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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 6
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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 6 Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :3373

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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 6

CHAPTER SIX.

The south wind blew softly, the air was pure and balmy, the sun shone brightly, and the waters of the lake vied with the sky in the clearness of its azure tints. The birds too were warbling forth a happy song; not, however, with the full swelling chorus of spring, but yet sufficiently to give cheerfulness to the otherwise silent woods. It is a calumny on the feathered tribes of Canada to assert that they have no song; the blackbird can sing when he is inclined, as sweetly as his brother in England, and the Canadian robin's notes are as full of glee as those of his smaller namesake in the old country.

"By turning our eyes from the bare maples, beeches, and oaks, towards the pine trees, we might fancy that summer had come back again," said Philip; "the Indian summer at all events. Should to-morrow be like this, I propose knocking up D'Arcy. It's some days since we heard of him, and he will be feeling that we got tired of him with his visit here, poor fellow."

"Oh! don't let him think that," exclaimed Sophy, earnestly.

"No, that I will not," said Philip. "Who'll go? A little recreation will do some of us good, and we'll work all the better when we come back."

Something kept Sophy from volunteering to be of the party, but her younger sisters jumped at the proposal.

"I know that you are carefulness itself, Philip," said Mrs Ashton; "but I entreat you to have but very little sail set."

"Indeed, mother, I will carry only what is absolutely necessary," answered Philip. "We need be in no hurry--if the breeze holds, we shall have a soldier's wind, fair each way."

The breeze did not hold, and towards evening a thick fog came on. During the night a curious crackling sound was heard, and when daylight returned, the whole lake appeared frozen over. The entire household was soon on foot and braving the keen frosty air, to observe the change which a few short hours had wrought. There must have been a perfect calm when the ice took, for the entire surface of the lake was smooth as a polished mirror and of the same hue; while the surrounding trees and every shrub and blade of grass to be seen was covered with a coating of the purest white. Suddenly the sun rose above the wooded hill to the east, and the whole side of the lake on which its beams were cast, began to sparkle and flash as if covered with gems of the purest water. A light breeze waved the branches to and fro, and now they flashed and shone with increased brilliancy, fresh colours bursting into sight till not a gem was unrepresented in this gorgeous display of "nature's jewel-box," as Harry called it.

"Well, Fanny," he exclaimed, "you need not regret being unable to go to court, for I am very certain that all the duchesses, and countesses, and lady mayoresses to boot, couldn't make such a display as that."

As the warmth of the sun increased, the trees began to drip, and the lovely spectacle vanished by noon.

"We need not regret it, for beautiful as it was, I believe that we may see many more to surpass it before the return of spring," said Mr Ashton. "Ah! little do our pitying friends at home guess the ample amends which nature makes to us for what we have lost. I prize the blessings we enjoyed in England; but, after all, we have only exchanged them for others which our beneficent Maker has bestowed on us of equal value."

The ice, though bearing in some places, could not be trusted, and of course the expedition to D'Arcy's clearing was given up for the present; but in the evening, when work was over, skates were unpacked, cleared of rust, and fitted to shoes. All hands set to work with increased vigour to fell the trees, that they might be burnt off before the snow should make the operation more difficult. "Another night like the last, and I verily believe we might skate across the lake," cried Harry, rubbing his hands to restore the circulation of which the cold had deprived them.

"Look out for frost-bites, my boys," said Mr Ashton; "Mr Norman charged me above all things to see that you kept your hands and feet warm."

The ladies of the family were busily employed in lining the boys' caps, and fixing flaps for their ears, and in making mittens and comforters. One point they had not discovered, and had to learn by experience, the uselessness of English boots and shoes, however thick, for the bush in winter, and that nothing can surpass, and scarcely any foot-gear equal, a light shoe or slipper, with a very thick ribbed worsted sock over it, put into an india-rubber golosh, which is kept on by a high spring gaiter. (See Note 1.) There was no longer any doubt about the ice bearing, and so, having worked hard all the morning, Philip, Harry, and Charley set off with skates on feet, the two latter in high glee at the thought of going so great a distance over the ice. They had been practising for the last three days in a shallow bay near the house, and had no misgivings as to holding out. Philip would rather have gone alone, or at all events, with Harry only; but Charley begged go hard to be allowed to accompany them that he did not like to refuse him. They expected not to be more than three hours away at the utmost. The skates were fixed firmly on the feet. Philip wisely tried his by making two or three outside edge circles and figures of eight. "Are you ready, boys? Follow your leader, and away we go." Away they went. Right leg--left leg--resting for fifteen seconds or so on each--their bodies now slightly inclined to one side, now to the other, like ships making short tacks. It was exhilarating exercise. Their spirits rose to the highest pitch as they glided on--they shouted and laughed with glee--Charley managed to keep up, but what was sport to his brothers, was rather hard work to him; still he would not beg them to slacken their speed, but kept on bravely till his legs began to ache. They had heard Philip say that they were not likely to have many such days during the winter for skating; for though there would be no want of ice, it would be soon so covered with snow, that it would be impossible to get over it. They might easily, to be sure, sweep a space in the ice clear of snow, but that would be very tame work compared to flying over miles of ice as they were now doing. Charley, therefore, would not, if he could help it, ask his brothers to stop. At last he found himself falling behind. With his utmost exertions he could not keep up with them. While he was thinking whether he should call out, his foot struck something (it was the thick part of a branch which had been floating when the lake froze), and down he came.

