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

“The horn of the hunter is heard on the hill” -- Irish Song.

WHILE the Indians were actively pursuing their sports on the lake, shooting wild fowl, and hunting and fishing by torch-light, so exciting was the amusement of watching them, that the two lads, Hector and Louis, quite forgot all sense of danger, in the enjoyment of lying or sitting on the brow of the mount near the great ravine, and looking at their proceedings. Once or twice the lads were near betraying themselves to the Indians, by raising a shout of delight, at some skilful manoeuvre that excited their unqualified admiration and applause.

At night, when the canoes had all retired to the camp on the north shore, and all fear of detection had ceased for the time, they lighted up their shanty fire, and cooked a good supper, and also prepared sufficiency of food for the following day. The Indians remained for a fortnight; at the end of that time Indiana, who was a watchful spy on their movements, told Hector and Louis that the camp was broken up, and that the Indians had gone up the river, and would not return again for some weeks. The departure of the Indians was a matter of great rejoicing to Catharine, whose dread of these savages had greatly increased since she had been made acquainted with the fearful deeds which Indiana had described; and what reliance could she feel in people who regarded deeds of blood and vengeance as acts of virtuous heroism?

Once, and only once during their stay, the Indians had passed within a short distance of their dwelling; but they were in full chase of a bear, which had been seen crossing the deep ravine near Mount Ararat, and they had been too intent upon their game to notice the shanty, or had taken it for the shelter of some trapper if it had been seen, for they never turned out of their path, and Catharine, who was alone at the time, drawing water from the spring, was so completely concealed by the high bank above her, that she had quite escaped their notice. Fortunately, Indiana gave the two boys a signal to conceal themselves when she saw them enter the ravine; and effectually hidden among the thick grey mossy trunks of the cedars at the lake shore, they remained secure from molestation, while the Indian girl dropped noiselessly down among the tangled thicket of wild vines and brushwood, which she drew cautiously over her, and closed her eyes, lest, as she naively remarked, their glitter should be seen and betray her to her enemies.

It was a moment of intense anxiety to our poor wanderers, whose terrors were more excited on behalf of the young Mohawk than for themselves, and they congratulated her on her escape with affectionate warmth.

“Are my white brothers afraid to die?” was the young squaw’s half-scornful reply. “Indiana is the daughter of a brave; she fears not to die?”

The latter end of September, and the first week in October, had been stormy and even cold. The rainy season, however, was now over; the nights were often illuminated by the Aurora borealis, which might be seen forming an arch of soft and lovely brightness over the lake, to the north and north-eastern portions of the horizon, or shooting upwards, in ever-varying shafts of greenish light, now hiding, now revealing the stars, which shone with softened radiance through the silvery veil that dimmed their beauty. Sometimes for many nights together the same appearance might be seen, and was usually the forerunner of frosty weather, though occasionally it was the precursor of cold winds, and heavy rains.

The Indian girl regarded it with superstitious feelings, but whether as an omen for good or ill, she would not tell. On all matters connected with her religions notions she was shy and reserved, though occasionally she unconsciously revealed them. Thus the warnings of death or misfortunes were revealed to her by certain ominous sounds in the woods, the appearance of strange birds or animals, or the meanings of others. The screeching of the owl, the bleating of the doe, or barking of the fox, were evil auguries, while the flight of the eagle and the croaking of the raven were omens of good. She put faith in dreams, and would foretel good or evil fortune from them; she could read the morning and evening clouds, and knew from various appearances of the sky, or the coming or departing of certain birds or insects, changes in the atmosphere. Her ear was quick in distinguishing the changes in the voices of the birds or animals; she knew the times of their coming and going, and her eye was quick to see as her ear to detect sounds. Her voice was soft, and low, and plaintive, and she delighted in imitating the little ballads or hymns that Catharine sung; though she knew nothing of their meaning, she would catch the tunes, and sing the song with Catharine, touching the hearts of her delighted auditors by the melody and pathos of her voice.

The season called Indian summer had now arrived: the air was soft and mild, almost oppressively warm; the sun looked red as though seen through the smoke clouds of a populous city. A soft blue haze hung on the bosom of the glassy lake, which reflected on its waveless surface every passing shadow, and the gorgeous tints of its changing woods on shore and island. Sometimes the stillness of the air was relieved by a soft sighing wind, which rustled the dying foliage as it swept by.

The Indian summer is the harvest of the Indian tribes. It is during this season that they hunt and shoot the wild fowl that come in their annual flights to visit the waters of the American lakes and rivers; it is then that they gather in their rice, and prepare their winter stores of meat, and fish, and furs. The Indian girl knew the season they would resort to certain hunting grounds. They were constant, and altered not their customs; as it was with their fathers, so it was with them.

Louis had heard so much of the Otonabee river from Indiana, that he was impatient to go and explore the entrance, and the shores of the lake on that side, which hitherto they had not ventured to do for fear of being surprised by the Indians. “Some fine day,” said Louis, “we will go out in the canoe, explore the distant islands, and go up the river a little way.”

Hector advised visiting all the islands by turns, beginning at the little islet which looks in the distance like a boat in full sail; it is level with the water, and has only three or four trees upon it. The name they had given to it was “Ship Island.” The Indians have some name for it which I have forgotten; but it means, I have been told, “Witch Island.” Hector’s plan met with general approbation, and they resolved to take provisions with them for several days, and visit the islands and go up the river, passing the night under the shelter of the thick trees on the shore wherever they found a pleasant halting-place.

The weather was mild and warm, the lake was as clear and calm as a mirror, and in joyous mood our little party embarked and paddled up the lake, first to Ship Island, but this did not detain them many minutes; they then went to Grape Island, which they so named from the abundance of wild vines, now rich with purple clusters of the ripe grapes, tart, but still not to be despised by our young adventurers; and they brought away a large birch basket heaped up with the fruit. “Ah, if we had but a good cake of maple sugar, now, to preserve our grapes with, and make such grape jelly as my mother makes!” said Louis.

“If we find out a sugar-bush we will manage to make plenty of sugar,” said Catharine; “there are maples not two hundred yards from the shanty, near the side of the steep bank to the east. You remember the pleasant spot which we named the Happy Valley, where the bright creek runs, dancing along so merrily, below the pine-ridge?”

“Oh, yes, the same that winds along near the foot of Bare-hill, where the water-cresses grow.”

“Yes, where I gathered the milk-weed the other day.”

“What a beautiful pasture-field that will make, when it is cleared!” said Hector, thoughtfully.

“Hector is always planning about fields, and clearing great farms,” said Louis, laughing. “We shall see Hec a great man one of these days; I think he has in his own mind brushed, and burned, and logged up all the fine flats and table-land on the plains before now, ay, and cropped it all with wheat, and peas, and Indian corn.”

“We will have a clearing and a nice field of corn next year, if we live,” replied Hector; “that corn that we found in the canoe will be a treasure.”

“Yes, and the corn-cob you got on Bare-hill,” said Catherine. “How lucky we have been! We shall be so happy when we see our little field of corn flourishing round the shanty! It was a good thing, Hec, that you went to the Indian camp that day, though both Louis and I were very miserable while you were absent; but you see, God must have directed you, that the life of this poor girl might be saved, to be a comfort to us. Everything has prospered well with us since she came to us. Perhaps it is because we try to make a Christian of her, and so God blesses all our endeavours.”

“We are told,” said Hector, “that there is joy with the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth; doubtless, it is a joyful thing when the heathen that knew not the name of God are taught to glorify his holy name.”

Indiana, while exploring, had captured a porcupine; she declared that she should have plenty of quills for edging baskets and mocassins; beside, she said, the meat was white and good to eat. Hector looked with a suspicious eye upon the little animal, doubting the propriety of eating its flesh, though he had learned to eat musk rats, and consider them good meat, baked in Louis’s Indian oven, or roasted on a forked stick, before the fire. The Indian porcupine is a small animal, not a very great deal larger than the common British hedgehog; the quills, however, are longer and stronger, and varied with alternate clouded marks of pure white and dark brownish grey; they are minutely barbed, so that if one enters the flesh it is with difficulty extracted, but will work through of itself in an opposite direction, and can then be easily pulled out. Dogs and cattle often suffer great inconvenience from getting their muzzles filled with the quills of the porcupine, the former when worrying the poor little animal, and the latter by accidentally meeting a dead one among the herbage; great inflammation will sometimes attend the extraction. Indians often lose valuable hounds from this cause. Beside porcupines, Indiana told her companions, there were some fine butter-nut trees on the island, and they could collect a bag full in a very short time. This was good news, for the butter-nut is sweet and pleasant, almost equal to the walnut, of which it is a species. The day was passed pleasantly enough in collecting nuts and grapes; but as this island did not afford any good cleared spot for passing the night, and, moreover, was tenanted by black snakes, several of which made their appearance among the stones near the edge of the water, they agreed by common council to go to Long Island, where Indiana said there was an old log-house, the walls of which were still standing, and where there was dry moss in plenty, which would make them a comfortable bed for the night. This old log-house she said had been built, she heard the Indians say, by a French Canadian trapper, who used to visit the lake some years ago; he was on friendly terms with the chiefs, who allowed him many privileges, and he bought their furs, and took them down the lake, through the river Trent, to some station-house on the great lake. They found they should have time enough to land and deposit their nuts and grapes and paddle to Long Island before sunset. Upon the western part of this fine island they had several times landed and passed some hours, exploring its shores; but Indiana told them, to reach the old log-house they must enter the low swampy bay to the east, at an opening which she called Indian Cove. To do this required some skill in the management of the canoe, which was rather over-loaded for so light a vessel; and the trees grew so close and thick that they had some difficulty in pushing their way through them without injuring its frail sides. These trees or bushes were chiefly black elder, high-bush cranberries, dogwood, willows, and, as they proceeded further, and there was ground of a more solid nature, cedar, poplar, swamp oak, and soft maple, with silver birch and wild cherries. Long strings of silvery-grey tree-moss hung dangling over their heads, the bark and roots of the birch and cedars were covered with a luxuriant growth of green moss, but there was a dampness and closeness in this place that made it far from wholesome, and the little band of voyagers were not very sorry when the water became too shallow to admit of the canoe making its way through the swampy channel, and they landed on the banks of a small circular pond, as round as a ring, and nearly surrounded by tall trees, hoary with moss and lichens; large water-lilies floated on the surface of this miniature lake, and the brilliant red berries of the high-bush cranberry, and the purple clusters of grapes, festooned the trees.

“A famous breeding place this must be for ducks,” observed Louis.

“And for flowers,” said Catharine, “and for grapes and cranberries. There is always some beauty or some usefulness to be found, however lonely the spot.”

“A fine place for musk-rats, and minks, and fishes,” said Hector, looking round. “The old trapper knew what he was about when he made his lodge near this pond. And there, sure enough, is the log-hut, and not so bad a one either,” and scrambling up the bank he entered the deserted little tenement, well pleased to find it in tolerable repair. There were the ashes on the stone hearth, just as it had been left years back by the old trapper; some rough hewn shelves, a rude bedstead of cedar poles still occupied a corner of the little dwelling; heaps of old dry moss and grass lay upon the ground; and the little squaw pointed with one of her silent laughs to a collection of broken egg-shells, where some wild duck had sat and hatched her downy brood among the soft materials which she had found and appropriated to her own purpose. The only things pertaining to the former possessor of the log-hut were an old, rusty, battered tin pannikin, now, alas! unfit for holding water; a bit of a broken earthen whisky jar; a rusty nail, which Louis pounced upon, and pocketed, or rather pouched, for he had substituted a fine pouch of deer-skin for his worn-out pocket; and a fishing-line of good stout cord, which was wound on a splinter of red redar, and carefully stuck between one of the rafters and the roof of the shanty. A rusty but efficient hook was attached to the line, and Louis, who was the finder, was quite overjoyed at his good fortune in making so valuable an addition to his fishing-tackle. Hector got only an odd worn-out mocassin, which he chucked into the little pond in disdain; while Catharine declared she would keep the old tin pot as a relic, and carefully deposited it in the canoe.

As they made their way into the interior of the island, they found that there were a great many fine sugar maples which had been tapped by some one, as the boys thought, by the old trapper; but Indiana, on examining the incisions in the trees, and the remnants of birch-bark vessels that lay mouldering on the earth below them, declared them to have been the work of her own people; and long and sadly did the young girl look upon these simple memorials of a race of whom she was the last living remnant. The young girl stood there in melancholy mood, a solitary, isolated being, with no kindred tie upon the earth to make life dear to her; a stranger in the land of her fathers, associating with those whose ways were not her ways, nor their thoughts her thoughts; whose language was scarcely known to her, whose God was not the God of her fathers. Yet the dark eyes of the Indian girl were not dimmed with tears as she thought of these things; she had learned of her people to suffer, and be still.

Silent and patient she stood, with her melancholy gaze bent on the earth, when she felt the gentle hand of Catharine laid upon her arm, and then kindly and lovingly passed round her neck, as she whispered,

“Indiana, I will be to you as a sister, and will love you and cherish you, because you are an orphan girl, and alone in the world; but God loves you, and will make you happy. He is a Father to the fatherless, and the Friend of the destitute, and to them that have no helper.”

The words of kindness and love need no interpretation; no book-learning is necessary to make them understood. The young, the old, the deaf, the dumb, the blind, can read this universal language; its very silence is often more eloquent than words the gentle pressure of the hand, the half-echoed sigh, the look of sympathy will penetrate to the very heart, and unlock its hidden stores of human tenderness and love. The rock is smitten and the waters gush forth, a bright and living stream, to refresh and fertilize the thirsty soul. The heart of the poor mourner was touched; she bowed down her head upon the hand that held her so kindly in its sisterly grasp, and wept soft sweet human tears full of grateful love, while she whispered, in her own low plaintive voice, “My white sister, I kiss you in my heart; I will love the God of my white brothers, and be his child.”

The two friends now busied themselves in preparing the evening meal: they found Louis and Hector had lighted up a charming blaze on the desolate hearth. A few branches of cedar twisted together by Catharine, made a serviceable broom, with which she swept the floor, giving to the deserted dwelling a neat and comfortable aspect; some big stones were quickly rolled in, and made to answer for seats in the chimney corner. The new-found fishing-line was soon put into requisition by Louis, and with very little delay a fine dish of black bass, broiled on the coals, was added to their store of dried venison and roasted bread-roots, which they found in abundance on a low spot on the island. Grapes and butternuts which Hector cracked with stones by way of nut-crackers, finished their sylvan meal. The boys stretched themselves to sleep on the ground, with their feet, Indian fashion, to the fire; while the two girls occupied the mossy couch which they had newly spread with fragrant cedar and hemlock boughs.

The next island that claimed their attention was Sugar-Maple Island, a fine, thickly-wooded island, rising with steep rocky banks from the water. A beautiful object, but too densely wooded to admit of our party penetrating beyond a few yards of its shores.

The next island they named the Beaver, from its resemblance in shape to that animal. A fine, high, oval island beyond this they named Black Island, from its dark evergreens; the next was that which seemed most to excite the interest of their Indian guide, although but a small stony island, scantily clothed with trees, lower down the lake. This place she called Spooke Island, which means in the Indian tongue, a place for the dead; it is sometimes called Spirit Island, and here, in times past, used the Indian people to bury their dead. The island is now often the resort of parties of pleasure, who, from its being grassy and open, find it more available than those which are densely wooded. The young Mohawk regarded it with feelings of superstitious awe, and would not suffer Hector to land the canoe on its rocky shores.

“It is a place of spirits,” she said; “the ghosts of my fathers will be angry if we go there.” Even her young companions felt that, they were upon sacred ground, and gazed with silent reverence upon the burial isle.

Strongly imbued with a love of the marvellous, which they had derived from their Highland origin, Indiana’s respect for the spirits of her ancestors was regarded as most natural, and in silence, as if fearing to disturb the solemnity of the spot, they resumed their paddles, and after awhile reached the mouth of the river Otonabee, which was divided into two separate channels by a long, low point of swampy land covered with stunted, mossy bushes and trees, rushes, driftwood, and aquatic plants. Indiana told them this river flowed from the north, and that it was many days’ journey up to the lakes; to illustrate its course, she drew with her paddle a long line with sundry curves and broader spaces, some longer, some smaller, with Bays and inlets, which she gave them to understand were the chain of lakes that she spoke of. There were beautiful hunting grounds on the borders of these lakes, and many fine water-falls and rocky islands; she had been taken up to these waters during the time of her captivity. The Ojebwas, she said, were a branch of the great Chippewa nation, who owned much land and great waters thereabouts.

Compared with the creeks and streams that they had seen hitherto, the Otonabee appeared a majestic river, and an object of great admiration and curiosity, for it seemed to them as if it were the high road leading up to an unknown far-off land a land of dark, mysterious, impenetrable forests, flowing on, flowing on, in lonely majesty, reflecting on its tranquil bosom the blue sky, the dark pines, and grey cedars, the pure ivory water-lily, and every passing shadow of bird or leaf that flitted across its surface so quiet was the onward flow of its waters.

A few brilliant leaves yet lingered on the soft maples and crimson-tinted oaks, but the glory of the forest had departed; the silent fall of many a sear and yellow leaf told of the death of summer and of winter’s coming reign. Yet the air was wrapt in a deceitful stillness; no breath of wind moved the trees or dimpled the water. Bright wreaths of scarlet berries and wild grapes hung in festoons among the faded foliage. The silence of the forest was unbroken, save by the quick tapping of the little midland wood-pecker, or the shrill scream of the blue jay; the whirring sound of the large white and grey duck, (called by the frequenters of these lonely waters the whistle-wing,) as its wings swept the waters in its flight; or the light dripping of the paddle; so still, so quiet was the scene.

As the day was now far advanced, the Indian girl advised them either to encamp for the night on the river bank, or to use all speed in returning. She seemed to view the aspect of the heavens with some anxiety. Vast volumes of light copper-tinted clouds were rising, the sun seen through its hazy veil looked red and dim, and a hot sultry air unrelieved by a breath of refreshing wind oppressed our young voyagers; and though the same coppery clouds and red sun had been seen for several successive days, a sort of instinctive feeling prompted the desire in all to return; and after a few minutes’ rest and refreshment, they turned their little bark towards the lake; and it was well that they did so: by the time they had reached the middle of the lake, the stillness of the air was rapidly changing. The rose-tinted clouds that had lain so long piled upon each other in mountainous ridges, began to move upwards, at first slowly, then with rapidly accelerated motion. There was a hollow moaning in the pine tops, and by fits a gusty breeze swept the surface of the water, raising it into rough, short, white-crested ridges.

These signs were pointed out by Indiana as the harbinger of a rising hurricane; and now a swift spark of light like a falling star glanced on the water, as if there to quench its fiery light. Again the Indian girl raised her dark hand and pointed to the rolling storm-clouds, to the crested, waters and the moving pine tops; then to the head of the Beaver Island it was the one nearest to them. With an arm of energy she wielded the paddle, with an eye of fire she directed the course of their little vessel, for well she knew their danger and the need for straining every nerve to reach the nearest point of land. Low muttering peals of thunder were now heard, the wind was rising with electric speed. Away flew the light bark, with the swiftness of a bird, over the water; the tempest was above, around and beneath. The hollow crash of the forest trees as they bowed to the earth could be heard, sullenly sounding from shore to shore. And now the Indian girl, flinging back her black streaming hair from her brow, knelt at the head of the canoe, and with renewed vigour plied the paddle. The waters, lashed into a state of turbulence by the violence of the storm, lifted the canoe up and down, but no word was spoken they each felt the greatness of the peril, but they also knew that they were in the hands of Him who can say to the tempest-tossed waves, “Peace, be still,” and they obey Him.

Every effort was made to gain the nearest island; to reach the mainland was impossible, for the rain poured down a blinding deluge; it was with difficulty the little craft was kept afloat, by baling out the water; to do this, Louis was fain to use his cap, and Catharine assisted with the old tin-pot which she had fortunately brought from the trapper’s shanty.

The tempest was at its height when they reached the nearest point of the Beaver, and joyful was the grating sound of the canoe as it was vigorously pushed up on the shingly beach, beneath the friendly shelter of the overhanging trees, where, perfectly exhausted by the exertions they had made, dripping with rain and overpowered by the terrors of the storm, they threw themselves on the ground, and in safety watched its progress thankful for an escape from such imminent peril.

Thus ended the Indian summer so deceitful in its calmness and its beauty. The next day saw the ground white with snow, and hardened into stone by a premature frost. Our poor voyagers were not long in quitting the shelter of the Beaver Island, and betaking them once more to their ark of refuge the log-house on Mount Ararat.

The winter, that year, set in with unusual severity some weeks sooner than usual, so that from the beginning of November to the middle of April the snow never entirely left the ground. The lake was soon covered with ice, and by the month of December it was one compact solid sheet from shore to shore.