In her first letter on returning to England Miss Macpherson writes: --
"BELOVED FELLOW-WORKERS, -- Once more at home among the old familiar scenes in the East of London, the sadness and the sin shadows our joy and thanksgiving. My first visit in the immediate vicinity of the Refuge I shall not soon forget.
"Taking good news of Andrew in Canada to his mother, I found his father lying dead drunk in one corner, and his little brother lying dead waiting to be carried off to the grave by the parish in the other.
"In the first low women's lodging-house, I found a poor misguided girl asking me, 'How's my little sister?'
"Passing on to Mr. Holland in George Yard, I cheered him with answers to his many inquiries as to the placing out of his rescued ones.
"Many a warm shake of the hand I had from poor costermongers and grey-headed men, for what had been done for their belongings in taking them from the sin and want around.
"My way is now open to go forward, as means permit, to rescue girls and train them for Canada or for service in England."
Miss Macpherson goes on to tell of the purchase of the Galt Home, 300 miles westward, and states the need in these words: --
"We found that to educate our Canadian family, and thoroughly fit them to be of value to the farmer, a few fields to work upon would be an advantage, that they might see the effects of new soil and climate, in the growth of vegetables, shrubs, and farm produce."
"Thou hast tried us as silver is tried. We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." This was the experience of the beginning of the year 1872. Miss Bilbrough's letter brings to mind Deut. xxxiii.12.
"BELLEVILLE, January 29, 1872.
"DEAREST ANNIE, -- It is indeed difficult to begin a letter to you, when I know you always open our letters feeling sure of good news. And yet this one brings you the best you ever had. Lives spared, I trust, to work more than ever for Him who hath done such great things for us. Our song is one of continual thankfulness and praise, and I know you will join us in giving thanks. Our beautiful Home lies in ruins, only the walls standing, and there is one little grave dug by Benjamin Stanley's, containing the ashes of little Robbie Gray.
"I hardly know how to begin, it still seems so terrible and real.
"We had had a happy Sabbath. We were to have an early breakfast next morning, and I awoke in the night thinking it was daylight. Miss Baylis came to my door, which was shut, saying, 'Miss Bilbrough, there's smoke!'
"I jumped up, and oh, the feeling, when I saw the house full of dense white smoke! I knew well what it must be. I rushed to Mr. Thorn's room, he was sleeping heavily, but I roused him, saying the house was on fire; then I went down to the boys, Philips and Keen, who were in the schoolroom, called them up and told them to save the children, and rushed upstairs, nearly choked, calling 'Fire!'
"Mrs. Wade, Miss Baylis, Miss Moore, all came out. Downstairs I ran again and unfastened the front door, and went to the corner of the verandah. Philips was getting out the children, and the flames were coming on with frightful rapidity; it was blowing a perfect hurricane, and the whole building was enveloped in smoke and ashes; I ran back half-way upstairs to see if I could get a dress, or my cash-box, or watch, but I was too much suffocated, and had to get back to the front door. Mrs. Wade, Miss Baylis, and the children, were making for the fence. I saw Mr. Thorn, and called to him to search again with Philips for the children.
"The intense cold in the snow seemed almost worse to bear than fire. We all climbed the fence and ran to the nearest house. Poor Mrs. Wade had got her hands frozen, even in that short time, as the thermometer was about twelve or fifteen degrees below zero.
"Here we called over the names of the children; some were here, some in another house, sitting over the stove with bare legs and only their little shirts on. Soon little Robbie was found missing, but Philips had lifted him out, and he had been seen running with the others; we suppose that the poor child, blinded with smoke, ran to the front door, and then went through into the schoolroom, the place he knew best, where he must soon have been suffocated. It was all over in a few minutes, all around was fearfully bright and lurid. The engine came, but was of course too late, the fire spread with such terrible rapidity.
"We sat almost stunned with fright and cold. Soon the Shearings and Elliotts came, bringing clothes, &c., and we went to dear Mrs. Elliott's house in a sleigh. It was not four A.M., and the fire was almost out, burning round the verandah and the window-sills.
"Oh, how our hearts went up in thankfulness to God for sparing mercies! A few moments more, and we dread to think of what might have been. Miss Baylis' door being ajar, the smoke got in; mine was shut, my room was free, but I saw the light on the window. Miss Moore was in Miss Lowe's bedroom; she could not realise it, and, after being first roused, was going to bed again.
