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Title: A Winter of Content
Author: Davidson, Laura Lee
Language: English
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                          [Picture: Book cover]

                   [Picture: “Through patches of snow”]



                           A Winter of Content


                                    By
                            LAURA LEE DAVIDSON

                                * * * * *

    “Now there is a rocky isle in the mid
             sea, midway between Ithaca
    and rocky Samos, Asteris, a little isle.”

                                      The Odyssey of Homer.  Translated by
                                             S. S. Butcher and Andrew Lang

                                * * * * *

                       [Picture: Decorate graphic]

                                * * * * *

                            THE ABINGDON PRESS
                      NEW YORK           CINCINNATI

                                * * * * *

                           Copyright, 1922, by
                            LAURA LEE DAVIDSON

                                * * * * *

                 Printed in the United States of America

                                * * * * *

                                    To
                                  LOUISE
                          THE LADY OF THE ISLAND

                                * * * * *



ILLUSTRATIONS

“THROUGH PATCHES OF SNOW”                                 Frontispiece
“PETER, THE RABBIT, IS TURNING WHITE VERY RAPIDLY”                  53
THE HOUSE                                                           82
A POINT OF ONE OF THE ISLANDS                                       97
“THE HEAVY WOODSLEDS STILL TRAVEL DOWN THE LAKES”                  131
“THE DRAPEAUS LIVE ON A LONG PENINSULA TO THE WEST                 155
OF THIS ISLAND”



CHAPTER I


A SMALL, rocky island in a lake, a canoe paddling away across the blue
water, a woman standing on a narrow strip of beach, looking after it.  I
was the woman left on the shore, the canoe held my companions of the past
summer, the island was to be my home until another summer should bring
them back again.

There is no denying that I was frightened as I turned back along the
trail toward the little house among the birches.  It was hard work to
keep from jumping into a boat and putting out after the canoe that was
rounding the point and leaving me alone.

Little chilly fears laid icy fingers on the back of my neck.  A shadow
slipped between the trees; a sigh whispered among the leaves.  I wanted
to see all round me; I wanted to put my back against a wall.  A little,
grinning goblin of a misgiving stuck out an impudent tongue as it quoted
some of the jeers of unsympathetic friends and relatives, who had derided
my plan for borrowing the camp, when summer was gone, and staying on
alone at the Lake of Many Islands.

“Good-by,” had smiled my sister.  “You say you mean to stay a year, but
you’ll tire of solitude long before the winter.  We’ll see you back at
Thanksgiving.”

It was only mid-September, but I wanted to see her then at that very
instant.

There had been a farewell dinner, the family assembled, to prophesy
disaster.

“You’ll freeze your nose and ears off,” mourned a reassuring aunt.

In vain I reminded her that no inhabitant seen in five summers’ sojourn
at the lake had been without a nose or ears; all had had the requisite
number of features, although some of those same features had withstood
the cold of well-nigh a hundred winters.  But she was not consoled, and
continued to regard me so tearfully that I felt sure that she was bidding
farewell to my nose.

“You’ll break a leg and lie for days before anyone knows you are hurt,”
said Cousin John.

“You’ll be snowed in and no one will find you until spring,” said Brother
Henry.

“You are a city woman and not strong.  What do you know of a pioneer’s
life?  It is the most foolish plan we ever heard of,” chorused all.

Descending from prophecy to argument, they continued:

“Of course you will have a telephone.”

“That I will not,” I answered.  “I have been jerked at the end of a
telephone wire for years.  I want rest.”

“At least you will have a good dog.  That will be some protection.”

“A dog would drive away all the wild things.  I want to study them,” I
objected.

“Then, for mercy’s sake, find some other woman to stay there with you.
Surely there is another lunatic willing to freeze to death on the
precious island.  You should have a companion, if only to send for help.”

“I don’t want a companion,” I protested, tearfully.  “I won’t be
responsible for another person’s comfort or safety.  I will do this thing
alone or not at all.”

“I am tired to death,” I stormed.  “I need rest for at least one year.  I
want to watch the procession of the seasons in some place that is not all
paved streets, city smells and noise.  Instead of the clang of car bells
and the honk of automobile horns, I want to hear the winds sing across
the ice fields, instead of the smell of asphalt and hot gasoline, I want
the odor of wet earth in boggy places.  I have loved the woods all my
life, I long to see the year go round there just once before I die.”

At which outburst they shrugged exasperated shoulders and were silent,
but each one drew me aside, at parting, and pressed a gift into my hand.

“Be sure to let us know if anything goes wrong.  Write to us if you need
the least thing.  Don’t be ashamed to come back, if the experiment proves
a failure”—and so on and so on, God bless them!

Of all this the bogy reminded me as he danced ahead up the winding trail.

The house looked lonely, even in the brightness of the late afternoon.  I
hurried supper, to be indoors before the twilight fell.  Big Canadian
hares hopped along the paths and sat at the kitchen door, their great
eyes peering, long, furry ears alert, quivering noses pressed against the
wire screen.  Grouse pecked on the hill side, as tame as barnyard fowl.
From the water came the evening call of the loons.

The scant meal finished, I ran across the platform from the kitchen to
the main house and locked up.  Somehow, I did not want any open doors
behind me that evening.  Then I loaded the pistol and laid it on a shelf
at the head of the bed, along with the Bible and the Prayer Book.  If any
marauder could know how dreadfully afraid I am of that pistol, he would
do his marauding with a quiet mind.  I never expect to touch that weapon.
It shall be cleaned and oiled when any of the men come over from the
mainland, but handle it—never!  I would not fire it for a kingdom.

While it was still light I climbed into bed, and lay down rigid, with
tight-shut eyes, trying to pretend I did not hear all the rustling,
creaking, snapping noises in the woods.  Heavy animals pushed through the
fallen leaves.  Something that sounded as large as a moose went crashing
through the dry bushes.

“A rabbit,” I whispered to myself.

Creatures surely as large as bears rushed through the underbrush.

“Grouse,” I tried to believe.

From the lake came stealthy sounds.

“Driftwood pounding against the rocks, not really oars,” I murmured to my
thumping heart.

Then light, pattering footsteps on the porch.

In desperation I raised my head and looked out.  It was a little red fox,
trotting busily along, snuffling softly as he went.  I lay down and
closed my eyes firmly, determined not to open them again no matter what
might happen, then must have dozed, for, suddenly I was aware of a light
that flooded all the room.

There through the northeast window, large and round and beautiful, shone
the moon, the great Moon of the Falling Leaves.  It was like the sudden
meeting with a friend, reassuring, comforting.  A broad band of light lay
across my breast like a kind arm thrown over me.  The path of the
moonbeams on the water seemed the road to some safe haven.  With the
moon’s calm face looking in and the soft lapping of the waves as lullaby,
I fell asleep—and lo! it was day.

This house, the living room of the camp, that is to be my home for the
coming winter, stands on a bluff overhanging the lake.  It is a one-room
shack, 16×20 feet, surrounded by an eight-foot porch.  It is one-storied,
shingled, the porch roof upheld by birch log pillars, beautiful still
clothed in their silvery bark.  There are eight windows, two in each
corner, and through some of them the sun is always shining.

Adjoining this main shack and connected with it by an uncovered platform
are the kitchen and storeroom, but these will not be used in winter.  The
stores and I will have to stay in the big house if we are not to freeze.

From these buildings little trails run off through the woods to the dock,
the pump, the summer sleeping shacks, and a path goes all round the
island close to the shore.  Away from these beaten tracks are all sorts
of hidden nooks and lovely, dim seclusions.

This little rocky island, one of scores that dot the face of the lake, is
all a tangle of ferns and vines and wildflowers.  It is thickly wooded
with white birch, poplar and wild cherry.  There are also oaks, maples,
pines, and great clumps of basswood, and innumerable little cedars are
pushing up everywhere.

Making a way through the overgrown paths in the early morning, I break
through myriads of spiderwebs, stretched across from bushes heavy with
dew.  They feel like the tiniest of fairy fingers brushing my cheek, and
laid on my eyelids, light as the memory of a caress.  Butterflies dressed
in black velvet, with white satin frills and sapphire jewels, flutter on
ahead, and the stems of the birches are seen through a gold-green glow,
like sunlight shining through clear water.  When I sit on the sandy
bottom, with the whole lake for my washpot, small fishes, wearing coral
buttons and jade green ruffles on fins and tails, bump their blunt noses
against my knees.

Sounds from the mainland come across the lake, blurred and indistinct.
On the island I hear only the wind in the trees, the water beating
against the stones, and the hum of many insect wings.

There is something queer about the island.  I am convinced that it stands
on some magnetic pole or other, that puts every clock and watch out of
order as soon as it is landed here.  Cheap or fine, every timepiece
breaks a mainspring, and then we fall back on the sundial to tell us
what’s o’clock.  We can always know when it is noon, provided the weather
be sunny.  When it is cloudy we guess at the time and wait for the next
fine day.

This sundial stands in a clearing beside the house, and bears for its
motto, not the high-sounding Latin quotation that seems to belong to
sundials, but the trite assertion, “Time is valuable.”  A statement
wholly untrue, so far as this present life of mine is concerned.  A fine
bass, now, or a tin of beans perhaps is valuable, but surely not time, in
a place where there is nothing to do but eat, sleep, and think.

Yet when I stood to-day, on this lonely bit of land, in the midst of an
empty lake, waiting for the shadow to travel to the mark, I seemed to
catch, for one fleeting instant, some idea of the terrible, inexorable
passing of the hours.

“Set thy house in order, set thy house in order,” something seemed to
say, “for never, for thee, shall the shadow turn back upon the dial.”  In
that moment I stood alone in space, on this old clock the earth, swinging
with the whirling of the spheres.

The lake too has its mystery, a strange light that shines from the point
of one of the islands.  No one lives on that land; there is no farmhouse
near it on the shore, nor is it in line with any dwelling whose light
could seem to glimmer from its point.  The flare is too high and too
steady for fox-fire, the glow that comes from rotting wood, and though
men say they have explored the place repeatedly, there has never been any
sign of a campfire there.  But every now and again that light shines by
night, like a beacon, and no one has ever explained it.

Perhaps it is the phantom of the council fire, round which the red
warriors sat in the days when this land was theirs.  For there were
Indians hereabout, and not so very long ago; and people on the mainland
tell of a great fight that raged here when a band of the Mississagua
Nation, led by the chief White Eagle, fought with an invading war party
and of a day of battle from dawn until the going down of the sun when the
lake was red with blood.  On the sheer face of the cliff of the opposite
island are red veinings in the rock.  If one pretends very hard, they are
pictures of two war canoes left there by some artist of the tribe.  The
people here believe in them devoutly.

“They were painted in blood,” they say.

A very indelible blood it must have been, for those tracings have
withstood the wash of high water for many a year.

Whether the picture writing is genuine or no, there is plenty of evidence
that Indians lived along the shores of Many Islands, and there is a
pretty story told of the wedding of a girl, White Eagle’s daughter, to a
young brave of her tribe.  The Indians came down the lakes and through
the portages to Queensport, in their fine canoes, and the lovers were
married there by the priest at the mission.  Afterward they were all
entertained at dinner by the big-hearted wife of the principal merchant
of the town.  That lady’s daughter tells me that for many seasons
thereafter the chief’s daughter would bring or send beautiful birch
baskets, filled with berries or maple sugar for the children of her
hostess.

The bride is described as slim and young, with big, dark eyes.  The
wedding dress was dark blue cloth, trimmed with new-minted five- and
ten-cent pieces, pierced and sewed on in a pattern—this worn over a vest
of buckskin, beautifully embroidered.

What became of you, little Indian Bride, girl of the grateful heart?
Were you happy here at Many Islands, or was it life-blood of your brave
that helped to redden all the waters?  Did you move back and back with
your wandering people, or are you lying under the cedars on some green
slope of the shore?  I shall never know, but I shall think of you and
wonder.

There are no Indians here now, except one old squaw, who lives far back
on the road to Maskinonge and tans buckskins in the fine old Indian way,
but the plow turns up the arrowheads, and once in a while a bowl or pipe,
proofs that the red men lived and fought here.



CHAPTER II


THE Lake of the Many Islands, long, irregular, spring-fed, lies in a cup
of the rolling Ontario farmlands.  At the south its waters, passing
through a narrow strait, widen into beautiful Blue Bay.  At the north
they empty, in a series of cascades, into the little river Eau Claire.
The town of Les Rapides, its sawmill idle, the ten or twelve log houses
closed, stands at the outlet, a deserted village.  The eagles soar to and
fro over the blue lake; the black bass jump; the doré swim.  There are
hundreds of little coves and narrow channels—waters forgotten of the
foot, where only the hum of insect wings and the rattle of the kingfisher
are heard, and where the heron stands sentinel in the marshes and the
loons have their mud nests on the shores.

“Crazy as a loon,” that is, of all phrases, the most libelous.  For the
loon is the most sensible of fowl and possessed of the most distinct
personality.  No other water bird has so direct and so level a flight.
He lays his strong body down along the wind, and goes, like a bullet,
straight to his goal, purposeful, unswerving.  He has three cries, one a
high, maniac laugh, which is, of course, the reason his wits are
slandered; then a loud, squealing cry, very like the sound of a pig in
distress; and last a long, yearning call, the summons to his mate,
perhaps, that he sends out far across the water—a cry that seems the very
voice of the wilderness.  At twilight, and often in the night, I hear
that lonely cry, echoing down the lakes, and the faint, far cry that
answers it.

“There will be wind to-night,” the weather-wise say.  “Hear the loons
making a noise.”

The birds come to the bay back of the island, and swim about there as
friendly as puddle ducks.  If I go too close, closer than Mr. Gavia Immer
thinks safe or respectful, down he goes and stays for some minutes under
the water, to emerge far away, and in quite a different quarter from the
one in which I expected to see him.  No one on earth could ever predict
where a loon will come up when he dives.  He looks at me austerely,
twisting his black head back on his shoulder, until I would swear he had
turned it completely round on his white-ringed neck.  Then he gives his
crazy laugh and disappears again.

The loon is protected in Canada.  No one may shoot him or molest him.
But once in a while one comes across a boat cushion made of a bird skin,
its gray and white feathers very soft and thick and attached to the skin
so fast that it is well-nigh impossible to pluck them.  That is the
breast of the loon, the great wild bird of the northern lakes, that the
game law has failed to save.  When I see one of these skins I hate the
vandal who has killed the bird.

The Blakes are my nearest neighbors—not nearest geographically, for the
Drapeau farm lies closer to the island; but near by reason of their many
friendly acts and kind suggestions.  If I am ill or in trouble, it is to
Henry and Mary Blake that I shall go for help.

Henry Blake of the keen, ice-blue eye, the caustic tongue and the good
heart.  There was never anything more scathing than his condemnation of
the shiftlessness and, what he considers the general imbecility of his
neighbors, and never anything kinder than his willingness to help one of
them in a crisis.  He will sit for an hour, pencil in hand, laboring to
explain to some unsuccessful farmer that wood hauled at next to nothing a
cord can only land the hauler in a ditch of debt, and when the hapless
one has departed, fully determined to go his own way, to hear Henry spit
out the one word, “Fat-head,” as he turns back to his book, is a lesson
in the nice choice of epithet.

When it comes to judgment on the manners, the morals, and the methods of
their neighbors Henry and Mary Blake sit in the seats of the scornful;
but, after all, they are somewhat justified, for they came over from “The
States.”  Henry, an invalid, bought a rundown island farm, and they have
brought it to a good state of cultivation and paid off their mortgage,
all in ten years.

But while they are free in their criticisms of the natives, who live from
hand to mouth, one notices that the Blakes are always willing to do a
good turn, and are usually being asked to do one.  Is a house to be
built?  Henry is called on to plan it.  Does a churn spring a leak, or a
cow fall ill?  Mary goes to the rescue.  Does a temperamental seed-drill
choke in one of its sixty odd pipes?  Henry is sent for to find the seat
of the disorder and to apply the remedy.

I also went to him, when deliberating the relative cost of a log house
and one of board.  Mr. Blake discussed the matter with me in the kindest
way, summing up his advice in a sentence, that reached my muddled brain
in some such statement as the following:

“It all comes to this.  You can get one cedar log, 6×14 for twenty cents.
Three goes into twenty-one seven times, so board or log, it would come to
the same thing.”

It wasn’t what he said, of course, but I hastened to agree, lest I should
be a fat-head too.

Everything on the Blake farm is a pet, from the handsome young Jersey
bull, to the tiniest chick, hatched untimely from a nest-egg.  They all
run toward Mary as soon as she steps from the kitchen door, and as she
hurries from house to barn there is always a rabble of small ducks,
chickens, calves, and kittens hurrying after her.  The other day, when
she, Henry, and Jimmy Dodd, their adopted boy, set off for a tour of the
lake, a calf swam after them, and tried so earnestly to climb aboard
that, perforce, they turned back to shore and tied the foolish creature,
lest he should drown himself and them.

Like almost every family in the countryside, the Blakes have adopted a
small boy, giving him a home and training and enough to eat, which he
never had before in all his forlorn life.  They are kindness itself to
Jimmie, but Henry regards him with the same foreboding he feels for all
other native-born Canadians.  He trains him, but in the spirit of “What’s
the use?”

“Jimmie here,” he philosophizes, “he can’t seem to learn the first thing;
and if he learns it, he can’t retain it.  I have taught him to read, but
he can’t remember a word; and to write, but he forgets it the next day.
Mary even put him through the catechism, and a week later he didn’t know
one thing about it.  So what are you going to do?  I figure out,” he goes
on meditatively, “that the people who learn easy are the ones who have
been here before.  They knew it all in another life, maybe in another
language, and all they have to do is just to recall it.  But Jimmie
here—well, I guess this is his first trip.”

All the while Jimmie of the towhead and the thin, wiry legs and arms is
grinning at his critic with a wide, snaggle-toothed smile of great
affection.

The Blakes’ house stands on the site of an old log hut, of two rooms and
a lean-to shed.  In digging the cellar they came upon a walled-in
grave—the boards almost rotted away—and in it lay a skeleton.  Whose?  No
one knows, for that grave was dug before the time of anyone now living at
Many Islands.  Was it some Indian warrior laid there to sleep?  Was it a
settler of the old pioneer days?  No one can tell and no one cares.  The
Blakes built their comfortable eight-room house over his bones and
thought no more about them.

Yesterday Mary and I drove to Queensport, the county seat, fifteen miles
away, that I might show myself at the bank and the stores where I am to
trade this winter.  The start was to be early, and I rose at dawn to have
breakfast over, the cabin cleaned, and I myself rowed over to the farm.
The woods lay wrapped in a heavy mist.  Not a wet leaf stirred.  The
water looked like mouse-colored crêpe, and the sun hung like a big, pink
balloon in a sky of gray velvet.  But before our start the mists had
burned away and the day was glorious.

The road lies through a rolling country, all hills, woods, lakes, and
glades.  Queensport stands at the head of a chain of lakes.  It boasts
two banks, a high school, churches of all denominations, and a dozen or
so shops and houses set in gardens.  We dined at the hotel, the Wardrobe
House; we transacted our business at the bank, and turned then to our
shopping.  We went to the harness shop for bread, to the grocer’s for a
spool of thread, to the tailor’s to enquire the cost of a telephone.
Then I bethought me of my need for some rag carpet.  I did not really
want that carpet that day, indeed, I had not the money to pay for it.  I
only thought of inquiring for it while I was in the town.

We were directed to the hardware shop as the most likely place for
carpets, and I had no sooner mentioned my errand when a voice came out
from behind a stove saying eagerly:

“I know where you can find just what you’re looking for.  My old mother
has forty yards of as fine a rag carpet as you could wish to see.  Say
the word and I’ll drive you right out to the farm and show it to you.”

Whereupon a tall, wiry, keen-faced man rose up and dashed out of the
shop, returning in an instant with a buggy and a wild-looking black
horse.  Despite my protests we were bundled into the vehicle and driven
at a gallop, through the main street of Queensport, and the driving was
as the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi.  Past farms and fields we flew,
stopping with a mighty jerk at the door of the mother’s house.  There the
carpet was rolled forth before me, and there Mary Blake and our energetic
friend measured me off twenty yards of it, by a nick in the edge of the
kitchen table.

In vain I pleaded and explained my poverty.  Our abductor waved me a
careless hand.

“Money,” he assured us, “is the last thing that ever worried me.  You may
pay for the carpet when and where you choose.”

On the way back to town my new friend was properly presented.  His name
was William Whitfield.  Later I heard varied tales of his peculiarities.
There was talk of a horse trade, to which Bill Whitfield was a party.
The other man came out of the transaction the richer by one more
experience, but the poorer as regarded property.  It was told me that men
said freely that Bill Whitfield drunk could get the better of any two
sober men in the Dominion when it came to a bargain, and, as I
contemplated my roll of carpet, leaning against the dashboard, I
understood why I had been as wax in his hands, and I could only be
thankful that it had not occurred to Mr. Whitfield to sell me the whole
forty yards.

Back we jogged, Mary and I, along the quiet roads, discussing our
bargains and the news of the town.  We passed the schoolhouse just as
“Teacher” was locking the door for the night.  The dusty road was printed
all over with the marks of little bare feet, all turning away from the
school gate and pointing toward home.  The sun was sinking in a flaming
sky as we came to the shore of our own lake, where the rowboat lay on the
sand awaiting us, a pair of tired travelers, glad to be nearing home.

I would not be a bigot.  To each man should belong the right to vaunt the
glories of his own beloved camping ground.  There may be other places as
beautiful as this Lake of the Many Islands, although I cannot believe it.
But Many Islands at sunset, its quiet waters all rose and saffron and
lavender, under a crescent moon; when the swallows skim the surface and
dip their breasts in the ripple, and the blue heron flaps away to his
nest in the reeds—Well!  I shall see no other spot that so moves my heart
with its beauty, until my eyes look out beyond the sunset and behold the
land that is very far off.

I drift on past the islands, where the cedars troop down to the water’s
edge, and the white birches lean far out over the rocks.  The colors
fade, the far line of the forests becomes a purple blur, and stars come
out and hang in a dove-gray sky.  I land at the little dock, safe hidden
in the cove; I scramble along the dark trail to the house, while the
loons are laughing and calling as they rock on the waves.



CHAPTER III


THE days are still warm, but autumn is surely here.  The wasps are dying
everywhere and lie in heaps on all the window-sills; the great water
spiders have disappeared, and all day long the yellow leaves drift down
silently, steadily, in the forests.  Wreaths of vapor hang over the
trees, and every wind brings the pungent fall odor of distant forest
fires.  The hillsides are a blaze of color, with basswoods a beautiful
butter-yellow, oaks, russet and maroon and sugar maples, a flame of
scarlet against the dark-green velvet of the cedars and hemlocks.  Each
birch stands forth, a slender Danæ, white feet in a drift of gold.  The
woods here on the island are thinning rapidly.  All sorts of hidden dells
and boulders are coming to light.  Soon the whole island will lie open to
the sight, and then there will no longer be anything mysterious about it.

Dried heads of goldenrod, life everlasting, and a few closed gentians are
all that are left of the flowers; but the red and orange garlands of the
bittersweet wave from every bush, the juniper berries are purple, and the
sumacs are a wonder of great garnet velvet cones.

