Extracts from the diary of James Cooper, 1816.
Extracts from the diary of James Cooper, 1816.
by Scott Butcher
Being the 1st of June, 1816
It be that I have heard news that the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, Major Francis Gore, has declared a Thanksgiving to be the date of Our Lord the 6th day of this June. The celebration is for the termination of the war that had raged hereabouts.
This event has injured me. I feel so that I am compelled to write these diary words, not having done so before.
I press the rose, as proof herein. For instead of Thanksgiving, which no man greater than I should wont, I feel an illness, a trepidation approach. I write these words as witness, for I should be thankful. Did not I stand by my brothers, both heathen and militia, to fight back the invaders in bloody skirmishes most awful in the region of Niagara?
This ball that I carry, that had pierced my chest – I should give Thanksgiving of that. On that day as we fought against others most foul, who invaded our lands, pillaging and burning, my blood did roughly boil as we shouted our cries ‘Remember York’ and beat against them we did, till the pain ripped through my chest and my neutered body fell. Left I was as the battle in woodland was pressed against us. I am told that day ended well. Having sent the offenders crying for home, my own militia came back in search of we wounded.
They found me there, already roughly tended. My bloodied chest was unnaturally bared to heaven, and sewn was the hole where the musket bolt should have seen my end.
On me they found lying the leaden ball, and… a single, small, black rose. A native one, no bigger be the bud than my finger width. I have pressed it here. It is not aged to blackness as one may think. It was fresh and black when they found it on me. With the ball it was kept for me during my recovery.
Being the 3rd of June, 1816.
And on this day, should I be most thankful. For I walk through streets of York rebuilt where buildings had once been burned. I will shortly see my sweetheart, Emily, who is promised me this summer and on the morrow I will visit her.
Then as I stand overcome on a corner there, wondering that such rebuilding be glorious in the sunshine, a small thing is pressed in my hand, I barely notice by whom, though a figure a good foot shorter than I did scurry through the crowd. Of native extract, I saw braided black tresses on her back, but only through a fleeting glimpse. Most strange.
In my hand did prick my palm for there did I find… a single, small, black rose.
Being the 4th of Jun 1816.
Oh calamity, dismay! For what have I done? On seeing my Emily, she did turn me away. For thinking it a thing of beauty, and so unique a thing as ever I did see, I gave my Emily… a single, small, black rose, the one most recently pressed in my hand.
Her eyes were so hollow, hurt to her core was she. I see her still, the rose in her hand, and the tears that they did bring. What had I done?
Being the 5th of June 1816.
The soldiers did come, and roughly handle me, but knowing the officer, I recalled to him my militia days and my lowly once title of Sergeant, and the officer recognising me ordered me unhanded. They took me so, for sorrow has befallen York as my sweetheart Emily was found dead in her father’s house. Her bones were pitifully splintered, and bloody marks did cover her, and on her broken body… a single, small, black rose.
I protested my time, being as it was at the tavern, where the owner and many others besides had seen me take my kit and sleep beneath the benches where the other travellers did! It was not I that did this thing.
Though… could I have done so? For having drunk so much, I have no memory of things of that night.
My poor Emily. They left me there for my innocence, but I felt no tears. For my Emily, I feel naught.
Being of the 18th of August, 1817.
I had not been convinced of myself for writing for over this year, but have drifted afar from my previous abode.
I am here, of all places, in Fort William, where the Northwest Trading Company does ply the richness of beaver fur – for hats, I am told, in Europe. I have come this far to forget my unthankfulness, and so that the stillness of my heart is not an insult to God. For I am assured that God does not roam here, though when I walk these forests I cannot help but think that God is only here, and that I offend him still.
I write this with wonder in my eyes, as I hold a freshly sprout sister of the petals once I pressed here. From where it came, I do not know. But found it on my person on my waking. So curious am I that I will show the serving girl whose bed I sometimes keep, for somewhere hereabouts must bloom others of these, small, black rose.
Being of the 21st of August, 1817.
I cannot assume myself for what I am. I stand here, my heart is still, no blood rushes my veins, nor pounds my pulse. It has been so since the ball of shot was taken from me. I fear my secret is known, for a native man hissed a new name for me… Wendigo.
The serving girl at Boucher’s house and canteen was found. On her blood soaked body… a single, small, black rose.
I am finished this, I know not what my curse… but must end myself, I will do so.