The Englishwoman in America by Isabella Lucy Bird - HTML preview
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This mode of transit deserves a passing notice. The waggon consisted of an oblong shallow wooden tray on four wheels; on this were placed three boards resting on high unsteady props, and the machine was destitute of springs. The ponies were thin, shaggy, broken-kneed beings, under fourteen hands high, with harness of a most meagre description, and its cohesive qualities seemed very smal , if I might judge from the frequency with which the driver alighted to repair its parts with pieces of twine, with which his pockets were stored, I suppose in anticipation of such occasions.
These poor little animals took nearly four hours to go fourteen miles, and even this rate of progression was only kept up by the help of continual admonitions from a stout leather thong.
It was a dismal evening, very like one in England at the end of November--
the air cold and damp--and I found the chil from wet clothes and an east wind anything but agreeable. The country also was extremely uninviting, and I thought its aspect more gloomy than that of Nova Scotia. Sometimes we traversed swamps swarming with bullfrogs, on corduroy roads which nearly jolted us out of the vehicle, then dreary levels abounding in spindly hacmetac, hemlock, and birch-trees; next we would go down into a cedar-swamp alive with mosquitoes. Dense forests, impassable morasses, and sedgy streams always bounded the immediate prospect, and the clearings were few and far between. Nor was the conversation of my companions calculated to beguile a tedious journey; it was on "_snatching_,"
"_snarlings_" and other puerilities of island politics, corn, sugar, and molasses.
About dusk we reached the Bend, a dismal piece of alluvial swampy-looking land, drained by a wide, muddy river, cal ed the Petticodiac, along the shore of which a considerable shipbuilding vil age is located. The tide here rises and fal s twenty-four feet, and sixty at the mouth of the river, in the Bay of Fundy. It was a dispiriting view--acres of mud bare at low water, and miles of swamp covered with rank coarse grass, intersected by tide-streams, which are continually crossed on rotten wooden bridges without parapets. This place had recently been haunted by fever and cholera.
As there was a slight incline into the vil age, our miserable ponies commenced a shambling trot, the noise of which brought numerous idlers to the inn-door to inquire the news. This inn was a rambling, unpainted erection of wood, opposite to a "cash, credit, and barter store," kept by an enterprising Caledonian--an additional proof of the saying which ascribes ubiquity to "Scots, Newcastle grindstones, and Birmingham buttons." A tidy, bustling landlady, very American in her phraseology, but kind in her way, took me under her especial protection, as forty men were staying in the house, and there was an astonishing paucity of the softer sex; indeed, in all my subsequent travels I met with an undue and rather disagreeable preponderance of the "lords of the creation."
Not being inclined to sit in the "parlour" with a very motley company, I accompanied the hostess into the kitchen, and sat by the fire upon a chopping-block, the most luxurious seat in the apartment. Two shoeless Irish girls were my other companions, and one of them, hearing that I was from England, inquired if I were acquainted with "one Mike Donovan, of Skibbereen!" The landlady's daughter was also there, a little, sharp-visaged, precocious torment of three years old, who spilt my ink and lost my thimble; and then, coming up to me, said, "Wel , stranger, I guess you're kinder tired." She very unceremoniously detached my watch from my chain, and, looking at it quite with the eye of a _connoisseur_, "guessed it must have cost a pretty high figure"! After she had fil ed my purse with ink, for which misdemeanour her mother offered no apology, I looked into the tea-room, which presented the curious spectacle of forty men, including a number of ship-carpenters of highly respectable appearance, taking tea in the silent, business-like way in which Transatlantic meals are generally despatched. My own meal, which the landlady evidently intended should be a very luxurious one, consisted of stewed tea, sweetened with molasses, soft cheese instead of butter, and dark rye-bread.
The inn was so full that my hostess said she could not give me a bed--
rather an unwelcome announcement to a wayworn travel er--and with considerable complacency she took me into a large, whitewashed, carpetless room, furnished with one chair, a smal table, and my valise. She gave me two buffalo robes, and left me, hoping I should be comfortable! Rather disposed to quarrel with a hardship which shortly afterwards I should have laughed at, I rolled up my cloak for a pil ow, wrapped myself in a buffalo-skin, and slept as soundly as on the most luxurious couch. I was roused early by a general thumping and clattering, and, making the hasty toilette which one is compel ed to do when destitute of appliances, I found the stage at the early hour of six ready at the door; and, to my surprise, the coachman was muffled up in furs, and the morning was intensely cold.
This vehicle was of the same construction as that which I have already described in Nova Scotia; but, being narrower, was infinitely more uncomfortable. Seven gentlemen and two ladies went inside, in a space where six would have been disagreeably crowded. Mr. Sandford preferred the outside, where he could smoke his cigar without molestation. The road was very hilly, and several times our progress was turned into retrogression, for the horses invariably refused to go up hil , probably, poor things!
because they felt their inability to drag the loaded wain up the steep declivities which we continually met with. The passengers were therefore frequently called upon to get out and walk--a very agreeable recreation, for the ice was the thickness of a penny; the thermometer stood at 35 ; there was a piercing north-east wind; and though the sun shone from a cloudless sky, his rays had scarcely any power. We breakfasted at eight, at a little wayside inn, and then travel ed till midnight with scarcely any cessation.
The way would have been very tedious had it not been enlivened by the eccentricities of Mr. Latham, an English passenger. After breakfast the conversation in the stage was pretty general, led by the individual aforesaid, who _lectured_ and _preached_, rather than conversed. Few subjects were untouched by his eloquence; he spoke with equal ease on a difficult point in theology, and on the conformation of the sun. He lectured on politics, astronomy, chemistry, and anatomy with great fluency and equal incorrectness. In describing the circulation of the blood, he said, "It's a purely metaphysical subject;" and the answering remark, "It is the most purely physical," made him vehemently angry. He spoke of the sun by saying, "I've studied the sun; I know it as wel as I do this field; it's a dark body with a luminous atmosphere, and a climate more agreeable than that of the earth"--thus announcing as a fact what has been timidly put forward as a theory only by our greatest astronomers.
Politics soon came on the _tapis_, when he attacked British institutions violently, with an equal amount of ignorance and presumption, making such glaring misstatements that I felt bound to contradict them; when he, not liking to be lowered in the estimation of his companions, contested the points in a way which closely bordered upon rudeness.
He made likewise a very pedantic display of scientific knowledge, in virtue of an occasional attendance at meetings of mechanics' institutes, and asked the gentlemen for "We're al gentlemen here"--numerous questions, to which they could not reply, when one of the party took courage to ask him why fire burned. "Oh, because of the hydrogen in the air, of course," was the complacent answer. "I beg your pardon, but there is no hydrogen in atmospheric air."--"There is; I know the air wel : it is composed one-half of hydrogen, the other half of nitrogen and oxygen."
"You're surely confounding it with water."--"No, I am as wel acquainted with the composition of water as with that of air; it is composed of the same gases, only in different proportions." This was too monstrous, and his opponent, while contradicting the statement, could not avoid a hearty laugh at its absurdity, in which the others joined without knowing why, which so raised the choler of this irascible gentleman, that it was most difficult to smooth matters. He contended that he was right and the other wrong; that his propositions were held by all chemists of eminence on both sides of the water; that, though he had not verified the elements of these fluids by analysis, he was perfectly acquainted with their nature; that the composition of air was a mere theory, but that his opponent's view was not held by any _savans_ of note. The latter merely replied, "When you next light a candle you may be thankful that there is no hydrogen in the air;" after which there was a temporary cessation of hostilities.
But towards night, being stil unwarned by the discomfitures of the morning, he propounded some questions which his companions could not answer; among which was, "Why are there black sheep?" How he would have solved this difficult problem in natural history, I do not know.
Mystification sat on all faces, when the individual who had before attacked Mr. Latham's misstatements, took up the defence of the puzzled colonists by volunteering to answer the question if he would explain how
"impossible roots enter equations." No reply was given to this, when, on some of the gentlemen urging him, perhaps rather mischievously, to answer, he retorted angrily,--"I'm master of mathematics as wel as of other sciences; but I see there's an intention to make fun of me. I don't choose to be made a butt of, and I'll show you that I can be as savage as other people." This threat had the effect of producing a total silence for the remainder of the journey; but Mr. Latham took an opportunity of explaining to me that in this speech he intended no personal al usion, but had found it necessary to check the il -timed mirth in the stage. In spite of his presumption and pedantry, he never lost an opportunity of showing kindness. I saw him last in the very extremity of terror, during a violent gale off the coast of Maine.
For the first fifty miles after leaving the Bend, our road lay through country as solitary and wild as could be conceived--high hills, covered with endless forests of small growth. I looked in vain for the gigantic trees so celebrated by travel ers in America. If they ever grew in this region, they now, in the shape of ships, are to be found on every sea where England's flag waves. Occasional y the smoke of an Indian wigwam would rise in a thin blue cloud from among the dark foliage of the hemlock; and by the primitive habitation one of the aboriginal possessors of the soil might be seen, in tattered habiliments, cleaning a gun or repairing a bark canoe, scarcely deigning an apathetic glance at those whom the appliances of civilisation and science had placed so immeasurably above him. Then a squaw, with a papoose strapped upon her back, would peep at us from behind a tree; or a half-clothed urchin would pursue us for coppers, contrasting strangely with the majesty of _Uncas_, or the sublimity of _Chingachgook_; portraits which it is very doubtful if Cooper ever took from life.
In the few places where the land had been cleared the cultivation was tolerable and the houses comfortable, surrounded generally by cattle-sheds and rich crops of Tartarian oats. The potatoes appeared to be free from disease, and the pumpkin crop was evidently abundant and in good condition. Sussex Val ey, along which we passed for thirty miles, is green, wooded, and smilingly fertile, being watered by a clear rapid river. The numerous hay-meadows, and the neat appearance of the arable land, reminded me of England. It is surprising, considering the advantages possessed by New Brunswick, that it has not been a more favourite resort of emigrants. It seems to me that one great reason of this must be the difficulty and expense of land-travel ing, as the province is destitute of the means of internal communication in the shape of railways and canals.
It contains several navigable rivers, and the tracts of country near the St. John, the Petticodiac, and the Miramichi rivers are very fertile, and adapted for cultivation. The lakes and minor streams in the interior of the province are also surrounded by rich land, and the capacious bays along the coast abound with fish. New Brunswick possesses "responsible government," and has a Governor, an Executive Council, a Legislative Council, and a House of Assembly. Except that certain expenses of defence,
&c., are borne by the home government, which would protect the colony in the event of any predatory incursions on the part of the Americans, it has all the advantages of being an independent nation; and it is believed that the Reciprocity Treaty, recently concluded with the United States, wil prove of great commercial benefit.
Yet the number of emigrants who have sought its shores is comparatively small, and these arrivals were almost exclusively of the labouring classes, attracted by the extraordinarily high rates of wages, and were chiefly absorbed by mechanical employments. The numbers landed in 1853
were 3762, and, in 1854, 3618. With respect to the general affairs of New Brunswick, it is very satisfactory to observe that the provincial revenue has increased to upwards of 200,000_l._ per annum.
Fredericton, a town of about 9000 inhabitants, on the St. John river, by which it has a daily communication with the city of St. John, 90 miles distant, by steamer, is the capital and seat of government. New Brunswick has considerable mineral wealth; coal and iron are abundant, and the climate is less foggy than that of Nova Scotia; but these great natural advantages are suffered to lie nearly dormant. The colonists are very hardy and extremely loyal; but the vice of drinking, so prevalent in northern climates, has recently called for legislative interference.
We stopped at the end of every stage of eighteen miles to change horses, and at one of the little inns an old man brought to the door of the stage a very pretty, interesting-looking girl of fifteen years old, and placed her under my care, requesting me to "see her safely to her home in St.
John, and not al ow any of the gentlemen to be rude to her." The latter part of the instructions was very easy to fulfil, as, whatever faults the colonists possess, they are extremely respectful in their manners to ladies. But a difficulty arose, or rather what would have been a difficulty in England, for the stage was full both inside and out, and al the passengers were desirous to reach Boston as speedily as possible.
However, a gentleman from New England, seeing the anxiety of the young girl to reach St. John, got out of the stage, and actual y remained at the little roadside inn for one whole day and two nights, in order to accommodate a stranger. This act of kindness was performed at great personal inconvenience, and the gentleman who showed it did not appear to attach the slightest merit to it The novelty of it made a strong impression upon me, and it ful y bore out al that I had read or heard of the almost exaggerated deference to ladies which custom requires from American gentlemen.
After darkness came on, the tedium of a journey of twenty hours, performed while sitting in a very cramped posture, was almost insupportable, and the monotony of it was only broken by the number of wooden bridges which we crossed, and the driver's admonition, "Bridge dangerous; passengers get out and walk." The night was very cold and frosty, and so productive of aguish chil s, that I was not at al sorry for the compelled pedestrianism entailed upon me by the insecure state of these bridges.
My young charge seemed extremely timid while crossing them, and uttered a few suppressed shrieks when curious splitting noises, apparently proceeding from the woodwork, broke the stil ness; nor was I altogether surprised at her emotions when, as we were walking over a bridge nearly half a mile in length, I was told that a coach and six horses had disappeared through it a fortnight before, at the cost of several broken limbs.
While crossing the St. John, near the pretty town of Hampton, one of our leaders put both his fore feet into a hole, and was with difficulty extricated.
Precisely at midnight the stage clattered down the steep streets of the city of St. John, to which the ravages of the cholera had recently given such a terrible celebrity. After a fruitless pilgrimage to three hotels, we were at length received at Waverley House, having accomplished a journey of one hundred miles in twenty hours! On ringing my bell, it was answered by a rough porter, and I soon found that _waiting_ chambermaids are not essential at Transatlantic hotels; and the female servants, or rather _helps_, are of a very superior class. A friend of mine, on leaving an hotel at Niagara, offered a _douceur_ in the shape of half a dollar to one of these, but she drew herself up, and proudly replied, "American ladies do not receive money from gentlemen." Having left my keys at the Bend, I found my valise a useless incumbrance, rather annoying after a week of travelling.
