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Pioneer Life in Zorra
Chapter IV. Gangin' tae the Kirk


"A pious peasantry, their country's pride."—BURNS.

To say that our forefathers were a churchgoing people would be greatly to understate the truth. They were devotedly attached to their church; their most hallowed memories and associations clustered around it, and to attend its services they gladly travelled on foot over a winding path in the dense forest, three, six, or even in some cases ten miles, returning the same day after the service was over.

To-day we will accompany these people, young and old, on the way to the kirk; and as we listen to their conversation we will leave each reader to commend or to condemn as his judgment and taste may direct. We give a few snap-shot photographs of things as they were.

It is a beautiful day in the beginning of June, i8—. A brilliant Canadian sun is overhead, the air is laden with the fragrance of apple, plum and pear tree blossoms, and sweet clover; the wild birds, freed from the enforced silence of a long winter, make the forests vocal with their merry notes. Here comes a group of people, most of them of the younger sort, on their way to the Communion. Not that it is Sabbath, or that the holy feast will be observed to-day. It is Friday, or what is commonly known as the "Men's Day."

At this time the Communion was observed only once a year, and lasted five days. It commenced on Thursday, which was called the "Fast Day," (La Trasgaidh). Friday was the "Day of Self-examination," (La Rannsaichaidh); Saturday was the "Day of Preparation," (La Ulluchaidh); Sabbath was the "Day of Communion," (La Comunnaidh); and Monday was the "Day of Thanksgiving" (La Taingealichd). With that respect for order said always to characterize the Presbyterian Church, the various religious services of the communion occasion, such as the reading of scripture, prayers, singing, sermons, and even the personal conversation of each day, always bore upon the uniform subject of that day, as indicated by the name of the day above given.

And now we join the happy company of church-goers at a place where two roads meet, and we enter upon a four-miles' path through the woods. We soon learn the subject of conversation. One of the party has just received a letter from a friend in Dornoch, Sutherland- shire, Scotland. This letter had lain in the post office for several days, owing to the inability of Mrs. Burton, the person to whom it was addressed, to pay the postage, viz., two shillings (50 cents). However, the two young sons of Mr. N., hearing of the good woman's difficulty, and having no spare cash, took their flails and hired out for two days, threshing wheat for Mr. McAlpin, a farmer near Woodstock. For their work they received two shillings, and that night the money was handed to the widow Burton. Next morning the letter was received and eagerly read. Many of the neighbors, hearing of its arrival, called on Mrs. Burton, to see if there was any news about their friends "ayont the sea." The letter had, in fact, become a sort of circulating library, and the chief subject of conversation in the district. In it the information was conveyed that a number of families were just about leaving the parish of Rogart to make a home in the woods of Zorra. From this the conversation drifted to the social life of some of the settlers.

"Did you hear," said a young woman, "that another of the Mackay girls is going to get married?"

"Ou, ay," said an elderly spinster, "Angus Mackay's daughters are going fast."

"That's so," said two or three voices at once. "It's only a year since Angus Mackay settled on the seventh line with a family of eleven children, seven daughters and four sons. Four daughters and two sons were married last winter, and now the fifth is going. And all are lucky enough to be settled in Zorra."

"Marriage is a lottery, and the luck is very doubtful," said the aforesaid dame. "There is Sandy McKinnon; losh man, he's nae Christian ava. Have ye no heard what he said tae his puir sick wife the ither day?" Upon being assured that the important information had not yet reached the company, she proceeded: "Weel, the puir woman has been unco sick for a while back, an' confined tae her bed. Noo, ye ken there's only ae cruzie in the hoose that has the creesh an' wick in't, an' the ither nicht it was slowly burnin' in Peggy's room. But in the forepairt o' the nicht some o' Sandy's cronies cam' on a ceilidh, an' they were sittin' i' the kitchen i' the dark. An' what think you Sandy did? He just took the cruzie oot o' Peggy's room and put it on the kitchen table, that he an' his cronies micht see the smoke curlin' up frae their pipes. Then Sandy gaed back tac his wife's room tae see if she wantit onything. And Peggy, glowerin', scaulded him. 'Ah, Sandy, ye'll no' gie a puir body a licht to dee wi'.' 'Dee! dee! is that what yee say, Peggy? I'll gie ye the licht'; an', runnin' tae the kitchen, he taks the cruzie in his twa hans, an' plantin' it doon wi' a bang on the wee table at the front o' Peggy's bed, said, 'There, dee, noo!'"

"That reminds me of auld Blue-bonnet and his wife," said young Peter Laird. "Ye ken Blue-bonnet is some twenty years aulder than his wife, and a short time sync he thocht he was gaein' to dee. But after a while he began ta mend, and yin day says he to his wife, 'Dod, Maggy, I think I'll pu' through this time yet.' 'Tam,' answered the partner of his bosom, 'as you are a' prepared, an' I'm quite resigned, I think it wad be just as weel if ye wad gang the noo."

"Wee!, I could tell something in that line myself," said a young fellow, directing his remarks to the elderly dame. "Mr. M—, living on the eighth line, was once asked by a friend if he knew Mr. G -, who lived in the same parish with him in Scotland. 'He's dead lang sync,' said his friend, 'and I'll never cease regret- tin' him as lang as I live.'

"'Dear me, had you sic respect for him as that?'

"'Na, na! It wasna' ony respec' I had for him masel', but I married his widow.'"

At this witticism there was considerable laughter, until the wife of Elder Matheson interposed. "Young people," said she, "be serious. This is na' time for makin' fun— remember ye're gangin' tae the kirk."

Whatever objection may be brought against the above conversation among our pioneer juveniles, no one will accuse it of overmuch Puritanical strictness.

Our pen picture would be very defective, indeed, were we to rest here. Let us listen for a little to the conversation of the more elderly men and women, who are, this beautiful morning, on their way to the kirk. Here is Donald Campbell walking alone, and apparently absorbed in his own meditations. We will introduce ourselves: "Good morning, Mr. Campbell. You are alone to-day." The reply was gentle but prompt : "To myself it seems I am not alone," meaning, of course, that the Lord was with him.

John Gunn and Tammas Clarke are old neighbors. They left Scotland together, and together they endured for some years the hardships of pioneer life. Their common environment, however, did not shape them alike. John Gunn stood six feet high, straight as an arrow, with well developed forehead, melting blue eyes, and features betokening strength of character and kindliness of heart. He was devout with more than an ordinary education, and a worthy member of the church. Tamrnas was tall rather than stout, a wonderful talker on religion, could discuss theology, and was great on the "decrees."

"He could a hair divide
Betwixt the west and north-west side."

He was not a member of the church, but was most regular in his attendance on religious services.

"Good morning, Tammas," said John, as the two neighbors met the first time for several weeks, "I am glad to see you coming to the kirk to-day."

"Well," replied Tammas, "we are told 'not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together.'"

"You are right," said John; "these seasons come so seldom, they are so refreshing, and our Heavenly Father is so good. Ah, Tammas! it's a bonnie world we live in. It must have been at some such season as this that Solomon said:

"The winter is past,
The rains are over and gone,
The flowers appear in the earth,
The time for the singing of birds has come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in the land."

"Did you observe," said Alex. McNeil, "how beautiful our neighbor McAllister's orchard appears? the trees, so dead and bare dunn' the winter, now clothed in their beautiful white robes."

"I see, Alex., you are quite poetical this morning, and I do not wonder," said Tammas. "All nature is poetry just now. But to tell the truth, when coming by McAllister's orchard I was thinkin' not so much of the blossoms as of the busy bees that were feedin' upon them. What a lesson of industry to us farmers."

"Ay," replied John Gunn, "and a lesson also to a' who read or hear the gospel."

"I dinna see that," frankly confessed Tammas.

"Well," responded Gunn, "some gospel readers and hearers are like butterflies, others are like bees, The butterflies flit over the flowers, and nothing comes of their flittin', but the bees dive into the heart of the flowers and emerge filled with sweetest honey. I trust this Communion will be a time when we will get into the inward meaning of scripture, and our souls feed on the sacred sweetness which the Lord has put there for the spiritual nourishment of his children."

"Ye needna fear that," said Alex. MacNeil, if Mr. Allan is with us. Mr. Allan is so spiritual, and Mr. McPherson is aye happy in openin' up and applyin' the scripture, and our ain minister is second to nane in driving home the truth."

"Let me put a question to you learned men," said Tammnas. "Why is this great forest like the Christian Church?"

"Do you mean," replied John, "that it is composed of a great variety of trees, some great and some small, some strong and some weak, just like the Church?"

"And," continued Tammas, with a shrug of his shoulder and a wink of his eye, "some straight and some crooked?"

"That," said Tammas, "is not a bad comparison but try again."

"Well, then," replied John Gunn, "in the woods we see the strong shelterin' the weak, and each helpful to the life and growth of the whole."

"Very good again," said Tammas, "but I would like to hear what our friend Donald Macleod has to say about the forest and the Church."

Mr. Macleod was a man greatly esteemed for his moral worth, but was not forward in pushing his views. At the mention of his name several voices united in calling for his reply to the question under consideration. "Let us hear it," said a number of voices at once.

"Well, I am no preacher and cannot discourse on spiritual things like some of you, but I can see a likeness between God's work in nature and his work in grace. The Church is built up with members as this forest is replenished with trees, not so much by importation from abroad, as by growth, multiplication from within. Thus the Church of old grew from one family, and one son in that family—Isaac—to be, with few extraneous additions, a nation of many millions. By all means let us add to the Church from the heathen world, but still more," said Macleod, pointing to some very young children in the company, "let us carefully raise these tender plants within its sacred enclosure, so they may never know the bitterness of the wilderness life."

It may here be observed that, of all the men in Zorra, none so carefully looked after the "tender plants" as this same Donald Macleod.

Now the party are emerging from the woods, and are getting over the crooked rail fence by means of three steps on each side, rising one above the other. Suddenly little Gerald Gordon is heard calling out at the top of his voice, "Mamma, I have found a robin's nest, and there are three little birds in it." There was a halt in the procession. The young people especially wanted to see "the dear little things."

"See how they are all opening their bills so wide," said Willie Graham. "What is that for?"

"Ah, Willie," said his mother, "they want their food. And our Heavenly Father says to men and women 'Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.' I hope the lesson will not be lost on you, dear children, to-day in the church."

"I remember," said Lucy MacDonald, "a verse in our school book about little birds in their nests."

"Let's hear it," cried out several juvenile voices. Then Lucy repeated the familiar little rhyme:

"Birds in their little nests agree,
And 'tis a shameful sight
When children of one family
Fall out and chide and fight."

"Aye, aye," said Tammas, "sometimes pretty big children in one family and in one church, 'fall out, and chide, and fight."

"Well," said Alex. MacNeil, "the little birds should teach big and little people to live in peace with one another. The God whom we serve is a God of peace, and the Saviour whom we love is the Prince of Peace. And yet, it is, alas! only too true that, as our brother says, children of the same family, and members of the same church, quarrel. Yonder are Mr. G— and Mr. M— coming to church to-day, but they don't speak to each other. Their dispute is concerning the right place for the line fence. The strip of land claimed by each is perhaps long enough, but scarcely wide enough, to accommodate a coffin."

"And yonder is auld Maggie Reid," says one, "she'll no spak to her neighbor, Mrs. Ross, because Mrs. Ross washes the dishes on the Sabbath, a thing which Maggie Reid says is verra wrang, and which nae Christian would do."

We have now reacbed the kirk, and here we must leave our friends for the time.

What we have said will help the reader better to understand what "going to church" meant to both juniors and seniors in the days of old. No one complained of the distance— rather it was regarded as a providential opportunity for the interchange of thought. The young people gossiped away, much as I suppose they have done since the days of Adam and Eve, while the old people recalled scenes and events of former days, and loved to spiritualize the works of nature; and no less an authority than Ruskin assures us that "all most lovely forms of thought are directly taken from natural objects."


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