A letter from Kitty



Since the letter I wrote to you a day or two after we arrived here, we have come a long way, as you must imagine. A whole week has passed, and we still support our forced leisure without complaining. Boston and New York are beginning to enter-at least for us-into the realm of improbability; but since Quebec is always inexhaustible, I do not regret the time we spend on it.

Fanny is still in her lounge chair. The interesting side of her affliction has disappeared for her, and now she is exclusively engaged in directing our expeditions into the city. She knows the plan and history of Quebec by heart, and she wants us to follow her instructions to the letter.

To make sure of this, she often requires us to go out together, Dick and I, even though she would like to keep him close to her, not wanting to trust either one in particular. And when we’re back, she asks us separately to see if we have not missed something. This forces us to neglect nothing.

She says that I must give Uncle Jack full and detailed details of all he wants to know about these famous places; and I really hope to be able to do it if I continue, or rather, if we continue to stimulate myself that way. In Fanny’s case, it is only zeal for the cause, for, as you know, she takes little personal pleasure in all this; she finds no other satisfaction than that of achieving her goal.

The main consolation she feels in the sad obligation of not moving is to see my turn in her different dresses. When she sees me appear with a new bet, she sighs and exclaims: “Oh! if it could depend on my toilet! “Then she gets up, crawls, jumps through the apartment to my mirror, stares at a pin here, ties a ribbon there, lightly retouches my hair that she has arranged herself; then she miserably returns to her couch, hits her sick foot against something, and starts complaining again, happy to pose as a martyr. {59}

The days on which she imagines she must never heal, she does not know why I will not keep all her effects, to put an end to them; and when she thinks she has already recovered, she tells me that on her return she will buy me a toilet similar to the one I have on me at the moment. Then she begins to skip over to have my exact measure, makes me the history of each point of sewing, announces me the slight modifications which it proposes to make, and the changes of trim which will be best suited to my complexion. In the end she ends up promising me something very different. You already know Fanny; you have only to multiply the whole thing by about fifty thousand. His sprain has only developed the salient points of his character.

Besides being part of Fanny’s expeditionary corps with a real devotion to what he calls Uncle Jack’s cause, Dick behaves admirably. Every morning, after breakfast, he goes to the hotel, checks the number of new arrivals, reads the newspapers, and, although we can not draw anything from him after that, we imagine ourselves, as best we can, to know all the new. He began to smoke in a terracotta pipe to conform to Canadian fashion, and wears a kind of Indian muslin turban coquettishly wrapped around his hat, and whose ends flutter back, -to imitate the Quebecquois, who protect themselves against sunstroke, when the thermometer varies in the sixty degrees. He also bought a pair of snowshoes to prepare for the extreme temperature, in anticipation of any other accident that happened to Fanny that would force us to spend the winter here.

When he has rested from his run to the hotel, we usually go out together to explore; and we do the same in the afternoon. In the evening, we walk on the terrace Durham, vast esplanade overlooking the river and where the whole city, tired of its winding streets, gives itself an appointment to take the cool. It’s the fashionable place to spend the evening. But one morning that I went there before lunch, to diversion, I realized that it was also the refuge of the without-embarrassment. Two or three little strollers were warming themselves in the sun on the lookout for the big guns on the terrace; a little dog barked at the chimneys of the lower town; an old gentleman was walking up and down in his dressing gown and slippers, as if he had been on his own porch. He looked a little like Uncle Jack, and I would have liked it to be for him to admire the slight spirals of smoke rising from the lower town, the hubbub on the market square, the ships on the river, the distant fog hanging on the water, and the silvery mountainshere, blue in the distance.

But-speaking of what is great and beautiful-one can not look around in Quebec, without having the appearance in all directions. Add that there is always something so familiar and so intimate that it warms our hearts.

The Jesuit barracks are right in front of us, on the other side of the street, in the foreground of a splendid landscape. This construction-think of it, you ephemeral inhabitants of Eriecreek! – is two hundred years old, and seems to have five hundred. The English took it from the Jesuits in 1760, and have since used it to house their {60} soldiers; but she is so little changed that a missionary of the company, who visited her the other day, said that everything was as if her brothers had left her the week before. You would imagine that a place so old and so historic should give itself pretentious airs; well no; it lends itself to the prosaicism of domestic life just as well as a simple wooden house just built. I never tire of looking at the rather messy women of the soldiers, drying their clothes, and the badly combed little children playing in the burdocks; and the chickens, and the cats, and the soldiers themselves passing with the officers’ boots in their hands, or picking up chips to boil the tea. When they are not on duty, goodbye to the airs; but under arms, with their fine uniforms, they make me look like our volunteers-as I remember them-well left and well neglected.

Over the belfry of the barracks, our windows command a view of the half of Quebec with its steeply pitched roofs and steeples down to the lower town where they mingle with the sharp peaks of the ship’s masts at anchor and at the same time we discover the whole plain rising from the banks of the river running down the valley to the mountain range bordering the horizon, whose blue folds are lit up here and there by small villages all white. The plain is dotted with small houses and enameled with cultivated fields; and the distinctly divided farms extend to the right and to the left of great roads lined with poplars, while, near the town, the road runs through pretty villas.

But the landscape and the barracks of the Jesuits are nothing compared to the Ursuline monastery, which is right under our windows, on the opposite side, of which I told you a word in my last letter. Since then we have read her story, and we now know what was Madame de la Peltrie, the noble girl of Normandy who founded her in 1640. She was very rich and very beautiful, and as from her youth she was of great sanctity, when her husband died, and her good old father wished to remarry her to prevent her from entering into religion, she did not hesitate to deceive him by a fictitious marriage with a pious gentleman, his accomplice . When her father died, she came to Canada with another saint, Mary of the Incarnation, and laid the foundation for this new monastery.

The first building is still there, standing, as solid as ever, although it was burned down, with the exception of the walls, two centuries ago. A few years ago, an old ash tree under which the first ursulines taught the children of the savages, was overthrown by the wind; a large black cross now marks the place where he stood.

Today’s nuns spend most of the morning in the garden, haunted at night by the shadows of the old nuns. Myself, by a beautiful moonlight, I play a little the role of Madame de la Peltrie instructing the little Indians whose number is still decreasing, as in the song, as the moon descends to the horizon. It’s an enchanting place, and I wish we had it somewhere behind Eriecreek, at the risk of seeing our neighbors criticize the architecture.

I took two nuns. One is tall, thin, and pale, and one sees at first glance that she had to break the heart of some mortal lover, and that she knew something of it when she became {61} the bride of heaven. The other is small, common, plump, and looks as happily prosaic and as down to earth as life after dinner.

When everything seems cheerful, I take pleasure in associating myself with the sculptural sadness of the beautiful nun who never laughs or plays with the little boarders; but when the world seems sad to me-the best of all worlds is sometimes so for a minute or two-I join the little, plump nun in her happy frolics with the children. And then I think myself wiser, if not better, than the other beautiful and vaporous creature. But whoever I am with, I take the other one into a flu. And yet they are always together, like the living counterparts of each other. I thinkWe could write a pretty story about it.

During Wolfe’s siege of Quebec, the ursulines garden was plowed by the bombs, and the nuns were thrown out for a moment into the world they had left forever. Fanny read these details in French in a small relationship written in time by a sister of the General Hospital.

It was there that the Ursulines took refuge, abandoning the cloister, the classes and their innocent little pupils, for the wards filled with the wounded and dying of the two nations, and resounding with lamentable moans. What a sad, nasty and horrid world must have appeared in this fleeting glance!

Here in the garden, our poor Montcalm-in Quebec, I’m on the French side, please-was buried in a grave dug by a bomb. His skull is still in the chaplain’s chaplain’s room, where we saw him the other day. It has been richly enshrined in a vermeil casket, elegantly adorned with black, and covered with a white lace drapery, like a relic of a saint. It was a little damaged when it was exhumed; and, some years ago, English officers, having borrowed it to examine it, had the odious indelicacy of removing some teeth. Tell Uncle Jack that the head is highly developed above the ears, but that the forehead is small.

The chaplain showed us at the same time the copy of an old painting representing the first convent, with huts of Indians, the house of Madame de la Peltrie, and Madame de la Peltrie herself, in rich toilette, with a chief. Huron in front of her, and some French horsemen galloping on her side along an avenue. Then he showed us albums, the work of the sisters, painted and drawn in a style to give me an idea of ​​the old missals.

Finally he accompanied us to the chapel, and he could offer us a better proof of his life by passing an overcoat and wearing rubber shoes to take the few steps in the open air that separated us from the door exterior. He had been a little sick, he said.

As he entered he took off his hat, put on a barrette, and showed us every thing with the greatest kindness, and let us say in passing that his manners were really exquisite. There were beautiful paintings from France during the Revolution, as well as wooden carvings around the main altar, from the chisel of Quebec artists who lived at the beginning of the last century. There was then, he tells us, a school of fine arts at Sainte-Anne, twenty miles down from Quebec. He also showed us an ivory crucifix so realistically that it was hardly daring to look at it.

But what interested me most was the slight flicker of a votive lamp that the chaplain pointed out to us in one of the corners of the nuns’ inner chapel. It was lighted a hundred and fifty years ago by two French officers at the sails of their sister, and never went out, except during the siege of 1759.

Here again is the subject of a whole story. The fact is that Quebec is extraordinarily ready for fiction. I walk, so to speak, wrapped in a romantic nimbus. At every street corner you meet people who seem to have nothing to do but invite the visiting novelist to enter their homes to take their portraits as heroes and heroines. And for that point of change of costume; they just have to ask as they are. But since this is the present, no need to tell you that all of Quebec City’s past only aspires to be transformed into historical novels!

I would like you to screw the houses, as they are solidly built. I can only think of Eriecreek as a heap of huts and bark huts in comparison. Our pension house is relatively small and its stone walls are only a foot and a half thick; but the average of the walls here is two feet and two feet and a half. The other day, Dick went to Laval University-he goes everywhere and gets to know everyone-and there he saw the foundations of the Seminary, which have gone through all the seats and all the conflagrations since the seventh century; and not surprising, since they are six feet thick, and form a series of low-arched corridors, as powerful, he says, as the casemates of a fortress. There is an old, beautifully carved staircase dating from the same period.

Dick is delighted by the rector, a priest. The fact is, we love all the priests we meet. They are very good and very polite, and all speak English, making some slight funny mistakes. The other day, we asked one of them, a very kind young man, the way to Pointe-au-Lièvre, where they say, the Friar’s brothers built theirfirst mission, in a marshy plain. He did not know this point of history, and we showed him our guide.

Ah! you see, the book says: probably the place. If he had said: certainly, I would know. But probably, probably, you understand.

Nevertheless he told us our way. We descended to the Faubourg Saint-Roch, passed the Hospital-General, and arrived at this Point-au-Lièvre, famous also because it is somewhere in the neighborhood, on the Saint-Charles river, that wintered Jacques Cartier, in 1536, seized the Indian king Donacona, which he transported to France. This is also where Montcalm’s army tried to rally after being defeated by Wolfe. Please, read this many times to Uncle Jack, so that he knows how scrupulous I am in my historical research.

I am sad and indignant at the fact that Quebec was thus removed from the French after all they had done to build it. But it’s still a French city in every respect. We see him by his sympathies for France in this Prussian war, which one would think, however, to be rather indifferent to him. Our mistress tells us that little boys in the streets are aware of all the battles, and explain, whenever the French are beaten, how they were crushed by numbers and betrayed. Almost like us, at the beginning of our American Civil War.

You will believe me mad, but I would like Uncle Jack to leave his clientele at Eriecreek, sell his house, and come and settle in Quebec. I haggled over things, and find it very cheap, even taking Eriecreek as a point of comparison. We could rent a nice house on St. Louis Road for two hundred dollars a year; the ox is ten or twelve sous the pound, and all the rest in proportion. And besides, the laundry is done in the country with the women farmers; not a crumb of bread is cooked at home: everything is provided by the bakers. Imagine, my friends, what a riddance! Thanks, make Uncle Jack think seriously about it.

Since I started my letter, the afternoon has gone away. The sun setting behind the mountains would illuminate our supper for free if we stayed here. Twilight has faded; the moon has risen on the roofs and skylights of the convent, and she looks in the garden in such an inviting manner that I can not resist the urge to join her. I put my writing aside until tomorrow. The curfew bell rang; the red lights went out one by one to the windows; the nuns are asleep; another kind of ghost plays in the garden with the bronzed spectra of the little savages of old. I am almost surprised that Madame de la Peltrie is not here. Oh! now that his pupils are up there, how do they find all the little stories of old?

Sunday afternoon.
Having attended the services of the French cathedral last Sunday, we went to the English Cathedral today. I would have believed myself in some church of old England, hearing praying for the royal family, and listening to the rather mediocre sermon pronounced with an exaggerated British accent. The assistants themselves had English physiognomies, and certain eccentricities of toilet quite curious; the girl who sang the contralto in the organ choir wore a scarf like a man.

The cathedral is not extraordinary as architecture, I suppose; but she impressed me by her solemn appearance, and I could not refrain from imagining that she belonged, as much as the citadel itself, to the power and grandeur of old Albion.

Above the throne of the bishop hung a Crimean flag, worn by time and fighting, and which was placed there in great pomp, in 1860, by the Prince of Wales, when he presented new colors to the regiment . In the rood screen is a bench of honor reserved for the royal highnesses, the governors general, and other great personages, when they honor Quebec with their presence. {64}

There are tablets and monumental busts on the walls. One of them represents the Duke of Lennox, a governor general, who died in the middle of the last century from a fox bite. This strange destiny for a Duke awaits me almost on his account.

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Fanny could not, of course, come to church with me, and Dick had exempted himself by leaning too long on the hotel newspapers. So I was off on foot with our Bostonian, who is still here with us. I did not say much about it in my last letter, and I do not think that even today I can give an exact idea. He has traveled a lot, and has become Europeanized enough not to have a very high idea of ​​America, althoughit can not be said that he finds everything perfect in Europe. His experience seems to have left him no homeland in both hemispheres.

He is not one of those Bostonians like Uncle Jack dreams; and I think that the young man would not want it either. He is still too old to have taken part in the abolition of slavery, and even if he had lived early enough for that, I think he would not have walked in the ranks of John Brown. I fear that he has faith in the “vulgar and false distinctions” of all kinds, and that there is in him no parcel of “magnanimous democracy.”

In fact-I see it to my great surprise-certain ideas which I thought were peculiar to England, and which I never thought seriously, are in fact part of the character and education of M. Arbuton. He speaks of the lower classes, the shopkeepers, the great world, the good families, in a serious tone that I imagined to be entirely foreign to our continent. It is true that I have already met in my readings persons to whom similar opinions were attributed; but I have always thought that it was to bring out a defect-to prevent, for example, a birth-girl from meshing for love, and so on; or else to ridicule some old madwoman or some insupportable fat.

I could hardly believe at first that our Bostonian spoke so seriously. These things impress so differently in real life. And I began to laugh, until finally I realized he did not know how to interpret my hilarity. So I asked him permission to differ with him on certain points. But he never contradicts me, and it bothers me a little to support an opinion contrary to his own. It always seems to me-although it is he who begins-that I seem to want to impose my ideas on him.

Nevertheless, despite his weaknesses and his unpleasantness, there is something about him that is really high. He is so exactly true, so scrupulously correct, that Uncle Jack himself is no more so; and yet we see that the respect of these virtues is for him only the particular result of some special system.

Here at Quebec, although he looks down on the grandeur of landscape and antiques, smiling coldly at my little enthusiastic demonstrations, I think he is making real progress in him. I find myself feeling the same respect for him as himself, and that he seems even to devote himself to his dress, to the point that every article of his {65} toilet seems to resemble and respect him accordingly. . I often wondered, for example, what would make his hat, his precious hat, if I was going to throw it out the window. I think there would be an earthquake.

He is politely curious about us. From time to time he makes us, in a protective and disgusted tone, certain direct questions concerning Eriecreek, of which it seems, as far as I can judge, not being able to form a right idea. It seems to be his first notion that Eriecreek is located in the heart of the oil region, of which he has seen drawings in the illustrated newspapers. And when I say the opposite, he treats me with extreme gentleness, as if I were some explosive ghost, or some flammable naiad escaped from a torpedo well, and it would not be safe to contradict, for fear to see it disappear suddenly in a flash and a detonation.

When Dick can not come with me, because of Fanny, Mr. Arbuton replaces him in the expeditionary force. We have visited several historic places together, and from time to time he speaks to us in very interesting terms about his travels. I do not think, however, that they have made him a cosmopolitan. It seems that he traveled with some preconceived idea, and was interested in things only in relation to this idea. Trifles bother him; and when he sees the sublime mixed with the absurd, he is indignant.

One of the oldest and most baroque buildings in Quebec City is a small one-storey house on St. Louis Street, where poor General Montgomery was transported after his death. It is now a small confectioner’s shop; and the pies and cakes in the shop window shocked Mr. Arbuton so much-though he did not seem to mind Montgomery-that I did not dare to laugh.

I live very little in the nineteenth century in the course of time, and I scarcely attend to those who live there. I still have a little bit of affection for Uncle Jack, and I want you to give it to him.

It is likely that this letter will cost me at least six stamps.

I forgot to tell you that Dick goes every morning to get shaved in a barber shop, which is named Montcalm Shaving and Saloon Shampoo. It is so called becauseIt is here, it is said, that Montcalm held his last council of war. It is a curious little house with a pointed roof, a facade adorned with climbing beans, and a miniature garden full of snapdragons.

We will be here a week again, at all hazards; after which, I think we will come back directly to our house. Dick has already lost enough time.

With a lot of affection
To you,
Kitty.