HotFreeBooks.com
Canadian Crusoes - A Tale of The Rice Lake Plains
by Catharine Parr Traill
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Following the elevated ground above this deep valley, the travellers at last halted on the extreme, edge of a high and precipitous mound, that formed an abrupt termination to the deep glen. They found water not far from this spot fit for drinking, by following a deer-path a little to the southward. And there, on the borders of a little basin on a pleasant brae, where the bright silver birch waved gracefully over its sides, they decided upon building a winter house. They named the spot Mount Ararat: "For here." said they, "we will build us an ark of refuge and wander no more." And mount Ararat is the name which the spot still bears. Here they sat them down on a fallen tree, and ate a meal of dried venison, and drank of the cold spring that welled out from beneath the edge of the bank. Hector felled a tree to mark the site of their house near the birches, and they made a regular blaze on the trees as they returned home towards the wigwam, that they might not miss the place. They found less difficulty in retracing their path than they had formerly, a there were some striking peculiarities to mark it, and they had learned to be very minute in the remarks they made as they travelled, so that they now seldom missed the way they came by. A few days after this, they removed all their household stores, viz. the axe, the tin pot, bows and arrows, baskets, and bags of dried fruit, the dried venison and fish, and the deerskin; nor did they forget the deer scalp, which they bore away as a trophy, to be fastened up over the door of their new dwelling, for a memorial of their first hunt on the shores of the Rice Lake. The skin was given to Catharine to sleep on.

The boys were now busy from morning till night chopping down trees for house-logs. It was a work of time and labour, as the axe was blunt, and the oaks hard to cut; but they laboured on without grumbling, and Kate watched the fall of each tree with lively joy. They were no longer dull; there was something to look forward to from day to day-they were going to commence housekeeping in good earnest and they should be warm and well lodged before the bitter frosts of winter could come to chill their blood. It was a joyful day when the log walls of the little shanty were put up, and the door hewed out. Windows they had none, so they did not cut out the spaces for them; [FN: Many a shanty is put up in Canada without windows, and only an open space for a door, with a rude plank set up to close it in at night.] they could do very well without, as hundreds of Irish and Highland emigrants have done before and since.

A pile of stones rudely cemented together with wet clay and ashes against the logs, and a hole cut in the roof, formed the chimney and hearth in this primitive dwelling. The chinks were filled with wedge-shaped pieces of wood, and plastered with clay: the trees, being chiefly oaks and pines, afforded no moss. This deficiency rather surprised the boys, for in the thick forest and close cedar swamps, moss grows in abundance on the north side of the trees, especially on the cedar, maple, beech, bass, and iron wood; but there were few of these, excepting a chance one or two in the little basin in front of the house. The roof was next put on, which consisted of split cedars; and when the little dwelling was thus far habitable, they were all very happy. While the boys had been putting on the roof, Catharine had collected the stones for the chimney, and cleared the earthen floor of the chips and rubbish with a broom of cedar boughs, bound together with a leathern thong. She had swept it all clean, carefully removing all unsightly objects, and strewing it over with fresh cedar sprigs, which gave out a pleasant odour, and formed a smooth and not unseemly carpet for their little dwelling. How cheerful was the first fire blazing up on their own hearth! It was so pleasant to sit by its gladdening light, and chat away of all they had done and all that they meant to do. Here was to be a set of split cedar shelves, to hold their provisions and baskets; there a set of stout pegs were to be inserted between the logs for hanging up strings of dried meat, bags of birch-bark, or the skins of the animals they were to shoot or trap. A table was to be fixed on posts in the centre of the floor. Louis was to carve wooden platters and dishes, and some stools were to be made with hewn blocks of wood, till something better could be devised. Their bedsteads were rough poles of iron-wood, supported by posts driven into the ground, and partly upheld by the projection of the logs at the angles of the wall. Nothing could be more simple. The framework was of split cedar; and a safe bed was made by pine boughs being first laid upon the frame, and then thickly covered with dried grass, moss, and withered leaves. Such were the lowly but healthy couches on which these children of the forest slept.

A dwelling so rudely framed and scantily furnished would be regarded with disdain by the poorest English peasant. Yet many a settler's family have I seen as roughly lodged, while a better house was being prepared for their reception; and many a gentleman's son has voluntarily submitted to privations as great as these, from the love of novelty and adventure, or to embark in the tempting expectation of realizing money in the lumbering trade, working hard, and sharing the rude log shanty and ruder society of those reckless and hardy men, the Canadian lumberers. During the spring and summer months, these men spread themselves through the trackless forests, and along the shores of nameless lakes and unknown streams, to cut the pine or oak lumber, such being the name they give to the felled stems of trees, which are then hewn, and in the winter dragged out upon the ice, where they are formed into rafts, and floated down the waters till they reach the great St. Lawrence, and are, after innumerable difficulties and casualties, finally shipped for England. I have likewise known European gentlemen voluntarily leave the comforts of a civilized home, and associate themselves with the Indian trappers and hunters, leading lives as wandering and as wild as the uncultivated children of the forest. The nights and early mornings were already growing sensibly more chilly. The dews at this season fall heavily, and the mists fill the valleys, till the sun has risen with sufficient heat to draw up the vapours. It was a good thing that the shanty was finished so soon, or the exposure to the damp air might have been productive of ague and fever. Every hour almost they spent in making little additions to their household comforts, but some time was necessarily passed in trying to obtain provisions. One day Hector, who had been out from dawn till moonrise, returned with the welcome news that he had shot a young deer, and required the assistance of his cousin to bring it up the steep bank—(it was just at the entrance of the great ravine)—below the precipitous cliff near the lake; he had left old Wolfe to guard it in the meantime. They had now plenty of fresh broiled meat, and this store was very acceptable, as they were obliged to be very careful of the dried meat that they had.

This time Catharine adopted a new plan. Instead of cutting the meat in strips, and drying it, (or jerking it, as the lumberers term it,) she roasted it before the fire, and hung it up, wrapping it in thin sheets of birch bark. The juices, instead of being dried up, were preserved, and the meat was more palatable. Catharine found great store of wild plums in a beautiful valley, not far from the shanty; these she dried for the winter store, eating sparingly of them in their fresh state; she also found plenty of wild black currants, and high-bush cranberries, on the banks of a charming creek of bright water that flowed between a range of high pine hills, and finally emptied itself into the lake.[FN: This little stream flows through the green meadows of "Glenlynden," watering the grounds of Mr. Alfred Hayward, whose picturesque cottage forms a most attractive object to the eye of the traveller.] There were great quantities of water-cresses in this pretty brook; they grew in bright round cushion-like tufts at the bottom of the water, and were tender and wholesome. These formed an agreeable addition to their diet, which had hitherto been chiefly confined to animal food, for they could not always meet with a supply of the bread-roots, as they grew chiefly in damp, swampy thickets on the lake shore, which were sometimes very difficult of access; however, they never missed any opportunity of increasing their stores, and laying up for the winter such roots as they could procure.

As the cool weather and frosty nights drew on, the want of warm clothes and bed-covering became more sensibly felt: those they had were beginning to wear out. Catharine had managed to wash her clothes at the lake several times, and thus preserved them clean and wholesome; but she was often sorely puzzled how the want of her dress was to be supplied as time wore on, and many were the consultations she held with the boys on the important subject. With the aid of a needle she might be able to manufacture the skins of the small animals into some sort of jacket, and the doe-skin and deer-skin could be made into garments for the boys. Louis was always suppling and rubbing the skins to make them soft. They had taken off the hair by sprinkling it with wood ashes, and rolling it up with the hairy side inwards. Out of one of these skins he made excellent mocassins, piercing the holes with a sharpened bone bodkin, and passing the sinews of the deer through, as he had seen his father do, by fixing a stout fish-bone to the deer-sinew thread; thus he had an excellent substitute for a needle, and with the aid of the old file he sharpened the point of the rusty nail, so that he was enabled, with a little trouble, to drill a hole in a bone needle, for his cousin Catharine's use. After several attempts, he succeeded in making some of tolerable fineness, hardening them by exposure to a slow steady degree of heat, till she was able to work with them, and even mend her clothes with tolerable expertness. By degrees, Catharine contrived to cover the whole outer surface of her homespun woollen frock with squirrel and mink, musk-rat and woodchuck skins. A curious piece of fur patchwork of many hues and textures it presented to the eye,—a coat of many colours, it is true; but it kept the wearer warm, and Catharine was not a little proud of her ingenuity and industry: every new patch that was added was a source of fresh satisfaction, and the mocassins, that Louis fitted so nicely to her feet, were great comforts. A fine skin that Hector brought triumphantly in one day, the spoil from a fox that had been caught in one of his deadfalls, was in due time converted into a dashing cap, the brush remaining as an ornament to hang down on one shoulder. Catharine might have passed for a small Diana, when she went out with her fur dress and bow and arrows to hunt with Hector and Louis.

