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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLVI - The Scotch Settlement welcomes its Heroes

WILLIE and 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 the drunkards.

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 procession.

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 arrival.

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 champions.

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 immensely.

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.

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