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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter XV - Winter in the Woods

THE month of November came and went without much  change in the new settlement. The weather was growing colder. The nights were getting longer, while the days were gradually shrinking.

John had prepared his threshing-floor, and made himself a flail to thresh the grain and a "fan" to clean it with. The "fan" was made something on this wise: Some thin, light boards, or pieces of split cedar, were jointed together, then cut into the shape of a horseshoe, only the two ends were not brought so near together. Then a piece of some light, bendable timber was dressed to the thickness of about half an inch, and six or seven inches wide. This was bent around the bottom, and nailed securely, leaving what would correspond with the heel of the horse-shoe open. Handles were fastened to the sides of this. The operator put a lot of uncleaned grain on the bottom of the fan. Then taking hold of the handles, he placed the round end of the machine against his waistbands, and commenced to waft the outer end up and down, something as a woman wafts her apron to frighten the chickens out of the garden. It is surprising the amount of drain that an expert at the business could clean up in a day.

The flail was made of two sticks. One of these was about the size of an ordinary hoe handle, and was called the staff. The other was about three feet long, and somewhat heavier than the staff, and was called the swingel. These were tied together at one end, and the grain was spread on a floor and pounded out of the straw with this implement.

The great difficulty with this kind of threshing and cleaning was the "white caps." These were simply grains of wheat that broke off from the straw but did not come out of the chaff. And getting out the "white caps" was an important item in grain cleaning before the days of machine threshing. These white caps were generally spread on the floor and threshed over again. But after all, they would often show up in the wheat that the backwoodsmen carried to mill or to market.

Another one of the necessities of the new settler is a sleigh or sled, for various purposes. Bushman needed an ox-sled, and the question was how could he get one. There was not a sleigh-maker within forty or fifty miles of him, so far as he knew. The only way that seemed open to him was by doing as bush-men so often have to do, viz., make the article or go without it. A consultation with Will and Mose resulted in a decision to go at it and make a sled. They went to the wools and found a white oak tree, with a root turned in the shape of the runners. They cut the tree at the roots, and worked out the runners, so that by sawing them in two lengthwise they had a pair. They did this with the whip-saw.

John brought with him some tools, as every man ought to do who goes to the backwoods. As it was in making the cart, so now in making the sled, they succeeded better and sooner than they expected, and produced a very fair sample of a strong wood-shod sled, good enough for anybody, as Mose remarked when it was done.

The first of December was here. The ground was covered with snow. Will and Mose were to start, in a day or two, for the old homes. Among them they had threshed out a grist to take to the mill. John was to take the grist and go with them as far as Mapleton.

But in their hurry and bustle to get things in shape for the movement, they had entirely overlooked one matter of considerable importance, at least one of the group thought so. What was Mary to do while John was gone? Moses was the first to speak of it, by asking Mary what she would do while John would be away. She answered, "I hardly know; but I suppose that I and Rover can get along in some way for two days and a night."

"I don't think," said John, "that you and Rover are to be put to the test. Not, at all events, if I can help it. I know what it means to be alone in the house, with woods all around you."

"Look here, John," said Will, "how would it be for Mose and I to go over to Mr. Crautmaker's and see if one of the girls would come and stay with Mary till you come back. It is too had to go and leave the poor girl here all alone."

"Bad or not, it is not going to be done," said John. "But your proposal is a good one; go ahead, and come back as soon as you can, and if the girl will come, bring her along with you."

They started, and it did not take them long to reach the place, as it was only one concession, or about three-quarters of a mile to go. They found the family busily engaged in putting things to rights about the house. They had never seen any of the family except the old man and the two eldest boys. The rest of the family consisted of the old lady and two young women, and two boys, and a girl younger than they were. They were very kindly received at Mr. Crautmaker's. After a little talk on different subjects they told what they were after, and how important it was that they should receive a favorable answer.

The old man was the first to speak. He said, in his broken way, "I say, vile, ve must acaomodate Meister and Meistres Pushman. Dey vill makes us goot nibors, and ve must meets them half of de vay. Katrina must go and stay shust so long as bieistres Pushman tells her to."

"Dat ish all right, mine old man," said the old lady; "ye vill do shust as you say, for you know deer beoples best. Katrina may go and stay till she comes home again."

In half an hour two young men and one young woman might have been seen going through the woods, in the direction of John Bushman's. The girl was in the neighborhood of twenty years old. She was the picture of blooming health, about medium size, with a fair complexion, and of a vivacious temperament, and yet exhibiting a maidenly modesty of deportment that made her, on the whole, a person of more than ordinary attractiveness. It is not to be wondered at if the young men were somewhat interested in their travelling companion that afternoon. When they came to Bushman's, Will told John and Mary that it was his opinion that Moses Moosewood was hopelessly smitten by the rustic charms of the unassuming Katrina Crautmaker. Whether this were so or not time will tell. But one thing may be said without pretending to read the future, and that is, the dreams that Mose had during the winter were of a strangely mixed character.

