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June was half over when we came to our new home in the town of Madrid--then a home only for the foxes and the fowls of the air and their wild kin of the forest. The road ran through a little valley thick with timber and rock-bound on the north. There were four families within a mile of us, all comfortably settled in small log houses. For temporary use we built a rude bark shanty that had a partition of blankets, living in this primitive manner until my father and D'ri had felled the timber and built a log house. We brought flour from Malone,--a dozen sacks or more,--and while they were building, I had to supply my mother with fish and game and berries for the table--a thing easy enough to do in that land of plenty. When the logs were cut and hewn I went away, horseback, to Canton for a jug of rum. I was all day and half the night going and coming, and fording the Grasse took me stirrups under.
Then the neighbors came to the raising--a jolly company that shouted "Hee, oh, hee!" as they lifted each heavy log to its place, and grew noisier quaffing the odorous red rum, that had a mighty good look to me, although my father would not hear of my tasting it. When it was all over, there was nothing to pay but our gratitude.
While they were building bunks, I went off to sawmill with the oxen for boards and shingles. Then, shortly, we had a roof over us, and floors to walk on, and that luxury D'ri called a "pyaz," although it was not more than a mere shelf with a roof over it. We chinked the logs with moss and clay at first, putting up greased paper in the window spaces. For months we knew not the luxury of the glass pane.
That summer we "changed work" with the neighbors, and after we had helped them awhile they turned to in the clearing of our farm. We felled the trees in long, bushy windrows, heaping them up with brush and small wood when the chopping was over. That done, we fired the rows, filling the deep of heaven with smoke, as it seemed to me, and lighting the night with great billows of flame.
By mid-autumn we had cleared to the stumps a strip half down the valley from our door. Then we turned to on the land of our neighbors, my time counting half, for I was sturdy and could swing the axe to a line, and felt a joy in seeing the chips fly. But my father kept an eye on me, and held me back as with a leash,
My mother was often sorely tried for the lack of things common as dirt these better days. Frequently our only baking-powder was white lye, made by dropping ash-cinders into wafer. Our cinders were made by letting the sap of green timber drip into hot ashes. Often deer's tallow, bear's grease, or raccoon's oil served for shortening, and the leaves of the wild raspberry for tea. Our neighbors went to mill at Canton--a journey of five days, going and coming, with an ox-team, and beset with many difficulties. Then one of them hollowed the top of a stump for his mortar and tied his pestle to the bough of a tree. With a rope he drew the bough down, which, as it sprang back, lifted the pestle that ground his grain.
But money was the rarest of all things in our neighborhood those days. Pearlash, black-salts, West India pipe-staves, and rafts of timber brought cash, but no other products of the early settler. Late that fall my mother gave a dance, a rude but hearty pleasuring that followed a long conference in which my father had a part. They all agreed to turn to, after snowfall, on the river-land, cut a raft of timber, and send it to Montreal in the spring. Our things had come, including D'ri's fiddle, so that we had chairs and bedsteads and other accessories of life not common among our neighbors. My mother had a few jewels and some fine old furniture that her father had given her,--really beautiful things, I have since come to know,--and she showed them to those simple folk with a mighty pride in her eyes.
Business over, D'ri took down his fiddle, that hung on the wall, and made the strings roar as he tuned them. Then he threw his long right leg over the other, and, as be drew the bow, his big foot began to pat the floor a good pace away. His chin lifted, his fingers flew, his bow quickened, the notes seemed to whirl and scurry, light-footed as a rout of fairies. Meanwhile the toe of his right boot counted the increasing tempo until it came up and down like a ratchet.
Darius Olin was mostly of a slow and sober manner. To cross his legs and feel a fiddle seemed to throw his heart open and put him in full gear. Then his thoughts were quick, his eyes merry, his heart was a fountain of joy. He would lean forward, swaying his head, and shouting "Yip!" as the bow hurried. D'ri was a hard-working man, but the feel of the fiddle warmed and limbered him from toe to finger. He was over-modest, making light of his skill if he ever spoke of it, and had no ear for a compliment. While our elders were dancing, I and others of my age were playing games in the kitchen--kissing-games with a rush and tumble in them, puss-in-the-corner, hunt-the-squirrel, and the like. Even then I thought I was in love with pretty Rose Merriman. She would never let me kiss her, even though I had caught her and had the right. This roundelay, sung while one was in the centre of a circling group, ready to grab at the last word, brings back to me the sweet faces, the bright eyes, the merry laughter of that night and others like it:
Oh, hap-py is th' mil-ler who lives by him-self! As th' wheel gos round, he gath-ers in 'is wealth, One hand on the hop-per and the oth-er on the bag; As the wheel goes round, he cries out, "Grab!" Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-shamed o' this, Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-sham'd o' this, Oh, ain't you a lit-tle bit a-sham'd o' this--To stay all night for one sweet kiss? Oh, etc.
[Transcriber's note: A Lilypond (www.lilypond.org) rendition of this song is at the end of this e-book.]
My mother gave me all the schooling I had that winter. A year later they built a schoolhouse, not quite a mile away, where I found more fun than learning. After two years I shouldered my axe and went to the river-land with the choppers every winter morning.
My father was stronger than any of them except D'ri, who could drive his axe to the bit every blow, day after day. He had the strength of a giant, and no man I knew tried ever to cope with him. By the middle of May we began rolling in for the raft. As soon as they were floating, the logs were withed together and moored in sections. The bay became presently a quaking, redolent plain of timber.
When we started the raft, early in June, that summer of 1810, and worked it into the broad river with sweeps and poles, I was aboard with D'ri and six other men, bound for the big city of which I had heard so much. I was to visit the relatives of my mother and spend a year in the College de St. Pierre. We had a little frame house on a big platform, back of the middle section of the raft, with bunks in it, where we ate and slept and told stories. Lying on the platform, there was a large flat stone that held our fires for both cooking and comfort. D'ri called me in the dusk of the early morning, the first night out, and said we were near the Sault. I got up, rubbed my eyes, and felt a mighty thrill as I heard the roar of the great rapids and the creaking withes, and felt the lift of the speeding water. D'ri said they had broken the raft into three parts, ours being hindmost. The roaring grew louder, until my shout was as a whisper in a hurricane. The logs began to heave and fall, and waves came rushing through them. Sheets of spray shot skyward, coming down like a shower. We were shaken as by an earthquake in the rough water. Then the roar fell back of us, and the raft grew steady.
"Gin us a tough twist," said D'ri, shouting down at me--"kind uv a twist o' the bit 'n' a kick 'n the side."
It was coming daylight as we sailed into still water, and then D'ri put his hands to his mouth and hailed loudly, getting an answer out of the gloom ahead.
"Gol-dum ef it hain't the power uv a thousan' painters!" D'ri continued, laughing as he spoke. "Never see nothin' jump 'n' kick 'n' spit like thet air, 'less it hed fur on--never 'n all my born days."
D'ri's sober face showed dimly now in the dawn. His hands were on his hips; his faded felt hat was tipped sideways. His boots and trousers were quarrelling over that disputed territory between his knees and ankles. His boots had checked the invasion.
"Smooth water now," said he, thoughtfully, "Seems terrible still. Hain't a breath uv air stirrin'. Jerushy Jane Pepper! Wha' does thet mean?"
He stepped aside quickly as some bits of bark and a small bough of hemlock fell at our feet. Then a shower of pine needles came slowly down, scattering over us and hitting the timber with a faint hiss. Before we could look up, a dry stick as long as a log fell rattling on the platform.
"Never see no sech dom's afore," said D'ri, looking upward. "Things don't seem t' me t' be actin' eggzac'ly nat'ral--nut jest es I 'd like t' see 'em."
As the light came clearer, we saw clouds heaped black and blue over the tree-tops in the southwest. We stood a moment looking. The clouds were heaping higher, pulsing with light, roaring with thunder. What seemed to be a flock of pigeons rose suddenly above the far forest, and then fell as if they had all been shot. A gust of wind coasted down the still ether, fluttering like a rag and shaking out a few drops of rain.
"Look there!" I shouted, pointing aloft.
"Hark!" said D'ri, sharply, raising his hand of three fingers.
We could hear a far sound like that of a great wagon rumbling on a stony road.
"The Almighty 's whippin' his hosses," said D'ri. "Looks es ef he wus plungin' 'em through the woods 'way yender. Look a' thet air sky."
The cloud-masses were looming rapidly. They had a glow like that of copper.
"Tryin' t' put a ruf on the world," my companion shouted. "Swingin' ther hammers hard on the rivets."
