Among the Forrest Trees Chapter XX - A Neighborhood of Strangers
Now that the lot at the
bend of the river was taken up, every lot that in any way touched
John Bushman's lot was taken up, and had some one on it, or was to
be occupied in a short time. So that John's isolated condition was
already a thing of the past. At the east end of his lot, and butting
against it, was the Crautmaker family. These were an industrious and
well-doing class of people; a trifle awkward in some things,
perhaps, but, on the whole, a very safe and respectable acquisition
in any settlement. On the north of these, and cornering John's lot
at its north-east angle, was the Greenleaf's home. Richard
Greenleaf. and his wife were an intelligent and well-brought-up
couple, who had been trained to industry and economy from childhood.
They had got married and come right off to the bush on what now
would be called their wedding trip. Read if you like between the
lines, that few wedding trips last as long or prove as successful as
theirs did. Martha Greenleaf was the first white woman in her
Then at the
south-east corner of John's lot was a family of Gaelic people, by
the name of McWithy. They had only been a few days on their lot.
They came in from the east, and lived in a tent made of blankets
until they got up a shanty. They are a hardy-looking family, made up
of father and mother and a number of children. Some of the children
are nearly men and women. They are more accustomed to backwoods life
than those who come here directly from the Old Country. They lived a
few years in the country before they came to settle here.
On the lot that is
the east hundred acres of the one that Mr. Beech is on, there is a
single man, a Nova Scotian, his name Timberline. He is a nice,
steady young man. But he seems to be very bashful, especially when
there are any young women around. On the whole, however, he is a
Mr. Beech and his
family we have already heard about. They are English people, of the
industrious and well-doing class.
Then on the west John
has for a neighbor the Irish family, Mr. Hawthorn and Bridget. They
are a hardworking couple, and for a real, genuine, free-hearted,
unbounded hospitality you can't beat them anywhere; in fact, Harry
would take the shoes off his feet and give them to one who needed
them. And Bridget would take the handkerchief off her head and give
it to a bareheaded woman.
Then, as we have
already learned, the lot that touched the north-west angle of John's
lot was to be occupied by Messrs. Millwood and Root; and at the
south-west angle is the lot occupied by Mr. Woodbine and family.
They are Lowland Scotch, and they are not much accustomed to life on
a farm, having been living in one of the manufacturing towns in
But Mr. Woodbine is,
perhaps, the best read and most intelligent man, on general
subjects, among the settlers around the four corners.
On the south side of
Bushman's is Will Briars' lot of two hundred acres, running across
Now, if we should
divide this little community into distinct nationalities, we would
find one family of Irish; two of Scotch; one of English; two
Canadian, of English descent; two Canadian, of German descent; one
Nova Scotian; one American, of German descent; and one Canadian, of
Irish descent. And taking Moses Moosewood into the number, we have
one man who is a Canadian, of Scotch descent. Then, if we go one lot
north of Mr. Beech, we find a Mr. Baptiste Shelebean, who is a
Frenchman, from Lower Canada.
This is a fair sample
of the mixed origin of the race of people who are making this Canada
of ours what it is, and in whose hands is the destiny of this
This reminds us of a
statement that has been attributed to the late John Hilliard
Cameron, which is as follows:
"If you take the
cool, shrewd, calculating head of a canny Scotchman, the stern,
unbending will of the German, the warm heart and ready wit of an
Irishrnan, the vivacity and activity of the Frenchman, and put all
of these into the robust, healthy frame of an Englishman, you then
have a Canadian."
Being a Canadian
myself, I shall not say anything about the correctness of this
portraiture, but every one must draw his own conclusions in regard
And if we classify
them religiously, we will find a diversity equally as great.
Mr. Beech and Mr.
Timberline hold to the Church of England; Bushman, Briars, and
Greenleaf hold to the Methodist; Harry Hawthorn and Shelebean are
Roman Catholics; Crautmaker is a Lutheran; McWithy and Mr. Millwood
are of the Baptist faith; while Mr. Woodbine, Moses Moosewood and
Mr. Root are Presbyterians.
This is a great
variety for such a small community. And here we have an exhibition
of the mixture that enters into the religious life of this country.
Whether this is an advantage or not must be determined by wiser
heads than mine.
Moses Moosewood and
Katrina Crautmaker decided to get married at once, as he had got his
house ready to occupy, and he had no notion of trying the Bachelor's
hall arrangement. The old people gave their consent, and the only
difficulty was to find some one to marry them. There were few
clergymen in the country who could marry, as the law then stood. And
so far as they could learn there was not a qualified minister within
fifty miles of them.
Their only chance
seemed to be to go and find a magistrate, who could marry under
certain conditions. They resolved to do so. But there were no horses
to ride, and to go with oxen and cart would not be pleasant over the
rough roads. So they decided to go on foot. They were to go to
Mapleton. They persuaded young Mr. Timberline, and Katrina's sister
Fretzina, to go with them, as they were the only unmarried people in
the settlement who could be got to go.
They started off
early one morning in the month of July, and they found about the
hottest day's walk that any of them ever had. But love and
perseverance will take people through almost anything. They arrived
in good time at the little hamlet, and went to the only
public-house, and put up. On making inquiry, they learned that the
only magistrate in the place was away from home, and would not
return until evening.
There was nothing for
it but to wait. When the Squire, as he was called, came home he was
sent for. When he came and found what was wanted, and that the
contracting parties lived in another district, a serious difficulty
presented itself. The power of the magistrate did not extend beyond
the limits of their own district.
Here was a dilemma.
What could be done to meet the emergency? Some one suggests that
they wait till morning, and then all go back as far as the first
house in the district where the young people lived, and be married
But Squire Redwood
said that he would be quite willing to do that; but he had an
engagement for the forenoon that could not be put off. He was very
sorry, but really he could not help himself. What could be done?
After a while a happy
thought struck the Squire.
He said, "Now, look
here, it is only one concession to the district line. It is early
yet; we can take a lantern and go over the line, and have the matter
all settled in a couple of hours. What say you all?"
They all consented
and went, and the Squire performed the ceremony under a large beech
tree. The romance of the thing seemed to set the whole party in a
spirit of merriment. Even the Squire forgot his official dignity so
far that he not only kissed the bride, but he also became poetic. He
took Mose by the hand, and congratulated hire in verse in the
"Young man, I think
you are repaid
For all the time you were delayed,
Since, 'mid the shadows of the night,
You got your wife by candle light;
In years to come, whene'er you see
The green leaves on the smooth beech tree,
Think of the joyful night, when I
Made one of two. Now, say good-bye!"
And the Squire went
laughing to his home.
The next morning the
four young people in good time started for their home. But not
before the people of the hamlet had called to congratulate the
energetic couple, and to pay their hotel bill as a mark of respect
to the pluck and energy that converted the root of a tree into a
hymeneal altar. The landlady settled for the entertainment of the
The party got home
before dark, and met a lot of the neighbors at Mr. Crautmaker's, who
were invited to come to a sort of combination supper. After a good
supper, gotten up in the old-fashioned style of that day, the party
broke up, and each one went to his home.
The sly invitation to
bring a present implied in the wedding-cards of our day had not yet
come in vogue. Whether society has gained or lost, by the
introduction of such a custom, it is not for me to say.
A few days after the
wedding, Mr. Bushman came with Betsy Briar's outfit for
housekeeping. Will had everything ready. But they had been waiting
until their things came.
They were glad when
their suspense was put to an end by the appearance of Mr. Bushman
with a load of such a variety and such dimensions as would have
supplied the material for the gossips to work upon for a week or
more, had there been any gossips in the locality. But they had not
got there yet. New settlements always have plenty of hard work.
Gossips don't like hard work; therefore gossips don't like new
settlements. And for that reason the Sylvan Lake settlement was
destitute of gossips.
But to come back to
Mr. Bushman's load. He had Betsy's furniture, and a lot of "dried
fruit and groceries, such as tea, allspice and pepper (both being
unground), some saleratus and root ginger, a pepper-mill, a big and
a little spinning-wheel, a reel and a long-handled frying-pan. Along
with other things too numerous to mention, these made up the list of
There were some
things for John. There were a few yards of home-made full-cloth that
mother sent, and some indigo for Mary to color her stocking yarn,
and some flannel for a winter "frock" or "gown," for Mary, sent by
Mrs. Myrtle. And, above all, he brought two long-nosed, lop-eared
pigs for John, to start a drove of porkers, and a supply of
When John lifted the
two-bushel basket out of the wagon, and found the pigs in it, he
started to laugh. His father asked him what he was laughing at. He
answered, "I shall become a man of note in this township: I cut down
the first tree, I put up the first shanty, I chopped and cleared the
first field, I built the first house, I brought in the first cattle,
the first sheep, the first fowls, and now I have the first pigs.
And, besides all this, my wife was the first woman in the township."
"You, will be the
oldest inhabitant, in years to come, no doubt. But be sure that in
all things you prove yourself to be deserving of whatever
distinction circumstances may give you. Try to be the best man in
the township, as well as the first."
"My desire is to be a
good man, and to do my best to make this a model township, socially
and morally, as it is a good one in other respects."
William Briars and
Betsy moved into their house in a day or two. They found that life
in a new country was anything but children's play. But like
thousands of other couples in this country they resolved to endure
present difficulties and deprivations, in view of prospective
comforts and independence in the coming years.
On the last day of
the eighth month of the year eighteen hundred and a decimal
fraction, the first white baby, in the township of Rockland, made
its appearance at John Bushman's house. From the emphatic manner in
which it declared its right to be heard in that house, it became
evident, from the first, that it had come to stay.
A serious question
now forced itself on the attention of John and Mary. What were they
to do with the self-asserting little stranger?
They remembered the
old nursery song about Jacky and Jenny going through the rye, and
finding a "little boy with one black eye." And after talking the
matter over, Jenny proposed that the best thing that they could do
was to raise the little foundling "together as other folks do." The
conclusion that John and Mary came to was this: If Jacky and Jenny
could bother with a little one-eyed boy, they might try to raise a
little blue-eyed, two-eyed girl. So they said we will do the best we
can and keep the little angel visitor. Mary said the only thing that
troubled her was that the little thing would not be satisfied to
stay alone very long. But it would, perhaps, be calling for company
in the course of a year or two.
Then John answered,
"Never cross a bridge until you come to it," is good advice, and
"Never meet trouble half-way," is equally good.
"We must leave some
questions to the future, you know, and this is one of them."
A new baby makes more
or less of a sensation anywhere. But in a back settlement the first
baby is a wonderful thing. Everybody carne to see Mrs. Bush-man's
And so anxious was
everyone to try and be of some use to the baby, that Mary sometimes
was nearly at a loss what to do. One would bring a few sprigs of
sage for colic, another would bring a handful of saffron for yellow
jaundice. While still another came with half an armful of blackberry
briar root to make an infusion for the diarrhoea, now called cholera
infantum. Old Mr. Crautmaker came at last with a lot of a plant
called gold-thread, to cure baby of sprew, or yellow-mouth, in case
it should take a notion to try strength against that baby-torturing
was so afraid that the new baby would make its escape, and go back
among the Indians, or somewhere else, that she came to help Mary
take care of it for two or three weeks, until it would become
sufficiently tamed down, so that one could manage it. But it was not
long before all came right. Thins went on as usual, and the " baby"
became an influential member of the family.
Moses Moosewood and
his young wife moved into their home in the month of October, when
the leaves on the forest trees were turning their color, and mixing
the different shades of green and yellow and brown and red in such
charming combinations that the tops of the trees had the appearance
of great overgrown, beautiful chromos seen at a distance.
As has already been
stated, the Catfish River ran through their lot. Their house was on
the highest part of their farm, and stood so that from the door was
presented a good view down the valley of the river for a mile or
more, to where it made a turn toward the east. This valley was not
very wide, nor the sides very abrupt. A gentle slope, of a slightly
concave character, gave to the valley the appearance of having been
scooped out at some time for a big watering trough for antediluvian
monsters to slake their thirst, and, perhaps, wash the alluvial mud
from their gigantic proportions.
Looking down this
valley from the door of the house a view of surpassing beauty was to
be seen, and the owners of the house fully enjoyed the scene. They
were both well pleased with their new home. Most had got a nice
stack of spring wheat, and a good-sized field of fall wheat sown.
Besides, he had plenty of potatoes, and some other things that he
raised that year. On the whole the prospects of Moses and Katrina
were by no means discouraging.
This fall a number of
new settlers came into the neighborhood. Some of them moved their
families right in at the first, and found shelter among those
already settled until they could put up shanties for themselves.
Others came and built
a house or a shanty, and then waited till the next spring before
bringing in their family. And others, like John Bushman and his two
friends Will and Mose, came in single, and commenced to build up a
borne before they had a helpmeet.
Between all these
settlers, in such varied circumstances, the land was very rapidly
taken up. Sometimes a man would take up a lot for speculation. He
would do a little work on it and then sell out his claim to some
greater speculator than himself, or to some one that wanted a house,
and would rather pay for improvements than make them.
But the meanest kind
of speculation that has ever been seen in this country, or in any
other country, was carried on by men of means, who managed, by one
dodge or another, to bet hold of large tracts of land, and then
leave it unoccupied for the toils and struggles of other people to
make it valuable.
The man who would get
fat and rich out of the toil and sweat and suffering of the
backwoods settler would be just as honesta great deal more manly
if he would take his life in one hand and a pistol in the other and
go on the road as a highwayman. In that case he would give his
victim a little chance to defend his rights, but in the other case
he throttles him at a distance, holds him at arm's length while he
picks his pockets, and robs his children of their rights.
We are aware that
this is strong language, but we have seen so much of the effects of
this kind of greed that it is hard to speak of it with any degree of
It was a wise thing
for the Provincial Parliament to authorize the municipalities to
place a high tax on these lands, so as to reach the consciences of
their owners through their pockets. This is the only direct road to
the conscience and judgment of some men.
But it would have
been a wiser thing if the Government had passed a law that no one
should be allowed to hold any more land than he could occupy, or
than he needed for his own use, and for his family. Then the making
of roads and the building of schoolhouses, and the supporting of
schools would not have been retarded, as has been the case in many
But it takes the
growing experience and accumulated wisdom of three or four
generations to learn how to manage affairs in a new country, and
Ontario is no exception.
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