From a walk round the trails I bring in an assortment of seeds: beggar’s
ticks, stick-seeds, Spanish needles, pitchforks—“the tramps of the
vegetable world,” Burroughs calls them.  They cover my skirt, they cling
to my woolen leggings, they perch on the brim of my hat.  Little
pocket-shaped cases, pods with hooks, seeds shaped like tiny twin
turtles, and furry balls like miniature chestnut burrs.  As I pick and
brush and tear them off I wish I knew what plants had fathered every one
of them.

At the approach of cold weather the small animals and the few birds that
are left draw nearer to the house.  Grouse are in all the paths, flying
up everywhere.  They rise with a thrashing, pounding noise and soar away
over the bushes, to settle again only a little further on.  Last evening,
at twilight, two of them came on the porch, the little cock ruffling it
bravely, wings dragging, fantail spread, ruff standing valiantly erect.
A hen followed sedately at his heels.  They are very pretty, about the
size of bantam chickens.  How I hope that I shall be here to see their
young in the spring!

This afternoon a red squirrel came round the corner of the house and sat
down, absentmindedly, beside me on a bench.  When he looked up and saw
what he had done he gave a shriek and a bound and fled chattering off
toward the sundial.  But he will come back and will probably be darting
into the house when he thinks my back is turned, for there is nothing
half so impudent or so mischievous as the red squirrel.  I am told that
they do not “den in” as the chipmunks do.

The rabbits do their best to help me get rid of my stores.  There are
hundreds of them about.  They sit under the bushes, peering out; they
appear and disappear between the dry stalks of the brakes.  At evening
they come close to the house, and catch bits of bread and potatoes thrown
to them, then sit in the paths munching contentedly.  They are not
rabbits, correctly speaking, but Canadian hares, with long brown fur,
bulging black eyes, furry ears, fringed with black, and very long hind
legs.  One of them comes so close and seems so fearless that it should
not be difficult to tame him.  I have named him Peter.  These hares turn
snow-white in winter, I am told.  Even now their coats are showing white
where the winter coat is growing.

In the dusk the porcupines come pushing through the fallen leaves,
snuffling and grunting.  Away in the woods the bobcats scream and snarl.
The natives accuse the bobcat of a pretty trick of lying flattened out on
a limb, waiting for his prey to pass underneath, then he drops on its
back to tear with tooth and talon.  They warn me not to walk in the woods
after dark, for fear of this Canada lynx.

But my natural histories say that, while the lynx sometimes follows the
hunter for long distances, he does it only because he is curious, and
that there is no authentic record of the bobcat’s ever having attacked a
man.  So I shall continue to take my walks abroad, without fear that a
fierce tree cat will drop on me.  But late in the night, when I am waked
by that eerie sound, that begins with a low meow, like the cry of the
house cat, and goes on louder and louder, to end in a horrid screech,
full of a malevolent violence, I cover my head and am glad that I am safe
indoors.  I know that the lynx has come forth from his lair in a hollow
tree and is hunting my poor rabbits.

There is no telephone line to the island; sometimes I am stormbound for a
week, but in some underground way, the news of the neighborhood reaches
me sooner or later.  Therefore, when I came out of doors the other
morning, I was instantly aware of a sense of impending disaster, that
hung over all the landscape.  There was no cheerful popping of guns in
the fields, no hoarse voice bawled to the cattle.  At Blake’s the cause
of the silence was explained.  All the men round Many Islands had been
summoned to the County Court at Frontenac, to be tried for the illegal
netting and export of fish out of season.  A knot of angry men had
gathered on the shore, discussing the summons; anxious women hovered in
the background; speculation was rife as to the identity of the informer.

It could have been none of our men, for the obvious reason that all were
in the same boat.  Black Jack Beaulac, Yankee Jim, Little Jack, Long Joe,
William Foret, all had received the same summons.  It must have been an
inspector from Glen Avon.

“Did we not all remember a strange, white boat in the lake?  That was,
without doubt, the fish warden come to spy out for nets.”

I know very little about the legality of nets versus hooks, or the open
and closed seasons for fishing, but even to my ignorance there seemed
grave doubts about the line of defense to be offered, and I was conscious
that, being an alien and a “sport” (vernacular for sportsman, that is,
summer visitor), the matter was not being freely discussed in my
presence.

Next morning, while it was yet dark, Foret’s motor boat was heard,
chugging solemnly round the shore, gathering up the victims to take them
to court.  All day the women went softly, each wondering what was
happening to her man, and devising means for scraping up the money for
fines, if fines it had to be.  Henry Blake went off to town to the trial,
and the day passed gray and lowering.

At red sunset the boat turned in at the narrows, but before she hove in
sight the very beat of her engine signaled victory.  She came swinging
down the lake, her crew upright, alert, the flag of Canada flew in the
wind, her propeller kicked the water joyously.  As she made the round of
the lake, to Blake’s, to Beaulac’s, to Drapeau’s, to the Mines, it needed
none to tell us that all was well.

Foret touched at the island last to give news of the fight.  The case had
been dismissed for lack of evidence.  There had been no conviction, no
fines.

“How did it happen that there were no witnesses?” I asked.

Foret took out his pouch and stuffed his pipe carefully before he
answered.

“There was eight or nine fellers there from Blue Bay,” he said.  “They
looked like they’d come to testify, but, after we had talked to them a
bit, it seemed like they hadn’t nothing at all to say.”

“What had you told them?” I persisted.

“Well, we told them that if any man felt like he’d any information to
give, concerning netting fer fish, he’d best make his plans to leave the
lake afore twelve o’clock to-night.  We meant it too; they knowed that.
Black Jack give them some very plain talk, Black Jack did.  I guess,”
with a grin, “I guess that I was about the politest man there.”

“I was fined once,” William went on, reminiscently, “twenty-five dollars
it was too, an’ it just about cleaned me out.  They put me on oath, you
see, an’ of course, when a man’s on his oath he can’t lie.  But the next
time I went to town I seen a lawyer, an’ he told me they hadn’t no right
to ask me that question.  A man ain’t called on to testify against
himself.  So now, when the judge asks me: ‘Did you, or did you not, net
fer fish?’  I says, ‘That’s fer you to prove.  Bring on your witnesses.’
Howsoever,” he went on, “as long as all this has come up, I guess we’d as
well eat mudcats fer a spell.”

So mudcats it was, until the herring began to run.

Foret has kept me supplied with fish this fall, explaining carefully that
he will sell me pickerel, herring, and catfish but not bass.  Bass, being
a game fish, may not be caught for the market.  I have paid for the
pickerel by the pound and the bass have been gifts, for, as William
justly remarks: “What are a few bass, now and then, in a friendly way?”

Foret is long, lean, powerful, with thin, keen face, steady, dark eyes,
and the long, silent tread of the woodsman.  Sometimes he works in the
Mica Mines; sometimes he farms a bit, or fells trees.  More often he
hunts and fishes, but always he is a delightful companion, because of his
unconquerable optimism and fervent interest in all that concerns a matter
in hand.  He never admits a difficulty, no obstacle ever daunts him, and
no one has ever heard him say an unkind thing about any living creature.

When William goes off to a dance, Jean Foret is wild with anxiety.  When
he drinks a bit too much and the other men throw him into a hayfield or a
barn, to sleep it off, she ranges the county in a despairing search.
When he sobers and comes home, subdued and bearing gifts, who is so
contrite as he?

“Never again will I go to a dance.  There’s nothing to it at all,” he
assures you.  “A man’s better off to home.”

But once in so often William takes his fling—only he is never ugly or
quarrelsome when he drinks.  Even when his mind has lost control, he is
quiet and peaceable, they say.

The Forets live on the mainland, three miles off, along the shore.
William is building their house by degrees.  This season he went as far
as the inner wall, frame, studding, windows, chimney, and floor.  There
is also an outer casing of builder’s paper tacked on with small disks of
tin.  The whole edifice stands on stilts, about five feet off the ground,
giving fine harbor for the hounds, and a pig or two beneath.  The first
time I called to see them William made a great show of driving these
animals forth.

“The boards is so thin,” he apologized, “that it seems like I can smell
them dogs up through the floor.”

When I remember that one thickness of board and a few sheets of paper are
all that stand between the Forets and the winter blasts, I shudder.  Not
so the Forets.  They are apparently quite undismayed and look forward to
the approach of winter without misgiving.

The house is divided into two rooms, each about ten feet square.  There
are lace curtains at the tiny windows, bright pictures, mostly colored
calendars, a gay rag carpet, and over all the comfort of an exquisite
neatness, for Mrs. Foret is the cleanest housekeeper imaginable—Jennie
Foret, with her snapping, black eyes, her dark hair upreared in a
militant pompadour, her trim, alert figure, and quick, light movements.
Where did she acquire her love of order and her dainty, cleanly ways, I
wonder?

It is a friendly place.  Chickens, ducks, geese, cats, dogs, horses and
cows roll, run, squawk, and squeal all over the hillside.  In the cove
before the house live-boxes are moored, motor boat and skiffs lie at
anchor.  There are nets and skins drying on the fences.  Two bunches of
ribbon-grass do duty for a formal garden, standing sentinel on either
side of the path that winds to the door.  The house looks away across the
“drowned lands” where the wicked roots and snags of the submerged forest
stand in the water, threatening navigation.  The channel to the landing
is winding and treacherous.  But, once at the door, no guest is ever
turned away.  Wandering miner, tramp, bewildered emigrant, each is sure
of a meal, a bed, and something to set him on his way.



CHAPTER IV


WILD geese flying over, cold mornings, colder nights, warn me that it is
time to lay in supplies of firewood, oil and food against the coming of
winter.  Last evening a laden rowboat passed the island, going eastward
under the Moon of Travelers.  In the stern were a stove, a chair, a
coffeepot, a frying pan, a great pile of bedding, and, surmounting all, a
fiddle.  The man at the oars threw me a surly “Good night,” and turning,
looked back at me with a scowl.  It was Old Bill Shelly, the hermit of
the countryside—trapper, frogger, netter of fish, and general
ne’er-do-well.  He has built log shacks all round the shores—little,
one-room affairs, filled with a miscellaneous assortment of nets, guns,
dogs, all forlorn and filthy past description.  When one becomes
uninhabitable, he leaves it and moves on to the next, but at the approach
of cold weather he always goes into winter quarters at Blue Bay, and his
flitting, like the flitting of the other wild things, means that all
nature is getting ready for “_le grand frête_.”

Poor Shelly! his is the only hostile glance that I have encountered in my
wanderings.  Even Old Kate, the witch at Les Rapides, has smiled at me.

“Mind Old Kate,” the neighbors caution me.  “If she ever crosses her
fingers at you, it’s all day with you then.”

But when I met her in the road she spoke in quite a friendly way.

“Cold weather coming,” she said.  “Get in your wood.”

Doubtless she thinks me another as crazy as herself.

So I must set about getting enough wood to last until the January sawing,
and must pack eggs and butter against the time when hens stop laying and
cows go dry, for there is no shop nearer than Sark, six miles away, and
even if one could reach it, through the winds on the lake, or the drifts
in the roads, there would be no butter or eggs to buy.

Tom Jackson, at the far end of the lake, has consented to sell me eight
cords of hard wood; but to bring it to the island we must hire the big
scow that ferries mica from the mines, and must have Foret’s motor boat
to tug it.

This life is a great education as regards the relative values of things.
Wood and water, oil and food, are seen here in their true perspective.
Already I have learned to rate the wealth of a family by the size of the
woodpile, that stands, like a rampart in the dooryard, for I know what a
big stock of logs means in thrift, foresight, and hard labor.  I know
what it cost to get my own wood to my hand.

City folk can pass a loaded woodcart without special emotion, indeed,
half the time they do not see it, so concerned are they with the price of
theater tickets, or the cut of the season’s gowns.  But I shall never
look at one without seeing again a great scow moving slowly on the blue
bosom of a lake, and I shall smell the delicious odor of fresh-cut maple,
beech, and cedar, far sweeter than the breath of any summer garden.

Ah me!  How prosaic will seem the city’s conveniences of pipes and
furnaces as compared with the daily adventure of carrying in the logs,
and battling down a windswept trail to dip the pails into a pit of
crystal ice water!  Never again shall I turn on the spigot in a bathroom
without a swift vision of that drift-filled path through the woods that
leads out on the lake, to where the upright stake marks the water hole,
hidden under last night’s fall of snow.

To one who has only to push a button or strike a match to have a room
flooded with light, the problem of illumination is not perplexing.  Here,
the five-gallon oil tank must be ferried across the lake to Blake’s farm;
whence it must be again sent by boat to Jackson’s shore, and there loaded
on a wagon for Sark.  Back it must come to the shore, to Blake’s, and to
the island storehouse—all this taking from ten days to two weeks,
according to when Henry Blake is sending in to the store.

The city postman is no very heroic figure, but little Jimmie Dodd is, as
he beats his way across the lake, and through the high drifts on the
island, his slender body bowed under a great bag of mail, his small face
blue with the cold.  Letters mean something to us here.  They leave the
train at Glen Avon, they come by stage to Sark, then they follow the oil
tank route over water and wood trails to me, and it takes as long to get
a letter from “The States” as to hear from England, “The Old Country.”

To-day a shrill, childish yell sounded from the water.  There was Jimmie,
in a boat, with a great basket of eggs.  He was fending carefully off
from shore, as the high wind threatened to dash his fragile cargo against
the rocks.  Before those eggs were loaded into the skiff a woman had
walked five miles with them on her back.  I spent a long, happy
afternoon, standing them upright on their small ends in boxes of salt.
When they were all packed, twenty-four dozens of eggs seemed a great
number for one woman to eat, even if she expected to have a long winter
in which to eat them.

The wood is all stacked on the porch, but it was hard work to get it
there.  The scow docked on a beach at the far side of the island, there
the logs were gayly thrown ashore, and there Tom Jackson washed his hands
of all further responsibility concerning them.  The duck-shooting had
commenced; no man could be found to draw that wood through the island to
the house, so there it stayed.

At length William Foret came to my aid and promised to haul it, and I was
jubilant.  I did not then know that Foret will promise any one anything.
No man can promise more delightfully than he.  He is always perfectly
willing, apparently, to help anyone out of any dilemma, he recognizes no
difficulty in the way, and to hear him make light of one’s most pressing
problem is to come to the conclusion that there is no problem there.  So
when William promised to get the wood to the house I believed him and was
content.

Meanwhile the days went on, each colder than the last.  Each morning I
toiled to and fro from the beach, carrying enough wood, two sticks at a
time, to last the day.  Each evening I made a pilgrimage along the shore
to Foret’s to ask why tarried the wheels of his chariot.  Sometimes he
was at home and greeted me with a charming cordiality, more often he was
away, fishing or hunting or cutting down a bee-tree.  Always he was
coming to the island the very next day.  The Forets were cut to the heart
to learn that I was carrying my own wood.  But for this reason or that,
William would have been there long ago.  I was not to worry at all.  That
fuel would be stacked before the snow fell.

I always started to Foret’s with wrath in my heart, I always left there
soothed and comforted, and by the time I had eaten supper in the boat,
had watched the sunset over the islands, and had listened to the bell on
Blake’s old red cow, I would go to bed really believing that William was
coming the next day.

Sure enough, he did appear one afternoon and attacked the woodpile with a
very fury of energy, trundling load after load up the trail for perhaps
an hour.  Suddenly he sat down his barrow and gazed fixedly out across
the lake.

“There, I heard my gun,” he observed.  “It’s two fellers from Glen Avon,
come to have me cut them down a bee-tree.  I told the woman”—meaning Mrs.
Foret—“to take the little rifle and shoot three times if they come, an’
that’s her.  I got to go.”

“Oh, Mr. Foret!” I expostulated, almost with tears, “have you the heart
to leave this wood?  Here, you take my pistol and shoot for them to come
over and lend a hand with this work.”

But William was already climbing into his boat.

“It’s the little rifle,” he said, sentimentally, “I’ve got to go,” and
away he chugged, leaving me raging on the shore.

After all he did come back, and the very next day, Mrs. Foret and little
Emmie, their adopted child, with him.  We all carried wood, Jean and I in
baskets, little Emmie, one stick at a time in her small arms.  By evening
it was all stacked and we were exhausted.  There it stands, eight feet
high, all round the house and the place looks like a stockade.

After supper William cleaned and oiled the famous pistol; we women washed
the dishes and little Emmie skirmished about, getting in every one’s way,
while Jean Foret shrieked dire threats of the laying on of a “gad” that
one knew would never be applied.  The crows flew home across the sky.
The child crept close to William’s side and fell asleep.  He moved the
heavy little head very gently, until it rested more comfortably against
his great shoulder.

“Our little girl would have been just the age of this one, if she had
lived,” he said.

There was a sudden hush, while I remembered the Foret baby that had died
at birth, when Jennie had almost died too, and when Dr. Le Baron had said
that she could never have another.

Presently we gathered barrow, baskets and sleeping child, and I watched
their boat go off, threading its way between the islands and points, a
little moving speck on the amber water.

Across, on the shore, Joey Drapeau was plowing for the fall rye.  His
voice, bawling threatening and slaughter to the steaming horses, came
across to me, softened by the distance.  It was Saturday night.  Soon the
work would be done for another week.  Then the men would go out on the
lake, jerking along in their cranky little flat-bottomed punts.  They
would sing under the stars, girls’ voices mingling with their harsher
tones.

Little fiery clouds broke off from the sides of the crater, into which
the sun had dropped, and were drifting across the quiet sky.  A long
finger of light crossed over the island and ran like a torch along the
eastern horizon, turning the treetops to flame color and burnished
copper, and the upland meadows to gold.

On the island the woods were dark, and somewhere in their depths a
screech owl’s cry shuddered away into silence.



CHAPTER V


NOVEMBER is the month of mosses.  Every fallen tree, every rotting stump,
every rock, the trodden paths, and even the hard face of the cliff, are
padded deep with velvet.  The color ranges from clear emerald, out
through the tints to silvery, sage green, and back through the shades to
an olive brown, almost as dark as the earth itself.  Round the shores the
driftwood is piled high on the beach.  It looks like bleached bones of
monsters long dead, huge vertebrae, leg bones, skulls and branching
antlers.  The trees are bare, the brakes dry and crumbling, but the north
point of the island, its one naked ugly spot of the summer, is now
covered with a blood-red carpet.  A close-growing, grassy weed has turned
brilliant crimson and clothed it with beauty.  Far away on the lake I am
guided home by that flare of color on the point.

The birds are gone, all but the crows, that perch on the tallest trees
and lift their hoarse voices in a mournful chorus.  But now is the time
to go bird’s-nesting, to find the homes of all the vireos, warblers,
creepers, and sparrows that made the island their breeding ground.  The
nests of the vireos, woven of birch bark, bits of hornet’s nests, grass
and scraps of paper, are easy to find, for the pretty, hanging baskets
are fastened in the crotches of the bushes and low saplings.  The others
are not so readily discovered, and it was by merest accident that I came
across the home of the brown thrasher, who made the summer vocal with his
beautiful song.  It was on the ground and so near the house that I wonder
that we did not walk into it.  It is a mere bunch of twigs, so loosely
twisted together that it fell apart when it was moved.

Every afternoon I go faggotting, bringing in armloads of dry sumac and
fallen branches.  They are not especially good for kindling, but now that
the deer season is on, no man will work; so until after November
fifteenth, the reign of the Hunter’s Moon, the brush pile must serve.  It
takes constant gathering to collect enough to start the hardwood fires,
and a wet day sets me back sadly.  I pile up as much as I can in the
empty sleeping shacks, to keep it dry, and I can only hope that the snow
will not come before someone has been induced to lay aside his gun and
cut a cord or two of driftwood kindling.

Butterflies are always coming in on the twigs.  With their wings folded
flat together, showing only their dry undersides, they look so like old
withered leaves that it is only when the warmth of the room wakes them,
and they flutter off to the windows, that they can be recognized as
butterflies at all.  One flew to the south window yesterday and crawled
there, beating his delicate wings against the glass all morning.  He was
brown, tan and yellow on the upper side but underneath so like a dry,
woolly old leaf as to be an amazing bit of nature’s mimicry.  As I looked
at his poor, torn wings and feebly waving antennæ he seemed suddenly the
very oldest thing, the lone survivor of a forgotten summer, a piteous
little Tithonus, to whom had been granted the terrible gift of
immortality, without the boon of an immortal youth.

At first I thought that he was being given a respite from the common fate
of butterflies, for I did not then know that the angle wings can last
over the winter, lying dormant in protected places, and that the last
brood of a summer can live until another spring.  I even planned to
outwit nature by feeding this one and keeping him alive in the artificial
summer of the warm house.  I made a sirup of sugar and water and offered
it but the butterfly would none of it, only crawling and beating his
wings in a vain effort to escape through the glass into the bleak
November sunshine.  At length I carried him to the door, and he fluttered
off to a bush and clung there.  After turning away for a moment I went
back to find him; he was gone; he had become a dead leaf again.

       [Picture: “Peter the rabbit, is turning white very rapidly”]

Peter, the rabbit, spends most of his time at the door, waiting for a
chance crust.  He fsits on his haunches, rocking gently back and forth,
making a soft, little knocking noise on the porch floor.  If I am late in
coming out at mealtimes, he looks at me with so dignified an air of
patient reproof that I feel quite apologetic for having kept him waiting.
His meal finished, he washes his face and paws carefully, like a cat,
then sits in the sun, eyes closed, forepaws tucked away under his breast
and ears laid back along his shoulders.  He is turning white very
rapidly.  At first, only his tail, feet, breast and the ends of his ears
were lightly powdered, but now he looks as if he had hopped into a pan of
flour by mistake.

Other hares, now lean and wild, come out of the woods at dusk and try to
share Peter’s bread.  But he turns on them fiercely, driving them back
over the hill, with an angry noise, something between a squeal and a
grunt.  If anyone thinks a rabbit a meek, poor-spirited creature, he
should see Peter, when threatened with the loss of his dinner.
Evidently, he believes that he has pre-empted this territory and all that
goes here in the way of food, and he means to defend his claim.

Rufus, the red squirrel, torments Peter unmercifully, dashing across the
ground under his nose and snatching the bread from between the rabbit’s
very teeth.  He is there and away before the rabbit knows what has
happened.  Poor, slow little Peter stood these attacks in bewildered
patience for a time, but now he has worked out a plan for getting even
with the squirrel that serves him fairly well.  He sits on his crust,
drawing it out inch by inch from under him as he nibbles, but even at
that Rufus gets about half.  I am training the rabbit to take his food
from my hand, for nothing thrown on the ground is safe for an instant
from the little red-brown robber.  It took some very patient sitting to
overcome Peter’s timidity, but after the first bit was taken the rest was
easy.  Now he comes fearlessly to me as soon as I appear.

The squirrel is growing very tame too, but he will never be as tranquil a
companion as the rabbit.  He lacks Bunny’s repose of manner.  He is
sitting on the windowsill now, eating a bit of cold potato.  He turns it
round and round, nibbling at it daintily.  Now and again he stops to lay
a tiny paw on his heart—or is it his stomach?  The area of his organs is
very minute and it may be either.

There is something very flattering in the confidence of these little
creatures of the island.  How do they know that they may safely trust my
kindness?  How can they be sure that I will not betray them suddenly with
trap or gun?

The rabbit came into the house yesterday, padding about noiselessly on
his cushioned toes.  He stopped at each chair and stood on his hind feet,
resting his forepaws on the seat.  He examined everything, ears
wriggling, nose quivering, tail thumping on the carpet.  Suddenly he
discovered that the door had blown shut and then he went quite wild with
fear.  He was in a trap, he thought, and tore round and round the room,
jumping against the window panes, dashing his head against the walls
until I feared that he would injure himself before I could reach the door
to open it.  Poor little Peter, he is not valiant after all.  He comes in
still, but always keeps close to the door, and the way of escape must
always be open.

