Snippets 161. In 1815 George Head, the assistant commissary-general of the commissariat of the 3rd division of the Spanish army, undertook a journey across North America, snappily titled Forest Scenes and Incidents in the Wilds of North America, Being a Diary of a Winter’s Route from Halifax to the Canadas. His diary was published in 1829.
Arriving at Lake Témiscouata (spelt “Tamasquatha” by Head), the source of the Madawaska River in Quebec, George Head was feeling the worst for wear after his travels. What he really needed was a good night’s sleep to recover.
At last we arrived at the house of Mr Long, situated at the extremity of Lake Tamasquatha, and on the banks of that portage which extends from thence to the high road to Quebec without any interruption of water communication.
I had no sooner arrived than I threw myself down on the boards under a full impression that I should be quite unable to proceed the next day. We found a new set of travellers who had established themselves in the house; and these being reinforced by our numbers, a confusion of tongues prevailed in our room which set at defiance all description. We had thirty-six persons in it, besides six or eight large dogs belonging to the tobogins [sic]. We were obliged to lie on the ground like so many pigs. My next neighbour was a major in the army, whom I never saw before and have never met since; he seemed more fatigued than I was, and did nothing but groan all night. The dogs disturbed us; for they ran about and trod upon us; they growled; and twice before the morning there was a battle royal among them, with the whole room up in arms to part them by throttling and biting the ends of their tails. What with the noise, and the shouting, and swearing in bad French, we were in a perfect uproar. For this χυνομαχία, the natural remedy, of course, would have been to turn the dogs out; but the masters would not allow it, as they were of too much use by far on a journey. The gabble of tongues, the smell of tobacco smoke, and the disturbance altogether, was really dreadful; and there was, besides, a truckle bed in the room, on which two women reposed, – the mistress of the house and her sister. These females were not silent; and, no matter who slept, some were sure to be awake and talking. I quite lost all my patience; sometimes I struck at the dogs as they galloped over me, and I shook one fellow by the collar till he roared, who in the scuffle had trodden on my lame ancles [sic] without remorse. The only satisfaction I had was to think that the pain I was in would alone, without the noise, have been sufficient to keep me from sleeping.
* Portage is a French Canadian word, signifying the land over which it becomes necessary to carry the loads from one river or hike to another.
χυνομαχία means “chirping”, although in this context “cacophony” would probably be a better translation! A “truckle bed” is a low bed on wheels, that can be stored underneath a larger bed and wheeled out for visitors to use.
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