THE succeeding winter was one of the
most severe that had ever been endured in the settlement. The temperature
often went down to thirty-five and even forty degrees below zero. Jock,
the drover, declared that the mercury had got so low in the town
thermometer that it fell through. Jock also asserted that, while crossing
a lake near the "dipo," on his way to the "shanty" that winter, the frost
was so severe that it froze up the words of himself and his companions.
"It wuz all right, however," he added, "fer in the spring, on our way
back, the language wuz jest thawin’, an’ we could hear the words comin’
out uv the air all round us."
Not to be outdone, Goarden Weaver,
known throughout the settlement as "the hired man," declared it was so
cold in the "shanty" (the logging camp) that he used to trap foxes by just
turning his bob-sleighs upside down and putting grease on the steel
"Many a mornin’," he asserted, "I
found es many es seven foxes caught by their tongues, an’ offens an’
offens I found a string uv tongues thet th’ foxes hed left in their
efforts t’ escape." But it should not be forgotten that Goarden was
admitted to be almost as big a liar as Sam Latt, concerning whom it used
to be said that, of the three liars between the Seventh and Thirteenth
Concessions, Goarden was one while Latt was the other two. There was,
however, said to be "one Pepper, back of Hornersville," who could hold his
own in this respect.
The reason I recall the winter as
being so severe is because it was the first occasion on which Mrs.
McNabb’s eldest boy, Wallace, had "gone to the shanty" with the gang. He
was a sturdy, alert lad, and, although quite young, was strong, and able
to hold his own with the best of the men.
Many a night, while the wind was
howling dismally and rattling the window frames of the old log house, his
mother would sit quietly knitting, thinking of her first-born, and
wondering how he was faring in the shanty with the rough men. How often
have I seen her pause in her work, lay aside her spectacles and close her
eyes, while she offered a silent prayer to Him who was able to take care
of her boy quite as well in the distant shanty as He could were he with
his mother on the farm.
Wallace returned in the spring, safe
and sound, and as he deposited the sixteen pounds he had received for his
winter’s work in his mother’s hand, and told her to see that the next
instalment of interest on the mortgage was paid, I never saw a prouder
looking boy. Indeed, I could have given three cheers for him myself, for
very admiration. Contact with the rough, coarse men who were generally to
be found in the shanties in those early days did not appear to have in any
way injured the lad or dulled the fine edge of his natural modesty and
good breeding. This pleased the mother more than anything else. She would
rather have had the mortgage foreclosed than that one of her sons should
impair his character or lose his self-respect.
Wallace did not, of course,
accompany "the drive" to Quebec, as a number of the shantymen often did,
in the spring. He returned home as soon as the desired quantity of logs
had been cut and deposited on the ice-locked streams.
Among those whose custom it had
always been to follow the drive of logs to Quebec was Goarden Weaver, "the
hired man," and it was amusing to see with what an air of disdain he
regarded his old friends upon his return to the settlement, about June. As
he always followed the most extreme shanty fashion, his attire usually
included a pair of long boots, which were studded with heavy nails and
furnished with copper toes, red leather tops, and lugs hanging loosely on
either side. Into the boots were tucked a pair of corduroy trousers,
generally worn loose and "bagged" down. They were supported by a red,
white, and blue sash, which Goarden had tied about his waist in a
specially constructed shanty knot. A highly coloured, fancy flannel shirt
with a reversible bosom enabled him to make a "lightning change," and so
provoke the envy of the "young bloods," whose custom it was to meet
nightly at the post-office, or at Dooley’s blacksmith shop, to swap
stories and talk about the "guns" to their hearts’ content.
A description of Goarden’s costume
would be incomplete without a glimpse at his head-gear. When purchased at
Quebec it must have been a broad-brimmed hat, but by the time Goarden had
worked the crown into a peak resembling a pagoda, and had distorted the
brim into a fantastic scoop shovel, he seemed to regard the cup of his
happiness over his physical appearance as full. A red bandanna
handkerchief tucked beneath his sash completed the outfit. He scorned to
wear a coat or vest, — garments, he declared, worn only by fops.
Thus togged out Goarden thought
himself, if not absolutely irresistible, at least more nearly so than any
other swain in that or the adjoining townships. He naturally deemed
himself the "boss masher" at the local dances, or "sprees" as they were
As he had learned to "call off" in
the shanty, where men with a handkerchief tied around one arm did duty as
"guns," he considered himself at these functions second only in importance
to the fiddler, and on many occasions, if not duly humoured, was known to
threaten to break up a dance by leaving abruptly. Once he carried out his
threat, but he suffered so in prestige that he never repeated the mistake,
for "Dave, the fiddler," undertook to do the "calling off" as well as the
fiddling, which feat enhanced Dave’s reputation and standing so much, and
gave him the "ontray" (Goarden’s French) with the "guns" to such an
extent, that Goarden for the future confined his sulkings merely to
It was indeed an inspiring sight to
see Goarden standing on a bench and doing the "calling off." The
inflections that he worked into his voice, and the quaint directions that
were given in his choicest vocabulary, supplemented by every catch-saying
that he had picked up from the head waters of the Opeongo down to the
lower waters of the St. Lawrence, were most impressive.
I shall here present a few "calls,"
as I remember hearing them from Goarden’s lips at the famous dance that
Dooley gave after Goarden’s return from "the drive."
"First" (in a very high voice) —
"couple lead to the right" (in a very low voice).
"Ladies" (in a very
high voice) —
"pass up the centre and
gentlemen follow the" (very low) —
"stream" (very high).
Upon the occasion of the dance at Dooley’s, to which I
have referred, Goarden sprang the following upon the unsuspecting assembly
: —"Birdie" (very
high) — " fly
out" (very low) —
"and duckey fly in" (in a gradual crescendo). "Duckey"
(very high) —
"fly out" (very low) —"and
give birdie a swing" (gradually ascending).
These dances were usually kept up vigorously until
daylight the following morning. Cotillions, eight-hand reels, French
fours, and "hoe downs" were kept going alternately, with an industry quite
touching in its earnestness.