"All wild animals, my dear, are more active by night than by day, and probably make their long journeys during that season. The eyes of many animals and birds are so formed, that they see best in the dim twilight, as cats, and owls, and others. Our heavenly Father has fitted all his. creatures for the state in which he has placed them."
"Can squirrels swim like otters and beavers, nurse? If they come to a lake or river, can they cross it?"
"I think they can, Lady Mary; for though these creatures are not formed like the otter, or beaver, or muskrat, to get their living in the water, they are able to swim when necessity requires them to do so. I heard a lady say that she was crossing a lake, between one of the islands and the shore, in a canoe, with a baby on her lap. She noticed a movement on the surface of the water. At first she thought it might be a water snake, but the servant lad who was paddling the canoe, said it was a red squirrel, and he tried to strike it with the paddle; but the little squirrel leaped out of the water to the blade of the paddle, and sprang on the head of the baby, as it lay on her lap; from whence it jumped to her shoulder, and before she had recovered from her surprise, was in the water again, swimming straight for the shore, where it was soon safe in the dark pine woods."
This feat of the squirrel delighted Lady Mary, who expressed her joy at the bravery of the little creature. Besides, she said she had heard that grey squirrels, when they wished to go to a distance in search of food, would all meet together, and collect pieces of bark to serve them for boats, and would set up their broad tails like sails, to catch the wind, and in this way cross large sheets of water.
"I do not think this can be true," observed Mrs. Frazer; "for the squirrel, when swimming, uses his tail as an oar or rudder to help the motion, the tail lying flat on the surface of the water; nor do these creatures need a boat, for God, who made them, has given them the power of swimming at their need."
"Nurse, you said something about a ground squirrel, and called it a chitmunk. If you please, will you tell me something about it, and why it is called by such a curious name?"
"I believe it is the Indian name for this sort of squirrel, my dear. The chitmunk is not so large as the black, red, or grey squirrels. It is marked along the back with black and white stripes; the rest of its fur is a yellowish tawny colour. It is a very playful, lively, cleanly animal, somewhat resembling the dormouse in its habits. It burrows under ground. Its nest is made with great care, with many galleries which open at the surface, so that when attacked by an enemy, it can run from one to another for security."
[Footnote: The squirrel has many enemies; all the weasel tribe, cats, and even dogs attack them. Cats kill great numbers of these little animals. The farmer shows them as little mercy as he does rats and mice, as they are very destructive, and carry off vast quantities of grain, which they store in hollow trees for use. Not contenting themselves with one, granary, they have several in case one should fail, or perhaps become injured by accidental causes. Thus do these simple little creatures teach us a lesson of providential care for future events.]
"How wise of these little chitmunks to think of that!" said Lady Mary.
"Nay, my dear child, it is God's wisdom, not theirs. These creatures work according to his will; and so they always do what is fittest and best for their own comfort and safety. Man is the only one of God's creatures who disobeys Him."
These words made Lady Mary look grave, till her nurse began to talk to her again about the chitmunk.
"It is very easily tamed, and becomes very fond of its master. It will obey his voice, come at a call or a whistle, sit up and beg, take a nut or an acorn out of his hand, run up a stick, nestle in his bosom, and become quite familiar. My uncle had a tame chitmunk that was much attached to him; it lived in his pocket or bosom; it was his companion by day and by night. When he was out in the forest lumbering, or on the lake fishing, or in the fields at work, it was always with him. At meals it sat by the side of his plate, eating what he gave it; but he did not give it meat, as he thought that might injure its health. One day he and his pet were in the steam-boat, going to Toronto. He had been showing off the little chitmunk's tricks to the ladies and gentlemen on board the boat, and several persons offered him money if he would sell it; but my uncle was fond of the little thing, and would not part with it. However, just before he left the boat, he missed his pet; for a cunning Yankee pedlar on board had stolen it. My uncle knew that his little friend would not desert its old master; so he went on deck where the passengers were assembled, and whistled a popular tune familiar to the chitmunk. The little fellow, on hearing it, whisked out of the pedlar's pocket, and running swiftly along a railing against which he was standing, soon sought refuge in his master's bosom."
Lady Mary clapped her hands with joy, and said, "I am so glad, nurse, that the chitmunk ran back to his old friend. I wish it had bitten that Yankee pedlar's fingers."
"When angry, these creatures will bite very sharply, set up their tails, and run to and fro, and make a chattering sound with their teeth. The red squirrel is very fearless for its size, and will sometimes turn round and face you, set up its tail, and scold. But they will, when busy eating the seeds of the sunflower or thistle, of which they are very fond, suffer you to stand and watch them without attempting to run away. When near their granaries, or the tree where their nest is, they are unwilling to leave it, running to and fro, and uttering their angry notes; but if a dog is near, they make for a tree, and as soon as they are out of his reach, turn round to chatter and scold, as long as he remains in sight. When hard pressed, the black and flying squirrels will take prodigious leaps, springing from bough to bough, and from tree to tree. In this manner they baffle the hunters, and travel a great distance over the tops of the trees. Once I saw my uncle and brothers chasing a large black squirrel. He kept out of reach of the dogs, as well as out of sight of the men, by passing round and round the tree as he went up, so that they could never get a fair shot at him. At last, they got so provoked that they took their axes, and set to work to chop down the tree. It was a large pine-tree, and took them some time. Just as the tree was ready to fall, and was wavering to and fro, the squirrel, who had kept on the topmost bough, sprang nimbly to the next tree, and then to another, and by the time the great pine had reached the ground, the squirrel was far away in his nest among his little ones, safe from hunters, guns, and dogs."
"The black squirrel must have wondered, I think, nurse, why so many men and dogs tried to kill such a little creature as he was. Do the black squirrels sleep in the winter as well as the flying squirrels and chitmunks?"
"No, Lady Mary; I have often seen them on bright days chasing each other over logs and brush heaps, and running gaily up the pine-trees. They are easily seen from the contrast which their jetty black coats make with the sparkling white snow. These creatures feed a good deal on the kernels of the pines and hemlocks; they also eat the buds of some trees. They lay up great stores of nuts and grain for winter use. The flying squirrels sleep much, and in the cold season lie heaped upon each other, for the sake of warmth. As many as seven or eight may be found in one nest asleep. They sometimes awaken, if there come a succession of warm days, as in the January thaw; for I must tell you that in this country we generally have rain and mild weather for a few days in the beginning of January, when the snow nearly disappears from the ground. About the 12th, [Footnote: This remark applies more particularly to the Upper Province.] the weather sets in again steadily cold; when the little animals retire once more to sleep in their winter cradles, which they rarely leave till the hard weather is over."
"I suppose, nurse, when they awake, they are glad to eat some of the food they hare laid up in their granaries?"
"Yes, my dear, it is for this they gather their hoards in mild weather; which also supports them in the spring months, and possibly even during the summer, till grain and fruit are ripe. I was walking in the harvest field one day, where my brothers were cradling wheat. As I passed along the fence, I noticed a great many little heaps of wheat lying here and there on the rails, also upon the tops of the stumps in the field. I wondered at first who could have placed them there, but presently noticed a number of red squirrels running very swiftly along the fence, and perceived that they emptied their mouths of a quantity of the new wheat, which they had been diligently employed in collecting from the ears that lay scattered over the ground. These little gleaners did not seem to be at all alarmed at my presence, but went to and fro as busy as bees. On taking some of the grains into my hand, I noticed that the germ or eye of the kernels was bitten clean out."
"What was that for, nurse? can you tell me?"
"My dear young lady, I did not know at first, till, upon showing it to my father, he told me that the squirrels destroyed the germ of the grain, such as wheat or Indian corn, that they stored up for winter use, that it might not sprout when buried in the ground or in a hollow tree."
"This is very strange, nurse," said the little girl. "But I suppose," she added, after a moment's thought, "it was God who taught the squirrels to do so. But why would biting out the eye prevent the grain from growing?"
"Because the eye or bud contains the life of the plant; from it springs the green blade, and the stem that bears the ear, and the root that strikes down to the earth. The flowery part, which swells and becomes soft and jelly-like, serves to nourish the young plant till the tender fibres of the roots are able to draw moisture from the ground."
Lady Mary asked if all seeds had an eye or germ.
Her nurse replied that all had, though some were so minute that they looked no bigger than dust, or a grain of sand; yet each was perfect in its kind, and contained the plant that would, when sown in the earth, bring forth roots, leaves, buds, flowers, and fruits in due season.
"How glad I should have been to see the little squirrels gleaning the wheat, and laying it in the little heaps on the rail fence. Why did they not carry it at once to their nests?"
