Colin had been
delayed two or three weeks beyond the time they had set to visit their
home in Canada, but as soon as certain business arrangernents could be
completed, they lost no time in hurrying back to see their mother and
their brother and, sisters. Jamie did not accompany them, as he could
not at the time be spared from his work in the office. The railways had
so much to do moving troops and supplies that it was a particularly busy
time with them. For that matter, they had been very busy ever since the
beginning of the war, and this had opened the way to promotion for
Jamie. He had proved an industrious and worthy employee, and at the
conclusion of the war he had become assistant freight agent, a position
which gave him ample scope for activity and industry, and enabled him to
send his mother a liberal allowance every six months, so that the widow
had long since ceased to feel the stress experienced in earlier days.
In addition to his duties in the
office, he had continued his work in connection with the mission on
Broad Street for the shelter and reform of drunkards. The longer the
young man continued in the work, the stronger became his conviction of
its deep importance, and often it was borne in upon him that he ought to
devote his entire life to it. But he was ambitious to make his mark in
the railway world, his mother needed his assistance, and he contented
himself with carrying on the work in the evenings and on Sundays and
holidays. He was a sturdy, strapping lad, and it was well that he was,
for many a tussle did he have, and many a long weary vigil did he keep,
with the unfortunate victims of drink. Every rescue which he effected
brought him into direct contact with the domestic misery and poverty
caused by the traffic, and Jamie wanted no more powerful argument
against the saloon than the pale, pinched faces of the wives, and the
half-starved, half-fed, half-clothed bodies of the innocent children of
A letter apprising the family of
the day on which the boys would leave the metropolis had been received
at the homestead, and a hasty meeting of the settlers was convened in
the schoolhouse to arrange for a reception. Naturally, everybody in the
settlement was proud of the two young men, for the most had been made of
their exploits, and they were regarded somewhat in the light of
conquering heroes returning to their home after the accomplishment of
great deeds. An arrangement was made at the meeting by which a speedy
messenger would be sent from Brockville when the boys reached that
point, so that we would know what time to move out to meet them.
The day came at last, and the
people, old and young, turned out to greet and welcome the boys. Wallace
drove the widow, his mother, while I drove Lizzie and Katie. Poor Katie,
how her heart beat and how her cheeks glowed at the prospect of so soon
seeing her lover, who was returning in triumph!
Nathan Larkins was in the
procession, quoting Scripture and fearful lest he should not be called
upon to make a speech or "put up" a prayer. Jock, the drover, was also
there, cracking his dry jokes at Nathan’s expense.
Goarden, the hired man, was there
in "all the pride and glory of his fame," as one of his songs puts it.
He wore a new fancy flannel shirt with a blazing red front, and he also
had on a pair of new long-legged boots with red tops. For this occasion
he was mounted on a white horse, and undertook to act as marshal for the
Dooley, the blacksmith, came
along, mounted on an old nag, which he had borrowed for the occasion
from Sam Latt, he of untruthful notoriety mentioned in a previous
chapter. The animal, in the language of Dooley himself, looked as if
"the main stay was gone."
Auld Peggy, with short-tailed
Dugal at her heels, and with a black clay pipe in her mouth, with the
bowl upside down, trudged along in the rear, talking alternately to
herself and to her dog.
"Aye, aye," she was heard to say,
"but yoan’s a graun day f’r th’ wuddow; an’ it’s a prood woman she maun
be wi’ her twa bairns returnin’ in sic triumph frae th’ war. What wad
Preesident Lincoln hae dune uf it hadna been f’r th’ laddies! Ah’m told
they uncanny slavery creatures wad naver hae been sat free. Weel, weel,
weel, wha’d ‘a’ thocht it, wha’d ‘a’ thocht it! Ah can reca’ th’ verra
day wee Wullie wis born, an’ a gay scrawny, cryin’ brat he wis intil th’
bargain. The wuddow (tae be sure she wis nae a wuddow then) asked me uf
Ah couldna dae onything f’r hum. Ah wis aboot tae gie hum a dose o’
salts an’ senna, whan th’ wuddow call’t me an’ askit me what Ah wis dam,
an’ whan Ah tell’t her she made me bring th’ wain tae her at aince an’
sae Ah didna get th’ chance o’ curin’ th’ pain in th’ child’s waim,
whuch Ah’m sae wee! satisfied tae thus day th’ bairn wis sufferin’ frae.
