October frosts came before the
basement excavation was started. Willie Ross was hired to drive the team,
while Jim and Dan MacDonald took turns handling the plough and the big
slushscraper. Once below the topsoil, the ground was hard and stony, and
Jim bounced around on the plough handles, feet swinging wide, touching the
ground at intervals.
"Hold them up, Willie, or you'll see
me flying over your head!"
"I never saw this kind of ploughing
before, Jim, and the team hasn't either. They go at it like wildcats."
The subsoil was broken with the
plough, and then the team went on the big scraper with heavy handles. The
hole went down gradually as the dirt and the stones were scooped out and
slid a few yards to make a new driveway that would curve gracefully around
the front of the new house.
"You spoil a nice corner of the
grain field wandering about with the lane that way," Willie observed. "And
every time ye gang to the toon, it's four rods farder."
"Ah, but you haven't the artistic
soul, the eye for beauty, Willie. I'll have you know that people will come
for miles to see this driveway and this house when all is done."
"That may be, but the lane looks
more like a pile of mud to me. But I shouldn't argue with my betters, who
have the artistic soul and whateffer."
Rain and early snow plagued the
three workers. They finished the basement with pick, shovel, and
wheelbarrow as the weather cleared, and Adam and his helpers got the
foundation built just before the December snows.
This second winter found the two
pioneers well-seasoned and snug enough. They had a good reserve of food:
cured meat, preserved fruit, apples, vegetables, and all the necessaries.
The cows kept them in milk and butter, and the hens, unlike most of the
settlement fowl, laid eggs occasionally, because Janet gave them warm
water to drink and turnips to pick at. Unlike the first year, there was no
urgency. Jim worked steadily at the clearing, while Janet did most of the
chores. As Christmas approached she announced, "I think we should drive to
Goderich for the holiday. I haven't seen Grandfather for a long time and
there are some things I want to buy, because we may have company in the
"You mean visitors? That's something
"I mean a visitor, stupid, a
permanent one. I should see Dr. Craig, Jim."
"Well, can you imagine that!" Jim
gaped with surprise. "I hadn't thought of such a thing."
"Well, what do you expect?" Janet
was nettled. "It often happens, you know. Grandma Haig will be pleased
when she hears."
The trip to Goderich took four hours
on the good winter road. They stopped for an hour at Dungannon, a
pleasant, busy village now, and by night reached the lakeshore town. The
lake was grey, with sullen ice edging the shore, but the big house
welcomed them, looking strangely roomy to Janet after the cramped cabin.
As they celebrated Christmas and drank the German wine, Jim looked back on
the past two years; they seemed so short, and yet he felt as though half a
lifetime had passed. He looked at Janet as she sat by the fireplace and
said, half shyly, half proudly, to her grandfather, "How could she have
given up all this to live with a man like me, denned up in a cabin in the
It was May when they again drove to
Goderich. "I hate to be away from you, Jim, but I feel safer with Dr.
Craig near, and it will only be for two or three weeks."
Janet was optimistic, as she had
been all winter. Jim had marvelled at her matter-of-fact acceptance of the
situation. This was a happy thing, something most female creatures
experienced, and while some care was necessary and some preparation had to
be made, it was, after all, a perfectly natural event. But Jim could not
think of it this way; he was uneasy all winter, full of vague fears. He
made excuses to come to the cabin while he worked at the clearing. And
only when he found his wife singing quietly while working at some ordinary
task was he reassured. Back at work the shadowy worries soon reappeared.
Things had happened to other men's wives during childbirth which he had
thought little about until now. He tried to push them far back in his mind
in a flurry of chopping.
"Make yourself hot meals now," Janet
said at parting. "This sandwich business is a lazy man's way and no good
for the hard work; and don't forget to feed the hens a warm mash every day
if you want any eggs. And my kitten, let her in every night, it's still
too cold outside. Oh, Jim, do take care of yourself. I'll worry about
Jim's voice was husky. "Old Jim will
make out all right; just you be careful and write often. I'll meet the
stage every night."
"Don't be silly. I'll write Monday,
Wednesday, and Saturday. Even then Matty will say we are daft. Get along
home now before I start to cry."
Jim stopped at Dan MacDonald's. "I'm
back from Goderich, Mrs. MacDonald. Janet thinks it's time and I left her
at her grandfather's."
"Ah Jim, we'll miss her, but come in
and have your supper, man. It's hard going home to a cold house."
Jim could not help confiding his
fears to the older woman, who was so obviously sympathetic. "I'm worried,
Agnes. I can't help but think of the ones that died only this year, all
young wives with their first babies. It's a cruel thing and I never
thought of it until this winter, but now I cannot get it out of my mind."
"Och, Jamie, sit ye down now and
we'll have a bit to eat when Dan comes in. Here, man, is a nip of whiskey
to warm your insides; and you must think of other things. You're a man
now. Face up to this the way you have to everything else. Nothing's going
to happen to Janet. She's a healthy lass, strong as a horse, and she
hasn't laced herself in as the silly ones do. I give you my word she will
be all right."
Jim left later, well fed and
reassured, but Mrs. MacDonald turned to her husband with a worried face.
