Notes on this Etext Edition.
Thank you to The Celebration of Women Writers (Mary Mark Ockerbloom, Editor) for providing the source text. It has since been proof-read and modified by comparison with multiple editions.
There is a great deal of variation between different editions ranging from differences in names, spelling and punctuation to differences in what chapters and poems are included. This text is not meant to be authoritative or to match a certain paper edition; rather, its aim is to be be readable and inclusive of various material that appears in different editions.
ROUGHING IT IN THE BUSH
To Agnes Strickland Author of the "Lives of the Queens of England" This simple tribute of affection is dedicated by her sister Susanna Moodie
Introduction to the Third Edition I A Visit to Grosse Isle II Quebec III Our Journey up the Country IV Tom Wilson's Emigration V Our First Settlement, and the Borrowing System VI Old Satan and Tom Wilson's Nose VII Uncle Joe and his Family VIII John Monaghan IX Phoebe R—-, and our Second Moving X Brian, the Still-Hunter XI The Charivari XII The Village Hotel XIII The Land-Jobber XIV A Journey to the Woods XV The Wilderness, and our Indian Friends XVI Burning the Fallow XVII Our Logging-Bee XVIII A Trip to Stony Lake XIX The "Ould Dhragoon" XX Disappointed Hopes XXI The Little Stumpy Man XXII The Fire XXIII The Outbreak XXIV The Whirlwind XXV The Walk to Dummer XXVI A Change in our Prospects XXVII Adieu to the Woods XXVIII Canadian Sketches Appendix A Advertisement to the Third Edition Appendix B Canada: a Contrast Appendix C Jeanie Burns
INTRODUCTION TO THE THIRD EDITION
Published by Richard Bentley in 1854
In most instances, emigration is a matter of necessity, not of choice; and this is more especially true of the emigration of persons of respectable connections, or of any station or position in the world. Few educated persons, accustomed to the refinements and luxuries of European society, ever willingly relinquish those advantages, and place themselves beyond the protective influence of the wise and revered institutions of their native land, without the pressure of some urgent cause. Emigration may, indeed, generally be regarded as an act of severe duty, performed at the expense of personal enjoyment, and accompanied by the sacrifice of those local attachments which stamp the scenes amid which our childhood grew, in imperishable characters, upon the heart. Nor is it until adversity has pressed sorely upon the proud and wounded spirit of the well-educated sons and daughters of old but impoverished families, that they gird up the loins of the mind, and arm themselves with fortitude to meet and dare the heart-breaking conflict.
The ordinary motives for the emigration of such persons may be summed up in a few brief words;—the emigrant's hope of bettering his condition, and of escaping from the vulgar sarcasms too often hurled at the less-wealthy by the purse-proud, common-place people of the world. But there is a higher motive still, which has its origin in that love of independence which springs up spontaneously in the breasts of the high-souled children of a glorious land. They cannot labour in a menial capacity in the country where they were born and educated to command. They can trace no difference between themselves and the more fortunate individuals of a race whose blood warms their veins, and whose name they bear. The want of wealth alone places an impassable barrier between them and the more favoured offspring of the same parent stock; and they go forth to make for themselves a new name and to find another country, to forget the past and to live in the future, to exult in the prospect of their children being free and the land of their adoption great.
The choice of the country to which they devote their talents and energies depends less upon their pecuniary means than upon the fancy of the emigrant or the popularity of a name. From the year 1826 to 1829, Australia and the Swan River were all the rage. No other portions of the habitable globe were deemed worthy of notice. These were the El Dorados and lands of Goshen to which all respectable emigrants eagerly flocked. Disappointment, as a matter of course, followed their high-raised expectations. Many of the most sanguine of these adventurers returned to their native shores in a worse condition than when they left them. In 1830, the great tide of emigration flowed westward. Canada became the great land-mark for the rich in hope and poor in purse. Public newspapers and private letters teemed with the unheard-of advantages to be derived from a settlement in this highly-favoured region.
Its salubrious climate, its fertile soil, commercial advantages, great water privileges, its proximity to the mother country, and last, not least, its almost total exemption from taxation—that bugbear which keeps honest John Bull in a state of constant ferment—were the theme of every tongue, and lauded beyond all praise. The general interest, once excited, was industriously kept alive by pamphlets, published by interested parties, which prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully concealed the toil and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages. They told of lands yielding forty bushels to the acre, but they said nothing of the years when these lands, with the most careful cultivation, would barely return fifteen; when rust and smut, engendered by the vicinity of damp over-hanging woods, would blast the fruits of the poor emigrant's labour, and almost deprive him of bread. They talked of log houses to be raised in a single day, by the generous exertions of friends and neighbours, but they never ventured upon a picture of the disgusting scenes of riot and low debauchery exhibited during the raising, or upon a description of the dwellings when raised—dens of dirt and misery, which would, in many instances, be shamed by an English pig-sty. The necessaries of life were described as inestimably cheap; but they forgot to add that in remote bush settlements, often twenty miles from a market town, and some of them even that distance from the nearest dwelling, the necessaries of life which would be deemed indispensable to the European, could not be procured at all, or, if obtained, could only be so by sending a man and team through a blazed forest road,—a process far too expensive for frequent repetition.
Oh, ye dealers in wild lands—ye speculators in the folly and credulity of your fellow men—what a mass of misery, and of misrepresentation productive of that misery, have ye not to answer for! You had your acres to sell, and what to you were the worn-down frames and broken hearts of the infatuated purchasers? The public believed the plausible statements you made with such earnestness, and men of all grades rushed to hear your hired orators declaim upon the blessings to be obtained by the clearers of the wilderness.
Men who had been hopeless of supporting their families in comfort and independence at home, thought that they had only to come out to Canada to make their fortunes; almost even to realise the story told in the nursery, of the sheep and oxen that ran about the streets, ready roasted, and with knives and forks upon their backs. They were made to believe that if it did not actually rain gold, that precious metal could be obtained, as is now stated of California and Australia, by stooping to pick it up.
The infection became general. A Canada mania pervaded the middle ranks of British society; thousands and tens of thousands for the space of three or four years landed upon these shores. A large majority of the higher class were officers of the army and navy, with their families—a class perfectly unfitted by their previous habits and education for contending with the stern realities of emigrant life. The hand that has long held the sword, and been accustomed to receive implicit obedience from those under its control, is seldom adapted to wield the spade and guide the plough, or try its strength against the stubborn trees of the forest. Nor will such persons submit cheerfully to the saucy familiarity of servants, who, republicans in spirit, think themselves as good as their employers. Too many of these brave and honourable men were easy dupes to the designing land-speculators. Not having counted the cost, but only looked upon the bright side of the picture held up to their admiring gaze, they fell easily into the snares of their artful seducers.
To prove their zeal as colonists, they were induced to purchase large tracts of wild land in remote and unfavourable situations. This, while it impoverished and often proved the ruin of the unfortunate immigrant, possessed a double advantage to the seller. He obtained an exorbitant price for the land which he actually sold, while the residence of a respectable settler upon the spot greatly enhanced the value and price of all other lands in the neighbourhood.
It is not by such instruments as those I have just mentioned, that Providence works when it would reclaim the waste places of the earth, and make them subservient to the wants and happiness of its creatures. The Great Father of the souls and bodies of men knows the arm which wholesome labour from infancy has made strong, the nerves which have become iron by patient endurance, by exposure to weather, coarse fare, and rude shelter; and He chooses such, to send forth into the forest to hew out the rough paths for the advance of civilization. These men become wealthy and prosperous, and form the bones and sinews of a great and rising country. Their labour is wealth, not exhaustion; its produce independence and content, not home-sickness and despair. What the Backwoods of Canada are to the industrious and ever-to-be-honoured sons of honest poverty, and what they are to the refined and accomplished gentleman, these simple sketches will endeavour to portray. They are drawn principally from my own experience, during a sojourn of nineteen years in the colony.
In order to diversify my subject, and make it as amusing as possible, I have between the sketches introduced a few small poems, all written during my residence in Canada, and descriptive of the country.
In this pleasing task, I have been assisted by my husband, J. W. Dunbar Moodie, author of "Ten Years in South Africa."
BELLEVILLE, UPPER CANADA
Canada, the blest—the free! With prophetic glance, I see Visions of thy future glory, Giving to the world's great story A page, with mighty meaning fraught, That asks a wider range of thought. Borne onward on the wings of Time, I trace thy future course sublime; And feel my anxious lot grow bright, While musing on the glorious sight;— My heart rejoicing bounds with glee To hail thy noble destiny!
Even now thy sons inherit All thy British mother's spirit. Ah! no child of bondage thou; With her blessing on thy brow, And her deathless, old renown Circling thee with freedom's crown, And her love within thy heart, Well may'st thou perform thy part, And to coming years proclaim Thou art worthy of her name. Home of the homeless!—friend to all Who suffer on this earthly ball! On thy bosom sickly care Quite forgets her squalid lair; Gaunt famine, ghastly poverty Before thy gracious aspect fly, And hopes long crush'd, grow bright again, And, smiling, point to hill and plain.
By thy winter's stainless snow, Starry heavens of purer glow, Glorious summers, fervid, bright, Basking in one blaze of light; By thy fair, salubrious clime; By thy scenery sublime; By thy mountains, streams, and woods; By thy everlasting floods; If greatness dwells beneath the skies, Thou to greatness shalt arise!
Nations old, and empires vast, From the earth had darkly pass'd Ere rose the fair auspicious morn When thou, the last, not least, wast born. Through the desert solitude Of trackless waters, forests rude, Thy guardian angel sent a cry All jubilant of victory! "Joy," she cried, "to th' untill'd earth, Let her joy in a mighty birth,— Night from the land has pass'd away, The desert basks in noon of day. Joy, to the sullen wilderness, I come, her gloomy shades to bless, To bid the bear and wild-cat yield Their savage haunts to town and field. Joy, to stout hearts and willing hands, That win a right to these broad lands, And reap the fruit of honest toil, Lords of the rich, abundant soil.
"Joy, to the sons of want, who groan In lands that cannot feed their own; And seek, in stern, determined mood, Homes in the land of lake and wood, And leave their hearts' young hopes behind, Friends in this distant world to find; Led by that God, who from His throne Regards the poor man's stifled moan. Like one awaken'd from the dead, The peasant lifts his drooping head, Nerves his strong heart and sunburnt hand, To win a potion of the land, That glooms before him far and wide In frowning woods and surging tide No more oppress'd, no more a slave, Here freedom dwells beyond the wave.
"Joy, to those hardy sires who bore The day's first heat—their toils are o'er; Rude fathers of this rising land, Theirs was a mission truly grand. Brave peasants whom the Father, God, Sent to reclaim the stubborn sod; Well they perform'd their task, and won Altar and hearth for the woodman's son. Joy, to Canada's unborn heirs, A deathless heritage is theirs; For, sway'd by wise and holy laws, Its voice shall aid the world's great cause, Shall plead the rights of man, and claim For humble worth an honest name; Shall show the peasant-born can be, When call'd to action, great and free. Like fire, within the flint conceal'd, By stern necessity reveal'd, Kindles to life the stupid sod, Image of perfect man and God.
"Joy, to thy unborn sons, for they Shall hail a brighter, purer day; When peace and Christian brotherhood Shall form a stronger tie than blood— And commerce, freed from tax and chain, Shall build a bridge o'er earth and main; And man shall prize the wealth of mind, The greatest blessing to mankind; True Christians, both in word and deed, Ready in virtue's cause to bleed, Against a world combined to stand, And guard the honour of the land. Joy, to the earth, when this shall be, Time verges on eternity."
A VISIT TO GROSSE ISLE
Alas! that man's stern spirit e'er should mar A scene so pure—so exquisite as this.
The dreadful cholera was depopulating Quebec and Montreal when our ship cast anchor off Grosse Isle, on the 30th of August 1832, and we were boarded a few minutes after by the health-officers.
One of these gentlemen—a little, shrivelled-up Frenchman—from his solemn aspect and attenuated figure, would have made no bad representative of him who sat upon the pale horse. He was the only grave Frenchman I had ever seen, and I naturally enough regarded him as a phenomenon. His companion—a fine-looking fair-haired Scotchman—though a little consequential in his manners, looked like one who in his own person could combat and vanquish all the evils which flesh is heir to. Such was the contrast between these doctors, that they would have formed very good emblems, one, of vigorous health, the other, of hopeless decay.
Our captain, a rude, blunt north-country sailor, possessing certainly not more politeness than might be expected in a bear, received his sprucely dressed visitors on the deck, and, with very little courtesy, abruptly bade them follow him down into the cabin.
The officials were no sooner seated, than glancing hastily round the place, they commenced the following dialogue:—
"From what port, captain?"
Now, the captain had a peculiar language of his own, from which he commonly expunged all the connecting links. Small words, such as "and" and "the," he contrived to dispense with altogether.
"Scotland—sailed from port o' Leith, bound for Quebec, Montreal— general cargo—seventy-two steerage, four cabin passengers—brig Anne, one hundred and ninety-two tons burden, crew eight hands."
Here he produced his credentials, and handed them to the strangers. The Scotchman just glanced over the documents, and laid them on the table.
"Had you a good passage out?"
"Tedious, baffling winds, heavy fogs, detained three weeks on Banks—foul weather making Gulf—short of water, people out of provisions, steerage passengers starving."
"Any case of sickness or death on board?"
"All sound as crickets."
"Any births?" lisped the little Frenchman.
The captain screwed up his mouth, and after a moment's reflection he replied, "Births? Why, yes; now I think on't, gentlemen, we had one female on board, who produced three at a birth."
"That's uncommon," said the Scotch doctor, with an air of lively curiosity. "Are the children alive and well? I should like much to see them." He started up, and knocked his head—for he was very tall—against the ceiling. "Confound your low cribs! I have nearly dashed out my brains."
"A hard task, that," looked the captain to me. He did not speak, but I knew by his sarcastic grin what was uppermost in his thoughts. "The young ones all males—fine thriving fellows. Step upon deck, Sam Frazer," turning to his steward; "bring them down for doctors to see." Sam vanished, with a knowing wink to his superior, and quickly returned, bearing in his arms three fat, chuckle-headed bull-terriers, the sagacious mother following close at his heels, and looked ready to give and take offence on the slightest provocation.
"Here, gentlemen, are the babies," said Frazer, depositing his burden on the floor. "They do credit to the nursing of the brindled slut."
The old tar laughed, chuckled, and rubbed his hands in an ecstacy of delight at the indignation and disappointment visible in the countenance of the Scotch Esculapius, who, angry as he was, wisely held his tongue. Not so the Frenchman; his rage scarcely knew bounds—he danced in a state of most ludicrous excitement, he shook his fist at our rough captain, and screamed at the top of his voice—
"Sacre, you bete! You tink us dog, ven you try to pass your puppies on us for babies?"
"Hout, man, don't be angry," said the Scotchman, stifling a laugh; "you see 'tis only a joke!"
"Joke! me no understand such joke. Bete!" returned the angry Frenchman, bestowing a savage kick on one of the unoffending pups which was frisking about his feet. The pup yelped; the slut barked and leaped furiously at the offender, and was only kept from biting him by Sam, who could scarcely hold her back for laughing; the captain was uproarious; the offended Frenchman alone maintained a severe and dignified aspect. The dogs were at length dismissed, and peace restored.
After some further questioning from the officials, a Bible was required for the captain to take an oath. Mine was mislaid, and there was none at hand.
"Confound it!" muttered the old sailor, tossing over the papers in his desk; "that scoundrel, Sam, always stows my traps out of the way." Then taking up from the table a book which I had been reading, which happened to be Voltaire's History of Charles XII., he presented it, with as grave an air as he could assume, to the Frenchman. Taking for granted that it was the volume required, the little doctor was too polite to open the book, the captain was duly sworn, and the party returned to the deck.
Here a new difficulty occurred, which nearly ended in a serious quarrel. The gentlemen requested the old sailor to give them a few feet of old planking, to repair some damage which their boat had sustained the day before. This the captain could not do. They seemed to think his refusal intentional, and took it as a personal affront. In no very gentle tones, they ordered him instantly to prepare his boats, and put his passengers on shore.
"Stiff breeze—short sea," returned the bluff old seaman; "great risk in making land—boats heavily laden with women and children will be swamped. Not a soul goes on shore this night."
"If you refuse to comply with our orders, we will report you to the authorities."
"I know my duty—you stick to yours. When the wind falls off, I'll see to it. Not a life shall be risked to please you or your authorities."
He turned upon his heel, and the medical men left the vessel in great disdain. We had every reason to be thankful for the firmness displayed by our rough commander. That same evening we saw eleven persons drowned, from another vessel close beside us while attempting to make the shore.
By daybreak all was hurry and confusion on board the Anne. I watched boat after boat depart for the island, full of people and goods, and envied them the glorious privilege of once more standing firmly on the earth, after two long months of rocking and rolling at sea. How ardently we anticipate pleasure, which often ends in positive pain! Such was my case when at last indulged in the gratification so eagerly desired. As cabin passengers, we were not included in the general order of purification, but were only obliged to send our servant, with the clothes and bedding we had used during the voyage, on shore, to be washed.
The ship was soon emptied of all her live cargo. My husband went off with the boats, to reconnoitre the island, and I was left alone with my baby in the otherwise empty vessel. Even Oscar, the Captain's Scotch terrier, who had formed a devoted attachment to me during the voyage, forgot his allegiance, became possessed of the land mania, and was away with the rest. With the most intense desire to go on shore, I was doomed to look and long and envy every boatful of emigrants that glided past. Nor was this all; the ship was out of provisions, and I was condemned to undergo a rigid fast until the return of the boat, when the captain had promised a supply of fresh butter and bread. The vessel had been nine weeks at sea; the poor steerage passengers for the two last weeks had been out of food, and the captain had been obliged to feed them from the ship's stores. The promised bread was to be obtained from a small steam-boat, which plied daily between Quebec and the island, transporting convalescent emigrants and their goods in her upward trip, and provisions for the sick on her return.
How I reckoned on once more tasting bread and butter! The very thought of the treat in store served to sharpen my appetite, and render the long fast more irksome. I could now fully realise all Mrs. Bowdich's longings for English bread and butter, after her three years' travel through the burning African deserts, with her talented husband.
"When we arrived at the hotel at Plymouth," said she, "and were asked what refreshment we chose—'Tea, and home-made bread and butter,' was my instant reply. 'Brown bread, if you please, and plenty of it.' I never enjoyed any luxury like it. I was positively ashamed of asking the waiter to refill the plate. After the execrable messes, and the hard ship-biscuit, imagine the luxury of a good slice of English bread and butter!"
At home, I laughed heartily at the lively energy with which that charming woman of genius related this little incident in her eventful history—but off Grosse Isle, I realised it all.
As the sun rose above the horizon, all these matter-of-fact circumstances were gradually forgotten, and merged in the surpassing grandeur of the scene that rose majestically before me. The previous day had been dark and stormy, and a heavy fog had concealed the mountain chain, which forms the stupendous background to this sublime view, entirely from our sight. As the clouds rolled away from their grey, bald brows, and cast into denser shadow the vast forest belt that girdled them round, they loomed out like mighty giants—Titans of the earth, in all their rugged and awful beauty—a thrill of wonder and delight pervaded my mind. The spectacle floated dimly on my sight—my eyes were blinded with tears—blinded with the excess of beauty. I turned to the right and to the left, I looked up and down the glorious river; never had I beheld so many striking objects blended into one mighty whole! Nature had lavished all her noblest features in producing that enchanting scene.
The rocky isle in front, with its neat farm-houses at the eastern point, and its high bluff at the western extremity, crowned with the telegraph—the middle space occupied by tents and sheds for the cholera patients, and its wooded shores dotted over with motley groups—added greatly to the picturesque effect of the land scene. Then the broad, glittering river, covered with boats darting to and fro, conveying passengers from twenty-five vessels, of various size and tonnage, which rode at anchor, with their flags flying from the mast-head, gave an air of life and interest to the whole. Turning to the south side of the St. Lawrence, I was not less struck with its low fertile shores, white houses, and neat churches, whose slender spires and bright tin roofs shone like silver as they caught the first rays of the sun. As far as the eye could reach, a line of white buildings extended along the bank; their background formed by the purple hue of the dense, interminable forest. It was a scene unlike any I had ever beheld, and to which Britain contains no parallel. Mackenzie, an old Scotch dragoon, who was one of our passengers, when he rose in the morning, and saw the parish of St. Thomas for the first time, exclaimed: "Weel, it beats a'! Can thae white clouts be a' houses? They look like claes hung out to drie!" There was some truth in this odd comparison, and for some minutes, I could scarcely convince myself that the white patches scattered so thickly over the opposite shore could be the dwellings of a busy, lively population.
"What sublime views of the north side of the river those habitans of St. Thomas must enjoy," thought I. Perhaps familiarity with the scene has rendered them indifferent to its astonishing beauty.
Eastward, the view down the St. Lawrence towards the Gulf, is the finest of all, scarcely surpassed by anything in the world. Your eye follows the long range of lofty mountains until their blue summits are blended and lost in the blue of the sky. Some of these, partially cleared round the base, are sprinkled over with neat cottages; and the green slopes that spread around them are covered with flocks and herds. The surface of the splendid river is diversified with islands of every size and shape, some in wood, others partially cleared, and adorned with orchards and white farm-houses. As the early sun streamed upon the most prominent of these, leaving the others in deep shade, the effect was strangely novel and imposing. In more remote regions, where the forest has never yet echoed to the woodman's axe, or received the impress of civilisation, the first approach to the shore inspires a melancholy awe, which becomes painful in its intensity.
Land of vast hills and mighty streams, The lofty sun that o'er thee beams On fairer clime sheds not his ray, When basking in the noon of day Thy waters dance in silver light, And o'er them frowning, dark as night, Thy shadowy forests, soaring high, Stretch forth beyond the aching eye, And blend in distance with the sky.
And silence—awful silence broods Profoundly o'er these solitudes; Nought but the lapsing of the floods Breaks the deep stillness of the woods; A sense of desolation reigns O'er these unpeopled forest plains. Where sounds of life ne'er wake a tone Of cheerful praise round Nature's throne, Man finds himself with God—alone.
My daydreams were dispelled by the return of the boat, which brought my husband and the captain from the island.
"No bread," said the latter, shaking his head; "you must be content to starve a little longer. Provision-ship not in till four o'clock." My husband smiled at the look of blank disappointment with which I received these unwelcome tidings, "Never mind, I have news which will comfort you. The officer who commands the station sent a note to me by an orderly, inviting us to spend the afternoon with him. He promises to show us everything worthy of notice on the island. Captain —- claims acquaintance with me; but I have not the least recollection of him. Would you like to go?"
"Oh, by all means. I long to see the lovely island. It looks a perfect paradise at this distance."
The rough sailor-captain screwed his mouth on one side, and gave me one of his comical looks, but he said nothing until he assisted in placing me and the baby in the boat.
"Don't be too sanguine, Mrs. Moodie; many things look well at a distance which are bad enough when near."
I scarcely regarded the old sailor's warning, so eager was I to go on shore—to put my foot upon the soil of the new world for the first time—I was in no humour to listen to any depreciation of what seemed so beautiful.
It was four o'clock when we landed on the rocks, which the rays of an intensely scorching sun had rendered so hot that I could scarcely place my foot upon them. How the people without shoes bore it, I cannot imagine. Never shall I forget the extraordinary spectacle that met our sight the moment we passed the low range of bushes which formed a screen in front of the river. A crowd of many hundred Irish emigrants had been landed during the present and former day; and all this motley crew—men, women, and children, who were not confined by sickness to the sheds (which greatly resembled cattle-pens) were employed in washing clothes, or spreading them out on the rocks and bushes to dry.
The men and boys were in the water, while the women, with their scanty garments tucked above their knees, were trampling their bedding in tubs, or in holes in the rocks, which the retiring tide had left half full of water. Those who did not possess washing-tubs, pails, or iron pots, or could not obtain access to a hole in the rocks, were running to and fro, screaming and scolding in no measured terms. The confusion of Babel was among them. All talkers and no hearers—each shouting and yelling in his or her uncouth dialect, and all accompanying their vociferations with violent and extraordinary gestures, quite incomprehensible to the uninitiated. We were literally stunned by the strife of tongues. I shrank, with feelings almost akin to fear, from the hard-featured, sun-burnt harpies, as they elbowed rudely past me.
I had heard and read much of savages, and have since seen, during my long residence in the bush, somewhat of uncivilised life; but the Indian is one of Nature's gentlemen—he never says or does a rude or vulgar thing. The vicious, uneducated barbarians who form the surplus of over-populous European countries, are far behind the wild man in delicacy of feeling or natural courtesy. The people who covered the island appeared perfectly destitute of shame, or even of a sense of common decency. Many were almost naked, still more but partially clothed. We turned in disgust from the revolting scene, but were unable to leave the spot until the captain had satisfied a noisy group of his own people, who were demanding a supply of stores.
And here I must observe that our passengers, who were chiefly honest Scotch labourers and mechanics from the vicinity of Edinburgh, and who while on board ship had conducted themselves with the greatest propriety, and appeared the most quiet, orderly set of people in the world, no sooner set foot upon the island than they became infected by the same spirit of insubordination and misrule, and were just as insolent and noisy as the rest.
While our captain was vainly endeavouring to satisfy the unreasonable demands of his rebellious people, Moodie had discovered a woodland path that led to the back of the island. Sheltered by some hazel-bushes from the intense heat of the sun, we sat down by the cool, gushing river, out of sight, but, alas! not out of hearing of the noisy, riotous crowd. Could we have shut out the profane sounds which came to us on every breeze, how deeply should we have enjoyed an hour amid the tranquil beauties of that retired and lovely spot!
The rocky banks of the island were adorned with beautiful evergreens, which sprang up spontaneously in every nook and crevice. I remarked many of our favourite garden shrubs among these wildings of nature: the fillagree, with its narrow, dark glossy-green leaves; the privet, with its modest white blossoms and purple berries; the lignum-vitae, with its strong resinous odour; the burnet-rose, and a great variety of elegant unknowns.
Here, the shores of the island and mainland, receding from each other, formed a small cove, overhung with lofty trees, clothed from the base to the summit with wild vines, that hung in graceful festoons from the topmost branches to the water's edge. The dark shadows of the mountains, thrown upon the water, as they towered to the height of some thousand feet above us, gave to the surface of the river an ebon hue. The sunbeams, dancing through the thick, quivering foliage, fell in stars of gold, or long lines of dazzling brightness, upon the deep black waters, producing the most novel and beautiful effects. It was a scene over which the spirit of peace might brood in silent adoration; but how spoiled by the discordant yells of the filthy beings who were sullying the purity of the air and water with contaminating sights and sounds!
We were now joined by the sergeant, who very kindly brought us his capful of ripe plums and hazel-nuts, the growth of the island; a joyful present, but marred by a note from Captain —-, who had found that he had been mistaken in his supposed knowledge of us, and politely apologised for not being allowed by the health-officers to receive any emigrant beyond the bounds appointed for the performance of quarantine.
I was deeply disappointed, but my husband laughingly told me that I had seen enough of the island; and turning to the good-natured soldier, remarked, that "it could be no easy task to keep such wild savages in order."
"You may well say that, sir—but our night scenes far exceed those of the day. You would think they were incarnate devils; singing, drinking, dancing, shouting, and cutting antics that would surprise the leader of a circus. They have no shame—are under no restraint—nobody knows them here, and they think they can speak and act as they please; and they are such thieves that they rob one another of the little they possess. The healthy actually run the risk of taking the cholera by robbing the sick. If you have not hired one or two stout, honest fellows from among your fellow passengers to guard your clothes while they are drying, you will never see half of them again. They are a sad set, sir, a sad set. We could, perhaps, manage the men; but the women, sir!—the women! Oh, sir!"
Anxious as we were to return to the ship, we were obliged to remain until sun-down in our retired nook. We were hungry, tired, and out of spirits; the mosquitoes swarmed in myriads around us, tormenting the poor baby, who, not at all pleased with her first visit to the new world, filled the air with cries, when the captain came to tell us that the boat was ready. It was a welcome sound. Forcing our way once more through the still squabbling crowd, we gained the landing place. Here we encountered a boat, just landing a fresh cargo of lively savages from the Emerald Isle. One fellow, of gigantic proportions, whose long, tattered great-coat just reached below the middle of his bare red legs, and, like charity, hid the defects of his other garments, or perhaps concealed his want of them, leaped upon the rocks, and flourishing aloft his shilelagh, bounded and capered like a wild goat from his native mountains. "Whurrah! my boys!" he cried, "Shure we'll all be jintlemen!"
"Pull away, my lads!" said the captain. Then turning to me, "Well, Mrs. Moodie, I hope that you have had enough of Grosse Isle. But could you have witnessed the scenes that I did this morning—"
Here he was interrupted by the wife of the old Scotch dragoon, Mackenzie, running down to the boat and laying her hand familiarly upon his shoulder, "Captain, dinna forget."
She whispered something confidentially in his ear.
"Oh, ho! the brandy!" he responded aloud. "I should have thought, Mrs. Mackenzie, that you had had enough of that same on yon island?"
"Aye, sic a place for decent folk," returned the drunken body, shaking her head. "One needs a drap o' comfort, captain, to keep up one's heart ava."
The captain set up one of his boisterous laughs as he pushed the boat from the shore. "Hollo! Sam Frazer! steer in, we have forgotten the stores."
"I hope not, captain," said I; "I have been starving since daybreak."
"The bread, the butter, the beef, the onions, and potatoes are here, sir," said honest Sam, particularizing each article.
"All right; pull for the ship. Mrs. Moodie, we will have a glorious supper, and mind you don't dream of Grosse Isle."
In a few minutes we were again on board. Thus ended my first day's experience of the land of all our hopes.
OH! CAN YOU LEAVE YOUR NATIVE LAND?
A Canadian Song
Oh! can you leave your native land An exile's bride to be; Your mother's home, and cheerful hearth, To tempt the main with me; Across the wide and stormy sea To trace our foaming track, And know the wave that heaves us on Will never bear us back?
And can you in Canadian woods With me the harvest bind, Nor feel one lingering, sad regret For all you leave behind? Can those dear hands, unused to toil, The woodman's wants supply, Nor shrink beneath the chilly blast When wintry storms are nigh?
Amid the shades of forests dark, Our loved isle will appear An Eden, whose delicious bloom Will make the wild more drear. And you in solitude will weep O'er scenes beloved in vain, And pine away your life to view Once more your native plain.
Then pause, dear girl! ere those fond lips Your wanderer's fate decide; My spirit spurns the selfish wish— You must not be my bride. But oh, that smile—those tearful eyes, My firmer purpose move— Our hearts are one, and we will dare All perils thus to love!
[This song has been set to a beautiful plaintive air, by my husband.]
Queen of the West!—upon thy rocky throne, In solitary grandeur sternly placed; In awful majesty thou sitt'st alone, By Nature's master-hand supremely graced. The world has not thy counterpart—thy dower, Eternal beauty, strength, and matchless power.
The clouds enfold thee in their misty vest, The lightning glances harmless round thy brow; The loud-voiced thunder cannot shake thy nest, Or warring waves that idly chafe below; The storm above, the waters at thy feet— May rage and foam, they but secure thy seat.
The mighty river, as it onward rushes To pour its floods in ocean's dread abyss, Checks at thy feet its fierce impetuous gushes, And gently fawns thy rocky base to kiss. Stern eagle of the crag! thy hold should be The mountain home of heaven-born liberty!
True to themselves, thy children may defy The power and malice of a world combined; While Britain's flag, beneath thy deep blue sky, Spreads its rich folds and wantons in the wind; The offspring of her glorious race of old May rest securely in their mountain hold.
On the 2nd of September, the anchor was weighed, and we bade a long farewell to Grosse Isle. As our vessel struck into mid-channel, I cast a last lingering look at the beautiful shores we were leaving. Cradled in the arms of the St. Lawrence, and basking in the bright rays of the morning sun, the island and its sister group looked like a second Eden just emerged from the waters of chaos. With what joy could I have spent the rest of the fall in exploring the romantic features of that enchanting scene! But our bark spread her white wings to the favouring breeze, and the fairy vision gradually receded from my sight, to remain for ever on the tablets of memory.
The day was warm, and the cloudless heavens of that peculiar azure tint which gives to the Canadian skies and waters a brilliancy unknown in more northern latitudes. The air was pure and elastic, the sun shone out with uncommon splendour, lighting up the changing woods with a rich mellow colouring, composed of a thousand brilliant and vivid dyes. The mighty river rolled flashing and sparkling onward, impelled by a strong breeze, that tipped its short rolling surges with a crest of snowy foam.
Had there been no other object of interest in the landscape than this majestic river, its vast magnitude, and the depth and clearness of its waters, and its great importance to the colony, would have been sufficient to have riveted the attention, and claimed the admiration of every thinking mind.
Never shall I forget that short voyage from Grosse Isle to Quebec. I love to recall, after the lapse of so many years, every object that awoke in my breast emotions of astonishment and delight. What wonderful combinations of beauty, and grandeur, and power, at every winding of that noble river! How the mind expands with the sublimity of the spectacle, and soars upward in gratitude and adoration to the Author of all being, to thank Him for having made this lower world so wondrously fair—a living temple, heaven-arched, and capable of receiving the homage of all worshippers.
Every perception of my mind became absorbed into the one sense of seeing, when, upon rounding Point Levi, we cast anchor before Quebec. What a scene!—Can the world produce such another? Edinburgh had been the beau ideal to me of all that was beautiful in Nature—a vision of the northern Highlands had haunted my dreams across the Atlantic; but all these past recollections faded before the present of Quebec.
Nature has lavished all her grandest elements to form this astonishing panorama. There frowns the cloud-capped mountain, and below, the cataract foams and thunders; wood, and rock, and river combine to lend their aid in making the picture perfect, and worthy of its Divine Originator.
The precipitous bank upon which the city lies piled, reflected in the still deep waters at its base, greatly enhances the romantic beauty of the situation. The mellow and serene glow of the autumnal day harmonised so perfectly with the solemn grandeur of the scene around me, and sank so silently and deeply into my soul, that my spirit fell prostrate before it, and I melted involuntarily into tears. Yes, regardless of the eager crowds around me, I leant upon the side of the vessel and cried like a child—not tears of sorrow, but a gush from the heart of pure and unalloyed delight. I heard not the many voices murmuring in my ears—I saw not the anxious beings that thronged our narrow deck—my soul at that moment was alone with God. The shadow of His glory rested visibly on the stupendous objects that composed that magnificent scene; words are perfectly inadequate to describe the impression it made upon my mind—the emotions it produced. The only homage I was capable of offering at such a shrine was tears—tears the most heartfelt and sincere that ever flowed from human eyes. I never before felt so overpoweringly my own insignificance, and the boundless might and majesty of the Eternal.
Canadians, rejoice in your beautiful city! Rejoice and be worthy of her—for few, very few, of the sons of men can point to such a spot as Quebec—and exclaim, "She is ours!—God gave her to us, in her beauty and strength!—We will live for her glory—we will die to defend her liberty and rights—to raise her majestic brow high above the nations!"
Look at the situation of Quebec!—the city founded on the rock that proudly holds the height of the hill. The queen sitting enthroned above the waters, that curb their swiftness and their strength to kiss and fawn around her lovely feet.
Canadians!—as long as you remain true to yourselves and her, what foreign invader could ever dare to plant a hostile flag upon that rock-defended height, or set his foot upon a fortress rendered impregnable by the hand of Nature? United in friendship, loyalty, and love, what wonders may you not achieve? to what an enormous altitude of wealth and importance may you not arrive? Look at the St. Lawrence, that king of streams, that great artery flowing from the heart of the world, through the length and breadth of the land, carrying wealth and fertility in its course, and transporting from town to town along its beautiful shores the riches and produce of a thousand distant climes. What elements of future greatness and prosperity encircle you on every side! Never yield up these solid advantages to become an humble dependent on the great republic—wait patiently, loyally, lovingly, upon the illustrious parent from whom you sprang, and by whom you have been fostered into life and political importance; in the fulness of time she will proclaim your childhood past, and bid you stand up in your own strength, a free Canadian people!
British mothers of Canadian sons!—learn to feel for their country the same enthusiasm which fills your hearts when thinking of the glory of your own. Teach them to love Canada—to look upon her as the first, the happiest, the most independent country in the world! Exhort them to be worthy of her—to have faith in her present prosperity, in her future greatness, and to devote all their talents, when they themselves are men, to accomplish this noble object. Make your children proud of the land of their birth, the land which has given them bread—the land in which you have found an altar and a home; do this, and you will soon cease to lament your separation from the mother country, and the loss of those luxuries which you could not, in honor to yourself, enjoy; you will soon learn to love Canada as I now love it, who once viewed it with a hatred so intense that I longed to die, that death might effectually separate us for ever.
But, oh! beware of drawing disparaging contrasts between the colony and its illustrious parent. All such comparisons are cruel and unjust;—you cannot exalt the one at the expense of the other without committing an act of treason against both.
But I have wandered away from my subject into the regions of thought, and must again descend to common work-a-day realities.
The pleasure we experienced upon our first glance at Quebec was greatly damped by the sad conviction that the cholera-plague raged within her walls, while the almost ceaseless tolling of bells proclaimed a mournful tale of woe and death. Scarcely a person visited the vessel who was not in black, or who spoke not in tones of subdued grief. They advised us not to go on shore if we valued our lives, as strangers most commonly fell the first victims to the fatal malady. This was to me a severe disappointment, who felt an intense desire to climb to the crown of the rock, and survey the noble landscape at my feet. I yielded at last to the wishes of my husband, who did not himself resist the temptation in his own person, and endeavored to content myself with the means of enjoyment placed within my reach. My eyes were never tired of wandering over the scene before me.
It is curious to observe how differently the objects which call forth intense admiration in some minds will affect others. The Scotch dragoon, Mackenzie, seeing me look long and intently at the distant Falls of Montmorency, drily observed,—
"It may be a' vera fine; but it looks na' better to my thinken than hanks o' white woo' hung out o're the bushes."
"Weel," cried another, "thae fa's are just bonnie; 'tis a braw land, nae doubt; but no' just so braw as auld Scotland."
"Hout man! hauld your clavers, we shall a' be lairds here," said a third; "and ye maun wait a muckle time before they wad think aucht of you at hame."
I was not a little amused at the extravagant expectations entertained by some of our steerage passengers. The sight of the Canadian shores had changed them into persons of great consequence. The poorest and the worst-dressed, the least-deserving and the most repulsive in mind and morals, exhibited most disgusting traits of self-importance. Vanity and presumption seemed to possess them altogether. They talked loudly of the rank and wealth of their connexions at home, and lamented the great sacrifices they had made in order to join brothers and cousins who had foolishly settled in this beggarly wooden country.
Girls, who were scarcely able to wash a floor decently, talked of service with contempt, unless tempted to change their resolution by the offer of twelve dollars a month. To endeavour to undeceive them was a useless and ungracious task. After having tried it with several without success, I left it to time and bitter experience to restore them to their sober senses. In spite of the remonstrances of the captain, and the dread of the cholera, they all rushed on shore to inspect the land of Goshen, and to endeavour to realise their absurd anticipations.
We were favoured, a few minutes after our arrival, with another visit from the health-officers; but in this instance both the gentlemen were Canadians. Grave, melancholy-looking men, who talked much and ominously of the prevailing disorder, and the impossibility of strangers escaping from its fearful ravages. This was not very consoling, and served to depress the cheerful tone of mind which, after all, is one of the best antidotes against this awful scourge. The cabin seemed to lighten, and the air to circulate more freely, after the departure of these professional ravens. The captain, as if by instinct, took an additional glass of grog, to shake off the sepulchral gloom their presence had inspired.
The visit of the doctors was followed by that of two of the officials of the Customs—vulgar, illiterate men, who, seating themselves at the cabin table, with a familiar nod to the captain, and a blank stare at us, commenced the following dialogue:—
Custom-house officer (after making inquiries as to the general cargo of the vessel): "Any good brandy on board, captain?"
Captain (gruffly): "Yes."
Officer: "Best remedy for the cholera known. The only one the doctors can depend upon."
Captain (taking the hint): "Gentlemen, I'll send you up a dozen bottles this afternoon."
Officer: "Oh, thank you. We are sure to get it genuine from you. Any Edinburgh ale in your freight?"
Captain (with a slight shrug): "A few hundreds in cases. I'll send you a dozen with the brandy."
First officer: "Any short, large-bowled, Scotch pipes, with metallic lids?"
Captain (quite impatiently): "Yes, yes; I'll send you some to smoke, with the brandy. What else?"
Officer: "We will now proceed to business."
My readers would have laughed, as I did, could they have seen how doggedly the old man shook his fist after these worthies as they left the vessel. "Scoundrels!" he muttered to himself; and then turning to me, "They rob us in this barefaced manner, and we dare not resist or complain, for fear of the trouble they can put us to. If I had those villains at sea, I'd give them a taste of brandy and ale that they would not relish."
The day wore away, and the lengthened shadows of the mountains fell upon the waters, when the Horsley Hill, a large three-masted vessel from Waterford, that we had left at the quarantine station, cast anchor a little above us. She was quickly boarded by the health-officers, and ordered round to take up her station below the castle. To accomplish this object she had to heave her anchor; when lo! a great pine-tree, which had been sunk in the river, became entangled in the chains. Uproarious was the mirth to which the incident gave rise among the crowds that thronged the decks of the many vessels then at anchor in the river. Speaking-trumpets resounded on every side; and my readers may be assured that the sea-serpent was not forgotten in the multitude of jokes which followed.
Laughter resounded on all sides; and in the midst of the noise and confusion, the captain of the Horsley Hill hoisted his colours downwards, as if making signals of distress, a mistake which provoked renewed and long-continued mirth.
I laughed until my sides ached; little thinking how the Horsley Hill would pay us off for our mistimed hilarity.
Towards night, most of the steerage passengers returned, greatly dissatisfied with their first visit to the city, which they declared to be a filthy hole, that looked a great deal better from the ship's side than it did on shore. This, I have often been told, is literally the case. Here, as elsewhere, man has marred the magnificent creation of his Maker.
A dark and starless night closed in, accompanied by cold winds and drizzling rain. We seemed to have made a sudden leap from the torrid to the frigid zone. Two hours before, my light summer clothing was almost insupportable, and now a heavy and well-lined plaid formed but an inefficient screen from the inclemency of the weather. After watching for some time the singular effect produced by the lights in the town reflected in the water, and weary with a long day of anticipation and excitement, I made up my mind to leave the deck and retire to rest. I had just settled down my baby in her berth, when the vessel struck, with a sudden crash that sent a shiver through her whole frame. Alarmed, but not aware of the real danger that hung over us, I groped my way to the cabin, and thence ascended to the deck.
Here a scene of confusion prevailed that baffles description. By some strange fatality, the Horsley Hill had changed her position, and run foul of us in the dark. The Anne was a small brig, and her unlucky neighbour a heavy three-masted vessel, with three hundred Irish emigrants on board; and as her bowspirit was directly across the bows of the Anne, and she anchored, and unable to free herself from the deadly embrace, there was no small danger of the poor brig going down in the unequal struggle.
Unable to comprehend what was going on, I raised my head above my companion ladder, just at the critical moment when the vessels were grappled together. The shrieks of the women, the shouts and oaths of the men, and the barking of the dogs in either ship, aided the dense darkness of the night in producing a most awful and stunning effect.
"What is the matter?" I gasped out. "What is the reason of this dreadful confusion?"
The captain was raging like a chafed bull, in the grasp of several frantic women, who were clinging, shrieking, to his knees.
With great difficulty I persuaded the women to accompany me below. The mate hurried off with the cabin light upon the deck, and we were left in total darkness to await the result.
A deep, strange silence fell upon my heart. It was not exactly fear, but a sort of nerving of my spirit to meet the worst. The cowardly behaviour of my companions inspired me with courage. I was ashamed of their pusillanimity and want of faith in the Divine Providence. I sat down, and calmly begged them to follow my example.
An old woman, called Williamson, a sad reprobate, in attempting to do so, set her foot within the fender, which the captain had converted into a repository for empty glass bottles; the smash that ensued was echoed by a shriek from the whole party.
"God guide us," cried the ancient dame; "but we are going into eternity. I shall be lost; my sins are more in number than the hairs of my head." This confession was followed by oaths and imprecations too blasphemous to repeat.
Shocked and disgusted at her profanity, I bade her pray, and not waste the few moments that might be hers in using oaths and bad language.
"Did you not hear the crash?" said she.
"I did; it was of your own making. Sit down and be quiet."
Here followed another shock, that made the vessel heave and tremble; and the dragging of the anchor increased the uneasy motion which began to fill the boldest of us with alarm.
"Mrs. Moodie, we are lost," said Margaret Williamson, the youngest daughter of the old woman, a pretty girl, who had been the belle of the ship, flinging herself on her knees before me, and grasping both my hands in hers. "Oh, pray for me! pray for me! I cannot, I dare not, pray for myself; I was never taught a prayer." Her voice was choked with convulsive sobs, and scalding tears fell in torrents from her eyes over my hands. I never witnessed such an agony of despair. Before I could say one word to comfort her, another shock seemed to lift the vessel upwards. I felt my own blood run cold, expecting instantly to go down; and thoughts of death, and the unknown eternity at our feet, flitted vaguely through my mind.
"If we stay here, we shall perish," cried the girl, springing to her feet. "Let us go on deck, mother, and take our chance with the rest."
"Stay," I said; "you are safer here. British sailors never leave women to perish. You have fathers, husbands, brothers on board, who will not forget you. I beseech you to remain patiently here until the danger is past." I might as well have preached to the winds. The headstrong creatures would no longer be controlled. They rushed simultaneously upon deck, just as the Horsley Hill swung off, carrying with her part of the outer frame of our deck and the larger portion of our stern. When tranquillity was restored, fatigued both in mind and body, I sunk into a profound sleep, and did not awake until the sun had risen high above the wave-encircled fortress of Quebec.
The stormy clouds had all dispersed during the night; the air was clear and balmy; the giant hills were robed in a blue, soft mist, which rolled around them in fleecy volumes. As the beams of the sun penetrated their shadowy folds, they gradually drew up like a curtain, and dissolved like wreaths of smoke into the clear air.
The moment I came on deck, my old friend Oscar greeted me with his usual joyous bark, and with the sagacity peculiar to his species, proceeded to shew me all the damage done to the vessel during the night. It was laughable to watch the motions of the poor brute, as he ran from place to place, stopping before, or jumping upon, every fractured portion of the deck, and barking out his indignation at the ruinous condition in which he found his marine home. Oscar had made eleven voyages in the Anne, and had twice saved the life of the captain. He was an ugly specimen of the Scotch terrier, and greatly resembled a bundle of old rope-yarn; but a more faithful or attached creature I never saw. The captain was not a little jealous of Oscar's friendship for me. I was the only person the dog had ever deigned to notice, and his master regarded it as an act of treason on the part of his four-footed favourite. When my arms were tired with nursing, I had only to lay my baby on my cloak on deck, and tell Oscar to watch her, and the good dog would lie down by her, and suffer her to tangle his long curls in her little hands, and pull his tail and ears in the most approved baby fashion, without offering the least opposition; but if any one dared to approach his charge, he was alive on the instant, placing his paws over the child, and growling furiously. He would have been a bold man who had approached the child to do her injury. Oscar was the best plaything, and as sure a protector, as Katie had.
During the day, many of our passengers took their departure; tired of the close confinement of the ship, and the long voyage, they were too impatient to remain on board until we reached Montreal. The mechanics obtained instant employment, and the girls who were old enough to work, procured situations as servants in the city. Before night, our numbers were greatly reduced. The old dragoon and his family, two Scotch fiddlers of the name of Duncan, a Highlander called Tam Grant, and his wife and little son, and our own party, were all that remained of the seventy-two passengers that left the Port of Leith in the brig Anne.
In spite of the earnest entreaties of his young wife, the said Tam Grant, who was the most mercurial fellow in the world, would insist upon going on shore to see all the lions of the place. "Ah, Tam! Tam! ye will die o' the cholera," cried the weeping Maggie. "My heart will brak if ye dinna bide wi' me an' the bairnie." Tam was deaf as Ailsa Craig. Regardless of tears and entreaties, he jumped into the boat, like a wilful man as he was, and my husband went with him. Fortunately for me, the latter returned safe to the vessel, in time to proceed with her to Montreal, in tow of the noble steamer, British America; but Tam, the volatile Tam was missing. During the reign of the cholera, what at another time would have appeared but a trifling incident, was now invested with doubt and terror. The distress of the poor wife knew no bounds. I think I see her now, as I saw her then, sitting upon the floor of the deck, her head buried between her knees, rocking herself to and fro, and weeping in the utter abandonment of her grief. "He is dead! he is dead! My dear, dear Tam! The pestilence has seized upon him; and I and the puir bairn are left alone in the strange land." All attempts at consolation were useless; she obstinately refused to listen to probabilities, or to be comforted. All through the night I heard her deep and bitter sobs, and the oft-repeated name of him that she had lost.
The sun was sinking over the plague-stricken city, gilding the changing woods and mountain peaks with ruddy light; the river mirrored back the gorgeous sky, and moved in billows of liquid gold; the very air seemed lighted up with heavenly fires, and sparkled with myriads of luminous particles, as I gazed my last upon that beautiful scene.
The tow-line was now attached from our ship to the British America, and in company with two other vessels, we followed fast in her foaming wake. Day lingered on the horizon just long enough to enable me to examine, with deep interest, the rocky heights of Abraham, the scene of our immortal Wolfe's victory and death; and when the twilight faded into night, the moon arose in solemn beauty, and cast mysterious gleams upon the strange stern landscape. The wide river, flowing rapidly between its rugged banks, rolled in inky blackness beneath the overshadowing crags; while the waves in mid-channel flashed along in dazzling light, rendered more intense by the surrounding darkness. In this luminous track the huge steamer glided majestically forward, flinging showers of red earth-stars from the funnel into the clear air, and looking like some fiery demon of the night enveloped in smoke and flame.
The lofty groves of pine frowned down in hearse-like gloom upon the mighty river, and the deep stillness of the night, broken alone by its hoarse wailings, filled my mind with sad forebodings—alas! too prophetic of the future. Keenly, for the first time, I felt that I was a stranger in a strange land; my heart yearned intensely for my absent home. Home! the word had ceased to belong to my present—it was doomed to live for ever in the past; for what emigrant ever regarded the country of his exile as his home? To the land he has left, that name belongs for ever, and in no instance does he bestow it upon another. "I have got a letter from home!" "I have seen a friend from home!" "I dreamt last night that I was at home!" are expressions of everyday occurrence, to prove that the heart acknowledges no other home than the land of its birth.
From these sad reveries I was roused by the hoarse notes of the bagpipe. That well-known sound brought every Scotchman upon deck, and set every limb in motion on the decks of the other vessels. Determined not to be outdone, our fiddlers took up the strain, and a lively contest ensued between the rival musicians, which continued during the greater part of the night. The shouts of noisy revelry were in no way congenial to my feelings. Nothing tends so much to increase our melancholy as merry music when the heart is sad; and I left the scene with eyes brimful of tears, and my mind painfully agitated by sorrowful recollections and vain regrets.
The strains we hear in foreign lands, No echo from the heart can claim; The chords are swept by strangers' hands, And kindle in the breast no flame, Sweet though they be. No fond remembrance wakes to fling Its hallowed influence o'er the chords; As if a spirit touch'd the string, Breathing, in soft harmonious words, Deep melody.
The music of our native shore A thousand lovely scenes endears; In magic tones it murmurs o'er The visions of our early years;— The hopes of youth; It wreathes again the flowers we wreathed In childhood's bright, unclouded day; It breathes again the vows we breathed, At beauty's shrine, when hearts were gay And whisper'd truth;
It calls before our mental sight Dear forms whose tuneful lips are mute, Bright, sunny eyes long closed in night, Warm hearts now silent as the lute That charm'd our ears; It thrills the breast with feelings deep, Too deep for language to impart; And bids the spirit joy and weep, In tones that sink into the heart, And melt in tears.
OUR JOURNEY UP THE COUNTRY
Fly this plague-stricken spot! The hot, foul air Is rank with pestilence—the crowded marts And public ways, once populous with life, Are still and noisome as a churchyard vault; Aghast and shuddering, Nature holds her breath In abject fear, and feels at her strong heart The deadly pangs of death.
Of Montreal I can say but little. The cholera was at its height, and the fear of infection, which increased the nearer we approached its shores, cast a gloom over the scene, and prevented us from exploring its infected streets. That the feelings of all on board very nearly resembled our own might be read in the anxious faces of both passengers and crew. Our captain, who had never before hinted that he entertained any apprehensions on the subject, now confided to us his conviction that he should never quit the city alive: "This cursed cholera! Left it in Russia—found it on my return to Leith—meets me again in Canada. No escape the third time." If the captain's prediction proved true in his case, it was not so in ours. We left the cholera in England, we met it again in Scotland, and, under the providence of God, we escaped its fatal visitation in Canada.
Yet the fear and the dread of it on that first day caused me to throw many an anxious glance on my husband and my child. I had been very ill during the three weeks that our vessel was becalmed upon the Banks of Newfoundland, and to this circumstance I attribute my deliverance from the pestilence. I was weak and nervous when the vessel arrived at Quebec, but the voyage up the St. Lawrence, the fresh air and beautiful scenery were rapidly restoring me to health.
Montreal from the river wears a pleasing aspect, but it lacks the grandeur, the stern sublimity of Quebec. The fine mountain that forms the background to the city, the Island of St. Helens in front, and the junction of the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa—which run side by side, their respective boundaries only marked by a long ripple of white foam, and the darker blue tint of the former river—constitute the most remarkable features in the landscape.
The town itself was, at that period, dirty and ill-paved; and the opening of all the sewers, in order to purify the place and stop the ravages of the pestilence, rendered the public thoroughfares almost impassable, and loaded the air with intolerable effluvia, more likely to produce than stay the course of the plague, the violence of which had, in all probability, been increased by these long-neglected receptacles of uncleanliness.
The dismal stories told us by the excise-officer who came to inspect the unloading of the vessel, of the frightful ravages of the cholera, by no means increased our desire to go on shore.
