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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter I


While my mother was a servant in Glasgow she married a soldier. I have only a faint remembrance of my father, of a tall man in a red coat coming to see us in the afternoons and tossing me up and down to the ceiling. I was in my fourth year when his regiment was hurried to Belgium to fight Bonaparte. One day there rose a shout in the streets, it was news of a great victory, the battle of Waterloo. At night mother took me to Argyle street to see the illuminations, and I never forgot the blaze of lights and the great crowd cheering. At the Cross there were men with bottles, drinking the health of Wellington. When my mother caught me up to get past the drunken men she was shivering. Long afterwards, when I was able to put two and two together I understood it was her fear of what had happened father. She went often to the barracks to ask if any word had come, but except that the regiment was in the thick of the fight they could tell nothing. It might be three weeks after the battle that a sergeant came to our room. Mother was out working. He left a paper on the table and went away. When mother came home late, she snatched the paper up, gave a cry that I hear yet, and taking me in her arms fell on the Led and sobbed as if her heart would break. I must have asked her what had happened, for I recall her squeezing me tighter to her bosom and saying My fatherless boy. Long after I met a comrade of my father, who told me he acted bravely all day and was cut down by a dragoon when the French charged on the infantry squares at the close of the battle. My mother got nothing from the government, except the pay that was coming to him, which she told me was 17s 6d.

Mother kept on working, mostly out of door jobs, washing or house-cleaning, a neighbor being asked to look after me. When I got old enough, she would tell me, while I was in bed, where she was going,., and in the evening I would go and meet her. Sometimes, not often, she got sewing to do at home and these were bright days. We talked all the time and she taught me much; not simply to read and write and cast little sums, but about everything she knew My reading book was the gospel of John, which she said was fullest of comfort, and it was then my faith in Christ took root. There could not be a more contented or cheerful mother, and her common expression was that when we did our duty everything was for the best. She had a sweet voice, and when she sang one of Burns’ songs neighbors opened their doors to hear her I was nearly ten when a bad time came. Mills closed, the streets were full of idle workmen, and provisions got dear. Mother got little to do, and I know she often went hungry that I might be fed. She might have got her share of the relief fund, but would not think of t. She told me time and again to be independent. That hard winter made all the families in our close draw nearer to one another, and every hour there was some deed of helpfulness. The best friends of the poor are the poor. We were struggling on, hopeful and unmurmuring, when the word passed from landing to landing one morning that the boy who was sick in the first flat had been visited by a doctor, who said he had typhus. Mother took her turn in sitting up with him at night until he got the turn and it was for the better. It might be a week after, 1 went to meet her on her way home from the place where she had been at work, and saw how slow she walked and the trouble she had in getting up the stair to our room. She gave me my supper and lay down on the bed to rest, for she said she was tired. Next morning she complained of headache and did not rise. Neighbors came in to see her now and then. I stayed by her, she had never been thus before. When it became dark she seemed to forget herself and talked strange. The woman next door gave her a few drops of laudanum in sugar and she fell asleep. When she woke next day she did not know me and was raving. Word was taken to the hospital and a doctor came. He said it was a bad case, and she must be taken to the hospital at once, and he would send the van It came, the two men with it lifted her from her bed and placed her on a stretcher.

A crowd had gathered on the street to see her brought out and placed in the van I thought I -was to go with her. and tried to get on the seat. The helper pushed me away, but the driver bent over and gave me a penny. The horse started and I never saw my mother again. I ran after the van, but it got to the hospital long before I was in sight of it. I went to the door end said I wanted my mother; the porter roughly told me to go away. I waited in front of the building until it got dark, and I wondered behind which of the rows of lighted windows mother lay. When cold to the bone I went back to our room. A neighbor heard me cry and would have me come to her kitchen-fire and she gave me some gruel. Sitting I fell asleep. Next morning I was told I must not go into our room, it was dangerous, so I went to the hospital and waited and watched the people go in and out, One gentleman with a kind face came out and 1 made bold to speak to him. When I said mother had fever he told me nobody could see her, and that she would be taken good care of I thought my heart would burst. I could not bear to stay on the Gallowgate, and so weary days passed in my keeping watch on the hospital. On Sunday coming, the neighbor who was so kind to me, said she would go with me, for they allowed visitors to see patients on Sunday afternoon. We started, I trotting cheery in the thought I was about to see my mother. The clerk at the counter asked the name and disease. He sail no visitors were admitted to the fever-war i. Could he find out how she was? He spoke into a tin tube and coming hack opened a big book. ‘She died yesterday,’ he said quite unconcerned. I could not help, it, 1 gave a cry and fainted. As we trudged home in the rain the woman told me they had buried her.

I had now no home. The landlord fumigated our room with sulphur, took the ’ittle furniture for the rent, and got another tenant. Everybody was kind but I knew they had not enough for themselves, and the resolve took shape, that I would go to the parish where my mother was born. Often, when we took a walk on the Green, Sunday evenings, she pointed to the hills beyond which her father’s home once was, and I came to think of that country-place as one where there was plenty to eat and coals to keep warm. How to get there I tried to plan. 1 must walk, of course, but how was I to live on the road? I was running messages for the grocer with whom mother had dealt, and he gave me a halfpenny when he had an errand. These I gave to the woman where I slept and who was so kind to me despite her poverty. I was on London street after dark when a gentleman came along. He was half-tipsy. Catching hold of my collar he said if I would get him to his house he would give me sixpence. He gave a number in Montieth row. I took his hand, which -steadied him a little, and we got along slowly, and were lucky in not meeting a policeman. When we got to the number he gave me, I rang the bell. A man came to the door, who exclaimed, At it again! The gentleman stumbled in and I was going away when he recollected me. Fumbling in his pocket, he picked out a coin and put it into my hand, and the door closed. &t the first lamp I looked at it; sure enough, he had given me a sixpence. I was overjoyed, and I said to myself, I can leave for Ayrshire now. I wakened early next morning and began my preparations. I got speldrins and scones, tying them in the silk handkerchief mother wore round her neck on Sunday. That and her bible was all I had of her belongings. Where the rest had gone, a number of pawn-tickets told. I was in a hurry to be off and telling the woman I was going to try the country I bade her goodbye. She said, God help you, poor boy, and kissed my cheek. The bells at the Cross were chiming out The blue bells of Scotland,, when I turned the corner at the Saltmarket.

It was a beautiful spring-day and when I had cleared the city and got right into the country everything was so fresh and pleasant that I could have shouted with joy. The hedges were bursting into bloom, the grass was dotted with daisies, and from the fields of braird rose larks and other birds, which sang as if they rejoiced with me. I wondered why people should stay in the city when the country was so much better It had one draw-back, the country-road was not as smooth as the pavement. There was a cut in my left foot from stepping on a bit of glass, and the dust and grit of the road got into it and gave some pain. I must have walked for three hours when I came to a burn that crossed the road. I sat on a stone and bathed my foot and with it dangling in the water I ate a speldrin and a scone. On starting to walk, I found my foot worse, and had to go slow and take many a rest. When the gloaming came I was on the look out for a place to pass the night. On finding a cosey spot behind a clump of bushes, I took my supper, lay down, and fell asleep, for I was dead weary. The whistling of a blackbird near my head woke me and I saw the sun was getting high. My foot was much worse, but I had to go on. Taking from my bundle of provisions as sparingly as my hunger would let me, I started. It was another fine day and had my hurt foot been well I thought I would reach my mother’s parish before long. I could not walk, I just limped. Carts passed me, but would not give me a lift. My bare feet and head and ragged clothes made them suspicious, and as for the gentlemen in gigs they did not look at me. When I came to spring or burn I put my foot in it, for it was hot and swollen now. At noon I finished the food in my bundle and went on. I had not gone far when I had to stop, and was holding my sore foot in a spring when a tinker came along. He asked what was wrong. Drawing a long pin out of his coat collar he felt along the cut, and then squeezed .it hard. I see it now, he remarked, and fetching from his pouch a pair of pincers he pulled from the cut a sliver of glass. Wrapping the cloth round it he tied it with a bit of black tape, and told me if I kept dirt out it would heal in a day or two. Asking me where I was going, we had some talk. He told me the parish of Dundonald was a long way off and he did not know anybody in it by the name of Askew. I was on the right road and could find out when I got there. He lit his pipe and left me. I walked with more ease, and the farther I went the hungrier I grew. Coming to a house by the side of the road I went to the open door and asked for a cake. I have nothing for beggars, cried a woman by the fire. I am no beggar, I answered, I will pay you, and held out a halfpenny. She stared at me. Take these stoups and fill them at the well. The hill was steep and the stoups heavy, but I managed to carry them back one at a time and placed them on the bench. She handed me a farl of oatcake an l I went away. It was the sweetest bite I ever tasted. It was not nearly dark when I climbed a dyke to get into a sheltered nook and fell asleep. Something soft and warm licking my face woke me. It was a dog and it was broad day. What are you doing here, laddie? said the dog’s master who was a young fellow, perhaps s x or seven years older than myself. His staff and the collie showed me he was a shepherd. I told him who I was and where I was trying to go. Collie again smelt at me and wagged his tail as if telling his matter 1 was all right. I went with the lad who said his name was Archie. He led to where his sheep were and we sat down in the sunshine, for it was another warm day. We talked and we were not ten minutes together when we liked each other. He unwrapped from a cloth some bannocks and something like dried meat, which he said was braxie.

It was his noon-bite, but he told me to eat it for he said, We go back to the shelter today, and by we he meant collie. He had been lonesome and was glad of company and we chattered on by the hour. At noon, leaving collie n charge of the sheep, we went to the hut where he stayed and had something to eat. He said his father was shepherd to a big farmer, who had sent him with two score of shearling ewes to get highland pasture. We talked about everything we knew and tried to make each other laugh. He told me about Wallace, and we gripped hands on saying we would fight for Scotland like him, and I told him about Glasgow, where he had not been. A boy came with a little basket and a message. The message was from his father, that he was to bring the sheep back early on Monday, and the basket was from his mother with food and a clean shirt for the Sabbath. We slept on a sheepskin and wakened to hear the patter of rain. After seeing his sheep an i counting them, Archie said we must keep the Sabbath, and when we had settled in a dry corner of the hillside he heard me my questions. I could not go further than Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect? but he could go on to the end. Then I repeated the three paraphrases my mother had taught me, but Archie had nearly all of them and several psalms. A shepherd would be tired if he did not learn by heart, he said; some knit but I like reading best Then he took my mother’s bible and read about David And Goliath. That over we started to sing. Oh we had a fine time, and when a shower came

Archie spread his plaid like a tent over the bushes and we sat under it. He told me what he meant to do when he was a man. He was going to Canada and get a farm, and send for the whole family. A* we snuggled in for the night, he told me he would not forget me and he was glad collie had nosed me out in the bushes. If I found in the morning he was gone, I was to take what he left me to eat. Sure enough I slept in; he was gone with the sheep. I said a prayer for him and took the road.

It was shower and shine all day. I footed on my way as fast as I could, for the cut was still tender. Towards night I neared a little village and saw an old man sitting on the doorstep reading. I asked him if I was on the right road to Dundonald. He replied I was, but it was too far away to reach before dark, and he put a few questions to me. Asking me to sit beside him we had a talk. Did you ever see that book? holding out the one he was reading. ‘It is A Cloud of Witnesses, and gives the story of the days of persecution. I wish every man in Scotland knew what it contains, for there would be more of the right stuff among us. I was just reading, for the hundredth time, I suppose, the trial of Marion Harvie. and how he who was afterwards James King of England consented to send her, a poor frail woman, to the gallows. Frum the Covenanters he passed to politics. He was a weaver and did not like the government, telling me, seeing where I &»me from, I must grow up to be a Glasgow radical. Seeing I was homeless, he said he would fend me for the night, and, going into the house, he brought out a coggie of milk and a barley scone. When I had finished, he took me to the byre and left me in a stall of straw, telling me to leave early for his wife hated gangrel bodies and would not, when she came in, rest content, if she knew there was anybody in the stable. When daylight came it was raining. I started without anybody seeing me from the house. I was wet to the skin, but I trudged on, saying to myself every now and then You’re a Scotchman, never say die. There were few on the road, and when I met a postman and asked how far I was from Dundonald, his curt reply was, You are in it. I was dripping wet and oh so perished with cold and hunger that I made up my mind to stop at the first house I came to. As it happened, it was a farm-house a little bit from the road. I went to the kitchen-door where there was a hen trying to keep her chicks out of the rain. There were voices of children at play and of a woman as if crooning a babe to sleep. I stood a while before I ventured to knock. There was no answer and after waiting a few minutes I knocked again. A boy of my own age opened the door. An old woman came towards me and asked what I wanted. I am cold, I said, and, please, might I warm myself? She was deaf and did not catch what I said. ‘Whose bairn are you?’ she asked me. ‘Mary Askew’s,’ I replied. I noticed the younger woman who had the child in her lap fixed her gaze on me. Where are you from?’ grannie asked. From Glasgow and I am so cold. Laying down the child in the cradle, the younger woman came to me and sitting on a stool took my hands. ‘Where did your mother belong?’ she asked in a kind voice. ‘She came from the parish of Dundonald.’ ‘And where is your father?’ ‘He is dead.’ ‘And is your mother in Glasgow ?’ 'She died in the hospital,’ and the thought of that sad time set the tears running down my cheeks. ‘You poor motherless bairn!’ she exclaimed, ‘can it be you are the child of my old school companion? Have you any brothers or sisters?’ ‘No, I have nobody in the world. ‘Did your mother leave you nothing?’ In iry simplicity, not understanding she meant worldly gear, I untied my bundle, uncovered the cloth I had wrapped round it to keep it dry, and handed her the bible. She looked at the writing. ‘I remember when she got it, as a prize for repeating the 119th psalm without missing a word.’ Putting her arms round my neck she kissed me and holding me to the light she said ‘You have your mother’s eyes and mouth.’

The boy and girl took me to the fire, and, when grannie was got to understand who I was, she bustled round to heat over some of the broth left from dinner and while it was warming the little girl forced her piece into my mouth. The other boy came to me full of curiosity. Feeling my legs he whispered, ‘You’re starvit.’ By-and-by a cart drove into the yard. It was the master with his hired man. When he was told who I was, he called me to him and patted me on the head. That night

I slept with Allan, the name of the older boy. His brother’s name was Bob, and the girl’s Alice. The baby had not been christened. The name of the master of the house was Andrew Anderson.


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