IN view of the anticipated early
departure of their brothers, Lizzie and Katie McNabb persuaded their
mother and brothers to have a sugar-bush party, with all the
accompaniments, such as "sugaring off," "pulling taffy,"
Mrs. McNabb was persuaded to attend
too. Indeed, she thought it but proper that she should be there although
there were other chaperons.
Wallace drove her down to the bush
on the "jumper," and I never saw a more pleasant picture at any party than
she presented that evening. She seemed to be thinking of the comfort and
enjoyment of all the guests, and as she moved about dispensing sugar,
taffy, and other good things to the merry company, I am sure, from the
manner of all, and the respect shown her, that they shared my feelings.
Most of the company came in cutters
or on bob sleighs, and it was a cheering thing to hear the sound of the
sleigh-bells mingled with the merry laughter of the boys and girls as they
came trooping into the camp.
The evening was an ideal one, and as
we all sat about the camp watching the roaring flames mounting over the
great coolers filled with boiling sap, while the babel of voices mingled
with laughter rent the night air, it was impossible to resist the merry
contagion or to fail to be carried away with the scene.
"Dave, the fiddler," was there; so
was Goarden, the hired man, and the entire clan McLean, including such
numbers as Muckle Peter, "Black Pete," "Short Pete," "Red Pete," "Long
Pete," "Grizzly Pete," "Pete beyant" from Hornersville, and a number of
other Petes connected in some way, remote or otherwise, with the clan.
They were all nicknamed in the manner described, so as to distinguish one
from the other. To this day they are known by the nicknames mentioned,
although some of them, alas ! —
for they were a fine lot, the McLeans —
have "slippit awa’," and the place that knew them once
so well, now knows them no more.
"Dave, the fiddler," at first
pretended that he had come without his instrument, but after he was
pressed a bit, he disappeared in the bush and soon returned with the
fiddle in his hand. Then, after a deal of coaxing, he tuned up the
instrument, borrowed some rosin from Goarden, and in a moment or two the
camp was enlivened still further, if that were possible, by the strains of
"The White Cockade," "Money Musk," "The Irish Washerwoman," and a number
of those other fine old inspiriting airs which have warmed the hearts of
many a merry company at the country dances. If there was one tune more
than another that Dave delighted to play it was "Pop goes the Weasel."
After playing it a number of times, Dave, when he came to the note which
stood for "pop," instead of playing it in the usual way, would give one of
the strings a jerk with his little finger and then finish the "goes the
weasel" with the bow.
This was deemed a great triumph in
musical art, and it especially excited the envy of Goarden, who thought
himself eclipsed by Dave’s "Pop goes the Weasel" performance. But
Goarden’s time invariably came after Dave got through, and the present was
"A song! a song!" being loudly demanded, Goarden
lost no time in responding.
Here is a stanza I can recall of his first song.
Goarden, according to the prevailing custom, sang it sitting down, and
with his elbows on his knees, his face resting on his hands : —
It was in the flowery month of May,
Just at the dawning of the day,
I heer’d a young man sigh and say,
"I’ve lost my fairest j-e-w-e-l!"
To the inevitable "ancor," Goarden responded with a
song, the chorus of which ran thus : —
Oh, dig my grave both wide and deep.
Put a marble stone at the head and feet.
And on my breast a turtle dove,
For to show the world I died of love.
Once started, there was no stopping
Goarden. So long as any one continued to shout " ancor" (and there was
always some one who would do it, to have a bit of fun with the hired man),
Goarden would sing. He went through the entire repertoire, which embraced
such songs as "The True Shanty Lad," "The Faded Coat of Blue," "Daisy
Dean," "Don’t you go, Tommy, don’t go," "Pompey Snow," "Ri tourel I oural
I oural I a"; the song which had the chorus, "Whack fal the did’ll all,
the did’ll all, the dido," and then he wound up with his famous French
After a couple of jolly hours spent
in listening to Dave and Goarden, it was announced that the taffy was
ready, so everybody got a lump of snow or ice, and the McNabb boys went
about with large dishes full of hot taffy, which they lifted out in
ladlesful, pouring it on each one’s snow or ice.
Just as soon as this cooled off the
fun began. When left to cool long enough, the taffy became quite brittle
and hard, but most of the company began eating it while it was still warm,
and in consequence there were many who got badly tangled up with it. But
they all ate to their hearts’ content, Mrs. McNabb and the girls having
brought a liberal supply of "twisters" and cakes for the guests.
One large pot was still kept over
the fire, boiling down a quantity of thick syrup to a condition in which
it was ready
to be converted into sugar. When that period arrived, the pot was lifted
off, and the contents poured into a large pan, and there stirred
vigorously until it turned into beautiful maple sugar. Each guest was
invited to come forward and help him or herself, which they all did,
eating the sugar with a relish.
Ah, those were glorious nights spent
in the sugar bush! The present generation does not know much about them,
for sugar and syrup-making have been reduced largely to a purely
commercial industry. But to those of us who have sat about the old roaring
campfires in the dense bush, drunk the thin, sweet syrup, chewed the taffy
till our teeth were tired, and eaten the sugar till we could eat no more,
there is nothing on earth that we would take in exchange for those
Before the jolly company separated
we all joined hands and sang, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot."
I noticed that Colin stood beside
Katie, and held her hand as we sang. Tears stood in the girl’s eyes as the
chorus welled forth. She and Colin had been rather silent during the
evening, for they were thinking of the early separation. Love was speaking
eloquently, if silently, to them both. The widow noticed Katie’s tears,
and in sympathy she whispered to her daughter:
"Dry your eyes, my lass. There are
happy days in store for you."
Then the "good-nights" were said,
the jingle of bells was heard again, and the laughter and songs were
renewed as the sleigh-loads of merry folks went their different ways. But
there was one present for whom that was the last "sugarin’-off."