A Lady's Life on a Farm in Manitoba by Cecil Hall - HTML preview
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The Townships are numbered in regular order northerly from the International Boundary line or 49th paral el of latitude, and lie in ranges numbered east and west from a certain meridian line, drawn northerly from the said 49th parallel, from a point ten miles or thereabouts westward of Pembina.
When the Government took over the territory from the Hudson Bay Company in 1870, two entire sections in every fifth township and one and three-quarters in every other, were assigned to the Company as compensation. There were also two sections reserved as endowment to public education, and are cal ed School Lands, and held by the minister of the Interior, and can only be sold by public auction.
The same was done for the half-breeds; 240 acres were allotted to them in every parish. Their farms are mostly on the rivers, along the banks of which al the early settlers congregated; and to give each claimant his iota the farms had to be cut up into long strips of four miles long by four hundred yards wide.
On every section-line running north and south and to every alternate running east and west nine feet, or one chain, is left for roads. Our farm-buildings are not quite in the centre of the estate, on account of having to make the drive up to the house beyond the marsh on the eastern boundary.
I have drawn you a plan of the farm; the spaces covered with little dots are the marshes: the one on the west extends for miles, and has a creek or dyke dug out by Government to carry off the water. From the drawing it looks as if there was much marsh around us; but this bit of ground was the driest that could be found not already taken up. As it was, A---- purchased it of a man who has some more land nearer Winnipeg, giving him five dollars per acre. The Nos. 30 and 31 mean the sections of the townships.
For emigrants wishing to secure a "homestead," which is a grant of 160 acres given by Government free, with the exception of an office-fee, amounting to ten dol ars on al the even-numbered sections of a town-ship, he wil now have to travel much further west, as every acre around Winnipeg is already secured, and has in the last two years risen most considerably in value.
The Canadian Pacific Railroad Company, which was given by Government 25,000,000 acres, besides the 25,000,000 dollars to make the line across the country from Thunder Bay on Lake Superior to the Rockies, sell their land (which is on odd-numbered sections of every township for twenty-four miles on each side of the track, with the exception of the two sections, 11 and 29, reserved for school-lands) for two dol ars fifty cents, or ten shillings per acre, to be paid by instalments, giving a rebate of one dol ar twenty-five cents, or five shil ings per acre, if the land is brought into cultivation within the three or five years after purchase.
A man occupying a "homestead" is exempt from seizure for debt, also his ordinary furniture, tools, and farm implements in use, one cow, two oxen, one horse, four sheep, two pigs, and food for the same for thirty days; and his land cultivated, provided it is not more than the 160 acres; also his house, stables, barns and fences; so that if a man has bad luck, he has a chance of recovering his misfortunes.
In one of your letters you ask if a poor man coming out as labourer, and perhaps eventual y taking up land as a homestead or otherwise, would encounter many difficulties. I fancy not, as both the English and Canadian Governments are affording every facility to emigrants, who can get through tickets from London, Liverpool, or Ireland at even a lower rate than the ordinary steerage passenger. They can have themselves and their families booked all the way, the fares varying from nine pounds five to the twenty-eight pounds paid by the saloon.
On board ship the steerage have to find their own bedding and certain utensils for use; otherwise everything else is provided, and, I am told, the food is both good and plenty of it. Regular authorised officers of the Dominion Government are stationed at all the principal places in Canada, to furnish information on arrival. They wil also receive and forward money and letters; and everyone should be warned and put on their guard against the fictitious agents and rogues that infest every place, who try to persuade the new-comers into purchase of lands or higher rates of wage.
We heard the other day of an English gentlemen being taken in by one of these scoundrels, and giving a lot of money for land which on examination proved to be worthless. Luckily for him, there was some flaw in his agreement, and his purchase was cancel ed. Men who intend buying land should be in no great hurry about their investments; the banks give a fair percentage on deposits, and it is always so much more satisfactory to look around before settling.
E---- has been very busy arranging the garden; a most fatiguing process, as she has to cart al her own sods to make a foundation and then heap soil on to them; but having brought a quantity of seeds from England she feels bound to sow them, and hopes they will make a grand show later on, and the place quite gay. You should have seen the beam of delight which shone on the countenance of a stranger who had come out from Winnipeg for the night, when on arrival he was immediately pressed into E----'s service to carry water for these said seeds. The temperature is now at 64 degrees, and, as things grow as if by magic, we hope they wil soon put in an appearance. Oats planted only a week ago are now an inch above ground. We have had a nice breeze the last two or three days, so that the mosquitoes have not worried us so much.
The prettiest things to see here are the prairie fires at night.
The grass is burnt in spring and autumn so as to kil off the old tufts and al ow of the new shoots growing for hay. The fires look like one long streak of quivering flame, the forked tips of which flash and quiver in the horizon, magnified by refraction, and on a dark night are lovely. In the day-time one only sees volumes of smoke which break the monotony of the landscape, though I don't know that it is picturesque. With a slight breeze the fires spread in a marvel ous way, even at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour. The other day A---- and Mr. H----, whilst putting up their tent, did not perceive how near a fire they themselves had lighted at some distance was getting, until it was upon them. They then had to seize hold of everything, pul up the tent pegs as best they could, and make a rush through the flames, singeing their clothes and boots a good deal.
The pastures on the burnt prairie are good the whole summer, and animals wil always select them in preference to any other. The wild ponies, be the snow in winter ever so deep, by pawing it away, subsist on these young shoots and leaves of grasses, which are very nutritious and apparently suffer little by the frost, which only kil s the upper leaves but does not injure what is below. The mirage is also very curious; the air is so clear that one often sees reflected, some way above the horizon, objects like the river, trees, and even the town of Winnipeg, which we could not otherwise see; we could actually one evening, at sunset, distinguish the gas-lights.
* * * * *Sunday.
This is a real day of rest, and the men real y do deserve it. We all have a respite, as regards breakfast, it being at 9 o'clock instead of 6.30; and do we not appreciate the extra forty winks!
The whole day is spent more or less in loafing, we having no regular church nearer than Winnipeg, sixteen miles, though an occasional service is given at Headingley, eight miles off. The men lie stretched on the straw-heaps in the yard, basking and snoozing in the sun. We general y have some stray man out from Winnipeg, and are much struck with the coolness of their ways. Colonial manners, somehow, jar a good deal on one; they take it quite as a matter of course that we ladies should wait on them at table, and attend to their bodily comforts. On the other hand, they never seem to object to any accommodation they get, and are perfectly satisfied with the drawing-room sofa for a bed, even with sheets taken out of the dirty linen bag, which has been once or twice the case when our supply has run short. I don't object to their coming, only that our Sunday dinners have to be in proportion, and as all our provisions come out from Winnipeg it is rather difficult catering. We have no outside larder or anywhere to keep our meat and butter, so have instituted a lovely one by putting al our things down the wel , which is nearly dry and is under the kitchen floor. In winter there is never any need of a larder, as the meat is frozen so hard that it has to be twelve hours in the kitchen before they can attempt to cook it.
Our food is very good and we have the best of all receipts, ravenous appetites for every meal. Our breakfast consists of porridge, bacon, and any cold meat, jam, and any quantity of excellent butter and bread. Dinner, a hot joint and a pudding of some sort, finishing up with coffee. Supper, much the same. We have coffee for every meal, and, as the pot is always on the hob, anybody can have a cup when they like. The men have about two cups apiece before breakfast when they first get up. We never mind any amount of coffee, but wage war against the cocktails, taken before meals as appetisers. A cocktail is a horrid concoction of whisky, bitters, sugar and water, which are all mixed together with a
"swidel" stick, which stick is always on the wander and for which a search has to be made. Nipping is too much in vogue in this country, but we are told that a lot of support is wanted, the air is so rarefied and the water has so much alkali in it, and therefore not supposed to be healthy, but it is most beautiful y clear and delightfully cold to drink.
It certainly does disagree with the horses and cattle when first imported into the district.
* * * * *June 3rd.
If you happen to know of anybody coming out here, and so many do, and you would like to give A---- a present, I wish you would kindly send him a few table-cloths, dusters, towels, and pairs of sheets; in short any linen would be most acceptable as we are so short. How these men managed when the linen went into Winnipeg to be washed, and was sometimes kept a month ere it came home, is a mystery. These extra men living in the house have none. They facetiously describe their ideas of dirt by saying, if the table-cloth, however filthy it might look, when flung against the wal didn't stick, it went on for another week; if it stuck, was then and there consigned to the dirty-linen bag.
Since we have been here we have instituted a weekly wash, every Monday and Tuesday. E---- and Mrs. G---- preside at the tub al day, and even then our sheets and towels often run short.
Every colonist ought to provide himself with two pairs of sheets, half a dozen towels, two table-cloths, and a few dusters; and as those things and his wearing apparel, if in use six months previously, are allowed into the country free of duty, they might as wel bring them over as everything of that sort in Winnipeg is so fearfully dear I do not like buying anything there. We sent for some unbleached calico the other day, worth twopence-halfpenny; was charged twelve cents or sixpence a yard. Besides the four yards of calico there were ten of bed-ticking, also ten of American cloth; and the bill was six dol ars seventy cents, nearly seven-and-twenty shil ings. Everything is equally dear, the demand is so much greater than the supply. Beef is tenpence to thirteenpence a pound, mutton about the same, bacon tenpence, pork tenpence, chickens four and twopence each. We use a good deal of tinned corned beef; and very good it is, it makes into such excellent hashes and curries and is so good for breakfast.
A---- also wants a pair of long porpoise-hide waterproof boots sending out; they are quite an essential, as after the heavy rains water stands inches deep in our yards, and he has so much walking into the marshes. In the spring, when the snow has melted, the
"sloughs" or mudholes along al the tracks and across the prairie are so deep that horses and waggons are repeatedly stuck in them, and the men have to go in, often up to their waist, to help the poor animals out. The only way sometimes to get waggons out is to unhitch the horses, getting them on to firm ground, and by means of a long chain or ropes fastened to the poles, pull the waggons out which as a rule have previously had to be unloaded. The clothes these men wear are indescribable. A---- at the present moment is in a blue flannel shirt, a waistcoat, the back of which we are always threatening to renew. Inexpressibles somewhat spotty, darned, and torn, and, thanks to one or two washings, have shrunk, displaying a pair of boots which have not seen a blacking-brush since the day they left England. Coats are put on for meals, to do honour to the ladies, but seldom worn otherwise. The coarser and stronger the clothes are the better. A----'s straw hat is also very lovely, it serves periodically for a mark to shoot at with the rifle on Sunday mornings, or when company come out from town.
We both of us feel much like our old nurse when we are doing our mendings, cutting up one set of old rags to patch another; but thanks to ammonia and hot irons, we flatter ourselves we make them almost look respectable again.
There is a half-breed cal ed L'Esperance who lives about eight miles from here, on the banks of the Assiniboine; and one of our neighbours tel ing us the other day he had several buffalo robes to sel , we drove over to inspect them, and saw some real beauties for ten or twelve dol ars; at the Hudson Bay stores, in town, they ask sixteen for them. L'Esperance himself wasn't at home when we got there; but his wife, a fine, tal woman, speaking a peculiar French patois, showed us "around," also the pemmicain, which is buffalo-meat pounded, dried, and pressed into bags of skins, it keeping good for years in that way. It looked nasty, but the children were chewing it apparently with great relish. Whilst in the shanty we heard a great noise, and, running out, found our horse, which had either taken right or been stung by some fly, tearing past us with the buggy through the old lady's potato-field into the bush. E---- tore after it, and in a few hundred yards came up to the horse standing trembling, and gazing at the shattered remains of our poor vehicle. He had tried to turn the corner, when the whole thing capsized topsy-turvy, and he had almost freed himself of al the harness; luckily he was considerate enough not to have given that "one more struggle" which would have indeed settled the whole question, and obliged us to foot it on our ten toes home. Curiously enough the shafts were not broken, but the splinter-bar was. There was quite a procession back to the shanty, the half-breed woman and one girl dragging the buggy, one child carrying the cushion, another the whip and wraps, and E---- leading the horse. We set to work to make good the damage as best we could, with thin strips of buffalo-hide, and started homewards; but without buying our robes, not daring to add to our weight. The man at the ferry-boat gave us an extra binding up, and by going cautiously we got home, though we feared every moment would be our last, as regards driving, as the bound-up parts creaked most ominously all the way, and we ful y expected at every rough bit to go in half. The horse is generally so quiet that we never mind where we leave him standing. I luckily have just given A---- a new carriage, which will come in very handy. It is to be a "democrat,"
double seats, and one long enough to be able to carry luggage.
These smal buggies are beautiful y light, but will carry next to nothing; and we always have difficulty in accommodating al our parcels every time we come out of Winnipeg.
* * * * *June 6th.
A waggon is going into town to-morrow to fetch a sulky and a gang-plough, and some potatoes for seeding; and we hope a few also of the latter for eating, as hitherto our only vegetables have been white beans and rice. You may be wondering what these ploughs are: a sulky is a single-furrowed sixteen inch plough, to which are harnessed three horses, a man riding on a smal seat and driving them instead of walking; and a "gang" is a two-furrowed twelve-inch plough, and drawn by four to six horses, and which wil break over four acres a day; the sulky about three. A---- has had one for some time, but as yet only the deep ploughing or backsetting of last year's breaking has been going on, and until the seeding and harrowing is finished, which ought to have been done before now, but this year has been delayed by the lateness of the spring, and the snow being so long in melting, no fresh breaking has been begun.
There are stil about two hundred and eighty acres to break, or, more properly speaking, two hundred and forty, as forty acres are in marsh, in which water stands so deep no cultivation would be possible, though, later on, the marshes yield beautiful crops of hay; rather coarse-looking stuff, but undeniably nutritious, and not distasteful to either horses or beast. It has often been speculated as to whether there was any means of draining the marshes, but, owing to the extreme level character of the country, you could get no fall, and tiles would not do on account of the severity of the frosts, which penetrate deeper into the ground than the drains could be carried. The Government have cut good-sized ditches at right angles to the river, and they are found to be the only practical drainage which is feasible, and, when once cut and the water set running, have no tendency to fil up, but gradual y wear deeper and broader, so that in time they almost become small rivers. We have one running through our west marsh, and on a bye-day we sometimes fish in it for pike; not that any of our party have been successful, but some of our neighbours catch fish, and very fair-sized ones.
The land is wonderfully rich and good. A black loam (which colour is no doubt due, partly, to the gradual accumulation of the charred grasses left by prairie fires), of about two feet in depth, with a clay and sandy sub-soil, and in which, they say, they will be able to grow cereals for the next twenty years, without manure or its deteriorating; though if there was only time to do it before the snow fal s, it seems a pity not to put the manure on to the land instead of burning it, as they do at the present moment. Perhaps when all the land is broken, which they hope will be by the end of next summer, they won't be so pushed for work as they are.
The ground here requires a great deal of cultivation. It is first of al broken with a fourteen or sixteen inch plough, so shaped that it turns the sod over as flat as possible, general y from the depth of two to two-and-a-half inches deep, the shallower the better, and then left to rot with the sun and rain for two months and a half.
It has often been tried, and with very good results, to put in a crop of oats on the first breaking, sowing broadcast and turning a very thin sod over them; and the sod pulverizes and decomposes under the influence of a growing crop quite as effectually as if only turned over and left to itself. There are also fewer weeds, which is of importance, as it often happens that the weeds which grow soon after the breaking are as difficult to subdue as the sod. If the soil is nice and soft a man and team of horses wil break an acre and a half a day, and average throughout the season an acre. The breaking goes on until the middle of July, and the end of August the "backsetting" begins, which is ploughing the same ground over again about two inches deeper.
The following spring the harrows (which are "disc" of a peculiar shape, twelve to eighteen razor-wheels on an axle, and in going round cut through and break any sods), are run over repeatedly both before and after the seeding; the ground is also rol ed and then left, and for the two-and-a-half bushels of oats or two bushels of wheat-seed per acre, hopes for a grand return being always entertained.
By some experts late autumn sowing is strongly advocated, as, during the fal , owing to the dryness of the atmosphere, there is scarcely any growth; so that the grain sown late cannot germinate, nor can it absorb water or rain enough to rot it, the winters being so dry. And when the first days of spring come the snow melts, the starch of the seed has changed to grape-sugar, and begins to germinate; so that the young plants will in no way be damaged by subsequent droughts, nor by the frosts which sometimes come after heavy rains in August and much injure the crops. At the present moment we are craving for rain, and should the crops not be as plentiful this year as expected, on account of the drought, I should feel much inclined to try autumn sowing.
Before the prairie is broken, the turf is very tough, and requires a great deal of force to break it; but when once turned the subsequent ploughings are easy.
Our chief difficulty and trouble are the stones; they generally lie just beneath the surface, differing very much in size. Some are huge and have to be regularly trenched round and horses harnessed to a chain put round them to raise them out of the ground; when they are put on to the stone-boat and conveyed to the boundary fence. It general y falls to E----'s and my special lot to drive the stone-boat or the waggons, whilst the men with crowbars and spades go before the ploughs clearing them all away, for fear they may blunt the shares and throw them out of the furrow.
The last two or three days, when not stone-picking, A---- and Mr.
B---- have been stretching the barb-wire with which they are enclosing the property; and there has been great chaff about our
"Jehuship." The wooden posts along which the wire is run are put in the ground, and they then have to be rammed down with a fearful y heavy wooden mal et, which I can hardly lift. To get purchase on the mal et A---- mounts into the waggon, which accordingly has to be driven quite close up to the post without touching it.
The two old mares we drive are more than difficult to turn or stop to a nicety, the result being that once I went too near and broke off a piece of the waggon. Another time, after a corner-post had been driven in most securely with props, E---- drove up against it, taking the whole concern away bodily.
The weather is quite delightful, no mosquitoes as yet to speak of; but the two big marshes on either side of the farm harbour them dreadfully.
Wild duck also abound in these marshes; there are thousands about, and we have found many nests and been revel ing in the eggs, a delightful change to our regular _menu_. The nests are very difficult to find; we two went one afternoon in the buggy to look for some, and the men declare we looked in the marshes themselves for them, which was not certainly the fact; though after driving round all the outsides, and not having been warned that the marsh on the eastern boundary of the farm was very deep, we came home that way, not at al liking the water coming up to the axle-trees and the horse floundering about at every step. To turn back was as bad as to go on, and as we saw wheel-tracks along the fence we stuck to them, thanking our stars when we got through safely.
* * * * *June 12th.
We have had a real visitor lately--I mean one who has brought a change, and a toothbrush; and for the auspicious event we rigged him up a stretcher bed, the most comfortable of things, canvas stretched on to a wooden frame, with a mattress on the top. You could not wish for anything softer. He was one of our ocean companions; his nickname of Mike still sticks to him. On getting to Winnipeg at night he had great difficulty in finding our whereabouts; even at the Club he was told the only W---- known kept a store in Main Street. Luckily from the Club he went to A----'s livery stable, which is exactly behind it, where a man offered to drive him out forthwith, having driven another man here only four days ago; but he preferred waiting til the morning, getting here somewhere about 9 o'clock, when he was set down immediately to work to stone the raisins for a plum cake, and when tired of that had to help A---- planting potatoes. He declares he never wil come here with his best clothes and a "boiled" shirt on again, as we have worked him so hard.
The accounts he gives, in an exaggerated Irish brogue, of his experiences in Minnesota have kept us in fits of laughter. The description of their first drive, when both he and his companions were all bogged; and how that twenty-seven mules and twenty-eight horses bought at St. Louis all arrived one night at the station about 5 o'clock, after sixty hours' travelling with no food or water, had to be unloaded from the cars, and they hadn't a halter or even a rope to do it with. Eventually they got al the poor beasts into a yard with wooden pailing round, but, something startling them, they made a rush, the fence gave way, for which damage the proprietor charged them ten pounds, and al galloped straight on to the prairie, and it took the men al night getting them together again. One pair of horses disappeared altogether; but were brought back when a reward of thirty dol ars was offered; they had wandered nineteen miles.
Mike slept in A----'s room. They talked so much, and told so many funny stories, that we despaired of ever getting them down to breakfast; Mike declaring he would like to bring his bed along with him, as he hadn't slept in one, or been between sheets since leaving New York, six weeks previously. We drove him over one afternoon to fish in the creek about two and a half miles off; but as we had to go in a light waggon, and with only one spring seat, both Mike and A---- had to hang on behind, with a plank as seat, which was always slipping and landing them on their backs at the bottom of the waggon. When we were about half a mile from home E---- made a wager that she would get through the wire fence and home across the prairie before we could get round and the horses be in their stable. We had a most exciting race; the gates, which are only poles run from one end of the wire to another, were a great impediment, and I believe it was real y a dead heat, through all the labourers entering into the joke and rushing to unhitch the horses, which were disappearing into the stable as E---- was at the kitchen-door.
I fancy that on the whole, in spite of his hard work, Mike enjoyed his visit, not only for the pleasure of our society, but as he had never seen a piece of meat, nor anything but pork and beans and bad coffee at Warren, nor had a bed to lie on, nor as much water as could be held in a tea-cup to wash in; he must have felt he had dropped into a land of Goshen by some happy mistake.
To give you a clearer insight into our daily life, and as I have nothing real y to write about this week, I think I cannot do better than copy out our journals, which we try to keep regularly, though in our monotonous every-day life it is sometimes difficult to find incidents to chronicle.
_Monday_.--Wash and cook al the morning; E---- and A---- plant wil ows in the marsh during the afternoon. I wander about the prairie in search of a duck's nest I saw yesterday and thought I had marked; but the tracks, stones, and ridges on the prairie are so alike, that it is almost impossible to remember any place; anyhow, I cannot find the nest. I could not take it yesterday, as I was riding, and the animal wil not stand still to let you mount, and had I had to scramble up on to her I should certainly have broken all the eggs I took. An exhausting day with a hot wind blowing; we are craving for rain, and thankful for the slight showers that fel during last night.
It is marvel ous how quickly vegetation will grow. Some sample wheat planted in the garden, of which there was no sign yesterday, thanks to the rain and sun has grown quite an inch by 6 o'clock this evening.
The grass is beginning to look so green and nice.
_Tuesday_.--E---- and Mrs. G---- finish their wash which they could not get through yesterday. I go up to the tent, with Mr. H---- to drive his waggon, and help to unlumber the wood he brought out yesterday from Winnipeg. Riding on these waggons loaded, and without a spring seat, is anything but pleasant over the prairie, but Mr. H---- is so accustomed to it now that he can stretch himself on the top and sleep soundly; and once or twice, coming out from town, has found himself in quite the wrong direction by allowing the horses to go their own way.
E---- and I spend our afternoon cleaning up the tent.
_Wednesday_.--A---- and I drive into Winnipeg. We have had various commissions to do, and A---- had to attend a meeting at the Club. Mr.
W. H---- has most amiably put his house, consisting of two rooms and a kitchen below, at our disposal whenever we want to rest; so I spent my whole afternoon there, nominally reading the "St. James's Gazette,"
but, I fancy, indulging in "forty winks" whilst waiting for A----. We afterward dined with the judge in his very nice pretty house called
"The Wil ows," driving home later. The cold was so great that A----, who had brought no great-coat, was forced to run behind the buggy some way to get warm and produce circulation. The prairie fires quite lovely, on all sides, quivering high flames for miles, and the night being dark, they looked very bright.
_Thursday_.--Was so tired after my day in town that I breakfasted in bed; disgraceful! By the time I get down the family have al dispersed to their various works. After dinner E---- and I drive a waggon over to the Boyd Farm to fetch oats for Mr. H----. The students, who haven't much to do, are enlisted into the filling and loading of the sacks; rather glad, we fancy, of some occupation. On our return we found a friend of Mr. B----'s, who, having heard of our proximity, he living at Headingley, has come over to dine and sleep. Our "parlour"
sofa, as usual, is called into requisition. It wil soon be worn out, so many sleep on it. I think last week it was occupied nearly every night.
_Friday_.--We have had very smart company to-day, as the judge, his wife, niece, and another man came over. We hoped they would star to dinner, and had "kil ed fatted calf"; but I fancy the ladies dreaded the prairie by night, and insisted upon returning--we could hardly persuade them to take a cup of tea--fearing that they might be benighted.
_Saturday_.--Hard at work cleaning all the morning. Mr. B----'s friend leaves after dinner, and I drive the mares in the waggons whilst the men stretch the wire-fencing. E---- rides to the tent with letters. We sustained rather a shock to our nerves to-day; about 12 o'clock a buggy was seen coming towards the house just as we were sitting down to dinner, and as our food was scanty we did not know how we possibly could feed three extra men. Luckily they only came to enquire their route to the tent, and it was a relief when they drove on; though we felt we ought to have given them some food, as the tent could only provide bacon and biscuits.
_Sunday_.--Mrs. G----, our factotum, has a holiday, and goes over with some of the other labourers to spend the day at the other farm. E----
and I have to undertake the _menage_ for the whole day. Our mutton, a leg, was very nicely done, also our vegetables, rice, and beans; but the "evaporated" apples, which we use much, required boiling previous to being put in a tart, which we neither of us knew. Therefore they were not done, and the crust was all burst. The men from the tent, who general y spend their Sundays here, were al owed some dinner, on condition they washed up afterwards.
* * * * *June 18.
I am afraid our letters will not be so interesting as the novelty wears off: the monotony of our life may begin to pal upon us. We hardly ever go two miles beyond the farm; to take our neighbours at the tent their letters or parcels brought out from town, is about the limit to our wanderings. We did drive one of the waggons to our neighbour Mr. Boyle to fetch home some oats the other night, and we also have been into town to pay our respects to the Governor and his wife. We happily don't want much outside attraction, for we have so much to do on the farm. The men work us pretty hard, I can tell you; as, besides all our indoor work, we have had three afternoons cutting potatoes for seed, until our hands are too awful to look at, and the water is so hard that we never shall get them a decent colour again. Some "white elephants"
potatoes, planted three weeks ago (thirty in number we cut into 420 pieces) already make a great show, and will want banking up next week. About ten acres of ground close to the house have been reserved and are cal ed "the garden," in which have been planted turnips, flax, beet-root, lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes; in short, all the luxuries of the season. But I am afraid none will be ready before we leave, if we carry out our idea of going to Colorado early in August.
We have been craving for rain, and at last, luckily, had a delightful shower a few days ago, which has freshened us up and wil make things grow. There is no grass as yet above four inches in height, and this time last year they were hay-making. The men are beginning to fear there wil be none; but with a little warm weather and a certain amount of rain everything grows as if by magic, so we may still hope to have a good season.
Only very few of the garden-seeds have made their appearance, which is disappointing after al the trouble they were; but the wild flowers are beginning to come out on the prairie, small bushes of wild roses are all over; there are also very pretty sunflowers, a tree maiden-hair, several different vetches, sisters, yellow-daisies, &c.; many we cannot name, indigenous to this country we conclude.
* * * * *June 26.
We quite feel as if we had been here years instead of about five weeks; and though it was prophesied before we left England that, after turning the house up-side down and making the men very uncomfortable with our cleanings, we should then go on strike, it has not been altogether fulfil ed. We certainly did try to clean up a bit, but we stil help in housework, and have to do as the servants at home. If we expect visitors, or on a Sunday, put on a tidy gown; otherwise we general y live in the oldest of frocks (which are more or less stained with either mud or the red paint with which we have been painting the roofs of both the stable and the labourers' house), very big aprons, sleeves to match, and our sun-bonnets. E---- has concocted for herself a thin blue-and-white shirt, and as she general y lives with her sleeves tucked up, her arms are getting quite brown and sunburnt. Our boots are the only things we do not much like cleaning, they get so soon dirty again; and we have come to the happy conclusion that unblacked boots have a "cachet" that blacked boots have not. When we first arrived the men promised to do them for us every Sunday; which promises, like so many, have partaken of the nature of pie-crusts.
We are both of us delighted to have come, the whole experience is so new, and what we couldn't have realised in England; and I am sure, in spite of the _bouleversement_ of the bachelor _regime_, it is a great pleasure to the men we are here. Our Winnipeg acquaintances tel us that A---- is quite a changed man, so cheery and even bumptious, and that everything is now "What we do at the farm."
It is all very well, however, in the summer; if obliged to stay through the winter, it would be quite another "pair of shoes." The thermometer often registers forty degrees of frost, though the effects of this extreme temperature in the dry exhilarating atmosphere is not so unpleasant as might be imagined, but the loneliness and dreariness of the prairie with two or three feet of snow would be appal ing. The cold is so great that you have to put on a buffalo coat, cap, and gloves, before you can touch the stove to light the fire, and notwithstanding the coal stove which is always kept going in the hall to warm the up-stairs room (through which the pipe is carried), the water in buckets standing alongside gets frozen.
Then the blizzards, which are storms of sleet and snow driven with a fierce wind, and so thick that it is quite impossible to get out of doors, or see at al , would be too trying.
Even to get across the yard to the further stable the men have to have a rope stretched as guide so as not to lose their way; and these storms sometimes, as they did this last year, continue for three weeks consecutively.
The snow on the prairie is never very deep, but it drifts a good deal, and was to the depth of twelve feet on the west side of the house.
No work can be done much in the winter on account of the cold and snow, so that from the middle of April, when the snow begins to go, until the beginning of October everything has to be rushed through and as many hands put on as they can possibly get, who are all discharged at the end of the summer and only two or three kept to look after the animals. After threshing, these men have little or nothing to do: digging out the wel to water the horses, teaming hay into the town on sleighs, and fetching timber over from the other farm, is about their only outdoor occupation. All the animals in the shape of horses, cows, pigs and chickens are huddled together in the stables for warmth.
* * * * *July 5th.
We have received our letters most unexpectedly to-day; two of our gentlemen coming out last night from town brought sundry parcels, newspapers, etc., but never thought of turning round to see if al was safe in back of carriage, declaring it was such rough driving they could only think of how to hang on and not be jolted out, so that by the time they got home, letters, a horse-collar, spare cushions, etc. were al gone. It was too late to send after them; but one of the men started back at 3:30 this morning, finding most of the lost things strewn broadcast over the prairie, even to within a short distance of Winnipeg. He went on to feed and bait his horses, at the same time enquiring for letters, finding ours just come in, and which would have lain there until our next opportunity.
Our variety to-day has been the absence of our cook, and we are again left in charge, and we flatter ourselves the dinner was
"immense." Stewed-beef, rice, mushrooms, (of which some were rather burnt, others not quite done enough, but that is a trifle), yorkshire pudding (baking-powder making an excellent substitute for eggs), and an apple tart. What more could you want? We are quite ambitious now, and have curries, rissoles, etc. A---- used to say he hoped, we should not expect either him or his friends to eat our dishes, as they would have to go to bed afterwards for at least three or four hours; but they very much appreciate any change made in the _menu_.
We are longing to make bread, which takes up a great deal of our factotum's time, as it has to be set over night and kneaded three or four times the fol owing day; but are begged to defer that amusement until within a few days of our departure, as it would so entirely upset our American trip if we had to attend A----'s obsequies. The bread is perfectly delicious, so light and so white in colour. The flour is excel ent. It is not made with brewers yeast, but with a yeast gem dissolved in warm water, to which is added a handful of dried hops boiled beforehand for about ten minutes, and strained. To that is added a cupful of flour a teaspoonful of salt, and one of sugar, and the whole is put into a warm place to ferment; when fermented, which takes about twelve hours, into a cool place, where it will remain good and sweet some time.
_A Receipt for Bread-Making_.
Put ten large spoonfuls of flour in a breadpan, and add enough warm water to make it into a thin batter, add half a pint of yeast, mix well, and, having covered the bread-pan with a cloth, put it in a warm place near the stove over night. During the night it should rise and settle again. In the morning add enough flour to make it in into a thick dough, and knead it on a bread-board for ten minutes. Put it back into pan for two hours and let it rise again. Grease your baking-tins, knead your dough again, and then fil the tins half full, put them close to the stove to rise, and when they have risen thoroughly, grease the tops of your loaves with a little butter (preventing the crust breaking and giving it a nice brown colour) and put them into the oven and bake for an hour to an hour and a quarter.
As E---- had not Mrs. G---- to wash up with her, she enlisted one of the men, and it was very funny to see him in a hat three times too big for his head, pipe in his mouth, sleeves turned up, drying the dishes and putting a polish on them. Talking of hats, E----
has at last got one and a half, it literally covers even her shoulders, and at midday she declares she is as much in shade as under a Japanese umbrel a; for trimming a rope is coiled round the crown, the only way to make it stay on the head. Of her gloves there is only the traditional one left; the other is among the various articles we have left on the prairie, bumped out of the buggy one day when she took them off to take care of them in a shower of rain.
That driving on the prairie is loathsome, but if we want to get about at al we must do it, as we don't like the riding horses. At the present moment we have got one of the plough animals, which is rideable. The poor beast was frightened one night three weeks ago, during a fearful storm of thunder and lightning, and ran into the barb wire, wounding itself horridly on the shoulders and neck. The skin had to be sewn up, and it cannot wear a col ar for the present so we have it to ride if we like. It is not a slug like the other two.
The thunder-storms here are frightful; they are also very grand to watch, as we can see them generally for miles before they come up.
We, luckily, have about ten lightning conductors on the houses and stables, so that we feel safe. A thunder-bolt fel pretty near the other day, destroying about six posts and the wire of our north fence. Thanks to the rain we have lately had, and the warm sun, we find such quantities of mushrooms al over the prairie. They grow to such a size! We measured two, one was 21 1/2 inches round, the other 21, very sweet and good, and as pink underneath as possible.
The labourers have been so pleased with them that last Sunday they began picking and cooking them in early morning, going on with relays more or less all day, so that by the evening they couldn't look another in the face, and it will be some time before they touch them again. We have them for every meal.
Our diaries here are more or less public property, and as we have been nowhere or seen anything at all exciting since we last wrote, I am going to copy down from the journals the incidents, if any, of the last week. You seemed to appreciate it the last time we sent you home a copy, but you must forgive if it is somewhat of a repetition to our numerous letters. The weather, for one thing, is daily chronicled, as it takes up much of our thoughts, so much in the future depending on its being propitious just at this time of year, when the seeds are all sown and the hay almost ready to cut.
_Tuesday_.--Beautiful day, so warm and nice, without being hot; everything growing, too, marvellously; even the seeds in the garden, which we began to despair of, are coming up.
The men have been very low, on account of the scarcity of rain; but we have had one or two thunder-storms lately which, have done good, and in this climate I do not think one ought ever to give up hopes. E---- has been painting wild flowers, which at this moment are in great profusion and variety all over the prairie, most of the day, varying her work by painting the doors of the room, which were such an ugly colour, a pale yellow green, that they have offended our artistic eyes ever since we have been here. I am said to have wasted my whole morning watching my two-days-old chickens, supposed to be the acme of intel igence and precocity. The afternoon was spent in shingling the hen-house. It was only roofed over with tar-paper laid on to the rafters, which answers wel if the wind doesn't blow the paper about, or that it has not any holes; but as the hen-house is only a lean-to of the stable, the roof of which we have been very busily painting, it has been trodden upon a good deal in getting on and off the roof, and, in consequence, the paper is much like a sponge, letting any rain in, and drenching the poor sitting fowls; but with the shingles overlapping each other on the tar-paper, the roof, wil be quite water-tight.
_Wednesday_.--Our factotum has gone into town, and we are left in charge, E---- parlour-maid, Mr. B---- scul ery-man, and I cook. We have heaps of mushrooms at every meal, a most agreeable change to the rice and white beans we have only hitherto had.
_Thursday_.--Hot day. A---- went into town to some meeting at the Club. We have been dreadful y tormented with mosquitoes today, also the big "bul -dog" fly, which, whenever the kitchen door was left ajar, came into the house in myriads; but we find that Keating's powder most effectual y destroys them, and in a very few seconds. We have been busy making a mattress and pillow for Mr.
H----, real y one does not realise how clever one is until our genius is put to the test in an establishment like this. E---- and I drove up to the tent after supper with our handiwork, and had great pleasure in seeing it fil ed with hay. Our drive was not of the most enviable: we had a waggon with no spring seat, only a board, which was always moving, to sit upon; one horse would tear along, the other not pull an ounce, in spite of applying the whip a good deal, and we were nearly smothered with mosquitoes, I never saw such clouds of them, and on our return home there was a general rush for the bottle of ammonia, which is the only thing that al ays the irritation.
_Friday_.--Excitements have been crowding in upon us to-day.
Bob, one of the labourers, who went into Winnipeg yesterday, only arrived home at 3 A.M. this morning. He left town at 6, but the night being dark he lost his way, and finding himself on the edge of a marsh, having a feed of oats with him, wisely unhitched his horses, tied them to the wheels, and waited patiently for daylight. Just as we were sitting down to dinner, three men who have been surveying the Government ditch near here, came and begged to be fed. Luckily we had soup and plenty of cold meat; but our pudding--the less said about that the better. We always have the evaporated apples as a stand by, and they are delicious; so with quantities of butter and milk we never need starve.
Then in the evening, when Mr. B---- was going to the stable to serve out the oats for the horses, he came in for the finish of an exciting race between two of the plough horses. The jockeys or riders were told forthwith that a waggon was going into town the fol owing morning, and that their services would be dispensed with in future. Just as we were going to bed we heard A---- coming in, and with him a stranger who turned out to be our cousin, only fifteen days out from England, _via_ Canada. He looks very delicate.
_Saturday_.--We had made no preparation for E. P---- last night, so he had to occupy the "parlour" sofa, and says he slept like a top; doubtlessly did not require much rocking, as he had travel ed through almost without stopping. We were busy al this morning writing letters for the discharged miscreants to take into town. It has been very hot and close al day. I, rode up to the tent, and hurried home, seeing a thunder-storm coming up, which was grand; and it was very lucky that I got home, as it began to rain at 3 o'clock, and is still pouring in perfect torrents at 10 o'clock P.M.
_Sunday_.--The yard is in such a fearful state of dirt, and the water standing inches deep, that it has been nearly impossible to move beyond the door. I put on A----'s long waterproof boots, and managed to get as far as my hen-house, and found two of my chickens dead.
Another sitting hen has been a source of great anxiety, as she wil peck her chicks to death as they hatch, and out of a sitting of eleven eggs we have only been able to save five birds. A wet Sunday hangs very heavily on our hands here, as there is nothing to be done.