Stray Leaves from a Book of Memory

Leaf 1st

 

‘Twas in this very Canada, not a thousand miles from Port Hope, in the year 183__, the last figure is so blotted and dim I can’t make it out; no matter ‘twas about twenty five years ago and a cold November night that my father, in the spirit of an adventurer, was taking his little family out back. The cortege consisted of two sleighs, one containing household furniture, the other was occupied by the family. The journey did not exceed twenty-seven miles and yet it was an all day affair, for the roads were not then as they are now. Such short jerks and long pulls; such aslant places where we all had to lean one way to prevent an upset, and more especially such narrow passages among the trees, that once some of the chairs which protruded from the sleigh box had to be removed before said sleigh could get through the pass. It was however, the most favourable season of the year, that of sleighing, for thanks to the snow, the bumping was much more endurable over those corduroy bridges, which extended the whole length of swamps and seem to have been the grand expedient in constructing roads through any description of low or wetland; and then, when fairly oft one of these causeways, and hoping for a little ease, the stumps of the trees which so lately grew where now was the path, raised their hard heads and spread their long arms and we went thump-thump-over them. Not much pleasure in that day’s drive! It was after dark, and snowing hard, when we descended the long hill, and the two or three succeeding little ones, crossed the bridge, and drove up to the Village Inn; as our own house was not yet ready. We were expected and received not so much like travellers as guests. Well do I remember hoe pleasantly the fire blazed and crackled in the clean little sitting room, while Mrs._________ stripped us, half-frozen children of our wrappings. How we enjoyed the warm comfortable supper, and then, as the older folk chatted awhile, we nestled among pillows and shawls, on the chintz covered settee, thence looking dreamingly into the fire, saw imaginary castles and fairy scenes, of all fantastic shapes, in bright red coals, and watched them as they glowed – and consumed – and melted away.

I do not know if it were wise to describe our village as it then was, lest some of you fancy it a waste of your precious time to read such uninteresting descriptions; and say you can now find, in any of the back townships, just another collection of log houses and shanties; with the concomitants of creek, mill, tavern and store, but unless you played on its hills, heard, weather in sad or merry mood, a sympathising voice in its rushing waters; gathered wild berries in its woods, laughed and sung, thought and sorrowed there, your village bears no comparison to mine, It was indeed a collection of log houses, as the only frame building in which it could boast, was "the store" which along with the Inn, was down in the very heart of the hill. It had besides, its grist-mill, saw mill, blacksmith’s shop, tannery, and I’m sorry to say, but the truth must be told, its distillery. The Inn had a long room, built for the purpose and used as a court room; it also served for some years, as chapel whenever Divine service was held in the place, whether by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, or Methodists.

Our own house. Well, it certainly was not very inviting at first; for the mortar with which the clay and stick chimney was manufactured, had been mixed on the boards of the floor, and they required a wonderful amount of scrubbing to bring them into a decent condition. Moreover the logs, of which the house was built, having been dragged through the mud, retained on their jagged surfaces, most unsightly evidences of that fact. My mother who had not been unaccustomed to "roughing it" in this way, was not a little annoyed, particularly by this latter circumstance; so on unpacking the effects, finding she had a large number of newspapers which had been used in putting up crockery, etc, she pasted together two or three thickness of these, and with them papered her walls. Now this was assuredly no very modish adornment, but we looked much cleaner, and as our Irish friends said "more heartsome". Not only so, but the readable side of those newspapers kept me occupied many an otherwise weary hour, they were my library, and unlike many a library, it was well read; though in so doing I had to climb by chair, table, and stool, sometimes move the furniture or peep behind it; and right vexed I was when one of the papers happened to be put on wrong side up.

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