Popular ignorance — The garden island — Summer and winter contrasted — A wooden capital — Island politics, and their consequences — Gossip — “Blowin-time” — Religion and the clergy — The servant nuisance — Colonial society — An evening party — An island premier — Agrarian outrage — A visit to the Indians — The pipe of peace — An Indian coquette — Country hospitality — A missionary — A novel mode of lobster-fishing — Uncivilised life — Far away in the woods — Starvation and dishonesty — An old Highlander and a Highland welcome — Hopes for the future.
I was showing a collection of autographs to a gentleman at a party in a well-known Canadian city, when the volume opened upon the majestic signature of Cromwell. I paused as I pointed to it, expecting a burst of enthusiasm. “Who is Cromwell?” he asked; an ignorance which I should have believed counterfeit had it not been too painfully and obviously genuine.
A yeoman friend in England, on being told that I had arrived safely at Boston, after encountering great danger in a gale, “reckoned that it was somewhere down in Lincolnshire.”
With these instances of ignorance, and many more which I could name, fresh in my recollection, I am not at all surprised that few persons should be acquainted with the locality of a spot of earth so comparatively obscure as Prince Edward Island. When I named my destination to my friends prior to my departure from England, it was supposed by some that I was going to the Pacific, and by others that I was going to the north-west coast of America, while one or two, on consulting their maps, found no such island indicated in the part of the ocean where I described it to be placed.
Now, Prince Edward Island is the abode of seventy thousand human beings. It had a garrison, though now the loyalty of its inhabitants is considered a sufficient protection. It has a Governor, a House of Assembly, a Legislative Council, and a Constitution. It has a wooden Government House, and a stone Province Building. It has a town of six thousand people, and an extensive shipbuilding trade, and, lastly, it has a prime minister. As it has not been tourist-ridden, like Canada or the States, and is a terra incognita to many who are tolerably familiar with the rest of our North American possessions, I must briefly describe it, though I am neither writing a guide-book nor an emigrant’s directory.
This island was discovered by Sebastian Cabot in 1497, and more than two centuries afterwards received the name of St. John, by which it is still designated in old maps. It received the name of Prince Edward Island in compliment to the illustrious father of our Queen, who bestowed great attention upon it. It has been the arena of numerous conflicts during the endless wars between the French and English. Its aboriginal inhabitants have here, as in other places, melted away before the whites. About three hundred remain, earning a scanty living by shooting and fishing, and profess the Romish faith.
This island is 140 miles in length, and at its widest part 34 in breadth. It is intersected by creeks; every part of its coast is indented by the fierce flood of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and no part of it is more than nine miles distant from some arm of the sea. It bears the name throughout the British provinces of the “Garden of British America.” That this title has been justly bestowed, none who have ever visited it in summer will deny.
While Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the banks of the St. Lawrence are brown, even where most fertile, this island is clothed in brilliant green. I suppose that the most elevated land in it is less than 400 feet above the level of the sea; there is not a rock in any part of it, and the stones which may be very occasionally picked up in the recesses of the forest cause much speculation in the minds of the curious and scientific. The features of this country are as soft as the soil. The land is everywhere gently undulating, and, while anything like a hill is unknown, it has been difficult to find a piece of ground sufficiently level for a cricket-field. The north shore is extremely pretty; it has small villages, green clearings, fine harbours, with the trees growing down to the water’s edge, and shady streams.
The land is very suitable for agricultural purposes, as also for the rearing of sheep; but the island is totally destitute of mineral wealth. It is highly favoured in climate. The intense heat of a North American summer is here tempered by a cool sea-breeze; fogs are almost unknown, and the air is dry and bracing. Instances of longevity are very common; fever and consumption are seldom met with, and the cholera has never visited its shores. Wages are high, and employment abundant; land is cheap and tolerably productive; but though a competence may always be obtained, I never heard of any one becoming rich through agricultural pursuits. Shipbuilding is the great trade of the island, and the most profitable one. Everywhere, even twenty miles inland, and up among the woods, ships may be seen in course of construction. These vessels are sold in England and in the neighbouring colonies; but year by year, as its trade increases, the island requires a greater number for its own use.
In summer, the island is a very agreeable residence; the sandy roads are passable, and it has a bi-weekly communication with the neighbouring continent. Shooting and fishing may be enjoyed in abundance, and the Indians are always ready to lend assistance in these sports. Bears, which used to be a great attraction to the more adventurous class of sportsmen, are, however, rapidly disappearing.
In winter, I cannot conceive a more dull, cheerless, and desolate place than Prince Edward Island. About the beginning of December steam communication with the continent ceases, and those who are leaving the island hurry their departure. Large stocks of fuel are laid in, the harbour is deserted by the shipping, and all out-door occupations gradually cease. Before Christmas the frost commences, the snow frequently lies six feet deep, and soon the harbours and the adjacent ocean freeze, and the island is literally “locked in regions of thick-ribbed ice” for six long months. Once a fortnight during the winter an ice-boat crosses Northumberland Strait, at great hazard, where it is only nine miles wide, conveying the English mail; but sometimes all the circumstances are not favourable, and the letters are delayed for a month — the poor islanders being locked meanwhile in their icebound prison, ignorant of the events which may be convulsing the world. Charlotte Town, the capital of the island and the seat of government, is very prettily situated on a capacious harbour, which was defended by several heavy guns. It is a town of shingles, but looks very well from the sea. With the exception of Quebec, it is considered the prettiest town in British America; but while Quebec is a city built on a rock, Charlotte Town closely borders upon a marsh, and its drainage has been very much neglected.
There are several commons in the town, the grass of which is of a peculiarly brilliant green, and, as these are surrounded by houses, they give it a cheerful appearance. The houses are small, and the stores by no means pretentious. The streets are unlighted, and destitute of side walks; there is not an attempt at paving, and the grips across them are something fearful. “Hold on” is a caution as frequently given as absolutely necessary. I have travelled over miles of corduroy road in a springless waggon, and in a lumber waggon, drawn by oxen, where there was no road at all, but I never experienced anything like the merciless joint-dislocating jolting which I met with in Charlotte Town. This island metropolis has two or three weekly papers of opposite sides in politics, which vie with each other in gross personalities and scurrilous abuse.
The colony has “responsible government,” a Governor, a Legislative Council, and a House of Assembly, and storms in politics are not at all unfrequent. The members of the Lower House are elected by nearly universal suffrage, and it is considered necessary that the “Premier” should have a majority in it. This House is said to be on a par with Irish poor-law guardian meetings for low personalities and vehement vituperation.
The genius of Discord must look complacently on this land. Politics have been a fruitful source of quarrels, misrepresentation, alienation, and division. The opposition parties are locally designated “snatchers” and “snarlers,” and no love is lost between the two. It is broadly affirmed that half the people on the island do not speak to the other half. And, worse than all, religious differences have been brought up as engines wherewith to wreak political animosities. I never saw a community in which people appeared to hate each other so cordially. The flimsy veil of etiquette does not conceal the pointed sneer, the malicious innuendo, the malignant backbiting, and the unfounded slander. Some of the forms of society are observed in the island — that extreme of civilisation vulgarly called “cutting” is common; morning calls are punctiliously paid and returned, and there are occasional balls and tea-parties. Quebec is described as being the hottest and coldest town in the world, Paris the gayest, London the richest; but I should think that Charlotte Town may bear away the palm for being the most gossiping.
There is a general and daily flitting about of its inhabitants after news of their neighbours — all that is said and done within a three-mile circle is reported, and, of course, a great deal of what has neither been said nor done. There are certain people whose business it is to make mischief, and mischief-making is a calling in which it does not require much wit to be successful.
The inhabitants are a sturdy race, more than one-half of them being of Scotch descent. They are prevented from attaining settled business-like habits by the long winter, which puts a stop to all out-door employment. This period, when amusement is the only thing thought of, is called in the colonies “blowin-time.” All the country is covered with snow, and the inhabitants have nothing to do but sleigh about, play ball on the ice, drive the young ladies to quilting frolics and snow picnics, drink brandy-and-water, and play at whist for sixpenny points.
The further you go from Charlotte Town, the more primitive and hospitable the people become; they warmly welcome a stranger, and seem happy, moral, and contented. This island is the only place in the New World where I met with any who believed in the supernatural. One evening I had been telling some very harmless ghost stories to a party by moonlight, and one of my auditors, a very clever girl, fancied during the night that she saw something stirring in her bed-room. In the idea that the ghost would attack her head rather than her feet, she tied up her feet in her bonnet-denuit, put them upon the pillow, and her head under the quilt — a novel way of cheating a spiritual visitant.
There are numerous religious denominations in the colony, all enjoying the same privileges, or the absence of any. I am not acquainted with the number belonging to each, but would suppose the Roman Catholics to be the most dominant, from the way in which their church towers over the whole town. There are about eleven Episcopalian clergymen, overworked and underpaid. Most of these are under the entire control of the Bishop of Nova Scotia, and are removable at his will and pleasure. This will Bishop Binney exercises in a very capricious and arbitrary manner.
Some of these clergymen are very excellent and laborious men. I may particularise Dr. Jenkins, for many years chief minister of Charlotte Town, whose piety, learning, and Christian spirit would render him an ornament to the Church of England in any locality. Even among the clergy, some things might seem rather peculiar to a person fresh from England. A clergyman coming to a pause in his sermon, one of his auditors from the floor called up “Propitiation;” the preacher thanked him, took the word, and went on with his discourse.
The difficulty of procuring servants, which is felt from the Government House downwards, is one of the great objections to this colony. The few there are know nothing of any individual department of work, — for instance, there are neither cooks nor housemaids, they are strictly “helps” — the mistress being expected to take more than her fair share of the work. They come in and go out when they please, and, if anything dissatisfies them, they ask for their wages, and depart the same day, in the certainty that their labour will command a higher price in the United States. It is not an uncommon thing for a gentleman to be obliged to do the work of gardener, errand-boy, and groom. A servant left at an hour’s notice, saying, “she had never been so insulted before,” because her master requested her to put on shoes when she waited at table; and a gentleman was obliged to lie in bed because his servant had taken all his shirts to the wash, and had left them while she went to a “frolic” with her lover.
The upper class of society in the island is rather exclusive, but it is difficult to say what qualification entitles a man to be received into “society.” The entree at Government House is not sufficient; but a uniform is powerful, and wealth is omnipotent. The present governor, Mr. Dominick Daly, is a man of great suavity of manner. He has a large amount of finesse, which is needful in a colony where people like the supposition that they govern themselves, but where it is absolutely necessary that a firm hand should hold the reins. The island is prospering under its new form of “responsible government;” its revenue is increasing; it is out of debt; and Mr. Daly, whose tenure of power has been very short, will without doubt considerably develop its resources. Mrs. Daly is an invalid, but her kindness makes her deservedly popular, together with her amiable and affable daughters, the elder of whom is one of the most beautiful girls whom I saw in the colonies.
I remained six weeks in this island, being detained by the cholera, which was ravaging Canada and the States. I spent the greater part of this time at the house of Captain Swabey, a near relation of my father’s, at whose house I received every hospitality and kindness. Captain Swabey is one of the most influential inhabitants of the island, as, since the withdrawal of the troops, the direction of its defences has been intrusted to him, in consideration of his long experience in active service. He served in the land forces which assisted Nelson at the siege of Copenhagen. He afterwards served with distinction through the Peninsular war, and, after receiving a ball in the knee at Vittoria, closed his military career at the battle of Waterloo. It is not a little singular that Mr. Hensley, another of the principal inhabitants, and a near neighbour of Captain Swabey’s, fought at Copenhagen under Lord Nelson, where part of his cheek-bone was shot away.
While I was there, the governor gave his first party, to which, as a necessary matter of etiquette, all who had left cards at Government House were invited. I was told that I should not see such a curious mixture anywhere else, either in the States or in the colonies. There were about a hundred and fifty persons present, including all the officers of the garrison and customs, and the members of the government. The “prime minister,” the Hon. George Coles, whose name is already well known in the colonies, was there in all the novel glories of office and “red-tapeism.”
I cannot say that this gentleman looked at all careworn; indeed the cares of office, even in England, have ceased to be onerous, if one may judge from the ease with which a premier of seventy performs upon the parliamentary stage; but Mr. Coles looked particularly the reverse. He is justified in his complacent appearance, for he has a majority in the house, a requisite scarcely deemed essential in England, and the finances of the colony are flourishing under his administration. He is a self-made and self-educated man, and by his own energy, industry, and perseverance, has raised himself to the position which he now holds; and if his manners have not all the finish of polite society, and if he does sometimes say “Me and the governor,” his energy is not less to be admired.
Another member of the government appeared in a yellow waistcoat and brown frock-coat; but where there were a great many persons of an inferior class it was only surprising that there should be so few inaccuracies either in dress or deportment. There were some very pretty women, and almost all were dressed with simplicity and good taste. The island does not afford a band, but a pianist and violinist played most perseveringly, and the amusements were kept up with untiring spirit till four in the morning.
The governor and his family behaved most affably to their guests, and I was glad to observe that in such a very mixed company not the slightest vulgarity of manner was perceptible.
It may be remarked, however, that society is not on so safe a footing as in England. Such things as duels, but of a very bloodless nature, have been known: people occasionally horsewhip and kick each other; and if a gentleman indulges in the pastime of breaking the windows of another gentleman, he receives a bullet for his pains. Some time ago, a gentleman connected with a noble family in Scotland, emigrated to the island with a large number of his countrymen, to whom he promised advantageous arrangements with regard to land. He was known by the name of Tracadie. After his tenants had made a large outlay upon their farms, Tracadie did not fulfil his agreements, and the dissatisfaction soon broke forth into open outrage. Conspiracies were formed against him, his cows and carts were destroyed, and night after night the country was lighted by the flames of his barns and mills. At length he gave loaded muskets to some of his farm-boys, telling them to shoot any one they saw upon his premises after dusk. The same evening he went into his orchard, and was standing with his watch in his hand waiting to set it by the evening gun, when the boys fired, and he fell severely wounded. When he recovered from this, he was riding out one evening, when he was shot through the hat and hip by men on each side of the road, and fell weltering in blood. So detested was he, that several persons passed by without rendering him any assistance. At length one of his own tenantry, coming by, took him into Charlotte Town in a cart, but was obliged shortly afterwards to leave the island, to escape from the vengeance which would have overtaken the succourer of a tyrant. Tracadie was shot at five or six different times. Shortly after my arrival in the island, he went to place his daughter in a convent at Quebec, and died there of the cholera.
One day, with a party of youthful friends, I crossed the Hillsboro’ Creek, to visit the Indians. We had a large heavy boat, with cumbrous oars, very ill balanced, and a most inefficient crew, two of them being boys either very idle or very ignorant, and, as they kept tumbling backwards over the thwarts, one gentleman and I were left to do all the work. On our way we came upon an Indian in a bark canoe, and spent much of our strength in an ineffectual race with him, succeeding in nothing but in getting aground. We had very great difficulty in landing, and two pretty squaws indulged in hearty laughter at our numerous failures.
After scrambling through a wood, we came upon an Indian village, consisting of fifteen wigwams. These are made of poles, tied together at the upper end, and are thatched with large pieces of birch-bark. A hole is always left at the top to let out the smoke, and the whole space occupied by this primitive dwelling is not larger than a large circular dining-table. Large fierce dogs, and uncouth, terrified-looking, lank-haired children, very scantily clothed, abounded by these abodes. We went into one, crawling through an aperture in the bark. A fire was burning in the middle, over which was suspended a kettle of fish. The wigwam was full of men and squaws, and babies, or “papooses,” tightly strapped into little trays of wood. Some were waking, others sleeping, but none were employed, though in several of the camps I saw the materials for baskets and bead-work. The eyes of all were magnificent, and the young women very handsome, their dark complexions and splendid hair being in many instances set off by a scarlet handkerchief thrown loosely round the head.
We braved the ferocity of numerous dogs, and looked into eight of these abodes; Mr. Kenjins, from the kind use he makes of his medical knowledge, being a great favourite with the Indians, particularly with the young squaws, who seemed thoroughly to understand all the arts of coquetry. We were going into one wigwam when a surly old man opposed our entrance, holding out a calabash, vociferous voices from the interior calling out, “Ninepence, ninepence!” The memory of Uncas and Magua rose before me, and I sighed over the degeneracy of the race. These people are mendicant and loquacious. When you go in, they begin a list of things which they want — blankets, powder, tobacco, &c.; always concluding with, “Tea, for God’s sake!” for they have renounced the worship of the Great Spirit for a corrupted form of Christianity.
We were received in one camp by two very handsome squaws, mother and daughter, who spoke broken English, and were very neat and clean. The floor was thickly strewn with the young shoots of the var, and we sat down with them for half an hour. The younger squaw, a girl of sixteen, was very handsome and coquettish. She had a beautiful cap, worked in beads, which she would not put on at the request of any of the ladies; but directly Mr. Kenjins hinted a wish to that effect, she placed it coquettishly on her head, and certainly looked most bewitching. Though only sixteen, she had been married two years, and had recently lost her twins. Mr. Kenjins asked her the meaning of an Indian phrase. She replied in broken English, “What one little boy say to one little girl: I love you.” “I suppose your husband said so to you before you were married?” “Yes, and he say so now,” she replied, and both she and her mother laughed long and uncontrollably. These Indians retain few of their ancient characteristics, except their dark complexions and their comfortless nomade way of living. They are not represented in the Legislative Assembly.
Very different are the Indians of Central America, the fierce Sioux, Comanches, and Blackfeet. In Canada West I saw a race differing in appearance from the Mohawks and Mic–Macs, and retaining to a certain extent their ancient customs. Among these tribes I entered a wigwam, and was received in sullen silence. I seated myself on the floor with about eight Indians; still not a word was spoken. A short pipe was then lighted and offered to me. I took, as previously directed, a few whiffs of the fragrant weed, and then the pipe was passed round the circle, after which the oldest man present began to speak. [“Why has our white sister visited the wigwams of her red brethren?” was the salutation with which they broke silence — a question rather difficult to answer.] This pipe is the celebrated calumet, or pipe of peace, and it is considered even among the fiercest tribes as a sacred obligation. A week before I left Prince Edward Island I went for a tour of five days in the north-west of the island with Mr. and Miss Kenjins. This was a delightful change, an uninterrupted stream of novelty and enjoyment. It was a relief from Charlotte Town, with its gossiping morning calls, its malicious stories, its political puerilities, its endless discussions on servants, turnips, and plovers; it was a bound into a region of genuine kindness and primitive hospitality.
We left Charlotte Town early on a brilliant morning, in a light waggon, suitably attired for “roughing it in the bush.” Our wardrobes, a draught-board, and a number of books (which we never read), were packed into a carpetbag of most diminutive proportions. We took large buffalo robes with us, in case we should not be able to procure a better shelter for the night than a barn. We were for the time being perfectly congenial, and determined on thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We sang, and rowed, and fished, and laughed, and made others laugh, and were perfectly happy, never knowing and scarcely caring where we should obtain shelter for the night. Our first day’s dinner was some cold meat and bread, eaten in a wood, our horse eating his oats by our side; and we made drinking-cups, in Indian fashion, of birch-tree bark — cups of Tantalus, properly speaking, for very little of the water reached our lips. While engaged in drawing some from a stream, the branch on which I leaned gave way, and I fell into the water, a mishap which amused my companions so much that they could not help me out.
After a journey of thirty miles our further course was stopped by a wide river, with low wooded hills and promontories, but there was no ferry-boat, so, putting up our horse in a settler’s barn, we sat on the beach till a cranky, leaky boat, covered with fish-scales, was with some difficulty launched, and a man took us across the beautiful stream. This kindly individual came for us again the next morning, and would accept nothing but our thanks for his trouble. The settler in whose barn we had left our horse fed him well with oats, and was equally generous. The people in this part of the island are principally emigrants from the north of Scotland, who thus carry Highland hospitality with them to their distant homes. After a long walk through a wood, we came upon a little church, with a small house near it, and craved a night’s hospitality. The church was one of those strongholds of religion and loyalty which I rejoice to see in the colonies. There, Sabbath after Sabbath, the inhabitants of this peaceful locality worship in the pure faith of their forefathers: here, when “life’s fitful fever” is over, they sleep in the hallowed ground around these sacred walls. Nor could a more peaceful resting-place be desired: from the graveyard one could catch distant glimpses of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and tall pine-trees flung their dark shadows over the low green graves.
Leaving our friends in the house, we went down to a small creek running up into the woods, the most formidable “longer fences” not intercepting our progress. After some ineffectual attempts to gain possession of a log-canoe, we launched a leaky boat, and went out towards the sea. The purple beams of the setting sun fell upon the dark pine woods, and lay in long lines upon the calm waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It was a glorious evening, and the scene was among the fairest which I saw in the New World. On our return we found our host, the missionary, returned from his walk of twenty-two miles, and a repast of tea, wheaten scones, raspberries, and cream, awaited us. This good man left England twenty-five years ago, and lived for twenty in one of the most desolate parts of Newfoundland. Yet he has retained his vivid interest in England, and kept us up till a late hour talking over its church and people. Contented in his isolated position, which is not without its severe hardships, this good missionary pursues his useful course unnoticed by the world as it bustles along; his sole earthly wish seems to be that he may return to England to die.
The next morning at seven we left his humble home, where such hospitality had awaited us, and he accompanied us to the river. He returned to his honourable work — I shortly afterwards went to the United States — another of the party is with the Turkish army in the Crimea — and the youngest is married in a distant land. For several hours we passed through lovely scenery, on one of the loveliest mornings I ever saw. We stopped at the hut of an old Highland woman, who was “terribly glad” to see us, and gave us some milk; and we came up with a sturdy little barefooted urchin of eight years old, carrying a basket. “What’s your name?” we asked. “Mr. Crazier,” was the bold and complacent reply.
At noon we reached St. Eleanor’s, rather a large village, where we met with great hospitality for two days at the house of a keeper of a small store, who had married the lively and accomplished daughter of an English clergyman. The two Irish servant-girls were ill, but she said she should be delighted to receive us if we would help her to do the household work. The same afternoon we drove to the house of a shipbuilder at a little hamlet called Greenshore, and went out lobster-fishing in his beautiful boat. The way of fishing for these creatures was a novel one to me, but so easy that a mere novice may be very successful. We tied sinks to mackerel, and let them down in six fathoms water. We gently raised them now and then, and, if we felt anything pulling the bait, raised it slowly up. Gently, gently, or the fish suspects foul play; but soon, just under the surface, I saw an immense lobster, and one of the gentlemen caught it by the tail and threw it into the boat. We fished for an hour, and caught fifteen of these esteemed creatures, which we took to the house in a wheelbarrow. At night we drove to St. Eleanor’s, taking some of our spoil with us, and immediately adjourned to the kitchen, a large, unfinished place built of logs, with a clay floor and huge smoke-stained rafters. We sat by a large stove in the centre, and looked as if we had never known civilised life. Miss Kenjins and I sat on either side of the fireplace in broad-brimmed straw hats, Mrs. Maccallummore in front, warming the feet of the unhappy baby, who bad been a passive spectator of the fishing; the three gentlemen stood round in easy attitudes, these, be it remembered, holding glasses of brandy and water; and the two invalid servants stood behind, occasionally uttering suppressed shrieks as Mr. Oppe took one out of a heap of lobsters and threw it into a caldron of boiling water on the stove. This strange scene was illuminated by a blazing pine-knot. Mr. Kenjins laughingly reminded me of the elegant drawing-room in which he last saw me in England — “Look on this picture and on that.”
On the Sunday we crossed the Grand River, on a day so stormy that the ferryman would not take the “scow” across. We rowed ourselves over in a crazy boat, which seemed about to fill and sink when we got to the middle of the river, and attended service at Port Hill, one of the most desolate-looking places I ever saw. We saw Lenox Island, where on St. Ann’s day all the island Indians meet and go through ceremonies with the Romish priests.
We remained for part of the next day with our hospitable friends at St. Eleanor’s, and set out on an exploring expedition in search of a spring which Mr. K. remembered in his childish days. We went down to a lonely cabin to make inquiries, and were told that “none but the old people knew of it — it was far away in the woods.” Here was mystery; so, leaving the waggon, into the woods we went to seek for it, and far away in the woods we found it, and now others besides the “old people” know of it.
We struck into the forest, an old, untrodden forest, where generations of trees had rotted away, and strange flowers and lichens grew, and bats flew past us in the artificial darkness; and there were snakes too, ugly spotted things, which hissed at us, and put out their double tongues, and then coiled themselves away in the dim recesses of the forest. But on we went, climbing with difficulty over prostrate firs, or breaking through matted juniper, and still the spring was not, though we were “far away in the woods.” But still we climbed on, through swamp and jungle, till we tore our dresses to pieces, and our hats got pulled off in a tree and some of our hair with them; but at last we reached the spring. It was such a scene as one might have dreamed of in some forest in a fabulous Elysium. It was a large, deep basin of pure white sand, covered with clear water, and seven powerful springs, each about a foot high, rose from it; and trees had fallen over it, and were covered with bright green moss, and others bent over it ready to fall; and above them the tall hemlocks shut out the light, except where a few stray beams glittered on the pure transparent water.
And here it lay in lonely beauty, as it had done for centuries, probably known only to the old people and to the wandering Indians. In enterprising England a town would have been built round it, and we should have had cheap excursions to the “Baths of St. Eleanor’s.”
In the evening we went to the house of Mr. Oppe at Bedeque, but not finding him at home we presumed on colonial hospitality so far as to put our horse in the stable and unpack our clothes; and when Mr. Oppe returned he found us playing at draughts, and joined us in a hearty laugh at our coolness. Our fifth and last day’s journey was a long one of forty miles, yet near Cape Traverse our horse ran away down a steep hill, and across a long wooden bridge without a parapet, thereby placing our lives in imminent jeopardy. After travelling for several hours we came to a lone house, where we hoped to get some refreshment both for ourselves and the horse, but found the house locked, a remarkable fact, as in this island robbery is almost unknown. We were quite exhausted with hunger, and our hearts sank when we found every door and window closed. We then, as an act of mercy, stole a sheaf of oats from a neighbouring field, and cut the ears off for the horse with our penknives, after which we, in absolute hunger, ate as many grains as we could clean from the husks, and some fern, which we found very bitter. We looked very much like a group of vagrants sitting by the road-side, the possession of the oats being disputed with us by five lean pigs. When after another hour we really succeeded in getting something more suitable for human beings, we ate like famished creatures.
While I was walking up a long hill, I passed a neat cabin in a garden of pumpkins, placed in a situation apparently chosen from its extreme picturesqueness. Seeing an old man, in a suit of grey frieze and a blue bonnet, standing at the gate, I addressed him with the words, “Cia mar thasibh an diugh.” “Slan gu robh math agaibh. Cia mar thasibh an fein,” [“How are you today?” “Very well, thank you. I hope you are well.”] was the delighted reply, accompanied with a hearty shake of both hands. He was from Snizort, in the Isle of Skye, and, though he had attained competence in the land of his adoption, he mourned the absence of his native heather. He asked me the usual Highland question, “Tell me the news;” and I told him all that I could recollect of those with whom he was familiar. He spoke of the Cuchullin Hills, and the stern beauty of Loch Corruisk, with tears in his eyes. “Ah,” he said, “I have no wish but to see them once again. Who is the lady with you — the lily?” he asked, for he spoke English imperfectly, and preferred his own poetical tongue. “May your path be always bright, lady!” he said, as he shook my hand warmly at parting; “and ye’ll come and see me when ye come again, and bring me tales from the old country.” The simple wish of Donnuil Dhu has often recurred to me in the midst of gayer scenes and companions. It brought to mind memories of many a hearty welcome received in the old man’s Highland home, and of those whose eyes were then looking upon the Cuchullin Hills.
After this expedition, where so much kindness had been experienced, Charlotte Town did not appear more delightful than before, and, though sorry to take leave of many kind relatives and friends, I was glad that only one more day remained to me in the island.
I cordially wish its people every prosperity. They are loyal, moral, and independent, and their sympathies with England have lately been evidenced by their liberal contributions to the Patriotic Fund. When their trade and commerce shall have been extended, and when a more suitable plan has been adopted for the support of religion; when large portions of waste land have been brought under cultivation, and local resources have been farther developed, people will be too much occupied with their own affairs to busy themselves, as now, either with the affairs of others, or with the puerile politics of so small a community; and then the island will deserve the title which has been bestowed on it, “The Garden of British America.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52