List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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quarrels, sometimes even in bloodshed. Accidents of the most
serious nature often occur, and very little work is done when we
consider the number of hands employed, and the great consumption
of food and liquor.

I am certain, in our case, had we hired with the money expended in
providing for the bee, two or three industrious, hard-working men,
we should have got through twice as much work, and have had it done
well, and have been the gainers in the end.

People in the woods have a craze for giving and going to bees,
and run to them with as much eagerness as a peasant runs to a
race-course or a fair; plenty of strong drink and excitement
making the chief attraction of a bee.

In raising a house or barn, a bee may be looked upon as a necessary
evil, but these gatherings are generally conducted in a more orderly
manner than those for logging. Fewer hands are required; and they
are generally under the control of the carpenter who puts up the
frame, and if they get drunk during the raising they are liable to
meet with very serious accidents.

Thirty-two men, gentle and simple, were invited to our bee, and the
maid and I were engaged for two days preceding the important one,
in baking and cooking for the entertainment of our guests. When I
looked at the quantity of food we had prepared, I thought it could
never be all eaten, even by thirty-two men. It was a burning hot day
towards the end of July, when our loggers began to come in, and the
"gee!" and "ha!" to encourage the oxen resounded on every side.

There was my brother S---, with his frank English face, a host in
himself; Lieutenant --- in his blouse, wide white trousers, and red
sash, his broad straw hat shading a dark manly face that would have
been a splendid property for a bandit chief; the four gay, reckless,
idle sons of ---, famous at any spree, but incapable of the least
mental or physical exertion, who considered hunting and fishing as
the sole aim and object of life. These young men rendered very
little assistance themselves, and their example deterred others
who were inclined to work.

There were the two R---s, who came to work and to make others work;
my good brother-in-law, who had volunteered to be the Grog Boss,
and a host of other settlers, among whom I recognised Moodie's old
acquaintance, Dan Simpson, with his lank red hair and freckled face;
the Youngs, the hunters, with their round, black, curly heads and
rich Irish brogue; poor C--- with his long, spare, consumptive
figure, and thin sickly face. Poor fellow, he has long since been
gathered to his rest!

There was the ruffian squatter P---, from Clear Lake,--the dread
of all honest men; the brutal M---, who treated oxen as if they
had been logs, by beating them with handspikes; and there was Old
Wittals, with his low forehead and long nose, a living witness of
the truth of phrenology, if his large organ of acquisitiveness and
his want of consciousness could be taken in evidence. Yet in spite
of his derelictions from honesty, he was a hard-working,
good-natured man, who, if he cheated you in a bargain, or took away
some useful article in mistake from your homestead, never wronged
his employer in his day's work.

He was a curious sample of cunning and simplicity--quite a character
in his way--and the largest eater I ever chanced to know. From this
ravenous propensity, for he eat his food like a famished wolf, he
had obtained his singular name of "Wittals."

During the first year of his settlement in the bush, with a very
large family to provide for, he had been often in want of food.
One day he came to my brother, with a very long face.

"Mr. S--- I'm no beggar, but I'd be obliged to you for a loaf of
bread. I declare to you on my honour that I have not had a bit of
wittals to dewour for two whole days."

He came to the right person with his petition. Mr. S--- with a
liberal hand relieved his wants, but he entailed upon him the name
of "Old Wittals," as part payment.

His daughter, who was a very pretty girl, had stolen a march upon
him into the wood, with a lad whom he by no means regarded with a
favourable eye. When she returned, the old man confronted her and
her lover with this threat, which I suppose he considered "the most
awful" punishment that he could devise.

"March into the house, Madam 'Ria (Maria); and if ever I catch you
with that scamp again, I'll tie you up to a stump all day, and give
you no wittals."

I was greatly amused by overhearing a dialogue between Old Wittals
and one of his youngest sons, a sharp, Yankeefied-looking boy, who
had lost one of his eyes, but the remaining orb looked as if it
could see all ways at once.

"I say, Sol, how came you to tell that tarnation tearing lie to Mr.
S--- yesterday? Didn't you expect that you'd catch a good wallopping
for the like of that? Lying may be excusable in a man, but 'tis a
terrible bad habit for a boy."

"Lor', father, that worn't a lie. I told Mr. S--- our cow worn't in
his peas. Nor more she wor; she was in his wheat."

"But she was in the peas all night, boy."

"That wor nothing to me; she worn't in just then. Sure I won't get a
licking for that?"

"No, no, you are a good boy; but mind what I tell you, and don't
bring me into a scrape with any of your real lies."

Prevarication, the worst of falsehoods, was a virtue in his eyes.
So much for the old man's morality.

Monaghan was in his glory, prepared to work or fight, whichever
should come uppermost; and there was old Thomas and his sons, the
contractors for the clearing, to expedite whose movements the bee
was called. Old Thomas was a very ambitious man in his way. Though
he did not know A from B, he took into his head that he had received
a call from Heaven to convert the heathen in the wilderness; and
every Sunday he held a meeting in our loggers' shanty, for the
purpose of awakening sinners, and bringing over "Injun pagans" to
the true faith. His method of accomplishing this object was very
ingenious. He got his wife, Peggy--or "my Paggy," as he called
her--to read aloud to him a text from the Bible, until he knew it
by heart; and he had, as he said truly, "a good remembrancer," and
never heard a striking sermon but he retained the most important
passages, and retailed them secondhand to his bush audience.

I must say that I was not a little surprised at the old man's
eloquence when I went one Sunday over to the shanty to hear him
preach. Several wild young fellows had come on purpose to make fun
of him; but his discourse, which was upon the text "We shall all
meet before the judgment-seat of Christ," was rather too serious a
subject to turn into a jest, with even old Thomas for the preacher.
All went on very well until the old man gave out a hymn, and led
off in such a loud, discordant voice, that my little Katie, who was
standing between her father's knees, looked suddenly up, and said,
"Mamma, what a noise old Thomas makes." This remark led to a much
greater noise, and the young men, unable to restrain their
long-suppressed laughter, ran tumultuously from the shanty.

I could have whipped the little elf; but small blame could be
attached to a child of two years old, who had never heard a
preacher, especially such a preacher as the old backwoodsman, in
her life. Poor man! He was perfectly unconscious of the cause of
the disturbance, and remarked to us, after the service was over,

"Well, ma'am, did we not get on famously? Now, worn't that a
BOOTIFUL discourse?"

"It was, indeed; much better than I expected."

"Yes, yes; I knew it would please you. It had quite an effect on
those wild fellows. A few more such sermons will teach them good
behaviour. Ah, the bush is a bad place for young men. The farther in
the bush, say I, the farther from God, and the nearer to hell. I
told that wicked Captain L--- of Dummer so the other Sunday; 'an','
says he, 'if you don't hold your confounded jaw, you old fool, I'll
kick you there.' Now ma'am--now, sir, was not that bad manners in a
gentleman, to use such appropriate epitaphs to a humble servant of
God, like I?"

And thus the old man ran on for an hour, dilating upon his own
merits and the sins of his neighbors.

There was John R---, from Smith-town, the most notorious swearer in
the district; a man who esteemed himself clever, nor did he want
for natural talent, but he had converted his mouth into such a sink
of iniquity that it corrupted the whole man, and all the weak and
thoughtless of his own sex who admitted him into their company. I
had tried to convince John R--- (for he often frequented the house
under the pretence of borrowing books) of the great crime that he
was constantly committing, and of the injurious effect it must
produce upon his own family, but the mental disease had taken too
deep a root to be so easily cured. Like a person labouring under
some foul disease, he contaminated all he touched. Such men seem to
make an ambitious display of their bad habits in such scenes, and if
they afford a little help, they are sure to get intoxicated and make
a row. There was my friend, old Ned Dunn, who had been so anxious to
get us out of the burning fallow. There was a whole group of Dummer
Pines: Levi, the little wiry, witty poacher; Cornish Bill, the
honest-hearted old peasant, with his stalwart figure and uncouth
dialect; and David, and Nedall good men and true; and Malachi
Chroak, a queer, withered-up, monkey-man, that seemed like some
mischievous elf, flitting from heap to heap to make work and fun
for the rest; and many others were at that bee who have since found
a rest in the wilderness: Adam T---, H---, J. M---, H. N---.

These, at different times, lost their lives in those bright waters
in which, on such occasions as these, they used to sport and frolic
to refresh themselves during the noonday heat. Alas! how many, who
were then young and in their prime, that river and its lakes have
swept away!

