Mary Elizabeth Darling - part four



(part four of four)

My Early Girlhood Days In Berwick

(By Mary Elizabeth Darling)

(Continued from last week)

In reviewing the variety of events of my childhood, I find some of the happiest trips I made up and down the Valley in company with my father. He never really had a specific purpose, but that made them none the less enjoyable. My first outing was east as far as Grand Pre. My father had business with a gentleman belonging to the Old Covenanters’ Church. This quaint structure was built in 1907. We were guests in a large, airy house near by. Our host was a gentlemen of the old school, with courtly manners. At dinner he was very gracious and addressed some of his conversation to me to overcome my shyness. There were no women in his family; he lived alone. A middle-aged housekeeper waited on the table an loaded my plate with some dainties not served to the two gentlemen.

About the village there were many points of interest. We were at the end of the Cornwallis Valley, and I looked at the restless waters of Minas Basin where the Cornwallis River emptied. There were vessels to be seen and off at a distance, Cape Blomidon, 570 feet high, the red sandstone head of the North Mountain extending west into Digby and beyond. Our host had shown me some mineral specimens, among them beautiful pieces of amethyst that had been taken from its walls behind the scrub pine covering. I saw several landmarks of the Acadians, and when we drove away my father narrated their story. He did not make it as picturesque as Longfellow in his famed, pathetic poem, but at best it was a sad enough episode.

We went directly from home to Grand Pre and made our stops on the return. The first was at Wolfville where we spent the night. The following morning we were taken through Acadia College, a Baptist institution founded in 1839. This was the university where my favorite cousin, a Baptist minister, had received his degree. We children were very fond of him and his visits at our house were very welcome. He took pains to entertain us with accounts of this boyhood and his sojourn in the United States, where he lived for some time after he was ordained. It was he who sent me "The Christmas Carol." We tarried awhile at Kentville, the County town where my father had some affairs to attend to in the Records Department. I arrived home tired and sleepy. My well stored budget of news for the family had to wait until morning.

Another time I was taken westward. Both of my parents were born and brought up in Annapolis County, and s we drove along over the post road and some other side highways, there were continuous prosperous settlements to be seen, and my father kept pointing to familiar place. At the close of the first day he took me to the home where he was born and directed my attention across the Annapolis river to my mother’s former home, and said that he used to row a boat to ferry him over to see her. The following morning we journeyed on to Annapolis Royal. A century before this was called Port Royal. Here I was told that beginning with 1604 this place changed back and forth from French to English six times. We drove slowly around the ancient fort. Some of the historic features were the "Officers’ Quarters" built about 1798 under the supervision of Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent. I took special interest in seeing the town, once the capital of the Province, and the building where my father had received his school education. From this point we turned our faces homeward. We had the pleasure of returning some of the visits of our relations, one night here, another there, dinner and tea as the hours came around. I was sorry when the journey ended.

Adjacent to the village and only separated from it by the North Mountain, lies the nearest seaport, Harborville, about eight miles distant. This peninsular province is surrounded on all sides by water and is indented with many harbors. This nearest one was a great delight to us children; we would play along the sandy beach, visit the fish weirs, row in a boat, wade about in the water. My older brothers were taught to swim. It taxed my attention to the uttermost to keep the boys within the safety line, they were so full of life and mischief. My father had an interest in a vessel sailing from there to Boston, and under the care of the Captain he allowed my oldest brother to make one trip with him. It certainly was a great privilege. After rowing out to see him off, my comrade brother and I began dreaming again, planning a wonderful trip we would make, not in a slow sailing vessel, but in some large steamboat.

In 1864 the Government granted free primary and secondary schools. The schoolhouse of the village was a two-story frame building. The second story was used as a public hall where civic and political meetings were held. The schoolroom below was well lighted and had the regulation seat and desk furnishings, with built-in blackboards around the walls. While the teachers of that time did not receive large salaries, their instruction was carried on with efficiency. The pupils were of all ages. There was no such thing as grading, everyone of school age was expected to attend. My brothers continued their studies there, while I remained in Miss Silver’s private classes.

In the year of 1866 the people of the Province were tremendously stirred up on the question of Confederation – uniting Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The Provincial Legislature had voted for this without consulting the people. This aroused very emphatic opposition, and the following year Joseph Howe of Halifax, prominent politician and newspaper editor, a strong antiunionist, led the repeal of this measure against Dr. Charles Tupper, the Provincial Prime Minister and zealous worker for Confederation. My father was strongly in favor of the Union and a warm supporter of Dr. Tupper. Politics as a career had never appealed to him, but in the exigency of the case he became a candidate, his friends hoping he might possibly carry the vote of the District. This would give him a seat in the Provincial Legislature. Everywhere there was a bitter struggle. To show the extreme trend of the opposition, in our locality some young men gathered from near and far and made a straw figure of Dr. Tupper, an in the evening placed it on the cross roads in view of our house and burned in effigy this political genius. In the eastern end of the District votes were exchanged, and my father lost his election by seventeen votes. Any personal feeling of defeat was lost sight of in the final results and decision of the Government for the Union. Thus, in 1867, the Dominion of Canada was formed. Dr. Tupper took his seat in the Dominion Parliament under the Premiership of the Honourable John Alexander Macdonald.

