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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 8
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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 8 Post by :Larry Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2905

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The Log House By The Lake: A Tale Of Canada - Chapter 8

CHAPTER EIGHT

We must follow Philip in his perilous adventure. He felt more doubtful as to the strength of the ice than he had expressed; but should it break beneath him, he relied on his long pole to extricate himself. He looked back every now and then, and he appeared to be taking a straight course; he felt the breeze also always on his left cheek. This inspirited him, though he could not see the shore. The snow was yielding enough, though rather clogging about his heels; the fog, however, grew thicker than ever; it was evidently the fog caused by a warm thaw. He had seen many such in England. He pushed on boldly--faster than he had gone with his brothers--he was lightly clad and carried no weight. Did he hear sounds coming from the shore--sleigh-bells--or sheep-bells--men's voices also? If so, he was probably near the settlement. He was trying to pierce the mist, when suddenly he felt his feet sinking from under him, and before he could spring back, he was sent gliding down a slab of ice, and plunged in the water. For several yards before him there was nothing but water. Holding his pole he swam on. He reached the edge of the ice: it broke as he clutched it. It is a difficult operation to get out of water on to a slab of ice. He found it so. If he got one end of the pole on the ice the other slipped off. He saw the danger of exhausting his strength by useless struggles. He had heard voices. He might make himself heard, so he shouted--"Help! help! the ice has broken in--help!"

It was a sad fate which seemed about to overwhelm him. Life had many charms in spite of the one disappointment, which had, rather given a gravity to his manner than in any way embittered his existence. He had hoped to do something in the world--his duty, at all events. He had many too depending on him. How would they bear his loss? He looked upward. A thick veil hung over his head. Below was the dark water--on every side the wide expanse of treacherous ice and snow. His limbs were getting chilled; still he would struggle on while consciousness was allowed him. Had the hole been smaller into which he had fallen, he might have got his pole across it. It was, however, of much assistance, as holding on to it, he could rest without breaking the edge of the ice. He was certain that he heard sleigh-bells. He shouted louder than before. The bells ceased. He instantly shouted again. A voice replied, "We'll be with you directly, friend." His heart leaped within him. The voices sounded louder. He discerned objects dimly moving over the ice, here and there. They must be looking for him. He shouted again. They resolved themselves into the forms of two men. They approached him. One had a rope in his hand. "Lay hold of this, we'll soon have you out," said the man. Philip passed the rope round his pole, and then grasped it tightly. With care he was dragged out. The other person stood at a distance. "We must not put more weight than we can help on this treacherous stuff," he said. "Why, I do believe that you are young Ashton."

"The same: and you Mr Norman," cried Philip. "I am indeed thankful for your timely aid."

"Which my man rendered, and not I; and which he would have rendered to a drowning dog, so don't say anything about that," replied Mr Norman. "But we must not stop talking here. The sooner we are on _terra firma_, and you in a warm bed, the better."

Philip found, on reaching the shore, that he was fully half a mile north of the settlement. Mr Norman, who was on his way to pay his family a visit, was passing in his sleigh at the moment. "I hoped that the snow would remain long enough to enable me to get up to you, for your road scarcely allows of a wheeled conveyance," he observed, as they drove rapidly back to the settlement, Philip sitting covered up with furs at the bottom of the sleigh. A warm bed was, however, not a luxury to be found at the settlement; indeed, Philip assured his friend, that if he could obtain a change of clothes, he would much rather set off at once to rescue his brothers. "Not till you are more fit to go than at present," said Mr Norman. "My friend Job Judson, at the hotel, will help us; and while you are drying outwardly, and warming inwardly, we will get a boat or canoe of some sort to shove over across the ice to bring away the youngsters. They are happy enough in the meantime, depend on that; I have had many such an adventure in my younger days, greatly to my enjoyment."

In a few minutes Philip was sitting wrapped up in a sheet and blanket before the almost red-hot stove of the log-hut, y-clept an hotel, while Mr Job Judson was administering a stiffer tumbler of rum-and-water than Philip had ever before tasted, probably, though it appeared to him no stronger than weak negus. Believing this to be the case he did not decline a second, the effect of which was to throw him into a glow and to send him fast asleep. Meantime his clothes, hung up round the stove, were drying rapidly; and when the landlord at last aroused him to put them on, he found that they were, as he said, as warm as a toast; indeed they were, he had reason to suspect, rather overdone. He found Mr Norman with a large dug-out canoe on runners, with a couple of poles, one on each side, and two men who had volunteered to accompany him.

"I'd go myself, but I guess I'd rather over-ballast your craft," said Job Judson, turning round his rotund figure, such as was not often seen in the bush. Philip thanked him, and agreed that no more persons were required for the expedition.

Mr Norman insisted on going. "Do not be afraid of my being tired," he remarked; "I have always lived in so hardy a way that nothing tires me."

Philip was not aware that more than three hours had passed since he reached the settlement. The fog was still as thick as ever. The two men dragged on the canoe; Mr Norman pushed astern, and placing a compass down on the seat before him, observed, "It is necessary to take our departure very carefully, or we shall find it more difficult to hit the island than you did on leaving it to reach the shore. I do not suppose that there is a person in the settlement can give us the bearings of the island from this."

"No; but the map of the Geological Survey will," said the gentleman who kept the store in the settlement. In another instant he brought out a large map, where the island was clearly laid down. "All right, thank you," said Mr Norman: "away we go." The two men laid hold of the fore-end of the poles; Philip and Mr Norman behind. The ice was far from secure; it did not crack nor bend, but it evidently rested on the water, and such ice generally gives way without any warning or sound. The party, however, pushed dauntlessly on, steadily, but not so fast as Philip would have liked. He thought, indeed, at last, that they must have passed the island; but Mr Norman was too good a navigator for that--it rose up suddenly before them.

Philip shouted, "Harry--Charley--all right, boys--hurrah!" but there was no answer. Again he cried out; no one replied. "They are hiding to try to frighten me, Mr Norman," he said, laughing,--"the rogues." The party landed and looked about. "O very well, they cannot be here, and so we'll go away," he cried out, thinking that would make them appear; it had no such effect. Philip began to grow anxious: they would certainly not carry their joke so far. He went round the island, sometimes on the ice and sometimes on shore. As he was hurrying on, what was his dismay to see a large hole in the ice: his poor young brothers had met the fate which he had so narrowly escaped. He saw exactly how it had happened; one had gone through, and the other in trying to help him out had fallen in likewise. There had been a struggle, as there were prints of feet and knees in the snow round it; some the water had washed over.

His exclamations of grief brought his companions to the spot. "Not so certain that anything dreadful has occurred," said Mr Norman. "You told me you had killed a bear: now Bruin has been deprived of his hinder legs, which make the best hams; and his four paws, which turn into good soup; and I don't think that they would have walked off by themselves. Come, let us examine your hut. Ah! the skin too has disappeared."

"Yes, and I see that the remainder of the fish which D'Arcy gave us are not here," said Philip, somewhat relieved. "But perhaps the island has been visited by some trapper, who would naturally carry off the most valuable parts of the bear."

"Ah! but look here: if the island has been visited by a trapper, he came with a vehicle on runners from the direction of your clearing, and returned to the same place. There are the marks clear enough still; an Indian would have told us exactly how things occurred."

"I wish that we had had one," said Philip, in whom fatigue had produced low spirits. "The visitor, whoever he was, not finding them, may have carried off the bear's flesh and returned without them."

"I think that I can convince you that my conjectures are correct," said Mr Norman, after looking about for some time longer. "You killed the bear with long stakes: I can find none; they would naturally have carried them off as trophies. They had skates; none are to be seen, the foot-prints are those of shoes."

"How came the hole?" asked Philip.

"They made it themselves to fish through. See here are some scales which Tom Smith has just brought me, and which his sharp eye detected near the hole: the fish was evidently thrown down there on being unhooked. Come, I doubt if any Indian would read marks more clearly than I have done, though probably he would explain matters in a far more pompous style. The fact is, my experience of bush-life and Indian life has been very considerable, as you will understand if you like some day to listen to some of my adventures. But there is nothing to keep us longer here."

Philip was happier, but not thoroughly satisfied. The party set out on their return.

"This ice would not have borne us many hours hence; be ready for a leap into the canoe," said Mr Norman. They reached the settlement, however, in safety. The inhabitants were divided in opinion as to whether the young Ashtons were lost or not; Philip was eager to reach home to settle the point. Mr Norman had sent for wheels for his vehicle, as the snow had melted too much to allow of runners. It was soon mounted, and away they rattled, bumped and thumped, Mr Norman singing--

"'You and I, Billy, have often heard how folks are ruined and undone, By overturns in carriages, by fires and thieves in London.'

"You see, my young friend, we must look out for haps and mishaps in the country as well as in town, on shore as well as at sea. Ignorant of religion as seamen are, they have a right feeling of a superintending Providence, which makes them feel as secure in the midst of the raging storm as they would driving about in the crowded city. The true believer in Christ is ready to die at any moment. This it is makes weak women courageous, while strong men show themselves to be cowards when instant death threatens them."

Philip thought to himself, "How did I behave and feel when I was in the water this morning?--how when I found the hole in the ice, and thought that my brothers had fallen through?" The journey to the clearing, which across the ice would not have occupied twenty minutes, and not an hour by land had the snow been hard, took up more than two hours, with the risk of an overturn or break-down every yard, and such jolting as only well-knit limbs would endure.

At last the log-house appeared before them. "A very creditable edifice; really, Mr Philip, you were born a backwoodsman," exclaimed Mr Norman. "I learned carpentering, and the principal rules for house-building, while my hands and eyes have been kept in exercise from my childhood," was the answer. "That is the preparation required for all settlers in the bush, and which so large a number want and fail of success in consequence--or at all events waste precious years in gaining at a heavy cost the knowledge with which they ought to begin. I commenced the world without a sixpence, and have worked my way up to wealth and independence by the proper use of my hands and head. A settler, to rise, must have both. We welcome hands in the province. The possessor of a head benefits himself chiefly--not that we could get on without heads either."

As they drove up to the door, D'Arcy was the first person to meet them. Philip's heart sunk within him in spite of what Mr Norman had been saying. He hoped to have seen his brothers. "Where are the lads?" he exclaimed, eagerly. "All right, come in. I will take your horse round, Mr Norman," said D'Arcy; and as the door opened, the boys' voices were heard from their room. The rest of the family quickly came to the entrance to welcome them; and D'Arcy, coming back, explained what had occurred. He had seen the blaze of their burning hut, but not suspecting the cause, had gone across the lake with his canoe on runners, to ascertain if they had got home safe, not sorry for a good excuse for his visit. His appearance naturally caused great dismay and anxiety. He, however, afforded his friends some comfort, by assuring them that he believed the missing ones would be found on the island, towards which, supplied with a compass, he immediately set out, accompanied by Peter, and carrying provisions, cordials, and blankets. His satisfaction was considerable when laughing voices proceeded from the direction of the island, and he found the young gentlemen amusing themselves greatly by fishing for tommicods. Taking the best parts of the bear, he hurried back with his rescued friends to prevent Philip, should he arrive first, from setting off to meet them.

Philip's long delay had again caused his family great anxiety. A happy party, with grateful hearts, assembled round Mr Ashton's supper-table that evening--a table framed by his own hands, while most of the luxuries were supplied by the industry of those sitting round it. In another year there would not be an article of food on it which had not been produced on the farm, or procured from the lake, or surrounding woods. Not the least happy was Lawrence D'Arcy; and perhaps a glance at Miss Ashton's countenance might have told the reason why.

"Well, Mr Norman, I am glad at length to see you here; and I can assure you, that your prognostications as to my liking the country, have been more than fulfilled," said Mr Ashton. "I have never for an instant regretted coming out here; and I believe that I am happier, and that my wife and children are so, than we should have been had we lived on the life we had been proposing for ourselves in London, when I found myself deprived of the property which I thought my own."

"God's merciful Providence overruled your plan for your own and your children's good," said Mr Norman. "I know nothing practically of large cities, and little enough of towns; but from what I have read, I suspect that the temptations to evil in them are great, and the advantages comparatively small, when the chief object of man's life is considered. No life can more conduce to virtue and a healthful state of body and mind than that which the industrious settler in the country leads out here. He has hard work and rough living, may be; but what is that, whether he be gentle or simple, compared to what he would have had to endure, had he without fortune remained idle at home? That is the question all settlers must ask themselves over and over again, whenever they get out of sorts with the Province."

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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."
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