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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 party.

“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 Emma’s 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, it’s not his fault that he’s not here,” replied Martin; “it’s now more than six weeks since he has left, and if the colonel would allow him, I’m 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 I’m 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 them—and they had one in their party. They carried their own packs of fur, that I’ll 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, I’ll be bound for.”

“I’m 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.

“It’s 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.

“That’s 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, ma’am, it’s 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 God’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 it’s scarcely possible the search would be attended with success.”

“But why do you wish to find out her tribe?” said Mary.

“Because I’m 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 leaveme alone; but that can’t be helped, I’m 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.”

“I 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.”

As 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, ma’am, 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?”

“I can’t tell, ma’am; 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 precepts—whether members of the Church of England, or any other communion—we 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.”

“I 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 hunter’s 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.”

“I am glad to hear you say that, Malachi,” said Mr Campbell.

“I 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-Day—all has helped.”

“But do you not pray when you are alone?” said Mary.

“Yes, in a manner, miss; but it’s not like your prayers; the lips don’t 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 father’s 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 be—I 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.

“I think I will, ma’am, if I can—indeed, why I say if I can, I know not; it was wrong to say so.”

“I wish you to come not only on your own account, but for John’s 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.

“I 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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