"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 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 cedar, 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 moccasin, which he threw 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 moldering 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 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 embers, 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 butter-nuts, which Hector cracked with a stone by way of a nutcracker, finished their sylvan meal. The boys then stretched themselves to sleep on the ground, with their feet, Indian fashion, to the fire; while Catharine and Indiana 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, 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, [Footnote: 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.] from its resemblance in shape to that animal. A fine, high, oval island beyond this they named Black Island, [Footnote: 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 Spoke Island, which means in the Indian tongue "a place for the dead." It is sometimes called Spirit Island; and here, in times past, the Indian people used 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 shore.
"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 a while 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 waterfalls 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 highroad 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 gray cedars, the pure ivory-white 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 clung to the soft maples and crimson-tinted oaks, but the glory of the forest had departed; the silent fall of many a sere and yellow leaf told of the death of summer and of winter's coming reign. Yet the air was wrapped 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 woodpecker or the shrill scream of the blue jay, the whirring sound of the large white-and-gray duck (called by the frequenters of these lonely waters the whistlewing) 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 harbingers 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 themselves 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."
Hector and Louis had now little employment, except 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 honeycomb, 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 housekeepers: the dry pineknots that are found in the woods are the settlers' candles. 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 the spear into the unwary creature, she dragged it to the surface. Many a noble fish did the young squaw bring home, and cast 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 moccasins, 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 moccasins and an arrow-case for Hector, besides making a sheath for Louis's couteau de 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 hickory; 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 battledoor and shuttle-cock,"—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 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 ankles ache, and that she preferred the moccasins 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. 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, giving a singular aspect to the 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 table-land, 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 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 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 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 eyen 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 basswood 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 great distance that their little settlement was from any town or village had necessarily forced their families to 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 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. 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 would 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 be prudent to remain longer 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, which came, guided by that instinct which never errs, from their abiding-places in far-off lands. 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 red-headed 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 its 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, for they told them
"That winter, cold winter, was past, And spring, lovely spring, was approaching at last."
They watched for the first song of the robin, [Footnote: Turdus migratorius, or American robin.] and the full melody of the red wood-thrush; [Footnote: Turdus melodus, or wood-thrush.] the rushing sound of the passenger pigeons, 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 have access to the earth much easier than in the close, dense forest. Hector and Louis were soon able to move about with axe in hand, to cut the logs for the addition to their house 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 they had marked out, they proceeded to enclose it with a brush fence. This 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 brushwood. 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. The two cousins sat 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 toward 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, 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 [Footnote: 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 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 day-time. 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 day-time. 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 they had no power to stop its onward course, as they possessed no implement better than a rough wooden 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 approval, 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 store-house for their goods, and could 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 that of 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."
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 fire 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 flaming 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 safety, by scraping up the earth near it. [Footnote: 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 nearly 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 burned pine-woods look for years!" said Louis; "I do not think there is a more melancholy sight in life than one of those burned pine-woods. There it stands, year after year, with the black, branchless trees pointing up to the blue sky, as if crying for vengeance against those that kindled the fire."
"They do, indeed, look ugly," said Catharine, "yet the girdled ones look very nearly as ill." [Footnote: The girdled pines are killed by barking them round, to facilitate the clearing.]
At the end of two days the fire 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 (Anderson's Point, as it is now called) on the other side, they concluded the fire 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. 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 part 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 were 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. [Footnote: 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 lad, and an innocent little brown papoose. [Footnote: An Indian baby, but "papoose" is not an Indian word. It is probably derived from the Indian imitation of the word "babies."] 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 Snowstorm, 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 log-house 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 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 mats, woven by Indiana and Catharine from rushes which they cut and dried; but the little squaw herself preferred lying on a mat or deerskin on the floor before the fire, as she had been accustomed.
A new field had been enclosed, and a fresh crop of corn planted, which was now green and flourishing. Peace and happiness dwelt within the log-house; 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. They felt they had much to be grateful for. Many privations, it is true, and much anxiety they had felt; but they had enjoyed blessings beyond what they could have expected, and 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 befall 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.
Hector, Louis, and Indiana had gone over the hills to follow the track of a deer which had paid a visit to the young corn, now sprouting and showing symptoms of shooting up to blossom. Catharine usually preferred staying at home and preparing the meals against their return. She had gathered some fine ripe strawberries, to add to the stewed rice, Indian meal cake, and maple sugar, for their dinner. She was weary and warm, for the day had been hot and sultry. Seating herself on the threshold of the door, she leaned against the door-post, and closed her eyes. Perhaps the poor child's thoughts were wandering back to her far-off, unforgotten home, or she might be thinking of the hunters and their game. Suddenly a vague, undefinable feeling of dread stole over her mind. She heard no steps, she felt no breath, she saw no form; but there was a strange consciousness that she was not alone—that some unseen being was near, some eye was upon her. I have heard of sleepers starting from sleep the most profound when the noiseless hand of the assassin has been raised to destroy them, as if the power of the human eye could be felt through the closed lids.
