Martintown stories: Jacob and Ephraim

The Martintown Mill, in a photo provided to Postmedia by Calvin Hanson. Photo illustration by Hugo Rodrigues. Handout/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder Calvin Hanson / Reader Photo

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A story by Katalin Kennedy

Ten years later, the memory still haunts me. We arrived by ship, my twin brother Jacob and I, Ephraim. We did not want to leave our Ma and Pa. Jacob had cried, clinging to Ma’s apron.

“Ye ave ta go!” She tried to be fierce as tears trickled down her face. “We barely ave a crumb ta eat. Before long, we will have ta find another place ta sleep. London is na a place to raise growing lads for the likes of us. We do na wana send ye to the work house. This is better. The Children’s Friend Society promises ta take care of ye. And Ephraim, I charge ye, look affer your bruvah!”

She packed a small wooden box for us with extra clothes and each our favourite toy: a soldier and a dog carved by our Da, from scraps of wood. That was all we were allowed to take. Ma’s last words still echo in my ears. “I’ll pray for ye, every single night, me beloved boys.”

It took a long time to cross the mighty ocean. There were over two hundred of us British Home Children – boys and girls – forced to bunch up close to each other in the bottom of the rickety ship. They only gave us bread and water, and a bit of dry meat. It didn’t matter. Tossed up and down by the great waves, we were too sick to eat anyway.

When we arrived in a place called Toronto, they placed signs on us. Just our first name. A man asked how old I was. I told him: “Nearly fifteen!” He pulled me out from the group and said he would take me.

“I canna go wifout me bruvah!”

“Well I have no room for two of you. “

“Please, I canna leave Jacob be-ind. I promised our Ma.”

He finally said, “Alright! You will have to live in the barn. It will be dry. “

We got into his wagon with the tired horse. We drove for days huddled together – sleeping under the stars in this new country called Canada. He didn’t have much food to share. Jacob was looking more and more pale. I feared for him.

Seth Grant (from left), Ellie O’Shea and Mia Grant, with a home child trunk belonging to Edwin Matthew Baker, at the British Home Child Day event on Saturday at the Lost Villages Museum. Photo on Saturday, September 30, 2018, in Long Sault, Ont. Todd Hambleton/Cornwall Standard-Freeholder/Postmedia Network

At last we arrived. A big black dog greeted us. A woman came out of from the small log house with blankets and a bucket of hot food. There were some chickens pecking outside and some larger animals. I had to ask what they were, because I had never before seen the likes of them. They were goats. We were going to look after them; mostly we were to work in the fields. The barn was larger than anything I had ever imagined. It had a sweet smell I liked right away. It made Jacob sneeze.

Everyone was partial to me from the beginning. But Jacob, they ignored him. “He was too little to amount to much!” I still remember the farmer telling his wife. “Not like his strapping brother

Ephraim. Now that is a farm hand!”

The labour was hard. We ached at night, lying on the prickly hay with only the warmth of Molly the black dog, nestled between us. Molly became Jacob’s best friend.

As spring turned to summer, they didn’t notice that Jacob’s strength was increasing. I did. He started to look more and more like me. Sometimes he would even pretend he was me, because that way he got more food. He told me I was jealous of him. Maybe I was.

Our lives were simple: planting the wheat, harvesting it, then bringing the sheaves into the barn for threshing. The next step was to take the wheat and turn it into flour in a place called McMartin’s Mill. Arriving there, we saw that this was a village located beside flowing water called the Raisin River. The place also had a church and even a school. Jacob wanted to go to school.

“And what good would that do ye? This is our life now. Be glad ye have food ta eat and a roof over your head.”

Jacob was not satisfied. He had other plans. He wanted to leave the farm and live in the village. He wanted to learn things.

We began to argue a lot. We were still arguing the next time we were at the river, down from the Mill. We never fought like that before. We both fell in. I tried to grab him, but he hit his head and sank deep.

I bid Molly to get help from the men working at the Mill. It was too late. When we pulled him out, my brother was dead. They asked who he was. I lied. “It is me bruvah, Jacob.”

Ten years later, people still talk about the haunting at the Mill. They say it is Jacob’s ghost. I know better. It is Ephraim’s ghost! He is trying to reclaim the name I stole from him. I am Jacob.

Related


Martintown Mill Authors’ Challenge

On a weekly basis from July 6 to Aug. 17, readers will get to pour through a story written by eight local authors, all of which have a connection to South Glengarry. The stories themselves will also feature the mill and/or the tale of Jacob in some way. On Aug. 17, an online poll will open for readers to choose their favourite story.

The authors will be featured on the following dates (stories appear online the day before):

  • July 6 – Jim Barton
  • Today – Katelin Kennedy
  • July 20 – Leah Lindeman
  • July 27 – Bobi Poitras
  • Aug. 3 – Jennifer deBruin
  • Aug. 10 – Marnie Fossett
  • Aug. 17 – Bob Taylor

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