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

were all that remained of the seventy-two passengers that left the
Port of Leith in the brig Anne.

In spite of the earnest entreaties of his young wife, the said Tam
Grant, who was the most mercurial fellow in the world, would insist
upon going on shore to see all the lions of the place. "Ah, Tam!
Tam! ye will die o' the cholera," cried the weeping Maggie. "My
heart will brak if ye dinna bide wi' me an' the bairnie." Tam was
deaf as Ailsa Craig. Regardless of tears and entreaties, he jumped
into the boat, like a wilful man as he was, and my husband went
with him. Fortunately for me, the latter returned safe to the
vessel, in time to proceed with her to Montreal, in tow of the
noble steamer, British America; but Tam, the volatile Tam was
missing. During the reign of the cholera, what at another time
would have appeared but a trifling incident, was now invested with
doubt and terror. The distress of the poor wife knew no bounds.
I think I see her now, as I saw her then, sitting upon the floor
of the deck, her head buried between her knees, rocking herself to
and fro, and weeping in the utter abandonment of her grief. "He is
dead! he is dead! My dear, dear Tam! The pestilence has seized upon
him; and I and the puir bairn are left alone in the strange land."
All attempts at consolation were useless; she obstinately refused
to listen to probabilities, or to be comforted. All through the
night I heard her deep and bitter sobs, and the oft-repeated name
of him that she had lost.

The sun was sinking over the plague-stricken city, gilding the
changing woods and mountain peaks with ruddy light; the river
mirrored back the gorgeous sky, and moved in billows of liquid
gold; the very air seemed lighted up with heavenly fires, and
sparkled with myriads of luminous particles, as I gazed my last
upon that beautiful scene.

The tow-line was now attached from our ship to the British America,
and in company with two other vessels, we followed fast in her
foaming wake. Day lingered on the horizon just long enough to
enable me to examine, with deep interest, the rocky heights of
Abraham, the scene of our immortal Wolfe's victory and death;
and when the twilight faded into night, the moon arose in solemn
beauty, and cast mysterious gleams upon the strange stern landscape.
The wide river, flowing rapidly between its rugged banks, rolled in
inky blackness beneath the overshadowing crags; while the waves in
mid-channel flashed along in dazzling light, rendered more intense
by the surrounding darkness. In this luminous track the huge
steamer glided majestically forward, flinging showers of red
earth-stars from the funnel into the clear air, and looking like
some fiery demon of the night enveloped in smoke and flame.

The lofty groves of pine frowned down in hearse-like gloom upon the
mighty river, and the deep stillness of the night, broken alone by
its hoarse wailings, filled my mind with sad forebodings--alas! too
prophetic of the future. Keenly, for the first time, I felt that I
was a stranger in a strange land; my heart yearned intensely for my
absent home. Home! the word had ceased to belong to my present--it
was doomed to live for ever in the past; for what emigrant ever
regarded the country of his exile as his home? To the land he has
left, that name belongs for ever, and in no instance does he bestow
it upon another. "I have got a letter from home!" "I have seen a
friend from home!" "I dreamt last night that I was at home!" are
expressions of everyday occurrence, to prove that the heart
acknowledges no other home than the land of its birth.

From these sad reveries I was roused by the hoarse notes of the
bagpipe. That well-known sound brought every Scotchman upon deck,
and set every limb in motion on the decks of the other vessels.
Determined not to be outdone, our fiddlers took up the strain,
and a lively contest ensued between the rival musicians, which
continued during the greater part of the night. The shouts of noisy
revelry were in no way congenial to my feelings. Nothing tends so
much to increase our melancholy as merry music when the heart is
sad; and I left the scene with eyes brimful of tears, and my mind
painfully agitated by sorrowful recollections and vain regrets.

  The strains we hear in foreign lands,
    No echo from the heart can claim;
  The chords are swept by strangers' hands,
    And kindle in the breast no flame,
             Sweet though they be.
  No fond remembrance wakes to fling
    Its hallowed influence o'er the chords;
  As if a spirit touch'd the string,
    Breathing, in soft harmonious words,
             Deep melody.

  The music of our native shore
    A thousand lovely scenes endears;
  In magic tones it murmurs o'er
    The visions of our early years;--
             The hopes of youth;
  It wreathes again the flowers we wreathed
    In childhood's bright, unclouded day;
  It breathes again the vows we breathed,
    At beauty's shrine, when hearts were gay
             And whisper'd truth;

  It calls before our mental sight
    Dear forms whose tuneful lips are mute,
  Bright, sunny eyes long closed in night,
    Warm hearts now silent as the lute
             That charm'd our ears;
  It thrills the breast with feelings deep,
    Too deep for language to impart;
  And bids the spirit joy and weep,
    In tones that sink into the heart,
             And melt in tears.



  Fly this plague-stricken spot! The hot, foul air
  Is rank with pestilence--the crowded marts
  And public ways, once populous with life,
  Are still and noisome as a churchyard vault;
  Aghast and shuddering, Nature holds her breath
  In abject fear, and feels at her strong heart
  The deadly pangs of death.

Of Montreal I can say but little. The cholera was at its height,
and the fear of infection, which increased the nearer we approached
its shores, cast a gloom over the scene, and prevented us from
exploring its infected streets. That the feelings of all on board
very nearly resembled our own might be read in the anxious faces of
both passengers and crew. Our captain, who had never before hinted
that he entertained any apprehensions on the subject, now confided
to us his conviction that he should never quit the city alive:
"This cursed cholera! Left it in Russia--found it on my return to
Leith--meets me again in Canada. No escape the third time." If the
captain's prediction proved true in his case, it was not so in
ours. We left the cholera in England, we met it again in Scotland,
and, under the providence of God, we escaped its fatal visitation
in Canada.

Yet the fear and the dread of it on that first day caused me to
throw many an anxious glance on my husband and my child. I had been
very ill during the three weeks that our vessel was becalmed upon
the Banks of Newfoundland, and to this circumstance I attribute my
deliverance from the pestilence. I was weak and nervous when the
vessel arrived at Quebec, but the voyage up the St. Lawrence, the
fresh air and beautiful scenery were rapidly restoring me to health.

Montreal from the river wears a pleasing aspect, but it lacks the
grandeur, the stern sublimity of Quebec. The fine mountain that
forms the background to the city, the Island of St. Helens in
front, and the junction of the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa--which
run side by side, their respective boundaries only marked by a
long ripple of white foam, and the darker blue tint of the former
river--constitute the most remarkable features in the landscape.

The town itself was, at that period, dirty and ill-paved; and the
opening of all the sewers, in order to purify the place and stop
the ravages of the pestilence, rendered the public thoroughfares
almost impassable, and loaded the air with intolerable effluvia,
more likely to produce than stay the course of the plague, the
violence of which had, in all probability, been increased by these
long-neglected receptacles of uncleanliness.

The dismal stories told us by the excise-officer who came to
inspect the unloading of the vessel, of the frightful ravages of
the cholera, by no means increased our desire to go on shore.

"It will be a miracle if you escape," he said. "Hundreds of
emigrants die daily; and if Stephen Ayres had not providentally
come among us, not a soul would have been alive at this moment in

"And who is Stephen Ayres?" said I.

"God only knows," was the grave reply. "There was a man sent from
heaven, and his name was John."

"But I thought this man was called Stephen?"

"Ay, so he calls himself; but 'tis certain that he is not of the
earth. Flesh and blood could never do what he has done--the hand of
God is in it. Besides, no one knows who he is, or whence he comes.
When the cholera was at the worst, and the hearts of all men stood
still with fear, and our doctors could do nothing to stop its
progress, this man, or angel, or saint, suddenly made his appearance
in our streets. He came in great humility, seated in an ox-cart,
and drawn by two lean oxen and a rope harness. Only think of that!
Such a man in an OLD OX-CART, drawn by ROPE HARNESS! The thing
itself was a miracle. He made no parade about what he could do, but
only fixed up a plain pasteboard notice, informing the public that
he possessed an infallible remedy for the cholera, and would engage
to cure all who sent for him."

"And was he successful?"

"Successful! It beats all belief; and his remedy so simple! For
some days we all took him for a quack, and would have no faith in
him at all, although he performed some wonderful cures upon poor
folks, who could not afford to send for the doctor. The Indian
village was attacked by the disease, and he went out to them, and
restored upward of a hundred of the Indians to perfect health.
They took the old lean oxen out of the cart, and drew him back to
Montreal in triumph. This 'stablished him at once, and in a few
days' time he made a fortune. The very doctors sent for him to cure
them; and it is to be hoped that in a few days he will banish the
cholera from the city."

"Do you know his famous remedy?"

"Do I not?--Did he not cure me when I was at the last gasp? Why, he
makes no secret of it. It is all drawn from the maple-tree. First
he rubs the patient all over with an ointment, made of hog's lard
and maple-sugar and ashes, from the maple-tree; and he gives him a
hot draught of maple-sugar and ley, which throws him into a violent
perspiration. In about an hour the cramps subside; he falls into a
quiet sleep, and when he awakes he is perfectly restored to health."
Such were our first tidings of Stephen Ayres, the cholera doctor,
who is universally believed to have effected some wonderful cures.
He obtained a wide celebrity throughout the colony.[1]

[1] A friend of mine, in this town, has an original portrait of
this notable empiric--this man sent from heaven. The face is rather
handsome, but has a keen, designing expression, and is evidently
that of an American, from its complexion and features.

The day of our arrival in the port of Montreal was spent in packing
and preparing for our long journey up the country. At sunset, I
went upon deck to enjoy the refreshing breeze that swept from the
river. The evening was delightful; the white tents of the soldiers
on the Island of St. Helens glittered in the beams of the sun, and
the bugle-call, wafted over the waters, sounded so cheery and
inspiring, that it banished all fears of the cholera, and, with
fear, the heavy gloom that had clouded my mind since we left
Quebec. I could once more hold sweet converse with nature, and
enjoy the soft loveliness of the rich and harmonious scene.

A loud cry from one of the crew startled me; I turned to the river,
and beheld a man struggling in the water a short distance from our
vessel. He was a young sailor, who had fallen from the bowsprit of
a ship near us.

There is something terribly exciting in beholding a fellow-creature
in imminent peril, without having the power to help him. To witness
his death-struggles--to feel in your own person all the dreadful
alternations of hope and fear--and, finally, to see him die, with
scarcely an effort made for his preservation. This was our case.

At the moment he fell into the water, a boat with three men was
within a few yards of the spot, and actually sailed over the spot
where he sank. Cries of "Shame!" from the crowd collected upon the
bank of the river, had no effect in rousing these people to attempt
the rescue of a perishing fellow-creature. The boat passed on. The
drowning man again rose to the surface, the convulsive motion of
his hands and feet visible above the water, but it was evident that
the struggle would be his last.

"Is it possible that they will let a human being perish, and so
near the shore, when an oar held out would save his life?" was the
agonising question at my heart, as I gazed, half-maddened by
excitement, on the fearful spectacle. The eyes of a multitude were
fixed upon the same object--but not a hand stirred. Every one
seemed to expect from his fellow an effort which he was incapable
of attempting himself.

At this moment--splash! a sailor plunged into the water from the
deck of a neighbouring vessel, and dived after the drowning man.
A deep "Thank God!" burst from my heart. I drew a freer breath as
the brave fellow's head appeared above the water. He called to the
man in the boat to throw him an oar, or the drowning man would be
the death of them both. Slowly they put back the boat--the oar was
handed; but it came too late! The sailor, whose name was Cook, had
been obliged to shake off the hold of the dying man to save his own
life. He dived again to the bottom, and succeeded in bringing to
shore the body of the unfortunate being he had vainly endeavoured
to succour. Shortly after, he came on board our vessel, foaming
with passion at the barbarous indifference manifested by the men
in the boat.

"Had they given me the oar in time, I could have saved him. I knew
him well--he was an excellent fellow, and a good seaman. He has
left a wife and three children in Liverpool. Poor Jane!--how can I
tell her that I could not save her husband?"

He wept bitterly, and it was impossible for any of us to witness
his emotion without joining in his grief.

From the mate I learned that this same young man had saved the lives
of three women and a child when the boat was swamped at Grosse
Isle, in attempting to land the passengers from the Horsley Hill.

Such acts of heroism are common in the lower walks of life. Thus,
the purest gems are often encased in the rudest crust; and the
finest feelings of the human heart are fostered in the chilling
atmosphere of poverty.

While this sad event occupied all our thoughts, and gave rise to
many painful reflections, an exclamation of unqualified delight at
once changed the current of our thoughts, and filled us with
surprise and pleasure. Maggie Grant had fainted in the arms of her

Yes, there was Tam--her dear, reckless Tam, after all her tears and
lamentations, pressing his young wife to his heart, and calling her

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: