Read CHAPTER VI of Adrift in the Ice-Fields , free online book, by Charles W. Hall, on ReadCentral.com.

ADDITIONS TO THE PARTY.-- AN INDIAN OUTFIT.-- A CONTESTED ELECTION.

The following day was Sunday, and was spent as most Sabbaths are spent by similar parties in such out-of-the-way places. A few members of the household drove off across the ice of the Western Bar to a little country church; but the goose-shooters cared not to display their half savage dress, and tanned and blistered faces, to the over-close inspection of the church-going farmers and their curious “women folks.”

Accordingly, Risk passed most of the day luxuriously stretched out on the sofa, reading the Church Magazine, while Davies, on the opposite side of the fire, in the recesses of an arm-chair covered with a buffalo robe, devoted the larger portion of his time to the Weekly Wesleyan. Creamer, after a cursory glance at a diminutive prayer-book, spent most of the day in a comparison of sea-going experiences and apocryphal adventures with Captain Lund, in much the same manner as two redoubtable masters of fence employ their leisure in launching at each other’s impregnable defence, such blows as would prove mortal against less skilled antagonists.

By the middle of the afternoon Lund had related his sixth story, being the veracious history of how one Louis McGraw, a famous fishing-skipper of Mingan, rode out a tremendous gale on the Orphan Bank, with both cables out, the storm-sail set, her helm lashed amidships, and the crew fastened below as tightly as possible. It is hardly worth while to detail how the crew were bruised and battered by the terrible rolling of the schooner; it may be left to the imagination of the intelligent reader when he learns that, when the storm abated, the skipper found, besides innumerable “kinks” in the cables, and sea-weed in the rigging, both topmasts broken short off, indubitable proof, to the nautical mind, that the Rechabite had been rolled over and over again, like an empty barrel, in that terrible sea.

Creamer had just begun, by way of retaliation, his favorite “yarn” of the ingenious diplomacy of one Jem Jarvis, his father’s uncle, who, being wrecked “amongst the cannibals of Rarertonger,” with a baker’s dozen of his shipmates, escaped the fate of his less accomplished comrades by his skill on the jewsharp, and an especial talent for dancing the double-shuffle, so that they gave him a hut to himself, two wives, and all he could eat, until he broke his jewsharp, and got fat and lazy, and then there was nothing to do but to run for it.

How Creamer’s paternal relative extricated himself from his precarious position will never be known, as, at this juncture, Ben and La Salle, respectively, weary of playing a limited repertoire of psalm-tunes on the concertina, and reading the musty records of a long-forgotten “Sederunt of the quarterly Synod,” as detailed in an old number of the Presbyterian Witness, interrupted the prolonged passage at arms by an invitation, to all so disposed, “to take a walk around the island.”

Lund, who had misgivings as to his ability to give Creamer “a Roland for his Oliver,” rose at once, and Creamer acceding more reluctantly, the four set off, through a narrow wood-path, to a cleared field near the western extremity of the island.

At the verge of this field, a cliff of red sandstone, ribbed and seamed by centuries of weather-wear and beat of sea, overlooked the ample bay which opens into the Straits of Northumberland at their widest point. Before them it lay covered with huge level ice-fields, broken only where tide and storm had caused an upheaval of their edges, or a berg, degraded and lessened of its once lordly majesty, it is true, but still grand even in its decay, rose like a Gothic ruin amid a snow-covered and desolate plain.

The sun was declining in the west, but his crimson rays gave warmth to the picture, and the still air had, as it were, a foretaste of the balmy revivifying warmth of spring. In the woods, close at hand, were heard the harsh cawing of the crow, the shrill scream of the blue-jay, and the garrulous chatter of many a little family of warm-furred, pine-cone-eating little red squirrels.

Neither was animal life wanting elsewhere to complete the picture. On the ice could be counted, in different directions, no less than seventeen flocks of Canada geese, some of them apparently on the watch, but the major part lying down, and evidently sleeping after their long and wearisome migration. In a single diminutive water-hole below the cliff, which probably marked the issue of one of the many subterranean springs of the islet, a half-dozen tiny ouac-a-wees, or Moniac ducks, swam and dove in conscious security.

“I can’t see any open water yet,” said Creamer, “although it looks to me a little like a water-belt, alongshore, inside Point Prime.”

