List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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impious complainings.

The rigour of the winter began to abate. The beams of the sun during
the day were warm and penetrating, and a soft wind blew from the
south. I watched, from day to day, the snow disappearing from the
earth, with indescribable pleasure, and at length it wholly
vanished; not even a solitary patch lingered under the shade of the
forest trees; but Uncle Joe gave no sign of removing his family.

"Does he mean to stay all the summer?" thought I. "Perhaps he never
intends going at all. I will ask him, the next time he comes to
borrow whiskey."

In the afternoon he walked in to light his pipe, and, with some
anxiety, I made the inquiry.

"Well, I guess we can't be moving afore the end of May. My missus
expects to be confined the fore part of the month, and I shan't move
till she be quite smart agin."

"You are not using us well, in keeping us out of the house so long."

"Oh, I don't care a curse about any of you. It is my house as long
as I choose to remain in it, and you may put up with it the best way
you can," and, humming a Yankee tune, he departed.

I had borne patiently the odious, cribbed-up place during the
winter, but now the hot weather was coming, it seemed almost
insupportable, as we were obliged to have a fire in the close room,
in order to cook our provisions. I consoled myself as well as I
could by roaming about the fields and woods, and making acquaintance
with every wild flower as it blossomed, and in writing long letters
to home friends, in which I abused one of the finest countries in
the world as the worst that God ever called out of chaos. I can
recall to memory, at this moment, the few lines of a poem which
commenced in this strain; nor am I sorry that the rest of it has
passed into oblivion:--

  Oh! land of waters, how my spirit tires,
    In the dark prison of thy boundless woods;
  No rural charm poetic thought inspires,
    No music murmurs in thy mighty floods;
  Though vast the features that compose thy frame,
  Turn where we will, the landscape's still the same.

  The swampy margin of thy inland seas,
    The eternal forest girdling either shore,
  Its belt of dark pines sighing in the breeze,
    And rugged fields, with rude huts dotted o'er,
  Show cultivation unimproved by art,
  That sheds a barren chillness on the heart.

How many home-sick emigrants, during their first winter in Canada,
will respond to this gloomy picture! Let them wait a few years;
the sun of hope will arise and beautify the landscape, and they
will proclaim the country one of the finest in the world.

The middle of May at length arrived, and, by the number of long,
lean women, with handkerchiefs of all colours tied over their heads,
who passed my door, and swarmed into Mrs. Joe's house, I rightly
concluded that another young one had been added to the tribe; and
shortly after, Uncle Joe himself announced the important fact, by
putting his jolly red face in at the door, and telling me, that
"his missus had got a chopping boy; and he was right glad of it,
for he was tired of so many gals, and that he should move in a
fortnight, if his woman did kindly."

I had been so often disappointed that I paid very little heed to
him, but this time he kept his word.

The LAST day of May, they went, bag and baggage, the poor sick
Phoebe, who still lingered on, and the new-born infant; and right
joyfully I sent a Scotch girl (another Bell, whom I had hired in
lieu of her I had lost), and Monaghan, to clean out the Augean
stable. In a few minutes John returned, panting his indignation.

"The house," he said, "was more filthy than a pig-sty." But that was
not the worst of it, Uncle Joe, before he went, had undermined the
brick chimney, and let all the water into the house. "Oh, but if he
comes here agin," he continued, grinding his teeth and doubling his
fist, "I'll thrash him for it. And thin, ma'am, he has girdled round
all the best graft apple-trees, the murtherin' owld villain, as if
it could spile his digestion our ating them."

"It would require a strong stomach to digest apple-trees, John; but
never mind, it can't be helped, and we may be very thankful that
these people are gone at last."

John and Bell scrubbed at the house all day, and in the evening they
carried over the furniture, and I went to inspect our new dwelling.

It looked beautifully clean and neat. Bell had whitewashed all the
black, smoky walls and boarded ceilings, and scrubbed the dirty
window-frames, and polished the fly-spotted panes of glass, until
they actually admitted a glimpse of the clear air and the blue sky.
Snow-white fringed curtains, and a bed, with furniture to correspond,
a carpeted floor, and a large pot of green boughs on the hearthstone,
gave an air of comfort and cleanliness to a room which, only a few
hours before, had been a loathsome den of filth and impurity.

