Project Canterbury

Rose and Minnie, or, The Loyalists: A Tale of Canada in 1837.

London: J. Henry and J. Parker, 1861.

Chapter IV.

WITH the break of day on Tuesday morning, Rose also was up and stirring, and as soon as the duties of domestic service allowed her so to do, she hurried down to the cottage of her future mother-in-law.

It was a painful meeting to both herself and Jacqueline. Each had some additional piece of ill news to give and receive, and old Jacqueline's fortitude, unsustained by her son's presence or the necessity of doing anything for him, often broke down in a burst of mournful lamentations. The most heartbreaking thing to both was a short letter which had been delivered into Rose's hand just as she was setting out to go to Jacqueline. It was from Baptiste, not in his own handwriting, but written at his dictation by a more accomplished friend. In it were briefly expressed all the miserable suppositions over which he had been brooding during the previous night. It concluded with saying, "that as Rose had cast him off," (thus at once converting his own mistrustful supposition into a certainty,) "he was resolved never again to return to Montreal. And that as he considered himself now irretrievably embarked in the reforming cause, he had joined a band of his companions who were on their way to the Custom-house at St. John's, and should prove himself active in the only course that was left him."

Long and bitterly the women wept over this missive. "Ah, why did he have so little confidence in me? I pleaded with him earnestly on Sunday night; but I said nothing harsh,--believe me, dear Jacqueline, I said nothing harsh." She seemed to recollect herself with a start. "Ah me! I remember now. I said something about his being a fils de la Liberté separating us! Is it possible that he could so utterly have misunderstood me as to think that I desired such a separation? Alas, mother! if so, I have sent your son away from you by, my thoughtlessness. Oh, mother, mother I do not reproach me, do not hate me. For I have sent him, away from myself too; and I, too, am desolate,--oh, so desolate!"

She need not have feared; reproaches were not in Jacqueline's nature for any one, least of all for her son's betrothed. Besides, she felt sure that even had Rose's words had the effect she feared, those words were guiltless of any such intent. Jacqueline was a woman, and she could read a woman's heart better than her, son could; she did not doubt for a moment that Rose's clinging affection would have outlasted many a darker and more aggravated fault than any of which the misled and impetuous Baptiste had yet been guilty.

"Mother," said Rose, after a time, "there is no use in our any longer remaining here, and there may be great danger to you possibly as Baptiste's mother. Madame Lavale has told me that she no longer needs my help, because she saw me on Sunday evening with Baptiste. We will go together up the river, and make our way to my own mother and my sister Jessie. They will gladly receive us, and advise us what to do for our Baptiste."

After a little discussion this plan was agreed upon. They got together what few things they could put into small compass, and prepared to start up the river at the first opportunity. Jacqueline was acquainted with a man who frequently conducted some of the peculiar flat-bottomed bateaux used on that part of the St. Lawrence up to Kingston; and he readily consented to stow her and Rose with their few goods into some boats which lie was to take up the river in the course of a few days. These boats are very light, being made of birch-bark, and terminate in a point at each end. They are propelled by oars and sails, and carry also drag-ropes for towing, and long poles for setting them through the strong currents or rapids which they have to encounter on their way. They mostly go in little brigades of from four to fifteen boats together, for the sake of rendering mutual assistance in the rapids, each boat being managed by four or five men.

As Rose's late employer was in a hurry to be quit of her since she had discovered her connection with Baptiste, she at Jacqueline's invitation took up her abode at the old woman's house. It was a sad, unsettled time for all in the perturbed districts, but saddest of all for those who, like Rose and Jacqueline, had near and dear actors engaged in the struggle. Day by day fresh accounts came in of the terrible encounters between the military and the insurgents, with varying success on either side. One day the tidings were that the armed peasantry had seized the château of a Monsieur Debartzch, residing, and holding lands as seigneur, at St. Charles; that the rebel leader had feasted himself and his men, to the number of 1,400, within the walls of the dismantled château; had cut down the finest trees on the manor, and had forced the seigneur to fly for his life on horseback; and that a liberty-pole surmounted with the cap of Liberty had been set up at the same place, with the laudatory inscription, "à Papineau par ses concitoyens reconnaissans." Another day the very opposite news would be brought, to the effect that the audacious invader of the' Château Debartzch, namely General Thomas Storrow Brown, with the prime leader of the movement, Papineau, had fled from their vantage ground before an inconsiderable number of their opponents; that numerous arrests had been made of the leaders and chief men among the rebels; and that the Government was gaining the day. Thu ebbed and flowed the fierce tide of civil war. Separated from Baptiste, and unable to obtain any news of him, suspected and distrusted by their loyalist neighbours on account of their connection with him, and hardly less distrusted by those whom they knew of the opposite party on account of their, known disapproval of Baptiste's present course, Jacqueline and Rose were only too glad when the day arrived for their departure from Montreal. It was an arduous undertaking for two women, poor, ignorant, and unaccustomed to travelling, to go so great a distance by themselves, especially after leaving the bateau at Kingston. But in due time and without any signal mishaps they accomplished their journey, and, unexpected visitors though they were, received a hearty and ready welcome at Weston Farm, as Mr. Holford had named, his place in memory of his former English home. As there was not room enough for the two new-corners among so many children in Mr. Holford's house, Rose and Jacqueline were passed on to the tenement owned by John Kirkpatrick, Rose's brother, who lived but a stone's throw from Mr. Holford's house, and having but his young wife and baby to accommodate, had plenty of space for his sister and her old friend.

Great was the excitement produced by Rose's account of the insurrection in the Lower Province, among these dwellers in the Bush. For though Mackenzie and others had long been busy in fanning the embers of discontent in Upper Canada, no overt movement had as yet taken place there, and as news travelled but slowly and uncertainly to the remote banks of the Otonabee, the settlers there were not at all aware of the extent or degree to which the revolutionary agitation had been carried in either Province.

They were not destined, however, to remain long in ignorance upon this point, for the refugees from Montreal had been with them but a few days when a proclamation issued by the Lieutenant-Governor arrived, which both announced the celebrated outbreak of the 4th of December at Toronto, and also called upon all loyal subjects, in the Queen's name, to join in forcibly putting down the rebellion.

Minnie's cheek paled visibly. "Must you go, papa, and leave us all by ourselves?"

"My child, we must all do our duty, and summon up our best courage that we may do it cheerfully,--I by going to aid the besieged city, and you by being brave and diligent for a little while alone at home. Lone, though, you will not be, for our good stout-hearted Mary is a host in herself, and 'boy Jonathan,' as we call him, is a strapping youth, and steady withal. Cheer up, little daughter; I shall be back as soon as I can, of that you may be very sure."

Very earnestly did all that little congregation join in the prayer "For the time of War and Taniults," which Mr. Holford read that night in the course of the evening service: for so anxious was this good Churchman that his children should not grow up with that indifference to all fixed forms and sound principles of religion which too often ends in indifference to all principles of religion whatever, and is one of the chief dangers of a Bush life, removed as it usually is from the reach of the Church's ministrations, that he took upon himself the office of deacon, and read Matins and Evensong every day to his family.

The next morning rose cold and lowering, the weather appearing to sympathize with the children's downcast and despondent feelings at the departure of their father. Minnie and Denham accompanied him through the wood to their uncle's house, who had sent down a messenger on the previous evening to make this arrangement. Here a couple of sleighs were in readiness, each capable of holding six persons, and harnessed to a pair of Mr. Irvin's best horses. For "Uncle Henry" was a loyalist to the backbone, a bachelor, and a prosperous settler of many years standing in that township, so that his time, money, and energies were altogether at his own disposal; and most zealously had he thrown them into the service of the State at this trying moment. Three or four gentlemen who lived yet farther back in the Bush than the Holfords and Mr. Irvin, had already joined the expedition; and as they went along it was arranged that other settlers living in the neighbourhood, towards the south-west, should be picked up by Mr. Irwin's extra sleigh, as they passed in that direction.

Much as Mr. Holford felt the parting from his children, and anxious as he was about their wellbeing whilst he was away, it was impossible to resist the feeling of exhilaration which soon stole over every member of the little band thus hastily summoned at the distant cry of war,--an exhilaration partly caused by the very difficulties with which they had to contend in this their first outset; for it was no smooth country road over which they were to travel. The dark pine-forest, whose tall black tops swayed and clashed together with a moaning sound as the bitter wind swept ceaselessly through them, lay before them, and in many places the drifts and waves of snow lay knee-deep and more, while many a treacherous hole, they well knew, yawned on either side, in which a luckless horse might be absolutely buried in the piled-up flakes if he chanced to swerve froth the right track. Nevertheless, true Englishmen as they were, the very dangers and toils of the way dispelled the sadness which several of them felt at leaving their homes and families, and roused a spirit of cheerful daring and determination which set at defiance the gloom of the weather and the occasion. Wrapped up in fur caps and rough gloves, mocassins and undressed deer-skin cloaks, they felt but did not fear the freezing wind, and as one and another of the volunteer recruits joined the party, their good spirits rose yet higher, and friendly greetings and pleasant jokes were merrily bandied about. As they got nearer to the scene of action, however, grave and saddening tidings reached them all along their route; tales of violence and depredation already committed by Mackenzie's rebel army,--of waggons, cattle, and other supplies forcibly seized from unwilling loyalists, and lonely farm-houses visited with lawless purposes by these misguided men. The feeling of the country in general was evidently against them, but it was as evident that the machinations of the crafty leaders of the movement had got together a large and powerful body of malcontents, and that many valiant and loyal lives would most probably be sacrificed ere the rebellion could be crushed and the blessings of peace restored to Upper Canada.

On their arrival at Toronto the little party from the Otonabee found themselves but one of many similar and larger reinforcements which had been, and still were, flocking into the city from all quarters in answer to the proclamation of the Lieutenant-Governor. The market-place of the town, a substantial and loopholed building, above which is the town-hall, was converted into the citadel and head-quarters of the loyalist army, and well stored with grape-shot, ball-cartridges, bayonets, and other warlike stores, offensive and defensive. Here might be seen the citizens of all classes, judges and councilors, merchants and mechanics, together with the country gentlemen, farmers, and labourers from a distance, motley in dress and even in accoutrements, but uniform in determination and loyal purpose. And among them, thinking it no derogation to his sacred office to take part in such a cause, might often be seen the earnest, dignified, and laborious Archdeacon of Toronto, Dr. Strachan, so soon to become the first Bishop of Toronto. Not that he took active part in the military proceedings, as did the chief laymen of the city; that would have been unbecoming his vocation; but in every way that was consistent with his office he supported the loyalists and encouraged them by his personal influence, which had great and deserved weight throughout the entire province.

The events of the next few days at and near Toronto are too well known to need a detailed recital. How the veteran Colonel Moodie was first shot by the rebels while attempting to ride down Yongestreet into the city, an afterwards dragged into Montgomery's Tavern, and cruelly insulted in his dying moments; how Dr. Horne's houses situate near the toll-gates, was burnt by the insurgents, Mackenzie himself personally superintending this proceeding; how on Thursday, the 7th of December, the loyalist forces rode out and succeeded in dislodging the rebels and putting them to ignominious flight, burning their stronghold, namely Montgomery's Tavern, and entirely dispersing their army,--are matters of recent history, and must be fresh in the minds of many. But although this particular attack of the malcontents was defeated, the hydra-headed monster--"sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion"--was not crushed; and those who had so readily banded together to maintain the cause of order and loyalty, as readily remained, prepared to meet the next move of their adversaries.

And here I may remark in passing, that this strife in Canada was yet another instance of the truth and wisdom with which our Liturgy has been framed, in connecting so closely "sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion" with "false doctrine, heresy, and schism." For the Church, including both its lay and ecclesiastical members, was from first to last most markedly on the loyal side; and it was remarked by thoughtful observers who were in Canada at the time, that the majority of those who joined the movement (at least in Upper Canada) were young men who had been brought up without any fixed religious notions at all, as in those days of extensive settling and limited Church action either in the way of schools, pastors, or places of worship, was the case with but too large a proportion of the then rising generation. The Church left her children to stray in that beautiful and fertile wilderness as sheep without a shepherd, until those who had left the mother-country as good and orderly Church people because careless and indifferent for lack of the means of grace and the pastoral labours that might have kept them careful. Church people as conscientious, devout, and well-educated as Mr. Holford do not form the majority of those who yearly emigrate to our western colony, though happily for themselves and the new country, there are an increasing number of this type. But the larger part are the poor and the half-educated, well-disposed it is true in many instances to be led right, but not capable of keeping either themselves or their children steadily in the truth without some aid, and very liable--that aid wanting--to be led into any schism or heresy, however extravagant. And accordingly we find camp-meetings, Millerism, Methodism, Davidism, and a hundred other strange sects, with their false and often blasphemous excitements, seducing those who would in all probability have remained true children of the Church if they had been provided with more of her care.

But to return to our story.

Project Canterbury