Old St. Andrews

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Octave Thanet in St. Andrews, 1891

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Beacon
July 16/1891
Octave Thanet writes of her Vacation Trip to Old St. Andrews by the sea.
SA by the Sea, July 1/1891
It is not such a simple thing as it seems to decide where one shall spend the summer. We decided, on the strength of a friends’ letter, to come to SA, NB. To reach this place you may take the railway or a line of “palatial steamers.” They may be palatial for anything we know; my seamanship is so low and degraded that I never try to make it keep company with anything palatial on the water; therefore we chose the cars. Palatial is not the appropriate adjective for them! It is interesting to a traveller to watch the career of cars; to meet with the old friends of his youth, long since departed out of his accustomed ways of travel, in the byways of iron North and South.
            Myself, I almost shed tears of recognition, when after so many years my eyes again fell on the once admired dark red plush cushions and gilded black walnut and narrow berths. “It is!” I exclaimed to my friend who was gazing about her with emotion, visibly indicated with a frowning brow and a curling lip, “It is the long lost sleeping car of my childhood! I know in the toilet room are the towels about the size of one’s hand and the lock that will not turn to lock the door in the first place and will not unlock it in the second so you feel like a prisoner of Chillon for a quarter of an hour at a time.
            “We do wrong, West,” I mused in a sentimental Stern’s’ Yorick’s vein,” we do wrong to abandon the old friends that have worked for us as soon as more comfortable cars are invented. You see J---, they cling to the old fashions; indeed, from the appearance of those seats, I should judge that whole families, with liberal lunch baskets and clung to them; they are contented with modest accommodations. I feel myself back in a primitive, frugal Spartan time when we saved our money and four people occupied a section. I almost am emboldened to offer the porter the unostentatious ante-bellum quarter of the of the usual dollars.”
            J--- merely remarked that she wouldn’t and on reflection I didn’t Too much depends on the porter’s opinion to experiment on it. Of course, on these cars, they burn oil lamps of extraordinary heat giving power; and of course there are no screens or brakes, but then the window fastenings have something the matter that prevents raising them, so it really does not matter.
            We are so Philistine and material in the West, were I live, that we grumble about such trifles and demand electricity and screens and “breakers,” and vestibules and ventilation to any extent; but East, a cultured, Christian population seems to accept them without a murmur.
            At Bangor the Boston express stops for breakfast. Bangor is a pretty town. I will not allude to the breakfast. There are days when in hostelries, as in private families, everything goes wrong; when the coffee is poor and the potatoes greasy, and mistakes have been made about the date of the spring chicken’s death (supposed I am sure, to be more recent than any one who ventured to eat the chicken could imagine.) It was our misfortune to reach Bangor on such a day.
            One waits an hour or so at a sufficiently dismal little border town where the customs officer fumbles in the upper tray of one of our boxes. He is good-natured, elderly customs officer and we wonder if he has children at home, and if his salary supports them (for it is a frayed coat sleeve that hovers about J---‘s dainty trifles) and we wish him well, and would tip him if we dared—but we don’t. After the change of cars (to a day coach still smaller, still shabbier, still dingier than the sleeper) we skirt the lakes and roll through the valleys of St. Andrews.
            Everyone carries away a souvenir of St. Andrews from here. The souvenir that one should bring away is an Indian basket. Where a little park slips into the bay, in a grove of pines, are set the Indian tents, and there some families of Indians weave baskets out of the sweet grasses and stained withes. Daintier or queerer baskets one cannot find in Montreal or Quebec.
            It is pleasant prowling about the stores because the shopkeepers are so invariably courteous and do not seem grasping, after the manner of their kind in pleasure resorts generally. They actually appear to have only one price for their goods, whether you are a citizen or a stranger. Now, in St. Augustine, (to which our minds instantly turn when the pillage of travellers is discussed), one tradesman frankly told us that they had three prices; one for the dwellers in the town, one for the cottagers and one for the “rank stranger,” each price climbing a little higher on the golden stair. If there be pillage in St. Andrews it is so delicate, so slight that it shrinks out of observation.
            Sa is an old town—that is, there were settlers on the peninsula as early as the seventeenth century; and one of the forays of Massachusetts reprisal was against the Frenchmen and their Indian allies on Passamaquoddy Bay.
            Do you recall Church’s narrative? He commanded the Massachusetts troops. A very successful foray it was. Church landed on either Moose Island (now Eastport) or Indians Island; it makes it more thrilling for one when at St. Andrews to suppose that it was Indian Island, therefore we take the latter version. Thence he sailed, across to SA, completely surprised the Indians, and besides taking many prisoners, captured all their store of fish, carrying off what they could and destroying the rest. “Whereon,” said Church, grimly, “the enemy seeing what our forces were about, that their stock of fish was destroyed, and that the season was over for catching any more, set up a hideous cry and so ran away all into the woods.”
            This was the first Massachusetts invasion.
            At the close of the same century, came another company of New England loyalists who fled from the States after the colonies were declared independent. They converted the fort and trading posts into a town. Staunch old Parson Andrews bearing with him the royal arms that he had taken from his Connecticut church, affixed them above his new pulpit, and the faithful of his flock gathered about him under the Union Jack. So many years have passed that even the descendant of a Revolutionary parson and the descendant of a Puritan solider may admire their unconquerable fidelity to their consciences. They were honest souls. We are glad that they prospered, that they built them mansions that were spacious, even luxuriant, in their day, and that the town became the seaport of the coast. But we do not believe the gorgeous tradition that one could walk two miles stepping from the deck of one vessel to another, along the wharves.
            Then there came the last Yankee invasion. This time they came in peaceful guise. They bought thousands of acres. They called themselves the St. Andrews Land Company, and it is question whether they captured St. Andrews or St. Andrews captured them. To us it seemed the latter aspect of the case is the truer. They have a Canadian president, Sir Leonard Tilley, the governor of New Brunswick, and have several Canadians on the Board of Directors, but the vice-president and secretary is a Boston man, Robert S. Gardiner, and the treasurer is Mr. Eugene F. Fay of Boston, while well known Boston, Maine and New York names are on the Board of Directors.
            Happily, these gentlemen have guarded the old associations of the town, making their improvements along the old lines. So in an utterly un-American spirit of repose, we may walk the old streets with their unfamiliar names—King street, prince of Wales street, Royal street, Queen street and then through all the royal family of His Majesty George III, Harriet, Elizabeth, Patrick, Sophia, Frederic—surely the old loyalists branded their principles into the very ground.
            Of course in such a town there are divers objects of interest. Every stranger is expected to visit the Indian camp and the Blockhouse, Fort Tipperary and the Scotch Kirk. The Kirk is a white building with a bell tower and the picture of a green, green oak displayed on the façade. Here the Scotch Presbyterians, of whom there is a goodly number in SA, worship and receive the Word from an unconscionably high pulpit.
            Tradition has a pretty story about the church. It was built early in the century by a generous but opinionated Scotchman. He wanted a church that suited him within and without; as the shortest, peaceable route to his own will and way he built and furnished an kept the church, giving the use of it to the parish on condition that they paid the taxes. How grateful the congregation was, one cannot decide; perhaps they grumbled and criticized John Scott’s taste, and wondered why when he was about it, “a man of his means,” he couldn’t pay the taxes; it is certain, anyhow, that they did not pay the taxes themselves. Then the giver rose up in his wrath and the following Sunday, when they assembled, they found the doors locked and John Scott ready with a fiery discourse on their sins of omission.
            Somehow, peace must have been patched up, for the church was left to them at his death, with this queer proviso—as if John Scott will push his finger into their affairs even from the grave!—every year the picture of an oak tree was to have a fresh coat of paint. Punctually, every year it has had the legal coat, until it is glossy bas relief.
            There are dozens of interesting traditions afloat in St. Andrews and more than dozens of interesting characters. A placid old gentleman whose pretty cottage on the hill we noticed the first day, is the father of Canadian journalism, and a perfect mine of information. (A. W. Smith no doubt) Generally some time in the day one will see, either in the hotel or on the streets, a handsome, elderly man to whom everybody bows. Sometimes he is in a pony carriage driven by a dark eyed young man or by a sweet faced and Titian haired lady. This is Sir Leonard Tilley, the governor, the young man is his son, the charming woman his wife. They are all greatly loved in St. Andrews. And any old inhabitant would like nothing better than to tell stories of Sir Leonard’s eloquence when he was the member for Saint John. Lady Tilley entertains delightfully, and many a wanderer from the States carried back grateful memories of her home and her cook—and J--- wished me to add—her Jersey cows.
            In this respect, the hospitality of Saint Andrews, there is so much to say! Canon Ketchum, Mrs. Ketchum, and Miss Ketchum, Sir Charles Tupper and a score of other kind hosts and hostesses, have captured more American hearts than Church’s men took captives. Canon Ketchum has some rare old books in his library that are worth a long journey to see.
            SA is gradually acquiring a pleasant company of cottagers. In the meanwhile it has three hotels, all warmly praised by their guests. One of those we could commend to all our friends, but I am not writing an advertisement. The architect of that house has been happy in his fireplaces. They typify a kind of homelike comfort which I have never encountered in any other hotel. It is our opinion, too, that hay fever attacks the most genial, sweet tempered, witty and personally attractive people; until we ran into the hay fever sufferers here this interesting fact in neurology had escaped us entirely; also the equally interesting fact in therapeutics, that St. Andrews air is a specific for hay fever.
            Possibly one reason is the extraordinary dryness of the atmosphere, which is more like mountain than sea air, yet has the quality of sea air in its salt refreshment; possibly another is that the pine woods are an absorbent. Be the reason what it may, hay fever sufferers can ride, drive, walk, fish in wet clothes or keep flowers in their rooms and never feel a twinge.
            J--- and I are no fisherwomen; this is a pity, since the fishing privileges of St. Andrews are large, both in the bay for salt-water fish and in the lakes and streams for salmon trout. A day’s journey will give one an opportunity to gambol with the sportive salmon and to add anew page to one’s knowledge of the Indian question. The Indians are guides. I know nothing regarding them, but friends tell me that, except that they are greedy beyond imagining and liars from the cradle to the grave, they are very good fellows.
            The sailing is fine, and they are to have a kind of pond for bathers in Katy’s Cove this year. The water, it seems to us, however, is too cold for real pleasure. However, I do not know by experience. Without the bathing there are enough attractions at St. Andrews to draw us to the “sleeping beauty by the sea.” Beyond any resting place that I know it s very air distils rest.
--Octave Thanet