The men on the mainland hunt over the islands, putting on the dogs to
drive off the game.  When the ice holds, the hounds will come over of
their own accord to course the rabbits.  I should like to feel that for
the term of my stay this one island could be a place of safety for the
animals that take refuge here, and so I have paid visits of ceremony to
the neighboring farms to explain that I shall spend the winter and to ask
that the dogs be kept off my preserve, as far as possible for the sake of
my pets.  I may say that my wish has been respected in the kindest way,
and my neighbors have done their best to make the island a sanctuary for
the birds and beasts.  The first assurance of each visitor has been, “I
tied up my dogs afore I started over.”  It was the opening remark of an
early caller who strode into the room this morning as I was eating a late
breakfast.  A reassuring salutation, for without it I might have feared
that the speaker had dropped in to do me a mischief, his appearance was
so very intimidating.  He was tall and very lean, a sort of cross between
an Indian and a crane.  His greasy, black hair hung in rattails on the
turned-up collar of a dingy red sweater.  He wore a ragged squirrel-skin
cap, tail hanging down behind—which headgear he did not remove, and he
carried a murderous looking ax.  Following came a boy of about sixteen,
whose smile was so friendly and ingratiating that I felt comforted when I
saw it.  The two drew up to the stove, lit pipes, conversed, and in the
round-about course of their remarks I gathered that they had heard of my
need of kindling wood and had come to cut me a cord.  Presently they
retired to a secluded spot on the shore and chopped away, emerging every
half hour or so to bring a load up to the house.

In this country men eat where they work, so toward noon I bestirred
myself to prepare what I considered a particularly good dinner for my
“hands.”  I had a theory that my chances of getting future kindling cut
depended on the good impression made on these first workmen.  I had
corned beef, potatoes, peas, and tinned beans.  I made hot biscuit, cake,
stewed apples, and prepared the inevitable pot of strong tea.  The man
drew his chair to the table with perfect self-possession, speared a
potato from the pot with his knife and remarked: “You ain’t much of a
cook, are you?”—adding, kindly, “I think I’ll just try yer tea.”

He assured me subsequently that he had no particular fault to find with
my dinner.  He only meant to put me at my ease and to make conversation.

When he departed in the evening, after having cut and stacked an
incredible amount of wood, he assured me that he would be ready to work
for me at any time.  I had only to “holler” and he would drop a day’s
hunting to come to my aid.  So the dinner could not have been so
unsatisfactory after all.

News of the Great War has come to Many Islands.  William Foret returned
from Glen Avon the other day with great tales of armed men guarding the
railroad bridges against the Germans.  He also brought the information
that I am a German spy.  He heard that at the station.

“That woman on the island is there for no good,” the loafers were saying.
“She’s a spy.  She’s got a writing machine there an’ she’s sending off
letters every day.”

One inventive soul was even asserting that I am not a woman at all, but a
man in woman’s clothes and that there is a wireless station here.

But William stood up for me bravely.

“Spy, nawthin,” he scoffed.  “What could she be a spyin’ on there on that
island?  There’s nawthin’ there but rabbits.  No, as I understand it,
she’s some sort of a book-writer off fer health.  She’s got no wireless,
that I know, fer I’ve been over the ground there time and again.”

But the crowd was not convinced.

“She’d ought to be investigated,” they declared.

Then William rose to the occasion nobly.  “She’s no German spy,” he said.
“She’s an all-right woman, and ef any man feels like makin’ any trouble
fer her, me an’ Black Jack and Yankee Jim stands ready to make it very
onhealthy fer him.”

“I told them,” added William, with a delighted grin, “that you’d a little
gun here an’ you’d use it on the first man that come on the island
without you knowed him fer a friend.  But I didn’t say that you only
stood five feet five in yer boots and didn’t weigh over a hundred
pounds.”

Under the shield of William’s favor and the wholly undeserved reputation
of being a good shot, I continue to sleep o’ nights, but I have no fancy
for being investigated.

Last night a boat stopped at the shore, long after dark, and I was
startled for a moment until I heard a chant that rose at the dock and
continued up the trail to the house.  Uncle Dan Cassidy had brought over
the mail and a Thanksgiving box from home, but he was taking no chances.

“Friends, friends, don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” he sang until he stepped on
the porch.

But while war and its rumors excite us, all topics pale in interest
before the fact that the herring have begun to run.  Whether battles are
lost or won we still have to eat, a pig or a sheep does not last very
long and the fish are a great part of the winter food.

“They save the meat,” says Harry Spriggins.

So when the first silver herring came up in the net there was great
rejoicing.  Then the little skiffs and punts started out, dancing and
curtseying on the waves.  The nets were stretched across the narrows
between the islands, and, during the herring run, no other work was done.
The season is short; there is no time to waste.  The run began this year
on the twelfth, the greatest catch was on the eighteenth, the fishing was
over on the twenty-eighth.  The fish do not come up except at a
temperature of about thirty-four.

These are the bright, frosty days—days when the blood runs quick and the
air tastes like wine; when the water is deep-blue, the waves run high and
the whitecaps race in to the shores.

The little boats bob up and down, the long nets come up spangled with the
gleaming fish, and the tubs and boxes are piled high with the silver
catch.  As the fishermen pass they stop at the island and throw me off a
herring or two.  Every house on the mainland reeks; barrels and kegs
stand in every dooryard, and everywhere the women and children are busy
cleaning the fish.



CHAPTER VI


THE time of great winds has come, the heavy November gales that roar down
the lakes, lashing the water into white-capped waves, dashing the
driftwood against the rocks and decking the beaches with long wreaths of
yellow foam.  The swell is so strong and the waves so high that even the
men do not care to venture out.  When I must get over to Blake’s farm I
hug the shore of the island to the point, then dash across the channel
between this land and his, and the wind turns my light skiff round and
round before I can catch the lee again.

All night the house rocks and shivers and the trees creak, groan and
crash down in the woods.  I am afraid to walk the trails because of
falling branches, for if I were struck down I should lie in the path for
days and no one would know that I had been hurt.

These winds give the strangest effect of distant music.  I am always
thinking that I can almost hear the sound of trumpets, blowing far away.

Inside the house is warm and comfortable, with its creamy yellow walls of
unpainted wood, its many windows, its pictures, its books; but I am
lonely; I cannot settle to any occupation.  The constant roaring of the
wind unnerves me, the gray, scudding clouds depress me.  A hound on the
shore bays and howls day and night.  I have heard no human voice for more
than a week.

The storm died away in a smothering fog that settled down on the very
surface of the lake, blotting out everything.  I could not see one inch
beyond the shore.  The mainland was hidden, the opposite island was
invisible—everything was gone except the land on which I stood.  I could
hear voices at the farms, the sound of oars, and people talking in the
boats as they passed.  Men were hunting on the mainland, almost a mile
away.  I could hear their shots and the cries of the hounds, but I might
as well have been stricken blind, for all that I could distinguish.  All
sorts of fears assailed me.  Suppose men should land on the island in the
fog, how could I see to escape them?  Suppose the fog should last and
last, how would I dare to go out in a boat for any provisions?  Suppose I
should be ill, or hurt, how could I signal to the farm for help?

By evening the fog had thoroughly frightened me; it was time to pull
myself together.  So I cooked a particularly good dinner, read a new book
for awhile, then went to bed praying that the sun would be shining in the
morning.

After being asleep for what seemed hours, I was aware of a loud shouting,
followed by heavy steps on the porch and a voice calling as someone
knocked and pounded on the door.  I stumbled out of bed, half asleep, and
groped my way to the lamp, fortunately forgetting all about the pistol
laid by my side for just such an emergency.  When the door was finally
opened, the shapeless bulk of a woman confronted me—the very largest
woman I have ever seen.  She loomed like a giant against a solid bank of
fog that rolled in behind her.

“I don’t know where I am,” she announced.  “I’m all turned round.  I’ve
been rowing hours and hours in the fog, and I’ve a boy, a pail of eggs, a
mess of catfish and a little wee baby in the boat.”

“For mercy’s sake,” I ejaculated, “what are you doing out in a boat with
a baby on a night like this?  Who are you anyway?”

“I’m from Spriggins’ farm,” she answered, “the place where you gits yer
chickens at.  I’ve been over at Drapeau’s spending the evening and I
started to row home two hours ago.  But the fog got me all turned round,
and when I struck this shore I says: ‘This must be the island where the
woman’s at.  Ef she’s to the house I’ll wake her and git me a light.’”

I gave her a lantern and she went off to the shore, while I threw fresh
logs on the smoldering fire and tried to wake myself.

Presently a dismal procession returned: a boy, laden with shawls and
wraps, the woman carrying a baby.  When that infant was unwrapped, it
needed not its proud mother’s introduction to tell me whose child it was.
Harry Spriggins is a small, wiry man, with sharp, black eyes and a face
like a weasel.  The baby was exactly like him.  They were a forlorn trio,
and, oh, so dirty!  My heart sank as I surveyed them, realizing that they
were on my hands for the night.  Then I felt properly ashamed of myself,
for if the poor soul had not found the island she might have been on the
lake in an open boat until daylight; and by this time a rain was falling,
quite heavily enough to have swamped so unseaworthy a craft as her small,
flat-bottomed punt.

For some time we sat gazing at one another, while I tried to determine
what should be done with my guests.  Finally I sent the boy to the
storehouse for extra mattresses, and prepared them beds on the floor.
Clean sheets were spread over everything.  Probably the woman had never
slept on clean sheets before, but I reasoned that sheets could be washed
more easily than blankets, and just then washing seemed to me very
essential.

About one o’clock we all settled down for the night, but not to sleep—oh,
no!  The woman was far too excited for that.  Thanks to the fire that I
had made, in my stupidity, and to the air in the cabin, I could not sleep
either, so I heard a great deal of the inside history of the
neighborhood, before morning.

I learned that minks are a menace to the poultry industry here about.  In
Spriggins’ own barnyard, a flock of thirty-six young turkeys were found
all lying dead in a row, with their necks chewed off—a plain case of
mink, and a dire blow to the finances of the family.

At three o’clock I had the life history of a Plymouth Rock rooster, of
superlative intelligence, that always crowed at that precise hour.  At
four I was roused from an uneasy doze by the query: “Do you know anything
about Dr. So-and-So’s cure for ‘obsidy’?”

After puzzling over the word for some minutes I gathered that “obesity”
was what was meant, for my guest went on, pathetically enough, to tell me
how hard her work was and how she suffered in doing it, burdened with
that mountain of flesh.

“There’s another cure,” she went on.  “It’s Mrs. So-and-So’s, but it
calls for a Turkish bath, and where could I get that?  Beside, I could
never do all that rolling and kicking.”

Peering through the gloom at what looked like the outline of an elephant
on the floor, I did not see how she could, but I felt that if there were
any known way of getting that woman into a Turkish bath I would
cheerfully bear the expense.

At six I gave up the struggle and rose for the day, stumbling about from
cabin to kitchen to cook breakfast in the semi-darkness, for the fog was
still thick.  At nine, the day being a little lighter, I made the mistake
of suggesting that the boy row over to Blake’s for some bread and the
mail.  He departed, and stayed for hours.  Soon his mother began to
fidget and finally set off for the shore to search for him, leaving that
changeling of a baby in my care.

There it lay on my bed, staring at me with its black beads of eyes, and
looking as old as the Pharaoh of the Exodus and as crafty.  The mother
stayed and stayed away.  I had visions of being left with that child on
my hands all winter.  I saw myself walking it up and down the cabin
through the long nights.  I saw myself sharing with it my last spoonful
of condensed milk, but, as I surveyed it, I knew what I would do first.
I would give it the best bath it had ever had in its short life and I
would burn its filthy little clothes.

But while I was harboring these designs against that innocent child its
mother came back, her hands full of green leaves.  She had not found the
boy, but she had gathered what she called “Princess Fern.”

“This is awful good fer the blood,” she announced.  “Ef yer blood is bad,
this will make it as pure as spring water; if it’s pure, this will keep
it so.  It’s good fer you either way.”

The mention of blood led naturally to the recital of the various
accidents she had seen, and I learned that there are several blood
healers in the neighborhood—persons who can stop the flow by the
recitation of a certain verse of Scripture.  A man can perform this
miracle for a woman and a woman for a man, but a man cannot cure another
man, nor a woman another woman.  This charm must never be revealed.  It
can only be transmitted at death.  It is a sure cure for blood flow and
quite authentic, according to Mrs. Spriggins, who has seen the blood
stopped.

While we were discussing this mystery the boy came back, smilingly, from
quite a different direction from the one in which he had been sent.  He
had never found the farm, but had been all this time wandering in the
fog.  It was all too like a nightmare.  I did not tempt fate by offering
any more suggestions.  Instead, I bundled the party into their various
wrappings, led them to their boat, and turned their faces firmly in the
direction of home.  Then I sat on the porch, tracing their progress down
the lake by the wailing of that wretched baby.  When the sounds had
finally died away, I went in and scrubbed the cabin from end to end with
strong, yellow soap.

And the sequel to all this?  She was not Spriggins’ wife at all, but
“Spriggins’ woman,” and she was not lost.

When I mentioned her visit the neighbors shook their heads.

“You couldn’t lose old Jane on Many Islands,” they scoffed.  “She wanted
to see you, that was all; and she knowed you wouldn’t let her land if she
come by day.”

But two men were lost on the lake that night, and I believe that Jane was
lost too.

With the rural love of scandal and the usual disregard of all laws of
probability, the people accuse this woman of all sorts of outrageous
crimes.  It is said that she murdered her daughter for the girl’s bit of
life insurance, that she has strangled her own babies, that she bound her
aged aunt face downward on a board, and pushed her out on the lake to
drown.  And here was I, all ignorant of the character of my guest,
gravely discussing with this alleged criminal the proper feeding of
infants and the rival merits of toilet soaps.

I stopped at her house the other day to inquire my way.  She greeted me
with much cordiality.

“You was certainly fine to me that night,” she said.  “I donno what we
would a-done, ef you hadn’t took us in.  The baby would a-been drownded,
I guess.”

Now I am glad that I was “fine” to her, for poor Jane is gone, and she
died as she had lived—without help and without hope.

Her children’s father was away at a dance in Sark when she fell in their
desolate house.  Seeing that she did not rise, one frightened child crept
out of bed and covered her nakedness with an old quilt.  In the morning
two little boys, crying and shivering, made their way along the shore to
the place where the man was sleeping off his debauch.

“Come home, Pop,” they cried.  “Mom’s dead.”

But he would not heed them.

“It’s only one of them spells she gits,” he grunted.  “She’ll be all
right.”

“No, it ain’t no spell, Pop,” they cried.  “She’s dead, I tell you.
She’s cold.”

Then the neighbors, who had never gone to that house when Jane was alive,
went now and comforted the children.  They followed the poor body along
the ice to its grave, and Mrs. Spellman, who has six little ones of her
own, went over and took the baby home.

There are a great many of these irregular unions here, for Canada is no
land of easy divorce.  If you are a poor man, and have any predilection
for being legally married, you must stay with the wife with whom you
started.  Divorce and remarriage are not for you.

In a little book of instructions for immigrants and settlers, published
by one of the newspapers, the matter is made very plain:

“In Manitoba, Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan there is no divorce
court.  Application must be made to the Dominion Parliament, by means of
a private bill, praying for relief by reason of adultery, or adultery and
cruelty, if it is the wife who is seeking a divorce from her husband.
The charges made are investigated by a special committee of the Senate,
and, if a favorable report is presented to the House, the bill usually
passes.”  But the little book goes on to state, very simply, that “The
expense of obtaining the bill is very great, exceeding in any event five
hundred dollars.”

So for men like Harry Spriggins, whose wife deserted him, or for Black
Jack’s woman, whose husband beat her, there is no way out.  They simply
take another mate, and stand by the arrangement as faithfully as may be.



CHAPTER VII


WINTER has thrown a veil of lace over the islands, a wet, clinging snow
that covers every tree-trunk, rock, and stump, and turns the cedars to
mounds of fluffy whiteness.  The paths lie under archways of bending,
snow-laden branches, and all the underbrush is hidden.  The island wears
many jewels, for every ice-incrusted twig flashes a cluster of diamonds,
the orange berries of the bittersweet, each encased in clear ice, are
like topaz, and the small frozen pools between the stones reflect the sky
and shine like sapphires.

There have been snows since the first week in November, but this is the
first that has remained, and how it shows the midnight activities of all
the wild folk!  The porch floor is a white page on which they have left
their signatures.  Here, by the storeroom door, are innumerable little
stitch-like strokes.  They were made by the deer mouse’s wee paws.  There
are the prints of the squirrel’s little hands and a long swathe, where
his brush swept the snow.  The chickadees and nuthatches came very early.
Their three-fingered prints are all over the woodpile, and on the paths
are the blurred, ragged tracks left by the grouse’s snowshoes.  Over the
hill runs a row of deep, round holes, showing that a fox has passed that
way, and the rabbit’s tracks are everywhere.

Every day the water freezes farther and farther out from the shores, and
it is increasingly difficult to force a channel through it to the open
lake.  The bay in front of the Blake’s house is frozen straight across,
and I land far away on the point and scramble through the bushes to the
house when I must go over for the mail.  Frozen cascades hang down over
the rocks, pale-blue, jade and softest cream color.  The rocks themselves
are capped with frozen spray and the driftwood wears long beards of ice.

Walking along the beach to-day I heard a great chirping and twittering,
like the sound made by innumerable very small birds.  Could a late flock
of migrants be stopping in the treetops?  I wondered.  But when I
searched for the birds there were none.  The chirping noises came from
the thin shore ice, whose crystals, rubbed together by the gently moving
water, were making the birdlike sounds.  Now and then would come a sudden
“ping” like the stroke on the wire string of a banjo, and sometimes a
clear, sustained tone, like the note of a violin.

As the ice grew thicker these sounds all stopped and over all the land
broods a profound silence.  The winds are still, no bird voices come out
of the woods; even the waves seem hardly to rise and fall against the
shores.  It is as though all nature were holding her breath to wait the
coming of the ice.

“When the lake freezes over, when the ice holds,” we have a habit of
saying, and, looking across the uncertainties of the shut-in time, when I
shall not be able to use the boat and when no one can cross over to me, I
too am longing for the ice.

The boat can no longer be left in the water.  Any cold morning would find
it frozen in until spring.  It must also be turned every evening, lest it
fill with snow in the night, so I haul that heavy skiff out on the sand;
and, sure enough, the accident, so confidently predicted by my friends,
came to pass, for in the turning the boat slipped, and down it came, full
weight across my foot.

I am somewhat a judge of pain.  I know quite a good deal about suffering
of one kind and another, but this hurt was something special in the way
of an agony.  It turned me sick and dizzy, and for several minutes I
could only stand and gasp, while the trees turned round and round against
the sky.  When their whirling had slowed down a bit, and I had caught my
breath, I hobbled down to the edge of the lake, kicked a hole in the thin
ice with my good foot, and thrust the hurt one into the icy water.  Then
I spoke aloud!  I did not in the least mean to say the words that came to
my lips, no one could have been more surprised than I when I heard them,
but with my horrified face turned up to the evening sky, and the
consciousness that there was no way in the world of getting help if I
were badly hurt, I said, “Great God Almighty!”

Thinking it over, I am inclined to believe that the ejaculation was,
after all, a prayer.

Knowing that I should probably not be able to walk for days, I then
hobbled to and fro from the house to the lake, filling every pail and
tub.  Then I carried in as much wood as I could, and at last took off my
shoe.

It was a wicked-looking injury, a foot swollen, bruised, and crushed.  I
blessed my little medicine chest, with its bichloride and morphia
tablets, its cotton and gauze, that made the long hours of that night
endurable.  For more than a week I did my housework with a knee on the
seat of a chair that I pushed along before me round the cabin and the
porch.  No one came to the island, nor could I get far enough from the
house to call a passing boat.

One afternoon there was a great sound of chopping in the narrows between
this island and Blake’s Point.  I called, but no one answered.  Later I
learned that Henry Blake had left a herring net there and that it had
frozen in.  But at that time I felt only the faintest interest in
whatever was going forward.  They might have chopped a way through to
China and I would not have cared.

The long days dragged on, while my hurt foot slowly healed.  I may say
here that it was never fully healed until the following spring.  I had
always to keep it bandaged even after it had ceased to pain and it was
not until May that I could forget that it had been injured.

On the eighth the calm weather broke in a day of wild winds and flying
clouds, when the waves rolled in on the shores, and the driftwood pounded
on the beaches.  At evening, when the storm had lulled, the lake looked
like a wide expanse of crinkled lead foil.

Next morning I waked to a bright blue day and dazzling sunshine.  At
first I feared that I had been suddenly deafened, the stillness so
stopped my ears.  Then I realized what had happened.  There was no sound
of the moving water.  The ice had come!

The lake was a silver mirror that reflected every tree, every bowlder,
every floating cloud.  The islands hung between two skies, were lighted
by two suns.  An eagle, soaring over the lake, saw his double far below,
even to his white back, that flashed in the sunlight when he wheeled.

In the glancing beauty of that morning my heart flung open all her doors,
my breath came quickly, and my spirit sang.  For the first time in my
life I understood how frost and cold, how ice and snow, can praise and
magnify the Lord.

That evening the snow came, turning the lake into a vast white plain
“white as no fuller on earth could white it,” that lay without spot or
wrinkle under the Indian’s Moon of the Snowshoes.

This was the ninth of the month.  Then followed long, silent days, when I
read and sewed and dreamed, and forgot what day of the week it was, or
what time of the day, and wondered how long it would be before someone
could come over from the mainland to tell me that the ice was safe to
walk on.

Each afternoon I hobbled to the beach and paraded there, according to
agreement with Mary Blake, to let her see that I was still alive.  The
rabbit came in and sat by the fire—a queer, silent little companion.  The
red squirrel scampered all over the outside of the house, peeping at me
through the windows, and whisking in at the open door to steal a potato
or a nut, when he thought my back was turned.  Funny little Rufus!  He
spent a long, hard-working day, stealing the contents of a basket of
frozen potatoes put out for his amusement.  For months afterward I found
those potatoes, hard as bullets, stuck in the crotches of the cedars all
over the island.

From the ninth to the nineteenth I saw no one and heard no voice.  Then I
descried two men walking across the lake.  They carried long poles, with
which they struck the ice ahead to test its thickness.  Each stroke ran
along the ice to the shore, with the sound of iron ringing against stone.
I saw the stick fall some seconds before I heard the noise.

I had never seen men walking across a lake before.  I had never realized
that this lake would become a solid floor on which men could walk.  I
shall never forget the excitement with which I watched them do it.

                           [Picture: The House]

Half an hour later Jimmie Dodd burst in, with red cheeks and shining
eyes, to tell me that the ice would hold.

The way to the farm being once more open, I made my Christmas cake,
mixing it here in the cabin and carrying it three quarters of a mile
across to the Blakes’ big oven.  The finished loaf came back over the
ice, an excellent cake, as all my Christmas visitors testified.

For let no one assume that because the inhabitants of this island are few
there has been no Christmas here.  On the contrary, the feast began on
Christmas Eve and lasted for a week.  The tree, a young white pine, was
cut on the island, the trimmings came from Toronto, and great was the
anxiety lest the ice should not be strong enough to bear the wagon that
brought them over from Loon Lake Station.  But the final freeze came just
in time, and we, the rabbit and I, spent happy days tying on all the
glittering trifles that go to the making of that prettiest thing in the
world—a Christmas tree.  There was a big gold star on the topmost twig.
There were oranges and boxes of candy for all invited and uninvited
children round the lake, and when all was finished, our first visitor was
a storm-driven chickadee, that wandered in and stayed with us, perched on
a glittering branch.

On Christmas Eve the Blakes came and had cake and coffee and viewed the
tree.  On Christmas day, came the little Beaulacs, from Loon Bay, some
walking, some in arms, some dragged in a big wooden box over the ice, and
were refreshed with tea and bread and butter and cake, after which they
sat round the tree, regarding it with great eyes of wonder.  Next day the
Forets came to help me eat the Christmas duck and tinned plum pudding,
and after them the Big John Beaulacs, from far back of Sark.

So it went, with a party every day, while the brave little tree stood
glowing and twinkling at us all.  It was interesting to note how many
errands the men found to bring them to the island while the Christmas
tree was standing, and how their heavy faces lightened at sight of it.
Surely it fulfilled its purpose, sending out messages of good will and
friendliness and the love of God from the feather tip of each tiniest
twig.

At midnight on Christmas Eve I went out on the porch and walked to and
fro there in the biting cold.  The rabbit, that had been sleeping, a
bunch of snow-white fur, on the woodpile, hopped down and followed at my
heels.  The lake was a shield of frosted silver.  The moon shone bright
as day.  One great star blazed over the shoulder of the opposite
island—it might have been the very star of Bethlehem.  So diamond clear
was the air, so near leaned the sky, that I might almost have reached and
touched that star.  The night was so white, so still that I fancied I
could almost hear the angels’ song, and in the rainbow glory of the
moonlight could catch swift glimpses of the flashing of their wings.

We walked there, the rabbit and I, until the cold drove me in, to sleep
beside the tree and dream of a procession of little Beaulacs, creeping
over the ice, each one with a star in his hand.



CHAPTER VIII


THE Beaulacs belong to a tribe of French Canadians that has peopled half
the countryside.  They have various nicknames—Black Jack, Little Joe,
Yankee Jim, Big John, Rose Marie, Marie John, and so on.  The Little Jack
Beaulacs live at Loon Bay, round the point and three miles away.  The
road to Loon Lake Station starts at their landing.  They live in a barn,
a sixteen-by-twenty-foot log structure, banked with earth to keep out the
cold.  In its one room, along with a double bed, a cooking stove, table,
sideboard, sewing machine, rocking chair, boxes, pots and pans, and a
clutter of harness and old junk of all kinds, live John and Rose and the
six young Beaulacs, beginning with sixteen-year-old Louis and ending with
the baby.  There is one door and a small window, that, so far as I know,
has never been opened.  In summer, when the door is left ajar, the room
is apt to be further inhabited by hens, ducks, cats, and even a lamb or
two.

The house stands in a clearing on a perfectly bare hill, but in summer,
the whole slope is golden with sheets of tansy, and the small dug-out
milk house is shaded by a giant lilac bush, sole remnant of some
long-forgotten garden.  At the foot of the hill, rotting, flat-bottomed
boats wallow in the mud, and there the little Beaulacs spend happy days
fishing for mudcats, wading for frogs, screaming, wrangling, and throwing
stones into the water.

They have not always lived in a barn.  They have had two other houses,
each burned to the ground, with all the pitiful furnishings it
contained—crushing blows to people as poor as the Beaulacs.  After the
last fire they moved into the barn, the only shelter left standing,
intending to build again in the spring.  But log-hauling is work,
building materials cost money, and time went on.  Now they have settled
down contentedly in the barn, and will stay there, I doubt not, until
this roof falls down about their heads.  They have no fear of another
fire.  That would be impossible, for, as one of the children tells me,
the last one happened on the full of the moon—sure sign that they can
never be burned out again.

Like other men of the settlement, John Beaulac works at the mica mine,
hunts, fishes, and farms a bit.  Rose walks barefoot over the fields,
after the plow, digs the small garden, raises chickens, picks wild
berries, and sells frogs to the summer campers, contriving thus to supply
the few clothes and groceries needed.  For the rest, they live a happy,
carefree life in the open, and the young Beaulacs scramble up somehow.

Rose handles the boxes of supplies that come from Toronto for the island,
driving them in from Loon Lake and bringing them across the lake by wagon
or boat, as the time of the year permits.  Last time she refused, very
firmly, to allow me to pay for that hauling.

“We ain’t agoin’ to tax you nothin’,” she declared.

When I expostulated, she only shook her frowsy head more violently.

“No,” she said, “we do it fer you fer nothin’.  It ain’t like you had a
man here to do fer you,” she reasoned.

Then she looked at her own man with pride and at me with a vast pity,
because I had no man to work myself to death for.

In a pioneer neighborhood, where every woman must have some man, however
worthless, to hew the wood and care for the stock, and where every man
must have some woman, to cook and to keep the house, however lazy a
slattern she may be, I, who live alone, pay for my wood and draw the
water, must be a creature not to be understood.

Yesterday the Beaulacs invited me to go with them to the races in
Henderson’s Bay—a trying out of the neighborhood horses before the yearly
races to be held at Queensport next week.  Scrambling and falling down
the slippery trail, in answer to their halloo, I found a straw-filled
wagon body set on runners and drawn by Beaulac’s old mare.  She, not
having been “sharp shod,” slipped and slid, threatening to break a leg at
every step, while the wagon slewed from side to side over the ice.  It
was the first time that I had driven over a lake.  My heart was in my
mouth all the way.

Henderson’s Bay, a long arm of Many Islands, stretches for a mile into
the land.  It is a beautiful horseshoe, with the farm house at the toe.
The course was laid out on the dull green ice, little cedar bushes set up
to mark the quarter miles.  An old reaper, frozen in near the shore,
served as the judges’ stand.

We drew up at the side of the track, in the lee of a high rock that
somewhat sheltered us from the piercing wind.  It was a friendly scene.
The encircling arms of the shore stretched round and seemed to gather us
close.  The smoke from the house chimneys curled up to the low-leaning
gray sky, and Henderson’s herd, led by a dignified old bull, strolled
down over the hill as though to see the race.  Far away on the ice, black
spots appeared, later discerned to be fast-moving buggies, sleighs, and
wagons coming to the meet.  When they were all assembled there must have
been as many as seven vehicles.  There were four horses to be tried.
They were harnessed in turn to a little two-wheeled affair called a bike.
There is only one “bike” here, so no two horses could run at a time, and
there had to be a great unhitching and harnessing again after every trial
of speed.  Joe Boggs, the neighborhood jockey, drove with arms and legs
all spraddled out, like a spider, and urged on his poor steeds with wild
cries of: “Hi-hi-hi-hi”—enough to frighten a sensible horse to death.

I have never beheld a more professional looking horseman than Mr. Boggs.
His disreputable old squirrel-skin cap, that hung off the back of his
head, his high boots, the bow of his legs, the squint of his eye, even
the way he chewed a straw between races, bespoke the true jockey.  One
felt that if Joe Boggs could not put a horse over the track, no one
could.

Rose Beaulac too was a keen judge of a horse.  She criticized the entries
unsparingly—Rose, with her long, dry-looking coon skin coat, and her
dirty red “tuque” cocked over one eye.

“That old mare,” she would say, cuttingly, “I knowed her in her best
days, and then she wasn’t much.”

That settled the mare for us.  Our money was not on her.

There was, however, one horse that she did consider worth praise.  She
told me with awe that his owner had refused four hundred dollars for
him—a staggering sum.  So valued was this animal that he was not to be
allowed to run any more until the Queensport races, but when it was
learned that I wished to admire him, his owner consented to put him once
round the course, for my pleasure.

After the contestants had each done his best—or worst—the meet broke up,
with many “Good-days” and “Come-overs,” and we drove back over the ice,
the old mare plunging and sliding along seemingly quite accustomed to
being driven, at a gallop, over a sheet of glass.

The eye swept the outline of the shore on which stand the seven
homesteads of this arm of the lake.  Each roof shelters a family of a
different race and creed.  Many Islands is a type of the whole of this
strong, young country, that takes in men of all lands and minds, gives
them her fertile prairies almost for the asking, and makes them over into
good Canadians.

There are the Blakes, from “The States,” and aggressively American; the
Jacksons, Canadian born and Methodist; the Hendersons, English and Church
of England; the McDougals, Scotch and Presbyterian; the Cassidys, Irish
and Catholic; Harry Sprig-gins, a sharp-faced little London cockney; and
the Beaulacs, true French Canadian.  Once in a while a Swede wanders in
and hires out for the wood-cutting, or an Indian comes along through the
lakes in his canoe, and camps for awhile on one of the islands.  Amid all
the differences of belief and the clash of temperament, the people manage
to be friendly and neighborly; the children play together; the young folk
marry, and the next generation is all Canadian.

They all speak English, but when one stops to listen, literal
translations of idioms and queer turns of phrase stand out.  Foret always
speaks of a “little, small” bird or tree or what not, and for him things
are always “perfectly all right.”

“Do yer moind thot pig, I sold Black Jack?” asks Uncle Dan Cassidy.

“’Ow har you to-d’y?” inquires Harry Spriggins.

“Oh, not too bad,” answers John Beaulac.  “_Pas trop mal_,” he is saying,
of course.

When John has finished a job he stands off, hands in pockets, and
observes: “That iss now ahl bunkum sah.”  After a moment’s pondering one
knows that “_Bon comme ça_” is what he means.

They speak of coming home through the “Brooly.”  That is the scrub wood
through which a forest fire once swept.  It is the land “brulé”—burned
over.  While they live in Canada their talk is of far away lands, and it
is to the “Old Country” that they mean to return some day.

And from the house on the island I see the life go by—the stern, bare
life of the country—with its never-ending toil, its uncounted sacrifices,
its feuds, its ready charities and the piteous, unnecessary sufferings of
the sick.  Blessed be the rural telephone, lately come to Many Islands,
that has made it possible for Dr. LeBaron to reach a patient the day he
is called.  Thrice blessed the tinkle of those little bells that bring
the voices of the world to the farms, shut in behind the snowdrifts.  To
the women, dulled with labor and shaken with loneliness, they are the
little bells of courage.

I stopped at a farm the other day—a very lonely place.  Scarce were the
first greetings over when the young mistress of the house said, proudly:
“We have the telephone here.  Would you care to talk to any of your
friends?”

Something in her tone, the eager shining of her eyes, brought a rush of
tears to my own.  It was the supreme effort of hospitality.  She was
offering me the thing that had meant life itself to her, the dear
privilege of speaking with a friend.



CHAPTER IX


WE are at the very heart of winter now.  It is “_le grand frête_,” that I
have been secretly dreading, and all my ideas of it are changing as the
quiet days go on.  Winter in the woods has always seemed to me the dead
time—the season of darkness and loneliness and loss.  I find it only the
pause before the birth of a new year.  If I break off a twig, it is green
at the heart, when I brush away the snow, the moss springs green beneath
it.  Close against the breast of the meadow lie the steadfast, evergreen
rosettes of the plantain, sorrel, moth mullen, and evening primrose,
waiting in patience for the melting of the snow.  I never dip a pail into
the hole in the ice without bringing up a long trailer of green
waterweed, or a darting, flitting little whirligig beetle—the
gyrinus—somewhat less lively than in summer, to be sure, but still active
and alert.  There is a big, fresh-water clam lying at the bottom of the
waterhole.  He breathes and palpitates, lolling out a soft pink body from
the lips of a half-open shell.

Yes, winter here is only a slumber, and everything is stirring in its
sleep.  They all proclaim again the old, old covenant, made with the
perpetual generations, that promise of the sure return of seedtime and
harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night, that shall
not cease while the earth remains.

The colors of winter are slate-blue and gray, laid on a background of
black and white.  The chickadees and nuthatches wear them—black velvet
caps, gray coats, white waistcoats.  In the mornings long, slate-blue
shadows stretch away from the points of all the islands, and every
smallest standing weed casts its tiny blue shadow across the snow.  The
ice is darkly iridescent, like the blue pigeon’s neck and head.

The dawns come late, the sunsets early, and in the twilight the mice
steal out from the woods and climb up and down on the window screens,
little misty, gray blurs moving swiftly against the soft, gray dusk.

Through the long evenings, when supper is over, the curtains drawn and
the long sides of the big box stove glowing red, I read and think and
dream.  All the while the timbers of the house crack and snap with the
cold, the trees twist and creak in the wind, and the ice groans and
mutters.  Now and again it gives a long sigh, as though some heavy animal
were imprisoned under it and were struggling to escape.  I imagine him
heaving at it with a great shoulder, grunting as he pushes, and sinking
back to rest before pushing again.  Late in the night comes a long roar,
as though the beast had broken forth and were calling to his mate.

                 [Picture: A point of one of the Islands]

Most people undress to go to bed.  Here I undress and dress again,
putting on heaviest woolen underwear, long knit stockings, flannel gown
and sweater over all.  I creep into bed and lie between flannel sheets
and under piled blankets, and throw a fur coat across the foot, in
preparation for that first hurried dash across the room at dawn.

There is only one anguished moment in the twenty-four hours.  It is when
the fire has burned out, and the cold wakes me.  My movements then are
reduced to the least possible number.  Almost with one motion I spring
out of bed, fling the window shut, tear back the whole top of the stove,
throw in fresh logs, put on the coffeepot, then skurry back to bed to
doze until the cabin is warm.

There is not the least trouble about keeping my stores cool.  The problem
is to prevent their freezing.  The potatoes and eggs freeze in the very
room with me, a pot of soup, set in the outer vestibule, is a hard block
from which I crack a piece with the ax when I wish a hot supper.  The
condensed milk is hard frozen, the canned plum puddings rattle about in
their tins like so many paving stones, and it takes all day to heat them.
Early in December, I laid a jagged bit of ice on the corner of the porch,
and there it lies, its shape quite unchanged through weeks of bitter
weather.

There is an inch or two of ice over the waterhole every morning.  When I
go to fill the pails, I take the little ax along to chop my cistern open,
but gradually the walls of ice close in and about once a week someone
must cut me a fresh waterhole in another spot on the lake.

The drying of the weekly wash is a most perplexing thing.  Clothes hung
outside the house freeze immediately of course.  If they are hung inside,
the room is filled with their steam.  My only plan is to heat the cabin
red-hot, hang them indoors, bank the fire for safety and take to the lake
or go a-visiting, for a certain number of clean clothes one must have, if
only to keep up one’s self-respect.

This morning I woke so stiff with cold that I was almost afraid to move
in bed, lest a frozen finger or toe should drop off.  There was no more
sleep, so, cowering over the stove, I watched the sunrise, more augustly
beautiful than I have ever seen it.  The bright crescent of last month’s
moon hung, point downward, on a sky of mouse-gray velvet.  Over it stood
the morning star.  Along the eastern horizon lay a line of soft
brightness, that glowed through a veil of gray gauze.  Very slowly this
bright line widened while the snow field grew slate-blue, then purple,
and the jagged tree line of the forest stood out in silhouette, black
pines, cedars, and hemlocks against a yellow sky.  Trees and bushes near
at hand stole out from the shadows, patterns of black lace against the
white ground, and sharply visible.  The horizon line was now tinged with
red, the sky was changing to a tender yellow-gray, shading to pale green
as it neared the zenith.  The paling moon hung now against a background
of rose and saffron.  The star still blazed above it like a lamp, until,
suddenly, a fiery streak appeared on the horizon, and star and moon faded
away before the red disk of the sun.

Toward noon the cold was less intense, and I ventured out to get some
long-delayed mail at the farm.  Not a bird was abroad, not a rabbit track
lay on the paths.  In fur coat, fur hood, and high rubber boots I plowed
a way across the lake, where the level snow, knee-high, drifted in over
the tops of the boots and formed an icy crust around my stockinged feet.
At the farm I learned that the thermometer at Loon Lake Station had
registered thirty-five degrees below zero at seven o’clock that morning.
Even then, in the sun, on the Blakes’ south porch it stood at twenty
below.

At home in the afternoon all my little pensioners were out to greet me.
The white-breasted nuthatch was clinging, head down, on a birch pillar,
his head, twisted back at a neck-dislocating angle, showed his black cap
perched over one eye, and gave him an indescribably rakish, disreputable
appearance.

“Yank, yank,” he observed, irritably, as though to chide me for keeping
him waiting so long for food.  The air was full of the plaintive winter
notes of the chickadees.  Peter, the rabbit, was sitting hunched against
the kitchen door, a forlorn little figure.

The feeding of my live stock has become quite a large part of the duty of
each day.  The rabbit waits at the door for his slice of bread, and, if
that door is left ajar, he is quite apt to hop inside and help himself to
anything he finds standing on the hearth.  The squirrel has his toast and
cold potato on the woodpile, the birds their crumbs.  The bushes present
a very odd appearance, hung with bits of bacon rind for the chickadees.

The other night there came another little boarder, in the person of a
very small deer mouse, that slipped into the cabin and fell down between
the wire screen and the lower casement of the north window.  Between the
netting and the window frame there is space enough to make a very
satisfactory runway for a very tiny mouse, and there he cowered, peering
at me, with terrified, bright eyes.  The window panes open in on hinges,
like a French casement, so my first impulse was to shut the upper half
and keep him prisoner, knowing that if he once ran at large in the house
I could never catch him, and that he would make havoc among the stores.
He looked so hungry, trembling there, with his tiny, pink hands clasped
on his breast, that I dropped him down a bit of bacon.  Then he shivered
so piteously that I dropped also a fluff of absorbent cotton, which he
seized and instantly made into a little Esquimeau hut.  This he placed in
the corner best sheltered from the wind, turned its door in toward the
glass, and retired, closing that opening with a bit of cotton, and I saw
him no more by day.

A deer mouse is the prettiest little beast imaginable, somewhat smaller
than the house mouse, and with very large eyes.  His fur is dark brown,
very soft and thick and with a darker streak along the spine.  His breast
is white, his legs white too, ending in tiny pink paws with wee
fingernails, the exact size of the eye of a number five needle.  His ears
are long and fringed with black, his head very much like the head of a
doe.  He is nocturnal in habit, staying up in the morning until after his
breakfast and mine, then retiring for the day, to come out at twilight
and run up and down the window screen for exercise.  So long as I keep
this window closed he can’t get out, and I can study him through the
glass at my leisure.

Who ever sees a deer mouse at home?  Walking through the stubble field
one sometimes starts one, and away he goes like a flash.  Here I have
this little wild thing living in my house, apparently quite content.  He
shall stay as long as he seems well and happy.  When I think he is pining
he shall go free, but he is quite as well off in his little hut as he
would be in the cast-off vireo’s nest that is, in all probability, his
winter home.  Snow drifts in and covers it, to be sure, but he seems snug
and warm and is growing sleek and fat on a diet of bacon and apple.

Since the coming of the ice I find that I must keep more cooked stores on
hand, not only for myself and for the birds and beasts, but for the
frequent visitors that come driving up the lake to the door.  They race
along the ice in sleighs and buggies and stop at the island.  When they
come they stay to the next meal, so there must be materials for a party
always ready.  It is only fair to state that the rule works quite as well
the other way round, for I am always welcome to drop in at any house near
which I happen to be at meal time.  Any passing guest may draw his chair
to the table and partake of what is set thereon.  No apologies are
offered for the food.  It may be only a pot of tea and a biscuit, but
whatever it is you are welcome, and that, by your leave, is hospitality.

Oh, Many Islands, place of the good neighbors!  I close my eyes to see
picture after picture passing across the screen of memory.  There is
Henry Blake giving his time and labor that my house may be warm and
weather proof; there is Mary Blake with daily gifts of good things to eat
and counsel for my inexperience.  I see the little fishing boats bobbing
against the rocks as the men stop at the island to throw me off a bass
and some silver herring as they pass with the day’s catch.  There are
John Beaulac’s two little girls scrambling through the bushes to bring me
some venison when father has killed a deer, and I see Anna Jackson
putting a big jug of maple syrup in the sleigh that brings me home on a
Sunday.

I see too Granny Drapeau’s earnest old face, as I hear her say:

“Eh, but I was feared for you last night, when the wind blowed so strong.
I couldn’t sleep fer thinkin’ of you, all alone on that island.  Come
daylight I says to Andy, ‘Look over an’ tell if you kin see her smoke.’
For if ever that smoke is not a’risin’ I’ll send one of the men over to
see what’s wrong.”

Daily kindnesses, daily acts of friendliness for the stranger woman, who
came from nowhere, to stay awhile and will go away, they know not where.



CHAPTER X


JANUARY the twenty-second was a great day in the county.  It was the date
of the “Tea Meeting,” given under the auspices of the English Church, for
the benefit of the destitute Belgians.  It was also a great day for me,
being the first and the last time that I shall appear in Many Islands’
society, when society meets at night.  To drive seven miles in the bitter
cold, to return to a stone cold house in the middle of the night,
requires a love of foregathering with one’s fellows that I do not
possess.  So not until I have trained the rabbit to keep up the fire
shall I venture out at night again.  I had been invited to the festivity
by Mrs. Jackson weeks before.  Having very little notion of the proper
dress for such an occasion, I ventured to ask counsel of a young visitor
who dropped in opportunely.

“What do the women wear to the Tea Meetings here?” I inquired.

She surveyed me with an appraising eye.  “Well now,” she said, kindly,
“haven’t you a nice, dark waist here with you?  A lady of your age would
naturally wear something dark and plain.”

At once I cast away all idea of a serviceably plain attire and determined
to array myself in all the finery I had with me here; chiffon gown, long
gloves and velvet hat with plumes.  “Lady of my age, indeed!”

And when I arrived at the entertainment every soul was in her best, and
my attire entirely appropriate.  I waited with some pleasant anticipation
for the moment when my little friend should spy me and was not
disappointed in the expression that swept across her pretty face.  As a
plain dresser I was evidently not a success.

The start was to be an early one.  In the middle of the afternoon I raked
out the fire, fed the animals, hid the key under the woodpile and started
down the lake to the Jackson farm, following a fresh-cut sleigh track
that glittered like a silver ribbon flung down on the blue ice.  Now and
again the solid floor under me would give a groan and a heave and I would
spring aside, my heart in my throat despite my knowledge of the two feet
of solid ice beneath me.  Then I would assure my quaking spirit that
where the woodsleds could drive I could surely walk, and would travel on.

At Jackson’s there was a pot of bean soup on the stove, and, as a
comforting repast on a cold day, I know of nothing that approaches hot
bean soup—it stays by one.  We drove off in the big farm sleigh, seven
miles to the town of Fallen Timber, passing through Sark with its five
houses and the Cheese Factory, and by farms each of which contributed its
heavily laden sleigh to the long line of vehicles bound for the meeting.

The town hall of Fallen Timber stands on a bleak hillside.  It is a room,
about thirty by forty feet in size, with a six-foot wide stage at the end
and a box stove in the middle.  The stovepipe goes straight to the
ceiling, across, and out by a hole in the wall at the back of the stage.
The walls are of a dirty, leprous-looking plaster, with here and there a
small bunch of ground pine tacked on by way of decoration.  At the back
of the stage a strip of once white muslin bore the inscription: “Welcome
To All” in letters a foot high.

The seats are planks laid on the stumps of trees, the stage curtain is of
red and green calico.

Now and again this curtain was pushed aside, disclosing the preparations
for supper, and such piles of cookies, cakes, and sandwiches I never
expect to see again.  In the phrase of this neighborhood there were
certainly “plenty of cookings.”

The great folk of the evening were late—the rector and his wife, the
member of Parliament, who was to preside for us, and the orator, who was
to address us.  But we did not mind the delay.  We had come to meet each
other, and the time passed pleasantly enough.  I was seated almost
exactly on the stove, ventilation there was none, and the hall was
packed, but what of that?  It was good to feel thoroughly warm, at no
expense to oneself, and there’s too much fuss made about fresh air
anyway—at least in the opinion of many of my neighbors.

The orator was the typical political speaker—portly, bland, slightly
humorous and very approachable.  He made an excellent speech, outlining
the causes that led to the Great War, and telling of Germany’s policy and
her hopes.  He explained the part that Belgium had played, in holding
back the tide of invasion until France had had time to mobilize, and it
was all very clear and convincing.  He laid stress on the spontaneous
outpouring of loyalty in the colonies, and quoted one of the first
messages received from India—the telegram from a Rajah that read: “My
Emperor, what work has he for ME and for my-people?”

As he went on to enumerate them—Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and
all the islands of the seas—I forgot the little hall, the crowd, the
heat, and caught something of Isaiah’s vision of the Great House of God,
that shall be exalted high above the hills, and of the time when all
nations shall flow unto it.

After the speech came supper, huge plates of sandwiches and many kinds of
cake, with pitchers of steaming tea.  The men ate three and four of these
platefuls with as careless an air as who should say: “What are five
pounds or so of food washed down with quarts of strong, boiled tea?  A
mere nothing.”

What was worse, the children ate quite as much as their elders, but I
have long since ceased to forebode anything for the youth of this favored
land.  Apparently, they cannot be harmed.

After supper, at about eleven-thirty, came the real object of the
meeting—the entertainment by “local talent.”  It began with the chorus:
“Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching.”  Followed then a
recitation, “My Aunt Somebody’s Custard Pie.”

This was delivered in a coquettish, not to say soubrettish manner by a
little miss in a short white frock, and with a coral ribbon wound round
her curly, dark hair.  Her assured manner struck me and not pleasantly.
Later I understood it.  She was “Teacher” in charge of Number Six, better
known as the Woodchuck School.  I am told that the Boards of Education
cannot keep these rural schools supplied, the girls marry off so fast;
and I can well believe it, judging by this one.  She was evidently the
belle of the neighborhood.  In the comments that the boys were making all
round me the other girls were all very well, but “Teacher” was easily the
favorite.

“She’s a good teacher,” I heard one declare, hoarsely fervent.  “She’s
did well by Number Six.  I could make out every word them children
spoke”—a fact that really seemed to give him cause for satisfaction.

The night wore on with drill after drill, song after song, recitation
after recitation.  Despite my fatigue, I was interested.  As I watched
the audience something took me by the throat.  It was somehow so
pathetic.  Those heavy men, those work-worn women were not interested
because their children were being shown off.  No indeed.  They liked the
performance because it was just at their level, and that fact threw a
searchlight on the bare monotony of their lives.  We finished at about
two o’clock with “Tipperary,” and “God Save the King,” and, as every
national anthem is an assault on the feelings and makes me cry, I sang
and wiped my eyes with the rest.

The night skies here are seldom black, like the skies of the south, they
are more often a soft, misty gray.  The stars, instead of being sharp
little points of light, are big and indistinct and furry.  It is always
light enough to see the road, even at the dark of the moon.  We drove
along through the bitter cold, Big John Beaulac’s hired boy, Reginald,
standing in the back of the sleigh, by way of getting a lift home.  He
was regretting, all the way, that some people had not eaten all their
“cookings” and that so much good food had been wasted on the floor.  I
fancied that Reginald Bean would fain have eaten even more than he did.

At the shore we dropped Mrs. Jackson and the three little sleeping
Jacksons, and drove on down the lake.  At the narrows I, being almost
frozen to the seat of the sleigh, insisted on being set down to walk, and
took my way along the side of the island, treading in the footprints that
I had left in the snow when I had set out—was it the day or the week
before?

I groped my way among the trees and along the trail to the house, lighted
a fire and looked at the clock.  I had been walking through the woods at
four o’clock in the morning, and with as little concern as though it had
been that hour of a summer afternoon.

Then, as though to rebuke my temerity, I was frightened on the lake the
very next day.

I was walking briskly along on the ice, singing at the top of my lungs,
because just to be alive on a day when the air was so cold and clean, the
sky so blue and the snow crystals so brilliant, was happiness, when I
came full on a figure that robbed the morning of its joy.

It was Ishmael Beaulac, the imbecile, shambling heavily along.  He spoke,
then turned and followed me some distance, his air half menacing, half
cringing, and I was frightened, for I realized that for miles around
there was no one to come to my aid, if Ishmael should take it into his
poor, crazed brain to do me harm.  But he wandered off again, and, as I
watched his bent figure shuffling away in the snow, I was shaken with a
great compassion.  I have never seen a face so marked with evil.  Lined,
swollen, and inflamed with some loathsome eruption, the low, receding
forehead, with coarse, black hair growing almost to the line of the
eyebrows, a wide, loose-lipped mouth, and cunning shifty eyes—it is a
face that has haunted my dreams.

I asked Rose Beaulac about him.

“John and I was a sayin’ that we’d ought to tell you about Ish,” she
said.  “Now that the ice is come, likely he’ll walk over to the island.
But don’t you be afeared of him.  Just make out like you’re goin’ to
throw hot water on him an’ he’ll run.”

“Oh, poor creature!” I cried.  “I couldn’t hurt him.”

“It ain’t needful to scald him,” said Rose, with an air of great cunning.
“I always holds my finger in the water to see if it’s cool enough afore I
throws it.  He’s awful ’fraid of water, Ish is,” she observed, and
remembering Ishmael’s appearance I could well believe it.

“But don’t you ever make over him,” Rose went on, “and don’t you ever
feed him or you’ll have him there all the time.  Don’t leave any knives
or old boots around where he can git them.  Ish don’t know nothin’ about
money; he’ll walk right past your purse to steal a pair of old boots.
But he won’t hurt you—at least we don’t think he will.”

“I have heard that his father, Old John, was cruel to him,” I ventured,
with some diffidence, for Old John or Devil Beaulac was Little John’s own
Uncle.

A look of distress flitted across Rose’s face.

“Old John was a very severe man, very severe,” she said.  “He treated
Ishmael awful bad.  He must have hurted him very hard, for now when the
men is teasin’ him if one of them lifts an ax or a spade, and makes to
run at him, Ish goes perfectly wild.  They say Old John used to hit him
on the head.  That would make him so crazy-like, wouldn’t it?  Yes, poor
Ish has had it awful hard, there’s none but will tell you that,” she
sighed.

The neighbors are less reticent about old John.  By their account he was
a man outside all law, a giant in strength and of a fiendish cruelty.
Finally his tyrannies grew intolerable, and his sons set on him, beating
him until he died.  Then they threw his body into an old mica pit, filled
the pit with stones and went their way.  No one interfered.  The old man
was thought to have earned his doom and the sons were never brought to
trial.  But even now, when poor Ishmael’s fits of madness come upon him
they say he goes to that pit and throws great rocks into it, cursing the
memory of his father.

Much of this may be untrue, but the story haunts me.  In the figure of
this poor maniac, hurling his stones and shouting impotent curses to the
unheeding sky, I see a time when the earth was young, when men dragged
the offender out from the great congregation and stoned him to death
before the face of an angry God.  I marvel that in this place so near to
civilization such stories can still be told.



CHAPTER XI


WE are no longer tenderfeet, the rabbit and I.  We have come through a
blizzard.  For the better part of a week we have been “denned in” along
with the squirrels, chipmunks, coons, bobcats, and bears.  We have melted
snow for drinking water, because the drifts cut us off from the lake and
buried the waterhole.  We have dug our firewood out from under a pile of
wet whiteness.  The mouse came through safely too, although the snow
sifted in through the window screen, and covered him, house and all.

The storm began on the second of February, in the evening.  All night
long the wind howled with a violence that threatened to lift the house
bodily and deposit it out on the lake.  It searched out every crack and
crevice, chilling me to the bone.  It wrenched and tore at the heavy
wooden shutters, it tossed and twisted the trees, every now and again
throwing one to the ground with a grinding crash.  It whistled, it
moaned; and, with it came the snow, in blinding, whirling gray clouds
that blotted out everything.  The lake was obscured, the outlines of the
neighboring islands were lost.  I could see only a smother of drifting,
dancing flakes.

The day passed fairly well, for the mere necessity of keeping up the fire
was an occupation in itself.

“This,” said I to Peter, “is the beginning of the true Canadian winter.
I hope it does not stay too long.”

Peter, having been born last summer, has had no experience of any other
winter.  No memories of former blizzards troubled him.  He hoped that the
bread would hold out.

At about three o’clock in the afternoon Satan inspired me to go out on
the porch, to survey the prospect.  Immediately I smelled smoke.

Now, there is but one thing of which I have been afraid, and that is
fire.  A blaze started here would inevitably sweep the island and no one
could stop it.  I smelled tar paper burning.

“What a pleasant thing it would be to borrow the cherished summer camp of
a friend and burn it down for her!  What a safe thing for oneself it
would be to go to sleep in a smoldering house and have it break into
flames in the night.”

I sniffed and sniffed despairingly.  I scrambled out into the snow to
examine the chimneys; I burrowed under the porch floor to look at the
foundations; I climbed the ladder to make sure of the roof, and still
that smell of burning tar persisted.  I had a horrible misgiving that
there was fire smoldering between the outer and the inner walls.

There was nothing for it but to get to the Blakes and tell them of my
fears.  If Henry could assure me that there was no way of a fire’s
starting, I would believe him and go to bed content.  If I had not that
assurance, I should be forced to sit up all night waiting to escape into
the snow.  Whatever the weather I had to get to the farm; that was all I
could think of.

I dressed as warmly as I could and set forth, through the drifts, to the
edge of the island.  I made fair progress until I stepped off the land on
to the lake.  Then I began to have some idea of what I, in my ignorance,
had undertaken.

The lake was like the ocean done in snow.  The wind had piled great
breakers of snow one behind another, their crests curled over at the top,
exactly like the waves on a beach.  Only these breakers were curled over
the opposite way.  They turned over toward the wind, not away from it.
One long ridge followed another with a deep, scooped out furrow to
windward.  Looking down on the lake from the level of the porch, these
waves did not look very high.  When I stepped off into them they came up
to my armpits.

Even then I had not sense to turn back; even then I had no idea of any
real danger.  The wind was at my back.  I could feel it behind me like a
wall, as I climbed through each succeeding hillock of snow and out across
the intervening three or four yards of level ice.  Wave followed wave,
each higher, deeper, more suffocating than the last.  Sometimes I could
walk for a few feet on the top of a drift before sinking into its depths.
I scrambled, fell, rolled, crawled, climbed, and thought that I should
never reach the shore.  Counting helped me, as I pulled each foot up out
of the clinging mass and set it down a few inches nearer the land.

“One, two, three, four,” I said aloud, timing my steps to the pounding of
my laboring heart.  My breath was coming in gasps, a pulse beat in my
temples, my head swam, there was a ringing in my ears as I plodded on,
now with eyes shut.

A thin, washed out moon came out and looked through wisps of ragged
clouds.  Its light served only to make the scene more desolate, the
distance from the shore more terrifying.  The only idea that remained in
my stupified brain was that I must somehow find strength to go on lifting
heavy feet one after the other; that I must struggle up from each fall,
must breathe deep and keep a quiet mind.

At last I reached the deeper drifts that fringed the shore, skirted the
hidden waterhole, found traces of the cattle tracks, dragged myself along
the path and finally stepped, with the very last remnant of strength, up
on the porch and into the warm bright kitchen.  When Mary Blake caught
sight of me, she sat down suddenly and said: “My God!”

They had not attempted to get to the water hole that day, but had given
the cattle melted snow.  They had gone only as far as the barn and
henhouses.  Even the house dog had stayed indoors.

I gasped out my fears and Henry Blake laughed at them.  There was no way,
he said, for a fire to have started and if one had caught, the house
would have been flat to the ground long before I had crossed the lake.

I heard him with disgust.  If that was the way my panic looked, it was
high time for me to return to my home on the island.  I rose with much
dignity and walked off to the shore, before the Blakes had adjusted their
minds to the move.

This time the wind was in my face, making the going ten times harder than
before.  About forty yards out from shore I stopped and turned my back to
the blast to catch my breath, and there was Henry, dressed in his great
fur coat, striding out after me and looking for all the world like a bear
on its hind legs.

When I saw his thickset figure struggling against the gale it seemed
suddenly a hatefully inconsiderate thing to have brought him away from
his warm fire and out into the storm and I called:

“Go back, Mr. Blake.  There is no fire.  Don’t attempt to come after me.”

But Henry only stumped on.

“I know there’s nothing burning,” he retorted.  “We’re a long way more
worried about you than we are about the camp.  You might get confused and
lose your life in this storm.”

On he went ahead of me and I was thankful to follow humbly in his
footsteps.

We reached the house, and, as we stood in the warm room fighting for
breath, I said:

“Mr. Blake, there is some Scotch here.  Will you drink some?” And Henry
said he would.

After that I was content to stay indoors until he came with the horses
and broke the tracks through the island.

Such heaps of snow lay piled on the lake and in the woods that it should
have taken months for it to disappear; but in three days there came a
thaw and melted it all away.

The thaw came not a day too soon, for the sixteenth was the time set for
the long anticipated sawing bee at the farm.  During January Henry Blake
and Jimmie had been felling trees and dragging them to the house in
preparation for the arrival of the perambulating sawmill, that goes from
farm to farm as soon as the ice will hold.  There was a pile of logs, ten
feet high by thirty feet long piled butt end to in the dooryard.  When a
farmer announces a bee his neighbors gather from far and near, leaving
their own work to help him put through the particular job in hand.  He is
expected to attend their bees in return.  The farmer’s wife, who earns a
high seat in heaven if ever woman did, works for days beforehand, cooking
for the ten or a dozen hungry men who will come down on her for dinner,
supper and, perhaps, breakfast, with a night’s lodging thrown in.

Mary Blake had made bread of the lightest and finest, had killed
chickens, taken fish out of brine, and pork from the barrel; had made
cakes and pies; had brought out pickles and preserves, and when I arrived
she was creaming carrots and onions and boiling the inevitable potatoes.

It was a cold, gray day, with the surface of the lake awash.  As I
splashed my way through the water, ankle-deep on the ice, I heard the
saw, clear and high, like the note of a violin.  There were ten men
working at the bee.  The little gasoline engine was drawn up on a bobsled
at the kitchen door, and even as early as ten o’clock it had eaten out a
big hole in the side of the stack of logs.  William Foret and Jock
McDougal were at the machine shoveling snow into the boiler, William in a
bright blue jersey and with a squirrel skin cap set at an angle over his
dark, eager face.  Henry Blake was at the wheel, to take the sawed-off
chunks from the feeders and throw them to the pile.  The rhythm of his
movements was exact.  A reach toward the wheel, a heave, a toss over his
shoulder to the ever-increasing pile of chunks and a return to the
wheel—all this at the rate of a chunk every three seconds.  This
position, being the hardest work, is always taken by the host at a bee.

Little John Beaulac, Tom Jackson and Uncle Dan Cassidy lifted the logs
and carried them to the saw, where Black Jack held them against the
blade.  There were two or three extra men standing ready to take up the
work when one or more should be exhausted.

In the midst of the fray a sleigh was sighted, far out on the ice.  It
was bringing Jim McNally from far back of the mica mine.  He had heard of
the bee and had come, at a venture, for fear that Henry might be
“shorthanded.”  He brought a pail of fresh eggs for Mary Blake and a
great sack of turnips.  There was a mighty skurry and mystery about
slipping a bag of salt fish under the seat of the sleigh, for him to find
when he reached home.

At half past eleven the men trooped in to dinner, with many facetious
remarks about the strength of their appetites and the advisability of
letting the dirtiest man wash first.

After a very short smoke time they were at work again and I sat at the
kitchen window, watching the saw bite through the big logs.  The men’s
rhythmic movements, the swift interplay of the bright colors of their
jerseys, the long scream of the toothed blade, all lulled me to vacuity
of mind.  Long after dark, when I was back at home, I could hear the
sound of the wheel coming across the lake.  That song of the saw tells me
just where the mill is working for the day.  Going out on the porch I can
tell whether the bee is at Blake’s, Drapeau’s, Foret’s or the mines.

The Blakes are very up to date in their use of the gasoline engine.  Many
of the farmers still use the old treadmill, where four teams of horses
walk round and round all day, turning the wheel.  Invited to a bee at the
Jacksons’, the other day, I took a camera along, for a picture of the old
tread will soon be a treasured possession.  The men had paused in their
work in the kindest way to allow themselves to be “took.”  I was walking,
with great dignity, down the slippery hillside, when a treacherous bit of
ice was my undoing.  I fell and my demoralization was complete.

Camera flew one way, walking staff another, arms and legs spread out to
the four points of the compass, as I went shooting down that hill.  When
I had gathered my scattered members and my wits together, and was
scrambling up with the foolish grin of the newly fallen, I looked
appealingly at the sawing gang, expecting to hear the inevitable laugh.
Not a face did I see.  Every man’s back was turned.  The picture was
taken amid a sounding silence.

Commenting on that display of good manners to Uncle Dan, I said
fervently: “Never in my life did I see such perfect breeding.  It is
almost impossible to help laughing when anyone falls, but not one of
those men smiled.  I never expected such politeness.”

Uncle Dan’s Irish eyes twinkled.

“You’d ought to have heard what the b’ys said when you left,” he
observed.

Pondering that cryptic remark, I am inclined to think that it is just as
well that I do not know all that is being said of me in the work gangs
and around the kitchen fires of Many Islands.



CHAPTER XII


HOW do we know when the turn of the year has come?  The calendar gives
March twenty-first as the official birthday of spring, but that has
nothing to do with it.  One February day will be all winter, hard frozen
and dreary, and on the next, quite suddenly, through some spirit line of
sense, a message will reach us that spring, her very self, is on the way.
After that, no matter how many days of sleet and snow may follow, we know
that for us the winter is past.

So it was yesterday, here on the island.  With a mind adjusted to the
thought of weeks of snow and ice to come, I stepped out of doors and into
the spring.  The air was balmy as May, the sky a turquoise and the lake a
pearl.  The furry gray buds of the poplars had puffed out in the night.
The three little fingers of the birches were swelling and lengthening.
Suddenly my eyes were dazzled by a flash of bright blue light, and a
magnificent jay darted through the air and perched on the bare branch of
a basswood.  After the small, drab-hued chickadees and nuthatches, that
jay looked as large as an eagle.  Then I looked at little Peter, and lo!
he was turning brown.  The white hairs of his winter coat were falling
off, his spring jacket was showing through.

The ground under the trees is dusted over with myriads of brown scales,
chief among them the bird-shaped pods of the birches, that carry two wee
seeds under their pinions.  In the open the snow is gray with patches of
briskly hopping snow fleas that move along over the meadows at a lively
rate.  The nature books tell me that these are insects that live in the
mosses and lichens, and that they come out on warm days for exercise.
They are exercising for dear life to-day.

Here and there on the white carpet are the fairy writings left by the
wind last night.  It bent down the dry tips of the sedges, and traced
circles, bows, triangles, mystic runes that look as though they meant
great news, if one could only read them.

But the snow still covers the ground.  Rufus still tunnels under it,
shaking the crust violently when he goes in for some hidden store of
food.  The rabbit roads, pressed hard by hundreds of small, skurrying
feet, still run crisscross under the cedars, and the heavy woodsleds
still travel down the middle of the lake, like giant caterpillars,
crawling along.

        [Picture: The heavy woodsleds still travel down the lakes]

Behind the opposite island the men are cutting ice.  Uncle Dan stands at
the side of a dark pool of open water, and works away with a saw as tall
as himself.  The rectangular blocks, two feet thick, slide up the
inclined boards to the sleds and are driven off to the icehouses in
preparation for the summer’s shipment of fish to the towns.  They are
beautiful, those blocks of ice, so clear and clean and blue.

With the fine weather has come the news that the Rector of the English
Church and Mrs. Rector are coming to the island for a visit.  The island
is in much excitement.  Salt bacon and potatoes do not seem just the
right fare to offer guests so important and who are coming from afar.  My
mind is set on chicken, and the word has gone forth round the lake that
“the English minister is coming and the woman on the island wants a
fowl.”

Now, all our turkeys, ducks, and chickens are fattened for the fowl fair,
held at Queensport in December, when the poultry dealers from Toronto and
Montreal, and even from “The States,” go through the country buying up
the stock.  The greater part of the yearly income of some of us depends
on the prices paid for the fowl.  My only chance of having chickens
through the winter was to engage a neighbor to save me a dozen young
cockerels and to pay him for their feed, having them killed as needed.  I
had long ago eaten all these chickens and the prospect of getting any
more was slight.  Even Rose Beaulac, fertile in resource, could give me
no hope.

I never found the chicken, but I had a visit from Rose the day before the
party.  She told me that she had given John his gun and had sent him up
Loon Bay to shoot me some grouse.  Then the conversation languished.
Rose is a very shy little woman; it took her nearly an hour to come to
the real point of her call.  She would not lay aside her coonskin coat,
she would not remove her dingy tuque; there she sat, struggling with her
errand.

At last it came out:

“Might she bring the baby to be christened when the Rector came?”

Then for another half hour she rambled on about people who never had
their babies christened and what a sin that was, and of those who never
registered their children’s births, and how those children could never
inherit property.  Once in a while she said something about things “not
being legal,” until I was quite bewildered and do not know to this day
whether, in her opinion, the unbaptized or the unregistered infant is not
legal.  But the upshot of it all was that the youngest Beaulac was to be
christened next day.

The hour set for service was two o’clock, but such was Mrs. Beaulac’s
determination not to be late that she and the baby’s eldest sister
arrived at eleven.  There was no sign of the father, John Beaulac.  There
I had made my mistake.  I had let him know that a sponsor would be needed
and that he was expected to stand.  So when the godfather was demanded
none could be found.

“Where was John?”

“Gone to Queensport with a load of wood.”

“Andy Drapeau, the baby’s uncle?”

“Gone to Glen Avon.”

The other uncles were off hunting at Loon Lake; Louis, the eldest
brother, had disappeared entirely.  So when the time came for sponsors,
the Rector’s wife and I had to stand, and for this poor baby, whose
father owns not one rod of ground, and who is sheltered in a hovel built
for the cattle, we gravely renounced “the vain pomp and glory of the
world.”  And because, in my hurry, I had forgotten to temper the water in
the improvised font, the new little soldier and servant of Christ yelled
valiantly when the ice water touched him.

It was a scene I shall not forget: the cabin, with its bunk in one
corner, its big stove at one end, the pots and pans on the wall behind
it; the tools; the fishing tackle and the stores.  The Rector, wearing
white surplice and embroidered stole, stood in the center of the room
beside the white-covered table that held the bowl of water and the Prayer
Book.

Old Mrs. Drapeau, the baby’s grandmother, had crept across the ice to
witness the baptism, the first she had seen, she said, in twenty years.

