Catherine Parr Traill
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, David Widger,
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE RICE LAKE PLAINS.
CATHARINE PARR TRAIL,
AUTHORESS OF "THE BACKWOODS OF CANADA, ETC."
EDITED BY AGNES STRICKLAND.
ILLUSTRATED BY HARVEY.
ARTHUR HALL, VIRTUE, & CO.
25, PATERNOSTER ROW.
TO THE CHILDREN OF THE SETTLERS
THE RICE LAKE PLAINS,
FAITHFUL FRIEND AND WELL-WISHER
OAKLANDS, RICE LAKE,
15_th Oct_ 1850 PREFACE
IT will be acknowledged that human sympathy irresistibly responds to any
narrative, founded on truth, which graphically describes the struggles of
isolated human beings to obtain the aliments of life. The distinctions
of pride and rank sink into nought, when the mind is engaged in the
contemplation of the inevitable consequences of the assaults of the gaunt
enemies, cold and hunger. Accidental circumstances have usually given
sufficient experience of their pangs, even to the most fortunate, to make
them own a fellow-feeling with those whom the chances of shipwreck, war,
wandering, or revolutions have cut off from home and hearth, and the
requisite supplies; not only from the thousand artificial comforts which
civilized society classes among the necessaries of life, but actually from
a sufficiency of "daily bread."
Where is the man, woman, or child who has not sympathized with the poor
seaman before the mast, Alexander Selkirk, typified by the genius of Defoe
as his inimitable Crusoe, whose name (although one by no means uncommon
in middle life in the east of England,) has become synonymous for all who
build and plant in a wilderness, "cut off from humanity's reach?" Our
insular situation has chiefly drawn the attention of the inhabitants of
Great Britain to casualties by sea, and the deprivations of individuals
wrecked on some desert coast; but it is by no means generally known that
scarcely a summer passes over the colonists in Canada, without losses of
children from the families of settlers occurring in the vast forests of the
backwoods, similar to that on which the narrative of the Canadian Crusoes
is founded. Many persons thus lost have perished in the wilderness; and it
is to impress on the memory the natural resources of this country, by the
aid of interesting the imagination, that the author of the well-known and
popular work, "The Backwoods of Canada," has written the following pages.
She has drawn attention, in the course of this volume, to the practical
solution [Footnote: See Appendix A; likewise p. 310.] of that provoking
enigma, which seems to perplex all anxious wanderers in an unknown land,
namely, that finding themselves, at the end of a day's toilsome march,
close to the spot from which they set out in the morning, and that this
cruel accident will occur for days in succession. The escape of Captain
O'Brien from his French prison at Verdun, detailed with such spirit in his
lively autobiography, offers remarkable instances of this propensity of the
forlorn wanderer in a strange land. A corresponding incident is recorded in
the narrative of the "Escape of a young French Officer from the depot near
Peterborough during the Napoleon European war." He found himself thrice at
night within sight of the walls of the prison from which he had fled in the
morning, after taking fruitless circular walks of twenty miles. I do
not recollect the cause of such lost labour being explained in either
narrative; perhaps the more frequent occurrence of the disaster in the
boundless backwoods of the Canadian colonies, forced knowledge, dearly
bought, on the perceptions of the settlers. Persons who wander without
knowing the features and landmarks of a country, instinctively turn their
faces to the sun, and for that reason always travel in a circle, infallibly
finding themselves at night in the very spot from which they started in
the morning. The resources and natural productions of the noble colony of
Canada are but superficially known. An intimate acquaintance with its rich
vegetable and animal productions is most effectually made under the high
pressure of difficulty and necessity. Our writer has striven to interest
children, or rather young people approaching the age of adolescence, in the
natural history of this country, simply by showing them how it is possible
for children to make the best of it when thrown into a state of destitution
as forlorn as the wanderers on the Rice Lake Plains. Perhaps those who
would not care for the berry, the root, and the grain, as delineated and
classified technically in books of science, might remember their uses
and properties when thus brought practically before their notice as the
aliments of the famishing fellow-creature, with whom their instinctive
feelings must perforce sympathies. When parents who have left home comforts
and all the ties of gentle kindred for the dear sakes of their rising
families, in order to place them in a more independent position, it is well
if those young minds are prepared with some knowledge of what they are to
find in the adopted country; the animals, the flowers, the fruits, and even
the minuter blessings which a bountiful Creator has poured forth over that
The previous work of my sister, Mrs. Traill, "The Backwoods of Canada, by
the Wife of an Emigrant Officer," published some years since by Mr. C.
Knight, in his Library of Useful Knowledge, has passed through many
editions, and enjoyed, (anonymous though it was,) too wide a popularity as
a standard work for me to need to dwell on it, further than to say that
the present is written in the same _naive_, charming style, with the
same modesty and uncomplaining spirit, although much has the sweet and
gentle--author endured, as every English lady must expect to do who
ventures to encounter the lot of a colonist. She has now devoted her
further years of experience as a settler to the information of the
younger class of colonists, to open their minds and interest them in the
productions of that rising country, which will one day prove the mightiest
adjunct of the island empire; our nearest, our soundest colony, unstained
with the corruption of convict population; where families of gentle blood
need fear no real disgrace in their alliance; where no one need beg, and
where any one may dig without being ashamed. LIST OF ENGRAVINGS.
LOUIS CONFESSING HIS DECEPTION OF CATHARINE
THE FIRST BREAKFAST
CATHARINE FOUND BY THE OLD DOG
WOLF FINDING THE WOUNDED DOE
HECTOR BRINGING THE INDIAN GIRL
KILLING WILD FOWL
INDIAN WOMAN AT THE DOOR OF THE HUT
CATHARINE CARRIED OFF
INDIANA BEFORE THE BALD EAGLE
INDIANA AT THE STAKE
ATTACK ON THE DEER
RETURN HOME THE
"The morning had shot her bright streamers on high,
O'er Canada, opening all pale to the sky;
Still dazzling and white was the robe that she wore,
Except where the ocean wave lash'd on the shore."
THERE lies between the Rice Lake and the Ontario, a deep and fertile
valley, surrounded by lofty wood-crowned hills, the heights of which were
clothed chiefly with groves of oak and pine, though the sides of the hills
and the alluvial bottoms gave a variety of noble timber trees of various
kinds, as the maple, beech, hemlock, and others. This beautiful and highly
picturesque valley is watered by many clear streams of pure refreshing
water, from whence the spot has derived its appropriate appellation of
"Cold Springs." At the time my little history commences, this now highly
cultivated spot was an unbroken wilderness,--all tut two small farms, where
dwelt the only occupiers of the soil,--which owned no other possessors than
the wandering hunting tribes of wild Indians, to whom the right of the
hunting grounds north of Rice Lake appertained, according to their forest
To those who travel over beaten roads, now partially planted, among
cultivated fields and flowery orchards, and see cleared farms and herds of
cattle and flocks of sheep, the change would be a striking one. I speak of
the time when the neat and flourishing town of Cobourg, now an important
port on the Ontario, was but a village in embryo--if it contained even
a log-house or a block-house it was all that it did, and the wild and
picturesque ground upon which the fast increasing village of Port Hope is
situated, had not yielded one forest tree to the axe of the settler. No
gallant vessel spread her sails to waft the abundant produce of grain and
Canadian stores along the waters of that noble sheet of water; no steamer
had then furrowed its bosom with her iron wheels, bearing the stream of
emigration towards the wilds of our Northern and Western forests, there to
render a lonely trackless desert a fruitful garden. What will not time and
the industry of man, assisted by the blessing of a merciful God, effect?
To him be the glory and honour; for we are taught, that "without the Lord
build the city, their labour is but lost that build it; without the Lord
keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."
But to my tale. And first it will be necessary to introduce to the
acquaintance of my young readers the founders of our little settlement at
Duncan Maxwell was a young Highland soldier, a youth of eighteen, at the
famous battle of Quebec, where, though only a private, he received the
praise of his colonel for his brave conduct. At the close of the battle
Duncan was wounded, and as the hospital was full at the time with sick and
disabled men, he was lodged in the house of a poor French Canadian widow in
the Quebec suburb; here, though a foreigner and an enemy, he received much
kind attention from his excellent hostess and her family, which consisted
of a young man about his own age, and a pretty black-eyed lass not more
than sixteen. The widow Perron was so much occupied with other-lodgers--for
she kept a sort of boarding-house--that she had not much time to give to
Duncan, so that he was left a great deal to her son Pierre, and a little to
Catharine, her daughter.
Duncan Maxwell was a fine, open-tempered, frank lad, and he soon won the
regard of Pierre and his little sister. In spite of the prejudices of
country, and the difference of language and national customs, a steady and
increasing friendship grew up between the young Highlander and the children
of his hostess; therefore it was not without feelings of deep regret that
they heard the news, that the corps to which Duncan belonged was ordered
for embarkation to England, and Duncan was so far convalescent as to be
pronounced quite well enough to join them. Alas for poor Catharine! she now
found that parting with her patient was a source of the deepest sorrow to
her young and guileless heart; nor was Duncan less moved at the separation
from his gentle nurse. It might be for years, and it might be for ever,
he could not tell; but he could not tear himself away without telling the
object of his affections how dear she was to him, and to whisper a hope
that he might yet return one day to claim her as his bride; and Catharine,
weeping and blushing, promised to wait for that happy day, or to remain
single for his sake, while Pierre promised to watch over his friend's
interests and keep alive Catharine's love; for, said he, artlessly, "la
belle Catrine is pretty and lively, and may have many suitors before she
sees you again, mon ami."
They say the course of true love never did run smooth; but, with the
exception of this great sorrow, the sorrow of separation, the love of our
young Highland soldier and his betrothed knew no other interruption, for
absence served only to strengthen the affection which was founded on
gratitude and esteem.
Two long years passed, however, and the prospect of re-union was yet
distant, when an accident, which disabled Duncan from serving his country,
enabled him to retire with the usual little pension, and return to Quebec
to seek his affianced. Some changes had taken place during that short
period: the widow Perron was dead; Pierre, the gay, lively-hearted Pierre,
was married to the daughter of a lumberer; and Catharine, who had no
relatives in Quebec, had gone up the country with her brother and his wife,
and was living in some little settlement above Montreal with them.
Thither Duncan, with the constancy of his nature, followed, and shortly
afterwards was married to his faithful Catharine. On one point they had
never differed, both being of the same religion. Pierre had seen a good
deal of the fine country on the shores of the Ontario; he had been hunting
with some friendly Indians between the great waters and the Rice Lake, and
he now thought if Duncan and himself could make up their minds to a quiet
life in the woods, there was not a better spot than the hill pass between
the plains and the big lake to fix themselves upon. Duncan was of the same
opinion when he saw the spot. It was not rugged and bare like his own
Highlands, but softer in character, yet his heart yearned for the hill
country. In those days there was no obstacle to taking possession of any
tract of land in the unsurveyed forests, therefore Duncan agreed with his
brother-in-law to pioneer the way with him, get a dwelling put up and some
ground prepared and "seeded down," and then to, return for their wives and
settle themselves down at once as farmers. Others had succeeded, had formed
little colonies, and become the heads of villages in due time; why should
not they? And now behold our two backwoodsmen fairly commencing their
arduous life; but it was nothing, after all, to Pierre, by previous
occupation a hardy lumberer, or the Scottish soldier, accustomed to brave
all sorts of hardships in a wild country, himself a mountaineer, inured
to a stormy climate, and scanty fare, from his earliest youth. But it is
not my intention to dwell upon the trials and difficulties courageously met
and battled with by our settlers and their young wives.
There was in those days a spirit of resistance among the first settlers on
the soil, a spirit to do and bear, that is less commonly met with now. The
spirit of civilization is now so widely diffused, that her comforts are
felt even in the depths of the forest, so that the newly come emigrant
feels comparatively few of the physical evils that were endured by the
The first seed-wheat that was cast into the ground by Duncan and Pierre,
was brought with infinite trouble a distance of fifty miles in a little
skiff, navigated along the shores of the Ontario by the adventurous Pierre,
and from the nearest landing-place transported on the shoulders of himself
and Duncan to their homestead:--a day of great labour but great joy it was
when they deposited their precious freight in safety on the shanty floor.
They were obliged to make two journeys for the contents of the little
craft. What toil, what privation they endured for the first two years! and
now the fruits of it began slowly to appear. No two creatures could be more
unlike than Pierre and Duncan. The Highlander, stern, steady, persevering,
cautious, always giving ample reasons for his doing or his not doing. The
Canadian, hopeful, lively, fertile in expedients, and gay as a lark; if one
scheme failed another was sure to present itself. Pierre and Duncan were
admirably suited to be friends and neighbours. The steady perseverance of
the Scot helped to temper the volatile temperament of the Frenchman. They
generally contrived to compass the same end by different means, as two
streams descending from opposite hills will meet in one broad river in the
Years passed on; the farm, carefully cultivated, began to yield its
increase, and food and warm clothing were not wanted in the homesteads.
Catharine had become, in course of time, the happy mother of four healthy
children; her sister-in-law had even exceeded her in these welcome
contributions to the population of a new colony. Between the children of
Pierre and Catharine the most charming harmony prevailed; they grew up as
one family, a pattern of affection and early friendship. Though different
in tempers and dispositions, Hector Maxwell, the eldest son of the Scottish
soldier, and his cousin, young Louis Perron, were greatly attached;
they, with the young Catharine and Mathilde, formed a little coterie of
inseparables; their amusements, tastes, pursuits, occupations, all blended
and harmonized delightfully; there were none of those little envyings and
bickerings among them that pave the way to strife and disunion in after
Catharine Maxwell and her cousin Louis were more like brother and sister
than Hector and Catharine, but Mathilde was gentle and dove-like, and
formed a contrast to the gravity of Hector and the vivacity of Louis and
Hector and Louis were fourteen--strong, vigorous, industrious and hardy,
both in constitution and habits. The girls were turned of twelve. It is
not with Mathilde that our story is connected, but with the two lads and
Catharine. With the gaiety and naivete of the Frenchwoman, Catharine
possessed, when occasion called it into action, a thoughtful and
well-regulated mind, abilities which would well have repaid the care of
mental cultivation; but of book-learning she knew nothing beyond a little
reading, and that but imperfectly, acquired from her father's teaching. It
was an accomplishment which he had gained when in the army, having been
taught by his colonel's son, a lad of twelve years of age, who had taken a
great fancy to him, and had at parting given him a few of his school-books,
among which was a Testament, without cover or title-page. At parting, the
young gentleman recommended its daily perusal to Duncan. Had the gift been
a Bible, perhaps the soldier's obedience to his priest might have rendered
it a dead letter to him, but as it fortunately happened, he was unconscious
of any prohibition to deter him from becoming acquainted with the truths of
the Gospel. He communicated the power of perusing his books to his children
Hector and Catharine, Duncan and Kenneth, in succession, with a feeling of
intense reverence; even the labour of teaching was regarded as a holy duty
in itself, and was not undertaken without deeply impressing the obligation
he was conferring upon them whenever they were brought to the task. It was
indeed a precious boon, and the children learned to consider it as the
pearl beyond all price in the trials that awaited them in their eventful
career. To her knowledge of religious truths young Catharine added an
intimate acquaintance with the songs and legends of her father's romantic
country, which was to her even as fairyland; often would her plaintive
ballads and old tales, related in the hut or the wigwam to her attentive
auditors, wile away heavy thoughts; Louis and Mathilde, her cousins,
sometimes wondered how Catharine had acquired such a store of ballads and
wild tales as she could tell.
It was a lovely sunny day in the flowery month of June; Canada had not only
doffed that "dazzling white robe" mentioned in the songs of her Jacobite
emigrants, but had assumed the beauties of her loveliest season, the last
week in May and the first three of June being parallel to the English May,
full of buds and flowers and fair promise of ripening fruits. The high
sloping hills surrounding the fertile vale of Cold Springs were clothed
with the blossoms of the gorgeous scarlet enchroma, or painted-cup; the
large pure white blossoms of the lily-like trillium; the delicate and
fragile lilac geranium, whose graceful flowers woo the hand of the
flower-gatherer only to fade almost within his grasp; the golden
cyprepedium, or mocassin flower, so singular, so lovely in its colour and
formation, waved heavily its yellow blossoms as the breeze shook the stems;
and there, mingling with a thousand various floral beauties, the azure
lupine claimed its place, shedding almost a heavenly tint upon the earth.
Thousands of roses were blooming on the more level ground, sending forth
their rich fragrance, mixed with the delicate scent of the feathery
ceanothus, (New Jersey tea.) The vivid greenness of the young leaves of
the forest, the tender tint of the springing corn, were contrasted with the
deep dark fringe of waving pines on the hills, and the yet darker shade of
the spruce and balsams on the borders of the creeks, for so our Canadian
forest rills are universally termed. The bright glancing wings of the
summer red-bird, the crimson-headed woodpecker, the gay blue-bird, and
noisy but splendid plumed jay, might be seen among the branches; the air
was filled with beauteous sights and soft murmuring melodies. Under the
shade of the luxuriant hop-vines, that covered the rustic porch in front
of the little dwelling, the light step of Catharine Maxwell might be heard
mixed with the drowsy whirring of the big wheel, as she passed to and fro
guiding the thread of yarn in its course: and now she sang snatches of old
mountain songs, such as she had learned from her father; and now, with
livelier air, hummed some gay French tune to the household melody of her
spinning wheel, as she advanced and retreated with her thread, unconscious
of the laughing black eye that was watching her movements from among the
embowering foliage that shielded her from the morning sun.
"Come, ma belle cousine," for so Louis delighted to call her. "Hector and I
are waiting for you to go with us to the 'Beaver Meadow.' The cattle have
strayed, and we think we shall find them there. The day is delicious, the
very flowers look as if they wanted to be admired and plucked, and we shall
find early strawberries on the old Indian clearing."
Catharine cast a longing look abroad, but said, "I fear, Louis, I cannot go
to-day, for see, I have all these rolls of wool to spin up, and my yarn to
wind off the reel and twist; and then, my mother is away."
"Yes, I left her with mamma." replied Louis, "and she said she would be
home shortly, so her absence need not stay you. She said you could take a
basket and try and bring home some berries for sick Louise. Hector is sure
he knows a spot where we shall get some fine ones, ripe and red." As he
spoke Louis whisked away the big wheel to one end of the porch, gathered up
the hanks of yarn and tossed them into the open wicker basket, and the next
minute the large, coarse, flapped straw hat, that hung upon the peg in the
porch, was stuck not very gracefully on the top of Catharine's head
and tied beneath her chin, with a merry rattling laugh, which drowned
effectually the small lecture that Catharine began to utter, by way of
reproving the light-hearted boy.
"But where is Mathilde?"
"Sitting like a dear good girl, as she is, with sick Louise's head on
her lap, and would not disturb the poor sick thing for all the fruit and
flowers in Canada. Marie cried sadly to go with us, but I promised her and
petite Louise lots of flowers and berries if we get them, and the dear
children were as happy as queens when I left them."
"But stay, cousin, you are sure my mother gave her consent to my going?
We shall be away chief part of the day. You know it is a long walk to the
Beaver Meadow and back again," said Catharine, hesitating as Louis took her
hand to lead her out from the porch.
"Yes, yes, ma belle," said the giddy boy, quickly; "so come along, for
Hector is waiting at the barn; but stay, we shall be hungry before we
return, so let us have some cakes and butter, and do not forget a tin-cup
Nothing doubting, Catharine, with buoyant spirits, set about her little
preparations, which were soon completed; but just as she was leaving the
little garden enclosure, she ran back to kiss Kenneth and Duncan, her young
brothers. In the farm yard she found Hector with his axe on his shoulder.
"What are you taking the axe for, Hector? you will find it heavy to carry,"
said his sister.
"In the first place, I have to cut a stick of blue-beech to make a broom
for sweeping the house, sister of mine; and that is for your use, Miss
Kate; and in the next place, I have to find, if possible, a piece of rock
elm or hiccory for axe handles; so now you have the reason why I take the
axe with me."
The children now left the clearing, and struck into one of the deep defiles
that lay between the hills, and cheerfully they laughed and sung and
chattered, as they sped on their pleasant path; nor were they both to
exchange the glowing sunshine for the sober gloom of the forest shade. What
handfuls of flowers of all hues, red, blue, yellow and white, were gathered
only to be gazed at, carried for a while, then cast aside for others
fresher and fairer. And now they came to cool rills that flowed, softly
murmuring, among mossy limestone, or blocks of red or grey granite, wending
their way beneath twisted roots and fallen trees; and often Catharine
lingered to watch the eddying dimples of the clear water, to note the, tiny
bright fragments of quartz or crystallized limestone that formed a shining
pavement below the stream; and often she paused to watch the angry
movements of the red squirrel, as, with feathery tail erect, and sharp
scolding note, he crossed their woodland path, and swiftly darting up the
rugged bark of some neighbouring pine or hemlock, bade the intruders on
his quiet haunts defiance; yet so bold in his indignation, he scarcely
condescended to ascend beyond their reach.
The long-continued hollow tapping of the large red-headed woodpecker, or
the singular subterranean sound caused by the drumming of the partridge,
striking his wings upon his breast to woo his gentle mate, and the soft
whispering note of the little tree-creeper, as it flitted from one hemlock
to another, collecting its food between the fissures of the bark, were
among the few sounds that broke the noontide stillness of the woods; but
to all such sights and sounds the lively Catharine and her cousin were
not indifferent. And often they wondered, that Hector gravely pursued his
onward way, and seldom lingered as they did to mark the bright colours of
the flowers, or the bright sparkling of the forest rill.
"What makes Hec so grave?" said Catharine to her companion, as they seated
themselves upon a mossy trunk, to await his coming up, for they had giddily
chased each other till they had far outrun him.
"Hector, sweet coz, is thinking perhaps of how many bushels of corn or
wheat this land would grow if cleared, or he may be examining the soil or
the trees, or is looking for his stick of blue-beech for your broom, or the
hiccory for his axe handle, and never heeding such nonsense as woodpeckers
and squirrels, and lilies and moss and ferns, for Hector is not a giddy
thing like his cousin Louis, or--"
"His sister Kate," interrupted Catharine, merrily; "but when shall we come
to the Beaver Meadow?"
"Patience, ma belle, all in good time. Hark, was not that the ox-bell? No;
Hector whistling." And soon they heard the heavy stroke of his axe ringing
among the trees, for he had found the blue-beech, and was cutting it to
leave on the path, that he might take it home on their return; he had also
marked some hiccory of a nice size for his axe handles, to bring home
at some future time.
The children had walked several miles, and were not sorry to sit down and
rest till Hector joined them. He was well pleased with his success, and
declared he felt no fatigue. "As soon as we reach the old Indian clearing,
we shall find strawberries," he said, "and a fresh cold spring, and then we
will have our dinners."
"Come, Hector,--come, Louis," said Catharine, jumping up, "I long to be
gathering the strawberries; and see, my flowers are faded, so I will throw
them away, and the basket shall be filled with fresh fruit instead, and we
must not forget petite Marie and sick Louise, or dear Mathilde. Ah, how I
wish she were here at this minute! But here is the opening to the Beaver
And the sunlight was seen streaming through the opening trees as they
approached the cleared space, which some called the "Indian clearing," but
is now more generally known as the little Beaver Meadow. It was a pleasant
spot, green, and surrounded with light bowery trees and flowering shrubs,
of a different growth from those that belong to the dense forest. Here the
children found, on the hilly ground above, fine ripe strawberries, the
earliest they had seen that year, and soon all weariness was forgotten
while pursuing the delightful occupation of gathering the tempting fruit;
and when they had refreshed themselves, and filled the basket with leaves
and fruit, they slaked their thirst from the stream, which wound its way
among the bushes. Catharine neglected not to reach down flowery bunches of
the fragrant white-thorn and of the high-bush cranberry, then radiant with
nodding umbels of snowy blossoms, or to wreath the handle of the little
basket with the graceful trailing runners of the lovely twin-flowered
plant, the Linnaea borealis, which she always said reminded her of the
twins, Louise and Marie, her little cousins. And now the day began to wear
away, for they had lingered long in the little clearing; they had wandered
from the path by which they entered it; and had neglected, in their
eagerness to look for the strawberries, to notice any particular mark by
which they might regain it. Just when they began to think of returning,
Louis noticed a beaten path, where there seemed recent prints of cattle
hoofs on a soft spongy soil beyond the creek.
"Come, Hector," said he gaily, "this is lucky; we are on the cattle path;
no fear but it will lead us directly home, and that by a nearer track."
Hector was undecided about following it, he fancied it bent too much
towards the setting sun; but his cousin overruled his objection. "And is
not this our own creek?" he said: "I have often heard my father say it had
its rise somewhere about this old clearing."
Hector now thought Louis might be right, and they boldly followed the path
among the poplars and thorns and bushes that clothed its banks, surprised
to see how open the ground became, and how swift and clear the stream swept
"Oh, this dear creek," cried the delighted Catharine, "how pretty it is! I
shall often follow its course after this; no doubt it has its source from
our own Cold Springs."
And so they cheerfully pursued their way, till the sun, sinking behind
the range of westerly hills, soon left them in gloom; but they anxiously
hurried forward when the stream wound its noisy way among steep stony
banks, clothed scantily with pines and a few scattered silver-barked
poplars. And now they became bewildered by two paths leading in opposite
directions; one upward among the rocky hills, the other through the opening
gorge of a deep ravine.
Here, overcome with fatigue, Catharine seated herself on a large block of
granite, near a great bushy pine that grew beside the path by the ravine,
unable to proceed, and Hector, with a grave and troubled countenance,
stood beside her, looking round with an air of great perplexity. Louis,
seating himself at Catharine's feet, surveyed the deep gloomy valley before
them, and sighed heavily. The conviction had now forcibly struck him that
they had mistaken the path altogether. The very aspect of the country was
different; the growth of the trees, the flow of the stream, all indicated a
change of soil and scene. Darkness was fast drawing its impenetrable veil
around them; a few stars were stealing out, and gleaming down as if with
pitying glance upon the young wanderers; but they could not light up their
pathway, or point their homeward track. The only sound, save the lulling
murmur of the rippling stream below, was the plaintive note of the
whip-poor-will, from a gnarled oak that grew near them, and the harsh
grating scream of the night hawk, darting about in the higher regions of
the air, pursuing its noisy congeners, or swooping down with that peculiar
hollow rushing sound, as of a person blowing into some empty vessel, when
it seizes with wide-extended bill its insect prey.
Hector was the first to break the silence. "Cousin Louis, we were wrong in
following the course of the stream; I fear we shall never find our way back
Louis made no reply; his sad and subdued air failed not to attract the
attention of his cousins. "Why, Louis, how is this? you are not used to be
cast down by difficulties," said Hector, as he marked something like tears
glistening in the dark eyes of his cousin.
Louis's heart was full, he did not reply, but cast a troubled glance upon
the weary Catharine, who leaned heavily against the tree beneath which she
"It is not," resumed Hector, "that I mind passing a summer's night under
such a sky as this, and with such a dry grassy bed below me; but I do not
think it is good for Catharine to sleep on the bare ground in the night
dews,--and then they will be so anxious at home about our absence."
Louis burst into tears, and sobbed out,--"And it is all my doing that
she came out with us; I deceived her, and my aunt will be angry and much
alarmed, for she did not know of her going at all. Dear Catharine, good
cousin Hector, pray forgive me!" But Catharine was weeping too much to
reply to his passionate entreaties, and Hector, who never swerved from the
truth, for which he had almost a stern reverence, hardly repressed his
indignation at what appeared to him a most culpable act of deceit on the
part of Louis.
The sight of her cousin's grief and self-abasement touched the tender
heart of Catharine, for she was kind and dove-like in her disposition,
and loved Louis, with all his faults. Had it not been for the painful
consciousness of the grief their unusual absence would occasion at home,
Catharine would have thought nothing of their present adventure; but she
could not endure the idea of her high-principled father taxing her with
deceiving her kind indulgent mother and him: it was this humiliating
thought which wounded the proud heart of Hector, causing him to upbraid his
cousin in somewhat harsh terms for his want of truthfulness, and steeled
him against the bitter grief that wrung the heart of the penitent Louis,
who, leaning his wet cheek on the shoulder of the kinder Catharine,
sobbed as if his heart would break, heedless of her soothing words and
affectionate endeavours to console him.
"Dear Hector," she said, turning her soft, pleading eyes on the stem face
of her brother, "you must not be so very angry with poor Louis; remember it
was to please me, and give me the enjoyment of a day of liberty with you
and himself in the woods, among the flowers and trees and birds, that he
committed this fault."
"Catharine, Louis spoke an untruth and acted deceitfully, and look at the
consequences,--we shall have forfeited our parents' confidence, and may
have some days of painful privation to endure before we regain our home, if
we ever do find our way back to Cold Springs," replied Hector.
"It is the grief and anxiety our dear parents will endure this night,"
answered Catharine, "that distresses my mind; but," she added in more
cheerful tones, "let us not despair, no doubt to-morrow we shall be able to
retrace our steps."
With the young there is ever a magical spell in that little word
_to-morrow_,--it is a point which they pursue as fast as it recedes from
them; sad indeed is the young heart that does not look forward with hope to
The cloud still hung on Hector's brow, till Catharine gaily exclaimed,
"Come, Hector! come, Louis! we must not stand idling thus; we must think of
providing some shelter for the night; it is not good to rest upon the bare
ground exposed to the night dews.--See, here is a nice hut, half made,"
pointing to a large upturned root which some fierce whirlwind had hurled
from the lofty bank into the gorge of the dark glen.
"Now you must make haste, and lop off a few pine boughs, and stick them
into the ground, or even lean them against the roots of this old oak, and
there, you see, will be a capital house to shelter us. To work, to work,
you idle boys, or poor wee Katty must turn squaw and build her own wigwam,"
she playfully added, taking up the axe which rested against the feathery
pine beneath which Hector was leaning. Now, Catharine cared as little as
her brother and cousin about passing a warm summer's night under the shade
of the forest trees, for she was both hardy and healthy; but her woman's
heart taught her that the surest means of reconciling the cousins would be
by mutually interesting them in the same object,--and she was right. In
endeavouring to provide for the comfort of their dear companion, all angry
feelings were forgotten by Hector, while active employment chased away
Unlike the tall, straight, naked trunks of the pines of the forest, those
of the plains are adorned with branches often to the very ground, varying
in form and height, and often presenting most picturesque groups, or rising
singly among scattered groves of the silver-barked poplar or graceful
birch-trees; the dark, mossy greenness of the stately pine contrasting
finely with the light waving foliage of its slender graceful companions.
Hector, with his axe, soon lopped boughs from one of the adjacent pines,
which Louis sharpened with his knife, and with Catharine's assistance drove
into the ground, arranging them in such a way as to make the upturned oak,
with its roots and the earth which adhered to them, form the back part of
the hut, which, when completed, formed by no means a contemptible shelter.
Catharine then cut fern and deer grass with Louis's _couteau-de-chasse_,
which he always carried in a sheath at his girdle, and spread two beds,
one, parted off by dry boughs and bark, for herself in the interior of the
wigwam, and one for her brother and cousin nearer the entrance. When all
was finished to her satisfaction, she called the two boys, and, according
to the custom of her parents, joined them in the lifting up of their
hands as an evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Nor were these
simple-hearted children backward in imploring help and protection from the
Most High. They earnestly prayed that no dangerous creature might come
near to molest them during the hours of darkness and helplessness, no evil
spirit visit them, no unholy or wicked thoughts intrude into their minds;
but that holy angels and heavenly thoughts might hover over them, and fill
their hearts with the peace of God which passeth all understanding.--And
the prayer of the poor wanderers was heard, for they slept that night in
peace, unharmed in the vast solitude. So passed their first night on the
"Fear not, ye are of more value than many sparrows."
The sun had risen in all the splendour of a Canadian summer morning, when
the sleepers arose from their leafy beds. In spite of the novelty of their
situation, they had slept as soundly and tranquilly as if they had been
under the protecting care of their beloved parents, on their little
paliasses of corn straw; but they had been cared for by Him who neither
slumbereth nor sleepeth, and they waked full of youthful hope, and in
fulness of faith in His mercy into whose hands they had commended their
souls and bodies before they retired to rest.
While the children slept in peace and safety, what terrors had filled the
minds of their distracted parents! what a night of anguish and sorrow had
When night had closed in without bringing back the absent children, the
two fathers, lighting torches of fat pine, went forth in search of the
wanderers. How often did they raise their voices in hopes their loud
halloos might reach the hearing of the lost ones! How often did they check
their hurried steps to listen for some replying call! But the sighing
breeze in the pine tops, or sudden rustling of the leaves caused by the
flight of the birds, startled by the unusual glare of the torches, and the
echoes of their own voices, were the only sounds that met their anxious
ears. At daybreak they returned, sad and dispirited, to their homes, to
snatch a morsel of food, endeavour to cheer the drooping hearts of
the weeping mothers, and hurry off, taking different directions. But,
unfortunately, they had little clue to the route which Hector and Louis had
taken, there being many cattle paths through the woods. Louis's want of
truthfulness had caused this uncertainty, as he had left no intimation of
the path he purposed taking when he quitted his mother's house: he had
merely said he was going with Hector in search of the cattle, giving no
hint of his intention of asking Catharine to accompany them: he had but
told his sick sister, that he would bring home strawberries and flowers,
and that he would soon return. Alas, poor thoughtless Louis, how little did
you think of the web of woe you were then weaving for yourself, and all
those to whom you and your giddy companions were so dear! Children, think
twice, ere ye deceive once! Catharine's absence would have been quite
unaccountable but for the testimony of Duncan and Kenneth, who had received
her sisterly caresses before she joined Hector at the barn; and much her
mother marvelled what could have induced her good dutiful Catharine to have
left her work and forsaken her household duties to go rambling away with
the boys, for she never left the house when her mother was absent from, it,
without her express permission, and now she was gone--lost to them, perhaps
for ever. There stood the wheel she had been turning, there hung the
untwisted hanks of yarn, her morning task,--and there they remained week
after week and month after month, untouched, a melancholy memorial to the
hearts of the bereaved parents of their beloved.
It were indeed a fruitless task to follow the agonized fathers in their
vain search for their children, or to paint the bitter anguish that filled
their hearts as day passed after day, and still no tidings of the lost
ones. As hope faded, a deep and settled gloom stole over the sorrowing
parents, and reigned throughout the once cheerful and gladsome homes. At
the end of a week the only idea that remained was, that one of these three
casualties had befallen the lost children:--death, a lingering death
by famine; death, cruel and horrible, by wolves or bears; or yet more
terrible, with tortures by the hands of the dreaded Indians, who
occasionally held their councils and hunting parties on the hills about the
Rice Lake, which was known only by the elder Perron as the scene of many
bloody encounters between the rival tribes of the Mohawks and Chippewas:
its localities were scarcely ever visited by our settlers, lest haply
they should fall into the hands of the bloody Mohawks, whose merciless
dispositions made them in those days a by-word even to the less cruel
Chippewas and other Indian nations.
It was not in the direction of the Rice Lake that Maxwell and his
brother-in-law sought their lost children; and even if they had done so,
among the deep glens and hill passes of what is now commonly called the
Plains, they would have stood little chance of discovering the poor
wanderers. After many days of fatigue of body and distress of mind, the
sorrowing parents sadly relinquished the search as utterly hopeless,
and mourned in bitterness of spirit over the disastrous fate of their
first-born and beloved children.--"There was a voice of woe, and
lamentation, and great mourning; Rachel weeping for her children, and
refusing to be comforted, because they were not." The miserable uncertainty
that involved the fate of the lost ones was an aggravation to the
sufferings of the mourners: could they but have been certified of the
manner of their deaths, they fancied they should be more contented; but,
alas! this fearful satisfaction was withheld.
