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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXII The Beavers

When we left off our narrative, our Canadian settlers were enjoying themselves on Christmas-Day. On the following morning, Malachi Bone, the Strawberry, and John, set off for their abode to the westward, and Captain Sinclair and his companion went back to the fort. The Indian woman was better, and the family resumed their usual occupations. We must now briefly narrate a few events which occurred during the remainder of the long winter. Malachi and John made their appearance, accompanied by the Strawberry, almost every Sunday, and the old hunter appeared gradually to become more reconciled to the society of others, and sometimes would remain for a day or two over the Sunday. The Indian woman, in the course of three weeks, was quite recovered, and signified, through the Strawberry, her wish to leave and join her tribe. To this, of course, no objection was raised; and having received a supply of provisions, she took her leave at the latter end of the month of January.

February,—March followed, and the winter still continued, but the sun became more powerful, and the weather was not so severe. It was not till the middle of April that the lake was clear of ice and the thaw commenced, and then it was so rapid, that the little stream became quite an impetuous torrent, and a large portion of the prairie land was under water.

A few days, however, sufficed to change the scene; the snow which had covered the ground for so many months had all disappeared; the birds which had been mute or had migrated during the winter, now made their appearance, and chirped and twittered round the house; the pleasant green of the prairie was once more presented to their view, and Nature began to smile again. Other ten days passed, and the trees had thrown out their leaves, and after one or two storms, the weather became warm and the sky serene.

Great was the delight of the whole party at this change; and now the cows were put out to their pasture, and Emma and Mary went milking as before, no longer afraid of meeting with the wolves. The boat was launched, and Percival and John went out to procure fish. Alfred, Henry, and Martin were very busy picking up the cleared ground, to sow the first crop. Mr Campbell worked all day in the garden; the poultry were noisy and bustling, and soon furnished an abundant supply of eggs; and as now the hunting season was over for a time, Malachi and the Strawberry were continually coming to visit them.

“Oh! how delightful this is,” exclaimed Emma, as she stopped at the bridge and looked on the wide blue lake; “is it not, Mary, after having been cooped up for so many dreary months?”

“It is, indeed, Emma; I do not wonder at your flow of spirits; I feel quite another person myself. Well, if the winter is long and dreary, at all events, it doubly enhances the value of the spring.”

“I think it’s very odd that Captain Sinclair has not come to see us; don’t you, Mary?”

“I certainly did expect him before this,” replied Mary; “I presume, however, his duty will not permit him to come.”

“Surely he could get leave, now that the weather is fine; there was some reason for his not coming during the winter. I hope he is not ill.”

“I hope so too, most sincerely, Emma,” replied Mary; “but come, sister, we must not loiter; hear how the calves are bleating for us to let them have their breakfasts; we shall have more of them very soon; yes, and plenty of milk, and then we shall have plenty of churning; but I like work when the weather is fine.”

After breakfast, Emma expressed her surprise to Alfred at Captain Sinclair’s not having made his appearance, and her fear that he was not well. Alfred, at her request, promised to walk to the fort in the afternoon, and ascertain how matters were.

John, who had not forgotten the advice of Malachi, brought in a basket of fine trout from the stream almost every day, and the supply of fish and eggs proved very acceptable, for the beef had all been consumed, and the family would otherwise have been reduced to salt-pork.

Alfred, as he had promised Emma, set off for the fort, accompanied by Martin. He returned the next morning, full of news. Captain Sinclair was, as Emma had imagined, unable to come, having had a severe fall, by which he had injured his knee, and was laid up for a time: he was, however, in very good spirits, and the medical officer had promised that he should be well again in a fortnight; he sent his kind regards to all the family. The Commandant also sent his compliments to Mr Campbell, and desired to acquaint him that, in a week or ten days, it was his intention to send a boat to Montreal, and if Mr Campbell had any purchases to make, or wished to send any one by the opportunity, he might do so, and the boat would bring back the articles he required. They had no further communication with Quebec, but expected a runner to come every day with the letters from England and newspapers; and further, that he hoped soon to be able to pay his respects in person.

Such was the information brought by Alfred; Emma made many inquiries relative to Captain Sinclair as Mary stood by, and Alfred laughed at her extreme inquisitiveness. The proposition of the Commandant relative to the trip to Montreal was then discussed. Old Malachi had several packages of furs to dispose of. Martin had five, Alfred three, and Henry two; for, although we made no mention of it, on their hunting excursions, whoever killed the animal, was entitled to the skin. The packages of Malachi were, however, of some value, as he had many beaver and other skins, while those of Martin and the others consisted chiefly of deer-skins. The question was, whom to send down with them. Malachi was not inclined to go, Martin could not well be spared, and, moreover, would very probably get into some scrape if he went to Montreal; whereas Henry and Alfred did not know anything about the value of skins; otherwise, Mr Campbell, who wished to purchase flour and pork, besides several other articles, would have preferred sending one of them. But the difficulty was soon removed by old Malachi, who observed, that he had made a valuation of his skins, and that the others could be valued also before they were packed up; and that if not sold for what they ought to fetch, or nearly so, they had better be brought back. Mr Campbell was satisfied with this arrangement, and Henry was appointed to undertake the journey. Mr Campbell made out his inventory of articles; Mrs Campbell added her list, and all was ready as soon as they received notice that the boat was to leave. Martin did not appear at all annoyed at not being selected for the expedition; since Malachi Bone had informed them that the Strawberry was not his wife, as they had supposed, Martin was continually by her side. She began to speak a few words of English, and had become a great favourite with everybody. Mr Campbell, as soon as he perceived that Malachi no longer avoided them, thought it but his duty to offer him his land back again, but Malachi would not consent to accept it. He said he did not want the land, although, perhaps, he might raise his lodge a little nearer to them than it was; at present, things had better remain as they were; after which Mr Campbell did not renew the subject. Malachi soon acted upon his remark, that perhaps he might raise his lodge a little nearer, for, a few days afterwards, he made his appearance with the Strawberry and John, all three loaded with his household utensils, and in a very short time he had erected another wigwam within sight of the house at the western end of Mr Campbell’s prairie. This gave great satisfaction to Mrs Campbell, because John was now always near to them; indeed, he no longer slept in the lodge, but at the house, in the room with his brothers. The major part of the day he passed at the lodge, or in company with the old hunter; but, by this new arrangement, they gradually became, as it were, one family; not a day passed that the Strawberry did not come to their house and make herself useful, assisting in everything that she could, and rapidly learning what she did not know.

One or two evenings after the message from the fort, Mr Campbell asked Malachi some questions relative to the habits of the beaver, as she had heard much of the sagacity of that animal.

“Well, ma’am,” said Malachi, “it’s a most reasonable animal, certainly, and I will say, I never was tired with watching them; I’ve even forgot, in the summer-time, what I came out for, from having fallen in with them at work.”

“And so have I,” said Martin. “I once was lying down under a bush by the side of a stream, and I saw a whole council of them meet together, and they talked after their own fashion so earnestly, that I really think they have a language as good as our own. It’s always the old ones who talk, and the young ones who listen.”

“That’s true,” replied Malachi. “I once myself saw them hold a council, and then they all separated to go to work, for they were about to dam up a stream and build their lodges.”

“And what did they do, Malachi?” said Mrs Campbell.

“Why, ma’am, they did all the same as Christians would have done. The Injuns say that beavers have souls as well as themselves, and certainly, if sense gave souls, the Injuns would be in the right. The first thing that they did was to appoint their sentinels to give notice of danger; for the moment anyone comes near them, these sentinels give the signal and away they all dive, and disappear till the danger is over.”

“There are many beasts as well as birds that do the same,” observed Mr Campbell; “indeed, most of those which are gregarious and live in flocks.”

“That’s true, sir,” replied Martin.

“Well, ma’am, the beavers choose a place fit for their work. What they require is a stream running through a flat or bottom, which stream of water they may dam up so as to form a large pond of a sufficient depth by the water flowing over and covering the flat or bottom several feet; and when they have found the spot they require, they begin their work.”

“Perhaps,” observed Mr Campbell, “this choice requires more sagacity than the rest of their labour, for the beavers must have some engineering talent to make the selection; they must be able to calculate as exactly as if they took their levels, to secure the size and depth of water in the pond which is necessary. It is the most wonderful, perhaps, of all the instincts, or reasoning powers rather, allotted to them.”

“It is, sir; and I’ve often thought so,” replied Malachi; “and then to see how they carry all their tools about them; a carpenter’s basket could not be better provided. Their strong teeth serve as axes to cut down the trees; then their tails serve as trowels for their mason’s work; their fore-feet they use just as we do our hands, and their tails are also employed as little carts or wheelbarrows.”

“Pray go on, Malachi,” said Mary; “I am quite interested already.”

“Well, miss, I have known these little creatures as they are, raise banks four or five hundred paces in length, and a matter of twenty feet high in some parts, besides being seven or eight feet thick; and all in one season,—perhaps five or six mouths’ work.”

“But how many of them do you reckon, are at the work?” said Henry.

“Perhaps a hundred; not more, I should say.”

“Well; but how do they raise these banks, Malachi?” said Emma.

“There, miss, they shew what sense they have. I’ve often watched them when they have been sawing through the large trees with the front teeth; they could not carry the tree, that’s sartain, if the whole of them were to set to work, so they always pick out the trees by the banks of the stream, and they examine how the trees incline, to see if they will fall into the stream; if not, they will not cut them down; and when they are cutting them down, and they are nearly ready for falling, if the wind should change and be against the fall, they will leave that tree till the wind will assist them. As soon as the trees are down, they saw off the branches and arms, and float the log down to where the dam is to be made; they lay them across, and as they lay them one upon the other, of course the water rises and enables them to float down and place the upper ones. But before that, as soon as the lower logs are in their places, the animals go and fetch long grass and clay, which they load upon their flat tails, and drag to the dam, filling up the holes between the timber till it is as strong as a wall, and the water is completely stopped.”

“Yes,” said Martin; “I have heard them at night working away so hard, and flapping and spattering with their tails, that I could imagine there were fifty men at work instead of a hundred of those small animals, but they work by day and by night, and never seem tired, till the dam is sound and their work is complete.”

“But the raising of the dam is only preparatory, is it not, to their building their own houses?” observed Mrs Campbell.

“Nothing more, ma’am; and I think the rest of the work is quite as wonderful.”

“But it is time to go to bed,” observed Mr Campbell, “and we must, therefore, leave the remainder of Malachi’s story till another evening.”

“I am sure that there is not one of the party who is more anxious to hear it than I am,” replied Mrs Campbell, rising, “but as you say, it is past ten o’clock, and Malachi and the Strawberry have to go home, so, good night.”

“Oh, dear! what a pity!” cried Percival, “I shall dream of beavers all night, I’m sure I shall.”

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