List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

"You'll know more about it in a few days," said James, looking up
from his work. "That bottle is not brought here for nought."

I could not unravel the mystery, and thought no more about it, until
it was again brought to my recollection by the damsel herself.

Our united efforts had effected a complete transformation in our
uncouth dwelling. Sleeping-berths had been partitioned off for the
men; shelves had been put up for the accommodation of books and
crockery, a carpet covered the floor, and the chairs and tables we
had brought from --- gave an air of comfort to the place, which, on
the first view of it, I deemed impossible. My husband, Mr. Wilson,
and James, had walked over to inspect the farm, and I was sitting at
the table at work, the baby creeping upon the floor, and Hannah
preparing dinner. The sun shone warm and bright, and the open door
admitted a current of fresh air, which tempered the heat of the fire.

"Well, I guess you look smart," said the Yankee damsel, presenting
herself once more before me. "You old country folks are so stiff,
you must have every thing nice, or you fret. But, then, you can
easily do it; you have stacks of money; and you can fix everything
right off with money."

"Pray take a seat," and I offered her a chair, "and be kind enough
to tell me your name. I suppose you must live in the neighbourhood,
although I cannot perceive any dwelling near us."

"My name! So you want to know my name. I arn't ashamed of my own;
'tis Emily S---. I am eldest daughter to the GENTLEMAN who owns
this house."

"What must the father be," thought I, "if he resembles the young
LADY, his daughter?"

Imagine a young lady, dressed in ragged petticoats, through whose
yawning rents peeped forth, from time to time, her bare red knees,
with uncombed elf-locks, and a face and hands that looked as if they
had been unwashed for a month--who did not know A from B, and
despised those who did. While these reflections, combined with a
thousand ludicrous images, were flitting through my mind, my strange
visitor suddenly exclaimed--

"Have you done with that 'ere decanter I brought across yesterday?"

"Oh, yes! I have no occasion for it." I rose, took it from the
shelf, and placed it in her hand.

"I guess you won't return it empty; that would be mean, father says.
He wants it filled with whiskey."

The mystery was solved, the riddle made clear. I could contain my
gravity no longer, but burst into a hearty fit of laughter, in which
I was joined by Hannah. Our young lady was mortally offended; she
tossed the decanter from hand to hand, and glared at us with her
tiger-like eyes.

"You think yourselves smart! Why do you laugh in that way?"

"Excuse me--but you have such an odd way of borrowing that I cannot
help it. This bottle, it seems, was brought over for your own
convenience, not for mine. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have
no whiskey."

"I guess spirits will do as well; I know there is some in that keg,
for I smells it."

"It contains rum for the workmen."

"Better still. I calculate when you've been here a few months,
you'll be too knowing to give rum to your helps. But old country
folks are all fools, and that's the reason they get so easily sucked
in, and be so soon wound-up. Cum, fill the bottle, and don't be
stingy. In this country we all live by borrowing. If you want
anything, why just send and borrow from us."

Thinking that this might be the custom of the country, I hastened to
fill the decanter, hoping that I might get a little new milk for the
poor weanling child in return; but when I asked my liberal visitor
if she kept cows, and would lend me a little new milk for the baby,
she burst out into high disdain. "Milk! Lend milk? I guess milk in
the fall is worth a York shilling a quart. I cannot sell you a drop

This was a wicked piece of extortion, as the same article in the
town, where, of course, it was in greater request, only brought
three-pence the quart.

"If you'll pay me for it, I'll bring you some to-morrow. But
mind--cash down."

"And when do you mean to return the rum?" I said, with some

"When father goes to the creek." This was the name given by my
neighbours to the village of P---, distant about four miles.

Day after day I was tormented by this importunate creature; she
borrowed of me tea, sugar, candles, starch, blueing, irons, pots,
bowls--in short, every article in common domestic use--while it was
with the utmost difficulty we could get them returned. Articles of
food, such as tea and sugar, or of convenience, like candles,
starch, and soap, she never dreamed of being required at her hands.
This method of living upon their neighbours is a most convenient one
to unprincipled people, as it does not involve the penalty of
stealing; and they can keep the goods without the unpleasant
necessity of returning them, or feeling the moral obligation of
being grateful for their use. Living eight miles from ---, I found
these constant encroachments a heavy burden on our poor purse; and
being ignorant of the country, and residing in such a lonely,
out-of-the-way place, surrounded by these savages, I was really
afraid of denying their requests.