"Oh, were their tale of sorrow known,
'Twere something to the breaking heart,
The pangs of doubt would then be gone,
And fancy's endless dreams depart."
But let us quit the now mournful settlement of the Cold Springs, and see
how it really fared with the young wanderers.
When they awoke the valley was filled with a white creamy mist, that
arose from the bed of the stream, (now known as Cold Creek,) and gave an
indistinctness to the whole landscape, investing it with an appearance
perfectly different to that which it had worn by the bright, clear light of
the moon. No trace of their footsteps remained to guide them in retracing
their path; so hard and dry was the stony ground that it left no impression
on its surface. It was with some difficulty they found the creek, which was
concealed from sight by a lofty screen of gigantic hawthorns, high-bush
cranberries, poplars, and birch-trees. The hawthorn was in blossom, and
gave out a sweet perfume, not less fragrant than the "May" which makes the
lanes and hedgerows of "merrie old England" so sweet and fair in May and
June, as chanted in many a genuine pastoral of our olden time; but when our
simple Catharine drew down the flowery branches to wreathe about her hat,
she loved the flowers for their own native sweetness and beauty, not
because poets had sung of them;--but young minds have a natural poetry in
themselves, unfettered by rule or rhyme.
At length their path began to grow more difficult. A tangled mass of
cedars, balsams, birch, black ash, alders, and _tamarack_ (Indian name for
the larch), with a dense thicket of bushes and shrubs, such as love the
cool, damp soil of marshy ground, warned our travellers that they must
quit the banks of the friendly stream, or they might become entangled in
a trackless swamp. Having taken copious and refreshing draughts from the
bright waters, and bathed their hands and faces, they ascended the grassy
bank, and again descending, found themselves in one of those long valleys,
enclosed between lofty sloping banks, clothed with shrubs and oaks, with
here and there a stately pine. Through this second valley they pursued
their way, till emerging into a wider space, they came among those
singularly picturesque groups of rounded gravel hills, where the Cold Creek
once more met their view, winding its way towards a grove of evergreens,
where it was again lost to the eye.
This lovely spot is now known as Sackville's Mill-dike. The hand of man has
curbed the free course of the wild forest stream, and made it subservient
to his will, but could not destroy the natural beauties of the scene.
[Footnote: This place was originally owned by a man of taste, who resided
for some time upon the spot, till finding it convenient to return to his
native country, the saw-mill passed into other hands. The old log-house on
the green bank above the mill-stream is still standing, though deserted;
the garden fence, broken and dilapidated, no longer protects the enclosure,
where the wild rose mingles with that of Provence,--the Canadian creeper
with the hop.]
Fearing to entangle themselves in the swamp, they kept the hilly ground,
winding their way up to the summit of the lofty ridge of the oak hills,
the highest ground they had yet attained; and here it was that the silver
waters of the Rice Lake in all its beauty burst upon the eyes of the
wondering and delighted travellers. There it lay, a sheet of liquid silver
just emerging from the blue veil of mist that hung upon its surface, and
concealed its wooded shores on either side. All feeling of dread and doubt
and danger was lost, for the time, in one rapturous glow of admiration at a
scene so unexpected and so beautiful as that which they now gazed upon from
the elevation they had gained. From this ridge they looked down the lake,
and the eye could take in an extent of many miles, with its verdant wooded
islands, which stole into view one by one as the rays of the morning sun
drew up the moving curtain of mist that enveloped them; and soon both
northern and southern shores became distinctly visible, with all their bays
and capes and swelling oak and pine-crowned hills.
And now arose the question, "Where are we? What lake is this? Can it be
the Ontario, or is it the Rice Lake? Can yonder shores be those of the
Americans, or are they the hunting-grounds of the dreaded Indians?" Hector
remembered having often heard his father say that the Ontario was like an
inland sea, and the opposite shores not visible unless in some remarkable
state of the atmosphere, when they had been occasionally discerned by the
naked eye, while here they could distinctly see objects on the other side,
the peculiar growth of the trees, and even flights of wild fowl winging
their way among the rice and low bushes on its margin. The breadth of the
lake from shore to shore could not, they thought, exceed three or four
miles; while its length, in an easterly direction, seemed far greater
beyond--what the eye could take in. [Footnote: The length of the Rice Lake,
from its headwaters near Black's Landing to the mouth of the Trent, is said
to be twenty-five miles; its breadth from north to south varies from three
They now quitted the lofty ridge, and bent their steps towards the lake.
Wearied with their walk, they seated themselves beneath the shade of a
beautiful feathery pine, on a high promontory that commanded a magnificent
view down the lake.
"How pleasant it would be to have a house on this delightful bank,
overlooking the lake," said Louis; "only think of the fish we could take,
and the ducks and wild fowl we could shoot! and it would be no very hard
matter to hollow out a log canoe, such a one as I have heard my father say
he has rowed in across many a lake and broad river--below, when he was
"Yes, it would, indeed, be a pleasant spot to live upon," [Footnote: Now
the site of a pleasant cottage, erected by an enterprising gentleman from
Devonshire, who has cleared and cultivated a considerable portion of the
ground described above; a spot almost unequalled in the plains for its
natural beauties and extent of prospect.] said Hector, "though I am not
quite sure that the land is as good just here as it is at Cold Springs;
but all these flats and rich valleys would make fine pastures, and produce
plenty of grain, too, if cultivated."
"You always look to the main chance, Hec," said Louis, laughing; "well, it
was worth a few hours' walking this morning to look upon so lovely a sheet
of water as this. I would spend two nights in a wigwam,--would not you, ma
belle?--to enjoy such a sight."
"Yes, Louis," replied his cousin, hesitating as she spoke; "it is very
pretty, and I did not mind sleeping in the little hut; but then I cannot
enjoy myself as much as I should have done had my father and mother been
aware of my intention of accompanying you. Ah, my dear, dear parents!" she
added, as the thought of the anguish the absence of her companions and
herself would cause at home came over her. "How I wish I had remained at
home! Selfish Catharine! foolish idle girl!"
Poor Louis was overwhelmed with grief at the sight of his cousin's tears,
and as the kind-hearted but thoughtless boy bent over her to soothe and
console her, his own tears fell upon the fair locks of the weeping girl,
and bedewed the hand he held between his own.
"If you cry thus, cousin," he whispered, "you will break poor Louis's
heart, already sore enough with thinking of his foolish conduct." "Be not
cast down, Catharine," said her brother, cheeringly: "we may not be so far
from home as you think. As soon as you are rested we will set out again,
and we may find something to eat; there must be strawberries on these sunny
Catharine soon yielded to the voice of her brother, and drying her eyes,
proceeded to descend the sides of the steep valley that lay to one side of
the high ground where they had been sitting.
Suddenly darting down the bank, she exclaimed, "Come, Hector; come, Louis:
here indeed is provision to keep us from starving:"--for her eye had caught
the bright red strawberries among the flowers and herbage on the slope;
large ripe strawberries, the very finest she had ever seen.
"There is indeed, ma belle," said Louis, stooping as he spoke to gather up,
not the fruit, but a dozen fresh partridge eggs from the inner shade of a
thick tuft of grass and herbs that grew beside a fallen tree. Catharine's
voice and sudden movements had startled the partridge [Footnote: The
Canadian partridge is a species of grouse, larger than the English or
French partridge. We refer our young readers to the finely arranged
specimens in the British Museum, (open to the public,) where they may
discover "Louis's partridge."] from her nest, and the eggs were soon
transferred to Louis's straw hat, while a stone flung by the steady
hand of Hector stunned the parent bird. The boys laughed exultingly as
they displayed their prizes to the astonished Catharine, who, in spite of
hunger, could not help regretting the death of the mother bird. Girls and
women rarely sympathise with men and boys in their field sports, and Hector
laughed at his sister's doleful looks as he handed over the bird to her.
"It was a lucky chance," said he, "and the stone was well aimed, but it is
not the first partridge that I have killed in this way. They are so stupid
you may even run them down at times; I hope to get another before the day
is over. Well, there is no fear of starving to-day, at all events," he
added, as he inspected the contents of his cousin's hat; "twelve nice fresh
eggs, a bird, and plenty of fruit."
"But how shall we cook the bird and the eggs? We have no means of getting a
fire made," said Catharine.
"As to the eggs," said Louis, "we can eat them raw; it is not for hungry
wanderers like us to be over nice about our food."
"They would satisfy us much better were they boiled, or roasted in the
ashes," observed Hector.
"True. Well, a fire, I think, can be got with a little trouble."
"But how?" asked Hector. "Oh, there are many ways, but the readiest would
be a flint with the help of my knife."
"Yes, if we could get one--but I see nothing but granite, which crumbles
and shivers when struck--we could not get a spark. However, I think it's
very likely that one of the round pebbles I see on the beach yonder may be
found hard enough for the purpose."
To the shore they bent their steps as soon as the little basket had been
well filled with strawberries, and descending the precipitous bank, fringed
with young saplings, birch, ash, and poplars, they quickly found themselves
beside the bright waters of the lake. A flint was soon found among the
water-worn stones that lay thickly strewn upon the shore, and a handful of
dry sedge, almost as inflammable as tinder, was collected without trouble;
though Louis, with the recklessness of his nature, had coolly proposed
to tear a strip from his cousin's apron as a substitute for tinder,--a
proposal that somewhat raised the indignation of the tidy Catharine, whose
ideas of economy and neatness were greatly outraged, especially as she had
no sewing implements to assist in mending the rent. Louis thought nothing
of that; it was a part of his character to think only of the present,
little of the past, and to let the future provide for itself. Such was
Louis's great failing, which had proved a fruitful source of trouble both
to himself and others. In this respect he bore a striking contrast to his
more cautious companion, who possessed much of the gravity of his father.
Hector was as heedful and steady in his decisions as Louis was rash and
After many futile attempts, and some skin knocked off their knuckles
through awkward handling of the knife and flint, a good fire was at last
kindled, as there was no lack of dry wood on the shore; Catharine then
triumphantly produced her tin pot, and the eggs were boiled, greatly to the
satisfaction of all parties, who were by this time sufficiently hungry,
having eaten nothing since the previous evening more substantial than the
strawberries they had taken during the time they were gathering them in the
Catharine had selected a pretty, cool, shady recess, a natural bower, under
the overhanging growth of cedars, poplars, and birch, which were wreathed
together by the flexile branches of the vine and bitter-sweet,
which climbed to a height of fifteen feet [Footnote: _Solatnum
dulcamara_,--Bitter-sweet or Woody nightshade. This plant, like the
red-berried briony of England, is highly ornamental. It possesses powerful
properties as a medicine, and is in high reputation among the Indians.]
among the branches [Illustration: THE FIRST BREAKFAST] of the trees, which
it covered as with a mantle. A pure spring of cold, delicious water welled
out from beneath the twisted roots of an old hoary-barked cedar, and found
its way among the shingles on the beach to the lake, a humble but constant
tributary to its waters. Some large blocks of water-worn stone formed
convenient seats and a natural table, on which the little maiden arranged
the forest fare; and never was a meal made with greater appetite or taken
with more thankfulness than that which our wanderers ate that morning. The
eggs (part of which they reserved for another time) were declared to be
better than those that were daily produced from the little hen-house at
Cold Springs. The strawberries, set out in little pottles made with the
shining leaves of the oak, ingeniously pinned together by Catharine with
the long spurs of the hawthorn, [Footnote: The long-spurred American
hawthorn may be observed by our young readers among that beautiful
collection of the hawthorn family and its affinities, which flourish on the
north side of Kensington Gardens.] were voted delicious, and the pure water
most refreshing, that they drank, for lack of better cups, from a large
mussel-shell which Catharine had picked up among the weeds and pebbles on
Many children would have wandered about weeping and disconsolate, lamenting
their sad fate, or have embittered the time by useless repining, or,
perhaps, by venting their uneasiness in reviling the principal author of
their calamity--poor, thoughtless Louis; but such were not the dispositions
of our young Canadians. Early accustomed to the hardships incidental to the
lives of the settlers in the bush, these young people had learned to bear
with patience and cheerfulness privations that would have crushed the
spirits of children more delicately nurtured. They had known every degree
of hunger and nakedness; during the first few years of their lives they had
often been compelled to subsist for days and weeks upon roots and herbs,
wild fruits, and game which their fathers had learned to entrap, to decoy,
and to shoot. Thus Louis and Hector had early been initiated into the
mysteries of the chase. They could make deadfalls, and pits, and traps, and
snares,--they were as expert as Indians in the use of the bow,--they could
pitch a stone, or fling a wooden dart at partridge, hare, and squirrel,
with almost unerring aim; and were as swift of foot as young fawns. Now
it was that they learned to value in its fullest extent this useful
and practical knowledge, which enabled them to face with fortitude the
privations of a life so precarious as that to which they were now exposed.
It was one of the elder Maxwell's maxims,--Never let difficulties overcome
you, but rather strive to conquer them; let the head direct the hand, and
the hand, like a well-disciplined soldier, obey the head as chief. When his
children expressed any doubts of not being able to accomplish any work they
had begun, he would say, "Have you not hands, have you not a head, have you
not eyes to see, and reason to guide you? As for impossibilities, they do
not belong to the trade of a soldier,--he dare not see them." Thus were
energy and perseverance early instilled into the minds of his children;
they were now called upon to give practical proofs of the precepts that had
been taught them in childhood. Hector trusted to his axe, and Louis to his
_couteau-de-chasse_ and pocket-knife; the latter was a present from an old
forest friend of his father's, who had visited them the previous winter,
and which, by good luck, Louis had in his pocket--a capacious pouch, in
which were stored many precious things, such as coils of twine and string,
strips of leather, with odds and ends of various kinds; nails, bits of
iron, leather, and such miscellaneous articles as find their way most
mysteriously into boys' pockets in general, and Louis Perron's in
particular, who was a wonderful collector of such small matters.
The children were not easily daunted by the prospect of passing a few days
abroad on so charming a spot, and at such a lovely season, where fruits
were so abundant; and when they had finished their morning meal, so
providentially placed within their reach, they gratefully acknowledged the
mercy of God in this thing.
Having refreshed themselves by bathing their hands and faces in the lake,
they cheerfully renewed their wanderings, though something both to leave
the cool shade and the spring for an untrodden path among the hills and
deep ravines that furrow the shores of the Rice Lake in so remarkable a
manner; and often did our weary wanderers pause to look upon the wild glens
and precipitous hills, where the fawn and the shy deer found safe retreats,
unharmed by the rifle of the hunter,--where the osprey and white-headed
eagle built their nests, unheeding and unharmed. Twice that day, misled by
following the track of the deer, had they returned to the same spot,--a
deep and lovely glen, which had once been a water-course, but now a green
and shady valley. This they named the Valley of the Rock, from a remarkable
block of red granite that occupied a central position in the narrow defile;
and here they prepared to pass the second night on the Plains. A few boughs
cut down and interlaced with the shrubs round a small space cleared with
Hector's axe, formed shelter, and leaves and grass, strewed on the ground,
formed a bed, though not so smooth, perhaps, as the bark and cedar-boughs
that the Indians spread within their summer wigwams for carpets and
couches, or the fresh heather that the Highlanders gather on the wild
While Hector and Louis were preparing the sleeping-chamber, Catharine
busied herself in preparing the partridge for their supper. Having
collected some thin peelings from the ragged bark of a birch-tree, that
grew on the side of the steep bank to which she gave the appropriate name
of the "Birken shaw," she dried it in her bosom, and then beat it fine
upon a big stone, till it resembled the finest white paper. This proved
excellent tinder, the aromatic oil contained in the bark of the birch being
highly inflammable, Hector had prudently retained the flint that they had
used in the morning, and a fire was now lighted in front of the rocky
stone, and a forked stick, stuck in the ground, and bent over the coals,
served as a spit, on which, gipsy-fashion, the partridge was suspended,--a
scanty meal, but thankfully partaken of, though they knew not how they
should breakfast next morning, The children felt they were pensioners on
God's providence not less than the wild denizens of the wilderness around
When Hector--who by nature was less sanguine than his sister or
cousin--expressed some anxiety for their provisions for the morrow,
Catharine, who had early listened with trusting piety of heart to the
teaching of her father, when he read portions from the holy word of God,
gently laid her hand upon her brother's head, which rested on her knees,
as he sat upon the grass beside her, and said, in a low and earnest tone,
"'Consider the fowls of the air; they sow not, neither do they reap, nor
gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much
better than they?' Surely, my brother, God careth for us as much as for the
wild creatures, that have no sense to praise and glorify his holy name. God
cares for the creatures He has made, and supplies them with knowledge where
they shall find food when they hunger and thirst. So I have heard my father
say; and surely our father knows, for is he not a wise man, Hector?"
"I remember," said Louis, thoughtfully, "hearing my mother repeat the words
of a good old man she knew when she lived in Quebec;--'When you are in
trouble, Mathilde,' he used to say to her, 'kneel down, and ask God's help,
nothing doubting but that He has the power as well as the will to serve
you, if it be for your good; for He is able to bring all things to pass.
It is our own want of faith that prevents our prayers from being heard.
And, truly, I think the wise old man was right," he added.
It was strange to hear grave words like these from the lips of the giddy
Louis. Possibly they had the greater weight on that account. And Hector,
looking up with a serious air, replied, "Your mother's friend was a good
man, Louis. Our want of trust in God's power must displease Him. And when
we think of all the great and glorious things He has made,--that blue sky,
those sparkling stars, the beautiful moon that is now shining down upon us,
and the hills and waters, the mighty forest, and little creeping plants and
flowers that grow at our feet,--it must, indeed, seem foolish in his eyes
that we should doubt his power to help us, who not only made all these
things, but ourselves also."
"True," said Catharine; "but then, Hector, we are not as God made us; for
the wicked one cast bad seed in the field where God had sown the good."
"Let us, however, consider what we shall do for food; for, you know, God
helps those that help themselves," said Louis. "Let us consider a little.
There must be plenty of fish in the lake, both small and great."
"But how are we to get them out of it?" rejoined Catharine. "I doubt the
fish will swim at their ease there, while we go hungry."
"Do not interrupt me, ma chere. Then, we see the track of deer, and the
holes of the wood-chuck; we hear the cry of squirrels and chipmunks, and
there are plenty of partridges, and ducks, and quails, and snipes; of
course, we have to contrive some way to kill them. Fruits there are in
abundance, and plenty of nuts of different kinds. At present we have plenty
of fine strawberries, and huckleberries will be ripe soon in profusion, and
bilberries too, and you know how pleasant they are; as for raspberries, I
see none; but by-and-by there will be May-apples--I see great quantities of
them in the low grounds, grapes, high-bush-cranberries, haws as large as
cherries, and sweet too; squaw-berries, wild plums, choke-cherries, and
bird-cherries. As to sweet acorns, there will be bushels and bushels of
them for the roasting, as good as chestnuts, to my taste; and butter-nuts,
and hickory-nuts,--with many other good things." And here Louis stopped for
want of breath to continue his catalogue of forest dainties.
"Yes; and there are bears, and wolves, and racoons, too, that will eat us
for want of better food," interrupted Hector, slyly. "Nay, Katty, do not
shudder, as if you were already in the clutches of a big bear. Neither bear
nor wolf shall make mincemeat of thee, my girl, while Louis and thy brother
are near, to wield an axe or a knife in thy defence."
"Nor catamount spring upon thee, ma belle cousine," added Louis, gallantly,
"while thy bold cousin Louis can scare him away."
"Well, now that we know our resources, the next thing is to consider how we
are to obtain them, my dears," said Catharine. "For fishing, you know, we
must have a hook and line, a rod, or a net. Now, where are these to be met
Louis nodded his head sagaciously. "The line I think I can provide; the
hook is more difficult, but I do not despair even of that. As to the rod,
it can be cut from any slender sapling on the shore. A net, ma chere, I
could make with very little trouble, if I had but a piece of cloth to sew
over a hoop."
Catharine laughed. "You are very ingenious, no doubt, Monsieur Louis, but
where are you to get the cloth and the hoop, and the means of sewing it
Lords took up the corner of his cousin's apron with a provoking look.
"My apron, sir, is not to be appropriated for any such purpose. You seem to
covet it for everything."
"Indeed, ma petite, I think it very unbecoming and very ugly, and never
could see any good reason why you and Mamma and Mathilde should wear such
"It is to keep our gowns clean, Louis, when we are milking and scrubbing,
and doing all sorts of household duties," said Catharine.
"Well, ma belle, you have neither cows to milk, nor house to clean,"
replied the annoying boy; "so there can be little want of the apron. I
could turn it to fifty useful purposes."
"Pooh, nonsense," said Hector, impatiently, "let the child alone, and do
not tease her about her apron."
"Well, then, there is another good thing I did not think of before, water
mussels. I have heard my father and old Jacob the lumberer say, that,
roasted in their shells in the ashes, with a seasoning of salt and pepper,
they are good eating when nothing better is to be got."
"No doubt, if the seasoning can be procured," said Hector, "but, alas for
the salt and the pepper!"
"Well, we can eat them with the best of all sauces--hunger; and then, no
doubt, there are crayfish in the gravel under the stones, but we must not
mind a pinch to our fingers in taking them."
"To-morrow then let us breakfast on fish," said Hector. "You and I will try
our luck, while Kate gathers strawberries; and if our line should break, we
can easily cut those long locks from Catharine's head, and twist them into
lines,"--and Hector laid his hands upon the long fair hair that hung in
shining curls about his sister's neck.
"Cut my curls! This is even worse than cousin Louis's proposal of making
tinder and fishing-nets of my apron," said Catharine, shaking back the
bright tresses, which, escaping from the snood that bound them, fell in
golden waves over her shoulders.
"In truth, Hec, it were a sin and a shame to cut her pretty curls, that
become her so well," said Louis. "But we have no scissors, ma belle, so you
need fear no injury to your precious locks."
"For the matter of that, Louis, we could cut them with your
_couteau-de-chasse_. I could tell you a story that my father told me, not
long since, of Charles Stuart, the second king of that name in England. You
know he was the grand-uncle of the young Chevalier Charles Edward, that my
father talks of, and loves so much."
"I know all about him," said Catharine, nodding sagaciously; "let us hear
the story of his grand-uncle. But I should like to know what my hair and
Louis's knife can have to do with King Charles."
"Wait a bit, Kate, and you shall hear, that is, if you have patience," said
her brother. "Well then, you must know, that after some great battle, the
name of which I forget, [Footnote: Battle of Worcester.] in which the
King and his handful of brave soldiers were defeated by the forces of the
Parliament, (the Roundheads, as they were called,) the poor young king was
hunted like a partridge upon the mountains; a large price was set on his
head, to be given to any traitor who should slay him, or bring him prisoner
to Oliver Cromwell. He was obliged to dress himself in all sorts of queer
clothes, and hide in all manner of strange, out of the way places, and keep
company with rude and humble men, the better to hide his real rank from
the cruel enemies that sought his life. Once he hid along with a gallant
gentleman, [Footnote: Colonel Careless.] one of his own brave officers, in
the branches of a great oak. Once he was hid in a mill; and another time he
was in the house of one Pendril, a woodman. The soldiers of the Parliament,
who were always prowling about, and popping in unawares wherever they
suspected the poor king to be hidden, were, at one time, in the very room
where he was standing beside the fire."
"Oh!" exclaimed Catharine, "that was frightful. And did they take him
"No; for the wise woodman and his brothers, fearing lest the soldiers
should discover that he was a cavalier and a gentleman, by the long curls
that the king's men all wore in those days, and called _lovelocks_, begged
of his majesty to let his hair be cropped close to his head."
"That was very hard, to lose his nice curls."
"I dare say the voting king thought so too, but it was better to lose his
hair than his head. So, I suppose, the men told him, for he suffered them
to cut it all close to his head, laying down his head on a rough deal
table, or a chopping-block, while his faithful friends with a large knife
trimmed off the curls."
"I wonder if the young king thought at that minute of his poor father, who,
you know, was forced by wicked men to lay down his head upon a block
to have it cut from his shoulders, because Cromwell, and others as
hard-hearted as himself, willed that he should die." "Poor king!" said
Catharine, sighing, "I see that it is better to be poor children, wandering
on these plains under God's own care, than to be kings and princes at the
mercy of bad and sinful men."
"Who told your father all these things, Hec?" said Louis.
"It was the son of his brave colonel, who knew a great deal about the
history of the Stuart kings, for our colonel had been with Prince Charles,
the young chevalier, and fought by his side when he was in Scotland; he
loved him dearly, and, after the battle of Culloden, where the Prince lost
all, and was driven from place to place, and had not where to lay his head,
he went abroad in hopes of better times; (but those times did not come for
the poor Prince; and our colonel) after a while, through the friendship of
General Wolfe, got a commission in the army that was embarking for Quebec,
and, at last, commanded the regiment to which my father belonged. He was
a kind man, and my father loved both him and his son, and grieved not a
little when he parted from him."
"Well," said Catharine, "as you have told me such a nice story, Mister Hec,
I shall forgive the affront about my curls."
"Well, then, to-morrow we are to try our luck at fishing, and if we fail,
we will make us bows and arrows to kill deer or small game; I fancy we
shall not be over particular as to its of quality. Why should not we be
able to find subsistence as well as the wild Indians?"
"True," said Hector, "the wild men of the wilderness, and the animals and
birds, all are fed by the things that He provideth; then, wherefore should
His white children fear?"
"I have often heard my father tell of the privations of the lumberers, when
they have fallen short of provisions, and of the contrivances of himself
and old Jacob Morelle, when they were lost for several days, nay, weeks I
believe it was. Like the Indians, they made themselves bows and arrows,
using the sinews of the deer, or fresh thongs of leather, for bow-strings;
and when they could not get game to eat, they boiled the inner bark of the
slippery elm to jelly, or birch bark, and drank the sap of the sugar maple
when they could get no water but melted snow only, which is unwholesome; at
last, they even boiled their own mocassins."
"Indeed, Louis, that must have been a very unsavoury dish," said Catharine.
"That old buckskin vest would have made a famous pot of soup of itself,"
added Hector, "or the deer-skin hunting shirt." "Well, they might have been
reduced even to that," said Louis, laughing, "but for the good fortune that
befel them in the way of a half-roasted bear."
"Nonsense, cousin Louis, bears do not run about ready roasted in the
forest, like the lambs in the old nursery tale."
"Well now, Kate, this was a fact; at least, it was told as one by old
Jacob, and my father did not deny it; shall I tell you about it? After
passing several hungry days with no better food to keep them alive than the
scrapings of the inner bark of the poplars and elms, which was not very
substantial for hearty men, they encamped one night in a thick dark
swamp,--not the sort of place they would have chosen, but that they could
not help themselves, having been enticed into it by the tracks of a deer or
a moose,--and night came upon them unawares, so they set to work to kindle
up a fire with spunk, and a flint and knife; rifle they had none, or maybe
they would have had game to eat. Old Jacob fixed upon a huge hollow pine,
that lay across their path, against which he soon piled a glorious heap of
boughs and arms of trees, and whatever wood he could collect, and lighted
up a fine fire. You know what a noble hand old Jacob used to be at making
up a roaring fire; he thought, I suppose, if he could not have warmth
within, he would have plenty of it without. The wood was dry pine and cedar
and birch, and it blazed away, and crackled and burnt like a pine-torch.
By-and-by they heard a most awful growling close to them. 'That's a big
bear, as I live,' said old Jacob, looking all about, thinking to see one
come out from the thick bush; but Bruin was nearer to him than he thought,
for presently a great black bear burst out from the but-end of the great
burning log, and made towards Jacob; just then the wind blew the flame
outward, and it caught the bear's thick coat, and he was all in a blaze in
a moment. No doubt the heat of the fire had penetrated to the hollow of the
log, where he had lain himself snugly up for the winter, and wakened him;
but Jacob seeing the huge black brute all in a flame of fire, began to
think it was Satan's own self come to carry him off, and he roared with
fright, and the bear roared with pain and rage, and my father roared with
laughing to see Jacob's terror; but he did not let the bear laugh at him,
for he seized a thick pole that he had used for closing in the brands and
logs, and soon demolished the bear, who was so blinded with the fire and
smoke that he made no fight; and they feasted on roast bear's flesh for
many days, and got a capital skin to cover them beside."
"What, Louis, after the fur was all singed?" said Catharine.
"Kate, you are too particular," said Louis; "a story never loses, you
Hector laughed heartily at the adventure, and enjoyed the dilemma of the
bear in his winter quarter; but Catharine was somewhat shocked at the
levity displayed by her cousin and brother, when recounting the terror of
old Jacob and the sufferings of the poor bear."
"You boys are always so unfeeling," she said, gravely.
"Indeed, Kate," said her brother, "the day may come when the sight of a
good piece of roast bear's flesh, will be no unwelcome sight. If we do not
find our way back to Cold Springs before the winter sets in, we may be
reduced to as bad a state as poor Jacob and my uncle were in the pine
swamps, on the banks of the St. John."
"Ah!" said Catharine, trembling, "that would be too bad to happen."
"Courage, ma belle, let us not despair for the morrow. Let us see what
to-morrow will do for us; meantime, we will not neglect the blessings we
still possess; see, our partridge is ready, let us eat our supper, and be
thankful; and for grace let us say, 'Sufficient unto the day is the evil
Long exposure to the air had sharpened their appetites--the hungry
wanderers needed no further invitation, the scanty meal, equally divided,
was soon despatched.
It is a common saying, but excellent to be remembered by any wanderers in
our forest wilds, that those who travel by the sun travel in a circle, and
usually find themselves at night in the same place from whence they started
in the morning; so it was with our wanderers. At sunset, they found
themselves once more in the ravine, beside the big stone, in which they had
rested at noon. They had imagined themselves miles and miles distant from
it; they were grievously disappointed. They had encouraged each other
with the confident hope that they were drawing near to the end of their
bewildering journey; they were as far from their home as ever, without the
slightest clue to guide them to the right path. Despair is not a feeling
which takes deep root in the youthful breast. The young are always
hopeful; so confident in their own wisdom and skill in averting or
conquering danger; so trusting; so willing to believe that there is a
peculiar Providence watching over them. Poor children! they had indeed need
of such a belief to strengthen their minds and encourage them to fresh
exertions, for new trials were at hand.
The broad moonlight had already flooded the recesses of the glen with
light, and all looked fresh and lovely in the dew, which glittered on
tree and leaf, on herb and flower. Catharine, who, though weary with her
fatiguing wanderings, could not sleep, left the little hut of boughs which
her companions had put up near the granite rock in the valley for her
accommodation, and ascended the western bank, where the last jutting spur
of its steep side formed a lofty clifflike promontory, at the extreme verge
of which the roots of one tall spreading oak formed a most inviting seat,
from whence the traveller looked down into a level track, which stretched
away to the edge of the lake. This flat had been the estuary of the
mountain stream, which had once rushed down between the hills, forming a
narrow gorge; but now, all was changed; the water had ceased to flow, the
granite bed was overgrown, and carpeted with deer-grass and flowers of many
hues, wild fruits and bushes, below; while majestic oaks and pines towered
above. A sea of glittering foliage lay beneath Catharine's feet; in the
distance the eye of the young girl rested on a belt of shining waters,
which girt in the shores like a silver zone; beyond, yet more remote to the
northward, stretched the illimitable forest.
Never had Catharine looked upon a scene so still or so fair to the eye; a
holy calm seemed to shed its influence over her young mind, and peaceful
tears stole down her cheeks. Not a sound was there abroad, scarcely a leaf
stirred; she could have stayed for hours there gazing on the calm beauty of
nature, and communing with her own heart, when suddenly a stirring rustling
sound caught her car; it came from a hollow channel on one side of the
promontory, which was thickly overgrown with the shrubby dogwood, wild
roses and bilberry bushes. Imagine the terror which seized the poor girl,
on perceiving a grisly beast breaking through the covert of the bushes.
With a scream and a bound, which the most deadly fear alone could have
inspired, Catharine sprung from the supporting trunk of the oak, dashed,
down the precipitous side of the ravine; now clinging to the bending sprays
of the flexile dogwood--now to some fragile birch or poplar--now trusting
to the yielding heads of the sweet-scented _ceanothus_, or filling her
hands with sharp thorns from the roses that clothed the bank; flowers,
grass, all were alike clutched at in her rapid and fearful descent. A loose
fragment of granite on which she had unwittingly placed her foot rolled
from under her; unable to regain her balance she fell forwards, and was
precipitated through the bushes into the ravine below, conscious only
of unspeakable terror and an agonising pain in one of her ancles, which
rendered her quite powerless. The noise of the stones she had dislodged in
her fall and her piteous cries, brought Louis and Hector to her side, and
they bore her in their arms to the hut of boughs and laid her down upon her
bed of leaves and grass and young pine boughs. When Catharine was able to
speak, she related to Louis and Hector the cause of her fright. She was
sure it must have been a wolf by his sharp teeth, long jaws, and grisly
coat. The last glance she had had of him had filled her with terror, he
was standing on a fallen tree with his eyes fixed upon her--she could tell
them no more that happened, she never felt the ground she was on, so great
was her fright.
Hector was half disposed to scold his sister for rambling over the hills
alone, but Louis was full of tender compassion for _la belle cousine_,
and would not suffer her to be chidden. Fortunately, no bones had been
fractured, though the sinews of her ankle were severely sprained; but the
pain was intense, and after a sleepless night, the boys found to their
grief and dismay, that Catharine was unable to put her foot to the ground.
This was an unlooked-for aggravation of their misfortunes; to pursue their
wandering was for the present impossible; rest was their only remedy,
excepting the application of such cooling medicaments as circumstances
would supply them with. Cold water constantly applied to the swollen joint,
was the first thing that was suggested; but, simple as was the lotion,
it was not easy to obtain it in sufficient quantities. They were a full
quarter of a mile from the lake shore, and the cold springs near it were
yet further off; and then the only vessel they had was the tin-pot, which
hardly contained a pint; at the same time the thirst of the fevered
sufferer was intolerable, and had also to be provided for. Poor Catharine,
what unexpected misery she now endured!
The valley and its neighbouring hills abounded in strawberries; they were
now ripening in abundance; the ground was scarlet in places with this
delicious fruit; they proved a blessed relief to the poor sufferer's
burning thirst. Hector and Louis were unwearied in supplying her with them.
Louis, ever fertile in expedients, crushed the cooling fruit and applied
them to the sprained foot; rendering the application still more grateful by
spreading them upon the large smooth leaves of the sapling oak; these he
bound on with strips of the leathery bark of the moose-wood, [Footnote:
"_Dirca palustris_,"--Moose-wood. American mezereon, leather-wood. From the
Greek, _dirka_, a fountain or wet place, its usual place of growth.] which
he had found growing in great abundance near the entrance of the ravine.
Hector, in the meantime, was not idle. After having collected a good supply
of ripe strawberries, he climbed the hills in search of birds' eggs and
small game. About noon he returned with the good news of having discovered
a spring of fine water in an adjoining ravine, beneath a clump of bass-wood
and black cherry-trees; he had also been so fortunate as to kill a
woodchuck, having met with many of their burrows in the gravelly sides of
the hills. The woodchuck seems to be a link between the rabbit and badger;
its colour is that of a leveret; it climbs like the racoon and burrows like
the rabbit; its eyes are large, full, and dark, the lip cleft, the soles of
the feet naked, claws sharp, ears short; it feeds on grasses, grain, fruit,
and berries. The flesh is white, oily, and, in the summer, rank, but is
eaten in the fall by the Indians and woodsmen; the skin is not much valued.
They are easily killed by dogs, though, being expert climbers, they often
baffle their enemies, clinging to the bark beyond their reach; a stone or
stick well-aimed soon kills them, but they often bite sharply.
The woodchuck proved a providential supply, and Hector cheered his
companions with the assurance that they could not starve, as there were
plenty of these creatures to be found. They had seen one or two about the
Cold Springs, but they are less common in the deep forest lands than on the
drier, more open plains.
"It is a great pity we have no larger vessel to bring our water from the
spring in," said Hector, looking at the tin-pot, "one is so apt to stumble
among stones and tangled underwood. If we had only one of our old bark
dishes we could get a good supply at once."
"There is a fallen birch not far from this," said Louis; "I have here
my trusty knife; what is there to hinder us from manufacturing a vessel
capable of holding water, a gallon if you like?"
"How can you sew it together, cousin?" asked Catharine; "you have neither
deer sinews, nor war-tap." [The Indian name for the flexible roots of the
_tamarack_, or swamp larch, which they make use of in manufacturing the
birch baskets and canoes.] "I have a substitute at hand, ma belle," and
Louis pointed to the strips of leatherwood that he had collected for
binding the dressings on his cousin's foot.
When an idea once struck Louis, he never rested till he worked it out in
some way. In a few minutes he was busily employed, stripping sheets of the
ever-useful birch-bark from the trunk that had fallen at the foot of the
"Wolf's Crag," for so the children had named the memorable spot where poor
Catharine's accident had occurred.
The rough outside coatings of the bark, which are of silvery whiteness, but
are ragged from exposure to the action of the weather in the larger and
older trees, he peeled off, and then cutting the bark so that the sides
lapped well over, and the corners were secured from cracks, he proceeded
to pierce holes opposite to each other, and with some trouble managed
to stitch them tightly together, by drawing strips of the moose or
leather-wood through and through. The first attempt, of course, was but
rude and ill-shaped, but it answered the purpose, and only leaked a little
at the corners for want of a sort of flap, which he had forgotten to allow
in cutting out the bark; this flap in the Indian baskets and dishes turns
up, and keeps all tight and close. The defect he remedied in his subsequent
attempts. In spite of its deficiencies, Louis's water-jar was looked upon
with great admiration, and highly commended by Catharine, who almost forgot
her sufferings--while watching her cousin's proceedings.
Louis was elated by his own successful ingenuity, and was for running off
directly to the spring. "Catharine shall now have cold water to bathe her
poor ancle with, and to quench her thirst," he said, joyfully springing
to his feet, ready for a start up the steep bank: but Hector quietly
restrained his lively cousin, by suggesting the possibility of his not
finding the "fountain in the wilderness," as Louis termed the spring, or
losing himself altogether.
"Let us both go together, then." cried Louis. Catharine cast on her cousin
an imploring glance.
"Do not leave me, dear Louis; Hector, do not let me be left alone." Her
sorrowful appeal stayed the steps of the volatile Louis.
"Go you, Hector, as you know the way: I will not leave you, Kate, since I
was the cause of all you have suffered; I will abide by you in joy or in
sorrow till I see you once more safe in your own dear mother's arms."
Comforted by this assurance, Catharine quickly dashed away the gathering
tears from her checks, and chid her own foolish fears.
"But you know, dear cousin," she said, "I am so helpless, and then the
dread of that horrible wolf makes a coward of me."
After some little time had elapsed, Hector returned; the bark vessel had
done its duty to admiration, it only wanted a very little improvement to
make it complete. The water was cold and pure. Hector had spent a little
time in deepening the mouth of the spring, and placing some stones about
it. He described the ravine as being much deeper and wider, and more
gloomy than the one they occupied. The sides and bottom were clothed with
magnificent oaks. It was a grand sight, he said, to stand on the jutting
spurs of this great ravine, and look down upon the tops of the trees that
lay below, tossing their rounded heads like the waves of a big sea. There
were many lovely flowers, vetches of several kinds, blue, white, and
pencilled, twining among the grass. A beautiful white-belled flower, that
was like the "Morning glory," (_Convolvulus major,_) and scarlet-cups
[Footnote: _Erichroma,_ or painted cup] in abundance, with roses in
profusion. The bottom of this ravine was strewed in places with huge blocks
of black granite, cushioned with thick green moss; it opened out into a
wide flat, similar to the one at the mouth of the valley of the Big Stone.
[Footnote: The mouth of this ravine is now under the plough, and waving
fields of golden grain and verdant pastures have taken place of the wild
shrubs and flowers that formerly adorned it. The lot belongs to G. Ley,
These children were not insensible to the beauties of nature, and both
Hector and his sister had insensibly imbibed a love of the grand and the
picturesque, by listening with untiring interest to their father's
animated and enthusiastic descriptions of his Highland home, and the wild
mountainous scenery that surrounded it. Though brought up in solitude and
uneducated, yet there was nothing vulgar or rude in the minds or manners of
these young people. Simple and untaught they were, but they were guileless,
earnest, and unsophisticated; and if they lacked the knowledge that is
learned from books, they possessed much that was useful and practical,
which had been taught by experience and observation in the school of
For several days the pain and fever arising from her sprain rendered
any attempt at removing Catharine from the valley of the "Big Stone"
impracticable. The ripe fruit began to grow less abundant in their
immediate vicinity, and neither woodchuck, partridge, nor squirrel had been
killed; and our poor wanderers now endured the agonising pains of hunger.
Continual exposure to the air by night and by day contributed not a little
to increase the desire for food. It is true, there was the yet untried
lake, "bright, boundless, and free," gleaming in silvery splendour, but in
practice they knew nothing of the fisher's craft, though, as a matter of
report, they were well acquainted with all the mysteries of it, and had
often listened with delight to the feats performed by their respective
fathers in the art of angling, spearing and netting.
"I have heard my father say, that so bold and numerous were the fish in the
lakes and rivers he was used to fish in, that they could be taken by the
hand, with a crooked pin and coarse thread, or wooden spear; but that was
in the lower province; and oh, what glorious tales I have heard him tell of
spearing fish by torchlight!"
"The fish may be wiser or not so numerous in this lake," said Hector;
"however, if Kate can bear to be moved, we will go down to the shore and
try our luck; but what can we do? we have neither hook nor line provided."
Louis nodded his head, and sitting down on a projecting root of a scrub
oak, produced from the depths of his capacious pocket a bit of tin, which
he carefully selected from among a miscellaneous hoard of treasures.
"Here." said he, holding it up to the view as he spoke; "here is the slide
of an old powder-flask, which I picked up from among some rubbish that my
sister had thrown out the other day."
"I fear you will make nothing of that," said Hector. "a bit of bone would
be better. If you had a file now you might do something."
"Stay a moment, Monsieur Hec., what do you call this?" and Louis
triumphantly handed out of his pocket the very instrument in question, a
few inches of a broken, rusty file; very rusty, indeed, it was, but still
it might be made to answer in such ingenious hands as those of our young
French Canadian. "I well remember, Katty, how you and Mathilde laughed
at me for treasuring up this old thing months ago. Ah, Louis. Louis, you
little knew the use it was to be put to then," he added thoughtfully,
apostrophising himself; "how little do we know what is to befall us in our
young days!" "God knows it all," said Hector, gravely, "we are under His
"You are right, Hec., let us trust in His mercy and He will take good care
of us. Come, let us go to the lake," Catharine added, and sprung to her
feet, but as quickly sunk down upon the grass, and regarded her companions
with a piteous look, saying, "I cannot walk one step; alas, alas! what is
to become of me; I am only a useless burden to you. If you leave me here, I
shall fall a prey to some savage beast, and you cannot carry me with you in
your search for food."
"Dry your tears, sweet cousin, you shall go with us. Do you think that
Hector or Louis would abandon you in your helpless state, to die of hunger
or thirst, or to be torn by wolves or bears? We will carry you by turns;
the distance to the lake is nothing, and you are not so very heavy, ma
belle cousine; see, I could dance with you in my arms, you are so light a
burden,"--and Louis gaily caught the suffering girl up in his arms, and
with rapid steps struck into the deer path that wound through the ravine
towards the lake, but when they reached a pretty rounded knoll, (where Wolf
Tower [Footnote: See account of the "Wolf Tower," in the Appendix.] now
stands,) Louis was fain to place his cousin on a flat stone beneath a big
oak that grew beside the bank, and fling himself on the flowery ground at
her feet, while he drew a long breath, and gathered the fruit that grew
among the long grass to refresh himself after his fatigue; and then, while
resting on the "Elfin Knowe," as Catharine called the hill, he employed
himself with manufacturing a rude sort of fish-hook with the aid of
his knife, the bit of tin, and the rusty file; a bit of twine was next
produced,--boys have always a bit of string in their pockets, and Louis, as
I have before hinted, was a provident hoarder of such small matters. The
string was soon attached to the hook, and Hector was not long in cutting a
sapling that answered well the purpose of a fishing-rod, and thus equipped
they proceeded to the lake shore, Hector and Louis carrying the crippled
Catharine by turns. When there, they selected a sheltered spot beneath a
grove of over-hanging cedars and birches, festooned with wild vines, which,
closely woven, formed a natural bower, quite impervious to the rays of
the sun. A clear spring flowing from the upper part of the bank among the
hanging network of loose fibres and twisted roots, fell tinkling over a
mossy log at her feet, and quietly spread itself among the round shingly
pebbles that formed the beach of the lake. Beneath this pleasant bower
Catharine could repose, and watch her companions at their novel employment,
or bathe her feet and infirm ancle in the cool streamlet that rippled in
tiny wavelets over its stony bed.
If the amusement of fishing prove pleasant and exciting when pursued for
pastime only, it may readily be conceived that its interest must be greatly
heightened when its object is satisfying a craving degree of hunger. Among
the sunny spots on the shore, innumerable swarms of the flying grasshopper
or field crickets were sporting, and one of these proved an attractive
bait. The line was no sooner cast into the water, than the hook was seized,
and many were the brilliant specimens of sun-fish that our eager fishermen
cast at Catharine's feet, all gleaming with gold and azure scales. Nor was
there any lack of perch, or that delicate fish commonly known in these
waters as the pink roach.
Tired at last with their easy sport, the hungry boys next proceeded to the
grateful task of scaling and dressing their fish, and this they did very
expeditiously, as soon as the more difficult part, that of kindling up a
fire on the beach, had been accomplished with the help of the flint, knife,
and dried rushes. The fish were then suspended, Indian fashion, on forked
sticks stuck in the ground and inclined at a suitable angle towards the
glowing embers,--a few minutes sufficed to cook them.
"Truly," said Catharine, when the plentiful repast was set before her, "God
hath, indeed, spread a table for us here in the wilderness;" so miraculous
did this ample supply of delicious food seem in the eyes of this simple
child of nature.
They had often heard tell of the facility with which the fish could be
caught, but they had known nothing of it from their own experience, as the
streams and creeks about Cold Springs afforded them but little opportunity
for exercising their skill as anglers; so that, with the rude implements
with which they were furnished, the result of their morning success seemed
little short of divine interference in their behalf. Happy and contented
in the belief that they were not forgotten by their heavenly Father, these
poor "children in the wood" looked up with gratitude to that beneficent
Being who suffereth not even a sparrow to fall unheeded.
Upon Catharine, in particular, these things made a deep impression, and
there as she sat in the green shade, soothed by the lulling sound of the
flowing waters, and the soft murmuring of the many-coloured insects that
hovered among the fragrant leaves which thatched her sylvan bower, her
young heart was raised in humble and holy aspirations to the great Creator
of all things living. A peaceful calm diffused itself over her mind, as
with hands meekly folded across her breast, the young girl prayed with the
guileless fervour of a trusting and faithful heart.
The sun was just sinking in a flood of glory behind the dark pine-woods
at the head of the lake, when Hector and Louis, who had been carefully
providing fish for the morrow, (which was the Sabbath,) came loaded with
their finny prey carefully strung upon a willow wand, and found Catharine
sleeping in her bower. Louis was loth to break her tranquil slumbers, but
her careful brother reminded him of the danger to which she was exposed,
sleeping in the dew by the water side; "Moreover," he added, "we have some
distance to go, and we have left the precious axe and the birch-bark vessel
in the valley."
These things were too valuable to be lost, and so they roused the sleeper,
and slowly recommenced their toilsome way, following the same path that
they had made in the morning. Fortunately, Hector had taken the precaution
to bend down the flexile branches of the dogwood and break the tops of the
young trees that they had passed between on their route to the lake, and by
this clue they were enabled with tolerable certainty to retrace their way,
nothing doubting of arriving in time at the wigwam of boughs by the rock in
Their progress was, however, slow, burdened with the care of the lame girl,
and heavily laden with the fish. The purple shades of twilight soon clouded
the scene, deepened by the heavy masses of foliage, which cast a greater
degree of obscurity upon their narrow path; for they had now left the
oak-flat and entered the gorge of the valley. The utter loneliness of the
path, the grotesque shadows of the trees, that stretched in long array
across the steep banks on either side, taking, now this, now that wild and
fanciful shape, awakened strange feelings of dread in the mind of these
poor forlorn wanderers; like most persons bred up in solitude, their
imaginations were strongly tinctured with superstitious fears. Here then,
in the lonely wilderness, far from their beloved parents and social hearth,
with no visible arm to protect them from danger, none to encourage or
to cheer them, can it be matter of surprise if they started with
terror-blanched cheeks at every fitful breeze that rustled the leaves or
waved the branches above them? The gay and lively Louis, blithe as any wild
bird in the bright sunlight, was the most easily oppressed by this strange
superstitious fear, when the shades of evening were closing round, and he
would start with ill-disguised terror at every sound or shape that met his
ear or eye, though the next minute he was the first to laugh at his own
weakness. In Hector, the feeling was of a graver, more solemn cast,
recalling to his mind all the wild and wondrous tales with which his
father was wont to entertain the children, as they crouched round the huge
log-fire of an evening. It is strange the charm these marvellous tales
possess for the youthful mind, no matter how improbable, or how often told;
year after year they will be listened to with the same ardour, with an
interest that appears to grow with repetition. And still, as they slowly
wandered along, Hector would repeat to his breathless auditors those
Highland legends that were as familiar to their ears as household words,
and still they listened with fear and wonder, and deep awe, till at each
pause he made, the deep-drawn breath and half-repressed shudder might
be heard. And now the little party paused irresolutely, fearing to
proceed,--they had omitted to notice some land-mark in their progress; the
moon had not long been up, and her light was as yet indistinct; so they sat
them down on a little grassy spot on the bank, and rested till the moon
should lighten their path.
Louis was confident they were not far from "the bigstone," but careful
Hector had his doubts, and Catharine was weary. The children had already
conceived a sort of home feeling for the valley and the mass of stone that
had sheltered them for so many nights, and soon the dark mass came in
sight, as the broad full light of the now risen moon fell upon its rugged
sides; they were nearer to it than they had imagined. "Forward for 'the big
stone' and the wigwam," cried Louis.
"Hush!" said Catharine, "look there," raising her hand with a warning
"The wolf! the wolf!" gasped out the terrified girl. There indeed, upon the
summit of the block, in the attitude of a sentinel or watcher, stood the
gaunt-figured animal, and as she spoke, a long wild cry, the sound of which
seemed as if it came midway between the earth and the tops of the tall
pines on the lofty ridge above them, struck terror into their hearts, as
with speechless horror they gazed upon the dark outline of the terrible
beast. There it stood, with its head raised, its neck stretched outward,
and ears erect, as if to catch the echo that gave back those dismal sounds;
another minute and he was gone, and the crushing of branches and the rush
of many feet on the high bank above, was followed by the prolonged cry of
some poor fugitive animal,--a doe, or fawn, perhaps,--in the very climax
of mortal agony; and then the lonely recesses of the forest took up that
fearful death-cry, the far-off shores of the lake and the distant islands
prolonged it, and the terrified children clung together in fear and
A few minutes over, and all was still. The chase had turned across the
hills to some distant ravine; the wolves were all gone--not even the
watcher was left, and the little valley lay once more in silence, with all
its dewy roses and sweet blossoms glittering in the moonlight; but though
around them all was peace and loveliness, it was long ere confidence was
restored to the hearts of the panic-stricken and trembling children. They
beheld a savage enemy in every mass of leafy shade, and every rustling
bough struck fresh terrors into their excited minds. They might have
exclaimed with the patriarch Jacob, "How dreadful is this place!"
With hand clasped in hand, they sat them down among the thick covert of the
bushes, for now they feared to move forward, lest the wolves should return;
sleep was long a stranger to their watchful eyes, each fearing to be the
only one left awake, and long and painful was their vigil. Yet nature,
overtasked, at length gave way, and sleep came down upon their eyelids;
deep, unbroken sleep, which lasted till the broad sunlight breaking through
the leafy curtains of their forest-bed, and the sound of waving boughs and
twittering birds, once more wakened them to life and light; recalling them
from happy dreams of home and friends, to an aching sense of loneliness and
desolation. This day they did not wander far from the valley, but took the
precaution, as evening drew on, to light a large fire, the blaze of which
they thought would keep away any beast of prey. They had no want of food,
as the fish they had caught the day before proved an ample supply. The
huckle-berries were ripening too, and soon afforded them a never-failing
source of food; there were also an abundance of bilberries, the sweet rich
berries of which proved a great treat, besides being very nourishing.
"Oh for a lodge in the vast wilderness,
The boundless contiguity of shade!"
A fortnight had now passed, and Catharine still suffered so much from pain
and fever, that they were unable to continue their wanderings; all that
Hector and his cousin could do, was to carry her to the bower by the lake,
where she reclined whilst they caught fish. The painful longing to regain
their lost home had lost nothing of its intensity; and often would the poor
sufferer start from her bed of leaves and boughs, to wring her hands and
weep, and call in piteous tones upon that dear father and mother, who would
have given worlds had they been at their command, to have heard but one
accent of her beloved voice, to have felt one loving pressure from that
fevered hand. Hope, the consoler, hovered over the path of the young
wanderers, long after she had ceased to whisper comfort to the desolate
hearts of the mournful parents.
Of all that suffered by this sad calamity, no one was more to be pitied
than Louis Perron: deeply did the poor boy lament the thoughtless folly
which had involved his cousin Catharine in so terrible a misfortune. "If
Kate had not been with me," he would say, "we should not have been lost;
for Hector is so cautious and so careful, he would not have left the
cattle-path; but we were so heedless, we thought only of flowers and
insects, of birds, and such trifles, and paid no heed to our way." Louis
Perron, such is life. The young press gaily onward, gathering the flowers,
and following the gay butterflies that attract them in the form of pleasure
and amusement; they forget the grave counsels of the thoughtful, till they
find the path they have followed is beset with briers and thorns; and a
thousand painful difficulties that were unseen, unexpected, overwhelm and
bring them to a sad sense of their own folly; and perhaps the punishment of
their errors does not fall upon themselves alone, but upon the innocent,
who have unknowingly been made participators in their fault.
By the kindest and tenderest attention to all her comforts, Louis
endeavoured to alleviate his cousin's sufferings, and soften her regrets;
nay, he would often speak cheerfully and even gaily to her, when his own
heart was heavy, and his eyes ready to overflow with tears. "If it were
not for our dear parents and the dear children at home," he would say, "we
might spend our time most happily upon these charming plains; it is much
more delightful here than in the dark thick woods; see how brightly the
sunbeams come down and gladden the ground, and cover the earth with fruit
and flowers. It is pleasant to be able to fish and hunt, and trap the game.
Yes, if they were all here, we would build us a nice log-house, and clear
up these bushes on the flat near the lake. This 'Elfin Knowe,' as you call
it, Kate, would be a nice spot to build upon. See these glorious old oaks;
not one should be cut down, and we would have a boat and a canoe, and
voyage across to yonder islands. Would it not be charming, ma belle?" and
Catharine, smiling at the picture drawn so eloquently, would enter into the
spirit of the project, and say,--
"Ah! Louis, that would be pleasant."
"If we had but my father's rifle now," said Hector, "and old Wolfe."
"Yes, and Fanchette, dear little Fanchette, that trees the partridges and
black squirrels," said Louis.
"I saw a doe and a half-grown fawn beside her this very morning, at break
of day," said Hector. "The fawn was so little fearful, that if I had had a
stick in my hand, I could have killed it.--I came within ten yards of the
spot where it stood. I know it would be easy to catch one by making a
dead-fall." [A sort of trap in which game is taken in the woods, or on the
banks of creeks.]
"If we had but a dear fawn to frolic about us, like Mignon, dear innocent
Mignon," cried Catharine, "I should never feel lonely then."
"And we should never want for meat, if we could catch a fine fawn from time
to time, ma belle."
"Hec., what are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking, Louis, that If we were doomed to remain here all our
lives, we must build a house for ourselves; we could not live in the open
air without shelter as we have done. The summer will soon pass, and the
rainy season will come, and the bitter frosts and snows of winter will have
to be provided against."
"But, Hector, do you really think there is no chance of finding our way
back to Cold Springs? We know it must be behind this lake," said Louis.
"True, but whether east, west, or south, we cannot tell; and whichever way
we take now is but a chance, and if once we leave the lake and get involved
in the mazes of that dark forest, we should perish, for we know there is
neither water nor berries, nor game to be had as there is here, and we
might be soon starved to death. God was good who led us beside this fine
lake, and upon these fruitful plains."
"It is a good thing that I had my axe when we started from home," said
Hector. "We should not have been so well off without it; we shall find the
use of it if we have to build a house. We must look out for some spot where
there is a spring of good water, and--"
"No horrible wolves," interrupted Catharine: "though I love this pretty
ravine, and the banks and braes about us, I do not think I shall like to
stay here. I heard the wolves only last night, when you and Louis were
"We must not forget to keep watch-fires."
"What shall we do for clothes?" said Catharine, glancing at her home-spun
frock of wool and cotton plaid.
"A weighty consideration, indeed," sighed Hector; "clothes must be provided
before ours are worn out, and the winter comes on."
"We must save all the skins of the wood-chucks and squirrels," suggested
Louis; "and fawns when we catch them."
"Yes, and fawns when we get them," added Hector; "but it is time enough to
think of all these things; we must not give up all hope of home."
"I give up all hope? I shall hope on while I have life," said Catharine.
"My dear, dear father, he will never forget his lost children; he will try
and find us, alive or dead; he will never give up the search."
Poor child, how long did this hope burn like a living torch in thy
guileless breast. How often, as they roamed those hills and valleys, were
thine eyes sent into the gloomy recesses of the dark ravines and thick
bushes, with the hope that they would meet the advancing form and
outstretched arms of thy earthly parents: all in vain--yet the arms of thy
heavenly Father were extended over thee, to guide, to guard, and to sustain
How often were Catharine's hands filled with wild-flowers, to carry home,
as she fondly said, to sick Louise, or her mother. Poor Catharine, how
often did your bouquets fade; how often did the sad exile water them with
her tears,--for hers was the hope that keeps alive despair.
When they roused them in the morning to recommence their fruitless
wanderings, they would say to each other: "Perhaps we shall see our father,
he may find us here to-day;" but evening came, and still he came not, and
they were no nearer to their father's home than they had been the day
"If we could but find our way back to the 'Cold Creek,' we might, by
following its course, return to Cold Springs," said Hector.
"I doubt much the fact of the 'Cold Creek' having any connexion with our
Spring," said Louis; "I think it has its rise in the 'Beaver-meadow,' and
following its course would only entangle us among those wolfish balsam and
cedar swamps, or lead us yet further astray into the thick recesses of the
pine forest. For my part, I believe we are already fifty miles from Cold
It is one of the bewildering mistakes that all persons who lose their way
in the pathless woods fall into, they have no idea of distance, or the
points of the compass, unless they can see the sun rise and set, which is
not possible to do when surrounded by the dense growth of forest-trees;
they rather measure distance by the time they have been wandering, than by
any other token.
The children knew that they had been a long time absent from home,
wandering hither and thither, and they fancied their journey had been as
long as it had been weary. They had indeed the comfort of seeing the sun in
his course from east to west, but they knew not in what direction the home
they had lost lay; it was this that troubled them in their choice of the
course they should take each day, and at last determined them to lose no
more time so fruitlessly, where the peril was so great, but seek for some
pleasant spot where they might pass their time in safety, and provide for
their present and future wants.
"The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."
Catharine declared her ancle was so much stronger than it had been since
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