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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

Hazel-Brook Farm

Title:     Hazel-Brook Farm
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

Robert Ainslie, with his family, emigrated from Scotland about the year of 1843, and settled upon a new farm in the backwoods, in the township of R. in Eastern Canada. I can say but little regarding his early life, but have been informed that he was the eldest of quite a large family of sons and daughters; and also that he was a dutiful son as well as a kind and affectionate brother. It seems that he married quite early in life, and at that period he tended a small farm adjoining the one occupied by his father. The utmost harmony existed between the two families, and they lived in the daily interchange of those little offices of love and kindness which render friends so dear to each other. Several years glided by in this happy manner, but reverses at length came; and Robert formed the plan of emigrating to America. But when he saw how much his parents were grieved by the thought of his seeking a home on the other side of the Atlantic, he forbore to talk farther of the matter, and decided to remain at home for another year at least. That year, however, proved a very unfortunate one; his crops were scanty; and toward the spring he met with some severe losses, by a distemper which broke out among his farm stock. As the season advanced, he became so disheartened by his gloomy prospects, that he decided to carry out his former plan of emigrating to Canada; where he hoped by persevering industry to secure a comfortable home for himself and those dear to him. He had little difficulty in persuading his wife to accompany him, as her parents with her two brothers and one sister had emigrated some two years previous. It was more difficult, however, for him to persuade his father and mother that his decision was a wise one. "If ye maun leave us," said his mother, "can ye no seek anither hame nearer han', an' no gang awa across the water to yon' wild place they ca' Canada?" "We maun try to be reasonable, woman," said his father, "but I canna deny that the thought o' our first born son gaun sae far awa gie's me a sair heart." It was equally hard for the son to bid farewell to the land of his birth, and of a thousand endearing ties; but prudence whispered that now was his time to go, while he had youth and health, to meet the hardships that often fall to the lot of the emigrant. When his parents saw how much his mind was set upon it they ceased to oppose his wishes, and with his wife and children, he soon joined the large numbers who, at that period, were leaving the British, for the Canadian shores.

As may be readily supposed, the parting between the two families was a very sad one; but the last adieus were finally exchanged, and the poor emigrants were borne away on the billows of the Atlantic. During the first few days of their voyage they all, with the exception of their youngest child, suffered much from sea-sickness. This child was a little girl about three years old; and it seemed singular to them, that she should escape the sickness from which nearly all the passengers suffered, more or less. They soon recovered; the weather was fine, and many of their fellow passengers were very agreeable companions, and they began really to enjoy the voyage. But this happy state of things was but of short duration. Their little girl, wee Susie, as they called her, was seized with illness. They felt but little anxiety at the first, thinking it but a slight indisposition from which she would soon recover; but when day after day passed away with no visible change for the better they became alarmed, and summoned the physician, who pronounced her disease a slow kind of fever, which he said often attacked those who escaped the sea-sickness. He told the anxious parents not to be alarmed, as he hoped soon to succeed in checking the disease. But with all the physician's skill, aided by the unceasing attention of her fond parents, the sad truth that wee Susie was to die soon became evident. When the sorrowing parents became sensible that their child must die, they prayed earnestly that her life might be prolonged till they should reach the land. But for some wise reason their prayer was not granted; and when their voyage was but little more than half accomplished she died, and they were forced to consign her loved form to a watery grave. The lovely prattling child had been a general favourite with all on board, and her sudden death cast a gloom over the minds of all. Words would fail me to describe the grief of the parents and the two affectionate little brothers when they realized that "wee Susie" was indeed gone, and that they could never enjoy even the melancholy satisfaction of beholding her resting-place. Mr. Ainslie's domestic affections were very strong, and to him the blow was terrible. He now deeply regretted removing his family from their Scottish home, entertaining the idea, that had they not undertaken this journey their child might have been spared; and he wrote bitter things against himself for the step he had taken. Deep as was the mother's grief, she was forced to place a restraint upon it that she might comfort her almost heart-broken husband. Upon one occasion, in reply to some of his self upbraidings, she said, "I think, Robert, you're ow're hard on yoursel' now, when ye tak the blame o' puir Susie's death; ye surely canna think itherwise than the dear bairn's time had come; an' had we bided at hame it would ha' been a' the same; for we dinna leeve an' dee by chance, and the bounds o' our lives are set by Him who kens a' things." These consoling words from his sympathising wife tended to lighten, in some measure, the burden of sorrow which oppressed his heart. The weather during the latter part of their voyage was stormy and uncomfortable, and they were truly glad when they at length reached the Canadian port. At the city of Montreal they parted with all those who had been their fellow passengers, as all except themselves were bound for the Upper Province, while they intended joining their friends in Lower Canada.

In the days of which I am speaking the emigrant's journey from the city of Montreal to the townships was toilsome in the extreme; and the same journey, which is now accomplished in a few hours by railway, was then the work of several days; and the only mode of conveyance for themselves and their luggage, were the horse-carts hired for the occasion. But their fatiguing journey was at length terminated; and they arrived safely at the bush settlement in R., where the friends of Mrs. Ainslie resided. That now thriving and prosperous settlement was then in its infancy, and possessed but few external attractions to the new comer; for at the period when Mrs. Ainslie's parents settled there it was an unbroken wilderness. It is needless for me to add that the wayworn travellers met with a joyous welcome from the friends who had been long anxiously looking for their arrival. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were overjoyed to meet again their daughter from whom they had been so long separated by the deep roll of the ocean; and almost their first enquiry was for the "wee lassie," who when they left Scotland was less than a twelve month old. Mr. Ainslie was unable to reply, and looked toward his wife as if beseeching her to answer to their enquiry. She understood the mute appeal, and composing herself by a strong effort said: "My dear father an' mither, a great grief has o'erta'en us sin' we left hame', an' our hearts are well-nigh broken; we buried wee Susie in the caul waters o' the ocean." She endeavoured to relate to them the particulars of the child's death; but her feelings overcame her, and for some moments they could only weep together. When Mr. Miller was able to command his voice he said, "God is good, my children, an' overrules a' things for our good, let us bow before Him in prayer;" and when they rose from their knees, they felt calmed and comforted, by the soothing influence of prayer. With the two boys, Geordie and Willie, fatigue soon got the better of their joy at meeting with their friends, and they were soon enjoying the sound sleep of healthful childhood; but with the elder members of the family, so much was there to hear and to tell that the hour was very late when they separated to seek repose. Mr. Ainslie decided upon purchasing a lot of land, lying some two miles north of the farm occupied by Mr. Miller. Although it was covered with a dense forest, its location pleased him, and the soil was excellent, and he looked forward to the time when he might there provide a pleasant home. They arrived at R. on the first of July. There were beside Mr. Miller but three other families in the settlement; but they were all very kind to the newly arrived strangers, and they assisted Mr. Ainslie in various ways while he effected a small clearing upon his newly purchased farm. They also lent him a willing hand in the erection of a small log house, to which he removed his family in the fall, Mrs. Ainslie and the children having remained with her parents during the summer; and kind as their friends had been, they were truly glad when they found themselves again settled in a home of their own, however humble. They were people of devoted piety, and they did not neglect to erect the family altar the first night they rested beneath the lowly roof of their forest home. I could not, were I desirous of so doing, give a detailed account of the trials and hardships they endured during the first few years of their residence in the bush; but they doubtless experienced their share of the privations and discouragements which fell to the lot of the first settlers of a new section of country. The first winter they passed in their new home was one of unusual severity for even the rigorous climate of Eastern Canada, and poor Mrs. Ainslie often during that winter regretted the willingness with which she bade adieu to her early home, to take up her abode in the dreary wilderness. They found the winter season very trying indeed, living as they did two miles from any neighbour; and the only road to the dwelling of a neighbour was a foot-track through the blazed trees, and the road, such as it was, was too seldom trodden during the deep snows of winter, to render the foot-marks discernible for any length of time. Their stores had all to be purchased at the nearest village, which was distant some seven miles, and Mr. Ainslie often found it very difficult to make his way through the deep snows which blocked up the roads, and to endure the biting frost and piercing winds on his journeys to and from the village. In after years when they had learned to feel a deep interest in the growth of the settlement, they often looked back with a smile to the "home-sickness" which oppressed their hearts, while struggling with the first hardships of life in the bush. Mr. Ainslie and his family, notwithstanding their many privations, enjoyed uninterrupted health through the winter, and before the arrival of spring they already felt a growing interest in their new home. Mrs. Ainslie regarded the labours of the workmen with much attention during the winter, while they felled the trees which had covered nearly ten acres of their farm. As each tree fell to the ground it opened a wider space in the forest and afforded a broader view of the blue sky. A stream of water, which in many places would have been termed a river, but which there only bore the name of Hazel-Brook, flowed near their dwelling, and as the spring advanced, the belt of forest which concealed it from view having been felled, she gained a view of its sparkling waters when the warm showers and genial rays of the sun loosened them from their icy fetters; and she often afterwards remarked that the view of those clear waters was the first thing which tended to reconcile her to a home in the forest. With the coming of spring their "life in the woods" began in earnest. When the earth was relieved of its snowy mantle, the fallen trunks of the trees, with piles of brush-wood, were scattered in every direction about their dwelling. But the fallow was burned as soon as it was considered sufficiently dry, the blackened logs were piled in heaps, and the ground was prepared for its first crop of grain. The green blades soon sprang up and covered the ground, where a short time before was only to be seen the unsightly fallow or the remains of the partially consumed logs.

It was a long time before Mr. and Mrs. Ainslie became reconciled to the change in their circumstances, when they exchanged the comforts and conveniences of their home beyond the sea, for the log cabin in the wilderness. Cut off as they were from the privileges of society to which they had been accustomed from childhood, they felt keenly the want of a place of worship, with each returning Sabbath, and next to this, the want of a school for their two boys; for taken as a people the Scotch are intelligent; and we rarely meet with a Scotchman, even among the poorer classes, who has not obtained a tolerable education. And the careful parents felt much anxiety when they beheld their children debarred from the advantages of education; but to remedy the want as much as lay in their power, they devoted the greater part of what little leisure time they could command to the instruction of their boys. They had been regular attendants at their own parish church in the old country; and very sensibly they felt the want, as Sabbath after Sabbath passed away, with no service to mark it from other days. "It just seems," said Mr. Ainslie, "that sin' we cam' to America we ha'e nae Sabbath ava." In order to meet the want in some measure, he proposed to the few neighbours which there formed the settlement, that they should assemble at one house, on each Sabbath afternoon, and listen to the reading of a sermon by some one present. "I think it our duty," said he, "to show our respect to the Sabbath-day by assembling ourselves together, and uniting in worship to the best o' our ability. I ha'e among my books a collection o' sermons by different divines, an' I am verra willin' to tak' my turn in the readin' o' ane, an' I'm sure you should a' be agreeable to do the same." His proposal met with the hearty approval of all his neighbours, and for some years each Sabbath afternoon saw most of the neighbours collected together for the best mode of worship within their reach. The bush settlements at this period were much infected by bears, and they often proved very destructive to the crops of the early settler, and also a cause of no little fear. I believe the instances have been rare when a bear has been known to attack a person, although it has happened in some cases; but the immigrant has so often listened to exaggerated accounts regarding the wild animals of America, that those who settle in a new section of country find it difficult to get rid of their fears. On one occasion when the Sabbath meeting met at Mr. Ainslie's house, Mrs. Ainslie urged her mother to remain and partake of some refreshment before setting out on her walk homeward. "Na, na," replied the old lady. "I maun e'en gang while I ha'e company, I dinna expec' to leeve muckle longer at ony rate, but wouldna' like to be eaten by the bears;" and for several years the one who ventured alone to the house of a neighbour after dark was looked upon as possessing more courage than prudence. But although the settlers often came across these animals, on the bush-road, I never heard of one being attacked by them. An old man, upon one occasion, returning in the evening from the house of friends, and carrying in his hand a torchlight composed of bark from the cedar tree, met a large bear in the thick woods. Being asked if he was not frightened, he replied, "Deed I think the bear was 'maist frightened o' the twa', for he just stood up on his twa hind legs, and glowered at me for a wee while till I waved the torch light toward him, when he gi' an awfu' snort, and ran into the woods as fast's ever he was able, an' I cam awa' hame no a bit the war, an' I think I'll never be sae' muckle feared about bears again." But these early settlers certainly found these animals very troublesome from their frequent depredations upon their fields of grain, and they often spent a large portion of the night watching for them, prepared to give them battle, but it was not often they saw one on these occasions, for these animals are very cunning, and seem at once to know when they are watched. It sometimes also happened that during the early period of this settlement people lost their way in the bush while going from one house to another. A woman once set out to go to the house of a neighbour who lived about a mile distant. Supposing herself on the right path she walked onward, till thinking the way rather long she stopped and gazed earnestly around her, and became terrified as she noticed that the trees and rocks, and every other surrounding object had a strange unfamiliar look; and she knew at once that she had taken a wrong path.

Becoming much alarmed, she endeavoured to retrace her steps, but after walking a long time would often return to the spot from which she set out. She left home about ten o'clock in the forenoon, and her friends, alarmed at her long stay, called together some of their neighbours and set out to look for her, knowing that she must have lost her way in the forest. They continued their search through the afternoon, sounding horns, hallooing, and calling her name, as they hurried through the tangled underbrush, and other obstructions, and at sunset they returned to procure torches with which to continue their search through the night; her friends were almost beside themselves with terror, and all the stories they had heard or read of people being devoured by wild animals rushed across their minds. But just when they had collected nearly every settler in the vicinity, and were preparing their torches to continue the search, the woman arrived safely at home, with no further injury than being thoroughly frightened and very much fatigued. She stated that she had walked constantly, from the time when she became aware she was lost, and that she was so much bewildered that she at the first did not know their own clearing, till some familiar object attracted her attention. As the neighbours were going to their homes, after the woman's return, they were, naturally enough, talking of the matter, regarding it as a cause of deep thankfulness that no harm had befallen her. Mr. G., one of the number, although a very kind-hearted man, had an odd dry manner of speaking which often provoked a laugh. It so happened that the woman who was lost was very small, her stature being much below the medium height. Laughter was far enough from the mind of any one, till old Mr. G., who had not before made a remark, suddenly said, "sic a wee body as you should never attemp' to gang awa' her lane through the bush without a bell hanged aboot her neck to let people ken where to find her in case she should gang off the richt road." This was too much for the gravity of any one; and the stillness of the summer night was broken by a burst of hearty laughter from the whole company; and the old man made the matter little better, when the laugh had subsided by saying in a very grave manner, "Well, after a' I think is would be a verra wise-like precaution wi' sic a wee bit body as her." Time passed on; other settlers located themselves in the vicinity, and the settlement soon began to wear a prosperous appearance. As soon as circumstances allowed, a school-house was erected, which, if rude in structure, answered the purpose very well. For some time the school was only kept open during the summer and autumn, as the long distance and deep snows forbade the attendance of young children during the winter season. They had as yet no public worship, except the Sabbath meetings before mentioned, which were now held in the schoolhouse for the greater convenience of the settlers. Mr. Ainslie was a man of much industry; and although his home was for some years two miles from any neighbour, it soon wore a pleasing appearance. The most pleasing feature in the scene was the beautiful stream of water which ran near his dwelling, and after which he named his farm. In five years from the time when he first settled in the bush, he exchanged his rude log house for a comfortable and convenient framed dwelling, with a well-kept garden in front, and near his house were left standing some fine shade-trees which added much to the beauty of the place. In process of time, the excellent quality of the soil in that range of lots attracted others to locate themselves in the vicinity; and Hazel-Brook farm soon formed the centre of a fast growing neighbourhood. Two sons and another daughter had been added to Mr. Ainslie's family during this time; and the birth of the little girl was an occasion of much joy to all the family. They had never forgotten "wee Susie," and all the love which they bore to her memory was lavished upon this second daughter in the family. The elder brothers were anxious to bestow the name of their lost favourite upon their infant sister, but the parents objected, having rather a dislike to the practice, so common, of bestowing upon a child a name that had belonged to the dead; and so the little girl was named Jennette, after her grandmother, Mrs. Miller. About this time old Mr. Miller died. He was an old man, "full of days," having seen nearly eighty years of life. He had ever been a man of strong constitution and robust health, and his last illness was very short; and from the first he was confident that he should never recover. When he first addressed his family upon the subject they were overwhelmed with grief. "Dinna greet for me," said he in a calm and hopeful voice, "I ha'e already leeved ayont the period allotted to the life o' man. I ha'e striven in my ain imperfect way to do my duty in this life, an' I am thankfu' that I am able to say that I dinna fear death; and I feel that when I dee I shall gang hame to the house o' a mercifu' Father." So peaceful was his departure, that, although surrounded by his mourning friends, they were unable to tell the exact moment of his death. Like a wearied child that sleeps, he quietly passed away. They had no burial ground in the settlement, and he was laid to rest several miles from his home. His family, with the exception of one son, had all married and removed to homes of their own some time previous to his death; and to this son was assigned the happy task of watching over the declining years of his widowed mother. Mr. Miller, as a dying injunction, charged this son never to neglect his mother in her old age, and most sacredly did he observe the dying wishes of his father. Mrs. Miller was also of advanced age. For three years longer she lingered, and was then laid to rest beside her departed husband.

Twenty years have passed away since we introduced Robert Ainsley with his family to the reader. Let us pay a parting visit to Hazel-Brook farm, and note the changes which these twenty years have effected. The forest has melted away before the hand of steady industry, and we pass by cultivated fields on our way to the farm of Mr. Ainslie. The clearings have extended till very few trees obstruct our view as we gaze over the farms of the numerous settlers, which are now separated by fences instead of forest trees. But the loveliest spot of all is Hazel-Brook farm. The farm-house of Robert Ainslie, enlarged and remodelled according to his increased means, is painted a pure white, and very pleasant it looks to the eye, through the branches of the shade-trees which nearly surround it. The clear waters of Hazel-Brook are as bright and sparkling as ever. The banks near the dwelling are still fringed with trees and various kinds of shrubs; but farther up the stream all obstructions have been cleared away, and the sound of a saw-mill falls upon the ear. Let us enter the dwelling. Mr. and Mrs. Ainslie, although now no longer young, evince by their cheerful countenance that they yet retain both mental and bodily vigour. As yet their children all remain at home, as the boys find ample employment upon the farm, and at the mill; While Jennette assists her mother in the labours of the household. For many years the setting sun has rested upon the gleaming spire of the neat and substantial church erected by the settlers; and now upon the Sabbath day, instead of listening to a sermon read by a neighbour, they listen to the regular preaching of the gospel, and each one according to his means contributes to the support of their minister. It was Mr. Ainslie who first incited the settlers to exert themselves in the erection of a suitable place for worship. Some of his neighbours at the first were not inclined to favour the idea, thinking the neighbourhood too poor for the undertaking. But he did not suffer himself to become discouraged, and after considerable delay the frame of the building was erected. When the building was once begun, they all seemed to work with a will, and to the utmost of their ability. Those who were unable to give money brought contributions of lumber, boards, shingles, &c.;, besides giving their own labour freely to the work; and in a short time the work had so far advanced that they were able to occupy the building as a place of worship, although in an unfinished state. But the contributions were continued year after year, till at length they were privileged to worship in a church which they could call their own. Mr. Ainslie was a man of talents and education, superior to most of the early settlers in that section, and it was his counsel, administered in a spirit of friendship and brotherly kindness, which worked many improvements and effected many changes for the better as the years rolled by. As we turn away with a parting glance at the pleasing scene, we cannot help mentally saying,--surely the residents in this vicinity owe much to Robert Ainslie for the interest he has ever taken in the prosperity and improvements of the place, and long may both he and they live to enjoy the fruit of their united labours.

[The end]
Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Hazel-Brook Farm