The very day our new plough came home, the father of this bright
damsel, who went by the familiar and unenviable title of Old Satan,
came over to borrow it (though we afterwards found out that he had a
good one of his own). The land had never been broken up, and was
full of rocks and stumps, and he was anxious to save his own from
injury; the consequence was that the borrowed implement came home
unfit for use, just at the very time that we wanted to plough for
fall wheat. The same happened to a spade and trowel, bought in
order to plaster the house. Satan asked the loan of them for ONE
hour for the same purpose, and we never saw them again.

The daughter came one morning, as usual, on one of these swindling
expeditions, and demanded of me the loan of some fine slack. Not
knowing what she meant by fine slack, and weary of her
importunities, I said I had none. She went away in a rage. Shortly
after she came again for some pepper. I was at work, and my work-box
was open upon the table, well stored with threads and spools of all
descriptions. Miss Satan cast her hawk's eye into it, and burst out
in her usual rude manner--

"I guess you told me a tarnation big lie the other day."

Unaccustomed to such language, I rose from my seat, and pointing to
the door, told her to walk out, as I did not choose to be insulted
in my own house.

"Your house! I'm sure it's father's," returned the incorrigible
wretch. "You told me that you had no fine slack, and you have
stacks of it."

"What is fine slack?" said I, very pettishly.

"The stuff that's wound upon these 'ere pieces of wood," pouncing as
she spoke upon one of my most serviceable spools.

"I cannot give you that; I want it myself."

"I didn't ask you to give it. I only wants to borrow it till father
goes to the creek."

"I wish he would make haste, then, as I want a number of things
which you have borrowed of me, and which I cannot longer do

She gave me a knowing look, and carried off my spool in triumph.

I happened to mention the manner in which I was constantly annoyed
by these people, to a worthy English farmer who resided near us;
and he fell a-laughing, and told me that I did not know the Canadian
Yankees as well as he did, or I should not be troubled with them long.

"The best way," says he, "to get rid of them, is to ask them sharply
what they want; and if they give you no satisfactory answer, order
them to leave the house; but I believe I can put you in a better way
still. Buy some small article of them, and pay them a trifle over
the price, and tell them to bring the change. I will lay my life
upon it that it will be long before they trouble you again."

I was impatient to test the efficacy of his scheme That very
afternoon Miss Satan brought me a plate of butter for sale.
The price was three and ninepence; twice the sum, by-the-bye,
that it was worth.

"I have no change," giving her a dollar; "but you can bring it me

Oh, blessed experiment! for the value of one quarter dollar I got
rid of this dishonest girl for ever; rather than pay me, she never
entered the house again.

About a month after this, I was busy making an apple-pie in the
kitchen. A cadaverous-looking woman, very long-faced and witch-like,
popped her ill-looking visage into the door, and drawled through her

"Do you want to buy a rooster?"

Now, the sucking-pigs with which we had been regaled every day
for three weeks at the tavern, were called roasters; and not
understanding the familiar phrases of the country, I thought she
had a sucking-pig to sell.

"Is it a good one?"

"I guess 'tis."

"What do you ask for it?"

"Two Yorkers."

"That is very cheap, if it is any weight. I don't like them under
ten or twelve pounds."

"Ten or twelve pounds! Why, woman, what do you mean? Would you
expect a rooster to be bigger nor a turkey?"

We stared at each other. There was evidently some misconception
on my part.

"Bring the roaster up; and if I like it, I will buy it, though
I must confess that I am not very fond of roast pig."

"Do you call this a pig?" said my she-merchant, drawing a fine
game-cock from under her cloak.

I laughed heartily at my mistake, as I paid her down the money for
the bonny bird. This little matter settled, I thought she would take
her departure; but that rooster proved the dearest fowl to me that
ever was bought.

"Do you keep backy and snuff here?" says she, sideling close up to me.

"We make no use of those articles."

"How! Not use backy and snuff? That's oncommon."

She paused, then added in a mysterious, confidential tone--

"I want to ask you how your tea-caddy stands?"

"It stands in the cupboard," said I, wondering what all this might

"I know that; but have you any tea to spare?"

I now began to suspect what sort of a customer the stranger was.

"Oh, you want to borrow some? I have none to spare."

