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

declaration took place on a log of wood near the back-door, and from
my chamber window I could both hear and see the parties, without
being myself observed. Mary was seated very demurely at one end of
the log, twisting the strings of her checked apron, and the loving
Jacob was busily whittling the other extremity of their rustic seat.
There was a long silence. Mary stole a look at Jacob, and he heaved
a tremendous sigh, something between a yawn and a groan. "Meary,"
he said, "I must go."

"I knew that afore," returned the girl.

"I had zummat to zay to you, Meary. Do you think you will miss oie?"
(looking very affectionately, and twitching nearer.)

"What put that into your head, Jacob?" This was said very demurely.

"Oie thowt, may be, Meary, that your feelings might be zummat loike
my own. I feel zore about the heart, Meary, and it's all com' of
parting with you. Don't you feel queerish, too?"

"Can't say that I do, Jacob. I shall soon see you again."
(pulling violently at her apron-string.)

"Meary, oi'm afear'd you don't feel like oie."

"P'r'aps not--women can't feel like men. I'm sorry that you are
going, Jacob, for you have been very kind and obliging, and I wish
you well."

"Meary," cried Jacob, growing desperate at her coyness, and getting
quite close up to her, "will you marry oie? Say yeez or noa?"

This was coming close to the point. Mary drew farther from him, and
turned her head away.

"Meary," said Jacob, seizing upon the hand that held the
apron-string. "Do you think you can better yoursel'? If not--why,
oie'm your man. Now, do just turn about your head and answer oie."

The girl turned round, and gave him a quick, shy glance, then burst
out into a simpering laugh.

"Meary, will you take oie?" (jogging her elbow.)

"I will," cried the girl, jumping up from the log, and running into
the house.

"Well, that bargain's made," said the lover, rubbing his hands;
"and now oie'll go and bid measter and missus good-buoy."

The poor fellow's eyes were full of tears, for the children, who
loved him very much, clung, crying, about his knees. "God bless
yees all," sobbed the kind-hearted creature. "Doan't forget Jacob,
for he'll neaver forget you. Good-buoy!"

Then turning to Mary, he threw his arms round her neck, and bestowed
upon her fair cheek the most audible kiss I ever heard.

"And doan't you forget me, Meary. In two years oie will be back to
marry you; and may be oie may come back a rich man."

Mary, who was an exceedingly pretty girl, shed some tears at the
parting; but in a few days she was as gay as ever, and listening
with great attention to the praises bestowed upon her beauty by an
old bachelor, who was her senior by five-and-twenty years. But then
he had a good farm, a saddle mare, and plenty of stock, and was
reputed to have saved money. The saddle mare seemed to have great
weight in old Ralph T---h's wooing, and I used laughingly to remind
Mary of her absent lover, and beg her not to marry Ralph T---h's


  The northern lights are flashing,
    On the rapids' restless flow;
  And o'er the wild waves dashing,
    Swift darts the light canoe.
      The merry hunters come.
        "What cheer?--what cheer?"--
        "We've slain the deer!"
      "Hurrah!--You're welcome home!"

  The blithesome horn is sounding,
    And the woodman's loud halloo;
  And joyous steps are bounding
    To meet the birch canoe.
      "Hurrah!--The hunters come."
        And the woods ring out
        To their merry shout
      As they drag the dun deer home!

  The hearth is brightly burning,
    The rustic board is spread;
  To greet the sire returning
    The children leave their bed.
      With laugh and shout they come--
        That merry band--
        To grasp his hand,
      And bid him welcome home!



  There was a little man--
  I'll sketch him if I can,
  For he clung to mine and me
  Like the old man of the sea;
  And in spite of taunt and scoff
  We could not pitch him off,
  For the cross-grained, waspish elf
  Cared for no one but himself.

Before I dismiss for ever the troubles and sorrows of 1836, I
would fain introduce to the notice of my readers some of the odd
characters with whom we became acquainted during that period. The
first that starts vividly to my recollection is the picture of a
short, stumpy, thickset man--a British sailor, too--who came to stay
one night under our roof, and took quiet possession of his quarters
for nine months, and whom we are obliged to tolerate from the simple
fact that we could not get rid of him.

During the fall, Moodie had met this individual (whom I will call
Mr. Malcolm) in the mail-coach, going up to Toronto. Amused with his
eccentric and blunt manners, and finding him a shrewd, clever fellow
in conversation, Moodie told him that if ever he came into his part
of the world he should be glad to renew their acquaintance. And so
they parted, with mutual good-will, as men often part who have
travelled a long journey in good fellowship together, without
thinking it probable they should ever meet again.

The sugar season had just commenced with the spring thaw; Jacob had
tapped a few trees in order to obtain sap to make molasses for the
children, when his plans were frustrated by the illness of my
husband, who was again attacked with the ague. Towards the close of
a wet, sloppy day, while Jacob was in the wood, chopping, and our
servant gone to my sister, who was ill, to help to wash, as I was
busy baking bread for tea, my attention was aroused by a violent
knocking at the door, and the furious barking of our dog, Hector. I
ran to open it, when I found Hector's teeth clenched in the trousers
of a little, dark, thickset man, who said in a gruff voice--

"Call off your dog. What the devil do you keep such an infernal
brute about the house for? Is it to bite people who come to see you?"

Hector was the best-behaved, best-tempered animal in the world; he
might have been called a gentlemanly dog. So little was there of the
unmannerly puppy in his behaviour, that I was perfectly astonished
at his ungracious conduct. I caught him by the collar, and not
without some difficulty, succeeded in dragging him off.

"Is Captain Moodie within?" said the stranger.

"He is, sir. But he is ill in bed--too ill to be seen."

"Tell him a friend" (he laid a strong stress upon the last word),
"a particular friend must speak to him."

I now turned my eyes to the face of the speaker with some curiosity.
I had taken him for a mechanic, from his dirty, slovenly appearance;
and his physiognomy was so unpleasant that I did not credit his
assertion that he was a friend of my husband, for I was certain
that no man who possessed such a forbidding aspect could be regarded
by Moodie as a friend. I was about to deliver his message, but the
moment I let go Hector's collar, the dog was at him again.

"Don't strike him with your stick," I cried, throwing my arms over
the faithful creature. "He is a powerful animal, and if you provoke
him, he will kill you."

I at last succeeded in coaxing Hector into the girl's room, where I
shut him up, while the stranger came into the kitchen, and walked to
the fire to dry his wet clothes.

I immediately went into the parlour, where Moodie was lying upon a
bed near the stove, to deliver the stranger's message; but before I
could say a word, he dashed in after me, and going up to the bed,
held out his broad, coarse hand, with "How are you, Mr. Moodie? You
see I have accepted your kind invitation sooner than either you or
I expected. If you will give me house-room for the night, I shall
be obliged to you."

This was said in a low, mysterious voice; and Moodie, who was still
struggling with the hot fit of his disorder, and whose senses were
not a little confused, stared at him with a look of vague
bewilderment. The countenance of the stranger grew dark.

"You cannot have forgotten me--my name is Malcolm."

"Yes, sir; I remember you now," said the invalid holding out his
burning, feverish hand. "To my home, such as it is, you are

I stood by in wondering astonishment, looking from one to the other,
as I had no recollection of ever hearing my husband mention the name
of the stranger; but as he had invited him to share our hospitality,
I did my best to make him welcome though in what manner he was to
be accommodated puzzled me not a little. I placed the arm-chair by
the fire, and told him that I would prepare tea for him as soon as
I could.

"It may be as well to tell you, Mrs. Moodie," said he sulkily, for
he was evidently displeased by my husband's want of recognition on
his first entrance, "that I have had no dinner."

I signed to myself, for I well knew that our larder boasted of
no dainties; and from the animal expression of our guest's face,
I rightly judged that he was fond of good living.

By the time I had fried a rasher of salt pork, and made a pot of
dandelion coffee, the bread I had been preparing was baked; but
grown flour will not make light bread, and it was unusually heavy.
For the first time I felt heartily ashamed of our humble fare. I was
sure that he for whom it was provided was not one to pass it over in
benevolent silence. "He might be a gentleman," I thought, "but he
does not look like one;" and a confused idea of who he was, and
where Moodie had met him, began to float through my mind. I did not
like the appearance of the man, but I consoled myself that he was
only to stay for one night, and I could give up my bed for that one
night, and sleep on a bed on the floor by my sick husband. When I
re-entered the parlour to cover the table, I found Moodie fallen
asleep, and Mr. Malcolm reading. As I placed the tea-things on the
table, he raised his head, and regarded me with a gloomy stare. He
was a strange-looking creature; his features were tolerably regular,
his complexion dark, with a good colour, his very broad and round
head was covered with a perfect mass of close, black, curling hair,
which, in growth, texture, and hue, resembled the wiry, curly hide
of a water-dog. His eyes and mouth were both well-shaped, but gave,
by their sinister expression, an odious and doubtful meaning to the
whole of his physiognomy. The eyes were cold, insolent, and cruel,
and as green as the eyes of a cat. The mouth bespoke a sullen,
determined, and sneering disposition, as if it belonged to one
brutally obstinate, one who could not by any gentle means be
persuaded from his purpose. Such a man in a passion would have
been a terrible wild beast; but the current of his feelings seemed
to flow in a deep, sluggish channel, rather than in a violent or
impetuous one; and, like William Penn, when he reconnoitred his
unwelcome visitors through the keyhole of the door, I looked at my
strange guest, and liked him not. Perhaps my distant and constrained
manner made him painfully aware of the fact, for I am certain that,
from the first hour of our acquaintance, a deep-rooted antipathy
existed between us, which time seemed rather to strengthen than

He ate of his meal sparingly, and with evident disgust, the only
remarks which dropped from him were--

"You make bad bread in the bush. Strange, that you can't keep your
potatoes from the frost! I should have thought that you could have
had things more comfortable in the woods."

"We have been very unfortunate," I said, "since we came to the
woods. I am sorry that you should be obliged to share the poverty
of the land. It would have given me much pleasure could I have set
before you a more comfortable meal."

"Oh, don't mention it. So that I get good pork and potatoes I shall
be contented."

What did these words imply?--an extension of his visit? I hoped
that I was mistaken; but before I could lose any time in conjecture
my husband awoke. The fit had left him, and he rose and dressed
himself, and was soon chatting cheerfully with his guest.

Mr. Malcolm now informed him that he was hiding from the sheriff of
the N--- district's officers, and that it would be conferring upon
him a great favour if he would allow him to remain at his house for
a few weeks.

"To tell you the truth, Malcolm," said Moodie, "we are so badly off
that we can scarcely find food for ourselves and the children. It is
out of our power to make you comfortable, or to keep an additional
hand, without he is willing to render some little help on the farm.
If you can do this, I will endeavour to get a few necessaries on
credit, to make your stay more agreeable."

To this proposition Malcolm readily assented, not only because it
released him from all sense of obligation, but because it gave him
a privilege to grumble.

Finding that his stay might extend to an indefinite period, I got
Jacob to construct a rude bedstead out of two large chests that had
transported some of our goods across the Atlantic, and which he
put in a corner of the parlour. This I provided with a small
hair-mattress, and furnished with what bedding I could spare.

For the first fornight of his sojourn, our guest did nothing but lie
upon that bed, and read, and smoke, and drink whiskey-and-water from
morning until night. By degrees he let out part of his history; but
there was a mystery about him which he took good care never to clear
up. He was the son of an officer in the navy, who had not only
attained a very high rank in the service, but, for his gallant
conduct, had been made a Knight-Companion of the Bath.

He had himself served his time as a midshipman on board his father's
flag-ship, but had left the navy and accepted a commission in the
Buenos-Ayrean service during the political struggles in that
province; he had commanded a sort of privateer under the government,
to whom, by his own account, he had rendered many very signal
services. Why he left South America and came to Canada he kept a
profound secret. He had indulged in very vicious and dissipated
courses since he came to the province, and by his own account had
spent upwards of four thousand pounds, in a manner not over
creditable to himself. Finding that his friends would answer his
bills no longer, he took possession of a grant of land obtained
through his father's interest, up in Harvey, a barren township on
the shores of Stony Lake; and, after putting up his shanty, and
expending all his remaining means, he found that he did not possess
one acre out of the whole four hundred that would yield a crop of
potatoes. He was now considerably in debt, and the lands, such as
they were, had been seized, with all his effects, by the sheriff,
and a warrant was out for his own apprehension, which he contrived
to elude during his sojourn with us. Money he had none; and, beyond
the dirty fearnought blue seaman's jacket which he wore, a pair of
trousers of the coarse cloth of the country, an old black vest that
had seen better days, and two blue-checked shirts, clothes he had
none. He shaved but once a week, never combed his hair, and never
washed himself. A dirtier or more slovenly creature never before

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: