SOME learned philosopher has asserted that when a person has become accustomed to one peculiar kind of diet, it will be expressed in the lineaments of his face. How much the constant use of oatmeal could produce such an effect, was plainly visible in the countenances of McGibbet and his lady-love. Both had an unmistakable equine cast; McGibbet, wild, scraggy, and scrubby, with a tuft on his poll that would not have been out of place between the ears of a plough-horse, stared at us, just as such an animal would naturally over the top of a fence; while his gentle mate, who had more of the amiable draught-horse in her aspect, winked at us with both eyes from under a close-crimped frill, that bore a marvelous resemblance to a head-stall. The pair had 155 evidently just returned from kirk. To say nothing of McGibbet’s hat, and his wife’s shawl, on a chair, and his best boots on the hearth (for he was walking about in his stockings), there was a dry preceese air about them, which plainly betokened they were newly stiffened up with the moral starch of the conventicle, and were therefore well prepared to drive a hard bargain for a horse and wagon to Sydney. But what surprised me most of all was the imperturbable coolness of Picton. Without taking a look scarcely at the person he was addressing, the traveller stalked in with an — “I say, we want a horse and wagon to Sydney; so look sharp, will you, and turn out the best thing you have here?”
The moral starch of the conventicle stiffened up instantly. Like the blacksmith of Cairnvreckan, who, as a professor, would drive a nail for no man on the Sabbath, or kirk-fast, unless in a case of absolute necessity, and then always charged an extra saxpence for each shoe; so it was plain to be seen that McGibbet had a conscience which required to be pricked both with that which knows no law, and the saxpence extra. He turned to his wife and addressed her in Gaelic! Then we knew what was coming.
Mrs. McGibbet opened the subject by saying that they were both accustomed to the observance of the 156 Sabbath, and that “she didn’t think it was right for a man to transgress, when the law was so plain” ——
Here McGibbet broke in and said that — “He was free to confess he had commeeted a grreat menny theengs kwhich were a grreat deal worse than Sabbath-breaking.”
Upon which Mrs. McG. interrupted him in turn with a few words, which, although in Gaelic, a language we did not understand, conveyed the impression that she was not addressing her liege lord in the language of endearment, and again continued in English: “That it was held sinful in the community to wark or do anything o’ the sort, or to fetch or carry even a sma bundle” ——
“For kwich,” said McGibbet, “is a fine to be paid to the meenister, of five shillins currency” —
Here Picton stopped whistling a bar of “Bonny Doon,” and observed to me: “About a dollar of your money. We’ll pay the fine.”
“Yes,” chimed in McGibbet, “a dollar” —— and was again stopped by his wife, who raised her eyebrows to the borders of her kirk-frill and brought them down vehemently over her blue eyes at him.
“Or to travel the road,” she said, “even on foot, to say nothing of a wagon and horse.”
“But,” interrupted Picton, “my dear madam, we must get on, I tell you; I must be in 157 Sydney to-morrow, to catch the steamer for St. John’s.”
At this observation of the traveller, the pair fell back upon their Gaelic for a while, and in the meantime Picton whispered me: “I see; they want to raise the price for us: but we won’t give in; they’ll be sharp enough after the job by and by.”
The pair turned towards us and both shook their heads. It was plain to be seen the conference had not ended in our favor.
“Ye see,” said the gude-wife, “we are accustomed to the observance of the Sabbath, and would na like to break it, except” ——
“In a case of necessity; you are perfectly right,” chimed in Picton; “I agree with you myself. Now this is a case of necessity; here we are; we must get on, you see; if we don’t get on we miss the steamer to-morrow for St. John’s — she only runs once a fortnight there — it’s plain enough a clear case of necessity; it’s like,” continued Picton, evidently trying to corner some authority in his mind, “it’s like — let me see — it’s like — a — pulling — a sheep out of a ditch — a — which they always do on the Sabbath, you know, to a — get us on to Sydney.”
Both McGibbet and his wife smiled at Picton’s ingenuity, but straightway put on the equine look 158 again. “It might be so; but it was clean contrary to their preenciples.”
“I’ll be hanged,” whispered Picton, “if I offer more than the usual price, which I heard at Louisburg was one pound ten, to Sydney, and the fine extra. I see what they are after.”
There was an awkward pause in the negotiations. McGibbet scratched his poll, and looked wistfully at his wife, but the kirk-frill was stiffened up with the moral starch, as aforesaid.
Suddenly Picton looked out of the window. “By Jove!” said he, “I think the wind has changed! After all, we may get around in the ‘Balaklava.’ ”
McGibbet looked somewhat anxiously out of the window also, and grunted out a little more Gaelic to his love. The kirk-frill relented a trifle.
“Perhaps the gentlemen wad like a glass of milk after thae long walk? and Robert!” (which she pronounced Robbut), “a bit o’ the corn-cake.”
Upon which Robbut, with great alacrity, turned towards the bed-room, from whence he brought forth a great white disk, that resembled the head of a flour-barrel, but which proved to be a full-grown griddle cake of corn-meal. This, with the pure milk, from the cleanest of scoured pans, was acceptable enough after the long walk.
We had observed some beautiful streams, and 159 blue glimpses of lakes on the road to McGibbet’s, and just beyond his house was a larger lake, several miles in extent, with picturesque hills on either side, indented with coves, and studded with islands, sometimes stretching away to distant slopes of green turf, and sometimes reflecting masses of precipitous rock, crowned with the spiry tops of spruces and upland, was very pleasing to the sight. A low range of hills skirted the northern part of what seemed to be a spacious, natural amphitheatre, while on the south side a diversity of highlands and water added to the whole the charm of variety.
“You have a fine country about you, Mr. McGibbet,” said I.
“Ay,” he replied.
“And what is it called here?”
“We ca’ it Get-Along!” said Robbut, with an intensely Scotch accent on the “Get.”
“And yonder beautiful lake — what is the name of that?” said I, in hopes of taking refuge behind something more euphonius.
“Oh! ay,” replied he, “that’s just Get-Along, too. We doan’t usually speak of it, but whan we do, we just ca’ it Get-Along Lake, and it’s not good for much.”
I thought it best to change the subject. “Do 160 you like this as well as the oat-cake? said I, with my mouth full of the dry, husky provender.
“Nae,” said McGibbet, with an equine shake of the head, “it’s not sae fellin.”
Not so filling! Think of that, ye pampered minions of luxury, who live only upon delicate viands; who prize food, not as it is useful, but as it is tasteful; who can even encourage a depraved, sensual appetite so far as to appreciate flavor; who enjoy meats, fish, and poultry, only as they minister to your palates; who flirt with spring-chickens, and trifle with sweetbreads in wanton indolence, without a thought of your cubic capacity; without a reflection that you can live just as well upon so many square inches of oatmeal a day as you can upon the most elaborate French kickshaws; nay, that you can be elevated to the level of a scientific problem, and work out your fillings, with nothing to guide you but a slate and pencil!
“Then you like oatmeal better than this?” said Picton, soothing down a husky lump, with a cup of milk.
“Ay,” responded McGibbet.
“And you always eat it, whenever you can get it, I suppose?” continued Picton, with a most innocent air.
“Ay,” responded McGibbet.161
“I should think some of you Scotchmen would be afraid of contracting a disease that is engendered in the system by the use of this sort of grain. I hope, Mr. McGibbet,” said Picton, with imperturbable coolness, “you keep clear of the bots, and that sort of thing, you know?”
“Kwat?” said Robbut, with the most startled, horse-like look he had yet put on.
“The gasterophili,” replied Picton, “which I would advise you to steer clear of, if you want to live long.”
As this was a word with too many gable-ends for Robbut’s comprehension, he only responded by giving such a smile as a man might be expected to give who had his mouth full of aloes, and as the conversation was wandering off from the main point, addressed himself to Mrs. McG. in the vernacular again.
“We would like to obleege ye,” said the lady, “if it was not for the transgression; and we do na like to break the Sabbath for ony man.”
“Although,” interposed Robbut, “I am free to confess that I have done a great many things worse than breakin’ the Sabbath.”
“But if to-morrow would do as well,” resumed his wife, “Robbut would take ye to Sydney.”
To this Picton shook his head. “Too late for the steamer.”162
“Or to-night; I wad na mind that,” said the pious Robbut, “if it was after dark, and that will bring ye to Sydney before the morn.”
“That will do,” said Picton, slapping his thigh. “Lend us your horse and wagon to go down to the schooner and get our luggage; we will be back this evening, and then go on to Sydney, eh? That will do; a ride by moonlight;” and the traveller jumped up from his seat, walked with great strides towards the fire-place, turned his back to the blaze, hung a coat-tail over each arm, and whistled “Annie Laurie” at Mrs. McGibbet.
The suggestion of Picton meeting the views of all concerned, the diplomacy ended. Robbut put himself in his Sunday boots, and hitched up a spare rib of a horse before a box-wagon without springs, which he brought before the door with great complacency. The traveller and I were soon on the ground-floor of the vehicle, seated upon a log of wood by way of cushion; and with a chirrup from McGibbet, off we went. At the foot of the first hill, our horse stopped; in vain Picton jerked at the rein, and shouted at him: not a step further would he go, until Robbut himself came down to the rescue. “Get along, Boab!” said his master; and Bob, with a mute, pitiful appeal in his countenance, turned his face towards salt-water. At the 163 foot of the next hill he stopped again, when the irascible Picton jumped out, and with one powerful twitch of the bridle, gave Boab such a hint to “get on,” that it nearly jerked his head off. And Boab did get on, only to stop at the ascent of the next hill. Then we began to understand the tactics of the animal. Boab had been the only conveyance between Louisburgh and Sydney for many years, and, as he was usually over-burdened, made a point to stop at the up side of every hill on the road, to let part of his freight get out and walk to the top of the acclivity with him. So, by way of compromise, we made a feint of getting out at every rise of ground, and Boab, who always turned his head around at each stopping-place, seemed to be satisfied with the observance of the ceremony, and trotted gaily forward. At last we came to a place we had named Sebastopol in the morning — a great sharp edge of rock as high as a man’s waist, that cut the road in half, over which we lifted the wagon, and were soon in view of the bright little harbor and the “Balaklava” at anchor. Mr. McAlpin kindly gave quarters to our steed in his out-house, and offered to raise a signal for the schooner to send a boat ashore. As he was Deputy United States Consul, and as I was tired of the red-cross of St. George, I asked him to hoist his consular flag. Up 164 to the flag-stall truck rose the roll of white and red worsted, then uncoiled, blew out, and the blessed stars and stripes were waving over me. It is surprising to think how transported one can be some times with a little bit of bunting!
And now the labor of packing commenced, of which Picton had the greatest share by far; the little cabin of the schooner was pretty well spread out with his traps on every side; and this being ended, Picton got out his travelling-organ and blazed away to a finale of great tunes and small, sometimes fast, sometimes, slow, as the humor took him. After all, we parted from the jolly little craft with regret: our trunks were lowered over the side; we shook hands with all on board; and were rowed in silence to the land.
