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Perth on the Tay
Chapter 29


"Nor less," he said, " when looking forth,
I view yon Empress of the North
Sit on her hilly throne."
—Scott.

AS Margaret began to mend, Dr. Powell insisted more and more on Jean and Jamie getting out in turn; they had had a long, weary, anxious vigil, and it had told on them. Mrs. Powell had called when they first came, and now that it was possible for Jean to be spared an hour or two a day she often came for her to accompany them on drives. Then she brought other ladies to call until Jean was in danger of having social duties consume what strength she had left from attendance at her mother's bedside. But Jean was young and had a good constitution, so she not only survived these added cares, but recovered her natural color.

After Christmas Lieut. Meldrum wanted his house again, and Margaret was so far recovered that Dr. Powell consented to her being removed to Bytown (now Ottawa). That this was welcome news only those who have been exiles can fully appreciate ; they knew so many there, it was next best to being at home. Dr. Powell had to make a couple of trips during the winter to Bytown was the reason he wished them to stop there, he wanted Margaret under his care until April; if there were no drawbacks at that time, he would pronounce her cured, at least past danger of a recurrence of the malignant growth. But it would be months before she would be able to walk, and then never without a cane ; she was never to be allowed to forget that, because she sent her laddie away, she had to mind the byre herself, and what came of it.

We just said Bytown is now Ottawa. In the strictest sense this is not correct. Bytown entered on a bright promising existence in 1826, and in 1860 it was not, for Parliament took it; then Ottawa came to reign in its room and stead.

As wars that had been were responsible for Perth, so wars that might be were responsible for Bytown. The Home Government wanted an interior water route between the East and West. A canal following the line of the King's road—which paralleled the St. Lawrence, most of its length being within sight of the river—was first spoken of, but this route seeming to not offer the security desired, Mr. Philemon Wright who, official correspondence in 1817 states, "farmed largely at the mouth of the Rideau" (on the north shore of the Ottawa) suggested connecting the Ottawa river with Lake Ontario by means of a canal, or series of canals joining together and making continuous navigation through Rideau River, Rideau lakes, (big and little), Cranberry Lake, Mud Lake, etc., ending at Kingston. This proposition was approved, and a corps of Royal Engineers sent out to survey the route. Col. By, a gentleman of the old school,—in parenthesis we would remark pity 'tis that some of our modern fads in so-called "education" have replaced the carefully inculcated lessons of a century ago, which taught boys first of all there are "things no man should do." But we were speaking of Col. By. On the bluff now called Major's Hill (after Major Boulton, who later lived there) he built a pretty cottage, only a few hundred yards from where the canal was begun. There he lived during the years in which the canal was in process of construction. When the work was completed he returned to England and died there about 1840, before the little burg in which he had taken such a lively interest was removed, to give place to a larger congregation of houses and people, a city that would in the coming years take on itself the airs and graces suitable to the capital of a nation.

From 1824 to 1840, Bytown, with the County of Carleton, which then—with the exception of the townships of North Elmsley, North Burgess, and North Crosby, then in Leeds, and Montague, Marlborough, North Gower and Nepean, then in Gren-ville—included the townships now in Lanark (Carleton having been the first named of the second tier of counties in Upper Canada) was in the Bathurst District, of which Perth was the seat of government. This district was comprised of what is now Lanark, Renfrew and Carleton. Prior to 1824 these counties were with Leeds and Grenville, in the Johnstown District, with official headquarters at or near Prescott, a suburb of which, Johnstown, was the first seat of civil government in Ontario.

To Perth, therefore, came all the legal lights of Bytown: J. B. Lewis, Alex. Gibb, J. B. Monk and Robt. Harvey. Other business of various kinds requiring to be transacted at the county seat, brought many other men to Perth, and because they went their wives and daughters went, thus a warm neighborly feeling existed between the two young towns. Our exiles had this in mind,—four years had passed since Bytown had been made the judicial seat for the Dalhousie District, and there had been no occasion for quarterly journeyings to Perth to court, but the old friendliness was kept fresh,—and they felt the remainder of their enforced absence would be shortened by visits with friends of early days, and so it was.

Dr. Powell had written Dr. Christie, commending Margaret to his care, leaving Jean and Jamie easy on that score. They did not try to keep house here; Jamie found a quiet boarding place, thus relieving their minds of this care. Margaret was well enough to "receive" all day if necessary, therefore "what would all them to enjoy themselves?"

There were some very pleasant evening gatherings in the little parlor assigned to their use. One evening they were talking of the building of the canal.

"It is a stupendous piece of work," said Robert Lees. Mr. Lees was from Perth, and Mrs. Lees was a daughter of Sheriff Dickson. "We of this generation who have seen the work done will not appreciate it as will those who come after us."

"There is no doubt of that," said Dr. Christie; "familiarity is apt to breed contempt even with the building of stone walls, but one thing they will not appreciate as we do, the cost of human life and strength at which the work was accomplished."

"That is very true," Mr. Lees said; "of course there is bound to be a higher rate of mortality in a new country, but there were times during the building of the canal when it was carnage and plague combined, for they who escaped accident died with fever, and those who were not smitten with fever were killed by accidents."

"I remember an occasion up at Cranberry Lake when Col. By nearly lost his life," remarked Dr. Christie; "he was paddling close in and some men in another canoe stepped out on what they supposed was solid surface; in an instant they went down into a blue mire that emitted a most noisome odor; several of the men died—and we had hard work to save Col. By—from a pestilence that seized them."

"I'll mind aince at Jones' Falls there's no' a mon till gie anither a drop o' water," said Jamie, "ilka ane o' them 's shakin' wi' ague."

"I remember that well," Dr. Christie said, "even the doctors were down; none of us had easy berths those days; it is to be hoped the rising generation will sometimes give us old chaps a passing thought when we've gone to that bourne from which no traveller ever returns."

"I am afraid they are far more likely to accept everything as either a matter of course or as their just due, and find no occasion whatever to reflect on its origin," remarked J. B. Lewis, who had just come in.

Each of the men had thought to himself : "It is going to be lonesome for McAlpin down there with a sick wife, I will just drop in and cheer him up a bit,'' and here they were three of them; the others laughed when Mr. Lewis came in, and each told of his neighborly efforts. Jean was sitting upstairs with Margaret, leaving the men to a quiet chat over their pipes. Their neighborly forethought was certainly not misplaced, Jamie was feeling the strain of the last year's anxiety, and the change in mode of living; he would be glad enough to have the reins over his shoulders and the plough handles in his hands once more. As to how much of the solicitude for Jamie's well-being was due to unadulterated neighborliness, and how much to the fact that he was a freeholder, a free and independent elector, we will not inquire; if the pudding taste good, that is sufficient for the consumer; it is unwise to be too particular as to what's intil't.

Naturally the conversation drifted into recollections of the days when barristers and litigants had to betake themselves to Perth when disputes could only be settled by that mysterious process called law. It was—in the thirties—a trip not easily or quickly made, nearer sixty than fifty miles, over the road cut by the Ninety-ninth Regiment in eighteen hundred and eighteen from Richmond Landing (now the Ottawa Navigation Company's wharf) to the Second Military Settlement, now the Village of Richmond, thence to Franktown (where there was from 1818 to 1824 a Government Store), and to Perth; and halting as the narrative is, it is smoother than was the road over which they had to travel. Yet many trips were made ; wives accompanying their husbands, oftener on horseback than in vehicles ; instances are on record where one horse carried both, the wives riding on pillows behind their lords. And still other instances where prospective benedicts took the lady of their choice "up behind" after the manner of Jock o' Hazeldean and galloped away a day's journey after a priest's blessing.

Need we wonder then that those who had lived through this should at the dawn of another day which promised better things, look backward lingeringly, lovingly at the past in which they had conquered nature and controlled circumstances.

"One hundred years from now Perth will be a town of many memories," Mr. Lewis is saying, "men who have done yeoman service in the building up of a thousand square miles of territory have met there, in the years to come when the three counties become populous, and the descendants of the pioneers numerous as the sand on the sea shore the notable gatherings that took place there will be something for those then living in Perth to speak of with pride."

Perth has played an important part in the history of the Ottawa Valley," said Dr. Christie, "and rough as the road was, we were none of us sorry when an occasion there demanded our presence.''

"My father often used to tell of the gathering the first day Court was held in Perth—E. G. Mallock, Judge ; James H. Powell, Sheriff; George Hume Reade, Clerk of the Peace; John Watson, Treasurer; C. H. Sache, Registrar; E. J. Hubbell, Surrogate Judge; and some minor officials—there was a constable named Thornton, a good man who had some hard work at various times------"

"Excuse me a minute, Lees," Mr. Lewis said, "I remember hearing a funny incident in connection with Thornton's duties. He was sent over into Sherbrooke after a man; there was no wagon road, and Thornton had to go on horseback, and coming back had to take his man on the horse with him. Night overtook them; the horse got mired, and the prisoner dismounted and helped extricate the animal; in groping round to try and find a firmer road they either lost the horse or themselves, and had to stay in the swamp all night. At daybreak they proceeded, but the officer had become so cramped by the all-night exposure in the wet he could not walk without assistance. This the prisoner cheerfully rendered. The offender was so impressed with the majesty of the law, and the strong personality of the constable, he never once thought of doing other than the way he did, supporting his custodian all the way until they reached town, where they could both be taken care of.''

"I'll mind th' time," Jamie said, "'twas a wee bit mistake th' mon 'd mad' b' no' unerstaunin' th' law. I was in toun mysel' when they cam' in; hoo aebody stared; we'll a' pit thegither 'n paid th' mon's fine, Duer's his name, 'n Thornton ne'er chairged f'r th' trip."

