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

emphasis, the concluding lines of each stanza,

  "Fear not! but trust in Providence,
  Wherever thou may'st be."

Such songs do good; and a peculiar blessing seems to attend every
composition, in prose or verse, which inculcates good moral
sentiments, or tends to strengthen our virtuous resolutions. This
fine song, I feel assured, will live embalmed in the memory of
mankind long after the sickly, affected, and unnatural ditties of
its author have gone to their merited oblivion. Sometimes, however,
in spite of my good resolutions, when left alone, the dark clouds of
despondency would close around me, and I could not help contrasting
the happy past in our life with my gloomy anticipations of the
future. Sleep, which should bring comfort and refreshment, often
only aggravated my painful regrets, by recalling scenes which had
nearly escaped my waking memory. In such a mood the following verses
were written:--


  Oh, let me sleep! nor wake to sadness
  The heart that, sleeping, dreams of gladness;
  For sleep is death, without the pain--
  Then wake me not to life again.
  Oh, let me sleep! nor break the spell
  That soothes the captive in his cell;
  That bursts his chains, and sets him free,
  To revel in his liberty.

  Loved scenes, array'd in tenderest hue,
  Now rise in beauty to my view;
  And long-lost friends around me stand,
  Or, smiling, grasp my willing hand.
  Again I seek my island home;
  Along the silent bays I roam,
  Or, seated on the rocky shore,
  I hear the angry surges roar.

  And oh, how sweet the music seems
  I've heard amid my blissful dreams!
  But of the sadly pleasing strains,
  Nought save the thrilling sense remains.
  Those sounds so loved in scenes so dear,
  Still--still they murmur in my ear:
  But sleep alone can bless the sight
  With forms that face with morning's light.




  'Tis well for us poor denizens of earth
  That God conceals the future from our gaze;
  Or Hope, the blessed watcher on Life's tower,
  Would fold her wings, and on the dreary waste
  Close the bright eye that through the murky clouds
  Of blank Despair still sees the glorious sun.

It was a bright frosty morning when I bade adieu to the farm, the
birthplace of my little Agnes, who, nestled beneath my cloak, was
sweetly sleeping on my knee, unconscious of the long journey before
us into the wilderness. The sun had not as yet risen. Anxious to get
to our place of destination before dark, we started as early as we
could. Our own fine team had been sold the day before for forty
pounds; and one of our neighbours, a Mr. D---, was to convey us and
our household goods to Douro for the sum of twenty dollars. During
the week he had made several journeys, with furniture and stores;
and all that now remained was to be conveyed to the woods in two
large lumber sleighs, one driven by himself, the other by a younger

It was not without regret that I left Melsetter, for so my husband
had called the place, after his father's estate in Orkney. It was
a beautiful, picturesque spot; and, in spite of the evil
neighbourhood, I had learned to love it; indeed, it was much
against my wish that it was sold. I had a great dislike to
removing, which involves a necessary loss, and is apt to give to
the emigrant roving and unsettled habits. But all regrets were now
useless; and happily unconscious of the life of toil and anxiety
that awaited us in those dreadful woods, I tried my best to be
cheerful, and to regard the future with a hopeful eye.

Our driver was a shrewd, clever man, for his opportunities. He took
charge of the living cargo, which consisted of my husband, our
maid-servant, the two little children, and myself--besides a large
hamper, full of poultry, a dog, and a cat. The lordly sultan of
the imprisoned seraglio thought fit to conduct himself in a very
eccentric manner, for at every barn-yard we happened to pass, he
clapped his wings, and crowed so long and loud that it afforded
great amusement to the whole party, and doubtless was very edifying
to the poor hens, who lay huddled together as mute as mice.

"That 'ere rooster thinks he's on the top of the heap," said our
driver, laughing. "I guess he's not used to travelling in a close
conveyance. Listen! How all the crowers in the neighbourhood give
him back a note of defiance! But he knows that he's safe enough at
the bottom of the basket."

The day was so bright for the time of year (the first week in
February), that we suffered no inconvenience from the cold. Little
Katie was enchanted with the jingling of the sleigh-bells, and,
nestled among the packages, kept singing or talking to the horses
in her baby lingo. Trifling as these little incidents were, before
we had proceeded ten miles on our long journey, they revived my
drooping spirits, and I began to feel a lively interest in the
scenes through which we were passing.

