Chapter V. Forgive Us Our Debts
 

Macdonald Dubh's farm lay about three miles north and west from the manse, and the house stood far back from the cross-road in a small clearing encircled by thick bush. It was a hard farm to clear, the timber was heavy, the land lay low, and Macdonald Dubh did not make as much progress as his neighbors in his conflict with the forest. Not but that he was a hard worker and a good man with the ax, but somehow he did not succeed as a farmer. It may have been that his heart was more in the forest than in the farm. He was a famous hunter, and in the deer season was never to be found at home, but was ever ranging the woods with his rifle and his great deerhound, Bugle.

He made money at the shanties, but money would not stick to his fingers, and by the time the summer was over most of his money would be gone, with the government mortgage on his farm still unlifted. His habits of life wrought a kind of wildness in him which set him apart from the thrifty, steady-going people among whom he lived. True, the shanty-men were his stanch friends and admirers, but then the shanty-men, though well-doing, could hardly be called steady, except the boss of the Macdonald gang, Macdonald Bhain, who was a regular attendant and stanch supporter of the church, and indeed had been spoken of for an elder. But from the church Macdonald Dubh held aloof. He belonged distinctly to the "careless," though he could not be called irreligious. He had all the reverence for "the Word of God, and the Sabbath day, and the church" that characterized his people. All these held a high place in his esteem; and though he would not presume to "take the books," not being a member of the church, yet on the Sabbath day when he was at home it was the custom of the household to gather for the reading of the Word before breakfast. He would never take his rifle with him through the woods on the Sabbath, and even when absent from home on a hunting expedition, when the Sabbath day came round, he religiously kept camp. It is true, he did not often go to church, and when the minister spoke to him about this, he always agreed that it was a good thing to go to church. When he had no better excuse, he would apologize for his absence upon the ground "that he had not the clothes." The greater part of the trouble was that he was shy and proud, and felt himself to be different from the church-going people of the community, and shrank from the surprised looks of members, and even from the words of approving welcome that often greeted his presence in church.

It was not according to his desire that Ranald was sent to the manse. That was the doing of his sister, Kirsty, who for the last ten years had kept house for him. Not that there was much housekeeping skill about Kirsty, as indeed any one might see even without entering Macdonald Dubh's house. Kirsty was big and strong and willing, but she had not the most elemental ideas of tidiness. Her red, bushy hair hung in wisps about her face, after the greater part of it had been gathered into a tight knob at the back of her head. She was a martyr to the "neuralagy," and suffered from a perennial cold in the head, which made it necessary for her to wear a cloud, which was only removed when it could be replaced by her nightcap. Her face always bore the marks of her labors, and from it one could gather whether she was among the pots or busy with the baking. But she was kindhearted, and, up to her light, sought to fill the place left empty by the death of the wife and mother in that home, ten years before.

When the minister's wife opened the door, a hot, close, foul smell rushed forth to meet her. Upon the kitchen stove a large pot of pig's food was boiling, and the steam and smell from the pot made the atmosphere of the room overpoweringly fetid. Off the kitchen or living-room were two small bedrooms, in one of which lay Macdonald Dubh.

Kirsty met the minister's wife with a warm welcome. She helped her off with her hood and coat, patting her on the shoulder the while, and murmuring words of endearment.

"Ah, M'eudail! M'eudail bheg! and did you come through the night all the way, and it is ashamed that I am to have sent for you, but he was very bad and I was afraid. Come away! come away! I will make you a cup of tea." But the minister's wife assured Kirsty that she was glad to come, and declining the cup of tea, went to the room where Macdonald Dubh lay tossing and moaning with the delirium of fever upon him. It was not long before she knew what was required.

With hot fomentations she proceeded to allay the pain, and in half an hour Macdonald Dubh grew quiet. His tossings and mutterings ceased and he fell into a sleep.

Kirsty stood by admiring.

"Mercy me! Look at that now; and it is yourself that is the great doctor!"

"Now, Kirsty," said Mrs. Murray, in a very matter-of-fact tone, "we will just make him a little more comfortable."

"Yes," said Kirsty, not quite sure how the feat was to be achieved. "A little hot something for his inside will be good, but indeed, many's the drink I have given him," she suggested.

"What have you been giving him, Kirsty?"

"Senny and dandylion, and a little whisky. They will be telling me it is ferry good whatever for the stomach and bow'ls."

"I don't think I would give him any more of that; but we will try and make him feel a little more comfortable."

Mrs. Murray knew she was treading on delicate ground. The Highland pride is quick to take offense.

"Sick people, you see," she proceeded carefully, "need very frequent changes--sheets and clothing, you understand."

"Aye," said Kirsty, suspiciously.

"I am sure you have plenty of beautiful sheets, and we will change these when he wakes from his sleep."

