CHAPTER XII. A scene at starting - That dear little Harry - The old lady and the race - Running the Rapids - An aside - Snow and discomfort-A new country - An extemporised ball - Adventure with a madman - Shooting the cataract - First appearance of Montre
Dinner constituted an important event in the day, and was despatched very voraciously, though some things were raw, others overdone, and all greasy. But the three hundred people who sat down to dinner were, as some one observed, three hundred reasons against eating anything. I had to endure a severe attack of ague, and about nine o'clock the stewardess gave up her room to me, and, as she faithfully promised to call me half an hour before we changed the boats, I slept very soundly. At five she came in - "Get up, miss, we're at Guananoque; you've only five minutes to dress." I did dress in five minutes, and, leaving my watch, with some very valuable lockets, under my pillow, hastened across a narrow plank, half blinded by snow, into the clean, light, handsome steamer New Era. I did not allow myself to fall asleep in the very comfortable state-room which was provided for me by the friend with whom I was travelling, but hurried upstairs with the first grey of the chilly wintry dawn of the morning of the 18th of October. The saloon-windows were dimmed with snow, so I went out on deck and braved the driving wind and snow on that inhospitable morning, for we were in the Lake of the Thousand Islands. Travellers have written and spoken so much of the beauty of this celebrated piece of water, that I expected to be disappointed; but, au contraire, I am almost inclined to write a rhapsody myself.
For three hours we were sailing among these beautiful irregularly-formed islands. There are 1692 of them, and they vary in size from mere rocks to several acres in extent. Some of them are perfect paradises of beauty. They form a complete labyrinth, through which the pilot finds his way, guided by numerous beacons. Sometimes it appeared as if there were no egress, and as if we were running straight upon a rock, and the water is everywhere so deep, that from the deck of the steamer people can pull the leaves from the trees. A hundred varieties of trees and shrubs grow out of the grey lichen-covered rocks - it seems barbarous that the paddles of a steamer should disturb their delicate shadows. If I found this lake so beautiful on a day in the middle of October, when the bright autumn tints had changed into a russet brown, and when a chill north-east wind was blowing about the withered leaves, and the snow against the ship - and when, more than all, I was only just recovering from ague - what would it be on a bright summer-day, when the blue of heaven would be reflected in the clear waters of the St. Lawrence!
By nine a furious snow-storm rendered all objects indistinct, and the fog had thickened to such an extent that we could not see five feet ahead, so we came to anchor for an hour. A very excellent breakfast was despatched during this time, and at ten we steamed off again, steering by compass on a river barely a mile wide! The New Era was a boat of a remarkably light draught of water. The saloon, or deck-house, came to within fifteen feet of the bow, and on the hurricane-deck above there was a tower containing a double wheel, with which the ship is steered by chains one hundred feet long. There is a look-out place in front of this tower, generally occupied by the pilot, a handsome, ruffian-looking French voyageur, with earrings in his ears. Captain Chrysler, whose caution, urbanity, and kindness render him deservedly popular, seldom leaves this post of observation, and personally pays very great attention to his ship; for the river St. Lawrence has as bad a reputation for destroying the vessels which navigate it as the Mississippi.