List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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in the bush, but merely to present to my readers such events as
may serve to illustrate a life in the woods.

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was
uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy
fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May, and several gentlemen
drove down to Cobourg in a sleigh, the snow lying upon the ground
to the depth of several inches.

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning
hot summer; and the summer of '34 was the hottest I ever remember.
No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and
withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and
fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities,
spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres
around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me
with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened
a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and
a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar-swamp
fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got
a first view of the lake, my joy was complete; a new and beautiful
object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest
pleasure. By night and day, in sunshine or in storm, water is
always the most sublime feature in a landscape, and no view can be
truly grand in which it is wanting. From a child, it always had the
most powerful effect upon my mind, from the great ocean rolling
in majesty, to the tinkling forest rill, hidden by the flowers
and rushes along its banks. Half the solitude of my forest home
vanished when the lake unveiled its bright face to the blue heavens,
and I saw sun and moon, and stars and waving trees reflected there.
I would sit for hours at the window as the shades of evening
deepened round me, watching the massy foliage of the forests
pictured in the waters, till fancy transported me back to England,
and the songs of birds and the lowing of cattle were sounding in my
ears. It was long, very long, before I could discipline my mind to
learn and practice all the menial employments which are necessary
in a good settler's wife.

The total absence of trees about the doors in all new settlements
had always puzzled me, in a country where the intense heat of summer
seems to demand all the shade that can be procured. My husband had
left several beautiful rock-elms (the most picturesque tree in the
country) near our dwelling, but alas! the first high gale prostrated
all my fine trees, and left our log cottage entirely exposed to the
fierce rays of the sun.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side.
Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and
uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had
been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband daily talking with
his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still
urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze
to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict
charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job,
by no means to attempt to burn it off until he returned, as he
wished to be upon the premises himself, in case of any danger. He
had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors.

While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with
the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a
surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they
slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

Monaghan I had sent to fetch up my three cows, as the children were
languishing for milk, and Mary and I remained alone in the house
with the little ones.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that
roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but
without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were
lying listlessly upon the floor for coolness, and the girl and I
were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, "Bless us,
mistress, what a smoke!" I ran immediately to the door, but was not
able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below
us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud
of smoke directly towards us.

"What can this mean?" I cried, "Who can have set fire to the fallow?"

As I ceased speaking, John Thomas stood pale and trembling before
me. "John, what is the meaning of this fire?"

"Oh, ma'am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and
I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it."

"What is the danger?"

"Oh, I'm terribly afear'd that we shall all be burnt up," said the
fellow, beginning to whimper.

"Why did you run such a risk, and your master from home, and no one
on the place to render the least assistance?"

"I did it for the best," blubbered the lad. "What shall we do?"

"Why, we must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house
to its fate."

"We can't get out," said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which
seemed the concentration of fear; "I would have got out of it
if I could; but just step to the back door, ma'am, and see."

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute; I had never seen
a fallow burnt, but I had heard of it as a thing of such common
occurrence that I had never connected with it any idea of danger.
Judge then, my surprise, my horror, when, on going to the back door,
I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field
in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were
surrounded by a wall of fire, burning furiously within a hundred
yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat; for could
we have found an opening through the burning heaps, we could not
have seen our way through the dense canopy of smoke; and, buried
as we were in the heart of the forest, no one could discover our
situation till we were beyond the reach of help.

I closed the door, and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking
loudly at my heart, for our utter helplessness annihilated all hope
of being able to effect our escape--I felt stupefied. The girl sat
upon the floor by the children, who, unconscious of the peril that
hung over them, had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping;
while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were
useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not
believe that we were to die. I sat down upon the step of the door,
and watched the awful scene in silence. The fire was raging in the
cedar-swamp immediately below the ridge on which the house stood,
and it presented a spectacle truly appalling. From out the dense
folds of a canopy of black smoke, the blackest I ever saw, leaped
up continually red forks of lurid flame as high as the tree tops,
igniting the branches of a group of tall pines that had been left
standing for saw-logs.

A deep gloom blotted out the heavens from our sight. The air
was filled with fiery particles, which floated even to the
door-step--while the crackling and roaring of the flames might
have been heard at a great distance. Could we have reached the
lake shore, where several canoes were moored at the landing,
by launching out into the water we should have been in perfect
safety; but, to attain this object, it was necessary to pass
through this mimic hell; and not a bird could have flown over it
with unscorched wings. There was no hope in that quarter, for,
could we have escaped the flames, we should have been blinded and
choked by the thick, black, resinous smoke.

The fierce wind drove the flames at the sides and back of the house
up the clearing; and our passage to the road, or to the forest, on
the right and left, was entirely obstructed by a sea of flames. Our
only ark of safety was the house, so long as it remained untouched
by the consuming element. I turned to young Thomas, and asked him,
how long he thought that would be.

