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The Narrative of Gordon Sellar Who Emigrated to Canada in 1825

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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....