The professor, my brother, thought his sabbatical made a fine chance to fructify a long ambition - to grow a beard. So once settled for a stay of some months in Bouches-du Rhone he began work on this, and soon owned a massive thatch of white whiskers which, under the management of a doting French barber, became as magnificent as a bed of hollyhocks and attracted admiration whenever he strolled. In due time he arrived back in The States, and as he descended from the airplane a small boy standing by looked up at him and whispered, ''I got my bicycle!''
My brother and I do not visit too often, distance being in the way, and this occasion was the wedding of a grandniece, a State of Maine ceremony that amounted to a gathering of the clans. You could trot the fiery cross about Strathspey today and gather no more Grants than you could summon in Maine by a small announcement in the Coastal Journal. Earlier this summer there was a Grant convocation at Rangeley, to which people flew from California, but I surmise the exercise was but a rehearsal for this wedding. Our grandniece is a Grant, since our sister married a piper of that ilk, and the Scots who came to celebrate her happiness taxed Quaker Ridge for want of a resident Craigellachie. There is naething so Scot as the Scot farthest from Scotland, and Wee Helen was blawn to her reception by her Granddaddie Piper, who selected the tune Craigellachie for the occasion - the march of Clan Grant. True, some interloper hummed Waltzing Matilda along the way, but any Grant will tell ye the Australians are tune thieves.
But in spite of the beauty of the bride, loveliest since the Bissets of seven hundred years ago, and in spite of the stirring dash of her piper in his livery of tartan, the occasion was somewhat preempted by a snatch of MacLeods, chieftained for the moment by our mother, who at ninety-six might be taken for the Dame Flora of Dunvegan, albeit a MacLeod by way of the Canadian Maritimes. The MacLeods, of course, outnumber everybody. Mother sat in regal state, as rightfully as any Lord of the Isle, supported by her two Yankee sons, her daughter - the bride's grandmother - and announced that she wanted a picture of the bride, along with herself and all her descendants now at hand. The bridegroom dangled his bonnet and plume so to speak, while this went on, and when all was ready, the cameras poised, I signalled for the battle to begin with the ancient slogan of the black bull of the MacLeods, ''Hold Fast!'' Afterward, pictures were made of the bride and the bridegroom, but it seemed to me some kind of afterthought, although one must take such things in context.
The grandfather of the bride and the piper - my brother-in-law - played for an hour or so under a tree on the lawn, and my nephew kicked off his shoes and did the Highland Fling. The nephew is a man grown, and protested that he hadn't done the dance since boyhood, but his feet flew with the insistence of the pipes , and seemed scarce to touch the grass before they were up again. We all wondered which would flinch first, the piper or the dancer, but we knew that both would come away together, the final bow at the last wild note, and then the expiring gasp of the doodlesack which concludes all laments, pibrochs, reels, marches, and strathspeys. This entertainment delayed the cutting of the bride's cake, but nobody seemed to mind, and tossing the caber and the apostrophe to the haggis in Gaelic were postponed until evening.
The bride's mother, my niece, came to me during a lull to inquire if I were pleased, and I told her there was but one thing needed to round out a perfect day. Would she sing, just for me, Danny Boy? ''Thought you'd never ask,'' she said, and revealed that the pianist had already been alerted. My niece is maybe Lily Pons size, but has three times the voice, and I would make it a capital offense for anybody to touch Danny Boy save her alone. There was nae a dry een on Quaker Ridge. And my bewhiskered brother, just back from France, spoiled it all when she ceased by asking, ''Now, why do they call that tune the London derriere?'' He gars our mither greet, he does, the rascal!