Roughing it in the Bush/Chapter XI
Our fate is seal'd! 'Tis now in vain to sigh
For home, or friends, or country left behind.
Come, dry those tears, and lift the downcast eye
To the high heaven of hope, and be resign'd;
Wisdom and time will justify the deed,
The eye will cease to weep, the heart to bleed.
Love's thrilling sympathies, affections pure,
All that endear'd and hallow'd your lost home,
Shall on a broad foundation, firm and sure,
Establish peace; the wilderness become,
Dear as the distant land you fondly prize,
Or dearer visions that in memory rise.
The moan of the wind tells of the coming rain that it bears upon its wings; the deep stillness of the woods, and the lengthened shadows they cast upon the stream, silently but surely foreshow the bursting of the thunder-cloud; and who that has lived for any time upon the coast, can mistake the language of the waves; that deep prophetic surging that ushers in the terrible gale? So it is with the human heart—it has its mysterious warnings, its fits of sunshine and shade, of storm and calm, now elevated with anticipations of joy, now depressed by dark presentiments of ill.
All who have ever trodden this earth, possessed of the powers of thought and reflection, of tracing effects back to their causes, have listened to these voices of the soul, and secretly acknowledged their power; but few, very few, have had courage boldly to declare their belief in them: the wisest and the best have given credence to them, and the experience of every day proves their truth; yea, the proverbs of past ages abound with allusions to the same subject, and though the worldly may sneer, and the good man reprobate the belief in a theory which he considers dangerous, yet the former, when he appears led by an irresistible impulse to enter into some fortunate, but until then unthought-of speculation; and the latter, when he devoutly exclaims that God has met him in prayer, unconsciously acknowledge the same spiritual agency. For my own part, I have no doubts upon the subject, and have found many times, and at different periods of my life, that the voice in the soul speaks truly; that if we gave stricter heed to its mysterious warnings, we should be saved much after-sorrow.
Well do I remember how sternly and solemnly this inward monitor warned me of approaching ill, the last night I spent at home; how it strove to draw me back as from a fearful abyss, beseeching me not to leave England and emigrate to Canada, and how gladly would I have obeyed the injunction had it still been in my power. I had bowed to a superior mandate, the command of duty; for my husband's sake, for the sake of the infant, whose little bosom heaved against my swelling heart, I had consented to bid adieu for ever to my native shores, and it seemed both useless and sinful to draw back.
Yet, by what stern necessity were we driven forth to seek a new home amid the western wilds? We were not compelled to emigrate. Bound to England by a thousand holy and endearing ties, surrounded by a circle of chosen friends, and happy in each other's love, we possessed all that the world can bestow of good—but WEALTH. The half-pay of a subaltern officer, managed with the most rigid economy, is too small to supply the wants of a family; and if of a good family, not enough to maintain his original standing in society. True, it may find his children bread, it may clothe them indifferently, but it leaves nothing for the indispensable requirements of education, or the painful contingencies of sickness and misfortune. In such a case, it is both wise and right to emigrate; Nature points it out as the only safe remedy for the evils arising out of an over-dense population, and her advice is always founded upon justice and truth.
Up to the period of which I now speak, we had not experienced much inconvenience from our very limited means. Our wants were few, and we enjoyed many of the comforts and even some of the luxuries of life; and all had gone on smoothly and lovingly with us until the birth of our first child. It was then that prudence whispered to the father, "you are happy and contented now, but this cannot always last; the birth of that child whom you have hailed with as much rapture as though she were born to inherit a noble estate, is to you the beginning of care. Your family may increase, and your wants will increase in proportion; out of what fund can you satisfy their demands? Some provision must be made for the future, and made quickly, while youth and health enable you to combat successfully with the ills of life. When you married for inclination, you knew that emigration must be the result of such an act of imprudence in over-populated England. Up and be doing, while you still possess the means of transporting yourself to a land where the industrious can never lack bread, and where there is a chance that wealth and independence may reward virtuous toil."
Alas! that truth should ever whisper such unpleasant realities to the lover of ease—to the poet, the author, the musician, the man of books, of refined taste and gentlemanly habits. Yet he took the hint, and began to bestir himself with the spirit and energy so characteristic of the glorious North, from whence he sprung.
"The sacrifice," he said, "must be made, and the sooner the better. My dear wife, I feel confident that you will respond to the call of duty, and, hand-in-hand and heart-in-heart we will go forth to meet difficulties, and, by the help of God, to subdue them."
Dear husband! I take shame to myself that my purpose was less firm, that my heart lingered so far behind yours in preparing for this great epoch in our lives; that, like Lot's wife, I still turned and looked back, and clung with all my strength to the land I was leaving. It was not the hardships of an emigrant's life I dreaded. I could bear mere physical privations philosophically enough; it was the loss of the society in which I had moved, the want of congenial minds, of persons engaged in congenial pursuits, that made me so reluctant to respond to my husband's call.
I was the youngest in a family remarkable for their literary attainments; and, while yet a child, I had seen riches melt away from our once prosperous home, as the Canadian snows dissolve before the first warm days of spring, leaving the verdureless earth naked and bare.
There was, however, a spirit in my family that rose superior to the crushing influences of adversity. Poverty, which so often degrades the weak mind, became their best teacher, the stern but fruitful parent of high resolve and ennobling thought. The very misfortunes that overwhelmed, became the source from whence they derived both energy and strength, as the inundation of some mighty river fertilises the shores over which it first spreads ruin and desolation. Without losing aught of their former position in society, they dared to be poor; to place mind above matter, and make the talents with which the great Father had liberally endowed them, work out their appointed end. The world sneered, and summer friends forsook them; they turned their backs upon the world, and upon the ephemeral tribes that live but in its smiles.
From out of the solitude in which they dwelt, their names went forth through the crowded cities of that cold, sneering world, and their names were mentioned with respect by the wise and good; and what they lost in wealth, they more than regained in well-earned reputation.
Brought up in this school of self-denial, it would have been strange indeed if all its wise and holy precepts had brought forth no corresponding fruit. I endeavoured to reconcile myself to the change that awaited me, to accommodate my mind and pursuits to the new position in which I found myself placed.
Many a hard battle had we to fight with old prejudices, and many proud swellings of the heart to subdue, before we could feel the least interest in the land of our adoption, or look upon it as our home.
All was new, strange, and distasteful to us; we shrank from the rude, coarse familiarity of the uneducated people among whom we were thrown; and they in return viewed us as innovators, who wished to curtail their independence, by expecting from them the kindly civilities and gentle courtesies of a more refined community. They considered us proud and shy, when we were only anxious not to give offense. The semi-barbarous Yankee squatters, who had "left their country for their country's good," and by whom we were surrounded in our first settlement, detested us, and with them we could have no feeling in common. We could neither lie nor cheat in our dealings with them; and they despised us for our ignorance in trading and our want of smartness.
The utter want of that common courtesy with which a well-brought-up European addresses the poorest of his brethren, is severely felt at first by settlers in Canada. At the period of which I am now speaking, the titles of "sir" or "madam" were very rarely applied by inferiors. They entered your house without knocking; and while boasting of their freedom, violated one of its dearest laws, which considers even the cottage of the poorest labourer his castle, and his privacy sacred.
"Is your man to hum?"—"Is the woman within?" were the general inquiries made to me by such guests, while my bare-legged, ragged Irish servants were always spoken to, as "sir" and "mem," as if to make the distinction more pointed.
Why they treated our claims to their respect with marked insult and rudeness, I never could satisfactorily determine, in any way that could reflect honour on the species, or even plead an excuse for its brutality, until I found that this insolence was more generally practised by the low, uneducated emigrants from Britain, who better understood your claims to their civility, than by the natives themselves. Then I discovered the secret.
The unnatural restraint which society imposes upon these people at home forces them to treat their more fortunate brethren with a servile deference which is repugnant to their feelings, and is thrust upon them by the dependent circumstances in which they are placed. This homage to rank and education is not sincere. Hatred and envy lie rankling at their heart, although hidden by outward obsequiousness. Necessity compels their obedience; they fawn, and cringe, and flatter the wealth on which they depend for bread. But let them once emigrate, the clog which fettered them is suddenly removed; they are free; and the dearest privilege of this freedom is to wreak upon their superiors the long-locked-up hatred of their hearts. They think they can debase you to their level by disallowing all your claims to distinction; while they hope to exalt themselves and their fellows into ladies and gentlemen by sinking you back to the only title you received from Nature—plain "man" and "woman." Oh, how much more honourable than their vulgar pretensions!
I never knew the real dignity of these simple epithets until they were insultingly thrust upon us by the working-classes of Canada.
But from this folly the native-born Canadian is exempt; it is only practised by the low-born Yankee, or the Yankeefied British peasantry and mechanics. It originates in the enormous reaction springing out of a sudden emancipation from a state of utter dependence to one of unrestrained liberty. As such, I not only excuse, but forgive it, for the principle is founded in nature; and, however disgusting and distasteful to those accustomed to different treatment from their inferiors, it is better than a hollow profession of duty and attachment urged upon us by a false and unnatural position. Still it is very irksome until you think more deeply upon it; and then it serves to amuse rather than to irritate.
And here I would observe, before quitting this subject, that of all follies, that of taking out servants from the old country is one of the greatest, and is sure to end in the loss of the money expended in their passage, and to become the cause of deep disappointment and mortification to yourself.
They no sooner set foot upon the Canadian shores then they become possessed with this ultra-republican spirit. All respect for their employers, all subordination, is at an end; the very air of Canada severs the tie of mutual obligation which bound you together. They fancy themselves not only equal to you in rank, but that ignorance and vulgarity give them superior claims to notice. They demand in terms the highest wages, and grumble at doing half the work, in return, which they cheerfully performed at home. They demand to eat at your table, and to sit in your company; and if you refuse to listen to their dishonest and extravagant claims, they tell you that "they are free; that no contract signed in the old country is binding in 'Meriky'; that you may look out for another person to fill their place as soon as you like; and that you may get the money expended in their passage and outfit in the best manner you can."
I was unfortunately persuaded to take out a woman with me as a nurse for my child during the voyage, as I was in very poor health; and her conduct, and the trouble and expense she occasioned, were a perfect illustration of what I have described.
When we consider the different position in which servants are placed in the old and new world, this conduct, ungrateful as it then appeared to me, ought not to create the least surprise. In Britain, for instance, they are too often dependent upon the caprice of their employers for bread. Their wages are low; their moral condition still lower. They are brought up in the most servile fear of the higher classes, and they feel most keenly their hopeless degradation, for no effort on their part can better their condition. They know that if once they get a bad character, they must starve or steal; and to this conviction we are indebted for a great deal of their seeming fidelity and long and laborious service in our families, which we owe less to any moral perception on their part of the superior kindness or excellence of their employers, than to the mere feeling of assurance, that as long as they do their work well, and are cheerful and obedient, they will be punctually paid their wages, and well housed and fed.
Happy is it for them and their masters when even this selfish bond of union exists between them!
But in Canada the state of things in this respect is wholly reversed. The serving class, comparatively speaking, is small, and admits of little competition. Servants that understand the work of the country are not easily procured, and such always can command the highest wages. The possession of a good servant is such an addition to comfort, that they are persons of no small consequence, for the dread of starving no longer frightens them into servile obedience. They can live without you, and they well know that you cannot do without them. If you attempt to practise upon them that common vice of English mistresses, to scold them for any slight omission or offence, you rouse into active operation all their new-found spirit of freedom and opposition. They turn upon you with a torrent of abuse; they demand their wages, and declare their intention of quitting you instantly. The more inconvenient the time for you, the more bitter become their insulting remarks. They tell you, with a high hand, that "they are as good as you; that they can get twenty better places by the morrow, and that they don't care a snap for your anger." And away they bounce, leaving you to finish a large wash, or a heavy job of ironing, in the best way you can.
When we look upon such conduct as the reaction arising out of their former state, we cannot so much blame them, and are obliged to own that it is the natural result of a sudden emancipation from former restraint. With all their insolent airs of independence, I must confess that I prefer the Canadian to the European servant. If they turn out good and faithful, it springs more from real respect and affection, and you possess in your domestic a valuable assistant and friend; but this will never be the case with a servant brought out with you from the old country, for the reasons before assigned. The happy independence enjoyed in this highly-favoured land is nowhere better illustrated than in the fact that no domestic can be treated with cruelty or insolence by an unbenevolent or arrogant master.
Forty years has made as great a difference in the state of society in Canada as it has in its commercial and political importance. When we came to the Canadas, society was composed of elements which did not always amalgamate in the best possible manner.
We were reckoned no addition to the society of C—. Authors and literary people they held in supreme detestation; and I was told by a lady, the very first time I appeared in company, that "she heard that I wrote books, but she could tell me that they did not want a Mrs. Trollope in Canada."
I had not then read Mrs. Trollope's work on America, or I should have comprehended at once the cause of her indignation; for she was just such a person as would have drawn forth the keen satire of that far-seeing observer of the absurdities of our nature, whose witty exposure of American affectation has done more towards producing a reform in that respect, than would have resulted from a thousand grave animadversions soberly written.
Another of my self-constituted advisers informed me, with great asperity in her look and tone, that "it would be better for me to lay by the pen, and betake myself to some more useful employment; that she thanked her God that she could make a shirt, and see to the cleaning of her house!"
These remarks were perfectly gratuitous, and called forth by no observation of mine; for I tried to conceal my blue stockings beneath the long conventional robes of the tamest common-place, hoping to cover the faintest tinge of the objectionable colour. I had spoken to neither of these women in my life, and was much amused by their remarks; particularly as I could both make a shirt, and attend to the domestic arrangement of my family, as well as either of them.
I verily believe that they expected to find an author one of a distinct species from themselves; that they imagined the aforesaid biped should neither eat, drink, sleep, nor talk like other folks;—a proud, useless, self-conceited, affected animal, that deserved nothing but kicks and buffets from the rest of mankind.
Anxious not to offend them, I tried to avoid all literary subjects. I confined my conversation to topics of common interest; but this gave greater offence than the most ostentatious show of learning, for they concluded that I would not talk on such subjects, because I thought them incapable of understanding me. This was more wounding to their self-love than the most arrogant assumption on my part; and they regarded me with a jealous, envious stand-a-loofishness, that was so intolerable that I gave up all ideas of visiting them. I was so accustomed to hear the whispered remark, or to have it retailed to me by others, "Oh, yes; she can write, but she can do nothing else," that I was made more diligent in cultivating every branch of domestic usefulness; so that these ill-natured sarcasms ultimately led to my acquiring a great mass of most useful practical knowledge. Yet—such is the contradiction inherent in our poor fallen nature—these people were more annoyed by my proficiency in the common labours of the household, than they would have been by any displays of my unfortunate authorship. Never was the fable of the old man and his ass so truly verified.
There is a very little of the social, friendly visiting among the Canadians which constitutes the great charm of home. Their hospitality is entirely reserved for those monster meetings in which they vie with each other in displaying fine clothes and costly furniture. As these large parties are very expensive, few families can afford to give more than one during the visiting season, which is almost exclusively confined to the winter. The great gun, once fired, you meet no more at the same house around the social board until the ensuing year, and would scarcely know that you had a neighbor, were it not for a formal morning call made now and then, just to remind you that such individuals are in the land of the living, and still exist in your near vicinity.
I am speaking of visiting in the towns and villages. The manners and habits of the European settlers in the country are far more simple and natural, and their hospitality more genuine and sincere. They have not been sophisticated by the hard, worldly wisdom of a Canadian town, and still retain a warm remembrance of the kindly humanities of home.
Among the women, a love of dress exceeds all other passions. In public they dress in silks and satins, and wear the most expensive ornaments, and they display considerable taste in the arrangement and choice of colours. The wife of a man in moderate circumstances, whose income does not exceed two or three hundred pounds a-year, does not hesitate in expending ten or fifteen pounds upon one article of outside finery, while often her inner garments are not worth as many sous; thus sacrificing to outward show all the real comforts of life.
The aristocracy of wealth is bad enough; but the aristocracy of dress is perfectly contemptible. Could Raphael visit Canada in rags, he would be nothing in their eyes beyond a common sign-painter.
Great and manifold, even to the ruin of families, are the evils arising from this inordinate love for dress. They derive their fashions from the French and the Americans—seldom from the English, whom they far surpass in the neatness and elegance of their costume.
The Canadian women, while they retain the bloom and freshness of youth, are exceedingly pretty; but these charms soon fade, owing, perhaps, to the fierce extremes of their climate, or the withering effect of the dry metallic air of stoves, and their going too early into company and being exposed, while yet children, to the noxious influence of late hours, and the sudden change from heated rooms to the cold, biting, bitter winter blast.
Though small of stature, they are generally well and symmetrically formed, and possess a graceful, easy carriage. The early age at which they marry, and are introduced into society, takes from them all awkwardness and restraint. A girl of fourteen can enter a crowded ball-room with as much self-possession, and converse with as much confidence, as a matron of forty. The blush of timidity and diffidence is, indeed, rare upon the cheek of a Canadian beauty.
Their education is so limited and confined to so few accomplishments, and these not very perfectly taught, that their conversation seldom goes beyond a particular discussion on their own dress, or that of their neighbours, their houses, furniture, and servants, sometimes interlarded with a LITTLE HARMLESS GOSSIP, which, however, tells keenly upon the characters of their dear friends.
Yet they have abilities, excellent practical abilities, which, with a little mental culture, would render them intellectual and charming companions. At present, too many of these truly lovely girls remind one of choice flowers half buried in weeds.
Music and dancing are their chief accomplishments. In the former they seldom excel. Though possessing an excellent general taste for music, it is seldom in their power to bestow upon its study the time which is required to make a really good musician. They are admirable proficients in the other art, which they acquire readily, with the least instruction, often without any instruction at all, beyond that which is given almost intuitively by a good ear for time, and a quick perception of the harmony of motion.
The waltz is their favorite dance, in which old and young join with the greatest avidity; it is not unusual to see parents and their grown-up children dancing in the same set in a public ball-room.
Their taste in music is not for the sentimental; they prefer the light, lively tunes of the Virginian minstrels to the most impassioned strains of Bellini.
On entering one of the public ball-rooms, a stranger would be delighted with such a display of pretty faces and neat figures. I have hardly ever seen a really plain Canadian girl in her teens; and a downright ugly one is almost unknown.
The high cheek-bones, wide mouth, and turned-up nose of the Saxon race, so common among the lower classes in Britain, are here succeeded in the next generation, by the small oval face, straight nose, and beautifully-cut mouth of the American; while the glowing tint of the Albion rose pales before the withering influence of late hours and stove-heat.
They are naturally a fine people, and possess capabilities and talents, which when improved by cultivation will render them second to no people in the world; and that period is not far distant.
Idiots and mad people are so seldom met with among natives of the colony, that not one of this description of unfortunates has ever come under my own immediate observation.
To the benevolent philanthropist, whose heart has bled over the misery and pauperism of the lower classes in Great Britain, the almost entire absence of mendicity from Canada would be highly gratifying. Canada has few, if any, native beggars; her objects of charity are generally imported from the mother country, and these are never suffered to want food or clothing. The Canadians are a truly charitable people; no person in distress is driven with harsh and cruel language from their doors; they not only generously relieve the wants of suffering strangers cast upon their bounty, but they nurse them in sickness, and use every means in their power to procure them employment. The number of orphan children yearly adopted by wealthy Canadians, and treated in every respect as their own, is almost incredible.
It is a glorious country for the labouring classes, for while blessed with health they are always certain of employment, and certain also to derive from it ample means of support for their families. An industrious, hard-working man in a few years is able to purchase from his savings a homestead of his own; and in process of time becomes one of the most important and prosperous class of settlers in Canada, her free and independent yeomen, who form the bones and sinews of this rising country, and from among whom she already begins to draw her senators, while their educated sons become the aristocrats of the rising generation.
It has often been remarked to me by people long resident in the colony, that those who come to the country destitute of means, but able and willing to work, invariably improve their condition and become independent; while the gentleman who brings out with him a small capital is too often tricked and cheated out of his property, and drawn into rash and dangerous speculations which terminate in his ruin. His children, neglected and uneducated, yet brought up with ideas far beyond their means, and suffered to waste their time in idleness, seldom take to work, and not unfrequently sink down to the lowest class.
But I have dwelt long enough upon these serious subjects; and I will leave my husband, who is better qualified than myself, to give a more accurate account of the country, while I turn to matters of a lighter and a livelier cast.
It was towards the close of the summer of 1833, which had been unusually cold and wet for Canada, while Moodie was absent at D—, inspecting a portion of his government grant of land, that I was startled one night, just before retiring to rest, by the sudden firing of guns in our near vicinity, accompanied by shouts and yells, the braying of horns, the beating of drums, and the barking of all the dogs in the neighborhood. I never heard a more stunning uproar of discordant and hideous sounds.
What could it all mean? The maid-servant, as much alarmed as myself, opened the door and listened.
"The goodness defend us!" she exclaimed, quickly closing it, and drawing a bolt seldom used. "We shall be murdered. The Yankees must have taken Canada, and are marching hither."
"Nonsense! that cannot be it. Besides they would never leave the main road to attack a poor place like this. Yet the noise is very near. Hark! they are firing again. Bring me the hammer and some nails, and let us secure the windows."
The next moment I laughed at my folly in attempting to secure a log hut, when the application of a match to its rotten walls would consume it in a few minutes. Still, as the noise increased, I was really frightened. My servant, who was Irish (for my Scotch girl, Bell, had taken to herself a husband and I had been obliged to hire another in her place, who had only been a few days in the country), began to cry and wring her hands, and lament her hard fate in coming to Canada.
Just at this critical moment, when we were both self-convicted of an arrant cowardice, which would have shamed a Canadian child of six years old, Mrs. O— tapped at the door, and although generally a most unwelcome visitor, from her gossiping, mischievous propensities, I gladly let her in.
"Do tell me," I cried, "the meaning of this strange uproar?"
"Oh, 'tis nothing," she replied, laughing; "you and Mary look as white as a sheet; but you need not be alarmed. A set of wild fellows have met to charivari Old Satan, who has married his fourth wife to-night, a young gal of sixteen. I should not wonder if some mischief happens among them, for they are a bad set, made up of all the idle loafers about Port H— and C—."
"What is a charivari?" said I. "Do, pray, enlighten me."
"Have you been nine months in Canada, and ask that question? Why I thought you knew everything! Well, I will tell you what it is. The charivari is a custom that the Canadians got from the French, in the Lower Province, and a queer custom it is. When an old man marries a young wife, or an old woman a young husband, or two old people, who ought to be thinking of their graves, enter for the second or third time into the holy estate of wedlock, as the priest calls it, all the idle young fellows in the neighborhood meet together to charivari them. For this purpose they disguise themselves, blackening their faces, putting their clothes on hind part before, and wearing horrible masks, with grotesque caps on their head, adorned with cocks' feathers and bells. They then form in a regular body, and proceed to the bridegroom's house, to the sound of tin kettles, horns, and drums, cracked fiddles, and all the discordant instruments they can collect together. Thus equipped, they surround the house where the wedding is held, just at the hour when the happy couple are supposed to be about to retire to rest—beating upon the door with clubs and staves, and demanding of the bridegroom admittance to drink the bride's health, or in lieu there of to receive a certain sum of money to treat the band at the nearest tavern.
"If the bridegroom refuses to appear and grant their request, they commence the horrible din you hear, firing guns charged with peas against the doors and windows, rattling old pots and kettles, and abusing him for his stinginess in no measured terms. Sometimes they break open the doors, and seize upon the bridegroom; and he may esteem himself a very fortunate man, under such circumstances, if he escapes being ridden upon a rail, tarred and feathered, and otherwise maltreated. I have known many fatal accidents arise out of an imprudent refusal to satisfy the demands of the assailants. People have even lost their lives in the fray; and I think the government should interfere, and put down these riotous meetings. Surely, it is very hard, that an old man cannot marry a young gal, if she is willing to take him, without asking the leave of such a rabble as that. What right have they to interfere with his private affairs?"
"What, indeed?" said I, feeling a truly British indignation at such a lawless infringement upon the natural rights of man.
"I remember," continued Mrs. O—, who had got fairly started upon a favorite subject, "a scene of this kind, that was acted two years ago, at —, when old Mr. P— took his third wife. He was a very rich storekeeper, and had made during the war a great deal of money. He felt lonely in his old age, and married a young, handsome widow, to enliven his house. The lads in the village were determined to make him pay for his frolic. This got wind, and Mr. P— was advised to spend the honeymoon in Toronto; but he only laughed, and said that 'he was not going to be frightened from his comfortable home by the threats of a few wild boys.' In the morning, he was married at the church, and spent the day at home, where he entertained a large party of his own and the bride's friends. During the evening, all the idle chaps in the town collected round the house, headed by a mad young bookseller, who had offered himself for their captain, and, in the usual forms, demanded a sight of the bride, and liquor to drink her health. They were very good-naturedly received by Mr. P—, who sent a friend down to them to bid them welcome, and to inquire on what terms they would consent to let him off, and disperse.
"The captain of the band demanded sixty dollars, as he, Mr. P—, could well afford to pay it.
"'That's too much, my fine fellows!' cried Mr. P— from the open window. 'Say twenty-five, and I will send you down a cheque upon the bank of Montreal for the money.'
"'Thirty! thirty! thirty! old boy!' roared a hundred voices. 'Your wife's worth that. Down with the cash, and we will give you three cheers, and three times three for the bride, and leave you to sleep in peace. If you hang back, we will raise such a 'larum about your ears that you shan't know that your wife's your own for a month to come!'
"'I'll give you twenty-five,' remonstrated the bridegroom, not the least alarmed at their threats, and laughing all the time in his sleeve.
"'Thirty; not one copper less!' Here they gave him such a salute of diabolical sounds that he ran from the window with his hands to his ears, and his friend came down stairs to the verandah, and gave them the sum they required. They did not expect that the old man would have been so liberal, and they gave him the 'Hip, hip, hip hurrah!' in fine style, and marched off the finish the night and spend the money at the tavern."
"And do people allow themselves to be bullied out of their property by such ruffians?"
"Ah, my dear! 'tis the custom of the country, and 'tis not so easy to put it down. But I can tell you that a charivari is not always a joke.
"There was another affair that happened, just before you came to the place, that occasioned no small talk in the neighbourhood; and well it might, for it was a most disgraceful piece of business, and attended with very serious consequences. Some of the charivari party had to fly, or they might have ended their days in the penitentiary.
"There was runaway nigger from the States came to the village, and set up a barber's poll, and settled among us. I am no friend to the blacks; but really Tom Smith was such a quiet, good-natured fellow, and so civil and obliging, that he soon got a good business. He was clever, too, and cleaned old clothes until they looked almost as good as new. Well, after a time he persuaded a white girl to marry him. She was not a bad-looking Irish woman, and I can't think what bewitched the creature to take him.
"Her marriage with the black man created a great sensation in the town. All the young fellows were indignant at his presumption and her folly, and they determined to give them the charivari in fine style, and punish them both for the insult they had put upon the place.
"Some of the young gentlemen in the town joined in the frolic. They went so far as to enter the house, drag the poor nigger from his bed, and in spite of his shrieks for mercy, they hurried him out into the cold air—for it was winter—and almost naked as he was, rode him upon a rail, and so ill-treated him that he died under their hands.
"They left the body, when they found what had happened, and fled. The ringleaders escaped across the lake to the other side; and those who remained could not be sufficiently identified to bring them to trial. The affair was hushed up; but it gave great uneasiness to several respectable families whose sons were in the scrape."
"Good heavens! are such things permitted in a Christian country? But scenes like these must be of rare occurrence?"
"They are more common than you imagine. A man was killed up at W— the other day, and two others dangerously wounded, at a charivari. The bridegroom was a man in middle life, a desperately resolute and passionate man, and he swore that if such riff-raff dared to interfere with him, he would shoot at them with as little compunction as he would at so many crows. His threats only increased the mischievous determination of the mob to torment him; and when he refused to admit their deputation, or even to give them a portion of the wedding cheer, they determined to frighten him into compliance by firing several guns, loaded with peas, at his door. Their salute was returned from the chamber windows, by the discharge of a double-barrelled gun, loaded with buck-shot. The crowd gave back with a tremendous yell. Their leader was shot through the heart, and two of the foremost in the scuffle dangerously wounded. They vowed they would set fire to the house, but the bridegroom boldly stepped to the window, and told them to try it, and before they could light a torch he would fire among them again, as his gun was reloaded, and he would discharge it at them as long as one of them dared to remain on his premises.
"They cleared off; but though Mr. A— was not punished for the ACCIDENT, as it was called, he became a marked man, and lately left the colony, to settle in the United States.
"Why, Mrs. Moodie, you look quite serious. I can, however, tell you a less dismal tale, A charivari would seldom be attended with bad consequences if people would take it as a joke, and join in the spree."
"A very dignified proceeding, for a bride and bridegroom to make themselves the laughing-stock of such people!"
"Oh, but custom reconciles us to everything; and 'tis better to give up a little of our pride than endanger the lives of our fellow-creatures. I have been told a story of a lady in the Lower Province, who took for her second husband a young fellow, who, as far as his age was concerned, might have been her son. The mob surrounded her house at night, carrying her effigy in an open coffin, supported by six young lads, with white favours in their hats; and they buried the poor bride, amid shouts of laughter, and the usual accompaniments, just opposite her drawing-room windows. The widow was highly amused by the whole of their proceedings, but she wisely let them have their own way. She lived in a strong stone house, and she barred the doors, and closed the iron shutters, and set them at defiance.
"'As long as she enjoyed her health,' she said, 'they were welcome to bury her in effigy as often as they pleased; she was really glad to be able to afford amusement to so many people.'
"Night after night, during the whole of that winter, the same party beset her house with their diabolical music; but she only laughed at them.
"The leader of the mob was a young lawyer from these parts, a sad, mischievous fellow; the widow became aware of this, and she invited him one evening to take tea with a small party at her house. He accepted the invitation, was charmed with her hearty and hospitable welcome, and soon found himself quite at home; but only think how ashamed he must have felt, when the same 'larum commenced, at the usual hour, in front of the lady's house!
"'Oh,' said Mrs. R—, smiling to her husband, 'here come our friends. Really, Mr. K—, they amuse us so much of an evening that I should feel quite dull without them.'
"From that hour the charivari ceased, and the old lady was left to enjoy the society of her young husband in quiet.
"I assure you, Mrs. M—, that the charivari often deters old people from making disgraceful marriages, so that it is not wholly without its use."
A few days after the charivari affair, Mrs. D— stepped in to see me. She was an American; a very respectable old lady, who resided in a handsome frame-house on the main road. I was at dinner, the servant-girl, in the meanwhile, nursing my child at a distance. Mrs. D— sat looking at me very seriously until I concluded my meal, her dinner having been accomplished several hours before. When I had finished, the girl give me the child, and then removed the dinner-service into an outer room.
"You don't eat with your helps," said my visitor. "Is not that something like pride?"
"It is custom," said I; "we were not used to do so at home, and I think that keeping a separate table is more comfortable for both parties."
"Are you not both of the same flesh and blood? The rich and the poor meet together, and the Lord is the maker of them all."
"True. Your quotation is just, and I assent to it with all my heart. There is no difference in the flesh and blood; but education makes a difference in the mind and manners, and, till these can assimilate, it is better to keep them apart."
"Ah! you are not a good Christian, Mrs. Moodie. The Lord thought more of the poor than he did of the rich, and he obtained more followers from among them. Now, WE always take our meals with our people."
Presently after, while talking over the affairs of our households, I happened to say that the cow we had bought of Mollineux had turned out extremely well, and gave a great deal of milk.
"That man lived with us several years," she said; "he was an excellent servant, and D— paid him his wages in land. The farm he now occupies formed a part of our U.E. grant. But, for all his good conduct, I never could abide him, for being a BLACK."
"Indeed! Is he not the same flesh and blood as the rest?"
The colour rose into Mrs. D—'s sallow face, and she answered with much warmth—
"What! do you mean to compare ME with a NIGGER!"
"Not exactly. But, after all, the colour makes the only difference between him and uneducated men of the same class."
"Mrs. Moodie!" she exclaimed, holding up her hands in pious horror; "they are the children of the devil! God never condescended to make a nigger."
"Such an idea is an impeachment of the power and majesty of the Almighty. How can you believe such an ignorant fable?"
"Well, then," said my monitress, in high dudgeon, "if the devil did not make them, they are descended from Cain."
"But all Cain's posterity perished in the flood."
My visitor was puzzled.
"The African race, it is generally believed, are the descendants of Ham, and to many of their tribes the curse pronounced against him seems to cling. To be the servant of servants is bad enough, without our making their condition worse by our cruel persecutions. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost; and in proof of this inestimable promise, he did not reject the Ethiopian eunuch who was baptised by Philip, and who was, doubtless, as black as the rest of his people. Do you not admit Mollineux to your table with your other helps?"
"Mercy sake! do you think that I would sit down at the same table with a nigger? My helps would leave the house if I dared to put such an affront upon them. Sit down with a dirty black, indeed!"
"Do you think, Mrs. D—, that there will be any negroes in heaven?"
"Certainly not, or I, for one, would never wish to go there;" and out of the house she sallied in high disdain.
Yet this was the woman who had given me such a plausible lecture on pride. Alas, for our fallen nature! Which is more subversive of peace and Christian fellowship—ignorance of our own characters, or the characters of others?
Our departure for the woods became now a frequent theme of conversation. My husband had just returned from an exploring expedition to the backwoods, and was delighted with the prospect of removing thither. The only thing I listened to in their praise, with any degree of interest, was a lively song, which he had written during his brief sojourn at Douro:—
TO THE WOODS!—TO THE WOODS!Edit
To the woods!—to the woods!—The sun shines bright,
The smoke rises high in the clear frosty air;
Our axes are sharp, and our hearts are light,
Let us toil while we can and drive away care.
Though homely our food, we are merry and strong,
And labour is wealth, which no man can deny;
At eve we will chase the dull hours with a song,
And at grey peep of dawn let this be our cry,
To the woods!—to the woods!—&c.
Hark! how the trees crack in the keen morning blast,
And see how the rapids are cover'd with steam;
Thaw your axes, my lads, the sun rises fast,
And gilds the pine tops with his bright golden beam.
To the woods!—to the woods!—&c.
Come, chop away, lads! the wild woods resound,
Let your quick-falling strokes in due harmony ring;
See, the lofty tree shivers—it falls to the ground!
Now with voices united together we'll sing—
To the woods!—to the woods!—The sun shines bright,
The smoke rises high in the clear frosty air;
Our axes are sharp, and our hearts are light,
Let us toil while we can and drive away care,
And drive away care.