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The Settler's Tragedy.

A Legend of Muskoka.

“YES, that's a queer-looking place now, ain't it? It's the best piece of land you've seen anywhere in this day's drive, and that's a good deal to say; and, likewise, it was once the prettiest spot along this road. Why, I mind the time when that porch was all a glory with roses, like a 'ouse in a hopera bouffe, for all the world. An' right in the front there, where you see all them docks an' mullen a-growin', that was chock full o' beds of Lonnon pride, an' Chinay asters, an' roses, an' stocks, an' marigolds, an' sweet mignonette; you could smell the place a mile off on a warm summer's night. Ah! she was a fine girl, she was, that lived up there, an' a terrible story that 'ouse tells. It ain't just pleasant to be on the next lot to it.”

Mr. Wellbeloved—for I had stumbled in my Muskoka ramble on a person of that name—thus

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spoke of a log-house and lot which had attracted my curiosity. On one of the best stretches of arable land, lying well up the gentle swell of the valley, with a good exposure, backed by fine woodlands, was—a singular sight in that raw yet thriving settlement—a “concession” which seemed to have been struck by some spirit of ruin and decay. The house stood, but its roof was rotting; its windows remained unbroken, but one could see from the draggling paper blinds, which had once made them gay with colour, that there was no housewife within to mend or change things, and all over the eight or ten acres of land which had been cleared about the house, there grew as high as the unremoved stumps a wealth of weed, such as is only the crop of absolute desertion. By this place, on one side, my friend Wellbeloved, at whose house I had drawn up for a midday meal, tilled a thriving farm; the evidences were visible in the roll of ripening wheat, dotted with the discs of the blackened stumps, and in the cattle that loitered from the sun's heat under an arch of young maples he had left in a corner of one of his fields, where a spring welled up from among some boulders; and audible by the grunt of well-fed pigs which wandered down the road and cooled their heated sides in the marshy bottom, where I had found the road like a floating stage of logs. Moreover, there was Mrs. Wellbeloved, a little weary-looking perhaps, for number nine in the cradle was “the most bothersome

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child, that it was, God bless it, she had ever knew,” and two or three fine strapping lads that came home to the noontide meal from some hoeing work at the back of the concession with an appetite for the pork and corn that made me envious.

Wellbeloved was a Londoner, and had been in Canada exactly six years. He was “just turned forty,” having married at twenty, and now possessed a graduated scale of voracious infantry which must in the metropolis have severely worn his energies and Mrs. Wellbeloved's patience, but which, out here, was his most promising source of wealth. The elder boy, nearly nineteen, had added a hundred acres to the original Government concession, and as the others grew up more would follow. Already Mr. Wellbeloved's house and barns began to take on an air, if not of wealth or even comfort, of sufficiency, which, as one looked into his bronzed face and clear eyes, and listened to his cheery voice, gave promise that the time might come when the patriarch should bless his sons and daughters, and his sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, looking out upon a scene of civilized beauty and fertility, and dividing among them no mean inheritance. Such scenes have been witnessed in earlier settlements; and such scenes will be repeated over and over again as the tide of population laps on and into the forest wild sof Ontario.

“Well,” I said, “what is the story of that

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place? It seems odd that it should be deserted like this. Why don't you take it up?”

“Me, sir! No, thankee. I'd not own a rod o' that soil for its pavin' in gold. No, no! There's blood on that land, and let some stranger come an' wipe it hout.”

He wiped the beads from his forehead (the day was hot) and began:—

The man that took hup that concession was a gentleman; leastways, sir, you know, a gentleman by birth. 'Is father were a Lunnon lawyer; you've 'eard of 'im, old Bytheway, that used to 'ave the big cases at the Hold Bailey. The hold man, he made money an' spent it, an' this 'ere boy 'e made none, an' spent what 'is father made. 'E were sent to Heton, then to Hoxford, an' afterwards 'e went where 'e weren't sent—leastways, not by direction—to the devil. The young 'ooman that lived an' died in that 'ouse were acquainted with me. Lucy Barridge,' that were her real name, though she were called “Lucinda Burrinda, the helegant dansews”—she were in the corpus de balley at the Varieties Theayter in the Strand, I dessay you know hit? … Yes? Well, sir, I were scene-shifter in that theayter for seven years, an' five years afore that at Drury Lane. I could tell you some queer stories! If you want to know somethin' of life, you get up in the wings, night after night, and watch the stage, you'll see somethin' of the bad han' the good o' 'uman nature. Why, sir, I've seen cruelty,

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an' wickedness, an' jealousy, an' revenge, an' kindness, an' forgiveness, an' charity, played far more real behind the canvas scenes I were a-shiftin' than it were on the stage or before it.

One night I see a young girl, which her name was Sairey Podge, from a dirty little street in the Borough she was, but a pretty one to look at, an' danced like a sylph, an' she 'ad a partikler rival, a 'alf Hitalian girl, as bad a little shrew for temper as hever you saw. Well, one night hin the Christmas pantomime—'twere last Christmas ten year—this girl, La Rosa, she broke down, and the people hissed her. Well, I was hup in the wings an' I see it, an' she ran behind one of the scenes where Sairey was waitin' to jump out like a fairy, as she was, an' I says to my mate, “Look out for squalls there, Lorry—them two 'll fight,” for I've seen girls fight behind the scenes before now. Well, sir, the Hitalian almost bounced into the other's arms. Sairey drew back a minute, an' looked straight hat 'er. The other was glowin' with passion an' spite, an' my fear was that Sairey's face was a-goin' to be spoiled, when I see Sairey 'old hout both 'er 'ands, and I 'eard 'er, distinct-like, cry hout, “Oh! Miss Rosa, I'm so sorry!” an', will you believe it, sir? the poor Hitalian laid her 'ead on the hother's shoulder, an' cried like a child! In a minute the stage-master called out sharp for “Miss Podge,” an' she dried 'er tears an' went hout an' danced so beautifully, the pit nearly went mad with 'er.

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Oh yes, sir, there's 'uman natur' behind as well as before the scenes, an' the great Scene-shifter above, He watches it.

Well, sir, Miss Lucy—afterwards Missis Bytheway—wer' a clever dancer, an likewise sometimes took a small part, for she were as pretty a girl as I hever see on the stage, an' I've seen hall the swells, you know. They're very partikler at the Varieties, you know; hit's only the royal family an' two or three wery speshul parties as gets the hentree there. I dunno 'ow that young Bytheway got in; but p'r'aps 'is father 'ad done the gov'nor a good turn some time. 'Owsomever, 'e were on the stage pretty hoften, an' took a wiolent fancy to Miss Lucy. Ah, sir, my 'art used to bleed sometimes for those poor girls—to see 'ow bold and brazen some on 'em were, an' 'ow gentle others was, an' 'ow many of 'em came to grief! No matter. Lucy, she took to young Bytheway, an' 'e tried on a hold game with 'er, but she were too good or too knowin' to be deceived. I believe she really liked the man. 'E were a terrible temper. No one 'ad never controlled it. 'E'd grown up just like that stalk of mullen you see there, as straight and long as he liked, an' breakin' out at every stage. …

Now you want to know 'ow they come hout to this place? I can't tell you. All I know is, that hafter spoonin' about the girl a precious long time, and she playin' hoff an' hon with 'im, one day she didn't come to rehearsal, an' then it

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were rumoured among the young ladies she 'ad run away with Mr. Bytheway. The hold gent an' the young un 'ad 'ad a row, han' the young un said that “rather than kill the old fool, he'd leave him.” Well, a year after, I come across a hemigration hagent. 'E told me about Canada an' the free grants, an', lookin' round on all those 'ungry children, I said, “We'll try it; it's worth the venture.” I'd saved a little money, an' when I got to Toronto I applied for land at the Government office, an' they gave me this concession free. We got 'ere about the first of June, an' lived in the wilds for some weeks; I tell you, the mosquitoes was hawful. But you'll fancy 'ow I started when the fust thing I see in the next lot, where that 'ouse 'ad lately been built, was young Bytheway in a torn shirt an' trousers, hoein' round the stumps just has if 'e'd been at it all 'is life. Then hout come Miss Lucy—then Mrs. Bytheway, for they'd got married before they left England—lookin' pale-like, has I've seen Mrs. Wellbeloved look oftener than I cared for. We was very good friends, an' the young gentleman, who was “smart,” as they say 'ere, 'e put me hup to a good many things, an' showed me 'ow to build my 'ouse, an' all the naybours was kind an' 'elpful enough, has all the people are hout 'ere to strangers. Well, young Bytheway was kind enough to Lucy, an', for all I saw, she were fond enough of 'im; but once or twice I noticed he went off to Orillia an' stayed away some days,—it might be three or four—an'

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when he came back again he wasn't 'imself for a long time. I knew what it was; it was the hold enemy—drink—an' for the time it made 'im another man.

By-and-by the autumn came, an' we got in our root-crops an' a little corn an' wheat, an' Bytheway laid in a decent lot. Then came the frost, and the fallin' of the leaves, an' then the snow. Such snow! I've seen snow ten to fifteen feet deep down in that gully, an' all as crisp an' shiny as the finest sugar, an' the air as pure an' the sky as bright as I ever see painted in a Hitalian scene at the theayter.… Healthy? I should think so! There ain't no doctor nearer than Gravenhurst, an' I never 'eard of 'im comin' up here, except to Joseph Jobson's grandmother; they say she's nigh upon eighty, an' took the rhumatiz so bad they thought she were dyin', an' sent for 'im to 'elp it on. Well, it was the second year, and then in the snow-time came Christmas, an' the new tavern-keeper down at Bracebridge, he gave out a turkey-shootin', an' Mr. Bytheway, on the day before Christmas Heve, left 'is wife in our charge—she were very near her confinement—and went to try 'is luck. She come over 'ere on Christmas Heve, an' though she never said nothin' she wer'n't in no spirits, we all noticed. My wife of course see the most of 'er, an' tried 'er best to coax 'er to be more lively-like. She would go 'ome that night, and next mornin' my wife went hup to 'er for a hour or so. She left 'er dressed

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an' comfortable, waitin' for Bytheway's return. She expected 'im to reach 'ome about three or four in the hafternoon. I went in after midday, an' there she were a-laying the cloth for a Christmas dinner. The room was always very clean, an' she'd stuck some green about an' ornamented the table, an' made it all look very nice—far better than we poor people can do out here; for Bytheway kept some of 'is hold habits, an' she loved to make the 'ouse as swell-like as possible. I thought she looked very pretty though she was so pale, and she 'ad one of 'er old theayter flowers in 'er brown 'air—it were a pleasure to me to see 'er.

“Why, Mrs. Bytheway,” I says, “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Wellbeloved,” says she. An' then turnin' roun' sharp, she says, “How soon do you think Reynold can get home? He was to leave Bracebridge early this morning and walk out. I have a plum-pudding for him. He knows nothing about it. I wish he was home.”

She went an' looked out of the door; but the wind blew sharp from the north, an' she came in with a shiver. I stayed with 'er more than a hour, 'avin' nothin' pertikler to do, an' left 'er at very near three o'clock. I 'ad to come right down from the door, you see, to that gate, an' then along the road for half a mile to my own path. I'd got very close to the turnin' into my own land when I see Bytheway strugglin' up the road through the snow. I waited for 'im.

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“'Allo, Mr. Bytheway,” I says, “so 'ere you are at last. Any luck a-shootin'?”

I see in a moment he were hout o' sorts. 'Is face were swollen an' red, an' he scowled at me very angry like.

“Not a d—n thing,” says he.

Then 'e come on straight at me, an' seein' 'e were not safe to speak to, I got hout of the way an' went 'ome.

“Poor Lucy!” says I to my wife. “She ain't in for a merry Christmas, I'm afeard!”

I watched him staggerin' along, and cussin' and swearin' as he went, till he reached the door. Then I see 'er run out, as well as she could, poor thing, for 'twas very near, and I see him brush 'er hout of 'is way with 'is arm. 'E didn't knock 'er down.

“Poor Lucy!” says I. “She ain't in for a merry Christmas, I'm afeard.”

Just then we 'eard the report of a gun, an' both rushed to the door. There was nothin' to be seen at first; but presently Bytheway ran out with 'is 'and hover 'is face. 'E threw himself into the snow an' lay there a long time; then 'e got up an' ran down to the road, and so off beyond Stony Jaussen the Swede's there.

“Well,” says I to my wife, “you and I 'ad best go up an' see what's become of Lucy. This don't seem all right.”

The door was open when we got there, an' the first thing we saw was Lucy Bytheway, 'oldin'

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in her bosom, an' groanin', an' a great spot of blood over the white cloth she 'ad laid; an' there, down on the table, crashin' and breakin' the crockery an' the glass, was Mr. Bytheway's gun with its muzzle within two feet of her breast. I knew then she'd been shot. We laid 'er on the bed. She soon swooned away. Then we gave 'er brandy, an' then come a turn I needn't describe to you. I went away and got such baby clothes as we 'ad, an' my poor wife she stayed there and 'elped that poor young creature to fight with death for the life she 'ad so long hoped for. It were no use. The mother never 'eard 'er own child's voice. When she knew it wasn't livin' she said:

“Well, I'm going too. Mrs. Wellbeloved, remember this. He didn't shoot me. He was vexed and angry that he missed every shot at Bracebridge. I asked him what made him so angry. He had pushed me in coming in, and took away my breath, you know, and I sat down on the chair on the other side of the table. When I asked him that question he looked at me, and, you know, it was very foolish and unkind of me to ask such a question. He looked all on fire, and then with a terrible oath he dashed the gun down on the table, and, you know, he never meant it, but it went off—and oh! Mrs. Wellbeloved, good-bye, good-bye, dear, say I forgive him!”

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“That's the story of that 'ouse, sir. You see why it ain't a cheerful place for me to look at. … What became of Bytheway? He was found, when the spring came, ten miles off in the woods, where he had frozen to death, an' if you go up there to our Orange 'all you'll see one tomb beside it, the only tomb about 'ere, an' there the three lies.

“Dinner's ready, sir.”