"For kwich," said McGibbet, "is a fine to be paid to the meenister, of five shillins currency"——
Here Picton stopped whistling a bar of "Bonny Doon," and observed to me: "About a dollar of your money. We'll pay the fine."
"Yes," chimed in McGibbet, "a dollar"——and was again stopped by his wife, who raised her eyebrows to the borders of her kirk-frill and brought them down vehemently over her blue eyes at him.
"Or to travel the road," she said, "even on foot, to say nothing of a wagon and horse."
"But," interrupted Picton, "my dear madam, we must get on, I tell you; I must be in Sydney to-morrow, to catch the steamer for St. John's."
At this observation of the traveller the pair fell back upon their Gaelic for a while, and in the meantime Picton whispered me: "I see; they want to raise the price on us: but we won't give in; they'll be sharp enough after the job by and by."
The pair turned towards us and both shook their heads. It was plain to be seen the conference had not ended in our favor.
"Ye see," said the gude-wife, "we are accustomed to the observance of the Sabbath, and would na like to break it, except"—
"In a case of necessity; you are perfectly right," chimed in Picton; "I agree with you myself. Now this is a case of necessity; here we are; we must get on, you see; if we don't get on we miss the steamer to-morrow for St. John's—she only runs once a fortnight there—it's plain enough a clear case of necessity; it's like," continued Picton, evidently trying to corner some authority in his mind, "it's like—let me see—it's like—a—pulling—a sheep out of a ditch—a—which they always do on the Sabbath, you know, to a—get us on to Sydney."
Both McGibbet and his wife smiled at Picton's ingenuity, but straightway put on the equine look again. "It might be so; but it was clean contrary to their preenciples."
"I'll be hanged," whispered Picton, "if I offer more than the usual price, which I heard at Louisburgh was one pound ten, to Sydney, and the fine extra. I see what they are after."
There was an awkward pause in the negotiations. McGibbet scratched his poll, and looked wistfully at his wife, but the kirk-frill was stiffened up with the moral starch, as aforesaid.
Suddenly, Picton looked out of the window. "By Jove!" said he, "I think the wind is changed! After all, we may get around in the 'Balaklava.'"
McGibbet looked somewhat anxiously out of the window also, and grunted out a little more Gaelic to his love. The kirk-frill relented a trifle.
"Perhaps the gentlemen wad like a glass of milk after thae long walk? and Robert" (which she pronounced Robbut), "a bit o' the corn-cake."
Upon which Robbut, with great alacrity, turned towards the bed-room, from whence he brought forth a great white disk, that resembled the head of a flour-barrel, but which proved to be a full-grown griddle cake of corn-meal. This, with the pure milk, from the cleanest of scoured pans, was acceptable enough after the long walk.
We had observed some beautiful streams, and blue glimpses of lakes on the road to McGibbet's, and just beyond his house was a larger lake, several miles in extent, with picturesque hills on either side, indented-with coves, and studded with islands, sometimes stretching away to distant slopes of green turf, and sometimes reflecting masses of precipitous rock, crowned with the spiry tops of spruces and firs. Indeed, all the country around, both meadow and upland, was very pleasing to the sight. A low range of hills skirted the northern part of what seemed to be a spacious, natural amphitheatre, while on the south side a diversity of highlands and water added to the whole the charm of variety.
"You have a fine country about you, Mr. McGibbet," said I.
"Ay," he replied.
"And what is it called here?"
"We ca' it Get-Along!" said Robbut, with an intensely Scotch accent on the "Get."
"And yonder beautiful lake—what is the name of that?" said I, in hopes of taking refuge behind something more euphonious.
"Oh! ay," replied he, "that's just Get-Along, too. We doan't usually speak of it, but whan we do, we just ca' it Get-Along Lake, and it's not good for much."
I thought it best to change the subject. "Do you like this as well as the oat-cake?" said I, with my mouth full of the dry, husky provender.
"Nae," said McGibbet, with an equine shake of the head, "it's not sae fellin."
Not so filling! Think of that, ye pampered minions of luxury, who live only upon delicate viands; who prize food, not as it useful, but as it is tasteful; who can even encourage a depraved, sensual appetite so far as to appreciate flavor; who enjoy meats, fish, and poultry, only as they minister to your palates; who flirt with spring-chickens and trifle with sweet-breads in wanton indolence, without a thought of your cubic capacity; without a reflection that you can live just as well upon so many square inches of oatmeal a day as you can upon the most elaborate French kickshaws; nay, that you can be elevated to the level of a scientific problem, and work out your fillings, with nothing to guide you but a slate and pencil!
"Then you like oatmeal better than this?" said Picton, soothing down a husky lump, with a cup of milk.
"Ay," responded McGibbet.
"And you always eat it, whenever you can get it, I suppose?" continued Picton, with a most innocent air.
"Ay," responded McGibbet.
"I should think some of you Scotchmen would be afraid of contracting a disease that is engendered in the system by the use of this sort of grain. I hope, Mr. McGibbet," said Picton, with imperturbable coolness, "you keep clear of the bots, and that sort of thing, you know?"
"Kwat?" said Robbut, with the most startled, horse-like look he had yet put on.
"The gasterophili," replied Picton, "which I would advise you to steer clear of, if you want to live long."
As this was a word with too many gable-ends for Robbut's comprehension, he only responded by giving such a smile as a man might be expected to give who had his mouth full of aloes, and as the conversation was wandering off from the main point, addressed himself to Mrs. McG. in the vernacular again.
"We would like to obleege ye," said the lady, "if it was not for the transgression; and we do na like to break the Sabbath for ony man."
"Although," interposed Robbut, "I am free to confess that I have done a great many things worse than breakin' the Sabbath."
"But if to-morrow would do as well," resumed his wife, "Robbut would take ye to Sydney."
To this Picton shook his head. "Too late for the steamer."
"Or to-night; I wad na mind that," said the pious Robbut, "if it was after dark, and that will bring ye to Sydney before the morn."
"That will do," said Picton, slapping his thigh. "Lend us your horse and wagon to go down to the schooner and get our luggage; we will be back this evening, and then go on to Sydney, eh? That will do; a ride by moonlight;" and the traveller jumped up from his seat, walked with great strides towards the fire-place, turned his back to the blaze, hung a coat-tail over each arm, and whistled "Annie Laurie" at Mrs. McGibbet.
The suggestion of Picton meeting the views of all concerned, the diplomacy ended. Robbut put himself in his Sunday boots, and hitched up a spare rib of a horse before a box-wagon without springs, which he brought before the door with great complacency. The traveller and I were soon on the ground-floor of the vehicle, seated upon a log of wood by way of cushion; and with a chirrup from McGibbet, off we went. At the foot of the first hill, our horse stopped; in vain Picton jerked at the rein, and shouted at him: not a step further would he go, until Robbut himself came down to the rescue. "Get along, Boab!" said his master; and Bob, with a mute, pitiful appeal in his countenance, turned his face towards salt-water. At the foot of the next hill he stopped again, when the irascible Picton jumped out, and with one powerful twitch of the bridle, gave Boab such a hint to "get on," that it nearly jerked his head off. And Boab did get on, only to stop at the ascent of the next hill. Then we began to understand the tactics of the animal. Boab had been the only conveyance between Louisburgh and Sydney for many years, and, as he was usually over-burdened, made a point to stop at the up side of every hill on the road, to let part of his freight get out and walk to the top of the acclivity with him. So, by way of compromise, we made a feint of getting out at every rise of ground, and Boab, who always turned his head around at each stopping-place, seemed to be satisfied with the observance of the ceremony, and trotted gaily forward. At last we came to a place we had named Sebastopol in the morning—a great sharp edge of rock as high as a man's waist, that cut the road in half, over which we lifted the wagon, and were soon in view of the bright little harbor and the "Balaklava" at anchor. Mr. McAlpin kindly gave quarters to our steed in his out-house, and offered to raise a signal for the schooner to send a boat ashore. As he was Deputy United States Consul, and as I was tired of the red-cross of St. George, I asked him to hoist his consular flag. Up to the flag-staff truck rose the roll of white and red worsted, then uncoiled, blew out, and the blessed stars and stripes were waving over me. It is surprising to think how transported one can be sometimes with a little bit of bunting!
And now the labor of packing commenced, of which Picton had the greatest share by far; the little cabin of the schooner was pretty well spread out with his traps on every side; and this being ended, Picton got out his travelling-organ and blazed away in a finale of great tunes and small, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, as the humor took him. After all, we parted from the jolly little craft with regret: our trunks were lowered over the side; we shook hands with all on board; and were rowed in silence to the land.
I have had some experience in travelling, and have learned to bear with ordinary firmness and philosophy the incidental discomforts one is certain to meet with on the road; but I must say, the discipline already acquired had not prepared me for the unexpected appearance of our wagon after Picton's luggage was placed in it. First, two solid English trunks of sole-leather filled the bottom of the vehicle; then the traveller's Minie-rifle, life-preserver, strapped-up blankets, and hand-bag were stuffed in the sides: over these again were piled my trunk and the traveller's valise (itself a monster of straps and sole-leather); then again his portable-secretary and the hand-organ in a box. These made such a pyramid of luggage, that riding ourselves was out of the question. What with the trunks and the cordage to keep them staid, our wagon looked like a ship of the desert. To crown all, it began to rain steadily. "Now, then," said Picton, climbing up on his confounded travelling equipage, "let's get on." With some difficulty I made a half-seat on the corner of my own trunk; Picton shouted out at Boab; the Newfoundland sailors who had brought us ashore, put their shoulders to the wheels, and away we went, waving our hats in answer to the hearty cheers of the sailors. It was down hill from McAlpin's to the first bridge, and so far we had nothing to care for, except to keep a look-out we were not shaken off our high perch. But at the foot of the first hill Boab stopped! In vain Picton shouted at him to get on; in vain he shook rein and made a feint of getting down from the wagon. Boab was not intractable, but he was sagacious; he had been fed on that sort of chaff too long. Picton and I were obliged to humor his prejudices, and dismount in the mud, and after one or two feeble attempts at a ride, gave it up, walked down hill and up, lifted the wagon by inches over Sebastopol, and finally arrived at McGibbet's, wet, tired, and hungry. That Sabbath-broker received us with a grim smile of satisfaction, put on the half-extinguished fire the smallest bit of wood he could find in the pile beside the hearth, and then went away with Boab to the stable. "Gloomy prospects ahead, Picton!" The traveller said never a word.
Now I wish to record here this, that there is no place, no habitation of man, however humble, that cannot be lighted up with a smile of welcome, and the good right-hand of hospitality, and made cheerful as a palace hung with the lamps of Aladdin!
McGibbet, after leading his beast to the stable, returned, and warming his wet hands at the fire, grunted out; "It rains the nigcht."
"Yes," answered Picton, hastily, "rains like blue blazes: I say, get us a drop of whisky, will you?"
To this the equine replied by folding his hands one over the other with a saintly look. "I never keep thae thing in the hoose."
"Picton," said I, "if we could only unlash our luggage, I have a bottle of capital old brandy in my trunk, but it's too much trouble."
"Oh! na," quoth Robbut with a most accommodating look, "it will be nae trooble to get to it."
"Well, then," said Picton, "look sharp, will you?" and our host, with great swiftness, moved off to the wagon, and very soon returned with the trunk on his shoulder, according to directions.
"But," said I, taking out the bottle of precious fluid, "here it is, corked up tight, and what is to be done for a cork-screw?"
"I've got one," said the saint.
"I thought it was likely," quoth Picton, drily; "look sharp, will you?"
And Robbut did look sharp, and produced the identical instrument before Picton and I had exchanged smiles. Then Robbut spread out three green tumblers on the table, and following Picton's lead, poured out a stout half-glass, at which I shouted out, "Hold up!" for I thought he was filling the tumbler for my benefit. It proved to be a mistake; Robbut stopped for a moment, but instantly recovering himself, covered the tumbler with his four fingers, and, to use a Western phrase, "got outside of the contents quicker than lightning." Then he brought from his bed-room a coarse sort of worsted horse-blanket, and with a "Ye'll may-be like to sleep an hour or twa?" threw down his family-quilt and retired to the arms of Mrs. McG. Picton gave a great crunching blow with his boot-heel at the back-stick, and laid on a good supply of fuel. We were wet through and through, but we wrapped ourselves in our travelling-blankets like a brace of clansmen in their plaids, put our feet towards the niggardly blaze, and were soon bound and clasped with sleep.
At two o'clock our host roused us from our hard bed, and after a stretch, to get the stiffness out of joints and muscles, we took leave of the Presbyterian quarters. The day was just dawning: at this early hour, lake and hill-side, tree and thicket, were barely visible in the grey twilight. The wagon, with its pyramid of luggage, moved off in the rain, McGibbet walking beside Boab, and Picton and I following after, with all the gravity of chief mourners at a funeral. To give some idea of the road we were upon, let it be understood, it had once been an old French military road, which, after the destruction of the fortress of Louisburgh, had been abandoned to the British Government and the elements. As a consequence, it was embroidered with the ruts and gullies of a century, the washing of rains, and the tracks of wagons; howbeit, the only traverse upon it in later years were the wagon of McGibbet and the saddle-horse of the post-rider. "Get-Along" had a population of seven hundred Scotch Presbyters, and therefore it will be easy to understand the condition of its turnpike.
Up hill and down hill, through slough and over rock, we trudged, for mile after mile. Sometimes beside Get-Along Lake, with its grey, spectral islands and woodlands; sometimes by rushing brooks and dreary farm-fields; now in paths close set with evergreens; now in more open grounds, skirted with hills and dotted with silent, two-penny cottages. Sometimes Picton mounted his pyramid of trunk-leather for a mile or so of nods; sometimes I essayed the high perch, and holding on by a cord, dropped off in a moment's forgetfulness, with the constant fear of waking up in a mud-hole, or under the wagon-wheels. But even these respites were brief. It is not easy to ride up hill and down by rock and rut, under such conditions. We were very soon convinced it was best to leave the wagon to its load of sole-leather, and walk through the mud to Sydney.
After mouldy Halifax, and war-worn Louisburgh, the little town of Sydney is a pleasant rural picture. Everybody has heard of the Sydney coal-mines: we expected to find the miner's finger-marks everywhere; but instead of the smoky, sulphurous atmosphere, and the black road, and the sulky, grimy, brick tenements, we were surprised with clean, white, picket-fences; and green lawns, and clever, little cottages, nestled in shrubbery and clover. The mines are over the bay, five miles from South Sydney. Slowly we dragged on, until we came to a sleepy little one-story inn, with supernatural dormer windows rising out of the roof, before which Boab stopped. We paid McGibbet's kirk-fine, wagon-fare, and his unconscionable charge for his conscience, without parleying with him; we were too sleepy to indulge in the luxury of a monetary skirmish. A pretty, red-cheeked chambermaid, with lovely drooping eyes, showed us to our rooms; it was yet very early in the morning; we were almost ashamed to get into bed with such dazzling white sheets after the dark-brown accommodations of the "Balaklava;" but we did get in, and slept; oh! how sweetly! until breakfast at one!
"Twenty-four miles of such foot-travel will do pretty well for an invalid, eh, Picton?"
"All serene?" quoth the traveller, interrogatively.
"Feel as well as ever I did in my life," said I, with great satisfaction.
"Then let's have a bath," and, at Picton's summons, the chambermaid brought up in our rooms two little tubs of fair water, and a small pile of fat, white napkins. The bathing over, and the outer men new clad, "from top to toe," down we went to the cosy parlor to breakfast; and such a breakfast!
I tell you, my kind and gentle friend; you, who are now reading this paragraph, that here, as in all other parts of the world, there are a great many kinds of people; only that here, in Nova Scotia, the difference is in spots, not in individuals. And I will venture to say to those philanthropists who are eternally preaching "of the masses," and "to the masses," that here "masses" can be found—concrete "masses," not yet individualized: as ready to jump after a leader as a flock of sheep after a bell-wether; only that at every interval of five or ten miles between place and place in Nova Scotia, they are apt to jump in contrary directions. There are Scotch Nova Scotiaites even in Sydney. Otherwise the place is marvellously pleasant.
I must confess that I had a romantic sort of idea in visiting Sydney; a desire to return by way of the Bras d'Or lake, the "arm of gold," the inland sea of Cape Breton, that makes the island itself only a border for the water in its interior. And as the navigation is frequently performed by the Micmac Indians, in their birch-bark canoes, I determined to be a voyageur for the nonce, and engage a couple of Micmacs to paddle me homewards, at least one day's journey. The wigwams of the tribe were pitched about a mile from the town, and I proposed a visit to their camp as an afternoon's amusement. Picton readily assented, and down we went to the wharf, where the landlady assured us we would find some of the tribe. These Indians, often expert coopers, are employed to barrel up fish; the busy wharf was covered with laborers, hard at work, heading and hooping ship loads of salt mackerel; and among the workmen were some with the unmistakable lozenge eyes, high cheek-bones, and rhubarb complexion of the native American. Upon inquiry, we were introduced to one of the Rhubarbarians. He was a little fellow, not in leggings and quill-embroidered hunting-shirt, with belt of wampum and buckskin moccasins; armed with bow and arrow, tomahawk and scalping-knife; such as one would expect to navigate a wild, romantic lake with, in birch-bark canoe; but a pinched-up specimen of a man, in a seedy black suit, out of which rose a broad, flat face, like the orb of a sun-flower, bearing one side the aboriginal black eye, and on the other the civilized, surrounded with the blue and purple halo of battle. We had barely opened our business with the Indian, when a bonny Scotchman, a fellow-cooper of salt mackerel, introduced himself:
"Oh, ye visit the Micmacs the day?"
"De'il a canoe has he to tak ye there" (the Indian slunk away), "but I'll tak ye tull 'em for one and saxpence, in a gude boat."
The fellow had such an honest face, and the offer was so fair and earnest, that Picton's and my own trifling prejudices were soon overcome, and we directed Malcolm, for that was his name, to bring his boat under the inn-windows after the dinner-hour. I regret to say that we found Malcolm tolerably drunk after dinner, with a leaky boat, under the inn-windows. And farther, I am pained to state the national characteristic was developed in Malcolm drunk, from which there was no appeal to Malcolm sober, for he insisted upon double fare, and time was pressing. To this we assented, after a brief review of former prejudices. We got in the boat and put off. We had barely floated away into the beautiful landscape when a fog swept over us, and Malcolm's nationality again woke up. He would have four times as much as he had charged in the first instance, or "he'd tak us over, and land us on the ither side of the bay."
Then Picton's nationality woke up, and he unbuttoned his mackintosh. "Now, sir," said he to Malcolm, as he rose from his seat in the boat, his head gracefully inclined towards his starboard shirt-collar, and his two tolerably large fists arrayed in order of battle within a few brief inches of the delinquent's features, "did I understand you to say that you had some idea of taking this gentleman and myself to the other side of the bay?"
There was a boy in our boat—a fair-haired, blue-eyed representative of Nova Scotia; a sea-boy, with a dash of salt-water in his ruddy cheeks, who had modestly refrained from taking part in the dispute.
"Come, now," said he to Malcolm, "pull away, and let us get the gentlemen up to the camp," and he knit his boy brow with determination, as if he meant to have it settled according to contract.
"Yes," said Picton, nodding at the boy, "and if he don't"——
"I'm pullin' an't I?" quoth the descendant of King Duncan, a little frightened, and suiting the action to the word; "I'm a-pewlin," and here his oar missed the water, and over he tumbled with a great splash in the bottom of the boat. "I'm a-pewlin," he whined, as he regained his seat and the oar, "and all I want is to hae my honest airnins."
"Then pull away," said Picton, as he resumed his seat in the stern-sheets.
"Ay," quoth the Scotchman, "I know the Micmacs weel, and thae squaws too; deil a one o' 'em but knows Malcolm"——
"Pull away," said the boy.
"They are guid-lookin', thae squaws, and I'm a bachelter; and I tell ye when I tak ye tull em—for I know the hail o' em—if ye are gentlemen, ye'll pay me my honest airnins."
"And I tell you," answered Picton, his fist clenched, his eye flashing again, and his indignant nostrils expressing a degree of anger language could not express; "I tell you, if you do not carry us to the Micmac camp without further words, I'll pay you your honest earnings before you get there: I'll punch that Scotch head of yours till it looks like a photograph!"
The Micmac Camp—Indian Church-warden and Broker—Interior of a Wigwam—A Madonna—A Digression—Malcolm discharged—An Indian Bargain—The Inn Parlor, and a Comfortable Night's Rest.
The threat had its effect: in a few minutes our boat ran bows-on up the clear pebbled beach before the Micmac camp.
It was a little cluster of birch-bark wigwams, pitched upon a carpet of greensward, just at the edge of one of the loveliest harbors in the world. The fog rolled away like the whiff of vapor from a pipe, and melted out of sight. Before us were the blue and violet waters, tinged with the hues of sunset, the rounded, swelling, curving shores opposite, dotted with cottages; the long, sweeping, creamy beaches, the distant shipping, and, beyond, the great waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Nearer at hand were "the murmuring pines and the hemlocks," the tender green light seen in vistas of firs and spruces, the thin smoke curling up from the wigwams, the birch-bark canoes, the black, bright eyes of the children, the sallow faces of the men, and the pretty squaws, arrayed in blue broad-cloth frocks and leggings, and modesty, and moccasins.
"Now, here we are," said Malcolm, triumphantly, "and wha d'ye thenk o' the Micmacs? Deil a wan o' the yellow deevils but knows Malcolm, an I'll introjewce ye to the hail o' em."
"Stop, sir," said Picton, sternly, "we want none of your company. You can take your boat back," (here I nodded affirmatively), "and we'll walk home."
It was quite a picture, that of our oarsman, upon this summons to depart. He had just laid his hand upon the shoulder of a fat, good-natured looking squaw, to commence the introjewcing; one foot rested on the bottom of an overturned canoe, in an attitude of command; his old battered tarpaulin hat, his Guernsey shirt, and salt-mackerel trowsers, finely relieved against the violet-tinted water; but oh! how chop-fallen were those rugged features under that old tarpaulin!
The scene had its effect; I am sure Picton and myself would gladly have paid the quadruple sum on the spot—after all, it was but a trifle—for we both drew forth a sovereign at the same moment.
Unfortunately Malcolm had no change; not a "bawbee." "Then," said we, "go back to the inn, and we'll pay you on our return."
"And," said Malcolm, in an unearthly whine that might have been heard all over the camp, "d' ye get me here to take advantage o' me, and no pay me my honest airnins?"
"What the devil to do with this fellow, short, of giving him a drubbing, I do not know," said Picton. "Here, you, give us change for a sovereign, or take yourself off and wait at the hotel till we get back again."
"I canna change a sovereign, I tell ye"——
"Then be off with you, and wait."
"Wad ye send me away without my honest airnins?" he uttered, with a whine like the bleat of a bagpipe.
Picton drew a little closer to Malcolm, with one fist carefully doubled up and put in ambush behind his back. But the boy interposed—"Perhaps the Micmac chief could change the sovereign."
"Oh! ay," quoth Malcolm, who had given an uneasy look at Picton as he stepped towards him; "Oh! ay; I'se tak ye tull 'im;" and without further ado he stepped off briskly towards the centre of the camp, and we followed in his wake. When our file-leader reached the wigwam of the chief, he went down on hands and knees, lifted up a little curtain or blanket in front of the low door of the tent, crawled in head first, and we followed close upon his heels.
As soon as the eye became accustomed to the dim and uncertain light of the interior, we began to examine the curious and simple architecture of this human bee-hive. A circle of poles, say about ten feet in diameter at the base, and tied together to an apex at the top, covered with the thin bark of the birch-tree, except a space above to let out the smoke, was all the protection these people had against the elements in summer or winter. The floor, of course, was the primitive soil of Cape Breton; in the centre of the tent a few sticks were smouldering away over a little pile of ashes: the thin smoke lifted itself up in folds of blue vapor until it stole forth into the evening air from the opening in the roof. Through this aperture the light—the only light of the tent—fell down upon the group below: the old chief with his great silver cross, and medal, and snow-white hair; the young and beautiful squaw with her pappoose at the breast, like a Madonna by Murillo; Malcolm's battered tarpaulin and Guernsey shirt; and the two unpicturesque objects of the party—Picton and myself. Around the central fire a broad, green border of fragrant hemlock twigs, extending to the skirts of the tent, was raised a few inches from the ground. Upon this couch we sat, and opened our business with the aged sagamore.
Old Indian was very courteous; he drew forth a bag of clinking dollars, for strange as it may seem, he was a churchwarden: the Micmacs being all Catholics, the chief holds the silver keys of St. Peter. But venerable and pious as he appeared, with his silver cross and silver hair, the old fellow was something too of a broker! He demanded a fair rate of commission—eight per cent. premium on every dollar! Even this would not answer our purpose; it was as difficult to make change with the old churchwarden as with Malcolm: there was no money in the camp except hard silver dollars.
No change for a sovereign!
So we went forth from the wigwam again on all fours, and it was only by another promise of a sound drubbing that Malcolm was finally persuaded to drop off and leave us.
Aboriginal certainly is the camp of the Micmacs. The birch-bark wigwams; the canoes that lined the beach; the paddles, the utensils; the bows and arrows; the parti-colored baskets, are independent of, are earlier than our arts and manufactures. So far as these people are concerned, the colonial government has been mild and considerate. Although there are game-laws in the Province, yet Micmac has a privilege no white man can possess. At all seasons he may hunt or fish; he may stick his aishkun in the salmon as it runneth up the rivers to spawn, and shoot the partridge on its nest, if he please, without fine and imprisonment. Some may think it better to preserve the game than to preserve the Indian; but some think otherwise. For my part, when the question is between the man and the salmon, I am content to forego fish.
As we walked through the Micmac camp we met our semi-civilized friend with the lozenge eyes, and I made a contract with him for a brief voyage on le Bras d'Or. But alas! Indian will sometimes take a lesson from his white comrades! Micmac's charge at first was one pound for a trip of twenty-four miles on the "Arm of Gold;" cheap enough. But before we left the camp it was two pounds. That I agreed to pay. Then there was a portage of three miles, over which the canoe had to be carried. "Well?" "And it would take two men to paddle." "Well?" "And then the canoe had to be paddled back." "Well?" "And then carried over the portage again." "Well?" "And so it would be four pounds!" Here the negotiations were broken off; how much more it would cost I did not ascertain. The rate of progression was too rapid for further inquiry.
So we walked home again amid the fragrant resinous trees, until we gained the high road, and so by pretty cottages, and lawns, and picket fences; sometimes meeting groups of wandering damsels with their young and happy lovers; sometimes twos and threes of horse-women, in habits, hats, and feathers; now catching a glimpse of the broad, blue harbor; now looking down a green lane, bordered with turf and copse; until we reached our comfortable quarters at Mrs. Hearn's, where the pretty chambermaid, with drooping eyes, welcomed us in a voice whose music was sweeter than the tea-bell she held in her hand. And here, too, we found Malcolm, waiting for his pay, partially sober and quiet as a lamb.
I trust the reader will not find fault with the writer for dwelling upon these minute particulars. In this itinerary of the trip to the Acadian land, I have endeavored to portray, as faithfully as may be, the salient features of the country, and particularly those contrasts visible in the settlements; the jealous preservation of those dear, old, splendid prejudices, that separate tribe from tribe, clan from clan, sect from sect, race from race. I wish the reader to see and know the country as it is, not for the purpose of arousing his prejudices against a neighboring people, but rather with the intent of showing to what result these prejudices tend, in order that he may correct his own. A mere aggregation of tribes is not a great people. Take the human species in a state of sectionalism, and it does not make much difference whether it is in the shape of the Indian, proud of the blue and red stripes on his face, or the Scotchman, proud of the blue and red stripes on his plaid, the inferiority of the human animal, with his tribal sheep-mark on him, is evident enough to any person of enlarged understanding. Therefore I have been minute and faithful in describing the species McGibbet and Malcolm, and in contrasting them with the hardy fisherman of Louisburgh, the Micmacs of Sydney, the negroes of Deer's Castle, the Acadians of Chizzetcook, and as we shall see anon with other sectional specimens, just as they present their kaleidoscopic hues in the local settlements of this colony.
It is just a year since I was seated in that cosy inn-parlor at Sydney, and how strangely it all comes back again: the little window overlooking the harbor, the lights on the twinkling waters; the old-fashioned house-clock in the corner of the room; the bright brass andirons; the cut paper chimney-apron; the old sofa; the cheerful lamp, and the well-polished table. And I remember, too, the happy, tranquil feeling of lying in the snow-white sheets at night, and talking with Picton of our overland journey from Louisburgh; of McGibbet and Malcolm; and then we branched out on the great subject of Indian rights, and Indian wrongs; of squaws and pappooses; of wigwams and canoes, until at last I dropped off in a doze, and heard only a repetition of Micmac—Micmac—Micmac—Mic—Mac——Mic———Mac! To this day I am unable to say whether the sound I heard came from Picton, or the great house-clock in the corner.
Over the Bay—A Gigantic Dumb Waiter—Erebus—Reflections—White and Black Squares of the Chess-board—Leave-taking—An Interruption—The Aibstract Preencipels of Feenance.
Bright and early next morning we arose for an expedition across the bay to North Sydney and the coal-mines. A fresh breakfast in a sunny room, a brisk walk to the breezy, grass-grown parapet, that defends the harbor; a thought of the first expedition to lay down the telegraph line between the old and new hemispheres, for here lie the coils of the sub-marine cable, as they were left after the stormy essay of the steamer "James Adger," a year before—what a theme for a poet!
"Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid Some spark, now dormant, of electric fire: News, that the board of brokers might have swayed, Or broke the banks that trembled with the wire."
—and we take an airy seat on the poop-deck of the little English steamer, and are wafted across the harbor, five miles, to a small sea-port, where coal-schutes and railways run out over the wharfs, and coasters, both fore-and-aft, and square-rigged, are gathered in profusion. A glass of English ale at a right salt-sea tavern, a bay horse, and two-wheeled "jumper" for the road, and away we roll towards the mines. Now up hill and down; now passing another Micmac camp on the green margin of the beach; now by trim gardens without flowers; now getting nearer to the mines, which we know by the increasing blackness of the road; until at last we bowl past rows of one story dingy tenements of brick, with miners' wives and children clustered about them like funereal flowers; until we see the forges and jets of steam, and davits uplifted in the air; and hear the rattle of the iron trucks and the rush of the coal as it runs through the schutes into the rail-cars on the road beneath. We tie our pony beside a cinder-heap, and mount a ladder to the level of the huge platform above the shaft. A constant supply of small hand-cars come up with demoniac groans and shrieks from the bowels of the earth through the shaft. These are instantly seized by the laborers and run over an iron floor to the schute, where they are caught in titantic trammels, and overturned into harsh thunder. Meanwhile the demon car-bringer has sunk again on its errand; the suspending rope wheeling down with dizzy swiftness. As one car-bearer descends, another rises to the surface with its twin wheel-vessels of coal.
"Would you like to go down?"
"How far down?"
Three hundred and sixty feet! Think of being suspended by a thread, from a height twice that of Trinity's spire, and whirled into such a depth by steam! We crawled into the little iron box, just large enough to allow us to sit up with our heads against the top, both ends of our parachute being open; the operator presses down a bar, and instantly the earth and sky disappear, and we are wrapt in utter darkness. Oh? how sickening is this sinking feeling! Down—down—down! What a gigantic dumb-waiter! Down, down, a hot gust of vapor—a stifling sensation—a concussion upon the iron floor at the foot of the shaft; a multitude of twinkling lamps, of fiends, of grimy faces, and no bodies—and we are in a coal-mine.
There was a black, bituminous seat for visitors, sculptured out of the coal, just beyond the shaft, and to this we were led by the carboniferous fiends. My heart beat violently. I do not know how it went with Picton, but we were both silent. Oh! for a glimpse of the blue sky and waving trees above us, and a long breath of fresh air!
As soon as the stifling sensation passed away, we breathed more freely, and the lungs became accustomed to the subterranean atmosphere. In the gloom, we could see the smutted features only, of miners moving about, and to heighten the Dantesque reality, new and strange sounds, from different parts of the enormous cavern, came pouring towards the common centre—the shaft of the coal-pit.
These were the laden cars on the tram-ways, drawn by invisible horses, from the distant works in the mine, rolling and reverberating through the infernal aisles of this devil's cathedral. One could scarcely help recalling the old grandfather of Maud's Lord-lover:
——"lately died, Gone to a blacker pit, for whom Grimy nakedness, dragging his trucks And laying his trams, in a poisoned gloom Wrought, till he crept from a gutted mine Master of half a servile shire, And left his coal all turned into gold To a grandson, first of his noble line."
Intermingled with these sounds were others, the jar and clash of gateways, the dripping and splashing of water, the rolling thunder of the ascending and descending iron parachutes in the shaft, the trampling of horses, the distant report of powder-blasts, and the shrill jargon of human speakers, near, yet only partially visible.
"Is it a clear day overhead?" said the black bust of one of the miners, with a lamp in its hat!
Just think of it! We had only been divorced from the aerial blue of a June sky a minute before. Our very horse was so high above us that we could have distinguished him only by the aid of a telescope—that is, if the solid ribs of the globe were not between us and him.
As soon as we became accustomed to the place, we moved off after the foreman of the mine. We walked through the miry tram-ways under the low, black arches, now stepping aside to let an invisible horse and car, "grating harsh thunder," pass us in the murky darkness; now through a door-way, momently closed to keep the foul and clear airs separate, until we came to the great furnace of the mine that draws off all the noxious vapors from this nest of Beelzebub. Then we went to the stables where countless horses are stalled—horses that never see the light of day again, or if they do, are struck blind by the apparition; now in wider galleries, and new explorations, where we behold the busy miners, twinkling like the distant lights of a city, and hear the thunder-burst, as the blast explodes in the murky chasms. At last, tired, oppressed, and sickened with the vast and horrible prison, for such it seems, we retrace our steps, and once more enter the iron parachute. A touch of the magic lever, and again we fly away; but now upwards, upwards to the glorious blue sky and air of mother earth. A miner with his lamp accompanies us. By its dim light we see how rapidly we spin through the shaft. Our car clashes again at the top, and as we step forth into the clear sunshine, we thank GOD for such a bright and beautiful world up stairs!
"Do you know," said I, "Picton, what we would do if we had such a devil's pit as that in the States?"
"Well?" answered the traveller, interrogatively.
"We would make niggers work it."
"I dare say," replied Picton, drily and satirically; "but, sir, I am proud to say that our government does not tolerate barbarity; to consign an inoffensive fellow-creature to such horrible labor, merely because he is black, is at variance with the well-known humanity of the whole British nation, sir."
"But those miners, Picton, were black as the devil himself."
"The miners," replied Picton, with impressive gravity, "are black, but not negroes."
"Nothing but mere white people, Picton?"
"Eh?" said the traveller.
"Only white people, and therefore we need not waste one grain of sympathy over a whole pit full of them."
"Because they are not niggers, what is the use of wasting sympathy upon a rat-hole full of white British subjects?"
"I tell you what it is," said Picton, "you are getting personal."
We were now rolling past the dingy tenements again. Squalid-looking, care-worn women, grimy children:
"To me there's something touching, I confess, In the grave look of early thoughtfulness, Seen often in some little childish face, Among the poor;"—
But these children's faces are not such. A child's face—God bless it! should always have a little sunshine in its glance; but these are mere staring faces, without expression, that make you shudder and feel sad. Miners by birth; human moles fitted to burrow in darkness for a life-time. Is it worth living for? No wonder those swart laborers underground are so grim and taciturn: no wonder there was not a face lighted up by those smoky lamps in the pit, that had one line of human sympathy left in its rigidly engraved features!
But we must have coal, and we must have cotton. The whole plantations of the South barely supply the press with paper; and the messenger of intelligence, the steam-ship, but for coal could not perform its glorious mission. What is to be done, Picton? If every man is willing to give up his morning paper, wear a linen shirt, cross the ocean in a clipper-ship, and burn wood in an open fire-place, something might be done.
As Picton's steamer (probably fog-bound) had not yet arrived in Sydney, nor yet indeed the "Balaklava," the traveller determined to take a Newfoundland brigantine for St. John's, from which port there are vessels to all parts of the world. After leaving horse and jumper with the inn-keeper, we took a small boat to one of the many queer looking, high-pooped crafts in the harbor, and very soon found ourselves in a tiny cabin, panelled with maple, in which the captain and some of the men were busy over a pan of savory lobscouse, a salt-sea dish of great reputation and flavor. Picton soon made his agreement with the captain for a four days' sail (or more) across to the neighboring province, and his luggage was to be on board the next morning. Once more we sailed over the bay of Sydney, and regained the pleasant shelter of our inn.
"Picton," said I, after a comfortable supper and a pensive segar, "we shall soon separate for our respective homes; but before we part, I wish to say to you how much I have enjoyed this brief acquaintance; perhaps we may never meet again, but I trust our short voyage together, will now and then be recalled by you, in whatever part of the world you may chance to be, as it certainly will by me."
The traveller replied by a hearty, earnest grasp of the hand; and then, after this formal leave-taking, we became suddenly estranged, as it were, sad, and silent, and shy; the familiar tone of conversation lost its key-note; Picton looked out of the inn window at the luminous moon-fog on the bay, and I buried my reflections in an antiquated pamphlet of "Household Words." We were soon interrupted by a stranger coming into the parlor, a chance visitor, another dry, preceese specimen of the land of oat-cakes.
After the usual salutations, the conversation floated easily on, upon indifferent topics, until Picton happened to allude, casually, to the general banking system of England. This was enough for a text. Our visitor immediately launched forth upon the subject, and gaed us a twa-hours discourse on the system of banking in Scotland; wherein the superiority of the method adopted by his countrymen, to wring the last drop of interest out a shilling, was pertinaciously and dogmatically argued, upon the great groundwork of "the general and aibstract preencepels of feenance!"
It was in vain that the traveller endeavored to silence him by a few flashes of sarcasm. He might as well have tried to silence a park of artillery with a handful of torpedoes! On and on, with the doggedness of a slow-hound, the Scot pursued the theme, until all other considerations were lost in the one sole idea.
But thus it is always, when you come in contact with people of "aibstract preencepels." All sweet and tender impulses, all generous and noble suggestions, all light and shade, all warmth and color, must give place to these dry husks of reason.
"Confound the Scotch interloper," said Picton, after our visitor had retired, "what business had he to impose upon our good nature, with his threadbare 'aibstract preencepels?' Confound him and his beggarly high cheek-bones, and his Caledonian pock-pits. I am sorry that I ever came to this part of the world; it has ruined a taste which I had acquired, with much labor, for Scottish poetry; and I shall never see 'Burns's Works' again without a sickening shudder."
The Bras d'Or Road—Farewell to Picton—Home sweet Home—The Rob Roys of Cape Breton—Note and Query—Chapel Island—St. Peter's—Enterprise—The Strait of Canseau—West River—The last Out-post of the Scottish Chiefs.
The road that skirts the Arm of Gold is about one hundred miles in length. After leaving Sydney, you ride beside the Spanish River a short distance, until you come to the portage, which separates it from the lake, and then you follow the delicious curve of the great beach until you arrive at St. Peter's. From St. Peter's you travel across a narrow strip of land until you reach the shore upon the extreme westerly end of the island of Cape Breton, where you cross the Strait of Canseau, and then you are upon the mainland of Nova Scotia. I had fondly hoped to voyage upon the Bras d'Or, instead of beside it; but was obliged to forego that pleasure. Romance, at one dollar per mile, is a dear piece of extravagance, even in so ethereal a vehicle as a birch-bark canoe. Therefore I engaged a seat in the Cape Breton stage, instead of the aboriginal conveyance, in which you have to sit or lie in the bottom, at the risk of an upset, and trust to fair weather and the dip of the paddle.
At day-break (two o'clock in the morning in these high latitudes) the stage drove up to the door of our pleasant inn. I was speedily dressed, and ready—and now—"Good bye, Picton!"
The traveller stretched out a hand from the warm nest in which he was buried.
"Good bye," he said, with a hearty hand-shake, and so we parted.
It was painful to leave such an agreeable companion, but then what a relief it was to escape from the cannie Scots! The first inhalation of the foggy air went tingling through every vein; the first movement of the stage, as we rolled westward, was indescribable happiness; I was at last homeward bound; in full health, in full strength; swift upon my sight came the vision of the one familiar river; the cottage and the chestnuts; the rolling greensward, and the Palisades; and there, too, was my best friend; and there—
"My young barbarians all at play."
Drive on, John Ormond!
Our Cape Breton stage is an easy, two-seated vehicle; a quiet, little rockaway-wagon, with a top; and although H. B. M. Royal Mail Coach, entirely different from the huge musk-melon upon wheels with which we are familiar in the States. In it I am the only passenger. Thank Heaven for that! I might be riding beside an aibstract preencepel.
But never mind! Drive on, John Ormond; we shall soon be among another race of Scotsmen, the bold Highlandmen of romance; the McGregors, and McPhersons, the Camerons, Grahams, and McDonalds; and as a century or so does not alter the old-country prejudices of the people in these settlements, we will no doubt find them in their pristine habiliments; in plaids and spleuchens; brogues and buckles; hose and bonnets; with claymore, dirk, and target; the white cockade and eagle feather, so beautiful in the Waverley Novels.
We left the pretty village of Sydney behind us, and were not long in gaining the margin of the Bras d'Or. This great lake, or rather arm of the sea, is, as I have said, about one hundred miles in length by its shore road; but so wide is it, and so indented by broad bays and deep coves, that a coasting journey around it is equal in extent to a voyage across the Atlantic. Besides the distant mountains that rise proudly from the remote shores, there are many noble islands in its expanse, and forest-covered peninsulas, bordered with beaches of glittering white pebbles. But over all this wide landscape there broods a spirit of primeval solitude; not a sail broke the loneliness of the lake until we had advanced far upon our day's journey. For strange as it may seem, the Golden Arm is a very useless piece of water in this part of the world; highly favored as it is by nature, land-locked, deep enough for vessels of all burden, easy of access on the gulf side, free from fogs, and only separated from the ocean at its western end by a narrow strip of land, about three quarters of a mile wide; abounding in timber, coal, and gypsum, and valuable for its fisheries, especially in winter, yet the Bras d'Or is undeveloped for want of that element which scorns to be alien to the Colonies, namely, enterprise.
If I had formed some romantic ideas concerning the new and strange people we found on the road we were now travelling, the Highlandmen, the Rob Roys and Vich Ian Vohrs of Nova Scotia, those ideas were soon dissipated. It is true here were the Celts in their wild settlements, but without bagpipes or pistols, sporrans or philabegs; there was not even a solitary thistle to charm the eye; and as for oats, there were at least two Scotchmen to one oat in this garden of exotics. I have a reasonable amount of respect for a Highlandman in full costume; but for a carrot-headed, freckled, high-cheeked animal, in a round hat and breeches, that cannot utter a word of English, I have no sympathy. One fellow of this complexion, without a hat, trotted beside our coach for several miles, grunting forth his infernal Gaelic to John Ormond, with a hah! to every answer of the driver, that was really painful. When he disappeared in the woods his red head went out like a torch. But we had scarcely gone by the first Highlandman, when another darted out upon us from a by-path, and again broke the sabbath of the woods and waters; and then another followed, so that the morning ride by the Bras d'Or was fringed with Gaelic. Now I have heard many languages in my time, and know how to appreciate the luxurious Greek, the stately Latin, the mellifluous Chinese, the epithetical Sclavic, the soft Italian, the rich Castilian, the sprightly French, sonorous German, and good old English, but candor compels me to say, that I do not think much of the Gaelic. It is not pleasing to the ear.
Yet it was a stately ride, that by the Bras d'Or; in one's own coach, as it were, traversing such old historic ground. For the very name, and its associations, carry one back to the earliest discoveries in America, carry one back behind Plymouth Rock to the earlier French adventurers in this hemisphere; yea, almost to the times of Richard Crookback; for on the neighboring shores, as the English claim, Cabot first landed, and named the place Prima Vista, in the days of Henry the Seventh, the "Richmond" of history and tragedy.
"Le Bras d'Or! John Ormond, do you not think le Bras d'Or sounds much like Labrador?"
"'Deed does it," answered John.
"And why not? That mysterious, geological coast is only four days' sail from Sydney, I take it? Labrador! with its auks and puffins, its seals and sea-tigers, its whales and walruses? Why not an offshoot of le Bras d'Or, its earlier brother in the family of discovery. But drive on, John Ormond, we will leave etymology to the pedants."
Well, well, ancient or modern, there is not a lovelier ride by white-pebbled beach and wide stretch of wave. Now we roll along amidst primeval trees, not the evergreens of the sea-coast, but familiar growths of maple, beech, birch; and larches, juniper or hackmatack—imperishable for ship craft. Now we cross bridges, over sparkling brooks, alive with trout and salmon, and most surprising of all, pregnant with water-power. "Surprising," because no motive-power can be presented to the eye of a citizen of the young republic without the corresponding thought of "Why not use it?" And why not, when Bras d'Or is so near, or the sea-coast either, and land at forty cents an acre, and trees as closely set, and as lofty, as ever nature planted them? Of a certainty, there would be a thousand saw-mills screaming between this and Canseau if a drop of Yankee blood had ever fertilized this soil.
Well, well, perhaps it is well. But yet to ride through a hundred miles of denationalized, high-cheeked, red, or black-headed Highlandmen, with illustrious names, in breeches and round hats, without pistols or feathers, is a sorry sight. Not one of these McGregors can earn more than five shillings a day, currency, as a laborer. Not a digger upon our canals but can do better than that; and with the chance of rising. But here there seems be no such opportunity. The colonial system provides that every settler shall have a grant of about one hundred and twenty acres, in fee, and free. What then? the Government fosters and protects him. It sends out annually choice stocks of cattle, at a nominal price; it establishes a tariff of duties on foreign goods, so low that the revenue derived therefrom is not sufficient to pay the salaries of its officers. What then? The colonist is only a parasite with all these advantages. He is not an integral part of a nation; a citizen, responsible for his franchise. He is but a colonial Micmac, or Scotch-Mac; a mere sub-thoughted, irresponsible exotic, in a governmental cold grapery. By the great forefinger of Tom Jefferson, I would rather be a citizen of the United States than own all the five-shilling Blue Noses between Sydney and Canseau!
As we roll along up hill and down, a startling flash of sunlight bursts forth from the dewy morning clouds, and touches lake, island, and promontory, with inexpressible beauty. Stop, John Ormond, or drive slowly; let us enjoy dolce far niente. To hang now in our curricle upon this wooded hill-top, overlooking the clear surface of the lake, with leafy island, and peninsula dotted in its depths, in all its native grace, without a touch or trace of hand-work, far or near, save and except a single spot of sail in the far-off, is holy and sublime.
And there we rested, reverentially impressed with the week-day sabbath. We lingered long and lovingly upon our woody promontory, our eyrie among the spruces of Cape Breton.
"Clear, placid Leman! thy contrasted lake, With the wild world I dwelt in, is a thing Which warns me, with its stillness, to forsake Earth's troubled waters for a purer spring."
Down hill go horses and mail-coach, and we are lost in a vast avenue of twinkling birches. For miles we ride within breast-high hedges of sunny shrubs, until we reach another promontory, where Bras d'Or again breaks forth, with bay, island, white beach, peninsula, and sparkling cove. And before us, bowered in trees, lies Chapel Island, the Micmac Mecca, with its Catholic Church and consecrated ground. Here at certain seasons the red men come to worship the white CHRIST. Here the western descendants of Ishmael pitch their bark tents, and swing their barbaric censers before the Asiatic-born REDEEMER. "They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before HIM." That gathering must be a touching sermon to the heart of faith!
But we roll onwards, and now are again on the clearings, among the log-cabins of the Highlandmen. Although every settler has his governmental farm, yet nearly the whole of it is still in forest-land. A log hut and cleared-acre lot, with Flora McIvor's grubbing, hoeing, or chopping, while their idle lords and masters trot beside the mail-coach to hear the news, are the only results of the home patronage. At last we come to a gentle declivity, a bridge lies below us, a wider brook; we cross over to find a cosy inn and a rosy landlord on the other side; and John Ormond lays down the ribbons, after a sixty-mile drive, to say: "This is St. Peter's."
Now so far us the old-fashioned inns of New Scotland are concerned, I must say they make me ashamed of our own. Soap, sand, and water, do not cost so much as carpets, curtains, and fly-blown mirrors; but still, to the jaded traveller, they have a more attractive aspect. We sit before a snow-white table without a cloth, in the inn-parlor, kitchen, laundry, and dining-room, all in one, just over against the end of the lake; and enjoy a rasher of bacon and eggs with as much gusto as if we were in the midst of a palace of fresco. Ornamental eating has become with us a species of gaudy, ostentatious vulgarity; and a dining-room a sort of fool's paradise. I never think of the little simple meal at St. Peter's now, without tenderness and respect.
Here we change—driver, stage, and horses. Still no other passenger. The new whip is a Yankee from the State of Maine; a tall, black-eyed, taciturn fellow, with gold rings in his ears. Now we pass the narrow strip of land that divides Bras d'Or from the ocean. It is only three-quarters of a mile wide between water and water, and look at Enterprise digging out a canal! By the bronze statue of De Witt Clinton, if there are not three of the five-shilling Rob Roys at work, with two shovels, a horse, and one cart!
As we approach Canseau the landscape becomes flat and uninteresting; but distant ranges of mountains rise up against the evening sky, and as we travel on towards their bases they attract the eye more and more. Ear-rings is not very communicative. He does not know the names of any of them. Does not know how high they are, but has heard say they are the highest mountains in Nova Scotia. "Are those the mountains of Canseau?" Yes, them's them. So with renewed anticipations we ride on towards the strait "of unrivalled beauty," that travellers say "surpasses anything in America."
And, indeed, Canseau can have my feeble testimony in confirmation. It is a grand marine highway, having steep hills on the Cape Breton Island side, and lofty mountains on the other shore; a full, broad, mile-wide space between them; and reaching from end to end, fifteen miles, from the Atlantic to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As I took leave of Ear-rings, at Plaister Cove, and wrapped myself up in my cloak in the stern-sheets of the row-boat to cross the strait, the full Acadian moon, larger than any United States moon, rose out of her sea-fog, and touched mountain, height, and billow, with effulgence. It was a scene of Miltonic grandeur. After the ruined walls of Louisburgh, and the dark caverns of Sydney, comes Canseau, with its startling splendors! Truly this is a wonderful country.
Another night in a clean Nova-Scotian inn on the mountain-side, a deep sleep, and balmy awakening in the clear air. Yet some exceptions must be taken to the early sun in this latitude. To get up at two o'clock or four; to ride thirty or forty miles to breakfast, with a convalescent appetite, is painful. But yet, "to him, who in the love of Nature holds communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language." Admiration and convalescent hunger make a very good team in this beautiful country. You look out upon the unfathomable Gulf of St. Lawrence, and feel as if you were an unfathomable gulf yourself. You ride through lofty woods, with a tantalizing profusion of living edibles in your path; at every moment a cock-rabbit is saying his prayers before the horses; at every bosk and bole a squirrel stares at you with unwinking eyes, and Robin Yellow-bill hops, runs, and flies before the coach within reach of the driver's whip, sans peur! And this too is the land of moose and cariboo: here the hunters, on snow-shoes, track the huge animals in the season; and moose and cariboo, in the Halifax markets, are cheaper than beef with us. And to think this place is only a four days' journey from the metropolis, in the languid winter! By the ashes of Nimrod, I will launch myself on a pair of snow-shoes, and shoot a moose in the snow before I am twelve months older, as sure as these ponies carry us to breakfast!
"How far are we from breakfast, driver?"
"Twenty miles," quoth Jehu.
Now I had been anxious to get a sight of our ponies, for the sake of estimating their speed and endurance; but at this time they were not in sight. For the coach we (three passengers) were in, was built like an omnibus-sleigh on wheels, with a high seat and "dasher" in front, so that we could not see what it was that drew our ark, and therefore I climbed up in the driver's perch to overlook our motors. There were four of them; little, shaggy, black ponies, with bunchy manes and fetlocks, not much larger than Newfoundland dogs. Yet they swept us along the road as rapidly as if they were full-sized horses, up hill and down, without visible signs of fatigue. And now we passed through another French settlement, "Tracadie," and again the Norman kirtle and petticoat of the pastoral, black-eyed Evangelines hove in sight, and passed like a day-dream. And here we are in an English settlement, where we enjoy a substantial breakfast, and then again ride through the primeval woods, with an occasional glimpse of the broad Gulf and its mountain scenery, until we come upon a pretty inland village, by name Antigonish.
At Antigonish, we find a bridal party, and the pretty English landlady offers us wine and cake with hospitable welcome; and a jovial time of it we have until we are summoned, by crack of whip, to ride over to West River.
I must say that the natural prejudices we have against Nova Scotia are ill-placed, unjust, and groundless. The country itself is the great redeeming feature of the province, and a very large portion of it is uninfested by Scotchmen. Take for instance the road we are now travelling. For hours we bowl along a smooth turnpike, in the midst of a deep forest: although scarce a week has elapsed since these gigantic trees were leafless, yet the foliage has sprung forth as it were with a touch, and now the canopy of leaves about us, and overhead, is so dense as scarcely to afford a twinkle of light from the sun. Sometimes we ride by startling precipices and winding streams; sometimes overlook an English settlement, with its rolling pasture-lands, bare of trees and rich in verdure. At last we approach the precincts of Northumberland Strait, and are cleverly carried into New Glasgow. It is fast-day, and the shops are closed in Sabbath stillness; but on the sign-boards of the village one reads the historic names of "Ross" and "Cameron;" and "Graham," "McGregor" and "McDonald." What a pleasant thing it must be to live in that village! Here too I saw for the first time in the province a thistle! But it was a silver-plated one, in the blue bonnet of a "pothecary's boy." A metallic effigy of the ORIGINAL PLANT, that had bloomed some generations ago in native land. There was poetry in it, however, even on the brow of an incipient apothecary.
When we had put New Glasgow behind us, we felt relieved, and rode along the marshes on the border of the strait that divides the Province from Prince Edward's Island, so named in honor of his graceless highness the Duke of Kent, Edward, father of our Queen Victoria. Thence we came forth upon higher ground, the coal-mines of Pictou; and here is the great Pictou railway, from the mines to the town, six miles in length. Then by rolling hill and dale down to West River, where John Frazer keeps the Twelve-Mile House. This inn is clean and commodious; only twelve miles from Pictou; and, reader, I would advise you, as twelve miles is but a short distance, to go to Pictou without stopping at West River. For John Frazer's is a house of petty annoyances. From the moment you enter, you feel the insolence of the surly, snarling landlord, and his no less gifted lady; the same old greed which has no eye except for money; the miserly table, for which you are obliged to pay before hand; the lack of attendance; the abundance of impertinence. Just as you are getting into bed you are peremptorily called to the door to pay for your room, which haply you had forgotten; if you want your boots brushed the answer is, "Perhaps"—if you request them to call you in the morning, for the only stage, they say, "Just as it happens;" (indeed, it was only by accident that the stage-driver discovered he had one more trunk than his complement of passengers, and so awoke me just as the coach was on the point of departure;) if you can submit to all this, then, reader, go to Twelve-Mile House, at West River.
We left this last outpost of the Scotch settlements with pleasure. After all, there is a secret feeling of joy in contrasting one's self with such wretched, penurious, mis-made specimens of the human animal. And from this time henceforth I shall learn to prize my own language, and not be carried away by any catch-penny Scotch synonyms, such as the lift for the sky, and the gloamin for twilight. And as for poortith cauld, and pauky chiel, I leave them to those who can appreciate them:
"Farewell, farewell, beggarly Scotland, Cold and beggarly poor countrie; If ever I cross thy border again, The muckle deil maun carry me."
The Ride from West River—A Fellow Passenger—Parallels of History—One Hundred Romances—Baron de Castine—His Character—Made Chief of the Abenaquis—Duke of York's Charter—Encroachments of the Puritans—Church's Indian Wars—False Reports—Reflections.
It would make a curious collection of pictures if I had obtained photographs of all the coaches I travelled in, and upon, during my brief sojourn in the province; some high, some low, some red, some green, or yellow as it chanced, with horses few or many, often superior animals—stylish, fast, and sound; and again, the most diminutive of ponies, such as Monsieur the Clown drives into the ring of his canvass coliseum when he utters the pleasant salute of "Here I am, with all my little family?" This morning we have the old, familiar stage-coach of Yankee land—red, picked out with yellow; high, narrow, iron steps; broad thoroughbraces; wide seats; all jingle, tip, tilt, and rock, from one end of the road to the other. My fellow traveller on the box is a little man with a big hat; soft spoken, sweet voiced, and excessively shy and modest. But this was a most pleasing change from the experiences of the last few hours, let me tell you; and, if you ever travel by West River, you will find any change pleasant—no matter what.
My companion was shy, but not taciturn; on the contrary, he could talk well enough after the ice was broken, and long enough, too, for that matter. I found that he was a Church of England clergyman by profession, and a Welshman by birth. He was well versed in the earlier history of the colony—that portion of it which is by far the most interesting—I mean its French or Acadian period. "There are in the traditions and scattered fragments of history that yet survive in this once unhappy land," he said, in a peculiarly low and mellifluous voice, "much that deserves to be embalmed in story and in poetry. Your Longfellow has already preserved one of the most touching of its incidents; but I think I am safe in asserting that there yet remain the materials of one hundred romances. Take the whole history of Acadia during the seventeenth century—the almost patriarchal simplicity of its society, the kindness, the innocence, the virtues of its people; the universal toleration which prevailed among them, in spite of the interference of the home government; look," said he, "at the perfect and abiding faith which existed between them and the Indians! Does the world-renowned story of William Penn alone merit our encomiums, except that we have forgotten this earlier but not less beautiful example? And with the true spirit of Christianity, when they refused to take up arms in their own defence, preferring rather to die by their faith than shed the blood of other men; to what parallel in history can we turn, if not to the martyred Hussites, for whom humanity has not yet dried all its tears?"
As he said this, a little flush passed over his face, and he appeared for a moment as if surprised at his own enthusiasm; then shrinking under his big hat again, he relapsed into silence.
We rode on for some time without a word on either side, until I ventured to remark that I coincided with him in the belief that Acadia was the romantic ground of early discovery in America; and that even the fluent pen of Hawthorne had failed to lend a charm to the harsh, repulsive, acrimonious features of New England's colonial history.
"I have read but one book of Hawthorne's," said he—"'The Scarlet Letter.' I do not coincide with you; I think that to be a remarkable instance of the triumph of genius over difficulties. By the way," said he, "speaking of authors, what an exquisite poem Tom Moore would have written, had he visited Chapel Island, which you have seen no doubt? (here he gave a little nod with the big hat) and what a rich volume would have dropped from the arabesque pen of your own Irving (another nod), had he written the life of the Baron de St. Castine, chief of the Abenaquis, as he did that of Philip of Pokanoket."
"Do you know the particulars of that history?" said I.
"I do not know the particulars," he replied, "only the outlines derived from chronicle and tradition. Imagination," he added, with a faint smile, "can supply the rest, just as an engineer pacing a bastion can draw from it the proportions of the rest of the fortress."
And then, from under the shelter of the big hat, there came low and sad tones of music, like a requiem over a bier, upon which are laid funeral flowers, and sword, and plume; a melancholy voice almost intoning the history of a Christian hero, who had been the chief of that powerful nation—the rightful owners of the fair lands around us. Even if memory could now supply the words, it would fail to reproduce the effect conveyed by the tones of that voice. And of the story itself I can but furnish the faint outlines:
Baron de St. Castine, chief of the Abenaquis, was a Frenchman, born in the little village of Oberon, in the province of Bearn, about the middle of the seventeenth century. Three great influences conspired to make him unhappy—first, education, which at that time was held to be a reputable part of the discipline of the scions of noble families; next, a delicate and impressible mind, and lastly, he was born under the shadow of the Pyrenees, and within sight of the Atlantic. He had also served in the wars of Louis XIV. as colonel of the Carrignan, Cavignon, or Corignon regiment; therefore, from his military education, was formed to endure, or to think lightly of hardships. Although not by profession a Protestant, yet he was a liberal Catholic. The doctrines of Calvin had been spread throughout the province during his youth, and John la Placette, a native of Bearn, was then one of the leaders of the free churches of Copenhagen, in Denmark, and of Utrecht, in Holland.
But, whatever his religious prejudices may have been, they do not intrude themselves in any part of his career; we know him only as a pure Christian, an upright man, and a faithful friend of humanity. Like many other Frenchmen of birth and education in those days, the Baron de St. Castine had been attracted by descriptions of newly discovered countries in the western hemisphere, and fascinated by the ideal life of the children of nature. To a mind at once susceptible and heroic, impulsive by temperament, and disciplined to endure, such promptings have a charm that is irresistible. As the chronicler relates, he preferred the forests of Acadia, to the Pyrenian mountains that compassed the place of his nativity, and taking up his abode with the savages, on the first year behaved himself so among them as to draw from them their inexpressible esteem. He married a woman of the nation, and repudiating their example, did not change his wife, by which he taught his wild neighbors that God did not love inconstancy. By this woman, his first and only wife, he had one son and two daughters, the latter were afterwards married, "very handsomely, to Frenchmen, and had good dowries." Of the son there is preserved a single touching incident. In person the baron was strikingly handsome, a fine form, a well featured face, with a noble expression of candor, firmness and benevolence. Possessed of an ample fortune, he used it to enlarge the comforts of the people of his adoption; these making him a recompense in beaver skins and other rich furs, from which he drew a still larger revenue, to be in turn again devoted to the objects of his benevolence. It was said of him, "that he can draw from his coffers two or three hundred thousand crowns of good dry gold; but all the use he makes of it is to buy presents for his fellow savages, who, upon their return from hunting, present him with skins to treble the value."
Is it then surprising that this man, so wise, so good, so faithful to his fellow savages, should, after twenty years, rise to the most eminent station in that unsophisticated nation? That indeed these simple Indians, who knew no arts except those of peace and war, should have looked up to him as their tutular god? By the treaty of Breda, the lands from the Penobscots to Nova Scotia had been ceded to France, in exchange for the island of St. Christopher. Upon these lands the Baron de St. Castine had peacefully resided for many years, until a new patent was granted to the Duke of York, the boundaries of which extended beyond the limits of the lands ceded by the treaty. Oh, those patents! those patents! What wrongs were perpetrated by those remorseless instruments; what evil councils prevailed when they were hatched; what corrupt, what base, what knavish hands formed them; what vile, what ignoble, what ponderous lies has history assumed to maintain, or to excuse them, and the acts committed under them?
The first English aggression after the treaty, was but a trifling one in respect to immediate effects. A quantity of wine having been landed by a French vessel upon the lands covered by the patent, was seized by the Duke of York's agents. This, upon a proper representation by the French ambassador at the court of Charles II., was restored to the rightful owners. But thereupon a new boundary line was run, and the whole of Castine's plantations included within it. Immediately after this, the Rose frigate, under the command of Captain Andross, sailed up the Penobscot, plundered and destroyed Castine's house and fort, and sailed away with all his arms and goods. Not only this, intruders from other quarters invaded the lands of the Indians, took possession of the rivers, and spoiled the fisheries with seines, turned their cattle in to devour the standing corn of the Abenaquis, and committed other depredations, which, although complained of, were neither inquired into nor redressed.
Then came reprisals; and first the savages retaliated by killing the cattle of their enemies. Then followed those fearful and bloody campaigns, which, under the name of Church's Indian Wars, disgrace the early annals of New England. Night surprises, butcheries that spared neither age nor sex, prisoners taken and sold abroad into slavery, after the glut of revenge was satiated, these to return and bring with them an inextinguishable hatred against the English, and desire of revenge. Anon a conspiracy and the surprisal of Dover, accompanied with all the appalling features of barbaric warfare—Major Waldron being tied down by the Indians in his own arm-chair, and each one of them drawing a sharp knife across his breast, says with the stroke, "Thus I cross out my account;" these, and other atrocities, on either side, constitute the principal records of a Christian people, who professed to be only pilgrims and sojourners in a strange land—the victims of persecution in their own.
Daring all this dark and bloody period, no name is more conspicuous in the annals than that of the Chief of the Abenaquis. Like a frightful ogre, he hovers in the background, deadly and ubiquitous—the terror of the colonies. It was he who had stirred up the Indians to do the work. Then come reports of a massacre in some town on the frontier, and with it is coupled a whisper of "Castine!" a fort has been surprised, he is there! Some of Church's men have fallen in an ambuscade; the baron has planned it, and furnished the arms and ammunition by which the deed was consummated! Superstition invests him with imaginary powers; fanaticism exclaims, 'tis he who had taught the savages to believe that we are the people who crucified the Saviour.
But in spite of all these stories, the wonderful Bernese is not captured, nor indeed seen by any, except that sometimes an English prisoner escaping from the enemy, comes to tell of his clemency and tenderness; he has bound up the wounds of these, he has saved the lives of those. At last a small settlement of French and Indians is attacked by Church's men at Penobscot, every person there being either killed or taken prisoner; among the latter a daughter of the great baron, with her children, from whom they learn that her unhappy father, ruined and broken-hearted, had returned to France, the victim of persecutors, who, under the name of saints, exhibited a cruelty and rapacity that would have disgraced the reputation of a Philip or an Alva!
"It is a matter of surprise to the historical student," said the little man, "that with a people like yours, so conspicuous in many rare examples of erudition, that the history of Acadia has not merited a closer attention, throwing as it does so strong a reflective light upon your own. Such a task doubtless does not present many inviting features, especially to those who would preserve, at any sacrifice of truth, the earlier pages of discovery in America, pure, spotless, and unsullied. But I think this dark, tragic background would set off all the brighter the characters of those really good men who flourished in that period, of whom there were no doubt many, although now obscured by the dull, dead moonshine of indiscriminate forefathers' flattery. I know very well that in some regards we might copy the example of a few of the first planters of New England, but for the rest I believe with Adam Clark, that for the sake of humanity, it were better that such ages should never return."
"We talk much," says he, "of ancient manners, their simplicity and ingenuousness, and say that the former days were better than these. But who says this who is a judge of the times? In those days of celebrated simplicity, there were not so many crimes as at present, I grant; but what they wanted in number, they made up in degree; deceit, cruelty, rapine, murder, and wrong of almost every kind, then flourished. We are refined in our vices, they were gross and barbarous in theirs. They had neither so many ways nor so many means of sinning; but the sum of their moral turpitude was greater than ours. We have a sort of decency and good breeding, which lay a certain restraint on our passions; they were boorish and beastly, and their bad passions ever in full play. Civilization prevents barbarity and atrocity; mental cultivation induces decency of manners—those primitive times were generally without these. Who that knows them would wish such ages to return?"[A]
[A] Adam Clark's "Commentary on Book of Kings." II. Samuel, chap. iii.
Truro—On the Road to Halifax—Drive to the Left—A Member of the Foreign Legion—Irish Wit at Government Expense—The first Battle of the Legion—Ten Pounds Reward—Sir John Gaspard's Revenge—The Shubenacadie Lakes—Dartmouth Ferry, and the Hotel Waverley.
Pleasant Truro! At last we regain the territories of civility and civilization! Here is the honest little English inn, with its cheerful dining-room, its clean spread, its abundant dishes, its glass of ripe ale, its pleased alacrity of service. After our long ride from West River, we enjoy the best inn's best room, the ease, the comfort, and the fair aspect of one of the prettiest towns in the province. Truro is situated on the head waters of the Basin of Minas, or Cobequid Bay, as it is denominated on the map, between the Shubenacadie and Salmon rivers. Here we are within fifty miles of the idyllic land, the pastoral meadows of Grand-Pre! But, alas! there is yet a long ride before us; the path from Truro to Grand-Pre being in the shape of an acute angle, of which Halifax is the apex. As yet there is no direct road from place to place, but by the shores of the Basin of Minas. Let us look, however, at pleasant Truro.
One of the striking features of this part of the country is the peculiarity of the rivers; these are full or empty, with every flux and reflux of the tide; for instance, when we crossed the Salmon, we saw only a high, broad, muddy ditch, drained to the very bottom. This is owing to the ocean tides, which, sweeping up the Bay of Fundy, pour into the Basin of Minas, and fill all its tributary streams; then, with prodigal reaction, sweeping forth again, leave only the vacant channels of the rivers—if they may be called by that name. This peculiar feature of hydrography is of course local—limited to this section of the province—indeed if it be not to this corner of the world. The country surrounding the village is well cultivated, diversified with rolling hill and dale, and although I had not the opportunity of seeing much of it, yet the mere description of its natural scenery was sufficiently tempting. Here, too, I saw something that reminded me of home—a clump of cedar-trees! These of course were exotics, brought, not without expense, from the States, planted in the courtyard of a little aristocratic cottage, and protected in winter by warm over-coats of wheat straw. So we go! Here they grub up larches and spruces to plant cedars.
The mail coach was soon at the door of our inn, and after taking leave of my fellow-traveller with the big hat, I engaged a seat on the stage-box beside Jeangros, a French Canadian, or Canuck—one of the best whips on the line. Jeangros is not a great portly fellow, as his name would seem to indicate, but a spare, small man—nevertheless with an air of great courage and command. Jeangros touched up the leaders, the mail-coach rattled through the street of the town, and off we trotted from Truro into the pleasant road that leads to Halifax.
One thing I observed in the province especially worthy of imitation—the old English practice of turning to the left in driving, instead of to the right, as we do. Let me exhibit the merits of the respective systems by a brief diagram. By the English system they drive thus:
The arrows represent the drivers, as well as the directions of the vehicles; of course when two vehicles, coming in opposite directions, pass each other on the road, each driver is nearest the point of contact, and can see readily, and provide against accidents. Now contrast our system with the former:
no wonder we have so many collisions.
"The rule of the road is a paradox quite, In driving your carriage along, If you keep to the left, you are sure to go right, If you keep to the right, you go wrong."
It would be a good thing if our present senseless laws were reversed in this matter, and a few lives saved, and a few broken limbs prevented.
When I took leave of my native country for a short sojourn in this province, the great question then before the public was the invasion of international law, by the British minister and a whole solar system of British consuls. I had the pleasure of being a fellow exile on the Canada with Mr. Crampton, Mr. Barclay, and Mr.——, Her British Majesty's representatives, and of course felt no little interest to know the fate of the Foreign Legion.
Before I left Halifax, I learned some particulars of that famous flock of jail birds. All that we knew, at home, was that a number of recruits for the Crimea had been picked up in the streets and alleys of Columbia, and carried, at an enormous expense, to Halifax, there to be enrolled. And also, that as a mere cover to this infraction of the law of Neutrality, the men were engaged as laborers, to work upon the public improvements of Nova Scotia. The sequel of that enterprise remained to be told. A majority of these recruits were Irishmen—some of them not wanting in the mother wit of the race. So when they were gathered in the great province building at Halifax, and Sir John Gaspard le Marchant, in chapeau, feather and sword, came down to review his levies, with great spirit and military pomp, "Well, my men," said he, "you are here to enlist, eh, and serve Her Majesty?" To which the spokesman of the Foreign Legion, fully understanding the beauty of his position, replied, with a sly twinkle of the eye, "We didn't engage to 'list at all, at all, but to wurruk on the railroad." Upon which Sir John Gaspard, seeing that Her Majesty had been imposed upon, politely told the legion to go to——Dante's Inferno.
Now whether the place to which the Foreign Legion was consigned by Sir John Gaspard, possessed even less attractions than Halifax, or from whatever reason soever, it chanced that the jolly boys, raked from our alleys and jails, never stirred a foot out of the province; and while the peace of the whole world was endangered by their abduction, as that of Greece and Troy had been by the rape of Helen, they were quietly enlisting in less warlike expeditions—in fact, engaging themselves to work upon that great railroad, of which mention has been made heretofore.
Now we have seen something of the clannish propensities of the people of the colonies, and the contractors knew what sort of material they had to deal with. And, inasmuch as there was a pretty large group of five-shilling Highlandmen, grading, levelling, and filling in one end of a section of the road, the gang of Irishmen was placed at the opposite end, as far from them as possible, which no doubt would have preserved peaceful relations between the two, but for the fact, that as the work progressed the hostile forces naturally approached each other. It was towards the close of a summer evening, that the ground was broken by the gentlemen of the shamrock, within sight of the shanties decorated with the honorable order of the thistle. A lovely evening in the month of June! Not with spumy cannon and prickly bayonets, but with peaceful spade and mattock, advanced the sons of St. Patrick towards the children of a sister isle. Then did Roderick Dhu step forth from his shanty, and inquire, in choice Gaelic, if a person named Brian Borheime was in the ranks of the approaching forces. Then then did Brian Borheime advance, spade in hand, and with a single spat of his implement level Roderick, as though he had been a piece of turf. Then was Brian flattened out by the spade of Vich Ian Vohr; and Vich Ian Vohr, by the spade of Captain Rock. Then fell Captain Rock by the spade of Rob Roy; and Rob Roy smelt the earth under the spade of Handy Andy. In a word, the fight became general—the bagpipe blew to arms—Celt joined Celt, there was the tug of war; but the sun set upon the lowered standard of the thistle, and victory proclaimed Shamrock the conqueror. Several of the natives were left for dead upon the field of battle, the triumphant Irish ran away, to a man, to avoid the consequences, and I blush to say it, as I do to record any act of heartless ingratitude, handbills were speedily posted up by the order of government, offering a reward of ten pounds apiece for the capture of certain members of the Foreign Legion, who had been the ringleaders in the riot, which handbill was not only signed by that seducer of soldiers, Sir John Gaspard le Marchant, but also ornamented with the horn of the unicorn and the claws of the British lion.
But there is a Nemesis even in Nova Scotia, for this riot produced effects, unwonted and unlooked for. One of the prominent leaders in the Nova Scotia Parliament, a gentleman distinguished both as an orator and as a poet—the Hon. Joseph Howe, who had signalized himself as an advocate of the right of Her Majesty to recruit for the Crimea in the streets of Columbia, and was ready to pit the British Lion against the American Eagle in support of that right, fell by the very legion he had been so zealous to create. The Hon. Joseph Howe, M. P., by the support of the Irish population, could always command a popular majority and keep his seat in the house, so long as he maintained his loyalty to this votive class of citizens. But, unfortunately, Hon. Joseph Howe, in alluding to the riot, took the Scotch side of the broil. This was sufficient. At the election following he was a defeated candidate, and politely advised to retire to private life. Thus was the Hon. J. H. "hoist by his own petard," the first man to fall by this expensive military company.
An adventure upon the Shubenacadie brought one of these heroes into prominent relief. After we had parted from pleasant Truro, at every nook and corner of the road, there seemed to be a passenger waiting for the Halifax coach. So that the top of the vehicle was soon filled with dusty fellow-travellers, and Jeangros was getting to be a little impatient. Just as we turned into the densest part of the forest, where the evening sun was most obscured by the close foliage, we saw two men, one decorated with a pair of handcuffs, and the other armed with a brace of pistols. The latter hailed the coach.
"What d'ye want?" quoth Jeangros, drawing up by the roadside.
"Government prisoner," said the man with the pistols.
"What the —— is government prisoner to me?" quoth Jeangros.
"I want to take him to Dartmouth," said the tall policeman.
"Then take him there," said our jolly driver, shaking up the leaders.
"Hold up," shouted out the tall policeman, "I will pay his fare."
"Why didn't you say so, then?" replied Jeangros, full of the dignity of his position as driver of H. B. M. Mail-coach, before whose tin horn everything must get out of the way.
There was a doubt which was the drunkenest, the officer or the prisoner. We found out afterwards that the officer had conciliated his captive with drink, partly to keep him friendly in case of an attempted rescue, and partly to get him in such a state that running away would be impracticable. And, indeed, there would have been a great race if the prisoner had attempted to escape. The prisoner too drunk to run—the officer too drunk to pursue.
The pair had scarcely crawled up among the luggage upon the stage-top, before there was an outcry from the passengers on the box in front—"Uncock your pistols! uncock your pistols!" for the officer had dropped his fire-arms, cocked and capped, upon the top of our coach, with the muzzles pointed towards us. And indeed I may affirm here, that I never saw metallic cylinders with more menacing aspect, than those which lay quietly behind us, ready to explode—unconscious instruments as they were—and carry any of the party into the next world upon the slightest lurch of the stage-coach.
"Uncock your pistols," said the passengers.
But the officer, in the mellifluous dialect of his mother country, replied that "He'd be —— if he would. Me prishner," said he, "me prishner might escape; or, the divil knows but there might be a rescue come to him, for there's a good many of the same hereabouts."
It struck me that no person upon the top of the stage-coach was so particularly interested in this dispute as the member of the Foreign Legion, who was on his way either to the gallows or a perpetual prison. I observed that he nervously twitched at his handcuffs, perhaps—as I thought—to prepare for escape in case of an explosion; or else to be ready for the rescue; or else to take advantage of his captor, the tall policeman—jump from the stage, and run for dear life and liberty. Never was I more mistaken. True to his race, and to tradition, Pat was only striving to free himself from the leather shackles, in order to fight any man who was an enemy to his friend the policeman, and the pistols, that were cocked to shoot himself. But had not poor Paddy made such blunders in all times? The hubbub increased, a terrific contest was impending; the travellers below poked their heads out of the windows; there was every prospect of a catastrophe of some kind, when suddenly Jeangros rose to his feet, and said, in a voice clear and sharp through the tumult as an electric flash through a storm, "Uncock those pistols, or I will throw you from the top of the coach!"