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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XXXVI - The Sugar-bush Party


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," and the like.

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 no exception.

"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 song.

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 memories.

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."


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