« ZurückWeiter »
shuns human beings with terror; her inclination seems always to escape,
and wander away again. A jabbering maniac became violent while we were there, beating her bald head, grinding her long black teeth, and chuckling with a horrible, hyena laugh. Her small sunken eyes burned like coals. One of the nurses took her by the arm, and carried her down stairs to be placed by herself, which is the greatest punishment inflicted. She instantly became subdued, cried, and begged to be allowed to remain above.
I asked a sad-looking old woman, who sat rocking herself to and fro on a chair, how long she had been in this place ? She told me she had forgotten, years and years ago. The stronger patients are often very kind to the crippled and weak, carrying them about for hours in the sunshine; but the mad seem to have a great hatred and contempt for the idiots, and would often beat them, were they allowed.
Most of the men were out of doors at work, or picking oakum in the sheds. A fine-looking young fellow held my horse, sitting for more than an hour in the conveyance. He was considered one of the most trustworthy, having sense enough to know that he was mad; but for the awful stare of his eyes, I should not have noticed any peculiarity in his appearance or manner.
While I was preparing to leave, about a dozen other male patients returned from their labor, accompanied by a keeper. One of them was pointed out for my observation as they passed: a quiet, mildlooking man, about fifty years of age. Respectably connected, and formerly prosperous in the world, he had become insane, had now for many years been in confinement, and was remarkable for gentleness and obedience. Some time ago, at an asylum at Montreal, while employed with another patient in cutting up wood, he seized an opportunity when his companion was stooping, and struck off the man's head with an axe; afterwards he quietly resumed his work. Neither at that time, nor ever ince, has he been in the least violent; the deed seemed to cause him neither joy nor sorrow. He was quite unconscious that he had done anything unusual.
In summer many of the patients are employed on the farm, or as builders and carpenters. An ice-house for their use has just
been finished by one of them. Some of the convalescents are allowed occasionally to visit their friends, and always return 'punctually at the time appointed. With very few exceptions, music appears to cause them great pleasure, soothing, rather than exciting them. They often dance, and are very fond of the amusement. In the spring, when the navigation opens, they crowd round the windows, and gaze with delight at the ships sailing up the magnificent river; particularly those patients who have come from the old country; they seem to have a vague idea that these stately ships are brought here to bear them home.
Some of them talk a great deal to each other, but seldom get, or seem to expect, answers to what they say. It pleases them much to speak to visitors, and they thus make an effort to tell what
may be asked of them, but will not take this pains with their fellow-patients. It is not worth while; they know that they are mad.
THE 28th of May, 1845, will long be remembered at Quebec. The day was scorching hot, with a high wind, and clouds of dust rushing along the roads, in exposed places, spinning round and round in little whirlwinds, almost choking those who were caught in their vortex.
But this is the busy time of the year; the streets and shops are crowded, the river covered with floating rafts of timber. Every hour, ships of the spring fleet round Point Levy, and make their numbers, in colored flags, to their joyful owners. Masons and carpenters are hard at work, building on the vacant spaces of the streets, or repairing the ruins from small winter conflagrations. Over the rich valley of the St. Charles the husbandmen ply the spade and plough, and on the plains of Abraham a regiment of soldiers are skirmishing in loose and picturesque array. Everything around betokens life and activity. Sudden and harsh among these pleasant scenes, the bells of the churches of St. Roch rang out the well known alarm of FIRE. It was a quarter of an hour before noon when the first peal sounded.
Shortly afterwards, from among the thick clouds of dust arose a thin column of white smoke, at the far end of the suburb of St. Vallière, under the steep cliff. At first but little attention was excited, it was so common an occurrence, and only a few firemen hastened to the spot. They found that a large tannery had taken fire. The fire had spread to some extent, and there was great difficulty in procuring water. Sparks, and now and then a flame, began to shoot up into the smoke, already thick and much increased. The locality is unfortunate, for all the buildings round are of wood; the population, too, is very dense, chiefly of the simple and unenergetic French Canadians.
The sparks are borne away on the wind—but for this wind all would yet be well—and rest on the dry, shingle roofs; however, numbers of people are at hand, perched on the tops of the houses, to protect them.
For about an hour the progress is but small ; stout Englishman is seated on the building next to the tannery, and, though the wind blows the stifling smoke and the sparks into his face, he boldly keeps to his work, to save his little property. He spreads wet blankets upon the shingles, changing them in a minute or two when dry and scorched; and, wherever the fire rests for a space, he is ready with a vessel of water.
But while this struggle is going on, a shout from the opposite side of the street proclaims that the fire has reached across, and the thickening smoke from above, shows that the houses on the cliff have also caught. At the same time, the blazing ruins of the tannery fall in with a heavy crash; smoke and flame burst out through the windows of the next house, and soon after, through the roof itself. The poor fellow who had kept it down so long, still struggles hard against it, and it is not till the ladder which he had ascended takes fire that, maimed and blackened, he comes down and stands staring in despair at the progress of his ruin.
But this is no time to dwell on individual misery, for the flames increase rapidly, the wind still driving them fiercely on: sometimes they spread along the shingle roofs, at others work their way through the under stories of half a dozen houses unperceived, till, suddenly meeting with some more combustible matter, they burst out above and at the windows. As the flames gain ground, they suck the wind down the narrow streets in whirling eddies. Every here and there the burning frame-work of a house tumbles in, and a shower of fiery morsels rises in the air, then sweeps along with the intolerable dust and smoke, spreading the destruction still further.
A large district is now in a blaze ; fire engines are useless ; there is no water; and, besides, the case is past their aid. A number of soldiers with ropes and axes come doubling down the hill: they set stoutly to their work, and hack and tear down the houses nearest to the flames, thus making a gap in hope of stopping the communication. But the fire is lifted up by the wind, and leaps on into other streets, and fastens fiercely on its prey. Far
away to leeward, the red plague bursts up through the wooden roofs, and the planked roads; over-head, under foot, on every side, it seems to close round the soldiers. They fall back from place to place, black with smoke and dust, but still struggling almost against hope.
The inhabitants become frantic with terror ; some rush into the flames on one side, in flying from them on the other; many madly carry about articles of furniture already on fire, spreading the mischief in places before untouched; others sit down in the helplessness of despair, and weep like children. The sick and infirm are carried off from the far distant parts of the town; carts and calèches filled with fugitives, and the few precious things they had been able to snatch away, dash along the streets in all directions, forcing their way through the crowds. Sometimes, in the dense smoke and dust they drive against one another, break, upset; and the wretched people they convey have to leave all behind them, and hasten away. Even strong men, who lingered too long, trying to save their little household goods, are suffocated by the 'smoke, and overtaken by the flames.
The government fuel yard is a large space surrounded with wooden palings, where the suburb of St. Roch narrows between the river St. Charles and the walls of the upper town; it is enclosed in three parts of a square of buildings, a long street run. ning under the walls at the farther side of the river, and parallel to it. At this place the troops make a great effort to stop the conflagration; they hew down the wooden palings, destroy several houses at the end of the row under the walls, and the fire-engines pump away gallantly. This is about three o'clock in the afternoon.
Suddenly a hurricane arises; the blazing shingles are lifted into the air; planks and rafters, edged with fire, whirl over the ground, and the flames race along the street with terrible rapidity. All run for their lives: the fire-engines are with difficulty dragged away; indeed, some are abandoned in the flight. Almost the only outlet now from the suburb is the gate through the walls into the upper town. As the crowd crushes through, the flames close over everything behind them.
In the meantime the Artillery Barrack has taken fire in several parts of the shingle roofs and wooden palings, from the show.