PORCUPINE-CATCHING. -- HANDSOME BEHAVIOUR OF MR. GALT. -- OWLINGALE. -- INTRODUCTION TO THE SON OF THE CELEBRATED INDIAN CHIEF, BRANDT. -- EXPEDITION TO WILMOT. -- SHAM WOLVES. -- NIGHT IN A BARN WITH DR. DUNLOP. -- THE DOCTOR AND HIS SNUFF-BOX. -- HIS BATH IN THE NITH. -- LOUIS XVIII. AND HIS TABATIERE. -- CAMP IN THE WOODS. -- RETURN TO GUELPH.
ONE day, being out in the woods with an emigrant, examining a lot of land, I was attracted by the barking of my dog, who had treed some animal, which, upon coming up, I discovered was a porcupine. We cut down the tree, a small beech, in which he had taken refuge, and secured him alive. I did not notice my dog till I got home, when I found his mouth was full of quills, which the porcupine, in self-defence, had darted into him. The manner in which they accomplish this is, by striking the object that offends them with their tail, when the outside points of the quills, being finely barbed, if inserted ever so slightly, retain their hold, and are easily detached from the porcupine without pain.
I once lost a fine Irish greyhound, who was stuck full of quills in this way, although I pulled out hundreds of them from his mouth, head, and different parts of his body, with a pair of pincers. In fact, some of these barbs had worked into him nearly their whole length, so that I had a difficulty in getting hold of the end of the quills to extract them; and I have no doubt, as the dog died, that many of them had completely buried themselves in some vital part, and caused his death.
I took home my prize, and put it into a barrel in a dark corner of the store, which was half full of nails. A few minutes afterwards, Dr. Dunlop, as he often did, came in to see me, and drink a glass of cider, of which I had at that time some of excellent quality in bottle. The Doctor, as he said, used to "improve" it, making what he called, "a stone-fence," by inserting a small soupcon of brandy from a pocket-pistol, which he was too much in the habit of carrying about with him in hot weather.
"Now," said I, "Doctor, I know you like a bit of fun. When Fielding, the porter, comes in, ask him to go to that barrel in the corner and fetch you a nail; for I have got a live porcupine in it that I have just brought home from the woods."
The Doctor was mightily tickled with the notion; so, as soon as poor Fielding made his appearance, he sent him off to the barrel. Quite unsuspiciously the man put in his hand for the nail, and as quickly drew it out again, with the addition of some half a score quills sticking to his fingers, to the no small delight of the Doctor, who greatly enjoyed Fielding's consternation, for the porter thought the devil himself was in the tub.
Every one who came into the store during the afternoon was served the same trick by the Doctor, and it was certainly amusing to watch their countenances and hear their remarks, those who showed the most anger being of course the most laughed at for their pains.
Shortly after, a Mr. Smith, an accountant, was sent out by the directors to examine the accounts, and report on the state of the Company's affairs in the colony. A few days after his arrival, he went round with the superintendent, and examined the works that had been completed, and those in progress. Mr. Galt and the accountant both expressed themselves much pleased with what I had done, especially with the bridge connecting the clergy-block (now called the township of Puslinch) with the town of Guelph.
In the afternoon, Mr. Smith called upon me and said he was authorized by the superintendent to arrange with me as to the amount of salary I was to receive. He then informed me the amount that Mr. Galt had instructed him to offer me--a liberal income, and the use of a house rent-free, desiring him at the same time to express his satisfaction at the manner in which I had conducted the operations since my engagement with the Company, in which, he said, from what he had seen, he fully concurred.
As this result was entirely unsolicited by me, and as it was generally understood that the accountant had been sent out partly as a check on the superintendent, to prevent extravagant expenditure, I took this as a compliment paid by both to my abilities and integrity.
Several of the clerks had light neatly-made boats, in which we used to make excursions up the Speed for the purpose of trout-fishing. I think, without exception, this stream is the best for that species of fish I ever saw. I have frequently caught a pailful of these delicious trout in the space of two or three hours. For my own part, I found a small garden-worm the best bait; but one of our clerks, a Mr. Hodgett, was skilful with the fly, and consequently used to catch his fish in a more scientific manner.
My native county, Suffolk, with the exception of that part watered by the Waveney, is not famed for its fly-fishing: therefore I was no adept in the gentle art, but in ground-bait angling I consider myself no contemptible performer.
The small streams and creeks are so overarched with trees in Canada, that it is almost impossible, except in odd spots, to make a cast with the fly without endangering your tackle.
The speckled trout in the river Speed vary in size from four ounces to a pound and a half, though it is seldom that one of the latter size is captured.
Guelph I consider to be remarkably healthy, and for an inland town very prettily situated. I think, however, that the town-plot was laid out on too large a scale--especially the market-place, which is large enough for a city containing fifty thousand inhabitants. I have not been there since 1832. It has since become the assize-town for the Wellington district, and consequently has greatly increased both in size and population.
Although I had been several months a resident in Guelph, I had neither seen nor heard a clergyman of the Established Church. Why are we always the last to send labourers into the vineyard? No sooner does a small village, composed of a mill, a black-smith's shop, and a few houses, spring up in the woods, than you find a Presbyterian, Methodist, or Baptist Church--or perhaps all three--settled there immediately. No wonder, then, that our church is losing ground when so little energy is displayed either in building churches or sending active and zealous men to preach the gospel.
The first person I heard preach in Guelph was a tailor, who had made a professional visit to the city, and who had the reputation of being considered a very eloquent man. Due notice having been given, a large congregation assembled to hear Mr. H-----, who, to do him justice, was eloquent enough, though his sermon was all in his own praise from beginning to end.
He said that "he had once been a great infidel and an evil liver, but now he was converted, and was as good as he formerly had been wicked; and be hoped that all his hearers would take example from him and do as he had done--forsake the crooked paths and steadfastly follow the straight." After this autobiographical discourse was at length over, and a brother snip invited him to dinner, I was also honoured with an invitation, which my curiosity induced me to accept.
I found that the party consisted of a magistrate and his wife, from E-----, the mad Doctor, and Mr. Y-----, one of the Company's clerks. Our host-tailor, No. 1, took the head of the table; the preacher, tailor No. 2, sat at the foot. The dinner itself was quite a professional spread, and consisted of a fine fat roast goose at the top, and another at the bottom--a large dish of cabbage in the centre, and a plate of hard dumplings on each side. Mr. Y-----, who sat opposite, gave me such a comical look when the second goose made its appearance, that I found it impossible to suppress my risibility, which, unfortunately for me, exploded just as the preacher--who, of course, mentally consigned me to perdition--commenced a long grace; but if the Governor-General himself had been present, I do not think I could have restrained my inclination to laugh.
The dinner was certainly excellent of its kind; and in a new settlement where nothing but salt pork and beef could be obtained, I might with truth say, that it was a great treat. After the cloth was removed, it was proposed by the magistrate's lady, that the company should sing a hymn, upon which the mad Doctor, who was considered the most pious, as well as the most scientific, singer of the company, sang like an owlingale, Pope's celebrated lines:--
"Vital spark of heavenly flame,
Quit, O quit; this mortal frame.
I am ashamed to say that I was obliged to stuff my handkerchief into my mouth to keep from laughing outright; and no wonder, for I never heard such an insane screeching in all my life.
In the course of the summer, Mr. Buchanan, the British Consul, visited Guelph, when the superintendent gave a public dinner at the Priory, to which I had the honour of an invitation. Amongst other guests was John Brandt, the chief of the Mohawks, and son of the celebrated chief whom Campbell the poet, in his "Gertrude of Wyoming," has stigmatized as--
"The monster, Brandt,
With all his howling, desolating band."
"Accursed Brandt! he left of all my tribe,
Nor man, nor child, nor thing of living birth."
It is said that John Brandt was very angry when these lines were pointed out to him.* [* Campbell subsequently made an apology to him.]
On his health being drunk, he acknowledged the courtesy in a short but eloquent speech. He was not handsome, though rather a fine-looking man. I believe he died of cholera in 1832.
One day, Dr. Dunlop came to my house, and informed me that I was to accompany him on an expedition to the township of Wilmot, joining the Huron tract, to examine the site, and make a report of the probable cost of building a bridge over the river Nith--or "Smith's Creek," as it was then called--one of the tributaries of the Grand River. "The accountant," he said, "has taken it into his head that he will accompany us; and, as he has never been in the Bush before, won't we put him through his facings before he gets back? that is all. Mind, and keep your eye on me. When I am ready to play him off, I will give the signal to you."
"Well, Doctor," said I, "if you will take the blame, I have no objection to the fun; but remember! I am a very young man, and if Mr. Smith should complain to the Company--"
"Oh, never fear," was his reply, "for I will make it all right with Galt, if he do. In the meantime, order my man to saddle the horses. Let the Cockney have the roan-mare. You can take your own pony; and do not forget to tell Hinds to bring the brandy. Should we have to camp out all-night, a small soupcon of the creature will do us no harm."
Everything being in readiness, we started about two o'clock, P.M. Our route lay through the new settlement of Guelph and the fine townships of Upper and Lower Waterloo. This tract of land was originally bought and settled by a company of Dutch Pennsylvanians, upwards of fifty years ago. The Grand River, or Ouse, intersects these townships--a fine stream, spanned by several substantial bridges. This part of the country is densely populated and very fertile. The soil, for the most part, is a light rich loam.
As soon as we had crossed the open country, we entered a narrow bush-road, only just wide enough for two persons to ride abreast. It must be remembered that Smith was a very bad rider, and looked as if he had never been on horse-back before; for every time he rose in his saddle you could see his horse's head under him.
The Doctor now gave me the wink to fall into the rear; then riding up abreast of Smith, he commenced operations by slyly sticking his spur into the roan mare, exclaiming at the same time, "Come, man, if we don't push on a little, we shall not reach Blenheim to-night."
As soon as the roan mare felt the spur, off she went at a rattling pace, the Dr. keeping close along-side, and applying the spur whenever he could get a chance. At first, Smith tried hard to pull in the mare; then he shouted to the Doctor to stop her; instead of which, the spur was only applied the sharper. At last, quite frightened, he seized the mane with both his hands. And then commenced a neck-and-neck race for nearly two miles--myself and the Doctor's man, John Hinds, bringing up the rear, and shouting with laughter. Smith was so frightened, and so intent on stopping his run-away steed, that he never suspected his persecutor who, looking quite grave, said, "He never remembered his roan running off in that extraordinary manner before; but," he added with a grin, "I suspect, Smith, she knew you were a Cockney."
After this exploit, we went on soberly enough, until we entered the township of Blenheim. We had still some distance to travel through a dense forest, before we should reach Springer's--a farm-house where we intended to stop all night, and where the Doctor kept a store of good things, under the charge of Mrs. Springer; for this was always his halting-place, on his various journeys to Goderich.
Darkness fell as we entered the Blenheim woods, and now the Doctor took the opportunity of asking me, "If I thought that I could howl?" I expressed confidence in my abilities that way.
The Doctor then said, "Second any move of mine for pushing you on to Springer's. But mind," continued he, "you are to stop within half a mile of his clearing; and when you hear us coming, you must howl with all your might, and leave the rest to me."
After a while, when it was quite dark, so that we could scarcely see our horses' heads, the Doctor proposed that I should take Hinds, and "ride on as hard as we could, and tell Mrs. Springer to have supper ready for us; and," said he, "let the old man tap the whiskey I forwarded to his house last week. We will follow you at our leisure; for my friend is not used to travel after dark on such roads as these."
We accordingly rode on smartly, till we could perceive a slight glimmering of light through the trees, which we knew to be Springer's clearing. We then halted, one on each side of the road, but entirely concealed from view by the thick underbrush. As soon as we heard the party coming, we set up a most unearthly yell, which made the woods fairly ring again. We could hear the Doctor cry out, "The wolves! the wolves! ride for your life, man," and he then galloped off in the direction from which they had just come.
Poor Smith shouted after him at the top of his voice, imploring the Doctor, for God's sake, not to leave him. "Oh Lord!" we heard him say, as he rode after the Doctor, "I shall surely be devoured by the ravenous wretches. Help--help! Doctor--stop!" and such like piteous ejaculations.
The Doctor, who had ridden ahead, as soon as he heard his victim approach, commenced in the same key as we had done before, and a dismal howling we all made. Fear now compelled poor Smith to wheel the mare round and ride back, whereupon we again greeted him with a second edition, even--if that were possible--more diabolical than the first, which terminated the fun sooner than we expected; for, losing all presence of mind, he let his steed get off the track into the woods, and, consequently, he was swept off by the branches. We heard him fall and roar for help, which we left the Doctor to administer, and made the best of our way to Springer's, where, half an hour after, we were joined by our fellow-travellers, one of whom had scarcely recovered from his fright, and still looked as pale as a ghost. Two or three glasses of whiskey-punch, however, soon restored him to his natural complexion.
I do not know if he ever found out the trick we had so successfully played him; but if he did, he kept it to himself, rightly judging that if the story got wind he would never hear the last of it.
Springer had only one spare bed, which we resigned in favour of the accountant, as some little compensation for the fright he had sustained. The Doctor and I took possession of the barn, where we found plenty of fresh hay, which we infinitely preferred to the spare bed and its familiars. There we slept delightfully, till a chorus of cocks (or roosters, as the more delicate Americans would call them) awakened us from our repose, to the wrathful indignation of Dunlop, who anathematized them for "an unmusical ornithological set of fiends."
We made an early breakfast off fried sausages, and the never-failing ham and eggs, and were soon again in the saddle. We took the nearest road to Plum Creek, where we left our horses, and proceeded for the remaining four miles on foot, through a magnificent forest.
We were now in that part of the township of Wilmot belonging to the Canada Company, which did not then contain a single farm, but has been since completely settled. At length, we came to a narrow valley, some fifty or sixty feet below the level of the country through which we had been travelling, in the centre of which flowed the Nith, sparkling in the sun: the wild grapes hanging in rich festoons from tree to tree, gave an air of rural beauty to the scene. For the convenience of foot-passengers, some good Samaritan had felled a tree directly across the stream, which at that place was not more than fifty feet wide. The current was swift, though not more than four or five feet deep.
Here a small misfortune happened to the Doctor, who was an inveterate snuff-taker, and carried a large box he called a coffin--I presume from its resemblance to that dreary receptacle.
While in the act of crossing the temporary bridge, and at the same time regaling his olfactory nerves with a pinch of the best Irish, his famous coffin slipped from his grasp and floated away majestically down the swift-flowing waters of the sylvan Nith.
The Doctor was a man of decision: he hesitated not even for a moment, but pitched himself headlong into the stream, from which he quickly emerged with his recovered treasure. It is but justice to my friend Dunlop, to remind the reader that his extravagant affection for his snuff-box is not without a parallel in history, since Louis XVIII has recorded with his own royal hand an attachment to his tabatiere, equally eccentric and misplaced.
Scarcely had this Prince escaped three miles from Paris and its democrats, when, on putting his hand into his waistcoat-pocket, in order to take a consoling pinch, he missed his snuff-box, which, in his hurry, he had left upon his toilette, at the discretion of the mob. "Mon Dieu, ma tabatiere!" was his horrified exclamation, as he deliberated for a moment upon a misfortune so overwhelming.
To go back to Paris was only to risk his life, while to proceed on his journey was to lose his snuff-box. His philo-tabatierishness triumphed: he returned, snatched up his beloved box, and made it the companion of his flight; and, in all his vicissitudes, from exile to a throne, he considered the possession of his favourite tabatiere as his principal consolation. The Doctor was no less rash than the French monarch, and in recovering his tabatiere equally fortunate.
A good fire and some brandy soon made the Doctor all right again, after his cold bath in the Nith. We now prepared our camp for the night: this we had no trouble in doing, for we found plenty of poles and bark, which had been used by the labourers, whilst cutting out the road to the Huron tract. The Doctor's man had brought a bundle of blankets and an axe, from Springer's, and I, like Dalgetty, carried the provender.
While Hinds was cooking the supper, I prepared our bed, by breaking a quantity of fine hemlock-brush to thatch the bottom of the camp, to keep us from the damp ground, which it did quite effectually. I have camped out, I dare say, hundreds of times, both in winter and summer; and I never caught cold yet. I recommend, from experience, a hemlock-bed, and hemlock-tea, with a dash of whiskey in it, merely to assist the flavour, as the best preventive.
The Doctor was in first-rate humour, and seemed determined to make a night of it; and even the Cockney appeared to enjoy himself amazingly. I knew, by the wicked eye of the Doctor, that he was bent on mischief. Hinds was kept busy after supper in making brandy-punch, the Doctor keeping us in a roar of laughter with his amusing anecdotes. I knew by the long Latin quotations that Smith indulged in, that he was fast verging on intoxication. For my part, tired and drowsy, I soon fell into a state of pleasing forgetfulness, leaving my two companions in the middle of some learned discussion, the subject of which I have long forgotten.
In the morning we examined the proposed site for building the bridge, which we found presented no unusual difficulties. I have since been informed that excellent mills and a thriving village now occupy the very spot where we bivouacked on this memorable occasion.
At Plum Creek we again resumed our horses, and, at the village of Galt* we parted company. The Doctor and his man went on to Flamborough+ West; whilst Smith and I returned to Guelph, which we reached a short time after dark, without inflicting on him any more adventures.
[* Galt is a thriving town, situated on the west bank of the Grand River, in the township of Dumfries. The town-plot originally belonged to the Honourable William Dixon, who gave it that name in compliment to the superintendent of the Canada Company. + One of the prettiest situations in Canada West, commanding a fine prospect of Ancaster and the surrounding country; and also the seat of the Hon. James Crooks.]
Last revised 2005-03-04