Jim and Dan had cleared five or six
acres on each farm that winter, and after Jim cleaned up the stump lot
left by Toby Hart he found himself with close to forty acres for planting;
the land was still very rich, so there was no question of having to
It was on a sunny, warm morning in
early May - one of the first really warm spring days - that Andrew Murdoch
drove in smartly on the newly gravelled lane. Though the roads had not yet
dried after the thawing of winter frosts there was little sign of mud or
tarnish on the harness or the buggy, and the coat of the little sorrel
mare shone sleek and smooth. Andrew pulled up at the cabin door, stepped
from the buggy, and approached Janet as she rose from her knees beside a
"Mrs. McGregor" - Andrew doffed his
hard hat with a discreet flourish - "a pleasure indeed to see you. How
well you look. The farm life I see has agreed with you." Janet accepted
the compliment with a smile and a blush.
"Thank you, Mr. Murdoch. Yes, I feel
well, but my back is nearly broken working on these flower beds. Will you
come in? I will make some tea. Jim went over to Dan's but he'll be home
soon and will want to see you, I'm sure."
"Thank you, ma'am." Andrew Murdoch
was genuinely impressed by the change that had taken place inside the tiny
cabin. "I see you have been busy. Toby Hart wouldn't know the place now.
It's strange that a man can never make a house into a home, no matter how
handy he is. It takes a woman to do that."
"I'm afraid you flatter me, but your
praise has a pleasant sound. I have worked a good deal to make the place
livable, and Jim has too. He works too long and too hard though, Mr.
Murdoch, and stays so thin though he eats enough for two. I worry about
"Well, I'm thin myself, ma'am, and
do no hard work for it. And I eat well too." As Janet moved around the
tiny cabin preparing the tea, Andrew Murdoch found himself talking all in
a rush to this attractive and competent young woman. "There are some of
us, you know, Janet, who are not cut out for honest toil. We must scheme
and connive and live off the labour of others. I must confess that
sometimes I feel guilty, although not guilty enough to reform, for it is a
fascinating thing to turn ideas over in your head and make a profit here
or gain an advantage there. And I do try to be honest. It is hard to tell,
for the shading is very close at times. And as for Jim, it would not be a
bad thing if he did a little scheming, honest scheming that is, to go
along with his hard work."
And so it was that, together with
Andrew, Jim and Janet worked out a plan to cover the next five years. The
older man was not sparing of his advice.
"I feel that you would do well to
plant wheat, Jim, hard wheat for the good flour. Your land is still rich
and many of the farms have run out as far as hard wheat is concerned. They
will have to go to fall wheat. Why not plant half your land in wheat as a
cash crop? It is bound to be high in price for some years." Sensing some
hesitation on Jim's part, Mr. Murdoch added quickly, "I do not want to
urge you into anything against your inclination, Jim. Think about it
"I'll do that, Andrew, but I want to
ask you, what do you think of the future of this country? Will it not
overproduce and find no market? There seem to be more people producing
than there are buying at the moment, and hard cash is scarce."
"Oh, there will be ups and downs and
no man can foretell the future for certain, but I would say that the whole
continent will be settled in a very short time. Railroads will be the
answer, Jim, for without railroads we would break up into a number of
small nations. And I am sure we will have a future if we are worthy of
it." Andrew spoke with a conviction that impressed both Jim and Janet.
"Set your sights to the future, Jim. In a few years you could have half
the place producing. Plan to build a house; a woman like Janet should have
a good house. How about the cherry, was Bauman interested?"
"He's keen enough on the cherry,
Andrew, though he won't admit it. I think someone is pressing him to buy
all he can."
"Oh aye, there's a new furniture
factory starting in Kincardine and a casket factory in Listowel and the
railroad will soon be through to the lake. That cherry will move in a year
or two. It could build your house for you."
When Andrew left they looked at each
"Andrew talks well. He lifts a
person up to the heights. My head is spinning with visions of dollars and
new houses and all. Then he goes away and leaves the work to us. But what
can we expect, Jim, Andrew is a coat-holder. He points the way and does it
so you feel you must follow."
Jim went to the window. "See out
there, see the stumps to be pulled, the stones to be gathered, the trees
still to be cut, and there's hardly a fence on the place. I suppose we
will have to take it a day at a time. What do you think of Andrew, does he
see a little into the future or is he just a good talker?"
Janet thought for a few moments. "I
am puzzled by Mr. Murdoch. Sometimes I seem to see pointed ears and a
bushy tail, but he is nothing but courteous to me. I think he is very
intelligent; he can see what is to come better than most."
As the sun warmed and the spring
days lengthened into early summer they worked from dawn to dusk. Stones
and trash were gathered from the clearing and the land was worked well to
level the "cradle knolls" as they were called, so a reaper could be used
later. Some grass seed was sown with grain as a cover crop to provide hay
for another year. Jim enlarged the garden so that Janet could plant more
vegetables and Indian corn, and she found that all kinds of squash and
melons grew readily in the rich forest soil. Then Jim attacked the beaver
meadow and got some drains in. In the midst of all their work it suddenly
hit them that the meadow was only partly fenced. They discussed the
problem over their noon meal.
"There never is time to split rails,
and I don't like the job," Jim said, "but we have to get more fences up."
"How about cedar poles from along the creek? When we hunted the partridges
they were so thick I could hardly push through them."
A grin broke on Jim's usually
serious face. "A good idea. How wonderful to have a wife who uses her head
at least part of the time!" He managed to narrowly miss being hit by a
The cedar poles made a good enough
fence, but even so it took several weeks of hard work to enclose a modest
area of the farm. They had two cows now, and Janet churned butter and made
cottage cheese. The hen flock was increased and two sows with litters
roamed the bush, coming home daily for a feed of grain and sour milk.
"I feel so rich with all the cream
and eggs for baking," Janet said. "Surely I can get some meat on your
bones; you look more like a scarecrow every day."
"Time enough for that next winter.
Right now we follow the Great Murdoch Plan, by which we get rich in five
years. There are things I could say to that man if I had him here."
But there were certain things about
which Janet was adamant and one was that, five-year plan or no, Jim should
not risk his health. She had noticed that the lines of fatigue in his face
had deepened lately, and in spite of all her cooking he certainly wasn't
getting any fatter. "You need a holiday, Jim. I saw some fish when we cut
the poles along the creek. Why don't we just waste a day and try for some
Jim had sense enough to recognize
the determination as well as the concern in Janet's voice, and the next
morning they left early in the direction of the creek. The dew lay heavy
on the sedge grass and shone silvery in the slanting sunlight. Spider webs
hung in impossible places between the bushes, bright dots tracing
intricate patterns. Birds were busy, some singing furiously, others
flitting about intent on spring nesting. Squirrels were officious in the
trees, and the creek bubbled and foamed, twisting among boulders and
sliding down miniature rapids. They were soon soaked to the knees in the
wet grass, but the warming sun promised to take care of that.
"It's great to do something
different." Jim was scrambling over a clump of fallen cedars. "We get too
bound up in a round of work, and think of nothing else. I wonder what
makes us be that way. Perhaps the Indians have the answer. `Live for the'
day,' that's their motto."
"Well, my motto is to catch some
trout or we will go hungry for lunch and you will very quickly tire of
doing something different. If you would put a worm on my hook, now, we
will try this pool."
They had to try a good many pools
and follow the creek for a mile or more before getting a strike. These
trout objected to being just pulled out of the water; they had to be
caught with finesse. Jim and Janet quickly learned to approach a likely
place very quietly and drop the bait as though it were just falling off
the bank or from a tree. Then the trout began to bite, and a string of
them accumulated in time for lunch. They were brook trout, a good size for
a small stream, and the red speckles shone in the sun now overhead. While
Jim built a fire, Janet produced a frying pan, a pat of salty butter, and
some buttermilk scones from their small pack. She scooped water from the
creek and made tea in a metal teapot.
"There may be some squiggly things
in this water, but I suppose a few minutes boiling will kill them. I'm so
thirsty, anyway, I don't care."
All was silent, the birds unseen and
quiet now. It was a forest stillness that ignored the chatter of a
squirrel far away or the tiny, shrill song of some insect. The splash of a
frog diving in the water became a major disturbance. Jim and Janet both
felt they were in another world, and their reactions were mixed. The
feeling of space and primeval stillness awed them, while, at the same
time, away from the clearing and all the things of civilization they felt
a faint unease. One could not belong to both places; either the bush or
the clearing, that was the choice. It was Janet who put an end to their
"Jim, it's getting late. There are
the cows to milk and the chickens to feed if that hawk hasn't got them,
and I have to make yeast for the bread tomorrow."