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

“Now where the wave, with loud unquiet song,
Dash’d o’er the rocky channel, froths along,
Or where the silver waters soothed to rest,
The tree’s tall shadow sleeps upon its breast.”

The Indian camp remained for nearly three weeks on this spot, and then early one morning the wigwams were all taken down, and the canoes, six in number, proceeded up the river. There was very little variety in the scenery to interest Catharine; the river still kept its slow flowing course between low shores, thickly clothed with trees, without an opening through which the eye might pierce to form an idea of the country beyond; not a clearing, not a sight or sound of civilized man was there to be seen or heard; the darting flight of the wild birds as they flitted across from one side to the other, the tapping of the woodpeckers or shrill cry of the blue jay, was all that was heard, from sunrise to sunset, on that monotonous voyage. After many hours a decided change was perceived in the current, which ran at a considerable increase of swiftness, so that it required the united energy of both men and women to keep the light vessels from drifting down the river again. They were in the Rapids, and it was hard work to stem the tide, and keep the upward course of the waters. At length the rapids were passed, and the weary Indian voyagers rested for a space on the bosom of a small but tranquil lake. The rising moon shed her silvery light upon the calm waters, and heaven’s stars shone down into its quiet depths, as the canoes with their dusky freight parted the glittering rays with their light paddles. As they proceeded onward the banks rose on either side, still fringed with pine, cedar and oaks. At an angle of the lake the banks on either side ran out into two opposite peninsulas, forming a narrow passage or gorge, contracting the lake once more into the appearance of a broad river, much wider from shore to shore than any other part they had passed through since they had left the entrance at the Rice Lake.

Catharine became interested in the change of scenery, her eye dwelt with delight on the forms of glorious spreading oaks and lofty pines, green cliff-like shores and low wooded islands; while as they proceeded the sound of rapid flowing waters met her ear, and soon the white and broken eddies rushing along with impetuous course were seen by the light of the moon; and while she was wondering if the canoes were to stem those rapids, at a signal from the old chief, the little fleet was pushed to shore on a low flat of emerald verdure nearly opposite to the last island.

Here, under the shelter of some beautiful spreading black oaks, the women prepared to set up their wigwams. They had brought the poles and birch-bark covering from the encampment below, and soon all was bustle and business; unloading the canoes, and raising the tents. Even Catharine lent a willing hand to assist the females in bringing up the stores, and sundry baskets containing fruits and other small wares. She then kindly attended to the Indian children, certain dark-skinned babes, who, bound upon their wooden cradles, were either set up against the trunks of the trees, or swung to some lowly depending branch, there to remain helpless and uncomplaining spectators of the scene.

Catharine thought these Indian babes were almost as much to be pitied as herself, only that they were unconscious of their imprisoned state, having from birth been used to no better treatment, and moreover they were sure to be rewarded by the tender caresses of living mothers when the season of refreshment and repose arrived; but she alas! was friendless and alone, an orphan girl, reft of father, mother, kindred and friends. One Father, one Friend, poor Catharine, thou hadst, even He the Father of the fatherless.

That night when the women and children were sleeping, Catharine stole out of the wigwam, and climbed the precipitous bank beneath the shelter of which the lodges had been erected. She found herself upon a grassy plain, studded with majestic oaks and pines, so beautifully grouped that they might have been planted by the hand of taste upon that velvet turf. It was a delightful contrast to those dense dark forests through which for so many many miles the waters of the Otonabee had flowed on monotonously; here it was all wild and free, dashing along like a restive steed rejoicing in its liberty, uncurbed and tameless.

Yes, here it was beautiful! Catharine gazed with joy upon the rushing river, and felt her own heart expand as she marked its rapid course, as it bounded murmuring and fretting over its rocky bed. “Happy, glorious waters! you are not subject to the power of any living creature, no canoe can ascend those surging waves; I would that I too, like thee, were free to pursue my onward way how soon would I flee away and be at rest!” Such thoughts perhaps might have passed through the mind of the lonely captive girl, as she sat at the foot of one giant oak, and looked abroad over those moonlit waters, till, oppressed by the overwhelming sense of the utter loneliness of the scene, the timid girl with faltering step hurried down once more to the wigwams, silently crept to the mat where her bed was spread, and soon forgot all her woes and wanderings in deep tranquil sleep.

Catharine wondered that the Indians in erecting their lodges always seemed to prefer the low, level, and often swampy grounds by the lakes and rivers in preference to the higher and more healthy elevations. So disregardful are they of this circumstance, that they do not hesitate to sleep where the ground is saturated with moisture. They will then lay a temporary flooring of cedar or any other bark beneath their feet, rather than remove the tent a few feet higher up, where a drier soil may always be found. This either arises from stupidity or indolence, perhaps from both, but it is no doubt the cause of much of the sickness that prevails among, them. With his feet stretched to the fire the Indian cares for nothing else when reposing in his wigwam, and it is useless to urge the improvement that might be made in his comfort; he listens with a face of apathy, and utters his everlasting guttural, which saves him the trouble of a more rational reply.

“Snow-bird” informed Catharine that the lodges would not again be removed for some time, but that the men would hunt and fish, while the squaws pursued their domestic labours. Catharine perceived that the chief of the laborious part of the work fell to the share of the females, who were very much more industrious and active than their husbands; these, when not out hunting or fishing, were to be seen reposing in easy indolence under the shade of the trees, or before the tent fires, giving themselves little concern about anything that was going on. The squaws were gentle, humble, and submissive; they bore without a murmur pain, labour, hunger, and fatigue, and seemed to perform every task with patience and good humour. They made the canoes, in which the men sometimes assisted them, pitched the tents, converted the skins of the animals which the men shot into clothes, cooked the victuals, manufactured baskets of every kind, wove mats, dyed the quills of the porcupine, sewed the mocassins, and in short performed a thousand tasks which it would be difficult to enumerate.

Of the ordinary household work, such as is familiar to European females, they of course knew nothing; they had no linen to wash or iron, no floors to clean, no milking of cows, nor churning of butter.

Their carpets were fresh cedar boughs spread upon the ground, and only renewed when they became offensively dirty from the accumulation of fish bones and other offal, which are carelessly flung down during meals. Of furniture they had none, their seat the ground, their table the same, their beds mats or skins of animals, such were the domestic arrangements of the Indian camp. In the tent to which Catharine belonged, which was that of the widow and her sons, a greater degree of order and cleanliness prevailed than in any other, for Catharine’s natural love of neatness and comfort induced her to strew the floor with fresh cedar or hemlock every day or two, and to sweep round the front of the lodge, removing all unseemly objects from its vicinity. She never failed to wash herself in the river, and arrange her hair with the comb that Louis had made for her; and took great care of the little child, which she kept clean and well fed. She loved this little creature, for it was soft and gentle, meek and playful as a little squirrel, and the Indian mothers all looked with kinder eyes upon the white maiden, for the loving manner in which she tended their children. The heart of woman is seldom cold to those who cherish their offspring, and Catharine began to experience the truth, that the exercise of those human charities is equally beneficial to those who give and those that receive; these things fall upon the heart as dew upon a thirsty soil, giving and creating a blessing. But we will leave Catharine for a short season, among the lodges of the Indians, and return to Hector and Louis.