"When the fire clears this little ridge in front, ma'am. The Lord
have mercy upon us, then, or we must all go!"

"Cannot you, John, try and make your escape, and see what can be
done for us and the poor children?"

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each
other's arms, and my tears flowed for the first time.

Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good,
faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now
she faltered forth--

"The dear, precious lambs!--Oh! such a death!"

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them
alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were
asleep, unconscious of danger, and unable by their childish cries to
distract our attention from adopting any plan which might offer to
effect their escape.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and
there was not a drop of water in the house, and none to be procured
nearer than the lake. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a
passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing
but a dense cloud of fire and smoke--could hear nothing but the
crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast
upon us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

"Ah," thought I--and it was a most bitter thought--"what will my
beloved husband say when he returns and finds that his poor Susy and
his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can
save us yet."

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind
rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a
tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I
thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most
terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the
breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain
which had been pent up for so many weeks.

In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire
effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been
gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had
that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had
quite subdued the cruel enemy, whose approach we had viewed with
such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more
forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl
and myself sank upon our knees, and lifted up our hearts in humble
thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His
Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from
human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth,
making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness:--

  "He is their stay when earthly help is lost,
  The light and anchor of the tempest-toss'd."

There was one person unknown to us, who had watched the progress
of that rash blaze, and had even brought his canoe to the landing,
in the hope of us getting off. This was an Irish pensioner named
Dunn, who had cleared a few acres on his government grant, and had
built a shanty on the opposite shore of the lake.

"Faith, madam! an' I thought the captain was stark, staring mad to
fire his fallow on such a windy day, and that blowing right from
the lake to the house. When Old Wittals came in and towld us that
the masther was not to the fore, but only one lad, an' the wife an'
the chilther at home,--thinks I, there's no time to be lost, or the
crathurs will be burnt up intirely. We started instanther, but, by
Jove! we were too late. The swamp was all in a blaze when we got to
the landing, and you might as well have thried to get to heaven by
passing through the other place."

This was the eloquent harangue with which the honest creature
informed me the next morning of the efforts he had made to save us,
and the interest he had felt in our critical situation. I felt
comforted for my past anxiety, by knowing that one human being,
however humble, had sympathised in our probable fate, while the
providential manner in which we had been rescued will ever remain
a theme of wonder and gratitude.

The next evening brought the return of my husband, who listened to
the tale of our escape with a pale and disturbed countenance; not a
little thankful to find his wife and children still in the land of
the living.

For a long time after the burning of that fallow, it haunted me in
my dreams. I would awake with a start, imagining myself fighting
with the flames, and endeavouring to carry my little children
through them to the top of the clearing, when invariably their
garments and my own took fire just as I was within reach of a
place of safety.


  Ere one ruddy streak of light
  Glimmer'd o'er the distant height,
  Kindling with its living beam
  Frowning wood and cold grey stream,
  I awoke with sudden start,
  Clammy brow and beating heart,
  Trembling limbs, convulsed and chill,
  Conscious of some mighty ill;
  Yet unable to recall
  Sights that did my sense appal;
  Sounds that thrill'd my sleeping ear
  With unutterable fear;
  Forms that to my sleeping eye
  Presented some strange phantasy--
  Shadowy, spectral, and sublime,
  That glance upon the sons of time
  At moments when the mind, o'erwrought,
  Yields reason to mysterious thought,
  And night and solitude in vain
  Bind the free spirit in their chain.
  Such the vision wild that press'd
  On tortur'd brain and heaving chest;
  But sight and sound alike are gone,
  I woke, and found myself alone;
  With choking sob and stifled scream
  To bless my God 'twas but a dream!
  To smooth my damp and stiffen'd hair,
  And murmur out the Saviour's prayer--
  The first to grateful memory brought,
  The first a gentle mother taught,
  When, bending o'er her children's bed,
  She bade good angels guard my head;
  Then paused, with tearful eyes, and smiled
  On the calm slumbers of her child--
  As God himself had heard her prayer,
  And holy angels worshipped there.



  There was a man in our town,
  In our town, in our town--
  There was a man in our town,
  He made a logging-bee;

      And he bought lots of whiskey,
      To make the loggers frisky--
      To make the loggers frisky
          At his logging-bee.

  The Devil sat on a log heap,
  A log heap, a log heap--
  A red hot burning log heap--
  A-grinning at the bee;

      And there was lots of swearing,
      Of boasting and of daring,
      Of fighting and of tearing,
          At that logging bee.


A logging-bee followed the burning of the fallow, as a matter of
course. In the bush, where hands are few, and labour commands
an enormous rate of wages, these gatherings are considered
indispensable, and much has been written in their praise; but to
me, they present the most disgusting picture of a bush life. They
are noisy, riotous, drunken meetings, often terminating in violent

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