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Dr Margaret MacKellar
Chapter II - Girlhood


OWING to Capt. MacKellar's frequent absence from home, JJ/ the children were left largely to the care of the house-keeper. Annie was fifteen, Margaret eleven, Mary between eight and nine, and William Norman seven. Their father provided well for his children, and was anxious that they should have a good education. Margaret was at an age to run errands and to help in the house, and she felt that she got more than her share of work. Her hot little heart often rose in rebellion and she found ways of "getting even" with the housekeeper. She ate the tender hearts of the young cabbages in the garden, and the housekeeper supposed that a neighbor's rabbits were responsible. She nibbled at the roll-jelly cake in the pantry, and the housekeeper removed all the jars and dishes from the pantry shelves, and nailed tin over every hole which could possibly give entrance to mice! There was little love lost between the wilful little girl and the bullying housekeeper. About a year and a half later Margaret was asked one evening to clear up a back-kitchen. Perhaps she forgot. Next morning the housekeeper coming out through the kitchen with a carving-knife, finding Margaret there and seeing the task unfinished, struck her across the shoulder with the knife which snapped off above the handle. Margaret was not a tale-bearer, but she told this incident as a great secret to her grandmother's servant, who, thinking it too serious a matter to be overlooked, told her mistress. Capt. MacKellar was informed on his return, and the housekeeper was dismissed, much to the relief of the children. Annie pleaded that no other housekeeper be engaged, but that she be given a chance to see what she could do .. The new arrangement succeeded so well, that Annie continued to "mother" the family till the home was broken up when Margaret was eighteen.

During these years the presence of the dear mother was greatly missed in the home, but her influence continued to be felt. Their father, though absent so much, did what he could to encourage the girls to go on with their education. Both went as far as the highest grade in the town school, but there was no High School. There were not many books in the home, but among them were, "Captain Cook's Voyages," "The Life of David Livingstone," "Burns' Poems." Great reverence was shown for the Bible, of which Capt. MacKellar had several copies in the best binding he could get. When he was at home he was a regular attendant at church, and his Sabbath afternoons were spent in reading his Gaelic Bible. He did not say much about his religion, but he lived it. On his voyages when he stopped at ports over Sabbath, rather than load his ship on that day, he would drop out of his turn.

At school it was no trouble for Margaret to learn her lessons. Her lively disposition made her more likely than the average girl to get into mischief. She had a teacher who believed that the punishment should be appropriate to the offence, so for chewing gum in school, Margaret had to stand before the class and chew as hard as she could for a certain time; for going a short-cut down a forbidden stairway she had to go up and down the right way till her knees ached; for snowballing others on the way from school she had to throw snowballs at a stump for half an hour. The last time she had a taste of the rod at school was when she refused to tell on a boy who had committed a fault when she was monitress in the absence of the teacher.

There was a piano in the home and their father arranged that the girls should take music lessons from the best teacher in the town, an accomplished Scottish lady, who also conducted a select dancing class of which Annie and Margaret became members, Margaret being especially enthusiastic. At times the pupils gave exhibitions of their skill, and Margaret remembers her mortification on one occasion when she was obliged to wear a dress with the long sleeves turned up rather than what she considered a proper costume. When she was fifteen she attended her first and only full-dress tall. At this period the future missionary entered heartily with her young friends into all the social gaieties of the time. In the summer there were amusements at the lake, and in the winter house-parties, sleighing-parties and skating, into which Margaret entered with the same keenness that she showed later in her studies and in her mission work.

Her aptness for gaining and imparting detailed information was shown by the delight she took in telling her family the news she had gleaned about town.

In the summer of 1874 there was a break in the ordinary routine when Capt. MacKellar took his four children on the ship with him, first up among the islands of the Georgian Bay, then down through Lakes St. Clair, Erie and Ontario to Montreal. Perhaps the freedom of. life on board ship and the returning late to school in the autumn had something to do with Margaret's desire to give up her studies. Annie pleaded with her to continue. Her father, who was seldom stern, was firm in his determination that she should go on. But she dared to disobey. She had a strong will of her own and finally got her own way.

As she did not wish to be idle she learned dressmaking, and with her first earnings bought herself a Bible, which she still has.

In the summer of 1878 Margaret again had the privilege of going for a trip on the lake, this time accompanying her uncle, Capt. MacLeod. Her readiness for any emergency was exemplified on this trip. The cook not proving satisfactory, Margaret persuaded her uncle to let her do the cooking. This was no easy task for there were eight or ten hungry sailors, but it was well done. The young cook did not stop with the preparation of the regular meals, but in the hot summer afternoons made "fizzing" drinks for the thirsty men, which were much appreciated. At the end of three months Margaret received sixty dollars for her services, which proved very useful in the fresh step she was about to take.

In the autumn of that year, Mr. John MacKellar, a commercial traveller for a Hamilton firm, and a friend and distant relative of Capt. MacKellar, heard that Margaret desired to learn millinery. He invited her to come to Hamilton and make her home with his family. With Mr. MacKellar's help she got a place in a first-class millinery store kept by a dignified Scotchwoman and her daughter. She was handy with her needle, and her employer soon learned to entrust her with work that needed special care, thus placing her above her seniors in the shop. Her work at the milliner's gave fresh opportunities for the development of her characteristics of neatness and thoroughness. Perhaps it was an inherited trait in the sailor's child that she liked everything to be ship-shape.

When a few months later her friends, the MacKellars' moved to Paris, the milliner so highly prized the services of her new worker that to induce her to stay she offered her the same wages as she was giving to one who had been three years in her employ. But Margaret went to Paris with the MacKellars. When it was suggested that she might learn millinery there, she refused, being too proud to learn in a little town like Paris after having begun in the city of Hamilton! But God took her back to Paris to learn. After a few months' visit there, she returned home to Port Elgin. A great change was to take place before she again saw her friends in Paris.


 


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