Emigration of the Fairies

John Hunter-Duvar


A few days more they drifted, ever west,
Where seabirds now would fly around and swim,
And the air freshened more, from which they guessed
Land near—indeed they saw its outlines dim
Lie low like smoke, till one elf at the prow
Sung out, "A stretch of land on the lee bow!"

A long low line of beach, with crest of trees,
With openings of rich verdure, emerald hued,
And as the string o' the tide and landward breeze
Wafted them nearer, in a thankful mood
They blessed the land and beach of ruddy brown,
And off the shore lay bobbing up and down.

Now this fair land was Epaygooyat called,
An isle of golden grain and healthful clime,
With vast fish-teeming waters, ocean-walled,
The smallest province of the Maritime.
Up on the beach the Fairies' Raft was cast,
And on Canadian land stuck hard and fast.

Here many things were new and passing strange
To eyes familiarized to English scenes;
The skies were bluer, larger was the range
Of color, ruddier reds and brighter greens,
The skyline farther, longer was the trail,
And everything upon a larger scale.

The trees grew thicker, rougher, taller stemmed,
Set in a thicker copæ of underwood,
The roads were narrower and with bushes hemmed,
The horizon line more well-defined and shrewd,
The land less under tilth, enclosures fewer,
And the whole aspect inchoate and newer.

First halt. They heard within a sugar patch
The rhyming tic-a-tac of axes chopping,
So scouts were sent ahead to try to catch
A glimpse of whom or what 'twas caused the lopping,
And bring back a description of the natives—
If they were cannibals, or friends, or caitiffs.

The scouts returned, and said where they had stole
They'd seen a score or so of stalwart creatures
In flannel shirts, not smock-frocks; on the whole
They rather liked their friendly bearded features,
And that the first glance of these live Canadians
Impressed them favorably—(they were Acadians).

They reached a scaffold frame beside a weir,
With criss-cross beams and rafters gaunt and slewed,
And in it agonizing screams could hear,
And saw a whirling fiend devouring wood—
It was a swamill—and, too feared for speech,
They skirred away beyond the monster's reach.

At length they reached a log hut in a clearing,
The habitation of a pioneer,
And broke off when they were the house a-nearing,
That through the settler's window they might peer
To see the inside of the habitation,
And learn some traits and habits of the nation.

They saw a strong-built mother boiling porridge,
All in a chamber somewhat bare but neat
(The goodman with his gun had gone to forage,
While the goodwife kept home alive and feat),
And, helping her, six barefoot little spartans,
All clad in homespun grey instead of tartans.

Then one of our most grizzled, shrewd, and wise
Of elfmen said: "Lads! look you here, and find out
The worth of health, strength, will, and enterprise,
For in such life as this you will see lined out
The elements of a strong, healthy State—
This is a nation destined to be great."

When through the farmer's window they were poking
They noticed something that amused them much;
It was that in no grate no coals were smoking,
Nor porcelain stove, as used among the Dutch,
But fire of wood, such as the hearthstone ruddies
With faces in the fire and back-log studies.

The water-well was not with moss o'ergrown,
Nor oaken bucket floated in its deep,
But 'stead of wheel there was a chunk of stone
Appended to a young fir as a sweep,
On principle of Archimedes' lever;
Yet the device was clumsier than clever.

Another thing they noticed between whiles
Failed not their curiosity to catch,
The which was houses roofed with wooden tiles
Instead of comfortable wheaten thatch,
And much they marvelled if the fireside ingles
Could be kept warm beneath these roofs of shingles.

They, above all things, missed the hawthorn hedges,
And cottages with ivy-trellised gables,
And rows of beehives resting on the ledges,
And neat gates leading to the fields and stables—
And grieved the unaesthetical pretenses
That farmers plead for building zigzag fences.

Between two brooks, both running diamond-bright,
A mile apart, there rose a flat-topped mound,
So low the acclivity was very slight
And suitable to form a camping ground;
Fair grass fields, too, and interspersed with these
Were groves and scattered clumps of standing trees.

Behind the fields, with outline brave and bold,
Besprent with many a tint of greenerie,
There stood a great belt of the forest old,
Whose topmost sprays aye rippled like a sea
To every breath of wind that that way strayed,
And a soft susurrus of whisper made.

It was, in truth, a quiet shady place,
A nook apart from traffic's toil and moil;
Nor fair nor market, but unbroken face
Of lush green pastures on a fertile soil,
Well clothed with wealth of woods, by nature's bounty,
And known as HERNEWOOD all throughout the county;

For the blue herons there would build their nests
High up on the tall tops of withered pines,
And sit there with their bills upon their breasts,
Or on one leg erect would stand in lines,
Fishing along the inlet's marish sedges,
Like sculptured ibises on old Nile's edges.

The fairies much approved the meads so green,
But yet they missed the daisies and primroses,
Though thyme and violets and herbs unseen
Sent a most grateful perfume to their noses,
And all the ground was dotted with white stars
Of bird-berry blooms and yellow butter-jars.

In short, 'twas just the spot for fairy raids,
With shifting points of view and ample space,
With cloistered avenues and sheltered shades,
Not yet infested by the human race,
But lying in the bosom of the woods
And full alike of fields and solitudes.

Which, when our pilgrims saw, with wild delight
They cried "Eureka! we have found it now!
Here are new meads, new woods, new brooks of light,
A Home as fair as our old haunts, we trow,
And" (as in Indian tongue it is expressed),
"Here, ala-ba-ma, we set up our rest."

It happened luckily the place was not
Reserved by Government, nor was it fit
To sell as building lots, but was a spot
Belonged to one who loved (and lived on) it,
A man who, with a harmless eccentricity,
In a rude country life sought his felicity.

So that, so far from sending for a bailiff,
Or for a clergyman to exorcise them,
He (like Haroun al Raschid, the good caliph),
Sat down to ponder how he could devise them
In shape of a small permanent annuity,
The lands they'd squatted on, in perpetuity.

Therefore he framed some rules for his dependents,
A sort of autocratic moral law,
Binding upon himself and his descendants
That, under pain of dog-whip, hoof nor claw
Nor boy should trespass on the fairies' spot,
And all men who disturbed them should be shot.

Under this guiding and paternal care
The Fairy Folk have grown and multiplied,
And in their New Home, wilder, not less fair
Than their old English haunt, they now abide,
And have resumed their frolicsome old habits—
As lithe as squirrels and as smug as rabbits.

John Hunter Duvar emigrated from Scotlant to Canada in 1857. He and his family landed at Halifax. They made their home on an estate called Hernewood on Prince Edward Island. The site is now the Mill River golf course.