Read CHAPTER II - AWAY FROM ORCHARD GLEN of In Orchard Glen , free online book, by Marian Keith, on ReadCentral.com.

Mrs. Johnnie Dunn, driving home from town in her new Ford car, spun down the hill and through the village, without even stopping at the post office.

Mrs. Dunn was the only truly emancipated woman of Orchard Glen; her husband was a quiet, shy little man, whom every one called “Marthy,” and he always referred proudly to his clever wife as “The Woman.”  She managed her husband, her household, her farm, and a dozen other enterprises such as no woman was ever supposed to be able to manage, and did it all in such a thoroughly capable manner that she was the envy and the scandal of the whole neighbourhood.

Her latest escapade had been to buy up the old Simms place, next to her own farm, turn it all into pasture for cows, buy a milking machine and a Ford car, and go dashing into town every morning with milk for a list of customers that astonished all the milkmen of the district.  And she often came tearing back to her day’s work when the lazy village folk were shaking the breakfast tablecloth out of the back door!

As she came storming down into the village on this bright May morning, Marmaduke Simms was sitting on the store veranda as usual, with his peg leg displayed upon a soap box, as his eternal excuse for his idleness.  But there was no excuse for Trooper Tom Boyd, The Woman’s own nephew, whose two perfectly good legs were stretched out beside him, and all in the middle of a morning in the middle of seeding!

Trooper Tom had once ridden the prairies in the Mounted Police force, but though he had been one of the most fearless riders of the plains, he was frankly afraid of his Aunt.  He had fully intended to be back in the field before her return, and now, when her car appeared upon the hill half-an-hour earlier than it should have come, he gave a start of dismay.

“Great Ghosts,” cried Marmaduke, “it’s The Woman, sure as death!”

Trooper Tom gathered his long limbs together in one swift spasm, and leaped to cover through the store door-way.

“I ain’t a bit scairt of her, Tilly,” he remarked to the store-keeper’s daughter, as he landed tumultuously against the counter, “but I just remembered all of a sudden that I wanted to buy a box o’ matches.”

Tilly leaned against the counter and went off into a spasm of giggles, while the car stormed past the store in a cloud of reproving dust.  Marmaduke reached his head around the door-post.  “She’s gone, Trooper,” he whispered, as though afraid that The Woman might hear, “and, say, I guess you’re goin’ to have swell company.  She’s got a passenger, and he waved his hat at me and yelled.”

Trooper ventured out upon the veranda, followed by Tilly.

“Like as not he was yellin’ for help,” he suggested.  “It’s a man, sure enough, Trooper,” said Tilly, with a giggle.  “Guess she’s goin’ to give you the sack, and she’s brought him out to do the seedin’.”

“Too good to be true,” sighed the young man mournfully. “’Most likely it’s an implement agent.  The Woman’s always buyin’ something new made o’ wheels.”

“She’ll be gettin’ a machine to wind you up and set you goin’ at four in the mornin’,” said Duke comfortingly.  “Sit down and have a smoke, she’ll know you’re gone in a minit anyhow.”

Meanwhile the car bumped across the little bridge that spanned the creek and went storming up the opposite hill.  And at the top of the hill sat Christina Lindsay on the fence top wishing with all her might and main that Mr. Opportunity would come out and meet her.

As soon as Mrs. Johnnie Dunn saw her, she stopped her car opposite the stile with a word to the man at her side.  He picked up his suit-case and stepped hurriedly from the car.

“Hello, there, Christine!” shouted The Woman, over the stranger’s shoulder, “here’s a man from Algonquin wants a place to board.  Do you think your mother’d take him?”

The stranger came forward looking intently at Christina, with a twinkle in his eye.  He was stout, with iron-grey hair.  His bronzed face was good to look at, and he had a loud hearty voice, and a breezy manner.  He raised his hat with elaborate politeness.

“I hope you can take a stranger in for a week or two,” he said.  “I heard that the Lindsays are noted for their hospitality.”

“I’m afraid we can’t, but I’ll ask mother,” said Christina, coming down off the fence to a more formal position.  She spoke rather stiffly, for the stranger’s air of easy familiarity rather put her on her dignity.

Mrs. Johnnie Dunn still sat in her churning car and looked on with laughing eyes.  “Take him along up home and show him to your Ma, and see if she likes him,” she shouted “’cause if youse folks won’t keep him, I’ll have to cart him back to town.”

The stranger burst into a laugh.  It was a big, hearty, noisy laugh, with something in it that arrested Christina’s attention.  He shut up his eyes just the way Sandy did, and he showed his two rows of teeth just like Neil, and he threw back his head exactly like John, and it surely couldn’t be, and yet it really was, -

“Allister!” screamed Christina, and the next moment she was over the fence, with her arms tight round the stranger’s neck, and was saying over and over, “Oh, Allister, Allister, I just knew something awfully good was going to happen, and it’s you!”

And The Woman, who could carry through a business deal with a high hand and was a terror in a bargain, sat in her car and watched the brother and sister, with the tears blurring her vision.

It was not until the day’s work was done and the reunited family were gathered round the supper table that the Lindsays had time to realise the wonderful fact that Allister had come home.

He sat in the centre of an admiring circle and told all his experiences of the past ten years, shouting occasional bits of the history to Grandpa, who was sitting devouring him with his eyes.

There were the first hard years when everything went wrong; the year he was hailed out, and the year the frost got everything, and the year of the great prairie fires when he was on the verge of throwing everything up and coming back to Ontario.  But there had been good years in between and finally he had begun to move up the hill.  Everything in the West moved in the same direction, and now he had a big ranch and some coal mine shares, and building lots in Prairie Park where real estate was going up like a sky rocket.

And the truth of the matter was that if everything went all right he would be a rich man some day not far distant.  And he was planning that when he sold out and got from under some of his schemes he would come home and fix up the old farm and make it the finest place in Ontario.  He was going to buy all the new machinery for John, and have electric light, -

“And a piano,” put in Christina, “we need one far worse than we need a hay loader, don’t we, Mary?”

“You’ll have one some day if I go bust,” shouted Allister, and went on to tell of profits and prices and real estate deals.  His mother’s face looked a little wistful, but if there was rather much talk of money and none of the wealth that thieves cannot steal, she put aside her disappointment.  Allister was home, he was well and prosperous and that was surely enough happiness for one day.  She sat beside him, keeping tight hold of his hand, patting it occasionally and repeating Gaelic words of endearment, precious words he had not heard since he was a child and which brought a sting to his eyes.

The family conference did not last long, for the neighbours had heard that Allister Lindsay was home from the West, and the chores were not nearly completed when visitors began to arrive to welcome the long absent one.  The girls hurried about their work, while Allister ran here and there and got in every one’s way.  He followed Christina down to the milking and back again to the spring house and helped her with the separator, and she was rapturously happy that he should single her out for special notice.

He was back at the barnyard with Uncle Neil again, when she came out of the barn with a basket of eggs.  Uncle Neil was turning the cows into the back lane to drive them up to the pasture.

“Here, Uncle Neil, let me do that,” cried Allister.  “I want to see what it feels like to drive the cows to the back pasture again.  Hurrah here, Christine!  Come along with me, for fear I get lost!”

Christina fairly threw her basket of eggs at Uncle Neil, and ran after her brother.  They walked hand in hand up the lane like a couple of children.

“Maybe you wanted to go back to the house and get dolled up before the boys come,” he said, looking down at her big milking apron.

Christina eyed him suspiciously.  She was wondering if he was thinking that she needed much more fixing up than her sisters.

“No,” she answered, “I’m beautiful enough without.  It’s just girls like Ellen and Mary that need to be fussing over their looks.”

Allister looked down at her in admiration that was impossible to mistake.

“By ginger, you’re right,” he shouted heartily; “you’re the sort of a girl for me.  Say, what would you say to coming out West and keeping house for me?”

Here was Opportunity come back to her!  Christina seized him tightly.

“Oh, my!  Wouldn’t that be grand.  It would be the very best-well, the second best thing in the world!”

“And what would be the very best?”

“To go to the University with Sandy next Fall!” she answered promptly.

“Well, I declare!” Allister laughed, “you’ve all been bitten by the education bug.  Mr. Sinclair used to say that if father was to change the catechism, he’d have it read:  ’Man’s chief end is to glorify God and get a good education.’”

“Just what I believe exactly!” declared Christina, who was trembling with excitement.

“But girls go and get married, or ought to,” said Allister practically.

“Well, I hope I will some day,” confessed Christina.  “I don’t want to be an old maid like the Auntie Grants.  But I want to go away from Orchard Glen first, and see what the world’s like-and get a grand education and know heaps and do something great-oh, I don’t know what, but just something like you read about in the papers!”

