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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter IX - Goarden


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 shoeing.

"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 sometimes called.

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 threats.

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.


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