CHAPTER X. The Place of Council - Its progress and its people - English hearts - "Sebastopol is taken" - Squibs and crackers - A ship on her beam-ends - Selfishness - A mongrel city - A Scot - Constancy rewarded - Monetary difficulties - Detention on a br
I spent some time with these kind and most agreeable friends, and returned to them after a visit to the Falls of Niagara. My sojourn with them is among my sunniest memories of Canada. Though my expectations were in one sense entirely disappointed on awaking to the pleasant consciousness of reposing on the softest of feathers, I did not feel romance enough to wish myself on a buffalo robe on the floor of a log-cabin. Nearly every day I saw some operation of Canadian farming, with its difficulties and pleasures. Among the former is that of obtaining men to do the work. The wages given are five shillings per diem, and in many cases "rations" besides. While I was at Mr. Forrest's, two men were sinking a well, and one coolly took up his tools and walked away because only half a pound of butter had been allowed for breakfast. Mr. Forrest possesses sixty acres of land, fifteen of which are still in bush. The barns are very large and substantial, more so than at home; for no produce can be left out of doors in the winter. There were two hundred and fifty bushels of wheat, the produce of a "thrashing bee," and various other edibles. Oxen, huge and powerful, do all the draught-work on this farm, and their stable looked the very perfection of comfort. Round the house "snake-fences" had given place to those of post and rail; but a few hundred yards away was the uncleared bush. The land thus railed round had been cleared for some years; the grass is good, and the stumps few in number. Leaving this, we came to the stubble of last year, where the stumps were more numerous, and then to the land only cleared in the spring, covered thickly with charred stumps, the soil rich and black, and wheat springing up in all directions. Beyond this there was nothing but bush. A scramble through a bush, though very interesting in its way, produces disagreeable consequences.
When the excitement of the novelty was over, and I returned to the house, I contemplated with very woeful feelings the inroad which had been made upon my wardrobe - the garments torn in all directions beyond any possibility of repair, and the shoes reduced to the consistency of soaked brown paper with wading through a bog. It was a serious consideration to me, who at that time was travelling through the West with a very small and very wayworn portmanteau, with Glasgow, Torquay, Boston, Rock Island, and I know not what besides upon it. The bush, however, for the time being, was very enjoyable, in spite of numerous bruises and scratches. Huge pines raised their heads to heaven, others lay prostrate and rotting away, probably thrown down in some tornado. In the distance numbers of trees were lying on the ground, and men were cutting off their branches and burning them in heaps, which slowly smouldered away, and sent up clouds of curling blue smoke, which diffused itself as a thin blue veil over the dark pines.
This bush is in dangerous proximity to Mr. Forrest's house. The fire ran through it in the spring, and many of the trees, which are still standing, are blackened by its effects. One night in April, after a prolonged drought, just as the household were retiring to rest, Mr. Forrest looked out of the window, and saw a light in the bush scarcely bigger or brighter than a glow-worm. Presently it rushed up a tall pine, entwining its fiery arms round the very highest branches. The fire burned on for a fortnight; they knew it must burn till rain came, and Mr. Forrest and his man never left it day or night, all their food being carried to the bush. One night, during a breeze, it made a sudden rush towards the house. In a twinkling they got out the oxen and plough, and, some of the neighbours coming to their assistance, they ploughed up so much soil between the fire and the stubble round the house, that it stopped; but not before Mr. Forrest's straw hat was burnt, and the hair of the oxen singed. Mrs. Forrest meanwhile, though trembling for her husband's safety, was occupied in wetting blankets, and carrying them to the roof of the house, for the dry shingles would have been ignited by a spark. On our return, it was necessary to climb over some "snake" or zigzag fences about six feet high. These are fences peculiar to new countries, and though very cheap, requiring neither tools nor nails, have a peculiarly untidy appearance. It is not thought wise to buy a farm which has not enough bush or growing timber for both rails and firewood.
In clearing, of which I saw all the processes, the first is to cut down the trees, in which difficult operation axes of British manufacture are rendered useless after a few hours' work. The trees are cut about two feet above the root, and often bring others down with them in their fall. Sometimes these trees are split up at the time into rails or firewood; sometimes dragged to the saw-mills to be made into lumber; but are often piled into heaps and burnt - a necessary but prodigal waste of wood, to which I never became reconciled. When the wood has been cleared off, wheat is sown among the stumps, and then grass, which appears only to last about four years. Fire is put on the tops of these unsightly stumps to burn them down as much as possible, and when it is supposed, after two or three years, that the roots have rotted in the ground, several oxen are attached by a chain to each, and pull it out. Generally this is done by means of a "logging bee." I must explain this term, as it refers neither to the industrious insect nor the imperial bee of Napoleon. The very name reminds me of early rising, healthy activity, merriment, and a well-spread board.