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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter IX - Homeward Bound


THREE distinct epochs have marked the migratory movements of the people of this Province between the closing years of the last century and the last quarter of the present. The first one is included between about 1780 and 1800, the second is between about 1815 and about 1830, and the third reaches from about 1850 till 1875 or 1880.

The first wave of immigration that struck the frontier of this Province was the U. E. Loyalists, when they sought shelter, under the British flag, in the wilderness of Canada. The second was mostly composed of the children of the first settlers. When these carne to be men and women they struck for the wilderness, as their fathers and mothers had done in their day. This wave rolled itself further inland than its predecessor had done. The Talbot District, the New Purchase, and the country north of the eastern settlements constituted mostly the objective points during this period. The third wave was made up of both native and foreign elements. It spread itself over the Huron tract, the Queen's bush, and the country between the Georgian Bay and Ottawa.

Of the trials endured, the hardships underwent, the privations suffered, the difficulties overcome, the discouragements met with, and the wearisome toils of many of those immigrants no one can form a correct estimate, unless his knowledge is the result of personal experience. If all the facts setting forth the sufferings endured during, and as the result of, these migrations, could be written in a book, there is no doubt but it would be one of the most absorbing volumes ever read.

John Bushman goes to the woods with the second of these migrations. He forms a sort of connecting link between the first and third, and, to a certain extent, his experiences are the counterpart of both of them. The position of the fathers was like that of soldiers that invade a hostile country, and tear up the roads and break down all the bridges behind them, so that there is no chance for retreat, nor for reinforcements to follow. With them it is either conquer or die—death or victory. The pioneers of this country had no choice but to stand at their post and fight it out. The Yankees had robbed them of their property, and driven them from their homes, so that they had no place to retreat to, and they had no kind friends behind them to send on needed supplies. With them it was, either get for yourselves or go without. Do or die. Produce or perish.

But with John Bushman and his associates it was different. They had to face similar hardships, and do the same hard work, in clearing up the land, in making roads, in building school-houses, mills and churches, as well as homes for themselves. But they had better facilities than their fathers had possessed in doing these things. Most of the pioneers of John's day had friends that were able and willing to help there in case of an emergency, and if not, they could go to the front for a few weeks, in haying anal harvest, and earn money to purchase what they needed.

And this is equally true concerning the pioneers of the later migration. Many an honest backwoodsman has gone to the front and earned the dollars needed to tide him over some pressing financial difficulty. And when the task was done he went to his rustic home with a light step, thankful that he had the ability and opportunity to help himself. It is in this way that many of the best homes of our land have been built up. The people who come after us will never fully realize what the pioneers have done and suffered to make this the banner Province of this wide Dominion; and if the time should ever come when justice will be done to the memory of these successive waves of immigration, there is no doubt but the highest place will be given to the sturdy men who first sent the sound of the woodman's axe ringing through the frontier wilderness of Upper Canada.

The day before John was to start a young man by the name of Moses Moosewood came to see him. He said to him: "I hear that Will Briars is going with you to the Purchase. Is that so?"

"Yes; he and I are intending to start in the morning. He will drive the cows, and I am to take a load of stuff with the oxen. The horse teams will come on the day after, so that we will all reach the place about the same time," was John's answer.

"Well John," said Mose, as he was called by everybody, "I have a great mind to get ready and go too. You know I am old enough to strike out for myself. Father has plenty of help without me; besides, if I am ever going to build up a home and have something of my own, it is time that I began to lay the foundation."

"That is all true," said John: "but, Mose, do you want to know my honest opinion about your going?"

"Yes, John, I do," he answered; "I know you have not got a very high opinion of me, in a general way, but I dare say it is as good as I deserve. But I would like very much to know what you think of my chances in the bush. You know I have a right to a hundred acres of land whenever I choose to settle."

"Well, Mose," said he, "if you could be persuaded to give up your wild, reckless ways, and keep yourself out of mischief, I don't know a young man that would be more likely to succeed. You have in you the stuff' that men are made of; but I am sorry to say that it is terribly warped and twisted. If you could get straightened out and keep straight, you could succeed anywhere."

"John," said the young man solemnly, "I thank you for your honest and friendly words. I have had these thoughts myself before now. My mind is made up; time is too precious to be frittered away as I have been doing. Life is worth too much to throw it away on senseless and useless pursuits. I am going to straighten up. I am going to turn over a new leaf. I am going to start out on a new line of life."

"These are noble resolves," said John, with great earnestness: "I am more than pleased, I am delighted, Moses, to hear you talk like this; but there is only one way in which you can carry these good intentions to a successful issue."

"What way is that?" inquired Moses.

"Go to the great Helper of the weak, and seek strength and guidance from Him."

