Cape Breton Tales (Illustrated)

Cape Breton Tales (Illustrated)

by Harry James Smith

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ummer comes late along the Cape Breton shore; and even while it stays there is something a little diffident and ticklish about it, as if each clear warm day might perhaps be the last. Though by early June the fields are in their first emerald, there are no flowers yet. The little convent girls who carry the banners at the head of the Corpus Christi procession at Arichat wear wreaths of artificial lilies of the valley and marguerites over their white veils, and often enough their teeth chatter with cold before the completion of the long march—out from the church portals westward by the populous street, then up through the steep open fields to the old Calvary on top of the hill, then back to the church along the grass-grown upper road, far above the roofs, in full view of the wide bay.
Despite some discomforts, the procession is a very great event; every house along the route is decked out with bunting or flags or a bright home-made carpet, hung from a window. Pots of tall geraniums in scarlet bloom have been set out on the steps; and numbers of little evergreen trees, or birches newly in leaf, have been brought in from the country and bound to the fences. Along the roadside are gathered all the Acadians from the neighboring parishes, devoutly gay,[Pg 4] enchanted with the pious spectacle. The choir, following after the richly canopied Sacrament and swinging censers, are chanting psalms of benediction and thanksgiving; banners and flags and veils flutter in the wind; the harbor, ice-bound so many months, is flecked with dancing white-caps and purple shadows: surely summer cannot be far off.
"When once the ice has done passing down there," they say—"which may happen any time now—you will see! Perhaps all in a day the change will come. The fog that creeps in so cold at night—it will all be sucked up; the sky will be clear as glass down to the very edge of the water. Ah, the fine season it will be!"
That is the way summer arrives on the Acadian shore: everything bursting pell-mell into bloom; daisies and buttercups and August flowers rioting in the fields, lilacs and roses shedding their fragrance in sheltered gardens; and over all the world a drench of unspeakable sunlight.
You could never forget your first sight of Arichat if you entered its narrow harbor at this divine moment. Steep, low hills, destitute of trees, set a singularly definite sky-line just behind; and the town runs—dawdles, rather—in a thin, wavering band for some miles sheer on the edge of the water. Eight or ten wharves, some of them fallen into dilapidation, jut out at intervals from clumps of weatherbeaten storehouses; and a few small vessels, it may be, are lying up alongside or anchored idly off shore. Only the occasional sound of[Pg 5] a creaking block or of a wagon rattling by on the hard roadway breaks the silence.
Along the street the houses elbow one another in neighborly groups, or straggle out in single file, separated by bits of declivitous white-fenced yard; and to the westward, a little distance up the hill, sits the square church, far outvying every other edifice in size and dignity, glistening white, with a tall bronze Virgin on the peak of the roof—Our Lady of the Assumption, the special patron of the Acadians.
But what impresses you above all is the incredible vividness of color in this landscape: the dazzling gold-green of the fields, heightened here and there by luminous patches of foam-white where the daisies are in full carnival, or subdued to duller tones where, on uncultivated ground, moss-hummocks and patches of rock break through the investiture of grass. The sky has so much room here too: the whole world seems to be adrift in azure; the thin strip of land hangs poised between, claimed equally by firmament and the waters under it.
In the old days, they tell us, Arichat was a very different place from now. Famous among the seaports of the Dominion, it saw a continual coming and going of brigs and ships and barquentines in the South American fish trade.
"But if you had known it then!" they say. "The wharves were as thick all the length of the harbor as the teeth of a comb; and in winter, when the vessels were laid up—eh, mon Dieu! you would have called it[Pg 6] a forest, for all the masts and spars you saw there. No indeed, it was not dreamed of in those days that Arichat would ever come to this!"
So passes the world's glory! An air of tender, almost jealous reminiscence hangs about the town; and in its gentle decline into obscurity it has kept a sort of dignity, a self-possession, a certain look of wisdom and experience, which in a sense make it proof against all arrows of outrageous Fortune.
Back from the other shore of the harbor, jutting out for some miles into Chedabucto Bay, lies the Cape. You get a view of it if you climb to the crest of the hill—a broad reach of barrens, fretted all day by the sea.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940148256366
Publisher: Lost Leaf Publications
Publication date: 01/06/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 721 KB

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