Of Bird and the bees – Part 2

Standfast Billings, a cobbler living near Amherst in Nova Scotia in the 1700s, had a wife who appeared to be near the end of her days.  Since there were four small children, Billings decided to prepare for the future by writing up an advertisement to be made public in Halifax, and he entitled it “To Any Capable Healthy Middle-aged Female Willing to Wed an Honest Cobbler.”  He gave the letter, unsealed to save the posting fee, to the postman and waited for his wife’s passing and the arrival of a new bride.

The postman sneaked a peek at the letter before leaving town and must have let word out because Mrs. Billings soon found out about the contents.  When she heard of it, she became furious at her husband, the anger giving her the strength and motivation to leave her bed and get better.  Of course, it was too late to recall the letter.  The postman reached Halifax, over forty miles away by foot and ferry, and found a “healthy female” working at a coffee house, who jumped at the opportunity of having her own house and family.  Nearly two weeks later, after completing his other business, back came the postman with the bride in tow, wrongly assuming that the first wife had by this time departed.

When the “bride” found out differently,  she shrugged and decided she might as well stay.  She found local work for four years, until the recovered Mrs. Billings took ill again and really did die.  The cobbler waited a bare-minimum of five weeks and then married his mail-order bride, and “as far as the records show, they lived happily ever after.”

It may be difficult to put such a story into a modern context.  So much has changed in life and attitudes. not least with the presence of rapid communication, Hollywood movies, internet porn and what-not, that perhaps only the “dating sites” could provide a similar scenario.  Even then, I wonder how many people today would accept a quick wedding without a trial relationship or with the very practical considerations that were common in older days.  But here follows another love story from the often-published Canadian author Will Bird (seen in the picture above).

Among the first Scottish settlers to reach Nova Scotia were many bachelors who worked hard to clear land and begin the long task toward some prosperity, but who had no chance to do any courting as there were hardly any young ladies with whom they might come in contact.  Therefore, three of the young men, named Donald, Malcolm, and Sandy, one day went out together on the lengthy trails and horse tracks from Pictou County to Halifax, where eligible Scottish lassies were known to arrive at the port.

In the big town, the boys were scouting out possibilities when Donald happened to overhear the name of a young woman who had caught his eye, as well as the name of her female travel companion who stood a fair distance away, possibly guarding the luggage.  Immediately Donald approached his prospect, introduced himself and proposed.  The startled woman, called Jeannie, flatly refused him. But Donald slyly said that since his friend Malcolm was going to marry her friend Maggie, he thought that his proposal might at least warrant consideration. Jeannie responded to this with shock, wondering why her best friend had kept this from her.  Well, she wasn’t going to let Maggie show her up, and so Jeannie accepted Donald’s proposal after all.

Donald then made an excuse to leave for a few minutes while he quickly found Malcolm and pointed out Maggie to him.  Malcolm stepped up to Maggie and told her that since her friend Jeannie was going to wed his friend Donald, he would much like to have her as wife in the same location.  Maggie could see some sense in that and it would mean she would not need a low-paying job in Halifax, so she agreed.  Maggie then introduced him to another girl who had come over in the same ship, and soon the third boy Sandy was proposing to that young woman.  All three new couples were married the very next morning at the court house.

After the brief ceremonies, the young men picked up the ladies’ luggage and all started walking on their way out of town because the boys had told their brides that their homes were situated “just outside of Halifax.”  When the group had trudged on for six miles or more in the summer heat, the women refused to go any further until they knew how much longer they still had to walk.  The boys then confessed to the “little” lie, and fortunately the lassies took it all in good humor.  For two nights the group slept outside on beds of brush and moss before they arrived at last at their Pictou County homes.

Will Bird adds that the “story of their romance has lived down through the years, and many descendants of the trio are in Pictou County today.”  So perhaps the most important thing is not how a marriage is begun but how it is lived.

See the next blog next Thursday.

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