A TALE OF THE RICE LAKE PLAINS
By Catharine Parr Traill
Authoress Of "The Backwoods Of Canada, Etc."
Edited By Agnes Strickland
Illustrated By Harvey
Arthur Hall, Virtue, & Co.
25, Paternoster Row.
To The Children Of The Settlers
The Rice Lake Plains,
Faithful Friend And Well-Wisher
OAKLANDS, RICE LAKE,
15th Oct 1850
IT will be acknowledged that human sympathy irresistibly responds to any narrative, founded on truth, which graphically describes the struggles of isolated human beings to obtain the aliments of life. The distinctions of pride and rank sink into nought, when the mind is engaged in the contemplation of the inevitable consequences of the assaults of the gaunt enemies, cold and hunger. Accidental circumstances have usually given sufficient experience of their pangs, even to the most fortunate, to make them own a fellow-feeling with those whom the chances of shipwreck, war, wandering, or revolutions have cut off from home and hearth, and the requisite supplies; not only from the thousand artificial comforts which civilized society classes among the necessaries of life, but actually from a sufficiency of "daily bread."
Where is the man, woman, or child who has not sympathized with the poor seaman before the mast, Alexander Selkirk, typified by the genius of Defoe as his inimitable Crusoe, whose name (although one by no means uncommon in middle life in the east of England,) has become synonymous for all who build and plant in a wilderness, "cut off from humanity's reach?" Our insular situation has chiefly drawn the attention of the inhabitants of Great Britain to casualties by sea, and the deprivations of individuals wrecked on some desert coast; but it is by no means generally known that scarcely a summer passes over the colonists in Canada, without losses of children from the families of settlers occurring in the vast forests of the backwoods, similar to that on which the narrative of the Canadian Crusoes is founded. Many persons thus lost have perished in the wilderness; and it is to impress on the memory the natural resources of this country, by the aid of interesting the imagination, that the author of the well-known and popular work, "The Backwoods of Canada," has written the following pages.
She has drawn attention, in the course of this volume, to the practical solution [FN: See Appendix A; likewise p. 310.] of that provoking enigma, which seems to perplex all anxious wanderers in an unknown land, namely, that finding themselves, at the end of a day's toilsome march, close to the spot from which they set out in the morning, and that this cruel accident will occur for days in succession. The escape of Captain O'Brien from his French prison at Verdun, detailed with such spirit in his lively autobiography, offers remarkable instances of this propensity of the forlorn wanderer in a strange land. A corresponding incident is recorded in the narrative of the "Escape of a young French Officer from the depot near Peterborough during the Napoleon European war." He found himself thrice at night within sight of the walls of the prison from which he had fled in the morning, after taking fruitless circular walks of twenty miles. I do not recollect the cause of such lost labour being explained in either narrative; perhaps the more frequent occurrence of the disaster in the boundless backwoods of the Canadian colonies, forced knowledge, dearly bought, on the perceptions of the settlers. Persons who wander without knowing the features and landmarks of a country, instinctively turn their faces to the sun, and for that reason always travel in a circle, infallibly finding themselves at night in the very spot from which they started in the morning. The resources and natural productions of the noble colony of Canada are but superficially known. An intimate acquaintance with its rich vegetable and animal productions is most effectually made under the high pressure of difficulty and necessity. Our writer has striven to interest children, or rather young people approaching the age of adolescence, in the natural history of this country, simply by showing them how it is possible for children to make the best of it when thrown into a state of destitution as forlorn as the wanderers on the Rice Lake Plains. Perhaps those who would not care for the berry, the root, and the grain, as delineated and classified technically in books of science, might remember their uses and properties when thus brought practically before their notice as the aliments of the famishing fellow-creature, with whom their instinctive feelings must perforce sympathies. When parents who have left home comforts and all the ties of gentle kindred for the dear sakes of their rising families, in order to place them in a more independent position, it is well if those young minds are prepared with some knowledge of what they are to find in the adopted country; the animals, the flowers, the fruits, and even the minuter blessings which a bountiful Creator has poured forth over that wide land.
The previous work of my sister, Mrs. Traill, "The Backwoods of Canada, by the Wife of an Emigrant Officer," published some years since by Mr. C. Knight, in his Library of Useful Knowledge, has passed through many editions, and enjoyed, (anonymous though it was,) too wide a popularity as a standard work for me to need to dwell on it, further than to say that the present is written in the same naive, charming style, with the same modesty and uncomplaining spirit, although much has the sweet and gentle—author endured, as every English lady must expect to do who ventures to encounter the lot of a colonist. She has now devoted her further years of experience as a settler to the information of the younger class of colonists, to open their minds and interest them in the productions of that rising country, which will one day prove the mightiest adjunct of the island empire; our nearest, our soundest colony, unstained with the corruption of convict population; where families of gentle blood need fear no real disgrace in their alliance; where no one need beg, and where any one may dig without being ashamed.
LIST OF ENGRAVINGS.
LOUIS CONFESSING HIS DECEPTION OF CATHARINE
FIRST BREAKFAST, THE
CATHARINE FOUND BY THE OLD DOG
WOLF FINDING THE WOUNDED DOE
HECTOR BRINGING THE INDIAN GIRL
KILLING WILD FOWL
INDIAN WOMAN AT THE DOOR OF THE HUT
CATHARINE CARRIED OFF
INDIANA BEFORE THE BALD EAGLE
INDIANA AT THE STAKE
ATTACK ON THE DEER
RETURN HOME THE
"The morning had shot her bright streamers on high, O'er Canada, opening all pale to the sky;
Still dazzling and white was the robe that she wore, Except where the ocean wave lash'd on the shore." Jacobite Song.
THERE lies between the Rice Lake and the Ontario, a deep and fertile valley, surrounded by lofty wood-crowned hills, the heights of which were clothed chiefly with groves of oak and pine, though the sides of the hills and the alluvial bottoms gave a variety of noble timber trees of various kinds, as the maple, beech, hemlock, and others. This beautiful and highly picturesque valley is watered by many clear streams of pure refreshing water, from whence the spot has derived its appropriate appellation of "Cold Springs." At the time my little history commences, this now highly cultivated spot was an unbroken wilderness,—all tut two small farms, where dwelt the only occupiers of the soil,—which owned no other possessors than the wandering hunting tribes of wild Indians, to whom the right of the hunting grounds north of Rice Lake appertained, according to their forest laws.
To those who travel over beaten roads, now partially planted, among cultivated fields and flowery orchards, and see cleared farms and herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, the change would be a striking one. I speak of the time when the neat and flourishing town of Cobourg, now an important port on the Ontario, was but a village in embryo—if it contained even a log-house or a block-house it was all that it did, and the wild and picturesque ground upon which the fast increasing village of Port Hope is situated, had not yielded one forest tree to the axe of the settler. No gallant vessel spread her sails to waft the abundant produce of grain and Canadian stores along the waters of that noble sheet of water; no steamer had then furrowed its bosom with her iron wheels, bearing the stream of emigration towards the wilds of our Northern and Western forests, there to render a lonely trackless desert a fruitful garden. What will not time and the industry of man, assisted by the blessing of a merciful God, effect? To him be the glory and honour; for we are taught, that "without the Lord build the city, their labour is but lost that build it; without the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."
But to my tale. And first it will be necessary to introduce to the acquaintance of my young readers the founders of our little settlement at Cold Springs.
Duncan Maxwell was a young Highland soldier, a youth of eighteen, at the famous battle of Quebec, where, though only a private, he received the praise of his colonel for his brave conduct. At the close of the battle Duncan was wounded, and as the hospital was full at the time with sick and disabled men, he was lodged in the house of a poor French Canadian widow in the Quebec suburb; here, though a foreigner and an enemy, he received much kind attention from his excellent hostess and her family, which consisted of a young man about his own age, and a pretty black-eyed lass not more than sixteen. The widow Perron was so much occupied with other-lodgers—for she kept a sort of boarding-house—that she had not much time to give to Duncan, so that he was left a great deal to her son Pierre, and a little to Catharine, her daughter.
Duncan Maxwell was a fine, open-tempered, frank lad, and he soon won the regard of Pierre and his little sister. In spite of the prejudices of country, and the difference of language and national customs, a steady and increasing friendship grew up between the young Highlander and the children of his hostess; therefore it was not without feelings of deep regret that they heard the news, that the corps to which Duncan belonged was ordered for embarkation to England, and Duncan was so far convalescent as to be pronounced quite well enough to join them. Alas for poor Catharine! she now found that parting with her patient was a source of the deepest sorrow to her young and guileless heart; nor was Duncan less moved at the separation from his gentle nurse. It might be for years, and it might be for ever, he could not tell; but he could not tear himself away without telling the object of his affections how dear she was to him, and to whisper a hope that he might yet return one day to claim her as his bride; and Catharine, weeping and blushing, promised to wait for that happy day, or to remain single for his sake, while Pierre promised to watch over his friend's interests and keep alive Catharine's love; for, said he, artlessly, "la belle Catrine is pretty and lively, and may have many suitors before she sees you again, mon ami."
They say the course of true love never did run smooth; but, with the exception of this great sorrow, the sorrow of separation, the love of our young Highland soldier and his betrothed knew no other interruption, for absence served only to strengthen the affection which was founded on gratitude and esteem.
Two long years passed, however, and the prospect of re-union was yet distant, when an accident, which disabled Duncan from serving his country, enabled him to retire with the usual little pension, and return to Quebec to seek his affianced. Some changes had taken place during that short period: the widow Perron was dead; Pierre, the gay, lively-hearted Pierre, was married to the daughter of a lumberer; and Catharine, who had no relatives in Quebec, had gone up the country with her brother and his wife, and was living in some little settlement above Montreal with them.
Thither Duncan, with the constancy of his nature, followed, and shortly afterwards was married to his faithful Catharine. On one point they had never differed, both being of the same religion. Pierre had seen a good deal of the fine country on the shores of the Ontario; he had been hunting with some friendly Indians between the great waters and the Rice Lake, and he now thought if Duncan and himself could make up their minds to a quiet life in the woods, there was not a better spot than the hill pass between the plains and the big lake to fix themselves upon. Duncan was of the same opinion when he saw the spot. It was not rugged and bare like his own Highlands, but softer in character, yet his heart yearned for the hill country. In those days there was no obstacle to taking possession of any tract of land in the unsurveyed forests, therefore Duncan agreed with his brother-in-law to pioneer the way with him, get a dwelling put up and some ground prepared and "seeded down," and then to, return for their wives and settle themselves down at once as farmers. Others had succeeded, had formed little colonies, and become the heads of villages in due time; why should not they? And now behold our two backwoodsmen fairly commencing their arduous life; but it was nothing, after all, to Pierre, by previous occupation a hardy lumberer, or the Scottish soldier, accustomed to brave all sorts of hardships in a wild country, himself a mountaineer, inured to a stormy climate, and scanty fare, from his earliest youth. But it is not my intention to dwell upon the trials and difficulties courageously met and battled with by our settlers and their young wives.
There was in those days a spirit of resistance among the first settlers on the soil, a spirit to do and bear, that is less commonly met with now. The spirit of civilization is now so widely diffused, that her comforts are felt even in the depths of the forest, so that the newly come emigrant feels comparatively few of the physical evils that were endured by the older inhabitants.
The first seed-wheat that was cast into the ground by Duncan and Pierre, was brought with infinite trouble a distance of fifty miles in a little skiff, navigated along the shores of the Ontario by the adventurous Pierre, and from the nearest landing-place transported on the shoulders of himself and Duncan to their homestead:—a day of great labour but great joy it was when they deposited their precious freight in safety on the shanty floor. They were obliged to make two journeys for the contents of the little craft. What toil, what privation they endured for the first two years! and now the fruits of it began slowly to appear. No two creatures could be more unlike than Pierre and Duncan. The Highlander, stern, steady, persevering, cautious, always giving ample reasons for his doing or his not doing. The Canadian, hopeful, lively, fertile in expedients, and gay as a lark; if one scheme failed another was sure to present itself. Pierre and Duncan were admirably suited to be friends and neighbours. The steady perseverance of the Scot helped to temper the volatile temperament of the Frenchman. They generally contrived to compass the same end by different means, as two streams descending from opposite hills will meet in one broad river in the same valley.
Years passed on; the farm, carefully cultivated, began to yield its increase, and food and warm clothing were not wanted in the homesteads. Catharine had become, in course of time, the happy mother of four healthy children; her sister-in-law had even exceeded her in these welcome contributions to the population of a new colony. Between the children of Pierre and Catharine the most charming harmony prevailed; they grew up as one family, a pattern of affection and early friendship. Though different in tempers and dispositions, Hector Maxwell, the eldest son of the Scottish soldier, and his cousin, young Louis Perron, were greatly attached; they, with the young Catharine and Mathilde, formed a little coterie of inseparables; their amusements, tastes, pursuits, occupations, all blended and harmonized delightfully; there were none of those little envyings and bickerings among them that pave the way to strife and disunion in after life.
Catharine Maxwell and her cousin Louis were more like brother and sister than Hector and Catharine, but Mathilde was gentle and dove-like, and formed a contrast to the gravity of Hector and the vivacity of Louis and Catharine.
Hector and Louis were fourteen—strong, vigorous, industrious and hardy, both in constitution and habits. The girls were turned of twelve. It is not with Mathilde that our story is connected, but with the two lads and Catharine. With the gaiety and naivete of the Frenchwoman, Catharine possessed, when occasion called it into action, a thoughtful and well-regulated mind, abilities which would well have repaid the care of mental cultivation; but of book-learning she knew nothing beyond a little reading, and that but imperfectly, acquired from her father's teaching. It was an accomplishment which he had gained when in the army, having been taught by his colonel's son, a lad of twelve years of age, who had taken a great fancy to him, and had at parting given him a few of his school-books, among which was a Testament, without cover or title-page. At parting, the young gentleman recommended its daily perusal to Duncan. Had the gift been a Bible, perhaps the soldier's obedience to his priest might have rendered it a dead letter to him, but as it fortunately happened, he was unconscious of any prohibition to deter him from becoming acquainted with the truths of the Gospel. He communicated the power of perusing his books to his children Hector and Catharine, Duncan and Kenneth, in succession, with a feeling of intense reverence; even the labour of teaching was regarded as a holy duty in itself, and was not undertaken without deeply impressing the obligation he was conferring upon them whenever they were brought to the task. It was indeed a precious boon, and the children learned to consider it as the pearl beyond all price in the trials that awaited them in their eventful career. To her knowledge of religious truths young Catharine added an intimate acquaintance with the songs and legends of her father's romantic country, which was to her even as fairyland; often would her plaintive ballads and old tales, related in the hut or the wigwam to her attentive auditors, wile away heavy thoughts; Louis and Mathilde, her cousins, sometimes wondered how Catharine had acquired such a store of ballads and wild tales as she could tell.
It was a lovely sunny day in the flowery month of June; Canada had not only doffed that "dazzling white robe" mentioned in the songs of her Jacobite emigrants, but had assumed the beauties of her loveliest season, the last week in May and the first three of June being parallel to the English May, full of buds and flowers and fair promise of ripening fruits. The high sloping hills surrounding the fertile vale of Cold Springs were clothed with the blossoms of the gorgeous scarlet enchroma, or painted-cup; the large pure white blossoms of the lily-like trillium; the delicate and fragile lilac geranium, whose graceful flowers woo the hand of the flower-gatherer only to fade almost within his grasp; the golden cyprepedium, or mocassin flower, so singular, so lovely in its colour and formation, waved heavily its yellow blossoms as the breeze shook the stems; and there, mingling with a thousand various floral beauties, the azure lupine claimed its place, shedding almost a heavenly tint upon the earth. Thousands of roses were blooming on the more level ground, sending forth their rich fragrance, mixed with the delicate scent of the feathery ceanothus, (New Jersey tea.) The vivid greenness of the young leaves of the forest, the tender tint of the springing corn, were contrasted with the deep dark fringe of waving pines on the hills, and the yet darker shade of the spruce and balsams on the borders of the creeks, for so our Canadian forest rills are universally termed. The bright glancing wings of the summer red-bird, the crimson-headed woodpecker, the gay blue-bird, and noisy but splendid plumed jay, might be seen among the branches; the air was filled with beauteous sights and soft murmuring melodies. Under the shade of the luxuriant hop-vines, that covered the rustic porch in front of the little dwelling, the light step of Catharine Maxwell might be heard mixed with the drowsy whirring of the big wheel, as she passed to and fro guiding the thread of yarn in its course: and now she sang snatches of old mountain songs, such as she had learned from her father; and now, with livelier air, hummed some gay French tune to the household melody of her spinning wheel, as she advanced and retreated with her thread, unconscious of the laughing black eye that was watching her movements from among the embowering foliage that shielded her from the morning sun.
"Come, ma belle cousine," for so Louis delighted to call her. "Hector and I are waiting for you to go with us to the 'Beaver Meadow.' The cattle have strayed, and we think we shall find them there. The day is delicious, the very flowers look as if they wanted to be admired and plucked, and we shall find early strawberries on the old Indian clearing."
Catharine cast a longing look abroad, but said, "I fear, Louis, I cannot go to-day, for see, I have all these rolls of wool to spin up, and my yarn to wind off the reel and twist; and then, my mother is away."
"Yes, I left her with mamma." replied Louis, "and she said she would be home shortly, so her absence need not stay you. She said you could take a basket and try and bring home some berries for sick Louise. Hector is sure he knows a spot where we shall get some fine ones, ripe and red." As he spoke Louis whisked away the big wheel to one end of the porch, gathered up the hanks of yarn and tossed them into the open wicker basket, and the next minute the large, coarse, flapped straw hat, that hung upon the peg in the porch, was stuck not very gracefully on the top of Catharine's head and tied beneath her chin, with a merry rattling laugh, which drowned effectually the small lecture that Catharine began to utter, by way of reproving the light-hearted boy.
"But where is Mathilde?"
"Sitting like a dear good girl, as she is, with sick Louise's head on her lap, and would not disturb the poor sick thing for all the fruit and flowers in Canada. Marie cried sadly to go with us, but I promised her and petite Louise lots of flowers and berries if we get them, and the dear children were as happy as queens when I left them."
"But stay, cousin, you are sure my mother gave her consent to my going? We shall be away chief part of the day. You know it is a long walk to the Beaver Meadow and back again," said Catharine, hesitating as Louis took her hand to lead her out from the porch.
"Yes, yes, ma belle," said the giddy boy, quickly; "so come along, for Hector is waiting at the barn; but stay, we shall be hungry before we return, so let us have some cakes and butter, and do not forget a tin-cup for water."
Nothing doubting, Catharine, with buoyant spirits, set about her little preparations, which were soon completed; but just as she was leaving the little garden enclosure, she ran back to kiss Kenneth and Duncan, her young brothers. In the farm yard she found Hector with his axe on his shoulder. "What are you taking the axe for, Hector? you will find it heavy to carry," said his sister.
"In the first place, I have to cut a stick of blue-beech to make a broom for sweeping the house, sister of mine; and that is for your use, Miss Kate; and in the next place, I have to find, if possible, a piece of rock elm or hiccory for axe handles; so now you have the reason why I take the axe with me."
The children now left the clearing, and struck into one of the deep defiles that lay between the hills, and cheerfully they laughed and sung and chattered, as they sped on their pleasant path; nor were they both to exchange the glowing sunshine for the sober gloom of the forest shade. What handfuls of flowers of all hues, red, blue, yellow and white, were gathered only to be gazed at, carried for a while, then cast aside for others fresher and fairer. And now they came to cool rills that flowed, softly murmuring, among mossy limestone, or blocks of red or grey granite, wending their way beneath twisted roots and fallen trees; and often Catharine lingered to watch the eddying dimples of the clear water, to note the tiny bright fragments of quartz or crystallized limestone that formed a shining pavement below the stream; and often she paused to watch the angry movements of the red squirrel, as, with feathery tail erect, and sharp scolding note, he crossed their woodland path, and swiftly darting up the rugged bark of some neighbouring pine or hemlock, bade the intruders on his quiet haunts defiance; yet so bold in his indignation, he scarcely condescended to ascend beyond their reach.
The long-continued hollow tapping of the large red-headed woodpecker, or the singular subterranean sound caused by the drumming of the partridge, striking his wings upon his breast to woo his gentle mate, and the soft whispering note of the little tree-creeper, as it flitted from one hemlock to another, collecting its food between the fissures of the bark, were among the few sounds that broke the noontide stillness of the woods; but to all such sights and sounds the lively Catharine and her cousin were not indifferent. And often they wondered, that Hector gravely pursued his onward way, and seldom lingered as they did to mark the bright colours of the flowers, or the bright sparkling of the forest rill.
"What makes Hec so grave?" said Catharine to her companion, as they seated themselves upon a mossy trunk, to await his coming up, for they had giddily chased each other till they had far outrun him.
"Hector, sweet coz, is thinking perhaps of how many bushels of corn or wheat this land would grow if cleared, or he may be examining the soil or the trees, or is looking for his stick of blue-beech for your broom, or the hiccory for his axe handle, and never heeding such nonsense as woodpeckers and squirrels, and lilies and moss and ferns, for Hector is not a giddy thing like his cousin Louis, or—"
"His sister Kate," interrupted Catharine, merrily; "but when shall we come to the Beaver Meadow?"
"Patience, ma belle, all in good time. Hark, was not that the ox-bell? No; Hector whistling." And soon they heard the heavy stroke of his axe ringing among the trees, for he had found the blue-beech, and was cutting it to leave on the path, that he might take it home on their return; he had also marked some hiccory of a nice size for his axe handles, to bring home at some future time.
The children had walked several miles, and were not sorry to sit down and rest till Hector joined them. He was well pleased with his success, and declared he felt no fatigue. "As soon as we reach the old Indian clearing, we shall find strawberries," he said, "and a fresh cold spring, and then we will have our dinners."
"Come, Hector,—come, Louis," said Catharine, jumping up, "I long to be gathering the strawberries; and see, my flowers are faded, so I will throw them away, and the basket shall be filled with fresh fruit instead, and we must not forget petite Marie and sick Louise, or dear Mathilde. Ah, how I wish she were here at this minute! But here is the opening to the Beaver Meadow."
And the sunlight was seen streaming through the opening trees as they approached the cleared space, which some called the "Indian clearing," but is now more generally known as the little Beaver Meadow. It was a pleasant spot, green, and surrounded with light bowery trees and flowering shrubs, of a different growth from those that belong to the dense forest. Here the children found, on the hilly ground above, fine ripe strawberries, the earliest they had seen that year, and soon all weariness was forgotten while pursuing the delightful occupation of gathering the tempting fruit; and when they had refreshed themselves, and filled the basket with leaves and fruit, they slaked their thirst from the stream, which wound its way among the bushes. Catharine neglected not to reach down flowery bunches of the fragrant white-thorn and of the high-bush cranberry, then radiant with nodding umbels of snowy blossoms, or to wreath the handle of the little basket with the graceful trailing runners of the lovely twin-flowered plant, the Linnaea borealis, which she always said reminded her of the twins, Louise and Marie, her little cousins. And now the day began to wear away, for they had lingered long in the little clearing; they had wandered from the path by which they entered it; and had neglected, in their eagerness to look for the strawberries, to notice any particular mark by which they might regain it. Just when they began to think of returning, Louis noticed a beaten path, where there seemed recent prints of cattle hoofs on a soft spongy soil beyond the creek.
"Come, Hector," said he gaily, "this is lucky; we are on the cattle path; no fear but it will lead us directly home, and that by a nearer track."
Hector was undecided about following it, he fancied it bent too much towards the setting sun; but his cousin overruled his objection. "And is not this our own creek?" he said: "I have often heard my father say it had its rise somewhere about this old clearing."
Hector now thought Louis might be right, and they boldly followed the path among the poplars and thorns and bushes that clothed its banks, surprised to see how open the ground became, and how swift and clear the stream swept onward.
"Oh, this dear creek," cried the delighted Catharine, "how pretty it is! I shall often follow its course after this; no doubt it has its source from our own Cold Springs."
And so they cheerfully pursued their way, till the sun, sinking behind the range of westerly hills, soon left them in gloom; but they anxiously hurried forward when the stream wound its noisy way among steep stony banks, clothed scantily with pines and a few scattered silver-barked poplars. And now they became bewildered by two paths leading in opposite directions; one upward among the rocky hills, the other through the opening gorge of a deep ravine.
Here, overcome with fatigue, Catharine seated herself on a large block of granite, near a great bushy pine that grew beside the path by the ravine, unable to proceed, and Hector, with a grave and troubled countenance, stood beside her, looking round with an air of great perplexity. Louis, seating himself at Catharine's feet, surveyed the deep gloomy valley before them, and sighed heavily. The conviction had now forcibly struck him that they had mistaken the path altogether. The very aspect of the country was different; the growth of the trees, the flow of the stream, all indicated a change of soil and scene. Darkness was fast drawing its impenetrable veil around them; a few stars were stealing out, and gleaming down as if with pitying glance upon the young wanderers; but they could not light up their pathway, or point their homeward track. The only sound, save the lulling murmur of the rippling stream below, was the plaintive note of the whip-poor-will, from a gnarled oak that grew near them, and the harsh grating scream of the night hawk, darting about in the higher regions of the air, pursuing its noisy congeners, or swooping down with that peculiar hollow rushing sound, as of a person blowing into some empty vessel, when it seizes with wide-extended bill its insect prey.
Hector was the first to break the silence. "Cousin Louis, we were wrong in following the course of the stream; I fear we shall never find our way back to-night."
Louis made no reply; his sad and subdued air failed not to attract the attention of his cousins. "Why, Louis, how is this? you are not used to be cast down by difficulties," said Hector, as he marked something like tears glistening in the dark eyes of his cousin.
Louis's heart was full, he did not reply, but cast a troubled glance upon the weary Catharine, who leaned heavily against the tree beneath which she sat.
"It is not," resumed Hector, "that I mind passing a summer's night under such a sky as this, and with such a dry grassy bed below me; but I do not think it is good for Catharine to sleep on the bare ground in the night dews,—and then they will be so anxious at home about our absence."
Louis burst into tears, and sobbed out,—"And it is all my doing that she came out with us; I deceived her, and my aunt will be angry and much alarmed, for she did not know of her going at all. Dear Catharine, good cousin Hector, pray forgive me!" But Catharine was weeping too much to reply to his passionate entreaties, and Hector, who never swerved from the truth, for which he had almost a stern reverence, hardly repressed his indignation at what appeared to him a most culpable act of deceit on the part of Louis.
The sight of her cousin's grief and self-abasement touched the tender heart of Catharine, for she was kind and dove-like in her disposition, and loved Louis, with all his faults. Had it not been for the painful consciousness of the grief their unusual absence would occasion at home, Catharine would have thought nothing of their present adventure; but she could not endure the idea of her high-principled father taxing her with deceiving her kind indulgent mother and him: it was this humiliating thought which wounded the proud heart of Hector, causing him to upbraid his cousin in somewhat harsh terms for his want of truthfulness, and steeled him against the bitter grief that wrung the heart of the penitent Louis, who, leaning his wet cheek on the shoulder of the kinder Catharine, sobbed as if his heart would break, heedless of her soothing words and affectionate endeavours to console him.
"Dear Hector," she said, turning her soft, pleading eyes on the stem face of her brother, "you must not be so very angry with poor Louis; remember it was to please me, and give me the enjoyment of a day of liberty with you and himself in the woods, among the flowers and trees and birds, that he committed this fault."
"Catharine, Louis spoke an untruth and acted deceitfully, and look at the consequences,—we shall have forfeited our parents' confidence, and may have some days of painful privation to endure before we regain our home, if we ever do find our way back to Cold Springs," replied Hector.
"It is the grief and anxiety our dear parents will endure this night," answered Catharine, "that distresses my mind; but," she added in more cheerful tones, "let us not despair, no doubt to-morrow we shall be able to retrace our steps."
With the young there is ever a magical spell in that little word to-morrow,—it is a point which they pursue as fast as it recedes from them; sad indeed is the young heart that does not look forward with hope to the morrow!
The cloud still hung on Hector's brow, till Catharine gaily exclaimed, "Come, Hector! come, Louis! we must not stand idling thus; we must think of providing some shelter for the night; it is not good to rest upon the bare ground exposed to the night dews.—See, here is a nice hut, half made," pointing to a large upturned root which some fierce whirlwind had hurled from the lofty bank into the gorge of the dark glen.
"Now you must make haste, and lop off a few pine boughs, and stick them into the ground, or even lean them against the roots of this old oak, and there, you see, will be a capital house to shelter us. To work, to work, you idle boys, or poor wee Katty must turn squaw and build her own wigwam," she playfully added, taking up the axe which rested against the feathery pine beneath which Hector was leaning. Now, Catharine cared as little as her brother and cousin about passing a warm summer's night under the shade of the forest trees, for she was both hardy and healthy; but her woman's heart taught her that the surest means of reconciling the cousins would be by mutually interesting them in the same object,—and she was right. In endeavouring to provide for the comfort of their dear companion, all angry feelings were forgotten by Hector, while active employment chased away Louis's melancholy.
Unlike the tall, straight, naked trunks of the pines of the forest, those of the plains are adorned with branches often to the very ground, varying in form and height, and often presenting most picturesque groups, or rising singly among scattered groves of the silver-barked poplar or graceful birch-trees; the dark, mossy greenness of the stately pine contrasting finely with the light waving foliage of its slender graceful companions.
Hector, with his axe, soon lopped boughs from one of the adjacent pines, which Louis sharpened with his knife, and with Catharine's assistance drove into the ground, arranging them in such a way as to make the upturned oak, with its roots and the earth which adhered to them, form the back part of the hut, which, when completed, formed by no means a contemptible shelter. Catharine then cut fern and deer grass with Louis's couteau-de-chasse, which he always carried in a sheath at his girdle, and spread two beds, one, parted off by dry boughs and bark, for herself in the interior of the wigwam, and one for her brother and cousin nearer the entrance. When all was finished to her satisfaction, she called the two boys, and, according to the custom of her parents, joined them in the lifting up of their hands as an evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Nor were these simple-hearted children backward in imploring help and protection from the Most High. They earnestly prayed that no dangerous creature might come near to molest them during the hours of darkness and helplessness, no evil spirit visit them, no unholy or wicked thoughts intrude into their minds; but that holy angels and heavenly thoughts might hover over them, and fill their hearts with the peace of God which passeth all understanding.—And the prayer of the poor wanderers was heard, for they slept that night in peace, unharmed in the vast solitude. So passed their first night on the Plains.
"Fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
The sun had risen in all the splendour of a Canadian summer morning, when the sleepers arose from their leafy beds. In spite of the novelty of their situation, they had slept as soundly and tranquilly as if they had been under the protecting care of their beloved parents, on their little paliasses of corn straw; but they had been cared for by Him who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth, and they waked full of youthful hope, and in fulness of faith in His mercy into whose hands they had commended their souls and bodies before they retired to rest.
While the children slept in peace and safety, what terrors had filled the minds of their distracted parents! what a night of anguish and sorrow had they passed!
When night had closed in without bringing back the absent children, the two fathers, lighting torches of fat pine, went forth in search of the wanderers. How often did they raise their voices in hopes their loud halloos might reach the hearing of the lost ones! How often did they check their hurried steps to listen for some replying call! But the sighing breeze in the pine tops, or sudden rustling of the leaves caused by the flight of the birds, startled by the unusual glare of the torches, and the echoes of their own voices, were the only sounds that met their anxious ears. At daybreak they returned, sad and dispirited, to their homes, to snatch a morsel of food, endeavour to cheer the drooping hearts of the weeping mothers, and hurry off, taking different directions. But, unfortunately, they had little clue to the route which Hector and Louis had taken, there being many cattle paths through the woods. Louis's want of truthfulness had caused this uncertainty, as he had left no intimation of the path he purposed taking when he quitted his mother's house: he had merely said he was going with Hector in search of the cattle, giving no hint of his intention of asking Catharine to accompany them: he had but told his sick sister, that he would bring home strawberries and flowers, and that he would soon return. Alas, poor thoughtless Louis, how little did you think of the web of woe you were then weaving for yourself, and all those to whom you and your giddy companions were so dear! Children, think twice, ere ye deceive once! Catharine's absence would have been quite unaccountable but for the testimony of Duncan and Kenneth, who had received her sisterly caresses before she joined Hector at the barn; and much her mother marvelled what could have induced her good dutiful Catharine to have left her work and forsaken her household duties to go rambling away with the boys, for she never left the house when her mother was absent from, it, without her express permission, and now she was gone—lost to them, perhaps for ever. There stood the wheel she had been turning, there hung the untwisted hanks of yarn, her morning task,—and there they remained week after week and month after month, untouched, a melancholy memorial to the hearts of the bereaved parents of their beloved.
It were indeed a fruitless task to follow the agonized fathers in their vain search for their children, or to paint the bitter anguish that filled their hearts as day passed after day, and still no tidings of the lost ones. As hope faded, a deep and settled gloom stole over the sorrowing parents, and reigned throughout the once cheerful and gladsome homes. At the end of a week the only idea that remained was, that one of these three casualties had befallen the lost children:—death, a lingering death by famine; death, cruel and horrible, by wolves or bears; or yet more terrible, with tortures by the hands of the dreaded Indians, who occasionally held their councils and hunting parties on the hills about the Rice Lake, which was known only by the elder Perron as the scene of many bloody encounters between the rival tribes of the Mohawks and Chippewas: its localities were scarcely ever visited by our settlers, lest haply they should fall into the hands of the bloody Mohawks, whose merciless dispositions made them in those days a by-word even to the less cruel Chippewas and other Indian nations.
It was not in the direction of the Rice Lake that Maxwell and his brother-in-law sought their lost children; and even if they had done so, among the deep glens and hill passes of what is now commonly called the Plains, they would have stood little chance of discovering the poor wanderers. After many days of fatigue of body and distress of mind, the sorrowing parents sadly relinquished the search as utterly hopeless, and mourned in bitterness of spirit over the disastrous fate of their first-born and beloved children.—"There was a voice of woe, and lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they were not." The miserable uncertainty that involved the fate of the lost ones was an aggravation to the sufferings of the mourners: could they but have been certified of the manner of their deaths, they fancied they should be more contented; but, alas! this fearful satisfaction was withheld.
"Oh, were their tale of sorrow known, 'Twere something to the breaking heart, The pangs of doubt would then be gone, And fancy's endless dreams depart."
But let us quit the now mournful settlement of the Cold Springs, and see how it really fared with the young wanderers.
When they awoke the valley was filled with a white creamy mist, that arose from the bed of the stream, (now known as Cold Creek,) and gave an indistinctness to the whole landscape, investing it with an appearance perfectly different to that which it had worn by the bright, clear light of the moon. No trace of their footsteps remained to guide them in retracing their path; so hard and dry was the stony ground that it left no impression on its surface. It was with some difficulty they found the creek, which was concealed from sight by a lofty screen of gigantic hawthorns, high-bush cranberries, poplars, and birch-trees. The hawthorn was in blossom, and gave out a sweet perfume, not less fragrant than the "May" which makes the lanes and hedgerows of "merrie old England" so sweet and fair in May and June, as chanted in many a genuine pastoral of our olden time; but when our simple Catharine drew down the flowery branches to wreathe about her hat, she loved the flowers for their own native sweetness and beauty, not because poets had sung of them;—but young minds have a natural poetry in themselves, unfettered by rule or rhyme.
At length their path began to grow more difficult. A tangled mass of cedars, balsams, birch, black ash, alders, and tamarack (Indian name for the larch), with a dense thicket of bushes and shrubs, such as love the cool, damp soil of marshy ground, warned our travellers that they must quit the banks of the friendly stream, or they might become entangled in a trackless swamp. Having taken copious and refreshing draughts from the bright waters, and bathed their hands and faces, they ascended the grassy bank, and again descending, found themselves in one of those long valleys, enclosed between lofty sloping banks, clothed with shrubs and oaks, with here and there a stately pine. Through this second valley they pursued their way, till emerging into a wider space, they came among those singularly picturesque groups of rounded gravel hills, where the Cold Creek once more met their view, winding its way towards a grove of evergreens, where it was again lost to the eye.
This lovely spot is now known as Sackville's Mill-dike. The hand of man has curbed the free course of the wild forest stream, and made it subservient to his will, but could not destroy the natural beauties of the scene. [FN: This place was originally owned by a man of taste, who resided for some time upon the spot, till finding it convenient to return to his native country, the saw-mill passed into other hands. The old log-house on the green bank above the mill-stream is still standing, though deserted; the garden fence, broken and dilapidated, no longer protects the enclosure, where the wild rose mingles with that of Provence,—the Canadian creeper with the hop.]
Fearing to entangle themselves in the swamp, they kept the hilly ground, winding their way up to the summit of the lofty ridge of the oak hills, the highest ground they had yet attained; and here it was that the silver waters of the Rice Lake in all its beauty burst upon the eyes of the wondering and delighted travellers. There it lay, a sheet of liquid silver just emerging from the blue veil of mist that hung upon its surface, and concealed its wooded shores on either side. All feeling of dread and doubt and danger was lost, for the time, in one rapturous glow of admiration at a scene so unexpected and so beautiful as that which they now gazed upon from the elevation they had gained. From this ridge they looked down the lake, and the eye could take in an extent of many miles, with its verdant wooded islands, which stole into view one by one as the rays of the morning sun drew up the moving curtain of mist that enveloped them; and soon both northern and southern shores became distinctly visible, with all their bays and capes and swelling oak and pine-crowned hills.
And now arose the question, "Where are we? What lake is this? Can it be the Ontario, or is it the Rice Lake? Can yonder shores be those of the Americans, or are they the hunting-grounds of the dreaded Indians?" Hector remembered having often heard his father say that the Ontario was like an inland sea, and the opposite shores not visible unless in some remarkable state of the atmosphere, when they had been occasionally discerned by the naked eye, while here they could distinctly see objects on the other side, the peculiar growth of the trees, and even flights of wild fowl winging their way among the rice and low bushes on its margin. The breadth of the lake from shore to shore could not, they thought, exceed three or four miles; while its length, in an easterly direction, seemed far greater beyond—what the eye could take in. [FN: The length of the Rice Lake, from its headwaters near Black's Landing to the mouth of the Trent, is said to be twenty-five miles; its breadth from north to south varies from three to six.]
They now quitted the lofty ridge, and bent their steps towards the lake. Wearied with their walk, they seated themselves beneath the shade of a beautiful feathery pine, on a high promontory that commanded a magnificent view down the lake.
"How pleasant it would be to have a house on this delightful bank, overlooking the lake," said Louis; "only think of the fish we could take, and the ducks and wild fowl we could shoot! and it would be no very hard matter to hollow out a log canoe, such a one as I have heard my father say he has rowed in across many a lake and broad river—below, when he was lumbering."
"Yes, it would, indeed, be a pleasant spot to live upon," [FN: Now the site of a pleasant cottage, erected by an enterprising gentleman from Devonshire, who has cleared and cultivated a considerable portion of the ground described above; a spot almost unequalled in the plains for its natural beauties and extent of prospect.] said Hector, "though I am not quite sure that the land is as good just here as it is at Cold Springs; but all these flats and rich valleys would make fine pastures, and produce plenty of grain, too, if cultivated."
"You always look to the main chance, Hec," said Louis, laughing; "well, it was worth a few hours' walking this morning to look upon so lovely a sheet of water as this. I would spend two nights in a wigwam,—would not you, ma belle?—to enjoy such a sight."
"Yes, Louis," replied his cousin, hesitating as she spoke; "it is very pretty, and I did not mind sleeping in the little hut; but then I cannot enjoy myself as much as I should have done had my father and mother been aware of my intention of accompanying you. Ah, my dear, dear parents!" she added, as the thought of the anguish the absence of her companions and herself would cause at home came over her. "How I wish I had remained at home! Selfish Catharine! foolish idle girl!"
Poor Louis was overwhelmed with grief at the sight of his cousin's tears, and as the kind-hearted but thoughtless boy bent over her to soothe and console her, his own tears fell upon the fair locks of the weeping girl, and bedewed the hand he held between his own.
"If you cry thus, cousin," he whispered, "you will break poor Louis's heart, already sore enough with thinking of his foolish conduct." "Be not cast down, Catharine," said her brother, cheeringly: "we may not be so far from home as you think. As soon as you are rested we will set out again, and we may find something to eat; there must be strawberries on these sunny banks."
Catharine soon yielded to the voice of her brother, and drying her eyes, proceeded to descend the sides of the steep valley that lay to one side of the high ground where they had been sitting.
Suddenly darting down the bank, she exclaimed, "Come, Hector; come, Louis: here indeed is provision to keep us from starving:"—for her eye had caught the bright red strawberries among the flowers and herbage on the slope; large ripe strawberries, the very finest she had ever seen.
"There is indeed, ma belle," said Louis, stooping as he spoke to gather up, not the fruit, but a dozen fresh partridge eggs from the inner shade of a thick tuft of grass and herbs that grew beside a fallen tree. Catharine's voice and sudden movements had startled the partridge [FN: The Canadian partridge is a species of grouse, larger than the English or French partridge. We refer our young readers to the finely arranged specimens in the British Museum, (open to the public,) where they may discover "Louis's partridge."] from her nest, and the eggs were soon transferred to Louis's straw hat, while a stone flung by the steady hand of Hector stunned the parent bird. The boys laughed exultingly as they displayed their prizes to the astonished Catharine, who, in spite of hunger, could not help regretting the death of the mother bird. Girls and women rarely sympathise with men and boys in their field sports, and Hector laughed at his sister's doleful looks as he handed over the bird to her.
"It was a lucky chance," said he, "and the stone was well aimed, but it is not the first partridge that I have killed in this way. They are so stupid you may even run them down at times; I hope to get another before the day is over. Well, there is no fear of starving to-day, at all events," he added, as he inspected the contents of his cousin's hat; "twelve nice fresh eggs, a bird, and plenty of fruit."
"But how shall we cook the bird and the eggs? We have no means of getting a fire made," said Catharine.
"As to the eggs," said Louis, "we can eat them raw; it is not for hungry wanderers like us to be over nice about our food."
"They would satisfy us much better were they boiled, or roasted in the ashes," observed Hector.
"True. Well, a fire, I think, can be got with a little trouble."
"But how?" asked Hector. "Oh, there are many ways, but the readiest would be a flint with the help of my knife."
"Yes, if we could get one—but I see nothing but granite, which crumbles and shivers when struck—we could not get a spark. However, I think it's very likely that one of the round pebbles I see on the beach yonder may be found hard enough for the purpose."
To the shore they bent their steps as soon as the little basket had been well filled with strawberries, and descending the precipitous bank, fringed with young saplings, birch, ash, and poplars, they quickly found themselves beside the bright waters of the lake. A flint was soon found among the water-worn stones that lay thickly strewn upon the shore, and a handful of dry sedge, almost as inflammable as tinder, was collected without trouble; though Louis, with the recklessness of his nature, had coolly proposed to tear a strip from his cousin's apron as a substitute for tinder,—a proposal that somewhat raised the indignation of the tidy Catharine, whose ideas of economy and neatness were greatly outraged, especially as she had no sewing implements to assist in mending the rent. Louis thought nothing of that; it was a part of his character to think only of the present, little of the past, and to let the future provide for itself. Such was Louis's great failing, which had proved a fruitful source of trouble both to himself and others. In this respect he bore a striking contrast to his more cautious companion, who possessed much of the gravity of his father. Hector was as heedful and steady in his decisions as Louis was rash and impetuous.
After many futile attempts, and some skin knocked off their knuckles through awkward handling of the knife and flint, a good fire was at last kindled, as there was no lack of dry wood on the shore; Catharine then triumphantly produced her tin pot, and the eggs were boiled, greatly to the satisfaction of all parties, who were by this time sufficiently hungry, having eaten nothing since the previous evening more substantial than the strawberries they had taken during the time they were gathering them in the morning.
Catharine had selected a pretty, cool, shady recess, a natural bower, under the overhanging growth of cedars, poplars, and birch, which were wreathed together by the flexile branches of the vine and bitter-sweet, which climbed to a height of fifteen feet _[FN: Solatnum dulcamara,—Bitter-sweet or Woody nightshade. This plant, like the red-berried briony of England, is highly ornamental. It possesses powerful properties as a medicine, and is in high reputation among the Indians.]_ among the branches _ of the trees, which it covered as with a mantle. A pure spring of cold, delicious water welled out from beneath the twisted roots of an old hoary-barked cedar, and found its way among the shingles on the beach to the lake, a humble but constant tributary to its waters. Some large blocks of water-worn stone formed convenient seats and a natural table, on which the little maiden arranged the forest fare; and never was a meal made with greater appetite or taken with more thankfulness than that which our wanderers ate that morning. The eggs (part of which they reserved for another time) were declared to be better than those that were daily produced from the little hen-house at Cold Springs. The strawberries, set out in little pottles made with the shining leaves of the oak, ingeniously pinned together by Catharine with the long spurs of the hawthorn, _[FN: The long-spurred American hawthorn may be observed by our young readers among that beautiful collection of the hawthorn family and its affinities, which flourish on the north side of Kensington Gardens.]_ were voted delicious, and the pure water most refreshing, that they drank, for lack of better cups, from a large mussel-shell which Catharine had picked up among the weeds and pebbles on the beach.
Many children would have wandered about weeping and disconsolate, lamenting their sad fate, or have embittered the time by useless repining, or, perhaps, by venting their uneasiness in reviling the principal author of their calamity—poor, thoughtless Louis; but such were not the dispositions of our young Canadians. Early accustomed to the hardships incidental to the lives of the settlers in the bush, these young people had learned to bear with patience and cheerfulness privations that would have crushed the spirits of children more delicately nurtured. They had known every degree of hunger and nakedness; during the first few years of their lives they had often been compelled to subsist for days and weeks upon roots and herbs, wild fruits, and game which their fathers had learned to entrap, to decoy, and to shoot. Thus Louis and Hector had early been initiated into the mysteries of the chase. They could make deadfalls, and pits, and traps, and snares,—they were as expert as Indians in the use of the bow,—they could pitch a stone, or fling a wooden dart at partridge, hare, and squirrel, with almost unerring aim; and were as swift of foot as young fawns. Now it was that they learned to value in its fullest extent this useful and practical knowledge, which enabled them to face with fortitude the privations of a life so precarious as that to which they were now exposed.
It was one of the elder Maxwell's maxims,—Never let difficulties overcome you, but rather strive to conquer them; let the head direct the hand, and the hand, like a well-disciplined soldier, obey the head as chief. When his children expressed any doubts of not being able to accomplish any work they had begun, he would say, "Have you not hands, have you not a head, have you not eyes to see, and reason to guide you? As for impossibilities, they do not belong to the trade of a soldier,—he dare not see them." Thus were energy and perseverance early instilled into the minds of his children; they were now called upon to give practical proofs of the precepts that had been taught them in childhood. Hector trusted to his axe, and Louis to his couteau-de-chasse and pocket-knife; the latter was a present from an old forest friend of his father's, who had visited them the previous winter, and which, by good luck, Louis had in his pocket—a capacious pouch, in which were stored many precious things, such as coils of twine and string, strips of leather, with odds and ends of various kinds; nails, bits of iron, leather, and such miscellaneous articles as find their way most mysteriously into boys' pockets in general, and Louis Perron's in particular, who was a wonderful collector of such small matters.
The children were not easily daunted by the prospect of passing a few days abroad on so charming a spot, and at such a lovely season, where fruits were so abundant; and when they had finished their morning meal, so providentially placed within their reach, they gratefully acknowledged the mercy of God in this thing.
Having refreshed themselves by bathing their hands and faces in the lake, they cheerfully renewed their wanderings, though something both to leave the cool shade and the spring for an untrodden path among the hills and deep ravines that furrow the shores of the Rice Lake in so remarkable a manner; and often did our weary wanderers pause to look upon the wild glens and precipitous hills, where the fawn and the shy deer found safe retreats, unharmed by the rifle of the hunter,—where the osprey and white-headed eagle built their nests, unheeding and unharmed. Twice that day, misled by following the track of the deer, had they returned to the same spot,—a deep and lovely glen, which had once been a water-course, but now a green and shady valley. This they named the Valley of the Rock, from a remarkable block of red granite that occupied a central position in the narrow defile; and here they prepared to pass the second night on the Plains. A few boughs cut down and interlaced with the shrubs round a small space cleared with Hector's axe, formed shelter, and leaves and grass, strewed on the ground, formed a bed, though not so smooth, perhaps, as the bark and cedar-boughs that the Indians spread within their summer wigwams for carpets and couches, or the fresh heather that the Highlanders gather on the wild Scottish hills.
While Hector and Louis were preparing the sleeping-chamber, Catharine busied herself in preparing the partridge for their supper. Having collected some thin peelings from the ragged bark of a birch-tree, that grew on the side of the steep bank to which she gave the appropriate name of the "Birken shaw," she dried it in her bosom, and then beat it fine upon a big stone, till it resembled the finest white paper. This proved excellent tinder, the aromatic oil contained in the bark of the birch being highly inflammable, Hector had prudently retained the flint that they had used in the morning, and a fire was now lighted in front of the rocky stone, and a forked stick, stuck in the ground, and bent over the coals, served as a spit, on which, gipsy-fashion, the partridge was suspended,—a scanty meal, but thankfully partaken of, though they knew not how they should breakfast next morning, The children felt they were pensioners on God's providence not less than the wild denizens of the wilderness around them.
When Hector—who by nature was less sanguine than his sister or cousin—expressed some anxiety for their provisions for the morrow, Catharine, who had early listened with trusting piety of heart to the teaching of her father, when he read portions from the holy word of God, gently laid her hand upon her brother's head, which rested on her knees, as he sat upon the grass beside her, and said, in a low and earnest tone, "'Consider the fowls of the air; they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?' Surely, my brother, God careth for us as much as for the wild creatures, that have no sense to praise and glorify his holy name. God cares for the creatures He has made, and supplies them with knowledge where they shall find food when they hunger and thirst. So I have heard my father say; and surely our father knows, for is he not a wise man, Hector?"
"I remember," said Louis, thoughtfully, "hearing my mother repeat the words of a good old man she knew when she lived in Quebec;—'When you are in trouble, Mathilde,' he used to say to her, 'kneel down, and ask God's help, nothing doubting but that He has the power as well as the will to serve you, if it be for your good; for He is able to bring all things to pass. It is our own want of faith that prevents our prayers from being heard. And, truly, I think the wise old man was right," he added.
It was strange to hear grave words like these from the lips of the giddy Louis. Possibly they had the greater weight on that account. And Hector, looking up with a serious air, replied, "Your mother's friend was a good man, Louis. Our want of trust in God's power must displease Him. And when we think of all the great and glorious things He has made,—that blue sky, those sparkling stars, the beautiful moon that is now shining down upon us, and the hills and waters, the mighty forest, and little creeping plants and flowers that grow at our feet,—it must, indeed, seem foolish in his eyes that we should doubt his power to help us, who not only made all these things, but ourselves also."
"True," said Catharine; "but then, Hector, we are not as God made us; for the wicked one cast bad seed in the field where God had sown the good."
"Let us, however, consider what we shall do for food; for, you know, God helps those that help themselves," said Louis. "Let us consider a little. There must be plenty of fish in the lake, both small and great."
"But how are we to get them out of it?" rejoined Catharine. "I doubt the fish will swim at their ease there, while we go hungry."
"Do not interrupt me, ma chere. Then, we see the track of deer, and the holes of the wood-chuck; we hear the cry of squirrels and chipmunks, and there are plenty of partridges, and ducks, and quails, and snipes; of course, we have to contrive some way to kill them. Fruits there are in abundance, and plenty of nuts of different kinds. At present we have plenty of fine strawberries, and huckleberries will be ripe soon in profusion, and bilberries too, and you know how pleasant they are; as for raspberries, I see none; but by-and-by there will be May-apples—I see great quantities of them in the low grounds, grapes, high-bush-cranberries, haws as large as cherries, and sweet too; squaw-berries, wild plums, choke-cherries, and bird-cherries. As to sweet acorns, there will be bushels and bushels of them for the roasting, as good as chestnuts, to my taste; and butter-nuts, and hickory-nuts,—with many other good things." And here Louis stopped for want of breath to continue his catalogue of forest dainties.
"Yes; and there are bears, and wolves, and racoons, too, that will eat us for want of better food," interrupted Hector, slyly. "Nay, Katty, do not shudder, as if you were already in the clutches of a big bear. Neither bear nor wolf shall make mincemeat of thee, my girl, while Louis and thy brother are near, to wield an axe or a knife in thy defence."
"Nor catamount spring upon thee, ma belle cousine," added Louis, gallantly, "while thy bold cousin Louis can scare him away."
"Well, now that we know our resources, the next thing is to consider how we are to obtain them, my dears," said Catharine. "For fishing, you know, we must have a hook and line, a rod, or a net. Now, where are these to be met with?"
Louis nodded his head sagaciously. "The line I think I can provide; the hook is more difficult, but I do not despair even of that. As to the rod, it can be cut from any slender sapling on the shore. A net, ma chere, I could make with very little trouble, if I had but a piece of cloth to sew over a hoop."
Catharine laughed. "You are very ingenious, no doubt, Monsieur Louis, but where are you to get the cloth and the hoop, and the means of sewing it on?"
Lords took up the corner of his cousin's apron with a provoking look.
"My apron, sir, is not to be appropriated for any such purpose. You seem to covet it for everything."
"Indeed, ma petite, I think it very unbecoming and very ugly, and never could see any good reason why you and Mamma and Mathilde should wear such frightful things."
"It is to keep our gowns clean, Louis, when we are milking and scrubbing, and doing all sorts of household duties," said Catharine.
"Well, ma belle, you have neither cows to milk, nor house to clean," replied the annoying boy; "so there can be little want of the apron. I could turn it to fifty useful purposes."
"Pooh, nonsense," said Hector, impatiently, "let the child alone, and do not tease her about her apron."
"Well, then, there is another good thing I did not think of before, water mussels. I have heard my father and old Jacob the lumberer say, that, roasted in their shells in the ashes, with a seasoning of salt and pepper, they are good eating when nothing better is to be got."
"No doubt, if the seasoning can be procured," said Hector, "but, alas for the salt and the pepper!"
"Well, we can eat them with the best of all sauces—hunger; and then, no doubt, there are crayfish in the gravel under the stones, but we must not mind a pinch to our fingers in taking them."
"To-morrow then let us breakfast on fish," said Hector. "You and I will try our luck, while Kate gathers strawberries; and if our line should break, we can easily cut those long locks from Catharine's head, and twist them into lines,"—and Hector laid his hands upon the long fair hair that hung in shining curls about his sister's neck.
"Cut my curls! This is even worse than cousin Louis's proposal of making tinder and fishing-nets of my apron," said Catharine, shaking back the bright tresses, which, escaping from the snood that bound them, fell in golden waves over her shoulders.
"In truth, Hec, it were a sin and a shame to cut her pretty curls, that become her so well," said Louis. "But we have no scissors, ma belle, so you need fear no injury to your precious locks."
"For the matter of that, Louis, we could cut them with your couteau-de-chasse. I could tell you a story that my father told me, not long since, of Charles Stuart, the second king of that name in England. You know he was the grand-uncle of the young Chevalier Charles Edward, that my father talks of, and loves so much."
"I know all about him," said Catharine, nodding sagaciously; "let us hear the story of his grand-uncle. But I should like to know what my hair and Louis's knife can have to do with King Charles."
"Wait a bit, Kate, and you shall hear, that is, if you have patience," said her brother. "Well then, you must know, that after some great battle, the name of which I forget, [FN: Battle of Worcester.] in which the King and his handful of brave soldiers were defeated by the forces of the Parliament, (the Roundheads, as they were called,) the poor young king was hunted like a partridge upon the mountains; a large price was set on his head, to be given to any traitor who should slay him, or bring him prisoner to Oliver Cromwell. He was obliged to dress himself in all sorts of queer clothes, and hide in all manner of strange, out of the way places, and keep company with rude and humble men, the better to hide his real rank from the cruel enemies that sought his life. Once he hid along with a gallant gentleman, [FN: Colonel Careless.] one of his own brave officers, in the branches of a great oak. Once he was hid in a mill; and another time he was in the house of one Pendril, a woodman. The soldiers of the Parliament, who were always prowling about, and popping in unawares wherever they suspected the poor king to be hidden, were, at one time, in the very room where he was standing beside the fire."
"Oh!" exclaimed Catharine, "that was frightful. And did they take him prisoner?"
"No; for the wise woodman and his brothers, fearing lest the soldiers should discover that he was a cavalier and a gentleman, by the long curls that the king's men all wore in those days, and called lovelocks, begged of his majesty to let his hair be cropped close to his head."
"That was very hard, to lose his nice curls."
"I dare say the voting king thought so too, but it was better to lose his hair than his head. So, I suppose, the men told him, for he suffered them to cut it all close to his head, laying down his head on a rough deal table, or a chopping-block, while his faithful friends with a large knife trimmed off the curls."
"I wonder if the young king thought at that minute of his poor father, who, you know, was forced by wicked men to lay down his head upon a block to have it cut from his shoulders, because Cromwell, and others as hard-hearted as himself, willed that he should die." "Poor king!" said Catharine, sighing, "I see that it is better to be poor children, wandering on these plains under God's own care, than to be kings and princes at the mercy of bad and sinful men."
"Who told your father all these things, Hec?" said Louis.
"It was the son of his brave colonel, who knew a great deal about the history of the Stuart kings, for our colonel had been with Prince Charles, the young chevalier, and fought by his side when he was in Scotland; he loved him dearly, and, after the battle of Culloden, where the Prince lost all, and was driven from place to place, and had not where to lay his head, he went abroad in hopes of better times; (but those times did not come for the poor Prince; and our colonel) after a while, through the friendship of General Wolfe, got a commission in the army that was embarking for Quebec, and, at last, commanded the regiment to which my father belonged. He was a kind man, and my father loved both him and his son, and grieved not a little when he parted from him."
"Well," said Catharine, "as you have told me such a nice story, Mister Hec, I shall forgive the affront about my curls."
"Well, then, to-morrow we are to try our luck at fishing, and if we fail, we will make us bows and arrows to kill deer or small game; I fancy we shall not be over particular as to its of quality. Why should not we be able to find subsistence as well as the wild Indians?"
"True," said Hector, "the wild men of the wilderness, and the animals and birds, all are fed by the things that He provideth; then, wherefore should His white children fear?"
"I have often heard my father tell of the privations of the lumberers, when they have fallen short of provisions, and of the contrivances of himself and old Jacob Morelle, when they were lost for several days, nay, weeks I believe it was. Like the Indians, they made themselves bows and arrows, using the sinews of the deer, or fresh thongs of leather, for bow-strings; and when they could not get game to eat, they boiled the inner bark of the slippery elm to jelly, or birch bark, and drank the sap of the sugar maple when they could get no water but melted snow only, which is unwholesome; at last, they even boiled their own mocassins."
"Indeed, Louis, that must have been a very unsavoury dish," said Catharine.
"That old buckskin vest would have made a famous pot of soup of itself," added Hector, "or the deer-skin hunting shirt." "Well, they might have been reduced even to that," said Louis, laughing, "but for the good fortune that befel them in the way of a half-roasted bear."
"Nonsense, cousin Louis, bears do not run about ready roasted in the forest, like the lambs in the old nursery tale."
"Well now, Kate, this was a fact; at least, it was told as one by old Jacob, and my father did not deny it; shall I tell you about it? After passing several hungry days with no better food to keep them alive than the scrapings of the inner bark of the poplars and elms, which was not very substantial for hearty men, they encamped one night in a thick dark swamp,—not the sort of place they would have chosen, but that they could not help themselves, having been enticed into it by the tracks of a deer or a moose,—and night came upon them unawares, so they set to work to kindle up a fire with spunk, and a flint and knife; rifle they had none, or maybe they would have had game to eat. Old Jacob fixed upon a huge hollow pine, that lay across their path, against which he soon piled a glorious heap of boughs and arms of trees, and whatever wood he could collect, and lighted up a fine fire. You know what a noble hand old Jacob used to be at making up a roaring fire; he thought, I suppose, if he could not have warmth within, he would have plenty of it without. The wood was dry pine and cedar and birch, and it blazed away, and crackled and burnt like a pine-torch. By-and-by they heard a most awful growling close to them. 'That's a big bear, as I live,' said old Jacob, looking all about, thinking to see one come out from the thick bush; but Bruin was nearer to him than he thought, for presently a great black bear burst out from the but-end of the great burning log, and made towards Jacob; just then the wind blew the flame outward, and it caught the bear's thick coat, and he was all in a blaze in a moment. No doubt the heat of the fire had penetrated to the hollow of the log, where he had lain himself snugly up for the winter, and wakened him; but Jacob seeing the huge black brute all in a flame of fire, began to think it was Satan's own self come to carry him off, and he roared with fright, and the bear roared with pain and rage, and my father roared with laughing to see Jacob's terror; but he did not let the bear laugh at him, for he seized a thick pole that he had used for closing in the brands and logs, and soon demolished the bear, who was so blinded with the fire and smoke that he made no fight; and they feasted on roast bear's flesh for many days, and got a capital skin to cover them beside."
"What, Louis, after the fur was all singed?" said Catharine.
"Kate, you are too particular," said Louis; "a story never loses, you know."
Hector laughed heartily at the adventure, and enjoyed the dilemma of the bear in his winter quarter; but Catharine was somewhat shocked at the levity displayed by her cousin and brother, when recounting the terror of old Jacob and the sufferings of the poor bear.
"You boys are always so unfeeling," she said, gravely.
"Indeed, Kate," said her brother, "the day may come when the sight of a good piece of roast bear's flesh, will be no unwelcome sight. If we do not find our way back to Cold Springs before the winter sets in, we may be reduced to as bad a state as poor Jacob and my uncle were in the pine swamps, on the banks of the St. John."
"Ah!" said Catharine, trembling, "that would be too bad to happen."
"Courage, ma belle, let us not despair for the morrow. Let us see what to-morrow will do for us; meantime, we will not neglect the blessings we still possess; see, our partridge is ready, let us eat our supper, and be thankful; and for grace let us say, 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.'"
Long exposure to the air had sharpened their appetites—the hungry wanderers needed no further invitation, the scanty meal, equally divided, was soon despatched.
It is a common saying, but excellent to be remembered by any wanderers in our forest wilds, that those who travel by the sun travel in a circle, and usually find themselves at night in the same place from whence they started in the morning; so it was with our wanderers. At sunset, they found themselves once more in the ravine, beside the big stone, in which they had rested at noon. They had imagined themselves miles and miles distant from it; they were grievously disappointed. They had encouraged each other with the confident hope that they were drawing near to the end of their bewildering journey; they were as far from their home as ever, without the slightest clue to guide them to the right path. Despair is not a feeling which takes deep root in the youthful breast. The young are always hopeful; so confident in their own wisdom and skill in averting or conquering danger; so trusting; so willing to believe that there is a peculiar Providence watching over them. Poor children! they had indeed need of such a belief to strengthen their minds and encourage them to fresh exertions, for new trials were at hand.
The broad moonlight had already flooded the recesses of the glen with light, and all looked fresh and lovely in the dew, which glittered on tree and leaf, on herb and flower. Catharine, who, though weary with her fatiguing wanderings, could not sleep, left the little hut of boughs which her companions had put up near the granite rock in the valley for her accommodation, and ascended the western bank, where the last jutting spur of its steep side formed a lofty clifflike promontory, at the extreme verge of which the roots of one tall spreading oak formed a most inviting seat, from whence the traveller looked down into a level track, which stretched away to the edge of the lake. This flat had been the estuary of the mountain stream, which had once rushed down between the hills, forming a narrow gorge; but now, all was changed; the water had ceased to flow, the granite bed was overgrown, and carpeted with deer-grass and flowers of many hues, wild fruits and bushes, below; while majestic oaks and pines towered above. A sea of glittering foliage lay beneath Catharine's feet; in the distance the eye of the young girl rested on a belt of shining waters, which girt in the shores like a silver zone; beyond, yet more remote to the northward, stretched the illimitable forest.
Never had Catharine looked upon a scene so still or so fair to the eye; a holy calm seemed to shed its influence over her young mind, and peaceful tears stole down her cheeks. Not a sound was there abroad, scarcely a leaf stirred; she could have stayed for hours there gazing on the calm beauty of nature, and communing with her own heart, when suddenly a stirring rustling sound caught her car; it came from a hollow channel on one side of the promontory, which was thickly overgrown with the shrubby dogwood, wild roses and bilberry bushes. Imagine the terror which seized the poor girl, on perceiving a grisly beast breaking through the covert of the bushes. With a scream and a bound, which the most deadly fear alone could have inspired, Catharine sprung from the supporting trunk of the oak, dashed, down the precipitous side of the ravine; now clinging to the bending sprays of the flexile dogwood—now to some fragile birch or poplar—now trusting to the yielding heads of the sweet-scented ceanothus, or filling her hands with sharp thorns from the roses that clothed the bank; flowers, grass, all were alike clutched at in her rapid and fearful descent. A loose fragment of granite on which she had unwittingly placed her foot rolled from under her; unable to regain her balance she fell forwards, and was precipitated through the bushes into the ravine below, conscious only of unspeakable terror and an agonising pain in one of her ancles, which rendered her quite powerless. The noise of the stones she had dislodged in her fall and her piteous cries, brought Louis and Hector to her side, and they bore her in their arms to the hut of boughs and laid her down upon her bed of leaves and grass and young pine boughs. When Catharine was able to speak, she related to Louis and Hector the cause of her fright. She was sure it must have been a wolf by his sharp teeth, long jaws, and grisly coat. The last glance she had had of him had filled her with terror, he was standing on a fallen tree with his eyes fixed upon her—she could tell them no more that happened, she never felt the ground she was on, so great was her fright.
Hector was half disposed to scold his sister for rambling over the hills alone, but Louis was full of tender compassion for la belle cousine, and would not suffer her to be chidden. Fortunately, no bones had been fractured, though the sinews of her ankle were severely sprained; but the pain was intense, and after a sleepless night, the boys found to their grief and dismay, that Catharine was unable to put her foot to the ground. This was an unlooked-for aggravation of their misfortunes; to pursue their wandering was for the present impossible; rest was their only remedy, excepting the application of such cooling medicaments as circumstances would supply them with. Cold water constantly applied to the swollen joint, was the first thing that was suggested; but, simple as was the lotion, it was not easy to obtain it in sufficient quantities. They were a full quarter of a mile from the lake shore, and the cold springs near it were yet further off; and then the only vessel they had was the tin-pot, which hardly contained a pint; at the same time the thirst of the fevered sufferer was intolerable, and had also to be provided for. Poor Catharine, what unexpected misery she now endured!