ADVENTUROUS travellers, who penetrated into Canada during the late visit of the Sovereign-Apparent of that colony, have furnished the public, through the daily press, with minute and more or less faithful descriptions of places upon the grand routes. Quebec and Montreal have been done by them to a hair; Kingston and another wicked place made notorious for bad manners; Toronto, Hamilton, and London of the West photographed with a camera of maximum dimensions. Upon the two great railroadlines by which Canada is now traversed, — the Grand Trunk and the Great Western, — there is hardly a station which has not been mentioned by the reporters, either for the loyal manner in which it was decorated to do honor to the youthful Prince, or for the rather inhospitable display of certain objectionable symbols by the people around.
But neither in Canada nor elsewhere is it upon the grand routes that glimpses can be had of interior life and character. Primitive simplicity is altogether incompatible with railroads. The boy who resides near a station is quite an old man, compared with any average boy taken from the sequestered clearings ten miles back: he may be a worse kind of boy, or he may be a better, but he isn’t the same kind, at any rate. Of girls it is more dillieult to speak with confidence in the present era,— hooped skirts having pretty nearly assimilated them everywhere ; but I have noticed that they are less ingenuous along railroads than in secluded districts, and their parents more suspicious,—a fact which makes railroad-vicinities inferior places to dwell in, compared to those that are rural and remote from the demoralizing influences of up and down trains.
I do not aver that the railroad is devoid of a kind of poetry of its own, — the same kind of sentiment, nearly, that resides about anvils and smelting-furnaces in the Hartz Mountains and in the great coal-districts: an infernal kind of sentiment, for the most part, being inseparable from burning fiery furnaces and grime; as in “ Fridolin,” and in the “ Song of the Bell,” and in the “ Forging of the Anchor.” Once, particularly, in travelling by rail, did I experience the mysterious glamour that seems to hang round iron more than about any other metal. It was past midnight; and on waking up after a sleep of some hours, I found myself alone in the long car, which had come to a stand-still while I slept. The stillness of the night was broken at intervals by a short, loud boom, as of an iron bell ringing up some terrible domestic from the incomprehensible unseen. On looking out of the window, I saw by some dim lamp-light that we were alone in an immense iron hall; we, I say, for there was a ponderous, grimy being darkly visible to me, whose gigantic shadow made terrible gestures upon the walls and among the great iron girders of the roof, as he moved slowly along the train, striking the wheels with a heavy sledge-hammer as he went. Of course there was nothing unusual in such a proceeding, the object of which was, probably, to ascertain something connected with the condition of the rolling stock; but there was a kind of awful poetry in the toll of the iron bell, which ran, and reverberated, and tingled among the iron ribs in the building, making them all sing as if they were things of flesh and blood, with plenty of iron in the latter, which is reckoned to be conducive to robust health.
But the romance of rolling stock has yet to be disengaged, and the inspired conductor or bardic baggage-master destined to do that is yet in the shell. May he long remain there !
Off the track some ten or twenty miles, though, almost anywhere, some of the materials, at least, for good, regular poetry of the old-fashioned kind are to be found. A mill, for instance, with a wooden wheel,—no demoralizing iron about it, iu fact, except, what cannot well be dispensed with, in view of wear and tear. A white cottage, where the miller dwells serene; mossy roof, red brick chimney, and no lightning-rod or any other iron, being the principal features of the serene miller’s abode. Cherries, in that tranquil person’s garden, that are nearly ripe, and roses of a delicate red, — but none so ripe or so red as the lips and cheeks of the serene miller’s daughter, who trips across the little wooden foot-bridge over the mill-stream, singing a birdy kind of song as she goes. She is clad in a black velvet bodice and russet skirt, and has no iron about her of auy description, unless, indeed, it is in her blood,— where it ought to be. The breath of kine waiting to be relieved of their honest milk, which is a good, solid kind of fluid in such places, and meanders about the land with great freedom in company with honey. All these things will be very scarce in the world by-and-by, on which account it seems to be a judicious thing to go off the track a little, now and then, if only to “say that we have seen them.”
In following the graphic narratives of the Prince of Wales’s tour, the mind naturally wandered away to places not visited by him, although within easy distance of his fore-ordered course. It is well that there are places left to talk about! Let us conjure up a few old reminiscences of one, — a silent, primitive little nook of the North, within an hour’s ride of Quebec, but too insignificant a spot for the coveted distinction of a royal visit. Crowned heads, then, will have the goodness to transfer their attention, and skip to the next article.
The nook to which I refer is Lorette, in Lower or French Canada, where it is commonly called Jeune Lorette, to distinguish it from Ancienne Lorette, — a less interesting place, distant from it about four miles.
Jeutie Lorette is situated about eight miles north-west of Quebec, upon the beautiful, romantic stream Called the St. Charles, which rushes down many a picturesque gorge, and winds through many pleasant meadows, in its course ot some twenty miles from Lake St. Charles away up in the hills to the St. Roch suburb of Quebec. Here it assumes the character of a deep, tortuous dock, incumbered with the débris of many ship-yards, and reflecting the skeleton shapes of big-ribbed merchantmen on the stocks. Here, too, it is generally called the Little River; probably to distinguish it from the great River St. Lawrence, into which it oozes at this point
But higher up, as I have said, the St. Charles is romantic and rushes on its fate. At Lorette, it divides the village in twain : a western section, for the most part peopled by Freneh-Canadian habitans; an eastern one, inhabited by half-breed Indians, a remnant of the once powerful Hurons of old.
