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Hector MacKinnon, A Memoir
Chapter I - Childhood and Early Days


"Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight!
Make me a child again, just for to-night!"

IT is now eleven months since he was taken from us —time enough perhaps for many to be beginning to forget. But for the generation who knew him, there can be no forgetting of Hector Mackinnon, the universally loved minister and friend. Numerous requests have been made to us in these months to publish, at least, his later sermons; and on its becoming known that this is impossible, we are still urged to give to his many friends some token "for remembrance."

It is well known what he did in his twenty-two years of Christian service as a minister; but only to those near and dear to him is it known what he really was— "a man tender and strong," a deeply loving and truly lovable follower of the Master he served.

He was born on August 4, 1866, in the Island of Tiree, "the little kingdom just emerging from the waves." It seems only a short time since we all wandered together there, on happy holiday, and he drew our attention one day to the spot where stood the house in which he was born. Within a stone's throw of the place are to be seen the well-preserved ruins of two Columban churches, silent but eloquent memorials of a time when the Island of Tiree was closely associated with Iona, then the centre of learning and scholarship. Often had he told us of the beauties of his native island; and as we wandered, now knee- deep in gorgeously coloured summer flowers, now traversing a soft carpet of green, white, purple, blue and gold, while a gentle breeze wafted the sweet scent of wild thyme, myrtle and heather, we felt it was good to be there—a "lovesome spot" of nature's own making.

Hard by, and still beneath the shadow of the old churches, and within sound of the surges of the Atlantic, is the homestead he loved so well, known as the Lodge Farm, to which his parents removed when he was quite a child, and where his mother, brothers and sisters still live. He was the eldest of a family of eleven, four girls and seven boys; and his mother used to say, in Gaelic, how she "brooded" more over this one, her first-born, than over all the rest.

Both his parents were God-fearing people; and he sometimes told how as a boy he had often been brought to a standstill in the midst of his play around the farm by overhearing his father praying aloud in the barn for him. All his life he never forgot that, and was tenderly reminiscent over it.

His father, as the writer knew him, was a gentle, saintly old man; and the sight of him at evening worship, standing erect, with uplifted face and arms outstretched, pleading, interceding, reasoning in the soft, plaintive Gaelic tongue, was something to be remembered, His stalwart Sons knelt around him, and, worship over, all talked together in the most natural, unrestrained manner on topics religious or otherwise. But the centre of the group was always the Minister-son from the city. It is not too much to say that he was looked up to and adored by all his brothers and sisters.

One other vision of his father cannot be shut out. The morning of our departure having come, the horses ready waiting, and all gathered outside the door for leave-taking, in the hushed, mysterious stillness of the early dawn murmured regretful good-byes would be spoken, and then quite suddenly the old man would be missed from the group. Those who cared to look could see him round the corner of the house, wiping his eyes in a shame-faced, furtive way. Presently he would join the others, and wave a bright farewell as we drove out of sight. It always happened so. The same unspoken thought was in each mind, and the Minister would clasp his own little sons all the closer as we journeyed on. By and by there came a day when, in the midst of his many labours, the swift message was brought to the manse that the Minister's father had been called home. Then he wept like a little child. And between the pages of his Bible, the one he kept for private use, there lies, just as he left it, his father's photograph, along with a newspaper appreciation of him.

When Hector Mackinnon was seven years of age, he was sent to school at Scarnish, two miles distant from his home. On the first day of his attendance he was carried to and from the school on his father's back ! Later on he attended the school at Cornaig, much farther away. Sometimes he would ride thither on one of his father's horses, and on reaching their destination, the horse's head would be turned, and it would find its way home alone, returning again for him in the afternoon. He was a bright, diligent scholar, eager to learn, and loved his books. In all his studies at this time he had the able and sympathetic assistance, and encouragement of the schoolmaster, Mr. Donald Mackinnon. He never forgot in after years how much he owed to his early teacher. It was like a fairy tale to hear him tell his own boys of his early school career, which he did, however, only on very rare occasions. There was no boasting; and when he mentioned the fact that he had gained bursaries amounting in all to very nearly £500, he would add, "But you know, sonny, it was not because of any special cleverness in Daddy; it was just that he worked hard."

At the age of fifteen he won his first bursary, and was sent to Raining's School, Inverness, for two years. Here he lived in lodgings, and when he felt lonely or dull, he would take his books and wander up and down on the banks of the Ness, reciting and committing to memory. He had a marvellously retentive memory, and never forgot what had once been carefully committed. Some few years ago we stood with him outside his old lodging, and on the banks of the river, where as a boy he had been wont to roll off his pages from the poets. How it all came back to him! And how little we dreamed it was to be for the last time.

It was during his schooldays at Inverness that he formed friendships the golden links of which were never broken. Writing from England three days after Mr. Mackinnon's sudden home-call, one of his boyhood's friends says :-

"The duration of my hero-worship (I use the phrase in its literal sense) goes back to the Raining's School days, at which place I arrived on the eve of his departure for Edinburgh University. The kindness and generosity I experienced at that time made a lasting impression upon me; and always since those times—at your home in Campbeltown or in Glasgow—contact with him but increased the gratification I felt in being a friend of Mr. Hector Mackinnon."

And amongst our most cherished possessions are the tributes paid to his memory by others who were his schoolfellows at this time.

At the end of two years he left Raining's School for the University, with a certificate from Dr. McBain, the head master, stating that he was the best equipped boy who had ever entered Raining's School, and one of the best scholars to leave it. No account of his Inverness schooldays would be complete without mention of the late Rev. Dr. Mackenzie, of Kingussie, who showed him much kindness, and with whom a life-long friendship was maintained.

It was a proud and happy day in the far-off island home when the boy returned from school with the news that in two months' time he was to go as a student to Edinburgh University. And the busy mother worked early and late to get his "things ready" for life in the great city ; and, like all good mothers, she would have much in her heart of which she could not speak. His father, fearing his son's health might suffer through overstudy, would often send him out to the hills to look after the sheep. On such occasions he would invariably be found lying amongst the heather, deep in the study of Homer or Virgil, while the sheep were straying ! But afterwards, when he had been called from the sheepfolds to be a shepherd of souls; thank God, he kept through all the years untiring and faithful watch to the very last.


 


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