CHAPTER II. An inhospitable reception - Halifax and the Blue Noses - The heat - Disappointed expectations - The great departed - What the Blue Noses might be - What the coach was not - Nova Scotia and its capabilities - The roads and their annoyances - A
Not so the youthful Jehu of the light vehicle behind. He came desperately on, cracking his whip, shouting "G'lang, Gee'p," rattling down hill, and galloping up, and whirling round corners, in spite of the warning "Steady, whoa!" addressed to him by our careful escort. Once the rattling behind entirely ceased, and we stopped, our driver being anxious for the safety of his own team, as well as for the nine passengers who were committed on a dark night to the care of a boy of thirteen. The waggon soon came clattering on again, and remained in disagreeably close proximity to us till we arrived at Pictou.
At ten o'clock, after another long ascent, we stopped to water the horses, and get some refreshment, at a shanty kept by an old Highland woman, well known as "Nancy Stuart of the Mountain." Here two or three of us got off, and a comfortable meal was soon provided, consisting of tea, milk, oat-cake, butter, and cranberry and raspberry jam. This meal we shared with some handsome, gloomy-looking, bonneted Highlanders, and some large ugly dogs. The room was picturesque enough, with blackened rafters, deer and cow horns hung round it, and a cheerful log fire. After tea I spoke to Nancy in her native tongue, which so delighted her, that I could not induce her to accept anything for my meal. On finding that I knew her birthplace in the Highlands, she became quite talkative, and on wishing her good bye with the words "Oiche mhaith dhuibh; Beannachd luibh!" [Footnote: Good night; blessings be with you.] she gave my hand a true Highland grasp with both of hers; a grasp bringing back visions of home and friends, and "the bonnie North countrie."
A wild drive we had from this place to Pictou. The road lay through forests which might have been sown at the beginning of time. Huge hemlocks threw high their giant arms, and from between their dark stems gleamed the bark of the silver birch. Elm, beech, and maple flourished; I missed alone the oak of England.
The solemn silence of these pathless roads was broken only by the note of the distant bull-frog; meteors fell in streams of fire, the crescent moon occasionally gleamed behind clouds from which the lightning flashed almost continually, and the absence of any familiar faces made me realize at length that I was a stranger in a strange land.
After the subject of the colony had been exhausted, I amused the coachman with anecdotes of the supernatural - stories of ghosts, wraiths, apparitions, and second sight; but he professed himself a disbeliever, and I thought I had failed to make any impression on him, till at last he started at the crackling of a twig, and the gleaming whiteness of a silver birch. He would have liked the stories better, he confessed at length, if the night had not been quite so dark.
The silence of the forest was so solemn, that, remembering the last of the Mohicans, we should not have been the least surprised if an Indian war- whoop had burst upon our startled ears.
We were travelling over the possessions of the Red men. Nothing more formidable occurred than the finding of three tipsy men laid upon the road; and our coachman had to alight and remove them before the vehicle could proceed.
We reached Pictou at a quarter past two on a very chilly starlight morning, and by means of the rude telegraph, which runs along the road, comfortable rooms had been taken for us at an inn of average cleanliness.
Here we met with a storekeeper from Prince Edward Island, and he told us that the parents of my cousins, whom we were about to visit, knew nothing whatever of our intended arrival, and supposed their children to be in Germany.
As a colonial dinner is an aggregate of dinner and tea, so a colonial breakfast is a curious complication of breakfast and dinner, combining, I think, the advantages of both. It is only an extension of the Highland breakfast; fish of several sorts, meat, eggs, and potatoes, buckwheat fritters and Johnny cake, being served with the tea and coffee.
Pictou may be a flourishing town some day: it has extensive coal-mines; one seam of coal is said to be thirty feet thick. At present it is a most insignificant place, and the water of the harbour is very shallow. The distance from Pictou to Charlotte Town, Prince Edward Island, is sixty miles, and by this route, through Nova Scotia and across Northumberland Strait, the English mail is transmitted once a fortnight.