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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar
Chapter X - Parting with old Friends


My story of how I came to Canada and how the family which made me one of their number got on in its backwoods has taken a long time to tell, yet I must lengthen it to make known what became of some of the people mentioned in the course of it. Tilly remained with us a year, when she went to live with the Bambrays, who needed her help. When they, later on, decided to end their days in their native town, Huddersfield, she went with them to England. Once a year a letter came from Mr Bambray, with a long postscript by Tilly, overflowing with good wishes, and in each letter was a draft to help escaped slaves get a fresh start in life. The worthy couple died several years ago, making Tilly their chief legatee. She married a man for whom she described herself as unworthy and who makes her happy every day. When Ruth married she sent her a gift of $250 to furnish her house. Ruth’s husband is a capable farmer, who is doing well. They are an evenly matched team, pulling together and happy in each other.

When Robbie came of age the master divided his farm equally between his two sons, and bought for himself six acres fronting Yonge-street. On this he built a commodious house and a large greenhouse, for he designed carrying on market-gardening. In an excavation deep enough to be below the frost line the greenhouse was built, and there were other devices to do with as little stove-heat as possible. Sloot, who had been left a widower, and having no family, became the hired man and made his home for the remainder of his life with the master and mistress, to whom he was deeply attached. Twice a week he drove to market the produce that was for sale, and though occupation not beyond their strength was their purpose, remarkable profits were made off these six acres. The mistress was happy in tending the greenhouse and flower-beds, and in entertaining visitors, for they had many apart from their own children and grand-children. They were honored far and wide and a drive to their house, which they named Heatherbell cottage, to have a chat and get a bouquet was a common recreation with many Torontonians.

Of your mother I need not speak; you know how happy we are in each other. We never had any courtship—our lives from the first sight of her when I ventured to seek shelter in her father’s house on that rainy day has been one long dwelling in each other’s affections. As trees strengthen with years, our attachment has grown deeper and purer. Just as soon as I made my footing good in Toronto, our marriage took place. Lovers before the ceremony we are lovers still. Ah, my dear lassie, do not think love is a brief fever of youth—a transient emotion that fades before the realities of wedded life like the glow from a cloud at mom. Where love is of the true quality, it becomes purer and tenderer with the passing years. Death may interrupt, but cannot end such affection as ours, Love is eternal.

With Mr Kerr I kept up the exchange of letters he asked, and the information and advice his contained have helped to shape my character and opinions. The year after his arrival he started in business for himself and prospered. His wife is the girl whom he was courting when he fled from Greenock. Our visits to them are delightful memories and you know how we enjoy their sojourns with us. Jabez also became a Montrealer. The business of himself and brothers as carters naturally merged into forwarders. As trade grew it was found needful one should be in Montreal, and Jabez went. Levelheaded and full of resource he soon came to the front in the shipping-trade.

With Mr Snellgrove we had an unlooked for encounter. The master was on a visit to us at Toronto. On reading notices of a meeting to be held in favor of Protection and of the government issuing paper currency instead of gold, we decided to attend. The first speaker was Isaac Buchanan, who deluged us with figures about Bullionism and the balance of trade. We were relieved when he ended. Then a college professor read a paper on the Co-relation of Great Britain and her Colonies. It was difficult to follow him. He was one of those theoretical men who think forms of government and names can make a country great. We started with astonishment on the chairman saying he had pleasure in introducing Mr Snellgrove as the next speaker. It was he sure enough, older but still spruce, and resplendent in full evening dress. He did not touch on currency, but confined himself to advocating a protective tariff so high that it would shut out foreign goods. That would enable manufacturers to establish themselves in Canada, and instead of a stream of gold going to Britain and the United States the money would be spent for goods made in Canada. See what a rich country we would become if we kept our money here, he said; our great lack is capital to develop our immense resources. We had the capital in our own hands but, blind to our own interests, sent it away to Great BritaiD or, what was worse, to the United States to build up a country that was hostile to us. Like the Gulf Stream, which sweeping through the Atlantic enriches every country it touches, he would have a golden circuit established in Canada—the farmers would sell to the manufacturers and the money paid them would continue to flow backward and forward to the enrichment of both. The flowing of gold from our midst would be stopped, and the farmers, with a home-market for all they could raise, would become rich and view with delight factories rising on every hand. All this could be accomplished by enacting a judiciously-framed tariff and delay in doing so was not only keeping Canada poor but endangering her future as a British dependency. Applause followed Mr Snellgrove’s sitting down, and the chairman praised him as a gentleman who had carefully thought out his proposals, which commended themselves to every patriotic mind. We wanted diversity of occupation and retention of the earnings of the farmers in Canada; here was a method of effecting both these desirable ends.

The master got on his feet and begged permission to be heard in reply. He was invited to the platform and, with his usual directness and force, at once assailed what Mr Snellgrove had advanced. He says, let us have a law that will compel us to cease buying goods abroad, for thereby the money now sent away will be kept in Canada. What right has any government to pass such a law? With the money I get for my wheat may I not buy what I need where I see fit? Such an arbitrary law as he pleads for would undoubtedly help the manufacturer, but would it help me, who am a farmer? The question I ask, is not will the money stay in Canada, but will the money I have justly earned stay in my pocket? I will be none the richer if the money goes into the pocket of the owner of a factory. In the Old Country the farmers carry the aristocracy who own the land on their backs, are the laws of Canada to be so shaped that the farmers here are to carry the manufacturers? It may not be plain to you city gentlemen, but it is to me, that under the system you have heard advocated, factories would increase and their owners grow rich while the farmers would become poor, for they would have to pay more than they now do for the goods necessity makes them buy. My family needs about $300 worth of store-goods in a year. That is what I pay now. Under Protection these same goods would cost me £400, perhaps more. The Canadian manufacturers would be the richer by the hundred extra dollars I would pay, and I would be the poorer by a hundred dollars. The point at issue, is not keeping money in the country, but of keeping it in the pockets of the men who first earned it by cultivating the soil.

Canada is a farming country and always will be, and taxing each farmer’s family on an average of say a hundred dollars a year is going to discourage the farmer. Let every tub stand on its own bottom. If any commodity can be made ih Canada at a profit under present conditions, I wish all success to the man who undertakes to make that commodity, but to tax me to give the man a bonus to do so is to rob me of my honest earnings. We have been told we want more population. Yes, if it be of the right kind, of people who will go, as I did, into the bush and carve out farms. These will add to our strength, but hordes drawn from cities who cannot and will not take to the plow, will prove in the long run a weakness. If you knew the poverty and misery that exists among the factory operatives of the Old World you would not entertain a project to bribe them to come here and reproduce the same conditions. Today you have not a boggar on Toronto’s streets; adopt Protection and you will have thousands of paupers. This is a new country and our aim should be to make it one where honest industry can find a sure reward in its forests and not be creating factories by artificial means. As an Old Countryman, I take exception to the land I came from being treated as foreign and a ban placed on the goods it has to export. When I go into a store I like to think what I am buying is helping those I left behind, and when I pay for the cloth and other goods they made, do they not in return buy the grain, the butter and cheese, and the pork I have to sell? I protest against our government abusing its power to tax the farmers to benefit the manufacturers. That is tyranny, and when farmers understand that Protection is one of the meanest forms of despotism they will revolt. This must be a free country, with no favor shown to any class.

We saw gentlemen on the platform urging the chairman to stop the master; he seemed reluctant to make a scene. Finally he did pull him down, stating he was not speaking to the subject before the meeting. The best reply to the disloyal outpouring to which they had listened he considered was contemptuous silence. After votes of thanks the meeting ended. The master advanced towards Mr Snellgrove to renew his acquaintance. Mr Snellgrove turned his back upon him and left with a group of gentlemen. I learned he held a government office.

I have a more unexpected meeting to relate. The sixth year after my marriage, it had been arranged Christmas should be celebrated at Allan’s and New Year’s at the master’s. We had been looking for what people in Scotland dread, a Green Yule, for the ground was bare. When we rose the morning before Christmas we were pleased to see it white, and a gentle sifting of snow falling. Allan came for us early in the afternoon and we filled his big sleigh with children and parcels. We had just got into the house when the clouds lowered and it became suddenly dark. You have seen in summer a gentle rain prevail, until, all at once, a plump came that covered the ground with streams of water. Once in a number of years the like happens with snow, and a gentle fall turns into a smothering stream of snowflakes. In an hour the ground was so cumbered that it reached to the knees of those who ventured out. Supper was over and the romping of the children was in full swing when Robbie cried he thought he heard somebody shouting outside. There was a pause in the merriment as he flung open the door. The snow had ceased to fall and the air was calm and soft. A black object was seen on the road to the left, from which came cries for help. Allan and Robbie dashed into the snow and struggled through it. We watched them but it was too dark to see what they did on reaching the road. Our suspense was ended on seeing them returning with a stranger, and leading a horse. Robbie took the horse to the stable; Allan and the stranger, covered with snow entered. After brushing him and taking off his wraps the stranger stood before us, a good-looking man past middle life. He explained he had left home that morning for Toronto, his chief errand to get the supplies and presents the lack of sleighing had hindered his going for sooner. Overtaken by the unlooked for downfall, he had halted at a tavern undecided what to do. The barroom was crowded. A man told him, on hearing where he was going, if he took the first turn to his left, he would find a road that would be passable, for it was sheltered by bush.

Anxious to get home, and the tavern accommodation not inviting, he had, after watering his horse, started anew. Half an hour or so later, while pushing slowly along, a runner of his cutter had struck some obstacle, the horse plunged forward, tipping the rig. On getting on his feet, on lifting the cutter, he found a runner had been wrenched off, and there he was helpless. Seeing the lights of our house, he shouted, and, for a long time, he thought in vain. While he was speaking, my memory was groping to place a voice that seemed an echo of one I had heard in the past. I looked at the face, but in the firm-set features that told of wrestling with the world, I found no aid. It was not until the house-colley went up to sniff at him and he stooped to pat its head that it flashed on me the stranger was the shepherd-lad who had befriended me in my weary tramp across Ayrshire. Facing him, I said, ‘Is not your name Archie? ‘It is,’ he replied, looking surprised. ‘And do you not remember the ragged boy your dog found under a bush, how you shared your bite with him; how we sat under your plaid and read the bible and heard each other the questions?’ As I spoke I could tell by his face his memory too way at work. ‘Yes, yes,’ he exclaimed, ‘it all comes back to me, and you are curly-headed Gordon Sellar.’ Had we been of any other race the right thing to do would have been to have fallen into -each other arms, but seeing we were undemonstrative Scots we gripped hands though I could not hold back the tears of gratitude on seeing the man who had been so kind to me. His coming was no damper to the evening’s joy. He made himself at home at once, and before he was ten minutes among us the children were clambering over him, for he had joined them in their play. He was the same free-hearted, easily-pleased lad I had known.

When, late in the evening, I took him to his room, we had a long talk, and the fire of friendship kindled on the Ayrshire braeside burned again. We had breakfast together long before daylight, for he was anxious to get home. It had been settled Allan would lend his team and long sleigh, and that I drive. The sound of sleighbells brought us to our feet, and at the door was the sleigh with the broken cutter piled into it with all the parcels that had been picked out of the snow, and tied to the seat was Archie’s mare. I hesitated leaving Alice on such a day, but she insisted I must go with my friend. It was not a long drive but it was a slow one. I turned back into Yonge street, where there would be a track broken, and kept on it until we reached the corner to turn westward. We halted an hour at the corner-tavern to feed and rest the horses, which could not have made the headway they were making had they not been a noble team, Allan’s pride. The way, however, was not long to us, for we had much to talk about Archie narrated his past life, and, curious about mine, I had to tell him my simple story. Reserve there was none. Once again we were boys, rejoicing in each other, and warming to one another as true friends do in exchanging their inmost confidences.

I will not relate what he told, for I will weave into his narrative what I got afterwards from his sister and his father and mother, and present it in connected form. We were passing down a concession, which had every indication of being a prosperous settlement, when Archie pointed to a brick house in the far-distance as his. On drawing near we found its inmates had been on the watch, for tumbling through the snow came four children, who clambered in beside us, rejoiced to see their father and anxious to know what he had brought for them. On reaching, at last, the house there was gathered at the door the two oldest of the family, a fine-looking girl and a tall lad, with the mother, and behind them an aged couple. A hired man took the team, but the mare, looking to the lad at the door, whinnied. He jumped forward and led her to her stall. ‘That is his pony,’ remarked Archie. What a scene of rejoicing on that day of joy the world over!

Mrs Craig, to give her name, told how they had waited the night before for the coming of Archie until the younger members fell asleep in their chairs, how they had kept supper warm, and how, not until two in the morning, they had gone to bed, convinced he had stayed overnight somewhere on the road, for the possibility of misadventure they would not admit. The forenoon had been of more anxious waiting, for as time slipped they began to dread an accident had befallen him. To have him back safe, and the parcels safe, was perfect joy, and the two youngest darted from the house to try the sleds Santa Claus had sent them by their father. Mrs Craig, a tidy purpose-like woman was profuse in thanks to me for helping her husband. Archie's father and mother struck me, at the first glance, as the finest old couple my eyes had ever rested upon. He was tall and rugged in frame, as became an old shepherd, but his face was a benediction—so calm, so composed, such a look of perfect content. His companion recalled grannie, only more alert. Burns might have taken them as models for his song, John Anderson, my Jo.

As the sun was setting there was a shout of ‘Auntie,’ and the youngsters bounded down the long lane to meet a sleigh that was dragging its way through snow as high as the box. Auntie was Archie’s sister—like him yet unlike, the same features of softer mould, lighted up with merry smiles that told of a happy heart. And there were children with her, and her husband, a stout hearty man with a loud voice. Sleigh after sleigh drove up the lane, each hailed with shouting and laughter, for each one brought not only the elders of the household but their children. What a shaking of hands and interchange of good wishes there was, and then came supper. There were over fifty guests, but there was ample preparation in the big back kitchen, where supper was served. When all had enough, including the dogs and Maisie’s pussies, the older folk moved to the front room. In a jiffy dishes and temporary tables disappeared in that big back kitchen, and the youngsters began their games. By-and-by a fiddle was heard, and I am afraid there was dancing. We had a happy evening. Two-handed cracks, stories, jokes, songs, made the time pass too quickly. It was a novelty to me that all the guests were either Irish or English; fine people, intelligent, wideawake as to the necessity of advancing and making improvements. Plates of apples and fruit cake appearing notified the time for parting had come, and in more than one mother’s arms rested a little one who had crept in from the big kitchen too sleepy to remain longer. In shaking hands with my newfound acquaintances, they all pled with me to pay them a visit. Before I fell asleep, I thought of what a fine yeomanry dwelt in the settlement, and the misfortune it would be if, by any legislative misstep, they were constrained to leave the farm.

Next morning I had, of course, to visit the stables and see the live-stock, and to judge as far as was possible, with two feet of snow resting upon it, of the farm and its surroundings. Every detail told of a capable and energetic farmer, who knew a good horse and the best use that could be made of pig and cow. There were no loose ends, everything was in its place and in the best of order. The hour I was left alone with Archie’s father and mother was as refreshing as a breeze from Scotia’s heath-clad hills. On asking grannie whether Mirren and Archie were her only children she answered, ‘There are two biding with the Lord.’ After listening to what they told me of how they came to Canada, of what Mirren and Archie had done for them, my heart swelled in thanking God that filial piety still cast luster on humanity. After an early dinner I left and reached Allan’s in time to share in the after-feast of the fragments of Christmas good things. Many a visit I have since that day paid to Archie, and many he has to me. It may be that neither of us having a brother we crept so close together that we are supremely happy in each others company even if we utter not a word.


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