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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter VII - My Father


My father's earliest recollection, (unless he was right in believing that he remembered indistinctly his mother's death which occurred a year earlier) was of the news of the victory of Waterloo in 1815. When the news came which, in that day would be some time after the event, his brothers lighted a huge bonfire, and rejoicingly talked of "Bonaparte" being taken. His understanding was that some place or thing valuable or precious had come into some one's possession, and with all his heart he rejoiced with the rejoicers around the fire, with ignorance as profound as that of infantile beholders, possibly on the same spot of the beltane fires of pre-Christian days.

On a farm in the latitude of Cromar during the short winter day, it would seem that little labour would be required outside the care of cattle, which in grandfather's day, did not include the extraordinary increase of work entailed by the subsequent introduction of turnip, a cattle ration. At any rate, unless the reclamation of hitherto uncultivated lands was being prosecuted, a good deal of spare time would he left free for possible self-improvement or social intercourse and enjoyment. It must not be forgotten, however, that the threshing process for relieving the grain from the straw ration required a great deal of time daily as the sole sustenance of cattle and horses alike, had to be effected laboriously by the flail. That work. I understand, was usually accomplished before daylight, which however, did not appear in Winter until eight o'clock while darkness at the shortest day descended through a protracted gloaming, making artificial light necessary between four and five o'clock in the afternoon. Conditions as they were must have left free In the toiler a long evening in any event  spent according to inclination. For the most part it is likely that this liberty was exercised generally m the locality in social enjoyment rather than in self improvement. At any rate most of the old people with whom I was wont to meet, deplored the dullness and lifelessness of the rising generation as compared with their own. From what my father used to tell. I suppose that his brothers were as gay perhaps as the rest, but withal inclined to be studious. He understood from education derived solely from the parish school, all of them had been fitted for entrance to the university. In that he may possibly have been mistaken, though then and even in my own time it was not uncommon for pupils to pass from the parish school to the university direct.

For what progress they may have been able to achieve, I cannot help thinking that they were indebted largely to the influence of their mother. They could not have had access to many books, for there was then no public library and the purchase of costly books was beyond their means. Possibly through association with the minister's sons at school and at home they may have had some hell) from the library of the manse, which was only a few rods distant. One of them at all events had begun the study of latin, in which he had as his companion one of the minister's sons whose attendance was not interrupted by the exigencies of farming operations. On one occasion urgency on the farm had detained one of my uncles from school for some days, while his companion had been going on without interruption. At the close of one of those days of manual toil, the minister's son, observing him watering his horses, called to him across the field, "I'm past Doceo." To this came back the swift response "I don't care though you have passed Roceo." Thus fleets across the century, freighted with nothing more than the shadow of the momentary annoyance of a little boy, a passing word to fall like thistle-down on some listening ear, and to find expression here, while words freighted with importance and may-hap the seeds of destiny are dead and buried beyond the hope of resurrection. The word tells, however of a fellowship, perhaps a rivalry, between the two youths which may have afforded access to sources of information and culture denied to others of the time less favourably situated. However that may be, the fact that one of my uncles had taken out in penny numbers, the works of Josephus and also of Cook's Geography, the latter of which he afterwards got bound in two large volumes, gives proof that he was of an enquiring mind and in search of information not easily available to the ordinary peasant of the time. That copy of Cook's geography was for the young folks of our family, at least up to the time of our removal to Canada, an interesting feature of my father's library. Lack of baggage space induced my father to part with it at his out-going sale, much to my disappointment. It is interesting to note that, after the lapse of fifty-eight years, through the interest and intervention of my nephew, and the kindness and generosity of the heirs of the late Mr. William Roy, who in Scotland was a warm friend of both the Stewart and Farquharson families, that geography is now in the possession of the writer, who hereby records his appreciation of the kindness of the donors.