This change would have been very gratifying, had not a strong,
disagreeable odour almost deprived me of my breath as I entered the
room. It was unlike anything I had ever smelt before, and turned me
so sick and faint that I had to cling to the door-post for support.

"Where does this dreadful smell come from?"

"The guidness knows, ma'am; John and I have searched the house from
the loft to the cellar, but we canna find out the cause of thae

"It must be in the room, Bell; and it is impossible to remain here,
or live in this house, until it is removed."

Glancing my eyes all round the place, I spied what seemed to me a
little cupboard, over the mantel-shelf, and I told John to see if
I was right. The lad mounted upon a chair, and pulled open a small
door, but almost fell to the ground with the dreadful stench which
seemed to rush from the closet.

"What is it, John?" I cried from the open door.

"A skunk! ma'am, a skunk! Shure, I thought the divil had scorched
his tail, and left the grizzled hair behind him. What a strong
perfume it has!" he continued, holding up the beautiful but odious
little creature by the tail.

"By dad! I know all about it now. I saw Ned Layton, only two days
ago, crossing the field with Uncle Joe, with his gun on his
shoulder, and this wee bit baste in his hand. They were both
laughing like sixty. 'Well, if this does not stink the Scotchman
out of the house,' said Joe, 'I'll be contint to be tarred and
feathered;' and thin they both laughed until they stopped to draw

I could hardly help laughing myself; but I begged Monaghan to convey
the horrid creature away, and putting some salt and sulphur into a
tin plate, and setting fire to it, I placed it on the floor in the
middle of the room, and closed all the doors for an hour, which
greatly assisted in purifying the house from the skunkification.
Bell then washed out the closet with strong ley, and in a short time
no vestige remained of the malicious trick that Uncle Joe had played
off upon us.

The next day, we took possession of our new mansion, and no one was
better pleased with the change than little Katie. She was now
fifteen months old, and could just begin to prattle, but she dared
not venture to step alone, although she would stand by a chair all
day, and even climb upon it. She crept from room to room, feeling
and admiring everything, and talking to it in her baby language.
So fond was the dear child of flowers, that her father used to hold
her up to the apple-trees, then rich in their full spring beauty,
that she might kiss the blossoms. She would pat them with her soft
white hands, murmuring like a bee among the branches. To keep her
quiet whilst I was busy, I had only to give her a bunch of wild
flowers. She would sit as still as a lamb, looking first at one
and then another, pressing them to her little breast in a sort of
ecstacy, as if she comprehended the worth of this most beautiful
of God's gifts to man.

She was a sweet, lovely flower herself, and her charming infant
graces reconciled me, more than aught else, to a weary lot. Was she
not purely British? Did not her soft blue eyes, and sunny curls, and
bright rosy cheeks for ever remind me of her Saxon origin, and bring
before me dear forms and faces I could never hope to behold again?

The first night we slept in the new house, a demon of unrest had
taken possession of it in the shape of a countless swarm of mice.
They scampered over our pillows, and jumped upon our faces,
squeaking and cutting a thousand capers over the floor. I never
could realise the true value of Whittington's invaluable cat until
that night. At first we laughed until our sides ached, but in
reality it was no laughing matter. Moodie remembered that we had
left a mouse-trap in the old house; he went and brought it over,
baited it, and set it on the table near the bed. During the night
no less than fourteen of the provoking vermin were captured; and for
several succeeding nights the trap did equal execution. How Uncle
Joe's family could have allowed such a nuisance to exist astonished
me; to sleep with these creatures continually running over us was
impossible; and they were not the only evils in the shape of vermin
we had to contend with. The old logs which composed the walls of the
house were full of bugs and large black ants; and the place, owing
to the number of dogs that always had slept under the beds with the
children, was infested with fleas. It required the utmost care to
rid the place of these noisome and disgusting tenants.

Arriving in the country in the autumn, we had never experienced
any inconvenience from the mosquitoes, but after the first moist,
warm spring days, particularly after the showers, these tormenting
insects annoyed us greatly. The farm, lying in a valley cut up
with little streams in every direction, made us more liable to their
inflictions. The hands, arms, and face of the poor babe were covered
every morning with red inflamed bumps, which often threw out

The banks of the little streams abounded with wild strawberries,
which, although small, were of a delicious flavour. Thither Bell
and I, and the baby, daily repaired to gather the bright red berries
of Nature's own providing. Katie, young as she was, was very expert
at helping herself, and we used to seat her in the middle of a fine
bed, whilst we gathered farther on. Hearing her talking very
lovingly to something in the grass, which she tried to clutch
between her white hands, calling it "Pitty, pitty;" I ran to the
spot, and found that it was a large garter-snake that she was so
affectionately courting to her embrace. Not then aware that this
formidable-looking reptile was perfectly harmless, I snatched the
child up in my arms, and ran with her home; never stopping until
I gained the house, and saw her safely seated in her cradle.

It had been a very late, cold spring, but the trees had fully
expanded into leaf, and the forest world was glorious in its beauty.
Every patch of cleared land presented a vivid green to the eye; the
brook brawled in the gay sunshine, and the warm air was filled with
soft murmurs. Gorgeous butterflies floated about like winged
flowers, and feelings allied to poetry and gladness once more
pervaded my heart. In the evening we wandered through the woodland
paths, beneath the glowing Canadian sunset, and gathered rare
specimens of strange plants and flowers. Every object that met my
eyes was new to me, and produced that peculiar excitement which has
its origin in a thirst for knowledge, and a love of variety.

We had commenced gardening, too, and my vegetables did great credit
to my skill and care; and, when once the warm weather sets in, the
rapid advance of vegetation in Canada is astonishing.

Not understanding much about farming, especially in a climate like
Canada, Moodie was advised by a neighbouring settler to farm his
farm upon shares. This advice seemed very reasonable; and had it
been given disinterestedly, and had the persons recommended (a man
and his wife) been worthy or honest people, we might have done very
well. But the farmer had found out their encroaching ways, was
anxious to get rid of them himself, and saw no better way of doing
so than by palming them upon us.

From our engagement with these people commenced that long series
of losses and troubles to which their conduct formed the prelude.
They were to live in the little shanty that we had just left, and
work the farm. Moodie was to find them the land, the use of his
implements and cattle, and all the seed for the crops; and to share
with them the returns. Besides this, they unfortunately were allowed
to keep their own cows, pigs, and poultry. The produce of the
orchard, with which they had nothing to do, was reserved for our own

For the first few weeks, they were civil and obliging enough; and
had the man been left to himself, I believe we should have done
pretty well; but the wife was a coarse-minded, bold woman, who
instigated him to every mischief. They took advantage of us in every
way they could, and were constantly committing petty depredations.

From our own experience of this mode of farming, I would strenuously
advise all new settlers never to embrace any such offer, without
they are well acquainted with the parties, and can thoroughly rely
upon their honesty; or else, like Mrs. O---, they may impudently
tell you that they can cheat you as they please, and defy you to
help yourself. All the money we expended upon the farm was entirely
for these people's benefit, for by their joint contrivances very
little of the crops fell to our share; and when any division was
made, it was always when Moodie was absent from home; and there was
no person present to see fair play. They sold what apples and
potatoes they pleased, and fed their hogs ad libitum. But even their
roguery was more tolerable than the irksome restraint which their
near vicinity, and constantly having to come in contact with them,
imposed. We had no longer any privacy, our servants were
cross-questioned, and our family affairs canvassed by these
gossiping people, who spread about a thousand falsehoods regarding
us. I was so much disgusted with this shareship, that I would gladly
have given them all the proceeds of the farm to get rid of them, but
the bargain was for twelve months, and bad as it was, we could not
break our engagement.

One little trick of this woman's will serve to illustrate her
general conduct. A neighbouring farmer's wife had presented me with
some very pretty hens, who followed to the call of old Betty Fye's
handsome game-cock. I was always fond of fowls, and the innocent
Katie delighted in her chicks, and would call them round her to the
sill of the door to feed from her hand. Mrs. O--- had the same
number as I had, and I often admired them when marshalled forth by
her splendid black rooster. One morning I saw her eldest son chop
off the head of the fine bird; and I asked his mother why she had
allowed him to kill the beautiful creature. She laughed, and merely
replied that she wanted it for the pot. The next day my sultan
walked over to the widowed hens, and took all his seraglio with him.
From that hour I never gathered a single egg; the hens deposited all

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