An’ as f’r wee Coalin," continued Auld Peggy, "wha’d ‘a’ thocht he’d
ever hae amoonted tae onything! What a fearfu’ narrow escape th’ lad hed
frae ha’in’ his heed knockit aff agen yoan wa’ by thet awfu’ brute Wasby,
whan he kill’t a’ th’ rest o’ th’ hoosehold!"
And so the garrulous old woman
talked away as she trudged behind the rest. The procession had not
marched out more than a mile and a half when a turn in the road showed a
vehicle coming swinging along at a rapid rate, which we knew contained
the young men. Nathan cried "halt," and the company came to a standstill
just at the turn where the occupants of the vehicle could not see them.
They ranged themselves along either side of the road and awaited the
I shall never forget the
expression on the flushed and beautiful face of the widow, and I could
notice the excitement and nervousness which had grown upon her in late
years, but which she tried so hard to repress. As the carriage
containing the young men swung around the corner, Nathan led the cheers
that broke forth from scores of admiring, enthusiastic settlers.
The young men looked as striking
as two brave, handsome young men could look. They were taken by surprise
at the unexpected reception and honour paid them, and for a moment they
were nonplussed. But it was only for a moment, and springing from the
carriage, they both hurried to the objects dearest to them. Willie and
his mother were soon locked in a fond embrace, while Colin had kissed
Katie three times in quicker succession than he could fire a repeating
rifle. Meanwhile the company continued its cheering for the returning
After Willie had released his
mother, Colin went to her, and as he folded the dear figure in his arms
and kissed her with a fondness scarcely secondary to that bestowed upon
Katie, great tears stood in his eyes.
After the boys (for I love to call
them boys and to think of them as such) had exchanged greetings with the
members of their family, Colin turned to me, and the affectionate
greeting he gave satisfied my heart. After a general hand-shaking all
round, Auld Peggy came in for particular notice, which pleased her
Nathan called out "Bring the
chairs." Eight stalwarts approached the young men, bearing the two
chairs. The boys were made to seat themselves. Each chair was picked up
by four men and lifted to their shoulders. The crowd fell in behind, and
the procession started for the "old" Ninth Concession, on which were
located the schoolhouse, the "auld kirk," the tollgate, Dooley’s
blacksmith shop and the widow’s homestead.
It was deemed a rare distinction,
and it is doubtful if such an honour was ever before conferred upon any
person in the settlement, outside of successful politicians who,
sometimes, after the announcement of their success, were formally
"chaired" at the hustings in the county town. The boys were borne to the
schoolhouse, where they were deposited on the platform, and then there
were loud calls for a speech. Both young men expressed their thanks for
the honours shown them by their old neighbours and friends, and
protested that the honours were out of proportion to their deserts.
After they sat down, Nathan felt
that his turn had come. He had, in preparation for the event, had
recourse to the Bible, and had read up everything in it relating to war,
so he gave the audience the benefit of his study, and beginning with the
slaughter of the Shechemites because of the defiling of Dinah, he went
on down through sacred history, covering every struggle, great and
small, in which the people of God had been engaged, and finally wound up
with a brief but forcible allusion to that warlike act on the part of
the apostle Peter when he drew his sword and smote the servant of the
high priest, cutting an ear from that menial’s head.
"It’s a pity we hadn’t Peter’s
sword handy so we could cut a yard or two off your tongue, Nathan," sang
out Jock, the drover, whereat Nathan spoke of the terrible fate that was
in store for blasphemers. Jock minded not Nathan’s words, but maintained
a steady fire of jokes at him until the old man was glad to sit down.
Then the refreshments were passed around, after which the company
separated and all went to their homes, it being almost dark by the time
the formalities were ended.
The time Willie had set for his furlough was six
weeks, while Colin had formed no definite plans for the future. Eight
days from the end of his furlough an event occurred that brought a dark
shadow across the widow’s home and across her life.