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- Lady Mary and her Nurse - 2/22 -
outer and an inner chamber, a bar for the little fellow to swing himself on, and a drawer for his food, and a little dish for his water. The sleeping-room was furnished by the nurse with soft wool, and a fine store of nuts was put in the drawer; all his wants were well supplied, and Lady Mary watched the catching of the little animal with much interest. Great was the activity displayed by the runaway squirrel, and still greater the astonishment evinced by the Governor's little daughter, at the flying leaps made by the squirrel in its attempts to elude the grasp of its pursuers.
"It flies! I am sure it must have wings. Look, look, nurse! it is here, now it is on the wall, now on the curtains! It must have wings, but it has no feathers!"
"It has no wings, dear lady, but it has a fine ridge of fur, that covers a strong sinew or muscle between the fore and hinder legs; and it is by the help of this muscle that it is able to spring so far, and so fast; and its claws are so sharp that it can cling to a wall, or any flat surface. The black and red squirrels, and the common grey, can jump very far, and run up the bark of the trees very fast, but not so fast as the flying squirrel."
At last Lady Mary's maid, with the help of one of the housemaids, succeeded in catching the squirrel, and securing him within his cage. But though Lady Mary tried all her words of endearment to coax the little creature to eat some of the good things that had been provided so liberally for his entertainment, he remained sullen and motionless at the bottom of the cage. A captive is no less a captive in a cage with gilded bars, and with dainties to eat, than if rusted iron shut him in, and kept him from enjoying his freedom. It is for dear liberty that he pines, and is sad, even in the midst of plenty!
"Dear nurse, why does my little squirrel tremble and look so unhappy? Tell me if he wants anything to eat that we have not given him. Why does he not lie down and sleep on the nice soft bed you have made for him in his little chamber? See, he has not tasted the nice sweet cake and sugar that I gave him."
"He is not used to such dainties, Lady Mary. In the forest, he feeds upon hickory-nuts, and butter-nuts, and acorns, and beech-mast, and the buds of the spruce, fir and pine kernels, and many other seeds and nuts and berries, that we could not get for him; he loves grain too, and Indian corn. He sleeps on green moss and leaves, and fine fibres of grass and roots; and drinks heaven's blessed dew, as it lies bright and pure upon the herbs of the field."
"Dear little squirrel, pretty creature! I know now what makes you sad. You long to be abroad among your own green woods, and sleeping on the soft green moss, which is far prettier than this ugly cotton wool. But you shall stay with me, my sweet one, till the cold winter is passed and gone, and the spring flowers have come again; and then, my pretty squirrel, I will take you out of your dull cage, and we will go to St. Helen's green island, and I will let you go free; but I will put a scarlet collar about your neck before I let you go, that, if any one finds you, they may know that you are my squirrel. Were you ever in the green forest, nurse? I hear Papa talk about the 'Bush' and the 'Backwoods;' it must be very pleasant in the summer, to live among the green trees. Were you ever there?"
"Yes, dear lady, I did live in the woods when I was a child. I was born in a little log-shanty, far, far away up the country, near a beautiful lake, called Rice Lake, among woods, and valleys, and hills covered with flowers, and groves of pine, and white and black oaks."
"Stop, nurse, and tell me why they are called black and white; are the flowers black and white?"
"No, my lady; it is because the wood of the one is darker than the other, and the leaves of the black oak are dark and shining, while those of the white oak are brighter and lighter. The black oak is a beautiful tree. When I was a young girl, I used to like to climb the sides of the steep valleys, and look down upon the tops of the oaks that grew beneath; and to watch the wind lifting the boughs all glittering in the moonlight; they looked like a sea of ruffled green water. It is very solemn, Lady Mary, to be in the woods by night, and to hear no sound but the cry of the great wood-owl, or the voice of the whip-poor-will, calling to his fellow from the tamarack swamp; or, may be, the timid bleating of a fawn that has lost its mother, or the howl of a wolf."
"Nurse, I should be so afraid; I am sure I should cry if I heard the wicked wolves howling in the dark woods, by night. Did you ever know any one who was eaten by a wolf?"
"No, my lady; the Canadian wolf is a great coward. I have heard the hunters say, that they never attack any one, unless there is a great flock together and the man is alone and unarmed. My uncle used to go out a great deal hunting, sometimes by torchlight, and sometimes on the lake in a canoe, with the Indians; and he shot and trapped a great many wolves and foxes and racoons. He has a great many heads of wild animals nailed up on the stoup in front of his log-house."
"Please tell me what a stoup is, nurse?"
"A verandah, my lady, is the same thing, only the old Dutch settlers gave it the name of a stoup; and the stoup is heavier and broader, and not quite so nicely made as a verandah. One day my uncle was crossing the lake on the ice; it was a cold winter afternoon; he was in a hurry to take some food to his brothers, who were drawing pine-logs in the bush. He had, besides a bag of meal and flour, a new axe on his shoulder. He heard steps as of a dog trotting after him; he turned his head, and there he saw close at his heels, a big, hungry-looking grey wolf; he stopped and faced about, and the big beast stopped and showed his white sharp teeth. My uncle did not feel afraid, but looked steadily at the wolf, as much as to say, 'Follow me if you dare,' and walked on. When my uncle stopped, the wolf stopped; when he went on, the beast also went on.
"I would have run away," said Lady Mary.
"If my uncle had let the wolf see that he was afraid of him, he would have grown bolder, and have run after him and seized him. All animals are afraid of brave men, but not of cowards. When the beast came too near, my uncle faced him, and showed the bright axe, and the wolf then shrank back a few paces. When my uncle got near the shore, he heard a long wild cry, as if from twenty wolves at once. It might have been the echoes from the islands that increased the sound; but it was very frightful, and made his blood chill, for he knew that without his rifle he should stand a poor chance against a large pack of hungry wolves. Just then a gun went off; he heard the wolf give a terrible yell, he felt the whizzing of a bullet pass him, and, turning about, saw the wolf lying dead on the ice. A loud shout from the cedars in front told him from whom the shot came; it was my father, who had been on the look-out on the lake shore, and he had fired at and hit the wolf, when he saw that he could do so without hurting his brother."
"Nurse, it would have been a sad thing if the gun had shot your uncle."
"It would; but my father was one of the best shots in the district, and could hit a white spot on the bark of a tree at a great distance without missing. It was an old Indian from Buckhorn Lake, who taught him to shoot deer by torchlight, and to trap beavers."
"Well, I am glad that horrid wolf was killed, for wolves eat sheep and lambs; and I dare say they would devour my little squirrel if they could get him. Nurse, please to tell me again the name of the lake near which you were born."
"It is called Rice Lake, my lady. It is a fine piece of water, more than twenty miles long, and from three to five miles broad. It has pretty wooded islands, and several rivers or streams empty themselves into it. The Otonabee River is a fine broad stream, which flows through the forest a long way. Many years ago, there were no clearings on the banks, and no houses, only Indian tents or wigwams; but now, there are a great many houses and farms."
"What are wigwams?"
"A sort of light tent, made with poles stuck into the ground, in a circle, fastened together at the top, and covered on the outside with skins of wild animals, or with birch bark. The Indians light a fire of sticks and logs on the ground, in the middle of the wigwam, and lie or sit all round it; the smoke goes up to the top and escapes. In the winter, they bank it up with snow, and it is very warm."
"I think it must be a very ugly sort of house; and I am glad I do not live in an Indian wigwam," said the little lady.
"The Indians are a very simple folk, my lady, and do not need fine houses, like this in which your papa lives. They do not know the names or uses of half the fine things that are in the houses of the white people. They are happy and contented without them. It is not the richest that are happiest, Lady Mary, and the Lord careth for the poor and the lowly. There is a village on the shores of Rice Lake where the Indians live. It is not very pretty. The houses are all built of logs, and some of them have gardens and orchards. They have a neat church, and they have a good minister, who takes great pains to teach them the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The poor Indians were Pagans until within the last few years."
"What are Pagans, nurse?"
"People, Lady Mary, who do not believe in God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, our blessed Saviour."
"Nurse, is there real rice growing in the Rice Lake? I heard my governess say that rice grew only in warm countries. Now, your lake must be very cold if your uncle walked across the ice."
"This rice, my lady, is not real rice. I heard a gentleman tell my father, that it was, properly speaking, a species of oats, [Footnote: Zizania or water oats.]--water oats he called it, but the common name for it is wild rice. This wild rice grows in vast beds in the lake, in patches of many acres. It will grow in water from eight to ten or twelve feet deep; the grassy leaves float upon the water like long narrow green ribbons. In the month of August, the stem that is to bear the flower and the grain rises straight up, above the surface, and light delicate blossoms come out of a pale straw colour and lilac. They are very pretty, and wave in the wind with a rustling noise. In the month of October, when the rice is ripe, the leaves turn yellow, and the rice-heads grow heavy and droop; then the squaws--as the Indian women are called--go out in their birch-bark canoes, holding in one hand a stick, in the other a short curved paddle, with a sharp edge. With this, they bend down the rice across the stick, and strike off the heads, which fall into the canoe, as they push it along through the rice-beds. In this way they collect a great many bushels in the course of the day. The wild rice is not the least like the rice which your ladyship has eaten; it is thin and covered with a light chaffy husk. The colour of the grain itself is a brownish green, or olive, smooth, shining, and brittle. After separating the outward chaff, the squaws put by a large portion of the clean rice in its natural state for sale; for this they get from a dollar and a half to two dollars a bushel. Some they parch, either in large pots, or on mats made of the inner bark of cedar or bass wood, beneath which they light a slow fire, and plant around it a temporary hedge of green boughs, closely set to prevent the heat from escaping; they also
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