"When call'd by the voice of the prophet of old, In the 'valley of bones,' to breathe over the dead; Like the sands of the sea, could their number be told, They started to life when the mandate had sped.
"Those chill mouldering ashes thy summons could bind, And the dark icy slumbers of ages gave way; The spirit of life took the wings of the wind, Rekindling the souls of the children of clay.
"Shrill trumpet of God! I shrink at thy blast, That shakes the firm hills to their centre with dread, And have thought in that conflict—earth's saddest and last— That thy deep chilling sigh will awaken the dead!"
"His day of life is closing—the long night Of dreamless rest a dusky shadow throws, Between the dying and the things of earth, Enfolding in a chill oblivious pall The last sad struggles of a broken heart. Yes! ere the rising of to-morrow's sun, The bitter grief that brought him to this pass Will be forgotten in the sleep of death." S.M.
We left Kingston at three o'clock, P.M., in the "Passport," for Toronto. From her commander, Captain Towhy, a fine British heart of oak, we received the kindest attention; his intelligent conversation, and interesting descriptions of the many lands he had visited during a long acquaintance with the sea, greatly lightening the tedium of the voyage.
When once fairly afloat on the broad blue inland sea of Ontario, you soon lose sight of the shores, and could imagine yourself sailing on a calm day on the wide ocean. There is something, however, wanting to complete the deception,—the invigorating freshness—the peculiar smell of the salt water, that is so exhilarating, and which produces a sensation of freedom and power that is never experienced on these fresh-water lakes. They want the depth, the fulness, the grandeur of the ocean, though the wide expanse of water and sky are, in all other respects, the same.
The boat seldom touches at any place before she reaches Cobourg, which is generally at night. We stopped a short time at the wharf to put passengers and freight on shore, and to receive fresh passengers and freight in return. The sight of this town, which I had not seen for many years, recalled forcibly to my mind a melancholy scene in which I chanced to be an actor. I will relate it here.
When we first arrived in Canada, in 1832, we remained for three weeks at an hotel in this town, though, at that period, it was a place of much less importance than it is at present, deserving little more than the name of a pretty rising village, pleasantly situated on the shores of Lake Ontario. The rapid improvement of the country has converted Cobourg into a thriving, populous town, and it has trebled its population during the lapse of twenty years. A residence in a house of public entertainment, to those who have been accustomed to the quiet and retirement of a country life, is always unpleasant, and to strangers as we were, in a foreign land, it was doubly repugnant to our feelings. In spite of all my wise resolutions not to give way to despondency, but to battle bravely against the change in my circumstances, I found myself daily yielding up my whole heart and soul to that worst of all maladies, home-sickness.
It was during these hours of loneliness and dejection, while my husband was absent examining farms in the neighbourhoods that I had the good fortune to form an quaintance with Mrs. C—-, a Canadian lady, who boarded with her husband in the same hotel. My new friend was a young woman agreeable in person, and perfectly unaffected in her manners, which were remarkably frank and kind. Hers was the first friendly face I had seen in the colony, and it will ever be remembered by me with affection and respect.
One afternoon while alone in my chamber, getting my baby, a little girl of six months old, to sleep, and thinking many sad thoughts, and shedding some bitter tears for the loss of the dear country and friends I had left for ever, a slight tap at the door roused me from my painful reveries, and Mrs. C—- entered the room. Like most of the Canadian women, my friend was small of stature, slight and delicately formed, and dressed with the smartness and neatness so characteristic of the females of this continent, who, if they lack some of the accomplishments of English women, far surpass them in their taste in dress, their choice of colours, and the graceful and becoming manner in which they wear their clothes. If my young friend had a weakness, it was on this point; but as her husband was engaged in a lucrative mercantile business, and they had no family, it was certainly excusable. At this moment her pretty neat little figure was a welcome and interesting object to the home-sick emigrant.
"What! always in tears," said she, carefully closing the door. "What pleasure it would give me to see you more cheerful! This constant repining will never do."
"The sight of you has made me feel better already," said I, wiping my eyes, and trying to force a smile. "M—- is away on a farm-hunting expedition, and I have been alone all day. Can you wonder, then, that I am so depressed? Memory is my worst companion; for by constantly recalling scenes of past happiness, she renders me discontented with the present, and hopeless of the future, and it will require all your kind sympathy to reconcile me to Canada."
"You will like it better by and by; a new country always improves upon acquaintance."
"Ah, never! Did I only consult my own feelings, I would be off by the next steam-boat for England; but then my husband, my child, our scanty means. Yes! yes! I must submit, but I find it a hard task."
"We have all our trials, Mrs. M—-; and, to tell you the truth, I do not feel in the best spirits myself this afternoon. I came to ask you what I am certain you will consider a strange question."
This was said in a tone so unusually serious, that I looked up from the cradle in surprise, which her solemn aspect, and pale, tearful face, did not tend to diminish. Before I could ask the cause of her dejection, she added quickly—
"Dare you read a chapter from the Bible to a dying man?"
"Dare I? Yes, certainly! Who is ill? Who is dying?"
"It's a sad story," she continued, wiping the tears from her kind eyes. "I will tell you, however, what I know of it, just to satisfy you as to the propriety of my request. There is a poor young man in this house who is very sick—dying, I believe, of consumption. He came here about three weeks ago, without food, without money, and in a dreadfully emaciated state. He took our good landlord, Mr. S—-, on one side, and told him how he was situated, and begged that he would give him something to eat and a night's lodging, promising that if ever he was restored to health, he would repay the debt in work. You know what a kind, humane man, Mr. S—- is, although," she added, with a sly smile, "he is a Yankee, and so am I by right of parentage, though not of birth. Mr. S—- saw at a glance that the suppliant was an object of real charity, and instantly complied with his request. Without asking further particulars, he gave him a good bed, sent him up a bowl of hot soup, and bade him not distress himself about the future, but try and get a good night's rest. The next day, the young man was too ill to leave his chamber. Mr. S—- sent for old Dr. Morton, who, after examining the lad, informed his employer that he was in the last stage of consumption, and had not many days to live, and it would be advisable for Mr. S—- to have him removed to the hospital (a pitiful shed erected for emigrants who may chance to arrive ill with the cholera). Mr. S—- not only refused to send the young man away, but has nursed him with the greatest care, his wife and daughters taking it by turns to sit up nightly with the poor patient."
My friend said nothing about her own attendance on the invalid, which, I afterwards learned from Mrs. S—- had been unremitting.
"And what account does the lad give of himself?" said I.
"All that we know about him is, that his name is Macbride, [Michael Macbride was not the real name of this poor young man, but is one substituted by the author.] and that he is nephew to Mr. C—-, of Peterboro', an Irishman by birth, and a Catholic by religion. Some violent altercation took place between him and his uncle a short time ago, which induced Michael to leave his house, and look out for a situation for himself. Hearing that his parents had arrived in this country, and were on their way to Peterboro', he came down as far as Cobourg in the hope of meeting them, when his steps were arrested by poverty and sickness on this threshold.
"By a singular coincidence, his mother came to the hotel yesterday evening to inquire the way to Peterboro', and Mr. S—- found out, from her conversation, that she was the mother of the poor lad, and he instantly conducted her to the bedside of her son. I was sitting with him when the interview between him and his mother took place, and I assure you that it was almost too much for my nerves—his joy and gratitude were so great at once more beholding his parent, while the grief and distraction of the poor woman, on seeing him in a dying state, was agonising; and she gave vent to her feelings in uttering the most hearty curses against the country, and the persons who by their unkindness had been the cause of his sickness. The young man seemed shocked at the unfeminine conduct of his mother, and begged me to excuse the rude manner in which she answered me; 'for,' says he, 'she is ignorant and beside herself, and does not know what she is saying or doing.'
"Instead of expressing the least gratitude to Mr. S—- for the attention bestowed on her son, by some strange perversion of intellect she seems to regard him and us as his especial enemies. Last night she ordered us from his room, and declared that her 'precious bhoy was not going to die like a hathen, surrounded by a parcel of heretics;' and she sent off a man on horseback for the priest and for his uncle—the very man from whose house he fled, and whom she accuses of being the cause of her son's death. Michael anticipates the arrival of Mr. C—- with feelings bordering on despair, and prays that God may end his sufferings before he reaches Cobourg.
"Last night Mrs. Macbride sat up with Michael herself, and would not allow us to do the least thing for him. This morning her fierce temper seems to have subsided, until her son awoke from a broken and feverish sleep, and declared that he would not die a Roman Catholic, and earnestly requested Mr. S—- to send for a Protestant clergyman. This gave rise to a violent scene between Mrs. Macbride and her son, which ended in Mr. S—- sending for Mr. B—-, the clergyman of our village, who, unfortunately, had left this morning for Toronto, and is not expected home for several days. Michael eagerly asked if there was any person present who would read to him from the Protestant Bible. This excited in the mother such a fit of passion, that none of us dared attempt the task. I then thought of you, that, as a perfect stranger, she might receive you in a less hostile manner. If you are not afraid to encounter the fierce old woman, do make the attempt for the sake of the dying creature, who languishes to hear the words of life. I will watch the baby while you are gone."
"She is asleep, and needs no watching. I will go as you seem so anxious about it," and I took my pocket Bible from the table. "But you must go with me, for I do not know my way in this strange house."
Carefully closing the door upon the sleeping child, I followed the light steps of Mrs. C—- along the passage, until we reached the head of the main staircase, then, turning to the right, we entered the large public ballroom. In the first chamber of many that opened into this spacious apartment we found the object that we sought.
Stretched upon a low bed, with a feather fan in his hand, to keep off the flies that hovered in tormenting clusters round his head, lay the dying Michael Macbride.
The face of the young man was wasted by disease and mental anxiety; and if the features were not positively handsome, they were well and harmoniously defined, and a look of intelligence and sensibility pervaded his countenance, which greatly interested me in his behalf. His face was deathly pale, as pale as marble, and his large sunken eyes shone with unnatural brilliancy, their long dark lashes adding an expression of intense melancholy to the patient endurance of suffering that marked his fine countenance. His nose was shrunk and drawn in about the nostrils, his feverish lips apart, in order to admit a free passage for the labouring breath, their bright red glow affording a painful contrast to the ghastly glitter of the brilliant white teeth within. The thick black curls that clustered round his high forehead were moist with perspiration, and the same cold unwholesome dew trickled in large drops down his hollow temples. It was impossible to mistake these signs of approaching dissolution—it was evident to all present that death was not far distant.
An indescribable awe crept over me. He looked so tranquil, so sublimed by suffering, that I felt my self unworthy to be his teacher.
"Michael," I said, taking the long thin white hand that lay so listlessly on the coverlid, "I am sorry to see you so ill."
He looked at me attentively for a few minutes.—"Do not say sorry, Ma'am; rather say glad. I am glad to get away from this bad world—young as I am—I am so weary of it."
He sighed deeply, and tears filled his eyes.
"I heard that you wished some one to read to you."
"Yes, the Bible!" he cried, trying to raise himself in the bed, while his eager eyes were turned to me with an earnest, imploring expression.
"I have it here. Are you able to read it for yourself?"
"I can read—but my eyes are so dim. The shadows of death float between me and the world; I can no longer see objects distinctly. But oh, Madam, if my soul were light, I should not heed this blindness. But all is dark here," laying his hand on his breast,—"dark as the grave."
I opened the sacred book, but my own tears for a moment obscured the page. While I was revolving in my own mind what would be the best to read to him, the book was rudely wrenched from my hand by a tall, gaunt woman, who just then entered the room.
"Och! what do you mane by disturbing him in his dying moments wid yer thrash? It is not the likes o' you that shall throuble his sowl! The praste will come and administher consolation to him in his last exthremity."
Michael shook his head, and turned his face sorrowfully to the wall.
"Oh, mother," he murmured, "is that the way you treat the lady?"
"Lady, or no lady, and I mane no disrispict; it is not for the like o' her to take this on hersel'. If she will be rading, let her rade this," and she tried to force a book of devotional prayers into my hand. Michael raised himself, and with an impatient gesture exclaimed—
"Not that—not that! It speaks no comfort to me. I will not listen to it. Mother, mother! do not stand between me and my God. I know that you love me—that what you do is done for the best; but the voice of conscience will be heard above your voice. I hunger and thirst to hear the word as it stands in the Bible, and I cannot die in peace unsatisfied. For the love of Christ, Ma'am, read a few words of comfort to a dying sinner!"
Here the mother again interposed.
"My good woman," I said gently putting her back, "you hear your son's earnest request. If you really love him, you will offer no opposition to his wishes. It is not a question of creeds that is here to be determined, as to which is the best—yours or mine. I trust that all the faithful followers of Christ, however named, hold the same faith, and will be saved by the same means. I shall make no comment on what I read to your son. The Bible is its own interpreter. The Spirit of God, by whom it was dictated, will make it clear to his comprehension. Michael, shall I commence now?"
"Yes," he replied, "with the blessing of God!"
After putting up a short prayer I commenced reading, and continued to do so until night, taking care to select those portions of Scripture most applicable to his case. Never did human creature listen with more earnestness to the words of truth. Often he repeated whole texts after me, clasping his hands together in a sort of ecstasy, while tears streamed from his eyes. The old woman glared upon me from a far corner, and muttered over her beads, as if they were a spell to secure her against some diabolical art. When I could no longer see to read, Michael took my hand, and said with great earnestness—
"May God bless you, Madam! You have made me very happy. It is all clear to me now. In Christ alone I shall obtain mercy and forgiveness for my sins. It is his righteousness, and not any good works of my own, that will save me. Death no longer appears so dreadful to me. I can now die in peace."
"You believe that God will pardon you, Michael, for Christ's sake; but have you forgiven all your enemies?"
I said this in order to try his sincerity, for I had heard that he entertained hard thoughts against his uncle.
He covered his face with his thin, wasted hands, and did not answer for some minutes; at length he looked up with a calm smile upon his lips, and said—
"Yes, I have forgiven all—even him!—"
Oh, how much was contained in the stress laid so strongly and sadly upon that little word Him! How I longed to hear the story of his wrongs from his own lips! but he was too weak and exhausted for me to urge such a request. Just then Dr. Morton came in, and after standing for some minutes at the bed-side, regarding his patient with fixed attention, he felt his pulse, spoke a few kind words, gave some trifling order to his mother and Mrs. C—-, and left the room. Struck by the solemnity of his manner, I followed him into the outer apartment.
"Excuse the liberty I am taking Dr. Morton; but I feel deeply interested in your patient. Is he better or worse?"
"He is dying. I did not wish to disturb him in his last moments. I can be of no further use to him. Poor lad, it's a pity! he is really a fine young fellow."
I had judged from Michael's appearance that he had not long to live, but I felt inexpressibly shocked to find his end so near. On returning to the sick room, Michael eagerly asked what the doctor thought of him?
I did not answer—I could not.
"I see," he said, "that I must die. I will prepare myself for it. If I live until the morning, will you, Madam, come and read to me again?"
I promised him that I would—or during the night, if he wished it.
"I feel very sleepy," he said. "I have not slept for many nights, but for a few minutes at a time. Thank God, I am entirely free from pain: it is very good of Him to grant me this respite."
His mother and I adjusted his pillows, and in a few seconds he was slumbering as peacefully as a little child.
The feelings of the poor woman seemed softened towards me, and for the first time since I entered the room she shed tears. I asked the age of her son? She told me that he was two-and-twenty. She wrung my hand hard as I left the room, and thanked me for my kindness to her poor bhoy.
It was late that night when my husband returned from the country, and we sat for several hours talking over our affairs, and discussing the soil and situation of the various farms he had visited during the day. It was past twelve when we retired to rest, but my sleep was soon disturbed by some one coughing violently, and my thoughts instantly reverted to Michael Macbride, as the hoarse sepulchral sounds echoed through the large empty room beyond which he slept. The coughing continued for some minutes, and I was so much overcome by fatigue and the excitement of the evening that I fell asleep, and did not awake until six o'clock the following morning.
Anxious to hear how the poor invalid had passed the night, I dressed myself and hurried to his chamber.
On entering the ball-room I found the doors and windows all open, as well as the one that led to the sick man's chamber. My foot was arrested on the threshold—for death was there. Yes! that fit of coughing had terminated his life—Michael had expired without a struggle in the arms of his mother.
The gay broad beams of the sun were not admitted into that silent room. The window was open, but the green blinds were carefully closed, admitting a free circulation of air, and just light enough to render the objects within distinctly visible. The body was laid out upon the bed enveloped in a white sheet; the head and hands alone were bare. All traces of sorrow and disease had passed away from the majestic face, that, interesting in life, now looked beautiful and holy in death—and happy, for the seal of heaven seemed visibly impressed upon the pure pale brow. He was at peace, and though tears of human sympathy for a moment dimmed my sight, I could not regret that it was so.
While I still stood in the door-way, Mrs. Macbride, whom I had not observed until then, rose from her knees beside the bed. She seemed hardly in her right mind, and began talking and muttering to herself.
"Och hone! he is dead—my fine bhoy is dead—widout a praste to pray wid him, or bless him in the last hour—wid none of his frinds and relations to lamint iver him, or wake him, but his poor heartbroken mother—Och hone! och hone! that I should ever live to see this day. Get up, my fine bhoy—get up wid ye! Why do you lie there?—owlder folk nor you are abroad in the sunshine.—Get up, and show them how supple you are!"
Then laying her cheek down to the cold cheek of the dead, she exclaimed, amid broken sobs and groans—
"Oh, spake to me—spake to me, Mike—my own Mike—'tis the mother that axes ye."