The cows were in the pasture by this time, and as Allister put up the bars he said,

“Let’s set down here for a few minutes and settle this matter.”

Christina perched herself at his side on the top of the low rail fence.  The soft May mists were gathering in the valleys, the orchards shone pink in the sunset.  Away down in the beaver meadow the frogs were tuning up for their first overture of evening, and a whippoorwill far up in the Slash had begun to sing his lonely song to the dark hillside.  Allister looked about him and uttered a great sigh of contentment.

“Oh, it’s great to be home again,” he breathed.  “Now that I don’t have to keep my nose to the grindstone I’m going to come home oftener.  Things change so.  We may never all be home again together.”

“Well, I’d be sorry for that,” said Christina, who was fairly dancing with impatience.  “But I’d be sorrier if I thought things wouldn’t change.  We don’t want to live here for ever and ever just as we are.”

“No, of course not.  But I hope some of us will always be in Orchard Glen.  John always will.”

“I suppose so.  John’s spent all his life working hard for the rest of us,” cried Christina, “and I suppose he’ll go on doing it to the end.”

“There’s nobody better than John,” declared Allister.  “But let me tell you this, that the man or woman, either, who gives up all his chance in life to somebody else is bound to come out with the small end of the stick.  It sounds fine, but it don’t pay.”  Allister spoke with the assurance of the successful man of business.  “There’s a certain amount of looking out for Number One that’s necessary in this pleasant world.”

Christina was silent.  Her heart told her he must be wrong, but she could not have argued the matter if she would.  It did not seem possible that John’s life of self-sacrifice and devotion had been a mistake.  Something that Neil was always quoting was running through her head, “There is no gain except by loss.”  She could not recall it fully, but she remembered distinctly another quotation, “Whosoever will lose his life for my sake, shall find it.”

“Well, we’re all getting on in the world all right,” cried Allister heartily.  “I tell you, our family’s doing fine.  And if I make my pile as I hope to, we’ll all do better.  I’d like to be able to give Neil and Sandy a lift, but Sandy’s ready to go next Fall to the University anyway.  And it’ll be a good while before Jimmie’s ready.”

“Ellen and Bruce will be married some time next Fall, I expect,” said Christina, going over the members of the family in her mind.

“I hate to think of her as a farmer’s wife,” said Allister.  “If I had her out West I’d do better than that for her, but I suppose I might as well tell her I wanted to cut her head off.”

“I should think so!” laughed Christina; “it’s a dreadful thing to be in love.”

“Look as if Mary wouldn’t be teaching school long either, eh?  Mother’ll soon be without a girl if they all keep going off like that.  What about the one they call Christina?”

“Goody!  We’ve come to Christina at last!  Let’s settle her case.  Christina will stay at home and milk the cows and feed the pigs and bake and scrub and take the eggs and butter to Algonquin on Saturdays.  She will be the old maid sister with the horny hands, who always bakes the pies and cakes for Christmas when the family come home!”

Allister threw back his head and laughed into the coloured heavens till the echoes came back sharply from the whippoorwill’s sanctuary on the hillside.

“Never!” he cried heroically, waving the long stick with which he had driven the cows up the lane.  “Never!  Let me die before I see the day!  No, siree!  Christina will go to the University and take all the gold medals, or whatever truck it is they get there, and she’ll be a high-brow and go travelling over the country lecturing on Women’s Rights!”

“I do believe I’d do it, even the lecturing part, for the sake of the college course,” she declared.  “Oh, Allister, I’m simply aching to get away and have a good education and be-be somebody-even if it’s only a Woman’s Righter!”

“Hooroo!  I’m with you.  I guess your education won’t break me.  You’ve got the kind of spirit that’s bound to win, so off you go.  You get your sunbonnet and all the fal-lals girls have to get, and be ready next Fall to finish your High School and then it’s you for college!”

“Allister!” She turned to look at him.  It just could not be that he meant what he said.  Her eyes were like stars in the twilight, her voice sank to a whisper.

“Allister!  What are you saying?”

He laughed joyfully.  “I’m saying that you can start out on the road to glory next September and I’ll foot the bills!” he shouted.  “You’re deaf as Grandpa!”

Christina suddenly realised that he really meant it; that the glorious unbelievable thing upon which she had set her heart was hers.  She gave a sudden spring from her seat to throw herself in an abandon of gratitude upon her brother.  But the leap had an entirely different result.  The unsteady fence rail upon which she sat gave a lurch, turned over and Christina and it together went crashing into the raspberry and gooseberry bushes and thistles and stones of the fence corner.

Allister jumped from his perch to her assistance.

“Gosh hang it, girl,” he cried, “you might have killed yourself!”

Christina staggered to her feet, scratched and dishevelled.  “Oh, my goodness!” she cried, “to think of killing myself at this supreme moment!  If I had I’d never, never speak to myself again for missing that University course!”

When they got back to the house Christina went about in a happy daze.  There was no opportunity to do more than whisper the wonderful news to Sandy, and then she had to fly about to help put everything in order before the guests arrived.

The Lindsay home was at all times a popular gathering-place of an evening, for there was always plenty of company and music there, and a jolly time.  Indeed Uncle Neil was in the habit of saying that, when the milk pails were hung out along the shed they were like the Standard on the Braes o’ Mar, for when the young fellows of the countryside saw them, they came flocking over the hills.  And indeed the last pail had scarcely been washed and put in its place to-night when the first visitor appeared in the lane.

Uncle Neil, coming up from the pump in the orchard, with two pails of fresh water, announced that the whole MacKenzie family were coming across the field, and burst into the song that always set Ellen’s cheeks flaming.

  “MacDonald’s men, Clan Donald’s men,
    MacKenzie’s men, MacGillivray’s men,
  Strath Allan’s men, the Lowland men
    Are coming late and early!”

“MacGillivray’s man’s coming early to-night, Mary!” called Sandy.  “There’s his buggy comin’ up the line!  Man, it’s easy to see he hasn’t any chores in the evening!”

“I’m all behind the times!” cried the new brother.  “Tell me all about this MacGillivray man.  He’s a new one!”

He caught hold of Mary as she came in from the spring house, but she dodged him.  This MacGillivray man was a new and quite special cavalier.  He was no country boy from a neighbouring farm, but a prosperous young merchant from Port Stewart, a town some dozen miles away on the lake shore.  Driving through the country one bright day in early spring, he had met Mary on her way to school, and had never got over the sight.  Since then he had driven out all the way to Orchard Glen many a night for a repetition of the vision.

“Will you finish for me, Christine?” Mary whispered in a panic.  “I’m not fixed up yet, and he’s coming up the lane.”

Christina promised and hurried her away.  It didn’t matter, she reflected, whether she was dressed in her best or her milking apron.  There was no MacGillivray’s man or MacKenzie’s man, Highland or Lowland, coming over the hills to see her.  And then she suddenly remembered with dismay the flowers that must be still lying under the bushes at the stile!

She hurried through her work, threw off her apron, smoothed her hair, and ran down the path to the grove.  The evening shadows had full possession now, and there were no splashes of gold on the undergrowth.  The veeries were ringing their bells in the tree tops and a cat bird was fairly spilling out music of a dozen delightful varieties from a hidden corner behind a basswood bush.  Christina ran down the path and parted the undergrowth.  The basket was gone!  She searched in every corner.  And then she remembered that on her way out to the milking she had seen Gavin driving home from town.  He had taken the basket back, lest she should not find it!  She turned and went slowly back up the path, feeling ashamed and a little relieved.  He would never know that she had seen it, and yet it seemed too bad not to thank him for such a beautiful gift!

She hastened back to help Grandpa to bed.  Grandpa always sang his evening hymn just before he went to sleep, and as he lived in the belief that every one was as deaf as himself, it was well to get the performance over before the house was filled with company.

Grandpa had a very ancient little hymn book with an orange cotton cover which had been one of Grandma’s treasures, and which was now his most prized possession.  Grandma Lindsay had been a Methodist before her marriage, and under her influence Grandpa had often been in danger of wandering from the paths of Presbyterianism.  He would have considered it a great sin to confess that this old hymn book with its gospel songs was more to him than the psalms of David, and he would never have dreamed of introducing one of them into family worship.  But he loved every line inside the tattered orange covers, and their bright melodies had helped him over many a hard place after Grandma had left him.  His favourite hymn was the last in the book, “The Hindmost Hymn,” Grandpa called it, and every night of his life, unless he were too ill, he sang at least one verse of its sweet promise,

  “On the other side of Jordan,
  In the sweet fields of Eden,
  Where the tree of Life is blooming,
  There is rest for you. 
    There is rest for the weary,
    There is rest for the weary,
    There is rest for the weary,
  There is rest for you!”

“Aren’t you too tired to sing the Hindmost Hymn to-night, Grandpa?” asked Christina slyly.  But Grandpa did not fall into the trap.

“Tired?  Hoh!  Me tired!  And the Lad jist come home!  Indeed it will be more than a hymn I’ll be raising to the Lord this night.  I’ll jist be singing Him a psalm, too, for He has brought Joseph back to the land of Israel.”

Christina was ashamed of her subterfuge, and joined him in his psalm of gratitude, feeling that she, too, should raise a song of thanksgiving for all that had come to her on this wonderful day.  So she joined Grandpa’s shaking notes in

  “Oh, thou, my soul, bless God the Lord;
  And all that in me is
  Be stirred up by His holy name
  To magnify and bless!”

And then they finished with every verse of the Hindmost Hymn.  Though Grandpa never confessed it, he had a secret hope, every night, as he lay down to sleep, that all his aches and pains might be at an end and that the next morning he would waken “on the other side of Jordan, in the sweet fields of Eden,” and he liked to close the day with the cheering words.

So Christina sang it with him to the very end and then tucked him into his big feather bed.  She left his door into the winter kitchen ajar so that he could hear the singing, which they were sure to have.  Then she helped her mother air the spare room for Allister, and put a little fire in the shiny box stove in the hall, for the May evening was chilly.

By the time she had finished all her little duties the house was full of visitors.  Mrs. Johnnie Dunn and “Marthy” were the first, the former eager to retell the manner of her introduction of Allister to his family.

The McKenzies, who lived on the next farm above, were all there, and Bruce was helping Ellen carry chairs out to the veranda.  The Browns, a big family who lived just across the road from the Lindsays, were in the kitchen, and young Mr. MacGillivray’s horse was in the stable and he himself was seated in the parlour talking to Uncle Neil, and looking at Mary.

Then there was quite a little crowd coming up from the village, Tilly Holmes and Joanna Falls, the blacksmith’s handsome daughter, and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who owned the mill, people of some consequence in Orchard Glen, for Mrs. Martin had been a school teacher before her marriage.  Then there was Burke Wright, who worked in the mill, and his little wife; Trooper Tom Boyd and his chum Marmaduke, and even Mr. Sinclair, the Presbyterian minister, and his wife, all come to do honour to the long-absent son of Orchard Glen.

Christina joined Tilly Holmes and Bell Brown and some more girls of her own age in a corner of the veranda and told them all about Allister’s sudden appearance, and how she had taken him for a stranger looking for a place to board, and how he had promised to send her to the High School next Fall and then to the University with Sandy!

The young folk bunched together in the semi-darkness of the veranda, laughing and teasing, the older women gathered with Mrs. Lindsay in the parlour, and the men collected about Allister in the greater freedom of the kitchen, where coats could be laid aside and pipes taken out, and they sat astride their chairs in the smoke and listened to him tell about the prairies and the wheat crop of Alberta and the prices of real estate.

It was just like a party, Christina felt, as she ran here and there, waiting on the guests, and trying hard not to think about the glory of the future.

Uncle Neil came to the veranda door in his stocking feet and shirt sleeves.

“Come away in here, you musicians,” he called, “Allister wants to hear some of the old songs!”

There was much holding back and shoving of others forward, and many declarations of heavy colds and a rooted inability to sing at any time, but finally some of the girls were persuaded to move inside, and the boys followed.

Minnie Brown was organist in the Methodist church, so she was invited to the place of honour on the organ stool.  Ellen lit the big lamp with the pink shade, and Trem.  Henderson, who was the leader in musical circles and whom everybody called Tremendous K., was called in from the smoky region of the kitchen to start the singing.

They sang several of the old hymns first, so that Grandpa might enjoy them; and then Allister sent Sandy in from the kitchen to say that he must have some of the good old rousing Scotch songs they used to sing when he was home.  So Mary brought out the old tartan-covered song-book and they sang it through, from the dreamy wail of “Ye Banks and Braes” to the rollicking lilt of the Hundred Pipers when

  “Twa thousand swam ower to fell English ground,
  An’ danced themselves dry to the pibroch’s sound!”

It was a grand old-time evening, such as was not so often indulged in as when times were newer and money scarce.  When Mrs. Lindsay and the girls had passed around cake and pie and big cups of tea thick with cream the festivity was over, and the company moved away down the lane in the soft May moonlight.

And Christina and Sandy hung over the garden gate, like a pair of lovers, long after the last guest had gone, and made wonderful plans for the future, when they would be going to the University together.