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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Part II - Chapter X - What they did on landing there


IN beginning the story of our life in Nova Scotia, I may say once for all that when I say "I," and speak thus in the first person singular, I hereby include our children as my life was now more than ever identical with theirs. I was now alone with them, to work for them, to shelter and take care of them, to protect their interests in every way—in short, to live and die for them. As I told friends and the public before leaving Scotland, "I had given them all I had, and now I had nothing more to give except myself, to go to Nova Scotia, and do my best for them there."

This, God knows, I have done. By day and night, in winter and summer, in health and sickness, our children and I have been inseparable.

It is also fair to everybody to state that the directors, to whom reference has been made in former chapters, had nothing to do with the Home in Nova Scotia, except to send children to it as I was willing to receive them. After settling the party in Halifax, I went in search of our future home, and in a few days saw what I thought extremely suitable for the purpose. I had been guided by the advice of Dr. Lawson, Secretary of Agriculture for Nova Scotia, as to the points to attend to in choosing a farm; and the value of his assistance has become more and more apparent as time has gone on. [A letter from Dr. Lawson will be found in another chapter, giving his opinion of our success, and the farm as it is at the present date—1892.] So much for the general choice. When it came to the "short leet" I had the benefit of practical help from Mr. Herbert Skier and Mr. Leander Eaton, both well known as excellent practical farmers in the province: to these and all the other friends who helped us in many ways, my best thanks are due.

Before we could move to the farm, however, we had a time of waiting and trial in Halifax, owing to the severe illness of one of my boys, who was seized with enteric fever, and had to be nursed in a separate house from the other children. At last, after several anxious weeks, it pleased God to restore him sufficiently to be removed to the country, where he speedily picked up health and strength, and became again the rosy active boy he was in Scotland. For this blessing we were indebted, humanly speaking, to the unremitting care and attention of Drs. Farrell and Cogswell, as well as those friends who helped us by sitting up with him. I take this opportunity of thanking them all.

In July we were joined by my friend, Mr. H—, and he began the work of the farm just at the busiest time of year, when hay, was the crop in hand.

As soon as my boy was able to rejoin the other children, I went to the farm, to see about enlarging the house, and adapting the place generally to our requirements.

Now I must try and describe Hillifoot Farm as I found it in 1886. It lies in the Annapolis Valley, about one hundred miles from Halifax, in what is known as the Garden of Nova Scotia, sheltered by the North Mountain, as it is called, though there is nothing like a mountain about it, no rugged steeps, or uncultivated moorland—a green swelling range of hills, with here and there a brook, and here and there a wood. Spruce and hemlock trees are abundant, but there is also a variety of "hard wood," as beech, birch, maple, ash and oak are called. There are also plenty of "willows by the water-courses"; some of them are very fine trees, many have been planted by the French when Nova Scotia was called Acadia. In many places the pasture on the hillside is broken up by the plough, and excellent crops of potatoes and oats are growing on it. Turnips at that time were more scarce; but we have raised them largely, and they seem to be coming more into fashion. Lower down in the valley more Indian corn and squash are to be seen, and. quantities of hay.

All over the valley, whether on hill or in valley, the apples grow as natural fruit; of course the orchards consist of trees grafted with fine kinds, and the effect is beautiful, whether in the early summer, when the blossom is on the trees, or later on in the season, when from the beginning of August till the end of October,. it is the principal industry to gather and pack for sale the wealth of the orchards, bending with their weight of splendid fruit, of all colours, so that at a little distance no leaves are very apparent, and you only see a tree, red, crimson, golden russet, bright green, pink and yellow—in short, all colours except blue.

I think our farm is one of the prettiest in this pretty neighbourhood, lying as it does on the sunny side of the mountain; the house is shaded by some large willow trees, in all probability planted by the French.

The orchards lie behind it, and on the tableland at the foot of the mountain there is an excellent situation to be in time filled up with fruit trees, which will bring the orchards into one. It is well sheltered by the rising ground to the west. In front of the house is a fine meadow of fifty acres, fairly well cleared, but with the stones left in heaps of various sizes, which we shall find use for by-and-by. The rest of the tillage land and pasture extends to 210 acres, well sheltered by the "Woodlot" or natural forest, and dotted here and there with clumps of spruce and deciduous trees, and any quantity of apples. There are also large quantities of wild raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries; so we are at no loss for jam. By-and-by we shall cultivate small fruit as well as orchard produce.

There are lovely views in every direction. miles off is the village of Aylesford, with its pretty houses, railway station, post office, and three churches. The house was a small, old-fashioned farm-house, 30 x 40 feet, with small L (or wing) for kitchen and woodshed, and one-and-a-half storeys high, the lower flat divided into a wonderful number of tiny rooms, with two staircases, so narrow and steep that it was to me a marvel how any person of ordinary proportions ever succeeded in getting up or down. I however managed to get to the top, and found myself in what is called in Nova Scotia an "unfinished chamber," that is, an attic merely partitioned with rough boards, with no plaster, but with windows, and in warm weather quite fit to sleep in. The roof slopes down nearly to the floor. I was strongly reminded of mice, and heard one half had been used as a granary. It was evident that much must be done before the accommodation could be made in any degree sufficient for our large family. I therefore, as soon as possible, rented two cottages in the neighbourhood, one a quarter of a mile to the east, the other half-way to Aylesford, so that we had no lack of bedrooms, and used to meet at the farm in time for breakfast. The house there being speedily in the hands of workmen, we lived chiefly outside! The alterations had begun actively two or three weeks before I brought the children from Halifax. The first thing I did was to knock down almost all the partitions in the house. There is only one room left now as it was then, or nearly so, always known as the parlour. When the rest of the space was cleared, it gave us a good-sized hall and staircase in the middle, the parlour aforesaid to the west, and to the east a larger room, divided from the hall by folding doors, which, when finished, was in those days the living-room of the family. At the time I am writing of it was not finished, had not even windows in it, but the weather was fine, and we were not easily discouraged. The parlour was the only room we had. In it we had onr meals, at least for the grown-up people. The children, fortunately, were content with the greater freedom of the porch. When the table was cleared of food it was speedily replaced by sewing, clothes to be ironed, letters to be written, apples to be pared, and a host of odd jobs too numerous to mention—all had to be done in that wonderful room. No wonder I have a liking for it—for the sake of that busy struggling season. At this time I did all the driving of express waggon necessary, having no one else to do it. The first day I was in Aylesford, after the children came, I drove fourteen hours—from 5.30 a.m. till 8.30 p.m., with very short intervals for breakfast, dinner, and tea—in order to get our goods from the station and the actual necessaries of life that we could not do without.

Then the next thing was to add a storey to the house, and I was told the easiest way was to raise the roof bodily, and build chambers in between. No sooner was this begun than I found it would be better for the sick boy to sleep on the premises. So, with my maid, I elected to stay with him.

I must say I felt a little nervous when, in the course of the afternoon, I looked up and saw the roof under which we were to sleep raised on blocks about nine feet above its original position, like an umbrella. However, I was told there was no danger, and in the belief of this we slept like tops! I have since been thankful the nights were calm.

All this time our children were leaving us and going to new homes, where they received a warm welcome, and gave great satisfaction. In September the second party arrived—thirty-six. I went to meet them in Halifax, and when we reached Aylesford the whole neighbourhood assembled at the railway station to bid us welcome, and brought their "teams," or waggons, to help us to carry the party and their baggage home; and as they kindly thought I should be less comfortable at our unfinished house, from the influx of so many of our children, they had arranged that I should visit each of the neighbours in turn until my rooms were supposed to be fit to be occupied; and I must say their evident sympathy with, and pleasure in, the welfare of our children was very comforting and reassuring.

I remained at the farm till November, when I received very urgent requests from Scotland to go home, so that I gave up the idea of staying the winter. I sailed in the s.s. Carthaginian from Halifax on the 8th November, returning in April, 1887.


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