"Ah Dan, I spoke brave words to the boy. I hope I don't have to eat them.
I can't help but think how we lost our first and how near I was to death.
I pray to the good God that all will be well."
Matty Wilson, the mistress of the
post office, was solicitous as she handed Jim the first letter. Her
wizened, heart-shaped face held a little to one side, she looked at him
with the blank innocence of a child.
"I hope it's good news, Jim. We all
think so much of Janet and wish the best for her."
Jim slid the letter in a pocket. It
felt a little sticky and had a slightly rumpled look as though it might
have been steamed open and carefully resealed.
I'm well, Jim, in case you are
wondering, but Dr. Craig says it won't be long. He says 'don't worry
everything is fine and I'm healthy as a trout.' I didn't know trout were
all that healthy. I wish it was over. Did you feed the
kitten? I forgot to tell you that there is a hen that lays under the
back steps. Grandfather is all worked up about the baby coming. He
fusses around like an old hen. I miss you so much darling.
Jim was better at the letter-writing
Hello, Honey. Glad you are well
and you aren't the only one that wishes it was over. I talked to Agnes
MacDonald and told her how worried I am. She says, 'poo-poo Jim, nothing
to it Jim' but I know she's anxious about you too and so is Matty Wilson
for she had your letter steamed open and all sealed up again before I
got there. I'll meet the stage this time and I'm waiting to give this to
I miss you so much and the kitten
looks at me as though I had done away with you.
Love to my own girl, Jim
The next letter was from Dr. Craig.
Jim froze as he saw the strange envelope. He held his mind a blank as he
opened the letter with clumsy fingers. "I mustn't think. I mustn't think."
He read it twice before the words registered. They were simple enough.
Congratulations, Jim, you have a
boy. Everything is fine. Janet will write soon. Glad I patched
you up that time.
Janet must have insisted on writing
to Jim as well, for, after reading Dr. Craig's letter, he noticed another
sheet of paper in the envelope.
We are all well here and hope you
are the same. Grandfather is extra well, in fact he has
been a little drunk for two days. Mr. Harper helped him celebrate. Dr.
Craig says I can go home in a week. I can go on the stage if you think
it best, but if you like to meet me, come a day early. It is lovely
weather for a drive. Remember the first one? Little John is just
wonderful. He has all the things he's supposed to have, fingers and toes
Love to you and Matty
The MacDonalds were the first to
hear the news. Mrs. MacDonald opened the door to see Jim's wide grin.
"It's a boy, Agnes."
"Well glory be, come here till I hug
you, lad." They clung together for a minute.
"Come in and sit ye down. Oh, I'm so
happy. I was afraid for her, Jim."
"I thought you said there was
nothing to it. All in the day's work you said. Go home and stop worrying
you said." "I had to cheer you up, Jim, you looked like the end of a hard
winter; but I must call Daniel."
She went to the back steps where a
wagon wheel hung from a post and smote two sharp whangs with a piece of
steel pipe. Echoes rang over half the township and Dan's head and
shoulders appeared over a low door in the stable.
"Good news, Daniel. Come and help
Dan came in, accompanied by a whiff
of stable smell.
"I see you're looking like a father,
Jim, a bit silly-like; but a man can't help that with his first."
"I'm all of a twitter, Dan, but I
see Agnes has something to calm me down."
Agnes had a bottle of dandelion
wine. She poured three water-glasses full.
"It's three years old," she said.
"Just right for such an occasion. I've been saving it."
The wine was clear gold in colour.
It smelled of a flowering hillside in a hot sun and slid down creamy
smooth with a delicate taste of the dandelion honey. The three sat around
the kitchen table with the cracked oilcloth, and warmth, like a
benediction, spread through them, body and soul.
"It's a great day for you, Jim." Dan
leaned his hairy forearms on the table. The scarred fingers with the
broken nails made the wine glass look small. His square face, tanned with
wind and sun, had a gentle look not usual in this seemingly harsh man.
"Our first died, you know, but that's all past now. We just live for the
future, Jim, for the day the boy fells his first tree. Fill the glasses
again, Aggie, we'll drink a toast to young John."
"That's a good strong wine, and very
tasty." Jim set down his empty glass as Agnes went to the cellar for
another bottle. "I'm glowing like a new bride."
"I think she spikes it, Jim. Her
uncle, Peter Cameron, makes potato wine, and then he distils it back in
the swamp into something he calls brandy. If you touch a match to a
spoonful it burns with a nice blue flame. I know she has a bottle hid
somewhere. No wine has a lift just like this has."
They sat long at the table. They
joked and laughed and were very merry indeed. Jim would cherish these
moments long afterwards. He rose at last.
"I mush get home," he said, "and
tidy up the housh. Janet will want it clean for the boy. Thank you, Agnes,
for the wine. It was mosh dish-delicious." He untied Gamey and got into
the buggy carefully. "Goodbye Daniel and Agnes; bless you both. A man
never had better neighbours than the two of you."
They watched as Gamey wheeled out of
the gateway, narrowly missing a post, and turned homeward. Agnes took her
husband's arm. "He's not in that buggy at all, he's riding on a cloud, but
Gamey should get him home safe. Oh, Dan, if we just could be young again."