The Entire March Family Trilogy
William Dean Howells
Part 3 out of 21
haven't ceased flirting or cackling since we left Kingston. Do you think
everybody has such spirits out at Omaha? But behold a yet more
surprising figure than any we have yet seen among this boat-load of
This was a tall, handsome young man, with a face of somewhat foreign
cast, and well dressed, with a certain impressive difference from the
rest in the cut of his clothes. But what most drew the eye to him was a
large cross, set with brilliants, and surmounted by a heavy double-headed
eagle in gold. This ornament dazzled from a conspicuous place on the
left lappet of his coat; on his hand shone a magnificent diamond ring,
and he bore a stately opera-glass, with which, from time to time, he
imperiously, as one may say, surveyed the landscape. As the imposing
apparition grew upon Isa-bel, "O here," she thought, "is something truly
distinguished. Of course, dear," she added aloud to Basil, "he's some
foreign nobleman travelling here"; and she ran over in her mind the
newspaper announcements of patrician visitors from abroad and tried to
identify him with some one of them. The cross must be the decoration of
a foreign order, and Basil suggested that he was perhaps a member of some
legation at Washington, who had ran up there for his summer vacation.
The cross puzzled him, but the double-headed eagle, he said, meant either
Austria or Russia; probably Austria, for the wearer looked a trifle too
civilized for a Russian.
"Yes, indeed! What an air he has. Never tell me. Basil, that there's
nothing in blood!" cried Isabel, who was a bitter aristocrat at heart,
like all her sex, though in principle she was democratic enough. As she
spoke, the object of her regard looked about him on the different groups,
not with pride, not with hauteur, but with a glance of unconscious,
unmistakable superiority. "O, that stare!" she added; nothing but high
birth and long descent can give it! Dearest, he's becoming a great
affliction to me. I want to know who he is. Couldn't you invent some
pretext for speaking to him?"
"No, I couldn't do it decently; and no doubt he'd snub me as I deserved
if I intruded upon him. Let's wait for fortune to reveal him."
"Well, I suppose I must, but it's dreadful; it's really dreadful. You
can easily see that's distinction," she continued, as her hero moved
about the promenade and gently but loftily made a way for himself among
the other passengers and favored the scenery through his opera-glass from
one point and another. He spoke to no one, and she reasonably supposed
that he did not know English.
In the mean time it was drawing near the hour of dinner, but no dinner
appeared. Twelve, one, two came and went, and then at last came the
dinner, which had been delayed, it seemed, till the cook could recruit
his energies sufficiently to meet the wants of double the number he had
expected to provide for. It was observable of the officers and crew of
the Banshee, that while they did not hold themselves aloof from the
passengers in the disdainful American manner, they were of feeble mind,
and not only did everything very slowly (in the usual Canadian fashion),
but with an inefficiency that among us would have justified them in being
insolent. The people sat down at several successive tables to the worst
dinner that ever was cooked; the ladies first, and the gentlemen
afterwards, as they made conquest of places. At the second table, to
Basil's great satisfaction, he found a seat, and on his right hand the
"Naturally, I was somewhat abashed," he said in the account he was
presently called to give Isabel of the interview, "but I remembered that
I was an American citizen, and tried to maintain a decent composure. For
several minutes we sat silent behind a dish of flabby cucumbers,
expecting the dinner, and I was wondering whether I should address him in
French or German,--for I knew you'd never forgive me if I let slip such a
chance,--when he turned and spoke himself."
"O what did he say, dearest?"
He said, "Pretty tejious waitin,' ain't it? in she best New York State
"You don't mean it!" gasped Isabel.
"But I do. After that I took courage to ask what his cross and double-
headed eagle meant. He showed the condescension of a true nobleman.
'O,' says he, 'I 'm glad you like it, and it 's not the least offense to
ask,' and he told me. "Can you imagine what it is? It 's the emblem of
the fifty-fourth degree in the secret society he belongs to!"
"I don't believe it!"
"Well, ask him yourself, then," returned Basil; "he 's a very good
fellow. 'O, that stare! nothing but high birth and long descent could
give it!'" he repeated, abominably implying that he had himself had no
share in their common error.
What retort Isabel might have made cannot now be known, for she was
arrested at this moment by a rumor amongst the passengers that they were
coming to the Long Sault Rapids. Looking forward she saw the tossing and
flashing of surges that, to the eye, are certainly as threatening as the
rapids above Niagara. The steamer had already passed the Deplau and the
Galopes, and they had thus had a foretaste of whatever pleasure or terror
there is in the descent of these nine miles of stormy sea. It is purely
a matter of taste, about shooting the rapids of the St. Lawrence. The
passengers like it better than the captain and the pilot, to guesses by
their looks, and the women and children like it better than the men. It
is no doubt very thrilling and picturesque and wildly beautiful: the
children crow and laugh, the women shout forth their delight, as the boat
enters the seething current; great foaming waves strike her bows, and
brawl away to the stern, while she dips, and rolls, and shoots onward,
light as a bird blown by the wind; the wild shores and islands whirl out
of sight; you feel in every fibre the career of the vessel. But the
captain sits in front of the pilothouse smoking with a grave face, the
pilots tug hard at the wheel; the hoarse roar of the waters fills the
air; beneath the smoother sweeps of the current you can see the brown
rocks; as you sink from ledge to ledge in the writhing and twisting
steamer, you have a vague sense that all this is perhaps an achievement
rather than an enjoyment. When, descending the Long Sault, you look back
up hill, and behold those billows leaping down the steep slope after you,
"No doubt," you confide to your soul, "it is magnificent; but it is not
pleasure." You greet with silent satisfaction the level river,
stretching between the Long Sault and the Coteau, and you admire the
delightful tranquillity of that beautiful Lake St. Francis into which it
expands. Then the boat shudders into the Coteau Rapids, and down through
the Cedars and Cascades. On the rocks of the last lies the skeleton of a
steamer wrecked upon them, and gnawed at still by the white-tusked
wolfish rapids. No one, they say, was lost from her. "But how," Basil
thought, "would it fare with all these people packed here upon her bow,
if the Banshee should swing round upon a ledge?" As to Isabel, she
looked upon the wrecked steamer with indifference, as did all the women;
but then they could not swim, and would not have to save themselves.
"The La Chine's to come yet," they exulted, "and that 's the awfullest of
They passed the Lake St. Louis; the La Chin; rapids flashed into sight.
The captain rose up from his seat, took his pipe from his mouth, and
waved a silence with it. "Ladies and gentlemen," said he, "it's very
important in passing these rapids to keep the boat perfectly trim.
Please to remain just as you are."
It was twilight, for the boat was late. From the Indian village on the
shore they signaled to know if he wanted the local pilot; the captain
refused; and then the steamer plunged into the leaping waves. From rock
to rock she swerved and sank; on the last ledge she scraped with a deadly
touch that went to the heart.
Then the danger was passed, and the noble city of Montreal was in full
sight, lying at the foot of her dark green mountain, and lifting her many
spires into the rosy twilight air: massive and grand showed the sister
towers of the French cathedral.
Basil had hoped to approach this famous city with just associations. He
had meant to conjure up for Isabel's sake some reflex, however faint, of
that beautiful picture Mr. Parkman has painted of Maisonneuve founding
and consecrating Montreal. He flushed with the recollection of the
historian's phrase; but in that moment there came forth from the cabin a
pretty young person who gave every token of being a pretty young actress,
even to the duenna-like, elderly female companion, to be detected in the
remote background of every young actress. She had flirted audaciously
during the day with some young Englishmen and Canadians of her
acquaintance, and after passing the La Chine Rapids she had taken the
hearts of all the men by springing suddenly to her feet, apostrophizing
the tumult with a charming attitude, and warbling a delicious bit of
song. Now as they drew near the city the Victoria Bridge stretched its
long tube athwart the river, and looked so low because of its great
length that it seemed to bar the steamer's passage.
"I wonder," said one of the actress's adorers, a Canadian, whose face was
exactly that of the beaver on the escutcheon of his native province, and
whose heavy gallantries she had constantly received with a gay,
impertinent nonchalance,--"I wonder if we can be going right under that
"No, sir!" answered the pretty young actress with shocking promptness,
"we're going right over it!"
"'Three groans and a guggle,
And an awful struggle,
And over we go!'"
At this witless, sweet impudence the Canadian looked very sheepish--for a
beaver; and all the other people laughed; but the noble historical shades
of Basil's thought vanished in wounded dignity beyond recall, and left
him feeling rather ashamed,--for he had laughed too.
THE SENTIMENT OF MONTREAL.
The feeling of foreign travel for which our tourists had striven
throughout their journey, and which they had known in some degree at
Kingston and all the way down the river, was intensified from the first
moment in Montreal; and it was so welcome that they were almost glad to
lose money on their greenbacks, which the conductor of the omnibus would
take only at a discount of twenty cents. At breakfast next morning they
could hardly tell on what country they had fallen. The waiters had but a
thin varnish of English speech upon their native French, and they spoke
their own tongue with each other; but most of the meats were cooked to
the English taste, and the whole was a poor imitation of an American
hotel. During their stay the same commingling of usages and races
bewildered them; the shops were English and the clerks were commonly
French; the carriage-drivers were often Irish, and up and down the
streets with their pious old-fashioned names, tinkled American horse-
cars. Everywhere were churches and convents that recalled the
ecclesiastical and feudal origin of the city; the great tubular bridge,
the superb water-front with its long array of docks only surpassed by
those of Liverpool, the solid blocks of business houses, and the
substantial mansions on the quieter streets, proclaimed the succession of
Protestant thrift and energy.
Our friends cared far less for the modern splendor of Montreal than for
the remnants of its past, and for the features that identified it with
another faith and another people than their own. Isabel would almost
have confessed to any one of the black-robed priests upon the street;
Basil could easily have gone down upon his knees to the white-hooded,
pale-faced nuns gliding among the crowd. It was rapture to take a
carriage, and drive, not to the cemetery, not to the public library, not
to the rooms of the Young Men's Christian Association, or the grain
elevators, or the new park just tricked out with rockwork and sprigs of
evergreen,--not to any of the charming resorts of our own cities, but as
in Europe to the churches, the churches of a pitiless superstition, the
churches with their atrocious pictures and statues, their lingering smell
of the morning's incense, their confessionals, their fee-taking
sacristans, their worshippers dropped here and there upon their knees
about the aisles and saying their prayers with shut or wandering eyes
according as they were old women or young! I do not defend the feeble
sentimentality,--call it wickedness if you like,--but I understand it,
and I forgive it from my soul.
They went first, of course, to the French cathedral, pausing on their way
to alight and walk through the Bonsecours Market, where the habitans have
all come in their carts, with their various stores of poultry, fruit, and
vegetables, and where every cart is a study. Here is a simple-faced
young peasant-couple with butter and eggs and chickens ravishingly
displayed; here is a smooth-checked, blackeyed, black-haired young girl,
looking as if an infusion of Indian blood had darkened the red of her
cheeks, presiding over a stock of onions, potatoes, beets, and turnips;
there an old woman with a face carven like a walnut, behind a flattering
array of cherries and pears; yonder a whole family trafficking in loaves
of brown-bread and maple-sugar in many shapes of pious and grotesque
device. There are gay shows of bright scarfs and kerchiefs and vari-
colored yarns, and sad shows of old clothes and second-hand merchandise
of other sorts; but above all prevails the abundance of orchard and
garden, while within the fine edifice are the stalls of the butchers, and
in the basement below a world of household utensils, glass-ware, hard-
ware, and wooden-ware. As in other Latin countries, each peasant has
given a personal interest to his wares, but the bargains are not clamored
over as in Latin lands abroad. Whatever protest and concession and
invocation of the saints attend the transacting of business at Bonsecours
Market are in a subdued tone. The fat huckster-women drowsing beside
their wares, scarce send their voices beyond the borders of their broad-
brimmed straw hats, as they softly haggle with purchasers, or tranquilly
At the cathedral there are, perhaps, the worst paintings in the world,
and the massive pine-board pillars are unscrupulously smoked to look like
marble; but our tourists enjoyed it as if it had been St. Peter's; in
fact it has something of the barnlike immensity and impressiveness of St.
Peter's. They did not ask it to be beautiful or grand; they desired it
only to recall the beloved ugliness, the fondly cherished hideousness and
incongruity of the average Catholic churches of their remembrance, and it
did this and more: it added an effect of its own; it offered the
spectacle of a swarthy old Indian kneeling before the high altar, telling
his beads, and saying with many sighs and tears the prayers which it cost
so much martyrdom and heroism to teach his race. "O, it is only a savage
man," said the little French boy who was showing them the place,
impatient of their interest in a thing so unworthy as this groaning
barbarian. He ran swiftly about from object to object, rapidly lecturing
their inattention. "It is now time to go up into the tower," said he,
and they gladly made that toilsome ascent, though it is doubtful if the
ascent of towers is not too much like the ascent of mountains ever to be
compensatory. From the top of Notre Dame is certainly to be had a
prospect upon which, but for his fluttered nerves and trembling muscles
and troubled respiration, the traveller might well look with delight,
and as it is must behold with wonder. So far as the eye reaches it
dwells only upon what is magnificent. All the features of that landscape
are grand. Below you spreads the city, which has less that is merely
mean in it than any other city of our continent, and which is everywhere
ennobled by stately civic edifices, adorned by tasteful churches, and
skirted by full foliaged avenues of mansions and villas. Behind it rises
the beautiful mountain, green with woods and gardens to its crest, and
flanked on the east by an endless fertile plain, and on the west by
another expanse, through which the Ottawa rushes, turbid and dark, to its
confluence with the St. Lawrence. Then these two mighty streams
commingled flow past the city, lighting up the vast Champaign country to
the south, while upon the utmost southern verge, as on the northern, rise
the cloudy summits of far-off mountains.
As our travellers gazed upon all this grandeur, their hearts were humbled
to the tacit admission that the colonial metropolis was not only worthy
of its seat, but had traits of a solid prosperity not excelled by any of
the abounding and boastful cities of the Republic. Long before they
quitted Montreal they had rallied from this weakness, but they delighted
still to honor her superb beauty.
The tower is naturally bescribbled to its top with the names of those who
have climbed it, and most of these are Americans, who flock in great
numbers to Canada in summer. They modify its hotel life, and the objects
of interest thrive upon their bounty. Our friends met them at every
turn, and knew them at a glance from the native populations, who are also
easily distinguishable from each other. The French Canadians are nearly
always of a peasant-like commonness, or where they rise above this have a
bourgeois commonness of face and manner, and the English Canadians are to
be known from the many English sojourners by the effort to look much more
English than the latter. The social heart of the colony clings fast to
the mother-country, that is plain, whatever the political tendency may
be; and the public monuments and inscriptions celebrate this affectionate
At the English cathedral the effect is deepened by the epitaphs of those
whose lives were passed in the joint service of England and her loyal
child; and our travellers, whatever their want of sympathy with the
sentiment, had to own to a certain beauty in that attitude of proud
reverence. Here, at least, was a people not cut off from its past, but
holding, unbroken in life and death, the ties which exist for us only in
history. It gave a glamour of olden time to the new land; it touched the
prosaic democratic present with the waning poetic light of the
aristocratic and monarchical tradition. There was here and there a title
on the tablets, and there was everywhere the formal language of loyalty
and of veneration for things we have tumbled into the dust. It is a
beautiful church, of admirable English Gothic; if you are so happy, you
are rather curtly told you may enter by a burly English figure in some
kind of sombre ecclesiastical drapery, and within its quiet precincts you
may feel yourself in England if you like,--which, for my part, I do not.
Neither did our friends enjoy it so much as the Church of the Jesuits,
with its more than tolerable painting, its coldly frescoed ceiling, its
architectural taste of subdued Renaissance, and its black-eyed peasant-
girl telling her beads before a side altar, just as in the enviably
deplorable countries we all love; nor so much even as the Irish cathedral
which they next visited. That is a very gorgeous cathedral indeed,
painted and gilded 'a merveille', and everywhere stuck about with big and
little saints and crucifixes, and pictures incredibly bad--but for those
in the French cathedral. There is, of course, a series representing
Christ's progress to Calvary; and there was a very tattered old man,--
an old man whose voice had been long ago drowned in whiskey, and who now
spoke in a ghostly whisper,--who, when he saw Basil's eye fall upon the
series, made him go the round of them, and tediously explained them.
"Why did you let that old wretch bore you, and then pay him for it?"
"O, it reminded me so sweetly of the swindles of other lands and days,
that I couldn't help it," he answered; and straightway in the eyes of
both that poor, whiskeyfied, Irish tatterdemalion stood transfigured to
the glorious likeness of an Italian beggar.
They were always doing something of this kind, those absurdly sentimental
people, whom yet I cannot find it in my heart to blame for their folly,
though I could name ever so many reasons for rebuking it. Why, in fact,
should we wish to find America like Europe? Are the ruins and impostures
and miseries and superstitions which beset the traveller abroad so
precious, that he should desire to imagine them at every step in his own
hemisphere? Or have we then of our own no effective shapes of ignorance
and want and incredibility, that we must forever seek an alien contrast
to our native intelligence and comfort? Some such questions this guilty
couple put to each other, and then drove off to visit the convent of the
Gray Nuns with a joyful expectation which I suppose the prospect of the
finest public-school exhibition in Boston could never have inspired.
But, indeed, since there must be Gray Nuns, is it not well that there are
sentimentalists to take a mournful pleasure in their sad, pallid
The convent is at a good distance from the Irish cathedral, and in going
to it the tourists made their driver carry them through one of the few
old French streets which still remain in Montreal. Fires and
improvements had made havoc among the quaint horses since Basil's first
visit; but at last they came upon a narrow, ancient Rue Saint Antoine,
--or whatever other saint it was called after,--in which there was no
English face or house to be seen. The doors of the little one-story
dwellings opened from the pavement, and within you saw fat madame the
mother moving about her domestic affairs, and spare monsieur the elderly
husband smoking beside the open window; French babies crawled about the
tidy floors; French martyrs (let us believe Lalement or Brebeuf, who gave
up their heroic lives for the conversion of Canada) sifted their eyes in
high-colored lithographs on the wall; among the flower-pots in the
dormer-window looking from every tin roof sat and sewed a smooth haired
young girl, I hope,--the romance of each little mansion. The antique and
foreign character of the place was accented by the inscription upon a
wall of "Sirop adoucissant de Madame Winslow."
Ever since 1692 the Gray Nuns have made refuge within the ample borders
of their convent for infirm old people and for foundling children, and it
is now in the regular course of sight-seeing for the traveller to visit
their hospital at noonday, when he beholds the Sisters at their devotions
in the chapel. It is a bare, white-walled, cold-looking chapel, with the
usual paraphernalia of pictures and crucifixes. Seated upon low benches
on either side of the aisle were the curious or the devout; the former in
greater number and chiefly Americans, who were now and then whispered
silent by an old pauper zealous for the sanctity of the place. At the
stroke of twelve the Sisters entered two by two, followed by the lady-
superior with a prayerbook in her hand. She clapped the leaves of this
together in signal for them to kneel, to rise, to kneel again and rise,
while they repeated in rather harsh voices their prayers, and then
clattered out of the chapel as they had clattered in, with resounding
shoes. The two young girls at the head were very pretty, and all the
pale faces had a corpse-like peace. As Basil looked at their pensive
sameness, it seemed to him that those prettiest girls might very well be
the twain that he had seen here so many years ago, stricken forever young
in their joyless beauty. The ungraceful gowns of coarse gray, the blue
checked aprons, the black crape caps, were the same; they came and went
with the same quick tread, touching their brows with holy water and
kneeling and rising now as then with the same constrained and ordered
movements. Would it be too cruel if they were really the same persons?
or would it be yet more cruel if every year two girls so young and fair
were self-doomed to renew the likeness of that youthful death?
The visitors went about the hospital, and saw the old men and the little
children to whom these good pure lives were given, and they could only
blame the system, not the instruments or their work. Perhaps they did
not judge wisely of the amount of self-sacrifice involved, for they
judged from hearts to which love was the whole of earth and heaven; but
nevertheless they pitied the Gray Nuns amidst the unhomelike comfort of
their convent, the unnatural care of those alien little ones. Poor
'Soeurs Grises' in their narrow cells; at the bedside of sickness and age
and sorrow; kneeling with clasped hands and yearning eyes before the
bloody spectacle of the cross!--the power of your Church is shown far
more subtly and mightily in such as you, than in her grandest fanes or
the sight of her most august ceremonies, with praying priests, swinging
censers, tapers and pictures and images, under a gloomy heaven of
cathedral arches. There, indeed, the faithful have given their
substance; but here the nun has given up the most precious part of her
woman's nature, and all the tenderness that clings about the thought of
wife and mother.
"There are some things that always greatly afflict me in the idea of a
new country," said Basil, as they loitered slowly through the grounds of
the convent toward the gate. "Of course, it's absurd to think of men as
other than men, as having changed their natures with their skies; but a
new land always does seem at first thoughts like a new chance afforded
the race for goodness and happiness, for health and life. So I grieve
for the earliest dead at Plymouth more than for the multitude that the
plague swept away in London; I shudder over the crime of the first guilty
man, the sin of the first wicked woman in a new country; the trouble of
the first youth or maiden crossed in love there is intolerable. All
should be hope and freedom and prosperous life upon that virgin soil.
It never was so since Eden; but none the less I feel it ought to be;
and I am oppressed by the thought that among the earliest walls which
rose upon this broad meadow of Montreal were those built to immure the
innocence of such young girls as these and shut them from the life we
find so fair. Wouldn't you like to know who was the first that took the
veil in this wild new country? Who was she, poor soul, and what was her
deep sorrow or lofty rapture? You can fancy her some Indian maiden lured
to the renunciation by the splendor of symbols and promises seen vaguely
through the lingering mists of her native superstitions; or some weary
soul, sick from the vanities and vices, the bloodshed and the tears of
the Old World, and eager for a silence profounder than that of the
wilderness into which she had fled. Well, the Church knows and God.
She was dust long ago."
From time to time there had fallen little fitful showers during the
morning. Now as the wedding-journeyers passed out of the convent gate
the rain dropped soft and thin, and the gray clouds that floated through
the sky so swiftly were as far-seen Gray Sisters in flight for heaven.
"We shall have time for the drive round the mountain before dinner," said
Basil, as they got into their carriage again; and he was giving the order
to the driver, when Isabel asked how far it was.
"O, then we can't think of going with one horse. You know," she added,
"that we always intended to have two horses for going round the
"No," said Basil, not yet used to having his decisions reached without
his knowledge. "And I don't see why we should. Everybody goes with one.
You don't suppose we're too heavy, do you?"
"I had a party from the States, ma'am, yesterday," interposed the driver;
"two ladies, real heavy apes, two gentlemen, weighin' two hundred apiece,
and a stout young man on the box with me. You'd 'a' thought the horse
was drawin' an empty carriage, the way she darted along."
"Then his horse must be perfectly worn out to-day," said Isabel, refusing
to admit the pool fellow directly even to the honors of a defeat. He had
proved too much, and was put out of court with no hope of repairing his
"Why, it seems a pity," whispered Basil, dispassionately, "to turn this
man adrift, when he had a reasonable hope of being with us all day, and
has been so civil and obliging."
"O yes, Basil, sentimentalize him, do! Why don't you sentimentalize his
helpless, overworked horse?--all in a reek of perspiration."
"Perspiration! Why, my dear, it 's the rain!"
"Well, rain or shine, darling, I don't want to go round the mountain with
one horse; and it 's very unkind of you to insist now, when you've
tacitly promised me all along to take two."
"Now, this is a little too much, Isabel. You know we never mentioned the
matter till this moment."
"It 's the same as a promise, your not saying you wouldn't. But I don't
ask you to keep your word. I don't want to go round the mountain. I'd
much rather go to the hotel. I'm tired."
"Very well, then, Isabel, I'll leave you at the hotel."
In a moment it had come, the first serious dispute of their wedded life.
It had come as all such calamities come, from nothing, and it was on them
in full disaster ere they knew. Such a very little while ago, there in
the convent garden, their lives had been drawn closer in sympathy than
ever before; and now that blessed time seemed ages since, and they were
further asunder than those who have never been friends. "I thought,"
bitterly mused Isabel, "that he would have done anything for me." "Who
could have dreamed that a woman of her sense would be so unreasonable,"
he wondered. Both had tempers, as I know my dearest reader has (if a
lady), and neither would yield; and so, presently, they could hardly tell
how, for they were aghast at it all, Isabel was alone in her room amidst
the ruins of her life, and Basil alone in the one-horse carriage, trying
to drive away from the wreck of his happiness. All was over; the dream
was past; the charm was broken. The sweetness of their love was turned
to gall; whatever had pleased them in their loving moods was loathsome
now, and the things they had praised a moment before were hateful. In
that baleful light, which seemed to dwell upon all they ever said or did
in mutual enjoyment, how poor and stupid and empty looked their wedding-
journey! Basil spent five minutes in arraigning his wife and convicting
her of every folly and fault. His soul was in a whirl,
"For to be wroth with one we love
Doth work like madness in the brain."
In the midst of his bitter and furious upbraidings he found himself
suddenly become her ardent advocate, and ready to denounce her judge as a
heartless monster. "On our wedding journey, too! Good heavens, what an
incredible brute I am!" Then he said, "What an ass I am!" And the
pathos of the case having yielded to its absurdity, he was helpless.
In five minutes more he was at Isabel's side, the one-horse carriage
driver dismissed with a handsome pour-boire, and a pair of lusty bays
with a glittering barouche waiting at the door below. He swiftly
accounted for his presence, which she seemed to find the most natural
thing that could be, and she met his surrender with the openness of a
heart that forgives but does not forget, if indeed the most gracious art
is the only one unknown to the sex.
She rose with a smile from the ruins of her life, amidst which she had
heart-brokenly sat down with all her things on. "I knew you'd come
back," she said.
"So did I," he answered. "I am much too good and noble to sacrifice my
preference to my duty."
"I didn't care particularly for the two horses, Basil," she said, as they
descended to the barouche. "It was your refusing them that hurt me."
"And I didn't want the one-horse carriage. It was your insisting so that
"Do you think people ever quarreled before on a wedding journey?" asked
Isabel as they drove gayly out of the city.
"Never! I can't conceive of it. I suppose if this were written down,
nobody would believe it."
"No, nobody could," said Isabel, musingly, and she added after a pause,
"I wish you would tell me just what you thought of me, dearest. Did you
feel as you did when our little affair was broken off, long ago? Did you
"I did, most cordially; but not half so much as I despised myself the
next moment. As to its being like a lover's quarrel, it wasn't. It was
more bitter, so much more love than lovers ever give had to be taken
back. Besides, it had no dignity, and a lover's quarrel always has.
A lover's quarrel always springs from a more serious cause, and has an
air of romantic tragedy. This had no grace of the kind. It was a poor
shabby little squabble."
"O, don't call it so, Basil! I should like you to respect even a quarrel
of ours more than that. It was tragical enough with me, for I didn't see
how it could ever be made up. I knew I couldn't make the advances.
I don't think it is quite feminine to be the first to forgive, is it?"
"I'm sure I can't say. Perhaps it would be rather unladylike."
"Well, you see, dearest, what I am trying to get at is this: whether we
shall love each other the more or the less for it. I think we shall get
on all the better for a while, on account of it. But I should have said
it was totally out of character it's something you might have expected of
a very young bridal couple; but after what we've been through, it seems
"Very well," said Basil, who, having made all the concessions, could not
enjoy the quarrel as she did, simply because it was theirs; "let 's
behave as if it had never been."
"O no, we can't. To me, it's as if we had just won each other."
In fact it gave a wonderful zest and freshness to that ride round the
mountain, and shed a beneficent glow upon the rest of their journey.
The sun came out through the thin clouds, and lighted up the vast plain
that swept away north and east, with the purple heights against the
eastern sky. The royal mountain lifted its graceful mass beside them,
and hid the city wholly from sight. Peasant-villages, in the shade of
beautiful elms, dotted the plain in every direction, and at intervals
crept up to the side of the road along which they drove. But these had
been corrupted by a more ambitious architecture since Basil saw them
last, and were no longer purely French in appearance. Then, nearly every
house was a tannery in a modest way, and poetically published the fact by
the display of a sheep's tail over the front door, like a bush at a wine-
shop. Now, if the tanneries still existed, the poetry of the cheeps'
tails had vanished from the portals. But our friends were consoled by
meeting numbers of the peasants jolting home from market in the painted
carts, which are doubtless of the pattern of the carts first built there
two hundred years ago. They were grateful for the immortal old wooden,
crooked and brown with the labor of the fields, who abounded in these
vehicles; when a huge girl jumped from the tail of her cart, and showed
the thick, clumsy ankles of a true peasant-maid, they could only sigh out
their unspeakable satisfaction.
Gardens embowered and perfumed the low cottages, through the open doors
of which they could see the exquisite neatness of the life within. One
of the doors opened into a school-house, where they beheld with rapture
the school-mistress, book in hand, and with a quaint cap on her gray
head, and encircled by her flock of little boys and girls.
By and by it began to rain again; and now while their driver stopped to
put up the top of the barouche, they entered a country church which had
taken their fancy, and walked up the aisle with the steps that blend with
silence rather than break it, while they heard only the soft whisper of
the shower without. There was no one there but themselves. The urn of
holy water seemed not to have been troubled that day, and no penitent
knelt at the shrine, before which twinkled so faintly one lighted lamp.
The white roof swelled into dim arches over their heads; the pale day
like a visible hush stole through the painted windows; they heard
themselves breathe as they crept from picture to picture.
A narrow door opened at the side of the high altar, and a slender young
priest appeared in a long black robe, and with shaven head. He, too as
he moved with noiseless feet, seemed a part of the silence; and when he
approached with dreamy black eyes fixed upon them, and bowed courteously,
it seemed impossible he should speak. But he spoke, the pale young
priest, the dark-robed tradition, the tonsured vision of an age and a
church that are passing.
"Do you understand French, monsieur?"
"A very little, monsieur."
"A very little is more than my English," he said, yet he politely went
the round of the pictures with them, and gave them the names of the
painters between his crossings at the different altars. At the high
altar there was a very fair Crucifixion; before this the priest bent one
knee. "Fine picture, fine altar, fine church," he said in English. At
last they stopped next the poor-box. As their coins clinked against
those within, he smiled serenely upon the good heretics. Then he bowed,
and, as if he had relapsed into the past, he vanished through the narrow
door by which he had entered.
Basil and Isabel stood speechless a moment on the church steps. Then she
"O, why didn't something happen?"
"Ah, my dear! what could have keen half so good as the nothing that did
happen? Suppose we knew him to have taken orders because of a
disappointment in love: how common it would have made him; everybody has
been crossed in love once or twice." He bade the driver take them back
to the hotel. "This is the very bouquet of adventure why should we care
for the grosser body? I dare say if we knew all about yonder pale young
priest, we should not think him half so interesting as we do now."
At dinner they spent the intervals of the courses in guessing the
nationality of the different persons, and in wondering if the Canadians
did not make it a matter of conscientious loyalty to out-English the
English even in the matter of pale-ale and sherry, and in rotundity of
person and freshness of face, just as they emulated them in the cut of
their clothes and whiskers. Must they found even their health upon the
health of the mother-country?
Our friends began to detect something servile in it all, and but that
they were such amiable persons, the loyally perfect digestion of Montreal
would have gone far to impair their own.
The loyalty, which had already appeared to them in the cathedral,
suggested itself in many ways upon the street, when they went out after
dinner to do that little shopping which Isabel had planned to do in
Montreal. The booksellers' windows were full of Canadian editions of our
authors, and English copies of English works, instead of our pirated
editions; the dry-goods stores were gay with fabrics in the London taste
and garments of the London shape; here was the sign of a photographer to
the Queen, there of a hatter to H. R. H. the Prince of Wales; a barber
was "under the patronage of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales, H. E. the Duke
of Cambridge, and the gentry of Montreal." 'Ich dien' was the motto of a
restaurateur; a hosier had gallantly labeled his stock in trade with
'Honi soit qui mal y pense'. Again they noted the English solidity of
the civic edifices, and already they had observed in the foreign
population a difference from that at home. They saw no German faces on
the streets, and the Irish faces had not that truculence which they wear
sometimes with us. They had not lost their native simpleness and
kindliness; the Irishmen who drove the public carriages were as civil as
our own Boston hackmen, and behaved as respectfully under the shadow of
England here, as they world have done under it in Ireland. The problem
which vexes us seems to have been solved pleasantly enough in Canada.
Is it because the Celt cannot brook equality; and where he has not an
established and recognized caste above him, longs to trample on those
about him; and if he cannot be lowest, will at least be highest?
However, our friends did not suffer this or any other advantage of the
colonial relation to divert them from the opinion to which their
observation was gradually bringing them,--that its overweening loyalty
placed a great country like Canada in s very silly attitude, the attitude
of an overgrown, unmanly boy, clinging to the maternal skirts, and though
spoilt and willful, without any character of his own. The constant
reference of local hopes to that remote centre beyond seas, the test of
success by the criterions of a necessarily different civilization, the
social and intellectual dependence implied by traits that meet the most
hurried glance in the Dominion, give an effect of meanness to the whole
fabric. Doubtless it is a life of comfort, of peace, of irresponsibility
they live there, but it lacks the grandeur which no sum of material
prosperity can give; it is ignoble, like all voluntarily subordinate
things. Somehow, one feels that it has no basis in the New World, and
that till it is shaken loose from England it cannot have.
It would be a pity, however, if it should be parted from the parent
country merely to be joined to an unsympathetic half-brother like
ourselves and nothing, fortunately, seems to be further from the Canadian
mind. There are some experiments no longer possible to us which could
still be tried there to the advantage of civilization, and we were better
two great nations side by side than a union of discordant traditions and
ideas. But none the less does the American traveller, swelling with
forgetfulness of the shabby despots who govern New York, and the
swindling railroad kings whose word is law to the whole land, feel like
saying to the hulling young giant beyond St. Lawrence and the Lakes,
"Sever the apron-strings of allegiance, and try to be yourself whatever
Something of this sort Basil said, though of course not in apostrophic
phrase, nor with Isabel's entire concurrence, when he explained to her
that it was to the colonial dependence of Canada she owed the ability to
buy things so cheaply there.
The fact is that the ladies' parlor at the hotel had been after dinner no
better than a den of smugglers, in which the fair contrabandists had
debated the best means of evading the laws of their country. At heart
every man is a smuggler, and how much more every woman! She would have
no scruple in ruining the silk and woolen interest throughout the United
States. She is a free-trader by intuitive perception of right, and is
limited in practice by nothing but fear of the statute. What could be
taken into the States without detection, was the subject before that
wicked conclave; and next, what it would pay to buy in Canada. It seemed
that silk umbrellas were most eligible wares; and in the display of such
purchases the parlor was given the appearance of a violent thunder-storm.
Gloves it was not advisable to get; they were better at home, as were
many kinds of fine woolen goods. But laces, which you could carry about
you, were excellent; and so was any kind of silk. Could it be carried if
simply cut, and not made up? There was a difference about this: the
friend of one lady had taken home half a trunkful of cut silks; the
friend of another had "run up the breadths" of one lone little silk
skirt, and then lost it by the rapacity of the customs officers. It was
pretty much luck, and whether the officers happened to be in good-humor
or not. You must not try to take in anything out of season, however.
One had heard of a Boston lady going home in July, who "had the furs
taken off her back," in that inclement month. Best get everything
seasonable, and put it on at once. "And then, you know, if they ask you,
you can say it's been worn." To this black wisdom came the combined
knowledge of those miscreants. Basil could not repress a shudder at the
innate depravity of the female heart. Here were virgins nurtured in the
most spotless purity of life, here were virtuous mothers of families,
here were venerable matrons, patterns in society and the church,--
smugglers to a woman, and eager for any guilty subterfuge! He glanced at
Isabel to see what effect the evil conversation had upon her. Her eyes
sparkled; her cheeks glowed; all the woman was on fire for smuggling. He
sighed heavily and went out with her to do the little shopping.
Shall I follow them upon their excursion? Shopping in Montreal is very
much what it is in Boston or New York, I imagine, except that the clerks
have a more honeyed sweetness of manners towards the ladies of our
nation, and are surprisingly generous constructionists of our revenue
laws. Isabel had profited by every word that she had heard in the
ladies' parlor, and she would not venture upon unsafe ground; but her
tender eyes looked her unutterable longing to believe in the charming
possibilities that the clerks suggested. She bemoaned herself before the
corded silks, which there was no time to have made up; the piece-velvets
and the linens smote her to the heart. But they also stimulated her
invention, and she bought and bought of the made-up wares in real or
fancied needs, till Basil represented that neither their purses nor their
trunks could stand any more. "O, don't be troubled about the trunks,
dearest," she cried, with that gayety which nothing but shopping can
kindle in a woman's heart; while he faltered on from counter to counter,
wondering at which he should finally swoon from fatigue. At last, after
she had declared repeatedly, "There, now, I am done," she briskly led the
way back to the hotel to pack up her purchases.
Basil parted with her at the door. He was a man of high principle
himself, and that scene in the smugglers' den, and his wife's preparation
for transgression, were revelations for which nothing could have consoled
him but a paragon umbrella for five dollars, and an excellent business
suit of Scotch goods for twenty.
When some hours later he sat with Isabel on the forward promenade of the
steamboat for Quebec, and summed up the profits of their shopping, they
were both in the kindliest mood towards the poor Canadians, who had built
the admirable city before them.
For miles the water front of Montreal is superbly faced with quays and
locks of solid stone masonry, and thus she is clean and beautiful to the
very feet. Stately piles of architecture, instead of the foul old
tumble-down warehouses that dishonor the waterside in most cities, rise
from the broad wharves; behind these spring the twin towers of Notre
Dame, and the steeples of the other churches above the city roofs.
It's noble, yes, it's noble, after the best that Europe can show," said
Isabel, with enthusiasm; "and what a pleasant day we've had here!
Doesn't even our quarrel show 'couleur de rose' in this light?"
"One side of it," answered Basil, dreamily, but all the rest is black."
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"Why, the Nelson Monument, with the sunset on it at the head of the
The affect was so fine that Isabel could not be angry with him for
failing to heed what she had said, and she mused a moment with him.
"It seems rather far-fetched," she said presently, "to erect a monument
to Nelson in Montreal, doesn't it? But then, it's a very absurd monument
when you're near it," she added, thoughtfully.
Basil did not answer at once, for gazing on this Nelson column in Jacques
Cartier Square, his thoughts wandered away, not to the hero of the Nile,
but to the doughty old Breton navigator, the first white man who ever set
foot upon that shore, and who more than three hundred years ago explored
the St. Lawrence as far as Montreal, and in the splendid autumn weather
climbed to the top of her green height and named it. The scene that
Jacques Cartier then beheld, like a mirage of the fast projected upon the
present, floated before him, and he saw at the mountain's foot the Indian
city of Hochelaga, with its vast and populous lodges of bark, its
encircling palisades, and its wide outlying fields of yellow maize. He
heard with Jacques Cartier's sense the blare of his followers' trumpets
down in the open square of the barbarous city, where the soldiers of many
an Old-World fight, "with mustached lip and bearded chin, with arquebuse
and glittering halberd, helmet, and cuirass," moved among the plumed and
painted savages; then he lifted Jacques Cartier's eyes, and looked
out upon the magnificent landscape. "East, wept, and north, the mantling
forest was over all, and the broad blue ribbon of the great river
glistened amid a realm of verdure. Beyond, to the bounds of Mexico,
stretched a leafy desert, and the vast hive of industry, the mighty
battle-ground of late; centuries, lay sunk in savage torpor, wrapped in
A vaguer picture of Champlain, who, seeking a westward route to China and
the East, some three quarters of a century later, had fixed the first
trading-post at Montreal, and camped upon the spot where the convent of
the Gray Nuns now stands, appeared before him, and vanished with all its
fleets of fur-traders' boats and hunters' birch canoes, and the watch-
fires of both; and then in the sweet light of the spring morning, he saw
Maisonneuve leaping ashore upon the green meadows, that spread all gay
with early flowers where Hochelaga once stood, and with the black-robed
Jesuits, the high-born, delicately nurtured, and devoted nuns, and the
steel-clad soldiers of his train, kneeling about the altar raised there
in the wilderness, and silent amidst the silence of nature at the lifted
He painted a semblance of all this for Isabel, using the colors of the
historian who has made these scenes the beautiful inheritance of all
dream era, and sketched the battles, the miracles, the sufferings, and
the penances through which the pious colony was preserved and prospered,
till they both grew impatient of modern Montreal, and would fain have had
the ancient Villemarie back in its place.
"Think of Maisonneuve, dearest, climbing in midwinter to the top of the
mountain there, under a heavy cross set with the bones of saints, and
planting it on the summit, in fulfillment of a vow to do so if Villemarie
were saved from the freshet; and then of Madame de la Peltrie
romantically receiving the sacrament there, while all Villemarie fell
down adoring! Ah, that was a picturesque people! When did ever a Boston
governor climb to the top of Beacon hill in fulfillment of a vow? To be
sure, we may yet see a New York governor doing something of the kind--
if he can find a hill. But this ridiculous column to Nelson, who never
had anything to do with Montreal," he continued; "it really seems to me
the perfect expression of snobbish colonial dependence and
sentimentality, seeking always to identify itself with the mother-
country, and ignoring the local past and its heroic figures. A column to
Nelson in Jacques Cartier Square, on the ground that was trodden by
Champlain, and won for its present masters by the death of Wolfe"
The boat departed on her trip to Quebec. During supper they were served
by French waiters, who, without apparent English of their own,
miraculously understood that of the passengers, except in the case of the
furious gentleman who wanted English breakfast tea; to so much English as
that their inspiration did not reach, and they forced him to compromise
on coffee. It was a French boat, owned by a French company, and seemed
to be officered by Frenchmen throughout; certainly, as our tourists in
the joy of their good appetites affirmed, the cook was of that culinarily
The boat was almost as large as those of the Hudson, but it was not so
lavishly splendid, though it had everything that could minister to the
comfort and self-respect of the passengers. These were of all nations,
but chiefly Americans, with some French Canadians. The former gathered
on the forward promenade, enjoying what little of the landscape the
growing night left visible, and the latter made society after their
manner in the saloon. They were plain-looking men and women, mostly, and
provincial, it was evident, to their inmost hearts; provincial in origin,
provincial by inheritance, by all their circumstances, social and
political. Their relation with France was not a proud one, but it was
not like submersion by the slip-slop of English colonial loyalty; yet
they seem to be troubled by no memories of their hundred years' dominion
of the land that they rescued from, the wilderness, and that was wrested
from them by war. It is a strange fate for any people thus to have been
cut off from the parent-country, and abandoned to whatever destiny their
conquerors chose to reserve for them; and if each of the race wore the
sadness and strangeness of that fate in his countenance it would not be
wonderful. Perhaps it is wonderful that none of them shows anything of
the kind. In their desertion they have multiplied and prospered; they
may have a national grief, but they hide it well; and probably they have
Later, one of them appeared to Isabel in the person of the pale, slender
young ecclesiastic who had shown her and Basil the pictures in the
country church. She was confessing to the priest, and she was not at all
surprised to find that he was Basil in a suit of medieval armor. He had
an immense cross on his shoulder.
"To get this cross to the top of the mountain," thought Isabel," we must
have two horses. Basil," she added, aloud, "we must have two horses!"
"Ten, if you like, my dear," answered his voice, cheerfully, "though I
think we'd better ride up in the omnibus."
She opened her eyes, and saw him smiling.
"We're in sight of Quebec," he said. "Come out as soon as you can,--come
out into the seventeenth century."
Isabel hurried out upon the forward promenade, where all the other
passengers seemed to be assembled, and beheld a vast bulk of gray and
purple rock, swelling two hundred feet up from the mists of the river,
and taking the early morning light warm upon its face and crown. Black-
hulked, red-illumined Liverpool steamers, gay river-craft and ships of
every sail and flag, filled the stream athwart which the ferries sped
their swift traffic-laden shuttles; a lower town hung to the foot of the
rock, and crept, populous and picturesque, up its sides; from the massive
citadel on its crest flew the red banner of Saint George, and along its
brow swept the gray wall of the famous, heroic, beautiful city,
overtopped by many a gleaming spire and antique roof.
Slowly out of our work-day, business-suited, modern world the vessel
steamed up to this city of an olden time and another ideal,--to her who
was a lady from the first, devout and proud and strong, and who still,
after two hundred and fifty years, keeps perfect the image and memory of
the feudal past from which she sprung. Upon her height she sits unique;
and when you say Quebec, having once beheld her, you invoke a sense of
medieval strangeness and of beauty which the name of no other city could
As they drew near the steamboat wharf they saw, swarming over a broad
square, a market beside which the Bonsecours Market would have shown as
common as the Quincy, and up the odd wooden-sidewalked street stretched
an aisle of carriages and those high swung calashes, which are to Quebec
what the gondolas are to Venice. But the hand of destiny was upon our
tourists, and they rode up town in an omnibus. They were going to the
dear old Hotel Musty in Street, wanting which Quebec is not to be thought
of without a pang. It is now closed, and Prescott Gate, through which
they drove into the Upper Town, has been demolished since the summer of
last year. Swiftly whirled along the steep winding road, by those Quebec
horses which expect to gallop up hill whatever they do going down, they
turned a corner of the towering weed-grown rock, and shot in under the
low arch of the gate, pierced with smaller doorways for the foot-
passengers. The gloomy masonry dripped with damp, the doors were thickly
studded with heavy iron spikes; old cannon, thrust endwise into the
ground at the sides of the gate, protected it against passing wheels.
Why did not some semi-forbidding commissary of police, struggling hard to
overcome his native politeness, appear and demand their passports? The
illusion was otherwise perfect, and it needed but this touch. How often
in the adored Old World, which we so love and disapprove, had they driven
in through such gates at that morning hour! On what perverse pretext,
then, was it not some ancient town of Normandy?
"Put a few enterprising Americans in here, and they'd soon rattle this
old wall down and let in a little fresh air!" said a patriotic voice at
Isabel's elbow, and continued to find fault with the narrow irregular
streets, the huddling gables, the quaint roofs, through which and under
which they drove on to the hotel.
As they dashed into a broad open square, "Here is the French Cathedral;
there is the Upper Town Market; yonder are the Jesuit Barracks!" cried
Basil; and they had a passing glimpse of gray stone towers at one side of
the square, and a low, massive yellow building at the other, and, between
the two, long ranks of carts, and fruit and vegetable stands, protected
by canvas awnings and broad umbrellas. Then they dashed round the corner
of a street, and drew up before the hotel door. The low ceilings, the
thick walls, the clumsy wood-work, the wandering corridors, gave the
hotel all the desired character of age, and its slovenly state bestowed
an additional charm. In another place they might have demanded neatness,
but in Quebec they would almost have resented it. By a chance they had
the best room in the house, but they held it only till certain people who
had engaged it by telegraph should arrive in the hourly expected steamer
from Liverpool; and, moreover, the best room at Hotel Musty was
consolingly bad. The house was very full, and the Ellisons (who had come
on with them from Montreal) were bestowed in less state only on like
The travellers all met at breakfast, which was admirably cooked, and well
served, with the attendance of those swarms of flies which infest Quebec.
and especially infested the old Musty House, in summer. It had, of
course, the attraction of broiled salmon, upon which the traveller
breakfasts every day as long as he remains in Lower Canada; and it
represented the abundance of wild berries in the Quebec market; and it
was otherwise a breakfast worthy of the appetites that honored it.
There were not many other Americans besides themselves at this hotel,
which seemed, indeed, to be kept open to oblige such travellers as had
been there before, and could not persuade themselves to try the new Hotel
St. Louis, whither the vastly greater number resorted. Most of the faces
our tourists saw were English or English-Canadian, and the young people
from Omaha; who had got here by some chance, were scarcely in harmony
with the place. They appeared to be a bridal party, but which of the two
sisters, in buff linen 'clad from head to foot' was the bride, never
became known. Both were equally free with the husband, and he was
impartially fond of both: it was quite a family affair.
For a moment Isabel harbored the desire to see the city in company with
Miss Ellison; but it was only a passing weakness. She remembered
directly the coolness between friends which she had seen caused by
objects of interest in Europe, and she wisely deferred a more intimate
acquaintance till it could have a purely social basis. After all,
nothing is so tiresome as continual exchange of sympathy or so apt to end
in mutual dislike,--except gratitude. So the ladies parted friends till
dinner, and drove off in separate carriages.
As in other show cities, there is a routine at Quebec for travellers who
come on Saturday and go on Monday, and few depart from it. Our friends
necessarily, therefore, drove first to the citadel. It was raining one
of those cold rains by which the scarce-banished winter reminds the
Canadian fields of his nearness even in midsummer, though between the
bitter showers the air was sultry and close; and it was just the light in
which to see the grim strength of the fortress next strongest to
Gibraltar in the world. They passed a heavy iron gateway, and up through
a winding lane of masonry to the gate of the citadel, where they were
delivered into the care of Private Joseph Drakes, who was to show them
such parts of the place as are open to curiosity. But, a citadel which
has never stood a siege, or been threatened by any danger more serious
than Fenianism, soon becomes, however strong, but a dull piece of masonry
to the civilian; and our tourists more rejoiced in the crumbling fragment
of the old French wall which the English destroyed than in all they had
built; and they valued the latter work chiefly for the glorious prospects
of the St. Lawrence and its mighty valleys which it commanded. Advanced
into the centre of an amphitheatre inconceivably vast, that enormous beak
of rock overlooks the narrow angle of the river, and then, in every
direction, immeasurable stretches of gardened vale, and wooded upland,
till all melts into the purple of the encircling mountains. Far and near
are lovely white villages nestling under elms, in the heart of fields and
meadows; and everywhere the long, narrow, accurately divided farms
stretch downward to the river-shores. The best roads on the continent
make this beauty and richness accessible; each little village boasts some
natural wonder in stream, or lake, or cataract: and this landscape,
magnificent beyond any in eastern America, is historical and interesting
beyond all others. Hither came Jacques Cartier three hundred and fifty
years ago, and wintered on the low point there by the St. Charles; here,
nearly a century after, but still fourteen years before the landing at
Plymouth, Champlain founded the missionary city of Quebec; round this
rocky beak came sailing the half-piratical armament of the Calvinist
Kirks in 1629, and seized Quebec in the interest of the English, holding
it three years; in the Lower Town, yonder, first landed the coldly
welcomed Jesuits, who came with the returning French and made Quebec
forever eloquent of their zeal, their guile, their heroism; at the foot
of this rock lay the fleet of Sir William Phipps, governor of
Massachusetts, and vainly assailed it in 1698; in 1759 came Wolfe and
embattled all the region, on river and land, till at last the bravely
defended city fell into his dying hand on the Plains of Abraham; here
Montgomery laid down his life at the head of the boldest and most
hopeless effort of our War of Independence.
Private Joseph Drakes, with the generosity of an enemy expecting drink-
money, pointed out the sign, board on the face of the crag commemorating
'Montgomery's death'; and then showed them the officers' quarters and
those of the common soldiers, not far from which was a line of hang-dog
fellows drawn up to receive sentence for divers small misdemeanors, from
an officer whose blond whiskers drooped Dundrearily from his fresh
English cheeks. There was that immense difference between him and the
men in physical grandeur and beauty, which is so notable in the
aristocratically ordered military services of Europe, and which makes the
rank seem of another race from the file. Private Drakes saluted his
superior, and visibly deteriorated in his presence, though his breast was
covered with medals, and he had fought England's battles in every part of
the world. It was a gross injustice, the triumph of a thousand years of
wrong; and it was touching to have Private Drakes say that he expected in
three months to begin life for himself, after twenty years' service of
the Queen; and did they think he could get anything to do in the States?
He scarcely knew what he was fit for, but he thought--to so little in him
came the victories he had helped to win in the Crimea, in China, and in
India--that he coald take care of a gentleman's horse and work about his
place. He looked inquiringly at Basil, as if he might be a gentleman
with a horse to be taken care of and a place to be worked about, and made
him regret that he was not a man of substance enough to provide for
Private Drakes and Mrs. Drakes and the brood of Ducklings, who had been
shown to him stowed away in one of those cavernous rooms in the
earthworks where the married soldiers have their quarters. His regret
enriched the reward of Private Drakes' service,--which perhaps answered
one of Private Drakes' purposes, if not his chief aim. He promised to
come to the States upon the pressing advice of Isabel, who, speaking from
her own large experience, declared that everybody got on there,--and he
bade our friends an affectionate farewell as they drove away to the
Plains of Abraham.
The fashionable suburban cottages and places of Quebec are on the St.
Louis Road leading northward to the old battle-ground and beyond it; but,
these face chiefly towards the rivers St. Lawrence and St. Charles, and
lofty hedges and shrubbery hide them in an English seclusion from the
highway; so that the visitor may uninterruptedly meditate whatever
emotion he will for the scene of Wolfe's death as he rides along. His
loftiest emotion will want the noble height of that heroic soul, who must
always stand forth in history a figure of beautiful and singular
distinction, admirable alike for the sensibility and daring, the poetic
pensiveness, and the martial ardor that mingled in him and taxed his
feeble frame with tasks greater than it could bear. The whole story of
the capture of Quebec is full of romantic splendor and pathos. Her fall
was a triumph for all the English-speaking race, and to us Americans,
long scourged by the cruel Indian wars plotted within her walls or
sustained by her strength, such a blessing as was hailed with ringing
bells and blazing bonfires throughout the Colonies; yet now we cannot
think without pity of the hopes extinguished and the labors brought to
naught in her overthrow. That strange colony of priests and soldiers, of
martyrs and heroes, of which she was the capital, willing to perish for
an allegiance to which the mother-country was indifferent, and fighting
against the armies with which England was prepared to outnumber the whole
Canadian population, is a magnificent spectacle; and Montcalm laying down
his life to lose Quebec is not less affecting than Wolfe dying to win
her. The heart opens towards the soldier who recited, on the eve of his
costly victory, the "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," which he would
"rather have written than beat the French to-morrow;" but it aches for
the defeated general, who, hurt to death, answered, when told how brief
his time was, "So much the better; then I shall not live to see the
surrender of Quebec."
In the city for which they perished their fame has never been divided.
The English have shown themselves very generous victors; perhaps nothing
could be alleged against them, but that they were victors. A shaft
common to Wolfe and Montcalm celebrates them both in the Governor's
Garden; and in the Chapel of the Ursuline Convent a tablet is placed,
where Montcalm died, by the same conquerors who raised to Wolfe's memory
the column on the battle-field.
A dismal prison covers the ground where the hero fell, and the monument
stands on the spot where Wolfe breathed his last, on ground lower than
the rest of the field; the friendly hollow that sheltered him from the
fire of the French dwarfs his monument; yet it is sufficient, and the
simple inscription, "Here died Wolfe victorious," gives it a dignity
which many cubits of added stature could not bestow. Another of those
bitter showers, which had interspersed the morning's sunshine, drove
suddenly across the open plain, and our tourists comfortably
sentimentalized the scene behind the close-drawn curtains of their
carriage. Here a whole empire had been lost and won, Basil reminded
Isabel; and she said, "Only think of it!" and looked to a wandering fold
of her skirt, upon which the rain beat through a rent of the curtain.
Do I pitch the pipe too low? We poor honest men are at a sad
disadvantage; and now and then I am minded to give a loose to fancy, and
attribute something really grand and fine to my people, in order to make
them worthier the reader's respected acquaintance. But again, I forbid
myself in a higher interest; and I am afraid that even if I were less
virtuous, I could not exalt their mood upon a battle-field; for of all
things of the past a battle is the least conceivable. I have heard men
who fought in many battles say that the recollection was like a dream to
them; and what can the merely civilian imagination do on the Plains of
Abraham, with the fact that there, more than a century ago, certain
thousands of Frenchmen marched out, on a bright September morning, to
kill and maim as many Englishmen? This ground, so green and oft with
grass beneath the feet, was it once torn with shot and soaked with the
blood of men? Did they lie here in ranks and heaps, the miserable
slain, for whom tender hearts away yonder over the sea were to ache and
break? Did the wretches that fell wounded stretch themselves here, and
writhe beneath the feet of friend and foe, or crawl array for shelter
into little hollows, and behind gushes and fallen trees! Did he, whose
soul was so full of noble and sublime impulses, die here, shot through
like some ravening beast? The loathsome carnage, the shrieks, the
hellish din of arms, the cries of victory,--I vainly strive to conjure up
some image of it all now; and God be thanked, horrible spectre! that,
fill the world with sorrow as thou wilt, thou still remainest incredible
in its moments of sanity and peace. Least credible art thou on the old
battle-fields, where the mother of the race denies thee with breeze and
sun and leaf and bird, and every blade of grass! The red stain in
Basil's thought yielded to the rain sweeping across the pasture-land from
which it had long since faded, and the words on the monument, "Here died
Wolfe victorious," did not proclaim his bloody triumph over the French,
but his self-conquest, his victory over fear and pain and love of life.
Alas! when shall the poor, blind, stupid world honor those who renounce
self in the joy of their kind, equally with those who devote themselves
through the anguish and loss of thousands? So old a world and groping
The tourists were better fitted for the next occasion of sentiment, which
was at the Hotel Dieu whither they went after returning from the
battlefield. It took all the mal-address of which travellers are masters
to secure admittance, and it was not till they had rung various wrong
bells, and misunderstood many soft nun-voices speaking French through
grated doors, and set divers sympathetic spectators doing ineffectual
services, that they at last found the proper entrance, and were answered
in English that the porter would ask if they might see the chapel. They
hoped to find there the skull of Brebeuf, one of those Jesuit martyrs who
perished long ago for the conversion of a race that has perished, and
whose relics they had come, fresh from their reading of Parkman, with
some vague and patronizing intention to revere. An elderly sister with a
pale, kind face led them through a ward of the hospital into the chapel,
which they found in the expected taste, and exquisitely neat and cool,
but lacking the martyr's skull. They asked if it were not to be seen.
"Ah, yes, poor Pere Brebeuf!" sighed the gentle sister, with the tone and
manner of having lost him yesterday; "we had it down only last week,
showing it to some Jesuit fathers; but it's in the convent now, and isn't
to be seen." And there mingled apparently in her regret for Pere Brebeuf
a confusing sense of his actual state as a portable piece of furniture.
She would not let them praise the chapel. It was very clean, yes, but
there was nothing to see in it. She deprecated their compliments with
many shrugs, but she was pleased; for when we renounce the pomps and
vanities of this world, we are pretty sure to find them in some other,
--if we are women. She, good and pure soul, whose whole life was given
to self-denying toil, had yet something angelically coquettish in her
manner, a spiritual-worldliness which was the clarified likeness of this-
worldliness. O, had they seen the Hotel Dieu at Montreal? Then (with a
vivacious wave of the hands) they would not care to look at this, which
by comparison was nothing. Yet she invited them to go through the wards
if they would, and was clearly proud to have them see the wonderful
cleanness and comfort of the place. There were not many patients, but
here and there a wan or fevered face looked at them from its pillow, or a
weak form drooped beside a bed, or a group of convalescents softly talked
together. They came presently to the last hall, at the end of which sat
another nun, beside a window that gave a view of the busy port, and
beyond it the landscape of village-lit plain and forest-darkened height.
On a table at her elbow stood a rose-tree, on which hung two only pale
tea-roses, so fair, so perfect, that Isabel cried out in wonder and
praise. Ere she could prevent it, the nun, to whom there had been some
sort of presentation, gathered one of the roses, and with a shy grace
offered it to Isabel, who shrank back a little as from too costly a gift.
"Take it," said the first nun, with her pretty French accent; while the
other, who spoke no English at all, beamed a placid smile; and Isabel
took it. The flower, lying light in her palm, exhaled a delicate odor,
and a thrill of exquisite compassion for it trembled through her heart,
as if it had been the white, cloistered life of the silent nun: with its
pallid loveliness, it was as a flower that had taken the veil. It could
never have uttered the burning passion of a lover for his mistress; the
nightingale could have found no thorn on it to press his aching poet's
heart against; but sick and weary eyes had dwelt gratefully upon it; at
most it might have expressed, like a prayer, the nun's stainless love of
some favorite saint in paradise. Cold, and pale, and sweet,--was it
indeed only a flower, this cloistered rose of the Hotel Dieu?
"Breathe it," said the gentle Gray Sister; "sometimes the air of the
hospital offends. Not us, no; we are used; but you come from the
outside." And she gave her rose for this humble use as lovingly as she
devoted herself to her lowly taxes.
"It is very little to see," she said at the end; "but if you are pleased,
I am very glad. Goodby, good-by! "She stood with her arms folded, and
watched them out of sight with her kind, coquettish little smile, and
then the mute, blank life of the nun resumed her.
From Hotel Dieu to Hotel Musty it was but a step; both were in the same
street; but our friends fancied themselves to have come an immense
distance when they sat down at an early dinner, amidst the clash of
crockery and cutlery, and looked round upon all the profane travelling
world assembled. Their regard presently fixed upon one company which
monopolized a whole table, and were defined from the other diners by
peculiarities as marked as those of the Soeurs Grises themselves. There
were only two men among some eight or ten women; one of the former had a
bad amiable face, with eyes full of a merry deviltry; the other, clean.
shaven, and dark, was demure and silent as a priest. The ladies were of
various types, but of one effect, with large rolling eyes, and faces that
somehow regarded the beholder as from a distance, and with an impartial
feeling for him as for an element of publicity. One of them, who
caressed a lapdog with one hand while she served herself with the other,
was, as she seemed to believe, a blonde; she had pale blue eyes, and her
hair was cut in front so as to cover her forehead with a straggling
sandy-colored fringe. She had an English look, and three or four others,
with dark complexion and black, unsteady eyes, and various abandon of
back-hair, looked like Cockney houris of Jewish blood; while two of the
lovely company were clearly of our own nation, as was the young man with
the reckless laughing face. The ladies were dressed and jeweled with a
kind of broad effectiveness, which was to the ordinary style of society
what scene-painting is to painting, and might have borne close inspection
no better. They seemed the best-humored people in the world, and on the
kindliest terms with each other. The waiters shared their pleasant mood,
and served them affectionately, and were now and then invited to join in
the gay talk which babbled on over dislocated aspirates, and filled the
air with a sentiment of vagabond enjoyment, of the romantic freedom of
violated convention, of something Gil Blas-like, almost picaresque.
If they had needed explanation it would have been given by the
announcement in the office of the hotel that a troupe of British blondes
was then appearing in Quebec for one week only.
After dinner they took possession of the parlor, and while one strummed
fitfully upon the ailing hotel piano, the rest talked, and talked shop,
of course, as all of us do when several of a trade are got together.
"W'at," said the eldest of the dark-faced, black haired British blondes
of Jewish race,--"w'at are we going to give at Montrehal?"
"We're going to give 'Pygmalion,' at Montrehal," answered the British
blonde of American birth, good-humoredly burlesquing the erring h of her
"But we cahn't, you know," said the lady with the fringed forehead;
"Hagnes is gone on to New York, and there's nobody to do Wenus."
"Yes, you know," demanded the, first speaker, "oo's to do Wenus?
"Bella's to do Wenus," said a third.
There was an outcry at this, and "'Ow ever would she get herself up for
'Venus?" and "W'at a guy she'll look!" and "Nonsense! Bella's too 'eavy
for Venus!" came from different lively critics; and the debate threatened
to become too intimate for the public ear, when one of their gentlemen
came in and said, "Charley don't seem so well this afternoon." On this
the chorus changed its note, and at the proposal, "Poor Charley, let 's
go and cheer 'im hop a bit," the whole good-tempered company trooped out
of the parlor together.
Our tourists meant to give the rest of the afternoon to that sort of
aimless wandering to and fro about the streets which seizes a foreign
city unawares, and best develops its charm of strangeness. So they went
out and took their fill of Quebec with appetites keen through long
fasting from the quaint and old, and only sharpened by Montreal, and
impartially rejoiced in the crooked up-and-down hill streets; the
thoroughly French domestic architecture of a place that thus denied
having been English for a hundred years; the porte-cocheres beside every
house; the French names upon the doors, and the oddity of the bellpulls;
the rough-paved, rattling streets; the shining roofs of tin, and the
universal dormer-windows; the littleness of the private houses, and the
greatness of the high-walled and garden-girdled convents; the breadths of
weather-stained city wall, and the shaggy cliff beneath; the batteries,
with their guns peacefully staring through loop-holes of masonry, and the
red-coated sergeants flirting with nursery-maids upon the carriages,
while the children tumbled about over the pyramids of shot and shell; the
sloping market-place before the cathedral, where yet some remnant of the
morning's traffic lingered under canvas canopies, and where Isabel bought
a bouquet of marigolds and asters of an old woman peasant enough to have
sold it in any market-place of Europe; the small, dark shops beyond the
quarter invaded by English retail trade; the movement of all the strange
figures of cleric and lay and military life; the sound of a foreign
speech prevailing over the English; the encounter of other tourists, the
passage back and forth through the different city gates; the public
wooden stairways, dropping flight after flight from the Upper to the
Lower Town; the bustle of the port, with its commerce and shipping and
seafaring life huddled close in under the hill; the many desolate streets
of the Lower Town, as black and ruinous as the last great fire left them;
and the marshy meadows beyond, memorable of Recollets and Jesuits, of
Cartier and Montcalm.
They went to the chapel of the Seminary at Laval University, and admired
the Le Brun, and the other paintings of less merit, but equal interest
through their suggestion of a whole dim religious world of paintings; and
then they spent half an hour in the cathedral, not so much in looking at
the Crucifixion by Vandyck which is there, as in reveling amid the
familiar rococo splendors of the temple. Every swaggering statue of a
saint, every rope-dancing angel, every cherub of those that on the carven
and gilded clouds above the high altar float--
"Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,"--
was precious to them; the sacristan dusting the sacred properties with a
feather brush, and giving each shrine a business-like nod as he passed,
was as a long-lost brother; they had hearts of aggressive tenderness for
the young girls and old women who stepped in for a half-hour's devotion,
and for the men with bourgeois or peasant faces, who stole a moment from
affairs and crops, and gave it to the saints. There was nothing in the
place that need remind them of America, and its taste was exactly that of
a thousand other churches of the eighteenth century. They could easily
have believed themselves in the farthest Catholic South, but for the two
great porcelain stoves that stood on either side of the nave near the
entrance, and that too vividly reminded them of the possibility of cold.
In fact, Quebec is a little painful in this and other confusions of the
South and North, and one never quite reconciles himself to them. The
Frenchmen, who expected to find there the climate of their native land,
and ripen her wines in as kindly a sun, have perpetuated the image of
home in so many things, that it goes to the heart with a painful emotion
to find the sad, oblique light of the North upon them. As you ponder
some characteristic aspect of Quebec,--a bit of street with heavy stone
houses opening upon a stretch of the city wall, with a Lombardy poplar
rising slim against it,--you say, to your satisfied soul, "Yes, it is the
real thing!" and then all at once a sense of that Northern sky strikes in
upon you, and makes the reality a mere picture. The sky is blue, the sun
is often fiercely hot; you could not perhaps prove that the pathetic
radiance is not an efflux of your own consciousness that summer is but
hanging over the land, briefly poising on wings which flit at the first
dash of rain, and will soon vanish in long retreat before the snow. But
somehow, from without or from within, that light of the North is there.
It lay saddest, our travellers thought, upon the little circular garden
near Durham Terrace, where every brightness of fall flowers abounded,--
marigold, coxcomb, snap-dragon, dahlia, hollyhock, and sunflower. It was
a substantial and hardy efflorescence, and they fancied that fainter-
hearted plants would have pined away in that garden, where the little
fountain, leaping up into the joyless light, fell back again with a
musical shiver. The consciousness of this latent cold, of winter only
held in abeyance by the bright sun, was not deeper even in the once
magnificent, now neglected Governor's Garden, where there was actually a
rawness in the late afternoon air, and whither they were strolling for
the view from its height, and to pay their duty to the obelisk raised
there to the common fame of Wolfe and Montcalm. The sounding Latin
inscription celebrates the royal governor-general who erected it almost
as much as the heroes to whom it was raised; but these spectators did not
begrudge the space given to his praise, for so fine a thought merited
praise. It enforced again the idea of a kind posthumous friendship
between Wolfe and Montcalm, which gives their memory its rare
distinction, and unites them, who fell in fight against each other, as
closely as if they had both died for the same cause.
Some lasting dignity seems to linger about the city that has once been a
capital; and this odor of fallen nobility belongs to Quebec, which was a
capital in the European sense, with all the advantages of a small vice-
regal court, and its social and political intrigues, in the French times.
Under the English, for a hundred years it was the centre of Colonial
civilization and refinement, with a governor-general's residence and a
brilliant, easy, and delightful society, to which the large garrison of
former days gave gayety and romance. The honors of a capital, first
shared with Montreal and Toronto, now rest with half-savage Ottawa; and
the garrison has dwindled to a regiment of rifles, whose presence would
hardly be known, but for the natty sergeants lounging, stick in hand,
about the streets and courting the nurse-maids. But in the days of old
there were scenes of carnival pleasure in the Governor's Garden, and
there the garrison band still plays once a week, when it is filled by the
fashion and beauty of Quebec, and some semblance of the past is recalled.
It is otherwise a lonesome, indifferently tended place, and on this
afternoon there was no one there but a few loafing young fellows of low
degree, French and English, and children that played screaming from seat
to seat and path to path and over the too-heavily shaded grass. In spite
of a conspicuous warning that any dog entering the garden would be
destroyed, the place was thronged with dogs unmolested and apparently in
no danger of the threatened doom. The seal of a disagreeable desolation
was given in the legend rudely carved upon one of the benches, "Success
to the Irish Republic!"
The morning of the next day our tourists gave to hearing mass at the
French cathedral, which was not different, to their heretical senses,
from any other mass, except that the ceremony was performed with a very
full clerical force, and was attended by an uncommonly devout
congregation. With Europe constantly in their minds, they were
bewildered to find the worshippers not chiefly old and young women, but
men also of all ages and of every degree, from the neat peasant in his
Sabbath-day best to the modish young Quebecker, who spread his
handkerchief on the floor to save his pantaloons during supplication.
There was fashion and education in large degree among the men, and there
was in all a pious attention to the function in poetical keeping with the
origin and history of a city which the zeal of the Church had founded.
A magnificent beadle, clothed in a gold-laced coat aid bearing a silver
staff, bowed to them when they entered, and, leading them to a pew,
punched up a kneeling peasant, who mutely resumed his prayers in the
aisle outside, while they took his place. It appeared to Isabel very
unjust that their curiosity should displace his religion; but she
consoled herself by making Basil give a shilling to the man who, preceded
by the shining beadle, came round to take up a collection. The peasant
could have given nothing but copper, and she felt that this restored the
lost balance of righteousness in their favor. There was a sermon, very
sweetly and gracefully delivered by a young priest of singular beauty,
even among clergy whose good looks are so notable as those of Quebec; and
then they followed the orderly crowd of worshippers out, and left the
cathedral to the sacristan and the odor of incense.
They thought the type of French-Canadian better here than at Montreal,
and they particularly noticed the greater number of pretty young girls.
All classes were well dressed; for though the best dressed could not be
called stylish according to the American standard, as Isabel decided, and
had only a provincial gentility, the poorest wore garments that were
clean and whole. Everybody, too, was going to have a hot Sunday dinner,
if there was any truth in the odors that steamed out of every door and
window; and this dinner was to be abundantly garnished with onions, for
the dullest nose could not err concerning that savor.
Numbers of tourists, of a nationality that showed itself superior to
every distinction of race, were strolling vaguely and not always quite
happily about; but they made no impression on the proper local character,
and the air throughout the morning was full of the sentiment of Sunday in
a Catholic city. There was the apparently meaningless jangling of bells,
with profound hushes between, and then more jubilant jangling, and then
deeper silence; there was the devout trooping of the crowds to the
churches; and there was the beginning of the long afternoon's lounging
and amusement with which the people of that faith reward their morning's
devotion. Little stands for the sale of knotty apples and choke-cherries
and cakes and cider sprang magically into existence after service, and
people were already eating and drinking at them. The carriage-drivers
resumed their chase of the tourists, and the unvoiceful stir of the new
week had begun again. Quebec, in fact, is but a pantomimic reproduction
of France; it is as if two centuries in a new land, amidst the primeval
silences of nature and the long hush of the Northern winters, had stilled
the tongues of the lively folk and made them taciturn as we of a graver
race. They have kept the ancestral vivacity of manner; the elegance of
the shrug is intact; the talking hands take part in dialogue; the
agitated person will have its share of expression. But the loud and
eager tone is wanting, and their dumb show mystifies the beholder almost
as much as the Southern architecture under the slanting Northern sun. It
is not America; if it is not France, what is it?
Of the many beautiful things to see in the neighborhood of Quebec, our
wedding-journeyers were in doubt on which to bestow their one precious
afternoon. Should it be Lorette, with its cataract and its remnant of
bleached and fading Hurons, or the Isle of Orleans with its fertile farms
and its primitive peasant life, or Montmorenci, with the unrivaled fall
and the long drive through the beautiful village of Beauport? Isabel
chose the last, because Basil had been there before, and it had to it the
poetry of the wasted years in which she did not know him. She had
possessed herself of the journal of his early travels, among the other
portions and parcels recoverable from the dreadful past, and from time to
time on this journey she had read him passages out of it, with mingled
sentiment and irony, and, whether she was mocking or admiring, equally to
his confusion. Now, as they smoothly bowled away from the city, she made
him listen to what he had written of the same excursion long ago.
It was, to be sure, a sad farrago of sentiment about the village and the
rural sights, and especially a girl tossing hay in the field. Yet it had
touches of nature and reality, and Basil could not utterly despise
himself for having written it. "Yes," he said, "life was then a thing to
be put into pretty periods; now it's something that has risks and
averages, and may be insured."
There was regret, fancied or expressed, in his tone, that made her sigh,
"Ah! if I'd only had a little more money, you might have devoted yourself
to literature;" for she was a true Bostonian in her honor of our poor
"O, you're not greatly to blame," answered her husband, "and I forgive
you the little wrong you've done me. I was quits with the Muse, at any
rate, you know, before we were married; and I'm very well satisfied to be
going back to my applications and policies to-morrow."
To-morrow? The word struck cold upon her. Then their wedding journey
would begin to end tomorrow! So it would, she owned with another sigh;
and yet it seemed impossible.
"There, ma'am," said the driver, rising from his seat and facing round,
while he pointed with his whip towards Quebec, "that's what we call the
They looked back with him at the city, whose thousands of tinned roofs,
rising one above the other from the water's edge to the citadel, were all
a splendor of argent light in the afternoon sun. It was indeed as if
some magic had clothed that huge rock, base and steepy flank and crest,
with a silver city. They gazed upon the marvel with cries of joy that
satisfied the driver's utmost pride in it, and Isabel said, "To live
there, there in that Silver City, in perpetual sojourn! To be always
going to go on a morrow that never came! To be forever within one day of
the end of a wedding journey that never ended!"
From far down the river by which they rode came the sound of a cannon,
breaking the Sabbath repose of the air. "That's the gun of the Liverpool
steamer, just coming in," said the driver.
"O," cried Isabel, "I'm thankful we're only to stay one night more, for
now we shall be turned out of our nice room by those people who
telegraphed for it!"
There is a continuous village along the St. Lawrence from Quebec, almost
to Montmorenci; and they met crowds of villagers coming from the church
as they passed through Beauport. But Basil was dismayed at the change
that had befallen them. They had their Sunday's best on, and the women,
instead of wearing the peasant costume in which he had first seen them,
were now dressed as if out of "Harper's Bazar" of the year before. He
anxiously asked the driver if the broad straw hats and the bright sacks
and kirtles were no more. "O, you'd see them on weekdays, sir," was the
answer, "but they're not so plenty any time as they used to be." He
opened his store of facts about the habitans, whom he praised for every
virtue,--for thrift, for sobriety, for neatness, for amiability; and his
words ought to have had the greater weight, because he was of the Irish
race, between which and the Canadians there is no kindness lost. But the
looks of the passers-by corroborated him, and as for the little houses,
open-doored beside the way, with the pleasant faces at window and portal,
they were miracles of picturesqueness and cleanliness. From each the
owner's slim domain, narrowing at every successive division among the
abundant generations, runs back to hill or river in well-defined lines,
and beside the cottage is a garden of pot-herbs, bordered with a flame of
bright autumn flowers; somewhere in decent seclusion grunts the fattening
pig, which is to enrich all those peas and onions for the winter's broth;
there is a cheerfulness of poultry about the barns; I dare be sworn there
is always a small girl driving a flock of decorous ducks down the middle
of the street; and of the priest with a book under his arm, passing a
way-side shrine, what possible doubt? The houses, which are of one
model, are built by the peasants themselves with the stone which their
land yields more abundantly than any other crop, and are furnished with
galleries and balconies to catch every ray of the fleeting summer, and
perhaps to remember the long-lost ancestral summers of Normandy. At
every moment, in passing through this ideally neat and pretty village,
our tourists must think of the lovely poem of which all French Canada
seems but a reminiscence and illustration. It was Grand Pre, not
Beauport; and they paid an eager homage to the beautiful genius which has
touched those simple village aspects with an undying charm, and which,
whatever the land's political allegiance, is there perpetual Seigneur.
The village, stretching along the broad interval of the St. Lawrence,
grows sparser as you draw near the Falls of Montmorenci, and presently
you drive past the grove shutting from the road the country-house in
which the Duke of Kent spent some merry days of his jovial youth, and
come in sight of two lofty towers of stone,--monuments and witnesses of
the tragedy of Montmorenci.
Once a suspension-bridge, built sorely against the will of the
neighboring habitans, hung from these towers high over the long plunge of
the cataract. But one morning of the fatal spring after the first
winter's frost had tried the hold of the cable on the rocks, an old
peasant and his wife with their little grandson set out in their cart to
pass the bridge. As they drew near the middle the anchoring wires
suddenly lost their grip upon the shore, and whirled into the air; the
bridge crashed under the hapless passengers and they were launched from
its height, upon the verge of the fall and thence plunged, two hundred
and fifty feet, into the ruin of the abyss.
The habitans rebuilt their bridge of wood upon low stone piers, so far up
the river from the cataract that whoever fell from it would yet have many
a chance for life; and it would have been perilous to offer to replace
the fallen structure, which, in the belief of faithful Christians,
clearly belonged to the numerous bridges built by the Devil, in times
when the Devil did not call himself a civil engineer.
The driver, with just unction, recounted the sad tale as he halted his
horses on the bridge; and as his passengers looked down the rock-fretted
brown torrent towards the fall, Isabel seized the occasion to shudder
that ever she had set foot on that suspension-bridge below Niagara, and
to prove to Basil's confusion that her doubt of the bridges between the
Three Sisters was not a case of nerves but an instinctive wisdom
concerning the unsafety of all bridges of that design.
From the gate opening into the grounds about the fall two or three little
French boys, whom they had not the heart to forbid, ran noisily before
them with cries in their sole English, "This way, sir" and led toward a
weather-beaten summer-house that tottered upon a projecting rock above
the verge of the cataract. But our tourists shook their heads, and
turned away for a more distant and less dizzy enjoyment of the spectacle,
though any commanding point was sufficiently chasmal and precipitous.
The lofty bluff was scooped inward from the St. Lawrence in a vast
irregular semicircle, with cavernous hollows, one within another, sinking
far into its sides, and naked from foot to crest, or meagrely wooded here
and there with evergreen. From the central brink of these gloomy purple
chasms the foamy cataract launched itself, and like a cloud,
"Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem."
I say a cloud, because I find it already said to my hand, as it were, in
a pretty verse, and because I must needs liken Montmorenci to something
that is soft and light. Yet a cloud does not represent the glinting of
the water in its downward swoop; it is like some broad slope of sun-
smitten snow; but snow is coldly white and opaque, and this has a creamy
warmth in its luminous mass; and so, there hangs the cataract unsaid as
before. It is a mystery that anything so grand should be so lovely, that
anything so tenderly fair in whatever aspect should yet be so large that
one glance fails to comprehend it all. The rugged wildness of the cliffs
and hollows about it is softened by its gracious beauty, which half
redeems the vulgarity of the timber-merchant's uses in setting the river
at work in his saw-mills and choking its outlet into the St. Lawrence
with rafts of lumber and rubbish of slabs and shingles. Nay, rather, it
is alone amidst these things, and the eye takes note of them by a
Our tourists sank down upon the turf that crept with its white clover to
the edge of the precipice, and gazed dreamily upon the fall, filling
their vision with its exquisite color and form. Being wiser than I, they
did not try to utter its loveliness; they were content to feel it, and
the perfection of the afternoon, whose low sun slanting over the
landscape gave, under that pale, greenish-blue sky, a pensive sentiment
of autumn to the world. The crickets cried amongst the grass; the
hesitating chirp of birds came from the tree overhead; a shaggy colt left
off grazing in the field and stalked up to stare at them; their little
guides, having found that these people had no pleasure in the sight of
small boys scuffling on the verge of a precipice, threw themselves also
down upon the grass and crooned a long, long ballad in a mournful minor
key about some maiden whose name was La Belle Adeline. It was a moment
of unmixed enjoyment for every sense, and through all their being they
were glad; which considering, they ceased to be so, with a deep sigh, as
one reasoning that he dreams must presently awake. They never could have
an emotion without desiring to analyze it; but perhaps their rapture
would have ceased as swiftly, even if they had not tried to make it a
fact of consciousness.
"If there were not dinner after such experiences as these," said Isabel,
as they sat at table that evening, "I don't know what would become of
one. But dinner unites the idea of pleasure and duty, and brings you
gently back to earth. You must eat, don't you see, and there's nothing
disgraceful about what you're obliged to do; and so--it's all right."
"Isabel, Isabel," cried her husband, "you have a wonderful mind, and its
workings always amaze me. But be careful, my dear; be careful. Don't
work it too hard. The human brain, you know: delicate organ."
"Well, you understand what I mean; and I think it's one of the great
charms of a husband, that you're not forced to express yourself to him.
A husband," continued Isabel, sententiously, poising a bit of meringue
between her thumb and finger,--for they had reached that point in the
repast, "a husband is almost as good as another woman!"
In the parlor they found the Ellisons, and exchanged the history of the
day with them.
"Certainly," said Mrs. Ellison, at the end, "it's been a pleasant day
enough, but what of the night? You've been turned out, too, by those
people who came on the steamer, and who might as well have stayed on
board to-night; have you got another room?"
"Not precisely," said Isabel; "we have a coop in the fifth story, right
under the roof."
Mrs. Ellison turned energetically upon her husband and cried in tones of
reproach, "Richard, Mrs. March has a room!"
"A coop, she said," retorted that amiable Colonel, "and we're too good
for that. The clerk is keeping us in suspense about a room, because he
means to surprise us with something palatial at the end. It 's his
"Nonsense!" said Mrs. Ellison. "Have you seen him since dinner?"
"I have made life a burden to him for the last half-hour," returned the
Colonel, with the kindliest smile.
"O Richard," cried his wife, in despair of his amendment, "you wouldn't
make life a burden to a mouse!" And having nothing else for it, she
laughed, half in sorrow, half in fondness.
"Well, Fanny," the Colonel irrelevantly answered, "put on your hat and
things, and let's all go up to Durham Terrace for a promenade. I know
our friends want to go. It's something worth seeing; and by the time we
get back, the clerk will have us a perfectly sumptuous apartment."
Nothing, I think, more enforces the illusion of Southern Europe in Quebec
than the Sunday-night promenading on Durham Terrace. This is the ample
space on the brow of the cliff to the left of the citadel, the noblest
and most commanding position in the whole city, which was formerly
occupied by the old castle of Saint Louis, where dwelt the brave Count
Frontenac and his splendid successors of the French regime. The castle
went the way of Quebec by fire some forty years ago, and Lord Durham
leveled the site and made it a public promenade. A stately arcade of
solid masonry supports it on the brink of the rock, and an iron parapet
incloses it; there are a few seats to lounge upon, and some idle old guns
for the children to clamber over and play with. A soft twilight had
followed the day, and there was just enough obscurity to hide from a
willing eye the Northern and New World facts of the scene, and to bring
into more romantic relief the citadel dark against the mellow evening,
and the people gossiping from window to window across the narrow streets
of the Lower Town. The Terrace itself was densely thronged, and there
was a constant coming and going of the promenaders, who each formally
paced back and forth upon the planking for a certain time, and then went
quietly home, giving place to the new arrivals. They were nearly all
French, and they were not generally, it seemed, of the first fashion, but
rather of middling condition in life; the English being represented only
by a few young fellows and now and then a redfaced old gentleman with an
Indian scarf trailing from his hat. There were some fair American
costumes and faces in the crowd, but it was essentially Quebecian. The
young girls walking in pairs, or with their lovers, had the true touch of
provincial unstylishness, the young men the ineffectual excess of the
second-rate Latin dandy, their elders the rich inelegance of a
bourgeoisie in their best. A few, better-figured avocats or notaires
(their profession was as unmistakable as if they had carried their well-
polished brass doorplates upon their breasts) walked and gravely talked
with each other. The non-American character of the scene was not less
vividly marked in the fact that each person dressed according to his own
taste and frankly indulged private preferences in shapes and colors. One
of the promenaders was in white, even to his canvas shoes; another, with
yet bolder individuality, appeared in perfect purple. It had a strange,
almost portentous effect when these two startling figures met as friends
and joined each other in the promenade with linked arms; but the evening
was already beginning to darken round them, and presently the purple
comrade was merely a sombre shadow beside the glimmering white.
The valleys and the heights now vanished; but the river defined itself by
the varicolored lights of the ships and steamers that lay, dark,
motionless bulks, upon its broad breast; the lights of Point Lewis
swarmed upon the other shore; the Lower Town, two hundred feet below
them, stretched an alluring mystery of clustering roofs and lamplit
windows and dark and shining streets around the mighty rock, mural-
crowned. Suddenly a spectacle peculiarly Northern and characteristic of
Quebec revealed itself; a long arch brightened over the northern horizon;
the tremulous flames of the aurora, pallid violet or faintly tinged with
crimson, shot upward from it, and played with a weird apparition and
evanescence to the zenith. While the strangers looked, a gun boomed from
the citadel, and the wild sweet notes of the bugle sprang out upon the
Then they all said, "How perfectly in keeping everything has been!" and
sauntered back to the hotel.
The Colonel went into the office to give the clerk another turn on the
rack, and make him confess to a hidden apartment somewhere, while Isabel
left her husband to Mrs. Ellison in the parlor, and invited Miss Kitty to
look at her coop in the fifth story. As they approached, light and music
and laughter stole out of an open door next hers, and Isabel,
distinguishing the voices of the theatrical party, divined that this was
the sick-chamber, and that they were again cheering up the afflicted
member of the troupe. Some one was heard to say, "Well, 'ow do you feel
now, Charley?" and a sound of subdued swearing responded, followed by
more laughter, and the twanging of a guitar, and a snatch of song, and a
stir of feet and dresses as for departure.
The two listeners shrank together; as women they could not enjoy these
proofs of the jolly camaraderie existing among the people of the troupe.
They trembled as before the merriment of as many light-hearted, careless,
good-natured young men: it was no harm, but it was dismaying; and,
"Dear!" cried Isabel, "what shall we do?"
"Go back," said Miss Ellison, boldly, and back they ran to the parlor,
where they found Basil and the Colonel and his wife in earnest conclave.
The Colonel, like a shrewd strategist, was making show of a desperation
more violent than his wife's, who was thus naturally forced into the
attitude of moderating his fury.
"Well, Fanny, that's all he can do for us; and I do think it 's the most
outrageous thing in the world! It 's real mean!"
Fanny perceived a bold parody of her own denunciatory manner, but just
then she was obliged to answer Isabel's eager inquiry whether they had
got a room yet. "Yes, a room," she said, "with two beds. But what are
we to do with one room? That clerk--I don't know what to call him"--
("Call him a hotel-clerk, my dear; you can't say anything worse,"
interrupted her husband)--"seems to think the matter perfectly settled."
"You see, Mrs. March," added the Colonel, "he's able to bully us in this
way because he has the architecture on his side. There isn't another
room in the house."
"Let me think a moment," said Isabel not thinking an instant. She had
taken a fancy to at least two of these people from the first, and in the
last hour they had all become very well acquainted now she said, "I'll
tell you: there are two beds in our room also; we ladies will take one
room, and you gentlemen the other!"
"Mrs. March, I bow to the superiority of the Boston mind," said the
Colonel, while his females civilly protested and consented; "and I might
almost hail you as our preserver. If ever you come to Milwaukee,--which
is the centre of the world, as Boston is,--we--I--shall be happy to have
you call at my place of business.--I didn't commit myself, did I, Fanny?
--I am sometimes hospitable to excess, Mrs. March," he said, to explain
his aside. "And now, let us reconnoitre. Lead on, madam, and the
gratitude of the houseless stranger will follow you."
The whole party explored both rooms, and the ladies decided to keep
Isabel's. The Colonel was dispatched to see that the wraps and traps of
his party were sent to this number, and Basil went with him. The things
came long before the gentlemen returned, but the ladies happily employed
the interval in talking over the excitements of the day, and in saying
from time to time, "So very kind of you, Mrs. March," and "I don't know
what we should have done," and "Don't speak of it, please," and "I'm sure
it 's a great pleasure to me."
In the room adjoining theirs, where the invalid actor lay, and where
lately there had been minstrelsy and apparently dancing for his solace,
there was now comparative silence. Two women's voices talked together,
and now and then a guitar was touched by a wandering hand. Isabel had
just put up her handkerchief to conceal her first yawn, when the
gentlemen, odorous of cigars, returned to say good-night.
"It's the second door from this, isn't it, Isabel? "asked her husband.
"Yes, the second door. Good-night. Good-night."
The two men walked off together; but in a minute afterwards they had
returned and were knocking tremulously at the closed door.
"O, what has happened?" chorused the ladies in woeful tune, seeing a
certain wildness in the face that confronted them.
"We don't know!" answered the others in as fearful a key, and related how
they had found the door of their room ajar, and a bright light streaming
into the corridor. They did not stop to ponder this fact, but, with the
heedlessness of their sex, pushed the door wide open, when they saw
seated before the mirror a bewildering figure, with disheveled locks
wandering down the back, and in dishabille expressive of being quite at
home there, which turned upon them a pair of pale blue eyes, under a
forehead remarkable for the straggling fringe of hair that covered it.
They professed to have remained transfixed at the sight, and to have
noted a like dismay on the visage before the glass, ere they summoned
strength to fly. These facts Colonel Ellison gave at the command of his
wife, with many protests and insincere delays amidst which the curiosity
of his hearers alone prevented them from rending him in pieces.
"And what do you suppose it was?" demanded his wife, with forced
calmness, when he had at last made an end of the story and his abominable
"Well, I think it was a mermaid."
"A mermaid!" said his wife, scornfully. "How do you know?"
"It had a comb in its hand, for one thing; and besides, my dear, I hope I
know a mermaid when I see it."
"Well," said Mrs. Ellison, "it was no mermaid, it was a mistake; and I'm
going to see about it. Will you go with me, Richard?"
"No money could induce me! If it's a mistake, it isn't proper for me to
go; if it's a mermaid, it's dangerous."
"O you coward!" said the intrepid little woman to a hero of all the
fights on Sherman's march to the sea; and presently they heard her attack
the mysterious enemy with a lady-like courage, claiming the invaded
chamber. The foe replied with like civility, saying the clerk had given
her that room with the understanding that another lady was to be put
there with her, and she had left the door unlocked to admit her. The
watchers with the sick man next door appeared and confirmed this speech,
a feeble voice from the bedclothes swore to it.
"Of course," added the invader, "if I'd known 'ow it really was, I never
would lave listened to such a thing, never. And there isn't another 'ole
in the louse to lay me 'ead," she concluded.
"Then it's the clerk's fault," said Mrs. Ellison, glad to retreat
unharmed; and she made her husband ring for the guilty wretch, a pale,
quiet young Frenchman, whom the united party, sallying into the corridor,
began to upbraid in one breath, the lady in dishabille vanishing as often
as she remembered it, and reappearing whenever some strong point of
argument or denunciation occurred to her.
The clerk, who was the Benjamin of his wicked tribe, threw himself upon
their mercy and confessed everything: the house was so crowded, and he
had been so crazed by the demands upon him, that he had understood
Colonel Ellison's application to be for a bed for the young lady in his
party, and he had done the very best he could. If the lady there--she
vanished again--would give up the room to the two gentlemen, he would
find her a place with the housekeeper. To this the lady consented
without difficulty, and the rest dispersing, she kissed one of the sick
man's watchers with "Isn't it a shame, Bella?" and flitted down the
darkness of the corridor. The rooms upon it seemed all, save the two
assigned our travellers, to be occupied by ladies of the troupe; their
doors successively opened, and she was heard explaining to each as she
passed. The momentary displeasure which she had shown at her banishment
was over. She detailed the facts with perfect good-nature, and though
the others appeared no more than herself to find any humorous cast in the
affair, they received her narration with the same amiability. They
uttered their sympathy seriously, and each parted from her with some
friendly word. Then all was still.
"Richard," said Mrs. Ellison, when in Isabel's room the travellers had
briefly celebrated these events, "I should think you'd hate to leave us
alone up here."
"I do; but you can't think how I hate to go off alone. I wish you'd come
part of the way with us, Ladies; I do indeed. Leave your door unlocked,
at any rate."
This prayer, uttered at parting outside the room, was answered from
within by a sound of turning keys and sliding bolts, and a low thunder as
of bureaus and washstands rolled against the door. "The ladies are
fortifying their position," said the Colonel to Basil, and the two
returned to their own chamber. "I don't wish any intrusions," he said,
instantly shutting himself in; "my nerves are too much shaken now. What
an awfully mysterious old place this Quebec is, Mr. March! I'll tell you
what: it's my opinion that this is an enchanted castle, and if my ribs
are not walked over by a muleteer in the course of the night, it's all I
In this and other discourse recalling the famous adventure of Don
Quixote, the Colonel beguiled the labor of disrobing, and had got as far
as his boots, when there came a startling knock at the door. With one
boot in his hand and the other on his foot, the Colonel limped forward.
"I suppose it's that clerk has sent to say he's made some other mistake,"
and he flung wide the door, and then stood motionless before it, dumbly
staring at a figure on the threshold,--a figure with the fringed forehead
and pale blue eyes of her whom they had so lately turned out of that
Shrinking behind the side of the doorway, "Excuse me, gentlemen," she
said, with a dignity that recalled their scattered senses, "but will you
'ave the goodness to look if my beads are on your table--O thanks,
thanks, thanks!" she continued, showing her face and one hand, as Basil
blushingly advanced with a string of heavy black beads, piously adorned
with a large cross. "I'm sure, I'm greatly obliged to you, gentlemen,
and I hask a thousand pardons for troublin' you," she concluded in a
somewhat severe tone, that left them abashed and culpable; and vanished
as mysteriously as she had appeared.
"Now, see here," said the Colonel, with a huge sigh as he closed the door
again, and this time locked it, "I should like to know how long this sort
of thing is to be kept up? Because, if it's to be regularly repeated
during the night, I'm going to dress again." Nevertheless, he finished
undressing and got into bed, where he remained for some time silent.
Basil put out the light. "O, I'm sorry you did that, my dear fellow,"
said the Colonel; "but never mind, it was an idle curiosity, no doubt.
It's my belief that in the landlord's extremity of bedlinen, I've been
put to sleep between a pair of tablecloths; and I thought I'd like to
look. It seems to me that I make out a checkered pattern on top and a
flowered or arabesque pattern underneath. I wish they had given me
mates. It 's pretty hard having to sleep between odd tablecloths. I
shall complain to the landlord of this in the morning. I've never had to
sleep between odd table-cloths at any hotel before."
The Colonel's voice seemed scarcely to have died away upon Basil's drowsy
ear, when suddenly the sounds of music and laughter from the invalid's
room startled him wide awake. The sick man's watchers were coquetting
with some one who stood in the little court-yard five stories below.
A certain breadth of repartee was naturally allowable at that distance;
the lover avowed his passion in ardent terms, and the ladies mocked him
with the same freedom, now and then totally neglecting him while they
sang a snatch of song to the twanging of the guitar, or talked
professional gossip, and then returning to him with some tormenting
expression of tenderness.
All this, abstractly speaking, was nothing to Basil; yet he could
recollect few things intended for his pleasure that had given him more
satisfaction. He thought, as he glanced out into the moonlight on the
high-gabled silvery roofs around and on the gardens of the convents and
the towers of the quaint city, that the scene wanted nothing of the
proper charm of Spanish humor and romance, and he was as grateful to
those poor souls as if they had meant him a favor. To us of the hither
side of the foot-lights, there is always something fascinating in the
life of the strange beings who dwell beyond them, and who are never so
unreal as in their own characters. In their shabby bestowal in those
mean upper rooms, their tawdry poverty, their merry submission to the
errors and caprices of destiny, their mutual kindliness and careless
friendship, these unprofitable devotees of the twinkling-footed burlesque
seemed to be playing rather than living the life of strolling players;
and their love-making was the last touch of a comedy that Basil could
hardly accept as reality, it was so much more like something seen upon
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