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

mountain land, the land of chivalry and song, the heroic North.
Before retiring to rest, Bell, who had an exquisite ear for music,
kept time with foot and hand, while large tears gathered in her
soft blue eyes.

"Ay, 'tis bonnie thae songs; but they mak' me greet, an' my puir
heart is sair, sair when I think on the bonnie braes and the days
o'lang syne."

Poor Bell! Her heart was among the hills, and mine had wandered far,
far away to the green groves and meadows of my own fair land. The
music and our reveries were alike abruptly banished by a sharp blow
upon the door. Bell rose and opened it, when a strange, wild-looking
lad, barefooted, and with no other covering to his head than the
thick, matted locks of raven blackness that hung like a cloud over
his swarthy, sunburnt visage, burst into the room.

"Guidness defend us! Wha ha'e we here?" screamed Bell, retreating
into a corner. "The puir callant's no cannie."

My husband turned hastily round to meet the intruder, and I raised
the candle from the table the better to distinguish his face; while
Bell, from her hiding-place, regarded him with unequivocal glances
of fear and mistrust, waving her hands to me, and pointing
significantly to the open door, as if silently beseeching me to tell
her master to turn him out.

"Shut the door, man," said Moodie, whose long scrutiny of the
strange being before us seemed upon the whole satisfactory;
"we shall be frozen."

"Thin faith, sir, that's what I am," said the lad, in a rich brogue,
which told, without asking, the country to which he belonged. Then
stretching his bare hands to the fire, he continued, "By Jove, sir,
I was never so near gone in my life!"

"Where do you come from, and what is your business here? You must be
aware that this is a very late hour to take a house by storm in this

"Thrue for you, sir. But necessity knows no law; and the condition
you see me in must plade for me. First, thin, sir, I come from the
township of D---, and want a masther; and next to that, bedad! I
want something to ate. As I'm alive, and 'tis a thousand pities that
I'm alive at all at all, for shure God Almighty never made sich a
misfortunate crather afore nor since; I have had nothing to put in
my head since I ran away from my ould masther, Mr. F---, yesterday
at noon. Money I have none, sir; the divil a cent. I have neither a
shoe to my foot nor a hat to my head, and if you refuse to shelter
me the night, I must be contint to perish in the snow, for I have
not a frind in the wide wurld."

The lad covered his face with his hands, and sobbed aloud.

"Bell," I whispered; "go to the cupboard and get the poor fellow
something to eat. The boy is starving."

"Dinna heed him, mistress, dinna credit his lees. He is ane o' those
wicked Papists wha ha' just stepped in to rob and murder us."

"Nonsense! Do as I bid you."

"I winna be fashed aboot him. An' if he bides here, I'll e'en flit
by the first blink o' the morn."

"Isabel, for shame! Is this acting like a Christian, or doing as you
would be done by?"

Bell was as obstinate as a rock, not only refusing to put down any
food for the famished lad, but reiterating her threat of leaving the
house if he were suffered to remain. My husband, no longer able to
endure her selfish and absurd conduct, got angry in good earnest,
and told her that she might please herself; that he did not mean to
ask her leave as to whom he received into his house. I, for my part,
had no idea that she would realise her threat. She was an excellent
servant, clean, honest, and industrious, and loved the dear baby.

"You will think better of it in the morning," said I, as I rose and
placed before the lad some cold beef and bread, and a bowl of milk,
to which the runaway did ample justice.

"Why did you quit your master, my lad?" said Moodie.

"Because I could live wid him no longer. You see, sir, I'm a poor
foundling from the Belfast Asylum, shoved out by the mother that
bore me, upon the wide wurld, long before I knew that I was in it.
As I was too young to spake for myself intirely, she put me into a
basket, wid a label round my neck, to tell the folks that my name
was John Monaghan. This was all I ever got from my parents; and who
or what they were, I never knew, not I, for they never claimed me;
bad cess to them! But I've no doubt it's a fine illigant gintleman
he was, and herself a handsome rich young lady, who dared not own me
for fear of affronting the rich jintry, her father and mother. Poor
folk, sir, are never ashamed of their children; 'tis all the
threasure they have, sir; but my parents were ashamed of me, and
they thrust me out to the stranger and the hard bread of
depindence." The poor lad signed deeply, and I began to feel a
growing interest in his sad history.

"Have you been in the country long?"

