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The McGregors
A Hunting Expedition


All too soon, almost frighteningly soon for Jim and Janet, who still had so much to do before winter, the time came to harvest the grain crop. David Ross was still ailing, not being able to make up his mind whether to live or die, and Willie and Colin did the best they could with Jim's help. The Rosses had a reaper, a machine that cut and bundled the grain five times as fast as a man with a cradle. Then each bundle had to be tied with a wisp of straw. Unfortunately, Jim's field was too rough for the reaper, so he and Willie took turns cutting with the cradle and binding. A cradle was a scythe with a four-finger attachment which caught the grain as it was cut and left it in a bundle on the back stroke. They stacked the grain near where Jim planned to build the new barn. He had the bents completed, lying in their places ready to go up, and the rafters and the siding piled near by. It was to be a fair-sized barn for that time: thirty-six feet by fifty-six feet, and fourteen feet high at the eaves.

Ben McAdam came with the gang, and thirty or forty neighbours, some Jim had never seen before, showed up. The barn went up smoothly, and Janet, with the aid of Elspeth and Mrs. MacDonald, laboured overtime providing food for the multitude. Jim had bought three kegs of beer, and the evening ended with a dance in the new barn.

Ben McAdam took Janet up to dance. As he put his arms around her to begin, he exclaimed, "How things turn out, ma'am. Who would have thought that a clout on the head would bring a man such good fortune?"

Janet, who was fond of the wiry foreman, smiled. "Oh Ben, you delivered him helpless into my hands. The poor man never had a chance, and as to good fortune, there could be some doubt. There are those who think I am a forward hussy."

"Forward to save a man's life, ma'am, but a lady always if I may be so bold as to say so."

"Thank you, Ben. You bind up my wounds."

As soon as the barn was up Jim started work on the stable. Murdoch's gang finished the siding and shingled the roof with good cedar shingles from the new mill in the village. The gang worked happily and ate tremendously. Janet sighed with relief when the job was done.

"All the meat is gone, Jim, and there are only a few pounds of flour left, and we owe Neill's too much. What do we do now?"

Jim was less worried than his wife. "The Lord will provide, as Mr. McLean says; but what do you say we give him a little help?"

"You mean do a little rustling?"

"I mean a little hunting expedition!"

There was a good deal of game about, but the settlers did not bother the wild animals much, being content to leave well enough alone. In fact, most of them were a little fearful of the bush and of the occasional wolf or bear that wandered into the clearings. And as for the animals, they were only too glad to avoid these strange creatures, so bent on getting rid of the forest.

They left early in the morning, carrying a few utensils in a knapsack and some scones for lunch. Jim had his Winchester rifle, and Janet carried a sixteen-gauge shotgun, which she had learned to handle so as to protect her garden from marauding rabbits. At first diffident about harming the "poor little creatures", she became enraged to see all the lettuce and half the cabbages gone one morning, and found that she could shoot well enough by resting the gun on the fence and remembering not to close both eyes. A number of rabbits had made excellent pies and stews.

At first they followed their own creek to where it entered a swamp. Some good-sized cedars grew close here. They surprised partridge; one after the other they flew up, almost at their feet, but the cover was so thick that they disappeared in an instant. Jim tried two shots but missed.

"I know what they do," he said. "They make a half-circle and land in the beech trees up on the ridge. You walk on here, I'll cross to the ridge and follow it."

Janet did as she was told, but as soon as Jim was out of sight she became jittery and each succeeding bird zooming up made her heart jump to her throat. Soon she heard the bark of the little gun, consistent and reassuring. "If he isn't hitting partridges he's wasting a lot of expensive ammunition," she thought.

