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From Acadia; or a Month with the Blue Noses, by Frederic S. Cozzens; Derby & Jackson, New York, 1859; pp. 176-185.



The Micmac Camp — Indian Church-warden and Broker — Interior of a Wigwam — A Madonna — A Digression — Malcolm discharged — An Indian Bargain — The Inn Parlor, and a Comfortable Night’s Rest.

THE threat had its effect: in a few minutes our boat ran bows-on up the clear pebbled beach before the Micmac camp.

It was a little cluster of birch-bark wigwams, pitched upon a carpet of greensward, just at the edge of one of the loveliest harbors in the world. The fog rolled away like the whiff of vapor from a pipe, and melted out of sight. Before us were the blue and violet waters, tinged with the hues of sunset, the rounded, swelling, curving shores opposite, dotted with cottages; the long, sweeping, creamy beaches, the distant shipping, and, beyond, the great waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Nearer at hand were “the murmuring pines and the hemlocks,” the tender green light seen in vistas of firs and spruces, the thin smoke curling up from the wigwams, the birch-bark canoes, the black, bright, 177 eyes of the children, the sallow faces of the men, and the pretty squaws, arrayed in blue broadcloth frocks and leggings, and modesty, and moccasins.

“Now, here we are,” said Malcolm, triumphantly, “and wha d’ ye thenk o’ the Micmacs! Deil a wan o’ the yellow deevils but knows Malcolm, an I’ll introjewce ye to the hail o’ em.”

“Stop, sir,” said Picton, sternly, “we want none of your company. You can take your boat back,” (here I nodded affirmatively), “and we’ll walk home.”

It was quite a picture, that of our oarsman, upon this summons to depart. He had just laid his hand upon the shoulder of a fat, good-natured looking squaw, to commence the introjewcing; one foot rested on the bottom of an overturned canoe, in an attitude of command; his old battered tarpaulin hat, his Guernsey shirt, and salt-mackerel trowsers; finely relieved against the violet-tinted water; but oh! how chop-fallen were those rugged features under that old tarpaulin!

The scene had its effect; I am sure Picton and myself would gladly have paid the quadruple sum on the spot — after all, it was but a trifle — for we both drew forth a sovereign at the same moment.


Unfortunately Malcolm had no change; not a “bawbee.” “Then,” said we, “go back to the inn, and we’ll pay you on our return.”

“And,” said Malcolm, in an unearthly whine that might have been heard all over the camp, “d’ ye get me here to take advantage o’ me, and no pay me my honest airnins?”

“What the devil to do with this fellow, short of giving him a drubbing, I do not know,” said Picton. “Here, you, give us change for a sovereign, or take yourself off and wait at the hotel till we get back again.”

“I canna change a sovereign, I tell ye” ——

“Then be off with you, and wait.”

“Wad ye send me away without my honest airnins?” he uttered, with a whine like the bleat of a bagpipe.

Picton drew a little closer to Malcolm, with one fist carefully doubled up and put in ambush behind his back. But the boy interposed — “Perhapes the Micmac chief could change the sovereign.”

“Oh! ay,” quoth Malcolm, who had given an uneasy look at Picton as he stepped towards him; “Oh! ay; I’se tak ye tull ’im;” and without further ado he stepped off briskly towards the centre of the camp, and we followed in his wake. When our file-leader reached the wigwam of the chief, he 179 went down on hands and knees, lifted up a little curtain or blanket in front of the low door of the tent, crawled in head first, and we followed close upon his heels.

As soon as the eye became accustomed to the dim and uncertain light of the interior, we began to examine the curious and simple architecture of this human bee-hive. A circle of poles, say about ten feet in diameter at the base, and tied together to an apex at the top, covered with the thin bark of the birch-tree, except a space above to let out the smoke, was all the protection these people had against the elements in summer or winter. The floor, of course, was the primitive soil of Cape Breton; in the centre of the tent a few sticks were smouldering away over a little pile of ashes: the thin smoke lifted itself up in folds of blue vapor until it stole forth into the evening air from the opening in the roof. Through this aperture the light — the only light of the tent — fell down upon the group below: the old chief with his great silver cross, and medal, and snow-white hair; the young and beautiful squaw with her pappoose at the breast, like a Madonna by Murillo; Malcolm’s battered tarpaulin and Guernsey shirt; and the two unpicturesque objects of the party — Picton and myself. Around the central fire a broad, 180 green border of fragrant hemlock twigs, extending to the skirts of the tent, was raised a few inches from the ground. Upon this couch we sat, and opened our business with the aged sagamore.

Old Indian was very courteous; he drew forth a bag of clinking dollars, for strange as it may seem, he was a churchwarden: the Micmacs being all Catholics, the chief holds the silver keys of St. Peter. But venerable and pious as he appeared, with his silver cross and silver hair, the old fellow was something too of a broker! He demanded a fair rate of commission — eight per cent. premium on every dollar! Even this would not answer our purpose; it was as difficult to make change with the old churchwarden as with Malcolm: there was no money in the camp except hard silver dollars.

No change for a sovereign!

So we went forth from the wigwam again on all fours, and it was only by another promise of a sound drubbing that Malcolm was finally persuaded to drop off and leave us.

Aboriginal certainly is the camp of the Micmacs. The birch-bark wigwams; the canoes that lined the beach; the paddles, the utensils; the bows and arrows: the parti-colored baskets, are independent of, are earlier than our arts and manufactures. So far as these people are concerned, the colonial 181 government has been mild and considerate. Although there are game-laws in the Province, yet Micmac has a privilege no white man can possess. At all seasons he may hunt or fish; he may stick his aishkun in the salmon as it runneth up the rivers to spawn, and shoot the partridge on its nest, if he please, without fine and imprisonment. Some may think it better to preserve the game than to preserve the Indian; but some think otherwise. For my part, when the question is between the man and the salmon, I am content to forego fish.

As we walked through the Micmac camp we met our semi-civilized friend with the lozenge eyes, and I made a contract with him for a brief voyage on le Bras d’Or. But alas! Indian will sometimes take a lesson from his white comrades! Micmac’s charge at first was one pound for a trip of twenty-four miles on the “Arm of Gold;” cheap enough. But before we left the camp it was two pounds. That I agreed to pay. Then there was a portage of three miles over which the canoe had to be carried. “Well?” “And it would take two men to paddle.” “Well?” “And then the canoe had be paddled pack.” “Well?” “And then carried over the portage again.” “Well?” “And so it would be four pounds!” Here the negotiations were broken off; how much more it would cost I 182 did not ascertain. The rate of progression was too rapid for further inquiry.

So we walked home again amid the fragrant resinous trees, until we gained the high road, and so by pretty cottages, and lawns, and picket fences; sometimes meeting groups of wandering damsels with their young and happy lovers; sometimes twos and threes of horse-women, in habits, hats, and feathers; now catching a glimpse of the broad, blue harbor; now looking down a green lane, bordered with turf and copse; until we reached our comfortable quarters at Mrs. Hearn’s, where the pretty chambermaid, with drooping eyes, welcomed us in a voice whose music was sweeter than the tea-bell she held in her hand. And here, too, we found Malcolm, waiting for his pay, partially sober and quiet as a lamb.

I trust the reader will not find fault with the writer for dwelling upon these minute particulars. In this itinerary of the trip to the Acadian land, I have endeavored to portray, as faithfully as may be, the salient features of the country, and particularly those contrasts visible in the settlements; the jealous preservation of those dear, old, splendid prejudices, that separate tribe from tribe, clan from clan, sect from sect, race from race. I wish the reader to see and know the country as it is, not for 183 the purpose of arousing his prejudices against a neighboring people, but rather with the intent of showing to what result these prejudices tend, in order that he may correct his own. A mere aggregation of tribes is not a great people. Take the human species in a state of sectionalism, and it does not make much difference whether it is in the shape of the Indian, proud of the blue and red stripes on his face, or the Scotchman, proud of the blue and red stripes on his plaid, the inferiority of the human animal, with his tribal sheep-mark on him, is evident enough to any person of enlarged understanding. Therefore I have been minute and faithful in describing the species of McGibbet and Malcolm, and in contrasting them with the hardy fisherman of Louisburgh, the Micmacs of Sydney, the negroes of Deer’s Castle, the Acadians of Chizzetcook, and as we shall see anon with other sectional specimens, just as they present their kaleidoscopic hues in the local settlements of this colony.

It is just a year since I was seated in that cosy inn-parlor at Sydney, and how strangely it all comes back again: the little window overlooking the harbor, the lights on the twinkling waters; the old-fashioned house-clock in the corner of the room; the bright brass andirons; the cut paper chimney-apron; 184 the old sofa; the cheerful lamp, and the well-polished table. And I remember, too, the happy, tranquil feeling of lying in the snow-white sheets at night, and talking with Picton of our overland journey from Louisburgh; of McGibbet and Malcolm; and then we branched out on the great subject of Indian rights, and Indian wrongs; of squaws and pappooses; of wigwams and canoes, and at last I dropped off in a doze, and heard only a repetition of Micmac — Micmac — Micmac — Mic — Mac —— Mic——— ——— Mac! To this day I am unable to say whether the sound I heard came from Picton, or the great house-clock in the corner.


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