There was a deep pause, when the bereaved parent again broke forth—
"Mike, Mike—why did your uncle rare you like a jintleman to bring you to this. Och hone! och hone!—oh, never did I think to see your head lie so low.—My bhoy! my bhoy!—why did you die?—Why did You lave your frinds, and your money, and your good clothes, and your poor owld mother?"
Convulsive sobs again choked her utterance. She flung herself upon the neck of the corpse, and bathed the face and hands of him, who had once been her own, with burning tears.
I now came forward, and offered a few words of consolation. Vain—all in vain. The ear of sorrow is deaf to all save its own agonised moans. Grief is as natural to the human mind as joy, and in their own appointed hour both will have their way.
The grief of this unhappy Irish mother, like the down-pouring of a thunder shower, could not be restrained. But her tears soon flowed in less violent gushes—exhaustion rendered her more calm. She sat upon the bed, and looked cautiously round—"Hist!—did not you hear a voice? It was him who spake—yes—it was his own swate voice. I knew he was not dead. See, he moves!" This was the fond vain delusion of maternal love. She took his cold hand, and clasped it to her heart.
"Och hone!—he is gone, and left me for ever and ever. Oh, that my cruel brother was here—that I might point to my murthered child, and curse him to his face!"
"Is Mr. C—- your brother?" said I, taking this opportunity to divert her grief into another channel.
"Yes—yes—he is my brother, bad cess to him! and uncle to the bhoy. Listen to me, and I will tell you some of my mind. It will ease my sorrow, for my poor heart is breaking entirely, and he is there," pointing to the corpse, "and he knows that what I am afther telling you is thrue.
"I came of poor but dacent parints. There was but the two of us, Pat C—- and I. My father rinted a good farm, and he sint Pat to school, and gave him the eddication of a jintleman. Our landlord took a liking for the bhoy, and gave him the manes to emigrate to Canady. This vexed my father intirely, for he had no one barring myself to help him on the farm. Well, by and by, I joined myself to one whom my father did not approve—a bhoy he had hired to work wid him in the fields—an' he wrote to my brother (for my mother had been dead ever since I was a wee thing) to ax him in what manner he had best punish my disobedience; and he jist advises him to turn us off the place. I suffered, wid my husband, the extremes of poverty: we had seven childer, but they all died of the faver, and hard times, save Mike and the two weeny ones. In the midst of our disthress, it plased the Lord to remove my father, widout softenin' his heart towards me. But he left my Mike three hunder pounds; to be his whin he came to a right age; and he appointed my brother Pat guardian to the bhoy.
"My brother returned to Ireland when he got the news of my father's death, in order to get his share of the property, for my father left him the same as he did my son. He took away my bhoy wid him to Canady, in order to make a landed jintleman of him. Och hone! I thought my heart would broken thin, whin he took away my swate bhoy; but I was to live to see a darker day yet."
Here a long burst of passionate weeping interrupted her story.
"Many long years came an' wint, and we niver got the scrape of a pen from my brother to tell us of the bhoy at all at all. He might jist as well have been dead, for aught we knew to the conthrary; but we consowled oursilves wid the thought, that he would niver go about to harm his own flesh and blood.
"At last a letther came, written in Mike's own hand; and a beautiful hand it was that same,—the good God bless him for the throuble he took in makin' it so nate an' aisy for us poor folk to rade. It was full of love and respict to his poor parents, an' he longin' to see them in 'Meriky; but he said he had written by stealth, for he was very unhappy intirely,—that his uncle thrated him hardly, becaze he would not be a praste,—an' wanted to lave him, to work for himsel'; an' he refused to buy him a farm wid the money his grandfather left him, which he was bound by the will to do, as Mike was now of age, an' his own masther.
"Whin we got the word from the lad, we gathered our little all together, an' took passage for Canady, first writin' to Mike whin we should start, an' the name of the vessel; an' that we should wait at Cobourg until sich time as he came to fetch us himsel' to his uncle's place.
"But oh, Ma'am, our throubles had only begun. My poor husband and my youngest bhoy died of the cholera comin' out; an' I saw their prechious bodies cast into the salt, salt saa. Still the hope of seeing Mike consowled me for all my disthress. Poor Pat an' I were worn out entirely whin we got to Kingston, an' I left the child wid a frind, an' came on alone,—I was so eager to see Mike, an' tell him all my throubles; an' there he lies, och hone! my heart, my poor heart, it will break entirely."
"And what caused your son's separation from his uncle?" said I.
The woman shook her head. "The thratement he got from him was too bad. But shure he would not disthress me by saying aught agin my mother's son. Did he not break his heart, and turn him dying an' pinniless on the wide world? An' could he have done worse had he stuck a knife into his heart?"
"Ah!" she continued, with bitterness, "it was the gowld, the dhirty gowld, that kilt my poor bhoy. His uncle knew that if Mike were dead, it would come to Pat as the ne'est in degree, an' he could keep it all to himsel' for the ne'est ten years."
This statement appeared only too probable. Still there was a mystery about the whole affair that required a solution, and it was several years before I accidentally learned the sequel of this sad history.
In the meanwhile the messenger, despatched by the kind Mr. S—- to Peterboro' to inform Michael's uncle of the dying state of his nephew, returned without that worthy, and with this unfeeling message—that Michael Macbride had left him without any just cause, and should receive no consolation from him in his last moments.
Mr. S—- did not inform the poor bereaved widow of her brother's cruel message; but finding that she was unable to defray the expenses attendant on her son's funeral, like a true Samaritan, he supplied them out of his own pocket, and followed the remains of the unhappy stranger that Providence had cast upon his charity to the grave. In accordance with Michael's last request, he was buried in the cemetry of the English church.
Six years after these events took place, Mr. W—- called upon me at our place in Douro, and among other things told me of the death of Michael's uncle, Mr. C—-. Many things were mentioned by Mr. W—-, who happened to know him, to his disadvantage. "But of all his evil acts," he said, "the worst thing I knew of him was his conduct to his nephew."
"How was that?" said I, as the death-bed of Michael Macbride rose distinctly before me.
"It was a bad business. My housekeeper lived with the old man at the time, and from her I heard all about it. It seems that he had been left guardian to this boy, whom he brought out with him some years ago to this country, together with a little girl about two years younger, who was the child of a daughter of his mother by a former marriage, so that the children were half-cousins to each other. Elizabeth was a modest, clever little creature, and grew up a very pretty girl. Michael was strikingly handsome, had a fine talent for music, and in person and manners was far above his condition. There was some property, to the amount of several hundred pounds, coming to the lad when he reached the age of twenty-one. This legacy had been left him by his grandfather, and Mr. C—- was to invest it in land for the boy's use. This, for reasons best known to himself, he neglected to do, and brought the lad up to the service of the altar, and continually urged him to become a priest. This did not at all accord with Michael's views and wishes, and he obstinately refused to study for the holy office, and told his uncle that he meant to become a farmer as soon as he obtained his majority.
"Living constantly in the same house, and possessing a congeniality of tastes and pursuits, a strong affection had grown up between Michael and his cousin, which circumstance proved the ostensible reason given by Mr. C—- for his ill conduct to the young people, as by the laws of his church they were too near of kin to marry. Finding that their attachment was too strong to be wrenched asunder by threats, and that they had actually formed a design to leave him, and embrace the Protestant faith, he confined the girl to her chamber, without allowing her a fire during a very severe winter. Her constitution, naturally weak, sunk under these trials, and she died early in the spring of 1832, without being allowed the melancholy satisfaction of seeing her lover before she closed her brief life.
"Her death decided Michael's fate. Rendered desperate by grief, he reproached his bigoted uncle as the author of his misery, and demanded of him a settlement of his property, as it was his intention to quit his roof for ever. Mr. C—- laughed at his reproaches, and treated his threats with scorn, and finally cast him friendless upon the world.
"The poor fellow played very well upon the flute, and possessed an excellent tenor voice; and, by the means of these accomplishments, he contrived for a few weeks to obtain a precarious living.
"Broken-hearted and alone in the world, he soon fell a victim to hereditary disease of the lungs, and died, I have been told, at an hotel in Cobourg; and was buried at the expense of Mr. S—-, the tavern-keeper, out of charity."
"The latter part of your statement I know to be correct; and the whole of it forcibly corroborates the account given to me by the poor lad's mother. I was at Michael's deathbed; and if his life was replete with sorrow and injustice, his last hours were peaceful and happy."
I could now fully comprehend the meaning of the sad stress laid upon the one word which had struck me so forcibly at the time, when I asked him if he had forgiven all his enemies, and he replied, after that lengthened pause, "Yes; I have forgiven them all—even him!"
It did, indeed, require some exertion of Christian forbearance to forgive such injuries.
"There's hope for those who sleep In the cold and silent grave, For those who smile, for those who weep, For the freeman and the slave!
"There's hope on the battle plain, 'Mid the shock of charging foes; On the dark and troubled main, When the gale in thunder blows.
"He who dispenses hope to all, Withholds it not from thee; He breaks the woe-worn captive's thrall, And sets the prisoner free!"
