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A Romance of Lake Wakatipu

Chapter XIII

page 50

Chapter XIII.

A Home Mission fulfilled—The Manufacturing Centre—Transfigurations of the Commercial Centre—The Clyde as it is and was—A Last Glimpse of the Distant Hills—The Young Men's Christian Association.

Josiah Begg's home mission being now fulfilled, we next find him en route for his home in the West.

In revisiting the land of his youth he had gratified an ardent wish; still, he could not disguise from his mind the gratification had proved in many respects disappointing. He had met with much kindness and civility; still, it had been a kindness and civility rendered him as Josiah Begg, the uniformly successful man, and not Josiah Begg the man who had at one time been one of themselves. Old familiar faces there were none. The very old ones had died out, and the more youthful old ones had changed, in accordance with the change and decay of advancing age.

In this transformation scene inanimate matter had likewise participated. Crossford, in his day a weaving village, had now become a manufacturing centre, and, instead of the whir of the weavers' shuttle, the din of the power-loom factory greeted the ear. The thin streaks of blue smoke which rose from the village hearths, circling up into mid-air, was now lost in the dense black vapour emitted by the tall chimney-stalks of the factories; and communication with the outside world, so long maintained by the carrier's cart, was now completely supplanted by a branch line of the Caledonian Railway.

With all these improved appliances for trade and commerce, Josiah Begg was at one; but, coming suddenly upon him, with his Old-World recollections of home as it was in the days of his page 51youth, he could not avoid the feeling that he was indeed a stranger in a strange land.

Glasgow, the scene of his early commercial triumphs, had become similarly revolutionised. Its more prominent landmarks were still there. Its venerable cathedral occupied the old spot, and looked down, as of old, with silent complacency on the growing city, the limits of which had now far outgrown eyeshot. The historical Molendinar Burn continued to flow on as it had done ever since the sainted Kentigern wandered by its fir-clad banks, and drank the waters of its limpid stream. These waters had now become sadly demoralised by the dirt and débris discharged from the public works and common sewers which lined its banks. So much so was that the case that even the saint himself, with all his reputed powers for regeneration, could hardly have purified its waters and made them fit for domestic use of even the meanest purpose. On the adjoining heights the Protestant reformer, John Knox, still stood on his lofty pedestal, Bible in hand, as if exhorting with outstretched arm the city spread out before him to hold fast the form of doctrine delivered to the fathers. King William, of blissful memory, at Presbyterianism has put it, still sat as erect as ever on his high-stepping horse at the cross, without having moved a step, despite the seeming fleetness of his steed.

It was in more minor details, however, the change had been wrought. Old streets had been widened, new streets formed, deep chasms bridged over and filled in, and many old well-known buildings had disappeared bodily, or else been put out of countenance by a use and occupation incompatible with their early identity. The old Glasgow University, with its parklands, on which the Battle of the Butts was fought in days of yore, had now been transformed into the goods-station of a large railway system; and the College, as it was familiarly named, had taken wings to itself and flown away to a more pretentious part of the city. The Bell-o-the-brae, memorable as the scene of a short but sharp conflict, in which Wallace distinguished himself, had been shorn of its acclivities, and pared down to the proportions of an easy grade. Even the classical Saut-market had dispensed with its dingy, ramshackle aspect, and had been widened out into a respectable thoroughfare. The page 52Clyde—a forest of shipping extending across the channel from bank to bank, until it became matter for conjecture how the traffic ever managed to force its way—had opened out its banks into large graving-docks, so that the water-traffic and land-carriage pierced and penetrated each other in a way which quite bewildered the eye of a stranger.

All these changes had been wrought during Josiah's absence; and the feeling of newness created thereby was felt to be so utterly incompatible with his memories of the past that his mind positively refused to be reconciled thereto. In that way Josiah Begg came to feel disappointed in his visit to his native land; and, on leaving it, he felt more than ever it was to him no more, in fond recollection, the land of his birth.

Leaving the quay in a stately ocean-steamer—that class of vessel which had now completely superseded the sailing-craft in which he first made the voyage out—a few mercantile friends waved to him a polite adieu. How very different from his former parting! It comprised the tears of a fond mother, the blessings of an aged father, and the heartfelt regrets of a large circle of friends and relatives, who long remembered the parting as one of sorrow. Now, however, it seemed to be looked upon in the light of a business transaction, and, with a hasty shake of the hand or wave of the hat, men went away about their own business, to remember the affair no more. That view did not escape Josiah's mind, and it all tended to confirm the feeling that dear old Scotland was no more the dear old Scotland of his boyhood.

In his passage down the river Josiah recognised many well-kent spots. Cart, the river of the Paisley bodies, had now been dredged and channelled, and what could barely float a coal-gabbert in his day was now getting fitted out for large foreign-going vessels, so that Paisley enterprise would soon rank amongst its achievements a direct shipping interest. Dumbarton rock, with all its historical romance, held still its old look-out to the sea. There it stood as immovable as ever, proof against all the change and mutation of time and decay. Passing Greenock and the Tail-of-the-bank, objects of interest continually presented themselves, in the shape of old familiar forms. Bute, Arran, and the Cumbrays were all more or less page 53intimately associated with his memories of the past. Ailsa Craig at last hove in sight. Passing this well-known landmark, the Atlantic rollers commenced to heave in amongst the waters of the firth.

Night had now fairly set in, just sufficient twilight being left to afford a glimpse of the distant hills. As the good ship forged on into the thickening gloom, Josiah instinctively grasped a small packet, which, being unfolded, disclosed nothing more than a withered plant. A moment more and the land was hid from view. Turning wistfully to the withered plant, he breathed a sigh. "And this," said he, "is all that remains to me in fond remembrance of life's early dream." It was the faded flower.

Returning to his state cabin, he shut himself up for the night, a prey to the conflicting emotions too plainly indicated in the remark just quoted.

In due course Josiah reached San Francisco. Like uniformly successful men in general, he was an object of interest to those around. He had at various times filled positions of public trust. As president of the Board of Trade he had sustained his well-earned reputation of a uniformly successful man. Although his forte was commerce, it was not his sole forte. He dabbled a little in gospel, at first sparingly, but latterly his evangelical efforts became more pronounced. At the time of his departure for Scotland he occupied the honoured post of president of the Young Men's Christian Association. On his return the young men were delighted to meet him. At an informal gathering of the association the interim president, a popular city clergyman, made feeling allusion to the circumstance, giving it as his opinion the reappearance of Mr. Begg amongst them in health and strength was a blessing for which they ought to be thankful. He then vacated the chair; and Josiah was formally reinstated, and acknowledged the compliment in a feeling speech.