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- Lost in the Backwoods - 20/37 -
in the use of it. Catharine and Hector declared that he went out with his bow and arrows, and visited his dead-falls and snares, ten times oftener than he used to do, just for the sake of proving the admirable properties of this precious utensil, and finding out some new way of dressing his game.
At all events, there was a valuable increase of furs, for making up into clothing, caps, leggings, mitts, and other articles.
From the Indian girl Catharine learned the value of many of the herbs and shrubs that grew in her path, the bark and leaves of various trees, and many dyes she could extract, with which she stained the quills of the porcupine and the strips of the wood of which she made baskets and mats. The little creeping winter-green, [Footnote: Gaultheria procumbens,--spice winter-green.] with its scarlet berries, that grows on the dry flats or sandy hills, which the Canadians call spice-berry, she showed them was good to eat; and she would crush the leaves, draw forth their fine aromatic flavour in her hands, and then inhale their fragrance with delight. She made an infusion of the leaves, and drank it as a tonic. The inner bark of the wild black cherry she said was good to cure ague and fever. The root of the bitter-sweet she scraped down and boiled in the deer-fat, or the fat of any other animal, and made an ointment that possessed very healing qualities, especially as an immediate application to fresh burns.
Sometimes she showed a disposition to mystery, and would conceal the knowledge of the particular herbs she made use of; and Catharine several times noticed that she would go out and sprinkle a portion of the food she had assisted her in preparing, on the earth, or under some of the trees or bushes. When she was more familiar with their language, she told Catharine this was done in token of gratitude to the Good Spirit, who had given them success in hunting or trapping; or else it was to appease the malice of the Evil Spirit; who might bring mischief or loss to them, or sickness or death, unless his forbearance was purchased by some particular mark of attention.
Attention, memory, and imitation appeared to form the three most remarkable of the mental faculties developed by the Indian girl. She examined (when once her attention was roused) any object with critical minuteness. Any knowledge she had once acquired she retained; her memory was great, she never missed a path she had once trodden; she seemed even to single out particular birds in a flock, to know them from their companions. Her powers of imitation were also great. She brought patience and perseverance to assist her: when once thoroughly interested in any work she began, she would toil on untiringly till it was completed; and then what triumph shone in her eyes! At such times they became darkly brilliant with the joy that filled her heart. But she possessed little talent for invention; what she had seen done, after a few imperfect attempts, she could do again, but she rarely struck out any new path for herself.
At times she was docile and even playful, and appeared grateful for the kindness with which she was treated, each day seemed to increase her fondness for Catharine, and she appeared to delight in doing any little service to please and gratify her; but it was towards Hector that she displayed the deepest feeling of affection and respect. It was to him her first tribute of fruit, or flowers, furs, moccasins, or ornamental plumage of rare birds, was offered. She seemed to turn to him as to a master and protector. He was in her eyes the "_chief_," the head of his tribe. His bow was strung by her, and stained with quaint figures and devices; his arrows were carved by her; the sheath of deer-skin he carried his knife in was made and ornamented by her hands; also, the case for his arrows, of birch-bark, she wrought with especial neatness, and suspended by thongs to his neck when he was preparing to go out in search of game. She gave him the name of the "Young Eagle," while she called Louis "Nee-chee," or "Friend," to Catharine she gave the poetical name of "Music of the Winds,"--_Madwaosh_.
When they asked her to tell them her own name, she would bend down her head in sorrow and refuse to pronounce it. She soon answered to the name of Indiana, and seemed pleased with the sound.
But of all the household, next to Hector, old Wolfe was her greatest favourite. At first, it is true, the old dog regarded the new inmate with a jealous eye, and seemed uneasy when he saw her approach to caress him; but Indiana soon reconciled him to her person, and a mutual friendly feeling became established between them, which seemed daily and hourly to increase, greatly to the delight of the young stranger. She would seat herself Eastern fashion, cross-legged on the floor of the shanty, with the capacious head of the old dog in her lap, and address herself to this mute companion in wailing tones, as if she would unburden her heart by pouring into his unconscious ear her tale of desolation and woe.
Catharine was always very particular and punctual in performing her personal ablutions, and she intimated to Indiana that it was good for her to do the same. The young girl seemed reluctant to follow her example, till daily custom had reconciled her to what she evidently at first regarded as an unnecessary ceremony; but she soon took pleasure in dressing her dark hair, and suffering Catharine to braid it and polish it till it looked glossy and soft. Indiana in her turn would adorn Catharine with the wings of the blue-bird or red-bird, the crest of the wood-duck, or quill feathers of the golden-winged flicker, which is called in the Indian tongue the shot-bird, in allusion to the round spots on its cream-coloured breast. [Footnote: The golden-winged flicker belongs to a sub-genus of woodpeckers, it is very handsome, and is said to be eatable, it lives on fruits and insects.] It was not in these things alone she indicated her grateful sense of the sisterly kindness that her young hostess showed to her; she soon learned to lighten her labours in every household work, and above all, she spent her time most usefully in manufacturing clothing from the skins of the wild animals, and in teaching Catharine how to fit and prepare them: but these were the occupations of the winter months.
"Go to the ant."--Proverbs.
It was now the middle of September. The weather, which had continued serene and beautiful for some time, with dewy nights and misty mornings, began to show symptoms of the change of season usual at the approach of the equinox. Sudden squalls of wind, with hasty showers, would come sweeping over the lake; the nights and mornings were damp and chilly. Already the tints of autumn were beginning to crimson the foliage of the oaks, and where the islands were visible, the splendid colours of the maple shone out in gorgeous contrast with the deep verdure of the evergreens and light golden-yellow of the poplar; but lovely as they now looked, they had not yet reached the meridian of their beauty, which a few frosty nights at the close of the month were destined to bring to perfection--a glow of splendour to gladden the eye for a brief space, before the rushing winds and rains of the following month were to sweep them away and scatter them abroad upon the earth.
One morning, after a night of heavy rain and wind, the two boys went down to see if the lake was calm enough for trying the raft, which Louis had finished before the coming on of the bad weather. The water was rough and crested with mimic waves, and they felt indisposed to launch the raft on so stormy a surface, but stood looking out over the lake and admiring the changing foliage, when Hector pointed out to his cousin a dark speck dancing on the waters, between the two nearest islands. The wind, which blew very strong still from the north-east, brought the object nearer every minute. At first they thought it might be a pine-branch that was floating on the surface, when as it came bounding over the waves, they perceived that it was a birch canoe, but impelled by no visible arm. It was a strange sight upon that lonely lake to see a vessel of any kind afloat, and, on first deciding that it was a canoe, the boys were inclined to hide themselves among the bushes, for fear of the Indians; but curiosity got the better of their fears.
"The owner of yonder little craft is either asleep or absent from her; for I see no paddle, and it is evidently drifting without any one to guide it," said Hector, after intently watching the progress of the tempest-driven canoe. Assured as it approached nearer that such was the case, they hurried to the beach just as a fresh gust had lodged the canoe among the branches of a fallen cedar which projected out some way into the water.
By creeping along the trunk of the tree, and trusting at times to the projecting boughs, Louis, who was the most active and the lightest of weight, succeeded in getting within reach of the canoe, and with some trouble and the help of a stout branch that Hector handed to him, he contrived to moor her in safety on the shore, taking the precaution of hauling her well up on the shingle, lest the wind and water should set her afloat again. "Hec, there is something in this canoe, the sight of which will gladden your heart," cried Louis, with a joyful look. "Come quickly, and see my treasures!"
"Treasures! You may well call them treasures," exclaimed Hector, as he helped Louis to examine the contents of the canoe and place them on the shore side by side.
The boys could hardly find words to express their joy and surprise at the discovery of a large jar of parched rice, a tomahawk, an Indian blanket almost as good as new, a large mat rolled up, with a bass-bark rope several yards in length wound round it, and, what was more precious than all, an iron three-legged pot in which was a quantity of Indian corn. These articles had evidently constituted the stores of some Indian hunter or trapper: possibly the canoe had been imperfectly secured, and had drifted from its moorings during the gale of the previous night, unless by some accident the owner had fallen into the lake and been drowned. This was of course only a matter of conjecture on which it was useless to speculate, and the boys joyfully took possession of the good fortune that had so providentially been wafted, as it were, to their very feet.
"It was a capital chance for us, that old cedar having been blown down last night just where it was," said Louis; "for if the canoe had not been drawn into the eddy, and stopped by the branches, we might have lost it. I trembled, when I saw the wind driving it on so rapidly, that it would founder in the deep water or go off to Long Island."
"I think we should have got it at Pine-tree Point," said Hector; "but I am glad it was lodged so cleverly among the cedar boughs. I was half afraid you would have fallen in once or twice when you were trying to draw it nearer to the shore."
"Never fear for me, my friend; I can cling like a wild cat when I climb. But what a grand pot! What delightful soups, and stews, and boils Catharine will make! Hurrah!" and Louis tossed up the new fur cap he had made with great skill from an entire fox-skin, and cut sundry fantastic capers which Hector gravely condemned as unbecoming his mature age (Louis was turned of fifteen); but with the joyous spirit of a little child he sang and danced, and laughed and shouted, till the lonely echoes of the islands and far-off hills returned the
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