We spent the Sunday at St. John, and, the opportune arrival of my keys enabling me to don some habiliments suited to the day, I went to the church, where the service, with the exception of the sermon, was very well performed. A solemn thanksgiving for the removal of the cholera was read, and was rendered very impressive by the fact that most of the congregation were in new mourning. The Angel of Death had long hovered over the doomed city, which lost rather more than a tenth of its population from a disease which in the hot summer of America is nearly as fatal and terrible as the plague. Al who could leave the town fled; but many carried the disease with them, and died upon the road. The hotels, shipyards, and stores were closed, bodies rudely nailed up in boards were hurried about the streets, and met with hasty burial outside the city, before vital warmth had fled; the holy ties of natural affection were disregarded, and the dying were left alone to meet the King of Terrors, none remaining to close their eyes; the ominous clang of the death-bell was heard both night and day, and a dense brown fog was supposed to brood over the city, which for five weeks was the abode of the dying and the dead.
A temporary regard for religion was produced among the inhabitants of St.
John by the visit of the pestilence; it was scarcely possible for the most sceptical not to recognise the overruling providence of God: and I have seldom seen more external respect for the Sabbath and the ordinances of religion than in this city.
The preponderance of the rougher sex was very strongly marked at Waverley House. Fifty gentlemen sat down to dinner, and only three ladies, inclusive of the landlady. Fifty-three cups of tea graced the table, which was likewise ornamented with six boiled legs of mutton, numerous dishes of splendid potatoes, and corn-cobs, squash, and pumpkin-pie, in true colonial abundance.
I cannot forbear giving a conversation which took place at a meal at this inn, as it is very characteristic of the style of persons whom one continually meets with in travel ing in these colonies: "I guess you're from the Old Country?" commenced my _vis-a-vis_; to which recognition of my nationality I humbly bowed. "What do you think of us here d own east?"
"I have been so short a time in these provinces, that I cannot form any just opinion." "Oh, but you must have formed some; we like to know what Old Country folks think of us." Thus asked, I could not avoid making some reply, and said, "I think there is a great want of systematic enterprise in these colonies; you do not avail yourselves of the great natural advantages which you possess." "Wel , the fact is, old father Jackey Bul ought to help us, or let us go off on our own hook right entirely." "You have responsible government, and, to use your own phrase, you are on 'your own hook' in al but the name." "Wel , I guess as we are; _we're a long chalk above the Yankees_, though them is fel ers as thinks nobody's got their eye teeth cut but themselves."
The self-complacent ignorance with which this remark was made was ludicrous in the extreme. He began again: "What do you think of Nova Scotia and the 'Blue Noses'? Halifax is a grand place, sure_ly_!" "At Halifax I found the best inn such a one as no respectable American would condescend to sleep at, and a town of shingles, with scarcely any sidewalks. The people were talking largely of railways and steamers, yet I travel ed by the mail to Truro and Pictou in a conveyance that would scarcely have been tolerated in England two centuries ago. The people of Halifax possess the finest harbour in North America, yet they have no docks, and scarcely any shipping. The Nova-Scotians, it is known, have iron, coal, slate, limestone, and freestone, and their shores swarm with fish, yet they spend their time in talking about railways, docks, and the House of Assembly, and end by walking about doing nothing."
"Yes," chimed in a Boston sea-captain, who had been our fel ow-passenger from Europe, and prided himself upon being a "thorough-going down-easter,"
"it takes as long for a Blue Nose to put on his hat as for one of our free and enlightened citizens to go from Bosting to New _Orleens_. If we don't whip all creation it's a pity! Why, stranger, if you were to go to Connecticut, and tell 'em what you've been tel ing this ere child, they'd guess you'd been with _Colonel Crockett_."
"Well, I proceeded, in answer to another question from the New-Brunswicker," if you wish to go to the north of your own province, you require to go round Nova Scotia by sea. I understand that a railway to the Bay of Chaleur has been talked about, but I suppose it has ended where it began; and, for want of a railway to Halifax, even the Canadian traffic has been diverted to Portland."
"We want to invest some of our surplus revenue," said the captain. "It'll be a good spec when Congress buys these colonies; some of our ten-horse power chaps will come down, and, before you could whistle 'Yankee Doodle,'
we'll have a canal to Bay Varte, with a town as big as Newhaven at each end. The Blue Noses wil look kinder streaked then, I guess." The New-Brunswicker retorted, with some fierceness, that the handful of British troops at Fredericton could "chaw up" the whole American army; and the conversation continued for some time longer in the same boastful and exaggerated strain on each side, but the above is a specimen of colonial arrogance and American conceit.
The population of New Brunswick in 1851 was 193,800; but it is now over 210,000, and wil likely increase rapidly, should the contemplated extension of the railway system to the province ever take place; as in that case the route to both the Canadas by the port of St. John will probably supersede every other. The spacious harbour of St. John has a sufficient depth of water for vessels of the largest class, and its tide-fal of about 25 feet effectual y prevents it from being frozen in the winter.
The timber trade is a most important source of wealth to the colony--the timber floated down the St. John alone, in the season of 1852, was of the value of 405,208_l._ sterling. The saw-mil s, of which by the last census there were 584, gave employment to 4302 hands. By the same census there were 87 ships, with an average burthen of 400 tons each, built in the year in which it was taken, and the number has been on the increase since.
These colonial-built vessels are gradual y acquiring a very high reputation; some of our finest clippers, including one or two belonging to the celebrated "White Star" line, are by the St. John builders. Perhaps, with the single exception of Canada West, no colony offers such varied inducements to emigrants.
I saw as much of St. John as possible, and on a fine day was favourably impressed with it. It wel deserves its cognomen, "The City of the Rock,"
being situated on a high, bluff, rocky peninsula, backed on the land-side by steep barren hil s. The harbour is well sheltered and capacious, and the suspension-bridge above the fal s very picturesque. The streets are steep, wide, and well paved, and the stores are more pretentious than those of Halifax. There is also a very handsome square, with a more respectable fountain in it than those which excite the ridicule of foreigners in front of our National Gal ery. It is a place where a large amount of business is done, and the shipyards alone give employment to several thousand persons.
Yet the lower parts of the town are dirty in the extreme. I visited some of the streets near the water before the cholera had quite disappeared from them, nor did I wonder that the pestilence should linger in places so appropriate to itself; for the roadways were strewn to a depth of several inches with sawdust, emitting a foul decomposing smel , and in which lean pigs were _routing_ and fighting.
Yet St. John wears a lively aspect. You see a thousand boatmen, raftmen, and mil men, some warping dingy scows, others loading huge square-sided ships; busy gangs of men in fustian jackets, engaged in running off the newly sawed timber; and the streets bustling with storekeepers, lumber-merchants, and market-men; al combining to produce a chaos of activity very uncommon in the towns of our North American colonies. But too often, murky-looking wharfs, storehouses, and half-dismantled ships, are enveloped in drizzling fog--the fog rendered yet more impenetrable by the fumes of coal-tar and sawdust; and the lower streets swarm with a demoralised population. Yet the people of St. John are so far beyond the people of Halifax, that I heartily wish them success and a railroad.
The air was ringing with the clang of a thousand saws and hammers, when, at seven on the morning of a bril iant August day, we walked through the swarming streets bordering upon the harbour to the _Ornevorg_ steamer, belonging to the United States, built for Long Island Sound, but now used as a coasting steamer. Al my preconceived notions of a steamer were here at fault. If it were like anything in nature, it was like Noah's ark, or, to come to something post-diluvian, one of those covered hulks, or "ships in ordinary," which are to be seen at Portsmouth and Devonport.
She was totally unlike an English ship, painted entirely white, without masts, with two smal black funnels alongside each other; and several erections one above another for decks, containing multitudes of windows about two feet square. The fabric seemed kept together by two large beams, which added to the top-heavy appearance of the whole affair. We entered by the paddle-box (which was within the outer casing of the ship), in company with a great crowd, into a large square uncarpeted apartment, cal ed the
"Hal ," with offices at the sides for the sale of railway and dinner tickets. Separated from this by a curtain is the ladies' saloon, a large and almost _too_ airy apartment extending from the Hall to the stem of the ship, wel furnished with sofas, rocking-chairs, and marble tables. A row of berths runs along the side, hung with festooned drapery of satin damask, the curtains being of muslin, embroidered with rose-coloured braid.
Above this is the general saloon, a large, handsomely furnished room, with state rooms running down each side, and opening upon a smal deck fourteen feet long, also covered; the roof of this and of the saloon, forming the real or hurricane deck of the ship, closed to passengers, and twelve feet above which works the beam of the engine. Below the Hal , running the whole length of the ship, is the gentlemen's cabin, containing 170 berths.
This is lighted by artificial light, and is used for meals. An enclosure for the engine occupies the centre, but is very smal , as the machinery of a, high-pressure engine is without the encumbrances of condenser and air-pump. The engines drove the unwieldy fabric through the calm water at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. I have been thus minute in my description, because this one will serve for all the steamers in which I subsequently travel ed in the United States and Canada.
The city of St. John looked magnificent on its lofty steep; and for some time we had some very fine coast scenery; lofty granite cliffs rising abruptly from the water, clothed with forests, the sea adjoining them so deep, that we passed them, as proved by actual demonstration, within a stone's throw. At one we arrived at Eastport, in Maine, a thriving-looking place, and dinner was served while we were quiescent at the wharf. The stewardess hunted up all the females in the ship, and, preceding them down stairs, placed them at the head of the table; then, and not an instant before, were the gentlemen allowed to appear, who made a most obstreperous rush at the viands. There were about 200 people seated in a fetid and dimly-lighted apartment, at a table covered over with odoriferous viands--
pork stuffed with onions, boiled legs of mutton, boiled chickens and turkeys, roast geese, beef-steaks, yams, tomatoes, squash, mush, corncobs, johnny cake, and those endless dishes of pastry to which the American palate is so partial. I was just finishing a plate of soup when a waiter touched me on the shoulder--"Dinner ticket, or fifty cents"; and almost before I had comprehended the mysteries of American money sufficiently to pay, other people were eating their dessert. So simple, however, is the coinage of the United States, that in two days I understood it as well as our own. Five dollars equal an English sovereign, and one hundred cents make a dol ar, and with this very moderate amount of knowledge one can conduct one's pecuniary affairs all over the Union. The simplicity of the calculation was quite a relief to me after the relative values of the English sovereign in the colonies, which had greatly perplexed me: 25_s._ 6_d._ in New Brunswick, 25_s._ in Nova Scotia, and 30_s._ in Prince Edward Island. I sat on deck til five, when I went down to my berth. As the evening closed in gloomily, the sea grew coarser, and I heard the captain say, "We are likely to have a very fresh night of it."
At seven a wave went down the companion-way, and washed half the tea-things off the table, and before I fel asleep, the mate put his head through the curtain to say, "It's a rough night, ladies, but there's no danger"; a left-handed way of giving courage, which of course frightened the timid. About eleven I was awoke by confused cries, and in my dawning consciousness everything seemed going to pieces. The curtain was undrawn, and I could see the hal continual y swept by the waves.
Everything in our saloon was loose; rocking-chairs were careering about the floor and coming into col ision; the stewardess, half-dressed, was crawling about from berth to berth, answering the inquiries of terrified ladies, and the ship was groaning and straining heavily; but I slept again, til awoke at midnight by a man's voice shouting "Get up, ladies, and dress, but don't come out til you're called; the gale's very heavy."
Then followed a scene. People, helpless in illness a moment before, sprang out of their berths and hastily huddled on their clothes; mothers caught hold of their infants with a convulsive grasp; some screamed, others sat down in apathy, while not a few addressed agonised supplications to that God, too often neglected in times of health and safety, to save them in their supposed extremity.
Crash went the lamp, which was suspended from the ceiling, as a huge wave struck the ship, making her reel and stagger, and shrieks of terror fol owed this event, which left us in almost total darkness. Rush came another heavy wave, sweeping up the saloon, carrying chairs and stools before it, and as rapidly retiring. The hall was full of men, clinging to the supports, each catching the infectious fear from his neighbour. Wave after wave now struck the ship. I heard the captain say the sea was making a clean breach over her, and order the deck-load overboard. Shortly after, the water, sweeping in from above, put out the engine-fires, and, as she settled down continually in the trough of the sea, and lay trembling there as though she would never rise again, even in my ignorance I knew that she had "no way on her" and was at the mercy of the waters. I now understood the meaning of "blowing great guns." The wind sounded like continual discharges of heavy artil ery, and the waves, as they struck the ship, felt like cannon-bal s. I could not get up and dress, for, being in the top berth, I was unable to get out in consequence of the rol ing of the ship, and so, being unable to mend matters, I lay quietly, the whole passing before me as a scene. I had several times been cal ed on to anticipate death from il ness; but here, as I heard the men outside say,
"She's going down, she's water-logged, she can't hold together," there was a different prospect of sinking down among the long trailing weeds in the cold, deep waters of the Atlantic. Towards three o'clock, a wave, striking the ship, threw me against a projecting beam of the side, cutting my head severely and stunning me, and I remained insensible for three hours. We continued in great danger for ten hours, many expecting each moment to be their last, but in the morning the gale moderated, and by most strenuous exertions at the pumps the water was kept down til assistance was rendered, which enabled us about one o'clock to reach the friendly harbour of Portland in Maine, with considerable damage and both our boats stove.
Deep thankfulness was expressed by many at such an unlooked-for termination of the night's terrors and adventures; many the resolutions expressed not to trust the sea again.
We were speedily moored to the wharf at Portland, amid a forest of masts; the stars and stripes flaunted gaily overhead in concert with the American eagle; and as I stepped upon those shores on which the sanguine suppose that the Anglo-Saxon race is to renew the vigour of its youth, I felt that a new era of my existence had begun.
First experiences of American freedom--The "striped pig" and "Dusty Ben"--
A country mouse--What the cars are like--Beauties of New England--The land of apples--A Mammoth hotel--The rusty inkstand exiled--Eloquent eyes--
Alone in a crowd.
The city of Portland, with its busy streets, and crowded wharfs, and handsome buildings, and railway depots, rising as it does on the barren coast of the sterile State of Maine, ful y bears out the first part of an assertion which I had already heard made by Americans, "We're a great people, the greatest nation on the face of the earth." A polite custom-house officer asked me if I had anything contraband in my trunks, and on my reply in the negative they were permitted to pass without even the formality of being uncorded. "Enlightened citizens" they are truly, I thought, and, with the pleasant consciousness of being in a perfectly free country, where every one can do as he pleases, I entered an hotel near the water and sat down in the ladies' parlour. I had not tasted food for twenty-five hours, my clothes were cold and wet, a severe cut was on my temple, and I felt thoroughly exhausted. These circumstances, I thought, justified me in ringing the bell and asking for a glass of wine. Visions of the agreeable refreshment which would be produced by the juice of the grape appeared simultaneously with the waiter. I made the request, and he brusquely replied, "You can't have it, _it's contrary to law_." In my half-drowned and faint condition the refusal appeared tantamount to positive cruelty, and I remembered that I had come in contact with the celebrated "_Maine Law_." That the inhabitants of the State of Maine are not "_free_" was thus placed practical y before me at once. Whether they are "_enlightened_" I doubted at the time, but leave the question of the prohibition of fermented liquors to be decided by abler social economists than myself.
I was hereafter informed that to those who go down stairs, and ask to see the "_striped pig_" wine and spirits are produced; that a request to speak with "_Dusty Ben_" has a like effect, and that, on asking for
"_sarsaparil a_" at certain stores in the town, the desired stimulant can be obtained. Indeed it is said that the consumption of this drug is greater in Maine than in al the other States put together. But in justice to this highly respectable State, I must add that the drunkenness which forced this stringent measure upon the legislature was among the thousands of English and Irish emigrants who annually land at Portland. My only companion here was a rosy-cheeked, simple country girl, who was going to Kennebunk, and, never having been from home before, had not the slightest idea what to do. Presuming on my antiquated appearance, she asked me "to take care of her, to get her ticket for her, for she dare'nt ask those men for it, and to let her sit by me in the car." She said she was so frightened with something she'd seen that she didn't know how she should go in the cars. I asked her what it was. "Oh," she said, "it was a great thing, bright red, with I don't know how many wheels, and a large black top, and bright shining things moving about al over it, and smoke and steam coming out of it, and it made such an awful noise it seemed to shake the earth."
At half-past three we entered the cars in a long shed, where there were no officials in uniform as in England, and we found our way in as we could.
"Al aboard!" is the signal for taking places, but on this occasion a loud shout of "Tumble in for your lives!" greeted my amused ears, succeeded by
"Go a-head!" and off we went, the engineer tol ing a heavy bell to notify our approach to the passengers in _the streets along which we passed_.
America has certainly flourished under her motto "Go a-head!" but the cautious "Al right!" of an English guard, who waits to start til he is sure of his ground being clear, gives one more confidence. I never experienced the same amount of fear which is expressed by _Bunn_ and other writers, for, on comparing the number of accidents with the number of miles of railway open in America, I did not find the disadvantage in point of safety on her side. The cars are a complete novelty to an English eye.
They are twenty-five feet long, and hold about sixty persons; they have twelve windows on either side, and two and a door at each end; a passage runs down the middle, with chairs to hold two each on either side. There is a smal saloon for ladies with babies at one end, and a filter containing a constant supply of iced water. There are rings along the roof for a rope which passes through each car to the engine, so that anything wrong can be communicated instantly to the engineer. Every car has eight solid wheels, four being placed close together at each end, al of which can be locked by two powerful breaks. At each end of every car is a platform, and passengers are "prohibited from standing upon it at their peril," as also from passing from car to car while the train is in motion; but as no penalty attaches to this law, it is incessantly and continuously violated, "free and enlightened citizens" being at perfect liberty to imperil their own necks; and "poor, ignorant, benighted Britishers" soon learn to fol ow their example. Persons are for ever passing backwards and forwards, exclusive of the conductor whose business it is, and water-carriers, book, bonbon, and peach venders. No person connected with these railways wears a distinguishing dress, and the stations, or "depots" as they are cal ed, are general y of the meanest description, mere wooden sheds, with a ticket-office very difficult to discover. If you are so fortunate as to find a man standing at the door of the baggage-car, he attaches copper plates to your trunks, with a number and the name of the place you are going to upon them, giving you labels with corresponding numbers. By this excellent arrangement, in going a very long journey, in which you are obliged to change cars several times, and cross rivers and lakes in steamers, you are relieved of all responsibility, and only require at the end to give your checks to the hotel-porter, who regains your baggage without any trouble on your part.
This plan would be worthily imitated at our termini in England, where I have frequently seen "unprotected females" in the last stage of frenzy at being pushed out of the way, while some persons unknown are running off with their possessions. When you reach a _depot_, as there are no railway porters, numerous men clamour to take your effects to an hotel, but, as many of these are thieves, it is necessary to be very careful in only selecting those who have hotel-badges on their hats.
An emigrant-car is attached to each train, but there is only one class: thus it may happen that you have on one side the President of the Great Republic, and on the other the _gentleman_ who blacked your shoes in the morning. The Americans, however, have too much respect for themselves and their companions to travel except in good clothes, and this mingling of all ranks is far from being disagreeable, particularly to a stranger like myself, one of whose objects was to see things in their everyday dress. We must be wel aware that in many parts of England it would be difficult for a lady to travel unattended in a second-class, impossible in a third-class carriage; yet I travel ed several thousand miles in America, frequently alone, from the house of one friend to another's, and never met with anything approaching to incivility; and I have often heard it stated that a lady, no matter what her youth or attractions might be, could travel alone through every State in the Union, and never meet with anything but attention and respect.
I have had considerable experience of the cars, having travelled from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and from the Mississippi to the St. Lawrence, and found the company so agreeable in its way, and the cars themselves so easy, well ventilated, and comfortable, that, were it not for the disgusting practice of spitting upon the floors in which the lower classes of Americans indulge, I should greatly prefer them to our own exclusive carriages, denominated in the States "_'coon sentry-boxes_." Wel , we are seated in the cars; a man shouts "Go a-head!" and we are off, the engine ringing its heavy bel , and thus begin my experiences of American travel.
I found myself in company with eleven gentlemen and a lady from Prince Edward Island, whom a strange gregarious instinct had thus drawn together.
The engine gave a hollow groan, very unlike our cheerful whistle, and, soon moving through the town, we reached the open country.
Fair was the country that we passed through in the States of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. Oh very fair! smiling, cultivated, and green, like England, but far happier; for slavery which disgraces the New World, and poverty which desolates the Old, are nowhere to be seen.
There were many farmhouses surrounded by the nearly finished harvest, with verandahs covered with vines and roses; and patriarchal-looking family groups seated under them, engaged in different employments, and enjoying the sunset, for here it was gorgeous summer. And there were smal er houses of wood painted white, with bright green jalousies, in gardens of pumpkins, and surrounded by orchards. Apples seemed almost to grow wild; there were as many orchards as corn-fields, and apple and pear trees grew in the very hedgerows.
And such apples! not like our small, sour, flavourless _things_, but like some southern fruit; huge bal s, red and yel ow, such as are caricatured in wood, weighing down the fine large trees. There were heaps of apples on the ground, and horses and cows were eating them in the fields, and rows of freight-cars at al the stations were laden with them, and little boys were selling them in the cars; in short, where were they not? There were smiling fields with verdant hedgerows between them, unlike the untidy snake-fences of the colonies, and meadows like parks, dotted over with trees, and woods fil ed with sumach and scarlet maple, and rapid streams hurrying over white pebbles, and vil ages of green-jalousied houses, with churches and spires, for here al places of worship have spires; and the mellow light of a declining sun streamed over this varied scene of happiness, prosperity, and comfort; and for a moment I thought--O
traitorous thought!--that the New England was fairer than the Old.
Nor were the more material evidences of prosperity wanting, for we passed through several large towns near the coast--Newbury Port, Salem, and Portsmouth--with populations varying from 30,000 to 50,000 souls. They seemed bustling, thriving places, with handsome stores, which we had an opportunity of observing, as in the States the cars run right into the streets along the carriage-way, traffic being merely diverted from the track while the cars are upon it.
Most of the railways in the States have only one track or line of rails, with occasional sidings at the stations for the cars to pass each other. A fence is by no means a matter of necessity, and two or three animals are destroyed every day from straying on the line. The engines, which are nearly twice the size of ours, with a covered enclosure for the engineer and stoker, carry large _fenders_ or guards in front, to lift incumbrances from the track. At eight o'clock we found ourselves passing over water, and between long rows of gas-lights, and shortly afterwards the cars stopped at Boston, the Athens of America. Giving our baggage-checks to the porter of the American House, we drove to that immense hotel, where I remained for one night. It was crammed from the very basement to the most undesirable locality nearest the moon; I believe it had seven hundred inmates. I had arranged to travel to Cincinnati, and from thence to Toronto, with Mr. and Mrs. Walrence, but on reaching Boston I found that they feared fever and cholera, and, leaving me to travel alone from Albany, would meet me at Chicago. Under these circumstances I remained with my island friends for one night at this establishment, a stranger in a land where I had few acquaintances, though I was wel armed with letters of introduction. One of these was to Mr. Amy, a highly respected merchant of Boston, who had previously informed me by letter of the best route to the States, and I immediately despatched a note to him, but he was absent at his country-house, and I was left to analyse the feeling of isolation inseparable from being alone in a crowd. Having received the key of my room, I took my supper in an immense hal , calculated for dining 400