Margaret M. (Margaret Murray) Robertson.

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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Shenac's Work at Home

By Margaret Murray Robertson




A long time ago, something very sad happened in one of the districts of
Scotland. I cannot tell you how it all came about, but a great many
people were obliged to leave their homes where they and their
forefathers had lived for many generations. A few scattered themselves
through other parts of the country; a few went to the great towns to
seek for a livelihood; but by far the greater number made up their minds
to leave for ever the land of their birth, and rose in the new, strange
world beyond the sea a home for themselves and their children.

I could never make you understand what a sorrowful time that was to
these poor people, or how much they suffered in going away. For some of
the old left children behind them, and some of the young left their
parents, or brothers, or sisters; and all left the homes where they had
lived through happy years, the kirks where they had worshipped God
together, and the kirkyards where lay the dust of the dear ones they had

And, besides all this, they knew little of the land to which they were
going, and between them and it lay the great ocean, with all its
terrors. For then they did not count by days, as we do now, the time
that it took to cross the sea, but by weeks, or even by months; and many
a timid mother shrank from the thought of all her children might have to
suffer ere the sea was passed. Even more than the knowledge of the many
difficulties and discouragements which might await them beyond it, did
the thought of the dangers of the sea appal them. And to all their
other sorrows was added the bitter pain of saying farewell for ever and
for ever to Scotland, their native land. It is true that not among all
her hills or valleys, or in all her great and prosperous towns, could be
found room for them and theirs; it is true that a home in the beloved
land was denied them: but it was their native land all the same, and
eyes that had refused to weep at the last look of dear faces left
behind, grew dim with tears as the broken outline of Scotland's hills
faded away in the darkness.

But out of very sorrowful events God oftentimes causes much happiness to
spring; and it was so to these poor people in their banishment. Into
the wide Canadian forests they came, and soon the wilderness and the
solitary place were glad for them; soon the wild woods were made to
rejoice with the sound of joyful voices ringing out from many a happy
though humble home. And though there were those among the aged or the
discontented who never ceased to pine for the heather hills of the old
land, the young grew up strong and content, troubled by no fear that,
for many and many a year to come, the place would become too strait for
them or for their children.

They did not speak English these people, but a language called Gaelic,
not at all agreeable to English ears, but very dear to the heart of the
Scottish Highlander. It is passing somewhat out of use now; but even at
this day I have heard of old people who will go many miles to hear a
sermon preached in that language - the precious gospel itself seeming
clearer and richer and more full of comfort coming to them in the
language which they learned at their mother's knee.

"It was surely the language first spoken on earth, before the beguiling
serpent came to our mother," once said an old man to me; "and maybe
afterwards too, till the foolish men on the plain of Shinar brought
Babel on the earth. And indeed it may be the language spoken in heaven
to-day, so sweet and grand and fit for the expression of high and holy
thoughts is it."

It is passing out of use now, however, even among the Highlanders
themselves. Gaelic is the household language still, where the father
and mother are old, or where the grand-parents live with the rising
generation; but English is the language of business, of the newspapers,
and of all the new books that find their way among the people. It is
fast becoming the language in which public worship is conducted too.
There are very few books in the Gaelic. There are the Bible and the
Catechism, and some poems which they who understand them say are very
grand and beautiful; and there are a few translations of religious
books, such as "The Pilgrim's Progress," and some of the works of such
writers as Flavel and Baxter. But though there are not many, they are
of a kind which, read often and earnestly, cannot fail to bring wisdom;
and a grave and thoughtful people were they who made their homes in this

Among those who were most earnest in overcoming the difficulties which
at every step meet the settler in a new country were two brothers, Angus
and Evan MacIvor. Their farms lay next to each other. They were
fortunate in securing good land, and they were moderately successful in
clearing and cultivating it. They lived to a good old age, and the
youngest son of each succeeded him in the possession of the land. It is
about the families of these two sons that my story is to be told.

The two cousins bore the same name, Angus MacIvor; but they were not at
all alike either in appearance or character. The one was fair, with
light hair and bright blue eyes; and because of this he was called Angus
Bhan, or Angus the fair, to distinguish him from his cousin, who was
very dark. He had a frank, open face and kind manner; and if anyone in
the neighbourhood wanted a favour done, his first thought was sure to be
of Angus Bhan.

His cousin Angus Dhu, or Angus the black, had a good reputation among
people in general. He was honest and upright in his dealings, his word
could be relied on; but his temper was uncertain, and his neighbours
called him "close," and few of them would have thought of looking to
Angus Dhu when they wanted a helping hand.

When these two began life they were very much in the same circumstances.
Their farms were alike as to the quality of the soil and as to the
number of acres cleared and under cultivation. They were both free from
debt, both strong men accustomed to farm-work, and both, in the opinion
of their neighbours, had a fair chance of becoming rich, according to
the idea of wealth entertained by these people.

But when twenty years had passed away the affairs of the two men stood
very differently. Angus Dhu had more than realised the expectations of
his neighbours. He was rich - richer even than his neighbours supposed.
More than half of his farm of two hundred acres was cleared and under
cultivation. It was well stocked, well tilled, and very productive.
Near the site of the log-house built by his father stood a comfortable
farm-house of stone. All this his neighbours saw, and called him a
prosperous man; and now and then they speculated together as to the
amount of bank-stock to which he might justly lay claim.

The world had not gone so well with Angus Bhan. There was not so much
land under cultivation, neither was what he had so well cultivated as
his cousin's. He had built a new house too, but he had been unfortunate
as to the time chosen to build. Materials were dear, and a bad harvest
or two put him sadly back in the world. He was obliged to run into
debt, and the interest of the money borrowed from his cousin was an
additional burden. He was not successful in the rearing of stock, and
some heavy losses of cattle fell on him. Worse than all, his health
began to fail, for then his courage failed too; and when there came to
that part of the country rumours of wonderful discoveries of the
precious metals in the western parts of the continent, he only faintly
withstood the entreaties of his eldest son that he might be permitted to
go away and search for gold among the mountains of California. His
going away nearly broke his mother's heart; and some among the
neighbours said it would have been far wiser for young Allister to stay
at home and help his father to plough and sow and gather in the harvest,
than to go so far and suffer so much for gold, which might be slow in
coming, and which must be quick in going should sickness overtake him in
the land of strangers. But the young are always hopeful, and Allister
was sure of success; and he comforted his mother by telling her that in
two or three years at most he could earn money enough to pay his
father's debt to Angus Dhu, and then he would come home again, and they
would all live happily together as before. So Allister went away, and
left a sorrowful household behind.

And there was another sorrowful household in Glengarry about that time.
There was only _sorrow_ in the hearts of Angus Bhan and his wife when
their first-born son went away; for he went with their consent, and
carried their blessing with him. But there were sorrow and bitter anger
in the heart of Angus Dhu when he came to know that his son had also
gone away. He was not a man of many words, and he said little to anyone
about his son; but in his heart he believed that he had been beguiled
away by the son of Angus Bhan, and bitter resentment rose within him at
the thought.

A few months passed away, and there came a letter from Allister, written
soon after his arrival in California. His cousin Evan Dhu was with him.
They had done nothing to earn money as yet, but they were in high
spirits, and full of hope that they would do great things. This letter
gave much comfort to them all; but it was a long time before they heard
from the wanderers again.

In the meantime the affairs of Angus Bhan did not grow more prosperous.
It became more and more difficult for him to pay the interest of his
debt; and though his cousin seldom alluded in words to his obligation,
he knew quite well that he would not abate a penny either of principal
or interest when the time of payment came.

A year passed away. No more letters came from Allister, and his
father's courage grew fainter and fainter. There seemed little hope of
his ever being able to pay his debt; and so, when Angus Dhu asked him to
sell a part of his farm to him, he went home with a heavy heart to
consult his wife about it. They agreed that something must be done at
once; and so it was arranged that if Allister was not heard from, or if
some other means of paying at least the interest did not offer before
the spring, the hundred acres of their land that lay next to the farm of
Angus Dhu should be given up to him. It was sad enough to have to do
this; but Angus Bhan said to his wife, -

"If anything were to happen to me, you and the children would be far
better with half the land free from debt, than with all burdened as it
must be till Allister comes home."

They did not say much to each other, but their hearts were very sore -
his, that he must give up the land left to him by his father; hers, for
his sake, and also for the sake of her first-born son, a wanderer far

That autumn, when the harvest was over, the second son, Lewis, set off
with some young men of the place to join a company of lumberers, who
were, as is their custom, to pass the winter in the woods. It was a
time of great prosperity with lumber-merchants then, and good wages
could be earned in their service. There was nothing to be done at home
in the winter which his father, with the help of the younger children,
could not do; and Lewis, who was eighteen, was eager to earn money to
help at home, and eager also to enter into the new and, as he thought,
the merry life in the woods. So Lewis went away, and there were left at
home Hamish and Shenac, who were twins, Dan, Hugh, Colin, and little
Flora, the youngest and dearest of them all. The anxieties of the
parents were not suffered to sadden the lives of the children, and the
little MacIvors Bhan were as merry young people as one could wish to

Though they were not so prosperous, they were a far happier household
than the MacIvors Dhu. There was the same number of children in each
family; but Angus Dhu's children were most of them older than their
cousins, and while Angus Bhan had six sons and two daughters, Angus Dhu
had six daughters and two sons. "His cousin should have been a far
richer man than he, with so many sons," Angus Dhu used to say grimly.
But three of the boys of Angus Bhan were only children still, and one of
them was a cripple. And as for the daughters of Angus Dhu, they had
been as good as sons even for the farm-work, labouring in the fields, as
is the custom for young women in this part of the country, as
industriously and as efficiently as men - far more so, indeed, than their
own brother Evan did; for he was often impatient of the closeness with
which his father kept them all at work, and it was this, quite as much
as his love of adventure and his wish to see the world, that made him go
away at last. The two eldest daughters were married, and the third was
living away from home; so, after Evan left, there were four in their
father's house - three girls and Dan, the youngest of the family, who was
twelve years of age. The children of these two families had always been
good friends. Indeed, the younger children of Angus Dhu had more
pleasure in the house of their father's cousin than in their own home;
and many a winter evening they were in the habit of passing there.

They had a very quiet winter after Lewis went away. There was less
visiting and going about in the moonlight evenings than ever before; for
the boys were all too young to go with them except Hamish, and he was a
cripple, and not so well as usual this winter, and though the girls were
quite able to take care of themselves, they had little pleasure in going
alone. So Angus Dhu's girls used to take their knitting and their
sewing to the other house, and they all amused themselves in the
innocent, old-fashioned ways of that time.

Shenac seldom went to visit her cousins; for, besides the fact that her
father's house was the pleasantest meeting-place, her brother Hamish
could not often go out at night, and she would rarely consent to leave
him; and no one added so much to the general amusement as Hamish. He
was very skilful at making puzzles and at all sorts of arithmetical
questions, and not one of them could sing so many songs or tell so many
stories as he. He was very merry and sweet-tempered too. His being a
cripple, and different from all the rest, had not made him peevish and
difficult to deal with as such misfortunes are so apt to do, and there
was no one in all the world that Shenac loved so well as her
twin-brother Hamish.

I suppose I ought to describe Shenac more particularly, as my story is
to be more about her than any of the other MacIvors. A good many years
after the time of which I am now writing; I heard Shenac MacIvor - or, as
English lips made it, Jane MacIvor - spoken of as a very beautiful woman
(the Gaelic spelling is Sinec); but at this time I do not think it ever
came into the mind of anybody to think whether she was beautiful or not.
She had one attribute of beauty - perfect health. There never bloomed
among the Scottish hills, which her father and mother only just
remembered, roses and lilies more fresh and fair than bloomed on the
happy face of Shenac, and her curls of golden brown were the admiration
and envy of her dark haired cousins. They called little Flora a beauty,
and a rose, and a precious darling; but of Shenac they said she was
bright and good, and very helpful for a girl of her age; and her brother
Hamish thought her the best girl in the world - indeed, quite without a
fault, which was very far from being true.

For Shenac had plenty of faults. She had a quick, hot temper, which,
when roused, caused her to say many things which she ought not to have
said. Hamish thought all those sharp words were quite atoned for by
Shenac's quick and earnest repentance, but there is a sense in which it
is true that hasty and unkind words can never be unsaid.

Shenac liked her own way too in all things. This did not often make
trouble, however; for she had learned her mother's household ways, and,
indeed, had wonderful taste and talent for these matters. Being the
only daughter of the house, except little Flora, and her mother not
being very strong, Shenac had less to do in the fields than her cousins,
and was busy and happy in the house, except in harvest-time, when even
the little lads, her brothers, were expected to do their part there.

Hamish and Shenac were very much alike, as twins very often are - that
is, they were both fair, and had the same-coloured hair and eyes. But,
while Shenac was rosy and strong, the very picture of health, her
brother was thin and pale, and often of late there had been a look of
pain on his face that it made his mother's heart ache to see. They were
all in all to each other - Shenac and Hamish. They missed Lewis less on
this account, and they knew very little of the troubles that so often
made their father and mother anxious; and the first months of winter
passed happily over them after Lewis went away.

Christmas passed, and the new year came in. A few more pleasant weeks
went by, and then there came terrible tidings to the house of Angus
Bhan. Far away, on one of the rapids of the Grand River, a boat had
been overturned. Three young men had been lost under the ice. The body
of one had been recovered: it was the body of Lewis MacIvor.

"We should be thankful that we can at least bring him home," said Angus
Bhan to his wife, while she made preparations for his sad journey. But
he said it with very pale, trembling lips, and his wife struggled to
restrain the great burst of weeping that threatened to have way, that he
might have the comfort of thinking that she was bearing her trouble
well. But when she was left alone all these sad days of waiting, she
was ready to say, in the bitterness of her heart, that there was no
sorrow like her sorrow. One son was a wanderer, another was dead, and
on the face of the dearly-beloved Hamish was settling the look of
habitual suffering, so painful to see. Her cup of sorrow was full to
the brim, she declared, but she knew not what she said.

For, when a few days had passed, there were brought home for burial two
dead bodies instead of one. Her husband was no more. He had nearly
accomplished his sorrowful errand, when death overtook him. He had
complained to the friend who was with him of feeling cold, and had left
the sleigh to walk a mile or two to warm himself. They waited in vain
for him at the next resting-place, and when they went back to look for
him they found him lying with his face in the snow, quite dead. He had
not died from cold, the doctor said, but from heart-disease, and
probably without suffering; and this comfort the bereaved widow tried to
take to herself.

But her cup of sorrow was not full yet. The very night before the
burial was to be, the house caught fire and burned to the ground. It
was with difficulty that the few neighbours who gathered in time to help
could save the closed coffins from the flames; and it seemed a small
matter, at the time, that nearly all their household stuff was lost.

The mother's cup _did_ seem full now. I do not think that the coming of
any trouble, however great, could at this time have added to her grief.
She had striven to be submissive under the repeated strokes that had
fallen upon her, but the horrors of that night were too much for her,
weakened as she was by sorrow. For a time she was quite distracted,
heeding little the kind efforts of her neighbours to alleviate her
distress and the distress of her children. All that kind hearts and
willing hands could do was done for them. The log house which their
grandfather had built still stood. It was repaired, and filled with
gifts from every family in the neighbourhood, and the widow and her
children found refuge there.

"Oh, what a sad beginning for a story!" I think some of my young
readers may say, in tones of disappointment. It is indeed a sad
beginning, but every sorrowful word is true. Every day there are just
such sorrowful events happening in the world, though it is not often
that trouble falls so heavily at once on any household. I might have
left all this out of my story; but then no one could have understood so
well the nature of the work that fell to Shenac, or have known the
difficulties she had to overcome in trying to do it well.


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 anemones 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

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Online LibraryMargaret M. (Margaret Murray) RobertsonShenac's Work at Home → online text (page 1 of 15)