Thus fared it with Catharine. She felt as if some unseen enemy was near her, and springing to her feet, she cast a wild, troubled glance around. No living being met her eye; and, ashamed of her cowardice, she resumed her seat. The tremulous cry of her little gray squirrel, a pet which she had tamed and taught to nestle in her bosom, attracted her attention.
"What aileth thee, wee dearie?" she said tenderly, as the timid little creature crept trembling to her breast. "Thy mistress has seared thee by her own foolish fears. See, now, there is neither catamount nor weasel here to seize thee, silly one;" and as she spoke, she raised her head and flung back the thick clusters of soft fair hair that shaded her eyes. The deadly glare of a pair of dark eyes fixed upon her met her terrified gaze, gleaming with sullen ferocity from the angle of the door-post, whence the upper part of the face alone was visible, partly concealed by a mat of tangled, shaggy black hair. Paralyzed with fear, the poor girl neither spoke nor moved; she uttered no cry; but pressing her hands tightly across her breast, as if to still the loud beating of her heart, she sat gazing upon that fearful appearance, while, with stealthy step, the savage advanced from his lurking-place, keeping, as he did so, his eyes riveted upon hers, with such a gaze as the wily serpent is said to fascinate its prey. His hapless victim moved not:—whither could she flee to escape one whose fleet foot could so easily have overtaken her in the race? where conceal herself from him whose wary eye fixed upon her seemed to deprive her of all vital energy?
Uttering that singular, expressive guttural which seems with the Indian to answer the purpose of every other exclamation, he advanced, and taking the girl's ice-cold hands in his, tightly bound them with a thong of deer-hide, and led her unresistingly away. By a circuitous path through the ravine they reached the foot of the mount, where lay a birch canoe, rocking gently on the waters, in which a middle-aged female and a young girl were seated. The females asked no questions, and expressed no word indicative of curiosity or surprise, as the strong arm of the Indian lifted his captive into the canoe, and made signs to the elder squaw to push from the shore. When all had taken their places, the woman, catching up a paddle from the bottom of the little vessel, stood up, and with a few rapid strokes sent it skimming over the lake.
The miserable captive, overpowered with the sense of her calamitous situation, bowed down her head upon her knees, and concealing her agitated face in her garments, wept in silent agony. Visions of horror presented themselves to her bewildered brain; all that Indiana had described of the cruelty of this vindictive race came vividly before her mind. Poor child, what miserable thoughts were thine during that brief voyage!
Had the Indians also captured her friends? or was she alone to be the victim of their vengeance? What would be the feelings of those beloved ones on returning to their home and finding it desolate! Was there no hope of release? As these ideas chased each other through her agitated mind, she raised her eyes, all streaming with tears, to the faces of the Indian and his companions with so piteous a look that any heart but the stoical one of an Indian would have softened at its sad appeal; but no answering glance of sympathy met hers, no eye gave back its silent look of pity—not a nerve or a muscle moved the cold, apathetic features of the Indians; and the woe-stricken girl again resumed her melancholy attitude, burying her face in her heaving bosom to hide its bitter emotions from the heartless strangers.
She was not fully aware that it is part of the Indian's education to hide the inward feelings of the heart, to check all those soft and tender emotions which distinguish the civilized man from the savage.
It does indeed need the softening influence of that powerful Spirit, which was shed abroad into the world to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to break down the strongholds of unrighteousness, and to teach man that he is by nature the child of wrath and victim of sin, and that in his unregenerated nature his whole mind is at enmity with God and his fellow-men, and that in his flesh dwelleth no good thing. And the Indian has acknowledged that power; he has cast his idols of cruelty and revenge, those virtues on which he prided himself in the blindness of his heart, to the moles and the bats; he has bowed and adored at the foot of the Cross. But it was not so in the days whereof I have spoken.
"Must this sweet new-blown rose find such a winter Before her spring be past?"
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER
The little bark touched the stony point of Long Island. The Indian lifted his weeping prisoner from the canoe, and motioned to her to move forward along the narrow path that led to the camp, about twenty yards higher up the bank, where there was a little grassy spot enclosed with shrubby trees; the squaws tarried at the lake-shore to bring up the paddles and secure the canoe.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an enemy, but doubly so when that enemy is a stranger to the language in which we would plead for mercy, whose god is not our God, nor his laws those by which we ourselves are governed. Thus felt the poor captive as she stood alone, mute with terror, among the half-naked, dusky forms with which she now found herself surrounded. She cast a hurried glance round that strange assembly, if by chance her eye might rest upon some dear familiar face; but she saw not the kind but grave face of Hector, nor met the bright sparkling eyes of her cousin Louis, nor the soft, subdued, pensive features of the Indian girl, her adopted sister. She stood alone among those wild, gloomy-looking men; some turned away their eyes as if they would not meet her woe-stricken countenance, lest they should be moved to pity her sad condition. No wonder that, overcome by the sense of her utter forlornness, she hid her face with her fettered hands and wept in despair. But the Indian's sympathy is not moved by tears and sighs; calmness, courage, defiance of danger, and contempt of death, are what he venerates and admires even in an enemy.
The Indians beheld her grief unmoved. At length the old man, who seemed to be a chief among the rest, motioned to one of the women who leaned against the side of the wigwam to come forward and lead away the stranger. Catharine, whose senses were beginning to be more collected, heard the old man give orders that she was to be fed and cared for. Gladly did she escape from the presence of those pitiless men, from whose gaze she shrunk with maidenly modesty. And now when alone with the women she hesitated not to make use of that natural language which requires not the aid of speech to make itself understood. Clasping her hands imploringly, she knelt at the feet of the Indian woman, her conductress, kissed her dark hands, and bathed them with her fast-flowing tears, while she pointed passionately to the shore where lay the happy home from which she had been so suddenly torn.
The squaw, though she evidently comprehended the meaning of her imploring gestures, shook her head, and in plaintive earnest tone replied in her own language that she must go with the canoes to the other shore, and she pointed to the north as she spoke. She then motioned to the young girl—the same that had been Catharine's companion in the canoe—to bring a hunting-knife which was thrust into one of the folds of the birch-bark of the wigwam. Catharine beheld the deadly weapon in the hands of the Indian woman with a pang of agony as great as if its sharp edge was already at her throat. So young—so young, to die by a cruel bloody death! what had been her crime? How should she find words to soften the heart of her murderess? The power of utterance seemed denied. She cast herself on her knees and held up her hands in silent prayer; not to the dreaded Indian woman, but to Him who heareth the prayer of the poor destitute—who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of men.
The squaw stretched forth one dark hand and grasped the arm of the terror-stricken girl, while the other held the weapon of destruction. With a quick movement she severed the thongs that bound the fettered wrists of the pleading captive, and with a smile that seemed to light up her whole face she raised her from her prostrate position, laid her hand upon her young head and with an expression of good-humoured surprise lifted the flowing tresses of her sunny hair and spread them over the back of her own swarthy hand; then, as if amused by the striking contrast, she shook down her own jetty-black hair and twined a tress of it with one of the fair-haired girl's, then laughed till her teeth shone like pearls within her red lips. Many were the exclamations of childish wonder that broke from the other females as they compared the snowy arm of the stranger with their own dusky skins: it was plain that they had no intention of harming her, and by degrees distrust and dread of her singular companions began in some measure to subside.
The squaw motioned her to take a seat on a mat beside her, and gave her a handful of parched rice and some deer's flesh to eat; but Catharine's heart was too heavy. She was suffering from thirst; and on pronouncing the Indian word for water, the young girl snatched up a piece of birch-bark from the floor of the tent, and gathering the corners together, ran to the lake, and soon returned with water in this most primitive drinking-vessel, which she held to the lips of her guest, and she seemed amused by the long, deep draught with which Catharine slaked her thirst. Something like a gleam of hope came over Catharine's mind as she marked the look of kindly feeling with which she caught the young Indian girl regarding her, and she strove to overcome the choking sensation that would from time to time rise to her throat as she fluctuated between hope and fear. The position of the Indian camp was so placed that it was quite hidden from the shore and Catharine could neither see the mouth of the ravine, nor the steep side of the mount that her brother and cousin were accustomed to ascend and descend in their visits to the lake-shore, nor had she any means of making a signal to them even if she had seen them on the beach.