"I have done that already, and He has heard and helped me. That is why I am here. I want to go with you, John, that I may have the benefit of your counsel and example. And another reason that I have for going is, that I may get away from my evil associations. What would you advise me to do?"

"I would not like to persuade you in any way to do what you might regret hereafter," John said. "But, so far as I can see, no young man, who is able and willing to work, can do any better than to go to the new country and make a home for himself. And if you do as you say you will, there is every prospect that you can do well by going with us to the bush."

"Whether fail or succeed, John, one thing is settled, and that is, I am done with the old reckless life that I have always lived," said Moses. "I am going to be a man, the Lord helping me. I will go with you and try my fortune in the woods. I only wish that I had gone with you last spring. I might have made a commencement then, as you did, and now I would have a place to go to."

"Well, Moses, you can't recall the past," said his friend, "but you can improve the present. Take this number of a lot to Squire Myrtle. Get him to write, and find if it is still vacant, and send in your name and certificate, showing that you are entitled to land. If the lot is vacant you will get it. If it is taken up you will be granted a lot in the immediate neighborhood."

"How far is this lot from yours?" he asked. "Will Briars' lot is between it and mine."

"That is not so far but that we can be neighbors. I will go to see the Squire at once, and then make my preparations to start with the teams."

"I think you had better wait until you get the lot secured, for two reasons. You would not know where to commence work, if you were there, until you get your papers. And if you go without them there is no telling how long you would have to wait for them, as there is not a post-office within twenty-five or thirty miles of the place," said Bushman.

"Well, can't you find something for me to do until the papers come to hand? Why not hire me for a month, and pay me by boarding me after I get my papers?"

"I would be very glad to do that. But how would you get the papers?" was the reply.

"When we come to the last post-office, as we are going out, I will write back to the Squire and tell him the name of it, and he can send the papers there, and I will come and get them. I would rather do that than to lose so much time in waiting for them," said Moses.

"That is well thought of," said John. "We will settle the matter in that way. You go to work for me until you want to start for yourself. I will pay you in board, and perhaps help you sometimes, if you wish it."

"Now for another thing John," said Moses; "what will I need to take with me to the bush?"

"Well, the first thing is an axe or two—better take two, in case one should break. You will want your clothes, as a matter of course; beyond these, you would do well to let our mother give directions and do the packing up, for, you know, she will think of things that we could not. Remember there is no need for superfluities in the backwoods. But if you have a gun you had better take it along, and some ammunition, too, for there are plenty of things to shoot at; and, in fact, a man is hardly safe without a gun," said John.

"What kinds of game are there?" inquired Moses. "Anything dangerous?"

"There are martins, minks, muskrats, beavers, otters, foxes, deer, moose, wolves, bears, and, if rumor may be credited, panthers have been seen occasionally. These are rather dangerous customers, more so than the bear or the wolf. Besides, there are wildcats and racoons in abundance, as well as squirrels of all kinds. Then there are wild ducks of different descriptions, partridges and blue pigeons in large numbers. Yes, Moses, you will have use for a gun for many years to come if you stay in that part of the country," John said.

"My stars, John, but that is a long list. What would become of a fellow if all of these should come at him at once? He could not climb a tree from the panther, he could not hide from the bear, he could not run from the wolf, and he could not dodge the wildcat nor stand before the moose," was Moses' rejoinder.

"I think," said John, "that you would be safer if you met them all together than you would be to meet one of them alone. They would get to fighting among themselves about which should have you, and which was the best way of killing you. The bear would say, let me hug him to death; the panther would say, let me claw him to death; the wolf would say, let me bite him to death; the wildcat would say, let me scratch hint to death, and the moose would say, stand back, all of you, and let me stamp him to death.

"Then they would go into court to settle the questions in dispute. Eloquent lawyers and astute judges would focalize their legal lore upon the subject. One lawyer would put in a plea, another lawyer would put in a counterplea. One learned judge would say it was one way, another learned judge would say it was another way. Then all the learned judges would say that it-was not any way. One attorney would move for an enlargement, another attorney would move to tighten thins up by giving the screw another twist; one grave counsel would show cause, another grave counsel would show contra. One month a point would be advanced a stage, another month a point would be put back a stage.

"Now, while the snapping and snarling pack was settling the matter, you could run away to a place of safety, like a wise man ; or, if you were fool enough to wait for the final decision, you would likely die with old age before you found out whether you were to be killed by the bear or the panther, or the wildcat or the wolf."

"Well done, John," said Moses, "I knew you were something of a philosopher, but I did not know that you were a painter as well. That is a fine fancy picture that you have given."

"It is not all fancy, my honest friend," said he. "When I was a boy, two men not into a dispute about the line between their farms. One wanted it moved two rods one way, and the other wanted it moved two rods the other way. They went into court, and laved each other for thirteen years, until the case went through all the courts; and Comfort v. Johnston, and Johnston versus Comfort, became like a by-word among the lawyers all over the country. After they had spent money enough in law to have purchased either of the two farms, they settled the dispute by one buying the other out."

"Well, I shall take a gun and a good supply of ammunition with me, anyway," replied young Moosewood, "for I don't want to be killed by any of the snarling brigade."

Among the necessary articles for life in the bush, was the flint and steel, to be used in producing fire, when, as was often the case, the fire on the hearth went out. Instead of striking a match, as we do now, people would lay a piece of punk on some gunpowder. Then they would produce a spark, either by snapping the gun over it, or by striking a flint with steel. When the powder ignited, it would set fire to the punk. With the help of a handful of tow, or some dry kindlings, our grandmothers, in this way, made the fire to do their cooking, and our grandfathers could beg or borrow or steal, from under the dinner-pot, fire enough to burn their brush-heaps or log-heaps.

When Moses spoke of taking ammunition, John was reminded that he had not yet provided for these indispensable appendages to new country housekeeping. He went and got a link of steel and a couple of dozen flints to take with him.

The rest of the day was spent in getting things together, and in loading up the waggon, as John and Will Briars were to start the next morning at daylight. The condition of things at the two homes can be understood only by those who have had personal experience in the matter. When the first permanent break in the family circle is made, it seems to affect the whole household. When the eldest son is going away to commence for himself, it seems to throw a shadow over the old home. For some years his father has been leaning upon him more than he would be willing to confess, and he has been guided by his advice to a greater extent than he had been conscious of. And now he feels as if some part of his strength was leaving him, as though part of himself was going away.

The younger children have learned to look upon their elder brother as a sort of over-shadowing protection. He has been to them at once a brother, a friend, a counsellor, and a guide. And now he is going away. How sad they look. The smaller ones speak in whispers and walk on tiptoe, as if they were afraid to awaken the spirit of weeping that they seem to think is sleeping in some corner of the room.

And who can describe the feelings of the mother, as for the last time she puts his things in place, and that place the box in which they are to be carried from her sight and from her home, perhaps forever?

How the deepest emotions of her soul will be awakened, as memory reproduces some of the events of the past. She will think of that night, so many years ago, when she gained, by a painful experience, such a knowledge of some of the mysteries of human life as she never had before. She will think of the time when the girl-mother first looked into the blue depths of the dreamy eyes of her baby boy. She will remember how, in the old times, she rocked the cradle with her foot, while her hands plied the needle. Then her mother-love would fly off down the coming years, on the airy wings of fancy, painting beautiful pictures of the future of her son. "And now," she says to herself, "he is going from me a man—a married man. Another has come, and though she has not crowded me out of his affections, she has crowded herself into the warmest corner of his heart. But I do not complain. I don't blame Mary; I did the same myself; and I hope that her married life may be as happy as mine has been. I hope that John will be as good a husband as he is a son." Unselfish woman! unselfish woman! So it has been from the beginning; so it will be till the end.

The Myrtle home was no less agitated. When the eldest girl goes out from the old home, she seems to carry very much of the sunlight of that home with her. The young children have learned to look upon her as a kind of second mother to them. The older children look to her for counsel, feeling that in her they always have a sympathetic friend.

The mother has come to look upon her as a sort of superfluous right hand, or as a second self. The father has always looked on her as next to the mother in importance to the household. And in the Myrtle household all this was especially true. No daughter ever filled all the positions above named better thin Mary had done. She was leaving behind her four brothers and three sisters, all younger than herself. There was sadness in that home. The younger children had got so accustomed to have Mary hear them say their prayers, and put them to bed, that they thought no one else could do it as well as she could. When the last night came, poor Mary nearly broke down, as the children gathered around her, and at her knee said their evening prayers for the last time, perhaps, forever. But she soon regained her composure, and went on with her preparations for the events of to-morrow.

John and Will Briars were on the way, and were one day's journey with the cattle.

Next morning early, the two teams, with their loads, started. But early as it was, they were not to get away without a surprise. As they came opposite the school-house, where John and Mary used to go to school and to meeting, they were hailed by a lot of young women, with Lucy Briars at their head. They were carrying a box, and when they came to the Squire's team, they asked him to take the box and put it where it would be entirely safe. They said, "We have bought a set of dishes, as a present for Mary, and we want you to take good care that they are not broken on the way." The Squire promised to do as they wished.

Mary thanked them very sincerely, and gave them a standing promise, which she said should last a hundred years, that if any of them, either married or single, should ever visit at her home among the forest trees, they should be treated to the very best that Sylvan Lodge could furnish.

At noon the next day they overtook John and Will, with the cattle. Then they all went on together, making but slow progress over the new and rough roads.


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