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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter XIX - Westward Ho

THE terminal year of our farm lease at last had come, and the question of renewal which, for years, had been, with our household, an anxious matter for discussion, now demanded immediate settlement. Some six years previously, my father had purchased in Canada a hundred acre bush farm, and the thought of being able to make our home in such a possession, free from rent and expiring leases, had appealed strongly to the imagination of every one of our household. Now rumour had it that our proprietor, with the consent of his interested heirs, had succeeded in releasing from entail, or as Burns would have it: "Riving his father's auld entails," in respect of that portion of his estate situated in Cromar, and that our farm, together with all those in that district, was to be sold.


In regard to a change of proprietor such as that would involve, the general experience amongst tenants had been that the new lairds were less considerate of their tenants than had been the old hereditary aristocracy, who were reputed to have retained a sort of fatherly interest in their tenantry from generation to generation. The Cromar estate was soon purchased by an English lawyer of the name of Coltman, an estimable gentleman, I believe, who probably knew little of the conditions of his new tenants or their peculiar needs. For him, it must be said that he purchased the estate with a statement in his hand, prepared by expert valuators employed by the vendor, making their appraisal of the amount of yearly rental which might be reasonably expected from the several farms on the estate. That valuation may have been high, but most likely the purchaser had depended upon it in making the purchase. My father, at least, had the offer of renewal in terms of the appraised valuation, and I am not aware that in any case was demand made for rental in excess of the amount thereby indicated. If, therefore the rents were excessive, the responsibility therefor would seem to rest not less upon the former proprietor than upon his successor. Indeed it may well be that, to the former, through the increased price realized, may have accrued most, if not all of the benefit arising from the increased rental.

Mother was very unwiIling to cut herself off from touch with her sole surviving sister and the scenes and surroundings of her youth, and father therefore did his best to find another farm in the county that would suit. One such appeared to be the farm of "The Knock" on which stood the remains of an old castle of that name already referred to. The owner of this farm was The Prince of Wales, the future Edward the Seventh. Dr. Robertson, the Prince's Factor, would fain have favoured my father, whom he well knew, but a wealthy competitor had offered a higher rent than had my father, which, when both were submitted to the Prince, was by him naturally accepted. Another farm in the Buchan District became available at a rental that seemed reasonable, but, on second thought it was declined.

At that time, land hunger in Scotland was exceedingly acute, and the acquirement of a suitable farm extremely difficult, and generally called for a lengthened period of waiting, such as none of us was disposed to put in exercise. So, at once arrangements were made for a displenish sale of goods and chattels, and our passages were booked for the Port of Quebec and the town of Chatham in Upper Canada.


Some of childhood's pleasing memories are associated with Samuel Innes, the elder, who in his earlier days had been tenant and operator of the oat-meal-mill at Logie, but by the time that I remember him, had retired to the farm known as as "The Moston o' Blelack" which is still occupied by his grandson George Innes. I can remember and still appreciate his kindness to the three oldest of our family in inviting us yearly to a feast of apples from his garden, apples trees being then rather rare in that locality.


In Mr. Innes' early days, there was residing on the farm of Tamoolachie, across the burn from Newkirk, a man whose name I have forgotten, but who, having been in his earlier days a coppersmith, bore the cognomen of "Copra." For some time Copra had been insistently inviting Mr. Innes and another young friend to make him a fore-nicht visit. At length, the two friends made their call and, probably, as a joke, prolonged their stay beyond what their host, at least, deemed reasonable. By and by Copra began to make signs of impatience to which his visitors seemingly paid no attention. Patience, at last exhausted. Copra determined to give them such a hint that, dull, as they seemed to be, they could not fail to understand. Taking down his Bible for family worship, he selected as appropriate to the occasion the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs, in reading which, he put special and unmistakable emphasis on the 17th verse, which, in the authorized version, then alone in use, reads, "Remove thy foot from thy neighbour's house, lest he weary of thee and so hate thee." No doubt the visitors had immediately left, nor need it be doubted that host and visitors had parted in terms of good-will and with feelings, respectively that the forenicht, from its commencement to its spectacular conclusion, had been, in all respects, most satisfactory.

