Afar in the Forest, by W.H.G. Kingston.
This is not a long book, but is very much in the Kingston style, that is, the style he employs when writing about land-based adventures, as opposed to sea-based ones.
It is quite difficult to follow who is who in this story, and why they are doing what they do. I suggest that you use a pen and paper to jot down people's names as and when they make their appearance.
But there are some surprises regarding who is related to whom, a device which Kingston uses quite often.
AFAR IN THE FOREST, BY W.H.G. KINGSTON.
OUR HABITATION IN THE FOREST—MY SHARE OF THE SPOILS OF THE DAY'S CHASE—UNCLE MARK COMMENCES HIS NARRATIVE—WHY MY UNCLES DECIDED TO EMIGRATE—LANDING IN SAFETY, THEY START UP COUNTRY—THEIR MEETING WITH SIMON YEARSLEY, AN OLD SETTLER—THE SETTLEMENT IS FOUND IN RUINS—LILY AND I RESCUED—UNCLE MARK PROMISES TO RESUME HIS NARRATIVE ON THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY—MY LOVE OF NATURAL HISTORY—UNCLE MARK CONTINUES HIS NARRATIVE—YEARSLEY GOES IN PURSUIT OF THE INDIANS—THE BURIAL OF LILY'S MOTHER—THE RETURN TO THE WAGGON—THEY REACH THE NEAREST SETTLEMENT— ALARM OF THE SETTLERS UPON HEARING OF THE OUTRAGE COMMITTED BY THE INDIANS—UNCLE STEPHEN'S MARRIAGE—CONCLUSION OF UNCLE MARK'S NARRATIVE—LILY AND I GO BERRYING—WE ARE ATTACKED BY A WOLF—KEPENAU SAVES OUR LIVES—HIS PRESENT OF VENISON TO AUNT HANNAH—KEPENAU'S BELIEF IN THE GOODNESS OF THE GREAT SPIRIT—THE INDIAN'S ADVICE.
"Is Lily not Uncle Stephen's daughter, then?" I asked.
The question was put to my uncle, Mark Tregellis, whom I found seated in front of our hut as I returned one evening from a hunting excursion—it having been my duty that day to go out in search of game for our larder. Uncle Mark had just come in from his day's work, which had been that of felling the tall trees surrounding our habitation. He and I together had cleared an acre and a half since we came to our new location.
It was a wild region in which we had fixed ourselves. Dark forests were on every side of us. To the north and the east was the great chain of lakes which extend a third of the way across North America. Numberless mountain-ranges rose in the distance, with intervening heights,—some rugged and precipitous, others clothed to their summits with vegetation. Numerous rivers and streams ran through the country; one of which, on whose banks we purposed building our future abode, passed close to our hut. Besides the features I have described, there were waterfalls and rapids, deep valleys and narrow gorges penetrating amid the hills; while to the south-west could be seen, from the higher ground near us, the wide prairie, extending away far beyond human ken. Wild indeed it was, for not a single habitation of white men was to be found to the westward; and on the other side, beyond the newly-formed settlement in which Uncle Stephen resided, but few cottages or huts of the hardy pioneers of civilisation,—and these scattered only here and there,— existed for a hundred miles or more.
Uncle Mark, having lighted the fire and put the pot on to boil, had thrown himself down on the ground in front of the hut, with his back to the wall, and was busy contemplating the dark pines which towered up before him, and calculating how long it would take, with his sharp axe, to fell them.
I had brought home a haunch of venison as my share of the spoils of the chase (in which I had joined Uncle Stephen); and it was in consequence of a remark made by him while we were out hunting, that I had somewhat eagerly asked at Uncle Mark the question with which this story opens.
"No; Lily is not Stephen's daughter,—nor even related to him," he answered. "But we will cut some steaks off that haunch and broil them; and while we are discussing our supper, I will tell you all about the matter."
The slices of venison, and flour-cakes baked on the fire, were soon ready; and seated at the door of our hut, with a fire burning before us to keep off the mosquitoes, we commenced our repast, when I reminded my uncle of his promise.
"It is a good many years ago, but even now it is painful to think of those days," he began. "We came from Cornwall, in the 'old country,' where your Uncle Stephen, your mother, and I were born. She had married your father, Michael Penrose, however, and had emigrated to America, when we were mere boys; and we were just out of our apprenticeship (Stephen as a blacksmith and I as a carpenter) when we received a letter from your father and mother inviting us to join them in America, and setting forth the advantages to be obtained in the new country. We were not long in making up our minds to accept the invitation; and in the spring of the next year we crossed the sea, with well nigh three hundred other emigrants,—some going out to relatives and friends, others bent on seeking their fortunes, trusting alone to their own strong arms and determined will for success.
"We found, on landing, that we had a journey of some hundred miles before us; part of which could be performed in boats up the rivers, but the greater portion was along 'corduroy' roads, through dark forests, and over mountains and plains. Our brother-in-law, a bold, determined person, had turned backwoodsman, and, uniting himself with a party of hardy fellows of similar tastes, had pushed on in advance of the old settlers, far to the westward, in spite of the difficulties of obtaining stores and provisions, and the dangers they knew they must encounter from hostile Indians whose territories they were invading. We did not, however, think much of these things, and liked the idea of being ahead, as it seemed to us, of others. The forest was before us. We were to win our way through it, and establish a home for ourselves and our families.
"We had been travelling on for a couple of weeks or so, following the directions your father had given us in order to find his new location, but greatly in doubt as to whether we were going right, when we were fortunate enough to fall in with a settler who knew him, and who was returning with a waggon and team. He readily undertook to be our guide, glad to have our assistance in making way through the forest. We provided ourselves with crowbars to lift the waggon out of the ruts and holes and up the steep ascents; for we had left the 'corduroy' roads— or, indeed, any road at all—far behind. Our new acquaintance seemed to be somewhat out of spirits about the prospects of the new settlement; but, notwithstanding, he had determined to chance it with the rest. The Indians, he said, had lately been troublesome, and some of them who had been found prowling about, evidently bent on mischief, had been shot. 'We have won the ground, and we must keep it against all odds,' he observed.
"Everything in the country was then new to us. I remember feeling almost awe-struck with the stillness which reigned in the forest. Not a leaf or bough was in motion; nor was a sound heard, except when now and then our ears caught the soughing of the wind among the lofty heads of the pine-trees, the tapping of the woodpeckers on the decaying trunks, or the whistling cry of the little chitmonk as it ran from bough to bough.
"I had expected to meet with bears, wolves, raccoons, lynxes, and other animals, and was surprised at encountering so few living creatures. 'They are here, notwithstanding,' observed our friend; 'you will get your eyes sharpened to find them in time. In the course of a year or two you may become expert backwoodsmen. You can't expect to drop into the life all at once.' By attending to the advice our friend gave us, and keeping our senses wide awake, we gained some knowledge even during that journey.
"We were now approaching the settlement—Weatherford, it was called. It was a long way to the eastward of where we are now, with numerous towns and villages in the neighbourhood. The waggon had gained the last height, from the top of which, our guide told us, we should be able to catch sight of the settlement. We had been working away with our crowbars, helping on the wheels,—our friend being ahead of the team,— and had just reached level ground, when we heard him utter a cry of dismay. Rushing forward, we found him pointing, with distended eyes, into the plain beyond us, from which could be seen, near the bank of a river, thick volumes of smoke ascending, while bright names kept flickering up from below.
"'The settlement has been surprised by Indians!' he exclaimed, as soon as he could find words to speak. 'I know the bloodthirsty nature of the savages. They don't do things by halves, or allow a single human being to escape, if they can help it. Lads, you will stick by me; though we can do nothing, I fear, but be revenged on the Redskins. I left my wife and children down there, and I know that I shall never see them alive again.'
"He spoke quite calmly, like a man who had made up his mind for the worst.
"'We cannot leave the waggon here, or the Indians will see it,—if they have not done so already,—and know that we are following them. We will take it down to yonder hollow, and leave it and the oxen. There is pasture enough for them, and they will not stray far. Then we will follow up the Indians' trail; and maybe some of their braves won't get back to boast of their victory, if you will only do as I tell you.'
"Of course, we at once agreed to accompany Simon Yearsley—such was our friend's name—and follow his directions. Quickly turning the waggon round, we got it down to the spot he had indicated, where the oxen were unyoked, and left to crop the grass by the side of a stream flowing from the hill above. Then taking our rifles, with a supply of ammunition, and some food in our wallets, we again set off, Yearsley leading the way.
"We next descended the hill, concealing ourselves as much as possible among the rocks and shrubs until we gained the plain. Although Simon moved at a rapid rate, there was nothing frantic in his gestures. He had made up his mind, should he find his loved ones destroyed, to follow the murderers with deadly vengeance, utterly regardless of the consequences to himself. As none of the intervening country had been cleared except a straight road through the forest, where the trees had been felled, and the stumps grubbed up here and there to allow of a waggon passing between the remainder, we were able to conceal ourselves until we got close to the settlement.
