The Englishwoman in America, by Isabella Bird

Chapter 2

An inhospitable reception — Halifax and the Blue Noses — The heat — Disappointed expectations — The great departed — What the Blue Noses might be — What the coach was not — Nova Scotia and its capabilities — The roads and their annoyances — A tea dinner — A night journey and a Highland cabin — A nautical catastrophe — A joyful reunion.

The Cunard steamers are powerful, punctual, and safe, their cuisine excellent, their arrangements admirable, till they reach Halifax, which is usually the destination of many of the passengers. I will suppose that the voyage has been propitious, and our guns have thundered forth the announcement that the news of the Old World has reached the New; that the stewards have been fee’d and the captain complimented; and that we have parted on the best possible terms with the Company, the ship, and our fellow-passengers. The steamer generally remains for two or three hours at Halifax to coal, and unship a portion of her cargo, and there is a very natural desire on the part of the passengers to leave what to many is at best a floating prison, and set foot on firm ground, even for an hour. Those who, like ourselves, land at Halifax for the interior, are anxious to obtain rooms at the hotel, and all who have nothing else to do hurry to the ice-shop, where the luxury of a tumbler of raspberry-cream ice can be obtained for threepence. Besides the hurried rush of those who with these varied objects in view leave the steamer, there are crowds of incomers in the shape of porters, visitors, and coalheavers, and passengers for the States, who prefer the comfort and known punctuality of the Royal Mail steamers to the delay, danger, and uncertainty of the intercolonial route, though the expense of the former is nearly double. There are the friends of the passengers, and numbers of persons who seem particularly well acquainted with the purser, who bring fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, and lobsters.

From this description it may be imagined that there is a motley and considerable crowd; but it will scarcely be imagined that there is only one regulation, which is, that no persons may enter or depart till the mail-bags have been landed. The wharf is small and at night unlighted, and the scene which ensued on our landing about eight o’clock in the evening reminded me, not by contrast, but resemblance, of descriptions which travellers give of the disembarkation at Alexandria. Directly that the board was laid from the Canada to the wharf a rush both in and out took place, in which I was separated from my relations, and should have fallen had not a friend, used to the scene of disorder, come to my assistance.

The wharf was dirty, unlighted, and under repair, covered with heaps and full of holes. My friend was carrying three parcels, when three or four men made a rush at us, seized them from him, and were only compelled to relinquish them by some sharp physical arguments. A large gateway, lighted by one feeble oil-lamp at the head of the wharf, was then opened, and the crowd pent up behind it came pouring down the sloping road. There was a simultaneous rush of trucks, hand-carts, waggons, and cars, their horses at full trot or canter, two of them rushing against the gravel-heap on which I was standing, where they were upset. Struggling, shouting, beating, and scuffling, the drivers all forced their way upon the wharf, regardless of cries from the ladies and threats from the gentlemen, for all the passengers had landed and were fighting their way to an ice-shop. Porters were scuffling with each other for the possession of portmanteaus, wheels were locked, and drivers were vehemently expostulating in the rich brogue of Erin; people were jostling each other in their haste, or diving into the dimly-lighted custom-house, and it must have been fully half an hour before we had extricated ourselves from this chaos of mismanagement and disorder, by scrambling over gravel-heaps and piles of timber, into the dirty, unlighted streets of Halifax.

Dirty they were then, though the weather was very dry, for oyster-shells, fish heads and bones, potato-skins, and cabbage-stalks littered the roads; but dirty was a word which does not give the faintest description of the almost impassable state in which I found them, when I waded through them ankle-deep in mud some months afterwards.

We took apartments for two days at the Waverley House, a most comfortless place, yet the best inn at Halifax. Three hours after we landed, the Canada fired her guns, and steamed off to Boston; and as I saw her coloured lights disappear round the heads of the harbour, I did not feel the slightest regret at having taken leave of her for ever. We remained for two days at Halifax, and saw the little which was worth seeing in the Nova–Scotian capital. I was disappointed to find the description of the lassitude and want of enterprise of the Nova–Scotians, given by Judge Halliburton, so painfully correct. Halifax possesses one of the deepest and most commodious harbours in the world, and is so safe that ships need no other guide into it than their charts. There are several small fortified islands at its mouth, which assist in its defence without impeding the navigation. These formidable forts protect the entrance, and defend the largest naval depot which we possess in North America. The town itself, which contains about 25,000 people, is on a small peninsula, and stands on a slope rising from the water’s edge to the citadel, which is heavily armed, and amply sufficient for every purpose of defence. There are very great natural advantages in the neighbourhood, lime, coal, slate, and minerals being abundant, added to which Halifax is the nearest port to Europe.

Yet it must be confessed that the Nova–Scotians are far behind, not only their neighbours in the States, but their fellow-subjects in Canada and New Brunswick. There are capacious wharfs and roomy warehouses, yet one laments over the absence of everything like trade and business. With the finest harbour in North America, with a country abounding in minerals, and coasts swarming with fish, the Nova–Scotians appear to have expunged the word progress from their dictionary — still live in shingle houses, in streets without side walks, rear long-legged ponies, and talk largely about railroads, which they seem as if they would never complete, because they trust more to the House of Assembly than to their own energies. Consequently their astute and enterprising neighbours the Yankees, the acute speculators of Massachusetts and Connecticut, have seized upon the traffic which they have allowed to escape them, and have diverted it to the thriving town of Portland in Maine. The day after we landed was one of intense heat, the thermometer stood at 93° in the shade. The rays of a summer sun scorched the shingle roof of our hotel, and, penetrating the thin plank walls, made the interior of the house perfectly unbearable. There were neither sunshades nor Venetian blinds, and not a tree to shade the square white wooden house from an almost tropical heat. When I came into the parlour I found Colonel H—— stretched on the sofa, almost expiring with heat, my cousin standing panting before the window in his shirtsleeves, and his little boy lying moaning on the hearthrug, with his shoes off, and his complexion like that of a Red Indian. One of our party had been promenading the broiling streets of Halifax without his coat! A gentleman from one of the Channel Islands, of unsophisticated manners and excellent disposition, who had landed with us en route to a town on the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had fancied our North American colonies for ever “locked in regions of thick-ribbed ice,” and consequently was abundantly provided with warm clothing of every description. With this he was prepared to face a thermometer at twenty degrees below zero.

But when he found a torrid sun, and the thermometer at 93° in the shade, his courage failed him, and, with all his preconceived ideas overthrown by the burning experience of one day, despair seized on him, and his expressions of horror and astonishment were coupled with lamentations over the green fertility of Jersey. The colonel was obliged to report himself at head-quarters in his full uniform, which was evidently tight and hot; and after changing his apparel three times in the day, apparently without being a gainer, he went out to make certain meteorological inquiries, among others if 93° were a common temperature.

The conclusion he arrived at was, that the “climate alternates between the heat of India and the cold of Lapland.”

We braved the heat at noonday in a stroll through the town, for, from the perfect dryness of the atmosphere, it is not of an oppressive nature. I saw few whites in the streets at this hour. There were a great many Indians lying by the door-steps, having disposed of their baskets, besoms, and raspberries, by the sale of which they make a scanty livelihood. The men, with their jet-black hair, rich complexions, and dark liquid brown eyes, were almost invariably handsome; and the women, whose beauty departs before they are twenty, were something in the “Meg Merrilies” style.

When the French first colonised this country, they called it “Acadie.” The tribes of the Mic–Mac Indians peopled its forests, and, among the dark woods which then surrounded Halifax, they worshipped the Great Spirit, and hunted the moose-deer. Their birch-bark wigwams peeped from among the trees, their squaws urged their light canoes over the broad deep harbour, and their wise men spoke to them of the “happy hunting grounds.” The French destroyed them not, and gave them a corrupted form of Christianity, inciting their passions against the English by telling them that they were the people who had crucified the Saviour. Better had it been for them if battle or pestilence had swept them at once away.

The Mic–Macs were a fierce and warlike people, too proud to mingle with an alien race — too restless and active to conform to the settled habits of civilization. Too proud to avail themselves of its advantages, they learned its vices, and, as the snow-wreaths in spring, they melted away before the poisonous “fire-water,” and the deadly curse of the white man’s wars. They had welcomed the “pale faces” to the “land of the setting sun,” and withered up before them, smitten by their crimes.

Almost destitute of tradition, their history involved in obscurity, their broad lands filled with their unknown and nameless graves, these mighty races have passed away; they could not pass into slavery, therefore they must die.

At some future day a mighty voice may ask of those who have thus wronged the Indian, “Where is now thy brother?” It is true that frequently we arrived too late to save them as a race from degradation and dispersion; but as they heavily tottered along to their last home, under the burden of the woes which contact with civilization ever entails upon the aborigines, we might have spoken to them the tidings of “peace on earth and good will to men” — of a Saviour “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through his gospel.” Far away amid the thunders of Niagara, surrounded by a perpetual rainbow, Iris Island contains almost the only known burying-place of the race of red men. Probably the simple Indians who buried their dead in a place of such difficult access, and sacred to the Great Spirit, did so from a wish that none might ever disturb their ashes. None can tell how long those interred there have slept their last long sleep, but the ruthless hands of the white men have profaned the last resting-place of the departed race.

There were also numerous blacks in the streets, and, if I might judge from the brilliant colours and good quality of their clothing, they must gain a pretty good living by their industry. A large number of these blacks and their parents were carried away from the States by one of our admirals in the war of 1812, and landed at Halifax.

The capital of Nova Scotia looks like a town of cards, nearly all the buildings being of wood. There are wooden houses, wooden churches, wooden wharfs, wooden slates, and, if there are side walks, they are of wood also. I was pleased at a distance with the appearance of two churches, one of them a Gothic edifice, but on nearer inspection I found them to be of wood, and took refuge in the substantial masonry of the really handsome Province Building and Government House. We went up to the citadel, which crowns the hill, and is composed of an agglomeration of granite walls, fosses, and casemates, mounds, ditches, barracks, and water-tanks.

If I was pleased with the familiar uniforms of the artillerymen who lounged about the barracks, I was far more so with the view from the citadel. It was a soft summer evening, and, seen through the transparent atmosphere, everything looked unnaturally near. The large town of Halifax sloped down to a lake-like harbour, about two miles wide, dotted with islands; and ranges of picturesque country spangled with white cottages lay on the other side. The lake or firth reminded me of the Gareloch, and boats were sailing about in all directions before the evening breeze. From tangled coppices of birch and fir proceeded the tinkle of the bells of numerous cows, and, mingled with the hum of the city, the strains of a military band rose from the streets to our ears.

With so many natural advantages, and such capabilities for improvement, I cannot but regret the unhappy quarrels and maladministration which threaten to leave the noble colony of Nova Scotia an incubus and excrescence on her flourishing and progressive neighbours, Canada and New Brunswick. From the talk about railways, steamers, and the House of Assembly, it is pleasant to turn to the one thing which has been really done, namely, the establishment of an electric telegraph line to St. John, and thence to the States. By means of this system of wires, which is rough and inexpensive to a degree which in England we should scarcely believe, the news brought by the English mail steamer is known at Boston, New York, New Orleans, Cincinnati, and all the great American cities, before it has had time to reach the environs of Halifax itself.

The telegraph costs about 20l. per mile, and the wires are generally supported on the undressed stems of pines, but are often carried from tree to tree along miserable roads, or through the deep recesses of the forests.

The stores in Halifax are pretty good, all manufactured articles being sold at an advance on English prices. Books alone are cheap and abundant, being the American editions of pirated English works.

On the morning when we left Halifax I was awakened by the roll of the British drum and the stirring strains of the Highland bagpipe. Ready equipped for the tedious journey before us, from Halifax to Pictou in the north of the colony, I was at the inn-door at six, watching the fruitless attempts of the men to pile our mountain of luggage on the coach.

Do not let the word coach conjure up a vision of “the good old times,” a dashing mail with a well-groomed team of active bays, harness all “spick and span,” a gentlemanly-looking coachman, and a guard in military scarlet, the whole affair rattling along the road at a pace of ten miles an hour.

The vehicle in which we performed a journey of 120 miles in 20 hours deserves a description. It consisted of a huge coach-body, slung upon two thick leather straps; the sides were open, and the places where windows ought to have been were screened by heavy curtains of tarnished moose-deer hide. Inside were four cross-seats, intended to accommodate twelve persons, who were very imperfectly sheltered from the weather. Behind was a large rack for luggage, and at the back of the driving-seat was a bench which held three persons. The stage was painted scarlet, but looked as if it had not been washed for a year. The team of six strong white horses was driven by a Yankee, remarkable only for his silence. About a ton of luggage was packed on and behind the stage, and two open portmanteaus were left behind without the slightest risk to their contents.

Twelve people and a baby were with some difficulty stowed in the stage, and the few interstices were filled up with baskets, bundles, and packages. The coachman whipped his horses, and we rattled down the uneven streets of Halifax to a steam ferry-boat, which conveyed the stage across to Dartmouth, and was so well arranged that the six horses had not to alter their positions.

Our road lay for many miles over a barren, rocky, undulating country, covered with var and spruce trees, with an undergrowth of raspberry, wild rhododendron, and alder. We passed a chain of lakes extending for sixteen miles, their length varying from one to three miles, and their shores covered with forests of gloomy pine. People are very apt to say that Nova Scotia is sterile and barren, because they have not penetrated into the interior. It is certainly rather difficult of access, but I was by no means sorry that my route lay through it. The coast of Nova Scotia is barren, and bears a very distinct resemblance to the east of Scotland. The climate, though severe in winter and very foggy, is favourable both to health and vegetation. The peach and grape ripen in the open air, and the cultivation of corn and potatoes amply repays the cultivator. A great part of the country is still covered with wood, evidently a second growth, for, wherever the trees of the fir tribe are cut down or destroyed by fire, hard-wood trees spring up.

So among the maple, the American elm, and the purple-blossomed sumach, the huge scorched and leafless stems of pines would throw up their giant arms as if to tell of some former conflagration. In clearings among these woods, slopes of ground are to be seen covered with crops of oats and maize, varied with potatoes and pumpkins. Wherever the ground is unusually poor on the surface, mineral treasures abound. There are beds of coal of vast thickness; iron in various forms is in profusion, and the supply of gypsum is inexhaustible. Many parts of the country are very suitable for cattle-rearing, and there are “water privileges” without end in the shape of numerous rivers. I have seldom seen finer country in the colonies than the large tract of cleared undulating land about Truro, and I am told that it is far exceeded by that in the neighbourhood of Windsor. Wherever apple-trees were planted they seemed to flourish, and the size and flavour of their fruit evidences a short, hot summer. While the interior of the country is so fertile, and is susceptible of a high degree of improvement, it is scarcely fair in the Nova–Scotians to account for their backwardness by pointing strangers to their sterile and iron-bound coast. But they are a moral, hardy, and loyal people; none of our colonial fellow-subjects are more attached to the British crown, or more ready to take up arms in its defence.

I was greatly pleased with much that I heard, and with the little I saw of the Nova–Scotians. They seemed temperate, sturdy, and independent, and the specimens we had of them in the stage were civil, agreeable, and intelligent.

After passing the pretty little village of Dartmouth, we came upon some wigwams of birch-bark among the trees. Some squaws, with papooses strapped upon their backs, stared vacantly at us as we passed, and one little barefooted Indian, with a lack of apparel which showed his finely moulded form to the best advantage, ran by the side of the coach for two or three miles, bribed by coppers which were occasionally thrown to him.

A dreary stage of eighteen miles brought us to Shultze’s, a road-side inn by a very pretty lake, where we were told the “coach breakfasted.” Whether Transatlantic coaches can perform this, to us, unknown feat, I cannot pretend to say, but we breakfasted. A very coarse repast was prepared for us, consisting of stewed salt veal, country cheese, rancid salt butter, fried eggs, and barley bread; but we were too hungry to find fault either with it, or with the charge made for it, which equalled that at a London hotel. Our Yankee coachman, a man of monosyllables, sat next to me, and I was pleased to see that he regaled himself on tea instead of spirits.

We packed ourselves into the stage again with great difficulty, and how the forty-eight limbs fared was shown by the painful sensations experienced for several succeeding days. All the passengers, however, were in perfectly good humour, and amused each other during the eleven hours spent in this painful way. At an average speed of six miles an hour we travelled over roads of various descriptions, plank, corduroy, and sand; up long heavy hills, and through swamps swarming with mosquitoes.

Every one has heard of corduroy roads, but how few have experienced their miseries! They are generally used for traversing swampy ground, and are formed of small pine-trees deprived of their branches, which are laid across the track alongside each other. The wear and tear of travelling soon separates these, leaving gaps between; and when, added to this, one trunk rots away, and another sinks down into the swamp, and another tilts up, you may imagine such a jolting as only leather springs could bear. On the very worst roads, filled with deep holes, or covered with small granite boulders, the stage only swings on the straps. Ordinary springs, besides dislocating the joints of the passengers, would be wrenched and broken after a few miles travelling.

Even as we were, faces sometimes came into rather close proximity to each other and to the side railings, and heads sustained very unpleasant collisions. The amiable man who was so disappointed with the American climate suffered very much from the journey. He said he had thought a French diligence the climax of discomfort, but a “stage was misery, oh torture!” Each time that we had rather a worse jolt than usual the poor man groaned, which always drew forth a chorus of laughter, to which he submitted most good-humouredly. Occasionally he would ask the time, when some one would point maliciously to his watch, remarking, “Twelve hours more,” or “Fifteen hours more,” when he would look up with an expression of despair. The bridges wore a very unEnglish feature. Over the small streams or brooks they consisted of three pines covered with planks, without any parapet — with sometimes a plank out, and sometimes a hole in the middle. Over large streams they were wooden erections of a most peculiar kind, with high parapets; their insecurity being evidenced by the notice, “Walk your horses, according to law,” — a notice generally disregarded by our coachman, as he trotted his horses over the shaking and rattling fabric.

We passed several small streams, and one of a large size, the Shubenacadie, a wide, slow, muddy river, flowing through willows and hedges, like the rivers in the fen districts of England. At the mouth of the Shubenacadie the tides rise and fall forty feet.

In Nova Scotia the animals seemed to be more carefully lodged than the people. Wherever we changed horses, we drove into a lofty shed, opening into a large stable with a boarded floor scrupulously clean, generally containing twenty horses. The rigour of the climate in winter necessitates such careful provision for the support of animal life. The coachman went into the stable and chose his team, which was brought out, and then a scene of kicking, biting, and screaming ensued, ended by the most furious kickers being put to the wheel; and after a certain amount of talking, and settling the mail-bags, the ponderous vehicle moved off again, the leaders always rearing for the first few yards.

For sixty miles we were passing through woods, the trees sometimes burned and charred for several miles, and the ground all blackened round them. We saw very few clearings, and those there were consisted merely of a few acres of land, separated from the forest by rude “snake-fences.” Stumps of trees blackened by fire stood up among the oat-crops; but though they look extremely untidy, they are an unavoidable evil for two or three years, till the large roots decay.

Eleven hours passed by not at all wearisomely to me, though my cousins and their children suffered much from cramp and fatigue, and at five, after an ascent of three hours, we began to descend towards a large tract of cultivated undulating country, in the centre of which is situated a large settlement called Truro. There, at a wretched hostelry, we stopped to dine, but the meal by no means answered to our English ideas of dinner. A cup of tea was placed by each plate; and after the company, principally consisting of agricultural settlers, had made a substantial meal of mutton, and the potatoes for which the country is famous, they solaced themselves with this beverage. No intoxicating liquor was placed upon the table,* and I observed the same temperate habits at the inns in New Brunswick, the city of St. John not excepted. It was a great pleasure to me to find that the intemperance so notoriously prevalent among a similar class in England was so completely discouraged in Nova Scotia. The tea was not tempting to an English palate; it was stewed, and sweetened with molasses.

* [I write merely of what fell under my own observation, for there has been so much spirit-drinking in Nova Scotia, that the legislature has deemed it expedient to introduce the “Maine Law,” with its stringent and somewhat arbitrary provisions.]

While we were waiting for a fresh stage and horses, several waggons came up, laden with lawyers, storekeepers, and ship-carpenters, who with their families were flying from the cholera at St. John, New Brunswick.

I enjoyed the next fifty miles exceedingly, as I travelled outside on the driving-seat, with plenty of room to expatiate. The coachman was a very intelligent settler, pressed into the service, because Jengro, the French Canadian driver, had indulged in a fit of intoxication in opposition to a temperance meeting held at Truro the evening before.

Our driver had not tasted spirits for thirty years, and finds that a cup of hot tea at the end of a cold journey is a better stimulant than a glass of grog.

It was just six o’clock when we left Truro; the shades of evening were closing round us, and our road lay over fifty miles of nearly uninhabited country; but there was so much to learn and hear, that we kept up an animated and unflagging conversation hour after hour. The last cleared land was passed by seven, and we entered the forest, beginning a long and tedious ascent of eight miles. At a post-house in the wood we changed horses, and put on some lanterns, not for the purpose of assisting ourselves, but to guide the boy-driver of a waggon or “extra,” who, having the responsibility of conducting four horses, came clattering close behind us. The road was hilly, and often ran along the very edge of steep declivities, and our driver, who did not know it well, and was besides a cautious man, drove at a most moderate pace.

Not so the youthful Jehu of the light vehicle behind. He came desperately on, cracking his whip, shouting “G’lang, Gee’p,” rattling down hill, and galloping up, and whirling round corners, in spite of the warning “Steady, whoa!” addressed to him by our careful escort. Once the rattling behind entirely ceased, and we stopped, our driver being anxious for the safety of his own team, as well as for the nine passengers who were committed on a dark night to the care of a boy of thirteen. The waggon soon came clattering on again, and remained in disagreeably close proximity to us till we arrived at Pictou.

At ten o’clock, after another long ascent, we stopped to water the horses, and get some refreshment, at a shanty kept by an old Highland woman, well known as “Nancy Stuart of the Mountain.” Here two or three of us got off, and a comfortable meal was soon provided, consisting of tea, milk, oat-cake, butter, and cranberry and raspberry jam. This meal we shared with some handsome, gloomy-looking, bonneted Highlanders, and some large ugly dogs. The room was picturesque enough, with blackened rafters, deer and cow horns hung round it, and a cheerful log fire. After tea I spoke to Nancy in her native tongue, which so delighted her, that I could not induce her to accept anything for my meal. On finding that I knew her birthplace in the Highlands, she became quite talkative, and on wishing her good bye with the words “Oiche mhaith dhuibh; Beannachd luibh!” [Good night; blessings be with you.] she gave my hand a true Highland grasp with both of hers; a grasp bringing back visions of home and friends, and “the bonnie North countrie.”

A wild drive we had from this place to Pictou. The road lay through forests which might have been sown at the beginning of time. Huge hemlocks threw high their giant arms, and from between their dark stems gleamed the bark of the silver birch. Elm, beech, and maple flourished; I missed alone the oak of England.

The solemn silence of these pathless roads was broken only by the note of the distant bull-frog; meteors fell in streams of fire, the crescent moon occasionally gleamed behind clouds from which the lightning flashed almost continually, and the absence of any familiar faces made me realize at length that I was a stranger in a strange land.

After the subject of the colony had been exhausted, I amused the coachman with anecdotes of the supernatural — stories of ghosts, wraiths, apparitions, and second sight; but he professed himself a disbeliever, and I thought I had failed to make any impression on him, till at last he started at the crackling of a twig, and the gleaming whiteness of a silver birch. He would have liked the stories better, he confessed at length, if the night had not been quite so dark.

The silence of the forest was so solemn, that, remembering the last of the Mohicans, we should not have been the least surprised if an Indian war-whoop had burst upon our startled ears.

We were travelling over the possessions of the Red men. Nothing more formidable occurred than the finding of three tipsy men laid upon the road; and our coachman had to alight and remove them before the vehicle could proceed.

We reached Pictou at a quarter past two on a very chilly starlight morning, and by means of the rude telegraph, which runs along the road, comfortable rooms had been taken for us at an inn of average cleanliness.

Here we met with a storekeeper from Prince Edward Island, and he told us that the parents of my cousins, whom we were about to visit, knew nothing whatever of our intended arrival, and supposed their children to be in Germany.

As a colonial dinner is an aggregate of dinner and tea, so a colonial breakfast is a curious complication of breakfast and dinner, combining, I think, the advantages of both. It is only an extension of the Highland breakfast; fish of several sorts, meat, eggs, and potatoes, buckwheat fritters and Johnny cake, being served with the tea and coffee.

Pictou may be a flourishing town some day: it has extensive coal-mines; one seam of coal is said to be thirty feet thick. At present it is a most insignificant place, and the water of the harbour is very shallow. The distance from Pictou to Charlotte Town, Prince Edward Island, is sixty miles, and by this route, through Nova Scotia and across Northumberland Strait, the English mail is transmitted once a fortnight.

A fearful catastrophe happened to the Fairy Queen, a small mail steamer plying between these ports, not long ago. By some carelessness, she sprang a leak and sank; the captain and crew escaping to Pictou in the ship’s boats, which were large enough to have saved all the passengers. Here they arrived, and related the story of the wreck, in the hope that no human voice would ever tell of their barbarity and cowardice. Several perished with the ill-fated vessel, among whom were Dr. Mackenzie, a promising young officer, and two young ladies, one of whom was coming to England to be married. A few of the passengers floated off on the upper deck and reached the land in safety, to bear a terrible testimony to the inhumanity which had left their companions to perish. A voice from the dead could not have struck greater horror into the heart of the craven captain than did that of those whom he never expected to meet till the sea should give up her dead. The captain was committed for manslaughter, but escaped the punishment due to his offence, though popular indignation was strongly excited against him. We were told to be on board the Lady le Marchant by twelve o’clock, and endured four hours’ detention on her broiling deck, without any more substantial sustenance than was afforded to us by some pine-apples. We were five hours in crossing Northumberland Strait — five hours of the greatest possible discomfort. We had a head-wind and a rough chopping sea, which caused the little steamer to pitch unmercifully. After gaining a distant view of Cape Breton Island, I lay down on a mattress on deck, in spite of the persecutions of an animated friend, who kindly endeavoured to rouse me to take a first view of Prince Edward Island.

When at last, in the comparative calmness of the entrance to Charlotte Town harbour, I stood up to look about me, I could not help admiring the peaceful beauty of the scene. Far in the distance were the sterile cliffs of Nova Scotia and the tumbling surges of the Atlantic, while on three sides we were surrounded by land so low that the trees upon it seemed almost growing out of the water. The soil was the rich red of Devonshire, the trees were of a brilliant green, and sylvan lawns ran up amongst them. The light canoes of the aborigines glided gracefully on the water, or lay high and dry on the beach; and two or three miles ahead the spires and houses of the capital of the island lent additional cheerfulness to the prospect.

We were speedily moored at the wharf, and my cousins, after an absence of eight years, were anxiously looking round for some familiar faces among the throng on the shore. They had purposely avoided giving any intimation to their parents of their intended arrival, lest anything should occur to prevent the visit; therefore they were entirely unexpected. But, led by the true instinct of natural affection, they were speedily recognised by those of their relatives who were on the wharf, and many a joyful meeting followed which must amply have compensated for the dreary separation of years.

It was in an old-English looking, red brick mansion, encircled by plantations of thriving firs — warmly welcomed by relations whom I had never seen, for the sake of those who had been my long-tried friends — surrounded by hearts rejoicing in the blessings of unexpected re-union, and by faces radiant with affection and happiness — that I spent my first evening in the “Garden of British America.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31