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

jar, and supply its place with another replenished with milk. The
baby knew his step, and would hold out her hands to him and cry,
"Milk!" and Brian would stoop down and kiss her, and his two great
dogs lick her face.

"Have you any children, Mr. B---?"

"Yes, five; but none like this."

"My little girl is greatly indebted to you for your kindness."

"She's welcome, or she would not get it. You are strangers; but I
like you all. You look kind, and I would like to know more about

Moodie shook hands with the old hunter, and assured him that we
should always be glad to see him. After this invitation, Brian
became a frequent guest. He would sit and listen with delight to
Moodie while he described to him elephant-hunting at the Cape;
grasping his rifle in a determined manner, and whistling an
encouraging air to his dogs. I asked him one evening what made
him so fond of hunting.

"'Tis the excitement," he said; "it drowns thought, and I love to
be alone. I am sorry for the creatures, too, for they are free and
happy; yet I am led by an instinct I cannot restrain to kill them.
Sometimes the sight of their dying agonies recalls painful feelings;
and then I lay aside the gun, and do not hunt for days. But 'tis
fine to be alone with God in the great woods--to watch the sunbeams
stealing through the thick branches, the blue sky breaking in upon
you in patches, and to know that all is bright and shiny above you,
in spite of the gloom that surrounds you."

After a long pause, he continued, with much solemn feeling in his
look and tone--

"I lived a life of folly for years, for I was respectably born and
educated, and had seen something of the world, perhaps more than was
good, before I left home for the woods; and from the teaching I had
received from kind relatives and parents I should have known how to
have conducted myself better. But, madam, if we associate long with
the depraved and ignorant, we learn to become even worse than they
are. I felt deeply my degradation--felt that I had become the slave
to low vice; and in order to emancipate myself from the hateful
tyranny of evil passions, I did a very rash and foolish thing. I
need not mention the manner in which I transgressed God's holy laws;
all the neighbours know it, and must have told you long ago. I could
have borne reproof, but they turned my sorrow into indecent jests,
and, unable to bear their coarse ridicule, I made companions of my
dogs and gun, and went forth into the wilderness. Hunting became a
habit. I could no longer live without it, and it supplies the
stimulant which I lost when I renounced the cursed whiskey bottle.

"I remember the first hunting excursion I took alone in the forest.
How sad and gloomy I felt! I thought that there was no creature in
the world so miserable as myself. I was tired and hungry, and I sat
down upon a fallen tree to rest. All was still as death around me,
and I was fast sinking to sleep, when my attention was aroused by
a long, wild cry. My dog, for I had not Chance then, and he's no
hunter, pricked up his ears, but instead of answering with a bark of
defiance, he crouched down, trembling, at my feet. 'What does this
mean?' I cried, and I cocked my rifle and sprang upon the log. The
sound came nearer upon the wind. It was like the deep baying of a
pack of hounds in full cry. Presently a noble deer rushed past me,
and fast upon his trail--I see them now, like so many black
devils--swept by a pack of ten or fifteen large, fierce wolves, with
fiery eyes and bristling hair, and paws that seemed hardly to touch
the ground in their eager haste. I thought not of danger, for, with
their prey in view, I was safe; but I felt every nerve within me
tremble for the fate of the poor deer. The wolves gained upon him
at every bound. A close thicket intercepted his path, and, rendered
desperate, he turned at bay. His nostrils were dilated, and his
eyes seemed to send forth long streams of light. It was wonderful
to witness the courage of the beast. How bravely he repelled the
attacks of his deadly enemies, how gallantly he tossed them to the
right and left, and spurned them from beneath his hoofs; yet all
his struggles were useless, and he was quickly overcome and torn
to pieces by his ravenous foes. At that moment he seemed more
unfortunate than even myself, for I could not see in what manner he
had deserved his fate. All his speed and energy, his courage and
fortitude, had been exerted in vain. I had tried to destroy myself;
but he, with every effort vigorously made for self-preservation, was
doomed to meet the fate he dreaded! Is God just to his creatures?"

With this sentence on his lips, he started abruptly from his seat,
and left the house.

One day he found me painting some wild flowers, and was greatly
interested in watching the progress I made in the group. Late in
the afternoon of the following day he brought me a large bunch
of splendid spring flowers.