“There’s no more water-belt there,” said Lund, “than there was music in your great-uncle’s jewsharp; but there’s a spot off to the sou’-west that looks to me a little like blue water.”

“Blue water, indeed!” retorted Creamer; “who ever saw blue water on soundings! I’ll lay a plug of navy tobacco there isn’t open water enough there away to float La Salle’s gunning-float comfortably.”

“Well, Hughie,” slowly replied the practiced pilot, who was really little disposed to vaunt his knowledge of coast and weather, “the tide will soon decide whether you or I, or both of us, are right. It is just full flood now, and the ice is pressed in so against the land, that I know there can be no openings along the Point, and but very small ones where I think it looks like one. It seems to me that a water-vapor is rising out there, by yonder high pinnacle just in range of the pool below the ice-foot; but the tide will soon let us know if there are any large leads open within a dozen miles.”

“There’s a sign in your favor,” cried La Salle, pointing in the direction of the supposed ‘lead.’ “There’s a flock of Brent geese, and they can’t live away from open water. See, Ben, they are heading right in for the East Bar, and if we were only there we might depend upon a shot.”

La Salle was right; the flock of birds, identified plainly by their smaller size, their tumultuous order of flying, and especially by their harsh, rolling call, like a pack of hounds in cry, swept in from sea, wheeled around one of the resting flocks of Canada geese, alighted near them, took flight again, and, sweeping in an irregular course over and among the higher points of the icy labyrinth, disappeared behind the eastern promontory, as if in search of the open water, which winter had so securely locked up in icy bonds.

As the sun sank behind the neighboring firs, his reddening light fell on a bright blue streak, which seemed to glow like a stream of quicksilver between two heavy bodies of “piled ice.” With the ebb, the narrow, glittering canal began to widen, piercing nearer to the islet, until, heading towards the westward, it lay little more than four miles from the interested spectators. The shadowy pinions of many flocks of water-fowl were seen exploring its course, and the neighboring geese, one by one, took flight, and, with clamorous calls, winged their way to its borders.

“I give it up,” said Creamer.

“Never mind, Hughie,” said Ben, “I’ll pay the wager; for, with open water so close to us, the first good storm will soon sweep the bay clear to the bar.”

“Yes, a sharp north-easter would soon do that for you; but all the heavy winds may be northerly and westerly for three weeks to come yet,” said Lund; “I’ve known the ice to hold here until the first week of May.”

“Well,” returned La Salle, “I’m sure I hope it won’t be so late this year, for the stock of flour on the island is very small, and many of the poor folks can’t afford to buy any, and are living on potatoes almost altogether. They say, too, that there is much suffering among the farmers at the North Point.”

“Yes,” said Ben; “I saw a man from Lot Ten last week, and he said that the French were eating their seed-grain, and feeding their cattle, or such as were left alive, on birch and beech tops.”

“That has happened often, since I can remember,” said Lund, “and I suppose is likely to after I am gone; but it seems to me that those stupids might learn something by this time.”

“It will occur to a greater or less degree, just as long as the island is shut out from the rest of the world for nearly half the year. There are few men who have any just estimate of the amount of provisions and fodder necessary for the sustenance of a family and its cattle for so long a period as a half year, and when accident, or the unwonted backwardness of the season, increases the number of mouths, or the length of the cold term, it is hard for the farmer to decide on sacrificing the life of even a superannuated horse, or weakly yearling, in time to benefit the more valuable survivors.”

“You’re right, Charley,” said Creamer; “that’s what my father’s uncle said, when he was a mate on board the Semyramsis, in the Ingy Ocean. The ship was lost in a harricane, sir, and only seven was saved in the captain’s gig six able-bodied seamen and one passenger, a fat little army ossifer. So my great-uncle, who were bosin, made an observation, and says he, ‘There’s just ten days’ provision for seven men, and we’re twenty days to looard of Silly Bes (Celebes), if we only row ten miles a day. Now, we must row twenty miles a day; an’ to do that, we must have full rations an’ somethin’ to spare. Besides, the boat ort to be lighter to row well. So, as passengers don’t count along of able-bodied seamen, I move we just get rid of the major on economical principles. All in favor say “Ay;” and they all said “ay” except the major, an’ he just turned as white as a sheet.’ An’ then my great-uncle asked him if he’d got anything to say why the resolution o’ that meetin’ shouldn’t be carried out. Well, the major just grinned kind o’ uggly, an’ said that ’he liked to see things done methodistically, if it were a little irregular, an’ he’d give his ‘pinion after the rest.’ So my uncle went on, an’ said, ‘All contrary say, “No."’ Well, no one said ‘no;’ an’ then my great-uncle said, ‘Well, major, nothin’ remains but to carry out our resolution; so please to vacate this boat; although, seein’ as it’s not dinner time for some hours yet, there’s no need of hurry, unless you wish to have it over with.’

“‘But,’ says the major, ’your action is altogether unparlymentary. You haven’t heard a word from my friends.’

“‘Friends! there ain’t any one here on your side o’ the question.’

“‘You’re mistaken, my friend,’ said the major; an’ he drew from his belt a long Indian dagger that had been hid under his coat; ’there’s one, any how.’

“‘That ain’t much account against a boat-hook,’ said one of the men, as he took one with a sharp spike from beneath the gunwale.

“‘Lay that down, you beggar!’ cried the little red-coat; and he pulled out of each side-pocket a four-barreled pistol, for there were no revolvers in them days, and the man laid down the boat-hook as quick as a flash. ‘Now, men,’ said the little ossifer, ’you’ll see that we number at least ten, and there’s only six of you. Ah, here’s to make us a little more ekil;’ and he just fired at a noddy that was flying over, and dropped him right into the stern-sheets. ’That’ll help out our rations some,’ says he; ‘and besides, you don’t see what I’m sittin’ on;’ and, sure enough, he had histed into the boat a basket of port an’ a whole case of cap’n’s biscuit. ‘Now,’ says he, ’reconsider your vardick.’

“An’ they all voted down the first resolution, and he gave them a bottle of port to mix with their water every day, and when they were drinking the last bottle, they made Silly Bes, and got ashore all right; but my uncle always said that his calculations was right, and that it showed great weakness on the part of the men not to carry them out.”

“Well, Hughie,” said Ben, “you’ve kept us here a good half hour later than tea time, and Mrs. Lund will think we’ve done well to waste her time in listening to your stories.”

“Well, we can see enough to assure us that the ice won’t break up on the bar to-morrow,” said Lund; “but you may get your ice-boats ready at once, for the next thaw, with a north-easter after it, will leave all clear along the ship channel to the harbor’s mouth.”

There was quite a pleasurable excitement among the stay-at-homes at the tea table, when the incipient breaking up of the ice was declared; for on the proximity of narrow feeding-grounds to the ice-houses depended the hopes of good sport of our adventurers. To be sure they had thus far had nothing to complain of; but the geese killed had been merely “flight” geese, weary with long migration, thin with want of food, and seeking among the treacherous lures only a rest from their long wandering in the safe companionship of their own kind.

Very shortly after supper the whole household retired, but, save the accustomed prayers, which few, either Catholic or Protestant, forget in that still “unsophisticated” land, it is to be feared that the Sabbath was to them little but a literal “day of rest,” in its purest physical sense.

Monday morning a glassy look to the snow-crust induced the younger members of the party to use their skates in going to their stands, and as La Salle drew his from his feet to deposit them in his undisturbed stand, his eyes caught, amid the distant ice-spires, the mazy flight of what he took to be a flock of brent, headed in-shore.

Signaling to Davies to get under cover, he sprang into his own stand, and, crouching amid the straw, hastily drew over his black fur cap his linen havelock, and looking well to the priming of his gun, sought the whereabouts of the swift-flying birds.

Unlike the slower Canada geese, these birds seldom fly high above the surface of the water or ice when seeking food; and several times he lost sight of the flock, as it darted around a berg, or swung round the circle of some secluded valley of the ice-field.

“H-r-r-r-r-huk! H-r-r-r-r-huk!” Their barbarous clamor, insufficiently rendered in the foregoing, suddenly sounded close to leeward, and close up against the light north-wester then blowing came the beautiful quarry, their small, black heads and necks showing as glossy as a raven’s wing, in contrast with the asheous hue of their wings, and the pure white of other parts of their plumage. With a wild, tumultuous rush, they circled in head-on over the decoys; and it was so quickly done, that they had swept on fifty yards before La Salle could realize that the leader of the flock was heading for Davies, and had no intention of surging around to his lures again.

“It will never do to let them get the first brent,” muttered La Salle. “She has a long-range cartridge in, and I’ll try them.”

