The valley and its neighbouring hills abounded in strawberries; they were now ripening in abundance; the ground was scarlet in places with this delicious fruit; they proved a blessed relief to the poor sufferer's burning thirst. Hector and Louis were unwearied in supplying her with them.
Louis, ever fertile in expedients, crushed the cooling fruit and applied them to the sprained foot; rendering the application still more grateful by spreading them upon the large smooth leaves of the sapling oak; these he bound on with strips of the leathery bark of the moose-wood, [FN: "Dirca palustris,"—Moose-wood. American mezereon, leather-wood. From the Greek, dirka, a fountain or wet place, its usual place of growth.] which he had found growing in great abundance near the entrance of the ravine. Hector, in the meantime, was not idle. After having collected a good supply of ripe strawberries, he climbed the hills in search of birds' eggs and small game. About noon he returned with the good news of having discovered a spring of fine water in an adjoining ravine, beneath a clump of bass-wood and black cherry-trees; he had also been so fortunate as to kill a woodchuck, having met with many of their burrows in the gravelly sides of the hills. The woodchuck seems to be a link between the rabbit and badger; its colour is that of a leveret; it climbs like the racoon and burrows like the rabbit; its eyes are large, full, and dark, the lip cleft, the soles of the feet naked, claws sharp, ears short; it feeds on grasses, grain, fruit, and berries. The flesh is white, oily, and, in the summer, rank, but is eaten in the fall by the Indians and woodsmen; the skin is not much valued. They are easily killed by dogs, though, being expert climbers, they often baffle their enemies, clinging to the bark beyond their reach; a stone or stick well-aimed soon kills them, but they often bite sharply.
The woodchuck proved a providential supply, and Hector cheered his companions with the assurance that they could not starve, as there were plenty of these creatures to be found. They had seen one or two about the Cold Springs, but they are less common in the deep forest lands than on the drier, more open plains.
"It is a great pity we have no larger vessel to bring our water from the spring in," said Hector, looking at the tin-pot, "one is so apt to stumble among stones and tangled underwood. If we had only one of our old bark dishes we could get a good supply at once."
"There is a fallen birch not far from this," said Louis; "I have here my trusty knife; what is there to hinder us from manufacturing a vessel capable of holding water, a gallon if you like?"
"How can you sew it together, cousin?" asked Catharine; "you have neither deer sinews, nor war-tap." [The Indian name for the flexible roots of the tamarack, or swamp larch, which they make use of in manufacturing the birch baskets and canoes.] "I have a substitute at hand, ma belle," and Louis pointed to the strips of leatherwood that he had collected for binding the dressings on his cousin's foot.
When an idea once struck Louis, he never rested till he worked it out in some way. In a few minutes he was busily employed, stripping sheets of the ever-useful birch-bark from the trunk that had fallen at the foot of the "Wolf's Crag," for so the children had named the memorable spot where poor Catharine's accident had occurred.
The rough outside coatings of the bark, which are of silvery whiteness, but are ragged from exposure to the action of the weather in the larger and older trees, he peeled off, and then cutting the bark so that the sides lapped well over, and the corners were secured from cracks, he proceeded to pierce holes opposite to each other, and with some trouble managed to stitch them tightly together, by drawing strips of the moose or leather-wood through and through. The first attempt, of course, was but rude and ill-shaped, but it answered the purpose, and only leaked a little at the corners for want of a sort of flap, which he had forgotten to allow in cutting out the bark; this flap in the Indian baskets and dishes turns up, and keeps all tight and close. The defect he remedied in his subsequent attempts. In spite of its deficiencies, Louis's water-jar was looked upon with great admiration, and highly commended by Catharine, who almost forgot her sufferings—while watching her cousin's proceedings.
Louis was elated by his own successful ingenuity, and was for running off directly to the spring. "Catharine shall now have cold water to bathe her poor ancle with, and to quench her thirst," he said, joyfully springing to his feet, ready for a start up the steep bank: but Hector quietly restrained his lively cousin, by suggesting the possibility of his not finding the "fountain in the wilderness," as Louis termed the spring, or losing himself altogether.
"Let us both go together, then." cried Louis. Catharine cast on her cousin an imploring glance.
"Do not leave me, dear Louis; Hector, do not let me be left alone." Her sorrowful appeal stayed the steps of the volatile Louis.
"Go you, Hector, as you know the way: I will not leave you, Kate, since I was the cause of all you have suffered; I will abide by you in joy or in sorrow till I see you once more safe in your own dear mother's arms."
Comforted by this assurance, Catharine quickly dashed away the gathering tears from her checks, and chid her own foolish fears.
"But you know, dear cousin," she said, "I am so helpless, and then the dread of that horrible wolf makes a coward of me."
After some little time had elapsed, Hector returned; the bark vessel had done its duty to admiration, it only wanted a very little improvement to make it complete. The water was cold and pure. Hector had spent a little time in deepening the mouth of the spring, and placing some stones about it. He described the ravine as being much deeper and wider, and more gloomy than the one they occupied. The sides and bottom were clothed with magnificent oaks. It was a grand sight, he said, to stand on the jutting spurs of this great ravine, and look down upon the tops of the trees that lay below, tossing their rounded heads like the waves of a big sea. There were many lovely flowers, vetches of several kinds, blue, white, and pencilled, twining among the grass. A beautiful white-belled flower, that was like the "Morning glory," (Convolvulus major,) and scarlet-cups [FN: Erichroma, or painted cup] in abundance, with roses in profusion. The bottom of this ravine was strewed in places with huge blocks of black granite, cushioned with thick green moss; it opened out into a wide flat, similar to the one at the mouth of the valley of the Big Stone. [FN: The mouth of this ravine is now under the plough, and waving fields of golden grain and verdant pastures have taken place of the wild shrubs and flowers that formerly adorned it. The lot belongs to G. Ley, Esq.]
These children were not insensible to the beauties of nature, and both Hector and his sister had insensibly imbibed a love of the grand and the picturesque, by listening with untiring interest to their father's animated and enthusiastic descriptions of his Highland home, and the wild mountainous scenery that surrounded it. Though brought up in solitude and uneducated, yet there was nothing vulgar or rude in the minds or manners of these young people. Simple and untaught they were, but they were guileless, earnest, and unsophisticated; and if they lacked the knowledge that is learned from books, they possessed much that was useful and practical, which had been taught by experience and observation in the school of necessity.
For several days the pain and fever arising from her sprain rendered any attempt at removing Catharine from the valley of the "Big Stone" impracticable. The ripe fruit began to grow less abundant in their immediate vicinity, and neither woodchuck, partridge, nor squirrel had been killed; and our poor wanderers now endured the agonising pains of hunger. Continual exposure to the air by night and by day contributed not a little to increase the desire for food. It is true, there was the yet untried lake, "bright, boundless, and free," gleaming in silvery splendour, but in practice they knew nothing of the fisher's craft, though, as a matter of report, they were well acquainted with all the mysteries of it, and had often listened with delight to the feats performed by their respective fathers in the art of angling, spearing and netting.
"I have heard my father say, that so bold and numerous were the fish in the lakes and rivers he was used to fish in, that they could be taken by the hand, with a crooked pin and coarse thread, or wooden spear; but that was in the lower province; and oh, what glorious tales I have heard him tell of spearing fish by torchlight!"
"The fish may be wiser or not so numerous in this lake," said Hector; "however, if Kate can bear to be moved, we will go down to the shore and try our luck; but what can we do? we have neither hook nor line provided."
Louis nodded his head, and sitting down on a projecting root of a scrub oak, produced from the depths of his capacious pocket a bit of tin, which he carefully selected from among a miscellaneous hoard of treasures. "Here." said he, holding it up to the view as he spoke; "here is the slide of an old powder-flask, which I picked up from among some rubbish that my sister had thrown out the other day."
"I fear you will make nothing of that," said Hector, "a bit of bone would be better. If you had a file now you might do something."
"Stay a moment, Monsieur Hec., what do you call this?" and Louis triumphantly handed out of his pocket the very instrument in question, a few inches of a broken, rusty file; very rusty, indeed, it was, but still it might be made to answer in such ingenious hands as those of our young French Canadian. "I well remember, Katty, how you and Mathilde laughed at me for treasuring up this old thing months ago. Ah, Louis. Louis, you little knew the use it was to be put to then," he added thoughtfully, apostrophising himself; "how little do we know what is to befall us in our young days!" "God knows it all," said Hector, gravely, "we are under His good guidance."
"You are right, Hec., let us trust in His mercy and He will take good care of us. Come, let us go to the lake," Catharine added, and sprung to her feet, but as quickly sunk down upon the grass, and regarded her companions with a piteous look, saying, "I cannot walk one step; alas, alas! what is to become of me; I am only a useless burden to you. If you leave me here, I shall fall a prey to some savage beast, and you cannot carry me with you in your search for food."
"Dry your tears, sweet cousin, you shall go with us. Do you think that Hector or Louis would abandon you in your helpless state, to die of hunger or thirst, or to be torn by wolves or bears? We will carry you by turns; the distance to the lake is nothing, and you are not so very heavy, ma belle cousine; see, I could dance with you in my arms, you are so light a burden,"—and Louis gaily caught the suffering girl up in his arms, and with rapid steps struck into the deer path that wound through the ravine towards the lake, but when they reached a pretty rounded knoll, (where Wolf Tower [FN: See account of the "Wolf Tower," in the Appendix.] now stands,) Louis was fain to place his cousin on a flat stone beneath a big oak that grew beside the bank, and fling himself on the flowery ground at her feet, while he drew a long breath, and gathered the fruit that grew among the long grass to refresh himself after his fatigue; and then, while resting on the "Elfin Knowe," as Catharine called the hill, he employed himself with manufacturing a rude sort of fish-hook with the aid of his knife, the bit of tin, and the rusty file; a bit of twine was next produced,—boys have always a bit of string in their pockets, and Louis, as I have before hinted, was a provident hoarder of such small matters. The string was soon attached to the hook, and Hector was not long in cutting a sapling that answered well the purpose of a fishing-rod, and thus equipped they proceeded to the lake shore, Hector and Louis carrying the crippled Catharine by turns. When there, they selected a sheltered spot beneath a grove of over-hanging cedars and birches, festooned with wild vines, which, closely woven, formed a natural bower, quite impervious to the rays of the sun. A clear spring flowing from the upper part of the bank among the hanging network of loose fibres and twisted roots, fell tinkling over a mossy log at her feet, and quietly spread itself among the round shingly pebbles that formed the beach of the lake. Beneath this pleasant bower Catharine could repose, and watch her companions at their novel employment, or bathe her feet and infirm ancle in the cool streamlet that rippled in tiny wavelets over its stony bed.
If the amusement of fishing prove pleasant and exciting when pursued for pastime only, it may readily be conceived that its interest must be greatly heightened when its object is satisfying a craving degree of hunger. Among the sunny spots on the shore, innumerable swarms of the flying grasshopper or field crickets were sporting, and one of these proved an attractive bait. The line was no sooner cast into the water, than the hook was seized, and many were the brilliant specimens of sun-fish that our eager fishermen cast at Catharine's feet, all gleaming with gold and azure scales. Nor was there any lack of perch, or that delicate fish commonly known in these waters as the pink roach.
Tired at last with their easy sport, the hungry boys next proceeded to the grateful task of scaling and dressing their fish, and this they did very expeditiously, as soon as the more difficult part, that of kindling up a fire on the beach, had been accomplished with the help of the flint, knife, and dried rushes. The fish were then suspended, Indian fashion, on forked sticks stuck in the ground and inclined at a suitable angle towards the glowing embers,—a few minutes sufficed to cook them.
"Truly," said Catharine, when the plentiful repast was set before her, "God hath, indeed, spread a table for us here in the wilderness;" so miraculous did this ample supply of delicious food seem in the eyes of this simple child of nature.
They had often heard tell of the facility with which the fish could be caught, but they had known nothing of it from their own experience, as the streams and creeks about Cold Springs afforded them but little opportunity for exercising their skill as anglers; so that, with the rude implements with which they were furnished, the result of their morning success seemed little short of divine interference in their behalf. Happy and contented in the belief that they were not forgotten by their heavenly Father, these poor "children in the wood" looked up with gratitude to that beneficent Being who suffereth not even a sparrow to fall unheeded.
Upon Catharine, in particular, these things made a deep impression, and there as she sat in the green shade, soothed by the lulling sound of the flowing waters, and the soft murmuring of the many-coloured insects that hovered among the fragrant leaves which thatched her sylvan bower, her young heart was raised in humble and holy aspirations to the great Creator of all things living. A peaceful calm diffused itself over her mind, as with hands meekly folded across her breast, the young girl prayed with the guileless fervour of a trusting and faithful heart.
The sun was just sinking in a flood of glory behind the dark pine-woods at the head of the lake, when Hector and Louis, who had been carefully providing fish for the morrow, (which was the Sabbath,) came loaded with their finny prey carefully strung upon a willow wand, and found Catharine sleeping in her bower. Louis was loth to break her tranquil slumbers, but her careful brother reminded him of the danger to which she was exposed, sleeping in the dew by the water side; "Moreover," he added, "we have some distance to go, and we have left the precious axe and the birch-bark vessel in the valley."
These things were too valuable to be lost, and so they roused the sleeper, and slowly recommenced their toilsome way, following the same path that they had made in the morning. Fortunately, Hector had taken the precaution to bend down the flexile branches of the dogwood and break the tops of the young trees that they had passed between on their route to the lake, and by this clue they were enabled with tolerable certainty to retrace their way, nothing doubting of arriving in time at the wigwam of boughs by the rock in the valley.
Their progress was, however, slow, burdened with the care of the lame girl, and heavily laden with the fish. The purple shades of twilight soon clouded the scene, deepened by the heavy masses of foliage, which cast a greater degree of obscurity upon their narrow path; for they had now left the oak-flat and entered the gorge of the valley. The utter loneliness of the path, the grotesque shadows of the trees, that stretched in long array across the steep banks on either side, taking, now this, now that wild and fanciful shape, awakened strange feelings of dread in the mind of these poor forlorn wanderers; like most persons bred up in solitude, their imaginations were strongly tinctured with superstitious fears. Here then, in the lonely wilderness, far from their beloved parents and social hearth, with no visible arm to protect them from danger, none to encourage or to cheer them, can it be matter of surprise if they started with terror-blanched cheeks at every fitful breeze that rustled the leaves or waved the branches above them? The gay and lively Louis, blithe as any wild bird in the bright sunlight, was the most easily oppressed by this strange superstitious fear, when the shades of evening were closing round, and he would start with ill-disguised terror at every sound or shape that met his ear or eye, though the next minute he was the first to laugh at his own weakness. In Hector, the feeling was of a graver, more solemn cast, recalling to his mind all the wild and wondrous tales with which his father was wont to entertain the children, as they crouched round the huge log-fire of an evening. It is strange the charm these marvellous tales possess for the youthful mind, no matter how improbable, or how often told; year after year they will be listened to with the same ardour, with an interest that appears to grow with repetition. And still, as they slowly wandered along, Hector would repeat to his breathless auditors those Highland legends that were as familiar to their ears as household words, and still they listened with fear and wonder, and deep awe, till at each pause he made, the deep-drawn breath and half-repressed shudder might be heard. And now the little party paused irresolutely, fearing to proceed,—they had omitted to notice some land-mark in their progress; the moon had not long been up, and her light was as yet indistinct; so they sat them down on a little grassy spot on the bank, and rested till the moon should lighten their path.
Louis was confident they were not far from "the bigstone," but careful Hector had his doubts, and Catharine was weary. The children had already conceived a sort of home feeling for the valley and the mass of stone that had sheltered them for so many nights, and soon the dark mass came in sight, as the broad full light of the now risen moon fell upon its rugged sides; they were nearer to it than they had imagined. "Forward for 'the big stone' and the wigwam," cried Louis.
"Hush!" said Catharine, "look there," raising her hand with a warning gesture.
"The wolf! the wolf!" gasped out the terrified girl. There indeed, upon the summit of the block, in the attitude of a sentinel or watcher, stood the gaunt-figured animal, and as she spoke, a long wild cry, the sound of which seemed as if it came midway between the earth and the tops of the tall pines on the lofty ridge above them, struck terror into their hearts, as with speechless horror they gazed upon the dark outline of the terrible beast. There it stood, with its head raised, its neck stretched outward, and ears erect, as if to catch the echo that gave back those dismal sounds; another minute and he was gone, and the crushing of branches and the rush of many feet on the high bank above, was followed by the prolonged cry of some poor fugitive animal,—a doe, or fawn, perhaps,—in the very climax of mortal agony; and then the lonely recesses of the forest took up that fearful death-cry, the far-off shores of the lake and the distant islands prolonged it, and the terrified children clung together in fear and trembling.
