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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter VIII - The Episode of Tilly


Jany 7—All were in bed last night when I was aroused by a knock at the door. Thought one of my neighbors needed help, but on opening was surprised to see it was Jabez. Excused himself for alarming us by saying his errand was a matter of life or death. A negro girl, who had fallen into evil hands at Buffalo, had escaped to Canada and was followed by desperate men trying to retake her. An attempt had been made to kidnap her from the family that sheltered her in Toronto. She had to be hid until the search was given up, and he could think of no place so safe as with ourselves. Mr Bambray asked us, in God’s name, to take care of her for a while. ‘Where is she?’ I asked. ‘In the sleigh at the door.’ I told him to fetch her in, or she might freeze. He lifted her in, for she was numb. It was a bitter night. Laying aside her wraps, we saw, for Ailie and the whole family were now looking on, a mulatto of perhaps sixteen years of age. Alice and Ruth chafed her hands and feet to restore her circulation, while Ailie was getting a hot drink ready. Looking at the poor child I guessed her miserable story and told Jabez we would keep her. After getting warmed he drove off.

Here I have to break into the master’s diary in order to give what happened afterwards, which he did not write down. The girl, who said her name was Tilly, got quite reconciled to us next day. She was from Kentucky, had been sold to a saloonkeeper at Black Rock, and rescued. She shuddered whenever she spoke of him. Passed from one friendly hand to another she reached Toronto, and was living quietly there as a servant. One evening there was a rap at the door and she went to answer. On opening it she beheld the fellow who claimed to own her. She screamed. Putting his hand over her mouth he lifted her to a sleigh, which drove off. Two passersby, who saw what happened, ran after the sleigh and on its halting at a tavern, one hurried off for a constable while the other kept watch. Entering the tavern they demanded the girl, and under threat of arrest the fellow had to let her go. If he had not, the crowd in the barroom would have piled on to him, for in Toronto Yankee slavehunters are detested. Mr Bambray, on being told of what had occurred, made her case his own. He consulted Jabez who suggested burying her in the bush with the master’s family until the search was given up. Tilly was modest and eager to help, and at worship showed she had a beautilul voice. The day passed quietly and so did Sunday. The master had meant to go to Toronto to church, being the first Sunday after New Year’s day, but the frost was too intense for an ox-drive. Tilly had a great collection of hymns, and in the afternoon we sat and listened. It was a peaceful Sabbath and we went to bed happy and feeling secure. I was lying awake, thinking of the poor slave girl so unexpectedly thrown among us, when I thought I heard the crunching of the frozen snow under horse’s feet and sleighrunners. I jumped out of bed and looking through the window that faced our road, saw a sleigh with two men. I hurried down stairs and wakened the master. He had just got on his feet when the door was forced in with a crash. A tall fellow entered, whom we could see distinctly, for the fire was glowing bright. ‘I have come for my nigger, and it will be worse for you if you make a fuss.’ Without a word, the master rushed at the fellow and was thrusting him out of the door, when he used a trick, doubtless learned in a hundred barroom fights, of thrusting his foot forward and tripping the master, who fell on his back. In a flash the fellow had him by the throat, forcing back his head with his left hand while his right fumbled under his coat. I guessed he was after his bowie-knife. I gripped his arm and gave it a twist that made him let out a yell. Jumping straight up, he made to grab me, when Allan, who had just appeared, swung out his right arm and dealt him a terrific blow on the face. He fell like a tree that had got its last cut. The other man now looked in, and seeing his comrade insensible and bleeding, cried out to us, ‘You will hang for this!’ ‘Take the brute away and begone,’ shouted the master, ‘or you will answer for this if there be law in Canada.’ Taking hold of the fallen man he dragged him to the sleigh. Lifting his head in first, he got into the sleigh and pulled the rest of the body into the box. Hurriedly pitching a robe over him he drove off, afraid we would arrest him. Just as the sleigh got on to the road, there was a shot above our heads, it was Robbie who had loaded his gun and fired out of the window. As it was only shot, it probably did no harm, but showed the driver we had firearms. The excitement over, the master staggered to a bench and fell down. Examining his throat we saw how the fellow had squeezed it so tight that his fingernails had torn the flesh, and the thrust backwards had strained the muscles of the neck. We got him into bed and the mistress and Alice sat up all night, applying cloths wrung out of hot water to ease the piercing pain. None of us slept much, and Tilly was greatly excited. I should have mentioned, when the affray was over, and I am sure it did not last five minutes, she went to Allan and kissed the hand that had knocked down her persecutor.

We talked at breakfast over what we should do next, when it was agreed I should go to Toronto with word of what had happened. On reaching Yonge-street I got a ride on the first sleigh that came along. Jabez was astounded at my news and took me to see Mr Bambray and others interested in Tilly. Jabez at once started to find out what had become of the fellow, and all agreed that nothing should be decided until he reported. He was not long in getting trace of him and when he came in after dinner it was to tell the bird had flown. Fearing arrest, his face bandaged, he had been lifted into a long sleigh, and lying in it as a bed, had been driven westward. ‘He will get to Hamilton this afternoon,’ said Jabez, ‘and is likely by sunset to be safe on Yankee soil.’ It was suggested Jabez should go next morning and arrange with the master to keep Tilly for a few weeks. ‘Will the fellow, who knows now where she is, not plan a second attempt?’ ‘No danger,’ said Jabez, ‘the doctor who dressed his face told me he would not be able to go out for weeks, and was disfigured for life. He damned the Scotties who had done it.’ When Jabez told how he had received his injuries, the doctor, an Englishman, got hotly indignant. ‘Had I known, the fellow would have been now in prison.’ He would see his friend, the Chief Justice, to have him outlawed. I stayed with Jabez overnight and our drive in the morning was most enjoyable. There was no wind and just frost enough to make the air crisp, the sun shone on the snow until it sparkled, while the sleighing was splendid. Jabez had taken one of his best horses and the swiftness of the drive was exhilarating. The road was crowded with farmers’ teams beading for Toronto, Jabez knew them all and they all knew him.

One question troubled him, and that was. How the Buffalo scoundrel had come to know where Tilly was hid? To satisfy a surmise, he drew up at the tavern that had been opened opposite our road to question its owner, who frankly gave the desired information. The two men stopped at the tavern to get warmed and had several drinks. One of them said he was looking for his daughter, who had run away from home. He had traced her, he thought, by being told a man and a young girl had been seen driving up Yonge-street Friday night. The tavern-keeper said he saw such a couple turn into the byroad in front of his place, and wondered at it, for it was rare to see anybody enter that road. Question followed question and the men learned all they needed to find the house, and to attack it. On taking a parting drink, the tall fellow exclaimed, ‘I have got her.’

Reaching home we found all well except the master, whose neck was still swollen and painful. He was lying on the bench near the fire. Jabez explained his errand and the message he brought. The master pulled the head of Jabez close to his mouth, for he could only whisper, and said, ‘You tell Mr Bambray that what happened Sabbath night made me an abolitionist, and the girl will stay here until she wants to leave. Is not that your mind, AIlie?’ ‘You have spoken what was in my own mind, Andrew.’ Tilly, who was standing by, burst into tears, and clasping the mistress by the neck kissed her saying, ‘I will serve you good.’ She was the most grateful creature I ever met. Jabez stayed until after dinner, and, on leaving, promised to give us a hand when it was time to burn our brush-piles. Tilly made herself useful not only in our home but those of Brodie and Auld and proved to be a real help.

Jany 16—Thankful I can again bend my head without pain. The woods are a glorious sight. It snowed yesterday morning. Before dark the snow turned to rain, which froze as it fell, encrusting everything. On the sun coming out bright this morning the trees sparkled as if mode of crystal and the branches of the evergreens hung in masses of radiant white. So Alice described them, and we all agreed a sight so beautiful we never saw.

Jany 17—Robbie and Allan set off on snowshoes for a day’s hunting and came back in the afternoon carrying a deer, which they had run down, being enabled to do so by the crust on the snow breaking under the poor animal’s hoofs, There are more than men hunting deer. Last night we heard the wolves in full cry as they were chasing them.

Jany. 21—Astonished by a visit from Mr and Mrs Bambray. They visited ail the houses and seemed pleased by what they saw. Had a long talk with him about how the province is being governed. Mrs Bambray brought clothes for Tilly. The thaw we have had has lowered the snow, and chopping down 'trees has been going on.

Jany 22—The day being moderate and the sleighing splendid drove to Toronto, the oxen going faster than a man could walk. Sought to see the minister, who accepted certificates of Ailie and myself. Sacrament is March 26.

Jany. 25—Visited the farmer from whom I bought the steer. We had a hearty welcome. Ailie much taken with their stove and its oven, and curious about Canadian ways of housekeeping. Ruth was given a kitten.

Jany 27 —Great snowstorm.

Jany 28—Quite mild this morning, a warm wind from the south. Snow melting. At noon there was a sudden change of the wind to the northwest, which rose to a tempest, overturning trees and making most doleful sounds as it swept through the woods, where it broke off branches by the thousand. Became piercingly cold. Such quick changes cannot be healthy.

Jany 30—More snow with strong east wind.

Feby. 9—After ten days of stormy weather, today is fine and bright. The snow is over three feet on the level. Impossible to work in the bush. Gordon is preparing for sugaring, making spouts and buckets. I have to get a kettle to make potash and will buy one now, for it will serve for boiling sap.

Feby 14—Rain, snow sinking fast.

Feby 18—Went with the three boys to Toronto and bought potash kettles. They cost $12.

Feby 24—Sun is gaining strength and days are lengthening. Can see the snow wasting in the sun. In the shade, freezing hard. Are doing good work in the bush.

Feby 26—Snowing thick and fast, but not cold.

Feby 28—Sky without a cloud and mild. Gordon tapped a tree or two, but there was no sap.

March 6—Roused by a hallo so hearty that nobody except Jabez could utter it. The fine weather had made him tired of the town and recalled the sugar-time of his youth. He picked out the maples to be tapped, those most sheltered and facing the sun, and quickly their bark was bored and spouts inserted. In the afternoon there was a fair run. By that time the large kettle had been slung and the fire started. It was a big play for the youngsters, and their shouting, when Jabez poured sap on the snow and it turned to candy, might have been heard a mile away.

March 11—Jabez left, taking as part of his spoil a jar of syrup and a lot of cakes of sugar. Under his teaching Ailie quickly learned to sugar off, and set it over the kitchen fire in the biggest pot. Sent cakes as presents to Mrs Bambray and Mrs Dunlop.

March 12—All tired after the week’s sugar-making. Surprising what a quantity was made, due to the Aulds and Brodies helping, who got their share.

March-18—Have had no sugar-weather this week; frosty with strong winds, and some snow. Allan, with help of Mr Auld, began hauling boards from sawmill, which we will need for barns.

March 20—Gordon awakened us by shouting ‘A sugar snow.’ There had been a light shower of it during the night, and the air was soft. Holes were rebored and there was a fine run of sap. Likely the last, for there is now bard frost.

March 25—Have made preparations for the sacrament. Weather has been tickle, sometimes snow, then rain, but always blowy with cold nights.

March 26—Fair overhead but sleighing heavy. Got to Toronto in time and had a solemn and, I hope, a profitable season. Recalling past occasions, Ailie was much affected on taking the cup in her hand. She wax anxious about there being no word from Scotland. Before leaving Toronto I went to the postmaster and got a letter. It was from her sister, whose husband had a rented farm at Lochwinnoch. They have decided to follow us to Canada, and ask that I look out a farm for them. They hope to have over a thousand dollars after paying their passage. When we got home Robbie’s news was that he had seen a robin.

March 27—Gladdened when I woke to hear the sound of birds. The robin here is not the Scottish redbreast, being much larger and with a different note. People I spoke to at church yesterday said we are having an unusually late season. I am weary of the sight of the snow, which is now wasting in the sun. Heard frogs at a distance last night. The long winter is a serious offset to farming in Canada.

April 3—Jabez with Sloot came this morning to start burning our fallow, and before dark we had made great progress. There is enough snow and ice left to make it easy for the oxen to haul logs.

April 8—By ourselves once more; the burning and the making of potash finished yesterday. There is now clearance enough on all three lots to make sure of raising sufficient crop to keep us, so it will not be so much a work of life and death to keep at the felling of trees. Chopping them is most laborious, but burning them is worse—as much as flesh and blood can bear. The burning we had in the fall was to get a patch of land cleared for sowing. This time we were prepared to save the ashes, Gordon set up three leaches on the edge of the pond, and as the logs were burned the ashes were gathered and hauled by ox-sled to fill them. Ramming the ashes into the leaches as solid as possible and then pouring water upon them fell to me and the women, the men attending to the burning, the raking of the ashes together, and hauling them. After soaking all night, or longer, the leaches are topped, when the lye runs into a trough, made by hollowing as big a pine as we could find. From the trough the lye is dipped into the kettle, under which a fierce fire had to be kept. As the lye boiled, the water in it passed off in clouds of steam, more lye being poured in to keep it full. By-and-by a sticky mass could be felt at the bottom of the kettle, which was ladled into cast iron coolers, and became solid. This is called black salts, is barreled, and shipped to Britain, where it is in great demand. The quantity of lye needed to make a hundred-weight of black-salts astonished me. I got ten cents a pound for what we made and that will keep us in provisions until we have our own wheat to take to mill.

April 9—All glad of the Sabbath rest. Warm, the soft maples red with buds.

April 15—Been busy all week, mostly in clearing and levelling the burned land for sowing. Sowed two bushels of oats this afternoon. Drying winds and a hot sun.

April 20—The rain needed to start grain came last night. Moist and warm today with rapid growth.

April 22—Planted potatoes. Ailie and Alice getting the garden stuff in.

April 26—Wonderful growth; nothing like it in Scotland. There is no spring here; the jump is from winter to summer. Our bridle-path to Yonge-street is so soft that oxen cannot be put on it. Gordon goes back to Toronto on Monday to join the tradesman he was with in the fall, and who has sent for him. He will have to walk, for Yonge-street, I am told, is a chain of bog-holes.

May 13—Have had changeable weather; rather too dry and a few cold nights. The standing bush, keeps frost off the braird, which could not look better. Busy preparing logs for building barns; we are all working together. Three will be needed. Except for the ground logs we are using cedar, which is light to handle and easy to hew. Mrs Bambray sent a bundle of apple-trees and another of berry bushes. All planted and look as if they have rooted.

June 3—Gordon along with Sloot came this evening to help in raising the barns. Planted corn today; an entirely new crop to us. The heads will be food for our table and the stalks the oxen are fond of. The winter-wheat is in the shot-blade. Went back to the swamp and found what had been plowed in fine shape. Seeded down with oats. I hope for a good return.

June 14— Barns are finished. Much easier to build than were our shanties. Using block and tackle in hoisting was a great help. Wheat is beginning to Color. Robbie saw a deer browsing in the oats, got his gun, and shot it. Deer flesh is dry any time but at this season is poor eating. Potatoes and corn have got their first hoeing.

June 27—A dry hot spell. Scotland gets too much rain; Canada too little. Wheat is ripening too fast. It will be fit to cut on Monday.

July 8—Wheat is safe; drying winds and a hot sun made it quickly fit to iead. In Scotland it might have been out three weeks before fit to stack. Fine quality and abundant yield. Will not need to buy more flour.

July 12—Have had a plentiful rain that has saved the crops, for oats are tiding. I answered my sister's letter at once, with directions how to come. Have spent any time I could spare in trying to find a lot for them. Gordon walked in this morning with a letter mailed from Greenock, stating they were to take ship that week As they may be here next week must decide quickly on a home for them.

July 1-5—Allan and myself have been on the trudge for three days, looking for a lot. Finally decided on one with a clearance of nearly ten acres and a shanty with an outbuilding. It is far north on Yonge-street, but all nearer Toronto were held at prices they could not afford. The owner leaves on account of sickness and sold the lot with its betterments and growing crop for $600.

July 22—Left home on Monday to wait in Toronto for arrival of my brother-in-law and family. They came on the 19th, sound and hearty. As I had directed them, they took a ship for New York and thence by the Hudson and Erie canal to Oswego, where they got the steamer for Toronto. Thus they avoided the hardships of the St Lawrence route and saved a fortnight in time. Looking at the map, I can see New York is Toronto’s nearest ocean port. The teams got started early in the afternoon, but the road was rough and the horses had to walk all the way. It was growing dark when we reached the shanty, from whose one window gleamed a light, and at the door were Ailie, Alice, and Robbie, who had spent two days cleaning and making the place as decent as possible. A table of boards, with benches at its side, was spread with supper. A joyous hour was cut short by the teamsters crying out horses were fed and they were ready to return. They dropped us at the end of our lane.

July 26—Finished cutting the oats on the swamp while green and stacked them. There is a fair catch of grass.

Aug. 4—All the grain is ripe; cutting is slow on account of the stumps. Today there were four of us busy with the hook. Oats are not as plump as in Scotland; they fill too quickly.


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