IT was not long after Willieís first
visit to the Rolphes, as just described, that the impending national
rupture occurred, and hostilities broke out between the North and the
South. It was little wonder that thousands of the most worthy young
subjects of Her Majesty living in Canada near the boundary of the northern
states (the only portion of Canada that was fairly well settled at that
time) should share the anti-slavery feelings of the North and hasten to
take part in the rebellion. Willie was one of these, and at President
Lincolnís call for soldiers, the first thing the young man did was to wait
upon Mr. Rolphe and let him know what was in his mind.
"Do you not think that you are a
little young and inexperienced?" said the president, eyeing the impetuous
young man. He was secretly proud to witness the spirit shown by this young
Canadian, but thought it his duty to warn the lad of the dangers and
responsibilities attendant upon the step which he proposed taking.
"Well, itís true I am not very old,"
answered Willie, "but I am rugged and strong, and my sympathies are so
completely with the cause that I feel I could not be happy or contented
without doing my share to help it along."
"Well, my brave boy, this is a
tremendously serious step that you contemplate taking, and a final
decision must not be too hastily reached. You must write to your mother,
and I shall do the same. The whole matter must be laid before her, as I
should not like to take the responsibility of advising you. Besides, there
is no special haste for a few days or even weeks, for it is quite apparent
that hostilities, having once begun, will continue a long time. Meantime,
I will talk to my brother, Captain Rolphe, about you. He has been
commissioned to raise a battalion, and if anything comes of your
suggestion, I should like to have you join his force."
Willie was leaving the office after
he had expressed his thanks, when Mr. Rolphe called him back and said :
ó"I say, McNabb, I understand your mother has a large family, and being a
widow, I doubt not but she would suffer if she lacked your assistance. In
the event of your going forward with the troops, I would be much pleased
to place one of your brothers in your position, and give him such
advancement as might be deemed best. In this way the remittance, which I
have been given to understand you send to your mother, need not be
This was the one thing above all
others which pleased Willie. The only misgiving he had about the entire
project of participating in the war was the consequent financial loss his
mother would experience.
In addition to this, his brother
Jamie had grown to be a great strong lad, much older looking than his
actual years, and he had been urging Willie for some time to secure
employment for him, so that he might be enabled to make a start in the
world. Here was an excellent opening, and it seemed to Willie, as he
thanked Mr. Rolphe and withdrew, promising to write home at once, that the
way was opening for the advancement of Jamie.
As for Colin, Willie had his own
thoughts in regard to the lad. He had always, since leaving the
settlement, kept up a correspondence with Colin, and the more recent
letters that passed between them contained matters and proposals which
Colin did not discuss even with me or Mrs. McNabb. As might be suspected,
the boys were corresponding about the impending war. The last letter which
Willie sent Colin contained the young manís decision to join the Northem
army, and he added that if he succeeded he would endeavour to have Colin
go with him. They were to go as comrades in arms.
It is not difficult to imagine how
such a proposal would appeal to the fancy of a lad like Colin. Indeed, a
new existence seemed to have dawned for him. There was an elasticity in
his step, a new fire in his eye, a buoyancy in his movements, for which
none of us were able to account at the time, and it was only after "the
plan of campaign" was fully matured and laid before us, that we finally
understood the secret spring which had entered into Colinís life.
It was naturally a great shock to
Mrs. McNabb when she learned, first through her son and afterwards through
Mr. Rolphe, of Willieís proposition; and when she realised that it also
entailed the loss from her home of Colin and Jamie, her grief, which she
tried to conceal, was deep-seated.
Mrs. McNabb, however, was the last
woman to stand in the way of her sonís answering what she believed to be
the call of God to service in His name. Their lives had been given, she
was convinced, to be employed, or if need be yielded up, in His service.
She made one request, however,
saying that if Willie decided to go to the war, she would like to have him
come home to see her first. She added that she had a nice bundle of warm
socks knitted for him, and if he felt that God had called him to take part
in the great struggle to liberate the slaves, he could perhaps spare a few
days to visit his home, more especially as she would like to look over his
clothes and give them a thorough overhauling and mending.
And so it fell out that Willie
decided to go to the front; and it was arranged that Colin should
accompany him, and Jamie should take the vacant position in the railway
offices as proposed by President Rolphe.
Willie and Colin were to be attached
to the battalion raised by Captain Rolphe, who had been advanced to the
rank of colonel before his force moved south. President Rolphe made
special representations to his brother on behalf of the two young
Canadians, and everything possible was done to assist them, and make their
path as plain as possible. It was nearly the end of March when Willie
arrived in the settlement to visit his home before joining his regiment.