THE dreadful cholera was depopulating Quebec and Montreal, when our ship cast anchor off Grosse Isle, on the 30th of August, 1832, and we were boarded a few minutes after by the health-officers. One of these gentlemen–a little, shrivelled-up Frenchman–from his solemn aspect and attenuated figure, would have made no bad representative of him who sat upon the pale horse. He was the only grave Frenchman I had ever seen, and I naturally enough regarded him as a phenomenon. His companion–a fine-looking fair-haired Scotchman–though a little consequential in his manners, looked like one who in his own person could combat and vanquish all the evils which flesh is heir to. Such was the contrast between these doctors, that they would have formed very good emblems–one, of vigorous health; the other, of hopeless decay. […]
"Any case of sickness or death on board ?"
"All sound as crickets."
"Any births?" lisped the little Frenchman.
The captain screwed up his mouth, and after a moment's reflection he replied, "Births? Why, yes; now I think on't, gentlemen, we had one female on board, who produced three at a birth."
"That's uncommon," said the Scotch doctor, with an air of lively curiosity. "Are the children alive and well? I should like much to see them." He started up, and knocked his head, for he was very tall, against the ceiling. "Confound your low cribs! I have nearly dashed out my brains."
"A hard task, that," looked the captain to me. He did not speak, but I knew by his sarcastic grin what was uppermost in his thoughts. "The young ones all males–fine thriving fellows. Step upon deck, Sam Frazer," turning to his steward; "bring them down for doctors to see." Sam vanished, with a knowing wink to his superior, and quickly returned, bearing in his arms three fat, chuckle-headed bull-terriers; the sagacious mother following close at his heels, and looked ready to give and take offence on the slightest provocation.
"Here, gentlemen, are the babies," said Frazer, depositing his burden on the floor. "They do credit to the nursing of the brindled slut."
The old tar laughed, chuckled, and rubbed his hands in an ecstacy of delight at the indignation and disappointment visible in the countenance of the Scotch Esculapius, who, angry as he was, wisely held his tongue. Not so the Frenchman; his rage scarcely knew bounds,–he danced in a state of most ludicrous excitement,–he shook his fist at our rough captain, and screamed at the top of his voice,
"Sacré, you bête ! You tink us dog, ven you try to pass your puppies on us for babies?"
"Hout, man, don't be angry," said the Scotchman, stifling a laugh; "you see 'tis only a joke !" […]
The dogs were at length dismissed, and peace restored.
After some further questioning from the officials, a bible was required for the captain to take an oath. Mine was mislaid, and there was none at hand.
"Confound it!" muttered the old sailor, tossing over the papers in his desk; "that scoundrel, Sam, always stows my traps out of the way." Then taking up from the table a book which I had been reading, which happened to be Voltaire's History of Charles XII., he presented it, with as grave an air as he could assume, to the Frenchman. Taking for granted that it was the volume required, the little doctor was too polite to open the book, the captain was duly sworn, and the party returned to the deck.
Grosse Isle, Quebec, 1830
Source: Susanna Moodie, Roughing it in the Bush, London: Richard Bently, 1852