A little peak of green vapor showed above the sky-line. It loomed high as we looked. It grew into a lofty column, reeling far above the forest. Below it we could see a mighty heaving in the tree-tops. Something like an immense bird was hurtling and pirouetting in the air above them. The tower of green looked now like a great flaring bucket hooped with fire and overflowing with darkness. Our ears were full of a mighty voice out of the heavens. A wind came roaring down some tideway of the air like water in a flume. It seemed to tap the sky. Before I could gather my thoughts we were in a torrent of rushing air, and the raft had begun to heave and toss. I felt D'ri take my hand in his. I could just see his face, for the morning had turned dark suddenly. His lips were moving, but I could hear nothing he said. Then he lay flat, pulling me down. Above and around were all the noises that ever came to the ear of man--the beating of drums, the bellowing of cattle, the crash of falling trees, the shriek of women, the rattle of machinery, the roar of waters, the crack of rifles, the blowing of trumpets, the braying of asses, and sounds the like of which I have never heard and pray God I may not hear again, one and then another dominating the mighty chorus. Behind us, in the gloom, I could see, or thought I could see, the reeling mass of green ploughing the water, like a ship with chains of gold flashing over bulwarks of fire. In a moment something happened of which I have never had any definite notion. I felt the strong arm of D'ri clasping me tightly. I heard the thump and roll and rattle of the logs heaping above us; I felt the water washing over me; but I could see nothing. I knew the raft had doubled; it would fall and grind our bones: but I made no effort to save myself. And thinking how helpless I felt is the last I remember of the great windfall of June 3, 1810, the path of which may be seen now, fifty years after that memorable day, and I suppose it will be visible long after my bones have crumbled. I thought I had been sleeping when I came to; at least, I had dreamed. I was in some place where it was dark and still. I could hear nothing but the drip of water; I could feel the arm of D'ri about me, and I called to him, and then I felt him stir.
"Thet you, Ray?" said he, lifting his head.
"Yes," I answered. "Where are we?"
"Judas Priest! I ain' no idee. Jes' woke up. Been a-layin' here tryin' t' think. Ye hurt?"
"Guess not," said I.
"Ain't ye got no pains or aches nowhere 'n yer body?"
"Head aches a little," said I.
He rose to his elbow, and made a light with his flint and tinder, and looked at me.
"Got a goose-egg on yer for'ard," said he, and then I saw there was blood on his face.
"Ef it hed n't been fer the withes they 'd 'a' ground us t' powder."
We were lying alongside the little house, and the logs were leaning to it above us.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" D'ri exclaimed, rising to his knees. "'S whut I call a twister."
He began to whittle a piece of the splintered platform. Then he lit a shaving.
"They 's ground here," said he, as he began to kindle a fire, "ground a-plenty right under us."
The firelight gave us a good look at our cave under the logs. It was about ten feet long and probably half as high. The logs had crashed through the side of the house in one or two places, and its roof was a wreck.
"Hungry?" said D'ri, as he broke a piece of board on his knee.
"Yes," I answered.
"So 'm I," said he, "hungrier 'n a she-wolf. They 's some bread 'n' ven'son there 'n the house; we better try t' git 'em."
An opening under the logs let me around the house corner to its door. I was able to work my way through the latter, although it was choked with heavy timbers. Inside I could hear the wash of the river, and through its shattered window on the farther wall I could see between the heaped logs a glow of sunlit water. I handed our axe through a break in the wall, and then D'ri cut away some of the baseboards and joined me. We had our meal cooking in a few minutes--our dinner, really, for D'ri said it was near noon. Having eaten, we crawled out of the window, and then D'ri began to pry the logs apart.
"Ain't much 'fraid o' their tumblin' on us," said he. "They 're withed so they 'll stick together."
We got to another cave under the logs, at the water's edge, after an hour of crawling and prying. A side of the raft was in the water.
"Got t' dive," said D'ri, "an' swim fer daylight."
A long swim it was, but we came up in clear water, badly out of breath. We swam around the timber, scrambling over a dead cow, and up-shore. The ruined raft was torn and tumbled into a very mountain of logs at the edge of the water. The sun was shining clear, and the air was still. Limbs of trees, bits of torn cloth, a broken hay-rake, fragments of wool, a wagon-wheel, and two dead sheep were scattered along the shore. Where we had seen the whirlwind coming, the sky was clear, and beneath it was a great gap in the woods, with ragged walls of evergreen. Here and there in the gap a stub was standing, trunk and limbs naked.
"Jerushy Jane Pepper!" D'ri exclaimed, with a pause after each word. "It's cut a swath wider 'n this river. Don't b'lieve a mouse could 'a' lived where the timber 's down over there."
Our sweepers and the other sections of the raft were nowhere in sight.
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