"They laid it out in the sun and wind to dry; for if it had been stored away while damp, it would have moulded, and have been spoiled. The squirrels were busy all that day; when I went to see them again, the grain was gone. I saw several red squirrels running up and down a large pine-tree, which had been broken by the wind at the top; and there, no doubt, they had laid up stores. These squirrels did not follow each other in a straight line, but ran round and round in a spiral direction, so that they never hindered each other, nor came in each other's way: two were always going up, while the other two were going down. They seem to work in families; for the young ones, though old enough to get their own living, usually inhabit the same nest, and help to store up the grain for winter use. They all separate again in spring. The little chitmunk does not live in trees, but burrows in the ground, or makes its nest in some large hollow log. It is very pretty to see the little chitmunks, on a warm spring day, running about and chasing each other among the moss and leaves; they are not bigger than mice, but look bright and lively. The fur of all the squirrel tribe is used in trimming, but the grey is the best and most valuable. It has often been remarked by the Indians, and others, that the red and black squirrels never live in the same place; for the red, though the smallest, beat away the black ones. The flesh of the black squirrel is very good to eat; the Indians also eat the red."
Lady Mary was very glad to hear all these things, and quite forgot to play with her doll. "Please, Mrs. Frazer," said the little lady, "tell me now about beavers and muskrats." But Mrs. Frazer was obliged to go out on business; she promised, however, to tell Lady Mary all she knew about these animals another day.
INDIAN BASKETS—THREAD PLANTS—MAPLE SUGAR TREE—INDIAN ORNAMENTAL WORKS— RACOONS
It was some time before Lady Mary's nurse could tell her any more stories. She received a letter from her sister-in-law, informing her that her brother was dangerously ill, confined to what was feared would prove his deathbed, and that he earnestly desired to see her before he died. The Governor's lady, who was very kind and good to all her household, readily consented to let Mrs. Frazer go to her sick relation.
Lady Mary parted from her dear nurse, whom she loved very tenderly, with much regret. Mrs. Frazer told her that it might be a fortnight before she could return, as her brother lived on the shores of one of the small lakes, near the head waters of the Otonabee river, a great way off; but she promised to return as soon as she could, and to console her young mistress for her absence, said she would bring her some Indian toys from the backwoods.
The month of March passed away pleasantly, for Lady Mary enjoyed many delightful sleigh-drives with her papa and mamma, who took every opportunity to instruct and amuse her. On entering her nursery one day, after enjoying a long drive in the country, great was her joy to find her good nurse sitting quietly at work by the stove. She was dressed in deep mourning, and looked much thinner and paler than when she had last seen her.
The kind little girl knew, when she saw her nurse's black dress, that her brother must be dead; and with the thoughtfulness of a true lady, remained very quiet, and did not annoy her with questions about trifling matters; she spoke low and gently to her, and tried to comfort her when she saw large tears falling on the work which she held in her hand, kindly said, "Mrs, Frazer, you had better go and lie down and rest yourself, for you must be tired after your long long journey."
The next day Mrs. Frazer seemed to be much better; and she showed Lady Mary an Indian basket, made of birch-bark, very richly wrought with coloured porcupine-quills, and which had two lids.
Lady Mary admired the splendid colours, and strange patterns on the basket.
"It is for you, my dear," said her nurse, "open it, and see what is in it." Lady Mary lifted one of the lids, and took out another small basket, of a different shape and pattern. It had a top, which was sewn down with coarse-looking thread, which her nurse told her was nothing but the sinews of the deer, dried and beaten fine, and drawn out like thread. Then, taking an end of it in her hand, she made Lady Mary observe that these coarse threads could be separated into a great number of finer ones, sufficiently delicate to pass through the eye of a fine needle, or to string tiny beads.
"The Indians, my lady, sew with the sinews of the wild animals they kill. These sinews are much stronger and tougher than thread, and therefore are well adapted to sew together such things as moccasins, leggings, and garments made of the skins of wild animals. The finer threads are used for sewing the beads and quill ornaments on moccasins, sheaths, and pouches, besides other things that I cannot now think of.
"They sew some things with the roots of the tamarack, of larch; such as coarse birch-baskets, bark canoes, and the covering of their wigwams. They call this 'wah-tap,' [Footnote: Asclepia paviflora.] (wood-thread,) and they prepare it by pulling off the outer rind and steeping it in water. It is the larger fibres which have the appearance of small cordage when coiled up and fit for use. This 'wah-tap' is very valuable to these poor Indians. There is also another plant, called Indian hemp, which is a small shrubby kind of milk-weed, that grows on gravelly islands. It bears white flowers, and the branches are long and slender; under the bark there is a fine silky thread covering the wood; this is tough, and can be twisted and spun into cloth. It is very white and fine, and does not easily break. There are other plants of the same family, with pods full of fine shining silk; but these are too brittle to spin into thread. This last kind, Lady Mary, which is called Milk-weed flytrap, I will show you in summer." [Footnote: Asclepia Syriaca.]
But while Mrs. Frazer was talking about these plants, the little lady was examining the contents of the small birch-box. "If you please, nurse, will you tell me what these dark shining seeds are?"
"These seeds, my dear, are Indian rice; an old squaw, Mrs. Peter Noggan, gave me this as a present for 'Governor's daughter,'" and Mrs. Frazer imitated the soft, whining tone of the Indian, which made Lady Mary laugh.
"The box is called a 'mowkowk.' There is another just like it, only there is a white bird,—a snow-bird, I suppose it is intended for—worked on the lid." The lid of this box was fastened down with a narrow slip of deer-skin; Lady Mary cut the fastening, and raised the lid,—"Nurse, it is only yellow sand; how droll, to send me a box of sand!"
"It is not sand; taste it, Lady Mary."
"It is sweet—it is sugar! Ah! now I know what it is that this kind old squaw has sent me; it is maple-sugar; and is very nice. I will go and show it to mamma."
"Wait a little, Lady Mary, let us see what there is in the basket besides the rice and the maple-sugar."
"What a lovely thing this is! dear nurse, what can it be?"
"It is a sheath for your scissors, my dear; it is made of doe-skin, embroidered with white beads, and coloured quills split fine, and sewn with deer-sinew thread. Look at these curious bracelets."
Lady Mary examined the bracelets, and said she thought they were wrought with beads; but Mrs. Frazer told her that what she took for beads were porcupine quills, cut out very finely, and strung in a pattern. They were not only neatly but tastefully made; the pattern, though a Grecian scroll, having been carefully imitated by some Indian squaw.
"This embroidered knife-sheath is large enough for a hunting-knife," said Lady Mary, "a 'couteau de chasse,'—is it not?"
"This sheath was worked by the wife of Isaac Iron, an educated chief of the Mud Lake Indians; she gave it to me because I had been kind to her in sickness."
"I will give it to my dear papa," said Lady Mary, "for I never go out hunting, and do not wish to carry a large knife by my side;" and she laid the sheath away, after having admired its gay colours, and particularly the figure of a little animal worked in black and white quills, which was intended to represent a racoon.
"This is a present for your doll; it is a doll's mat, woven by a little girl, aged seven years, Rachel Muskrat; and here is a little canoe of red cedar, made by a little Indian boy."
"What a darling little boat, and there is a fish carved on the paddles." This device greatly pleased Lady Mary, who said she would send Rachel a wax doll, and little Moses a knife, or some other useful article, when Mrs. Frazer went again to the Lakes; but when her nurse took out of the other end of the basket a birch-bark cradle, made for her doll, worked very richly, she clapped her hands for joy, saying, "Ah, nurse, you should not have brought me so many pretty things at once, for I am too happy!"
The remaining contents of the basket consisted of seeds and berries, and a small cake of maple-sugar, which Mrs. Frazer had made for the young lady. This was very different in appearance from the Indian sugar; it was bright and sparkling, like sugar-candy, and tasted sweeter. The other sugar was dry, and slightly bitter: Mrs. Frazer told Lady Mary that this peculiar taste was caused by the birch-bark vessels, which the Indians used for catching the sap as it flowed from the maple-trees.
"I wonder who taught the Indians how to make maple-sugar?" asked the child.
"I do not know;" replied the nurse. "I have heard that they knew how to make this sugar when the discoverers of the country found them. [Footnote: However this may be, the French settlers claim the merit of converting the sap into sugar.] It may be that they found it out by accident. The sugar-maple when wounded in March, and April, yields a great deal of sweet liquor. Some Indians may have supplied themselves with this juice, when pressed for want of water; for it flows so freely in warm days in spring, that several pints can be obtained from one tree in the course of the day. By boiling this juice, it becomes very sweet; and at last, when all the thin watery part has gone off in steam, it becomes thick, like honey; by boiling it still-longer, it turns to sugar, when cold. So you see, my dear, that the Indians may have found it out by boiling some sap, instead of water, and letting it remain on the fire till it grew thick."
"Are there many kinds of maple-trees, that sugar can be made from, nurse?" asked the little girl.
"Yes, [Footnote: All the maple tribe are of a saccharine nature. Sugar has been made in England from the sap of the sycamore.] my lady; but I believe the sugar-maple yields the best sap for the purpose; that of the birch-tree, I have heard, can be made into sugar; but it would require a larger quantity; weak wine, or vinegar, is made by the settlers of birch-sap, which is very pleasant tasted. The people who live in the backwoods, and make maple-sugar, always make a keg of vinegar at the sugaring off."
"That must be very useful; but if the sap is sweet, how can it be made into such sour stuff as vinegar?"
Then nurse tried to make Lady Mary understand that the heat of the sun, or of a warm room, would make the liquor ferment, unless it had been boiled a long time, so as to become very sweet, and somewhat thick. The first fermentation, she told her, would give only a winy taste; but if it continued to ferment a great deal, it turned sour, and became vinegar.
"How very useful the maple-tree is, nurse! I wish there were maples in the garden, and I would make sugar, molasses, wine, and vinegar; and what else would I do with my maple-tree?"
Mrs. Frazer laughed, and said,—"The wood makes excellent fuel; but is also used in making bedsteads, chests of drawers, and many other things. There is a very pretty wood for furniture, called 'bird's-eye maple;' the drawers in my bedroom that you think so pretty are made of it; but it is a disease in the tree that causes it to have these little marks all through the wood. In autumn, this tree improves the forest landscape, for the bright scarlet leaves of the maple give a beautiful look to the woods in the fall. The soft maple, another species, is very bright when the leaves are changing, but it gives no sugar."
"Then I will not let it grow in my garden, nurse!"
"It is good for other purposes, my dear. The settlers use the bark for dyeing wool; and a jet black ink can be made from it, by boiling down the bark with a bit of copperas, in an iron vessel; so you see it is useful. The bright red flowers of this tree look very pretty in the spring; it grows best by the water-side, and some call it 'the swamp maple.'"
This was all Mrs. Frazer could tell Lady Mary about the maple-trees. Many little girls, as young as the Governor's daughter, would have thought it very dull to listen to what her nurse had to say about plants and trees; but Lady Mary would put aside her dolls and toys, to stand beside her to ask questions, and listen to her answers; the more she heard, the more she desired to hear, about these things. "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, are two things that are never satisfied," saith the wise king Solomon.
Lady Mary was delighted with the contents of her Indian basket, and spent the rest of her play-hours in looking at the various articles it contained, and asking her nurse questions about the materials of which they were made. Some of the bark boxes were lined with paper, but the doll's cradle was not, and Lady Mary perceived that the inside of it was very rough, caused by the hard ends of the quills with which it was ornamented. At first, she could not think how the squaws worked with the quills, as they could not possibly thread them through the eye of a needle; but her nurse told her that when they want to work any pattern in birch-bark, they trace it with some sharp-pointed instrument, such as a nail, or bodkin, or even a sharp thorn; with which they pierce holes close together round the edge of the leaf, or blade, or bird they have drawn out on the birch-bark; into these holes they insert one end of the quill, the other end is then drawn through the opposite hole, pulled tight, bent a little, and cut off on the inside. This any one of my young readers may see, if they examine the Indian baskets or toys, made of birch-bark. "I have seen the squaws in their wigwams at work on these things, sitting cross-legged on their mats,—some had the quills in a little bark dish on their laps, while others held them in their mouths—not a very safe nor delicate way; but Indians are not very nice in some of their habits," said Mrs. Frazer.
"Nurse, if you please, will you tell me what this little animal is designed to represent," said Lady Mary, pointing to the figure of the racoon worked in quills on the sheath of the hunting-knife.
"It is intended for a racoon, my lady," replied her nurse.
"Is the racoon a pretty creature like my squirrel?"
"It is much larger than your squirrel; its fur is not nearly so soft or so fine; the colour being black and grey, or dun; the tail barred across, and bushy,—you have seen many sleigh-robes made of racoon-skins, with the tails looking like tassels at the back of the sleighs."
"Oh, yes, and a funny cunning-looking face peeping out too!"
"The face of this little animal is sharp, and the eyes black and keen, like a fox; the feet bare, like the soles of our feet, only black and leathery; their claws are very sharp; they can climb trees very fast. During the winter the racoons sleep in hollow trees, and cling together for the sake of keeping each other warm. The choppers find as many as seven or eight in one nest, fast asleep. Most probably the young family remain with the old ones until spring, when, they separate. The racoon in its habits is said to resemble the bear; like the bear, it lives chiefly on vegetables, especially Indian corn, but I do not think that it lays by any store for winter. They sometimes awake if there come a few warm days, but soon retire again to their warm cosy nests."
"Racoons will eat eggs; and fowls are often taken by them,—perhaps this is in the winter, when they wake up and are pressed by hunger."
Her nurse said that one of her friends had a racoon which he kept in a wooden cage, but he was obliged to have a chain and collar to keep him from getting away, as he used to gnaw the bars asunder; and had slily stolen away and killed some ducks, and was almost as mischievous as a fox, but was very lively and amusing in his way.
Lady Mary now left her good nurse, and took her basket, with all its Indian treasures, to show to her mamma,—with whom we leave her for the present.
CANADIAN BIRDS—SNOW SPARROW—ROBIN RED-BREAST—CANADIAN FLOWERS— AMERICAN PORCUPINE.
"Spring is coming, nurse! Spring is coming at last!" exclaimed the Governor's little daughter, joyfully. "The snow is going away at last. I am tired of the white snow, it makes my eyes ache. I want to see the brown earth, and the grass, and the green moss, and the pretty flowers again."
"It will be some days before this deep covering of snow is gone. The streets are still slippery with ice, which it will take some time, my lady, to soften."
"But, nurse, the sun shines, and there are little streams of water running along the streets in every direction; see, the snow is gone from under the bushes and trees in the garden. I saw some dear little birds flying about, and I watched them perching on the dry stalks of the tall rough weeds, and they appeared to be picking seeds out of the husks. Can you tell me what birds they were?"
"I saw the flock of birds you mean, Lady Mary; they are the common snow-sparrows; [Footnote: Fringilla nivalis.] almost our earliest visitants; for they may be seen in April, mingled with the brown song-sparrow, [Footnote: Fringilla melodia.] flitting about the garden fences, or picking the stalks of the tall mullein and amaranths, to find the seeds that have not been shaken out by the autumn winds; and possibly they also find insects cradled in the husks of the old seed-vessels. These snow-sparrows are very hardy, and though some migrate to the States in the beginning of winter, a few stay in the Upper Province, and others come back to us before the snow is all gone."
"They are very pretty, neat-looking birds, nurse; dark slate colour, with white breasts."
"When I was a little girl, I used to call them my Quaker-birds, they looked so neat and prim. In the summer you may find their nests in the brush-heaps near the edge of the forest; they sing a soft, low song."
"Nurse, I heard a bird singing yesterday, when I was in the garden; a little plain brown bird, nurse."
"It was a song-sparrow, Lady Mary. This cheerful little bird comes with the snow-birds, often before the robin."
"Oh, nurse, the robin! I wish you would show me a darling robin redbreast. I did not know they lived in Canada."
"The bird that we call the robin in this country, my dear, is not like the little redbreast you have seen at home; our robin is twice as large; though in shape resembling the European robin; I believe it is really a kind of thrush. It migrates in the fall, and returns to us early in the spring."
"What is migrating, nurse; is it the same as emigrating?"
"Yes, Lady Mary, for when a person leaves his native country, and goes to live in another country, he is said to emigrate. This is the reason why the English, Scotch, and Irish families who come to live in Canada are called Emigrants."
"What colour are the Canadian robins, nurse?"
"The head is blackish, the back lead colour, and the breast is pale orange; not so bright a red, however, as the real robin."
"Have you ever seen their nests, nurse?"
"Yes, my dear, many of them. It is not a pretty nest; it is large, and coarsely put together, of old dried grass, roots, and dead leaves, plastered inside with clay, mixed with bits of straw, so as to form a sort of mortar. You know, Lady Mary, that the blackbird and thrush build nests, and plaster them in this way."
The little lady nodded her head in assent. "Nurse, I once saw a robin's nest when I was in England; it was in the side of a mossy ditch, with primroses growing close beside it; it was made of green moss, and lined with white wool and hair; it was a pretty nest, with nice eggs in it, much better than your Canadian robin's nest."
"Our robins build in upturned roots, in the corners of rail fences, and in the young pear-trees and apple-trees in the orchard. The eggs are a greenish blue. The robin sings a full, clear song; indeed he is our best songster. We have so few singing-birds, that we prize those that do sing very much."
"Does the Canadian robin come into the house in winter, and pick up the crumbs, as the dear little redbreasts do at home?"
"No, Lady Mary, they are able to find plenty of food abroad, when they return to us; but they hop about the houses and gardens pretty freely. In the fall, before they go away, they may be seen in great numbers, running about the old pastures, picking up worms and seeds."
"Do people see the birds flying away together, nurse?"
"Not often, my dear, for most birds congregate together in small flocks and depart unnoticed; many go away at night, when we are sleeping; and some fly very high on cloudy days, so that they are not distinctly seen against the dull grey sky. The water birds, such as geese, swans, and ducks, take their flight in large bodies. They are heard making a continual noise in the air, and may be seen grouped in long lines, or in the form of the letter V lying on its side, (<), the point generally directed southward or westward, the strongest and oldest birds acting as leaders: when tired, these aquatic generals fall backward into the main body, and are replaced by others."
Lady Mary was much surprised at the order and sagacity displayed by wild fowl in their flight; and Mrs. Frazer told her that some other time she would tell her some more facts respecting their migration to other countries.
"Nurse, will you tell me something about birds' nests, and what they make them of?"
"Birds that live chiefly in the depths of the forest, or in solitary places, far away from the haunts of men, build their nests of ruder materials, and with less care in the manner of putting them together; dried grass, roots, and a little moss, seem to be the materials they make use of. It has been noticed by many persons, my dear, that those birds that live near towns and villages and cleared farms, soon learn to make better sorts of nests, and to weave into them soft and comfortable things, such as silk, wool, cotton, and hair."
"That is very strange, nurse."
"It is so, Lady Mary; but the same thing may also be seen among human beings. The savage nations are contented with rude dwellings made of sticks and cane, covered with skins of beasts, bark, or reeds; but when they once unite together in a more social state, and live in villages and towns, a desire for improvement takes place; the tent of skins, or the rude shanty, is exchanged for a hut of better shape; and this in time gives place to houses and furniture of more useful and ornamental kinds."
"Nurse, I heard mamma say, that the Britons who lived in England were once savages, and lived in caves, huts, and thick woods; that they dressed in skins, and painted their bodies like the Indians."
"When you read the history of England, you will see that such was the case," said Mrs. Frazer.
"Nurse, perhaps the little birds like to see the flowers, and the sunshine, and the blue sky, and men's houses. I will make my garden very pretty this spring, and plant some nice flowers to please the dear little birds."
Many persons would have thought such remarks very foolish in our little lady, but Mrs. Frazer, who was a good and wise woman, did not laugh at the little girl; for she thought it was a lovely thing to see her wish to give happiness to the least of God's creatures, for it was imitating His own goodness and mercy, which delight in the enjoyment of the things which He has called into existence.
"Please, Mrs. Frazer, will you tell me which flowers will be first in bloom?"
"The very first is a plant that comes up without leaves."
"Nurse, that is the Christmas-rose; [Footnote: Winter Aconite.] I have seen it in the old country."
"No, Lady Mary, it is the colt's-foot; [Footnote: Tussilago Farfara.] it is a common looking, coarse, yellow-blossomed flower; it is the first that blooms after the snow; then comes the pretty snow-flower or hepatica. Its pretty tufts of white, pink, or blue starry flowers, may be seen on the open clearing, or beneath the shade of the half-cleared woods, or upturned roots and sunny banks. Like the English daisy, it grows everywhere, and the sight of its bright starry blossoms delights every eye."
"The next flower that comes in is the dog's-tooth-violet." [Footnote: Erythronium.]
"What a droll name!" exclaimed Lady Mary, laughing.
"I suppose it is called so from the sharpness of the flower-leaves (petals), my lady, but it is a beautiful yellow lily; the leaves are also pretty; they are veined or clouded with milky white or dusky purple. The plant has a bulbous root, and in the month of April sends up its single, nodding, yellow-spotted flowers; they grow in large beds, where the ground is black, moist and rich, near creeks on the edge of the forest."
"Do you know any other pretty flowers, nurse?"
"Yes, my lady, there are a great many that bloom in April and May; white violets, and blue, and yellow, of many kinds; and then there is the spring beauty, [Footnote: Claytonia.] a delicate little flower with pink striped bells, and the everlasting flower, [Footnote: Graphalium.] and saxifrage, and the white and dark red lily, that the Yankees call 'white and red death.' [Footnote: Trillium, or Wake Robin.] These have three green leaves about the middle of the stalk, and the flower is composed of three pure white or deep red leaves—petals my father used to call them; for my father, Lady Mary, was a botanist, and knew the names of all the flowers, and I learned them from him.
"The most curious is the mocassin flower. The early one is bright golden yellow, and has a bag or sack which is curiously spotted with ruby red, and its petals are twisted like horns. There is a hard thick piece that lies down just above the sack or mocassin part; and if you lift this up, you see a pair of round dark spots like eyes, and the Indians say it is like the face of a hound, with the nose and black eyes plain to be seen; two of the shorter curled brown petals look like flapped ears, one on each side of the face.
"There is a more beautiful sort, purple and white, which blooms in August; the plant is taller, and bears large lovely flowers."
"And has it a funny face and ears too, nurse?"
"Yes, my dear, but the face is more like an ape's; it is even more distinct than in the yellow mocassin. When my brother and I were children, we used to fold back the petals and call them baby flowers; the sack, we thought, looked like a baby's white frock."
Lady Mary was much amused at this notion.
"There are a great number of very beautiful and also very curious flowers growing in the forest," said Mrs. Frazer; "some of them are used in medicine, and some by the Indians for dyes, with which they stain the baskets and porcupine quills. One of our earliest flowers is called the blood-root; [Footnote: Sanguivaria.] it comes up a delicate white folded bud, within a vine-shaped leaf, which is veined on the under side with orange yellow. If the stem or the root of this plant be broken, a scarlet juice drops out very fast—it is with this the squaws dye red and orange colours."
"I am glad to hear this, nurse; now I can tell my dear mamma what the baskets and quills are dyed with."
"The flower is very pretty, like a white crocus, only not so large. You saw some crocuses in the conservatory the other day, I think, my dear lady."
"Oh, yes, yellow ones, and purple too, in a funny china thing with holes in its back, and the flowers came up through the holes. The gardener said it was a porcupine."
"Please, nurse, tell me of what colours real porcupine quills are?"
"They are white and greyish-brown."
Then Lady Mary brought a print and showed it to her nurse, saying, "Nurse, is the porcupine like this picture?"
"The American porcupine, my dear, is not so large as this species; its spines are smaller and weaker. It resembles the common hedgehog more nearly. It is an innocent animal, feeding mostly on roots [Footnote: There is a plant of the lily tribe, upon the roots of which the porcupine feeds, as well as on wild bulbs and berries, and the bark of the black spruce and larch. It will also eat apples and Indian corn.] and small fruits; it burrows in dry stony hillocks, and passes the cold weather in sleep. It goes abroad chiefly during the night. The spines of the Canadian porcupine are much weaker than those of the African species. The Indians trap these creatures and eat their flesh. They bake them in their skins in native ovens,—holes made in the earth, lined with stones, which they make very hot, covering them over with embers."
Mrs. Frazer had told Lady Mary all she knew about the porcupine, when Campbell, the footman, came to say that her papa wanted to see her.
INDIAN BAG—INDIAN EMBROIDERY—BEAVER'S TAIL—BEAVER ARCHITECTURE—HABITS OF THE BEAVER—BEAVER TOOLS—BEAVER MEADOWS.
When Lady Mary went down to her father, he presented her with a beautiful Indian bag, which he had brought from Lake Huron, in the Upper Province. It was of fine doeskin, very nicely wrought with dyed moose-hair, and the pattern was very pretty; the border was of scarlet feathers on one side, and blue on the other, which formed a rich silken fringe at each edge. This was a present from the wife of a chief on Manitoulin Island. Lady Mary was much delighted with her present, and admired this new-fashioned work in moose-hair very much. The feathers, Mrs. Frazer told her, were from the summer red bird or war bird, and the blue bird, both of which, Lady Mary said, she had seen. The Indians use these feathers as ornaments for their heads and shoulders on grand occasions.
Lady Mary recollected hearing her mamma speak of Indians who wore mantles and dresses of gay feathers. They were chiefs of the Sandwich Islands, she believed, who had these superb habits.
"Dear nurse, will you tell me anything more about birds and flowers to-day?" asked Lady Mary, after she had put away her pretty bag.
"I promised to tell you about the beavers, my lady," replied Mrs. Frazer.
"Oh, yes, about the beavers that make the dams and the nice houses, and cut down whole trees. I am glad you can tell me something about those curious creatures; for mamma bought me a pretty picture, which I will show you, if you please," said the little girl. "But what is this odd-looking, black thing here? Is it a dried fish? It must be a black bass? Yes, nurse, I am sure it is."
The nurse smiled, and said, "It is not a fish at all, my dear; it is a dried beaver's tail. I brought it from the back lakes when I was at home, that you might see it. See, my lady, how curiously the beaver's tail is covered with scales; it looks like some sort of black leather, stamped in a diaper pattern. Before it is dried, it is very heavy, weighing three or four pounds. I have heard my brothers and some of the Indian trappers say, that the animal makes use of its tail to beat the sides of the dams and smoothe the mud and clay, as a plasterer uses a trowel. Some people think otherwise, but it seems well suited from its shape and weight for the purpose, and, indeed, as the walls they raise seem to have been smoothed by some implement, I see no reason to disbelieve the story."
"And what do the beavers make dams with, nurse?"
"With small trees cut into pieces, and drawn in close to each other; and then the beavers fill the spaces between with sods, and stones, and clay, and all sorts of things that they gather together and work up into a solid wall. The walls are made broad at the bottom, and are several feet in thickness, to make them strong enough to keep the water from washing through them. The beavers assemble together in the fall, about the months of October and November, to build their houses and repair their dams. They prefer running water, as it is less likely to freeze. They work in large parties, sometimes fifty or a hundred together, and do a great deal in a short time. They work during the night."
