Roughing it in the Bush/Chapter V
OUR FIRST SETTLEMENT, AND THE BORROWING SYSTEMEdit
To lend, or not to lend—is that the question?
"Those who go a-borrowing, go a-sorrowing," saith the old adage; and a wiser saw never came out of the mouth of experience. I have tested the truth of this proverb since my settlement in Canada, many, many times, to my cost; and what emigrant has not? So averse have I ever been to this practice, that I would at all times rather quietly submit to a temporary inconvenience than obtain anything I wanted in this manner. I verily believe that a demon of mischief presides over borrowed goods, and takes a wicked pleasure in playing off a thousand malicious pranks upon you the moment he enters your dwelling. Plates and dishes, that had been the pride and ornament of their own cupboard for years, no sooner enter upon foreign service than they are broken; wine-glasses and tumblers, that have been handled by a hundred careless wenches in safety, scarcely pass into the hands of your servants when they are sure to tumble upon the floor, and the accident turns out a compound fracture. If you borrow a garment of any kind, be sure that you will tear it; a watch, that you will break it; a jewel, that you will lose it; a book, that it will be stolen from you. There is no end to the trouble and vexation arising out of this evil habit. If you borrow a horse, and he has the reputation of being the best-behaved animal in the district, you no sooner become responsible for his conduct than he loses his character. The moment that you attempt to drive him, he shows that he has a will of his own, by taking the reins into his own management, and running away in a contrary direction to the road that you wished him to travel. He never gives over his eccentric capers until he has broken his own knees, and the borrowed carriage and harness. So anxious are you about his safety, that you have not a moment to bestow upon your own. And why?—the beast is borrowed, and you are expected to return him in as good condition as he came to you.
But of all evils, to borrow money is perhaps the worst. If of a friend, he ceases to be one the moment you feel that you are bound to him by the heavy clog of obligation. If of a usurer, the interest, in this country, soon doubles the original sum, and you owe an increasing debt, which in time swallows up all you possess.
When we first came to the colony, nothing surprised me more than the extent to which this pernicious custom was carried, both by the native Canadians, the European settlers, and the lower order of Americans. Many of the latter had spied out the goodness of the land, and BORROWED various portions of it, without so much as asking leave of the absentee owners. Unfortunately, our new home was surrounded by these odious squatters, whom we found as ignorant as savages, without their courtesy and kindness.
The place we first occupied was purchased of Mr. B—, a merchant, who took it in payment of sundry large debts which the owner, a New England loyalist, had been unable to settle. Old Joe R—, the present occupant, had promised to quit it with his family, at the commencement of sleighing; and as the bargain was concluded in the month of September, and we were anxious to plough for fall wheat, it was necessary to be upon the spot. No house was to be found in the immediate neighbourhood, save a small dilapidated log tenement, on an adjoining farm (which was scarcely reclaimed from the bush) that had been some months without an owner. The merchant assured is that this could be made very comfortable until such time as it suited R— to remove, and the owner was willing to let us have it for the moderate sum of four dollars a month.
Trusting to Mr. B—'s word, and being strangers in the land, we never took the precaution to examine this delightful summer residence before entering upon it, but thought ourselves very fortunate in obtaining a temporary home so near our own property, the distance not exceeding half a mile. The agreement was drawn up, and we were told that we could take possession whenever it suited us.
The few weeks that I had sojourned in the country had by no means prepossessed me in its favour. The home-sickness was sore upon me, and all my solitary hours were spent in tears. My whole soul yielded itself up to a strong and overpowering grief. One simple word dwelt for ever in my heart, and swelled it to bursting—"Home!" I repeated it waking a thousand times a day, and my last prayer before I sank to sleep was still "Home! Oh, that I could return, if only to die at home!" And nightly I did return; my feet again trod the daisied meadows of England; the song of her birds was in my ears; I wept with delight to find myself once more wandering beneath the fragrant shade of her green hedge-rows; and I awoke to weep in earnest when I found it but a dream. But this is all digression, and has nothing to do with our unseen dwelling. The reader must bear with me in my fits of melancholy, and take me as I am.
It was the 22nd September that we left the Steam-boat Hotel, to take possession of our new abode. During the three weeks we had sojourned at —, I had not seen a drop of rain, and I began to think that the fine weather would last for ever; but this eventful day arose in clouds. Moodie had hired a covered carriage to convey the baby, the servant-maid, and myself to the farm, as our driver prognosticated a wet day; while he followed with Tom Wilson and the teams that conveyed our luggage.
The scenery through which we were passing was so new to me, so unlike anything that I had ever beheld before, that in spite of its monotonous character, it won me from my melancholy, and I began to look about me with considerable interest. Not so my English servant, who declared that the woods were frightful to look upon; that it was a country only fit for wild beasts; that she hated it with all her heart and soul, and would go back as soon as she was able.
About a mile from the place of our destination the rain began to fall in torrents, and the air, which had been balmy as a spring morning, turned as chilly as that of a November day. Hannah shivered; the baby cried, and I drew my summer shawl as closely round as possible, to protect her from the sudden change in our hitherto delightful temperature. Just then, the carriage turned into a narrow, steep path, overhung with lofty woods, and after labouring up it with considerable difficulty, and at the risk of breaking our necks, it brought us at length to a rocky upland clearing, partially covered with a second growth of timber, and surrounded on all sides by the dark forest.
"I guess," quoth our Yankee driver, "that at the bottom of this 'ere swell, you'll find yourself to hum;" and plunging into a short path cut through the wood, he pointed to a miserable hut, at the bottom of a steep descent, and cracking his whip, exclaimed, "'Tis a smart location that. I wish you Britishers may enjoy it."
I gazed upon the place in perfect dismay, for I had never seen such a shed called a house before. "You must be mistaken; that is not a house, but a cattle-shed, or pig-sty."
The man turned his knowing, keen eye upon me, and smiled, half-humorously, half-maliciously, as he said—
"You were raised in the old country, I guess; you have much to learn, and more, perhaps, than you'll like to know, before the winter is over."
I was perfectly bewildered—I could only stare at the place, with my eyes swimming in tears; but as the horses plunged down into the broken hollow, my attention was drawn from my new residence to the perils which endangered life and limb at every step. The driver, however, was well used to such roads, and, steering us dexterously between the black stumps, at length drove up, not to the door, for there was none to the house, but to the open space from which that absent but very necessary appendage had been removed. Three young steers and two heifers, which the driver proceeded to drive out, were quietly reposing upon the floor. A few strokes of his whip, and a loud burst of gratuitous curses, soon effected an ejectment; and I dismounted, and took possession of this untenable tenement. Moodie was not yet in sight with the teams. I begged the man to stay until he arrived, as I felt terrified at being left alone in this wild, strange-looking place. He laughed, as well he might, at our fears, and said that he had a long way to go, and must be off; then, cracking his whip, and nodding to the girl, who was crying aloud, he went his way, and Hannah and myself were left standing in the middle of the dirty floor.
The prospect was indeed dreary. Without, pouring rain; within, a fireless hearth; a room with but one window, and that containing only one whole pane of glass; not an article of furniture to be seen, save an old painted pine-wood cradle, which had been left there by some freak of fortune. This, turned upon its side, served us for a seat, and there we impatiently awaited the arrival of Moodie, Wilson, and a man whom the former had hired that morning to assist on the farm. Where they were all to be stowed might have puzzled a more sagacious brain than mine. It is true there was a loft, but I could see no way of reaching it, for ladder there was none, so we amused ourselves, while waiting for the coming of our party, by abusing the place, the country, and our own dear selves for our folly in coming to it.
Now, when not only reconciled to Canada, but loving it, and feeling a deep interest in its present welfare, and the fair prospect of its future greatness, I often look back and laugh at the feelings with which I then regarded this noble country.
When things come to the worst, they generally mend. The males of our party no sooner arrived than they set about making things more comfortable. James, our servant, pulled up some of the decayed stumps, with which the small clearing that surrounded the shanty was thickly covered, and made a fire, and Hannah roused herself from the stupor of despair, and seized the corn-broom from the top of the loaded waggon, and began to sweep the house, raising such an intolerable cloud of dust that I was glad to throw my cloak over my head, and run out of doors, to avoid suffocation. Then commenced the awful bustle of unloading the two heavily-loaded waggons. The small space within the house was soon entirely blocked up with trunks and packages of all descriptions. There was scarcely room to move, without stumbling over some article of household stuff.
The rain poured in at the open door, beat in at the shattered window, and dropped upon our heads from the holes in the roof. The wind blew keenly through a thousand apertures in the log walls; and nothing could exceed the uncomfortableness of our situation. For a long time the box which contained a hammer and nails was not to be found. At length Hannah discovered it, tied up with some bedding which she was opening out in order to dry. I fortunately spied the door lying among some old boards at the back of the house, and Moodie immediately commenced fitting it to its place. This, once accomplished, was a great addition to our comfort. We then nailed a piece of white cloth entirely over the broken window, which, without diminishing the light, kept out the rain. James constructed a ladder out of the old bits of boards, and Tom Wilson assisted him in stowing the luggage away in the loft.
But what has this picture of misery and discomfort to do with borrowing? Patience, my dear, good friends; I will tell you all about it by-and-by.
While we were all busily employed—even the poor baby, who was lying upon a pillow in the old cradle, trying the strength of her lungs, and not a little irritated that no one was at leisure to regard her laudable endeavours to make herself heard—the door was suddenly pushed open, and the apparition of a woman squeezed itself into the crowded room. I left off arranging the furniture of a bed, that had been just put up in a corner, to meet my unexpected, and at that moment, not very welcome guest. Her whole appearance was so extraordinary that I felt quite at a loss how to address her.
Imagine a girl of seventeen or eighteen years of age, with sharp, knowing-looking features, a forward, impudent carriage, and a pert, flippant voice, standing upon one of the trunks, and surveying all our proceedings in the most impertinent manner. The creature was dressed in a ragged, dirty purple stuff gown, cut very low in the neck, with an old red cotton handkerchief tied over her head; her uncombed, tangled locks falling over her thin, inquisitive face, in a state of perfect nature. Her legs and feet were bare, and, in her coarse, dirty red hands, she swung to and fro an empty glass decanter.
"What can she want?" I asked myself. "What a strange creature!"
And there she stood, staring at me in the most unceremonious manner, her keen black eyes glancing obliquely to every corner of the room, which she examined with critical exactness.
Before I could speak to her, she commenced the conversation by drawling through her nose, "Well, I guess you are fixing here."
I thought she had come to offer her services; and I told her that I did not want a girl, for I had brought one out with me.
"How!" responded the creature, "I hope you don't take me for a help. I'd have you to know that I'm as good a lady as yourself. No; I just stepped over to see what was going on. I seed the teams pass our'n about noon, and I says to father, 'Them strangers are cum; I'll go and look arter them.' 'Yes,' says he, 'do—and take the decanter along. May be they'll want one to put their whiskey in.' 'I'm goin to,' says I; so I cum across with it, an' here it is. But, mind—don't break it—'tis the only one we have to hum; and father says 'tis so mean to drink out of green glass."
My surprise increased every minute. It seemed such an act of disinterested generosity thus to anticipate wants we had never thought of. I was regularly taken in.
"My good girl," I began, "this is really very kind—but—"
"Now, don't go to call me 'gall'—and pass off your English airs on us. We are GENUINE Yankees, and think ourselves as good—yes, a great deal better than you. I am a young lady."
"Indeed!" said I, striving to repress my astonishment. "I am a stranger in the country, and my acquaintance with Canadian ladies and gentlemen is very small. I did not mean to offend you by using the term girl; I was going to assure you that we had no need of the decanter. We have bottles of our own—and we don't drink whiskey."
"How! Not drink whiskey? Why, you don't say! How ignorant you must be! may be they have no whiskey in the old country?"
"Yes, we have; but it is not like the Canadian whiskey. But, pray take the decanter home again—I am afraid that it will get broken in this confusion."
"No, no; father told me to leave it—and there it is;" and she planted it resolutely down on the trunk. "You will find a use for it till you have unpacked your own."
Seeing that she was determined to leave the bottle, I said no more about it, but asked her to tell me where the well was to be found.
"The well!" she repeated after me, with a sneer. "Who thinks of digging wells when they can get plenty of water from the creek? There is a fine water privilege not a stone's-throw from the door," and, jumping off the box, she disappeared as abruptly as she had entered. We all looked at each other; Tom Wilson was highly amused, and laughed until he held his sides.
"What tempted her to bring this empty bottle here?" said Moodie. "It is all an excuse; the visit, Tom, was meant for you."
"You'll know more about it in a few days," said James, looking up from his work. "That bottle is not brought here for nought."
I could not unravel the mystery, and thought no more about it, until it was again brought to my recollection by the damsel herself.
Our united efforts had effected a complete transformation in our uncouth dwelling. Sleeping-berths had been partitioned off for the men; shelves had been put up for the accommodation of books and crockery, a carpet covered the floor, and the chairs and tables we had brought from — gave an air of comfort to the place, which, on the first view of it, I deemed impossible. My husband, Mr. Wilson, and James, had walked over to inspect the farm, and I was sitting at the table at work, the baby creeping upon the floor, and Hannah preparing dinner. The sun shone warm and bright, and the open door admitted a current of fresh air, which tempered the heat of the fire.
"Well, I guess you look smart," said the Yankee damsel, presenting herself once more before me. "You old country folks are so stiff, you must have every thing nice, or you fret. But, then, you can easily do it; you have stacks of money; and you can fix everything right off with money."
"Pray take a seat," and I offered her a chair, "and be kind enough to tell me your name. I suppose you must live in the neighbourhood, although I cannot perceive any dwelling near us."
"My name! So you want to know my name. I arn't ashamed of my own; 'tis Emily S—. I am eldest daughter to the GENTLEMAN who owns this house."
"What must the father be," thought I, "if he resembles the young LADY, his daughter?"
Imagine a young lady, dressed in ragged petticoats, through whose yawning rents peeped forth, from time to time, her bare red knees, with uncombed elf-locks, and a face and hands that looked as if they had been unwashed for a month—who did not know A from B, and despised those who did. While these reflections, combined with a thousand ludicrous images, were flitting through my mind, my strange visitor suddenly exclaimed—
"Have you done with that 'ere decanter I brought across yesterday?"
"Oh, yes! I have no occasion for it." I rose, took it from the shelf, and placed it in her hand.
"I guess you won't return it empty; that would be mean, father says. He wants it filled with whiskey."
The mystery was solved, the riddle made clear. I could contain my gravity no longer, but burst into a hearty fit of laughter, in which I was joined by Hannah. Our young lady was mortally offended; she tossed the decanter from hand to hand, and glared at us with her tiger-like eyes.
"You think yourselves smart! Why do you laugh in that way?"
"Excuse me—but you have such an odd way of borrowing that I cannot help it. This bottle, it seems, was brought over for your own convenience, not for mine. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have no whiskey."
"I guess spirits will do as well; I know there is some in that keg, for I smells it."
"It contains rum for the workmen."
"Better still. I calculate when you've been here a few months, you'll be too knowing to give rum to your helps. But old country folks are all fools, and that's the reason they get so easily sucked in, and be so soon wound-up. Cum, fill the bottle, and don't be stingy. In this country we all live by borrowing. If you want anything, why just send and borrow from us."
Thinking that this might be the custom of the country, I hastened to fill the decanter, hoping that I might get a little new milk for the poor weanling child in return; but when I asked my liberal visitor if she kept cows, and would lend me a little new milk for the baby, she burst out into high disdain. "Milk! Lend milk? I guess milk in the fall is worth a York shilling a quart. I cannot sell you a drop under."
This was a wicked piece of extortion, as the same article in the town, where, of course, it was in greater request, only brought three-pence the quart.
"If you'll pay me for it, I'll bring you some to-morrow. But mind—cash down."
"And when do you mean to return the rum?" I said, with some asperity.
"When father goes to the creek." This was the name given by my neighbours to the village of P—, distant about four miles.
Day after day I was tormented by this importunate creature; she borrowed of me tea, sugar, candles, starch, blueing, irons, pots, bowls—in short, every article in common domestic use—while it was with the utmost difficulty we could get them returned. Articles of food, such as tea and sugar, or of convenience, like candles, starch, and soap, she never dreamed of being required at her hands. This method of living upon their neighbours is a most convenient one to unprincipled people, as it does not involve the penalty of stealing; and they can keep the goods without the unpleasant necessity of returning them, or feeling the moral obligation of being grateful for their use. Living eight miles from —, I found these constant encroachments a heavy burden on our poor purse; and being ignorant of the country, and residing in such a lonely, out-of-the-way place, surrounded by these savages, I was really afraid of denying their requests.
The very day our new plough came home, the father of this bright damsel, who went by the familiar and unenviable title of Old Satan, came over to borrow it (though we afterwards found out that he had a good one of his own). The land had never been broken up, and was full of rocks and stumps, and he was anxious to save his own from injury; the consequence was that the borrowed implement came home unfit for use, just at the very time that we wanted to plough for fall wheat. The same happened to a spade and trowel, bought in order to plaster the house. Satan asked the loan of them for ONE hour for the same purpose, and we never saw them again.
The daughter came one morning, as usual, on one of these swindling expeditions, and demanded of me the loan of some fine slack. Not knowing what she meant by fine slack, and weary of her importunities, I said I had none. She went away in a rage. Shortly after she came again for some pepper. I was at work, and my work-box was open upon the table, well stored with threads and spools of all descriptions. Miss Satan cast her hawk's eye into it, and burst out in her usual rude manner—
"I guess you told me a tarnation big lie the other day."
Unaccustomed to such language, I rose from my seat, and pointing to the door, told her to walk out, as I did not choose to be insulted in my own house.
"Your house! I'm sure it's father's," returned the incorrigible wretch. "You told me that you had no fine slack, and you have stacks of it."
"What is fine slack?" said I, very pettishly.
"The stuff that's wound upon these 'ere pieces of wood," pouncing as she spoke upon one of my most serviceable spools.
"I cannot give you that; I want it myself."
"I didn't ask you to give it. I only wants to borrow it till father goes to the creek."
"I wish he would make haste, then, as I want a number of things which you have borrowed of me, and which I cannot longer do without."
She gave me a knowing look, and carried off my spool in triumph.
I happened to mention the manner in which I was constantly annoyed by these people, to a worthy English farmer who resided near us; and he fell a-laughing, and told me that I did not know the Canadian Yankees as well as he did, or I should not be troubled with them long.
"The best way," says he, "to get rid of them, is to ask them sharply what they want; and if they give you no satisfactory answer, order them to leave the house; but I believe I can put you in a better way still. Buy some small article of them, and pay them a trifle over the price, and tell them to bring the change. I will lay my life upon it that it will be long before they trouble you again."
I was impatient to test the efficacy of his scheme That very afternoon Miss Satan brought me a plate of butter for sale. The price was three and ninepence; twice the sum, by-the-bye, that it was worth.
"I have no change," giving her a dollar; "but you can bring it me to-morrow."
Oh, blessed experiment! for the value of one quarter dollar I got rid of this dishonest girl for ever; rather than pay me, she never entered the house again.
About a month after this, I was busy making an apple-pie in the kitchen. A cadaverous-looking woman, very long-faced and witch-like, popped her ill-looking visage into the door, and drawled through her nose—
"Do you want to buy a rooster?"
Now, the sucking-pigs with which we had been regaled every day for three weeks at the tavern, were called roasters; and not understanding the familiar phrases of the country, I thought she had a sucking-pig to sell.
"Is it a good one?"
"I guess 'tis."
"What do you ask for it?"
"That is very cheap, if it is any weight. I don't like them under ten or twelve pounds."
"Ten or twelve pounds! Why, woman, what do you mean? Would you expect a rooster to be bigger nor a turkey?"
We stared at each other. There was evidently some misconception on my part.
"Bring the roaster up; and if I like it, I will buy it, though I must confess that I am not very fond of roast pig."
"Do you call this a pig?" said my she-merchant, drawing a fine game-cock from under her cloak.
I laughed heartily at my mistake, as I paid her down the money for the bonny bird. This little matter settled, I thought she would take her departure; but that rooster proved the dearest fowl to me that ever was bought.
"Do you keep backy and snuff here?" says she, sideling close up to me.
"We make no use of those articles."
"How! Not use backy and snuff? That's oncommon."
She paused, then added in a mysterious, confidential tone—
"I want to ask you how your tea-caddy stands?"
"It stands in the cupboard," said I, wondering what all this might mean.
"I know that; but have you any tea to spare?"
I now began to suspect what sort of a customer the stranger was.
"Oh, you want to borrow some? I have none to spare."
"You don't say so. Well now, that's stingy. I never asked anything of you before. I am poor, and you are rich; besides, I'm troubled so with the headache, and nothing does me any good but a cup of strong tea."
"The money I have just given you will buy a quarter of a pound of the best."
"I guess that isn't mine. The fowl belonged to my neighbour. She's sick; and I promised to sell it for her to buy some physic. Money!" she added, in a coaxing tone, "Where should I get money? Lord bless you! people in this country have no money; and those who come out with piles of it, soon lose it. But Emily S— told me that you are tarnation rich, and draw your money from the old country. So I guess you can well afford to lend a neighbour a spoonful of tea."
"Neighbour! Where do you live, and what is your name?"
"My name is Betty Fye—old Betty Fye; I live in the log shanty over the creek, at the back of your'n. The farm belongs to my eldest son. I'm a widow with twelve sons; and 'tis — hard to scratch along."
"Do you swear?"
"Swear! What harm? It eases one's mind when one's vexed. Everybody swears in this country. My boys all swear like Sam Hill; and I used to swear mighty big oaths till about a month ago, when the Methody parson told me that if I did not leave it off I should go to a tarnation bad place; so I dropped some of the worst of them."
"You would do wisely to drop the rest; women never swear in my country."
"Well, you don't say! I always heer'd they were very ignorant. Will you lend me the tea?"
The woman was such an original that I gave her what she wanted. As she was going off, she took up one of the apples I was peeling.
"I guess you have a fine orchard?"
"They say the best in the district."
"We have no orchard to hum, and I guess you'll want sarce."
"Sarce! What is sarce?"
"Not know what sarce is? You are clever! Sarce is apples cut up and dried, to make into pies in the winter. Now do you comprehend?"
"Well, I was going to say that I have no apples, and that you have a tarnation big few of them; and if you'll give me twenty bushels of your best apples, and find me with half a pound of coarse thread to string them upon, I will make you a barrel of sarce on shares—that is, give you one, and keep one for myself."
I had plenty of apples, and I gladly accepted her offer, and Mrs. Betty Fye departed, elated with the success of her expedition.
I found to my cost, that, once admitted into the house, there was no keeping her away. She borrowed everything that she could think of, without once dreaming of restitution. I tried all ways of affronting her, but without success. Winter came, and she was still at her old pranks. Whenever I saw her coming down the lane, I used involuntarily to exclaim, "Betty Fye! Betty Fye! Fye upon Betty Fye! The Lord deliver me from Betty Fye!" The last time I was honoured with a visit from this worthy, she meant to favour me with a very large order upon my goods and chattels.
"Well, Mrs. Fye, what do you want to-day?"
"So many things that I scarce know where to begin. Ah, what a thing 'tis to be poor! First, I want you to lend me ten pounds of flour to make some Johnnie cakes."
"I thought they were made of Indian meal?"
"Yes, yes, when you've got the meal. I'm out of it, and this is a new fixing of my own invention. Lend me the flour, woman, and I'll bring you one of the cakes to taste."
This was said very coaxingly.
"Oh, pray don't trouble yourself. What next?" I was anxious to see how far her impudence would go, and determined to affront her if possible.
"I want you to lend me a gown, and a pair of stockings. I have to go to Oswego to see my husband's sister, and I'd like to look decent."
"Mrs. Fye, I never lend my clothes to any one. If I lent them to you, I should never wear them again."
"So much the better for me," (with a knowing grin). "I guess if you won't lend me the gown, you will let me have some black slack to quilt a stuff petticoat, a quarter of a pound of tea and some sugar; and I will bring them back as soon as I can."
"I wonder when that will be. You owe me so many things that it will cost you more than you imagine to repay me."
"Sure you're not going to mention what's past, I can't owe you much. But I will let you off the tea and the sugar, if you will lend me a five-dollar bill." This was too much for my patience longer to endure, and I answered sharply—
"Mrs. Fye, it surprises me that such proud people as you Americans should condescend to the meanness of borrowing from those whom you affect to despise. Besides, as you never repay us for what you pretend to borrow, I look upon it as a system of robbery. If strangers unfortunately settle among you, their good-nature is taxed to supply your domestic wants, at a ruinous expense, besides the mortification of finding that they have been deceived and tricked out of their property. If you would come honestly to me and say, 'I want these things, I am too poor to buy them myself, and would be obliged to you to give them to me,' I should then acknowledge you as a common beggar, and treat you accordingly; give or not give, as it suited my convenience. But in the way in which you obtain these articles from me, you are spared even a debt of gratitude; for you well know that the many things which you have borrowed from me will be a debt owing to the Day of Judgment."
"S'pose they are," quoth Betty, not in the least abashed at my lecture on honesty, "you know what the Scripture saith, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
"Ay, there is an answer to that in the same book, which doubtless you may have heard," said I, disgusted with her hypocrisy, "'The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again.'"
Never shall I forget the furious passion into which this too apt quotation threw my unprincipled applicant. She lifted up her voice and cursed me, using some of the big oaths temporarily discarded for conscience sake. And so she left me, and I never looked upon her face again.
When I removed to our own house, the history of which, and its former owner, I will give by-and-by, we had a bony, red-headed, ruffianly American squatter, who had "left his country for his country's good," for an opposite neighbour. I had scarcely time to put my house in order before his family commenced borrowing, or stealing from me. It is even worse than stealing, the things procured from you being obtained on false pretences—adding lying to theft. Not having either an oven or a cooking stove, which at that period were not so cheap or so common as they are now, I had provided myself with a large bake-kettle as a substitute. In this kettle we always cooked hot cakes for breakfast, preferring that to the trouble of thawing the frozen bread. This man's wife was in the habit of sending over for my kettle whenever she wanted to bake, which, as she had a large family, happened nearly every day, and I found her importunity a great nuisance.
I told the impudent lad so, who was generally sent for it; and asked him what they did to bake their bread before I came.
"I guess we had to eat cakes in the pan; but now we can borrow this kettle of your'n, mother can fix bread."
I told him that he could have the kettle this time; but I must decline letting his mother have it in future, for I wanted it for the same purpose.
The next day passed over. The night was intensely cold, and I did not rise so early as usual in the morning. My servant was away at a quilting bee, and we were still in bed, when I heard the latch of the kitchen-door lifted up, and a step crossed the floor. I jumped out of bed, and began to dress as fast as I could, when Philander called out, in his well-known nasal twang—
"Missus! I'm come for the kettle."
I (through the partition ): "You can't have it this morning. We cannot get our breakfast without it."
Philander: "Nor more can the old woman to hum," and, snatching up the kettle, which had been left to warm on the hearth, he rushed out of the house, singing, at the top of his voice—
"Hurrah for the Yankee Boys!"
When James came home for his breakfast, I sent him across to demand the kettle, and the dame very coolly told him that when she had done with it I MIGHT have it, but she defied him to take it out of her house with her bread in it.
One word more about this lad, Philander, before we part with him. Without the least intimation that his company would be agreeable, or even tolerated, he favoured us with it at all hours of the day, opening the door and walking in and out whenever he felt inclined. I had given him many broad hints that his presence was not required, but he paid not the slightest attention to what I said. One morning he marched in with his hat on, and threw himself down in the rocking-chair, just as I was going to dress my baby.
"Philander, I want to attend to the child; I cannot do it with you here. Will you oblige me by going into the kitchen?"
No answer. He seldom spoke during these visits, but wandered about the room, turning over our books and papers, looking at and handling everything. Nay, I have even known him to take a lid off from the pot on the fire, to examine its contents.
I repeated my request.
Philander: "Well, I guess I shan't hurt the young 'un. You can dress her."
I: "But not with you here."
Philander: "Why not? WE never do anything that we are ashamed of."
I: "So it seems. But I want to sweep the room—you had better get out of the dust."
I took the broom from the corner, and began to sweep; still my visitor did not stir. The dust rose in clouds; he rubbed his eyes, and moved a little nearer to the door. Another sweep, and, to escape its inflictions, he mounted the threshold. I had him now at a fair advantage, and fairly swept him out, and shut the door in his face.
Philander (looking through the window ): "Well, I guess you did me then; but 'tis deuced hard to outwit a Yankee."
This freed me from his company, and he, too, never repeated his visit; so I found by experience, that once smartly rebuked, they did not like to try their strength with you a second time.
When a sufficient time had elapsed for the drying of my twenty bushels of apples, I sent a Cornish lad, in our employ, to Betty Fye's, to inquire if they were ready, and when I should send the cart for them.
Dan returned with a yellow, smoke-dried string of pieces, dangling from his arm. Thinking that these were a specimen of the whole, I inquired when we were to send the barrel for the rest.
"Lord, ma'am, this is all there be."
"Impossible! All out of twenty bushels of apples!"
"Yes," said the boy, with a grin. "The old witch told me that this was all that was left of your share; that when they were fixed enough, she put them under her bed for safety, and the mice and the children had eaten them all up but this string."
This ended my dealings with Betty Fye.
I had another incorrigible borrower in the person of old Betty B—. This Betty was unlike the rest of my Yankee borrowers; she was handsome in her person, and remarkably civil, and she asked for the loan of everything in such a frank, pleasant manner, that for some time I hardly knew how to refuse her. After I had been a loser to a considerable extent, and declined lending her any more, she refrained from coming to the house herself, but sent in her name the most beautiful boy in the world; a perfect cherub, with regular features, blue, smiling eyes, rosy cheeks, and lovely curling auburn hair, who said, in the softest tones imaginable, that mammy had sent him, with her compliments, to the English lady to ask the loan of a little sugar or tea. I could easily have refused the mother, but I could not find it in my heart to say nay to her sweet boy.
There was something original about Betty B—, and I must give a slight sketch of her.
She lived in a lone shanty in the woods, which had been erected by lumberers some years before, and which was destitute of a single acre of clearing; yet Betty had plenty of potatoes, without the trouble of planting, or the expense of buying; she never kept a cow, yet she sold butter and milk; but she had a fashion, and it proved a convenient one to her, of making pets of the cattle of her neighbours. If our cows strayed from their pastures, they were always found near Betty's shanty, for she regularly supplied them with salt, which formed a sort of bond of union between them; and, in return for these little attentions, they suffered themselves to be milked before they returned to their respective owners. Her mode of obtaining eggs and fowls was on the same economical plan, and we all looked upon Betty as a sort of freebooter, living upon the property of others. She had had three husbands, and he with whom she now lived was not her husband, although the father of the splendid child whose beauty so won upon my woman's heart. Her first husband was still living (a thing by no means uncommon among persons of her class in Canada), and though they had quarrelled and parted years ago, he occasionally visited his wife to see her eldest daughter, Betty the younger, who was his child. She was now a fine girl of sixteen, as beautiful as her little brother. Betty's second husband had been killed in one of our fields by a tree falling upon him while ploughing under it. He was buried upon the spot, part of the blackened stump forming his monument. In truth, Betty's character was none of the best, and many of the respectable farmers' wives regarded her with a jealous eye.
"I am so jealous of that nasty Betty B—," said the wife of an Irish captain in the army, and our near neighbour, to me, one day as we were sitting at work together. She was a West Indian, and a negro by the mother's side, but an uncommonly fine-looking mulatto, very passionate, and very watchful over the conduct of her husband. "Are you not afraid of letting Captain Moodie go near her shanty?"
"No, indeed; and if I were so foolish as to be jealous, it would not be of old Betty, but of the beautiful young Betty, her daughter." Perhaps this was rather mischievous on my part, for the poor dark lady went off in a frantic fit of jealousy, but this time it was not of old Betty.
Another American squatter was always sending over to borrow a small-tooth comb, which she called a vermin destroyer; and once the same person asked the loan of a towel, as a friend had come from the States to visit her, and the only one she had, had been made into a best "pinny" for the child; she likewise begged a sight in the looking-glass, as she wanted to try on a new cap, to see if it were fixed to her mind. This woman must have been a mirror of neatness when compared with her dirty neighbours.
One night I was roused up from my bed for the loan of a pair of "steelyards." For what purpose think you, gentle reader? To weigh a new-born infant. The process was performed by tying the poor squalling thing up in a small shawl, and suspending it to one of the hooks. The child was a fine boy, and weighed ten pounds, greatly to the delight of the Yankee father.
One of the drollest instances of borrowing I have ever heard of was told me by a friend. A maid-servant asked her mistress to go out on a particular afternoon, as she was going to have a party of her friends, and wanted the loan of the drawing-room.
It would be endless to enumerate our losses in this way; but, fortunately for us, the arrival of an English family in our immediate vicinity drew off the attention of our neighbours in that direction, and left us time to recover a little from their persecutions.
This system of borrowing is not wholly confined to the poor and ignorant; it pervades every class of society. If a party is given in any of the small villages, a boy is sent round from house to house, to collect all the plates and dishes, knives and forks, teaspoons and candlesticks, that are presentable, for the use of the company.