In his own pawky way, Mr. Innes was famed for pithy expressions, some of which, such as "Tak nae reproof for sids," were reminiscent of his former occupation, "sids" being the Scotch or local technical term for the coarse outer oat shell which was removed from the previously roasted grain in its initial passage through the mill, the narrow space between the upper and nether mill-stones, being, for that passage, specially adjusted to prevent the crushing of the kernel. Two of Mr. Innes' sons remained with him on the farm, John, ultimately becoming the tenant, while the father and Samuel junior remained with him till each, in turn, was removed by death.

The younger Samuel was bright and intellectual, and was an excellent singer. He held the office of Poor Inspector for the parish for many years, and died while in that office in 1865. In early life, he had by some means, come in contact with Sir Isaac Pitman's system of short-hand writing and perfected himself in that art. To him, I owe my introduction to short-hand and still possess in his hand-writing several exercises which he had written out for me. His brother John who succeeded him in the office of Poor Inspector did not long survive him. He was a splendid specimen of manhood, physically, but fell a victim to pneumonia two years after our leaving for Canada.

John's wife was a Miss Davidson. She survived her husband over thirty years and welcomed us on our visit to Scotland in 1.908. Her father had been a soldier who had gone through the Peninsular war, and escaped Waterloo so narrowly that he was on the field next day assisting in the interment of the slain. He used to tell that in those days of slow-firing weapons, when formed to receive cavalry, he had had the plumes of his headgear cut by the horsemen's sabres, but that they had never been able to reach his scalp.

Another military pensioner, who lived in the same locality, whose name I have forgotten, was wont to relate with great enthusiasm, one stirring experience in that fateful struggle which I imagine had reference to the final charge which culminated in the rout of the enemy and the down-fall of the first Napoleon. That veteran I never saw, but his description, as reported by my father, was somewhat as follows:—"As the French Came up in imposing array and in overwhelming numbers, the order came to charge. Well, I thought, we may charge aince but it will be the last. Just then, the Scotch Greys galloped up from behind with a tremendous cheer, 'Hurrah, Scotland forever yet boys!' That put courage into every heart and in a minute there was a Frenchman on every 'begnot' " (bayonet).

With the fall of Napoleon passed from the fields of Continental Europe at least for a time, the tread of armed men and the shouting of the Captains, but, over Cromar as over the rest of the Kingdom, stalked ingloriously the ravaging stride of intemperance. True it is that many earnestly desired and valiantly struggled for freedom from the devastating yoke, but the chosen ground of defence, at the best, was that of moderation which meant only neutrality and frequent defeat.

A little before my day, on a farm to the south of, and immediately' adjoining our own, was an oat-meal-mill, of which the miller-tenant was James Robertson. Though steady and temperate in the main, Robertson had yielded to the enemy so far as to sometimes overstep the bounds of moderation and to become intoxicated. Of him the story is told that on one occasion, at a Tarland market, he had been drinking with a number of his cronies, as was the custom, and towards night found himself in a crowd of his own class, who for the time had cast off all pretence of prudence and self-restraint. By and bye the fun became fast and furious, when one still retaining some semblance of sobriety, ventured to express the wonder as to what their wives would think of them should they see them now! One brave man said that if his wife should show herself here he would thrash her. Newton was man enough to say that if his wife should come in, he would go right home with her, though she was but a little body. Poor woman I knew her well. During a great part of her widowhood she suffered grief of heart over the intemperate habits of her son, who, however was always kind to her and who, eventually, though after his mother's death, abandoned his intemperate habits.

Mrs. Robertson lived by thy side of the road and we, as children, were allowed the run of the house as we passed on the way to and from school. Proceeding playfully and loiteringly along the short distance to her home, we would become doubtful as to what trick Father Time might have played upon us, and therefore must needs check him up by Mrs. Robertson's clock which stood in the ben or parlour end of the house, into which we nevertheless would enter with all the freedom and assurance that pertains to ownership. But whether our wanton intrusion was into the ben end to ascertain the time or consult the barometer as to weather risks and probabilities, or into the but end whence we would filch from its nail the drinking mug to quench our thirst at the pump by•the door, never, by word or look was manifested by Mrs. Robertson or her daughter the slightest indication of either irritation or disapproval.

The atmosphere is full of voices from the near and far—sometimes recognizable and sometimes not. An unknown man, anxious to maintain a reputation for valour which he did not merit, was, to all appearance, "spoiling" for a fight. Some women tried to hold him back, but as he struggled to enter the fray one of them said "If he wants to fight let him try it." Then the poor man realizing his situation ceased his struggling and proffered to his lady friends the humble request "Haud me an' I winna be ill to baud."

A domestic in grandfather Farquharson's house, whose efficiency as a cook would sometimes be called in question, would justify her inefficiency in words which my father would sometimes playfully use as a proverb "Little meat an' ill made ready ser's a lot o' folk."

Tradition had it that some generations back from mine, the Marquis of Huntly invited the Presbytery of Kincardine O'Neil to dinner with the deliberate purpose of making them drunk. To accomplish his design he put a quantity of strong but well mellowed spirits into the beer that was served on the table. Thus deceived, all but one are said to have fallen into the trap and to have become drunk. On the way home two of them had an altercation so hot that one, the minister of Birse, threw off his coat and addressing it said: "Lie ye there diveenity till Geordie Smith defen' himsel'."

Current in my day, though originating at a much earlier date, was an unlocalized story of a minister who, from the pulpit, on a Sunday morning had given out so many verses of a psalm to be sung. The precentor raised the tune and led the congregation till the appointed portion was completed and then sat down. Soon noticing that the minister was not proceeding with the service, he resumed his duty and led the congregation to the end of the psalm. When that had been accomplished and still no word from the pulpit, he turned to the minister and said "It's deen sir." From the pulpit then came the drowsy response: "If it's a' deen that's i' the bottle, here's plenty mair i' the black pig" (jug).

It is to he hoped that no such thing ever took place in reality, but, in the 18th century and even later there were ministers capable of acting such a part. Indeed my father used to tell of an experience of his own early in the 19th century, in which a minister acted a part not less unbecoming the sanctity of his calling. My father had occasion to put up for the night at an inn where, as was usual, intoxicating liquors were sold. About midnight, he was aroused by a wordy altercation at the door in which angry voices were heard. A number of drunk men were demanding entrance, with threats of tearing down the license sign should entrance be refused. In reply to his question in the morning as to who the disturbers had been, the girl waiting at the table replied "Wha but oor minister and some o's elders."

From the Parish of Birse across the Dee, conics another story that would seem to be illustrative of the existence of conditions there not unlike those referred to by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Church at Corinth. The minister is represented as reproving his people for partaking with unseemly copiousness of ;he wine at the Communion Table, using in his indictment the words "And you Communicants i' the west laft are clean cal oot." From that originated one of the peculiar expressions of Cromar: "Clean cap oot like the communicants o' Birse."

If such things were possible in both pulpit and pew, we may reserve some pity for poor Geordie Pirie, a carpenter whose business had been suffering from his unsteady drunken habits. Unexpected encouragement had come to him through his being employed to make a coffin for a deceased neighbour, which good fortune he must celebrate by having a dram. To be satisfied with one glass was for him impossible, and the result was that his engagement was, for the time, forgotten. Wakening up at last to consciousness, he set to work with a will and hastily finishing his job, immediately set about delivering the goods. On the way he was met by the funeral procession. His inward thoughts may be imagined, but with all the brazen assurance of the drink addict, he declared his consciousness of at least one rag of remaining virture, by exclaiming "Here comes drunken Geordie Pirie slow but sure." Thence originated another Cromar expression by which the name of poor Geordie is unworthily commemorated: "Like drunken Geordie Pirie, slow but sure."

Over the field of life flauntingly rise and bloom the weeds, unneighbourly, aggressive, noxious and useless whose seeming glory holds for :a time, the vision, but soon, by evil fruitage, the vileness of their character is disclosed, and the falsity of their spring-time beauty and promise thenceforth bring but loathing and contempt. Then is made the discovery that all over the field, unnoticed by the careless beholder, the ground had all the time, been covered by the mode4st daisy and the sweet forgetmenot. To the ear attuned to the celestial harmony, other song: than those of the drunkard, are ever rising heavenward. At the worst are found representatives of the seven thousand who have not lowed the knee to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him. Such was the Cromar of the past. Intemperance and other immoralities abounding to the eye and the ear that watched for their manifestation, while to those whose tastes and inclination were towards the good, would be revealed a community that in large measure, sought after and walked in the way of righteousness. Faults and blemishes there were, but, with all its faults, I love it still.


