Harp in the Willows
THOMAS H. RADDALL
OBIE CALLATT belongs to the Oldport branch of the Canadian Legion. He never pays his dues, but usually the Colonel pays them for him; and when in the course of our ritual the Colonel asks, “Is any comrade in need of aid?” Obie never fails to rise and declare his needs. We have secured jobs of various kinds for Obie, at least half a dozen a year for all the years since 1919, but they seldom last longer than from one Legion meeting to the next. Whenever the question is put, Obie rises in the silence and looks sad.
“The trouble with me,” he says ingenuously, “is I’m a bit light fer heavy work and too heavy fer light work.” Obie served in a forestry unit far behind the lines in the old war, and cut his foo* with an axe. The foot healed nicely. Today, at -t5, he can show a surprising turn of speed when there is a fire or a dogfight or some other free entertainment at the next corner; but at other times he develops a terrific limp and may be seen hobbling from door to door along the back streets, weeping over a starving wife and children, holding impressionable housewives breathless with tales of shot and shell, waving his Army papers in his right hand, and holding his left palm at the ready.
When 1 walked up the path to Larrabee House and saw Obie Callatt sitting on the crumbling veranda with a teacup in one hand and thrusting a quarter-dollar into his pocket with the other I was angry. Miss Letty could not afford even 25 cents for Obie’s woes. I was about to speak my mind, but Miss Letty, who could always read my mind with embarrassing ease, thrust a cup in my hand and told me to sit down.
“This poor man,” she said, black eyes snapping, “has been telling me things. The country’s ungrateful, the Legion’s indifferent, and what’s a poor wounded hero to do?”
“Work!” said I rudely.
“I must be goin’,” announced Obie hurriedly.
“You’ll stay right where you are!” Miss Letty said, and when the last of the Larrabees used that voice and look, with her fine white hair, her large and brilliant black eyes, and her wide strong mouth, it was the command of an empress.
“You’ll stay right where you are, finish your tea, and eat at least half a dozen muffins before you go. You said you were hungry, remember?”
And to me she said casually, “And while this poor man’s staving off starvation I’ll tell you the story I promised you—how my great-great-grandfather Sumter Larrabee came to Oldport. It’s not a bad tale, and this poor neglected savior of his country may even find a moral in it.”
SUMTER LARRABEE first came to Oldport on a day of early winter (Miss Letty began), the first of November, 1783, to be precise. A memorable date for him and for Oldport, though neither knew it at the time. A boat from the transport La Sophie landed him and Major Blount at Shipyard Point, in what was then the heart of the town, and they came striding over the litter of chips and shavings and hailed a passing townsman to point out the countinghouse of Justice Bunt. Bunt was chief magistrate in Oldport then and owner of a West India trading business, and he was watching them from the countinghouse window as they approached, a pair of strangers in an unfamiliar uniform, one tall and dark, the other thickset and blond, and the tall one limping a little in his riding boots.
Their war was a struggle against winter cold, heartbreak and starvation . . . their victory, a heritage of loyalty and courage
The sight of those uniforms probably reminded Bunt that eight years of war had passed over Oldport like a summer tempest, black while it lasted, and shot with lightnings and much sound and fury, but already fading fast. To the south, the independent states of America were a triumphant fact. Of the seaboard colonies Nova Scotia alone was British still, and that was a miracle which no one would understand for a very long time.
“Mr. Bunt?” said the tall officer—that was Sumter — stooping to clear the lintel of the countinghouse door.
“At your service,” answered Bunt, curiously.
“My name’s Larrabee, sir, late of the British Legion, commonly known as Tarleton’s Legion, and this is Major Blount of the same corps.”
“Honored,” murmured Bunt politely. Their accent was strange. He couldn’t place that slurring of the r’s—suh, La’abee, Ta’leton, majuh, coah—which gave such an odd music to their speech.
The officers warmed their hands at his fire. They were shivering, though the day was not cold, as Oldport knew cold.
“You’re about to have neighbors, sir,” said Colonel Larrabee.
“Two leagues to the west—but what’s two leagues between loyal men?—our corps, or what’s left of it, is now in transports off Port Gambier, with their wives and families, intending a settlement there.” Poor Bunt gaped. “Eh?” he said stupidly.
“Any objection?” snapped Sumter. He and Major Blount examined the merchant suspiciously. They’d expected a welcome, and this man obviously disapproved—and through his nose, like a Yankee! “Why—uh—none, sir. In a way, that’s to say.” “Way?” they said together.
Bunt shifted his stout black-stockinged legs and squared his shoulders, as if passing judgment at a sessions of the peace.
“Lookee here, gen’lemen, Port Gambier ain’t a fit place to settle. T’ain’t even a good harbor, jest a bay, all open to the east’ard, which is where the bad weather comes from in these parts. Good anchorage inside Spettacle Island an’ that’s all ye can say for it.”
(Miss Letty had a gift of mimicry. When she quoted Bunt thus, with the nasal drawl, the monotone, the drooping eyelids, the head cocked to the right, it was Cape Cod to the life.)
THEN why,” Blount said in a voice like the edge of a sabre, “did the rebel privateers make a rendezvous of the place, all through the war? That’s our information. I reckon that’s why the governor at Halifax granted Port Gambier to our corps—to plant a loyalist settlement in that old rebel nest. The place must have advantages.”
“Ah!” said Bunt, serious as death, “but the rebels wasn’t settled there, sir. It’s different when ye can slip cable for the open sea the fust sign o’ weather. Besides, the land’s a mess o’ rocks an’ wire-birch barrens, the shore’s a sand beach for the most part, runnin’ off shoal a great way, an’ the river that flows into the head o’ the bay ain’t navigable ’cept for a canoe. Why, sirs, us people looked that place over very careful when we come from Massachusetts back in ’59, an’ give it the go-by, thankin’ the Lord for Oldport Harbor six mile farther on. I’d make bold to suggest ye do the same, on’y there ain’t room in Oldport for a whole corps; most o’ the land’s took up. Why don’t ye go to Shelburne or Hal’fax?”
But Colonel Larrabee gave a great snort at that. “Shelburne! Ten thousand loyalists there now, tumbling over each other for want o’ room, and the place not fit to support a thousand. Halifax is no better—thousands more loyalists there, and the Governor setting up tents and the deckhouses of ships along Granville Street to shelter ’em over the winter. Nunno! We’ve been granted lands at Port Gambier and to Port Gambier we go. We’re Tarleton’s Legion, sir—a corps that fears no venture, asks no quarter, and takes no nonsense!”
“On the aidge o’ winter?” There was a queer crack in Mr. Bunt’s voice; and no wonder! He considered them, or the Commissary-General, or the Crown Land Agent, or all of them together, entirely mad. These men were from the deep South, he knew now; for Tarleton’s corps was famous, of all the loyalist troops the most dashing, the best led, the most relentless, and the worst hated by the rebels. Men from Carolina plantations most of them, with their women and children, planning to settle in a sandy Nova Scotia bay where none but seasoned fishermen could hope to make a living, and in November— when there was no fishing, nothing, and the first snow flying!
“I well know winter’s hard in these parts,” Sumter said, “and that’s why I’m here today—the ships can’t wait long in that open bay. Our men are putting up tents along the shore, but we must have timber for building at once. We must have 200 huts fit for occupancy, sir, before the weather turns severe. That comes about Christmas-time, we’re told.”
“Ye never can tell about cold weather,” said the uneasy Mr. Bunt. “Timber? We’ve got a pair o’ small sormills on the river, two mile above Oldport; but all the stuff we’ve sored sence the fall rains has been shipped to the West Indies. There’s no logs cut, an’ no snow yit for haulin’.”
“Then,” declared Sumter Larrabee, “you must get your people to work at once. You must get logs out to the river somehow. Demme, sir, we never looked for snow to help our logging in the South. I tell you we must have half a million board feet at the very least and before Christmas!”
“Impossible!” gasped Bunt.
“Nothing’s impossible, sire, to a determined man. Is it pay you’re concerned about? We’ve permission to draw on the Government for the expense of getting settled in Port Gambier for the winter. You’ll be paid the current price for your timber and labor and the rest—for God’s sake, sir, don’t quibble over money at a time like this!”
Sumter nourished a fine Carolina notion that a Yankee would sell his own mother for sixpence; and what were these Nova Scotians hut Yankees living on the wrong side of Fundy Bay?
“Ain’t worried about pay,” said Justice Bunt with dignity, a rather crushing dignity. "It’s your people I’m afeared for. I bin in this country five-an’-twenty years, summer an’ winter—soldiered here with Wolfe’s Rangers in ’58—an’ I know what I’m talkin’ about. I tell ye t’ain’t a fit time nor place to set down people that ain’t used to cold weather.”
But, of course, Martin Bunt was wasting his breath. Behind those grim visitors, who walked like cavalrymen and talked like Negroes, was all the bitterness of a civil war in which they’d fought for the losing side. For two years, since the collapse of all their hopes at Yorktown, they’d watched the confiscation of their homes and properties by “patriot” committees. They were in no position and certainly no mood to look that Port Gambier gift horse in the mouth. So, with Bunt’s honest promise to do his best, they returned aboard La Sophie and sailed around the headland to Port Gambier.
There Colonel Mollison was in charge—he’d been Wagonmaster-General at the evacuation of New York - -and a narrow strip had been cleared in the woods above the beach; and there in long precise rows were the pitiful shelters, a few army tents secured by Mollison at New York before sailing, the rest mere scraps of old sail canvas donated by the transports in the bay. There huddled the women and children from Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, holding hands forth to the blaze of fires. Among the men worked a few dozen faithful slaves who had deserted the confiscated plantations to follow their old masters into exile.
After three days the ships weighed and sailed, and those exiles from the warm South, nearly 2,000 men, women, and children, gathered on the windy shore and watched them out of sight. With those fading sails went their last link with the old homes and a way of life they would never know again, and thewomenwept; but the men stood silent, with hard high faces, as if the eyes of their enemies were ujwm them still. Now and throughout their misfortunes they maintained their old discipline, the spirit of the corps they’d made famous. Tarleton would have liked that. A pity Tarleton wasn’t there. Then if ever they noeded his infectious young laugh, his large daring eyes and witty mouth, his headlong courage. But he’d gone to England after Yorktown and there he stayed, the finest cavalryman of his day, wasted on ink and paper and Parliament.
For this last and most terrible campaign, the battle for existence in a northern winter, the corps command had been given to Colonel Mollison, the able Scot, and Mollison in turn leaned confidently on the tall hawkfaced Carolinian, my ancestor, Sumter Larrabee. Mollison sent Sumter to take up station in Oldport,
around the cape. “Those people are doubtless doing their best, Larrabee, but ye must be there with ’em, drive ’em, keep em at work. We must have a roof over all these heads within two months or perish. The tents’ll be no shelter after Christmas.”
Continued on page 35
Harp in the Willows
Continued from page 17
And that was how my ancestor came to Oldport—temporarily, as he thought —with his wife and five small children —Allan a babe in arms—and a troop of his South Carolinians to lend a hand at the logging and seven negroes from the old plantation by the Wateree.
THE cold set in early that year, one of the longest and hardest winters in Oldport history. Snow was flying when those exiles landed, but it wasn’t deep enough for good sledding until January. Up the river, Sumter Larrabee and his mixed company worked all through November and December under the worst conditions. The Oldport people had cut long since all the timber handy to the little sawmills. Sumter had to go back on the ridges, and every log had to be dragged through the shallow snow to the river bank. In the short winter daylight they labored desperately, haunted by that vision of the shivering women and children at Port Gambier. And the log supply was only part of their concern. The water wheels of the crude sawmills froze again and again. And they had several battles with what Sumter Larrabee called in his diary “a Stuff the Oldport men call Anchor Frost, a strange thing, the strangest I think in all this Strange Country,” which curdled the water of the millpond from top to bottom and choked the wheel pits and stopped the wheels.
The road was a mere trace beside the river, possible for hauling only when there was snow enough to cover the stumps and boulders. The sawn timbers and boards had to he fastened together in rafts and floated downstream to the Oldport wharves, fished out there every board coated with ice—and loaded into vessels for Port Gambier. Often on a still night of frost the tidal part of the river froze over, and then men had to take boats and break a channel for the rafts all the way up to the falls.
Around the cape at Port Gambier the boards had to be rafted again between ship and beach, where those anxious loyalists were waiting. With this meagre supply the huts rose slowly in the snow. They built some shacks of logs cut on the spot, rolling the logs with handspikes, but as the clearings widened that became too slow and arduous. They had no oxen, and the few cavalry horses they’d managed to bring with them were “too full of Sperrit for this Work.” In the meantime the tents along the shore were banked with boughs of spruce and fir to hold the drifting snow and so keep out the wind. To help stave off the cold they kept great fires roaring before the tent doors, and more and more of the able-bodied men had to be kept at fuel-cutting.
It was past New Year, the stark cold New Year of 1784, when the last hut was finished and the new town stood in orderly wooden streets in the snow, a monument to the men who’d built it in the teeth of a Nova Scotia winter. They called it Guysborough, in honor of the commander of the forces in Canada, Guy Carleton.
The provisions landed from the transports lasted barely till the huts were finished. Then Colonel Mollison sent an urgent appeal to Halifax. But Halifax was swamped with appeals of that sort. The migration of loyalists into Nova Scotia had outrun the wildest calculations. But the Governor had a brain wave — the King’s Orange Rangers, departing from Fort Oldport in the summer of ’83, had left some stores behind. It was ancient stuff, the flour and pease moldy, the salt beef petrified in the barrels, and Colonel Larrabee signed for it with wry mouth. To ease his feelings he wrote a description of those stores on the back of the commissary’s receipt—an interesting document.
On that, and some additional beef and biscuit sent from Halifax toward spring, and dried cod bought in Oldport out of their own pockets, Tarleton’s Legion existed for their first winter in the new land. They sent out hunting parties with the few muskets they had, but the caribou had gone inland and moose were scarce. They managed to snare rabbits and at low tide dug clams out of the Port Gambier flats.
Water communication with Oldport was interrupted frequently by the winter gales. Nails and other small ironwork for the new town were carried overland in knapsacks and slung on poles. Three Florida men were caught in a blizzard on one of those journeys and perished in the woods. Some Georgians, attempting an open-boat journey to Oldport in weather no fisherman would face, were capsized off Topsail Point and drowned. On the river one of Sumter’s Carolinians ventured too near the lip of ice above the milldam, and its breaking plunged him to a cold death where the river dropped into the tide.
T)IJT those were only the accidents. It In draughty huts at Port Gambier men died of old wounds and older provisions. Women perished. Children perished. Nothing was spared them. All the maledictions visited upon the loyalists by their late foes came to bitter fruit on Tarleton’s men. But every Sunday they lifted their voices in praise of the God who’d apparently forgotten them and asked Him to save the king whose chosen ministers had signed away the loyalist homes and properties in that feeble, cynical “recommendation” to the several states. History, most of it rebel-contemporary and bigoted, has said many things of Tarleton’s men; but history has missed that story of their last and greatest battle together, where their courage, endurance, unselfishness, and discipline shine like stars.
In February Colonel Larrabee, seeing the danger and uncertainty of winter communication by sea, arranged with Bunt for the cutting of a wagon road through the woods. The Oldport men cut a good part of the way; the Legion did the rest. They met on a snowy day at a stream the Indians called Wobeagade—“Place of the swans”—a literal meeting of north and south. They were a little shy of each other at first.
“They talk like Yankees,” said a Carolina sergeant.
“For that matter, son,” grinned Sumter, “they reckon we talk like nigras.”
But on the whole they were favorably impressed with each other. And in that quiet Scots way which nobody’s ever been able to explain, the Highland emigrants who’d flocked out of Carolina to join Tarleton now helped to establish an enduring friendship in Nova Scotia. That friendship never wavered, though there wasn’t much intermarriage till the second generation; and it survived the hardest test of all when in after years the loyalists with their superior education and experience got the best posts in the government of the province.
In April when the snow had gone from the coastal slopes, Sumter took four of his blacks to begin the clearing of his own grant at Port Gambier. He found everybody dismayed. Now that the snow was off the ground they could see how worthless it was, especially with the trees cut down. Nothing but rocks everywhere. Some talked of going to join the loyalists on the St. John or St. Croix; others favored the Annapolis Valley; and there were some who wanted to try the West Indies where the climate was more to their custom. But that meant the breakup of the Legion and Sumter cried out against it. Disperse now, after sticking together through so much for so long? Impossible!
In desperation Colonel Mollison went to Halifax and wangled a new grant for the corps at Chedabueto Bay, farther up the coast, where the other Carolina troops had gone. He came back in triumph. It was all arranged. At the end of May they would take down their huts and remove the precious timber en bloc to Chedabueto. 7’hey wore cheerful again. 7’he hot May sunshine seemed to thaw the winter’s frost from their souls.
And one day they noticed Indians busy with dip nets in the stream at the head of the bay. Gaspereaux were pouring up the river to spawn, as they do to this day. 7’he Indians showed them how to make nets, and soon the stream was lined with shouting troopers, the long poles rising and falling and the banks rich with glittering fish. It was like a smile from Fortune at last. But the crown of their misfortunes was even then descending on their heads.
T^TO ONE ever knew quite how it ll started. It must have been one of the slash fires still smoldering on the far side of the ridge. 7’he woods were dry as tinder, for there was no green foliage yet. While the men were busy at their fishing a wind sprang up and blew a gale from the west, and the fire came leaping over the ridge with a front a mile long and a blast of heat that shrivelled everything before it. They ran for the huts and snatched up buckets and formed lines, men, women, and the older children, passing water from the sea amidst a tremendous hiss and crackle that drowned all their voices together, in a darkness where none could see more than 10 feet and old leaves whirled, burning, like comets. It was pathetically useless.
The westernmost row of huts went all at once, fairly exploding in flame, and as the fire came on, those men, women and children were all driven down the slope, down the beach, and into the sea. Yes, after all their hope and courage and their long enduring, they were driven into the very sea from which they’d landed seven months before, while the fire consumed every pitiful thing they owned. As the fire died at last for lack of fresh fuel and the smoke thinned, they saw the blackened hillside burned to the rocks and the rows of naked chimneys rising like tombstones over the ashes of their homes and hopes. Sumter Larrabee, badly burned about the hands, stood there with the rest, the tide lapping about his boots. To his dying day he never forgot that moment the silence, the thinning smoke, the gaunt tottering chimneys— and never spoke of it but in a hushed voice.
It was the end, of course. There was nothing for it now but to scatter and find homes where they could. And there was no time to be lost. Mollison went off to Halifax and Larrabee to Old port to charter vessels for the removal. Some decided to go to Halifax and take ship for the West Indies or Upper Canada. Others were for the Bay of Fundy settlements. Mollison persuaded 200 to accompany him to Chedabueto. where they might raise a new Guysborough. Sumter was impressed with the chances of a timber industry at Oldport and decided to stay there, and a number of his South Carolinians chose to settle there with him.
On the last day, with an assortment of brigs and schooners lying in the bay, and the ships’ boats taking off the women and children, the men of 7'arleton’s Legion formed up on the beach for their last parade, in orderly ranks, in their separate units, cavalry and light infantry, the caricature of a onee-smart corps with their ragged green uniforms, their scorched beards and haggard faces. 7’heir backs were to the sea, their eyes toward the black desert and the mute rows of chimneys. After roll call devout Colonel Mollison asked the chaplain for a short reading from the Scriptures, and the man of God mounted a charred stump, turning the leaves of his Bible.
He chose Psalm 137, of course—what else could he choose among those men, in that place, in the light of all that had passed? But when he came to the eighth verse, with its harsh and strangely prophetic curse upon those who drove them into exile, his voice choked and his mind refused the words. He said Amen in a strong voice without going farther, and closed the book. ’Ehere was silence for a time. 7’hen Colonel Mollison pulled off his hat and called a hurrah for the King. I’hey gave it, a shout that rang around the bay. And they gave a cheer for Mollison himself, and one for Banastre J’arleton, across the sea in England. 7’hen Mollison turned to Sumter, saying, “I think the men ’ud appreciate a few words from ye, Colonel Larrabee. Ye’ve been wi’ the corps all through.”
Sumter stepped upon the stump, very tall and stern.
“Boys,” he said slowly, “we’ve come a long way together. Looking over your faces, there’s some I know for Florida boys and Georgia boys, and more than one that came to us on the long march through Virginia, but most of you are from Ca’lina, like me. Back in that old time and those old pleasant homes we’ll never see again, 1 reckon we were all men of peace. But being men we held opinions; and when we were persecuted for those opinions, being men we took up arms to fight for ’em. We got licked more than once, but we always came back for more. By and large we usually won—up to Yorktown. 7’here’s many of us think it was a mistake to march north, that we should ha’ stayed in the South where we belonged, where a good third of the people were strong for the King, and another third suspicious of the Yankees. But as soldiers that’s not for us to say.
“If is a terrible word, boys, that eats the soul out of a man. Forget it. What’s done is done. We fought for the King, we fought a good fight, and we lost. I still think old Ca’lina will regret the day she placed her destiny in Yankee hands, and there’ll be bloodshed again before the matter’s settled for good and all; but that may not come in our time, and there’s no hope in it—for us or for Ca’lina. Fix your minds on the new homes you’re going to make under the old flag. I’ve a feeling we’ve reached the end of our troubles.
“It’s a bad moment, this saying good-by, but it’s only natural after all. War gathers men together. Peace scatters them. 7’hat’s been the story of every army since wars began. Some of my South Ca’lina boys are coming with me to Oldport. I want to say to them and to you all that so long as I’ve a penny in my purse or a scrap on the table my door’s always open to a man of the Legion. Write me if you can, and think of me sometimes as I’ll think of you. Don’t brood on what’s past, but never forget it, either. There
Continued on page 38
Continued from page 36
are good things to remember, boys. If I had the past eight years to live again I’d choose the same road and the same men.
“And whenever three or four of you are gathered together, in your new homes wherever they may be, drink a toast to the King, to old Ca’lina, Geo’gia, Flo’da or V’ginia, and then drink to our old corps and sing our old song, the Major’s song. That’s all I have to say. The women and children are aboard and I see the boatmen are waiting. It’s time to go. But before we go, boys—a verse and chorus of the Major’s song, for the last time together!”
And they sang it together, there on the sandy shore of Port Gambier, for the last time:
The rebel flag waved high in air above the ragged crew,
When Tarleton and his troopers came a-ridin'.
The Gamecock dropped his rebel rag an’ off to Charlotte flew,
When Tarleton an’ the Legion came a-ridin’.
O, we dipt the Gamecock’s feathers by the sweet Wateree,
With a Ho-ro-aha! by the cool Wateree,
From Camden to Catawba by the lovely Wateree—
With Tarleton an’ his loyal boys a-ridin’.
The gamecock—that was Thomas Sumter—a distant kinsman of greatgreat-grandfather’s, by the way— commanded a partisan corps on the rebel side and beat the Legion more than once. But Tarleton gave him a fine licking at Catawba Ford, a dashing affair with the Legion troopers outnumbered five to one. That’s what the song’s about. A swaggering, boasting thing, isn’t it? And not strictly accurate, for nowadays the river’s not called the Wateree above Camden. But for those exiles on the desolate Nova Scotia bay it had the smell of piny wood fires in the Carolina mornings, the air of evening bivouacs sweet with magnolia blossom, the gritty taste of corn oone and hominy bolted hastily on the march the pulpy sweetness of peaches plucked in waysideorchards.
And it had in it the creak of saddles and girths, the clank of sabres and clink of spurs, the clip-clop of hooves on the dusty southern roads, and the quick drumming of feet as those hardmarching infantry of the Legion moved up behind. And it had in it the sweetness of victory at Camden, Catawba Ford and Guildford Courthouse, and the bitterness of defeats like the bloody rout at Cowpens, and the thrill of a hundred small hell-for-leather affairs like the time Tarleton and Larrabee and j half a dozen troopers rode through the ! night and scared Jefferson out of his bed at Monticello. And it had in it, for all its cock-a-hoop words, the cold sinking at heart when they lay before Gloucester, ready to hack a way out for Cornwallis, and their patrols looked across the river and saw the white flag over Yorktown. But more than all that, it had in it the pathos of that Israelite exile beside the waters of Babylon, and when they sang of the sweet, the cool, the lovely Wateree, the tears sprang in all their eyes.
And just before they broke their ranks a South Carolina corporal tore oft' his tattered hat and cried, “A last cheer, boys, for ‘Sabre’ Larrabee, the fightin’est soger o’ the fightin’est corps I in the King’s whole army!” And they gave it; not the hurrah they’d learned from the British troops, but that instinctive high-pitched yell of the Southern fighting man —Yaaaah! Y ail Y ail
Seventy - seven years afterward, when all those men were dead and forgotten in exile, that sound would be heard again in the South they’d loved, and Yankee newspapers, by a curious inversion, would call it ‘the terrible rebel yell.”
BUT all this was long, long ago.
Looking back, with our modern English-speaking notion of threshing things out over council tables, we’re inclined to wonder why it all happened. Yet who’d deny that good came of it?
Independent, the United States have grown rich and powerful and selfsufficient to a point where their only danger is complacency. And that exodus after the lost cause was the making of Canada.
Loyalist blood—those are proud words still, nowhere more than in our Nova Scotia. In our own Pine County to this day, in unexpected places, you'll hear that musical “heah,” “theah,” “anywheah,” and “Yes, suh!” on the lips of people who never saw the South and never heard of Tarleton’s Legion, though they boast of their loyalist descent.
And if you search in the scrub spruce and wire birch and poplar on the low ridge at the head of Port Gambier bay you’ll find, untouched since 1784, the cellars, the tumbled stone foundations of the huts, the low boulder walls that Tarleton’s Legion built to mark their pitiful “garden plots” and timber lots.
Years ago, when I was young and romantic instead of oldandsentimental, I went to Port Gambier in the buggy with my brother Lawrence—Lawrence who was killed when the Royal Canadians tried to rush Cronje on the last morning of Paardeberg and we poked about in one of the old cellars. 1 don’t know what we expected; we found nothing but a heap of clam shells and a broken quern stone fashioned out of local granite. But the tale of the settlement was in those things; the food shortage that drove them to rummage the clam flats like Indians, the high hopes for a crop in that barren hopeless land which led some diligent soul to shape and pierce that stone in the light of winter fires, and the final disaster that consumed the 12 by 12 foot hut.
But the thing that wrings your heart at Port Gambier is the cemetery they left behind, a pathetic group of low mounds in pasture land between the highway and the railroad. They’re marked with chunks of whinstone from the hillside, unlettered all but one, a dressed slate slab brought from a distance—Halifax perhaps—and the epitaph all gone but “Born 1758” and at the bottom, “A True Friend Lies Buried Here,” as if Britannia herself had placed it, purposely without a name, to mark them all. Many of those nameless stones are buried in moss, the mounds scarcely distinguishable from the pasture all about; but there are 50 at least, 100 perhaps, neglected and trod by the village cows.
You might say Tarleton’s Legion left nothing behind but these and the ghost of an accent. For nobody reads history nowadays, and the old names die as the Larrabee name dies with me. But they left something else after all, their courage and their loyalty and their endurance, the spirit that never dies— the spirit of that old brave boast of theirs, “A corps, suh, that fears no venture, asks no quarter, and takes no nonsense.”
Asks no quarter—d’you hear me, Obie Callatt?
But Obie was asleep.