She pushed on bravely, toiling over boggy ground and sometimes through grass and weeds up to her shoulders. No doubt there would be snakes in here, but she mustn't even think of it. The swamp ended at last, and she saw Jim coming, festooned with at, least a dozen partridges and a rabbit for good measure. He waved and cried out,

"I'm the meanest, most unsporting hunter in Bruce County, but that's the way to get partridges. Talk about sitting ducks; when they light in the hardwood trees you can see them easily. It's too bad, but we can't afford to fool around being sporting. But you're soaked to the knees, aren't you?"

As Jim built a fire, Janet plucked and cleaned the two smallest birds while her stockings dried. When the fire died down Jim stuffed the birds with wild-mustard leaves, wrapped them carefully in basswood leaves, and pulled the hot ashes and coals over them. He found a vine limber enough to tie the partridges together by the feet, and he hung them in a small, thick cedar, arranging the rabbit beside them.

"Nice start we have there. Come on, let's scout for deer."

Jim led the way across the creek on a slim log, and he walked casually, as befitted a skilled framer. Janet followed, teetering wildly, only a desperate run for the last few steps saving her from a ducking. They entered wild country now, rough, hilly land with big stones that receding glaciers had dropped here thousands of years ago. The trees were scattered on the ridges but close together in the hollows. Tall weeds blocked their path and they had to stay mostly on the higher ground. "Jim, aren't you afraid we'll get lost?" "Not as long as the sun stays out. See, there it is over there."

To Janet the sun seemed to be in the north, but she did not mention the fact; no doubt it would right itself later. She concentrated on plodding along, avoiding fallen timber and trying to keep up to Jim. There were pines on the slope, and they walked quietly through open aisles on the pine needles until suddenly the slope ended, exposing a narrow valley. A small lake lay in the trough below, surrounded by evergreens; on one side was a tiny beach, and on the other rocks and sunken timber. As they watched, two or three brown patches moved on the beach. Deer.

"Six of them," Jim said. "At least one good-sized buck."

The deer moved in and out of the 'evergreens, some feeding, some drinking. They did not yet sense that danger was near. "Stay here, Janet. I'll try to circle down and come out behind them."

The thought of one of the delicate creatures being harmed was too much for Janet. Rabbits were all well enough, they ate gardens, but these beautiful things were living their lives, not harming anyone. She did not know that the six of them could have cleaned up her garden in a twinkling.

"Jim, please, no. If you shot one I couldn't possibly eat it. They are so beautiful and we do have a lot of partridge and I can shoot more rabbits." .

He looked at her, amused to see the distress on her face.

"All right then, honey, but maybe later on when we get hungry you will change your mind. I was counting on a deer or two to help us through the winter. Salt pork gets pretty tiresome, and there aren't so many rabbits around when the snow comes. Let's go back to the campfire."

Janet was sure that Jim had set off in absolutely the wrong direction, but she followed without saying anything. The sun was hidden now, and she could see no difference in the greyness of the overcast, no matter where she looked. She would follow until he became uncertain, and then set him right. They went on and on and crossed the creek, on stepping stones this time. Then they came to where someone had built a campfire. Jim raked aside the embers and there were the rolls of basswood leaves with the now-cooked partridge inside.

"Why, this is where we were; but everything is so different and we came the wrong way."

Jim laughed. "Magic, that's what. I knew you were turned around."

Seated on a log, feet to the fire, they ate the scones and the roasted partridges. Jim pulled some weeds from a pocket. "It's coltsfoot, tastes salty, try some on the meat."

Then they curled up between the log and the fire and slept for an hour, for the rough walking had tired them both. By the time they got home it was dusk. The partridges had to be plucked and hung in the little cellar.

"Grandfather would say, 'Let them hang for a week.' He liked his fowl a bit tangy."

"Tangy or not, they'll be gone in a week, and we will be looking for more. And there isn't time for hunting. It's a very pleasant way to live, but we are not Indians. We have to see to a real meat supply for the winter."

Jim finished some odd jobs around the stable while Janet picked wild fruit: plums, elderberries, pin cherries, even the red and yellow haws, which made a passable jam. The big expense was the sugar, but Jim had an idea. "I have a bee tree spotted. But I can't cut it until the frost comes and the bees get sluggish. I made a mistake with bees once, but never again."

