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   Chapter 2 THE DAUGHTER OF THE MANSE

The Doctor By Ralph Connor Characters: 14527

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Two hours later, down from the dusty sideroad, a girl swinging a milk pail in her hand turned into the mill lane. As she stepped from the glare and dust of the highroad into the lane, it seemed as if Nature had been waiting to find in her the touch that makes perfect; so truly, in all her fresh daintiness, did she seem a bit of that green shady lane with its sweet fragrance and its fresh beauty.

It had taken sixteen years of wholesome country life to round that supple form into its firm lines of grace, and to tint those moulded cheeks with the dainty bloom that seemed a reflection from the thistle heads that nodded at her through the snake fence. It had taken sixteen years of pure-hearted, joyous living to lend those eyes, azure as the sky above, their brave, clear glance; sixteen years of unsullied maidenhood to endow her with that divine something of mystery which, with its shy reserve and fearless trust, awakens reverence and rebukes impurity as with the vision of God.

Her sunbonnet, fallen back from her yellow hair, shining golden in the sun, revealed a face strong, brave and kind, with just a touch of pride. The pride showed most, however, in the poise of her head and the carriage of her shoulders. But when the mobile lips parted in a smile over the straight rows of white teeth one forgot the pride and thought only of the soft persuasive lips.

As she sprang up the green turf, she drew in deep breaths of clover-scented air, and exclaimed aloud, "Oh, this is good!" She peeped through the snake fence at the luscious rich masses of red clover. "What a bed!" she cried; "I believe I'll try it." Over the fence she sprang, and in a thorn tree's shade, deep in the fragrant blossoms, she stretched herself at full length upon her back. For some minutes she lay in the luxury of that fragrant bed looking up through the spreading thorn tree branches to the blue sky with its floating, fleecy clouds far overhead. The lazy drone of the bees in the clover beside her, the languorous summer airs swaying into gentle nodding the timothy stalks just above her head, and all the soothing sounds of a summer morning, that many-voiced choir that sings to the great God Nature's glad content that all is so very good, rested and comforted the girl's heart and body, making her know as she had not known before how very weary she had been and how deep an ache her heart had held.

"Oh, it's good!" she cried again, stretching her hands at full length above her head. "I wish I could stay for one whole day, just here in the clover with the bees and the birds and the trees and the clouds and the blue sky, no children, no dinner, no tidying up."

As she lay there it seemed to her as if she had thrown off for the moment the load she had been carrying for many months. For a year she had tried to fill in the minister's household her mother's place. Without a day's warning the burden had been laid upon her shoulders, but with the fine courage that youth and love combine to give, denying herself even the poor luxury of indulgence of the grief that had fallen upon her young heart, she had given herself, without thought of anything heroic in her giving, to the caring for the house and the household, and the comforting as best she could of her father, suddenly bereft of her who had been to him not wife alone, but comrade and counsellor as well. Without a thought, she had at once surrendered all the bright plans that she, with her mother, had cherished for the cultivation of her varied talents, and had turned to the dull, monotonous routine of household duties with never a thought but that she must do it. There was no one else.

"I believe I am tired," she said again aloud; then letting her heart follow her eyes into and beyond the blue above her, she cried softly, "O mother, how tired you must have been with it all, and how much you did for me! For me, great, big lump that I am! Dear little mother. Oh, if I had only known! Oh, we were all so thoughtless!" She stretched up her hands again to the blue sky with its fleecy clouds. "For your sake, mother dear," she whispered. Not often had any seen those brave eyes dim with tears. Not often since that day when they had carried her mother out from the Manse and left her behind with the weeping, clinging children, and even now she hastily wiped the tears away, chiding herself the while. "I never saw HER cry," she said to herself, "not once, except for some of us. And I will try. I MUST try. It is hard to give up," and again the tears welled up in the brave blue eyes. "Nonsense," she cried impatiently, sitting up straight, "don't be a big, selfish baby. They're just the dearest little darlings in the world, and I'll do my best for them."

Her moment of self-pity was gone in a flood of shamed indignation. She locked her hands round her knees and looked about her. "It is a beautiful world after all. And how near the beauty is to us; just over the fence and you are in the thick of it. Oh, but this is great!" Once more she rolled in an ecstasy of luxurious delight in the clover and lay again supine, revelling in that riot of caressing sounds and scents.

"Kir-r-r-ink-a-chink, kir-r-r-ink-a-chink-"

She sprang up alert and listening. "That is old Charley, I suppose, or Barney, perhaps, sharpening his scythe." She climbed up the conveniently jutting ends of the fence rails and looked over the field.

"It's Barney," she said, shading her eyes with her hand; "I wonder he does not cut his fingers." She sat herself down upon the top rail and leaned against the stake.

"My! what a sweep," she said in admiring tones as the young man swayed to and fro in all the rhythmic grace of the mower's stride, swinging easily now backward the curving blade and then forward in a cutting sweep, clean and swift, laying the even swath. Alas! the clattering machine-knives have driven off from our hay-fields the mower's art with all its rhythmic grace.

Those were days when men were famous according as they could "cut off the heels of a rival mower." There are that grieve that, one by one, from field and from forest, are banished those ancient arts of daily toil by which men were wont to prove their might, their skill of hand and eye, their invincible endurance. But there still offer in life's stern daily fight full opportunity to prove manhood in ways less picturesque perhaps, but no less truly testing.

Down the swath came Barney, his sinewy body swinging in very poetry of motion.

"Doesn't he do it well!" said the girl, following with admiring eyes every movement of his well-poised frame. "How big he is! Why-" and her blue eyes widened with startled surprise, "he's almost a man!" The tint of the thistle bloom deepened in her cheek. She glanced down and made as if to spring to the ground; then settling herself resolutely back against her fence stake, she exclaimed, "Pshaw! I don't care. He is just a boy. Anyway, I'm not going to mind Barney Boyle."

On came the mower in mighty sweeps, cutting the swath clean out to the end.

"Well done!" cried the girl. "You'll be cutting off Long John's heels in a year or so."

"A year or so! If I can't do it to-day I never can. But I don't want to blow."

"You needn't. They're all

talking about you, with your binding and pitching and cradling, and what not."

"They are, are they? Who is good enough to waste breath on me?"

"Oh, everybody. The McKenzie girls were just telling me the other day."

"Oh, pshaw! I ran away from their crowd, but that's nothing."

"And I suppose you have not an idea how nice you look as you go swinging along?"

"Do I? That's the only time then."

"Oh, now you're fishing, and I'm not going to bite. Where did you learn the scythe?"

"Where? Right here where we had to, Dick and I. By the way, he's coming home to-day." He glanced at her face quickly as he said this, but her face showed only a frank pleasure.

"To-day? Good. Won't your mother be glad?"

"Yes. And some other people, too," said Barney.

"And who, particularly?"

A sudden shyness seemed to seize the young man, but recovering himself, "Well, I guess I will, myself, a little. This is the first time he has ever been away. We never slept a night apart from each other as long as I can mind till he went to college last year. He used to put his arm just round me here," touching his breast. "I'll tell you the first nights after he went I used to feel for him in the dark and be sick to find the place empty."

"Well," said the girl doubtfully, "I hope he won't be different. College does make a difference, you know."

"Different! Dick! He'd better not. I'll thrash the daylights out of him. But he won't be different. Not to us, nor," he added shyly, "to you."

"Oh, to me?" She laughed lightly. "He had better not try any airs with me."

"What would you do?" inquired Barney. "You couldn't take it out of his hide."

"Oh, I'd fix him. I'd take him down," she replied with a knowing shake of her head.

"Poor Dick! He's in for a hard time," replied Barney. "But nothing can change Dick. And I am awful glad he's coming to-day, in time for the raising, too."

"The raising? Oh, yes. The McLeods'. Yes, I remember. And," regretfully, "a big supper and a big spree afterwards in the new barn."

"Are not you going?" inquired Barney.

"I don't know. They want me to go to help, but I don't think I'll go. I don't think father would like me to go, and,"-a pause-"anyway, I don't think I can get away."

"Oh, pshaw! Get Old Nancy in. She can take care of the children for once. You would like the raising. It's great fun."

"Oh! wouldn't I, though? It's fine to see them racing. They get so wild and yell so."

"Well, come on then. You must come. They'll all be disappointed, if you don't. And Dick is coming that way, too. Alec Murray is to bring him on his way home from town." Again Barney glanced keenly at her face, but he saw only puzzled uncertainty there.

"Well, I don't know. We'll see. At any rate, I must go now."

"Wait," cried Barney, "I'll go with you. We're having dinner early to-day." He hung up the scythe in the thorn tree and threw the stone at the foot.

"I wish you would promise to come," he said earnestly.

"Do you, really?" The blue eyes turned full upon him.

"Of course I do. It will be lots better fun if you are there." The frank, boyish honesty of his tone seemed to disappoint the blue eyes. Together in silence they set off down the lane.

"Well," she said, resuming their conversation, "I don't think I can go, but I'll see. You'll be playing for the dancing, I suppose?"

"No. I won't play if Dan is around, and I guess he'll be there. I may spell him a little perhaps."

"Then you'll be dancing yourself. You're great at that, I know."

"Me? Not much. It's Dick. Oh, he's a dandy! He's a bird! You ought to see him! I'll make him do the Highland Fling."

"Oh, Dick, Dick!" she cried impatiently, "everything is Dick with you."

Barney glanced at her, and after a moment's pause said, "Yes. I guess you're right. Everything is pretty much Dick with me. Next to my mother, Dick is the finest in all the world."

At the crest of the hill they stood looking silently upon the scene spread out before them.

"There," said Barney, "if I live to be a hundred years, I can't forget that," and he waved his hand over the valley. Then he continued, "I tell you what, with the moon just over the pond there making a track of light across the pond-" She glanced shyly at him. The sombre eyes were looking far away.

"I know," she said softly; "it must be lovely."

Through the silence that followed there rose and fell with musical cadence a call long and clear, "Who-o-o-hoo."

"That's mother," said Barney, answering the call with a quick shout. "You'll be in time for dinner."

"Dinner!" she cried with a gasp. "I'll have to get my buttermilk and other things and hurry home." And she ran at full speed down the hill and into the mill yard, followed by Barney protesting that it was too hot to run.

"How are you, Mrs. Boyle?" she panted. "I'm in an awful hurry. I'm after father's buttermilk and that recipe, you know."

Mrs. Boyle's eyes rested lovingly upon her flushed face.

"Indeed, there's no hurry, Margaret. Barney should not be letting you run."

"Letting me!" she laughed defiantly. "Indeed, he had all he could do to keep up."

"And that I had," said Barney, "and, mother, tell her she must come to the raising."

"And are you not going?" said the older woman.

"I don't think so. You know father-well, he wouldn't care for me to be at the dance."

"Yes, yes, I know," quickly replied Mrs. Boyle, "but you might just come with me and look quietly on. And, indeed, the change will be doing you good. I will just call for you, and speak to your father this afternoon."

"Oh, I don't know, Mrs. Boyle. I hardly think I ought."

"Hoots, lassie! Come away, then, into the milk-house."

Back among the overhanging willows stood the little whitewashed log milkhouse, built over a little brook that gurgled clear and cool over the gravelly floor.

"What a lovely place," said Margaret, stepping along the foot stones.

"Ay, it's clean and sweet," said Mrs. Boyle. "And that is what you most need with the milk and butter."

She took up an earthen jar from the gravelly bed and filled the girl's pail with buttermilk.

"Thank you, Mrs. Boyle. And now for that recipe for the scones."

"Och, yes!" said Mrs. Boyle. "There's no recipe at all. It is just this way-" And she elucidated the mysteries of sconemaking.

"But they will not taste a bit like yours, I'm sure," cried Margaret, in despair.

"Never you fear, lassie. You hurry away home now and get your dinner past, and we will call for you on our way."

"Here, lassie," she cried, "your father will like this. It is only churned th' day." She rolled a pat of butter in a clean linen cloth, laid it between two rhubarb leaves and set it in a small basket.

"Good-bye," said the girl as she kissed the dark cheek. "You're far too kind to me."

"Poor lassie, poor lassie, I would I could be kinder. It's a good girl you are, and a brave one."

"Not very brave, I fear," replied the girl, as she quickly turned away and ran up the hill and out of sight.

"Poor motherless lassie," said Mrs. Boyle, looking after her with loving eyes; "it's a heavy care she has, and the minister, poor man, he can't see it. Well, well, she has the promise."

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