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From Acadia; or a Month with the Blue Noses, by Frederic S. Cozzens; Derby & Jackson, New York, 1859; pp. 135-153.



The other side of the Harbor — A Foraging Party — Disappointment — Twilight at Louisburgh — Long Days and Early Mornings — A Visit and View of an Interior — A Shark Story — Picton inquires about a Measure — Hospitality and Two Brave Boys — Proposals for a Trip overland to Sydney.

TO make use of a quaint but expressive phrase, “it is patent enough,” that travellers are likely to consume more time in reaching a place than they are apt to bestow upon it when found. And, I am ashamed to say, that even Louisburgh was not an exception to this general truth; although perhaps certain reasons might be offered in extenuation for our somewhat speedy departure from the precincts of the old town. First, then, the uncertainty of a sailing vessel, for the “Balaklava” was coquettishly courting any and every wind that could carry her out of our harbor of refuge. Next, the desire of seeing more of the surroundings of the ancient fortress — the batteries on the opposite side, the new town, the lighthouse, and the wild picturesque coast. Add to these the wish of our captain to 136 shift his anchorage, to get on the side where he would have a better opening towards the ocean, “when the wind came on to blow,” — to say nothing of being in the neighborhood of his old friends, whose cottages dotted the green hill-sides across the bay, as you looked over the bows of the jolly little schooner. And there might have been other inducements — such as the hope of getting a few pounds of white sugar, a pitcher of milk (delicious, lacteous fluid, for which we had yearned so often amid the briny waves); and last, but not least, a hamper of blue-nosed potatoes. So, when the shades of the second evening were gathering grandly and gloomily around the dismantled parapets, and Louisburgh lay in all the lovely and romantic light of a red and stormy sunset, it seemed but fitting that the cable-chain of the anchor should clank to the windlass, and the die-away song of the mariner should resound above the calm waters, and the canvas stretch towards the land opposite, that seemed so tempting and delectable. And presently the “Balaklava” bore away across the red and purple harbor for the new town, leaving in her wake the ruined walls of Louisburgh that rose up higher the further we sailed from them.

The schooner dropped anchor inside the little cove on the opposite side of the old town, which 137 the reader will see by referring to the map; and the old battles of the years ’45 and ’58 were presently forgotten in the new aspects that were presented. The anchor was scarcely dropped fairly, before the yawl-boat was under the stroke of the oars, and Picton and I en route for the store-house; the general, particular, and only exchange in the whole district of Louisburgh. It was a small wooden building with a fair array of tarpaulin hats, oilskin garments, shelves of dry-goods and crockery, and boxes and barrels, such as are usually kept by country traders: on the beach before it were the customary flake for drying fish, the brown winged boats, and other implements of the fisheries.

But alas! the new town, that looked so pastoral and pleasant, with its tender slopes of verdure, was not, after all, a Canaan, flowing with milk and blue-nosed potatoes. Neither was there white sugar, nor coffee, nor good black tea there; the cabin of the schooner being as well furnished with these articles of comfort as the store-house of McAlpin, towards which we had looked with such longing eyes. Indeed, I would not have cared so much about the disappointment myself, but I secretly felt sorry for Picton, who went rummaging about the barrels in search of something to eat or to drink. “No white sugar?” said the traveller. “We don’t have white 138 sugar in this town,” was the answer. “Nor coffee?” “No, Sir.” And the tea had the same flavor of musty hay, with which we were so well acquainted. At last Picton stumbled over a prize — a bushel-basket half-filled with potatoes, whereat he raised a bugle-note of triumph.

It may seem strange that a gentleman of fine education, a traveller, who had visited the famous European capitals, London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna; who had passed between the Pillars of Hercules, and voyaged upon the blue Mediterranean, far as the Greek Archipelago; who had wandered through the galleries of the Vatican, and mused within the courts of the Alhambra; who had seen the fire-works on the carnival dome of St. Peter’s, and the water-works of Versailles; the temples of Athens, and the Boboli gardens of Florence; the sculptures of Praxiteles, and the frescoes of Raphael; should exhibit such emotion as Picton exhibited, over a bushel-basket only half-filled with small-sized blue-nosed tubers. But Picton was only a man, and “Homo sum ———” the rest of the sentence it is needless to quote. I saw at a glance that the potatoes were cut in halves for planting; but Picton was filled with the divine idea of a feast.

“I say, we want a peck of potatoes.”

“A peck?” was the answer. “Why, man, I 139 wouldn’t sell ye my seed-potatoes at a guinea apiece.”

Here was a sudden let-down; a string of the human violin snapped, just as it was keyed up to tuning point. Slowly and sorrowfully we regained the yawl after that brief and bitter experience, and a few strokes of the oars carried us to the side of the “Balaklava.”

It may seem absurd and trifling to dwell upon such slight particulars in this itinerary of a month among the Blue Noses (as our brothers of Nova Scotia are called); but to give a correct idea of this rarely-visited part of the world, one must notice the salient points that present themselves in the course of the survey. Louisburgh would speedily become rich from its fisheries, if there were sufficient capital invested there and properly used. Halifax is now the only point of contact between it and the outside world; Halifax supplies it with all the necessary articles of life, and Halifax buys all the produce of its fisheries. Therefore, Halifax reaps all the profits on either side, both of buying and selling, in all not amounting to much — as the matter now stands. But insomuch as the sluggish blood of the colonies will never move without some quickening impulse from exterior sources, and as Louisburgh is only ten days’ sail, under canvas, 140 from New York, and as the fisheries there would rapidly grow by kindly nurture into importance, it does seem as if a moderate amount of capital diverted in that direction, would be a fortunate investment, both for the investor and hardy fishermen of the old French town.

I have alluded before to the long Acadian twilights, the tender and loving leave-takings between the day and his earth; just as two fond and foolish young people separate sometimes, or as the quaint old poet in Britannia’s Pastorals describes it:

“Look as a lover, with a lingering kiss,
  About to part with the best half that’s his:
  Fain would he stay, but that he fears to do it,
  And curseth time for so fast hastening to it:
  Now takes his leave, and yet begins anew
  To make less vows than are esteemed true:
  Then says, he must be gone, and then doth find
  Something he should have spoke that’s out of mind:
    And while he stands to look for’t in her eyes,
  Their sad, sweet glance so ties his faculties
  To think from what he parts that he is now
  As far from leaving her, or knowing how
  As when he came;
begins his former strain,
  To kiss, to vow, and take his leave again;
  Then turns, comes back, sighs, pants, and yet doth go,
  Fain to retire, and loth to leave her so.”

Even so these fond and foolish old institutions part 141 company in northern regions, and, at the early hour of two o’clock in the morning, the amorous twilight reappears in his foggy mantle, to look at the fair face of his ancient sweetheart in the month of June.

Tea being over, the “cluck” of the row-locks woke the echoes of the twilight bay, as our little yawl put off again for the new town, with a gay evening party, consisting of the captain, his lady, the baby, Picton and myself, with a brace of Newfoundland oarsmen. If our galley was not a stately one, it was at least a cheerful vessel, and as the keel grated on the snow-white pebbles of the beach, Picton and I sprang ashore, with all the gallantry of a couple of Sir Walter Raleighs, to assist the queen of the “Balaklava” upon terra firma. Her majesty being landed, we made a royal procession to the largest hutch on the green slope before us, the captain carrying the insignia of his marital office (the baby) with great pomp and awkward ceremony, in front, while his lady, Picton and I, loitered in the rear. We had barely crossed the sill of the hutch-door, before we felt quite at home and welcome. The same cheery fire in the chimney-place, the spotless floor, the tidy rush-bottomed chairs, and a whole nest of little white-heads and twinkling eyes, just on the border of a bright patch-work 142 quilt, was invitation enough, even if we had not been met at the threshold by the master himself, who stretched out his great arms with a kind, “Come-in-and-how-are-ye-all.”

And what a wonderful evening we passed in that other hutch, before the blazing hearth-fire! What stories of wrecks and rescues, of icebergs and whales, of fogs and fisheries, of domestic lobsters that brought up their little families, in the mouths of the sunken cannon of the French frigates; of the great sharks that were sometimes caught in the meshes of the set-nets! “There was one shark,” said our host, another old fisherman, who, by the way, wore a red skull-cap like a cardinal, and had a habit of bobbing his head as he spoke, so as to put one continually in mind of a giant woodpecker — “there was one shark I mind particular. My two boys and me was hauling in the net, and soon as I felt it, says I, ‘Boys, here’s something more than common.’ So we all hauled away, and O my! didn’t the water boil when he came up? Such a time! Fortnatly, he come up tail first. LORD, if he’d a come up head first he’d a bit the boat in two at one bite! He was all hooked in, and twisted up in the net. I s’pose he had forty hooks in him; and when he got his head above water, he was took sick, and such a time as he had! He must a’ 143 vomited up two barrels of bait — true as I set here. Well, as soon as he got over that, then he tried to get his head around to bite! LORD, if he’d got his head round, he’d a bit the boat in two, and we had it right full of fish, for we’d been out all day with hand-lines. He had a nose in front of his gills just like a duck, only it was nigh upon six feet long.”

“It must have been a shovel-nose shark,” said Picton.

“That’s what a captain of a coaster told me,” replied Red-Cap; “he said it must have been a shovel-nose. If he’d only got that shovel-nose turned around, he’d a shovelled us into eternity, fish and all.”

“What prevented him getting his head around?” said Picton.

“Why, sir, I took two half-hitches round his tail, soon as I seen him come up. And I tell ye when I make two half-hitches, they hold; ask captain there, if I can’t make hitches as will hold. What say, captain?”

Captain assented with a confirmatory nod.

“What did you do then?” said Picton. “Did you get him ashore?”

“Get him ashore?” muttered Red-Cap, covering his mouth with one broad brown hand to muffle a 144 contemptuous laugh; “get him ashore! why, we was pretty well off shore for such a sail.”

“You might have rowed him ashore,” said Picton.

“Rowed him ashore?” echoed Red-Cap, with another contemptuous smile under the brown hand; “rowed him ashore?”

The traveller, finding he was in deep water, answered: “Yes, that is, if you were not too far out.”

“A little too far out,” replied Red-Cap; “why if I had been a hundred yards only from shore, it would ha’ been too far to row, or sail in, with that shovel-nose, without counting the set-nets.”

“And what did you do?” said Picton, a little nettled.

“Why,” said Red-Cap, “I had to let him go, but first I cut out his liver, and that I did bring ashore, although it filled my boat pretty well full. You can judge how big it was: after I brought it ashore I lay it out on the beach and we measured it, Mr. McAlpin and me, and he’ll tell you so too; we laid it out on the beach, that ere liver, and it measured seventeen feet, and then we didn’t measure all of it.”

“Why the devil,” said Picton, “didn’t you measure all of it?”

“Well,” replied Red-Cap, “because we hadn’t a measure long enough.


Meantime the good lady of the hutch was busy arranging some tumblers on the table, and to our great surprise and delight a huge yellow pitcher of milk soon made its appearance, and immediately after an old-fashioned iron bake-pan, with an upper crust of live embers and ashes, was lifted off the chimney trammel, and when it was opened, the fragrance of hot ginger-bread filled the apartment. Then Red-Cap bobbed away at a corner cupboard, until he extracted therefrom a small keg or runlet of St. Croix rum of most ripe age and choice flavor, some of which, by an adroit and experienced crook of the elbow, he managed to insinuate into the milk, which, with a little brown sugar, he stirred up carefully and deliberately with a large spoon, Picton and I watching the proceedings with intense interest. Then the punch was poured out and handed around; while the good wife made little trips from guest to guest with a huge platter filled with the brown and fragrant pieces of the cake, fresh from the bake-pan. And so the baby having subsided (our baby of the “Balaklava”), and the twilight having given place to a grand moon-light on the bay, and the fire sending out its beams of warmth and happiness, glittering on the utensils of the dresser, and tenderly touching with rosy light the cheeks of the small, white-headed fishermen on the 146 margin of the patch-work quilt; while there was no lack of punch and hospitality in the yellow pitcher, who shall say that we were not as well off in the fisherman’s hutch as in a grand saloon, surrounded with frescoes and flunkeys, and served with thin lemonade upon trays of silver?

I do not know why it is, but there always has been something very attractive to me in the faces of children; I love to read the physiognomy of posterity, and so get a history of the future world in miniature, before the book itself is fairly printed. And insomuch as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are said to be the nurseries of England’s seamen, it was with no little interest that I caught a glimpse of two boys, one thirteen, the other eleven years old, the eldest children of our friend Red-Cap.

They came in just as we entered the hutch, and quietly seated themselves together by the corner of the fire-place, after modestly shaking hands with all the guests. They were dressed in plain home-spun clothes, with something of a sailor rig, especially the neat check shirts, and old-fashioned, little low-quartered, round-toed shoes, such as are always a feature in the melo-drama where Jack plays a part. It is not usual too, to see such stocky, robust frames as these fisher-boys presented; and in all three, in the father and his two sons, was one general, pervading 147 idea of cleanliness and housewifery. And then, to notice the physiognomy again, each small face, though modest as that of no girl which I could recall at the moment, had its own tale of hardihood to tell; there was a something that recalled the open sea, written in either countenance; courage and endurance; faith and self-reliance; the compass and the rudder; speaking plainly out under each little thatch of white hair. And indeed, as we found out afterwards, those young countenances told the truth; those fisher-boys were Red-Cap’s only boat-crew. In all weathers, in all seasons, by night and by day, the three were together, the parent and his two children, upon the perilous deep.

“If I were the father of those boys,” I whispered to Red-Cap, “I would be proud of them.”

“Would ye?” said he, with a proud, fatherly glance towards them; “well, I thought so once mysel’; it was when a schooner got ashore out there on the rocks; and we could see her, just under the lights of the lighthouse, pounding away; and by reason of the ice, nobody would venture; so my boys said, says they, ‘Father, we can go, any way.’ So I wouldn’t stop when they said that, and so we laid beside the schooner and took off all her crew pretty soon, and they mostly dead with the cold; but it was an awful bad night, what with the darkness 148 and the ice. “Yes,” he added, after a pause, “they are good boys now; but they won’t be with me many years.”

“And why not?” I inquired, for I could not see that the young Red-Caps exhibited any migratory signs of their species to justify the remark.

“Because all our boys go to the States, just as soon as they get old enough.”

“To the States?” I echoed with no little surprise; “why, I thought they all entered the British Navy, or something of that kind.”

“Lord bless ye,” said Red-Cap, “not one of them. Enter the British Navy! Why, man, you get the whole of our young people. What would they want to enter the British Navy for, when they can enter the United States of America?”

“The air of Cape Breton is certainly favorable to health,” said I, in a whisper, to Picton; “look, for example, at the mistress of the hutch!” and so surely as I have a love of womanity, so surely I intended to convey a sentiment of admiration in the brief words spoken to Picton. The wife of Bonnet Rouge was at least not young, but her cheek was smooth, and flushed with the glow of health; her eyes liquid and bright; her hair brown, and abundant; her step light and elastic. Although neither Picton, captain, or anybody else in the hutch would 149 remind one of the Angel Raphael, yet Mrs. Red-Cap, as

—— “With dispatchful looks, in haste
She turned, on hospitable thoughts intent,”

was somewhat suggestive of Eve; her movements were grand and simple; there was a welcome in her face that dimpled in and out with every current topic; a Miltonic grandeur in her air, whether she walked or waited. I could not help but admire her, as I do everything else noble and easily understood. Mrs. Red-Cap was a splendid woman; the wife of a fisherman, with an unaffected grace beyond the reach of art, and poor old Louisburgh was something to speak of. Picton expressed his admiration in stronger and profaner language.

We were not the only guests at Red-Cap’s. The lighthouse keeper, Mr. Kavanagh, a bachelor and scholar, with his sister, had come down to take a moonlight walk over the heather; for in new Scotland as in old Scotland, the bonny heather blooms, although not so much familiarized there by song and story. But we shall visit Lighthouse Point anon, and spend some hours with the two Kavanaughs. Forthright, into the teeth of the harbor, the wind is blowing: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst 150 not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.” How long the “Balaklava” may stay here is yet uncertain. So, with a good-night to the Red-Cape and their guests, we once more bear away for the cabin of the schooner and another night’s discomfort.

As I have said before in other words, this province is nothing more than a piece of patchwork, intersected with petty boundary lines, so that every nation is stitched in and quilted in spots, without any harmony, or coherence, or general design. The people of Louisburgh are a kind, hospitable, pleasant people, tolerably well informed for the inhabitants of so isolated a corner of the world; but a few miles further off we come upon a totally different race: a canting, covenanting, oat-eating, money-griping, tribe of second-hand Scotch Presbyterians: a transplanted, degenerate, barren patch of high cheek-bones and red hair, with nothing cleaving to them of the original stock, except covetousness and that peculiar cutaneous eruption for which the mother country is celebrated. But we shall soon have enough of these Scotsmen, good reader. Our present visit is to Lighthouse Point, to look out upon the broad Atlantic, the rocky coast, and the island battery, which a century since gave so much trouble to our filibustering fathers of New England. 151 As we walked towards the lighthouse over the pebbly beach that borders the green turf, Picton suddenly starts off and begins a series of great jumps on the turf, giving with every grasshopper-leap a sort of interjectional “Whuh! whuh!” as though the feat was not confined to the leg-muscles only, but included also a necessary exercise of the lungs. And although we shouted at the traveller, he kept on towards the lighthouse, uttering with every jump, “Heather, heather.” At last he came to, beside a group of evergreens, and grew rational. The springy, elastic sod, the heather of old Scotland, reproduced in new Scotland, had reminded him of reels and strathspeys, “for,” said he, “nobody can walk upon this sort of thing without feeling a desire to dance upon it. Thunder and turf! if we only had the pipes now!”

And sure enough here was the heather; the soft, springy turf, which has made even Scotchmen affectionate. I do not wonder at it; it answers to the foot-step like an echo, as the string of an instrument answers its concord; as love answers love in unison. I do not wonder that Scotchmen love the heather; I am only surprised that so much heather should be wasted on Scotchmen.

We had anticipated a fine marine view from the lighthouse, but in place of it we could only see a 152 sort of semi-luminous vapor, usually called a fog, which enveloped ocean, island, and picturesque coast. We could not discover the Island Battery opposite, which had bothered Sir Williams in the siege of ’45; but nevertheless, we could judge of the difficulty of reaching it with a hostile force, screened as it was by its waves and vapors. The lighthouse is striped with black and white bars, like a zebra, and we entered it. One cannot help but admire such order and neatness, for the lighthouse is a marvel of purity. We were everywhere — in the bed-rooms, in the great lantern with its glittering lamps, in the hall, the parlor, the kitchen; and found in all the same pervading virtue; as fresh and sweet as a bride was that old zebra-striped lighthouse. The Kavanaghs, brother and sister, live here entirely alone; what with books and music, the ocean, the ships, and the sky, they have company enough. One could not help liking them, they have such cheerful faces, and are so kind and hospitable. Good bye, good friends, and peace be with you always! On our route schooner-ward we danced back over the heather, Picton with great joy carrying a small basket filled with his national fruit — a present from the Kavanaghs. What a feast we shall have, fresh fish, lobster, and above all — potatoes!


It is a novel sight to see the firs and spruces on this stormy sea-coast. They grow out, and not up; an old tree spreading over an area of perhaps twenty feet in diameter, with the inevitable spike of green in its centre, and that not above a foot and a half from the ground. The trees in this region are possessed of extraordinary sagacity; they know how hard the winds blow at times, and therefore put forth their branches in full squat, just like country girls at a pic-nic.

On Sunday the wind is still ahead, and Picton and I determine to abandon the “Balaklava.” How long she may yet remain in harbor is a matter of fate; so, with brave, resolute hearts, we start off for a five-mile walk, to McGibbet’s, the only owner of a horse and wagon in the vicinity of Louisburgh. Squirrels, robins, and rabbits appear and disappear in the road as we march forwards. The country is wild, and in its pristine state; nature everywhere. Now a brook, now a tiny lake, and “the murmuring pines and the hemlocks.” At last we arrive at the house of McGibbet, and encounter new Scotland in all its original brimstone and oat-meal.


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