"As soon as it was daylight I went with Mr. Thorn to see the ruins. All around the melted snow had frozen like iron; the thermometer, which was hung on the verandah, was found uninjured; nothing was found but a table and one stove; all gone. Books, papers, clothes, everything; but there in the blackened ruin lay distinctly the charred frame of little Robbie. Mr. Thorn went for Dr. Holden and a coffin, and the remains were brought to Mr. Elliott. Dear little fellow, he was the most prepared of any of the little ones to go. This is such a comfort to me now.
"I had gathered the little ones round me in the evening before the fire, when the others were at church, and we had sung some sweet hymns. I made Robbie especially stand beside me, and made him sing alone. 'I will sing for Jesus,' was the hymn he chose. He sang it sweetly. How little did I think in a few hours he would be singing the 'new song' before the throne! His history in our book is very touching. 'Robert Gray, aged six; a happy little man, who can say little or nothing about himself.' The rest of the page is blank, as he had never been away from Marchmont. An inquest was held over the body. We wished it especially, so that we might have an investigation as to the cause of the fire.
"Dearest Annie, when I think what it might have been, and the grief of all at home, and the intense sorrow, oh, it makes one so thankful! I felt Jesus very precious through it all, recognising His hand in so many ways. I had had much blessed communion with Him that Sunday, and several seasons of sweet prayer. I can fully realise that for me it would have been all right, if the Lord had ordered it otherwise; but for the sake of those at home I bless God for life spared, and trust earnestly the Lord may give us all increased power and spiritual life. Having passed through 'the fire,' may we also receive the baptism of the Holy Ghost. And oh, may our lives be more and more devoted to His service! Not our own, but bought with a price, may we live more and more unto Him who hath loved us!
"Miss Moore was out at nine o'clock in the woodshed; all was safe then. Mrs. Wade locked the doors at ten with stable lantern in the wood-shed (the boys' summer dining-room), and then all was safe; the fire in the kitchen stove was out. She came shivering in to-prayers a little after ten. The parlour fire was nearly out, and Miss Baylis and I were quite cold. The fire upstairs was not lit, nor had any ashes been taken up on Sunday morning. If any had been removed on Saturday, they were placed in iron vessels in the first kitchen. The fire broke out in the further corner of the wood-shed. The cause is so far quite unknown, and will, I suppose, ever remain so.
"I send you the account of the inquest, and other papers, as I know well it is better to see and know all particulars. I cannot, however, tell of all the kindness and sympathy we have met with -- a telegram from Mr. Claxton, offering money, &c., Hon. George Alien wishing to take the children; Mr. Eason: 'I am praying for you, can I help by coming?' numbers of friends coming with clothes of every kind; subscriptions got up to start a new Home immediately; sewing societies at work and ladies canvassing the town in every direction for help to furnish another Home at once. I could not even begin to particularise our friends. Mr. Flint came up at eight, begging me to come to his house.
"This afternoon we have buried little Robin. The service was held in Mr. Elliott's church.
"How often we have thought of home friends during the last few days, and longed that you might not hear the news in any way till this reaches you, which will be nearly three weeks! and now you must fancy us happy at our work again, and as much under the loving care and protection of our God as ever, trusting only to Him for everything, that whether absent from the body, or still in the flesh, we may be more and more filled with faith and love for the Lord's work.
"Wednesday. We seem each day to realise only more fully our marvellous escape. The firemen say they never remember such a night, nor saw a house burn so rapidly. Now every one is so kind; things keep pouring in for the new Home; -- it is to be Canadian this time, not English. Mr. Flint says he has written to you, telling you all, but he could not tell you one quarter of the kindness we have met with on every hand.
"Oh, that verse in Isa. lxiv. II, is so expressive:
"'Our beautiful house where we praised Thee is burnt up with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid waste.' What a ruin Marchmont is now! the blackened ashes all around -- nothing but the walls standing. I feel such mingled feelings as I look at it -- all the happy days we have spent there -- the holy associations never to return again.
"'We have no continuing city here,' was the text which filled Mr. Thorn's mind, and it is one we hope more than ever to keep before us. This trial seems to have given the four of us deeper sympathy and interest together. So nearly entering eternity together, and yet saved, we trust, to render more devoted service to the Master, for having passed through this fiery trial.
"I can hardly bear to think of all the sorrow you are feeling for us; but oh! let thanksgiving and praise be uppermost. It is the one thought that fills our minds. We are wonderful in health, no cold, and are as occupied as possible, looking after the children, and preparing for the new Home. Happily, Charlie the horse, the sleigh, and the buffalo robes are safe, and most useful we find them now.
