AS the reader already knows, Mrs. McNabb’s family
consisted of three boys and two girls. At the time of my coming to the
settlement, the eldest son, Wallace, was between fourteen and fifteen;
Willie was thirteen, Lizzie eleven, Jamie seven, and Katie three. Colin
and Katie were about the same age, and as they were adapted to each other
in temperament, it is not difficult to surmise that a childlike attachment
sprang up between them. Katie was a kind-hearted, affectionate little
thing, with great brown eyes and a wealth of curls which, as she grew
older, her mother used to twist into ringlets. She was just old enough to
appreciate the horror of the Wasby tragedy; she had listened with
awe-stricken countenance to the family conversation about the details, and
had learned about Colin’s travels and perils. Her heart naturally went out
to him in sympathy, interest, and almost admiration. Colin, on his part,
was a warm-hearted, sentimental child, and Katie’s frequent avowals of
sympathy and affection for him produced the warmest and
most enthusiastic responses, so that by the time they were six years old
they were sworn comrades.
As the years passed, many a trifling rupture occurred
between these allies, caused by some little difference about the ownership
of marbles or chickens. They would break off relations for a day, or an
hour at a time, but filled with remorse they would soon make up, and it
was beautiful to witness the consideration which each would display for
the other under such circumstances.
We have all been witnesses to childish comradeship of
this sort, often ended later on by the departure of one or other to some
distant place, or by growing differences in temperament. Perhaps, in the
case of these two children, the attachment was unusually strong. Katie was
prepared to stand up for and defend Colin on all occasions, and Colin was
just as devoted to Katie. I remember that, though his mother had trained
him to truthfulness and straightforwardness, he was detected in a most
glaring untruth, uttered to shield his youthful fidus Achates.
I have known many mothers in my time, but I never knew
one who had more perfect control of her household than had Mrs. McNabb.
She had a way of making herself a perfect companion to each child. She
entered into all their troubles and helped to carry their burdens. No
matter how deep the sorrow that weighed down the juvenile heart, after it
had all been "told to mother" the child was solaced, and departed with
renewed confidence in the harbour where safety, security, and happiness
were assured. In the same way the mother had her Harbour of Refuge, into
which it was her daily, often hourly, practice to sail, and she came forth
refreshed and strengthened for the struggle of life.
A Sabbath spent in the home of Mrs. McNabb constituted
at once an excellent sermon and a moral tonic. It was the widow’s custom
after "the dinner things had been red up" to take down from the shelf the
large family Bible, and read to her children who sat about her some of the
grand truths and lessons contained therein. Betimes she would pause to
explain in her simple, direct way anything that appeared to be obscure. It
was the custom to sing selections from the metrical version of the Psalms.
With her sweet, clear voice she would raise the old tunes herself, and the
children would join with their treble voices. In her youthful days the
widow could repeat by heart the entire Psalms and Paraphrases from "That
man hath perfect blessedness" to "Praise ye the Lord, God’s praise within
His sanctuary raise." The majestic language and sublime imagery had
doubtless played its part in moulding the character of the widow.
As time wore on, and the necessity of the boys making
their way in the world became daily more inevitable, many an evening was
spent discussing the future. The boys were ambitious, and as the prospects
of success were none too promising in the settlement, it was decided that
Willie should before long accept the suggestion of an uncle living in New
York, who promised to secure a situation for him and see him launched upon
some career. The homestead, of course, if it were ever cleared of the
mortgage, would go to the eldest boy.
It was agreed, after correspondence, that Willie should
start when he was eighteen years old, which would be the following spring.
For months before, the anxious mother busied herself over the boy’s
wardrobe, knitting him a good supply of woollen socks, and preparing
everything for his comfort that a thoughtful mother’s heart could suggest.
When it became known throughout the settlement that
Mrs. McNabb’s son was going to New York to seek his fortune, many were the
comments, and many the predictions of failure. Auld Peggy, however, saw in
it a chance to score, and on her first call after the news was announced,
she peered long and earnestly into the widow’s cup and then exclaimed :
"Losh me, Mustress McNabb, but Ah see ane o’ yer bairns
is gaun on a lang journey, an’ he’s gaun tae ane o’ they beeg cities tae
mak’ his fortune, an’ Ah’m sure he’s gaun tae mak’ it, f’r dinna ye see th’
breed crumbs i’ th’ bottom o’ th’ cup ? — which
is sure proof th’ laddie wull ane day return es reech es King Midast, or
auld Solomon himsel’. Oh, but it’s a happy woman ye suld be th’ day, f’r
Ah can see thet Wullie is gaun tae bring great luck tae th’ family, an’ th’
day wull come, Mustress McNabb, when ye’ll live tae be prood o’ yer boy."
She left the widow’s in the best of spirits, having
drunk "twa cups o’ tea," and eaten "fower slices o’ hot breed," which was
a delicacy to her.
May had been designated by the uncle in New York as the
best month for Willie to go. The twentieth had been set down as the day to
start, and it was drawing on apace. So long as the departure was viewed
from a distance of a year, or six months, or even three months, it did not
appear such a trial, but when it got down to a question of days, and then
to hours, it began to cause deep regret in the home.
Since the death of Mr. McNabb, many years ago, there
had been no break in the family circle. Notwithstanding the struggles with
adversity and the difficulties sometimes experienced in making ends meet,
and keeping the interest on the mortgage paid, the home had been a happy
one. But Willie had to go, and the arrangements for his departure had to
His little red box had been brought down from the
attic, where he kept it, to the "spare room," where it could be packed.
Into this box the widow, with a heart burning with love for her boy,
placed her gifts. There were several pairs of woollen socks, a couple of
fancy flannel shirts, besides the one the lad would wear, an extra pair of
trousers, and an extra coat. He was to have a brand-new pair of boots to
start with, and also a new hat.
Into the box the widow also dropped a ball of yarn and
a darning needle, a couple of spools of thread, a packet of needles, and
some pieces of cloth for mending purposes. She also placed in it a number
of little trinkets to remind the boy of home, and a small-sized Bible. In
anticipation of this event, she had gone carefully through the good book
and had marked in it such passages as she hoped would bring comfort to the
boy, and perhaps prove a message in his periods of necessity. She had
worked with her own hand a love message on a piece of cardboard, and this
she placed in the book as a marker.
The day before that arranged for the departure, Willie
paid a visit to those of the settlers to whom he was attached, saying
good-bye to them and accepting their good wishes. When he came to shake
hands with Goarden, he promised to send him the latest New York song,
which promise he afterwards kept, and Goarden boasted about that song for
many a day.
Then the boy went about the farm and visited the scenes
that were so dear to him. There was the beech tree where he and his
brothers had carved their names many years before. Opening his old knife,
he printed beneath the names the word "Good-bye." He paused at the spring
in the bush and, stooping down for a drink, smiled at the solemn
expression of the face reflected in the water, and, looking around, was
surprised to notice that the shades were lengthening.
He visited the cattle, almost every one of which
recognised in him a friend. He knew the cows each by name,
— indeed, it was he who had named nearly every
one of them. When he called them, to speak a word of farewell, so solemn
did they appear to his imagination, that he almost fancied they understood
what he was saying. Then he took a look at the sheep, among which was a
pet lamb that he had reared. Then he visited the stable and caressed his
favourite mare, after which he entered the house. He spent most of the
evening with the others around the fireplace. They were all rather silent,
for everybody felt the constraint of the occasion.
But the good mother could not let her boy go without a
final talk; and after the lad retired to his humble room she sought his
bedside, and remained with him till after midnight. We shall not intrude
upon it, but Willie never forgot it. When she came forth from her son’s
room there was a calm, resigned light on her countenance. She had
committed her boy to the keeping of Him who commands the tempests, and she
felt that it was all right.
Willie did not get much sleep that night. His mind was
in a whirl about the great city to which he was going, and he wondered how
the great room and great bedstead, which he fancied would be his portion
in New York, would compare with his humble attic room and his trundle-bed.
It had been arranged that Willie should go with
Malcolm, the beer pedlar, as far as Brockville. Malcolm would see him
across the river there, and place him in the stage, which would carry him
to the nearest railway point, from which he could easily make his way to
the great metropolis, where his uncle would meet and take charge of him.
The little red box was bound up with cord and deposited
at the door, awaiting the arrival of Malcolm. Willie could not eat much;
there was that great lump in his throat which prevented it. He moved
uneasily about, with his hat drawn down over his forehead and his hands in
his pockets, waiting for the last moment.
"Here’s Malcolm!" said Jamie, looking out of the door
as the rumbling of a wagon was heard.
The widow started uneasily, and hurried the preparation
of Willie’s lunch basket.
"Come! "said Malcolm, as he entered the house. "Is the
lad ready? We ought to be halfway to the black swamp by this time."
The red box was swung up on the wagon and tied there
securely, and then the moment came to say good-bye.
Willie began with the youngest. "Good-bye, Katie dear."
"Good-bye, Colin, old fellow."
"Good-bye, Jamie. You can have my rabbits, my old
jack-knife, and the little blue box with the keys."
"Good-bye, Lizzie, write a letter soon and tell me all
about the farm."
"Good-bye, Wallace, be a brave boy, and between us
we’ll get the mortgage paid off some day."
Then Willie turned to his mother, who was standing at
the door, pale, but calm. He could not give utterance to the words that he
had intended saying to her and that he had rehearsed so often. He threw
his arms about her neck and then rushed from the house, and mounted the
box where Malcolm was sitting. The whip was cracked; and Willie had gone
forth into the world to seek his fortunes.
Here is Willie’s first letter, which was received at
the old homestead about three weeks after his departure :
NEW YORK, June 3, 18—.
My DEAR MOTHER, BROTHERS, and SISTERS: It all seems so
queer, after the farm; but here I am, in this great city,
—a poor insignificant cipher. I used to think
myself of some consequence, but one has only to come here to realise how
very small and unimportant he is. I suppose you will all be anxious to
know how I got along. Malcolm will have told you about our trip to
Brockville. After that, I was terribly lonesome. A kind old man who was
going to New York helped me along, and when we reached here, he helped me
to find uncle. Uncle isn’t a bit like what I fancied him. He started to
find me a situation yesterday, and got me in as office boy in the N. Y. C.
& W. railway office. I am only to get a pound a week, but that will leave
me a little after paying my board and room, and they say if I do well I
shall get more pay. Uncle does not appear to be very prosperous, and I
shall not live with him. He found a lodging place for me on the sixth flat
of a big house near the railway office, and here I am to-night in my
little room. Uncle doesn’t live in the grand house I expected, and my room
is not so fine as I anticipated. My bed too seems no better than my dear
old trundle one.
I had expected so much, and I had fancied that
everything here was grand and bright, and that everybody was well off. But
it is a thousand times worse than in the Scotch Settlement, and the city
seems so wicked, and nobody seems to care for you. Tell Wallace the farm
is much finer than the city, and that some day I shall ask him to trade
places with me, if I ever get any position worth trading. Lizzie must give
the cows and other animals a treat in my name. Have Jamie take good care
of the rabbits, and tell him when I get to be a great man I shall send for
him. And Colin must come here just as soon as the way opens for him. Kiss
dear Katie for me. Remember me to Auld Peggy, and give my love to all that
inquire for me.
Your loving son,