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"Let not ambition mock their useful toil, Their homely joys and destiny obscure, Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile, The short and simple annals of the poor." Gray.
The Counties of Compton and Beauce, in the Province of Quebec, were first opened up to settlement about fifty years ago. To this spot a small colony of Highlanders from the Skye and Lewis Islands gravitated. They brought with them the Gaelic language, a simple but austere religion, habits of frugality and method, and aggressive health. That generation is gone, or almost gone, but the essential characteristics of the race have been preserved in their children. The latter are generous and hospitable, to a fault. Within a few miles of the American frontier, the forces of modern life have not reached them. Shut in by immense stretches of the dark and gloomy "forest primeval," they live drowsily in a little world where passions are lethargic, innocence open-eyed, and vice almost unknown. Science has not upset their belief in Jehovah. God is real, and somewhat stern, and the minister is his servant, to be heard with respect, despite the appalling length of his sermons. Sincerely pious, the people mix their religion with a little whiskey, and the blend appears to give satisfaction. The farmers gather at the village inn in the evening, and over a "drap o' Scotch" discuss the past. As the stimulant works, generous sentiments are awakened in the breast; and the melting songs of Robbie Burns--roughly rendered, it may be--make the eye glisten. This is conviviality; but it has no relation to drunkenness. Every household has its family altar; and every night, before retiring to rest, the family circle gather round the father or the husband, who devoutly commends them to the keeping of God.
The common school is a log hut, built by the wayside, and the "schoolmarm" is not a pretentious person. But, what the school cannot supply, a long line of intelligent, independent ancestors have supplied, robust, common sense and sagacity.
Something of the gloom and sternness of the forest, something of the sadness which is a conscious presence, is in their faces. Their humor has a certain savor of grimness. For the rest, it may be said that they are poor, and that they make little effort to be anything else. They do a little farming and a little lumbering. They get food and clothing, they are attached to their homesteads, and the world with all its tempting possibilities passes them by. The young people seek the States, but even they return, and end their days in the old home. They marry, and get farms, and life moves with even step, the alternating seasons, with their possibilities, probably forming their deepest absorptions. It remains only to be said that, passionately attached to the customs, the habits of thought of their forefathers, the Highlanders of the Lake Megantic region are intensely clannish. Splendidly generous, they would suffer death rather than betray the man who had eaten of their salt. Eminently law-abiding, they would not stretch out a hand to deprive of freedom one who had thrown himself upon their mercy.
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