One day Indiana came in from the brow of the hill, and told the boys that the lake eastward was covered with canoes; she showed, by holding up her two hands and then three fingers, that she had counted thirteen. The tribes had met for the annual duck-feast, and for the rice harvest. She advised them to put out the fire, so that no smoke might be seen to attract them; but said they would not leave the lake for hunting over the plains just then, as the camp was lower down on the point [FN: This point, commonly known as Anderson's Point, now the seat of the Indian village, used in former times to be a great place of rendezvous for the Indians, and was the site of a murderous carnage or massacre that took place about eighty years ago; the war-weapons and bones of the Indians are often turned up with the plough at this day.] east of the mouth of a big river, which she called "Otonabee."
Hector asked Indiana if she would go away and leave them, in the event of meeting with any of her own tribe. The girl cast her eyes on the earth in silence; a dark cloud seemed to gather over her face.
"If they should prove to be any of your father's people, or a friendly tribe, would you go away with them?" he again repeated, to which she solemnly replied,
"Indiana has no father, no tribe, no people; no blood of her father's warms the heart of any man, woman or child, saving myself alone; but Indiana is a brave, and the daughter of a brave, and will not shrink from danger: her heart is warm; red blood flows warm here," and she laid her hand on her heart. Then lifting up her hand, she said with slow but impassioned tone, "They left not one drop of living blood to flow in any veins but these," and her eyes were raised, and her arms stretched upwards towards heaven, as though calling down vengeance on the murderers of her father's house.
"My father was a Mohawk, the son of a great chief, who owned these hunting-grounds far as your eye can see to the rising and setting sun, along the big waters of the big lakes; but the Ojebwas, a portion of the Chippewa nation, by treachery cut off my father's people by hundreds in cold blood, when they were defenceless and at rest. It was a bloody day and a bloody deed."
Instead of hiding herself, as Hector and Louis strongly advised the young Mohawk to do, she preferred remaining as a scout, she said, under the cover of the bushes on the edge of the steep that overlooked the lake, to watch their movements. She told Hector to be under no apprehension if the Indians came to the hut; not to attempt to conceal themselves, but offer them food to eat and water to drink. "If they come to the house and find you away, they will take your stores and burn your roof, suspecting that you are afraid to meet them openly; but they will not harm you if you meet them with open hand and fearless brow: if they eat of your bread, they will not harm you; me they would kill by a cruel death—the war-knife is in their heart against the daughter of the brave."
The boys thought Indiana's advice good, and they felt no fear for themselves, only for Catharine, whom they counselled to remain in the shanty with Wolfe.
The Indians seemed intent only on the sport which they had come to enjoy, seeming in high glee, and as far as they could see quite peaceably disposed; every night they returned to the camp on the north side, and the boys could see their fires gleaming among the trees on the opposite shore, and now and then in the stillness of the evening their wild shouts of revelry would come faintly to their ears, borne by the breeze over the waters of the lake.
The allusion that Indiana had made to her own history, though conveyed in broken and hardly intelligible language, had awakened feelings of deep interest for her in the breasts of her faithful friends. Many months after this she related to her wondering auditors the fearful story of the massacre of her kindred, and which I may as well relate, as I have raised the curiosity of my youthful readers, though to do so I must render it in my own language, as the broken half-formed sentences in which its facts were conveyed to the ears of my Canadian Crusoes would be unintelligible to my young friends. [FN: The facts of this narrative were gathered from the lips of the eldest son of a Rice Lake chief. I have preferred giving it in the present form, rather than as the story of the Indian girl. Simple as it is, it is matter of history.]
There had been for some time a jealous feeling existing between the chiefs of two principal tribes of the Ojebwas and the Mohawks, which like a smothered fire had burnt in the heart of each, without having burst into a decided blaze—for each strove to compass his ends and obtain the advantage over the other by covert means. The tribe of the Mohawks of which I now speak, claimed the southern shores of the Rice Lake for their hunting grounds, and certain islands and parts of the lake for fishing, while that of the Ojebwas considered themselves masters of the northern shores and certain rights of water beside. Possibly it was about these rights that the quarrel originated, but if so, it was not openly avowed between the "Black Snake," (that was the totem borne by the Mohawk chief,) and the "Bald Eagle" (the totem of the Ojebwa).
These chiefs had each a son, and the Bald Eagle had also a daughter of great and rare beauty, called by her people, "The Beam of the Morning;" she was the admiration of Mohawks as well as Ojebwas, and many of the young men of both the tribes had sought her hand, but hitherto in vain. Among her numerous suitors, the son of the Black Snake seemed to be the most enamoured of her beauty; and it was probably with some intention of winning the favour of the young Ojebwa squaw for his son, that the Black Snake accepted the formal invitation of the Bald Eagle to come to his hunting grounds during the rice harvest, and shoot deer and ducks on the lake, and to ratify a truce which had been for some time set on foot between them; but while outwardly professing friendship and a desire for peace, inwardly the fire of hatred burned fiercely in the breast of the Black Snake against the Ojebwa chief and his only son, a young man of great promise, renowned among his tribe as a great hunter and warrior, but who had once offended the Mohawk chief by declining a matrimonial alliance with one of the daughters of a chief of inferior rank, who was closely connected to him by marriage. This affront rankled in the heart of the Black Snake, though outwardly he affected to have forgiven and forgotten the slight that had been put upon his relative. The hunting had been carried on for some days very amicably, when one day the Bald Eagle was requested, with all due attention to Indian etiquette, to go to the wigwam of the Black Snake. On entering the lodge, he perceived the Mohawk strangely disordered; he rose from his mat, on which he had been sleeping, with a countenance fearfully distorted, his eyes glaring hideously, his whole frame convulsed, and writhing as in fearful bodily anguish, and casting himself upon the ground, he rolled and grovelled on the earth, uttering frightful yells and groans.
The Bald Eagle was moved at the distressing state in which he found his guest, and asked the cause of his disorder, but this the other refused to tell. After some hours the fit appeared to subside, but the chief remained moody and silent. The following day the same scene was repeated, and on the third, when the fit seemed to have increased in bodily agony, with great apparent reluctance, wrung seemingly from him by the importunity of his host, he consented to reveal the cause, which was, that the Bad Spirit had told him that these bodily tortures could not cease till the only son of his friend, the Ojebwa chief, had been sacrificed to appease his anger—neither could peace long continue between the two nations until this deed had been done; and not only must the chief's son be slain, but he must be pierced by his own father's hand, and his flesh served up at a feast at which the father must preside. The Black Snake affected the utmost horror and aversion at so bloody and unnatural a deed being committed to save his life and the happiness of his tribe, but the peace was to be ratified for ever if the sacrifice was made,—if not, war to the knife was to be ever between the Mohawks and Ojebwas.
The Bald Eagle seeing that his treacherous guest would make this an occasion of renewing a deadly warfare, for which possibly he was not at the time well prepared, assumed a stoical calmness, and replied,
"Be it so; great is the power of the Bad Spirit to cause evil to the tribes of the chiefs that rebel against his will. My son shall be sacrificed by my hand, that the evil one may be appeased, and that the Black Snake's body may have ease, and his people rest beside the fires of their lodges in peace."
"The Bald Eagle has spoken like a chief with a large heart," was the specious response of the wily Mohawk; "moreover, the Good Spirit also appeared, and said, 'Let the Black Snake's son and the Bald Eagle's daughter become man and wife, that peace may be found to dwell among the lodges, and the war-hatchet be buried for ever.'"
"The Beam of the Morning shall become the wife of the Young Pine," was the courteous answer; but stern revenge lay deep hidden beneath the unmoved brow and passionless lip.
The fatal day arrived; the Bald Eagle, with unflinching hand and eye that dropped no human tear of sorrow for the son of his love, plunged the weapon into his heart with Spartan-like firmness. The fearful feast of human flesh was prepared, and that old chief, pale but unmoved, presided over the ceremonies. The war-dance was danced round the sacrifice, and all went off well, as if no such fearful rite had been enacted: but a fearful retribution was at hand. The Young Pine sought the tent of the Bald Eagle's daughter that evening, and was received with all due deference, as a son of so great a chief as the Black Snake merited; he was regarded now as a successful suitor, and intoxicated with the beauty of the Beam of the Morning, pressed her to allow the marriage to take place in a few days. The bride consented, and a day was named for the wedding feast to be celebrated, and that due honour might be given to so great an event, invitations were sent out to the principal families of the Mohawk tribe, and these amounted to several hundreds of souls, while the young Ojebwa hunters were despatched up the river and to different parts of the country, avowedly to collect venison, beaver, and other delicacies to regale their guests, but in reality to summon by means of trusty scouts a large war party from the small lakes, to be in readiness to take part in the deadly revenge that was preparing for their enemies.
Meantime the squaws pitched the nuptial tent, and prepared the bridal ornaments. A large wigwam capable of containing all the expected guests was then constructed, adorned with the thick branches of evergreens so artfully contrived as to be capable of concealing the armed Ojebwas and their allies, who in due time were introduced beneath this leafy screen, armed with the murderous tomahawk and scalping-knife with which to spring upon their defenceless and unsuspecting guests. According to the etiquette always observed upon such occasions, all deadly weapons were left outside the tent. The bridegroom had been conducted with songs and dancing to the tent of the bride. The guests, to the number of several hundred naked and painted warriors were assembled. The feast was declared to be ready; a great iron pot or kettle occupied the centre of the tent. According to the custom of the Indians, the father of the bridegroom was invited to lift the most important dish from the pot, whilst the warriors commenced their wardance around him. This dish was usually a bear's head, which was fastened to a string left for the purpose of raising it from the pot.
"Let the Black Snake, the great chief of the Mohawks, draw up the head and set it on the table, that his people may eat and make merry, and that his wise heart may be glad;" were the scornful words of the Bald Eagle.
A yell of horror burst from the lips of the horror-stricken father, as he lifted to view the fresh and gory head of his only son, the happy bridegroom of the lovely daughter of the Ojebwa chief.
"Ha!" shouted the Bald Eagle, "is the great chief of the Mohawks a squaw, that his blood grows white and his heart trembles at the sight of his son, the bridegroom of the Beam of the Morning? The Bald Eagle gave neither sigh nor groan when he plunged the knife into the heart of his child. Come, brother, take the knife; taste the flesh and drink the blood of thy son: the Bald Eagle shrank not when you bade him partake of the feast that was prepared from his young warrior's body." The wretched father dashed himself upon the earth, while his cries and howlings rent the air; those cries were answered by the war-whoop of the ambushed Ojebwas, as they sprang to their feet, and with deafening yells attacked the guests, who, panic-stricken, naked and defenceless, fell an easy prey to their infuriated enemies. Not one living foe escaped to tell the tale of that fearful marriage feast. A second Judith had the Indian girl proved. It was her plighted hand that had severed the head of her unsuspecting bridegroom to complete the fearful vengeance that had been devised in return for the merciless and horrible murder of her brother.
Nor was the sacrifice yet finished, for with fearful cries the Indians seized upon the canoes of their enemies, and with the utmost speed, urged by unsatisfied revenge, hurried down the lake to an island where the women and children and such of the aged or young men as were not included among the wedding guests, were encamped in unsuspecting security. Panic-stricken, the Mohawks offered no resistance, but fell like sheep appointed for the slaughter: the Ojebwas slew there the grey-head with the infant of days. But while the youths and old men tamely yielded to their enemies, there was one, whose spirit roused to fury by the murder of her father, armed herself with the war club and knife, and boldly withstood the successful warriors. At the door of the tent of the slaughtered chief the Amazon defended her children: while the war lightning kindled in her dark eye, she called aloud in scornful tones to her people to hide themselves in the tents of their women, who alone were braves, and would fight their battles. Fiercely she taunted the men, but they shrank from the unequal contest, and she alone was found to deal the death-blow upon the foe, till overpowered with numbers, and pierced with frightful wounds, she fell singing her own death-song and raising the wail for the dead who lay around her. Night closed in, but the work of blood still continued, till not a victim was found, and again they went forth on their exterminating work. Lower down they found another encampment, and there also they slew all the inhabitants of the lodges; they then returned back to the island, to gather together their dead and collect the spoils of their tents. They were weary with the fatigue of the slaughter of that fearful day; they were tired of blood-shedding; the retribution had satisfied even their love of blood: and when they found, on returning to the spot where the heroine had stood at bay, one young solitary female sitting beside the corpse of that dauntless woman, her mother, they led her away, and did all that their savage nature could suggest to soften her anguish and dry her tears. They brought her to the tents of their women, and clothed and fed her, and bade her be comforted; but her young heart burned within her, and she refused consolation. She could not forget the wrongs of her people: she was the only living creature left of the Mohawks on that island. The young girl was Indiana, the same whom Hector Maxwell had found, wounded and bound, to perish with hunger and thirst on Bare-hill.
Brooding with revenge in her heart, the young girl told them that she had stolen unperceived into the tent of the Bald Eagle, and aimed a knife at his throat, but the fatal blow was arrested by one of the young men, who had watched her enter the old chiefs tent. A council was called, and she was taken to Bare-hill, bound, and left in the sad state already described.
It was with feelings of horror and terror that the Christian children listened to this fearful tale, and Indiana read in their averted eyes and pale faces the feelings with which the recital of the tale of blood had inspired them. And then it was that as they sat beneath the shade of the trees, in the soft misty light of an Indian summer moon, that Catharine, with simple earnestness, taught her young disciple those heavenly lessons of mercy and forgiveness which her Redeemer had set forth by his life, his doctrines, and his death.
And she told her, that if she would see that Saviour's face in Heaven, and dwell with him in joy and peace for ever, she must learn to pray for those dreadful men who had made her fatherless and motherless, and her home a desolation; that the fire of revenge must be quenched within her heart, and the spirit of love alone find place within it, or she could not become the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven. How hard were these conditions to the young heathen,—how contrary to her nature, to all that she had been taught in the tents of her fathers, where revenge was virtue, and to take the scalp of an enemy a glorious thing!
Yet when she contrasted the gentle, kind, and dovelike characters of her Christian friends, with the fierce bloody people of her tribe and of her Ojebwa enemies, she could not but own they were more worthy of love and admiration: had they not found her a poor miserable trembling captive, unbound her, fed and cherished her, pouring the balm of consolation into her wounded heart, and leading her in bands of tenderest love to forsake those wild and fearful passions that warred in her soul, and bringing her to the feet of the Saviour, to become his meek and holy child, a lamb of his "extended fold?"*
[*Footnote: The Indian who related this narrative to me was a son of a Rice Lake chief, Mosang Poudash by name, who vouched for its truth as an historic fact remembered by his father, whose grandsire had been one of the actors in the massacre. Mosang Poudash promised to write down the legend, and did so in part, but made such confusion between his imperfect English and Indian language, that the MS. was unavailable for copying.]
"The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill" Irish Song.
WHILE the Indians were actively pursuing their sports on the lake, shooting wild fowl, and hunting and fishing by torch-light, so exciting was the amusement of watching them, that the two lads, Hector and Louis, quite forgot all sense of danger, in the enjoyment of lying or sitting on the brow of the mount near the great ravine, and looking at their proceedings. Once or twice the lads were near betraying themselves to the Indians, by raising a shout of delight, at some skilful manoeuvre that excited their unqualified admiration and applause.
At night, when the canoes had all retired to the camp on the north shore, and all fear of detection had ceased for the time, they lighted up their shanty fire, and cooked a good supper, and also prepared sufficiency of food for the following day. The Indians remained for a fortnight; at the end of that time Indiana, who was a watchful spy on their movements, told Hector and Louis that the camp was broken up, and that the Indians had gone up the river, and would not return again for some weeks. The departure of the Indians was a matter of great rejoicing to Catharine, whose dread of these savages had greatly increased since she had been made acquainted with the fearful deeds which Indiana had described; and what reliance could she feel in people who regarded deeds of blood and vengeance as acts of virtuous heroism?
Once, and only once during their stay, the Indians had passed within a short distance of their dwelling; but they were in full chase of a bear, which had been seen crossing the deep ravine near Mount Ararat, and they had been too intent upon their game to notice the shanty, or had taken it for the shelter of some trapper if it had been seen, for they never turned out of their path, and Catharine, who was alone at the time, drawing water from the spring, was so completely concealed by the high bank above her, that she had quite escaped their notice. Fortunately, Indiana gave the two boys a signal to conceal themselves when she saw them enter the ravine; and effectually hidden among the thick grey mossy trunks of the cedars at the lake shore, they remained secure from molestation, while the Indian girl dropped noiselessly down among the tangled thicket of wild vines and brushwood, which she drew cautiously over her, and closed her eyes, lest, as she naively remarked, their glitter should be seen and betray her to her enemies.
It was a moment of intense anxiety to our poor wanderers, whose terrors were more excited on behalf of the young Mohawk than for themselves, and they congratulated her on her escape with affectionate warmth.
"Are my white brothers afraid to die?" was the young squaw's half-scornful reply. "Indiana is the daughter of a brave; she fears not to die?"
The latter end of September, and the first week in October, had been stormy and even cold. The rainy season, however, was now over; the nights were often illuminated by the Aurora borealis, which might be seen forming an arch of soft and lovely brightness over the lake, to the north and north-eastern portions of the horizon, or shooting upwards, in ever-varying shafts of greenish light, now hiding, now revealing the stars, which shone with softened radiance through the silvery veil that dimmed their beauty. Sometimes for many nights together the same appearance might be seen, and was usually the forerunner of frosty weather, though occasionally it was the precursor of cold winds, and heavy rains.
The Indian girl regarded it with superstitious feelings, but whether as an omen for good or ill, she would not tell. On all matters connected with her religions notions she was shy and reserved, though occasionally she unconsciously revealed them. Thus the warnings of death or misfortunes were revealed to her by certain ominous sounds in the woods, the appearance of strange birds or animals, or the meanings of others. The screeching of the owl, the bleating of the doe, or barking of the fox, were evil auguries, while the flight of the eagle and the croaking of the raven were omens of good. She put faith in dreams, and would foretel good or evil fortune from them; she could read the morning and evening clouds, and knew from various appearances of the sky, or the coming or departing of certain birds or insects, changes in the atmosphere. Her ear was quick in distinguishing the changes in the voices of the birds or animals; she knew the times of their coming and going, and her eye was quick to see as her ear to detect sounds. Her voice was soft, and low, and plaintive, and she delighted in imitating the little ballads or hymns that Catharine sung; though she knew nothing of their meaning, she would catch the tunes, and sing the song with Catharine, touching the hearts of her delighted auditors by the melody and pathos of her voice.
The season called Indian summer had now arrived: the air was soft and mild, almost oppressively warm; the sun looked red as though seen through the smoke clouds of a populous city. A soft blue haze hung on the bosom of the glassy lake, which reflected on its waveless surface every passing shadow, and the gorgeous tints of its changing woods on shore and island. Sometimes the stillness of the air was relieved by a soft sighing wind, which rustled the dying foliage as it swept by.
The Indian summer is the harvest of the Indian tribes. It is during this season that they hunt and shoot the wild fowl that come in their annual flights to visit the waters of the American lakes and rivers; it is then that they gather in their rice, and prepare their winter stores of meat, and fish, and furs. The Indian girl knew the season they would resort to certain hunting grounds. They were constant, and altered not their customs; as it was with their fathers, so it was with them.
Louis had heard so much of the Otonabee river from Indiana, that he was impatient to go and explore the entrance, and the shores of the lake on that side, which hitherto they had not ventured to do for fear of being surprised by the Indians. "Some fine day," said Louis, "we will go out in the canoe, explore the distant islands, and go up the river a little way."
Hector advised visiting all the islands by turns, beginning at the little islet which looks in the distance like a boat in full sail; it is level with the water, and has only three or four trees upon it. The name they had given to it was "Ship Island." The Indians have some name for it which I have forgotten; but it means, I have been told, "Witch Island." Hector's plan met with general approbation, and they resolved to take provisions with them for several days, and visit the islands and go up the river, passing the night under the shelter of the thick trees on the shore wherever they found a pleasant halting-place.
The weather was mild and warm, the lake was as clear and calm as a mirror, and in joyous mood our little party embarked and paddled up the lake, first to Ship Island, but this did not detain them many minutes; they then went to Grape Island, which they so named from the abundance of wild vines, now rich with purple clusters of the ripe grapes,—tart, but still not to be despised by our young adventurers; and they brought away a large birch basket heaped up with the fruit. "Ah, if we had but a good cake of maple sugar, now, to preserve our grapes with, and make such grape jelly as my mother makes!" said Louis.
"If we find out a sugar-bush we will manage to make plenty of sugar," said Catharine; "there are maples not two hundred yards from the shanty, near the side of the steep bank to the east. You remember the pleasant spot which we named the Happy Valley, [FN: A lovely valley to the east of Mount Ararat, now belonging to a worthy and industrious family of the name of Brown. I wish Hector could see it as it now is,—a cultivated fertile farm.] where the bright creek runs, dancing along so merrily, below the pine-ridge?"
"Oh, yes, the same that winds along near the foot of Bare-hill, where the water-cresses grow."
"Yes, where I gathered the milk-weed the other day."
"What a beautiful pasture-field that will make, when it is cleared!" said Hector, thoughtfully.
"Hector is always planning about fields, and clearing great farms," said Louis, laughing. "We shall see Hec a great man one of these days; I think he has in his own mind brushed, and burned, and logged up all the fine flats and table-land on the plains before now, ay, and cropped it all with wheat, and peas, and Indian corn."
"We will have a clearing and a nice field of corn next year, if we live," replied Hector; "that corn that we found in the canoe will be a treasure."
"Yes, and the corn-cob you got on Bare-hill," said Catherine. "How lucky we have been! We shall be so happy when we see our little field of corn flourishing round the shanty! It was a good thing, Hec, that you went to the Indian camp that day, though both Louis and I were very miserable while you were absent; but you see, God must have directed you, that the life of this poor girl might be saved, to be a comfort to us. Everything has prospered well with us since she came to us. Perhaps it is because we try to make a Christian of her, and so God blesses all our endeavours."
"We are told," said Hector, "that there is joy with the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth; doubtless, it is a joyful thing when the heathen that knew not the name of God are taught to glorify his holy name."
Indiana, while exploring, had captured a porcupine; she declared that she should have plenty of quills for edging baskets and mocassins; beside, she said, the meat was white and good to eat. Hector looked with a suspicious eye upon the little animal, doubting the propriety of eating its flesh, though he had learned to eat musk rats, and consider them good meat, baked in Louis's Indian oven, or roasted on a forked stick, before the fire. The Indian porcupine is a small animal, not a very great deal larger than the common British hedgehog; the quills, however, are longer and stronger, and varied with alternate clouded marks of pure white and dark brownish grey; they are minutely barbed, so that if one enters the flesh it is with difficulty extracted, but will work through of itself in an opposite direction, and can then be easily pulled out. Dogs and cattle often suffer great inconvenience from getting their muzzles filled with the quills of the porcupine, the former when worrying the poor little animal, and the latter by accidentally meeting a dead one among the herbage; great inflammation will sometimes attend the extraction. Indians often lose valuable hounds from this cause. Beside porcupines, Indiana told her companions, there were some fine butter-nut trees on the island, and they could collect a bag full in a very short time. This was good news, for the butter-nut is sweet and pleasant, almost equal to the walnut, of which it is a species. The day was passed pleasantly enough in collecting nuts and grapes; but as this island did not afford any good cleared spot for passing the night, and, moreover, was tenanted by black snakes, several of which made their appearance among the stones near the edge of the water, they agreed by common council to go to Long Island, where Indiana said there was an old log-house, the walls of which were still standing, and where there was dry moss in plenty, which would make them a comfortable bed for the night. This old log-house she said had been built, she heard the Indians say, by a French Canadian trapper, who used to visit the lake some years ago; he was on friendly terms with the chiefs, who allowed him many privileges, and he bought their furs, and took them down the lake, through the river Trent, to some station-house on the great lake. They found they should have time enough to land and deposit their nuts and grapes and paddle to Long Island before sunset. Upon the western part of this fine island they had several times landed and passed some hours, exploring its shores; but Indiana told them, to reach the old log-house they must enter the low swampy bay to the east, at an opening which she called Indian Cove. To do this required some skill in the management of the canoe, which was rather over-loaded for so light a vessel; and the trees grew so close and thick that they had some difficulty in pushing their way through them without injuring its frail sides. These trees or bushes were chiefly black elder, high-bush cranberries, dogwood, willows, and, as they proceeded further, and there was ground of a more solid nature, cedar, poplar, swamp oak, and soft maple, with silver birch and wild cherries. Long strings of silvery-grey tree-moss hung dangling over their heads, the bark and roots of the birch and cedars were covered with a luxuriant growth of green moss, but there was a dampness and closeness in this place that made it far from wholesome, and the little band of voyagers were not very sorry when the water became too shallow to admit of the canoe making its way through the swampy channel, and they landed on the banks of a small circular pond, as round as a ring, and nearly surrounded by tall trees, hoary with moss and lichens; large water-lilies floated on the surface of this miniature lake, and the brilliant red berries of the high-bush cranberry, and the purple clusters of grapes, festooned the trees.
"A famous breeding place this must be for ducks," observed Louis.
"And for flowers," said Catharine, "and for grapes and cranberries. There is always some beauty or some usefulness to be found, however lonely the spot."
"A fine place for musk-rats, and minks, and fishes," said Hector, looking round. "The old trapper knew what he was about when he made his lodge near this pond. And there, sure enough, is the log-hut, and not so bad a one either," and scrambling up the bank he entered the deserted little tenement, well pleased to find it in tolerable repair. There were the ashes on the stone hearth, just as it had been left years back by the old trapper; some rough hewn shelves, a rude bedstead of cedar poles still occupied a corner of the little dwelling; heaps of old dry moss and grass lay upon the ground; and the little squaw pointed with one of her silent laughs to a collection of broken egg-shells, where some wild duck had sat and hatched her downy brood among the soft materials which she had found and appropriated to her own purpose. The only things pertaining to the former possessor of the log-hut were an old, rusty, battered tin pannikin, now, alas! unfit for holding water; a bit of a broken earthen whisky jar; a rusty nail, which Louis pounced upon, and pocketed, or rather pouched,—for he had substituted a fine pouch of deer-skin for his worn-out pocket; and a fishing-line of good stout cord, which was wound on a splinter of red redar, and carefully stuck between one of the rafters and the roof of the shanty. A rusty but efficient hook was attached to the line, and Louis, who was the finder, was quite overjoyed at his good fortune in making so valuable an addition to his fishing-tackle. Hector got only an odd worn-out mocassin, which he chucked into the little pond in disdain; while Catharine declared she would keep the old tin pot as a relic, and carefully deposited it in the canoe.
As they made their way into the interior of the island, they found that there were a great many fine sugar maples which had been tapped by some one, as the boys thought, by the old trapper; but Indiana, on examining the incisions in the trees, and the remnants of birch-bark vessels that lay mouldering on the earth below them, declared them to have been the work of her own people; and long and sadly did the young girl look upon these simple memorials of a race of whom she was the last living remnant. The young girl stood there in melancholy mood, a solitary, isolated being, with no kindred tie upon the earth to make life dear to her; a stranger in the land of her fathers, associating with those whose ways were not her ways, nor their thoughts her thoughts; whose language was scarcely known to her, whose God was not the God of her fathers. Yet the dark eyes of the Indian girl were not dimmed with tears as she thought of these things; she had learned of her people to suffer, and be still.
Silent and patient she stood, with her melancholy gaze bent on the earth, when she felt the gentle hand of Catharine laid upon her arm, and then kindly and lovingly passed round her neck, as she whispered,—
"Indiana, I will be to you as a sister, and will love you and cherish you, because you are an orphan girl, and alone in the world; but God loves you, and will make you happy. He is a Father to the fatherless, and the Friend of the destitute, and to them that have no helper."
The words of kindness and love need no interpretation; no book-learning is necessary to make them understood. The young, the old, the deaf, the dumb, the blind, can read this universal language; its very silence is often more eloquent than words—the gentle pressure of the hand, the half-echoed sigh, the look of sympathy will penetrate to the very heart, and unlock its hidden stores of human tenderness and love. The rock is smitten and the waters gush forth, a bright and living stream, to refresh and fertilize the thirsty soul. The heart of the poor mourner was touched; she bowed down her head upon the hand that held her so kindly in its sisterly grasp, and wept soft sweet human tears full of grateful love, while she whispered, in her own low plaintive voice, "My white sister, I kiss you in my heart; I will love the God of my white brothers, and be his child."
The two friends now busied themselves in preparing the evening meal: they found Louis and Hector had lighted up a charming blaze on the desolate hearth. A few branches of cedar twisted together by Catharine, made a serviceable broom, with which she swept the floor, giving to the deserted dwelling a neat and comfortable aspect; some big stones were quickly rolled in, and made to answer for seats in the chimney corner. The new-found fishing-line was soon put into requisition by Louis, and with very little delay a fine dish of black bass, broiled on the coals, was added to their store of dried venison and roasted bread-roots, which they found in abundance on a low spot on the island. Grapes and butternuts which Hector cracked with stones by way of nut-crackers, finished their sylvan meal. The boys stretched themselves to sleep on the ground, with their feet, Indian fashion, to the fire; while the two girls occupied the mossy couch which they had newly spread with fragrant cedar and hemlock boughs.
The next island that claimed their attention was Sugar-Maple Island, [FN: Sugar Island, a charming object from the picturesque cottage of Alfred Hayward, Esq.] a fine, thickly-wooded island, rising with steep rocky banks from the water. A beautiful object, but too densely wooded to admit of our party penetrating beyond a few yards of its shores.
The next island they named the Beaver, [FN: The Beaver, commonly called Sheep Island, from some person having pastured a few sheep upon it some few years ago. I have taken the liberty of preserving the name, to which it bears an obvious resemblance; the nose of the Beaver lies towards the west, the tail to the east. This island is nearly opposite to Gore's Landing, and forms a pleasing object from the windows and verandah of Claverton, the house of my esteemed friend, William Falkner, Esq., the Patriarch of the Plains, as he has often been termed; one of the only residents on the Rice Lake plains for many years; one of the few gentlemen who had taste enough to be charmed with this lovely tract of country, and to appreciate its agricultural resources, which, of late, have been so fully developed.] from its resemblance in shape to that animal. A fine, high, oval island beyond this they named Black Island, [FN: Black Island, the sixth from the head of the lake; an oval island, remarkable for its evergreens.] from its dark evergreens; the next was that which seemed most to excite the interest of their Indian guide, although but a small stony island, scantily clothed with trees, lower down the lake. This place she called Spooke Island, [FN: Appendix H.] which means in the Indian tongue, a place for the dead; it is sometimes called Spirit Island, and here, in times past, used the Indian people to bury their dead. The island is now often the resort of parties of pleasure, who, from its being grassy and open, find it more available than those which are densely wooded. The young Mohawk regarded it with feelings of superstitious awe, and would not suffer Hector to land the canoe on its rocky shores.
"It is a place of spirits," she said; "the ghosts of my fathers will be angry if we go there." Even her young companions felt that, they were upon sacred ground, and gazed with silent reverence upon the burial isle.
Strongly imbued with a love of the marvellous, which they had derived from their Highland origin, Indiana's respect for the spirits of her ancestors was regarded as most natural, and in silence, as if fearing to disturb the solemnity of the spot, they resumed their paddles, and after awhile reached the mouth of the river Otonabee, which was divided into two separate channels by a long, low point of swampy land covered with stunted, mossy bushes and trees, rushes, driftwood, and aquatic plants. Indiana told them this river flowed from the north, and that it was many days' journey up to the lakes; to illustrate its course, she drew with her paddle a long line with sundry curves and broader spaces, some longer, some smaller, with Bays and inlets, which she gave them to understand were the chain of lakes that she spoke of. There were beautiful hunting grounds on the borders of these lakes, and many fine water-falls and rocky islands; she had been taken up to these waters during the time of her captivity. The Ojebwas, she said, were a branch of the great Chippewa nation, who owned much land and great waters thereabouts.
Compared with the creeks and streams that they had seen hitherto, the Otonabee appeared a majestic river, and an object of great admiration and curiosity, for it seemed to them as if it were the high road leading up to an unknown far-off land—a land of dark, mysterious, impenetrable forests,—flowing on, flowing on, in lonely majesty, reflecting on its tranquil bosom the blue sky, the dark pines, and grey cedars,—the pure ivory water-lily, and every passing shadow of bird or leaf that flitted across its surface—so quiet was the onward flow of its waters.
A few brilliant leaves yet lingered on the soft maples and crimson-tinted oaks, but the glory of the forest had departed; the silent fall of many a sear and yellow leaf told of the death of summer and of winter's coming reign. Yet the air was wrapt in a deceitful stillness; no breath of wind moved the trees or dimpled the water. Bright wreaths of scarlet berries and wild grapes hung in festoons among the faded foliage. The silence of the forest was unbroken, save by the quick tapping of the little midland wood-pecker, or the shrill scream of the blue jay; the whirring sound of the large white and grey duck, (called by the frequenters of these lonely waters the whistle-wing,) as its wings swept the waters in its flight; or the light dripping of the paddle;—so still, so quiet was the scene.
As the day was now far advanced, the Indian girl advised them either to encamp for the night on the river bank, or to use all speed in returning. She seemed to view the aspect of the heavens with some anxiety. Vast volumes of light copper-tinted clouds were rising, the sun seen through its hazy veil looked red and dim, and a hot sultry air unrelieved by a breath of refreshing wind oppressed our young voyagers; and though the same coppery clouds and red sun had been seen for several successive days, a sort of instinctive feeling prompted the desire in all to return; and after a few minutes' rest and refreshment, they turned their little bark towards the lake; and it was well that they did so: by the time they had reached the middle of the lake, the stillness of the air was rapidly changing. The rose-tinted clouds that had lain so long piled upon each other in mountainous ridges, began to move upwards, at first slowly, then with rapidly accelerated motion. There was a hollow moaning in the pine tops, and by fits a gusty breeze swept the surface of the water, raising it into rough, short, white-crested ridges.
These signs were pointed out by Indiana as the harbinger of a rising hurricane; and now a swift spark of light like a falling star glanced on the water, as if there to quench its fiery light. Again the Indian girl raised her dark hand and pointed to the rolling storm-clouds, to the crested, waters and the moving pine tops; then to the head of the Beaver Island—it was the one nearest to them. With an arm of energy she wielded the paddle, with an eye of fire she directed the course of their little vessel, for well she knew their danger and the need for straining every nerve to reach the nearest point of land. Low muttering peals of thunder were now heard, the wind was rising with electric speed. Away flew the light bark, with the swiftness of a bird, over the water; the tempest was above, around and beneath. The hollow crash of the forest trees as they bowed to the earth could be heard, sullenly sounding from shore to shore. And now the Indian girl, flinging back her black streaming hair from her brow, knelt at the head of the canoe, and with renewed vigour plied the paddle. The waters, lashed into a state of turbulence by the violence of the storm, lifted the canoe up and down, but no word was spoken—they each felt the greatness of the peril, but they also knew that they were in the hands of Him who can say to the tempest-tossed waves, "Peace, be still," and they obey Him.
Every effort was made to gain the nearest island; to reach the mainland was impossible, for the rain poured down a blinding deluge; it was with difficulty the little craft was kept afloat, by baling out the water; to do this, Louis was fain to use his cap, and Catharine assisted with the old tin-pot which she had fortunately brought from the trapper's shanty.
The tempest was at its height when they reached the nearest point of the Beaver, and joyful was the grating sound of the canoe as it was vigorously pushed up on the shingly beach, beneath the friendly shelter of the overhanging trees, where, perfectly exhausted by the exertions they had made, dripping with rain and overpowered by the terrors of the storm, they threw themselves on the ground, and in safety watched its progress—thankful for an escape from such imminent peril.
Thus ended the Indian summer—so deceitful in its calmness and its beauty. The next day saw the ground white with snow, and hardened into stone by a premature frost. Our poor voyagers were not long in quitting the shelter of the Beaver Island, and betaking them once more to their ark of refuge—the log-house on Mount Ararat.
The winter, that year, set in with unusual severity some weeks sooner than usual, so that from the beginning of November to the middle of April the snow never entirely left the ground. The lake was soon covered with ice, and by the month of December it was one compact solid sheet from shore to shore.
"Scared by the red and noisy light."—COLERIDGE.
Hector and Louis had now little employment, excepting chopping fire-wood, which was no very arduous task for two stout healthy lads, used from childhood to handling the axe. Trapping, and hunting, and snaring hares, were occupations which they pursued more for the excitement and exercise than from hunger, as they had laid by abundance of dried, venison, fish, and birds, besides a plentiful store of rice. They now visited those trees that they had marked in the summer, where they had noticed the bees hiving, and cut them down; in one they got more than a pailful of rich honey-comb, and others yielded some more, some less; this afforded them a delicious addition to their boiled rice, and dried acid fruits. They might have melted the wax, and burned candles of it; but this was a refinement of luxury that never once occurred to our young house-keepers: the dry pine knots that are found in the woods are the settlers' candles; but Catharine made some very good vinegar with the refuse of the honey and combs, by pouring water on it, and leaving it to ferment in a warm nook of the chimney, in one of the birch-bark vessels, and this was an excellent substitute for salt as a seasoning to the fresh meat and fish. Like the Indians, they were now reconciled to the want of this seasonable article.
Indiana seemed to enjoy the cold weather; the lake, though locked up to every one else, was open to her; with the aid of the tomahawk she patiently made an opening in the ice, and over this she built a little shelter of pine boughs stuck into the ice. Armed with a sharp spear carved out of hardened wood, she would lie upon the ice and patiently await the rising of some large fish to the air-hole, when dexterously plunging it into the unwary creature, she dragged it to the surface. Many a noble fish did the young squaw bring home, and lay at the feet of him whom she had tacitly elected as her lord and master; to him she offered the voluntary service of a faithful and devoted servant—I might almost have said, slave.
During the middle of December there were some days of such intense cold, that even our young Crusoes, hardy as they were, preferred the blazing log-fire and warm ingle nook, to the frozen lake and cutting north-west wind which blew the loose snow in blinding drifts over its bleak, unsheltered surface. Clad in the warm tunic and petticoat of Indian blanket with fur-lined mocassins, Catharine and her Indian friend felt little cold excepting to the face when they went abroad, unless the wind was high, and then experience taught them to keep at home. And these cold gloomy days they employed in many useful works. Indiana had succeeded in dyeing the quills of the porcupine that she had captured on Grape Island; with these she worked a pair of beautiful mocassins and an arrow case for Hector, besides making a sheath for Louis's couteau-du-chasse, of which the young hunter was very proud, bestowing great praise on the workmanship.
Indiana appeared to be deeply engrossed with some work that she was engaged in, but preserved a provoking degree of mystery about it, to the no small annoyance of Louis, who, among his other traits of character, was remarkably inquisitive, wanting to know the why and wherefore of everything he saw.
Indiana first prepared a frame of some tough wood, it might be the inner bark of the oak or elm or hiccory; this was pointed at either end, and wide in the middle—not very much unlike the form of some broad, flat fish; over this she wove an open network of narrow thongs of deer-hide, wetted to make it more pliable, and securely fastened to the frame: when dry, it became quite tight, and resembled a sort of coarse bamboo-work such as you see on cane-bottomed chairs and sofas.
"And now, Indiana, tell us what sort of fish you are going to catch in your ingenious little net," said Louis, who had watched her proceedings with great interest. The girl shook her head, and laughed till she showed all her white teeth, but quietly proceeded to commence a second frame like the first.
Louis put it on his head. No: it could not be meant to be worn there, that was plain. He turned it round and round. It must be intended for some kind of bird-trap: yes, that must be it; and he cast an inquiring glance at Indiana. She blushed, shook her head, and gave another of her silent laughs.
"Some game like battledore and shuttlecock,"—and snatching up a light bass-wood chip, he began tossing the chip up and catching it on the netted frame. The little squaw was highly amused, but rapidly went on with her work. Louis was now almost angry at the perverse little savage persevering in keeping him in suspense. She would not tell him till the other was done: then there were to be a pair of these curious articles: and he was forced at last to sit quietly down to watch the proceeding of the work. It was night before the two were completed, and furnished with straps and loops. When the last stroke was put to them, the Indian girl knelt down at Hector's feet, and binding them on, pointed to them with a joyous laugh, and said, "Snow-shoe—for walk on snow—good!"
The boys had heard of snow-shoes, but had never seen them, and now seemed to understand little of the benefit to be derived from the use of them. The young Mohawk quickly transferred the snow-shoes to her own feet, and soon proved to them that the broad surface prevented those who wore them from sinking into the deep snow. After many trials Hector began to acknowledge the advantage of walking with the snow-shoes, especially on the frozen snow on the ice-covered lake. Indiana was well pleased with the approbation that her manufactures met with, and very soon manufactured for "Nee-chee," as they all now called Louis, a similar present As to Catharine, she declared the snow-shoes made her ancles ache, and that she preferred the mocassins that her cousin Louis made for her. During the long bright days of February they made several excursions on the lake, and likewise explored some of the high hills to the eastward. On this ridge there were few large trees; but it was thickly clothed with scrub oaks, slender poplars, and here and there fine pines, and picturesque free-growing oaks of considerable size and great age—patriarchs, they might be termed, among the forest growth. [FN: One of these hoary monarchs of the Oak-lulls still stands at the head of the lawn at Oaklands, formerly the property of Mr. W. Falkner, now the residence of the Authoress.] Over this romantic range of hill and dale, free as the air they breathed, roamed many a gallant herd of deer, unmolested unless during certain seasons when the Indians came to hunt over these hills. Surprised at the different growth of the oaks on this side the plains, Hector could not help expressing his astonishment to Indiana, who told him that it was caused by the custom that her people had had from time immemorial of setting fire to the bushes in the early part of spring. This practice, she said, promoted the growth of the deer-grass, made good cover for the deer themselves, and effectually prevented the increase of the large timbers. This circumstance gives a singular aspect to this high ridge of hills when contrasted with the more wooded portions to the westward. From the lake these eastern hills look verdant, and as if covered with tall green fern. In the month of October a rich rosy tint is cast upon the leaves of the scrub oaks by the autumnal frosts, and they present a glowing unvaried crimson of the most glorious hue, only variegated in spots by a dark feathery evergreen, or a patch of light waving poplars turned by the same wizard's wand to golden yellow.
There were many lovely spots,—lofty rounded hills, and deep shady dells, with extended tableland, and fine lake views; but on the whole our young folks preferred the oak openings and the beautiful wooded glens of the western side, where they had fixed their home.
There was one amusement that they used greatly to enjoy during the cold bright days and moonlight nights of midwinter. This was gliding down the frozen snow on the steep side of the dell near the spring, seated on small hand-sleighs, which carried them down with great velocity. Wrapped in their warm furs, with caps fastened closely over their ears, what cared they for the cold? Warm and glowing from head to foot, with cheeks brightened by the delightful exercise, they would remain for hours enjoying the amusement of the snow-slide; the bright frost gemming the ground with myriads of diamonds, sparkling in their hair, or whitening it till it rivalled the snow beneath their feet. Then, when tired out with the exercise, they returned to the shanty, stirred up a blazing fire, till the smoked rafters glowed in the red light; spread their simple fare of stewed rice sweetened with honey, or maybe a savoury soup of hare or other game; and then, when warmed and fed, they kneeled together, side by side, and offered up a prayer of gratitude to their Maker, and besought his care over them during the dark and silent hours of night.
Had these young people been idle in their habits and desponding in their tempers, they must have perished with cold and hunger, instead of enjoying many necessaries and even some little luxuries in their lonely forest home. Fortunately they had been brought up in the early practice of every sort of usefulness, to endure every privation with cheerful fortitude; not, indeed, quietly to sit down and wait for better times, but vigorously to create those better times by every possible exertion that could be brought into action to assist and ameliorate their condition.
To be up and doing, is the maxim of a Canadian; and it is this that nerves his arm to do and bear. The Canadian settler, following in the steps of the old Americans, learns to supply all his wants by the exercise of his own energy. He brings up his family to rely upon their own resources, instead of depending upon his neighbours.
The children of the modern emigrant, though enjoying a higher degree of civilization and intelligence, arising from a liberal education, might not have fared so well under similar circumstances as did our Canadian Crusoes, because, unused to battle with the hardships incidental to a life of such privation as they had known, they could not have brought so much experience, or courage, or ingenuity to their aid. It requires courage to yield to circumstances, as well as to overcome them.
Many little useful additions to the interior of their dwelling were made by Hector and Louis during the long winter. They made a smoother and better table than the first rough one that they put together. They also made a rough partition of split cedars, to form a distinct and separate sleeping-room for the two girls; but as this division greatly circumscribed their sitting and cooking apartment, they resolved, as soon as the spring came, to cut and draw in logs for putting up a better and larger room to be used as a summer parlour. Indiana and Louis made a complete set of wooden trenchers out of butter-nut, a fine hard wood of excellent grain, and less liable to warp or crack than many others.
Louis's skill as a carpenter was much greater than that of his cousin. He not only possessed more judgment and was more handy, but he had a certain taste and neatness in finishing his work, however rough his materials and rude his tools. He inherited some of that skill in mechanism for which the French have always been remarked. With his knife and a nail he would carve a plum-stone into a miniature basket, with handle across it, all delicately wrought with flowers and checker-work. The shell of a butter-nut would be transformed into a boat, with thwarts, and seats, and rudder; with sails of bass-wood or birch-bark. Combs he could cut out of wood or bone, so that Catharine could dress her hair, or confine it in braids or bands at will. This was a source of great comfort to her; and Louis was always pleased when he could in any way contribute to his cousin's happiness. These little arts Louis had been taught by his father. Indeed, the entire distance that their little, settlement was from any town or village had necessarily forced their families depend on their own ingenuity and invention to supply many of their wants. Once or twice a year they saw a trading fur-merchant, as I before observed; and those were glorious days for Hector and Louis, who were always on the alert to render the strangers any service in their power, as by that means they sometimes received little gifts from them, and gleaned up valuable information as to their craft as hunters and trappers. And then there were wonderful tales of marvellous feats and hair-breadth escapes to listen to, as they sat with eager looks and open ears round the blazing log-fire in the old log-house. Now they would in their turns have tales to tell of strange adventures, and all that had befallen them since the first day of their wanderings on the Rice Lake Plains.
The long winter passed away unmarked by any very stirring event. The Indians had revisited the hunting-grounds; but they confined themselves chiefly to the eastern side of the plains, the lake, and the islands, and did not come near their little dwelling to molest them. The latter end of the month of March presented fine sugar-making weather; and as they had the use of the big iron pot, they resolved to make maple sugar and some molasses. Long Island was decided upon as the most eligible place: it had the advantage over Maple Island of having a shanty ready built for a shelter during the time they might see fit to remain, and a good boiling-place, which would be a comfort to the girls, as they need not be exposed to the weather during the process of sugaring. The two boys soon cut down some small pines and bass-woods, which they hewed out into sugar-troughs; Indiana manufactured some rough pails of birch-bark; and the first favourable day for the work they loaded up a hand-sleigh with their vessels, and marched forth over the ice to the island, and tapped the trees they thought could yield sap for their purpose. And many pleasant days they passed during the sugar-making season. They did not leave the sugar-bush for good till the commencement of April, when the sun and wind beginning to unlock the springs that fed the lake, and to act upon its surface, taught them that it would not long be prudent to remain on the island. The loud booming sounds that were now frequently heard of the pent-up air beneath striving to break forth from its icy prison, were warnings not to be neglected. Openings began to appear, especially at the entrance of the river, and between the islands, and opposite to some of the larger creeks; blue streams that attracted the water-fowl, ducks, and wild geese, that came, guided by that instinct that never errs, from their abiding-places in far-off lands; and Indiana knew the signs of the wild birds coming and going with a certainty that seemed almost marvellous to her simple-minded companions.
How delightful were the first indications of the coming spring! How joyously our young Crusoes heard the first tapping of the redheaded woodpecker, the low, sweet, warbling note of the early song-sparrow, and twittering chirp of the snow-bird, or that neat quakerly-looking bird, that comes to cheer us with the news of sunny days and green buds, the low, tender, whispering note of the chiccadee, flitting among the pines or in the thick branches of the shore-side trees! The chattering note of the little striped chitmunk, as it pursued its fellows over the fallen trees, and the hollow sound of the male partridge heavily striking his wings against his sides to attract the notice of the female birds—were among the early spring melodies, for such they seemed to our forest dwellers, and for such they listened with eager ears, for they told them—
"That winter, cold winter, was past, And that spring, lovely spring, was approaching at last."
They watched for the first song of the robin, [FN: Turdus miyratorius, or American robin.] and the full melody of the red thrush [FN: Turdus melodus, or wood-thrush.]; the rushing sound of the passenger-pigeon, as flocks of these birds darted above their heads, sometimes pausing to rest on the dry limb of some withered oak, or darting down to feed upon the scarlet berries of the spicy winter-green, the acorns that still lay upon the now uncovered ground, or the berries of hawthorn and dogwood that still hung on the bare bushes. The pines were now putting on their rich, mossy, green spring dresses; the skies were deep blue; nature, weary of her long state of inaction, seemed waking into life and light.
On the Plains the snow soon disappears, for the sun and air has access to the earth much easier than in the close, dense forest; and Hector and Louis were soon able to move about with axe in hand, to cut the logs for the addition to the house which they proposed making. They also set to work as soon as the frost was out of the ground, to prepare their little field for the Indian corn. This kept them quite busy. Catharine attended to the house, and Indiana went out fishing and hunting, bringing in plenty of small game and fish every day. After they had piled and burned up the loose boughs and trunks that encumbered the space which they had marked out, they proceeded to enclose it with a "brush fence", which was done by felling the trees that stood in the line of the field, and letting them fall so as to form the bottom log of the fence, which they then made of sufficient height by piling up arms of trees and brush-wood. Perhaps in this matter they were too particular, as there was no fear of "breachy cattle," or any cattle, intruding on the crop; but Hector maintained that deer and bears were as much to be guarded against as oxen and cows.
The little enclosure was made secure from any such depredators, and was as clean as hands could make it, and the two cousins were sitting on a log, contentedly surveying their work, and talking of the time when the grain was to be put in. It was about the beginning of the second week in May, as near as they could guess from the bursting of the forest buds and the blooming of such of the flowers as they were acquainted with. Hector's eyes had followed the flight of a large eagle that now, turning from the lake, soared away majestically towards the east or Oak-hills. But soon his eye was attracted to another object. The loftiest part of the ridge was enveloped in smoke. At first he thought it must be some mist-wreath hovering over its brow; but soon the dense rolling clouds rapidly spread on each side, and he felt certain that it was from fire, and nothing but fire,[FN: Appendix I.] that those dark volumes arose.
"Louis, look yonder! the hills to the east are on fire."
"On fire, Hector? you are dreaming!"
"Nay, but look there!"
The hills were now shrouded in one dense, rolling, cloud; it moved on with fearful rapidity down the shrubby side of the hill, supplied by the dry, withered foliage and deer-grass, which was like stubble to the flames.
"It is two miles off, or more," said Louis; "and the creek will stop its progress long before it comes near us—and the swamp there, beyond Bare Hill."
"The cedars are as dry as tinder; and as to the creek, it is so narrow, a burning tree falling across would convey the fire to this side; besides, when the wind rises, as it always does when the bush is on fire, you know how far the burning leaves will fly. Do you remember when the forest was on fire last spring, how long it continued to burn, and how fiercely it raged! It was lighted by the ashes of your father's pipe, when he was out in the new fallow; the leaves were dry, and kindled; and before night the woods were burning for miles." "It was a grand spectacle, those pine-hills, when the fire got in among them," said Louis.. "See, see how fast the fires kindle; that must be some fallen pine that they have got hold of; now, look at the lighting up of that hill—is it not grand?"
"If the wind would but change, and blow in the opposite direction!" said Hector, anxiously.
"The wind, mon ami, seems to have little influence; for as long as the fire finds fuel from the dry bushes and grass, it drives on, even against the wind."
As they spoke the wind freshened, and they could plainly see a long line of wicked, bright flames, in advance of the dense mass of vapour which hung in its rear. On it came, that rolling sea of flame, with inconceivable rapidity, gathering strength as it advanced. The demon of destruction spread its red wings to the blast, rushing on with fiery speed; and soon hill and valley were wrapped in one sheet of flame.
"It must have been the work of the Indians," said Louis. "We had better make a retreat to the island, in case of the fire crossing the valley. We must not neglect the canoe; if the fire sweeps round by the swamp, it may come upon us unawares, and then the loss of the canoe would prevent escape by the lake. But here are the girls; let us consult them.
"It is the Indian burning," said Indiana; "that is the reason there are so few big trees on that hill; they burn it to make the grass better for the deer."
Hector had often pointed out to Louis the appearance of fire having scorched the bark of the trees, where they were at work, but it seemed to have been many years back; and when they were digging for the site of the root-house [FN: Root-houses are built over deep excavations below the reach of the frost, or the roots stored would be spoiled.] below the bank, which they had just finished, they had met with charred wood, at the depth of six feet below the soil, which must have lain there till the earth had accumulated over it; a period of many years must necessarily have passed since the wood had been burned, as it was so much decomposed as to crumble beneath the wooden shovel which they were digging with.
All day they watched the progress of that, fiery sea whose waves were flame—red, rolling flame. Onward it came, with resistless speed, overpowering every obstacle, widening its sphere of action, till it formed a perfect semicircle about them. As the night drew on, the splendour of the scene became more apparent, and the path of the fire better defined; but there was no fear of the conflagration spreading as it had done in the daytime. The wind had sunk, and the copious dews of evening effectually put a stop to the progress of the fire. The children could now gaze in security upon the magnificent spectacle before them, without the excitement produced by its rapid spread during the daytime. They lay down to sleep in perfect security that night, but with the consciousness that, as the breeze sprung up in the morning, they must be on the alert to secure their little dwelling and its contents from the devastation that threatened it. They knew that they had no power to stop its onward course, as they possessed no implement better than a rough wood shovel, which would be found very ineffectual in opening a trench or turning the ground up, so as to cut off the communication with the dry grass, leaves, and branches, which are the fuel for supplying the fires on the Plains. The little clearing on one side the house they thought would be its safeguard, but the fire was advancing on three sides of them.
"Let us hold a council, as the Indians do, to consider what is to be done."
"I propose," said Louis, "retreating, bag and baggage, to the nearest point of Long Island." "My French cousin has well spoken," said Hector, mimicking the Indian mode of speaking; "but listen to the words of the wise. I propose to take all our household stores that are of the most value, to the island, and lodge the rest safely in our new root-house, first removing from its neighbourhood all such light, loose matter as is likely to take fire; the earthen roof will save it from destruction; as to the shanty, it must take its chance to stand or fall."
"The fence of the little clearing will be burned, no doubt. Well, never mind, better that than our precious selves; and the corn, fortunately, is not yet sown," said Louis.
Hector's advice met with general applause, and the girls soon set to work to secure the property they meant to leave.
It was a fortunate thing that the root-house had been finished, as it formed a secure storehouse for their goods, and would also be made available as a hiding-place from the Indians, in time of need. The boys carefully scraped away all the combustible matter from its vicinity, and also from the house; but the rapid increase of the fire now warned them to hurry down to join Catharine and the young Mohawk, who had gone off to the lake shore, with such things as they required to take with them.
"I know a lake where the cool waves break, And softly fall on the silver sand, And no stranger intrudes on that solitude, And no voices but ours disturb the strand." IRISH SONG
The breeze had sprung up, and had already brought the fire down as far as the creek. The swamp had long been on fire, and now the flames were leaping among the decayed timbers, roaring and crackling among the pines, and rushing to the tops of the cedars, springing from heap to heap of the fallen branches, and filling the air with dense volumes of black and suffocating smoke. So quickly did the flames advance that Hector and Louis had only time to push off the canoe before the heights along the shore were wrapped in smoke and fire. Many a giant oak and noble pine fell crashing to the earth, sending up showers of red sparks, as its burning trunk shivered in its fall. Glad to escape from the suffocating vapour, the boys quickly paddled out to the island, enjoying the cool, fresh air of the lake. Reposing on the grass beneath the trees, they passed the day, sheltered from the noonday sun, and watched the progress of the fires upon the shore. At night the girls slept securely under the canoe, which they raised on one side by means of forked sticks stuck in the ground.
It was a grand sight to see the burning plains at night, reflected on the water. A thousand naming torches flickered upon its still surface, to which the glare of a gas-lighted city would have been dim and dull by contrast.
Louis and Hector would speculate on the probable chances of the shanty escaping from the fire, and of the fence remaining untouched. Of the safety of the root-house they entertained no fear, as the grass was already springing green on the earthen roof; and below they had taken every precaution to secure its safely, by scraping up the earth near it. [FN: Many a crop of grain and comfortable homestead has been saved by turning a furrow round the field; and great conflagrations have been effectually stopped by men beating the fire out with spades, and hoeing up the fresh earth so as to cut off all communication with the dry roots, grass, and leaves that feed its onward progress. Water, even could it be got, which is often impossible, is not near so effectual in stopping the progress of fire; even women and little children can assist in such emergencies.]
Catharine lamented for the lovely spring-flowers that would be destroyed by the fire. "We shall have neither huckleberries nor strawberries this summer," she said, mournfully; "and the pretty roses and bushes will be scorched, and the ground black and dreary."
"The fire passes so rapidly over that it does not destroy many of the forest trees, only the dead ones are destroyed; and that, you know, leaves more space for the living ones to grow and thrive in," said Hector. "I have seen, the year after a fire has run in the bush, a new and fresh set of plants spring up, and even some that looked withered recover; the earth is renewed and manured by the ashes; and it is not so great a misfortune as it at first appears."
"But how black and dismal the burnt pine-woods look for years!" said Louis; "I do not think there is a more melancholy sight in life than one of those burnt pine-woods. There it stands, year after year, the black, branchless trees pointing up to the blue sky, as if crying for vengeance against those that kindled the fires."
"They do, indeed, look ugly," said Catharine; "yet the girdled ones look very nearly as ill." [FN: The girdled pines are killed by barking them round, to facilitate the clearing.]
At the end of two days the fires had ceased to rage, though the dim smoke-wreaths to the westward showed where the work of destruction was still going on.
As there was no appearance of any Indians on the lake, nor yet at the point (Andersen's Point, as it is now called), on the other side, they concluded the fires had possibly originated by accident,—some casual hunter or trapper having left his camp-fire unextinguished; but as they were not very likely to come across the scene of the conflagration, they decided on returning back to their old home without delay; and it was with some feeling of anxiety that they hastened to see what evil had befallen their shanty.
"The shanty is burned!" was the simultaneous exclamation of both Louis and Hector, as they reached the rising ground that should have commanded a view of its roof. "It is well for us that we secured our things in the root-house," said Hector.
"Well, if that is safe, who cares? we can soon build up a new house, larger and better than the old one," said Louis. "The chief of our fence is gone, too, I see; but that we can renew at our leisure; no hurry, if we get it done a month hence, say I. Come, ma belle, do not look so sorrowful. There is our little squaw will help us to set up a capital wigwam, while the new house is building." "But the nice table that you made, Louis, and the benches and shelves!"
"Never mind, Cathy, we will have better tables, and benches, and shelves too. Never fear, ma chere, the same industrious Louis will make things comfortable. I am not sorry the old shanty is down; we shall have a famous one put up, twice as large, for the winter. After the corn is planted we shall have nothing else to do but to think about it."
The next two or three days was spent in erecting a wigwam, with poles and birch bark; and as the weather was warm and pleasant, they did not feel the inconvenience so much as they would have done had it been earlier in the season. The root-house formed an excellent store-house and pantry; and Indiana contrived, in putting up the wigwam, to leave certain loose folds between the birch-bark lining and outer covering, which formed a series of pouches or bags, in which many articles could be stowed away out of sight. [FN: In this way the winter wigwams of the Indians are constructed so as to give plenty of stowing room for all their little household matters, materials for work, &c.]
While the girls were busy contriving the arrangements of the wigwam, the two boys were not idle. The time was come for planting the corn; a succession of heavy thunder-showers had soaked and softened the scorched earth, and rendered the labour of moving it much easier than they had anticipated. They had cut for themselves wooden trowels, with which they raised the hills for the seed. The corn planted, they next turned their attention to cutting house-logs; those which they had prepared had been burned up; so they had their labour to begin again.
The two girls proved good helps at the raising; and in the course of a few weeks they had the comfort of seeing a more commodious dwelling than the former one put up. The finishing of this, with weeding the Indian corn, renewing the fence, and fishing, and trapping, and shooting partridges and ducks and pigeons, fully occupied their time this summer. The fruit season was less abundant this year than the previous one. The fire had done this mischief, and they had to go far a-field to collect fruits during the summer months.
It so happened that Indiana had gone out early one morning with the boys, and Catharine was alone. She had gone down to the spring for water, and on her return was surprised at the sight of a squaw and her family of three half-grown lads, and an innocent little brown papoose. [FN: An Indian baby; but "papoose" is not an Indian word. It is probably derived from the Indian imitation of the word "baines."] In their turn the strangers seemed equally astonished at Catharine's appearance.
The smiling aspect and good-natured laugh of the female, however, soon reassured the frightened girl, and she gladly gave her the water which she had in her birch dish, on her signifying her desire for drink. To this Catharine added some berries, and dried venison, and a bit of maple sugar, which was received with grateful looks by the boys; she patted the brown baby, and was glad when the mother released it from its wooden cradle, and fed and nursed it. The squaw seemed to notice the difference between the colour of her young hostess's fair skin and her own swarthy hue; for she often took her hand, stripped up the sleeve of her dress, and compared her arm with her own, uttering exclamations of astonishment and curiosity; possibly Catharine was the first of a fair-skinned race this poor savage had ever seen. After her meal was finished, she set the birchen dish on the floor, and restrapping the papoose in its cradle prison, she slipped the basswood-bark rope over her forehead, and silently signing to her sons to follow her, she departed. That evening a pair of ducks were found fastened to the wooden latch of the door, a silent offering of gratitude for the refreshment that had been afforded to this Indian woman and her children.
Indiana thought, from Catharine's description, that these were Indians with whom she was acquainted she spent some days in watching the lake and the ravine, lest a larger and more formidable party should be near. The squaw, she said, was a widow, and went by the name of Mother Snow-storm, from having been lost in the woods, when a little child, during a heavy storm of snow, and nearly starved to death. She was a gentle, kind woman, and, she believed, would not do any of them hurt. Her sons were good hunters; and though so young, helped to support their mother, and were very good to her and the little one.
I must now pass over a considerable interval of time, with merely a brief notice that the crop of corn was carefully harvested, and proved abundant, and a source of great comfort. The rice was gathered and stored, and plenty of game and fish laid by, with an additional store of honey.
The Indians, for some reason, did not pay their accustomed visit to the lake this season. Indiana said they might be engaged with war among some hostile tribes, or had gone to other hunting grounds. The winter was unusually mild, and it was long before it set in. Yet the spring following was tardy, and later than usual. It was the latter end of May before vegetation had made any very decided progress.
The little loghouse presented a neat and comfortable appearance, both within and without. Indiana had woven a handsome mat of bass bark for the floor; Louis and Hector had furnished it with very decent seats and a table, rough, but still very respectably constructed, considering their only tools were a tomahawk, a knife, and wooden wedges for splitting the wood into slabs. These Louis afterwards smoothed with great care and patience. Their bedsteads were furnished with thick, soft mate, woven by Indiana and Catharine, from rushes which they cut and dried; but the little squaw herself preferred lying on a mat or deer-skin on the floor before the fire, as she had been accustomed.
A new field had been enclosed, and a fresh crop of corn planted, and was now green and flourishing. Peace and happiness dwelt within the loghouse;—but for the regrets that ever attended the remembrance of all they had left and lost, no cloud would have dimmed the serenity of those who dwelt beneath its humble roof.
The season of flowers had again arrived,—the earth, renovated by the fire of the former year, bloomed with fresh beauty,—June, with its fragrant store of roses and lilies, was now far advanced,—the anniversary of that time when they had left their beloved parents' roofs, to become sojourners in the lonely wilderness, had returned. Much they felt they had to be grateful for. Many privations, it is true, and much anxiety they had felt; but they had enjoyed blessings above all that they could have expected, and they might, like the Psalmist when recounting the escapes of the people of God, have said,—"Oh that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness, and the wonders that he doeth for the children of men." And now they declared no greater evil could befal them than to lose one of their little party, for even Indiana had become as a dear and beloved sister; her gentleness, her gratitude and faithful trusting love, seemed each day to increase. Now, indeed, she was bound to them by a yet more sacred tie, for she knelt to the same God, and acknowledged, with fervent love, the mercies of her Redeemer. She had made great progress in learning their language, and had also taught her friends to speak and understand much of her own tongue; so that they were now no longer at a loss to converse with her on any subject. Thus was this Indian girl united to them in bonds of social and Christian love.