Catharine Parr Traill.

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LOST IN THE BACKWOODS.

A TALE OF THE CANADIAN FOREST.




BY MRS. TRAILL





Preface


The interesting tale contained in this volume of romantic adventure in
the forests of Canada, was much appreciated and enjoyed by a large circle
of young readers when first published, under the title of "The Canadian
Crusoes." After being many years out of print, it will now, we hope and
believe, with a new and more descriptive title, prove equally attractive
to our young friends of the present time.

EDINBURGH, 1882.




CHAPTER I.

"The morning had shot her bright streamers on high,
O'er Canada, opening all pale to the sky,
Still dazzling and white was the robe that she wore,
Except where the ocean wave lashed on the shore"

_Jacobite Song_


There lies, between the Rice Lake and the Ontario, a deep and fertile
valley, surrounded by lofty wood-crowned hills, clothed chiefly with
groves of oak and pine, the sides of the hills and the alluvial
bottoms display a variety of noble timber trees of various kinds, as
the useful and beautiful maple, beech, and hemlock. This beautiful and
highly picturesque valley is watered by many clear streams, whence it
derives its appropriate appellation of "Cold Springs."

At the period my little history commences, this now highly cultivated
spot was an unbroken wilderness, - all but two clearings, where dwelt
the only occupiers of the soil, - which previously owned no other
possessors than the wandering hunting tribes of wild Indians, to whom
the right of the hunting grounds north of Rice Lake appertained,
according to their forest laws.

I speak of the time when the neat and flourishing town of Cobourg, now
an important port on Lake Ontario, was but a village in embryo, - if it
contained even a log-house or a block-house, it was all that it
did, - and the wild and picturesque ground upon which the fast
increasing village of Port Hope is situated had not yielded one forest
tree to the axe of the settler. No gallant vessel spread her sails to
waft the abundant produce of grain and Canadian stores along the
waters of that noble sheet of water; no steamer had then furrowed its
bosom with her iron paddles, bearing the stream of emigration towards
the wilds of our northern and western forests, there to render a
lonely trackless desert a fruitful garden. What will not time and the
industry of man, assisted by the blessing of a merciful God, effect?
To him be the glory and honour; for we are taught that "unless the
Lord build the house, their labour is but lost that build it: without
the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."

But to my tale. And first it will be necessary to introduce to the
acquaintance of my young readers the founders of our little settlement
at Cold Springs.

Duncan Maxwell was a young Highland soldier, a youth of eighteen, at
the famous battle of Quebec, where, though only a private, he received
the praise of his colonel for his brave conduct. At the close of the
battle Duncan was wounded; and as the hospital was full at the time,
he was billeted in the house of a poor French Canadian widow in the
Quebec suburb. Here, though a foreigner and an enemy, he received much
kind attention from his excellent hostess and her family, consisting
of a young man about his own age, and a pretty black-eyed lass not
more than sixteen. The widow Perron was so much occupied with other
lodgers - for she kept a sort of boarding-house - that she had not much
time to give to Duncan, so that he was left a great deal to her son
Pierre, and a little to Catharine, her daughter.

Duncan Maxwell was a fine, open-tempered, frank lad, and he soon won
the regard of Pierre and his sister. In spite of the prejudices of
country, and the difference of language and national customs, a steady
and increasing friendship grew up between the young Highlander and the
children of his hostess; therefore it was not without feelings of deep
regret that they heard the news that the regiment to which Duncan
belonged was ordered for embarkation to England, and Duncan was so far
convalescent as to be pronounced quite well enough to join it. Alas
for poor Catharine! she now found that parting with her patient was a
source of the deepest sorrow to her young and guileless heart; nor was
Duncan less moved at the separation from his gentle nurse. It might be
for years, and it might be for ever, he could not tell; but he could
not tear himself away without telling the object of his affections how
dear she was to him, and to whisper a hope that he might yet return
one day to claim her as his bride; and Catharine, weeping and
blushing, promised to wait for that happy day, or to remain single for
his sake.

They say the course of true love never did run smooth; but with the
exception of this great sorrow, the sorrow of separation, the love of
our young Highland soldier and his betrothed knew no other
interruption, for absence served only to strengthen the affection
which was founded on gratitude and esteem.

Two long years passed, however, and the prospect of reunion was yet
distant, when an accident, which disabled Duncan from serving his
country, enabled him to retire with the usual little pension, and
return to Quebec to seek his affianced. Some changes had taken place
during that short period: the widow Perron was dead; Pierre, the gay,
lively-hearted Pierre, was married to a daughter of a lumberer; and
Catharine, who had no relatives in Quebec, had gone up the country
with her brother and his wife, and was living in some little
settlement above Montreal with them.

Thither Duncan followed, and shortly afterwards was married to his
faithful Catharine. On one point they had never differed, both being
of the same religion.

Pierre had seen a good deal of the fine country on the shores of Lake
Ontario; he had been hunting with some friendly Indians between the
great waters and the Rice Lake; and he now thought if Duncan and
himself could make up their minds to a quiet life in the woods, there
was not a better spot than the hill pass between the plains and the
big lake to fix themselves upon. Duncan was of the same opinion when
he saw the spot. It was not rugged and bare like his own Highlands,
but softer in character, yet his heart yearned for the hill country.
In those days there was no obstacle to taking possession of any tract
of land in the unsurveyed forests; therefore Duncan agreed with his
brother-in-law to pioneer the way with him, get a dwelling put up, and
some ground prepared and "seeded down," and then to return for their
wives, and settle as farmers. Others had succeeded, had formed little
colonies, and become the heads of villages in due time; why should not
they? And now behold our two backwoodsmen fairly commencing their
arduous life: it was nothing, after all, to Pierre, by previous
occupation a hardy lumberer, or the Scottish soldier, accustomed to
brave all sorts of hardships in a wild country, himself a mountaineer,
inured to a stormy climate and scanty fare from his earliest youth.
But it is not my intention to dwell upon the trials and difficulties
courageously met and battled with by our settlers and their young
wives.

There was in those days a spirit of resistance among the first
settlers on the soil, a spirit to do and bear, that is less commonly
met with now. The spirit of civilization is now so widely diffused,
that her comforts are felt even in the depths of the forest, so that
the newly come emigrant feels comparatively few of the physical evils
that were endured by the earlier inhabitants.

The first seed-wheat that was cast into the ground by Duncan and
Pierre was brought with infinite trouble a distance of fifty miles in
a little skiff, navigated along the shores of Lake Ontario by the
adventurous Pierre, and from the nearest landing-place transported on
the shoulders of himself and Duncan to their homestead. A day of great
labour but great joy it was when they deposited their precious freight
in safety on the shanty floor. They were obliged to make two journeys
for the contents of the little craft. What toil, what privation they
endured for the first two years! and now the fruits of it began to
appear.

No two creatures could be more unlike than Pierre and Duncan. The
Highlander, stern, steady, persevering, cautious, always giving ample
reasons for his doing or his not doing. The Canadian, hopeful, lively,
fertile in expedients, and gay as a lark; if one scheme failed,
another was sure to present itself. Pierre and Duncan were admirably
suited to be friends and neighbours. The steady perseverance of the
Scot helped to temper the volatile temperament of the Frenchman. They
generally contrived to compass the same end by different means, as two
streams descending from opposite hills will meet in one broad river in
the same valley.

Years passed on: the farm, carefully cultivated, began to yield its
increase; food and warm clothing were not wanting in the homestead.
Catharine had become, in course of time, the happy mother of four
healthy children; her sister-in-law had exceeded her in these welcome
contributions to the population of a new colony.

Between the children of Pierre and Catharine the most charming harmony
prevailed; they grew up as one family, a pattern of affection and
early friendship. Though different in tempers and dispositions, Hector
Maxwell, the eldest son of the Scottish soldier, and his cousin, young
Louis Perron, were greatly attached: they, with the young Catharine
and Mathilde, formed a little coterie of inseparables; their
amusements, tastes, pursuits, occupations, all blended and harmonized
delightfully; there were none of those little envyings and bickerings
among them that pave the way to strife and disunion in after-life.

Catharine Maxwell and her cousin Louis were more like brother and
sister than Hector and Catharine; but Mathilde was gentle and
dove-like, and formed a contrast to the gravity of Hector and the
vivacity of Louis and Catharine.

Hector and Louis were fourteen - strong, vigorous, industrious, and
hardy, both in constitution and habits. The girls were turned of
twelve. It is not with Mathilde that our story is connected, but with
the two lads and Catharine. With the gaiety and _naivete_ of the
Frenchwoman, Catharine possessed, when occasion called it into action,
a thoughtful and well-regulated mind, abilities which would well have
repaid the care of mental cultivation; but of book-learning she knew
nothing beyond a little reading, and that but imperfectly, acquired
from her father's teaching. It was an accomplishment which he had
gained when in the army, having been taught by his colonel's son, a
lad of twelve years of age, who had taken a great fancy to him, and
had at parting given him a few of his school-books, among which was a
Testament without cover or title-page. At parting, the young gentleman
recommended its daily perusal to Duncan. Had the gift been a Bible,
perhaps the soldier's obedience to his priest might have rendered it a
dead letter to him; but as it fortunately happened, he was unconscious
of any prohibition to deter him from becoming acquainted with the
truths of the gospel. He communicated the power of perusing his books
to his children Hector and Catharine, Duncan and Kenneth, in
succession, with a feeling of intense reverence; even the labour of
teaching was regarded as a holy duty in itself, and was not undertaken
without deeply impressing the obligation he was conferring upon them
whenever they were brought to the task. It was indeed a precious boon,
and the children learned to consider it as a pearl beyond all price in
the trials that awaited them in their eventful career. To her
knowledge of religious truths young Catharine added an intimate
acquaintance with the songs and legends of her father's romantic
country; often would her plaintive ballads and old tales, related in
the hut or the wigwam to her attentive auditors, wile away heavy
thoughts.

It was a lovely sunny day in the flowery month of June. Canada had not
only doffed that "dazzling white robe" mentioned in the songs of her
Jacobite emigrants, but had assumed the beauties of her loveliest
season; the last week in May and the first three of June being
parallel to the English May, full of buds and flowers and fair promise
of ripening fruits.

The high sloping hills surrounding the fertile vale of Cold Springs
were clothed with the blossoms of the gorgeous scarlet castilegia
coccinea, or painted-cup; the large, pure, white blossoms of the
lily-like trillium grandiflorum; the delicate and fragile lilac
geranium, whose graceful flowers woo the hand of the flower-gatherer
only to fade almost within his grasp: the golden cypripedium or
moccasin flower, so singular, so lovely in its colour and formation,
waved heavily its yellow blossoms as the breeze shook the stems; and
there, mingling with a thousand various floral beauties, the azure
lupine claimed its place, shedding almost a heavenly tint upon the
earth. Thousands of roses were blooming on the more level ground,
sending forth their rich fragrance, mixed with the delicate scent of
the feathery ceanothus (New Jersey tea). The vivid greenness of the
young leaves of the forest, the tender tint of the springing corn, was
contrasted with the deep dark fringe of waving pines on the hills, and
the yet darker shade of the spruce and balsams on the borders of the
creeks, for so our Canadian forest rills are universally termed. The
bright glancing wings of the summer red-bird, the crimson-headed
woodpecker, the gay blue-bird, and noisy but splendid plumed jay might
be seen among the branches; the air was filled with beauteous sights
and soft murmuring sounds.

Under the shade of the luxuriant hop-vines that covered the rustic
porch in front of the little dwelling, the light step of Catharine
Maxwell might be heard mixed with the drowsy whirring of the big
wheel, as she passed to and fro guiding the thread of yarn in its
course. And now she sang snatches of old mountain songs, such as she
had learned from her father; and now, with livelier air, hummed some
gay French tune to the household melody of her spinning-wheel, as she
advanced and retreated with her thread, unconscious of the laughing
black eyes that were watching her movements from among the embowering
foliage that shielded her from the morning sun.

"Come, ma belle cousine," for so Louis delighted to call her. "Hector
and I are waiting for you to go with us to the 'Beaver Meadow.' The
cattle have strayed, and we think we shall find them there. The day is
delicious, the very flowers look as if they wanted to be admired and
plucked, and we shall find early strawberries on the old Indian
clearing."

Catharine cast a longing look abroad, but said, "I fear I cannot go
to-day; for see, I have all these rolls of wool to spin up, and my
yarn to wind off the reel and twist; and then, my mother is away."

"Yes, I left her with mamma," replied Louis, "and she said she would
be home shortly, so her absence need not stay you. She said you could
take a basket and try and bring home some berries for sick Louise.
Hector is sure he knows a spot where we shall get some fine ones, ripe
and red." As he spoke Louis whisked away the big wheel to one end of
the porch, gathered up the hanks of yarn and tossed them into the open
wicker basket, and the next minute the large, coarse, flapped straw
hat, that hung upon the peg in the porch, was stuck not very
gracefully on Catharine's head and tied beneath her chin, with a merry
rattling laugh, which drowned effectually the small lecture that
Catharine began to utter by way of reproving the light-hearted boy.

"But where is Mathilde?"

"Sitting like a dear good girl, as she is, with sick Louise's head in
her lap, and would not disturb her for all the fruit and flowers in
Canada. Marie cried sadly to go with us, but I promised her and Louise
lots of flowers and berries if we get them, and the dear children were
as happy as queens when I left."

"But stay, cousin, you are sure my mother gave her consent to my
going? We shall be away chief part of the day. You know it is a long
walk to the Beaver Meadow and back again," said Catharine, hesitating
as Louis took her hand to lead her out from the porch.

"Yes, yes, ma belle," said the giddy boy quickly; "so come along, for
Hector is waiting at the barn. But stay, we shall be hungry before we
return, so let us have some cakes and butter, and do not forget a tin
cup for water."

Nothing doubting, Catharine, with buoyant spirits, set about her
little preparations, which were soon completed; but just as she was
leaving the little garden enclosure, she ran back to kiss Kenneth and
Duncan, her young brothers. In the farm-yard she found Hector with his
axe on his shoulder. "What are you taking the axe for, Hector? you
will find it heavy to carry," said his sister.

"In the first place, I have to cut a stick of blue beech to make a
broom for sweeping the house, sister of mine, and that is for your
use, Miss Kate, and in the next place, I have to find, if possible, a
piece of rock elm or hickory for axe handles: so now you have the
reason why I take the axe with me."

The children left the clearing and struck into one of the deep defiles
that lay between the hills, and cheerfully they laughed and sung and
chattered, as they sped on their pleasant path, nor were they loath to
exchange the glowing sunshine for the sober gloom of the forest shade.
What handfuls of flowers of all hues, red, blue, yellow, and white,
were gathered, only to be gazed at, carried for a while, then cast
aside for others fresher and fairer. And now they came to cool rills
that flowed, softly murmuring, among mossy limestone, or blocks of red
or gray granite, wending their way beneath twisted roots and fallen
trees; and often Catharine lingered to watch the eddying dimples of
the clear water, to note the tiny bright fragments of quartz or
crystallized limestone that formed a shining pavement below the
stream. And often she paused to watch the angry movements of the red
squirrel, as, with feathery tail erect, and sharp scolding note, he
crossed their woodland path, and swiftly darting up the rugged bark of
some neighbouring pine or hemlock, bade the intruders on his quiet
haunts defiance; yet so bold in his indignation, he scarcely
condescended to ascend beyond their reach. The long-continued, hollow
tapping of the large red-headed woodpecker, or the singular
subterranean sound caused by the drumming of the partridge striking
his wings upon his breast to woo his gentle mate, and the soft
whispering note of the little tree-creeper, as it flitted from one
hemlock to another, collecting its food between the fissures of the
bark, were among the few sounds that broke the noontide stillness of
the woods; but to such sights and sounds the lively Catharine and her
cousin were not indifferent. And often they wondered that Hector
gravely pursued his onward way, and seldom lingered as they did to
mark the bright colours of the flowers, or the sparkling of the forest
rill, or the hurrying to and fro of the turkeys among the luxuriant
grass.

"What makes Hec so grave?" said Catharine to her companion, as they
seated themselves upon a mossy trunk to await his coming up; for they
had giddily chased each other till they had far outrun him.

"Hector, sweet coz, is thinking perhaps of how many bushels of corn or
wheat this land would grow if cleared, or he may be examining the soil
or the trees, or is looking for his stick of blue beech for your
broom, or the hickory for his axe handles, and never heeding such
nonsense as woodpeckers, and squirrels, and lilies, and moss, and
ferns; for Hector is not a giddy thing like his cousin Louis, or - "

"His sister Kate," interrupted Catharine merrily. "But when shall we
come to the Beaver Meadow?"

"Patience, ma belle, all in good time. Hark! was not that the ox-bell?
No; Hector whistling." And soon they heard the heavy stroke of his axe
ringing among the trees; for he had found the blue beech, and was
cutting it to leave on the path, that he might take it home on their
return: he had also marked some hickory of a nice size for his axe
handles, to bring home at some future time.

The children had walked several miles, and were not sorry to sit down
and rest till Hector joined them.

He was well pleased with his success, and declared he felt no fatigue.
"As soon as we reach the old Indian clearing, we shall find
strawberries," he said, "and a fresh cold spring, and then we will
have our dinner."

"Come, Hector, - come, Louis," said Catharine, jumping up, "I long to
be gathering the strawberries; and see, my flowers are faded, so I
will throw them away, and the basket shall be filled with fresh fruit
instead, and we must not forget petite Marie and sick Louise, or dear
Mathilde. Ah, how I wish she were here at this minute! But there is
the opening to the Beaver Meadow."

And the sunlight was seen streaming through the opening trees as they
approached the cleared space, which some called the "Indian clearing,"
but is now more generally known as the little Beaver Meadow. It was a
pleasant spot, green, and surrounded with light bowery trees and
flowering shrubs, of a different growth from those that belong to the
dense forest. Here the children found, on the hilly ground above, fine
ripe strawberries, the earliest they had seen that year, and soon all
weariness was forgotten while pursuing the delightful occupation of
gathering the tempting fruit; and when they had refreshed themselves,
and filled the basket with leaves and fruit, they slaked their thirst
at the stream which wound its way among the bushes. Catharine
neglected not to reach down flowery bunches of the fragrant
whitethorn, and the high-bush cranberry, then radiant with nodding
umbels of snowy blossoms, or to wreathe the handle of the little
basket with the graceful trailing runners of the lovely twin-flowered
plant, the Linnaea borealis, which she always said reminded her of the
twins Louise and Marie, her little cousins. And now the day began to
wear away, for they had lingered long in the little clearing; they had
wandered from the path by which they entered it, and had neglected, in
their eagerness to look for the strawberries, to notice any particular
mark by which they might regain it. Just when they began to think of
returning, Louis noticed a beaten path, where there seemed recent
prints of cattle hoofs on a soft spongy soil beyond the creek.

"Come, Hector," said he gaily, "this is lucky; we are on the
cattle-path; no fear but it will lead us directly home, and that by a
nearer track."

Hector was undecided about following it; he fancied it bent too much
towards the setting sun; but his cousin overruled his objection. "And
is not this our own creek?" he said. "I have often heard my father say
it had its rise somewhere about this old clearing."

Hector now thought Louis might be right, and they boldly followed the
path among the poplars, thorns, and bushes that clothed its banks,
surprised to see how open the ground became, and how swift and clear
the stream swept onward.

"Oh, this dear creek," cried the delighted Catharine, "how pretty it
is! I shall often follow its course after this; no doubt it has its
source from our own Cold Springs."

And so they cheerfully pursued their way, till the sun, sinking behind
the range of westerly hills, soon left them in gloom; but they
anxiously hurried forward when the stream wound its noisy way among
steep stony banks, clothed scantily with pines and a few scattered
silver-barked poplars. And now they became bewildered by two paths
leading in opposite directions; one upward among the rocky hills, the
other through the opening gorge of a deep ravine.

Here, overcome with fatigue, Catharine seated herself on a large block
of granite, near a great bushy pine that grew beside the path by the
ravine, unable to proceed; and Hector, with a grave and troubled
countenance, stood beside her, looking round with an air of great
perplexity. Louis, seating himself at Catharine's feet, surveyed the
deep gloomy valley before them, and sighed heavily. The conviction
forcibly struck him that they had mistaken the path altogether. The


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