"You don't say so. Well now, that's stingy. I never asked anything
of you before. I am poor, and you are rich; besides, I'm troubled so
with the headache, and nothing does me any good but a cup of strong

"The money I have just given you will buy a quarter of a pound of
the best."

"I guess that isn't mine. The fowl belonged to my neighbour. She's
sick; and I promised to sell it for her to buy some physic. Money!"
she added, in a coaxing tone, "Where should I get money? Lord bless
you! people in this country have no money; and those who come out
with piles of it, soon lose it. But Emily S--- told me that you are
tarnation rich, and draw your money from the old country. So I guess
you can well afford to lend a neighbour a spoonful of tea."

"Neighbour! Where do you live, and what is your name?"

"My name is Betty Fye--old Betty Fye; I live in the log shanty over
the creek, at the back of your'n. The farm belongs to my eldest son.
I'm a widow with twelve sons; and 'tis --- hard to scratch along."

"Do you swear?"

"Swear! What harm? It eases one's mind when one's vexed. Everybody
swears in this country. My boys all swear like Sam Hill; and I used
to swear mighty big oaths till about a month ago, when the Methody
parson told me that if I did not leave it off I should go to a
tarnation bad place; so I dropped some of the worst of them."

"You would do wisely to drop the rest; women never swear in my

"Well, you don't say! I always heer'd they were very ignorant.
Will you lend me the tea?"

The woman was such an original that I gave her what she wanted.
As she was going off, she took up one of the apples I was peeling.

"I guess you have a fine orchard?"

"They say the best in the district."

"We have no orchard to hum, and I guess you'll want sarce."

"Sarce! What is sarce?"

"Not know what sarce is? You are clever! Sarce is apples cut up and
dried, to make into pies in the winter. Now do you comprehend?"

I nodded.

"Well, I was going to say that I have no apples, and that you have a
tarnation big few of them; and if you'll give me twenty bushels of
your best apples, and find me with half a pound of coarse thread to
string them upon, I will make you a barrel of sarce on shares--that
is, give you one, and keep one for myself."

I had plenty of apples, and I gladly accepted her offer, and Mrs.
Betty Fye departed, elated with the success of her expedition.

I found to my cost, that, once admitted into the house, there was no
keeping her away. She borrowed everything that she could think of,
without once dreaming of restitution. I tried all ways of affronting
her, but without success. Winter came, and she was still at her old
pranks. Whenever I saw her coming down the lane, I used
involuntarily to exclaim, "Betty Fye! Betty Fye! Fye upon Betty Fye!
The Lord deliver me from Betty Fye!" The last time I was honoured
with a visit from this worthy, she meant to favour me with a very
large order upon my goods and chattels.

"Well, Mrs. Fye, what do you want to-day?"

"So many things that I scarce know where to begin. Ah, what a thing
'tis to be poor! First, I want you to lend me ten pounds of flour to
make some Johnnie cakes."

"I thought they were made of Indian meal?"

"Yes, yes, when you've got the meal. I'm out of it, and this is a
new fixing of my own invention. Lend me the flour, woman, and I'll
bring you one of the cakes to taste."

This was said very coaxingly.

"Oh, pray don't trouble yourself. What next?" I was anxious to see
how far her impudence would go, and determined to affront her if

"I want you to lend me a gown, and a pair of stockings. I have to go
to Oswego to see my husband's sister, and I'd like to look decent."

"Mrs. Fye, I never lend my clothes to any one. If I lent them to
you, I should never wear them again."

"So much the better for me," (with a knowing grin). "I guess if you
won't lend me the gown, you will let me have some black slack to
quilt a stuff petticoat, a quarter of a pound of tea and some sugar;
and I will bring them back as soon as I can."

"I wonder when that will be. You owe me so many things that it will
cost you more than you imagine to repay me."

"Sure you're not going to mention what's past, I can't owe you much.
But I will let you off the tea and the sugar, if you will lend me a
five-dollar bill." This was too much for my patience longer to
endure, and I answered sharply--

"Mrs. Fye, it surprises me that such proud people as you Americans
should condescend to the meanness of borrowing from those whom you
affect to despise. Besides, as you never repay us for what you
pretend to borrow, I look upon it as a system of robbery. If
strangers unfortunately settle among you, their good-nature is taxed
to supply your domestic wants, at a ruinous expense, besides the
mortification of finding that they have been deceived and tricked
out of their property. If you would come honestly to me and say,
'I want these things, I am too poor to buy them myself, and would be

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: