"That man does not move like an Indian—hark! he is whistling. I ought to know that tune. It sounds like the old chanson my father used to sing;" and Louis, raising his voice, began to sing the words of an old French Canadian song, which we will give in the English, as we heard it sung by an old lumberer,—
"Down by those banks where the pleasant waters flow, Through the wild woods we'll wander, and we'll chase the buffalo. And we'll chase the buffalo."
"Hush, Louis! you will bring the man over to us," said Hector.
"The very thing I am trying to do, mon ami. This is our country, and that may be his; but we are lords here, and two to one, so I think he will not be likely to treat us ill. I am a man now, and so are you, and he is but one; so he must mind how he affronts us," replied Louis, laughing.
"Hark, if he is not singing now! ay, and the very chorus of the old song"—and Louis raised his voice to its highest pitch as he repeated,—
"'Through the wild woods we'll wander, And we'll chase the buffalo —And we'll chase the buffalo.'
"What a pity I have forgotten the rest of that dear old song. I used to listen with open ears to it when I was a boy. I never thought to hear it again, and to hear it here of all places in the world!"
"Come, let us go on with our work," said Hector, with something like impatience in his voice, and the strokes of his axe fell once more in regular succession on the log; but Louis's eye was still on the mysterious fisher, whom he could discern lounging on the grass and smoking his pipe. "I do not think he sees or hears us," said Louis to himself, "but I think I'll manage to bring him over soon;" and he set himself busily to work to scrape up the loose chips and shavings, and soon began to strike fire with his knife and flint.
"What are you about, Louis?" asked Hector.
"Lighting a fire."
"It is warm enough without a fire, I am sure."
"I know that; but I want to attract the notice of yonder tiresome fisherman."
"And perhaps bring a swarm of savages down upon us, who may be lurking in the bushes of the island."
"Pooh, pooh! Hec; there are no savages. I am weary of this place— anything is better than this horrible solitude." And Louis fanned the flame into a rapid blaze, and heaped up the light dry branches till it soared up among the bushes. Louis watched the effect of his fire, and rubbed his hands gleefully as the bark canoe was pushed off from the island, and a few vigorous strokes of the paddle sent it dancing over the surface of the calm lake.
Louis waved his cap above his head with a cheer of welcome as the vessel lightly glided into the little cove, near the spot where the boys were chopping, and a stout-framed, weather-beaten man, in a blanket coat, also faded and weather-beaten, with a red worsted sash and worn moccasins, sprang upon one of the timbers of Louis's old raft, and gazed with a keen eye upon the lads. Each party silently regarded the other. A few rapid interrogations from the stranger, uttered in the broad patois of the Lower Province, were answered in a mixture of broken French and English by Louis.
A change like lightning passed over the face of the old man as he cried out—"Louis Perron, son of my ancient compagnon!"
"Oui! oui!"—with eyes sparkling through tears of joy, Louis threw himself into the broad breast of Jacob Morelle, his father's friend and old lumbering comrade.
"Hector, son of la belle Catharine Perron!" and Hector, in his turn, received the affectionate embrace of the warm-hearted old man.
"Who would have thought of meeting with the children of my old comrade here at the shore of the Rice Lake? Oh! what a joyful meeting!"
Jacob had a hundred questions to ask—Where were their parents? did they live on the Plains now? how long was it since they had left the Cold Springs? were there any more little ones? and so forth.
The boys looked sorrowfully at each other. At last the old man stopped for want of breath, and remarked their sad looks.
Hector told the old lumberer how long they had been separated from their families, and by what sad accident they had been deprived of the society of their beloved sister. When they brought their narrative down to the disappearance of Catharine, the whole soul of the old trapper seemed moved; he started from the log on which they were sitting, and with one of his national asseverations, declared "that he, her father's old friend, would go up the river and bring her back in safety, or leave his gray scalp behind him among the wigwams."
"It is too late, Jacob, to think of starting to-day," said Hector. "Come home with us, and eat some food, and rest a bit."
"No need of that, my son I have a lot of fish here in the canoe; and there is an old shanty on the island yonder, if it be still standing—the Trapper's Fort I used to call it some years ago. We will go off to the island and look for it."
"No need for that," replied Louis, "though I can tell you the old place is still in good repair, for we used it this very spring as a boiling-house for our maple sap. We have a better place of our own nearer at hand—just two or three hundred yards over the brow of yonder hill. So come with us, and you shall have a good supper, and bed to lie upon."
"And you have all these, boys!" said Jacob opening his merry black eyes, as they came in sight of the little log-house and the field of green corn.
The old man praised the boys for their industry and energy. "Ha! here is old Wolfe too," as the dog roused himself from the hearth, and gave one of his low grumbling growls. He had grown dull and dreamy, and instead of going out as usual with the young hunters, he would lie for hours dozing before the dying embers of the fire. He pined for the loving hand that used to pat his sides, caress his shaggy neck, and pillow his great head upon her lap, or suffer him to put his huge paws on her shoulders, while he licked her hands and face; but she was gone, and the Indian girl was gone, and the light of the shanty had gone with them. Old Wolfe seemed dying of sorrow.
That evening, as Jacob sat on the three-legged stool smoking his short Indian pipe, he again would have the whole story of their wanderings over, and the history of all their doings and contrivances.
"And how far do you think you are from the Cold Springs?"
"At least twenty miles, perhaps fifty; for it is a long, long time now since we left home—three summers ago."
"Well, boys, you must not reckon distance by the time you have been absent," said the old man. "Now, I know the distance through the woods, for I have passed through them on the Indian trail, and by my reckoning, as the bee flies, it cannot be more than seven or eight miles—no, nor that either."
The boys opened their eyes. "Jacob, is this possible? So near, and yet to us the distance has been as great as though it were a hundred miles or more."
"I tell you, boys, that is the provoking part of it. I remember, when I was out on the St. John lumbering, missing my comrades, and I was well-nigh starving, when I chanced to come back to the spot where we parted; and I verily believe I had not been two miles distant the whole eight days that I was moving round and round, and backward and forward, just in a circle, because, d'ye see, I followed the sun, and that led me astray the whole time."
"Was that when you well-nigh roasted the bear?" asked Louis, with a sly glance at Hector.
"Well, no—that was another time; your father was out with me then." And old Jacob, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, settled himself to recount the adventure of the bear. Hector, who had heard Louis's edition of the roast bear, was almost impatient at being forced to listen to old Jacob's long-winded history, which included about a dozen other stories, all tagged on to this, like links of a lengthened chain; and he was not sorry when the old lumberer, taking his red night-cap out of his pocket, at last stretched himself out on a buffalo skin he had brought up from the canoe, and soon was soundly sleeping.
The morning was yet gray when the old man shook himself from his slumber; and, after having roused up a good fire, which, though the latter end of July, at that dewy hour was not unwelcome, he lighted his pipe, and began broiling a fish for his breakfast; and was thus engaged when Hector and Louis wakened.
"I have been turning over in my mind about your sister," said he, "and have come to the resolution of going up the river alone without any one to accompany me. I know the Indians: they are a suspicious people; they deal much in stratagems; and they are apt to expect treachery in others. Perhaps they have had some reason; for the white men have not always kept good faith with them, which I take to be the greater shame, as they have God's laws to guide and teach them to be true and just in their dealing, which the poor benighted heathen have not, the more's the pity. Now, d'ye see, if the Indians see two stout lads with me, they will say to themselves there may be more left behind, skulking in ambush. So, boys, I go to the camp alone; and, God willing, I will bring back your sister, or die in the attempt. I shall not go empty-handed; see, I have here scarlet cloth, beads, and powder and shot. I carry no fire-water: it is a sin and a shame to tempt these poor wretches to their own destruction; it makes fiends of them at once."
It was to no purpose that Hector and Louis passionately besought old Jacob to let them share the dangers of the expedition; the old man was firm, and would not be moved from his purpose.
"Look you, boys," he said, "if I do not return by the beginning of the rice-harvest, you may suppose that evil has befallen me and the girl. Then I would advise you to take care for your own safety; for if they do not respect my gray head, neither will they spare your young ones. In such case make yourselves a good canoe—a dug-out [Footnote: Log-canoe] will do—and go down the lake till you are stopped by the rapids; [Footnote: Heeley's Falls, on the Trent] make a portage there; but as your craft is too weighty te carry far, e'en leave her and chop out another, and go down to the falls; [Footnote: Crook's Rapids.] then, if you do not like to be at any further trouble, you may make out your journey to the bay [Footnote: Bay Quinte] on foot, coasting along the river; there you will fall in with settlers who know old Jacob Morelle, ay, and your two fathers, and they will put you in the way of returning home. If I were to try ever so to put you on the old Indian trail in the woods, though I know it myself right well, you might be lost, and maybe never return home again. I leave my traps and my rifle with you; I shall not need them. If I come back I may claim the things; if not, they are yours. So now I have said my say, had my talk, as the Indians say. Farewell. But first let us pray to Him who alone can bring this matter to a safe issue." And the old man devoutly kneeled down, and prayed for a blessing on his voyage and on those he was leaving; and then hastened down to the beach, and the boys, with full hearts, watched the canoe till it was lost to their sight on the wide waters of the lake.
"Where wild in woods the lordly savage ran."
The setting sun was casting long shadows of oak and weeping elm athwart the waters of the river; the light dip of the paddle had ceased on the water, the baying of hounds and life-like stirring sounds from the lodges came softened to the listening ear. The hunters had come in with the spoils of a successful chase; the wigwam tires are flickering and crackling, sending up their light columns of thin blue smoke among the trees; and now a goodly portion of venison is roasting on the forked sticks before the fires. Each lodge has its own cooking utensils. That jar embedded in the hot embers contains sassafras tea, an aromatic beverage in which the squaws delight when they are so fortunate as to procure a supply. This has been brought from the Credit, far up in the west, by a family who have come down on a special mission from some great chief to his brethren on the Otonabee, and the squaws have cooked some in honour of the guests. That pot that sends up such a savoury steam is venison-pottage, or soup, or stew, or any name you choose to give the Indian mess that is concocted of venison, wild rice, and herbs. Those tired hounds that lie stretched before the fire have been out, and now they enjoy the privilege of the fire, some praise from the hunters, and receive withal an occasional reproof from the squaws, if they approach their wishful noses too close to the tempting viands.