"We now saw that, though the greater number were in flames, two or three huts on one side remained uninjured. Still, not a sound reached us,— neither the cries of the inhabitants nor the shouts of the savages. Nothing was heard save the sharp crackling of the flames.
"'The Indians have retreated, and the settlers are following. We shall be in time to join them!' exclaimed Yearsley, dashing forward. 'But we must first search for any who have survived.' His previous calmness disappeared as he spoke, and he rushed, through the burning huts, towards one of the buildings.
"Stephen and I were about to follow, when we heard a cry proceeding from one of the huts at hand, which, though the doorway was charred and the burning embers lay around it, had as yet escaped destruction. Hurrying in, I stumbled over the corpse of a man. His rifle lay on the ground, while his hand grasped an axe, the blade covered with gore. I gazed on his face, and recognised, after a moment's scrutiny, my own brother-in-law. He had fallen while defending his hearth and home. Close to him lay a young boy, who, I guessed, was his eldest child, shot through the head.
"My poor sister! where could she be?
"Again a cry reached my ear. It came from an inner room. It was Martha, your mother, who had uttered the cry. She was stretched on the ground, holding you in her arms. Her neck was fearfully wounded, her life-blood ebbing fast away.
"I endeavoured to stanch it, telling her meanwhile who I was.
"'Stephen and I have come at your invitation,' I said.
"'Heaven, rather, has sent you, to protect my Roger,' she faintly gasped out, trying to put you in my arms. 'His father and brother are dead; I saw them fall. Hearing voices which I knew to be those of white men, I cried out, that they might come and protect him. Mark! I am dying. You will ever be a father to him?'
"The blood continued to flow; and soon she breathed her last, her head resting on my arm. Your dress and little hands were stained with her blood; but you were too young to understand clearly what had happened, although, as I took you up to carry you from the hut, you cried out lustily to be taken back to your poor mother.
"Thinking it possible that the Indians might return, I hurried out to look for Stephen, so that we might make our escape. I was resolved at all costs to save your life. I tried to comfort you, at the same time, by telling you that I was your uncle, and that your mother had wished me to take care of you.
"Going on a little way, I found another hut, the door of which was open, and smoke coming out of it. The savages had thrown in their firebrands as they quitted the village, and the front part was already on fire.
"While I was shouting for Stephen he rushed out of the hut, with a blanket rolled up in his arms, the end thrown over his own head.
"'I have saved this child, and thank Heaven you are here to take her!' he exclaimed, unfolding the blanket, and putting a little girl into my arms. 'I must try and preserve the mother;' and again throwing the blanket over his head, he dashed in through the flames.
"In another minute he reappeared, struggling along under the heavy burden of a grown-up person wrapped in the blanket. As he reached me he sank down, overcome by the smoke, and I noticed that his clothes and hair were singed.
"On opening the blanket I saw a young woman, her dress partly burned. She too was wounded. The fresh air somewhat revived her; and on opening her eyes and seeing the little girl, she stretched out her arms for her. 'Lilias! my little Lily! she's saved,' she whispered, as she pressed her lips to the child's brow. 'May Heaven reward you!'
"It was the final effort of exhausted nature, and in a few minutes she breathed her last.
"The flames, meantime, had gained the mastery over the building, and we saw that it was impossible to save it.
"But it's time to turn in, Roger," said Uncle Mark. "I'll tell you more about the matter to-morrow."
As Uncle Mark always meant what he said, I knew that there would be no use in trying to get him to go on then, eager as I was to hear more of what had, as may be supposed, so deeply interested me. I accordingly turned into my bunk, and was soon asleep.
I dreamed of shrieking Indians and burning villages; and more than once I started up and listened to the strange unearthly sounds which came from the depths of the forest.
These noises, I may here say, were caused by the wolves; for the savage brutes occasionally came near the settlement, attracted by the sheep and cattle which the inhabitants had brought with them. A bright look-out being kept, however, it was seldom that any of our stock was carried off. Bears also occasionally came into the neighbourhood; and we had already shot two, whose skins supplied us with winter coats. Our intention was to kill as many more as we could meet with, that their skins might serve us for other purposes—especially as coverlets for our beds. And, besides, their flesh was always a welcome addition to our larder.
Next morning we went about our usual work. My uncle with his bright axe commenced felling the trees round our hut—working away from sunrise to sunset, with only an hour's intermission for dinner. I aided him, as far as my strength would allow, for a certain number of hours daily. But my uncle encouraged me to follow the bent of my inclination, which was to get away and observe the habits of the creatures dwelling in the surrounding forest.
I had been a naturalist from my earliest days. The study had been my poor father's hobby—so my uncle told me—and I inherited his love for it. It had, moreover, been developed and encouraged by a visit we had received, some few years back, from a scientific gentleman, who had come over to America to make himself acquainted with the feathered tribes, the quadrupeds, and the reptiles of the New World.
It had been my delight to accompany this gentleman on his excursions while he was with us; and I prized a couple of books he had left with me more than I should have done a lump of gold of the same weight. From him I learned to preserve and stuff the skins of the birds and animals I killed; a knowledge which I turned to profitable account, by my uncle's advice—as they were sent, when opportunity occurred, to the Eastern States, where they found a ready market.
"It pays very well in its way, Roger," observed Uncle Mark; "but work is better. If you can combine the two, I have no objection; but you are now too old to play, and, for your own sake, you should do your best to gain your own living. While you were young, I was ready to work for you; and so I should be now, if you could not work for yourself. I want you, however, to understand that it is far nobler for a man to labour for his daily bread, than to allow others to labour for him."
I fully agreed with Uncle Mark. Indeed, my ambition had long been to support myself. I had an idea, nevertheless, that the skins I preserved brought more immediate profit than did the result of his labours with the axe. But, everything considered, we got on very well together; for I was grateful to him for the affection and care he had bestowed on me during my childhood.
I was hard at work that day preparing a number of birds I had shot in the morning; and when dinnertime came, Uncle Mark, telling me to continue my task, said he would get our meal ready. Having quickly prepared it, he brought out the platters, and set himself down near me. I washed my hands, and speedily despatched my dinner; after which I returned to my work.
"Will you go on with the account you were giving me last night?" I said, observing that he did not seem inclined to move. "You have more than half an hour to rest, and I will then come and help you."
"Where was I? Oh! I remember," said my uncle. "In the middle of the burning settlement, with you and Lily in my arms.
"We were wondering what had become of Yearsley, when we caught sight of him rushing out from amid the burning huts.
"'They are all killed!—all, all, all!' he shrieked out. 'Follow me, lads;' and he pointed with a significant gesture in the direction he supposed the Indians had taken.
"'But these children, Mr Yearsley! You would not have us desert them! And my brother is too much injured, I fear, to accompany you,' I observed.
"He looked at the children for a moment.
"'You are right,' he answered. 'Stay by them; or rather, make your way back eastward with them. Ignorant as you are of the habits of the savages, you could aid me but little. If I do not return, the waggon and its contents, with the team, will be yours.'
"Before I had time to reply, or to ask him the name of the poor young woman who lay dead at my feet, he had dashed across the stream, and soon disappeared amid the forest beyond. He had doubtless discovered the trail of the Indians, or of the band of settlers who had gone in pursuit of them; although we at that time were quite unable to perceive what was visible to his more practised eye.
"I told Stephen how I had discovered our sister's house; so we agreed to return to it, and to carry there the body of the poor young woman, that we might bury it with those of our own family. The hut was one of the very few which had escaped the flames, and we found some spades and a pickaxe within. Not knowing how soon we might be interrupted, we at once set to work and dug two graves under a maple-tree at the further end of the garden. One was large enough to hold our brother-in-law and sister, and their boy; and in the other we placed the poor young lady— for a lady she appeared to be, judging from her dress, her ear-rings and brooch, and a ring which she wore on her finger. These trinkets we removed, in order to preserve them for her little daughter; as also a miniature which hung round her neck,—that of a handsome young man, who was doubtless her husband. Stephen told me that the cottage from which he had rescued her, as far as he had time to take notice, seemed to be neatly and tastefully furnished.
"We concluded that her husband, if he had not been killed when the village was surprised, had followed the savages along with the rest; and he would be able on his return to identify his child, while we should know him by his portrait.
"Before beginning our sad occupation, we had got some water and washed the stains from your hands and clothes, and left you in a room playing with little Lily; and on our return we gave you both some food which we found in the house. By this time, too, you seemed perfectly at home with us.
"At first we thought of remaining in the house until Mr Yearsley and the settlers whom we supposed had gone in pursuit of the savages should return; but Stephen suggested that this might be dangerous, as we should not know what was happening outside. The Indians might come back and surprise us, when we should to a certainty share the fate which had befallen so many others. We agreed, therefore, that our safest course would be to make our way back to the waggon, where we had abundance of provisions, and where we could find shelter for the children who had been committed to us, we felt sure, by Providence.
"They were now our chief care. While I took charge of them, Stephen hurriedly examined the other huts which had escaped destruction; crying out in case any one should be concealed, in order to let them know that we were ready to help them. No answer came, however, and we were soon convinced that every person in the settlement, with the exception of those who had gone in pursuit of the savages, had been slaughtered.
"As soon as we were satisfied as to this, we began our retreat, hoping to get back to the waggon before nightfall. Our intention was to wait there for Mr Yearsley, as we felt sure that, after he had punished the Indians, he would come and look for us where he had left the waggon.
"The sun was setting as we reached the top of the ridge; but we were too far off to distinguish any one moving in the settlement, although we made out the smouldering fire, from which thin wreaths of smoke alone ascended in the calm evening air. On reaching the waggon, we found the cattle grazing quietly beside it. Having removed some packages, among which was one of new blankets, we made up beds for the two children; and after giving them some supper, we placed them, sleeping, side by side.
"We agreed that one of us should watch while the other slept. We also resolved that, in the event of our being attacked by Indians, we should show them fight; for we had a good store of ammunition, and knew well how to handle our weapons. Although we hoped they would not come, yet we knew that they might possibly fall upon our trail and discover our whereabouts. Indeed, had we not thought it our duty to wait for Mr Yearsley, we should have harnessed the cattle, and endeavoured to make our way down the mountain in the dark.
"After we had put you and Lily to bed, and had refreshed ourselves with some supper, I climbed again to the top of the ridge; but I could see no object moving in the plain, nor could I hear the slightest sound to indicate the approach of any one. I therefore returned.
"While Stephen lay down under the waggon, I kept watch, walking up and down with my rifle ready in my hand, and resting occasionally by leaning against the wheel of the waggon. After I had watched thus for about four hours, I called Stephen, who took my place.
"I was again on foot by daybreak, and once more climbed to the top of the ridge to look out. But I had the same report as before to give. The fire had burned itself out, and I could see no one moving. We waited all that day—and might have waited for several more, until our cattle had eaten up the herbage—without being discovered; but Mr Yearsley did not appear, nor could we see any signs of the other settlers.
"We did our best to amuse you and Lily. You asked frequently after your poor mother; and it went to my heart to tell you that you would never see her again.
"Stephen proposed that we should the next morning set out on our journey eastward; but as I thought it possible that Mr Yearsley would by that time have got back to the settlement, I undertook to go and search for him—or to try and find any of the other people, and learn what had become of him. Stephen agreed to this; undertaking to look after the children and guard the waggon during my absence.
"At daybreak I set out, keeping myself concealed, as much as possible, behind bushes and trunks of trees, until I got back to the scene of the catastrophe. I listened; but all was still as death. Excepting the two or three huts around my brother-in-law's abode, the whole ground where the settlement had stood presented only black heaps of ashes, surrounded by palings and trunks of trees charred by the flames. I could see no one moving across the river, either; and the dreadful idea seized me that the settlers who had gone in pursuit of the foe had been cut off, and that Mr Yearsley had in all likelihood shared the same fate. Had it not been for Stephen and the children, I would have watched all day, in the hope of our friend's return; but I had promised not to be longer than I could help.
"I again visited my poor brother-in-law's hut, and packed up such clothes as I saw belonging to you. I also brought away a few other articles, to remind us of your mother; for I thought it probable that the settlement would be revisited by the savages, who would take good care to finish the work they had begun. I then set off on my return to the waggon, looking back every now and then, lest I might be followed by any of the foe.
"On reaching the waggon, Stephen agreed with me that we might safely wait till the next morning. We did so; and poor Yearsley not then appearing, we proceeded with the waggon along the road we had taken in coming, until we reached Watfield, a large settlement which had then been established for three or four years.
"The account we gave of what had happened caused the inhabitants considerable anxiety and alarm. The men at once flew to arms; stockades were put up; and sentries were posted at all points, to watch for the possible approach of the Indians.
"Stephen and I having now no wish to go further east, we determined to remain where we were. As for the waggon and team, though we had no written document to show that Yearsley had given them to us, our statement was believed; and it was agreed that we should be allowed to keep them,—especially as we consented to give them up should the original owner return. But nothing was ever heard of him, or of the other settlers who had gone in pursuit of the retreating foe; and it was generally believed that the whole had been surrounded and murdered by the savages.
"As we could not spare time to look after the children, one of us agreed to marry. Stephen therefore fixed upon your Aunt Hannah, who was, he had discovered, likely to prove a good housewife, and was kind-hearted and gentle-mannered. A true mother, too, she has ever proved to our Lily."
Uncle Mark only spoke the truth when he praised Aunt Hannah; for she had been like an affectionate mother to me, as well as to Lily, and much I owed her for the care she had bestowed upon me.
I need not describe my own early days; indeed, several years passed without the occurrence of any incidents which would be especially interesting to others. Gradually the border-village grew into a town, although even then the country continued in almost its original wild state within a mile or two of us. Both Lily and I got a fair amount of schooling; and in the holidays I was able to indulge my taste, by rambling into the forest and increasing my knowledge of the habits of its denizens. Occasionally I got leave for Lily to accompany me, although Aunt Hannah did not much approve of her going so far from home.
One day I had persuaded our aunt to let her accompany me—Lily herself was always ready to go—for the sake of collecting some baskets of berries. "I promise to come back with as many as I can carry, to fill your jam-pots," said I. There were whortleberries, and thimble-berries, blue-berries, raspberries, and strawberries, and many others which, I reminded her, were now in season. "If we do not get them now, the time will pass. Lily's fingers, too, will pick them quicker than mine, so that we shall get double as many as I should get by myself," I observed.
My arguments prevailed, and Lily and I set out, happy as the red-birds we saw flying in and out among the trees around us.
We had nearly filled our baskets, and I was on my knees picking some strawberries which grew on the bank of a small stream running through an open part of the forest, when Lily, who was at a little distance from me, shrieked out. I was about to spring to my feet and hurry to her assistance—supposing that she had been frightened by some animal—when what was my horror to see, close to me, a huge wolf, with open jaws, ready to seize me! My stick, the only weapon I carried, lay just within my reach; so I put out my hand and instinctively grasped it, determined to fight for my own life and Lily's too—knowing how, if the wolf killed me, it would next attack her.
As I moved the creature snarled, but did not advance any nearer. So, grasping the stick, I sprang to my feet and swung the weapon round with all my might, despair giving energy to my muscles. The savage creature retreated a few paces, astonished at the unexpected blow, snarling, and eyeing me, as if about to make another attack.
Again Lily shrieked.
"Run, run!" I cried; "I will tackle the wolf."
But she did not move; indeed, she saw that the creature was more likely to come off victor than I was.
I stood ready to receive the animal, doubtful whether I ought to make the attack; Lily, in the meantime, continuing to cry aloud for help. The wolf at length seemed to get tired of waiting for his expected prey, and giving a fierce howl, he was on the point of springing at me, when a bullet fired by an unseen hand laid him dead at my feet.
Lily sprang towards me, exclaiming, "You are safe! you are safe, Roger!" and then burst into tears. She scarcely seemed to consider how I had been saved. All she saw was the dead wolf, and that I was unhurt.
On looking round, I observed an Indian advancing towards us from among the trees.
"That must be the man who killed the wolf," I exclaimed. "We must thank him, Lily."
Lily had ever a great dread of Indians. "We must run! we must run, Roger!" she cried. "He may kill us as easily as he did the wolf, or carry us away prisoners."
"We cannot escape him, Lily; and I do not think he will hurt us," I answered in an encouraging tone. "I will go forward and thank him for saving my life. It will not do to show any fear; and if he is disposed to be friendly, he would think it ungrateful if we were to run off without thanking him."
I took Lily's hand as I spoke, and led her towards the Indian. He was dressed in skins, with an axe hanging from his belt, and had long black hair streaming over his shoulders,—unlike most of the Indians I had seen, who wear it tied up and ornamented with feathers. A small silver medal hung from his neck, and I guessed from this that he was a friend to the white men, and had received it as a token for some service he had rendered them.
He made a friendly sign as he saw us approach, and put out his hand.
"We come to thank you for killing the wolf that was about to spring upon me," I said in English, for though I knew a few words of the Indian tongue, I could not at that time speak it sufficiently well to express what I wished to say.
"Kepenau is glad to have done you a service," he answered in English. "I heard the young maiden cry out, and guessed that she would not do so without cause, so I hurried on to help you. But why are you so far from home? It is dangerous for unarmed people to wander in this forest."
"We came out to gather berries, and were about to return," said Lily. "You will not detain us?"
"Not if you wish to go," answered the Indian.
"But come with me, and you shall return with something of more value than these berries."
I felt sure that the Indian would not injure us, so Lily and I followed him, hand in hand.
He moved through the forest faster than we could, and presently stopped near some rocks, amid which lay the body of a deer with huge antlers. Placing himself across the carcass of the animal, he exclaimed with a look of exultation, "See! I have overcome the king of these forests. Once, thousands of these animals wandered here, but since the white man has come they have all disappeared; and now that I have slain him, we must go likewise, and seek for fresh hunting-grounds. Still, Kepenau bears the Whiteskins no malice. He was ever their friend, and intends to remain so. You must take some of the meat and present it to your friends."
