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- Over Prairie Trails - 4/28 -


schoolhouse in the bush. As always when I passed or thought of it, I had wondered where through this wilderness-tangle of bush and brush the children came from to fill it--walking through winter-snows, through summer-muds, for two, three, four miles or more to get their meagre share of the accumulated knowledge of the world. And the teacher! Was it the money? Could it be when there were plenty of schools in the thickly settled districts waiting for them? I knew of one who had come to this very school in a car and turned right back when she saw that she was expected to live as a boarder on a comfortless homestead and walk quite a distance and teach mostly foreign-born children. It had been the money with her! Unfortunately it is not the woman--nor the man either, for that matter--who drives around in a car, that will buckle down and do this nation's work! I also knew there were others like myself who think this backwoods bushland God's own earth and second only to Paradise--but few! And these young girls that quake at their loneliness and yet go for a pittance and fill a mission! But was not my wife of their very number?

I started up. Peter was walking along. But here, somewhere, there led a trail off the grade, down through the ditch, and to the northeast into the bush which swallows it up and closes behind it. This trail needs to be looked for even in daytime, and I was to find it at night! But by this time starlight began to aid. Vega stood nearly straight overhead, and Deneb and Altair, the great autumnal triangle in our skies. The Bear, too, stood out boldly, and Cassiopeia opposite.

I drew in and got out of the buggy; and walking up to the horse's head, got ahold of the bridle and led him, meanwhile scrutinizing the ground over which I stepped. At that I came near missing the trail. It was just a darkening of the ground, a suggestion of black on the brown of the grade, at the point where poles and logs had been pulled across with the logging chain. I sprang down into the ditch and climbed up beyond and felt with my foot for the dent worn into the edge of the slope, to make sure that I was where I should be. It was right, so I led the horse across. At once he stood on three legs again, left hindleg drawn up, and rested.

"Well, Peter," I said, "I suppose I have made it easy enough for you: We have another twelve miles to make. You'll have to get up." But Peter this time did not stir till I touched him a flick with my whip.

The trail winds around, for it is a logging trail, leading up to the best bluffs, which are ruthlessly cut down by the fuel-hunters. Only dead and half decayed trees are spared. But still young boles spring up in astonishing numbers. Aspen and Balm predominate, though there is some ash and oak left here and there, with a conifer as the rarest treat for the lover of trees. It is a pitiful thing to see a Nation's heritage go into the discard. In France or in England it would be tended as something infinitely precious. The face of our country as yet shows the youth of infancy, but we make it prematurely old. The settler who should regard the trees as his greatest pride, to be cut into as sparingly as is compatible with the exigencies of his struggle for life--he regards them as a nuisance to be burned down by setting wholesale fires to them. Already there is a scarcity of fuel-wood in these parts.

Where the fires as yet have not penetrated too badly, the cutting, which leaves only what is worthless, determines the impression the forest makes. At night this impression is distinctly uncanny. Like gigantic brooms, with their handles stuck into the ground, the dead wood stands up; the underbrush crowds against it, so dense that it lies like huge black cushions under the stars. The inner recesses form an almost impenetrable mass of young boles of shivering aspen and scented balm. This mass slopes down to thickets of alder, red dogwood, haw, highbush cranberry, and honeysuckle, with wide beds of goldenrod or purple asters shading off into the spangled meadows wherever the copses open up into grassy glades.

Through this bush, and skirting its meadows, I drove for an hour. There was another fork in the trail, and again I had to get out and walk on the side, to feel with my foot for the rut where it branched to the north. And then, after a while, the landscape opened up, the brush receded. At last I became conscious of a succession of posts to the right, and a few minutes later I emerged on the second east-west grade. Another mile to the east along this grade, and I should come to the last, homeward stretch.

Again I began to talk to the horse. "Only five miles now, Peter, and then the night's rest. A good drink, a good feed of oats and wild hay, and the birds will waken you in the morning."

The northern lights leaped into the sky just as I turned from this east-west grade, north again, across a high bridge, to the last road that led home. To the right I saw a friendly light, and a dog's barking voice rang over from the still, distant farmstead. I knew the place. An American settler with a French sounding name had squatted down there a few years ago.

The road I followed was, properly speaking, not a road at all, though used for one. A deep master ditch had been cut from ten or twelve miles north of here; it angled, for engineering reasons, so that I was going northwest again. The ground removed from the ditch had been dumped along its east side, and though it formed only a narrow, high, and steep dam, rough with stones and overgrown with weeds, it was used by whoever had to go north or south here. The next east-west grade which I was aiming to reach, four miles north, was the second correction line that I had to use, twenty-four miles distant from the first; and only a few hundred yards from its corner I should be at home!

At home! All my thoughts were bent on getting home now. Five or six hours of driving will make the strongest back tired, I am told. Mine is not of the strongest. This road lifted me above the things that I liked to watch. Invariably, on all these drives, I was to lose interest here unless the stars were particularly bright and brilliant. This night I watched the lights, it is true: how they streamed across the sky, like driving rain that is blown into wavy streaks by impetuous wind. And they leaped and receded, and leaped and receded again. But while I watched, I stretched my limbs and was bent on speed. There were a few particularly bad spots in the road, where I could not do anything but walk the horse. So, where the going was fair, I urged him to redoubled effort. I remember how I reflected that the horse as yet did not know we were so near home, this being his first trip out; and I also remember, that my wife afterwards told me that she had heard me a long while before I came--had heard me talking to the horse, urging him on and encouraging him.

Now I came to a slight bend in the road. Only half a mile! And sure enough: there was the signal put out for me. A lamp in one of the windows of the school--placed so that after I turned in on the yard, I could not see it--it might have blinded my eye, and the going is rough there with stumps and stones. I could not see the cottage, it stood behind the school. But the school I saw clearly outlined against the dark blue, star-spangled sky, for it stands on a high gravel ridge. And in the most friendly and welcoming way it looked with its single eye across at the nocturnal guest.

I could not see the cottage, but I knew that my little girl lay sleeping in her cosy bed, and that a young woman was sitting there in the dark, her face glued to the windowpane, to be ready with a lantern which burned in the kitchen whenever I might pull up between school and house. And there, no doubt, she had been sitting for a long while already; and there she was destined to sit during the winter that came, on Friday nights--full often for many and many an hour--full often till midnight--and sometimes longer...

TWO Fog

Peter took me north, alone, on six successive trips. We had rain, we had snow, we had mud, and hard-frozen ground. It took us four, it took us six, it took us on one occasion--after a heavy October snowfall--nearly eleven hours to make the trip. That last adventure decided me. It was unavoidable that I should buy a second horse. The roads were getting too heavy for single driving over such a distance. This time I wanted a horse that I could sell in the spring to a farmer for any kind of work on the land. I looked around for a while. Then I found Dan. He was a sorrel, with some Clyde blood in him. He looked a veritable skate of a horse. You could lay your fingers between his ribs, and he played out on the first trip I ever made with this newly-assembled, strange-looking team. But when I look back at that winter, I cannot but say that again I chose well. After I had fed him up, he did the work in a thoroughly satisfactory manner, and he learnt to know the road far better than Peter. Several times I should have been lost without his unerring road sense. In the spring I sold him for exactly what I had paid; the farmer who bought him has him to this very day [Footnote: Spring, 1919.] and says he never had a better horse.

I also had found that on moonless nights it was indispensable for me to have lights along. Now maybe the reader has already noticed that I am rather a thorough-going person. For a week I worked every day after four at my buggy and finally had a blacksmith put on the finishing touches. What I rigged up, was as follows: On the front


Over Prairie Trails - 4/28

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