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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XXIV - More Boarding-House Tales


Two or three evenings after the conversation reported in the last chapter, as the men were sitting around a good fire, some one proposed that Mr. Rushvalley, the surveyor, be invited to take the floor to fulfil the conditions of the compact which required each one to take his turn in entertaining the company, as his name stood next on the list.

Mr. Ru>hvalley came forward promptly, and said: "I will take up none of your time in needless prelirninaries, but I will forewarn you that the incidents that I am about to relate, as illustrating some of the trials of pioneer life, are sad and touching in a high degree, and I shall give them as they were told to me by those who were acquainted with the facts, so that there need be no doubt as to the truthfulness of the narratives.

"To one of the back townships, some few years after the city of Hamilton became a village, and before the city of Guelph was ever thought of, there came from the old country three immigrants. There were two brothers and a sister—all of them were single. The sister was older than her brothers, and she was their housekeeper.

"The young men secured each of them a hundred acres of good land and started life in the bush. Every thing went well with them for some time. They built a shanty on each one's lot; a part of the time they worked separately,, and at other times they worked together.

"Meanwhile the sister managed both shanties, going from the one to the other, as often as she found it necessary, and at any time most convenient for herself. She had provided herself with a bed in each shanty, so that she could stay at either place as long as she liked. Sometimes she would be a couple of days at one place, and then as long a time at the other.

"One morning she started to go from one place to the other. By some means she got out of the path that led through a piece of wood from shanty to shanty. The brother to whose place she started did not know she was coming, and the one from the place she left did not know that she had failed to reach her destination. Consequently she was not missed until the next morning. She had been in the woods twenty-four hours before her brothers found out that she was lost.

"The first thing that the young men did was to start in opposite directions among the scattered settlers, to find out if any person had seen their lost sister.

"In going along the only public road in that locality one of the brothers saw a woman's track in the soft ground. From the size and shape of the track, as well as from some particular marks, he knew his sister had been there, and she was going right away from home and into the dense unbroken forest.

"Now they became very much alarmed. It was evident that the lost one had got bewildered, so that she did not know which way she was going. Neighbors were few and far between, but through the energetic efforts of the brothers, with the kindly help of others, every house within a radius of ten miles was visited in hopes of gaining some intelligence of the lost girl, but no tidings of her could be got. Those who know anything about the fraternity of feeling that always exists in new settlements, need not be told of the excitement that ran from house to house, as the news was carried by fleet-footed messengers to the people. Every family was made sad, and a cloud seemed to settle over every home.

"'Go and help to find her, William," said the young wife of the latest settler to her husband, as the sad intelligence was conveyed to their shanty.

"'Why, Sarah,' said he," how can I go and leave you here all start alone? Beside that, if I go now I could not come home to-night."

"Never mind. I am not afraid to stay in such a case. Only think. The poor girl, already two days and two nights in the woods alone. I would be a most selfish creature if I should refuse to let you go and help to find her. Old Turk will stay with me. You go and stay till she is found, if it takes a week."

"We need not say that William went. Nor need I say that the young wife simply spoke the sentiments of all the women in the settlement.

"Over hills and through the valleys, among the swamps and along the creeks, all day the hunt went on, but no trace of the missing woman could be found. The track in the mud, where she crossed the road, was the only thing that gave an intimation of the direction she had gone.

"As night was coming on the weary and disheartened hunters came in in groups of twos and threes until the shanty from which she had gone sixty hours before was surrounded by forty or fifty men. Disappointrnent and sorrow was visible on every face. For it while the men talked among themselves in undertones. Then an elderly man addressed the company as follows:

" My friends, this is a sad day for all of us, but we must neither relinquish our efforts nor abandon hope. The lost girl is somewhere, and she must be found. Dead or alive we must find her. Now I have a proposition to make, and I want your opinion upon it.

"Some twelve or fourteen miles up the river there is a camp of Indians. As my home is in that direction, I propose to start at break of day for the camp, and, if possible, I will bring one or more of them here by nine o'clock to-morrow, and see if they cannot help us in the hunt.

"The company at once fell in with the arrangement. By the time mentioned the man came, and with him came an elderly Indian, who was called Stooping Eagle. The track in the mud was shown to the Indian. He got down and examined it very closely; then he rose up, and said to those around:

"Three suns since urn was here, but red man will find the white squaw."