Turning on his knees, he raised the ponderous gun until it “lined” the retreating flock, but elevated at least five feet above the birds, now nearly two hundred yards away. The heavy concussion reverberated across the ice, and the fatal cartridge tore through the distant flight, picking out two of the twelve which composed the flock; and some of the shot, as both Davies and Creamer afterwards averred, rattled smartly in among their decoys nearly four hundred yards away. The remaining birds, hurrying away from the dangers behind them, passed within range of Davies and his companion, and left several of their number dead and dying on the ice; but the first brent of the season had fallen to La Salle’s gun.

The day was mild and without wind, and as but few birds were flying, La Salle coiled himself down in the sunny corner of his stand, and drawing from his pocket the letter of which we have spoken in the last chapter, gave it a careful and deliberate perusal. As he closed, a smile, strangely expressing contempt, pity, and admiration, curled his lips, as in low but audible tones, as is often the habit of the solitary hunter or fisherman, he communed with his own heart.

“Ah, Pauline! time has brought no change to thy passionate, impulsive, unreasoning heart; and what thy biting tongue may not say, the pen will utter, though lapse of years and the waves of the Atlantic roll between us. Is it not strange that a woman’s letter to her betrothed, beginning with ‘My own love,’ and ending ‘Until death,’ can contain eight double-written pages of unreasonable blame, cruel innuendos, and despicable revenge on the innocent? Well, we are betrothed, and should have been married years ago, had not Fate or Providence stood in the way; and I suppose her life at home is far from pleasant, for her step-mother is not one to let a good marriage go by, without reminding poor Paulie of my general worthlessness; but I must say that my better financial and matrimonial prospects offer little hope of added happiness.”

His eye lit up a moment, and an expression of keen and almost cruel intent contracted his gaze; then, with a look of disdain, he seemed to throw off some evil influence, and a look of pity softened his face.

“Yes, if I were to resent these affronts for such they are with one half the virulence which animates them, her pride would alienate us forever, and I should be free. There are few who would blame me, and many who would scorn to do aught else. In truth I am almost decided to answer this precious billet-doux in the same vein in which it was written. Ah, it was not all delusion that made yonder madman think that evil spirits haunt these icy wastes. It was not thus I felt when together we voyaged across that summer sea; and the vows we plighted then may not lightly be broken. I will answer patiently, and as becomes the past. As to the future, it will bring due reward or punishment here or hereafter.”

From these somewhat morbid self-communings, which we introduce for a purpose hereafter to be disclosed, La Salle started, seized his glittering skates, and taking his gun, glided with long, powerful strokes across the inner bay towards the ice-houses of the other party, which lay within the embouchure of Trois-Lieue Creek. The ice was almost perfectly level, save where a heavy drift had formed a small mound around which it was better to steer, although the sleety crust had frozen so hard that the broad-runnered Belgian skates would run almost anywhere. At the first ice-house he found Risk and Davies, who had done little or nothing for some days, and talked of going home at the end of the week.

“Indian Peter gets about all the geese that go through here, and there’s little show for us,” said Davies.

“Where is his ice-house?” asked La Salle.

“Just up the cove the nearest of those two,” answered Risk.

“I guess I’ll have a look at his outfit, and then go and meet the boys at the block-house, for they have never been here before, and the track can’t be very plain now.” So saying, La Salle skated up to the Indian stand, almost half a mile distant.

“One-armed Peter,” as he was commonly called among his tribesmen, had neither the means nor the inclination to deviate much from the traditionary usages of his tribe, and was found kneeling, or, rather, “sitting man-fashion,” as the vernacular Micmac hath it, although we call it “tailor-fashion,” within a circular, fort-like enclosure, some twelve feet in circumference, and with walls about three feet high.

The latter were composed of thick slabs of ice placed on edge, and cemented together by frozen water, while tiny apertures, cut here and there, enabled the crouching hunters to note every foot of the approach of their wary game. A few of the decoys were of pine wood, rudely carved out and burnt to something like the natural coloring of the bird they were intended to represent; but a large proportion of them were “sea-weed” or “spruce” decoys; that is, bunches of the weather-bound sea-wrack, or bundles of evergreen twigs, made about the shape and size of the body of a goose.

