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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XVII - Mrs. McNabb and her Family


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 be completed.

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,

WILLIE.


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