August 1988

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A New Home: Who'll Follow

Life in the Clearings


Caroline M. Kirkland

First published in 1839
Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.

Chapter 6

Mrs. Danforth's Story

When we were quietly seated after dinner, I requested some further insight into Mrs. Danforth's early history, the prosy flow of which was just in keeping with the long dreamy course of the afternoon, unbroken as it was by any sound more wakening than the ceaseless click of knitting-needles, or an occasional yawn from the town lady who found the farniente rather burdensome.

She smiled complacently and took up the broken thread at the right place, evidently quite pleased to find she had excited so much interest.

"When Mr. Spangler's nephew came after he was dead and gone, he was very close in asking all about the business, and seein' after the mortgages and such like. Now, George had never got his deed recorded. He felt as if it wasn't worth while to lose a day's work, as he could send it any time by one of his neighbors. But when we found what sort of a man Mr. Wilkens was, we tho't it was high time to set about it. He had talked a good deal about the place and said the old man must have been crazy to let us have it so cheap, and once went so far as to offer my husband a hundred dollars for his bargain. So John Green, a good neighbor of ours, sent us word one morning that he was going, and would call and get the deed, as he knew we wanted to send it up, and I got it ready on the stand and put the big bible on it to keep it safe. But he did not come, something happened that he could not go that day: and I had jist took up the deed to put it back in the chest, when in came Wilkins. He had an eye like a hawk; and I was afraid he would see it was a deed, and ask to look at it, and then I couldn't refuse to hand it to him, you know, so I jist slipped it back under the bible before I turned to ask him what was his will.

"'Didn't John Saunderson leave my bridle here?" says he. So I stepped into the other room and got it, and he took it and walked off without speaking a word; and when I went to put away the deed, it was gone!

"My husband came in while I sat crying fit to break my heart; but all I could do I could not make him believe that Wilkins had got it. He said I had put it somewhere else without thinking, that people often felt as sure as I did, and found themselves mistaken after all. But I knew better, and though I hunted high and low to please him, I knew well enough where it was. When he found we must give it up he never gave me a word of blame, but charged me not to say anything about the loss, for, wherever the deed was, Wilkins was just the man to take advantage if he knew we had lost it.

"Well, things went on in this way for a while, and I had many a good cryin' spell, I tell ye! And one evening when George was away, in comes Wilkins, I was sittin' alone at my knittin', heavy hearted enough, and the schoolmaster was in the little room; for that was his week to board with us.

"'Is your man at home?' says he; I said—No; but I expected him soon, so he sat down and began the old story about the place, and at last he says,

"'I'd like to look at that deed if you've no objection, Mrs. Danforth." I was so mad, I forgot what George had told me, and spoke right out.

"I should think," says I, "you've had it long enough to know it all by heart."

"'What does the woman mean?" says he.

"You know well enough what I mean," says I, "you know you took it from off this table, and from under this blessed book, the very last time you was in this house."

If I had not known it before, I should have been certain then, for his face was as white as the wall and he trembled when he spoke in spite of his impudence. But I could have bit off my own tongue when I tho't how imprudent I had been, and what my husband would say. He talked very angry as you may think.

"'Only say that where anybody else can hear you,' says he, 'and I'll make it cost your husband all he is worth in the world.'

"He spoke so loud that Mr. Peeler, the master, came out of the room to see what was the matter, and Wilkins bullied away and told Peeler what I had said, and dared me to say it over again. The master looked as if he knew something about it but did not speak. Just then the door opened, and in came George Danforth led between two men as pale as death and dripping wet from head to foot. You may think how I felt! Well, they wouldn't give no answer about what was the matter till they got George into bed—only one of 'em said he had been in the canal. Wilkins pretended to be too angry to notice my husband, but kept talking away to himself—and was jist a beginning at me again, when one of the men said, 'Squire, I guess Henry'll want some looking after; for Mr. Danforth has just got him out of the water.'

"If I live to a hundred years old I shall never forget how Wilkins looked. There was everything in his face at once. He seemed as if he would pitch head-foremost out of the door when he started to go home—Henry was his only child.

"When he was gone, and my husband had got warm and recovered himself a little, he told us, that he had seen Henry fall into the lock, and soused right in after him, and they had come very near drowning together, and so stayed in so long that they were about senseless when they got into the air again. Then I told him all that had happened—and then Peeler, he up, and told that he saw Wilkins take a paper off the stand the time I opened the bed-room door, to get the bridle, for he was at our house then.

"I was very glad to hear it to be sure; but the very next morning came a new deed and the mortgage with a few lines from Mr. Wilkins, saying how thankful he was, and that he hoped George would oblige him by accepting some compensation. George sent back the mortgage, saying he would rather not take it, but thanked him kindly for the deed. So then I was glad Peeler hadn't spoke, 'cause it would have set Wilkins against him. After that we thought it was best to sell out and come away, for such feelings, you know, a'n't pleasant among neighbors, and we had talked some of coming to Michigan afore.

"We had most awful hard times at first. Many's the day I've worked from sunrise til dark in the fields gathering brush heaps and burning stumps. But that's all over now; and we've got four times as much land as we ever should have owned in York-State."

I have since had occasion to observe that this forms a prominent and frequent theme of self-congratulation among the settlers in Michigan. The possession of a large number of acres is esteemed a great good, though it makes but little difference in the owner's mode of living. Comforts do not seem to abound in proportion to land increase, but often on the contrary, are really diminished for the sake of it: and the habit of selling out so frequently makes that home-feeling, which is so large an ingredient in happiness elsewhere, almost a nonentity in Michigan. The man who holds himself ready to accept the first advantageous offer, will not be very solicitous to provide those minor accommodations, which, though essential to domestic comfort, will not add to the moneyed value of his farm, which he considers merely an article of trade, and which he knows his successor will look upon in the same light. I have sometimes thought that our neighbors forget that "the days of man's life are three score years and ten," since they spend all their lives in getting ready to begin.

Chapter 7

A Seat in the Mud

Our return to Detroit was accomplished without any serious accident, although we were once overturned in consequence of my enthusiastic admiration of a tuft of splendid flowers in a marsh which we were crossing by the usual bridge of poles, or corduroy as it is here termed.

While my eyes were fixed upon it, and I was secretly determining not to go on without it, our sober steed, seeing a small stream at a little distance on one side, quietly walked towards it, and our attention was withdrawn from the contemplation of the object of my wishes by finding ourselves spilt into the marsh, and the buggy reposing on its side, while the innocent cause of the mischief was fairly planted, fetlock deep, in a tenacious black-mud: I say the innocent cause, for who ever expected any proofs of education from a livery-stable beast?—and such was our brown friend.

"T were vain to tell how I sat on the high bog, (the large tufted masses in a marsh are so called in Michigan,) which fortunately received me in falling, and laughed till I cried to see my companion hunting for his spectacles, and D'Orsay (whom I ought sooner to have introduced to my reader) looking on with a face of most evident wonder. D'Orsay, my beautiful grey-hound, was our compagnon de voyage, and had caused us much annoyance by his erratic propensities, so that we were obliged to tie him in the back part of the buggy, and then watch very closely that he did not free himself of his bonds.

Just at this moment a pedestrian traveller, a hard-featured, yellow-haired son of New England, came up, with a tin trunk in his hand, and a small pack or knap-sack strapped on his shoulders.

"Well! I swan!" said he with a grim smile, "I never see anything slicker than that! Why, you went over jist as easy! You was goin' to try if the mash wouldn't be softer ridin', I s'pose."

Mr. Clavers disclaimed any intention of quitting the causeway, and pointed to my unfortunate pyramid of pale pink blossoms as the cause of our disaster.

"What! them posies? Why, now, to my thinking, a good big mary gold is as far before them pink lilies as can be: but I'll see if I can't get 'em for you if you want 'em."

By this time, the carriage was again in travelling trim, and D'Orsay tolerably resigned to his imprisoned state. The flowers were procured, and most delicately beautiful and fragrant they were.

Mr. Clavers offered guerdon-remuneration, but our oriental friend seemed shy of accepting anything of the sort.

"If you've a mind to trade, I've got a lot o' notions I'd like to sell you," said he.

So my travelling basket was crammed with essences, pins, brass thimbles, and balls of cotton; while Mr. Clavers possessed himself of a valuable outfit of pocket-combs, suspenders, and cotton handkerchiefs—an assortment which made us very popular on that road for some time after.

We reached the city in due time, and found our hotel crowded to suffocation. The western fever was then at its height, and each day brought its thousands to Detroit. Every tavern of every calibre was as well filled as ours, and happy he who could find a bed anywhere. Fifty cents was the price of six feet by two of the bar-room floor, and these choice lodgings were sometimes disposed of by the first served at "thirty per cent, advance." The country inns were thronged in proportion; and your horse's hay cost you nowhere less than a dollar per diem; while, throughout the whole territory west of Detroit, the only masticable articles set before the thousands of hungry travellers were salt ham and bread, for which you had the satisfaction of paying like a prince.

Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.
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