I have had some experience in travelling, and have learned to bear with ordinary firmness and philosophy the incidental discomforts one is certain to meet with on the road; but I must say, the discipline already acquired had not prepared me for the unexpected appearance of our wagon after Picton’s luggage was placed in it. First, two solid English trunks of sole-leather filled the bottom of the vehicle; then the traveller’s Minié-rifle, life-preserver, strapped-up blankets, and hand-bag were stuffed in the sides: over these again were piled my 165 trunk and the traveller’s valise (itself a monster of straps and sole-leather); then again his portable-secretary and the hand-organ in a box. These made such a pyramid of luggage, that riding ourselves was out of the question. What with the trunks and the cordage to keep them staid, our wagon looked like a ship of the desert. To crown all, it began to rain steadily. “Now, then,” said Picton, climbing up on his confounded travelling equipage, “let’s get on.” With some difficulty I made a half-seat on the corner of my own trunk; Picton shouted out at Boab; the Newfoundland sailors who had brought us ashore, put their shoulders to the wheels, and away we went, waving our hats in answer to the hearty cheers of the sailors. It was down hill from McAlpin’s to the first bridge, and so far we had nothing to care for, except to keep a look-out we were not shaken off our high perch. But at the foot of the first hill Boab stopped! In vain Picton shouted at him to get on; in vain he shook rein and made a feint of getting down from the wagon. Boab was not intractable, but he was sagacious; he had been fed on that sort of chaff too long. Picton and I were obliged to humor his prejudices, and dismount in the mud, and after one or two feeble attempts at a ride, gave it up, walked down hill and up, lifted the wagon by inches over Sebastopol, and 166 finally arrived at McGibbet’s, wet, tired, and hungry. That Sabbath-broker received us with a grim smile of satisfaction, put on the half-extinguished fire the smallest bit of wood he could find in the pile beside the hearth, and then went away with Boab to the stable. “Gloomy prospects ahead, Picton!” The traveller said never a word.
Now I wish to record here this, that there is no place, no habitation of man, however humble, that cannot be lighted up with a smile of welcome, and the good right-hand of hospitality, and made cheerful as a palace hung with the lamps of Aladdin!
McGibbet, after leading his beast to the stable, returned, and warming his wet hands at the fire, grunted out; “It rains the nigcht.”
“Yes,” answered Picton, hastily, “rains like blue blazes: I say, get us a drop of whisky, will you?”
To this the equine replied by folding his hands one over the other with a saintly look. “I never keep thae thing in the hoose.”
“Picton,” said I, “if we could only unlash our luggage, I have a bottle of capital old brandy in my trunk, but it’s too much trouble.”
“Oh! na,” quoth Robbut with a most accommodating look, “it will be nae trooble to get to it.”
“Well, then,” said Picton, “look sharp, will you?” and our host, with great swiftness, moved off 167 to the wagon, and very soon returned with the trunk on his shoulder, according to directions.
“But,” said I, taking out the bottle of precious fluid, “here it is, corked up tight, and what is to be done for a cork-screw?”
“I’ve got one,” said the saint.
“I thought it was likely,” quoth Picton, drily; “look sharp, will you?”
And Robbut did look sharp, and produced the identical instrument before Picton and I had exchanged smiles. Then Robbut spread out three green tumblers on the table, and following Picton’s lead, poured out a stout half-glass, at which I shouted out, “Hold up!” for I thought he was filling the tumbler for my benefit. It proved to be a mistake; Robbut stopped for a moment, but instantly recovering himself, covered the tumble with his four fingers, and, to use a Western phrase, “got outside of the contents quicker than lightning.” Then he brought from his bed-room a coarse sort of worsted horse-blanket, and with a “Ye’ll may-be like to sleep an hour or twa?” threw down his family-quilt and retired to the arms of Mrs. McG. Picton gave a great crunching blow with his boot-heel at the back-stick, and laid on a good supply of fuel. We were wet through and through, but we wrapped ourselves in our travelling-blankets 168 like a brace of clansmen in their plaids, put our feet towards the niggardly blaze, and were soon bound and clasped with sleep.
At two o’clock our host roused us from our hard bed, and after a stretch, to get the stiffness out of joints and muscles, we took leave of the Presbyterian quarters. The day was just dawning: at this early hour, lake and hill-side, tree and thicket, were barely visible in the grey twilight. The wagon, with its pyramid of luggage, moved off in the rain, McGibbet walking beside Boab, and Picton and I following after, with all the gravity of chief mourners at a funeral. To give some idea of the road we were upon, let it be understood, it had once been an old French military road, which, after the destruction of the fortress of Louisburgh, had been abandoned to the British Government and the elements. As a consequence, it was embroidered with the ruts and gullies of a century, the washing of rains, and the tracks of wagons; howbeit, the only traverse upon it in later years were the wagon of McGibbet and the saddle-horse of the post-rider. “Get-Along” had a population of seven hundred Scotch Presbyters, and therefore it will be easy to understand the condition of its turnpike.
