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- Lost in the Backwoods - 1/37 -


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.


Lost in the Backwoods - 1/37

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