marriage.html

 

COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE LONG AGO

of 'Duncan MacLaren of Blantyre'

Among the earliest parts of Prince Edward Island to attract immigrants was a
district named Morell lying along the north shore of the province; the people
there had been settled for a number of years and had arrived at comparative
comfort before the first tree was felled a dozen miles from the shore.

In process of time a road was cut and before long the central parts became
settled by people from Scotland, who named the section Blantyre. For several
years there was only a footpath between Blantyre and Morell, and the route
was seldom travelled in winter except on snow-shoes.

Among the youth of Blantyre was one of more than usual promise named
Duncan MacLaren, who had a place of his own and was looking for someone
to share his troubles and joys. Duncan was by all odds the most desirable youth
in the settlement and mothers having girls of a suitable age watched his career
with much interest.

In common with other parts of the world, Blantyre had a singular character
called Norman Bain, at that time in mid life. As a colonist Norman was by no
means a success; too much occupied with the business of others, he neglected
his own. Norman took a particular fancy to Duncan and was always giving
advice. The first and most serious business was that of choosing a partner, and
for that purpose he must go from home, as no girl in Blantyre deserved his
attentions. He (Norman) would introduce him to a family at Morell with just the
girl that he needed.

After much consultation it was finally settled that both would set out for Morell;
Norman knew every home in the district and the individual members. So on a
clear day in December the gallants went off, their destination being the home of
a man named McEwen, whose family consisted of three sons and four
daughters, two of marriageable age, unsophisticated beauties such as poets
describe.

At this time every stranger was expected to come laden with news; Norman
never failed to fill these conditions and the welcome was cordial. After the
customary inquiries, Norman incidentally remarked that he wished to introduce
a young neighbor to the good folks at Morell, hinting (with a glance to the girls)
that the visit might be of mutual advantage.

The settler's first home was always of the most humble description; the second
was considerably larger; the third built after the colonist had been a dozen years
in the country, was usually of squared logs, with chimney in the center. It was
this feature that gave the house its peculiar standing, as it meant two fireplaces,
with that important adjunct, a spare bed.

After the evening meal had been finished, Norman and the old folks retired to
the parlor where they enjoyed themselves with old-time reminiscences, while the
younger ones were no less happy in the kitchen end of the house. Duncan made
a good impression from the first and very soon he and the family were almost as
familiar as if they had been schoolmates. Next day and the next were spent in
visiting neighbors, Norman desiring to introduce his friend to the principal
families, but McEwens constituted their home for the night.

On the fourth day at Morell, Duncan seemed absent-minded and strange;
Norman inquired what was the matter, was he homesick, had he a fit of the
blues, or what caused the change? After some hesitation and stammering,
Duncan (coloring severely) replied in a round-about way that he must have the
second of the McEwen girls, the one named Catherine. Norman was more than
delighted at the idea of his plans maturing so promptly, for it was Catherine he
had himself selected as wife for his friend from Blantyre.

After supper Norman, with an air of mystery intimated to the parents that he
wished to see them alone; on the coast being cleared he at once informed them
how matters stood, praised Duncan with a free, open hand, described his
means and his prospects, house, barn and stock, in fact everything ready to
hang a pot on the crane. After judicious consideration the old folks expressed
their willingness provided the girl would give her consent; a decision would be
arrived at next day.

On the following evening the affair was approached in a more deliberate
manner; Norman touched on the business phase of the contract by pointedly
asking what the girl was to receive as her dowry, how much in cash and how
many kine, such being in those days the custom.

Matters having been satisfactorily arranged, all sat down to a feast, the
company consisting of about a dozen friends of the family. Before approaching
the viands Norman filled a glass from a square bottle and proposed the health of
the affianced pair. The repast was seasoned with much merriment and at a late
hour the company left. On the following day the guests set out for Blantyre
where they arrived safely though tired as much snow had fallen during their stay.

The marriage was arranged to come off early in March and Duncan busied
himself putting his cottage in order; at the home of his affianced there was still
greater activity, for in those days a wedding a-la-mode was a weighty affair.
The gifts (not as at present more for show than utility) consisted of such plain,
bulky articles as sacks of flour, quarters of beef, carcases of mutton, fat geese,
boxes of candles and the like. The number of guests was out of all porportion to
the size of the mansion, whereas the festivities lasted the greater part of a week,
the amount of baking, roasting and miscellaneous cooking was therefore enormous.

The groom supplied the stimulants and though only one item the cost rated high.
The amusements were often extreme in their range and variety, for among the
numerous guests there was always some old grudge, family feud or clan hatred
to avenge or put right, so that while the notes of fiddle and bagpipes were
shivering the air in the parlour and flying feet knocking dust from the floor,
outside the amusement of fighting was equally brisk.

On the day preceding the marriage Duncan, Norman and a neighboring youth
set out for Morell where they arrived without noteworthy incident, and the
welcome was cordial. On the following day the two were united securely and
the subsequent wedding ranked high.

On the third day succeeding the marriage Norman set out for home with the
understanding that Duncan and Catherine would follow before long, and on the
subsequent week they accordingly started. Much snow had come down since
the departure of Norman and there was no possibility of reaching Blantyre
before spring except on snowshoes. Duncan was used to that kind of footgear,
not so with his wife, yet declaring herself equal to the occasion, the pair started.
The distance was over a dozen miles through forest and not a house on the way.
At first the moments were beguiled by conversation and mirth, but soon a
change was apparent; each carried a great bundle of clothes, that carried by
Catherine being supplies for the wardrobe.

The sun was now getting low, and Catherine though a brave, sturdy lass, gave
indications of weariness and it became evident that it would be impossible to
make her way to Blantyre. Here was an ugly predicament_they must spend that
night in the wood.

Though frosty, the weather was not unusually cold. Duncan procured spruce
boughs which he laid in the form of a bed; the heavy bundle he carried consisted
of blankets, which when spread on the verdure formed a place of repose.

Next morning, leaving his spouse wrapped in blankets, Duncan set out for the
settlement, but as on the previous day there was no track to follow, his thoughts
being occupied by the recent misfortune, he soon was "at sea" in the woods.
Exhausted and hungry he sat on a fallen tree to recuperate, his thoughts in
violent commotion; would they both perish so near to their home? While thus in
a reverie, he fancied hearing a faint, humming sound_was it fancy or the voice of
some horn calling to dinner. Duncan set out with new vigor and soon reached
his home.

A short explanation here about horns and their music. It is said that when a
British tar desires to welcome a friend, celebrate a victory, applaud a brave act,
defy and show contempt for a foe or express joy promiscuously, he gives vent
to his feelings by three cheers. At the time of which I write the same might
almost be said with respect to the blowing of horns, as the sound called people
home to their meals, celebrated marriage festivities and indeed any form of
rejoicing.

Duncan had no sooner related his tale than horns began to sound through the
settlement, heralds ran hither and thither and when the cause became known
there was a simultaneous move in the way of harnessing oxen, and before sunset
six teams were ready to start in quest of the bride. If the early part of her home-
coming was laborious, they determined she should have an ovation at last; the
first bride to Blantyre must come with a flourish of trumpets.

A sort of regal seat was improvised and covered with the skin of an ox; on
another sled was placed on end a big, empty puncheon to form a
stand for a couple of trumpeters.

The sun had retired ere the unweildy procession got orders to move and its rate
was not speedy; one of the oxen had the reputation of being a crank and
seemingly dissatisfied with the arrangements, "Brindle" called halt, as he led the
procession; many schemes were tried to make the beast change his mind but to
no purpose. After losing much time, a track was made round the refractory
animal and the procession moved on.

As the expedition advanced, the sound of horns reverberated far through the
forest. The bride was found perfectly safe though alarmed owing to the
darkness. The animals being turned, the bridal pair were placed on the high seat
and well wrapped.

It was long after midnight ere the pair arrived at Blantyre; here torches were
lighted, guns fired, while the puncheon was improvished for a drum, the whole
constituting a bridal procession such as few ever enjoyed. When nearing the
bride's future home, the torches were violently flourished the horn-blowers
(standing on the puncheons) made a supreme effort to be noisy, the drummer
applied his stick with injudicious vim and when the trumpeters were in the act of
sounding a grand closing finale, crash went the head of the puncheon causing the
fanfarade to end with ridiculous abruptness. But my description is tame
compared with the wild, breezy reality which recalls a scene from the
apocalyptic vision more than anything else.

If the home wedding was less numerously attended it was fully equal in
heartiness, Norman being the prime moving spirit. Duncan proved a steady,
industrious man and thanks to old Norman he was fortunate in his choice of a
wife.

WHAT A GRAND STORY, I ESPECIALLY LIKE THE PART THAT
READS, "THE FIRST BRIDE TO BLANTYRE MUST COME WITH A
FLOURISH OF TRUMPETS", WHAT A BEAUTIFUL POETIC LINE!
HOPE YOU ENJOYED IT!

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MacLaren's of Greenwich PEI