SILVER LAKE, BY R.M. BALLANTYNE.
It was on a cold winter morning long ago, that Robin Gore, a bold hunter of the backwoods of America, entered his parlour and sat him down to breakfast.
Robin's parlour was also his dining-room, and his drawing-room, besides being his bedroom and his kitchen. In fact, it was the only room in his wooden hut, except a small apartment, opening off it, which was a workshop and lumber-room.
Robin's family consisted of himself, and his wife, and his son Roy, who was twelve years of age—and his daughter Nelly, who was eight, or thereabout. In addition to these, his household comprised a nephew, Walter and an Irishman, Larry O'Dowd. The former was tall, strong, fearless, and twenty. The latter was stout, short, powerful, and forty.
The personal history of Robin Gore, to the point at which we take it up, runs briefly thus:—
He had been born in a backwood's settlement, had grown up and married in the little hamlet in which he had been born, and hunted around it contentedly until he was forty years of age. But, as population increased, he became restive. He disliked restraint; resolved to take his wife and family into the wilderness and, after getting his nephew and an Irish adventurer to agree to accompany him, carried his resolution into effect.
He travelled several hundreds of miles into the woods—beyond the most remote settlement—built three wooden huts, surrounded them with a tall stockade, set up a flagstaff in the centre thereof, and styled the whole affair, "Fort Enterprise."
"I'm sorry to bring you to such a lonesome spot, Molly, my dear," said Robin, as he sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, on the afternoon of the day on which he arrived at the scene of his future home; "it'll be rayther tryin' at first, but you'll soon get used to it, and we won't be bothered hereaway wi' all the new-fangled notions o' settlement folk. We'll dwell in the free wilderness, where there are no tyrannical laws to hamper a man, an' no nonsensical customs to fix the fashion of his coat an' leggins. Besides, you'll have Roy an' Nelly an' Walter an' Larry to keep you company, lass, not to mention our neighbours to look in upon now and again."
"Very true, Robin," replied the wife, "I have no doubt it will be quite cheery and homelike in course of time."
She looked out upon the broad bosom of the lake which lay before the site of their forest home, and sighed. It was evident that Mrs Gore had a strong partiality for the laws and customs which her husband abhorred.
The "neighbours" to whom Robin referred lived in a leather tent twenty miles distant from the Fort. They were an Indian, named "The Black Swan," his wife, named "The White Swan," and a half-caste trapper, whose proper name was unknown to all save himself. His cognomen in the wilderness was "Slugs," a name which originated in his frequent use of clipped pieces of lead instead of shot in the loading of his gun.
But to return to the point from which we started:—
It was on a cold winter morning that Robin Gore entered his parlour and sat him down to breakfast.
It was not only cold—very cold; colder than ever was experienced in our favoured British isles—but it was also very dark. Robin had risen before daybreak in order to visit his traps, and shoot some game as early in the day as possible. The larder chanced to be nearly empty that day, a fact which was all the more to be regretted that it was New Year's day, and, as Robin remarked, "that day didn't occur more than once in the year." This statement Larry O'Dowd disputed, affirming that it occurred "at laste twice ivery year—wance at the beginnin' an' wance at the end of it!"
"Come along, lad," said Robin, trimming the candle as his nephew Walter entered, "we'll ha' to make the most of our time to-day, for we dine at sharp five p.m., an' our dinner—leastwise the most of it—is at this moment alive an' kickin', if it's not sleepin', in the forest, and has got to be found and shot yet. Hallo! boy, where are you bound for?"
"For the woods, father, with you and Walter," replied his son Roy, sitting down and coolly helping himself to a portion of bear's meat, with which the hunter was regaling himself.
"Nonsense, boy," said Robin, somewhat gruffly.
"You'll not be able to keep up with us," added Walter, "for we've little time before us, an' a long way to go."
"If I break down I can turn back," retorted Roy.
"Very good; please yourself;" said Robin in a tone of indifference, although his glance seemed to indicate that he was not sorry to see his boy determined to attempt an expedition which he knew from experience would be very trying to a lad of his years.
Breakfast over, the three hunters clothed themselves in habiliments suitable to the climate—leathern coats and trousers which were impervious to the wind; cloth leggings to keep the snow from the trousers; leather mocassins, or shoes with three pairs of blanket socks inside of them; fur-caps with ear-pieces; leather mittens with an apartment for the fingers and a separate chamber for the thumb, powder-horns, shot-pouches, guns, and snow-shoes. These latter were light wooden frames, netted across with deerskin threads, about five feet long and upwards of a foot wide. The shoes were of this enormous size, in order that they might support the wearers on the surface of the snow, which was, on an average, four feet deep in the woods. They were clumsy to look at, but not so difficult to walk in as one might suppose.
In silence the three hunters entered the dark woods in front of Fort Enterprise. Robin went first and beat the track, Walter followed in his footsteps, Roy brought up the rear. The father sank about six inches at every step, but the snow which fell upon his snow-shoes was so fine and dry, owing to the intense frost, that it fell through the net-work of the shoes like dust. Walter and Roy, treading in the footsteps, had less labour in walking, but Walter, being almost as strong as his uncle, took his turn at beating the track every two hours.
Through the woods they went, over mound and hollow, across frozen swamp and plain, through brush and break, until near noon, when they halted for rest and refreshment. While Walter cut firewood, Robin and Roy cleared away the snow, using their snow-shoes as shovels, and prepared their meal. It was simple; a few mouthfuls of dried meat and a tin can of hot tea—the backwoodsman's greatest luxury, next to his pipe. It was short, too. Half an hour sufficed to prepare and consume it.
"Let's see, now, what we have got," said Robin, counting the game before resuming the march.
"More than enough," said Walter, lighting his pipe for a hurried whiff, "ten brace of white grouse, four rabbits, six red foxes and a black one, and two wolves. We can't eat all that."
"Surely we won't eat the foxes and wolves!" cried Roy, laughing.
"Not till we're starvin'," replied his father. "Come, let's go on—are ye tired, lad?"
"Fresh as Walter," said the boy, proudly.
"Well, we won't try you too much. We'll just take a sweep round by the Wolf's Glen, an' look at the traps there—after which make for home and have our New Year's dinner. Go ahead, Walter, and beat the track; it is your turn this time."
Without speaking, Walter slipped his feet into the lines of his snow-shoes, extinguished his pipe, and led the way once more through the pathless forest.
THE STARVED INDIAN.
In the depths of the same forest, and not far from the locality to which we have introduced our reader, a Red Indian was dragging his limbs wearily along over the untrodden snow.
The attenuated frame of this son of the soil, his hollow cheeks and glaring eye-balls, his belt drawn with extreme tightness round his waist, to repress the gnawings of hunger, as well as his enfeebled gait, proved that he was approaching the last stage of starvation.
For many weeks Wapaw had been travelling in the woods, guided on his way by the stars, and by those slight and delicate signs of the wilderness— such as the difference of thickness in the bark on the north, from that on the south side of a tree—which are perceptible only to the keen eye of an Indian, or a white man whose life has been spent in the wilderness.
But Wapaw was a very different man, when he quitted his tribe, from what he was at the time we introduce him to our reader. Strong, wiry, upright, and lithe as a panther, he left his wigwam and his wife, and turned his face towards the rising sun; but the season was a severe one, and game was scarce; from the very beginning of his journey he had found it difficult to supply himself with a sufficiency of food. Towards the middle of it he was on short allowance, and much reduced in strength; and now near its termination, he was, as we have said, almost in the last stage of starvation.
Fort Enterprise was Wapaw's goal. He had never been there before, but from the description of the place and its locality, given by those of his kindred who had visited Robin Gore, he was able to direct his march with unerring certainty towards it. Of course, as he drew near to it he could not ascertain his exact distance—whether he was a day or several days' journey off—but from the tracks of Robin's snow-shoes, which he crossed more than once, he guessed that he was nearing the Fort, and pushed on with renewed hope and energy.
Robin, however, was an active hunter. He often made long and rapid marches from his lonely dwelling—sometimes staying away a week or two at a time even in winter; so that Wapaw thought himself nearer Fort Enterprise than he really was, when he first discovered the bold hunter's tracks. When, at length, he did arrive at less than a day's journey from the Fort, he was not aware of its close proximity, and, having tasted nothing whatever for two days, he felt the approach of that terrible state of exhaustion which precedes death.
It was a somewhat stormy day when the poor Indian's strength finally broke down. Hitherto he had pushed forward with some degree of hope, but on the morning of this day a broken branch caught his snow-shoe and tripped him. At any other time the fall would have been a trifle, but in his weak condition it acted like the last straw which breaks the camel's back. Wapaw rose with difficulty, and brushing the snow from his eyes, looked earnestly at his snow-shoes, well knowing that if they had been broken in the fall his power of advancing would have been taken away and his fate sealed, for he had neither strength nor energy left to repair them. They were uninjured, however; so he once more attempted to stagger on.
A slight rising ground lay before him. To ascend this was a labour so great that he almost sank in the midst of it. He reached the top, however, and gazed eagerly before him. He had gazed thus at the top of every rising ground that he had reached during the last two days, in the hope of seeing some sign of the Fort.
A deep sigh escaped him as he rested his hands on the muzzle of his gun, and his grave countenance was overspread with a look of profound melancholy. For the first time in his life, the once stout and active Wapaw had reached the point of giving way to despair. A wide open plain stretched out before him. The cold wind was howling wildly across it, driving the keen snow-drift before it in whirling clouds. Even a strong man might have shrunk from exposing himself on such a plain and to such a blast on that bitter arctic day. Wapaw felt that, in his case, to cross it would be certain death; so, with the calm philosophy of a Red Indian, he made up his mind to lay him down and die!
His manner of preparing for his end was somewhat singular. Turning aside into the woods, he set about making an encampment with as much vigour as he could summon up. Clearing away the snow from the roots of a large spreading pine-tree, he strewed branches on the ground, and thus made a rude couch. On this he spread his blanket. Then he cut some firewood with the axe that hung at his side, and soon kindled, by means of flint, steel, and tinder, a good fire. Seating himself before the warm blaze, the exhausted man rested awhile, with his legs drawn together and his head resting on his knees.