"I am so thankful that it will be nearly three weeks ere you know, and you must think of it as past and gone, and, if possible, just at first see the beginning of great good in making the work more known, and rousing the sympathies of others."
What, Marchmont gone!
It was but lent:
Still are its memories dear!
How fair were they!
Oh home of praise and prayer!
Can we forget
We were not there
All safe with Him;
They wait His word --
S. R. GELDARD.
All former kindness was as nothing compared to that now received, as will be seen by the following from Miss Bilbrough: --
"BELLEVILLE, February 2, 1872.
"I know that many many prayers are now being offered for us, and that the Lord is answering them every minute, giving us sustaining grace and wisdom, and help as to the future. I knew it would be five weeks before I could hear from you, and I could trust that all we might arrange here would meet your approval, as it has generally done.
"However, the Belleville people, with Mr. Flint at their head, quite took the matter out of my hand, being determined that they would provide and furnish themselves a still better house than Marchmont. The sympathy awakened is great, and the pleasure of friends at hearing that we could have a large substantial house on the Kingston Road for our orphan children was equally so. Mr. Flint has secured it for three years, the Council paying the rent and taxes, and sufficient is already gathered to furnish it. So that when the first arrivals come in May, all will be ready for them.
"How good the Lord is! even out of apparent trial He brings the good. We had been praying for special blessing, and in this way, (strange as it seems to us), we do recognise the answer."
In March, Miss Macpherson writes: --
"BELOVED FRIENDS, -- While you are reading this, my pathway will again be upon the mighty deep. The Lord willing, I look to leave Liverpool by steam-ship 'Scandinavian,' March 7th. Miss Reavell, who has for two years been our scribe in the Refuge, accompanies me. Your prayers have gone up that blessing may be ours, as a little band of feeble workers for our Lord, and if He has been pleased to try our faith by the trial of fire, shall we not praise Him for anything His loving hand doth send us? And as one has beautifully said, 'What God takes it is always gain to lose.' Heaven is nearer now our little Robbie is there; Jesus is dearer, and has quickened us all by His constraining love.
"My object in going now to Canada without children is twofold. Strength being given, my desire is to visit the new districts, where I hope in the coming summer to place out the hundreds now under excellent training and holy influence here and in Scotland, and to find out Christian families who may be willing to receive them on arrival. Plead that the Holy Spirit may fill with power those who are daily seeking to win these wanderers back to the fold.
"Secondly, I wish to make use of the late sad calamity, and God's wonderful interposition in saving life, so that the teaching may not be lost upon the hundreds of immortal souls connected with our mission."
It is impossible to describe the eagerness with which the arrival of these dear friends was looked for, and day after day, those in service in and around Belleville would come with the hope of seeing them. And among these were former match-box makers, who had been rescued from such depths of sorrow; one of whom had already saved from her wages sufficient to pay her brother's passage out, besides bringing offerings of her own work towards the furnishing of Miss Macpherson's room in the new House. Through many dangers they were brought safely, in answer to many prayers, but Miss Reavell had suffered much on the voyage, and one special instance of the Lord's care I cannot help here recording, "They shall abundantly utter the memory of Thy great goodness." Miss Reavell had been a most diligent and necessary labourer at the Home of Industry night and day. At sea her strength seemed to fail; she only existed on oranges, and the last orange was gone. In the midst of a fearful storm, signals were made by another vessel that they were without food, and the life-boat was put off from the steamer, carrying to the distressed vessel a barrel of flour and pork In return, a thank-offering came in the shape of two boxes of the best oranges, the ship being from Palermo, bound for New York with a cargo of fruit. "Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered."
The visit of Miss Barber, a Canadian lady of influence, to the Home of Industry, was the means of interesting friends in the Eastern Townships' Province of Quebec, and of leading them to open a Home at Knowlton.
The following letter is from Miss Macpherson: --
"The year's experiment in this new district will enable us to test it as to whether it will be a suitable one for our children; if so, it will not cost many pounds of English money. The old house we have taken was formerly a tavern, and its ball-room will make us an excellent dormitory; the rent is only 20 pounds, and is paid entirely by a Canadian. Should the children thrive under the fostering care of our dear friend Miss Barber (now doubly dear to us all after the winter of help she has given us in the East of London), there will be no difficulty in establishing a permanent Home, built of brick, half of the necessary sum having already been subscribed in and around Sheffield, Leeds, and Nottingham; and the other half our friends in the province of Quebec have freely offered to collect. Thus will those both on this side and at home share the benefits; the old country seeing hundreds educated that might otherwise in a few years become expensive criminals, and the new country, receiving, ere habits are fixed, young life which, in future, will call Canada 'the home of its adoption.'
"Though, according to all accounts, this is an uncommonly heavy snow-season, I have no fears for the children, the air is so dry and clear, and well fitted to invigorate their frames. This morning I started about five o'clock, and soon forgot the fear which had crept over me but a week ago, when I took my first winter journey among these snowy hills. 'Knowledge is power,' and the experience of dangers met and passed gives quietness and confidence.
"You will be imagining that owing to these prolonged snow-storms all work is stayed. Not so; everything goes on most vigorously -- lumbering, carting, cutting wood for summer's need. Ladies seem always busy; yet as it is often seen, those who have most to do can best arrange to be at leisure. There is an education of forethought caused by having to watch against the heat and cold; this has deeply interested me in the practical manner in which they are going to work in furnishing this Eastern Townships' Home. In return for the kindness shown to this Mission, may the whole district be spiritually blessed, and may our loving Lord be the joy and strength of each faithful labourer!
"The heavy calamity that it pleased our Father to send by fire, has accomplished in a few weeks that which would otherwise, humanly speaking, have taken many years to make known. Our motives and principles of service were all new, and even our simple faith and trust in prayer were often misunderstood. Though we had travelled several thousands of miles in Canada, seeking to stir up Christians to aid us in finding and watching over the right home for our children, we had no medium on this side like 'The Christian,' by which we could communicate with those like-minded, and tell them of our burdens.
"The Hon. B. Flint tells us how the hearts of his fellow-townsmen were moved with compassion on hearing of the destruction of the Children's Home, on that terrible night, and that some of them attempted to ascend the hill and offer aid, but had to turn back, unable to face the hurricane and tempest.
"The citizens of Belleville have contributed freely towards replacing the Home, and the Lord's dear children all over the land have sent their love-offerings. The County Council received testimonies from many of the homesteads concerning the six hundred children placed out round Belleville, and generously contributed 500 dollars to show their esteem for the work. The funds in hand led Mr. Flint, after the withdrawal of the rented house at first proposed, to purchase a freehold of three and a quarter acres, possessing a good house and out-buildings, which were adapted to our use by the addition of dormitories, and furnished by the aid of the ladies of Belleville. This Home is now given to us for so long as it shall be used by our mission band in connection with the emigration of children to this district."
In April, a detachment of thirty elder boys arrived, to be followed quickly by others.
In June 1872, when 150 emigrants arrived, 50 children were sent to each of the three Homes now opened to receive them, and for several years this order was observed, until other arrangements were made to meet the growing character of the work.
The following tells of the progress of the Galt Home: --
"Many will wish to know how this Home at Galt shapes itself, and would be amused at the varied occupations of the past week.
"A Canadian springtime is very brief, so we have had to buy a span of horses and a plough, and, with the aid of other neighbours' ploughs, the corn and clover seed will soon be all sown. The ladies of several churches have met in the council-chamber, and worked at all household gear, others superintending the house arrangements, and purchasing necessary things.
"My part has been that of a faithful recipient, giving praise from hour to hour to Him who hath laid my every burden here on His own children's hearts. The past little season has been to me a precious rest-time, seeing others work. We expect to be all in order by the arrival of our next party. The threshing-floor we have transformed into a dining-room; one of the barns is fitted up as a dormitory. The chaff-house makes a lavatory; and, from the interest around, we do not expect to keep our little men very long out of the homes waiting for them.
"The love-tokens here, as at home, are varied in their character. Our farmer's wife has set us up with poultry, another with eggs; a little boy brought us his pet hen as an offering; indeed, wherever we turn, some kind thought is shown, and our hearts are gladdened, and our faith is able to rejoice at the prospect of returning home, and gathering up another thousand precious young immortals from the depths of our sin-stricken cities, and placing them out in homes where Jesus is loved."
In June, Miss Macpherson was welcomed back with warm thanksgivings, having left the Home at Galt under the wise and loving care of her faithful companion, Miss Reavell. In after years Mr. and Mrs. Merry devoted themselves chiefly to this branch of the work, and have been the watchful and tender foster parents of this ever-varying family. It would be hard to say whether Mrs. Merry's presence was more valued here, or among the sorrowful widowed mothers in Spitalfields.