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

Dan was right, Shenac was changed. Even if Allister had not come home, if the success of the summer’s work had depended, as it had hitherto mainly done, upon her, it would have been a very different summer from the last. The labour, though it had been hard enough, from early morning till night every day of the year, was not what had been worst for her. The constant care and anxiety had been harder to bear. Not the fear of want. That had never really troubled her. She knew that it would never come to that with them. But the welfare of all the family had depended on her strength and wisdom while they kept together, and the responsibility had been too heavy for her. How much too heavy it had been she only knew by the blessed sense of relief which followed its removal.

But it would have been different now, even had her cares been the same, for a new element mingled in her life a firm trust in God. She had known, in a way, all along that, labour as she might, the increase must come from God. She had always assented to her brother’s gentle reminders of the heavenly care and keeping promised to the widow and the fatherless; but she had wearied and vexed herself, taking all the weight of the burden, just as if there had been no promise given, no help made sure.

It would have been quite different now. Even failure would have brought no such burden as had come with a sense of success before, because of her sure and certain knowledge that all that concerned her was safe in the best and most loving care.

And, with Allister between her and the summer’s work, she had no need to trouble herself. Every day had strengthened her trust in him, not only as a loving brother, but as a wise man and a good farmer; and many a time she laughed merrily to herself as Dan’s foolish words about her not wishing to give place to Allister came to her mind. She could never tell him or any one else how blessed was the sense of relief and peace which his being at home gave her. She awoke every morning with the restful feeling fresh in her heart. There was no half-conscious planning about ways and means before her eyes were open; no shrinking from possible encounters with Dan’s idleness or wilfulness; no balancing of possibilities as to his doing well, or doing at all, some piece of work depending upon him.

She heard more in the song of the birds now than just the old burden, “It is time to be at work again.” It gave her quite a sense of pleasure now and then to find herself looking over the fields with delight just because they were fresh and green and beautiful, and not at all because of the tons of hay or the bushels of grain which they were to yield. Of course it was pleasant to anticipate a good harvest, and it was pleasant to know that there were wider fields to harvest this year, and that the barns would be full to overflowing. It did not in the least lessen the pleasure to know that this year success would not be due to her. Indeed, her pride in Allister’s work was quite as great as it ever had been in her own, and the pleasure had fewer drawbacks. She could speak of it and triumph in it, and did so with Hamish and Shenac Dhu, and sometimes with Allister himself.

She was happy, too, in a half-conscious coming back to the thoughts and enjoyments of the time before their troubles had overtaken them. She was very young still, quite young enough to grow light-hearted and mirthful; and if her mother had been well, it would truly have seemed like the old happy days again.

Not that she had very much leisure even now. She did not go to the fields; but what with the dairy and the house-work, and after a little while the wool, she had plenty to do. There were two more cows in the enlarged pasture, and some of the people who were busy about the new house took their meals with them, so there was little time for lingering over anything. Besides, the house-work, which in the busy seasons had seemed a secondary concern, was done differently now. Shenac took pride and pleasure in doing everything in the very best way, and in having the house in order, the linen snow-white, and the table neatly laid; and the little log-house was a far pleasanter home than many a more commodious dwelling.

If there had lingered in Angus Dhu’s heart any indignation towards Shenac for having interfered with his plans, and for having spoken her mind to him so plainly, it was gone now. They had no more frequent visitor than he, and few who were more welcome. His coming was for Allister’s sake, his sister used to think; and, indeed, the old man seemed to see no fault in the young farmer. He gave him his confidence as he had never given it to any one before. After the first meeting he never spoke of what Allister had done for him in bringing Evan home, but he knew it was through his care and tenderness that he had ever seen his son’s face again, and he was deeply grateful.

There was another reason why he found pleasure in the young man’s society. He had loved Allister’s father when they had been young together, before the love of money had hardened his heart and blinded his eyes. His long trouble and fear for his son had made him feel that wealth is not enough to give peace. It had shaken his faith in the “god of this world;” and as God’s blessing on his sorrow softened his heart, the worldly crust fell away, and he came back to his old thoughts or rather, I should say, his young thoughts of life again.

