MIRREN AND ARCHIE
A shepherd’s wage is small, and grows smaller as age creeps on. The young and active get the preference and the old have to take a lower fee at each hiring fair to secure employment. That was the experience of Archie’s father. At the best, it had been only with thrift ends could be got to meet, but as he aged it was a struggle. The children had to help. Archie hired with a farmer and in time rose to be ploughman; Mirren after learning to be a dressmaker, found to be in service was preferable. What they could spare of their earnings it was their pride to give in order to keep a home for their parents. While still a boy Archie had shaped in his little head a plan of going to Canada, where there was a possibility of becoming independent, and had begun early to try and save enough to take him across the Atlantic. He had fixed on $50 as the sum he must have, but found, with all the self-denial he could exercise, difficult to scrape together. Emergencies arose that required his breaking in on his little hoard of savings, and spring after spring he was disappointed in being unable to sail. His sister encouraged him. Like him, she was determined to break with the conditions that bound them in the chain of poverty. On Sunday afternoons, when they met, their talk was of the future that awaited them across the sea. It was not for themselves they planned and saved. Their ambition was to give a comfortable home to their parents, for they foresaw that, unless Archie carved a farm out of the Canadian bush, they would end in becoming a charge to the parish, which was revolting to them and which they knew would break their parents’ hearts. Of all misfortunes that can overtake them, to the independent-minded Scot the acceptance of poor relief is the lowest degradation conceivable. It was in the month of March, the time when ships were getting ready for the St Lawrence, that brother and sister had an anxious consultation. Archie had $40. Would he venture to go on that amount? The risk of longer delay, the doubt if another twelvemonth would increase the sum, were considered. Archie was for risking all—he wanted to end their suspense. ‘Go,’ replied the sister, ’father might not be able to stand the voyage if we waited two years more,’ and so it was settled.
While Archie had been scraping together the money needed for his passage, his mother and sister had been doing what they could to provide his outfit. The mother span and knitted stockings, a chest was got, and shirts and other clothing cut and sewed. To eke out the ship-rations provisions must be had, and in this neighbors helped—the wife of the farmer he worked for presented him with a cheese, she called it a kebbuck, and his father’s master insisted on his accepting two stone of meal, part of which was baked into oatcakes. The step Archie was to take was not only serious but dangerous, for