The long anticipated hour of parting was just at hand. At Mr. Michie's residence (closing for us a series of sociable gatherings which had gladened hearts and cemented friendships during recent years) was held a farewell meeting which broke up as early morn was opening her doors for the out-marching of the Lord of day. With my brother James and me, came home our good boyhood friend David Stewart, of Newkirk, fresh home from his studies in Aberdeen, to share with us for a couple of hours, our hay-loft-bed accommodation, bereft as it had become since the recent sale, of the familiar sounds and signals of our former brute companions below. We talked much but did not sleep, and about five o'clock in the morning got up to join, by appointment, the Newkirk contingent, in a farewell visit to the top of Morven. The morning was bright and warm, but, as we ascended the temperature gradually decreased, till, near the top, we unexpectedly found ourselves in a field of snow which had not been visible till our near approach. In the forenoon we returned to go our several ways to the duties of the day. Already were waiting for James and me some of the patrons of our recent sale expecting delivery of their respective purchases. To these I struggled hard to give the needed attention, conscious that as I walked and talked, overmastering sleep was holding fast the longer spaces of my blinking rationality.

The rest is soon told. Our aunt Mary, formerly of Knock-soul, had hospitably opened for us her new home at Pittentaggart, where we made our headquarters, pending our departure for our home across the sea. From there a few of us went to bid farewell to our relatives and friends, the Gordons of Aucholzie. After a brief visit, the fervent adieus had been spoken, and, in softened mood, we had just reached the highway on our homeward journey, when we were met by our uncle David Fletcher accompanied by a younger man whom we did not recognize. Soon we found that the stranger was no other than our uncle Rev. Wm. Fletcher, of whom we had heard much from our mother. He had come from Canada to redeem an old promise made to her,—which she did not seem to have taken seriously at the time,—that when she was ready to come to Canada, he would return to see her safely across the ocean. He appeared younger than I had expected and seemed glad to be home again and to be reunited for even one short week, with the surviving members of his family from whom he had been separated for a quarter of it century.

Our passage had been taken on board the S. S. St. Andrews of the Allan Line which was to sail from Glasgow on the 6th of June (1866). Aunt Mary had invited a party to meet us about the first of that month, at which a large number of our friends were present, and at it many other "Good-byes" were spoken. On Saturday the second, I was sent on to Glasgow ahead of the others, to look after the luggage. On my way to the railway station at Aboyne, I called, by previous arrangement at Newkirk for my good friend David Stewart who had offered to accompany me to the station on foot. His mother greeted me with her usual heartiness, saying, "I'm glad to see your bonny face again." That was our last meeting. Before my return in 1873 to form a closer alliance with her family, she had gone to the land %where sorrow and partings never come.

Having seen me safe on board the train, David took his eight miles homeward tramp alone, while I in due time reached Aberdeen and received as usual a most hearty welcome from aunts Margaret and Jane and cousin Annie, with whom I spent a pleasant Sunday and left on Monday morning for Glasgow. In Glasgow I was hospitably entertained by cousin John Watson. On Wednesday I was joined by the rest of our party, consisting of our neighbour John McCombie and family, uncle David and family, two Edmonston boys from the farm of Auchnerran, the rest of the Farguharsons and along with them uncle William, who must have been sorry to leave so soon, the haunts and scenes of youth and so many friends so fondly remembered. We numbered, in all, twenty-six.


The sixth of June dawned bright and beautiful, and on the afternoon of a perfect day, anchor was weighed and we steamed down the Clyde in radiant sunshine, between banks attired in their summer best--the perfection of beauty. The tail of the bank was soon reached, and while supplies of coal and water were being taken aboard, our apartments were assigned to us, and our first steerage supper served. The latter consisted of an unpalatable variety of tea, and dry sea-biscuit, which tasted for the first time, seemed to me much superior to their ordinary reputation. Our vessel, as I remember it, was of 1500 tons burden and was propelled by both steam and sails. The weather was favourable all the way, and during the voyage very little occurred to make it in any way remarkable or different from any other voyage of a similar nature, save that to us was given the opportunity of making a call at the island of Newfoundland.

On the sixteenth of June we sighted that island, which, as we drew near, presented a most forbidding appearance. No cultivated field or human habitation met our gaze. For a day or two before, an unverified rumour had been floating that we were to make a call at St. John's, the capital of the island, but, look as we would along all the bleak and rugged coast no place could we see on which a city could find repose. On still nearer approach, however, an opening in the frowning hills began to manifest itself as a possible inlet. At one side of this opening we could, by and by plainly see the remains of a stranded iceberg, and soon it became evident that into this opening, our vessel was being guided. It was indeed the gate-way into the passage known as "The Narrows" which connects the ocean with the easterly end of the beautiful and spacious harbour of St. John's. This harbour is sheltered from ocean storms by the intervening rocky ridge which to the north of the Narrows rises to the height of 620 feet, and to the south thereof to a height of 520 feet. The Narrows at the entrance are 1400 feet, and at the narrowest point, only 600 feet in width, but both Narrows and harbour are of sufficient depth at lowest tides, to accommodate the largest ocean vessels.

Under the protection of the guns by which the heights on either side are surmounted, we found ourselves, at noon of a bright sunny Saturday safely moored in the harbour above described. Around us, in the sunshine were plying pleasure crafts of all descriptions, while, along the quay were crowds of sightseers attired in holiday garb which to our eyes seemed suitable only for the tropics. Assured that our stay would exceed an hour, a few of us ventured a little distance beyond the city limits and from observation concluded that agriculture had little opportunity, and was receiving less attention, around St. John's, although, it is said there are large fertile areas inland. Our brief visit was very much enjoyed by us all, and, contrary to our expectations, it was extended to two o'clock on Sunday morning. As night came on, our impressions of peacefulness were rather rudely dispelled. Around us in the steerage had been slumbering, all unsuspected, elements that needed only the touch of opportunity to waken them into unbridled manifestations of evil. Late at night, we could hear numbers of our fellows coming in under the influence of liquor, and giving expression to abominable obscenity. It would seem that in St. John's, as elsewhere, both good and bad can find what they respectively seek.

The object of our call at St. John's was to take on board fifty men of the Hundredth Canadian Regiment, who, probably in view of the Fenian trouble then at its height, were being moved to Canada. Whatever may have been the occasion for the order given for that I~.~rticular transfer, we were, immediately on land tog. met by a street rumour that Montreal had already been taken and that the Fenians were pressing onward toward Toronto. This was too much for credence, and soon we set ourselves right by procuring a newspaper, from which we learned that a Fenian force had indeed made a landing in Canada, but that it had been repelled by the Canadian volunteers, at the cost of several valuable lives. Early on Sunday morning anchor again was weighed, and once more we pursued our westward voyage.
Nothing of special interest occurred until we reached the Gulf of St. Lawrence, when, somewhere off Cape Gaspe, we ran into a fog. For hours the horn sounded intermittently while the movement of the vessel almost entirely ceased. Encircled as we were by this impenetrable mist a cheerless gloom settled on both crew and passengers. At last with dramatic suddenness our fears were dispelled. From his eyrie on the crow's nest the watchman saw above the mists the signals that marked the channel. With the words, "All clear," full steam ahead was ordered and in a few minutes we too had left the fog behind and swept into the cheering sunlight. As we sailed up the river we watched with interest, sometime, the operations of the farm and at other times the process of burning the brush and logs from recent clearings.

In the afternoon of Thursday the 21st of June, we landed at Point Levis, which at that time was the port of landing for all ocean passengers. We did not enter into the city of Quebec, and thus saw only from a distance the field on which the heroic Wolfe and his gallant antagonist Montcalm gave their lives. Our stay at Point Levis was brief, for as soon as we got our baggage checked and food provided for the journey we were ready for a start.

Soon we found ourselves on board a car composing part of a train longer than any I had ever seen before. Our car was of the same construction, as to seating, as the ordinary passenger car in Canada today but the seats had no cushions and the car throughout was void of any pretence of adornment. We left Point Levis about six o'clock in the afternoon. Sometimes we seemed to get along fairly well, but, ever and anon we would be held up at a station, or depot, as such were then called in Canada, and once stopped, there was no saving when we would get off again. Occasionally we would find ourselves going backwards for what seemed an interminable distance, and soon we became convinced that, as to distance carried and time term of house accommodation provided, we were likely to get the full value of our money.

As Friday morning dawned, we found ourselves at a country station where we were glad to hear for the first time the singing of Canadian birds. Glad, indeed was I, for I had heard that the birds of Canada had little or no song. To be sure, the pibroch melody of the Scottish lark was missing, but the notes rung out were manifold and pleasing.

Looking round, we noticed that in our train were a large number of foreigners. These had left their cars and were washing hands and faces in a little stream near by. In peeping into one of their cars, I noticed to my surprise, that it was an ordinary freight car, in which some rude pretence of seating accommodation had been improvised but no sanitary arrangements had been provided. I felt sorry for the poor people, and yet not sorry enough, I am afraid, to evoke any real regret that, on the previous evening, I had felt glad when our conductor had forbidden some of them entry into our car though it was not more than comfortably filled.

Our company, young and old, had wakened bright and early to their dry breakfast of bread and butter or cheese when Geordie Edmondston quick to take in the situation, hurriedly left the car, as it stood on a siding, and pail in hand, approached a girl who was in a nearby field milking a cow, and negotiated with her for a liberal supply of milk so precious to the little ones. That supply gladdened the hearts of all, and the kind and thoughtful act has lived in my memory, as a green spot, ever since. That long day dragged itself to its close, and the wearied travellers composed themselves for the uncertain slumbers of the night, on the softest board that might offer support therefor. The older ones kept their seats, but the little ones instinctively sought the floor, all unswept and dust-laden as it was. Through the night, poor Geordie Fletcher, then a little boy, was missing, and his mother, aunt Becky, wakened tip in great alarm. She feared, and not without reason, that he might have wandered out in his sleep and fallen off the train. For a few minutes there was consternation, but, soon Geordie was found at he rear end of the car, stretched at full length on the floor, and fast asleep.


On Saturday night, about dark, we reached Toronto, even then a considerable city. Our special train was not further available, and we were inconsiderately left to shift for ourselves, as best we could, over Sunday. Our family was most hospitably entertained by our good friends Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, the latter being a niece of grandfather Stewart with whom we attended church and heard Dr. Topp preach.

On Monday morning, we bade our generous hosts "Goodbye," and found, on reaching the station, that there was no special train available for our use, and that it would therefore be necessary to content ourselves with an ordinary first-class car! In it we found soft-cushioned seats, and luxury, such as we had never before indulged in. It seemed to us that journeying in such luxuriance, might be carried on indefinitely. Without weariness or discomfort. Such is life. Some limitation binds us and we feel sure that if relieved from its restraint and made possessor of some such liberty or potency as is possessed by some one else, our cup of happiness would be full. Vain delusion! Happiness and contentment are a condition of mind rather than of circumstance, and will not be induced by the voice of any superficial charmer, charming never so wisely. Our happy experience, though a most welcome change, was short-lived. At Hamilton we were put off to wait for an immigrant train and had to subject ourselves once more to its uncushioned seats, together with the shunting and other delays incident to its lowly class and status as a passenger carrier.

About nine o'clock in the evening, of the same day, we reached Chatham which, by the road then travelled, was 15 miles short of our destination. We put up at what was then known as "Lark's Tavern" and later as "The Park House." In the morning; we were surprised to find that uncle John Fletcher, with his light wagon was waiting to receive us. A little later, his son William Charles, with two or more of their neighbours, arrived with lumber wagons to bring to their destination, both passengers and baggage. Most of the ladies of our contingent, with the children, were accommodated in the light wagon which was put in charge of Uncle William, while the elder men waited to come later, with the lumber wagons. My brothers James and Charlie, the latter then a sturdy boy of 14, together with the two Edmondston boys and myself, determined to foot it, and so accompanied the light wagon, with which, loaded as it was, and further retarded by the heavy condition of the roads resulting from a thunderstorm of the previous night, we were easily able to keep up. We landed at uncle John's place in the afternoon and were kindly welcomed by cousins Charlotte, John, Helen, and David, and had with them a sumptuous supper on the spacious verandah, getting there our first introduction to corn bread or Johnny cake, done up in its holiday best, which, along with the other good things provided for us, we heartily enjoyed. Later in the evening, the remainder of our crowd, with the lumber wagons, arrived and we spent an enjoyable evening together.

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