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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter III


There were 43 passengers. There were two families besides our own, and outside of them were a number of young men, plowmen and shepherds, intent on getting land and sending for their people to join them the next spring. There was an exception in a middle-aged man, brisk and spruce, who held himself to be above his fellow-passengers, and said nothing about where he came from or who he was. The only information he gave was, that he had been in the mercantile line, and that he was to be addressed as Mr Snellgrove. He waved his right hand in conversation and spoke in a lofty way, which to Allan and myself was funny. When he had got his sealegs and his appetite, he began lecturing the passengers as to what they ought to do, enlarging on organizing a committee, of which he was to be head. I think I see him, strutting up and down the deck by the side of the captain with whom it gratified him to walk. The only other passenger besides him who was not connected with farming was Mr Kerr to whom I became much attached. He was well-informed on subjects I had heard of but knew nothing, and we talked by the hour. His companionship was to me an intellectual awakening. Among his purchases in Troon was material for a suit of clothes, which he made during the voyage, for he was a tailor. He had left Greenock in such haste that he had not time to go to his lodging for any of his belongings. Mr Snellgrove affected to despise him both for his trade and his political principles, and never missed an opportunity to sneer at him; Mr Kerr never replied.

Day followed day without relieving the monotony. At times we could get a glimpse of the topsails of a ship gliding along the horizon, but usually the ocean seemed to have no other tenant than our own stout brig. One afternoon the cook rushed out of his den with the shout ‘There she spouts!’ and looking where he pointed we saw a whale cleaving the waves. We were in our third week out when we ran into a fog. The wind fell and the brig rolled in the swell, causing her tackle to rattle and sails to flap as if they would split. The second day the fog was thicker, and the ocean smooth as glass. For fear of collision with another ship, the lookout man kept blowing a horn, which had a most dismal sound. The captain and mate tried to get the sun at noon but could not find the faintest trace. After dinner a gull flew past, which made the cook say he smelt danger. A few were below but the most of us were on deck when a slight bump was felt and then another. The rattling in the rigging stopped and the ocean swell broke on our stern. The mate rushed to the companion scuttle and shouted to the captain, that the ship was grounded!, In a minute he appeared, his face white and twisted with anguish. His anxiety was not alone for the passengers and crew but for himself. He was owner of the brig and it she was wrecked he was ruined. The mate was casting the lead and when he shouted ‘We are on a sandbank’ there was a sigh of relief deepened by the carpenter’s report that the ship was not making water. Grannie, who had managed to creep up the ladder from the deserted hold, remarked ‘We are sooner in Canada than I expectit.' Her exclamation brought the reaction from our dread and we burst into laughter. ‘It is not Quebec,’ shouted Allan in her ear, ‘we are aground.’ ‘A weel,’ she replied, ‘I will cling to the rock o’ my salvation ’

The order was given to get ready the boats. There were two, the yawl that had been hauled on top of the house on deck, and lay keel up. Oars were mislaid and on hansung her to the davits it was noticed.

in time there was no plug in the hole for drainage. The other boat, which was our reliance, was the long boat abaft the foremast. Its cover was torn off and we saw it was filled with all sorts of odds and ends that had been stored there to be out of the way. These were pitched aside by willing hands and the tackle had been fastened to hoist her overboard, when there was a shout from the fog of Ahoy. We saw o man in yellow oilskins rowing towards us.

Jumping on board, he asked ‘What is keeping you here?’ ‘You tell us,’ replied the captain, who was overjoyed to see him. The fisherman said we had been drifted by the current towards Newfoundland, and had the ship not grounded she would, in a few hours, have been dashed against the cliffs that line the shore and every soul been lost. It was the most wonderful escape he had ever known.

‘How are we to get off?' asked the captain. ‘You will float off when the tide makes.’ ‘And then what will we do if there is no wind?’ ‘You will go on the cliffs, but there will be a capful of wind at ebb tide.’ The captain had sent for his chart, and the fisherman pointed out where the brig stood. He said if a breeze did not come in time for her to make a slant southwards we were to take to the boats and row to the cove which he covered with his thumb. ‘If you can get your anchor over the side, it may help you,’ he added.

He and his comrades were out catching bait. He heard our horn and then saw our lump of a brig loom through the fog. We were sorry to see him leave and row off to his schooner, of which he had the bearings. To hoist the anchor from where it had been stowed when we lost sight of Tory island and put it to the chain was tedious work but it was begun. We waited hopefully for the tide and, sure enough, it lifted us gently. On feeling we were afloat once more we gave a cheer. Soon after a faint breath of air was felt, the ship got steerage way, and we slowly hauled off the dreaded coast. The breeze cleared the fog until in the rays of the setting sun we saw the cliffs against which we might have been shivered and the fishing-boats to which our friend belonged.

On gathering in the hold our talk was of our escape. The master said it was proof to him God was with us; we thought we were lost when we grounded, yet that sandbank was what had saved us. Just then Mr Snellgrove came down the ladder. ‘I have just bade the captain good night,’ he said, ‘and I am authorized by him to inform you all danger is past. Had an executive committee been appointed the moment the vessel struck matters would have gone on with less confusion. We are safe, however. notwithstanding we have a Jonah on board.’

Mr Kerr who was, like all of us, excited by the accident, asked, ‘You mean me?’

‘Yes, you are a fugitive from the justice which would have punished you as you deserve for sedition. The world has come to a strange pass when tailors would dictate to the Powers ordained by God how the realm is to be governed. For one I am loyal to my King and his advisers in all they ordain. England’s glorious bulwark is her throne and the nobility who surround it.’

The little, man stood on the lower rungs of the ladder, in front of the lantern that swung from a beam, so I saw him clearly. To our surprise Mr Kerr came forward and spoke slowly and quietly. ‘I do not wish you, my fellow passengers, to look upon me any longer as a fugitive from justice, and will explain how it comes that circumstances give color to the charge. I have a brother, older than myself and father of a large family. One day in April, a clerk in the sheriff s office, who is a cousin, came to me at night to tell me that a spy who had attended a meeting of the Liberal club, had laid an information that my brother had spoken disrespectfully of the King, George the Fourth, and his advisers. On the strength of this, a warrant was prepared for his arrest on the charge of sedition. The spy had made a mistake in the first name and had given mine instead of my brother's. My cousin said, if I would disappear the prosecution would be baffled. To save my brother, for a prosecution would ruin him, I fled at once, going to Troon, where I knew a ship was ready to sail for Canada. On the officers going to my lodging to arrest me, they found I had gone. How they came to know I had gone to Troon I can not say. Probably they sent word to all ports where ships were ready to sail. As you know, I was arrested on board this boat and discharged, because the magistrate had no authority to hold me. It was to save my brother that I am here. What he said at the club I do not know, for I was not there.’

‘A plausible story,’ said Mr Snellgrove, ‘but you told a lie when you answered to a false name before the Troon magistrate.’

‘I told no lie,’ answered Mr Kerr in a calm voice, ‘for I was not asked to plead, but I knew I could have saved myself and have sent my brother to jail by correcting the mistake of the spy.’

Mr Snellgrove was about to say more when a murmur of disapproval caused him to slink to his berth. My master came forward and taking Mr Kerr by the hand said, ‘I respected you before; I honor you now,' and all, men and women, pressed to shake his hand.

After breakfast next morning there was much talk over our escape from death, and the more light thrown on it in discussion the stronger grew the feeling that we had been saved by the interposition of Providence. Had the brig not struck the sandbank and done so at low tide, not a, soul would have reached land, and relatives would never have known what became of the Heatherbell unless part of her wreckage was picked up. There ought to be public acknowledgment of our rescue and expression of our united thanks. The captain agreed it would be right, so, that afternoon, all hands assembled, except Mr Snellgrove, who sat at the bow pretending to read a book. The impression made on me, by the sight of the sailors joining in the psalms and the children gathering round their mother’s skirts in wonder, has survived these fifty-five years. The master at the request of the captain, took charge. He read the story of Paul’s shipwreck and then prayed with a fervor that made me cry. To the surprise of all, he asked Mr Kerr to improve the occasion. He began by saying it was not for mortals to judge the ways of God, to complain of visitations or to condemn acts that are inscrutable, but it was the bounden duty of man, when good did befall him. to ascribe the praise to God. They had a marvellous escape from a cruel death, and without inquiring into the how or wherefore it was our part to acknowledge the hand that saved us. After a good deal more in that strain of thought he changed to the purpose of our voyage. We were crossing the ocean to escape conditions in the Old Land that had become a burden to us. hoping, in the New Land before us, there would be brighter surroundings. To preserve that New Land from the mistakes and evils that blast the Old was a duty. To try and reproduce another Scotland such as they had left would be to reproduce what we were leaving it for. What we ought to try is to create a new Great Britain in Canada, retaining all that is good and dropping all that is undesirable. I want, he said, to see a land where every man is free to secure a portion of God’s footstool and to enjoy the fruits he reaps from it, without an aristocracy taking toll of what they did not earn, and a government levying taxes on labor to support soldiers or to subsidize privileged classes of any kind whatever their pretences.

How much more the speaker would have said I do not know, for Mr Snellgrove, who had come forward on his beginning to speak, here shouted ‘Treason!’ The master to prevent a scene, for a young shepherd moved to catch hold of the offender, gave out the 100th psalm, and we closed in peace.

The hold was so dark that Mr Kerr could not see to sew, so on fine days he worked on deck. Sitting beside him he taught me how to handle a needle, for he said every man should be able to make small repairs. He advised me to seize every opportunity to learn. When a boy he could have learned to speak Gaelic and regretted he had let the chance go by. Should he get work in Montreal, he would study French. A man’s intellect grows by learning whatever accident throws in his way, and the man who, from foolish conceit, refuses to take advantage of his opportunities remains a dolt. Read and observe, he said, and you will be able to say and do when your fellows are helpless. He got cuttings of canvas from the bosun, shaped them into a blouse, and got me to sew them together. The other boys laughed at me, and called me the wee tailor, but the blouse did me good service for many a day. While so much with him, I asked Mr Kerr about his political trouble. Though a Liberal he belonged to no club and was against using other than constitutional means to bring about reforms, and these reforms must come. It could not continue that Great Britain was to be ruled by a parliament composed of aristocrats and their creatures, for the great mass of the people had no voice in it. No Methodist, Baptist, or other dissenter was allowed a seat in parliament, and there were noblemen who controlled the election of more members than the city of Glasgow. Manchester and Birmingham have no members. Half of Scotland is owned by a dozen aristocrats. Whenever you hear men shout disloyalty and claim to be the only true-blue supporters of this country, you may be sure they are selfishly trying to hold some privilege to which they have no right. He told of many of his acquaintances who had been prosecuted for petitioning for the mending of political grievances, of a few who had been ruined by imprisonment and law costs, of the men who had been banished to Australia, and the three men who had been hanged. Hundreds had fled, like himself, to escape prosecution.

After our misadventure off Newfoundland our voyage was prosperous. Coming on deck one sunny morning we saw land, which was Cape Ray, and before the sun set we were in the Gulf of St Lawrence. We were not alone now, for every few hours we sighted ships. They were part of the Spring fleet to Quebec, now on their voyage home with cargoes of timber. One passed us so close that the captains spoke, and when the homeward captain shouted he was for the Clyde there were passengers who wished they were on board her, and the tear came to their eyes when they thought of Scotland and of those who were there. The Bird Rocks were quite a sight to us, but the Ayrshire folk held they were not to be compared with Ailsa Craig. On the Gulf narrowing until we could see land on both sides, a white yacht bore down to us and sent aboard a pilot. He was a short man, with frizzled hair. Being the first Frenchman we had seen, we gathered round him with curiosity and listened to his broken English with pleasure, for the tone was kindly and he was so polite, even to us boys. He brought no very late news, for he had left Quebec ten days before, when the weather was so hot that laborers loading ships dropped in the coves from sunstroke. Each tank that brought the brig higher up the river changed the scenery; a range of forest-clad hills on the north bank, and on the south bank a row of whitewashed cottages, so closely set that they looked as if they lined a street, broken at intervals by the tin-covered roof and steeple of a church. There were discussions among our farmers as to the narrowness of the fields and what kind of crops were on them, for they looked patchy and were of different colors, which the pilot was generally called on to decide, and it was funny to watch his difficulty in understanding their broad Scottish speech. Sailing where the ebb tide was stronger than the breeze, anchor was dropped for the first time. Before the tide turned, the pilot cried to dip up water, and there was a shout of delight when we tasted it and found the buckets were filled with fresh water. Wasn’t there a big washing that day! As much of a splashing as the porpoises made who gambolled at a distance. Cool, northerly breezes helped us on our way, and exactly five weeks from the day we left Troon we came to anchor off Cape Diamond, which disappointed us, for we looked for a higher rock and a bigger fort. On the ship mooring, the pilot sat down, and in a frenzy of delight at his success in bringing her up safely, flourished his arms and chuckled in his own language. Darting from a wharf came a fine rowboat with four oarsmen, and an official in blue with gilt buttons holding the helm. We were so engrossed in watching it, that we did not notice Mr Snellgrove had joined us, decked out grandly in finest clothes. Before the captain could say a word to the customs-officer, Mr Snellgrove asked him whether the governor-general was at his residence, and on being told he was, said he would accompany his majesty’s official on shore, and, so saying, stepped on the boat and seated himself in silent dignity in the stern, turning his back to us who were looking on. The officer’s visit was brief; the boat pushed off and we had our last look of Mr Snellgrove, transformed from a steerage-passenger into a dandy expecting to mix with the grandees of Quebec. Next day. in talking with the captain he told the master Snellgrove had kept a draper’s shop at Maybole, failed for a big sum, and had come to Canada expecting to get, with the letters of introduction he had from a number of noblemen, a government situation.

The intention being to weigh anchor on the tide flowing, leave to go on shore was refused to the passengers. The captain, having to report at the customs, he, however, took Mr Kerr with him, to get materials for repairs he was making to the captain’s clothes. Mr Kerr caught hold of me, and I had a hurried look at what appeared to me to be a foreign town, leaving out the street that ran along the harbor, which seemed to be lined with taverns frequented by soldiers and sailors. Mr Kerr bought a fancy basket from a squaw, as a present to the mistress, who had been kind to him. While we were gone, the ship was visited by boats offering bread for sale and willing to take in exchange split peas or oatmeal. Black lumps were held up as maple sugar. They were so dirty that curiosity was soon satisfied. The boat that brought us, went back with Snellgrove’s trunk. On the tide beginning to flow the anchor was lifted and we were borne upwards,, passing the crowd ashore, among whom were many soldiers. A gun was fired from the citadel and the flag fluttered down, for it was sunset when we got into the stream. Everything being new and strange nothing escaped us, and every passenger was on deck watching. The number of ships surprised all. There were rows of them for two or three miles, in the midst of fields of the logs which were to form their cargoes. As I sat beside Mr Kerr in the twilights he spoke of the sights I could not help seeing in the street along the waterfront of Quebec, or hearing the lanuuajre used. There was evil in the world of which a man should try to keep ignorant. It was not knowledge of the world to look into, much less to dabble in its filth. A lad who kept his thoughts clean was repaid by health and happiness, while entertaining evil imaginings led to a weak intellect and discontent with oneself. I had noticed before, when anybody began a dirty story that Mr Kerr rose and left. Another time he told me, his constant effort was to think only of pleasant things, to try and relieve what was disagreeable by looking from a sunny standpoint and to meet disappointments by searching if there was not some good in them.

On the tide beginning to turn, the anchor was dropped. The tide is felt as high as Three Rivers and it is possible for a ship to go that far by floating up with it. The second night after leaving Quebec we were startled by a loud knocking on the companion of the forecastle and an imperative shout to tumble up. An east wind had come and every minute was valuable. The anchor was lifted and sails set and before the sun appeared we were sweeping past Three Rivers. Interest was kept up by the villages and fields we passed, and it was the decision of the farmers that it was poor land badly worked. More novel to us, was the succession of rafts we met, each covering acres, with masts and houses on them, and men along their sides keeping them in midstream by means of long oars. As we passed up lake St Peter the wind freshened, the clouds came lower and the rain poured. The captain and pilot were in great glee, for they told us if the wind held we would pass up the St Mary’s current and anchor off Montreal before dark. Strong as the wind was and with every sail set that would draw, it was found we could not stem that current without help, so the ship was brought close to the bank, a rope passed ashore, and a string of oxen appeared, who helped to draw her into calmer water. The night was dark and rainy but we kept on deck and watched the lights of Montreal.

They had not been at sea a week when the three farmers had agreed they would keep together on reaching Canada and take up land side by side. They were also of one mind in making Toronto (it was not so named then) their starting point in search of new homes. The captain’s advice was, that one of them should take the stage at Montreal; by so doing he would get to Toronto at least a week ahead of the rest of the party, in which time he could hunt up land. This would save delay and the expense of staying in lodging while looking for a place to settle. It was arranged the master should go. At daylight he got ashore and was in time for the stage that left for Prescott. We were all up early that morning, eager to see Montreal. The clouds had gone and the mountain looked fresh and green. The town consisted of a few rows of buildings along the river. There being no wharf or dock the ship was hauled as close to the shore as her draft allowed, and a gangway of long planks on trestles set up. Nearly every passenger walked over it to say they had set foot on Canada. A number of the men went into the town to see it. In two hours one of them was brought back drunk and without a copper in his pockets. Mr Kerr told me he would stay in Montreal if he got a place. He returned in the afternoon to tell us he had got work and to take away his few belongings. He bade all good-bye. On coming to me, I went with him, for he had asked the mistress that I go with him to see the town. The narrowness of the streets and the foreign look of the houses with their high-pitched roofs impressed me less than the muddy roadways, for I had never thought there could be a town with unpaved streets and no sidewalks. Mr Kerr, on his way to his boarding-house, showed me the shop where he was to begin work next morning. While we were in his bedroom a gong sounded for supper. It was all new to me, the people, their talk, and the food. I wondered to see meat and potatoes for supper, hot buns, and apple-pies. After supper we had a walk, and in going along one of the streets there was a man before us carrying a baby. Raising her head above his shoulder the child looked at us and said something to him. Without reflecting, I wondered how a child could have learned French so early in life. On turning back to the ship Mr Kerr took me into a shop and bought me a cap, and I had need of one. On coming in front of the ship, he shook my hands as if he did not want to let me go, and made me promise I would write him and tell where we had settled. For himself, he would stay in Montreal at least long enough to get his belongings by ship from Greenock.

The captain having given notice that everybody must leave the ship next day, there was early bustling in finishing packing and arranging for the next stage in our journey, which was to be by a Durham boat to Prescott. Carts were on hand to haul our luggage to the canal, where lay the boat that had been hired for our party. A carter hoisted a chest on his little vehicle and hurriedly drove off. Instead of taking the direction of the other carts, lie went straight up the dump that led into the town. I shouted to him to stop. He laid his whip on the horse and drove faster. It flashed on me he was a thief, and I ran after him. I could never have-caught up to him had it not been market day and the street was crowded with people and carts. I jumped up beside him and pulled at his collar to make him stop. He tried to push me on to the road, but I clung to him, when he lashed me with the whip. I shouted for help, but all being French they did not know what I said, but they saw something was wrong and with many exclamations the crowd stood staring at us. Just then a little, stout man, in a black gown, elbowed his way through the crowd, and asked me in English what was the matter. I told him the carter had stolen the chest. He spoke to the carter in French. ‘The man denies it,’ said the priest, for such I now guessed he was. I hurriedly narrated what had happened, and for proof pointed to the name painted on the chest. Speaking with severity to the carter, the fellow turned his horse towards the river and the priest told me he would take the chest back to where he got it. ‘But he may not do so,’ I exclaimed. The priest gave me a sharp look, as if surprised that I should be ignorant of his power ‘He dare not disobey me.’ I thanked the priest from the bottom of my heart, and in a few minutes the carter had dumped the chest on the spot where he had taken it and drove away. On telling the mate what had happened, he said it was common for emigrants, both at Quebec and Montreal, to be robbed by fellows who regarded them as fair game.

We followed the cart that took the last of our luggage, forming quite a procession, and each one of us who was able carried something;. I had a bag in one hand and an iron pot in the other. Grannie held a firm grip of Robbie, who she feared might be lost in Montreal, for the puir laddie hadna a word of French. On coming to the canal we were disappointed with both it and the boat. The canal was a narrow ditch and as to the boat, it was short and narrow and had no deck, except a few feet at either end. ‘We cannot live in that cockle-shell!’ exclaimed Mrs Auld. Her owner replied ‘She was one fine boat, new, built by Yankee.’ He was the only one of the crew who understood English, and was quick in his motions. He soon had all we brought with us stowed, and when a corner was found for the last chest, it was a surmise where the crew and passengers could find standing-room. The decked portions were allotted the women and children, the men and boys roosted on top of boxes and bales as they could. When all was ready, the conductor took the helm, the crew lined up on the bank with a tow-line over their shoulders, and off we started. The weather was fine and the country we passed beautiful. At the first locks we came to, the mistress stepped to a farmhouse beside the canal, and came back with the pail she had taken with her full of milk. It was the first the children had since we left Scotland. It was late in the day when the boat got to the end of the canal; the conductor, who told us to call him Treffle, said we would wait and have supper before going on the lake. Driftwood was gathered and fires made, pots and pans being set on stones. The crew fried fat pork, which, with bread, was their supper. We made porridge, for we had still a good supply of oatmeal, and of ship-biscuit. The sails were hoisted and we got away before it was quite dark. The wind was westerly, so we had to tack. Had it not been that the boat had a centreboard we would have made small progress. The centreboard was a novelty to us, and we could see how close it helped the little vessel to sail in the eye of the wind. The size of the lake surprised everybody and all the more when Treffle told us it was the St Lawrence. ‘My, it is a big river and it is in a big country!’ exclaimed Mrs Auld. Everybody had to sleep as they best could; some slept sitting, more by leaning against one another, nobody had room to stretch himself. We were tired and glad to rest in any way. Mrs Auld said we were like herring in a barrel, packed heads and thraws. In waking at daylight we heard the sound of water dashing and roaring, and looking upwards saw the river tumbling downwards in great waves, which were, for all the world, like those of the Atlantic in a gale, except that they stayed in the same place. Treffle said these waves were due to the rushing water striking big rocks in the bed of the river, over which they kept pouring, and gave the name Cascades to the rapid. The boat was tied up, as the crew were to have breakfast before their hard work in making a passage past the rapids. I went with the mistress to a house that was not far away for milk. A smiling woman met us at the door and asked us inside; the house was clean and neat. We tried to make her understand what we wanted but failed until I put the pail between my knees and imitated milking a cow. She laughed heartily and by signs made us know she did not have a cow. Stepping to the fireplace she dipped a tin into a big pot that simmered in a corner and handed it to the mistress. It was soup. Holding out some money, she made signs to fill the pail. Having done so she picked out five coppers from the money offered, and bade good-by with many a smile and nod. The soup proved to be fine, just one drawback, its flavor of garlic. ‘They use no split peas to make their pea-soup here' remarked Mrs Auld, ‘and it is an improvement.’ ‘No, no,’ interjected Treffle, ‘soup be good because all time kept boiling; pot by the fire Sunday to Sunday.’ The chill in the morning air made the hot soup grateful.


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