"O, Harry, Harry!" he cried out. Harry heard him, and circling round, skated back to his assistance. Philip had gone some way, when not hearing his brothers' voices, he swept round on a half circle to ask them why they had become so suddenly dull. What was his dismay to find that they were not near him. Both were stretched their length, as it seemed, on the ice, at a considerable distance. As he turned he was conscious of a cracking noise, which seemed to pass from one end of the lake to the other. Still he must reach his brothers, or attempt to do so, even should the ice be giving way every stroke he made.

"Oh, the ice is giving way! the ice is giving way!" cried Charley; but though the cracking sound increased, Philip did not perceive any other sign of this being the case.

"What is the matter with you, Harry?" he asked.

"Oh, I went to help Charley, and tumbled over the same log which capsized him," was the answer. "He says that the ice is giving way, and certainly the water does look terribly near to it." Such, indeed, was the case. Philip, from having kept his eyes fixed on the land-marks about D'Arcy's clearing, had not observed this so much as Harry now did, with his nose close down to it. Wisely keeping at a little distance, he advised them to crawl away from the spot where they had fallen, and then, a little apart from each other, to get on their feet and proceed. Once more they were on their course, but Philip made them keep one on each side of him, going at a less speed than before. It was nervous work, though, for the cracking noise increased in loudness till it rivalled that of thunder--seeming to pass under their very feet. Speed and lightness of tread was everything. For himself Philip had no fear. He dreaded only lest Charley should again fall, and so did his best to keep up his spirits, and to banish the nervousness from which he saw that he was suffering. As they neared the shore the noises ceased and their spirits rose, though they were not sorry to see D'Arcy standing on the beach to receive them.

His greeting was cordial. "I have been watching you for some time, and did I own a pair of skates I should have come out to meet you," he said. "When you all stopped, I began to form a sleigh to push off to your assistance, in case any one of you should have been hurt, when I observed that you were all on the move again. Instead, therefore, of going on with it, I sent in Terry to cook some dinner, which you will be wanting after your long fly."

The dinner was the usual bush fare--pork and potatoes (forming an Irish stew), fish, caught before the frost began, and a dumpling, which probably had been thought of only when the guests were first descried in the distance. The young men did ample justice to the feast, and perhaps spent a longer time over it than they intended. They had plenty to say, about their own experiences especially; and when the young Ashtons compared notes with D'Arcy, they had reason to consider their own trials far less than his. He had been left alone to fight the battle of life, or rather with a mother and sister depending on him. After a once fine property which he had nominally inherited had been sold in the Irish Incumbered Estates Court, he had found himself with the merest pittance on which to support them. With a small sum he had embarked for Canada, and was now forming a home for those he loved so well. There were numbers of men in similar positions, of whom he knew in the neighbourhood and in different parts of the province--not all, however, doing equally well--some were successful, and they were the sober, industrious, and judicious; others were in a bad way, mostly for the best of reasons, because they were idle, and had taken to drinking--not hard drinking, perhaps.

"That is not necessary to ruin a fellow," said D'Arcy. "I know several of the description I speak of,--gentlemen of birth and education. There is one especially, who, probably, begins the day after breakfast by smoking a pipe or two, then takes axe or spade in hand, and coming in to an early dinner feels his solitude, and that he must have a talk with somebody. Instead of continuing his work, he mounts his cob, after taking a glass or two of rum or whiskey grog--the more out of spirits he feels the stiffer it is--and rides off to knock up some neighbour, perhaps his equal, or perhaps utterly unfit to be his companion, as far as social intercourse is concerned. On the way he looks in at the store-house; he has an account, and takes a glass or two more, desiring that it may be put down to him. Of course he never recollects how many glasses he has had, nor how his account is swelling. He finds his friend, brings him in (probably not unwillingly) from his work, and the two spend the rest of the day together. He may find his way home at night, or he may take a shake-down, and, rising with a splitting headache, find himself utterly unable to do anything. He is going to the bad very rapidly. His friends in England send him out money occasionally, under the belief that it is spent on the farm, but it all goes to pay off the storekeeper's account. Had it not been for this assistance he would have knocked up long ago. As it is, I expect that he has already mortgaged his farm, for a small amount, may be; but it's a beginning--a second will follow--it is so easy an operation, and the end cannot be far off. Now poor Jack Mason will go back to England, his friends helping him, and abuse Canada, and say that it is a country totally unfit for a gentleman to live in--that hardy, rough fellows may subsist, but that no one can do more--no one can make a fortune."

"A man must have energy, talent, and perseverance to succeed here, as well as at home," said Philip. "The difference is, that in England, possessing them, he may not succeed; here, possessing them, he must succeed. To commence the life of a backwoodsman, he must have health and strength, with the other qualifications you have mentioned. Once having got a footing in the country, he must watch the openings which are sure to present themselves: the man of talent will take advantage of them, and rise to wealth; the man without talent will go on slowly improving his condition, and will be happy and respected. What more can a man desire?"

"I agree with you, Phil; at the same time that I intend to look out for the openings, and walk in if I can," answered D'Arcy. "When my guardians decided that I was to emigrate, or rather that they could do nothing for me at home, they liberally gave me the choice of Australia, New Zealand, the Cape, or British North America. I have an idea they cared very little where I went, so that I went away and gave them no further trouble. I had been dining the day before, in Dublin, at the mess of the --- Regiment, which had just returned from Canada, and they were all high in its praise;--such pleasant quarters, such gaiety, such sleighing, shooting, fishing, boating. Several declared that they would sell out and settle there. Naturally I chose Canada, without weighing its advantages with those of the other provinces; and though I found the reality of a settler's life very different to the fancy picture I had drawn, having made up my mind to go through with it, whatever it might prove, I stuck to it, and have great reason to be thankful that I did so. Still, I fancy that people can make fortunes in Australia much faster than one can here."

"May be so; but fortune is not the only thing desirable," said Philip. "All settlers do not make fortunes in Australia,--we hear only of the successful ones; and then I cannot help thinking, that our Canadian climate, with its wonderful changes, our varied scenery, our institutions, and our society,--I don't mean in such an out-of-the-way place as this, but such as are found at Toronto and elsewhere,--are items which may be placed to the credit of this Province, and give it a superiority over every other. I have often fancied that there must be something monotonous and depressing in Australian bush-life; the very uniformity of the seasons and of the face of the country must produce this effect. However, old fellow, here we are: and whether the land be a good, bad, or indifferent land compared with others, you and I have made up our minds to make the best of it. But it is time that we were off; we had not intended remaining so long."

Philip and his brothers started up. "You must have coffee before you go; it is a home manufacture, and so are all the ingredients." Terry poured it out of a veritable big coffeepot--hot, with plenty of sugar and milk. It was pronounced excellent. "See, Harry, you and Charley may supply your family with first-rate coffee," said D'Arcy. "We shall have a thaw before the winter sets in; dig up all the dandelion roots you can find; dry them in the sun or in your oven for keeping; roast them before use; and cut them up and grind them as you would coffee-berries. This is the result. By-the-bye, Phil," he added, "you told me that you had not caught any fish lately. It is just possible that a change may be pleasant; and if you don't mind carrying a couple each of you, will you present them to your mother with my best compliments? I have got them slung ready for you, so that you have only to throw them over your shoulders as you are starting." He did not consider that even a few pounds weight makes a considerable difference to a skater. Philip, however, did not like to refuse his kind offer, knowing that it gave him pleasure to send the fish, and would give those at home pleasure to receive them. Terry accordingly was directed to bring out the fish, which were hard frozen, and were slung with ropes of grass, and packed with pads of grass to keep them off the back.

D'Arcy assured them that the cracking sound they had heard was no sign of danger, but, on the contrary, showed that the ice had taken in every part.

-------------------------

Note 1. An Indian mocassin over two pairs of thick socks is good in a hard frost, but gets wet through with the slightest moisture. The most important objects are to allow no pressure on any part of the foot or ankle, to keep the feet warm and protected from fallen branches or any other hard substance rising above the snow. In thawing weather high waterproof boots worn over two pairs of thick socks or stockings. The object of having the outer sock ribbed is to allow the evaporation from the skin to have space between the outer sock and the boot; the foot and inner sock will thus remain perfectly dry. The author has walked long distances with this sort of foot-gear with the greatest comfort. Perfect freedom for the foot and toes is, it must be repeated, most essential.

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CHAPTER FIVE. There were signs that the winter was about to begin. Snow-storms had appeared from over the hill and swept across the lake. Ice had formed around the edges in shallow pools, but the hot sun had come out and completely thawed it. Often among the pine woods the heat was excessive. Had it not been for the rich growing tints of the trees which fringed the lake and covered its islets, it would have been difficult to suppose that summer had passed away. There were the bright reds and yellows of the maple, the
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