QUITE a little crowd of fishermen gathered around us, as the dingledekooch ran bows on the beach, and Picton, warm with exercise and excitement, leaped ashore, flourishing his piscatorial javelin with an air of triumph, which oddly contrasted with the faces of the Louisburghers, who looked at him and at his game, with countenances of great gravity — either real or assumed. Presently, another boat ran bows on the beach beside our own, and from this jumped Bruce, our jolly first mate, who had come ashore to spend a few hours with an old friend, at one of the hutches. To this we were hospitably invited also, and were right glad to uncase our limbs of stiff oilskin and doff our sou’-westers, and sit down before the cheery fire, piled up with spruce logs and hackmatack; comfortable, indeed, was it to be thus snugly housed, while the weather outside was so lowering, and the schooner wet and cold with rain. 122 To be sure, our gay and festive hall was not so brilliant as some, but it was none the less acceptable on that account; and, before long, a fragrant rasher of bacon, fresh eggs, white bread, and a strong cup of bitter tea made us feel entirely happy. Then these viands being removed, there came pipes and tobacco; and as something else was needed to crown the symposium, Picton whispered a word in the ear of Bruce, who presently disappeared, to return again after a brief absence, with some of our stores from the schooner. Then the table was decked again, with china mugs of dazzling whiteness, lemons, hot water, and a bottle of old Glenlivet; and from the centre of this gallant show, the one great lamp of the hutch cast its mellow radiance around, and nursed in the midst of its flame a great ball of red coal that burned like a bonfire. Thus, when our host, the old fisherman, brought out a bundle of warm furs, of moose and cariboo skins, and distributed them around on the settles and broad, high-backed benches, so that we could loll at our ease, we began to realize a sense of being quite snug and cozy, and, indeed, got used to it in a surprisingly short space of time.
“Now, then,” said Picton, “this is what I call serene,” and the traveller relapsed into his usual activity; after a brief respite — “I say, give us a 123 song, will you, now, some of you; something about this jolly old place, now — ‘Brave Wolfe,’; or ‘Boscawen,’ ” and he broke out —
“ ‘My name d’ye see’s Tom Tough, I’ve seen a little sarvice,
Where mighty billows roll and loud tempests blow;
I’ve sailed with noble Howe, and I’ve sailed with noble Jarvis,
And in Admiral Duncan’s fleet I’ve sung yeo, heave, yeo!
And more ye must be knowin’,
I was cox’son to Boscawen
When our fleet attacked Louisburgh,
And laid her bulwarks low.
But push about the grog, boys!
Hang care, it killed a cat,
Push about the grog, and sing —
Yeo, heave, yeo!’ ”
“Good Lord!” said the old fisherman, “I harn’t heard that song for more’n thirty years. Sing us another bit of it, please.”
But Picton had not another bit of it; so he called lustily for some one else to sing. “Hang it, sing something,” said the traveller. “ ‘How stands the glass around;’ that, you know, was written by Wolfe; at least, it was sung by him the night before the battle of Quebec, and they call it Wolfe’s death song —
Here Picton forgot the next line, and substituted a drink for it, in correct time with the music:
Another slip of the memory [drink];
He has found it, and repeats emphatically:
“Then there is another song,” said Picton, lighting his pipe with coal and tongs; “ ‘Wolfe and Montcalm’ — you must know that,” he continued, addressing the old fisherman. But the ancient trilobite did not know it; indeed, he was not a singer, so Picton trolled lustily forth —
“There,” said Picton, throwing himself back upon the warm and cozy furs, “I am at the end of my rope, gentlemen. Sing away, some of you,” and the traveller drew a long spiral of smoke through his tube, and ejected it in a succession of beautiful rings at the beams overhead.
“Picton,” said I, “what a strange, romantic interest attaches itself to the memory of Wolfe. The very song you have sung, ‘How stands the glass around,’ although not written by him, for it was composed before he was born, yet has a currency from the popular belief that he sang it on the evening preceding his last battle. And, indeed, it is by no means certain that Gray’s Elegy does not derive additional interest from a kindred tradition.”
“What is that?” said the traveller.
“Of course you will remember it, When Gray had completed the Elegy, he sent a copy of it to his friend, General Wolfe, in America; and the story goes, that as the great hero was sitting, wrapped in his military cloak, on board the barge which the sailors were rowing up the St. Lawrence, towards Quebec, he produced the poem, and read it in silence by the waning light of approaching evening, until he came to these lines, which he repeated aloud to his officers:126
Then pausing for a moment, he finished the stanza:
“Gentlemen,” he added, “I would rather be the writer of this poem, than the greatest conqueror the world ever produced.”
“That’s true,” said the old fisherman, sententiously. “We are all bound to that place, sometime or other.”
“What place?” said Picton, rousing up.
“The berrying-ground,” answered the ancient; “that is if we don’t get overboard instead.”
“But,” he continued, “since you are speaking of General Wolfe, you must know my grandfather served under him at Minden, and at the battle here, too, where he was wounded, and left behind, when the general went back to England.”
“I thought he went from this place to Quebec,” said Picton.
“No, sir,” replied the old man, “he went first to London, and came back again, and then went to Canada. Well,” he continued, “my grandfather served under him, and was left here to get over his wounds, and so he married my grandmother, and 127 lived in Louisburgh after the French were all sent away.” Here the veteran placed his paws on the table, and looked out into the infinite. We could see we were in for a long story. “All the French soldiers and sailors, you see, were sent to England prisoners of war — and the rest of the people were sent to France; the governor of this here place was named Drucour; he was taken to Southampton, and put in prison. Well now, as I was saying, this hutch of mine was built by my father, just here by Wolfe’s landing, for grandfather took a fancy to have it built on this spot; you see, Wolfe rowed over one night in a boat all alone from Lighthouse point yonder, and stood on the beach right under this here old wall, looking straight up at the French sentry over his head, and taking a general look at the town on both sides. There wasn’t a man in all his soldiers who would have stood there at that time for a thousand pounds.”
“What do you suppose the old file was doing over here?” inquired Picton, who was getting sleepy.
“I don’t know,” answered our host, “except it was his daring. He was the bravest man of his time, I’ve heard say — and so young” ——
“Two and thretty only,” said Bruce,
“And a tall, elegant officer, too,” continued the 128 ancient fisherman. “I’ve heard tell how the French governor’s lady used to send him sweetmeats with a flag of truce, and he used to return his compliments and a pine apple, or something of that kind. Ah, he was a great favorite with the ladies! I’ve heard say, he was much admired for his elegant style of dancing, and always ambitious to have a tall and graceful lady for his partner, and then he was as much pleased as if he was in the thick of the fight. He was a great favorite with the soldiers, too; very careful of them, to see they were well nursed when they were sick, and sharing the worst and best with them; but my grandfather used to say, very strict, too.”
“Who was in command here, Wolfe or Amherst?”
“General Amherst was in command, and got the credit of it, too; but Wolfe did the fighting — so grandfather used to say.”
“What was the name of his leddy in the old country?” said Bruce.
“I do not remember,” replied the ancient, “but I’ve heard it. You know he was to be married, when he got back to England. And when the first shot struck him in the wrist, at Quebec, he took out her handkerchief from his breast-pocket, smiled, wrapped it about the place, and went on with the 129 battle as if nothing had happened. But, soon after he got another wound, and yet he wasn’t disheartened, but waved his ratan over his head, for none of the officers carried swords there, and kept on, until the third bullet went through and through his breast, when he fell back, and just breathed like, till word was brought that the French were retreating, when he said, then ‘I am content,‘ and so closed his eyes and died.”
Here there was a pause. Our entertainer, waving his hand towards our mugs of Glenlivet, by way of invitation, lifted his own to his mouth by the handle, and with a dexterous tilt that showed practice, turned its bottom towards the beams of the hutch.
“Do you remember any farther particulars of the siege of Louisburgh?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” replied the old man, “I remember grandfather telling us how he saw the bodies of fifteen or sixteen deserters hanging over the walls; they were Germans that had been sold to the French, four years before the war, by a Prussian colonel. Some of them got away, and came over to our side. He used to say, the old town looked like a big ship when they came up to it; it had two tiers of guns, one above the other, on the south — that is towards Gabarus bay, where our troops landed. And now I mind me of his telling that 130 when they landed at Gabarus, they had a hard fight with the French and Indians, until Col. Fraser’s regiment of Highlanders jumped overboard, and swam to a point on the rocks, and drove the enemy away with their broad-swords.”
“That was the 63rd Highlanders,” said Bruce, with immense gravity.
“Among the Indians killed at Gabarus,” continued our host, “they say there was one Micmac chief, who was six foot nine inches high. The French soldiers were very much frightened when the Highland men climbed up on the rocks; they called them English savages.”
“That showed,” said Bruce, “what a dommed ignorant set they were!”
“And, while I think of it,” added our host, rising from his seat, “I have a bit of the old time to show you,” and so saying, he retreated from the table, and presently brought forth a curious oak box from a mysterious corner of the hutch, and after some difficulty in drawing out the sliding cover, produced a roll of tawny newspapers, tied up with rope yarn, a colored wood engraving in a black frame — a portrait, with the inscription, “James Wolfe, Esq’r, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Forces in the Expedition to Quebec,” and on the reverse the following 131 scrap from the London Chronicle of October 7, 1759:
This inscription I read aloud, and then, under the influence of the loquacious potable, leaned back in my furry throne, crossed my hands over my forehead, looked steadily into the blazing fire-place, and continued the theme I had commenced an hour before.
“What a strange interest attaches itself to the memory of Wolfe! A youthful hero, who, under less happy auspices, might have been known only as the competent drill-master of regiments, elevated by the sagacity of England’s wisest statesman to a prominent position of command; there to exhibit his generalship; there to retrieve the long list of disasters which followed Braddock’s defeat; there to annihilate forever every vestige of French dominion 132 in the Americas; to fulfill gloriously each point of his mission; to achieve, not by long delays, but by rapid movements, the conquest of two of the greatest fortresses in the possession of the rival crown; to pass from the world amid the shouts of victory — content in the fullness of his fame, without outliving it! His was a noble, generous nature; brave without cruelty; ardent and warlike, yet not insensible to the tenderest impulses of humanity. To die betrothed and beloved, yet wedded only to immortal honor; to leave a mother, with a nation weeping at her feet; to serve his country, without having his patriotism contaminated by titles, crosses, and ribbons; this was the most fortunate fate of England’s greatest commander in the colonies! No wonder, then, that with a grateful sympathy the laurels of his mother country were woven with the cypress of her chivalric son; that hundreds of pens were inspired to pay some tribute to his memory; that every branch of representative art, from stone to ink, essayed to portray his living likeness; that parliament and pulpit, with words of eloquence and gratitude, uttered the universal sentiment!
“Brave Wolfe,” I continued, “whose memory is linked with his no less youthful rival, Montcalm” —— here I was interrupted by the voice of the mate of the “Balaklava” —133
“I’ll be dommed,” said he, “if some person isn’t afire!”
Then I unclasped my hands, opened my eyes, and looked around me.
The scene was a striking one. Right before me, with his grey head on the table, buried in his piscatorial paws, lay the master of the hutch, fast asleep. On a settle, one of the fishermen, who had been a devout listener to all the legends of the grandson of the veteran of Louisburgh, was in a similar condition; Bruce, our jolly first mate, with the pertinacity of his race, was wide awake, to be sure, but there were unmistakable signs of drowsiness in the droop of his eyelids; and Picton? That gentleman, buried in moose and cariboo skins, prostrate on a broad bench, drawn up close by the fireplace, was dreaming, probably of sculpins, flounders, fish-pugh, and dingledekooch!
“I say! wake up here!” said the jolly mate of the Balaklava; bringing his fist down upon the table with an emphatic blow, that roused all the sleepers except the traveller. “I say, wake up!” reiterated Bruce, shaking Picton by the shoulder. Then Picton raised himself from his couch, and yawned twice; walked to the table, seated himself on a bench, thrust his fingers through his black hair, and instantly fell asleep again, after shaking 134 out into the close atmosphere of the hutch a stifling odor of animal charcoal.
“A little straw makes a great reek,” said Bruce, laughing, “and when a mon gives out before his pipe, he is like to be burnet,” and he pointed to a long black and brown singe on the worsted comforter of the traveller, by which we understood that Picton had fallen asleep, pipe in mouth, and then dropped his lighted dudeen just on the safest part of his neck.
Once again we roused the sleeper; and so, shaking hands with our hospitable host, we left the comfortable hutch at Wolfe’s Landing, and were soon on our way to the jolly little schooner.