Then we made a MEAL!
Breakfast being over, the fog lightened a little. Our tiny horizon widened its boundaries a few hundred feet, or so; we could see once more the top-mast of the schooner. So we lazily swung along, with nothing to do again. Sometimes a distant fog-bell; sometimes a distant sound across the face of the deep, like the falling of cataract waters.
"What is that sound, Bruce?"
"It's the surf breakin' on the rocks," responds Bruce; "I hae been listenen to it for hoors."
"Are we then so near shore?"
"About three miles aff," replies the mate.
Presently we heard the sound of human voices; a laugh; the stroke of oars in the row-locks, plainly distinguishable in the mysterious vapor. The captain hailed: "Hallo!" "Halloo!" echoes in answer. The strokes of the oars are louder and quicker; they are approaching us, but where? "Halloo!" comes again out of the mist. And again the captain shouts in reply. Then a white phantom boat, thin, vapory, unsubstantial, now seen, now lost again, appears on the skirts of our horizon.
"Where are we?" asks the captain.
"Off St. Esprit," answer the boatmen.
"What are you after?" asks the captain.
"Looking for our nets," is the reply; and once more boat and boatmen disappear in the luminous vapor. These are mackerel fishermen; their nets are adrift from their stone-anchors: the fish are used for bait in the cod-fisheries, as well as for salting down. If we could but come across the nets, what a rare treat we might have at dinner!
Lazily on we glide—nothing to do. Picton is reading a stunning book; the captain, his lady, the baby, and I making a small family circle around the wheel; the mate is on the look-out over the bows; all at once, he shouts out: "There they are! the nets!" Down goes Picton's book on the deck; Bruce catches up a rope and fastens it to a large iron hook; the sailors run to the side of the vessel; captain releases his forefinger from baby's hand, and catches the wheel; all is excitement in a moment. "Starboard!" shouts the mate, as the nets come sweeping on, directly in front of the cut-water. The schooner obeys the wheel, sheers off, and now, as the floats come along sidewise, Bruce has dropped his hook in the mesh—it takes hold! and the heavy mass is partially raised up in the water. "Thousands of them," says Picton; sure enough, the whole net is alive with mackerel, splashing, quivering, glistening. "Catch hold here, I canna hold them; O the beauties!" says the mate. Some grasp at the rope, others look around for another hook. "Hauld 'em! hauld 'em!" shouts Bruce; but the weighty piscatorial mass is too much for us, it will drag us desperately along the deck to the stern of the vessel. The schooner is going slowly, but still she is going. Another hook is rigged and thrown at the struggling mesh; but it breaks loose, the mackerel are dragging behind the rudder; we are at our rope's end. At last, rope, hook, and nets are abandoned, and again we have nothing to do.
High noon, and a red spot visible overhead; the captain brings out his sextant to take an observation. This proceeding we viewed with no little interest, and, for the humor of the thing, I borrowed the sextant of the captain and took a satirical view of a great luminary in obscurity. As I had the instrument upside down, the sailors were in convulsions of laughter; but why should we not make everybody happy when we have it in our power?
High noon, and again hunger overtook us. Picton, by this time, had brought out the cans of preserved meats, the curried tin chicken, the portable soup, the ale and pickles. The cook was put upon duty; pot and pan were scoured for more delicate viands; Picton was chef de cuisine; we had a magnificent banquet that day on the "Balaklava."
To give a zest to the entertainment, the captain's lady dined with us; the mate kindly undertaking the charge of the baby.
When we came on deck, after a repast that would have been perfect but for the absence of potatoes, Bruce was marching up and down, dangling the baby in a way that made it appear all legs; "I doan't see," said he, "hoo a wummun can lug a baby all day aboot in her airms! I hae only carried this one half an 'our, and boath airms is sore. But I suppose it's naturely, it's naturely—everything to its nature."
The dinner having been a success, Picton was in great spirits for the rest of the day. The fog spread its munificent halo around us, and before nightfall broke into myriads of white rainbows—sea-dogs the sailors call them—and finally lifted so high that we could see the spectral moon shining through the thin rack. Once more we sang "Annie Laurie;" the traveller brought out his travelling blanket for a dewy slumber on deck; the lady of the "Balaklava" put on her night-cap and retired with baby to the double berth: Bruce took the helm. As I was passing the light in the binnacle, I looked in at the compass for a moment. "She's nailed there," said the old mate. Nailed there, true to her course, as steadfast to the guiding rudder as truth is to religion. We were but a few miles from a dangerous coast, in a vessel of the frailest kind, but she was "nailed there," obedient to man's intelligence, and that was security and safety. What a text to say one's prayers upon!
"Picton," said I, the next morning, after the schooner-breakfast, "it seems to me the strangest thing that Mrs. Capstan should have the pure Irish pronunciation and the mate the thorough Scotch brogue, although both were born in Newfoundland, and of Newfoundland parents. I must confess to no small amount of surprise at the complete isolation of the people of these colonies; the divisions among them; the separate pursuits, prejudices, languages; they seem to have nothing in common; no aggregation of interests; it is existence without nationality; sectionalism without emulation; a mere exotic life with not a fibre rooted firmly in the soil. The colonists are English, Irish, Scotch, French, for generation after generation. Why is this, O Picton? Why is it that the captain's lady has high cheek-bones, and speaks the pure Hibernise? why is the only railroad in the colony but nine and three-quarter miles long, and the great Shubenacadie Canal yet unfinished, although it was begun in the year 1826; a canal fifty-three mortal miles in length, already engineered and laid out by nature in a chain of lakes, most conveniently arranged with the foot of each little lake at the head of the next one—like 'orient pearls at random strung'—requiring but a few locks to be complete: the head of the first lake lying only twelve hundred and ten yards from Halifax harbor, and the Shubenacadie River itself at the other end, emptying in the place of destination, namely, the Basin of Minas; a work that, if completed, would cut off more than three hundred miles of outside voyaging around a stormy, foggy, dangerous coast; a work that was estimated to cost but seventy-five thousand pounds, and for which fifteen thousand pounds had already been subscribed by the government; a work that would be the saving of so many vessels, crews, and cargoes of so much value; a work that would traverse one of the most fertile countries in America; a work that would bring the inland produce within a few hours of the seaboard; a work so necessary, so obvious, so easily completed, that no Yankee could see it undone, if it were within the limits of his county, and have one single night's rest until the waters were leaping from lock to lock, from lake to lake in one continuous flood of prosperity from Minas to Chebucto? Why is this, O traveller of the 'Balaklava?'"
"The reason of it all," replied Picton, with great equanimity of manner, "is entirely owing to the stupidity of the people here; the British government is the best government, sir, in the world; it fosters, protects, and supports the colonies, with a sort of parental care, sir; the colonies, sir, afford no recompense to the British government for its care and protection, sir; each colony is only a bill of expense, sir, to the mother country, and if, with all these advantages, the people of these colonies will persist, sir, in being behind the age, sir, what can we do to prevent it, I would like to know, sir?"
"It does seem to me, Picton, this fostering, protecting, and paying the governmental expenses of the colonies, is very like pampering and amusing a child with sweetmeats and nick-nacks, and at the same time keeping it in leading-strings. It is very certain that these colonists would not be the same people if their ancestors had been transplanted, a century or so ago, to our side of the Bay of Fundy; no, not even if they had pitched their tents at the 'jumping-off place,' as it is called—Eastport, for even there they would have produced a crop of pure Yankees, although grown from divers nations, religions, and tongues."
Here Picton turned up his lip, and smiled out of a little battery of sarcasm: "And you think," said he, after a pause, "that these colonists would no longer revel in those little prejudices and sectionalisms so dear to every American heart, if they were transplanted to your own favored coasts? Why, sir, there is more sectionalism in the country you would transport these people to, than in any one nation I ever heard of; every one of your States is a petty principality; it has its own separate interests; its own bigoted boundaries; its conventionalisms; its pet laws; and as for its prejudices, I will just ask you, as a candid man, not as a Yankee, but as a traveller like myself, a cosmopolite, if you please, what you think of the two great eternal States of Massachusetts and South Carolina, and whether prejudices and sectionalisms are to be fairly charged upon these colonies, and upon them only?"
"Picton, I will be frank with you. The States you name are looked upon as the great game-cocks of the Union, and we give them a tolerably large arena to fight their battles in. Either champion has flapped its wings and crowed its loudest, and drawn in its local backers, but the great States of my country are not these two. I feel at this moment an almost irrepressible desire to instance a single one as an example; but insomuch as nobody has ever flapped wing or crowed because of it, I will not be the first to break the silence. This much I will say, there are some States, and those the very greatest in the Union, that neither claim to be, nor make a merit of being provincial."
"But, even in your State, you have your stately prejudices," said Picton, with a marked emphasis upon the "stately."
"No, sir, we have no stately prejudices, at least among those entitled to have them, the native-born citizens; nor do I believe such prejudices exist in many of the States with us at home, sir."
