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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 7
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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 7 Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :1667

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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 7

CHAPTER SEVEN.

As the hut was close to the lake the skates were buckled on in the warmth, and together the whole party issued forth, D'Arcy promising to come across the next day in a sleigh he had built.

During the brief period they had spent in the hut the wind had changed, and with it the weather. Thick clouds floated overhead low down, lightish in colour though dense; the air was sensibly warmer. Philip looking at his younger brother said, "Charley, I have a great mind to leave you behind; it will be harder work than coming." But Charley considered that his manliness was disparaged, and insisted on starting. "Well, we may reach home before the snow falls," said Philip, shaking D'Arcy's hand, and adding, "We shall all be glad to see you."

Away they went; but not two minutes had passed before snow-flakes began to fall, a few only settling on their faces. They were the forerunners of others; thicker and thicker they fell; now they rushed down hurriedly, covering the surface of the lake with a white sheet. Did the brothers hear D'Arcy's voice joined with Terry's shouting to them to come back? They had, however, got so far on their way that, even had they been certain of the fact, they would not have liked to do so. On they at all events went. Philip kept his eyes fixed on his own hill, but the outline soon became very dim. Thicker and thicker fell the snow; still they were in their proper course, Philip thought.

"Can you make out the hill, Harry?" he asked.

"No, Phil; cannot you?" answered Harry: "what's to be done?"

"Push on, of course; the snow may stop falling, and we may see our way again," said Philip.

The snow, however, did not stop falling, but rather came down thicker and faster. Charley held out bravely, working on his way through the snow. Skating was far greater labour than before. This should not have been: hard snow would have easily been pushed aside; a part of this melted as it fell. Philip did not express his fears to his brothers, though he became very anxious. "What can we do?" he kept saying to himself. "We must keep on; we may hit our home or some parts of the shore which we know, and from which we may reach it either walking over land, or by coasting along on skates." His greatest fear was approaching the commencement of the channel or river which communicated with Lake Huron, where, as the stream was rapid, the ice probably was not formed, and their destruction would be nearly inevitable. The dangerous point was to the right of their course; he therefore naturally inclined to the left. "I wish we were there," said Charley at length, in a doleful tone. On they went; the pace became slower and slower; the youngest brother kept very close to Philip. "Really I think we might do better without our skates," observed Charley; but Philip judged rightly that skates would still avail them most. They went on--on--on. Harry declared that they ought to have reached home long before this. Philip thought so likewise, but did not express his fears; it was important to keep up his brothers' spirits. Had there been a strong wind he might have continued to keep on a straight course; but there was not a breath, and the snow came down from all directions, as Harry observed, "just as if a flock of geese were being plucked overhead." The flakes were almost as big as feathers. In vain Philip looked out for a break in the thick woolly veil. Brave Charley kept up manfully; his legs were getting very tired, though. He said nothing; but he could not help uttering low sighs as he worked on, and wishing that he had a pair of wings to lift up his body. No one could speak except about their hopes or fears.

At last Charley felt that his knees were failing under him. "O, Phil, I must stop," he cried out.

Philip took him by the hand and cheered him up. "Hold out a little longer, dear Charley; we must be near the shore," he exclaimed. Charley said he would try, and supported on each hand by his brothers went on. He was again nearly giving in, when Philip cried out, "Land a-head!-- land a-head! High land with tall trees close down to the lake. It must be near home."

They pushed on vigorously. In less than a minute they ran up against a rock; the tall trees changed into low bushes, and the high land into a clump of trees in the middle of a small island. Bitter was their disappointment. A moment's consideration made Philip and Harry certain that it was an island they had visited at the southern end of the lake, and three or four miles distant both from their own and D'Arcy's clearings. On examining the bark of the trees, and the direction in which they bent, they were convinced that they had been making a circle, as they had landed exactly on the opposite side to that which they might have expected. From the time they had been moving on, they had probably made more than one circle; if they started off again, how could they expect to steer a straighter course. It was evidently growing darker, and night would soon come on.

The responsibility resting on Philip's shoulders was very great; not that he felt very uneasy about his brothers and himself, but he was sure that the dear ones at home would be anxious about them. Had he been alone he would have made another attempt to reach home; but Charley could not go further, and Harry would very likely knock up. He determined to remain on the island during the night, unless the weather should clear up and they should be able to see their way across to the main shore. No time, however, was to be lost to prepare for the night before daylight should altogether depart. Philip was too good a backwoodsman to have left home without his axe and match-box.

"D'Arcy little thought how useful his fish would prove to us," said Philip, as he looked about for the best spot on which to put up a shed. "We shall not starve; for that we should be thankful."

"And look here, we may have a plentiful dessert," cried Charley, coming up with his hands full of brilliant scarlet berries of a long oval form. "See, I know that these are good to eat; Sophy was preserving some of them two days ago, and said so." The berries were the high bush cranberries which grow on a shrub about the height of the guelder rose. Charley had soon collected many more than he and his brothers could possibly eat, especially as they had no sugar to eat them with.

"Come, Charley, as you are able to move about, set to work and collect wood, for we shall have to keep up a blazing fire all night," said Philip, as he began to chop away at some small trees to form the posts of his proposed shed. Harry meantime was getting lighter poles and branches to form a roof. The spot selected by Philip for the hut was in a sheltered nook under some thickly matted cedars which would greatly protect it from the snow. The materials were soon brought together; and so expert had the brothers become in all handiwork, that they quickly made it habitable. The roof they covered with birch-bark, picked up under the trees from which it fell, as also the lower part of the sides, banking them up with snow. Boughs of spruce-fir formed no contemptible couches. In a very short time they had built a tolerably comfortable hut. Their fire was the next thing to be attended to. There was plenty of drift-wood just above the ice, and dead boughs sufficient to keep up a blazing fire all night: it was soon lighted. Two of the fish were held before it till they melted sufficiently to allow of being cleaned; Philip then having cut some forked sticks, forced them into the ground not yet frozen far down, and with a slender rod spitted the fish, which he placed on the forked sticks before the fire. "I wish that we could boil them Indian fashion," said Harry: "I saw an old squaw perform the operation the other day, and yet she had only a wooden bucket. She got a heap of stones heated, and then putting some cold water into her bucket she dropped in her fish and began filling up the bucket with the hot stones; the water bubbled and hissed, and the fish were soon cooked."

Their own fish did not take long roasting. They were pronounced excellent, especially seasoned with the cranberries.

"I say, this is no bad fun after all," exclaimed Charley, who soon recovered from his fatigue. "If it wasn't for those at home I wouldn't have missed it on any account."

"I begin to hope that they will not be breaking their hearts about us," said Harry; "they must have seen the snow-storm coming on, and will think that we remained with D'Arcy."

Philip hoped the same, and enjoyed the adventure nearly as much as his brothers. Supper over and the fire made up, he told them both to lie down while he kept up the fire and watched for any change in the weather. Still the snow continued to fall--not a break in the dense mass of clouds overhead appeared. Philip sat with his feet close to the fire, and his back resting against the side of the hut. It was necessary to be very watchful, to prevent the flames catching the branches on which his brothers lay. He had partially closed the entrance with boughs, but an aperture was required to let out the smoke, and he also had frequently to go out and get more fuel, and to watch for the snow ceasing. Harry and Charley quickly fell asleep. Philip felt very much inclined to do the same; he tried all sorts of expedients to keep awake. The hut was not high enough or large enough to enable him to walk about. He would have gone out, but the fire absolutely required his attendance; he did get up, and stood on one leg, then on the other, till he got tired, so he sat himself down again and raked and stirred the fire as before. There was no want of warmth in the hut. At last his hand stopped, and all was silent; if he was not asleep he was very nearly so. Suddenly he was aware that there was something moving in or near the hut. He looked up, and just at the entrance he saw a huge brown monster, his eyes looking curiously in, while with its paws it had abstracted one of the fish which had been hung up to the doorpost to keep cool. The stick which Philip had used as a poker was in a flame, so, springing up, he dashed it into the face of the intruder--a big bear--grasping his axe ready for action should the bear retaliate. Bruin gave a loud and angry growl at the unexpected attack, dropping his booty and preparing for action. The noise awoke Harry and Charley, who sprang to their feet. "Dash burning sticks in the fellow's face, while I tackle him with my axe," cried Philip. It was fortunate that he was not alone. He gave one cut at Bruin's paws, but the next instant the monster would have seized the axe and hugged Philip, had not Harry dashed a stick into his eyes, the pain of which made him spring on one side and tumble over on his back. Charley followed up the attack with another fire-brand, and Philip with his axe dealt him a blow on the side of his head which almost stunned him. Another such blow would have finished the career of Bruin, but as Philip was lifting his weapon Harry cried out, "O dear, dear, the hut is on fire!" Philip, on this, for a moment turned his head, and the bear rolling round got up on his feet, and scrambled away over the snow as fast as he could move. Philip, instead of pursuing him, had to attend to the burning hut; and, what was of still greater importance, to rescue the fish, which would have been not only cooked, but over-cooked before they were wanted. Charley had, however, thoughtfully seized them, so that Philip and Harry could attend to the hut. In vain did they pull out the part which was already blazing, the wood of the larger portion was so dry that it also caught fire, and it was soon evident that they had no chance of saving their mansion. "What a misfortune," cried Harry. "I will not say that," observed Philip. "If the bear had not awoke me we might have been burnt ourselves; besides, it has just struck me, that this blaze, which is larger than we should have ventured to kindle, may be seen by those at home, or by D'Arcy, and it will give them assurance of our safety. However, let us set to work to repair damages while the flame lasts, for if we once get chilled, it will not be so easy to warm up again."

The fire afforded light enough to enable the three brothers to cut down a fresh supply of poles and boughs, and well accustomed to the sort of work, they soon again had a hut raised of sufficient size to afford them all shelter. The younger brothers were, however, not inclined to sleep, and they intreated Philip to rest, which he promised to do if they would undertake to keep awake. At present there seemed no chance of their getting away. As soon as Philip had lain down, Harry and Charley armed themselves with long burning sticks with which to receive the bear should he return, taking care to hang their fish up inside, out of his way. He was, however, not likely to come back again, after the warm reception he had received.

"I thought bears always shut themselves up in winter, and lived by sucking their paws," observed Charley. "As to sucking their paws, I don't know," said Harry; "but I fancy that the brown bear of this part of the world shuts himself up for the greater part of the winter, and only occasionally comes out on a mild day to forage for food. I conclude that our friend had his nest somewhere near and was disturbed by the fire, and his olfactories excited by the smell of the broiled fish. I wish that we had caught him, we might have taken home something worth having."

"Do you think that he has left the island?" asked Charley. "Couldn't we hunt him up?"

"Without consulting Philip! and I should not like to awake him," said Harry. "But, I will tell you what, we will make some spears in the mean time, and harden their points in the fire, and if we can find him we'll take him, dead or alive."

There were some tough young saplings growing just outside of sufficient length for the proposed object; three of these were quickly cut, and being pointed were hardened in the fire, and then again scraped, till they became rather formidable weapons.

"Don't you think Phil has slept long enough?" said Charley, who was anxious to make trial of his spear. "I am afraid Master Bruin will be sneaking off, and leaving us to whistle for him."

"Very uncivil not to stop and be killed," said Harry; "but we need be in no hurry; if he didn't go off at first he is safe enough somewhere near here, depend on it."

The snow continued to fall, but it could not have fallen so thickly as at first, or it would have covered the ground with a thicker coat than it appeared to have done. Daylight dawned at last, and Philip woke up. He was amused by the preparations for a combat made by his brothers, for he did not believe that the bear would be found. Before going out all three knelt down and offered up their prayers and thanksgiving for the protection afforded them. Under no circumstances did they ever omit that duty. Philip then advised that they should take some breakfast, that they might be ready for any emergency. Another fish was accordingly cooked, of which Charley, in spite of his eagerness, was ready enough to partake. He was hoping all the time that Bruin would smell the savoury morsel, and would be tempted to return. Probably, however, he had already had quite enough of their company and mode of proceeding to wish again to encounter them.

It snowed still, but not the dry, hard snow of the previous evening, and Philip felt more than ever anxious on account of the warmth of the weather. Before the sun could have quite risen, rain came, mixed with the snow, and gradually there was more rain and less snow, till the rain came down so fast that they were glad to get into their hut for shelter. They well knew that nothing so rapidly causes ice to become rotten as does rain. They might be prisoners, therefore, till it had sufficiently melted to allow of a boat being pushed through it. "But it cannot be rotten yet," said Harry. "Let us look out for the shore, and, if we can see it, push across to the nearest point; never mind the rain."

"Agreed."

They crept out of their hut, and worked their way to the shore of the little island. The land round them across the water was very faint; still, as they fancied that they could distinguish their own home, and D'Arcy's clearing, and the settlement, they determined to try to reach one or the other. The settlement was the nearest, and if they reached that they might easily find their way home. There was a nominal road, though scarcely passable, except when covered with snow in winter. They were debating whether it would be better to attempt to skate or to walk across the ice.

"We can but pull our skates off if we do not make good progress," said Philip; so they were sitting down to put them on when Charley exclaimed that he must have a look for the bear; if he was there he would find him out. Off he ran with his spear. He had not been absent half a minute when he came running back, crying out, "Here he is, sure enough, in among the roots of an old tree under the bank. Come, Phil; come, Harry, come; we shall have him, sure enough, for he does not seem inclined to move. I suspect the tap you gave him, Phil, with your axe, hurt him more than we fancied."

The latter remarks were uttered as the three brothers, with their spears ready for action, hurried towards the spot Charley had indicated. There, indeed, was a brown heap, from out of which a set of sharp teeth and a pair of twinkling eyes appeared. "There, what do you think of that?" asked Charley. The bear lay in a sort of root-formed cavern, under the bank. Some snow had drifted into it, which had been protected from the rain; on the snow were wide stains of blood. His wound would certainly make the bear more savage, and might not have much weakened him. Still, forgetting the risk they were running, they all three made a rush at him with their spears. He attempted to get up, seizing Charley's spear from his grasp, and biting furiously at it, but Philip's and Harry's pinned him to the bank. Still his strength was great, and it was not till Philip was able to get a blow at his head with his axe that his struggles ceased.

"Hurrah, hurrah! now we may live here for a week, like Robinson Crusoe," shouted Charley, highly delighted with their success.

"And leave those at home to believe that we are lost," said Philip.

"No, no, I don't mean that; only if we were obliged to stop we might contrive to be very jolly," said Charley.

They had no little trouble in dragging the bear up the bank, and it then became a question what they should do with him. They could not carry him away, that was very certain. Cutting him up was not a pleasant operation, yet they could not hang him up whole.

"We will secure his tongue, and we must come back for him as soon as we can," said Phil.

They had been so busy that they had not observed that the rain had ceased, and that instead of it a thick fog had sprung up again, completely obscuring the shores. It was so warm that there could be no doubt that the ice must be rapidly melting. Had this happened at the end of winter it would not have signified, as it would have required many days then to weaken the ice materially. Still, if it had not been for the fog they could have pushed across without fear at once.

"Why did we come without a compass?" cried Philip, not for the first time. "Remember, you fellows, never to leave home without one. You do not know when you may require it in this country." After sitting down on the bank for some time, Philip started up, exclaiming, "They will be breaking their hearts with anxiety about us. I must go. You two have plenty of food, and if you will promise me that you will not stir from the island till a boat comes for you, or till the weather clears and the ice hardens thoroughly, I will go across to the settlement and send on home overland. I know that I can hit it, as there is a breeze blowing, and I took the bearings before the rain came on." Harry and Charley were very unwilling to let their brother go, but at length, when he had persuaded them that there was no danger to himself, they agreed to obey his wishes.

Having disencumbered himself of his axe and an overcoat, as well as of the remainder of D'Arcy's fish, which he left for his brothers, Philip buckled on his skates, and taking one of the spears in his hand, away he glided; his brothers, standing on the shore, watched him--his figure growing less and less distinct, till he disappeared in the thick mist which hung over the lake. "I wish that we had not let him go," cried Charley. "Suppose any accident should happen to him, how dreadful. Couldn't we call him back? He would hear us if we shouted."

"No, that would annoy him, as we have no reason for calling him back. We must let him go," said Harry. "Well, at all events, we can pray for him," exclaimed Charley, in a tone which showed that the thought was consolatory. They did so immediately, and felt far greater confidence than before. For themselves, they had no cause to fear. They had food enough for a month or more, should the frost return, and they had the means of building a hut, in which they could be perfectly sheltered from the weather. They had abundance of fuel, and the bear's skin would keep them warm at night. There were the cranberries, and probably some other berries, and they knew of several roots which they thought they should find. "Really, we are very well off," said Charley, after they had reviewed their resources. "I don't think there is another part of the world where, in a little island like this, we could find such ample means of support. I shouldn't mind spending a month here at all."

"Ah! but we could not expect always to find a bear in such a place as this; and as for the fish, we brought them with us," said Harry, by way of argument.

"But I daresay, if we were to hunt about, we should find some racoons; and if the ice melted we should catch plenty of fish--or we might make a hole in the ice and fish through it," argued Charley. "By the by, I have got some hooks and a line in my pocket; I vote we try."

No sooner was the proposal made than executed; two fishing lines were fitted--with their spears a hole was made in the easily yielding ice-- the bear furnished bait. Scarcely was a line in than a tug was felt, and a small fish was hauled up. They did not know the name, but as its appearance was prepossessing, they had no doubt that it was fit for food. Another and another followed; they were delighted with their sport, and even Harry felt that he should be sorry to have to go away. "If we had but some bread and some tea, with a pot to boil it in, we should do capitally," he observed.

"We may dig dandelion roots for coffee, we can boil water with hot stones in a wooden jug, which we can make, and there are roots which will serve us for bread," said Charley. "If we could but get a few heads of Indian corn, we might thrive just as we are."

"We might live, certainly," said Harry; "but I doubt if we could do more."

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