During my stay at the hotel, I took a dress out of my trunk, and hung it up upon a peg in my chamber, in order to remove the creases it had received from close packing. Returning from a walk in the afternoon, I found a note upon my dressing table, inviting us to spend the evening with a clergyman's family in the village; and as it was nearly time to dress, I went to the peg to take down my gown. Was it a dream?—the gown was gone. I re-opened the trunk, to see if I had replaced it; I searched every corner of the room, but all in vain; nowhere could I discover the thing I sought. What had become of it? The question was a delicate one, which I did not like to put to the young ladies of the truly respectable establishment; still, the loss was great, and at that moment very inconvenient. While I was deliberating on what course to pursue, Miss S— entered the room.
"I guess you missed your dress," she said, with a smile.
"Do you know where it is?"
"Oh, sure. Miss L—, the dressmaker, came in just after you left. She is a very particular friend of mine, and I showed her your dress. She admired it above all things, and borrowed it, to get the pattern for Miss R—'s wedding dress. She promised to return it to-morrow."
"Provoking! I wanted it to-night. Who ever heard of borrowing a person's dress without the leave of the owner? Truly, this is a free-and-easy country!"
One very severe winter night, a neighbour borrowed of me a blanket—it was one of my best—for the use of a stranger who was passing the night at her house. I could not well refuse; but at that time, the world pressed me sore, and I could ill spare it. Two years elapsed, and I saw no more of my blanket; at length I sent a note to the lady, requesting it to be returned. I got a very short answer back, and the blanket, alas! worn threadbare; the borrower stating that she had sent the article, but really she did not know what to do without it, as she wanted it to cover the children's bed. She certainly forgot that I, too, had children, who wanted covering as well as her own. But I have said so much of the ill results of others' borrowing, that I will close this sketch by relating my own experience in this way.
After removing to the bush, many misfortunes befel us, which deprived us of our income, and reduced us to great poverty. In fact we were strangers, and the knowing ones took us in; and for many years we struggled with hardships which would have broken stouter hearts than ours, had not our trust been placed in the Almighty, who among all our troubles never wholly deserted us.
While my husband was absent on the frontier during the rebellion, my youngest boy fell very sick, and required my utmost care, both by night and day. To attend to him properly, a candle burning during the night was necessary. The last candle was burnt out; I had no money to buy another, and no fat from which I could make one. I hated borrowing; but, for the dear child's sake, I overcame my scruples, and succeeded in procuring a candle from a good neighbour, but with strict injunctions (for it was HER LAST), that I must return it if I did not require it during the night.
I went home quite grateful with my prize. It was a clear moonlight night—the dear boy was better, so I told old Jenny, my Irish servant, to go to bed, as I would lie down in my clothes by the child, and if he were worse I would get up and light the candle. It happened that a pane of glass was broken out of the window frame, and I had supplied its place by fitting in a shingle; my friend Emilia S— had a large Tom-cat, who, when his mistress was absent, often paid me a predatory or borrowing visit; and Tom had a practice of pushing in this wooden pane, in order to pursue his lawless depredations. I had forgotten all this, and never dreaming that Tom would appropriate such light food, I left the candle lying in the middle of the table, just under the window.
Between sleeping and waking, I heard the pane gently pushed in. The thought instantly struck me that it was Tom, and that, for lack of something better, he might steal my precious candle.
I sprang up from the bed, just in time to see him dart through the broken window, dragging the long white candle after him. I flew to the door, and pursued him half over the field, but all to no purpose. I can see him now, as I saw him then, scampering away for dear life, with his prize trailing behind him, gleaming like a silver tail in the bright light of the moon.
Ah! never did I feel more acutely the truth of the proverb, "Those that go a-borrowing go a-sorrowing," than I did that night. My poor boy awoke ill and feverish, and I had no light to assist him, or even to look into his sweet face, to see how far I dared hope that the light of day would find him better.
OH CANADA! THY GLOOMY WOODSEdit
Oh Canada! thy gloomy woods
Will never cheer the heart;
The murmur of thy mighty floods
But cause fresh tears to start
From those whose fondest wishes rest
Beyond the distant main;
Who, 'mid the forests of the West,
Sigh for their homes again.
I, too, have felt the chilling blight
Their shadows cast on me,
My thought by day—my dream by night—
Was of my own country.
But independent souls will brave
All hardships to be free;
No more I weep to cross the wave,
My native land to see.
But ever as a thought most bless'd,
Her distant shores will rise,
In all their spring-tide beauty dress'd.
To cheer my mental eyes.
And treasured in my inmost heart,
The friends I left behind;
But reason's voice, that bade us part,
Now bids me be resign'd.
I see my children round me play,
My husband's smiles approve;
I dash regretful tears away,
And lift my thoughts above:
In humble gratitude to bless
The Almighty hand that spread
Our table in the wilderness,
And gave my infants bread.