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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Chapter I - Fisher Children at St. Andrews


WHEN I was a little girl, my home was in a large old-fashioned house close to the ruins of the Cathedral at St. Andrews (Scotland). It was a picturesque old place, standing in its own courtyard and garden, which were surrounded by high walls. These were our only defence against the inroads of our somewhat troublesome neighbours "the Fishers," whose dilapidated dwellings formed at that time the east end of North Street, except where the line was filled up by our stretch of high walls. From our upper windows I had ample opportunity of observing the doings, and compassionating the misery of swarms of the fisher children, the dilapidation of whose clothing was only rivalled by that of their dwellings. Our chief meeting-place, however, was the open sunny space between our gate and the Cathedral, which was the favourite play -ground of our troublesome neighbours. Our gate itself was a curiosity, for over it were the Douglas arms - the bleeding heart—and, if it could have spoken, might have told many a tale of all who had come and gone beneath its arch, since the days of its original possessor, the celebrated Gawaine Douglas, Bishop of Dunkeld, and Dean of St. Andrews, before the Reformation days—whose mother is credited with lack of ambition for her son’s education in the following distich :—

"Thank Heaven, ne’er a son of mine
But Gawaine
e’er could pen a line."

While the fisher children took their noisy pleasure in the open space aforesaid, our favourite playground was within the precincts of the ruined Cathedral, where my brother and I played happily many a summer’s day beside an old and highly respected friend, who united in his own person the functions of custodian to the Cathedral, and factotum to my father. So it came to pass that in our baby days our favourite stories were told us by David about the Protestant Martyrs and John Knox, with certain gruesome details which we were enabled to realize more vividly by an occasional visit to the neighbouring Castle, with the window still remaining where Cardinal Beatoun looked out at the spectacle of George Wishart burning in front of the Castle gate, and at which window he himself speedily met with the retribution due. We would then cross the Castle yard, and with fear and trembling look down into "the Bottle," [This vault or dungeon is what is known as an Oubliette of which there are few now extant, but in the dark ages it was a common instrument of cruelty. It was of considerable size and very deep, and in shape exactly like a great bottle, with no aperture save the narrow neck, down which the victims were lowered by chains, in all probability never to return to the light of day.] in which so many victims of ecclesiastical tyranny were immurel until death put an end to their sufferings. Who can wonder that I grew up a staunch Protestant?

So matters went on until I was about twelve years old, and one of my brothers, a young soldier, came home from abroad, deeply impressed with the importance of eternal things, who lost no time in speaking to me about my soul, and the need of salvation, and the ingratitude and heartlessness of going on neglecting such a Friend as our Saviour; but I sturdily resisted all such appeals with all the little strength and obstinacy of twelve years old; A. short time after this a dear elder sister, thirteen years older than I was, who had been for long in delicate health, was called by the Lord in a very remarkable way, and having found peace in believing Him, naturally at once tried to lead me to Him too, but as it seemed without success. The effort did not last long, for she was summoned to leave earth for heaven just a fortnight after her conversion, and died after a few days’ illness, rejoicing in her newly found Saviour, but not before she had spoken many loving and earnest words to me, and induced me to read to her constantly, during her illness, from her little Testament she now found so precious, that she could not do without frequent reference to it. But it was not until the day after her death that I took refuge in the Testament too, and in the 17th chapter of St. John found the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and before the sun set that evening, was rejoicing in Him who thus called me out of darkness into His marvellous light. It is a long time ago now, but He has never failed me since, and I believe soon began to use the child He called then, as a means of helping other children.

As soon as the Lord had thus brought me to Himself, He made me wish to do something for Him, and the people most within my reach were the fisher children in the adjoining street. These now became the object of my life, and to prove the sincerity of my interest, I may mention, it overcame my former hatred of plain sewing, and one of my great pleasures was to make what I could, in the way of clothes, for them.

When I was old enough to undertake the duties, I was permitted, to my great delight, to become a visitor at the Fishers’ School close by, where I worked first as a visitor, and afterwards as hon. sec., for about fourteen years, until disabled by the accident which laid me on the sofa for nearly six years, and from the effects of which I have never entirely recovered.

In 1876 I had gone to live in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, the result of turning a corner in my life, when by my mother’s death, my old home had been broken up.

I was somewhat of an invalid, having been, as I said, lamed by an accident six years before, and this, I think, has been the secret of my desire to save young children from like suffering, and possibly of my knowing how to nurse them when in pain. I was a good deal alone in the world, felt my weakness keenly, and often wondered whether I would ever again be of any use. I often asked God to give me something to do for Him. I could not help it. It is so sad to feel of no use.


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