Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
SANGER & SAM
The New Home
Yan was now fourteen years old long-legged, thin, and growing fast The doctor marked this combination and said: “Send him on a farm for a year.”
Thus it was that an arrangement was made for Yan to work for his board at the farmhouse of William Raften of Sanger.
Sanger was a settlement just emerging from the early or backwoods period.
The recognized steps are, first, the frontier or woods where all is unbroken forest and Deer abound; next the backwoods where small clearings appear; then a settlement where the forest and clearings are about equal and the Deer gone; last, an agricultural district, with mere shreds of forest remaining.
Thirty years before, Sanger had been “taken up” by a population chiefly from Ireland, sturdy peasantry for the most part, who brought with them the ancient feud that has so long divided Ireland–the bitter quarrel between the Catholics or “Dogans” (why so called none knew) and Protestants, more usually styled “Prattisons.” The colours of the Catholics were green and white; of the Protestants orange and blue; and hence another distinctive name of the latter was “Orangemen.”
These two factions split the social structure in two vertically. There were, in addition, several horizontal lines of cleavage which, like geological seams, ran across both segments.
In those days, the early part of the nineteenth century, the British Government used to assist desirable persons who wished to emigrate to Canada from Ireland. This aid consisted of a free ocean passage. Many who could not convince the Government of their desirability and yet could raise the money, came with them, paying their regular steerage rate of $15. These were alike to the outside world, but not to themselves. Those who paid their way were “passengers,” and were, in their own opinion, many social worlds above the assisted ones, who were called “Emmy Grants.” This distinction was never forgotten among the residents of Sanger.
Yet two other social grades existed. Every man and boy in Sanger was an expert with the axe; was wonderfully adroit. The familiar phrase, “He’s a good man,” had two accepted meanings: If obviously applied to a settler during the regular Saturday night Irish row in the little town of Downey’s Dump, it meant he was an able man with his fists; but if to his home life on the farm, it implied that he was unusually dexterous with the axe. A man who fell below standard was despised. Since the houses of hewn logs were made by their owners, they reflected the axemen’s skill. There were two styles of log architecture; the shanty with corners criss-cross, called hog-pen finish, and the other, the house with the corners neatly finished, called dovetail finish. In Sanger it was a social black eye to live in a house of the first kind. The residents were considered “scrubs” or “riff-raff” by those whose superior axemanship had provided the more neatly finished dwelling. A later division crept in among the “dovetailers” themselves when a brickyard was opened. The more prosperous settlers put up neat little brick houses. To the surprise of all, one Phil O’Leary, a poor but prolific Dogan, leaped at once from a hog-pen log to a fine brick, and caused no end of perplexity to the ruling society queens, simply paralyzing the social register, since his nine fat daughters now had claims with the best. Many, however, whose brick houses were but five years old, denounced the O’Learys as upstarts and for long witheld all social recognition. William Raften, as the most prosperous man in the community, was first to appear in red bricks. His implacable enemy, Char-less (two syllables) Boyle, egged on by his wife, now also took the red brick plunge, though he dispensed with masons and laid the bricks himself, with the help of his seventeen sons. These two men, though Orangemen both, were deadly enemies, as the wives were social rivals. Raften was the stronger and richer man, but Boyle, whose father had paid his own steerage rate, knew all about Raften’s father, and always wound up any discussion by hurling in Raften’s teeth: “Don’t talk to me, ye upstart. Everybody knows ye are nothing but a Emmy Grant.” This was the one fly in the Raften ointment. No use denying it. His father had accepted a free passage, true, and Boyle had received a free homestead, but what of that–that counted for nothing. Old Boyle had been a “PASSENGER,” old Raften an “EMMY GRANT.”
This was the new community that Yan had entered, and the words Dogan and Prattison, “green” and “orange and blue,” began to loom large, along with the ideas and animosities they stood for.
The accent of the Sangerite was mixed. First, there was a rich Irish brogue with many Irish words; this belonged chiefly to the old folks. The Irish of such men as Raften was quite evident in their speech, but not strong enough to warrant the accepted Irish spelling of books, except when the speaker was greatly excited. The young generation had almost no Irish accent, but all had sifted down to the peculiar burring nasal whine of the backwoods Canadian.
Mr. and Mrs. Raften met Yan at the station. They had supper together at the tavern and drove him to their home, where they showed him into the big dining-room–living-room–kitchen. Over behind the stove was a tall, awkward boy with carroty hair and small, dark eyes set much aslant in the saddest of faces. Mrs. Raften said, “Come, Sam, and shake hands with Yan.” Sam came sheepishly forward, shook hands in a flabby way, and said, in drawling tones, “How-do,” then retired behind the stove to gaze with melancholy soberness at Yan, whenever he could do so without being caught at it. Mr. and Mrs. Raften were attending to various matters elsewhere, and Yan was left alone and miserable. The idea of giving up college to go on a farm had been a hard one for him to accept, but he had sullenly bowed to his father’s command and then at length learned to like the prospect of getting away from Bonnerton into the country. After all, it was but for a year, and it promised so much of joy. Sunday-school left behind. Church reduced to a minimum. All his life outdoors, among fields and woods–surely this spelled happiness; but now that he was really there, the abomination of desolation seemed sitting on all things and the evening was one of unalloyed misery. He had nothing to tell of, but a cloud of black despair seemed to have settled for good on the world. His mouth was pinching very hard and his eyes blinking to keep back the tears when Mrs. Raften came into the room. She saw at a glance what was wrong. “He’s homesick,” she said to her husband. “He’ll be all right to-morrow,” and she took Yan by the hand and led him upstairs to bed.
Twenty minutes later she came to see if he was comfortable. She tucked the clothes in around him, then, stooping down for a good-night kiss, she found his face wet with tears. She put her arms about him for a moment, kissed him several times, and said, “Never mind, you will feel all right to-morrow,” then wisely left him alone.
Whence came that load of misery and horror, or whither it went, Yan never knew. He saw it no more, and the next morning he began to interest himself in his new world.
William Raften had a number of farms all in fine order and clear of mortgages; and each year he added to his estates. He was sober, shrewd, even cunning, hated by most of his neighbours because he was too clever for them and kept on getting richer. His hard side was for the world and his soft side for his family. Not that he was really soft in any respect. He had had to fight his life-battle alone, beginning with nothing, and the many hard knocks had hardened him, but the few who knew him best could testify to the warm Irish heart that continued unchanged within him, albeit it was each year farther from the surface. His manners, even in the house, were abrupt and masterful. There was no mistaking his orders, and no excuse for not complying with them. To his children when infants, and to his wife only, he was always tender, and those who saw him cold and grasping, overreaching the sharpers of the grain market, would scarcely have recognized the big, warm-hearted happy-looking father at home an hour later when he was playing horse with his baby daughter or awkwardly paying post-graduate court to his smiling wife.
He had little “eddication,” could hardly read, and was therefore greatly impressed with the value of “book larnin’,” and determined that his own children should have the “best that money could git in that line,” which probably meant that they should read fluently. His own reading was done on Sunday mornings, when he painfully spelled out the important items in a weekly paper; “important” meant referring to the produce market or the prize ring, for he had been known and respected as a boxer, and dearly loved the exquisite details of the latest bouts. He used to go to church with his wife once a month to please her, and thought it very unfair therefore that she should take no interest in his favourite hobby–the manly art.
Although hard and even brutal in his dealings with men, he could not bear to see an animal ill used. “The men can holler when they’re hurt, but the poor dumb baste has no protection.” He was the only farmer in the country that would not sell or shoot a worn-out horse. “The poor brute has wurruked hard an’ hez airned his kape for the rest av his days.” So Duncan, Jerry and several others were “retired” and lived their latter days in idleness, in one case for more than ten years.
Raften had thrashed more than one neighbour for beating a horse, and once, on interfering, was himself thrashed, for he had the ill-luck to happen on a prizefighter. But that had no lasting effect on him. He continued to champion the dumb brute in his own brutal way.
Among the neighbours the perquisites of the boys were the calfskins. The cows’ milk was needed and the calves of little value, so usually they were killed when too young for food. The boys did the killing, making more or less sport of it, and the skins, worth fifty cents apiece green and twenty-five cents dry, at the tannery, were their proper pay. Raften never allowed his son to kill the calves. “Oi can’t kill a poor innocent calf mesilf an’ I won’t hev me boy doin’ it,” he said. Thus Sam was done out of a perquisite, and did not forget the grievance.
Mrs. Raften was a fine woman, a splendid manager, loving her home and her family, her husband’s loyal and ablest supporter, although she thought that William was sometimes a “leetle hard” on the boys. They had had a large family, but most of the children had died. Those remaining were Sam, aged fifteen, and Minnie, aged three.
Yan’s duties were fixed at once. The poultry and half the pigs and cows were to be his charge. He must also help Sam with various other chores.
There was plenty to do and clear rules about doing it. But there was also time nearly every day for other things more in the line of his tastes; for even if he were hard on the boys in work hours, Raften saw to it that when they did play they should have a good time. His roughness and force made Yan afraid of him, and as it was Raften’s way to say nothing until his mind was fully made up, and then say it “strong,” Yan was left in doubt as to whether or not he was giving satisfaction.