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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XVI - Visitors and Callers


ONE bright and cold moonlight night in the last week in January, about eight o'clock, John and Mary were sitting by a good fire in the room, that answered to the name of kitchen, dining-room, sitting-room, parlor and drawing-room, or in fact, any kind of room but bedroom. While sitting by a good fire in this very accommodating room, they thought they heard the tinkling of sleigh bells.

"What is that?" said Mary.

"It sounds like bells. I will go out and see if I can hear anything out of doors," John said. But before he had time to reach it, they heard a sleigh drive up to the door and people talking. The next moment Betsy, closely followed by her mother, walked into the room.

After kissing Mary and glancing around the room, Bet said, "John, you go out and take care of the horses, and let father come in to the fire. He is nearly frozen by coming to this awful cold country."

"Why, Betsy, how you talk; father has not complained of the cold," said the mother.

"No, mother, he don't complain; you know, he never complains. But I am in a hurry for him to come in and see what a cozy little nest his first-born son has got himself settled down into," said she, looking at John and laughing.

"Never mind about the nest, Bet. If you find the bird all right. Your turn will come if you only have patience to wait for it," said John, as he went out of the door, just in time to escape the big ball that Bet had made by rolling up her shawl to throw at him.

"What a wild girl you are, Betsy," said her mother.

"Never mind, mother. It is so long since I saw him, that I am dying for an old-fashioned frolic with John. I almost wish that we were children again," she answered.

Mr. Bushman brought a heavy load of things. Between sheep, and sugar-kettles, and apples, and pork, and dried fruit, and grass-seed, and a lot of things sent to Mary by her mother, he had as much as his horses could get along with.

After the team was put away and the sleigh was unloaded, the rest of the evening was spent in telling what had taken place about the old home, and the new one, since they last met.

John's father was well pleased with what John told him about his crops. He also commended John's course about sowing the fall wheat. That was just the place to sow the Timothy seed that he had brought with him. And the sheep would need a pasture field, and that was the quickest way to get it.

"What will you do with your sheep until you get a pasture field for them?" asked Betsy of her brother.

He answered, "I will keep them shut up in a pen and feed them on beaver-meadow hay and green leaves or anything that they will eat, until the grass grows in the meadow. Then I will cut grass and feed them. For this first year I must do the best I can with them. After that I can have a suitable place for them."

"Mary, can you card and spin?" inquired Mrs. Bushman.

"Yes. Mother taught me how to do both," she replied.

"There is a Scotchman settling on the lot opposite to Will Briar's lot, who is a weaver, and he is going to bring his loom with him when he moves in here. We will be able to get weaving done near home," said John.

"Scotchman, your, granny," said Bet. "Have you forgotten already, that you have a sister who can weave?"

"O, dear me. Now I have done it," said John, in a half whining tone. "I have passed by the prospective Mrs. B 's, and gone to a Scotch weaver to get some cloth made. But let it pass this time, sister dear, and the next will be brought to you."

"Well, of all things, but you are the provoking tease. I won't touch your nasty old yarn," she said, pretending to be out of temper. Then turning to Mary, she said, "For your sake, Mary, I will do your weaving when everything is in readiness."

"No matter for whose sake it is done, so long as it is well done," said John.

Next morning, when Mrs. Bushman and Betsy could look around and see the place they were delighted with it. The lake and the evergreens that surrounded it, with the white snow everywhere showing itself among the leaves and branches, made a picture of rural beauty not often seen. But when the sun got up, so that its rays struck the water at an angle of about forty-five or fifty degrees, the beauty of the scene was greatly increased. The sun-light, as it touched the rippling surface of the water, seemed to plant luminous centres all over, and from those centres there went out, in all directions, what looked like streams of yellow light, and these, falling upon the snow, partly hidden among the evergreen branches, gave it the appearance of lumps of amber, so that the mingling of light and shade, and the mixing of so many different shades of color, gave to the lake a stamp of beauty seldom met with anywhere. After they had been looking at the scene before them, Ms. Bushman turned to John, and said, "It would be worth a trip from our place to this, if it was only to see that one sight; it is so charming."

"I am glad you like it mother," said John. "I often think of the bright world beyond the storms of life, when I look at Sylvan Lake in its gayest dress."

"John," you have made a good hit by coming to the bush just when you did," said Mr. Bushman next day, looking around the place.

"I think so, too, father," John answered.

"Yes, there is no doubt of it. I see that some twelve or fifteen settlers have made beginnings along the road this side of Mapleton since we were here last spring," was the father's answer.

When they went into the house, John said, "Mother, would you like a ride on an ox-sled?"

"Well, John, it would not be the first one, for I can remember when we had to ride on the ox-sled or walk," she answered.

"Well, then, for the sake of old associations, you ought to have such a ride. I propose to take you all on a visit to our only neighbors, Mr. Crautmaker's and Mr. Greenleaf's. We have plenty of prospective neighbors, but as yet we have not many real neighbors. What do you all say? Will you go?"

"We might as well get acquainted with the people around here," said Mr. Bushman; "and I think we had better go."

"All right, then; that is settled," said John.