The first twenty miles of the way was over a hilly and well-cleared
country; and as in winter the deep snow fills up the inequalities,
and makes all roads alike, we glided as swiftly and steadily along
as if they had been the best highways in the world. Anon, the
clearings began to diminish, and tall woods arose on either side
of the path; their solemn aspect, and the deep silence that brooded
over their vast solitudes, inspiring the mind with a strange awe.
Not a breath of wind stirred the leafless branches, whose huge
shadows reflected upon the dazzling white covering of snow, lay
so perfectly still, that it seemed as if Nature had suspended
her operations, that life and motion had ceased, and that she
was sleeping in her winding-sheet, upon the bier of death.

"I guess you will find the woods pretty lonesome," said our driver,
whose thoughts had been evidently employed on the same subject as
our own. "We were once in the woods, but emigration has stepped
ahead of us, and made our'n a cleared part of the country. When I
was a boy, all this country, for thirty miles on every side of us,
was bush land. As to Peterborough, the place was unknown; not a
settler had ever passed through the great swamp, and some of them
believed that it was the end of the world."

"What swamp is that?" asked I.

"Oh, the great Cavan swamp. We are just two miles from it; and I
tell you that the horses will need a good rest, and ourselves a good
dinner, by the time we are through it. Ah, Mrs. Moodie, if ever you
travel that way in summer, you will know something about corduroy
roads. I was 'most jolted to death last fall; I thought it would
have been no bad notion to have insured my teeth before I left C---.
I really expected that they would have been shook out of my head
before we had done manoeuvring over the big logs."

"How will my crockery stand it in the next sleigh?" quoth I. "If the
road is such as you describe, I am afraid that I shall not bring a
whole plate to Douro."

"Oh, the snow is a great leveller--it makes all rough places smooth.
But with regard to this swamp, I have something to tell you. About
ten years ago, no one had ever seen the other side of it; and if
pigs or cattle strayed away into it, they fell a prey to the wolves
and bears, and were seldom recovered.

"An old Scotch emigrant, who had located himself on this side of it,
so often lost his beasts that he determined during the summer season
to try and explore the place, and see if there were any end to it.
So he takes an axe on his shoulder, and a bag of provisions for
a week, not forgetting a flask of whiskey, and off he starts all
alone, and tells his wife that if he never returned, she and
little Jock must try and carry on the farm without him; but he was
determined to see the end of the swamp, even if it led to the other
world. He fell upon a fresh cattle-track, which he followed all that
day; and towards night he found himself in the heart of a tangled
wilderness of bushes, and himself half eaten up with mosquitoes and
black-flies. He was more than tempted to give in, and return home
by the first glimpse of light.

"The Scotch are a tough people; they are not easily daunted--a few
difficulties only seem to make them more eager to get on; and he
felt ashamed the next moment, as he told me, of giving up. So he
finds out a large thick cedar-tree for his bed, climbs up, and
coiling himself among the branches like a bear, he was soon fast

"The next morning, by daylight, he continued his journey, not
forgetting to blaze with his axe the trees to the right and left as
he went along. The ground was so spongy and wet that at every step
he plunged up to his knees in water, but he seemed no nearer the end
of the swamp than he had been the day before. He saw several deer,
a raccoon, and a ground-hog, during his walk, but was unmolested by
bears or wolves. Having passed through several creeks, and killed a
great many snakes, he felt so weary towards the close of the second
day that he determined to go home the next morning. But just as he
began to think his search was fruitless he observed that the cedars
and tamaracks which had obstructed his path became less numerous,
and were succeeded by bass and soft maple. The ground, also, became
less moist, and he was soon ascending a rising slope, covered with
oak and beech, which shaded land of the very best quality. The old
man was now fully convinced that he had cleared the great swamp; and
that, instead of leading to the other world, it had conducted him
to a country that would yield the very best returns for cultivation.
His favourable report led to the formation of the road that we are
about to cross, and to the settlement of Peterborough, which is one
of the most promising new settlements in this district, and is
surrounded by a splendid back country."