The long, anxious, watchful night passed, and soon after sunrise, while the morning mists still hung over the lake, the canoes of the Indians were launched, and long before noon they were in the mouth of the river. Catharine's heart sunk within her as the fast receding shores of the lake showed each minute fainter in the distance. At mid-day they halted at a fine bend in the river, and landed on a small open place where a creek flowing down through the woods afforded them cool water; here they found several tents put up and a larger party awaiting their return. The river was here a fine, broad, deep, and tranquil stream; trees of many kinds fringed the edge, beyond was the unbroken forest, whose depths had never been pierced by the step of man—so thick and luxuriant was the vegetation that even the Indian could hardly have penetrated through its dark, swampy glades: far as the eye could reach, that impenetrable, interminable wall of verdure stretched away into the far-off distance.
All the remainder of that sad day Catharine sat on the grass under a shady tree, her eyes mournfully fixed on the slow-flowing waters, and wondering at her own hard fate in being thus torn from her home and its dear inmates. Bad as she had thought her separation from her father and mother and her brothers, when she first left her home to become a wanderer on the Rice Lake Plains, how much more dismal now was her situation, snatched from the dear companions who had upheld and cheered her on in all her sorrows! Now that she was alone with none to love or cherish or console her, she felt a desolation of spirit that almost made her forgetful of the trust that had hitherto always sustained her in time of trouble or sickness. She looked round, and her eye fell on the strange, unseemly forms of men and women who cared not for her, and to whom she was an object of indifference or aversion; she wept when she thought of the grief her absence would occasion to Hector and Louis; the thought of their distress increased her own.
The soothing quiet of the scene, with the low, lulling sound of the little brook as its tiny wavelets fell tinkling over the mossy roots and stones that impeded its course to the river, joined with fatigue and long exposure to the sun and air, caused her at length to fall asleep. The last rosy light of the setting sun was dyeing the waters with a glowing tint when she awoke; a soft blue haze hung upon the trees; the kingfisher and dragon-fly, and a solitary loon, were the only busy things abroad on the river,—the first darting up and down from an upturned root, near the water's edge, feeding its younglings; the dragon-fly hawking with rapid whirring sound for insects; and the loon, just visible from above the surface of the still stream, sailing quietly on companionless like her who watched its movements.
The bustle of the hunters returning with game and fish to the encampment roused many a sleepy brown papoose; the fires were renewed, the evening was now preparing, and Catharine, chilled by the falling dew, crept to the enlivening warmth. And here she was pleased at being recognized by one friendly face; it was the mild, benevolent countenance of the widow Snowstorm, who, with her three sons, came to bid her to share their camp fire and food. The kindly grasp of the hand and the beaming smile that were given by this good creature, albeit she was ugly and ill-featured, cheered the sad captive's heart. She had given her a cup of cold water and such food as her log-cabin afforded; in return the good Indian took her to her wigwam and fed, warmed, and cherished her with the loving-kindness of a Christian. During all her sojourn in the Indian camp, the widow Snowstorm was as a tender mother to her, drying her tears and showing her those little acts of attention that even the untaught Indians know are grateful to the sorrowful and destitute. Catharine often forgot her own griefs to repay this worthy creature's kindness, by attending to her little babe, and assisting her in her homely cookery or household work. She knew that a selfish indulgence in sorrow would do her no good, and after the lapse of some days she so well disciplined her own heart as to check her tears, at least in the presence of the Indian women, and to assume an air of comparative cheerfulness. Once she found Indian words enough to ask the Indian widow to convey her back to the lake, but she shook her head and bade her not think anything about it; and added that in autumn, when the ducks came to the rice-beds, they should all return, and then if she could obtain leave from the chief, she would restore her to her lodge on the Plains; but signified to her that patience was her only present remedy, and that submission to the will of the chief was her wisest plan. Comforted by this vague promise, Catharine strove to be reconciled to her strange lot and still stranger companions. She was surprised at the want of curiosity respecting her evinced by the Indians in the wigwam when she was brought thither; they appeared to take little notice that a stranger, and one so dissimilar to themselves, had been introduced into the camp. Catharine learned, by long acquaintance with this people, that an outward manifestation of surprise is considered a want of etiquette and good-breeding, or rather a proof of weakness and childishness. The women, like other females, are certainly less disposed to repress this feeling of inquisitiveness than the men; and one of their great sources of amusement, when Catharine was among them, was examining the difference of texture and colour of her skin and hair, and holding long consultations over them. The young girl and her mother, who had paddled the canoe the day she was carried away to the island, showed her much kindness in a quiet way. The young squaw was grand-daughter to the old chief, and seemed to be regarded with considerable respect by the rest of the women; she was a gay, lively creature, often laughing, and seemed to enjoy an inexhaustible fund of good humour. She extended her patronage to the young stranger by making her eat out of her own bark-dish and sit beside her on her own mat. She wove a chain for her of the sweet-scented grass with which the Indians delight in adorning themselves, likewise in perfuming their lodges with bunches or strewings upon the floor. She took great pains in teaching her how to acquire the proper attitude of sitting, after the fashion of the Eastern nations, which position the Indian women assume when at rest in their wigwams.
The Indian name of this little damsel signified the "snow-bird." She was, like that lively, restless bird, always flitting from tent to tent, as garrulous and as cheerful too as that merry little herald of the spring.
Once she seemed particularly attracted by Catharine's dress, which she examined with critical minuteness, evincing great surprise at the cut fringes of dressed doe-skin with which Indiana had ornamented the border of the short jacket she had manufactured for Catharine. These fringes she pointed out to the notice of the women, and even the old chief was called in to examine the dress; nor did the leggings and moccasins escape their observation. There was something mysterious about her garments. Catharine was at a loss to imagine what caused those deep guttural exclamations, somewhat between a grunt and a groan, that burst from the lips of the Indians, as they one by one examined her dress with deep attention. These people had recognized in these things the peculiar fashion and handiwork of the young Mohawk girl whom they had exposed to perish by hunger and thirst on Bare Hill; and much their interest was excited to learn by what means Catharine had become possessed of a dress wrought by the hand of one whom they had numbered with the dead. Strange and mysterious did it seem to them, and warily did they watch the unconscious object of their wonder.
The knowledge she possessed of the language of her friend Indiana enabled Catharine to comprehend a great deal of what was said; yet she prudently refrained from speaking in the tongue of one to whose whole nation she knew these people to be hostile. But she sedulously endeavoured to learn their own peculiar dialect; and in this she succeeded in an incredibly short time, so that she was soon able to express her own wants, and converse a little with the females who were about her.
She had noticed that among the tents there was one which stood apart from the rest, and was only visited by the old chief and his grand-daughter, or by the elder women. At first she imagined it was some sick person, or a secret tent set apart for the worship of the Great Spirit; but one day, when the chief of the people had gone up the river hunting, and the children were asleep, the curtain of skins was drawn back, and a female of singular and striking beauty appeared in the open space in front. She was habited in a fine tunic of white dressed doe-skin, richly embroidered with coloured beads and stained quills; a full petticoat of dark cloth bound with scarlet descended to her ankles; leggings fringed with deerskin, knotted with bands of coloured quills, with richly wrought moccasins on her feet. On her head she wore a coronet of scarlet and black feathers; her long shining tresses of raven hair descended to her waist, each thick tress confined with a braided band of quills, dyed scarlet and blue. She was tall and well-formed; her large, liquid, dark eyes wore an expression so proud and mournful that Catharine felt her own involuntarily fill with tears as she gazed upon this singular being. She would have approached nearer to her, but a spell seemed on her; she shrunk back timid and abashed beneath that wild, melancholy glance. It was she, the Beam of the Morning, the self-made widow of the young Mohawk, whose hand had wrought so fearful a vengeance on the treacherous destroyer of her brother. She stood there, at the tent-door, arrayed in her bridal robes, as on the day when she received her death-doomed victim. And when she recalled her fearful deed, shuddering with horror, Catharine drew back and shrouded herself within the tent, fearing again to fall under the eye of that terrible woman. She remembered how Indiana had told her that since that fatal marriage-feast she had been kept apart from the rest of the tribe,— she was regarded by her people as a sacred character, entitled the Great Medicine, a female brave, a being whom they regarded with mysterious reverence. She had made this great sacrifice for the good of her nation. Indiana said it was believed among her own folk that she had loved the young Mohawk passionately, as a tender woman loves the husband of her youth; yet she had not hesitated to sacrifice him with her own hand. Such was the deed of the Indian heroine—and such were the virtues of the unregenerated Greeks and Romans!
"Now where the wave, with loud, unquiet song, Dashed o'er the rocky channel, froths along, Or where the silver waters soothed to rest, The tree's tall shadow sleeps upon its breast."