He sat so long thus that he nearly fell asleep. Presently he roused himself, and proceeded to make a close examination of his wallet and firebag—the latter being a beautifully ornamented pouch, which Indians and fur-traders wear at their belts, for the purpose of containing the materials for producing fire, besides pipes and tobacco.
Poor Wapaw had already searched his wallet and firebag twice, without finding a crumb of food or a morsel of tobacco. He knew well that they were empty, yet he turned them inside out, and examined the seams and corners with as much earnestness as if he really expected to find relief from his sufferings there.
There was no expression of pain on the red man's face—only a look of profound melancholy.
He laid aside the firebag after a little while, and then quietly drew his knife, and cut a piece of leather from the skirt of his hunting coat.
The leather had been dried and smoked, and contained no substance whatever that could sustain life. Wapaw was aware of this—nevertheless he singed a portion of it until it was reduced almost to ashes, and mingling a little snow with this, ate it greedily.
Then, raising his eyes to the sky with a long earnest gaze, he sat immovable, until the sinking fire and the increasing cold recalled his wandering faculties.
There was a wild, glassy look about the Indian's eyes now, which probably resulted from exhaustion. He seemed to struggle several times to rouse himself before he succeeded; shuddering with intense cold, he crept to the little pile of firewood, and placed several billets on the fire, which speedily blazed up again, and the dying man cowered over it, regardless of the smoke which ever and anon wreathed round his drooping head.
In a few minutes Wapaw started up as if new energy had been infused into him. He placed his gun, axe, firebag, and powder-horn by themselves on the ground; then he wrapped himself in his blanket and lay slowly down beside them with his feet towards the fire. For a few minutes he lay on his back, gazing earnestly upwards, while his lips moved slowly, but no sound issued from them. Then he turned wearily on his side, and, covering his head with the blanket and turning his face towards the ground, he resigned himself to death.
But God had ordained that, at that time, the red man should not die.
About the time when he lay down, our hunters emerged upon the plain which had caused the Indian to despair.
"It's of no use goin' farther," observed Robin, as he and his companions stood at the edge of the forest and looked across the plain; "the wind blows too hard, and the drift is keen; besides there ain't much to be got hereaway, even in seasons of plenty."
"Father! is that smoke risin' over the bluff yonder?" asked Roy, pointing with his finger as he spoke.
"No doubt of it, lad."
"Indians, may be," said Walter.
Robin shook his head. "Don't think so," said he, "for the redskins don't often come to see me at this time o' the year. But we'll go see; an' look to your primin', lads—if it's a war-party we'll ha' to fight, mayhap, if we don't run."
The three hunters crossed the plain in the teeth of the howling drift, and cautiously approached the bluff referred to by Roy, and from behind which the smoke ascended.
"It's a camp fire," whispered Robin, as he glanced back at his companions, "but I see no one there. They must have just left the place."
There was a shade of anxiety in the hunter's voice as he spoke, for he thought of Fort Enterprise, its defenceless condition, and the possibility of the Indians having gone thither.
"They can't have gone to the Fort," said Walter, "else we should have seen their tracks on the way hither."
"Come," said Robin, stepping forward quickly, "we can see their tracks now, anyhow, and follow them up, and if they lead to the Fort."
The hunter did not finish his sentence, for at that moment he caught sight of the recumbent form of Wapaw in the camp.
"Hist! A redskin alone, and asleep! Well, I never did 'xpect to see that."
"Mayhap, he's a decoy-duck," suggested Walter. "Better look sharp out."
Robin and Roy heeded not the caution. They at once went forward, and the father lifted the blanket from the Indian's head.
"Dead!" exclaimed Roy, in a solemn tone.
"Not yet, lad! but I do b'lieve the poor critter's a'most gone wi' starvation. Come, bestir you, boys—rouse up the fire, and boil the kettle."
Walter and Roy did not require a second bidding. The kettle was ere long singing on a blazing fire. The Indian's limbs were chafed and warmed; a can of hot tea was administered, and Wapaw soon revived sufficiently to look up and thank his deliverers.
"Now, as good luck has it, I chanced to leave my hand-sled at the Wolf's Glen. Go, fetch it, Roy," said Robin.
The lad set off at once, and, as the glen was not far distant, soon returned with a flat wooden sledge, six feet long by eighteen inches broad, on which trappers are wont to pack their game in winter. On this sledge Wapaw was firmly tied, and dragged by the hunters to Fort Enterprise.
"Hast got a deer, father?" cried little Nelly, as she bounded in advance of her mother to meet the returning party.
"No, Nelly—'tis dearer game than that."
"What? a redskin!" exclaimed Dame Gore in surprise; "is he dead?"
"No, nor likely to die," said Robin, "he's in a starvin' state though, an'll be none the worse of a bit of our New Year's dinner. Here is game enough for one meal an' more; come, lass, get it ready as fast as may be."
So saying the bold hunter passed through the Fort gate, dragging the red man behind him.
PREPARATIONS FOR A FEAST.
"Why so grave, Robin?" inquired Mrs Gore, when her husband returned to the parlour after seeing Wapaw laid in a warm corner of the kitchen, and committed to the care of Larry O'Dowd.
"Molly, my dear, it's of no use concealin' things from you, 'cause when bad luck falls we must just face it. This Injun—Wapaw, he calls himself—tells me he has com'd here a-purpose, as fast as he could, to say that his tribe have resolved to attack me, burn the Fort, kill all the men, and carry you off into slavery."
"God help me! can this be true?"
"True enough, I don't doubt, 'cause Wapaw has the face of an honest man, and I believe in faces. He says some of the worst men of his tribe are in power just now; that they want the contents of my store without paying for them; that he tried to get them to give up the notion, but failed. On seeing that they were bent on it, he said he was going off to hunt, and came straight here to warn me. He says they talked of starting for the Fort two days after he did, and that he pushed on as fast as he could travel, so it's not likely they'll be here for two or three days yet. I'll get ready for them, hows'ever, and when the reptiles do come they'll meet with a warm reception, I warrant them; meanwhile, do you go and get dinner ready. We won't let such varmints interfere with our New Year's feast."
While Robin's wife went to her larder, his children were in the kitchen tending the Indian with earnest solicitude, and Larry was preparing a little soup for him.
"Do you like rabbit soup?" asked Nelly, kneeling beside the pallet of pine branches on which Wapaw lay.
The Indian smiled, and said something in his native tongue.
"Sure he don't onderstan' ye," exclaimed Larry, as he bustled in an energetic way amongst his pots and pans.
"Let me try him with Cree," said Roy, kneeling beside his sister, "I know a little—a very little Cree."
Roy tried his "very little Cree," but without success.
"It's o' no use," he said, "father must talk to him, for he knows every language on earth, I believe."
Roy's idea of the number of languages "on earth" was very limited.
"Och! don't bother him, see, here is a lingo that every wan onderstan's," cried Larry, carrying a can of hot soup towards Wapaw.
"Oh, let me! do let me!" cried Nelly, jumping up and seizing the can.
"Be all manes," said Larry, resigning it.
The child once more knelt by the side of the Indian and held the can to him, while he conveyed the soup to his lips with a trembling, unsteady hand. The eyes of the poor man glittered as he gazed eagerly at the food, which he ate with the avidity of a half-famished wolf.
His nurses looked on with great satisfaction, and when Wapaw glanced up from time to time in their faces, he was advised to continue his meal with nods and smiles of goodwill.
Great preparations were made for the dinner of that New Year's Day. Those who "dwell at home at ease" have no idea of the peculiar feelings with which the world's wanderers hail the season of Christmas and New Year. Surrounded as they usually are by strange scenes, and ignorant as they are of what friends at home are doing or thinking, they lay hold of this season as being one point at least in the circle of the year in which they can unite with the home circle, and, at the same time, commemorate with them the birth of the blessed Saviour of mankind, and think with them of absent friends. Much, therefore, as the "happy" season is made of in the "old country," it is made more of, if possible, in the colonies; especially on the outskirts of the world, where the adventurous and daring have pitched their tents.
Of course Robin Gore and his household did not think of the "old country," for they were descendants of settlers; but they had imbibed the spirit of the old country from their forefathers, and thought of those well-remembered friends whom they had left behind them in the settlements.
Notwithstanding the delay caused by the conveying of Wapaw to the Fort, the hunters had walked so fast that there was still some time to spare before dinner should be ready.
Roy resolved to devote this time to a ramble in the woods with his sister Nelly. Accordingly the two put on their snow-shoes, and, merely saying to their mother that they were going to take a run in the woods, set forth.
Now, it must be known that Mrs Gore had looked forward to New Year's Day dinner with great interest and much anxiety. There was a general feeling of hilarity and excitement among the male members of the self-exiled family that extended itself to the good woman, and induced her to resolve that the entire household should have what Walter styled a "rare blow-out!" During the whole morning she had been busy with the preparation of the various dishes, among which were a tart made of cloudberry jam, a salt goose, and a lump of bear's ham, besides the rabbits and ptarmigan which had been shot that day.
"That's the way to do it, Molly," cried Robin, as he opened the door and peeped in upon his wife during the height and heat of her culinary labours; "keep the pot bilin', my dear, and don't spare the butter this day. It only comes once a year, you know."
"Twice," muttered Larry in a low voice, as he stirred the contents of a large pot which hung over the fire.
"And see that you look after Wapaw," continued Robin. "Don't give him too much at first, it'll hurt him."
"No fear of that," replied Larry, "he's got so much a'ready that he couldn't howld another morsel av he was to try."
"Well, well, take care of him, anyhow," said Robin, with a laugh; "meanwhile I'll go see after the defences o' the Fort, and make all snug."
By dint of unwearied perseverance the dinner was cooked, and then it occurred to Robin to ask where the children were, but no one could tell, so the hunter remarked quietly that they would "doubtless make their appearance in a short while."
Gradually the dinner reached that interesting point which is usually styled "ready to dish." Whereupon Robin again asked where the children were. Still no one could tell, so he said he would go out and hail them. Loudly and long did the hunter call, but no one answered; then he made a rapid search in and about the Fort, but they were not to be found. Moreover, a snow-storm had begun to set in, and the drift rendered it difficult to distinguish tracks in the snow.
At last the day's labours were brought to a close. Dinner was served, and smoked invitingly on the table. The party only awaited the return of Robin with the children. In a few minutes Robin entered hastily.
"Molly," said he, in a tone of anxiety, "the foolish things have gone into the woods, I think. Come, lads, we must hunt them down. It's snowin' hard, so we've no time to lose."
Walter and Larry at once put on their capotes, fur-caps, and snow-shoes, and sallied forth, leaving Mrs Gore seated alone, and in a state of deep anxiety, by the side of her untasted New Year's Day dinner.
LOST IN THE SNOW.
When Roy and Nelly set out for a ramble, they had at first no intention of going beyond their usual haunts in the woods around the Fort; but Roy had been inspirited by his successful march that day with his father and Walter, and felt inclined to show Nelly some new scenes to which they had not, up to that time, dared to penetrate together.
The snow-storm, already referred to, had commenced gradually. When the children set forth on their ramble only a few flakes were falling, but they had not been away half an hour when snow fell so thickly that they could not see distinctly more than a few yards ahead of them. There was no wind, however, so they continued to advance, rather pleased than otherwise with the state of things.
"Oh, I do like to see falling snow," cried Nelly, with a burst of animation.
"So do I," said Roy, looking back at his sister with a bright smile, "and I like it best when it comes down thick and heavy, in big flakes, on a very calm day, don't you?"
"Yes, oh it's so nice," responded Nelly sympathetically.
They paused for minutes to shake some of the snow from their garments, and beat their hands together, for their fingers were cold, and to laugh boisterously, for their hearts were merry. Then they resumed their march, Roy beating the track manfully and Nelly following in his footsteps.
In passing beneath a tall fir-tree Roy chanced to touch a twig. The result was literally overwhelming, for in a moment he was almost buried in snow, to the unutterable delight of his sister, who stood screaming with laughter as the unfortunate boy struggled to disentomb himself.
In those northern wilds, where snow falls frequently and in great abundance, masses are constantly accumulating on the branches of trees, particularly on the pines, on the broad flat branches of which these masses attain to considerable size. A slight touch is generally sufficient to bring these down, but, being soft, they never do any injury worth mentioning.
When Roy had fairly emerged from the snow he joined his sister in the laugh, but suddenly he stopped, and his face became very grave.
"What's the matter?" asked Nelly, with an anxious look.
"My snow-shoe's broken," said Roy.
There was greater cause for anxiety on account of this accident than the reader is perhaps aware of. It may be easily understood that in a country where the snow averages four feet in depth, no one can walk half-a-mile without snow-shoes without being thoroughly exhausted; on the other hand, a man can walk thirty or forty miles a day by means of snow-shoes.
"Can't you mend it?" asked Nelly.
Roy, who had been carefully examining the damaged shoe, shook his head.
"I've nothing here to do it with; besides, it's an awful smash. I must just try to scramble home the best way I can. Come, it's not very far, we'll only be a bit late for dinner."
The snow-shoe having been bandaged, after a fashion, with a pocket-handkerchief, the little wanderers began to retrace their steps; but this was now a matter of extreme difficulty, owing to the quantity of snow which had fallen and almost obliterated the tracks. The broken shoe, also, was constantly giving way, so that ere long the children became bewildered as well as anxious, and soon lost the track of their outward march altogether. To make matters worse, the wind began to blow clouds of snow-drift into their faces, compelling them to seek the denser parts of the forest for shelter.
They wandered on, however, in the belief that they were drawing nearer home every step, and Roy, whose heart was stout and brave, cheered up his sister's spirit so much that she began to feel quite confident their troubles would soon be over.
Presently all their hopes were dashed to the ground by their suddenly emerging upon an open space, close to the very spot where the snow-mass had fallen on Roy's head. After the first feeling of alarm and disappointment had subsided, Roy plucked up heart and encouraged Nelly by pointing out to her that they had at all events recovered their old track, which they would be very careful not to lose sight of again.
Poor Nelly whimpered a little, partly from cold and hunger as well as from disappointment, as she listened to her brother's words; then she dried her eyes and said she was ready to begin again. So they set off once more. But the difficulty of discerning the track, if great at first, was greater now, because the falling and drifting snow had well-nigh covered it up completely. In a very few minutes Roy stopped, and, confessing that he had lost it again, proposed to return once more to their starting point to try to recover it. Nelly agreed, for she was by this time too much fatigued and alarmed to have any will of her own, and was quite ready to do whatever she was told without question.
After wandering about for nearly an hour in this state of uncertainty, Roy at last stopped, and, putting his arm round his sister's waist, said that he had lost himself altogether! Poor Nelly, whose heart had been gradually sinking, fairly broke down; she hid her face in her brother's bosom, and wept.
"Come now, don't do that, dear Nell," said Roy, tenderly, "I'll tell you what we shall do—we'll camp in the snow! We have often done it close to the house, you know, for fun, so we'll do it now in earnest."
"But it's so dark and cold," sobbed Nelly, looking round with a shudder into the dark recesses of the forest, which were by that time enshrouded by the gathering shades of night; "and I'm so hungry too! Oh me! what shall we do?"
"Now don't get so despairing," urged Roy, whose courage rose in proportion as his sister's sank; "it's not such an awful business after all, for father is sure to scour the woods in search of us, an' if we only get a comfortable encampment made, an' a roarin' fire kindled, why, we'll sit beside it an' tell stories till they find us. They'll be sure to see the fire, you know, so come—let's to work."
Roy said this so cheerfully that the child felt a little comforted, dried her eyes, and said she would "help to make the camp."
This matter of making an encampment in the snow, although laborious work, was by no means a novelty to these children of the backwoods. They had often been taught how to do it by Cousin Walter and Larry O'Dowd, and had made "playing at camps" their chief amusement in fine winter days. When, therefore, they found themselves compelled to "camp-out" from necessity, neither of them was at a loss how to proceed. Roy drew a circle in the snow, about three yards in diameter, at the foot of a large tree, and then both set to work to dig a hole in this space, using their snow-shoes as shovels. It took an hour's hard work to reach the ground, and when they did so the piled-up snow all round raised the walls of this hole to the height of about six feet.
"Now for bedding," cried Roy, scrambling over the walls of their camp and going into the woods in search of a young pine-tree, while Nelly sat down on the ground to rest after her toil.
It was a dark night, and the woods were so profoundly obscured, that Roy had to grope about for some time before he found a suitable tree. Cutting it down with the axe which always hung at his girdle, he returned to camp with it on his shoulder, and cut off the small soft branches, which Nelly spread over the ground to the depth of nearly half a foot. This "pine-brush," as it is called, formed a soft elastic couch.
The fire was the next business. Again Roy went into the bush and gathered a large bundle of dry branches.
"Now, Nelly, do you break a lot of the small twigs," said Roy, "and I'll strike a light."
He pulled his firebag from his belt as he spoke, and drew from it flint, steel, and tinder. No one ever travels in the wilds of which we write without such means of procuring fire. Roy followed the example of his elder companions in carrying a firebag, although he did not, like them, carry tobacco and pipe in it.
Soon the bright sparks that flew from the flint caught on the tinder. This was placed in a handful of dry grass, and whirled rapidly round until it was fanned into a flame. Nelly had prepared another handful of dry grass with small twigs above it. The light was applied, the fire leaped up, more sticks were piled on, and at last the fire roared upward, sending bright showers of sparks into the branches overhead, lighting the white walls of the camp with a glow that caused them to sparkle as with millions of gems, and filling the hearts of the children with a sensation of comfort and gladness, while they stood before the blaze and warmed themselves, rubbing their hands and laughing with glee.
No one, save those who have experienced it, can form any conception of the cheering effect of a fire in the heart of a dark wood at night. Roy and Nelly quite forgot their lost condition for a short time, in the enjoyment of the comforting heat and the bright gladsome blaze. The brother cut firewood until he was rendered almost breathless, the sister heaped on the wood until the fire roared and leaped high above their heads. Strange though it may appear to some, the snow did not melt. The weather was too cold for that; only a little of that which was nearest the fire melted—the snow walls remained hard frozen all round. Roy soon sat down to rest, as close to the fire as he could without getting scorched; then Nelly seated herself by his side and nestled her head in his breast. There they sat, telling stories and gazing at the fire, and waiting for "father to come."
Meanwhile Robin and his comrade ranged the forest far and near in desperate anxiety. But it was a wide and wild country. The children had wandered far away; a high ridge of land hid their fire from view. Moreover, Robin, knowing the children's usual haunts, had chanced to go off in the wrong direction. When night set in the hunters returned to Fort Enterprise to procure ammunition and provisions, in order to commence a more thorough and prolonged search. Poor Mrs Gore still sat beside the cold and untasted feast, and there the hunters left her, while they once more plunged into the pathless wilderness to search for the lost ones on that luckless New Year's Day.
While Robin Gore and his companions were anxiously searching the woods around Fort Enterprise for the lost children, a war-party of savages was making its way swiftly towards the Fort.
A chief of the Indians, named Hawk, who was a shrewd as well as a bad man, had suspected Wapaw's intentions in quitting the camp of his people alone and in such unnecessary haste. This man had great influence over his fellows, and easily prevailed on them to set off on their murderous expedition against the Fort of the "pale-faces" without delay.
Being well supplied with food, they travelled faster than their starving comrade, and almost overtook him. They finally encamped within a short distance of the Fort the day after Wapaw's arrival, and prepared to assault it early next morning.
"If the wicked skunk has got there before us," said Hawk to his fellows, as they prepared to set out before daybreak, "the pale-faces will be ready for us, and we may as well go back to our wigwams at once; but if that badger's whelp has been slow of foot, we shall hang the scalps of the pale-faces at our belts, and eat their food this day."
The polite titles above used by Hawk were meant to refer to Wapaw.
Indians are not naturally loquacious. No reply was made to Hawk's remark, except that one man with a blackened face, and a streak of red ochre down the bridge of his nose, said, "Ho!" and another with an equally black face, and three red streaks on each of his cheeks, said, "Hum!" as the war-party put on their snowshoes and prepared to start.
They had not gone far when Hawk came to a sudden pause, and stood transfixed and motionless like a dark statue. His comrades also stopped abruptly and crouched. No question was asked, but Hawk pointed to a spark of fire, which every Indian in the band had observed the instant their leader had paused. Silently they crept forward, with guns cocked and arrows fitted to the bowstrings, until they all stood round an encampment where the fire was still smouldering, and in the centre of which lay a little boy and girl, fast asleep and shuddering with cold.
Poor Roy and Nelly had told each other stories until their eyes would not remain open; then they fell asleep, despite their efforts to keep awake, and, as the fire sank low, they began to shiver with the cold. Lucky was it for them that the Indians discovered them, else they had certainly been frozen to death that night.
Hawk roused them with little ceremony. Roy, by an impulse which would appear to be natural to those who dwell in wild countries, whether young or old, seized his axe, which lay beside him, as he leaped up. Hawk grinned, and took the axe from him at once, and the poor boy, seeing that he was surrounded by dark warriors, offered no resistance, but sought to comfort Nelly, who was clinging to him and trembling with terror.
Immediately the savages sat down in the encampment, and began an earnest discussion, which the children watched with great eagerness. They evidently did not agree, for much gesticulation and great vehemence characterised their debate. Some pointed towards the Fort, and touched their tomahawks, while others pointed to the woods in the direction whence they had come, and shook their heads. Not a few drew their scalping knives partially from their sheaths, and, pointing to the children, showed clearly that they wished to cut their career short without delay, but several of the more sedate members of the party evidently objected to this. Finally, Hawk turned to Roy, and said something to him in the Indian tongue.
Roy did not understand, and attempted to say so as well as he could by signs, and the use of the few words of the Cree language which his father had taught him. In the course of his speech (if we may use that term), he chanced to mention Wapaw's name.
"Ho! ho! ho!" said one and another of the Indians, while Hawk grinned horribly.
A variety of questions were now put to poor Roy, who, not understanding, of course could not answer them. Hawk, however, repeated Wapaw's name, and pointed towards the Fort with a look of inquiry, to which Roy replied by nodding his head and repeating "Wapaw" once or twice, also pointing to the Fort; for he began to suspect these must be Wapaw's comrades, who had come to search for him. He therefore volunteered a little additional information by means of signs; rubbed his stomach, looked dreadfully rueful, rolled himself as if in agony on the ground, and then, getting up, pretended to eat and look happy! By all of which he meant to show how that Wapaw had been on the borders of starvation, but had been happily saved therefrom.
Indians in council might teach a useful lesson to our members of parliament, for they witnessed this rather laughable species of pantomime with profound gravity and silence. When Roy concluded, they nodded their heads, and said, "Ho! ho!" which, no doubt, was equivalent to "Hear hear!"
After a little more discussion they rose to depart, and made signs to the children to get up and follow. Roy then pointed out the broken state of his snow-shoe, but this difficulty was overcome by Hawk, who threw it away, and made him put on his sister's snow-shoes. A stout young warrior was ordered to take Nelly on his back, which he did without delay, and the whole party left the encampment, headed by their chief.
The children submitted cheerfully at first, under the impression that the Indians meant to convey them to the Fort. Great, however, was their horror when they were taken through the woods by a way which they knew to be quite in the opposite direction.
When Roy saw this he stopped and looked back, but an Indian behind him gave him a poke with the butt of his gun, which there was no resisting. For a moment the lad thought of trying to break away, run home, and tell his father of Nelly's fate; but a second thought convinced him that this course was utterly impracticable. As for Nelly, she was too far from her brother in the procession to hold converse with him; and, as she knew not what to do, say, think, she was reduced to the miserable consolation of bedewing with her tears the shoulders of the young warrior who carried her.
The storm which had commenced the day before still continued, so that, in the course of a few hours, traces of the track of the war-party were almost obliterated, and the chance of their being followed by Robin and his friends was rendered less and less likely as time ran on.
All that day they travelled without halt, and when they stopped at night to encamp, Roy was nearly dead from exhaustion. "My poor Nell," said he, drawing his sobbing sister close to him, as they sat near the camp fire, after having eaten the small quantity of dried venison that was thrown to them by their captors, "don't despair; father will be sure to hunt us down, if it's in the power of man to do it."
"I don't despair," sobbed Nelly; "but oh! what will darling mother do when she finds that we're lost, and I'm so afraid they'll kill us."
"No fear o' that, Nell; it's not worth their while. Remember, too, what mother often told us—that—that—what is it she used to read so often out of the Bible? I forget."
"I think it was, 'Call upon Me in the time of trouble, and I will deliver thee.' I've been thinkin' of that, Roy, already."
"That's right, Nell; now, come, cheer up! Have you had enough to eat?"
"Yes," said Nelly, with a loud yawn, which she did not attempt to check.
Roy echoed it, as a matter of course, (who ever did see anyone yawn without following suit?) and then the two lay down together, spread over themselves an old blanket which one of the Indians had given them, and fell asleep at once.
Day succeeded day, night followed night, and weeks came and went, yet the Indians continued their journey through the snow-clad wilderness. Roy's snow-shoes had been picked up and repaired by one of the savages, and Nelly was made to walk a good deal on her own snowshoes; but it is justice to the Indians to say that they slackened their pace a little for the sake of the children, and when Nelly showed symptoms of being fatigued, the stout young warrior who originally carried her took her on his shoulders.
At length the encampment of the tribe was reached, and Nelly was handed over to Hawk's wife to be her slave. Soon after that, the tents were struck, and the whole tribe went deeper into the northern wilds. Several gales arose and passed away, completely covering their footprints, so that no tracks were left behind them.
THE CAMP, THE ATTACK, AND THE ESCAPE.
It were vain to attempt a description of the varied condition of mind into which the brother and sister fell when they found themselves actually reduced to a state of slavery in an Indian camp, and separated from their parents, as they firmly believed, for ever.
Nelly wept her eyes almost out of their sockets at first. Then she fell into a sort of apathetic state, in which, for several days, she went about her duties almost mechanically, feeling as if it were all a horrible dream, out of which she would soon awake, and find herself at home with her "darling mother" beside her. This passed, however, and she had another fit of heart-breaking sorrow, from which she found relief by recalling some of the passages in God's Word, which her mother had taught her to repeat by heart; especially that verse in which it is said, "that Jesus is a friend who sticketh closer than a brother." And this came to the poor child's mind with peculiar power, because her own brother Roy was so kind, and took such pains to comfort her, and to enter into all her girlish feelings and sympathies, that she could scarcely imagine it possible for anyone to stick closer to her in all her distress than he did.
As for Roy, he was not given to the melting mood. His nature was bold and manly. Whatever he felt, he kept it to himself, and he forgot more than half his own sorrow in his brotherly efforts to assuage that of Nelly.
Both of them were active and willing to oblige, so that they did not allow their grief to interfere with their work, a circumstance which induced their captors to treat them with forbearance, and even kindness. Nelly sobbed and worked; gradually, the sobbing decreased, and the work was carried on with vigour, so that she soon became quite expert at skinning rabbits, boiling meat, embroidering mocassins, smoking deerskins, chopping firewood into small pieces, and many other details of Indian household economy; while Roy went out with the hunters, and became a very Nimrod, insomuch that he soon excelled all the lads of his own age, and many of those who were older, in the use of the bow, the snow-shoes, the spear, the axe, and the gun. But all this, and what they did and said in the Indian camp during that winter, and what was said and done to them, we do not mean to write about, having matter of deeper interest to tell.
Winter passed away, and spring came. But little do those who dwell in England know of the enchantment of returning spring in the frozen wilderness of North America. The long, long winter, seems as though it would never pass away. The intense frost seals up all the sweet odours of the woods for so many months, that the nostrils become powerfully sensitive, and, as it were, yearn for something to smell. The skin gets so used to frost, that a balmy breeze is thought of as a thing of the past, or well-nigh forgotten.
Spring in those regions comes suddenly. It came on our wanderers with a gush. One night the temperature rose high above the freezing point; next day all the sights and sounds of Nature's great awakening were in full play. The air fanned their cheeks like a summer breeze; the strange unwonted sound of tinkling and dropping water was heard; scents, as of green things, were met and inhaled greedily. As the thirsty Bedouin drinks from the well in the oasis, so did Roy and Nelly drink in the delicious influences of melting nature. And they thought of those words which say, that the wilderness shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. The rejoicing had commenced, the blossoming would soon follow.
But warlike and wicked men were even then preparing to desecrate the beautiful land. A war-party of enemies had come down upon the tribe, with whom they dwelt. Scouts had brought in the news. All was commotion and excitement in the camp. Goods and chattels were being packed up. The women and children were to be sent off with these, under an escort, to a place of greater security, while the Braves armed for the fight.
In the middle of all the confusion, Roy took Nelly aside, and, with a look of mystery, said—
"Nell, dear, I'm goin' to run away. Stay, now, don't stare so like an owl, but hold your sweet tongue until I have explained what I mean to do. You and I have picked up a good deal of useful knowledge of one sort or another since we came here, and I'm inclined to think we are quite fit to take to the woods and work our way back to Fort Enterprise."
"But isn't it an awful long way?" said Nelly.
"It is, but we have an awful long time to travel; haven't we all our lives before us? If our lives are long, we'll manage it; if they are short, why, we won't want to manage it, so we need not bother our heads about that?"
"But the way home," suggested Nelly, "do you know it?"
"Of course I know it; that is to say, I know, from that ugly thief Hawk, that it lies somewhere or other to the south-west o' this place, some hundreds of miles off; how many hundreds does not much matter, for we have got the whole of the spring, summer, and fall before us."
"But what if we don't get home in the fall?"
"Then we shall spend the winter in the woods, that's all."
Nelly laughed, in spite of her anxieties, at the confident tone in which her brother spoke; and, being quite unable to argue the matter farther, she said that she was ready to do whatever Roy pleased, having perfect confidence in his wisdom.
"That's right, Nell; now, you get ready to start at a moment's notice. When the Injuns attack the camp, we'll give 'em the slip. Put all you want to take with you on a toboggan, [see note 1] and meet me at the crooked tree when the camp moves."
That night the camp was struck, and the women and children departed, under a strong escort. Almost at the same time the enemy came down on their prey, but they met men prepared for them. In the dark, Nelly crept to the crooked tree, dragging the toboggan after her. She was met by Roy, who took the sledge-line and her hand and led her into the dark forest, while the savages were fighting and yelling like fiends in the camp. There let us leave them to fight it out. Enough for us to know that their warfare prevented any pursuit of the young fugitives.
Weeks passed, and Roy and Nelly wandered on; all fear of pursuit soon left them. Ducks, geese, and other waterfowl, came in myriads with the spring. Roy had brought with him his gun (the one he was wont to use in hunting), and bow and quiver. They fed on the fat of the land. Summer advanced, and game became less plentiful; still, there was more than sufficient to supply them with abundance of food. Autumn approached; the wild fowl that had passed northward in spring, began to return southward, and again the wants of the young wanderers were superabundantly supplied.
The pole-star was Roy's guide. At night he laid his course by it; and by the sun during the day, making constant allowance, of course, for the sun's rate of travelling through the sky, and taking advantage of all prominent landmarks on the way.
Time sped on; many weary miles were travelled, but no sign of Fort Enterprise was to be seen. Day after day, week after week, month after month they wandered, and still found themselves in the heart of an unknown wilderness. Occasionally they observed signs of Indians, and carefully kept out of sight at such times, as you may easily believe.
At last there came a day when hard frost set in. It was the first touch of another winter. Roy and Nelly did not betray their feelings to each other, but their hearts sank as they thought of what lay before them. The frost was short-lived, however; towards noon the air became delightfully warm, and their spirits revived.
On reaching the summit of an eminence, up which they had toiled for several hours, they beheld a small lake, in which the silvery clouds were clearly reflected. The day was calm; the sun unusually brilliant; the autumnal foliage most gorgeous in colour. It was like a scene in fairy-land!
"Splendid!" exclaimed Roy, sitting down beside his sister on the trunk of a fallen tree.
"Oh! how beautiful," cried Nelly.
"It's so like silver," said Roy.
"Silver Lake," murmured Nelly.
Roy seemed to think the name appropriate, for he echoed the words, "Yes, Silver Lake." And there brother and sister sat, for a long time, on the fallen tree, in silent admiration of the scene.
Note 1. A small Indian sledge, dragged on the snow, either by hand or by dog with loops at the sides for lashing the loading of the sledge upon it.
THE ENCAMPMENT ON SILVER LAKE.
When Roy and Nelly sat down to gaze in admiration on Silver Lake, they little thought how long a period they should have to spend on its shores.
The lake was a small sheet of water not more than half a mile broad, embosomed among low hills, which, though not grand, were picturesque in outline, and wooded to their tops. It occupied the summit of an elevated region or height-of-land—a water-shed, in fact—and Roy afterwards discovered that water flowed from both the north-east and south-west sides of the table-land, in the midst of which it lay. These fountain-heads, separated by little more than half a mile from each other, were the sources of streams, which, flowing in opposite directions through hundreds of miles of wild, beautiful, and uncultivated wilderness, found their way, on the one hand, into Hudson's Bay, on the other hand, into the Atlantic through the great rivers and lakes of Canada.
The waters of the lake were strikingly clear and pellucid. When the young wanderer first came upon the scene, not a zephyr stirred the leaves of the forest; the blue sky was studded with towering masses of white clouds which glowed in sunshine, and these reflected in the glassy water—as if far, far down in its unfathomable depths—produced that silvery effect which prompted Nelly to utter the name which we have adopted.
Small though the Silver Lake was, it boasted two islets, which like twin babes lay side by side on their mother's fair breast, their reflected images stretching down into that breast as if striving to reach and grasp its heart!
"Couldn't we stay here a short time?" asked Nelly, breaking the silence in a tone that indicated anxiety, hope, and enthusiasm, "only for a very little time," she added, coaxingly.
Roy looked grave and sagacious. Boys, as well as men, like to be leant upon and trusted by the fair sex—at least in things masculine—and Nelly had such boundless faith in her brother's capacity to protect her and guide her through the forest, that she unwittingly inspired him with an exuberant amount of courage and self-reliance. The lad was bold and fearless enough by nature. His sister's confidence in him had the effect of inducing him to think himself fit for anything! He affected, therefore, at times, a look of grave sagacity, befitting, as he thought, so important and responsible a character.
"I've just been thinking," said he—
"Oh! don't think, but say yes!" interrupted Nelly.
"Well, I'm going to say yes, but I meant to give you my reasons for sayin' so. In the first place, my powder and shot is gettin' low. You see I did not bring away very much from the Injun camp, and we've been using it for so many months now that it won't last much longer, so I think it would not be a bad plan to stop here awhile and fish and shoot and feed up—for you need rest, Nelly—and then start fresh with a well-loaded sledge. I'll save some powder by using the bow we made the other day."
"But you forget it's broken."
"So it is—never mind, we can make another—there's a tree that will make a first-rater down in the hollow, d'ye see it, Nell?"
"Where—oh yes—just by the grassy place where the rock juts out into the water with the sun shining on it? what a nice place to build a hut!"
"Just so," said Roy, smiling at the girl's enthusiasm, "that's the spot, and that's the very thought that jumped bang into my brain as you spoke. By the way, does a thought jump into a man's brain or out of it, I wonder?"
"Out of it, of course," cried Nelly, with a laugh.
"I'm not so sure of that, Nell. I send it rather slowly out through my mouth, but I think it jumps into my brain. I wonder how it gets in; whether by the eyes, or ears, or mouth—perhaps it goes up the nose."
"What stuff you do talk!" cried Nelly.
"D'ye think so," said Roy with a grin, "well, that bein' the case, let's go and fix our camp, for the sun is not given to sitting up all night in these parts, so we must work while it shines."
With hurried steps and eager looks, (for Roy, despite his affected coolness, was as enthusiastic about the new plan as his sister,) they descended to the margin of Silver Lake, and began to make their encampment on the sunny spot before referred to.
It turned out to be most suitable for their purpose, having a gentle slope towards the margin of the lake, which was fringed with a beach of pure white pebbles, and being well sheltered in the rear by umbrageous trees. The point of rocks close at hand formed a natural jetty, which, Roy observed, would be useful as a landing-place when he got his raft under way; the turf was soft, a matter of some importance, as it was to form their couch at night, and a small stream trickled down from one of the numerous springs which welled up at the foot of the nearest hill.
Solitary and remote from the usual haunts of men as this lake was, there was no feeling of solitude about it at the time we write of. The entire region was alive with wild fowl of many kinds. Wild geese trumpeted their advent as they came from the far north, en route for the far south, and settled on the bosom of Silver Lake to take a night's lodging there. Ducks, from the same region, and bound for the same goal—though with less stately and regular flight—flew hither and thither with whistling wings, ever and anon going swash into the water as a tempting patch of reeds invited them to feed, or a whim of fancy induced them to rest. Wild swans occasionally sailed in all their majesty on its waters, while plover of every length of limb and bill, and every species of plaintive cry, waded round its margin, or swept in clouds over the neighbouring swamps. Sometimes deer would trot out of the woods and slake their thirst on its shore, and the frequent rings that broke its smooth surface told of life in the watery depths below.
The whole air was filled with gushing sounds of wild melody, as though bird and beast were uniting in a hymn of praise to the beneficent Creator who had provided the means of, and given the capacity for, so much enjoyment.
Having decided on a suitable spot for their temporary resting-place, Roy's first care was to construct a hut. This was neither a work of time nor difficulty. In a couple of hours it was finished. He commenced the work by felling about a dozen young fir-trees not much thicker than a man's wrist, from which he chopped the branches, thus leaving them bare poles about nine feet long. While he was thus employed, his sister cleared the spot on which their dwelling was to stand, and, having an eye to the picturesque, so arranged that the opening of the hut should command an uninterrupted view of the lake. On going into the "bush" to the place where Roy was at work, she found him cutting down his sixth tree, and the ground was strewn with the flat branches of those already cut.
"Come along, Nelly—how hot I am—carry these branches into camp, lass, an' go ahead, for I've got supper to kill yet."
Nelly made no direct reply, but muttered to herself something that sounded very like, "Oh, what fun!" as she filled her tiny arms with pine branches, and, hugging them to her heaving breast, staggered to the camp. When she had carried all the branches, Roy had cut all the poles, so he proceeded to set them up. Tying three poles together at the top, and using the pliant roots of a tree for the purpose, he set them up in the form of a tripod. Against these three all the other poles were piled, crossing each other at the top, and spreading out at the base so as to enclose a circle of about six feet in diameter. Being numerous, the poles were pretty close together, thus affording good support to the branches which were afterwards piled on them. Pine branches are flat, spreading, and thick, so that when laid above each other to a depth of several inches they form a very good shelter from dew and light rain. The hut was entirely covered with such branches, which were kept in their places by other poles leaning upon and pressing them down. The floor of the hut was also covered with pine "brush."
"Now for supper, Nelly," said Roy, seizing his bow, when the hut was completed, and splicing its broken part with a strip of deerskin cut from the lines of the sledge.
"Get a goose, Roy, and pick out a nice fat one," cried Nelly, laughing, "I'll have the fire ready when you come back."
"I'll try," said Roy, and he did try, but tried in vain. Although a good shot, he was not sufficiently expert with the bow to shoot wild fowl on the wing, so he returned to the hut empty-handed.
"We must make a new bow, Nell," said he, sitting down by the fire, "I can do nothin' wi' this, and it won't do to use the gun for anythin' but deer. Meanwhile let's have the remains of our dinner for supper. Come, cheer up, old 'ooman; we shall feast on the fat of the land to-morrow!"
The stars were shining in the sky, and winking at their reflections down in the depths of Silver Lake, and the lake itself lay, as black as ink, under the shadow of the hills, when the brother and sister spread their blanket above them that night, and sank, almost immediately, into profound slumber.
HUNTING, AND OTHER MATTERS, ON SILVER LAKE.
Sunrise is a gladsome event almost at all times; we say "almost," because there are times when sunrise is not particularly gladsome. In the arctic regions of Norway, for instance, we have seen it rise only twenty minutes after it set, and the rising and setting were so much mingled, that no very strong feelings of any kind were awakened. Moreover, we were somewhat depressed at the time, in consequence of having failed to reach those latitudes where the sun does not set at all for several weeks in summer, but shines night and day. To the sick, sunrise brings little comfort; too often it is watched for with weariness, and beheld, at last, with a feeling of depression at the thought that another day of pain has begun. But to the healthy, and especially to the young, sunrise is undoubtedly, on most occasions, a gladsome event.
At least Nelly Gore thought so when she awoke and beheld, from the floor of the hut where she lay, a flood of yellow glory gushing through a valley, turning Silver Lake into gold, tipping the trees with fire, and blazing full in Roy's face, which was at that moment turned up to the sky with the mouth open, and the nose snoring.
"Oh, how beautiful!" screamed Nelly, in the exuberance of her delight.
"Hallo! murder! come on, ye black varmints," shouted Roy, as he sprang up and seized the axe which lay at his side. "Oh, it's only you, what a yell you do give, Nelly! why, one would think you were a born Injun; what is't all about, lass? Ye-a-ow! how sleepy I am—too late to have another nap, I suppose, eh?"
"Oh yes, lazy thing! get up and come out quick!" cried the other, as she sprang up and ran out of the hut to enjoy the full blaze of the sunshine, and the fresh morning air.
That morning Nelly could do little but ramble about in a wild sort of fashion, trying to imagine that she was queen of the world around her! She sobered down, however, towards noon, and went diligently about the work which Roy had given her to do. She had the internal arrangements of the hut to complete and improve, some pairs of mocassins to mend, and several arrows to feather, besides other matters.
Meanwhile Roy went out to hunt.
Determined not to use his fast-diminishing ammunition, except on large game, and anxious to become more expert with the bow, he set to work the first thing that day, and made a new bow. Armed with this and a dozen arrows, he sallied forth.
Some of his arrows were pointed with ivory, some with iron, and some had no points at all, but blunt heavy heads instead. These latter were, and still are, used by Indians in shooting game that is tame and easily killed. Grouse of various kinds, for instance, if hit with full force from a short range by a blunt-headed arrow, will be effectually stunned, especially if hit on the head.
At first Roy walked along the shores of the lake, but was not very successful, because the ducks and geese were hid among reeds, and rose suddenly with a distracting whirr, usually flying off over the water. To have let fly at these would have cost him an arrow every shot, so, after losing one, he wisely restrained himself.
After a time, he turned into the woods, resolving to try his fortune where his arrows were not so likely to be lost. He had not gone far, when a tree-grouse sprang into the air and settled on a neighbouring pine.
Roy became excited, for he was anxious not to return to the hut empty-handed a second time. He fitted a sharp-headed arrow to the string, and advanced towards the bird cautiously. His anxiety to make little noise was so great, that he tripped over a root and fell with a hideous crash into the middle of a dead bush, the branches of which snapped like a discharge of little crackers. Poor Roy got up disgusted, but on looking up found that the grouse was still sitting there, filled apparently with more curiosity than alarm. Seeing this he advanced to within a few yards of the bird, and, substituting a blunt arrow for the sharp one, discharged it with vigour. It hit the grouse on the left eye, and brought it to the ground like a stone.
"Good, that's 'number one,'" muttered the lad as he fastened the bird to his belt; "hope 'number two' is not far off."
"Number two" was nearer than he imagined, for four other birds of the same kind rose a few yards ahead of him, with all the noise and flurry that is characteristic of the species.
They settled on a tree not far off, and looked about them.
"Sit there, my fine fellows, till I come up," muttered Roy. (The lad had a habit of speaking to himself while out hunting.)
They obeyed the order, and sat until he was close to them. Again was the blunt arrow fitted to the string; once more it sped true to its mark, and "number two" fell fluttering to the ground.
Now, the grouse of North America is sometimes a very stupid creature. It literally sits still to be shot, if the hunter is only careful to fire first at the lowest bird of the group. If he were to fire at the topmost one, its fluttering down amongst the others would start them off.
Roy was aware of this fact, and had aimed at the bird that sat lowest on the tree. Another arrow was discharged, and "number three" lay sprawling on the ground. The blunt arrows being exhausted, he now tried a sharp one, but missed. The birds stretched their necks, turned their heads on one side, and looked at the lad, as though to say, "It won't do,—try again!"
Another shaft was more successful. It pierced the heart of "number four," and brought it down like a lump of lead. "Number five" seemed a little perplexed by this time, and made a motion as though it were about to fly off, but an arrow caught it in the throat, and cut short its intentions and its career. Thus did Roy bag, or rather belt, five birds consecutively. [See note one.]
Our hero was not one of those civilised sportsmen who slaughter as much game as they can. He merely wanted to provide food for a day or two. He therefore turned his steps homeward—if we may be allowed the expression—being anxious to assist his sister in making the hut comfortable.
As he walked along, his active mind ran riot in many eccentric channels. Those who take any interest in the study of mind, know that it is not only the mind of a romantic boy that does this, but that the mind of man generally is, when left to itself, the veriest acrobat, the most unaccountable harlequin, that ever leaped across the stage of fancy.
Roy's mind was now in the clouds, now on the earth. Anon it was away in the far-off wilderness, or scampering through the settlements, and presently it was deep down in Silver Lake playing with the fish. Roy himself muttered a word or so, now and then, as he walked along, which gave indication of the whereabouts of his mind at the time.
"Capital fun," said he, "only it won't do to stay too long. Poor mother, how she'll be wearin' for us! Hallo! ducks, you're noisy coons, wonder why you get up with such a bang. Bang! that reminds me of the gun. No more banging of you, old chap, if my hand keeps in so well with the bow. Eh! duck, what's wrong?"
This latter question was addressed to a small duck which seemed in an anxious state of mind, to judge from its motions. Presently a head, as if of a fish, broke the surface of the lake, and the duck disappeared!
"Oh the villain," exclaimed Roy, "a fish has bolted him!"
After this the lad walked on in silence, looking at the ground, and evidently pondering deeply.
"Nelly," said he, entering the hut and throwing the grouse at her feet, "here is dinner, supper, and breakfast for you, and please get the first ready as fast as you can, for I'm famishing."
"Oh, how nice! how did you get them?"
"I'll tell you presently, but my head's full of a notion about catching ducks just now."
"Catching ducks, Roy, what is the notion?"
"Never mind, Nelly, I han't scratched it out o' my brain yet, but I'll tell 'ee after dinner, and we'll try the plan to-morrow mornin'."
Note 1. The author has himself, in the backwoods, taken four birds in succession off a tree in this fashion with a fowling-piece.
Early on the following morning, Roy and Nelly rose to try the new style of duck-hunting which the former had devised.
"I wonder if it will do," said the little girl, as she tripped along by her brother's side in the direction of a marshy bay, which had been selected as the scene of their experiments. "How clever of you to invent such a funny plan!"
"Well, I didn't exactly invent it, lass. The fact is, that I remembered father havin' told me he had read it in a book before he left the settlements. I wish we had some books. Pity that we've got no books."
"So it is," assented Nell, with a touch of sadness in her tone.
Both Roy and his sister were good readers, having been taught by their mother out of the Bible—the only book that Robin Gore had brought with him from the settlements. Robin could read, but he did not care much for reading—neither did Walter nor Larry O'Dowd. Indeed the latter could not read at all. Mrs Gore had wanted to take a few books with her into the wilderness, but her husband said he thought the Bible was enough for her; so the library at Fort Enterprise was select and small! One good resulted from this—the Bible was read, by all who could read, a great deal more than would have been the case had there been other books at hand. But the young people longed earnestly for books containing fairy tales, such as was told to them by their mother; and wild adventures, such as Walter could relate or invent by the hour.
It might have been observed that Roy carried on his shoulder a remarkable object—something like a clumsy basket made of reeds, and about twice the size of a man's head. This had been made by Nelly the night before. The use to which it was to be put was soon shown by Roy. Having reached the spot where the experiment was to be tried, and having observed that there were many ducks, large and small, floating about among the reeds, he got Nelly to hold the basket, if we may so call it, as high as she could raise it. There was a hole in the bottom of it. Through this Roy thrust his head, so that the machine rested on his shoulders, his head being inside and completely concealed.
"Now, Nelly, what think you of my helmet?"
"Oh! it is splendid!" cried the girl, laughing in a subdued voice. "It's so awfully absurd looking, but can you see? for I don't see a bit of your face."
"See? ay, as well as need be. There's lots of small holes which I can peep through in all directions. But come, I'll try it. Keep close, Nell, and don't laugh too loud, for ducks ain't used to laughing, d'ye see, and may be frightened by it."
So saying Roy crept on his hands and knees to the edge of the lake, being concealed by bushes, until he got into the water. Here a few steps took him into the reeds which clustered so thickly at that spot, and grew so tall that he was soon hidden from sight altogether.
He had not taken off much of his dress, which, we may remark in passing, was of the simplest at all times—consisting of a pair of trousers, a striped cotton shirt, and a grey cloth capote with a hood to it. His capote and cap were left in charge of his sister. As for the shirt and trousers, they could be easily dried again.
Nelly watched the place where her brother had disappeared with breathless interest. As he did not reappear as quickly as she had expected, she became greatly alarmed. In a few minutes more she would certainly have rushed into the lake to the rescue, regardless of consequences and of ducks, had not Roy's strange head-dress come suddenly into view at the outward verge of the reeds. The lad had waded in up to his neck, and was now slowly—almost imperceptibly—approaching a group of ducks that were disporting themselves gaily in the water.
"They'll never let him near them," thought Nelly.
She was wrong, for at that moment an extremely fat and pert young duck observed the bundle of reeds, and swam straight up to it, animated, no doubt, by that reckless curiosity which is peculiar to young creatures. Had its mother known what was inside of the bundle, she would no doubt have remonstrated with her head-strong child, but, old and sagacious though that mother was, she was completely deceived. She was not even astonished when her duckling suddenly disappeared beneath the water, thinking, no doubt, that it had dived. Soon the bundle of reeds drew near to the mother, and she, too, disappeared suddenly below the water. Whatever her astonishment was at feeling her legs seized from below, she had not time to express it before her voice was choked. Nelly observed these disappearances with intense amazement, and delight stamped every lineament of her little visage.
When the bundle moved towards the father of the duck-family, that gentleman became agitated and suspicious. Probably males are less trusting than females, in all conditions of animal life. At all events he sheered off. The bundle waxed impatient and made a rush at him. The drake, missing his wife and child, quacked the alarm. The bundle made another rush, and suddenly disappeared with a tremendous splash, in the midst of which a leg and an arm appeared! Away went the whole brood of ducks with immense splutter, and Nelly gave a wild scream of terror, supposing—and she was right—that her brother had fallen into a hole, and that he would be drowned. In the latter supposition, however, she was mistaken, for Roy swam ashore in a few moments with a duck in each hand!
"O Roy! ain't you cold?" inquired Nelly, as she helped him to squeeze the water out of his garments.
"Y-y-ye-es," said Roy, trembling in every limb, while his teeth rattled like small castanets, "I'm very c-c-c-cold, but I'm in luck, for I've g-g-g-got to-night's s-s-s-supper, anyhow."
This was true, but as he could not hope to procure many more suppers in the same fashion at that season of the year, he and his sister went off without delay to try the fishing.
They had brought a fishing-line and a few hooks, among other small things, from the Indian camp. This line was now got out, overhauled, and baited with a bit of the young duck's breast. From the end of the point of rocks, which had been named the Wharf, the line was cast, for there the lake was deep.
"Take the end of the line, Nell; I want you to catch the first fish."
"How d'ye know we shall catch—oh! oh—ooh!" The fish in Silver Lake had never seen a bait or felt a hook in their lives before that day. They actually fought for the prize. A big bully—as is usually the case in other spheres of life—gained it, and found he had "caught a Tartar." He nearly pulled Nelly into the lake, but Roy sprang to the rescue, and before the child's shout of surprise had ceased to echo among the cliffs, a beautiful silvery fish, about a foot and a half long, lay tumbling on the strand.
"Hurray!" cried Roy. "Try again."
They did try again, and again, and over again, until they had caught two dozen and a half of those peculiar "white-fish" which swarm in most of the lakes of North America. Then they stopped, being somewhat exhausted, and having more than enough for present use.
Before sitting down to supper that night, they preserved their fish in the simple but effective manner which is practised among the fur-traders in cold weather, and which they had learned while with the Indians. Each fish was split open and cleaned out, and then hung up by the tail to dry.
"What a jolly time we shall have of it!" said Roy, with his mouth full, as he sat beside Nelly and toasted his toes that night at supper.
"Yes," said Nelly—"if—if we were only a little nearer home."
This reply made them both silent and sad for a time.
"Never mind," resumed Roy, cheerily, as he began another white-fish— having already finished one fish and the duckling—"cheer up, Nell, we'll stay here long enough to get up a stock o' dried meat, and then set off again. I only wish it would come frost, to make our fish keep."
Roy's wish was gratified sooner than he expected, and much more fully than he desired.
CHANGES, SLIDING, FISHING, ETCETERA.
That night King Frost spread his wings over the land with unwonted suddenness and rigour, insomuch that a sheet of ice, full an inch thick, sealed up the waters of Silver Lake.
Roy and Nelly had feasted heartily, and had piled wood on the fire so high that the hut was comparatively warm, and they slept soundly till morning: but, about sunrise, the fire having died out, they both awoke shivering with cold. Being very sleepy, they tried for some time to drop off again in spite of the cold. Failing in this, Roy at last jumped up with vigour and said he would light the fire, but he had scarcely issued from the hut, when a shout brought Nelly in alarm and haste to his side.
If Silver Lake was worthy of its name before, it was infinitely more worthy of it now. The sun had just over-topped the opposite ridge, and was streaming over a very world of silver. The frozen lake was like a sheet of the purest glass, which reflected the silvery clouds and white rolling mists of morning as perfectly in their form as the realities that floated in the blue sky. Every tree, every twig, seemed made of silver, being encased in hoar-frost, and as these moved very gently in the calm air—for there was no breeze—millions of crystalline points caught the sun's rays and scattered them around with dazzling lustre. Nature seemed robed in cloth of diamonds; but the comparison is feeble, for what diamonds, cut by man, can equal those countless crystal gems that are fashioned by the hand of God to decorate, for an hour or two, the spotless robe of a winter morning?
Had Roy been a man and Nelly a woman, the two would probably have cast around a lingering glance of admiration, and then gone quietly about their avocations; but, being children, they made up their minds, on the spot, to enjoy the state of things to the utmost. They ran down to the lake and tried the ice. Finding that it was strong enough to bear them, they advanced cautiously out upon its glassy surface; then they tried to slide, but did not succeed well, owing to their soft mocassins being ill adapted for sliding. Then they picked up stones, and tried how far they could make them skim out on the lake.
"How I wish we could slide!" exclaimed Nelly, pausing in the midst of her amusement.
Roy also paused, and appeared to meditate for a minute.
"So you shall," said he quickly. "Come and let us breakfast, and I'll make you a pair of sliders."
"Sliders! what are they?"
"You shall see; get breakfast ready, a man's fit for nothing without grub."
While breakfast was preparing, Roy began to fashion wooden soles for his sister's feet and his own. These he fixed on by means of strips of deerskin, which were sunk into grooves in the under part of the soles to prevent them from chafing. Rough and ready they were, nevertheless they fitted well and tightly to their feet; but it was found that the want of a joint at the instep rendered it difficult to walk with these soles on, and impossible to run. Roy's ingenuity, however, soon overcame this difficulty. He cut the soles through just under the instep, and then, boring two holes in each part, lashed them firmly together with deerskin, thus producing a joint or hinge. Eager to try this new invention, he fastened on his own "sliders" first, and, running down to the lake, made a rush at the ice and sent himself off with all his force. Never was boy more taken by surprise; he went skimming over the surface like a stone from a sling. The other side of the lake seemed to be the only termination of his journey. "What if it should not be bearing in the middle!" His delight was evinced by a cheer. It was echoed, with the addition of a laugh by Nell, who stood in rapt admiration on the shore. Roy began well, with his legs far apart and his arms in the air; then he turned round and advanced the wrong way, then he staggered—tried to recover himself; failed, shouted, cheered again, and fell flat on his back, and performed the remainder of the journey in that position!
It was a magnificent slide, and was repeated and continued, with every possible and conceivable modification, for full two hours, at the end of which time Nelly said she couldn't take another slide to save her life, and Roy felt as if every bone in his body were going out of joint.
"This is all very well," said Roy, as they went up to the hut together, "but it won't do much in the way of getting us a supply of meat or fish."
"That's true," assented Nelly.
"Well, then," continued Roy, "we'll rest a bit, and then set to work. It's quite plain that we can have no more wading after ducks, but the fish won't object to feed in cold weather, so we'll try them again after having had a bit to eat."
In pursuance of this plan the two went to the wharf, after having refreshed themselves, and set to work with the fishing-line. Nelly baited the hook, and Roy cut a hole in the ice with his axe. Having put in the hook, and let it down to the bottom, they stood at the edge of the hole—expectant!
"Frost seems to spoil their appetite," said Roy, in a tone of disappointment, after about five minutes had elapsed.
A fish seemed to have been listening, for before Nelly could reply, there came a violent tug at the line. Roy returned a still more violent tug, and, instead of hauling it up hand over hand, ran swiftly along the ice, drawing the line after him, until the fish came out of the hole with a flop and a severe splutter. It was above four pounds weight, and they afterwards found that the deeper the water into which the line was cast the larger were the fish procured. White-fish were the kind they caught most of, but there were a species of trout, much resembling a salmon in colour and flavour, of which they caught a good many above ten and even fifteen pounds weight. All these fish, except those reserved for immediate use, they cleaned and hung up in the manner already described.
Thus they occupied themselves for several days, and as the work was hard, they did not wander much from their hut, but ate their meals with appetite, and slept at nights soundly.
One night, just as they were about to lay down to rest, Roy went out to fetch an armful of firewood. He returned with a look of satisfaction on his face.
"Look here, Nell, what call ye that?" pointing to a few specks of white on his breast and arms.
"Snow!" exclaimed Nelly.
"Ay—snow! it's come at last, and I am glad of it, for we have far more than enough o' grub now, and it's time we were off from this. You see, lass, we can't expect to find much game on a journey in winter, so we must carry all we can with us. Our backs won't take so much as the sled, but the sled can't go loaded till there's snow on the ground, so the moment there is enough of it we'll set off. Before starting, hows'ever, I must go off and try for a deer, for men can't walk well on fish alone; and when I'm away you can be getting the snow-shoes repaired, and the sled-lashings overhauled. We will set about all that to-morrow."
"But isn't to-morrow Sabbath?" said Nelly.
"So 'tis! I forgot; well, we can put it off till Monday."
It may be well here to remark that Mrs Gore, being a sincere Christian, had a great reverence for the Sabbath-day, and had imbued her children with some of her own spirit in regard to it.
During the troubles and anxieties of the period when the children were lost in the snow and captured by the Indians, they had lost count of the days of the week. Roy was not much troubled about this, but his sister's tender conscience caused her much uneasiness; and when they afterwards ran away from the Indians, and could do as they pleased, they agreed together to fix a Sabbath-day for themselves, beginning with the particular day on which it first occurred to them that they had not kept a Sabbath "for a long, long time."
"We can't find out the right day now, you know," observed Nelly, in an apologetic tone.
"Of course not," said Roy; "besides, it don't matter, because you remember how it is in the Ten Commandments: 'Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath.' We will keep to-day, then; work six days, and then keep the seventh day."
We have elsewhere observed that Roy was a bit of a philosopher. Having reasoned the matter out thus philosophically, the children held to their resolve; they travelled six days, and observed every seventh day as the Sabbath.
The particular Sabbath-day about which we are writing turned out to be a memorable one, as we shall see.
Roy and Nelly lay down that night, side by side, as was their wont, with their separate blankets wrapped around them, and their feet pointing towards the fire. Of course they never undressed at night on this journey, but washed their underclothing as they found time and opportunity.
Soon they were sound asleep, and their gentle breathing was the only sound that broke the stillness of the night. But snow was falling silently in thick heavy flakes, and it soon lay deep on the bosom of Silver Lake. Towards morning the wind arose, and snow-drift began to whirl round the hut, and block up its low doorway.
Still the brother and sister slumbered peacefully, undisturbed by the gathering storm.
A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER—RABBITS AND BEARS APPEAR.
"Hi! Hallo! I say, Nelly, what's all this?" There was good cause for the tone of surprise in which Roy uttered these words when he awoke, for the fireplace and the lower half of his own, as well as his sister's, blanket were covered with at least half a foot of snow. It had found its way in at the hole in the roof of the hut, and the wind had blown a great deal through the crevices of the doorway, so that a snow-wreath more than a foot high lay close to Nelly's elbow.
This was bad enough, but what made it worse was that a perfect hurricane was blowing outside. Fortunately the hut was sheltered by the woods, and by a high cliff on the windward side; but this cliff, although it broke the force of the gale, occasioned an eddy which sent fearful gusts and thick clouds of snow ever and anon full against the doorway.
"O Roy! what shall we do?" said Nelly, in an anxious tone.
"Don't know," said Roy, jumping up and tightening his belt; "you never can know what's got to be done till you've took an observation o' what's goin' on, as daddy used to say. Hallo! hold on. I say, if it goes on like this it'll blow the hut down. Come, Nelly, don't whimper; it's only a puff, after all, an' if it did capsize us, it wouldn't be the first time we had a tumble in the snow. Seems to me that we're goin' to have a stormy Sabbath, though. Rouse up, lass, and while you're clearin' off the snow, I'll go get a bundle o' sticks, and light the fire."
Roy stooped to pass under the low doorway, or, rather, hole of the hut, and bending his head to the blast passed out; while Nelly, whose heart was cheered by her brother's confident tone more than by his words, set about shovelling away the snow-drift with great activity.
Presently Roy returned, staggering under a heavy load of firewood.
"Ho! Nell," he cried, flinging down the wood with a clatter, "just you come an' see Silver Lake. Such a sight it is you never saw; but come slick off—never mind your belt; just roll your blanket round you, over head and ears—there," said he, assisting to fasten the rough garment, and seizing his sister's hand, "hold on tight by me."
"Oh, what a storm!" gasped the little girl, as she staggered out and came within the full force of the gale.
It was indeed a storm, such as would have appalled the hearts of youngsters less accustomed to the woods than were our hero and heroine. But Roy and Nelly had been born and bred in the midst of stormy backwoods' elements, and were not easily alarmed, chiefly because they had become accustomed to estimate correctly the extent of most of the dangers that menaced them from time to time. A gale of the fiercest kind was blowing. In its passage it bent the trees until they groaned and creaked again; it tore off the smaller twigs and whisked them up into the air; it lifted the snow in masses out of the open spots in the woods, and hurled them in cloud-like volumes everywhere; and it roared and shrieked through the valleys and round the mountain tops as if a thousand evil spirits were let loose upon the scene.
Silver Lake was still silvery in its aspect, for the white drift was flying across it like the waves of a raging sea; but here, being exposed, the turmoil was so tremendous that there was no distinguishing between earth, lake, and sky. "Confusion, worse confounded" reigned every where, or rather, appeared to reign; for, in point of fact, there is no confusion whatever in the works and ways of God. Common sense, if unfallen, would tell us that. The Word reveals it, and science of late years has added its testimony thereto.
Roy and Nelly very naturally came to the conclusion that things were in a very disordered state indeed on that Sabbath morning, so they returned to their hut, to spend the day as best they might.
Their first care was to kindle the fire and prepare breakfast. While Nelly was engaged in this, Roy went out and cut several small trees, with which he propped the hut all round to prevent it from being blown down. But it was discovered, first, that the fire would hardly kindle, and, second, that when it was kindled it filled the whole place with smoke. By dint of perseverance, however, breakfast was cooked and devoured, after which the fire was allowed to go out, as the smoke had almost blinded them.
"Never mind, Nell, cheer up," said Roy, on concluding breakfast; "we'll rig up a tent to keep the snow off us."
The snow, be it understood, had been falling into the fire, and, more or less, upon themselves, through the hole in the roof; so they made a tent inside the hut, by erecting two posts with a ridge-pole at a height of three feet from the ground, over which they spread one of their blankets. Under this tent they reclined with the other blankets spread over them, and chatted comfortably during the greater part of that day.
Of course their talk was chiefly of home, and of the mother who had been the sun and the joy of their existence up to that sad day when they were lost in the snow, and naturally they conversed of the Bible, and the hymns which their mother had made the chief objects of their contemplation on the Sabbaths they had spent at Fort Enterprise.
Monday was as bad as Sunday in regard to weather, but Tuesday dawned bright and calm, so that our wanderers were enabled to resume their avocations. The snow-shoes were put in order, the sled was overhauled and mended, and more fish were caught and hung up to dry. In the evening Roy loaded his gun with ball, put on his snow-shoes, and sallied forth alone to search for deer. He carried with him several small pieces of line wherewith to make rabbit snares; for, the moment the snow fell, innumerable tracks revealed the fact that there were thousands of rabbits in that region. Nelly, meanwhile, busied herself in putting the hut in order, and in repairing the mocassins which would be required for the journey home.
Lest any reader should wonder where our heroine found materials for all the mending and repairing referred to, we may remark that the Indians in the wilderness were, and still are, supplied with needles, beads, cloth, powder and shot, guns, axes, etcetera, etcetera, by the adventurous fur-traders, who penetrate deep and far into the wilderness of North America; and when Nelly and Roy ran away from their captors they took care to carry with them an ample supply of such things as they might require in their flight.
About half a mile from the hut Roy set several snares. He had often helped his father in such work, and knew exactly how to do it. Selecting a rabbit-track at a spot where it passed between two bushes, he set his snare so that it presented a loop in the centre of the path. This loop was fastened to the bough of a tree bent downwards, and so arranged that it held fast to a root in the ground; when a rabbit should endeavour to leap or force through it, he would necessarily pull away the fastening that held it down, and the bough would spring up and lift the hapless creature by the neck off the ground.
Having set half-a-dozen such snares, Roy continued his march in search of deer-tracks. He was unsuccessful, but to his surprise he came suddenly on the huge track of a bear! Being early in the season this particular bruin had not yet settled himself into his winter quarters, so Roy determined to make a trap for him. He had not much hope of catching him, but resolved to try, and not to tell Nelly of his discovery until he should see the result.
Against the face of a cliff he raised several huge stones so as to form a sort of box, or cave, or hole, the front of which was open, the sides being the stones referred to, and the back the cliff. Then he felled a tree as thick as his waist, which stood close by, and so managed that it fell near to his trap. By great exertions, and with the aid of a wooden lever prepared on the spot, he rolled this tree—when denuded of its branches—close to the mouth of the trap. Next he cut three small pieces of stick in such a form that they made a trigger—something like the figure 4—on which the tree might rest. On the top of this trigger he raised the tree-stem, and on the end of the trigger, which projected into the trap, he stuck a piece of dried fish, so that when the bear should creep under the stem and touch the bait, it would disarrange the trigger, set it off, and the heavy stem would fall on bruin's back. As he knew, however, that bears were very strong, he cut several other thick stems, and piled them on the first to give it additional weight.
All being ready, and the evening far advanced, he returned to the hut to supper.
"Nelly, ye-a-a-ow!" exclaimed Roy, yawning as he awoke on the following morning from a dream, in which bears figured largely; "what a night I've had of it, to be sure—fightin' like a mad buffalo with—" Here Roy paused abruptly.
"Well, what were you fighting with?" asked Nell, with a smile that ended in a yawn.
"I won't tell you just now, lass, as it might spoil your appetite for breakfast. Set about getting that ready as fast as you can, for I want to be off as soon as possible to visit my snares."
"I guess we shall have rabbits for dinner to-day."
"What are you going to do with the sled?" inquired Nelly, observing that her brother was overhauling the lashings and drag-rope.
"Well, I set a lot o' snares, an' there's no sayin' how many rabbits may have got into 'em. Besides, if the rabbits in them parts are tender-hearted, a lot o' their relations may have died o' grief, so I shall take the sled to fetch 'em all home!"
After breakfast Roy loaded his gun with ball, and putting on his snow-shoes, sallied forth with an admonition to his sister to "have a roarin' fire ready to cook a rare feast!"
Nelly laughingly replied, that she would, and so they parted.
The first part of Roy's journey that day led him through a thickly-wooded part of the country. He went along with the quick, yet cautious and noiseless, step of a hunter accustomed to the woods from infancy. His thoughts were busy within him, and far away from the scene in which he moved; yet, such is the force of habit, he never for a moment ceased to cast quick, inquiring glances on each side as he went along. Nothing escaped his observation.
"Oh, if I could only get a deer this day," thought he, "how scrumptious it would be!"
What he meant by "scrumptious" is best known to himself, but at that moment a large deer suddenly—perhaps scrumptiously!—appeared on the brow of a ridge not fifty yards in advance of him. They had been both walking towards each other all that forenoon. Roy, having no powers of scent beyond human powers, did not know the fact, and as the wind was blowing from the deer to the hunter, the former—gifted though he was with scenting powers—was also ignorant of the approaching meeting.
One instant the startled deer stood in bewildered surprise. One instant Roy paused in mute amazement. The next instant the deer wheeled round, while Roy's gun leaped to his shoulder. There was a loud report, followed by reverberating echoes among the hills, and the deer lay dead on the snow.