A few minutes over, and all was still. The chase had turned across the hills to some distant ravine; the wolves were all gone—not even the watcher was left, and the little valley lay once more in silence, with all its dewy roses and sweet blossoms glittering in the moonlight; but though around them all was peace and loveliness, it was long ere confidence was restored to the hearts of the panic-stricken and trembling children. They beheld a savage enemy in every mass of leafy shade, and every rustling bough struck fresh terrors into their excited minds. They might have exclaimed with the patriarch Jacob, "How dreadful is this place!"
With hand clasped in hand, they sat them down among the thick covert of the bushes, for now they feared to move forward, lest the wolves should return; sleep was long a stranger to their watchful eyes, each fearing to be the only one left awake, and long and painful was their vigil. Yet nature, overtasked, at length gave way, and sleep came down upon their eyelids; deep, unbroken sleep, which lasted till the broad sunlight breaking through the leafy curtains of their forest-bed, and the sound of waving boughs and twittering birds, once more wakened them to life and light; recalling them from happy dreams of home and friends, to an aching sense of loneliness and desolation. This day they did not wander far from the valley, but took the precaution, as evening drew on, to light a large fire, the blaze of which they thought would keep away any beast of prey. They had no want of food, as the fish they had caught the day before proved an ample supply. The huckle-berries were ripening too, and soon afforded them a never-failing source of food; there were also an abundance of bilberries, the sweet rich berries of which proved a great treat, besides being very nourishing.
"Oh for a lodge in the vast wilderness, The boundless contiguity of shade!"
A fortnight had now passed, and Catharine still suffered so much from pain and fever, that they were unable to continue their wanderings; all that Hector and his cousin could do, was to carry her to the bower by the lake, where she reclined whilst they caught fish. The painful longing to regain their lost home had lost nothing of its intensity; and often would the poor sufferer start from her bed of leaves and boughs, to wring her hands and weep, and call in piteous tones upon that dear father and mother, who would have given worlds had they been at their command, to have heard but one accent of her beloved voice, to have felt one loving pressure from that fevered hand. Hope, the consoler, hovered over the path of the young wanderers, long after she had ceased to whisper comfort to the desolate hearts of the mournful parents.
Of all that suffered by this sad calamity, no one was more to be pitied than Louis Perron: deeply did the poor boy lament the thoughtless folly which had involved his cousin Catharine in so terrible a misfortune. "If Kate had not been with me," he would say, "we should not have been lost; for Hector is so cautious and so careful, he would not have left the cattle-path; but we were so heedless, we thought only of flowers and insects, of birds, and such trifles, and paid no heed to our way." Louis Perron, such is life. The young press gaily onward, gathering the flowers, and following the gay butterflies that attract them in the form of pleasure and amusement; they forget the grave counsels of the thoughtful, till they find the path they have followed is beset with briers and thorns; and a thousand painful difficulties that were unseen, unexpected, overwhelm and bring them to a sad sense of their own folly; and perhaps the punishment of their errors does not fall upon themselves alone, but upon the innocent, who have unknowingly been made participators in their fault.
By the kindest and tenderest attention to all her comforts, Louis endeavoured to alleviate his cousin's sufferings, and soften her regrets; nay, he would often speak cheerfully and even gaily to her, when his own heart was heavy, and his eyes ready to overflow with tears. "If it were not for our dear parents and the dear children at home," he would say, "we might spend our time most happily upon these charming plains; it is much more delightful here than in the dark thick woods; see how brightly the sunbeams come down and gladden the ground, and cover the earth with fruit and flowers. It is pleasant to be able to fish and hunt, and trap the game. Yes, if they were all here, we would build us a nice log-house, and clear up these bushes on the flat near the lake. This 'Elfin Knowe,' as you call it, Kate, would be a nice spot to build upon. See these glorious old oaks; not one should be cut down, and we would have a boat and a canoe, and voyage across to yonder islands. Would it not be charming, ma belle?" and Catharine, smiling at the picture drawn so eloquently, would enter into the spirit of the project, and say,—
"Ah! Louis, that would be pleasant."
"If we had but my father's rifle now," said Hector, "and old Wolfe."
"Yes, and Fanchette, dear little Fanchette, that trees the partridges and black squirrels," said Louis.
"I saw a doe and a half-grown fawn beside her this very morning, at break of day," said Hector. "The fawn was so little fearful, that if I had had a stick in my hand, I could have killed it.—I came within ten yards of the spot where it stood. I know it would be easy to catch one by making a dead-fall." [A sort of trap in which game is taken in the woods, or on the banks of creeks.]
"If we had but a dear fawn to frolic about us, like Mignon, dear innocent Mignon," cried Catharine, "I should never feel lonely then."
"And we should never want for meat, if we could catch a fine fawn from time to time, ma belle."
"Hec., what are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking, Louis, that If we were doomed to remain here all our lives, we must build a house for ourselves; we could not live in the open air without shelter as we have done. The summer will soon pass, and the rainy season will come, and the bitter frosts and snows of winter will have to be provided against."
"But, Hector, do you really think there is no chance of finding our way back to Cold Springs? We know it must be behind this lake," said Louis.
"True, but whether east, west, or south, we cannot tell; and whichever way we take now is but a chance, and if once we leave the lake and get involved in the mazes of that dark forest, we should perish, for we know there is neither water nor berries, nor game to be had as there is here, and we might be soon starved to death. God was good who led us beside this fine lake, and upon these fruitful plains."
"It is a good thing that I had my axe when we started from home," said Hector. "We should not have been so well off without it; we shall find the use of it if we have to build a house. We must look out for some spot where there is a spring of good water, and—"
"No horrible wolves," interrupted Catharine: "though I love this pretty ravine, and the banks and braes about us, I do not think I shall like to stay here. I heard the wolves only last night, when you and Louis were asleep."
"We must not forget to keep watch-fires."
"What shall we do for clothes?" said Catharine, glancing at her home-spun frock of wool and cotton plaid.
"A weighty consideration, indeed," sighed Hector; "clothes must be provided before ours are worn out, and the winter comes on."
"We must save all the skins of the wood-chucks and squirrels," suggested Louis; "and fawns when we catch them."
"Yes, and fawns when we get them," added Hector; "but it is time enough to think of all these things; we must not give up all hope of home."
"I give up all hope? I shall hope on while I have life," said Catharine. "My dear, dear father, he will never forget his lost children; he will try and find us, alive or dead; he will never give up the search."
Poor child, how long did this hope burn like a living torch in thy guileless breast. How often, as they roamed those hills and valleys, were thine eyes sent into the gloomy recesses of the dark ravines and thick bushes, with the hope that they would meet the advancing form and outstretched arms of thy earthly parents: all in vain—yet the arms of thy heavenly Father were extended over thee, to guide, to guard, and to sustain thee.
How often were Catharine's hands filled with wild-flowers, to carry home, as she fondly said, to sick Louise, or her mother. Poor Catharine, how often did your bouquets fade; how often did the sad exile water them with her tears,—for hers was the hope that keeps alive despair.
When they roused them in the morning to recommence their fruitless wanderings, they would say to each other: "Perhaps we shall see our father, he may find us here to-day;" but evening came, and still he came not, and they were no nearer to their father's home than they had been the day previous.
"If we could but find our way back to the 'Cold Creek,' we might, by following its course, return to Cold Springs," said Hector.
"I doubt much the fact of the 'Cold Creek' having any connexion with our Spring," said Louis; "I think it has its rise in the 'Beaver-meadow,' and following its course would only entangle us among those wolfish balsam and cedar swamps, or lead us yet further astray into the thick recesses of the pine forest. For my part, I believe we are already fifty miles from Cold Springs."
It is one of the bewildering mistakes that all persons who lose their way in the pathless woods fall into, they have no idea of distance, or the points of the compass, unless they can see the sun rise and set, which is not possible to do when surrounded by the dense growth of forest-trees; they rather measure distance by the time they have been wandering, than by any other token.
The children knew that they had been a long time absent from home, wandering hither and thither, and they fancied their journey had been as long as it had been weary. They had indeed the comfort of seeing the sun in his course from east to west, but they knew not in what direction the home they had lost lay; it was this that troubled them in their choice of the course they should take each day, and at last determined them to lose no more time so fruitlessly, where the peril was so great, but seek for some pleasant spot where they might pass their time in safety, and provide for their present and future wants.
"The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."
Catharine declared her ancle was so much stronger than it had been since the accident, and her health so much amended, that the day after the conversation just recorded, the little party bade farewell to the valley of the "big stone," and ascending the steep sides of the hills, bent their steps eastward, keeping the lake to their left hand; Hector led the way, loaded with their household utensils, which consisted only of the axe, which he would trust to no one but himself, the tin-pot, and the birch-basket. Louis had his cousin to assist up the steep banks, likewise some fish to carry, which had been caught early in the morning.
The wanderers thought at first to explore the ground near the lake shore, but soon abandoned this resolution, on finding the under-growth of trees and bushes become so thick, that they made little progress, and the fatigue of travelling was greatly increased by having continually to put aside the bushes or bend them down.
Hector advised trying the higher ground: and after following a deer-path through a small ravine that crossed the hills, they found themselves on a fine extent of table-land, richly, but not too densely wooded with white and black oaks, diversified with here and there a solitary pine, which reared its straight and pillar-like trunk in stately grandeur above its leafy companions: a meet eyrie for the bald-eagle, that kept watch from its dark crest over the silent waters of the lake, spread below like a silver zone studded with emeralds.
In their progress, they passed the head of many small ravines, which divided the hilly shores of the lake into deep furrows; these furrows had once been channels, by which the waters of some upper lake (the site of which is now dry land) had at a former period poured down into the valley, filling the basin of what now is called the Rice Lake. These waters with resistless course had ploughed their way between the hills, bearing in their course those blocks of granite and limestone which are so widely scattered both on the hill-tops and the plains, or form a rocky pavement at the bottom of the narrow denies. What a sight of sublime desolation must that outpouring of the waters have presented, when those steep banks were riven by the sweeping torrents that were loosened from their former bounds. The pleased eye rests upon these tranquil shores, now covered with oaks and pines, or waving with a flood of golden grain, or varied by neat dwellings and fruitful gardens; and the gazer on that peaceful scene scarcely pictures to himself what it must have been when no living eye was there to mark the rushing floods, when they scooped to themselves the deep bed in which they now repose.
Those lovely islands that sit like stately crowns upon the waters, were doubtless the wreck that remained of the valley; elevated spots, whose rocky basis withstood the force of the rushing waters, that carried away the lighter portions of the soil. The southern shore, seen from the lake, seems to lie in regular ridges running from south to north; some few are parallel with the lake-shore, possibly where some surmountable impediment turned the current the subsiding waters; but they all find an outlet through their connexion with ravines communicating with the lake.
There is a beautiful level tract of land, with only here and there a solitary oak growing upon it, or a few stately pines; it is commonly called the "upper Race-course," merely on account of the smoothness of the surface; it forms a high tableland, nearly three hundred feet above the lake, and is surrounded by high hills. This spot, though now dry and covered with turf and flowers, and low bushes, has evidently once been a broad sheet of water. To the eastward lies a still more lovely and attractive spot, known as the "lower Race-course;" it lies on a lower level than the former one, and, like it, is embanked by a ridge of distant hills; both have ravines leading down to the Rice Lake, and may have been the sources from whence its channel was filled. Some convulsion of nature at a remote period, by raising the waters above their natural level, might have caused a disruption of the banks, and drained their beds, as they now appear ready for the ploughshare or the spade. In the month of June these flats are brilliant with the splendid blossoms of the enchroma, or painted cup, the azure lupine and snowy trillium roses scent the evening air, and grow as if planted by the hand of taste.
A carpeting of the small downy saxifrage [FN: Saxifraga nivalis.] with its white silky leaves covers the ground in early spring. In the fall, it is red with the bright berries and dark box-shaped leaves of a species of creeping winter-green, that the Indians call spiceberry; the leaves are highly aromatic, and it is medicinal as well as agreeable to the taste and smell. In the month of July a gorgeous assemblage of martagon lilies take the place of the lupine and trilliums; these splendid lilies vary from orange to the brightest scarlet; various species of sunflowers and coreopsis next appear, and elegant white pyrolas [FN: Gentiana linearis, G. crenata.] scent the air and charm the eye. The delicate lilac and white shrubby asters next appear, and these are followed by the large deep blue gentian, and here and there by the elegant fringed gentian. [FN: Pyrola rotundifolia, P. asarifolia.] These are the latest and loveliest of the flowers that adorn this tract of land. It is indeed a garden of nature's own planting, but the wild garden is being converted into fields of grain, and the wild flowers give place to a new race of vegetables, less ornamental, but more useful to man and the races of domestic animals that depend upon him for their support.
Our travellers, after wandering over this lovely plain, found themselves, at the close of the day, at the head of a fine ravine, [FN: Pedophyllnm galmata,—Mandrake, or May-apple.] where they had the good fortune to perceive a spring of pure water, oozing beneath some large moss-covered blocks of black waterworn granite; the ground was thickly covered with moss about the edges of the spring, and many varieties of flowering shrubs and fruits were scattered along the valley and up the steep sides of the surrounding hills. There were whortleberries, or huckleberries, as they are more usually called, in abundance; bilberries dead ripe, and falling from the bushes at a touch. The vines that wreathed the low bushes and climbed the trees were loaded with clusters of grapes, but these were yet hard and green; dwarf filberts grew on the dry gravelly sides of the hills, yet the rough prickly calyx that enclosed the nut, filled their fingers with minute thorns, that irritated the skin like the stings of the nettle; but as the kernel when ripe was sweet and good, they did not mind the consequences. The moist part of the valley was occupied by a large bed of May-apples, [FN: Kilvert's Ravine, above Pine-tree Point.] the fruit of which was of unusual size, but they were not ripe, August being the month when they ripen; there were also wild plums still green, and wild cherries and blackberries ripening; there were great numbers of the woodchucks' burrows on the hills, while partridges and quails were seen under the thick covert of the blue-berried dog-wood, [FN: Cornus sericea. The blue berries of this shrub are eaten by the partridge and wild-ducks; also by the pigeons and other birds. There are several species of this shrub common to the Rice Lake.] that here grew in abundance at the mouth of the ravine where it opened to the lake. As this spot offered many advantages, our travellers halted for the night, and resolved to make it their head-quarters for a season, till they should meet with an eligible situation for building a winter shelter.
Here, then, at the head of the valley, sheltered by one of the rounded hills that formed its sides, our young people erected a summer hut, somewhat after the fashion of an Indian wigwam, which was all the shelter that was requisite while the weather remained so warm. Through the opening at the gorge of this ravine they enjoyed a peep at the distant waters of the lake which terminated the vista, while they were quite removed from its unwholesome vapours.
The temperature of the air for some days had been hot and sultry, scarcely modified by the cool delicious breeze that usually sets in about nine o'clock, and blows most refreshingly till four or five in the afternoon. Hector and Louis had gone down to fish for supper, while Catharine busied herself in collecting leaves and dried deer-grass, moss and fern, of which there was abundance near the spring. The boys had promised to cut some fresh cedar boughs near the lake shore, and bring them up to form a foundation for their bed, and also to strew Indian-fashion over the floor of the hut by way of a carpet. This sort of carpeting reminds one of, the times when the palaces of our English kings were strewed with rushes, and brings to mind the old song:—
"Oh! the golden days of good Queen Bess, When the floors were strew'd with rushes, And the doors went on the latch——"
Despise not then, you, my refined young readers, the rude expedients adopted by these simple children of the forest, who knew nothing of the luxuries that were to be met with in the houses of the great and the rich. The fragrant carpet of cedar or hemlock-spruce sprigs strewn lightly over the earthen floor, was to them a luxury as great as if it had been taken from the looms of Persia or Turkey, so happy and contented were they in their ignorance. Their bed of freshly gathered grass and leaves, raised from the earth by a heap of branches carefully arranged, was to them as pleasant as beds of down, and the rude hut of bark and poles, as curtains of silk or damask.
Having collected as much of these materials as she deemed sufficient for the purpose, Catharine next gathered up dry oak branches, plenty of which lay scattered here and there, to make a watch-fire for the night, and this done, weary and warm, she sat down on a little hillock, beneath the cooling shade of a grove of young aspens, that grew near the hut; pleased with the dancing of the leaves, which fluttered above her head, and fanned her warm cheek with their incessant motion, she thought, like her cousin Louise, that the aspen was the merriest tree in the forest, for it was always dancing, dancing, dancing, even when all the rest were still.
She watched the gathering of the distant thunder-clouds, which cast a deeper, more sombre shade upon the pines that girded the northern shores of the lake as with an ebon frame. Insensibly her thoughts wandered far away from the lonely spot whereon she sat, to the stoup [FN: The Dutch word for verandah, which is still in common use among the Canadians.] in front of her father's house, and in memory's eye she beheld it all exactly as she had left it. There stood the big spinning wheel, just as she had set it aside; the hanks of dyed yarn suspended from the rafters, the basket filled with the carded wool ready for her work. She saw in fancy her father, with his fine athletic upright figure, his sunburnt cheeks and clustering sable hair, his clear energetic hazel eye ever beaming upon her, his favourite child, with looks of love and kindness as she moved to and fro at her wheel. [FN: Such is the method of working at the large wool wheel, unknown or obsolete in England.] There, too, was her mother, with her light step and sweet cheerful voice, singing as she pursued her daily avocations; and Donald and Kenneth driving up the cows to be milked, or chopping firewood. And as these images, like the figures of the magic lantern, passed in all their living colours before her mental vision, her head drooped heavier and lower till it sunk upon her arm, and then she started, looked round, and slept again, her face deeply buried in her young bosom; and long and peacefully the young girl slumbered.
A sound of hurrying feet approaches, a wild cry is heard and panting breath, and the sleeper with a startling scream sprang to her feet: she dreamed that she was struggling in the fangs of a wolf—its grisly paws were clasped about her throat; the feeling was agony and suffocation—her languid eyes open. Can it be?—what is it that she sees? Yes, it is Wolfe; not the fierce creature of her dreams by night and her fears by day, but her father's own brave devoted dog. What joy, what hope rushed to her heart! She threw herself upon the shaggy neck of the faithful beast, and wept from the fulness of heart.
"Yes," she joyfully cried, "I knew that I should see him again. My own dear, dear, loving father! Father! father! dear, dear father, here are your children. Come, come quickly!" and she hurried to the head of the valley, raising her voice, that the beloved parent, who she now confidently believed was approaching, might be guided to the spot by the well-known sound of her voice.
Poor, child! the echoes of thy eager voice, prolonged by every projecting headland of the valley, replied in mocking tones, "Come quickly!"
Bewildered she paused, listened breathlessly and again she called, "Father, come quickly, come!" and again the deceitful sounds were repeated, "Quickly come!"
The faithful dog, who had succeeded in tracking the steps of his lost mistress, raised his head and erected his ears, as she called on her father's name; but he gave no joyful bark of recognition as he was wont to do when he heard his master's step approaching. Still Catharine could not but think that Wolfe had only hurried on before, and that her father must be very near.
The sound of her voice had been heard by her brother and cousin, who, fearing some evil beast had made its way to the wigwam, hastily wound up their line, and left the fishing-ground to hurry to her assistance. They could hardly believe their eyes when they saw Wolfe, faithful old Wolfe, their earliest friend and playfellow, named by their father after the gallant hero of Quebec. And they too, like Catharine, thought that their friends were not far distant, and joyfully they climbed the hills and shouted aloud, and Wolfe was coaxed and caressed, and besought to follow them to point out the way they should take: but all their entreaties were in vain; worn out with fatigue and long fasting, the poor old dog refused to quit the embers of the fire, before which he stretched himself, and the boys now noticed his gaunt frame and wasted flesh—he looked almost starved. The fact now became evident that he was in a state of great exhaustion. Catharine thought he eyed the spring with wishful looks, and she soon supplied him with water in the bark dish, to this great relief.
Wolfe had been out for several days with his master, who would repeat, in tones of sad earnestness, to the faithful creature, "Lost, lost, lost!" It was his custom to do so when the cattle strayed, and Wolfe would travel in all directions till he found them, nor ceased his search till he discovered the objects he was ordered to bring home. The last night of the father's wanderings, when, sick and hopeless, he came back to his melancholy home, as he sat sleeplessly rocking himself to and fro, he involuntarily exclaimed, wringing his hands, "Lost, lost, lost!" Wolfe heard what to him was an imperative command; he rose, and stood at the door, and whined; mechanically his master rose, lifted the latch, and again exclaimed in passionate tones those magic words, that sent the faithful messenger forth into the dark forest path. Once on the trail he never left it, but with ah instinct incomprehensible as it was powerful, he continued to track the woods, lingering long on spots where the wanderers had left any signs of their sojourn; he had for some time been baffled at the Beaver Meadow, and again where they had crossed Cold Creek, but had regained the scent and traced them to the valley of the "big stone," and then with the sagacity of the bloodhound and the affection of the terrier he had, at last, discovered the objects of his unwearied, though often baffled search.
What a state of excitement did the unexpected arrival of old Wolfe create! How many questions were put to the poor beast, as he lay with his head pillowed on the knees of his loving mistress! Catharine knew it was foolish, but she could not help talking to the dumb animal, as if he had been conversant with her own language. Ah, old Wolfe, if your homesick nurse could but have interpreted those expressive looks, those eloquent waggings of your bushy tail, as it flapped upon the grass, or waved from side to side; those gentle lickings of the hand, and mute sorrowful glances, as though he would have said, "Dear mistress, I know all your troubles. I know all you say, but I cannot answer you!" There is something touching in the silent sympathy of the dog, to which only the hard-hearted and depraved can be quite insensible. I remember once hearing of a felon, who had shown the greatest obstinacy and callous indifference to the appeals of his relations, and the clergyman that attended him in prison, whose heart was softened by the sight of a little dog, that had been his companion in his days of comparative innocence, forcing its way through the crowd, till it gained the foot of the gallows; its mute look of anguish and affection unlocked the fount of human feeling, and the condemned man wept—perhaps the first tears he had shed since childhood's happy days.
The night closed in with a tempest of almost tropical violence. The inky darkness of the sky was relieved, at intervals, by sheets of lurid flame, which revealed, by its intense brightness, every object far off or near. The distant lake, just seen amid the screen of leaves through the gorge of the valley, gleamed like a sea of molten sulphur; the deep narrow defile, shut in by the steep and wooded hills, looked deeper, more wild and gloomy, when revealed by that vivid glare of light.
There was no stir among the trees, the heavy rounded masses of foliage remained unmoved; the very aspen, that tremulous sensitive tree, scarcely stirred; it seemed as if the very pulses of nature were at rest. The solemn murmur that preceded the thunder-peal might have been likened to the moaning of the dying. The children felt the loneliness of the spot. Seated at the entrance of their sylvan hut, in front of which their evening fire burned brightly, they looked out upon the storm in silence and in awe. Screened by the sheltering shrubs that grew near them, they felt comparatively safe from the dangers of the storm, which now burst in terrific violence above the valley. Cloud answered to cloud, and the echoes of the hills prolonged the sound, while shattered trunks and brittle branches filled the air, and shrieked and groaned in that wild war of elements.
Between the pauses of the tempest the long howl of the wolves, from their covert in some distant cedar swamp at the edge of the lake, might be heard from time to time,—a sound that always thrilled their hearts with fear. To the mighty thunder-peal that burst above their heads they listened with awe and wonder. It seemed, indeed, to them as if it were the voice of Him who "sendeth out his voice, yea, and that a mighty voice." And they bowed and adored his majesty; but they shrank with curdled blood from the cry of the felon wolf.
And now the storm was at its climax, and the hail and rain came down in a whitening flood upon that ocean of forest leaves; the old grey branches were lifted up and down, and the stout trunks rent, for they would not bow down before the fury of the whirlwind, and were scattered all abroad like chaff before the wind.
The children thought not of danger for themselves, but they feared for the safety of their fathers, whom they believed to be not far off from them. And often 'mid the raging of the elements, they fancied they could distinguish familiar voices calling upon their names. "If our father had not been near, Wolfe would not have come hither."
"Ah, if our father should have perished in this fearful storm," said Catharine, weeping, "or have been starved to death while seeking for us!" and Catharine covered her face and wept more bitterly.
But Louis would not listen to such melancholy forebodings. Their fathers were both brave hardy men, accustomed to every sort of danger and privation; they were able to take care of themselves. Yes, he was sure they were not far off; it was this unlucky storm coming on that had prevented them from meeting.
"To-morrow, ma chere, will be a glorious day after the storm; it will be a joyful one too, we shall go out with Wolfe, and he will find his master, and then—oh, yes! I dare say my dear father will be with yours. They will have taken good heed to the track, and we shall soon see our dear mothers and chere petite Louise."
The storm lasted till past midnight, when it gradually subsided, and the poor wanderers glad to see the murky clouds roll off, and the stars peep forth among their broken masses; but they were reduced to a pitiful state, the hurricane having beaten down their little hut, and their garments were drenched with rain. However, the boys made a good fire with some bark and boughs they had in store; there were a few sparks in their back log unextinguished, and this they gladly fanned up into a blaze, with which they dried their wet clothes, and warmed themselves. The air was now cool almost to chilliness, and for some days the weather remained unsettled, and the sky overcast with clouds, while the lake presented a leaden hue, crested with white mimic waves.
They soon set to work to make another hut, and found close to the head of the ravine a great pine uprooted, affording them large pieces of bark, which proved very serviceable in thatching the sides of the hut. The boys employed themselves in this work, while Catharine cooked the fish they had caught the night before, with a share of which old Wolfe seemed to be mightily well pleased. After they had breakfasted, they all went up towards the high table-land above the ravine, with Wolfe, to look round in hope of getting sight of their friends from Cold Springs, but though they kept an anxious look out in every direction, they returned, towards evening, tired and hopeless. Hector had killed a red squirrel, and a partridge which Wolfe "treed,"—that is, stood barking at the foot of the tree in which it had perched,—and the supply of meat was a seasonable change. They also noticed, and marked, with the axe, several trees where there were bees, intending to come in the cold weather, and cut them down. Louis's father was a great and successful bee-hunter; and Louis rather prided himself on having learned something of his father's skill in that line. Here, where flowers were so abundant and water plentiful, the wild bees seemed to be abundant also; besides, the open space between the trees, admitting the warm sunbeam freely, was favourable both for the bees and the flowers on which they fed, and Louis talked joyfully of the fine stores of honey they should collect in the fell. He had taught little Fanchon, a small French spaniel of his father's, to find out the trees where the bees hived, and also the nests of the ground-bees, and she would bark at the foot of the tree, or scratch with her feet on the ground, as the other dogs barked at the squirrels or the woodchucks; but Fanchon was far away, and Wolfe was old, and would learn no new tricks, so Louis knew he had nothing but his own observation and the axe to depend upon for procuring honey.
The boys had been unsuccessful for some days past in fishing; neither perch nor sunfish, pink roach nor mud-pouts [FN: All these fish are indigenous to the fresh waters of Canada.] were to be caught. However, they found water-mussels by groping in the sand, and cray-fish among the gravel at the edge of the water only; the last pinched their fingers very spitefully. The mussels were not very palateable, for want of salt; but hungry folks must not be dainty, and Louis declared them very good when well roasted, covered up with hot embers. "The fish-hawks," said he, "set us a good example, for they eat them, and so do the eagles and herons. I watched one the other day with a mussel in his bill; he flew to a high tree, let his prey fall, and immediately darted down to secure it; but I drove him off, and, to my great amusement, perceived the wise fellow had just let it fall on a stone, which had cracked the shell for him just in the right place. I often see shells lying at the foot of trees, far up the hills, where these birds must have left them. There is one large thick-shelled mussel, that I have found several times with a round hole drilled through the shell, just as if it had been done with a small auger, doubtless the work of some bird with a strong beak."
"Do you remember," said Catharine, "the fine pink mussel-shell that Hec. picked up in the little corn-field last year; it had a hole in one of the shells too; [FN: This ingenious mode of cracking the shells of mussels is common to many birds. The crow (Corvus corone) has been long known by American naturalists to break the thick shells of the river mussels, by letting them fall from a height on to rocks and stones.] and when my uncle saw it, he said it must have been dropped by some large bird, a fish-hawk possibly, or a heron, and brought from the great lake, as it had been taken out of some deep water, the mussels in our creeks being quite thin-shelled and white."
"Do you remember what a quantity of large fish bones we found in the eagle's nest on the top of our hill, Louis?" said Hector.
"I do; those fish must have been larger than our perch and sun-fish; they were brought from this very lake, I dare say."
"If we had a good canoe now, or a boat, and a strong hook and line, we might become great fishermen."
"Louis," said Catharine, "is always thinking about canoes, and boats, and skiffs; he ought to have been a sailor."
Louis was confident that if they had a canoe he could soon learn to manage her; he was an excellent sailor already in theory. Louis never saw difficulties; he was always hopeful, and had a very good opinion of his own cleverness; he was quicker in most things, his ideas flowed faster than Hector's, but Hector was more prudent, and possessed one valuable quality—steady perseverance; he was slow in adopting an opinion, but when once convinced, he pushed on steadily till he mastered the subject or overcame the obstacle.
"Catharine," said Louis, one day, "the huckleberries age now very plentiful, and I think it would be a wise thing to gather a good store of them, and dry them for the winter. See, ma chere, wherever we turn our eyes, or place our feet, they are to be found; the hill sides are purple with them. We may, for aught we know, be obliged to pass the rest of our lives here; it will be well to prepare for the winter when no berries are to be found."
"It will be well, mon ami, but we must not dry them in the sun; for let me tell you, Mr. Louis, that they will be quite tasteless—mere dry husks."
"Why so, ma belle?"
"I do not know the reason, but I only know the fact, for when our mothers dried the currants and raspberries in the sun, such was the case, but when they dried them on the oven floor, or on the hearth, they were quite nice."
"Well, Cath., I think I know of a flat thin stone that will make a good hearthstone, and we can get sheets of birch bark and sew into flat bags, to keep the dried fruit in."
They now turned all their attention to drying huckleberries (or whortleberries). [FN: From the abundance of this fruit, the Indians have given the name of Whortleberry Plain to the lands on the south shore. During the month of July and the early part of August, large parties come to the Rice Lake Plains to gather huckleberries, which they preserve by drying, for winter use. These berries make a delicious tart or pudding, mixed with bilberries and red-currants, requiring little sugar.] Catharine and Louis (who fancied nothing could be contrived without his help) attended to the preparing and making of the bags of birch bark; but Hector was soon tired of girl's work, as he termed it, and, after gathering some berries, would wander away over the hills in search of game, and to explore the neighbouring hills and valleys, and sometimes it was sunset before he made his appearance. Hector had made an excellent strong-bow, like the Indian bow, out of a tough piece of hickory wood, which he found in one of his rambles, and he made arrows with wood that he seasoned in the smoke, sharpening the heads with great care with his knife, and hardening them by exposure to strong heat, at a certain distance from the fire. The entrails of the woodchucks, stretched, and scraped and dried, and rendered pliable by rubbing and drawing through the hands, answered for a bowstring; but afterwards, when they got the sinews and hide of the deer, they used them, properly dressed for the purpose.
Hector also made a cross-bow, which he used with great effect, being a true and steady marksman. Louis and he would often amuse themselves with shooting at a mark, which they would chip on the bark of a tree; even Catharine was a tolerable archeress with the longbow, and the hut was now seldom without game of one kind or other. Hector seldom returned from his rambles without partridges, quails, or young pigeons, which are plentiful at this season of the year; many of the old ones that pass over in their migratory flight in the spring, stay to breed, or return thither for the acorns and berries that are to be found in great abundance. Squirrels, too, are very plentiful at this season. Hector and Louis remarked that the red and black squirrels never were to be found very near each other. It is a common belief, that the red squirrels make common cause with the grey, and beat the larger enemy off the ground. The black squirrel, for a succession of years, was very rarely to be met with on the Plains, while there were plenty of the red and grey in the "oak openings." [FN: Within the last three years, however, the black squirrels have been very numerous, and the red are less frequently to be seen. The flesh of the black squirrel is tender, white, and delicate, like that of a young rabbit.] Deer, at the time our young Crusoes were living on the Rice Lake Plains, were plentiful, and, of course, so were those beasts that prey upon them,—wolves, bears, and wolverines, besides the Canadian lynx, or catamount, as it is here commonly called, a species of wild-cat or panther. These wild animals are now no longer to be seen; it is a rare thing to hear of bears or wolves, and the wolverine and lynx are known only as matters of history in this part of the country; these animals disappear as civilization advances, while some others increase and follow man, especially many species of birds, which seem to pick up the crumbs that fall from the rich man's board, and multiply about his dwelling; some adopt new habits and modes of building and feeding, according to the alteration and improvement in their circumstances.
While our young people seldom wanted for meat, they felt the privation of the tread to which they had teen accustomed very sensibly. One day, while Hector and Louis were busily engaged with their assistant, Wolfe, in unearthing a woodchuck, that had taken refuge in his burrow, on one of the gravelly hills above the lake, Catharine amused herself by looking for flowers; she had filled her lap with ripe May-apples, [FN: Podophyllum peltatum-May-apple, or Mandrake. The fruit of the May-apple, in rich moist soil, will attain to the size of the magnum bonum, or egg-plum, which it resembles in colour and shape. It makes a delicious preserve, if seasoned with cloves or ginger; when eaten uncooked, the outer rind, which is thick and fleshy, and has a rank taste, should be thrown aside; the fine acid pulp in which the seeds are imbedded alone should be eaten. The root of the Podophyllum is used as a cathartic by the Indians. The root of this plant is reticulated, and when a large body of them are uncovered, they present a singular appearance, interlacing each other in large meshes, like an extensive net-work; these roots are white, as thick as a man's little finger, and fragrant, and spread horizontally along the surface. The blossom is like a small white rose.] but finding them cumbersome in climbing the steep wooded hills, she deposited them at the foot of a tree near the boys, and pursued her search; and it was not long before she perceived some pretty grassy-looking plants, with heads of bright lilac flowers, and on plucking some pulled up the root also. The root was about the size and shape of a large crocus, and, on biting it, she found it far from disagreeable, sweet, and slightly astringent; it seemed to be a favourite root with the wood-chucks, for she noticed that it grew about their burrows on dry gravelly soil, and many of the stems were bitten, and the roots eaten, a warrant in full of wholesomeness. Therefore, carrying home a parcel of the largest of the roots, she roasted them in the embers, and they proved almost as good as chestnuts, and more satisfying than the acorns of the white oak, which they had often roasted in the fire, when they were out working on the fallow, at the log heaps. Hector and Louis ate heartily of the roots, and commended Catharine for the discovery. Not many days afterwards, Louis accidentally found a much larger and more valuable root, near the lake shore. He saw a fine climbing shrub, with close bunches of dark reddish-purple pea-shaped flowers, which scented the air with a delicious perfume. The plant climbed to a great height over the young trees, with a profusion of dark green leaves and tendrils. Pleased with the bowery appearance of the plant, he tried to pull one up, that he might show it to his cousin, when the root displayed a number of large tubers, as big as good-sized potatoes, regular oval-shaped; the inside was quite white, tasting somewhat like a potato, only pleasanter, when in its raw state, than an uncooked potato. Louis gathered his pockets full, and hastened home with his prize, and, on being roasted, these new roots were decided to be little inferior to potatoes, at all events, they were a valuable addition to their slender stores, and they procured as many as they could find, carefully storing them in a hole, which they dug for that purpose in a corner of their hut. [FN: This plant appears to me to be a species of the Psoralea esculenta, or Indian bread-root, which it resembles in description, excepting that the root of the above is tuberous oval, and connected by long filaments. The largest tubers are farthest from the stem of the plant.] Hector suggested that these roots would be far better late in the fall, or early in the spring, than during the time that the plant was in bloom, for he knew from observation and experience that at the flowering season the greater part of the nourishment derived from the soil goes to perfect the flower and the seeds. Upon scraping the cut tuber, there was a white floury powder produced resembling the starchy substance of the potato.
"This flour," said Catharine, "would make good porridge with milk."
"Excellent, no doubt, my wise little cook and housekeeper," said Louis, laughing, "but ma belle cousine, where is the milk, and where is the porridge-pot to come from?"
"Indeed," said Catharine, "I fear, Louis, we must wait long for both."
One fine day, Louis returned home from the lake shore in great haste, for the bows and arrows, with the interesting news that a herd of five deer were in the water, and making for Long Island.
"But, Louis, they will be gone out of sight and beyond the reach of the arrows," said Catharine, as she handed him down the bows and a sheaf of arrows, which she quickly slung round his shoulders by the belt of skin, which, the young hunter had made for himself.
"No fear, ma chere; they will stop to feed on the beds of rice and lilies. We must have Wolfe. Here, Wolfe, Wolfe, Wolfe,—here, boy, here!"
Catharine caught a portion of the excitement that danced in the bright eyes of her cousin, and declaring that she too would go and witness the hunt, ran down the ravine by his side, while Wolfe, who evidently understood that they had some sport in view, trotted along by his mistress, wagging his great bushy tail, and looking in high good humour.
Hector was impatiently waiting the arrival of the bows and Wolfe. The herd of deer, consisting of a noble buck, two full-grown females, and two young half-grown males, were quietly feeding among the beds of rice and rushes, not more than fifteen or twenty yards from the shore, apparently quite unconcerned at the presence of Hector, who stood on a fallen trunk eagerly eyeing their motions; but the hurried steps of Louis and Catharine, with the deep sonorous baying of Wolfe, soon roused the timid creatures to a sense of danger, and the stag, raising his head and making, as the children thought, a signal for retreat, now struck boldly out for the nearest point of Long Island.
"We shall lose them," cried Louis, despairingly, eyeing the long bright track that cut the silvery waters, as the deer swam gallantly out.
"Hist, hist, Louis," said Hector, "all depends upon Wolfe. Turn them, Wolfe; hey, hey, seek them, boy!"
Wolfe dashed bravely into the lake.
"Head them! head them!" shouted Hector.
Wolfe knew what was meant; with the sagacity of a long-trained hunter, he made a desperate effort to gain the advantage by a circuitous route. Twice the stag turned irresolute, as if to face his foe, and Wolfe, taking the time, swam ahead, and then the race began. As soon as the boys saw the herd had turned, and that Wolfe was between them and the island, they separated, Louis making good his ambush to the right among the cedars, and Hector at the spring to the west, while Catharine was stationed at the solitary pine-tree, at the point which commanded the entrance of the ravine.
"Now, Cathy," said her brother, "when you see the herd making for the ravine, shout and and, clap your hands, and they will turn either to the ten right or to the left. Do not let them land, or we shall lose them. We must trust to Wolfe for their not escaping to the island. Wolfe is well trained, he knows what he is about."
Catharine proved a dutiful ally, she did as she was bid; she waited till the deer were within a few yards of the shore, then she shouted and clapped her hands. Frightened at the noise and clamour, the terrified creatures coasted along for some way, till within a little distance of the thicket where Hector lay concealed, the very spot from which they had emerged when they first took to the water; to this place they boldly steered. Louis, who had watched the direction the herd had taken with breathless interest, now noiselessly hurried to Hector's assistance, taking an advantageous post for aim, in case Hector's arrow missed, or only slightly wounded one of the deer.
Hector, crouched beneath the trees, waited cautiously till one of the does was within reach of his arrow, and so good and true was his aim, that it hit the animal hi the throat a little above the chest; the stag now turned again, but Wolfe was behind, and pressed him forward, and again the noble animal strained every nerve for the shore. Louis now shot his arrow, but it swerved from the mark, he was too eager, it glanced harmlessly along the water; but the cool, unimpassioned hand of Hector sent another arrow between the eyes of the doe, stunning her with its force, and then, another from Louis laid her on her side, dying, and staining the water with her blood.
The herd, abandoning their dying companion, dashed frantically to the shore, and the young hunters, elated by their success, suffered them to make good their landing without further molestation. Wolfe, at a signal from his master, ran in the quarry, and Louis declared exultingly, that as his last arrow had given the coup de grace, he was entitled to the honour of cutting the throat of the doe; but this, the stern Highlander protested against, and Louis, with a careless laugh, yielded the point, contenting himself with saying, "Ah, well, I will get the first steak of the venison when it is roasted, and that is far more to my taste." Moreover, he privately recounted to Catharine the important share he had had in the exploit, giving her, at the same time, full credit for the worthy service she had performed, in withstanding the landing of the herd. Wolfe, too, came in for a large share of the honour and glory of the chase.
The boys were soon hard at work, skinning the animal, and cutting it up. This was the most valuable acquisition they had yet effected, for many uses were to be made of the deer, besides eating the flesh. It was a store of wealth in their eyes.
During the many years that their fathers had sojourned in the country, there had been occasional intercourse with the fur traders and trappers, and, sometimes, with friendly disposed Indians, who had called at the lodges of their white brothers for food and tobacco.
From all these men, rude as they were, some practical knowledge had been acquired, and their visits, though few and far between, had left good fruit behind them; something to think about and talk about, and turn to future advantage.
The boys had learned from the Indians how precious were the tough sinews of the deer for sewing. They knew how to prepare the skins of the deer for mocassins, which they could cut out and make as neatly as the squaws themselves. They could fashion arrow-heads, and knew how best to season the wood for making both the long and cross-bow; they had seen the fish-hooks these people manufactured from bone and hard wood; they knew that strips of fresh-cut skins would make bow-strings, or the entrails of animals dried and rendered pliable. They had watched the squaws making baskets of the inner bark of the oak, elm, and basswood, and mats of the inner bark of the cedar, with many other ingenious works that they now found would prove useful to them, after a little practice had perfected their inexperienced attempts. They also knew how to dry venison as the Indians and trappers prepare it, by cutting the thick fleshy portions of the meat into strips, from four to six inches in breadth, and two or more in thickness. These strips they strung upon poles supported on forked sticks, and exposed them to the drying action of the sun and wind. Fish they split open, and removed the back and head bones, and smoked them slightly, or dried them in the sun.
Their success in killing the doe greatly raised their spirits; in their joy they embraced each other, and bestowed the most affectionate caresses on Wolfe for his good conduct.
"But for this dear, wise old fellow, we should have had no venison for dinner to-day," said Louis; "and so, Wolfe, you shall have a choice piece for your own share."
Every part of the deer seemed valuable in the eyes of the young hunters; the skin they carefully stretched out upon sticks to dry gradually, and the entrails they also preserved for bow-strings. The sinews of the legs and back, they drew out, and laid carefully aside for future use.
"We shall be glad enough of these strings by-and-by," said careful Hector; "for the summer will soon be at an end, and then we must turn our attention to making ourselves winter clothes and mocassins."
"Yes, Hec., and a good warm shanty; these huts of bark and boughs will not do when once the cold weather sets in."
"A shanty would soon be put up," said Hector; "for even Kate, wee bit lassie as she is, could give us some help in trimming up the logs.
"That I could, indeed," replied Catherine; "for you may remember, Hec., that the last journey my father made to the Bay, [FN: Bay of Quints.] with the pack of furs, that you and I called a Bee
[FN: A Bee is a practical instance of duty to a neighbour. We fear it is peculiar to Canada, although deserving of imitation in all Christian colonies. When any work which requires many hands is in the course of performance, as the building of log-houses, barns, or shanties, all the neighbours are summoned, and give their best assistance in the construction. Of course the assisted party is liable to be called upon by the community in turn, to repay in kind the help he has received.]
to put up a shed for the new cow that he was to drive back with him, and I am sure Mathilde and I did as much good as you and Louis. You know you said you could not have got on nearly so well without our help."
"Yes, and you cried because you got a fall off the shed when if was only four logs high."
"It was not for the fall that I cried," said Catharine, resentfully, "but because cousin Louis and you laughed at me, and said, 'Cats, you know, have nine lives, and seldom are hurt, because they light on their feet,' and I thought it was very cruel to laugh at me when I was in pain. Beside, you called me 'puss,' and 'poor pussie' all the rest of the Bee."
"I am sure, ma belle, I am very sorry if I was rude to you," said Louis, trying to look penitent for the offence. "For my part, I had forgotten all about the fall; I only know that we passed a very merry day. Dear aunt made us a fine Johnny-cake for tea, with lots of maple molasses; and the shed was a capital shed, and the cow must have thought us fine builders, to have made such a comfortable shelter for her, with no better help."
"After all," said Hector, thoughtfully; "children can do a great many things if they only resolutely set to work, and use the wits and the strength that God has given them to work with. A few weeks ago, and we should have thought it utterly impossible to have supported ourselves in a lonely wilderness like this by our own exertions in fishing and hunting."
"If we had been lost in the forest, we must have died with hunger," said Catharine; "but let us be thankful to the good God who led us hither, and gave us health and strength to help ourselves."
"Aye from the sultry heat, We to our cave retreat, O'ercanopied by huge roots, intertwined, Of wildest texture, blacken'd o'er with age, Bound them their mantle green the climbers twine. Beneath whose mantle—pale, Fann'd by the breathing gale, We shield us from the fervid mid-day rage, Thither, while the murmuring throng Of wild bees hum their drowsy song."—COLERIDGE.
"Louis, what are you cutting out of that bit of wood?" said Catharine, the very next day after the first ideas of the shanty had been started.
"Hollowing out a canoe."
"Out of that piece of stick?" said Catharine, laughing. "How many passengers is it to accommodate, my dear."
"Don't teaze, ma belle. I am only making a model. My canoe will be made out of a big pine log, and large enough to hold three."
"Is it to be like the big sap-trough in the sugar-bush at home?" Louis nodded assent.
"I long to go over to the island; I see lots of ducks popping in and out of the little bays beneath the cedars, and there are plenty of partridges, I am sure, and squirrels,—it is the very place for them."
"And shall we have a sail as well as oars?"
"Yes; set up your apron for a sail."
Catharine cast a rueful look upon the tattered remnant of the apron.
"It is worth nothing now," she said, sighing; "and what am I to do when my gown is worn out? It is a good thing it is so strong; if it had been cotton, now, it would have been torn to bits among the bushes."
"We must make clothes of skins as soon as we get enough," said Hector; "Louis, I think you can manufacture a bone needle; we can pierce the holes with the strong thorns, or a little round bone bodkin, that can be easily made."
"The first rainy day, we will see what we can do," replied Louis; "but I am full of my canoe just now."
"Indeed, Louis, I believe you never think of anything else; but even if we had a canoe to-morrow, I do not think that either you or I could manage one," said cautions Hector.
"I could soon learn, as others have done before me. I wonder who first taught the Indians to make canoes, and venture out on the lakes and streams. Why should we be more stupid than these untaught heathens? I have listened so often to my father's stories and adventures when he was out lumbering on the St. John's river, that I am as familiar with the idea of a boat, as if I had been born in one. Only think now, ma belle," he said, turning to Catharine; "just think of the fish—the big ones we could get if we had but a canoe to push out from the shore beyond those rush-beds."
"It strikes me, Louis, that those rush-beds, as you call them, must be the Indian rice that we have seen the squaws make their soup of."
"Yes; and you remember old Jacob used to talk of a fine lake that he called Rice Lake, somewhere to the northward of the Cold Springs, where he said there was plenty of game of all kinds, and a fine open place, where people could see through the openings among the trees. He said it was a great hunting-place for the Indians in the fall of the year, and that they came there to gather in the harvest of wild rice."
"I hope the Indians will not come here and find us out," said Catharine, shuddering; "I think I should be more frightened at the Indians than at the wolves. Have we not heard fearful tales of their cruelty?"
"But we have never been harmed by them; they have always been civil enough when they came to the Springs." "They came, you know, for food, or shelter, or something that they wanted from us; but it may be different when they find us alone and unprotected, encroaching upon their hunting grounds."
"The place is wide enough for us and them; we will try and make them our friends."
"The wolf and the lamb do not lie down in the fold together," observed Hector. "The Indian is treacherous. The wild man and the civilized man do not live well together, their habits and dispositions are so contrary the one to the other. We are open, and they are cunning, and they suspect our openness to be only a greater degree of cunning than their own—they do not understand us. They are taught to be revengeful, and we are taught to forgive our enemies. So you see that what is a virtue with the savage, is a crime with the Christian. If the Indian could be taught the word of God, he might be kind and true, and gentle as well as brave."
It was with conversations like this that our poor wanderers wiled away their weariness. The love of life, and the exertions necessary for self-preservation, occupied so large a portion of their thoughts and time, that they had hardly leisure for repining. They mutually cheered and animated each other to bear up against the sad fate that had thus severed them from every kindred tie, and shut them out from that home to which their young hearts were bound by every endearing remembrance from infancy upwards.
One bright September morning, our young people set off on an exploring expedition, leaving the faithful Wolfe to watch the wigwam, for they well knew he was too honest to touch their store of dried fish and venison himself, and too trusty and fierce to suffer wolf or wild cat near it.
They crossed several narrow deep ravines, and the low wooded flat [FN: Now the fertile firm of Joe Harris, a Yankee settler whose pleasant meadows and fields of grain form a pretty feature from the lake. It is one of the oldest clearings on the shore, and speaks well for the persevering industry of the settler and his family.] along the lake shore, to the eastward of Pine-tree Point. Finding it difficult to force their way through the thick underwood that always impedes the progress of the traveller on the low shores of the lake, they followed the course of an ascending narrow ridge, which formed a sort of natural causeway between two parallel hollows, the top of this ridge being in many places, not wider than a cart or waggon could pass along. The sides were most gracefully adorned with flowering shrubs, wild vines, creepers of various species, wild cherries of several kinds, hawthorns, bilberry bushes, high-bush cranberries, silver birch, poplars, oaks and pines; while in the deep ravines on either side grew trees of the largest growth, the heads of which lay on a level with their path. Wild cliffy banks, beset with huge boulders of red and grey granite and water-worn limestone, showed that it had once formed the boundary of the lake, though now it was almost a quarter of a mile in its rear. Springs of pure water were in abundance, trickling down the steep rugged sides of this wooded glen. The children wandered onwards, delighted with the wild picturesque path they had chosen, sometimes resting on a huge block of moss-covered stone, or on the twisted roots of some ancient grey old oak or pine, while they gazed with curiosity and interest on the lonely but lovely landscape before them. Across the lake, the dark forest shut all else from their view, rising in gradual far-off slopes, till it reached the utmost boundary of sight. Much the children marvelled what country it might be that lay in the dim, blue, hazy distance,—to them, indeed, a terra incognita—a land of mystery; but neither of her companions laughed when Catharine gravely suggested the probability of this unknown shore to the northward being her father's beloved Highlands. Let not youthful and more learned reader smile at the ignorance of the Canadian girl; she knew nothing of maps, and globes, and hemispheres,—her only book of study had been the Holy Scriptures, her only teacher a poor Highland soldier.