The meeting closed with tea and cake; then the christening party
withdrew, the little new Christian sleeping peacefully in the wooden box
in which his mother dragged him away over the ice.

We three who were left settled to dinner and a long afternoon’s talk.  At
teatime the Rector observed that the Woodchuck School was a mere seven
miles away, and that he might as well have a service there while he was
so near.  So we dashed away across the lake, used telephones freely to
collect a congregation, opened the school house, and, by the light of two
guttering candles, said our prayers, sang our hymns, and listened to a
simple, direct, and practical sermon.  Back across the ice I drove in the
flare of the northern lights, that made the night almost as bright as
day.

The Rector is a young man and an energetic one—and he has need to be—for
his parish covers much ground.  It extends from the church at Queensport,
out to Godfrey’s Mills, fifteen miles away to the south, and back to
Fallen Timber, twelve miles to the north.  Besides these three churches
he has four or five irregular stations in the schoolhouses dotted about
within the radius of his activities.  On Sunday mornings he teaches the
Sunday school at Queensport and holds service there; in the afternoon he
drives to the Mills, and has Sunday school and Evening Prayer, at night
there is service at Fallen Timber.  Up and down the roads he drives, day
after day, visiting the sick, baptizing the children, burying the dead.
He consoles, admonishes, encourages; he reproves our negligences, bears
with our foolishnesses, and somehow contrives to have patience with our
ignorance.

Being a churchman to whom the decency and orthodoxy of services are dear,
it is hard for him to excuse our lax ways.  It gives him genuine distress
when we know no better than to drape our flags over the cross, and his
face is set against the to us very pleasing decoration furnished by house
plants growing in tin cans and set upon the altar.  When he marches up
the aisle and removes these attempts at ornament, replaces the vases and
the cross where they belong, we say nothing.  It is evident that we have
made a mistake in our zeal.  We don’t try that again, but something else
that proves just as reprehensible.  But we are learning—the Rector sees
to that.  If only the Bishop will let him stay, we shall be good
churchmen after awhile.  But we say proudly and sorrowfully: “He’s too
good for a small parish like this.  He’ll be moved to the city soon.”

The only way the Rector spares himself is in the matter of writing
sermons.  He confessed to me that he did not write three new ones a week,
but preached the same one at all three churches, thereby reserving, I
suppose, a few hours for sleep.

And with all this unceasing effort—and the clergy of all denominations
work just as hard—there are families living here round Many Islands that
have never entered a church.  They are as veritable heathen as any on the
far frontier.  There was a death at a farm on the road to Loon Lake
station last week.  The body was put into a rough box, thrust into a
shallow grave, and the work of the farm went straight on.  And the
English rector, the Roman Catholic priest, the Methodist preacher and the
Presbyterian minister all live within a radius of twenty miles.

Strange country, so civilized and so primitive, so close to cities and so
inaccessible.  Strange people, at once so old and so young, so instructed
in vice and sorrow, and so ignorant of the simplest teachings of life.
Grown men and women in body but children in mind, with children’s virtues
and with adults’ sins.



CHAPTER XIII


SINCE the first of December we have not seen the ground—only a great
field of white so dazzling that one understands the Indian’s name for the
March moon.  Verily, my own eyes tell me why it is the Moon of
Snowblindness.

The ice is still thick and clear, but the sun on its surface and the
moving water beneath are both wearing it away, slowly, surely.  There are
clear pools on the lake at noon, and then the crows come down and drink,
marching to and fro, like files of small, black-clad soldiers.  They
meet, and bow politely, speak to each other singly or in groups, then
line up and off they go with hoarse caws.  They look so important that
they might be plotting all sorts of villainies.

“Look out fer yerself,” laughs Uncle Dan.  “I’ll put the curse of the
crows on yer.”

A dire threat!  What use to break one’s back planting the corn if one’s
evilly disposed neighbor can call winged battalions of those black
thieves to undo all a man’s work and bring him to penury?

The snow is still thick in the woods, but on the hilltops and in the
open, bare patches of earth are beginning to show.  Peter’s coat matches
the ground exactly, being a sharply mottled brown and white.  Indeed, he
never did turn entirely white, like the wild hares in the woods.  Even
when his fur was its snowiest there was always a brown, diamond-shaped
patch on his forehead, and, so far as I know, he was the only hare so
decorated.  No matter how far from home he strayed, I could always
recognize him by his brown brand.

This simple life has its inconveniences.  I was eating a belated
breakfast the other morning, when bells on the lake and later a sleigh at
the door announced a visitor.  It was a perfectly unknown man who
informed me that he had been sent by Mrs. Swanson to bring me to her
house to spend the day.  He had to wait outside, in the piercing wind,
until a hasty glance round the combined sleeping, cooking, and reception
room reassured me as to its condition for the entrance of a stranger.
Then he sat beside the stove, pipe in hand, and inspected me gravely
while I prepared for the long drive down the lake.

The day was bright and blue and snapping cold.  A point of light flashed
from every facet of the roughened ice.  The horse was fresh, the wind at
our backs, and we fairly flew past Jackson’s, over the bare roads and out
again on beautiful Blue Bay, lying like a sapphire in its setting of
silvered shores.

The pony was a broncho, my companion told me, calling my attention to a
brand to prove it.  He was all that, and a tree-climbing broncho to boot,
for soon we came to a perpendicular bank as high as the side of a barn,
and I was given to understand that the pony was going to clamber straight
up, with the sleigh dangling at his heels.  I left the vehicle and
scrambled up on my own feet, but the animal went up the side of that hill
like a cat at a wall, and without one second’s hesitation.

Arrived at the house I inquired of my hostess if my escort was her son.

“Oh, no,” she answered.  “It was only Clarence Nutting, the hired man.”

Evidently, “hired man” means something very different here from what it
has hitherto meant to me.  It means friend, protector, helper, and member
of the family.  Mrs. Swanson, Susie Dove, the hired girl, Clarence
Nutting, and I all dined together; after dinner we played dominoes.  When
Clarence brought in the fresh eggs from the barn he suggested: “Better
give Miss X some to take home with her.”  Later he invited me to come
back, and soon, to spend several days.

Through the long, sunny afternoon, we sat round the stove in the pleasant
best room, with its well-starched lace curtains, each with a bunch of
artificial roses sewed on its folds, its oak sideboard decorated with
rose-bordered crêpe paper napkins, its crayon portraits and wonderful,
hand-made hooked rugs.  We women had our crocheting, but little Susie sat
very upright, her small, work-roughened hands clasped on her
plaid-covered knees, her toes, in their shiny best shoes, just reaching
the floor, while Clarence played for us on his new graphophone.

Clarence, in his high boots, patched trousers, and flannel shirt, handled
his music box with the tenderness of a lover.  He dusted each record
after using it, as carefully as a mother powders a baby.  As he played
tune after tune, I saw in that instrument, God knows what of pleasures
foregone, and temptations put aside while he saved out of his meager
wages the price of that graphophone.  He had discovered a way to use the
thorns from a hawthorn tree instead of wooden needles.  They gave a very
soft and lovely tone.  His records were the usual collection sold with
the machine—a few dances, a few Negro dialects and songs, some good
marches and some hymns.  After nearly a year of hearing no tunes at all,
I enjoyed them, every one.  When the concert was over, Clarence played:
“God be with you till we meet again.”

After tea came the sleigh and we drove home to the island, this time in a
blinding snowstorm.  Conversation was not so lively as in the morning.  I
was thinking of all the evidences I see here of man’s unquenchable thirst
for beauty and music and the pleasant things of life, that not the most
incessant toil nor hardest privation can ever wholly destroy.  I was
remembering how I had gone over to the Blakes’ to use the telephone one
afternoon and had had to wait for an hour because Clarence Nutting’s new
instrument had come, and all the receivers on the line were down while he
played it for the neighborhood.  I thought of poor Harry Spriggins’s
delight in a magazine, of Mary Blake’s habit of keeping a glass of fresh
flowers in the center of her table, of the time when Mrs. Drapeau, having
no white tablecloth, had spread a clean sheet over her table for company,
and of the Beaulacs’ joy in the blossoming of their lilac bush.

Then I began dreaming of a big, comfortable shack somewhere on the shore,
to which the people could come, as to a common meeting ground, social
differences and local feuds forgotten.  I saw it furnished with a
cupboard full of cups and plates, a piano or victrola.  There should be a
circulating library there and games, I decided, and I saw the boys and
girls dancing, singing, cooking popcorn, candy and fudge, in the
evenings.  I imagined a group of women drinking tea and sewing while
“teacher” played.

A few days later I went with the Rector and Mrs. Rector to drink tea with
the wife of the owner of a big lumber mill, and there I saw what one
woman has done amid just such conditions as are here at Many Islands.

There were the pretty little church, the parish house, the Sunday school
room, all built by Mrs. Baring, and I heard of the reading circles, the
concerts, the cooking classes that she has organized for the people among
whom she has had to live.

There too I saw the Canadian mother in war times and marveled at her.
Mrs. Baring has sent the light of her eyes, the pride of her heart, the
son who was winning honors at his university and had a great future
before him, overseas to the trenches.  I saw picture after picture of
him—Harold as a baby, as a child, as a boy, as a man.  He was shown in
his little knickers, his first long trousers, his khaki.

“Yes, he is in France now, but of course we do not know where,” the
mother said.  “I send him two pairs of socks, some handkerchiefs and
shirts every week.  The boys like that better than one large box
occasionally—they lose their clothes so.  We hope that things reach him,
but we do not know.  We have not heard from him for two months now.”

All this without a tremor of the firm lips, with not the shadow of a
cloud over the serene blue eyes.

The Rector told me afterward that not once has that mother alluded to the
possibility of her son’s return.  She gave her supreme gift without hope
of any reward.  Withal her interest in affairs is as keen, her charities
as wide, her hospitality as gracious, as though she had never a care in
the world and her boy were safe at her side.

After supper we climbed over the slippery hillside to the church for
Evensong.  Our hostess sat at the organ at the side of the chancel and in
full view of the congregation.  During the service I watched her calm,
clear profile.  She went through the intolerably pathetic petitions of
the Litany without wavering, as we prayed for those who are fighting by
land and sea and air; for the prisoners, the wounded and the dying, and
her sweet, steady voice led our responses.  Only once did I see her
falter.  It was during the singing of the hymn.  Her pretty ringed
fingers went on pressing the keys; she played, but she could not sing.

   “The Son of God goes forth to war,
      A kingly crown to gain,
   His blood-red banner streams afar,
      Who follows in his train?”

Her eyes looked past us, straight across the world.  Her lips were parted
in a smile sadder than tears.  She was shedding her heart’s blood, drop
by drop, for the safety of the empire.

We do not talk much about the Great War here at Many Islands.  Indeed, it
is only when I go to the towns that I realize that Canada is at war.
Once in a while one of our boys speaks of going to the front, and only
the other day Andy Drapeau was saying, “Ef it comes to drafting, I’ll
volunteer.  I’ll fight of me own free will.  No man shall make me go.”

But at that, Andy was merely talking.  He had no idea of enlisting.

No, as always, it is the men of the cities who will go first, and the
reason is not far to seek.  It lies in the fact that the bucolic mind is
almost totally devoid of imagination—it cannot picture what it has never
seen.  It can form no vision of an empire.  It can think of this county
as part of the Province and the Province as part of the Dominion, but of
Canada as part of a great federation it cannot conceive—the thought is
too big.  Our vision is bounded by the limits of our own experience.  We
know that Britain, France, and Russia are fighting Germany and Austria,
but the fields of Europe lie very far away, while our own fields are very
near.

We all know Germans.  We have worked beside them in the hayfields and the
mines.  They seem good fellows enough, not companionable because they
speak an outlandish sort of lingo that we doubt their being able to
understand themselves.  But why should we fight them?  Of the Hun we can
form no idea, thank God.  He is outside our experience.

We have a patriotism, but it is local, parochial.  If this war were a
baseball game between the rival teams of Sark and Fallen Timber, we could
understand it fast enough.  We would “root” for our side and, if need be,
fight for it.  But the far-off struggle of nation with nation leaves us
cold.  We cannot picture it.

But when the first wounded came back from the trenches, and when the
stories of Saint Julien and Festhubert were told at the firesides, then
went the men of rural Canada forward gladly to fill the places of those
heroes whose deaths are Canada’s undying glory.



CHAPTER XIV


APPROPRIATELY enough, on this first day of the calendar spring, I am
warned that the ice is unsafe and that I must stay on the island until
the lake is open water.  The natives still venture out, but they know the
look of the thin spots and even they are very cautious.  Two men started
over from mainland this morning, axes on shoulder, hounds at heel, but
they turned back at the shore, and the dogs, after stepping daintily on
the dark, spongy crust, turned back also.  The middle of the lake is
still hard, but there are ditches of water round the edges of the land.
The ice has heaved up into long fissures stretching away from the points,
the clear green water showing between their open sides, and from this
island to the Blakes’ point there is a great crevasse.

Mary declares that she has known Henry to start off in a sleigh over the
lake when the ice was only three inches thick; when he had to drive fast
to keep from breaking in and when the water spurted up from the holes
made by the horse’s hoofs.  But Henry was going for the mail, and when he
has been deprived of news for two or three weeks, the papers become
things to risk one’s life for—which is proof that Henry will never be a
true Many Islander.  The rest of us are quite willing to wait until
spring, if need be.

So I am “denned in” once more, and before I am free all sorts of things
will have happened.  There will be hundreds of little new calves and
lambs lying beside their mothers in the meadows, and scores of
thin-legged colts running beside the mares in the pastures.  I shall also
be shut in when the sap buckets hang in the “sugar bush” and the great
black kettles steam over the fires in the dooryards, and I can only hope
that some of my friends will remember to put my name in the pot, and to
save me some syrup and some maple sugar.

Forced to take my exercise on the island, I find new things everywhere,
as I tramp round and round the trails.  The snow under the evergreens is
covered with last year’s dry needles; the hemlocks, pines and cedars are
putting on their new, bright green fringes.  Under the rotting leaves,
innumerable little new plants are pushing up, princess fern, wild
strawberry, Canada mayflower, and countless other small weeds and herbs,
whose names I do not know.  When the leaves and needles are raked away
each stalk is seen standing in a tiny pool of clear ice.

The spring peepers are whistling in the lowlands, the hylodes blows his
little bagpipe, away in the wood the grouse is “beating his throbbing
drum”—no other description fits that thrilling sound—and the first
honeybees are buzzing out from a clump of birches and winging away over
the lake.  Underneath all the other spring sounds is the measured
“tonk-tonk” of the air escaping through the holes in the ice, and the
thin, silver sound of trickling streams.

The red-headed woodpecker is here, his crown a spot of splendid crimson
against the snow.  “Ker-r-ruck, ker-r-ruck,” he cries as he darts from
tree to tree, his white tail coverts flashing in the sunlight.

There has been a deer on the island.  Through my dreams one night I heard
sounds of a great commotion, the cries of dogs, the crashing of animals
through the underbrush.  In the morning, not ten paces from the kitchen
door, the snow was all trampled, soiled and covered with bunches of long
brown hair.  Evidently, the place was the scene of the poor animal’s
agony, for those hairs were soaked with blood.

I grieved, for I have liked to think that the island was a place of
refuge for all hunted things—at least for this one year.  But if the dogs
had dragged down the deer and killed him, what had become of the carcass?
I wondered.  They could not have eaten it so clean that no trace of skin
or bones remained.  I pondered this as I followed the deer’s small,
shapely hoof-prints from the shore and up over the hill and through the
bushes all hung with bunches of tell-tale brown hair.  I traced the dogs’
tracks also, as they crossed and recrossed the trail, and following them
came to an old mica pit, hidden far back among the cedars a gash in the
hillside, ten or twelve feet deep and four or five yards long, ringed
round with bushes and with a young birch growing in its depths.  Indeed,
I fell headlong into that hidden pitfall, and had time to hope, as I went
down, scrambling over the edge and clutching at branches, that I was not
going to land full on a wounded deer.

All tracks stopped at this pit, and the mystery remained a mystery until
late in the spring, when it leaked out that Andy and George Drapeau had
heard the cries of the hounds, had watched their chance, had come over,
dragged off the dogs, and skinned and carried away the deer.

Now the season for hunting deer lasts from November first to November
fifteenth.  Only one deer may be shot by each hunter.  No hounds may be
allowed to run at large during the closed season and any dog found
running a deer may be shot on sight, and the person shooting this dog may
not be prosecuted.  Thus the month of March is not the time for fresh
venison.  Venison out of season is “mountain goat,” to be eaten privately
and without boastfulness.  Nor is it safe to display a deer’s spring
coat.  But if the Drapeaus had left me that hide, would I have informed
on their dogs?  I wonder.

My own stupidity robbed me of the only other deerskin rug that I might
have had.  Little John Beaulac offered me a beautiful—and seasonable—one
which I bought and sent to the squaw at Maskinonge for tanning.  Some
weeks later I mentioned my good fortune to William Foret.

“Are you having the hair left on?” he asked.

“Hair left on!” I echoed.  “Of course.  I never heard of having the hair
taken off.  I want the skin for a rug.”

“Well, you’d ought to have said so,” said William.  “Mostly they tans
them for leather round here.  They makes fine moccasins and mittens.”

Sure enough, that Indian woman had patiently scraped off all the hair and
I received a superfine piece of buckskin, which was presented to Little
John, I having no use in the world for moccasins or mittens when I should
return to the city.

The Drapeaus live on a long peninsula to the west of this island and half
a mile away.  From this dock I see their barns in silhouette against the
sunsets.  Their land rises in fold on fold of meadow, with here and there
a clump of cedars or maples, then a soft slope and slanting cornfield.
Their house is the typical Canadian log shack, a building about sixteen
by twenty feet, divided by a board partition into a kitchen and a tiny
bedroom.  A trap door opens into the cellar; a ladder leads up to the
loft where the boys sleep.  There is a shed, built at right angles to the
south wall, and here Mrs. Drapeau keeps her washtub, churn, and milk
separator.  The place is always crowded with lounging men; the dogs are
everywhere under foot, and the air is thick with the smoke from many old
pipes.

   [Picture: “The Drapeaus live on a long peninsula to the west of this
                                 Island”]

Herring nets hang from the rafters, harness on the walls; drying skins
are stretched across the uprights.  In the muskrat season dozens of
furry, brown rats are nailed, by their tails, to the outside walls, and
inside the house great pails of bloody water, piles of raw skins, and
heaps of rats fill the small room.

The Drapeaus believe in the division of labor, and the work of the family
seems portioned out in a thoroughly satisfactory way.  Andy, the eldest
son, is the farmer, Lewis the hunter and George the fisherman.

Mrs. Drapeau, though not an old woman, goes back to the early days of the
settlement and knows all the hardships of pioneer life.

“I mind the time,” she says, “when this land was all wilderness and when
the bears and the wildcats come up to the very door.  Once I seen four
bear start over across the lake from Blake’s point to your island.  They
swum across the narrows, the old he-bear in the lead, the biggest of the
young next, then the little cub and the mother behind.  Me an’ the boys
was in the boat—we had been a berryin’—and when the boys seen them bear
they went wild.  They rowed up along the island after them, but they
couldn’t go fast enough with me in the boat, so they landed me and rowed
along to head off the bear, an’ blest if they didn’t turn ’em right back
along the shore to where I was a sittin’.  I was right in their tracks.

“‘You come back here an’ git me,’ I yelled, ‘an’ don’t you do another
trick like that agin, the longest day you live.’

“There was I a-hollerin’ an’ the boys a-laughin’ an’ the bear a comin’.
Why, I might ’a’ been kilt.”

“What became of them?” I asked.

“The bears?  Oh! they got away.  What with me a-screechin’ an’ the boys a
shootin’ they was so scared that they climbed off the far side of the
island, an’ the last we saw of them they was over to Henderson’s Bay,
their heads just out of water.”

Mrs. Drapeau tells of the day when she and her husband came over to their
farm in a little flat-bottomed punt, a calf, the beginning of their herd,
tied foot to foot and bellowing in the stern.  It was a hard fight to
clear the land and bring it to some sort of cultivation, and in a few
years Drapeau was killed in a lumber camp, leaving her with four young
children to feed.  She describes the long winter nights when she spun,
carded, and wove the cloth that kept their shivering little bodies
covered against the bitter cold, of the backbreaking days in the fields
when she hoed the potatoes and planted the corn, that there might be food
for the hungry mouths, and of the long months when she worked at the
miners’ boarding house, cooking and washing for a score of men.

“I never could have done it if it hadn’t been for my neighbors,” she
said.  “They was awful good to me.  The men cut my wood every winter as
come an’ ketched me my fish until the boys was big enough to work.  Eh!
but I did have the hardest time the year my man died.  Scarce was he laid
in the ground when the two biggest boys come back from the school at Loon
Lake with the smallpox.  George and Andy had it and they had it fearful
bad.  I thought sure the other two would have it too.  The health doctor
come up all the way from Queensport an’ nailed a notice on my door,
tellin’ the neighbors to keep away, and he forbid me to cross the lake,
on fifty dollars fine.  So there I was, the ice just breakin’ and me shut
in with my children that was a dyin’, as you might say.  I didn’t want to
go to no one’s house, nor to have them come to mine, but I had little or
nothin’ to eat on the place, and I feared lest my children should starve.

“But I done the best I could, and one day, when the ice was all broke, I
heard Bill Shelly, the frogger, passin’ in a boat.  I hollered to him the
fix I was in and told him to fetch me some goods from the store an’ to
tell my father how we was shut in.  Bill brung me the goods and we got
along some way, and when all was over an’ the boys was well, here comes
Robinson, the health doctor, to ask how we was all gettin’ along.  He
stood off, twenty paces from the door with his white handkerchief to his
face.  I was minded to set the dogs on him.

“‘Why don’t you come in?’  I says, ‘All’s safe now.  You needn’t to be
afraid.  You shut me in here, with my dyin’ children, and not you ner no
one else come anear me, not even to the shore, to ask did I have so much
as a hundred of flour to keep us alive.  How did you know we wasn’t all
starved together?  Get you off this land,’ I says, ‘fer you haven’t got
the grace of God in yer heart.’  He got off and I ain’t seen him since,
but I ain’t never fergot him.”

All this she tells me, sitting before the fire, her gray woolen petticoat
turned back over her knees, a black three-cornered shawl laid over her
head and pinned firmly under her pointed chin, She was a beauty once.
She is a pretty old woman still, with her flashing black eyes and silver
hair.  Even now, at sixty odd, she milks seven cows, makes all the butter
and cheese, cares for the hens, the turkeys and the pigs, works a small
garden, cooks for the boys, nurses them when they fall ill, and finds
time to make wonderful patchwork quilts.  Mrs. Drapeau can tell the names
of all the quilt patterns known to Canada.

I love these patchwork quilts.  They speak of thrift and industry and
patience, and of the leisure of a life in which small bits of cloth are
of more value than the time it takes to stitch them together.  Who in the
cities has time nowadays to sit and make a patchwork quilt?  They bring
up pictures of bedfuls of little children, sleeping snug and warm under
mother’s handiwork, and of contented women sewing in the firelight.

Their names are poetry—woman’s poetry.  The Log Cabin stands for home,
the Churn Dasher is food, the Maple Leaf means Canada.  The Road to
Dublin, and the Irish Chain speak of the homesick Irish heart, but I like
to imagine that the Prairie Rose was named by some happy woman who loved
the wide and blossoming fields of this new land.



