again I say, not only to the pioneers who faced great odds so heroically, but also to those makers of farm machinery, who so nobly stood behind them, belongs the glory of success attained in the making of these splendid farms from the wilderness.

* * *

To-night I am alone by the fire, and the big room with its empty banqueting table, is very still. On that table are ninety burned-out candles, each representing a year of the life of the narrator of this tale. And I know that it cannot be long before one known as Big John Wallace will, like the meadow brook, pass beyond the Mill, as sweet Flora passed twelve years ago.

But I am content. God has been good, and I am in His hands.


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