As soon as things were
got into good shape in the boarding--house, the men formed
themselves into a literary association for mutual entertainment, and
to pass away the long winter evenings. They adopted rules and
regulations, the same as institutions of greater pretensions.
Among the rules was
one which required each man to furnish something for the amusement
or edification of the rest.
Every one was left to
his own option as to what his part should be. He might relate
something of his personal experiences. He might relate some
incidents in the experience of others. He might recite, give a
reading, or make a speech. And if he could do none of these, he
would be let off by singing a song. If he failed to do any of these
he was subjected to a fine of one shilling, which was equal to
twelve and a half cents. This was placed in the hands of Mr. Root to
be held in trust until the breaking up of the association, when it
was to be disposed of by a majority of the members of the
The time limit was
somewhat elastic. It ranged from two minutes to half-an-hour. An
exercise of one hundred and twenty seconds would not be called too
short; and one fifteen times as long would not be condemned for its
of the rules was that everything presented should be connected with
backwoods life, and should illustrate the condition of things among
the pioneer settlers.
Mr. Millwood, being the most quiet and
thoughtful man in the company, was made President of the
association. His duty was to preside over the exercises, and pass
his opinion on the efforts of those who took part in the
The names of all the men were put on a
paper, and their turn came in the same order in which their names
were on the list.
Whenever one of them was called by the
President he was expected to provide something for the next meeting.
And if he did not wish to do so he forthwith handed over the fine,
and then the next name on the list was called.
The first name on the roll was "Little
Jack," as the men called Mr. Pivot, the machinist. He promptly
responded, and stepped to the middle of the floor to commence his
remarks. He made a formal bow to the company, then said:
"Since we are all here working on a
mill, I know of no subject that would be more appropriate than a
little talk about a primitive backwoods grist-mill. And it is no
mere fancy picture that I shall give you. But I will try to describe
a real working mill, where thousands of bushels of wheat have been
converted into bran and flour. The locality selected for the
erection of the mill was on a beautiful stream of clear, cool,
spring water. Here the speckled trout had disported themselves
without interruption for unnumbered generations, until the sound of
the woodman's axe might have warned them of coming changes, had they
intelligence enough to take the warning. This stream ran through a
deep glen at the foot of a mountain of considerable height. It was a
very rapid running stream. In order to get sufficient `head' a dam
was built across the stream some forty rods up the creek from where
the mill was to stand. From the dam the water was carried in an
elevated mill-race made of hewed timber, to where it poured on an
overshot wheel about twenty feet in diameter.
"This mill was remarkable for three
things, viz., the smallness of the log building, the enormous size
of the water-wheel, and the rude simplicity of its machinery.
"The building was about twenty-four feet
square The wheel was placed on the outside of the structure and on
the end of .a large shaft which passed through the wall into the
building. On this same shaft was constructed a wheel nearly as large
as the waterwheel. A row of cogs was fixed on the side of this
wheel, so as to fit into an upright pinion. In the upper end of the
shaft of the pinion was an iron gudgeon. On the end of this was a
simple piece of bent iron, on which the weight of the upper
mill-stone rested and in the turning of this pinion the motion of
the stone was produced. This was all the machinery there was, so far
as the grinding process was concerned.
"The bolting operation was equally
primitive in design and execution. The mill-stones were a couple of
rough, hard flat rocks found in the vicinity of the mill, and got
into shape by much pounding and patient labor. But simple though it
was, thousands of bushels of wheat was ground in that little,
unpretentious, back country mill. And many a loaf of good wholesome
bread was made from this flour by our grandmothers and their
daughters, and baked in the old-time bake kettles, as they were
partly hidden in heaps of coals that glowed and crackled in the
roomy recesses of old Dutch fireplaces. In those days of primitive
methods and plain habits people were easily satisfied, and the sum
total of human comfort was equally as great as in our day of greater
pretensions." And with another bow, Mr. Pivot took his seat.
"Jack, you have done well. That story is
nicely told, and the beauty of it is its truthfulness. I have seen
that same mill, or one exactly like it, myself."
"Our mill," said Mr. Root, "is to be on
a larger scale than that one, and it will cost a good deal more. But
there will come a time when it, too, will be considered out of date,
and have to give place to more extensive structures, and more
complicated machinery, for mills, as well as other things, will have
to keep pace with the progress of society."
"I think," said the President, "that
Little Jack has made a good start, and I hope that all who attempt
to speak will be as concise, and yet as explicit, as he has been.
"Mr. Dusticoat's name comes next on the
list," continued the President.
Dusticoat was called for by three or
four at once.
When he came forward, Mr. Dusticoat looked a little flushed, and
seemed somewhat confused. He was not used to speechmaking. But he
was willing to do the best he could. He commenced by saying:
"I think that I, at one time, worked in
the same mill that Mr. Pivot spoke of. At all events, the
description that he gave would just suit a mill that I run for a
number of years, when I was a young man. I used to see some rather
striking things there. I will tell you of some of them.
"To get to the mill, people had to come
down the mountain. To get anything like a reasonable grade the road
skirted along the side of the mountain for a long distance. In the
winter time, the water issuing from one or two springy places would
run over the road and freeze, leaving the track sometimes very
day as I stood in the mill door I saw a man with a yoke of oxen and
a sled coming down the hill. When he came to one of the icy places
his oxen began to slip, and soon fell down on the ice. The sled slid
around until it got ahead of the oxen, with the tail end down hill,
towards the mill. By some means it got loose from the oxen, and came
tearing down the hill, wrong end first, and never stopped until it
butted up against the side of the mill. Meanwhile the .owner stood
and looked at his retreating property until he saw the bags of wheat
safely deposited beside the mill door.
"He was a little man, by the name of
Buckberry, and he was a terrible man to swear. When he came. and
found that his grist was all right, he said he was sorry he had
wasted so much breath and said so many bad words for nothing. He
took a couple of pails of ashes and sprinkled them around the oxen,
and then got them off the ice. Luckily, nothing was injured."
Mr. Dusticoat continued: "I remember one
day a number of men came to the mill with new wheat, right after
harvest. Some had woodshod sleds, drawn by oxen. One or two had a
bag on the back of a horse, others carried their grist on their
shoulders. Among these was a man and a boy, who had come between
three and four miles. Each of them had a heavy load of wheat; in
fact, the boy was so small that some of the men were surprised by
the size of his load. They placed the lad on the scales and found
that he weighed just sixty pounds. Then they put his load of wheat
on the scales, and found it to be of the same weight as the boy. The
little fellow had carried a load as heavy as himself all that
distance over a very rough and hilly road.
"Boys in those days found plenty of
exercise in the ordinary affairs of life. They did not need athletic
sports to develop bone and muscle. But many of those boys were
broken down before they came to be men by overwork and hardships.
"One day," continued Mr. Dusticoat,
"there came to the mill a man with a bag of wheat to grind. He was a
large, bony man, with a peculiar expression of countenance. He spoke
like a man of some degree of culture. He had never been to the mill
before, hence more notice was taken of him. He said he lived about
four miles away, and this was his first bag of wheat threshed from
his first crop. This man was living alone in a little shanty built
in the middle of a four hundred acre block of land that belonged to
him. He had neither chick nor child. Not a hoof nor feather could be
seen about his home.
"We talked on different subjects, and I
found my customer to be pretty well read on various subjects. He was
rather fluent, and spoke with a slight brogue, just enough to tell
what country he came from. After his grist had been in the hopper a
few minutes, I took the toll-box and dipped it into the wheat in
order to take the usual toll.
"In a moment the man had hold of my arm,
and in a loud voice he demanded to know what I was going to do.
"I explained to him that I was simply
taking toll for grinding his grist.
"Well," said he, "it seems to me that,
after carrying it four long miles on my back, it is too bad for one
to lose part of it for toll. I will not fetch any more wheat to your
no good to tell him that everybody had to give toll. He persisted in
his resolution, and lived on boiled wheat and roasted potatoes for
some years. Then he married and raised a family. He is dead now."
"Well," said Mr. Springboard, "that was
a strange way for a man to live. He must have had something else
beside boiled wheat and roasted potatoes."
Mr. Dusticoat replied: "He had salt, and
sometimes a little butter or meat, but that was not often. In the
spring he would make some maple sugar and molasses. He used hemlock
for tea. He worked around a good deal among the neighbors, and after
people got to know him they trusted him, and many a pail of milk and
other things he carried home to his lonely little shanty. He would
not clear off his land like other people. He said the time would
come when the timber would be worth more than the land."
"The next name on the Iist is Mr.
Springboard," said the President. "We will wait for his contribution
to our entertainment until our next meeting."
"Which will be to-morrow evening," put
in Little Jack.
To this all agreed, and the company
dispersed for the night.
When the evening meal was over next
night, the men gathered around the glowing fire that blazed and
sparkled on the flagstone hearth, and sent a yellow light on
everything in the house, giving to the men a peculiar shade of
color, which had the appearance of a compound of three-parts saffron
and one-part carmine. Seen in that peculiar light they looked like a
strong, hardy lot of customers.
"Now for the talk," said Little Jack.
"Mr. Springboard said he was ready to commence if the rest were
ready to hear him."
"My stories will not be very long, nor
very interesting, perhaps," said Mr. Springboard, "but they will be
connected with new country life. They will be about the black
right, then," said the President. "Let us hear something about
tell them to you just as I heard them, without vouching for their
truthfulness; but I believe them to be true myself, and you can
please yourselves about it."
"One day a man was running a saw-mill in
a lonely place. There was no one but himself around. He was cutting
'up some pine logs to fill a bill for lumber. The old upright saw
was rattling away, and making more noise than progress. The thing
was becoming monotonous.
"The man looked out of the end of the
mill, and there, coming right towards him, was a large bear, walking
up the skid-way, where the logs were drawn up into the mill. The man
was scared, and climbed up on one of the beams, where he could watch
the turn of events in safety. The bear walked into the mill with as
much assurance as though the whole thing belonged to him. He jumped
on the end of the log that was on the carriage, and sat down on his
haunches like a dog to watch the movements of the saw-gate. He
seemed to become very much interested in his surroundings. But every
stroke of the saw was bringing him nearer to danger, as the carriage
was drawn along by the machinery.
"He seemed to be completely absorbed in
contemplation, until at last the points of the saw-teeth touched him
on the end of his nose. He seemed to take that as an insult and a
challenge for battle. With a cry of pain and rage he threw his
fore-paws around the saw to give it the usual bearish hug. The
contest between bear's teeth and saw teeth was a desperate one for a
minute; but steel was harder than bone. In a short time poor bruin
was cut in two, one piece falling on each side of the log.
'While seeking to investigate
A saw-mill's work one day,
Poor, honest bruin, met his fate
In an unseemly way.'
"This is what the sawyer wrote on a
piece of board with charcoal, and nailed it up to one of the posts
of the mill.
have another bear story to tell you," said Mr. Springboard, "and, if
you don't object, I will tell it now. Two men went out hunting in
the beginning of winter, when the first fall of snow covered the
ground. They were brothers. When they reached the hunting ground
they went but a short distance before they came on the track of a
bear. They saw that it was freshly made, and resolved to follow it
up and see where the animal had gone.
"They soon came to where the hear had
gone into a thick cedar swamp. Being well acquainted with the
locality, they knew that the swamp was not a large one. They
arranged that one of them should keep on the track of the bear,
while the other would go around the edge of the swamp, and see if he
could find where the animal had come out. And if either of them
carne across the object of their search he was to let the other know
by firing his gun or by calling.
"The man followed the tracks into the
swamp. It was difficult, in some places, to get through the thick
growth of underwood that intercepted his way. But pushing along the
best way he could, he came at length to where the bear had clambered
over a fallen tree that lay up some feet from the ground. Mr. Bush,
being an active man, placed his hand on the top of the log, and
sprang over to the other side.
"When he came over he lit right on the
top of the bear which was lying flat on its side in the snow. Before
he had time to do anything the bear had him in its embrace. His gun
was of no use to him now. His only means of defence was a hunter's
knife that he carried in his belt.
"Calling loudly for his brother, he
began to plunge the knife into the bear whenever and wherever he
could get a chance. The fight was a fearful one. The claws and teeth
of the bear were rapidly tearing the flesh from the man's bones. The
long knife in the hands of the courageous hunter was just as rapidly
letting the life's blood from the emptying veins of the infuriated
the other man came up neither Bush nor the bear could stand on their
feet, but lying side by side on the blood-covered snow they were
fiercely, though feebly, carrying on the conflict. The brother put
the muzzle of his rifle to the bear's ear and sent the whole charge
into its head. This ended the fight. Help was procured and the
wounded man was carried to the house of a settler, and medical
assistance secured. Here he lay for weeks before he could be taken
to his home in the adjoining township.
"One more short tale and I ain done with
bears," said Mr. Springboard. "In the month of March, in a back
township, a man was chopping up a fallen hollow tree. All of a
sudden his axe went through the thin shell and struck into something
that nave a terrific growl. He was startled to hear something
crawling along the inside of the log on which he was standing.
Presently a large bear came out of the end of the log in a perfect
fury, but it was blind. The axe had cut right into its eyes and put
them both out. The first thing that the bear touched was a tree.
This it embraced and attacked most ferociously, and tried to tear it
to pieces. The man went to the house, got his rifle and ended the
bear's sufferings by sending a bullet through its heart."
"Well done, Mr. Springboard," said the
President. "If all our little entertainments can equal the two last
ones, our evenings won't he wasted."