"Ah, human hearts are strangely cast, Time softens grief and pain; Like reeds that shiver in the blast, They bend to rise again. But she in silence bowed her head, To none her sorrow would impart; Earth's faithful arms enclose the dead, And hide for aye her broken heart!" S.M.
While the steamboat is leaving Cobourg in the distance, and, through the hours of night and darkness, holds on her course to Toronto, I will relate another true but mournful history from the romance of real life, that was told to me during my residence in this part of the country.
One morning our man-servant, James N—-, came to me to request the loan of one of the horses to attend a funeral. M—- was absent on business at Toronto, and the horses and the man's time were both greatly needed to prepare the land for the full crop of wheat. I demurred; James looked anxious and disappointed; and the loan of the horse was at length granted, but not without a strict injunction that he should return to his work directly the funeral was over. He did not come back until late that evening.
I had just finished my tea, and was nursing my wrath at his staying out the whole day, when the door of the room (we had but one, and that was shared in common with the servants) opened, and the delinquent at last appeared. He hung up the new English saddle, and sat down before the blazing hearth without speaking a word.
"What detained you so long, James? You ought to have had half an acre of land, at least, ploughed to-day."
"Verra true, mistress; it was nae fau't o' mine. I had mista'en the hour; the funeral did na come in afore sundoon, an' I cam' awa' as sune as it was owre."
"Was it any relation of yours?"
"Na', na', jest a freend, an auld acquaintance, but nane o' mine ain kin. I never felt sae sad in a' my life as I ha'e dune this day. I ha'e seen the clods piled on mony a heid, an' never felt the saut tear in my een. But puir Jeanie! puir lass! it was a sair sight to see them thrown down upon her."
My curiosity was excited; I pushed the tea-things from me, and told Bell, my maid, to give James his supper.
"Naething for me the night, Bell. I canna' eat; my thoughts will a' run on that puir lass. Sae young, sae bonnie, an' a few months ago as blythe as a lark, an' noo a clod o' the airth. Hout! we maun a' dee when our ain time comes; but, somehow, I canna think that Jeanie ought to ha'e gane sae sune."
"Who is Jeanie Burns? Tell me, James, something about her?"
In compliance with my request, the man gave me the following story. I wish I could convey it in his own words; but though I perfectly understand the Scotch dialect when I hear it spoken, I could not write it in its charming simplicity,—that honest, truthful brevity, which is so characteristic of this noble people. The smooth tones of the blarney may flatter our vanity, and please us for the moment, but who places any confidence in those by whom it is employed? We know that it is only uttered to cajole and deceive; and when the novelty wears off, the repetition awakens indignation and disgust. But who mistrusts the blunt, straightforward speech of the land of Burns? For good or ill, it strikes home to the heart.
Jeanie Burns was the daughter of a respectable shoemaker, who gained a comfortable living by his trade in a small town of Ayrshire. Her father, like herself, was an only child, and followed the same vocation, and wrought under the same roof that his father had done before him. The elder Burns had met with many reverses, and now, helpless and blind, was entirely dependent upon the charity of his son. Honest Jock had not married until late in life, that he might more comfortably provide for the wants of his aged parents. His mother had been dead for some years. She was a good, pious woman, and Jock quaintly affirmed "that it had pleased the Lord to provide a better inheritance for his dear auld mither than his arm could win, proud an' happy as he wud ha'e been to ha'e supported her, when she was nae langer able to work for him."
Jock's filial love was repaid at last. Chance threw in his way a cannie young lass, baith gude an' bonnie, an' wi' a hantel o' siller. They were united, and Jeanie was the sole fruit of the marriage. But Jeanie proved a host in herself, and grew up the best-natured, the prettiest, and the most industrious girl in the village, and was a general favourite with young and old. She helped her mother in the house, bound shoes for her father, and attended to all the wants of her dear old grandfather, Saunders Burns, who was so much attached to his little handmaid, that he was never happy when she was absent.
Happiness, however, is not a flower of long growth in this world; it requires the dew and sunlight of heaven to nourish it, and it soon withers, removed from its native skies. The cholera visited the remote village; it smote the strong man in the pride of his strength, and the matron in the beauty of her prime, while it spared the helpless and the aged, the infant of a few days, and the patriarch of many years. Both Jeanie's parents fell victims to the fatal disease, and the old blind Saunders and the young Jeanie were left to fight alone a hard battle with poverty and grief.
The truly deserving are never entirely forsaken; God may afflict them with many trials, but He watches over them still, and often provides for their wants in a manner truly miraculous. Sympathizing friends gathered round the orphan girl in her hour of need, and obtained for her sufficient employment to enable her to support her old grandfather and herself, and provide for them the common necessaries of life.
Jeanie was an excellent sempstress, and what between making waistcoats and trousers for the tailors, and binding shoes for the shoemakers,—a business that she thoroughly understood,—she soon had her little hired room neatly furnished, and her grandfather as clean and spruce as ever. When she led him into the kirk of a sabbath morning, all the neighbours greeted the dutiful daughter with an approving smile, and the old man looked so serene and happy that Jeanie was fully repaid for her labours of love.
Her industry and piety often formed the theme of conversation to the young lads of the village. "What a guid wife Jeanie Burns wull mak'!" cried one.
"Aye," said another; "he need na complain of ill fortin who has the luck to get the like o' her."
"An' she's sae bonnie," would Willie Robertson add, with a sigh; "I wud na covet the wealth o' the hale world an' she were mine."
Willie Robertson was a fine active young man, who bore an excellent character, and his comrades thought it very likely that Willie was to be the fortunate man. Robertson was the son of a farmer in the neighbourhood; he had no land of his own, and he was the youngest of a very large family. From a boy he had assisted his father in working the farm for their common maintenance; but after he took to looking at Jeanie Burns at kirk, instead of minding his prayers, he began to wish that he had a homestead of his own, which he could ask Jeanie and her grandfather to share.
He made his wishes known to his father. The old man was prudent. A marriage with Jeanie Burns offered no advantages in a pecuniary view; but the girl was a good, honest girl, of whom any man might be proud. He had himself married for love, and had enjoyed great comfort in his wife.
"Willie, my lad," he said, "I canna gi'e ye a share o' the farm. It is owre sma' for the mony mouths it has to feed. I ha'e laid by a hantel o' siller for a rainy day, an' this I maun gi'e ye to win a farm for yoursel' in the woods of Canada. There is plenty o' room there, an' industry brings its ain reward. If Jeanie Burns lo'es you as weel as your dear mither did me, she will be fain to follow you there."
Willie grasped his father's hand, for he was too much elated to speak, and he ran away to tell his tale of love to the girl of his heart. Jeanie had long loved Robertson in secret, and they were not long in settling the matter. They forgot, in their first moments of joy, that old Saunders had to be consulted, for they had determined to take the old man with them. But here an obstacle occurred, of which they had not dreamed. Old age is selfish, and Saunders obstinately refused to comply with their wishes. The grave that held the remains of his wife and son, was dearer to him than all the comforts promised to him by the impatient lovers in that far foreign land. Jeanie wept, but Saunders, deaf and blind, neither heard nor saw her grief, and like a dutiful child she breathed no complaint to him, but promised to remain with him until his head rested on the same pillow with the dead.
This was a sore and great trial to Willie Robertson, but he consoled himself for the disappointment with the reflection that Saunders, in the course of nature, could not live long; and that he would go and prepare a place for his Jean, and have everything ready for her reception against the old man died.
"I was a cousin of Willie's," continued James, "by the mither's side, an' her persuaded me to go wi' him to Canada. We set sail the first o' May, an' were here in time to chop a sma' fallow for our fall crop. Willie had more o' the warld's gear than I, for his father had provided him wi' sufficient funds to purchase a good lot o' wild land, which he did in the township of M—-, an' I was to wark wi' him on shares. We were amang the first settlers in that place, an' we found the wark before us rough an' hard to our heart's content. Willie, however, had a strong motive for exertion, an' neever did man wark harder than he did that first year on his bush-farm, for the love o' Jeanie Burns. We built a comfortable log-house, in which we were assisted by the few nieighbours we had, who likewise lent a han' in clearing ten acres we had chopped for fall crop.
"All this time Willie kept up a correspondence wi' Jeanie; an' he used to talk to me o' her comin' out, an' his future plans, every night when our wark was dune. If I had na lovit and respected the girl mysel', I sud ha'e got unco tired o' the subject.
"We had jest put in our first crop o' wheat, when a letter cam' frae Jeanie bringin' us the news o' her grandfather's death. Weel I ken the word that Willie spak' to me when he closed the letter,—'Jamie, the auld man's gane at last; an' God forgi'e me, I feel too gladsome to greet. Jeanie is willin' to come whenever I ha'e the means to bring her out; an' hout, man, I'm jest thinkin' that she winna ha'e to wait lang.'
"Guid workmen were gettin' very high wages jest then, an' Willie left the care o' the place to me, an' hired for three months wi' auld squire Jones, in the next township. Willie was an unco guid teamster, an' could put his han' to ony kind o' wark; an' when his term o' service expired, he sent Jeanie forty dollars to pay her passage out, which he hoped she would not delay longer than the spring.
"He got an answer frae Jeanie full o' love an' gratitude; but she thought that her voyage might be delayed until the fall. The guid woman with whom she had lodged sin' her parents died had jest lost her husband, an' was in a bad state o' health, an' she begged Jeanie to bide wi' her until her daughter could leave her service in Edinburgh, an' come to tak' charge o' the house. This person had been a kind an' steadfast frin' to Jeanie in a' her troubles, an' had helped her to nurse the auld man in his dyin' illness. I am sure it was jest like Jeanie to act as she did; she had all her life looked more to the comforts of others than to her ain. Robertson was an angry man when he got that letter, an' he said,—'If that was a' the lo'e that Jeanie Burns had for him, to prefer an auld wife's comfort, wha was naething to her, to her betrothed husband, she might bide awa' as lang as she pleased; he would never fash himsel' to mak' screed o' a pen to her agen.'
"I could na think that the man was in earnest, an' I remonstrated wi' him on his folly an' injustice. This ended in a sharp quarrel atween us, and I left him to gang his ain gate, an' went to live with my uncle, who kept the smithy in the village.
"After a while, we heard that Willie Robertson was married to a Canadian woman, neither young nor good-looking, an' varra much his inferior every way; but she had a guid lot o' land in the rear o' his farm. Of course I thought it was a' broken aff wi' puir Jean, an' I wondered what she wud spier at the marriage.
"It was early in June, an' the Canadian woods were in their first flush o' green,—an' how green an' lightsome they be in their spring dress!—when Jeanie Burns landed in Canada. She travelled her lane up the country, wonderin' why Willie was not at Montreal to meet her, as he had promised in the last letter he sent her. It was late in the afternoon when the steamboat brought her to Cobourg, an' without waitin' to ask any questions respectin' him, she hired a man an' cart to take her an' her luggage to M—-. The road through the bush was varra heavy, an' it was night before they reached Robertson's clearin'. Wi' some difficulty the driver fund his way among the charred logs to the cabin door.
"Hearin' the sound o' wheels, the wife—a coarse, ill-dressed slattern—cam' out to spier wha' could bring strangers to sic' an out-o'-the-way place at that late hour. Puir Jeanie! I can weel imagin' the flutterin' o' her heart, when she spiered o' the coarse wife 'if her ain Willie Robertson was at hame?'
"'Yes,' answered the woman, gruffly; 'but he is not in frae the fallow yet. You maun ken him up yonder, tending the blazing logs.'
"Whiles Jeanie was strivin' to look in the direction which the woman pointed out, an' could na see through the tears that blinded her e'e, the driver jumped down frae the cart, an' asked the puir lass whar he sud leave her trunks, as it was getting late, and he must be aff.
"'You need na bring thae big kists in here,' quoth Mistress Robertson; 'I ha'e na room in my house for strangers an' their luggage.'
"'Your house!' gasped Jeanie, catchin' her arm. 'Did ye na tell me that he lived here?—an' wherever Willie Robertson bides, Jeanie Burns sud be a welcome guest. Tell him,' she continued, tremblin' all owre,—for she telt me afterwards that there was somethin' in the woman's look an' tone that made the cold chills run to her heart, 'that an auld frind frae Scotland has jest come aff a lang, wearisome journey, to see him.'
"'You may spier for yoursel',' said the woman, angrily. 'My husband is noo comin' dune the clearin'.'
"The word husband was scarcely out o' her mouth, than puir Jeanie fell as ane dead across the door-stair. The driver lifted up the unfortunat' girl, carried her into the cabin, an' placed her in a chair, regardless o' the opposition of Mistress Robertson, whose jealousy was now fairly aroused, an' she declared that the bold hizzie sud not enter her doors.
"It was a long time afore the driver succeeded in bringin' Jeanie to hersel'; an' she had only jest unclosed her een, when Willie cam' in.
"'Wife,' he said, 'whose cart is this standin' at the door? an' what do these people want here?'
"'You ken best,' cried the angry woman. 'That creater is nae acquaintance o' mine; an' if she is suffered to remain here, I will quit the house.'
"'Forgi'e me, gude woman, for having unwittingly offended you,' said Jeanie, rising; 'but mercifu' Father! how sud I ken that Willie Robertson—my ain Willie—had a wife? Oh, Willie!' she cried, coverin' her face in her hands, to hide a' the agony that was in her heart, 'I ha'e come a lang way, an' a weary, to see ye, an' ye might ha'e spared me the grief, the burnin' shame o' this. Fareweel, Willie Robertson! I will never mair trouble ye nor her wi' my presence; but this cruel deed o' yours has broken my heart!'
"She went her lane weepin'; an' he had na the courage to detain her, or speak ae word o' comfort in her sair distress, or attempt to gi'e ony account o' his strange conduct. Yet, if I ken him right, that must ha'e been the most sorrowfu' moment in his life.
"Jeanie was a distant connexion o' my aunt's; an' she found us out that night, on her return to the village, an' tould us a' her grief. My aunt was a kind, guid woman, an' was indignant at the treatment she had received, an' loved and cherished her as if she had been her ain bairn. For two whole weeks she kept her bed, an' was sae ill that the doctor despaired o' her life; and when she did come amang us agen, the rose had faded aff her cheek, an' the light frae her sweet blue e'e, an' she spak' in a low, subdued voice; but she never accused him o' being the cause o' her grief. One day she called me aside and said—
"'Jamie, you ken'd how I lo'ed an' trusted him, an' obeyed his ain wish in comin' out to this wearisome country to be his wife. But 'tis a' owre now.' An' she passed her sma' hands tightly owre her breast, to keep doon the swellin' o' her heart. 'Jamie, I ken that this is a' for the best; I lo'ed him too weel,—mair than ony creature sud lo'e a perishin' thing o' earth. But I thought that he wud be sae glad an' sae proud to see his ain Jeanie sae sune. But, oh! ah, weel; I maun na think o' that. What I wud jest say is this'—and she tuk a sma' packet frae her breast, while the saut tears streamed doon her pale cheeks—'he sent me forty dollars to bring me owre the sea to him. God bless him for that! I ken he worked hard to earn it, for he lo'ed me then. I was na idle during his absence; I had saved enough to bury my dear auld grandfather, an' to pay my expenses out; an' I thought, like the guid servant in the parable, I wud return Willie his ain wi' interest, an' I hoped to see him smile at my diligence, an' ca' me his dear, bonnie lassie. Jamie, I canna keep his siller; it lies like a weight o' lead on my heart. Tak' it back to him, an' tell him frae me, that I forgi'e him a' his cruel deceit, an' pray God to grant him prosperity, an' restore to him that peace o' mind o' which he has robbed me for ever.'
"I did as she bade me. Willie Robertson looked stupified when I delivered her message. The only remark he made when I gied him back the siller was, 'I maun be gratefu' man, that she did na curse me.' The wife cam' in, an' he hid awa' the packet and slunk aff. The man looked degraded in his ain sight, an' sae wretched, that I pitied him frae my heart.
"When I cam' home, Jeanie met me at the yet. 'Tell me,' she said, in a dowie, anxious voice,—'tell me, cousin Jamie, what passed atween ye. Had Willie nae word for me?'
"'Naething, Jeanie. The man is lost to himsel'—to a' who ance wished him weel. He is na worth a decent body's thought.'
"She sighed sairly; an' I saw that her heart craved after some word or token frae him. She said nae mair; but pale an' sorrowfu', the verra ghaist o' her former sel', went back into the house.
"Frae that hour she never breathed his name to ony o' us; but we all ken'd that it was her lo'e for him that was wearin' out her life. The grief that has nae voice, like the canker-worm, lies ne'est the heart. Puir Jean, she held out durin' the simmer, but when the fa' cam', she jest withered awa', like a flower nipped by the early frost; an' this day we laid her in the earth.
"After the funeral was owre, an' the mourners a' gane, I stood beside her grave, thinking owre the days o' my boyhood, when she an' I were happy weans, an' used to pu' the gowans together, on the heathery hills o' dear auld Scotland. An' I tried in vain to understan' the mysterious providence o' God that had stricken her, who seemed sae guid an' pure, an spared the like o' me, who was mair deservin' o' his wrath, when I heard a deep groan, an' I saw Willie Robertson standin' near me, beside the grave.
"'You may as weel spare your grief noo,' said I, for I felt hard towards him, 'an' rejoice that the weary is at rest.'
"'It was I killed her,' said he; 'an' the thought will haunt me to my last day. Did she remember me on her death-bed?'
"'Her thoughts were only ken'd by Him, Willie, wha reads the secrets of a' hearts. Her end was peace; and her Saviour's blessed name was the last sound on her lips. If ever woman died o' a broken heart, there she lies.'
"'Ah, Jeanie!' he cried, 'my ain darlin' Jeanie! my blessed lammie! I was na worthy o' yer luve. My heart, too, is breakin'. To bring ye back ance mair, I would gladly lay me doon an' dee.'
"An' he flung himsel' upon the fresh piled sods, an' greeted like a child.
"When he grew more calm, we had a long conversation about the past; an' truly I think that the man was na in his right senses, when he married yon wife. At ony rate, he is nae lang for this world; he has fretted the flesh aff his banes, an' afore mony months are owre, his heid wul lie as low as puir Jeanie Burns."
My Native Land.
"My native land, my native land! How many tender ties, Connected with thy distant strand, Call forth my heavy sighs!
"The rugged rock, the mountain stream, The hoary pine-tree's shade, Where often in the noon-tide beam, A happy child I played.
"I think of thee, when early light Is trembling on the hill; I think of thee at dead of night, When all is dark and still.
"I think of those whom I shall see On this fair earth no more; And wish in vain for wings to flee Back to thy much-loved shore."
"Oh, how I love the pleasant woods, when silence reigns around, And the mighty shadows calmly sleep, like giants on the ground, And the fire-fly sports her fairy lamp beside the moonlit stream, And the lofty trees, in solemn state, frown darkly in the beam!" S.M.
There was a poor woman on board the steamer, who was like myself in search of health, and was going to the West to see her friends, and to get rid of (if possible) a hollow, consumptive cough. She looked to me in the last stage of pulmonary consumption; but she seemed to hope everything from the change of air.
She had been for many years a resident in the woods, and had suffered great hardships; but the greatest sorrow she ever knew, she said, and what had pulled her down the most, was the loss of a fine boy, who had strayed away after her through the bush, when she went to nurse a sick neighbour; and though every search had been made for the child, he had never been found. "It is a many years ago," she said, "and he would be a fine young man now, if he were alive." And she sighed deeply, and still seemed to cling to the idea that he might possibly be living, with a sort of forlorn hope, that to me seemed more melancholy than the certainty of his death.
This brought to my recollection many tales that I had been told, while living in the bush, of persons who had perished in this miserable manner. Some of these tales may chance to interest my readers.
I was busy sewing one day for my little girl, when we lived in the township of Hamilton, when Mrs. H—-, a woman whose husband farmed our farm on shares, came running in quite out of breath, and cried out—
"Mrs. M—-, you have heard the good news?—One of the lost children is found!"
I shook my head, and looked inquiringly.
"What! did not you hear about it? Why, one of Clark's little fellows, who were lost last Wednesday in the woods, has been found."
"I am glad of it. But how were they lost?"
"Oh, 'tis a thing of very common occurrence here. New settlers, who are ignorant of the danger of going astray in the forest, are always having their children lost. I take good care never to let my boys go alone to the bush. But people are so careless in this respect, that I wonder it does not more frequently happen.
"These little chaps are the sons of a poor emigrant who came out this summer, and took up a lot of wild land just at the back of us, towards the plains. Clark is busy logging up his fallow for fall wheat, on which his family must depend for bread during the ensuing year; and he is so anxious to get it ready in time, that he will not allow himself an hour at noon to go home to get his dinner, which his wife generally sends in a basket to the woods by his eldest daughter, a girl of fourteen.
"Last Wednesday, the girl had been sent on an errand by her mother, who thought that, in her absence, she might venture to trust the two boys to take the dinner to their father. The boys, who are from five to seven years old, and very smart and knowing for their age, promised to mind all her directions, and went off quite proud of the task, carrying the little basket between them.
"How they came to ramble off into the woods, the younger child, who has been just found, is too much stupified to tell, and perhaps he is too young to remember.
"At night Clark returned from his work, and scolded his wife for not sending his dinner as usual; but the poor woman, (who all day had quieted her fears with the belief that the children had stayed with their father,) instead of paying any regard to his angry words, demanded, in a tone of agony, what had become of her children?
"Tired and hungry as Clark was, he instantly comprehended the danger to which his boys were exposed, and started off in pursuit of them. The shrieks of the distracted woman soon called the neighbours together, who instantly joined in the search. It was not until this afternoon that any trace could be discovered of the lost children, when Brian, the hunter, found the youngest boy, Johnnie, lying fast asleep upon the trunk of a fallen tree, fifteen miles back in the bush."
"And the brother?"
"Will never, I fear, be heard of again. They have searched for him in all directions, and have not discovered him. The story little Johnnie tells is to this effect. During the first two days of their absence, the food they had brought in the basket for their father's dinner sustained life; but to-day, it seems that little Johnnie grew very hungry, and cried continually for bread. William, the eldest boy, promised him bread if he would try and walk farther; but his feet were bleeding and sore, and he could not walk another step. For some time the other little fellow carried him upon his back; but growing tired himself, he bade Johnnie sit down upon a fallen log, (the log on which he was found,) and not stir from the place until he came back. He told the child that he would run on until he found a house, and would return as soon as he could, and bring him something to eat. He then wiped his eyes, and told him not to cry, and not to be scared, for God would take care of him till he came back, and he kissed him several times, and ran away.
"This is all the little fellow knows about his brother; and it is very probable that the generous-hearted boy has been eaten by the wolves that are very plenty in that part of the forest where the child was found. The Indians traced him for more than a mile along the banks of the creek, when they lost his trail altogether. If he had fallen into the water, it is so shallow, that they could scarcely have failed in discovering the body; but they think that he has been dragged into some hole in the bank among the tangled cedars, and devoured.
"Since I have been in the country," continued Mrs. H—-, "I have known many cases of children, and even of grown persons, being lost in the woods, who were never heard of again. It is a frightful calamity to happen to any one; for should they escape from the claws of wild animals, these dense forests contain nothing on which life can be supported for any length of time. The very boughs of the trees are placed so far from the ground, that no child could reach or climb to them; and there is so little brush and small bushes among these giant trees, that no sort of fruit can be obtained, on which they might subsist while it remained in season. It is only in clearings, or where the fire has run through the forest, that strawberries or raspberries are to be found; and at this season of the year, and in the winter, a strong man could not exist many days in the wilderness let alone a child.
"Parents cannot be too careful in guarding their young folks against rambling alone in the bush. Persons, when once they get off the beaten track, get frightened and bewildered, and lose all presence of mind; and instead of remaining where they are when they first discover their misfortune—which is the only chance they have of being found—they plunge desperately on, running hither and thither, in the hope of getting out, while they only involve themselves more deeply among the mazes of the interminable forest.
"Some winters ago, the daughter of a settler in the remote township of Dummer (where my husband took up his grant of wild land, and in which we lived for two years) went with her father to the mill, which was four miles from their log-shanty, and the road lay entirely through the bush. For awhile the girl, who was about twelve years of age, kept up with her father, who walked briskly ahead with his bag of corn on his back; for as their path lay through a tangled swamp, he was anxious to get home before night. After some time, Sarah grew tired with stepping up and down over the fallen logs that strewed their path, and lagged a long way behind. The man felt not the least apprehensive when he lost sight of her, expecting that she would soon come up with him again. Once or twice he stopped and shouted, and she answered, 'Coming, father!' and he did not turn to look after her again. He reached the mill, saw the grist ground, resumed his burden, and took the road home, expecting to meet Sarah by the way. He trod the long path alone; but still he thought that the girl, tired with her walk in the woods, had turned back, and he should find her safe at home.
"You may imagine, Mrs. M—-, his consternation, and that of the family, when they found that the girl was lost.
"It was now dark, and all search for her was given up for that night as hopeless. By day-break the next morning the whole settlement which was then confined to a few lonely log tenements, inhabited solely by Cornish miners, were roused from their sleep to assist in the search.
"The men turned out with guns and horns, and divided into parties, that started in different directions. Those who first discovered Sarah were to fire their guns, which was to be the signal to guide the rest to the spot. It was not long before they found the object of their search, seated under a tree about half a mile from the path she had lost on the preceding day.
"She had been tempted by the beauty of some wild flowers to leave the road; and, when once in the forest, she grew bewildered, and could not find her way back. At first she ran to and fro, in an agony of terror at finding herself in the woods all alone, and uttered loud and frantic cries; but her father had by this time reached the mill, and was out of hearing.
"With a sagacity beyond her years, and not very common to her class, instead of wandering further into the labyrinth which surrounded her, she sat down under a large tree, covered her face with her apron, said the Lord's prayer—the only one she knew, and hoped that God would send her father back to find her the moment he discovered that she was lost.
"When night came down upon the forest, (and oh! how dark night is in the woods!) the poor girl said that she felt horribly afraid of being eaten by the wolves that abound in those dreary swamps; but she did not cry, for fear they should hear her. Simple girl! she did not know that the scent of a wolf is far keener than his ear; but this was her notion, and she lay down close to the ground and never once uncovered her head, for fear of seeing something dreadful standing beside her; until, overcome by terror and fatigue, she fell fast asleep, and did not awake till roused by the shrill braying of the horns, and the shouts of the party who were seeking her."
"What a dreadful situation! I am sure that I should not have had the courage of this poor girl, but should have died with fear."
"We don't know how much we can bear till we are tried. This girl was more fortunate than a boy of the same age, who was lost in the same township just as the winter set in. The lad was sent by his father, an English settler, in company with two boys of his own age, the sons of neighbours, to be measured for a pair of shoes. George Desne, who followed the double occupation of farmer and shoemaker, lived about three miles from the clearing known as the English line. After the lads left their home, the road lay entirely through the bush. It was a path they had often travelled, both alone and with their parents, and they felt no fear.
"There had been a slight fall of snow, just enough to cover the ground, and the day was clear and frosty. The boys in this country always hail with delight the first fall of snow; and they ran races and slid over all the shallow pools, until they reached George Desne's cabin. He measured young Brown for a strong pair of winter boots, and the boys returned on their homeward path, shouting and laughing in the glee of their hearts.
"About half-way they suddenly missed their companion, and ran back nearly a mile to find him; not succeeding, they thought that he had hidden himself behind some of the trees, and, in order to frighten them, was pretending to be lost; and after shouting his name at the top of their voices, and receiving no answer, they determined to defeat his trick, and ran home without him. They knew he was well acquainted with the road, that it was still broad day, and he could easily find his way home alone. When his father inquired for George, they said he was coming, and went to their respective cabins.
"Night came on and the lad did not return, and his parents began to feel alarmed at his absence. Mr. Brown went over to the neighbouring settlements, and made the lads repeat to him all they knew about his son. The boys described the part of the road where they first missed him; but they had felt no uneasiness about him, for they concluded that he had either run home before them, or had gone back to spend the night with the young Desnes, who had been very importunate for him to stay. This account pacified the anxious father. Early the next morning he went to Desne's himself to bring home the boy, but, to his astonishment and grief, he had not been there.
"His mysterious disappearance gave rise to a thousand strange surmises. The whole settlement turned out in search of the boy. His steps were traced off the road a few yards into the bush, and entirely disappeared at the foot of a large oak tree. The tree was lofty, and the branches so far from the ground, that it was almost impossible for any boy, unassisted, to have raised himself to such a height. There was no track of any animal to be seen on the new fallen snow—no shred of garment, or stain of blood. That boy's fate will always remain a great mystery, for he was never found."
"He must have been carried up the tree by a bear, and dragged down into the hollow trunk," said I.
"If that had been the case, there would have been the track of the bear's feet in the snow. It does not, however, follow that the boy is dead, though it is more than probable. I knew of a case where two boys and a girl were sent into the woods by their mother to fetch home the cows. The children were lost. The parents mourned them for dead, for all search after them proved fruitless. At length, after seven years, the eldest son returned. The children had been overtaken and carried off by a party of Indians, who belonged to a tribe who inhabited the islands in Lake Huron, and who were out on a hunting expedition. They took them many hundred miles away from their forest home, and adopted them as their own. The girl, when she grew up, married one of the tribe; the boys followed the occupation of hunters and fishers, and, from their dress and appearance, might have passed for aborigines of the forest. The eldest boy, however, never forgot his own name, or the manner in which he had been separated from his parents. He distinctly remembered the township and the natural features of the locality, and took the first opportunity of making his escape, and travelling back to the home of his childhood.
"When he made himself known to his mother, who was a widow, but resided on the same spot, he was so dark and Indian-like that she could not believe that it was really her son, until he brought back to her mind a little incident that, forgotten by her, had never left his memory.
"'Mother, don't you remember saying to me on that afternoon, Ned, you need not look for the cows in the swamp,—they went off towards the big hill!'
"The delighted mother immediately caught him to her heart, exclaiming, 'You say truly,—you are my own, my long-lost son!'"
[This, and the two preceding chapters, were written for "Roughing it in the Bush," and were sent to England to make a part of that work, but came too late for insertion, which will account to the reader for their appearance here.]
The Canadian Herd-Boy.
"Through the deep woods, at peep of day, The careless herd-boy wends his way, By piny ridge and forest stream, To summon home his roving team— Cobos! cobos! from distant dell Shy echo wafts the cattle-bell.
"A blithe reply he whistles back, And follows out the devious track, O'er fallen tree and mossy stone— A path to all, save him, unknown. Cobos! cobos! far down the dell More faintly falls the cattle-bell.
"See the dark swamp before him throws A tangled maze of cedar boughs; On all around deep silence broods, In nature's boundless solitudes. Cobos! cobos! the breezes swell, As nearer floats the cattle-bell.
"He sees them now—beneath yon trees His motley herd recline at ease; With lazy pace and sullen stare, They slowly leave their shady lair. Cobos! cobos!—far up the dell Quick jingling comes the cattle-bell!"
"Fiction, however wild and fanciful, Is but the copy memory draws from truth. 'Tis not in human genius to create: The mind is but a mirror that reflects Realities that are, or the dim shadows Left by the past upon its placid surface Recalled again to life."
The glow of early day was brightening in the east, as the steamer approached Toronto. We rounded the point of the interminable, flat, swampy island, that stretches for several miles in front of the city, and which is thinly covered with scrubby-looking trees. The land lies so level with the water, that it has the appearance of being half-submerged, and from a distance you only see the tops of the trees. I have been informed that the name of Toronto has been derived from this circumstance, which in Indian literally means, "Trees in the water."
If the island rather takes from, than adds to, the beauty of the place, it is not without great practical advantages, as to it the city is mainly indebted for its sheltered and very commodious harbour.
After entering the harbour, Toronto presents a long line of frontage, covered with handsome buildings, to the eye. A grey mist still hovered over its many domes and spires; but the new University and the Lunatic Asylum stood out in bold relief, as they caught the broad red gleam of the coming day.
It was my first visit to the metropolitan city of the upper province, and with no small degree of interest I examined its general aspect as we approached the wharf. It does not present such an imposing appearance from the water as Kingston, but it strikes you instantly as a place of far greater magnitude and importance. There is a fresh, growing, healthy vitality about this place, that cannot fail to impress a stranger very forcibly the first time he enters it. He feels instinctively that he sees before him the strong throbbing heart of this gigantic young country, and that every powerful vibration from this ever increasing centre of wealth and civilisation, infuses life and vigour through the whole length and breadth of the province.
Toronto exceeded the most sanguine expectations that I had formed of it at a distance, and enabled me to realize distinctly the rising greatness and rapid improvement of the colony. It is only here that you can form any just estimate of what she now is, and what at no very distant period she must be.
The country, for some miles round the city, appears to the eye as flat as a floor; the rise, though very gradual, is, I am told, considerable; and the land is sufficiently elevated above the lake to escape the disagreeable character of being low and swampy. Anything in the shape of a slope or hill is not distinguishable in the present area on which Toronto is built; but the streets are wide and clean, and contain many handsome public buildings; and the beautiful trees which everywhere abound in the neat, well-kept gardens, that surround the dwellings of the wealthier inhabitants, with the broad, bright, blue inland sea that forms the foreground to the picture, give to it such a lively and agreeable character, that it takes from it all appearance of tameness and monotony.
The wharfs, with which our first practical acquaintance with the city commenced, are very narrow and incommodious. They are built on piles of wood, running out to some distance in the water, and covered with rotten, black-looking boards. As far as comfort and convenience go, they are far inferior to those of Cobourg and Kingston, or even to those of our own dear little "City of the Bay," as Belleville has not inaptly been christened by the strange madcap, calling himself the "Great Orator of the West."
It is devoutly to be hoped that a few years will sweep all these decayed old wharfs into the Ontario, and that more substantial ones, built of stone, will be erected in their place. Rome, however, was not built in a day; and the magic growth of this city of the West is almost as miraculous as that of Jonah's celebrated gourd.
The steamboat had scarcely been secured to her wharf before we were surrounded by a host of cabmen, who rushed on board, fighting and squabbling with each other, in order to secure the first chance of passengers and their luggage. The hubbub in front of the ladies' cabin grew to a perfect uproar; and, as most of the gentlemen were still in the arms of Morpheus, these noisy Mercuries had it all their own way—swearing and shouting at the top of their voices, in a manner that rivalled civilized Europe. I was perfectly astonished at their volubility, and the pertinacity of their attentions, which were poured forth in the true Milesian fashion—an odd mixture of blarney, self-interest, and audacity. At Kingston these gentry are far more civil and less importunate, and we witnessed none of this disgraceful annoyance at any other port on the lake. One of these Paddies, in his hurry to secure the persons and luggage of several ladies, who had been my fellow-passengers in the cabin, nearly backed his crazy old vehicle over the unguarded wooden wharf into the lake.
We got safely stowed at last into one of these machines, which, internally, are not destitute of either comfort or convenience; and driving through some of the principal avenues of the city, were safely deposited at the door of a dear friend, who had come on board to conduct us to his hospitable home; and here I found the rest and quiet so much needed by an invalid after a long and fatiguing journey.
