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- Lost in the Backwoods - 37/37 -
birch-trees on the brow of the slope near the corn-field.
"I will arise, and go to my father."--St. Luke.
It is the hour of sunset; the sonorous sound of the cattle-bells is heard, as they slowly emerge from the steep hill-path that leads to Maxwell and Louis Perron's little clearing; the dark shadows are lengthening that those wood-crowned hills cast over that sunny spot, an oasis in the vast forest desert that man, adventurous, courageous man, has hewed for himself in the wilderness. The little flock are feeding among the blackened stumps of the uncleared chopping: those timbers have lain thus untouched for two long years; the hand was wanting that should have given help in logging and burning them up. The wheat is ripe for the sickle, and the silken beard of the corn is waving like a fair girl's tresses in the evening breeze. The tinkling fall of the cold spring in yonder bank falls soothingly on the ear. Who comes from that low-roofed log-cabin to bring in the pitcher of water--that pale, careworn, shadowy figure that slowly moves along the green pasture, as one without hope or joy; her black hair shared with silver, her cheek pale as wax, and her hand so thin it looks as though the light might be seen through if she held it towards the sun? It is the heart-broken mother of Catharine and Hector Maxwell. Her heart has been pierced with many sorrows; she cannot yet forget the children of her love, her first-born girl and boy. Who comes to meet her, and with cheerful voice chides her for the tear that seems ever to be lingering on that pale cheek,--yet the premature furrows on that broad, sunburnt, manly brow speak, too, of inward care? It is the father of Hector and Catharine. Those two fine, healthy boys, in homespun blouses, that are talking so earnestly as they lean across the rail-fence of the little wheat field, are Kenneth and Donald; their sickles are on their arms--they have been reaping. They hear the sudden barking of Bruce and Wallace, the hounds, and turn to see what causes the agitation they display.
An old man draws near; he has a knapsack on his shoulders, which he casts down on the corner of the stoup; he is singing a line of an old French ditty; he raps at the open door. The Highlander bids him welcome, but starts with glad surprise as his hand is grasped by the old trapper.
"Hah, Jacob Morelle, it is many a weary year since your step turned this way." The tear stood in the eye of the soldier as he spoke.
"Can you receive me and those I have with me for the night?" asked the old man; in a husky voice--his kind heart was full. "A spare corner, a shake-down, will do; we travellers in the bush are no wise nice."
"The best we have, and kindly welcome, Jacob. How many are ye in all?"
"There are just four, besides myself,--young people. I found them where they had been long living, on a lonely lake, and I persuaded them to come with me."
The strong features of the Highlander worked convulsively, as he drew his faded blue bonnet over his eyes. "Jacob, did ye ken that we lost our eldest bairns some three summers since?" he faltered in a broken voice.
"The Lord, in his mercy, has restored them to you, Donald, by my hand," said the trapper.
"Let me see, let me see my children! To Him be the praise and the glory," ejaculated the pious father, raising his bonnet reverently from his head; "and holy and blessed be His name for ever! I thought not to have seen this day. O Catharine, my dear wife, this joy will kill you!"
In a moment his children were enfolded in his arms. It is a mistaken idea that joy kills; it is a life restorer. Could you, my young readers, have seen how quickly the bloom of health began to reappear on the faded cheek of that pale mother, and how soon that dim eye regained its bright sparkle, you would have said joy does not kill.
"But where is Louis, dear Louis, our nephew, where is he?"
Louis, whose impetuosity was not to be restrained by the caution of old Jacob, had cleared the log-fence at a bound, had hastily embraced his cousins Kenneth and Donald, and in five minutes more had rushed into his father's cottage, and wept his joy in the arms of father, mother, and sisters by turns, before old Jacob had introduced the impatient Hector and Catharine to their father.
"But while joy is in our little dwelling, who is this that sits apart upon that stone by the log-fence, her face bent sadly down upon her knees, her long raven hair shading her features as with a veil?" asked the Highlander Maxwell, pointing as he spoke to the spot where, unnoticed and unsharing in the joyful recognition, sat the poor Indian girl. There was no paternal embrace for her, no tender mother's kiss imprinted on that dusky cheek and pensive brow; she was alone and desolate in the midst of that scene of gladness.
"It is my Indian sister," said Catharine; "she also must be your child."
Hector hurried to Indiana, and taking her by the hand led her to his parents, and bade them be kind to and cherish the young stranger, to whom they all owed so much.
Time passes on--years, long years have gone by since the return of the lost children to their homes, and many changes have those years effected. The log-houses have fallen to decay--a growth of young pines, a waste of emerald turf with the charred logs that once formed part of the enclosure, now scarcely serve to mark out the old settlement; no trace or record remains of the first breakers of the bush--another race occupy the ground. The traveller as he passes along on that smooth turnpike road that leads from Coburg to Cold Springs, and from thence to Gore's Landing, may notice a green waste by the roadside on either hand, and fancy that thereabouts our Canadian Crusoes' home once stood: he sees the lofty wood-crowned hill, and in spring time--for in summer it is hidden by the luxuriant foliage--the little forest creek; and he may, if thirsty, taste of the pure, fresh, icy water, as it still wells out from a spring in the steep bank, rippling through the little cedar-trough that Louis Perron placed there for the better speed of his mother when filling her water jug. All else is gone. And what wrought the change a few words will suffice to tell. Some travelling fur merchants brought the news to Donald Maxwell that a party of Highlanders had made a settlement above Montreal, and among them were some of his kindred. The old soldier resolved to join them, and it was not hard to prevail upon his brother-in-law to accompany him, for they were all now weary of living so far from their fellow-men; and bidding farewell to the little log-houses at Cold Springs, they now journeyed downwards to the new settlement, where they were gladly received, their long experience of the country making their company a most valuable acquisition to the new-come colonists.
Not long after, the Maxwells took possession of a grant of land, and cleared and built for themselves and their family. Hector, now a fine industrious young man, presented at the baptismal font, as a candidate for baptism, the Indian girl, and then received at the altar his newly-baptized bride. Catharine and Louis were married on the same day as Hector and Indiana. They lived happy and prosperous lives; and often, by their firesides, would delight their children by recounting the history of their wanderings on the Rice Lake Plains.
[About this edition: _Lost in the Woods_ was originally published in 1852 under the title _The Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains_. After several editions, it was republished in 1882 under its present title, as _Lost in the Backwoods_.]
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