We children did not understand much about political platforms and principles, but we sensed the tense situation. My grandfather teased my mother on the loss of the advantages of an occasional term of residence in the Capital, and added, "You see what comes of marrying a Tupper." She happily answered, "I have my husband to myself, and the Dominion has the Province."

My grandmother, in advance of her time, took a marked interest in public affairs, was not so satisfied. She was disappointed that her beloved son should meet defeat. There was something touching in the affection of these two. Hardly a day passed that my father did not hold converse with her. This proved a year of events; it brought me my first sorrow. While my grandfather enjoyed vigorous health, it was gradually revealed to us that my grandmother was failing. Everyone paid her special attention, and every possible care was given, but she did not improve and quietly passed away in her sleep. We were all sincere mourners, and felt such a heart-breaking sympathy for grandfather in his loneliness we could not do enough for him. Funerals are dreary occasions. My mother and I were draped in black, altogether. It was a sad, forlorn scene. All during the sermon I wondered if our loved one had reached heaven, and if she would meet my other grandmother and tell her about my name. I did not get much consolation out of the service. I hoped grandfather did, but was afraid to ask him. We filed out of the church, my father and my grandfather in locked arms, my oldest brother with my mother and the next older brother with me. The service at the grave was short. I looked around at the visiting relations; they did not seem very grief stricken. For the last two days they had filled our house to overflowing. Ordinarily I was glad to see them, but just now I would be glad when they went home, and we had grandfather to ourselves. One thing had been decided; he would always be seated beside me at the table; and another thing I planned while the funeral was going on whenever I had an opportunity to go out horseback riding, I would visit my grandmother’s grave.

What was originally two families now merged into one. Apparent desolation and loneliness gradually wore off and the regular routine of life continued. Sometimes I made excellent progress in my studies and sometimes I failed, and so it went with all that was required of me. As time went on I became more and more interested in my girl associates. My father, ever thoughtful for his children’s educational advantages, was never forgetful of their recreational amusements, and had found us a set of croquet. This gave us and our schoolmates a good deal of pleasure. Our May-day parties were happy affairs. We selected and crowned the queen with much ceremony. We were all rather strictly brought up, and had to avoid the appearance of dancing; but there was one game on the green, "Swing and Chain," that resembled some parts of the "Virginia Reel." Both my grandparents had danced in their youth, also my father, and when this play was on our premises, my grandfather took great delight watching us.

The older I grew, the more winters appealed to me. I skated and coasted to my heart’s content. At school we had jolly snowballing frolics, and at home in our yard my brothers and I had keen competition building bizarre snow statues, in which sometimes the little brothers helped. The natural rainfall of the climate so soon follows a snow storm, our admired images were soon washed away. In the milder seasons of the year, riding was my greatest delight. I was using my mother’s saddle and I overhead grandfather say, "She holds the seat remarkably well." He began teaching me to ride when I was five years old, and took special pride to himself in the way I handled a horse.

The village streets were outlined with beautiful maple trees, and in apple blossom time it was wonderful to enter along in their shade amid the enchanting bloom of the orchards on either side. Again, in the autumn, the maples would be in gorgeous array, and the orchards heavily laden with luscious fruit. The world-famed apple industry of this valley began more than a century and a half ago when the French started their orchard planting.

We were all waiting and watching the course of public events. The Government was surveying a right-of-way through the Valley for a railroad from Halifax to Annapolis. We children were greatly excited, as the trains would run through our woodland. There was much rejoicing everywhere. This improvement would be of untold value to the country, and transportation meant so much to every one. The newspapers advised us the trains would be running in 1869. My father had promised to take my mother and all of us children to Halifax for a week to see this garrisoned Capital City that we had been told so much about, founded in 1749 when the Annapolis Royal Capital was abandoned. Its famous ten mile harbor is the most important seaport of Canada on the Atlantic coast. My grandfather suggested many points of interest for us to visit. I resolved when the time came around to make this trip I would write him a letter and telegraph to him every day, to keep him from being lonely.

I completed reading the Bible through. It was a wearisome task reading about so many Old Testament people. I was tempted to skip some, but I am glad I didn’t. I committed to memory the Shorter Catechism.

Now quite grown up, the little journey, all too short, filled with many joys and few sorrows, is finished. "We change here." The First Section is ended.