"Very well," said Basil, who, having made all the concessions, could not enjoy the quarrel as she did, simply because it was theirs; "let 's behave as if it had never been."
"O no, we can't. To me, it's as if we had just won each other."
In fact it gave a wonderful zest and freshness to that ride round the mountain, and shed a beneficent glow upon the rest of their journey. The sun came out through the thin clouds, and lighted up the vast plain that swept away north and east, with the purple heights against the eastern sky. The royal mountain lifted its graceful mass beside them, and hid the city wholly from sight. Peasant-villages, in the shade of beautiful elms, dotted the plain in every direction, and at intervals crept up to the side of the road along which they drove. But these had been corrupted by a more ambitious architecture since Basil saw them last, and were no longer purely French in appearance. Then, nearly every house was a tannery in a modest way, and poetically published the fact by the display of a sheep's tail over the front door, like a bush at a wine- shop. Now, if the tanneries still existed, the poetry of the cheeps' tails had vanished from the portals. But our friends were consoled by meeting numbers of the peasants jolting home from market in the painted carts, which are doubtless of the pattern of the carts first built there two hundred years ago. They were grateful for the immortal old wooden, crooked and brown with the labor of the fields, who abounded in these vehicles; when a huge girl jumped from the tail of her cart, and showed the thick, clumsy ankles of a true peasant-maid, they could only sigh out their unspeakable satisfaction.
Gardens embowered and perfumed the low cottages, through the open doors of which they could see the exquisite neatness of the life within. One of the doors opened into a school-house, where they beheld with rapture the school-mistress, book in hand, and with a quaint cap on her gray head, and encircled by her flock of little boys and girls.
By and by it began to rain again; and now while their driver stopped to put up the top of the barouche, they entered a country church which had taken their fancy, and walked up the aisle with the steps that blend with silence rather than break it, while they heard only the soft whisper of the shower without. There was no one there but themselves. The urn of holy water seemed not to have been troubled that day, and no penitent knelt at the shrine, before which twinkled so faintly one lighted lamp. The white roof swelled into dim arches over their heads; the pale day like a visible hush stole through the painted windows; they heard themselves breathe as they crept from picture to picture.
A narrow door opened at the side of the high altar, and a slender young priest appeared in a long black robe, and with shaven head. He, too as he moved with noiseless feet, seemed a part of the silence; and when he approached with dreamy black eyes fixed upon them, and bowed courteously, it seemed impossible he should speak. But he spoke, the pale young priest, the dark-robed tradition, the tonsured vision of an age and a church that are passing.
"Do you understand French, monsieur?"
"A very little, monsieur."
"A very little is more than my English," he said, yet he politely went the round of the pictures with them, and gave them the names of the painters between his crossings at the different altars. At the high altar there was a very fair Crucifixion; before this the priest bent one knee. "Fine picture, fine altar, fine church," he said in English. At last they stopped next the poor-box. As their coins clinked against those within, he smiled serenely upon the good heretics. Then he bowed, and, as if he had relapsed into the past, he vanished through the narrow door by which he had entered.
Basil and Isabel stood speechless a moment on the church steps. Then she cried,
"O, why didn't something happen?"
"Ah, my dear! what could have keen half so good as the nothing that did happen? Suppose we knew him to have taken orders because of a disappointment in love: how common it would have made him; everybody has been crossed in love once or twice." He bade the driver take them back to the hotel. "This is the very bouquet of adventure why should we care for the grosser body? I dare say if we knew all about yonder pale young priest, we should not think him half so interesting as we do now."
At dinner they spent the intervals of the courses in guessing the nationality of the different persons, and in wondering if the Canadians did not make it a matter of conscientious loyalty to out-English the English even in the matter of pale-ale and sherry, and in rotundity of person and freshness of face, just as they emulated them in the cut of their clothes and whiskers. Must they found even their health upon the health of the mother-country?
Our friends began to detect something servile in it all, and but that they were such amiable persons, the loyally perfect digestion of Montreal would have gone far to impair their own.
The loyalty, which had already appeared to them in the cathedral, suggested itself in many ways upon the street, when they went out after dinner to do that little shopping which Isabel had planned to do in Montreal. The booksellers' windows were full of Canadian editions of our authors, and English copies of English works, instead of our pirated editions; the dry-goods stores were gay with fabrics in the London taste and garments of the London shape; here was the sign of a photographer to the Queen, there of a hatter to H. R. H. the Prince of Wales; a barber was "under the patronage of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales, H. E. the Duke of Cambridge, and the gentry of Montreal." 'Ich dien' was the motto of a restaurateur; a hosier had gallantly labeled his stock in trade with 'Honi soit qui mal y pense'. Again they noted the English solidity of the civic edifices, and already they had observed in the foreign population a difference from that at home. They saw no German faces on the streets, and the Irish faces had not that truculence which they wear sometimes with us. They had not lost their native simpleness and kindliness; the Irishmen who drove the public carriages were as civil as our own Boston hackmen, and behaved as respectfully under the shadow of England here, as they world have done under it in Ireland. The problem which vexes us seems to have been solved pleasantly enough in Canada. Is it because the Celt cannot brook equality; and where he has not an established and recognized caste above him, longs to trample on those about him; and if he cannot be lowest, will at least be highest?
However, our friends did not suffer this or any other advantage of the colonial relation to divert them from the opinion to which their observation was gradually bringing them,—that its overweening loyalty placed a great country like Canada in s very silly attitude, the attitude of an overgrown, unmanly boy, clinging to the maternal skirts, and though spoilt and willful, without any character of his own. The constant reference of local hopes to that remote centre beyond seas, the test of success by the criterions of a necessarily different civilization, the social and intellectual dependence implied by traits that meet the most hurried glance in the Dominion, give an effect of meanness to the whole fabric. Doubtless it is a life of comfort, of peace, of irresponsibility they live there, but it lacks the grandeur which no sum of material prosperity can give; it is ignoble, like all voluntarily subordinate things. Somehow, one feels that it has no basis in the New World, and that till it is shaken loose from England it cannot have.
It would be a pity, however, if it should be parted from the parent country merely to be joined to an unsympathetic half-brother like ourselves and nothing, fortunately, seems to be further from the Canadian mind. There are some experiments no longer possible to us which could still be tried there to the advantage of civilization, and we were better two great nations side by side than a union of discordant traditions and ideas. But none the less does the American traveller, swelling with forgetfulness of the shabby despots who govern New York, and the swindling railroad kings whose word is law to the whole land, feel like saying to the hulling young giant beyond St. Lawrence and the Lakes, "Sever the apron-strings of allegiance, and try to be yourself whatever you are."
Something of this sort Basil said, though of course not in apostrophic phrase, nor with Isabel's entire concurrence, when he explained to her that it was to the colonial dependence of Canada she owed the ability to buy things so cheaply there.
The fact is that the ladies' parlor at the hotel had been after dinner no better than a den of smugglers, in which the fair contrabandists had debated the best means of evading the laws of their country. At heart every man is a smuggler, and how much more every woman! She would have no scruple in ruining the silk and woolen interest throughout the United States. She is a free-trader by intuitive perception of right, and is limited in practice by nothing but fear of the statute. What could be taken into the States without detection, was the subject before that wicked conclave; and next, what it would pay to buy in Canada. It seemed that silk umbrellas were most eligible wares; and in the display of such purchases the parlor was given the appearance of a violent thunder-storm. Gloves it was not advisable to get; they were better at home, as were many kinds of fine woolen goods. But laces, which you could carry about you, were excellent; and so was any kind of silk. Could it be carried if simply cut, and not made up? There was a difference about this: the friend of one lady had taken home half a trunkful of cut silks; the friend of another had "run up the breadths" of one lone little silk skirt, and then lost it by the rapacity of the customs officers. It was pretty much luck, and whether the officers happened to be in good-humor or not. You must not try to take in anything out of season, however. One had heard of a Boston lady going home in July, who "had the furs taken off her back," in that inclement month. Best get everything seasonable, and put it on at once. "And then, you know, if they ask you, you can say it's been worn." To this black wisdom came the combined knowledge of those miscreants. Basil could not repress a shudder at the innate depravity of the female heart. Here were virgins nurtured in the most spotless purity of life, here were virtuous mothers of families, here were venerable matrons, patterns in society and the church,— smugglers to a woman, and eager for any guilty subterfuge! He glanced at Isabel to see what effect the evil conversation had upon her. Her eyes sparkled; her cheeks glowed; all the woman was on fire for smuggling. He sighed heavily and went out with her to do the little shopping.
Shall I follow them upon their excursion? Shopping in Montreal is very much what it is in Boston or New York, I imagine, except that the clerks have a more honeyed sweetness of manners towards the ladies of our nation, and are surprisingly generous constructionists of our revenue laws. Isabel had profited by every word that she had heard in the ladies' parlor, and she would not venture upon unsafe ground; but her tender eyes looked her unutterable longing to believe in the charming possibilities that the clerks suggested. She bemoaned herself before the corded silks, which there was no time to have made up; the piece-velvets and the linens smote her to the heart. But they also stimulated her invention, and she bought and bought of the made-up wares in real or fancied needs, till Basil represented that neither their purses nor their trunks could stand any more. "O, don't be troubled about the trunks, dearest," she cried, with that gayety which nothing but shopping can kindle in a woman's heart; while he faltered on from counter to counter, wondering at which he should finally swoon from fatigue. At last, after she had declared repeatedly, "There, now, I am done," she briskly led the way back to the hotel to pack up her purchases.
Basil parted with her at the door. He was a man of high principle himself, and that scene in the smugglers' den, and his wife's preparation for transgression, were revelations for which nothing could have consoled him but a paragon umbrella for five dollars, and an excellent business suit of Scotch goods for twenty.
When some hours later he sat with Isabel on the forward promenade of the steamboat for Quebec, and summed up the profits of their shopping, they were both in the kindliest mood towards the poor Canadians, who had built the admirable city before them.
For miles the water front of Montreal is superbly faced with quays and locks of solid stone masonry, and thus she is clean and beautiful to the very feet. Stately piles of architecture, instead of the foul old tumble-down warehouses that dishonor the waterside in most cities, rise from the broad wharves; behind these spring the twin towers of Notre Dame, and the steeples of the other churches above the city roofs.
It's noble, yes, it's noble, after the best that Europe can show," said Isabel, with enthusiasm; "and what a pleasant day we've had here! Doesn't even our quarrel show 'couleur de rose' in this light?"
"One side of it," answered Basil, dreamily, but all the rest is black."
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"Why, the Nelson Monument, with the sunset on it at the head of the street there."
The affect was so fine that Isabel could not be angry with him for failing to heed what she had said, and she mused a moment with him.
"It seems rather far-fetched," she said presently, "to erect a monument to Nelson in Montreal, doesn't it? But then, it's a very absurd monument when you're near it," she added, thoughtfully.
Basil did not answer at once, for gazing on this Nelson column in Jacques Cartier Square, his thoughts wandered away, not to the hero of the Nile, but to the doughty old Breton navigator, the first white man who ever set foot upon that shore, and who more than three hundred years ago explored the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal, and in the splendid autumn weather climbed to the top of her green height and named it. The scene that Jacques Cartier then beheld, like a mirage of the fast projected upon the present, floated before him, and he saw at the mountain's foot the Indian city of Hochelaga, with its vast and populous lodges of bark, its encircling palisades, and its wide outlying fields of yellow maize. He heard with Jacques Cartier's sense the blare of his followers' trumpets down in the open square of the barbarous city, where the soldiers of many an Old-World fight, "with mustached lip and bearded chin, with arquebuse and glittering halberd, helmet, and cuirass," moved among the plumed and painted savages; then he lifted Jacques Cartier's eyes, and looked out upon the magnificent landscape. "East, wept, and north, the mantling forest was over all, and the broad blue ribbon of the great river glistened amid a realm of verdure. Beyond, to the bounds of Mexico, stretched a leafy desert, and the vast hive of industry, the mighty battle-ground of late; centuries, lay sunk in savage torpor, wrapped in illimitable woods."
A vaguer picture of Champlain, who, seeking a westward route to China and the East, some three quarters of a century later, had fixed the first trading-post at Montreal, and camped upon the spot where the convent of the Gray Nuns now stands, appeared before him, and vanished with all its fleets of fur-traders' boats and hunters' birch canoes, and the watch- fires of both; and then in the sweet light of the spring morning, he saw Maisonneuve leaping ashore upon the green meadows, that spread all gay with early flowers where Hochelaga once stood, and with the black-robed Jesuits, the high-born, delicately nurtured, and devoted nuns, and the steel-clad soldiers of his train, kneeling about the altar raised there in the wilderness, and silent amidst the silence of nature at the lifted Host.
He painted a semblance of all this for Isabel, using the colors of the historian who has made these scenes the beautiful inheritance of all dream era, and sketched the battles, the miracles, the sufferings, and the penances through which the pious colony was preserved and prospered, till they both grew impatient of modern Montreal, and would fain have had the ancient Villemarie back in its place.
"Think of Maisonneuve, dearest, climbing in midwinter to the top of the mountain there, under a heavy cross set with the bones of saints, and planting it on the summit, in fulfillment of a vow to do so if Villemarie were saved from the freshet; and then of Madame de la Peltrie romantically receiving the sacrament there, while all Villemarie fell down adoring! Ah, that was a picturesque people! When did ever a Boston governor climb to the top of Beacon hill in fulfillment of a vow? To be sure, we may yet see a New York governor doing something of the kind— if he can find a hill. But this ridiculous column to Nelson, who never had anything to do with Montreal," he continued; "it really seems to me the perfect expression of snobbish colonial dependence and sentimentality, seeking always to identify itself with the mother- country, and ignoring the local past and its heroic figures. A column to Nelson in Jacques Cartier Square, on the ground that was trodden by Champlain, and won for its present masters by the death of Wolfe"
The boat departed on her trip to Quebec. During supper they were served by French waiters, who, without apparent English of their own, miraculously understood that of the passengers, except in the case of the furious gentleman who wanted English breakfast tea; to so much English as that their inspiration did not reach, and they forced him to compromise on coffee. It was a French boat, owned by a French company, and seemed to be officered by Frenchmen throughout; certainly, as our tourists in the joy of their good appetites affirmed, the cook was of that culinarily delightful nation.
The boat was almost as large as those of the Hudson, but it was not so lavishly splendid, though it had everything that could minister to the comfort and self-respect of the passengers. These were of all nations, but chiefly Americans, with some French Canadians. The former gathered on the forward promenade, enjoying what little of the landscape the growing night left visible, and the latter made society after their manner in the saloon. They were plain-looking men and women, mostly, and provincial, it was evident, to their inmost hearts; provincial in origin, provincial by inheritance, by all their circumstances, social and political. Their relation with France was not a proud one, but it was not like submersion by the slip-slop of English colonial loyalty; yet they seem to be troubled by no memories of their hundred years' dominion of the land that they rescued from, the wilderness, and that was wrested from them by war. It is a strange fate for any people thus to have been cut off from the parent-country, and abandoned to whatever destiny their conquerors chose to reserve for them; and if each of the race wore the sadness and strangeness of that fate in his countenance it would not be wonderful. Perhaps it is wonderful that none of them shows anything of the kind. In their desertion they have multiplied and prospered; they may have a national grief, but they hide it well; and probably they have none.
Later, one of them appeared to Isabel in the person of the pale, slender young ecclesiastic who had shown her and Basil the pictures in the country church. She was confessing to the priest, and she was not at all surprised to find that he was Basil in a suit of medieval armor. He had an immense cross on his shoulder.
"To get this cross to the top of the mountain," thought Isabel," we must have two horses. Basil," she added, aloud, "we must have two horses!"
"Ten, if you like, my dear," answered his voice, cheerfully, "though I think we'd better ride up in the omnibus."
She opened her eyes, and saw him smiling.
"We're in sight of Quebec," he said. "Come out as soon as you can,—come out into the seventeenth century."
Isabel hurried out upon the forward promenade, where all the other passengers seemed to be assembled, and beheld a vast bulk of gray and purple rock, swelling two hundred feet up from the mists of the river, and taking the early morning light warm upon its face and crown. Black- hulked, red-illumined Liverpool steamers, gay river-craft and ships of every sail and flag, filled the stream athwart which the ferries sped their swift traffic-laden shuttles; a lower town hung to the foot of the rock, and crept, populous and picturesque, up its sides; from the massive citadel on its crest flew the red banner of Saint George, and along its brow swept the gray wall of the famous, heroic, beautiful city, overtopped by many a gleaming spire and antique roof.
Slowly out of our work-day, business-suited, modern world the vessel steamed up to this city of an olden time and another ideal,—to her who was a lady from the first, devout and proud and strong, and who still, after two hundred and fifty years, keeps perfect the image and memory of the feudal past from which she sprung. Upon her height she sits unique; and when you say Quebec, having once beheld her, you invoke a sense of medieval strangeness and of beauty which the name of no other city could intensify.
As they drew near the steamboat wharf they saw, swarming over a broad square, a market beside which the Bonsecours Market would have shown as common as the Quincy, and up the odd wooden-sidewalked street stretched an aisle of carriages and those high swung calashes, which are to Quebec what the gondolas are to Venice. But the hand of destiny was upon our tourists, and they rode up town in an omnibus. They were going to the dear old Hotel Musty in Street, wanting which Quebec is not to be thought of without a pang. It is now closed, and Prescott Gate, through which they drove into the Upper Town, has been demolished since the summer of last year. Swiftly whirled along the steep winding road, by those Quebec horses which expect to gallop up hill whatever they do going down, they turned a corner of the towering weed-grown rock, and shot in under the low arch of the gate, pierced with smaller doorways for the foot- passengers. The gloomy masonry dripped with damp, the doors were thickly studded with heavy iron spikes; old cannon, thrust endwise into the ground at the sides of the gate, protected it against passing wheels. Why did not some semi-forbidding commissary of police, struggling hard to overcome his native politeness, appear and demand their passports? The illusion was otherwise perfect, and it needed but this touch. How often in the adored Old World, which we so love and disapprove, had they driven in through such gates at that morning hour! On what perverse pretext, then, was it not some ancient town of Normandy?
"Put a few enterprising Americans in here, and they'd soon rattle this old wall down and let in a little fresh air!" said a patriotic voice at Isabel's elbow, and continued to find fault with the narrow irregular streets, the huddling gables, the quaint roofs, through which and under which they drove on to the hotel.
As they dashed into a broad open square, "Here is the French Cathedral; there is the Upper Town Market; yonder are the Jesuit Barracks!" cried Basil; and they had a passing glimpse of gray stone towers at one side of the square, and a low, massive yellow building at the other, and, between the two, long ranks of carts, and fruit and vegetable stands, protected by canvas awnings and broad umbrellas. Then they dashed round the corner of a street, and drew up before the hotel door. The low ceilings, the thick walls, the clumsy wood-work, the wandering corridors, gave the hotel all the desired character of age, and its slovenly state bestowed an additional charm. In another place they might have demanded neatness, but in Quebec they would almost have resented it. By a chance they had the best room in the house, but they held it only till certain people who had engaged it by telegraph should arrive in the hourly expected steamer from Liverpool; and, moreover, the best room at Hotel Musty was consolingly bad. The house was very full, and the Ellisons (who had come on with them from Montreal) were bestowed in less state only on like conditions.
The travellers all met at breakfast, which was admirably cooked, and well served, with the attendance of those swarms of flies which infest Quebec. and especially infested the old Musty House, in summer. It had, of course, the attraction of broiled salmon, upon which the traveller breakfasts every day as long as he remains in Lower Canada; and it represented the abundance of wild berries in the Quebec market; and it was otherwise a breakfast worthy of the appetites that honored it.
There were not many other Americans besides themselves at this hotel, which seemed, indeed, to be kept open to oblige such travellers as had been there before, and could not persuade themselves to try the new Hotel St. Louis, whither the vastly greater number resorted. Most of the faces our tourists saw were English or English-Canadian, and the young people from Omaha; who had got here by some chance, were scarcely in harmony with the place. They appeared to be a bridal party, but which of the two sisters, in buff linen 'clad from head to foot' was the bride, never became known. Both were equally free with the husband, and he was impartially fond of both: it was quite a family affair.
For a moment Isabel harbored the desire to see the city in company with Miss Ellison; but it was only a passing weakness. She remembered directly the coolness between friends which she had seen caused by objects of interest in Europe, and she wisely deferred a more intimate acquaintance till it could have a purely social basis. After all, nothing is so tiresome as continual exchange of sympathy or so apt to end in mutual dislike,—except gratitude. So the ladies parted friends till dinner, and drove off in separate carriages.
As in other show cities, there is a routine at Quebec for travellers who come on Saturday and go on Monday, and few depart from it. Our friends necessarily, therefore, drove first to the citadel. It was raining one of those cold rains by which the scarce-banished winter reminds the Canadian fields of his nearness even in midsummer, though between the bitter showers the air was sultry and close; and it was just the light in which to see the grim strength of the fortress next strongest to Gibraltar in the world. They passed a heavy iron gateway, and up through a winding lane of masonry to the gate of the citadel, where they were delivered into the care of Private Joseph Drakes, who was to show them such parts of the place as are open to curiosity. But, a citadel which has never stood a siege, or been threatened by any danger more serious than Fenianism, soon becomes, however strong, but a dull piece of masonry to the civilian; and our tourists more rejoiced in the crumbling fragment of the old French wall which the English destroyed than in all they had built; and they valued the latter work chiefly for the glorious prospects of the St. Lawrence and its mighty valleys which it commanded. Advanced into the centre of an amphitheatre inconceivably vast, that enormous beak of rock overlooks the narrow angle of the river, and then, in every direction, immeasurable stretches of gardened vale, and wooded upland, till all melts into the purple of the encircling mountains. Far and near are lovely white villages nestling under elms, in the heart of fields and meadows; and everywhere the long, narrow, accurately divided farms stretch downward to the river-shores. The best roads on the continent make this beauty and richness accessible; each little village boasts some natural wonder in stream, or lake, or cataract: and this landscape, magnificent beyond any in eastern America, is historical and interesting beyond all others. Hither came Jacques Cartier three hundred and fifty years ago, and wintered on the low point there by the St. Charles; here, nearly a century after, but still fourteen years before the landing at Plymouth, Champlain founded the missionary city of Quebec; round this rocky beak came sailing the half-piratical armament of the Calvinist Kirks in 1629, and seized Quebec in the interest of the English, holding it three years; in the Lower Town, yonder, first landed the coldly welcomed Jesuits, who came with the returning French and made Quebec forever eloquent of their zeal, their guile, their heroism; at the foot of this rock lay the fleet of Sir William Phipps, governor of Massachusetts, and vainly assailed it in 1698; in 1759 came Wolfe and embattled all the region, on river and land, till at last the bravely defended city fell into his dying hand on the Plains of Abraham; here Montgomery laid down his life at the head of the boldest and most hopeless effort of our War of Independence.
Private Joseph Drakes, with the generosity of an enemy expecting drink- money, pointed out the sign, board on the face of the crag commemorating 'Montgomery's death'; and then showed them the officers' quarters and those of the common soldiers, not far from which was a line of hang-dog fellows drawn up to receive sentence for divers small misdemeanors, from an officer whose blond whiskers drooped Dundrearily from his fresh English cheeks. There was that immense difference between him and the men in physical grandeur and beauty, which is so notable in the aristocratically ordered military services of Europe, and which makes the rank seem of another race from the file. Private Drakes saluted his superior, and visibly deteriorated in his presence, though his breast was covered with medals, and he had fought England's battles in every part of the world. It was a gross injustice, the triumph of a thousand years of wrong; and it was touching to have Private Drakes say that he expected in three months to begin life for himself, after twenty years' service of the Queen; and did they think he could get anything to do in the States? He scarcely knew what he was fit for, but he thought—to so little in him came the victories he had helped to win in the Crimea, in China, and in India—that he coald take care of a gentleman's horse and work about his place. He looked inquiringly at Basil, as if he might be a gentleman with a horse to be taken care of and a place to be worked about, and made him regret that he was not a man of substance enough to provide for Private Drakes and Mrs. Drakes and the brood of Ducklings, who had been shown to him stowed away in one of those cavernous rooms in the earthworks where the married soldiers have their quarters. His regret enriched the reward of Private Drakes' service,—which perhaps answered one of Private Drakes' purposes, if not his chief aim. He promised to come to the States upon the pressing advice of Isabel, who, speaking from her own large experience, declared that everybody got on there,—and he bade our friends an affectionate farewell as they drove away to the Plains of Abraham.
The fashionable suburban cottages and places of Quebec are on the St. Louis Road leading northward to the old battle-ground and beyond it; but, these face chiefly towards the rivers St. Lawrence and St. Charles, and lofty hedges and shrubbery hide them in an English seclusion from the highway; so that the visitor may uninterruptedly meditate whatever emotion he will for the scene of Wolfe's death as he rides along. His loftiest emotion will want the noble height of that heroic soul, who must always stand forth in history a figure of beautiful and singular distinction, admirable alike for the sensibility and daring, the poetic pensiveness, and the martial ardor that mingled in him and taxed his feeble frame with tasks greater than it could bear. The whole story of the capture of Quebec is full of romantic splendor and pathos. Her fall was a triumph for all the English-speaking race, and to us Americans, long scourged by the cruel Indian wars plotted within her walls or sustained by her strength, such a blessing as was hailed with ringing bells and blazing bonfires throughout the Colonies; yet now we cannot think without pity of the hopes extinguished and the labors brought to naught in her overthrow. That strange colony of priests and soldiers, of martyrs and heroes, of which she was the capital, willing to perish for an allegiance to which the mother-country was indifferent, and fighting against the armies with which England was prepared to outnumber the whole Canadian population, is a magnificent spectacle; and Montcalm laying down his life to lose Quebec is not less affecting than Wolfe dying to win her. The heart opens towards the soldier who recited, on the eve of his costly victory, the "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," which he would "rather have written than beat the French to-morrow;" but it aches for the defeated general, who, hurt to death, answered, when told how brief his time was, "So much the better; then I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec."
In the city for which they perished their fame has never been divided. The English have shown themselves very generous victors; perhaps nothing could be alleged against them, but that they were victors. A shaft common to Wolfe and Montcalm celebrates them both in the Governor's Garden; and in the Chapel of the Ursuline Convent a tablet is placed, where Montcalm died, by the same conquerors who raised to Wolfe's memory the column on the battle-field.
A dismal prison covers the ground where the hero fell, and the monument stands on the spot where Wolfe breathed his last, on ground lower than the rest of the field; the friendly hollow that sheltered him from the fire of the French dwarfs his monument; yet it is sufficient, and the simple inscription, "Here died Wolfe victorious," gives it a dignity which many cubits of added stature could not bestow. Another of those bitter showers, which had interspersed the morning's sunshine, drove suddenly across the open plain, and our tourists comfortably sentimentalized the scene behind the close-drawn curtains of their carriage. Here a whole empire had been lost and won, Basil reminded Isabel; and she said, "Only think of it!" and looked to a wandering fold of her skirt, upon which the rain beat through a rent of the curtain.
Do I pitch the pipe too low? We poor honest men are at a sad disadvantage; and now and then I am minded to give a loose to fancy, and attribute something really grand and fine to my people, in order to make them worthier the reader's respected acquaintance. But again, I forbid myself in a higher interest; and I am afraid that even if I were less virtuous, I could not exalt their mood upon a battle-field; for of all things of the past a battle is the least conceivable. I have heard men who fought in many battles say that the recollection was like a dream to them; and what can the merely civilian imagination do on the Plains of Abraham, with the fact that there, more than a century ago, certain thousands of Frenchmen marched out, on a bright September morning, to kill and maim as many Englishmen? This ground, so green and oft with grass beneath the feet, was it once torn with shot and soaked with the blood of men? Did they lie here in ranks and heaps, the miserable slain, for whom tender hearts away yonder over the sea were to ache and break? Did the wretches that fell wounded stretch themselves here, and writhe beneath the feet of friend and foe, or crawl array for shelter into little hollows, and behind gushes and fallen trees! Did he, whose soul was so full of noble and sublime impulses, die here, shot through like some ravening beast? The loathsome carnage, the shrieks, the hellish din of arms, the cries of victory,—I vainly strive to conjure up some image of it all now; and God be thanked, horrible spectre! that, fill the world with sorrow as thou wilt, thou still remainest incredible in its moments of sanity and peace. Least credible art thou on the old battle-fields, where the mother of the race denies thee with breeze and sun and leaf and bird, and every blade of grass! The red stain in Basil's thought yielded to the rain sweeping across the pasture-land from which it had long since faded, and the words on the monument, "Here died Wolfe victorious," did not proclaim his bloody triumph over the French, but his self-conquest, his victory over fear and pain and love of life. Alas! when shall the poor, blind, stupid world honor those who renounce self in the joy of their kind, equally with those who devote themselves through the anguish and loss of thousands? So old a world and groping still!
The tourists were better fitted for the next occasion of sentiment, which was at the Hotel Dieu whither they went after returning from the battlefield. It took all the mal-address of which travellers are masters to secure admittance, and it was not till they had rung various wrong bells, and misunderstood many soft nun-voices speaking French through grated doors, and set divers sympathetic spectators doing ineffectual services, that they at last found the proper entrance, and were answered in English that the porter would ask if they might see the chapel. They hoped to find there the skull of Brebeuf, one of those Jesuit martyrs who perished long ago for the conversion of a race that has perished, and whose relics they had come, fresh from their reading of Parkman, with some vague and patronizing intention to revere. An elderly sister with a pale, kind face led them through a ward of the hospital into the chapel, which they found in the expected taste, and exquisitely neat and cool, but lacking the martyr's skull. They asked if it were not to be seen. "Ah, yes, poor Pere Brebeuf!" sighed the gentle sister, with the tone and manner of having lost him yesterday; "we had it down only last week, showing it to some Jesuit fathers; but it's in the convent now, and isn't to be seen." And there mingled apparently in her regret for Pere Brebeuf a confusing sense of his actual state as a portable piece of furniture. She would not let them praise the chapel. It was very clean, yes, but there was nothing to see in it. She deprecated their compliments with many shrugs, but she was pleased; for when we renounce the pomps and vanities of this world, we are pretty sure to find them in some other, —if we are women. She, good and pure soul, whose whole life was given to self-denying toil, had yet something angelically coquettish in her manner, a spiritual-worldliness which was the clarified likeness of this- worldliness. O, had they seen the Hotel Dieu at Montreal? Then (with a vivacious wave of the hands) they would not care to look at this, which by comparison was nothing. Yet she invited them to go through the wards if they would, and was clearly proud to have them see the wonderful cleanness and comfort of the place. There were not many patients, but here and there a wan or fevered face looked at them from its pillow, or a weak form drooped beside a bed, or a group of convalescents softly talked together. They came presently to the last hall, at the end of which sat another nun, beside a window that gave a view of the busy port, and beyond it the landscape of village-lit plain and forest-darkened height. On a table at her elbow stood a rose-tree, on which hung two only pale tea-roses, so fair, so perfect, that Isabel cried out in wonder and praise. Ere she could prevent it, the nun, to whom there had been some sort of presentation, gathered one of the roses, and with a shy grace offered it to Isabel, who shrank back a little as from too costly a gift. "Take it," said the first nun, with her pretty French accent; while the other, who spoke no English at all, beamed a placid smile; and Isabel took it. The flower, lying light in her palm, exhaled a delicate odor, and a thrill of exquisite compassion for it trembled through her heart, as if it had been the white, cloistered life of the silent nun: with its pallid loveliness, it was as a flower that had taken the veil. It could never have uttered the burning passion of a lover for his mistress; the nightingale could have found no thorn on it to press his aching poet's heart against; but sick and weary eyes had dwelt gratefully upon it; at most it might have expressed, like a prayer, the nun's stainless love of some favorite saint in paradise. Cold, and pale, and sweet,—was it indeed only a flower, this cloistered rose of the Hotel Dieu?
"Breathe it," said the gentle Gray Sister; "sometimes the air of the hospital offends. Not us, no; we are used; but you come from the outside." And she gave her rose for this humble use as lovingly as she devoted herself to her lowly taxes.
"It is very little to see," she said at the end; "but if you are pleased, I am very glad. Goodby, good-by! "She stood with her arms folded, and watched them out of sight with her kind, coquettish little smile, and then the mute, blank life of the nun resumed her.
From Hotel Dieu to Hotel Musty it was but a step; both were in the same street; but our friends fancied themselves to have come an immense distance when they sat down at an early dinner, amidst the clash of crockery and cutlery, and looked round upon all the profane travelling world assembled. Their regard presently fixed upon one company which monopolized a whole table, and were defined from the other diners by peculiarities as marked as those of the Soeurs Grises themselves. There were only two men among some eight or ten women; one of the former had a bad amiable face, with eyes full of a merry deviltry; the other, clean. shaven, and dark, was demure and silent as a priest. The ladies were of various types, but of one effect, with large rolling eyes, and faces that somehow regarded the beholder as from a distance, and with an impartial feeling for him as for an element of publicity. One of them, who caressed a lapdog with one hand while she served herself with the other, was, as she seemed to believe, a blonde; she had pale blue eyes, and her hair was cut in front so as to cover her forehead with a straggling sandy-colored fringe. She had an English look, and three or four others, with dark complexion and black, unsteady eyes, and various abandon of back-hair, looked like Cockney houris of Jewish blood; while two of the lovely company were clearly of our own nation, as was the young man with the reckless laughing face. The ladies were dressed and jeweled with a kind of broad effectiveness, which was to the ordinary style of society what scene-painting is to painting, and might have borne close inspection no better. They seemed the best-humored people in the world, and on the kindliest terms with each other. The waiters shared their pleasant mood, and served them affectionately, and were now and then invited to join in the gay talk which babbled on over dislocated aspirates, and filled the air with a sentiment of vagabond enjoyment, of the romantic freedom of violated convention, of something Gil Blas-like, almost picaresque.
If they had needed explanation it would have been given by the announcement in the office of the hotel that a troupe of British blondes was then appearing in Quebec for one week only.
After dinner they took possession of the parlor, and while one strummed fitfully upon the ailing hotel piano, the rest talked, and talked shop, of course, as all of us do when several of a trade are got together.
"W'at," said the eldest of the dark-faced, black haired British blondes of Jewish race,—"w'at are we going to give at Montrehal?"
"We're going to give 'Pygmalion,' at Montrehal," answered the British blonde of American birth, good-humoredly burlesquing the erring h of her sister.
"But we cahn't, you know," said the lady with the fringed forehead; "Hagnes is gone on to New York, and there's nobody to do Wenus."
"Yes, you know," demanded the, first speaker, "oo's to do Wenus?
"Bella's to do Wenus," said a third.
There was an outcry at this, and "'Ow ever would she get herself up for 'Venus?" and "W'at a guy she'll look!" and "Nonsense! Bella's too 'eavy for Venus!" came from different lively critics; and the debate threatened to become too intimate for the public ear, when one of their gentlemen came in and said, "Charley don't seem so well this afternoon." On this the chorus changed its note, and at the proposal, "Poor Charley, let 's go and cheer 'im hop a bit," the whole good-tempered company trooped out of the parlor together.
Our tourists meant to give the rest of the afternoon to that sort of aimless wandering to and fro about the streets which seizes a foreign city unawares, and best develops its charm of strangeness. So they went out and took their fill of Quebec with appetites keen through long fasting from the quaint and old, and only sharpened by Montreal, and impartially rejoiced in the crooked up-and-down hill streets; the thoroughly French domestic architecture of a place that thus denied having been English for a hundred years; the porte-cocheres beside every house; the French names upon the doors, and the oddity of the bellpulls; the rough-paved, rattling streets; the shining roofs of tin, and the universal dormer-windows; the littleness of the private houses, and the greatness of the high-walled and garden-girdled convents; the breadths of weather-stained city wall, and the shaggy cliff beneath; the batteries, with their guns peacefully staring through loop-holes of masonry, and the red-coated sergeants flirting with nursery-maids upon the carriages, while the children tumbled about over the pyramids of shot and shell; the sloping market-place before the cathedral, where yet some remnant of the morning's traffic lingered under canvas canopies, and where Isabel bought a bouquet of marigolds and asters of an old woman peasant enough to have sold it in any market-place of Europe; the small, dark shops beyond the quarter invaded by English retail trade; the movement of all the strange figures of cleric and lay and military life; the sound of a foreign speech prevailing over the English; the encounter of other tourists, the passage back and forth through the different city gates; the public wooden stairways, dropping flight after flight from the Upper to the Lower Town; the bustle of the port, with its commerce and shipping and seafaring life huddled close in under the hill; the many desolate streets of the Lower Town, as black and ruinous as the last great fire left them; and the marshy meadows beyond, memorable of Recollets and Jesuits, of Cartier and Montcalm.
They went to the chapel of the Seminary at Laval University, and admired the Le Brun, and the other paintings of less merit, but equal interest through their suggestion of a whole dim religious world of paintings; and then they spent half an hour in the cathedral, not so much in looking at the Crucifixion by Vandyck which is there, as in reveling amid the familiar rococo splendors of the temple. Every swaggering statue of a saint, every rope-dancing angel, every cherub of those that on the carven and gilded clouds above the high altar float—
"Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,"—
was precious to them; the sacristan dusting the sacred properties with a feather brush, and giving each shrine a business-like nod as he passed, was as a long-lost brother; they had hearts of aggressive tenderness for the young girls and old women who stepped in for a half-hour's devotion, and for the men with bourgeois or peasant faces, who stole a moment from affairs and crops, and gave it to the saints. There was nothing in the place that need remind them of America, and its taste was exactly that of a thousand other churches of the eighteenth century. They could easily have believed themselves in the farthest Catholic South, but for the two great porcelain stoves that stood on either side of the nave near the entrance, and that too vividly reminded them of the possibility of cold.
In fact, Quebec is a little painful in this and other confusions of the South and North, and one never quite reconciles himself to them. The Frenchmen, who expected to find there the climate of their native land, and ripen her wines in as kindly a sun, have perpetuated the image of home in so many things, that it goes to the heart with a painful emotion to find the sad, oblique light of the North upon them. As you ponder some characteristic aspect of Quebec,—a bit of street with heavy stone houses opening upon a stretch of the city wall, with a Lombardy poplar rising slim against it,—you say, to your satisfied soul, "Yes, it is the real thing!" and then all at once a sense of that Northern sky strikes in upon you, and makes the reality a mere picture. The sky is blue, the sun is often fiercely hot; you could not perhaps prove that the pathetic radiance is not an efflux of your own consciousness that summer is but hanging over the land, briefly poising on wings which flit at the first dash of rain, and will soon vanish in long retreat before the snow. But somehow, from without or from within, that light of the North is there.
It lay saddest, our travellers thought, upon the little circular garden near Durham Terrace, where every brightness of fall flowers abounded,— marigold, coxcomb, snap-dragon, dahlia, hollyhock, and sunflower. It was a substantial and hardy efflorescence, and they fancied that fainter- hearted plants would have pined away in that garden, where the little fountain, leaping up into the joyless light, fell back again with a musical shiver. The consciousness of this latent cold, of winter only held in abeyance by the bright sun, was not deeper even in the once magnificent, now neglected Governor's Garden, where there was actually a rawness in the late afternoon air, and whither they were strolling for the view from its height, and to pay their duty to the obelisk raised there to the common fame of Wolfe and Montcalm. The sounding Latin inscription celebrates the royal governor-general who erected it almost as much as the heroes to whom it was raised; but these spectators did not begrudge the space given to his praise, for so fine a thought merited praise. It enforced again the idea of a kind posthumous friendship between Wolfe and Montcalm, which gives their memory its rare distinction, and unites them, who fell in fight against each other, as closely as if they had both died for the same cause.
Some lasting dignity seems to linger about the city that has once been a capital; and this odor of fallen nobility belongs to Quebec, which was a capital in the European sense, with all the advantages of a small vice- regal court, and its social and political intrigues, in the French times. Under the English, for a hundred years it was the centre of Colonial civilization and refinement, with a governor-general's residence and a brilliant, easy, and delightful society, to which the large garrison of former days gave gayety and romance. The honors of a capital, first shared with Montreal and Toronto, now rest with half-savage Ottawa; and the garrison has dwindled to a regiment of rifles, whose presence would hardly be known, but for the natty sergeants lounging, stick in hand, about the streets and courting the nurse-maids. But in the days of old there were scenes of carnival pleasure in the Governor's Garden, and there the garrison band still plays once a week, when it is filled by the fashion and beauty of Quebec, and some semblance of the past is recalled. It is otherwise a lonesome, indifferently tended place, and on this afternoon there was no one there but a few loafing young fellows of low degree, French and English, and children that played screaming from seat to seat and path to path and over the too-heavily shaded grass. In spite of a conspicuous warning that any dog entering the garden would be destroyed, the place was thronged with dogs unmolested and apparently in no danger of the threatened doom. The seal of a disagreeable desolation was given in the legend rudely carved upon one of the benches, "Success to the Irish Republic!"
The morning of the next day our tourists gave to hearing mass at the French cathedral, which was not different, to their heretical senses, from any other mass, except that the ceremony was performed with a very full clerical force, and was attended by an uncommonly devout congregation. With Europe constantly in their minds, they were bewildered to find the worshippers not chiefly old and young women, but men also of all ages and of every degree, from the neat peasant in his Sabbath-day best to the modish young Quebecker, who spread his handkerchief on the floor to save his pantaloons during supplication. There was fashion and education in large degree among the men, and there was in all a pious attention to the function in poetical keeping with the origin and history of a city which the zeal of the Church had founded.
A magnificent beadle, clothed in a gold-laced coat aid bearing a silver staff, bowed to them when they entered, and, leading them to a pew, punched up a kneeling peasant, who mutely resumed his prayers in the aisle outside, while they took his place. It appeared to Isabel very unjust that their curiosity should displace his religion; but she consoled herself by making Basil give a shilling to the man who, preceded by the shining beadle, came round to take up a collection. The peasant could have given nothing but copper, and she felt that this restored the lost balance of righteousness in their favor. There was a sermon, very sweetly and gracefully delivered by a young priest of singular beauty, even among clergy whose good looks are so notable as those of Quebec; and then they followed the orderly crowd of worshippers out, and left the cathedral to the sacristan and the odor of incense.
They thought the type of French-Canadian better here than at Montreal, and they particularly noticed the greater number of pretty young girls. All classes were well dressed; for though the best dressed could not be called stylish according to the American standard, as Isabel decided, and had only a provincial gentility, the poorest wore garments that were clean and whole. Everybody, too, was going to have a hot Sunday dinner, if there was any truth in the odors that steamed out of every door and window; and this dinner was to be abundantly garnished with onions, for the dullest nose could not err concerning that savor.
Numbers of tourists, of a nationality that showed itself superior to every distinction of race, were strolling vaguely and not always quite happily about; but they made no impression on the proper local character, and the air throughout the morning was full of the sentiment of Sunday in a Catholic city. There was the apparently meaningless jangling of bells, with profound hushes between, and then more jubilant jangling, and then deeper silence; there was the devout trooping of the crowds to the churches; and there was the beginning of the long afternoon's lounging and amusement with which the people of that faith reward their morning's devotion. Little stands for the sale of knotty apples and choke-cherries and cakes and cider sprang magically into existence after service, and people were already eating and drinking at them. The carriage-drivers resumed their chase of the tourists, and the unvoiceful stir of the new week had begun again. Quebec, in fact, is but a pantomimic reproduction of France; it is as if two centuries in a new land, amidst the primeval silences of nature and the long hush of the Northern winters, had stilled the tongues of the lively folk and made them taciturn as we of a graver race. They have kept the ancestral vivacity of manner; the elegance of the shrug is intact; the talking hands take part in dialogue; the agitated person will have its share of expression. But the loud and eager tone is wanting, and their dumb show mystifies the beholder almost as much as the Southern architecture under the slanting Northern sun. It is not America; if it is not France, what is it?
Of the many beautiful things to see in the neighborhood of Quebec, our wedding-journeyers were in doubt on which to bestow their one precious afternoon. Should it be Lorette, with its cataract and its remnant of bleached and fading Hurons, or the Isle of Orleans with its fertile farms and its primitive peasant life, or Montmorenci, with the unrivaled fall and the long drive through the beautiful village of Beauport? Isabel chose the last, because Basil had been there before, and it had to it the poetry of the wasted years in which she did not know him. She had possessed herself of the journal of his early travels, among the other portions and parcels recoverable from the dreadful past, and from time to time on this journey she had read him passages out of it, with mingled sentiment and irony, and, whether she was mocking or admiring, equally to his confusion. Now, as they smoothly bowled away from the city, she made him listen to what he had written of the same excursion long ago.
It was, to be sure, a sad farrago of sentiment about the village and the rural sights, and especially a girl tossing hay in the field. Yet it had touches of nature and reality, and Basil could not utterly despise himself for having written it. "Yes," he said, "life was then a thing to be put into pretty periods; now it's something that has risks and averages, and may be insured."
There was regret, fancied or expressed, in his tone, that made her sigh, "Ah! if I'd only had a little more money, you might have devoted yourself to literature;" for she was a true Bostonian in her honor of our poor craft.
"O, you're not greatly to blame," answered her husband, "and I forgive you the little wrong you've done me. I was quits with the Muse, at any rate, you know, before we were married; and I'm very well satisfied to be going back to my applications and policies to-morrow."
To-morrow? The word struck cold upon her. Then their wedding journey would begin to end tomorrow! So it would, she owned with another sigh; and yet it seemed impossible.
"There, ma'am," said the driver, rising from his seat and facing round, while he pointed with his whip towards Quebec, "that's what we call the Silver City."
They looked back with him at the city, whose thousands of tinned roofs, rising one above the other from the water's edge to the citadel, were all a splendor of argent light in the afternoon sun. It was indeed as if some magic had clothed that huge rock, base and steepy flank and crest, with a silver city. They gazed upon the marvel with cries of joy that satisfied the driver's utmost pride in it, and Isabel said, "To live there, there in that Silver City, in perpetual sojourn! To be always going to go on a morrow that never came! To be forever within one day of the end of a wedding journey that never ended!"
From far down the river by which they rode came the sound of a cannon, breaking the Sabbath repose of the air. "That's the gun of the Liverpool steamer, just coming in," said the driver.
"O," cried Isabel, "I'm thankful we're only to stay one night more, for now we shall be turned out of our nice room by those people who telegraphed for it!"
There is a continuous village along the St. Lawrence from Quebec, almost to Montmorenci; and they met crowds of villagers coming from the church as they passed through Beauport. But Basil was dismayed at the change that had befallen them. They had their Sunday's best on, and the women, instead of wearing the peasant costume in which he had first seen them, were now dressed as if out of "Harper's Bazar" of the year before. He anxiously asked the driver if the broad straw hats and the bright sacks and kirtles were no more. "O, you'd see them on weekdays, sir," was the answer, "but they're not so plenty any time as they used to be." He opened his store of facts about the habitans, whom he praised for every virtue,—for thrift, for sobriety, for neatness, for amiability; and his words ought to have had the greater weight, because he was of the Irish race, between which and the Canadians there is no kindness lost. But the looks of the passers-by corroborated him, and as for the little houses, open-doored beside the way, with the pleasant faces at window and portal, they were miracles of picturesqueness and cleanliness. From each the owner's slim domain, narrowing at every successive division among the abundant generations, runs back to hill or river in well-defined lines, and beside the cottage is a garden of pot-herbs, bordered with a flame of bright autumn flowers; somewhere in decent seclusion grunts the fattening pig, which is to enrich all those peas and onions for the winter's broth; there is a cheerfulness of poultry about the barns; I dare be sworn there is always a small girl driving a flock of decorous ducks down the middle of the street; and of the priest with a book under his arm, passing a way-side shrine, what possible doubt? The houses, which are of one model, are built by the peasants themselves with the stone which their land yields more abundantly than any other crop, and are furnished with galleries and balconies to catch every ray of the fleeting summer, and perhaps to remember the long-lost ancestral summers of Normandy. At every moment, in passing through this ideally neat and pretty village, our tourists must think of the lovely poem of which all French Canada seems but a reminiscence and illustration. It was Grand Pre, not Beauport; and they paid an eager homage to the beautiful genius which has touched those simple village aspects with an undying charm, and which, whatever the land's political allegiance, is there perpetual Seigneur.
The village, stretching along the broad interval of the St. Lawrence, grows sparser as you draw near the Falls of Montmorenci, and presently you drive past the grove shutting from the road the country-house in which the Duke of Kent spent some merry days of his jovial youth, and come in sight of two lofty towers of stone,—monuments and witnesses of the tragedy of Montmorenci.
Once a suspension-bridge, built sorely against the will of the neighboring habitans, hung from these towers high over the long plunge of the cataract. But one morning of the fatal spring after the first winter's frost had tried the hold of the cable on the rocks, an old peasant and his wife with their little grandson set out in their cart to pass the bridge. As they drew near the middle the anchoring wires suddenly lost their grip upon the shore, and whirled into the air; the bridge crashed under the hapless passengers and they were launched from its height, upon the verge of the fall and thence plunged, two hundred and fifty feet, into the ruin of the abyss.
The habitans rebuilt their bridge of wood upon low stone piers, so far up the river from the cataract that whoever fell from it would yet have many a chance for life; and it would have been perilous to offer to replace the fallen structure, which, in the belief of faithful Christians, clearly belonged to the numerous bridges built by the Devil, in times when the Devil did not call himself a civil engineer.
The driver, with just unction, recounted the sad tale as he halted his horses on the bridge; and as his passengers looked down the rock-fretted brown torrent towards the fall, Isabel seized the occasion to shudder that ever she had set foot on that suspension-bridge below Niagara, and to prove to Basil's confusion that her doubt of the bridges between the Three Sisters was not a case of nerves but an instinctive wisdom concerning the unsafety of all bridges of that design.
From the gate opening into the grounds about the fall two or three little French boys, whom they had not the heart to forbid, ran noisily before them with cries in their sole English, "This way, sir" and led toward a weather-beaten summer-house that tottered upon a projecting rock above the verge of the cataract. But our tourists shook their heads, and turned away for a more distant and less dizzy enjoyment of the spectacle, though any commanding point was sufficiently chasmal and precipitous. The lofty bluff was scooped inward from the St. Lawrence in a vast irregular semicircle, with cavernous hollows, one within another, sinking far into its sides, and naked from foot to crest, or meagrely wooded here and there with evergreen. From the central brink of these gloomy purple chasms the foamy cataract launched itself, and like a cloud,
"Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem."
I say a cloud, because I find it already said to my hand, as it were, in a pretty verse, and because I must needs liken Montmorenci to something that is soft and light. Yet a cloud does not represent the glinting of the water in its downward swoop; it is like some broad slope of sun- smitten snow; but snow is coldly white and opaque, and this has a creamy warmth in its luminous mass; and so, there hangs the cataract unsaid as before. It is a mystery that anything so grand should be so lovely, that anything so tenderly fair in whatever aspect should yet be so large that one glance fails to comprehend it all. The rugged wildness of the cliffs and hollows about it is softened by its gracious beauty, which half redeems the vulgarity of the timber-merchant's uses in setting the river at work in his saw-mills and choking its outlet into the St. Lawrence with rafts of lumber and rubbish of slabs and shingles. Nay, rather, it is alone amidst these things, and the eye takes note of them by a separate effort.
Our tourists sank down upon the turf that crept with its white clover to the edge of the precipice, and gazed dreamily upon the fall, filling their vision with its exquisite color and form. Being wiser than I, they did not try to utter its loveliness; they were content to feel it, and the perfection of the afternoon, whose low sun slanting over the landscape gave, under that pale, greenish-blue sky, a pensive sentiment of autumn to the world. The crickets cried amongst the grass; the hesitating chirp of birds came from the tree overhead; a shaggy colt left off grazing in the field and stalked up to stare at them; their little guides, having found that these people had no pleasure in the sight of small boys scuffling on the verge of a precipice, threw themselves also down upon the grass and crooned a long, long ballad in a mournful minor key about some maiden whose name was La Belle Adeline. It was a moment of unmixed enjoyment for every sense, and through all their being they were glad; which considering, they ceased to be so, with a deep sigh, as one reasoning that he dreams must presently awake. They never could have an emotion without desiring to analyze it; but perhaps their rapture would have ceased as swiftly, even if they had not tried to make it a fact of consciousness.
"If there were not dinner after such experiences as these," said Isabel, as they sat at table that evening, "I don't know what would become of one. But dinner unites the idea of pleasure and duty, and brings you gently back to earth. You must eat, don't you see, and there's nothing disgraceful about what you're obliged to do; and so—it's all right."
"Isabel, Isabel," cried her husband, "you have a wonderful mind, and its workings always amaze me. But be careful, my dear; be careful. Don't work it too hard. The human brain, you know: delicate organ."
"Well, you understand what I mean; and I think it's one of the great charms of a husband, that you're not forced to express yourself to him. A husband," continued Isabel, sententiously, poising a bit of meringue between her thumb and finger,—for they had reached that point in the repast, "a husband is almost as good as another woman!"
In the parlor they found the Ellisons, and exchanged the history of the day with them.
"Certainly," said Mrs. Ellison, at the end, "it's been a pleasant day enough, but what of the night? You've been turned out, too, by those people who came on the steamer, and who might as well have stayed on board to-night; have you got another room?"
"Not precisely," said Isabel; "we have a coop in the fifth story, right under the roof."
Mrs. Ellison turned energetically upon her husband and cried in tones of reproach, "Richard, Mrs. March has a room!"
"A coop, she said," retorted that amiable Colonel, "and we're too good for that. The clerk is keeping us in suspense about a room, because he means to surprise us with something palatial at the end. It 's his joking way."
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Ellison. "Have you seen him since dinner?"
"I have made life a burden to him for the last half-hour," returned the Colonel, with the kindliest smile.
"O Richard," cried his wife, in despair of his amendment, "you wouldn't make life a burden to a mouse!" And having nothing else for it, she laughed, half in sorrow, half in fondness.
"Well, Fanny," the Colonel irrelevantly answered, "put on your hat and things, and let's all go up to Durham Terrace for a promenade. I know our friends want to go. It's something worth seeing; and by the time we get back, the clerk will have us a perfectly sumptuous apartment."
Nothing, I think, more enforces the illusion of Southern Europe in Quebec than the Sunday-night promenading on Durham Terrace. This is the ample space on the brow of the cliff to the left of the citadel, the noblest and most commanding position in the whole city, which was formerly occupied by the old castle of Saint Louis, where dwelt the brave Count Frontenac and his splendid successors of the French regime. The castle went the way of Quebec by fire some forty years ago, and Lord Durham leveled the site and made it a public promenade. A stately arcade of solid masonry supports it on the brink of the rock, and an iron parapet incloses it; there are a few seats to lounge upon, and some idle old guns for the children to clamber over and play with. A soft twilight had followed the day, and there was just enough obscurity to hide from a willing eye the Northern and New World facts of the scene, and to bring into more romantic relief the citadel dark against the mellow evening, and the people gossiping from window to window across the narrow streets of the Lower Town. The Terrace itself was densely thronged, and there was a constant coming and going of the promenaders, who each formally paced back and forth upon the planking for a certain time, and then went quietly home, giving place to the new arrivals. They were nearly all French, and they were not generally, it seemed, of the first fashion, but rather of middling condition in life; the English being represented only by a few young fellows and now and then a redfaced old gentleman with an Indian scarf trailing from his hat. There were some fair American costumes and faces in the crowd, but it was essentially Quebecian. The young girls walking in pairs, or with their lovers, had the true touch of provincial unstylishness, the young men the ineffectual excess of the second-rate Latin dandy, their elders the rich inelegance of a bourgeoisie in their best. A few, better-figured avocats or notaires (their profession was as unmistakable as if they had carried their well- polished brass doorplates upon their breasts) walked and gravely talked with each other. The non-American character of the scene was not less vividly marked in the fact that each person dressed according to his own taste and frankly indulged private preferences in shapes and colors. One of the promenaders was in white, even to his canvas shoes; another, with yet bolder individuality, appeared in perfect purple. It had a strange, almost portentous effect when these two startling figures met as friends and joined each other in the promenade with linked arms; but the evening was already beginning to darken round them, and presently the purple comrade was merely a sombre shadow beside the glimmering white.
The valleys and the heights now vanished; but the river defined itself by the varicolored lights of the ships and steamers that lay, dark, motionless bulks, upon its broad breast; the lights of Point Lewis swarmed upon the other shore; the Lower Town, two hundred feet below them, stretched an alluring mystery of clustering roofs and lamplit windows and dark and shining streets around the mighty rock, mural- crowned. Suddenly a spectacle peculiarly Northern and characteristic of Quebec revealed itself; a long arch brightened over the northern horizon; the tremulous flames of the aurora, pallid violet or faintly tinged with crimson, shot upward from it, and played with a weird apparition and evanescence to the zenith. While the strangers looked, a gun boomed from the citadel, and the wild sweet notes of the bugle sprang out upon the silence.
Then they all said, "How perfectly in keeping everything has been!" and sauntered back to the hotel.
The Colonel went into the office to give the clerk another turn on the rack, and make him confess to a hidden apartment somewhere, while Isabel left her husband to Mrs. Ellison in the parlor, and invited Miss Kitty to look at her coop in the fifth story. As they approached, light and music and laughter stole out of an open door next hers, and Isabel, distinguishing the voices of the theatrical party, divined that this was the sick-chamber, and that they were again cheering up the afflicted member of the troupe. Some one was heard to say, "Well, 'ow do you feel now, Charley?" and a sound of subdued swearing responded, followed by more laughter, and the twanging of a guitar, and a snatch of song, and a stir of feet and dresses as for departure.
The two listeners shrank together; as women they could not enjoy these proofs of the jolly camaraderie existing among the people of the troupe. They trembled as before the merriment of as many light-hearted, careless, good-natured young men: it was no harm, but it was dismaying; and, "Dear!" cried Isabel, "what shall we do?"
"Go back," said Miss Ellison, boldly, and back they ran to the parlor, where they found Basil and the Colonel and his wife in earnest conclave. The Colonel, like a shrewd strategist, was making show of a desperation more violent than his wife's, who was thus naturally forced into the attitude of moderating his fury.
"Well, Fanny, that's all he can do for us; and I do think it 's the most outrageous thing in the world! It 's real mean!"
Fanny perceived a bold parody of her own denunciatory manner, but just then she was obliged to answer Isabel's eager inquiry whether they had got a room yet. "Yes, a room," she said, "with two beds. But what are we to do with one room? That clerk—I don't know what to call him"— ("Call him a hotel-clerk, my dear; you can't say anything worse," interrupted her husband)—"seems to think the matter perfectly settled."
"You see, Mrs. March," added the Colonel, "he's able to bully us in this way because he has the architecture on his side. There isn't another room in the house."
"Let me think a moment," said Isabel not thinking an instant. She had taken a fancy to at least two of these people from the first, and in the last hour they had all become very well acquainted now she said, "I'll tell you: there are two beds in our room also; we ladies will take one room, and you gentlemen the other!"
"Mrs. March, I bow to the superiority of the Boston mind," said the Colonel, while his females civilly protested and consented; "and I might almost hail you as our preserver. If ever you come to Milwaukee,—which is the centre of the world, as Boston is,—we—I—shall be happy to have you call at my place of business.—I didn't commit myself, did I, Fanny? —I am sometimes hospitable to excess, Mrs. March," he said, to explain his aside. "And now, let us reconnoitre. Lead on, madam, and the gratitude of the houseless stranger will follow you."
The whole party explored both rooms, and the ladies decided to keep Isabel's. The Colonel was dispatched to see that the wraps and traps of his party were sent to this number, and Basil went with him. The things came long before the gentlemen returned, but the ladies happily employed the interval in talking over the excitements of the day, and in saying from time to time, "So very kind of you, Mrs. March," and "I don't know what we should have done," and "Don't speak of it, please," and "I'm sure it 's a great pleasure to me."
In the room adjoining theirs, where the invalid actor lay, and where lately there had been minstrelsy and apparently dancing for his solace, there was now comparative silence. Two women's voices talked together, and now and then a guitar was touched by a wandering hand. Isabel had just put up her handkerchief to conceal her first yawn, when the gentlemen, odorous of cigars, returned to say good-night.
"It's the second door from this, isn't it, Isabel? "asked her husband.
"Yes, the second door. Good-night. Good-night."
The two men walked off together; but in a minute afterwards they had returned and were knocking tremulously at the closed door.
"O, what has happened?" chorused the ladies in woeful tune, seeing a certain wildness in the face that confronted them.
"We don't know!" answered the others in as fearful a key, and related how they had found the door of their room ajar, and a bright light streaming into the corridor. They did not stop to ponder this fact, but, with the heedlessness of their sex, pushed the door wide open, when they saw seated before the mirror a bewildering figure, with disheveled locks wandering down the back, and in dishabille expressive of being quite at home there, which turned upon them a pair of pale blue eyes, under a forehead remarkable for the straggling fringe of hair that covered it. They professed to have remained transfixed at the sight, and to have noted a like dismay on the visage before the glass, ere they summoned strength to fly. These facts Colonel Ellison gave at the command of his wife, with many protests and insincere delays amidst which the curiosity of his hearers alone prevented them from rending him in pieces.
"And what do you suppose it was?" demanded his wife, with forced calmness, when he had at last made an end of the story and his abominable hypoocisies.
"Well, I think it was a mermaid."
"A mermaid!" said his wife, scornfully. "How do you know?"
"It had a comb in its hand, for one thing; and besides, my dear, I hope I know a mermaid when I see it."
"Well," said Mrs. Ellison, "it was no mermaid, it was a mistake; and I'm going to see about it. Will you go with me, Richard?"
"No money could induce me! If it's a mistake, it isn't proper for me to go; if it's a mermaid, it's dangerous."
"O you coward!" said the intrepid little woman to a hero of all the fights on Sherman's march to the sea; and presently they heard her attack the mysterious enemy with a lady-like courage, claiming the invaded chamber. The foe replied with like civility, saying the clerk had given her that room with the understanding that another lady was to be put there with her, and she had left the door unlocked to admit her. The watchers with the sick man next door appeared and confirmed this speech, a feeble voice from the bedclothes swore to it.
"Of course," added the invader, "if I'd known 'ow it really was, I never would lave listened to such a thing, never. And there isn't another 'ole in the louse to lay me 'ead," she concluded.
"Then it's the clerk's fault," said Mrs. Ellison, glad to retreat unharmed; and she made her husband ring for the guilty wretch, a pale, quiet young Frenchman, whom the united party, sallying into the corridor, began to upbraid in one breath, the lady in dishabille vanishing as often as she remembered it, and reappearing whenever some strong point of argument or denunciation occurred to her.
The clerk, who was the Benjamin of his wicked tribe, threw himself upon their mercy and confessed everything: the house was so crowded, and he had been so crazed by the demands upon him, that he had understood Colonel Ellison's application to be for a bed for the young lady in his party, and he had done the very best he could. If the lady there—she vanished again—would give up the room to the two gentlemen, he would find her a place with the housekeeper. To this the lady consented without difficulty, and the rest dispersing, she kissed one of the sick man's watchers with "Isn't it a shame, Bella?" and flitted down the darkness of the corridor. The rooms upon it seemed all, save the two assigned our travellers, to be occupied by ladies of the troupe; their doors successively opened, and she was heard explaining to each as she passed. The momentary displeasure which she had shown at her banishment was over. She detailed the facts with perfect good-nature, and though the others appeared no more than herself to find any humorous cast in the affair, they received her narration with the same amiability. They uttered their sympathy seriously, and each parted from her with some friendly word. Then all was still.
"Richard," said Mrs. Ellison, when in Isabel's room the travellers had briefly celebrated these events, "I should think you'd hate to leave us alone up here."
"I do; but you can't think how I hate to go off alone. I wish you'd come part of the way with us, Ladies; I do indeed. Leave your door unlocked, at any rate."
This prayer, uttered at parting outside the room, was answered from within by a sound of turning keys and sliding bolts, and a low thunder as of bureaus and washstands rolled against the door. "The ladies are fortifying their position," said the Colonel to Basil, and the two returned to their own chamber. "I don't wish any intrusions," he said, instantly shutting himself in; "my nerves are too much shaken now. What an awfully mysterious old place this Quebec is, Mr. March! I'll tell you what: it's my opinion that this is an enchanted castle, and if my ribs are not walked over by a muleteer in the course of the night, it's all I ask."
In this and other discourse recalling the famous adventure of Don Quixote, the Colonel beguiled the labor of disrobing, and had got as far as his boots, when there came a startling knock at the door. With one boot in his hand and the other on his foot, the Colonel limped forward. "I suppose it's that clerk has sent to say he's made some other mistake," and he flung wide the door, and then stood motionless before it, dumbly staring at a figure on the threshold,—a figure with the fringed forehead and pale blue eyes of her whom they had so lately turned out of that room.
Shrinking behind the side of the doorway, "Excuse me, gentlemen," she said, with a dignity that recalled their scattered senses, "but will you 'ave the goodness to look if my beads are on your table—O thanks, thanks, thanks!" she continued, showing her face and one hand, as Basil blushingly advanced with a string of heavy black beads, piously adorned with a large cross. "I'm sure, I'm greatly obliged to you, gentlemen, and I hask a thousand pardons for troublin' you," she concluded in a somewhat severe tone, that left them abashed and culpable; and vanished as mysteriously as she had appeared.
"Now, see here," said the Colonel, with a huge sigh as he closed the door again, and this time locked it, "I should like to know how long this sort of thing is to be kept up? Because, if it's to be regularly repeated during the night, I'm going to dress again." Nevertheless, he finished undressing and got into bed, where he remained for some time silent. Basil put out the light. "O, I'm sorry you did that, my dear fellow," said the Colonel; "but never mind, it was an idle curiosity, no doubt. It's my belief that in the landlord's extremity of bedlinen, I've been put to sleep between a pair of tablecloths; and I thought I'd like to look. It seems to me that I make out a checkered pattern on top and a flowered or arabesque pattern underneath. I wish they had given me mates. It 's pretty hard having to sleep between odd tablecloths. I shall complain to the landlord of this in the morning. I've never had to sleep between odd table-cloths at any hotel before."
The Colonel's voice seemed scarcely to have died away upon Basil's drowsy ear, when suddenly the sounds of music and laughter from the invalid's room startled him wide awake. The sick man's watchers were coquetting with some one who stood in the little court-yard five stories below. A certain breadth of repartee was naturally allowable at that distance; the lover avowed his passion in ardent terms, and the ladies mocked him with the same freedom, now and then totally neglecting him while they sang a snatch of song to the twanging of the guitar, or talked professional gossip, and then returning to him with some tormenting expression of tenderness.
All this, abstractly speaking, was nothing to Basil; yet he could recollect few things intended for his pleasure that had given him more satisfaction. He thought, as he glanced out into the moonlight on the high-gabled silvery roofs around and on the gardens of the convents and the towers of the quaint city, that the scene wanted nothing of the proper charm of Spanish humor and romance, and he was as grateful to those poor souls as if they had meant him a favor. To us of the hither side of the foot-lights, there is always something fascinating in the life of the strange beings who dwell beyond them, and who are never so unreal as in their own characters. In their shabby bestowal in those mean upper rooms, their tawdry poverty, their merry submission to the errors and caprices of destiny, their mutual kindliness and careless friendship, these unprofitable devotees of the twinkling-footed burlesque seemed to be playing rather than living the life of strolling players; and their love-making was the last touch of a comedy that Basil could hardly accept as reality, it was so much more like something seen upon the stage. He would not have detracted anything from the commonness and cheapness of the 'mise en scene', for that, he reflected drowsily and confusedly, helped to give it an air of fact and make it like an episode of fiction. But above all, he was pleased with the natural eventlessness of the whole adventure, which was in perfect agreement with his taste; and just as his reveries began to lose shape in dreams, he was aware of an absurd pride in the fact that all this could have happened to him in our commonplace time and hemisphere. "Why," he thought, "if I were a student in Alcala, what better could I have asked?" And as at last his soul swung out from its moorings and lapsed down the broad slowly circling tides out in the sea of sleep, he was conscious of one subtle touch of compassion for those poor strollers,—a pity so delicate and fine and tender that it hardly seemed his own but rather a sense of the compassion that pities the whole world.
X. HOMEWARD AND HOME.
The travellers all met at breakfast and duly discussed the adventures of the night; and for the rest, the forenoon passed rapidly and slowly with Basil and Isabel, as regret to leave Quebec, or the natural impatience of travellers to be off, overcame them. Isabel spent part of it in shopping, for she had found some small sums of money and certain odd corners in her trunks still unappropriated, and the handsome stores on the Rue Fabrique were very tempting. She said she would just go in and look; and the wise reader imagines the result. As she knelt over her boxes, trying so to distribute her purchases as to make them look as if they were old,—old things of hers, which she had brought all the way round from Boston with her,—a fleeting touch of conscience stayed her hand.
"Basil," she said, "perhaps we'd better declare some of these things. What's the duty on those?" she asked, pointing to certain articles.
"I don't know. About a hundred per cent. ad valorem."
"C'est a dire—?"
"As much as they cost."
"O then, dearest," responded Isabel indignantly, "it can't be wrong to smuggle! I won't declare a thread!"
"That's very well for you, whom they won't ask. But what if they ask me whether there's anything to declare?"
Isabel looked at her husband and hesitated. Then she replied in terms that I am proud to record in honor of American womanhood: "You mustn't fib about—it, Basil" (heroically); "I couldn't respect you if you did," (tenderly); "but" (with decision) "you must slip out of it some way!"
The ladies of the Ellison party, to whom she put the case in the parlor, agreed with her perfectly. They also had done a little shopping in Quebec, and they meant to do more at Montreal before they returned to the States. Mrs. Ellison was disposed to look upon Isabel's compunctions as a kind of treason to the sex, to be forgiven only because so quickly repented.