« ElőzőTovább »
but he fell on evil ways, and was accused by the neighbors who had settled round us of catching and devouring whole broods of chickens, some of them only a day or two out of the shell. We never imagined he would do anything so grossly undoglike. He never did at home. But several of the neighbors declared over and over again that they had caught him in the act, and insisted that he must be shot. At last, in spite of tearful protests, he was condemned and executed. Father examined the poor fellow's stomach in search of sure evidence, and discovered the heads of eight chickens that he had devoured at his last meal. So poor Watch was killed simply because his taste for chickens was too much like
The old Scotch fashion of whipping for every act of disobedience or of simple, playful forgetfulness was still kept up in the wilderness, and of course many of those whippings fell upon me. Most of them were outrageously severe, and utterly barren of fun. But here is one that was nearly all fun.
Father was busy hauling lumber for the frame house that was to be got ready for the arrival of my mother, sisters, and brother, left behind in Scotland. One morning, when he was ready to start for another load, his oxwhip was not to be found. He asked me if I knew anything about it. I told him I did n't know where it was; but a Scotch conscience compelled me to confess that, when I was playing with it, I had tied it to Watch's tail, and that he ran away, dragging it through the grass, and came back without it. “It must have slipped off his tail," I said, and so I did n't know where it was.
This honest, straightforward little story made father
so angry that he exclaimed with heavy foreboding emphasis, “The very deevil's in that boy!” David, who had been playing with me, and was perhaps about as responsible for the loss of the whip as I was, said never a word, for he was always prudent enough to hold his tongue when the parental weather was stormy, and so escaped nearly all punishment. And strange to say, this time I also escaped, all except a terrible scolding, though the thrashing weather seemed darker than ever.
As if unwilling to let the sun see the shameful job, father took me into the cabin where the storm was to fall, and sent David to the woods for a switch. While he was out selecting the switch, father put in the spare time sketching my play-wickedness in awful colors, and, of course, referred again and again to the place prepared for bad boys. In the midst of this terrible word-storm, dreading most the impending thrashing, I whimpered that I was only playing because I could n't help it; did n't know I was doing wrong; would n't do it again, and so forth. When this miserable dialogue was about exhausted, father became impatient with my brother for taking so much time to find the switch; and I was equally so, for I wanted to have the thing over and done with.
At last, in came David, a picture of open-hearted innocence, solemnly dragging a young bur-oak sapling, and handed the end of it to father, saying it was the best switch he could find. It was an awfully heavy one, about two and a half inches thick at the butt and ten feet long, almost big enough for a fence-pole. There was n't room enough in the cabin to swing it, and the moment I saw it I burst out laughing in the midst of my
fears. But father failed to see the fun and was very angry at David, heaved the bur-oak outside, and passionately demanded his reason for fetching“sic a muckle rail like that instead o' a switch? Do ye ca’ that a switch? I have a gude mind to thrash you instead o’ John.”
David, with demure downcast eyes, looked preternaturally righteous, but as usual prudently answered never a word.
It was a hard job in those days to bring up Scotch boys in the way they should
overworked father was determined to do it if enough of the right kind of switches could be found. But this time, as the sun was getting high, he hitched up Tom and Jerry and made haste to the Kingston lumber-yard, leaving me unscathed and as innocently wicked as ever; for hardly had father got fairly out of sight among the oaks and hickories, ere all our troubles, hell-threatenings, and exhortations were forgotten in the fun we had lassoing a stubborn old sow and laboriously trying to teach her to go reasonably steady in rope harness. She was the first hog that father bought to stock the farm, and we boys regarded her as a very wonderful beast. In a few weeks she had a lot of pigs, and of all the queer, funny animal children we had yet seen, none amused us more. They were so comic in size and shape, in their gait and gestures and merry sham fights, and in the false alarms they got up for the fun of scampering back to their mother.
After her darling short-snouted babies were about a month old, she took them out to the woods and gradually roamed farther and farther from the shanty in search of acorns and roots. One afternoon we heard a
rifle-shot, a very noticeable thing, as we had no near neighbors as yet. We thought it must have been fired by an Indian, on the trail that followed the right bank of the Fox River between Portage and Packwaukee Lake and passed our shanty at a distance of about three quarters of a mile. Just a few minutes after that shot was heard, along came the poor mother, rushing up to the shanty for protection, with her pigs, all out of breath and terror-stricken. One of them was missing and we supposed, of course, that an Indian had shot it for food. Next day, I discovered a blood-puddle where the Indian trail crossed the outlet of our lake. One of father's hired men told us that the Indians thought nothing of levying this sort of blackmail whenever they were hungry. The solemn awe and fear in the eyes of that old mother and little pigs I never can forget; it was as unmistakable and deadly a fear as I ever saw expressed by any human eye, and corroborates in no uncertain way the oneness of
all of us.
Coming direct from school in Scotland, while we were still hopefully ignorant and far from tame, notwithstanding the unnatural profusion of teaching and thrashing lavished upon us, getting acquainted with the animals about us was a never-failing source of wonder and delight. At first my father, like nearly all the backwoods settlers, bought a yoke of oxen to do the farm work; and as field after field was cleared, the number was gradually increased until we had five yoke. These wise, patient, plodding animals did all the ploughing, logging, hauling, and hard work of every sort for the first four or five years; and never having seen oxen before, we looked at them with the same eager freshness
of conception as at the wild animals. We worked with them, sympathized with them in their rest and toil and play, and thus learned to know them far better than we should have done had we been only trained scientific naturalists.
We soon learned that each ox and cow and calf had its own individual character. Old white-faced Buck, one of the second yoke of oxen that we owned, was a notably sagacious fellow. He seemed to reason sometimes almost like ourselves. In the fall we fed the cattle lots of pumpkins, and had to split them open so that mouthfuls could be readily broken off. But Buck never waited for us to come to his help. The others, when they were hungry and impatient, tried to break through the hard rind with their teeth, but seldom with success, if the pumpkin was full-grown. Buck never wasted time in this mumbling, slavering way, but crushed them with his head. He went to the pile, picked out a good one, like a boy choosing an orange or apple, rolled it down on to the open ground, deliberately knelt in front of it, placed his broad flat brow on top of it, brought his weight hard down and crushed it, then quietly arose and went on with his meal in comfort. Some would call this “instinct," as if so-called “blind instinct” must necessarily make an ox stand on its head to break pumpkins when its teeth got sore, or when nobody came with an axe to split them. Another fine ox showed his skill when hungry by opening all the fences that stood in his way to the corn-fields.
When we went to Portage, our nearest town, about ten or twelve miles from the farm, it would oftentimes be late before we got back; and in the summer-time, in