Gordon Sellar.

The Narrative of Gordon Sellar Who Emigrated to Canada in 1825 online

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[Illustration: Frontispiece.]

The Narrative


+Gordon Sellar+


Emigrated to Canada in 1825




_Copyright, Canada, by Robert Sellar, 1915._



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 shouting 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 bed 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 it. 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 change and it
was for the better. It might be a week after, I 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 and 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.

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 I 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 said no visitors were admitted to the fever-ward.
Could he find out how she was? He spoke into a tin tube and coming back
opened a big book. 'She died yesterday,' he said quite unconcerned. I
could not help it, I 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 little 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 would point 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. I 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 lead 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. At 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 Sundays. 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 me 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 and I went
away. It was the sweetest bite I ever got. 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 six 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 master I 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 to-day, 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 in 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 and 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 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 he
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. As 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'. From the Covenanters he
passed to politics. He was a weaver and did not like the government,
telling me, seeing where I came 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 soon 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 my 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.


Hating to be a burden on the family I was eager to work. Too weak for
farm duties, I helped about the house and came, in course of time, to
earn a good word from grannie. Tho of the same age, there was a great
difference between Allan and myself. He could lift weights I could not
move, did not get tired as I did, and as the stronger took care of me We
were all happy and getting-on well when trouble came from an unlooked
for quarter. The master got notice from the factor that, on his lease
running out the following year, the rent would be raised. He did not
look for this. During his lease he had made many improvements at his own
cost and thought they would more than count against any rise in the
value of farm lands. He remonstrated with the factor, who said he could
do nothing, his lordship wanted more revenue from his estate and there
was a man ready to take the farm at the advanced rent. He was sorry, but
the master had to pay the rent asked or leave the place. If I go, what
will be allowed me for the improvements I have made? Not a shilling; he
had gone on making them without the landlord's consent. You saw me
making them and encouraged me, said the master, and I made them in the
belief I would be given another tack to get some of the profit out of
them. The factor replied, Tut, tut, that's not the law of Scotland. The
master felt very sore at the injustice done him. On his lordship's
arrival from London, accompanied by a party of his English friends, for
the shooting, the master resolved to see him. On the morning he left to
interview him we wished him good luck, confident the landlord would not
uphold the factor, and we wearied for his return. The look on his face
as he came into the kitchen showed he had failed. He told us all that
passed. On getting to the grand house and telling the flunkey he had
come to see his master, the flunkey regarded him with disdain, and
replied his lordship was engaged and would not see him. Persisting in
refusing to leave the door and telling that he was a tenant, the flunkey
left and returned with a young gentleman, who asked what was his
business, saying he was his lordship's secretary. On being told, the
young man shook his head, saying his lordship left all such matters to
his factor, and it would do no good to see him. Just then a finely
dressed lady swept into the hall. Pausing, she cried, 'Tompkins, what
does that common-looking man want here? Tell him to go to the servants'
entry.' 'He wants to see his lordship,' was the reply. 'The idea!'
exclaimed the lady as she crossed the floor and disappeared by the
opposite door. The master could hear the sounds of laughter and jingle
of glasses. 'My, good man,' said the secretary, 'you had better go: his
lordship will not see you today.' 'When will he be at liberty to see
me?' asked the master, 'I will come when it suits his pleasure. I must
have his word of mouth that what the factor says is his decision.' The
secretary looked perplexed, and after putting a few questions, among
them that he had paid his rent and wanted no favor beyond renewal of his
lease on the old terms, he told my father to wait a minute and left. It
might be half an hour or more when a flunkey beckoned the master to
follow him. Throwing open a door he entered what he took to be the
library, for it had shelves of books. His lordship was alone, seated by
the fireplace with a newspaper on his lap. 'Now, say what you have to
say in fewest words,' said the nobleman. Standing before him the master
told how he had taken the farm 19 years ago, had observed every
condition of the lease, and had gone beyond them in keeping the farm in
good heart, for he had improved it in many ways, especially during the
past few years when he had ditched and limed and levelled a boggy piece
of land, and changed it from growing rushes into the best pasture-field
on the farm. 'Gin the farm is worth more, it is me who has made it and I
crave your lordship to either give me another tack at the same rent or
pay me what my betterments are worth.' His Lordship turned and touched a
bell. On the flunkey appearing, he said to him, 'Show this fellow to
the door,' and took up his newspaper. As the master finished, he said to
us, 'Dear as every acre of the farm is to me, I will leave it and go
where the man who works the land may own it and where there are no lords
and dukes, nor baronets. I am a man and never again will I ask as a
favor what is my due of any fellow-mortal with a title.' We went to bed
that night sorrowful and fearing what was before us.

When he took anything in hand the master went through with it. Before
the week was out he had given up the farm, arranged for an auction sale,
and for going to Canada. My heart was filled with misgivings as to what
would become of me. I knew crops had been short for two years, and,
though he was even with the world, the master had not a pound to spare,
and depended on the auction-sale for the money to pay for outfit and
passage to Canada. I had no right to expect he would pay for me, and all
the more that he would have no use for a lad such as I was in his new
home. It was not so much of what might happen to myself after they were
gone that I thought about, as of parting with the family, for I loved
every one of them. I knew they were considering what to do with me, and
one day, on the master getting me alone, he seemed relieved on telling
me the new tenant of the farm was going to keep me on for my meat. I
thanked him, for it was better than I looked for. These were busy days
getting ready. Alice noticed that, in all the making of clothes, there
were none for me, and I overheard her ask her mother, who answered in a
whisper, that they had not money enough to take me along with them.
Alice was more considerate than ever with me. To their going grannie
proved an obstacle. She would not leave Scotland, she declared, she
would be buried in it, she would go to no strange country, let alone a
cold one like Canada, nor cross the sea. Her favorite of the family was
Robbie, on whom she doted. 'You will not leave him?' asked the mistress.
'Ou, he'll gang with me to Mirren's,' the name of her daughter in

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