The Indian camp remained for nearly three weeks on this spot, and then early one morning the wigwams were all taken down, and the canoes, six in number, proceeded up the river. There was very little variety in the scenery to interest Catharine. The river still kept its slow-flowing course between low shores thickly clothed with trees, without an opening through which the eye might pierce to form an idea of the country beyond; not a clearing, not a sight or sound of civilized man was there to be seen or heard; the darting flight of the wild birds as they flitted across from one side to the other, the tapping of the woodpecker, or shrill cry of the blue jay was all that was heard, from sunrise to sunset, on that monotonous voyage. After many hours, a decided change was perceived in the current, which ran at a considerable increase of swiftness, so that it required the united energy of both men and women to keep the light vessels from drifting down the river again. They were in the rapids, and it was hard work to stem the tide and keep the upward course of the waters. At length the rapids were passed, and the weary Indian voyagers rested for a space on the bosom of a small but tranquil lake. The rising moon shed her silvery light upon the calm water, and heaven's stars shone down into its quiet depths, as the canoes with their dusky freight parted the glittering rays with their light paddles. As they proceeded onward the banks rose on either side, still fringed with pines, cedars, and oaks. At an angle of the lake the banks on either side ran out into two opposite peninsulas, forming a narrow passage or gorge, contracting the lake once more into the appearance of a broad river, much wider from shore to shore than any other part they had passed through since they had left the entrance at the Rice Lake.
Catharine became interested in the change of scenery; her eye dwelt with delight on the forms of glorious spreading oaks and lofty pines, green cliff-like shores, and low wooded islands; while, as they proceeded, the sound of rapid-flowing waters met her ear, and soon the white and broken eddies, rushing along with impetuous course, were seen by the light of the moon; and while she was wondering if the canoes were to stem those rapids, at a signal from the old chief, the little fleet was pushed to shore on a low flat of emerald verdure, nearly opposite to the last island.
Here, under the shelter of some beautiful spreading black oaks, the women prepared to set up their wigwams. They had brought the poles and birch-bark covering from the encampment below, and soon all was bustle and business, unloading the canoes and raising the tents. Even Catharine lent a willing hand to assist the females in bringing up the stores and sundry baskets containing fruits and other small wares. She then kindly attended to the Indian children—certain dark-skinned babes, who, bound upon their wooden cradles, were either set up against the trunks of the trees, or swung to some lowly depending branch, there to remain helpless and uncomplaining spectators of the scene.
Catharine thought these Indian babes were almost as much to be pitied as herself, only that they were unconscious of their imprisoned state, having from birth been used to no better treatment, and moreover they were sure to be rewarded by the tender caresses of loving mothers when the season of refreshment and repose arrived but she, alas! was friendless and alone, bereft of father, mother, kindred, and friends. One Father, one Friend, poor Catharine, thou hadst, even he, the Father of the fatherless.
That night, when the women and children were sleeping, Catharine stole out of the wigwam, and climbed the precipitous bank beneath the shelter of which the lodges had been erected. She found herself upon a grassy plain, studded with majestic oaks and pines, so beautifully grouped that they might have been planted by the hand of taste upon that velvet turf. It was a delightful contrast to those dense dark forests through which for so many many miles the waters of the Otonabee had flowed on monotonously; here it was all wild and free, dashing along like a restive steed rejoicing in its liberty, uncurbed and tameless.
Yes, here it was beautiful! Catharine gazed with joy upon the rushing river, and felt her own heart expand as she marked its rapid course as it bounded murmuring and fretting over its rocky bed. "Happy, glorious waters! you are not subject to the power of any living creature; no canoe can ascend those surging waves. I would that I too, like thee, were free to pursue my onward way; how soon would I flee away and be at rest!" Such thoughts passed through the mind of the lonely captive girl, as she sat at the foot of a giant oak, and looked abroad over those moonlit waters, till oppressed by an overwhelming sense of the utter loneliness of the scene, the timid girl with faltering step hurried down once more to the wigwams, silently crept to the mat where her bed was spread, and soon forgot all her woes and wanderings in deep, tranquil sleep.
Catharine wondered that the Indians in erecting their lodges always seemed to prefer the low, level, and often swampy grounds by the lakes and rivers in preference to the higher and more healthy elevations. So disregardful are they of this circumstance, that they do not hesitate to sleep where the ground is saturated with moisture. They will then lay a temporary flooring of cedar or any other bark beneath their feet, rather than remove the tent a few feet higher up, where a drier soil may always be found. This arises either from stupidity or indolence, perhaps from both, but it is no doubt the cause of much of the sickness that prevails among them. With his feet stretched to the fire, the Indian cares for nothing else when reposing in his wigwam, and it is useless to urge the improvement that might be made in his comfort; he listens with a face of apathy, and utters his everlasting guttural, which saves him the trouble of a more rational reply.
"Snow-bird" informed Catharine that the lodges would not again be removed for some time, but that the men would hunt and fish, while the squaws pursued their domestic labours. Catharine perceived that the chief of the laborious part of the work fell to the share of the females, who were very much more industrious and active than their husbands; those, when not out hunting or fishing, were to be seen reposing in easy indolence under the shade of the trees, or before the tent fires, giving themselves little concern about anything that was going on. The squaws were gentle, humble, and submissive; they bore without a murmur pain, labour, hunger, and fatigue, and seemed to perform every task with patience and good-humour. They made the canoes, in which the men sometimes assisted them, pitched the tents, converted the skins of the animals which the men shot into clothes, cooked the victuals, manufactured baskets of every kind, wove mats, dyed the quills of the porcupine, sewed the moccasins, and, in short, performed a thousand tasks which it would be difficult to enumerate.
Of the ordinary household work, such as is familiar to European females, they of course knew nothing; they had no linen to wash or iron, no floors to clean, no milking of cows, nor churning of butter.
Their carpets were fresh cedar boughs spread on the ground, and only renewed when they became offensively dirty from the accumulation of fish-bones and other offal, which are carelessly flung down during meals. Of furniture they had none; their seat the ground, their table the same, their beds mats or skins of animals,—such were the domestic arrangements of the Indian camp. [Footnote: Much improvement has taken place of late years in the domestic economy of the Indians, and some of their dwellings are clean and neat even for Europeans.]
In the tent to which Catharine belonged, which was that of the widow and her sons, a greater degree of order and cleanliness prevailed than in any other; for Catharine's natural love of neatness and comfort induced her to strew the floor with fresh cedar or hemlock every day or two, and to sweep round the front of the lodge, removing all unseemly objects from its vicinity. She never failed to wash herself in the river, and arrange her hair with the comb Louis had made for her; and she took great care of the little child, which she kept clean and well fed. She loved this little creature, for it was soft and gentle, meek and playful as a little squirrel; and the Indian mothers all looked with kinder eyes upon the white maiden, for the loving manner in which she tended their children. The heart of woman is seldom cold to those who cherish their offspring, and Catharine began to experience the truth that the exercise of human charities is equally beneficial to those who give and those who receive; these things fall upon the heart as dew upon a thirsty soil, giving and creating a blessing. But we will leave Catharine for a short season, among the lodges of the Indians, and return to Hector and Louis.
"Cold and forsaken, destitute of friends, And all good comforts else, unless some tree Whose speechless chanty doth better ours, With which the bitter east winds made their sport, And sang through hourly, hath invited thee To shelter half a day. Shall she be thus, And I draw in soft slumbers?"
BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.
It was near sunset before Hector and his companions returned on the evening of the eventful day that had found Catharine a prisoner on Long Island. They had met with good success in hunting, and brought home a fine half-grown fawn, fat and in good order. They were surprised at finding the fire nearly extinguished, and no Catharine awaiting their return. There, it is true, was the food that she had prepared for them, but she was not to be seen. Supposing that she had been tired of waiting for them, and had gone out to gather strawberries, they did not at first feel anxious, but ate of the rice and honey, for they were hungry with long fasting. Then taking some Indian meal cake in their hands, they went out to call her in; but no trace of her was visible. Fearing she had set off by herself to seek them, and had missed her way home again, they hurried back to the happy valley,—she was not there; to Pine-tree Point,—no trace of her there; to the edge of the mount that overlooked the lake,—she was not to be seen: night found them unsuccessful in their search. Sometimes they fancied that she had seated herself beneath some tree and fallen asleep; but no one imagined the true cause, nothing having been seen of the Indians since they had proceeded up the river.
Again they retraced their steps back to the house; but they found her not there. They continued their unavailing search till the moon setting left them in darkness, and they lay down to rest, but not to sleep. The first streak of dawn saw them again hurrying to and fro, calling in vain upon the name of the loved and lost companion of their wanderings.
Indiana, whose vigilance was untiring—for she yielded not easily to grief and despair—now returned with the intelligence that she had discovered the Indian trail, through the big ravine to the lake-shore; she had found the remains of a wreath of oak leaves which had been worn by Catharine in her hair; and she had seen the mark of feet, Indian feet, on the soft clay at the edge of the lake, and the furrowing of the shingles by the pushing off of a canoe. Poor Louis gave way to transports of grief and despair; he knew the wreath, it was such as Catharine often made for herself, and Mathilde, and petite Louise, and Marie; his mother had taught her to make them; they were linked together by the stalks, and formed a sort of leaf chain. Louis placed the torn relic in his breast, and sadly turned away to hide his grief from Hector and the Indian girl.
Indiana now proposed searching the island for further traces, but advised wariness in so doing. They saw, however, neither smoke nor canoes. The Indians had departed while they were searching the ravines and flats round Mount Ararat, and the lake told no tales, The following day they ventured to land on Long Island, and on going to the north side saw evident traces of a temporary encampment having been made, but no trace of any violence having been committed. It was Indiana's opinion that, though a prisoner, Catharine was unhurt, as the Indians rarely killed women and children, unless roused to do so by some signal act on the part of their enemies, when an exterminating spirit of revenge induced them to kill and spare not; but where no offence had been offered, they were not likely to take the life of a helpless, unoffending female. The Indian is not cruel for the wanton love of blood, but to gratify revenge for some injury done to himself or to his tribe. But it was difficult to still the terrible apprehensions that haunted the minds of Louis and Hector. They spent much time in searching the northern shores and the distant islands, in the vain hope of finding her, as they still thought the camp might have been moved to the opposite side of the lake.
Inconsolable for the loss of their beloved companion, Hector and Louis no longer took interest in what was going on; they hardly troubled themselves to weed the Indian corn, in which they had taken such great delight; all now seemed to them flat, stale, and unprofitable; they wandered listlessly to and fro, silent and sad; the sunshine had departed from their little dwelling; they ate little, and talked less, each seeming absorbed in his own painful reveries.
In vain the gentle Indian girl strove to revive their drooping spirits; they seemed insensible to her attentions, and often left her for hours alone. They returned one evening about the usual hour of sunset, and missed their meek, uncomplaining guest from the place she was wont to occupy. They called, but there was none to reply,—she too was gone. They hurried to the shore just time enough to see the canoe diminishing to a mere speck upon the waters, in the direction of the mouth of the river; they called to her, in accents of despair, to return, but the wind wafted back no sound to their ears and soon the bark was lost to sight, and they sat them down disconsolately on the shore.
"What is she doing?" said Hector. "It is cruel to abandon us thus."
"She has gone up the river, in the hope of bringing us some tidings of Catharine," said Louis.
"How came you to think that such is her intention?"
"I heard her say the other day that she would go and bring her back, or die."
"What! do you think she would risk the vengeance of the old chief whose life she attempted to take?"
"She is a brave girl; she does not fear pain or death to serve those she loves."
"How can she, unprotected and alone, dare such perils? Why did she not tell us? We would have shared her danger."
"She feared for our lives more than for her own; that poor Indian girl has a noble heart. I care not now what befalls us; we have lost all that made life dear to us," said Louis gloomily, sinking his head between his knees.
"Hush, Louis; you are older than I, and ought to bear these trials with more courage. It was our own fault Indiana's leaving us; we left her so much alone to pine after her lost companion, she seemed to think that we did not care for her. Poor Indiana, she must have felt lonely and sad."
"I tell you what we will do, Hec,—make a log canoe. I found an old battered one lying on the shore, not far from Pine-tree Point. We have an axe and a tomahawk,—what should hinder us from making one like it?"
"True! we will set about it to-morrow."
"I wish it were morning, that we might set to work to cut down a good pine for the purpose."
"As soon as it is done, we will go up the river; anything is better than this dreadful suspense and inaction."
The early dawn saw the two cousins busily engaged chopping at a tree of suitable dimensions. They worked hard all that day, and the next, and the next, before the canoe was hollowed out; but, owing to their inexperience and the bluntness of their tools, their first attempt proved abortive—it was too heavy at one end, and did not balance well in the water.
Louis, who had been quite sure of success, was disheartened; not so Hector.
"Do not let us give it up: my maxim is perseverance; let us try again, and again—ay, and a fourth and a fifth time. I say, never give it up; that is the way to succeed at last."
"You have ten times my patience, Hec."
"Yes; but you are more ingenious than I, and are excellent at starting an idea."
"We are a good pair then for partnership."
"We will begin anew and this time I hope we shall profit by our past blunders."
"Who would imagine that it is now more than a month since we lost Catharine?"
"I know it—long, long, weary month," replied Louis; and he struck his axe sharply into the bark of the pine as he spoke, and remained silent for some minutes. The boys, wearied by chopping down the tree, rested from their work, and sat down on the side of the condemned canoe to resume their conversation. Suddenly Louis grasped Hector's arm, and pointed to a bark canoe that appeared making for the westernmost point of the island. Hector started to his feet, exclaiming, "It is Indiana returned!"
"Nonsense! Indiana!—it is no such thing. Look you, it is a stout man in a blanket coat."
"The Indians?" asked Hector, inquiringly.
"I do not think he looks like an Indian; but let us watch. What is he doing?"
"Fishing. See now, he has just caught a fine bass—another—he has great luck—now he is pushing the canoe ashore."