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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XI - Clearing Land


THE latter part of the month of April, in some seasons, brings a spell of dry weather. This was the case the spring that John and his friends went to the bush. The two fathers had made their arrangements to stay a week with the young people, and help to clear off a piece of land for spring wheat. The first thing to be done was to burn the heaps of brush that were thick and numerous all over John's twelve acres of chopping, with the exception of a small space by the house, which had been burnt in the fall. The most of the chopping having been done while the leaves were on the trees, the brush heaps were in good condition for burning.

There is something that is awe-inspiring in seeing a large fire anywhere; but to one who, for the first time, witnesses the burning of a large new fallow, when everything is dry as tinder, there are thoughts and feelings present that will not soon or easily be forgotten.

As he listens to the crackling of the flames, as they consume whatever they fasten on, he will think of the time when, "the heavens being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat."

As he sees the smoke rising in dark and whirling columns, as it ascends towards the sky, he is reminded of the "smoke that ascendeth for ever and ever."

As he watches the fire leaping up in cones of flame, rising higher and higher, as the heat increases, until it seems to send up its blazing tongues as if to kiss the sun, he will think of a world on fire.

And as the heated air rises and the cool air rushes in, from all directions, scattering the sparks and burning leaves here and yonder, he will think of the whirlwind of wrath, that will some day sweep all the enemies of good into the destruction that awaits the ungodly of every kind.

About eleven o'clock in the morning, the three young men started out with lighted torches, made of dry cedar, to set the brush on fire. The older men and the women were to stay by the house, with pails of water to put out any little fire that might kindle too near the house or stable.

The progress of the young men could be followed by the track of smoke and flame that they left behind them, and in about twenty minutes the whole clearing with the exception of the little space was in a solid mass of smoke and flame. They all stood and looked at the scene before them, until the heat sent the women into the house. The men, blinded by the smoke, covered with ashes and dust, and dripping with perspiration, battled back the fire when it came dangerously near to the house, but in half an hour the hardest of the fight was over.

"Burnt as black as your hat and nobody hurt and no harm done," was the laconic remark of Moses Moosewood at one o'clock p.m. that April day.

"Boys," said John to William and Moses, "would you like to take a stroll and have a look at your lots? We can't well do any more here to-day." They were both pleased with the proposal. They went into the house and loaded two guns to take with them.

"John, are you not afraid of getting lost?" inquired Mrs. Myrtle.

"No, mother, I cannot say that I ann."

"It seems to me," she answered, "that there is great danger in getting lost in such an unbroken wilderness. I suppose that in some directions you might go a hundred miles and not find a house. What would you do if you got off, where you could not make anybody hear you holla—and when you could not tell the way home."

"Well, in that case I don't know what we would do," said he, "but we are not going to place ourselves in any such position? But you ask, how far would we travel before we would find a house if we started in the wrong direction? That would be a hard question to answer. The Indians and old hunters say that to the north there are lakes as large as Lake Ontario, but they are a long way off. I don't intend to take my friends to hunt up these northern waters, as we would find nothing better than fish and Indians when we got to them."

"Have you a compass?" asked Mrs. Myrtle. "No, we don't need one," said John.

"How can you tell in what direction you are going without a compass?" she asked.

"Wherever nature has planted a hemlock tree, there it has planted a compass, and one too, that is not affected by mineral deposits," answered John.

"How is that," inquired John's father, who came in just in time to hear the remark.

"Last summer," said he, "two Indians came along one day, and asked for something to eat. After they had taken what I gave them, one of them said: `Me like to give white brother some to pay my dinner. Me hab no money, but me tell you someting. Did white brother ever see hemlock compash? Me guess not. Look at that tree dere,' said the Indian, pointing to a large one that is chopped down since. `Look up-up to very top. You see him lean over to east. Every one hemlock lean over to see sun rise, sun home of Great Spirit,' said he.

"As they were starting away I asked them their names, and where they lived. The old one answered, my name is Leaning Tree. My friend's name is Bending Limb. We live in Huron country. at Saugeen River."

"There is a germ of pleasant thought
Here by the wildwood Indian taught,
That nature bows a reverent head
When morning sun comes from its bed."

"Well, John," said the Squire, "do you think there is any truth in the Indian's notion about the hemlock?"

"Decidedly there is truth in it," said John. "You can't find a hemlock tree that the top branch don't lean to the east, unless the top has been broken off. And with this fact to start with, we can find any point where we have hemlock timber to look to."

"How is it that we never heard of that before? We have Indians in our vicinity, and we never hear anything like that among; them," was the remark of John's father.

"I suppose," answered John, "that one reason is because hemlock is not plentiful in that part of the country, so that the Indians have some other method of finding their way from point to point."

I have omitted to mention that two dogs had been brought along with the company; the one was a large mastiff, and the other a gray bull-dog, with a mixture of Scotch terrier. This dog was allowed to follow the young men to the bush. He belonged to Mose.

They soon came to the corner of Will Briars' lot. Here they saw the pretty little spring, by the side of which the surveyors were taking their dinner when they heard the sound of John's axe the year before. Will and Mose were delighted with the place.

"Here," said Will, "I shall build my house, and there will be no wells to dig."

"Yes," said Mose. "You can build your stable in that low place down there by the big hemlock. Then you can fix spouts to take the water as it pours out of the rock, and carry it right into the stalls without once having to lift it. Won't that be handy?"

"Look, boys," said John. "See that big tree-top leans to the east. Now we will go east about half a mile, and see what the land is like. Then we will turn south about half a mile. That will take us on the lot that has been applied for by Mose. Then we will turn west for half a mile, then north for half a mile, and cone back to the place of starting, as the documents say. Now let us see how nicely we can go around a square by the help of the Indians' hemlock compass."

"All right," said the other two. "You go on, and we will follow."

"Well," said John, "I will go ahead, and let Mose keep two rods behind me, and let Will keep two rods behind him, on a straight line. We will start east, and if I turn to the right or left Will must tell me. In this way we can go almost as straight as a staked line, if we are careful."

They started, and went on as fast as they could walk. The dog kept taking little circles, and sometimes chasing a chipmunk to its hole, and at other times treeing a red squirrel. He kept himself in motion till they came to the first turning point, according to their reckoning. While they were getting their bearing for the next start Will cried out,

"See that strange-looking thing there?" pointing with his finger. "What in the world is it?"

On looking, John saw something moving on the ground that seemed to be neither walking nor running, but it was waddling along a little faster than a snail, but not quite as fast as a duck.

When John saw what it was he said to Mose, "Call your dog, and hold him, for it will ruin him if he gets hold of that creature. It is a porcupine."

But it was too late The dog had got his eye on the porcupine, and in less time than it takes to write it he had hold of it. For a couple of minutes it seemed as though the dog was shaking a basket filled with white thornpins, and scattering them at such a rate that it was difficult to see the dog or his victim.

But the. fight was soon over, and the porcupine lay dead, nearly torn to pieces by the ferocious dog. But such a looking dog as was there to be seen is not often found. His mouth and eyes, and face and neck, and breast were thick with quills. In fact, he looked as though he had suddenly turned himself into a porcupine, only the quills were stuck in the wrong way. It was a sad sight to witness the sufferings of the poor brute as he rolled on the ground, and tried to dig the quills out of his mouth with his paws; and in every possible way he seemed to try to make them understand his tortures, and to ask them to help him.

After a while John said to Mose, "You can do as you like, but if that was my dog I would put him out of his misery as soon as possible. He never can get over this, and the longer he Iives the more will he suffer."

Mose said, "Boys, if either of you can put him out of pain by shooting him, I wish you would do it, for I confess I have not the heart to kill the poor brute, after he has come with me so far from his good home."

John Bushman quietly lifted his rifle, and in two minutes the dog lay dead beside his victim and his destroyer.

The three formed into line and started south for half a mile, as near as they could guess it. They then turned west, and at the end of another half mile they turned north.

"Now," said John, "we shall soon see how the old Indian's hemlock compass works, and what kind of surveyors we are.

"For my part," said Mose, "I have been more interested in the land and timber than I have in surveying. I never saw finer timber than we have come through since we started."

"John," said Will Briars, "how will we know when we get back to the starting-place? We did not leave any mark."

"The spring is there," answered John, "and the big hemlock will be a guide to the spring. We can't mistake them both."

"Is it not wonderful what a Bushman one summer in the woods has made of John," said Will to Mose.

"Yes," said Mose; "do you think that we can learn as much in so short a time?"

"Boys," said John, "none of us need pretend great ignorance of the woods. We can easily remember when there was plenty of bush in Pelham, and other townships around where we were raised. But going into a new place, and into it strange wilderness, is like going into wicked company. One wants to keep his thoughts about him, so as not to forget where he is."

They now started north to find the spring. After walking nearly half a mile, they saw the large hemlock, a little out of their course. But the deviation was so trifling that they were well satisfied with the result of their experiment. It was now near sundown, so they went home, and found that supper was ready, and the people at the house were waiting for them.

They had an appetite for their supper, so there was not much talking done by any of the young men till after the eating was over. Then they related the afternoon's adventures. Every one felt sorry for the fate of poor Grip, as the dog was called. That his backwoods life should terminate so suddenly and tragically was sad indeed. But, as no one was to blame but Grip and the porcupine, and, since they were both dead, there could be no reflections cast on any one. So Grip, like many another hero, soon passed out of sight and memory. Poor Grip: he conquered, but in conquering died.

"Well, boys," said Squire Myrtle, "since you have been away Mr. Bushman and I have done two good things. We have made half-a-dozen first-class handspikes, and we have found a beautiful spring of clear, cold water. The time will come when the spring will be worth a good deal."

"Where is the spring?" asked John, earnestly.

"In a thick clump of cedars, only a few feet from the edge of the lake," answered the other.

"I am very glad to hear it," replied .John; "I have often thought about water supply. But I had no idea of springs about here, as the ground is so dry, with no rocky ledges in it."

"Well, the spring is there, all right," said John's father, "and it is a good one. Water enough to supply two or three families."

"Don't talk about springs," put in Mose, "till you have seen Will's spring; it comes out of the rock in a stream the size of your arm, as clear as crystal, and as cold as ice-water. It comes out about three feet from the ground. By building his house in the right place, he can carry the water in pipes to his kitchen, and from there he can send it to his stable, and into the troughs to his cattle, without either lifting the water or taking the animals out of the stall."

Next morning the five men went to work to clear off ground for spring wheat. The two older men were old hands at logging. The young men had not done very much at it; but they had some experience, and were willing to learn.

John's oxen proved to be a good team for the work. They seemed to know what had to be done, and how to do it, and they would do their work without being whipped up to it. The first day they logged and "picked up" an acre or more. They fired the heaps after night, before going to bed. Next morning the heaps were well burned down. The operations of the day before were repeated, another acre was logged off and set fire to.

The next day was the Sabbath, and it was spent in resting, and in religious worship and conversation.

On Monday the two older men took a couple of guns, and Rover, the big dog, and went to pay the promised visit to Mr. Root and his men. The road was cut out and logged to the place where the men were at work, so there was no difficulty in finding their way.

They came back before sundown, bringing a lot of partridges, that Rover had started up, and the men had shot them. They had a glowing account to give of the land and timber where they had been. But they did not see any signs of a house, or shanty, from the time they left till they came back.

"John," said Mose, "You will be able to tell, in the years to come, that you were the first settler in all this section of country."

"I think," said John, "that I cut down the first tree north of where Mr. Ashcraft lives, that is seven miles south of this, you know."

"What made you come so far back, when there is plenty of good land before you get to this?" asked Mrs. Myrtle, of John.

"Well," answered John, "you see, I picked out the lot on paper, and the distance looked small on paper. I could not tell which was settled, and which was not, by looking at the surveyor's maps. But when I came last spring, and found that my land was so far in the rear, I felt a little like going back, and waiting till some settlers would come in. But then I thought it would not be manly. And I made up my mind to face the difficulty, and I am glad now that I did so. Now I will have a start sooner than I could have had if I had waited for some one else to break the road."

The young men had made out a good day's work, so the Squire said, and they felt that they could get along very well without the older men. But they could not do so much in a day.

By Wednesday night they had about five acres cleared, all but hauling off the rail cuts. That one man and a team could do, and John was to do it, and Mose was to go and help Will commence on his lot, till John got his wheat sowed. Then Will was to help at the logging again.

On Thursday morning the old people started home. Mary and her mother parted without any very boisterous demonstrations. They both had a good supply of fortitude and self-control, so that the parting was not as sensational as it would have been between persons of a more volatile nature. Though they had never before been apart for one week, and now they were parting for at least a year, neither of them gave way to her feelings.

After old Mr. Bushman saw how the two women deported themselves, he said to John, "There is good stuff. There are two Christian philosophers done up in women's clothes."

William Briars wrote a long letter to Betsy, and put a large red wax seal on it, that made it look like some of the imposing legal documents of the present day. This he handed, with great caution and with strict injunctions to secrecy, into the hands of Mrs. Myrtle, who promised him that nobody should see it or hear from it until she could place it in Betsy's own hands.

Squire Myrtle was to send the papers for the lot when he got them, for Mose. He was to direct them to Greenbush post-office, a new office opened since last fall. This would be only twenty miles away. Mose said he could go and come in a day.

After receiving many loving messages to those at home, from all the young people, the two teams started homeward about eight o'clock in the morning of a warm, bright April day. After they were out of sight John said to the other young men:

"Now, boys, we're in for it, to sink or to swim, to succeed or to fail, to live or to die. Boys, what this neighborhood is to be in future years very largely depends upon us. Shall it be a respectable, orderly, well-doing neighborhood; or shall it be the home of rowdyism, and the birth-place of all kinds of mischief? Now let us, right here and now, solemnly pledge ourselves to three things. First, we will always do what we think is the right thing, by everybody; secondly, we will, both by precept and example, discourage others from doing what is wrong; and thirdly, we will stand by each other, no matter who else may come here, and no matter what may happen in the settlement. If we do as I propose, we will be a source of strength to each other, and a blessing to the community."

"I am ready to do as you say John," said Mose, "I know that I shall need help, and I am willing to do what I can to help others."

"What do you say Will," asked John.

"As to that," said Will, "I am with you until the end of my life, by the help of God."

"We will consider that matter sinned, sealed and delivered," John said, as he walked into the house to see what Mary was doing.

He found her standing at the table washing up the breakfast dishes.

He turned her face up, and kissed her, and said, "Are you sorry, Mary, that you took the situation of a pioneer's wife?"

"No, John," she answered; "I did it voluntarily, because I wanted to be where you are, I expect to be lonesome for a time; but under the great guiding hand it will all come right in time. I like to be a pioneer's wife, John; I certainly do.


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