Page 12 - The Lakes Region and the Irish

The afternoon had become raw, and we enjoyed the sight of the wood fire illuminating the little crimson parlor and the gaily bound books that loaded the shelves. Pleasant evening, of course, except when we spoke of Ireland and the miserable debris of her puny agitators fast making the name of Irishman a word of reproach all the world over ! The next day Tom Egan brought our horses along the shore as far as Cooper's hut, and we had a delightful sail to various points of the lake. The air up in these regions seems even purer and more elastic than in other parts of the island, the verdure brighter and the foliage richer ; and as we float here at our ease we are willing to believe that no lake on earth is more beautiful than Lake Sorel. Not so berhymed as Windermere is this Antarctic lake ; neither does the Cockney tourist infest its waters as he infests Loch Lomond or Killarney ; not so famous in history as Regillus or Thrasymene, in literature as Como or Geneva, is our lake of the southern woods. It flows not into its sister lake, Crescent, with so grand a rush as Erie flings herself into Ontario ; neither do its echoes ring with a weird minstrelsy, as ring and will ring for ever the mountain echoes of Loch Katrine and Lock Achray. What is worse, there is no fish — not a trout, red and speckled, not a perch, pike or salmon. But en revanche, see the unbroken continent of mighty forest that clasps us round here. On the north frowns the peak called Cradle Mountain, with its grey precipices rising out of rich foliage — one peak merely of the Great Western tier, rising not more than 1000 feet from the lake, but almost 4000 feet above the sea. Opposite and farther off beyond the Crescent Lake rises the grand Table Mountain. No signs of human life anywhere. No villas of Elizabethan, of Gothic or of Grecian structure crown select building sites along the shore. No boats carry parasolled picnic parties under direction of professional guides to the admitted points of attraction and hack at evening to the balconied hotel where dinner has been ordered at 4 o'clock. All along that wild sweep of the northern shore there is a savage and utterly trackless wood through which St. Kevin and the rest of our company once made our way on horse back at much risk of life and limb ; . some times plunging through the lake and again leaping over prostrate trees or pushing by main force through thickets of scrub that almost dragged us from our saddles. One slender curl of smoke only we can see all round the shore— it is from a hut on the north-west, six miles off across the lake, where a solitary shepherd predominates over a flock that picks up its summer pasture in those parts.

" Why should not Sorel also be famous ? Where gleams and ripples purer, glassier water, mirrroring a brighter sky ? Where does the wild duck find a securer nest than under thy ti-tree fringe, oh lake of the south ! And the snow white swan, that on St. Mary's lake floats double, swan and shadow ?' — does he float more placidly or fling on the waters a more graceful reflection from his stately neck than thou, jet black, proud crested swan of the Antarctic forest waters ? Some sweet singer shall berhyme thee yet, beautiful lake of the woods. Tu quoque fontium eris nobilium. Haunted art thou now by native devils only, and pass holding shepherds whistle nigger melodies in the balmy air ; but spirits of the great and good, who are apt to be bred in this southern hemisphere, shall hover over thy wooded promontories in the years to come, every bay will have its romance (for the blood of man is still red, and pride and passion will still make it burn and tingle until time shall be no more), and the glancing ot thy sunlit ripple, shall flash through the dreams of poet, yet unborn. We near the Bothwell side of the lake, we drop into the cove where stands the lowly log built hut of Cooper, and the high sun warns us it is time to begin our journey homewards. But I never leave the lakes without regret, and never visit them without wistfully marking out in every green nook and sheltered bay we pass by on the Bothwell shores sites for my own hermitage of gum tree logs, which in fact John Knox and I had often been on the point of building. But Bothwell village seems to be our predestined home or dungeon while we tarry in these realms of Hades.

" One charm of the lake country is its elevation ; high above all the odious stations and townships, and the whole world, we find ourselves as we float on these aerial waters amongst the very mountains peaks 2000 feet nearer to the stars than the unfortunates who welter and wither below. So are we among them, but not of them. We are in a higher atmospheric stratum, and the air we breathe is wafted to us from the wine dark Indian Ocean or the perfumed coral islands of the sun bright Pacific."

" We glide now about forty yards down the river which connects the two lakes to the rude bridge where Cooper keeps watch and ward. Tricolor paws the ground with impatience on the shore and Fleur-de-lis with her high bred head aloft and dilated nostril seems to smell the stable of Nant Cottage. So with kind adieu we part. I carry a young kangaroo in a bag (a present to the children from the good family at the Sugar-loaf), and with this nurseling resting on my arm find it as much as I can do to manage my horse. Madame, on Fleur-de-lis, leads the way; round the western horn of Lake Crescent we fly in spanking style, over the Clyde (which straightway hurries down into profound gorges impervious to horses, and we shall see it no more for 20 miles); under the precipices of Table Mountain, blazing now like furnace walls before the westering sun ; still descending, though gradually, for we are on the broad backed range, nor on the flank of the mountain ridge, and at last draw bridle on the green swam of the ' three mile marsh,' which indeed is no marsh at all but a lovely three mile meadow studded with stately trees."

South of Lake Crescent, and close to our road Mitchell traversed in coming and returning to his cottage on the Nant estate, just outside Bothwell township, by the Table Mountain (3596 feet) and Woods Quoin (3033), whose rugged grandeur inspired Mitchell's pen. In the office of the council clerk at the Bothwell Municipal Council-chambers may still be seen the identical table on which Mitchell threw down his renunciation of parole. The historic cottage of Meagher of the sword exists, but untenanted and fast going to ruin. To the present day Irish sympathisers occasionally visit and take away relics from the ruined cottages at Lake Sorell and Nant. It was a strange fate which made John Mitchell and his sons, take opposite side to Thomas Francis Meagher during our war of secession. They have both now gone to their place. But Mitchell 's name will ever live as having written the most beautiful description extant of the scenery of the lake district of Tasmania. Kevin O'Doherty, the "fine, handsome young man" to whom Mitchell refers, afterwards became Dr. Kevin O'Doherty, M.L.C. of Queensland. I remember him as the first to urge the cause of Australian federation. The last time I saw him was in the House of Commons. He was then member for West Meath.

From Interlaken excursions can be made to Wood's Lake, Arthur's Lake, and the Table Mountain. Lake Sorell has been supplied with Californian brook trout, but none has yet been caught. Westward 28 miles lies the Great Lake, the paradise of anglers.