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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XXXII - Colin and Katie

COLIN, since leaving school, had devoted his time to the farm. Hard work seemed to suit him, and he thrived under it. He developed marvellously in stature and strength, and so far as my opinion went, although I realised that I might be regarded as a prejudiced judge, I thought him the handsomest youth in the township. He was tall, straight as an arrow, lithe, and athletic. There were few boys in the district who could hold their own with him in the games and feats of strength practised on the green in front of Dooleyís blacksmith shop during the long summer evenings. I knew he would make an ideal soldier, and would look it every inch when he donned his regimentals. How proud I was of Colin !

It was during those evenings spent about the widowís hearthstone that I gathered something of the depth of affection that existed between Colin and Katie. Katie had grown into a lovely girl, and gave excellent promise of being a woman worthy of her mother. It was not that she could be set down as handsome, judged by the strictest standards, for there were several features to which a critic could take exception. It was a tribute to Colinís discernment and to his instinct, that he discovered in Katie that which universal experience has demonstrated as being the womanly grace that ensures happiness. Katie inherited this rare gift from her mother. The sunshine in the girlís life was but a reflex of the strong, steady, ever-present effulgence in the motherís. But it must not be supposed that Katie was not good looking as well. Her features were quite regular, her eyes bright and brimful of spirit, and she had a glorious head of hair. A fondness for out-door occupations had aided her healthful physical development. Poor though her mother was, she never hesitated to make any sacrifice in order to provide her children with the best literature that the times and circumstances afforded, so that their minds were stored with the contents of the best available books.

It was little wonder, as the youthful lovers contemplated their early separation, under circumstances which afforded no certainty of a future reunion, that they felt themselves specially drawn towards each other, and that very tender love passages and protestations of fidelity passed between them.

Mrs. McNabb placed no barriers in the way of the youthful sweethearts. They spent most of the remaining evenings together, and it was a charming picture to see them as they wandered about the farm (for the weather this spring was phenomenally mild) visiting favourite spots, and stopping, as they passed the cows and horses, to speak to the appreciative dumb brutes.

They were wont to pause by the great stone in the lane. Katie would sit on a fence block close by, while Colin, leaning upon the stone, would look into her eyes, and the two would talk about the future and build castles in the air.

"You know, Katie dear," Colin said one evening, at the stone, "it seems hard to separate from you now, but you know there is no future for me here, and Iím so confident that I can master the world and make a success of life. Something has always told me that there was a task for me to perform, and lately I have been so impatient to set about doing it."

"But, Colin," Katie answered, "if you were not going to the war it would not seem so bad. You know how horrible a thing war is. It makes me shudder to think of the danger to which you will be exposed," and Katieís voice trembled.

"Please donít think of that, Katie. Just think how proud you and all the others will be of me when we return!"

"But, Colin, do you really feel sure nothing awful will happen to you?"

"Why, yes, Katie, I feel quite sure. And just think, what use would there be in my staying here? I have no ambition to become a hired man, like Goarden, ódo the calling off at dances, and put in my time attending the threshing-mill, doing the road work, and sometimes going to the shanty, where they speak such atrocious French."

Katie caught at Colinís picture, and the light in her eyes, shining through the tears that stood in them, fascinated the boy.

"Do you know, Katie," he said, enthusiastically, stooping down and taking both her hands in his, "you never looked half so beautiful as you do at this very instant! If I had the power of the magician and could with magic touch fix you forever as you are now, I think I would do it."

"Oh, please donít," said Katie, rising to her feet, and laughing. "I should not like to share the fate of Lotís wife and be transformed into a pillar; especially, sitting down. It would not be quite so bad standing up. So you would like to have me petrified, would you, Colin?" added Katie, roguishly.

"No, no, indeed; I would not," said Colin, hastily. "But you did look so handsome, Katie, laughing through your tears. But now that you have spoiled the picture and become natural again, the desire to see you transformed has vanished."

"So Iím not handsome when Iím natural," said Katie, with a playful expression on her face.

"Oh, no, I didnít mean that!" answered Colin.

"Well, that is what you implied," said Katie; "but of course if you are in the habit of saying things you donít mean, it doesnít matter."

Colin knew that Katie was merely bantering him, and he did not make any direct reply to her remark.

The two stood in silence by the great stone for some minutes, looking at the red horizon where the sun was sinking, each busied with different thoughts. It was Colin who broke the spell.

"Do you know, Katie," he said, "since we have grown up we have never said anything about being engaged. As children we grew up together, thinking we were intended for each other, but since we have reached maturer years we have never renewed our vows. It is not that even the possibility of unfaithfulness on your part has ever darkened my mind, but now that we are going to separate, perhaps for a long time, I think I could bear the separation with a stouter heart if we were bound to each other by some band more formal than a mere tacit understanding."

Katie stood before him, silent, but with dewy, lustrous eyes.

"Let us take this great stone as our witness, Katie dear," said Colin, taking her right hand in his.

Katie was passive, and Colin led her a step or two to the stone, there, with hands clasped across it, they plighted their troth. That stone, which remains in the old lane to this day, was always a sacred object to Colin and Katie.

They lingered about it till long after the reddish hue had disappeared from the horizon. Then, hand in hand, like the children they had so recently been, they walked up the lane to the house.

"There is something on my mind, Katie, which I would like to tell you before I go away," said Colin, as they approached the barn.

"Well, let us wait in the moonlight at the well here," answered Katie, as they approached it.

They sat down on the edge of the well-worn trough, and Colin said : ó"You know that when I came to your home, I was so young that I remember hardly anything of my earlier life, and your mother has always been a mother to me. Yet I had another mother, and a father, in England. A few years ago, when I realised this, I asked Uncle Watty about it, and he told me that my father and mother were dead. Then, when young Bill Pepper taunted me with being brought to the settlement by Washy, I asked Uncle Watty again how that came about, and he told me that I had been taken from home. But why was I stolen? Who caused it? What was the motive? And why does Uncle Watty not tell me more?"

"I have often wondered too," said Katie, "though I did not like to ask about it."

"It is not that I have not confidence in my uncleís affection for me," said Colin. "You know what friends we have always been, and how he has helped me and looked after me ever since I came to live at your home."

"Yes," answered Katie, "I have often heard mother speak of it, and she used always to say that no father could be better or kinder to a son than Watty was to you."

"Thatís it," said Colin, rising from the trough excitedly and taking a step or two; "thatís it! There is something mysterious about the matter. Uncle Wattyís silence seems so strange. Yesterday morning, when I was in the barnyard doing the chores, I heard his voice suddenly in the granary. He mentioned my name and said something about a promise he had made to some woman. He must have been thinking aloud. I have been greatly exercised about the matter since. I thought once or twice to-day that he was going to make some important communication to me, but he did not do it, for just at that moment Goarden came along and began to talk to us. If he does not offer to speak to me again about it before I go, I mean to ask him myself."

They remained talking for some time, and then went on to the house. We were all seated about the fireplace that evening, listening to Willieís stories about New York, when the latch was lifted and Colin and Katie entered and joined the circle. They blushed as Jamie made some remark about "the cows having been lost," but nothing further was said. The widow beamed kindly upon both, and the conversation went on as briskly as ever.

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