Whenever game of any kind was killed, it was carefully skinned and stretched upon bent sticks, being first turned, so as to present the inner part to the drying action of the air. The young hunters were most expert in this work, having been accustomed for many years to assist their fathers in preparing the furs which they disposed of to the fur traders, who visited them from time to time, and gave them various articles in exchange for their peltries; such as powder and shot, and cutlery of different kinds, as knives, scissors, needles, and pins, with gay calicoes, and cotton handkerchiefs for the women.

As the evenings lengthened, the boys employed themselves with carving wooden platters: knives and forks and spoons they fashioned out of the larger bones of the deer, which they often found bleaching in the sun and wind, where they had been left by their enemies the wolves; baskets too they made, and birch dishes, which they could now finish so well, that they held water, or any liquid; but their great want was some vessel that would bear the heat of the fire. The tin pot was so small that it could be made little use of in the cooking way. Catharine had made an attempt at making tea, on a small scale, of the leaves of the sweet fern,—a graceful woody fern, with a fine aromatic scent like nutmegs; this plant is highly esteemed among the Canadians as a beverage, and also as a remedy against the ague; it grows in great abundance on dry sandy lands and wastes, by waysides.

"If we could but make some sort of earthen pot that would stand the heat of the fire," said Louis, "we could get on nicely with cooking." But nothing like the sort of clay used by potters had been seen, and they were obliged to give up that thought, and content themselves with roasting or broiling their food. Louis, however, who was fond of contrivances, made an oven, by hollowing out a place near the hearth, and lining it with stones, filling up the intervals with wood ashes and such clay as they could find, beaten into a smooth mortar. Such cement answered very well, and the oven was heated by filling it with hot embers; these were removed when it was sufficiently heated, and the meat or roots placed within, the oven being covered over with a flat stone previously heated before the fire, and covered with live coals. This sort of oven had often been described by old Jacob, as one in common use among some of the Indian tribes in the lower province, in which they cook small animals, and make excellent meat of them; they could bake bread also in this oven, if they had had flour to use. [FN: This primitive oven is much like what voyagers have described as in use among the natives of many of the South Sea islands.]

Since the finishing of the house and furnishing it, the young people were more reconciled to their lonely life, and even entertained decided home feelings for their little log cabin. They never ceased, it is true, to talk of their parents, and brothers, and sisters, and wonder if all were well, and whether they still hoped for their return, and to recall all their happy days spent in the home which they now feared they were destined never again to behold. About the same time they lost the anxious hope of meeting some one from home in search of them at every turn when they went out. Nevertheless they were becoming each day more cheerful and more active. Ardently attached to each other, they seemed bound together by a yet more sacred tie of brotherhood. They were now all the world to one another, and no cloud of disunion came to mar their happiness. Hector's habitual gravity and caution were tempered by Louis's lively vivacity and ardour of temper, and they both loved Catharine, and strove to smoothe, as much as possible, the hard life to which she was exposed, by the most affectionate consideration for her comfort, and she in return endeavoured to repay them by cheerfully enduring all privations, and making light of all their trials, and taking a lively interest in all their plans and contrivances.

Louis had gone out to fish at the lake one autumn morning. During his absence, a sudden squall of wind came on, accompanied with heavy rain. As he stayed longer than usual, Hector began to feel uneasy, lest some accident had befallen him, knowing his adventurous spirit, and that he had for some days previous been busy constructing a raft of cedar logs, which he had fastened together with wooden pins. This raft he had nearly finished, and was even talking of adventuring over to the nearest island to explore it, and see what game, and roots, and fruits it afforded.

Bidding Catharine stay quietly within-doors till his return, Hector ran off, not without some misgivings of evil having befallen his rash cousin, which fears he carefully concealed from his sister, as he did not wish to make her needlessly anxious. When he reached the shore, his mind was somewhat relieved by seeing the raft on the beach, just as it had been left the night before, but neither Louis nor the axe was to be seen, nor the fishing-rod and line.

"Perhaps," thought he, "Louis has gone further down to the mouth of the little creek, in the flat east of this, where we caught our last fish: or maybe he has gone up to the old place at Pine-tree Point."

While he yet stood hesitating within himself which way to turn, he heard steps as of some one running, and perceived his cousin hurrying through the bushes in the direction of the shanty. It was evident by his disordered air, and the hurried glances that he cast over his shoulder from time to time, that something unusual had occurred to disturb him.

"Halloo! Louis, is it bear, wolf, or catamount that is on your trail?" cried Hector, almost amused by the speed with which his cousin hurried onward. "Why, Louis, whither away?"

Louis now turned and held up his hand, as if to enjoin silence, till Hector came up to him.

"Why, man, what ails you? what makes you run as if you were hunted down by a pack of wolves?"

"It is not wolves, or bears either," said Louis, as soon as he could get breath to speak, "but the Indians are all on Bare-hill, holding a war council, I suppose, for there are several canoe-loads of them."

"How came you to see them?"

"I must tell you that when I parted from you and Cathy, instead of going down to my raft, as I thought at first I would do, I followed the deer path through the little ravine, and then ascending the side of the valley, I crossed the birch grove, and kept down the slope within sight of the creek. While I was looking out upon the lake, and thinking how pretty the islands were, rising so green from the blue water, I was surprised by seeing several dark spots dotting the lake. At first, you may be sure, I thought they must be a herd of deer, only they kept too far apart, so I sat down on a log to watch, thinking if they turned out to be deer, I would race off for you and Wolfe, and the bows and arrows, that we might try our chance for some venison; but as the black specks came nearer and nearer, I perceived they were canoes with Indians in them, three in each. They made for the mouth of the creek, and ran ashore among the thick bushes. I watched them with a beating heart, and lay down flat, lest they should spy me out; for those fellows have eyes like catamounts, so keen and wild—they see everything without seeming to cast a glance on it. Well, I saw them wind up the ridge till they reached the Bare-hill. [FN: Supposed to be a council hill. It is known by the name of Bare-hill, from the singular want of verdure on its surface. It is one of the steepest on the ridge above the little creek, being a picturesque object, with its fine pine-trees, seen from Mr. Hayward's grounds, and forms, I believe, a part of his property.] You remember that spot; we called it so from its barren appearance. In a few minutes a column of smoke rose and curled among the pine-trees, and then another and another, till I counted five fires burning brightly; and, as I stood on the high ground, I could distinguish the figures of many naked savages moving about, running to and fro like a parcel of black ants on a cedar log; and by-and-by I heard them raise a yell like a pack of ravenous wolves on a deer track. It made my heart leap up in my breast. I forgot all the schemes that had just got into my wise head, of slipping quietly down, and taking off one of the empty birch canoes, which you must own would have been a glorious thing for us; but when I heard the noise these wild wretches raised. I darted off, and ran as if the whole set were at my heels. I think I just saved my scalp." And Louis put his hand to his head, and tugged his thick black curls, as if to ascertain that they were still safe from the scalping knives of his Indian enemies.

"And now, Hec, what is to be done? We must hide ourselves from the Indians; they will kill us, or take us away with them if they find us."

"Let us go home and talk over our plans with Cathy."

"Yes; for I have heard my father say two heads are better than one, and so three of course must be still better than two."

"Why," said Hector, laughing, "it depends upon the stock of practical wisdom in the heads, for two fools, you know, Louis, will hardly form one rational plan."

Various were the schemes devised for their security. Hector proposed pulling down the shanty, and dispersing the logs, so as to leave no trace of the little dwelling; but to this neither his cousin nor his sister would agree. To pull down the new house that had cost them so much labour, and which had proved such a comfort to them, they could not endure even in idea.

"Let us put out the fire, and hide ourselves in the big ravine below Mount Ararat, dig a cave in one of the hills, and convey our house-hold goods thither." Such was Louis's plan.

"The ravines would be searched directly," suggested Hector; "besides, the Indians know they are famous coverts for deer and game of all sorts; they might chance to pop upon us, and catch us like woodchucks in a burrow."

"Yes, and burn us," said Catharine, with a shudder. "I know the path that leads direct to the 'Happy Valley,' (the name she had given to the low flat, now known as the 'lower Race-course,') and it is not far from here, only ten minutes' walk in a straight line. We can conceal ourselves below the steep bank that we descended the other day; and there are several springs of fresh water, and plenty of nuts and berries; and the trees, though few, are so thickly covered with close spreading branches that touch the very ground, that we might hide ourselves from a hundred eyes were they ever so cunning and prying."

Catharine's counsel was deemed the most prudent, and the boys immediately busied themselves with hiding under the broken branches of a prostrate tree such articles as they could not conveniently carry away, leaving the rest to chance; with the most valuable they loaded themselves, and guided by Catharine, who, with her dear old dog, marched forward along the narrow footpath that had been made by some wild animals, probably deer, in their passage from the lake to their feeding-place, or favorite covert, on the low sheltered plain; where, being quite open, and almost, in parts, free from trees, the grass and herbage were sweeter and more abundant, and the springs of water fresh and cool.

Catharine cast many a fearful glance through the brushwood as they moved onward, but saw no living thing, excepting a family of chipmunks gaily chasing each other along a fallen branch, and a covey of quails, that were feeding quietly on the red berries of the Mitchella repens, or twinberry, [FN: Also partridge-berry and checker-berry, a lovely creeping winter-green, with white fragrant flowers, and double scarlet berry.] as it is commonly called, of which the partridges and quails are extremely fond; for Nature, with liberal hand, has spread abroad her bounties for the small denizens, furred or feathered, that haunt the Rice Lake and its flowery shores.

After a continued but gentle ascent through the oak opening, they halted at the foot of a majestic pine, and looked round them. It was a lovely spot as any they had seen; from west to east, the lake, bending like a silver crescent, lay between the boundary hills of forest trees; in front, the long lines of undulating wood-covered heights faded away into mist, and blended with the horizon. To the east, a deep and fertile valley lay between the high lands, on which they rested, and the far ridge of oak hills. From their vantage height, they could distinguish the outline of the Bare-hill, made more distinct by its flickering fires and the smoke wreaths that hung like a pearly-tinted robe among the dark pines that grew upon its crest. Not long tarrying did our fugitives make, though perfectly safe from detection by the distance and their shaded position, for many a winding vale and wood-crowned height lay between them and the encampment.

But fear is not subject to the control of reason, and in the present instance it invested the dreaded Indians with superhuman powers of sight and of motion. A few minutes' hasty flight brought our travellers to the brow of a precipitous bank, nearly a hundred feet above the level open plain which they sought. Here, then, they felt comparatively safe: they were out of sight of the camp fires, the spot they had chosen was open, and flight, in case of the approach of the Indians, not difficult, while hiding-places were easy of access. They found a deep, sheltered hollow in the bank, where two mighty pines had beep torn up by the roots, and prostrated headlong down the steep, forming a regular cave, roofed by the earth and fibres that had been uplifted in their fall. Pendent from these roots hung a luxuriant curtain of wild grapevines and other creepers, which formed a leafy screen, through which the most curious eye could scarcely penetrate. This friendly vegetable veil seemed as if provided for their concealment, and they carefully abstained from disturbing the pendent foliage, lest they should, by so doing, betray their hiding-place to their enemies. They found plenty of long grass, and abundance of long soft green moss and ferns near a small grove of poplars, which surrounded a spring of fine water. They ate some dried fruit and smoked fish, and drank some of the clear spring; and after they had said their evening prayers, they laid down to sleep, Catharine's head pillowed on the neck of her faithful guardian, Wolfe. In the middle of the night a startling sound, as of some heavy body falling, wakened them all simultaneously. The night was so dark they could see nothing, and terror-struck, they sat gazing into the impenetrable darkness of their cave, not even daring to speak to each other, hardly even to breathe. Wolfe gave a low grumbling bark, and resumed his couchant posture as if nothing worthy of his attention was near to cause the disturbance. Catharine trembled and wept, and prayed for safety against the Indians and beasts of prey, and Hector and Louis listened, till they fell asleep in spite of their fears. In the morning, it seemed as if they had dreamed some terrible dream, so vague were their recollections of the fright they had had, but the cause was soon perceived. A large stone that had been heaved up with the clay that adhered to the roots and fibres, had been loosened, and had fallen on the ground, close to the spot where Catharine lay. So ponderous was the mass, that had it struck her, death must have been the consequence of the blow; and Hector and Louis beheld it with fear and amazement, while Catharine regarded it as a proof of Divine mercy and protection from Him in whose hand her safety lay. The boys, warned by this accident, carefully removed several large stones from the roof, and tried the safety of their clay walls with a stout staff, to ascertain that all was secure, before they again ventured to sleep beneath this rugged canopy.



CHAPTER V.

"The soul of the wicked desireth evil; his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes."—Proverbs.

FOR several days, they abstained from lighting a fire, lest the smoke should be seen; but this, the great height of the bank would have effectually prevented. They suffered much cold at night from the copious dews, which, even on sultry summer's evenings, is productive of much chilling. They could not account for the fact that the air, at night, was much warmer on the high hills than in the low valleys; they were even sensible of a rush of heat as they ascended to the higher ground. These simple children had not been taught that it is the nature of the heated air to ascend, and its place to be supplied by the colder and denser particles. They noticed the effects, but understood nothing of the causes that ruled them.

The following days they procured several partridges, but feared to cook them; however, they plucked them, split them open, and dried the flesh for a future day. A fox or racoon attracted by the smell of the birds, came one night, and carried them off, for in the morning they were gone. They saw several herd of deer crossing the plain, and one day Wolfe tracked a wounded doe to a covert under the poplars, near a hidden spring, where she had lain herself down to die in peace, far from the haunts of her fellows. The arrow was in her throat; it was of white flint, and had evidently been sent from an Indian bow. It was almost with fear and trembling that they availed themselves of the venison thus providentially thrown in their way, lest the Indians should track the blood of the doe, and take vengeance on them for appropriating it for their own use. Not having seen anything of the Indians, who seemed to confine themselves to the neighbourhood of the lake, after many days had passed, they began to take courage, and even lighted an evening fire, at which they cooked as much venison as would last them for several days, and hung the remaining portions above the smoke to preserve it from injury.

One morning, Hector proclaimed his intention of ascending the hills, in the direction of the Indian camp. "I am tired of remaining shut up in this dull place, where we can see nothing but this dead flat, bounded by those melancholy pines in the distance that seem to shut us in." Little did Hector know that beyond that dark ridge of pine hills lay the home of their childhood, and but a few miles of forest intervened to hide it from their sight. Had he known it how eagerly would his feet have pressed onward in the direction of that dark barrier of evergreens!

Thus is it often in this life: we wander on, sad and perplexed, our path beset with thorns and briars. We cannot see our way clear; doubts and apprehensions assail us. We know not how near we are to the fulfilment of our wishes: we see only the insurmountable barriers, the dark thickets and thorns of our way; and we know not how near we are to our Father's home, where he is waiting to welcome the wanderers of the flock back to the everlasting home, the fold of the Good Shepherd.

Hector became impatient of the restraint that the dread of the Indians imposed upon his movements; he wanted to see the lake again and to roam abroad free and uncontrolled.

"After all," said he; "we never met with any ill treatment from the Indians that used to visit us at Cold Springs; we may even find old friends and acquaintances among them."

"The thing is possible, but not very likely," replied Louis. "Nevertheless, Hector, I would not willingly put myself in their power. The Indian has his own notion of things, and might think himself quite justified in killing us, if he found us on his hunting-grounds. [FN: George Copway, an intelligent Rice Lake Indian, says the Indian hunting-grounds are parcelled out, and secured by right of law and custom among themselves, no one being allowed to hunt upon another's grounds uninvited. If any one belonging to another family or tribe is found trespassing, all his goods are taken from him; a handful of powder and shot, as much as he would need to shoot game for his sustenance in returning straight home, and his gun, knife, and tomahawk only are left, but all his game and furs are taken from him: a message is sent to his chief, and if he transgresses a third time, he is banished and outlawed.—Life of G. Copway, Missionary, written by himself.] I have heard my father say,—and he knows a great deal about these people,—that their chiefs are very strict in punishing any strangers that they find killing game on their bounds uninvited. They are both merciless and treacherous when angered, and we could not even speak to them in their own language, to explain by what chance we came here."

This was very prudent of Louis, uncommonly so, for one who was naturally rash and headstrong, but unfortunately Hector was inflexible and wilful: when once he had made up his mind upon any point, he had too good an opinion of his own judgment to give it up. At last, he declared his intention, rather than remain a slave to such cowardly fears as he now deemed them, to go forth boldly, and endeavour to ascertain what the Indians were about, how many there were of them, and what real danger was to be apprehended from facing them.

"Depend upon it," he added, "cowards are never safer than brave men. The Indians despise cowards, and would be more likely to kill us if they found us cowering here in this hole like a parcel of wolf-cubs, than if we openly faced them and showed that we neither feared them, nor cared for them."

"Hector, dear Hector, be not so rash!" cried his sister, passionately weeping. "Ah! if we were to lose you, what would become of us?"

"Never fear, Kate; I will run into no needless danger. I know how to take care of myself. I am of opinion, that the Indian camp is broken up; they seldom stay long in one place. I will go over the hills and examine the camp at a distance and the lake shore. You and Louis may keep watch for my return from the big pine that we halted under on our way hither."

"But, Hector, if the savages should see you and take you prisoner," said Catharine, "what would you do?" "I will tell you what I would do. Instead of running away, I would boldly walk up to them, and by signs make them understand that I am no scout, but a friend in need of nothing but kindness and friendship. I never yet heard of the Indian that would tomahawk the defenceless stranger that sought his camp openly in peace and goodwill."

"If you do not return by sunset, Hector, we shall believe that you have fallen into the hands of the savages," said Catharine, mournfully regarding her brother.

"If it were not for Catharine," said Louis, "you should not go alone, but, if evil befel this helpless one, her blood would be upon my head, who led her out with us, tempting her with false words."

"Never mind that now, dearest cousin," said Catharine, tenderly laying her hand on his arm. "It is much better that we should have been all three together; I should never have been happy again if I had lost both Hec and you. It is better as it is; you and Hec would not have been so well off if I had not been with you to help you, and keep up your spirits by my songs and stories."

"It is true, ma chere; but that is the reason that I am bound to take care of my little cousin, and I could not consent to exposing you to danger, or leaving you alone; so, if Hec will be so headstrong, I will abide by you."

Hector was so confident that he should return in safety, that at last Louis and Catharine became more reconciled to his leaving them, and soon busied themselves in preparing some squirrels that Louis had brought in that morning.

The day wore away slowly, and many were the anxious glances that Catharine cast over the crest of the high bank to watch for her brother's return; at last, unable to endure the suspense, she with Louis left the shelter of the valley; they ascended the high ground, and bent their steps to the trysting tree, which commanded all the country within a wide sweep.

A painful and oppressive sense of loneliness? and desolation came over the minds of the cousins as they sat together at the foot of the pine, which cast its lengthened shadow upon the ground before them. The shades of evening were shrouding them, wrapping the lonely forest in gloom. The full moon had not yet risen, and they watched for the first gleam that should break above the eastern hills to cheer them, as for the coming of a friend.

Sadly these two poor lonely ones sat hand in hand, talking of the happy days of childhood, or the perplexing present and the uncertain future. At last, wearied out with watching and anxiety, Catharine leaned her head upon the neck of old Wolfe and fell asleep, while Louis restlessly paced to and fro in front of the sleeper; now straining his eye to penetrate the surrounding gloom, now straining his ear to catch the first sound that might indicate the approach of his absent cousin.

It was almost with a feeling of irritability that he heard the quick sharp note of the "Whip-poor-will," as she flew from bough to bough of an old withered tree beside him. Another, and again another of these midnight watchers took up the monotonous never-varying cry of "Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will;" and then came forth, from many a hollow oak and birch, the spectral night-hawk from hidden dens, where it had lain hushed in silence all day, from dawn till sunset. Sometimes their sharp hard wings almost swept his cheek as they wheeled round and round in circles, first narrow, then wide, and wider extending, till at last they soared far above the tallest tree-tops and launching out in the high regions of the air, uttered from time to time a wild shrill scream, or hollow booming sound, as they suddenly descended to pounce with wide-extended throat upon some hapless moth or insect, that sported all unheeding in mid air, happily unconscious of the approach of so unerring a foe.

Petulantly Louis chid these discordant minstrels of the night, and joyfully he hailed the first gush of moonlight that rose broad and full and red, over the Oak-hills to the eastward.

Louis envied the condition of the unconscious sleeper, who lay in happy forgetfulness of all her sorrows, her fair curls spread in unbound luxuriance over the dark shaggy neck of the faithful Wolfe, who seemed as if proud of the beloved burden that rested so trustingly upon him. Sometimes the careful dog just unclosed his large eyes, raised his nose from his shaggy paws, snuffed the night air, growled in a sort of under tone, and dosed again, but watchfully.

It would be no easy task to tell the painful feelings that agitated young Louis's breast. He was angry with Hector, for having thus madly, as he thought, rushed into danger. "It was wilful and almost cruel," he thought "to leave them the prey of such tormenting fears on his account;" and then the most painful fears for the safety of his beloved companion took the place of less kindly thoughts, and sorrow filled his heart. The broad moon now flooded the hills and vales with light, casting broad checkering shadows of the old oaks' grey branches and now reddened foliage across the ground.

Suddenly the old dog raises his head, and utters a short half angry note: slowly and carefully he rises, disengaging himself gently from the form of the sleeping girl, and stands forth in the full light of the moon. It is an open cleared space, that mound beneath the pine-tree; a few low shrubs and seedling pines, with the slender waving branches of the late-flowering pearly tinted asters, the elegant fringed gentian, with open bells of azure blue, the last and loveliest of the fall flowers and winter-greens, brighten the ground with wreaths of shining leaves and red berries.

Louis is on the alert, though as yet he sees nothing. It is not a full free note of welcome, that Wolfe gives; there is something uneasy and half angry in his tone. Yet it is not fierce, like the bark of angry defiance he gives, when wolf, or bear, or wolverine is near.

Louis steps forward from the shadow of the pine branches, to the edge of the inclined plane in the foreground. The slow tread of approaching steps is now distinctly heard advancing—it may be a deer. Two figures approach, and Louis moves a little, within the shadow again. A clear shrill whistle meets his ear. It is Hector's whistle, he knows that, and assured by its cheerful tone, he springs forward and in an instant is at his side, but starts at the strange, companion that he half leads, half carries. The moonlight streams broad and bright upon the shrinking figure of an Indian girl, apparently about the same age as Catharine: her ashy face is concealed by the long masses of raven black hair, which falls like a dark veil over her features; her step is weak and unsteady, and she seems ready to sink to the earth with sickness or fatigue. Hector, too, seems weary. The first words that' Hector said were, "Help me, Louis, to lead this poor girl to the foot of the pine; I am so tired I can hardly walk another step."

Louis and his cousin together carried the Indian girl to the foot of the pine. Catharine was just rousing herself from sleep, and she gazed with a bewildered air on the strange companion that Hector had brought with him. The stranger lay down, and in a few minutes sank into a sleep so profound it seemed to resemble that of death itself. Pity and deep interest soon took the place of curiosity and dread in the heart of the gentle Catharine, and she watched the young stranger's slumber as tenderly as though she had been a sister, or beloved friend, while Hector proceeded to relate in what manner he had encountered the Indian girl.

"When I struck the high slope near the little birch grove we called the 'birken shaw,' I paused to examine if the council-fires were still burning on Bare-hill, but there was no smoke visible, neither was there a canoe to be seen at the lake shore where Louis had described their landing-place at the mouth of the creek. All seemed as silent and still as if no human footstep had trodden the shore. I sat down and watched for nearly an hour till my attention was attracted by a noble eagle, which was sailing in wide circles over the tall pine-trees on Bare-hill. Assured that the Indian camp was broken up, and feeling some curiosity to examine the spot more closely, I crossed the thicket of cranberries and cedars and small underwood that fringed the borders of the little stream, and found myself, after a little pushing and scrambling, among the bushes at the foot of the hill.

"I thought it not impossible I might find something to repay me for my trouble—flint arrow-heads, a knife, or a tomahawk—but I little thought of what these cruel savages had left there,—a miserable wounded captive, bound by the long locks of her hair to the stem of a small tree, her hands, tied by thongs of hide to branches which they had bent down to fasten them to her feet, bound fast to the same tree as that against which her head was fastened; her position was one that must have been most painful: she had evidently been thus left to perish by a miserable death, of hunger and thirst; for these savages, with a fiendish cruelty, had placed within sight of their victim an earthen jar of water, some dried deers' flesh, and a cob [FN: A head of the Maize, or Indian corn, is called a "cob."] of Indian corn. I have the corn here," he added, putting his hand in his breast, and displaying it to view.

"Wounded she was, for I drew this arrow from her shoulder," and he showed the flint head as he spoke, "and fettered; with food and drink in sight, the poor girl was to perish, perhaps to become a living prey to the wolf, and the eagle that I saw wheeling above the hill top. The poor thing's lips were black and parched with pain and thirst; she turned her eyes piteously from my face to the water jar as if to implore a draught. This I gave her, and then having cooled the festering wound, and cut the thongs that bound her, I wondered that she still kept the same immoveable attitude, and thinking she was stiff and cramped with remaining so long bound in one position, I took her two hands and tried to induce her to move. I then for the first time noticed that she was tied by the hair of her head to the tree against which her back was placed; I was obliged to cut the hair with my knife, and this I did not do without giving her pain, as she moaned impatiently. She sunk her head on her breast, and large tears fell over my hands, as I bathed her face and neck with the water from the jar; she then seated herself on the ground, and remained silent and still for the space of an hour, nor could I prevail upon her to speak, or quit the seat she had taken. Fearing that the Indians might return, I watched in all directions, and at last I began to think it would be best to carry her in my arms; but this I found no easy task, for she seemed greatly distressed at any attempt I made to lift her, and by her gestures I fancy she thought I was going to kill her. At last my patience began to be exhausted, but I did not like to annoy her. I spoke to her as gently and soothingly as I could. By degrees she seemed to listen with more composure to me, though she evidently knew not a word of what I said to her. She rose at last, and taking my hands, placed them above her head, stooping low as she did so, and this seemed to mean, she was willing at last to submit to my wishes; I lifted her from the ground, and carried her for some little way, but she was too heavy for me,—she then suffered me to lead her along whithersoever I would take her, but her steps were so slow and feeble, through weakness, that many times I was compelled to rest while she recovered herself. She seems quite subdued now, and as quiet as a lamb."

Catharine listened, not without tears of genuine sympathy, to the recital of her brother's adventures. She seemed to think he had been inspired by God to go forth that day to the Indian camp, to rescue the poor forlorn one from so dreadful a death.

Louis's sympathy was also warmly aroused for the young savage, and he commended Hector for his bravery and humanity.

He then set to work to light a good fire, which was a great addition to their comfort as well as cheerfulness. They did not go back to their cave beneath the upturned trees, to sleep, preferring lying, with their feet to the fire, under the shade of the pine. Louis, however, was despatched for water and venison for supper.

The following morning, by break of day, they collected their stores, and conveyed them back to the shanty. The boys were thus employed, while Catharine watched beside the wounded Indian girl, whom she tended with the greatest care. She bathed the inflamed arm with water, and bound the cool healing leaves of the tacamahac [FN: Indian balsam.] about it with the last fragment of her apron, she steeped dried berries in water, and gave the cooling drink to quench the fever-thirst that burned in her veins, and glittered in her full soft melancholy dark eyes, which were raised at intervals to the face of her youthful nurse, with a timid hurried glance, as if she longed, yet feared to say, "Who are you that thus tenderly bathe my aching head, and strive to soothe my wounded limbs, and cool my fevered blood? Are you a creature like myself, or a being sent by the Great Spirit, from the far-off happy land to which my fathers have gone, to smooth my path of pain, and lead me to those blessed fields of sunbeams and flowers where the cruelty of the enemies of my people will no more have power to torment me?"



CHAPTER VI.

"Here the wren of softest note Builds its nest and warbles well; Here the blackbird strains his throat; Welcome, welcome to our cell."—COLERIDGE.

The day was far advanced, before the sick Indian girl could be brought home to their sylvan lodge, where Catharine made up a comfortable couch for her, with boughs and grass, and spread one of the deer-skins over it, and laid her down as tenderly and carefully as if she had been a dear sister. This good girl was overjoyed at having found a companion of her own age and sex. "Now," said she, "I shall no more be lonely, I shall have a companion and friend to talk to and assist me;" but when she turned in the fulness of her heart to address herself to the young stranger, she felt herself embarrassed in what way to make her comprehend the words she used to express the kindness that she felt for her, and her sorrow for her sufferings.

The young stranger would raise her head, look intently at her, as if striving to interpret her words, then sadly shake her head, and utter her words in her own plaintive language, but, alas! Catharine felt it was to her as a sealed book.

She tried to recall some Indian words of familiar import, that she had heard from the Indians when they came to her father's house, but in vain; not the simplest phrase occurred to her, and she almost cried with vexation at her own stupidity; neither was Hector or Louis more fortunate in attempts at conversing with their guest.

At the end of three days, the fever began to abate; the restless eye grew more steady in its gaze, the dark flush faded from the cheek, leaving it of a grey ashy tint, not the hue of health, such as even the swarthy Indian shows, but wan and pallid, her eyes bent mournfully on the ground.

She would sit quiet and passive while Catharine bound up the long tresses of her hair, and smoothed them with her hands and the small wooden comb that Louis had cut for her use. Sometimes she would raise her eyes to her new friend's face, with a quiet sad smile, and once she took her hands within her own, and gently pressed them to her breast and lips and forehead in token of gratitude, but she seldom gave utterance to any words, and would remain with her eyes fixed vacantly on some object which seemed unseen or to awaken no idea in her mind. At such times the face of the young squaw wore a dreamy apathy of expression, or rather it might with more propriety have been said, the absence of all expression, almost as blank as that of an infant of a few weeks old.

How intently did Catharine study that face, and strive to read what was passing within her mind! how did the lively intelligent Canadian girl, the offspring of a more intellectual race, long to instruct her Indian friend, to enlarge her mind by pointing out such things to her attention as she herself took interest in! She would then repeat the name of the object that she showed her several times over, and by degrees the young squaw learned the names of all the familiar household articles about the shanty, and could repeat them in her own soft plaintive tone; and when she had learned a new word, and could pronounce it distinctly, she would laugh, and a gleam of innocent joy and pleasure would lighten up her fine dark eyes, generally so fixed and sad-looking.

It was Catharine's delight to teach her pupil to speak a language familiar to her own ears; she would lead her out among the trees, and name to her all the natural objects that presented themselves to view. And she in her turn made "Indiana" (for so they named the young squaw, after a negress that she had heard her father tell of, a nurse to one of his Colonel's infant children,) tell her the Indian names for each object they saw. Indiana soon began to enjoy in her turn the amusement arising from instructing Catharine and the boys, and often seemed to enjoy the blunders they made in pronouncing the words she taught them. When really interested in anything that was going on, her eyes would beam out, and her smile gave an inexpressible charm to her face, for her lips were red and her teeth even and brilliantly white, so purely white that Catharine thought she had never seen any so beautiful in her life before; at such times her face was joyous and innocent as a little child's, but there were also hours of gloom, that transformed it into an expression of sullen apathy; then a dull glassy look took possession of her eye, the full lip drooped and the form seemed rigid and stiff; obstinate determination neither to move nor speak characterised her in what Louis used to call the young squaw's "dark hour." Then it was that the savage nature seemed predominant, and her gentle nurse almost feared to look at her protegee or approach her.

"Hector," said Louis, "you spoke about a jar of water being left at the camp; the jar would be a great treasure to us, let us go over for it." Hector assented to the proposal. "And we may possibly pick up a few grains of Indian corn, to add to what you showed us."

"If we are here in the spring," said Hector, "you and I will prepare a small patch of ground and plant it with this corn;" and he sat down on the end of a log and began carefully to count the rows of grain on the cob, and then each corn grain by grain. "Three hundred and ten sound grains. Now if every one of these produces a strong plant, we shall have a great increase, and beside seed for another year, there will be, if it is a good year, several bushels to eat."

"We shall have a glorious summer, mon ami, no doubt, and a fine flourishing crop, and Kate is a good hand at making supporne." [FN: Supporne, probably an Indian word for a stir-about, or porridge, made of Indian meal, a common dish in every Canadian or Yankee farmer's house.]

"You forget we have no porridge pot."

"I was thinking of that Indian jar all the time. You will see what fine cookery we will make when we get it, if it will but stand fire. Come, let us be off, I am impatient till we get it home;" and Louis, who had now a new crotchet at work in his fertile and vivacious brain, was quite on the qui vive, and walked and danced along at a rate which proved a great disturbance to his graver companion, who tried to keep down his cousin's lively spirits, by suggesting the probability of the jar being cracked, or that the Indians might have returned for it; but Louis was not one of the doubting sort, and Louis was right in not damping the ardour of his mind by causeless fears. The jar was there at the deserted camp, and though it had been knocked over by some animal, it was sound and strong, and excited great speculation in the two cousins, as to the particular material of which it was made, as it was unlike any sort of pottery they had ever before seen. It seemed to have been manufactured from some very dark red earth, or clay mixed up with pounded granite, as it presented the appearance of some coarse crystals; it was very hard and ponderous, and the surface was marked over in a rude sort of pattern as if punctured and scratched with some pointed instrument. It seemed to have been hardened by fire, and, from the smoked hue of one side, had evidently done good service as a cooking utensil. Subsequently they learned the way in which it was used:[FN: Pieces of this rude pottery are often found along the shores of the inland lakes, but I have never met with any of the perfect vessels in use with the Indians, who probably find it now easier to supply themselves with iron pots and crockery from the towns of the European settlers.] the jar being placed near but not on the fire, was surrounded by hot embers, and the water made to boil by stones being made red hot and plunged into it: in this way soup and other food were prepared, and kept stewing, with no further trouble after once the simmering began, than adding a few fresh embers at the side furthest from the fir; a hot stone also placed on the top, facilitated the cooking process.

Louis, who like all French people was addicted to cookery,—indeed it was an accomplishment he prided himself on,—was enchanted with the improvement made in their diet by the acquisition of the said earthen jar, or pipkin, and gave Indiana some praise for initiating his cousin in the use of it. Catharine and Hector declared that he went out with his bow and arrows, and visited his dead-falls and snares, ten times oftener than he used to do, just for the sake of proving the admirable properties of this precious utensil, and finding out some new way of dressing his game. At all events there was a valuable increase of furs, for making up into clothing, caps, leggings, mitts, and other articles.

From the Indian girl Catharine learned the value of many of the herbs and shrubs that grew in her path, the bark and leaves of various trees, and many dyes she could extract, with which she stained the quills of the porcupine and the strips of the wood of which she made baskets and mats. The little creeping winter-green, [FN: Gualtheria procumbens,—Spice Winter-green.] with its scarlet berries, that grows on the dry flats, or sandy hills, which the Canadians call spice-berry, she showed them was good to eat, and she would crush the leaves, draw forth their fine aromatic flavour in her hands, and then inhale their fragrance with delight. She made an infusion of the leaves, and drank it as a tonic. The inner bark of the wild black cherry, she said was good to cure ague and fever. The root of the dulcamara, or bitter-sweet, she scraped down and boiled in the deer-fat, or the fat of any other animal, and made an ointment that possessed very healing qualities, especially as an immediate application to fresh burns.

Sometimes she showed a disposition to mystery, and would conceal the knowledge of the particular herbs she made use of; and Catharine several times noticed that she would go out and sprinkle a portion of the food she had assisted her in preparing, on the earth, or under some of the trees or bushes. When she was more familiar with their language, she told Catharine this was done in token of gratitude to the Good Spirit, who had given them success in hunting or trapping; or else it was to appease the malice of the Evil Spirit, who might bring mischief or loss to them, or sickness or death, unless his forbearance was purchased by some particular mark of attention. [FN: By the testimony of many of the Indians themselves, they appear to entertain a certain Polytheism in their belief. "We believed in one great wise benevolent being, Thesha-mon-e-doo, whose dwelling was in the sun. We believed also in many other lesser spirits—gods of the elements, and in one bad unappeasable spirit, Mah-je-mah-ne-doo, to whom we attributed bad luck, evil accidents, and sickness and death. This bad spirit has to be conciliated with meat and drink offerings."—Life of George Copway, Native Missionary]

Attention, memory, and imitation, appeared to form the three most remarkable of the mental faculties developed by the Indian girl. She examined (when once her attention was roused) any object with critical minuteness. Any knowledge she had once acquired, she retained; her memory was great, she never missed a path she had once trodden; she seemed even to single out particular birds in a flock, to know them from their congeners. Her powers of imitation were also great; she brought patience and perseverance to assist her, and when once thoroughly interested in any work she began, she would toil on untiringly till it was completed; and then what triumph shone in her eyes! At such times they became darkly brilliant with the joy that filled her heart. But she possessed little talent for invention; what she had seen done, after a few imperfect attempts, she could do again, but she rarely struck out any new path for herself.

At times she was docile and even playful, and appeared grateful for the kindness with which she was treated; each day seemed to increase her fondness for Catharine, and she appeared to delight in doing any little service to please and gratify her, but it was towards Hector that she displayed the deepest feeling of affection and respect. It was to him her first tribute of fruit or flowers, furs, mocassins, or ornamental plumage of rare birds was offered. She seemed to turn to him as to a master and protector. He was in her eyes the "Chief," the head of his tribe. His bow was strung by her, and stained with quaint figures and devices; his arrows were carved by her; the sheath of deer-skin was made and ornamented by her hands, that he carried his knife in; and the case for his arrows, of birch-bark, was wrought with especial neatness, and suspended by thongs to his neck, when he was preparing to go out in search of game. She gave him the name of the "Young Eagle." While she called Louis, "Nee-chee," or friend; to Catharine she gave the poetical name of, "Music of the Winds,"—Ma-wah-osh.

When they asked her to tell them her own name, she would bend down her head in sorrow and refuse to pronounce it. She soon answered to the name of Indiana, and seemed pleased with the sound.

But of all the household, next to Hector, old Wolfe was her greatest favourite. At first, it is true, the old dog regarded the new inmate with a jealous eye, and seemed uneasy when he saw her approach to caress him, but Indiana soon reconciled him to her person, and a mutual friendly feeling became established between them, which seemed daily and hourly to increase, greatly to the delight of the young stranger. She would seat herself Eastern fashion, cross-legged on the floor of the shanty, with the capacious head of the old dog in her lap, and address herself to this mute companion, in wailing tones, as if she would unburthen her heart by pouring into his unconscious ear her tale of desolation and woe.

Catharine was always very particular and punctual in performing her personal ablutions, and she intimated to Indiana that it was good for her to do the same; but the young girl seemed reluctant to follow her example, till daily custom had reconciled her to what she evidently at first regarded as an unnecessary ceremony; but she soon took pleasure in dressing her dark hair, and suffering Catharine to braid it, and polish it till it looked glossy and soft. Indiana in her turn would adorn Catharine with the wings of the blue-bird or red-bird, the crest of the wood-duck, or quill feathers of the golden-winged flicker, which is called in the Indian tongue the shot-bird, in allusion to the round spots on its cream-coloured breast: [FN: The Golden-winged Flicker belongs to a sub-genus of woodpeckers; it is very handsome, and is said to be eatable; it lives on fruits and insects.] but it was not in these things alone she showed her grateful sense of the sisterly kindness that her young hostess showed to her; she soon learned to lighten her labours in every household work, and above all, she spent her time most usefully in manufacturing clothing from the skins of the wild animals, and in teaching Catharine how to fit and prepare them; but these were the occupation of the winter months. I must not forestall my narrative.



CHAPTER VII.

"Go to the ant."—Proverbs.

IT was now the middle of September: the weather, which had continued serene and beautiful for some time, with dewy nights and misty mornings, began to show symptoms of the change of season usual at the approach of the equinox. Sudden squalls of wind, with hasty showers, would come sweeping over the lake; the nights and mornings were damp and chilly. Already the tints of autumn were beginning to crimson the foliage of the oaks, and where the islands were visible, the splendid colours of the maple shone out in gorgeous contrast with the deep verdure of the evergreens and light golden-yellow of the poplar; but lovely as they now looked, they had not yet reached the meridian of their beauty, which a few frosty nights at the close of the month was destined to bring to perfection—a glow of splendour to gladden the eye for a brief space, before the rushing winds and rains of the following month were to sweep them away, and scatter them abroad upon the earth.

One morning, just after a night of heavy rain and wind, the two boys went down to see if the lake was calm enough for trying the raft, which Louis had finished before the coming on of the bad weather. The water was rough and crested with mimic waves, and they felt not disposed to launch the raft on so stormy a surface, but they stood looking out over the lake and admiring the changing foliage, when Hector pointed out to his cousin a dark speck dancing on the waters, between the two nearest islands. The wind, which blew very strong still from the north-east, brought the object nearer every minute. At first they thought it might be a pine-branch that was floating on the surface, when as it came bounding over the waves, they perceived that it was a birch-canoe, but impelled by no visible arm. It was a strange sight upon that lonely lake to see a vessel of any kind afloat, and, on first deciding that it was a canoe, the boys were inclined to hide themselves among the bushes, for fear of the Indians, but curiosity got the better of their fears.

"The owner of yonder little craft is either asleep or absent from her; for I see no paddle, and it is evidently drifting without any one to guide it," said Hector, after intently watching the progress of the tempest-driven vessel; assured as it approached nearer that such was the case, they hurried to the beach just as a fresh gust had lodged the canoe among the branches of a fallen cedar which projected out some way into the water.

By creeping along the trunk of the tree, and trusting at times to the projecting boughs, Louis, who was the most active and the lightest of weight, succeeded in getting within reach of the canoe, and with some trouble and the help of a stout branch that Hector handed to him, he contrived to moor her in safety on the shore, taking the precaution of hauling her well up on the shingle, lest the wind and water should set her afloat again. "Hec, there is something in this canoe, the sight of which will gladden your heart," cried Louis with a joyful look. "Come quickly, and see my treasures."

"Treasures! You may well call them treasures," exclaimed Hector, as he helped Louis to examine the contents of the canoe, and place them on the shore, side by side.

The boys could hardly find words to express their joy and surprise at the discovery of a large jar of parched rice, a tomahawk, an Indian blanket almost as good as new, a large mat rolled up with a bass bark rope several yards in length wound round it, and what was more precious than all, an iron three-legged pot in which was a quantity of Indian corn. These articles had evidently constituted the stores of some Indian hunter or trapper; possibly the canoe had been imperfectly secured and had drifted from its moorings during the gale of the previous night, unless by some accident the owner had fallen into the lake and been drowned; this was of course only a matter of conjecture on which it was useless to speculate, and the boys joyfully took possession of the good fortune that had so providentially been wafted, as it were, to their very feet.

"It was a capital chance for us, that old cedar having been blown down last night just where it was," said Louis; "for if the canoe had not been drawn into the eddy, and stopped by the branches, we might have lost it. I trembled when I saw the wind driving it on so rapidly that it would founder in the deep water, or go off to Long Island."

"I think we should have got it at Pine-tree Point," said Hector, "but I am glad it was lodged so cleverly among the cedar boughs. I was half afraid you would have fallen in once or twice, when you were trying to draw it nearer to the shore." "Never fear for me, my friend; I can cling like a wild cat when I climb. But what a grand pot! What delightful soups, and stews, and boils, Catharine will make! Hurrah!" and Louis tossed up his new fur cap, that he had made with great skill from an entire fox skin, in the air, and cut sundry fantastic capers which Hector gravely condemned as unbecoming his mature age; (Louis was turned of fifteen;) but with the joyous spirit of a little child he sung, and danced, and laughed, and shouted, till the lonely echoes of the islands and far-off hills returned the unusual sound, and even his more steady cousin caught the infection, and laughed to see Louis so elated.

Leaving Hector to guard the prize, Louis ran gaily off to fetch Catharine to share his joy, and come and admire the canoe, and the blanket, and the tripod, and the corn, and the tomahawk. Indiana accompanied them to the lake shore, and long and carefully she examined the canoe and its contents, and many were the plaintive exclamations she uttered as she surveyed the things piece by piece, till she took notice of the broken handle of an Indian paddle which lay at the bottom of the vessel; this seemed to afford some solution to her of the mystery, and by broken words and signs she intimated that the paddle had possibly broken in the hand of the Indian, and that in endeavouring to regain the other part, he had lost his balance and been drowned. She showed Hector a rude figure of a bird engraved with some sharp instrument, and rubbed in with a blue colour. This, she said, was the totem or crest of the chief of the tribe, and was meant to represent a crow. The canoe had belonged to a chief of that name. While they were dividing the contents of the canoe among them to be carried to the shanty, Indiana, taking up the bass-rope and the blanket, bundled up the most of the things, and adjusting the broad thick part of the rope to the front of her head, she bore off the burden with great apparent ease, as a London or Edinburgh porter would his trunks and packages, turning round with a merry glance and repeating some Indian words with a lively air as she climbed with apparent ease the steep bank, and soon distanced her companions, to her great enjoyment. That night, Indiana cooked some of the parched rice, Indian fashion, with venison, and they enjoyed the novelty very much—it made an excellent substitute for bread, of which they had been so long deprived.

Indiana gave them to understand that the rice harvest would soon be ready on the lake, and that now they had got a canoe, they would go out and gather it, and so lay by a store to last them for many months.

This little incident furnished the inhabitants of the shanty with frequent themes for discussion. Hector declared that the Indian corn was the most valuable of their acquisitions. "It will insure us a crop, and bread and seed-corn for many years," he said; he also highly valued the tomahawk, as his axe was worn and blunt.

Louis was divided between the iron pot and the canoe. Hector seemed to think the raft, after all, might have formed a substitute for the latter; besides, Indiana had signified her intention of helping him to make a canoe. Catharine declared in favour of the blanket, as it would make, after thorough ablutions, warm petticoats with tight bodices for herself and Indiana. With deer-skin leggings, and a fur jacket, they should be comfortably clad. Indiana thought the canoe the most precious, and was charmed with the good jar and the store of rice: nor did she despise the packing rope, which she soon showed was of use in carrying burdens from place to place, Indian fashion: by placing a pad of soft fur in front of the head, she could carry heavy loads with great ease. The mat, she said, was useful for drying the rice she meant to store. The very next day after this adventure, the two girls set to work, and with the help of Louis's large knife, which was called into requisition as a substitute for scissors, they cut out the blanket dresses, and in a short time made two comfortable and not very unsightly garments: the full, short, plaited skirts reached a little below the knee; light vests bordered with fur completed the upper part, and leggings, terminated at the ankles by knotted fringes of the doe-skin, with mocassins turned over with a band of squirrel fur, completed the novel but not very unbecoming costume; and many a glance of innocent satisfaction did our young damsels cast upon each other, when they walked forth in the pride of girlish vanity to display their dresses to Hector and Louis, who, for their parts, regarded them as most skilful dress-makers, and were never tired of admiring and commending their ingenuity in the cutting, making and fitting, considering what rude implements they were obliged to use in the cutting out and sewing of the garments.

The extensive rice beds on the lake had now begun to assume a golden tinge which contrasted very delightfully with the deep blue waters—looking, when lighted up by the sunbeams, like islands of golden-coloured sand. The ears, heavy laden with the ripe grain, drooped towards the water. The time of the rice-harvest was at hand, and with light and joyous hearts our young adventurers launched the canoe, and, guided in their movements by the little squaw, paddled to the extensive aquatic fields to gather it in, leaving Catharine and Wolfe to watch their proceedings from the raft, which Louis had fastened to a young tree that projected out over the lake, and which made a good landing-place, likewise a wharf where they could stand and fish very comfortably. As the canoe could not be overloaded on account of the rice-gathering, Catharine very readily consented to employ herself with fishing from the raft till their return.

The manner of procuring the rice was very simple. One person steered the canoe with the aid of the paddle along the edge of the rice beds, and another with a stick in one hand, and a curved sharp-edged paddle in the other, struck the heads off as they bent them over the edge of the stick; the chief art was in letting the heads fall into the canoe, which a little practice soon enabled them to do as expertly as the mower lets the grass fall in ridges beneath his scythe.

Many bushels of wild rice were thus collected. Nothing could he more delightful than this sort of work to our young people, and merrily they worked, and laughed, and sung, as they came home each day with their light bark, laden with a store of grain that they knew would preserve them from starving through the long, dreary winter that was coming on.

The canoe was a source of great comfort and pleasure to them; they were now able to paddle out into the deep water, and fish for masquinonje and black bass, which they caught in great numbers.

Indiana seemed quite another creature when, armed with a paddle of her own carving, she knelt at the head of the canoe and sent it flying over the water; then her dark eyes, often so vacant and glassy, sparkled with delight, and her teeth gleamed with ivory whiteness as her face broke into smiles and dimples.

It was delightful then to watch this child of nature, and see how innocently happy she could be when rejoicing in the excitement of healthy exercise, and elated by a consciousness of the power she possessed of excelling her companions in feats of strength and skill which they had yet to acquire by imitating her.

Even Louis was obliged to confess that the young savage knew more of the management of a canoe, and the use of the bows and arrows, and the fishing-line, than either himself or his cousin. Hector was lost in admiration of her skill in all these things; and Indiana rose highly in his estimation, the more he saw of her usefulness.

"Every one to his craft," said Louis, laughing; "the little squaw has been brought up in the knowledge and practice of such matters from her babyhood; perhaps if we were to set her to knitting, and spinning, and milking of cows, and house-work, and learning to read, I doubt if she would prove half as quick as Catharine or Mathilde."

"I wonder if she knows anything of God or our Saviour," said Hector, thoughtfully.

"Who should have taught her? for the Indians are all heathens;" replied Louis.

"I have heard my dear mother say, the Missionaries have taken great pains to teach the Indian children down about Quebec and Montreal, and that so far from being stupid, they learn very readily," said Catharine.

"We must try and make Indiana learn to say her prayers; she sits quite still, and seems to take no notice of what we are doing when we kneel down, before we go to bed," observed Hector.

"She cannot understand what we say," said Catharine; for she knows so little of our language yet, that of course she cannot comprehend the prayers, which are in other sort of words than what we use in speaking of hunting, and fishing, and cooking, and such matters."

"Well, when she knows more of our way of speaking, then we must teach her; it is a sad thing for Christian children to live with an untaught pagan," said Louis, who, being rather bigoted in his creed, felt a sort of uneasiness in his own mind at the poor girl's total want of the rites of his church; but Hector and Catharine regarded her ignorance with feelings of compassionate interest, and lost no opportunity that offered, of trying to enlighten her darkened mind on the subject of belief in the God who made, and the Lord who saved them. Simply and earnestly they entered into the task as a labour of love, and though for a long time Indiana seemed to pay little attention to what they said, by slow degrees the good seed took root and brought forth fruit worthy of Him whose Spirit poured the beams of spiritual light into her heart: but my young readers must not imagine these things were the work of a day—the process was slow, and so were the results, but they were good in the end.

And Catharine was glad when, after many go months of patient teaching, the Indian girl asked permission to kneel down with her white friend, and pray to the Great Spirit and His Son in the same words that Christ Jesus gave to his disciples; and if the full meaning of that holy prayer, so full of humility and love, and moral justice, was not fully understood by her whose lips repeated it, yet even the act of worship and the desire to do that which she had been told was right, was, doubtless, a sacrifice better than the pagan rites which that young girl had witnessed among her father's people, who, blindly following the natural impulse of man in his depraved nature, regarded deeds of blood and cruelty as among the highest of human virtues, and gloried in those deeds of vengeance at which the Christian mind revolts with horror.

Indiana took upon herself the management of the rice, drying, husking and storing it, the two lads working under her direction. She caused several forked stakes to be cut and sharpened and driven into the ground; on these were laid four poles, so as to form a frame, over which she then stretched the bass-mat, which she secured by means of forked pegs to the frame on the mat; she then spread out the rice thinly, and lighted a fire beneath, taking good care not to let the flame set fire to the mat, the object being rather to keep up a strong, slow heat, by means of the red embers. She next directed the boys to supply her with pine or cedar boughs, which she stuck in close together, so as to enclose the fire within the area of the stakes. This was done to concentrate the heat and cause it to bear upwards with more power; the rice being frequently stirred with a sort of long-handled, flat shovel. After the rice was sufficiently dried, the next thing to be done was separating it from the husk, and this was effected by putting it by small quantities into the iron pot, and with a sort of wooden pestle or beetle, rubbing it round and round against the sides. [FN: The Indians often make use of a very rude, primitive sort of mortar, by hollowing out a bass-wood stump, and rubbing the rice with a wooden pounder.] If they had not had the iron pot, a wooden trough must have been substituted in its stead.

When the rice was husked, the loose chaff was winnowed from it in a flat basket like a sieve, and it was then put by in coarse birch baskets, roughly sewed with leather-wood bark, or bags made of matting, woven by the little squaw from the cedar-bark. A portion was also parched, which was simply done by putting the rice dry into the iron pot, and setting it on hot embers, stirring the grain till it burst: it was then stored by for use. Rice thus prepared is eaten dry, as a substitute for bread, by the Indians. The lake was now swarming with wild fowl of various kinds; crowds of ducks were winging their way across it from morning till night, floating in vast flocks upon its surface, or rising in noisy groups if an eagle or fish-hawk appeared sailing with slow, majestic circles above them, then settling down with noisy splash upon the calm water. The shores, too, were covered with these birds, feeding on the fallen acorns which fell ripe and brown with every passing breeze; the berries of the dogwood also furnished them with food; but the wild rice seemed the great attraction, and small shell-fish and the larvae of many insects that had been dropped into the waters, there to come to perfection in due season, or to form a provision for myriads of wild fowl that had come from the far north-west to feed upon them, guided by that instinct which has so beautifully been termed by one of our modern poetesses, "God's gift to the weak" [FN: Mrs. Southey.]



CHAPTER VIII.

"Oh, come and hear what cruel wrongs Befel the Dark Ladye."—COLERIDGE.

THE Mohawk girl was in high spirits at the coming of the wild fowl to the lake; she would clap her hands and laugh with almost childish glee as she looked at them darkening the lake like clouds resting on its surface.

"If I had but my father's gun, his good old gun, now!" would Hector say, as he eyed the timorous flocks as they rose and fell upon the lake; "but these foolish birds are so shy, that they are away before an arrow can reach them."

Indiana smiled in her quiet way; she was busy filling the canoe with green boughs, which she arranged so as completely to transform the little vessel into the semblance of a floating island of evergreen; within this bower she motioned Hector to crouch down, leaving a small space for the free use of his bow, while concealed at the prow she gently and noiselessly paddled the canoe from the shore among the rice-beds, letting it remain stationary or merely rocking to and fro with the undulatory motion of the waters. The unsuspecting birds, deceived into full security, eagerly pursued their pastime or their prey, and it was no difficult matter for the hidden archer to hit many a black duck or teal or whistlewing, as it floated securely on the placid water, or rose to shift its place a few yards up or down the stream. Soon the lake around was strewed with the feathered game, which Wolfe, cheered on by Lewis, who was stationed on the shore, brought to land.

Indiana told Hector that this was the season when the Indians made great gatherings on the lake for duck-shooting, which they pursued much after the same fashion as that which has been described, only instead of one, a dozen or more canoes would be thus disguised with boughs, with others stationed at different parts of the lake, or under the shelter of the island, to collect the birds. This sport was generally finished by a great feast.

The Indians offered the first of the birds as an oblation to the Great Spirit, as a grateful acknowledgment of his bounty in having allowed them to gather food thus plentifully for their families; sometimes distant tribes with whom they were on terms of friendship were invited to share the sport and partake of the spoils. Indiana could not understand why Hector did not follow the custom of her Indian fathers, and offer the first duck or the best fish to propitiate the Great Spirit. Hector told her that the God he worshipped desired no sacrifice; that his holy Son, when he came down from heaven and gave himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, had satisfied his Father, the Great Spirit, an hundred-fold.

They feasted now continually upon the waterfowl, and Catharine learned from Indiana how to skin them, and so preserve the feathers for making tippets, and bonnets, and ornamental trimmings, which are not only warm, but light and very becoming. They split open any of the birds that they did not require for present consumption, and these they dried for winter store, smoking some after the manner that the Shetlanders and Orkney people smoke the solan geese: their shanty displayed an abundant store of provisions, fish, flesh, and fowl, besides baskets of wild rice, and bags of dried fruit.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse