The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXI Christmas in Canada
Christmas-Day was indeed a change, as Emma had observed,
from their former Christmas; but although the frost was more than
usually severe, and the snow filled the air with its white flakes, and
the north-east wind howled through the leafless trees as they rasped
their long arms against each other, and the lake was one sheet of thick
ice, with a covering of snow which the wind had in different places
blown up into hillocks, still they had a good roof over their heads, and
a warm, blazing fire on the hearth; and they had no domestic miseries,
the worst miseries of all to contend against, for they were a united
family, loving and beloved; shewing mutual acts of kindness and mutual
acts of forbearance; proving how much better was a dish of herbs where
love is, than the stalled ox with hatred therewith. Moreover, they were
all piously disposed; they were sensible that they owed a large debt of
gratitude to Heaven for all its daily mercies in providing them with
food and raiment, forwarding off from them sickness and sorrow, and
giving them humble and contented hearts; and on this day, they felt how
little were all worldly considerations, compared with the hopes which
were held out to them through the great sacrifice which the goodness and
mercy of God had made for them and all the world. It was, therefore,
with cheerful yet subdued looks that they greeted each other when they
met previous to the morning prayers. Mr Campbell had already visited his
patient and readjusted the bandage; her ankle was better, but still very
much swelled, the poor creature made no complaints, she looked grateful
for what was done and for the kindness shewn to her. They were all
arrayed in their best Sunday dresses, and as soon as prayers were over,
had just wished each other the congratulations so general, so
appropriate, and yet too often so thoughtlessly given upon the
anniversary, when Malachi Bone, his little squaw the Strawberry, and
John, entered the door of the hut, laden with the sports of the forest,
which they laid down in the corner of the kitchen, and then saluted the
Here we are all together on Christmas-Day, said Emma, who had taken
the hand of the Strawberry.
The Indian girl smiled, and nodded her head.
And, John, you have brought us three wild turkeys; you are a good boy,
John, continued Emma.
If we only had Captain Sinclair here now, said Martin to Emma and Mary
Percival, who was by Emmas side, shaking hands with the Strawberry.
Mary coloured up a little, and Emma replied, Yes, Martin, we do want
him, for I always feel as if he belonged to the family.
Well, its not his fault that hes not here, replied Martin; its now
more than six weeks since he has left, and if the colonel would allow
him, Im sure that Captain Sinclair
Would be here on this day, said Captain Sinclair, who with Mr Gwynne,
his former companion, had entered the door of the house without being
observed; for the rest of the party were in conversation with Malachi
Bone and John.
Oh, how glad I am to see you, cried Emma; we only wanted you to make
our Christmas party complete; and Im very glad to see you too, Mr
Gwynne, continued Emma, as she held out a hand to each.
We had some difficulty in persuading the Colonel to let us come,
observed Captain Sinclair to Mary; but as we have heard nothing further
about the Indians, he consented.
You have nothing more to fear from the Indians this winter, Captain,
and you may tell the Colonel so from me, said Malachi. I happened to
be on their hunting ground yesterday, and they have broken up and gone
westward, that is, Angry Snake and his party have; I followed their
track over the snow for a few miles just to make sure; they have taken
everything with them, but somehow or other I could not find out that the
squaw was with themand they had one in their party. They carried their
own packs of fur, that Ill swear to, and they had been thrown down
several times; which would not have been the case, if they had not been
carried by men; for you see, the Injun is very impatient under a load,
which a squaw will carry the whole day without complaining. Now that
party is gone, there is no other about here within fifty miles, Ill be
Im very glad to hear you say so, replied Captain Sinclair.
Then, perhaps, this poor woman whom you succoured, Alfred, is the squaw
belonging to the party, observed Mr Campbell. Mr Campbell then related
to Malachi Bone what had occurred on the day before; how the hunting
party had brought home the woman, whom he pointed to in the corner where
she had remained unnoticed by the visitors.
Malachi and the Strawberry went up to her; the Strawberry spoke to her
in the Indian tongue in a low voice, and the woman replied in the same,
while Malachi stood over them and listened.
Its just as you thought, sir; she belongs to the Angry Snake, and she
says that he has gone with his party to the westward, as the beavers
were very scarce down here; I could have told him that. She confirms my
statement, that all the Indians are gone, but are to meet at the same
place in the spring, to hold a council.
Is she of the same tribe as the Strawberry? inquired Henry.
Thats as may be, replied Malachi; I hardly know which tribe the
Strawberry belongs to.
But they speak the same language.
