Roughing it in the Bush/Chapter XX
Stern Disappointment, in thy iron grasp
The soul lies stricken. So the timid deer,
Who feels the foul fangs of the felon wolf
Clench'd in his throat, grown desperate for life,
Turns on his foes, and battles with the fate
That hems him in—and only yields in death.
The summer of '35 was very wet; a circumstance so unusual in Canada that I have seen no season like it during my sojourn in the country. Our wheat crop promised to be both excellent and abundant; and the clearing and seeding sixteen acres, one way or another, had cost us more than fifty pounds, still, we hoped to realise something handsome by the sale of the produce; and, as far as appearances went, all looked fair. The rain commenced about a week before the crop was fit for the sickle, and from that time until nearly the end of September was a mere succession of thunder showers; days of intense heat, succeeded by floods of rain. Our fine crop shared the fate of all other fine crops in the country; it was totally spoiled; the wheat grew in the sheaf, and we could scarcely save enough to supply us with bad, sticky bread; the rest was exchanged at the distillery for whiskey, which was the only produce which could be obtained for it. The storekeepers would not look at it, or give either money or goods for such a damaged article.
My husband and I had worked hard in the field; it was the first time I had ever tried my hand at field-labour, but our ready money was exhausted, and the steam-boat stock had not paid us one farthing; we could not hire, and there was no help for it. I had a hard struggle with my pride before I would consent to render the least assistance on the farm, but reflection convinced me that I was wrong—that Providence had placed me in a situation where I was called upon to work—that it was not only my duty to obey that call, but to exert myself to the utmost to assist my husband, and help to maintain my family.
Ah, glorious poverty! thou art a hard taskmaster, but in thy soul-ennobling school, I have received more godlike lessons, have learned more sublime truths, than ever I acquired in the smooth highways of the world!
The independent in soul can rise above the seeming disgrace of poverty, and hold fast their integrity, in defiance of the world and its selfish and unwise maxims. To them, no labour is too great, no trial too severe; they will unflinchingly exert every faculty of mind and body, before they will submit to become a burden to others.
The misfortunes that now crowded upon us were the result of no misconduct or extravagance on our part, but arose out of circumstances which we could not avert nor control. Finding too late the error into which we had fallen, in suffering ourselves to be cajoled and plundered out of our property by interested speculators, we braced our minds to bear the worst, and determined to meet our difficulties calmly and firmly, nor suffer our spirits to sink under calamities which energy and industry might eventually repair. Having once come to this resolution, we cheerfully shared together the labours of the field. One in heart and purpose, we dared remain true to ourselves, true to our high destiny as immortal creatures, in our conflict with temporal and physical wants.
We found that manual toil, however distasteful to those unaccustomed to it, was not after all such a dreadful hardship; that the wilderness was not without its rose, the hard face of poverty without its smile. If we occasionally suffered severe pain, we as often experienced great pleasure, and I have contemplated a well-hoed ridge of potatoes on that bush farm, with as much delight as in years long past I had experienced in examining a fine painting in some well-appointed drawing-room.
I can now look back with calm thankfulness on that long period of trial and exertion—with thankfulness that the dark clouds that hung over us, threatening to blot us from existence, when they did burst upon us, were full of blessings. When our situation appeared perfectly desperate, then were we on the threshold of a new state of things, which was born out of that very distress.
In order to more fully illustrate the necessity of a perfect and child-like reliance upon the mercies of God—who, I most firmly believe, never deserts those who have placed their trust in Him—I will give a brief sketch of our lives during the years 1836 and 1837.
Still confidently expecting to realise an income, however small, from the steam-boat stock, we had involved ourselves considerably in debt, in order to pay our servants and obtain the common necessaries of life; and we owed a large sum to two Englishmen in Dummer, for clearing ten more acres upon the farm. Our utter inability to meet these demands weighed very heavily upon my husband's mind. All superfluities in the way of groceries were now given up, and we were compelled to rest satisfied upon the produce of the farm. Milk, bread, and potatoes during the summer became our chief, and often for months, our only fare. As to tea and sugar, they were luxuries we could not think of, although I missed the tea very much; we rang the changes upon peppermint and sage, taking the one herb at our breakfast, the other at our tea, until I found an excellent substitute for both in the root of the dandelion.
The first year we came to this country, I met with an account of dandelion coffee, published in the New York Albion, given by a Dr. Harrison, of Edinburgh, who earnestly recommended it as an article of general use.
"It possesses," he says, "all the fine flavour and exhilarating properties of coffee, without any of its deleterious effects. The plant being of a soporific nature, the coffee made from it when drank at night produces a tendency to sleep, instead of exciting wakefulness, and may be safely used as a cheap and wholesome substitute for the Arabian berry, being equal in substance and flavour to the best Mocha coffee."
I was much struck with this paragraph at the time, and for several years felt a great inclination to try the Doctor's coffee; but something or other always came in the way, and it was put off till another opportunity. During the fall of '35, I was assisting my husband in taking up a crop of potatoes in the field, and observing a vast number of fine dandelion roots among the potatoes, it brought the dandelion coffee back to my memory, and I determined to try some for our supper. Without saying anything to my husband, I threw aside some of the roots, and when we left work, collecting a sufficient quantity for the experiment, I carefully washed the roots quite clean, without depriving them of the fine brown skin which covers them, and which contains the aromatic flavour, which so nearly resembles coffee that it is difficult to distinguish it from it while roasting.
I cut my roots into small pieces, the size of a kidney-bean, and roasted them on an iron baking-pan in the stove-oven, until they were as brown and crisp as coffee. I then ground and transferred a small cupful of the powder to the coffee-pot, pouring upon it scalding water, and boiling it for a few minutes briskly over the fire. The result was beyond my expectations. The coffee proved excellent—far superior to the common coffee we procured at the stores.
To persons residing in the bush, and to whom tea and coffee are very expensive articles of luxury, the knowledge of this valuable property of a plant scattered so abundantly through their fields, would prove highly beneficial. For years we used no other article; and my Indian friends who frequented the house gladly adopted the root, and made me show them the whole process of manufacturing it into coffee.
Experience taught me that the root of the dandelion is not so good when applied to this purpose in the spring as it is in the fall. I tried it in the spring, but the juice of the plant, having contributed to the production of leaves and flowers, was weak, and destitute of the fine bitter flavour so peculiar to coffee. The time of gathering the potato crop is the best suited for collecting and drying the roots of the dandelion; and as they always abound in the same hills, both may be accomplished at the same time. Those who want to keep a quantity for winter use may wash and cut up the roots, and dry them on boards in the sun. They will keep for years, and can be roasted when required.
Few of our colonists are acquainted with the many uses to which this neglected but most valuable plant may be applied. I will point out a few which have come under my own observation, convinced as I am that the time will come when this hardy weed, with its golden flowers and curious seed-vessels, which form a constant plaything to the little children rolling about and luxuriating among the grass, in the sunny month of May, will be transplanted into our gardens, and tended with due care.
The dandelion planted in trenches, and blanched to a beautiful cream-colour with straw, makes an excellent salad, quite equal to endive, and is more hardy and requires less care.
In many parts of the United States, particularly in new districts where vegetables are scarce, it is used early in the spring, and boiled with pork as a substitute for cabbage. During our residence in the bush we found it, in the early part of May, a great addition to the dinner-table. In the township of Dummer, the settlers boil the tops, and add hops to the liquor, which they ferment, and from which they obtain excellent beer. I have never tasted this simple beverage, but I have been told by those who use it that it is equal to the table-beer used at home.
Necessity has truly been termed the mother of invention, for I contrived to manufacture a variety of dishes almost out of nothing, while living in her school. When entirely destitute of animal food, the different variety of squirrels supplied us with pies, stews, and roasts. Our barn stood at the top of the hill near the bush, and in a trap set for such "small deer," we often caught from ten to twelve a day.
The flesh of the black squirrel is equal to that of the rabbit, and the red, and even the little chipmunk, is palatable when nicely cooked. But from the lake, during the summer, we derived the larger portion of our food. The children called this piece of water "Mamma's pantry"; and many a good meal has the munificent Father given to his poor dependent children from its well-stored depths. Moodie and I used to rise at daybreak, and fish for an hour after sunrise, when we returned, he to the field, and I to dress the little ones, clean up the house, assist with the milk, and prepare the breakfast.
Oh, how I enjoyed these excursions on the lake; the very idea of our dinner depending upon our success added double zest to our sport!
One morning we started as usual before sunrise; a thick mist still hung like a fine veil upon the water when we pushed off, and anchored at our accustomed place. Just as the sun rose, and the haze parted and drew up like a golden sheet of transparent gauze, through which the dark woods loomed out like giants, a noble buck dashed into the water, followed by four Indian hounds.
We then discovered a canoe, full of Indians, just below the rapids, and another not many yards from us, that had been concealed by the fog. It was a noble sight, that gallant deer exerting all his energy, and stemming the water with such matchless grace, his branching horns held proudly aloft, his broad nostrils distended, and his fine eye fixed intently upon the opposite shore. Several rifle-balls whizzed past him, the dogs followed hard upon his track, but my very heart leaped for joy when, in spite of all his foes, his glossy hoofs spurned the opposite bank and he plunged headlong into the forest.
My beloved partner was most skilful in trolling for bass and maskinonge. His line he generally fastened to the paddle, and the motion of the oar gave a life-like vibration to the queer-looking mice and dragon-flies I used to manufacture from squirrel fur, or scarlet and white cloth, to tempt the finny wanderers of the wave.
When too busy himself to fish for our meals, little Katie and I ventured out alone in the canoe, which we anchored in any promising fishing spot, by fastening a harrow tooth to a piece of rope, and letting it drop from the side of little vessel. By the time she was five years old, my little mermaid could both steer and paddle the light vessel, and catch small fish, which were useful for soup.
During the winter of '36, we experienced many privations. The ruffian squatter P—, from Clear Lake, drove from the barn a fine young bull we were rearing, and for several weeks all trace of the animal was lost. We had almost forgotten the existence of poor Whiskey, when a neighbor called and told Moodie that his yearling was at P—'s, and that he would advise him to get it back as soon as possible.
Moodie had to take some wheat to Y—'s mill, and as the squatter lived only a mile further, he called at his house; and there, sure enough, he found the lost animal. With the greatest difficulty he succeeded in regaining his property, but not without many threats of vengeance from the parties who had stolen it. To these he paid no regard; but a few days after, six fat hogs, on which we depended for all our winter store of animal food, were driven into the lake, and destroyed.
The death of these animals deprived us of three barrels of pork, and half-starved us through the winter. That winter of '36, how heavily it wore away! The grown flour, frosted potatoes, and scant quantity of animal food rendered us all weak, and the children suffered much from the ague.
One day, just before the snow fell, Moodie had gone to Peterborough for letters; our servant was sick in bed with the ague, and I was nursing my little boy, Dunbar, who was shaking with the cold fit of his miserable fever, when Jacob put his honest, round, rosy face in at the door.
"Give me the master's gun, ma'am; there's a big buck feeding on the rice-bed near the island."
I took down the gun, saying, "Jacob, you have no chance; there is but one charge of buck-shot in the house."
"One chance is better nor none," said Jacob, as he commenced loading the gun. "Who knows what may happen to oie? Mayhap oie may chance to kill 'un; and you and the measter and the wee bairns may have zummut zavory for zupper yet."
Away walked Jacob with Moodie's "Manton" over his shoulder. A few minutes after, I heard the report of the gun, but never expected to see anything of the game; when Jacob suddenly bounced into the room, half-wild with delight.
"Thae beast iz dead az a door-nail. Zure, how the measter will laugh when he zees the fine buck that oie a'zhot."
"And have you really shot him?"
"Come and zee! 'Tis worth your while to walk down to the landing to look at 'un."
Jacob got a rope, and I followed him to the landing, where, sure enough, lay a fine buck, fastened in tow of the canoe. Jacob soon secured him by the hind legs to the rope he had brought; and, with our united efforts, we at last succeeded in dragging our prize home. All the time he was engaged in taking off the skin, Jacob was anticipating the feast that we were to have; and the good fellow chuckled with delight when he hung the carcass quite close to the kitchen door, that his "measter" might run against it when he came home at night. This event actually took place. When Moodie opened the door, he struck his head against the dead deer.
"What have you got here?"
"A fine buck, zur," said Jacob, bringing forward the light, and holding it up in such a manner that all the merits of the prize could be seen at a glance.
"A fine one, indeed! How did we come by it?"
"It was zhot by oie," said Jacob, rubbing his hands in a sort of ecstacy. "Thae beast iz the first oie ever zhot in my life. He! he! he!"
"You shot that fine deer, Jacob?—and there was only one charge in the gun! Well done; you must have taken good aim."
"Why, zur, oie took no aim at all. Oie just pointed the gun at the deer, and zhut my oeys an let fly at 'un. 'Twas Providence kill'd 'un, not oie."
"I believe you," said Moodie; "Providence has hitherto watched over us and kept us from actual starvation."
The flesh of the deer, and the good broth that I was able to obtain from it, greatly assisted in restoring our sick to health; but long before that severe winter terminated we were again out of food. Mrs. — had given to Katie, in the fall, a very pretty little pig, which she had named Spot. The animal was a great favorite with Jacob and the children, and he always received his food from their hands at the door, and followed them all over the place like a dog. We had a noble hound called Hector, between whom and the pet pig there existed the most tender friendship. Spot always shared with Hector the hollow log which served him for a kennel, and we often laughed to see Hector lead Spot round the clearing by his ear. After bearing the want of animal food until our souls sickened at the bad potatoes and grown flour bread, we began—that is the elders of the family—to cast very hungry eyes upon Spot; but no one liked to propose having him killed. At last Jacob spoke his mind upon the subject.
"Oi've heard, zur, that the Jews never eat pork; but we Christians dooz, and are right glad ov the chance. Now, zur, oi've been thinking that 'tis no manner ov use our keeping that beast Spot. If he wor a zow, now, there might be zome zenze in the thing; and we all feel weak for a morzel of meat. S'poze I kill him? He won't make a bad piece of pork."
Moodie seconded the move; and, in spite of the tears and prayers of Katie, her uncouth pet was sacrificed to the general wants of the family; but there were two members of the house who disdained to eat a morsel of the victim; poor Katie and the dog Hector. At the self-denial of the first I did not at all wonder, for she was a child full of sensibility and warm affections, but the attachment of the brute creature to his old playmate filled us all with surprise. Jacob first drew our attention to the strange fact.
"That dog," he said, as we were passing through the kitchen while he was at dinner, "do teach uz Christians a lesson how to treat our friends. Why, zur, he'll not eat a morzel of Spot. Oie have tried and tempted him in all manner ov ways, and he only do zneer and turn up his nose when oie hould him a bit to taste." He offered the animal a rib of the fresh pork as he finished speaking, and the dog turned away with an expression of aversion, and on a repetition of the act, walked from the table.
Human affection could scarcely have surpassed the love felt by this poor animal for his playfellow. His attachment to Spot, that could overcome the pangs of hunger—for, like the rest of us, he was half-starved—must have been strong indeed.
Jacob's attachment to us, in its simplicity and fidelity, greatly resembled that of the dog; and sometimes, like the dog, he would push himself in where he was not wanted, and gratuitously give his advice, and make remarks which were not required.
Mr. K—, from Cork, was asking Moodie many questions about the partidges of the country; and, among other things, he wanted to know by what token you were able to discover their favourite haunts. Before Moodie could answer this last query a voice responded, through a large crack in the boarded wall which separated us from the kitchen, "They always bides where they's drum." This announcement was received with a burst of laughter that greatly disconcerted the natural philosopher in the kitchen.
On the 21st of May of this year, my second son, Donald, was born. The poor fellow came in hard times. The cows had not calved, and our bill of fare, now minus the deer and Spot, only consisted of bad potatoes and still worse bread. I was rendered so weak by want of proper nourishment that my dear husband, for my sake, overcame his aversion to borrowing, and procured a quarter of mutton from a friend. This, with kindly presents from neighbours—often as badly off as ourselves—a loin of a young bear, and a basket, containing a loaf of bread, some tea, some fresh butter, and oatmeal, went far to save my life.
Shortly after my recovery, Jacob—the faithful, good Jacob—was obliged to leave us, for we could no longer afford to pay wages. What was owing to him had to be settled by sacrificing our best cow, and a great many valuable articles of clothing from my husband's wardrobe. Nothing is more distressing than being obliged to part with articles of dress which you know that you cannot replace. Almost all my clothes had been appropriated to the payment of wages, or to obtain garments for the children, excepting my wedding dress, and the beautiful baby-linen which had been made by the hands of dear and affectionate friends for my first-born. These were now exchanged for coarse, warm flannels, to shield her from the cold.
Moodie and Jacob had chopped eight acres during the winter, but these had to be burnt off and logged-up before we could put in a crop of wheat for the ensuing fall. Had we been able to retain this industrious, kindly English lad, this would have been soon accomplished; but his wages, at the rate of thirty pounds per annum, were now utterly beyond our means.
Jacob had formed an attachment to my pretty maid, Mary Pine, and before going to the Southern States, to join an uncle who resided in Louisville, an opulent tradesman, who had promised to teach him his business, Jacob thought it as well to declare himself. The declaration took place on a log of wood near the back-door, and from my chamber window I could both hear and see the parties, without being myself observed. Mary was seated very demurely at one end of the log, twisting the strings of her checked apron, and the loving Jacob was busily whittling the other extremity of their rustic seat. There was a long silence. Mary stole a look at Jacob, and he heaved a tremendous sigh, something between a yawn and a groan. "Meary," he said, "I must go."
"I knew that afore," returned the girl.
"I had zummat to zay to you, Meary. Do you think you will miss oie?" (looking very affectionately, and twitching nearer.)
"What put that into your head, Jacob?" This was said very demurely.
"Oie thowt, may be, Meary, that your feelings might be zummat loike my own. I feel zore about the heart, Meary, and it's all com' of parting with you. Don't you feel queerish, too?"
"Can't say that I do, Jacob. I shall soon see you again." (pulling violently at her apron-string.)
"Meary, oi'm afear'd you don't feel like oie."
"P'r'aps not—women can't feel like men. I'm sorry that you are going, Jacob, for you have been very kind and obliging, and I wish you well."
"Meary," cried Jacob, growing desperate at her coyness, and getting quite close up to her, "will you marry oie? Say yeez or noa?"
This was coming close to the point. Mary drew farther from him, and turned her head away.
"Meary," said Jacob, seizing upon the hand that held the apron-string. "Do you think you can better yoursel'? If not—why, oie'm your man. Now, do just turn about your head and answer oie."
The girl turned round, and gave him a quick, shy glance, then burst out into a simpering laugh.
"Meary, will you take oie?" (jogging her elbow.)
"I will," cried the girl, jumping up from the log, and running into the house.
"Well, that bargain's made," said the lover, rubbing his hands; "and now oie'll go and bid measter and missus good-buoy."
The poor fellow's eyes were full of tears, for the children, who loved him very much, clung, crying, about his knees. "God bless yees all," sobbed the kind-hearted creature. "Doan't forget Jacob, for he'll neaver forget you. Good-buoy!"
Then turning to Mary, he threw his arms round her neck, and bestowed upon her fair cheek the most audible kiss I ever heard.
"And doan't you forget me, Meary. In two years oie will be back to marry you; and may be oie may come back a rich man."
Mary, who was an exceedingly pretty girl, shed some tears at the parting; but in a few days she was as gay as ever, and listening with great attention to the praises bestowed upon her beauty by an old bachelor, who was her senior by five-and-twenty years. But then he had a good farm, a saddle mare, and plenty of stock, and was reputed to have saved money. The saddle mare seemed to have great weight in old Ralph T—h's wooing, and I used laughingly to remind Mary of her absent lover, and beg her not to marry Ralph T—h's mare.
THE CANADIAN HUNTER'S SONGEdit
The northern lights are flashing,
On the rapids' restless flow;
And o'er the wild waves dashing,
Swift darts the light canoe.
The merry hunters come.
"What cheer?—what cheer?"—
"We've slain the deer!"
"Hurrah!—You're welcome home!"
The blithesome horn is sounding,
And the woodman's loud halloo;
And joyous steps are bounding
To meet the birch canoe.
"Hurrah!—The hunters come."
And the woods ring out
To their merry shout
As they drag the dun deer home!
The hearth is brightly burning,
The rustic board is spread;
To greet the sire returning
The children leave their bed.
With laugh and shout they come—
That merry band—
To grasp his hand,
And bid him welcome home!