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© Jean Jardine Miller 2015.
They anchored early in the morning but were not able to disembark until after the new Governor General’s party had left the ship with many officials who had come aboard to escort them off. Cannons were fired and lines of soldiers were to be seen along the shore. Lord and Lady Dufferin and their children rode away into the town, in a carriage amid crowds of people who lined the way, and the emigrants were, at last, able to leave the ship.
Tom and many of the other boys were tremendously disappointed when they found themselves being ferried over to the other side of the river instead of following the Governor General. They had hoped to be able to see more of the troops they had watched from the ship. Instead, they were sent to a large shed to find their boxes which had been unloaded and piled on the floor and then to wait in long lines for the immigration inspectors to check their luggage and provide them with landing cards. Then a doctor and nurse inspected everybody. After all that, thankfully, they were herded outside to where a late breakfast, provided by the Immigration Society, was being served on trestle tables in the sun. On seeing their glum faces and hearing Edmund grumbling, the lady spooning scrambled eggs onto the tin plates handed out to them told them that this was where Wolfe had set up camp and laid siege to the city across the river and that it had been inhabited for centuries by Indian tribes. The boys’ faces brightened at this news, especially the part she related about Wolfe’s army firing cannons across the St. Lawrence.
“Climbed up the cliffs over there, they did,” Will said, when they had all satisfied their hunger with the fresh bread and scrambled eggs, something which none of them had ever eaten in such quantities before. “’Auled up the cannons and slaughtered them Frenchies and won Canada for the Queen.”
“No, we used to have a king then,” said Tom. “We’ve been having kings – all called George, they were, except for William, the last one – for years and years until we got a queen again. Wish we could’ve gone to the fort. That’s where Lord Dufferin went, they said – the mariners…”
“Them mariners ’ave a nice job, don’t they?” put in Edmund, changing the subject. “I wouldn’t mind bein’ a mariner when I grow up, takin’ emigrants over the ocean, I wouldn’t. I wonder ’ow you get to be one.”
“You have to apply to the steamship company, I expect. Anyway, it’ll be years before you’re old enough.”
“If I’d’ve bin able to stay in London and got apprenticed to me uncle, I’d’ve only ’ad to be fourteen – couldn’t, of course, ’cos me cousin was ’is apprentice – but wot I mean is that if you get apprenticed on the river at fourteen, maybe it’s the same for going to sea. And I’m eleven now, so it’s not so long, is it?”
“There was boys down below in the engine room, there was,” said Will. “I expect that’s all you get to do when you first start – shovel the coal…”
“Never mind. Miss Macpherson wants us all to be farmers, anyway, don’t she? If them eggs is what you get fed ’ere, it don’t seem like such a bad idea, does it? What d’you fink, Tom? Would you rather shovel coal or cows’ shit?”
“Ssh. You’ll get punished for –”
“Can’t send me to sit in the corner ’cos there ain’t one, is there? Goin’ to be out ’ere all day ’til the train comes, we are.”
“Well, watch the language anyway,” Tom told him. “We don’t want to be made to sit here all day instead of exploring, do we?”
“’E’s right, Edmund,” added Will. “They said we can get some proper exercise after breakfast. Prob’ly ’ave to run races and such, but maybe us three can sneak off and see what we can find…”
“Well… maybe stuff them Indians’ve left be’ind. Didn’t only fight the French ’ere, that lady said. Before that, there was Indian battles, too.
Them Frenchies even ’ad them Indians fighting for them. Scalped people, they did, in the night.”
“Come off it, Will,” said Tom. “That was over a hundred years ago. You’d have to start digging like an archaeologist to find things from hundreds of years ago.”
“What’s that?” asked Edmund.
“An archaeologist? It’s a man who digs things up to put in museums.”
“What’s a museum?”
“It’s a place where there’s things that people used to have. My pa used to go to one – in Bloomsbury, he said it was. Said he’d take me when I was older, but that was before he died…” Tom trailed off thinking how he’d never get to see the museum now.
“Well,” said Will, “I still think we should ’ave a butchers. Might even find somefink we can sell to a museum. Make ourselves a quid or two, we might. I mean, a dollar…”
“Don’t expect they have museums here. It’s not like the cities are big – like London.”
“Pretty big over there…” Will said, nodding towards the opposite shore.
“Not like London, though, is it?”
Before Will could argue further, Mrs. Merry rang her bell and told everybody to congregate at the far side of the field and they’d hold their morning service. She invited the other emigrants to join them just as she had when they were on the ship.
After the service, as Will had predicted, they ran races and when it became too hot to run about, they all sat down in the shade under the trees to listen to chapter nine from Pilgrim’s Progress, read by the children who were the best readers. Tom, of course, was one of these and had difficulty trying not to laugh when Will and Edmund made faces at him every time he said ‘Beelzebub’ until Miss Bilbrough caught them at it and sent them to sit at opposite sides of the group. Tom read on to where the pilgrims are beaten and put in a cage, then somebody else took over. He found it hard to listen to the story and wondered if any of the children really were. Most of the little ones had fallen asleep and many of the older ones were looking sleepy. The trial of Christian and Faithful before Lord Hategood couldn’t really compete with the excitement of being newly landed in Canada. He looked across the river and wished, again, that they could have spent the time, until the train came, over there where the arrival of the new Governor General was still being celebrated.
Pointe-Lévy, for all its history, did not have walls and a citadel and those tower things, the name of which Tom couldn’t remember. One day, when he had made his fortune, he’d come back here and explore the place. Maybe when he travelled back to England in a cabin instead of a steerage berth… Yes, he thought, there was opportunity here, in Canada, for a poor orphan to become a rich man. You could buy land, lots of it, for very little money and the family who took him in would have to pay him once he turned sixteen – four years from August – and he would save every penny of it until he had enough to buy his own land. Four years was a long time. He tried to remember the summer of four years ago. Harriet had been a baby then and Annie went to the infants’ school. He and Pa would walk to the school with her and then walk on to the boys’ school where Pa was the schoolmaster. He’d been proud of the fact that his Pa was the schoolmaster. It was beginning to be difficult, though, to remember Pa’s face properly now. He wished he had a picture. Ma had once talked about saving some money and having their photograph taken but it was expensive and he supposed she had never managed to have enough money to spare to actually do so. He imagined a picture of Ma with Harriet on her knee, sitting beside Pa and the two of them flanked by Annie and himself. It would have been so nice to have had such a photograph. When he was rich he’d have his photograph taken – he and Annie – and they’d send it to Harriet and John so that they’d know what they looked like. He knew that, if he was already beginning to forget exactly what Pa looked like after a year and a half, then it wouldn’t be long before his little sister and brother began to forget what he and Annie looked like. How long would it take to get rich, he wondered.