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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter II. The Home Life of the Pioneer


"By the soft green light in the woody glade,
On the banks of moss, where thy children played;
By the gathering round the winter hearth,
When the twilight call'd unto household mirth;
By the quiet hour when hearts unite
In the parting prayer and the kind 'Good-night';
By the smiling eye and the loving tone,
Over thy life has the spell been thrown,
And bless that gift, it bath gentle might,
A guarding power and a guiding light!"

WE have endeavored to describe the humble cabin in the woods, with its rude furniture and meagre fare. But every log in that cabin was put in its place with a grateful heart to God and however scant the furniture, there never lacked the family altar, around which parents assembled, morning and evening, for the worship of the Most. High; and however meagre the fare, it was never partaken of until the blessing of God was asked upon it. Again at the close of the meal, all eyes were closed and hands folded, while every head bowed in reverent thanks to God for his bounty in providing for the wants of his unworthy creatures. Reference has been made to the ceilidh, or the friendly visit of one neighbor to the house of another. But even in this apparently trivial event God was recognized. When any one, old or young, came to a neighbor's house, he first knocked at the door. At once from within came the clear, ringing invitation, "Come in." The party without opened the door, uncovered his head, and standing still for a moment, invoked a blessing, "Beannaich so," (bless this place). Quickly the response came from the head of the house, "Gum beannaich e sibffien" (may he bless yourself). So also on rising to leave the house the visitor said, "Beannachd leibli" (blessing with you), to which the response came as before, "Beannachd leibh fein" (blessing with yourself).

But the most important event in the daily religious life of the pioneer was undoubtedly family worship. Come with me on a quiet summer morning or evening to one of these homes. In a small clearing in the dense forest stands the little log cabin. A blue curl of smoke rises from the wooden chimney; it is a symbol of the incense that is being offered up within. We will not disturb the solemnity of the worship, but we will take our place near by. Listen to the sweet strains as they slowly and solemnly ascend on the still air. They are singing the Shepherd's Psalm. Father and mother, far away from the home of early days, unite with those whom God has given them, in the overflow of soul in song, and amid such primitive surroundings their hearts go out in the words:

The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want,
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by."

After this a chapter is read slowly and solemnly, with occasional observations by the high priest of the family. At the close of the reading the children are expected to tell something of what they have heard. Then "the books" are closed, the spectacles laid on top of them, and the face of the father clothes itself with grave, dignified solemnity, and a strange, unwonted, tremulous depth comes into his voice as he says, "Let us pray." The prayer is certainly not an "oration," nor is it, from a literary point of view, a gem; but it is earnest and emotional, nothing stilted, formal, or frigid in it, and uttered by one who feels the presence of God. We are near enough to hear some of the words, and hearing them we cannot easily forget them:

"O God, our Father, we bow before Thee. We are not worthy of this privilege, but we come in the name of Thy dear Son. Hear us for His sake. Thou art great beyond our understanding, but Thou art infinitely good. Thou didst give us our being, and Thou hast cared for us all our life long, leading us by the still waters and through the green pastures of Thy grace. Thou hast brought us to this good land, and hast given us a house to dwell in. Thou dost spread our table morning, noon, and night; and Thy presence cheers us, so that we need fear no evil. We thank thee for Jesus Christ, Thy Son, and for redemption through His precious blood. Assure our hearts of an interest in the great atonement. Guilt is ours, grace is Thine. O Father, help us this day. Give us strength and courage and peace. Carry us in Thine arms, and keep us near Thy heart. Hear us, 0 God of our fathers, for our children. We have given them to Thee in solemn covenant. Write Thy law upon their hearts, so that they may never depart from Thee, but may live holy, happy, useful lives. The Lord hear us for Jesus' sake."

The church was always prayed for, and especially on Saturday night was the divine blessing invoked on the services of the following day. Usually mention was made of "the country in which we dwell" and "the dear land from which we have come." I pity the man who can ridicule, or speak lightly of, such a scene. Richard Baxter tells us of a time when the power of the Gospel was so felt in Kidderminster, that in every house on many a long street, family worship was devoutly observed. The writer can recall a time when in every house on many a long concession line in Zorra God was worshipped morning and evening. Who can estimate the value of such worship in the formation of character? It promotes order and regularity in a home, and diffuses a sympathy among the members. It calls off the mind from the deadening effects of worldly affairs. It says to every member of the family "There is a God ; there is a spiritual world there is a life to come." It fixes the idea of responsibility in the mind of a child. It develops, as neither pulpit nor Bible class nor Sabbath School can do, a sense of duty to God and man. Blessed is the home that is thus devoutly consecrated to God. Whatever uncertainties hang, to human view, over its future history; whether predominates there the voice of health and gladness, or the wail of sorrow and pain; whether its larder be filled with plenty, or made lean by poverty; how oft soever its windows may be darkened by calamity and death,—one thing is sure, it is the abiding place of the Most High; the Angel of the Covenant is there, and in the deepest night of grief that home has light and hope and peace. What has given Scotland the proud position she occupies today among the nations of the earth? Is it her insular position, the wisdom of her rulers, the valor of her soldiers, or the genius of her poets? No, not at all. Her greatness and her power are to be explained in the honor in which God has been held in her families. It is Christianity among her people that is the grand secret of all her prosperity and her greatness. And this Christianity is fed and nourished chiefly at the family altar, amid such scenes as Robert Burns photographs in his "Cottar's Saturday Night."

"From scenes like these old Scotia's grandeur springs
That makes her loved at home, revered abroad.
Princes and lords are but the breath of kings,
An honest man's the noblest work of God."

Here is the secret of Scotland's greatness. It lies not in her ironclads and her Armstrong guns, but it rests on something far mightier than armies and navies—the Christianity of her people, a Christianity that begins and is carried on at the family altar. This is the righteousness that has exalted that nation, and this righteousness, far more than the richest products of our mines, fields, and forests, will make this Dominion truly great and happy. Talk of colleges! The best college from which the professional men of Zorra ever graduated, that which has left the most lasting and beneficial influence upon their minds and hearts, was the college of a Christian home. These men to-day are scattered far and wide, and they belong, some to the medical, some to the legal some to the theological, and many to the teaching profession; but they look back with fond recollection to the days when with father and mother, brothers and sisters, they reverently knelt in prayer on the rude floor of the little log cabin.

How tender the memory of that last home- leaving, when the boy was going far away to enter college, or engage in business, or to learn a trade. For weeks past kind hands have been preparing such little articles of clothing as will be useful to him when away from mother and sisters: and now the little trunk is packed and the morning of separation has come. There are but few words spoken, and feeling is wonderfully suppressed, but

"Kneeling down to heaven's eternal King,
The saint, the father and the husband prays
Hope springs exulting on triumphant wings,
That thus they all shall meet in future days."

Many years have since passed by, bringing with them many and varied experiences, but the influence of that solemn hour is with us still, and will abide with us while memory lasts.

Ours is a day of competition, hurry, excitement, when business is war, and anything is fair. Home life is largely broken up, and the conditions are not favorable to the cultivation of kindness, quietness, and a tender regard for the happiness of others. Some men are nowhere greater strangers than in their own homes, and they know but little of the beautiful domestic life of our fathers.

And it was a busy life. In the winter season all day long the axes rang incessantly, and the trees crashed and fell. Then in the spring and summer there were "the ploughing and sowing, reaping and mowing" from dewy morn till dusky eve. It was a Zorra lad who, being told that he was too short for his age, replied, "Father keeps me so busy I haint time to grow."

Roderick C— was noted far and near for his early rising—in winter time never later than four a.m., and during the summer months even earlier than that. Of course, at the rousing call of the head of the house every member of the family was obliged to rub his sleepy eyes and scramble out of bed. Because of this, old Rod found it hard to keep hired help. Three different men, it is said, in as many weeks, had tried and failed. At length the supply of men and boys seemed to be exhausted, and old Rod found himself at the beginning of the harvest season with no help, and with no prospect of procuring any. Just at this juncture a young Highlander, a stranger in Zorra, appeared upon the scene, and announced his willingness to work for Rod. Many were the warnings which he received, and many the wagers made as to how long young Donald would remain in Rod's employ. But Donald persisted in turning a deaf ear to all warnings, and soon his bundle of clothes was reposing in the loft of Rod's shanty, and he himself installed as a member of the household. His sleep that night was sound and dreamless, so far as it went; but scarcely, as he afterwards declared, had his head touched the pillow, before he was awakened by a terrible commotion. The dog was barking and the children howling, while a strong smell of fried pork from the kitchen below floated to his nostrils. Presently he heard old Rod climbing the ladder, and stumbling in the darkness towards his room. "Wake up, wake up, m' man," cried old Rod, opening the door noisily. But young Donald was equal to the occasion. "Thank y', sur," he replied, "but she will not eat so late at nicht." Then as Rod's retreating footsteps grew fainter, Donald sank again into well-earned repose.

A few nights afterwards, however, Donald did by some mistake respond to the four a.m. call of the head of the house. The first thing after coming down was family prayer, in which Rod thanked the Lord for the "licht of anither day." "Toot, toot, mon," said Donald, "it will no be licht for twa hours yet; why thank the Lord?"

As might be anticipated, the social life of the settlers was very strong. Common difficulties drew them closer together. A good woman, we are told, entered a grocery store to purchase some lozenges. But the store was damp, and the lozenges were adhering too closely together to suit the purchaser. "What kind of peppermints are these?" The grocer being somewhat of a wag, and knowing the woman's nationality, replied, "These are Scotch peppermints." "Ou, aye," was the ready reply, "is that the reason they stick sae closely t'gither?"

There were no club-rooms or bar-rooms in those days, but the woodsman spent his evenings where every husband and father should do, in his own home and in the bosom of his own family. The time was occasionally improved in sharpening his axe, or making a handle for it, or mending an old pair of shoes, or putting a patch on his trousers. Sometimes a neighbor would drop in, or perhaps two or three, and the conversation would turn on the weather, the crops, the taxes, last Sunday's sermon, the next Communion, or the time and place of the next catechizing. The friends in Scotland would be remembered, the records of this and that family traced, and the hope expressed of such a person or family coming to Zorra. Newspapers were scarce, but such as came to hand were eagerly read and the contents discussed.

Stories of olden time were told, some of these of an historical character, some religious, but many of the humorous sort. Old and young greatly enjoyed such a meeting for an hour or two at the close of the day's work.

"Talk not of joys, indeed, till thou
Hast seen the smile of age;
Or of the laughter in the which
The 'hoary' ones engage.
When it is theirs in fellowship
To stories tell, galore,
And to portray, time and again,
The scenes of days of yore."

The library was small, but it always contained a Gaelic Bible, a metrical version of the Psalms in Gaelic, and the Shorter Catechism. Besides these, there could usually be found in it one or more of the following books: a Gaelic version of Boston's "Fourfold State," Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," "Edwards on the Affections," Allaine's "Alarm," Baxter's "Call to the Unconverted," Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," and a number of songs or Gaelic poems by such Highland ministers and laymen as Macdonald, Kennedy, Aird, Peter Grant, and Dugald Buchanan. All these were read and re-read, over and over again; and I have no hesitation in ascribing much of the vigor of intellect, liveliness of imagination, and spiritual discernment which so strikingly characterized many of the fathers, to their thorough knowledge of the Bible and of these theological and poetical works. Of very many of the fathers it may truly be said that in at least three books they were deeply read; two without—the Bible and God's Providence; the other within—the human heart. The first two filled their minds with lofty and elevating thought; the other gave them that knowledge of themselves which, however important, schools or colleges cannot impart.

There is no greater delusion than that intelligence increases in proportion to the number of books read. The reverse is frequently the case. Reading should be a means to develop thinking. A book should never read simply because it is interesting. If one's reading decreases the respect for moral purity, or reverence for God, if it gilds vice and ridicules goodness, if it exalts political party above moral principle, or dollars above duty, if it makes a criminal into a hero, or in any way weakens the sense of responsibility to God and man, it is worse than no reading at all, and the mind should no more feed upon such reading than the body upon foul carrion. The Bible is the grandest book in the world. It will develop the intellect, strengthen the will, and purify the life as any or all other books cannot do. It was read and studied by our fathers; and it cheered them in life and supported them in death. This I know, that the fathers in Zorra "who knew and only knew their Bible true," could discourse on the laws of mind and matter,. the relationships of society, and the responsibilities of manhood and womanhood, as the wholesale devourers of sensational newspapers and the "penny-dreadfuls" of our day cannot even conceive of.. It is better to deeply read than to be widely read.


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