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When the Steel Went Through
Scotland Once More, 1891-92


AFTER spending a week or so at Ailsa Ranch, I set out on my journey to Scotland. I stopped at Toronto for a few days, and renewed acquaintance with many old friends. I then proceeded to New York and secured a berth on the steamship City of Richmond, sailing to Liverpool.

Although the age of luxury ships, as now known, had not yet arrived, there was some improvement in the accommodation on the City of Richmond over that of the old Peruvian, on which I had first come to Canada. I shared a comfortable state-room with a young Englishman; and we got on well together. We had seats at the same table in the dining-room; and beside us sat two American ladies. They were sisters; and were making their first trip across the ocean. The elder of the two was married, but had left her husband behind. So these two ladies and my state-room companion were my closest associates on the voyage.

The weather was fine, and all went well until we were about half-way across. Then, in the early hours one morning, I was roused from my sleep by my companion calling to me, and saying that the ship must be on fire. As he spoke I could hear a commotion on the deck below, and a voice shouting: "She's burning fore and aft!" On hearing this, I got up and dressed; and my companion did so too.

We then made for the upper deck; but we found the stairway jammed with men and women who had not taken time to dress, and were still in their night clothes. Yet, I could see no signs of a fire. But I soon learned that there was indeed a fire, and a serious one. It was in the hold among bales of cotton; it was thus out of sight of the passengers, but was none the less alarming.

In a very short time the stewards were on hand, serving coffee to the worried crowd which was standing around.

When I finally reached the deck I was just in time to hear the captain calmly give the head steward the terse order: "Provision the boats." That order was promptly carried out; and the boats made ready to launch.

When daylight dawned, it was a sorry sight to see the good old Union Jack flying upside down, as a signal of distress. To make matters worse, a storm had arisen with a strong head wind, against which, owing to a shortage of steam for the engines, the ship had difficulty in ploughing her way. This shortage was caused by using as much steam as could be spared, to keep the fire under control.

Toward noon, a small steamer was sighted on the horizon, going on the same course as we were. By afternoon, we had caught up with it and our captain signalled that his ship was on fire; he wanted this steamer to keep alongside, and take us on board if necessary. This was agreed to. But the slow speed of this little steamer made a further slowing down of our own speed necessary.

All the crew, stewards included, were kept busy fighting the fire; and in order to give these fire-fighters freedom to work, the passengers were turned out of their staterooms and were given sleeping-quarters on the deck above; the men in the dining-room, and the women in the lounge-room. But we had to sleep on the floor. Mattresses and blankets were spread there at night for our use; and were rolled up during the day. To me, this was just camp life over again.

After sailing in company with the small steamer for two days, I was awakened on the morning by a steward calling to me that the Servia — one of the Cunard Line ships — was alongside, and that I should get up and see her. She was on her way to Liverpool, and had overtaken us during the night. She was a more commodious and faster ship than the small tramp steamer, with which till then, we had been keeping alongside. So our captain had called on her to convoy us instead.

We then learned that the City of Paris, of the Inman Line — the line to which the City of Richmond also belonged — was on her way from Liverpool to New York; was expected to be sighted that day; and that the captain of the Servia wanted the Paris to turn back and convoy the Richmond, and let the Servia proceed on her way.

That afternoon, a loud blast from the whistle of the Servia, as she made a sudden dash past us, turned all eyes in the direction in which she was heading. We could see a ship on the horizon well to the north-east of us. This proved to be the City of Paris, which the Servia had sighted, and was on her way to head off.

On board an Atlantic liner, one rarely gets an adequate conception of the speed at which it is going. But from our vantage-point on the Richmond, we had a vivid picture of the speed at which the Servia and the Paris, like two huge locomotives, were rushing toward each other. It seemed but a few minutes till the Servia was back, accompanied by the Paris; and these three ships were lying together, on a perfectly calm sea. They formed a most interesting picture.

A boat from the Servia was then put out for the Paris, and it brought the captain of that ship to the side of the Richmond. He was about to mount the rope ladder that had been let down, but our captain signalled to him to stay where he was, and he went down the ladder himself and had his talk with him in the boat. He evidently did not want to alarm the passengers by their chancing to hear how serious he considered the situation to be. But looking down at the boat we could see from his gesticulations that he considered it to be most grave.

The captain of the Paris was Commodore of the Inman Line of ships; and the decision as to which course to take evidently rested on him — whether it would be more costly to have the Paris turn back, than to hold the Servia as convoy for the Richmond. The Inman Line would doubtless have to foot the bill in either case. He decided that the Paris should hold her course and that the Servia continue as our convoy.

So, in company with the Servia we kept on our way. The sea was perfectly calm, and she kept so close to the Richmond that we could hear her dinner gong sounding at meal times. We got to Liverpool some four or five days later, after a voyage lasting about two weeks. And there, as the passengers were landing, they gave rousing cheers for the captain, whom they had come to look upon as the ideal captain. He had been so cheerful and considerate to everyone in the trying situation which he had to cope with.

Prior to our landing, a handsome sum had been collected on board for the crew, in recognition of their unremitting efforts in fighting the fire, and keeping it under control.

When I arrived at Turnberry — my old home — I got a warm welcome from my father, and from Robert. But I found Father had failed greatly since my former visit. His right hand was practically useless. But he was cheerful, and still took keen interest in the farm. The actual work and supervision, however, now devolved upon Robert.

I stayed at Turnberry pretty closely for the first few weeks, and visited only those of my friends who were in the neighbourhood. I missed very much not having Dowhill to go to, for James Wright — as I have already mentioned — had passed away. I, however, went a little farther past Dowhill, and paid a short visit to my uncle and aunt McCulloch on the farm at Laggan, close to Ballantrae; just an eighteen mile drive from Turnberry. There were four girls in the family, all grown up by that time; and they gave me a merry time. I also looked in on Cousin Etta in Ayr, and on Uncle George at Maybole, quite frequently. Cousin Susan's school was closed for the holidays. So, instead of visiting her, I had the pleasure of her company at Turnberry where she spent a few days with us.

I had, for some time, been giving considerable thought to my future in Canada. Railway construction seemed to have passed its zenith, for a time, and mining was coming to the fore. So I thought I might possibly try my hand at mining; and to better fit myself for it, I went to Glasgow about the end of July, for a month, and took lessons in assaying from Dr. Clarke, the City Analyst. I had attended his lectures in chemistry when serving my apprenticeship. During that month in Glasgow, I met many old friends; and spent pleasant week-ends with aunts and cousins who were then living in Edinburgh. I had an invitation, too, from Robert Allan to visit him at Howwell; and that invitation I gladly accepted.

In his letter he told me of the changes that had taken place in the Allan family since my last visit to him. Their mother had died, and the old home at Cumnock had been broken up.

Miss Allan was still keeping house for him; and he also had her younger sisters, Grace, and Saidie, with him at Howwell.

Andrew had gone to Selkirk, and was engaged in the yarn-spinning business there.

His younger brother William, whom I had not yet met, was living in lodgings in Glasgow; and I called on him one evening and made his acquaintance. He was then in the employment of the Clydebank Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, in the Clydebank shipbuilding yard. Shortly afterwards he was with the National Telephone Company, and eventually with the Post Office Engineering Department of the State.

When I had finished my course in assaying, I set out for Howwell on the day fixed by Robert Allan for my visit. On my arrival at Kirkcudbright station, I was delighted to find Miss Allan there, with the dogcart, to meet me. I had had no communication with her since my former visit; and I had no idea what her feelings toward me were. But her coming to meet me was, I thought, quite encouraging.

She, however, evidently didn't want me to think that she had come because she wanted to. For, as I mounted the dogcart and took my seat beside her, she was quick in explaining the reason for her coming. Robert, she said, was too busy with his harvest to come himself to meet me; so she had to come in his place. But the very fact of her making this explanation when no explanation was needed, encouraged me all the more; and I there and then determined to do my best to win her.

It was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining brightly, and the six-mile drive to Howwell passed most pleasantly. The horse was a high-spirited one; and I was pleased to note the expert way in which Miss Allan handled it.

On arriving at Howwell I was heartily welcomed by Robert, and introduced to Grace and Saidie, who each had a welcome smile for me. Saidie was still a schoolgirl, but was in her last year and would be returning to her school in Glasgow after the holidays.

Anyone who has had the experience of making love to his hostess will admit that it is a delicate matter; and difficult too, when the hostess has two sisters who are continually in her company, and there seems no chance of ever getting her alone.

But my chance finally came, after I had been a week at Howwell. Saidie was about to leave for her school in Glasgow, and the day before she left, she and Grace were going to make some calls that afternoon, by themselves. Now or never, was my thought as I saw them leave the house, and the door close behind them. At last I had Miss Allan alone; and I made such good use of this opportunity that, long before her sisters returned, she had consented to be my wife, and accompany me to Canada in the spring.

We had now to consider how we should tell the other members of the family, of our engagement. I undertook to tell Robert; and Miss Allan undertook to tell the others.

When I confessed to Robert what I had done, he said I might have done worse; but afterwards remarked that stealing his housekeeper was a nice trick to play on him.

Andrew did not seem to take the news as complacently as Robert. Miss Allan showed me his reply to her letter telling him of our engagement. He did not object to her getting married, but he hated to think of losing her by her going to Canada. In his own facetious way, he wrote: "What does the beggar mean, taking you away to Canada?"

Several years later, he was to know from his own personal experience what the beggar meant. For he took a trip to Canada and married a Canadian girl, Miss Margaret Anderson of Guelph, and took her to Scotland.

On my return to Turnberry I told my father of my engagement, and he seemed well pleased. I also showed him Miss Allan's photograph, and that pleased him too; for he remarked: "Fine!" Some few weeks later I brought her to Turnberry, so that he should see her in person and get to know her. He was well satisfied and gave us his blessing.

I was not long either in letting Cousin Susan know. She was delighted. As a match-maker she had played her cards well, and had her heart's desire.

About this time I had the unexpected pleasure of meeting Peter Paterson, an Ayr Academy schoolmate and one of my most intimate friends in the days when I was serving my apprenticeship in Glasgow. He too was then serving his apprenticeship as a civil engineer. He afterwards took a course in engineering at the university; and then went to Australia. And now, like myself, he was on a visit to his native land, and was staying with his sister, Mrs. Rennie, at Maybole. So, being so close to each other, we had many interesting walks together; just as we had had when we were in Glasgow.

He did not, however, return to Australia, but went to Texas, and engaged in ranching.

I lost sight of him for many years; but recently got in touch with him again, and I hear from him about once a year.

He is now spending the evening of his life very comfortably in Austin, Texas, with his wife and family. He is the only one of my schoolmates about whom I know anything now.

I spent a quiet Christmas at Turnberry with Father and Robert. For New Year's day I went to Howwell, and participated in a happy reunion of all the members of the Allan family. I stayed for a few days and then returned to Turnberry.

Early in February my father had the misfortune to fall and break his hip. I stayed closely with him after that. But he did not recover; the shock to his system was too great. He gradually got weaker, and passed away on the 9th of March; just two weeks before the date which had been fixed for my marriage.
I felt his loss keenly. But I had the comforting thought that although I had been away from him for so many years, I had been with him at the last. And that thought still remains with me.

Robert took over the farm, and carried on for thirty years. Then he too passed away.

The marriage, with all the preparations which had been made for it, could not be postponed, even if it did follow so closely upon this sad event. It took place at Howwell on the 23rd of March, 1892, in the presence of numerous relatives on both sides of the family.

My wife and I went to Paris on our wedding trip; and afterwards visited a number of our most intimate relatives and friends, so that I could get introduced to hers, and she to mine.

We sailed from Liverpool to Montreal early in May, on the Parisian of the Allan Line. The weather was fine, and we had a comfortable voyage. Among the passengers were Mr. and Mrs. John Lee Johnston and their little daughter Isa, well known Old Timers in Calgary.

Louise Philippe Hébert, noted French Canadian sculptor, was also one of the passengers. He sat beside us at meals, and we got to be very friendly with him. He had a keen sense of humour, and we found him very amusing. It was he who, many years afterwards, designed the beautiful South African War Memorial which stands in Memorial Park in Calgary and when he came to Calgary for the unveiling ceremony, my wife and I had the pleasure of entertaining him in our own home. Some years later, we met him again in Paris where he had taken up his residence. And it was he who did the entertaining this time, in his home.

We spent some time in Montreal, Toronto, and Niagara Falls, so that my wife would get some knowledge of Eastern Canada, before going on to Calgary, where I had made up my mind to settle down.

We arrived in Calgary early in June; but it looked more like December; for we were welcomed with a snowstorm.

We took up our abode at the Alberta Hotel; and stayed there until I had a house built. This hotel was then being run by Mr. and Mrs. H. A. Perley; and they looked after our comforts well.

After I had decided where to build, I engaged Llewelyn Wilson, of the firm of Child & Wilson, as architect. Thomas Underwood was the contractor.

The house was completed by the spring of 1893; and we then took possession, and settled down to housekeeping. My roving days were over; and I feel that will be a fitting period at which to conclude my reminiscences. Before concluding, however, there are a few remarks I would yet like to make.

Robert Allan, since I stole — as he said — his housekeeper, hadn't let the grass grow under his feet. For, on the first anniversary of our marriage, he got married himself; and thus settled his housekeeping problems, for good and all.

William Allan then took Grace and Saidie under his care, and started housekeeping with them in Glasgow.

I was engaged that spring in making a survey for the irrigation of some lands near Calgary. I had as leveller, Owen P. Schreiber, younger brother of C. S. Schreiber, who had been with me in Maine. And as rodman, I had a young man named Derwyn Trevor Owen. And that young man since became Archbishop Owen of Toronto, and Primate of all Canada.


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