The Englishwoman in America, by Isabella Bird

Chapter 9.

A vexatious incident — John Bull enraged — Woman’s rights — Alligators become hosses — A popular host — Military display — A mirth-provoking gun — Grave reminiscences — Attractions of the fair — Past and present — A floating palace — Black companions — A black baby — Externals of Buffalo — The flag of England.

The night-cars are always crowded both in Canada and the States, because people in business are anxious to save a day if they have any expedition to make, and, as many of the cars are fitted up with seats of a most comfortable kind for night-travelling, a person accustomed to them can sleep in them as well as on a sofa. After leaving Chicago, they seemed about to rush with a whoop into the moonlit waters of Lake Michigan, and in reality it was not much better. For four miles we ran along a plank-road supported only on piles. There was a single track, and the carriages projecting over the whole, there was no bridge to be seen, and we really seemed to be going along on the water. These insecure railways are not uncommon in the States; the dangers of the one on the Hudson river have been experienced by many travellers to their cost.

We ran three hundred miles through central Michigan in ten hours, including stoppages. We dashed through woods, across prairies, and over bridges without parapets, at a uniform rate of progress. A boy making continual peregrinations with iced water alleviated the thirst of the passengers, for the night was intensely hot, and I managed to sleep very comfortably till awoke by the intense cold of dawn. During the evening an incident most vexatious to me occurred.

The cars were very full, and were not able to seat all the passengers. Consequently, according to the usages of American etiquette, the gentlemen vacated the seats in favour of the ladies, who took possession of them in a very ungracious manner as I thought. The gentlemen stood in the passage down the centre. At last all but one had given up their seats, and while stopping at a station another lady entered.

“A seat for a lady,” said the conductor, when he saw the crowded state of the car. The one gentleman did not stir. “A seat for a lady,” repeated the man in a more imperious tone. Still no movement on the part of the gentleman appealed to. “A seat for a lady; don’t you see there’s a lady wanting one?” now vociferated several voices at once, but without producing any effect. “Get up for this lady,” said one bolder than the rest, giving the stranger a sharp admonition on the shoulder. He pulled his travelling cap over his eyes, and doggedly refused to stir. There was now a regular hubbub in the car; American blood was up, and several gentlemen tried to induce the offender to move.

“I’m an Englishman, and I tell you I won’t be brow-beat by you beastly Yankees. I’ve paid for my seat, and I mean to keep it,” savagely shouted the offender, thus verifying my worst suspicions.

“I thought so! — I knew it! — A regular John Bull trick! just like them!” were some of the observations made, and very mild they were, considering the aggravated circumstances.

Two men took the culprit by his shoulders, and the others, pressing behind, impelled him to the door, amid a chorus of groans and hisses, disposing of him finally by placing him in the emigrant-car, installing the lady in the vacated seat. I could almost fancy that the shade of the departed Judge Lynch stood by with an approving smile.

I was so thoroughly ashamed of my countryman, and so afraid of my nationality being discovered, that, if any one spoke to me, I adopted every Americanism which I could think of in reply. The country within fifty miles of Detroit is a pretty alternation of prairie, wood, corn-fields, peach and apple orchards. The maize is the staple of the country; you see it in the fields; you have corn-cobs for breakfast; corncobs, mush, and hominy for dinner; johnny-cake for tea; and the very bread contains a third part of Indian meal!

I thought the little I saw of Michigan very fertile and pretty. It is another of the newly constituted States, and was known until recently under the name of the “Michigan Territory.” This State is a peninsula between the Huron and Michigan Lakes, and borders in one part closely on Canada. It has a salubrious climate and a fertile soil, and is rapidly becoming a very productive State. Of late years the influx of emigrants of a better class has been very great. The State has great capabilities for saw and flour mills; the Grand Rapids alone have a fall of fifteen feet in a mile, and afford immense water-power.

In Michigan, human beings have ceased to be “alligators” they are “hosses.” Thus one man says to another, “How do you do, old hoss?” or, “What’s the time o’ day, old hoss?” When I reached Detroit I was amused when a conductor said to me, “One o’ them ’ere hosses will take your trunks,” pointing as he spoke to a group of porters.

On arriving at Detroit I met for the first time with tokens of British enterprise and energy, and of the growing importance of Canada West. Several persons in the cars were going to New York, and they took the ferry at Detroit, and went down to Niagara Bridge by the Canada Great Western Railway, as the most expeditious route. I drove through the very pleasant streets of Detroit to the National Hotel, where I was to join the Walrences. Having indulged the hope of rejoining my former travelling companions here, I was greatly disappointed at finding a note from them, containing the intelligence that they had been summoned by telegraph to Toronto, to a sick relative. They requested me to join them there, and hoped I should find no difficulty on the journey!

It was the time of the State fair, and every room in the inn was occupied; but Mr. Benjamin, the very popular host of the National, on hearing my circumstances, would on no account suffer me to seek another abode, and requested a gentleman to give up his room to me, which with true American politeness he instantly did. I cannot speak too highly of the National Hotel, or of its deservedly popular landlord. I found that I could not leave Detroit before the next night, and at most hotels a lady alone would have been very uncomfortably placed. Breakfast was over, but, as soon as I retired to my room, the waiter appeared with an abundant repast, for which no additional charge was made. I sat in my room the whole day, and Mr. Benjamin came twice to my door to know if I wanted anything. He introduced me to a widow lady, whose room I afterwards shared; and when I went down at night to the steamer, he sent one of his clerks with me, to save me any trouble about my luggage. He also gave me a note to an hotel-keeper at Buffalo, requesting him to pay me every attention, in case I should be detained for a night on the road. The hotel was a perfect pattern of cleanliness, elegance, and comfort; and the waiters, about fifty of whom were Dutch, attended scrupulously to every wish, actual or supposed, of the guests. If these pages should ever meet Mr. Benjamin’s eye, it may be a slight gratification to him to know that his kindness to a stranger has been both remembered and appreciated.

I had some letters of introduction to residents at Detroit, and here, as in all other places which I visited, I had but to sow them to reap a rich harvest of kindness and hospitality. I spent two days most agreeably at Detroit, in a very refined and intellectual circle, perfectly free from those mannerisms which I had expected to find in a place so distant from the coast. The concurrent testimony of many impartial persons goes to prove that in every American town highly polished and intellectual society is to be met with.

My bed-room window at the National Hotel looked into one of the widest and most bustling streets of Detroit. It was the day of the State fair, consequently I saw the town under a very favourable aspect. The contents of several special trains, and hundreds of waggons, crowded the streets, the “waggons” frequently drawn by very handsome horses. The private carriages were of a superior class to any I had previously seen in the States; the harness was handsome and richly plated, and elegantly dressed ladies filled the interiors. But in amusing contrast, the coachmen all looked like wild Irishmen enlisted for the occasion, and drove in a standing posture. Young farmers, many of them dressed in the extreme of the fashion of Young America, were dashing about in their light waggons, driving tandem or span; heavily laden drays were proceeding at a slower speed; and all this traffic was carried on under the shade of fine trees.

Military bands playing ‘The Star-spangled Banner,’ and ‘Hail Columbia,’ were constantly passing and re-passing, and the whole population seemed on the qui vive. Squadrons of cavalry continually passed my window, the men in gorgeous uniforms, with high waving plumes. Their horses were very handsome, but were not at all willing to display themselves by walking slowly, or in rank, and the riders would seem to have been selected for their corpulence, probably under the supposition that the weight of both men and horses would tell in a charge.

The air ‘Hail Columbia’ is a very fine one, and doubtless thrills American hearts, as ours are thrilled by the National Anthem. Two regiments of foot followed the cavalry, one with peaceful-looking green and white plumes, the other with horsetails dyed scarlet. The privates had a more independent air than our own regulars, and were principally the sons of respectable citizens. They appeared to have been well drilled, and were superior in appearance to our militia; but it must be remembered that the militia of America constitutes the real military force of the country, and is paid and cared for accordingly; the regular army only amounting to ten thousand men.

A gun of the artillery followed, and the spectacle made me laugh immoderately, though I had no one with whom to share my amusement. It was a new-looking gun of shining brass, perfectly innocent of the taste of gunpowder, and mounted on a carriage suspiciously like a timber-truck, which had once been painted. Six very respectable-looking artillerymen were clustering upon this vehicle, but they had to hold hard, for it jolted unmercifully. It was drawn by four horses of different colours and sizes, and they appeared animated by the principle of mutual repulsion. One of these was ridden by a soldier, seated on a saddle placed so far upon the horse’s neck, that it gave him the appearance of clinging to the mane. The harness was shabby and travel-soiled, and the traces were of rope, which seemed to require continual “fixing,” to judge from the frequency with which the rider jumped off to adjust them. The artillerymen were also continually stopping the vehicle, to rearrange the limber of the gun.

While I was instituting an invidious comparison between this gun and our well-appointed, well-horsed, well-manned artillery at Woolwich, the thought suddenly flashed across my mind that the militia forces of America beat us at Lexington, Saratoga, and Ticonderoga. “A change came o’er the spirit of my dream,” — from the ridiculous to the sublime was but a step; and the grotesque gun-carriage was instantly invested with sublimity.

Various attractions were presented at the fair. There were horse-races and trotting-matches; a trotting bull warranted to beat the fastest horse in Michigan; and bands of music. Phineas Taylor Barnum presented the spectacle of his very superior menagerie; in one place a wizard offered to show the smallness of the difference between meum and tuum; the Siamese Twins in another displayed their monstrous and inseparable union; and vocalists were awaiting the commands of the lovers of song.

There was a large piece of ground devoted to an agricultural exhibition; and here, as at home, Cochin China fowls were “the observed of all observers,” and realised fabulous prices. In a long range of booths, devoted to the products of manufacturing industry, some of the costliest productions of the looms of Europe were exhibited for sale. There were peep-shows, and swings, and merry-go-rounds, and hobby-horses, and, with so many inducements offered, it will not be supposed that holiday people were wanting.

Suddenly, while the diversions were at their height, and in the midst of the intense heat, a deluge burst over Detroit, like the breaking of a waterspout, in a few minutes turning the streets into rivers, deep enough in many places to cover the fetlocks of the horses. It rained as it only rains in a hot climate, and the storm was accompanied by thunder and lightning. Waggons and carriages hurried furiously along; stages intended to carry twelve persons at six cents were conveying twenty through the flood at a dollar each; and ladies drenched to the skin, with white dresses and silk stockings the colour of mud, were hurrying along over the slippery side walks. An infantry regiment of militia took to their heels and ran off at full pelt, — and a large body of heavy cavalry dashed by in a perfect hurricane of moustaches, draggled plumes, cross-bands, gigantic white gloves, and clattering sabres, clearing the streets effectually.

A hundred years ago Detroit was a little French village of wooden houses, a mere post for carrying on the fur-trade with the Indians. Some of these houses still remain, dingy, many-windowed, many-gabled buildings, of antique construction. Canoes laden with peltry were perhaps the only craft which disturbed the waters of the Detroit river.

The old times are changed, and a thriving commercial town of 40,000 inhabitants stands on the site of the French trading-post. Handsome quays and extensive wharfs now line the shores of the Detroit river, and to look at the throng of magnificent steamers and small sailing-vessels lying along them, sometimes two or three deep, one would suppose oneself at an English seaport. The streets, which contain very handsome stores, are planted with trees, and are alive with business; and hotels, banks, and offices appear in every direction. Altogether Detroit is a very pleasing place, and, from its position, bids fair to be a very important one.

I had to leave the friends whose acquaintance and kindness rendered Detroit so agreeable to me, in the middle of a very interesting conversation. Before ten at night I found myself on an apparently interminable wharf, creeping between cart-wheels and over bales of wool to the Mayflower steamer, which was just leaving for Buffalo.

Passing through the hall of the Mayflower, which was rather a confused and dimly-lighted scene, I went up to the saloon by a very handsome staircase with elaborate bronze balustrades. My bewildered eyes surveyed a fairy scene, an eastern palace, a vision of the Arabian Nights. I could not have believed that such magnificence existed in a ship; it impressed me much more than anything I have seen in the palaces of England.

The Mayflower was a steam-ship of 2200 tons burthen, her length 336 feet, and her extreme breadth 60. She was of 1000 horse-power, with 81-inch cylinders, and a stroke of 12 feet. I speak of her in the past tense, because she has since been totally cast away in a storm on Lake Erie. This lake bears a very bad character, and persons are warned not to venture upon it at so stormy a season of the year as September, but, had the weather been very rough, I should not have regretted my voyage in so splendid a steamer.