"Will you let me and Rover keep house?" put in Betsy. "I am afraid of those big Dutchmen over there."

"Now, Bet, none of your nonsense. Do you think that because Will Briars has been soft enough to try and captivate you, therefore no other young man can be where you are without trying to catch you?" said John.

"Well, if you are not the most impudent biped that I know of, my name ain't Betsy. But, listen:

"I know a man who feels so big
Because he has a clever wife
To cook his meat and clean his knife,
That he is saucy as a pig.

But if I had that woman's lot
I'd tell him plumply to his face
That he must learn to keep his place,
Or I would smash the dinner pot."

"There, now, you have got my opinion about you," Betsy said, as she waved her hand toward the door, as an intimation that he should get the sled and oxen ready.

"Well, of all things, Betsy," said her mother.

"Mother," said John, "I like it. Mary is so still, I can't get any nonsense from her, and you know Bet and I were always bantering each other. And yet we never had a quarrel, or anything like it in our lives."

"I was only joking," said Betsy. "I want to see Katrina, for I am pretty sure that Mose is more than half in love with her already."

"Katrina is a nice girl," put in Mary.

All was ready in a short time, and away through the woods they started. As on the former occasion, John took his rifle along. They went to Mr. Crautmaker's first, and spent a pleasant time with that family.

During the conversation, John asked his father if he knew the name of the old man who was called Old Hickory.

"Yes," said Mr. Bushman. "I was a witness to the deed when he bought the farm where he lives. His name is William Hedge. Why, what made you think of him now?" he asked.

Mr. Crautmaker spoke, and said: "I once had a brother-in-law by that name, my first wife's brother. He lost his wife and. only child by small-pox over thirty years ago. He seemed all broken up, and went off no one knew where, and the family lost all trace of him."

"What age would this man be, and how long have you known him?"

"About twenty-two years, I think, and he is about seventy years of age, I should say. We have not been much acquainted with him, as he always kept out of society," was answered.

"I have a portrait of mother, and I will let you see if there is any resemblance to the old man in it," said John Crautmaker, who had been a very intense listener to the conversation.

The portrait was examined by Mr. and Mrs. Bushman. They both thought that they saw a striking resemblance, making allowance for difference in age and sex.

"See here," said Mr. Bushman to the young man. "If you will let me take that picture with me, I will show it to the old man, and see if he will recognize it."

"I will willingly do it if you will give yourself the trouble to go and show it to him, and let me know what he says about it," said he.

"I will gladly do that, and let you know the result. When William Briars and Moses Moosewood come back in the spring, I will send the picture to you by them," Mr. Bushman said.

After this arrangement was made the visiting-party left, and went across to Richard Greenleaf's. Here they were warmly received by Martha, who had often heard Mary speak of them. After spending a pleasant afternoon with this interesting young couple, the party went home, in time to attend to the chores.

When they came within sight of the place, they heard Rover barking fiercely. They hurried on to see what was the matter, for he never barked like that unless there was some cause for it.

When they got around to the stable, they saw that Rover had a man treed on the hen-house, and was barking at him. The man looked frightened when he saw them come into the yard.

John called the dog off, and then went up to the man, and asked him what he was doing there.

"I am here," said the man, "by the order of your policeman that, it seems, you left to take care of the place. I made a mistake. But he would not take any explanations. He has kept me here for four or five hours."

"What did you do?" inquired John.

"I will tell you," said the man. "I am on my way to a settlement some twenty-five or thirty miles from here. I was told that a new road had been cut through the country, and it is the shortest and best way to go to where I am going. When I came this far I felt hungry, and I thought that I would go in and see if I could get something to eat. I went to the house and found no one there. The dog watched me very closely, but he did not molest me. I thought that I would look into the stable, and see what was there. That is where I made the mistake. I had only put my hand on the stable door, when the dog took hold of me, and to get away from him I got upon the hen-pen, where he has kept me till now."

"Well, my man," said John, "I am sorry that you have been detained by the dog. But I can't blame the do; for doing as he did. You can't go on any further to-night, so come in and content yourself till morning. We will give you your supper, and bed, and breakfast, as a sort of compromise for your forced detention by the dog."

"All right; I shall be thankful for your kindness," said he, as he walked toward the house, the dog keeping close to him.

Next morning, after breakfast, the strange man started on his journey, as he said, to the next settlement, saying that when he carne back he hoped to be able to make some suitable return for their kindness.

When he had gone away, Mary said, "I am not at all anxious for his return, or for remuneration. I don't like the looks of him, and I would not trust him."

"I agree with you, Mary," said Mrs. Bushman, "about that man. I would be afraid to trust him. And yet I could hardly tell why. He seemed civil enough. But I feel that I would be unsafe if I put confidence in him so far as in any way to put myself in his power."

"That is a little strange," said John. "That you should both have the same opinion about him is what I can't understand, and yet you may be right."

"I would almost be willing to vouch for it, that they are right," said John's father.

"On what grounds, father?" asked John.

"On the ground that women are seldom, if ever, wrong in the estimate they form of the character of a strange man," he said.

"Are they better judges than men are on this subject?" inquired John.

"Yes, decidedly so; only in their case it is not judgment, but it is instinct, or intuition, that governs their conclusions."

"I don't think that I understand your meaning," said John.

"Probably not. But I will explain. We get all the information we can about a man, and we mentally take his measure. After we have gained all the facts that we can in regard to the man, we base our judgment on the ascertained qualities of the man, and form our estimate of him accordingly. But with women the process is entirely different. When a true woman comes into the presence of a strange man, if she will note the first impression that arises in her mind, and governs herself by that, she will seldom, if ever, make a mistake in estimating men."

"Well, I never heard of that before," said he.

"I suppose not. I don't know that we ever had any talk on the subject before. But Mary's remarks about that man brought the matter up. One thing I do know; in my own experience I have, on different occasions, been saved from loss through taking your mother's advice about strangers, even when she had no other reason to give for her fears than simply, 'I don't like the looks of him.' And, on the other hand, in some cases where I have acted on my own judgment, and gone against her advice, I have found, in every instance, that her estimate of the person was the correct one."

"Good for you, father Bushman," said Mary. "That will count one for my side, won't it?"

"I suppose it will," he answered.

"Father," said John, "how do you account for what you say is a fact about women's reading of men's character?"

"I suppose we may say it arises from the law of compensation that is said to run throughout animated nature. By this law the balance or equilibrium of creation is kept up. Where there may be weakness and inferiority in some respects, there is always a compensating strength and superiority in some other respect.

"For instance, those creatures that are easily destroyed have the power of rapid increase. So that, although they are individually weak, they are numerically strong. On the other hand, the strong and ferocious animals increase slowly, so that, though they are individually strong, they are numerically weak. Compare the power of increase of the lion and the tiger with that of rabbits and rats, and you see where this compensation comes in.

"Take another illustration. You tell about Moses' dog and the porcupine. Now, the little porcupine could not run as fast as the dog, nor could it resist his strength. But nature, or rather the God of nature, compensated the porcupine by surrounding it with a coat of mail, made up of a thousand barbed arrows, any one of which might kill the dog if it pierced him in a vital part. While the dog was swifter and stronger than the porcupine, he had no such weapon for self-defence as the weaker and slower creature had.

"Now for the answer to your question. A man relies for self-protection on the force of his will, the clearness of his intellect, and the strength of his arm. But woman was not made to fight, nor to defend herself by acts of prowess. Her strength is found in the correctness of her intuitions, the quickness of her instincts, and the strength of her moral perceptions. With these in their normal condition, she is comparatively safe. But when these are overpowered she becomes like a ship on a strong sea without a rudder or a pilot, driven before the gale and as likely to be dashed upon the rocks or among the breakers, as to reach the safe and quiet haven." Mr. Bushman spoke truly.

And Milton does no violence to nature, when he makes Mother Eve trample on her own instinctive feeling, and lay a suicidal hand upon her intuitions and moral perceptions, by parleying with the devil, before she yielded to temptation. "And that the woman who parleys with temptation is lost," has been true from the days of Eve, till the year of grace 1888. And I will venture to repeat Mr. Bushman's statement, and endorse it, that if a woman will be guided by her first impressions in regard to a strange man, she never need to be deceived by that man.

"Father," said John, "will you show me how to make a sap trough before you start for home? Sugar-making will soon be here, and I want to have everything ready when it commences."

"Don't you know how to make a sap-trough?" said the father.

"No; I never saw one made. I have seen them after they were done, but I never saw any of them made."

"Well, we will go this afternoon, and see what we can do. You have some nice pine trees out behind the lake, that are just the thing to make them of," said Mr. Bushman.

They made some thirty troughs that afternoon, and John learned how to do it so well, that by the time the sap began to run he had about two hundred troughs made and put in place at the roots of the trees in what he intended for the "sap-bush."

The next morning after the sap-troughs were made Mr. Bushman said to John, "What arrangements have you for storing the sap that you get, until you can boil it?"

"I have no arrangements as yet," said he.

"Do you know how to make a store-trough?"

"No; I don't think I do. How do they make them? Could you help me to make one?" said John.

"Yes. We will go at it right away, for you know I must start home after one day more."

They went to the pinery and selected a tree of the right size, which was about thirty inches across. They felled it, and after taking off a few feet of the butt-end for fear of "shakes," they measured up some thirty feet as the length from end to end. They left about two feet at each end that they did not dig out. The rest of the log they dug out with axes and carpenter's adze, until they had a shell that would hold some sixty or seventy pails of sap. They got done at sundown. Mr. Bushman said, "There, John, you have a store-trough good enough for old King George himself, if he were here."

"Yes, father;" said John, "I am very much obliged to you for helping me to make it. If I need any more, I think now that I can manage to make them myself."

The time appointed for Mr. Bushman and his wife and daughter to start for home carne round, and as punctuality characterized the Bushman family, they started next day for home.

John jibed Betsy a little, telling her to be sure and come back before the berries were all gone, so that there would be nothing but briars left. She told him to mind his business and they started for home.


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