His exclamations of grief brought his companions to the spot. "Not so certain that anything dreadful has occurred," said Mr Norman. "You told me you had killed a bear: now Bruin has been deprived of his hinder legs, which make the best hams; and his four paws, which turn into good soup; and I don't think that they would have walked off by themselves. Come, let us examine your hut. Ah! the skin too has disappeared."
"Yes, and I see that the remainder of the fish which D'Arcy gave us are not here," said Philip, somewhat relieved. "But perhaps the island has been visited by some trapper, who would naturally carry off the most valuable parts of the bear."
"Ah! but look here: if the island has been visited by a trapper, he came with a vehicle on runners from the direction of your clearing, and returned to the same place. There are the marks clear enough still; an Indian would have told us exactly how things occurred."
"I wish that we had had one," said Philip, in whom fatigue had produced low spirits. "The visitor, whoever he was, not finding them, may have carried off the bear's flesh and returned without them."
"I think that I can convince you that my conjectures are correct," said Mr Norman, after looking about for some time longer. "You killed the bear with long stakes: I can find none; they would naturally have carried them off as trophies. They had skates; none are to be seen, the foot-prints are those of shoes."
"How came the hole?" asked Philip.
"They made it themselves to fish through. See here are some scales which Tom Smith has just brought me, and which his sharp eye detected near the hole: the fish was evidently thrown down there on being unhooked. Come, I doubt if any Indian would read marks more clearly than I have done, though probably he would explain matters in a far more pompous style. The fact is, my experience of bush-life and Indian life has been very considerable, as you will understand if you like some day to listen to some of my adventures. But there is nothing to keep us longer here."
Philip was happier, but not thoroughly satisfied. The party set out on their return.
"This ice would not have borne us many hours hence; be ready for a leap into the canoe," said Mr Norman. They reached the settlement, however, in safety. The inhabitants were divided in opinion as to whether the young Ashtons were lost or not; Philip was eager to reach home to settle the point. Mr Norman had sent for wheels for his vehicle, as the snow had melted too much to allow of runners. It was soon mounted, and away they rattled, bumped and thumped, Mr Norman singing—
"'You and I, Billy, have often heard how folks are ruined and undone, By overturns in carriages, by fires and thieves in London.'
"You see, my young friend, we must look out for haps and mishaps in the country as well as in town, on shore as well as at sea. Ignorant of religion as seamen are, they have a right feeling of a superintending Providence, which makes them feel as secure in the midst of the raging storm as they would driving about in the crowded city. The true believer in Christ is ready to die at any moment. This it is makes weak women courageous, while strong men show themselves to be cowards when instant death threatens them."
Philip thought to himself, "How did I behave and feel when I was in the water this morning?—how when I found the hole in the ice, and thought that my brothers had fallen through?" The journey to the clearing, which across the ice would not have occupied twenty minutes, and not an hour by land had the snow been hard, took up more than two hours, with the risk of an overturn or break-down every yard, and such jolting as only well-knit limbs would endure.
At last the log-house appeared before them. "A very creditable edifice; really, Mr Philip, you were born a backwoodsman," exclaimed Mr Norman. "I learned carpentering, and the principal rules for house-building, while my hands and eyes have been kept in exercise from my childhood," was the answer. "That is the preparation required for all settlers in the bush, and which so large a number want and fail of success in consequence—or at all events waste precious years in gaining at a heavy cost the knowledge with which they ought to begin. I commenced the world without a sixpence, and have worked my way up to wealth and independence by the proper use of my hands and head. A settler, to rise, must have both. We welcome hands in the province. The possessor of a head benefits himself chiefly—not that we could get on without heads either."
As they drove up to the door, D'Arcy was the first person to meet them. Philip's heart sunk within him in spite of what Mr Norman had been saying. He hoped to have seen his brothers. "Where are the lads?" he exclaimed, eagerly. "All right, come in. I will take your horse round, Mr Norman," said D'Arcy; and as the door opened, the boys' voices were heard from their room. The rest of the family quickly came to the entrance to welcome them; and D'Arcy, coming back, explained what had occurred. He had seen the blaze of their burning hut, but not suspecting the cause, had gone across the lake with his canoe on runners, to ascertain if they had got home safe, not sorry for a good excuse for his visit. His appearance naturally caused great dismay and anxiety. He, however, afforded his friends some comfort, by assuring them that he believed the missing ones would be found on the island, towards which, supplied with a compass, he immediately set out, accompanied by Peter, and carrying provisions, cordials, and blankets. His satisfaction was considerable when laughing voices proceeded from the direction of the island, and he found the young gentlemen amusing themselves greatly by fishing for tommicods. Taking the best parts of the bear, he hurried back with his rescued friends to prevent Philip, should he arrive first, from setting off to meet them.
Philip's long delay had again caused his family great anxiety. A happy party, with grateful hearts, assembled round Mr Ashton's supper-table that evening—a table framed by his own hands, while most of the luxuries were supplied by the industry of those sitting round it. In another year there would not be an article of food on it which had not been produced on the farm, or procured from the lake, or surrounding woods. Not the least happy was Lawrence D'Arcy; and perhaps a glance at Miss Ashton's countenance might have told the reason why.
"Well, Mr Norman, I am glad at length to see you here; and I can assure you, that your prognostications as to my liking the country, have been more than fulfilled," said Mr Ashton. "I have never for an instant regretted coming out here; and I believe that I am happier, and that my wife and children are so, than we should have been had we lived on the life we had been proposing for ourselves in London, when I found myself deprived of the property which I thought my own."
