List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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One of these gentlemen--a little, shrivelled-up Frenchman--from
his solemn aspect and attenuated figure, would have made no bad
representative of him who sat upon the pale horse. He was the only
grave Frenchman I had ever seen, and I naturally enough regarded
him as a phenomenon. His companion--a fine-looking fair-haired
Scotchman--though a little consequential in his manners, looked
like one who in his own person could combat and vanquish all the
evils which flesh is heir to. Such was the contrast between these
doctors, that they would have formed very good emblems, one, of
vigorous health, the other, of hopeless decay.

Our captain, a rude, blunt north-country sailor, possessing
certainly not more politeness than might be expected in a bear,
received his sprucely dressed visitors on the deck, and, with very
little courtesy, abruptly bade them follow him down into the cabin.

The officials were no sooner seated, than glancing hastily round
the place, they commenced the following dialogue:--

"From what port, captain?"

Now, the captain had a peculiar language of his own, from which he
commonly expunged all the connecting links. Small words, such as
"and" and "the," he contrived to dispense with altogether.

"Scotland--sailed from port o' Leith, bound for Quebec, Montreal--
general cargo--seventy-two steerage, four cabin passengers--brig
Anne, one hundred and ninety-two tons burden, crew eight hands."

Here he produced his credentials, and handed them to the strangers.
The Scotchman just glanced over the documents, and laid them on the

"Had you a good passage out?"

"Tedious, baffling winds, heavy fogs, detained three weeks on
Banks--foul weather making Gulf--short of water, people out of
provisions, steerage passengers starving."

"Any case of sickness or death on board?"

"All sound as crickets."

"Any births?" lisped the little Frenchman.

The captain screwed up his mouth, and after a moment's reflection
he replied, "Births? Why, yes; now I think on't, gentlemen, we had
one female on board, who produced three at a birth."

"That's uncommon," said the Scotch doctor, with an air of lively
curiosity. "Are the children alive and well? I should like much to
see them." He started up, and knocked his head--for he was very
tall--against the ceiling. "Confound your low cribs! I have nearly
dashed out my brains."

"A hard task, that," looked the captain to me. He did not speak,
but I knew by his sarcastic grin what was uppermost in his
thoughts. "The young ones all males--fine thriving fellows. Step
upon deck, Sam Frazer," turning to his steward; "bring them down
for doctors to see." Sam vanished, with a knowing wink to his
superior, and quickly returned, bearing in his arms three fat,
chuckle-headed bull-terriers, the sagacious mother following
close at his heels, and looked ready to give and take offence on
the slightest provocation.

"Here, gentlemen, are the babies," said Frazer, depositing his
burden on the floor. "They do credit to the nursing of the brindled

The old tar laughed, chuckled, and rubbed his hands in an ecstacy
of delight at the indignation and disappointment visible in the
countenance of the Scotch Esculapius, who, angry as he was, wisely
held his tongue. Not so the Frenchman; his rage scarcely knew
bounds--he danced in a state of most ludicrous excitement, he
shook his fist at our rough captain, and screamed at the top of his

"Sacre, you bete! You tink us dog, ven you try to pass your puppies
on us for babies?"

"Hout, man, don't be angry," said the Scotchman, stifling a laugh;
"you see 'tis only a joke!"

"Joke! me no understand such joke. Bete!" returned the angry
Frenchman, bestowing a savage kick on one of the unoffending pups
which was frisking about his feet. The pup yelped; the slut barked
and leaped furiously at the offender, and was only kept from biting
him by Sam, who could scarcely hold her back for laughing; the
captain was uproarious; the offended Frenchman alone maintained
a severe and dignified aspect. The dogs were at length dismissed,
and peace restored.

After some further questioning from the officials, a Bible was
required for the captain to take an oath. Mine was mislaid, and
there was none at hand.

"Confound it!" muttered the old sailor, tossing over the papers
in his desk; "that scoundrel, Sam, always stows my traps out of
the way." Then taking up from the table a book which I had been
reading, which happened to be Voltaire's History of Charles XII.,
he presented it, with as grave an air as he could assume, to the
Frenchman. Taking for granted that it was the volume required, the
little doctor was too polite to open the book, the captain was duly
sworn, and the party returned to the deck.

