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

starve before I could touch these leaden cakes."

The tea-things were removed. Tom took up his flute, and commenced a
series of the wildest voluntary airs that ever were breathed forth
by human lungs. Mad jigs, to which the gravest of mankind might have
cut eccentric capers. We were all convulsed with laughter. In the
midst of one of these droll movements, Tom suddenly hopped like a
kangaroo (which feat he performed by raising himself upon tip-toes,
then flinging himself forward with a stooping jerk), towards the
hearth, and squinting down into the coffee-pot in the most quizzical
manner, exclaimed, "Miserable chaff! If that does not make you rise
nothing will."

I left the bran all night by the fire. Early in the morning I had
the satisfaction of finding that it had risen high above the rim of
the pot, and was surrounded by a fine crown of bubbles.

"Better late than never," thought I, as I emptied the emptyings into
my flour. "Tom is not up yet. I will make him so happy with a loaf
of new bread, nice home-baked bread, for his breakfast." It was my
first Canadian loaf. I felt quite proud of it, as I placed it in the
odd machine in which it was to be baked. I did not understand the
method of baking in these ovens; or that my bread should have
remained in the kettle for half an hour, until it had risen the
second time, before I applied the fire to it, in order that the
bread should be light. It not only required experience to know when
it was in a fit state for baking, but the oven should have been
brought to a proper temperature to receive the bread. Ignorant of
all this, I put my unrisen bread into a cold kettle, and heaped a
large quantity of hot ashes above and below it. The first intimation
I had of the result of my experiment was the disagreeable odour of
burning bread filling the house.

"What is this horrid smell?" cried Tom, issuing from his domicile,
in his shirt sleeves. "Do open the door, Bell (to the maid); I feel
quite sick."

"It is the bread," said I, taking the lid of the oven with the
tongs. "Dear me, it is all burnt!"

"And smells as sour as vinegar," says he. "The black bread of

Alas! for my maiden loaf! With a rueful face I placed it on the
breakfast table. "I hoped to have given you a treat, but I fear you
will find it worse than the cakes in the pan."

"You may be sure of that," said Tom, as he stuck his knife into the
loaf, and drew it forth covered with raw dough. "Oh, Mrs. Moodie!
I hope you make better books than bread."

We were all sadly disappointed. The others submitted to my failure
good-naturedly, and made it the subject of many droll, but not
unkindly, witicisms. For myself, I could have borne the severest
infliction from the pen of the most formidable critic with more
fortitude than I bore the cutting up of my first loaf of bread.

After breakfast, Moodie and Wilson rode into the town; and when they
returned at night brought several long letters for me. Ah! those
first kind letters from home! Never shall I forget the rapture with
which I grasped them--the eager, trembling haste with which I tore
them open, while the blinding tears which filled my eyes hindered me
for some minutes from reading a word which they contained. Sixteen
years have slowly passed away--it appears half a century--but never,
never can home letters give me the intense joy those letters did.
After seven years' exile, the hope of return grows feeble, the means
are still less in our power, and our friends give up all hope of our
return; their letters grow fewer and colder, their expressions of
attachment are less vivid; the heart has formed new ties, and the
poor emigrant is nearly forgotten. Double those years, and it is as
if the grave had closed over you, and the hearts that once knew and
loved you know you no more.

Tom, too, had a large packet of letters, which he read with great
glee. After re-perusing them, he declared his intention of setting
off on his return home the next day. We tried to persuade him to
stay until the following spring, and make a fair trial of the
country. Arguments were thrown away upon him; the next morning our
eccentric friend was ready to start.

"Good-bye!" quoth he, shaking me by the hand as if he meant to sever
it from the wrist. "When next we meet it will be in New South Wales,
and I hope by that time you will know how to make better bread." And
thus ended Tom Wilson's emigration to Canada. He brought out three
hundred pounds, British currency; he remained in the country just
four months, and returned to England with barely enough to pay his
passage home.


  Son of the isles! rave not to me
  Of the old world's pride and luxury;
  Why did you cross the western deep,
  Thus like a love-lorn maid to weep
  O'er comforts gone and pleasures fled,
  'Mid forests wild to earn your bread?

  Did you expect that Art would vie
  With Nature here, to please the eye;
  That stately tower, and fancy cot,
  Would grace each rude concession lot;
  That, independent of your hearth,
  Men would admit your claims to birth?

  No tyrant's fetter binds the soul,
  The mind of man's above control;
  Necessity, that makes the slave,
  Has taught the free a course more brave;
  With bold, determined heart to dare
  The ills that all are born to share.

  Believe me, youth, the truly great
  Stoop not to mourn o'er fallen state;
  They make their wants and wishes less,
  And rise superior to distress;
  The glebe they break--the sheaf they bind--
  But elevates a noble mind.

  Contented in my rugged cot,
  Your lordly towers I envy not;
  Though rude our clime and coarse our cheer,
  True independence greets you here;
  Amid these forests, dark and wild,
  Dwells honest labour's hardy child.

  His happy lot I gladly share,
  And breathe a purer, freer air;
  No more by wealthy upstart spurn'd,
  The bread is sweet by labour earn'd;
  Indulgent heaven has bless'd the soil,
  And plenty crowns the woodman's toil.

  Beneath his axe, the forest yields
  Its thorny maze to fertile fields;
  This goodly breadth of well-till'd land,
  Well-purchased by his own right hand,
  With conscience clear, he can bequeath
  His children, when he sleeps in death.



  "Ay, your rogue is a laughing rogue, and not a whit the less
  dangerous for the smile on his lip, which comes not from an
  honest heart, which reflects the light of the soul through
  the eye. All is hollow and dark within; and the contortion
  of the lip, like the phosophoric glow upon decayed timber,
  only serves to point out the rotteness within."

Uncle Joe! I see him now before me, with his jolly red face,
twinkling black eyes, and rubicund nose. No thin, weasel-faced
Yankee was he, looking as if he had lived upon 'cute ideas and
speculations all his life; yet Yankee he was by birth, ay, and in
mind, too; for a more knowing fellow at a bargain never crossed the
lakes to abuse British institutions and locate himself comfortably
among despised Britishers. But, then, he had such a good-natured,
fat face, such a mischievous, mirth-loving smile, and such a merry,
roguish expression in those small, jet-black, glittering eyes, that
you suffered yourself to be taken in by him, without offering the
least resistance to his impositions.

Uncle Joe's father had been a New England loyalist, and his doubtful
attachment to the British government had been repaid by a grant of
land in the township of H---. He was the first settler in that
township, and chose his location in a remote spot, for the sake of a
beautiful natural spring, which bubbled up in a small stone basin in
the green bank at the back of the house.

"Father might have had the pick of the township," quoth Uncle Joe;
"but the old coon preferred that sup of good water to the site of a
town. Well, I guess it's seldom I trouble the spring; and whenever I
step that way to water the horses, I think what a tarnation fool the
old one was, to throw away such a chance of making his fortune, for
such cold lap."

"Your father was a temperance man?"

"Temperance!--He had been fond enough of the whiskey bottle in his
day. He drank up a good farm in the United States, and then he
thought he could not do better than turn loyal, and get one here for
nothing. He did not care a cent, not he, for the King of England.
He thought himself as good, any how. But he found that he would have
to work hard here to scratch along, and he was mightily plagued with
the rheumatics, and some old woman told him that good spring water
was the best cure for that; so he chose this poor, light, stony land
on account of the spring, and took to hard work and drinking cold
water in his old age."

"How did the change agree with him?"

"I guess better than could have been expected. He planted that fine
orchard, and cleared his hundred acres, and we got along slick
enough as long as the old fellow lived."

"And what happened after his death, that obliged you to part with
your land?"

"Bad times--bad crops," said Uncle Joe, lifting his shoulders.
"I had not my father's way of scraping money together. I made some
deuced clever speculations, but they all failed. I married young,
and got a large family; and the women critters ran up heavy bills at
the stores, and the crops did not yield enough to pay them; and from
bad we got to worse, and Mr. C--- put in an execution, and seized
upon the whole concern. He sold it to your man for double what it
cost him; and you got all that my father toiled for during the last
twenty years of his life for less than half the cash he laid out
upon clearing it."

"And had the whiskey nothing to do with this change?" said I,
looking him in the face suspiciously.

"Not a bit! When a man gets into difficulties, it is the only thing
to keep him from sinking outright. When your husband has had as many
troubles as I have had, he will know how to value the whiskey

This conversation was interrupted by a queer-looking urchin of five
years old, dressed in a long-tailed coat and trousers, popping his
black shock head in at the door, and calling out,

"Uncle Joe!--You're wanted to hum."

"Is that your nephew?"

"No! I guess 'tis my woman's eldest son," said Uncle Joe, rising,
"but they call me Uncle Joe. 'Tis a spry chap that--as cunning as
a fox. I tell you what it is--he will make a smart man. Go home,
Ammon, and tell your ma that I am coming."

"I won't," said the boy; "you may go hum and tell her yourself.
She has wanted wood cut this hour, and you'll catch it!"

Away ran the dutiful son, but not before he had applied his
forefinger significantly to the side of his nose, and, with a
knowing wink, pointed in the direction of home.

Uncle Joe obeyed the signal, drily remarking that he could not leave
the barn door without the old hen clucking him back.

At this period we were still living in Old Satan's log house, and
anxiously looking out for the first snow to put us in possession of
the good substantial log dwelling occupied by Uncle Joe and his
family, which consisted of a brown brood of seven girls, and the
highly-prized boy who rejoiced in the extraordinary name of Ammon.

Strange names are to be found in this free country. What think you,
gentle reader, of Solomon Sly, Reynard Fox, and Hiram Dolittle and
Prudence Fidget; all veritable names, and belonging to substantial
yeomen? After Ammon and Ichabod, I should not be at all surprised
to meet with Judas Iscariot, Pilate, and Herod. And then the female
appellations! But the subject is a delicate one and I will forbear
to touch upon it. I have enjoyed many a hearty laugh over the
strange affectations which people designate here very handsome
names. I prefer the old homely Jewish names, such as that which it
pleased my godfather and godmothers to bestow upon me, to one of
those high-sounding christianities, the Minervas, Cinderellas, and
Almerias of Canada. The love of singular names is here carried to a
marvellous extent. It is only yesterday that, in passing through one
busy village, I stopped in astonishment before a tombstone headed
thus: "Sacred to the memory of Silence Sharman, the beloved wife of
Asa Sharman." Was the woman deaf and dumb, or did her friends hope
by bestowing upon her such an impossible name to still the voice of
Nature, and check, by an admonitory appellative, the active spirit
that lives in the tongue of woman? Truly, Asa Sharman, if thy wife
was silent by name as well as by nature, thou wert a fortunate man!

But to return to Uncle Joe. He made many fair promises of leaving
the residence we had bought, the moment he had sold his crops and
could remove his family. We could see no interest which could be
served by his deceiving us, and therefore we believed him, striving
to make ourselves as comfortable as we could in the meantime in our
present wretched abode. But matters are never so bad but that they
may be worse. One day when we were at dinner, a waggon drove up to
the door, and Mr. --- alighted, accompanied by a fine-looking,
middle-aged man, who proved to be Captain S---, who had just arrived
from Demarara with his wife and family. Mr. ---, who had purchased
the farm of Old Satan, had brought Captain S--- over to inspect the
land, as he wished to buy a farm, and settle in that neighbourhood.
With some difficulty I contrived to accommodate the visitors with
seats, and provide them with a tolerable dinner. Fortunately, Moodie
had brought in a brace of fine fat partridges that morning; these
the servant transferred to a pot of boiling water, in which
she immersed them for the space of a minute--a novel but very
expeditious way of removing the feathers, which then come off
at the least touch. In less than ten minutes they were stuffed,
trussed, and in the bake-kettle; and before the gentlemen returned
from walking over the farm, the dinner was on the table.

To our utter consternation, Captain S--- agreed to purchase, and
asked if we could give him possession in a week!

"Good heavens!" cried I, glancing reproachfully at Mr. ---, who was
discussing his partridge with stoical indifference. "What will
become of us? Where are we to go?"

"Oh, make yourself easy; I will force that old witch, Joe's mother,
to clear out."

"But 'tis impossible to stow ourselves into that pig-sty."

"It will only be for a week or two, at farthest. This is October;
Joe will be sure to be off by the first of sleighing."

"But if she refuses to give up the place?"

"Oh, leave her to me. I'll talk her over," said the knowing land
speculator. "Let it come to the worst," he said, turning to my
husband, "she will go out for the sake of a few dollars. By-the-by,
she refused to bar the dower when I bought the place; we must cajole
her out of that. It is a fine afternoon; suppose we walk over the
hill, and try our luck with the old nigger?"

I felt so anxious about the result of the negotiation, that,
throwing my cloak over my shoulders, and tying on my bonnet without
the assistance of a glass, I took my husband's arm, and we walked

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: