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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XXIII Malachi's Story of a Bear

For two or three days, Mr Campbell was very busy making out an inventory of the articles which he required. His funds at Quebec were rather low, but the communication which his agent had made to him of Mr D. Campbell’s intention of paying for the green-house and hothouse plants, made him feel very easy on that score; and he now determined to procure a small flock of sheep, and one or two of the Canadian ponies or galloways, as they would soon be required for the farm, as well as two carts or light waggons used in the country. In the meantime, Alfred, Martin, and Henry were very busy putting the seed in between the stumps of the felled timber, merely hoeing up the earth and raking it in, which was all that was required. The quantity of land cleared was about twelve acres, half of which was sowed with oats, and the other with wheat; the piece cleared on the other side of the stream by Malachi Bone, and railed in, was sown with maize, or Indian corn. As soon as the seed was in, they all set to putting up a high fence round the cleared land, which was done with split rails made from the white cedar, which grew in a swamp about half a mile distant, and which, it may be remembered, had in a great measure been provided by the soldiers who had been lent to assist them on their arrival. The piece of prairie land, on the side of the stream next to the house, was put apart for an early crop of hay, and as soon as they could, they intended to turn the cows into the bush, that is, to feed in the forest, that they might obtain hay from the other side, which had belonged to Malachi; but the prairie required to be fenced in, and this was the job that they took in hand as soon as the seeds were sown.

“I hope, when the Colonel comes over,” observed Martin to Alfred, “that we shall persuade him to let us have some soldiers this summer, for we shall want them both for the fencing and getting the hay-crop in. Our summers are not very long, and there is plenty to do.”

“I think my father intends to make the request,” replied Alfred.

“Ah, sir; he will now see the value of this bit of prairie land to a new settler; instead of having to go in search of hay, as they must do at the fort now, we have plenty for hay, and plenty for feed. So we are to have some sheep, I find?”

“Yes, and I suppose we must build a winter-yard for them.”

“To be sure we must, for the wolves are very partial to mutton; I think, on the whole, that they like pigs better. I wish we could get the fence up round the prairie, but that we never can do this year without we have help from the fort.”

“But will it be safe to turn the cows into the bush?”

“Oh, yes, sir, they will not be hurt by anything in the summer-time; sometimes we have trouble to find them again, but not when they have calves; they are certain to come home every evening to their young ones.”

“We shall have quite a herd of cattle; eight calves and eight cows.”

“We must only bring up the cow calves, unless your father intends to have oxen for the yoke. We shall require them about the time they are fit to break in, that is, in two or three years.”

“Yes, we shall be great farmers by-and-bye,” replied Alfred, with a sigh; for at the moment he was thinking of Captain Lumley and his nautical profession.

In the evening of the day on which this conversation took place, Malachi Bone was requested to resume his observations upon the beavers.

“Well, ma’am, as I said the other night, as soon as they have dammed up the river and made the lake, they then build their houses; and how they manage to work under water and fix the posts in the ground is a puzzle to me, but they do fix six posts in the ground, and very firmly, and then they build their house, which is very curious; it is in the form of a large oven, and made of clay and fat earth, mixed up with branches and herbs of all sorts; they have three sets of rooms one above the other, so that if the water rises from a freshet or sudden thaw, they may be able to move higher and keep themselves dry. Each beaver has his own little room, and the entrance is made under the water, so that they dive down to go into it, and nothing can harm them.”

“How very curious, and what do they live upon, Malachi?”

“The bark of what we call asp-wood, ma’am, which is a kind of sallow; they lay up great quantities of it in the autumn as a provision for winter, when they are frozen up for some months.”

“Well, but how do you take them, Malachi?”

“There are many ways, ma’am; sometimes the Indians break down the dam, and let off the water, and then they kill them all except a dozen of the females and half a dozen males; after which they stop up the dam again, that the animals may breed and increase; sometimes, when the beaver lake is frozen hard, they break into the beaver house from the top; when they do that, the beavers all dive and escape, but as they must come up to breathe at the holes in the ice, they place nets and take them in that way, but they always leave a sufficient number to keep up the stock; they also take them in traps baited with the asp-wood, but that is more difficult.”

“But there is another sort of beaver, ma’am, called the land-beaver, which is more easily taken,” observed Martin; “they make holes in the earth like rabbits. The Indians say that these beavers are those who are lazy and idle, and have been driven out by the others for not working.”

“Now, tell us what you do when you go out to hunt the beaver in the winter, Malachi?”

“We never hunt the beaver only, ma’am; we go out to hunt everything; we go to the beaver lakes, and then we set our traps for beaver, otter, martin, mynx, cats, foxes, and every other animal, some traps large and some small. We build our hut, and set our traps all about us, and examine them every day; we cut what flesh is good, and we employ ourselves skinning the animals which we take.”

“Is the beaver flesh good?”

“Yes, ma’am, very tolerable eating; perhaps the best we find at that time.”

“But what a miserable life that must be,” said Mrs Campbell.

“Well, ma’am, you may think so, but we hunters think otherwise,” replied Malachi; “we are used to it, and to being left alone to our own thoughts.”

“That’s true,” observed Martin; “I’d rather pass the winter hunting beavers, than pass it at Quebec, miserable as you may imagine the life to be.”

“There must be a charm in the life, that is certain,” observed Mr Campbell; “for how many are engaged in it who go out year after year, and never think of laying up any of their earnings.”

“Very true, sir,” replied Martin; “what they make from their skins is spent as soon as they get to Quebec, as I know well, and then they set off again.”

“Why they are like sailors,” observed Alfred, “who, after a long cruise, spend all their wages and prize-money in a few days, and then go to sea again for more.”

“Exactly,” replied Malachi; “and what’s the use of money if you keep it? A trapper can always take up as much powder and ball as he wants upon credit, and pay with a portion of his skins on his return. What does he want with the rest? It’s of no use to him, and so of course he spends it.”

“But would it not be better to put it by until he had sufficient to buy a farm, and live comfortably?”

“But does he live comfortably, ma’am?” said Malachi; “has he not more work to do, more things to look after, and more to care for with a farm, than when he has nothing?”

“It’s very true philosophy, after all,” observed Mr Campbell; “happy is the man who is content to be poor. If a man prefers to live entirely upon flesh, as the hunters do, there is no reason why he should work hard and till the ground to procure bread; when the wants are few, the cares are few also; but still, even the savage must feel the necessity of exertion when he has a wife and family.”

“Yes, sir, to be sure he does, and he works hard in his own way to procure their food; but trappers seldom have wives; they would be no use to them in the woods, and they have no one to provide for but themselves.”

“It appears to me like a savage life, but a very independent one,” said Mrs Campbell, “and I presume it is the independence which gives it such charms.”

“That’s it, depend upon it, ma’am,” replied Martin.

“But what do you do all the summer-time, Malachi?”

“Why, ma’am, we take to our rifles then, there are the deer, and the lynx, and the wild cats, and squirrels, and the bear, and many other animals to look after, and then some times we go bee-hunting for the honey.”

“Pray tell us how you take the honey, Malachi.”

“Why, ma’am, the bees always live in the hollows of the old trees, and it’s very difficult in a forest to find them out, for the hole which they enter by is very small and very high up sometimes; however, when we get a lead, we generally manage it.”

“Tell us what you mean, Malachi.”

“We catch the bees as they settle upon the flowers to obtain honey, and then we let them go again. The bee, as soon as it is allowed to escape, flies straight towards its hive; we watch it till we can no longer see it, and walk in that direction and catch another, and so we go on till we see them settle upon a tree, and then we know that the hive and honey must be in that tree, so we cut it down.”

“How very clever,” said Percival.