"Draw these," said he; "I have been all the way to the --- lake
plains to find them for you."

Little Katie, grasping them one by one, with infantile joy, kissed
every lovely blossom.

"These are God's pictures," said the hunter, "and the child, who is
all nature, understands them in a minute. Is it not strange that
these beautiful things are hid away in the wilderness, where no eyes
but the birds of the air, and the wild beasts of the wood, and the
insects that live upon them, ever see them? Does God provide, for
the pleasure of such creatures, these flowers? Is His benevolence
gratified by the admiration of animals whom we have been taught to
consider as having neither thought nor reflection? When I am alone
in the forest, these thoughts puzzle me."

Knowing that to argue with Brian was only to call into action the
slumbering fires of his fatal malady, I turned the conversation by
asking him why he called his favourite dog Chance?

"I found him," he said, "forty miles back in the bush. He was a mere
skeleton. At first I took him for a wolf, but the shape of his head
undeceived me. I opened my wallet, and called him to me. He came
slowly, stopping and wagging his tail at every step, and looking me
wistfully in the face. I offered him a bit of dried venison, and he
soon became friendly, and followed me home, and has never left me
since. I called him Chance, after the manner I happened with him;
and I would not part with him for twenty dollars."

Alas, for poor Chance! he had, unknown to his master, contracted a
private liking for fresh mutton, and one night he killed no less
than eight sheep that belonged to Mr. D---, on the front road; the
culprit, who had been long suspected, was caught in the very act,
and this mischance cost him his life. Brian was sad and gloomy for
many weeks after his favourite's death.

"I would have restored the sheep fourfold," he said, "if he would
but have spared the life of my dog."

My recollections of Brian seemed more particularly to concentrate in
the adventures of one night, when I happened to be left alone, for
the first time since my arrival in Canada. I cannot now imagine how
I could have been such a fool as to give way for four-and-twenty
hours to such childish fears; but so it was, and I will not disguise
my weakness from my indulgent reader.

Moodie had bought a very fine cow of a black man, named Mollineux,
for which he was to give twenty-seven dollars. The man lived twelve
miles back in the woods; and one fine, frosty spring day--(don't
smile at the term frosty, thus connected with the genial season of
the year; the term is perfectly correct when applied to the Canadian
spring, which, until the middle of May, is the most dismal season of
the year)--he and John Monaghan took a rope, and the dog, and
sallied forth to fetch the cow home. Moodie said that they should be
back by six o'clock in the evening, and charged me to have something
cooked for supper when they returned, as he doubted not their long
walk in the sharp air would give them a good appetite. This was
during the time that I was without a servant, and living in old
Mrs. ---'s shanty.

The day was so bright and clear, and Katie was so full of frolic and
play, rolling upon the floor, or toddling from chair to chair, that
the day passed on without my feeling remarkably lonely. At length
the evening drew nigh, and I began to expect my husband's return,
and to think of the supper that I was to prepare for his reception.
The red heifer that we had bought of Layton, came lowing to the door
to be milked; but I did not know how to milk in those days, and,
besides this, I was terribly afraid of cattle. Yet, as I knew that
milk would be required for the tea, I ran across the meadow to Mrs.
Joe, and begged that one of her girls would be so kind as to milk
for me. My request was greeted with a rude burst of laughter from
the whole set.

"If you can't milk," said Mrs. Joe, "it's high time you should
learn. My girls are above being helps."

"I would not ask you but as a great favour; I am afraid of cows."

"Afraid of cows! Lord bless the woman! A farmer's wife, and afraid
of cows!"

Here followed another laugh at my expense; and, indignant at the
refusal of my first and last request, when they had all borrowed
so much from me, I shut the inhospitable door, and returned home.

After many ineffectual attempts, I succeeded at last, and bore my
half-pail of milk in triumph to the house. Yes! I felt prouder of
that milk than many an author of the best thing he ever wrote,
whether in verse or prose; and it was doubly sweet when I considered
that I had procured it without being under any obligation to my
ill-natured neighbours. I had learned a useful lesson of
independence, to which, in after-years, I had often again to refer.

I fed little Katie and put her to bed, made the hot cakes for tea,
boiled the potatoes, and laid the ham, cut in nice slices, in the
pan, ready to cook the moment I saw the men enter the meadow, and
arranged the little room with scrupulous care and neatness. A
glorious fire was blazing on the hearth, and everything was ready
for their supper; and I began to look out anxiously for their

The night had closed in cold and foggy, and I could no longer
distinguish any object at more than a few yards from the door.
Bringing in as much wood as I thought would last me for several
hours, I closed the door; and for the first time in my life I found
myself at night in a house entirely alone. Then I began to ask
myself a thousand torturing questions as to the reason of their
unusual absence. Had they lost their way in the woods? Could they
have fallen in with wolves (one of my early bugbears)? Could any
fatal accident have befallen them? I started up, opened the door,
held my breath, and listened. The little brook lifted up its voice
in loud, hoarse wailing, or mocked, in its babbling to the stones,
the sound of human voices. As it became later, my fears increased in
proportion. I grew too superstitious and nervous to keep the door
open. I not only closed it, but dragged a heavy box in front, for
bolt there was none. Several ill-looking men had, during the day,
asked their way to Toronto. I felt alarmed, lest such rude wayfarers
should come to-night and demand a lodging, and find me alone and
unprotected. Once I thought of running across to Mrs. Joe, and
asking her to let one of the girls stay with me until Moodie
returned; but the way in which I had been repulsed in the evening
prevented me from making a second appeal to their charity.

Hour after hour wore away, and the crowing of the cocks proclaimed
midnight, and yet they came not. I had burnt out all my wood, and I
dared not open the door to fetch in more. The candle was expiring in
the socket, and I had not courage to go up into the loft and procure
another before it went finally out. Cold, heart-weary, and faint,
I sat and cried. Every now and then the furious barking of the dogs
at the neighbouring farms, and the loud cackling of the geese upon
our own, made me hope that they were coming; and then I listened
till the beating of my own heart excluded all other sounds. Oh,
that unwearied brook! how it sobbed and moaned like a fretful
child;--what unreal terrors and fanciful illusions my too active
mind conjured up, whilst listening to its mysterious tones!

Just as the moon rose, the howling of a pack of wolves, from the
great swamp in our rear, filled the whole air. Their yells were
answered by the barking of all the dogs in the vicinity, and the
geese, unwilling to be behind-hand in the general confusion, set
up the most discordant screams. I had often heard, and even been
amused, during the winter, particularly on thaw nights, with hearing
the howls of these formidable wild beasts; but I had never before
heard them alone, and when one dear to me was abroad amid their
haunts. They were directly in the track that Moodie and Monaghan
must have taken; and I now made no doubt that they had been attacked
and killed on their return through the woods with the cow, and I
wept and sobbed until the cold grey dawn peered in upon me through
the small dim window. I have passed many a long cheerless night,
when my dear husband was away from me during the rebellion, and I
was left in my forest home with five little children, and only an
old Irish woman to draw and cut wood for my fire, and attend to the
wants of the family, but that was the saddest and longest night I
ever remember.

Just as the day broke, my friends the wolves set up a parting
benediction, so loud, and wild, and near to the house, that I was
afraid lest they should break through the frail window, or come down
the low wide chimney, and rob me of my child. But their detestable
howls died away in the distance, and the bright sun rose up and
dispersed the wild horrors of the night, and I looked once more
timidly around me. The sight of the table spread, and the uneaten
supper, renewed my grief, for I could not divest myself of the idea
that Moodie was dead. I opened the door, and stepped forth into the
pure air of the early day. A solemn and beautiful repose still hung
like a veil over the face of Nature. The mists of night still rested
upon the majestic woods, and not a sound but the flowing of the
waters went up in the vast stillness. The earth had not yet raised
her matin hymn to the throne of the Creator. Sad at heart, and weary
and worn in spirit, I went down to the spring and washed my face and
head, and drank a deep draught of its icy waters. On returning to
the house I met, near the door, old Brian the hunter, with a large
fox dangling across his shoulder, and the dogs following at his

"Good God! Mrs. Moodie, what is the matter? You are early abroad
this morning, and look dreadful ill. Is anything wrong at home?
Is the baby or your husband sick?"

"Oh!" I cried, bursting into tears, "I fear he is killed by the

The man stared at me, as if he doubted the evidence of his senses,
and well he might; but this one idea had taken such strong
possession of my mind that I could admit no other. I then told him,
as well as I could find words, the cause of my alarm, to which he

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: