Roughing it in the Bush
There was a little man—
I’ll sketch him if I can,
For he clung to mine and me
Like the old man of the sea;
And in spite of taunt and scoff
We could not pitch him off,
For the cross-grained, waspish elf
Cared for no one but himself.
Before I dismiss for ever the troubles and sorrows of 1836, I would fain introduce to the notice of my readers some of the odd characters with whom we became acquainted during that period. The first that starts vividly to my recollection is the picture of a short, stumpy, thickset man—a British sailor, too—who came to stay one night under our roof, and took quiet possession of his quarters for nine months, and whom we were obliged to tolerate from the simple fact that we could not get rid of him.
During the fall, Moodie had met this individual (whom I will call Mr. Malcolm) in the mail-coach, going up to Toronto. Amused with his eccentric and blunt manners, and finding him a shrewd, clever fellow in conversation, Moodie told him that if ever he came into his part of the world he should be glad to renew their acquaintance. And so they parted, with mutual good-will, as men often part who have travelled a long journey in good fellowship together, without thinking it probable they should ever meet again.
The sugar season had just commenced with the spring thaw; Jacob had tapped a few trees in order to obtain sap to make molasses for the children, when his plans were frustrated by the illness of my husband, who was again attacked with the ague. Towards the close of a wet, sloppy day, while Jacob was in the wood, chopping, and our servant gone to my sister, who was ill, to help to wash, as I was busy baking bread for tea, my attention was aroused by a violent knocking at the door, and the furious barking of our dog, Hector. I ran to open it, when I found Hector’s teeth clenched in the trousers of a little, dark, thickset man, who said in a gruff voice—
“Call off your dog. What the devil do you keep such an infernal brute about the house for? Is it to bite people who come to see you?”
Hector was the best-behaved, best-tempered animal in the world; he might have been called a gentlemanly dog. So little was there of the unmannerly puppy in his behaviour, that I was perfectly astonished at his ungracious conduct. I caught him by the collar, and not without some difficulty, succeeded in dragging him off.
“Is Captain Moodie within?” said the stranger.
“He is, sir. But he is ill in bed—too ill to be seen.”
“Tell him a friend” (he laid a strong stress upon the last word), “a particular friend must speak to him.”
I now turned my eyes to the face of the speaker with some curiosity. I had taken him for a mechanic, from his dirty, slovenly appearance; and his physiognomy was so unpleasant that I did not credit his assertion that he was a friend of my husband, for I was certain that no man who possessed such a forbidding aspect could be regarded by Moodie as a friend. I was about to deliver his message, but the moment I let go Hector’s collar, the dog was at him again.
“Don’t strike him with your stick,” I cried, throwing my arms over the faithful creature. “He is a powerful animal, and if you provoke him, he will kill you.”
I at last succeeded in coaxing Hector into the girl’s room, where I shut him up, while the stranger came into the kitchen, and walked to the fire to dry his wet clothes.
I immediately went into the parlour, where Moodie was lying upon a bed near the stove, to deliver the stranger’s message; but before I could say a word, he dashed in after me, and going up to the bed, held out his broad, coarse hand, with “How are you, Mr. Moodie? You see I have accepted your kind invitation sooner than either you or I expected. If you will give me house-room for the night, I shall be obliged to you.”
This was said in a low, mysterious voice; and Moodie, who was still struggling with the hot fit of his disorder, and whose senses were not a little confused, stared at him with a look of vague bewilderment. The countenance of the stranger grew dark.
“You cannot have forgotten me—my name is Malcolm.”
“Yes, sir; I remember you now,” said the invalid holding out his burning, feverish hand. “To my home, such as it is, you are welcome.”
I stood by in wondering astonishment, looking from one to the other, as I had no recollection of ever hearing my husband mention the name of the stranger; but as he had invited him to share our hospitality, I did my best to make him welcome though in what manner he was to be accommodated puzzled me not a little. I placed the arm-chair by the fire, and told him that I would prepare tea for him as soon as I could.
“It may be as well to tell you, Mrs. Moodie,” said he sulkily, for he was evidently displeased by my husband’s want of recognition on his first entrance, “that I have had no dinner.”
I sighed to myself, for I well knew that our larder boasted of no dainties; and from the animal expression of our guest’s face, I rightly judged that he was fond of good living.
