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Neighbours   By: (1880-1959)

Neighbours by Robert J. C. Stead

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Author of " The Cow Puncher ", " The Homesteaders ", " Dennison Grant ", " The Empire Builders ", etc.






My earliest recollection links back to a grey stone house by a road entering a little Ontario town. Across the road was a mill pond, and across the mill pond was a mill; an old fashioned woolen mill which was the occasion and support of the little town. Beside the mill was a water wheel; not a modern turbine, but a wooden wheel which, on sunshiny days, sprayed a mist of jewels into the river beneath with the prodigality of a fairy prince.

My father worked in the mill, as did most of the men and many of the women of the town. That was before Unionism had succeeded in any general introduction of the eight hour day; my father started work at seven in the morning and worked until six at night. His days were full of the labor of the mill, but his evenings and the early, sun bright summer mornings belonged to his tiny farm at the border of the town. We had two cows, a pig or two, some apple and cherry trees, and little fields of corn and clover.

The mill pond was held in check by a stone dam which crossed from the road almost in front of our door to a point on the mill itself. The stone crest of this dam rose about two feet above the level of the water in the mill pond, and was about two feet wide. Along this crest my father walked on his way to and from the mill, but I had strict orders not to attempt the feat, with the promise that I would be thrashed "within an inch of my life" if I did.

And now I must introduce Jean Lane, daughter of our nearest neighbour, Mr. Peter Lane. Jean is to travel with us through most of the chapters of this somewhat intimate account, and you may as well meet her at four, bare footed and golden haired and blue eyed, with a wisp of white cotton dress and a gleam of white teeth set between lips of rose leaf. Demurely down the road she came to where I lay sprawled on the river bank contemplating the leisured precision of the water wheel beyond. When she reached me she paused, sat down, and buried her feet in the soft sand of the bank.

"I want to go to the mill," she said, when her little toes were well out of sight.

"But you can't go to the mill," I said, with the mature authority of six. "You'd fall in."

"I wouldn't, neither," she glanced at me elfishly from under her yellow locks "not if you helped me."

It was a difficult situation. Here was I, a young man of six, honored by a commission of great responsibility from a young woman of four. My native gallantry, as well as a pleasant feeling of competence, urged that I immediately lead her across that two foot strip of masonry. But the parental veto, and the promise of being thrashed within an inch of my life, sorely, and, as it seemed to me, unfairly, curbed my chivalry.

"I'd like to take you over, Jean," I conceded, "but my father won't let me."

"Did you' father say you mustn't take me over?" With almost uncanny intuition she thrust at the vulnerable spot in the armor of my good behavior.

"No; he didn't say anything about you."

"Then you can take me?"

I dug my toes into the sand beside hers, but did not answer.

"If my big bruvver John was here he'd take me over, quick ," she continued, with a quivering lip.

John Lane was six, like me, and no bigger. The allusion to him as her big brother, who would take her over quick , and the quivering lip, were too much.

I scrambled to my feet. "Come," I said, with masculine recklessness, starting for the dam, and she followed joyously.

We were about half way over when something happened I never knew what but I plumped into deep water like a stone thrown from the shore. I took a great mouthful and came up spluttering, choking, frantic. The slippery wall gave no grip for my hands, and in a moment I must have gone down again, but Jean's head came out over the ledge and her little arms were reached down to mine... Continue reading book >>

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