"Indeed, they are very clean, for there is no one but myself has slept in them since he went away last fall to the shanties."

Mrs. Murray felt the delicacy of the position to be sensibly increased.

"Indeed, that is right, Kirsty; one can never tell just what sort of people are traveling about nowadays."

"Indeed, and it's true," said Kirsty, heartily, "but I never let them in here. I just keep them to the bunk."

"But," pursued Mrs. Murray, returning to the subject in hand, "it is very important that for sick people the sheets should be thoroughly aired and warmed. Why, in the hospital in Montreal they take the very greatest care to air and change the sheets every day. You see so much poison comes through the pores of the skin."

"Do you hear that now?" said Kirsty, amazed. "Indeed, I would be often hearing that those French people are just full of poison and such, and indeed, it is no wonder, for the food they put inside of them."

"O, no, " said Mrs. Murray, "it is the same with all people, but especially so with sick people."

Kirsty looked as doubtful as was consistent with her respect for the minister's wife, and Mrs. Murray went on.

"So you will just get the sheets ready to change, and, Kirsty, a clean night-shirt."

"Night-shirt! and indeed, he has not such a thing to his name." Kirsty's tone betrayed her thankfulness that her brother was free from the effeminacy of a night-shirt; but noting the dismay and confusion on Mrs. Murray's face, she suggested, hesitatingly, "He might have one of my own, but I am thinking it will be small for him across the back."

"I am afraid so, Kirsty," said the minister's wife, struggling hard with a smile. "We will just use one of his own white shirts." But this scandalized Kirsty as an unnecessary and wasteful luxury.

"Indeed, there is plenty of them in the chist, but he will be keeping them for the communion season, and the funerals, and such. He will not be wearing them in his bed, for no one will be seeing him there at all."

"But he will feel so much better," said Mrs. Murray, and her smile was so sweet and winning that Kirsty's opposition collapsed, and without more words both sheets and shirt were produced.

As Kirsty laid them out she observed with a sigh: "Aye, aye, she was the clever woman--the wife, I mean. She was good with the needle, and indeed, at anything she tried to do."

"I did not know her," said Mrs. Murray, softly, "but every one tells me she was a good housekeeper and a good woman."

"She was that," said Kirsty, emphatically, "and she was the light of his eyes, and it was a bad day for Hugh when she went away."

"Now, Kirsty," said Mrs. Murray, after a pause, "before we put on these clean things, we will just give him a sponge bath."

Kirsty gasped.

"Mercy sakes! He will not be needing that in the winter, and he will be getting a cold from it. In the summer-time he will be going to the river himself. And how will you be giving him a bath whatever?"

Mrs. Murray carefully explained the process, again fortifying her position by referring to the practices of the Montreal hospital, till, as a result of her persuasions and instructions, in an hour after Macdonald had awakened from his sleep he was lying in his Sabbath white shirt and between fresh sheets, and feeling cleaner and more comfortable than he had for many a day. The fever was much reduced, and he fell again into a deep sleep.

The two women watched beside him, for neither would leave the other to watch alone. And Ranald, who could not be persuaded to go up to his loft, lay on the bunk in the kitchen and dozed. After an hour had passed, Mrs. Murray inquired as to the nourishment Kirsty had given her brother.

"Indeed, he will not be taking anything whatever," said Kirsty, in a vexed tone. "And it is no matter what I will be giving him."

"And what does he like, Kirsty?"

"Indeed, he will be taking anything when he is not seek, and he is that fond of buckwheat pancakes and pork gravy with maple syrup over them, but would he look at it! And I made him new porridge to-night, but he would not touch them."

"Did you try him with gruel, Kirsty?"

"Mercy me, and is it Macdonald Dubh and gruel? He would be flinging the 'feushionless' stuff out of the window."

"But I am sure it would be good for him if he could be persuaded to try it. I should like to try him."

"Indeed, and you may try. It will be easy enough, for the porridge are still in the pot."

Kirsty took the pot from the bench, with the remains of the porridge that had been made for supper still in it, set it on the fire, and pouring some water in it, began to stir it vigorously. It was thick and slimy, and altogether a most repulsive-looking mixture, and Mrs. Murray no longer wondered at Macdonald Dubh's distaste for gruel.

"I think I will make some fresh, if you will let me, Kirsty--in the way I make it for the minister, you know."

Kirsty, by this time, had completely surrendered to Mrs. Murray's guidance, and producing the oatmeal, allowed her to have her way; so that when Macdonald awoke he found Mrs. Murray standing beside him with a bowl of the nicest gruel and a slice of thin dry toast.

He greeted the minister's wife with grave courtesy, drank the gruel, and then lay down again to sleep.

"Will you look at that now?" said Kirsty, amazed at Macdonald Dubh's forbearance. "He would not like to be offending you."

Then Mrs. Murray besought Kirsty to go and lie down for an hour, which Kirsty very unwillingly agreed to do.

It was not long before Macdonald began to toss and mutter in his sleep, breaking forth now and then into wild cries and curses. He was fighting once more his great fight in the Glengarry line, and beating back LeNoir.

"Back, ye devil! Would ye? Take that, then. Come back, Mack!" Then followed a cry so wild that Ranald awoke and came into the room.

"Bring in some snow, Ranald," said the minister's wife; "we will lay some on his head."

She bathed the hot face and hands with ice-cold water, and then laid a snow compress on the sick man's head, speaking to him in quiet, gentle tones, till he was soothed again to sleep.

When the gray light of the morning came in through the little window, Macdonald woke sane and quiet.

"You are better," said Mrs. Murray to him.

"Yes," he said, "I am very well, thank you, except for the pain here." He pointed to his chest.

"You have been badly hurt, Ranald tells me. How did it happen?"

"Well," said Macdonald, slowly, "it is very hard to say."

"Did the tree fall on you?" asked Mrs. Murray.

Macdonald glanced at her quickly, and then answered: "It is very dangerous work with the trees. It is wonderful how quick they will fall."

"Your face and breast seem very badly bruised and cut."

"Aye, yes," said Macdonald. "The breast is bad whatever."

"I think you had better send for Doctor Grant," Mrs. Murray said. "There may be some internal injury."

"No, no," said Macdonald, decidedly. "I will have no doctor at me, and I will soon be round again, if the Lord will. When will the minister be home?"

But Mrs. Murray, ignoring his attempt to escape the subject, went on: "Yes, but, Mr. Macdonald, I am anxious to have Doctor Grant see you, and I wish you would send for him to-morrow."

"Ah, well," said Macdonald, not committing himself, "we will be seeing about that. But the doctor has not been in this house for many a day." Then, after a pause, he added, in a low voice, "Not since the day she was taken from me."

"Was she ill long?"

"Indeed, no. It was just one night. There was no doctor, and the women could not help her, and she was very bad--and when it came it was a girl--and it was dead--and then the doctor arrived, but he was too late." Macdonald Dubh finished with a great sigh, and the minister's wife said gently to him:

"That was a very sad day, and a great loss to you and Ranald."

"Aye, you may say it; she was a bonnie woman whatever, and grand at the spinning and the butter. And, oich-hone, it was a sad day for us."

The minister's wife sat silent, knowing that such grief cannot be comforted, and pitying from her heart the lonely man. After a time she said gently, "She is better off."

A look of doubt and pain and fear came into Macdonald's eyes.

"She never came forward," he said, hesitatingly. "She was afraid to come."

"I have heard of her often, Mr. Macdonald, and I have heard that she was a good and gentle woman."

"Aye, she was that."

"And kind to the sick."

"You may believe it."

"And she loved the house of God."

"Aye, and neither rain nor snow nor mud would be keeping her from it, but she would be going every Sabbath day, bringing her stockings with her."

"Her stockings?"

"Aye, to change her feet in the church. What else? Her stockings would be wet with the snow and water."

Mrs. Murray nodded. "And she loved her Saviour, Mr. Macdonald."

"Indeed, I believe it well, but she was afraid she would not be having 'the marks.'"

"Never you fear, Mr. Macdonald," said Mrs. Murray. "If she loved her Saviour she is with him now."

He turned around to her and lifted himself eagerly on his elbow. "And do you really think that?" he said, in a voice subdued and anxious.

"Indeed I do," said Mrs. Murray, in a tone of certain conviction.

Macdonald sank back on his pillow, and after a moment's silence, said, in a voice of pain: "Oh, but it is a peety she did not know! It is a peety she did not know. For many's the time before-- before--her hour came on her, she would be afraid."

"But she was not afraid at the last, Mr. Macdonald?"

"Indeed, no. I wondered at her. She was like a babe in its mother's arms. There was a light on her face, and I mind well what she said." Macdonald paused. There was a stir in the kitchen, and Mrs. Murray, glancing behind her, saw Ranald standing near the door intently listening. Then Macdonald went on. "I mind well the words, as if it was yesterday. 'Hugh, my man,' she said, 'am no feared' (she was from the Lowlands, but she was a fine woman); 'I haena the marks, but 'm no feared but He'll ken me. Ye'll tak' care o' Ranald, for, oh, Hugh! I ha' gi'en him to the Lord. The Lord help you to mak' a guid man o' him.'" Macdonald's voice faltered into silence, then, after a few moments, he cried, "And oh! Mistress Murra', I cannot tell you the often these words do keep coming to me; and it is myself that has not kept the promise I made to her, and may the Lord forgive me."

The look of misery in the dark eyes touched Mrs. Murray to the heart. She laid her hand on Macdonald's arm, but she could not find words to speak. Suddenly Macdonald recalled himself.

"You will forgive me," he said; "and you will not be telling any one."

By this time the tears were streaming down her face, and Mrs. Murray could only say, brokenly, "You know I will not."

"Aye, I do," said Macdonald, with a sigh of content, and he turned his face away from her to the wall.

"And now you let me read to you," she said, softly, and taking from her bag the Gaelic Bible, which with much toil she had learned to read since coming to this Highland congregation, she read to him from the old Psalm those words, brave, tender, and beautiful, that have so often comforted the weary and wandering children of men, "The Lord is my Shepherd," and so on to the end. Then from psalm to psalm she passed, selecting such parts as suited her purpose, until Macdonald turned to her again and said, admiringly:

"It is yourself that has the bonnie Gaelic."

"I am afraid," she said, with a smile, "it is not really good, but it is the best a south country woman can do."

"Indeed, it is very pretty," he said, earnestly.

Then the minister's wife said, timidly, "I cannot pray in the Gaelic."

"Oh, the English will be very good," said Macdonald, and she knelt down and in simple words poured out her heart in prayer. Before she rose from her knees she opened the Gaelic Bible, and turned to the words of the Lord's Prayer.

"We will say this prayer together," she said, gently.

Macdonald, bowing his head gravely, answered: "It is what she would often be doing with me."

There was still only one woman to this lonely hearted man, and with a sudden rush of pity that showed itself in her breaking voice, the minister's wife began in Gaelic, "Our Father which art in heaven."

Macdonald followed her in a whisper through the petitions until they came to the words, "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," when he paused and would say no more. Mrs. Murray repeated the words of the petition, but still there was no response. Then the minister's wife knew that she had her finger upon a sore spot, and she finished the prayer alone.

For a time she sat silent, unwilling to probe the wound, and yet too brave to flinch from what she felt to be duty.

"We have much to be forgiven," she said, gently. "More than we can ever forgive." Still there was silence.

"And the heart that cannot forgive an injury is closed to the forgiveness of God."

The morning sun was gleaming through the treetops, and Mrs. Murray was worn with her night's vigil, and anxious to get home. She rose, and offering Macdonald her hand, smiled down into his face, and said: "Good by! We must try to forgive."

As he took her hand, Macdonald's dark face began to work, and he broke forth into a bitter cry.

"He took me unawares! And it was a coward's blow! and I will not forgive him until I have given him what he deserves, if the Lord spares me!" And then he poured forth, in hot and bitter words, the story of the great fight. By the time he had finished his tale Ranald had come in from the kitchen, and was standing with clenched fists and face pale with passion at the foot of the bed.

As Mrs. Murray listened to this story her eyes began to burn, and when it was over, she burst forth: "Oh, it was a cruel and cowardly and brutal thing for men to do! And did you beat them off?" she asked.

"Aye, and that we did," burst in Ranald. And in breathless haste and with flashing eye he told them of Macdonald Bhain's part in the fight.

"Splendid!" cried the minister's wife, forgetting herself for the moment.

"But he let him go," said Ranald, sadly. "He would not strike him, but just let him go."

Then the minister's wife cried again: "Ah, he is a great man, your uncle! And a great Christian. Greater than I could have been, for I would have slain him then and there." Her eyes flashed, and the color flamed in her face as she uttered these words.

"Aye," said Macdonald Dubh, regarding her with deep satisfaction. His tone and look recalled the minister's wife, and turning to Ranald, she added, sadly:

"But your uncle was right, Ranald, and we must forgive even as he did."

"That," cried Ranald, with fierce emphasis, "I will never do, until once I will be having my hands on his throat."

"Hush, Ranald!" said the minister's wife. "I know it is hard, but we must forgive. You see we must forgive. And we must ask Him to help us, who has more to forgive than any other."

But she said no more to Macdonald Dubh on that subject that morning. The fire of the battle was in her heart, and she felt she could more easily sympathize with his desire for vengeance than with the Christian grace of forgiveness. But as they rode home together through the bush, where death had trailed them so closely the night before, the sweet sunlight and the crisp, fresh air, and all the still beauty of the morning, working with the memory of their saving, rebuked and soothed and comforted her, and when Ranald turned back from the manse door, she said softly: "Our Father in heaven was very good to us, Ranald, and we should be like him. He forgives and loves, and we should, too."

And Ranald, looking into the sweet face, pale with the long night's trials, but tinged now with the faintest touch of color from the morning, felt somehow that it might be possible to forgive.

But many days had to come and go, and many waters flow over the souls of Macdonald Dubh and his son Ranald, before they were able to say, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."