"I was going to remark," began Mr. Lees again, "when all these officials were sworn into office, and the settlers on the Rideau, instead of having to go abroad to transact business would have others from less favored communities come to them, there is no doubt but 'pride of place' (with apologies to William Shakespeare) 'nearly desthroyed thim,' as one of the passengers of the Duke of Buckingham forcibly remarked."

"Coming from bailiwicks, whose records reached back to the ninth century, it is a matter of no surprise that simply "setting eyes" on the men who first administered the statutes made and provided in any one district, should be a distinction not to be spoken of lightly, but by-and-bye to be handed down in story to future generations," Dr. Christie said.

"Ye'll hae a braw toun yersels," said Jamie.

Ah ! this was a theme either one of the three visitors could enlarge on, a theme that had a present interest for them.

"I doubt if on the continent there is another such a spot," said J. B. Lewis; "it was designed by nature for the capital of a great nation. It is far enough inland to be comparatively safe from attack; from the north it is impregnable for a mile stretch."

"Yon lads 't Taranta 'n Montreal 'll no' let ye hae 't," remarked Jamie.

"That is one point in our favor; both Toronto and Montreal will work so hard the choice between them will not be easily made," said Mr. Lees.

"Ye'll hae th' makin' o' a ceety wi' yon water power gin th' Queen 'll no' let ye have th' Guver-ment here," Jamie said.

"That is good of you, McAlpin," said Mr. Lewis; "that is the point we want to make. We are only in our swaddling clothes yet, but what we are trying to establish is that we are going to be the London of America. We have not a Governor Simcoe to lay out and foster a town for us as Toronto had, but we claim to have natural advantages that cannot be suppressed."

"You ought to be able to peer into the future, McAlpin," said Mr. Lees; "you are a Highlander; cannot you see something of what Bytown is going to be?"

"I'll ne'er claimed ony geeft o' second sicht," said Jamie; "aiblins sin' I'll be awa' frae hame, wi' naething till tak' my mind ony wearyin' ower th' gudewife's sorra; whiles tryin' till keep my mind so 't Marget 'll no' ken I'm wearyin', I'll hae sort o' dreams, wi' thinkin' an' thinkin' o' things roun' whaur I'll be wanderin' in thae bit walks I'll tak' awa' ower th' banks 'n braes."

"Tell us some of them, McAlpin," said Dr. Christie.

"They're ony juist bit fancies," said Jamie, disclaiming any "pooer."

"Never mind," Mr. Lees said, "you may have a prophetic eye without knowing it."

"Yes, let us have them, providing they are good," said Mr. Lewis; "they will give us some encouragement."

Jamie was wishing he had been more reticent, but there was no help for it now, some of the story at least must be told.

"Weel," Jamie began, "gin I'll maun tell 't, th' first walk I'll took I'll cam' awa' oop by ower th' brig ye'll ca' Sappers' 'n gaed doon th' road ye'll ca' Wellington till the brig ower yon fa' o' watter; I'll be lookin' at 't a' th' whiles 's I'll gang doon th' road; before ere I'll got t' th' brig I'll hear th' whizz o' macheenery, saws buzzin' 'n looms gaein' click-ety-click, 'n I'll thocht till mysel' thae's gude, 't 'll be maist like Glesca; thae lads 'r dooin' weel ower there, an' I wus no' mindin' aething else; whiles I'll gie m' eyes 'n oop lift 'n there wus ships frae th' ocean, ships staunin', an' ships coomin' in 'n ships ganging oot; the's loadin' 'n unloadin' at th' muckle wharfs like's they did at Greenock. I'll said till mysel' ' hoo did ye get here?'-------" Jamie stopped for breath.

"Go on, go on, McAlpin, you are doing well yourself," said the others in chorus.

"I'll no' ken if I'll ought till tell ye mair, happen 't 'll be ony foolishness," Jamie said.

"It is good enough to believe, go on."

"Weel, th' next time I'll cam' ower th' Sappers' brig I'll gang oop on till th' barrack hill. Th's no' ony body roond 'n the's plenty o' tree stumps, so I'll sit doon a bit; I'll happen wus thinkin' o' th' castle at Edenboro', for whiles buildin's sprang oop a' aroun' 'n men wi' grave faces 'n lang black coat-ies walked oop th' fine path, whiles cairrages cam' by; no' sae mony men an' no' sae mony cairrages at first, an' no' sae graun'; aiblins I'll bide a wee 'n watch, whiles they'll cam' thicker 'n graunder, frae whaur th' sun 'll rise 'n frae whaur th' sun 'll set, 'n frae th' far frozen north ; a bit whiles langer I'll bided 'n I'll see thae coom frae th' orange groves; a braw chiel stood on a high oop place 'n said alood 'we'll be a' here,' an' like ane mon speakin' in a michty voice I'll could hear 'Canada, Canada,, Canada.'"


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