On a cool April morning three people
stood on a small hill by the roadside in Bruce County. Andrew Murdoch was
pointing out the farm he had recommended to Jim and Janet, for she had
insisted on taking part in the inspection as well. "If I'm going to live
on the place, I want to see it myself."
The first building was a log cabin
twenty feet square, built by Toby Hart, the first owner. Toby had been a
carpenter in England, so the place was well put together. There were two
bedrooms and one common room, and even one clothes closet. A lean-to
woodshed was at the back, and some distance away stood a neat privy. These
were quite common now, and no stigma was attached to having one; Jim
remembered that his Uncle John and Aunt Christine, pioneers of this
convenience in the area, had been considered "uppity". The logs of the
cabin had been squared neatly and well chinked with lime plaster. The roof
was covered by shakes, extra-thick long shingles split from cedar blocks
right on the place. There was a rough table and benches and one chair; the
only concession to luxury on the place was a rocker. In one of the
bedrooms there was a bedstead with ropes strung across the frame in place
of springs. The windows each had six small panes of glass, and although
the door was of rough sawn lumber, it fitted neatly enough in a well-made
door frame. The rooms had no ceiling; the joists lay open with a few
boards scattered on them. A squat, cast-iron cookstove stood close to one
wall, with the stovepipe going up from it to an elbow which went through a
plaster collar to bend again and reach for the sky. The floor was just
plain dirt. Some clay had been mixed with the loam and pounded hard; a
little salt had then been mixed in with the clay, and the end result was
almost a cement. A fence of slim tamarack poles gave a touch of elegance
to the yard around the house, which was otherwise rather scrubby. A low,
smelly building sat at some distance. Toby Hart had kept pigs. There were
no other outbuildings.
The farm was one-quarter mile wide
by five-eighths mile long. It was on a tilt right to left as they looked
at it from the road. Water came out of the slope a little to the front and
above the cabin. Then it trickled down in a tiny stream, through
watercress and outrails, to join the creek on the left boundary of the
farm. The creek came from the woods at the back of the farm, and it was
already a year-round stream. Between the creek and the cabin, and
bordering the water farther back, was a beaver meadow, where there were
only a few scrubby trees and a good deal of coarse grass. In front of the
house, and farther back on the right, was a clearing on the slope. A few
of the larger stumps remained, but most had been removed. A crop of peas
had been reaped from it the previous year and a few dead vines that had
escaped the scythe remained.
Further back was an area where the
trees had been cut and the brush burned, but the stumps were still there.
Andrew Murdoch got a spade from his buggy. "Come, we'll walk over the land
and check it. You may be sure I did this before I bought it from Mr. Hart,
but I want to show you what to look for."
They walked back and forth slowly;
covering a great deal of the farm. Even the wooded area was closely
inspected. Every hundred yards or so Andrew thrust the spade into the
ground and turned up some soil. "See how all over there is a covering of
fine soil, that is the humus, an accumulation of years of dead leaves and
twigs. In the forest it is five or six inches thick and lies on top. Here
where Toby broke some land it is mixed with the topsoil. This is the stuff
that grows a rich crop for anyone on any kind of soil for a few years.
Then when it stops suddenly they wonder what has happened. For if there is
poor soil underneath, once this humus is worn out, it stops producing."
Angus picked up a handful of soil to show to Jim and Janet. "Look at the
soil underneath here. It's reasonably good, for this is sharp land with
plenty of lime in it. It's a gravelly loam, easy to work and easy to
drain. Not as rich, perhaps, as some of the flat land in the county, but
you can't have everything. If you farm it carefully and put back something
every few years, it will never let you down. It will always grow a crop of
grain, barley, oats, and peas, or even wheat and corn." As he spoke
Murdoch dusted his hands on a large handkerchief. He returned it to his
pocket and turned to look directly at Jim. "But you will have to work it,
Jim. I need not tell you that. Plough so you hold the rain back on the
hillsides. You have some hills here you can't afford to let the soil wash
down. And the beaver meadow there, that can help you right away. You can
cut hay of a sort off it even this year, but it needs a few drains. Get
the drains in as soon as you can. There are plenty of flat slabs of
limestone; you can make stone drains, you know. But perhaps I am preaching
too much. You will have learned a lot of this from Angus."
"It never hurts to learn more, Mr.
Murdoch. I didn't know you were such a farm expert."
"I learned a good deal from my
father in Scotland. He loved the land, poor man, and only a barren piece
he had to work with. I wish he could have lived to come to this country.
It will be a great country, Jim; it may even feed the world some day. Now
look at the forest that is left. There is good straight timber, rock elm
to build your barns as well as a few for your neighbours. There are even
some pine and lots of basswood. Lumber for anything you want, just for the
cutting. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the maple is bird's eye,
though you can't tell until you cut it. I saw some cherry, too ... a good
wood, very handsome. I think they will start to use it soon."
Andrew went into everything: where
there was cedar to split for fence rails; how to make a sluice and guide
the spring water to the cabin; where and how to build a barn for the
livestock; and how to make the cabin more livable.
"You'll have to get a ceiling over
the rooms before July, or Janet will roast in there. But you can't do
everything at once and it is hard to choose which comes first. If you have
the money to spare, Jim, hire some help. The first year is very important.
You must be ready for the winter. Winter is the bane of this land, but we
may be a tougher people for it."
They spent the night at Jim's home.
"How much does Andrew want for the
place?" asked Angus. "He wants one hundred dollars down and seven hundred
more to be paid in ten years. Interest is four per cent."
"Whew, I was afraid of that. The
man's a shrewd one, he knows he has you, but there are worse men to deal
with. He is known to be honest."
"Yes, he's honest. He's also very
good at looking after Andrew Murdoch. But I think he might be reasonable
if a man got into difficulty and couldn't meet the payments, and it's a
good place, Angus, I can see that now. A man could do well on it."
The older brother smiled. "I can see
that Andrew has already talked you into it. He's a spellbinder, there is
no doubt. The man can talk a fortune right into your hands and all you
have to do is sign the paper. But I know the place myself; you could do
worse. There must be thirty acres clear - enough to get by on. 'Tis better
than trying to chop out a farm overnight."