Here a new difficulty occurred, which nearly ended in a serious
quarrel. The gentlemen requested the old sailor to give them a few
feet of old planking, to repair some damage which their boat had
sustained the day before. This the captain could not do. They
seemed to think his refusal intentional, and took it as a personal
affront. In no very gentle tones, they ordered him instantly to
prepare his boats, and put his passengers on shore.

"Stiff breeze--short sea," returned the bluff old seaman; "great
risk in making land--boats heavily laden with women and children
will be swamped. Not a soul goes on shore this night."

"If you refuse to comply with our orders, we will report you to the

"I know my duty--you stick to yours. When the wind falls off, I'll
see to it. Not a life shall be risked to please you or your

He turned upon his heel, and the medical men left the vessel in
great disdain. We had every reason to be thankful for the firmness
displayed by our rough commander. That same evening we saw eleven
persons drowned, from another vessel close beside us while
attempting to make the shore.

By daybreak all was hurry and confusion on board the Anne.
I watched boat after boat depart for the island, full of people
and goods, and envied them the glorious privilege of once more
standing firmly on the earth, after two long months of rocking
and rolling at sea. How ardently we anticipate pleasure, which
often ends in positive pain! Such was my case when at last indulged
in the gratification so eagerly desired. As cabin passengers, we
were not included in the general order of purification, but were
only obliged to send our servant, with the clothes and bedding we
had used during the voyage, on shore, to be washed.

The ship was soon emptied of all her live cargo. My husband went
off with the boats, to reconnoitre the island, and I was left alone
with my baby in the otherwise empty vessel. Even Oscar, the
Captain's Scotch terrier, who had formed a devoted attachment to
me during the voyage, forgot his allegiance, became possessed of
the land mania, and was away with the rest. With the most intense
desire to go on shore, I was doomed to look and long and envy every
boatful of emigrants that glided past. Nor was this all; the ship
was out of provisions, and I was condemned to undergo a rigid fast
until the return of the boat, when the captain had promised a
supply of fresh butter and bread. The vessel had been nine weeks at
sea; the poor steerage passengers for the two last weeks had been
out of food, and the captain had been obliged to feed them from the
ship's stores. The promised bread was to be obtained from a small
steam-boat, which plied daily between Quebec and the island,
transporting convalescent emigrants and their goods in her upward
trip, and provisions for the sick on her return.

How I reckoned on once more tasting bread and butter! The very
thought of the treat in store served to sharpen my appetite, and
render the long fast more irksome. I could now fully realise all
Mrs. Bowdich's longings for English bread and butter, after her
three years' travel through the burning African deserts, with her
talented husband.

"When we arrived at the hotel at Plymouth," said she, "and were
asked what refreshment we chose--'Tea, and home-made bread and
butter,' was my instant reply. 'Brown bread, if you please, and
plenty of it.' I never enjoyed any luxury like it. I was positively
ashamed of asking the waiter to refill the plate. After the
execrable messes, and the hard ship-biscuit, imagine the luxury of
a good slice of English bread and butter!"

At home, I laughed heartily at the lively energy with which that
charming woman of genius related this little incident in her
eventful history--but off Grosse Isle, I realised it all.

As the sun rose above the horizon, all these matter-of-fact
circumstances were gradually forgotten, and merged in the
surpassing grandeur of the scene that rose majestically before me.
The previous day had been dark and stormy, and a heavy fog had
concealed the mountain chain, which forms the stupendous background
to this sublime view, entirely from our sight. As the clouds rolled
away from their grey, bald brows, and cast into denser shadow the
vast forest belt that girdled them round, they loomed out like
mighty giants--Titans of the earth, in all their rugged and awful
beauty--a thrill of wonder and delight pervaded my mind. The
spectacle floated dimly on my sight--my eyes were blinded with
tears--blinded with the excess of beauty. I turned to the right and
to the left, I looked up and down the glorious river; never had I
beheld so many striking objects blended into one mighty whole!
Nature had lavished all her noblest features in producing that
enchanting scene.

The rocky isle in front, with its neat farm-houses at the eastern
point, and its high bluff at the western extremity, crowned with
the telegraph--the middle space occupied by tents and sheds for the
cholera patients, and its wooded shores dotted over with motley
groups--added greatly to the picturesque effect of the land scene.
Then the broad, glittering river, covered with boats darting to and
fro, conveying passengers from twenty-five vessels, of various size
and tonnage, which rode at anchor, with their flags flying from the
mast-head, gave an air of life and interest to the whole. Turning
to the south side of the St. Lawrence, I was not less struck with
its low fertile shores, white houses, and neat churches, whose
slender spires and bright tin roofs shone like silver as they
caught the first rays of the sun. As far as the eye could reach, a
line of white buildings extended along the bank; their background
formed by the purple hue of the dense, interminable forest. It was
a scene unlike any I had ever beheld, and to which Britain contains
no parallel. Mackenzie, an old Scotch dragoon, who was one of our
passengers, when he rose in the morning, and saw the parish of St.
Thomas for the first time, exclaimed: "Weel, it beats a'! Can thae
white clouts be a' houses? They look like claes hung out to drie!"
There was some truth in this odd comparison, and for some minutes,
I could scarcely convince myself that the white patches scattered
so thickly over the opposite shore could be the dwellings of a
busy, lively population.

"What sublime views of the north side of the river those habitans
of St. Thomas must enjoy," thought I. Perhaps familiarity with the
scene has rendered them indifferent to its astonishing beauty.

Eastward, the view down the St. Lawrence towards the Gulf, is the
finest of all, scarcely surpassed by anything in the world. Your
eye follows the long range of lofty mountains until their blue
summits are blended and lost in the blue of the sky. Some of these,
partially cleared round the base, are sprinkled over with neat
cottages; and the green slopes that spread around them are covered
with flocks and herds. The surface of the splendid river is
diversified with islands of every size and shape, some in wood,
others partially cleared, and adorned with orchards and white
farm-houses. As the early sun streamed upon the most prominent of
these, leaving the others in deep shade, the effect was strangely
novel and imposing. In more remote regions, where the forest has
never yet echoed to the woodman's axe, or received the impress of
civilisation, the first approach to the shore inspires a melancholy
awe, which becomes painful in its intensity.

  Land of vast hills and mighty streams,
  The lofty sun that o'er thee beams
  On fairer clime sheds not his ray,
  When basking in the noon of day
  Thy waters dance in silver light,
  And o'er them frowning, dark as night,
  Thy shadowy forests, soaring high,
  Stretch forth beyond the aching eye,
  And blend in distance with the sky.

  And silence--awful silence broods
  Profoundly o'er these solitudes;
  Nought but the lapsing of the floods
  Breaks the deep stillness of the woods;
  A sense of desolation reigns
  O'er these unpeopled forest plains.
  Where sounds of life ne'er wake a tone
  Of cheerful praise round Nature's throne,
  Man finds himself with God--alone.

My daydreams were dispelled by the return of the boat, which
brought my husband and the captain from the island.

"No bread," said the latter, shaking his head; "you must be content
to starve a little longer. Provision-ship not in till four
o'clock." My husband smiled at the look of blank disappointment
with which I received these unwelcome tidings, "Never mind, I have
news which will comfort you. The officer who commands the station
sent a note to me by an orderly, inviting us to spend the afternoon
with him. He promises to show us everything worthy of notice on the
island. Captain --- claims acquaintance with me; but I have not the
least recollection of him. Would you like to go?"

"Oh, by all means. I long to see the lovely island. It looks a
perfect paradise at this distance."

The rough sailor-captain screwed his mouth on one side, and gave
me one of his comical looks, but he said nothing until he assisted
in placing me and the baby in the boat.

"Don't be too sanguine, Mrs. Moodie; many things look well at a
distance which are bad enough when near."

I scarcely regarded the old sailor's warning, so eager was I to go
on shore--to put my foot upon the soil of the new world for the
first time--I was in no humour to listen to any depreciation of
what seemed so beautiful.

It was four o'clock when we landed on the rocks, which the rays
of an intensely scorching sun had rendered so hot that I could
scarcely place my foot upon them. How the people without shoes bore
it, I cannot imagine. Never shall I forget the extraordinary
spectacle that met our sight the moment we passed the low range of
bushes which formed a screen in front of the river. A crowd of many
hundred Irish emigrants had been landed during the present and
former day; and all this motley crew--men, women, and children, who
were not confined by sickness to the sheds (which greatly resembled
cattle-pens) were employed in washing clothes, or spreading them
out on the rocks and bushes to dry.

The men and boys were in the water, while the women, with their
scanty garments tucked above their knees, were trampling their
bedding in tubs, or in holes in the rocks, which the retiring

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