By the time I had fried a rasher of salt pork, and made a pot of dandelion coffee, the bread I had been preparing was baked; but grown flour will not make light bread, and it was unusually heavy. For the first time I felt heartily ashamed of our humble fare. I was sure that he for whom it was provided was not one to pass it over in benevolent silence. “He might be a gentleman,” I thought, “but he does not look like one;” and a confused idea of who he was, and where Moodie had met him, began to float through my mind. I did not like the appearance of the man, but I consoled myself that he was only to stay for one night, and I could give up my bed for that one night, and sleep on a bed on the floor by my sick husband. When I re-entered the parlour to cover the table, I found Moodie fallen asleep, and Mr. Malcolm reading. As I placed the tea-things on the table, he raised his head, and regarded me with a gloomy stare. He was a strange-looking creature; his features were tolerably regular, his complexion dark, with a good colour, his very broad and round head was covered with a perfect mass of close, black, curling hair, which, in growth, texture, and hue, resembled the wiry, curly hide of a water-dog. His eyes and mouth were both well-shaped, but gave, by their sinister expression, an odious and doubtful meaning to the whole of his physiognomy. The eyes were cold, insolent, and cruel, and as green as the eyes of a cat. The mouth bespoke a sullen, determined, and sneering disposition, as if it belonged to one brutally obstinate, one who could not by any gentle means be persuaded from his purpose. Such a man in a passion would have been a terrible wild beast; but the current of his feelings seemed to flow in a deep, sluggish channel, rather than in a violent or impetuous one; and, like William Penn, when he reconnoitred his unwelcome visitors through the keyhole of the door, I looked at my strange guest, and liked him not. Perhaps my distant and constrained manner made him painfully aware of the fact, for I am certain that, from the first hour of our acquaintance, a deep-rooted antipathy existed between us, which time seemed rather to strengthen than diminish.
He ate of his meal sparingly, and with evident disgust, the only remarks which dropped from him were—
“You make bad bread in the bush. Strange, that you can’t keep your potatoes from the frost! I should have thought that you could have had things more comfortable in the woods.”
“We have been very unfortunate,” I said, “since we came to the woods. I am sorry that you should be obliged to share the poverty of the land. It would have given me much pleasure could I have set before you a more comfortable meal.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. So that I get good pork and potatoes I shall be contented.”
What did these words imply?—an extension of his visit? I hoped that I was mistaken; but before I could lose any time in conjecture my husband awoke. The fit had left him, and he rose and dressed himself, and was soon chatting cheerfully with his guest.
Mr. Malcolm now informed him that he was hiding from the sheriff of the N—— district’s officers, and that it would be conferring upon him a great favour if he would allow him to remain at his house for a few weeks.
“To tell you the truth, Malcolm,” said Moodie, “we are so badly off that we can scarcely find food for ourselves and the children. It is out of our power to make you comfortable, or to keep an additional hand, without he is willing to render some little help on the farm. If you can do this, I will endeavour to get a few necessaries on credit, to make your stay more agreeable.”
To this proposition Malcolm readily assented, not only because it released him from all sense of obligation, but because it gave him a privilege to grumble.
Finding that his stay might extend to an indefinite period, I got Jacob to construct a rude bedstead out of two large chests that had transported some of our goods across the Atlantic, and which he put in a corner of the parlour. This I provided with a small hair-mattress, and furnished with what bedding I could spare.
For the first fornight of his sojourn, our guest did nothing but lie upon that bed, and read, and smoke, and drink whiskey-and-water from morning until night. By degrees he let out part of his history; but there was a mystery about him which he took good care never to clear up. He was the son of an officer in the navy, who had not only attained a very high rank in the service, but, for his gallant conduct, had been made a Knight-Companion of the Bath.
He had himself served his time as a midshipman on board his father’s flag-ship, but had left the navy and accepted a commission in the Buenos-Ayrean service during the political struggles in that province; he had commanded a sort of privateer under the government, to whom, by his own account, he had rendered many very signal services. Why he left South America and came to Canada he kept a profound secret. He had indulged in very vicious and dissipated courses since he came to the province, and by his own account had spent upwards of four thousand pounds, in a manner not over creditable to himself. Finding that his friends would answer his bills no longer, he took possession of a grant of land obtained through his father’s interest, up in Harvey, a barren township on the shores of Stony Lake; and, after putting up his shanty, and expending all his remaining means, he found that he did not possess one acre out of the whole four hundred that would yield a crop of potatoes. He was now considerably in debt, and the lands, such as they were, had been seized, with all his effects, by the sheriff, and a warrant was out for his own apprehension, which he contrived to elude during his sojourn with us. Money he had none; and, beyond the dirty fearnought blue seaman’s jacket which he wore, a pair of trousers of the coarse cloth of the country, an old black vest that had seen better days, and two blue-checked shirts, clothes he had none. He shaved but once a week, never combed his hair, and never washed himself. A dirtier or more slovenly creature never before was dignified by the title of a gentleman. He was, however, a man of good education, of excellent abilities, and possessed a bitter, sarcastic knowledge of the world; but he was selfish and unprincipled in the highest degree.
His shrewd observations and great conversational powers had first attracted my husband’s attention, and, as men seldom show their bad qualities on a journey, he thought him a blunt, good fellow, who had travelled a great deal, and could render himself a very agreeable companion by a graphic relation of his adventures. He could be all this, when he chose to relax from his sullen, morose mood; and, much as I disliked him, I have listened with interest for hours to his droll descriptions of South American life and manners.
Naturally indolent, and a constitutional grumbler, it was with the greatest difficulty that Moodie could get him to do anything beyond bringing a few pails of water from the swamp for the use of the house, and he often passed me carrying water up from the lake without offering to relieve me of the burden. Mary, the betrothed of Jacob, called him a perfect “beast”; but he, returning good for evil, considered her a very pretty girl, and paid her so many uncouth attentions that he roused the jealousy of honest Jake, who vowed that he would give him a good “loomping” if he only dared to lay a finger upon his sweetheart. With Jacob to back her, Mary treated the “zea-bear,” as Jacob termed him, with vast disdain, and was so saucy to him that, forgetting his admiration, he declared he would like to serve her as the Indians had done a scolding woman in South America. They attacked her house during the absence of her husband, cut out her tongue, and nailed it to the door, by way of knocker; and he thought that all women who could not keep a civil tongue in their head should be served in the same manner.
“And what should be done to men who swear and use ondacent language?” quoth Mary, indignantly. “Their tongues should be slit, and given to the dogs. Faugh! You are such a nasty fellow that I don’t think Hector would eat your tongue.”
“I’ll kill that beast,” muttered Malcolm, as he walked away.
I remonstrated with him on the impropriety of bandying words with our servants. “You see,” I said, “the disrespect with which they treat you; and if they presume upon your familiarity, to speak to our guest in this contemptuous manner, they will soon extend the same conduct to us.”
“But, Mrs. Moodie, you should reprove them.”
“I cannot, sir, while you continue, by taking liberties with the girl, and swearing at the man, to provoke them to retaliation.”
“Swearing! What harm is there in swearing? A sailor cannot live without oaths.”
“But a gentleman might, Mr. Malcolm. I should be sorry to consider you in any other light.”
“Ah, you are such a prude—so methodistical—you make no allowance for circumstances! Surely, in the woods we may dispense with the hypocritical, conventional forms of society, and speak and act as we please.”
“So you seem to think; but you see the result.”
“I have never been used to the society of ladies, and I cannot fashion my words to please them; and I won’t, that’s more!” he muttered to himself as he strode off to Moodie in the field. I wished from my very heart that he was once more on the deck of his piratical South American craft.
One night he insisted on going out in the canoe to spear maskinonge with Moodie. The evening turned out very chill and foggy, and, before twelve, they returned, with only one fish, and half frozen with cold. Malcolm had got twinges of rheumatism, and he fussed, and sulked, and swore, and quarrelled with everybody and everything, until Moodie, who was highly amused by his petulance, advised him to go to his bed, and pray for the happy restoration of his temper.
“Temper!” he cried, “I don’t believe there’s a good-tempered person in the world. It’s all hypocrisy! I never had a good-temper! My mother was an ill-tempered woman, and ruled my father, who was a confoundedly severe, domineering man. I was born in an ill-temper. I was an ill-tempered child; I grew up an ill-tempered man. I feel worse than ill-tempered now, and when I die it will be in an ill-temper.”
“Well,” quoth I, “Moodie has made you a tumbler of hot punch, which may help to drive out the cold and the ill-temper, and cure the rheumatism.”
“Ay; your husband’s a good fellow, and worth two of you, Mrs. Moodie. He makes some allowance for the weakness of human nature, and can excuse even my ill-temper.”
I did not choose to bandy words with him, and the next day the unfortunate creature was shaking with the ague. A more intractable, outrageous, Im-patient I never had the ill-fortune to nurse. During the cold fit, he did nothing but swear at the cold, and wished himself roasting; and during the fever, he swore at the heat, and wished that he was sitting, in no other garment than his shirt, on the north side of an iceberg. And when the fit at last left him, he got up, and ate such quantities of fat pork, and drank so much whiskey-punch, that you would have imagined he had just arrived from a long journey, and had not tasted food for a couple of days.
He would not believe that fishing in the cold night-air upon the water had made him ill, but raved that it was all my fault for having laid my baby down on his bed while it was shaking with the ague.
Yet, if there were the least tenderness mixed up in his iron nature, it was the affection he displayed for that young child. Dunbar was just twenty months old, with bright, dark eyes, dimpled cheeks, and soft, flowing, golden hair, which fell round his infant face in rich curls. The merry, confiding little creature formed such a contrast to his own surly, unyielding temper, that, perhaps, that very circumstance made the bond of union between them. When in the house, the little boy was seldom out of his arms, and whatever were Malcolm’s faults, he had none in the eyes of the child, who used to cling around his neck, and kiss his rough, unshaven cheeks with the greatest fondness.
“If I could afford it, Moodie,” he said one day to my husband, “I should like to marry. I want some one upon whom I could vent my affections.” And wanting that some one in the form of woman, he contented himself with venting them upon the child.
As the spring advanced, and after Jacob left us, he seemed ashamed of sitting in the house doing nothing, and therefore undertook to make us a garden, or “to make garden,” as the Canadians term preparing a few vegetables for the season. I procured the necessary seeds, and watched with no small surprise the industry with which our strange visitor commenced operations. He repaired the broken fence, dug the ground with the greatest care, and laid it out with a skill and neatness of which I had believed him perfectly incapable. In less than three weeks, the whole plot presented a very pleasing prospect, and he was really elated by his success.
“At any rate,” he said, “we shall no longer be starved on bad flour and potatoes. We shall have peas, and beans, and beets, and carrots, and cabbage in abundance; besides the plot I have reserved for cucumbers and melons.”
“Ah,” thought I; “does he, indeed, mean to stay with us until the melons are ripe?” and my heart died within me, for he not only was a great additional expense, but he gave a great deal of additional trouble, and entirely robbed us of all privacy, as our very parlour was converted into a bed-room for his accommodation; besides that, a man of his singularly dirty habits made a very disagreeable inmate.
The only redeeming point in his character, in my eyes, was his love for Dunbar. I could not entirely hate a man who was so fondly attached to my child. To the two little girls he was very cross, and often chased them from him with blows.
He had, too, an odious way of finding fault with everything. I never could cook to please him; and he tried in the most malicious way to induce Moodie to join in his complaints. All his schemes to make strife between us, however, failed, and were generally visited upon himself. In no way did he ever seek to render me the least assistance. Shortly after Jacob left us, Mary Pine was offered higher wages by a family at Peterborough, and for some time I was left with four little children, and without a servant. Moodie always milked the cows, because I never could overcome my fear of cattle; and though I had occasionally milked when there was no one else in the way, it was in fear and trembling.
Moodie had to go down to Peterborough; but before he went, he begged Malcolm to bring me what water and wood I required, and to stand by the cattle while I milked the cows, and he would himself be home before night.
He started at six in the morning, and I got the pail to go and milk. Malcolm was lying upon his bed, reading.
“Mr. Malcolm, will you be so kind as to go with me to the fields for a few minutes while I milk?”
“Yes!” (then, with a sulky frown), “but I want to finish what I am reading.”
“I will not detain you long.”
“Oh, no! I suppose about an hour. You are a shocking bad milker.”
“True; I never went near a cow until I came to this country; and I have never been able to overcome my fear of them.”
“More shame for you! A farmer’s wife, and afraid of a cow! Why, these little children would laugh at you.”
I did not reply, nor would I ask him again. I walked slowly to the field, and my indignation made me forget my fear. I had just finished milking, and with a brimming pail was preparing to climb the fence and return to the house, when a very wild ox we had came running with headlong speed from the wood. All my fears were alive again in a moment. I snatched up the pail, and, instead of climbing the fence and getting to the house, I ran with all the speed I could command down the steep hill towards the lake shore; my feet caught in a root of the many stumps in the path, and I fell to the ground, my pail rolling many yards a-head of me. Every drop of my milk was spilt upon the grass. The ox passed on. I gathered myself up and returned home. Malcolm was very fond of new milk, and he came to meet me at the door.
“Hi! hi!—Where’s the milk?”
“No milk for the poor children to-day,” said I, showing him the inside of the pail, with a sorrowful shake of the head, for it was no small loss to them and me.
“How the devil’s that? So you were afraid to milk the cows. Come away, and I will keep off the buggaboos.”
“I did milk them—no thanks to your kindness, Mr. Malcolm—but—”
“The ox frightened me, and I fell and spilt all the milk.”
“Whew! Now don’t go and tell your husband that it was all my fault; if you had had a little patience, I would have come when you asked me, but I don’t choose to be dictated to, and I won’t be made a slave by you or any one else.”
“Then why do you stay, sir, where you consider yourself so treated?” said I. “We are all obliged to work to obtain bread; we give you the best share—surely the return we ask for it is but small.”
“You make me feel my obligations to you when you ask me to do anything; if you left it to my better feelings we should get on better.”
“Perhaps you are right. I will never ask you to do anything for me in future.”
“Oh, now, that’s all mock-humility. In spite of the tears in your eyes, you are as angry with me as ever; but don’t go to make mischief between me and Moodie. If you’ll say nothing about my refusing to go with you, I’ll milk the cows for you myself to-night.”
“And can you milk?” said I, with some curiosity.
“Milk! Yes; and if I were not so confoundedly low-spirited and—lazy, I could do a thousand other things too. But now, don’t say a word about it to Moodie.”
I made no promise; but my respect for him was not increased by his cowardly fear of reproof from Moodie, who treated him with a kindness and consideration which he did not deserve.
The afternoon turned out very wet, and I was sorry that I should be troubled with his company all day in the house. I was making a shirt for Moodie from some cotton that had been sent me from home, and he placed himself by the side of the stove, just opposite, and continued to regard me for a long time with his usual sullen stare. I really felt half afraid of him.
“Don’t you think me mad!” said he. “I have a brother deranged; he got a stroke of the sun in India, and lost his senses in consequence; but sometimes I think it runs in the family.”
What answer could I give to this speech, but mere evasive common-place!
“You won’t say what you really think,” he continued; “I know you hate me, and that makes me dislike you. Now what would you say if I told you I had committed a murder, and that it was the recollection of that circumstance that made me at times so restless and unhappy?”
I looked up in his face, not knowing what to believe.
“’Tis fact,” said he, nodding his head; and I hoped that he would not go mad, like his brother, and kill me.
“Come, I’ll tell you all about it; I know the world would laugh at me for calling such an act murder; and yet I have been such a miserable man ever since, that I feel it was.
“There was a noted leader among the rebel Buenos-Ayreans, whom the government wanted much to get hold of. He was a fine, dashing, handsome fellow; I had often seen him, but we never came to close quarters. One night, I was lying wrapped up in my poncho at the bottom of my boat, which was rocking in the surf, waiting for two of my men, who were gone on shore. There came to the shore, this man and one of his people, and they stood so near the boat, that I could distinctly hear their conversation. I suppose it was the devil who tempted me to put a bullet through the man’s heart. He was an enemy to the flag under which I fought, but he was no enemy to me—I had no right to become his executioner; but still the desire to kill him, for the mere devilry of the thing, came so strongly upon me that I no longer tried to resist it. I rose slowly upon my knees; the moon was shining very bright at the time, both he and his companion were too earnestly engaged to see me, and I deliberately shot him through the body. He fell with a heavy groan back into the water; but I caught the last look he threw upon the moonlight skies before his eyes glazed in death. Oh, that look!—so full of despair, of unutterable anguish; it haunts me yet—it will haunt me for ever. I would not have cared if I had killed him in strife—but in cold blood, and he so unsuspicious of his doom! Yes, it was murder; I know by this constant tugging at my heart that it was murder. What do you say to it?”
“I should think as you do, Mr. Malcolm. It is a terrible thing to take away the life of a fellow-creature without the least provocation.”
“Ah! I knew you would blame me; but he was an enemy after all; I had a right to kill him; I was hired by the government under whom I served to kill him; and who shall condemn me?”
“No one more than your own heart.”
“It is not the heart, but the brain, that must decide in questions of right and wrong,” said he. “I acted from impulse, and shot that man; had I reasoned upon it for five minutes, the man would be living now. But what’s done cannot be undone. Did I ever show you the work I wrote upon South America?”
“Are you an author,” said I, incredulously.
“To be sure I am. Murray offered me 100 pounds for my manuscript, but I would not take it. Shall I read to you some passages from it?”
I am sorry to say that his behaviour in the morning was uppermost in my thoughts, and I had no repugnance in refusing.
“No, don’t trouble yourself. I have the dinner to cook, and the children to attend to, which will cause a constant interruption; you had better defer it to some other time.”
“I shan’t ask you to listen to me again,” said he, with a look of offended vanity; but he went to his trunk, and brought out a large MS., written on foolscap, which he commenced reading to himself with an air of great self-importance, glancing from time to time at me, and smiling disdainfully. Oh, how glad I was when the door opened, and the return of Moodie broke up this painful tete-a-tete.
From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step. The very next day, Mr. Malcolm made his appearance before me, wrapped in a great-coat belonging to my husband, which literally came down to his heels. At this strange apparition, I fell a-laughing.
“For God’s sake, Mrs. Moodie, lend me a pair of inexpressibles. I have met with an accident in crossing the fence, and mine are torn to shreds—gone to the devil entirely.”
“Well, don’t swear. I’ll see what can be done for you.”
I brought him a new pair of fine, drab-colored kersey-mere trousers that had never been worn. Although he was eloquent in his thanks, I had no idea that he meant to keep them for his sole individual use from that day thenceforth. But after all, what was the man to do? He had no trousers, and no money, and he could not take to the woods. Certainly his loss was not our gain. It was the old proverb reversed.
The season for putting in the potatoes had now arrived. Malcolm volunteered to cut the sets, which was easy work that could be done in the house, and over which he could lounge and smoke; but Moodie told him that he must take his share in the field, that I had already sets enough saved to plant half-an-acre, and would have more prepared by the time they were required. With many growls and shrugs, he felt obliged to comply; and he performed his part pretty well, the execrations bestowed upon the mosquitoes and black-flies forming a sort of safety-valve to let off the concentrated venom of his temper. When he came in to dinner, he held out his hands to me.
“Look at these hands.”
“They are blistered with the hoe.”
“Look at my face.”
“You are terribly disfigured by the black-flies. But Moodie suffers just as much, and says nothing.”
“Bah!—The only consolation one feels for such annoyances is to complain. Oh, the woods!—the cursed woods!—how I wish I were out of them.” The day was very warm, but in the afternoon I was surprised by a visit from an old maiden lady, a friend of mine from C——. She had walked up with a Mr. Crowe, from Peterborough, a young, brisk-looking farmer, in breeches and top-boots, just out from the old country, who, naturally enough, thought he would like to roost among the woods.
He was a little, lively, good-natured manny, with a real Anglo-Saxon face,—rosy, high cheek-boned, with full lips, and a turned-up nose; and, like most little men, was a great talker, and very full of himself. He had belonged to the secondary class of farmers, and was very vulgar, both in person and manners. I had just prepared tea for my visitors, when Malcolm and Moodie returned from the field. There was no affectation about the former. He was manly in his person, and blunt even to rudeness, and I saw by the quizzical look which he cast upon the spruce little Crowe that he was quietly quizzing him from head to heel. A neighbour had sent me a present of maple molasses, and Mr. Crowe was so fearful of spilling some of the rich syrup upon his drab shorts that he spread a large pocket-hankerchief over his knees, and tucked another under his chin. I felt very much inclined to laugh, but restrained the inclination as well as I could—and if the little creature would have sat still, I could have quelled my rebellious propensity altogether; but up he would jump at every word I said to him, and make me a low, jerking bow, often with his mouth quite full, and the treacherous molasses running over his chin.
Malcolm sat directly opposite to me and my volatile next-door neighbour. He saw the intense difficulty I had to keep my gravity, and was determined to make me laugh out. So, coming slyly behind my chair, he whispered in my ear, with the gravity of a judge, “Mrs. Moodie, that must have been the very chap who first jumped Jim Crowe.”
This appeal obliged me to run from the table. Moodie was astonished at my rudeness; and Malcolm, as he resumed his seat, made the matter worse by saying, “I wonder what is the matter with Mrs. Moodie; she is certainly very hysterical this afternoon.”
The potatoes were planted, and the season of strawberries, green-peas, and young potatoes come, but still Malcolm remained our constant guest. He had grown so indolent, and gave himself so many airs, that Moodie was heartily sick of his company, and gave him many gentle hints to change his quarters; but our guest was determined to take no hint. For some reason best known to himself, perhaps out of sheer contradiction, which formed one great element in his character, he seemed obstinately bent upon remaining where he was.
Moodie was busy under-bushing for a fall fallow. Malcolm spent much of his time in the garden, or lounging about the house. I had baked an eel-pie for dinner, which if prepared well is by no means an unsavoury dish. Malcolm had cleaned some green-peas and washed the first young potatoes we had drawn that season, with his own hands, and he was reckoning upon the feast he should have on the potatoes with childish glee. The dinner at length was put upon the table. The vegetables were remarkably fine, and the pie looked very nice.
Moodie helped Malcolm, as he always did, very largely, and the other covered his plate with a portion of peas and potatoes, when, lo and behold! my gentleman began making a very wry face at the pie.
“What an infernal dish!” he cried, pushing away his plate with an air of great disgust. “These eels taste as if they had been stewed in oil. Moodie, you should teach your wife to be a better cook.”
The hot blood burnt upon Moodie’s cheek. I saw indignation blazing in his eye.
“If you don’t like what is prepared for you, sir, you may leave the table, and my house, if you please. I will put up with your ungentlemanly and ungrateful conduct to Mrs. Moodie no longer.”
Out stalked the offending party. I thought, to be sure, we had got rid of him; and though he deserved what was said to him, I was sorry for him. Moodie took his dinner, quietly remarking, “I wonder he could find it in his heart to leave those fine peas and potatoes.”
He then went back to his work in the bush, and I cleared away the dishes, and churned, for I wanted butter for tea.
About four o’clock Mr. Malcolm entered the room. “Mrs. Moodie,” said he, in a more cheerful voice than usual, “where’s the boss?”
“In the wood, under-bushing.” I felt dreadfully afraid that there would be blows between them.
“I hope, Mr. Malcolm, that you are not going to him with any intention of a fresh quarrel.”
“Don’t you think I have been punished enough by losing my dinner?” said he, with a grin. “I don’t think we shall murder one another.” He shouldered his axe, and went whistling away.
After striving for a long while to stifle my foolish fears, I took the baby in my arms, and little Dunbar by the hand, and ran up to the bush where Moodie was at work.
At first I only saw my husband, but the strokes of an axe at a little distance soon guided my eyes to the spot where Malcolm was working away, as if for dear life. Moodie smiled, and looked at me significantly.
“How could the fellow stomach what I said to him? Either great necessity or great meanness must be the cause of his knocking under. I don’t know whether most to pity or despise him.”
“Put up with it, dearest, for this once. He is not happy, and must be greatly distressed.”
Malcolm kept aloof, ever and anon casting a furtive glance towards us; at last little Dunbar ran to him, and held up his arms to be kissed. The strange man snatched him to his bosom, and covered him with caresses. It might be love to the child that had quelled his sullen spirit, or he might really have cherished an affection for us deeper than his ugly temper would allow him to show. At all events, he joined us at tea as if nothing had happened, and we might truly say that he had obtained a new lease of his long visit.
But what could not be effected by words or hints of ours was brought about a few days after by the silly observation of a child. He asked Katie to give him a kiss, and he would give her some raspberries he had gathered in the bush.
“I don’t want them. Go away; I don’t like you, you little stumpy man!”
His rage knew no bounds. He pushed the child from him, and vowed that he would leave the house that moment—that she could not have thought of such an expression herself; she must have been taught it by us. This was an entire misconception on his part; but he would not be convinced that he was wrong. Off he went, and Moodie called after him, “Malcolm, as I am sending to Peterborough to-morrow, the man shall take in your trunk.” He was too angry even to turn and bid us good-bye; but we had not seen the last of him yet.
