tiistai 5. tammikuuta 2016

Chapter Four: At the Orchard

It was a June Sunday twilight, which differs from every other twilight in the world. The old cherry trees at the orchard were full of white blossoms, the grass was as soft as a child’s cheek, and the veil of Summernight Maid was covering the land.

Louisa, Tom, Myra, and Ethel were spending their last happy hours before sleep under the cherry trees. Though tonight they did not felt as happy as usually. Myra had her large hat on her for comfort, and Tom lay on the grass resting his head on little Ethel’s hem. She caressed his black hair so tenderly that he nearly could believe it was his non-existing little sister with so soft hands.

“I can tell you a story”, said Louisa. Everybody seemed still so serious after the Sunday school misfortune that she felt they needed some refreshing. “It’s something about our great-great-great-uncle Neil MacDonald and the ‘Forty-Five.”

“Oh, please, tell!” asked Myra. “Tom hasn’t heard any of your tales yet!”

Louisa smiled.

“Neil MacDonald was the most handsome lad of Clan Donald”, she began. “He had auburn hair — that’s why Aunty always says Myra’s hair is ‘something like Neil’s’ — and glad eyes, and he sang and played fiddle, and all the lassies of his clan were in love with him.

“When Prince Charlie arrived in Scotland, Neil went out like the others did. He said goodbye to his mother and sisters and bonnie Peggy MacDonald, his cousin, who he was about to marry. So he left with his sword and his fiddle, and bravely he fought, as all the MacDonalds did — and their attempt to fail in Culloden was just the fault of the stupid officers.

“Neil survived Culloden, but he was arrested and put into a prison in Inverness. He had to stay there six months, knowing nothing about the outside world, nothing about his family and his sweetheart. Then seventy of the prisoners were transported into a ship which took them overseas to America. America was a part of Britannia that time, as you know. And there they were sold as slaves.”

“Oh!” cried Ethel and looked horrified. “Neil, too?”

“Neil, too. He was bought by a rich plantation-owner, and because he was a firm young man, he had to work hard.

“But then a group of Indians attacked on the plantation. Some of the slaves joined them, but Neil was a good Christian and fought for his master, till he was wounded and carried into the house. The daughter of the plantation-owner nursed Neil, and fell in love with his bonnie face and brave soul — he never complained, though he had awful pains.

“When Neil was healed and about to go back to the fields again, the daughter begged his father for mercy. The plantation-owner, who liked Neil, too, asked if he would marry his daughter, because he knew Neil was a good lad and from a fine family back in Scotland. But Neil told him he had a bride already waiting. So the plantation-owner gave him his freedom and some money and clothes and sent him back to Scotland.

“It was five years since Neil had left his home. When he came back nobody knew him; he saw burned homes and killed Highlanders. To the redcoats he told he was an American and looking for servants from the Old Country.

“When he came to Peggy’s home he found her in a very weak condition. She had pneumonia and she hardly could speak; but she swore she had always loved Neil and would love him ever after. Neil kissed her, and so she died in his arms.”

Myra began to sob and hide her face into her hat. Tom rose up. This was far too exciting to hear on one’s back.

“After Peggy’s funeral Neil left for Canada. He founded a little farm and lived there alone, with only his memories as company; and when he died, one of this rare friends had it written on his grave stone, ‘Here rests Neil MacDonald, faithful in life, faithful in death.’” Louisa quietened.

“Why didn’t he marry the daughter of the plantation-owner?” asked Ethel shyly.

“Because he didn’t love her, of course”, said Louisa. “And it’s not a real marriage if you don’t love your wife.”

“It was a sad story”, said Tom. “Sad and beautiful. Where did you learn it?”

“Mommy and Aunty like to tell stories”, said Louisa and smiled. “And I like to listen and re-tell them. That’s simple. Who’s coming?”

Somebody was walking along the path from the pond.

“It’s Geordie Kerr”, exclaimed Myra and dried her tears. “What’s about Will Jameson?”

“Hey”, said Geordie. “That’s why I’m over.”

“Did you spank him?” asked Ethel the amazon.

“No. We caught him and he moaned and begged so pitifully that at last we let him be. But we ragged him to Miss Marshall’s and made him to confess. And Miss asked me to apologise you and tell you can forget the punishment, Tom.”

“Oh, isn’t that wonderful!” exclaimed Louisa.

Tom grinned.

“Thanks”, he said. “Though I think I learn the two first chapters anyway. It was may fault, too — if I hadn’t whispered with you, Miss Marshall wouldn’t have scolded us and Carrie wouldn’t have been frightened. I wish Will will find it somewhere.”

“If that’s so I’ll learn the third and fourth chapter”, promised Geordie. “What you’re doin’ here?”

“Louisa told a story”, said Ethel. “Can’t you tell another for Geordie, now?”

“No”, said Louisa. “The stories are like candies — if you get too much you don’t care of them anymore.”

“I would”, said Geordie. “I would listen your stories all day long.”

“It’s not a day, it’s evening already”, snapped Louisa firmly and stood up. “And time to go and sleep.”

When Geordie had gone home and the children were in their beds, Laura MacDonald went to the dining-room, where Aunt Maggie was reading her Bible.

“I’m afraid we haven’t yet counted all the harms Cristen’s boy will find here”, she said and sat before her sister-in-law. “I see he’s a great one with getting into trouble.”

“Well, he’s a great one with getting from trouble, too, if you ask me”, Aunt Maggie said friendly. “He’s half-a-Scot and we Scots never stay in trouble, Laura, dear. It’s better for you to go to sleep, too. It’s Monday tomorrow and you’ll have a hard work with Mrs Macguaire’s taft dress.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Laura gave a sigh and rose. “Sometimes I dream of being on Angus’ ship, staying on the deck and feeling the wind on my hair — and knowing that all the taft dresses are hundreds of miles away!”

“Don’t speak that way, darling”, Aunt Maggie told her and shut the Bible. “Louisa can hear you, and there’s enough nonsense in her upper storey already, if you ask me.”

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