List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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over borrowed goods, and takes a wicked pleasure in playing off
a thousand malicious pranks upon you the moment he enters your
dwelling. Plates and dishes, that had been the pride and ornament of
their own cupboard for years, no sooner enter upon foreign service
than they are broken; wine-glasses and tumblers, that have been
handled by a hundred careless wenches in safety, scarcely pass into
the hands of your servants when they are sure to tumble upon the
floor, and the accident turns out a compound fracture. If you borrow
a garment of any kind, be sure that you will tear it; a watch, that
you will break it; a jewel, that you will lose it; a book, that it
will be stolen from you. There is no end to the trouble and vexation
arising out of this evil habit. If you borrow a horse, and he has
the reputation of being the best-behaved animal in the district,
you no sooner become responsible for his conduct than he loses
his character. The moment that you attempt to drive him, he shows
that he has a will of his own, by taking the reins into his own
management, and running away in a contrary direction to the road
that you wished him to travel. He never gives over his eccentric
capers until he has broken his own knees, and the borrowed carriage
and harness. So anxious are you about his safety, that you have not
a moment to bestow upon your own. And why?--the beast is borrowed,
and you are expected to return him in as good condition as he came
to you.

But of all evils, to borrow money is perhaps the worst. If of a
friend, he ceases to be one the moment you feel that you are
bound to him by the heavy clog of obligation. If of a usurer, the
interest, in this country, soon doubles the original sum, and you
owe an increasing debt, which in time swallows up all you possess.

When we first came to the colony, nothing surprised me more than
the extent to which this pernicious custom was carried, both by the
native Canadians, the European settlers, and the lower order of
Americans. Many of the latter had spied out the goodness of the
land, and BORROWED various portions of it, without so much as
asking leave of the absentee owners. Unfortunately, our new home
was surrounded by these odious squatters, whom we found as ignorant
as savages, without their courtesy and kindness.

The place we first occupied was purchased of Mr. B---, a merchant,
who took it in payment of sundry large debts which the owner, a New
England loyalist, had been unable to settle. Old Joe R---, the
present occupant, had promised to quit it with his family, at the
commencement of sleighing; and as the bargain was concluded in the
month of September, and we were anxious to plough for fall wheat, it
was necessary to be upon the spot. No house was to be found in the
immediate neighbourhood, save a small dilapidated log tenement, on
an adjoining farm (which was scarcely reclaimed from the bush) that
had been some months without an owner. The merchant assured is that
this could be made very comfortable until such time as it suited
R--- to remove, and the owner was willing to let us have it for the
moderate sum of four dollars a month.

Trusting to Mr. B---'s word, and being strangers in the land,
we never took the precaution to examine this delightful summer
residence before entering upon it, but thought ourselves very
fortunate in obtaining a temporary home so near our own property,
the distance not exceeding half a mile. The agreement was drawn
up, and we were told that we could take possession whenever it
suited us.

The few weeks that I had sojourned in the country had by no means
prepossessed me in its favour. The home-sickness was sore upon me,
and all my solitary hours were spent in tears. My whole soul yielded
itself up to a strong and overpowering grief. One simple word dwelt
for ever in my heart, and swelled it to bursting--"Home!" I repeated
it waking a thousand times a day, and my last prayer before I sank
to sleep was still "Home! Oh, that I could return, if only to die
at home!" And nightly I did return; my feet again trod the daisied
meadows of England; the song of her birds was in my ears; I wept
with delight to find myself once more wandering beneath the fragrant
shade of her green hedge-rows; and I awoke to weep in earnest when I
found it but a dream. But this is all digression, and has nothing to
do with our unseen dwelling. The reader must bear with me in my fits
of melancholy, and take me as I am.

It was the 22nd September that we left the Steam-boat Hotel, to take
possession of our new abode. During the three weeks we had sojourned
at ---, I had not seen a drop of rain, and I began to think that the
fine weather would last for ever; but this eventful day arose in
clouds. Moodie had hired a covered carriage to convey the baby, the
servant-maid, and myself to the farm, as our driver prognosticated
a wet day; while he followed with Tom Wilson and the teams that
conveyed our luggage.

The scenery through which we were passing was so new to me, so
unlike anything that I had ever beheld before, that in spite of its
monotonous character, it won me from my melancholy, and I began to
look about me with considerable interest. Not so my English servant,
who declared that the woods were frightful to look upon; that it was
a country only fit for wild beasts; that she hated it with all her
heart and soul, and would go back as soon as she was able.

About a mile from the place of our destination the rain began to
fall in torrents, and the air, which had been balmy as a spring
morning, turned as chilly as that of a November day. Hannah
shivered; the baby cried, and I drew my summer shawl as closely
round as possible, to protect her from the sudden change in our
hitherto delightful temperature. Just then, the carriage turned into
a narrow, steep path, overhung with lofty woods, and after labouring
up it with considerable difficulty, and at the risk of breaking our
necks, it brought us at length to a rocky upland clearing, partially
covered with a second growth of timber, and surrounded on all sides
by the dark forest.

"I guess," quoth our Yankee driver, "that at the bottom of this 'ere
swell, you'll find yourself to hum;" and plunging into a short path
cut through the wood, he pointed to a miserable hut, at the bottom
of a steep descent, and cracking his whip, exclaimed, "'Tis a smart
location that. I wish you Britishers may enjoy it."

I gazed upon the place in perfect dismay, for I had never seen such
a shed called a house before. "You must be mistaken; that is not a
house, but a cattle-shed, or pig-sty."

The man turned his knowing, keen eye upon me, and smiled,
half-humorously, half-maliciously, as he said--

"You were raised in the old country, I guess; you have much to
learn, and more, perhaps, than you'll like to know, before the
winter is over."

I was perfectly bewildered--I could only stare at the place, with
my eyes swimming in tears; but as the horses plunged down into the
broken hollow, my attention was drawn from my new residence to the
perils which endangered life and limb at every step. The driver,
however, was well used to such roads, and, steering us dexterously
between the black stumps, at length drove up, not to the door, for
there was none to the house, but to the open space from which that
absent but very necessary appendage had been removed. Three young
steers and two heifers, which the driver proceeded to drive out,
were quietly reposing upon the floor. A few strokes of his whip,
and a loud burst of gratuitous curses, soon effected an ejectment;
and I dismounted, and took possession of this untenable tenement.
Moodie was not yet in sight with the teams. I begged the man to stay
until he arrived, as I felt terrified at being left alone in this
wild, strange-looking place. He laughed, as well he might, at our
fears, and said that he had a long way to go, and must be off; then,
cracking his whip, and nodding to the girl, who was crying aloud, he
went his way, and Hannah and myself were left standing in the middle
of the dirty floor.

The prospect was indeed dreary. Without, pouring rain; within, a
fireless hearth; a room with but one window, and that containing
only one whole pane of glass; not an article of furniture to be
seen, save an old painted pine-wood cradle, which had been left
there by some freak of fortune. This, turned upon its side, served
us for a seat, and there we impatiently awaited the arrival of
Moodie, Wilson, and a man whom the former had hired that morning
to assist on the farm. Where they were all to be stowed might have
puzzled a more sagacious brain than mine. It is true there was a
loft, but I could see no way of reaching it, for ladder there was
none, so we amused ourselves, while waiting for the coming of our
party, by abusing the place, the country, and our own dear selves
for our folly in coming to it.

Now, when not only reconciled to Canada, but loving it, and feeling
a deep interest in its present welfare, and the fair prospect of its
future greatness, I often look back and laugh at the feelings with
which I then regarded this noble country.

When things come to the worst, they generally mend. The males of
our party no sooner arrived than they set about making things more
comfortable. James, our servant, pulled up some of the decayed
stumps, with which the small clearing that surrounded the shanty
was thickly covered, and made a fire, and Hannah roused herself
from the stupor of despair, and seized the corn-broom from the top
of the loaded waggon, and began to sweep the house, raising such an
intolerable cloud of dust that I was glad to throw my cloak over my
head, and run out of doors, to avoid suffocation. Then commenced
the awful bustle of unloading the two heavily-loaded waggons. The
small space within the house was soon entirely blocked up with
trunks and packages of all descriptions. There was scarcely room
to move, without stumbling over some article of household stuff.

The rain poured in at the open door, beat in at the shattered
window, and dropped upon our heads from the holes in the roof. The
wind blew keenly through a thousand apertures in the log walls; and
nothing could exceed the uncomfortableness of our situation. For a
long time the box which contained a hammer and nails was not to be
found. At length Hannah discovered it, tied up with some bedding
which she was opening out in order to dry. I fortunately spied the
door lying among some old boards at the back of the house, and
Moodie immediately commenced fitting it to its place. This, once
accomplished, was a great addition to our comfort. We then nailed
a piece of white cloth entirely over the broken window, which,
without diminishing the light, kept out the rain. James constructed
a ladder out of the old bits of boards, and Tom Wilson assisted him
in stowing the luggage away in the loft.

But what has this picture of misery and discomfort to do with
borrowing? Patience, my dear, good friends; I will tell you all
about it by-and-by.

While we were all busily employed--even the poor baby, who was lying
upon a pillow in the old cradle, trying the strength of her lungs,
and not a little irritated that no one was at leisure to regard her
laudable endeavours to make herself heard--the door was suddenly
pushed open, and the apparition of a woman squeezed itself into the
crowded room. I left off arranging the furniture of a bed, that had
been just put up in a corner, to meet my unexpected, and at that
moment, not very welcome guest. Her whole appearance was so
extraordinary that I felt quite at a loss how to address her.

Imagine a girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age, with sharp,
knowing-looking features, a forward, impudent carriage, and a pert,
flippant voice, standing upon one of the trunks, and surveying all
our proceedings in the most impertinent manner. The creature was
dressed in a ragged, dirty purple stuff gown, cut very low in the
neck, with an old red cotton handkerchief tied over her head; her
uncombed, tangled locks falling over her thin, inquisitive face, in
a state of perfect nature. Her legs and feet were bare, and, in her
coarse, dirty red hands, she swung to and fro an empty glass

"What can she want?" I asked myself. "What a strange creature!"

And there she stood, staring at me in the most unceremonious manner,
her keen black eyes glancing obliquely to every corner of the room,
which she examined with critical exactness.

Before I could speak to her, she commenced the conversation by
drawling through her nose, "Well, I guess you are fixing here."

I thought she had come to offer her services; and I told her that
I did not want a girl, for I had brought one out with me.

"How!" responded the creature, "I hope you don't take me for a help.
I'd have you to know that I'm as good a lady as yourself. No; I just
stepped over to see what was going on. I seed the teams pass our'n
about noon, and I says to father, 'Them strangers are cum; I'll go
and look arter them.' 'Yes,' says he, 'do--and take the decanter
along. May be they'll want one to put their whiskey in.' 'I'm goin
to,' says I; so I cum across with it, an' here it is. But,
mind--don't break it--'tis the only one we have to hum; and father
says 'tis so mean to drink out of green glass."

My surprise increased every minute. It seemed such an act of
disinterested generosity thus to anticipate wants we had never
thought of. I was regularly taken in.

"My good girl," I began, "this is really very kind--but--"

"Now, don't go to call me 'gall'--and pass off your English airs
on us. We are GENUINE Yankees, and think ourselves as good--yes,
a great deal better than you. I am a young lady."

"Indeed!" said I, striving to repress my astonishment. "I am a
stranger in the country, and my acquaintance with Canadian ladies
and gentlemen is very small. I did not mean to offend you by using
the term girl; I was going to assure you that we had no need of the
decanter. We have bottles of our own--and we don't drink whiskey."

"How! Not drink whiskey? Why, you don't say! How ignorant you must
be! may be they have no whiskey in the old country?"

"Yes, we have; but it is not like the Canadian whiskey. But, pray
take the decanter home again--I am afraid that it will get broken
in this confusion."

"No, no; father told me to leave it--and there it is;" and she
planted it resolutely down on the trunk. "You will find a use for
it till you have unpacked your own."

Seeing that she was determined to leave the bottle, I said no more
about it, but asked her to tell me where the well was to be found.

"The well!" she repeated after me, with a sneer. "Who thinks of
digging wells when they can get plenty of water from the creek?
There is a fine water privilege not a stone's-throw from the door,"
and, jumping off the box, she disappeared as abruptly as she had
entered. We all looked at each other; Tom Wilson was highly amused,
and laughed until he held his sides.

"What tempted her to bring this empty bottle here?" said Moodie.
"It is all an excuse; the visit, Tom, was meant for you."

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