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- Lost in the Backwoods - 10/37 -
had ceased to whisper comfort to the desolate hearts of the mournful parents.
Of all that suffered by this sad calamity, no one was more to be pitied than Louis Perron. Deeply did the poor boy lament the thoughtless folly which had involved his cousin Catharine in so terrible a misfortune. "If Kate had not been with me," he would say, "we should not have been lost; for Hector is so cautious and so careful, he would not have left the cattle-path. But we were so heedless, we thought only of flowers and insects, of birds and such trifles, and paid no heed to our way." Louis Perron, such is life. The young press gaily onward, gathering the flowers, and following the gay butterflies that attract them in the form of pleasure and amusement: they forget the grave counsels of the thoughtful, till they find the path they have followed is beset with briers and thorns; and a thousand painful difficulties that were unseen, unexpected, overwhelm and bring them to a sad sense of their own folly; and, perhaps, the punishment of their errors does not fall upon themselves alone, but upon the innocent, who have unknowingly been made participators in their fault.
By the kindest and tenderest attention to all her comforts, Louis endeavoured to alleviate his cousin's sufferings, and soften her regrets; nay, he would often speak cheerfully and even gaily to her, when his own heart was heavy and his eyes ready to overflow with tears.
"If it were not for our dear parents and the dear children at home," he would say, "we might spend our time most happily upon these charming plains; it is much more delightful here than in the dark, thick woods; see how brightly the sunbeams come down and gladden the ground, and cover the earth with fruit and flowers. It is pleasant to be able to fish and hunt, and trap the game. Yes, if they were all here, we would build us a nice log-house, and clear up these bushes on the flat near the lake. This 'Elfin Knowe,' as you call it, Kate, would be a nice spot to build upon. See these glorious old oaks--not one should be cut down; and we would have a boat and a canoe, and voyage across to yonder islands. Would it not be charming, ma belle?" and Catharine, smiling at the picture drawn so eloquently, would enter into the spirit of the project, and say,--
"Ah! Louis, that would be pleasant."
"If we had but my father's rifle now," said Hector, "and old Wolfe."
"Yes, and Fanchette, dear little Fanchette, that trees the partridges and black squirrels," said Louis.
"I saw a doe and a half-grown fawn beside her this very morning, at break of day," said Hector. "The fawn was so little fearful, that if I had had a stick in my hand I could have killed it. I came within ten yards of the spot where it stood. I know it would be easy to catch one by making a dead-fall." A sort of trap in which game is taken in the woods, or on the banks of creeks.
"If we had but a dear fawn to frolic about us, like Mignon, dear innocent Mignon," cried Catharine, "I should never feel lonely then."
"And we should never want for meat, if we could catch a fine fawn from time to time, ma belle.--Hec, what are you thinking of?"
"I was thinking, Louis, that if we were doomed to remain here all our lives, we must build a house for ourselves; we could not live in the open air without shelter as we have done. The summer will soon pass, and the rainy season will come, and the bitter frosts and snows of winter will have to be provided against."
"But, Hector, do you really think there is no chance of finding our way back to Cold Springs? We know it must be behind this lake," said Lotus.
"True, but whether east, west, or south, we cannot tell, and whichever way we take now is but a chance; and if once we leave the lake and get involved in the mazes of that dark forest, we should perish: for we know there is neither water nor fruit nor game to be had as there is here, and we might soon be starved to death. God was good who led us beside this fine lake, and upon these fruitful plains."
"It is a good thing that I had my axe when we started from home," said Hector. "We should not have been so well off without it; we shall find the use of it if we have to build a house. We must look out for some spot where there is a spring of good water, and--"
"No horrible wolves," interrupted Catharine. "Though I love this pretty ravine, and the banks and braes about us, I do not think I shall like to stay here. I heard the wolves only last night, when you and Louis were asleep."
"We must not forget to keep watch-fires."
"What shall we do for clothes?" said Catharine, glancing at her home-spun frock of wool and cotton plaid.
"A weighty consideration indeed," sighed Hector; "clothes must be provided before ours are worn out and the winter comes on."
"We must save all the skins of the woodchucks and squirrels," suggested Louis; "and fawns when we catch them."
"Yes, and fawns when we get them," added Hector; "but it is time enough to think of all these things; we must not give up all hope of home."
"I give up all hope? I shall hope on while I have life," said Catharine. "My dear, dear father, he will never forget his lost children; he will try and find us, alive or dead; he will never give up the search."
Poor child, how long did this hope burn like a living torch in thy guileless breast. How often, as they roamed those hills and valleys, were thine eyes sent into the gloomy recesses of the dark ravines and thick bushes, with the hope that they would meet the advancing form and outstretched arms of thy earthly parents: all in vain. Yet the arms of thy heavenly Father were extended over thee, to guide, to guard, and to sustain thee.
How often were Catharine's hands filled with wild-flowers, to carry home, as she fondly said, to sick Louise or her mother. Poor Catharine, how often did your bouquets fade; how often did the sad exile water them with her tears,--for hers was the hope that keeps alive despair.
When they roused them in the morning to recommence their fruitless wanderings, they would say to each other, "Perhaps we shall see our father, he may find us here to-day;" but evening came, and still he came not, and they were no nearer to their father's home than they had been the day previous.
"If we could but find our way back to the 'Cold Creek,' we might, by following its course, return to Cold Springs," said Hector.
"I doubt much the fact of the 'Cold Creek' having any connection with our Spring," said Louis; "I think it has its rise in the Beaver Meadow, and following its course would only entangle us among those wolfish balsam and cedar swamps, or lead us yet further astray into the thick recesses of the pine forest. For my part, I believe we are already fifty miles from Cold Springs."
Persons who lose their way in the pathless woods have no idea of distance, or the points of the compass, unless they can see the sun rise and set, which it is not possible to do when surrounded by the dense growth of forest-trees; they rather measure distance by the time they have been wandering, than by any other token.
The children knew that they had been a long time absent from home, wandering hither and thither and they fancied their journey had been as long as it had been weary. They had indeed the comfort of seeing the sun in its course from east to west, but they knew not in what direction the home they had lost lay; it was this that troubled them in their choice of the course they should take each day, and at last determined them to lose no more time so fruitlessly, where the peril was so great, but seek for some pleasant spot where they might pass their time in safety, and provide for their present and future wants.
"The world was all before them, where to choose Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."
Catharine declared her ankle was so much stronger than it had been since the accident, and her health so much amended, that the day after the conversation just recorded, the little party bade farewell to the valley of the "Big Stone," and ascending the steep sides of the hills, bent their steps eastward, keeping the lake to their left hand. Hector led the way, loaded with the axe, which he would trust to no one but himself, the tin-pot, and the birch basket. Louis had to assist his cousin up the steep banks, likewise some fish to carry, which had been caught early in the morning.
The wanderers thought at first to explore the ground near the lake shore, but soon abandoned this resolution on finding the undergrowth of trees and bushes become so thick that they made little progress, and the fatigue of travelling was greatly increased by having continually to put aside the bushes or bend them down.
Hector advised trying the higher ground; and after following a deer-path through a small ravine that crossed the hills, they found themselves on a fine extent of table-land, richly but not too densely wooded with white and black oaks (_Quercus alba_, and _Quercus nigra_), diversified with here and there a solitary pine, which reared its straight and pillar-like trunk in stately grandeur above its leafy companions; a meet eyrie for the bald eagle, that kept watch from its dark crest over the silent waters of the lake, spread below like a silver zone studded with emeralds.
In their progress they passed the head of many small ravines, which divided the hilly shores of the lake into deep furrows: these furrows had once been channels by which the waters of some upper lake (the site of which is now dry land) had at a former period poured down into the valley, filling the basin of what now is called the Rice Lake. These waters, with resistless sweep, had ploughed their way between the hills, bearing in their course those blocks of granite and limestone which are so widely scattered both on the hill-tops and the plains, or form a rocky pavement at the bottom of the narrow defiles. What a sight of sublime desolation must that outpouring of the waters have presented, when those deep banks were riven by the sweeping torrents that were loosened from their former bounds! The pleased eye rests upon these tranquil shores, now covered with oaks and pines, or waving with a flood of golden grain, or varied by neat dwellings and fruitful gardens; and the gazer on that peaceful scene scarcely pictures to himself what it must have been when no living eye was there to mark the rushing floods when they scooped to themselves the
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