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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XV Dangerous Neighbours

It was on the Saturday evening, when they had all assembled round the fire, for it was more cold than it had hitherto been, that the moaning of the wind among the trees of the forest announced a gale of wind from the northward.

“We shall have it soon,” observed Martin, “winter mostly comes in with a gale.”

“Yes; and this appears as if it would be a strong gale,” replied Alfred. “Hark! how the boughs of the trees are sawing and cracking against each other.”

“I reckon we may get our snow-shoes out of the store-house, John,” said Martin, “and then we shall see how you can get over the ground with them when you go out hunting. You have not shot a moose yet.”

“Is the moose the same as the elk, Martin?” said Henry.

“I do not think it is, sir; yet I’ve heard both names given to the animal.”

“Have you ever shot any?” said Mrs Campbell.

“Yes, ma’am; many a one. They’re queer animals; they don’t run like the other deer, but they trot as fast as the others run, so it comes to the same thing. They are very shy, and difficult to get near, except in the heavy snow, and then their weight will not allow them to get over it, as the lighter deer can; they sink up to their shoulders, and flounder about till they are overtaken. You see, Master Percival, the moose can’t put on snow-shoes like we can, and that gives us the advantage over the animal.”

“Are they dangerous animals, Martin?” inquired Mary.

“Every large animal is more or less dangerous when it turns to bay, miss. A moose’s horns sometimes weigh fifty pounds, and it is a strong animal to boot; but it can’t do anything when the snow is deep. You’ll find it good eating, at all events, when we bring one in.”

“I’ll bring one,” said John, who was cleaning his rifle.

“I daresay you will, as soon as you can manage your snow-shoes,” replied Martin. “The wind is getting up higher. I guess you’ll not find your way back to Malachi’s lodge, Master John, as you thought to do to-morrow morning.”

“It is certainly a dreadful night,” observed Mrs Campbell; “and I feel the cold very sensibly.”

“Yes, ma’am; but as soon as the snow is down, you’ll be warmer.”

“It is time to go to bed,” observed Mr Campbell, “so put away your work; and, Henry, give me down the bible.”

During that night the gale increased to almost a hurricane; the trees of the forest clashed and crackled, groaned and sawed their long arms against each other, creating an unusual and almost appalling noise; the wind howled round the palisades and fluttered the strips of bark on the roof, and as they all lay in bed, they could not sleep from the noise outside, and the increased feeling of cold. It was also the first trial of this new house in severe weather, and some of the wakeful party were anxiously watching the result. Towards the morning the storm abated, and everything was again quiet. In consequence of the restless night which they had passed they were not so early as usual. Emma and Mary, when they came out of their room, found Martin and Alfred up and very busy with shovels; and, to their astonishment, they perceived that the snow was at least three feet deep on the ground, and in some places had been drifted up higher than their heads.

“Why, Alfred!” cried Emma; “how shall we be able to go after the cows this morning? This is, indeed, winter come on with little warning.”

“It still snows,” observed Mary; “not much, indeed, but the sky is very black.”

“Yes, miss, we shall have some more of it yet,” observed Martin. “Mr Campbell and Mr Henry have gone to the store-house for more shovels, for we must work hard, and clear a footpath, and then get the snow up against the palisades.”

“What a sudden change,” said Emma; “I wish the sky would clear, and then I should not care.”

“It will to-morrow, Miss Emma, I dare say; but the snow must come down first.”

Martin and Alfred had only time to clear a path to the store-house. Mr Campbell and Henry returned with more shovels, and as soon as breakfast was over, they commenced work. As for Mary and Emma going to milk the cows, that was impossible. Martin undertook that task until they had cleared a pathway to the hunter’s lodge, in which the animals were shut up every night.

By the advice of Martin, the snow next the palisades was piled up against the palings like a wall, as high as they could reach or throw it, by which means they got rid of the snow about the house, and at the same time formed a barrier against the freezing winds which they had to expect. All worked hard; Percival and John were of great use, and even Mrs Campbell and the girls assisted collecting the remainder of the snow, and clearing it off the window-sills and other parts. By noon the snow left off falling, the sky cleared up, and the sun shone bright, although it gave out but little warmth.

After dinner they renewed their labours, and commenced clearing away a path to the lodge, where the cows were locked in, and before nightfall they had accomplished their task as far as the bridge over the stream, which was about half-way.

It had been a day of great fatigue, and they were glad to retire to rest. Mrs Campbell and the girls had put an additional supply of blankets and skins upon the beds, for the cold was now intense, and the thermometer stood far below the freezing point.

The following morning they resumed their task; the sky was still unclouded, and the sun shone out clear and bright. By dinnertime the path to the cow-house had been completed; and the men then employed themselves in carrying as much firewood as they could, before it was dark, within the palisades.

“Well,” observed Alfred, “now things may go on as usual within doors; and what have we to do out, Martin?”

“You must first get on your snow-shoes, and learn to walk in them,” observed Martin; “or, otherwise, you’ll be a prisoner as well as the ladies. You see, John, you’re not at Malachi’s lodge.”

“Go to-morrow,” replied John.

“No; not to-morrow, for I must go with you,” said Martin; “I cannot trust you for finding your way; and I cannot go to-morrow nor the next day either. We must kill our beef to-morrow; there’s no fear but it will keep all the winter now, and we shall save our hay.”

“My larder is but poorly furnished,” observed Mrs Campbell.

“Never mind, ma’am, we’ll soon have something in it, which will save our beef. In another week you shall have it well stocked.”

“John,” said Mr Campbell, “recollect you must not go away without Martin.”

“I won’t,” replied John.

All the game in the larder having been consumed, they sat down to salt-pork and some of the fish which had been cured. The latter was pronounced to be excellent.

“What is the name of this fish, Martin?”

“It is called the white-fish,” replied Martin, “and I have heard gentry from the old country say that they have none better, if any so good.”

“It is certainly most excellent,” replied Mr Campbell, “and we will not forget to have a good provision for next winter, if it pleases God to spare our lives.”

“Where were you born, Martin?” said Henry as they were sitting round the kitchen fire, as usual in the evening.

“Why, Mr Henry, I was born at Quebec. My father was a corporal in the army under General Wolfe, and was wounded in the great battle fought between him and the Frenchman Montcalm.”

“In which both generals were killed, but the victory was to us.”

“So I’ve heard, sir,” replied Martin. “My mother was an Englishwoman, and I was born about four years after the surrender of Quebec. My mother died soon afterwards, but my father was alive about five years ago, I believe. I can’t exactly say, as I was for three or four years in the employ of the Fur Company, and when I returned, I found that he was dead.”

“And you have been a hunter all your life?”

“Not all my life, and not exactly a hunter. I call myself a trapper, but I still am both. I first was out with the Indians when I was about fourteen, for you see my father wanted to make me a drummer, and I could not stand that; so I said to him, ‘Father, I won’t be a drummer.’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘Martin, you must help yourself, for all my interest lies in the army.’ ‘So I will,’ says I; ‘father, I’m off for the woods.’ ‘Well,’ says he, ‘just as you like, Martin.’ So one fine day I wished him good-bye, and did not see him again for more than two years.”

“Well, and what took place then?”

“Why, I brought home three or four packages of good skins, and sold them well. Father was so pleased, that he talked of turning trapper himself, but, as I told the old man, a man with a lame leg—for he had been wounded in the leg, and halted—would not make his livelihood by hunting in the woods of Canada.”

“Was your father still in the army?”

“No, ma’am, he was not in the army; but he was employed in the storekeeper’s department; they gave him the berth on account of his wound.”

“Well; go on, Martin.”

“I haven’t much more to say, ma’am. I brought home my furs, sold them, and father helped me to spend the money as long as he was alive, and very welcome he was to his share. I felt rather queer when I came back from the Fur Company and found that the old man was dead, for I had looked forward with pleasure to the old man’s welcome, and his enjoying his frolic with me as usual.”

“I’m afraid those frolics were not very wise, Martin.”

“No, sir, they were very foolish, I believe; but I fear it will always be the case with us trappers. We are like sailors, we do not know what to do with money when we get it; so we throw it away, and the sooner the better, for it is our enemy while we have it. I assure you, sir, that I used to feel quite happy when all my money was gone, and I was setting off to the woods again. It is a hard life, but a life that unfits me for any other; a life which you become very fond of. I don’t mind being here with you by way of a change; indeed, as long as there is hunting, it is almost as good as if I were in the woods, but else I think I shall die a trapper.”

“But, Martin,” said Mr Campbell, “how much more wise it would be to put your money by, and after a time purchase a farm and settle down a steady man with property, perhaps married and the father of a family.”

“Perhaps it might be; but if I do not like it so well as trapping, I don’t see why I should do so; it would be changing my life to please others and not myself.”

“That’s very true, Martin,” said Alfred, laughing.

“Perhaps Martin may change his mind before he is an old man,” replied Mrs Campbell. “Dear me! what noise was that?” exclaimed Mrs Campbell, as a melancholy howl was heard without.

“Only a rascally wolf, ma’am,” said Martin: “we must expect the animals to be about us now that the snow has fallen, and the winter has set in.”

“A wolf! are they not dangerous, Martin?” inquired Mary Percival.

“That depends, miss, how hungry they may be; but they are not very fond of attacking a human being; if we had any sheep outside, I fancy that they would stand a bad chance.”

The howl was repeated, when one or two of the dogs which had been admitted into the house and were stretched before the fire, roused up and growled.

“They hear him, ma’am, and if we were to let them out, would soon be at him. No, no, John, sit still and put down your rifle: we can’t afford to hurt wolves; their skins won’t fetch a half-dollar, and their flesh is not fit for a dog, let alone a Christian. Let the vermin howl till he’s tired; he’ll be off to the woods again before daylight.”

“There is certainly something very melancholy and dreadful to me in that howl,” said Emma; “it frightens me.”

“What, Emma, afraid?” said Alfred, going to her; “why yes, really she trembles; why, my dear Emma, do you recollect how frightened you and Mary were at the noise of the frogs when you first came here; you got used to it very soon, and so you will to the howl of a wolf.”

“There is some difference, Alfred,” replied Emma, shuddering as the howl was repeated. “I don’t know how it is,” said she, rallying her spirits, “but I believe it was reading Little Red Riding Hood when I was a child, which has given me such a horror of a wolf; I shall get over it very soon, I have no doubt.”

“I must say, that it does not create the most agreeable sensation in my mind,” observed Mrs Campbell, “but I was aware of what we were to encounter when we came here, and if it is only to be annoyed with the cry of a wild beast, we may consider that we get off very cheaply.”

“I should feel much more at ease, if all the rifles were loaded,” said Mary Percival, in her usual quiet way.

“And I too,” said Emma.

“Well, then, if that will at all relieve your minds, it is easily done,” said Mr Campbell; “let us all load our rifles, and put them back in their rests.”

“Mine’s loaded,” said John.

“And the rest soon shall be,” said Alfred, “even the three appropriated for your use, mother and cousins. Now don’t you feel some satisfaction in knowing that you can load and fire them yourselves? the practice you had during the fine weather has not been thrown away, has it, dear Emma?”

“No, it has not, and I am very glad that I did learn it; I am a coward in apprehension, Alfred, but, perhaps, if I were put to the test, I should behave better.”

“That I really believe,” replied Alfred; “a gale of wind at sea sounds very awful when down below jerking about in your hammock, but when on deck, you don’t care a fig about it. Now the rifles are all loaded, and we may go to bed and sleep sound.” They did retire to rest, but all parties did not sleep very sound; the howling of one wolf was answered by another; Emma and Mary embraced each other, and shuddered as they heard the sounds, and it was long before they forgot their alarm and were asleep.

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