Sometimes, in his dreams, he would fancy that he was loading bags of grain on the sled, and as fast as he put them out of his arms, by some strange freak every one of them became a Katrina Crautmaker. Then again he would fancy that the oxen were before the sled and Katrina and he were on it and going down a steep hill. At other times the sled and oxen would be absent, while he and Katrina would be carrying bags of grain up a steep hill. And to finish up with, he would sometimes dream that oxen, sled, bags of grain and Katrina, all in one struggling mass of living helplessness, were thrown over a tremendous precipice and were all killed and dashed to pieces. Yes, Moses Moosewood's dreams were strangely mixed up that winter. Can any one guess the reason of it?

Mary and the young girl were mutually drawn to each other. Thoroughly honest natures do attract one another by an instinctive or intuitive knowledge of each other's character. These women were both thoroughly honest. They became friends at once.

During the night some more snow fell, so that now the sled would slip along nicely. In the morning before they started Mary gave John two of the gold piece-, that old Hickory gave her, along with a list of articles to fetch from the store. This was the first time she had sent to the store since she came to the bush.

They started about daylight. Will and Mole were going home after an absence of seven months. They expected to stay away till April or May. Will expected to bring Betsy Briars back with him; Moses expected to come alone.

A great change had been wrought in the character and habits of Moses since the time that he came to see John Bushman about going with him to the bush. Before that he was a wild, reckless, fearless and wicked young man, ready for any kind of mischief that came in his way. But now he was the same cheerful, buoyant young man; but his vivacity and cheerfulness were of a different type. Now he could be happy and joyful as the result of having made his peace with God.

Before they parted, John cautioned Moses against allowing himself to be influenced by old companions and old associations, so as to forget that he no longer belonged to the thoughtless and giddy multitude, who seek only the things of the present life, and give little or no thought to the great beyond.

When the men got as far as Greenbush post office they found two letters. One was for Moses Moosewood, from his mother. The other was, from John's father, telling him that, as soon as there would be good sleighing, he and Mrs. Bushman would make them a visit. He was intending to bring the sheep with them, and some other things, one of which would be a barrel of apples.

Will and Mose left John at the mill at Mapleton. They bid him good-bye, and went on toward their destination. John found the mill so nearly empty that his grist could be ground that night. As on the former occasion, the miller insisted on John stopping over night at his place. In the morning John got his things at the store for Mary, and putting all on the sled he started for home. But before doing this he wrote to his father, and put the letter in the office at Mapleton. In the letter he asked his mother to fetch some dried apples, and cherries, and peaches, if she could. He told his father to trade two of the sheep, or sell them, and in their stead to bring along two sugar kettles, as he intended to try the making of maple sugar in the spring.

While John was away, Mary and her new friend got along very nicely. They got acquainted, and the friendship here commenced was designed to last, because it was founded on mutual respect. In their conversation Mary found out that Katrina was entirely free from love's entanglements, and that both her heart and hand were disengaged.

"How did you like the looks of the young men who went away with my husband?" asked Mary of Katrina.

"I think they are civil, nice young men," was her answer. Then, after a moment, she said, "I suppose they will both be married men when they come back in the spring?"

"William Briars will likely be married before he comes back to my husband's sister, but Moses, I think, has no expectations at present in that direction. I am confident that he is not engaged, and I don't think that he ever paid much attention to any of the girls of his acquaintance."

"Have you known him long?" she asked.

"Yes; ever since we were children. We came from the same neighborhood," said Mary.

The conversation here dropped, as neither of the two had any reason for continuing it.

John had taken his rifle with him, a thing that backwoodsmen very frequently do, and some of them always do, when they go into the bush.

John got tired walking, so he got on the top of the bags on the sled to ride aways, and rest his limbs, as the snow was a little heavy to walk through.

He had not been long in this position when he saw a drove of deer coming toward him. He spoke to the oxen and stopped them. Then he got his rifle from where he had laid it in safety down at the side of the box. By the time this was done the deer were within some fifty yards of him. To lift the gun and take aim at the foremost and largest of the deer was but the work of a moment. At the crack of the rifle the deer dropped, shot through the heart. The rest of the flock ran away a few rods, and then turned and stood looking at the sled and oxen, as though they had never seen anything like it before.

John looked at them, as they stood in a row facing him. Then he said to himself, "The meat need not be wasted, if I do kill another one."

So saying, he took aim at the largest deer, and fired. At first he thought he had missed it, by the way it ran off. But on going to where it had stood, he found large spots of blood on the snow. He followed its track for some thirty or forty rods, and there he found the deer dying.

He said to himself, "That is not badly done. Two nice deer inside of ten minutes."