"Of what use is the dam, nurse?"
"The dam is for the purpose of securing a constant supply of water, without which they could not live. When they have enclosed the beaver-pond, they separate into family parties of eleven [Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote moved to end of chapter] or twelve, perhaps more, sometimes less, and construct dwellings, which are raised against the inner walls of the dam. These little huts have two chambers, one in which they sleep, which is warm and soft and dry, lined with roots and sedges and dry grass, and any odds and ends that serve their purpose. The feeding place is below; in this is stored the wood or the bark on which they feed. The entrance to this is under water, and hidden from sight; but it is there that the cunning hunter sets his trap to catch the unsuspecting beavers."
"Nurse, do not beavers, and otters, and muskrats feel cold while living in the water; and do they not get wet?"
"No, my dear; they do not feel cold, and cannot get wet, for the thick coating of hair and down keeps them warm; and these animals, like ducks and geese and all kinds of water-fowls, are supplied with a bag of oil, with which they dress their coats, and that throws off the moisture; for you know, Lady Mary, that oil and water will not mix. All creatures that live in the water are provided with oily fur, or smooth scales that no water can penetrate; and water birds, such as ducks and geese, have a little bag of oil, with which they dress their feathers."
"Are there any beavers in England, nurse?" asked Lady Mary.
"No, my lady, not now; but I remember my father told me that this animal once existed in numbers in different countries of Europe; he said they were still to be found in Norway, Sweden, Russia, Germany, and even in France. [Footnote: The remains of bearer dams in Wales prove that this interesting animal was once a native of Great Britain.] The beaver abounds mostly in North America, and in its cold portions; in solitudes that no foot of man but the wild Indian has ever penetrated; in lonely streams and inland lakes,—these harmless creatures are found fulfilling God's purpose, and doing injury to none.
"I think if there had been any beavers in the land of Israel, in Solomon's time, that the wise king, who spake of ants, spiders, grasshoppers, and conies, [Footnote: The rock rabbits of Judaea.] would have named the beavers also, as patterns of gentleness, cleanliness, and industry. They work together in bands, and live in families and never fight or disagree. They have no chief or leader; they seem to have neither king nor ruler; yet they work in perfect love and harmony. How pleasant it would be, Lady Mary, if all Christian people would love each other as these poor beavers seem to do!"
"Nurse how can beavers cut down trees; they have neither axes nor saws?"
"Here, Lady Mary, are the axes and saws with which God has provided these little creatures;" and Mrs. Frazer showed Lady Mary two long curved tusks, of a reddish-brown colour, which she told her were the tools used by the beavers to cut and gnaw the trees; she said she had seen trees as thick as a man's leg, that had been felled by these simple tools.
Lady Mary was much surprised that such small animals could cut through any thing so thick.
"In nature," replied her nurse, "we often see great things done by very small means. Patience and perseverance work well. The poplar, birch, and some other trees, on which beavers feed, and which they also use in making their dams, are softer and more easily cut than oak, elm or birch would be: these trees are found growing near the water, and in such places as the beavers build in. The settler owes to the industrious habits of this animal those large open tracts of land called beaver meadows, covered with long, thick, rank grass, which he cuts down and uses as hay. These beaver meadows have the appearance of dried-up lakes. The soil is black and spongy; for you may put a stick down to the depth of many feet; it is only in the months of July, August, and September, that they are dry. Bushes of black alder, with a few poplars and twining shrubs, are scattered over the beaver meadows; some of which have high stony banks; and little islands of trees. On these are many pretty wild flowers; among others, I found growing on the dry banks some real hare-bells, both blue and white."
"Ah, dear nurse, hare-bells! did you find real hare-bells, such as grow on the bonny Highland hills among the heather? I wish papa would let me go to the Upper Province, to see the beaver meadows, and gather the dear blue-bells."
"My father, Lady Mary, wept when I brought him a handful of these flowers, for he said it reminded him of his Highland home. I have found these pretty bells growing on the wild hills about Rice Lake, near the water, as well as near the beaver meadows."
"Do the beavers sleep in the winter time, nurse?"
"They do not lie torpid, as racoons do, though they may sleep a good deal; but as they lay up a great store of provisions for the winter, of course they must awake sometimes to eat it."
Lady Mary thought so too.
"In the spring, when the long warm days return, they quit their winter retreat, and separate in pairs, living in holes in the banks of lakes and rivers, and do not unite again till the approach of the cold calls them together to prepare for winter, as I told you."
"Who calls them all to build their winter houses?" asked the child.
"The providence of God; usually called instinct, that guides these wild animals; doubtless it is the law of nature given to them by God.
"There is a great resemblance in the habits of the musk-rat and the beaver. They all live in the water; all separate in the spring, and meet again in the fall to build and work together; and, having helped each other in these things, they retire to a private dwelling, each family by itself. The otter does not make a dam, like the beaver, and I am not sure that it works in companies, as the beaver; it lives on fish and roots; the musk-rats on shell-fish and roots, and the beaver on vegetable food mostly. Musk-rats and beavers are used for food, but the flesh of the otter is too fishy to be eaten."
"Nurse, can people eat musk-rats?" asked Lady Mary, with surprise.
"Yes, my lady, in the spring months the hunters and Indians reckon them good food; I have eaten them myself, but I did not like them, they were too fat. Musk-rats build a little house of rushes, and plaster it; they have two chambers, and do not lie torpid; they build in shallow, rushy places in lakes, but in spring they quit their winter houses and are often found in holes among the roots of trees; they live on mussels and shell-fish. The fur is used in making caps, and hats, and fur gloves."
"Nurse, did you ever see a tame beaver?"
"Yes, my dear; I knew a squaw who had a tame beaver, which she used to take out in her canoe with her, and it sat in her lap, or on her shoulder, and was very playful." Just then the dinner-bell rang, and as dinner at Government-house waits for no one, Lady Mary was obliged to defer hearing more about beavers until another time.
[Relocated Footnote: I copy for the reader an account of the beavers, written by an Indian chief, who was born at Rice Lake, in Canada, and becoming a Christian, learned to read and write, and went on a mission to teach the poor Indians, who did not know Christ, to worship God in spirit and in truth. During some months while he was journeying towards a settlement belonging to the Hudson Bay Company, he wrote a journal of the things he saw in that wild country; and, among other matters, he made the following note about the habits of those curious animals the beavers, which I think is most likely to be correct, as Indians are very observant of the habits of wild animals. He says,—"The country here is marshy, covered with low evergreens. Here begins an extensive beaver settlement; it continues up the river for sixty miles. When travelling with a row-boat, the noise frightens the timid beavers, and they dive under water; but as we had a light birch-bark canoe, we saw them at evening and at day-break going to and fro from their work to the shore. They sleep, during the day, and chop and gnaw during the night. They cut the wood that they use, from slender wands up to poles four inches through, and from one to two fathoms long (a fathom is a measure of six feet). A large beaver will carry in his mouth a stick I should not like to carry on my shoulder, for two or three hundred yards to the water, and then float it off to where he wants to take it. The kinds of trees used by the beavers are willow and poplar—the round-leaved poplar they prefer. The Canada beavers, where the poplars are large, lumber (i.e. cut down) on a larger scale; they cut trees a foot through, but in that case only make use of the limbs, which are gnawed off the trunk in suitable lengths. The beaver is not a climbing animal. About two cords of wood serve Mister Beaver and his family for the winter. A beaver's house is large enough to allow two men a comfortable sleeping-room, and it is kept very clean. It is built of sticks, stones, and mud, and is well plastered outside and in. The trowel the beaver uses in plastering is his tail; this is considered a great delicacy at the table. Their beds are made of chips, split as fine as the brush of an Indian broom; these are disposed in one corner, and kept dry and sweet and clean. It is the bark of the green wood that is used by the beavers for food; after the stick is peeled, they float it out at a distance from the house. Many good housewives might learn a lesson of neatness and order from the humble beaver.
"In large lakes and rivers, the beavers make no dams; they have water enough without putting themselves to that trouble; but in small creeks they dam up, and make a better stop-water than is done by the millers. The spot where they build their dams is the most labour-saving place in the valley, and where the work will stand best. When the dam is finished, not a drop of water escapes; their work is always well done.
"This part of the country abounds in beavers. An Indian will kill upwards of three hundred in a season. The skin of the beaver is not worth as much as it used to be, but their flesh is an excellent article of food." —Journal of the REV. PETER JACOBS, Indian Missionary.]
INDIAN BOY AND HIS PETS—TAME BEAVER AT HOME—KITTEN, WILDFIRE—PET RACOON AND THE SPANIEL PUPPIES—CANADIAN FLORA.
"Nurse, you have told me a great many nice stories; now I can tell you one, if you would like to hear it," and the Governor's little daughter fixed her bright eyes, teaming with intelligence, on the face of her nurse, who smiled, and said she should like very much to hear the story.
"You must guess what it is to be about, nurse."
"I am afraid I shall not guess right. Is it 'Little Red Riding Hood,' or 'Old Mother Hubbard,' or 'Jack the Giant Killer?'"
"Oh, nurse, to guess such silly stories!" said the little girl, stopping her ears. "Those are too silly for me even to tell baby. My story is nice story about a darling tame beaver. Major Pickford took me on his knee and told me the story last night."
Mrs. Frazer begged Lady Mary's pardon for making such foolish guesses, and declared she should like very much to hear Major Pickford's story of the tame beaver.
"Well, nurse, you must know there was once a gentleman who lived in the bush, on the banks of a small lake, somewhere in Canada, a long, long way from Montreal. He lived all alone in a little log-house, and spent his time in fishing, and trapping, and hunting; and he was very dull, for he had no wife and no child like me to talk to. The only people whom he used to see were some French lumberers, and now and then the Indians would come in their canoes and fish on his lake, and make their wigwams on the lake shore, and hunt deer in the wood. The gentleman was very fond of the Indians, and used to pass a great deal of his time with them, and talk to them in their own language.
"Well, nurse, one day he found a poor little Indian boy who had been lost in the woods and was half starved, sick and weak, and the kind gentleman took him home to his house, and fed and nursed him till he got quite strong again. Was not that good, nurse?"
"It was quite right, my lady. People should always be kind to the sick and weak, and especially a poor Indian stranger. I like the story very much, and shall be glad to hear more about the Indian boy."
"Nurse, there is not a great deal more about the Indian boy; for when the Indian party to which he belonged returned from hunting, he went away to his own home; but I forgot to tell you that the gentleman had often said how much he should like to have a young beaver to make a pet of. He was very fond of pets; he had a dear little squirrel, just like mine, nurse, a flying squirrel, which he had made so tame that it slept in his bosom and lived in his pocket, where he kept nuts and acorns and apples for it to eat, and he had a racoon too, nurse,—only think! a real racoon; and Major Pickford told me something so droll about the racoon, only I want first to go on with the story about the beaver.
"One day, as the gentleman was sitting by the fire reading, he heard a slight noise, and when he looked up was quite surprised to see an Indian boy in a blanket coat,—with his dark eyes fixed upon his face, while his long black hair hung down on his shoulders. He looked quite wild, and did not say a word, but only opened his blanket coat, and showed a brown furred animal asleep on his breast. What do you think it was, nurse?"
"A young beaver, my lady."
"Yes, nurse, it was a little beaver. The good Indian boy had caught it, and tamed it on purpose to bring it to his white friend, who had been so good to him.
"I cannot tell you all the amusing things the Indian boy said about the beaver, though the Major told them to me; but I cannot talk like an Indian, you know, Mrs. Frazer. After the boy went away, the gentleman set to work and made a little log-house for his beaver to live in, and set it in a corner of the shanty; and he hollowed a large sugar-trough for his water, that he might have water to wash in, and cut down some young willows and poplars and birch-trees for him to eat, and the little beaver grew-very fond of his new master; it would fondle him just like a little squirrel, put its soft head on his knee, and climb upon his lap; he taught it to eat bread, sweet cake, and biscuit, and even roast and boiled meat, and it would drink milk too.
"Well, nurse, the little beaver lived very happily with this kind gentleman till the next fall, and then it began to get very restless and active, as if it were tired of doing nothing. One day his master heard of the arrival of a friend some miles off, so he left Mister Beaver to take care of himself, and went away; but he did not forget to give him some green wood, and plenty of water to drink and play in; he stayed several days, for he was very glad to meet with a friend in that lonely place; but when he came, he could not open his door, and was obliged to get in at the window. What do you think the beaver had done? It had built a dam against the side of the trough, and a wall across the door, and it had dug up the hearth and the floor, and carried the earth and the stones to help to make his dam, and puddled it with water, and made such work! the house was in perfect confusion, with mud, chips, bark, and stone; and, oh nurse, worse than all that, it had gnawed through the legs of the tables and chairs, and they were lying on the floor in such a state, and it cost the poor gentleman so much trouble to put things to rights again, and make more chairs and another table! and when I laughed at the pranks of that wicked beaver, for I could not help laughing, the Major pinched my ear, and called me a mischievous puss."
Mrs. Frazer was very much entertained with the story, and she told Lady Mary that she had heard of tame beavers doing such things before; for in the season of the year when beavers congregate together to repair their works and build their winter houses, those that are in confinement become restless and unquiet, and show the instinct that moves these animals to provide their winter retreats, and lay up their stores of food.
"Nurse," said Lady Mary, "I did not think that beavers and racoons could be taught to eat sweet cake, and bread and meat."
"Many animals learn to eat very different food to what they are accustomed to live upon in a wild state. The wild cat lives on raw flesh; while the domestic cat, you know, my dear, will eat cooked meat, and even salt meat, with bread and milk and many other things. I knew a person who had a black kitten called 'Wildfire,' who would sip whiskey-toddy out of his glass, and seemed to like it as well as milk or water, only it made him too wild and frisky."
"Nurse, the racoon that the gentleman had, would drink sweet whiskey-punch; but my governess said it was not right to give it to him; and Major Pickford laughed, and declared the racoon must have looked very funny when it was tipsy. Was not the Major naughty to say so?"
Mrs. Frazer said it was not quite proper.
"But, nurse, I have not told you about the racoon,—he was a funny fellow; he was very fond of a little spaniel and her puppies, and took a great deal of care of them; he brought them meat and anything nice that had been given him to eat; but one day he thought he would give them a fine treat, so he contrived to catch a poor cat by the tail, and drag her into his den, where he and the puppies lived together. His pets of course would not eat the cat, so the wicked creature ate up poor pussy himself; and the gentleman was so angry with the naughty thing that he killed him and made a cap of his skin, for he was afraid the cunning racoon would kill his beaver and eat up his tame squirrel."
"The racoon, Lady Mary, in its natural state, has all the wildness and cunning of the fox and weasel; he will eat flesh, poultry, and sucking pigs, and is, also very destructive to Indian corn. These creatures abound in the western states, and are killed in great numbers for their skins. The Indian hunters eat the flesh, and say it is very tender and good; but it is not used for food in Canada. The racoon belongs to the same class of animals as the bear, which it resembles in some points, though, being small, it is not so dangerous either to man or the larger animals.
"And now, my dear, let me show you some pretty wild flowers a little girl brought me this morning for you, as she heard that you loved flowers. There are yellow mocassins, or Ladies'-slippers, the same that I told you of a little while ago; and white lilies, crane-bills, and these pretty lilac geraniums; here are scarlet-cups, and blue lupines, they are all in bloom now, and many others. If we were on the Rice Lake plains, my lady, we could gather all these and many, many more. In the months of June I and July those plains are like a garden, and their roses scent the air."
"Nurse, I will ask my dear papa to take me to the Rice Lake plains," said the little girl, as she gazed with delight on the lovely Canadian flowers.
NURSE TELLS LADY MARY ABOUT A LITTLE BOY WHO WAS EATEN BY A BEAR IN THE PROVINCE OP NEW BRUNSWICK—OF A BABY THAT WAS CARRIED AWAY, BUT TAKEN ALIVE—A WALK IN THE GARDEN—HUMMING-BIRDS—CANADIAN BALSAMS.
"Nurse," said Lady Mary, "did you ever hear of any one having been eaten by a wolf or bear?"
"I have heard of such things happening, my dear, in this country; but only in lonely, unsettled parts of the country, near swamps and deep woods."
"Did you ever hear of any little boy or girl having been carried off by a wolf or bear?" asked the child.
"No, my lady, not in Canada, though similar accidents may have happened there; but when I was a young girl I heard of such tragedies at New Brunswick; one of the British provinces lying to the east of this, and a cold and rather barren country, but containing many minerals, such as coal, limestone, and marble, besides vast forests of pine, and small lakes and rivers. It resembles Lower Canada in many respects; but it is not so pleasant as the province of Upper Canada, neither is it so productive.
"Thirty years ago it was not so well cleared or cultivated as it is now, and the woods were full of wild beasts that dwelt among the swamps and wild rocky valleys. Bears, wolves, and catamounts abounded, with foxes of several kinds, and many of the fine furred and smaller species of animals, which were much sought for, on account of their skins. Well, my dear, near the little village where my aunt and uncle were, living, there were great tracts of unbroken swamps and forests, which of course sheltered many wild animals. A sad accident happened a few days before we arrived, which caused much sorrow, and no little fright, in the place.
"An old man went out into the woods one morning with his little grandson, to look for the oxen, which had strayed from the clearing. They had not gone many yards from the enclosure when they heard a crackling and rustling among the underwood and dry timbers that strewed the ground. The old man, thinking it was caused by the cattle they were looking for, bade the little boy go forward and drive them, on the track; but in a few minutes he heard a fearful cry from the child, and hurrying forward through the tangled brushwood, saw the poor little boy in the deadly grasp of a huge black bear, who was making off at a fast trot with his prey.
