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- Lost in the Backwoods - 3/37 -


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 very aspect of the country was different; the growth of the trees, the flow of the stream, all indicated a change of soil and scene. Darkness was fast drawing its impenetrable veil around them; a few stars were stealing out, and gleaming down as if with pitying glance upon the young wanderers, but they could not light up their pathway or point their homeward track. The only sounds, save the lulling murmur of the rippling stream below, were the plaintive note of the whip-poor-will, from a gnarled oak that grew near them, and the harsh grating scream of the night hawk, darting about in the higher regions of the air, pursuing its noisy congeners, or swooping down with that peculiar hollow rushing sound, as of a person blowing into some empty vessel, when it seizes with wide-extended bill its insect prey.

Hector was the first to break the silence. "Cousin Louis, we were wrong in following the course of the stream; I fear we shall never find our way back tonight."

Louis made no reply; his sad and subdued air failed not to attract the attention of his cousins.

"Why, Louis, how is this? you are not used to be cast down by difficulties," said Hector, as he marked something like tears glistening in the dark eyes of his cousin.

Louis's heart was full; he did not reply, but cast a troubled glance upon the weary Catharine, who leaned heavily against the tree beneath which she sat.

"It is not," resumed Hector, "that I mind passing a summer's night under such a sky as this, and with such a dry grassy bed below me; but I do not think it is good for Catharine to sleep on the bare ground in the night dews,--and then they will be so anxious at home about our absence."

Louis burst into tears, and sobbed out,--"And it is all my doing that she came out with us; I deceived her, and my aunt will be angry and much alarmed, for she did not know of her going at all. Dear Catharine, good cousin Hector, pray forgive me!"

But Catharine was weeping too much to reply to his passionate entreaties; and Hector, who never swerved from the truth, for which he had almost a stern reverence, hardly repressed his indignation at what appeared to him a most culpable act of deceit on the part of Louis.

The sight of her cousin's grief and self-abasement touched the tender heart of Catharine; for she was kind and dove-like in her disposition, and loved Louis, with all his faults. Had it not been for the painful consciousness of the grief their unusual absence would occasion at home, Catharine would have thought nothing of their present adventure; but she could not endure the idea of her high-principled father taxing her with deceiving her kind indulgent mother and him. It was this humiliating thought which wounded the proud heart of Hector, causing him to upbraid his cousin in somewhat harsh terms for his want of truthfulness, and steeled him against the bitter grief that wrung the heart of the penitent Louis, who, leaning his wet cheek on the shoulder of Catharine, sobbed as if his heart would break, heedless of her soothing words and affectionate endeavours to console him.

"Dear Hector," she said, turning her soft pleading eyes on the stern face of her brother, "you must not be so very angry with poor Louis. Remember it was to please me, and give me the enjoyment of a day of liberty with you and himself in the woods, among the flowers and trees and birds, that he committed this fault."

"Catharine, Louis told an untruth, and acted deceitfully. And look at the consequences: we shall have forfeited our parents' confidence, and may have some days of painful privation to endure before we regain our home, if we ever do find our way back to Cold Springs," replied Hector.

"It is the grief and anxiety our dear parents will endure this night," answered Catharine, "that distresses my mind; but," she added, in more cheerful tones, "let us not despair, no doubt to-morrow we shall be able to retrace our steps."

With the young there is ever a magical spell in that little word _to-morrow_,--it is a point which they pursue as fast as it recedes from them; sad indeed is the young heart that does not look forward with hope to the future!

The cloud still hung on Hector's brow, till Catharine gaily exclaimed, "Come, Hector! come Louis! we must not stand idling thus; we must think of providing some shelter for the night: it is not good to rest upon the bare ground exposed to the night dews.--See, here is a nice hut, half made," pointing to a large upturned root which some fierce whirlwind had hurled from the lofty bank into the gorge of the dark glen.

"Now you must make haste, and lop off a few pine boughs, and stick them into the ground, or even lean them against the roots of this old oak, and there, you see, will be a capital house to shelter us. To work, to work, you idle boys, or poor wee Katty must turn squaw and build her own wigwam," she playfully added, taking up the axe which rested against the feathery pine beneath which Hector was leaning. Now, Catharine cared as little as her brother and cousin about passing a warm summer's night under the shade of the forest trees, for she was both hardy and healthy; but her woman's heart taught her that the surest means of reconciling the cousins would be by mutually interesting them in the same object,--and she was right. In endeavouring to provide for the comfort of their dear companion, all angry feelings were forgotten by Hector, while active employment chased away Louis's melancholy.

Unlike the tall, straight, naked trunks of the pines of the forest, those of the plains are adorned with branches often to the very ground, varying in form and height, and often presenting most picturesque groups, or rising singly among scattered groves of the silver-barked poplar or graceful birch trees; the dark mossy greenness of the stately pine contrasting finely with the light waving foliage of its slender, graceful companions.

Hector, with his axe, soon lopped boughs from one of the adjacent pines, which Louis sharpened with his knife and, with Catharine's assistance, drove into the ground, arranging them in such a way as to make the upturned oak, with its roots and the earth which adhered to them, form the back part of the hut, which when completed formed by no means a contemptible shelter. Catharine then cut fern and deer grass with Louis's _couteau de chasse_, which he always carried in a sheath at his girdle, and spread two beds,--one, parted off by dry boughs and bark, for herself, in the interior of the wigwam; and one for her brother and cousin, nearer the entrance. When all was finished to her satisfaction she called the two boys, and, according to the custom of her parents, joined them in the lifting up of their hands as an evening sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Nor were these simple-hearted children backward in imploring help and protection from the Most High. They earnestly prayed that no dangerous creature might come near to molest them during the hours of darkness and helplessness, no evil spirit visit them, no unholy or wicked thoughts intrude into their minds; but that holy angels and heavenly thoughts might hover over them, and fill their hearts with the peace of God which passeth all understanding. And the prayer of the poor wanderers was heard; they slept in peace, unharmed, in the vast solitude. So passed their first night on the Plains.

CHAPTER II

"Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows."--_St. Luke_.

The sun had risen in all the splendour of a Canadian summer morning when the sleepers arose from their leafy beds. In spite of the novelty of their situation, they had slept as soundly and tranquilly as if they had been under the protecting care of their beloved parents, on their little palliasses of corn straw; but they had been cared for by Him who neither slumbereth nor sleepeth, and they waked full of youthful hope, and in fulness of faith in His mercy into whose hands they had commended their souls and bodies before they retired to rest.


Lost in the Backwoods - 3/37

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