Among the Forrest Trees Chapter XV - Winter in
THE month of November
came and went without much change in the new settlement. The
weather was growing colder. The nights were getting longer, while
the days were gradually shrinking.
John had prepared his
threshing-floor, and made himself a flail to thresh the grain and a
"fan" to clean it with. The "fan" was made something on this wise:
Some thin, light boards, or pieces of split cedar, were jointed
together, then cut into the shape of a horseshoe, only the two ends
were not brought so near together. Then a piece of some light,
bendable timber was dressed to the thickness of about half an inch,
and six or seven inches wide. This was bent around the bottom, and
nailed securely, leaving what would correspond with the heel of the
horse-shoe open. Handles were fastened to the sides of this. The
operator put a lot of uncleaned grain on the bottom of the fan. Then
taking hold of the handles, he placed the round end of the machine
against his waistbands, and commenced to waft the outer end up and
down, something as a woman wafts her apron to frighten the chickens
out of the garden. It is surprising the amount of drain that an
expert at the business could clean up in a day.
The flail was made of
two sticks. One of these was about the size of an ordinary hoe
handle, and was called the staff. The other was about three feet
long, and somewhat heavier than the staff, and was called the
swingel. These were tied together at one end, and the grain was
spread on a floor and pounded out of the straw with this implement.
The great difficulty
with this kind of threshing and cleaning was the "white caps." These
were simply grains of wheat that broke off from the straw but did
not come out of the chaff. And getting out the "white caps" was an
important item in grain cleaning before the days of machine
threshing. These white caps were generally spread on the floor and
threshed over again. But after all, they would often show up in the
wheat that the backwoodsmen carried to mill or to market.
Another one of the
necessities of the new settler is a sleigh or sled, for various
purposes. Bushman needed an ox-sled, and the question was how could
he get one. There was not a sleigh-maker within forty or fifty miles
of him, so far as he knew. The only way that seemed open to him was
by doing as bush-men so often have to do, viz., make the article or
go without it. A consultation with Will and Mose resulted in a
decision to go at it and make a sled. They went to the wools and
found a white oak tree, with a root turned in the shape of the
runners. They cut the tree at the roots, and worked out the runners,
so that by sawing them in two lengthwise they had a pair. They did
this with the whip-saw.
John brought with him
some tools, as every man ought to do who goes to the backwoods. As
it was in making the cart, so now in making the sled, they succeeded
better and sooner than they expected, and produced a very fair
sample of a strong wood-shod sled, good enough for anybody, as Mose
remarked when it was done.
The first of December
was here. The ground was covered with snow. Will and Mose were to
start, in a day or two, for the old homes. Among them they had
threshed out a grist to take to the mill. John was to take the grist
and go with them as far as Mapleton.
But in their hurry
and bustle to get things in shape for the movement, they had
entirely overlooked one matter of considerable importance, at least
one of the group thought so. What was Mary to do while John was
gone? Moses was the first to speak of it, by asking Mary what she
would do while John would be away. She answered, "I hardly know; but
I suppose that I and Rover can get along in some way for two days
and a night."
"I don't think," said
John, "that you and Rover are to be put to the test. Not, at all
events, if I can help it. I know what it means to be alone in the
house, with woods all around you."
"Look here, John,"
said Will, "how would it be for Mose and I to go over to Mr.
Crautmaker's and see if one of the girls would come and stay with
Mary till you come back. It is too had to go and leave the poor girl
here all alone."
"Bad or not, it is
not going to be done," said John. "But your proposal is a good one;
go ahead, and come back as soon as you can, and if the girl will
come, bring her along with you."
They started, and it
did not take them long to reach the place, as it was only one
concession, or about three-quarters of a mile to go. They found the
family busily engaged in putting things to rights about the house.
They had never seen any of the family except the old man and the two
eldest boys. The rest of the family consisted of the old lady and
two young women, and two boys, and a girl younger than they were.
They were very kindly received at Mr. Crautmaker's. After a little
talk on different subjects they told what they were after, and how
important it was that they should receive a favorable answer.
The old man was the
first to speak. He said, in his broken way, "I say, vile, ve must
acaomodate Meister and Meistres Pushman. Dey vill makes us goot
nibors, and ve must meets them half of de vay. Katrina must go and
stay shust so long as bieistres Pushman tells her to."
"Dat ish all right,
mine old man," said the old lady; "ye vill do shust as you say, for
you know deer beoples best. Katrina may go and stay till she comes
In half an hour two
young men and one young woman might have been seen going through the
woods, in the direction of John Bushman's. The girl was in the
neighborhood of twenty years old. She was the picture of blooming
health, about medium size, with a fair complexion, and of a
vivacious temperament, and yet exhibiting a maidenly modesty of
deportment that made her, on the whole, a person of more than
ordinary attractiveness. It is not to be wondered at if the young
men were somewhat interested in their travelling companion that
afternoon. When they came to Bushman's, Will told John and Mary that
it was his opinion that Moses Moosewood was hopelessly smitten by
the rustic charms of the unassuming Katrina Crautmaker. Whether this
were so or not time will tell. But one thing may be said without
pretending to read the future, and that is, the dreams that Mose had
during the winter were of a strangely mixed character.
Sometimes, in his
dreams, he would fancy that he was loading bags of grain on the
sled, and as fast as he put them out of his arms, by some strange
freak every one of them became a Katrina Crautmaker. Then again he
would fancy that the oxen were before the sled and Katrina and he
were on it and going down a steep hill. At other times the sled and
oxen would be absent, while he and Katrina would be carrying bags of
grain up a steep hill. And to finish up with, he would sometimes
dream that oxen, sled, bags of grain and Katrina, all in one
struggling mass of living helplessness, were thrown over a
tremendous precipice and were all killed and dashed to pieces. Yes,
Moses Moosewood's dreams were strangely mixed up that winter. Can
any one guess the reason of it?
Mary and the young
girl were mutually drawn to each other. Thoroughly honest natures do
attract one another by an instinctive or intuitive knowledge of each
other's character. These women were both thoroughly honest. They
became friends at once.
During the night some
more snow fell, so that now the sled would slip along nicely. In the
morning before they started Mary gave John two of the gold piece-,
that old Hickory gave her, along with a list of articles to fetch
from the store. This was the first time she had sent to the store
since she came to the bush.
They started about
daylight. Will and Mole were going home after an absence of seven
months. They expected to stay away till April or May. Will expected
to bring Betsy Briars back with him; Moses expected to come alone.
A great change had
been wrought in the character and habits of Moses since the time
that he came to see John Bushman about going with him to the bush.
Before that he was a wild, reckless, fearless and wicked young man,
ready for any kind of mischief that came in his way. But now he was
the same cheerful, buoyant young man; but his vivacity and
cheerfulness were of a different type. Now he could be happy and
joyful as the result of having made his peace with God.
Before they parted,
John cautioned Moses against allowing himself to be influenced by
old companions and old associations, so as to forget that he no
longer belonged to the thoughtless and giddy multitude, who seek
only the things of the present life, and give little or no thought
to the great beyond.
When the men got as
far as Greenbush post office they found two letters. One was for
Moses Moosewood, from his mother. The other was, from John's father,
telling him that, as soon as there would be good sleighing, he and
Mrs. Bushman would make them a visit. He was intending to bring the
sheep with them, and some other things, one of which would be a
barrel of apples.
Will and Mose left
John at the mill at Mapleton. They bid him good-bye, and went on
toward their destination. John found the mill so nearly empty that
his grist could be ground that night. As on the former occasion, the
miller insisted on John stopping over night at his place. In the
morning John got his things at the store for Mary, and putting all
on the sled he started for home. But before doing this he wrote to
his father, and put the letter in the office at Mapleton. In the
letter he asked his mother to fetch some dried apples, and cherries,
and peaches, if she could. He told his father to trade two of the
sheep, or sell them, and in their stead to bring along two sugar
kettles, as he intended to try the making of maple sugar in the
While John was away,
Mary and her new friend got along very nicely. They got acquainted,
and the friendship here commenced was designed to last, because it
was founded on mutual respect. In their conversation Mary found out
that Katrina was entirely free from love's entanglements, and that
both her heart and hand were disengaged.
"How did you like the
looks of the young men who went away with my husband?" asked Mary of
"I think they are
civil, nice young men," was her answer. Then, after a moment, she
said, "I suppose they will both be married men when they come back
in the spring?"
"William Briars will
likely be married before he comes back to my husband's sister, but
Moses, I think, has no expectations at present in that direction. I
am confident that he is not engaged, and I don't think that he ever
paid much attention to any of the girls of his acquaintance."
"Have you known him
long?" she asked.
"Yes; ever since we
were children. We came from the same neighborhood," said Mary.
The conversation here
dropped, as neither of the two had any reason for continuing it.
John had taken his
rifle with him, a thing that backwoodsmen very frequently do, and
some of them always do, when they go into the bush.
John got tired
walking, so he got on the top of the bags on the sled to ride aways,
and rest his limbs, as the snow was a little heavy to walk through.
He had not been long
in this position when he saw a drove of deer coming toward him. He
spoke to the oxen and stopped them. Then he got his rifle from where
he had laid it in safety down at the side of the box. By the time
this was done the deer were within some fifty yards of him. To lift
the gun and take aim at the foremost and largest of the deer was but
the work of a moment. At the crack of the rifle the deer dropped,
shot through the heart. The rest of the flock ran away a few rods,
and then turned and stood looking at the sled and oxen, as though
they had never seen anything like it before.
John looked at them,
as they stood in a row facing him. Then he said to himself, "The
meat need not be wasted, if I do kill another one."
So saying, he took
aim at the largest deer, and fired. At first he thought he had
missed it, by the way it ran off. But on going to where it had
stood, he found large spots of blood on the snow. He followed its
track for some thirty or forty rods, and there he found the deer
He said to himself,
"That is not badly done. Two nice deer inside of ten minutes."
He opened them, and
took out the offals, and then put them on top of the bags. By the
time he got home it was dark.
He found Mary and
Katrina waiting for him, with the supper on the table, all ready.
When he drove up to the door they came out. But when they saw two
pairs of pronged horns pointing at them, they ran back into the
Mary said, "For the
landsake, John, what have you got on that load that looks so
"Only some venison
that came in my way, and I brought it along," was John's answer.
To put away and care
for the oxen, and eat his supper, and dress the deer, kept John busy
till bedtime, with all the help that Mary and Rover could give him.
The venison was in
good order, the deer being fat, and their meat tender. Mr.
Crautmaker's and Mr. Greenleaf's families each got a piece of the
Mary was well pleased
with the purchases that John had made for her at the store.
When he gave her the
odd chancre that was left, John said, "Mary, you never told me the
amount of that handful of gold coins that Old Hickory gave you."
"Did I not, John?
Well, it must be because you never asked me, then. I will tell you
now. There were twelve guineas and two half-eagles."
"That was a good gift
for the old man to make to a stranger," said John.
"Well," said Mary, "I
was not more surprised at the old man's gift, than by the romantic
way in which it came about."
"Mary, I would like
you to tell the old man's story to Katrina."
"I have no
objection," said she; so, commencing at her first meeting the old
man, she told all she knew
about him up to the time that he crave her the gold.
When Mary ceased
speaking, Katrina, with considerable earnestness in her manner,
asked, "Do you know his real name? for, of course, Old Hickory is
only a nickname."
"I never heard any
other name for him," she answered.
"You say his wife
died in England?"
"Yes, so he said.
Both wife and child died there."
"Well," said Katrina,
"what I am going to tell you, please don't mention to any one else,
but there is a strange coincidence between your story and a piece of
family history that comes near to me and mine. My father has been
twice married. His first wife was an English woman. My brother John
is her son. She had a brother who lost a wife and little girl, with
small-pox, before she and my father were married. That brother went
away, and the family lost all traces of him, thirty years ago. Who
knows but Old Hickory may be my brother's uncle?"
"Since you speak of
it, I remember the old man said his wife and child died with
small-pox," Mary said.
"If he is my
brother's relative his name would be William Hedge," said Katrina.
"Well, at all events,
the coincidence is a striking one. We will try and find out what his
name is. Perhaps Mr. Bushman will be able to tell us when he comes
here," Mary said.
John came in from
looking after the cattle in time to hear what Katrina said about the
He said, "It seems to
me that I have heard the old man called Mr. Hedge, years ago, when I
was a boy."
"I think the same,"
said Mary. "It seems like a dream to me that I have heard that name
given him. But I can't be certain. However, we will let the matter
rest until father Bushman comes."
Next morning John put
the oxen to the sled to take Katrina home, as there was no track
across since the last snow. Mary was to go, too. She had not seen
any of Katrina's people but the old man and the two young men.
They shut everything
up, and locked up the house, leaving Rover to watch the place till
they came back.
"What would Rover,
do, if some one should come while you are away?" asked Katrina.
"He would not harm
him, if he kept his hands to himself. But it would be a little risky
if a stranger should meddle with anything about the place. The old
dog knows his place, and he will keep it, and he expects every one
else to do the same."
John put a quarter of
a deer on the sled for the two families on the other concession, as
Mary intended to call on Martha Greenleaf before coming home.
Before he started,
John brought out the rifle and put it on the side of the box where
he had fixed a place for it. Mary said, "Are you going to take the
gun along, John?"
"Yes, Mary," said he.
"This country is too new yet to undertake to carry fresh meat
through the woods without something to defend it with."
"Are you afraid of
Indians, Mr. Bushman?" asked Katrina.
"No, not Indians. But
the bears and wolves might take it into their heads to try my
venison. They are sharp-scented and saucy.
They started and got
along all right, and were at Mr. Crautmaker's by ten o'clock. Mary
was much pleased with the old-fashioned hospitality of this plain
and honest family. She spent a part of the day very pleasantly.
John's venison was a
great treat to them. In the afternoon John and Mary went to Mr.
Greenleaf's. He and Martha were very much pleased with the quarter
of the deer. They had their little shanty nicely fitted up; Martha
seemed to have "a place for everything and everything in its place."
Richard Greenleaf had made a commencement toward chopping a fallow.
He said to John, "Man, but this is a different thing from tending
cattle, and driving the old folks to church, and going to mill and
to market. This is the hardest work that ever I did."
"No doubt of that,"
answered John. "But there is one thing that you and I should not
forgetwhat we are doing now, our fathers had to do. They labored
under greater disadvantages than we do. But they succeeded, and we
will do the same, if we do our part as manfully as they did theirs."
"That is so," said
Richard; "I know my father and mother worked very hard, to make the
good home they now have."
Martha and Mary made
arrangements to spend the Christmas together at John's house, and
then the oxen were once more, put in motion with their heads turned
homewards, and in half an hour John and Mary sat comfortably at
their own fireside.
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