“It requires a sharp eye, though,” said Martin, “to watch the bee far; some of the trappers catch the bees and give them sugar mixed with whisky. This makes the bee tipsy, and he cannot fly so fast, and then they discover the hive much sooner, as they can run almost as fast as the bee flies.”

“That’s capital,” cried Percival; “but tell me, Martin, how do you kill the bears?”

“Why, Master Percival, with our rifles, to be sure; the easiest way to kill them is when they are in their holes in the hollow trees.”

“How do you get them out?”

“Why, we knock the tree with our axes, and they come out to see what’s the matter, and as soon as they put their heads out, we shoot them.”

“Are you in earnest, Martin?”

“Yes, ma’am; quite in earnest,” replied Martin.

“It’s all true, ma’am,” said the hunter; “the bears about here are not very savage. We had much worse down in Maine. I’ve seen the Indians in a canoe on a river watching the bears as they swam across, and kill in the water six or seven in one day.”

“Still a hear is an awkward sort of animal when it’s angry,” replied Martin; “and, as we may have them down here in the autumn, it is as well not to let them be thought too lightly of.”

“Indeed, there’s no fear of that,” said Emma; “as for Malachi, he thinks nothing dangerous; but I have no wish to see a bear. You say we may expect them, Martin. Why so?”

“Because, miss, they are very fond of maize, and we have a field of it sown, which may tempt them.”

“Well, if they do come, I must trust to my rifle,” replied Emma, laughing; “at all events, I do not fear them so much as I did when I first came here.”

“Don’t fire, miss, without you’re sure of killing,” said Malachi. “The creatures are very dangerous when wounded.”

“Don’t be afraid; I’ll only fire in self-defence, Malachi; that is, when I have no other chance left. I had rather trust to my heels than my rifle. Were you ever hugged by a bear?”

“Well, I wasn’t ever hugged; but once I was much closer to one than ever I wish to be again.”

“Oh! when was that? Do, pray, tell us,” said Emma.

“It was when I was young, that one day I sounded a tree in the forest with my axe, and I was certain that a bear was in it; but the animal did not shew itself, so I climbed up the tree to examine the hole at the top, and see if the bear was at home, as, if so, I was determined to have him out. Well, miss, I was on the top of the hollow trunk, and was just putting my head down into the hole, when, all of a sudden, the edge of the tree which I kneeled upon gave way, like so much tinder, and down I went into the hollow; luckily for me I did not go down head foremost, or there I should have remained till this time, for the hole in the middle of the tree, as I found, was too narrow for me to have turned in, and there I must have stuck. As it was, I went down with the dust and crumbles smothering me almost, till I came right on the top of the bear, who lay at the bottom; and I fell with such force, that I doubled his head down, so that he could not lay hold of me with his teeth, which would not have been pleasant; indeed, the bear was quite as much, if not more, astonished than myself, and there he lay beneath me, very quiet, till I could recover a little. Then I thought of getting out, as you may suppose, fast enough, and the hollow of the tree, providentially, was not so wide but that I could work up again with my back to one side and my knees to the other. By this means I gradually got up again to the hole that I fell in at, and perched myself across the timber to fetch my breath. I had not been there more than a quarter of a minute, and I intended to have remained much longer, when I perceived, all of a sudden, the bear’s head within a foot of me; he had climbed up after me, and I saw that he was very angry, so in a moment I threw myself off my perch, and down I went to the ground at the foot of the tree, a matter of nearly twenty feet, even faster than I went down inside of it. I was severely shaken with the fall, but no bones were broken; in fact, I was more frightened than hurt; I lay quite still for a little while, when the growl of the bear put me in mind of him; I jumped on my legs, and found that he was coming down the tree after me, and was within six feet of the ground. There was no time to lose; I caught up my rifle, and had just time to put it to his ear and settle him, as he was placing his fore foot on the ground.”

“What a narrow escape!”

“Well, perhaps it was; but there’s no saying, miss, which beats till the fight is over.”

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