Read CHAPTER TWO of Shenac's Work at Home , free online book, by Margaret Murray Robertson, on

It was May-day. Oftentimes in the northern country this month is ushered in by drizzling rain, or even by the falling snow; but this year brought a May-day worthy of the name clear, mild, and balmy. There was not a cloud in all the sky, nor wind enough to stir the catkins hanging close over the waters of the creek. The last days of April had been warm and bright, and there was a tender green on the low-lying fields, and on the poplars that fringed the wood; and the boughs of the maple-trees in the sugar-bush looked purple and brown over the great grey trunks.

There is never a May-day when some flowers cannot be found beneath these trees, and in the warm hollows along the margin of the creek; but this year there were more than a few. Besides the pale little “spring flower,” which hardly waits for the snow to go away before it shows itself, there were daffodils and anémones and wake-robins, and from the lapful which little Flora MacIvor sat holding on the bank close beside the great willow peeped forth violets, blue and white. There were lady-slippers too somewhere not far away, Flora was sure, if only Dan or Hughie could be persuaded to look for them a little farther down the creek, in the damp ground under the cedars, where she had promised her mother she would not go.

But the lads had something else to do than to look for flowers for Flora. Down the creek, which was broad and full because of the melting snow, a number of great cedar chips were floating. Past the foot-bridge, and past the eddy by the great rock, and over the pool into which the creek widened by the old ashery, the mimic fleet sailed safely; while the lads shouted and ran, and strove by the help of long sticks to pilot them all into the little cove by the willow where little Flora was sitting, till even the flower-loving little maiden forgot her treasures, and grew excited like the rest.

You would never have thought, looking at those bright faces, that heavy trouble had been in their home for months. Listening to their merry, voices, you would never have imagined that there were, in some hearts that loved them, grave doubts whether for the future they were to have a home together or no. But so it was.

Higher up the bank, where the old ashery used to stand, Shenac and Hamish were sitting. The triumphant shout with which the last and largest of the boats was landed, startled them out of the silence in which they had been musing, and the girl said sadly,

“Children forget so soon!”

Hamish made no answer. He was not watching the little sailors. His face was quite turned away from them, and looked gloomy and troubled enough. The girl watched a moment anxiously; and then turning her eyes where his had been for some time resting, she cried passionately,

“I wish a fire would break out and burn it to ashes, every stick!”

“What would be the good of that? Angus Dhu would put it all up again,” said Hamish bitterly. “He might save himself the trouble, though. He means to have all the land shortly.”

They were watching the progress of a fence of great cedar rails which three or four men were building; and no wonder they watched it with vexation, for it went from line to line, dividing in two parts the land that had belonged to their father. He was dead now, and their brother Allister was far away, they knew not where, in search of gold; and there was no one now, besides themselves, except their mother, and the little ones who were so thoughtless, making merry with the great cedar chips which Angus Dhu sent, floating down the stream.

“Nobody but you and me to do anything; and what can we do?” continued the lad with a desponding gesture. “And my mother scarcely seems to care to try.”

“Whisht, Hamish dear; there’s no wonder,” said Shenac in a low voice. “But about the land. Angus Dhu can never get it surely!”

“He has gotten the half of it already. Who is to hinder his getting the rest?” said Hamish. “And he might as well have it. What can we do with it?”

“Was it wrong for him to take it, do you think, Hamish?” asked Shenac gravely.

“Not in law. Angus Dhu would never do what is unlawful. But he was hard on my father, and he says ”

Hamish paused to ask himself whether it was worth while to vex Shenac with the unkind words of Angus Dhu. But Shenac would not be denied the knowledge.

“What was it, Hamish? He would never dare to say a light word of our father. Did you not then and there show him the door?”

Shenac’s blue eye flashed. She was quite capable of doing that and more to vindicate her father’s memory.

“Whisht, Shenac,” said Hamish. “Angus Dhu loved my father, though he was hard on him. There were tears in his eyes when he spoke to my mother about him. But he says that the half of the land is justly his, for money that my father borrowed at different times, and for the interest which he could not pay. And he wants to buy the other half; for he says we can never carry on the farm, and I am afraid he is right,” added the lad despondingly.

“And what would become of us all?” asked Shenac, her cheeks growing pale in the pain and surprise of the moment.

“He would put out the money in such a way that it would bring an income to my mother, who could live here still, with Colin and little Flora. He says he will take Dan to keep till he is of age, and Elder McMillan will take Hugh. You are old enough to do for yourself, he says; and as for me ” He turned away, so that his sister might not see the working of his face. But Shenac was thinking of something else, and did not notice him.

“But, Hamish, we have written to Allister, and he will be sure to come home when he hears what has happened to us.”

Hamish shook his head.

“Black Angus says Allister will never come back. He says he was an unsettled lad before he went away. And, Shenac, he says our Allister beguiled Evan, or he never would have left home. He looked black when he said it. He was angry.”

Shenac’s eyes blazed again.

“Our Allister unsettled he that went away for our father’s sake, and for us all! Our Allister to beguile Evan, that wild lad! And you sat and heard him say it, Hamish!”

“What else could I do?” said Hamish bitterly.

“And my mother?” said Shenac.

“She could only cry, and say that Allister had always been a good son to her and to my father, and a dear brother to us all.”

There was a long pause. Shenac never removed her eyes from the men, who were gradually drawing nearer and nearer, as one after another of the great cedar rails was laid on the foundation of logs and stones already prepared for them along the field; and anger gathered in her heart and showed itself in her face as she gazed. Hamish had turned quite away from the fence and from his sister, towards the creek where his brothers were still shouting at their play. But he was not thinking of his brothers; he did not see them, indeed. He made an effort to keep back the tears, which, in spite of all he could do, would flow. If Shenac had spoken to him, they must have gushed out; but he had time to force them back before Shenac turned away with an angry gesture.

“It’s of no use, Shenac,” he said then. “There’s reason in what Angus Dhu says. We will have to give up the farm.”

“Hamish, that shall never be done!” said Shenac. “It would break my mother’s heart.”

“It seems broken already,” said Hamish hoarsely. “And it is easy to say the land must be kept. But what can we do with it? Who is to work it?”

“You and I and the little lads,” cried Shenac. “There is no fear. God will help us,” she added reverently “the widow and orphan’s God. Hamish, don’t you mind?”

Hamish had no voice with which to answer for a moment; but in a little while he said with some difficulty,

“It is easy for you to say what you will do, Shenac you who are strong and well; but look at me! I am not getting stronger, as we always hoped. What could I do at the plough? I had better go to some town, as Angus Dhu advised my mother, and learn to make shoes.”

“Oh, but he’s fine at making plans, that Angus Dhu,” said Shenac scornfully. “But we’ll need to tell him that we’re for none of his help. Hamish,” she added, suddenly stooping down over him, “do you think any plan made to separate you and me will prosper? I think I see black Angus coming between you and me with his plans.”

Her words and her caress were quite too much for Hamish, and he surprised himself and her too by a sudden burst of tears. The sight of this banished Shenac’s softness in a moment. She raised herself from her stooping posture with an angry cry. Separated from the rest of the fence-makers, and approaching the knoll where the brother and sister had, been sitting, were two men. One was Angus Dhu, and the other was his friend, and a relation of his wife, Elder McMillan. He was a good man, people said, but one who liked to move on with the current, one who went for peace at all risks, and so forgot sometimes that purity was to be set before even peace. There was nothing in Shenac’s knowledge of the man to make her afraid of him, and she took three steps towards them, and said,

“Angus Dhu, do you mind what the Bible says of them that oppress the widow and the fatherless? Have you forgotten the verse that says, `Remove not the ancient land-mark’?”

She stopped, as if waiting for an answer. The two men stood still from sheer surprise, and looked at her. Shenac continued:

“And do you mind what’s said of them that add field to field? and ”

“Shenac, my woman,” said the elder at last, “it’s no becoming in you to speak in that kind of a way to one older than your father was. I doubt you’re forgetting ”

But Shenac put his words aside with a gesture of indifference.

