CHAPTER VIII. The hickory stick - Chawing up ruins - A forest scene - A curious questioner - Hard and soft shells - Dangers of a ferry - The western prairies - Nocturnal detention - The Wild West and the Father of Rivers - Breakfast in a shed - What is an
A bright September sun glittered upon the spires of Cincinnati as I reluctantly bade it adieu, and set out in the early morning by the cars to join my travelling companions, meaning to make as long a detour as possible, or, as a "down-east" lady might say, to "make a pretty considerable circumlocution." Fortunately I had met with some friends, well acquainted with the country, who offered to take me round a much larger circle than I had contemplated; and with a feeling of excitement such as I had not before experienced, we started for the Mississippi and the western prairies en route to Detroit.
Bishop M'Ilvaine, anxious that a very valued friend of his in England should possess something from Ohio, had cut down a small sapling, which, when divested of its branches and otherwise trimmed, made a very formidable-looking bludgeon or cudgel, nearly four feet long. This being too lengthy for my trunks was tied to my umbrella, and on this day in the cars excited no little curiosity, several persons eyeing it, then me, as if wondering in what relation we stood to each other. Finally they took it up, minutely examining it, and tapping it as if to see whether anything were therein concealed. It caused me much amusement, and, from its size, some annoyance, till at length, wishing to leave it in my room at a Toronto hotel while I went for a visit of a few days, the waiter brought it down to the door, asking me "if I wished to take the cudgel?" After this I had it shortened, and it travelled in my trunk to New York, where it was given to a carver to be fashioned into a walking-stick; and, unless the tradesman played a Yankee trick, and substituted another, it is now, after surviving many dangers by sea and land, in the possession of the gentleman for whom it was intended.
Some amusing remarks were made upon England by some of the "Buckeyes," as the inhabitants of Ohio are called. On trying to persuade a lady to go with me to St. Louis, I observed that it was only five hundred miles. "Five hundred miles!" she replied; "why, you'd tumble off your paltry island into the sea before you got so far!" Another lady, who got into the cars at some distance from Cincinnati, could not understand the value which we set upon ruins. "We should chaw them up," she said, "make roads or bridges of them, unless Barnum transported them to his museum: we would never keep them on our own hook as you do." "You value them yourselves," I answered; "any one would be 'lynched' who removed a stone of Ticonderoga." It was an unfortunate speech, for she archly replied, "Our only ruins are British fortifications, and we go to see them because they remind us that we whipped the nation which whips all the world." The Americans, however, though they may talk so, would give anything if they could appropriate a Kenilworth Castle, or a Melrose or a Tintern Abbey, with its covering of ivy, and make it sustain some episode of their history. But though they can make railways, ivy is beyond them, and the purple heather disdains the soil of the New World. A very amusing ticket was given me on the Mad River line. It bore the command, "Stick this check in your - - ," the blank being filled up with a little engraving of a hat; consequently I saw all the gentlemen with small pink embellishments to the covering of their heads.
We passed through a large and very beautiful portion of the State of Ohio; the soil, wherever cultivated, teeming with crops, and elsewhere with a vegetation no less beautiful than luxuriant; a mixture of small weed prairies, and forests of splendid timber. Extensive districts of Ohio are still without inhabitants, yet its energetic people have constructed within a period of five years half as many miles of railroad as the whole of Great Britain contains; they are a "great people" they do "go a- head," these Yankees. The newly cleared soil is too rich for wheat for many years; it grows Indian corn for thirty in succession, without any manure. Its present population is under three millions, and it is estimated that it would support a population of ten millions, almost entirely in agricultural pursuits. We were going a-head, and in a few hours arrived at Forest, the junction of the Clyde, Mad River, and Indiana lines.
Away with all English ideas which may be conjured up by the word junction - the labyrinth of iron rails, the smart policeman at the points, the handsome station, and elegant refreshment-rooms. Here was a dense forest, with merely a clearing round the rails, a small shanty for the man who cuts wood for the engine, and two sidings for the trains coming in different directions. There was not even a platform for passengers, who, to the number of two or three hundred, were standing on the clearing, resting against the stumps of trees. And yet for a few minutes every day the bustle of life pervades this lonely spot, for here meet travellers from east, west, and south; the careworn merchant from the Atlantic cities, and the hardy trapper from the western prairies. We here changed cars for those of the Indianapolis line, and, nearly at the same time with three other trains, plunged into the depths of the forest.