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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XVII - Tales of our Childhood

IN the meantime our home was being gladdened by the arrival of little folks whose innocent prattle and bright hopefulness cheered our parents' hearts and inspired them with fresh courage. As already stated my sister Elizabeth and I were born at Tillymutton and in August of our first year at the Parks my brother James appeared on the scene. Other members were from time to time added to the circle. Charlie was six years younger than I while William. Alexander and Maggie successively followed within a period of five years next thereafter. With the exception of little Johnny, whose short pilgrimage of five months was finished in 1860, the family was then complete.

From the time of my first remembered consciousness, our family consisted of three. Of the three, the eldest was the leader. Perhaps she was brighter naturally than her brothers. Certainly her educational progress was more rapid than was either of theirs. While my poor mother was struggling hard to induce me to learn the alphabet, my sister was reading in the New Testament. While I was being dragged painfully and unwillingly along the educational pathway, under the persuasion of Mr. Beattie's tawse, she was eagerly mounting the educational ladder and scanning with eagle eye the heights which were yet beyond her present reach.


During these early days, the burden borne by our parents would seem to have cast its shadow more or less over the spirits of their children though the buoyant hopefulness of childhood is irrepressible. Mother used to tell us that one night when she and father had been discussing their prospects while my brother Jamey and I were in bed, they stopped and listened to our prattle and found that we had been discussing the same question as themselves though from a different angle, and with a more hopeful outlook. It would seem that I had led off with "When I'm a man, I'll learn to be a mason and then I'll build a house for my father for naething." That was pretty good but James would do still better: "When I'm a man," he said, "I'll learn to be a laird, and I'll gie my father a farm for naething."

Meantime, the younger members of our family had been steadily, though almost imperceptibly, growing up, each manifesting an individuality peculiarly his own. Charlie early developed a taste for the use of edged tools, while William took more naturally to books and study. Aleck, keen in sympathy, and strong in resentment against wrong, surveyed his little world and laid schemes for its reformation.


Sometimes a little incident in early life would seem almost prophetic. When a wee boy, William, one day, accompanied his mother to welcome, at the door, our minister, the Rev. Donald Stewart, whose knock had just been heard. On entry, the minister, with his usual courtesy, shook hands, first with mother, and then, in like friendliness, extended his hand to William. The little fellow's response was hearty and immediate, but he had to be reminded that he had proffered the wrong hand. The correction was certainly in order, but William was not convinced that he had made any mistake, and therefore declined compliance in a matter so important until he should have it submitted to a test that would be conclusive. He therefore withdrew, hastily, to the kitchen without a word and there, standing up at the little table at which he and the younger ones were wont to stand at their meals, took hold of a spoon in the accustomed place, and there and thus orientating himself, promptly returned, with beaming face and the pride of an original discoverer, to extend the right hand, and, in orthodox fashion to receive the much respected visitor. Thus, early in life, had William begun to prove all things.


Somewhat earlier and just as William had begun his first feeble attempts to walk, and could barely manage to maintain his own weight and make his way with the help of a steadying hand, he had been delivered to my care by our mother who was, at the time too busy to attend to him. Wee William was then, as in all the stages of his subsequent development and history, he has since continued to be, a special favourite of his eldest brother, but just at that time I had on hand an enterprise to the speeding of which, baby nursing would not be conducive. The care of the baby was not therefore regarded, to say the least, as a special privilege and may have been undertaken that time rather ungraciously, although memory is kind enough to shut her eyes. What I do remember, and never can forget, is that while the baby was contentedly amusing himself in the farm yard, and I near by practising stilt-walking, two or three horses which had probably been confined in the stable for a day or two were let out for exercise, As fast as possible, I made for my charge, and, with what I deemed sufficient promptitude proceeded to guide him on his own little feet to safety, half suspended from a shawl or scarf round his chest, the two ends of which I held in my hands. We had almost crossed the danger zone and were within about ten feet of the gate which led to safety, when a young horse came on us quite unexpectedly, and as he passed us in wild frolic, struck at us with both hind feet with terrible force. I escaped, but little William was struck on the side of the head and was thrown by the impact violently into my arms. I reported what had happened, but no one would believe that the child could have received such a blow as I described and live. My report was therefore attributed to excitement. The poor victim had nothing to say, but in his own mute way, gave evidence that the knowing ones should have been able to interpret. He was immediately seized with severe vomiting which was diagnosed by our elders as bring the effect of fright. So nothing was done for the infant till next day at noon, when sitting at dinner with the baby on her knee, mother happening to bring her hand in contact with his head found that a portion of the rigid skull over the tight ear, yielded to her touch. Our Doctor happened to be passing at the time and was called in. His report was that a blow of like force would have been fatal to a man.

What was, done I do not know, but one part of the prescription was that William must not be crossed, but must be allowed to have his own way till completely recovered. I sometimes had a suspicion at the time that the prescription was being overworked by his parents, and the experience of the years that have since intervened, would seem to justify an enquiry as to what, finally became of that prescription, or more particularly, as to whether it may not have got accidentally into the hand of the patient.

For the older members of the family, school day's were soon over. Our parents would gladly have sacrificed much to have had any or all of their boys take a university education. The advantages of such a course were, at any rate, suggested to, if not pressed upon me by my father. but the joys and freedom of farm life had for me, then, the greater attraction, and so in that direction I turned my face. At the age of thirteen, I was therefore withdrawn from school for a year, and, was destined never to return to it thereafter, with the exception of a winter in Aberdeen, and two winter, more under the tuition of Mr. Michie in the parish school of Coldstone.

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