We were descending a very steep hill, and encountered an ox-sleigh,
which was crawling slowly up it in a contrary direction. Three
people were seated at the bottom of the vehicle upon straw, which
made a cheap substitute for buffalo-robes. Perched, as we were, upon
the crown of the height, we looked completely down into the sleigh,
and during the whole course of my life I never saw three uglier
mortals collected into such a narrow space. The man was blear-eyed,
with a hare-lip, through which protruded two dreadful yellow teeth
that resembled the tusks of a boar. The woman was long-faced, high
cheek-boned, red-haired, and freckled all over like a toad. The boy
resembled his hideous mother, but with the addition of a villanous
obliquity of vision which rendered him the most disgusting object
in this singular trio.

As we passed them, our driver gave a knowing nod to my husband,
directing, at the same time, the most quizzical glance towards the
strangers, as he exclaimed, "We are in luck, sir! I think that 'ere
sleigh may be called Beauty's egg-basket!"

We made ourselves very merry at the poor people's expense, and
Mr. D---, with his odd stories and Yankeefied expressions, amused
the tedium of our progress through the great swamp, which in summer
presents for several miles one uniform bridge of rough and unequal
logs, all laid loosely across huge sleepers, so that they jump up
and down, when pressed by the wheels, like the keys of a piano.
The rough motion and jolting occasioned by this collision is so
distressing that it never fails to entail upon the traveller sore
bones and an aching head for the rest of the day. The path is so
narrow over these logs that two waggons cannot pass without great
difficulty, which is rendered more dangerous by the deep natural
ditches on either side of the bridge, formed by broad creeks that
flow out of the swamp, and often terminate in mud-holes of very
ominous dimensions. The snow, however, hid from us all the ugly
features of the road, and Mr. D--- steered us through in perfect
safety, and landed us at the door of a little log house which
crowned the steep hill on the other side of the swamp, and which
he dignified with the name of a tavern.

It was now two o'clock. We had been on the road since seven;
and men, women, and children were all ready for the good dinner that
Mr. D--- had promised us at this splendid house of entertainment,
where we were destined to stay for two hours, to refresh ourselves
and rest the horses.

"Well, Mrs. J---, what have you got for our dinner?" said our
driver, after he had seen to the accommodation of his teams.

"Pritters[1] and pork, sir. Nothing else to be had in the woods.
Thank God, we have enough of that!"

[1] Vulgar Canadian for potatoes.

D--- shrugged up his shoulders, and looked at us. "We've plenty of
that same at home. But hunger's good sauce. Come, be spry, widow,
and see about it, for I am very hungry."

I inquired for a private room for myself and the children, but
there were no private rooms in the house. The apartment we occupied
was like the cobbler's stall in the old song, and I was obliged to
attend upon them in public.

"You have much to learn, ma'am, if you are going to the woods,"
said Mrs. J---.

"To unlearn, you mean," said Mr. D---. "To tell you the truth,
Mrs. Moodie, ladies and gentlemen have no business in the woods.
Eddication spoils man or woman for that location. So, widow
(turning to our hostess), you are not tired of living alone yet?"

"No, sir; I have no wish for a second husband. I had enough of the
first. I like to have my own way--to lie down mistress, and get up

"You don't like to be put out of your old way," returned he, with a
mischievous glance.

She coloured very red; but it might be the heat of the fire over
which she was frying the pork for our dinner.

I was very hungry, but I felt no appetite for the dish she was
preparing for us. It proved salt, hard, and unsavoury.

D--- pronounced it very bad, and the whiskey still worse, with which
he washed it down.

I asked for a cup of tea and a slice of bread. But they were out of
tea, and the hop-rising had failed, and there was no bread in the
house. For this disgusting meal we paid at the rate of a quarter of
a dollar a-head.

I was glad when the horses being again put to, we escaped from the
rank odour of the fried pork, and were once more in the fresh air.

"Well, mister; did not you grudge your money for that bad meat?"
said D---, when we were once more seated in the sleigh. "But in
these parts, the worse the fare the higher the charge."

"I would not have cared," said I, "if I could have got a cup of tea."

"Tea! it's poor trash. I never could drink tea in my life. But I
like coffee, when 'tis boiled till it's quite black. But coffee is
not good without plenty of trimmings."

"What do you mean by trimmings?"

He laughed. "Good sugar, and sweet cream. Coffee is not worth
drinking without trimmings."

Often in after years have I recalled the coffee trimmings, when
endeavouring to drink the vile stuff which goes by the name of
coffee in the houses of entertainment in the country.

We had now passed through the narrow strip of clearing which
surrounded the tavern, and again entered upon the woods. It was near

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: