CHAPTER XIII. The House of Commons - Canadian gallantry - The constitution - Mr. Hincks - The ex-rebel - Parties and leaders - A street-row - Repeated disappointments - The "habitans" - Their houses and their virtues - A stationary people - Progress and i
The Falls of Montmorenci, which we reached after a drive of eight miles, are beautiful in the extreme, and, as the day was too cold for picnic parties, we had them all to ourselves. There is no great body of water, but the river takes an unbroken leap of 280 feet from a black narrow gorge. The scathed black cliffs descend in one sweep to the St. Lawrence, in fine contrast to the snowy whiteness of the fall. Montmorenci gave me greater sensations of pleasure than Niagara. There are no mills, museums, guides, or curiosity-shops. Whatever there is of beauty bears the fair impress of its Creator's hand; and if these Falls are beautiful on a late October day, when a chill east wind was howling through leafless trees looming through a cold, grey fog, what must they be in the burst of spring or the glowing luxuriance of summer?
We drove back for some distance, and entered a small cabaret, where some women were diligently engaged in spinning, and some men were superintending with intense interest the preparation of somesoupe maigre. Their patois was scarcely intelligible, and a boy whom we took as our guide spoke no English. After encountering some high fences and swampy ground, we came to a narrow rocky pathway in a wood, with bright green, moss-covered trees, stones, and earth. On descending a rocky bank we came to the "natural staircase," where the rapid Montmorenci forces its way through a bed of limestone, the broken but extremely regular appearance of the layers being very much like wide steps. The scene at this place is wildly beautiful. The river, frequently only a few feet in width, sometimes foams furiously along between precipices covered with trees, and bearing the marks of years of attrition; then buries itself in dark gulfs, or rests quiescent for a moment in still black pools, before it reaches its final leap.
The day before I left Quebec I went to the romantic falls of Lorette, about thirteen miles from the city. It was a beauteous day. I should have called it oppressively warm, but that the air was fanned by a cool west wind. The Indian summer had come at last; "the Sagamores of the tribes had lighted their council-fires" on the western prairies. What would we not give for such a season! It is the rekindling of summer, but without its heat - it is autumn in its glories, but without its gloom. The air is soft like the breath of May; everything is veiled in a soft pure haze, and the sky is of a faint and misty blue.
A mysterious fascination seemed to bind us to St. Roch, for we kept missing our way and getting into "streams as black as Styx." But at length the city of Quebec, with its green glacis and frowning battlements, was left behind, and we drove through flat country abounding in old stone dwelling-houses, old farms, and large fields of stubble. We neared the blue hills, and put up our horses in the Indian village of Lorette. Beautiful Lorette! I must not describe, for I cannot, how its river escapes from under the romantic bridge in a broad sheet of milk-white foam, and then, contracted between sullen barriers of rock, seeks the deep shade of the pine-clad precipices, and hastens to lose itself there. It is perfection, and beauty, and peace; and the rocky walks upon its forest- covered crags might be in Switzerland.
Being deserted by the gentlemen of the party, my fair young companion and I found our way to Lorette, which is a large village built by government for the Indians; but by intermarrying with the French they have lost nearly all their distinctive characteristics, and the next generation will not even speak the Indian language. Here, as in every village in Lower Canada, there is a large Romish church, ornamented with gaudy paintings. We visited some of the squaws, who wear the Indian dress, and we made a few purchases. We were afterwards beset by Indian boys with bows and arrows of clumsy construction; but they took excellent aim, incited by the reward of coppers which we offered to them. It is grievous to see the remnants of an ancient race in such a degraded state; the more so as I believe that there is no intellectual inferiority as an obstacle to their improvement. I saw some drawings by an Indian youth which evinced considerable talent: one in particular, a likeness of Lord Elgin, was admirably executed.