Yes; but the Strawberry learnt the tongue from me, replied Malachi.
From you, said Mrs Campbell; how was that?
Why, maam, its about thirteen or fourteen years back, that I happened
to come in upon a skirmish which took place on one of the small lakes
between one of the tribes here and a war party of Hurons who were out.
They were surprised by the Hurons, and every soul, as far as I could
learn, was either scalped or carried away prisoner. The Hurons had gone
about an hour or two, when I came up to the place where they fought, and
I sat down looking at the dead bodies, and thinking to myself what
creatures men were to deface Gods image in that way, when I saw under a
bush two little sharp eyes looking at me; at first, I thought it was
some beast, a lynx, mayhap, as they now call them, and I pointed my
rifle towards it; but before I pulled the trigger, I thought that
perhaps I might be mistaken, so I walked up to the bush, and there I
discovered that it was an Indian child which had escaped the massacre by
hiding itself in the bush. I pulled it out; it was a girl about two
years old, who could speak but a few words. I took her home to my lodge,
and have had her with me ever since, so I dont exactly know what tribe
she belongs to, as they all speak the same tongue. I called her the
Strawberry, because I found her under a bush close to the ground, and
among strawberry-plants which were growing there.
And then you married her, said Percival.
Married her! no, boy, I never married her; what has an old man of
nearly seventy to do with marrying? They call her my squaw, because they
suppose she is my wife, and she does the duty of a wife to me; but if
they were to call her my daughter, they would be nearer the mark, for I
have been a father to her.
Well, Malachi, to tell you the truth, I did think that she was too
young to be your wife, said Emma.
Well, miss, you were not far wrong, replied the old man. I do wish I
could find out her tribe, but I never have been able, and indeed, from
what I can learn, the party who were surprised came a long way from
this, although speaking the same language; and I dont think there is
any chance now, for even if I were to try to discover it, there have
been so many surprises and so much slaughter within these last twenty
years, that its scarcely possible the search would be attended with
But why do you wish to find out her tribe? said Mary.
Because Im an old man, miss, and must soon expect to be gathered to my
fathers, and then this poor little girl will be quite alone, unless I
can marry her to some one before I die: and if I do marry her, why then
she will leavemealone;
but that cant be helped, Im an old man, and what does it matter?
It matters a great deal, Malachi, said Mr Campbell; I wish you would
live with us; you would then be taken care of if you required it, and
not die alone in the wilderness.
And the Strawberry shall never want friends or a home while we can
offer her one, Malachi, said Mrs Campbell; let what will happen to
you, she will be welcome to live here and die here, if she will remain.
Malachi made no reply; he was in deep thought, resting his chin upon his
hands which held his rifle before him. Mrs Campbell and the girls were
obliged to leave to prepare the dinner. John had sat down with the
Strawberry and the Indian woman, and was listening to them, for he now
understood the Chippeway tongue. Alfred, Sinclair, and the other
gentlemen of the party, were in conversation near the fire, when they
were requested by Mrs Campbell to retreat to the sitting-room, that the
culinary operations might not be interfered with. Malachi Bone still
continued sitting where he was, in deep thought. Martin, who remained,
said to the Misses Percival in a low voice
Well, I really did think that the old man had married the girl, and I
thought it was a pity, continued he, looking towards the Strawberry,
for she is very young and very handsome for a squaw.
think, replied Mary Percival, she would be considered handsome
everywhere, Martin, squaw or not; her features are very pretty, and then
she has a melancholy smile, which is perfectly beautiful; but now,
Martin, pluck these turkeys, or we shall not have them ready in time.
soon as the dinner was at the fire, and could be left to the care of
Martin, Mrs Campbell and the Misses Percival went into the sitting-room.
Mr Campbell then read the morning service of the day, Henry officiating
as clerk in the responses. Old Malachi had joined the party, and was
profoundly attentive. As soon as the service was over, he said
All this puts me in mind of days long past, days which appear to me as
a dream, when I was a lad and had a father and a mother, and brothers
and sisters around me; but many summers and many winters have passed
over my head since then.
You were born in Maine, Malachi, were you not?
Yes, maam, half-way up the White Mountains. He was a stern old man, my
father; but he was a righteous man. I remember how holy Sunday was kept
in our family; how my mother cleaned us all, and put on our best
clothes, and how we went to the chapel or church, I forget which they
called it; but no matter, we went to pray.
Was your father of the Established Church, Malachi?
cant tell, maam; indeed, I hardly know what it means; but he was a
good Christian and a good man, that I do know.
You are right, Malachi; when the population is crowded, you find people
divided into sects, and, what is still worse, despising, if not hating
each other, because the outward forms of worship are a little different.
Here in our isolated position, we feel how trifling are many of the
distinctions which divide religious communities, and that we could
gladly give the right hand of fellowship to any denomination of
Christians who hold the main truths of the Gospel. Are not all such
agreed in things essential, animated with the same hopes, acknowledging
the same rule of faith, and all comprehended in the same divine mercy
which was shown us on this day? What do all sincere Christians believe
but that God is holy, great, good, and merciful, that his Son died for
us all, and that through his merits and intercession if we conform to
his preceptswhether members of the Church of England, or any other
communionwe shall be saved, and obtain the blessedness of heaven? We
may prefer, and reasonably prefer, our own mode of worship, believing it
to be most edifying; but we have no right to quarrel with those who
conscientiously differ from us about outward forms and ceremonies which
do not involve the spirit of Christianity.
After a pause, Mary Percival said, Malachi, tell us more about your
father and your family.
have little to tell, miss; only that I now think that those were
pleasant days which then I thought irksome. My father had a large farm
and would have had us all remain with him. In the winter we felled
timber, and I took quite a passion for a hunters life; but my father
would not allow me to go from home, so I stayed till he died, and then I
went away on my rambles. I left when I was not twenty years old, and I
have never seen my family since. I have been a hunter and a trapper, a
guide and a soldier, and an interpreter; but for these last twenty-five
years I have been away from towns and cities, and have lived altogether
in the woods. The more man lives by himself, the more he likes it, and
yet now and then circumstances bring up the days of his youth, and make
him hesitate whether it be best or not to live alone.
am glad to hear you say that, Malachi, said Mr Campbell.
little thought that I should ever have said it, replied the old man;
when I first saw that girl by the side of the stream, (looking at
Emma), then my heart yearned towards the boy; and now this meeting to
praise God and to keep Christmas-Dayall has helped.
But do you not pray when you are alone? said Mary.
Yes, in a manner, miss; but its not like your prayers; the lips dont
move, although the heart feels. When I lie under a tree watching for the
animals, and I take up a leaf and examine it, I observe how curious and
wonderful it is, I then think that God made it, and that man could not.
When I see the young grass springing up, and how, I know not, except
that it does so every year, I think of God and His mercy to the wild
animals in giving them food; and then the sun reminds me of God, and the
moon, and the stars, as I watch, make me think of Him; but I feel very
often that there is something wanting, and that I do not worship exactly
as I ought to do. I never have known which is Sunday, although I well
recollected how holy it was kept at my fathers house, and I never
should have known that this was Christmas-Day, had it not been that I
had met with you. All days are alike to a man that is alone and in the
wilderness, and that should not beI feel that it should not.
So true is it, observed Mr Campbell, that stated times and seasons
are necessary for the due observance of our religious duties; and I am
glad to hear Malachi say this, as I trust it will occasion his being
with us more than he has been.
Come to us every Sunday, Malachi, said Mrs Campbell.
think I will, maam, if I canindeed, why I sayif
I can, I know not; it was wrong to say so.
wish you to come not only on your own account, but for Johns sake;
suppose you come every Sunday morning, and leave us every Monday. You
will then have the whole week for your hunting.
Please God, I will, replied Malachi.
And bring the Strawberry with you, said Mary.
will, miss; it cannot but do her good.
Dinner was now announced, and they all sat down; a happy party. Mr
Campbell on this occasion produced two or three bottles of his small
store of wine, which he kept rather in case of illness than for any
other reason, for they had all been so long without wine or spirits,
that they cared little about it. Their dinner consisted of white-fish
(salted), roast venison, boiled salt beef, roast turkey, and a
plum-pudding, and they were all very merry, although they were in the
woods of Canada and not at Wexton Hall.
My children, said Mr Campbell, after dinner, I now drink all your
healths, and wish you as much happiness as the world affords, and at the
same time accept my most hearty thanks and my dearest love. You have all
been good, obedient, and cheerful, and have lightened many a heavy load.
If, when it pleased Providence to send us into this wilderness, it had
been part of my lot to contend with wilful and disobedient children; if
there had been murmuring and repining at our trials; discontent and
quarrelling among yourselves, how much more painful would have been our
situation. On the contrary, by your good humour and attention, your
willing submission to privations, and your affectionate conduct towards
me, my wife, and each other, you have not allowed us to feel the change
of position to which we have been reduced. I say again, my dear children
all, you have my thanks, and may the Almighty bless and preserve you!
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