"God's merciful Providence overruled your plan for your own and your children's good," said Mr Norman. "I know nothing practically of large cities, and little enough of towns; but from what I have read, I suspect that the temptations to evil in them are great, and the advantages comparatively small, when the chief object of man's life is considered. No life can more conduce to virtue and a healthful state of body and mind than that which the industrious settler in the country leads out here. He has hard work and rough living, may be; but what is that, whether he be gentle or simple, compared to what he would have had to endure, had he without fortune remained idle at home? That is the question all settlers must ask themselves over and over again, whenever they get out of sorts with the Province."
"It is the fashion to say in England, so I hear, that Canada is not the country in which people can make fortunes," said the sheriff; for such was the office Mr Norman held in his county. "I grant that it is not the country in which fortunes will come of themselves; but, putting the lower province out of the question, I should like to know how the owners of the nice estates and pretty villas scattered so thickly throughout the upper province became possessed of them. How has Toronto sprung up into a first-rate city? How have Hamilton, London, and twenty other towns risen in a few years into importance? How is it that thousands of comfortable farms are found in all directions? Look at our canals—at the thousands of vessels which navigate our lakes and rivers; at our saw-mills, and grist-mills, and manufactories of all sorts; at the tens of thousands of acres of corn land; at our pastures; at our oxen and kine; at our flocks of sheep; at our horses; at our public and private buildings; at our churches; our colleges; our schools; our hospitals; our prisons; at all the conveniences of a highly civilised community which we possess, and then let me ask to whom do all these things belong? To the inhabitants of the province. Who are they? Men mostly who began life in it; some few whose fathers lived in it; but very few indeed whose grandfathers were born here. Of these, the capital of the greater number, when they began this career, might have been counted by shillings;—did I say shillings? I would rather say strong hearts and hands, without coin at all; some few might have reckoned by pounds, fewer by hundreds, and very few indeed, if any, by thousands. Then how did they become possessed of all this wealth? Why they made all this wealth, they created all these advantages, by their labour, their intelligence, and perseverance. They are theirs—to enjoy—to benefit by. It is said in England, 'We do not find rich Canadians come back and settle at home, as so many Australians do.' Granted; Canada, I say, is essentially the country to reside in. People who have made fortunes here do not go away, for the best of reasons; because here they have all the requirements of civilisation, all the advantages which the Australians go to England to obtain. I say too that numbers do make very handsome fortunes—though I grant, as I before observed, that fortunes don't come of themselves; but, which is better, no one who is persevering, industrious, and intelligent, fails to become independent, and to start his children well in the world. I don't want to disparage other provinces, but I say that we Canadians can and do make fortunes; and what is more, we have the means of enjoying them thoroughly, without going to other lands to do so."
The sheriff had got on a subject on which he always grew eager, though he was at length obliged to pause for want of breath. "Take myself, for example," he continued; "I rose, if you like, from the bottom of the tree; and I know fifty—I may say a hundred men, who have got up as I have done—my brother-sheriff of the next county among them. My father came over from England. He was a baker by trade; but though he knew how to make loaves, he did not know how to read. He came to the neighbourhood of Kingston first, and worked as a journeyman. When he had saved a little money he set up for himself; then he got a share in a flour-mill, and bought a little land;—then a little more; and then the flour-mill became his; and lastly, he sold the whole at a considerable profit, and moving westward, pitched his tent at Pentanquishine, on Lake Huron. He invested largely in land; and troops being stationed there during the war with the States, and it becoming a naval station, he realised a considerable profit. Though uneducated himself, he was desirous of giving his sons a good education; so he sent us all to the best school in the province—I might say the only one—kept by the Reverend Dr Strachan, now Bishop of Toronto, in that big city, then known as "Muddy Little York." The excellent doctor, of whom we all stood in reverential awe, had the art of imparting knowledge; and I believe I, with others, benefited much by it. Of my two elder brothers I will say nothing, except that they tyrannised over me and another brother younger than I was. He and I were fast friends, and made common cause against them. As Pentanquishine could not supply us with clothing fit to appear in at Toronto, our father directed us to get it at that place, and entrusted our elder brother with money to pay for it. He got clothing certainly, and paid the tailor, but it was for himself and not for us, and we were allowed to go on wearing our shabby clothes. I protested vehemently against this iniquitous proceeding, but Arthur, my younger brother, who was of a more gentle nature, yielded quietly and said nothing.
"There was to be a public examination, at which all the big-wigs in the place were to attend; and I told my brother that if he would not order us both proper suits of clothes I would run away to our father and complain. He laughed at me, not believing that I would make the attempt. I was as good as my word, for pretending I was ill one evening, I got leave to go up early to bed. Instead of going to sleep I watched my opportunity, slipped out of the house with all the money Arthur and I could collect, or rather save, in my pocket, and running on all night, before morning I was far away towards Lake Simcoe. You see, boys brought up in the bush, as I was, have no fear of being out alone, and can find their way in any direction they have a mind to follow. Besides which, it was a beaten cart track I followed, mostly in the line the railway now takes. Great changes since then! I might have been caught even then, for I was pursued for some distance; but I was overtaken by an old acquaintance—a carter, or rather a packer or carrier—Jack Johnson by name, to whom I narrated what had occurred. My elder brother had on some occasion offended him, and this made him, probably, more ready to take my part, and to render me assistance. 'Jump into the waggon, lad, and hide thee away, and if any one comes after thee I'll show him that Jack Johnson's waggon is just as much his castle as any man's house is, and if he pries therein he must take the consequences.' What those consequences would be he did not say, but he flourished his heavy whip with a ferocity which made it probable that the head of anybody who interfered would be broken. With this consoling reflection I fell asleep, for I was very tired after my long run during all the night. I knew, also, that Jack would be as good as his word, so I had no fears to keep me awake.
"We jogged on all day, stopping only to bait and water the cattle. Now and then I awoke and looked out; it was the same scene—forest on either side, with now and then a small lake, or pond, or creek. Jack was at his horses' heads, whistling away, as if he had nothing in the world to care for. He hadn't either. He had been a workhouse-boy in the old country, and would have ended his days as a labourer, and now he was laying by a good bit of money every trip, and expected to be able to buy a comfortable farm before long. So he did, and has brought up a numerous family, all well-to-do in the world, and lives himself as comfortably as any man with four or five hundred a-year would, I guess, in England. At night we stopped at a log-hut, the only inn on the road, and Jack brought me some food and told me to be quiet, and that we would be off early in the morning.
"The second day passed much as did the first, except that I had lost all fear of being overtaken. The confession is somewhat humbling, but the truth is, I was not considered worth sending after. 'Let the chiel gang,—wie sae little brains in his head he's sure to fall on his feet,' observed the doctor, when informed of my flight—so I was told. In the evening of the second day we reached Holland's Landing, at the south end of Lake Simcoe. Settlers had begun to take up the land on either side of the lake: they were chiefly naval and military officers, forced into idleness at the end of the war, without any previous training for the life they were to lead, or knowledge of what would be required of them as settlers. The naval men did the best, and many of them succeeded, as did a few of the military men, but the greater number, after a few years' trial, I might say months, left in disgust, or ruined. Many never came even to occupy their grants. Jack's business was to supply these gentlemen with goods, which most of them came to fetch at Holland's Landing.
"As he was going no further, I had now to consider how I was to perform the rest of my journey West. While standing in the bar of the store with Jack, who should come in but a trapper, known to him, Jean Baptiste by name, to make some purchases. 'Whither bound, friend Baptiste?' asked Jack. I could make out clearly enough the meaning of his reply, but I cannot repeat the extraordinary mixture of Canadian, French, English, and Ojibbeway, in which it was couched. He intimated that he was going a few days' journey west, over ground where there was then an abundance of beaver, martin, mink, and other fur-bearing animals, which are rare enough now. Jean Baptiste showed his Indian origin by his long, Jewish-like countenance, dark eyes, and raven black hair. He was dressed in skins, the hair being inside, in spite of the heat, his leggings and waistcoat ornamented with bead-work and gaily-dyed porcupine quills, and mingled with coloured fibres and worsted.
"I slept in Jack's cart, and just at daybreak Baptiste came and roused me up. I thanked Jack heartily for his kindness, and with a stout stick in my hand, with which he presented me, set off to follow my strange-looking guide towards his camp. Here, under a lean-to of birch-bark, I found Mrs Baptiste, an Indian squaw, who, if not a solace to him in his hours of trial, took a great deal of trouble off his shoulders, for she worked for him from morning till night like a slave, with small thanks. In the way he treated his wife he was no better than an Indian. She had her hand-sleigh already packed, and as soon as we appeared she harnessed herself into it and began dragging it off without saying a word. Talk of the romance of Indian life, there is none of it of an elevated nature. All the stuff novelists have written is sheer downright nonsense. It is simple brutality from beginning to end. I speak of the natives I have met with before they became Christians. Baptiste, on the strength of his being a French-Canadian, on his father's side, called himself a Christian, but he was as ignorant of religion as was his squaw; and here let me remind you, whenever you write to your friends in England, tell them that there is a grand opening for missionary labours among the wide-scattered Indian tribes still existing on this continent. Something is being done, but much more may be done; and not only is there work to be done among Indians, but among the out-settlers, and especially among the lumberers on the Ottawa. Never mind whether they are Romanists or not. They never hear the Gospel of free grace preached from one end of the year to the other. I believe that a missionary going among them would find abundant fruit as the result of his labours.
"To return to Baptiste. He had set his traps in the forest along the route we were to take, and so we had to push our way through it, sleigh and all, he scarcely condescending to help his squaw when it stuck between the stumps of the trees, she also looking with supreme contempt on me when I attempted to help her; indeed she, I fancy, considered me rather officious than otherwise. I travelled on for several days with this unattractive couple, and yet I believe that they were really fond of each other. They were hospitable in their way also, for their pot was always well supplied with meat, and they gave me as much as I could eat. It was not of the choicest land, I must confess, for every creature the trapper caught went into it, with a mixture of herbs and roots, among which garlic predominated.
"At last Baptiste told me that he had come to the end of his journey, and that I must find the rest of the way by myself. 'I will try, of course, but it strikes me that I shall not succeed,' was my answer. 'If I had a gun and powder and shot, or even your traps, I would get on fast enough as soon as I could find my way into the blazed road, but out here the thing is impossible. If you will not come along with me I must go back with you.'
"He signified that he would be glad enough to have my company, but that he had promised Jack to see me on my way, and that his honour was concerned in doing so. He could not go on himself, but he would find some Indians who would guide me if I could pay them. I had three dollars in my pocket, I told him. He said half that sum would content them if I would pay it them. He soon found the trail of some Indians whom he knew to be his friends—we came up with them. The bargain was struck with two of them to see me safe all the way, and Baptiste told me that they were highly delighted though they took care not to show it. They were accompanied by their squaws; indeed, an Englishman of fortune would as soon think of travelling without his valet as an Indian without his squaw to perform every menial occupation he may require. There was nothing romantic in the appearance of my friends; one wore an old shooting-coat, which he had trimmed with coloured worsted, while the other had fastened a blue checked shirt over his other garments by way of ornament; the rest of their costume being more in the old Indian fashion of leather and fur. They were dirty in the extreme, and not over good looking; but they had honest countenances, and I had no fear of their not treating me fairly. One of them went before me to clear the way, the other followed at my heels to pick me up should I stumble, and the squaws brought up the rear, all in single file. The squaws had to build the wigwams—or, rather, lean-tos—when we camped, to collect sticks for the fire, to cook the food, and to bring water from the nearest stream or pond; their masters condescended to catch the game. They were not such expert trappers as Baptiste, but then they ate creatures which he would have rejected—nothing that could be masticated came amiss to them. I should have fared badly, but the second day, just after we had camped, we came suddenly upon two bears with two young cubs. They were as much surprised at seeing us as we were at encountering them. One of the Indians who had a fowling piece fired, and hit Mr Bruin in the brain, whereon Mrs Bruin trotted off with one of the cubs; while the other Indian with his bow shot the cub which had remained with his father.
"I was eager to exhibit my prowess, so followed the retreating bears, hoping to kill the cub with my stick. Fortunately they took the way near the camp, when the squaws, seeing me, ran out and caught hold of me, telling me that as surely as I had killed the cub the mother would have turned round and torn me to pieces. Though I still wished to go, they held me tight till the bears were out of sight. I believe fully that they saved my life, and certainly it was pleasanter supping on a bear than making a supper for one.
"At last we reached Pentanquishine, and so thankful was I to get there that I gave the honest Indians two dollars instead of one and a-half. I fear that they spent the greater part, if not the whole of the sum, at the grog shop before they left the settlement.
"'What! who are you, you little ragamuffin?' exclaimed my father when he saw me, for by that time so torn had become my garments by the thorny shrubs, that they literally were in shreds. 'You are no child of mine; get out with you, you little ill-conditioned cub.' I ought not to have been surprised at this greeting, though it was not pleasant to my feelings.
"I had considerable difficulty in persuading him who I was, and of the truth of my statement as to the cause of my leaving. At last he did believe me, and declared that he would break Dick's head and stop his allowance for the following half. Dick, when he came home for the holidays, made me beg him off, not the getting his head broke, for that he laughed at, but the having his allowance stopped, which he guessed might be done.
"When I went back at the commencement of the next half, the Doctor took no notice of what had occurred, and from having been the most ragged, I became one of the best dressed boys in the school. This was not always to last. My elder brothers went home to begin life, leaving me and Arthur. We were very glad when they went, for they bullied us terribly. A year passed, and then came a letter with a black seal, and we heard that our father was dead. Dick, who had come of age, inherited his property, and it seemed had the power of doing with us just what he liked. It arose thus: our poor father had been seized with the desire of having his eldest son a gentleman of fortune, and thinking that by leaving him all his property he could do so, he beggared the rest of us. Dick wrote us word that we must earn our own living, but that he would be a brother to us, and to show his affection he apprenticed me to a chair-maker, and my slight, delicate young brother Arthur to a blacksmith.
"Mine was not a bad trade, for furniture was in great demand. 'If that is to be my calling I will go at it,' said I to myself. I did so, and soon could turn a chair very neatly out of hand. Arthur could make no hand at the blacksmith work—his arm had not strength to wield a hammer; I went to his master and asked him to let him off. 'No, I never does anything without an equivalent,' was his answer; 'but I'll tell you what, youngster, I happen to want some chairs for my woman and children to sit on; now, if you'll make them for me, slick off hand, your brother shall go free, I guess.' The bargain was struck. I was anxious to get poor Arthur free, for every day was killing him with labour for which he was so unfit. I set to work at once, and each moment that I could spare from my proper duties to my master I employed in making the chairs. I was determined that he should not say that they were not good chairs— strong and handsome. The blacksmith was highly pleased with them, and instantly freed my brother and made me a present of a couple of dollars. With this sum and a little more I had made by working out of hours, I set Arthur to trade on his own account, to keep him till my term was out, which was to be very shortly. From the day I had left school I had not neglected my studies, and I used to read all the books I could lay hands on during every spare moment. Life is short enough as it is, and people make it still shorter by idling away their time. I knew that I had plenty of work to do, and I found out early that to get it done I must not lose a moment. I consequently not only kept up the knowledge I obtained at school, but got a fair amount besides.
"We worked on for three years, I making chairs and Arthur selling them, saving money, but not very fast. I had no fancy to go on chair-making all my days, and I wished for a more active life.
"I had paid a visit to Holland's Landing a few months before this, and I found that my friend, Jack Johnson, was still driving a thriving trade with the settlement along the shores of the lake; but he had not a good head for business, and I saw that a great deal more might be made of it than he made. A steamer was building to run on the lake. She was to commence running in a few days. I applied for the office of purser, or steward—call it which you will. I obtained it, at a low salary, stipulating that I should be allowed to trade, to a certain extent, on my own account. That was all I wanted. My plans were at once formed. Jack was to purchase and bring up the articles from Toronto, and Arthur and I to go round to the farms, as far as we could reach, and to obtain orders, large or small. All were fish which came into our net, from an ounce of tobacco to the furniture of a house or the machinery for a saw mill, provided we could get security; it would have been folly to trade without that, especially with some of our customers.
"We paid considerable sums to the steamer for freight, and, pleasing the owners, were able, with their aid, to increase our credit and our business. It is extraordinary how reckless some of those we dealt with were in giving orders for goods and in mortgaging their property as security, without a prospect, as far as we could judge, of their being able to pay us without allowing the mortgage to be foreclosed. That you may not think ill of me on that account, I may say that we thus had an opportunity of being of considerable service to many of these improvident gentlemen. Our trade throve, and I soon found that it would be convenient to establish a store at the principal place at which the steamer called. Arthur took charge of it, and the flourishing condition of the concern showed that we were right in our expectations.
"Our capital increased. We were compelled to foreclose some mortgages; and as we did not wish to keep the farms of which we thus became possessed, we sold them at more or less profit. We were in the way of hearing when land was to be sold at a cheap rate, either improved or unimproved, and by purchasing such land and re-selling to newly-arrived settlers, who became good customers, we profited considerably. We got the best of everything, and our desire was to supply those who bought of us with what we knew they would most require, and which would give them satisfaction.
"As soon as I had established a business I left the steam-boat and went to live on shore, at the store, having first taken to wife the daughter of my old master. A very good wife she has made me, and I should like, some day, to bring her over to see you, Mrs Ashton; but you mustn't expect to see a fine lady, such are not the good wives of this province. For many years she was a hardworking housewife, when helps were beings not to be procured for love or money. The station of life which I then occupied was different to what I now fill, but my good wife has had no ambition to change her style of dress or living with our change of circumstances, from the feeling that she might appear out of place. In fact, my dear madam, you will understand that she is not vulgar, and is essentially free from all vulgar ambition. Here I must bring the sketch of my early life to a conclusion, remarking that what my brother and I did, hundreds of others have done in this province, and thousands more will do if they will practise self-control, labour industriously in whatever station they are placed, and be ready to step into any opening which may present itself, always doing their duty, and praying for strength and guidance above."
Although the Canadian winter impedes agricultural operations, there is plenty of work to be done both out-of-doors and in-doors, especially on a newly-cleared farm. Chopping down the trees goes on, and if the brushwood has been collected before the snow falls, the huge trunks can be dragged together and piled in heaps to be burnt off. It may seem a sad waste of good timber, but it is the least expensive way of getting rid of what cumbers the ground; besides which, the ashes very much assist to fertilise it. The Ashtons, however, found that they could dispose of theirs at the newly-erected saw-mills, if they could get the logs there. Not a tree could be moved, however, by any force they could command, till the snow fell and hardened. The logs then were dragged down over it on to the ice, where they were easily formed into a raft and floated across the lake to the mills at breaking up of the ice in spring.
The first fall of snow had entirely disappeared, and the lake had become free of ice, to be covered again, however, by a far thicker coat than before, and equally smooth. Harry and Charley were eager to have an ice-boat, and they persuaded Philip, in spite of his many avocations, to assist them in making one. The great point was to have good runners. These should have been made of iron, but as that was not to be procured, they got some hard wood of sufficient length, which being slightly curved up at the ends, served admirably. The boat had, therefore, what Harry called two keels. This was the most important part;—the boat was simply a long box with seats across it. The rudder, which was an oar fixed in the stern, had a sharp iron blade which would dig into the ice. The craft was rigged as a schooner, and had a very creditable appearance. A long pole with an iron head helped to steer her and to put her about.
With eager haste she was launched on the glass-like expanse. "Let us stand across to D'Arcy and astonish him," cried Harry. "We can carry him the invitation to spend Christmas-day with us." There were no dissentient voices. Philip took the helm, Harry managed the head-sails, Charley the main. The wind was on the quarter. The sails could not be hoisted till they were ready to start, as the ice offering no resistance, she would either have blown over, or run away before the wind. Philip was not quite so sanguine of success as his brothers. The word was given—Harry shoved round the head of the strange-looking craft, and far enough off to allow the rudder full play. The sails were hoisted—the sheets hauled aft—a fresh breeze filled them, and to the delight of her architects, away she shot in splendid style. She answered her helm admirably. It seemed but a few minutes before D'Arcy's clearing hove in sight. Philip fired off his gun to draw his friend's attention to them, and they had only time to haul down their sails before, with the impetus the craft had attained, she glided up to the landing-place, and sent them all tumbling forward, as she made a bold attempt to run up the bank, only prevented by Harry with his iron-shod pole.
D'Arcy required no great pressing to embark with them. They all looked, they declared, like veritable Arctic voyagers, with their fur caps, flaps over their ears, and bearskin and buffalo-skin coats, kept in by sashes or belts. The settlement was first to be visited. Such a craft as theirs had never been seen there, and created no little interest; though on Lake Ontario, before Toronto, ice-boats of a more elegant construction are constantly used when the ice will allow of it before the snow falls.
The store was visited, and commissions, the list of which filled two columns of Philip's note-book, were executed, and then, with a considerable addition to their lading, they once more got under way. They had now to beat back; but the boat lay closer to the wind than if she had been in water, and though she made some lee-way, they beat back in a wonderfully short space of time. They were so delighted with their sail that they could scarcely keep out of their boat. The whole circuit of the lake was visited, and they talked of taking her into Lake Huron, when, perhaps fortunately, down came such a fall of snow as to make rapid progress over the ice impossible, and they once again returned to their more serious occupations.
The snow became every day harder, till a crust formed on the top of it, which made walking over it where it was not beaten down, both difficult and painful. Some Indians had encamped in the neighbourhood for the purpose of trading with the pale faces, and obtaining food and clothing. Two of them at this juncture came with some slight oblong frames, between three and four feet in length, with net-work filling up the inner portion. What they could be, none of the younger members of the family could guess, till the Indians fastened one to each of their feet and began to move along over the snow on the lake. "Snow-shoes! snow-shoes!" cried Charley; and forthwith a bargain was struck for several pair. The squaws brought some the next day of a lighter construction for the ladies of the family, and a new source of amusement was found enabling them also to take the exercise so necessary for health. Bravely Sophy and her sisters faced the cold, bitter and biting as it was, and with their brothers made their first attempt to walk in snow-shoes on the lake.
They were all thus engaged, laughing and shouting and enjoying the amusement, when an object was seen in the distance approaching them, and the silvery cheerful sound of sleigh-bells floated up to them through the calm air. "Bravo—excellent!—that is what I like to see. We should hear nothing of sick headaches in Canada, if all the young ladies would put their pretty little feet on to snow-shoes, and step over the country as you are doing, or rather will be doing before long, for you are on the ice just now," cried Mr Norman from a handsome sleigh which drove up to them. The horses' harness, surmounted by a belfry, as Harry called the frame to which the bells were suspended, was covered with bright-coloured braiding, and rich skins filled the sleigh itself and hung over the back. From among them a lady's head was seen. "Allow me to introduce my wife," continued Mr Norman. "She has just told me that she has already fallen in love with you all; but do not let us bring you in—we will wait for you at the house."
Sophy, however, soon began to find that she had had snow-shoeing enough for one day, and the rest of the party discovered, when they took the shoes off, that their insteps ached more than they had ever before done. Still they were all ready to try again the next day. Mrs Norman proved to be exactly the sort of person her husband had described her; though homely, she was entirely free from vulgarity, and as she had lived all her life in Canada, she possessed and was glad to impart a large amount of information most valuable to Mrs Ashton and Sophy. She promised to remain a week with them, to give them instruction in numerous departments of domestic management of which they were ignorant. "It's a pleasure, ma'am, to tell you these things," she remarked to Mrs Ashton; "you take them in so kindly, and don't seem to fancy that your own ways are better, and that you know more than the person teaching you, as some people do."
The winter passed by pleasantly and usefully. There were some days when even the most hardy of the party had no inclination to go out; this was when there was a strong northerly wind and an intense frost, and the finer particles of snow were carried through the air and struck the face like so many Liliputian arrows discharged by an army from that far-famed land of Liliput. There was, however, abundance of work to be done in the house, and plenty of hard exercise in sawing up logs for the stove fires. These, while the severer frost lasted, were never allowed to go out, and no one had reason to complain of the want of warmth inside the house; indeed, the walls were so thick, that they retained the heat in the way an ordinary brick or plank building could not have done. Old and young declared, that in spite of cold and snow, they had never spent a happier or pleasanter winter. Probably the happiness of the elders arose from seeing their children contented and well employed around them. There was one absent—Leonard, the midshipman. They almost wished that he would give up the sea, and come and live with them. Mr Ashton had not even suggested that he should do so, though his necessary allowance took away a large portion of the slender income on which the family had mainly to depend. His parents were amply rewarded by hearing of the high character he was gaining for himself. D'Arcy was a frequent visitor; he would have been more frequent, but duty kept him labouring at home. Occasionally Philip went over to help him in return for the assistance he gave them. The winter passed away so rapidly that they could scarcely believe that spring had really come. The snow melted, the green grass appeared, the leaves burst forth, the flowers bloomed and gave their fragrance to the air, the birds warbled forth their notes of joy, and all nature seemed alive and busy. If time passed quickly during the months of winter, it flew by still more rapidly now when there was so much to do that every moment of the twenty-four hours was fully occupied, a very small portion only being devoted to sleep; but then, as Harry declared, they all slept very fast, so that they really got as much as they required. They were all up at dawn of day, and but a short time was allowed for meals till they assembled round the supper-table by the light of their home-made candles, the most social and pleasant meal in the day, when the hard work was over and any light indoor occupation could be engaged in. Even then there was no light or frivolous conversation; constant steady work had sobered their minds, and they had no taste for what was not real and earnest. Generally Mr Ashton or Philip read some interesting book, the subject of which was afterwards talked over, while comments were generally made as they proceeded.
It is not necessary to describe the various occupations in which the family were engaged. One of the most amusing and not the least important, was the sugar-making from the neighbouring sugar-bush or maple grove, before the snow had disappeared from the ground. They were surprised at the large amount of sap which even a single tree gave forth. This being collected in wooden troughs placed under the spouts formed in the trunk, was next transferred to a huge cauldron, where it was boiled, and then turned out to cool and crystallise. They were in this way able to obtain an ample supply of sugar for their tea or coffee, for preserving fruits, and for their puddings during the year. The demand for it became considerable, when, as the summer advanced, all sorts of wild fruits were found in the woods, and strawberries and raspberries in prodigious quantities.
The Canadian spring soon merges into full-blown summer. The boat had been for some time launched, and Philip acting as captain, with Sophy and their mother as passengers, and Harry as crew, started in her to pay their visit of welcome to D'Arcy's mother and sisters, who had just arrived at his clearing. The Ashtons were very much pleased with them. They were just what they expected D'Arcy's relatives would be. Sophy had not been to the clearing for some time; D'Arcy invited her to accompany him over it. On one side stood a cottage almost completed. D'Arcy produced a plan. "That is what it will look like when it is finished," he observed. "For whom is this?" asked Sophy. "For my mother and sisters," was the answer. "Then who is to inhabit your house?" asked Sophy, though the moment she had uttered the words she wished that she had kept silence. "I shall be very miserable, if you are not its mistress," said D'Arcy.
They were the first couple married in the new church at the settlement, mainly built by Mr Ashton's exertions. He had hitherto, from his first arrival, conducted a service at his own house, open to all who would attend.
Mr Norman wrote to Mr Ashton to say that he would pay him a visit. "I have come on business," he said after the usual greetings were over. "I am a patriot, and I am anxious for the improvement of the country. Your sons are excellent young men, with talent and sense. The education of the two younger is not complete, and Philip might improve his agricultural knowledge with advantage to himself as well as to the province. On these grounds I beg to invite them to take up their residence at my house at Toronto, while they take advantage of the very liberal means of instruction which that city affords. There are some important lectures on agriculture which are about to commence. Charley should go to Upper Canada College, and Harry to the University; and, my dear sir, as I have no young people depending on me, you must allow me to defray all expenses."
Mr Ashton could not decline so generous an offer. It is possible that Harry and Charley were slightly disappointed at having to go to school again, but Philip was most thankful for the advantage offered him. D'Arcy undertook to assist Mr Ashton in his labours on the farm during Philip's absence. The three brothers started together. Their life in Toronto was very different to what it had been in the bush—round hats, frock-coats, and Wellington boots, superseded wideawakes, shooting-jackets, and hobnailed shoes or mocassins; and their hammers, saws, and axes, were exchanged for books, while social meetings of various sorts occupied many of the evenings when there were no lectures to attend. Harry and Charley now and then sighed for the woods and their lake, but as they took long walks every day, their health in no way suffered by the change;—indeed, they could not help confessing, that however pleasant it might be to carpenter, and dig, and look after their horses and cows, and to sail and row on the lake, they had brains which might be employed to some better purpose, if those brains were properly cultivated; so they stuck manfully to their studies and made a progress which surprised even themselves. "I believe that it is the fine clear weather of this climate which helps us," observed Harry; "I know that I feel twice as bright as I used to do in England."
Philip found ample occupation in a variety of ways, and said that he felt as if his old college days had come back, as he sat in the study his kind friend had given him, surrounded by his books and papers. Duty had made him turn backwoodsman; his inclination would certainly have led him in a different course of life. He in time formed many agreeable acquaintances, both among the families residing in the city and the single men.
"By-the-bye, Ashton," said one of his acquaintances, with whom he was walking home from a lecture, "I met last night, at Mrs Stewart's, a lady of your name, a very pretty and agreeable girl, though rather grave perhaps. She has only just arrived with a family of the name of Mason, who have come out to settle. There are a number of young Masons, and she was spoken of as the governess, but from the way she was treated she is rather a companion friend of Mrs Mason's, I should think."
"I know of no relation of ours likely to come out here," said Philip, at the same time a very curious sensation circling round his heart. "Did you hear her Christian name?"
"No; they only called her Miss Ashton," said his friend. "She sang, and very sweetly."
"What is she like?" asked Philip.
His friend began to suspect that he was interested in the stranger, and he replied, "I told you that she is pretty, with clear eyes, a fine forehead, and regular features, and rather short than tall, I should say. A good figure, certainly, and a bright complexion; no, not always,—it brightened up, I remember, when she was speaking; and her hair, that was not light,—was it black or brown?—yes, I am certain, a rich brown. There, I have given you the fair stranger's portrait to the best of my power."
"Very extraordinary. Where do the Masons live?" asked Philip.
"I will ask Mrs Stewart, and get you introduced to them," said his friend. "You will not find them where there are balls or common gaieties going on, I suspect."
"That makes it still more probable," thought Philip. He made very few notes that evening of the lecture he had attended.
There was to be a private missionary meeting at Mrs Stewart's house, and Philip and his brother received an invitation. There were many of his Toronto acquaintances in the room, the rest were strangers. He looked round the different rooms in vain for Mary Ashton, for she it was, once his affianced wife, whom he expected to meet. Two young ladies answered somewhat the description his friend had given him, still he did not like to ask if a Miss Ashton was present, lest his hopes should be rudely dashed to the ground. The speakers had not arrived, and people were moving about from room to room. He tried to compose his feelings by talking to his acquaintance on the subject of the mission about to be advocated. While he was talking Harry came to him, and, touching his elbow, said, "Phil, I have just been introduced to a very nice person, who, curious enough, has our name. I do not know if she knew mine, but I saw her afterwards watching me round the room, and I want you to find out who she can be. She may be a cousin of the fiftieth degree, perhaps, and I should like to find some relations out here."
Philip did not stop to hear more, but hurrying into the room his brother mentioned, he satisfied himself that Mary Ashton was really there. She discovered him. He advanced, and saw by the pleased expression of her countenance that he might venture to take a seat by her side. Explanation quickly followed. He told her how he had come out to Canada, and how successful he and his family had been in establishing a home for themselves in the wilderness.
"I have a very different tale to tell," she said with a sigh, and her countenance grew sad. "My home is broken up. The wealth my poor father so suddenly acquired has been dissipated and lost. Without the necessary experience for business, or, perhaps, I should say wanting the calculating craft of the successful speculator, he suffered himself to be involved in transactions of an extensive nature, which he was led to believe would double his wealth. They proved to be the fraudulent schemes of sharpers, planned for their own profit and my father's ruin. It was in vain that he was warned of their designs—he was infatuated, and would listen to no counsel but that of his treacherous betrayers, who plunged him deeper and deeper into obligations and liabilities, which, in the end, engulphed the whole of his large fortune. He had even to fly the country to escape a prison, and is at this moment in hiding from his creditors until his affairs can be arranged. Everything had to be given up. My mother's small portion is barely sufficient to maintain her and my sisters; my brothers, ill-prepared for the lot that is before them, are abroad in the world, making their way as they best can; as for myself, not choosing to add to my mother's burdens, I have accepted the post in Mrs Mason's family which I now occupy. She is an old and well-tried friend, who has known me from my infancy, and both she and her children regard me as one of themselves. They urged me to accompany them in their removal to Canada, and cast in my lot with theirs. What better could I do? Of my own family, not one advised my remaining in England. I accepted my dear friend's offer—and thus it has come to pass that we meet once more."
Whether Philip and Mary Ashton understood all the interesting addresses given on that occasion may be doubted.
"I say, Harry," cried Charley, some days after this, "I am so glad that Phil is going to be married. That Mary is a nice girl, and she will make some amends for Sophy having gone away. Not that she is likely to be up to her—I should like to see the girl who could be."
A short time after the family were reunited at Ashton Clearing, to which Philip had brought his wife, Charley acknowledged that if not superior she was fully equal to Sophy. Harry had made up his mind that no employment was superior to that of a settler; and, anxious to resume it, he studied very hard while at college, and took a most creditable degree. The farm had now grown into a very pretty little estate, to which the name of Ashton was universally given. Cottages had been erected on the property, and had been eagerly taken by new comers. Saw and grist-mills had been built in the neighbourhood, and many other houses and cottages. Harry had, with his father's assistance, purchased a good-sized farm near Ashton, and had secured another for Charley, so that they might be near their father to render him the assistance he required.
His family had long known what had been Philip's secret wish. They now unanimously assured him that he might properly follow it, and entreated him to do so. It was to enter the ministry. A church was required at Ashton—the funds were forthcoming—before it was completed Philip was ordained and became its minister. Few rejoiced as much as his devoted wife at seeing his talents employed in the noblest cause in which a human being can engage.
There was one cloud in Mary Ashton's otherwise serene life—not one of her family wrote to her, and she could hear nothing about them. Mr and Mrs Ashton had their hearts gladdened with a visit from their sailor son Leonard, now a lieutenant, his ship having come to Quebec. From him Philip first heard of the fate of any of the John Ashtons. "I was surprised," said Leonard, "to hear among a batch of lads just joined, the name of Thomas Ashton. He was not a prepossessing youth, but as he had evidently had a better education than the generality of those who enter the service, he had a fair prospect of doing well if he behaved properly. He did not though, and was constantly in scrapes, drunk, and disorderly. He was under confinement for such offences, when he caught the fever in the West Indies. The surgeon came one day and said that he was very ill and wished to see me. I of course went to the lad, who then told me that he knew who I was—that he was the son of John Ashton who got our property. It was dreadful to hear him speak of his father who had cheated us he declared, and cheated all his family, and every body else. He seemed to consider that he had a claim on me in consequence of our relationship. I did all I could for him by procuring him better attendance than he would otherwise have had, and by shifting him into comfortable quarters where he would get the benefit of pure air. He soon began to mend, and then I took the liberty of reading him some serious lectures as to his past conduct and scandalous mode of life. He took my reproof in good part; and you will be pleased to hear that when he was at length restored to health, he became quite a new man—scrupulously faithful in discharge of his duty, sober to abstinence, and cheerfully obedient to orders. He has had a narrow escape from death, and is, I trust, thankful to God that he was not cut off suddenly in his mad career. He is grateful to me for the service I rendered him—says, indeed, that I saved his life; I shall take advantage of that feeling to keep him right, if I can. I have trusted him with some responsibility during my absence, and if, on my return, I find he has done well, that will afford me a pretext for helping him forward, which it would give me real pleasure to do."
Philip had little doubt but that his father and he had been deprived of their property by unfair means, though he never even breathed such an idea to his wife. He is, however, able to assure her, with all sincerity, that he does not regret its loss, and that he is convinced that his father is happier with his children collected around him and all actively employed, than he would have been had he retained his wealth and lived on in the world of fashion.
Two of Mary's brothers found their way almost in rags to Ashton, having in vain endeavoured to find employment in England. They expressed themselves ready to work, and Harry and Charley afforded them some practical lessons, which enabled them to begin with advantage. At first they complained that their limbs ached terribly; but in a short time they had to confess that food honestly gained by hard labour, was far pleasanter than the bread of idleness. They persevered, and in the course of a few years were able to purchase land for themselves. They are now hard at work clearing it, and bid fair to become useful members of society.
Philip Ashton's sons will, undoubtedly, secure an independence; and will, probably, from their known integrity and energy, be employed in some of the more important offices of the State. Indeed, they all look back with pleasure to the day when they took up their abode in "The Log House by the Lake."