Read CHAPTER V of Canadian Crusoes A Tale of The Rice Lake Plains, free online book, by Catherine Parr Traill, on

The soul of the wicked desireth evil; his neighbour findeth no favour in his eyes. -- Proverbs.

FOR several days, they abstained from lighting a fire, lest the smoke should be seen; but this, the great height of the bank would have effectually prevented. They suffered much cold at night from the copious dews, which, even on sultry summer’s evenings, is productive of much chilling. They could not account for the fact that the air, at night, was much warmer on the high hills than in the low valleys; they were even sensible of a rush of heat as they ascended to the higher ground. These simple children had not been taught that it is the nature of the heated air to ascend, and its place to be supplied by the colder and denser particles. They noticed the effects, but understood nothing of the causes that ruled them.

The following days they procured several partridges, but feared to cook them; however, they plucked them, split them open, and dried the flesh for a future day. A fox or racoon attracted by the smell of the birds, came one night, and carried them off, for in the morning they were gone. They saw several herd of deer crossing the plain, and one day Wolfe tracked a wounded doe to a covert under the poplars, near a hidden spring, where she had lain herself down to die in peace, far from the haunts of her fellows. The arrow was in her throat; it was of white flint, and had evidently been sent from an Indian bow. It was almost with fear and trembling that they availed themselves of the venison thus providentially thrown in their way, lest the Indians should track the blood of the doe, and take vengeance on them for appropriating it for their own use. Not having seen anything of the Indians, who seemed to confine themselves to the neighbourhood of the lake, after many days had passed, they began to take courage, and even lighted an evening fire, at which they cooked as much venison as would last them for several days, and hung the remaining portions above the smoke to preserve it from injury.

One morning, Hector proclaimed his intention of ascending the hills, in the direction of the Indian camp. “I am tired of remaining shut up in this dull place, where we can see nothing but this dead flat, bounded by those melancholy pines in the distance that seem to shut us in.” Little did Hector know that beyond that dark ridge of pine hills lay the home of their childhood, and but a few miles of forest intervened to hide it from their sight. Had he known it how eagerly would his feet have pressed onward in the direction of that dark barrier of evergreens!

Thus is it often in this life: we wander on, sad and perplexed, our path beset with thorns and briars. We cannot see our way clear; doubts and apprehensions assail us. We know not how near we are to the fulfilment of our wishes: we see only the insurmountable barriers, the dark thickets and thorns of our way; and we know not how near we are to our Father’s home, where he is waiting to welcome the wanderers of the flock back to the everlasting home, the fold of the Good Shepherd.

Hector became impatient of the restraint that the dread of the Indians imposed upon his movements; he wanted to see the lake again and to roam abroad free and uncontrolled.

“After all,” said he; “we never met with any ill treatment from the Indians that used to visit us at Cold Springs; we may even find old friends and acquaintances among them.”

The thing is possible, but not very likely, replied Louis. Nevertheless, Hector, I would not willingly put myself in their power. The Indian has his own notion of things, and might think himself quite justified in killing us, if he found us on his hunting-grounds._ I have heard my father say, and he knows a great deal about these people, that their chiefs are very strict in punishing any strangers that they find killing game on their bounds uninvited. They are both merciless and treacherous when angered, and we could not even speak to them in their own language, to explain by what chance we came here.”

This was very prudent of Louis, uncommonly so, for one who was naturally rash and headstrong, but unfortunately Hector was inflexible and wilful: when once he had made up his mind upon any point, he had too good an opinion of his own judgment to give it up. At last, he declared his intention, rather than remain a slave to such cowardly fears as he now deemed them, to go forth boldly, and endeavour to ascertain what the Indians were about, how many there were of them, and what real danger was to be apprehended from facing them.

“Depend upon it,” he added, “cowards are never safer than brave men. The Indians despise cowards, and would be more likely to kill us if they found us cowering here in this hole like a parcel of wolf-cubs, than if we openly faced them and showed that we neither feared them, nor cared for them.”

“Hector, dear Hector, be not so rash!” cried his sister, passionately weeping. “Ah! if we were to lose you, what would become of us?”

“Never fear, Kate; I will run into no needless danger. I know how to take care of myself. I am of opinion, that the Indian camp is broken up; they seldom stay long in one place. I will go over the hills and examine the camp at a distance and the lake shore. You and Louis may keep watch for my return from the big pine that we halted under on our way hither.”

“But, Hector, if the savages should see you and take you prisoner,” said Catharine, “what would you do?” “I will tell you what I would do. Instead of running away, I would boldly walk up to them, and by signs make them understand that I am no scout, but a friend in need of nothing but kindness and friendship. I never yet heard of the Indian that would tomahawk the defenceless stranger that sought his camp openly in peace and goodwill.”

“If you do not return by sunset, Hector, we shall believe that you have fallen into the hands of the savages,” said Catharine, mournfully regarding her brother.

“If it were not for Catharine,” said Louis, “you should not go alone, but, if evil befel this helpless one, her blood would be upon my head, who led her out with us, tempting her with false words.”

“Never mind that now, dearest cousin,” said Catharine, tenderly laying her hand on his arm. “It is much better that we should have been all three together; I should never have been happy again if I had lost both Hec and you. It is better as it is; you and Hec would not have been so well off if I had not been with you to help you, and keep up your spirits by my songs and stories.”

“It is true, ma chère; but that is the reason that I am bound to take care of my little cousin, and I could not consent to exposing you to danger, or leaving you alone; so, if Hec will be so headstrong, I will abide by you.”

Hector was so confident that he should return in safety, that at last Louis and Catharine became more reconciled to his leaving them, and soon busied themselves in preparing some squirrels that Louis had brought in that morning.

The day wore away slowly, and many were the anxious glances that Catharine cast over the crest of the high bank to watch for her brother’s return; at last, unable to endure the suspense, she with Louis left the shelter of the valley; they ascended the high ground, and bent their steps to the trysting tree, which commanded all the country within a wide sweep.

A painful and oppressive sense of loneliness? and desolation came over the minds of the cousins as they sat together at the foot of the pine, which cast its lengthened shadow upon the ground before them. The shades of evening were shrouding them, wrapping the lonely forest in gloom. The full moon had not yet risen, and they watched for the first gleam that should break above the eastern hills to cheer them, as for the coming of a friend.

Sadly these two poor lonely ones sat hand in hand, talking of the happy days of childhood, or the perplexing present and the uncertain future. At last, wearied out with watching and anxiety, Catharine leaned her head upon the neck of old Wolfe and fell asleep, while Louis restlessly paced to and fro in front of the sleeper; now straining his eye to penetrate the surrounding gloom, now straining his ear to catch the first sound that might indicate the approach of his absent cousin.

It was almost with a feeling of irritability that he heard the quick sharp note of the “Whip-poor-will,” as she flew from bough to bough of an old withered tree beside him. Another, and again another of these midnight watchers took up the monotonous never-varying cry of “Whip-poor-will, Whip-poor-will;” and then came forth, from many a hollow oak and birch, the spectral night-hawk from hidden dens, where it had lain hushed in silence all day, from dawn till sunset. Sometimes their sharp hard wings almost swept his cheek as they wheeled round and round in circles, first narrow, then wide, and wider extending, till at last they soared far above the tallest tree-tops and launching out in the high regions of the air, uttered from time to time a wild shrill scream, or hollow booming sound, as they suddenly descended to pounce with wide-extended throat upon some hapless moth or insect, that sported all unheeding in mid air, happily unconscious of the approach of so unerring a foe.

Petulantly Louis chid these discordant minstrels of the night, and joyfully he hailed the first gush of moonlight that rose broad and full and red, over the Oak-hills to the eastward.

Louis envied the condition of the unconscious sleeper, who lay in happy forgetfulness of all her sorrows, her fair curls spread in unbound luxuriance over the dark shaggy neck of the faithful Wolfe, who seemed as if proud of the beloved burden that rested so trustingly upon him. Sometimes the careful dog just unclosed his large eyes, raised his nose from his shaggy paws, snuffed the night air, growled in a sort of under tone, and dosed again, but watchfully.

It would be no easy task to tell the painful feelings that agitated young Louis’s breast. He was angry with Hector, for having thus madly, as he thought, rushed into danger. “It was wilful and almost cruel,” he thought “to leave them the prey of such tormenting fears on his account;” and then the most painful fears for the safety of his beloved companion took the place of less kindly thoughts, and sorrow filled his heart. The broad moon now flooded the hills and vales with light, casting broad checkering shadows of the old oaks’ grey branches and now reddened foliage across the ground.

Suddenly the old dog raises his head, and utters a short half angry note: slowly and carefully he rises, disengaging himself gently from the form of the sleeping girl, and stands forth in the full light of the moon. It is an open cleared space, that mound beneath the pine-tree; a few low shrubs and seedling pines, with the slender waving branches of the late-flowering pearly tinted asters, the elegant fringed gentian, with open bells of azure blue, the last and loveliest of the fall flowers and winter-greens, brighten the ground with wreaths of shining leaves and red berries.

Louis is on the alert, though as yet he sees nothing. It is not a full free note of welcome, that Wolfe gives; there is something uneasy and half angry in his tone. Yet it is not fierce, like the bark of angry defiance he gives, when wolf, or bear, or wolverine is near.

Louis steps forward from the shadow of the pine branches, to the edge of the inclined plane in the foreground. The slow tread of approaching steps is now distinctly heard advancing it may be a deer. Two figures approach, and Louis moves a little, within the shadow again. A clear shrill whistle meets his ear. It is Hector’s whistle, he knows that, and assured by its cheerful tone, he springs forward and in an instant is at his side, but starts at the strange, companion that he half leads, half carries. The moonlight streams broad and bright upon the shrinking figure of an Indian girl, apparently about the same age as Catharine: her ashy face is concealed by the long masses of raven black hair, which falls like a dark veil over her features; her step is weak and unsteady, and she seems ready to sink to the earth with sickness or fatigue. Hector, too, seems weary. The first words that’ Hector said were, “Help me, Louis, to lead this poor girl to the foot of the pine; I am so tired I can hardly walk another step.”

Louis and his cousin together carried the Indian girl to the foot of the pine. Catharine was just rousing herself from sleep, and she gazed with a bewildered air on the strange companion that Hector had brought with him. The stranger lay down, and in a few minutes sank into a sleep so profound it seemed to resemble that of death itself. Pity and deep interest soon took the place of curiosity and dread in the heart of the gentle Catharine, and she watched the young stranger’s slumber as tenderly as though she had been a sister, or beloved friend, while Hector proceeded to relate in what manner he had encountered the Indian girl.

“When I struck the high slope near the little birch grove we called the ’birken shaw,’ I paused to examine if the council-fires were still burning on Bare-hill, but there was no smoke visible, neither was there a canoe to be seen at the lake shore where Louis had described their landing-place at the mouth of the creek. All seemed as silent and still as if no human footstep had trodden the shore. I sat down and watched for nearly an hour till my attention was attracted by a noble eagle, which was sailing in wide circles over the tall pine-trees on Bare-hill. Assured that the Indian camp was broken up, and feeling some curiosity to examine the spot more closely, I crossed the thicket of cranberries and cedars and small underwood that fringed the borders of the little stream, and found myself, after a little pushing and scrambling, among the bushes at the foot of the hill.

“I thought it not impossible I might find something to repay me for my trouble flint arrow-heads, a knife, or a tomahawk but I little thought of what these cruel savages had left there, a miserable wounded captive, bound by the long locks of her hair to the stem of a small tree, her hands, tied by thongs of hide to branches which they had bent down to fasten them to her feet, bound fast to the same tree as that against which her head was fastened; her position was one that must have been most painful: she had evidently been thus left to perish by a miserable death, of hunger and thirst; for these savages, with a fiendish cruelty, had placed within sight of their victim an earthen jar of water, some dried deers’ flesh, and a cob of Indian corn. I have the corn here,” he added, putting his hand in his breast, and displaying it to view.

“Wounded she was, for I drew this arrow from her shoulder,” and he showed the flint head as he spoke, “and fettered; with food and drink in sight, the poor girl was to perish, perhaps to become a living prey to the wolf, and the eagle that I saw wheeling above the hill top. The poor thing’s lips were black and parched with pain and thirst; she turned her eyes piteously from my face to the water jar as if to implore a draught. This I gave her, and then having cooled the festering wound, and cut the thongs that bound her, I wondered that she still kept the same immoveable attitude, and thinking she was stiff and cramped with remaining so long bound in one position, I took her two hands and tried to induce her to move. I then for the first time noticed that she was tied by the hair of her head to the tree against which her back was placed; I was obliged to cut the hair with my knife, and this I did not do without giving her pain, as she moaned impatiently. She sunk her head on her breast, and large tears fell over my hands, as I bathed her face and neck with the water from the jar; she then seated herself on the ground, and remained silent and still for the space of an hour, nor could I prevail upon her to speak, or quit the seat she had taken. Fearing that the Indians might return, I watched in all directions, and at last I began to think it would be best to carry her in my arms; but this I found no easy task, for she seemed greatly distressed at any attempt I made to lift her, and by her gestures I fancy she thought I was going to kill her. At last my patience began to be exhausted, but I did not like to annoy her. I spoke to her as gently and soothingly as I could. By degrees she seemed to listen with more composure to me, though she evidently knew not a word of what I said to her. She rose at last, and taking my hands, placed them above her head, stooping low as she did so, and this seemed to mean, she was willing at last to submit to my wishes; I lifted her from the ground, and carried her for some little way, but she was too heavy for me, she then suffered me to lead her along whithersoever I would take her, but her steps were so slow and feeble, through weakness, that many times I was compelled to rest while she recovered herself. She seems quite subdued now, and as quiet as a lamb.”

Catharine listened, not without tears of genuine sympathy, to the recital of her brother’s adventures. She seemed to think he had been inspired by God to go forth that day to the Indian camp, to rescue the poor forlorn one from so dreadful a death.

Louis’s sympathy was also warmly aroused for the young savage, and he commended Hector for his bravery and humanity.

He then set to work to light a good fire, which was a great addition to their comfort as well as cheerfulness. They did not go back to their cave beneath the upturned trees, to sleep, preferring lying, with their feet to the fire, under the shade of the pine. Louis, however, was despatched for water and venison for supper.

The following morning, by break of day, they collected their stores, and conveyed them back to the shanty. The boys were thus employed, while Catharine watched beside the wounded Indian girl, whom she tended with the greatest care. She bathed the inflamed arm with water, and bound the cool healing leaves of the tacamahac about it with the last fragment of her apron, she steeped dried berries in water, and gave the cooling drink to quench the fever-thirst that burned in her veins, and glittered in her full soft melancholy dark eyes, which were raised at intervals to the face of her youthful nurse, with a timid hurried glance, as if she longed, yet feared to say, “Who are you that thus tenderly bathe my aching head, and strive to soothe my wounded limbs, and cool my fevered blood? Are you a creature like myself, or a being sent by the Great Spirit, from the far-off happy land to which my fathers have gone, to smooth my path of pain, and lead me to those blessed fields of sunbeams and flowers where the cruelty of the enemies of my people will no more have power to torment me?”