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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 9
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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 9 Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1081

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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 9

CHAPTER NINE

"It is the fashion to say in England, so I hear, that Canada is not the country in which people can make fortunes," said the sheriff; for such was the office Mr Norman held in his county. "I grant that it is not the country in which fortunes will come of themselves; but, putting the lower province out of the question, I should like to know how the owners of the nice estates and pretty villas scattered so thickly throughout the upper province became possessed of them. How has Toronto sprung up into a first-rate city? How have Hamilton, London, and twenty other towns risen in a few years into importance? How is it that thousands of comfortable farms are found in all directions? Look at our canals--at the thousands of vessels which navigate our lakes and rivers; at our saw-mills, and grist-mills, and manufactories of all sorts; at the tens of thousands of acres of corn land; at our pastures; at our oxen and kine; at our flocks of sheep; at our horses; at our public and private buildings; at our churches; our colleges; our schools; our hospitals; our prisons; at all the conveniences of a highly civilised community which we possess, and then let me ask to whom do all these things belong? To the inhabitants of the province. Who are they? Men mostly who began life in it; some few whose fathers lived in it; but very few indeed whose grandfathers were born here. Of these, the capital of the greater number, when they began this career, might have been counted by shillings;--did I say shillings? I would rather say strong hearts and hands, without coin at all; some few might have reckoned by pounds, fewer by hundreds, and very few indeed, if any, by thousands. Then how did they become possessed of all this wealth? Why they made all this wealth, they created all these advantages, by their labour, their intelligence, and perseverance. They are theirs--to enjoy--to benefit by. It is said in England, 'We do not find rich Canadians come back and settle at home, as so many Australians do.' Granted; Canada, I say, is essentially the country to reside in. People who have made fortunes here do not go away, for the best of reasons; because here they have all the requirements of civilisation, all the advantages which the Australians go to England to obtain. I say too that numbers do make very handsome fortunes--though I grant, as I before observed, that fortunes don't come of themselves; but, which is better, no one who is persevering, industrious, and intelligent, fails to become independent, and to start his children well in the world. I don't want to disparage other provinces, but I say that we Canadians can and do make fortunes; and what is more, we have the means of enjoying them thoroughly, without going to other lands to do so."

The sheriff had got on a subject on which he always grew eager, though he was at length obliged to pause for want of breath. "Take myself, for example," he continued; "I rose, if you like, from the bottom of the tree; and I know fifty--I may say a hundred men, who have got up as I have done--my brother-sheriff of the next county among them. My father came over from England. He was a baker by trade; but though he knew how to make loaves, he did not know how to read. He came to the neighbourhood of Kingston first, and worked as a journeyman. When he had saved a little money he set up for himself; then he got a share in a flour-mill, and bought a little land;--then a little more; and then the flour-mill became his; and lastly, he sold the whole at a considerable profit, and moving westward, pitched his tent at Pentanquishine, on Lake Huron. He invested largely in land; and troops being stationed there during the war with the States, and it becoming a naval station, he realised a considerable profit. Though uneducated himself, he was desirous of giving his sons a good education; so he sent us all to the best school in the province--I might say the only one--kept by the Reverend Dr Strachan, now Bishop of Toronto, in that big city, then known as "Muddy Little York." The excellent doctor, of whom we all stood in reverential awe, had the art of imparting knowledge; and I believe I, with others, benefited much by it. Of my two elder brothers I will say nothing, except that they tyrannised over me and another brother younger than I was. He and I were fast friends, and made common cause against them. As Pentanquishine could not supply us with clothing fit to appear in at Toronto, our father directed us to get it at that place, and entrusted our elder brother with money to pay for it. He got clothing certainly, and paid the tailor, but it was for himself and not for us, and we were allowed to go on wearing our shabby clothes. I protested vehemently against this iniquitous proceeding, but Arthur, my younger brother, who was of a more gentle nature, yielded quietly and said nothing.

"There was to be a public examination, at which all the big-wigs in the place were to attend; and I told my brother that if he would not order us both proper suits of clothes I would run away to our father and complain. He laughed at me, not believing that I would make the attempt. I was as good as my word, for pretending I was ill one evening, I got leave to go up early to bed. Instead of going to sleep I watched my opportunity, slipped out of the house with all the money Arthur and I could collect, or rather save, in my pocket, and running on all night, before morning I was far away towards Lake Simcoe. You see, boys brought up in the bush, as I was, have no fear of being out alone, and can find their way in any direction they have a mind to follow. Besides which, it was a beaten cart track I followed, mostly in the line the railway now takes. Great changes since then! I might have been caught even then, for I was pursued for some distance; but I was overtaken by an old acquaintance--a carter, or rather a packer or carrier--Jack Johnson by name, to whom I narrated what had occurred. My elder brother had on some occasion offended him, and this made him, probably, more ready to take my part, and to render me assistance. 'Jump into the waggon, lad, and hide thee away, and if any one comes after thee I'll show him that Jack Johnson's waggon is just as much his castle as any man's house is, and if he pries therein he must take the consequences.' What those consequences would be he did not say, but he flourished his heavy whip with a ferocity which made it probable that the head of anybody who interfered would be broken. With this consoling reflection I fell asleep, for I was very tired after my long run during all the night. I knew, also, that Jack would be as good as his word, so I had no fears to keep me awake.

"We jogged on all day, stopping only to bait and water the cattle. Now and then I awoke and looked out; it was the same scene--forest on either side, with now and then a small lake, or pond, or creek. Jack was at his horses' heads, whistling away, as if he had nothing in the world to care for. He hadn't either. He had been a workhouse-boy in the old country, and would have ended his days as a labourer, and now he was laying by a good bit of money every trip, and expected to be able to buy a comfortable farm before long. So he did, and has brought up a numerous family, all well-to-do in the world, and lives himself as comfortably as any man with four or five hundred a-year would, I guess, in England. At night we stopped at a log-hut, the only inn on the road, and Jack brought me some food and told me to be quiet, and that we would be off early in the morning.

"The second day passed much as did the first, except that I had lost all fear of being overtaken. The confession is somewhat humbling, but the truth is, I was not considered worth sending after. 'Let the chiel gang,--wie sae little brains in his head he's sure to fall on his feet,' observed the doctor, when informed of my flight--so I was told. In the evening of the second day we reached Holland's Landing, at the south end of Lake Simcoe. Settlers had begun to take up the land on either side of the lake: they were chiefly naval and military officers, forced into idleness at the end of the war, without any previous training for the life they were to lead, or knowledge of what would be required of them as settlers. The naval men did the best, and many of them succeeded, as did a few of the military men, but the greater number, after a few years' trial, I might say months, left in disgust, or ruined. Many never came even to occupy their grants. Jack's business was to supply these gentlemen with goods, which most of them came to fetch at Holland's Landing.

"As he was going no further, I had now to consider how I was to perform the rest of my journey West. While standing in the bar of the store with Jack, who should come in but a trapper, known to him, Jean Baptiste by name, to make some purchases. 'Whither bound, friend Baptiste?' asked Jack. I could make out clearly enough the meaning of his reply, but I cannot repeat the extraordinary mixture of Canadian, French, English, and Ojibbeway, in which it was couched. He intimated that he was going a few days' journey west, over ground where there was then an abundance of beaver, martin, mink, and other fur-bearing animals, which are rare enough now. Jean Baptiste showed his Indian origin by his long, Jewish-like countenance, dark eyes, and raven black hair. He was dressed in skins, the hair being inside, in spite of the heat, his leggings and waistcoat ornamented with bead-work and gaily-dyed porcupine quills, and mingled with coloured fibres and worsted.

"I slept in Jack's cart, and just at daybreak Baptiste came and roused me up. I thanked Jack heartily for his kindness, and with a stout stick in my hand, with which he presented me, set off to follow my strange-looking guide towards his camp. Here, under a lean-to of birch-bark, I found Mrs Baptiste, an Indian squaw, who, if not a solace to him in his hours of trial, took a great deal of trouble off his shoulders, for she worked for him from morning till night like a slave, with small thanks. In the way he treated his wife he was no better than an Indian. She had her hand-sleigh already packed, and as soon as we appeared she harnessed herself into it and began dragging it off without saying a word. Talk of the romance of Indian life, there is none of it of an elevated nature. All the stuff novelists have written is sheer downright nonsense. It is simple brutality from beginning to end. I speak of the natives I have met with before they became Christians. Baptiste, on the strength of his being a French-Canadian, on his father's side, called himself a Christian, but he was as ignorant of religion as was his squaw; and here let me remind you, whenever you write to your friends in England, tell them that there is a grand opening for missionary labours among the wide-scattered Indian tribes still existing on this continent. Something is being done, but much more may be done; and not only is there work to be done among Indians, but among the out-settlers, and especially among the lumberers on the Ottawa. Never mind whether they are Romanists or not. They never hear the Gospel of free grace preached from one end of the year to the other. I believe that a missionary going among them would find abundant fruit as the result of his labours.

