For Want of Blueberries

Jamie regarded his nephew incredulously for a few seconds. "Would ye care to repeat that, lad?"

The boy turned, startled, to see his uncle standing in the doorway, just returned from the field. "Uh, Uncle!" he stammered, "you're back already!"

Jamie inclined his head slightly. "Aye. And I've asked you a question."

"Oh, aye Uncle!"

"Aye?" Jamie's left eyebrow arched in surprise.

"No! I mean, aye, you've asked me a question, but no – the answer is no!"

Maggie, who had been silently watching the whole exchange, clapped a hand over her mouth as though suppressing a giggle. Jamie spared her a glance and then turned back to the lad who was named for him, his expression grave. "No," Jamie repeated quietly. "No, I didna think so. And I hope I never hear you repeat it again, ye ken me, James? Now, apologize to your sister and go and wait for me by the fence."

Margaret's eyes widened slightly at this last remark, but she made no comment.

Young Jamie turned to his younger sister and fixed his eyes on the floorboards beneath her feet. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Jamie nodded sternly and young James trudged out the door, pointedly not looking at either of them.

Jamie sighed and ran a hand through his unruly, thick red hair. "Well Maggie," he said, sinking into a kitchen chair, "Do ye mind filling me in on what happened?"

Maggie glanced uneasily out the window to where her brother was still slowly trudging toward the pasture fence. She had no desire to join him. She glanced back at Uncle Jamie. He didn't look so severe anymore, just tired. "Well, I just came in from picking blueberries and Jamie was in the kitchen. He saw the berries and asked could he have a bowlful? I said 'No, I'm going to make a pie for mum so I need them all.' He said 'Just a few', but I said 'No, Jamie, ye can go and pick your own.' Then he said 'You're just being selfish, you pig!' and I said 'I picked them! You're the selfish lazy pig if you won't go pick your own!' " Margaret paused suddenly – she had meant to leave that last bit out but had gotten so caught up in retelling the story that she had forgotten. "And that's when you walked in and heard him call me a horse," she finished lamely.

"A horse?" Jamie was genuinely confused.

"You heard him Uncle Jamie. He said 'I'll take them whether you want me to or not, you little horse!'"

Jamie managed to keep his face straight. "Oh – ah, well Maggie, what the lad actually said was a different word, aye, that means something much worse.

"Oh."

"You said a few things that were no verra nice yourself, did ye not?"

"I –"

"Did ye not?" His voice was severe.

"Aye, Uncle." Margaret's blue eyes were beginning to fill with tears.

Jamie softened his tone a degree. "I realize your brother started it. Now, go to the fence and–"

"Uncle!" Margaret protested.

Jamie held up a hand. "I wasna finished. Go to the fence and apologize to your brother, and then ye may come back here and make your pie."

"Aye, Uncle!" Maggie hurried out, looking much-relieved.

Jamie glanced out the window to where young James was sitting on the fence, his back towards the house, staring out across the pasture. Jamie sighed again and rubbed a large hand over his face. After a few moments he stood up, straightened his shirt, and strode out the door.

"Well James, have ye anything to say for yourself then?" Jamie asked. His nephew was quiet for many moments.

"What'd you want me to say?!" he finally spat, his tone acrid.

That caught Jamie off guard a bit but he didn't let it show. Somewhere in the distance a meadowlark sang, the cheery tune in sharp contrast with the tense mood by the pasture gate. "I'm giving you a chance to say your piece before I remind you to treat your sister with respect."

Young Jamie stared at the ground but made no reply.

"Jamie, what you called your sister was likely the worst possible name you could ever call her, and I'll tell ye right now, I'm ashamed of you."

The disappointment that was evident in Uncle Jamie's voice cut young Jamie to the heart. Here was a man he idolized even more than his own father, and Jamie knew he had let him down. "I didn't mean it," he said finally, "I just lost my temper." Somehow the words echoed hollowly in his ears.

"I know." Uncle Jamie took off his belt. "And I'm going to help you remember to think before you speak."