The saloon was 300 feet long; it had an arched roof and Gothic cornice, with a moulding below of gilded grapes and vine-leaves. It was 10 feet high, and the projections of the ceiling, the mouldings, and the panels of the doors of the state-rooms were all richly gilded. About the middle there was an enclosure for the engine, scarcely obstructing the view. This enclosure was Gothic, to match the roof, and at each end had a window of plate-glass, 6 feet square, through which the mechanism of the engine could be seen. The engine itself, being a high-pressure one, and consequently without the incumbrances of condenser and air-pump, occupied much less room than one of ours in a ship of the same tonnage. Every stationary part of the machinery was of polished steel, or bronze, with elaborate castings; a crank indicator and a clock faced each other, and the whole was lighted by two large coloured lamps. These windows were a favourite lounge of the curious and scientific. The carpet was of rich velvet pile, in groups of brilliant flowers, and dotted over with chairs, sofas, and tête-à-têtes of carved walnut-wood, cushioned with the richest green velvet: the tables were of marble with gilded pedestals. There was a very handsome piano, and both it and the tables supported massive vases of beautiful Sevres or Dresden china, filled with exotic flowers. On one table was a richly-chased silver tray, with a silver ewer of iced water upon it. The saloon was brilliantly lighted by eight chandeliers with dependent glass lustres; and at each end two mirrors, the height of the room, prolonged interminably the magnificent scene.

In such an apartment one would naturally expect to see elegantly-dressed gentlemen and ladies; but no — western men, in palmetto hats and great boots, lounged upon the superb sofas, and negroes and negresses chattered and promenaded. Porcelain spittoons in considerable numbers garnished the floor, and their office was by no means a sinecure one, even in the saloon exclusively devoted to ladies.

I saw only one person whom I liked to speak to, among my three hundred fellow-voyagers. This was a tall, pale, and very ladylike person in deep mourning, with a perfectly uninterested look, and such deep lines of sorrow on her face, that I saw at a glance that the world had no power to interest or please her. She sat on the same sofa with me, and was helplessly puzzling over the route from Buffalo to Albany with a gruff, uncouth son, who seemed by no means disposed to aid her in her difficulties. As I was able to give her the information she wanted, we entered into conversation for two hours. She soon told me her history, merely an ordinary one, of love, bereavement, and sorrow. She had been a widow for a year, and she said that her desolation was so great that her sole wish was to die. Her sons were taking her a tour, in the hope of raising her spirits, but she said she was just moved about and dressed like a doll, that she had not one ray of comfort, and that all shrunk from her hopeless and repining grief. She asked me to tell her if any widow of my acquaintance had been able to bear her loss with resignation; and when I told her of some instances among my own relations, she burst into tears and said, “I am ever arraigning the wisdom of God, and how can I hope for his consolations?” The task of a comforter is ever a hard one, and in her instance it was particularly so, to point to the “Balm of Gilead,” as revealed in sacred Scripture; for a stranger to show her in all kindness that comfort could never be experienced while, as she herself owned, she was living in the neglect of every duty both to God and man.

She seemed roused for the moment, and thanked me for the sympathy which I most sincerely felt, hoping at the same time to renew the conversation in the morning. We had a stormy night, from which she suffered so much as to be unable to leave her berth the next day, and I saw nothing further of her beyond a brief glimpse which I caught of her at Buffalo, as she was carried ashore, looking more despairing even than the night before.

Below this saloon is the ladies’ cabin, also very handsome, but disfigured by numerous spittoons, and beneath this again is a small cabin with berths two deep round the sides; and in this abode, as the ship was full, I took a berth for the night with a southern lady, her two female slaves, four negresses, and a mulatto woman, who had just purchased their freedom in Tennessee. These blacks were really lady-like and intelligent, and so agreeable and naïve that, although they chattered to me till two in the morning, I was not the least tired of them.

They wanted me to bring them all home to England, to which they have been taught to look as to a land of liberty and happiness; and it was with much difficulty that I made them understand that I should not be able to find employment for them. I asked one of them, a very fine-looking mulatto, how long she had been married, and her age. She replied that she was thirty-four, and had been married twenty-one years! Their black faces and woolly hair contrasted most ludicrously with the white pillow-case. After sleeping for a time, I was awoke by a dissonance of sounds — groaning, straining, creaking, and the crash of waves and roar of winds. I dressed with difficulty, and, crawling to the window, beheld a cloudless sky, a thin, blue, stormy-looking mist, and waves higher than I had ever seen those on the ocean; indeed, Lake Erie was one sheet of raging, furious billows, which dashed about our leviathan but top-heavy steamer as if she had been a plaything.

I saw two schooners scudding with only their foresails set, and shortly after a vessel making signals of distress, having lost her masts, bulwarks, and boats in the gale. We were enabled to render her very seasonable assistance. I was not now surprised at the caution given by the stewardess the previous night, namely, that the less I undressed the better, in case of an accident.

While the gale lasted, being too much inured to rough weather to feel alarmed, I amused myself with watching the different effects produced by it on the feelings of different persons. The Southern lady was frantic with terror. First she requested me, in no very gentle tones, to call the stewardess. I went to the abode of that functionary, and found her lying on the floor sea-sick; her beautiful auburn hair tangled and dishevelled. “Oh! madam, how could you sleep?” she said; “we’ve had such an awful night! I’ve never been so ill before.”

I returned from my useless errand, and the lady then commanded me to go instantly to the captain and ask him to come. “He’s attending to the ship,” I urged. “Go then, if you’ve any pity, and ask him if we shall be lost.” “There’s no danger, as far as I can judge; the engines work regularly, and the ship obeys her helm.” The Mayflower gave a heavier roll than usual. “Oh my God! Oh Heaven!” shrieked the unhappy lady; “forgive me! Mercy! mercy!” A lull followed, in which she called to one of her slaves for a glass of water; but the poor creature was too ill to move, and, seeing that her mistress was about to grow angry, I went up to the saloon for it. On my way to the table I nearly tumbled over a prostrate man, whom I had noticed the night before as conspicuous for his audacious and hardy bearing. “I guess we’re going to Davy Jones,” he said; “I’ve been saying my prayers all night — little good, I guess. I’ve been a sinner too long. I’ve seen many a” — a groan followed. I looked at the reckless speaker. He was lying on the floor, with his hat and shoes off, and his rifle beside him. His face was ghastly, but, I verily believe, more from the effects of sea-sickness than fear. He begged me, in feeble tones, to get him some brandy; but I could not find anybody to give it to him, and went down with the water.

The two slaves were as frightened as people almost stupified by sickness could be; but when I asked one of the freed negresses if she were alarmed, she said, “Me no fear; if me die, me go to Jesus Christ; if me live, me serve him here — better to die!

It has been said that “poverty, sickness, all the ills of life, are Paradise to what we fear of death” — that “it is not that life is sweet, but that death is bitter.” Here the poet and the philosopher might have learned a lesson. This poor, untutored negress probably knew nothing more “than her Bible true;” but she had that knowledge of a future state which reason, unassisted by the light of revelation, could never have learned; she knew yet more — she knew God as revealed in Christ, and in that knowledge, under its highest and truest name of Faith, she feared not the summons which would call her into the presence of the Judge of all. The infidel may hug his heartless creed, which, by ignoring alike futurity and the Divine government, makes an aimless chaos of the past, and a gloomy obscurity of the future; but, in the “hour of death and in the day of judgment,” the boldest atheist in existence would thankfully exchange his failing theories for the poor African’s simple creed.

Providence, which has not endowed the negro with intellectual powers of the highest order, has given him an amount of heart and enthusiasm to which we are strangers. He is warm and ardent in his attachments, fierce in his resentfulness, terrible in his revenge. The black troops of our West Indian colonies, when let loose, fight with more fury and bloodthirstiness than those of any white race. This temperament is carried into religion, and nowhere on earth does our Lord find a more loving and zealous disciple than in the converted and Christianized negro. It is indeed true that, in America only, more than three million free-born Africans wear the chains of servitude; but it is no less true that in many instances the Gospel has penetrated the shades of their Egyptian darkness, giving them

“A clear escape from tyrannizing lust,

A full immunity from penal woe,”

Many persons who have crossed the Atlantic without annoyance are discomposed by the short chopping surges of these inland seas, and the poor negresses suffered dreadfully from sea-sickness.

As the stewardess was upstairs, and too ill herself to attend upon any one, I did what I could for them, getting them pillows, camphor, &c., only too happy that I was in a condition to be useful. One of them, a young married woman with a baby of three months old, was alarmingly ill, and, as the poor infant was in danger of being seriously injured by the rolling of the ship, I took it on my lap for an hour till the gale moderated, thereby gaining the lasting kindly remembrance of its poor mother. I am sure that a white infant would have screamed in a most appalling way, for, as I had never taken a baby in my arms before, I held it in a very awkward manner; but the poor little black thing, wearied with its struggles on the floor, lay very passively, every now and then turning its little monkey-face up to mine, with a look of understanding and confidence which quite conciliated my good will. It was so awfully ugly, so much like a black ape, and so little like the young of the human species, that I was obliged while I held it to avert my eyes from it, lest in a sudden fit of foolish prejudice and disgust I should let it fall. Meanwhile, the Southern lady was very ill, but not too ill, I am sorry to say, to box the ears of her slaves.

The gale moderated about nine in the morning, leaving a very rough, foamy sea, which reflected in a peculiarly dazzling and disagreeable way the cloudless and piercing blue of the sky. The saloon looked as magnificent as by candle-light, with the sunshine streaming through a running window of stained glass.

Dinner on a plentiful scale was served at one, but out of 300 passengers only about 30 were able to avail themselves of it. Large glass tubs of vanilla cream-ice were served. The voyage was peculiarly uninteresting, as we were out of sight of land nearly the whole day; my friend the widow did not appear, and, when I attempted to write, the inkstand rolled off the table. It was just sunset, when we reached Buffalo, and moored at a wharf crowded with large steamers receiving and discharging cargo. Owing to the gale, we were two hours too late for the Niagara cars, and I slept at the Western Hotel, where I received every attention.

Buffalo is one of the best samples of American progress. It is a regularly laid out and substantially built city of 65,000 inhabitants. It is still in the vigour of youth, for the present town only dates from 1813. It stands at the foot of Lake Erie, at the opening of the Hudson canal, where the commerce of the great chain of inland lakes is condensed. It is very “going ahead;” its inhabitants are ever changing; its population is composed of all nations, with a very large proportion of Germans, French, and Irish. But their national characteristics, though not lost, are seen through a medium of pure Americanism. They all rush about — the lethargic German keeps pace with the energetic Yankee; and the Irishman, no longer in rags, “guesses” and “spekilates” in the brogue of Erin. Western travellers pass through Buffalo; tourists bound for Canada pass through Buffalo; the traffic of lakes, canals, and several lines of rail centres at Buffalo; so engines scream, and steamers puff, all day long. It has a great shipbuilding trade, and to all appearance is one of the most progressive and go-ahead cities in the Union.

I left Buffalo on a clear, frosty morning, by a line which ran between lumber-yards [Lumber is sawn timber.] on a prodigious scale and the hard white beach of Lake Erie. Soon after leaving the city, the lake becomes narrow and rapid, and finally hurries along with fearful velocity. I knew that I was looking at the commencement of the rapids of Niagara, but the cars ran into some clearings, and presently stopped at a very bustling station, where a very officious man shouted, “Niagara Falls Station!” The name grated unpleasantly upon my ears. A man appeared at the door of the car in which I was the only passenger — “You for Lewiston, quick, this way!” and hurried me into a stage of uncouth construction, drawn by four horses. We jolted along the very worst road I ever travelled on — corduroy was Elysium to it. No level was observed; it seemed to be a mere track along waste land, running through holes, over hillocks and stumps of trees. We were one hour and three-quarters in going a short seven miles. If I had been better acquainted with the neighbourhood, I might, as I only found out when it was too late, have crossed the bridge at Niagara Falls, spent three hours in sight of Niagara, proceeding to Queenston in time for the steamer by the Canada cars!

On our way to Lewiston we met forty of these four-horse stages. I caught a distant view of the falls, and a nearer one of the yet incomplete suspension bridge, which, when finished, will be one of the greatest triumphs of engineering art.

Beyond this the scenery is very beautiful. The road runs among forest trees of luxuriant growth, and peach and apple orchards, upon the American bank of the Niagara river. This bank is a cliff 300 feet high, and from the edge of the road you may throw a stone into the boiling torrent below; yet the only parapet is a rotten fence, in many places completely destroyed. When you begin to descend the steep hill to Lewiston the drive is absolutely frightful. The cumbrous vehicle creaks, jolts, and swings, and, in spite of friction-breaks and other appliances, gradually acquires an impetus which sends it at full speed down the tremendous hill, and round the sharp corner, to the hotel at Lewiston. While I was waiting there watching the stages, and buying peaches, of which I got six for a penny, a stage came at full speed down the hill, with only two men on the driving-seat. The back straps had evidently given way, and the whole machine had a tendency to jump forward, when, in coming down the steepest part of the declivity, it got a jolt, and in the most ridiculous way turned “topsy-turvy,” the roof coming down upon the horses’ backs. The men were thrown off unhurt, but the poor animals were very much cut and bruised.

I crossed Lake Ontario to Toronto in the Peerless, a very smart, safe, iron steamer, with the saloon and chief weight below. The fittings of this beautiful little vessel are in perfect taste. We stopped for two hours at the wharf at Niagara, a town on the British side, protected once by a now disused and dismantled fort. The cars at length came up, two hours after their time, and the excuse given for the delay was, that they had run over a cow!

In grim contrast to the dismantled English Fort Massassaqua, Fort Niagara stands on the American side, and is a place of considerable strength. There I saw sentinels in grey uniforms, and the flag of the stars and stripes.

Captain D—— of the Peerless brought his beautiful little vessel from the Clyde in 6000 pieces, and is justly proud of her. I sat next him at dinner, and found that we knew some of the same people in Scotland. Gaelic was a further introduction; and though so many thousand miles away, for a moment I felt myself at home when we spoke of the majestic Cuchullins and the heathery braes of Balquidder. In the Peerless every one took wine or liqueurs. There was no bill of fare, but a long list of wines and spirits was placed by each plate. Instead of being disturbed in the middle of dinner by a poke on the shoulder, and the demand, “Dinner ticket, or fifty cents,” I was allowed to remain as long as I pleased, and at the conclusion of the voyage a gentlemanly Highland purser asked me for my passage and dinner money together.

We passed a number of brigs and schooners under full sail, their canvass remarkable for its whiteness; their hulls also were snowy white. They looked as though “they were drifting with the dead, to shores where all was dumb.”

Late in the evening we entered the harbour of Toronto, which is a very capacious one, and is protected by a natural mole of sand some miles in extent. Though this breakwater has some houses and a few trees, it is the picture of dreary desolation.

The city of Toronto, the stronghold of Canadian learning and loyalty, presents an imposing appearance, as seen from the water. It stands on ground sloping upwards from the lake, and manufactories, colleges, asylums, church spires, and public buildings, the whole faced by a handsome line of quays, present themselves at once to the eye.

A soft and familiar sound came off from the shore; it was the well-known note of the British bugle, and the flag whose silken folds were rising and falling on the breeze was the meteor flag of England. Long may it brave “the battle and the breeze”! English uniforms were glancing among the crowd on the quay, English faces surrounded me, English voices rang in my ears; the négligé costumes which met my eyes were in the best style of England. A thrill of pleasure went through my heart on finding, more than 4000 miles from home, the characteristics of my own loved land.

But I must add that there were unpleasant characteristics peculiarly English also. I could never have landed, the confusion was so great, had not Captain D—— assisted me. One porter ran off with one trunk, another with another, while three were fighting for the possession of my valise, till silenced by the cane of a custom-house officer. Then there was a clamorous demand for “wharfage,” and the hackman charged half a dollar for taking me a quarter of a mile. All this somewhat damped my ecstacies, and contrasted unfavourably with the orderly and easy way in which I landed on the shore of the United States.

At Russell’s Hotel I rejoined Mr. and Mrs. Walrence, who said “they would have been extremely surprised if a lady in their country had met with the slightest difficulty or annoyance” in travelling alone for 700 miles!

My ecstacies were still further toned down when I woke the next morning with my neck, hands, and face stinging and swollen from the bites of innumerable mosquitoes.

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