"He looked carefully around, examining the size of the track and the length of the steps that could be very plainly seen in the soft ground. Then he started slowly to move in the same direction that the track seemed to point. Three or four men went with him; the rest went off in other directions to join in the search. For a mile or more the Indian kept on nearly a straight line. Then he took a short turn, and went on a short distance, then another turn. Where the white man could see no trace he seemed to follow the track with the instinct of a bloodhound. After a while he said, `White squaw much afraid. Dark. Um couldn't see to go. Here um lay and sleep,' he said, as he pointed to an upturned tree, by the side of which could be seen dim impressions on the leaves, as if something had pressed them down. All the afternoon the Indian kept the trail. But the track became very crooked. It frequently came around in a circle, crossing and recrossing itself. Then short turns and acute angles marked its course. Still he kept on until they carne to where the Indian said another night had been spent by the lost one. This was under the branches of a newly-fallen tree. Here the Indian picked up some thorn-apples that had been left; and as he did so he said, `White squaw been eat these. Um much hungry.'

"Not far from this night came upon them. They had with them the means of kindling a fire. They gathered a lot of dry brush and sticks, and prepared for a night in the woods. They had some food with them, and after partaking of some of that they lay down to sleep, and it was not long before they were lost to all earthly cares and anxieties until the sun was up next morning.

"They got up and started on the trail again. The Indian walked a few steps in advance of the others. Every now and then he would speak to the men. At length he stopped, and said, `Poor white squaw, no gone long way from here. She much tired, and much hungry, and much afraid. She no far off dis place.'

They went forward a few hundred yards, and there, with her back against a large tree, they found the poor girl `dead.' Cold and hunger and fright and exhaustion had been too much for her powers of endurance. She had apparently been dead for several hours.

"Word was immediately sent to those who had remained behind. Preparations were soon made for conveying the body to the home of one of the brothers. The next day was the funeral, and a sad and touching one it was."

"That is a sad narrative," said the President. "Yes, indeed," said two or three of the men.

"I have a shorter one, but I think it is a sadder one," said Rushvalley. "Will you hear it now, or wait till my turn comes again?"

"Oh, let us have it now," chimed in half a dozen at at once.

"All right. I will make it as short as I can," was his answer.

"In one of the back townships there lived a man and his wife and two small children. They had been there two or three years. Their nearest neighbors lived half a mile distant, and through the woods. One day, when the man was going out from dinner, his wife said, 'I wish you would take the children out with you, and let them stay with you till I call for them. I want to go to Mrs. Raspberry's on an errand. I will be back in a couple of hours.'

"'All right; I will take care of them, and mind you don't get lost in going through the bush,' he answered.
I will be careful not to get off' the path,' she said. They little thought that these were to be the last words that would ever pass between them in this world.

"He went to his work and took the children with him. The afternoon passed away, and tea-time came. But the woman did not call for the children. The man took them to the house, expecting to find their mother there. But to his surprise and disappointment there was nothing to be seen of her about the house. She had not returned.

"Full of fearful forebodings, the man took one child in his arms and the other by the hand and started to meet his wife. He hastened on until he came to the house that she started to go to. But on asking for his wife, he was told that she had not been there. He now became greatly alarmed.

"It was quite clear she had missed the way. But in what direction had she gone? The path by which she was expected to go passed near the border of a large, thick swamp, through which a very heavy stream ran. Being more than a mile wide, and five or six miles long, this swamp would be a terrible place to be lost in—especially for one who was not in a state of health to bear up under a heavy pressure of anxiety, or to stand a great amount of fatigue, or to endure much very wearisome toil.

"Mr. Summerside and Mr. Raspberry at once started out to hunt for the lost woman, leaving the children with Mrs. Raspberry.

"They went among the few neighbors who were within reach. But no one had seen or heard anything of the absent woman.

"Night came on, and not the slightest trace of her could be found.

"By torchlight and lantern light the hunt was kept up until morning. But the search was a fruitless one.

"As the news spread out over an ever-widening circle, the numbers engaged in the hunt steadily increased until all the men on a territory of ten or twelve miles square were scouring the woods in all directions in search of the lost woman. The excitement became intense as two days and two nights passed off without a single trace of the missing one.

"Every man and woman seemed to be in a torture about their lost neighbor. Every woman seemed to be saying to herself, 'I may be the next one to be lost.' Every man seemed to try to realize how he would feel, if it was his wife that was in the swamp, exposed to the bears and wolves, or perhaps to fall into the river and be drowned. No one thought of work or business until the fate of the lost wife and mother should be known.

"On the third day, in the densest part of the swamp, and some distance from her home, the lifeless body of the poor woman was found leaning against a fallen cedar, with the feet in a pool of water, and a dead infant wrapped in part of her garments and folded in her arms."

"Well, Mr. Rushvalley," said the President, "you have told us two very touching stories. And if you should live to tell them to your children's children they will listen to you with as much attention as we have to-night, for such stories never grow out of date."

"That is so," said Mr. Root, "and it will be well if, in the coming years, the people of this country respect the memory of the toiling, suffering pioneers, and duly appreciate the comfortable homes left to them by those heroic men and women."

"I think," said Mr. Rushvalley, "that I have talked long enough for this time. Let us go to bed, or else let some one else talk for awhile."

"I am for going to bed," said Dusticoat.

"Agreed" said two or three others.

"Before we adjourn," said the President, "I want to say that Mr. Chipmaker is the next on the roll; so to-morrow evening, if all be well, we will hear from him."

Next evening, as the teen were sitting around a good blazing fire, Little Jack Pivot called out, "Now for the man that makes the chips."

"Hear, hear," said Dusticoat.

Mr. Chipmaker commenced by saying, "I have no apologies to make, and no excuses to offer. But I wish to say that my talk will be very fragmentary. I shall just relate some incidents that are small in themselves, but when put together they help to give variety to our entertainments.

"Not long since, in conversation with an old man, he related to me an incident in his boy life, that may be worth repeating. His mother was a widow. He was the eldest boy. They had to go several miles to a blacksmith. In those days it was necessary, in some cases, to shoe the oxen as well as the horses. One time John was sent to get the oxen shod. He started before daylight. Most of the distance was woods. In the middle of the darkest part of a thick pinery he had to pass a place where a man had been killed by a falling tree.

"The place was said to be haunted by the ghost of the victim of the accident. John never once thought of the haunted locality until he (rot within a few rods of the spot. Then it came into his mind about the ghost. He became very nervous. In fact, he got into a perfect panic. What to do he did not know. To turn around and go back he thought would be too babyish. And to go forward among the weird shadows of the pine trees that the full moon threw out in all directions over the snow-covered ground, seemed to him very much like walking right into a whole regiment of the very ugliest and meanest kind of ghosts. Finally he stopped the oxen and scrambled up on the back of Old Buck. He said, in telling me the incident, if you have never tried it you cannot believe how independent a boy can feel when he is on the broad back of a good old ox. I snapped my fingers at the ghostly shadows, cracked my whip at the oxen, and went on, trying to whistle to the tune of 'See, the conquering hero comes."'

"Very good," said the President. "What is your next story to be?"

"About another boy that had trouble with a ghost. But not in the same way," said Mr. Chipmaker.

"In a very new settlement there were two shanties about half a mile apart. Nearly all the distance between them was solid bush. In going from one to the other the path led through a small ravine shaded by a clump of hemlock trees. In the night this was a very dark place.

"One summer this 'gully' got the name of being haunted. Different people who had occasion to pass that way after night-fall, reported that strange, unearthly sounds were to be heard right in the densest of the darkness. And two or three men, who mustered courage to look around, said that they had seen the dim outline of some large object, but not with sufficient distinctness to say much about its size or color.

"Now the boy that I am to tell about had heard these reports. In fact, the neighborhood was full of stories about the haunted gully.

"On one occasion, Joe, as the lad was called, went for his mother on an errand to the next neighbor's. And, as a matter of course, he had to pass the haunted gully. But he expected to return before night. No one had seen or heard anything in the day time.

"Joe got with another boy, and forgot how fast the sun was going down. The first shades of night came on, and he had not, as yet, done his errand. But now he made all the haste he could. But in spite of all he could do, it was quite dark when he started for home. He walked on with a firm step, and whistled to keep his courage up, until he got into the darkest part of the gully. He heard a noise. He stopped and listened. He heard a sound that seemed like a compound of snarling dog and crying baby. He looked, and by the root of a large tree he saw a dark object that to him looked as big as a cow.

"Now, Joe was one of those boys that have a good deal of fight in them and who are not good to scare. The temper of the boy got roused. He hunted round till he found a stone the size of a goose-egg. Then he crept as near to the object as he felt safe in doing. Then poising the stone and taking the best aim he could he let it fly with all his might. A perfect storm of grunts and squeals told Joe that he had hit the mark. And a large, black hog, that belonged to a man in the settlement, ran off snorting into the woods, it being a great deal more frightened than Joe was. It was said that some of the men who had been scared by the ghost, looked a little sheepish when they learned that the problem of the haunted gully had been solved by a boy."

"I like stories that come out like that," said Dusticoat.

"Nine-tenths of the wonderful stories of ghosts could be as easily unravelled as that, if those who see or hear them could keep cool heads and steady nerves, so as to investigate as determinedly as the boy did," said Mr. Root.

"Joe might have made a mistake if it had been a bear," put in Little Jack.

"Yes," said Mr. Chipmaker. "But it was not a bear. It was only an overgrown hog. So Joe made no mistake. It was the other people that made the mistake about the ghost in the haunted gully."


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