But these changes had only been wrought by slow degrees and hard work, nor had they been unaccompanied by many trials and disappointments. Crops had failed, or been destroyed, when promising a bountiful harvest, by fierce storms of rain and wind; and once the woods had caught fire, and spread desolation over the country. Prompt exertions saved the house, but the labors of the year had been lost, and the corn-fields ready for the harvest, and the rich pastures left black and smoking.
Nor was the neighboring country less changed and improved: the narrow blazed tracks which had formerly led to Mr. Watson’s and to Painted Posts had widened into well-travelled roads; and clearings visible on hill-sides in the distance, and frequent columns of curling smoke rising above the far-off tree-tops, gave evidence of the habitations of men, and that our emigrants were no longer alone in the wilderness.
Change had also been busy with the family, as well as with their home and its surroundings. Mr. and Mrs. Lee showed least its power; for though ten years older, the time had passed too prosperously on the whole to leave many wrinkles on their cheerful, contented faces. But some of the children were children no longer. Tom, now a fine young man of twenty-two, had married Jem Watson’s sister Katie, and settled on a small lot which lay on the banks of the river just below the Fall that had once been so nearly fatal to him. Taking advantage of the facilities offered by the situation for a mill, he had raised one near the rapids, and as the neighborhood became more populous, he found increasing profit, as well as employment, and was quickly becoming a thriving miller. Uncle John, still good-natured and light-hearted, had established himself near him on a comfortable farm, with a wife he had brought from Cincinnati, and who was as cheerful as himself, and the cleverest housewife of the whole country round. They had a little son and daughter, one four, the other two years old, who were the delight and pride of their parents. “Bub,” or “Bubby,” as boys are familiarly called in the United States, could already mount a horse, call in the pigs, and sing Yankee Doodle as well, his father declared, as he could himself; while “Sissy” nursed her rag-doll, and lulled it to sleep, in her tiny rocking-chair, with as much tenderness and patience as a larger woman. They were wonderful children! Uncle John said.
The kind and gentle Annie had grown up, beloved by all who knew her, and Jem Watson had often thought what a good wife she would make, and what a happy house that would be of which she was mistress, before he summoned courage to ask her to be his. When she consented, he believed himself the most fortunate man in Ohio. But she would not leave her mother quite alone, with her many household cares, and therefore it was determined that though the marriage should take place in the autumn, she should not move to Jem’s house until George, who had taken his elder brother’s place in helping his father, should be old enough to bring home a wife to undertake his sister’s duties. Jem, meanwhile was to cultivate and improve the eighty-acre lot his father had purchased for him within six miles of Painted Posts, a place which was rapidly increasing, and already offered a profitable market to the neighboring farmers, more especially as a railway now passed within two miles.