Two months after, we were taking tea with a neighbour, who lived a mile below us on the small lake. Who should walk in but Mr. Malcolm? He greeted us with great warmth for him, and when we rose to take leave, he rose and walked home by our side. “Surely the little stumpy man is not returning to his old quarters?” I am still a babe in the affairs of men. Human nature has more strange varieties than any one menagerie can contain, and Malcolm was one of the oddest of her odd species.
That night he slept in his old bed below the parlour window, and for three months afterwards he stuck to us like a beaver.
He seemed to have grown more kindly, or we had got more used to his eccentricities, and let him have his own way; certainly he behaved himself much better.
He neither scolded the children nor interfered with the maid, nor quarrelled with me. He had greatly discontinued his bad habit of swearing, and he talked of himself and his future prospects with more hope and self-respect. His father had promised to send him a fresh supply of money, and he proposed to buy of Moodie the clergy reserve, and that they should farm the two places on shares. This offer was received with great joy, as an unlooked-for means of paying our debts, and extricating ourselves from present and overwhelming difficulties, and we looked upon the little stumpy man in the light of a benefactor.
So matters continued until Christmas Eve, when our visitor proposed walking into Peterborough, in order to give the children a treat of raisins to make a Christmas pudding.
“We will be quite merry to-morrow,” he said. “I hope we shall eat many Christmas dinners together, and continue good friends.”
He started, after breakfast, with the promise of coming back at night; but night came, the Christmas passed away, months and years fled away, but we never saw the little stumpy man again!
He went away that day with a stranger in a waggon from Peterborough, and never afterwards was seen in that part of Canada. We afterwards learned that he went to Texas, and it is thought that he was killed at St. Antonio; but this is mere conjecture. Whether dead or living, I feel convinced that—
“We ne’er shall look upon his like again.”
OH, THE DAYS WHEN I WAS YOUNG!
Oh, the days when I was young,
A playful little boy,
When my piping treble rung
To the notes of early joy.
Oh, the sunny days of spring,
When I sat beside the shore,
And heard the small birds sing;—
Shall I never hear them more?
And the daisies scatter’d round,
Half hid amid the grass,
Lay like gems upon the ground,
Too gay for me to pass.
How sweet the milkmaid sung,
As she sat beside her cow,
How clear her wild notes rung;—
There’s no music like it now.
As I watch’d the ship’s white sail
‘Mid the sunbeams on the sea,
Spreading canvas to the gale—
How I long’d with her to be.
I thought not of the storm,
Nor the wild cries on her deck,
When writhed her graceful form
‘Mid the hurricane and wreck.
And I launch’d my little ship,
With her sails and hold beneath;
Deep laden on each trip,
With berries from the heath.
Ah, little did I know,
When I long’d to be a man,
Of the gloomy cares and woe,
That meet in life’s brief span.
Oh, the happy nights I lay
With my brothers in their beds,
Where we soundly slept till day
Shone brightly o’er our heads.
And the blessed dreams that came
To fill my heart with joy.
Oh, that I now could dream,
As I dreamt, a little boy.
The sun shone brighter then,
And the moon more soft and clear,
For the wiles of crafty men
I had not learn’d to fear;
But all seemed fair and gay
As the fleecy clouds above;
I spent my hours in play,
And my heart was full of love.
I loved the heath-clad hill,
And I loved the silent vale,
With its dark and purling rill
That murmur’d in the gale.
Of sighs I’d none to share,
They were stored for riper years,
When I drain’d the dregs of care
With many bitter tears.
My simple daily fare,
In my little tiny mug,
How fain was I to share
With Cato on the rug.
Yes, he gave his honest paw,
And he lick’d my happy face,
He was true to Nature’s law,
And I thought it no disgrace.
There’s a voice so soft and clear,
And a step so gay and light,
That charms my listening ear
In the visions of the night.
And my father bids me haste,
In the deep, fond tones of love,
And leave this dreary waste,
For brighter realms above.
Now I am old and grey,
My bones are rack’d with pain,
And time speeds fast away—
But why should I complain?
There are joys in life’s young morn
That dwell not with the old.
Like the flowers the wind hath torn,
From the strem, all bleak and cold.
The weary heart may mourn
O’er the wither’d hopes of youth,
But the flowers so rudely shorn
Still leave the seeds of truth.
And there’s hope for hoary men
When they’re laid beneath the sod;
For we’ll all be young again
When we meet around our God.