The elder boys are shooting at a mark on yonder birch-tree, the girls are playing or rolling on the grass, the "Snow-Bird" is seated on the floor of the wigwam braiding a necklace of sweet grass, which she confines in links by means of little bands of coloured quills, Catharine is working moccasins beside her. A dark shadow falls across her work from the open tent door; an exclamation of surprise and displeasure from one of the women makes Catharine raise her eyes to the doorway. There, silent, pale, and motionless, the mere shadow of her former self, stands Indiana; a gleam of joy lights for an instant her large lustrous eyes. Amazement and delight at the sight of her beloved friend for a moment deprive Catharine of the power of speech, then terror for the safety of her friend takes the place of her joy at seeing her. She rises regardless of the angry tones of the Indian woman's voice, and throws her arms about Indiana, as if to shield her from threatened danger, and sobs her welcome in her arms.
"Indiana, dear sister! how came you hither, and for what purpose?"
"To free you, and then die," was the soft, low, tremulous answer. "Follow me."
Catharine, wondering at the calm and fearless manner with which the young Mohawk waved back the dusky matron who approached as if with the design of laying hands upon her unwelcome guest, followed with beating heart till they stood in the entrance of the lodge of the Bald Eagle. It was filled with the hunters, who were stretched on skins on the floor, reposing in quiet after the excitement of the chase.
The young Mohawk bent her head down and crossed her arms over her breast, an attitude of submission, as she stood in the opening of the lodge; but she spoke no word till the old chief, waving back the men who, starting to their feet, were gathering round him as if to shield him from danger, and sternly regarding her, demanded from whence she came and for what purpose.
"To submit myself to the will of my Ojebwa father," was the meek reply. "May the daughter of the Bald Eagle's enemy speak to her great father?"
"Say on," was the brief reply; "the Bald Eagle's ears are open."
"The Bald Eagle is a mighty chief, the conqueror of his enemies, and the father of his people," replied the Mohawk girl, and again was silent.
"The Mohawk squaw speaks well; let her say on."
"The heart of the Mohawk is an open flower; it can be looked upon by the eye of the Great Spirit. She speaks the words of truth. The Ojebwa chief slew his enemies: they had done his good heart wrong; he punished them for the wrong they wrought; he left none living in the lodges of his enemies save one young squaw, the daughter of a brave, the grand-daughter of the Black Snake. The Bald Eagle loves even an enemy that is not afraid to raise the war-whoop or fling the tomahawk in battle. The young girl's mother was a brave." She paused, while her proud eyes were fixed on the face of her aged auditor. He nodded assent, and she resumed, while a flush of emotion kindled her pale cheek and reddened her lips:—
"The Bald Eagle brought the lonely one to his lodge; he buried the hatchet and the scalping-knife, he bade his squaws comfort her: but her heart was lonely, she pined for the homes of her fathers. She said, I will revenge my father, my mother, and my brothers and sisters; and her heart burned within her. But her hand was not strong to shed blood; the Great Spirit was about my Ojebwa father. She failed, and would have fled, for an arrow was in her flesh. The people of the Bald Eagle took her; they brought her down the great river to the council hill; they bound her with thongs, and left her to die. She prayed, and the Great Spirit heard her prayer and sent her help. The white man came; his heart was soft: he unbound her, he gave water to cool her hot lips, he led her to his lodge. The white squaw (and she pointed to Catharine) was there; she bound up her wounds, she laid her on her own bed, she gave her meat and drink, and tended her with love. She taught her to pray to the Good Spirit, and told her to return good for evil, to be true and just, kind and merciful. The hard heart of the young girl became soft as clay when moulded for the pots, and she loved her white sister and brothers, and was happy. The Bald Eagle's people came when my white brothers were at peace; they found a trembling fawn within the lodge; they led her away; they left tears and loneliness where joy and peace had been. The Mohawk squaw could not see the hearth of her white brothers desolate. She took the canoe; she came to the lodge of the great father of his tribe, and she says to him, Give back the white squaw to her home on the Rice Lake, and take in her stead the rebellious daughter of the Ojebwa's enemy, to die or be his servant; she fears not now the knife or the tomahawk, the arrow or the spear: her life is in the hand of the great chief." She sank on her knees as she spoke these last words, and bowing down her head on her breast remained motionless as a statue.
There was silence for some minutes, and then the old man rose and said:—
"Daughter of a brave woman, thou hast spoken long, and thou hast spoken well; the ears of the Bald Eagle have been opened. The white squaw shall be restored to her brother's lodge; but thou remainest. I have spoken."
Catharine, in tears, cast her arms round her disinterested friend and remained weeping: how could she accept this great sacrifice? She, in her turn, pleaded for the life and liberty of the Mohawk, but the chief turned a cold ear to her passionate and incoherent pleading. He was weary—he was impatient of further excitement—he coldly motioned to them to withdraw; and the friends in sadness retired to talk over all that had taken place since that sad day when Catharine was taken from her home. While her heart was joyful at the prospect of her own release, it was clouded with fears for the uncertain fate of her beloved friend.
"They will condemn me to a cruel death," said Indiana; "but I can suffer and die for my white sister."
That night the Indian girl slept sweetly and tranquilly beside Catharine. But Catharine could not sleep; she communed with her own heart in the still watches of the night; it seemed as if a new life had been infused within her. She no longer thought and felt as a child; the energies of her mind had been awakened, ripened into maturity, as it were, and suddenly expanded. When all the inmates of the lodges were profoundly sleeping, Catharine arose: a sudden thought had entered into her mind, and she hesitated not to put her design into execution. There was no moon, but a bright arch of light spanned the forest to the north; it was mild and soft as moonlight, but less bright, and cast no shadow across her path; it showed her the sacred tent of the widow of the murdered Mohawk. With noiseless step she lifted aside the curtain of skins that guarded it, and stood at the entrance. Light as was her step, it awakened the sleeper; she raised herself on her arm, and looked up with a dreamy and abstracted air as Catharine, stretching forth her hand, in tones low and tremulous, thus addressed her in the Ojebwa tongue:—
"The Great Spirit sends me to thee, O woman of much sorrow; he asks of thee a great deed of mercy and goodness. Thou hast shed blood, and he is angry. He bids thee to save the life of an enemy—the blood of thy murdered husband flows in her veins. See that thou disobey not the words that he commands."
She dropped the curtain and retired as she had come, with noiseless step, and lay down again in the tent beside Indiana. Her heart beat as though it would burst its way through her bosom. What had she done?—what dared? She had entered the presence of that terrible woman alone, at the dead hour of night! she had spoken bold and presumptuous words to that strange being whom even her own people hardly dared to approach uncalled for! Sick with terror at the consequences of her temerity, Catharine cast her trembling arms about the sleeping Indian girl, and, hiding her head in her bosom, wept and prayed till sleep came over her wearied spirit. It was late when she awoke. She was alone; the lodge was empty. A vague fear seized her: she hastily arose to seek her friend. It was evident that some great event was in preparation. The Indian men had put on the war-paint, and strange and ferocious eyes were glancing from beneath their shaggy locks. A stake was driven in the centre of the cleared space in front of the chief's lodge: there, bound, she beheld her devoted friend; pale as ashes, but with a calm, unshaken countenance, she stood. There was no sign of woman's fear in her fixed dark eye, which quailed not before the sight of the death-dooming men who stood round her, armed with their terrible weapons of destruction. Her thoughts seemed far away: perhaps they were with her dead kindred, wandering in that happy land to which the Indian hopes to go after life; or, inspired with the new hope which had been opened to her, she was looking to Him who has promised a crown of life to such as believe in his name. She saw not the look of agony with which Catharine regarded her; and the poor girl, full of grief, sunk down at the foot of a neighbouring tree, and, burying her face between her knees, wept and prayed-oh, how fervently! A hope crept to her heart—even while the doom of Indiana seemed darkest—that some good might yet accrue from her visit to the wigwam of the Great Medicine squaw. She knew that the Indians have great belief in omens, and warnings, and spirits both good and evil; she knew that her mysterious appearance at the tent of the Mohawk's widow would be construed by her into spiritual agency; and her heart was strengthened by this hope. Yet just now there seems little reason to encourage hope: the war-whoop is given, the war-dance is begun—first slow, and grave, and measured; now louder, and quicker, and more wild become both sound and movement. But why is it hushed again? See, a strange canoe appears on the river; anon an old weather-beaten man, with firm step, appears on the greensward, and approaches the area of the lodge.
The Bald Eagle greets him with friendly courtesy, the dance ceases and the death-song is hushed; a treaty is begun. It is for the deliverance of the captives. The chief points to Catharine—she is free; his white brother may take her—she is his. But the Indian law of justice must take its course: the condemned, who raised her hand against an Ojebwa chief, must die. In vain are the tempting stores of scarlet cloth and beads for the women, with powder and shot, laid before the chief: the arrows of six warriors are fitted to the string, and again the dance and song commence, as if, like the roll of the drum and, clangour of the trumpet, they were necessary to the excitement of strong and powerful feelings, and the suppression of all tenderer emotions.
And now a wild and solemn voice is heard, unearthly in its tones, rising above the yells of those savage men. At the sound every cheek becomes pale: it strikes upon the ear as some funeral wail. Is it the death-song of the captive girl bound to that fearful stake? No; for she stands unmoved, with eyes raised heavenward, and lips apart,—
"In still but brave despair."
Shrouded in a mantle of dark cloth, her long black hair unbound and streaming over her shoulders, appears the Mohawk widow, the daughter of the Ojebwa chief. The gathering throng fall back as she approaches, awed by her sudden appearance among them. She stretches out a hand on which dark stains are visible—it is the blood of her husband, sacrificed by her on that day of fearful deeds: it has never been effaced. In the name of the Great Spirit she claims the captive girl—the last of that devoted tribe—to be delivered over to her will. Her right to this remnant of her murdered husband's family is acknowledged. A knife is placed in her hand, while a deafening yell of triumph bursts from the excited squaws, as this their great high priestess, as they deem her, advances to the criminal. But it is not to shed the heart's blood of the Mohawk girl, but to sever the thong that bind her to the deadly stake, for which that glittering blade is drawn, and to bid her depart in peace whithersoever she would go.
Then, turning to the Bald Eagle, she thus addresses him: "At the dead of night, when the path of light spanned the sky, a vision stood before mine eyes. It came from the Great and Good Spirit, and bade me to set free the last of a murdered race, whose sun had gone down in blood shed by my hand and by the hands of my people. The vision told me that if I did this my path should henceforth be peace, and that I should go to the better land and be at rest if I did this good deed." She then laid her hands on the head of the young Mohawk, blessed her, and, enveloping herself in the dark mantle, slowly retired back to her solitary tent once more.
"Hame, hame, hame, Hame I soon shall be— Hame, hame, hame, In mine own countrie"
Old Jacob and Catharine, who had been mute spectators of the scene so full of interest to them, now presented themselves before the Ojebwa chief and besought leave to depart. The presents were again laid before him, and this time were graciously accepted. Catharine, in distributing the beads and cloth, took care that the best portion should fall to the grand-daughter of the chief, the pretty, good-humoured "Snow-bird." The old man was not insensible to the noble sacrifice which had been made by the devoted Indiana, and he signified his forgiveness of her fault by graciously offering to adopt her as his child, and to give her in marriage to one of his grandsons, an elder brother of the "Snow-bird;" but the young girl modestly but firmly refused this mark of favour, for her heart yearned for those whose kindness had saved her from death, and who had taught her to look beyond the things of this world to a brighter and a better state of being. She said "she would go with her white sister, and pray to God to bless her enemies, as the Great Spirit had taught her to do."
It seems a lingering principle of good in human nature that the exercise of mercy and virtue opens the heart to the enjoyment of social happiness. The Indians, no longer worked up by excitement to deeds of violence, seemed disposed to bury the hatchet of hatred, and the lodge was now filled with mirth and the voice of gladness, feasting, and dancing. A covenant of peace and good-will was entered upon by old Jacob and the chief, who bade Catharine tell her brothers that from henceforth they should be free to hunt the deer, fish, or shoot the wild-fowl of the lake whenever they desired to do so, "he, the Bald Eagle, had said so."
On the morrow, with the first dawn of day, the old trapper was astir; the canoe was ready, with fresh cedar boughs strewed at the bottom. A supply of parched rice and dried fish had been presented by the Indian chief for the voyage, that his white brother and the young girls might not suffer from want. At sunrise the old man led his young charges to the lodge of the Bald Eagle, who took a kindly farewell of them. The "Snow-bird" was sorrowful, and her bright, laughing eyes were dimmed with tears at parting with Catharine. She was a gentle, loving thing, as soft and playful as the tame fawn that nestled its velvet head against her arm. She did not let Catharine depart without many tokens of her regard, the work of her own hands,—bracelets of porcupine quills cut in fine pieces, and strung in fanciful patterns, moccasins richly wrought, and tiny bark dishes and boxes, such as might have graced a lady's work-table, so rare was their workmanship.
Just as they were about to step into the canoe, the "Snow-bird" reappeared, bearing a richly worked bark box, "From the Great Medicine," she said in a low voice, "to the daughter of the Mohawk brave." The box contained a fine tunic, soft as a lady's glove, embroidered and fringed, and a fillet of scarlet and blue feathers, with the wings and breast of the war-bird as shoulder ornaments. It was a token of reconciliation and good-will worthy of a generous heart.
The young girl pressed the gifts to her bosom and to her lips reverentially, and the hand that brought them to her heart, as she said in her native tongue, "Tell the Great Medicine I kiss her in my heart, and pray that she may have peace and joy till she departs for the spirit land."
With joyful heart they bade adieu to the Indian lodges, and rejoiced in being once more afloat on the bosom of the great river. To Catharine the events of the past hours seemed like a strange bewildering dream. She longed for the quiet repose of home; and how gladly did she listen to that kind old man's plans for restoring Hector, Louis, and herself to the arms of their beloved parents. How often did she say to herself, "Oh that I had wings like a dove, for then would I flee away and be at rest!"—in the shelter of that dear mother's arms whom she now pined for with a painful yearning of the heart that might well be called home-sickness. But in spite of anxious wishes, the little party were compelled to halt for the night some few miles above the lake. There is on the eastern bank of the Otonabee a pretty, rounded knoll, clothed with wild cherries, hawthorns, and pine-trees, just where a creek half hidden by alder and cranberry bushes works its way below the shoulder of the little eminence. This creek grows broader and becomes a little stream, through which the hunters sometimes paddle their canoes, as a short cut to the lower part of the lake near Crook's Rapids.
To this creek old Jacob steered his little craft, and bidding the girls collect a few dry sticks and branches for an evening fire on the sheltered side of the little bank, he soon lighted the pile into a cheerful blaze by the aid of birch bark, the hunter's tinder—a sort of fungus that is found in the rotten oak and maple trees—and a knife and flint. He then lifted the canoe, and having raised it on its side, by means of two small stakes which he cut from a bush hard by, he spread down his buffalo robe on the dry grass.
"There is a tent fit for a queen to sleep under, mes cheres filles," he said, eying his arrangements for their night shelter with great satisfaction.