Our men worked well until dinner-time, when, after washing in the
lake, they all sat down to the rude board which I had prepared for
them, loaded with the best fare that could be procured in the bush.
Pea-soup, legs of pork, venison, eel, and raspberry pies, garnished
with plenty of potatoes, and whiskey to wash them down, besides a
large iron kettle of tea. To pour out the latter, and dispense it
round, devolved upon me. My brother and his friends, who were all
temperance men, and consequently the best workers in the field, kept
me and the maid actively employed in replenishing their cups.

The dinner passed off tolerably well; some of the lower order of the
Irish settlers were pretty far gone, but they committed no outrage
upon our feelings by either swearing or bad language, a few harmless
jokes alone circulating among them.

Some one was funning Old Wittalls for having eaten seven large
cabbages at Mr. T---'s bee, a few days previous. His son, Sol,
thought himself, as in duty bound, to take up the cudgel for his

"Now, I guess that's a lie, anyhow. Fayther was sick that day,
and I tell you he only ate five."

This announcement was followed by such an explosion of mirth that
the boy looked fiercely round him, as if he could scarcely believe
the fact that the whole party were laughing at him.

Malachi Chroak, who was good-naturedly drunk, had discovered an old
pair of cracked bellows in a corner, which he placed under his arm,
and applying his mouth to the pipe, and working his elbows to and
fro, pretended that he was playing upon the bagpipes, every now and
then letting the wind escape in a shrill squeak from this novel

"Arrah, ladies and jintlemen, do jist turn your swate little eyes
upon me whilst I play for your iddifications the last illigant tune
which my owld grandmother taught me. Och hone! 'tis a thousand
pities that such musical owld crathers should be suffered to die, at
all at all, to be poked away into a dirthy, dark hole, when their
canthles shud be burnin' a-top of a bushel, givin' light to the
house. An' then it is she that was the illigant dancer, stepping out
so lively and frisky, just so."

And here he minced to and fro, affecting the airs of a fine lady.
The suppositious bagpipe gave an uncertain, ominous howl, and he
flung it down, and started back with a ludicrous expression of

"Alive, is it ye are? Ye croaking owld divil, is that the tune you
taught your son?

  "Och! my old granny taught me, but now she is dead,
  That a dhrop of nate whiskey is good for the head;
  It would make a man spake when jist ready to dhie,
  If you doubt it--my boys!--I'd advise you to thry.

  "Och! my owld granny sleeps with her head on a stone,--
  'Now, Malach, don't throuble the galls when I'm gone!'
  I thried to obey her; but, och, I am shure,
  There's no sorrow on earth that the angels can't cure.

  "Och! I took her advice--I'm a bachelor still;
  And I dance, and I play, with such excellent skill,
    (Taking up the bellows, and beginning to dance.)
  That the dear little crathurs are striving in vain
  Which furst shall my hand or my fortin' obtain."

"Malach!" shouted a laughing group. "How was it that the old lady
taught you to go a-courting?"

"Arrah, that's a sacret! I don't let out owld granny's sacrets,"
said Malachi, gracefully waving his head to and fro to the squeaking
of the bellows; then, suddenly tossing back the long, dangling black
elf-locks that curled down the sides of his lank, yellow cheeks, and
winking knowingly with his comical little deep-seated black eyes, he
burst out again--

  "Wid the blarney I'd win the most dainty proud dame,
  No gall can resist the soft sound of that same;
  Wid the blarney, my boys--if you doubt it, go thry--
  But hand here the bottle, my whistle is dhry."

The men went back to the field, leaving Malachi to amuse those who
remained in the house; and we certainly did laugh our fill at his
odd capers and conceits.

Then he would insist upon marrying our maid. There could be no
refusal--have her he would. The girl, to keep him quiet, laughingly
promised that she would take him for her husband. This did not
satisfy him. She must take her oath upon the Bible to that effect.
Mary pretended that there was no bible in the house, but he found an
old spelling-book upon a shelf in the kitchen, and upon it he made
her swear, and called upon me to bear witness to her oath, and that
she was now his betrothed, and he would go next day with her to the
"praist." Poor Mary had reason to repent her frolic, for he stuck
close to her the whole evening, tormenting her to fulfill her

After the sun went down, the logging-band came in to supper, which
was all ready for them. Those who remained sober ate the meal in
peace, and quietly returned to their own homes; while the vicious
and the drunken stayed to brawl and fight.

After having placed the supper on the table, I was so tired with the
noise, and heat, and fatigue of the day, that I went to bed, leaving
to Mary and my husband the care of the guests.

The little bed-chamber was only separated from the kitchen by a few
thin boards; and unfortunately for me and the girl, who was soon

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