A STORY FROM REAL LIFE
SOMETHING TO INTEREST THE OLD PEOPLE OF ELDON AND THORAH
Somewhere about the year 1820 or 1825 I cannot now recall the exact date as I have only my own memory to guide me -- I was too young to remember all, although at this far off date it seems like a distant dream, yet brought up and living among them, someway my heart warms toward these brave men yet, and will while life remains. I can now recall later scenes very vividly. My mind often goes back to those early days. How often I have stolen away from my father's house to spend the evening around the blazing wood fires listened with intense delight to wild tales of camp life and still wilder tales of battle as it fell from the lips of those brave men who had participated in nearly all the battles of the peninsula, commencing with Talavara and ending with the crowning victory of Waterloo.
Somewhere about the year mentioned the British Government decided to colonize in the then wilds of Canada, as many as could be induced to join. The little colony was to be composed of soldiers and their families whose term of service would soon expire and those who were incapacitated, from wounds or otherwise. many were past the prime of life but had served their country long and faithfully on many a hard-fought field. They deserved well of their country as the blood-stained fields of Spain can witness--and in names that are household words wherever our language is spoken. Those early colonists were principally from the Highlands of Scotland and many from the gallant forty-second and seventy-ninth regiments whose flags showed on the memorable field of Waterloo that had brave defenders, they riddled and torn by French bullets, their staves cut and scared by French Cuirassiers. A few days after came the Roll Call, with thinned ranks and still proud bearing, as they passed in review, Wellington could only exclaim in admiration "brave men." We to-day can only cherish their memory.
It is needless here to recount the hardships and difficulties surmounted, unaccustomed as they were to life in the bush. Habits formed around the camp fires. That easy thoughtless life they had lived, were not easily broken. Loss of old comrades often sent a pang of regret only to be shaken off by some roaring scene of jollity.
The date on which my story opens is about four years later, in a small village in the island of Islay --- A young and sorrowful looking woman with a little girl which she was holding by the hand was already on board of one of the little fishing smacks with all she possessed bound for Glasgow, where she intended to sail as soon as a berth could be procured for Canada to join if possible her husband's friends and comrades who were living on the shores of Lake Simcoe. A near kinswoman of her own had offered her shelter until such times as she could find a suitable berth. Arriving in Glasgow in due time she met a kind reception from her relative. To her she told her tale of sorrow and loss. She had, she said, married Donald she knew against his people's wishes, but he was good and kind to her and they lived so happy together until Donald joined the forty-second regiment; he was almost immediately ordered to join his regiment in Spain. She never heard from him again she said, his comrades could only tell her, that while doing outpost duty he did not return, it was all they knew. If she knew he was dead she knew she could bear it better but something told her he was still living. Her friend cheered her as well as she could and told her if Donald ever returned to Scotland he would surely come to her and she would write and send him on to Canada. She staid near a month with her friend who had a son nearly two years older than little Jessie who enjoyed themselves together so well that when parting came both little one's felt regret, each often spoke of the other and Angus told his mother with tears running down his face that he would go and bring Jessie back when he got to be a man.
Six weeks later, she arrived in little York, (now Toronto) a stranger in a strange land, tired and weary. Here she thought her journey ended but was told it was nearly eighty miles to Lake Simcoe where her friends were, through an almost unbroken wilderness with an uncertain stopping places and no means of conveyance for some time to come. A countryman of her own advised her to leave her baggage and go east as far as Perry's Corners, (now Whitby) and go north from there and perhaps chance might favour her. At Perry's Corners fortune did favour her, a man was going through within a few miles of her friend with oxen and a back woods jumper and offered her a ride. Five days later found her with friends from whom she received a warm welcome such as only Scotchman can give. Was she not one of themselves, was she not a soldier's wife and was she not fresh from their native land that they loved so well. In a few weeks a comfortable log house was built for her and furnished as well as her slender means would allow. Here beside the Talbot River near the Portage Road she lived a blameless life, her daughter Jessie being her only companion and hoping each day might bring her news of the lost one. In the meantime no name was more revered in all the settlement, her kindly heart and skilful hand brought her to many a sick bed. Many a brave heart passed out into the unknown and it was Janet who held the dying one's hand until their feet touched the other shore. Many offers of marriage came but the memory of Donald whom she loved so well, held her true to his memory, if he was living surely he would come to her soon. Jessie was now in her eighteenth year, tall of her age and nature had been very liberal and lavished upon her unusual charms. Her mother had trained her to habits of industry and she shared her mother's cares as well as her sorrows and while her mother attended the sick, Jessie's nimble fingers were busy with the needle or wheel.
One day in the early spring, a young man whose dress and general appearance showed plainly he had just arrived from the Old Land, arrived in the neighbourhood, anxiously enquiring of all he met for Mrs. K----, each telling him all they knew concerning her. Favourably impressed by what he heard he lost no time in finding their home. They invited him in, wondering whom he could be, he made himself known and told his errand. It was Angus and he had come for Jessie. He said she was always in his mind since they left for Canada and he could not do without her. The mother's heart almost stood still, what she had long dreaded had come. Jessie would not leave her, she hastily arose and left the house, she could not speak, Angus divined the cause and followed her. As soon as she could speak she said "Gae back to your ain hame, it is to rob me of all I have got in my old age, ye have come." Angus assured her of his great love for Jessie and said "if you consent you shall go with us as I have plenty for us all and Jessie shall not be parted from you and besides the lassie has not said she will yet" "aye but she will for I saw the same look in her eye that Donald gave me once and I cannot leave here for he may be even now on his way to me for I am sure he lives and will come someday." Angus lingered until Fall before the mother would consent to their union, but could not be induced to accompany them back to Scotland. The morning of their departure she was nowhere to be found and in a lonely thicket she had her dark hour alone at night. Kind friends gathered in and sat with her, no words were spoken. In bidding them goodnight she said "If he comes he will find me here."
Is it not strange, father and daughter, passed in mid-ocean, the one cheered by hope, the other could hardly be comforted.
We will now go back to Donald, and sketch his past history. Born of a highly respectable family, bearing the name of an honoured clan, being a younger son, family financial difficulties left him very slender means of support. Marrying the daughter of a tradesman, whose dower consisted of a warm generous heart and handsome face, they found it difficult to maintain their position as they wished. Fond of adventure and anxious to win a name worthy of himself, he made over his income to his wife and through friends, obtained a commission in the gallant forty-second and was almost at once ordered to join his regiment in Spain. While doing outpost duty, in command of a small body of men, they were suddenly surrounded by a superior force of the enemy and taken prisoners, under a strong guard. Donald, with a number of others, were compelled by forced marches across the frontiers of France, and confined in the village of Brienne. The place was of some importance, having a military college with some fortifications. They were confined in a large brick enclosure, and rigorously guarded. Strong in the faith of their countrymen and hoping soon to be liberated. Weary months passed until hope had almost died out. One day they noticed the excited appearance of the guards, the roar of cannon vibrated through the air, nearer! nearer! The prisoners were almost wild with hope, surely it was their countrymen, soon all was in confusion, desperate hand to hand fighting in the streets, soon the French gave way and the place was won by the Allies. As Napoleon sullenly retired, the shells from the French guns laid the college in ashes and amidst the bursting of shells and the crash of falling walls, the prisoners were quite forgotten, they made frantic efforts to escape. Donald was struck senseless to the ground, where he was found next day, more dead than alive, with an ugly wound in his forehead, from which he was delirious and for weeks he hovered between life and death. Strange to say, his convalescence was followed by complete loss of memory, while his other faculties seemed to be unimpaired. He could not even remember his own name. In the excitement that followed the fall of Paris, he was quite forgotten by his comrades. One day he was missed from the hospital and could not be found, although messengers were sent to find him, they either could not find him, or made very little effort to do so. Under those circumstances he became a wanderer among people who could not understand his language.
His manner was harmless and so childlike that he soon endeared himself to the good-natured peasantry and for years wandered up and down until by chance he strayed into Bordeaux, a seaport town in the south of France. When noticed he was sitting near the dock, looking out upon the sea, rubbing his forehead, seemingly trying to recall something and muttering in Gaelic, almost unintelligible. A sailor, a countryman of his own, hearing his native tongue went and stood by him and said suddenly, "What's your name?" as quick as flash he answered "Donald K----," "Where are you going?" was answered just as quick, and as if the effort was too great, nothing more could be obtained. On enquiring little could be gained concerning him, the captain concluded to land him in Islay, as he would call there on his return, which he did. He was recognized as soon as he landed, here among old familiar faces and scenes, past events slowly returned to him. His one cry was for his wife and child, his friends could tell him nothing, only she had gone to Canada. They paid his passage as soon as they deemed him well enough to go, which was nearly 2 years after his arrival. Arriving in Montreal he commenced his pilgrimage, enquiring of all he met without hearing anything definite until he arrived in Kingston, where he accidentally met the late Peter Cameron, of Thorah, who assured him for almost a certainty that his wife and child were living somewhere on the Portage Road, near the Talbot river. He hurried forward and late in November about 3 o'clock in the afternoon he was seen going north along the third concession of Eldon, then an almost unbroken bush, only one shanty on the entire line, which stood in what is now the village of Argyle. The same evening he reached what was then and is still known as Logan's Hill, no doubt weary and tired, he sat down to rest, fell (as is supposed) asleep, from which he never awoke. His body was found next morning cold and stiff, his brave spirit had fled out into the unknown, surely to a better world for him than this. The body was left as it had fallen until the arrival of a magistrate, when it was removed into an old building, long since fallen down. Papers found on his person explained all the circumstances described above and they were seemingly prepared with a view to secure a pension. a short note, dated Kingston and signed by P. Cameron, with directions to his destination was also found. It was evident he had served in the forty-second and Sergeant Ross was sent for, he recognized him at once and spoke of him as one of the bravest of the brave. His old comrades dug his grave on the hillside and in a rude coffin, laid him away. After consulting with, the magistrate it was agreed to seal up his papers and keep concealed his identity. They knew that his wife had long waited and wearied for his coming, which now could never be. Her daughter was gone from her and brave men as they were, they could not tell her of this sad, sad ending. A few weeks later, a letter came to the now really a widow, from Jessie, urging her to come to her and share her beautiful home on the Clyde. Strange to say she consented, for she said, someway lately it seems that "Donald has gone out of my life." She returned to Scotland leaving behind her a name that is yet remembered by some old people. There about ten years later she died in her daughter's home. The friends in Canada were duly apprised of the fact and concluded to tell the daughter all the facts, which they did, enclosing the papers found on him. In due time a letter came asking if the remains of her father could be sent to Scotland, offering to pay all expenses as they wished to bury them side by side in their native soil. A suitable coffin was procured and when the grave was opened, only the rude coffin was there, some ruthless hands had stolen the body.
Thus closed a real scene. Few knew it all at the time, and now they have passed away.
An Interesting and Unromantic Ending to A Story from Real Life
The the Editor of The Express:
I read with interest in two late numbers of the Express a Story of Real Life -- of Donald, his marriage, the birth of Jessie, he joined a regiment and went to the war; he being taken prisoner and confined in a French fortress; being injured on his head, his many years of wanderings through France, his wife emigrating to Canada and settling on her wilderness home on the Talbot River in the Township of Thorah, of Jessie growing to womanhood, her marriage, her return to Scotland and settling on the Clyde.
Donald's return to the Highlands, his determination to find his wife; his coming to Canada, his search, his meeting "big" Peter Cameron, in Kingston and leaning the whereabouts of his wife; his reaching Logan's Hill on the 3rd line of Eldon within a few short miles of her he loved best on earth, when, like the gallant wounded steed, nearly in sight of his goal, he fell exhausted, death, cruel death, seized him and ended his hopes, his fears and aspirations; beside a bush road and alone in North Eldon, his body was found and buried in a grave in the wilderness, the wife losing hope of ever meeting her Donald again went back to Scotland to Jessie, her death and burial beside the River Clyde.
Jessie hearing of her father's search, death and burial in a wilderness grave, sent to Canada to have her father's body brought to the dear old land and laid beside her mother on the Clyde, the discovery that vandal hands had robbed the grave of its dead. This sounds quite romantic but I see nothing unreasonable or improbable in it. Truth in some instances is said to be stranger than fiction.
Donald joined the army, went to the peninsula and fought the battles of his country and of Europe against the despoiler of nations, the great despoiler, the great Napoleon. Perhaps no wars since the world began have been so prolific of events in the career of men and of nations, as were the wars arising out of the French Revolution. The writer has read many thrilling and ventures by the military and of civilians during those wars, of awful tragedies, dreadful sufferings and hairbreadth escapes. That almost surpassed belief, were they not well authenticated facts. The history of Napoleon, the hero of the French Revolution to generations in centuries to come, will read more as a romance than a true history of an extraordinary man. It was British prowess and British gold in subsidizing the nations of Europe that defeated the French Emperor in his mad career for universal empire and sent him a prisoner to St. Helena.
But to return to Donald, who was indirectly a victim to the conqueror and the conquered Napoleon, buried in his lonely grave at or near the village of Bolsover now stands. Who can imagine Jessie's feelings when she heard the sad news that ruthless hands had stolen the body from its peaceful grave and deprived her the consolation of mingling the ashes of her parents on the banks of the Clyde. It can well be believed many were the maledictions Jessie poured forth against the robber of that lonely forest grave. What cared the despoiler, he either made use of the remains professionally, or he sold it for money. In either case his curiosity or his cupidity was gratified and that was quite sufficient. What reeked he the tears of Jessie when weighed in the balance against his selfishness.
Well does the writer remember hearing many years ago of the body of a man being found laying beside the road, at or near the Portage Road in Eldon. It was rumoured the deceased was not of sound mind, that may have been the reason the body of the unfortunate and unknown was given sepulticre in the wilderness. Years after the interment the grave was reported being robbed of its tenant. I have many times seen the skeleton said to have been taken from that grave and many of your readers have likewise seen it, as it was not concealed as some would conceal a stolen skeleton of a fellow being.
The skeleton was in possession of a certain M.D. not forty miles from the village of Bolsover. it may as well be said that Bolsover has never had a resident M.D. I will not mention his name, but will give him a fictitious name, Dr. Jinks. Many years since I went into Dr. Jink's office and he showed me a skeleton. I asked him where he got it, he said it was the skeleton of the crazy man who died in the bush out on Portage Road many years ago. He wanted a skeleton so one dark stormy night he got two others to go with him, telling their names, with a lantern, dug open the grave, took out the body, took it home boiled and scraped the bones and fastened them together with wires. Many years that skeleton hung in the Doctor's office to be laughed at and jeered by the thoughtless and the depraved. Oh Donald! the gallant lover, the loving husband and father, heroic soldier in battle, why wast thou spared the enemy's sword or bullet in the fight, to die in the wilderness and alone, when thou hadst almost reached the partner of thy bosom, who had many years hoped, waited and watched thy coming, that thy body should be stolen from the grave, that thy skeleton should be hung up to be made a mockery of in the studio of a back country doctor.
Let the humane and the sympathetic drop a tear over the memories of unfortunate Donald, his faithful wife, and filial daughter, Jessie. Permit a few words as to Dr. Jinks. He is quite an old man and his days of usefulness are nearly run out. to him professionally those bones are of little use, he does not need the money that skeleton would sell for. He, I think, should find Jessie, if alive, or her family, and restore to them the skeleton of Donald, that it may be buried on the Clyde with her he loved so well. If she or they cannot be found, that the skeleton of Donald be given Christian burial with a monument to his memory &c. in some cemetery in this fair Ontario of ours, and in so far as he can, atone for having robbed the grave of its dead, in the interests of science.
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