Not long after their hunting expedition Jim helped the Rosses butcher some pigs. David Ross was better now, but weak.

"I'm grateful to you, Jamie," he said. "It was hard for the boys. The year would have gone ill but for you."

"I was well enough paid, David, and I could need your help any time. I know you would give it."

"None the less, you must have a share of the meat"

So Jim went home with half a pig to put in the brine barrel.

It was Janet who brought up the question of the walls. "Jim, could we possibly plaster the walls? I can't have much of a room with just these rough logs, and I can't keep them clean. I'm shy to ask the neighbours to call. Mrs. McIntosh would have a fit to see the place. She would say, 'The fine English lady doesn't mind a little dirt in her kitchen,' and it's true. I like to be out with you and the house gets only a lick and a promise. I have to do better."

Jim let the ploughing go and dug some sand out of a near-by hillside. The dirty gravel and topsoil went toward making a driveway until the sharp, good sand was uncovered. It would be used for the walls of the cabin. Jim bought a sack of clipped cow's hair and a quantity of lime and they sieved the sand, mixed with the lime and water and cow hair, into a flat trough. Janet worked it up with a hoe, and when the mix slid clean off it was ready.

"See that you wear gloves, now." Jim was strict about this. "That lime is brutal on the hands."

The wall was completed in a few days. After some practice they got it to stick to the logs, and the cow hair held the plaster together. Where they had started was a rough job, where they finished came out reasonably smooth. Jim was fairly satisfied.

"That's my first plastering job. It's not as easy .as it looks. Now we put on the putty coat."

"What's the putty coat?"

"Just lime and water, more of a wash than anything. It covers the cow hair and makes the wall smooth and white."

October saw the harvesting of the garden. Carrots, beets, turnips, and cabbages were stored in pits in the garden, lined with straw and covered with straw and earth, and later, of course, with snow. This way the vegetables were kept unfrozen and crisp and fresh until late spring. Potatoes had to be stored in the little cellar and in the stable, covered by earth and straw. One touch of frost and the whole lot could be ruined.

The MacDonalds had apple trees that were just beginning to bear. The apples were extra large and juicy, for the first year's fruit was always the best.

Mrs. MacDonald came to Janet's door one morning. "Janet, I could do with some help. Dan's so busy, and not much use around the house anyway. Would you help me with the apples?"

The apple picking was fun, the women's talk a treat after so much of only male companionship. Gradually Janet was able to speak more openly with her neighbour.

"I'm so glad to be able to help, Mrs. MacDonald. Men are just fine and I couldn't get along without mine, but I need to get out of that square cabin and see another woman's house and how she does things. I'm afraid I wasn't brought up to be a pioneer; there are so many things you can show me."

The picking itself didn't take long, for the trees were not yet fully grown. The two women stored the fruit in the roomy MacDonald cellar, and all the while Mrs. MacDonald gave Janet instructions about how to store the food and how to make the monotonous winter diet more palatable. Some of the apples were quartered and spread on racks to dry in both the MacDonald and the McGregor kitchens. The racks were kept full until both families had their winter's supply, which was stored in cotton bags.

"This dried apple makes good sauce and pies, Janet, but they're a little flat. Some lemon or spice helps. And, oh yes, I almost forgot, the apple is wonderful in maple syrup." Then the two women shredded cabbage and put it in layers with salt into large crocks to make sauerkraut. The crocks were then left out where it was cold.

"They won't freeze much with all that salt. Old Mr. Baetz showed me how to make the sauerkraut. There's a trick in shredding it too. If you cook it, Janet, don't forget to rinse the salt out well!"

As Janet prepared to return to her own kitchen, Mrs. MacDonald was firm about helping the young couple through their first winter.

"You must take all you need, Janet, but leave it stored here. That little hole in the ground of yours is chuck full now."


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