LOST IN THE BACKWOODS.
A TALE OF THE CANADIAN FOREST.
BY MRS. TRAILL
The interesting tale contained in this volume of romantic adventure in the forests of Canada, was much appreciated and enjoyed by a large circle of young readers when first published, under the title of "The Canadian Crusoes." After being many years out of print, it will now, we hope and believe, with a new and more descriptive title, prove equally attractive to our young friends of the present time.
"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 lashed on the shore"
There lies, between the Rice Lake and the Ontario, a deep and fertile valley, surrounded by lofty wood-crowned hills, clothed chiefly with groves of oak and pine, the sides of the hills and the alluvial bottoms display a variety of noble timber trees of various kinds, as the useful and beautiful maple, beech, and hemlock. This beautiful and highly picturesque valley is watered by many clear streams, whence it derives its appropriate appellation of "Cold Springs."
At the period my little history commences, this now highly cultivated spot was an unbroken wilderness,—all but two clearings, where dwelt the only occupiers of the soil,—which previously 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.
I speak of the time when the neat and flourishing town of Cobourg, now an important port on Lake 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 paddles, 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 "unless the Lord build the house, 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, he was billeted 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, consisting 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 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 regiment 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 it. 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.
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 reunion 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 a 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 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 Lake 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 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: 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 earlier 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 Lake 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 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; food and warm clothing were not wanting in the homestead. Catharine had become, in course of time, the happy mother of four healthy children; her sister-in-law had 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 a 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; often would her plaintive ballads and old tales, related in the hut or the wigwam to her attentive auditors, wile away heavy thoughts.
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 castilegia coccinea, or painted-cup; the large, pure, white blossoms of the lily-like trillium grandiflorum; 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 cypripedium or moccasin 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, was 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 sounds.
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 eyes that were 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 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 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 in her lap, and would not disturb her for all the fruit and flowers in Canada. Marie cried sadly to go with us, but I promised her and Louise lots of flowers and berries if we get them, and the dear children were as happy as queens when I left."
"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 hickory for axe handles: so now you have the reason why I take the axe with me."
The children 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 loath 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 gray 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 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 sparkling of the forest rill, or the hurrying to and fro of the turkeys among the luxuriant grass.
"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 hickory for his axe handles, 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 hickory 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 dinner."
"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 there 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 at the stream which wound its way among the bushes. Catharine neglected not to reach down flowery bunches of the fragrant whitethorn, and the high-bush cranberry, then radiant with nodding umbels of snowy blossoms, or to wreathe 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, 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 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 sounds, save the lulling murmur of the rippling stream below, were 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 tonight."
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 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 stern 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 told 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 future!
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; they slept 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."—St. Luke.
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 palliasses 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 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 the settlers, lest haply they should fall into the hands of the bloody Mohawks, whose merciless disposition 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 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.
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 was known as Sackville's Mill-dike. The hand of man had 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.
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 the 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. [Footnote: The length of the Rice Lake, from its head-waters 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," said Hector, "though I am not quite sure that the land is as good just here as it is at Cold Springs; but all those 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 dropped on 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's 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 ruffed grouse [Footnote: 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 sympathize 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 flexible branches of the wild grape vine and bitter-sweet, which climbed to a height of fifteen feet [Footnote: Celastrus scandens,—bitter-sweet or woody nightshade. This plant, like the red-berried bryony 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 shingle 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, 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 imbittered 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 dead-falls, 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 loath 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, unheeded and unharmed. Twice that day, misled by following the track of the deer, had they returned to the samespot,—a deep and lovely glen, which had once been a watercourse, but was 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 their 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 rugged 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 chitmunks, 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 (Podophyllum peltatum)—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 raccoons 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?"
Louis 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 chaise. 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 granduncle 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 granduncle. 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, [Footnote: 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, [Footnote: 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 young 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 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 moccasins."
"Indeed, Louis, that must have been a very unsavoury dish," said Catharine.
"That old buck-skin vest would have made a famous pot of soup of itself," added Hector, "or the deer-skin hunting shirt."
"They might have been reduced even to that," said Louis, laughing, "but for the good fortune that befell 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."
"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 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 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. The wood was dry pine and cedar and birch, and it blazed away, and crackled and burned 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 butt-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. Jacob seeing the huge black brute all in a flame of fire, roared with fright; 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 quarters; 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 tomorrow 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 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 moon 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 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 cliff-like 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 tract, 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 waters 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 ear; 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 the head of a black elk 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, and 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 agonizing pain in one of her ankles 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 grizzly 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 wanderings 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 full a 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!
The valley and its neighbouring hills abounded in strawberries; they were now ripening in abundance; the ground was scarlet in places with this delicious fruit: they proved a blessed relief to the poor sufferer's burning thirst. Hector and Louis were unwearied in supplying her with them.
Louis, ever fertile in expedients, crushed the cooling fruit and applied them to the sprained foot; rendering the application still more grateful by spreading them upon the large smooth leaves of the sapling oak: these he bound on with strips of the leathery bark of the moose-wood, [Footnote: "Dirca palustris," moose-wood American mezereon, leather-wood. From the Greek, dirka, a fountain or wet place, its usual place of growth.] which he had found growing in great abundance near the entrance of the ravine. Hector, in the meantime, was not idle. After having collected a good supply of ripe strawberries, he climbed the hills in search of birds' eggs and small game. About noon he returned with the good news of having discovered a spring of fine water in an adjoining ravine, beneath a clump of bass-wood and black cherry trees; he had also been so fortunate as to kill a woodchuck, having met with many of their burrows in the gravelly sides of the hills. The woodchuck seems to be a link between the rabbit and badger; its colour is that of a leveret: it climbs like the raccoon, and burrows like the rabbit; its eyes are large, full, and dark, the lip cleft, the soles of the feet naked, claws sharp, ears short; it feeds on grasses, grain, fruit, and berries. The flesh is white, oily, and, in the summer, rank, but is eaten in autumn by the Indians and woodsmen; the skin is not much valued. They are easily killed by dogs, though, being expert climbers, they often baffle their enemies, clinging to the bark beyond their reach. A stone or stick well aimed soon kills them; but they sometimes bite sharply.
The woodchuck proved a providential supply; and Hector cheered his companions with the assurance that they could not starve, as there were plenty of these creatures to be found. They had seen one or two about Cold Springs, but they are less common in the deep forest lands than on the drier, more open plains.
"It is a great pity we have no larger vessel to bring our water from the spring," said Hector, looking at the tin pot; "one is so apt to stumble among stones and tangled underwood. If we had only one of our old bark dishes we could get a good supply at once."
"There is a fallen birch not far from this," said Louis. "I have here my trusty knife; what is there to hinder us from constructing a vessel capable of holding water, a gallon if you like?"
"How can you sew it together, cousin?" asked Catharine; "you have neither deer sinews nor war-tap." The Indian name for the flexible roots of the tamarack, or swamp larch, which they make use of in manufacturing their birch baskets and canoes.
"I have a substitute at hand, ma belle;" and Louis pointed to the strips of leather-wood he had collected for binding the dressings on her foot.
When an idea once struck Louis, he never rested till he worked it out in some way. In a few minutes he was busily employed, stripping sheets of the ever-useful birch-bark from the birch tree that had fallen at the foot of the "Wolf's Crag;" for so the children had named the memorable spot where poor Catharine's accident had occurred.
The rough outside coatings of the bark, which are of silvery whiteness, but ragged from exposure to the action of the weather in the larger and older trees, he peeled off, and then cutting the bark so that the sides lapped well over and the corners were secured from cracks, he proceeded to pierce holes opposite to each other, and with some trouble managed to stitch them tightly together, by drawing strips of the moose or leather-wood through and through. The first attempt, of course, was but rude and ill-shaped, but it answered the purpose, and only leaked a little at the corners for want of a sort of flap, which he had forgotten to allow in cutting out the bark,—this flap in the Indian baskets and dishes turns up, and keeps all tight and close,—a defect he remedied in his subsequent attempts. In spite of its deficiencies, Louis's water-jar was looked upon with great admiration, and highly commended by Catharine, who almost forgot her sufferings while watching her cousin's proceedings.
Louis was elated by his own successful ingenuity, and was for running off directly to the spring. "Catharine shall now have cold water to bathe her poor ankle with, and to quench her thirst," he said, joyfully springing to his feet, ready for a start up the steep bank; but Hector quietly restrained his lively cousin, by suggesting the possibility of his not finding the "fountain in the wilderness," as Louis termed the spring, or losing himself altogether.
"Let us both go together then," cried Louis. Catharine cast on her cousin an imploring glance.
"Do not leave me, dear Louis—Hector, do not let me be left alone." Her sorrowful appeal stayed the steps of the volatile Louis.
"Go you, Hector, as you know the way.—I will not leave you, Kate, since I was the cause of all you have suffered; I will abide by you, in joy or in sorrow, till I see you once more safe in your own dear mother's arms."
Comforted by this assurance, Catharine quickly dashed away the gathering tears from her cheeks, and chid her own foolish fears.
"But you know, dear cousin," she said, "I am so helpless; and then the dread of that horrible wolf makes a coward of me."
After some little time had elapsed, Hector returned. The bark vessel had done its duty to admiration; it only wanted a very little improvement to make it complete. The water was cold and pure. Hector had spent a little time in deepening the mouth of the spring, and placing some stones about it. He described the ravine as being much deeper and wider and more gloomy than the one they occupied. The sides and bottom were clothed with magnificent oaks. It was a grand sight, he said, to stand on the jutting spurs of this great ravine, and look down upon the tops of the trees that lay below, tossing their rounded heads like the waves of a big sea. There were many lovely flowers-vetches of several kinds, blue, white, and pencilled, twining among the grass; a beautiful white-belled flower, that was like the "morning glory" (Convolvulus major), and scarlet cups [Footnote: Erichroma, or painted cup.] in abundance, with roses in profusion. The bottom of this ravine was strewed in places with huge blocks of black granite, cushioned with thick green moss; it opened out into a wide flat, similar to the one at the mouth of the valley of the "Big Stone."
Both Hector and his sister had insensibly imbibed a love of the grand and picturesque, by listening with untiring interest to their father's animated and enthusiastic descriptions of his Highland home, and the wild mountainous scenery that surrounded it. Though brought up in solitude and uneducated, there was nothing vulgar or rude in the minds or manners of these young people. Simple and untaught they were, but they were guileless, earnest, and unsophisticated; and if they lacked the knowledge that is learned from books, they possessed much that was useful and practical, which had been taught by experience and observation in the school of necessity.
For several days the pain and fever arising from her sprain rendered any attempt at removing Catharine from the valley of the "Big Stone" impracticable. The ripe fruit began to grow less abundant in their immediate vicinity; neither woodchuck, partridge, nor squirrel had been killed; and our poor wanderers now endured the agonizing pains of hunger. Continual exposure to the air by night and by day contributed not a little to increase the desire for food. It is true, there was the yet untried lake, "bright, boundless, and free," gleaming in silvery splendour, but in practice they knew nothing of the fisher's craft, though, as a matter of report, they were well acquainted with its mysteries, and had often listened with delight to the feats performed by their respective fathers in the art of angling, spearing, and netting.
"I have heard my father say that so bold and numerous were the fish in the lakes and rivers he used to fish in, that they could be taken by the hand with a crooked pin and coarse thread, or wooden spear; but that was in the Lower Province. And oh, what glorious tales I have heard him tell of spearing fish by torchlight!"
"The fish may be wiser or not so numerous in this lake," said Hector, "however, if Kate can bear to be moved, we will go down to the shore and try our luck. But what can we do? we have neither hook nor line provided."
Louis nodded his head, and sitting down on a projecting root of a scrub oak, produced from the depths of his capacious pocket a bit of tin, which he carefully selected from among a miscellaneous hoard of treasures. "Here," said he, holding it up to the view as he spoke,—"here is the slide of an old powder-flask, which I picked up from among some rubbish my sister had thrown out the other day."
"I fear you will make nothing of that," said Hector; "a bit of bone would be better. If you had a file now, you might do something."
"Stay a moment, Monsieur Hec; what do you call this?" and Louis triumphantly handed out of his pocket the very instrument in question, a few inches of a broken, rusty file; very rusty, indeed, it was, but still it might be made to answer in such ingenious hands as those of our young French Canadian.
"I well remember, Katty, how you and Mathilde laughed at me for treasuring up this old thing months ago.—Ah, Louis, Louis, you little knew the use it was to be put to then," he added thoughtfully, apostrophizing himself; "how little do we know what is to befall us in our young days!"
"God knows it all," said Hector gravely; "we are under his good guidance."
"You are right, Hec; let us trust in his mercy, and he will take good care of us. Come, let us go to the lake," Catharine added, and she sprang to her feet, but as quickly sank down upon the grass, and regarded her companions with a piteous look, saying, "I cannot walk one step; alas, alas! what is to become of me? I am only a useless burden to you. If you leave me here I shall fall a prey to some savage beast; and you cannot carry me with you in your search for food."
"Dry your tears, sweet cousin; you shall go with us. Do you think that Hector or Louis would abandon you in your helpless state, to die of hunger or thirst, or to be torn by wolves or bears? We will carry you by turns; the distance to the lake is nothing, and you are not so very heavy, ma belle cousine; see, I could dance with you in my arms, you are so light a burden,"—and Louis gaily caught the suffering girl up in his arms, and with rapid steps struck into the deer-path that wound through the ravine towards the lake. But when they reached a pretty, rounded knoll (where Wolf Tower now stands), Louis was fain to place his cousin on a flat stone beneath a big oak that grew beside the bank, and fling himself on the flowery ground at her feet, while he drew a long breath, and gathered the fruit that grew among the long grass to refresh himself after his fatigue. And then, while resting on the "Elfin Knowe," as Catharine called the hill, he employed himself with manufacturing a rude sort of a fish-hook, with the aid of his knife, the bit of tin, and the rusty file. A bit of twine was next produced: boys have always a bit of string in their pockets; and Louis, as I have before hinted, was a provident hoarder of such small matters. The string was soon attached to the hook, and Hector was not long in cutting a sapling that answered well the purpose of a fishing-rod; and thus equipped they proceeded to the lake shore, Hector and Louis carrying the crippled Catharine by turns. When there, they selected a sheltered spot beneath a grove of overhanging cedars and birches, festooned with wild vines, which, closely woven, formed a natural bower, quite impervious to the rays of the sun. A waterfall dashing from the upper part of the bank fell headlong in spray and foam, and quietly spread itself among the round shingly fragments that formed the beach of the lake. Beneath this pleasant bower Catharine could repose and watch her companions at their novel employment, or bathe her feet and infirm ankle in the cool streamlet that rippled in tiny wavelets over its stony bed.
If the amusement of fishing prove pleasant and exciting when pursued for pastime only, it may readily be conceived that its interest must be greatly heightened when its object is satisfying a craving degree of hunger. Among the sunny spots on the shore, innumerable swarms of the flying grasshopper or field crickets were sporting, and one of these proved an attractive bait. The line was no sooner cast into the water than the hook was seized, and many were the brilliant specimens of sun-fish that our eager fishermen cast at Catharine's feet, all gleaming with gold and azure scales. Nor was there any lack of perch, or that delicate fish commonly known in these waters as the pink roach.
Tired at last with their easy sport, the hungry boys next proceeded to the grateful task of scaling and dressing their fish. This they did very expeditiously, as soon as the more difficult part of kindling a fire on the beach had been accomplished with the help of the flint, knife, and dried rushes. The fish were then suspended, Indian fashion, on forked, sticks stuck in the ground and inclined at a suitable angle towards the glowing embers,—a few minutes sufficed to cook them.
"Truly," said Catharine, when the plentiful repast was set before her, "God hath, indeed, spread a table for us here in the wilderness;" so miraculous did this ample supply of delicious food seem in the eyes of this simple child of nature.
They had often heard tell of the facility with which the fish could be caught, but they had known nothing of it from their own experience, as the streams and creeks about Cold Springs afforded them but little opportunity for exercising their skill as anglers; so that, with the rude implements with which they were furnished, the result of their morning success seemed little short of divine interference in their behalf. Happy and contented in the belief that they were not forgotten by their heavenly Father, these poor "children in the wood" looked up with gratitude to that beneficent Being who suffereth not even a sparrow to fall unheeded.
Upon Catharine, in particular, these things made a deep impression; and there, as she sat in the green shade, soothed by the lulling sound of the flowing waters, and the soft murmuring of the many-coloured insects that hovered among the fragrant leaves which thatched her sylvan bower, her young heart was raised in humble and holy aspirations to the great Creator of all things living. A peaceful calm diffused itself over her mind, as with hands meekly folded across her breast, the young girl prayed with the guileless fervour of a trusting and faithful heart.
The sun was just sinking in a flood of glory behind the dark pine-woods at the head of the lake, when Hector and Louis, who had been carefully providing fish for the morrow (which was the Sabbath), came loaded with their finny prey carefully strung upon a willow-wand, and found Catharine sleeping in her bower. Louis was loath to break her tranquil slumbers, but her careful brother reminded him of the danger to which she was exposed, sleeping in the dew by the water-side. "Moreover," he added, "we have some distance to go, and we have left the precious axe and the birch-bark vessel in the valley."
These things were too valuable to be lost, so they roused the sleeper, and slowly recommenced their toilsome way, following the same path that they had made in the morning. Fortunately, Hector had taken the precaution to bend down the flexile branches of the dogwood and break the tops of the young trees that they had passed between on their route to the lake; and by this clue they were enabled with tolerable certainty to retrace their way, nothing doubting of arriving in time at the wigwam of boughs by the rock in the valley.
Their progress was, however, slow, burdened with the care of the lame girl, and laden with the fish. The purple shades of twilight soon clouded the scene, deepened by the heavy masses of foliage, which cast greater obscurity upon their narrow path; for they had now left the oak-flat and entered the gorge of the valley. The utter loneliness of the path, the grotesque shadows of the trees that stretched in long array across the steep banks on either side, taking now this, now that wild and fanciful shape, awakened strange feelings of dread in the mind of these poor forlorn wanderers; like most persons bred up in solitude, their imaginations were strongly tinctured with superstitious fears. Here, then, in the lonely wilderness, far from their beloved parents and social hearth, with no visible arm to protect them from danger, none to encourage or to cheer them, they started with terror-blanched cheeks at every fitful breeze that rustled the leaves or waved the branches above them.