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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XXI - Riverbend Mills


On the first of October, as the sun was going down, a man in middle life knocked at the door of John Bushman's house. John was out doing up the chores for the night. On going to the door Mary met a stranger that she had never seen before. He announced himself as a civil engineer who had been sent to superintend the building of a mill-dam across the Catfish River for Messrs. Root and Millwood, who were to erect mills at the four corners. Mary invited him to be seated, and she went out and told John that a stranger had come.

When John carne into the house he was a little surprised to see a man who had a familiar look, but he could not call to mind where or when he had seen or met him before. The man soon solved the problem by saying, as he reached out his band, "You have made great changes here since I saw you a little over two years ago.

John remembered the man, and he turned to Mary, saying, "This is the surveyor you have heard me speak about, who, with his men, found me here in the woods seven miles from a house."

Then turning to the man, he said: `You will stop with us to-night, so sit down and make yourself at home."

"Well," said he, "the fact is, I came here by the directions of Mr. Root, and I will gladly accept your invitation for the night."

"That, then, is settled," said John. "Now, what have you been doing since I saw you?"

"Since I left you here, that day, I and my helpers have outlined a number of townships—enough to make two large counties. Besides this, we were prospecting for a while on Manitoulin, or Spirit Island; we found plenty of Indiatis there, but we found very few white people."

Supper was now ready, and they took that customary meal in a social and friendly way. After all was over and as they sat around the fire, John said to the guest: "Now tell us some of your experiences in the bush, especially on Spirit Island, for no doubt you have met with some strange adventures since you went back there," John said.

"My experiences have been somewhat varied, but on the whole they have been rather of an exciting kind; others, however, within the range of my acquaintance have had some very thrilling experiences, some of an amusing character, and some were very sad and heartrending in the extreme," was Mr. Rushvalley's reply.

"Did you say there are women on the island?" inquired Mary.

"Yes," said he; "and I will tell you a little story about a woman and her baby on one of the islands in the Georgian Bay. Her husband was a trader with the Indians. On one occasion he took his wife and baby with him to an island called Mindimoina, or Old Woman's Island.

"The woman had a baby about four months old—a little boy. When she landed on the island the Indians came around her to look at the 'white papoose.' While she was engaged she laid the baby out of her arms on some bedding. In a few moments she carne to take it up again, but imagine her feelings, if you can, when she discovered that there was no baby in sight. There were in the company a lot of white men and another woman, but no one had seen the baby carried off; but it was quite clear that the squaws had stolen it. The men proposed to go in pursuit of the Indians, and take the little one from them, but the trader, who was best acquainted with Indian character, told there not to attempt it, for, said he, the Indians will fight for their own squaws, and we would all get into trouble. And he said to the mother: 'Don't you be at all alarmed about your baby, they will be back in a couple of hours with it all right. When they come don't let them know that you had any fears about it. Allow them to think that you trusted them, and you will make friends of them for yourself and baby for all time to come.'

"Well, the time seemed long for that mother. How could she wait till they would bring back the baby? What if the trader should be mistaken? What if the Indians should go away to the great North-West country? She had heard of such things, and to think that her beautiful white boy should take the place of a little Indian boy in some far-off wigwam was more than the young mother could do without feelings of great sadness.

"But after about three hours of anxious waiting she saw a procession of squaws and Indian children coming to the camp. As they came near she saw her baby carefully held in the motherly arms of an old squaw. The other Indian women and papooses were in great glee, and were laughing and jabbering like a lot of delighted children.

"When they came up to the mother, she could not do anything but laugh at the comical appearance of her baby; the squaws had fixed it up in complete Indian fashion from head to foot. All kinds of ornamentation, with the exception of tattooing, had been practised on airs. Cherriwood's baby. In fact, it was rigged out like a miniature Indian chief, and the `belt of peace,' or strip of wampum, adorned its waist.

"The Indians named the baby after the celebrated Indian chief, Tecumseh—a name that the boy went by until he died in early manhood. The Indians became very much attached to the boy and his mother to whom they gave the name of Peta ostzaboa co qua, which means, `The good cook under the mountain.'

"I should have stated that when the squaws brought the baby back to its mother, they brought a shawl full of presents for the two. Some were made of beads and some of grass and wood, in various forms, and all of them intended for use or ornament.

"At another time this same woman was going on a trading round with her husband. A storm drove them on an island and broke their boat. After the storm was over the men took the remains of the boat and went for assistance, leaving the woman and child alone, with one week's provisions. They expected to be gone two or three days, but another storm came on and drove them far out of their course, and it was fifteen days before they could get back to the island where they left the woman and child.