"The old man was unarmed, and too feeble to pursue the dreadful beast. He could only wring his hands and rend his grey hairs in grief and terror; but his lamentations would not restore the child to life. A band of hunters and lumberers, armed with rifles and knives, turned out to beat the woods, and were not long in tracking the savage animal to his retreat in a neighbouring cedar swamp. A few fragments of the child's dress were all that remained of him; but the villagers had the satisfaction of killing the great she-bear with her two half-grown cubs. The magistrates of the district gave them a large sum for shooting these creatures, and the skins were sold, and the money given to the Barents of the little boy; but no money could console them for the loss of their beloved child.
"The flesh of the bear is eaten both by Indians and hunters; it is like coarse beef. The hams are cured a led, the woods disappear. The axe and the fire destroy the haunts that sheltered these wild beasts, and they retreat further back, where the deer and other creatures on which they principally feed abound."
"Nurse, that was a very sad story about the poor little boy," said Lady Mary.
"I also heard of a little child," continued nurse, "not more than two years old, who was with her mother in the harvest field; who had spread a shawl on the ground near a tall tree, and laid the child upon it to sleep or play, when a bear came out of the wood and carried her off, leaping the fence with her in its arms; but the mother ran screaming after the beast, and the reapers pursued so closely with their pitchforks and reaping-hooks, that Bruin, who was only a half-grown bear, being hard pressed, made for a tree; and as it was not easy to climb with a babe in his arms, he quietly laid the little one down at the foot of the tree, and soon was among the thick branches out of the reach of the enemy. I dare say baby must have wondered what rough nurse had taken her up; but she was unhurt, and is alive now."
"I am so glad, nurse, the dear baby was not hugged to death by that horrid black bear; and I hope he was killed."
"I dare say, my lady, he was shot by some of the men; for they seldom worked near the forest without having a gun with them, in case of seeing deer, or pigeons, or partridges."
"I should not like to live in that country, Mrs. Frazer; for a bear, a wolf, or a catamount might eat me."
"I never heard of a governor's daughter being eaten by a bear," said Mrs. Frazer, laughing, as she noticed the earnest expression on the face of her little charge. She then continued her account of the ursine family.
"The bear retires in cold weather, and sleeps till warmer seasons awaken him; he does not lay up any store of winter provisions, because he seldom rouses himself during the time of his long sleep, and in the spring he finds food, both vegetable and animal, for he can eat anything when hungry, like the hog. He often robs the wild bees of their honey, and his hide being so very thick, seems insensible to the stings of the angry bees. Bruin will sometimes find odd places for his winter bed, for a farmer, who was taking a stack of wheat into his barn to be threshed in the winter time, once found a large black bear comfortably asleep in the middle of the sheaves."
"How could the bear have got into the stack of wheat, nurse?"
"The claws of this animal are so strong, and he makes so much use of his paws, which are almost like hands, that he must have pulled the sheaves out, and so made an entrance for himself. His skin and flesh amply repaid the farmer for any injury the grain had received. I remember seeing the bear brought home in triumph on the top of the load of wheat. Bears often do great mischief by eating the Indian corn when it is ripening; for besides what they devour, they spoil a vast deal by trampling the plants down with their clumsy feet. They will, when hard pressed by hunger, come close to the farmer's house and rob the pig-sty of its tenants. Many years ago, before the forest was cleared away in the neighbourhood of what is now a large town, but in those days consisted of only a few poor log-houses, a settler was much annoyed by the frequent visits of a bear to his hog-pen. At last he resolved to get a neighbour who was a very expert hunter to come with his rifle and watch with him. The pen where the fatling hogs were was close to the log-house; it had a long low shingled roof, and was carefully fastened up, so that no bear could find entrance. Well, the farmer's son and the hunter had watched for two nights, and no bear came; on the third they were both tired, and lay down to sleep upon the floor of the kitchen, when the farmer's son was awakened by a sound as of some one tearing and stripping the shingles from the pen. He looked out; it was moonlight, and there he saw the dark shadow of some tall figure on the ground, and spied the great black bear standing on its hinder legs, and pulling the shingles off as fast as it could lay its big black paws upon them. The hogs were in a great fright, screaming and grunting with terror. The young man stepped back into the house, roused up the hunter, who took aim from the doorway, and shot the bear dead. The head of the huge beast was nailed up as a trophy, and the meat was dried or salted for winter use, and great were the rejoicings of the settlers who had suffered so much from Bruin's thefts of corn and pork."
"I am glad the hunter killed him, nurse, for he might have eaten up some of the little children, when they were playing about in the fields."
"Sometimes," continued Mrs. Frazer, "the bears used to visit the sugar-bush, when the settlers were making maple sugar, and overturn the sap-troughs, and drink the sweet liquid. I dare say they would have been glad of a taste of the sugar too, if they could have got at it. The bear is not so often met with now as it used to be many years ago. The fur of the bear used to be worn as muffs and tippets, but, is now little used for that purpose, being thought to be too coarse and heavy, but it is still made into caps for soldiers, and worn as sleigh-robes."
This was all Mrs. Frazer chose to recollect about bears, for she was unwilling to dwell long on any gloomy subject, which she knew was not good for young minds, so she took her charge into the garden to look at the flowerbeds, and watch the birds and butterflies; and soon the child was gaily running from flower to flower, watching with childish interest the insects flitting to and fro. At last she stopped, and holding up her finger to warn Mrs. Frazer not to come too near, stood gazing in wonder and admiration on a fluttering object that was hovering over the full-blown honeysuckles on a trellis near the greenhouse. Mrs. Frazer approached her with due caution.
"Nurse," whispered the child, "look at that curious moth with a long bill like a bird; see its beautiful shining colours. It has a red necklace, like mamma's rubies. Oh, what a curious creature! It must be a moth or a butterfly. What is it?"
"It is neither a moth nor a butterfly, my dear. It is a humming-bird."
"Oh, nurse, a humming-bird—a real humming-bird—pretty creature! but it is gone. Oh, nurse, it darts through the air as swift as an arrow. What was it doing? Looking at the honeysuckles,—I dare say it thought them very pretty; or was it smelling them? They are very sweet."
"My dear child, it might be doing so; I don't know. Perhaps the good God has given to these creatures the same senses for enjoying sweet scents and bright colours, as we have; yet it was not for the perfume, but the honey, that this little bird came to visit the open flowers. The long slender bill which the humming-bird inserts into the tubes of the flowers, is his instrument for extracting the honey. Look at the pretty creature's ruby throat, and green and gold feathers."
"How does it make that whirring noise, nurse, just like the humming of a top?" asked the child.
"The little bird produces the sound from which he derives his name, by beating the air with his wings. This rapid motion is necessary to sustain its position in the air while sucking the flowers.
"I remember, Lady Mary, first seeing humming-birds when I was about your age, while walking in the garden. It was a bright September morning, and the rail-fences and every dry twig of the brushwood were filled with the webs of the field-spider. Some, like thick white muslin, lay upon the grass; while others were suspended from trees like forest lace-work, on the threads of which the dewdrops hung like strings of shining pearls; and hovering round the flowers were several ruby-throated humming-birds, the whirring of whose wings as they beat the air sounded like the humming of a spinning-wheel; and I thought as I gazed upon them, and the beautiful lace webs that hung among the bushes, that they must have been the work of these curious creatures, who had made them to catch flies, and had strung the bright dewdrops thereon to entice them, so little did I know of the nature of these birds; but my father told me a great deal about them, and read me some very pretty things about humming-birds; and one day, Lady Mary, I will show you a stuffed one a friend gave me, with its tiny nest and eggs not bigger than peas."
Lady Mary was much delighted at the idea of seeing the little nest and eggs, and Mrs. Frazer said, "There is a wild flower [Footnote: Noli me tangere, Canadian Balsam.] that is known to the Canadians by the name of the Humming-flower, on account of the fondness which those birds evince for it. This plant grows on the moist banks of creeks. It is very beautiful, of a bright orange-scarlet colour. The stalks and stem of the plant are almost transparent; some call it Speckled Jewels, for the bright blossoms are spotted with dark purple, and some, Touch-me-not."
"That is a droll name, nurse," said Lady Mary. "Does it prick one's finger like a thistle?"
"No, my lady; but when the seed-pods are nearly ripe, if you touch them, they spring open and curl into little rings, and the seed drops out."
"Nurse, when you see any of these curious flowers, will you show them to me?"
Mrs. Frazer said they would soon be in bloom, and promised Lady Mary to bring her some, and to show her the singular manner in which the pods burst. "But, my lady," said she, "the gardener will show you the same thing in the greenhouse. As soon as the seed-pods of the balsams in the pots begin to harden they will spring and curl, if touched, and drop the seeds like the wild plant, for they belong to the same family. But it is time for your ladyship to go in."
When Lady Mary returned to the schoolroom, her governess read to her some interesting accounts of the habits of the humming-bird.
"'This lively little feathered gem—for in its hues it unites the brightness of the emerald, the richness of the ruby, and the lustre of the topaz—includes in its wide range more than one hundred species. It is the smallest, and at the same time the most brilliant, of all the American birds. Its head-quarters may be said to be among the glowing flowers and luxurious fruits of the torrid zone and the tropics. But one species, the ruby-throated, is widely diffused, and is a summer visitor all over North America, even within the Arctic Circle, where, for a brief space of time, it revels in the ardent heat of the short-lived summer of the North. Like the cuckoo, she follows the summer wherever she flies.
"'The ruby-throated humming-bird [Footnote: Trochilus rubus.] is the only species that is known in Canada. With us it builds and breeds, and then returns to summer skies and warmer airs. The length of the humming-bird is only three inches and a half, and four and a quarter in extent, from one tip of the wing to the other. When on the wing, the bird has the form of a cross, the wings forming no curve, though the tail is depressed during the time that it is poised in the act of sucking the honey of the flower. The tongue is long and slender; the bill long and straight; the legs are very short, so that the feet are hardly visible when on the wing. They are seldom seen walking, but rest on the slender sprigs when tired. The flight is so rapid that it seems without effort. The humming sound is produced by the wing, in the act of keeping itself balanced while feeding in this position. They resemble the hawk-moth, which also keeps up a constant vibratory motion with its wings. This little creature is of a temper as fierce and fiery as its plumes, often attacking birds of treble its size; but it seems very little disturbed by the near approach of the Truman species, often entering open windows, and hovering around the flowers in the flower-stand; it has even been known to approach the vase on the table, and insert its bill among the flowers, quite fearless of those persons who sat in the room. Sometimes these beautiful creatures have suffered themselves to be captured by the hand.
"'The nest of the ruby-throated hummingbird is usually built on a mossy branch. At first sight, it looks like a tuft of grey lichens; but when closely examined, shows both care and skill in its construction, the outer wall being of fine bluish lichens cemented together, and the interior lined with the silken threads of the milk-weed, the velvety down of the tall mullein, or the brown hair-like filaments of the fern. These, or similar soft materials, form the bed of the tiny young ones. The eggs are white, two in number, and about the size of a pea, but oblong in shape. The parents hatch their eggs in about ten days, and in a week the little ones are able to fly, though the old birds continue to supply them with honey for some time longer. The Mexican Indians give the name of Sunbeam to the humming-bird, either in reference to its bright plumage or its love of sunshine.
"'The young of the humming-bird does not attain its gay plumage till the second year. The male displays the finest colours—the ruby necklace being confined to the old male bird. The green and coppery lustre of the feathers is also finer in the male bird.'"
Lady Mary was much pleased with what she had heard about the humming-bird, and she liked the name of Sunbeam for this lovely creature.
AURORA BOREALIS, OR NORTHERN LIGHTS, MOST FREQUENTLY SEEN IN NORTHERN CLIMATES—CALLED MERRY DANCERS—ROSE TINTS—TINT-LIKE APPEARANCE—LADY MARY FRIGHTENED.
One evening, just as Mrs. Frazer was preparing to undress Lady Mary, Miss Campbell, her governess, came into the nursery, and taking the little girl by the hand, led her to an open balcony, and bade her look out on the sky towards the north, where a low dark arch, surmounted by an irregular border, like a silver fringe, was visible. For some moments Lady Mary stood silently regarding this singular appearance; at length she said, "It is a rainbow, Miss Campbell; but where is the sun that you told me shone into the drops of rain to make the pretty colours?"
"It is not a rainbow, my dear; the sun has been long set."
"Can the moon make rainbows at night?" asked the little girl. make what is called a lunar rainbow. Luna was the ancient "The moon does sometimes, but very rarely, name for the moon; but the arch you now see is caused neither by the light of the sun nor of the moon, but is known by the name of Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. The word Aurora means morning, or dawn; and Borealis, northern. You know, my dear, what is meant by the word dawn; it is the light that is seen in the sky before the sun rises."
Lady Mary replied, "Yes, Miss Campbell, I have often seen the sun rise, and once very early too, when I was ill, and could not sleep; for nurse lifted me in her arms out of bed, and took me to the window. The sky was all over of a bright golden colour, with streaks of rosy red; and nurse said, 'It is dawn; the sun will soon be up.' And I saw the beautiful sun rise from behind the trees and hills. He came up so gloriously, larger than when we see him in the middle of the sky, and I could look at him without hurting my eyes."
"Sunrise is indeed a glorious sight, my dear; but He who made the sun is more glorious still. Do you remember what we read yesterday in the Psalms?—
"Verse 1. The Heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
2. One day telleth another, and one night certifieth another.
3. There is neither speech nor language where their voice is not heard.
5. In them hath He set a tabernacle for the sun, which cometh forth as a bridegroom from his chamber, and rejoiceth as a giant to run his course."
"The Northern Lights, Lady Mary, are frequently visible in Canada, but are most brilliant in the colder regions near the North Pole, where they serve to give light during the dark season, to those dismal countries from which the sun is so many months absent. The light of the Aurora Borealis is so soft and beautiful, that any object can be distinctly seen; though in those cold countries there are few human beings to be benefited by this beautiful provision of nature."
"The wild beasts and birds must be glad of the pretty lights," said the child thoughtfully; for Lady Mary's young heart always rejoiced when she thought that God's gifts could be shared by the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, as well as by mankind.
"Look now, my dear," said Miss Campbell, directing the attention of her pupil to the horizon; "what a change has taken place whilst we have been speaking. See, the arch is sending up long shafts of light; now they divide, and shift from side to side, gliding along among the darker portions of vapour, like moving pillars."
"Ah! there, there they go!" cried the little girl, clapping her hands her hands with delight. "See, nurse, how the pretty lights' chase each other, and dance about! Up they go! higher and higher! How pretty they look! but now they are gone. They are fading away; I am so sorry," said the child despondingly, for a sudden cessation had taken place in the motions of the heavens.
"We will go in for a little time, my dear," said her governess; "and then look out again. Great changes take place sometimes in these aerial phenomena in a few minutes."
"I suppose," said Lady Mary, "these lights are the same that the peasants of Northern England and Ireland call the Merry Dancers."
"Yes, they are the same; and they fancy that they are seen when war and troubles are about to break out. But this idea is a very ignorant one; for were, that the case, some of the cold countries of the world, where the sky is illumined night after night by the Aurora Borealis, would be one continual scene of misery. I have seen in this country a succession of these lights for four or five successive nights. This phenomenon owes its origin to electricity, which is a very wonderful agent in nature, and exists in various bodies, perhaps in all created things. It is this that shoots across the sky in the form of lightning, and causes the thunder to be heard; circulates in the air we breathe; occasions whirlwinds, waterspouts, earthquakes, and volcanoes; and makes one substance attract another.
"Look at this piece of amber; if I rub it on the table, it will become warm to the touch. Now I will take a bit of thread, and hold near it. See, the thread moves towards the amber, and clings to it. Sealing-wax, and many other substances, when heated, have this property. Some bodies give out flashes and sparks by being rubbed. If you stroke a black cat briskly in the dark, you will see faint flashes of light come from her fur; and on very cold nights in the winter season, flannels that are worn next the skin crackle, and give sparks when taken off and shaken."
These things astonished Lady Mary. She tried the experiment with the amber and thread, and was much amused by seeing the thread attracted, and wanted to see the sparks from the cat's back, only there happened, unfortunately, to be no black cat or kitten in Government House. Mrs. Frazer, however, promised to procure a beautiful black kitten for her, that she might enjoy the singular sight of the electric sparks from its coat; and Lady Mary wished winter were come, that she might see the sparks from her flannel petticoat, and hear the sounds.
"Let us now go and look out again at the sky," said Miss Campbell; and Lady Mary skipped joyfully through the French window to the balcony, but ran back, and flinging her arms about her nurse, cried out in accents of alarm, "Nurse, nurse, the sky is all closing together! Oh, Miss Campbell, what shall we do?"
"There is no cause for fear, my dear child; do not be frightened. There is nothing to harm us."
Indeed, during the short time they had been absent, a great and remarkable change had taken place in the appearance of the sky. The electric fluid had diffused itself over the face of the whole heavens; the pale colour of the streamers had changed to bright rose, pale violet, and greenish yellow. At the zenith, or that part more immediately over head, a vast ring of deep indigo was presented to the eye; from this swept down, as it were, a flowing curtain of rosy light, which wavered and moved incessantly as if agitated by a gentle breeze, though a perfect stillness reigned through the air. The child's young heart was awed by this sublime spectacle; it seemed to her as if it were indeed the throne of the Great Creator of the world that she was gazing upon; and she veiled her face in her nurse's arms, and trembled exceedingly, even as the children of Israel when the fire of Mount Sinai was revealed, and they feared to behold the glory of the Most High God. After a while, Lady Mary, encouraged by the cheerful voices of her governess and nurse, ventured to look up to watch the silver stars shining dimly as from beneath a veil, and she whispered to herself the words that her governess had before repeated to her, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handywork."