It was 3:15 PM. Due to his meticulous habits it had taken him over an hour to wrap up his work. David stood for a brief moment on the wooden porch that surrounded the yard offices, peering through the rain. He had forgone with his usual walking cane in favor of the new push-button umbrella. His first step was to make his way south to the McRossie residence. He set off in a run. Unfortunately his third step slicked his left foot off the wood step, threw his legs into the air, and landed his posterior on the mud road below. Unabashed, pain and concern for his well-manicured apparel was not relevant. He was in full-force duty mode. Only Family mattered. David John was undeterred.
The horse-drawn city-owned street cars were not in operation and with no horses or any other living beings in sight, David's next decision was to make his way three blocks to City Hall and Market Square in search of a carriage for hire. Going south in a run on Ontario Street should have taken him only one minute. But running and mud was not proving to be an expedient combination. He fell five times on the way. At the square he found a small cluster of waiting cabbies and made his way towards them. He hailed the nearest driver.
"What is your cost to take me to West Street?"
"Nothing? That's very Godly of you this afternoon," David replied, reaching for the carriage door knob.
"Nay. Nothing. Ye'r not gettin’ in and muckin' up me cab." And the driver rode to the opposite side of the street.
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On the third try David procured his ride. The fare was twice the usual amount, easing his doubt over his earlier decision to "borrow" money from McRossie petty cash. Seven city blocks took him to the McRossie residence
In pain from his earlier falls he was careful to not slip as he climbed up the brick portico.
Elthea, not surprised that her brother would be the first to check on her family, noted his soaked coat and mud-caked trousers.
"Oh David, your clothes are ruined! Are you hurt?"
"Never mind that," he retorted impatiently. "Is everything in order here?" Another thunder peal rolled.
"Yes, yes, where is William?"
"He's in the yard trying to tarp over the lumber stacks."
Elthea stared at David, taking in his words amd musing over the practicality of this feat.
"Well...he knows best, I'm sure," she stated with dubious hesitancy.
"Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, of course he does. Are you sure all is secure with you?"
Being assured that Elthea and her children were safe, he descended the porch and headed up West Street, towards Court and over to his new brick home (almost as grand as the McRossie mansion) at 164 Barrie Street, a half-mile trek.
After several minutes struggling against sleet David John began to flounder. The streets, usually packed dirt, were mud flows. The wind was howling. Terrifying lightening kept flashing, the rain continued pouring down in torrents, and night had finally taken hold. It was not quite cold enough to snow. But his chesterfield overcoat was soaked through and he was losing body heat. It took him ten minutes to forge the distance, with the brash wind blowing north from the St. Lawrence River. At about the Court Street curve his suspenders began to slip off his shoulders, catching on his waistcoat. Refusing to lose his beaver hat, he held on to it with a gloved hand. The gloves were soaked, his fingers cold and numb.
Upon turning the final corner and viewing his house, he spotted what he had feared. His two sons, Walter, age five, and little Herbie, age three, were in the street, in the rain, in the mud playing tag. Obviously, things were out of control.
"Get in the house!!" He yelled from ten yards away.
The boys saw, heard, feared, and ran. Inside the house they stared at their father, who was glaring angrily. Should he punish them then and there? A few seconds passed. The boys were shaking in fear. David still had his umbrella opened and his now crushed hat in hand. He was also shaking, but with cold. The umbrella was flipping water onto the entryway. The boys suspected an imminent whipping.
This was not the time for exact parenting. Changing his demeanor he said:
"I knew you both would be up to something inappropriate. Where is your mother?"
He didn't need an answer; he heard the crying upstairs. David's wife, Elizabeth Kells Hersey (1845–1931) had severe reactions to loud storms. He ran up the stairs to their bedroom, leaving mud prints along the way. Elizabeth was on the floor in a corner in fetal position. She was wailing. Minnie, aged nine, was holding baby Eliza and Harriet, aged seven, was petting her mother, cooing, trying to calm her. David lifted Elizabeth from the floor and carried her to the bed.
David addressed the sisters:
"Get under the covers with your mother, girls." They complied. He sat next to them, on the bed.
"Elizabeth! Elizabeth!" He snapped his fingers near her ear. She looked up at him.
"Elizabeth, you are not in the boat! You are home. You are safe; I am here"
Elizabeth, as a small child, had experienced a traumatic Atlantic crossing fleeing the Irish famine. Decades before in a three-masted sailing ship she and her family had endured a stormy, seven week voyage with several deaths. The ship had run into rocks on the St. Lawrence River and crippled, had made its way to Quebec. In storms like these Elizabeth often forgot the present and slipped into the past.
(See story here.)
He spoke firmly and directly. "Elizabeth, I am going to get you something to drink. I'm going down stairs. I will be back within a minute."
David hurried back down the stairs and crossed the dining room to the mahogany buffet. He reached over a sterling tray and poured out a glass of rosewater from an ornate Baccarat decanter. He called the boys to follow him upstairs, ordered them to wash and change out of their muddy clothes then return to their mother. David went to the tallboy dresser and took down the medicine chest, placing it on the vanity. Inside he found a small packet of laudanum. This he stirred into the rosewater and walked it to Elizabeth, who was still crying in bed, surrounded by the girls.
"Now drink this down. Everything is fine. You are safe at home." After making sure she had emptied the glass David returned the medicine chest to the top of the tallboy. Within a half-an-hour Elizabeth was asleep.
With the whole family in the bedroom he gathered the attention of his four children to make his dictum. Lifting Elizabeth's bible from the end table he said,
"Children, I have to go Grandpapa and Oma to check on them. I need all of you to stay here in the bedroom with your mother. Each of you. Can I count on you to help your mother and watch over her?"
Each of the four promised. Thunder peeled and the windows shook. They could hear the rain pelting the roof.
Shaking the Bible high in the air he said, "Walter, Herbie, do you promise on the Bible, that you will stay here in this room with your sisters and mother?"
"Yes Da'! We swear on the Bible," they promised in unison.
With a harsh look he declared, "If you do not stay in this room I will whip you when I return."
"Yes Da'! We swear on the Bible!!"
David John turned to leave. Just as he began to descend the stairs little Herbie gathered up his courage.
"Da, you look silly."
"Thank you, Herbert."
"An' I need to pee."