THE SMITH OF THE WILDERNESS

With Rich, the chum and friend of Morton, and who, animated by the
contagion of a noble example, became his rival in rank as a scholar and
in all athletic sports, his companion in labor, and between whom, though
neck and neck in the pursuit of those college honors that each most
highly prized, there was never a shadow of jealousy or distrust, while
their sympathies met and mingled like fibres of a kindred root, drawing
their nutriment from a common soil,–with Rich, refined in all his
tastes, of delicate sensibilities, and a playful humor that never stung,
sunny tempered, generous, companionable, yet firm in principle as a
granite shaft, and whom all Radcliffe idolized, our constant readers are
already well acquainted; but the exigencies of this story, and the
necessity of imparting information both to them and others, render it
imperative that we should speak more definitely respecting his family
and home life, to which we have heretofore barely alluded; indeed, we
are not aware that we have ever distinguished him by any other name than
that of Richardson, and much more frequently made use of the college
term, Rich.

His grandfather, with ten other young married men, first broke ground in
our hero’s native town, then a wilderness, and built their camps on the
borders of a stream heavily timbered, soon after the formation of the
federal government with Washington as president. They were, with a
single exception, poor, having taken up their abode in the wilderness
because they wanted a home, and could buy the wild land for ten cents
per acre. Full of enterprise, and strong in limb, this little community
felt themselves equal to the struggle. They had as yet neither sawmill
nor gristmill, though a noble stream fell over the rocks close to their
doors, but pounded the corn they raised on burns in large mortars, or
went in canoes eleven miles to mill, to a village farther down the
stream, where they likewise procured salt. There were neither roads nor
horses in the clearing, and at first everything was brought through the
woods, in the winter on men’s shoulders, walking on snow-shoes, and in
summer in canoes or on rafts up the river.

They were accustomed to put the grain and corn belonging to several
neighbors into a large canoe, and thus take it down the river to the
mill. At length a road was spotted through the woods to the
village–that is, a piece of bark and wood was taken off the side of
trees with an axe, for a guide to the traveler. The path was crooked,
going through those portions of the forest that were thinnest, and
winding around obstacles. Occasionally a tree that stood very much in
the way was cut, and a log flung across some gully, brook, or mire.

In the early part of winter, when the brooks and swamps were frozen, and
the snow deep enough to cover, in some measure, the windfalls, and fill
the ravines, and at other times in the latter part of it, when the crust
would bear light cattle, they went through the woods with oxen to mill,
improved the occasion to obtain articles of absolute necessity, and
whenever their stock of bread-stuff fell short, had recourse to the
mortar.

At first it was a bitter struggle for existence; the land was covered
with a dense forest, and there was neither pasture for cattle in the
summer, nor hay to keep them through the winter. In this condition of
things, they managed to keep a few cattle by cutting the wild grass that
grew in the swamp and along the banks of the river, and felling yellow
birch and maple trees in summer for browse. By dint of patient labor,
their circumstances improved from year to year; more land was cleared,
their stock of cattle increased with the increase of hay and pasture,
and they began to keep sheep and horses, to make staves and shingles,
cut logs and drive them down the river in spring, and beech withes to
bind loads and rafts were exchanged for chains.

Cattle and horses were now to be shod, and they began to feel greatly
the need of a blacksmith. If a chain or axe was broken, a horse or yoke
of oxen to be shod, there was no smith nearer than eleven miles, and no
road except a bridle-path through spotted trees. Previous to this, they
had worked their oxen without shoes, and horses were only shod forward.
But now they wanted to haul logs and shingles on the ice of the river,
and they must be shod. They were in great need of a smith, and yet there
was not work sufficient to afford a blacksmith constant employment, and
consequently, a living. But there was money in the logs and shingles,
and necessity sharpens invention. They hired John Drew, the smith at the
village, to come in the fall, just before the river shut up, bringing
horse-shoes, ox-shoes, nails, and his tools. He went round from house to
house, the oxen were cast on the barn floors, and the shoes put on. Thus
they managed, feeling more and more the want of a smith. Richardson was
possessed of remarkable mechanical ability, and was what is termed a
handy man–a great thing in the woods. He had a few carpenters’ tools,
made ox-yokes, and sleds for himself and neighbors. At length a cart
road was made through the woods, and Richardson built the first, and
for some time the only, pair of wheels in the clearing. Surrounded by a
young and rapidly increasing family, necessity led him to improve to the
utmost every talent he was conscious of possessing.

On the 10th of January, some two years before the road was made, he
went, in behalf of himself and the little community, to the village,
through the woods, with an ox-team, carrying corn and grain to be
ground. He also carried plough-irons to be new laid, chains to be
mended, axes to be new “laid” or “upset,” and orders for some to be
manufactured. In order to get the large grist ground, and the iron work
done, he was obliged to remain three days. While watching the smith at
his work, the idea occurred to him that he could work with iron as well
as wood. All the way home he brooded over it, till the idea took entire
possession of him, and that long wilderness road never seemed so short
before. After a while he opened his mind to his wife, who encouraged him
to make the attempt. But he had no money to buy either iron or tools,
and iron in those days was difficult to obtain, and high in price, being
nearly all imported. It seemed a hopeless undertaking; still he could
not banish the thought from his mind. It haunted him; lay down with him
at night, and rose up with him in the morning. One day he broke a chain
in the woods; he had but two. The next day came a snow storm, affording
leisure. The smith was eleven miles off. He could not do his work
without the chain, and resolved to try to mend it by welding again the
broken link he had saved. He made a great fire in the kitchen, and put
in the iron. The kitchen tongs served to hold, a nail hammer to work it,
and a flat stone for an anvil. To his great mortification, he found that
although he could heat it to redness, he could not make it hot enough,
with a wood fire, to weld. He put wood in the oven, stopped the draft,
and burnt it to coal; but even with charcoal he did not succeed at first
in obtaining a welding heat. His wife, who was looking on with the
greatest interest, suggested the use of the kitchen bellows, and by
their aid he partially succeeded.

His next attempt was to mend the staple of an ox-yoke. This was much
more difficult, as the iron was larger, and he had nothing to bend it
over. But after several trials, he at length accomplished his purpose.
It was supper time when William Richardson struck the last blow upon the
staple, and put it into the yoke. When the meal was finished, and Mrs.
Richardson had washed the dishes, and put the children to bed, she sat
down to her cards, with a basket of wool beside her, while the father of
the family, having taken off his shoes, and hung his buskins in the
corner to dry, sat with folded arms, looking intently upon the glowing
coals. No sound was heard save the crackling of the fire, the rasping of
a solitary wood-worm that was boring into a log of the walls, and the
sound of the cards as the good wife plied her labor.

“Well, wife,” said Richardson, at length, starting from his reverie, and
flinging fresh fuel on the fire, “what do you think of it?”

“Think of what, William?”

“Why, of my day’s work, and this blacksmithing. Don’t you think I’d
better fling the stone into the river and give it up? All I have done
this blessed day, besides taking care of the cattle, is to mend that
staple–a thing John Drew would have done in fifteen minutes.”

“No, he wouldn’t, for if he had no better tools than you, he wouldn’t
have thought he could do it at all. I think it is the best day’s work
you ever did in your life.”




“O, Susan, how do you make that out? You just say that because you know
I feel a little down in the mouth; not because you really think so.”

“Yes, husband, I really think so; and you will, if you look at it right.
You must expect to creep before you can walk. You couldn’t have got
along without that chain, and would have been obliged to travel
twenty-two miles through the woods on snow-shoes, with that chain on
your back, in order to get it mended, and a half bushel of corn besides
on your shoulder to pay John Drew for doing it; for we’ve got no money.
It would have been the same with the staple. You couldn’t have worked
your oxen without it, and would have been forced to leave your work in
fair weather, for you could not have gone in a storm. Now, you have done
it yourself, in stormy days, when you couldn’t have done much else,
saved your corn, yourself all that travel, and, more than that, found
out that you can work iron whenever you can get the tools to do it
with.”

“I don’t know but you are right, wife; but how am I to get either the
tools or the iron without money? I can’t barter corn for iron, and John
Drew has so much produce brought to him now that he is loath to take any
more; says his house is full of corn, grain, meat, potatoes, and cloth,
butter and eggs, and he can’t get _money_ enough to pay his taxes.”

“I think there will be some way provided. We had nothing when we came
here but the clothes on our backs and twenty dollars in money; had to
run in debt for our land. Now we’ve nearly paid for the land, we cut
hay, keep quite a stock of cattle and sheep, have but seldom been put to
it for bread, and have a warm, comfortable house, if it is a log one,
and the children are warm clothed.”

“You always look on the bright side, Sue.”

“I think that’s the best side to look on.”

We would inform our readers that the house Sue thought so comfortable
was built of rough logs, the crevices stuffed with moss and clay, had
but two rooms in it, the partition between them being blankets hung up.
The fireplace and oven were built of rough stones, and the chimney of
sticks of wood laid in clay (to prevent their taking fire from sparks),
that, as it fell off, was renewed from time to time.

“I could buy tools with the money I shall get for logs that I cut this
winter, didn’t I want every cent of it to turn in towards paying for the
land. I’m half a mind to take a little. If I only had a hammer, a punch,
something to cut iron with, and a pair of tongs to hold it, I could mend
my own chains and other things, save something, be learning all the
time, and, after we pay for the land, I could get more tools.”

“I never would do that, husband. If we must take that money for
anything, let us take it for the school. They are going to have a school
at Montague’s the latter part of the winter.”

This man had three rooms in his house, and it was built of hewn timber,
in one of which the school was to be kept. Richardson and his wife had
received a good common school education, and were anxious that their
children should not grow up in ignorance.

You may also like