"It will be a miracle if you escape," he said. "Hundreds of emigrants die daily; and if Stephen Ayres had not providentally come among us, not a soul would have been alive at this moment in Montreal."
"And who is Stephen Ayres?" said I.
"God only knows," was the grave reply. "There was a man sent from heaven, and his name was John."
"But I thought this man was called Stephen?"
"Ay, so he calls himself; but 'tis certain that he is not of the earth. Flesh and blood could never do what he has done—the hand of God is in it. Besides, no one knows who he is, or whence he comes. When the cholera was at the worst, and the hearts of all men stood still with fear, and our doctors could do nothing to stop its progress, this man, or angel, or saint, suddenly made his appearance in our streets. He came in great humility, seated in an ox-cart, and drawn by two lean oxen and a rope harness. Only think of that! Such a man in an OLD OX-CART, drawn by ROPE HARNESS! The thing itself was a miracle. He made no parade about what he could do, but only fixed up a plain pasteboard notice, informing the public that he possessed an infallible remedy for the cholera, and would engage to cure all who sent for him."
"And was he successful?"
"Successful! It beats all belief; and his remedy so simple! For some days we all took him for a quack, and would have no faith in him at all, although he performed some wonderful cures upon poor folks, who could not afford to send for the doctor. The Indian village was attacked by the disease, and he went out to them, and restored upward of a hundred of the Indians to perfect health. They took the old lean oxen out of the cart, and drew him back to Montreal in triumph. This 'stablished him at once, and in a few days' time he made a fortune. The very doctors sent for him to cure them; and it is to be hoped that in a few days he will banish the cholera from the city."
"Do you know his famous remedy?"
"Do I not?—Did he not cure me when I was at the last gasp? Why, he makes no secret of it. It is all drawn from the maple-tree. First he rubs the patient all over with an ointment, made of hog's lard and maple-sugar and ashes, from the maple-tree; and he gives him a hot draught of maple-sugar and ley, which throws him into a violent perspiration. In about an hour the cramps subside; he falls into a quiet sleep, and when he awakes he is perfectly restored to health." Such were our first tidings of Stephen Ayres, the cholera doctor, who is universally believed to have effected some wonderful cures. He obtained a wide celebrity throughout the colony.
 A friend of mine, in this town, has an original portrait of this notable empiric—this man sent from heaven. The face is rather handsome, but has a keen, designing expression, and is evidently that of an American, from its complexion and features.
The day of our arrival in the port of Montreal was spent in packing and preparing for our long journey up the country. At sunset, I went upon deck to enjoy the refreshing breeze that swept from the river. The evening was delightful; the white tents of the soldiers on the Island of St. Helens glittered in the beams of the sun, and the bugle-call, wafted over the waters, sounded so cheery and inspiring, that it banished all fears of the cholera, and, with fear, the heavy gloom that had clouded my mind since we left Quebec. I could once more hold sweet converse with nature, and enjoy the soft loveliness of the rich and harmonious scene.
A loud cry from one of the crew startled me; I turned to the river, and beheld a man struggling in the water a short distance from our vessel. He was a young sailor, who had fallen from the bowsprit of a ship near us.
There is something terribly exciting in beholding a fellow-creature in imminent peril, without having the power to help him. To witness his death-struggles—to feel in your own person all the dreadful alternations of hope and fear—and, finally, to see him die, with scarcely an effort made for his preservation. This was our case.
At the moment he fell into the water, a boat with three men was within a few yards of the spot, and actually sailed over the spot where he sank. Cries of "Shame!" from the crowd collected upon the bank of the river, had no effect in rousing these people to attempt the rescue of a perishing fellow-creature. The boat passed on. The drowning man again rose to the surface, the convulsive motion of his hands and feet visible above the water, but it was evident that the struggle would be his last.
"Is it possible that they will let a human being perish, and so near the shore, when an oar held out would save his life?" was the agonising question at my heart, as I gazed, half-maddened by excitement, on the fearful spectacle. The eyes of a multitude were fixed upon the same object—but not a hand stirred. Every one seemed to expect from his fellow an effort which he was incapable of attempting himself.
At this moment—splash! a sailor plunged into the water from the deck of a neighbouring vessel, and dived after the drowning man. A deep "Thank God!" burst from my heart. I drew a freer breath as the brave fellow's head appeared above the water. He called to the man in the boat to throw him an oar, or the drowning man would be the death of them both. Slowly they put back the boat—the oar was handed; but it came too late! The sailor, whose name was Cook, had been obliged to shake off the hold of the dying man to save his own life. He dived again to the bottom, and succeeded in bringing to shore the body of the unfortunate being he had vainly endeavoured to succour. Shortly after, he came on board our vessel, foaming with passion at the barbarous indifference manifested by the men in the boat.
"Had they given me the oar in time, I could have saved him. I knew him well—he was an excellent fellow, and a good seaman. He has left a wife and three children in Liverpool. Poor Jane!—how can I tell her that I could not save her husband?"
He wept bitterly, and it was impossible for any of us to witness his emotion without joining in his grief.
From the mate I learned that this same young man had saved the lives of three women and a child when the boat was swamped at Grosse Isle, in attempting to land the passengers from the Horsley Hill.
Such acts of heroism are common in the lower walks of life. Thus, the purest gems are often encased in the rudest crust; and the finest feelings of the human heart are fostered in the chilling atmosphere of poverty.
While this sad event occupied all our thoughts, and gave rise to many painful reflections, an exclamation of unqualified delight at once changed the current of our thoughts, and filled us with surprise and pleasure. Maggie Grant had fainted in the arms of her husband.
Yes, there was Tam—her dear, reckless Tam, after all her tears and lamentations, pressing his young wife to his heart, and calling her by a thousand endearing pet names.
He had met with some countrymen at Quebec, had taken too much whiskey on the joyful occasion, and lost his passage in the Anne, but had followed, a few hours later, in another steam-boat; and he assured the now happy Maggie, as he kissed the infant Tam, whom she held up to his admiring gaze, that he never would be guilty of the like again. Perhaps he kept his word; but I much fear that the first temptation would make the lively laddie forget his promise.
Our luggage having been removed to the Custom-house, including our bedding, the captain collected all the ship's flags for our accommodation, of which we formed a tolerably comfortable bed; and if our dreams were of England, could it be otherwise, with her glorious flag wrapped around us, and our heads resting upon the Union Jack?
In the morning we were obliged to visit the city to make the necessary arrangements for our upward journey.
The day was intensely hot. A bank of thunderclouds lowered heavily above the mountain, and the close, dusty streets were silent, and nearly deserted. Here and there might be seen a group of anxious-looking, care-worn, sickly emigrants, seated against a wall among their packages, and sadly ruminating upon their future prospects.
The sullen toll of the death-bell, the exposure of ready-made coffins in the undertakers' windows, and the oft-recurring notice placarded on the walls, of funerals furnished at such and such a place, at cheapest rate and shortest notice, painfully reminded us, at every turning of the street, that death was everywhere—perhaps lurking in our very path; we felt no desire to examine the beauties of the place. With this ominous feeling pervading our minds, public buildings possessed few attractions, and we determined to make our stay as short as possible.
Compared with the infected city, our ship appeared an ark of safety, and we returned to it with joy and confidence, too soon to be destroyed. We had scarcely re-entered our cabin, when tidings were brought to us that the cholera had made its appearance: a brother of the captain had been attacked.
It was advisable that we should leave the vessel immediately, before the intelligence could reach the health-officers. A few minutes sufficed to make the necessary preparations; and in less than half an hour we found ourselves occupying comfortable apartments in Goodenough's hotel, and our passage taken in the stage for the following morning.
The transition was like a dream. The change from the close, rank ship, to large, airy, well-furnished rooms and clean attendants, was a luxury we should have enjoyed had not the dread of cholera involved all things around us in gloom and apprehension. No one spoke upon the subject; and yet it was evident that it was uppermost in the thoughts of all. Several emigrants had died of the terrible disorder during the week, beneath the very roof that sheltered us, and its ravages, we were told, had extended up the country as far as Kingston; so that it was still to be the phantom of our coming journey, if we were fortunate enough to escape from its head-quarters.
At six o'clock the following morning, we took our places in the coach for Lachine, and our fears of the plague greatly diminished as we left the spires of Montreal in the distance. The journey from Montreal westward has been so well described by many gifted pens, that I shall say little about it. The banks of the St. Lawrence are picturesque and beautiful, particularly in those spots where there is a good view of the American side. The neat farm-houses looked to me, whose eyes had been so long accustomed to the watery waste, homes of beauty and happiness; and the splendid orchards, the trees at that season of the year being loaded with ripening fruit of all hues, were refreshing and delicious.
My partiality for the apples was regarded by a fellow-traveller with a species of horror. "Touch them not, if you value your life." Every draught of fresh air and water inspired me with renewed health and spirits, and I disregarded the well-meant advice; the gentlemen who gave it had just recovered from the terrible disease. He was a middle-aged man, a farmer from the Upper Province, Canadian born. He had visited Montreal on business for the first time. "Well, sir," he said, in answer to some questions put to him by my husband respecting the disease, "I can tell you what it is: a man smitten with the cholera stares death right in the face; and the torment he is suffering is so great that he would gladly die to get rid of it."
"You were fortunate, C—-, to escape," said a backwood settler, who occupied the opposite seat; "many a younger man has died of it."
"Ay; but I believe I never should have taken it had it not been for some things they gave me for supper at the hotel; oysters, they called them, oysters; they were alive! I was once persuaded by a friend to eat them, and I liked them well enough at the time. But I declare to you that I felt them crawling over one another in my stomach all night. The next morning I was seized with the cholera."
"Did you swallow them whole, C—-?" said the former spokesman, who seemed highly tickled by the evil doings of the oysters.
"To be sure. I tell you, the creatures are alive. You put them on your tongue, and I'll be bound you'll be glad to let them slip down as fast as you can."
"No wonder you had the cholera," said the backwoodsman, "you deserved it for your barbarity. If I had a good plate of oysters here, I'd teach you the way to eat them."
Our journey during the first day was performed partly by coach, partly by steam. It was nine o'clock in the evening when we landed at Cornwell, and took coach for Prescott. The country through which we passed appeared beautiful in the clear light of the moon; but the air was cold, and slightly sharpened by frost. This seemed strange to me in the early part of September, but it is very common in Canada. Nine passengers were closely packed into our narrow vehicle, but the sides being of canvas, and the open space allowed for windows unglazed, I shivered with cold, which amounted to a state of suffering, when the day broke, and we approached the little village of Matilda. It was unanimously voted by all hands that we should stop and breakfast at a small inn by the road-side, and warm ourselves before proceeding to Prescott.
The people in the tavern were not stirring, and it was some time before an old white-headed man unclosed the door, and showed us into a room, redolent with fumes of tobacco, and darkened by paper blinds. I asked him if he would allow me to take my infant into a room with a fire.
"I guess it was a pretty considerable cold night for the like of her," said he. "Come, I'll show you to the kitchen; there's always a fire there." I cheerfully followed, accompanied by our servant.
Our entrance was unexpected, and by no means agreeable to the persons we found there. A half-clothed, red-haired Irish servant was upon her knees, kindling up the fire; and a long, thin woman, with a sharp face, and an eye like a black snake, was just emerging from a bed in the corner. We soon discovered this apparition to be the mistress of the house.
"The people can't come in here!" she screamed in a shrill voice, darting daggers at the poor old man.
"Sure there's a baby, and the two women critters are perished with cold," pleaded the good old man.
"What's that to me? They have no business in my kitchen."
"Now, Almira, do hold on. It's the coach has stopped to breakfast with us; and you know we don't often get the chance."
All this time the fair Almira was dressing as fast as she could, and eyeing her unwelcome female guests, as we stood shivering over the fire.
"Breakfast!" she muttered, "what can we give them to eat? They pass our door a thousand times without any one alighting; and now, when we are out of everything, they must stop and order breakfast at such an unreasonable hour. How many are there of you?" turning fiercely to me.
"Nine," I answered, laconically, continuing to chafe the cold hands and feet of the child.
"Nine! That bit of beef will be nothing, cut into steaks for nine. What's to be done, Joe?" (to the old man.)
"Eggs and ham, summat of that dried venison, and pumpkin pie," responded the aide-de-camp, thoughtfully. "I don't know of any other fixings."
"Bestir yourself, then, and lay out the table, for the coach can't stay long," cried the virago, seizing a frying-pan from the wall, and preparing it for the reception of eggs and ham. "I must have the fire to myself. People can't come crowding here, when I have to fix breakfast for nine; particularly when there is a good room elsewhere provided for their accommodation." I took the hint, and retreated to the parlour, where I found the rest of the passengers walking to and fro, and impatiently awaiting the advent of breakfast.
To do Almira justice, she prepared from her scanty materials a very substantial breakfast in an incredibly short time, for which she charged us a quarter of a dollar per head.
At Prescott we embarked on board a fine new steam-boat, William IV., crowded with Irish emigrants, proceeding to Cobourg and Toronto.
While pacing the deck, my husband was greatly struck by the appearance of a middle-aged man and his wife, who sat apart from the rest, and seemed struggling with intense grief, which, in spite of all their efforts at concealment, was strongly impressed upon their features. Some time after, I fell into conversation with the woman, from whom I learned their little history. The husband was factor to a Scotch gentleman, of large landed property, who had employed him to visit Canada, and report the capabilities of the country, prior to his investing a large sum of money in wild lands. The expenses of their voyage had been paid, and everything up to that morning had prospered them. They had been blessed with a speedy passage, and were greatly pleased with the country and the people; but of what avail was all this? Their only son, a fine lad of fourteen, had died that day of the cholera, and all their hopes for the future were buried in his grave. For his sake they had sought a home in this far land; and here, at the very onset of their new career, the fell disease had taken him from them for ever—here, where, in such a crowd, the poor heart-broken mother could not even indulge her natural grief!
"Ah, for a place where I might greet!" she said; "it would relieve the burning weight at my heart. But with sae many strange eyes glowering upon me, I tak' shame to mysel' to greet."
"Ah, Jeannie, my puir woman," said the husband, grasping her hand, "ye maun bear up; 'tis God's will; an sinfu' creatures like us mauna repine. But oh, madam," turning to me, "we have sair hearts the day!"
Poor bereaved creatures, how deeply I commiserated their grief—how I respected the poor father, in the stern efforts he made to conceal from indifferent spectators the anguish that weighed upon his mind! Tears are the best balm that can be applied to the anguish of the heart. Religion teaches man to bear his sorrows with becoming fortitude, but tears contribute largely both to soften and to heal the wounds from whence they flow.
At Brockville we took in a party of ladies, which somewhat relieved the monotony of the cabin, and I was amused by listening to their lively prattle, and the little gossip with which they strove to wile away the tedium of the voyage. The day was too stormy to go upon deck—thunder and lightening, accompanied with torrents of rain. Amid the confusion of the elements, I tried to get a peep at the Lake of the Thousand Isles; but the driving storm blended all objects into one, and I returned wet and disappointed to my berth. We passed Kingston at midnight, and lost all our lady passengers but two. The gale continued until daybreak, and noise and confusion prevailed all night, which were greatly increased by the uproarious conduct of a wild Irish emigrant, who thought fit to make his bed upon the mat before the cabin door. He sang, he shouted, and harangued his countrymen on the political state of the Emerald Isle, in a style which was loud if not eloquent. Sleep was impossible, whilst his stentorian lungs continued to pour forth torrents of unmeaning sound.
Our Dutch stewardess was highly enraged. His conduct, she said, "was perfectly ondacent." She opened the door, and bestowing upon him several kicks, bade him get away "out of that," or she would complain to the captain.
In answer to this remonstrance, he caught her by the foot, and pulled her down. Then waving the tattered remains of his straw hat in the air, he shouted with an air of triumph, "Git out wid you, you ould witch! Shure the ladies, the purty darlints, never sent you wid that ugly message to Pat, who loves them so intirely that he manes to kape watch over them through the blessed night." Then making us a ludicrous bow, he continued, "Ladies, I'm at yer sarvice; I only wish I could get a dispensation from the Pope, and I'd marry yeas all." The stewardess bolted the door, and the mad fellow kept up such a racket that we all wished him at the bottom of the Ontario.
The following day was wet and gloomy. The storm had protracted the length of our voyage for several hours, and it was midnight when we landed at Cobourg.
(Written at midnight on the river St. Lawrence)
There's rest when eve, with dewy fingers, Draws the curtains of repose Round the west, where light still lingers, And the day's last glory glows; There's rest in heaven's unclouded blue, When twinkling stars steal one by one, So softly on the gazer's view, As if they sought his glance to shun.
There's rest when o'er the silent meads The deepening shades of night advance; And sighing through their fringe of reeds, The mighty stream's clear waters glance. There's rest when all above is bright, And gently o'er these summer isles The full moon pours her mellow light, And heaven on earth serenely smiles.
There's rest when angry storms are o'er, And fear no longer vigil keeps; When winds are heard to rave no more, And ocean's troubled spirit sleeps; There's rest when to the pebbly strand, The lapsing billows slowly glide; And, pillow'd on the golden sand, Breathes soft and low the slumbering tide.
There's rest, deep rest, at this still hour— A holy calm,—a pause profound; Whose soothing spell and dreamy power Lulls into slumber all around. There's rest for labour's hardy child, For Nature's tribes of earth and air,— Whose sacred balm and influence mild, Save guilt and sorrow, all may share.
There's rest beneath the quiet sod, When life and all its sorrows cease, And in the bosom of his God The Christian finds eternal peace,— That peace the world cannot bestow, The rest a Saviour's death-pangs bought, To bid the weary pilgrim know A rest surpassing human thought.
TOM WILSON'S EMIGRATION
"Of all odd fellows, this fellow was the oddest. I have seen many strange fish in my days, but I never met with his equal."
About a month previous to our emigration to Canada, my husband said to me, "You need not expect me home to dinner to-day; I am going with my friend Wilson to Y—-, to hear Mr. C—- lecture upon emigration to Canada. He has just returned from the North American provinces, and his lectures are attended by vast numbers of persons who are anxious to obtain information on the subject. I got a note from your friend B—- this morning, begging me to come over and listen to his palaver; and as Wilson thinks of emigrating in the spring, he will be my walking companion."