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

“Oh, come and hear what cruel wrongs Befel the Dark Ladye.” -- COLERIDGE.

THE Mohawk girl was in high spirits at the coming of the wild fowl to the lake; she would clap her hands and laugh with almost childish glee as she looked at them darkening the lake like clouds resting on its surface.

“If I had but my father’s gun, his good old gun, now!” would Hector say, as he eyed the timorous flocks as they rose and fell upon the lake; “but these foolish birds are so shy, that they are away before an arrow can reach them.”

Indiana smiled in her quiet way; she was busy filling the canoe with green boughs, which she arranged so as completely to transform the little vessel into the semblance of a floating island of evergreen; within this bower she motioned Hector to crouch down, leaving a small space for the free use of his bow, while concealed at the prow she gently and noiselessly paddled the canoe from the shore among the rice-beds, letting it remain stationary or merely rocking to and fro with the undulatory motion of the waters. The unsuspecting birds, deceived into full security, eagerly pursued their pastime or their prey, and it was no difficult matter for the hidden archer to hit many a black duck or teal or whistlewing, as it floated securely on the placid water, or rose to shift its place a few yards up or down the stream. Soon the lake around was strewed with the feathered game, which Wolfe, cheered on by Lewis, who was stationed on the shore, brought to land.

Indiana told Hector that this was the season when the Indians made great gatherings on the lake for duck-shooting, which they pursued much after the same fashion as that which has been described, only instead of one, a dozen or more canoes would be thus disguised with boughs, with others stationed at different parts of the lake, or under the shelter of the island, to collect the birds. This sport was generally finished by a great feast.

The Indians offered the first of the birds as an oblation to the Great Spirit, as a grateful acknowledgment of his bounty in having allowed them to gather food thus plentifully for their families; sometimes distant tribes with whom they were on terms of friendship were invited to share the sport and partake of the spoils. Indiana could not understand why Hector did not follow the custom of her Indian fathers, and offer the first duck or the best fish to propitiate the Great Spirit. Hector told her that the God he worshipped desired no sacrifice; that his holy Son, when he came down from heaven and gave himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, had satisfied his Father, the Great Spirit, an hundred-fold.

They feasted now continually upon the waterfowl, and Catharine learned from Indiana how to skin them, and so preserve the feathers for making tippets, and bonnets, and ornamental trimmings, which are not only warm, but light and very becoming. They split open any of the birds that they did not require for present consumption, and these they dried for winter store, smoking some after the manner that the Shetlanders and Orkney people smoke the solan geese: their shanty displayed an abundant store of provisions, fish, flesh, and fowl, besides baskets of wild rice, and bags of dried fruit.

One day Indiana came in from the brow of the hill, and told the boys that the lake eastward was covered with canoes; she showed, by holding up her two hands and then three fingers, that she had counted thirteen. The tribes had met for the annual duck-feast, and for the rice harvest. She advised them to put out the fire, so that no smoke might be seen to attract them; but said they would not leave the lake for hunting over the plains just then, as the camp was lower down on the point_ east of the mouth of a big river, which she called “Otonabee.”

Hector asked Indiana if she would go away and leave them, in the event of meeting with any of her own tribe. The girl cast her eyes on the earth in silence; a dark cloud seemed to gather over her face.

“If they should prove to be any of your father’s people, or a friendly tribe, would you go away with them?” he again repeated, to which she solemnly replied,

“Indiana has no father, no tribe, no people; no blood of her father’s warms the heart of any man, woman or child, saving myself alone; but Indiana is a brave, and the daughter of a brave, and will not shrink from danger: her heart is warm; red blood flows warm here,” and she laid her hand on her heart. Then lifting up her hand, she said with slow but impassioned tone, “They left not one drop of living blood to flow in any veins but these,” and her eyes were raised, and her arms stretched upwards towards heaven, as though calling down vengeance on the murderers of her father’s house.

“My father was a Mohawk, the son of a great chief, who owned these hunting-grounds far as your eye can see to the rising and setting sun, along the big waters of the big lakes; but the Ojebwas, a portion of the Chippewa nation, by treachery cut off my father’s people by hundreds in cold blood, when they were defenceless and at rest. It was a bloody day and a bloody deed.”

Instead of hiding herself, as Hector and Louis strongly advised the young Mohawk to do, she preferred remaining as a scout, she said, under the cover of the bushes on the edge of the steep that overlooked the lake, to watch their movements. She told Hector to be under no apprehension if the Indians came to the hut; not to attempt to conceal themselves, but offer them food to eat and water to drink. “If they come to the house and find you away, they will take your stores and burn your roof, suspecting that you are afraid to meet them openly; but they will not harm you if you meet them with open hand and fearless brow: if they eat of your bread, they will not harm you; me they would kill by a cruel death the war-knife is in their heart against the daughter of the brave.”

The boys thought Indiana’s advice good, and they felt no fear for themselves, only for Catharine, whom they counselled to remain in the shanty with Wolfe.

The Indians seemed intent only on the sport which they had come to enjoy, seeming in high glee, and as far as they could see quite peaceably disposed; every night they returned to the camp on the north side, and the boys could see their fires gleaming among the trees on the opposite shore, and now and then in the stillness of the evening their wild shouts of revelry would come faintly to their ears, borne by the breeze over the waters of the lake.

The allusion that Indiana had made to her own history, though conveyed in broken and hardly intelligible language, had awakened feelings of deep interest for her in the breasts of her faithful friends. Many months after this she related to her wondering auditors the fearful story of the massacre of her kindred, and which I may as well relate, as I have raised the curiosity of my youthful readers, though to do so I must render it in my own language, as the broken half-formed sentences in which its facts were conveyed to the ears of my Canadian Crusoes would be unintelligible to my young friends.

There had been for some time a jealous feeling existing between the chiefs of two principal tribes of the Ojebwas and the Mohawks, which like a smothered fire had burnt in the heart of each, without having burst into a decided blaze for each strove to compass his ends and obtain the advantage over the other by covert means. The tribe of the Mohawks of which I now speak, claimed the southern shores of the Rice Lake for their hunting grounds, and certain islands and parts of the lake for fishing, while that of the Ojebwas considered themselves masters of the northern shores and certain rights of water beside. Possibly it was about these rights that the quarrel originated, but if so, it was not openly avowed between the “Black Snake,” (that was the totem borne by the Mohawk chief,) and the “Bald Eagle” (the totem of the Ojebwa).

These chiefs had each a son, and the Bald Eagle had also a daughter of great and rare beauty, called by her people, “The Beam of the Morning;” she was the admiration of Mohawks as well as Ojebwas, and many of the young men of both the tribes had sought her hand, but hitherto in vain. Among her numerous suitors, the son of the Black Snake seemed to be the most enamoured of her beauty; and it was probably with some intention of winning the favour of the young Ojebwa squaw for his son, that the Black Snake accepted the formal invitation of the Bald Eagle to come to his hunting grounds during the rice harvest, and shoot deer and ducks on the lake, and to ratify a truce which had been for some time set on foot between them; but while outwardly professing friendship and a desire for peace, inwardly the fire of hatred burned fiercely in the breast of the Black Snake against the Ojebwa chief and his only son, a young man of great promise, renowned among his tribe as a great hunter and warrior, but who had once offended the Mohawk chief by declining a matrimonial alliance with one of the daughters of a chief of inferior rank, who was closely connected to him by marriage. This affront rankled in the heart of the Black Snake, though outwardly he affected to have forgiven and forgotten the slight that had been put upon his relative. The hunting had been carried on for some days very amicably, when one day the Bald Eagle was requested, with all due attention to Indian etiquette, to go to the wigwam of the Black Snake. On entering the lodge, he perceived the Mohawk strangely disordered; he rose from his mat, on which he had been sleeping, with a countenance fearfully distorted, his eyes glaring hideously, his whole frame convulsed, and writhing as in fearful bodily anguish, and casting himself upon the ground, he rolled and grovelled on the earth, uttering frightful yells and groans.

The Bald Eagle was moved at the distressing state in which he found his guest, and asked the cause of his disorder, but this the other refused to tell. After some hours the fit appeared to subside, but the chief remained moody and silent. The following day the same scene was repeated, and on the third, when the fit seemed to have increased in bodily agony, with great apparent reluctance, wrung seemingly from him by the importunity of his host, he consented to reveal the cause, which was, that the Bad Spirit had told him that these bodily tortures could not cease till the only son of his friend, the Ojebwa chief, had been sacrificed to appease his anger neither could peace long continue between the two nations until this deed had been done; and not only must the chief’s son be slain, but he must be pierced by his own father’s hand, and his flesh served up at a feast at which the father must preside. The Black Snake affected the utmost horror and aversion at so bloody and unnatural a deed being committed to save his life and the happiness of his tribe, but the peace was to be ratified for ever if the sacrifice was made, if not, war to the knife was to be ever between the Mohawks and Ojebwas.

The Bald Eagle seeing that his treacherous guest would make this an occasion of renewing a deadly warfare, for which possibly he was not at the time well prepared, assumed a stoical calmness, and replied,

“Be it so; great is the power of the Bad Spirit to cause evil to the tribes of the chiefs that rebel against his will. My son shall be sacrificed by my hand, that the evil one may be appeased, and that the Black Snake’s body may have ease, and his people rest beside the fires of their lodges in peace.”

“The Bald Eagle has spoken like a chief with a large heart,” was the specious response of the wily Mohawk; “moreover, the Good Spirit also appeared, and said, ’Let the Black Snake’s son and the Bald Eagle’s daughter become man and wife, that peace may be found to dwell among the lodges, and the war-hatchet be buried for ever.’”

“The Beam of the Morning shall become the wife of the Young Pine,” was the courteous answer; but stern revenge lay deep hidden beneath the unmoved brow and passionless lip.

The fatal day arrived; the Bald Eagle, with unflinching hand and eye that dropped no human tear of sorrow for the son of his love, plunged the weapon into his heart with Spartan-like firmness. The fearful feast of human flesh was prepared, and that old chief, pale but unmoved, presided over the ceremonies. The war-dance was danced round the sacrifice, and all went off well, as if no such fearful rite had been enacted: but a fearful retribution was at hand. The Young Pine sought the tent of the Bald Eagle’s daughter that evening, and was received with all due deference, as a son of so great a chief as the Black Snake merited; he was regarded now as a successful suitor, and intoxicated with the beauty of the Beam of the Morning, pressed her to allow the marriage to take place in a few days. The bride consented, and a day was named for the wedding feast to be celebrated, and that due honour might be given to so great an event, invitations were sent out to the principal families of the Mohawk tribe, and these amounted to several hundreds of souls, while the young Ojebwa hunters were despatched up the river and to different parts of the country, avowedly to collect venison, beaver, and other delicacies to regale their guests, but in reality to summon by means of trusty scouts a large war party from the small lakes, to be in readiness to take part in the deadly revenge that was preparing for their enemies.

Meantime the squaws pitched the nuptial tent, and prepared the bridal ornaments. A large wigwam capable of containing all the expected guests was then constructed, adorned with the thick branches of evergreens so artfully contrived as to be capable of concealing the armed Ojebwas and their allies, who in due time were introduced beneath this leafy screen, armed with the murderous tomahawk and scalping-knife with which to spring upon their defenceless and unsuspecting guests. According to the etiquette always observed upon such occasions, all deadly weapons were left outside the tent. The bridegroom had been conducted with songs and dancing to the tent of the bride. The guests, to the number of several hundred naked and painted warriors were assembled. The feast was declared to be ready; a great iron pot or kettle occupied the centre of the tent. According to the custom of the Indians, the father of the bridegroom was invited to lift the most important dish from the pot, whilst the warriors commenced their wardance around him. This dish was usually a bear’s head, which was fastened to a string left for the purpose of raising it from the pot.

“Let the Black Snake, the great chief of the Mohawks, draw up the head and set it on the table, that his people may eat and make merry, and that his wise heart may be glad;” were the scornful words of the Bald Eagle.

A yell of horror burst from the lips of the horror-stricken father, as he lifted to view the fresh and gory head of his only son, the happy bridegroom of the lovely daughter of the Ojebwa chief.

“Ha!” shouted the Bald Eagle, “is the great chief of the Mohawks a squaw, that his blood grows white and his heart trembles at the sight of his son, the bridegroom of the Beam of the Morning? The Bald Eagle gave neither sigh nor groan when he plunged the knife into the heart of his child. Come, brother, take the knife; taste the flesh and drink the blood of thy son: the Bald Eagle shrank not when you bade him partake of the feast that was prepared from his young warrior’s body.” The wretched father dashed himself upon the earth, while his cries and howlings rent the air; those cries were answered by the war-whoop of the ambushed Ojebwas, as they sprang to their feet, and with deafening yells attacked the guests, who, panic-stricken, naked and defenceless, fell an easy prey to their infuriated enemies. Not one living foe escaped to tell the tale of that fearful marriage feast. A second Judith had the Indian girl proved. It was her plighted hand that had severed the head of her unsuspecting bridegroom to complete the fearful vengeance that had been devised in return for the merciless and horrible murder of her brother.

Nor was the sacrifice yet finished, for with fearful cries the Indians seized upon the canoes of their enemies, and with the utmost speed, urged by unsatisfied revenge, hurried down the lake to an island where the women and children and such of the aged or young men as were not included among the wedding guests, were encamped in unsuspecting security. Panic-stricken, the Mohawks offered no resistance, but fell like sheep appointed for the slaughter: the Ojebwas slew there the grey-head with the infant of days. But while the youths and old men tamely yielded to their enemies, there was one, whose spirit roused to fury by the murder of her father, armed herself with the war club and knife, and boldly withstood the successful warriors. At the door of the tent of the slaughtered chief the Amazon defended her children: while the war lightning kindled in her dark eye, she called aloud in scornful tones to her people to hide themselves in the tents of their women, who alone were braves, and would fight their battles. Fiercely she taunted the men, but they shrank from the unequal contest, and she alone was found to deal the death-blow upon the foe, till overpowered with numbers, and pierced with frightful wounds, she fell singing her own death-song and raising the wail for the dead who lay around her. Night closed in, but the work of blood still continued, till not a victim was found, and again they went forth on their exterminating work. Lower down they found another encampment, and there also they slew all the inhabitants of the lodges; they then returned back to the island, to gather together their dead and collect the spoils of their tents. They were weary with the fatigue of the slaughter of that fearful day; they were tired of blood-shedding; the retribution had satisfied even their love of blood: and when they found, on returning to the spot where the heroine had stood at bay, one young solitary female sitting beside the corpse of that dauntless woman, her mother, they led her away, and did all that their savage nature could suggest to soften her anguish and dry her tears. They brought her to the tents of their women, and clothed and fed her, and bade her be comforted; but her young heart burned within her, and she refused consolation. She could not forget the wrongs of her people: she was the only living creature left of the Mohawks on that island. The young girl was Indiana, the same whom Hector Maxwell had found, wounded and bound, to perish with hunger and thirst on Bare-hill.

Brooding with revenge in her heart, the young girl told them that she had stolen unperceived into the tent of the Bald Eagle, and aimed a knife at his throat, but the fatal blow was arrested by one of the young men, who had watched her enter the old chiefs tent. A council was called, and she was taken to Bare-hill, bound, and left in the sad state already described.

It was with feelings of horror and terror that the Christian children listened to this fearful tale, and Indiana read in their averted eyes and pale faces the feelings with which the recital of the tale of blood had inspired them. And then it was that as they sat beneath the shade of the trees, in the soft misty light of an Indian summer moon, that Catharine, with simple earnestness, taught her young disciple those heavenly lessons of mercy and forgiveness which her Redeemer had set forth by his life, his doctrines, and his death.

And she told her, that if she would see that Saviour’s face in Heaven, and dwell with him in joy and peace for ever, she must learn to pray for those dreadful men who had made her fatherless and motherless, and her home a desolation; that the fire of revenge must be quenched within her heart, and the spirit of love alone find place within it, or she could not become the child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of Heaven. How hard were these conditions to the young heathen, how contrary to her nature, to all that she had been taught in the tents of her fathers, where revenge was virtue, and to take the scalp of an enemy a glorious thing!

Yet when she contrasted the gentle, kind, and dovelike characters of her Christian friends, with the fierce bloody people of her tribe and of her Ojebwa enemies, she could not but own they were more worthy of love and admiration: had they not found her a poor miserable trembling captive, unbound her, fed and cherished her, pouring the balm of consolation into her wounded heart, and leading her in bands of tenderest love to forsake those wild and fearful passions that warred in her soul, and bringing her to the feet of the Saviour, to become his meek and holy child, a lamb of his extended fold?"