A LOGGING BEE. -- LIME-BURNING. -- SHINGLING. -- ARRIVAL OF MY BROTHER-IN-LAW. -- BIRTH OF MY SON. -- SAD JOURNEY TO DARLINGTON. -- LOSE MY WAY. -- AM REFUSED A LIFT. -- MY BOYISH ANGER. -- MY WIFE'S DEATH. -- THE FUNERAL. -- I LEAVE DARLINGTON.
MY fallow was finished by the first week in July, but I did not put fire to it until the first week in August, because the timber was so green. Indeed, I did not expect the fire would run at all. I was, however, agreeably deceived, for I got a very respectable burn, which gave me great help.
As soon as the ground was cool enough, I made a logging Bee, at which I had five yokes of oxen and twenty men, four men to each team. The teamster selects a good place to commence a heap, generally against some large log which the cattle would be unable to move. They draw all the logs within a reasonable distance in front of the large log. The men with hand-spikes roll them, one upon the top of the other, until the heap is seven or eight feet high, and ten or twelve broad. All the chips, sticks, and rubbish are then picked up and thrown on the top of the heap. A team and four good men should log and pick an acre a day when the burn has been good.
My hive worked well, for we had five acres logged and set fire to the same evening. On a dark night, a hundred or two of these large heaps all on fire at once have a very fine effect, and shed a broad glare of light for a considerable distance. In the month of July in the new settlements, the whole country at night appears lit up by these fires.
I was anxious to commence building my house, so that I might have it ready to receive my wife in before the winter commenced. My first step towards it was to build a lime-heap. I calculated I should require for plastering my walls and building my chimneys, about a hundred bushels.
We set to work, accordingly, and built an immense log-heap of all the largest logs I could get together. It took at least the timber growing on half an acre of land for this purpose, and kept five men and myself busy all day to complete it. We made a frame of logs on the top of the heap, to keep the stone from falling over the side. We drew for this purpose twenty cart-loads of lime-stone, which we threw upon the summit of the heap, having broken it small with a sledge-hammer; fire was then applied to the heap, which was consumed by the next morning. But it left such a mass of hot coals, that it was a week before the lime could be collected and covered. This is the easiest and most expeditious way of burning lime; but the lime is not so white, and there are more pieces of unburnt stone, which make it not so good for plastering.
I built my house of elm-logs, thirty-six feet long by twenty-four feet wide, which I divided into three rooms on the ground-floor, besides an entrance-hall and staircase, and three bed-rooms up stairs. I was very busy till October making the shingles,* roofing, cutting out the door and window-spaces, and hewing the logs down inside the house.
[* Shingles are made either of pine or cedar. I prefer the white pine, because it is less liable to gutter with the rain, and makes an evener roof. Every settler in the bush should know how to make shingles, and how to choose a tree fit for that purpose, or much labour may be thrown uselessly away. I do not know anything more annoying than, after cutting down a tree, perhaps more than four feet in diameter, and sawing a block eighteen inches long out of the centre, to find that it will not split fair, or (if it does) that the wood eats, which means, that the grain, though straight in the length of the shingle, makes short deep curves, which render it bad to split, and cause holes to appear in the shingle when you come to shave them. The grain of most trees naturally inclines towards the sun, or the same way round the tree as the sun's course. Consequently, a tree may be perfectly straight in the grain, where you chop it down, yet, ten or twelve feet up, it may wind so much as to be totally useless. To obviate this difficulty, attend to the following hints.:--First, select a good-sized tree, the larger the better, perfectly clear of outside knots for fifty or sixty feet. The head should be luxuriant, and the large limbs drooping downwards. Peel off with your axe a stripe of bark as high as you can reach. If, on examination, the grain is the least inclined towards the sun, reject it. If, on the contrary, it curves slightly in the opposite direction, or against the sun, you may proceed to try it by cutting out a piece a foot long, and three or four inches deep. Place your axe in the centre, and split it open. Continue to do so till you have reduced the piece to the thickness of two shingles, which again divide neatly in the middle. If the timber is good and fit for your purpose, the pieces will fly apart with a sudden snap, and will be perfectly clear in the grain on both sides, while, if the timber be not good, the grain of the one piece will eat into the other, or run off without splitting clear the whole length of the block. The blocks should be cut eighteen inches long, and split into quarters, and the sap-wood dressed off. It is then ready for the frow--as the instrument used for splitting shingles is called. A good splitter will keep two men shaving and packing. The proper thickness is four to the inch: the packing-frame should be forty inches long, and contain fifty courses of shingles, which make a thousand. The price varies from five shillings to seven and sixpence, according to quality. The upper bar of the packing-frame should be wedged down very tightly across the centre of the bunch, which will keep them from warping with the sun.]
I was anxious to complete the outside walls, roof, and chimneys before the winter set in, so that I might be able to work at the finishing part inside, under cover, and with the benefit of a fire.
As soon as my little fallow was ready for sowing with wheat, I discharged my two Irishmen, of whom I was very glad to be rid. I would advise new colonists never to employ men who have not been some time in Canada: it is much better to pay higher wages than to be troubled with fellows who know nothing about the work of the country. Besides, these persons, though accustomed to bad wages and food at home, actually expect better provisions and wages than men who thoroughly understand their business: take the following for a fair example.
