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- Lost in the Backwoods - 5/37 -
Louis! here indeed is provision to keep us from starving;" for her eye had caught the bright red strawberries among the flowers and herbage on the slope--large ripe strawberries, the very finest she had ever seen.
"There is, indeed, ma belle," said Louis, stooping as he spoke to gather up, not the fruit, but a dozen fresh partridge's eggs from the inner shade of a thick tuft of grass and herbs that grew beside a fallen tree. Catharine's voice and sudden movements had startled the ruffed grouse [Footnote: The Canadian partridge is a species of grouse, larger than the English or French partridge. We refer our young readers to the finely arranged specimens in the British Museum (open to the public), where they may discover "Louis's partridge."] from her nest, and the eggs were soon transferred to Louis's straw hat, while a stone flung by the steady hand of Hector stunned the parent bird. The boys laughed exultingly as they displayed their prizes to the astonished Catharine, who, in spite of hunger, could not help regretting the death of the mother bird. Girls and women rarely sympathize with men and boys in their field sports, and Hector laughed at his sister's doleful looks as he handed over the bird to her.
"It was a lucky chance," said he, "and the stone was well aimed, but it is not the first partridge that I have killed in this way. They are so stupid you may even run them down at times; I hope to get another before the day is over.
"Well, there is no fear of starving to-day, at all events," he added, as he inspected the contents of his cousin's hat; "twelve nice fresh eggs, a bird, and plenty of fruit."
"But how shall we cook the bird and the eggs? We have no means of getting a fire made," said Catharine.
"As to the eggs," said Louis, "we can eat them raw; it is not for hungry wanderers like us to be over-nice about our food."
"They would satisfy us much better were they boiled, or roasted in the ashes," observed Hector.
"True. Well, a fire, I think, can be got with a little trouble."
"But how?" asked Hector.
"Oh, there are many ways, but the readiest would be a flint with the help of my knife."
"Yes, if we could get one: but I see nothing but granite, which crumbles and shivers when struck--we could not get a spark. However, I think it's very likely that one of the round pebbles I see on the beach yonder may be found hard enough for the purpose."
To the shore they bent their steps as soon as the little basket had been well filled with strawberries; and descending the precipitous bank, fringed with young saplings; birch, ash, and poplars, they quickly found themselves beside the bright waters of the lake. A flint was soon found among the water-worn stones that lay thickly strewn upon the shore, and a handful of dry sedge, almost as inflammable as tinder, was collected without trouble: though Louis, with the recklessness of his nature, had coolly proposed to tear a strip from his cousin's apron as a substitute for tinder,--a proposal that somewhat raised the indignation of the tidy Catharine, whose ideas of economy and neatness were greatly outraged, especially as she had no sewing implements to assist in mending the rent. Louis thought nothing of that; it was a part of his character to think only of the present, little of the past, and to let the future provide for itself. Such was Louis's great failing, which had proved a fruitful source of trouble both to himself and others. In this respect he bore a striking contrast to his more cautious companion, who possessed much of the gravity of his father. Hector was as heedful and steady in his decisions as Louis was rash and impetuous.
After many futile attempts, and some skin knocked off their knuckles through awkward handling of the knife and flint, a good fire was at last kindled, as there was no lack of dry wood on the shore. Catharine then triumphantly produced her tin pot, and the eggs were boiled, greatly to the satisfaction of all parties, who were by this time sufficiently hungry, having eaten nothing since the previous evening more substantial than the strawberries they had taken during the time they were gathering them in the morning.
Catharine had selected a pretty, cool, shady recess, a natural bower, under the overhanging growth of [Illustration: THE FIRST BREAKFAST.] cedars, poplars, and birch, which were wreathed together by the flexible branches of the wild grape vine and bitter-sweet, which climbed to a height of fifteen feet [Footnote: _Celastrus scandens_,--bitter-sweet or woody nightshade. This plant, like the red-berried bryony of England, is highly ornamental. It possesses powerful properties as a medicine, and is in high reputation among the Indians.] among the branches of the trees, which it covered as with a mantle. A pure spring of cold, delicious water welled out from beneath the twisted roots of an old hoary-barked cedar, and found its way among the shingle on the beach to the lake, a humble but constant tributary to its waters. Some large blocks of water-worn stone formed convenient seats and a natural table, on which the little maiden arranged the forest fare; and never was a meal made with greater appetite or taken with more thankfulness than that which our wanderers ate that morning. The eggs (part of which they reserved for another time) were declared to be better than those that were daily produced from the little hen-house at Cold Springs. The strawberries, set out in little pottles made with the shining leaves of the oak, ingeniously pinned together by Catharine with the long spurs of the hawthorn, were voted delicious, and the pure water most refreshing, that they drank, for lack of better cups, from a large mussel-shell which Catharine had picked up among the weeds and pebbles on the beach.
Many children would have wandered about weeping and disconsolate, lamenting their sad fate, or have imbittered the time by useless repining, or, perhaps, by venting their uneasiness in reviling the principal author of their calamity--poor, thoughtless Louis; but such were not the dispositions of our young Canadians. Early accustomed to the hardships incidental to the lives of the settlers in the bush, these young people had learned to bear with patience and cheerfulness privations that would have crushed the spirits of children more delicately nurtured. They had known every degree of hunger and nakedness: during the first few years of their lives they had often been compelled to subsist for days and weeks upon roots and herbs, wild fruits, and game which their fathers had learned to entrap, to decoy, and to shoot. Thus Louis and Hector had early been initiated into the mysteries of the chase. They could make dead-falls, and pits, and traps, and snares; they were as expert as Indians in the use of the bow; they could pitch a stone or fling a wooden dart at partridge, hare, and squirrel with almost unerring aim; and were as swift of foot as young fawns. Now it was that they learned to value in its fullest extent this useful and practical knowledge, which enabled them to face with fortitude the privations of a life so precarious as that to which they were now exposed.
It was one of the elder Maxwell's maxims,--Never, let difficulties overcome you, but rather strive to conquer them; let the head direct the hand, and the hand, like a well-disciplined soldier, obey the head as chief. When his children expressed any doubts of not being able to accomplish any work they had begun, he would say, "Have you not hands, have you not a head, have you not eyes to see, and reason to guide you? As for impossibilities, they do not belong to the trade of a soldier,--he dare not see them." Thus were energy and perseverance early instilled into the, minds of his children. They were now called upon to give practical proofs of the precepts that had been taught them in childhood. Hector trusted to his axe, and Louis to his _couteau de chasse_ and pocket-knife,--the latter was a present from an old forest friend of his father's, who had visited them the previous winter, and which, by good luck, Louis had in his pocket,--a capacious pouch, in which were stored many precious things, such as coils of twine and string, strips of leather, with odds and ends of various kinds--nails, bits of iron, leather, and such miscellaneous articles as find their way most mysteriously into boys' pockets in general, and Louis Perron's in particular, who was a wonderful collector of such small matters.
The children were not easily daunted by the prospect of passing a few days abroad on so charming a spot, and at such a lovely season, where fruits were so abundant; and when they had finished their morning meal, so providentially placed within their reach, they gratefully acknowledged the mercy of God in this thing.
Having refreshed themselves by bathing their hands and faces in the lake, they cheerfully renewed their wanderings, though something loath to leave the cool shade and the spring for an untrodden path among the hills and deep ravines that furrow the shores of the Rice Lake in so remarkable a manner; and often did our weary wanderers pause to look upon the wild glens and precipitous hills, where the fawn and the shy deer found safe retreats, unharmed by the rifle of the hunter, where the osprey and white-headed eagle built their nests, unheeded and unharmed. Twice that day, misled by following the track of the deer, had they returned to the samespot,--a deep and lovely glen, which had once been a watercourse, but was now a green and shady valley. This they named the Valley of the Rock, from a remarkable block of red granite that occupied a central position in the narrow defile; and here they prepared to pass their second night on the Plains. A few boughs cut down and interlaced with the shrubs round a small space cleared with Hector's axe, formed shelter, and leaves and grass, strewed on the ground, formed a bed--though not so smooth, perhaps, as the bark and cedar boughs that the Indians spread within their summer wigwams for carpets and couches, or the fresh heather that the Highlanders gather on the wild Scottish hills.
While Hector and Louis were preparing the sleeping chamber, Catharine busied herself in preparing the partridge for their supper. Having collected some thin peelings from the rugged bark of a birch tree that grew on the side of the steep bank to which she gave the appropriate name of the "Birken Shaw," she dried it in her bosom, and then beat it fine upon a big stone, till it resembled the finest white paper. This proved excellent tinder, the aromatic oil contained in the bark of the birch being highly inflammable. Hector had prudently retained the flint that they had used in the morning, and a fire was now lighted in front of the rocky stone, and a forked stick, stuck in the ground, and bent over the coals, served as a spit, on which, gipsy-fashion, the partridge was suspended,--a scanty meal, but thankfully partaken of, though they knew not how they should breakfast next morning. The children felt they were pensioners on God's providence not less than the wild denizens of the wilderness around them.
When Hector--who by nature was less sanguine than his sister or cousin--expressed some anxiety for their provisions for the morrow, Catharine, who had early listened with trusting piety of heart to the teaching of her father, when he read portions from the holy Word of God, gently laid her hand upon her brother's head, which rested on her knees, as he sat upon the grass beside her, and said, in a low and earnest tone, "'Consider the fowls of the air: they sow not, neither
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