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

“Hame, hame, hame,
Hame I soon shall be,
Hame, hame, hame,
In mine own countrie. -- Scotch Ballad.

Old Jacob and Catharine, who had been mute spectators of the scene so full of interest to them, now presented themselves before the Ojebwa chief, and besought leave to depart. The presents were again laid before him, and this time were graciously accepted. Catharine in distributing the beads and cloth took care that the best portion should fall to the grand-daughter of the chief, the pretty good-humoured Snowbird. The old man was not insensible to the noble sacrifice which had been made by the devoted Indiana, and he signified his forgiveness of her fault by graciously offering to adopt her as his child, and to give her in marriage to one of his grandsons, an elder brother of the Snowbird; but the young girl modestly but firmly refused this mark of favour, for her heart yearned for those whose kindness had saved her from death, and who had taught her to look beyond the things of this world to a brighter and a better state of being. She said, “She would go with her white sister, and pray to God to bless her enemies, as the Great Spirit had taught her to do.”

It seems a lingering principle of good in human nature, that the exercise of mercy and virtue opens the heart to the enjoyment of social happiness. The Indians, no longer worked up by excitement to deeds of violence, seemed disposed to bury the hatchet of hatred, and the lodge was now filled with mirth, and the voice of gladness, feasting, and dancing. A covenant of peace and good-will was entered upon by old Jacob and the chief, who bade Catharine tell her brothers that from henceforth they should be free to hunt the deer, fish, or shoot the wild fowl of the lake, whenever they desired to do so, “he the Bald Eagle had said so.”

On the morrow, with the first dawn of day, the old trapper was astir; the canoe was ready, with fresh cedar boughs strewed at the bottom. A supply of parched rice and dried fish had been presented by the Indian chief for the voyage, that his white brother and the young girls might not suffer, from want. At sun-rise the old man led his young charges to the lodge of the Bald Eagle, who took a kindly farewell of them. “The Snow-bird” was sorrowful, and her bright laughing eyes were dimmed with tears at parting with Catharine; she was a gentle loving thing, as soft and playful as the tame fawn that nestled its velvet head against her arm. She did not let Catharine depart without many tokens of her regard, the work of her own hands, bracelets of porcupine quills cut in fine pieces and strung in fanciful patterns, mocassins richly wrought, and tiny bark dishes and boxes, such as might have graced a lady’s work-table, so rare was their workmanship.

Just as they were about to step into the canoe “the Snow-bird” reappeared, bearing a richly worked bark box, “From the Great Medicine,” she said in a low voice, “To the daughter of the Mohawk brave.” The box contained a fine tunic, soft as a lady’s glove, embroidered and fringed, and a fillet of scarlet and blue feathers, with the wings and breast of the war-bird, as shoulder ornaments. It was a token of reconciliation and good-will worthy of a generous heart.

The young girl pressed the gifts to her bosom and to her lips reverentially, and the hand that brought them to her heart, as she said in her native tongue, “Tell the Great Medicine I kiss her in my heart, and pray that she may have peace and joy till she departs for the spirit-land.”

With joyful heart they bade adieu to the Indian lodges, and rejoiced in being once more afloat on the bosom of the great river. To Catharine the events of the past hours seemed like a strange bewildering dream; she longed for the quiet repose of home; and how gladly did she listen to that kind old man’s plans for restoring her brothers and herself to the arms of their beloved parents. How often did she say to herself, Oh that I had wings like a dove, for then would I flee away and be at rest! in the shelter of that dear mother’s arms whom she now pined for with a painful yearning of the heart that might well be called home sickness. But in spite of anxious wishes, the little party were compelled to halt for the night some few miles above the lake. There is on the eastern bank of the Otonabee, a pretty rounded knoll, clothed with wild cherries, hawthorns and pine-trees, just where a creek half hidden by alder and cranberry bushes, works its way below the shoulder of the little eminence; this creek grows broader and becomes a little stream, through which the hunters sometimes paddle their canoes, as a short cut to the lower part of the lake near Crook’s Rapids. To this creek old Jacob steered his light craft, and bidding the girls collect a few dry sticks and branches for an evening fire on the sheltered side of the little bank, he soon lighted the pile into a cheerful blaze by the aid of birch bark, the hunter’s tinder a sort of fungus that is found in the rotten oak and maple-trees and a knife and flint; he then lifted the canoe, and having raised it on its side, by means of two small stakes which he cut from a bush hard by, then spread down his buffalo robe on the dry grass. “There is a tent fit for a queen to sleep under, mes chères filles,” he said, eyeing his arrangements for their night shelter with great satisfaction.

He then proceeded to bait his line, and in a few minutes had a dish of splendid bass ready for the coals. Catharine selected a large flat block of limestone on which the fish when broiled was laid; but old Jacob opened his wide mouth and laughed, when she proceeded to lay her bush table with large basswood leaves for platters. Such nicety he professed was unusual on a hunter’s table. He was too old a forester to care how his food was dished, so that he had wherewithal to satisfy his hunger.

Many were the merry tales he told and the songs he sung, to wile away the time, till the daylight faded from the sky, and the deep blue heavens were studded with bright stars, which were mirrored in countless hosts deep deep down in that calm waveless river, while thousands of fireflies lighted up the dark recesses of the forest’s gloom. High in the upper air the hollow booming of the night-hawk was heard at intervals, and the wild cry of the night-owl from a dead branch, shouting to its fellow, woke the silence of that lonely river scene.

The old trapper stretched before the crackling fire, smoked his pipe or hummed some French voyageur’s song. Beneath the shelter of the canoe soundly slept the two girls; the dark cheek of the Indian girl pillowed on the arm of her fairer companion, her thick tresses of raven hair mingling with the silken ringlets of the white maiden. They were a lovely pair one fair as morning, the other dark as night.

How lightly did they spring from their low bed, wakened by the early song of the forest birds! The light curling mist hung in fleecy volumes upon the river, like a flock of sheep at rest the tinkling sound of the heavy dew-drops fell in mimic showers upon the stream. See that red squirrel, how lightly he runs along that fallen trunk how furtively he glances with his sharp bright eye at the intruders on his sylvan haunts! Hark! there is a rustling among the leaves what strange creature works its way to the shore? A mud turtle it turns, and now is trotting along the little sandy ridge to some sunny spot, where, half buried, it may lie unseen near the edge of the river. See that musk-rat, how boldly he plunges into the stream, and, with his oarlike tail, stems the current till he gains in safety the sedges on the other side.

What gurgling sound is that? it attracts the practised ear of the old hunter. What is that object which floats so steadily down the middle of the stream, and leaves so bright a line in its wake? it is a noble stag. Look at the broad chest, with which he breasts the water so gallantly; see how proudly he carries his antlered head; he has no fear in those lonely solitudes he has never heard the crack of the hunter’s rifle he heeds not the sharp twang of that bowstring, till the arrow rankles in his neck, and the crimson flood dyes the water around him he turns, but it is only to present a surer mark for the arrow of the old hunter’s bow; and now the noble beast turns to bay, and the canoe is rapidly launched by the hand of the Indian girl her eye flashes with the excitement her whole soul is in the chase she stands up in the canoe, and steers it full upon the wounded buck, while a shower of blows are dealt upon his head and neck with the paddle. Catharine buries her face in her hands she cannot bear to look upon the sufferings of the noble animal. She will never make a huntress her heart is cast in too soft a mould. See they have towed the deer ashore, and Jacob is in all his glory, the little squaw is an Indian at heart see with what expertness she helps the old man; and now the great business is completed, and the venison is stowed away at the bottom of the canoe they wash their hands in the river and come at Catharine’s summons to eat her breakfast.

The sun is now rising high above the pine-trees, the morning mist is also rising and rolling off like a golden veil as it catches those glorious rays the whole earth seems wakening into new life the dew has brightened every leaf and washed each tiny flower-cup the pines and balsams give out their resinous fragrance the aspens flutter and dance in the morning breeze and return a mimic shower of dew-drops to the stream the shores become lower and flatter the trees less lofty and more mossy the stream expands and wide beds of rushes spread out on either side what beds of snowy water-lilies how splendid the rose tint of those perseicarias that glow so brightly in the morning sun the rushes look like a green meadow, but the treacherous water lies deep below their grassy leaves the deer delights in these verdant aquatic fields, and see what flocks of red-wings rise from among them as the canoe passes near their bright shoulder-knots glance like flashes of lightning in the sun-beams.

This low swampy island, filled with driftwood, these grey hoary trees, half choked and killed with grey moss and lichens those straggling alders and black ash look melancholy they are like premature old age, grey-headed youths. That island divides the channel of the river the old man takes the nearest, the left hand, and now they are upon the broad Rice Lake, and Catharine wearies her eye to catch the smoke of the shanty rising among the trees one after another the islands steal out into view the capes, and bays, and shores of the northern side are growing less distinct, Yon hollow bay, where the beaver has hidden till now, backed by that bold sweep of hills that look in the distance as if only covered with green ferns, with here and there a tall tree, stately as a pine or oak that is the spot where Louis saw the landing of the Indians now a rising village Gores’ Landing. On yon lofty hill now stands the village church, its white tower rising amongst the trees forms a charming object from the lake, and there a little higher up, not far from the plank road, now stand pretty rural cottages one of these belong to the spirited proprietor of the village that bears his name. That tasteful garden before the white cottage, to the right, is Colonel Brown’s, and there are pretty farms and cultivated spots; but silence and loneliness reigned there at the time of which I write.

Where those few dark pines rise above the oak groves like the spires of churches in a crowded city, is Mount Ararat. The Indian girl steers straight between the islands for that ark of refuge, and Catharine’s eyes are dimmed with grateful tears as she pictures to herself the joyful greeting in store for her. In the overflowings of her gladness she seizes the old man’s rugged hand and kisses it, and flings her arms about the Indian girl and presses her to her heart, when the canoe has touched the old well-remembered landing place, and she finds herself so near, so very near her lost home. How precious are such moments how few we have in life they are created from our very sorrows without our cares our joys would be less lively; but we have no time to moralize Catharine flies with the speed of a young fawn, to climb the steep cliff-like shoulder of that steep bank, and now, out of breath, stands at the threshold of her log-house how neat and nice it looks compared with the Indians’ tents the little field of corn is green and flourishing there is Hector’s axe in a newly-cut log it is high noon the boys ought to have been there taking their mid-day meal, but the door is shut. Catharine lifts the wooden latch, and steps in the embers are nearly burned out, to a handful of grey ashes old Wolfe is not there all is silent and Catharine sits down to still the beating of her heart and await the coming up of her slower companions, and gladdens her mind with the hope that her brother and Louis will soon be home her eye wanders over every old familiar object all things seem much as she had left them, only the maize is in the ear and the top feather waves gracefully with the summer breeze it promises an abundant crop; but that harvest is not to be gathered by the hands of the young planters it was left to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field to those humble reapers who sow not, neither do they gather into barns, for their Heavenly Father feedeth them. While the two girls busied themselves in preparing a fine roast of venison old Jacob stalked away over the hills to search for the boys, and it was not long before he returned with Hector and Louis.

I must not tell tales, or I might say what tears of joy were mingled with the rapturous greetings with which Louis embraced his beloved cousin; or I might tell that the bright flush that warmed the dusky cheek of the young Indian, and the light that danced in her soft black eyes, owed its origin to the kiss that was pressed on her red lips by her white brother. Nor will we say whose hand held hers so long in his while Catharine related the noble sacrifice made for her sake, and the perils encountered by the devoted Indiana whose eyes were moistened with tears as the horrors of that fearful trial were described or who stole out alone over the hills, and sat him down in the hush and silence of the summer night to think of the acts of heroism displayed by that untaught Indian girl, and to dream a dream of youthful love; but with these things, my young readers, we have nothing to do.

“And now, my children,” said old Jacob, looking round the little dwelling, “have you made up your minds to live and die here on the shores of this lake, or do you desire again to behold your father’s home? Do your young hearts yearn after the hearth of your childhood?” “After our fathers’ home!” was Louis’s emphatic reply. “After the home of our childhood!” was Catharine’s earnest answer. Hector’s lips echoed his sister’s words, while a furtive troubled glance fell upon the orphan stranger; but her timid eye was raised to his young face with a trusting look, as she would have said. “Thy home shall be my home, thy God my God.”

“Well, mon ami, I believe, if my old memory fails me not, I can strike the Indian trail that used to lead to the Cold Springs over the pine hills. It will not be difficult for an old trapper to find his way.”

“For my part, I shall not leave this lovely spot without regret,” said Hector. “It would be a glorious place for a settlement all that one could desire hill, and valley, and plain, wood and water. Well, I will try and persuade my father to leave the Cold Springs, and come and settle hereabouts. It would be delightful, would it not, Catharine, especially now we are friends with the Indians.”

With their heads full of pleasant schemes for the future, our young folks laid them down that night to rest. In the morning they rose, packed up such portable articles as they could manage to carry, and with full hearts sat down to take their last meal in their home in that home which sheltered them so long and then, with one accord, they knelt down upon its hearth, so soon to be left in loneliness, and breathed a prayer to Him who had preserved them thus far in their eventful lives, and then they journeyed forth once more into the wilderness. There was one, however, of their little band they left behind: this was the faithful old dog Wolfe. He had pined during the absence of his mistress, and only a few days before Catharine’s return he had crept to the seat she was wont to occupy, and there died. Louis and Hector buried him, not without great regret, beneath the group of birch-trees on the brow of the slope near the corn-field.