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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter V - Mrs. McNabb

I WROTE to Eleanor, telling her how I had recovered Colin safe and sound, explaining why we could not return at once, and suggesting that if she had gained sufficient strength, she might come over and wait with Colin. In return I received a reply from my uncle, saying that Eleanor had not recovered from the shock of Colin’s abduction. She had read with joy my letter telling of his recovery, and illogically, perhaps, but very naturally, had been filled with hope that her marriage would one day be proved as valid by the law of man as it was in the sight of Heaven. This temporary exaltation had been followed by a physical reaction, and she had passed quietly and peacefully away, expressing her confidence and trust in my care, under God’s providence, of Colin’s future. Keenly as I felt the loss, I could hardly regret it for her sake. The future that would have lain before her could not have been bright.

I began then seriously to think of plans for the future. There seemed to be little reason why we should return to England. No prospects lay before me there, and Colin’s welcome in my guardian’s home might be very grudging. The whole countryside there knew of the charge brought against his mother’s marriage.

Besides, I had become acquainted with an estimable woman in the settlement, under whose care I was anxious to place Colin. She was Mrs. McNabb, a widow, with two girls and three boys of her own.

The difficulty was how to manage the affair. I knew she was poor, and that the burden of a mortgage weighed heavily upon her. She could not afford to take the child without recompense; yet I knew already from what I had seen of her, that if I offered her money as an inducement, she might refuse to take him at all. Her care for a child was not a purchasable commodity that could be bought and sold, and her poverty made her even more sensitive and fastidious upon such a point. I called at Mrs. McNabb’s house, and entered into conversation with her touching the events which had so startled the community.

"And little Colin," I said, when the conversation turned upon him, "he is now at Dooley the blacksmith’s, but I scarcely think it a suitable place for him; the boys are so rough, and Colin is such a sensitive child."

"Aye," said the widow, "that he is, and I confess that the very objection you have named to Colin’s remaining there has occurred to me. If the good Lord had but blessed me with enough of this world’s goods, I would have been glad to take the boy into my own home. But the winter has been hard upon us, following the crop failure of last year, and the boys and I have not been able to earn sufficient money to pay the interest on the mortgage."

"How do you manage to carry the mortgage?" I ventured to ask.

"Well," she said, "it was always poor Duncan’s ambition to lift it, and when he found that he was stricken with a disease which he knew was fatal, the sorest trial that he had to endure was that he must go and leave the mortgage unlifted. When he called the children in to give them his dying blessing, he charged the boys to struggle on with stout hearts to keep the interest paid, in order that the homestead might be preserved, and God, he said, would in His own good time provide a way to pay it off. But why should I complain?" she went on. "Indeed, I do not complain, for God has always been good to me, and I am ready to bear testimony that He has kept His promise regarding the widow."

She added thoughtfully: "If my boys were but two years older, I think it would be easier. Wallace says he is old enough now to go out to work. He has been anxious for a year or two to go to the lumber shanties with the other lads, but I tremble to let him go. Not that I fear he will fall into evil habits, for I think the foundation of a sound character has been laid, but I am fearsome for some harm to him, he is so young and inexperienced. But he says he will go next winter anyway, for he insists that he must keep his promise to his father and keep the interest on the mortgage paid.

"Then there is Willie, the next boy," continued the widow. "Although he is but fourteen coming Christmas, he is just as anxious to help as Wallace, and he declares that if his eldest brother goes to the bush he will go also. Indeed, Mr. Ross, I am blessed with good children, and I have no doubt that if their lives are spared, they will pay off the mortgage some day."

"Perhaps I could help you with the interest," I suggested. "I happen to have a little money at present, and if it would be of any assistance I would willingly let you have it, and you and the boys can give me whatever interest you think fair, and make your payments to me whenever you find it convenient."

I added hurriedly: "You see, Mrs. McNabb, it’s like this. The little lad Colin is, but for me, homeless and friendless. I would be very grateful to you if Colin could be brought up in your home. If you would allow me to see to it that this would not add to the burden now upon your shoulders, I would be thankful. I am not unmindful of the great additional care and responsibility that another boy in your home would entail."

Mrs. McNabb hesitated a moment. "Well, well," she said decisively and heartily, "it is perhaps the hand of the Lord. Who knows but He is just trying me! I would prove unworthy to turn my back upon the child. Bring little Colin to me."

And so it came about that Colin was taken to the home of the widow to live. The issues involved proved far-reaching, and whether or not the widow was re warded for her faith and self-sacrifice is a question which must be left to be answered as the story proceeds.

I took the earliest opportunity of attending to the interest on the widow’s mortgage and so set her mind at rest upon that score. I also procured a good supply of clothes for little Colin, and did not omit some things for the widow. I had to handle a matter of that kind with the greatest delicacy and diplomacy. Mrs. McNabb was a very proud, independent woman, in the best sense of the words, and would as soon have thought of accepting assistance which might be regarded as charity, as of cutting her hand off.

This matter being settled, I purchased a farm in the neighborhood. As time went on, I formed ties and associations in the settlement and excepting such visits as I may have made to other places, I remained there permanently; though, as lumbering was then the chief industry in that part of the country, I, like many other farmers, was frequently absent from home for months, in lumber-mills or in logging-camps. I became, in other words, one of the settlers, going in and out of their homes, sharing their joys and sorrows, sympathising with them in trouble, and rejoicing with them in prosperity.

In the meantime, however, came Wasby’s trial, one of the most sensational events that had ever occurred in Upper Canada. It is not my purpose to give the details, which can be found in the records of the county court where the case was tried, but simply to narrate the part that little Colin and I had in it. Then the reader will be invited to contemplate more cheerful scenes, and participate in events better calculated to inspire pleasant reflections and sensations.

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