Saying this, he commenced skinning the deer, in which operation I assisted him. He then cut off several slices, which he wrapped up in some large leaves and placed in my basket.
"Take the venison to your mother, and say that Kepenau sends it," he observed.
"He has no mother," said Lily.
"Is he not your brother?" asked the Indian.
"No!" said Lily. "His mother was killed by the Redskins long, long ago."
Lily at that time did not know that her own mother had been murdered when mine was.
"You do not bear the red men any malice on that account, I trust?" said Kepenau, turning to me.
"The Great Spirit tells us to forgive our enemies; and there are good and bad Indians."
"You are a good Indian, I am sure," said Lily, looking up at him with more confidence in her manner than she had before shown.
"I wish to become so," he said, smiling. "I have learned to love the Great Spirit, and wish to obey him. But it is time for you to return home. Wait until I have secured the flesh of the deer, and then I will accompany you."
Kepenau quickly cut up the animal, and fastened the more valuable portion's to the bough of a tree—out of the reach of the wolves—by means of some lithe creepers which grew at hand; then loading himself with as much of the venison as he could conveniently carry, he said, "We will move on."
Having accompanied us to the edge of the forest, he bade us farewell. "Should there be more wolves in the forest, they will not follow you further than this," he said; "but if they do, remember that it will be better to sacrifice some of the venison, than to allow them to overtake you. Throw them a small bit at a time; and as in all likelihood they will stop to quarrel over it, you will thus have time to escape."
I remembered the Indian's advice, although we did not need to practise it on this occasion.
We reached home before dark, and greatly surprised Aunt Hannah with the present of venison. She had, she told us, been very anxious at our prolonged absence.
GREENFORD SETTLEMENT—THE FLYING SQUIRRELS—MIKE LAFFAN AND TOM QUAMBO— THEIR DOGS, YELP AND SNAP—A RACCOON-HUNT—MIKE HAVING SEEN A BEAR, WE GO IN CHASE—OUR DOGS SCENT BRUIN—QUAMBO IN DANGER—THE BEAR IS KILLED, AND QUAMBO RELEASED—WE RETURN TO THE HUT—THE LOGGING BEE—UNCLE STEPHEN'S HOUSE—INDIAN SUMMER—MIKE LAFFAN'S CREMONA—THE NIGHT ATTACK OF THE WOLVES—WE DETERMINE TO GO LUMBERING FOR THE WINTER—MIKE AND I GO ON AHEAD—UNCLE MARK IS ATTACKED BY A WOLF—MIKE SAVES HIM, AND WE PROCEED ONWARDS.
We had only lately, as I have already said, arrived at our new location. My uncles had been imbued with the restless spirit of backwoodsmen, and Aunt Hannah was ready to do whatever Uncle Stephen wished. So, having grown weary of the life at Watfield, where we had at first been located, they had resolved, along with several other inhabitants of that place, to push westward; and after making their way through forests, rivers, and swamps, and over hills and plains, had formed the new settlement where Uncle Stephen now was, and which they had named Greenford.
To the hut where Uncle Mark and I lived no name had been given; but he expressed his belief that it would one day become the centre of a great city. "Before that day arrives, however, you and I, Roger, will have moved far away westward," he observed.
I used to exercise diligence while I was at work, in order that I might have more time to attend to the study of natural history. My great delight was to get away into the forest and observe the habits of its various inhabitants. Often would I sit on the root of an old tree watching the playful squirrels at their gambols. When I spied a hole in which I knew that a family were likely to have taken up their abode, I would hide myself; and before long I was generally rewarded by seeing a "papa" squirrel poking out his nose. Soon he would give an inaudible sniff, sniff, sniff, then out would come his head, and he would look round to ascertain whether danger was near. Presently I would catch sight of his thick furry body and lovely brush, the tail curling over his head. Then another nose would appear, and large shining eyes; and out another would pop; followed in rapid succession by the whole family. Then, how delightful it was to watch them frolicking about, darting round the trunks, sending the bark rattling down as they chased each other; whisking their tails; darting along the boughs, and bounding fearlessly from branch to branch. One, reaching the end of a bough, would spread out its arms and tail, exhibiting the white fur beneath, and fly down to a lower branch, or to the earth below, followed by its companions; then away they would go along the logs or swinging vines, and up another trunk, quick as lightning. Sometimes I would catch them at their supper, nibbling away at the nuts which they had plucked, or had dug out of the ground with their sharp little paws.
A flying squirrel is indeed a beautiful creature. Its colour is a most delicate grey; the fur thick and short, and as soft as velvet; the eyes large and full. The membrane by which it is enabled to take its flights is of a soft texture, and white, like the fur of the chinchilla. The tail greatly resembles an elegantly-formed broad feather.
One day, as I was wandering along the banks of a stream, for the purpose of observing the habits of a family of beavers that had lately made their abode there, I caught sight of a number of squirrels. They were evidently about some important operation, since they were moving steadily along the branches, and refraining from their usual frisking and playing. Having concealed myself from their view, in order that they might not be disturbed by my presence, I noticed that they went on until they reached the branch of a tree overhanging the stream, at the extreme end of which one, who appeared to be their leader, took post, looking eagerly up the current. In a short time a small log floated near, with a tendency to move over to the opposite side. As it came beneath the leader of the party he dropped down upon it, at the same time uttering a sharp cry. Quick as lightning some others followed his example; and by holding on to the lower twigs they arrested its progress until the whole party were seated on board, when the log was allowed to float, as they sagaciously knew it would, towards the opposite bank. It seemed to me as if some of them were steering it with their tails; but of that I am not positive. In a short time, after floating some way down the stream it was guided to the shore; when one after the other leaped off, and quickly running along the boughs of the trees, gained a point exactly opposite to that from which they had started; after which they went away into the forest,—bent, I doubted not, on some predatory expedition. They would soon make their presence known, when they reached the pumpkin-grounds or maize-fields of the settlers.
I was not always alone in my rambles through the forest. Lily would have been only too happy to accompany me, but Aunt Hannah judged it prudent to keep her at home; and, indeed, she had plenty of occupation there. My chief companion, therefore, was one of Uncle Stephen's labourers—an Irishman, Mike Laffan by name.
Although Mike had no great knowledge of natural history, he was as fond of searching for animals as I was, and consequently was always ready to accompany me when he had the chance. He was an honest fellow; a thorough Patlander in look, manners, language, and ideas. When he could, he used to press Tom Quambo, an old free negro, into the service; and Quambo enjoyed the fun as much as Mike did. Each possessed a dog, of which they were very proud, ugly as the animals were to look at.
"Den, you see, massa, if Yelp not 'ansome, he know eberyting," Quambo used to remark. "He braver dan painter [meaning the puma], and run like greased lightning."
It was difficult to say whether Yelp or Mike's dog was the ugliest; but both masters were equally proud of their canine friends.
I too had a dog, which, if not a beauty, was certainly handsomer than either of his two acquaintances. He was clever enough in his way, but more useful in watching the hut than in hunting; indeed, when I went out by myself for the purpose of observing the habits of the denizens of the forest, I never took him, knowing that he would only interfere with their sports.
On one occasion I had been over to see my Uncle Stephen, and as I was returning home Mike Laffan met me.
"Would you loike to be afther looking for a 'coon to-night, Masther Roger?" he asked. "Quambo says he can come; and Yelp and Snap are moighty ager for the sport."
I at once agreed to meet my two friends, accompanied by my dog Pop.
Accordingly, at the time appointed, the day's work being over, Mike and Quambo made their appearance at the hut; while running at their heels were their two dogs, who were soon warmly greeted by Pop.
Setting out, we took our way along the banks of the river, near which we fully expected to fall in with several raccoons. We had our guns, and were provided with torches and the means of lighting them. We had not gone far before we heard voices, and soon we were joined by three lads from the settlement, who had got notice of the expedition. As they had brought their dogs, we had a full pack of mongrels of high and low degree, but united by one feeling,—that of deadly enmity to raccoons.
On we went, while the dogs, who had just then scented one of their foes, yelled in chorus. Over huge logs and rotten trunks, through the brush and dead trees and briars, we went at full speed; and sometimes wading across bogs, sometimes climbing up banks, and occasionally tumbling over on our noses, we continued to make our way at the heels of the dogs, until old Quambo, waving his torch above his head, and suddenly stopping short, shouted out, "De 'coon's treed!"
He had made a mistake, however, for the dogs bayed loudly and continued their course.
"Dat a mighty old 'coon," cried Quambo. "He know what he about."
The raccoon, if it had got up the tree, had come down again, and was still ahead. Some of the party were almost in despair; but I knew the habits of the creature too well not to feel sure that we should get it at last, so I encouraged my friends, while we dashed on as before.
Yelp and Snap, having kept well ahead of the other dogs, were now heard baying under a big tree, and no doubt remained that the raccoon had taken refuge amid its branches. Our difficulty was to get it down. As the others hesitated to encounter the fierce little animal amid the boughs, Mike, for the honour of "Old Ireland," offered to make his way up. Without more ado, then, he got on Quambo's shoulders, sprang to a branch within his reach, and was soon lost to sight among the foliage.
"I see him!" he shouted at last; and bits of bark, leaves, and rotten twigs came rattling down, while the loud whacks of his stick reached our ears. Presently there was a "flop;" the raccoon had been compelled to evacuate its stronghold. The dogs once more gave chase; and I, torch in hand, followed them. In less than a minute I came up with the dogs, and found the creature at bay, its eyes flashing fire, while it bravely faced the pack, which, with gnashing growls and savage yells, were about to dash upon it, though each seemed unwilling to receive the first bite from its sharp teeth. But, hearing the voices of their masters, they gained courage, and in another instant had the poor animal struggling vainly in their midst; while our blows came rattling down, to finish its sufferings, and prevent them tearing its skin to pieces.
Such was one of several raccoon-hunts in which I took part.
The raccoon is about the size of a spaniel, and its colour is a blackish grey. Its tail is short and bushy, and is marked with five or six blackish rings on a grey ground. When the animal walks slowly, or sits, it plants the soles of its feet upon the ground; but when in a hurry it runs along on the tips of its toes. It hunts for its prey chiefly at night, when it devours any small animals it can catch. It has no objection, however, to a vegetable diet; and, indeed, its teeth show that it is capable of feeding on both descriptions of food.
I once caught a young raccoon, which soon became domesticated—being quite as tame as a dog. It possessed, however, a habit of which I could not cure it; that of seizing any fowls it set eyes on, and biting off their heads. It having treated two or three of Aunt Hannah's in this way, I was compelled to carry it into the forest and set it at liberty. It enjoyed its freedom but a short time, however, as it was soon afterwards hunted and killed by some of our boys.
Having got so far from home, our party were not inclined to return without something in addition to the unfortunate animal we had slaughtered. Mike, too, announced to us that he had seen a brown bear at a spot a little further on; so it was at once agreed that we should "knock up the quarters of Mr Bruin."
It was necessary to proceed with caution; for though the "musquaw" or brown bear will seldom attack a human being unless first assaulted, our friend, if unceremoniously disturbed at night, would probably not be in a good-humour. Our three well-trained dogs kept at our heels, but the other curs went yelping away through the forest; nor could their masters' voices succeed in calling them back. We feared, therefore, that they would rouse up the bear, and thus give it time to escape before we could reach its dwelling.
"Faix, though, I am not sure that the noise outside won't make the old gentleman keep quiet in his den," observed Mike. "He will be after saying to his wife, 'Sure, what would be the use, Molly, of turning out to go hunting thim noisy spalpeens of dogs? I'll sit snug and quiet till they come to the door; and thin, sure, it will be toime enough to axe thim what they want.'"
Mike's notion encouraged us to go on; and at length Pop, Snap, and Yelp gave signs of uneasiness, and showed a decided inclination to rush forward.
"Let dem go!" exclaimed Quambo.
"Off with you!" we cried at once; and the dogs darted on, barking furiously, until they stopped before the decayed trunk of a huge tree, round which several smaller trees, once saplings, had grown up—a well-selected natural fortification. As the light of our torches fell on it, we fully expected to see Mr Bruin stalk forth and inquire what we wanted.
Quambo proposed that we should light a fire in the neighbourhood, so that, did our enemy appear, we might be better able to attack him and defend ourselves. We followed the black's advice; but still nothing appeared. The dogs, however, showed they were convinced that some animal or other was concealed within the trunk.
At last, growing impatient, we approached and thrust our long sticks into the hollow, feeling about in every direction.
"I am sure that mine has struck something soft!" I exclaimed; and scarcely had I uttered the words when a low growl reached our ears. A dark body next appeared for an instant among the stems of the trees surrounding the hollow trunk, and then out rushed a bear through an opening which we had not perceived.
The dogs gave chase, and so did we. Bruin had but a short start; and although he must have been well acquainted with the locality, we, scorning all impediments, soon overtook him—the dogs having already commenced biting at his hind feet. This was too much for his equanimity, so, suddenly turning round, he struck two or three of them with his fore paws, sending them sprawling to a distance. As he did so the glare of our torches dazzled his eyes, and so perplexed him that he seemed not to know what to do. Of one thing only he must have been convinced,—that he was in for a fight; and, brave bear as he was, he sat up on his hind legs and prepared to receive us.
Mike fired, but only wounded him in the shoulder. This stirred up Bruin's anger to a pitch of fury, and, with a growl like thunder, he dashed forward at his opponent. Mike, however, nimbly skipped on one side, and the bear's eye fell on Quambo, who had lifted his rifle to fire. But scarcely had he pulled the trigger when the bear was upon him, and both rolled over together.
For an instant I thought that the black was killed, but his voice shouting to us to drag off the bear reassured me; and Mike's hunting-knife quickly finished the animal, which was struggling in the agonies of death. Happily, his teeth had only torn Quambo's jacket; and on our dragging away the dead body the black sprang to his feet.
"Berry good sport," he observed, shaking himself. "I'se wonder wedder Mrs Bear not remain behind! and piccaninny bears too, perhaps! We look as we go by. Howeber, we now make ready dis gen'leman to carry home." He and Mike then fastened the bear's feet together, and hung the animal to a long pole, which they cut from a sapling growing near. Then having placed it on their shoulders, with short pieces at right angles at either end to prevent it slipping, they announced that they were ready to set off; so, while they led the way with our prize, we commenced our homeward journey.
Whether Mrs Bruin had occupied part of the trunk, we could not positively ascertain. Quambo expressed his belief that she had been there, but had taken the opportunity, while we went in chase of her spouse, to make her escape with her offspring. We possibly might have found her; but, with her young to defend, she would have proved a dangerous foe, and, as our torches were almost burnt out, we should have had to encounter her in the dark. We therefore considered it prudent to proceed on our way.
I remained at the hut while the rest of the party went back to the settlement. Aunt Hannah was well pleased to obtain so valuable a prize; and she sent us, some weeks afterwards, a smoked bear's ham as our share of the spoil.
I can give but a very brief account of the adventures of those days; indeed, sometimes weeks went by during which I was hard at work without intermission, either assisting Uncle Mark, or joining in one or other of the "bees" got up for various purposes—when we went to help others, as our neighbours, when required, came to help us.
Sometimes we joined what was called a "logging bee," which I may explain thus:—When a new hut was to be erected, we and others united to drag the logs out of the forest, and to hew them into proper lengths to form the walls of the hut. These are placed, not upright, but horizontally, one above another. The length of the outside walls is first determined; whereupon the lowest log is let a little way into the earth, and a groove is cut on the upper side with a deep notch at each end. The next log is placed on the top of it, each end being so cut as to dovetail into the others at right angles; thus one log is placed upon another until the destined height of the wall is reached. Doors and windows are afterwards sawed out; and the rafters are fixed on in the usual fashion. The roof is formed of rough slabs of wood called shingles; the interstices being filled up with clay. A big iron stove, the flues running from one end to the other, keeps the hut thoroughly warm in winter; while the thickness of the walls causes it to be cool in summer.
Many of the settlers had large houses of this description; but stores, and buildings where warmth was not of so much consequence, had their walls merely of planks nailed on to the framework. Uncle Stephen's house was built of logs raised on a platform above the ground, with steps leading to it, and a broad verandah in front. It contained a sitting-room, several bedrooms, and a kitchen; the verandah being painted a bright green, with stripes of pink, while the window-frames and doors were yellow. I used to think it a beautiful mansion, but perhaps that was on account of those who lived within. The abode of Lily was of necessity, to my mind, charming.
The autumn of that year was now approaching its close. There is in North America, at that period of the year, what is called the "Indian summer." The air is balmy, but fresh, and mere existence to those in health is delightful; a light gauze-like mist pervades the atmosphere, preventing the rays of the sun, beaming forth from an unclouded sky, from proving over-oppressive. Already the forest has assumed its particoloured tints. The maple has put on a dress of every hue,—of yellow, red, pink, and green. The leaves of the beeches become of a golden tinge, and those of the oak appear as if turned into bronze, while numerous creepers present the richest reds.
We settlers, however, had but little time in which to admire the beauties of Nature, for we knew that every day was rapidly bringing us to the period when all agricultural labour must cease, and the ground would be covered with a sheet of snow. Not that we were then doomed to idleness, however, for we had abundance of out-of-door work during the winter, in felling trees; and, as soon as the snow had hardened, dragging them over it,—either to form huge heaps, where they could be burned, or to be placed in the spots where they were required for putting up buildings or fences.
Uncle Stephen having engaged some new hands,—who, being fresh from the "old country," were unwilling, as they were unfit, to go further into the forest,—allowed Mike and Quambo to come to us. We therefore put up a room for them next to our own, and which could be heated in winter by the same stove. We were thus able to get on much more rapidly with our task of clearing the ground. Mike, indeed, was a great acquisition to our party; for, besides singing a good Irish song, he had learned to play the fiddle,—and, of course, he had brought his "Cremona," of which he was justly proud, along with him. He beguiled the long winter evenings with many a merry tune, and not unfrequently set old Quambo dancing. Sometimes we would look in; and we found it great fun to see Quambo, in the confined space of the cabin, coming the "double shuffle"—bounding up and down, and whirling round and round, snapping his fingers and stamping his feet, until the perspiration streamed down his sooty cheeks. Mike would continue bobbing his head, meanwhile, and applauding with voice and gesture, though keeping his countenance, and looking as grave as a judge while listening to the counsel for a prisoner.
We had now made an opening which enabled us to see the river from our hut; and Mike declared that we were getting quite civilised, and were beginning to look like being in the midst of a great city, barring the houses, and streets, and people.
"Sure, they'll be afther coming one of these days," he added.
"When that happens, it will be time for us to think of moving further westward," observed Uncle Mark.
A violent storm, which sent the boughs and leaves flying about our heads, brought the "Indian summer" to a conclusion, and the frost set in soon afterwards.
One evening, after the day's work was over, and supper had been finished, we were sitting in our hut employed in various occupations before turning in for the night, when a low howl reached our ears.
"What is that?" I exclaimed.
Before Uncle Mark could make answer, the howl was answered by another; and presently, others joining in, the whole forest reverberated with a melancholy and spirit-depressing chorus.
"Wolves!" said Uncle Mark. "The frost has driven them from the high ground, and they are contemplating a raid on our porkers and cattle. We must send them to the right-about, or they will become audacious."
Calling to Mike and Quambo, we put on our coats and sallied forth, armed with guns and sticks. The moon was shining brightly, so we required no torches. We made our way over the fallen trunks and rough rocks which formed the bank of the river, but after a while the howls appeared to come from a still greater distance than before.
Uncle Mark now called a halt. "The brutes hear us, and are retreating," he said. "Keep silence for a few minutes, and maybe we shall catch sight of them."
Under his directions I seated myself on the trunk of a tree, while he and the two men stayed near. Presently I caught sight of a pair of glaring eyeballs, and soon another wolf came into view.
"Get your rifles ready," whispered Uncle Mark. "You, Roger, shoot the one to the left. I will aim at the next. Mike and Quambo, you take two others. Unless they run off, we may give a good account of the whole pack."
As he finished speaking I fired, followed by Uncle Mark and the other men; and, as the result, four wolves rolled over dead. The rest of them, however, disappointed us by turning tail and scampering off to a safe distance, from whence only their howls reached us. Uncle Mark, however, did not consider it prudent to follow them. Indeed, had they heard us approaching they would probably have retreated out of shot; for wolves, though they will follow a fugitive, like other savage animals, will generally try to escape when pursued. So, having secured the skins of those we had killed, although they were of no great value, we returned homewards.
After this we had alternately rain and frost, with a few fine days, till the snow came down, and the winter commenced in earnest. But we were all pretty well inured to it. Indeed, except when the wind blew, we were in the habit of hewing in the forest with our coats off; and even then we often found it hot work.
Mike came back one day from the settlement—where he had been sent for a few stores and powder and shot—with the information that a party of lumberers had commenced operations some miles up a river which ran into the great lake, and that the "boss" had sent a ganger to hire hands, more of whom were wanted.
"A few dollars of ready cash would be very acceptable," observed Uncle Mark. "What say you, Roger? We'll start away, and spend a month or so with them. We can take Mike with us, while Quambo will look after the hut, the cattle, and pigs."
I was ready, of course; and so, as my uncle was a man of action, he determined to set off the next morning. We were all good skaters; and although, during the first part of our journey, we should be unable to make use of our skates, we settled to carry them with us.
At daybreak, then, we were up, and having taken breakfast, were ready to start,—our provisions consisting of flour-cakes and cold pork, with a pot and pannikins. Mike also carried his fiddle hung around his neck.
"It will help to amuse the gossoons—and maybe put a few dollars in my pocket," he remarked with a wink. "Bedad! I'll keep their feet going, when the work is over for the day, and they are afther sharpening their axes."
We had but one gun with us, which Mike carried, as we wished to travel with as little encumbrance as possible.
But just as we were starting off, Uncle Mark recollected that he had forgotten to write to Uncle Stephen upon a matter of importance.
"You, Roger, and Mike, can go on ahead," he said, "while I finish my letter, which I will leave with Quambo to be forwarded; and I will soon overtake you."
As there was now light enough for us to see our way through the forest, we commenced our tramp. There was no risk of our taking the wrong road, seeing there was but one—along the course of the stream, which ran into the larger river; and it was now frozen in such a manner as to afford us a good highway. Mike was always amusing, and I was glad of his company; besides which, as we had had a good start of my uncle, I was in hopes that we might have time to get a shot at something.
We had accomplished three or four miles, and I had begun to wonder why Uncle Mark had not overtaken us, as he was a quick walker, and intended to carry only his axe, and a small skin bag over his shoulder containing some necessaries. We were looking about us, in the hope of catching sight of a raccoon or opossum, or some larger game, when a howl, such as had aroused us one night a short time before, sounded through the forest.
"Sure, that comes from a pack of wolves," observed Mike. "But no! I belave one of the brutes is capable of making that noise. We have heard the echoes among the trees. I hope that there are not many of them, as they might take it into their heads to attack us, and that would not be pleasant."
We went on, however, troubling ourselves very little about the wolf, for I felt sure that there was only one, or a couple at the most. The stream, as we proceeded, became wider, running round the foot of some hills, with larches scattered on either side, their boughs bent down by the snow which had frozen hard on them. The sky had become cloudy by this time, too, and there was every appearance of a fresh fall.
"Surely Uncle Mark will be up with us soon, Mike!" I observed.
But scarcely had I spoken when I heard my uncle shouting to us. He was in the middle of the frozen stream, and was hurrying towards us, axe in hand. He had good reason to keep it there, for just then we saw a huge wolf rush out from behind a clump of trees close at hand. He stopped to receive his assailant, which, probably well nigh famished, seemed bent on his destruction.
Mike, without saying a word, had unslung the gun and dropped on his knee, for there was not a moment to be lost. In another instant the fierce wolf would have sprung at my uncle's throat, and might have taken his life; or, at all events, have severely injured him, and that before we could get near enough to render him any assistance. It all depended on Mike's steady aim, therefore; and although I was a good shot, still I was thankful that he had the gun.
He fired; and the brute, the moment that it was making its spring, fell over, snarling and hissing, with its shoulder broken. A blow on the head from my uncle's axe finished its existence.
"You have rendered me good service, Laffan," said my uncle, when we got up to him. "Had you not taken steady aim, that brute's fangs would have been at my throat in another moment."
"Faix, thin, Mr Mark, it is only what I would have wished to be done," answered Mike. "And if you ever catch sight of a bear about to give me a hug, or such a brute as this at my heels,"—and he gave the dead wolf a kick—"you will be afther shooting him, sure enough!"
"Well, Mike, we shall then be quits. In the meantime I am your debtor," answered my uncle, laughing. Notwithstanding the danger he had been in, he was quite unmoved. His cheek had not lost its ruddy glow, nor did a limb tremble.
We quickly skinned the wolf, and hung the hide up to the branch of a tree a little way from the bank, where it would be concealed from any passers-by. We did not wish to encumber ourselves with it in the meantime, and we hoped to find it on our return. We were not likely to forget the spot, any more than those boys in the "old country" would do, who, as I have heard, are taken to certain landmarks and whipped, in order that they may afterwards bear them duly in mind.
We were thankful that the wolf which had attacked my uncle was alone, as it would have been unpleasant to find ourselves followed by a howling pack; and we now regretted that we had not all of us brought our guns.
Trudging on some miles further, we came upon a part of the river which had not been frozen over until after the snow fell. Here, the ice being clear, we put on our skates, and glided merrily along towards the spot where we understood the lumberers were at work.
A TERRIFIC SNOWSTORM—KEPENAU'S TIMELY APPEARANCE—WE VISIT KEPENAU'S CAMP—HIS HOSPITALITY—AN INDIAN'S DREAD OF THE "FIRE WATER"—WE BID ADIEU TO OUR INDIAN FRIENDS—OUR ARRIVAL AT THE LOGGING ENCAMPMENT— JACQUES MICHAUD TAKES A FANCY TO MIKE—JACQUES' RAFT STORY—MY UNCLE AND I START ON OUR RETURN—WE ARE ATTACKED BY A FIERCE PACK OF WOLVES, AND ARE SAVED BY KEPENAU AND HIS MEN—MIKE LAFFAN IN A DIFFICULTY—WE RESCUE HIM—ASHATEA, KEPENAU'S DAUGHTER—MY VISIT TO LILY—MR. AND MRS. CLAXTON—DORA AND REUBEN—REUBEN VISITS OUR HUT—THE MARTEN AND PORCUPINE—AN OPOSSUM-HUNT.
The snow had for some time been falling lightly, but the wind which had arisen blew it off the ice, and thus it did not impede our progress; but that same wind, which was now by a turn of the river brought directly ahead of us, soon increased in strength, and drove the particles of snow, sharp as needles, into our faces. Indeed, the cold every instant became more intense, while the snow fell more thickly.
"Faix, and it's moighty loike a shower of penknives, mixed with needles and pins!" cried Mike. "It's a hard matther to keep the eyes open. What will we be afther doing, Mr Mark, if it gets worse?"
"We'll go on till it does get worse," said Uncle Mark. "It would not do to turn back now."
Mike said no more, but, bending down his head, worked away manfully with might and main.
I did my best to keep up, but I may say that seldom have I endured such suffering. At last I felt that I could stand it no longer; so I proposed to my uncle that we should make for the shore, and there build a hut, light a fire, and wait till the storm was over.
He was, however, bent upon going on. "We should be half-frozen before we could get up a wigwam," he answered.
Just then I heard a voice hailing us in gruff tones, and I guessed it was that of an Indian; but we had no reason to dread the Indians of these parts. As we looked about to see from whence it proceeded, I caught sight of the tops of two or three wigwams just peeping out from a cedar-bush at a little distance from the shore.
"Friends, come here!" exclaimed some one, and we observed an Indian making towards us; whereupon we turned round and skated up to him.
"Ah, friends! I know you," he said. "You cannot face the storm, which will soon blow stronger still. Come to my wigwam, where you shall have shelter till it has passed by."
As he spoke I recognised my old friend Kepenau, whom I had not seen since we had come to our present location. I had so grown, too, that he did not at first recognise me.
Having taken off our skates, we followed him to his camp, where he introduced us to several other Indians and their squaws, among whom were a number of children of all ages.
The thick cedar-bushes sheltered the spot completely from the wind, and the fire which burned in the centre afforded us a welcome warmth; for, in spite of the exercise we had gone through, our blood was chilled by the piercing snowstorm. The Indians were dressed partly in skins, and partly in garments made of blankets, received from the white men; most of the squaws wore a large blanket over their heads, forming a cloak in which they were shrouded. The wigwams were constructed of long thin poles, fastened at the top, and spread out in a conical form, the whole being covered thickly with slabs of birch-bark.
Our red-skinned hosts put us at once at our ease; and I asked Kepenau how he came to be in that part of the country.
"The white men compelled us to move westward," he answered. "They have planted on our lands, and shot the game on which we subsisted; and though I should have been content to remain among them and adopt their customs, yet my people wished to live as our fathers have lived; and I would not desert them. My desire is to instruct them in the truths I have myself learned; and it is only by dwelling with them, and showing them that I love them, that I can hope to do that."
We had much interesting conversation with Kepenau, and I was surprised at the amount of information on religious subjects which he possessed; indeed. I confess that he put us all to shame.
Uncle Mark looked grave, and sighed. "I used once to read my Bible, and listen gladly to God's Word read and preached, when I lived with my good father and mother in the 'old country,' though I have sadly neglected it since I came out here," he said; "but I will do so no longer. You have reminded me of my duty, friend Kepenau."
"What you say makes me glad. Keep to your resolve, for you cannot do God's will without reading his Word, to know what that will is," remarked Kepenau.
Our host gave up one of the wigwams for our special use, in the centre of which a fire burned, prevented from spreading by a circle of stones. The ground around the sides was covered with thick rushes which served as our beds, and we lay with our feet towards the fire. Severe as was the cold outside, and thin as appeared the walls, the heat from the fire kept us thoroughly warm; and I never slept more soundly in my life, for, although our hosts were Redskins, we felt as secure as in our own hut. Notwithstanding that the storm raged without, the wigwams were so well protected by the cedar-bushes that the fierce wind failed to reach us.
In the morning, when we came out of our wigwam we found that the squaws had prepared breakfast; which consisted of dried venison, cakes made from Indian corn, and fish which had been caught before the frost set in, and had remained hard-frozen ever since.
"You can now continue your journey, for the storm has ceased; and may the Great Spirit protect you!" observed Kepenau, looking up at the sky, across which the clouds were now scarcely moving.
Uncle Mark inquired why he did not bring his camp nearer the settlement.
"I will tell you," answered Kepenau. "Though I have been ever friendly with the white men, and value the advantages to be obtained from them, there is one thing for which I fear them,—their accursed 'fire water.' Already it has slain thousands of my people, or reduced them to a state lower than the brutes which perish; and I know not whether my young men would resist the temptation were it placed in their way."
"But all the white men do not sell the 'fire water' of which you speak," observed Uncle Mark. "I have none in my hut."
"But while one among you possesses the poison, and is ready to barter it with my people, the harm may be done," answered Kepenau. "Until I am sure that none of the 'fire water' exists in your settlement, I will not allow my people to come near it."
"I am afraid, then, that you will fail to civilise them, as you desire," observed Uncle Mark.
"Do you call it civilising them, to teach them the vices of the white men?" exclaimed the Indian in a tone of scorn. "If so, then I would rather that they remained savages, as you call them, than obtain knowledge at such a price."
"I believe that you are right," answered Uncle Mark, as we bade our host and his family good-bye; "and I have learned more than one lesson from you."
Kepenau accompanied us to the bank of the river; where we put on our skates, and continued our course without interruption till we caught sight of several thin wreaths of smoke above the tops of the trees.
"Sure, that smoke must come from the lumberers' fires," observed Mike.
"Such is probably the case; but it is just possible that it may proceed from a camp of Indians, who might not be so friendly as those we left this morning," said my uncle.
Still we were not to be stopped, and on we skated. Even should we meet enemies, we had not much cause to fear them, unless they possessed firearms. On we went, I say, gliding along at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour; and as I had never before had an opportunity of performing so great a distance, I enjoyed it amazingly.
As we advanced we caught sight of numerous logs of timber hauled out into the middle of the stream. Shortly afterwards the sound of voices reached our ears, and we saw a number of men scattered about—some engaged, with gleaming axes, in felling trees; others with horses dragging the trunks, placed on sleighs, over the hard snow on to the ice. They were there arranged alongside each other, and bound together so as to form numerous small rafts. Here they would remain until the giving way of the frost; when, on the disappearance of the ice, they would be floated down towards the mouth of the river and towed across the lake to the various saw-mills on its banks.
We were glad to be welcomed by the "boss;" who at once engaged Uncle Mark and Mike to hew, while I was to undertake the less onerous task of driving a team.
The shores of the river had been already pretty well cleared of large timber, so that I had to bring the trunks from some distance.
Uncle Mark and Laffan soon showed that they were well practised axemen.
Our companions were to spend some months engaged in the occupation I have described; till the return of spring, in fact, when, the rafts being put together, they would descend the river till rapids or cataracts were reached. The rafts would then be separated, and each log of timber, or two or three together at most, would be allowed to make their way as they best could down the fall, till they reached calm water at the foot of it; when they would be again put together, and navigated by the raftsmen guiding them with long poles. In some places, where rough rocks exist in the rapids by which the timber might be injured, slides had been formed. These slides are channels, or rather canals, as they are open at the top; and are constructed of thick boards—just as much water being allowed to rush down them as will drive on the logs. Some of these slides are two hundred feet long; others reach even to the length of seven hundred feet. The timbers are placed on cribs,—which are frames to fit the slides,—then, with a couple of men on them to guide their course, when they get through they shoot away at a furious rate down the inclined plane, and without the slightest risk of injury.
When evening approached we all assembled in a huge shanty, which had been built under the shelter of the thick bush. Round it were arranged rows of bunks, with the cooking-stove in the centre, which was kept burning at all hours, and served thoroughly to warm our abode. On each side of the stove were tables, with benches round them. Here we took our meals; which, although sufficient, were not too delicate,—salt pork being the chief dish. Rough as were the men, too, they were tolerably well-behaved; but quarrels occasionally took place, as might have been expected among such a motley crowd.
On the first evening of our arrival Mike's fiddle attracted universal attention, and he was, of course, asked to play a tune.
"Why thin, sure, I will play one with all the pleasure in life," he answered. "And, sure, some of you gintlemen will be afther loiking to take a dance;" and without more ado he seated himself on the top of a bench at the further end of the shanty, and began to scrape away with might and main, nodding his head and kicking his heels to keep time. The effect was electrical. The tables were quickly removed to the sides of the shanty; and every man, from the "boss" downwards, began shuffling away, circling round his neighbour, leaping from the ground, and shrieking at the top of his voice.
When Mike's fiddle was not going, our lumbering companions were wont to spin long yarns, as we sat at the supper-table. Several of them had worked up the northern rivers of Canada, where the winter lasts much longer than it does in the district I am describing; and among these was a fine old French Canadian, Jacques Michaud by name, who had come south with a party, tempted by the prospect of obtaining a pocketful of dollars. He stood six feet two inches in his stockings; and his strength was in proportion to his size. At the same time, he was one of the most good-natured and kind-hearted men I ever met.
Among our party were several rough characters; and it happened that one evening two of them fell out. They were about to draw their knives, when Jacques seized each of them in his vice-like grasp, and, holding them at arm's-length, gradually lifted them off the ground. There he kept them; mildly expostulating,—now smiling at one, and now at the other,—till they had consented to settle their dispute amicably; he then set them on their legs again, and made them shake hands.
This man took a great fancy to Mike. "Ah, I do wish all your countrymen were like you," he observed, smiling benignantly on him; "but they are generally very different, especially when they get the grog on board: then they often lose their lives,—and all their own fault, too.
"I had come down the Ottawa with several rafts, some two hundred miles or more. My own raft was manned by Canadians,—steady boys, who stuck to our laws, whatever they do to those of other people, and kept sober till they brought their raft safe into dock. Another raft was manned chiefly by Irishmen,—who, although I warned them, would indulge in strong drink. We were nearing the Chaudiere Falls, and I had brought my raft safe to shore, where it was taken to pieces, so that the logs might be sent down the slide. I had gone on to a point where I could watch this being done, when I heard loud cries; and on looking up the river I saw that part of another raft, with four men on it, had got adrift, and, to my horror, was hurrying towards the most dangerous part of the rapids. I saw at once that in a few moments it must be dashed to pieces, and, as I thought, the fate of the four unfortunates on it was surely sealed.
"On it hurried, whirling round and round amid the foaming waters. The next instant dashing against the rocks, it separated into as many fragments as there were timbers, each of which was whirled down towards the falls. Three of the poor wretches soon disappeared among the tossing waves; but the fourth clung to the end of a piece of timber with the grasp of despair—to that end which reached nearly to the edge of the cataract. A fearful position! Still, the Irishman held on. I was almost sure that the next moment would be his last; but just then the current turned the log, so that the opposite end pointed to the fall. On it went, with even greater rapidity than at first; then balancing for an instant on the brink, the end to which he held was lifted up high in the air, and he was sent from it as from a catapult, far out into the calm water below the caldron! I never expected again to see him, but he rose uninjured to the surface; and being a good swimmer, struck out boldly till he was picked up by one of several canoes which put off instantly to his assistance. Tim Nolan, I have a notion, was the first man who ever came over those terrific falls and lived; and I would not advise any of you young fellows to try the experiment, for, in my opinion, he is the last who will ever do so and escape destruction."
Such was one of the many anecdotes I heard from the lips of old Jacques and our other associates.
I was not sorry when, after some weeks, Uncle Mark told me that he had made up his mind to return home. Mike had agreed to finish a job which would occupy him a day or so longer; but as Uncle Mark was anxious to be off, it was settled that he and I should start together, leaving the rifle with Mike, as he would have to come on alone. We believed that no animals were likely at that season to attack two people; besides, Uncle Mark had purchased a pair of pistols from Jacques Michaud, which he considered would be sufficient for our defence. Accordingly, pocketing our dollars and slinging our wolf-skin knapsacks over our backs, we put on our skates and commenced our journey.
We got on famously, for the air was calm, although the cold was intense. We found our friend Kepenau, too, encamped where we had left him; and stopping for a short time, we took our mid-day meal with him. As we had made such good progress during the morning, we hoped to reach the hut before midnight, for the moon was up, and we could not miss our way. Uncle Mark was in good spirits, well satisfied with the result of our expedition, and we laughed and chatted as we glided over the smooth ice.
"We must not forget our wolf-skin," I observed. "We shall get up to the spot before daylight is over, and I would rather carry it on my back than leave it behind."
"I shall not let you do that," answered my uncle. "It will weigh less on my shoulders than on yours."
We were approaching a part of the river where, the ice having formed before the snow fell, we should be compelled to take off our skates and travel on foot. I had just remarked that I supposed the wolves had gone off to some other district, where game was more abundant than with us, when a howl reached our ears, coming down the stream, from the very direction in which we were going. Another and another followed. Presently we heard the full chorus of a whole pack, and soon we caught sight of numerous dark spots on the white snow in the distance.
Uncle Mark watched them for an instant or two. "We must beat a retreat, Roger, or the brutes will be upon us. We cannot hope to fight our way through them. Off we go!" and turning round, we skated away for dear life in the direction from whence we had come.
We hoped soon to distance the savage creatures; in which case, losing sight and scent of us, they might turn off into the forest and leave the road clear. As we went on, however, we heard their cries becoming more and more distinct; and casting a glance over our shoulders, we saw, to our horror, that they had already gained considerably on us; for with their light bodies they ran very quickly over the hard-frozen snow.
Forward we dashed, faster than I had ever skated before; but nearer and nearer grew those terrible sounds. When once, however, the wolves reached the smooth ice, they were no longer able to run so fast as before; still, they gradually gained on us, and we felt sure that ere long they must be at our heels, as they were not now likely to give up the chase.
"Never give up while life remains! Keep on, keep on, Roger!" cried Uncle Mark. "My pistols will do for two of their leaders; our sticks must knock over some of the others; and we must hope that the rest of the pack will stop to devour their carcasses."
It might have been a quarter of an hour after this, although the time appeared longer, when, looking round, I saw a dozen wolves at least within twenty yards of us.
"We must try a dodge I have heard of," said Uncle Mark. "When they get near us we must wheel rapidly round, and as they cannot turn on the ice so fast as we can, we shall gain on them."
We waited until the wolves were almost up to us, then we followed the proposed plan. The brutes, after rushing on a short distance, tried to turn also. In doing so, those behind tumbled over their leaders, and we skated on as before. We did this several times, until the cunning wolves, perceiving our object, instead of turning kept straight forward. Uncle Mark now drew one of his pistols, and as he skated round shot the leading wolf. It rolled over dead. The next he treated in the same manner. We then brought our sticks down on the heads of several others.
As we had expected, their followers instantly began tearing away at the dead bodies, and this enabled us to get some distance ahead of them. I was in hopes that they would be content with this feast, and allow us to proceed unmolested; but before long our ears were again saluted with their abominable howls, and we saw the survivors of the pack coming along in full chase.
As we skated on Uncle Mark deliberately reloaded his pistols, observing, "We shall have to play the same game over again, and I hope we shall play it as well."
The wolves, however, seemed resolved not to let us escape. They nearly overtook us; and though we turned, skating away now to the right and now to the left bank of the river, they declined imitating our example.
"Our best chance is to keep straight on," said Uncle Mark. "Don't give in, whatever you do. Our legs are as strong as theirs, and they will begin to get tired at last."
I was not so sure of that till, looking back for a moment, I saw that the pack was drawn out into a long line, showing that some, at all events—probably the younger animals—were losing wind. If, however, only one brute had succeeded in catching hold of our legs, it would have been all up with us.
Fearfully depressing indeed were their howls; as they sounded close behind us, they almost took the life out of me. Two of the largest of the brutes were not five yards from us, and I was already beginning to feel as if their sharp fangs were fixed in the calves of my legs, when I saw several figures in the distance, and faint shouts were borne on the breeze towards us.
"Courage, Roger! courage!" cried Uncle Mark. "Put forth all your strength, and we shall be saved. Those are friends."
As we moved on we perceived Kepenau and a number of Indians rushing towards us, flourishing sticks, and shouting at the top of their voices. Kepenau himself, and three others, were armed with rifles.
"Turn on one side," he shouted, "and let us aim at the wolves."
We followed his advice; when four rifle-shots sent over as many of the howling brutes. The rest, frightened by the shouts of the Indians as much probably as by the death of their companions, turned off on one side, and allowed us to escape. Instead, however, of going back, they continued their course down the river. Probably they had been bound in that direction when they first winded us.
We were saved; but so overcome were we by our long-continued violent exertions, that, had not our Indian friends caught us in their arms, we should have sunk exhausted on the ice. Taking off our skates, they supported us between their arms to their camp. Here, seated on mats, with our feet before the fire, we were kindly tended by the squaws, who rubbed our ankles and legs, and bathed our feet in water. Some warm broth—we did not examine too minutely the ingredients—quickly restored us; and we were able to give an account of our adventure.
It was now too late to think of continuing our journey that night, so the Indians pressed us to remain with them till the next morning; promising to ascertain the direction taken by the pack of wolves, so that we might not run the risk of again falling in with the hungry brutes.
Kepenau would not allow us to use our own provisions,—observing that we might want them the next day,—and he insisted on supplying us with everything needful.
We slept soundly, but when I tried to get up next morning I felt little able to continue the journey. I did not so much feel the effects of the exercise as of the anxiety I had so long endured. Even Uncle Mark was very stiff, and seemed inclined to enjoy a longer rest.
The Indians told us that during the night the wolves had come back; probably to devour the carcasses of their slain companions. It was thought probable that they had returned up the river. One of the men went out to ascertain this, and on coming back told us that the first surmise was correct—that the pack had indeed gone up the river, but that it had afterwards gone down again, as was evident from the bloody marks left by their feet.
Suddenly my uncle exclaimed: "By-the-by, Mike will be on his way home some time to-day; and if so, it is more than possible that he may fall in with the wolves! Though he has a gun, it will go hard with him should they follow his trail."