Part 6 out of 6
The gossips continued talking of the burying. Poor old woman Larue!
It was mournful enough to encounter you for the only time in this
world in this plight, and to have this glimpse of your wretched life
on lonesome Gilead Hill. What pleasure, I wonder, had she in her
life, and what pleasure have any of these hard-favored women in this
doleful region? It is pitiful to think of it. Doubtless, however,
the region isn't doleful, and the sentimental traveler would not have
felt it so if he had not encountered this funereal flitting.
But the horses are in. We mount to our places; the big doors swing
"Stand away," cries the driver.
The hostler lets go Kitty's bridle, the horses plunge forward, and we
are off at a gallop, taking the opposite direction from that pursued
by old woman Larue.
This last stage is eleven miles, through a pleasanter country, and we
make it in a trifle over an hour, going at an exhilarating gait, that
raises our spirits out of the Marshy Hope level. The perfection of
travel is ten miles an hour, on top of a stagecoach; it is greater
speed than forty by rail. It nurses one's pride to sit aloft, and
rattle past the farmhouses, and give our dust to the cringing foot
tramps. There is something royal in the swaying of the coach body,
and an excitement in the patter of the horses' hoofs. And what an
honor it must be to guide such a machine through a region of rustic
The sun has set when we come thundering down into the pretty Catholic
village of Antigonish,--the most home-like place we have seen on the
island. The twin stone towers of the unfinished cathedral loom up
large in the fading light, and the bishop's palace on the hill--the
home of the Bishop of Arichat--appears to be an imposing white barn
with many staring windows. At Antigonish--with the emphasis on the
last syllable--let the reader know there is a most comfortable inn,
kept by a cheery landlady, where the stranger is served by the comely
handmaidens, her daughters, and feels that he has reached a home at
last. Here we wished to stay. Here we wished to end this weary
pilgrimage. Could Baddeck be as attractive as this peaceful valley?
Should we find any inn on Cape Breton like this one?
"Never was on Cape Breton," our driver had said; "hope I never shall
be. Heard enough about it. Taverns? You'll find 'em occupied."
"But it is a lovely country?"
"I don't think it."
Into what unknown dangers were we going? Why not stay here and be
happy? It was a soft summer night. People were loitering in the
street; the young beaux of the place going up and down with the
belles, after the leisurely manner in youth and summer; perhaps they
were students from St. Xavier College, or visiting gallants from
Guysborough. They look into the post-office and the fancy store.
They stroll and take their little provincial pleasure and make love,
for all we can see, as if Antigonish were a part of the world. How
they must look down on Marshy Hope and Addington Forks and Tracadie!
What a charming place to live in is this!
But the stage goes on at eight o'clock. It will wait for no man.
There is no other stage till eight the next night, and we have no
alternative but a night ride. We put aside all else except duty and
Baddeck. This is strictly a pleasure-trip.
The stage establishment for the rest of the journey could hardly be
called the finest on the continent. The wagon was drawn by two
horses. It was a square box, covered with painted cloth. Within
were two narrow seats, facing each other, affording no room for the
legs of passengers, and offering them no position but a strictly
upright one. It was a most ingeniously uncomfortable box in which to
put sleepy travelers for the night. The weather would be chilly
before morning, and to sit upright on a narrow board all night, and
shiver, is not cheerful. Of course, the reader says that this is no
hardship to talk about. But the reader is mistaken. Anything is a
hardship when it is unpleasantly what one does not desire or expect.
These travelers had spent wakeful nights, in the forests, in a cold
rain, and never thought of complaining. It is useless to talk about
the Polar sufferings of Dr. Kane to a guest at a metropolitan hotel,
in the midst of luxury, when the mosquito sings all night in his ear,
and his mutton-chop is overdone at breakfast. One does not like to
be set up for a hero in trifles, in odd moments, and in inconspicuous
There were two passengers besides ourselves, inhabitants of Cape
Breton Island, who were returning from Halifax to Plaster Cove, where
they were engaged in the occupation of distributing alcoholic liquors
at retail. This fact we ascertained incidentally, as we learned the
nationality of our comrades by their brogue, and their religion by
their lively ejaculations during the night. We stowed ourselves into
the rigid box, bade a sorrowing good-night to the landlady and her
daughters, who stood at the inn door, and went jingling down the
street towards the open country.
The moon rises at eight o'clock in Nova Scotia. It came above the
horizon exactly as we began our journey, a harvest-moon, round and
red. When I first saw it, it lay on the edge of the horizon as if
too heavy to lift itself, as big as a cart-wheel, and its disk cut by
a fence-rail. With what a flood of splendor it deluged farmhouses
and farms, and the broad sweep of level country! There could not be
a more magnificent night in which to ride towards that geographical
mystery of our boyhood, the Gut of Canso.
A few miles out of town the stage stopped in the road before a post-
station. An old woman opened the door of the farmhouse to receive
the bag which the driver carried to her. A couple of sprightly
little girls rushed out to "interview " the passengers, climbing up
to ask their names and, with much giggling, to get a peep at their
faces. And upon the handsomeness or ugliness of the faces they saw
in the moonlight they pronounced with perfect candor. We are not
obliged to say what their verdict was. Girls here, no doubt, as
elsewhere, lose this trustful candor as they grow older.
Just as we were starting, the old woman screamed out from the door,
in a shrill voice, addressing the driver, "Did you see ary a sick man
"There's one been round here for three or four days, pretty bad off;
's got the St. Vitus's. He wanted me to get him some medicine for it
up to Antigonish. I've got it here in a vial, and I wished you could
take it to him."
"Where is he?"
"I dunno. I heern he'd gone east by the Gut. Perhaps you'll hear of
him." All this screamed out into the night.
"Well, I'll take it."
We took the vial aboard and went on; but the incident powerfully
affected us. The weird voice of the old woman was exciting in it-
self, and we could not escape the image of this unknown man, dancing
about this region without any medicine, fleeing perchance by night
and alone, and finally flitting away down the Gut of Canso. This
fugitive mystery almost immediately shaped itself into the following
"There was an old man of Canso,
Unable to sit or stan' so.
When I asked him why he ran so,
Says he, 'I've St. Vitus' dance so,
All down the Gut of Canso.'"
This melancholy song is now, I doubt not, sung by the maidens of
In spite of the consolations of poetry, however, the night wore on
slowly, and soothing sleep tried in vain to get a lodgment in the
jolting wagon. One can sleep upright, but not when his head is every
moment knocked against the framework of a wagon-cover. Even a jolly
young Irishman of Plaster Cove, whose nature it is to sleep under
whatever discouragement, is beaten by these circumstances. He wishes
he had his fiddle along. We never know what men are on casual
acquaintance. This rather stupid-looking fellow is a devotee of
music, and knows how to coax the sweetness out of the unwilling
violin. Sometimes he goes miles and miles on winter nights to draw
the seductive bow for the Cape Breton dancers, and there is
enthusiasm in his voice, as he relates exploits of fiddling from
sunset till the dawn of day. Other information, however, the young
man has not; and when this is exhausted, he becomes sleepy again, and
tries a dozen ways to twist himself into a posture in which sleep
will be possible. He doubles up his legs, he slides them under the
seat, he sits on the wagon bottom; but the wagon swings and jolts and
knocks him about. His patience under this punishment is admirable,
and there is something pathetic in his restraint from profanity.
It is enough to look out upon the magnificent night; the moon is now
high, and swinging clear and distant; the air has grown chilly; the
stars cannot be eclipsed by the greater light, but glow with a
chastened fervor. It is on the whole a splendid display for the sake
of four sleepy men, banging along in a coach,--an insignificant
little vehicle with two horses. No one is up at any of the
farmhouses to see it; no one appears to take any interest in it,
except an occasional baying dog, or a rooster that has mistaken the
time of night. By midnight we come to Tracadie, an orchard, a
farmhouse, and a stable. We are not far from the sea now, and can
see a silver mist in the north. An inlet comes lapping up by the old
house with a salty smell and a suggestion of oyster-beds. We knock
up the sleeping hostlers, change. horses, and go on again, dead
sleepy, but unable to get a wink. And all the night is blazing with
beauty. We think of the criminal who was sentenced to be kept awake
till he died.
The fiddler makes another trial. Temperately remarking, "I am very
sleepy," he kneels upon the floor and rests his head on the seat.
This position for a second promises repose; but almost immediately
his head begins to pound the seat, and beat a lively rat-a-plan on
the board. The head of a wooden idol couldn't stand this treatment
more than a minute. The fiddler twisted and turned, but his head
went like a triphammer on the seat. I have never seen a devotional
attitude so deceptive, or one that produced less favorable results.
The young man rose from his knees, and meekly said,
"It's dam hard."
If the recording angel took down this observation, he doubtless made
a note of the injured tone in which it was uttered.
How slowly the night passes to one tipping and swinging along in a
slowly moving stage! But the harbinger of the day came at last.
When the fiddler rose from his knees, I saw the morning-star burst
out of the east like a great diamond, and I knew that Venus was
strong enough to pull up even the sun, from whom she is never distant
more than an eighth of the heavenly circle. The moon could not put
her out of countenance. She blazed and scintillated with a dazzling
brilliance, a throbbing splendor, that made the moon seem a pale,
sentimental invention. Steadily she mounted, in her fresh beauty,
with the confidence and vigor of new love, driving her more domestic
rival out of the sky. And this sort of thing, I suppose, goes on
frequently. These splendors burn and this panorama passes night
after night down at the end of Nova Scotia, and all for the stage-
driver, dozing along on his box, from Antigonish to the strait.
"Here you are," cries the driver, at length, when we have become
wearily indifferent to where we are. We have reached the ferry. The
dawn has not come, but it is not far off. We step out and find a
chilly morning, and the dark waters of the Gut of Canso flowing
before us lighted here and there by a patch of white mist. The
ferryman is asleep, and his door is shut. We call him by all the
names known among men. We pound upon his house, but he makes no
sign. Before he awakes and comes out, growling, the sky in the east
is lightened a shade, and the star of the dawn sparkles less
brilliantly. But the process is slow. The twilight is long. There
is a surprising deliberation about the preparation of the sun for
rising, as there is in the movements of the boatman. Both appear to
be reluctant to begin the day.
The ferryman and his shaggy comrade get ready at last, and we step
into the clumsy yawl, and the slowly moving oars begin to pull us
upstream. The strait is here less than a mile wide; the tide is
running strongly, and the water is full of swirls,--the little
whirlpools of the rip-tide. The morning-star is now high in the sky;
the moon, declining in the west, is more than ever like a silver
shield; along the east is a faint flush of pink. In the increasing
light we can see the bold shores of the strait, and the square
projection of Cape Porcupine below.
On the rocks above the town of Plaster Cove, where there is a black
and white sign,--Telegraph Cable,--we set ashore our companions of
the night, and see them climb up to their station for retailing the
necessary means of intoxication in their district, with the mournful
thought that we may never behold them again.
As we drop down along the shore, there is a white sea-gull asleep on
the rock, rolled up in a ball, with his head under his wing. The
rock is dripping with dew, and the bird is as wet as his hard bed.
We pass within an oar's length of him, but he does not heed us, and
we do not disturb his morning slumbers. For there is no such cruelty
as the waking of anybody out of a morning nap.
When we land, and take up our bags to ascend the hill to the white
tavern of Port Hastings (as Plaster Cove now likes to be called), the
sun lifts himself slowly over the treetops, and the magic of the
And this is Cape Breton, reached after almost a week of travel. Here
is the Gut of Canso, but where is Baddeck? It is Saturday morning;
if we cannot make Baddeck by night, we might as well have remained in
Boston. And who knows what we shall find if we get there? A forlorn
fishing-station, a dreary hotel? Suppose we cannot get on, and are
forced to stay here? Asking ourselves these questions, we enter the
Plaster Cove tavern. No one is stirring, but the house is open, and
we take possession of the dirty public room, and almost immediately
drop to sleep in the fluffy rocking-chairs; but even sleep is not
strong enough to conquer our desire to push on, and we soon rouse up
and go in pursuit of information.
No landlord is to be found, but there is an unkempt servant in the
kitchen, who probably does not see any use in making her toilet more
than once a week. To this fearful creature is intrusted the dainty
duty of preparing breakfast. Her indifference is equal to her lack
of information, and her ability to convey information is fettered by
her use of Gaelic as her native speech. But she directs us to the
stable. There we find a driver hitching his horses to a two-horse
"Is this stage for Baddeck?"
"Is there any stage for Baddeck?"
"Where does this go, and when?"
"St. Peter's. Starts in fifteen minutes."
This seems like "business," and we are inclined to try it, especially
as we have no notion where St. Peter's is.
"Does any other stage go from here to-day anywhere else?"
"Yes. Port Hood. Quarter of an hour."
Everything was about to happen in fifteen minutes. We inquire
further. St. Peter's is on the east coast, on the road to Sydney.
Port Hood is on the west coast. There is a stage from Port Hood to
Baddeck. It would land us there some time Sunday morning; distance,
Heavens! what a pleasure-trip. To ride eighty miles more without
sleep! We should simply be delivered dead on the Bras d'Or; that is
all. Tell us, gentle driver, is there no other way?
"Well, there's Jim Hughes, come over at midnight with a passenger
from Baddeck; he's in the hotel now; perhaps he'll take you."
Our hope hung on Jim Hughes. The frowzy servant piloted us up to his
sleeping-room. "Go right in," said she; and we went in, according to
the simple custom of the country, though it was a bedroom that one
would not enter except on business. Mr. Hughes did not like to be
disturbed, but he proved himself to be a man who could wake up
suddenly, shake his head, and transact business,--a sort of Napoleon,
in fact. Mr. Hughes stared at the intruders for a moment, as if he
meditated an assault.
"Do you live in Baddeck?" we asked.
"No; Hogamah,--half-way there."
"Will you take us to Baddeck to-day?
Mr. Hughes thought. He had intended to sleep--till noon. He had
then intended to go over the Judique Mountain and get a boy. But he
was disposed to accommodate. Yes, for money--sum named--he would
give up his plans, and start for Baddeck in an hour. Distance, sixty
miles. Here was a man worth having; he could come to a decision
before he was out of bed. The bargain was closed.
We would have closed any bargain to escape a Sunday in the Plaster
Cove hotel. There are different sorts of hotel uncleanliness. There
is the musty old inn, where the dirt has accumulated for years, and
slow neglect has wrought a picturesque sort of dilapidation, the
mouldiness of time, which has something to recommend it. But there
is nothing attractive in new nastiness, in the vulgar union of
smartness and filth. A dirty modern house, just built, a house
smelling of poor whiskey and vile tobacco, its white paint grimy, its
floors unclean, is ever so much worse than an old inn that never
pretended to be anything but a rookery. I say nothing against the
hotel at Plaster Cove. In fact, I recommend it. There is a kind of
harmony about it that I like. There is a harmony between the
breakfast and the frowzy Gaelic cook we saw "sozzling" about in the
kitchen. There is a harmony between the appearance of the house and
the appearance of the buxom young housekeeper who comes upon the
scene later, her hair saturated with the fatty matter of the bear.
The traveler will experience a pleasure in paying his bill and
Although Plaster Cove seems remote on the map, we found that we were
right in the track of the world's news there. It is the transfer
station of the Atlantic Cable Company, where it exchanges messages
with the Western Union. In a long wooden building, divided into two
main apartments, twenty to thirty operators are employed. At eight
o'clock the English force was at work receiving the noon messages
from London. The American operators had not yet come on, for New
York business would not begin for an hour. Into these rooms is
poured daily the news of the world, and these young fellows toss it
about as lightly as if it were household gossip. It is a marvelous
exchange, however, and we had intended to make some reflections here
upon the en rapport feeling, so to speak, with all the world, which
we experienced while there; but our conveyance was waiting. We
telegraphed our coming to Baddeck, and departed. For twenty-five
cents one can send a dispatch to any part of the Dominion, except the
region where the Western Union has still a foothold.
Our conveyance was a one-horse wagon, with one seat. The horse was
well enough, but the seat was narrow for three people, and the entire
establishment had in it not much prophecy of Baddeck for that day.
But we knew little of the power of Cape Breton driving. It became
evident that we should reach Baddeck soon enough, if we could cling
to that wagon-seat. The morning sun was hot. The way was so
uninteresting that we almost wished ourselves back in Nova Scotia.
The sandy road was bordered with discouraged evergreens, through
which we had glimpses of sand-drifted farms. If Baddeck was to be
like this, we had come on a fool's errand. There were some savage,
low hills, and the Judique Mountain showed itself as we got away from
the town. In this first stage, the heat of the sun, the monotony of
the road, and the scarcity of sleep during the past thirty-six hours
were all unfavorable to our keeping on the wagon-seat. We nodded
separately, we nodded and reeled in unison. But asleep or awake, the
driver drove like a son of Jehu. Such driving is the fashion on Cape
Breton Island. Especially downhill, we made the most of it; if the
horse was on a run, that was only an inducement to apply the lash;
speed gave the promise of greater possible speed. The wagon rattled
like a bark-mill; it swirled and leaped about, and we finally got the
exciting impression that if the whole thing went to pieces, we should
somehow go on,--such was our impetus. Round corners, over ruts and
stones, and uphill and down, we went jolting and swinging, holding
fast to the seat, and putting our trust in things in general. At the
end of fifteen miles, we stopped at a Scotch farmhouse, where the
driver kept a relay, and changed horse.
The people were Highlanders, and spoke little English; we had struck
the beginning of the Gaelic settlement. From here to Hogamah we
should encounter only the Gaelic tongue; the inhabitants are all
Catholics. Very civil people, apparently, and living in a kind of
niggardly thrift, such as the cold land affords. We saw of this
family the old man, who had come from Scotland fifty years ago, his
stalwart son, six feet and a half high, maybe, and two buxom
daughters, going to the hay-field,--good solid Scotch lassies, who
smiled in English, but spoke only Gaelic. The old man could speak a
little English, and was disposed to be both communicative and
inquisitive. He asked our business, names, and residence. Of the
United States he had only a dim conception, but his mind rather
rested upon the statement that we lived "near Boston." He complained
of the degeneracy of the times. All the young men had gone away from
Cape Breton; might get rich if they would stay and work the farms.
But no one liked to work nowadays. From life, we diverted the talk
to literature. We inquired what books they had.
"Of course you all have the poems of Burns?"
"What's the name o' the mon?"
"Burns, Robert Burns."
"Never heard tell of such a mon. Have heard of Robert Bruce. He was
This was nothing short of refreshing, to find a Scotchman who had
never heard of Robert Burns! It was worth the whole journey to take
this honest man by the hand. How far would I not travel to talk with
an American who had never heard of George Washington!
The way was more varied during the next stage; we passed through some
pleasant valleys and picturesque neighborhoods, and at length,
winding around the base of a wooded range, and crossing its point, we
came upon a sight that took all the sleep out of us. This was the
famous Bras d'Or.
The Bras d'Or is the most beautiful salt-water lake I have ever seen,
and more beautiful than we had imagined a body of salt water could
be. If the reader will take the map, he will see that two narrow
estuaries, the Great and the Little Bras d'Or, enter the island of
Cape Breton, on the ragged northeast coast, above the town of Sydney,
and flow in, at length widening out and occupying the heart of the
island. The water seeks out all the low places, and ramifies the
interior, running away into lovely bays and lagoons, leaving slender
tongues of land and picturesque islands, and bringing into the
recesses of the land, to the remote country farms and settlements,
the flavor of salt, and the fish and mollusks of the briny sea.
There is very little tide at any time, so that the shores are clean
and sightly for the most part, like those of fresh-water lakes. It
has all the pleasantness of a fresh-water lake, with all the
advantages of a salt one. In the streams which run into it are the
speckled trout, the shad, and the salmon; out of its depths are
hooked the cod and the mackerel, and in its bays fattens the oyster.
This irregular lake is about a hundred miles long, if you measure it
skillfully, and in some places ten miles broad; but so indented is
it, that I am not sure but one would need, as we were informed, to
ride a thousand miles to go round it, following all its incursions
into the land. The hills about it are never more than five or six
hundred feet high, but they are high enough for reposeful beauty, and
offer everywhere pleasing lines.
What we first saw was an inlet of the Bras d'Or, called, by the
driver, Hogamah Bay. At its entrance were long, wooded islands,
beyond which we saw the backs of graceful hills, like the capes of
some poetic sea-coast. The bay narrowed to a mile in width where we
came upon it, and ran several miles inland to a swamp, round the head
of which we must go. Opposite was the village of Hogamah. I had my
suspicions from the beginning about this name, and now asked the
driver, who was liberally educated for a driver, how he spelled
Sometimes it is called Wykogamah. Thus the innocent traveler is
misled. Along the Whykokomagh Bay we come to a permanent encampment
of the Micmac Indians,--a dozen wigwams in the pine woods. Though
lumber is plenty, they refuse to live in houses. The wigwams,
however, are more picturesque than the square frame houses of the
whites. Built up conically of poles, with a hole in the top for the
smoke to escape, and often set up a little from the ground on a
timber foundation, they are as pleasing to the eye as a Chinese or
Turkish dwelling. They may be cold in winter, but blessed be the
tenacity of barbarism, which retains this agreeable architecture.
The men live by hunting in the season, and the women support the
family by making moccasins and baskets. These Indians are most of
them good Catholics, and they try to go once a year to mass and a
sort of religious festival held at St. Peter's, where their sins are
forgiven in a yearly lump.
At Whykokomagh, a neat fishing village of white houses, we stopped
for dinner at the Inverness House. The house was very clean, and the
tidy landlady gave us as good a dinner as she could of the inevitable
green tea, toast, and salt fish. She was Gaelic, but Protestant, as
the village is, and showed us with pride her Gaelic Bible and
hymn-book. A peaceful place, this Whykokomagh; the lapsing waters of
Bras d'Or made a summer music all along the quiet street; the bay lay
smiling with its islands in front, and an amphitheater of hills rose
behind. But for the line of telegraph poles one might have fancied
he could have security and repose here.
We put a fresh pony into the shafts, a beast born with an everlasting
uneasiness in his legs, and an amount of "go" in him which suited his
reckless driver. We no longer stood upon the order of our going; we
went. As we left the village, we passed a rocky hay-field, where the
Gaelic farmer was gathering the scanty yield of grass. A comely
Indian girl was stowing the hay and treading it down on the wagon.
The driver hailed the farmer, and they exchanged Gaelic repartee
which set all the hay-makers in a roar, and caused the Indian maid to
darkly and sweetly beam upon us. We asked the driver what he had
said. He had only inquired what the man would take for the load--as
it stood! A joke is a joke down this way.
I am not about to describe this drive at length, in order that the
reader may skip it; for I know the reader, being of like passion and
fashion with him. From the time we first struck the Bras d'Or for
thirty miles we rode in constant sight of its magnificent water. Now
we were two hundred feet above the water, on the hillside, skirting a
point or following an indentation; and now we were diving into a
narrow valley, crossing a stream, or turning a sharp corner, but
always with the Bras d'Or in view, the afternoon sun shining on it,
softening the outlines of its embracing hills, casting a shadow from
its wooded islands. Sometimes we opened on a broad water plain
bounded by the Watchabaktchkt hills, and again we looked over hill
after hill receding into the soft and hazy blue of the land beyond
the great mass of the Bras d'Or. The reader can compare the view and
the ride to the Bay of Naples and the Cornice Road; we did nothing of
the sort; we held on to the seat, prayed that the harness of the pony
might not break, and gave constant expression to our wonder and
delight. For a week we had schooled ourselves to expect nothing more
from this wicked world, but here was an enchanting vision.
The only phenomenon worthy the attention of any inquiring mind, in
this whole record, I will now describe. As we drove along the side
of a hill, and at least two hundred feet above the water, the road
suddenly diverged and took a circuit higher up. The driver said that
was to avoid a sink-hole in the old road,--a great curiosity, which
it was worth while to examine. Beside the old road was a circular
hole, which nipped out a part of the road-bed, some twenty-five feet
in diameter, filled with water almost to the brim, but not running
over. The water was dark in color, and I fancied had a brackish
taste. The driver said that a few weeks before, when he came this
way, it was solid ground where this well now opened, and that a large
beech-tree stood there. When he returned next day, he found this
hole full of water, as we saw it, and the large tree had sunk in it.
The size of the hole seemed to be determined by the reach of the
roots of the tree. The tree had so entirely disappeared, that he
could not with a long pole touch its top. Since then the water had
neither subsided nor overflowed. The ground about was compact
gravel. We tried sounding the hole with poles, but could make
nothing of it. The water seemed to have no outlet nor inlet; at
least, it did not rise or fall. Why should the solid hill give way
at this place, and swallow up a tree? and if the water had any
connection with the lake, two hundred feet below and at some distance
away, why didn't the water run out? Why should the unscientific
traveler have a thing of this kind thrown in his way? The driver did
This phenomenon made us a little suspicious of the foundations of
this island which is already invaded by the jealous ocean, and is
anchored to the continent only by the cable.
The drive became more charming as the sun went down, and we saw the
hills grow purple beyond the Bras d'Or. The road wound around lovely
coves and across low promontories, giving us new beauties at every
turn. Before dark we had crossed the Middle River and the Big
Baddeck, on long wooden bridges, which straggled over sluggish waters
and long reaches of marsh, upon which Mary might have been sent to
call the cattle home. These bridges were shaky and wanted a plank at
intervals, but they are in keeping with the enterprise of the
country. As dusk came on, we crossed the last hill, and were bowling
along by the still gleaming water. Lights began to appear in
infrequent farmhouses, and under cover of the gathering night the
houses seemed to be stately mansions; and we fancied we were on a
noble highway, lined with elegant suburban seaside residences, and
about to drive into a town of wealth and a port of great commerce.
We were, nevertheless, anxious about Baddeck. What sort of haven
were we to reach after our heroic (with the reader's permission) week
of travel? Would the hotel be like that at Plaster Cove? Were our
thirty-six hours of sleepless staging to terminate in a night of
misery and a Sunday of discomfort?
We came into a straggling village; that we could see by the
starlight. But we stopped at the door of a very unhotel-like
appearing hotel. It had in front a flower-garden; it was blazing
with welcome lights; it opened hospitable doors, and we were received
by a family who expected us. The house was a large one, for two
guests; and we enjoyed the luxury of spacious rooms, an abundant
supper, and a friendly welcome; and, in short, found ourselves at
home. The proprietor of the Telegraph House is the superintendent of
the land lines of Cape Breton, a Scotchman, of course; but his wife
is a Newfoundland lady. We cannot violate the sanctity of what
seemed like private hospitality by speaking freely of this lady and
the lovely girls, her daughters, whose education has been so
admirably advanced in the excellent school at Baddeck; but we can
confidently advise any American who is going to Newfoundland, to get
a wife there, if he wants one at all. It is the only new article he
can bring from the Provinces that he will not have to pay duty on.
And here is a suggestion to our tariff-mongers for the "protection"
of New England women.
The reader probably cannot appreciate the delicious sense of rest and
of achievement which we enjoyed in this tidy inn, nor share the
anticipations of undisturbed, luxurious sleep, in which we indulged
as we sat upon the upper balcony after supper, and saw the moon rise
over the glistening Bras d'Or and flood with light the islands and
headlands of the beautiful bay. Anchored at some distance from the
shore was a slender coasting vessel. The big red moon happened to
come up just behind it, and the masts and spars and ropes of the
vessel came out, distinctly traced on the golden background, making
such a night picture as I once saw painted of a ship in a fiord of
Norway. The scene was enchanting. And we respected then the
heretofore seemingly insane impulse that had driven us on to Baddeck.
"He had no ill-will to the Scotch; for, if he had been conscious of
that, he never would have thrown himself into the bosom of their
country, and trusted to the protection of its remote inhabitants with
a fearless confidence."--BOSWELL'S JOHNSON.
Although it was an open and flagrant violation of the Sabbath day as
it is kept in Scotch Baddeck, our kind hosts let us sleep late on
Sunday morning, with no reminder that we were not sleeping the sleep
of the just. It was the charming Maud, a flitting sunbeam of a girl,
who waited to bring us our breakfast, and thereby lost the
opportunity of going to church with the rest of the family,--an act
of gracious hospitality which the tired travelers appreciated.
The travelers were unable, indeed, to awaken into any feeling of
Sabbatical straitness. The morning was delicious,--such a morning as
never visits any place except an island; a bright, sparkling morning,
with the exhilaration of the air softened by the sea. What a day it
was for idleness, for voluptuous rest, after the flight by day and
night from St. John! It was enough, now that the morning was fully
opened and advancing to the splendor of noon, to sit upon the upper
balcony, looking upon the Bras d'Or and the peaceful hills beyond,
reposeful and yet sparkling with the air and color of summer, and
inhale the balmy air. (We greatly need another word to describe good
air, properly heated, besides this overworked "balmy.") Perhaps it
might in some regions be considered Sabbath-keeping, simply to rest
in such a soothing situation,--rest, and not incessant activity,
having been one of the original designs of the day.
But our travelers were from New England, and they were not willing to
be outdone in the matter of Sunday observances by such an out-of-
the-way and nameless place as Baddeck. They did not set themselves
up as missionaries to these benighted Gaelic people, to teach them by
example that the notion of Sunday which obtained two hundred years
ago in Scotland had been modified, and that the sacredness of it had
pretty much disappeared with the unpleasantness of it. They rather
lent themselves to the humor of the hour, and probably by their
demeanor encouraged the respect for the day on Cape Breton Island.
Neither by birth nor education were the travelers fishermen on
Sunday, and they were not moved to tempt the authorities to lock them
up for dropping here a line and there a line on the Lord's day.
In fact, before I had finished my second cup of Maud-mixed coffee, my
companion, with a little show of haste, had gone in search of the
kirk, and I followed him, with more scrupulousness, as soon as I
could without breaking the day of rest. Although it was Sunday, I
could not but notice that Baddeck was a clean-looking village of
white wooden houses, of perhaps seven or eight hundred inhabitants;
that it stretched along the bay for a mile or more, straggling off
into farmhouses at each end, lying for the most part on the sloping
curve of the bay. There were a few country-looking stores and shops,
and on the shore three or four rather decayed and shaky wharves ran
into the water, and a few schooners lay at anchor near them; and the
usual decaying warehouses leaned about the docks. A peaceful and
perhaps a thriving place, but not a bustling place. As I walked down
the road, a sailboat put out from the shore and slowly disappeared
round the island in the direction of the Grand Narrows. It had a
small pleasure party on board. None of them were drowned that day,
and I learned at night that they were Roman Catholics from
The kirk, which stands near the water, and at a distance shows a
pretty wooden spire, is after the pattern of a New England
meeting-house. When I reached it, the house was full and the service
had begun. There was something familiar in the bareness and
uncompromising plainness and ugliness of the interior. The pews had
high backs, with narrow, uncushioned seats. The pulpit was high,--a
sort of theological fortification,--approached by wide, curving
flights of stairs on either side. Those who occupied the near seats
to the right and left of the pulpit had in front of them a blank
board partition, and could not by any possibility see the minister,
though they broke their necks backwards over their high coat-collars.
The congregation had a striking resemblance to a country New England
congregation of say twenty years ago. The clothes they wore had been
Sunday clothes for at least that length of time.
Such clothes have a look of I know not what devout and painful
respectability, that is in keeping with the worldly notion of rigid
Scotch Presbyterianism. One saw with pleasure the fresh and rosy-
cheeked children of this strict generation, but the women of the
audience were not in appearance different from newly arrived and
respectable Irish immigrants. They wore a white cap with long frills
over the forehead, and a black handkerchief thrown over it and
hanging down the neck,--a quaint and not unpleasing disguise.
The house, as I said, was crowded. It is the custom in this region
to go to church,--for whole families to go, even the smallest
children; and they not unfrequently walk six or seven miles to attend
the service. There is a kind of merit in this act that makes up for
the lack of certain other Christian virtues that are practiced
elsewhere. The service was worth coming seven miles to participate
in!--it was about two hours long, and one might well feel as if he
had performed a work of long-suffering to sit through it. The
singing was strictly congregational. Congregational singing is good
(for those who like it) when the congregation can sing. This
congregation could not sing, but it could grind the Psalms of David
powerfully. They sing nothing else but the old Scotch version of the
Psalms, in a patient and faithful long meter. And this is regarded,
and with considerable plausibility, as an act of worship. It
certainly has small element of pleasure in it. Here is a stanza from
Psalm xlv., which the congregation, without any instrumental
nonsense, went through in a dragging, drawling manner, and with
perfect individual independence as to time:
"Thine arrows sharply pierce the heart of th' enemies of the king,
And under thy sub-jec-shi-on the people down do bring."
The sermon was extempore, and in English with Scotch pronunciation;
and it filled a solid hour of time. I am not a good judge of ser-
mons, and this one was mere chips to me; but my companion, who knows
a sermon when he hears it, said that this was strictly theological,
and Scotch theology at that, and not at all expository. It was
doubtless my fault that I got no idea whatever from it. But the
adults of the congregation appeared to be perfectly satisfied with
it; at least they sat bolt upright and nodded assent continually.
The children all went to sleep under it, without any hypocritical
show of attention. To be sure, the day was warm and the house was
unventilated. If the windows had been opened so as to admit the
fresh air from the Bras d'Or, I presume the hard-working farmers and
their wives would have resented such an interference with their
ordained Sunday naps, and the preacher's sermon would have seemed
more musty than it appeared to be in that congenial and drowsy air.
Considering that only half of the congregation could understand the
preacher, its behavior was exemplary.
After the sermon, a collection was taken up for the minister; and I
noticed that nothing but pennies rattled into the boxes,--a
melancholy sound for the pastor. This might appear niggardly on the
part of these Scotch Presbyterians, but it is on principle that they
put only a penny into the box; they say that they want a free gospel,
and so far as they are concerned they have it. Although the farmers
about the Bras d'Or are well-to-do they do not give their minister
enough to keep his soul in his Gaelic body, and his poor support is
eked out by the contributions of a missionary society. It was
gratifying to learn that this was not from stinginess on the part of
the people, but was due to their religious principle. It seemed to
us that everybody ought to be good in a country where it costs next
When the service was over, about half of the people departed; the
rest remained in their seats and prepared to enter upon their Sabbath
exercises. These latter were all Gaelic people, who had understood
little or nothing of the English service. The minister turned
himself at once into a Gaelic preacher and repeated in that language
the long exercises of the morning. The sermon and perhaps the
prayers were quite as enjoyable in Gaelic as in English, and the
singing was a great improvement. It was of the same Psalms, but the
congregation chanted them in a wild and weird tone and manner, as
wailing and barbarous to modern ears as any Highland devotional
outburst of two centuries ago. This service also lasted about two
hours; and as soon as it was over the faithful minister, without any
rest or refreshment, organized the Sunday-school, and it must have
been half past three o'clock before that was over. And this is
considered a day of rest.
These Gaelic Christians, we were informed, are of a very old pattern;
and some of them cling more closely to religious observances than to
morality. Sunday is nowhere observed with more strictness. The
community seems to be a very orderly and thrifty one, except upon
solemn and stated occasions. One of these occasions is the
celebration of the Lord's Supper; and in this the ancient Highland
traditions are preserved. The rite is celebrated not oftener than
once a year by any church. It then invites the neighboring churches
to partake with it,--the celebration being usually in the summer and
early fall months. It has some of the characteristics of a "camp-
meeting." People come from long distances, and as many as two
thousand and three thousand assemble together. They quarter
themselves without special invitation upon the members of the
inviting church. Sometimes fifty people will pounce upon one farmer,
overflowing his house and his barn and swarming all about his
premises, consuming all the provisions he has laid up for his family,
and all he can raise money to buy, and literally eating him out of
house and home. Not seldom a man is almost ruined by one of these
religious raids,--at least he is left with a debt of hundreds of
dollars. The multitude assembles on Thursday and remains over
Sunday. There is preaching every day, but there is something
besides. Whatever may be the devotion of a part of the assembly, the
four days are, in general, days of license, of carousing, of
drinking, and of other excesses, which our informant said he would
not particularize; we could understand what they were by reading St.
Paul's rebuke of the Corinthians for similar offenses. The evil has
become so great and burdensome that the celebration of this sacred
rite will have to be reformed altogether.
Such a Sabbath quiet pervaded the street of Baddeck, that the fast
driving of the Gaels in their rattling, one-horse wagons, crowded
full of men, women, and children,--released from their long sanctuary
privileges, and going home,--was a sort of profanation of the day;
and we gladly turned aside to visit the rural jail of the town.
Upon the principal street or road of Baddeck stands the dreadful
prison-house. It is a story and a quarter edifice, built of stone
and substantially whitewashed; retired a little from the road, with a
square of green turf in front of it, I should have taken it for the
residence of the Dairyman's Daughter, but for the iron gratings at
the lower windows. A more inviting place to spend the summer in, a
vicious person could not have. The Scotch keeper of it is an old,
garrulous, obliging man, and keeps codfish tackle to loan. I think
that if he had a prisoner who was fond of fishing, he would take him
with him on the bay in pursuit of the mackerel and the cod. If the
prisoner were to take advantage of his freedom and attempt to escape,
the jailer's feelings would be hurt, and public opinion would hardly
approve the prisoner's conduct.
The jail door was hospitably open, and the keeper invited us to
enter. Having seen the inside of a good many prisons in our own
country (officially), we were interested in inspecting this. It was
a favorable time for doing so, for there happened to be a man
confined there, a circumstance which seemed to increase the keeper's
feeling of responsibility in his office. The edifice had four rooms
on the ground-floor, and an attic sleeping-room above. Three of
these rooms, which were perhaps twelve feet by fifteen feet, were
cells; the third was occupied by the jailer's family. The family
were now also occupying the front cell,--a cheerful room commanding a
view of the village street and of the bay. A prisoner of a
philosophic turn of mind, who had committed some crime of sufficient
magnitude to make him willing to retire from the world for a season
and rest, might enjoy himself here very well.
The jailer exhibited his premises with an air of modesty. In the
rear was a small yard, surrounded by a board fence, in which the
prisoner took his exercise. An active boy could climb over it, and
an enterprising pig could go through it almost anywhere. The keeper
said that he intended at the next court to ask the commissioners to
build the fence higher and stop up the holes. Otherwise the jail was
in good condition. Its inmates were few; in fact, it was rather apt
to be empty: its occupants were usually prisoners for debt, or for
some trifling breach of the peace, committed under the influence of
the liquor that makes one "unco happy." Whether or not the people of
the region have a high moral standard, crime is almost unknown; the
jail itself is an evidence of primeval simplicity. The great
incident in the old jailer's life had been the rescue of a well-known
citizen who was confined on a charge of misuse of public money. The
keeper showed me a place in the outer wall of the front cell, where
an attempt had been made to batter a hole through. The Highland clan
and kinsfolk of the alleged defaulter came one night and threatened
to knock the jail in pieces if he was not given up. They bruised the
wall, broke the windows, and finally smashed in the door and took
their man away. The jailer was greatly excited at this rudeness, and
went almost immediately and purchased a pistol. He said that for a
time he did n't feel safe in the jail without it. The mob had thrown
stones at the upper windows, in order to awaken him, and had insulted
him with cursing and offensive language.
Having finished inspecting the building, I was unfortunately moved by
I know not what national pride and knowledge of institutions superior
to this at home, to say,
"This is a pleasant jail, but it doesn't look much like our great
prisons; we have as many as a thousand to twelve hundred men in some
of our institutions."
"Ay, ay, I have heard tell," said the jailer, shaking his head in
pity, "it's an awfu' place, an awfu' place,--the United States. I
suppose it's the wickedest country that ever was in the world. I
don't know,--I don't know what is to become of it. It's worse than
Sodom. There was that dreadful war on the South; and I hear now it's
very unsafe, full of murders and robberies and corruption."
I did not attempt to correct this impression concerning my native
land, for I saw it was a comfort to the simple jailer, but I tried to
put a thorn into him by saying,
"Yes, we have a good many criminals, but the majority of them, the
majority of those in jails, are foreigners; they come from Ireland,
England, and the Provinces."
But the old man only shook his head more solemnly, and persisted,
"It's an awfu' wicked country."
Before I came away I was permitted to have an interview with the sole
prisoner, a very pleasant and talkative man, who was glad to see
company, especially intelligent company who understood about things,
he was pleased to say. I have seldom met a more agreeable rogue, or
one so philosophical, a man of travel and varied experiences. He was
a lively, robust Provincial of middle age, bullet-headed, with a mass
of curly black hair, and small, round black eyes, that danced and
sparkled with good humor. He was by trade a carpenter, and had a
work-bench in his cell, at which he worked on week-days. He had been
put in jail on suspicion of stealing a buffalo-robe, and he lay in
jail eight months, waiting for the judge to come to Baddeck on his
yearly circuit. He did not steal the robe, as he assured me, but it
was found in his house, and the judge gave him four months in jail,
making a year in all,--a month of which was still to serve. But he
was not at all anxious for the end of his term; for his wife was
Jock, for he was familiarly so called, asked me where I was from. As
I had not found it very profitable to hail from the United States,
and had found, in fact, that the name United States did not convey
any definite impression to the average Cape Breton mind, I ventured
upon the bold assertion, for which I hope Bostonians will forgive me,
that I was from Boston. For Boston is known in the eastern
"Are you?" cried the man, delighted. "I've lived in Boston, myself.
There's just been an awful fire near there."
"Indeed!" I said; "I heard nothing of it.' And I was startled with
the possibility that Boston had burned up again while we were
crawling along through Nova Scotia.
"Yes, here it is, in the last paper." The man bustled away and found
his late paper, and thrust it through the grating, with the inquiry,
"Can you read?"
Though the question was unexpected, and I had never thought before
whether I could read or not, I confessed that I could probably make
out the meaning, and took the newspaper. The report of the fire
"near Boston" turned out to be the old news of the conflagration in
Disposed to devote a portion of this Sunday to the reformation of
this lively criminal, I continued the conversation with him. It
seemed that he had been in jail before, and was not unaccustomed to
the life. He was not often lonesome; he had his workbench and
newspapers, and it was a quiet place; on the whole, he enjoyed it,
and should rather regret it when his time was up, a month from then.
Had he any family?
"Oh, yes. When the census was round, I contributed more to it than
anybody in town. Got a wife and eleven children."
"Well, don't you think it would pay best to be honest, and live with
your family, out of jail? You surely never had anything but trouble
"That's about so, boss. I mean to go on the square after this. But,
you see," and here he began to speak confidentially, "things are
fixed about so in this world, and a man's got to live his life. I
tell you how it was. It all came about from a woman. I was a
carpenter, had a good trade, and went down to St. Peter's to work.
There I got acquainted with a Frenchwoman,--you know what Frenchwomen
are,--and I had to marry her. The fact is, she was rather low
family; not so very low, you know, but not so good as mine. Well, I
wanted to go to Boston to work at my trade, but she wouldn't go; and
I went, but she would n't come to me, so in two or three years I came
back. A man can't help himself, you know, when he gets in with a
woman, especially a Frenchwoman. Things did n't go very well, and
never have. I can't make much out of it, but I reckon a man 's got
to live his life. Ain't that about so?"
"Perhaps so. But you'd better try to mend matters when you get out.
Won't it seem rather good to get out and see your wife and family
"I don't know. I have peace here."
The question of his liberty seemed rather to depress this cheerful
and vivacious philosopher, and I wondered what the woman could be
from whose companionship the man chose to be protected by jail-bolts.
I asked the landlord about her, and his reply was descriptive and
sufficient. He only said,
"She's a yelper."
Besides the church and the jail there are no public institutions in
Baddeck to see on Sunday, or on any other day; but it has very good
schools, and the examination-papers of Maud and her elder sister
would do credit to Boston scholars even. You would not say that the
place was stuffed with books, or overrun by lecturers, but it is an
orderly, Sabbath-keeping, fairly intelligent town. Book-agents visit
it with other commercial travelers, but the flood of knowledge, which
is said to be the beginning of sorrow, is hardly turned in that
direction yet. I heard of a feeble lecture-course in Halifax,
supplied by local celebrities, some of them from St. John; but so far
as I can see, this is a virgin field for the platform philosophers
under whose instructions we have become the well-informed people we
The peaceful jail and the somewhat tiresome church exhaust one's
opportunities for doing good in Baddeck on Sunday. There seemed to
be no idlers about, to reprove; the occasional lounger on the
skeleton wharves was in his Sunday clothes, and therefore within the
statute. No one, probably, would have thought of rowing out beyond
the island to fish for cod,--although, as that fish is ready to bite,
and his associations are more or less sacred, there might be excuses
for angling for him on Sunday, when it would be wicked to throw a
line for another sort of fish. My earliest recollections are of the
codfish on the meeting-house spires in New England,--his sacred tail
pointing the way the wind went. I did not know then why this emblem
should be placed upon a house of worship, any more than I knew why
codfish-balls appeared always upon the Sunday breakfast-table. But
these associations invested this plebeian fish with something of a
religious character, which he has never quite lost, in my mind.
Having attributed the quiet of Baddeck on Sunday to religion, we did
not know to what to lay the quiet on Monday. But its peacefulness
continued. I have no doubt that the farmers began to farm, and the
traders to trade, and the sailors to sail; but the tourist felt that
he had come into a place of rest. The promise of the red sky the
evening before was fulfilled in another royal day. There was an
inspiration in the air that one looks for rather in the mountains
than on the sea-coast; it seemed like some new and gentle compound of
sea-air and land-air, which was the perfection of breathing material.
In this atmosphere, which seemed to flow over all these Atlantic
isles at this season, one endures a great deal of exertion with
little fatigue; or he is content to sit still, and has no feeling of
sluggishness. Mere living is a kind of happiness, and the easy-going
traveler is satisfied with little to do and less to see, Let the
reader not understand that we are recommending him to go to Baddeck.
Far from it. The reader was never yet advised to go to any place,
which he did not growl about if he took the advice and went there.
If he discovers it himself, the case is different. We know too well
what would happen. A shoal of travelers would pour down upon Cape
Breton, taking with them their dyspepsia, their liver-complaints,
their "lights" derangements, their discontent, their guns and
fishing-tackle, their big trunks, their desire for rapid travel,
their enthusiasm about the Gaelic language, their love for nature;
and they would very likely declare that there was nothing in it. And
the traveler would probably be right, so far as he is concerned.
There are few whom it would pay to go a thousand miles for the sake
of sitting on the dock at Baddeck when the sun goes down, and
watching the purple lights on the islands and the distant hills, the
red flush in the horizon and on the lake, and the creeping on of gray
twilight. You can see all that as well elsewhere? I am not so sure.
There is a harmony of beauty about the Bras d'Or at Baddeck which is
lacking in many scenes of more pretension. No. We advise no person
to go to Cape Breton. But if any one does go, he need not lack
occupation. If he is there late in the fall or early in the winter,
he may hunt, with good luck, if he is able to hit anything with a
rifle, the moose and the caribou on that long wilderness peninsula
between Baddeck and Aspy Bay, where the old cable landed. He may
also have his fill of salmon fishing in June and July, especially on
the Matjorie River. As late as August, at the time, of our visit, a
hundred people were camped in tents on the Marjorie, wiling the
salmon with the delusive fly, and leading him to death with a hook in
his nose. The speckled trout lives in all the streams, and can be
caught whenever he will bite. The day we went for him appeared to be
an off-day, a sort of holiday with him.
There is one place, however, which the traveler must not fail to
visit. That is St. Ann's Bay. He will go light of baggage, for he
must hire a farmer to carry him from the Bras d'Or to the branch of
St. Ann's harbor, and a part of his journey will be in a row-boat.
There is no ride on the continent, of the kind, so full of
picturesque beauty and constant surprises as this around the
indentations of St. Ann's harbor. From the high promontory where
rests the fishing village of St. Ann, the traveler will cross to
English Town. High bluffs, bold shores, exquisite sea-views,
mountainous ranges, delicious air, the society of a member of the
Dominion Parliament, these are some of the things to be enjoyed at
this place. In point of grandeur and beauty it surpasses Mt. Desert,
and is really the most attractive place on the whole line of the
Atlantic Cable. If the traveler has any sentiment in him, he will
visit here, not without emotion, the grave of the Nova Scotia Giant,
who recently laid his huge frame along this, his native shore. A man
of gigantic height and awful breadth of shoulders, with a hand as big
as a shovel, there was nothing mean or little in his soul. While the
visitor is gazing at his vast shoes, which now can be used only as
sledges, he will be told that the Giant was greatly respected by his
neighbors as a man of ability and simple integrity. He was not
spoiled by his metropolitan successes, bringing home from his foreign
triumphs the same quiet and friendly demeanor he took away; he is
almost the only example of a successful public man, who did not feel
bigger than he was. He performed his duty in life without
ostentation, and returned to the home he loved unspoiled by the
flattery of constant public curiosity. He knew, having tried both,
how much better it is to be good than to be great. I should like to
have known him. I should like to know how the world looked to him
from his altitude. I should like to know how much food it took at
one time to make an impression on him; I should like to know what
effect an idea of ordinary size had in his capacious head. I should
like to feel that thrill of physical delight he must have experienced
in merely closing his hand over something. It is a pity that he
could not have been educated all through, beginning at a high school,
and ending in a university. There was a field for the multifarious
new education! If we could have annexed him with his island, I
should like to have seen him in the Senate of the United States. He
would have made foreign nations respect that body, and fear his
lightest remark like a declaration of war. And he would have been at
home in that body of great men. Alas! he has passed away, leaving
little influence except a good example of growth, and a grave which
is a new promontory on that ragged coast swept by the winds of the
I could describe the Bay of St. Ann more minutely and graphically, if
it were desirable to do so; but I trust that enough has been said to
make the traveler wish to go there. I more unreservedly urge him to
go there, because we did not go, and we should feel no responsibility
for his liking or disliking. He will go upon the recommendation of
two gentlemen of taste and travel whom we met at Baddeck, residents
of Maine and familiar with most of the odd and striking combinations
of land and water in coast scenery. When a Maine man admits that
there is any place finer than Mt. Desert, it is worth making a note
On Monday we went a-fishing. Davie hitched to a rattling wagon
something that he called a horse, a small, rough animal with a great
deal of "go" in him, if he could be coaxed to show it. For the first
half-hour he went mostly in a circle in front of the inn, moving
indifferently backwards or forwards, perfectly willing to go down the
road, but refusing to start along the bay in the direction of Middle
River. Of course a crowd collected to give advice and make remarks,
and women appeared at the doors and windows of adjacent houses.
Davie said he did n't care anything about the conduct of the horse,--
he could start him after a while,--but he did n't like to have all
the town looking at him, especially the girls; and besides, such an
exhibition affected the market value of the horse. We sat in the
wagon circling round and round, sometimes in the ditch and sometimes
out of it, and Davie "whaled" the horse with his whip and abused him
with his tongue. It was a pleasant day, and the spectators
There are two ways of managing a balky horse. My companion knew one
of them and I the other. His method is to sit quietly in the wagon,
and at short intervals throw a small pebble at the horse. The theory
is that these repeated sudden annoyances will operate on a horse's
mind, and he will try to escape them by going on. The spectators
supplied my friend with stones, and he pelted the horse with measured
gentleness. Probably the horse understood this method, for he did
not notice the attack at all. My plan was to speak gently to the
horse, requesting him to go, and then to follow the refusal by one
sudden, sharp cut of the lash; to wait a moment, and then repeat the
operation. The dread of the coming lash after the gentle word will
start any horse. I tried this, and with a certain success. The
horse backed us into the ditch, and would probably have backed
himself into the wagon, if I had continued. When the animal was at
length ready to go, Davie took him by the bridle, ran by his side,
coaxed him into a gallop, and then, leaping in behind, lashed him
into a run, which had little respite for ten miles, uphill or down.
Remonstrance on behalf of the horse was in vain, and it was only on
the return home that this specimen Cape Breton driver began to
reflect how he could erase the welts from the horse's back before his
father saw them.
Our way lay along the charming bay of the Bras d'Or, over the
sprawling bridge of the Big Baddeck, a black, sedgy, lonesome stream,
to Middle River, which debouches out of a scraggy country into a
bayou with ragged shores, about which the Indians have encampments,
and in which are the skeleton stakes of fish-weirs. Saturday night
we had seen trout jumping in the still water above the bridge. We
followed the stream up two or three miles to a Gaelic settlement of
farmers. The river here flows through lovely meadows, sandy,
fertile, and sheltered by hills,--a green Eden, one of the few
peaceful inhabited spots in the world. I could conceive of no news
coming to these Highlanders later than the defeat of the Pretender.
Turning from the road, through a lane and crossing a shallow brook,
we reached the dwelling of one of the original McGregors, or at least
as good as an original. Mr. McGregor is a fiery-haired Scotchman and
brother, cordial and hospitable, who entertained our wayward horse,
and freely advised us where the trout on his farm were most likely to
be found at this season of the year.
It would be a great pleasure to speak well of Mr. McGregor's
residence, but truth is older than Scotchmen) and the reader looks to
us for truth and not flattery. Though the McGregor seems to have a
good farm, his house is little better than a shanty, a rather
cheerless place for the "woman " to slave away her uneventful life
in, and bring up her scantily clothed and semi-wild flock of
children. And yet I suppose there must be happiness in it,--there
always is where there are plenty of children, and milk enough for
them. A white-haired boy who lacked adequate trousers, small though
he was, was brought forward by his mother to describe a trout he had
recently caught, which was nearly as long as the boy himself. The
young Gael's invention was rewarded by a present of real fish-hooks.
We found here in this rude cabin the hospitality that exists in all
remote regions where travelers are few. Mrs. McGregor had none of
that reluctance, which women feel in all more civilized agricultural
regions, to "break a pan of milk," and Mr. McGregor even pressed us
to partake freely of that simple drink. And he refused to take any
pay for it, in a sort of surprise that such a simple act of
hospitality should have any commercial value. But travelers
themselves destroy one of their chief pleasures. No doubt we planted
the notion in the McGregor mind that the small kindnesses of life may
be made profitable, by offering to pay for the milk; and probably the
next travelers in that Eden will succeed in leaving some small change
there, if they use a little tact.
It was late in the season for trout. Perhaps the McGregor was aware
of that when he freely gave us the run of the stream in his meadows,
and pointed out the pools where we should be sure of good luck. It
was a charming August day, just the day that trout enjoy lying in
cool, deep places, and moving their fins in quiet content,
indifferent to the skimming fly or to the proffered sport of rod and
reel. The Middle River gracefully winds through this Vale of Tempe,
over a sandy bottom, sometimes sparkling in shallows, and then gently
reposing in the broad bends of the grassy banks. It was in one of
these bends, where the stream swirled around in seductive eddies,
that we tried our skill. We heroically waded the stream and threw
our flies from the highest bank; but neither in the black water nor
in the sandy shallows could any trout be coaxed to spring to the
deceitful leaders. We enjoyed the distinction of being the only
persons who had ever failed to strike trout in that pool, and this
was something. The meadows were sweet with the newly cut grass, the
wind softly blew down the river, large white clouds sailed high
overhead and cast shadows on the changing water; but to all these
gentle influences the fish were insensible, and sulked in their cool
retreats. At length in a small brook flowing into the Middle River
we found the trout more sociable; and it is lucky that we did so, for
I should with reluctance stain these pages with a fiction; and yet
the public would have just reason to resent a fish-story without any
fish in it. Under a bank, in a pool crossed by a log and shaded by a
tree, we found a drove of the speckled beauties at home, dozens of
them a foot long, each moving lazily a little, their black backs
relieved by their colored fins. They must have seen us, but at first
they showed no desire for a closer acquaintance. To the red ibis and
the white miller and the brown hackle and the gray fly they were
alike indifferent. Perhaps the love for made flies is an artificial
taste and has to be cultivated. These at any rate were uncivilized
-trout, and it was only when we took the advice of the young McGregor
and baited our hooks with the angleworm, that the fish joined in our
day's sport. They could not resist the lively wiggle of the worm
before their very noses, and we lifted them out one after an other,
gently, and very much as if we were hooking them out of a barrel,
until we had a handsome string. It may have been fun for them but it
was not much sport for us. All the small ones the young McGregor
contemptuously threw back into the water. The sportsman will perhaps
learn from this incident that there are plenty of trout in Cape
Breton in August, but that the fishing is not exhilarating.
The next morning the semi-weekly steamboat from Sydney came into the
bay, and drew all the male inhabitants of Baddeck down to the wharf;
and the two travelers, reluctant to leave the hospitable inn, and the
peaceful jail, and the double-barreled church, and all the loveliness
of this reposeful place, prepared to depart. The most conspicuous
person on the steamboat was a thin man, whose extraordinary height
was made more striking by his very long-waisted black coat and his
very short pantaloons. He was so tall that he had a little
difficulty in keeping his balance, and his hat was set upon the back
of his head to preserve his equilibrium. He had arrived at that
stage when people affected as he was are oratorical, and overflowing
with information and good-nature. With what might in strict art be
called an excess of expletives, he explained that he was a civil
engineer, that he had lost his rubber coat, that he was a great
traveler in the Provinces, and he seemed to find a humorous
satisfaction in reiterating the fact of his familiarity with Painsec
junction. It evidently hovered in the misty horizon of his mind as a
joke, and he contrived to present it to his audience in that light.
>From the deck of the steamboat he addressed the town, and then, to
the relief of the passengers, he decided to go ashore. When the boat
drew away on her voyage we left him swaying perilously near the edge
of the wharf, good-naturedly resenting the grasp of his coat-tail by
a friend, addressing us upon the topics of the day, and wishing us
prosperity and the Fourth of July. His was the only effort in the
nature of a public lecture that we heard in the Provinces, and we
could not judge of his ability without hearing a "course."
Perhaps it needed this slight disturbance, and the contrast of this
hazy mind with the serene clarity of the day, to put us into the most
complete enjoyment of our voyage. Certainly, as we glided out upon
the summer waters and began to get the graceful outlines of the
widening shores, it seemed as if we had taken passage to the
"One town, one country, is very like another; ...... there are indeed
minute discriminations both of places and manners, which, perhaps,
are not wanting of curiosity, but which a traveller seldom stays long
enough to investigate and compare." --DR. JOHNSON.
There was no prospect of any excitement or of any adventure on the
steamboat from Baddeck to West Bay, the southern point of the Bras
d'Or. Judging from the appearance of the boat, the dinner might have
been an experiment, but we ran no risks. It was enough to sit on
deck forward of the wheel-house, and absorb, by all the senses, the
delicious day. With such weather perpetual and such scenery always
present, sin in this world would soon become an impossibility. Even
towards the passengers from Sydney, with their imitation English ways
and little insular gossip, one could have only charity and the most
The most electric American, heir of all the nervous diseases of all
the ages, could not but find peace in this scene of tranquil beauty,
and sail on into a great and deepening contentment. Would the voyage
could last for an age, with the same sparkling but tranquil sea, and
the same environment of hills, near and remote! The hills approached
and fell away in lines of undulating grace, draped with a tender
color which helped to carry the imagination beyond the earth. At
this point the narrative needs to flow into verse, but my comrade did
not feel like another attempt at poetry so soon after that on the Gut
of Canso. A man cannot always be keyed up to the pitch of
production, though his emotions may be highly creditable to him. But
poetry-making in these days is a good deal like the use of profane
language,--often without the least provocation.
Twelve miles from Baddeck we passed through the Barra Strait, or the
Grand Narrows, a picturesque feature in the Bras d'Or, and came into
its widest expanse. At the Narrows is a small settlement with a
flag-staff and a hotel, and roads leading to farmhouses on the hills.
Here is a Catholic chapel; and on shore a fat padre was waiting in
his wagon for the inevitable priest we always set ashore at such a
place. The missionary we landed was the young father from Arichat,
and in appearance the pleasing historical Jesuit. Slender is too
corpulent a word to describe his thinness, and his stature was
primeval. Enveloped in a black coat, the skirts of which reached his
heels, and surmounted by a black hat with an enormous brim, he had
the form of an elegant toadstool. The traveler is always grateful
for such figures, and is not disposed to quarrel with the faith which
preserves so much of the ugly picturesque. A peaceful farming
country this, but an unremunerative field, one would say, for the
colporteur and the book-agent; and winter must inclose it in a
The only other thing of note the Bras d'Or offered us before we
reached West Bay was the finest show of medusm or jelly-fish that
could be produced. At first there were dozens of these disk-shaped,
transparent creatures, and then hundreds, starring the water like
marguerites sprinkled on a meadow, and of sizes from that of a teacup
to a dinner-plate. We soon ran into a school of them, a convention,
a herd as extensive as the vast buffalo droves on the plains, a
collection as thick as clover-blossoms in a field in June, miles of
them, apparently; and at length the boat had to push its way through
a mass of them which covered the water like the leaves of the
pondlily, and filled the deeps far down with their beautiful
contracting and expanding forms. I did not suppose there were so
many jelly-fishes in all the world. What a repast they would have
made for the Atlantic whale we did not see, and what inward comfort
it would have given him to have swum through them once or twice with
open mouth! Our delight in this wondrous spectacle did not prevent
this generous wish for the gratification of the whale. It is
probably a natural human desire to see big corporations swallow up
At the West Bay landing, where there is nothing whatever attractive,
we found a great concourse of country wagons and clamorous drivers,
to transport the passengers over the rough and uninteresting nine
miles to Port Hawkesbury. Competition makes the fare low, but
nothing makes the ride entertaining. The only settlement passed
through has the promising name of River Inhabitants, but we could see
little river and less inhabitants; country and people seem to belong
to that commonplace order out of which the traveler can extract
nothing amusing, instructive, or disagreeable; and it was a great
relief when we came over the last hill and looked down upon the
straggling village of Port Hawkesbury and the winding Gut of Canso.
One cannot but feel a respect for this historical strait, on account
of the protection it once gave our British ancestors. Smollett makes
a certain Captain C---- tell this anecdote of George II. and his
enlightened minister, the Duke of Newcastle: "In the beginning of the
war this poor, half-witted creature told me, in a great fright, that
thirty thousand French had marched from Acadie to Cape Breton.
'Where did they find transports?' said I. 'Transports!' cried he; 'I
tell you, they marched by land.' By land to the island of Cape
Breton?' 'What! is Cape Breton an island?' 'Certainly.' 'Ha! are
you sure of that?' When I pointed it out on the map, he examined it
earnestly with his spectacles; then taking me in his arms, 'My dear
C----!' cried he, you always bring us good news. I'll go directly
and tell the king that Cape Breton is an island.'"
Port Hawkesbury is not a modern settlement, and its public house is
one of the irregular, old-fashioned, stuffy taverns, with low rooms,
chintz-covered lounges, and fat-cushioned rocking-chairs, the decay
and untidiness of which are not offensive to the traveler. It has a
low back porch looking towards the water and over a mouldy garden,
damp and unseemly. Time was, no doubt, before the rush of travel
rubbed off the bloom of its ancient hospitality and set a vigilant
man at the door of the dining-room to collect pay for meals, that
this was an abode of comfort and the resort of merry-making and
frolicsome provincials. On this now decaying porch no doubt lovers
sat in the moonlight, and vowed by the Gut of Canso to be fond of
each other forever. The traveler cannot help it if he comes upon the
traces of such sentiment. There lingered yet in the house an air of
the hospitable old time; the swift willingness of the waiting-maids
at table, who were eager that we should miss none of the home-made
dishes, spoke of it; and as we were not obliged to stay in the hotel
and lodge in its six-by-four bedrooms, we could afford to make a
little romance about its history.
While we were at supper the steamboat arrived from Pictou. We
hastened on board, impatient for progress on our homeward journey.
But haste was not called for. The steamboat would not sail on her
return till morning. No one could tell why. It was not on account
of freight to take in or discharge; it was not in hope of more
passengers, for they were all on board. But if the boat had returned
that night to Pictou, some of the passengers might have left her and
gone west by rail, instead of wasting two, or three days lounging
through Northumberland Sound and idling in the harbors of Prince
Edward Island. If the steamboat would leave at midnight, we could
catch the railway train at Pictou. Probably the officials were aware
of this, and they preferred to have our company to Shediac. We
mention this so that the tourist who comes this way may learn to
possess his soul in patience, and know that steamboats are not run
for his accommodation, but to give him repose and to familiarize him
with the country. It is almost impossible to give the unscientific
reader an idea of the slowness of travel by steamboat in these
regions. Let him first fix his mind on the fact that the earth moves
through space at a speed of more than sixty-six thousand miles an
hour. This is a speed eleven hundred times greater than that of the
most rapid express trains. If the distance traversed by a locomotive
in an hour is represented by one tenth of an inch, it would need a
line nine feet long to indicate the corresponding advance of the
earth in the same time. But a tortoise, pursuing his ordinary gait
without a wager, moves eleven hundred times slower than an express
train. We have here a basis of comparison with the provincial
steamboats. If we had seen a tortoise start that night from Port
Hawkesbury for the west, we should have desired to send letters by
In the early morning we stole out of the romantic strait, and by
breakfast-time we were over St. George's Bay and round his cape, and
making for the harbor of Pictou. During the forenoon something in
the nature of an excursion developed itself on the steamboat, but it
had so few of the bustling features of an American excursion that I
thought it might be a pilgrimage. Yet it doubtless was a highly
developed provincial lark. For a certain portion of the passengers
had the unmistakable excursion air: the half-jocular manner towards
each other, the local facetiousness which is so offensive to
uninterested fellow-travelers, that male obsequiousness about ladies'
shawls and reticules, the clumsy pretense of gallantry with each
other's wives, the anxiety about the company luggage and the company
health. It became painfully evident presently that it was an
excursion, for we heard singing of that concerted and determined kind
that depresses the spirits of all except those who join in it. The
excursion had assembled on the lee guards out of the wind, and was
enjoying itself in an abandon of serious musical enthusiasm. We
feared at first that there might be some levity in this performance,
and that the unrestrained spirit of the excursion was working itself
off in social and convivial songs. But it was not so. The singers
were provided with hymn-and-tune books, and what they sang they
rendered in long meter and with a most doleful earnestness. It is
agreeable to the traveler to see that the provincials disport
themselves within bounds, and that an hilarious spree here does not
differ much in its exercises from a prayer-meeting elsewhere. But
the excursion enjoyed its staid dissipation amazingly.
It is pleasant to sail into the long and broad harbor of Pictou on a
sunny day. On the left is the Halifax railway terminus, and three
rivers flow into the harbor from the south. On the right the town of
Pictou, with its four thousand inhabitants, lies upon the side of the
ridge that runs out towards the Sound. The most conspicuous building
in it as we approach is the Roman Catholic church; advanced to the
edge of the town and occupying the highest ground, it appears large,
and its gilt cross is a beacon miles away. Its builders understood
the value of a striking situation, a dominant position; it is a part
of the universal policy of this church to secure the commanding
places for its houses of worship. We may have had no prejudices in
favor of the Papal temporality when we landed at Pictou, but this
church was the only one which impressed us, and the only one we took
the trouble to visit. We had ample time, for the steamboat after its
arduous trip needed rest, and remained some hours in the harbor.
Pictou is said to be a thriving place, and its streets have a cindery
appearance, betokening the nearness of coal mines and the presence of
furnaces. But the town has rather a cheap and rusty look. Its
streets rise one above another on the hillside, and, except a few
comfortable cottages, we saw no evidences of wealth in the dwellings.
The church, when we reached it, was a commonplace brick structure,
with a raw, unfinished interior, and weedy and untidy surroundings,
so that our expectation of sitting on the inviting hill and enjoying
the view was not realized; and we were obliged to descend to the hot
wharf and wait for the ferry-boat to take us to the steamboat which
lay at the railway terminus opposite. It is the most unfair thing in
the world for the traveler, without an object or any interest in the
development of the country, on a sleepy day in August, to express any
opinion whatever about such a town as Pictou. But we may say of it,
without offence, that it occupies a charming situation, and may have
an interesting future; and that a person on a short acquaintance can
leave it without regret.
By stopping here we had the misfortune to lose our excursion, a loss
that was soothed by no know ledge of its destination or hope of
seeing it again, and a loss without a hope is nearly always painful.
Going out of the harbor we encounter Pictou Island and Light, and
presently see the low coast of Prince Edward Island,--a coast
indented and agreeable to those idly sailing along it, in weather
that seemed let down out of heaven and over a sea that sparkled but
still slept in a summer quiet. When fate puts a man in such a
position and relieves him of all responsibility, with a book and a
good comrade, and liberty to make sarcastic remarks upon his fellow-
travelers, or to doze, or to look over the tranquil sea, he may be
pronounced happy. And I believe that my companion, except in the
matter of the comrade, was happy. But I could not resist a worrying
anxiety about the future of the British Provinces, which not even the
remembrance of their hostility to us during our mortal strife with
the Rebellion could render agreeable. For I could not but feel that
the ostentatious and unconcealable prosperity of "the States" over-
shadows this part of the continent. And it was for once in vain that
I said, "Have we not a common land and a common literature, and no
copyright, and a common pride in Shakespeare and Hannah More and
Colonel Newcome and Pepys's Diary?" I never knew this sort of
consolation to fail before; it does not seem to answer in the
Provinces as well as it does in England.
New passengers had come on board at Pictou, new and hungry, and not
all could get seats for dinner at the first table. Notwithstanding
the supposed traditionary advantage of our birthplace, we were unable
to dispatch this meal with the celerity of our fellow-voyagers, and
consequently, while we lingered over our tea, we found ourselves at
the second table. And we were rewarded by one of those pleasing
sights that go to make up the entertainment of travel. There sat
down opposite to us a fat man whose noble proportions occupied at the
board the space of three ordinary men. His great face beamed delight
the moment he came near the table. He had a low forehead and a wide
mouth and small eyes, and an internal capacity that was a prophecy of
famine to his fellow-men. But a more good-natured, pleased animal
you may never see. Seating himself with unrepressed joy, he looked
at us, and a great smile of satisfaction came over his face, that
plainly said, "Now my time has come." Every part of his vast bulk
said this. Most generously, by his friendly glances, he made us
partners in his pleasure. With a Napoleonic grasp of his situation,
he reached far and near, hauling this and that dish of fragments
towards his plate, giving orders at the same time, and throwing into
his cheerful mouth odd pieces of bread and pickles in an unstudied
and preliminary manner. When he had secured everything within his
reach, he heaped his plate and began an attack upon the contents,
using both knife and fork with wonderful proficiency. The man's
good-humor was contagious, and he did not regard our amusement as
different in kind from his enjoyment. The spectacle was worth a
journey to see. Indeed, its aspect of comicality almost overcame its
grossness, and even when the hero loaded in faster than he could
swallow, and was obliged to drop his knife for an instant to arrange
matters in his mouth with his finger, it was done with such a beaming
smile that a pig would not take offense at it. The performance was
not the merely vulgar thing it seems on paper, but an achievement
unique and perfect, which one is not likely to see more than once in
a lifetime. It was only when the man left the table that his face
became serious. We had seen him at his best.
Prince Edward Island, as we approached it, had a pleasing aspect, and
nothing of that remote friendlessness which its appearance on the map
conveys to one; a warm and sandy land, in a genial climate, without
fogs, we are informed. In the winter it has ice communication with
Nova Scotia, from Cape Traverse to Cape Tormentine,--the route of the
submarine cable. The island is as flat from end to end as a floor.
When it surrendered its independent government and joined the
Dominion, one of the conditions of the union was that the government
should build a railway the whole length of it. This is in process of
construction, and the portion that is built affords great
satisfaction to the islanders, a railway being one of the necessary
adjuncts of civilization; but that there was great need of it, or
that it would pay, we were unable to learn.
We sailed through Hillsborough Bay and a narrow strait to
Charlottetown, the capital, which lies on a sandy spit of land
between two rivers. Our leisurely steamboat tied up here in the
afternoon and spent the night, giving the passengers an opportunity
to make thorough acquaintance with the town. It has the appearance
of a place from which something has departed; a wooden town, with
wide and vacant streets, and the air of waiting for something.
Almost melancholy is the aspect of its freestone colonial building,
where once the colonial legislature held its momentous sessions, and
the colonial governor shed the delightful aroma of royalty. The
mansion of the governor--now vacant of pomp, because that official
does not exist--is a little withdrawn from the town, secluded among
trees by the water-side. It is dignified with a winding approach,
but is itself only a cheap and decaying house. On our way to it we
passed the drill-shed of the local cavalry, which we mistook for a
skating-rink, and thereby excited the contempt of an old lady of whom
we inquired. Tasteful residences we did not find, nor that attention
to flowers and gardens which the mild climate would suggest. Indeed,
we should describe Charlottetown as a place where the hollyhock in
the dooryard is considered an ornament. A conspicuous building is a
large market-house shingled all over (as many of the public buildings
are), and this and other cheap public edifices stand in the midst of
a large square, which is surrounded by shabby shops for the most
part. The town is laid out on a generous scale, and it is to be
regretted that we could not have seen it when it enjoyed the glory of
a governor and court and ministers of state, and all the
paraphernalia of a royal parliament. That the productive island,
with its system of free schools, is about to enter upon a prosperous
career, and that Charlottetown is soon to become a place of great
activity, no one who converses with the natives can doubt; and I
think that even now no traveler will regret spending an hour or two
there; but it is necessary to say that the rosy inducements to
tourists to spend the summer there exist only in the guide-books.
We congratulated ourselves that we should at least have a night of
delightful sleep on the steamboat in the quiet of this secluded
harbor. But it was wisely ordered otherwise, to the end that we
should improve our time by an interesting study of human nature.
Towards midnight, when the occupants of all the state-rooms were
supposed to be in profound slumber, there was an invasion of the
small cabin by a large and loquacious family, who had been making an
excursion on the island railway. This family might remind an
antiquated novel-reader of the delightful Brangtons in "Evelina;"
they had all the vivacity of the pleasant cousins of the heroine of
that story, and the same generosity towards the public in regard to
their family affairs. Before they had been in the cabin an hour, we
felt as if we knew every one of them. There was a great squabble as
to where and how they should sleep; and when this was over, the
revelations of the nature of their beds and their peculiar habits of
sleep continued to pierce the thin deal partitions of the adjoining
state-rooms. When all the possible trivialities of vacant minds
seemed to have been exhausted, there followed a half-hour of
"Goodnight, pa; good-night, ma;" "Goodnight, pet;" and "Are you
asleep, ma?" "No." "Are you asleep, pa?" " No; go to sleep, pet."
"I'm going. Good-night, pa; good-night, ma." " Goodnight, pet."
"This bed is too short." " Why don't you take the other?" "I'm all
fixed now." "Well, go to sleep; good-night." "Good-night, ma;
goodnight, pa,"--no answer. "Good-night,pa." "Goodnight, pet." "
Ma, are you asleep?" "Most." "This bed is all lumps; I wish I'd
gone downstairs." "Well, pa will get up." " Pa, are you asleep?"
"Yes." "It's better now; good-night, pa." " Goodnight, pet."
"Good-night, ma." " Good-night, pet." And so on in an exasperating
repetition, until every passenger on the boat must have been
thoroughly informed of the manner in which this interesting family
habitually settled itself to repose.
Half an hour passes with only a languid exchange of family feeling,
and then: "Pa?" "Well, pet." "Don't call us in the morning; we
don't want any breakfast; we want to sleep." "I won't." "Goodnight,
pa; goodnight, ma. Ma?" "What is it, dear?" "Good-night, ma."
"Good-night, pet." Alas for youthful expectations! Pet shared her
stateroom with a young companion, and the two were carrying on a
private dialogue during this public performance. Did these young
ladies, after keeping all the passengers of the boat awake till near
the summer dawn, imagine that it was in the power of pa and ma to
insure them the coveted forenoon slumber, or even the morning snooze?
The travelers, tossing in their state-room under this domestic
infliction, anticipated the morning with grim satisfaction; for they
had a presentiment that it would be impossible for them to arise and
make their toilet without waking up every one in their part of the
boat, and aggravating them to such an extent that they would stay
awake. And so it turned out. The family grumbling at the unexpected
disturbance was sweeter to the travelers than all the exchange of
family affection during the night.
No one, indeed, ought to sleep beyond breakfast-time while sailing
along the southern coast of Prince Edward Island. It was a sparkling
morning. When we went on deck we were abreast Cape Traverse; the
faint outline of Nova Scotia was marked on the horizon, and New
Brunswick thrust out Cape Tomentine to greet us. On the still, sunny
coasts and the placid sea, and in the serene, smiling sky, there was
no sign of the coming tempest which was then raging from Hatteras to
Cape Cod; nor could one imagine that this peaceful scene would, a few
days later, be swept by a fearful tornado, which should raze to the
ground trees and dwelling-houses, and strew all these now inviting
shores with wrecked ships and drowning sailors,--a storm which has
passed into literature in "The Lord's-Day Gale " of Mr Stedman.
Through this delicious weather why should the steamboat hasten, in
order to discharge its passengers into the sweeping unrest of
continental travel? Our eagerness to get on, indeed, almost melted
away, and we were scarcely impatient at all when the boat lounged
into Halifax Bay, past Salutation Point and stopped at Summerside.
This little seaport is intended to be attractive, and it would give
these travelers great pleasure to describe it, if they could at all
remember how it looks. But it is a place that, like some faces,
makes no sort of impression on the memory. We went ashore there, and
tried to take an interest in the ship-building, and in the little
oysters which the harbor yields; but whether we did take an interest
or not has passed out of memory. A small, unpicturesque, wooden
town, in the languor of a provincial summer; why should we pretend an
interest in it which we did not feel? It did not disturb our
reposeful frame of mind, nor much interfere with our enjoyment of the
On the forward deck, when we were under way again, amid a group
reading and nodding in the sunshine, we found a pretty girl with a
companion and a gentleman, whom we knew by intuition as the "pa" of
the pretty girl and of our night of anguish. The pa might have been
a clergyman in a small way, or the proprietor of a female boarding-
school; at any rate, an excellent and improving person to travel
with, whose willingness to impart information made even the travelers
long for a pa. It was no part of his plan of this family summer
excursion, upon which he had come against his wish, to have any hour
of it wasted in idleness. He held an open volume in his hand, and
was questioning his daughter on its contents. He spoke in a loud
voice, and without heeding the timidity of the young lady, who shrank
from this public examination, and begged her father not to continue
it. The parent was, however, either proud of his daughter's
acquirements, or he thought it a good opportunity to shame her out of
her ignorance. Doubtless, we said, he is instructing her upon the
geography of the region we are passing through, its early settlement,
the romantic incidents of its history when French and English fought
over it, and so is making this a tour of profit as well as pleasure.
But the excellent and pottering father proved to be no disciple of
the new education. Greece was his theme and he got his questions,
and his answers too, from the ancient school history in his hand.
The lesson went on:
"Who was Alcibiades?
"Yes. When did he flourish?"
"I can't think."
"Can't think? What was he noted for?"
"I don't remember."
"Don't remember? I don't believe you studied this."
"Yes, I did."
"Well, take it now, and study it hard, and then I'll hear you again."
The young girl, who is put to shame by this open persecution, begins
to study, while the peevish and small tyrant, her pa, is nagging her
with such soothing remarks as, "I thought you'd have more respect for
your pride;" "Why don't you try to come up to the expectations of
your teacher?" By and by the student thinks she has "got it," and
the public exposition begins again. The date at which Alcibiades
"flourished" was ascertained, but what he was "noted for" got
hopelessly mixed with what Thernistocles was "noted for." The
momentary impression that the battle of Marathon was fought by
Salamis was soon dissipated, and the questions continued.
"What did Pericles do to the Greeks?"
"I don't know."
"Elevated 'em, did n't he? Did n't he elevate Pem?"
"Always remember that; you want to fix your mind on leading things.
Remember that Pericles elevated the Greeks. Who was Pericles?
"He was a"--
"Was he a philosopher?"
"No, he was n't. Socrates was a philosopher. When did he flourish?
And so on, and so on.
O my charming young countrywomen, let us never forget that Pericles
elevated the Greeks; and that he did it by cultivating the national
genius, the national spirit, by stimulating art and oratory and the
pursuit of learning, and infusing into all society a higher
intellectual and social life! Pa was this day sailing through seas
and by shores that had witnessed some of the most stirring and
romantic events in the early history of our continent. He might have
had the eager attention of his bright daughter if he had unfolded
these things to her in the midst of this most living landscape, and
given her an "object lesson" that she would not have forgotten all
her days, instead of this pottering over names and dates that were as
dry and meaningless to him as they were uninteresting to his
daughter. At least, O Pa, Educator of Youth, if you are insensible
to the beauty of these summer isles and indifferent to their history,
and your soul is wedded to ancient learning, why do you not teach
your family to go to sleep when they go to bed, as the classic Greeks
Before the travelers reached Shediac, they had leisure to ruminate
upon the education of American girls in the schools set apart for
them, and to conjecture how much they are taught of the geography and
history of America, or of its social and literary growth; and
whether, when they travel on a summer tour like this, these coasts
have any historical light upon them, or gain any interest from the
daring and chivalric adventurers who played their parts here so long
ago. We did not hear pa ask when Madame de la Tour "flourished,"
though "flourish" that determined woman did, in Boston as well as in
the French provinces. In the present woman revival, may we not hope
that the heroic women of our colonial history will have the
prominence that is their right, and that woman's achievements will
assume their proper place in affairs? When women write history, some
of our popular men heroes will, we trust, be made to acknowledge the
female sources of their wisdom and their courage. But at present
women do not much affect history, and they are more indifferent to
the careers of the noted of their own sex than men are.
We expected to approach Shediac with a great deal of interest. It
had been, when we started, one of the most prominent points in our
projected tour. It was the pivot upon which, so to speak, we
expected to swing around the Provinces. Upon the map it was so
attractive, that we once resolved to go no farther than there. It
once seemed to us that, if we ever reached it, we should be contented
to abide there, in a place so remote, in a port so picturesque and
foreign. But returning from the real east, our late interest in
Shediac seemed unaccountable to us. Firmly resolved as I was to note
our entrance into the harbor, I could not keep the place in mind; and
while we were in our state-room and before we knew it, the steamboat
Jay at the wharf. Shediac appeared to be nothing but a wharf with a
railway train on it, and a few shanty buildings, a part of them
devoted to the sale of whiskey and to cheap lodgings. This landing,
however, is called Point du Chene, and the village of Shediac is two
or three miles distant from it; we had a pleasant glimpse of it from
the car windows, and saw nothing in its situation to hinder its
growth. The country about it is perfectly level, and stripped of its
forests. At Painsec Junction we waited for the train from Halifax,
and immediately found ourselves in the whirl of intercolonial travel.
Why people should travel here, or why they should be excited about
it, we could not see; we could not overcome a feeling of the
unreality of the whole thing; but yet we humbly knew that we had no
right to be otherwise than awed by the extraordinary intercolonial
railway enterprise and by the new life which it is infusing into the
Provinces. We are free to say, however, that nothing can be less
interesting than the line of this road until it strikes the
Kennebeckasis River, when the traveler will be called upon to admire
the Sussex Valley and a very fair farming region, which he would like
to praise if it were not for exciting the jealousy of the "Garden of
Nova Scotia." The whole land is in fact a garden, but differing
somewhat from the Isle of Wight.
In all travel, however, people are more interesting than land, and so
it was at this time. As twilight shut down upon the valley of the
Kennebeckasis, we heard the strident voice of pa going on with the
Grecian catechism. Pa was unmoved by the beauties of Sussex or by
the colors of the sunset, which for the moment made picturesque the
scraggy evergreens on the horizon. His eyes were with his heart, and
that was in Sparta. Above the roar of the car-wheels we heard his
"What did Lycurgus do then?"
Answer not audible.
"No. He made laws. Who did he make laws for?"
"For the Greeks."
"He made laws for the Lacedemonians. Who was another great
"It was--it was--Pericles."
"No, it was n't. It was Solon. Who was Solon?"
"Solon was one of the wise men of Greece."
"That's right. When did he flourish?"
When the train stops at a station the classics continue, and the
studious group attracts the attention of the passengers. Pa is well
pleased, but not so the young lady, who beseechingly says,
"Pa, everybody can hear us."
"You would n't care how much they heard, if you knew it," replies
this accomplished devotee of learning.
In another lull of the car-wheels we find that pa has skipped over to
Marathon; and this time it is the daughter who is asking a question.
"Pa, what is a phalanx?"
"Well, a phalanx--it's a--it's difficult to define a phalanx. It's a
stretch of men in one line,--a stretch of anything in a line. When
did Alexander flourish?"
This domestic tyrant had this in common with the rest of us, that he
was much better at asking questions than at answering them. It
certainly was not our fault that we were listeners to his instructive
struggles with ancient history, nor that we heard his petulant
complaining to his cowed family, whom he accused of dragging him away
on this summer trip. We are only grateful to him, for a more
entertaining person the traveler does not often see. It was with
regret that we lost sight of him at St. John.
Night has settled upon New Brunswick and upon ancient Greece before
we reach the Kennebeckasis Bay, and we only see from the car windows
dimly a pleasant and fertile country, and the peaceful homes of
thrifty people. While we are running along the valley and coming
under the shadow of the hill whereon St. John sits, with a regal
outlook upon a most variegated coast and upon the rising and falling
of the great tides of Fundy, we feel a twinge of conscience at the
injustice the passing traveler must perforce do any land he hurries
over and does not study. Here is picturesque St. John, with its
couple of centuries of history and tradition, its commerce, its
enterprise felt all along the coast and through the settlements of
the territory to the northeast, with its no doubt charming society
and solid English culture; and the summer tourist, in an idle mood
regarding it for a day, says it is naught! Behold what "travels"
amount to! Are they not for the most part the records of the
misapprehensions of the misinformed? Let us congratulate ourselves
that in this flight through the Provinces we have not attempted to do
any justice to them, geologically, economically, or historically,
only trying to catch some of the salient points of the panorama as it
unrolled itself. Will Halifax rise up in judgment against us? We
look back upon it with softened memory, and already see it again in
the light of history. It stands, indeed, overlooking a gate of the
ocean, in a beautiful morning light; and we can hear now the
repetition of that profane phrase, used for the misdirection of
wayward mortals,---"Go to Halifax!" without a shudder.
We confess to some regret that our journey is so near its end.
Perhaps it is the sentimental regret with which one always leaves the
east, for we have been a thousand miles nearer Ireland than Boston
is. Collecting in the mind the detached pictures given to our eyes
in all these brilliant and inspiring days, we realize afresh the
variety, the extent, the richness of these northeastern lands which
the Gulf Stream pets and tempers. If it were not for attracting
speculators, we should delight to speak of the beds of coal, the
quarries of marble, the mines of gold. Look on the map and follow
the shores of these peninsulas and islands, the bays, the penetrating
arms of the sea, the harbors filled with islands, the protected
straits and sounds. All this is favorable to the highest commercial
activity and enterprise. Greece itself and its islands are not more
indented and inviting. Fish swarm about the shores and in all the
streams. There are, I have no doubt, great forests which we did not
see from the car windows, the inhabitants of which do not show
themselves to the travelers at the railway-stations. In the
dining-room of a friend, who goes away every autumn into the wilds of
Nova Scotia at the season when the snow falls, hang trophies-
-enormous branching antlers of the caribou, and heads of the mighty
moose--which I am assured came from there; and I have no reason to
doubt that the noble creatures who once carried these superb horns
were murdered by my friend at long range. Many people have an
insatiate longing to kill, once in their life, a moose, and would
travel far and endure great hardships to gratify this ambition. In
the present state of the world it is more difficult to do it than it
is to be written down as one who loves his fellow-men.
We received everywhere in the Provinces courtesy and kindness, which
were not based upon any expectation that we would invest in mines or
railways, for the people are honest, kindly, and hearty by nature.
What they will become when the railways are completed that are to
bind St. John to Quebec, and make Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, and
Newfoundland only stepping-stones to Europe, we cannot say. Probably
they will become like the rest of the world, and furnish no material
for the kindly persiflage of the traveler.
Regretting that we could see no more of St. John, that we could
scarcely see our way through its dimly lighted streets, we found the
ferry to Carleton, and a sleeping-car for Bangor. It was in the
heart of the negro porter to cause us alarm by the intelligence that
the customs officer would, search our baggage during the night. A
search is a blow to one's self-respect, especially if one has
anything dutiable. But as the porter might be an agent of our
government in disguise, we preserved an appearance of philosophical
indifference in his presence. It takes a sharp observer to tell
innocence from assurance. During the night, awaking, I saw a great
light. A man, crawling along the aisle of the car, and poking under
the seats, had found my traveling-bag and was "going through" it.
I felt a thrill of pride as I recognized in this crouching figure an
officer of our government, and knew that I was in my native land.