Allister was just what his father had been at his age as gentle, as manly, and kind-hearted; having, besides, the strength of character, the knowledge of men and things, which his father had lacked. He had always been a bold, frank lad. Even in the old times he had never stood in awe of “the dour old man,” as the rest had done. In the old times his frankness had been resented as an unwarrantable liberty; but it was very different now. Even his own children felt a little restraint in the presence of the stern old man; but Allister always greeted him cheerfully, talked with him freely, and held his own opinions firmly, though they often differed widely enough from those of Angus Dhu. But they never quarrelled. The old man’s dogmatic ways vexed and irritated Shenac many a time; even Hamish had much ado to keep his patience and the thread of his argument at the same time; but Allister never lost his temper, and if the old man grew bitter and disagreeable, as he sometimes did, the best cure for it was Allister’s good-humoured determination not to see it, and so they always got on well together.

Of all their friends, Angus Dhu was the one whom their mother never failed to recognise. She did not always remember how the last few years had passed, and spoke to him, as she so often did to others, as though her husband were still living and her children young; but almost always she was recalled to the present by the sight of him, and rejoiced over Allister’s return, and the building of the new house, and the prosperity which seemed to be coming back to them. But, whether she was quite herself or not, he was always very gentle with her, answering the same questions and telling the same incidents over and over again for her pleasure, with a patience very different from anything that might have been expected from him.

There was one thing about Allister, and Shenac too, which greatly vexed their uncle. In his eyes it seemed almost like forsaking the God of their fathers when, Sabbath after Sabbath, they passed by the old kirk and sat in the new. He would have excused it on the days when old Mr Farquharson was not there and the old kirk was closed; but that they should hold with these “new folk” at all times was a scandal in his eyes.

It was in vain that Hamish proved to him that in doctrine and discipline in everything, indeed, except one thing, which could not affect them in this country the new folk were just like the old. This only made the matter less excusable in the eyes of Angus Dhu. The separation which circumstances might have made necessary at home as these people still lovingly called the native land of their fathers was surely not needed here, and it grieved and vexed the old man sorely to see so many leaving the old minister and the kirk their fathers had built and had worshipped in so long.

But even Angus Dhu himself ventured into the forbidden ground of the new kirk, when word was brought that Mr Stewart, the schoolmaster of two years ago, was come to supply the minister’s place there for a while. He had a great respect for Mr Stewart, and some curiosity, now that he was an ordained minister, to hear him preach; and having heard him, he acknowledged to himself, though he was slow to speak of it to others, that the word of God was held forth with power, and he began to think that, after all, the scores of young people who flocked to hear him were as well while listening here as when sleeping quietly under the monotonous voice of the good old minister; and very soon no objection was made when his own Evan and Shenac Dhu went with the rest.

Mr Stewart had changed much since he came among them first. His health was broken then, and he was struggling with a fear that he was not to be permitted to work the work for which he had all his lifetime been preparing. That fear had passed away. He was well now, and well-fitted to declare God’s gospel to men. It was a labour of love to him, all could see. The grave, quiet man seemed transformed when he stood in the pulpit He spoke with authority, as one who knew from deep, blessed experience the things which he made known, and no wonder that all listened eagerly.

Hamish was very happy in the renewal of their friendship, and Allister was almost as happy in coming to know the minister. He came sometimes to see them, but not very often, for he had many engagements, and his visits made “white days” for them all. Hamish saw much more of him than the rest, for he was comparatively idle this summer, and drove the minister to his different preaching stations, and on his visits to the people, with much profit to himself and much pleasure to both.

It was a very pleasant summer, for many reasons, to Shenac and them all. The only drawback was the state of the mother. She was not getting better would probably never be better, the doctor said, whom Allister had brought from far to see her. But she might live a long time in her present state. She did not suffer, and was almost always quite content. All that the tenderest care could do for her was done, and her uneventful days were made happy by her children’s watchful love.

The entire renewal of confidence and intercourse between the two families was a source of pleasure to all, but especially to Shenac, who had never been quite able to believe herself forgiven by her uncle before. Two of Angus Dhu’s daughters were married in the spring, and left their father’s house; and partly because she was more needed at home, and partly for other reasons, Shenac Dhu did not run into their house so often as she used to do. But Evan was often there. He and Hamish were much together, for neither of them was strong, and much help was not expected from them on the land or elsewhere. Evan was hardly what he had been before his departure from home. He was improved, they thought, on the whole; but his health was not firm, and his spirits and temper were variable, and, as Shenac said, he was as different from Allister as weakness is from strength, or as darkness is from the day. But they were always glad to see him, and his intercourse with these healthy, cheerful young people did him much good.

The new house progressed rapidly. There was a fair prospect that they might get into it before winter, and already Shenac was planning ways and means towards the furnishing of it. The wool was sorted and dyed with reference to the making of such a carpet as had never been seen in those parts before; and every pound of butter that was put down was looked upon as so much security for a certain number of things for use or for adornment in the new house. For Shenac had a natural love for pretty things, and it was pleasant to feel that she might gratify her taste to a reasonable degree without hazarding the comfort of any one.

She made no secret of her pleasure in the prospect of living in a nice house with pretty things about her, and discussed her plans and intentions with great enjoyment with her cousin Shenac, who did not laugh at her little ambitions as much as might have been expected. Indeed, she was rather grave and quiet about this time, and seemed to shun, rather than to seek, these confidences. She was too busy now that Mary and Annie were both gone, to leave home often, and when our Shenac wished to see her she had to go in search of her. It was not quite so formidable an affair as it used to be to go to Angus Dhu’s house now, and Shenac and her brother often found themselves there on summer evenings. But at home, as elsewhere, Shenac Dhu was quiet and staid, and not at all like the merry Shenac of former times.

This change was not noticed by Shenac Bhan so quickly as it would have been if she had been less occupied with her own affairs; but she did notice it at last, and one night, drawing her away from the door-step where the rest were sitting, she told her what she was thinking, and entreated to know what ailed her.

“What ails me?” repeated Shenac Dhu, reddening a little. “What in the world should all me? I am busier than I used to be, that is all.”

“You were always busy; it is not that. I think you might tell me, Shenac.”

“Well,” began her cousin mysteriously, “I will tell you if you will promise not to mention it. I am growing wise.”

Shenac Bhan laughed.

“Well, I don’t see what there is to laugh at. It’s time for me to grow wise, when you are growing foolish.”

Shenac Bhan looked at her cousin a little wistfully.

“Am I growing foolish, Shenac? Is it about the house and all the things? Perhaps I am thinking too much about them. But it is not for myself, Shenac; at least, it’s not all for myself.”

But Shenac Dhu stopped her.

“You really are foolish now. No; of course the house has nothing to do with it. I called you foolish for saying that something ails me, which is nonsense, you know. What could ail me? I put it to yourself.”

“But that is what I am asking you. How can I tell? Many a thing might go wrong with you,” said Shenac Bhan.

“Yes; I might take the small-pox, or the bank might break and I might lose my money, or many a thing might happen, as you say; and when anything does happen, I’ll tell you, you may be sure. Now tell me, is the wide stripe in the new carpet to be red or green?”

“You are laughing at me, Cousin Shenac,” said our Shenac, gravely. “I daresay it is foolish in me, and may be wrong, to be thinking so much about these things and teasing you about them; but, Shenac, our Allister is a man now, and folk think much of him, and I want his house to be nice, and I do take pleasure in thinking about it. And you know we have been so poor and so hard pressed for the last few years, with no time to think of anything but just what must be done to live; and it will be so nice when we are fairly settled. And, Shenac, our Allister is so good. There never was such a brother as Allister never. I would not speak so to every one, Shenac; but you know.”

Shenac Dhu nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“If my mother were only well!” continued Shenac Bhan, and the tears that had risen to her eyes fell on her cheeks now. “We would be too happy then, I suppose. But it seems sad enough that she should not be able to enjoy it all, and take her own place in the new house, after all she has gone through.”

“Yes,” said Shenac Dhu, “it is very sad.”

“And yet I cannot but take pleasure in it; and perhaps it is foolish and unkind to my mother too. Is it, Shenac?”

There were two or three pairs of eyes watching no, not watching, but seeing the two girls from the doorstep, and Shenac Dhu drew her cousin down the garden-path towards the plum-tree before she answered her. Then she put her arms round her neck, and kissed her two or three times before she answered,

“You are not wrong or foolish. You are right to take pride and pleasure in your brother and his house, and in all that belongs to him. And he is just as proud of you, Shenac, my darling.”

“That is nonsense, you know, Cousin Shenac,” said Allister’s sister; but she smiled and blushed too, as she said it, with pure pleasure.

There was no chance after this to say anything more about the change, real or supposed, that had taken place in Shenac Dhu, for she talked on, allowing no pause till they had come quite round the garden and back to the door-step; but Shenac Bhan knew all about it before she saw her cousin again.

That night, as she was going home through the field with Allister, he asked her rather suddenly,

“What were you and Cousin Shenac speaking about to-night when you went round the garden?”

“Allister,” said his sister, “do you think Cousin Shenac is changed lately?”

“Changed!” repeated Allister. “How?”

“Oh, of course you cannot tell; but she used to be so merry, and now she is quite quiet and grave, and we hardly ever see her over with us now. I was asking her what ailed her.”

“And what did she say?”

“Oh, she laughed at me, and denied that anything ailed her, and then she said she was growing wise. But I know something is wrong with her, though she would not tell me.”

“What do you think it is, Shenac?”

“I cannot tell. It is not only that she is quieter I could understand that; but she hardly ever comes over now, and something is vexing her, I’m sure. Could it be anything Dan has said? He used to vex her sometimes. What do you think it can be, Allister?”

There was a little pause, and then Allister said,

“I think I know what it is, Shenac.”

“You!” exclaimed Shenac. “What is it? Have I anything to do with it? Am I to blame?”

“You have something to do with it, but you are not to blame,” said Allister.

“Tell me, Allister,” said his sister.

There was a silence of several minutes, and then Allister said,

“Shenac, I have asked Cousin Shenac to be my wife.” Shenac stood perfectly still in her surprise and dismay. Yes, she _ was_ dismayed. I have heard it said that the tidings of a brother’s engagement rarely bring unmixed pleasure to a sister. I daresay there is some truth in this. Many sisters make their brothers their first object in life pride themselves on their talents, their worth, their success, live in their lives, glory in their triumphs; till a day comes when it is softly said of some stranger, or some friend it may be none the pleasanter to hear because it is a friend “She is more to him than you could ever be.” Is it only to jealous hearts, ignoble minds, that such tidings come with a shock of pain? Nay, the truer the heart the keener the pain. It may be short, but it is sharp. The second thought may be, “It is well for him; I am glad for him.” But the pang is first, and inevitable.

Allister had been always first, after Hamish, in Shenac’s heart perhaps not even after Hamish. She had never thought of him in connection with any change of this kind. In all her plans for the future, no thought of possible separation had come. She stood perfectly still, till her brother touched her.

“Well, Shenac?”

Then she moved on without speaking. She was searching about among her astonished and dismayed thoughts for something to say, for she felt that Allister was waiting for her to speak. At last she made a grasp at the question they had been discussing, and said hurriedly,

“But there is nothing to vex Shenac in that, surely?”

“No; unless she is right in thinking that you will not be glad too.”

“I am glad it is Shenac. I would rather it would be Shenac than any one else in the whole world ”

“I was sure of it,” said her brother, kissing her fondly.

Even without the kiss she would hardly have had the courage to add,

“If it must be anyone.”

“And, Shenac,” continued her brother, “you must tell her so. She fancies that for some things you will not like it, and she wants to put it off for ever so long till till something happens till you are married yourself, I suppose.”

Now Shenac was vexed. She was in the way at least, Allister and Shenac Dhu thought so. It was quite as well that the sound of footsteps gave her no time to speak the words that rose to her lips. They were overtaken by Mr Stewart and Hamish. It had been to see the minister that they had all gone to Angus Dhu’s, for he was going away in the morning, and they did not know when they might see him again. It was late, and the farewells were brief and earnest.

“God bless you, Shenac!” was all that Mr Stewart said; and Shenac answered never a word.

“I’ll walk a little way with you,” said Allister. Hamish and Shenac stood watching them till they passed through the gate, and then Shenac sat down on the doorstep with a sigh, and laid her face upon her hands. Hamish looked a little astonished, but he smiled too.

“He will come back again, Shenac,” he said at last.

“Yes, I know,” said she, rising slowly. “I must tell you before he comes. We must not stay here. Come in; you will take cold. I don’t know what to think. He expected me to be pleased, and I shall be in a little while, I think, after I have told you. Do you know it, Hamish?”

“I know he told me; but I thought he had not spoken to you,” said the puzzled Hamish.

“Did Allister tell you? Are you glad, Hamish?”

“Allister?” repeated Hamish.

“Allister has asked Shenac Dhu to be his wife,” said Shenac in a whisper.

“Is that it? No, I had not heard that, though I thought it might be some time. You must have seen it, Shenac?”

“Seen it! the thought never came into my mind never once till he told me to-night.”

“Well, that’s odd, too,” said Hamish, smiling. “They say girls are quick enough to see such things. Are you not pleased, Shenac?”

“I don’t know. Should I be pleased, Hamish? I think perhaps in a little while I shall be.” Then she added, “It will make a great difference.”

“Will it?” asked Hamish. “Cousin Shenac has almost been like one of ourselves so long.”

“I suppose it is foolish, and maybe it is wrong, but it does seem to put Allister farther from us from me, at least. He seems less our own.”

“Don’t say that, Shenac dear,” said her brother gently. “Allister can never be less than a dear and loving brother to us all. It is very natural and right that this should happen. It might have been a stranger. We all love Shenac Dhu dearly.”

“Yes,” said Shenac; “I said that to Allister.”

“And, Shenac, I am very glad this should happen. Allister will settle down content, and be a good and useful man.”

“He would have done that anyway,” said Shenac, a little dolefully.

“He might, but he might not,” said Hamish. “They say marriage is the natural and proper state. I am glad for Allister, Shenac; and you will be glad by-and-by. I wish I had known this a little sooner. I am very glad, Shenac.”

Shenac sighed. “I suppose it is altogether mean and miserable in me not to be glad all at once; and I’ll try to be. I suppose we must stay here now, Hamish,” she added, glancing round the low room.

“Do you think so?” said Hamish in surprise. “No, you must not say so. I am sure it would grieve Cousin Shenac.”

“There are so many of us, Hamish, and our mother is a great care; it would not be fair to Shenac. I must stay here and take care of my mother and you.”

There was a long silence.

“Shenac,” said her brother at last, “don’t think about this just now; don’t make up your mind. It is not going to happen soon.”

“Allister says soon, but Shenac says not till ” She stopped.

“Well, soon or late, never mind; it will all come right. Let us be more anxious to do right than for anything else. God will guide us, Shenac. Don’t let us say anything to vex Allister. It would vex him greatly, I know, to think that you and all of us would not go with him and Shenac.”

“But it would not be fair to Shenac herself. Think what a large family there is of us.”

“Whisht, Shenac, there may be fewer of us soon. You may marry yourself.”

“And leave my mother and you?” Shenac smiled incredulously.