“And to speak false words of our Allister to his mother in her trouble as though he had led your wild lad Evan astray. You little know what our Allister saved him from more than once. But that is not for to-day. I have this to, say to you, Angus Dhu: you must be content with the half you have gotten; for not another acre of my father’s land shall ever be yours, though all the elders in Glengarry stood at your back. I will not whisht, Hamish. He is to know that he is not to meddle between my mother and me. It’s not or the like of Angus Dhu to say that my mother’s children shall be taken from her in her trouble. Our affairs may be bad enough, but they’ll be none the better for your meddling in them.”

“Shenac,” entreated Hamish, “you’ll be sorry for speaking that way to our father’s cousin.”

“Our father’s oppressor rather,” she insisted scornfully. But she had said her say; and, besides, the lads and little Flora had heard their voices, and were drawing near.

“Children,” said Shenac, “you are to come home. And mind, you are not to set foot on this bank again without our mother’s leave. It’s Angus Dhu’s land now, he says, and not ours.”

The creek that part of it near which the willows grew, and where the old ashery used to stand had been their daily resort every summer-day all their lives; and they all looked at her with astonishment and dismay, but none of them spoke.

“Come home to our mother, boys. Flora, come home.” And Shenac lifted her little sister over the foundation of great stones, and beckoned to the boys to follow her.

“Come, Hamish, it’s time we were home.” And Hamish obeyed her as silently as the rest had done.

“Hamish,” said the elder, “speak here, man. You have some sense, and tales such as yon wild girl is like to tell may do your father’s cousin much harm.”

In his heart Hamish knew Shenac to be foolish and wrong to speak as she had done, but he was true to her all the same, and would hold no parley with the enemy. So he gave no heed to the elder’s words, but followed the rest through the field. Shenac’s steps grew slower as they approached the house.

“Hamish,” she said a little shamefacedly, “there will be no use vexing our mother by telling her all this.”

“That’s true enough,” said Hamish.

“But mind, Hamish, I’m not sorry that I said it. I have aye meant to say something to Angus Dhu about the land; though I daresay it would have been as well to say it when that clattering body, Elder McMillan, was out of hearing.”

“And John and Rory McLean,” murmured Hamish.

“Hamish, man, they never could have heard. Not that I am caring,” continued Shenac. “It’s true that Angus Dhu has gotten half our father’s land, and that he is seeking the other half; but that he’ll never get never!” And she flashed an angry glance towards the spot where the men were still standing.

Hamish knew it was always best to leave his sister till her anger cooled, so he said nothing in reply. He grieved for the loss of the land as much as Shenac did, but he did not resent it like her. Though he believed that Angus Dhu had been hard on his father, he did not believe that he had dealt unjustly by him. And he was right. Even in taking half the land he had taken only what he believed to be his due, and in wishing to possess himself, of the rest, he believed he was about to do a kindness to the widow and children of his dead cousin. He believed they could never get their living from the land. They must give it up, he thought; and it was far better that it should fall into his hands than into the hands of a stranger. Had his cousin lived, he would never have wished for the land; and he said to himself that he would do much for them all, and that the widow and orphans should never suffer while he could befriend them.

At the same time, he could not deny that he would be glad to get the land. When Evan came home, it might keep the lad near him to have this farm ready for him. He had allowed himself to think a great deal about this of late. He would not confess to himself that any part of the uncomfortable feelings that Shenac’s outbreak had stirred within him sprang from disappointment. But he was mistaken. For when the girl planted her foot on the other side of the new fence, and looked back at him defiantly, he felt that she would make good her word, and hold the land, at least, until Allister came home.

He did not care much what the neighbours might say about him; but he told Elder McMillan that he cared, and that doubtless yon wild girl would have plenty: to say about things she did not understand, and that she would get ill-minded folks enough to hearken to her and to urge her on. And he tried to make himself believe that it was this, and nothing else, that vexed him in the matter.

“And what’s to be done?” asked the elder uneasily, as Shenac and the rest disappeared.

“Done!” repeated his friend angrily. “I shall do nought. If they can go on by themselves, all the better. I shall be well pleased. Why should I seek to have the land?”

“Why, indeed?” said the elder.

“I shall neither make nor meddle in their affairs, till I am asked to do it,” continued Angus Dhu; but the look on his face said, as plainly as words could have done, “and it will not be very long before that will happen.”

But he made a mistake, as even wise men will sometimes do.