These Canadian Hurons are not, in their present condition, corroborative of the Cooper specifications of Indian life: rather the contrary, in fact. There is a wing of them—a wing without feathers, indeed — settled down at Amherstburgh, on the far western marge of Lake Erie, in Canada, quite six hundred miles away from their brethren of Lorette. When shooting woodcock once in that district, I entered the comfortable log farm-house of the chief of the settlement, whose name was Martin. He was a fat, rather Dutchlooking Indian, but still active and industrious,— for a man who is an Indian and fat. I asked Mr. Martin if he hunted much; to which he replied, No, he did not,—adding, that he never was far into the woods but once in his life, and that was on his own lot of a hundred acres of bush, in which he was lost, on that occasion, for two days.
Among the Hurons of Lorette there are a few young men who hunt moose and caribou iu the proper season; but the men, generally speaking, as well as the women, are engaged in the manufacture of snow-shoes and moccasons,—articles for which there is a great demand in Lower Canada. Philippe Vincent, a chieftain and shoemaker of the tribe, told me that he had disposed of twelve hundred dollars’ worth of these articles, on a trip to Montreal, from which he had just returned. Many articles of Indian fancy-work are also manufactured by them : beaded pouches for tobacco, barkwork knick-knacks, and curious racks made of the hoofs of the moose, and hung upon the wall to stick small articles into.
On the profits of this work many of them live in comfort,— nay, in luxury. Paul Vincent, a cousin of Philippe mentioned above, and, like him, a chief of the tribe and a renowned builder of snowshoes, paid two hundred and seventy-five dollars for a piano for his daughter, when I was at Quebec, five or six years ago. Whenever I visited Philippe, that stately man of the Hurons would usher me into a little parlor with a sofa in it and a carpet on the floor; he would produce brandy in a cut decanter, and cake upon a good porcelain plate, and would be merry in French and expansive on the subject of trade.
Most of these hybrid Hurons are quite as white as their Canadian neighbors; but they generally have the horse-tail hair, and black, beady eye of the aborigines. The ordinary dress of the men, in winter, is a blue blanket-coat, made with a capuchon, or hood, which latter is generally trimmed with bright-colored ribbon and ornamented with beads. Epaulettes, fashioned out of pieces of red and blue cloth, somewhat after the pattern of a pen-wiper, impart a distinguished appearance to the shoulders of these garments, which are rendered still more picturesque by being tucked round the body with heavy woollen sashes, variegated in red, blue, and yellow. Some of these sashes are heavily beaded, and worth from five to ten dollars each ; and they, as well as the Indian blanket-coats, are to be had at the furriers’ shops in Quebec, where there is a considerable demand for them by members of snowshoe clubs, and others whose occupations or amusements render that style of costume appropriate for their wear. The older women dress in the ordinary squaw costume, with short, narrow petticoats, and embroidered metasses, or leggings. When going out, they fold a blue blanket over all, and put on a regular, unpicturesque, stove-pipe hat, with a band of tinfoil around it,—which makes them look like one of those mulatto coachmen one sees now and then on the box of a bonton barouche, with his silver-mounted hat and double-caped blue box-coat. The young girls are disposed to innovations upon the petticoats, and modifications of the metasses. Once I saw one standing on a great gray crag at the foot of the fall. She looked extremely picturesque at a little distance, giving a nice bit of local color to the scene with her scarlet legs; but on a nearer approach, much of the value of the color disappeared before the unromantic facts of a pale-face petticoat and patent-leather gaiter-boots. I have noticed several of the younger people here with brown hair and blue or gray eyes, significant that the aboriginal blood is being gradually diluted. In another generation or two, there will be little of it left among them. But the correspondents of the press, who described some of these Indians seen by them at Quebec, are mistaken in attributing to them an admixture of Irish blood. Until within eight years past, there were few, if any, Irish to be found in the neighborhood of Lorette. Since that time, the construction of the Quebec water-works, which are supplied from Lake St. Charles, has given employment to hundreds of the Hibernian stock in that neighborhood; and I know not whether their influence as regards race may not be now discernible in the features of many pugnacious Huronites of tender years: but the white element traceable in the lineaments of the present and passing generations of the settlement is distinctly attributable to the proximity of the French-Canadian, whose language has been transfused into them with the blood.
Few, if any, of the older people of Lorette speak English,— Huron and French being the only languages at their command. Since the building of the great reservoir, however, many of the rising generation are picking up the English tongue in its roundest Irish form. Previously, matters were the reverse. I once noticed a handsome, brown-faecd boy there, who used to come about with a bow and arrows, soliciting coppers, which were placed one by one in a split stick, shot at, and pocketed by the archer, if hit,—as they almost always were. He spoke Indian and French, and I took him for an olive-branch of the tribe ; but, on questioning him, he told me that his name was Bill Coogan, and that he first saw the light, I think, in Cork, Ireland.
There is one charming feature at Lorette,—a winding, dashing cascade, which boils and creams down with splendid fury through a deep gorge fenced with pied and tumbled rocks, and overhung by gnarly-boughed cedars, pines, and birches. There is, or at least there was, a crumbling old saw-mill on a ledge of rock nearly half-way up the torrent. It was in keeping with the scene, and I hope it is there still; but it was very shaky when I last saw it, and has probably made an éboulement down to the foot of the fall before now. Some short distance above the head of the fall, near the bridge by which the two villages are connected, the scene is pictorially damaged by a stark, staring papermill, the dominant colors of which are Solferino-red and pea-green. This, a comparatively new feature in the landscape, is not visible from below, however, and it is from there that the fall is seen to best advantage.
To the eye of the experienced fisherman, it is obvious that the St. Charles, with its sparkling rapids, and the deep, swirling pools formed by its numerous “ elbows,” must erstwhile have been a chosen retreat of the noble salmon. Even now, notwithstanding the obstructions caused by the immense deposits of ship-yard refuse at its mouth, a few of these fine fish are caught every season by one or two persevering anglers from Quebec, — men who thrive on disappointment,— whose fish-hooks are miniature anchors of Hope. Lake St. Charles, from which the river derives its existence and its name, is a wild, beautiful tarn, about five miles above Lorette, embosomed in hills and woods. There are good bass in that lake, by whose shores there dwells—or dwelt—an ancient fisherman called Gabriel, who supplied anglers with canoes, and paddled them about the waters.
Lorette, although undistinguished by a glance from the mild blue eyes of the Premier Prince of England, was flashed upon, years ago, by the awful light that gleamed from the dark, fierce ones of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. This is how I came to know it.
Fifteen years ago, — it was on the seventeenth of August, 1845,—I made my first, pilgrimage to Lorette, in company with a friend. We wandered at large through the village, talking patois to the swarthy damsels, and picking up Indian knick-knacks, as we went. At last, fired with the ambition of doing a distinguished thing, we proposed calling upon the head chief of the village, whose name, I think, was Simon, but might possibly have been Peter, — for I regret to say that my memory is rather misty upon that important point. That personage was absent from home ; but we were hospitably received by his father, who also appeared to be his butler, as he was engaged in bottling off some root-beer into stone blacking-jars, when we entered. I suppose the chief’s father must once have been a chief himself, and that his menial position arose from the fact of his appearance being rather disreputable, He was a decrepit and very dirty old man, in a tight blue frock-coat, and swathed as to his spindle shanks with scarlet leggings. Sitting by a small window at the farther end of the large, bare room, was the prettiest little Huronite damsel I ever saw, rather fair than dark, and very neatly attired in a costume partly Indian. This little girl — a granddaughter of the dirty old man, as that person informed us — was occupied in tying up some small bundles of what the Canadians call racine — a sweet-smelling kind of rush-grass, sold by them in the Quebec market, and used like sachets, for imparting a pleasant odor to linen garments. After some conversation of a general character, the old man requested us to write our names in his visitors’ book, which was a long, dirty volume, similar in form to those usually seen upon bar-counters. In this book we were delighted to find the autographs of many dear blends, of whom we little expected to meet with traces in this nook of the North. Mark Tapley and Oliver Twist, for instance, had visited the place in company some two years before. There could be no mistake about it; for there were the two names, in characteristic, but different manuscript, bound together by the mystic circumflex that indicated them to he friends and travelling-companions.
The record covered a period of ten years; but was that sufficient to account for the appearance of Shakspeare on its pages? And yet there he was; and in merry mood he must have been, when he came to Lorette, — for he wrote himself down “ Bill,” and dashed off a little picture of himself after the signature, in a bold, if not artistic manner. Our friend Titmouse was there, too, represented by his famous declaration commencing, “Tittlebat Titmouse is my name.” He seemed to have taken particularly fast hold of the memory of the old Huron, who described him as a tremendous-looking, big person, with large black whiskers, and remembered having enjoyed a long pull at a brandy-flask carried by him. Of course there can be no doubt about that man being the real Tittlebat of our affections. Of the other signatures in the Huronite album, I chiefly remember that of M. F. Tupper, which I looked upon at the time as a base forgery, and do aver my belief now that it was nothing else : for the aged sagamore described the writer of that signature as a young, cheerful, and communicative man, who smoked a short, black pipe, and had spaniels with him. Could my friend, could I, venture to inscribe our humble names among this galaxy of the good and great ? Not so : and yet, to pacify the Huronite patriarch’s thirst for autographs, we wrote signatures in his brown old book ; and if that curious volume is still in existence, the names of Don Cæsar de Bazan and Sir Lucius O’Trigger, Bart., will be found closely linked together on a particular page with the circumflex of friendship.
And now the old man, delighted with the addition to his autographs, proposed to treat us to an exhibition of several medals gained by him for deeds of valor when he was a warrior, and previously to his having entered upon the career of a bottler of root-beverages. He bad silver disks presented to him by at least two of Thackeray’s Georges, a couple from William IV., and I think one from her present Majesty, Queen Victoria. All of these he touched with reverence, and not until he had purified his hands upon a dirty towel. After we had duly admired these decorations, and listened with patience to the old man’s garrulous talk about them, he told us that he had yet another to show, — one presented to him many years ago by a great man of that day, — a man embalmed for all posterity on account of his unrivalled performances upon the tight-rope, — a man of whom he reduced all description to mendicancy in designating him as un danseur très-renommé sur la corde tendue. The medal was a small silver one, and it bore the following inscription : —
EDMUND KEAN, THE BRITISH ACTOR,
CHIEF OF THE HURON INDIANS.
And such is fame ! It appears that Kean, always fond of excitement, had organized a tremendous pow-wow among these poor specimens of the red man, on his visit to Quebec. They adopted him, — constituted him a chief of their tribe. It would be interesting to have a full account of the great passionist’s demeanor upon that solemn occasion. Did he harrow up his hearers with a burst from “Othello” or a deep-sea groan from “Hamlet,” and then create a revulsion of feeling by somersaulting over the centre-fire of the circle and standing on his head before it, grinning diabolically at the incensed pot ? Or did he, foreshadowing the coming Blondin, then unplanned, stretch his tight-rope across the small Niagara that flashes down into the chasm of the St. Charles, and, kicking Ids boots off, carry some “mute, inglorious” Colcord over in an Indian bark basket? If he did such things, the old Huronite was towny upon the subject and reserved, limiting his assertions to the statement, that “the British actor” was a farceur, and likewise un danseur très-renommé sur la corde tendue.
Long afterwards, when I resided at Quebec, my visits to Lorettc were very frequent. Once, as I passed along the street, or road, between the straggling log-houses, I was accosted, in good English, by a fat and very jovial old squaw, who was attired in a green silk dress, sported a turban, and appeared to be altogether a superior kind of person. On inquiry, I learned from her that she was the widow of a former chief of the tribe, and came originally from Upper Canada, where she learned to speak English. Her husband had been presented with many medals, she said; — would I like to see them ? I followed the old lady into her dwelling, where she showed me several silver medals, which I thought I recognized as the same exhibited by the aged Huronite with the red legs. But the Kean medal was not among them; nor could I, by any system of description in my power, recall the features of the relic to the memory of the old squaw.
Subsequently, I tried many times to trace it, but without success. Many strangers visit Lorette during the summer season, and it is possible that some virtuoso, struck by the associative value of the relic, may have prevailed on its owner to part with it for a consideration. There are people who would have possessed themselves of it without the exchange of a consideration. Should this meet the eye of its present possessor, and if so be that the medal came into his hands on the consideration principle, so that he need not be ashamed of it, he will confer a favor by giving the correct reading of the Indian name. For “ Toussahissa,” as I have rendered if, is not exact, but only as near as I can make it out from my pencil-memoranda, which, written in a note-book that did occasional duty as a fly-book, have been partially obliterated in that spot by the contact of a large and remarkably gaudy salmon-fly, whose repose between the leaves is disturbed, perhaps, by aquatic nightmares of salmon gaping at him from whirling eddies.
Between Lorette and the unexplored wilderness that stretches away to polar desolation there is bat a narrow selvage of civilization. Looking toward it from my windows at Quebec, I could see the blue, serrated ridge of highlands beyond which the surveyor has never yet run his lines,-beyond which the surveyor’s lines Would be Superfluous, indeed, and futile ; for the soil is ot the barren, rocky kind, and tiic timber of the scrubby. Not quite so savage is this frontier, indeed, as the wild precincts described by the Nebraska editor, whoso meditations for a leader used to be cut short, occasionally, by the bellowing of the shaggy bison at his window, or the incursion of the redoubtable “grizzly” into his wood-shed where the elk-meat hung. But, in the clear, cold nights that precede the punctual and distinct winter of these regions, the black bears often come down from their fastnesses amid the wild ridges, and astonish the drowsy habitant and his household by their pranks among his pigs and calves: also in the spring.
In a small settlement of this wild tract, a few miles to the north-east of Lorette, there dwelt, some six or seven years ago, a poor farmer named Cantin, who added to the meagre fare afforded by his sterile acres such stray birds and hares as he could get within range of his old musket, without risking himself very far away from the isolated clearing. One night in the early part of May, when the snow had disappeared from the open grounds, but lingered yet in the ravines and rocky thickets, a dreadful tumult among the cattle of the settlement indicated the presence of bear. Cantin had the old firelock ready, but the night was dark and unfavorable for active measures. At gray morning, traces of the nocturnal intruder were visible, and that close by the cabane in which Cantin lived, in the little inclosure near which a struggle had evidently taken place, resulting in the discomfiture of a yearling calf, portions of which were discovered in the thickets a short distance from the clearing. Here the patches of snow gave ample evidence of the passage of a very large bear. When the sun was well up, Cantin sallied forth alone, with his gun and a small supply of ammunition, -unluckily for him, a very small supply. He did not return to dinner. Shots were heard in the course of the day, at a considerable distance in the hills; and when the afternoon was far advanced, and Cantin had not made his appearance, several of his neighbors—all the men of the settlement, indeed, and they made but a small party — set out in search of him. The snow-patches facilitated their search; and, having tracked him a good way, they suddenly saw him kneeling by a tree at the end of an open glade, with his hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. He was a frightful spectacle when they raised his bonnetbleu, which had fallen down over his face. The entire facial mask had been torn clean from the skull by a fearful sweep of the bear’s paw, and hung from his collar-bone by a strip of skin. He must have been dead for some hours. Fifty yards from where he knelt, the bear was found lying under some bushes, quite dead, and with two bullet-holes through its carcass. Cantin, it appeared, had expended all his ammunition, and the wounded beast had executed a terrible vengeance on him while the life-blood was welling through the last bullet-hole. I saw this bear brought into Quebec, in a cart, on the following day; and it is to be seen yet. I believe, or at least the taxidermal presentment of it is, in the shop of a furrier in John Street of that city. An enterprising druggist bought up the little fat left in the animal after its long winters fast; and such was the demand among sensational people for gallipots of “grease of the bear that killed Cantin;” that it seemed as if fashion had ordained the wearing of hair “ on end.”
Of the other wild beasts of this hilldistrict, the commonest is that known to the inhabitants as the loup-cervier,—a name oddly enough misconstructed by a writer on Canadian sports into “ Lucifer.” This is the true lynx,—a huge cat with long and remarkably thick legs, paws in which dangerous claws are sheathed, and short tail. Its principal prey is the common or Northern hare, which abounds in these regions: but at times the loup-cervier will invade the poultry-yards; and he is even held to account, now and then, for the murder of innocent lambs, and the disappearance of tender piglings whose mothers were so negligent as to let them stray alone into the brushwood. These fierce cats have been killed, occasionally, quite close to Quebec. When thus driven to approach populous districts, it must be from scarcity of their accustomed food; for they are usually very savage and ravenous, when found in such places. I know an instance, myself, in which a gentleman of Quebec, riding a little way from the town, was suddenly pouncedupon and attacked by a loup-cervier, near the Plains of Abraham. He struck the animal with his whip several times, but it persisted in following him, and he got rid of it only by putting spurs to his horse and beating it in speed. The animal was killed soon afterwards, near the same place.
I had heard of another variety of wildcat, seen at rare intervals in the same districts. The habitant is rather foggy on the subject of zoölogy in general, and my attempts to obtain a satisfactory description of this animal were futile. Some of the definitions of this rare chatsauvage, indeed, might have answered for specifications of a griffin, or of a vampire-bat. At last, one day, when walking about in the market-place at Quebec, I saw a crowd assembled round a grayclad countryman, who presided over a small box on which the words ChatSauvage were painted. Now was my time to set the question at rest. I invested sixpence in the show. When a good number of sixpences had been paid in, the proprietor opened his box, out from which crawled a fat, familiar raccoon, apparently as much at home in the market-place as he could have been in the middle of his native swamp. And this was the mysterious “ wild-cat ” about which I had asked so many questions and heard so many stories !
It is noticeable that thunder-storms, travelling from the westward toward Quebec, usually diverge across the valley of the St. Charles in the direction of Loretta, and coast along the ridge of ground on which that place is situated to Charlesbourg, a small village lying about four miles to the east of it, upon the ridge. There the storms appear to culminate, pouring out the full vials of their wrath upon the devoted habitans of white-cotted Charlesbourg. The wayfarer who wends through this rustical district will hardly fail to observe the prevailing taste for lightning-rods. The smallest cottage has at least two of these fire-irons, one upon each gable; houses of more pretensions are provided with an indefinite number; and the big white church has its purple roof so bristled with them, that the pause which a flash of lightning must necessarily make before deciding by which of them to come down must enable any tolerably active person to get out of the way in good time. And yet, with all these defenders of the faithful, I remember how the steeple was taken clean off the big white church, in splinters, one wild night after I had watched a long array of cloud-chariots rolling heavily away eastward along the ridge: also, how a farmer’s handsome daughter, the belle of the village, sat upright and dead upon a sofa when people came again to their eyesight after a blinding flash. So much for lightningrods ! — so much for the mystic iron !
When the day of the Fête Dieu comes round, Quebec and its neighboring villages are all alive for the celebration of the fête, which takes place on the following Sunday. Then the great suburb of St. Roch is a sight to see. Every street of it is converted into a green alley, embowered with young pine-trees, and flaunting with banners temporarily constructed out of all available pieces of dry-goods, lent by the devoted shop-keepers of the olden Church. Most extraordinary lithographs of holy personages are hung out upon the door-posts and walls of every house. Bowers shading curious little shrines meet the eye everywhere. The white tables of the little shrines are loaded with gilt and tinselled offerings in immense variety. Curious bosses, like lace-pillows got up for church, swing pendent from the verdant pine-branches. The vast parish-church, of sombre gray masonry, flashing carnival-fires from the tinplated pepper-boxes and slopes of its acre of roof, is receiving or disgorging a variegated multitude of good Catholics. Within, it is a mass of foliage, a wilderness of shrines, a cloud-land of incense. Long processions of maidens all in white, and others of maidens all in pale watchetblue, are threading the principal streets. They are not all very religions maidens, I am afraid; because, as sure as fate, one very young one of those robed in pure white “ made eyes ” at me as she passed. Now all this display in Quebec and its suburbs is set forth on a great scale and with bewildering turmoil; but if you want to see it in miniature presentment, you must pass down through St. Roch, and take the road to Lorette. Arrived among the sauvages,—for so the Canadian habitant invariably calls his Indian brother, who is often as like him as one pea is like another,—you will there see the little old Huron church decked out in humble imitation of its younger, but bigger brothers in the city. The lanes between the log-houses are embowered in a modest way, and the drapery is eked out by many a yellow flannel petticoat and pair of scarlet leggings that dally riotously with each other in the breeze. The shrines are certainly less magnificent than those fairy bowers of the elf-land St. Roch, but there is a good deal of beaded peltry and bark-work about them, giving them, in a small way, the character of aboriginal bazaars. The Hurons are bons Catholiques, and everything connected with the fête is conducted with a solemnity becoming the character of the Christian red man. So decorous, indeed, are the little sauvagesses forming the miniature processions, that I do not remember ever detecting the eyes of any of them wandering and wantoning around, like those of the naughty little processional in white about whose conduct I just now complained.
The instinct of the French - Canadian for Indian trading has led one of that race to establish a general store close by the Huron village, though on the habitant side of the stream. The gay printed cottons indispensable to the belle sauvagesse are here to be found, as well as the blue blankets and the white, of so much account in the wardrobe of the women as well as of the men. Here, too, are to be had the assorted beads and silks and worsteds used in the embroidery of moccasons, epaulettes, and such articles ; nor is the quality of the Cognac kept on hand by Joe for his customers to be characterized as despicable. Indeed, it would be hazardous to aver that anything is not to be had, for the proper compensation, in Joe’s establishment, — that is, anything that could possibly be required by the most exacting sauvage or sauvagesse, from a strap of sleigh-bells to a redframed looking-glass. Out of that store, too, comes a deal of the vivid drapery displayed upon the Fête Dieu, and much of the art-union resource combined in the attractive cheap lithograph element so edifying to the connoisseur.
I think it was one of those fêtes—if not, another bright summer holiday— that I once saw darkly disturbed in this quiet little hamlet. Standing upon the table-rock that juts out at the foot of the fall so as to half-bridge over the lowermost eddy, I saw a small object topple over the summit of the cascade. It was nothing but a common pail or stablebucket, as I perceived, when it glided past, almost within arm’s length of me, and disappeared down the winding gorge. When I went up again to the road, I saw a crowd of holiday people standing near the little inn. They were solemn and speechless, and, on approaching, I saw that they were gazing upon the body of a man, dead and sadly crushed and mutilated. He was a caléche-driver from Quebec, well known to the small community; and although it does not seem any great height from the roadway near the inn to the tumbled rocks by the river’s edge just above the fall, yet it was a drop to mash and kill the poor fellow dead enough, when his foot slipped, as he descended the unsafe path to get water for his horse. A dweller in great cities —say, for instance, one who lives within decent distance of such a charming locality as that called the Five Points in New York — could hardly realize the amount of awe that an event so trifling as a sudden and violent death will spread over a primitive village community. This happened in the French division of the place, which, of course, was decorated to the utmost ability of the people in honor of the fête: and so palpable was the gloom cast over all by the circumstance, that the bright flannels flaunting from the cordons stretched across the way seemed to darken into palls, and the gay red streamers must have appeared to the subdued carnival spirits as warning crapeknots on the door-handle of death.
I believe it is a maxim with the Italian connoisseur of art, that no landscape is perfect without one red spot to give value to its varieties of green. On this principle, let me break the monotony of this little rural sketch with the one touch of genuine American character that belonged to it at the time of which I speak. Let William Button be the one red spot that predominated vastly over the green influences by which he was surrounded. The little inn at Lorette was then kept by a worthy host bearing the abovementioned name, which was dingily lettered out upon a swinging sign, dingily representing a trotting horse, — emblem as dear to the slow Canadian as to the first American mind. William Button— known as Billy Button to hosts of familiar friends — was, I think, a Kentuckian by birth ; a feet which might honestly account for his having come by the loss of an eye through some operation by which marks of violence had been left upon the surrounding tracts of his rugged countenance. He was a short, thickset man, with bow-legs like those of a bull-terrier, and walked with a heavy lurch in his gait. William’s head was of immense size in proportion to his stature. Indeed, that important joint of his person must have been a division by about two of what artists term heroic proportions, or eight heads to a height,—a standard by which Button was barred from being a hero, for his head could hardly have been much less than a fourth of his entire length. The expression of his face was remarkably typical of American humor and shrewdness, an effect much aided by the chronic wink afforded by his closed eye. How Button found his way to this remote spot would have been a puzzle to any person unfamiliar with American character. How he managed to live among and deal with and very considerably master a community speaking no language with which he was acquainted was more unaccountable still. The inn could not have been a very profitable speculation, in itself; but there was one room in it fitted out with a display of Indian manufactures,—some of the articles reposing in glass cases to protect them from hands and dust, others arranged with negligent regularity upon the walls. Out of these the landlord made a good penny, as he charged an extensive percentage upon the original cost,—that is, to strangers; but if you were in Button’s confidence, then was there no better fellow to intrust with a negotiation for a pair of snowshoes, or moose-horns, or anything else in that line of business. In the winter season he was a great instigator of mooseand caribou-expeditions to the districts where these animals abound, assembling for this purpose the best Indian hunters to be found in the neighborhood, and accompanying the party himself. Out of the spoils of these expeditions he sometimes made a handsome profit: a good pair of moose-horns, for instance, used to fetch from six to ten dollars; and there is always a demand for the venison in the Quebec market. The skins were manufactured into moccason-leather by Indian adepts whom Button had in his pay, and who worked for a very low rate of remuneration, — quite disproportioned, indeed, to the fancy-prices always paid by strangers for the articles turned out by their hands.
The name “ Billy Button ” carries with it an association oddly corroborated by a story narrated of himself by the man of whom I am speaking. Of all the reminiscences connected with the illegitimate drama that have dwelt with me from my early childhood until now, not one is more vividly impressed upon my memory than that standard old comedy on horseback performed by circus-riders long since gone to rest, and entitled “Billy Button’s Journey to Brentford.’’ The hero of this pleasant horse-play was a tailor,—men following that useful trade being considered capable of affording more amusement in connection with horses than any others, excepting, perhaps, jolly mariners on a spree. The plot of the drama used to strike my young mind as being a “crib” from “ John Gilpin”; but I forgave that, in consideration of the skilful manner in which the story was wrought out. With what withering contempt used I, brought up among horses and their riders, to jeer at the wretched attempts of the tailor to remain permanently upon any central point of the horse’s spinal ridge ! How cheerful my feelings, when that man of shreds and patches fell prostrate in the sawdust, where he lay grovelling until the next revolution of his noble steed, when the animal caught him up by the baggiest portion of the trousers and carried him round the arena as a terrier might a rat! But, oh, what mingled joy and admiration, when out from the worried mass of coats leaped the nimble rider, now no longer a miserable tailor, but a roseate young man in tights and spangles, featly posturing over all the available area of his steed, and “ witching the world with noble horsemanship ”!
All these memories crowded upon me with a tremendous shock the very first time I saw the name of William Button upon the dingy swinging sign. Afterwards, when I became intimate with that curious person, I discovered that he was a capital “whip,”—first-rate, indeed, as a driver of the fast trotting horse, as well as a good judge of that superior article. With respect to his experiences as a rider he was more reserved; and it was not until after I had known him a long time that he confided to me the particulars of a ride once taken by him, which bore, in its principal features, a singular resemblance to the one performed by his great namesake of the sawdust-ring.
There is a pack of fox-hounds kept at Montreal, maintained chiefly by officers of the garrison, as a shadowy reminiscence, perhaps, of the real thing, which is essentially of insular Britain and of nowhere else. Button happened to go to Montreal, on one occasion, for the purpose of picking up a race-horse, I think, for the Quebec market. Somebody who used to ride with the hounds had a horse which he wanted to get rid of, on account of headstrong tendencies in general and inability to appreciate the advantages of a bit. I remember the animal well. He was a fiery chestnut, with white about the legs, and very good across a country so long as he was wanted to go; but no common power could stop him when once he began to do that. On this animal—“ The Buffer,” he was called — Button was persuaded to mount, “just to try him a little,” his owner said ; and by way of doing that with perfect freedom from restraint, they rode out to where the hounds were to throw off, a couple of miles from the city. Button used to say that the term “ throw off,” which was new to him in that application, haunted him all the way out, like a bad dream. It was a bag-fox day, I believe : that is, the; hunt was provided with a trapped animal, brought upon the ground in a sack and let out when the proper time came,— a process known in sporting parlance as “ shaking a fox.” The usual amount of “law” having been conceded, the hounds were laid on, and went away, as Button said, like a fire-flake over a prairie. No sooner did “The Buffer” hear the cry of the pack, than he started forward with a suddenness and force by which his wretched rider was jerked back at least a foot behind the saddle, into which place of rest he never once again fell during his many vicissitudes of position in that ride. I have said that Button was bow-legged; and to that providential fact did he attribute the power by which he clung on to various parts of the steed during his wild career of perhaps a mile, but which seemed to the troubled senses of the rider not much less than fifty. It was providential for him, too, that the country was but sparsely intersected by fences, and those not of a very formidable character: nevertheless, at each of these the too confiding Button experienced a change of position, being, as he used to express it, “ interjuiced forrard o’ the saddle or back’ard o’ the saddle, accordin’ to the kind o’ thing the hoss flew over, and one time booleyvusted right under the hoss, whar he hung on by the girth on til another buck-jump sent him right side on ag’in ; but never, on no account, did he touch leather ag’in in all that ride.” And thus Billy Button might have ridden farther and fared worse, had he not seen a terrible fate staring him imminently in the face. The hounds had just entered a little grove of young pine-trees, which stood very close together, and bristled with sharp, jagged branches nearly to the root, after the manner of these children of the wood. At this place of torture “The Buffer” was rushing with all his might, Button being then situated upon his neck, in a position most convenient for being “ skinned alive ” by the trees, as he said, when a plunge made by the animal over a plashy pool transferred the rider to his tail, from which he “collapsed right down in a kind o’ swoon, and when he come to, found himself settin’ up to his elbows in muddy water, very solitary-like, and with a terrible stillness all around.”—What became of “The Buffer” I forget, and also how Button got home; but he certainly did not ride. And he always wound up the narrative of his first and last fox-hunt by invoking terrible ends to himself, if ever he “ threw leg over dog-hoss ag’in, to see a throw-off.”
Button left Lorette about two years after I first became acquainted with him, and I next heard of him down at the rock-walled Saguenay, where he had gone into a speculation for supplying the Boston market with Salmon. But horseflesh seemed to be more palatable to him than fish; for, later still, I met him at Toronto, in Upper Canada, mounted upon a powerful dark brown stallion, and leading another, its exact counterpart.
“Hello, Button!” said I, in response to his cheery, “How de dew?” —“ On horseback again, I see; have you forgotten the Buffer-business, then ? ”
“ Forgot the yaller cuss ! ” replied he. “ No, Sir-ree ! He hangs round me yet, like fever ‘n’ agur upon a ma’sh. But the critter I ’m onto a’n’t no dog-hoss, you may believe; he don’t ‘throw off’ nor nothin’, he don’t. Him and his mate here a’n’t easy matched. I fetched ’em up from below on spec, and you can hev the span for a cool thousand on ice.”
And this was the last I saw of Button, who was one of the strangest combinations of hotel-keeper, horse-jockey, Indian-trader, fish-monger, and alligator, I ever met.
Tradition still retains a hold upon the Hurons of Lorette, little as remains to them of the character and lineaments of the red man. A pitiable procession of their diluted “braves” may sometimes be seen in the streets of Quebec, on such distinguished occasions as the Prince’s visit. But it is with a manifest consciousness of the ludicrous, that these industrials now do their little drama of the war-dance and the oration and the council-smoke. That drama has degenerated into a very feeble farce now, and the actors in it would he quite outdone in their travesty by any average corps of “ supes ” at one of our theatres. By-andby all this will have died out, and the “Indian side” of the stream at Lorette will be assimilated in all its features to the other. The moccason is already typifying the decadence of aboriginal things there. That article is now fitted with India-rubber soles for the Quebec demand,— a continuation of the sole running in a low strip round the edge of the foot. With the gradual widening of that strip, until the moccason of the red man has been clean obliterated from things that are by the India-rubber of the white, will the remnant of the Hurons have passed away with things that were. Verdict on the “poor Indian”:—“Wiped out with an India-rubber shoe.”
And then, in future generations, the tradition of Indian blood among Canadian families of dark complexion, along these ridges, will be about as vague as that of Spanish descent in the case of certain tribes of fishermen on the western coast of Ireland. From the assimilation already going on, however, it may be argued that the physical character of the Indian will be gradually merged and lost in that of the French colonist. The Hurons are described as having formerly been a people of large stature, while those of the present day in Lower Canada are usually rather undersized than otherwise, like their habitant neighbors. As a race, the latter are below the middle stature, although generally of great bodily strength and endurance.
Physical size and grand proportions are looked upon by the Frcnch-Canadian with great respect. In all the cases of popular émeutes that have from time to time broken out in Lower Canada, the fighting leaders of the people were exceptional men, standing head and shoulders over their confiding followers. Where gangs of raftsmen congregate, their “ captains ” may be known by superior stature. The doings of their “ big men ” are treasured by the French-Canadians in traditionary lore. One famous fellow of this governing class is known by his deeds and words to every lumberer and stevedore and timber-tower about Montreal and Quebec. This man, whose name was Joe Monfaron, was the bully of the Ottawa raftsmen. He was about six feet six inches high and proportionable broad and deep; and I remember how people would turn round to look after him, as he came pounding along Notre-Dame Street, in Montreal, in his red shirt and tan-colored shupac boots, all dripping wet after mooring an acre or two of raft, and now bent for his ashore-baunts in the Ste.-Marie, suburb, to indemnify himself with bacchanalian and other consolations for long-endured hardship. Among other feats of strength attributed to him, I remember the following, which has an old, familiar taste, but was related to me as a fact.
There was a fighting stevedore or timber-tower, I forget which, at Quebec, who never had seen Joe Monfaron, as the latter seldom came farther down the river than Montreal. This fighting character, however, made a custom of laughing to scorn all the rumors that came down on rafts, every now and then, about terrible chastisements inflicted by Joe upon several hostile persons at once. He, the fighting timber-tower, hadn’t found his match yet about the lumbercoves at Quebec, and he only wanted to see Joe Monfaron once, when he would settle the question as to the championship of the rafts on sight. One day, a giant in a red shirt stood suddenly before him, saying,—
“ You're Dick Dempsey, eh ? ”
“ That's me,” replied the timber-tower ; “ and who are you ? ”
“ Joe Monfaron. I heard you wanted me,— here I am,” was the Cæsarean response of the great captain of rafts.
“Ah! you’re Joe Monfaron ! ” said the bully, a little staggered at the Sort of customer he saw before him. “ I said I ‘d like to see you, for sure; but how am I to know you ’re the right man ? ”
“ Shake hands, first,” replied Joe, “ and then you ’ll find out, may-be.”
They shook hands, — rather warmly, perhaps, for the timber-tower, whose features wore an uncertain expression during the operation, and who at last broke out into a yell of pain, as Joe cast him off with a defiant laugh. Nor did the bully wait for any further explanations; for, whether the man who had just brought the blood spouting out at the tips of his fingers was Joe Monfaron or not, he was clearly an ugly customer and had better be left alone.
There are several roads from Quebec to Lorette, all of them good for carriages except one, which, from its extreme destitution of every condition essential to easy locomotion on wheels, is called, in the expressive language of the French colonists, La Misère. And yet this is the only road which, from touching various points of the River St. Charles, affords the traveller compensating glimpses of the picturesque windings of that stream. The pedestrian, however, is the only kind of explorer who really sees a country and its people; and for him who is not too proud to walk, La Misère is not so hard to bear as its name might imply.
If iron takes the romance out of things, in a general way, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article my impression that it rather does, I know not whether primitive Lorette has not become sadly vulcanized into prosaic progress by the grand system of water-works established there for the benefit of Quebec. Connected as it is, now, with the latter place, by seven miles of iron pipes, I would not undertake to say that it retains aught of the rustic simplicity of its greener days. Had the pipes been of wood, indeed, the place might yet have had a chance. To understand this, one should hear the French-Canadian expatiate upon the superiority of the wooden to the metal bridge. Five years ago, the road-trustees of Quebec undertook to span the Montmorency River, just above the great fall, with an iron suspension-bridge. This would shorten the road, they said, by some two or three hundred yards of divergence from the old wooden bridge higher up. They built their bridge, which looked like a spider’s web spanning the verge of the stupendous cataract, when seen from the St. Lawrence below. It was opened to the public in April, 1856, but was little used for some days, as the conservative habitans, who had gone the crooked road over the wooden bridge all their lives, declined to see what advantage could be gained by taking to a straight one pontificed with iron. It had not been open a week, however, when, as two or three hurrying peasants were venturing it with their carts, it fell with a crash, and all were washed headlong in an instant over the precipice and into the boiling abyss below, from which not one vestige of their remains was ever returned tor a sign to their awe-stricken friends. Supposing this bridge to be rebuilt, — which is not likely,— I do not believe that a habitant of all that region could he got to cross it, even under the malediction, with bell, book, and candle, of his priest. And so the old wooden bridge flourishes, and the crooked road is travelled by gray-coated cultivateurs, whose forefathers went crooked in the same direction for several generations, mounted upon persevering ponies which wouldn’t upon any account be persuaded into going straight.
A gleam of hope for Lorette flashes upon me since the above was written. On looking over a provincial paper, I find astounding rumors of ghosts appearing upon the track of a western railroad. Things clothed in the traditional white appear before the impartial cow-catcher, which divides them for the passage of the train, in the wake of which they immediately reappear in a full state of repair and posture of contempt. If this sort of thing goes on, what a splendid new field will be opened for the writer of romance !
Certainly, I do not yet see what antidote there is for the primitive and pastoral against seven miles of iron pipe; but it is cheerful to know that ghosts are beginning to come about railroads, and all may yet be well with Lorette.