“Stranger things have happened,” said her brother. “But, Shenac, our mother will not be here long, and Allister’s house is her place, and you can care for her all the same there better indeed. I am glad of this marriage, for all our sakes. Shenac Dhu is like one of ourselves; she will always care for the little ones as no stranger could, and for our mother. It is a little hard that you should not have the first place in the new house for a while, till you get a home of your own, after all the care and trouble you have had for us here ”

“Do you think that has anything to do with it, Hamish?” said Shenac reproachfully. “It never came into my mind; only when Allister told me it seemed as though I would be so little to him now. Maybe you are right, though. Everybody seems to think that I like to be first. I know I have thought a great deal about the new house; but it has been for the rest, and for Allister most of all.”

“Shenac, you must not vex yourself thinking about it,” said her brother. “I am more glad of this for your sake than for all the rest. I cannot tell you how glad I am.”

“Well, I am glad too I think I am glad; I think it will be all right, Hamish. I am not really afraid of anything that can happen now.”

“You need not be, dear; why should you be afraid even of trouble?” said her brother. “And this is not trouble, but a great blessing for us all.”

But Shenac thought about it a great deal, and, I am afraid, vexed herself somewhat, too. She did not see Shenac Dhu for a day or two, for her cousin was away; and it was as well to have a little time to think about it before she saw her. There came no order out of the confusion, however, with all her thinking. That they were all to be one family she knew was Allister’s plan, and Hamish approved it, though the brothers had not exchanged a word about the matter. But this did not seem the best plan to her, nor did she think it would seem so to her cousin; it was not best for any of them. She could do far better for her mother, and Hamish too, living quietly in their present home; and the young people would be better without them. Of course they must get their living from the farm, at least partly; but she could do many things to earn something. She could spin and knit, and she would get a loom and learn to weave, and little Flora should help her.

“If Allister would only be convinced; but they will think I am vexed about the house, and I don’t think I really cared much about it for myself it was for Allister and the rest. Oh, if my mother were only able to decide it, I do think she would agree with me about it.”

She thought and thought till she was weary, and it all came to this:

“I will wait and see what will happen, and I will trust. Surely nothing can go wrong when God guides us. At any rate, I shall say nothing to vex Allister or Shenac; but I wish it was well over.”

It was the first visit to Shenac Dhu which, partly from shyness and partly from some other feeling, she did dread a little; but she need not have feared it so much. She did not have to put a constraint on herself to seem glad; for the very first glimpse she caught of Shenac’s sweet, kind face put all her vexed thoughts to flight, and she was really and truly glad for Allister and for herself too.

She went to her uncle’s one night, not at all expecting to see her cousin; but she had returned sooner than was expected, and when she went in she found her sitting with her father and Allister. Shenac did not see her brother, however. She hastily greeted her uncle, and going straight to her cousin put her arms round her neck and kissed her many times. Shenac Dhu looked up in surprise.

“I know it now, Cousin Shenac,” said Allister’s sister; and in a moment Allister’s arms were round them both. It was Angus Dhu’s turn to be surprised now. He had not been so startled since the day that Shenac Bhan told him her mind down by the creek. The girls escaped, and Allister explained how matters stood. The old man was pleased, but he grumbled a little, too, at the thought of losing his last daughter.

“You must make an exchange, Allister, my man. If you could give us your Shenac ”

Allister laughed. In his heart he thought his sister too good to be sent there, and he was very glad he had not the matter to decide.

“Shenac, my woman,” said the old man as they were going away, “I wonder at you being so willing to give up the fine new house. I think it is very good in you.”

“I would not to anybody else,” said she, laughing.

“But she’s not going to give it up, father,” said Shenac Dhu eagerly.

“Well, well, maybe not, if you can keep her.”

Shenac still pondered over the question of what would be best for them all, and wearied herself with it many a time; but she gave none the less interest to the progress of the house and its belongings. She spun the wool for the carpet, and bleached the new linen to snowy whiteness, and made all other preparations just the same as if she were to have the guiding and governing of the household. She was glad with Allister and glad with Shenac, and, for herself and the rest, quite content to wait and see what time would bring to pass.