"To return to Baptiste. He had set his traps in the forest along the route we were to take, and so we had to push our way through it, sleigh and all, he scarcely condescending to help his squaw when it stuck between the stumps of the trees, she also looking with supreme contempt on me when I attempted to help her; indeed she, I fancy, considered me rather officious than otherwise. I travelled on for several days with this unattractive couple, and yet I believe that they were really fond of each other. They were hospitable in their way also, for their pot was always well supplied with meat, and they gave me as much as I could eat. It was not of the choicest land, I must confess, for every creature the trapper caught went into it, with a mixture of herbs and roots, among which garlic predominated.

"At last Baptiste told me that he had come to the end of his journey, and that I must find the rest of the way by myself. 'I will try, of course, but it strikes me that I shall not succeed,' was my answer. 'If I had a gun and powder and shot, or even your traps, I would get on fast enough as soon as I could find my way into the blazed road, but out here the thing is impossible. If you will not come along with me I must go back with you.'

"He signified that he would be glad enough to have my company, but that he had promised Jack to see me on my way, and that his honour was concerned in doing so. He could not go on himself, but he would find some Indians who would guide me if I could pay them. I had three dollars in my pocket, I told him. He said half that sum would content them if I would pay it them. He soon found the trail of some Indians whom he knew to be his friends--we came up with them. The bargain was struck with two of them to see me safe all the way, and Baptiste told me that they were highly delighted though they took care not to show it. They were accompanied by their squaws; indeed, an Englishman of fortune would as soon think of travelling without his valet as an Indian without his squaw to perform every menial occupation he may require. There was nothing romantic in the appearance of my friends; one wore an old shooting-coat, which he had trimmed with coloured worsted, while the other had fastened a blue checked shirt over his other garments by way of ornament; the rest of their costume being more in the old Indian fashion of leather and fur. They were dirty in the extreme, and not over good looking; but they had honest countenances, and I had no fear of their not treating me fairly. One of them went before me to clear the way, the other followed at my heels to pick me up should I stumble, and the squaws brought up the rear, all in single file. The squaws had to build the wigwams--or, rather, lean-tos--when we camped, to collect sticks for the fire, to cook the food, and to bring water from the nearest stream or pond; their masters condescended to catch the game. They were not such expert trappers as Baptiste, but then they ate creatures which he would have rejected--nothing that could be masticated came amiss to them. I should have fared badly, but the second day, just after we had camped, we came suddenly upon two bears with two young cubs. They were as much surprised at seeing us as we were at encountering them. One of the Indians who had a fowling piece fired, and hit Mr Bruin in the brain, whereon Mrs Bruin trotted off with one of the cubs; while the other Indian with his bow shot the cub which had remained with his father.

"I was eager to exhibit my prowess, so followed the retreating bears, hoping to kill the cub with my stick. Fortunately they took the way near the camp, when the squaws, seeing me, ran out and caught hold of me, telling me that as surely as I had killed the cub the mother would have turned round and torn me to pieces. Though I still wished to go, they held me tight till the bears were out of sight. I believe fully that they saved my life, and certainly it was pleasanter supping on a bear than making a supper for one.

"At last we reached Pentanquishine, and so thankful was I to get there that I gave the honest Indians two dollars instead of one and a-half. I fear that they spent the greater part, if not the whole of the sum, at the grog shop before they left the settlement.

"'What! who are you, you little ragamuffin?' exclaimed my father when he saw me, for by that time so torn had become my garments by the thorny shrubs, that they literally were in shreds. 'You are no child of mine; get out with you, you little ill-conditioned cub.' I ought not to have been surprised at this greeting, though it was not pleasant to my feelings.

"I had considerable difficulty in persuading him who I was, and of the truth of my statement as to the cause of my leaving. At last he did believe me, and declared that he would break Dick's head and stop his allowance for the following half. Dick, when he came home for the holidays, made me beg him off, not the getting his head broke, for that he laughed at, but the having his allowance stopped, which he guessed might be done.

"When I went back at the commencement of the next half, the Doctor took no notice of what had occurred, and from having been the most ragged, I became one of the best dressed boys in the school. This was not always to last. My elder brothers went home to begin life, leaving me and Arthur. We were very glad when they went, for they bullied us terribly. A year passed, and then came a letter with a black seal, and we heard that our father was dead. Dick, who had come of age, inherited his property, and it seemed had the power of doing with us just what he liked. It arose thus: our poor father had been seized with the desire of having his eldest son a gentleman of fortune, and thinking that by leaving him all his property he could do so, he beggared the rest of us. Dick wrote us word that we must earn our own living, but that he would be a brother to us, and to show his affection he apprenticed me to a chair-maker, and my slight, delicate young brother Arthur to a blacksmith.

"Mine was not a bad trade, for furniture was in great demand. 'If that is to be my calling I will go at it,' said I to myself. I did so, and soon could turn a chair very neatly out of hand. Arthur could make no hand at the blacksmith work--his arm had not strength to wield a hammer; I went to his master and asked him to let him off. 'No, I never does anything without an equivalent,' was his answer; 'but I'll tell you what, youngster, I happen to want some chairs for my woman and children to sit on; now, if you'll make them for me, slick off hand, your brother shall go free, I guess.' The bargain was struck. I was anxious to get poor Arthur free, for every day was killing him with labour for which he was so unfit. I set to work at once, and each moment that I could spare from my proper duties to my master I employed in making the chairs. I was determined that he should not say that they were not good chairs-- strong and handsome. The blacksmith was highly pleased with them, and instantly freed my brother and made me a present of a couple of dollars. With this sum and a little more I had made by working out of hours, I set Arthur to trade on his own account, to keep him till my term was out, which was to be very shortly. From the day I had left school I had not neglected my studies, and I used to read all the books I could lay hands on during every spare moment. Life is short enough as it is, and people make it still shorter by idling away their time. I knew that I had plenty of work to do, and I found out early that to get it done I must not lose a moment. I consequently not only kept up the knowledge I obtained at school, but got a fair amount besides.

"We worked on for three years, I making chairs and Arthur selling them, saving money, but not very fast. I had no fancy to go on chair-making all my days, and I wished for a more active life.

"I had paid a visit to Holland's Landing a few months before this, and I found that my friend, Jack Johnson, was still driving a thriving trade with the settlement along the shores of the lake; but he had not a good head for business, and I saw that a great deal more might be made of it than he made. A steamer was building to run on the lake. She was to commence running in a few days. I applied for the office of purser, or steward--call it which you will. I obtained it, at a low salary, stipulating that I should be allowed to trade, to a certain extent, on my own account. That was all I wanted. My plans were at once formed. Jack was to purchase and bring up the articles from Toronto, and Arthur and I to go round to the farms, as far as we could reach, and to obtain orders, large or small. All were fish which came into our net, from an ounce of tobacco to the furniture of a house or the machinery for a saw mill, provided we could get security; it would have been folly to trade without that, especially with some of our customers.

"We paid considerable sums to the steamer for freight, and, pleasing the owners, were able, with their aid, to increase our credit and our business. It is extraordinary how reckless some of those we dealt with were in giving orders for goods and in mortgaging their property as security, without a prospect, as far as we could judge, of their being able to pay us without allowing the mortgage to be foreclosed. That you may not think ill of me on that account, I may say that we thus had an opportunity of being of considerable service to many of these improvident gentlemen. Our trade throve, and I soon found that it would be convenient to establish a store at the principal place at which the steamer called. Arthur took charge of it, and the flourishing condition of the concern showed that we were right in our expectations.

"Our capital increased. We were compelled to foreclose some mortgages; and as we did not wish to keep the farms of which we thus became possessed, we sold them at more or less profit. We were in the way of hearing when land was to be sold at a cheap rate, either improved or unimproved, and by purchasing such land and re-selling to newly-arrived settlers, who became good customers, we profited considerably. We got the best of everything, and our desire was to supply those who bought of us with what we knew they would most require, and which would give them satisfaction.

"As soon as I had established a business I left the steam-boat and went to live on shore, at the store, having first taken to wife the daughter of my old master. A very good wife she has made me, and I should like, some day, to bring her over to see you, Mrs Ashton; but you mustn't expect to see a fine lady, such are not the good wives of this province. For many years she was a hardworking housewife, when helps were beings not to be procured for love or money. The station of life which I then occupied was different to what I now fill, but my good wife has had no ambition to change her style of dress or living with our change of circumstances, from the feeling that she might appear out of place. In fact, my dear madam, you will understand that she is not vulgar, and is essentially free from all vulgar ambition. Here I must bring the sketch of my early life to a conclusion, remarking that what my brother and I did, hundreds of others have done in this province, and thousands more will do if they will practise self-control, labour industriously in whatever station they are placed, and be ready to step into any opening which may present itself, always doing their duty, and praying for strength and guidance above."

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