Whatever was the educational standing of his brothers, my father's equipment in that regard was exceedingly meagre, although he was a great reader and could pen a letter as swiftly and intelligently as any of his family, subject, however, to a grammar and orthography peculiar to himself. His mother's death when he was a child of four years could not have failed to be to him, educationally as well as otherwise, a most serious loss. To that cause rather than to any natural ineptitude, knowing him as I did, would I attribute what his sister Jane had regarded as his slow progress at school compared with his brothers. Whatever may have been his father's estimate of his youngest son's ability, it was plain that under the circumstances of the rest of the family, no provision could be made for him on the farm. With the prices of cattle and farm produce then current, and the lack of the modern appliances for the reduction of manual labour—all the harvesting, for instance being done with the sickle--it can be understood how difficult was the problem of maintaining a large family and paying a rental of eighty pounds sterling a year, apart from doctors bills and other expenses incident to sickness and death. I do not suppose that much was used on the table, other than what was produced on the farm, but what way purchased mast have been exceedingly dear if an account of the period for a bushel of common salt purchased in Aberdeen by a brother of grand father's may be taken as a fair criterion. That bushel of salt had been purchased on credit and so a little interest had been added, but the total debit at the tie of payment was over two pounds sterling. That account I have seen and examined personally. From it, I am convinced that there had been no reduction in the price of that commodity, at least since the middle of the eighteenth century, when the Jacobites complained:—

`We daurna brew a peck o`maut
`But Geordie be maun fin`a faut
``And for our kail we scarce get sant
`For want o` Royal Charlie.``

By the time that my father was eight, two of his brothers had died and his father had married again. My aunt Elizabeth, by the time that she was ten, had gone to Aberdeen as a dress-maker. That seemed to give opportunity for sending my father to the city to board with her and learn a trade. Reflecting on these early times. Father would sometimes say that he felt that his step-mother did not get from the voting folks as fair a chance as she might have had. Perhaps all things considered, it was desirable that the voting chap should be allowed to go.

It has been noted that the young men slept in the barn. No doubt its floor was of clay, and from what I have heard of the habits of the time, I make no doubt whatever that but scant care had been taken to prevent sputum and other filth from soaking into the floor. In a dark unsunned barn, would in my opinion be found the most favourable conditions possible for the production of tubercular and other disease-producing germs. In the face of that tide of death the best medical skill would be impotent. Worse than vain were all the efforts of the best available skill of the day, by means of copious bleeding, to eliminate all the disease-producing elements in the system. Into this swelter of incipient death the youthful Charles had already been plunged and if he was to escape the fate of the others, his removal could not be too speedily effected. Whether his removal to the city was economically politic or not, it is now abundantly clear that it was physically, his salvation.

His brothers, otherwise kind, would go out in the evenings on their hare-huntings and frolics and not return until late, so the little fellow had to find his bed in the dark barn all alone, save for the companionship of his faithful doggie "Fox" which cuddled into the humble bed along with his master.

AN APPRENTICE IN ABERDEEN

So, at the age of ten he was sent off to be apprenticed to a tailor, while boarding with his sister. I have no doubt that the sister acted the sister's part and did her best to make him feel at home, but nevertheless, home-sickness in its severest form took possession of the boy. The home for which he Ionged would seem to us to possess but few attractions, but there were the familiar faces, there also his four-footed friend Fox, with whom he had in happier days romped and played by day, and whose companionship and protection had lightened the dreary darkness of the barn and dispelled from their common bed the terrors of the night. So serious did the attack at last become, that one early morning he took the road, and actually footed it home a distance of not less than thirty-eight miles. I have heard him say that when on the evening of the same day he came in sight of his home, the distance seemed formidable, if not beyond his strength.

Soon his sister had to leave him, for on her too the fell destroyer had fixed his dart, and she went hone to die, passing away in 1824. From that time onward, while in Aberdeen he seems to have boarded with a cousin of his own, Mary Burns.

During his stay in Aberdeen, he was on one occasion brought into contact with the fatuous though rather eccentric Dr.Kidd, then one of the city's most famous preachers. On a Sunday afternoon, while on his way to "the Links" for the purpose of enjoying himself with the crowds there wont to assemble, he was met by the Doctor who accosted him with a question as to where he was going. On receiving; a truthful reply, the Doctor said "You should be in church, sir," and using his umbrella, which I understand he always carried, as a persuader, he marched him along the street and finally landed him in the Doctor's own church. From the way my father was wont to tell this story, I feel sure that neither at the time nor afterwards did he find fault with the Doctor's well-meant and proper interference with his liberty. Certain it is that the Doctor was most popular with the boys of his day. It is said that, as he passed along the street they would wait respectfully for his approach, in order to receive his benediction, which he would take time to bestow with great cheerfulness and solemnity by placing his hand lovingly on the suppliant's head. Sometimes the little rogues, not alone perhaps from pure appreciation of the personal contact, would dodge down a side-street, and again confronting their friend, await a second bestowment, only, however, to receive when discovered, a stern rebuke.

Of him the story is told that one day, during church service, he had been much annoyed by a supposed hearer who had gone sound asleep. Patience at last becoming exhausted, he pitched his bible at the head of the offender with the remark, "If you will not hear the word of God, you shall feel it." If memory serves me rightly, my father himself was present on one occasion when, pointing to a man fast asleep in his pew, the preacher called out "Waken that man."Waiting till the offender was fairly aroused, he ordered him to stand up and then proceeded to administer a well merited rebuke, remarking that such as he would come to church pretending to hear the word of God and yet would deliberately go to sleep while it was being declared and not only so he, on reaching home, he would say that he had been hearing Dr. Kidd, which would he a lie.

While in Aberdeen, Father had the good fortune to get acquainted with a family that took a deep interest in their church and all it stood for. They were independents, or congregationalists, and took him with them to Sunday School, something he had never heard of in Coldstone. Their name, I believe, was Maitland. One of the girls afterwards married an ironmonger or hardware merchant named Robertson. To the influence of the Maitlands Father was much indebted, and the intimacy thus begun, was maintained between our family and that of the Robertsons, up to the time of our leaving Scotland. Visits at The Parks from different members of their brilliant family were frequent. Four of the boys were fatuous students. Charles and John, each after a brilliant course in Marischall College, Aberdeen, passed with high honour the Civil Service examination and were assigned to Indian service. George became a professor in London University, while Alexander, less robust physically than his brothers, held the position of Librarian of Aberdeen University.

As an illustration of the moral progress of the world during the century since intervening, it is interesting to note that during my father's stay in Aberdeen three men were executed together on the same scaffold, for theft alone, and one of them for theft without violence, of a pair of boots. In the estimation of law then, so valuable was property and so cheap was life.

After completing his apprenticeship, my father came to the little village of Tarland three miles from home, where for some years lie plied his trade in the employ of John Skeene, a merchant and meal-miller there, for whom he had ever after the highest respect. How long he was there employed I do not know, but I do not think that he had employment elsewhere after completing his apprenticeship. If I am correct in that, he had probably left Aberdeen about 1821. He used to say that he finally relinquished the tailor trade when twenty years of age. That would be the year 1830. By that time, the ravages of disease in the family had ended, for in that year Uncle John, the last of the family to fall a victim to consumption, passed away.

Meantime, matters on the farm had been going from bad to worse. Unable to longer maintain the unequal struggle, the life-lease by which the farm had been held was surrendered, and in 1828, Grandfather, desolated, and with heavy heart, retired to the little croft of Tillymutton, where Uncle John must therefore have died.

BACK TO HOME AND FARM.

Aunt Margaret had meantime gone to earn a living for herself, and Grandfather and Auntie Jane were therefore left alone. Then it was that my father came home to render such aid as with hands soft and untrained he might be able to render, in the work and management of the little farm. Tillymutton adjoined the farm of Belgrennie, which by that time had become the home of my maternal grandfather James Fletcher, and I believe that the relations as acquaintances and neighbours, then for the first time established, were all along most cordial and pleasant. Uncle William the youngest of the Fletcher boys, long years after, and shortly before his death in Nebraska, told my brother Alexander that he cherished the most pleasing memories of Grandfather Farquharson, who he said was a most interesting old man with a fund of stories he never tired of relating to the younger man, or boy, as the two herded their united flocks on the hill pasture. This pasture was common to both farms, each being in terms of their respective ]eases restricted to a certain number of sheep.

Testimony to the same effect as to the cheerfulness and companionableness of his disposition, as well as to the excellence of his character, was frequently given to myself as I met from time to time older neighbours who well remembered him. He was not, however, so amiable as to be incapable of manifesting something of a temper when occasion seemed to demand it. Aunt Margaret once told me that when she was a little girl he had undertaken, from his bed to which he had been temporarily confined by illness, to teach her to spin. The pupil seemed to the sick man slow to understand his spoken direction, and he told her she was not like her mother for she could do anything as soon its she was told how. At last he got impatient with her and said "If I were able I'd take a stick to you," to which her laughing reply was "Oh, but isn't it a good job you aren't able!" At Tillymutton he lived a quiet life for almost eleven years, dying at last in peace, on the fourth day of February 1839 at the age of seventy-five. His last message for the three survivors of his once numerous family was that he had little or nothing to leave them except a good name and an open door to all their neighbours, but if they would fear God and gang the richt gaet they would be provided for. So passed the patriarch from the scene of his many sorrows, to become partaker, as we fondly trust, of the inheritance into which sin, sorrow and parting never come.

He was not forgotten. Often my father would speak of him, and I remember his once saying that he wished his father had been spared to see the comfortable circumstances in which the third generation at The Parks were entering upon life.

The last time I remember of hearing him mention his father was near the close of his own life, and this, strangely enough, was the only time I remember of his saying a word that might be taken to imply adverse criticism of his father's conduct. He had, apparently been going over again mentally the experiences of his boy-hood in Aberdeen, and remarked that he sometimes wondered how his father and his folks could have been so careless of him. None of them, apparently, had come to see him, or make any enquiry about him. Perhaps he had forgotten that Rowland's Penny Postage Bill did not become law until after his father's death, and that pennies were scarce. And probably he had not taken sufficient account of the difficulty of a thirty-eight mile journey by cart in that far-off day, or of the short time left to his brother: business-free on the rare occasions of a visit to the city for the disposal of grain or other farm produce.

In those days, and even within my own recollection, such a journey and return would occupy at least two days. The only conveyance available was the farce cart, two carts being usually in charge of one man. When the carts were loaded the driver walked alongside his double charge, giving chief attention to the leading unit. When empty or light loaded he took his seat on the front edge of the box of the forward cart, with his feet resting on the nigh or left shaft outside the box. No rein was unused, though a trap attached to the nigh side of the bridle had its other end attached usually to the breeching within reach of the driver's hand. In case of difficulty the driver dismounted and controlled the leading horse, the one behind being content usually to follow the leading cart. Loaded or empty the horse never went off the walk, the shafts being too rigid, and the whole outfit otherwise unfitted for rapid motion. In my early boyhood days, our carts would generally start for Aberdeen at night or very early in the morning, and stop over-night about eight miles short of their destination, the rest of the journey being accomplished in the morning, when the grain, usually contained in bags of not less than five bushels capacity, had to be delivered in the granary of the purchaser, sometimes two or even three storeys up, the only hoist being the back of the vendor or his employee. The delivery of a load or two of five-bushel sacks of oats at standard weight of 40 lbs. or of barley at 52 lbs. per bushel, must have been a serious matter to the ordinary man, though to a man like "Sandy" Jessamine a brother of my Aunt Mary (wife of Uncle James Fletcher) it would have been but child's play.

On one occasion, so the story goes, while on the way to Aberdeen with a load of barley contained in such bags, in the lead of other carts loaded like his own and bound for the same destination, which it was in the interest of each driver to reach first, he had the misfortune to drop a bag. Determined that none of his followers should pass him, he went back, picked up the bag, ran forward with it, and returned it to its place on the cart, without stopping his horse. The driver next in line, noticing the exploit, exclaimed "That must be chaff." "No," replied Sandy, "It's bere and gweed."

At another time Sandy, along with a neighbour had been commissioned to bring from town a Shetland pony. On the ,\-ay home they had to pass through a toll-gate, the charges of which they either lacked the means, or had not the will, to pay. So Sandy picked up the pony and with it on his back asked the toll keeper what his charge was "for a man wi' a birn" (burden).

When my uncles went to Aberdeen their morning journey of about eight miles on the second day would take them fully two hours, and by the time the horses were stabled and fed and a few household purchases made, little enough time would be left to look after their brother, however desirous they may have been to see him. Besides, to none of them had come the experience of separation from home and its companionships, and it is not likely that they understood the meaning of home-sickness or the degree of suffering which it is capable of entailing upon its victims.


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