List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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a melancholy knowledge of the arts of life.

For a week I was alone, my good Scotch girl having left me to visit
her father. Some small baby-articles were needed to be washed, and
after making a great preparation, I determined to try my unskilled
hand upon the operation. The fact is, I knew nothing about the task
I had imposed upon myself, and in a few minutes rubbed the skin off
my wrists, without getting the clothes clean.

The door was open, as it generally was, even during the coldest
winter days, in order to let in more light, and let out the smoke,
which otherwise would have enveloped us like a cloud. I was so busy
that I did not perceive that I was watched by the cold, heavy, dark
eyes of Mrs. Joe, who, with a sneering laugh, exclaimed--

"Well, thank God! I am glad to see you brought to work at last.
I hope you may have to work as hard as I have. I don't see, not I,
why you, who are no better than me, should sit still all day, like
a lady!"

"Mrs. R---," said I, not a little annoyed at her presence, "what
concern is it of yours whether I work or sit still? I never
interfere with you. If you took it into your head to lie in bed
all day, I should never trouble myself about it."

"Ah, I guess you don't look upon us as fellow-critters, you are so
proud and grand. I s'pose you Britishers are not made of flesh and
blood like us. You don't choose to sit down at meat with your helps.
Now, I calculate, we think them a great deal better nor you."

"Of course," said I, "they are more suited to you than we are; they
are uneducated, and so are you. This is no fault in either; but it
might teach you to pay a little more respect to those who are
possessed of superior advantages. But, Mrs. R---, my helps, as you
call them, are civil and obliging, and never make unprovoked and
malicious speeches. If they could so far forget themselves, I should
order them to leave the house."

"Oh, I see what you are up to," replied the insolent dame; "you mean
to say that if I were your help you would turn me out of your house;
but I'm a free-born American, and I won't go at your bidding. Don't
think I came here out of regard to you. No, I hate you all; and I
rejoice to see you at the wash-tub, and I wish that you may be
brought down upon your knees to scrub the floors."

This speech only caused a smile, and yet I felt hurt and astonished
that a woman whom I had never done anything to offend should be so
gratuitously spiteful.

In the evening she sent two of her brood over to borrow my "long
iron," as she called an Italian iron. I was just getting my baby to
sleep, sitting upon a low stool by the fire. I pointed to the iron
upon the shelf, and told the girl to take it. She did so, but stood
beside me, holding it carelessly in her hand, and staring at the
baby, who had just sunk to sleep upon my lap.

The next moment the heavy iron fell from her relaxed grasp, giving
me a severe blow upon my knee and foot; and glanced so near the
child's head that it drew from me a cry of terror.

"I guess that was nigh braining the child," quoth Miss Amanda, with
the greatest coolness, and without making the least apology. Master
Ammon burst into a loud laugh. "If it had, Mandy, I guess we'd have
cotched it." Provoked at their insolence, I told them to leave the
house. The tears were in my eyes, for I felt that had they injured
the child, it would not have caused them the least regret.

The next day, as we were standing at the door, my husband was
greatly amused by seeing fat Uncle Joe chasing the rebellious Ammon
over the meadow in front of the house. Joe was out of breath,
panting and puffing like a small steam-engine, and his face flushed
to deep red with excitement and passion. "You --- young scoundrel!"
he cried, half choked with fury, "If I catch up to you, I'll take
the skin off you!"

"You --- old scoundrel, you may have my skin if you can get at me,"
retorted the precocious child, as he jumped up upon the top of the
high fence, and doubled his fist in a menacing manner at his father.

"That boy is growing too bad," said Uncle Joe, coming up to us out
of breath, the perspiration streaming down his face. "It is time to
break him in, or he'll get the master of us all."

"You should have begun that before," said Moodie. "He seems a
hopeful pupil."

"Oh, as to that, a little swearing is manly," returned the father;
"I swear myself, I know, and as the old cock crows, so crows the
young one. It is not his swearing that I care a pin for, but he will
not do a thing I tell him to."

"Swearing is a dreadful vice," said I, "and, wicked as it is in the
mouth of a grown-up person, it is perfectly shocking in a child; it
painfully tells he has been brought up without the fear of God."

"Pooh! pooh! that's all cant; there is no harm in a few oaths, and I
cannot drive oxen and horses without swearing. I dare say that you
can swear too when you are riled, but you are too cunning to let us
hear you."

I could not help laughing outright at this supposition, but replied
very quietly, "Those who practice such iniquities never take any
pains to conceal them. The concealment would infer a feeling of
shame; and when people are conscious of the guilt, they are in the
road to improvement." The man walked whistling away, and the wicked
child returned unpunished to his home.

The next minute the old woman came in. "I guess you can give me a
piece of silk for a hood," said she, "the weather is growing
considerable cold."

"Surely it cannot well be colder than it is at present," said I,
giving her the rocking-chair by the fire.

"Wait a while; you know nothing of a Canadian winter. This is only
November; after the Christmas thaw, you'll know something about the
cold. It is seven-and-thirty years ago since I and my man left the
U-ni-ted States. It was called the year of the great winter. I tell
you, woman, that the snow lay so deep on the earth, that it blocked
up all the roads, and we could drive a sleigh whither we pleased,
right over the snake fences. All the cleared land was one wide white
level plain; it was a year of scarcity, and we were half starved;
but the severe cold was far worse nor the want of provisions. A long
and bitter journey we had of it; but I was young then, and pretty
well used to trouble and fatigue; my man stuck to the British
government. More fool he! I was an American born, and my heart was
with the true cause. But his father was English, and, says he, 'I'll
live and die under their flag.' So he dragged me from my comfortable
fireside to seek a home in the far Canadian wilderness. Trouble! I
guess you think you have your troubles; but what are they to mine?"
She paused, took a pinch of snuff, offered me the box, sighed
painfully, pushed the red handkerchief from her high, narrow,
wrinkled brow, and continued: "Joe was a baby then, and I had
another helpless critter in my lap--an adopted child. My sister
had died from it, and I was nursing it at the same breast with
my boy. Well, we had to perform a journey of four hundred miles
in an ox-cart, which carried, besides me and the children, all
our household stuff. Our way lay chiefly through the forest, and
we made but slow progress. Oh! what a bitter cold night it was
when we reached the swampy woods where the city of Rochester now
stands. The oxen were covered with icicles, and their breath sent
up clouds of steam. 'Nathan,' says I to my man, 'you must stop and
kindle a fire; I am dead with cold, and I fear the babes will be
frozen.' We began looking about for a good spot to camp in, when I
spied a light through the trees. It was a lone shanty, occupied by
two French lumberers. The men were kind; they rubbed our frozen
limbs with snow, and shared with us their supper and buffalo skins.
On that very spot where we camped that night, where we heard nothing
but the wind soughing amongst the trees, and the rushing of the
river, now stands the great city of Rochester. I went there two
years ago, to the funeral of a brother. It seemed to me like a
dream. Where we foddered our beasts by the shanty fire now stands
the largest hotel in the city; and my husband left this fine growing
country to starve here."

I was so much interested in the old woman's narrative--for she was
really possessed of no ordinary capacity, and, though rude and
uneducated might have been a very superior person under different
circumstances--that I rummaged among my store, and soon found a
piece of black silk, which I gave her for the hood she required.

The old woman examined it carefully over, smiled to herself, but,
like all her people, was too proud to return a word of thanks. One
gift to the family always involved another.

"Have you any cotton-batting, or black sewing-silk, to give me,
to quilt it with?"


"Humph!" returned the old dame, in a tone which seemed to contradict
my assertion. She then settled herself in her chair, and, after
shaking her foot awhile, and fixing her piercing eyes upon me for
some minutes, she commenced the following list of interrogatories:--

"Is your father alive?"

"No; he died many years ago, when I was a young girl."

"Is your mother alive?"


"What is her name?" I satisfied her on this point.

"Did she ever marry again?"

"She might have done so, but she loved her husband too well,
and preferred living single."

"Humph! We have no such notions here. What was your father?"

"A gentleman, who lived upon his own estate."

"Did he die rich?"

"He lost the greater part of his property from being surety for

"That's a foolish business. My man burnt his fingers with that.
And what brought you out to this poor country--you, who are no
more fit for it than I am to be a fine lady?"

"The promise of a large grant of land, and the false statements we
heard regarding it."

"Do you like the country?"

"No; and I fear I never shall."

"I thought not; for the drop is always on your cheek, the children
tell me; and those young ones have keen eyes. Now, take my advice:
return while your money lasts; the longer you remain in Canada the
less you will like it; and when your money is all spent, you will be
like a bird in a cage; you may beat your wings against the bars, but
you can't get out." There was a long pause. I hoped that my guest
had sufficiently gratified her curiosity, when she again

"How do you get your money? Do you draw it from the old country, or
have you it with you in cash?"

Provoked by her pertinacity, and seeing no end to her
cross-questioning, I replied, very impatiently, "Mrs. R---, is it
the custom in your country to catechise strangers whenever you meet
with them?"

"What do you mean?" she said, colouring, I believe, for the first
time in her life.

"I mean," quoth I, "an evil habit of asking impertinent questions."

The old woman got up, and left the house without speaking another


  'Tis merry to hear, at evening time,
  By the blazing hearth the sleigh-bells chime;
  To know the bounding steeds bring near
  The loved one to our bosom dear.
  Ah, lightly we spring the fire to raise,
  Till the rafters glow with the ruddy blaze;
  Those merry sleigh-bells, our hearts keep time
  Responsive to their fairy chime.
  Ding-dong, ding-dong, o'er vale and hill,
  Their welcome notes are trembling still.

  'Tis he, and blithely the gay bells sound,
  As glides his sleigh o'er the frozen ground;
  Hark! he has pass'd the dark pine wood,
  He crosses now the ice-bound flood,
  And hails the light at the open door
  That tells his toilsome journey's o'er.
  The merry sleigh-bells! My fond heart swells
  And throbs to hear the welcome bells;
  Ding-dong, ding-dong, o'er ice and snow,
  A voice of gladness, on they go.

  Our hut is small, and rude our cheer,
  But love has spread the banquet here;
  And childhood springs to be caress'd
  By our beloved and welcome guest.
  With a smiling brow, his tale he tells,
  The urchins ring the merry sleigh-bells;
  The merry sleigh-bells, with shout and song
  They drag the noisy string along;
  Ding-dong, ding-dong, the father's come
  The gay bells ring his welcome home.

  From the cedar-swamp the gaunt wolves howl,
  From the oak loud whoops the felon owl;
  The snow-storm sweeps in thunder past,
  The forest creaks beneath the blast;
  No more I list, with boding fear,
  The sleigh-bells' distant chime to hear.
  The merry sleigh-bells, with soothing power
  Shed gladness on the evening hour.
  Ding-dong, ding-dong, what rapture swells
  The music of those joyous bells.

[Many versions have been given of this song, and it has been
set to music in the States. I here give the original copy,
written whilst leaning on the open door of my shanty, and
watching for the return of my husband.]



  "Dear mother Nature! on thy ample breast
  Hast thou not room for thy neglected son?
  A stern necessity has driven him forth
  Alone and friendless. He has naught but thee,
  And the strong hand and stronger heart thou gavest,
  To win with patient toil his daily bread."

A few days after the old woman's visit to the cottage, our servant
James absented himself for a week, without asking leave, or giving
any intimation of his intention. He had under his care a fine pair
of horses, a yoke of oxen, three cows, and a numerous family of
pigs, besides having to chop all the firewood required for our use.
His unexpected departure caused no small trouble in the family; and
when the truant at last made his appearance, Moodie discharged him

The winter had now fairly set in--the iron winter of 1833. The snow
was unusually deep, and it being our first winter in Canada, and
passed in such a miserable dwelling, we felt it very severely.
In spite of all my boasted fortitude--and I think my powers of
endurance have been tried to the uttermost since my sojourn in this
country--the rigour of the climate subdued my proud, independent
English spirit, and I actually shamed my womanhood and cried with
the cold. Yes, I ought to blush at evincing such unpardonable
weakness; but I was foolish and inexperienced, and unaccustomed
to the yoke.

My husband did not much relish performing the menial duties of a
servant in such weather, but he did not complain, and in the
meantime commenced an active inquiry for a man to supply the place
of the one we had lost; but at that season of the year no one was
to be had.

It was a bitter, freezing night. A sharp wind howled without, and
drove the fine snow through the chinks in the door, almost to the
hearth-stone, on which two immense blocks of maple shed forth a
cheering glow, brightening the narrow window-panes, and making the
blackened rafters ruddy with the heart-invigorating blaze.

The toils of the day were over, the supper things cleared away,
and the door closed for the night. Moodie had taken up his flute,
the sweet companion of happier days, at the earnest request of
our homesick Scotch servant-girl, to cheer her drooping spirits
by playing some of the touching national airs of the glorious

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