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- Lost in the Backwoods - 30/37 -

It does indeed need the softening influence of that powerful Spirit, which was shed abroad into the world to turn the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to break down the strongholds of unrighteousness, and to teach man that he is by nature the child of wrath and victim of sin, and that in his unregenerated nature his whole mind is at enmity with God and his fellow-men, and that in his flesh dwelleth no good thing. And the Indian has acknowledged that power; he has cast his idols of cruelty and revenge, those virtues on which he prided himself in the blindness of his heart, to the moles and the bats; he has bowed and adored at the foot of the Cross. But it was not so in the days whereof I have spoken.


"Must this sweet new-blown rose find such a winter Before her spring be past?"


The little bark touched the stony point of Long Island. The Indian lifted his weeping prisoner from the canoe, and motioned to her to move forward along the narrow path that led to the camp, about twenty yards higher up the bank, where there was a little grassy spot enclosed with shrubby trees; the squaws tarried at the lake-shore to bring up the paddles and secure the canoe.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an enemy, but doubly so when that enemy is a stranger to the language in which we would plead for mercy, whose god is not our God, nor his laws those by which we ourselves are governed. Thus felt the poor captive as she stood alone, mute with terror, among the half-naked, dusky forms with which she now found herself surrounded. She cast a hurried glance round that strange assembly, if by chance her eye might rest upon some dear familiar face; but she saw not the kind but grave face of Hector, nor met the bright sparkling eyes of her cousin Louis, nor the soft, subdued, pensive features of the Indian girl, her adopted sister. She stood alone among those wild, gloomy-looking men; some turned away their eyes as if they would not meet her woe-stricken countenance, lest they should be moved to pity her sad condition. No wonder that, overcome by the sense of her utter forlornness, she hid her face with her fettered hands and wept in despair. But the Indian's sympathy is not moved by tears and sighs; calmness, courage, defiance of danger, and contempt of death, are what he venerates and admires even in an enemy.

The Indians beheld her grief unmoved. At length the old man, who seemed to be a chief among the rest, motioned to one of the women who leaned against the side of the wigwam to come forward and lead away the stranger. Catharine, whose senses were beginning to be more collected, heard the old man give orders that she was to be fed and cared for. Gladly did she escape from the presence of those pitiless men, from whose gaze she shrunk with maidenly modesty. And now when alone with the women she hesitated not to make use of that natural language which requires not the aid of speech to make itself understood. Clasping her hands imploringly, she knelt at the feet of the Indian woman, her conductress, kissed her dark hands, and bathed them with her fast-flowing tears, while she pointed passionately to the shore where lay the happy home from which she had been so suddenly torn.

The squaw, though she evidently comprehended the meaning of her imploring gestures, shook her head, and in plaintive earnest tone replied in her own language that she must go with the canoes to the other shore, and she pointed to the north as she spoke. She then motioned to the young girl--the same that had been Catharine's companion in the canoe--to bring a hunting-knife which was thrust into one of the folds of the birch-bark of the wigwam. Catharine beheld the deadly weapon in the hands of the Indian woman with a pang of agony as great as if its sharp edge was already at her throat. So young--so young, to die by a cruel bloody death! what had been her crime? How should she find words to soften the heart of her murderess? The power of utterance seemed denied. She cast herself on her knees and held up her hands in silent prayer; not to the dreaded Indian woman, but to Him who heareth the prayer of the poor destitute--who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of men.

The squaw stretched forth one dark hand and grasped the arm of the terror-stricken girl, while the other held the weapon of destruction. With a quick movement she severed the thongs that bound the fettered wrists of the pleading captive, and with a smile that seemed to light up her whole face she raised her from her prostrate position, laid her hand upon her young head and with an expression of good-humoured surprise lifted the flowing tresses of her sunny hair and spread them over the back of her own swarthy hand; then, as if amused by the striking contrast, she shook down her own jetty-black hair and twined a tress of it with one of the fair-haired girl's, then laughed till her teeth shone like pearls within her red lips. Many were the exclamations of childish wonder that broke from the other females as they compared the snowy arm of the stranger with their own dusky skins: it was plain that they had no intention of harming her, and by degrees distrust and dread of her singular companions began in some measure to subside.

The squaw motioned her to take a seat on a mat beside her, and gave her a handful of parched rice and some deer's flesh to eat; but Catharine's heart was too heavy. She was suffering from thirst; and on pronouncing the Indian word for water, the young girl snatched up a piece of birch-bark from the floor of the tent, and gathering the corners together, ran to the lake, and soon returned with water in this most primitive drinking-vessel, which she held to the lips of her guest, and she seemed amused by the long, deep draught with which Catharine slaked her thirst. Something like a gleam of hope came over Catharine's mind as she marked the look of kindly feeling with which she caught the young Indian girl regarding her, and she strove to overcome the choking sensation that would from time to time rise to her throat as she fluctuated between hope and fear. The position of the Indian camp was so placed that it was quite hidden from the shore and Catharine could neither see the mouth of the ravine, nor the steep side of the mount that her brother and cousin were accustomed to ascend and descend in their visits to the lake-shore, nor had she any means of making a signal to them even if she had seen them on the beach.

The long, anxious, watchful night passed, and soon after sunrise, while the morning mists still hung over the lake, the canoes of the Indians were launched, and long before noon they were in the mouth of the river. Catharine's heart sunk within her as the fast receding shores of the lake showed each minute fainter in the distance. At mid-day they halted at a fine bend in the river, and landed on a small open place where a creek flowing down through the woods afforded them cool water; here they found several tents put up and a larger party awaiting their return. The river was here a fine, broad, deep, and tranquil stream; trees of many kinds fringed the edge, beyond was the unbroken forest, whose depths had never been pierced by the step of man--so thick and luxuriant was the vegetation that even the Indian could hardly have penetrated through its dark, swampy glades: far as the eye could reach, that impenetrable, interminable wall of verdure stretched away into the far-off distance.

All the remainder of that sad day Catharine sat on the grass under a shady tree, her eyes mournfully fixed on the slow-flowing waters, and wondering at her own hard fate in being thus torn from her home and its dear inmates. Bad as she had thought her separation from her father and mother and her brothers, when she first left her home to become a wanderer on the Rice Lake Plains, how much more dismal now was her situation, snatched from the dear companions who had upheld and cheered her on in all her sorrows! Now that she was alone with none to love or cherish or console her, she felt a desolation of spirit that almost made her forgetful of the trust that had hitherto always sustained her in time of trouble or sickness. She looked round, and her eye fell on the strange, unseemly forms of men and women who cared not for her, and to whom she was an object of indifference or aversion; she wept when she thought of the grief her absence would occasion to Hector and Louis; the thought of their distress increased her own.

The soothing quiet of the scene, with the low, lulling sound of the little brook as its tiny wavelets fell tinkling over the mossy roots and stones that impeded its course to the river, joined with fatigue and long exposure to the sun and air, caused her at length to fall asleep. The last rosy light of the setting sun was dyeing the waters with a glowing tint when she awoke; a soft blue haze hung upon the trees; the kingfisher and dragon-fly, and a solitary loon, were the only busy things abroad on the river,--the first darting up and down from an upturned root, near the water's edge, feeding its younglings; the dragon-fly hawking with rapid whirring sound for insects; and the loon, just visible from above the surface of the still stream, sailing quietly on companionless like her who watched its movements.

The bustle of the hunters returning with game and fish to the encampment roused many a sleepy brown papoose; the fires were renewed, the evening was now preparing, and Catharine, chilled by the falling dew, crept to the enlivening warmth. And here she was pleased at being recognized by one friendly face; it was the mild, benevolent countenance of the widow Snowstorm, who, with her three sons, came to bid her to share their camp fire and food. The kindly grasp of the hand and the beaming smile that were given by this good creature, albeit she was ugly and ill-featured, cheered the sad captive's heart. She had given her a cup of cold water and such food as her log-cabin afforded; in return the good Indian took her to her wigwam and fed, warmed, and cherished her with the loving-kindness of a Christian. During all her sojourn in the Indian camp, the widow Snowstorm was as a tender mother to her, drying her tears and showing her those little acts of attention that even the untaught Indians know are grateful to the sorrowful and destitute. Catharine often forgot her own griefs to repay this worthy creature's kindness, by attending to her little babe, and assisting her in her homely cookery or household work. She knew that a selfish indulgence in sorrow would do her no good, and after the lapse of some days she so well disciplined her own heart as to check her tears, at least in the presence of the Indian women, and to assume an air of comparative cheerfulness. Once she found Indian words enough to ask the Indian widow to convey her back to the lake, but she shook her head and bade her not think anything about it; and added that in autumn, when the ducks came to the rice-beds, they should all return, and then if she could obtain leave from the chief, she would restore her to her lodge on the Plains; but signified to her that patience was her only present remedy, and that submission to the will of the chief was her wisest plan. Comforted by this vague promise, Catharine strove to be reconciled to her strange lot and still stranger companions. She was surprised at the want of curiosity respecting her evinced by the Indians in the wigwam when she was brought thither; they appeared to take little notice that a stranger, and one so dissimilar to themselves, had been introduced into the camp. Catharine learned, by long acquaintance with this people, that an outward manifestation of surprise is considered a want of etiquette and good-breeding, or rather a proof of weakness and childishness. The

Lost in the Backwoods - 30/37

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