Incidents of Early Settlement

 

The Vision of Joe Heron

Among the redoubtable characters who figured among the early pioneers of this section, the Hon. Joseph Heron occupied a conspicuous position. He was distinguished for his remarkable storage capacity, being a kind of portable whiskey warehouse. During the summer avocations when the sparkling fluid was supplied unstinted to the hard-working hay-makers and harvesters, as well as log-rollers, Joe got himself up to a high color, being about the same hue as a boiled blood beet. Two quarts a day was the lowest limit of his indulgence, and on special occasions the consumption ran up to three per diem. With him the supply might be said never exceed the demand, or that the market always ruled high.

A stolid ignorance of the laws of nature and physiology clouded the minds of the early settlers, who thought that even with the sun pouring down a temperature of eighty degrees of Fahrenheit, no hard work could be done without rum or whiskey. Moreover, it was a convenient doctrine and suited to their views and longings, that to fire their blood and brains with liquor was conducive to physical development.

On one occasion a citizen, not particularly noted for literacy or scientific attainments, known by the sobriquet of old Jimmy, had paid his dollar for a quart of rum, and having pocketed his bottled treasure was proceeding homeward through the forest aisles, astride his nag, his thoughts concentrated upon his bottle, and desiring to indulge his longing he pulled it out, when, lo! It slipped his grasp and falling, struck a pebble and the sparkling fluid mingled with the sands. Quick as thought he prostrated himself on terra-firma and sucked the treasured moisture from the earth. But his enjoyment in that equivocal position vanished with the fond dream he was indulging, and he went on his way pondering the evanescent joys and hopes of life.

After sojourning a period among the people on the front, our friend Joe went over to Rice Lake and engaged in the employ of Mr Anderson, who having occasion to despatch an agent to Fenelon Falls on business in connection with the fur trade, commissioned Mr Heron to that undertaking. He had succeeded in polling up the river and pegging across the portage to Mud Lake when an event happened that suspended his journey northward, for instead of Fenelon he paid a visit to the infernal regions. It appears that Joe had succeeded on his arrival at the lake in fixing a domicile for the night, with a good supply of old Bourbon under his vest, had lain down to sleep, when a visitation came upon him, the most awful to contemplate and perfectly appalling to encounter; how long it lasted no one ever knew; nor did Joe himself; not a good constitution carried him through it. As soon as his exhausted condition would permit he took his back track and by easy stages voyaged out to the front. He then told what he had seen; that the place was haunted; spooks, ghosts, hob-goblins and devils filled earth and air. The latter were represented in every variety, in the matter of claws and horns, with eyes of fire and manes of flame, and the colors of the rainbow, that figurative type of a peaceful firmament, failed to portray the tints that flashed in the awful drama. They were in force in red flanked with green and white, yellow and black, an a vast preponderance in blue. Besides, it was fearful to note the numberless pronged horns, the blood-shot eyes, the dreadful talons with which like vultures they swooped down upon him. Poor Joe, his eyes were glazed and his face contorted with the recital. He verily believed it a tangible reality, and the best of the joke was, he induced others to believe it too. They were sure that on the banks of that inky lake a fearful genii were located; that the dark waters were their abiding place; that the air, the marsh, the forest, was the arena of their fearful orgies. That poor Joe had been the first to make the dreadful discovery; had been the first to inhale the sulphurous exhalations from their dire presence. Mr Heron would not lie about it.

But there were others that had heard of that last melancholy act in the drama of drunkenness; had heard that delirium tremens was one of the inflictions that nature provided against the degrading abuse of her prerogatives. They felt satisfied that Heron had suffered an attack; under circumstances the most agonizing. No friend, no shelter, no remedy but exhausted nature. That he had lived through it was a wonder; but still he had lived through it and was there, although only the shadow of his former vermillion self, to tell of the theatrical drama he had witnessed on the banks of Black Water.

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