"On the eighth day an Indian came to the shanty and asked for something to eat. Mrs. Cherriwood told him that she had nothing to give him—that she had nothing for herself and baby, and she did not know what she would do if her husband did not come home that day.

"The Indian scanned her features closely for a moment, and then turned and went away saying, 'Umph, umph, white squaw and papoose no starve.' She understood him to mean that she was not so badly off as she pretended to be, and she thought that he had gone away offended, and she felt sorry that she had been misunderstood by him, but in this she was herself mistaken. The Indian had understood her, and had fully realized her situation.

"After the lapse of about three hours the Indian came back, and brought his wife with him. They had a lot of provisions with them, consisting of corn, and venison, and fish, and potatoes, and some rough-looking maple sugar, to sweeten the spicewood or hemlock tea with.

"When they came in the man said, as he pointed to the baskets, 'Me told urn white squaw and white papoose no starve. Me fetch my squaw, me fetch dinner, supper, breakfast; me fetch everything but windigoose. We stay with white man's squaw and papoose till he come home.'

"They stayed seven days, and supplied her with food and fuel in abundance until the men returned. When Mr. Cherriwood offered to pay Jumping-fox for his services, he would take no pay, but he accepted a present. He said, `White squaw good to Indians; we will be good to her.'"

When Mr. Rushvalley ended his story, Mary wanted to know how long Mrs. Cherriwood had lived among the Indians.

"About eleven or twelve years;" he said.

"And were the Indians always civil to her?" Mary inquired.

"Yes, invariably so," he answered. "In conversation with Mrs. Cherriwood, I asked her if she had ever been molested in any way by an Indian. She said that she had never known of a case where a white woman had been insulted by an Indian. They were always civil and courteous, according to their ideas of courtesy. 'In fact,' she said, 'I would rather meet half-a-dozen drunken Indians than one drunken white man.

John Bushman remarked that, while the Indians showed so much respect for white women, it was a shame and disgrace that so many white men showed so little respect to the Indian women.

"That is true," said Mr. Rushvalley; "whatever may be said of the ferocity of the Indian when he is on the war path, in ordinary life there seems to be a manly instinct and nobility of nature about him that raises him above the petty meanness of the man who can offer insult or injury to lonely women or helpless children."

"Well," said Mary, "if that is true, it seems a pity that some white men could not have a red skin put on them, and an Indian's heart put into them."

"That is a fact," said John Bushman. "With all our blowing about the superiority of our white race over the Indian, some of the self-lauding and much praised-up race get down to actions so low and mean that even the red skin of an Indian would blush with shame were he by any chance to be caught in the same acts. And some white men will do things so wicked, that if an Indian should do the same his conscience would torture him by night and by day, until he would confess his wrong, and make all possible restitution."

"It seems to me that you are severe on the delinquent whites, Mr. Bushman," said Mr. Rushvalley.

"So I am," answered John; "and the reason is, I hate contemptible meanness wherever I see it. If men will not be Christians, they ought to be manly, at least."

"That is so," replied Mr. Rushvalley; "but the highest type of manhood can only be developed in connection with Christian teaching and under Christian influence."

"Worldly men can hardly be expected to endorse that sentiment," said John.

"They do endorse it, though, notwithstanding pretended scepticism on the subject," said Mr. Rushvalley.

"How do you make that out?" asked John.

"In two ways," said Mr. Rushvalley. "For, first, if anyone professing to be a Christian is in anything found to be untrue or dishonest, there is a great outcry raised about it. This goes to show that more is expected from the Christian than from worldlinas. And no higher tribute can be paid to Christianity than the admission, by worldly men, that Christians are supposed to stand on higher ground, and to be influenced by loftier motives than others. And although there may be now and then a false professor, the common sense of men teaches them that the counterfeit always implies a genuine article, for no one would be such a fool as to counterfeit a sham.

"And another reason for what I say is found in the fact that whenever a worldly man must find some friend in whom to place implicit confidence, and in whose hands he must commit important trusts, he will, in nine cases out of ten, select a tried and faithful Christian. All this, it seems to me, indicates that true Christianity is at a premium, even among those who profess least respect for Christians."

The next day after Mr. Rushvalley came to Riverbend, he and John went over the Root and Millwood lots, to see where would be the best place to locate the mills.

After going over a great part of the land, the surveyor said it was one of the best places for a grist and saw mill that he had seen. He located the place for the mill-dam so that the buildings could stand near the line between the townships of Riverbend and Ashdown.

As they were passing the four corners on their way back to Bushman's, Mr. Rushvalley said to John, "There will be a town here some day. I have never seen a better site for a town than there is right here, where these four townships join corners. I would not be at all surprised if, before twenty years are past, this would be the centre of a county."

"More unlikely things have come to pass," John answered.

"How soon will the work be commenced?" inquired John.

"Just as soon as Mr. Root can finish a bridge that he is building over a large creek in one of the townships that borders on Lake Huron. It may be one week, or it may be two, before he will get here with his men. But when he does come he will make things move with a rush, as he is a thorough American. He will either make or break, every time," replied he.

"That is the kind of men to build up a new country," replied. John. "Sometimes, though, they help the country more than they benefit themselves. But, after all, they are driving the world's machinery and leading the nation's enterprises. They are the men that are driving, back the wild beasts and, wild savages, and turning the wilderness into cultivated fields and stately homesteads."

"O Misther Bushman, an' will yez place to be afther cornin' till our place?" called out Harry Hawthorn's hired man, as he came running after the two men.

"Why, what in the world is the matter, Billy?" said John, as the man came up to them. "You seem terribly frightened. What has happened at your place?"

"Shure, sur, Harry and meself wer' choppin' out in the foller, and the two swate childer was play in' among the brush piles, an' we did not see them. An' would yez belave it, sur, they both got buried beneath a stump, an' so they did. Will yez an' the gintleman come wid me?"

"How could the children get under a stump? Are you not mistaken, Billy?" said John.

"No, no; Mr. Bushman, I am not. Shure an' with me own ears I heard the screams of the little darlins whin the stump went on them. No; I only wish that I could be mistaken."

Bushman and his companion made all possible haste to the place of the accident.

When they came there a most harrowing sight presented itself to them. There sat Harry, with his chin resting on his knees, completely broken down with his sorrow. Beside him, on the ground, lay his wife, in a paroxysm of grief. Her pitiful moaning was enough to tough the most insensible, and to melt the coldest heart.

Her only cry was, "Me babes, me babes. Och, me poor innocent babes."

When John, who could scarcely command himself to speak, asked Harry what had happened, he could only point to the stump and, between his sobs, say, "The little dears are under there."

William, or Billy as he was usually called, was the only one that could give any information on the matter. With the help of what he said, John soon understood the facts of the case, which were as follows:

An elm tree, some two feet across, had been turned up by the roots in a recent gale. As is frequently the case with that kind of timber, a large amount of earth clung to the roots, thus making a big hollow under the overhanging roots, some of which still held on to the ground, and formed a sort of canopy or covering. Under this the children were playing, it seems, while their father and his man were chopping up the fallen tree.

Harry was cutting the tree off some three feet from the ground. For want of experience in the matter, he did not understand the danger that his children were in. When he severed the connection between the stump and the tree, the weight of earth, and the spring of the unbroken and elastic roots, caused the stump to rise to an upright position, and fill up the hole, burying the poor children under a couple of tons of earth and wood. One pitiful scream was all that was heard of them, then everything was still.

The alarm was given to all the neighbors, and men turned out to help in getting the bodies of the children out of the place. But it was only after the roots had been cut away and two yoke of oxen hitched to it that the stump could be removed. Then the earth was carefully lifted until the crushed and broken remains of the poor children were found lying close together, with their playthings still clenched in their hands. Strong arms and ready hands tenderly removed the mangled little forms, and laid them on a pile of leaves, hastily scraped together for a couch.

Around those lifeless children strong men were standing. But every face was wet with tears. Brave hearts were there, but not one heart so hard as to be unmoved by the sad and touching scene that was there witnessed.

Poor Bridget had been led to the house by the sympathizing women. But at times her cries could be heard. Harry still sat upon the ground crushed by the weight of sorrow that had fallen upon his household. When the children were laid on the impromptu bed provided for them, he got up and stood over them, with the great tear drops falling from his manly face upon the pale upturned faces of his two dead babies. At last he broke the silence, saying:

"Oh me babes, me babes, me poor dear babes! Was it for this that I brought yez away from the green fields of dear Ould Ireland? Was it for this that me-self and your poor mother have wrought so hard, and lived so cheap to try and get a house for yez?"

With slow and solemn steps the little morsels of mangled mortality were carried to the house from which they had so lately come full of life and childish glee.

Two days after the accident the first funeral procession that was ever seen in the Riverbend settlement moved silently from the house of Harry and Bridget Hawthorn to a grave on the banks of Catfish River, near where it crossed over the boundary of Harry's land and went on to John Bushman's.

A sudden and unexpected death, in any community, brings into view some of the grandest elements of our human brotherhood, as nothing else can do it. Though neither priest nor parson could be had, yet these children were not buried without religious service. Protestant and Catholic forgot their differences as they stood around this open grave and joined in the service, while Mr. Woodbine read from John Bush-man's "Book of Discipline" the ritual of the funeral service as it was used by the Methodist Church of that day. The death of the Hawthorn children was an event long remembered in the settlement.


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