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Among the Forrest Trees
Chapter X - Some White Gipsies

At the close of the second day the movers found themselves still nine miles from their journey's end. A consultation was held as to what was best to do. To go on in the darkness of the night, made darker by the tops of the trees, many of which were evergreens, was a thing not to be thought of. Equally impracticable would be the idea of trying to reach the only house on the road, which was all of two miles ahead. There seemed to be no other way than to become "gipsies" for one night, at least. They decided to make a good fire, and draw the wagon up around it, then tie the horses and cattle to trees, feed them some hay, a number of bundles of which had been secured at a farmhouse, ten or twelve miles back, and get themselves some supper, and then put in the night as best they could.

With people of energy, action is apt to follow decision. So it was in this case. Every one went to work, and in a short time everything was arranged for "the night in the woods," a term by which this incident was designated in after years.

Every one seemed disposed to do a reasonable share toward making the occasion not only bearable, but enjoyable as well.

After Mrs. Myrtle and Mary had cleared away the tea things, and the two elder men had indulged in their "after supper smoke," as, I am sorry to say, they were in the habit of doing, the whole company sat down around the blazing fire. Some sat on logs, and others sat down on the leaves, and leaned themselves against the trees. When all was quiet, William Briars spoke and said, "Squire Myrtle, I don't remember that I ever heard you tell a story. Can you tell us some incident in your past experience to help to pass away the time?"

"Oh, as to that," said the Squire, "I am not much good at story-telling. As a magistrate, I have to deal with hard, stubborn facts so much that I have about lost all relish for fiction of all kinds."

"We don't want fiction," said Will; "I could furnish enough for the whole company, if that were needed. And as for romance, we need not go far for that. Our position to-night is romantic enough for anybody. But give us some of the hard facts, Squire, and we will be thankful,"

"About the funniest case that I ever had on my hands," said Squire Myrtle, "was the case of a man who was a firm believer in witches. He came to me with a complaint against one of his neighbors, and said the neighbor was a wizard. He said, `The man is in the habit of coming in the night; he steals me out of bed, takes me to the stable, puts a saddle and bridle on me, turns me into a horse, goes into the barn, fills one of my own bags with wheat, puts it on my back, gets on top of it, rides away to the mill, leaves the grist, and then rides me back home again.'

"When he first came, I thought he had gone out of his mind, for I knew the man very well, and I always looked on him to be a man of more than average intelligence. I tried to put him off, but he still adhered to his statement, and insisted on having a trial. To please him, I appointed a time to hear the case, sent a summons to the accused party, and gave directions about witnesses.

"In the meantime, I felt a good deal of curiosity to know how this thing was going to end. I knew the accused party to be a man of a low type intellectually and socially. But I knew nothing against his morality. How he would take it was a matter of some importance. If he had been of a higher intellectual cast, he would likely enjoy it as a joke. But how he would feel and act must be seen when the time came.

"When the trial came on, all the parties were on hand.

"The complainant testified positively to the statements made in the charge. And no amount of cross-examination could shake his testimony in the least.

"His wife testified that on several occasions her husband had gone to bed at the usual time, all right apparently: that on waking up in the night she found him gone, and he could not be found; that he would come home about daylight, complain of being very tired, go to sleep, and sleep till nearly noon.

"Two of the older children corroborated the statement of their mother. So did a young man who made his home at the place.

The accused, its a matter of course, denied having any knowledge of the affair from first to last.

Just at this juncture the miller, to whose mill the man-horse was said to have been driven, appeared on the scene and requested to be sworn. On being examined as a witness, he said: 'On hearing this morning of this strange case, I felt it my duty to come here, as I think I can throw some light on the subject. On different occasions, on going to the mill in the morning, I have found a bag of wheat standing just outside the door, and having the name of the complainant written on the bag with black ink. I do not know who left it there. But I made up my mind that, in some way, there was a mystery behind the affair, and resolved to keep my own counsel, and await further discoveries. Two or three times, when the owner of the name on the bags has been to the mill with other bags, I have been on the point of telling him about them. But I felt sure that he could not clear up the mystery. So I concluded to wait a little longer. There are six bags of good wheat safely put away in one corner of the mill. The owner can have them any time he calls for them.'

"The matter began to wear a serious aspect. The evidence established two very important points. First, the absence from home of the complainant; and secondly, the fact that his bags were in some mysterious manner conveyed to the mill in the night. The case seemed to be getting more and more mystified. I don't know how the matter might have ended, had it not been that my wife had visitors that afternoon. Two women came on a visit. They lived on the road leading from the complainant's place to the mill. On my wife's telling them that I had a case on hand that afternoon, they naturally inquired what it was about, and who were the parties. My wife told them what she knew about it. Then one of them said, 'I think that, perhaps, I might give some information that would be of use.'

"My wife brought the woman into the room saying, `Here is an important witness for you.'

"I asked her two or three questions, and then told her she must testify, which she did, as follows:

"'My husband's brother lives on the lot next to ours. He has been sick for more than a year. We are often called in the night to go to him. On two, or perhaps three occasions, we have met Mr. Crabtree going towards the mill, with a bag full of some sort of grain on his shoulder. He always seemed to be in a hurry. We thought it was very strange, but knowing him to be an honest man we said nothing about it.'

"Light now began to dawn on the minds of all present. `Sleep-walking,' was whispered from one to another, until the room was in a perfect buzz. Presently some one started laughing. This went like a contagion until the court became a scene of boisterous merriment. The finishing touch was given to the picture by Mr. Crabtree running across to Mr. Thistledown and, taking his hand, asked him if he could ever forgive this ridiculous blunder.

"We will let this pass,' said Mr. Thistledown. "I thought you were acting more like a child than anything else. But I believed that you were honest in your fancies, and I hoped that you would find out your mistake some time. I am glad that you are satisfied.'

"Court is dismissed without costs, and verdict reserved,' said I, as the two men went off together."

"Well, Squire," said Will, "that is an interesting story, and we are thankful to you for telling it."

"This is a good place for witch stories," said Moses.

"With the moon shining down through the tree tops making shadows, and the fire shining up through the tree tops making shadows, we have such a combination and interlacing of shadows, as are very well adapted to give hiding places to witches."

"I move for an adjournment," said Mrs. Myrtle, who was somewhat wearied, and a good deal shaken up by the long ride, over the rough roads, on a lumber waggon.

"Carried unanimously," said the Squire, in response to his wife's motion.

Will and Moses decided that they would stay up and keep a good fire while the rest lay down to sleep on some temporary beds, fixed under the waggons.

After Mr. Bushman had offered a prayer for divine protection, they all retired for the night, except the two young men. They faithfully fulfilled their engagement.

Next morning the two young men had a good deal to say about Squire Myrtle's nasal powers as a first-class snorer, and John's ability as a nocturnal ox driver. They claimed that the one could snore loud enough to wake up a sleeping earthquake, and the other could holla loud enough to frighten a young tornado.

After a lunch had been enjoyed, and a prayer offered by Mr. Myrtle, they hitched up the teams and started.

In less than an hour they carne to the house of their nearest neighbor, it being seven miles from their own place. Here John was warmly received by the family where he had got his bread and butter the year before.

On inquiry they learned that Mr. Root and his men were to move out of John's house either that day or the next. They had already waited a week for John to come, as they did not like to leave the place till he was there.

On learning this it was thought best for John to go forward as fast as he could, and let Mose and Will drive the cattle, and the whole party to follow as fast as they could get on, over the new rough road.

John reached the place about ten o'clock, and was just in time to met his old friends before a part of them went away. They gave him a warm greeting. Harry Hawthorn especially became almost boisterous in his reception of an old friend.

After the first salutations were over, the first question asked of John was, "Where's your wife?"

John answered, "She is coming on behind, along with some other friends, with three wagon loads of stuff:" At this intelligence, the men began to hurrah for Mrs. Bushman, until the woods echoed in all directions, hurrah, hurrah.

Mr. Root here said, "Boys, I move that we don't move a foot until Mrs. Bushman and her friends come on. I want to see a living woman once more before I go ten miles further into the bush."

"Shure, and oinh seconds that; come, boys, we can all afford to take a half a day or so, for the sake of welcoming the leddy, who will be after presiding over Sylvan Lodge," said the exuberant Harry.

"Let us give the lady a short address of welcome, to the backwoods," said Mr. Beach.

"1 propose that our respected `boss' be appointed to give Mrs. Bushman an address of welcome, when she comes," said John Brushy.

"All right, boys," said Mr. Root; "we will see what can be done."

Then turning to John, he said, "I have had two reasons for staying here till you came. One is, I did not want to go and leave the house alone; another is, I got a lot of hay and other things in by the sleighing, and I find that I have more than I shall need, and want you to take it off my hands."

"All right," said John; "what are the articles you want to dispose of?"

"There is about a ton of hay, and some hams of pork, and some flour, and a few bushels of potatoes," was the answer.

"Very well," said John. "I will not only take them, but I will be glad to get them, as I shall need them. I have four head of cattle to feed, and I shall have two men besides myself and wife to board, besides comers and goers; and if I am not much mistaken, there will be plenty of the latter for the next year or two."

"Here are the waggons coining now, the first that have ever been seen on this road," said Mr. Root.

As the teams came up, the men stood out in front of the house, and gave three cheers for the first white woman that ever stood in Rockland Township, as they said.

Mary and her mother came forward, and were introduced to the company by John. When all had gone into the house, Mr. Root handed Mary the key of the door, and said,

"Mrs. Bushman, by the appointment of the gentlemen who have with me, occupied this house during the past winter, I now present to you the keys of Sylvan Lodge. We are sorry that we could not present it to you in a more tidy condition, but we have done the best we could. And, in honor of my men, I wish to say to you, that during our stay in this house I have not heard a word said that might not have been properly spoken in your presence. We look upon you as the first white woman that ever came to reside in this township. You will feel lonesome, perhaps, at first, but let me say, you will not be long alone."

"During the week that we have been waiting for your husband's return we have assisted Mr. Beach to put up a house on the lot next to this, and within three months he expects to have his family settled there.

"Also, Mr. Hawthorn has sent home funds to bring out his family. His lot is just over the boundary, and he intends to settle there in two or three months. I think that by the first of September you will have a warm-hearted Irishwoman and a true-hearted Englishwoman for near neighbors. And it is not improbable that next summer I may bring to the locality the best American woman in the State of Michigan, Mrs. Root. May you long live to be the presiding genius of Sylvan Lodge, and an angel of mercy in the settlement."

The whole company cheered Mr. Root as he sat down. "Mrs. Bushman" was called for.

Mary, covered with blushes, for the first time in her life attempted to make a speech. She said: "Mr. Root, and gentlemen, I thank you sincerely for your kind wishes, and for the cheering information you have given me. And I want to say to all of you, that if at any time any of you find the need of rest or refreshments, don't pass by this place. The door of this house will never be closed in the face of either the hungry or the weary."

"These are truly spoken words, brave little woman," said John to his wife. "And I will stand by you in this thing Mary, as long as we have a shelter over our heads or a crumb on our table."

"Trust in the Lord, and do good, and thou shalt dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.'This,' said Mrs. Myrtle, "is an old promise, made centuries ago, but thousands have proved it to be true. You may do the same."

The wagons were soon unloaded, and an invitation to wait for some dinner gladly accepted by Mr. Root and his men. After this was over the road-makers took their leave, after extorting a promise from Mr. Bushman and Squire Myrtle to make them a visit at their shanty before returning to their homes.

After the risen went away all parties were busy in examining the place. John's father and father-in-law were greatly taken up with the land and timber. They also gave John credit for the neat and tasty way in which the house was built. In fact, they expressed satisfaction with the appearance of everything they saw.

Mary and her mother, with the help of Will Briars, were not long in setting things up in the house. 'There were no stoves to be put up in those days, but an old-fashioned fireplace answered the same purpose. With its lug-pole and trammel hooks, and flagstone hearth, sooty chimney, and its bed of hot coals, on which sets the old-time bake-kettle, with its big loaf of bread in it, and its shovelful of coals on the top, seems to the memory like a fading picture of the long ago. But fading and fanciful as this picture may seem to the housekeepers of to-day, it represents what was a domestic reality two generations back in this Ontario of ours in thousands of homes.

Mary's mother had provided the wide and shallow bake-kettle, with its iron lid, and the long-handled frying-pan as its accompaniment, these being among the indispensables in the backwoods.

When the things were all placed, the house was far from being an uncomfortable one. It was divided into three rooms by rough board partitions. In one corner was the ladder, by which the "loft" or upper part of the house was reached.

The "upstairs" of a log house is an indescribable place. If the reader has ever seen the upper room of a log house, no description of mine is needed. If he has never seen it, no description could make him fully appreciate the reality. It would pay him to travel fifteen or twenty miles, climb up a ladder eight or ten feet, and look around him. If he does this he will soon see that the place, like a bachelor's hall.

Is a store-house of comical oddities,
Things that have never been neighbors before.

He will likely see all sorts of things, ranging from a baby's cast-of shoe to a high-post bedstead, with curtains of glazed cambric in bright colors.

Before night the premises had been pretty thoroughly explored. Mary and her mother were delighted with the beautiful little lake, with its evergreen surroundings. And right there and then John had to give them a promise that he would not cut away the pretty Canadian balsam trees that stood a little back from the water, and threw their cone-like shadows upon the mirror-like surface of the lake.

When the two fathers and John took a walk around the lake, they all agreed that it would be folly to cut down the trees of cedar, spruce and balsam that so completely environed it.

"Thin them out, John," said his father, "by cutting out the underbrush, and clean off the rubbish. Then seed it down. In a year or two you will have one of the finest retreats that could be desired for cattle in the hot summer days."

"Don't think of cutting them down, John," said the Squire, "not for years to come, at all events—not until their increased size makes it dangerous to leave them standing."

When they came around to the house again, Mary said to John, "What are those tall trees away off over the lake? They stand so high above the other trees, that they seem to be looking down on all their neighbors."

"Yes, little wife," said he laughing, "that is what they are doing. I hope that you will never get so high and lofty, that you will look down on any person of good character. These trees are the aristocrats of the forest. They are pines. The oak is stronger, the maple is hardier, and the cedar is more durable, but none of them can compare with the pine in height. These trees are on my land, and are the tallest among a pinery of about fifteen acres."

Night came on and sent the company into the house, where they spent a couple of hours in friendly chat, and retired, after prayers by Mr. Bushman. Will and Moses slept up stairs and the rest below.

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