Up hill and down hill, through slough and over rock, we trudged, for mile after mile. Sometimes 169 beside Get-Along Lake, with its grey, spectral islands and woodlands; sometimes by rushing brooks and dreary farm-fields; now in paths close set with evergreens; now in more open grounds, skirted with hills and dotted with silent, two-penny cottages. Sometime Picton mounted his pyramid of trunk-leather for a mile or so of nods; sometime I essayed the high perch, and holding on by a cord, dropped off in a moment’s forgetfulness, with the constant fear of waking up in a mud-hole, or under the wagon-wheels. But even these respites were brief. It is not easy to ride up hill and down by rock and rut, under such conditions. We were very soon convinced it was best to leave the wagon to its load of sole-leather, and walk through the mud to Sydney.
After mouldy Halifax, and war-worn Louisburgh, the little town of Sydney is a pleasant rural picture. Everybody has heard of the Sydney coal-mines: we expected to find the miner’s finger-marks everywhere; but instead of the smoky, sulphurous atmosphere, and the black road, and the sulky, grimy, brick tenements, we were surprised with clean, white, picket-fences; and green lawns, and clever, little cottages, nestled in shrubbery and clover. The mines are over the bay, five miles from South Sydney. Slowly we dragged on, until we came to a sleepy little one-story inn, with supernatural 170 dormer windows rising out of the roof, before which Boab stopped. We paid McGibbet’s kirk-fine, wagon-fare, and his unconscionable charge for his conscience, without parleying with him; we were too sleepy to indulge in the luxury of a monetary skirmish. A pretty, red-cheeked chamber-maid, with lovely drooping eyes, showed us to our rooms; it was yet very early in the morning; we were almost ashamed to get into bed with such dazzling white sheets after the dark-brown accommodations of the “Balaklava;” but we did get in, and slept; oh! how sweetly! until breakfast at one!
“Twenty-four miles of such foot-travel will do pretty well for an invalid, eh, Picton?”
“All serene?” quoth the traveller, interrogatively.
“Feel as well as ever I did in my life,” said I, with great satisfaction.
“Then let’s have a bath,” and, at Picton’s summons, the chamber-maid brought up in our rooms two little tubs of fair water, and a small pile of fat, white napkins. The bathing over, and the outer men new clad, “from top to toe,” down we went to the cosy parlor to breakfast; and such a breakfast!
“I tell you, my kind and gentle friend; you, who are now reading this paragraph, that here, as in all other parts of the world, there are a great many 171 kinds of people; only that here, in Nova Scotia, the difference is in spots, not in individuals. And I will venture to say to those philanthropists who are eternally preaching “of the masses,” and “to the masses,” that here “masses” can be found — concrete “masses,” not yet individualized: as ready to jump after a leader as a flock of sheep after a bell-wether; only that at every interval of five or ten miles between place and place in Nova Scotia, they are apt to jump in contrary directions. There are Scotch Nova Scotiaites even in Sydney. Otherwise the place is marvellously pleasant.
I must confess that I had a romantic sort of idea in visiting Sydney; a desire to return by way of the Bras d’Or lake, the “arm of gold,” the inland sea of Cape Breton, that makes the island itself only a border for the water in its interior. And as the navigation is frequently performed by the Micmac Indians, in their birch-bark canoes, I determined to be a voyageur for the nonce, and engage a couple of Micmacs to paddle me homewards, at least one day’s journey. The wigwams of the tribe were pitched about a mile from the town, and I proposed a visit to their camp as an afternoon’s amusement. Picton readily assented, and down we went to the wharf, where the landlady assured us we would find some of the tribe. These Indians, often expert 172 coopers, are employed to barrel up fish; the busy wharf was covered with laborers, hard at work, heading and hooping ship loads of salt mackerel; and among the workmen were some with the unmistakable lozenge eyes, high cheek-bones, and rhubarb complexion of the native American. Upon inquiry, we were introduced to one of the Rubarbarians. He was a little fellow, not in leggings and quill-embroidered hunting-shirt, with belt of wampum and buckskin moccasins; armed with bow and arrow, tomahawk and scalping-knife; such as one would expect to navigate a wild, romantic lake with, in birch-bark canoe; but a pinched-up specimen of a man, in a seedy black suit, out of which rose a broad, flat face, like the orb of a sun-flower, bearing one side the aboriginal black eye, and on the other the civilized, surrounded with the blue and purple halo of battle. We had barely opened our business with the Indian, when a bonny Scotchman, a fellow-cooper of salt mackerel, introduced himself:
“Oh, ye visit the Micmacs the day?”
“De’il a canoe has he to tak ye there” (the Indian slunk away), “but I’ll tak ye tull ’em for one and saxpence, in a gude boat.”
The fellow had such an honest face, and the offer 173 was so fair and earnest, that Picton’s and my own trifling prejudices were soon overcome, and we directed Malcolm, for that was his name, to bring his boat under the inn-windows after the dinner-hour. I regret to say that we found Malcolm tolerably drunk after dinner, with a leaky boat, under the inn-windows. And farther, I am pained to state the national characteristic was developed in Malcolm drunk, from which there was no appeal to Malcolm sober, for he insisted on double fare, and time was pressing. To this we assented, after a brief review of former prejudices. We got in the boat and put off. We had barely floated away into the beautiful landscape when a fog swept over us, and Malcolm’s nationality again woke up. He would have four times as much as he had charged in the first instance, or “he’d tak us over, and land us on the ither side of the bay.”
Then Picton’s nationality woke up, and he unbuttoned his macintosh. “Now, sir,” said he to Malcolm, as he rose from his seat in the boat, his head gracefully inclined towards his starboard shirt-collar, and his two tolerably large fists arrayed in order of battle within a few brief inches of the delinquent’s features, “did I understand you to say that you had some idea of taking this gentleman and myself to the other side of the bay?”174
There was a boy in our boat — a fair-haired, blue-eyed representative of Nova Scotia; a sea-boy, with a dash of salt-water in his ruddy cheeks, who had modestly refrained from taking part in the dispute.
“Come, now,” said he to Malcolm, “pull away, and let us get the gentlemen up to the camp,” and he knit his boy brow with determination, as if he meant to have it settled according to contract.
“Yes,” said Picton, nodding at the boy, “and if he don’t” ——
“I’m pullin’ an’t I?” quoth the descendant of King Duncan, a little frightened, and suiting the action to the word; “I’m a-pewlin,” and here his oar missed the water, and over he tumbled with a great splash in the bottom of the boat. “I’m a-pewlin,” he whined, as he regained his seat and the oar, “and all I want is to hae my honest airnins.”
“Then pull away,” said Picton, as he resumed his seat in the stern-sheets.
“Ay,” quoth the Scotchman, “I know the Micmacs weel, and thae squaws too; deil a one o’ ’em but knows Malcolm” ——
“Pull away,” said the boy.
“They are guid-lookin’, thae squaws, and I’m a bachelter; and I tell ye when it tak ye tull em —— 175 for I know the hail o’ em — if ye are gentlemen, ye’ll pay me my honest airnins.”
“And I tell you,” answered Picton, his fist clenched, his eyes flashing again, and his indignant nostrils expressing a degree of anger language could not express; “I tell you, if you do not carry us to the Micmac camp without further words, I’ll pay you your honest earnings before you get there: I’ll punch that Scotch head of yours till it looks like a photograph!”