It was some days before I was sufficiently recovered to visit any of the lions of the place. With a minute description of these I shall not trouble my readers. My book is written more with a view to convey general impressions, than to delineate separate features,—to while away the languid heat of a summer day, or the dreary dulness of a wet one. The intending emigrant, who is anxious for commercial calculations and statistical details, will find all that he can require on this head in "Scobie's Almanack," and Smith's "Past, Present, and Future of Canada,"—works written expressly for that purpose.
Women make good use of their eyes and ears, and paint scenes that amuse or strike their fancy with tolerable accuracy; but it requires the strong-thinking heart of man to anticipate events, and trace certain results from particular causes. Women are out of their element when they attempt to speculate upon these abstruse matters—are apt to incline too strongly to their own opinions—and jump at conclusions which are either false or unsatisfactory.
My first visit was to King-street, which may be considered as the Regent-street of Toronto. It is the great central avenue of commerce, and contains many fine buildings, and handsome capacious stores, while a number of new ones are in a state of progress. This fine, broad, airy thoroughfare, would be an ornament to any town or city, and the bustle and traffic through it give to strangers a tolerably just idea of the wealth and industry of the community. All the streets terminate at the water's edge, but Front-street, which runs parallel with it, and may be termed the "west end" of Toronto; for most of the wealthy residents have handsome houses and gardens in this street, which is open through the whole length of it to the lake. The rail-road is upon the edge of the water along this natural terrace. The situation is uncommonly lively, as it commands a fine view of the harbour, and vessels and steamboats are passing to and fro continually.
The St. Lawrence market, which is near the bottom of King-street, is a handsome, commodious building, and capitally supplied with all the creature-comforts—fish, flesh, and fowl—besides abundance of excellent fruits and vegetables, which can be procured at very reasonable prices. The town-hall is over the market-place, and I am told—for I did not visit it—that it is a noble room, capable of accommodating a large number of people with ease and comfort.
Toronto is very rich in handsome churches, which form one of its chief attractions. I was greatly struck with the elegant spire of Knox's church, which is perhaps the most graceful in the city. The body of the church, however, seems rather too short, and out of proportion, for the tall slender tower, which would have appeared to much greater advantage attached to a building double the length.
Nothing attracted my attention, or interested me more, than the handsome, well-supplied book stores. Those of Armour, Scobie, and Maclean, are equal to many in London in appearance, and far superior to those that were to be found in Norwich and Ipswich thirty years ago.
This speaks well for the mental improvement of Canada, and is a proof that people have more leisure for acquiring book lore, and more money for the purchase of books, than they had some years ago. The piracies of the Americans have realized the old proverb, "That 'tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good." Incalculable are the benefits that Canada derives from her cheap reprints of all the European standard works, which, on good paper and in handsome bindings, can be bought at a quarter the price of the English editions. This circumstance must always make the Canadas a bad market for English publications. Most of these, it is true, can be procured by wealthy individuals at the book stores mentioned above, but the American reprints of the same works abound a hundred-fold.
Novels form the most attractive species of reading here for the young; and the best of these, in pamphlet form, may be procured for from twenty-five to fifty cents. And here I must claim the privilege of speaking a few words in defence of both novel readers and novel writers, in spite of the horror which I fancy I see depicted on many a grave countenance.
There are many good and conscientious persons who regard novels and novel writers with devout horror, who condemn their works, however moral in their tendency, as unfit for the perusal of responsible and intelligent creatures, who will not admit into their libraries any books but such as treat of religious, historical, or scientific subjects, imagining, and we think very erroneously, that all works of fiction have a demoralizing effect, and tend to weaken the judgment, and enervate the mind.
We will, however, allow that there is both truth and sound sense in some of these objections; that if a young person's reading is entirely confined to this class of literature, and that of an inferior sort, a great deal of harm may be the result, as many of these works are apt to convey to them false and exaggerated pictures of life. Such a course of reading would produce the same effect upon the mind as a constant diet of sweetmeats would upon the stomach; it would destroy the digestion, and induce a loathing for more wholesome food.
Still, the mind requires recreation as well as the body, and cannot always be engaged upon serious studies without injury to the brain, and the disarrangement of some of the most important organs of the body. Now, we think it could be satisfactorily proved, in spite of the stern crusade perpetually waged against works of fiction by a large portion of well-meaning people, that much good has been done in the world through their instrumentality.
Most novels and romances, particularly those of the modern school, are founded upon real incidents, and, like the best heads in the artist's picture, the characters are drawn from life; and the closer the drawing or story approximates to nature, the more interesting and popular will it become. Though a vast number of these works are daily pouring from the British and American press, it is only those of a very high class that are generally read, and become as familiar as household words. The tastes of individuals differ widely on articles of dress, food, and amusement; but there is a wonderful affinity in the minds of men, as regards works of literature. A book that appeals strongly to the passions, if true to nature, will strike nearly all alike, and obtain a world-wide popularity, while the mere fiction sinks back into obscurity—is once read and forgotten.
The works of Smollett and Fielding were admirable pictures of society as it existed in their day; but we live in a more refined age, and few young people would feel any pleasure in the coarse pictures exhibited in those once celebrated works. The novels of Richardson, recommended by grave divines from the pulpit as perfect models of purity and virtue, would now be cast aside with indifference and disgust. They were considered quite the reverse in the age he wrote, and he was regarded as one of the great reformers of the vices of his time. We may therefore conclude, that, although repugnant to our taste and feelings, they were the means of effecting much good in a gross and licentious age.
In the writings of our great modern novelists, virtue is never debased, nor vice exalted; but there is a constant endeavour to impress upon the mind of the reader the true wisdom of the one, and the folly of the other; and where the author fails to create an interest in the fate of his hero or heroine, it is not because they are bad or immoral characters, like Lovelace in Clarissa Harlowe, and Lord B—- in Pamela, but that, like Sir Charles Grandison, they are too good for reality, and their very faultlessness renders them, like the said Sir Charles, affected and unnatural. Where high moral excellence is represented as struggling with the faults and follies common to humanity, sometimes yielding to temptation, and reaping the bitter fruits, and at other times successfully resisting the allurements of vice, all our sympathies are engaged in the contest; it becomes our own, and we follow the hero through all his trials, weep over his fall, or triumph in his success.
Children, who possess an unsophisticated judgment in these matters, seldom feel much interest in the model boy of a moral story; not from any innate depravity of mind, which leads them to prefer vice to virtue, for no such preference can exist in the human breast,—no, not even in the perverted hearts of the worst of men—but because the model boy is like no other boy of their acquaintance. He does not resemble them, for he is a piece of unnatural perfection. He neither fights, nor cries, nor wishes to play when he ought to be busy with his lessons; he lectures like a parson, and talks like a book. His face is never dirty; he never tears his clothes, nor soils his hands with making dirt pies, or puddling in the mud. His hair is always smooth, his face always wears a smile, and he was never known to sulk, or say I won't! The boy is a perfect stranger—they can't recognise his likeness, or follow his example—and why? because both are unnatural caricatures.
But be sure, that if the naughty boy of the said tale creates the most interest for his fate in the mind of the youthful reader, it is simply because he is drawn with more truthfulness than the character that was intended for his counterpart. The language of passion is always eloquent, and the bad boy is delineated true to his bad nature, and is made to speak and act naturally, which never fails to awaken a touch of sympathy in beings equally prone to err. I again repeat that few minds (if any) exist than can find beauty in deformity, or aught to admire in the hideousness of vice.
There are many persons in the world who cannot bear to receive instruction when conveyed to them in a serious form, who shrink with loathing from the cant with which too many religious novels are loaded; and who yet might be induced to listen to precepts of religion and morality, when arrayed in a more amusing and attractive garb, and enforced by characters who speak and feel like themselves, and share in all things a common humanity.
Some of our admirable modern works of fiction, or rather truths disguised, in order to make them more palatable to the generality of readers, have done more to ameliorate the sorrows of mankind, by drawing the attention of the public to the wants and woes of the lower classes, than all the charity sermons that have been delivered from the pulpit.
Yes, the despised and reprobated novelist, by daring to unveil the crimes and miseries of neglected and ignorant men, and to point out the abuses which have produced, and are still producing, the same dreadful results, are missionaries in the cause of humanity, the real friends and benefactors of mankind.
The selfish worldling may denounce as infamous and immoral, the heart-rending pictures of human suffering and degradation that the writings of Dickens and Sue have presented to their gaze, and declare that they are unfit to meet the eyes of the virtuous and refined—that no good can arise from the publication of such revolting details—and that to be ignorant of the existence of such horrors is in itself a species of virtue.
Daughter of wealth, daintily nurtured, and nicely educated, Is blindness nature? Does your superiority over these fallen creatures spring from any innate principle in your own breast, which renders you more worthy of the admiration and esteem of your fellow-creatures? Are not you indebted to the circumstances in which you are placed, and to that moral education, for every virtue that you possess?