He baited his line, and in a few minutes had a dish of splendid bass ready for the fire. Catharine selected a large flat block of limestone on which the fish when broiled was laid; but old Jacob opened his wide mouth and laughed when she proceeded to lay her bush table with large basswood leaves for platters. Such nicety he professed was unusual on a hunter's table. He was too old a forester to care how his food was dished, so that he had wherewithal to satisfy his hunger.
Many were the merry tales he told and the songs he sung, to while away the time, till the daylight faded from the sky, and the deep blue heavens were studded with bright stars, which were mirrored in countless hosts deep deep down in that calm waveless river, while thousands of fire-flies lighted up the dark recesses of the forest's gloom. High in the upper air the hollow booming of the night-hawk was heard at intervals; and the wild cry of the night-owl from a dead branch, shouting to its fellow, woke the silence of that lonely river scene.
The old trapper, stretched before the crackling fire, smoked his pipe or hummed some French voyageur's song. Beneath the shelter of the canoe soundly slept the two girls; the dark cheek of the Indian girl pillowed on the arm of her fairer companion, her thick tresses of raven hair mingling with the silken ringlets of the white maiden. They were a lovely pair—one fair as morning, the other dark as night.
How gaily did they spring from their low bed, wakened by the early song of the forest birds! The light curling mist hung in fleecy volumes on the river, like a flock of sheep at rest; the tinkling sound of the heavy dew-drops fell in mimic showers upon the stream. See that red squirrel, how lightly he runs along that fallen trunk! how furtively he glances with his sharp bright eye at the intruders on his silvan haunts! Hark! there is a rustling among the leaves; what strange creature works its way to the shore? A mud turtle: it turns, and now is trotting along the little sandy ridge to some sunny spot, where, half buried, it may lie unseen near the edge of the river. See that musk-rat, how boldly he plunges into the stream, and, with his oar-like tail, stems the current till he gains in safety the sedges on the other side.
What gurgling sound is that?—it attracts the practised ear of the old hunter. What is that object which floats so steadily down the middle of the stream, and leaves so bright a line in its wake?—it is a noble stag. Look at the broad chest with which he breasts the water so gallantly; see how proudly he carries his antlered head! He has no fear in those lonely solitudes—he has never heard the crack of the hunter's rifle—he heeds not the sharp twang of that bow-string, till the arrow rankles in his neck, and the crimson flood dyes the water around him. He turns, but it is only to present a surer mark for the arrow from the old hunter's bow. And now the noble beast turns to bay, and the canoe is rapidly launched by the hand of the Indian girl. Her eye flashes with the excitement; her whole soul is in the chase; she stands up in the canoe, and steers it full upon the wounded buck, while a shower of blows is dealt upon his head and neck with the paddle. Catharine buries her face in her hands: she cannot bear to look upon the sufferings of the noble animal. She will never make a huntress; her heart is cast in too soft a mould. See they have towed the deer ashore, and Jacob is in all his glory. The little squaw is an Indian at heart—see with what expertness she helps the old man. And now the great business is completed, and the venison is stowed away at the bottom of the canoe. They wash their hands in the river, and come at Catharine's summons to their breakfast.
The sun is now rising high above the pine-trees; the morning mist is also rising and rolling off like a golden veil as it catches those glorious rays; the whole earth seems wakening into new life: the dew has brightened every leaf and washed each tiny flower-cup: the pines and balsams give out their resinous fragrance: the aspens flutter and dance in the morning breeze, and return a mimic shower of dew-drops to the stream; the shores become lower and flatter; the trees less lofty and more mossy; the stream expands, and wide beds of rushes spread out on either side; what beds of snowy water-lilies: how splendid the rose tint of those perseicarias that glow so brightly in the morning sun; the rushes look like a green meadow, but the treacherous water lies deep below their grassy leaves; the deer delights in these verdant aquatic fields: and see what flocks of redwings rise from among them as the canoe passes near—their bright shoulder-knots glance like flashes of lightning in the sunbeams.
This low swampy island, filled with drift-wood; these gray hoary trees, half choked and killed with gray moss and lichens, those straggling alders and black ash, look melancholy; they are like premature old age, gray-headed youths. That island divides the channel of the river: the old man takes the nearest, the left hand. And now they are upon the broad Rice Lake, and Catharine wearies her eye to catch the smoke of the shanty rising among the trees: one after another the islands steal out into view; the capes, bays, and shores of the northern side are growing less distinct. Yon hollow bay, where the beaver has hidden till now, backed by that bold sweep of hills that look in the distance as if only covered with green ferns, with here and there a tall tree, stately as a pine or oak,—that is the spot where Louis saw the landing of the Indians: now a rising village—Gore's Landing. On yon lofty hill now stands the village church,—its white tower rising amongst the trees forms a charming object from the lake; and there, a little higher up, not far from the plank road, now stand pretty rural cottages: one of these belongs to the spirited proprietor of the village that bears his name. That tasteful garden before the white cottage, to the right, is Colonel Brown's, and there are pretty farms and cultivated spots; but silence and loneliness reigned there at the time of which I write.
Where those few dark pines rise above the oak groves like the spires of churches in a crowded city, is Mount Ararat. The Indian girl steers straight between the islands for that ark of refuge, and Catharine's eyes are dimmed with grateful tears as she pictures to herself the joyful greeting in store for her. In the overflowings of her gladness she seizes the old man's rugged hand and kisses it, and flings her arms about the Indian girl and presses her to her heart, when the canoe has touched the old well-remembered landing-place, and she finds herself so near, so very near her lost home. How precious are such moments—how few we have in life! They are created from our very sorrows; without our cares our joys would be less lively. But we have no time to moralize. Catharine flies with the speed of a young fawn to climb the cliff-like shoulder of that steep bank; and now; out of breath, she stands at the threshold of her log-house. How neat and nice it looks compared with the Indians' tents! The little field of corn is green and flourishing. There is Hector's axe in a newly-cut log: it is high noon; the boys ought to have been there taking their mid-day meal, but the door is shut. Catharine lifts the wooden latch, and steps in. The embers are nearly burned out to a handful of gray ashes. Old Wolfe is not there—all is silent; and Catharine sits down to still the beating of her heart, and await the coming of her slower companions, and gladdens her mind with the hope that her brother and Louis will soon be home. Her eye wanders over every old familiar object. All things seem much as she had left them; only, the maize is in the ear, and the top feather waves gracefully in the summer breeze. It promises an abundant crop. But that harvest is not to be gathered by the hands of the young planters: it was left to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field—to those humble reapers who sow not, neither do they gather into barns, for the heavenly Father feedeth them. While the two girls busied themselves in preparing a fine roast of venison, old Jacob stalked away over the hills to search for the boys, and it was not long before he returned with Hector and Louis.
I must not tell tales, or I might say what tears of joy were mingled with the rapturous greetings with which Louis embraced his beloved cousin; or I might tell that the bright flush that warmed the dusky cheek of the young Indian and the light that danced in her soft black eyes owed their origin to the kiss that was pressed on her red lips by her white brother. Nor will we say whose hand held hers so long in his, while Catharine related the noble sacrifice made for her sake, and the perils encountered by the devoted Indiana, whose eyes were moistened with tears as the horrors of that fearful trial were described; or who stole out alone over the hills, and sat him down in the hush and silence of the summer night to think of the acts of heroism displayed by that untaught Indian girl, and to dream a dream of youthful love: with these things, my young readers, we have nothing to do.
"And now, my children," said old Jacob, looking round the little dwelling, "have you made up your minds to live and die here on the shores of this lake, or do you desire again to behold your fathers' home? Do your young hearts yearn after the hearth of your childhood?"'
"After our fathers' home!" was Louis's emphatic reply. "After the home of our childhood!" was Catharine's earnest answer. Hector's lips echoed his sister's words, while a furtive troubled glance fell upon the orphan stranger; but her timid eye was raised to his young face with a trusting look, as if she would have said, "Thy home shall be my home, thy God my God."
"Well, I believe, if my old memory fails me not, I can strike the Indian trail that used to lead to the Cold Springs over the pine hills. It will not be difficult for an old trapper to find his way."
"For my part, I shall not leave this lovely spot without regret," said Hector. "It would be a glorious place for a settlement—all that one could desire—hill and valley, and plain, wood, and water. I will try and persuade my father to leave the Cold Springs, and come and settle hereabouts. It would be delightful—would it not, Catharine?—especially now we are friends with the Indians."
With their heads full of pleasant schemes for the future, our young folks laid them down that night to rest. In the morning they rose, packed up such portable articles as they could manage to carry, and with full hearts sat down to take their last meal in their home—in that home which had sheltered them so long—and then, with one accord, they knelt down upon its hearth, so soon to be left in loneliness, and breathed a prayer to Him who had preserved them thus far in their eventful lives; and then they journeyed forth once more into the wilderness. There was one, however, of their little band they left behind this was the faithful old dog Wolfe. He had pined during the absence of his mistress, and only a few days before Catharine's return he had crept to the seat she was wont to occupy, and there died. Louis and Hector buried him, not without great regret beneath the group of birch-trees on the brow of the slope near the corn-field.
"I will arise, and go to my father."—St. Luke.
It is the hour of sunset; the sonorous sound of the cattle-bells is heard, as they slowly emerge from the steep hill-path that leads to Maxwell and Louis Perron's little clearing; the dark shadows are lengthening that those wood-crowned hills cast over that sunny spot, an oasis in the vast forest desert that man, adventurous, courageous man, has hewed for himself in the wilderness. The little flock are feeding among the blackened stumps of the uncleared chopping: those timbers have lain thus untouched for two long years; the hand was wanting that should have given help in logging and burning them up. The wheat is ripe for the sickle, and the silken beard of the corn is waving like a fair girl's tresses in the evening breeze. The tinkling fall of the cold spring in yonder bank falls soothingly on the ear. Who comes from that low-roofed log-cabin to bring in the pitcher of water—that pale, careworn, shadowy figure that slowly moves along the green pasture, as one without hope or joy; her black hair shared with silver, her cheek pale as wax, and her hand so thin it looks as though the light might be seen through if she held it towards the sun? It is the heart-broken mother of Catharine and Hector Maxwell. Her heart has been pierced with many sorrows; she cannot yet forget the children of her love, her first-born girl and boy. Who comes to meet her, and with cheerful voice chides her for the tear that seems ever to be lingering on that pale cheek,—yet the premature furrows on that broad, sunburnt, manly brow speak, too, of inward care? It is the father of Hector and Catharine. Those two fine, healthy boys, in homespun blouses, that are talking so earnestly as they lean across the rail-fence of the little wheat field, are Kenneth and Donald; their sickles are on their arms—they have been reaping. They hear the sudden barking of Bruce and Wallace, the hounds, and turn to see what causes the agitation they display.
An old man draws near; he has a knapsack on his shoulders, which he casts down on the corner of the stoup; he is singing a line of an old French ditty; he raps at the open door. The Highlander bids him welcome, but starts with glad surprise as his hand is grasped by the old trapper.
"Hah, Jacob Morelle, it is many a weary year since your step turned this way." The tear stood in the eye of the soldier as he spoke.
"Can you receive me and those I have with me for the night?" asked the old man; in a husky voice—his kind heart was full. "A spare corner, a shake-down, will do; we travellers in the bush are no wise nice."
"The best we have, and kindly welcome, Jacob. How many are ye in all?"
"There are just four, besides myself,—young people. I found them where they had been long living, on a lonely lake, and I persuaded them to come with me."
The strong features of the Highlander worked convulsively, as he drew his faded blue bonnet over his eyes. "Jacob, did ye ken that we lost our eldest bairns some three summers since?" he faltered in a broken voice.
"The Lord, in his mercy, has restored them to you, Donald, by my hand," said the trapper.
"Let me see, let me see my children! To Him be the praise and the glory," ejaculated the pious father, raising his bonnet reverently from his head; "and holy and blessed be His name for ever! I thought not to have seen this day. O Catharine, my dear wife, this joy will kill you!"
In a moment his children were enfolded in his arms. It is a mistaken idea that joy kills; it is a life restorer. Could you, my young readers, have seen how quickly the bloom of health began to reappear on the faded cheek of that pale mother, and how soon that dim eye regained its bright sparkle, you would have said joy does not kill.
"But where is Louis, dear Louis, our nephew, where is he?"
Louis, whose impetuosity was not to be restrained by the caution of old Jacob, had cleared the log-fence at a bound, had hastily embraced his cousins Kenneth and Donald, and in five minutes more had rushed into his father's cottage, and wept his joy in the arms of father, mother, and sisters by turns, before old Jacob had introduced the impatient Hector and Catharine to their father.
"But while joy is in our little dwelling, who is this that sits apart upon that stone by the log-fence, her face bent sadly down upon her knees, her long raven hair shading her features as with a veil?" asked the Highlander Maxwell, pointing as he spoke to the spot where, unnoticed and unsharing in the joyful recognition, sat the poor Indian girl. There was no paternal embrace for her, no tender mother's kiss imprinted on that dusky cheek and pensive brow; she was alone and desolate in the midst of that scene of gladness.
"It is my Indian sister," said Catharine; "she also must be your child."
Hector hurried to Indiana, and taking her by the hand led her to his parents, and bade them be kind to and cherish the young stranger, to whom they all owed so much.
Time passes on—years, long years have gone by since the return of the lost children to their homes, and many changes have those years effected. The log-houses have fallen to decay—a growth of young pines, a waste of emerald turf with the charred logs that once formed part of the enclosure, now scarcely serve to mark out the old settlement; no trace or record remains of the first breakers of the bush—another race occupy the ground. The traveller as he passes along on that smooth turnpike road that leads from Coburg to Cold Springs, and from thence to Gore's Landing, may notice a green waste by the roadside on either hand, and fancy that thereabouts our Canadian Crusoes' home once stood: he sees the lofty wood-crowned hill, and in spring time—for in summer it is hidden by the luxuriant foliage—the little forest creek; and he may, if thirsty, taste of the pure, fresh, icy water, as it still wells out from a spring in the steep bank, rippling through the little cedar-trough that Louis Perron placed there for the better speed of his mother when filling her water jug. All else is gone. And what wrought the change a few words will suffice to tell. Some travelling fur merchants brought the news to Donald Maxwell that a party of Highlanders had made a settlement above Montreal, and among them were some of his kindred. The old soldier resolved to join them, and it was not hard to prevail upon his brother-in-law to accompany him, for they were all now weary of living so far from their fellow-men; and bidding farewell to the little log-houses at Cold Springs, they now journeyed downwards to the new settlement, where they were gladly received, their long experience of the country making their company a most valuable acquisition to the new-come colonists.
Not long after, the Maxwells took possession of a grant of land, and cleared and built for themselves and their family. Hector, now a fine industrious young man, presented at the baptismal font, as a candidate for baptism, the Indian girl, and then received at the altar his newly-baptized bride. Catharine and Louis were married on the same day as Hector and Indiana. They lived happy and prosperous lives; and often, by their firesides, would delight their children by recounting the history of their wanderings on the Rice Lake Plains.
[About this edition: Lost in the Woods was originally published in 1852 under the title The Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains. After several editions, it was republished in 1882 under its present title, as Lost in the Backwoods.]