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Our Children in Old Scotland and Nova Scotia
Part II - Chapter XI - What we did in 1889-90


IN the last chapter I told you of the work we had to begin on our arrival at Hillfoot Farm, of enlarging and adapting the farmhouse to the wants of its new and numerous tenants. I left all in order as far as I could for completing the new wing (or L as it is called in Nova Scotia) to the east of the old house, and which was to contain kitchen, laundry, nursery, storeroom, bath-rooms downstairs; and upstairs, six good large bedrooms, and over that the boys’ attics. This part of the building was framed, roofed and finished outside before I left, but inside much had to be done, and the inconvenience was considerable. However, with good fires, and happily a mild winter, no one seemed to suffer from it. Our children grew and throve. They were in great request, and went to homes as quickly as the necessary inquiries could be made, which, according to my plan, takes some little time. But in the spring so many had gone that there was room for another large party, and I went out in April with fifty-six children.

As my friend Mr. H— proposed joining a relative in British Columbia, I took with me as farmer Mr. James Peggie, who had been in my service in Scotland for many years; and on our arrival we set to work in earnest to complete the main building, and to make an efficient set of stone drains in order to carry off the surface water, which at some seasons rushes down the mountain with considerable force. Besides doing this, we re-laid the pipes which conduct the water to the house from the springs on the mountain, and then proceeded to fence the orchards and pasture. This, with the necessary work of crops and caring for the stock already on hand, was as much as we could undertake that season, and we felt it better to leave other improvements until we had completed those begun. I forgot to mention what has been of great profit, and that is an arrangement for collecting the soapsuds from the laundry, and applying it to the crops by means of a water cart.

But all this time, to my great annoyance, the front side of the house, with only the road between, was still disfigured by the old barns, stables, etc., which had to be left until we could do better. Early that fall we laid out a fruit garden to the west of the house, with strawberries and raspberries; the black and red currants and gooseberries we brought from Scotland next year—and this has been most productive—so that in October, 1887, I again returned to Scotland, leaving the party at the Home wonderfully more comfortable than any of us had been on our arrival, but still in want of more accommodation, and many comforts and conveniences which I proposed to add as oppor tunity served. At this time I determined to wind up my personal responsibility with regard to the Homes in Scotland, and to transfer my efforts to forwarding the interests of our children in Nova Scotia. My time in Scotland that winter was mainly occupied in carrying this out, and arranging for the final exodus of such workers as had decided to accompany our children to New Scotland.

In this I was much aided by Mr. James Peggie, who had returned to Scotland with me in October, 1887, and in March following sailed with a party of boys and girls, who were accompanied by Mrs. Hill, matron in one of the Girls’ Homes. To accommodate the boys I had again to rent a house close by. I followed in April, having now no home of my own in Scotland. As may be supposed, this was a very trying time for me, both as regards the history of the work, in leaving the Homes in Scotland, where I had worked so long, and been the means of rescuing so many children from cruelty, to be carried on by others—and trying, too, as regarded my own personal feeling. Remember, I was literally leaving all—my own home, and its comforts, country, friends and kindred. I was going away for at least three years, to fight a hand-to-hand battle with poverty and hard work, heavily weighted with a number of young and helpless children. Surely no one can doubt the love for them which induced me to do this ! I thank the God of all mercies that I have been successful in providing for so many.

I cannot leave this stage in my journey without thanking my dear friend Miss Hope Johnstone for her great kindness and hospitality to me during my last fortnight at that time in Scotland, which I spent with her at her beautiful place, Marchbankwood, and there regained sufficient strength to enable me to undertake the voyage, worn out as I was by the work, care, and anxiety consequent on such an undertaking. I believe, but for this timely rest and tender nursing, I would not have been able either for the voyage or the work which lay before me on my landing; and I shall be grateful all my life. In May another party of children were sent by the directors in charge of Mrs. Vass and Mrs. James Peggie. This party had been joined by several children from Miss Croall’s Home for Destitute Children, in Stirling.

Having now mustered our party, we lost no time in using the fine weather to complete the house accommodation required for a permanent colony. In the meantime I rented a commodious farmhouse close by for the new-comers. That summer, 1888, we actually built and adapted three houses; one is the north wing to the main house, which was required to give schoolroom, summer kitchen, and store-rooms, large enough for our winter supplies; for as we eat wholesale (as to numbers), I have to buy wholesale, and flour and meal by the car-load. In this north wing there are three nice bedrooms; one is known as the "Prophet’s Chamber," or " Hole in the Wall," like Elisha was made welcome to long ago, just enough to hold a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp—we don’t use candlesticks! This is, as its name implies, set apart for the ministers who come by turns to preach to us once in four weeks, and thus we have service every Sunday evening. At a quarter to seven the big bell (now promoted to a cupola on the top of the house) rings a cheery summons, and we all assemble, with the many neighbours, who gather often to the number of one hundred, to worship God in the schoolroom, and hear the, message the minister has to tell us.

He has probably driven a long way to deliver it, for country circuits in these parts are very extensive. A large number of young men attend these meetings, and come a long way to do so. They are now most orderly, and certainly listen with great attention to the truths of the Gospel, the free Gospel, the Good News of the Love of God, and salvation NOW by the Lord Jesus Christ offered freely to ALL. Our watchword is "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." This is every Sunday evening affectionately pressed upon all, though no doubt from various points of view—for we try not to make the meeting tiresome or formal, but THE MESSAGE is always given; and that the people are impressed is shown by the regularity and interest with which they attend the meetings. Our children lead the singing, and all join heartily.

Before we had the schoolroom these meetings were held in the dining-room and hall thrown together by folding doors; but now, having larger accommodation and a separate entrance, we can invite and provide for many more.

I ought to add that the Sunday evening service is very often turned into a Temperance meeting—but this will come under the head of Temperance Work— in another chapter. As to public worship, we are three miles from the village churches, but still we go in considerable numbers. All walk who can do so, and those who cannot, drive, or take it in turn to stay at home. We are perfectly unsectarian, and are helped and referred to alike by ministers of all Protestant denominations—Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist or Baptist. Every Sunday we have regular Sunday school with the old-fashioned concomitant of "Sunday sweeties" and reward tickets, which are preserved carefully and pasted into a book for each child as a remembrance of "Sundays at Home." We have also plenty of singing all through the Sabbath Day. So much for our north wing and its uses.

Besides this wing we built, that summer of 1888, a new and pretty house for our farmer, Mr. James Peggie, in a convenient situation near the proposed site of the New Barn. Close to it is the Boys’ House, which, though we did not build, we finished and adapted. This is a wonderful country for easily changing everything, even the situation of buildings; houses, barns, and churches move along the road contentedly, and take up new quarters apparently without suffering in the process; so our boys’ house walked or rolled up the road nearly half a mile, and there it is as comfortable as possible—a good two-storey dwelling’; and there live our working lads and boys above ten years, with their housekeeper. So much for buildings completed.

In honour of this crisis in our history as settlers, I took the opportunity of expressing my gratitude to all those friends who had so kindly welcomed and helped us on our arrival, by having a great "house warming" at Christmas, our acquaintance being large and districts scattered. I felt the utter hopelessness of sending out invitations; so the various clergymen within reach kindly announced the Sunday before Christmas that "Miss Stirling would be at Home on the 4th January, from 4 to 8 p.m., and would be glad to see any friends of our children who would like to visit her at that time."

The invitation was accepted, if not from "Dan to Beersheba," at least from a radius of over eight miles. The result was a gathering of 800 people!

But we were ready for them ! All hands in all the houses had been busy baking cakes and preparing other good things, and the men and boys had done their share in decorating the rooms. I threw open the whole lower part of the house, brought down all our pictures (including many views of Scotland, in which our friends were much interested) to the servants’ hall and corridor.

The schoolroom was lined with the beautiful cards of object lessons, which were given to us before leaving Scotland by the Granton Public School, and which were greatly admired. We had as much music as possible. The musical boxes, and "Bunny’s performance" gave great satisfaction. Bunny is a wonderful mechanical rabbit, who is one of the most valued possessions of our children, who does wonders!! There was a Christmas tree in the schoolroom, from which the visitors bought little things for the benefit of our children. We had fortunately provided plenty of tea, cake and fruit in the dining-room. Our more intimate friends were most kind in attending to and entertaining the guests, and helping the cause generally. And at 8 o’clock precisely the assembly broke up, declaring they had enjoyed themselves thoroughly.


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