These were elevated on blocks of snow-ice, which strikingly imitated, at a little distance, the hue of the under feathers, and a fire-blackened stake set in the ice, at one end, with a collar of white birch bark at its junction, completed the rude but effective imitation. Such are the appliances which a hundred years ago brought the geese in thousands under the arrows of all the many tribes which range between the Straits of Canso and the most northern inhabited regions about Hudson’s Bay.

Within the enclosure a few armfuls of fir branches laid upon the hard ice, and kept carefully clear of snow, formed a soft floor, on which now sat three hunters, Peter, and Jacob, and Louis Snake, much younger men than he of the one arm. Each sat enveloped in the folds of a dingy blanket, and their guns rested against the icy walls two of them rickety, long-barreled flint-locks; but Peter’s new acquisition, a true “stub-twist,” Hollis’s double, was as good a fowling-piece as any sportsman needs.

True to their customs, the Indians were taciturn enough, although Peter thanked La Salle rather warmly for his new weapon.

“I find ’em good gun; not miss since I got ’em. Give t’other gun my nethew.” And he pointed to the worst looking of the two antiquated weapons, as Cleopatra may have surveyed her rather costly drink-offering, with visible misgiving as to such reckless liberality.

“You were very kind, Peter. I suppose he has no family,” said La Salle, smiling.

“Yes, me berry kind my peeple,” suavely responded the chief, a just pride beaming in his eyes. “That young man no family yet only squaw now.”

“It is evident that the average Indian doesn’t understand a joke,” muttered La Salle, as he said “Good by” to the motley trio, and darted off to meet a distant group, which he rightly judged to be the expected boys.

Twenty minutes later he had joined the little party, who were proceeding at a slow dog-trot around the shores, instead of taking the direct course across the ice, which, being deemed unsafe by them, had wisely been avoided; for no one can be too cautious on ice of which they know nothing.

George Waring, the only son of La Salle’s employer, skated ahead of his companion, who was evidently of other than Caucasian origin, in part at least. The skater was a tall, fresh-complexioned, slender youth, of about seventeen, bold, active, and graceful in his movements, but having the appearance of one whose growth had been a little too rapid for an equal development of health and strength; and indeed it was only on condition that he should submit carefully to the directions of La Salle that his father had consented to the present expedition.

His companion was, perhaps, a year older, but rather short and thick-set, with features in which the high cheek-bones and coppery hue of the American showed very prominently. La Salle had fallen in with him at the Seven Islands, on the Labrador coast, the year before, and employed him as a pilot to the Straits of Belle Isle. He called himself Regnar Orloff, was of tremendous strength for one of his years, and although apparently lazy, and somewhat fleshy, could move quickly enough, and to purpose, in time of need.

Now, however, he rested one knee on the only unoccupied portion of a large, light sled, drawn by the third member of the party, a powerful dog of the Newfoundland species, which he was evidently training into some little excellence as a sledge-dog. It was only an added virtue, even if complete; for noble old Carlo had already excellences enough to canonize a dozen individual canines. He was strong, sagacious, peaceably inclined, but a terrible foe when aroused; could eat anything, carry a man in the water, watch any place, team, or article, hold a horse, beat for snipe or woodcock, lie motionless anywhere you might designate, retrieve anywhere on land, water, or ice, and loved a gun as well as his young master, La Salle.

“Well, George, you’re here at last,” cried La Salle, as he came up. “How is everything in town, and what’s the news?”

“O, nothing out of the common. All are well. The governor gave a ball Wednesday, and the House dissolves next week. We’ve had plenty of geese to eat, but we wanted to kill some; and so here we are.”

“How are you, Regnie? Getting tired of civilization, and wanting to get back to the ice?”

“Ha, ha, ha! Yes, master, just so. After I see Paris and Copenhagen, I do very well, keep quite satisfied. But when I shut up in large city like C., I think it too much. I feel lonesome, want to get back to the wild’ness.”

“And how does Carlo learn sleighing?”

“O, he does well enough. He can’t be taught right, for it would be too bad to use Greenland whip; but I make this little one, and can drive very well;” and as he spoke, he held up a wand of supple whalebone, tipped with a slender “snapper” of plaited leather, and lightly touching the noble animal with the harmless implement, the dog gave a playful bark, and started off on an easy trot.

“We strike off here for those black specks yonder,” said La Salle; “but what is coming behind us, George?”

“O, that is Dolland, Venner, and that set; and I guess they’ll have ’a high old time,’ and no mistake.”

“Well, let’s take an observation, boys, and then we’ll set off.”

And, stopping, the party turned to survey a spectacle truly annoying to any true sportsman, whatever may be his views on the temperance question.

Advancing in their rear came a truck-sled, loaded with what, although evidently a miscellaneous freight, was largely composed of liquor; for a goodly ale-keg formed the driver’s seat, a bottle-hamper the pinnacle of the load, and a half dozen young men, who were perched wherever a seat presented itself, filled the air with loud, and oft-repeated shouts and roaring songs, whose inspiration could plainly be traced to certain bottles, jugs, and flasks, with which each in turn “took an observation” of the heavens, at about every other hundred yards. An expression of disgust on La Salle’s deeply-tanned face gradually gave way to resignation, and then a well-founded hope irradiated his features; a new movement of the crowd attracted his attention.

“Well, boys,” he exclaimed, “you’re in luck to have such a gang to come out with, and you may count on having little or no sport to-day and to-morrow; but they’ll have to go in, in three days at farthest.”

“Why so?” asked the boys, in a breath.

“Because their rum won’t last them more than forty-eight hours, especially with the amateur aid they’ll get from the driver; and twelve hours after that event takes place, they’ll be in town again. But come, they are getting near us, and are loading their guns; so let’s leave before the vicinage is dangerous.”

“Why, Charley,” said Waring, in astonishment, “there’s no danger. Those fellows wouldn’t shoot at us. I know them.”

“And so do I, my dear fellow; and that’s just the reason I want to get out of the way. If I didn’t know what drunken men will do in the way of ‘sporting casualties,’ or felt certain that their object was to shoot us, I should feel perfectly easy on the subject;” and setting off at full speed, followed by Waring and the sledge, La Salle led the way to the ice-houses, which they reached about an hour before sunset.

Drawing up by the boat, La Salle examined the load of the day, and from it took a little case made of a candle-box with stout hinges and a padlock. He opened it, and found, as he had ordered, a “Crimean cooking-lantern,” with spring candlestick and a pound of candles, a small tin canister of coffee, another of sugar, some pilot bread, and several boxes of sardines. Taking all but two of the latter from the box, he relocked it, and carefully removing the matted straw in the stern of his boat, placed the box under the decking, and replacing the compressed straw, effectually hid it from sight.

“We can now have a lunch, with a hot cup of coffee, whenever we please, and you will find some weather even yet when it will be very welcome. Come, let us go home to-night, and get ready for to-morrow’s charivari, for noise will not be wanting, although game may;” and adding his brent to the load, La Salle covered his boat, and, joined by Davies and Creamer, who greeted the boys warmly, all went up to their welcome, if somewhat narrow, quarters.

After tea, which boasted of fried bacon and eggs, the usual circle was formed, and Mr. Davies, being called upon to entertain the company, said that he was “not much of a story-teller, but had learned some facts relating to a terrible political tumult, which took place years ago, but was still spoken of everywhere on the island as the great ’Belfast Riot.’ I shall term it, unless some one offers a better name, the most lively specimen we ever had of

“A CONTESTED ELECTION.

“It need hardly be said, in this company, that an election among us is a far more exciting occasion than among our less-favored American neighbors, who ignore the superior advantages of voting viva voce, and adopt the less manly and unobtrusive medium of the ballot.

“Why, gentlemen, I venture to say, that our little capital town of C., with its thousand votes, presents more stir, makes more noise, drinks more whiskey, and is the arena of more fistic science and club play, during an ordinary election, than any city in New England, of four times the population, during a presidential struggle. The open polling-booths in the heart of the city surrounded by crowds of intelligent (and highly-excited) voters; the narrow gangways crowded, rain or shine, by those immediately claiming the right of suffrage; the narrow precincts of the sheriff’s court, the sublime majesty of that important officer; the ineffable serenity of the city clerk; the various bearings of the candidates or their representatives; the frantic efforts of a few uniformed police to keep order; the evident and good-natured determination of the crowd that the aforesaid officials shall ’have their hands full;’ the loud voices and sharp questions of the challengers and their victim; the dainty bits of family history made public property; the overbearing insolence of the old lawyers, and the overweening impudence of the young ones; the open taverns; the rival carriages for the accommodation of doubtful, drunken, and lazy voters, together with the lively little incidents which diversify the picture as the culminating glory of these various provocative elements, form a picture which it hath not entered into the heart of the average American citizen to conceive of.

“But, however lively the picture, an election in these degenerate later days is but a tame affair compared with those which took place during my first years of labor in political matters. As all know, the island was given away on one day to certain individuals, on conditions of which nothing more may be said here than that one was, that a certain number of settlers were to be placed on each estate within a given number of years. Accordingly, from almost every section of the British Isles, the proprietors sought out such emigrants as could most easily be procured.

“The result was, that we still have settlements in close proximity to each other, whose peoples use different languages in daily conversation, who vary radically in religious belief, have few natural traits in common, and are almost, if not altogether, ‘natural enemies’ each to each. Thus we have a settlement of Protestant Highland Scotch close by a large estate peopled with Monaghan or Kilkenny Irish Catholics; and perhaps a little farther on is a hamlet of Low-landers, or a village of thrifty English folk.

“But in those days these distinctions were yet more marked, and the feuds of Orange and Ribbon-man, Scotch and Irish, Englishman and French Acadian, had not then given way before the softening and concealing hand of ‘Time, the great leveler;’ and so some twenty years ago, during a close contest between the then rising liberal party and the conservatives, a riot took place near the polling-booth in the Highland Scotch settlement of Belfast. All the combined strength of both parties was present; the canvassing had been of the most thorough nature, and all the antipathies of race and religion appealed to for electioneering purposes.

“It is said that the Catholics went there expecting a fight, each armed with a well-balanced, tough shillelagh, and that they made a general attack on the Scotch. At all events, it is certain that the larger number of the latter had to betake themselves to the nearest available weapon, and that many were cut and bruised by the skilfully-handled weapons of the active Irish cudgel-players. One Scotchman, however (a fellow of unusual stature), seized a fence-rail, and, by his single arm, stayed the tide of flight in his part of the fray. Almost frantic with apprehension, rage, and the desire for revenge, he wielded his ponderous weapon as if it were an ordinary club, striking such tremendous blows that tradition has it that not one of a half-score of the best and bravest of the Irish leaders survived the effects of those terrible and crushing blows. Profiting by his prowess, the Scotch procured the heavy stakes of their sleds, tough poles, pieces of firewood, and similar ponderous weapons, and, headed by the hero of the day, made a charge, returning with terrible severity the comparatively slight damage inflicted by the light cudgels of the Irish.

“The details of that day of blood how the fray began, and between whom; the varying records of its progress as victory inclined first to one side, and then to the other; the number of the killed and wounded, and the names of the fallen have never been generally known, and probably never will be; for many of the principal actors in that savage drama have passed away ‘into the dread unknown.’

“But it is still commonly believed, and so reported, that over a score of the Irish were killed on the field, or died of their wounds; that no Scotchman perished; that the field where the deadliest part of the work was done became accursed, and has lain barren to this day; and that the leader of the Scotch became insane with the memory of his own terrible prowess.

“Among those who have reason to remember that dreadful affair, however, may be numbered C.” (Here the narrator named an influential and wealthy business man.) “He was travelling in that section, and being ignorant of what had taken place, stopped at a country town to bait his horse, and warm and refresh himself. Entering, he found the reception-room filled with Irish, whose harsh features were inflamed with varied passions, while the persons of many bore marks of recent injury. No one replied to his friendly greeting, and their whole conversation was carried on in Erse, although every intonation and gesture was replete with passion. Suddenly he saw the landlady beckoning him out of the room, and, rising, he approached her as if to give directions about his horse.

Trembling with agitation, she addressed him:

“’O, Mr. C., for the love of Heaven, run to your sleigh, and leave at once, or your life isn’t worth an hour’s purchase!’

“Then, in a few words, she gave him some idea of the day’s events, and taking the measure of oats provided, Mr. C. passed on through his enemies to the shed, where, beside a number of rude country sledges, stood his own fleet horse and light cutter. Taking the bells off his horse, he backed him out of the shed, and was ready for flight. On the nearest sledge was bound a long, oblong parcel, covered with a rug. Curiosity proved stronger than fear, and lifting a loose corner of the scanty covering, Mr. C. found himself face to face with a corpse!

“Springing into his sleigh, he put his horse to his utmost speed, and when day dawned was a score of miles from the scene of his unexpected danger and appalling night adventure.”