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WINDY, cold weather followed the snow-storm, but we were now able to get to the wood-lot on runners again, and completed the woodpile in the house yard two days later. This was on Tuesday, and word having been passed through the neighborhood, the school-boys turned out for the proposed wood-chopping bee, to raise school money. Thomas Edwards was the first to appear, at seven o'clock Wednesday morning, with his sharp chopping-ax on one shoulder and his blunt splitting-ax on the other. Addison and I had ground our own axes and were in the wood-house looking up the iron wedges and beetle, used for splitting cord-wood when Ned Wilbur, Willis and Ben Murch, Rufus Sylvester and Alfred Batchelder arrived, all provided with axes and ready to go to work. They had brought lunch to be taken into the woods, but Theodora and Ellen now extended an invitation for all to come to the house, at noon, for a warm dinner.
The Old Squire also quietly brought out his own ax and said that he, too, proposed to join the party, "to keep order." Rather unexpectedly to Addison and myself James Doane made his appearance in the yard; he also had an ax on his shoulder, and it transpired that the old gentleman had sent for him, to come for a day's work. We had expected that two days would be required to cut eight cords, since few of the boys could really cut, split and pile more than half or three-fourths of a cord in a day. But with this strong reinforcement we set off for the woods, greatly encouraged.
Wood on the stump was not deemed of much value at this time. Nearly all the farmers had large wood-lots in which they cut their fuel without much regard for future want or the preservation of forests.
The whole party now proceeded to the east wood-lot, where we had recently got wood for the house yard.
"Here is a good place, boys," said the Old Squire, "along the upper side of this little opening which we made last week. Here are straight-bodied maples that will split well, and a dozen or two white birches and yellow birches. Go ahead, but take care not to fall trees on each other, and look out for your feet. Sharp axes are bad company for boys' toes."
As a matter of fact the old gentleman soon found it necessary to allot our trees to us and assign to each his place. Alfred Batchelder and Halstead had taken a tree together to chop and after falling it, attempted to chop in company, after a manner known to woodsmen as "chip-chop," that is, both in one scarf — an exceedingly dangerous method. The Old Squire was obliged to forbid this, in the interest of common safety, and as a result the irrepressible Alfred waxed saucy. The Old Squire made as if not hearing him, and Alfred went on for some moments, saying that he should do as he liked and that he did not come there to be ordered around by anybody, etc., till James Doane suddenly bade him keep quiet or he would roll him in the snow. But for the most part all went well and merrily. The ax strokes made the frosty woods resound. Trees went crashing down, and with each tree-fall a cheer rose.
James and the Old Squire now turned their attention chiefly to splitting the four-foot logs, as we boys chopped them. Occasionally they were obliged to use the beetle and wedges on a log, but for the most part a few blows of the ax in the end of the log would cleave the frozen wood along its entire length.
Of the boys, Addison, Thomas and the two Murches were the best choppers. Ned Wilbur and I were about equally matched. Alfred Batchelder was rather more experienced than Halstead, but both of them, after the first hour, were much inclined to stand talking and watch the others work.
At twelve o'clock we went to dinner and had an hour's nooning, then fell to work again till four o'clock, when we stopped chopping and began piling the wood in tiers. By this time, I was very tired myself, and the others had grown more quiet. At dusk we had the fresh cleft wood piled up and were ready to shoulder our axes and go home.
"How much have we cut?" Addison asked, as the Old Squire stood looking the piles over.
"Plump eight cords," said James.
"Yes, I think it will measure that," said the Old Squire.
By good luck, too, no one had cut a foot or even scarred his boot. The old gentleman had looked for at least one case of cut foot that day, and had a stout string in his pocket on purpose for "cording" ankles.
"Now the next thing is to haul our wood to the village," Addison said. "How many. can bring teams to-morrow?" Thomas and the Murch boys and Alfred already had the promise of their teams at home, on any day, for this purpose. But Ned could not have one till the day following, and Rufus was not able to bring a team. It was agreed that Thomas should come with his oxen the next day and assist Addison to draw several loads of the wood out to the road. Once on the well-trodden highway, each team could draw a cord of wood, but not from the wood-lot up the pasture side.
Accordingly, next day we yoked up and, with Thomas' assistance, drew three cords of the wood to the road where it was piled ready for "topping out" the loads for market.
Wednesday was a great day with us, in the wood business. Before sunrise shouts of "Haw, Buck, get up there, Golden!" announced the arrival of boys with ox teams. Addison had risen at five; and we had breakfast before six, while it was still dark. The oxen, steers and horses were fed, and we were all ready, when Thomas and the others arrived. It was a jocund setting-forth. The youthful teamsters shouted and so-hoed to each other; chains jingled, sled shoes creaked on the dry, hard snow and in the woodland the trees were snapping loudly from the frost in their trunks.
The Old Squire went to the lot with us, to supervise the loading of the sleds. About six cord feet of wood were loaded on each sled, and as fast as a load was ready, it was despatched on its way, to be topped out up at the road with enough more to make a full cord.
Addison took charge of our horse team and set off in advance, and when our ox-team was loaded, I was not a little surprised and gratified to have the Old Squire say to me that I might drive it, for I had expected that it would be intrusted to Halstead. No great skill as a teamster was required to drive steady, well-broken old Bright and Broad, however; and whether Gramp deemed it a good lesson for me, or whether he considered the team safer in my charge than with Halstead, did not appear. Halstead was offended, however, and said at first that he would not go to the village, if he could not drive a team, but finally came on behind the Murch team, with Ben who also had no team, since Willis drove theirs.
The only difficulty on the road was the frequent necessity of turning out into the snow for teams which we met. Our progress with such heavy loads was slow, and as the distance was nearly seven miles, we were until past noon on the road.
Addison with the horse team had made better time and had his load disposed of when we reached the house where the entire eight cords of wood was to be delivered. There was room for but one load at a time in the narrow yard, and all joined in the task of unloading each sled in turn. The oxen were then fed with the bundles of hay which we had brought, and while the cattle were eating, we devoured our own lunches with keen appetites.
No time had been wasted, yet it was two o'clock before we were ready to set off for home. With empty sleds the teams walked a little faster, however; we were able to ride now, for the oxen needed no attention on the homeward trip, save when teams were met. All six sleds followed, one behind the other, with all of us save Addison riding on the forward sled.
Six cords of the wood were thus marketed, and next day Addison and Thomas drew the other two cords and brought home with them that evening the pay for it, thirty-two dollars, in green-backs, which Addison carefully locked up in his trunk, till after the district school money should be used. We had certainly earned the money, yet earned it quite pleasantly.