One day, a stout able-bodied fellow, a fresh importation from the emerald isle, dressed in breeches open at the knees, long worsted stockings, rucked down to the ankles, and a great-coat with at least three capes, while a high-crowned black hat, the top of which opened and shut with every breeze like the lid of a basket, completed his costume--rather a curious one for July, with the thermometer above 80 degrees in the shade--accosted me with--"Does yer honor want to hire a boy to-day?"
He stood at least six feet in his stockings.
"What can you do, and what makes you wear that great coat this hot weather?"
"Why, sure, yer honour, it's a good un to keep out the heat, and I can do almost anything."
"Can you log, chop, or fence?"
"Can you plough?"
"No; but I think I could soon larn."
"Can you mow or cradle wheat?"
"I can mow a trifle, but I don't know what the other thing is at all, at all."
"Pray, then, what can you do?"
"Well, then, yer honour, I am illigant at the spade entirely."
"What wages do you expect?"
"Twelve dollars, sir, and my boord, if it be plasing to you."
"No, no, my good fellow; I do not please to do any such thing, and I do not think any one else in his senses will, either. I think you had better apply for work to the road-contractors, who require a good deal of spade-labour, which I think is at present all you are fit for."
Upon returning to my shanty in the evening, I was surprised to find that my brother-in-law had just arrived with the intelligence of the birth of my first-born son, and the dangerous illness of my dear wife. Little hope was entertained of her recovery. My poor Emma had been safely delivered of a fine boy, and was supposed to be progressing favourably, when some alarming symptoms appeared which made it necessary to send immediately for me.
Long before dawn I was some miles upon my sad journey to Darlington. I had no horse. The way was long and toilsome; and I had had neither time for rest nor appetite for food. I loved my amiable and excellent wife with all the warmth of a youthful husband united to the object of his affections. I am very fond of little children, and the idea of having one of my own to pet and work for had given a stimulus to all my labours. My first-born seemed dearly purchased now at the cost of his poor mother's peril. Still, my ardent temperament led me to hope that my dear wife would be spared. Her loss seemed an event too dreadful to realize, for the boy-husband had had no experience in sorrow then, and his buoyant spirits had never anticipated the crushing blow that had already annihilated his visions of domestic happiness. Fifty-five miles lay between me and my suffering wife. The roads were heavy from the effects of the late rains, and I had the misfortune to lose my way, which added three miles to my long pedestrian journey. Once I overtook a cart containing a boy and girl, whom I vainly entreated to give me a ride. I told them the painful circumstances which induced me to solicit their aid; but the boy was over-cautious, and the girl unusually hard-hearted for one of her kind and compassionate sex. I could easily have compelled them to give me a seat, but for a sense of moral justice which would not permit me to take that by force which they denied to pity. Mr boyish indignation, I recollect, was so great that I could scarcely help throwing stones after my unkind fellow-travellers.
It was evening by the time I reached Darlington Mills, and I was still five miles from my father-in-law's house. It was quite dark, and I was so overpowered with my fifty miles' walk, that to proceed without refreshment and rest appeared then to be impossible. I stopped at the tavern and asked for some tea.
I had scarcely been seated two minutes before some men entered, in whose conversation I became immediately and deeply interested. They were discussing what to them was merely local news, but the question, "When is the funeral to take place?" riveted my attention at once.
Putting down the much-needed but untasted refreshment, I demanded of the speaker "Whose funeral?" My heart at once foretold from its inmost depths what the dreaded answer would be.
Yes, she in whom I had placed my earthly hopes of a life-long happiness was, indeed, no more. She was snatched away in the bright morning of her existence with the rapturous feelings of maternity just budding into life. I never knew how I got out of the house, or in what manner I performed the last five miles of the journey. But I remember that in the excitement of that hour I felt neither hunger, thirst, nor weariness. Sometimes I doubted the truth of what I had heard. Indeed, it seemed really too dreadful to be true.
On my arrival at my father-in-law's house, I found that the information I had accidentally heard was unfortunately a sad reality. My brother-in-law had not left Darlington an hour on his journey to Otonabee before my wife breathed her last. I had not even the consolation of bidding her a last adieu. Few can comprehend my feelings on this trying occasion, except those who have suffered under a similar bereavement. I was not yet twenty-one years of age. I was in a strange country--the tie severed between me and my only friends in a manner so afflicting and melancholy--all my hopes and future prospects in life dashed, as it were, to the ground. I had expended all my little capital in providing a comfortable home for her, who, alas! was doomed never to behold it; and I had a little son to bring up without the aid of my poor Emma, whose piety and sweet temper would have been so invaluable to our child.
A nurse was obtained for my poor motherless babe, the babe over whom I shed so many tears--a sad welcome, this, to as fine a boy as ever a father's eye looked upon!
I followed the remains of my beloved wife to the grave; and then tarried for a month in that house of sorrow. My only consolation was derived from my knowledge that Emma loved her Saviour, and put her trust in him while passing through the valley of the shadow of death.
"How many hopes have sprung in radiance hence;
Their trace yet lights the dust where thou art sleeping.
A solemn joy comes o'er me, and a sense
Of triumph blent with nature's gush of weeping."
I left my little son in the care of his Irish nurse, and quitted my friend's house, with a heavy heart, for my new settlement at Otonabee.
Last revised 2005-03-04