Page images
PDF
EPUB

tleman in the parish of St. Roch. As they | perstitions of the Bay St. Paul. The harcame to a row of currant bushes he ex-vest sometimes closes with a rustic festiclaimed, fervently, “Give it to the currant val, the fête of the Big Sheaf. The last bushes; they're just full!” The whole sheaf, made large, is put on top of the parish was jubilant at the close of this cer- last cart-load of grain as an emblem of emony in the unshakable conviction that abundance; the lads and lasses, decorated the bugs of the morning were now abso- with heads of grain, walk on each side of lutely destroyed. I asked M. Tremblay, the load, and sing some of their national "But have you 'looked at your vines to songs on the way to the house. see?" "Oh no, sir; it isn't necessary to According to the usual ceremony (in look; the bugs are all gone." Some days old times), the master of the house sits in afterward I revived the subject. Well, a large arm-chair at the head of the room, now, the bugs were not killed after all; and awaits with a joyful and contented here are thousands of them on your po- | air the arrival of his people. These soon tato vines." “Yes, sir; but these are an- come trooping in, led by the eldest son, other lot that the Lord has sent." The who carries in one hand a fine sheaf of priest of one of the Saguenay parishes wheat all decorated with ribbons, and in made a visit to Quebec just after one of the other hand a decanter and a glass. these processions for the bugs of the parish, He advances to the master of the house, and when I called to see him after his re- gives him the sheaf, wishes him as good turn he was enthusiastic over a purchase a harvest every year of his life, and pours he had made; it was a quantity of Paris him out a glass of brandy. The old gengreen, and a bellows for dusting it on histleman thanks him, and drinks off the vines.

glass. Then the son goes around the Harvest brought the women and chil- room and serves the company ; after dren to the fields again; and I often went which they pass to the next room for supwith them to see, not to dream, the scenes per, composed of mutton, milk, and panof that antique pastoral, Ruth and Boaz. cakes with maple sugar.

After supper There was a group of genuine peasants the decanter and glass go their rounds that belonged to the patriarchal ages in again, and then the young man who precharacter and conditions; Ruth would not sented the sheaf asks his father to sing a have been a stranger gleaning with those song." Songs, dances, and other amusehomespun women in short skirts and ments close the festival. broad - brimmed hats. They reap with As this pretty ceremony fell into disuse sickles, some moving along on their knees, some years ago, the priest of one of the others bending low; they lay the grain parishes on the south shore of the St. Lawcarefully out to dry; at the proper time rence took it under his own patronage, they turn it over by handfuls; then the and made it a Church festival by tarrying women gather it up in their arms, and lay the Big Sheaf into the choir of the church it across a withe for the binder to bind it and saying mass over it. But even this in sheaves. Every head is picked up. duller rite is now seldom witnessed; the Here are no hand-rakes, no cradles, no farmers pay the priest to say a mass as reaping-machines, no "headers” devour-thanks for the harvest. Thus the grain ing fields and delivering sacks of clean does not grow without the touch of holy grain. Certainly a loaf of their dark water; when harvested it is brought to coarse bread has a great deal of humanity the altar; the leaven rises under the invokneaded into it. But they work moder- cation of Divine aid; and the loaf is not ately, and singing and joking blend with cut till the sign of the cross is made upon the hiss of the sickle and the rustle of the it by the devout habitant. The loaf is, grain. When I went into the field of a indeed, an epitome of their life. The neighbor one afternoon I found three gen-threshing is generally done with the flail, erations working at the sickle; but this and the grain is winnowed with the anseemed not very surprising, considering tique fan-a large semicircular tray, with the comfortable march of their lives. which a man throws the grain up and They all left their work and gathered in catches it again and again till the chaff a picturesque group sitting with me along is blown away. Thirty bushels may be the fence; the men lit their pipes, and court-cleaned in a day. Some of the farmers eously entertained me for a whole hour, have a threshing-machine built in the repeating the current traditions and su- barn ; it is driven by an old - fashioned windmill with two long arms at right | an intimate part of their own lives, not an angles. And yet nobody thinks of put- insignificant fraction of some other man's ting up a circular saw to cut the wood ambition; and their efforts satisfy them, burned during the long winters. When because they do not go beyond their nethe grain is finally cleaned, each habitant cessities. As I left the grove, resplendent takes one-twenty-sixth of it to the priest with autumn colors and sunshine, it was as tithes.

musical with the merriment of those conI came upon another antique scene one tented women. They were incapable of day in October while walking along the appreciating their happiness in a life of mountain-top west of this valley. The objective realities, but they beat that flax sound of women's voices and of some un- with a willing arm in thinking of the usual labor drew me from the road into a good white linen that was to go on to their maple grove. I found a group of bare- own backs. armed women under the trees swingling The household labors go on at all seaflax. Their children were playing on the sons. Indeed, the Canadian women seem ground; and a thin spiral of smoke rose to merit their reputation of being smarter through the gorgeous foliage into the sun than the men. Certainly their produclight. As I drew near they ceased their tions are at least as necessary as those of talking and quieted the dogs that an- the men. The women of this house clothe nounced me. They returned my saluta- the family by their spinning, weaving, tion pleasantly, and bid me welcome. knitting, and sewing. They spend comThey had made an open fire-place by paratively little time in keeping in order building two low walls projecting from their small bare houses, or in attending to the face of a ledge of rock; a few stones social duties; they waste no time in makin front kept the coals together, and some ing adornments, or in intellectual purmaple saplings lay across from wall to suits; their tables are soon cleared of the wall. The women stood about the fire, spoons and the one dish containing the each beside her swingle-staff. This in- food; their plain monotonous fare is soon strument is like a wooden pocket-knife, cooked. Pea soup, milk, and sour bread about two feet long, with legs supporting are the diet of the average farmer, though it at the height of a table. The flax- a few use salt pork, perhaps a cup of tea which had lain on the ground for a month on Sunday morning, a very few vegetato soften-is spread over the poles above bles in summer, and fresh meats in winthe fire; when it is heated enough to ter. Thus the expenses of the farm and loosen the fibres from the pith, it is taken the family are very small. The man, his by handfuls and drawn

the wife, and his children generally do all the swingle-staff, under the blade, while this work of all kinds. If help is hired, the is worked up and down to break the stalks wages are low: $20 to $25 per year for a and make them flexible as a bunch of tow. woman, and $80 to $100 for a man. On The flax is afterward hatchelled to remove the Ile aux Coudres in the bay, where life the broken pith and arrange the fibres for is still more patriarchal, wages in harvest spinning. The women soon broke out in time are twenty cents a day for women and merry banter at the fire-tender, for allow- twenty-five cents for men. The tools are ing her flax to heat just a little too much; very plain and cheap. All the teaming is it flamed and disappeared in an instant. done with one-horse carts. The common I am somewhat surprised at my own rec road cart—with wooden springs-costs onciliation with industries so antiquated, $15; the fashionable buckboard, $40. In laborious, and slow, for we generally be lounging about the wheelwright's shop in lieve that machinery should take the place the upper part of the village I noticed of hands. But a spinner or a reaper here that even his kit of tools-ancient and does not call for sympathy. And is sym- clumsy-would scarcely satisfy one of pathy of any value where it is not needed ? our jacks-of-all-trades on a farm. And At all events, these people possess one ad- his work was rough and heavy. A mervantage over our more mechanical work- chant of the village told me that all the men; their relation to work is direct, inti- outlays of a prosperous farmer here may mate, satisfying. They producedirectly the be estimated at $100 per year-for tithes, very objects they need, not the secondary taxes, repairs, groceries, etc. distant value of money which slips away of them make a profit of $100 to $200 per and leaves want; their work is therefore year, which they often store away in a

across

A very few chest, or use in part to pay the schooling schooling at convents and common of a son who wishes to take his share of schools; and they require also about 100 the estate in getting an education. He bushels of wheat, 500 bushels of oats, says, moreover, that the yearly purchases 45,000 pounds of hay, five cart-loads of saltof some families who live in contentment hay and straw. But the average expendand independence are fairly represented by iture of comfortable families there is not this list, viz., one pound of tea, two pounds above $150. It is evident that economy of

[graphic][merged small]

of chocolate, two gallons of syrup, and fif-| the strictest kind is necessary. Some strikty cents' worth of raisins, almonds, etc. ing examples are told me. An old servWhatever else they may need they make ant of one of my friends was bred to such or acquire of each other by barter. At Ri- careful habits that she wears out her calico vière Quelle, on the more luxurious south robes without ever washing them, and yet shore of the St. Lawrence, I was told that she is considered to be neat and clean. the family of a wealthy farmer, of eight to Her parents had sixteen children, and ten members, spends about $400 per year they raised their entire family on one pafor expenses of all kinds, including the per of pins and one catechism. Thorns hire of two men and a woman, and were used, and other pins left at the house

VOL. LXVII.- No. 399.-25

for the long winters. The horses are well kept, being the pride of the habitant; but the cattle, fed on straw alone, and kept in small, close stables never cleaned out, or cleaned but once a week, barely live through the winter, and very often are too feeble to get up in the spring without help. The little money circulating in the country comes mostly from the lumbering establishments, and many of the farmers work at the lumber camps in winter. The markets of Quebec offer a quaint study of the habitant's financial condition. I have often sauntered through them in summer and in winter, wondering all the time whether I had gone back again to my rambles in France. At the Porte Saint-Jean on a winter market-day the place is covered with small boxsleighs backed up to the walks. Here and there frozen carcasses of mutton and pork stand up against the sleighs, a row of codfish stand on their heads along the wall, and quarters of light beef lie about on the snow.

But generally by visitors; and the catechism, after all, the provisions and goods are in much was clean enough to be sold for a sum smaller quantities. The market is a quaint that was important though small. In assemblage of odd bits of produce and manthose times the ancient habitants spent ufactures that can be spared from the a sou with more reluctance than their de- farmer's barn and house. A few vegetascendants now spend a louis. Although bles, some butter, socks, homespun cloth, they were generally rich, yet they ignored fowls, or game from the woods, are colluxury; the productions of their farms lected from time to time, and the wife, or supplied all their wants. A rich habi- sometimes the husband, drives off to Quetant, doing the generous for once, would bec with them. The whole cargo may buy for his daughter a trousseau consist- not be worth more than three dollars, and ing of a calico robe, a pair of cotton stock the distance may be fifty or even one hunings, and a pair of shoes, all from a store; dred miles. But the trip costs little, and and this toilette often descended to the there is a balance of profit. grandchildren of the bride.” With such The date of my departure arrived only frugality it is not surprising that the Ca- too soon, for I was sorry to leave the nadians are generally self-supporting and kind family who had extended their hosindependent. But they have also the pitality, beyond mere food and shelter, to complement of this excessive virtue-a include every pleasure and favor within lack of enterprise that keeps them poor. their reach. They all came down to the Their very small farms, badly tilled, rare- beach, and as I paddled away wished me ly produce more than subsistence enough | “bon voyage."

[graphic]
[ocr errors]

TH

R.AZ.

of his wide leatherbordered trousers, he watched his comrades in their preparations for breakfast. One or two sleepy soldiers, yawning and stretch

ing their limbs, the THE last bars litter and straw still clinging to their hair

of the cav- and clothing, appeared at the doors of the alry reveille stables, or shambled off about some early aroused me, and duty, dragging their hobnailed boots over I sat up, rub- the stones, oblivious of an occasional pudbing my eyes dle, while the stable guard stood under the and gathering archway, in relief against the wet road my straggling and gray trees of the orchard, where the wits. Again, smoke of some other early fires mingled right under with the mist of the falling rain. my window, I Gradually the light increased, silvering heard the mu- the roof-tops and casting long reflections sic, and being of the old buildings in the now bright surnow thorough- face of the pavement.

ly awakened, I A smart sergeant clattered through the sprang out of bed.

I was in a room over archway, and his authoritative voice was the stables of a tavern in a small town immediately heard, putting something in Normandy, where I had joined the like life into the sleepy soldiers, and evitroops the night before, with the inten- dently reminding the bugler that he had tion of accompanying them during the something else to do than to toast his toes autumn manæuvres, when the French at the fire, for, drawing his hands from his army takes the field, each corps in terri- pockets and dropping his bit of straw, bre tory assigned to it, there to prepare the assumed a wide-awake look, strode across troops by practice in the details of a cam- the court, and disappeared through a doorpaign for the more serious business of way. real warfare.

The others also showed some alacrity, The day was just dawning in a wet and began leading out their horses and gray sky as I dressed myself and looked grooming them, hissing at their work like from my window on the court of the tav- so many serpents, and pausing occasioner, a long square paved inclosure, bound-ally to swallow a cup of hot coffee which, ed on three sides by irregular two-storied with an enormous piece of bread, was buildings of brick and stone, while on the handed them by a comrade. The door of fourth side a huge arch way under an an- a bedroom opposite mine opened, and an cient tower permitted a glimpse across a officer in shirt sleeves and slippers, and street to an orchard beyond. In the low- wiping his hands on a towel, leaned over er stories were the tap-room, kitchen, sta- the railing of the gallery and called to his bles, etc.; the sleeping-rooms were above, servant for his boots. opening on wooden galleries, wet with the The horses were standing in long lines dripping of the rain from the overhanging under the sheds, saddles and equipments eaves of the tiled and moss-grown roofs. were being put on, and sabres were clank

Under a shed in one corner of the yard ing as the soldiers moved about, when I some cavalry soldiers-chasseurs-à-cheval descended to the coffee - room, which I -who had been quartered here overnight, found already filled with officers of the had already lighted a fire, and the bugler, staff. They were coming and going, or lounging near them, his great-coat hang- sitting at the tables drinking their coffee ing from his shoulders in heavy folds, his and smoking their morning cigarettes. bugle over his arm, and his shako pulled All rose as the general, a handsome old down over his eyes, listlessly chewed a bit soldier clad in the tasteful fatigue uniof straw, as, hands buried in the pockets form of a general of division, entered the

« PreviousContinue »