List Of Contents | Contents of Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie
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they made us partake; and after vainly endeavouring to dissuade us
from what appeared to them our Quixotic expedition, Mrs. C--- added
a dozen fine white fish to the contents of the sack, and sent her
youngest son to help Mr. T--- along with his burthen, and to bear
us company on our desolate road.

Leaving the colonel's hospitable house on our left, we again plunged
into the woods, and after a few minutes' brisk walking, found
ourselves upon the brow of a steep bank that overlooked the
beaver-meadow, containing within its area several hundred acres.

There is no scenery in the bush that presents such a novel
appearance as those meadows, or openings, surrounded as they
invariably are, by dark, intricate forests; their high, rugged
banks covered with the light, airy tamarack and silver birch. In
summer they look like a lake of soft, rich verdure, hidden in the
bosom of the barren and howling waste. Lakes they certainly have
been, from which the waters have receded, "ages, ages long ago";
and still the whole length of these curious level valleys is
traversed by a stream, of no inconsiderable dimensions.

The waters of the narrow, rapid creek, which flowed through the
meadow we were about to cross, were of sparkling brightness, and
icy cold. The frost-king had no power to check their swift, dancing
movements, or stop their perpetual song. On they leaped, sparkling
and flashing beneath their ice-crowned banks, rejoicing as they
revelled on in their lonely course. In the prime of the year, this
is a wild and lovely spot, the grass is of the richest green, and
the flowers of the most gorgeous dyes. The gayest butterflies float
above them upon painted wings; and the whip-poor-will pours forth
from the neighbouring woods, at close of dewy eve, his strange but
sadly plaintive cry. Winter was now upon the earth, and the once
green meadow looked like a small forest lake covered with snow.

The first step we made into it plunged us up to the knees in the
snow, which was drifted to a great height in the open space. Mr.
T--- and our young friend C--- walked on ahead of us, in order to
break a track through the untrodden snow. We soon reached the cold
creek; but here a new difficulty presented itself. It was too wide
to jump across, and we could see no other way of passing to the
other side.

"There must be some sort of a bridge here about," said young C---,
"or how can the people from Dummer pass constantly during the winter
to and fro. I will go along the bank, and halloo to you if I find

In a few minutes he gave the desired signal, and on reaching the
spot, we found a round, slippery log flung across the stream by way
of bridge. With some trouble, and after various slips, we got safely
on the other side. To wet our feet would have been to ensure their
being frozen; and as it was, we were not without serious
apprehension on that score. After crossing the bleak, snowy plain,
we scrambled over another brook, and entered the great swamp, which
occupied two miles of our dreary road.

It would be vain to attempt giving any description of this tangled
maze of closely-interwoven cedars, fallen trees, and loose-scattered
masses of rock. It seemed the fitting abode of wolves and bears, and
every other unclean beast. The fire had run through it during the
summer, making the confusion doubly confused. Now we stooped,
half-doubled, to crawl under fallen branches that hung over our
path, then again we had to clamber over prostrate trees of great
bulk, descending from which we plumped down into holes in the snow,
sinking mid-leg into the rotten trunk of some treacherous, decayed
pine-tree. Before we were half through the great swamp, we began to
think ourselves sad fools, and to wish that we were safe again by
our own firesides. But, then, a great object was in view,--the
relief of a distressed fellow-creature, and like the "full of hope,
misnamed forlorn," we determined to overcome every difficulty, and
toil on.

It took us an hour at least to clear the great swamp, from which we
emerged into a fine wood, composed chiefly of maple-trees. The sun
had, during our immersion in the dark shades of the swamp, burst
through his leaden shroud, and cast a cheery gleam along the rugged
boles of the lofty trees. The squirrel and chipmunk occasionally
bounded across our path; the dazzling snow which covered it
reflected the branches above us in an endless variety of dancing
shadows. Our spirits rose in proportion. Young C--- burst out
singing, and Emilia and I laughed and chatted as we bounded along
our narrow road. On, on for hours, the same interminable forest
stretched away to the right and left, before and behind us.

"It is past twelve," said my brother T--- thoughtfully; "if we do
not soon come to a clearing, we may chance to spend the night in
the forest."

"Oh, I am dying with hunger," cried Emilia. "Do C---, give us one or
two of the cakes your mother put into the bag for us to eat upon the

The ginger-cakes were instantly produced. But where were the teeth
to be found that could masticate them? The cakes were frozen as hard
as stones; this was a great disappointment to us tired and hungry
wights; but it only produced a hearty laugh. Over the logs we went
again; for it was a perpetual stepping up and down, crossing the
fallen trees that obstructed our path. At last we came to a spot
where two distinct blazed roads diverged.

"What are we to do now?" said Mr. T---.

We stopped, and a general consultation was held, and without one
dissenting voice we took the branch to the right, which, after
pursuing for about half a mile, led us to a log hut of the rudest

"Is this the road to Dummer?" we asked a man, who was chopping wood
outside the fence.

"I guess you are in Dummer," was the answer.

My heart leaped for joy, for I was dreadfully fatigued.

"Does this road lead through the English Line?"

"That's another thing," returned the woodman. "No, you turned off
from the right path when you came up here." We all looked very blank
at each other. "You will have to go back, and keep the other road,
and that will lead you straight to the English Line."

"How many miles is it to Mrs. N---'s?"

"Some four, or thereabouts," was the cheering rejoinder. "'Tis one
of the last clearings on the line. If you are going back to Douro
to-night, you must look sharp."

Sadly and dejectedly we retraced our steps. There are few trifling
failures more bitter in our journey through life than that of a
tired traveller mistaking his road. What effect must that tremendous
failure produce upon the human mind, when at the end of life's
unretraceable journey, the traveller finds that he has fallen upon
the wrong track through every stage, and instead of arriving at a
land of blissful promise, sinks for ever into the gulf of despair!

The distance we had trodden in the wrong path, while led on by hope
and anticipation, now seemed to double in length, as with painful
steps we toiled on to reach the right road. This object once
attained, soon led us to the dwellings of men.

Neat, comfortable log houses, surrounded by well-fenced patches of
clearing, arose on either side of the forest road; dogs flew out and
barked at us, and children ran shouting indoors to tell their
respective owners that strangers were passing their gates; a most
unusual circumstance, I should think, in that location.

A servant who had hired two years with my brother-in-law, we knew
must live somewhere in this neighbourhood, at whose fireside we
hoped not only to rest and warm ourselves, but to obtain something
to eat. On going up to one of the cabins to inquire for Hannah J---,
we fortunately happened to light upon the very person we sought.
With many exclamations of surprise, she ushered us into her neat and
comfortable log dwelling.

A blazing fire, composed of two huge logs, was roaring up the wide
chimney, and the savoury smell that issued from a large pot of
pea-soup was very agreeable to our cold and hungry stomachs. But,
alas, the refreshment went no further! Hannah most politely begged
us to take seats by the fire, and warm and rest ourselves; she even
knelt down and assisted in rubbing our half-frozen hands; but she
never once made mention of the hot soup, or of the tea, which was
drawing in a tin teapot upon the hearth-stone, or of a glass of
whiskey, which would have been thankfully accepted by our male

Hannah was not an Irishwoman, no, nor a Scotch lassie, or her very
first request would have been for us to take "a pickle of soup," or
"a sup of thae warm broths." The soup was no doubt cooking for
Hannah's husband and two neighbours, who were chopping for him in
the bush; and whose want of punctuality she feelingly lamented.

As we left her cottage, and jogged on, Emilia whispered, laughing,
"I hope you are satisfied with your good dinner? Was not the
pea-soup excellent?--and that cup of nice hot tea!--I never relished
anything more in my life. I think we should never pass that house
without giving Hannah a call, and testifying our gratitude for her
good cheer."

Many times did we stop to inquire the way to Mrs. N---'s, before we
ascended the steep, bleak hill upon which her house stood. At the
door, Mr. T--- deposited the sack of provisions, and he and young
C--- went across the road to the house of an English settler (who,
fortunately for them, proved more hospitable than Hannah J---),
to wait until our errand was executed.

The house before which Emilia and I were standing had once been
a tolerably comfortable log dwelling. It was larger than such
buildings generally are, and was surrounded by dilapidated barns
and stables, which were not cheered by a solitary head of cattle.
A black pine-forest stretched away to the north of the house, and
terminated in a dismal, tangled cedar-swamp, the entrance to the
house not having been constructed to face the road.

The spirit that had borne me up during the journey died within me. I
was fearful that my visit would be deemed an impertinent intrusion.
I knew not in what manner to introduce myself, and my embarrassment
had been greatly increased by Mrs. S--- declaring that I must break
the ice, for she had not courage to go in. I remonstrated, but she
was firm. To hold any longer parley was impossible. We were standing
on the top of a bleak hill, with the thermometer many degrees below
zero, and exposed to the fiercest biting of the bitter, cutting
blast. With a heavy sigh, I knocked slowly but decidedly at the
crazy door. I saw the curly head of a boy glance for a moment
against the broken window. There was a stir within, but no one
answered our summons. Emilia was rubbing her hands together, and
beating a rapid tattoo with her feet upon the hard and glittering
snow, to keep them from freezing.

Again I appealed to the inhospitable door, with a vehemence which
seemed to say, "We are freezing, good people; in mercy let us in!"

Again there was a stir, and a whispered sound of voices, as if
in consultation, from within; and after waiting a few minutes
longer--which, cold as we were, seemed an age--the door was
cautiously opened by a handsome, dark-eyed lad of twelve years of
age, who was evidently the owner of the curly head that had been
sent to reconnoitre us through the window. Carefully closing the
door after him, he stepped out upon the snow, and asked us coldly
but respectfully what we wanted. I told him that we were two ladies,
who had walked all the way from Douro to see his mamma, and that we
wished very much to speak to her. The lad answered us, with the ease
and courtesy of a gentleman, that he did not know whether his mamma
could be seen by strangers, but he would go in and see. So saying he
abruptly left us, leaving behind him an ugly skeleton of a dog, who,
after expressing his disapprobation at our presence in the most
disagreeable and unequivocal manner, pounced like a famished wolf
upon the sack of good things which lay at Emilia's feet; and our
united efforts could scarcely keep him off.

"A cold, doubtful reception this!" said my friend, turning her back
to the wind, and hiding her face in her muff. "This is worse than
Hannah's liberality, and the long, weary walk."

I thought so too, and began to apprehend that our walk had been in
vain, when the lad again appeared, and said that we might walk in,
for his mother was dressed.

Emilia, true to her determination, went no farther than the passage.
In vain were all my entreating looks and mute appeals to her
benevolence and friendship; I was forced to enter alone the
apartment that contained the distressed family.

I felt that I was treading upon sacred ground, for a pitying angel
hovers over the abode of suffering virtue, and hallows all its woes.
On a rude bench, before the fire, sat a lady, between thirty and
forty years of age, dressed in a thin, coloured muslin gown, the
most inappropriate garment for the rigour of the season, but, in all
probability, the only decent one that she retained. A subdued
melancholy looked forth from her large, dark, pensive eyes. She
appeared like one who, having discovered the full extent of her
misery, had proudly steeled her heart to bear it. Her countenance
was very pleasing, and, in early life (but she was still young), she
must have been eminently handsome. Near her, with her head bent
down, and shaded by her thin, slender hand, her slight figure
scarcely covered by her scanty clothing, sat her eldest daughter, a
gentle, sweet-looking girl, who held in her arms a baby brother,
whose destitution she endeavoured to conceal. It was a touching
sight; that suffering girl, just stepping into womanhood, hiding
against her young bosom the nakedness of the little creature she
loved. Another fine boy, whose neatly-patched clothes had not one
piece of the original stuff apparently left in them, stood behind
his mother, with dark, glistening eyes fastened upon me, as if
amused, and wondering who I was, and what business I could have
there. A pale and attenuated, but very pretty, delicately-featured
little girl was seated on a low stool before the fire. This was
old Jenny's darling, Ellie, or Eloise. A rude bedstead, of home
manufacture, in a corner of the room, covered with a coarse woollen
quilt, contained two little boys, who had crept into it to conceal
their wants from the eyes of the stranger. On the table lay a dozen
peeled potatoes, and a small pot was boiling on the fire, to receive
their scanty and only daily meal. There was such an air of patient
and enduring suffering to the whole group, that, as I gazed
heart-stricken upon it, my fortitude quite gave way, and I burst
into tears.

Mrs. N--- first broke the painful silence, and, rather proudly,
asked me to whom she had the pleasure of speaking. I made a
desperate effort to regain my composure, and told her, but with much
embarrassment, my name; adding that I was so well acquainted with
her and her children, through Jenny, that I could not consider her
as a stranger; that I hoped that, as I was the wife of an officer,
and like her, a resident in the bush, and well acquainted with all

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