"Four years, madam. You know my masther, Mr. F---; he brought me out
wid him as his apprentice, and during the voyage he trated me well.
But the young men, his sons, are tyrants, and full of durty pride;
and I could not agree wid them at all at all. Yesterday, I forgot to
take the oxen out of the yoke, and Musther William tied me up to a
stump, and bate me with the raw hide. Shure the marks are on me
showlthers yet. I left the oxen and the yoke, and turned my back
upon them all, for the hot blood was bilin' widin me; and I felt
that if I stayed it would be him that would get the worst of it. No
one had ever cared for me since I was born, so I thought it was high
time to take care of myself. I had heard your name, sir, and I
thought I would find you out; and if you want a lad, I will work for
you for my kape, and a few dacent clothes."

A bargain was soon made. Moodie agreed to give Monaghan six dollars
a month, which he thankfully accepted; and I told Bell to prepare
his bed in a corner of the kitchen. But mistress Bell thought fit
to rebel. Having been guilty of one act of insubordination, she
determined to be consistent, and throw off the yoke altogether.
She declared that she would do no such thing; that her life and that
all our lives were in danger; and that she would never stay another
night under the same roof with that Papist vagabond.

"Papist!" cried the indignant lad, his dark eyes flashing fire, "I'm
no Papist, but a Protestant like yourself; and I hope a deuced dale
better Christian. You take me for a thief; yet shure a thief would
have waited till you were all in bed and asleep, and not stepped in
forenint you all in this fashion."

There was both truth and nature in the lad's argument; but Bell,
like an obstinate woman as she was, chose to adhere to her own
opinion. Nay, she even carried her absurd prejudices so far that
she brought her mattress and laid it down on the floor in my room,
for fear that the Irish vagabond should murder her during the night.
By the break of day she was off; leaving me for the rest of the
winter without a servant. Monaghan did all in his power to supply
her place; he lighted the fires, swept the house, milked the cows,
nursed the baby, and often cooked the dinner for me, and endeavoured
by a thousand little attentions to show the gratitude he really felt
for our kindness. To little Katie he attached himself in an
extraordinary manner. All his spare time he spent in making little
sleighs and toys for her, or in dragging her in the said sleighs up
and down the steep hills in front of the house, wrapped up in a
blanket. Of a night, he cooked her mess of bread and milk, as she
sat by the fire, and his greatest delight was to feed her himself.
After this operation was over, he would carry her round the floor on
his back, and sing her songs in native Irish. Katie always greeted
his return from the woods with a scream of joy, holding up her fair
arms to clasp the neck of her dark favourite.

"Now the Lord love you for a darlint!" he would cry, as he caught
her to his heart. "Shure you are the only one of the crathers he
ever made who can love poor John Monaghan. Brothers and sisters I
have none--I stand alone in the wurld, and your bonny wee face is
the sweetest thing it contains for me. Och, jewil! I could lay down
my life for you, and be proud to do that same."

Though careless and reckless about everything that concerned
himself, John was honest and true. He loved us for the compassion we
had shown him; and he would have resented any injury offered to our
persons with his best blood.

But if we were pleased with our new servant, Uncle Joe and his
family were not, and they commenced a series of petty persecutions
that annoyed him greatly, and kindled into a flame all the fiery
particles of his irritable nature.

Moodie had purchased several tons of hay of a neighbouring farmer,
for the use of his cattle, and it had to be stowed into the same
barn with some flax and straw that belonged to Uncle Joe. Going
early one morning to fodder the cattle, John found Uncle Joe feeding
his cows with his master's hay, and as it had diminished greatly in
a very short time, he accused him in no measured terms of being the
thief. The other very coolly replied that he had taken a little of
the hay in order to repay himself for his flax, that Monaghan had
stolen for the oxen. "Now by the powers!" quoth John, kindling into
wrath, "that is adding a big lie to a dirthy petty larceny. I take
your flax, you ould villain! Shure I know that flax is grown to make
linen wid, not to feed oxen. God Almighty has given the crathers a
good warm coat of their own; they neither require shifts nor

"I saw you take it, you ragged Irish vagabond, with my own eyes."

"Thin yer two eyes showed you a wicked illusion. You had betther
shut up yer head, or I'll give you that for an eye-salve that shall
make you see thrue for the time to come."

Relying upon his great size, and thinking that the slight stripling,
who, by-the-bye, was all bones and sinews, was no match for him,
Uncle Joe struck Monaghan over the head with the pitchfork. In a
moment the active lad was upon him like a wild cat, and in spite of
the difference of his age and weight, gave the big man such a
thorough dressing that he was fain to roar aloud for mercy.

"Own that you are a thief and a liar, or I'll murther you!"

"I'll own to anything whilst your knee is pressing me into a
pancake. Come now--there's a good lad--let me get up." Monaghan felt
irresolute, but after extorting from Uncle Joe a promise never to
purloin any of the hay again, he let him rise.

"For shure," he said, "he began to turn so black in the face,
I thought he'd burst intirely."

The fat man neither forgot nor forgave this injury; and though he
dared not attack John personally, he set the children to insult and
affront him upon all occasions. The boy was without socks, and I
sent him to old Mrs. R---, to inquire of her what she would charge
for knitting him two pairs of socks. The reply was, a dollar. This
was agreed to, and dear enough they were; but the weather was very
cold, and the lad was barefooted, and there was no other alternative
than either to accept her offer, or for him to go without.

In a few days, Monaghan brought them home; but I found upon
inspecting them that they were old socks new-footed. This was rather
too glaring a cheat, and I sent the lad back with them, and told him
to inform Mrs. R--- that as he had agreed to give the price for new
socks, he expected them to be new altogether.

The avaricious old woman did not deny the fact, but she fell to
cursing and swearing in an awful manner, and wished so much evil to
the lad, that, with the superstitious fear so common to the natives
of his country, he left her under the impression that she was gifted
with the evil eye, and was an "owld witch." He never went out of the
yard with the waggon and horses, but she rushed to the door, and
cursed him for a bare-heeled Irish blackguard, and wished that he
might overturn the waggon, kill the horses, and break his own
worthless neck.

"Ma'am," said John to me one day, after returning from C--- with the
team, "it would be betther for me to lave the masther intirely; for
shure if I do not, some mischief will befall me or the crathers.
That wicked owld wretch! I cannot thole her curses. Shure it's in
purgatory I am all the while."

"Nonsense, Monaghan! you are not a Catholic, and need not fear
purgatory. The next time the old woman commences her reprobate
conduct, tell her to hold her tongue, and mind her own business,
for curses, like chickens come home to roost."

The boy laughed heartily at the old Turkish proverb, but did not
reckon much on its efficacy to still the clamorous tongue of the
ill-natured old jade. The next day he had to pass her door with the
horses. No sooner did she hear the sound of the wheels, than out she
hobbled, and commenced her usual anathemas.

"Bad luck to yer croaking, yer ill-conditioned owld raven. It is not
me you are desthroying shure, but yer own poor miserable sinful
sowl. The owld one has the grief of ye already, for 'curses, like
chickens, come home to roost'; so get in wid ye, and hatch them to
yerself in the chimley corner. They'll all be roosting wid ye
by-and-by; and a nice warm nest they'll make for you, considering
the brave brood that belongs to you."

Whether the old woman was as superstitious as John, I know not; or
whether she was impressed with the moral truth of the proverb--for,
as I have before stated, she was no fool--is difficult to tell; but
she shrunk back into her den, and never attacked the lad again.

Poor John bore no malice in his heart, not he; for, in spite of
all the ill-natured things he had to endure from Uncle Joe and his
family, he never attempted to return evil for evil. In proof of
this, he was one day chopping firewood in the bush, at some distance
from Joe, who was engaged in the same employment with another man.
A tree in falling caught upon another, which, although a very large
maple, was hollow and very much decayed, and liable to be blown down
by the least shock of the wind. The tree hung directly over the path
that Uncle Joe was obliged to traverse daily with his team. He
looked up, and perceived, from the situation it occupied, that it
was necessary for his own safety to cut it down; but he lacked
courage to undertake so hazardous a job, which might be attended,
if the supporting tree gave way during the operation, with very
serious consequences. In a careless tone, he called to his companion
to cut down the tree.

"Do it yourself, H---," said the axe man, with a grin. "My wife and
children want their man as much as your Hannah wants you."

"I'll not put axe to it," quoth Joe. Then, making signs to his
comrade to hold his tongue, he shouted to Monaghan, "Hollo, boy!
you're wanted here to cut down this tree. Don't you see that your
master's cattle might be killed if they should happen to pass under
it, and it should fall upon them."

"Thrue for you, Masther Joe; but your own cattle would have the
first chance. Why should I risk my life and limbs, by cutting down
the tree, when it was yerself that threw it so awkwardly over the

"Oh, but you are a boy, and have no wife and children to depend upon

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: