Chapter XII. Seed-Time
 

The day after Big Mack's funeral, Ranald was busy polishing Lizette's glossy skin, before the stable door. This was his favorite remedy for gloomy thoughts, and Ranald was full of gloomy thoughts to-day. His father, though going about the house, was still weak, and worse than all, was fretting in his weakness. He was oppressed with the terrible fear that he would never again be able to do a man's work, and Ranald knew from the dark look in his father's face that day and night the desire for vengeance was gnawing at his heart, and Ranald also knew something of the bitterness of this desire from the fierce longing that lay deep in his own. Some day, when his fingers would be feeling for LeNoir's throat, he would drink long and fully that sweet draught of vengeance. He knew, too, that it added to the bitterness in his father's heart to know that, in the spring's work that every warm day was bringing nearer, he could take no part; and that was partly the cause of Ranald's gloom. With the slow-moving oxen, he could hardly hope to get the seed in in time, and they needed the crop this year if ever they did, for last year's interest on the mortgage was still unpaid and the next installment was nearly due.

As he was putting the finishing touches upon Lisette's satin skin, Yankee drove up to the yard with his Fox horse and buckboard. His box was strapped on behind, and his blankets, rolled up in a bundle, filled the seat beside him.

"Mornin'," he called to Ranald. "Purty fine shine, that, and purty fine mare, all round," he continued, walking about Lisette and noting admiringly her beautiful proportions.

"Purty fine beast," he said, in a low tone, running his hands down her legs. "Guess you wouldn't care to part with that mare?"

"No," said Ranald, shortly; but as he spoke his heart sank within him.

"Ought to fetch a fairly good figure," continued Yankee, meditatively. "Le's see. She's from La Roque's Lisette, ain't she? Ought to have some speed." He untied Lisette's halter. "Take her down in the yard yonder," he said to Ranald.

Ranald threw the halter over Lisette's neck, sprang on her back, and sent her down the lane at a good smart pace. At the bottom of the lane he wheeled her, and riding low upon her neck, came back to the barn like a whirlwind.

"By jings!" exclaimed Yankee, surprised out of his lazy drawl; "she's got it, you bet your last brick. See here, boy, there's money into that animal. Thought I would like to have her for my buckboard, but I have got an onfortunit conscience that won't let me do up any partner, so I guess I can't make any offer."

Ranald stood beside Lisette, his arm thrown over her beautiful neck, and his hand fondling her gently about the ears. "I will not sell her." His voice was low and fierce, and all the more so because he knew that was just what he would do, and his heart was sick with the pain of the thought.

"I say," said Yankee, suddenly, "cudn't bunk me in your loft, cud you! Can't stand the town. Too close."

The confining limitations of the Twentieth, that metropolitan center of some dozen buildings, including the sawmill and blacksmith shop, were too trying for Yankee's nervous system.

"Yes, indeed," said Ranald, heartily. "We will be very glad to have you, and it will be the very best thing for father."

"S'pose old Fox cud nibble round the brule," continued Yankee, nodding his head toward his sorrel horse. "Don't think I will do much drivin' machine business. Rather slow." Yankee spent the summer months selling sewing-machines and new patent churns.

"There's plenty of pasture," said Ranald, "and Fox will soon make friends with Lisette. She is very kind, whatever."

"Ain't ever hitched her, have you?" said Yankee.

"No."

"Well, might hitch her up some day. Guess you wudn't hurt the buckboard."

"Not likely," said Ranald, looking at the old, ramshackle affair.

"Used to drive some myself," said Yankee. But to this idea Ranald did not take kindly.

Yankee stood for a few moments looking down the lane and over the fields, and then, turning to Ranald, said, "Guess it's about ready to begin plowin'. Got quite a lot of it to do, too, ain't you?"

"Yes," said Ranald, "I was thinking I would be beginning to-morrow."

"Purty slow business with the oxen. How would it do to hitch up Lisette and old Fox yonder?"

Then Ranald understood the purpose of Yankee's visit.

"I would be very glad," said Ranald, a great load lifting from his heart. "I was afraid of the work with only the oxen." And then, after a pause, he added, "What did you mean about buying Lisette?" He was anxious to have that point settled.

"I said what I meant," answered Yankee. "I thought perhaps you would rather have the money than the colt; but I tell you what, I hain't got money enough to put into that bird, and don't you talk selling to any one till we see her gait hitched up. But I guess a little of the plow won't hurt for a few weeks or so."

Next day Lisette left behind her forever the free, happy days of colthood. At first Ranald was unwilling to trust her to any other hands than his own, but when he saw how skillfully and gently Yankee handled her, soothing her while he harnessed and hitched her up, he recognized that she was safer with Yankee than with himself, and allowed him to have the reins.

They spent the morning driving up and down the lane with Lisette and Fox hitched to the stone-boat. The colt had been kindly treated from her earliest days, and consequently knew nothing of fear. She stepped daintily beside old Fox, fretting and chafing in the harness, but without thought of any violent objection. In the afternoon the colt was put through her morning experience, with the variation that the stone-boat was piled up with a fairly heavy load of earth and stone. And about noon the day following, Lisette was turning her furrow with all the steadiness of a horse twice her age.

Before two weeks were over, Yankee, with the horses, and Ranald, with the oxen, had finished the plowing, and in another ten days the fields lay smooth and black, with the seed harrowed safely in, waiting for the rain.

Yankee's visit had been a godsend, not only to Ranald with his work, but also to Macdonald Dubh. He would talk to the grim, silent man by the hour, after the day's work was done, far into the night, till at length he managed to draw from him the secret of his misery.

"I will never be a man again," he said, bitterly, to Yankee. "And there is the farm all to pay for. I have put it off too long and now it is too late, and it is all because of that--that--brute beast of a Frenchman."

"Mean cuss!" ejaculated Yankee.

"And I am saying," continued Macdonald Dubh, opening his heart still further, "I am saying, it was no fair fight, whatever. I could whip him with one hand. It was when I was pulling out Big Mack, poor fellow, from under the heap, that he took me unawares."

"That's so," assented Yankee. "Blamed lowdown trick."

"And, oh, I will be praying God to give me strength just to meet him! I will ask no more. But," he added, in bitter despair, "there is no use for me to pray. Strength will come to me no more."

"Well," said Yankee, brightly, "needn't worry about that varmint. He ain't worth it, anyhow."

"Aye, he is not worth it, indeed, and that is the man who has brought me to this." That was the bitter part to Macdonald Dubh. A man he despised had beaten him.

"Now look here," said Yankee, "course I ain't much good at this, but if you will just quit worryin', I'll undertake to settle this little account with Mr. LeNware."

"And what good would that be to me?" said Macdonald Dubh. "It is myself that wants to meet him." It was not so much the destruction of LeNoir that he desired as that he should have the destroying of him. While he cherished this feeling in his heart, it was not strange that the minister in his visits found Black Hugh unapproachable, and concluded that he was in a state of settled "hardness of heart." His wife knew better, but even she dared not approach Macdonald Dubh on that subject, which had not been mentioned between them since the morning he had opened his heart to her. The dark, haggard, gloomy face haunted her. She longed to help him to peace. It was this that sent her to his brother, Macdonald Bhain, to whom she told as much of the story as she thought wise.

"I am afraid he will never come to peace with God until he comes to peace with this man," she said, sadly, "and it is a bitter load that he is carrying with him."

"I will talk with him," answered Macdonald Bhain, and at the end of the week he took his way across to his brother's home.

He found him down in the brule, where he spent most of his days toiling hard with his ax, in spite of the earnest entreaties of Ranald. He was butting a big tree that the fire had laid prone, but the ax was falling with the stroke of a weak man.

As he finished his cut, his brother called to him, "That is no work for you, Hugh; that is no work for a man who has been for six weeks in his bed."

"It is work that must be done, however," Black Hugh answered, bitterly.

"Give me the ax," said Macdonald Bhain. He mounted the tree as his brother stepped down, and swung his ax deep into the wood with a mighty blow. Then he remembered, and stopped. He would not add to his brother's bitterness by an exhibition of his mighty, unshaken strength. He stuck the ax into the log, and standing up, looked over the brule. "It is a fine bit of ground, Hugh, and will raise a good crop of potatoes."

"Aye," said Macdonald Dubh, sadly. "It has lain like this for three years, and ought to have been cleared long ago, if I had been doing my duty."

"Indeed, it will burn all the better for that," said his brother, cheerfully. "And as for the potatoes, there is a bit of my clearing that Ranald might as well use."

But Black Hugh shook his head. "Ranald will use no man's clearing but his own," he said. "I am afraid he has got too much of his father in him for his own good."

Macdonald Bhain glanced at his brother's face with a look of mingled pity and admiration. "Ah," he said, "Hugh, it's a proud man you are. Macdonalds have plenty of that, whatever, and we come by it good enough. Do you remember at home, when our father"--and he went off into a reminiscence of their boyhood days, talking in gentle, kindly, loving tones, till the shadow began to lift from his brother's face, and he, too, began to talk. They spoke of their father, who had always been to them a kind of hero; and of their mother, who had lived, and toiled, and suffered for her family with uncomplaining patience.

"She was a good woman," said Macdonald Bhain, with a note of tenderness in his voice. "And it was the hard load she had to bear, and I would to God she were living now, that I might make up to her something of what she suffered for me."

"And I am thankful to God," said his brother, bitterly, "that she is not here to see me now, for it would but add to the heavy burden I often laid upon her."

"You will not be saying that," said Macdonald Bhain. "But I am saying that the Lord will be honored in you yet."

"Indeed, there is not much for me," said his brother, gloomily, "but the sick-bed and six feet or more of the damp earth."

"Hugh, man," said his brother, hastily, "you must not be talking like that. It is not the speech of a brave man. It is the speech of a man that is beaten in his fight."

"Beaten!" echoed his brother, with a kind of cry. "You have said the word. Beaten it is, and by a man that is no equal of mine. You know that," he said, appealing, almost anxiously, to his brother. "You know that well. You know that I am brought to this"--he held up his gaunt, bony hands--"by a man that is no equal of mine, and I will never be able to look him in the face and say as much to him. But if the Almighty would send him to hell, I would be following him there."

"Whisht, Hugh," said Macdonald Bhain, in a voice of awe. "It is a terrible word you have said, and may the Lord forgive you."

"Forgive me!" echoed his brother, in a kind of frenzy. "Indeed, he will not be doing that. Did not the minister's wife tell me as much?"

"No, no," said his brother. "She would not be saying that."

"Indeed, that is her very word," said Black Hugh.

"She could not say that," said his brother, "for it is not the Word of God."

"Indeed," replied Black Hugh, like a man who had thought it all out, "she would be reading it out of the Book to me that unless I would be forgiving, that--that--" he paused, not being able to find a word, but went on--"then I need not hope to be forgiven my own self."

"Yes, yes. That is true," assented Macdonald Bhain. "But, by the grace of God, you will forgive, and you will be forgiven."

"Forgive!" cried Black Hugh, his face convulsed with passion. "Hear me!"--he raised his hand to heaven.--"If I ever forgive--"

But his brother caught his arm and drew it down swiftly, saying: "Whisht, man. Don't tempt the Almighty." Then he added, "You would not be shutting yourself out from the presence of the Lord and from the presence of those he has taken to himself?"

His brother stood silent a few moments, his hard, dark face swept with a storm of emotions. Then he said, brokenly: "It is not for me, I doubt."

But his brother caught him by the arm and said to him, "Hear me, Hugh. It is for you."

They walked on in silence till they were near the house. Ranald and Yankee were driving their teams into the yard.

"That is a fine lad," said Macdonald Bhain, pointing to Ranald.

"Aye," said his brother; "it is a pity he has not a better chance. He is great for his books, but he has no chance whatever, and he will be a bowed man before he has cleared this farm and paid the debt on it."

"Never you fear," said his brother. "Ranald will do well. But, man, what a size he is!"

"He is that," said his father, proudly. "He is as big as his father, and I doubt some day he may be as good a man as his uncle."

"God grant he may be a better!" said Macdonald Bhain, reverently.

"If he be as good," said his brother, kindly, "I will be content; but I will not be here to see it."

"Whisht, man," said his brother, hastily. "You are not to speak such things, nor have them in your mind."

"Ah," said Macdonald Dubh, sadly, "my day is not far off, and that I know right well."

Macdonald Bhain flung his arm hastily round his brother's shoulder. "Do not speak like that, Hugh," he said, his voice breaking suddenly. And then he drew away his arm as if ashamed of his emotion, and said, with kindly dignity, "Please God, you will see many days yet, and see your boy come to honor among men."

But Black Hugh only shook his head in silence.

Before they came to the door, Macdonald Bhain said, with seeming indifference, "You have not been to church since you got up, Hugh. You will be going to-morrow, if it is a fine day?"

"It is too long a walk, I doubt," answered his brother.

"That it is, but Yankee will drive you in his buckboard," said Macdonald Bhain.

"In the buckboard?" said Macdonald Dubh. "And, indeed, I was never in a buckboard in my life."

"It is not too late to begin to-morrow," said his brother, "and it will do you good."

"I doubt that," said Black Hugh, gloomily. "The church will not be doing me much good any more."

"Do not say such a thing; and Yankee will drive you in his buckboard to-morrow."

His brother did not promise, but next day the congregation received a shock of surprise to see Macdonald Dubh walk down the aisle to his place in the church. And through all the days of the spring and summer his place was never empty; and though the shadow never lifted from his face, the minister's wife felt comforted about him, and waited for the day of his deliverance.