He opened them, and took out the offals, and then put them on top of the bags. By the time he got home it was dark.

He found Mary and Katrina waiting for him, with the supper on the table, all ready. When he drove up to the door they came out. But when they saw two pairs of pronged horns pointing at them, they ran back into the doorway.

Mary said, "For the landsake, John, what have you got on that load that looks so frightful?"

"Only some venison that came in my way, and I brought it along," was John's answer.

To put away and care for the oxen, and eat his supper, and dress the deer, kept John busy till bedtime, with all the help that Mary and Rover could give him.

The venison was in good order, the deer being fat, and their meat tender. Mr. Crautmaker's and Mr. Greenleaf's families each got a piece of the venison.

Mary was well pleased with the purchases that John had made for her at the store.

When he gave her the odd chancre that was left, John said, "Mary, you never told me the amount of that handful of gold coins that Old Hickory gave you."

"Did I not, John? Well, it must be because you never asked me, then. I will tell you now. There were twelve guineas and two half-eagles."

"That was a good gift for the old man to make to a stranger," said John.

"Well," said Mary, "I was not more surprised at the old man's gift, than by the romantic way in which it came about."

"Mary, I would like you to tell the old man's story to Katrina."

"I have no objection," said she; so, commencing at her first meeting the old man, she told all she knew
about him up to the time that he crave her the gold.

When Mary ceased speaking, Katrina, with considerable earnestness in her manner, asked, "Do you know his real name? for, of course, Old Hickory is only a nickname."

"I never heard any other name for him," she answered.

"You say his wife died in England?"

"Yes, so he said. Both wife and child died there."

"Well," said Katrina, "what I am going to tell you, please don't mention to any one else, but there is a strange coincidence between your story and a piece of family history that comes near to me and mine. My father has been twice married. His first wife was an English woman. My brother John is her son. She had a brother who lost a wife and little girl, with small-pox, before she and my father were married. That brother went away, and the family lost all traces of him, thirty years ago. Who knows but Old Hickory may be my brother's uncle?"

"Since you speak of it, I remember the old man said his wife and child died with small-pox," Mary said.

"If he is my brother's relative his name would be William Hedge," said Katrina.

"Well, at all events, the coincidence is a striking one. We will try and find out what his name is. Perhaps Mr. Bushman will be able to tell us when he comes here," Mary said.

John came in from looking after the cattle in time to hear what Katrina said about the name.

He said, "It seems to me that I have heard the old man called Mr. Hedge, years ago, when I was a boy."

"I think the same," said Mary. "It seems like a dream to me that I have heard that name given him. But I can't be certain. However, we will let the matter rest until father Bushman comes."

Next morning John put the oxen to the sled to take Katrina home, as there was no track across since the last snow. Mary was to go, too. She had not seen any of Katrina's people but the old man and the two young men.

They shut everything up, and locked up the house, leaving Rover to watch the place till they came back.

"What would Rover, do, if some one should come while you are away?" asked Katrina.

"He would not harm him, if he kept his hands to himself. But it would be a little risky if a stranger should meddle with anything about the place. The old dog knows his place, and he will keep it, and he expects every one else to do the same."

John put a quarter of a deer on the sled for the two families on the other concession, as Mary intended to call on Martha Greenleaf before coming home.

Before he started, John brought out the rifle and put it on the side of the box where he had fixed a place for it. Mary said, "Are you going to take the gun along, John?"

"Yes, Mary," said he. "This country is too new yet to undertake to carry fresh meat through the woods without something to defend it with."

"Are you afraid of Indians, Mr. Bushman?" asked Katrina.

"No, not Indians. But the bears and wolves might take it into their heads to try my venison. They are sharp-scented and saucy.

They started and got along all right, and were at Mr. Crautmaker's by ten o'clock. Mary was much pleased with the old-fashioned hospitality of this plain and honest family. She spent a part of the day very pleasantly.

John's venison was a great treat to them. In the afternoon John and Mary went to Mr. Greenleaf's. He and Martha were very much pleased with the quarter of the deer. They had their little shanty nicely fitted up; Martha seemed to have "a place for everything and everything in its place." Richard Greenleaf had made a commencement toward chopping a fallow. He said to John, "Man, but this is a different thing from tending cattle, and driving the old folks to church, and going to mill and to market. This is the hardest work that ever I did."

"No doubt of that," answered John. "But there is one thing that you and I should not forget—what we are doing now, our fathers had to do. They labored under greater disadvantages than we do. But they succeeded, and we will do the same, if we do our part as manfully as they did theirs."

"That is so," said Richard; "I know my father and mother worked very hard, to make the good home they now have."

Martha and Mary made arrangements to spend the Christmas together at John's house, and then the oxen were once more, put in motion with their heads turned homewards, and in half an hour John and Mary sat comfortably at their own fireside.

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