"But as you admit there is a sectional barrier between your people," said Picton, "I do not see why our form of government is not as wise as your form of government."
"The difference, Picton, is simply this: your government is foreign, and almost unchangeable; ours is local, and mutable as the flux and reflux of the tide. As a consequence, sectionalism is active with us, and apathetic with you. Your colonists have nothing to care for, and we have everything to care for."
"Then," said Picton, "we can sleep while you struggle?"
"Yes, Picton, that is the question——
'Whether 'tis best to roam or rest. The land's lap, or the water's breast?'
We think it is best to choose the active instead of the stagnant; if a man cannot take part in the great mechanism of humanity, better to die than to sleep. And Picton, so far as this is concerned, so far as the general interests of humanity are concerned, your colonists are only dead men, while our "stately" men are individually responsible, not only to their own kind, but to all human kind, and herein each form of government tells its own story."
"I think you are rather severe upon poor Nova Scotia this morning," said Picton, drily.
"You mistake me, Picton; I do not intend to cast any reflections upon the people; I am only contrasting the effects produced by two different forms of government upon neighboring bodies of men that would have been alike had either a republican or monarchical rule obtained over both."
"Likely," said Picton, sententiously.
Meantime the schooner was lazily holding her course through the fog, which was now dense as ever. What an odd little bit of ocean this is to be on! "The sea, the sea, the open sea," all your own, with a diameter of perhaps forty yards. Picton, who is full of activity, begins to unroll the log line; the captain turns the glass, away goes the log. "Stop," "not three knots!" and then comes the question again: "What shall we do?—we are getting becalmed!"
"By Jove!" said Picton, slapping his thigh, "I have it—cod-fish!"
There are plenty of hooks on board the "Balaklava," and unfortunately only one cod-line; but what with the deep-sea lead-and-line, and a roll of blue cord, with a spike for a sinker, and the hooks, we are soon in the midst of excitement. Now we almost pray for a calm; the schooner will heave ahead, and leave the lines astern; but nevertheless, up come the fine fish, and plenty of them, too; the deck is all flop and glister with cod, haddock, pollock; and Cookey, with a short knife, is at work with the largest, preparing them for the banquet, according to the code Newfoundland. Certainly the art of "cooking a cod-fish" is not quite understood, except in this part of the world. The white flakes do not exhibit the true conchoidal fracture in such perfection elsewhere; nor break off in such delicious morsels, edged with delicate brown. "Another bottle of ale, please, and a granitic biscuit, and a pickle, by way of dessert."
Lazily along swings the "Balaklava." Picton brings up his travelling blanket, and we stretch out upon it on deck, basking in the warm, humid light, and leisurely puffing away at our segars, for we have nothing else to do. Towards evening it grows colder, very much colder; over-coats are in requisition; the captain says we are nearing some icebergs; the fog folds itself up and hangs above us in strips of cloud, or rolls away in voluminous masses to the edges of the horizon. The stars peep out between the strips overhead, the moon sends forth her silver vapors and finally emerges from the "crudded clouds;" the wake of the schooner is one long phosphoric trail of flame; the masts are creaking, sails stretching, the waters pouring against the bows; out on the deep, white crests lift and break, the winds are loosened, and now good speed to the "Balaklava." Meanwhile, the hitherto listless Newfoundland men are now wide awake, and busy; the man at the wheel is on the alert; the captain is looking at his charts; Picton and I walking the deck briskly, but unsteadily, to keep off the cold; Mrs. Capstan has turned in with the baby. Blacker and larger waves are rising, with whiter crests; on and on goes the schooner with dip and rise—tossing her yards as a stag tosses his antlers. On and on goes the brave "Balaklava," the captain at the bows on the look-out; the sky is mottled with clouds, but fortunately there is no fog; nine, ten o'clock, and at last a light begins to lift in the distance. "Is it Louisburgh light, captain?" "I don't make it out yet," replies Captain Capstan, "but I think it is not." After a pause, he adds: "Now I see what it is; it is Scattarie light—we have passed Louisburgh."
This was not pleasant; we had undertaken the voyage for the sake of visiting the old French town. To be sure, it was a great disappointment. But then we were rapidly nearing Scattarie light; and after we doubled the island, the wind would be right astern of us, and by breakfast time we would be in the harbor of Sydney.
"Captain," said we, after a brief consultation, "we will leave the matter entirely to you; although we had hoped to see Louisburgh this night, yet we can visit it overland to-morrow; and as the wind is so favorable for you, why, crack on to Sydney, if you like."
With that we resumed our walk to keep up the circulation.
"It is strange," said Picton, "the captain should have passed the light without seeing it."
"Ever since we left Richmond," said the man at the wheel, "his eyes has been weak, so as he couldn't see as good as common."
"Did you see the light?" we asked.
"Oh, yes; I can see it now, right astern of us."
We looked, and at last made it out: a faint, nebulous star, upon the very edge of the gloomy waters.
"There is the light, captain."
The captain walked aft to the steersman and peered anxiously in the distance. Then he came forward again, and shouted down the forecastle: "Hallo, hallo, turn out there! all hands on deck! turn out, men! turn out!"
"What now, captain?"
"Nothing," said he, "only I am going to about-ship."
And sure enough, the little schooner came up to the wind; the men hauled away at the sheets, the sails fluttered—filled upon the new tack, and in a few minutes our bows were pointed for Louisburgh.
The "Balaklava" had barely broadened out her sails to the fair wind, after she had been put about, when we were conscious of an increased straining and chirping of the masts and sails, an uneasy, laborious motion of the vessel; of blacker and larger waves, of whiter and higher crests, that sometimes broke over the bows, even, and made the deck wet and slippery. The moon was now rising high, but the clouds were rapidly thickening, and her majesty seemed to be reeling from side to side, as we bore on, with plunge and shudder, for the light ahead of us. Bruce had taken the wheel; all hands were on deck, and all busy, hauling upon this rope or that, taking in the stay-sails and flying-jib, as the captain shouted out from time to time; and looking ahead, with no little appearance of anxiety.
"Ah! she's a pretty creature," said the mate; "look there," nodding with his head at the compass, "did'na I tell you? She's nailed there." Then he broke out again: "Ay, she's a flyin' noo; see hoo she's raisin' the light!"
It was, indeed, surprising to see the great beacon rising higher and higher out of the water.
"Is it a good harbor, Bruce?"
"When ye get in," answered the mate; "but it's narrar, it's narrar; ye can pitch a biscuit ashore as ye go through; and inside o't is the 'Nag's Head,' a sunken bit o' rock, with about five feet water; if ye miss that, ye're aw right!" We were now rapidly approaching the beacon, and could fairly see the rocks and beach in the track of its light. On the other side there were great masses of savage surf, whirling high up in the night, the indications of the three islands on the west of the harbor. The captain had climbed up in the rigging to keep a good look-out ahead; the light of the beacon broadened on the deck; we were within the very jaws of the crags and surf; the wild ocean beating against the doors of the harbor; the churning, whirling, whistling danger on either side, lighted up by the glare of the beacon! past we go, and, with a sweep, the "Balaklava" evades the "Nag's Head," and rounding too, drops sail and anchor beside the walls of Louisburgh.
Then the thick fog, which had been pursuing us, came, and enveloped all in obscurity.
"It is lucky," said Captain Capstan, "that it didn't come ten minutes sooner."
Louisburgh—The Great French Fortress—Incidents of the Old French War—Relics of the Siege—Description of the Town—The two Expeditions—A Yankee ruse de guerre—The Rev. Samuel Moody's Grace—Wolfe's Landing—The Fisherman's Hutch—The Lost Coaster—The Fisheries—Picton tries his hand at a fish-pugh.
Nearly a century has elapsed since the fall of Louisburgh. The great American fortress of Louis XV. surrendered to Amherst, Wolfe, and Boscawen in 1758. A broken sea-wall of cut stone; a vast amphitheatre, inclosed within a succession of green mounds; a glacis; and some miles of surrounding ditch, yet remain—the relics of a structure for which the treasury of France paid Thirty Millions of Livres!
We enter where had been the great gate, and walk up what had been the great avenue. The vision follows undulating billows of green turf that indicate the buried walls of a once powerful military town. Fifteen thousand people were gathered in and about these walls; six thousand troops were locked within this fortress, when the key turned in the stupendous gate.
A hundred years since, the very air of the spot where we now stand, vibrated with the chime of the church-bells and the roll of the stately organ, or wafted to devout multitudes the savor of holy incense. Here were congregated the soldiers, merchants, artisans of old France; on these high walls paced the solemn sentry; in these streets the nun stole past in her modest hood; or the romantic damsel pressed her cheek to the latticed window, as the young officer rode by and, martial music filled the avenues with its inspiring strains; in yonder bay floated the great war-ships of Louis; and around the shores of this harbor could be counted battery after battery, with scores of guns bristling from the embrasures.
The building of this stronghold was a labor of twenty-five years. The stone walls rose to the height of thirty-six feet. In those broken arches, studded with stalactites, those casemates, or vaults of the citadel, you still see some evidence of its former strength. You will know the citadel by them, and by the greater height of the mounds which mark the walls that once encompassed it. Within these stood the smaller military chapel. Think of looking down from this point upon those broad avenues, busy with life, a hundred years ago!
Neither roof nor spire remain now; nor square nor street; nor convent, church, or barrack. The green turf covers all: even the foundations of the houses are buried. It is a city without an inhabitant. Dismantled cannon, with the rust clinging in great flakes; scattered implements of war; broken weapons, bayonets, gun-locks, shot, shell or grenade, unclaimed, untouched, corroded and corroding, in silence and desolation, with no signs of life visible within these once warlike parapets except the peaceful sheep, grazing upon the very brow of the citadel, are the only relics of once powerful Louisburgh.
Let us recall the outlines of its history. In the early part of the last century, just after the death of Louis XIV., these foundations were laid, and the town named in honor of the ruling monarch. Nova Scotia proper had been ceded, by recent treaty, to the filibusters of Old and New-England, but the ancient Island of Cape Breton still owned allegiance to the lilies of France. Among the beautiful and commodious harbors that indent the southern coast of the island, this one was selected as being most easy of access. Although naturally well adapted for defence, yet its fortification cost the government immense sums of money, insomuch as all the materials for building had to be brought from a distance. Belknap thus describes it: "It was environed, two miles and a half in circumference, with a rampart of stone from thirty to thirty-six feet high, and a ditch eighty feet wide, with the exception of a space of two hundred yards near the sea, which was inclosed by a dyke and a line of pickets. The water in this place was shallow, and numerous reefs rendered it inaccessible to shipping, while it received an additional protection from the side-fire of the bastions. There were six-bastions and eight batteries, containing embrasures for one hundred and forty-eight cannon, of which forty-five only were mounted, and eight mortars. On an island at the entrance of the harbor was planted a battery of thirty cannon, carrying twenty-eight pound shot; and at the bottom of the harbor was a grand, or royal battery, of twenty-eight cannon, forty-two pounders, and two eighteen-pounders. On a high cliff, opposite to the island-battery, stood a light house, and within this point, at the north-east part of the harbor, was a careening wharf, secure from all winds, and a magazine of naval stores. The town was regularly laid out in squares; the streets were broad and commodious, and the houses, which were built partly of wood upon stone foundations, and partly of more durable materials, corresponded with the general appearance of the place. In the centre of one of the chief bastions was a stone building, with a moat on the side near the town, which was called the citadel, though it had neither artillery nor a structure suitable to receive any. Within this building were the apartments of the governor, the barracks for the soldiers, and the arsenal; and, under the platform of the redoubt, a magazine well furnished with military stores. The parish church, also, stood within the citadel, and without was another, belonging to the hospital of St. Jean de Dieu, which was an elegant and spacious structure. The entrance to the town was over a drawbridge, near which was a circular battery, mounting sixteen guns of fourteen-pound shot."
This cannon-studded harbor was the naval depot of France in America, the nucleus of its military power, the protector of its fisheries, the key of the gulf of St. Lawrence, the Sebastopol of the New World. For a quarter of a century it had been gathering strength by slow degrees: Acadia, poor inoffensive Acadia, from time to time, had been the prey of its rapacious neighbors; but Louisburgh had grown amid its protecting batteries, until Massachusetts felt that it was time for the armies of Gad to go forth and purge the threshing-floor with such ecclesiastical iron fans as they were wont to waft peace and good will with, wherever there was a fine opening for profit and edification.
The first expedition against Louisburgh was only justifiable upon the ground that the wants of New England for additional territory were pressing, and immediate action, under the circumstances, indispensable. Levies of colonial troops were made, both in and out of the territories of the saints. The forces, however, actually employed, came from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire; the first supplying three thousand two hundred, the second five hundred, the third three hundred men. The cooeperation of Commodore Warren, of the English West-Indian fleet, was solicited; but the Commodore declined, on the ground "that the expedition was wholly a provincial affair, undertaken without the assent, and probably without the knowledge, of the ministry." But Governor Shirley was not a man to stop at trifles. He had a heart of lignum vitae, a rigid anti-papistical conscience, beetle brows, and an eye to the cod-fisheries. Higher authority than international law was pressed into the service. George Whitefield, then an itinerant preacher in New-England, furnished the necessary warrant for the expedition, by giving a motto for its banner: "Nil desperandum Christo duce"—Nothing is to be despaired of with CHRIST for leader. The command was, however, given to William Pepperel, a fish and shingle merchant of Maine. One of the chaplains of the filibusters carried a hatchet specially sharpened, to hew down the wooden images in the churches of Louisburgh. Everything that was needed to encourage and cheer the saints, was provided by Governor Shirley, especially a goodly store of New England rum, and the Rev. Samuel Moody, the lengthiest preacher in the colonies. Louisburgh, at that time feebly garrisoned, held out bravely in spite of the formidable array concentrated against it. In vain the Rev. Samuel Moody preached to its high stone walls; in vain the iconoclast chaplain brandished his ecclesiastical hatchet; in vain Whitefield's banner flaunted to the wind. The fortress held out against shot and shell, saint, flag and sermon. New England ingenuity finally circumvented Louisburgh. Humiliating as the confession is, it must be admitted that our pious forefathers did actually abandon "CHRISTO duce," and used instead a little worldly artifice.
Commodore Warren, who had declined taking a part in the siege of Louisburgh, on account of the regulations of the service, had received, after the departure of the expedition, instructions to keep a look-out for the interests of his majesty in North America, which of course could be readily interpreted, by an experienced officer in his majesty's service, to mean precisely what was meant to be meant. As a consequence, Commodore Warren was speedily on the look-out, off the coast of Cape Breton, and in the course of events fell in with, and captured, the "Vigilant," seventy-four, commanded by Captain Stronghouse, or, as his title runs, "the Marquis de la Maison Forte." The "Vigilant" was a store-ship, filled with munitions of war for the French town. Here was a glorious opportunity. If the saints could only intimate to Duchambon, the Governor of Louisburgh, that his supplies had been cut off, Duchambon might think of capitulation. But unfortunately the French were prejudiced against the saints, and would not believe them under oath. But when probity fails, a little ingenuity and artifice will do quite as well. The chief of the expedition was equal to the emergency. He took the Marquis of Stronghouse to the different ships on the station, where the French prisoners were confined, and showed him that they were treated with great civility; then he represented to the Marquis that the New England prisoners were cruelly dealt with in the fortress of Louisburgh; and requested him to write a letter, in the name of humanity, to Duchambon, Governor, in behalf of those suffering saints; "expressing his approbation of the conduct of the English, and entreating similar usuage for those whom the fortune of war had thrown in his hands." The Marquis wrote the letter; thus it begins: "On board the 'Vigilant,' where I am a prisoner, before Louisburgh, June thirteen, 1745." The rest of the letter is unimportant. The confession of Captain Stronghouse, that he was a prisoner, was the point; and the consequences thereof, which had been foreseen by the filibustering besiegers, speedily followed. In three days Louisburgh capitulated.
Then the Rev. Samuel Moody greatly distinguished himself. He was a painful preacher; the most untiring, persevering, long-winded, clamorous, pertinacious vessel at craving a blessing, in the provinces. There was a great feast in honor of the occasion. But more formidable than the siege itself, was the anticipated "grace" of Brother Moody. New England held its breath when he began, and thus the Reverend Samuel: "Good Lord, we have so many things to thank Thee for, that time will be infinitely too short to do it; we must therefore leave it for the work of eternity."
Upon this there was great rejoicing, yea, more than there had been upon the capture of the French stronghold. Who shall say whether Brother Moody's brevity may not stretch farther across the intervals of time than the longest preaching ever preached by mortal preacher?
In three years after its capture, Louisburgh was restored to the French by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. Ten years after its restoration, a heavier armament, a greater fleet, a more numerous army, besieged its almost impregnable walls. Under Amherst, Boscawen, and Wolfe, no less than twenty-three ships of war, eighteen frigates, sixteen thousand land forces, with a proportionable train of cannon and mortars, were arrayed against this great fortress in the year 1758. Here, too, many of our own ancestral warriors were gathered in that memorable conflict; here Gridley, who afterwards planned the redoubt at Bunker Hill, won his first laurels as an engineer; here Pomeroy distinguished himself, and others whose names are not recorded, but whose deeds survive in the history of a republic. The very drum that beat to arms before Louisburgh was braced again when the greater drama of the Revolution opened at Concord and Lexington.
The siege continued for nearly two months. From June 8th until July 26th, the storm of iron and fire—of rocket, shot, and shell—swept from yonder batteries, upon the castellated city. Then when the King's, the Queen's, the Dauphin's bastions were lying in ruins, the commander, Le Chevalier de Drucour, capitulated, and the lilies of the Bourbon waved over Louisburgh no more.
And here we stand nearly a century after, looking out from these war-works upon the desolate harbor. At the entrance, the wrecks of three French frigates, sunk to prevent the ingress of the British fleet, yet remain; sometimes visited by our still enterprising countrymen, who come down in coasters with diving-bell and windlass, to raise again from the deep, imbedded in sea-shells, the great guns that have slept in the ooze so long. Between those two points lay the ships of the line, and frigates of Louis; opposite, where the parapets of stone are yet visible, was the grand battery of forty guns: at Lighthouse Point yonder, two thousand grenadiers, under General Wolfe, drove back the French artillerymen, and tamed their cannon upon these mighty walls. Here the great seventy-four blew up; there the English boats were sunk by the guns of the fortress; day and night for many weeks this ground has shuddered with the thunders of the cannonade.
And what of all this? we may ask. What of the ships that were sunk, and those that floated away with the booty? What of the soldiers that fell by hundreds here, and those that lived? What of the prisoners that mourned, and the captors that triumphed? What of the flash of artillery, and the shattered wall that answered it? Has any benefit resulted to mankind from this brilliant achievement? Can any man, of any nation, stand here and say: "This work was wrought to my profit?" Can any man draw such a breath here amid these buried walls, as he can upon the humblest sod that ever was wet with the blood of patriotism? I trow not.
A second time in possession of this stronghold, England had not the means to maintain her conquest; the fortification was too large for any but a powerful garrison. A hundred war-ships had congregated in that harbor: frigates, seventy-fours, transports, sloops, under the Fleur-de-lis. Although Louisburgh was the pivot-point of the French possessions, yet it was but an outside harbor for the colonies. So the order went forth to destroy the town that had been reared with so much cost, and captured with so much sacrifice. And it took two solid years of gunpowder to blow up these immense walls, upon which we now sadly stand, O gentle reader! Turf, turf, turf covers all! The gloomiest spectacle the sight of man can dwell upon is the desolate, but once populous, abode of humanity. Egypt itself is cheerful compared with Louisburgh!
"It rains," said Picton.
It had rained all the morning; but what did that matter when a hundred years since was in one's mind? Picton, in his mackintosh, was an impervious representative of the nineteenth century; but I was as fully saturated with water as if I were living in the place under the old French regime.
"Let us go down," said Picton, "and see the jolly old fishermen outside the walls. What is the use of staying here in the rain after you have seen all that can be seen? Come along. Just think how serene it will be if we can get some milk and potatoes down there."
There are about a dozen fishermen's huts on the beach outside the walls of the old town of Louisburgh. When you enter one it reminds you of the descriptive play-bill of the melo-drama—"Scene II.: Interior of a Fisherman's Cottage on the Sea-shore: Ocean in the Distance." The walls are built of heavy timbers, laid one upon another, and caulked with moss or oakum. Overhead are square beams, with pegs for nets, poles, guns, boots, the heterogeneous and picturesque tackle with which such ceilings are usually ornamented. But oh! how clean everything is! The knots are fairly scrubbed out of the floor-planks, the hearth-bricks red as cherries, the dresser-shelves worn thin with soap and sand, and white as the sand with which they have been scoured. I never saw drawing-room that could compare with the purity of that interior. It was cleanliness itself; but I saw many such before I left Louisburgh, in both the old town and the new.
We sat down in the "hutch," as they call it, before a cheery wood-fire, and soon forgot all about the outside rain. But if we had shut out the rain, we had not shut out the neighboring Atlantic. That was near enough; the thunderous surf, whirling, pouring, breaking against the rocky shore and islands, was sounding in our ears, and we could see the great white masses of foam lifted against the sky from the window of the hutch, as we sat before the warm fire.
"You was lucky to get in last night," said the master of the hutch, an old, weather-beaten fisherman.
"Yes," replied Picton, surveying the grey head before him with as much complacency as he would a turnip; "and a serene old place it is when we get in."
To this the weather-beaten replied by winking twice with both eyes.
"Rather a dangerous coast," continued Picton, stretching out one thigh before the fire. "I say, don't you fishermen often lose your lives out there?" and he pointed to the mouth of the harbor.
"There was only two lives lost in seventy years," replied the old man (this remarkable fact was confirmed by many persons of whom we asked the same question during our visit), "and one of them was a young man, a stranger here, who was capsized in a boat as he was going out to a vessel in the harbor."
"You are speaking now of lives lost in the fisheries," said Picton, "not in the coasting trade."
"Oh!" replied the old man, shaking his head, "the coasting trade is different; there is a many lives lost in that. Last year I had a brother as sailed out of this in a shallop, on the same day as yon vessel," pointing to the Balaklava; "he went out in company with your captain; he was going to his wedding, he thought, poor fellow, for he was to bring a young wife home with him from Halifax, but he got caught in a storm off Canseau, and we never heard of the shallop again. He was my youngest brother, gentlemen."
It was strange to be seated in that old cottage, listening to so dreary a story, and watching the storm outside. There was a wonderful fascination in it, nevertheless, and I was not a little loth to leave the bright hearth when the sailors from the schooner came for us and carried us on board again to dinner.
The storm continued; but Picton and I found plenty to do that day. Equipped with oil-skin pea-jackets and sou'-westers, with a couple of fish-pughs, or poles, pointed with iron, we started on a cruise after lobsters, in a sort of flat-bottomed skiff, peculiar to the place, called a dingledekooch. And although we did not catch one lobster, yet we did not lose sight of many interesting particulars that were scattered around the harbor. And first of the fisheries. All the people here are directly or indirectly engaged in this business, and to this they devote themselves entirely; farming being scarcely thought of. I doubt whether there is a plough in the place; certainly there was not a horse, in either the old or new town, or a vehicle of any kind, as we found out betimes.
The fishing here, as in all other places along the coast, is carried on in small, clinker-built boats, sharp at both ends, and carrying two sails. It is marvellous with what dexterity these boats are handled; they are out in all weathers, and at all times, night or day, as it happens, and although sometimes loaded to the gunwale with fish, yet they encounter the roughest gales, and ride out storms in safety, that would be perilous to the largest vessels.
"I can carry all sail," said one old fellow, "when the captain there would have to take in every rag on the schooner."
And such, too, was the fact. These boats usually sail a few miles from the shore, rarely beyond twelve; the fish are taken with hand-lines generally, but sometimes a set line with buoys and anchors is used. The fish, are cured on flakes, or high platforms, raised upon poles from the beach, so that one end of the staging is over the water. The cod are thrown up from the boat to the flake by means of the fish-pugh—a sort of one-pronged, piscatory pitchfork—and cleaned, salted, and cured there; then spread out to dry on the flake, or on the beach, and packed for market. Nothing can be neater and cleaner than the whole system of curing the fish! popular opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. The fishermen of Louisburgh are a happy, contented, kind, and simple people. Living, as they do, far from the jarring interests of the busy world, having a common revenue, for the ocean supplies each and all alike; pursuing an occupation which is constant discipline for body and soul; brave, sincere, and hospitable by nature, for all of these virtues are inseparable from their relations to each other; one can scarcely be with them, no matter how brief the visit, without feeling a kindred sympathy; without having a vague thought of "sometime I may be only too glad to escape from the world and accept this humble happiness instead;" without a dreamy idea of "Perhaps this, after all, is the real Arcadia!"
While I was indulging in these reflections, it was amusing to see Picton at work! The heads and entrails of the cod-fish, thrown from the "flakes" into the water, attract thousands of the baser tribes, such as sculpins, flounders, and toad-fish, who feed themselves fat upon the offals, and enjoy a peaceful life under the clear waters of the harbor. As the dingledekooch floated silently over them, they lay perfectly quiet and unsuspicious of danger, although within a few feet of the fatal fish-pugh, and in an element almost as transparent as air. Lobster, during the storm, had gone off to other grounds; but here were great flat flounders and sculpin, within reach of the indefatigable Picton. Down went the fish-pugh and up came the game! The bottom of the skiff was soon covered with the spearings of the traveller. Great flounders, those sub-marine buckwheat cakes; sculpins, bloated with rage and wind, like patriots out of office; toad-fish, savage and vindictive as Irishmen in a riot. Down went the fish-pugh! It was rare sport, and no person could have enjoyed it more than Picton—except perhaps some of the veteran fishermen of Louisburgh, who were gathered on the beach watching the doings in the dingledekooch.
A most acceptable Invitation—- An Evening in the Hutch—Old Songs—Picton in High Feather—Wolfe and Montcalm—Reminiscences of the Siege—Anecdotes of Wolfe—A Touch of Rhetoric and its Consequences.
Quite a little crowd of fishermen gathered around us, as the dingledekooch ran bows on the beach, and Picton, warm with exercise and excitement, leaped ashore, flourishing his piscatorial javelin with an air of triumph, which oddly contrasted with the faces of the Louisburghers, who looked at him and at his game, with countenances of great gravity—either real or assumed. Presently, another boat ran bows on the beach beside our own, and from this jumped Bruce, our jolly first mate, who had come ashore to spend a few hours with an old friend, at one of the hutches. To this we were hospitably invited also, and were right glad to uncase our limbs of stiff oil-skin and doff our sou'-westers, and sit down before the cheery fire, piled up with spruce logs and hackmatack; comfortable, indeed, was it to be thus snugly housed, while the weather outside was so lowering, and the schooner wet and cold with rain. To be sure, our gay and festive hall was not so brilliant as some, but it was none the less acceptable on that account; and, before long, a fragrant rasher of bacon, fresh eggs, white bread, and a strong cup of bitter tea made us feel entirely happy. Then these viands being removed, there came pipes and tobacco; and as something else was needed to crown the symposium, Picton whispered a word in the ear of Bruce, who presently disappeared, to return again after a brief absence, with some of our stores from the schooner. Then the table was decked again, with china mugs of dazzling whiteness, lemons, hot water, and a bottle of old Glenlivet; and from the centre of this gallant show, the one great lamp of the hutch cast its mellow radiance around, and nursed in the midst of its flame a great ball of red coal that burned like a bonfire. Then, when our host, the old fisherman, brought out a bundle of warm furs, of moose and cariboo skins, and distributed them around on the settles and broad, high-backed benches, so that we could loll at our ease, we began to realize a sense of being quite snug and cozy, and, indeed, got used to it in a surprisingly short space of time.
"Now, then," said Picton, "this is what I call serene," and the traveller relapsed into his usual activity; after a brief respite—"I say, give us a song, will you, now, some of you; something about this jolly old place, now—'Brave Wolfe,' or 'Boscawen,'" and he broke out—
"'My name d'ye see's Tom Tough, I've seen a little sarvice, Where mighty billows roll and loud tempests blow; I've sailed with noble Howe, and I've sailed with noble Jarvis, And in Admiral Duncan's fleet I've sung yeo, heave, yeo! And more ye must be knowin', I was cox'son to Boscawen When our fleet attacked Louisburgh, And laid her bulwarks low. But push about the grog, boys! Hang care, it killed a cat, Push about the grog, and sing— Yeo, heave, yeo!'"
"Good Lord!" said the old fisherman, "I harn't heard that song for more'n thirty years. Sing us another bit of it, please."
But Picton had not another bit of it; so he called lustily for some one else to sing. "Hang it, sing something," said the traveller. "'How stands the glass around;' that, you know, was written by Wolfe; at least, it was sung by him the night before the battle of Quebec, and they call it Wolfe's death song—
'How stands the glass around? For shame, ye take no care, my boys! How stands the glass around?'"
Here Picton forgot the next line, and substituted a drink for it, in correct time with the music:
"'The trumpets sound; The colors flying are, my boys, To fight, kill, or wound'"——
Another slip of the memory [drink]:
"'May we still be found,'"
He has found it, and repeats emphatically:
"'May we still be found! Content with our hard fare, my boys,
On the cold ground!'
"Then there is another song," said Picton, lighting his pipe with coal and tongs; "'Wolfe and Montcalm'—you must know that," he continued, addressing the old fisherman. But the ancient trilobite did not know it; indeed, he was not a singer, so Picton trolled lustily forth—
"'He lifted up his head, While the cannons did rattle, To his aid de camp he said, 'How goes the battail?' The aid de camp, he cried, ''Tis in our favor;' 'Oh! then,' brave Wolfe replied, 'I die with pleasure!'"
"There," said Picton, throwing himself back upon the warm and cosy furs, "I am at the end of my rope, gentlemen. Sing away, some of you," and the traveller drew a long spiral of smoke through his tube, and ejected it in a succession of beautiful rings at the beams overhead.
"Picton," said I, "what a strange, romantic interest attaches itself to the memory of Wolfe. The very song you have sung, 'How stands the glass around,' although not written by him, for it was composed before he was born, yet has a currency from the popular belief that he sang it on the evening preceding his last battle. And, indeed, it is by no means certain that Gray's Elegy does not derive additional interest from a kindred tradition."
"What is that?" said the traveller.
"Of course you will remember it. When Gray had completed the Elegy, he sent a copy of it to his friend, General Wolfe, in America; and the story goes, that as the great hero was sitting, wrapped in his military cloak, on board the barge which the sailors were rowing up the St. Lawrence, towards Quebec, he produced the poem, and read it in silence by the waning light of approaching evening, until he came to these lines, which he repeated aloud to his officers:
'The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave, Await alike the inevitable hour'——"
Then pausing for a moment, he finished the stanza:
"'The paths of glory lead but to the grave.'"
"Gentlemen," he added, "I would rather be the writer of this poem, than the greatest conqueror the world ever produced."
"That's true," said the old fisherman, sententiously. "We are all bound to that place, sometime or other."
"What place?" said Picton, rousing up.
"The berrying-ground," answered the ancient; "that is if we don't get overboard instead."
"But," he continued, "since you are speaking of General Wolfe, you must know my grandfather served under him at Minden, and at the battle here, too, where he was wounded, and left behind, when the general went back to England."
"I thought he went from this place to Quebec," said Picton.
"No, sir," replied the old man, "he went first to London, and came back again, and then went to Canada. Well," he continued, "my grandfather served under him, and was left here to get over his wownds, and so he married my grandmother, and lived in Louisburgh after the French were all sent away." Here the veteran placed his paws on the table, and looked out into the infinite. We could see we were in for a long story. "All the French soldiers and sailors, you see, were sent to England prisoners of war—and the rest of the people were sent to France; the governor of this here place was named Drucour; he was taken to Southampton, and put in prison. Well now, as I was saying, this hutch of mine was built by my father, just here by Wolfe's landing, for grandfather took a fancy to have it built on this spot; you see, Wolfe rowed over one night in a boat all alone from Lighthouse point yonder, and stood on the beach right under this here old wall, looking straight up at the French sentry over his head, and taking a general look at the town on both sides. There wasn't a man in all his soldiers who would have stood there at that time for a thousand pounds."
"What do you suppose the old file was doing over here?" inquired Picton, who was getting sleepy.
"I don't know," answered our host, "except it was his daring. He was the bravest man of his time, I've heard say—and so young"——
"Two and thretty only," said Bruce.
"And a tall, elegant officer, too," continued the ancient fisherman. "I've heard tell how the French governor's lady used to send him sweetmeats with a flag of truce, and he used to return his compliments and a pine apple, or something of that kind. Ah, he was a great favorite with the ladies! I've heard say, he was much admired for his elegant style of dancing, and always ambitious to have a tall and graceful lady for his partner, and then he was as much pleased as if he was in the thick of the fight. He was a great favorite with the soldiers, too; very careful of them, to see they were well nursed when they were sick, and sharing the worst and the best with them; but my grandfather used to say, very strict, too."
"Who was in command here, Wolfe or Amherst?"
"General Amherst was in command, and got the credit of it, too; but Wolfe did the fighting—so grandfather used to say."
"What was the name of his leddy in the old country?" said Bruce.
"I do not remember," replied the ancient, "but I've heard it. You know he was to be married, when he got back to England. And when the first shot struck him in the wrist, at Quebec, he took out her handkerchief from his breast-pocket, smiled, wrapped it about the place, and went on with the battle as if nothing had happened. But, soon after he got another wound, and yet he wasn't disheartened, but waved his ratan over his head, for none of the officers carried swords there, and kept on, until the third bullet went through and through his breast, when he fell back, and just breathed like, till word was brought that the French were retreating, when he said, then 'I am content,' and so closed his eyes and died."
Here there was a pause. Our entertainer, waving his hand towards our mugs of Glenlivet, by way of invitation, lifted his own to his mouth by the handle, and with a dexterous tilt that showed practice, turned its bottom towards the beams of the hutch.
"Do you remember any farther particulars of the siege of Louisburgh?" I asked.
"Oh, yes," replied the old man, "I remember grandfather telling us how he saw the bodies of fifteen or sixteen deserters hanging over the walls; they were Germans that had been sold to the French, four years before the war, by a Prussian colonel. Some of them got away, and came over to our side. He used to say, the old town looked like a big ship when they came up to it; it had two tiers of guns, one above the other, on the south—that is towards Gabarus bay, where our troops landed. And now I mind me of his telling that when they landed at Gabarus, they had a hard fight with the French and Indians, until Col. Fraser's regiment of Highlanders jumped overboard, and swam to a point on the rocks, and drove the enemy away with their broad-swords."
"That was the 63d Highlanders," said Bruce, with immense gravity.
"Among the Indians killed at Gabarus," continued our host, "they say there was one Micmac chief, who was six feet nine inches high. The French soldiers were very much frightened when the Highland men climbed up on the rocks; they called them English savages."
"That showed," said Bruce, "what a dommed ignorant set they were!"
"And, while I think of it," added our host, rising from his seat, "I have a bit of the old time to show you," and so saying, he retreated from the table, and presently brought forth a curious oak box from a mysterious corner of the hutch, and after some difficulty in drawing out the sliding cover, produced a roll of tawny newspapers, tied up with rope yarn, a colored wood engraving in a black frame—a portrait, with the inscription, "James Wolfe, Esq'r, Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Forces in the Expedition to Quebec," and on the reverse the following scrap from the London Chronicle of October 7, 1759:
"Amidst her conquests let Britannia groan For Wolfe! her gallant, her undaunted son; For Wolfe, whose breast bright Honor did inspire With patriot ardor and heroic fire; For Wolfe, who headed that intrepid band, Who, greatly daring, forced Cape Breton's strand. For Wolfe, who following still where glory call'd, No dangers daunted, no distress appall'd; Whose eager zeal disasters could not check, Intent to strike the blow which gained Quebec. For Wolfe, who, like the gallant Theban, dy'd In th' arms of victory—his country's pride."
This inscription I read aloud, and then, under the influence of the loquacious potable, leaned back in my furry throne, crossed my hands over my forehead, looked steadily into the blazing fire-place, and continued the theme I had commenced an hour before.
"What a strange interest attaches itself to the memory of Wolfe! A youthful hero, who, under less happy auspices, might have been known only as the competent drill-master of regiments, elevated by the sagacity of England's wisest statesman to a prominent position of command; there to exhibit his generalship; there to retrieve the long list of disasters which followed Braddock's defeat; there to annihilate forever every vestige of French dominion in the Americas; to fulfill gloriously each point of his mission; to achieve, not by long delays, but by rapid movements, the conquest of two of the greatest fortresses in the possession of the rival crown; to pass from the world amid the shouts of victory—content in the fullness of his fame, without outliving it! His was a noble, generous nature; brave without cruelty; ardent and warlike, yet not insensible to the tenderest impulses of humanity. To die betrothed and beloved, yet wedded only to immortal honor; to leave a mother, with a nation weeping at her feet; to serve his country, without having his patriotism contaminated by titles, crosses, and ribbons; this was the most fortunate fate of England's greatest commander in the colonies! No wonder, then, that with a grateful sympathy the laurels of his mother country were woven with the cypress of her chivalric son; that hundreds of pens were inspired to pay some tribute to his memory; that every branch of representative art, from stone to ink, essayed to portray his living likeness; that parliament and pulpit, with words of eloquence and gratitude, uttered the universal sentiment!
"Brave Wolfe," I continued, "whose memory is linked with his no less youthful rival, Montcalm"——here I was interrupted by the voice of the mate of the Balaklava—
"I'll be dommed," said he, "if some person isn't afire!"
Then I unclasped my hands, opened my eyes, and looked around me.
The scene was a striking one. Right before me, with his grey head on the table, buried in his piscatorial paws, lay the master of the hutch, fast asleep. On a settle, one of the fishermen, who had been a devout listener to all the legends of the grandson of the veteran of Louisburgh, was in a similar condition; Bruce, our jolly first mate, with the pertinacity of his race, was wide awake, to be sure, but there were unmistakable signs of drowsiness in the droop of his eyelids; and Picton? That gentleman, buried in moose and cariboo skins, prostrate on a broad bench, drawn up close by the fire-place, was dreaming, probably, of sculpins, flounders, fish-pugh, and dingledekooch!
"I say! wake up here!" said the jolly mate of the Balaklava; bringing his fist down upon the table with an emphatic blow, that roused all the sleepers except the traveller. "I say, wake up!" reiterated Brace, shaking Picton by the shoulder. Then Picton raised himself from his couch, and yawned twice; walked to the table, seated himself on a bench, thrust his fingers through his black hair, and instantly fell asleep again, after shaking out into the close atmosphere of the hutch a stifling odor of animal charcoal.
"A little straw makes a great reek," said Bruce, laughing, "and when a mon gives out before his pipe, he is like to be burnet," and he pointed to a long black and brown singe on the worsted comforter of the traveller, by which we understood that Picton had fallen asleep, pipe in mouth, and then dropped his lighted dudeen just on the safest part of his neck.
Once again we roused the sleeper; and so, shaking hands with our hospitable host, we left the comfortable hutch at Wolfe's Landing, and were soon on our way to the jolly little schooner.
The other side of the Harbor—A Foraging Party—Disappointment—Twilight at Louisburgh—Long Days and Early Mornings—A Visit and View of an Interior—A Shark Story—Picton inquires about a Measure—Hospitality and the Two Brave Boys—Proposals for a Trip overland to Sydney.
To make use of a quaint but expressive phrase, "it is patent enough," that travellers are likely to consume more time in reaching a place than they are apt to bestow upon it when found. And, I am ashamed to say, that even Louisburgh was not an exception to this general truth; although perhaps certain reasons might be offered in extenuation for our somewhat speedy departure from the precincts of the old town. First, then, the uncertainty of a sailing vessel, for the "Balaklava" was coquettishly courting any and every wind that could carry her out of our harbor of refuge. Next, the desire of seeing more of the surroundings of the ancient fortress—the batteries on the opposite side, the new town, the lighthouse, and the wild picturesque coast. Add to these the wish of our captain to shift his anchorage, to get on the side where he would have a better opening towards the ocean, "when the wind came on to blow,"—to say nothing of being in the neighborhood of his old friends, whose cottages dotted the green hill-sides across the bay, as you looked over the bows of the jolly little schooner. And there might have been other inducements—such as the hope of getting a few pounds of white sugar, a pitcher of milk (delicious, lacteous fluid, for which we had yearned so often amid the briny waves); and last, but not least, a hamper of blue-nosed potatoes. So, when the shades of the second evening were gathering grandly and gloomily around the dismantled parapets, and Louisburgh lay in all the lovely and romantic light of a red and stormy sunset, it seemed but fitting that the cable-chain of the anchor should clank to the windlass, and the die-away song of the mariner should resound above the calm waters, and the canvas stretch towards the land opposite, that seemed so tempting and delectable. And presently the "Balaklava" bore away across the red and purple harbor for the new town, leaving in her wake the ruined walls of Louisburgh that rose up higher the further we sailed from them.
The schooner dropped anchor inside the little cove on the opposite side of the old town, which the reader will see by referring to the map; and the old battles of the years '45 and '58 were presently forgotten in the new aspects that were presented. The anchor was scarcely dropped fairly, before the yawl-boat was under the stroke of the oars, and Picton and I en route for the store-house; the general, particular, and only exchange in the whole district of Louisburgh. It was a small wooden building with a fair array of tarpaulin hats, oil-skin garments, shelves of dry-goods and crockery, and boxes and barrels, such as are usually kept by country traders: on the beach before it were the customary flake for drying fish, the brown winged boats, and other implements of the fisheries.
But alas! the new town, that looked so pastoral and pleasant, with its tender slopes of verdure, was not, after all, a Canaan, flowing with milk and blue-nosed potatoes. Neither was there white sugar, nor coffee, nor good black tea there; the cabin of the schooner being as well furnished with these articles of comfort as the store-house of McAlpin, towards which we had looked with such longing eyes. Indeed, I would not have cared so much about the disappointment myself, but I secretly felt sorry for Picton, who went rummaging about the barrels in search of something to eat or to drink. "No white sugar?" said the traveller. "We don't have white sugar in this town," was the answer. "Nor coffee?" "No, Sir." And the tea had the same flavor of musty hay, with which we were so well acquainted. At last Picton stumbled over a prize—a bushel-basket half-filled with potatoes, whereat he raised a bugle-note of triumph.
It may seem strange that a gentleman of fine education, a traveller, who had visited the famous European capitals, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna; who had passed between the Pillars of Hercules, and voyaged upon the blue Mediterranean, far as the Greek Archipelago; who had wandered through the galleries of the Vatican, and mused within the courts of the Alhambra; who had seen the fire-works on the carnival dome of St. Peter's, and the water-works of Versailles; the temples of Athens, and the Boboli gardens of Florence; the sculptures of Praxiteles, and the frescoes of Raphael; should exhibit such emotion as Picton exhibited, over a bushel-basket only half-filled with small-sized blue-nosed tubers. But Picton was only a man, and "Homo sum——" the rest of the sentence it is needless to quote. I saw at a glance that the potatoes were cut in halves for planting; but Picton was filled with the divine idea of a feast.
"I say, we want a peck of potatoes."
"A peck?" was the answer. "Why, man, I wouldn't sell ye my seed-potatoes at a guinea apiece."
Here was a sudden let-down; a string of the human violin snapped, just as it was keyed up to tuning point. Slowly and sorrowfully we regained the yawl after that brief and bitter experience, and a few strokes of the oars carried us to the side of the "Balaklava."
It may seem absurd and trifling to dwell upon such slight particulars in this itinerary of a month among the Blue Noses (as our brothers of Nova Scotia are called); but to give a correct idea of this rarely-visited part of the world, one must notice the salient points that present themselves in the course of the survey. Louisburgh would speedly become rich from its fisheries, if there were sufficient capital invested there and properly used. Halifax is now the only point of contact between it and the outside world; Halifax supplies it with all the necessary articles of life, and Halifax buys all the produce of its fisheries. Therefore, Halifax reaps all the profits on either side, both of buying and selling, in all not amounting to much—as the matter now stands. But insomuch as the sluggish blood of the colonies will never move without some quickening impulse from exterior sources, and as Louisburgh is only ten days' sail, under canvas, from New York, and as the fisheries there would rapidly grow by kindly nurture into importance, it does seem as if a moderate amount of capital diverted in that direction, would be a fortunate investment, both for the investor and hardy fishermen of the old French town.
I have alluded before to the long Acadian twilights, the tender and loving leave-takings between the day and his earth; just as two fond and foolish young people separate sometimes, or as the quaint old poet in Britannia's Pastorals describes it:
"Look as a lover, with a lingering kiss, About to part with the best half that's his: Fain would he stay, but that he fears to do it, And curseth time for so fast hastening to it: Now takes his leave, and yet begins anew To make less vows than are esteemed true: Then says, he must be gone, and then doth find Something he should have spoke that's out of mind: And while he stands to look for't in her eyes, Their sad, sweet glance so ties his faculties To think from what he parts that he is now As far from leaving her, or knowing how, As when he came; begins his former strain, To kiss, to vow, and take his leave again; Then turns, comes back, sighs, pants, and yet doth go, Fain to retire, and loth to leave her so."
Even so these fond and foolish old institutions part company in northern regions, and, at the early hour of two o'clock in the morning, the amorous twilight reappears in his foggy mantle, to look at the fair face of his ancient sweetheart in the month of June.
Tea being over, the "cluck" of the row-locks woke the echoes of the twilight bay, as our little yawl put off again for the new town, with a gay evening party, consisting of the captain, his lady, the baby, Picton and myself, with a brace of Newfoundland oarsmen. If our galley was not a stately one, it was at least a cheerful vessel, and as the keel grated on the snow-white pebbles of the beach, Picton and I sprang ashore, with all the gallantry of a couple of Sir Walter Raleighs, to assist the queen of the "Balaklava" upon terra firma. Her majesty being landed, we made a royal procession to the largest hutch on the green slope before us, the captain carrying the insignia of his marital office (the baby) with great pomp and awkward ceremony, in front, while his lady, Picton and I, loitered in the rear. We had barely crossed the sill of the hutch-door, before we felt quite at home and welcome. The same cheery fire in the chimney-place, the spotless floor, the tidy rush-bottomed chairs, and a whole nest of little white-heads and twinkling eyes, just on the border of a bright patchwork quilt, was invitation enough, even if we had not been met at the threshold by the master himself, who stretched out his great arms with a kind, "Come-in-and-how-are-ye-all."
And what a wonderful evening we passed in that other hutch, before the blazing hearth-fire! What stories of wrecks and rescues, of icebergs and whales, of fogs and fisheries, of domestic lobsters that brought up their little families, in the mouths of the sunken cannon of the French frigates; of the great sharks that were sometimes caught in the meshes of the set-nets! "There was one shark," said our host, another old fisherman, who, by the way, wore a red skull-cap like a cardinal, and had a habit of bobbing his head as he spoke, so as to put one continually in mind of a gigantic woodpecker—"there was one shark I mind particular. My two boys and me was hauling in the net, and soon as I felt it, says I, 'Boys, here's something more than common.' So we all hauled away, and O my! didn't the water boil when he come up? Such a time! Fortnatly, he come up tail first. LORD, if he'd a come up head first he'd a bit the boat in two at one bite! He was all hooked in, and twisted up with the net. I s'pose he had forty hooks in him; and when he got his head above water, he was took sick, and such a time as he had! He must a' vomited up about two barrels of bait—true as I set here. Well, as soon as he got over that, then he tried to get his head around to bite! LORD, if he'd got his head round, he'd a bit the boat in two, and we had it right full of fish, for we'd been out all day with hand-lines. He had a nose in front of his gills just like a duck, only it was nigh upon six feet long."
"It must have been a shovel-nose shark," said Picton.
"That's what a captain of a coaster told me," replied Red-Cap; "he said it must a been a shovel-nose. If he'd only got that shovel-nose turned around, he'd a shovelled us into eternity, fish and all."
"What prevented him getting his head around?" said Picton.
"Why, sir, I took two half-hitches round his tail, soon as I see him come up. And I tell ye when I make two half-hitches, they hold; ask captain there, if I can't make hitches as will hold. What say, captain?"
Captain assented with a confirmatory nod.
"What did you do then?" said Picton. "Did you get him ashore?"
"Get him ashore?" muttered Red-Cap, covering his mouth with one broad brown hand to muffle a contemptuous laugh; "get him ashore! why, we was pretty well off shore for such a sail."
"You might have rowed him ashore," said Picton.
"Rowed him ashore?" echoed Red-Cap, with another contemptuous smile under the brown hand; "rowed him ashore?"
The traveller, finding he was in deep water, answered: "Yes; that is, if you were not too far out."
"A little too far out," replied Red-Cap; "why if I had been a hundred yards only from shore, it would ha' been too far to row, or sail in, with that shovel-nose, without counting the set-nets."
"And what did you do?" said Picton, a little nettled.
"Why," said Red-Cap, "I had to let him go, but first I cut out his liver, and that I did bring ashore, although it filled my boat pretty well full. You can judge how big it was: after I brought it ashore I lay it out on the beach and we measured it, Mr. McAlpin and me, and he'll tell you so too; we laid it out on the beach, that ere liver, and it measured seventeen feet, and then we didn't measure all of it."
"Why the devil," said Picton, "didn't you measure all of it?"
"Well," replied Red-Cap, "because we hadn't a measure long enough."
Meantime the good lady of the hutch was busy arranging some tumblers on the table, and to our great surprise and delight a huge yellow pitcher of milk soon made its appearance, and immediately after an old-fashioned iron bake-pan, with an upper crust of live embers and ashes, was lifted off the chimney trammel, and when it was opened, the fragrance of hot ginger-bread filled the apartment. Then Red-Cap bobbed away at a corner cupboard, until he extracted therefrom a small keg or runlet of St. Croix rum of most ripe age and choice flavor, some of which, by an adroit and experienced crook of the elbow, he managed to insinuate into the milk, which, with a little brown sugar, he stirred up carefully and deliberately with a large spoon, Picton and I watching the proceedings with intense interest. Then the punch was poured out and handed around; while the good wife made little trips from guest to guest with a huge platter filled with the brown and fragrant pieces of the cake, fresh from the bake-pan. And so the baby having subsided (our baby of the "Balaklava"), and the twilight having given place to a grand moonlight on the bay, and the fire sending out its beams of warmth and happiness, glittering on the utensils of the dresser, and tenderly touching with rosy light the cheeks of the small, white-headed fishermen on the margin of the patchwork quilt; while there was no lack of punch and hospitality in the yellow pitcher, who shall say that we were not as well off in the fisherman's hutch as in a grand saloon, surrounded with frescoes and flunkeys, and served with thin lemonade upon trays of silver?
I do not know why it is, but there always has been something very attractive to me in the faces of children; I love to read the physiognomy of posterity, and so get a history of the future world in miniature, before the book itself is fairly printed. And insomuch as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are said to be the nurseries of England's seamen, it was with no little interest that I caught a glimpse of two boys, one thirteen, the other eleven years old, the eldest children of our friend Red-Cap.
They came in just as we entered the hutch, and quietly seated themselves together by the corner of the fire-place, after modestly shaking hands with all the guests. They were dressed in plain home-spun clothes, with something of a sailor rig, especially the neat check shirts, and old-fashioned, little, low-quartered, round-toed shoes, such as are always a feature in the melo-drama where Jack plays a part. It is not usual, too, to see such stocky, robust frames as these fisher-boys presented; and in all three, in the father and his two sons, was one general, pervading idea of cleanliness and housewifery. And then, to notice the physiognomy again, each small face, though modest as that of no girl which I could recall at the moment, had its own tale of hardihood to tell; there was a something that recalled the open sea, written in either countenance; courage and endurance; faith and self-reliance; the compass and the rudder; speaking plainly out under each little thatch of white hair. And indeed, as we found out afterwards, those young countenances told the truth; those fisher-boys were Red-Cap's only boat-crew. In all weathers, in all seasons, by night and by day, the three were together, the parent and his two children, upon the perilous deep.
"If I were the father of those boys," I whispered to Red-Cap, "I would be proud of them."
"Would ye?" said he, with a proud, fatherly glance towards them; "well, I thought so once mysel'; it was when a schooner got ashore out there on the rocks; and we could see her, just under the lights of the lighthouse, pounding away; and by reason of the ice, nobody would venture; so my boys said, says they, 'Father, we can go, any way.' So I wouldn't stop when they said that, and so we laid beside the schooner and took off all her crew pretty soon, and they mostly dead with the cold; but it was an awful bad night, what with the darkness and the ice. Yes," he added, after a pause, "they are good boys now; but they won't be with me many years."
"And why not?" I inquired, for I could not see that the young Red-Caps exhibited any migratory signs of their species to justify the remark.
"Because all our boys go to the States just as soon as they get old enough."
"To the States!" I echoed with no little surprise; "why, I thought they all entered the British Navy, or something of that kind."
"Lord bless ye," said Red-Cap, "not one of them. Enter the British Navy! Why, man, you get the whole of our young people. What would they want to enter the British Navy for, when they can enter the United States of America?"
"The air of Cape Breton is certainly favorable to health," said I, in a whisper, to Picton; "look, for example, at the mistress of the hutch!" and so surely as I have a love of womanity, so surely I intended to convey a sentiment of admiration in the brief words spoken to Picton. The wife of Bonnet Rouge was at least not young, but her cheek was smooth, and flushed with the glow of health; her eyes liquid and bright; her hair brown, and abundant; her step light and elastic. Although neither Picton, captain, or anybody else in the hutch would remind one of the Angel Raphael, yet Mrs. Red-Cap, as
——"With dispatchful looks, in haste She turned, on hospitable thoughts intent,"
was somewhat suggestive of Eve; her movements were grand and simple; there was a welcome in her face that dimpled in and out with every current topic; a Miltonic grandeur in her air, whether she walked or waited. I could not help but admire her, as I do everything else noble and easily understood. Mrs. Red-Cap was a splendid woman; the wife of a fisherman, with an unaffected grace beyond the reach of art, and poor old Louisburgh was something to speak of. Picton expressed his admiration in stronger and profaner language.
We were not the only guests at Red-Cap's. The lighthouse keeper, Mr. Kavanagh, a bachelor and scholar, with his sister, had come down to take a moonlight walk over the heather; for in new Scotland as in old Scotland, the bonny heather blooms, although not so much familiarized there by song and story. But we shall visit lighthouse Point anon, and spend some hours with the two Kavanaghs. Forthright, into the teeth of the harbor, the wind is blowing: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou nearest the sound therof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth." How long the "Balaklava" may stay here is yet uncertain. So, with a good-night to the Red-Caps and their guests, we once more bear away for the cabin of the schooner and another night's discomfort.
As I have said before in other words, this province is nothing more than a piece of patchwork, intersected with petty boundary lines, so that every nation is stitched in and quilted in spots, without any harmony, or coherence, or general design. The people of Louisburgh are a kind, hospitable, pleasant people, tolerably well informed for the inhabitants of so isolated a corner of the world; but a few miles further off we come upon a totally different race: a canting, covenanting, oat-eating, money-griping, tribe of second-hand Scotch Presbyterians: a transplanted, degenerate, barren patch of high cheek-bones and red hair, with nothing cleaving to them of the original stock, except covetousness and that peculiar cutaneous eruption for which the mother country is celebrated. But we shall soon have enough of these Scotsmen, good reader. Our present visit is to Lighthouse Point, to look out upon the broad Atlantic, the rocky coast, and the island battery, which a century since gave so much trouble to our filibustering fathers of New England. As we walked towards the lighthouse over the pebbly beach that borders the green turf, Picton suddenly starts off and begins a series of great jumps on the turf, giving with every grasshopper-leap a sort of interjectional "Whuh! whuh!" as though the feat was not confined to the leg-muscles only, but included also a necessary exercise of the lungs. And although we shouted at the traveller, he kept on towards the lighthouse, uttering with every jump, "Heather, heather." At last he came to, beside a group of evergreens, and grew rational. The springy, elastic sod, the heather of old Scotland, reproduced in new Scotland, had reminded him of reels and strathspeys, "for," said he, "nobody can walk upon this sort of thing without feeling a desire to dance upon it. Thunder and turf! if we only had the pipes now!"
And sure enough here was the heather; the soft, springy turf, which has made even Scotchmen affectionate. I do not wonder at it; it answers to the foot-step like an echo, as the string of an instrument answers its concord; as love answers love in unison. I do not wonder that Scotchmen love the heather; I am only surprised that so much heather should be wasted on Scotchmen.
We had anticipated a fine marine view from the lighthouse, but in place of it we could only see a sort of semi-luminous vapor, usually called a fog, which enveloped ocean, island, and picturesque coast. We could not discover the Island Battery opposite, which had bothered Sir William in the siege of '45; but nevertheless, we could judge of the difficulty of reaching it with a hostile force, screened as it was by its waves and vapors. The lighthouse is striped with black and white bars, like a zebra, and we entered it. One cannot help but admire such order and neatness, for the lighthouse is a marvel of purity. We were everywhere—in the bed-rooms, in the great lantern with its glittering lamps, in the hall, the parlor, the kitchen; and found in all the same pervading virtue; as fresh and sweet as a bride was that old zebra-striped lighthouse. The Kavanaghs, brother and sister, live here entirely alone; what with books and music, the ocean, the ships, and the sky, they have company enough. One could not help liking them, they have such cheerful faces, and are so kind and hospitable. Good bye, good friends, and peace be with you always! On our route schooner-ward we danced back over the heather, Picton with great joy carrying a small basket filled with his national fruit—a present from the Kavanaghs. What a feast we shall have, fresh fish, lobster, and above all—potatoes!
It is a novel sight to see the firs and spruces on this stormy sea-coast. They grow out, and not up; an old tree spreading over an area of perhaps twenty feet in diameter, with the inevitable spike of green in its centre, and that not above a foot and a half from the ground. The trees in this region are possessed of extraordinary sagacity; they know how hard the wind blows at times, and therefore put forth their branches in full squat, just like country girls at a pic-nic.
On Sunday the wind is still ahead, and Picton and I determine to abandon the "Balaklava." How long she may yet remain in harbor is a matter of fate; so, with brave, resolute hearts, we start off for a five-mile walk, to McGibbet's, the only owner of a horse and wagon in the vicinity of Louisburgh. Squirrels, robins, and rabbits appear and disappear in the road as we march forwards. The country is wild, and in its pristine state; nature everywhere. Now a brook, now a tiny lake, and "the murmuring pines and the hemlocks." At last we arrive at the house of McGibbet, and encounter new Scotland in all its original brimstone and oatmeal.
A Blue-Nosed Pair of the most Cerulean Hue—Prospects of a Hard Bargain—Case of Necessity—Romantic Lake with an Unromantic Name—The Discussion concerning Oatmeal—Danger of the Gasterophili—McGibbet makes a Proposition—Farewell to the "Balaklava"—A Midnight Journey—Sydney—Boat Excursion to the Mic Macs—Picton takes off his Mackintosh.
Some learned philosopher has asserted that when a person has become accustomed to one peculiar kind of diet, it will be expressed in the lineaments of his face. How much the constant use of oatmeal could produce such an effect, was plainly visible in the countenances of McGibbet and his lady-love. Both had an unmistakable equine cast; McGibbet, wild, scraggy, and scrubby, with a tuft on his poll that would not have been out of place between the ears of a plough-horse, stared at us, just as such an animal would naturally over the top of a fence; while his gentle mate, who had more of the amiable draught-horse in her aspect, winked at us with both eyes from under a close-crimped frill, that bore a marvellous resemblance to a head-stall. The pair had evidently just returned from kirk. To say nothing of McGibbet's hat, and his wife's shawl, on a chair, and his best boots on the hearth (for he was walking about in his stockings), there was a dry preceese air about them, which plainly betokened they were newly stiffened up with the moral starch of the conventicle, and were therefore well prepared to drive a hard bargain for a horse and wagon to Sydney. But what surprised me most of all was the imperturbable coolness of Picton. Without taking a look scarcely at the persons he was addressing, the traveller stalked in with an—"I say, we want a horse and wagon to Sydney; so look sharp, will you, and turn out the best thing you have here?"
The moral starch of the conventicle stiffened up instantly. Like the blacksmith of Cairnvreckan, who, as a professor, would drive a nail for no man on the Sabbath or kirk-fast, unless in a case of absolute necessity, and then always charged an extra saxpence for each shoe; so it was plain to be seen that McGibbet had a conscience which required to be pricked both with that which knows no law, and the saxpence extra. He turned to his wife and addressed her in Gaelic! Then we knew what was coming.
Mrs. McGibbet opened the subject by saying that they were both accustomed to the observance of the Sabbath, and that "she didn't think it was right for man to transgress, when the law was so plain"——
Here McGibbet broke in and said that—"He was free to confess he had commeeted a grreat menny theengs kwhich were a grreat deal worse than Sabbath-breaking."
Upon which Mrs. McG. interrupted him in turn with a few words, which, although in Gaelic, a language we did not understand, conveyed the impression that she was not addressing her liege lord in the language of endearment, and again continued in English: "That it was held sinful in the community to wark or do anything o' the sort, or to fetch or carry even a sma bundle"——