CHAPTER XV


GOOD FRIDAY, a heavy fall of snow and winter come again.  The ground is
white, the sky dull gray, the lake a dark, bluish green flecked with
windrows of snow.  It is more than a week since I have walked on the ice.
It bids fair to be two weeks before I can cross in a boat.  At this rate
the ice will never break—I had to chop out the water hole again this
morning.  This waiting for the ice to go out is like waiting for a child
to be born, and it seems almost as solemn.  It induces a calm,
philosophic, not to say fatalistic, viewpoint.  You can’t hurry it, you
can’t stop it, you can’t do anything at all about it.  You can only wait.

Again, as in the fall when the ice was forming, there is that strange
blanket of silence over the island.  There’s not a rustle in the dry
leaves, not a bird’s voice, not even the scraping of a hanging bough.
The ice field is growing darker, wetter, and cracking into long lines
that form geometric figures—squares, triangles, trapezoids—until the
lake’s surface looks like a gigantic spider’s web.  For movement there is
only the water along the shores, creeping up over the stones.

The evening was cold and gray, with a rising wind that whistled up the
rain.  In the night came both the former and the latter rains and all
other rains between; then Easter Day, warm and blue and beautiful.  As
the Easter lesson sank into my heart, along with the still beauty of sky
and sun and waking life, the first butterfly, emblem of the resurrection,
came forth from his winter sleeping place and fluttered to and fro among
the yellow tassels of the birches.

The years remaining may be many or few for me, but to life’s end I shall
hope to keep some measure of the joy of that one Easter day.  I pray that
I may always remember the tender blue of the arching sky, the white of
the wisps of floating cloud, the gray purple of the spring haze lying
over the forests; its silence and its peace.  Looking out over the
breaking ice, I remembered the story of two boys who lost their lives in
the lake only last summer.  They were forlorn little fellows, held in
bondage by a stupid, tyrannical father.  They had never seen anything
that boys love—neither a circus, nor a picture, nor had ever heard a
band.  They had never been allowed to go even to Frontenac, the county
seat, ten miles away.  All they knew about was work and heavy sleep and
now and then a beating.  But they were boys after all, and one bright day
they slipped away from the harvest field and went to the lake to go
afishing.  Hearing footsteps and fearing their father’s anger, they tried
to escape it.  The younger boy jumped into a rotting punt at the shore
and pushed off on the water.  The elder hid behind a rock.

Out on the lake the old punt filled and began to sink.  The little
fellow, seeing that he was going down and knowing that he could not swim,
called out:

“Good-by, Charley; Good-by, good-by,” his piping child’s voice sang over
the water.

The elder boy heard him and plunged in to his aid.  Both went down, and
when, at last, the grappling hooks brought up the bodies, the brothers
were locked in one another’s arms.

A commonplace story, isn’t it?  Such accidents happen almost every
day—somewhere.  There’s nothing at all in it but childish joy in freedom,
dread of punishment, terror, then love and sacrifice, and, crowning all,
heroic death.  I think of them not as “saints in glory” but as happy
youngsters, trudging, hand in hand the streets of the Eternal City;
seeing, hearing, tasting all the joys that life denied them here.

Resigned to the thought of days and weeks of solitude, I was surprised by
the sound of a long halloo coming from the direction of Blake’s Point.

It was Henry, standing on the extreme end of his land and calling over to
me.  His was the first voice I had heard for days.

“Come down to your point,” he yelled.

Scrambling through the underbrush, sliding from rock to rock, plowing
through bogs, wading through patches of snow, I reached the shore, to see
Jimmie Dodd, trotting cautiously across the ice dragging his little
hand-sled, while Henry directed his way from the point.  The sled held
loaves of bread, a pat of fresh butter—a great bag of mail and a box of
candy and fruit—the Easter greeting from home.  The water was flowing all
round the shore; Jimmie could not come within many feet of the island,
but I waded out on the shelving sand and Jimmie crept as near the edge of
the ice as he dared and tossed the bags to me across the open water.
Then he trotted back again to the farm and I returned to the house to
enjoy my feast alone.

Day followed day, slipping by swiftly, silently.  The first phœbe has
come back and is twitching his tail and screaming his “Phœbe, phœbe,
phœbe,” all day long.

Across the sky, in V-shaped wedges, the geese are flying over.  From ever
so far I can hear their “honk-honk,” telling me why the April moon is the
Goose moon.

The woodchuck, that lives in a hole by the sundial, comes out and waddles
slowly down to the lake’s edge to dip his black muzzle in the water.  He
turns his rat’s face up to the sky, glancing hurriedly from side to side,
his little pig eyes rolling, the white ring of hairs surrounding his
snout standing like a ruff.  He is so fat that his short legs hardly lift
his red-brown breast off the ground, and his bushy tail drags as he goes.
He walks with a rolling waddle, like a bear.  His gray-brown coat is dry
and dusty.

There are hundreds of wide-open clam shells lying on the sand under the
water, pearl side up.  They are the shape and almost the size of the
soles of a pair of baby’s shoes.  When I turned over the skiff, that has
lain on the shore all winter, there was a muskrat’s nest under it.  The
animal had scooped out a hole in the beach, and a pile of clam shells
showed that he had feasted well.

But though all these other small animals are coming out, I am forlorn,
for Peter, the rabbit, has disappeared!  Up and down the island I have
gone, calling him, but he does not come hopping to my feet.  No one will
acknowledge having shot him; indeed, it would be a hard-hearted hunter
that would kill so gentle and so trusting a creature.  So either the
hounds got him or he felt the call of the spring and wandered away to the
woods full of fresh green.  I prefer to think he did that, but I miss him
cruelly.

Here, as in Kipling’s Jungle, spring is the time of new smells.  All
winter there were some good smells—the odor of far-off forest fires; the
fragrance of fresh-cut logs; the not unpleasing, pungent scent of Blake’s
cow stable, that came over the ice to me on the crisp, frosty air, but
now there is a very riot of perfume.  The rotting leaves, the barks of
trees, the swamps and even the rocks themselves, give forth an incense.
The poplars and the birches shake out sweetness from their waving
tassels, the new green fringes of the evergreens are fragrant, soon will
come the odors from wild cherry, basswood, and wild grape in flower, and
the scents of the new ferns, and then I shall go quite wild with delight
and shall long to shout my joy to heaven, as Rufus, the red squirrel, is
doing now.  Far out on a birch limb, in the sun, he is clucking and
chirping away, his plumy tail waving, his whole little tense,
rust-colored body jerking as he gives tongue to his spring ecstasy.

Rufus is not always so harmlessly employed.  He and the phœbes wage
perpetual war over a nestful of eggs under the eaves.  One or other of
the small householders must stand ever on guard against the red robber
that goes like a flash along the beam.  What fluttering of wings, what
scampering of tiny feet, what chattering there is!  But the birds will
win, they put the squirrel to flight every time.

Once again I heard a call from Blake’s point.  This time it was Mary, out
looking for new-born lambs.  Her voice, borne on the wet wind, came clear
over the water between us:

“How are you getting along?”

“Oh, not too bad,” I shouted in the vernacular.

“We think the ice will go out this week.”

“Never,” I screamed.  “At this rate it will last until June.”

“Well, I don’t think it.  We tried to get over to Jackson’s yesterday,
and the middle of the lake was opening so fast we could not make it.”

“I’ll go to the shore every day at noon, and let you see that I am
alive,” I promised.

“All right,” she answered.  “Hang out a white cloth if there’s anything
really wrong, and we’ll try to get over to you somehow.”

And away went Mary, a lamb in her arms, the ewe bleating at her heels.

Then came a day of warm rain, followed by a high wind from the south,
that drove the breaking ice before it and piled great masses of
glistening white fragments on all the beaches.  And, sure enough, on the
next Sunday, the eleventh, Henry Blake and Jimmie Dodd came across in a
boat, the first I had seen in the water for four months.

That morning, when I looked out, instead of the solid floor of ice that I
had seen so long, there was a great stretch of dark and tumbling water,
over which two white gulls wheeled and dipped.  For an instant I was
startled.  I felt as though the island had somehow slipped its moorings
and was being washed away.  Then I realized that the ice was gone and, so
far as I am concerned, gone forever, and that the winter, with its bitter
nights, its long quiet days, its flash of sunlight on silver surfaces,
became as the memory of a dream.



CHAPTER XVI


WHAT is the first wild flower of the spring?  Each of us has his own
first flower.  It varies with the locality and the special season.  Here
it was the hepatica, that lifted its little faintly blushing face from
the edge of a patch of melting snow.  I plucked it, remembering the words
of Old Kate, at Les Rapides: “Ef you pluck yer first flower and kill yer
first snake, you’ll prevail over yer enemies for the comin’ year.”

I did not trouble her poor mind by inquiring: “What if your enemy is also
plucking his first flower and killing his first snake.  Who, then, would
prevail?”

I know of no enemy, but I gathered the hepatica.  Whether I shall kill
the snake remains a matter of doubt.  If it is old Josephine, who will
soon be sunning herself on a flat rock at the bathing beach, I will not.
That snake has been a friend of mine too long.

After the hepatica came the dicentra cucularia, or Dutchman’s breeches—a
wide patch of them, nodding from a shaded ledge of rock, and then the
trillium, lifting its white chalices by thousands through the woods.  If
Saint Patrick had known the trillium, I cannot think that he would ever
have chosen the shamrock as his emblem of the Trinity.  The
golden-throated flower rises three-petaled from a cup of three green
sepals.  Below this is an inch or so of thick, green stem and below that
the leaves, three in a whorl.  So three and three and three says the
plant with every part of its being.

The air is full of the spring songs of birds and the dry whir of
innumerable wings.  A colony of gold finches moved in last night, and
they are singing like hundreds of canaries in the cedars.  “Konker-ree,”
call the redwings over in the meadow.  “Purity-purity,” sings the
bluebird, and “Quick-quick-quick,” snaps the flicker.  Busy brown
sparrows slip through the dry leaves.  On an oak tree the woodpecker is
playing his xylophone, sounding a different note on each branch that he
strikes with his little red hammer.

From the drowned lands come the boom of the frogs and the rattling signal
of the kingfisher, and to-day—the seventeenth of April—I heard the first
call of the returning loons.  The water is very still, with schools of
pin-long striped fishes swimming in the sunny shallows.

The leaves came out in a night.  One evening there was only a purple haze
over the bare twigs, and the next day the swollen buds had burst out into
a very vehemence of leafage, and all the woods were green.  The fields on
the mainland also turned green that day, and on the island the wild
cherry blossoms opened in drifts of white, that loaded all the branches.

With all this newness out of doors, the thought of fresh foods possessed
me and I started forth on a foraging expedition, to find out whether the
hens had waked to their duty, and whether the cows were ready to give
milk again.  Verily I was aweary of tinned milk, stored eggs, and packed
foods of all varieties.  So I took the skiff and started for the
Jacksons’.

The Jackson farmhouse stands on a high hill, commanding the lake.  From
her kitchen door Anna Jackson can see every boat that passes.  Therefore,
long before one comes to shore, she is ready, wearing a frilled tea apron
and a welcoming smile, when the panting visitor comes toiling up the
steep slope from the landing.  To-day the winds were contrary and I took
her unaware, by creeping along the shore in the lee, and Anna, in her
work dress, was digging stones out of the garden.

Grandma Jackson was knitting beside the stove in the sunny kitchen.  A
peddler, a low voiced, dark-eyed young Jew, sat in the corner.  At my
entrance he began unpacking his big oilcloth-covered case, drawing out
aprons, handkerchiefs, shirtwaists, stockings, until the floor was strewn
with its contents.  Every article that one could name seemed stowed away
in that great pack—enough to have stocked a small department store.  When
all had been displayed he began putting them away again.

“That’s all what I got,” he said with a patient smile.  Presently he
shouldered his load and walked away, bending under its weight.  We heard
him coughing as he passed through the gate.

These peddlers begin their travels with the spring, being heralded by the
telephones all along the line.  It seems impossible that they should make
a living, but I suppose they do, for, after being shut in for a long
winter, few women can resist buying a ribbon or some lace when it is
brought to the very door.

“That feller won’t sleep at Joshua White’s to-night,” quoth Grandma
Jackson, watching the stooping figure out of sight.  “All tramps and
peddlers and such like always put up at Joshua’s.  He’d give them all a
supper and a bed.”

But Joshua White died yesterday, and his house was the “wake house” now,
for they still have wakes in this country—when the neighbors gather to
condole with the bereaved, extol the virtues of the deceased, and partake
of supper at midnight, when the whisky and the clay pipes are passed
around.  In this case there would be no difficulty about praising the
dead man.  Joshua White was a man of good standing, and wide charity, a
good neighbor and a kind friend.  The community mourned his loss.

“Joshua was an awful proud man too,” said Grandma.  “Do you think that he
would ever carry a handkerchief with a colored border?  Well, I guess
not.”

At that moment the telephone bell rang.

“Gran,” said Anna, after a moment’s conversation, “Mary wants to know the
age of Alec’s eldest boy.  Can you tell her?”

“I dunno,” answered Mrs. Jackson.  “Let me see.  No, I can’t remember.
Ask Mary haven’t they got some old horse or cow that they can reckon by?
There’s always some old critter on every farm that they counts the young
ones’ ages by.  Alec’s Charley was born the spring they bought old Nance.
They must know how old she is.”

Just then the three Jackson children came in from school, with their bags
of books and little tin dinner pails.  There was no running or shouting;
they sat down quietly at table.  Six-year-old Beryl’s small face was pale
and grave.  She had started that morning at seven o’clock, had walked
four miles to school, had sat all day on a hard bench with her little
feet dangling.  At noon she had eaten her dinner of cold potatoes, “bread
and jell,” cake and pie, and at four o’clock she had started home again,
trudging those four long, muddy miles to a put-away supper.  No wonder
she looked subdued.  She was tired in mind and in her frail, small body,
but she is getting an education.  Beryl is at the head of her class.  She
tells you this with a little grown-up air.

It seems a topsy-turvey thing, this way of keeping schools open during
the winter, when only the children living close to the schoolhouses can
reach them through the snowdrifts and the mud, and closing them in summer
when the roads are good.  I should turn things the other way round, and
give the long holiday in winter; but I am told that my plan would never
do.  The farmers need the children.  So in the rural districts the weeks
spent at lessons are few.  It is only in the spring and fall that the
children can go to school and there is no such thing as “regular
attendance,” that bugbear of public instruction.

After all, I fancy that the youngsters learn as much while they toss the
hay in the clean, hot meadows, or when they drive the cattle along the
shady roads to the lakes, as they would if penned in the little one-room
houses, where some eighteen-year-old girl, just from high school,
struggles with the work of all the grades at once.

This thing of getting an education is a mighty matter in Canada.  The
roads are dotted with schoolhouses, the papers have long columns of
advertisements for teachers, and it is always specified as to whether
Catholic or Protestant is needed.  It seems the dear ambition of each
family to produce at least one teacher, and the Normal School at
Queensport turns them out by the score.  On Monday mornings and Friday
afternoons vehicles of every description travel to and from town, taking
the girls home for Sundays and back for the week’s work.

Students hire a room in Queensport for two dollars a month, and with it
goes the privilege of cooking on the family stove and sitting in a warm
room to study.  Those who live near enough to town bring their food from
home, so food costs them nothing.  Thus they work their difficult way
through to the little country schools.

My neighbor, Mrs. Spellman, is doubly proud, for her two daughters are
teaching, one in Alberta, the other in far-away British Columbia.

“It was hard work to give them their training,” she says.  “Their father
had no patience with the notion of sending them to high school, so he
wouldn’t help.  But I made up my mind that they should have their chance.
They’d not be tied down to a farm all their days, as I’ve been.  Mary, my
eldest, was always such a home girl too.  She wouldn’t hear of leaving me
until I promised that she should come home every week.  There wasn’t
anyone to drive her to town and back but me, but I seen to it that she
got home.  Every Friday noon I’d harness up and go for her, coming back
long after dark.  Every Monday morning I’d be up before day, to feed the
horse and cook breakfast in time to take her back to school again, and
she never was late.  I always had her there by nine o’clock.  Sometimes
the roads were so dark that I’d drive all the way with the reins in my
two hands.  I was afraid to hold them in the one hand lest I should get
them crossed in the darkness and pull the horse out of the road and into
the drifts.  I’d feel sometimes as though my hands was frozen.  But I
never missed a week all those two long years.  When Nellie, my second
girl, went, it wasn’t so hard for me.  The two stayed in Queensport
together, and they didn’t get so homesick.  Yes, it was a hard pull, but
I’d do it all over again, for my children did well.  They stood at the
head of their class.  I’m proud of them when they come home, summers.”

I have often wondered at these little schoolma’ams, with their youth,
their high spirits, and their wholly innocent love of pretty clothes and
beaux and good times.  They have to board at one house and another,
accustoming themselves to all sorts of food, all kinds of families.  They
must toil through rough weather to their work.  They must learn to please
all parents, to conciliate school boards and supervisors.  They must have
sense to steer a difficult way through neighborhood prejudice and to
avoid giving rise to gossip.  A task for a strong woman, it has always
seemed to me, but I wonder no longer that so many succeed in it, since I
know something of the strength of the mothers who stand behind them.



CHAPTER XVII


THE mudcat season has come.  After the winter’s diet of salt herring, and
before the open season for bass and pickerel, comes the mudcat, alias
bullhead, to give us the taste of fresh fish again.  From April fifteenth
until the fifteenth of May is the closed season for pickerel, and from
April fifteenth to June fifteenth it is forbidden to fish for bass, so
now the humble mudcat comes to his own.

Over on the Drapeaus’ shore the men are all skinning bullheads for
market.  They have rigged up a machine that twists off the heads and
strips off the skins at one turn of a handle.  Andy Drapeau dips the fish
out of the live box, Black Jack skins and beheads them, George Drapeau
rakes away the offal, Harry Spriggins and Lewis Drapeau pack the fish in
barrels.  The whole shore reeks of them, the beach is red with their
gore, for your bullhead is a very bloody fish.  He is an ugly
creature—great head, thorny spines, wicked-looking mouth, but he tastes
very good indeed, if one has not seen Black Jack skin him.

I have come in for the usual present, and have to restrain my friends, or
they would give me at least a half barrel.

“Kin you git their inside out, ef I take the hide offen them?” asks Black
Jack.  And I assure him that for the sake of fresh fish I can do
anything.

John Beaulac was not there.  The Beaulac baby—my godson—was “awful sick.”

Later in the day came young Louis to the island to ask for the loan of
some alcohol.  The doctor had seen the child, by chance, as he was
passing through the farm on his way to the lake, and had prescribed a
warm bath and an alcohol rub.  Young Louis’ eyes were big with horror.
To wash a sick child was evidently the same thing as killing it outright.
I supplied the alcohol and, gathering up clean sheets, soft towels, a new
washcloth and talcum powder, took shipping for Loon Lake.

Rose Beaulac sat in the center of a red-hot room, the window shut, the
door shut, every chair, box and square foot of floor space occupied by a
child or a dog, and held the gasping, moaning baby, despair in her face.
One look at its crimson cheeks and glazed blue eyes told me that it was
an ill child indeed.  My thermometer showed a temperature of a hundred
and four when it came out from the burning little armpit.

John stood beside the woodpile and called me as I left the house.

“Was the baby very ill?  Ought he to send for the doctor?”

It was “Yes” to both questions.

Then John did some figuring in his mind.  His beady black eyes stopped
twinkling, his face grew stern and set.  This has been a hard winter for
Jack.  The war stopped the export of mica and the mines have been shut
down.  Last year was a wet season when the hay floated in the meadows and
the grain sprouted in the stooks.  It has been almost impossible to make
ends meet, but if the child needed the doctor—well, he must be called and
he’d be paid somehow.  John left the decision to me.  I must call the
doctor if I thought best.

So away up the lake, three miles to the telephone, I rowed, and the
doctor promised to come the next day.

“Tell John to have a boat at Henderson’s landing for me, at seven-thirty.
I can’t make the fifteen miles there and back over these roads to-night.
Meanwhile keep up the bathing and the alcohol rubs, and tell Rose to keep
that door open.  Don’t forget that.  Tell her that child must have plenty
of air”—an injunction that Dr. LeBaron did not in the least expect to
have obeyed when he gave it; it was merely a part of his general course
of education.

How did those eight people manage to breathe in that stifling room; how
could that ill child survive in that foul atmosphere?  I wondered, as I
laid my weary body down on my clean, cool bed.  And if I were worn out,
what must Rose be, who had sat for three nights with that tossing,
suffering baby in her arms?

Whether the lake is more beautiful in the early morning or at sunset, I
have never been able to determine.  At six o’clock, as I pushed off from
the dock on the blue water, the thrasher’s liquid song followed the
rhythm of the oars.  Out on the open bay the swallows wheeled and dipped
all round the boat, so near that I could have touched their burnished
blue-green backs.  On the beaches the sandpipers ran tipping up and down,
their plaintive piping mingling with the robin’s song.  A gentle breeze
roughened the water and every little ripple that hurried to the shore was
tipped with a winking star.

At Beaulac’s all was in readiness for the doctor.  Rose’s eyes were
glazed with sleeplessness, her face lined with fatigue; but she had found
strength to comb and braid her dark hair, the children’s faces had been
washed, and the baby had been dressed in a little new pink cotton frock.
There was a dishpan full of newly hatched turkeys behind the stove, for
even if one’s child is dying one must try to save the fowl, and there was
a basket of young kittens under the bed.  But Richard, the pet lamb, had
been banished to the meadow and the hounds were tied to the fence.  John
had gone for the doctor.  Mary was alone with the ill child.  She had
done all she could, she could only wait.

“I’m glad you got me his picture,” she said with a piteous little smile
and looking over at a kodak print of the baby that we had taken some
weeks before.  “He’s never been nowheres to have his picture took.  I
guess I’ll be glad of that one.”

Far out on the shining bay we saw the boat returning.  There was only one
figure in it.  John was coming back alone.  The doctor had been stopped
by an accident case; he could not come until evening.  Rose’s lips
trembled, but she made no complaint.  What was the life of one baby when
there were so many, so many that needed the doctor?

Back to the island for my midday meal, back to Loon Bay to meet the
doctor.  This time there were two figures black against the evening sky.
John was rowing with quick jerks of the short, straight oars.  In the
stern sat a bulky shape digging away with a paddle.  Under its weight the
upward pointing bow waved from side to side.  Over the gunwale amidship
came a steady stream of water.  Mrs. LeBaron, the doctor’s wife, crouched
on the bottom, was bailing away for life.

“By gol!” said John, in an aside to me, as the party climbed the hill.
“By gol! but the doctor iss a heavy man.  I thought she was over two,
three times.”

Oh, the method of these country doctors!  There’s no talk of “Call me in
the night if the change should come.”  No promise: “I’ll see you the
first thing in the morning.”  No, Dr. LeBaron only gave his verdict.  The
baby had pneumonia.  The right lung was suffused.  He was a very ill
child, but he might pull through—no one could tell.  And all the time the
doctor’s deft hands were making up powders, counting tablets, measuring
drops.  On every package he wrote the day and the hour the dose was to be
given.  He set down the times for baths and nourishment, he told us what
symptoms we might expect.  He gave his directions over and over again,
slowly, clearly, waiting for a repetition of his words.  There was no
haste, no irritation at our ignorance, only infinite care, infinite
patience.  Then he ordered out the children, the young turkeys and the
cats, shook hands with the mother, stepped into the boat and was rowed
away.  If the child lived, we would not need him again; if it died, we
were to notify him at once, and twice a day he wished me to telephone him
the baby’s temperature, respiration, pulse, and a general account of the
progress of the disease.  And then when excitement was at its height,
someone broke my thermometer, the only one in miles; there was no more
taking of temperatures—and the child got well!

The last time that Dr. LeBaron came to Many Islands it was to treat Harry
Spriggins’ boy, who had cleft his kneecap straight through with an ax.
There was no fire in the house.  The Doctor had to build one and boil a
pan clean before he could sterilize his instruments.  There was no one
willing to help him give an anæsthetic, so he had to sew up that wound
while the boy sat and watched him do it.

“How in the world did the child stand it, Doctor?” I asked.

“Well, it was pretty hard on him,” answered the doctor.  “I told him that
I’d thrash him within an inch of his life if he moved—it was the only
way—and the poor kid gritted his teeth and swore like a trooper all the
time.  But the wound healed perfectly, almost without a scar, and the
joint did not stiffen.”

“You would be quite surprised to know how little charity work I do,”
continued the Doctor, giving me a very direct look from his keen, gray
eyes.  “There are not many bad debts on my books.  The country people pay
remarkably well, all things considered.”

A quick little smile flits over Mrs. LeBaron’s face at his words.  I
imagine she could tell quite another tale.  Doubtless she knows how much
of time and strength and pity is given for which no money can ever pay.

“What do you call charity, Doctor?”

It is not, of course, charity to charge Johnny Bagneau ten dollars for
driving twenty miles through the blinding snow; to sit, through the long
night and half the day, beside the bed where little John makes his
delayed entrance into life; to eat a breakfast of eggs in the shells and
a dinner of potatoes in their jackets, and to stand outdoors in the
bitter cold to eat them, because even the doctor, inured to filth and
foul air, cannot eat in that poor room.

“No, the Doctor does not work for charity,” the people tell me.  “He gits
paid for what he does.”

Younger men come from the hospitals of Toronto and Montreal and hang out
their signs in Queensport for awhile.  They get a percentage of the town
cases.  They do not “go in” for the country practice.

“They young chaps is all very good when there’s nawthin’ much the
matter,” says old Mrs. Drapeau.  “But when it’s anything bad we wants the
old Doctor.”

Yes, that is it.  When danger threatens we want the man we know.  He has
brought us into the world, he has stood by us through life’s trouble.  It
is he who must sit beside us, steadfast amid the gathering shadows, as
the soul starts forth through the darkness of the long trail, to the land
where there shall be no more night.

These country doctors!  Up and down the roads they go, by night and day,
through storm and fair weather, treating everything, operating for
anything, nursing, instructing, overcoming prejudice, performing miracles
of healing despite incredible difficulties.  To meet them is to come face
to face with the eternal realities.  To hear them talk is to listen to a
tale that cuts down deep into the beating heart of life.



CHAPTER XVIII


THE May woods are full of color; the crimson of the young maple sprays,
the bronze and yellows of the new birch and basswood leaves reflecting
the tints of autumn.

The brakes are unclenching their little, woolly brown fists, the new
ferns are uncurling their furry, pale-green spirals.  The dwarf ginseng’s
leaves carpet the damp hollows, from their clusters rise innumerable
feathery balls of bloom.  The little wild ginseng holds its treasure
safe—the small, edible tuber hidden far underground.  There is no
long-nailed Caliban to dig for it here on the island.

The trillium flowers are turning pink.  After about two weeks of snowy
whiteness they have changed to a beautiful rose color, and oh, the
perfume that comes blown across those far-stretching beds of trillium!
No garden of summer roses was ever half so sweet.

On the mainland trail, that winds along the shore from Drapeau’s to
Foret’s, the ground is blue with violets and yellow with adder’s tongue,
straw-colored bell wort and the downy yellow violet.  Wild columbine
beckons from the rocky crannies, Bishop’s cap and Solomon’s seal wave in
the thickets, the wet fence corners are gay with the wine-red flowers of
the wake robin and the tiny white stars of the wild strawberry dot the
meadows.

This is insect time.  The air hums with the whirring wings of the May
flies, eel flies, woolly heads, and the great mosquitoes.  They cling in
clouds on all the window screens, they come into the house by hundreds,
hanging on my clothes and tangled in the meshes of my hair.  The wild
cherry trees are festooned with the webs of the tent caterpillars and the
worms are spinning down on long threads from thousands of teeming
cocoons.  When I walk through the woods I am decorated with a pair of
little, live epaulets.

The treetops are noisy with a convention of bronzed grackles discussing
all sorts of burning questions in their harsh, raucous voices.

“Cheerily, cheerily, cheer-up,” begs a robin in a white pine.

“I see you, I see you,” warns the meadow lark.

“We know it, we know it,” answer the vireos.

The sapsucker is back, beating a tattoo on the house roof.  An empty
wooden box at the door rings like a war drum under the blows of his hard
bill.  On the first morning he waked me I felt a sentimental pleasure in
the sound; it seemed spring’s reveille.  On three successive mornings I
heard him with an ever-decreasing joy.  On the fourth I sprang out of
bed, dazed with sleep, and, seizing a stick from the woodpile, I let fly
at that diligent fowl, and he dashed away with a squawk.  So low may
one’s love of nature ebb at four o’clock in the morning.

To-day, as I was dreaming on the porch, I heard a fat-sounding “plop,”
and saw a yard-long snake hanging in a crotch of a poplar, twisting his
wicked head and lashing his tail.  Immediately a brilliant redstart flew
down and began darting at the reptile’s eyes, screaming and fluttering at
a great rate.  The snake had probably gone up the tree for eggs, only to
be driven down by the small, furious householder.  In a moment more he
slid down the trunk and disappeared under the house.

The snakes on the island are harmless, I am assured.  Therefore I do not
object to this one’s living under the porch, but I hope that he will stay
under it, and that I shall not step into the middle of his coils some day
when he is out sunning himself.  The feel of a live snake under my foot
would throw me back some millions of years and I should become, at once,
the prehistoric female, fleeing in terror from the ancient enemy.

The young rabbits are out, hopping softly down all the paths.  They look
so exactly like the small brown plaster bunnies sold in the shops at
Easter that, when something frightens them and they “freeze” motionless
under a bush or fern, I can scarcely believe that they are not toys,
after all.  Comical little creatures!  They eye me with such solemnity.
I often wonder what makes babies and other young things look so very
wise.  They seem to know such weighty secrets, that all the rest of the
world has long forgotten.

The old hares also are coming round the house again.  One ventures so
near and drives the others away so fiercely that I half believe he is
little Peter returned to me.

Over at the farms the spring sowing is done—the wheat, the barley, and
the oats; and in the long twilights, and under the Planter’s Moon, the
farmers are putting in the last seed potatoes.  Seed planted at the full
of the May moon gives the heaviest crops, they say.

In the furrows, the big dew worms are working up out of the wet ground,
to be bait for the fish hooks.  Here, our object in fishing being to
catch the fish, we use worms, frogs, anything that fish will bite,
leaving flies, spoons, and sportsman devices to the campers who fish
according to science and rule.

Walking along the shore trail yesterday, I came upon Black Jack Beaulac,
sitting on a rock, fishing tackle beside him.  He seemed deep in thought
and I wondered what new deviltry he was hatching there, for Black Jack is
the tease and torment of the countryside.  It is he who starts the good
stories that go the rounds of the stores and firesides, and the slower
wits fly before his tongue like chaff before the fan.

If Black Jack’s tales on the other men are good, theirs of his
performances are quite as well worth hearing.  There is one of the time
when he stole a hogshead of good liquor, and carried it off single-handed
before the wondering eyes of the “Sports” encamped at Les Rapides.  It
was Black Jack who plunged into the icy waters of the lake to the rescue
of the half breed drowning there, and it was he who came to the aid of
poor, terrified Rebecca North, whose husband had gone suddenly deranged
and was running amuck.  The poor crazy giant has never forgotten the
treatment he received at those great hands.  Long after his madness was
past he spoke with awe of Black Jack’s powerful grasp.

Again there is the story of the race on the ice of Henderson’s Bay that
will never lose its flavor.  I heard it from Uncle Dan Cassidy one wet
Sunday afternoon, as we sat round the Blakes’ kitchen fire popping corn
and capping stories.  Uncle Dan has a brogue as thick as cream and a
voice as smooth as butter.  No writer of dialects could ever reproduce
his speech.  Translated, the tale runs thus:

There was to be a great race to which anyone having a horse was welcome.
Yankee Jim Branch, a cousin of Black Jack’s, had an old nag, fit for
little, which he entered by way of a joke.  Black Jack, being temporarily
out of horses, in consequence of some dealing with the local storekeeper
and a chattel mortgage, was not included in the company.  There had long
been a feud between Black Jack and Yankee, so it was considered a good
thing that they were not both to be represented in the contest.

It was a great occasion.  The course was staked out on the ice with
ceremony, little cedar bushes were stuck up to mark the quarter miles,
and there was a flag at the judge’s stand.  William Foret held Joe Bogg’s
big silver stop watch to mark the time, Andy Drapeau had a stump of
pencil and an old envelope on which to record it and the stakes were as
much as two dollars.

The start was made, all horses had run, and the race, oddly enough, lay
between Bogg’s gray and Yankee’s old hack, when—

“Ping!”

A shot sang out from somewhere, far back on the point, and Yankee’s horse
dropped like a stone.  His driver was leaning far out over the wretched
creature’s back, belaboring him with a great gad.  The halt was so sudden
that away he went, straight on over the horse’s head, landing hard on the
ice.  Up he jumped raging, and ran back to the stupified group at the
stand.

“Is any man in the crowd got his gun?” he demanded.

Every man was abundantly able to prove that his gun rested behind the
door of his own cabin.

“Is Black Jack in the crowd?” inquired Yankee.

He was not, and Yankee was immediately convinced that his cousin, Black
Jack, had fired that shot.

Then in the midst of the excitement Black Jack himself appeared, striding
unconcernedly down the hill.  He had been hidden among the bushes, far
back on the point, and, unable to endure the thought of Yankee’s bragging
if his horse should win, had raised his gun and shot the wretched animal,
at the very instant of victory, and when, in Yankee’s mind, the two
dollars was as good as spent.

History does not tell what Yankee did to get even.  Probably nothing, for
no one in the countryside cares to interfere with Black Jack.  He is
known as a man of his hands and a good person to let alone.

All this and more I remembered when I saw Jack sitting on the shore.  But
he was not wearing his usual devil-may-care swagger and cheerful grin.
Instead, his square, dark face was grim, his great shoulders were bent,
his long arms hung relaxed and his black eyes gazed moodily over the
water.  He looked tired and gaunt and gray.  Presently he rose heavily
and, without seeing me, strode off to his boat, stepped in and rowed away
and the next I heard of him, he had enlisted and was off to Valcartier to
learn to be a soldier.

Following his example went Little John Beaulac and his son Louis, to the
despair of poor Rose, and later, Charley McDougal and George Drapeau.

“It’s the meal ticket with those fellows,” commented Henry Blake.  “What
do they know about this war?  They don’t even know what they’ll be
fighting for.  No, it’s the money they’re after.  The mines are not
working, there’s little or no wood-cutting to be done, and they’re up
against it for food.  Jack thinks that he’ll get a pension for his woman
and a bounty for each one of the kids.  The recruiting sergeants get so
much a head for every man they bring in and so, of course, they promise
these poor fellows anything.  But they find out different after they’ve
enlisted.  Black Jack’ll never stick at it.  He’ll desert, and if he does
they’ll never catch him.  He’s here to-day and fifty miles away across
the hills to-morrow.  He travels like a mink, Black Jack does.”

Poor Jack!  He will find the restraint of barracks and drill intolerable,
he who has never known any law but his own will.  Will he stand the life?
I wonder.



CHAPTER XIX


NOVEMBER’S moon is said to be the Indian’s Moon of Magic, but here the
June moon is the wonder moon and “the moon of my delight.”  It sails
resplendent in a luminous sky, pouring its brightness down on a lake that
gleams like a silver shield.  Its beams rain down through the leaves in a
drenching flood of light, to lie in shining pools on the mossy ground.
It illuminates the hidden nooks of the forest, it makes the stems of the
birches look like slender columns of white marble, and the woods are so
bright that half the flowers forget to shut their eyes, and stay wide
open through the night.  Slender, tall irises stand like ghost flowers in
the swamps; the thousand little bells of the false lily of the valley—the
Canada May Flower—swing in the breezes that run along the ground, and on
the low, south point of the island the rushes rattle stiffly and bow
their heads as the wind passes over them.  They are the Equisetum, the
Horsetail rush, known to the Pilgrim housewives as scouring rushes, with
which they used to clean their pots and pans.

Mary Blake tells me that she has used them and that the flinty, hollow
stems are excellent kettle cleaners.  They do not suggest anything so
prosaic here in the white moonlight—rather they make me think of small
silver spears held upright in the hands of a fairy troop, the small,
green yeomen of the forest, on guard through the white night.

There is great rushing and scurrying in the underbrush, for the deer
mice, the rabbits, and other small folk of the forest are awake and
active.  The birds too are wakeful and chirp answers chirp from one nest
to another all through the night.

This is going to be a good bird year judging from the number of broken
egg shells—blue, cream, speckled—that are cast from the nests to the
ground.  There is a continuous sound of faint, wheezing cries, the voices
of nestlings, begging for food.

A pair of robins have plastered their mud nest on a beam of the porch
roof, a red-eyed vireo has hung her birch bark cradle in a low bush under
the kitchen window, some phœbes have built on the lintel of the house
door.  It seems impossible that so small a nest can hold so many
squirming little bodies as must belong to all those upstretched, gaping
yellow bills.  The parent phœbes do not hesitate about telling me in good
round terms just what they think of me when I go too near their home, but
the robins do not scold me, they only go off to a bush and mourn.  The
vireo cares not at all for anybody, but sits tranquil on her eggs and
eyes me fearlessly.

I have seen a whippoorwill’s nest, a thing, I am told, that few people
ever find.  It lies on the ground under the shelter of cedar poles that
serves John Beaulac for a wagon shed, and is so directly in the path of
the horses’ hoofs that I wonder it has not been trampled into the mold.
John’s small daughter, Sallie May, led me to it, and, as we approached, a
dark, slenderly trailing bird slid away through the underbrush, leaving
her two furry balls of nestlings rolling helplessly on the dry leaves of
their bed.  They were about half the size of young chickens and were
covered with thick down of a red clay color that had so fiery and vital a
glow that it made me think of live coals showing through the ashes.  We
took one look and hurried away lest the whippoorwill mother should become
frightened and forsake her nest, and two sweet and plaintive bird voices
be lost from the evening chorus.

At Beaulac’s, where I stopped on the homeward way, a lively discussion
was going forward.  The Bishop of Ontario was coming to Sark, for the
first time in many years, to hold service and to confirm, and there was
much speculation about who would join the English Church.

“I’m a goin’ to be a Catholic,” announced poor Ishmael, the half-wit,
peering out from a dim nook behind the stove.

“They tells me the priest kin cure the fits,” he went on, hopefully, “but
he won’t do it fer you lessen you bees a Catholic, so I’m a goin’ to jine
his church.”

“I favors the Baptists, ef I favors any,” observed Bill Shelly, the
frogger.

Whereupon John Beaulac retorted cruelly, that “We’d ought to send fer the
preacher quick and have Bill dipped right off the dock, clothes and all,”
further explaining that the suggestion was made in view of Bill’s general
appearance and his boast that he had not touched water since early in the
previous summer, and then only because he had “fell in.”

Bill, so far from being offended, took this witticism in excellent part,
joining uproariously in the laugh that followed it.

For the rest of that week, telephones were busy calling a congregation.
I was invited to drive to church in Mrs. Swanson’s spring wagon, and
reached her farm by a devious route on the great day.  I rowed across the
half mile that lies between the island and the nearest point of mainland
and walked the wood trail from Drapeau’s to Foret’s.  There William’s
motor boat was waiting to ferry me across the lake and up Blue Bay to the
Swan-sons’ landing.

Here also there was a flutter of excitement, for Susie Dove was going to
be confirmed.

Clarence Nutting too had wished to be of the class, but at the last
moment it had been remembered that he had never been baptized.  As
baptism must precede confirmation the Rector, amid the hurry and work of
entertaining the Bishop and conveying him to and from the several
churches where there were to be services, had been diligently striving to
come up with Clarence to baptize him.

But each time he searched for him Clarence was away, either in a distant
field or over in the next township, and so the Rector never caught him,
and when the service commenced poor Clarence sat humbly at the side of
the church with the men, and could not come forward.

There was no trouble about little Susie.  Her case was entirely clear.
Her new dress and white veil were spread forth on the spare room bed for
display and admiration; her hair was plaited in innumerable tight
pigtails as a prelude to subsequent frizzes.

Susie looked quiet and subdued.  There was a frightened expression in her
china-blue eyes.  She could eat no dinner, she could not even taste her
pie, and soon she and Mrs. Swanson retired to dress.  On the way to
church Susie sat silent, clutching her new Prayer Book in a moist and
trembling hand.  On the homeward drive she confided to me that she had
been very afraid of the Bishop.

“I knew my Commandments,” she assured me, “but I was not so certain about
the creed, and I was afeared lest the Bishop should ask me some hard
questions.”

Her face then was radiant.  The Bishop had been kind and had asked no one
any hard questions, and so this little one had not been put to confusion.

The church at Sark is old and falling to pieces but it looked lovely that
day.  Each window sill held a plant in bloom, its tin can covered with
gay, flowered wall paper—geraniums, fuchsias, patience plants—the
ornaments of many a parlor.  Each window framed a picture of soft,
rolling meadows, fruit trees in bloom, homesteads nestled in the hollows,
and, over all, stretches of blue sky, flecked with wisps of floating
vapor.  In the center of the church sat the group of ten or a dozen
candidates for confirmation.  Through the misty veils their young faces
looked out, awed and grave and very sweet.  There had been a great
disappointment for little Mary Spellman, for her veil had not come from
town with the rest.  She looked like a gentle little nun, with a square
of plain white muslin laid over her flaxen head.  Most of these girls
will not wear bridal dress at their weddings, so confirmation is the one
great occasion in their lives when they can put on the dignity and the
mystery of the veil.

“Defend, O Lord, this thy child with thy heavenly grace”—The words seemed
to reach me from a great way off, repeated each time the Bishop laid his
hands on a bowed head.  The Bishop’s voice was kind, his tone gentle
when, his sermon finished, he turned from the congregation to deliver his
charge to the class.  I do not remember much of what he said, but I have
not forgotten his manner.  It seemed to me, listening, that he must feel
a peculiar tenderness for these little cut-off country parishes.

After service I was led forward to be presented to his Lordship.  He said
that he had heard of “the lady from the Southern States who was living
alone at Many Islands.”  I could not help feeling that the Episcopal eye
regarded me with a certain suspicion, as one not quite right in her
mind—which supposition was, I fear, confirmed by my own behavior, for
when Mrs. Rector said: “My Lord, I wish to present Miss X. to you,” the
unaccustomed sound of the title, and my own total ignorance of the proper
mode of addressing one called “My Lord,” gave me a foolish, flustered
manner that must have betrayed me.

We locked the silent church, stripped of its flowers and white-robed
girls, and drove along the tree-shaded roads to the shore, where the
motor boat was waiting.  The water was so still and so clear that we
could see every rock and pebble lying a dozen feet below.  We passed over
schools of big fish, bass and pickerel, hanging suspended in a crystal
medium.  Between the sheer walls of the Loon Lake Portage the sun was
going down in a lake of gold and the rocks were purple and red in its
glow.

I walked the home trail slowly, lingering in the falling dusk.  The odors
of the cedars, hemlocks, and basswoods came to me mingled with the wet
smell from the bogs and the perfume of the tiny twin trumpets of the
partridge vine, twining the damp moss.  I came out of the dimness of the
woods to the path worn along the grass of meadows starred all over with
myriads of misty little globes, the seed heads of the dandelions.  I
pushed the row boat off on the quiet water, and drifted while “the moth
hour went from the fields.”  The sky was bright with the rising moon as I
climbed the island path.  There was great scurrying of rabbits in the
underbrush and away in the misty thickets the whippoorwills were calling.



CHAPTER XX


IT is wild strawberry time in lower Canada.  The fields are carpeted with
them and the fern-covered rocks hold each a little garden where the red
berries hang over the water like rubies in a setting of clustered leaves.
The birds are feasting royally and I walk along the edges of the meadows,
gathering handfuls of the ripe fruit.  No one is at home any more.  When
I stop at a house the women have all gone a-berrying.  Thousands of
quarts go off to the markets, or are cooked here into jellies and jam,
for the delicacy of the winter is wild strawberry preserve.  I had it
every time I went out to tea.  Now they give me strawberry shortcake and,
O how good it is!  No garden fruit can compare, in sweetness or perfume,
with the little wild berry of the fields.

Not all my friends go berrying every day, however.  Yesterday I was
kneeling on the dock busy washing my clothes, when a heavily laden motor
boat, with a row boat in tow, rounded the point and headed for the
island.  In it were Mary Blake, Mrs. Swanson, Anna Jackson, and Jean
Foret.  Rose Beaulac and Granny Drapeau sat in the little boat behind and
all space not filled by women of ample build, was piled high with pails
and baskets.

“We’ve come to spend the day,” they hailed me.  “Don’t get scared, we’ve
brought our dinners along.”

“Dinner or no dinner, I am glad to see you,” I called back, waving an
apron in welcome.

“We knew this would be our last chance to have a visit with you before
the campers come, so we’ve come to have a picnic.”

Ah!  What a happy, friendly day!  These women—busy heads of households,
women of affairs—laid aside their cares, forgot their responsibilities
and enjoyed their party with the simplicity of children.  And how good
was the chicken, brought already cooked in a shining pail, and the cakes
and pies in the baskets!  Mrs. Swanson had journeyed in to Sark to buy
candy, and all that the store there boasted was the dear old candy of our
childhood, little chocolate boys and girls and rabbits, sugar hearts with
mottoes, jaw-breakers and pep’mint sticks.

We sat long at the big table on the porch.  We talked and talked, or,
rather, they talked; I listened, marking the shrewdness of their
deductions, the keenness of their comment, the kindliness of their
judgments.  I heard all about the fine new store at Frontenac and the
bargains one and another had found.  They described the magnificence of
the yearly celebration there when the Orangemen walk in procession.  They
told me that this year Joey Trueman, the storekeeper, had not scrupled to
set off a whole twenty-three dollars’ worth of fireworks by way of
advertisement.

We explored the scant five acres of the island, peeping in at the doors
of the little summer sleeping shacks, all swept and furnished for the
campers, and then, in the pleasant languor of the afternoon, I brought
out my stack of photographs and told all about my homefolk.

For I too have formed the photo-displaying habit of this neighborhood, a
friendly, kindly custom that makes one free at once of the home and all
the family.  I have never gone visiting here without being at once
presented with the album.  Many a time has my hostess hurried in from the
kitchen to ask: “Has Miss X. seen the pictures yet?”

Big, unmercifully true-to-life crayon likenesses of grandparents stare
down from all the parlor walls—ancestral portraits.  There are
photographs of all the brides and grooms and babies, snapshots of sons
fighting “somewhere in France,” of daughters gone out to make homes of
their own on the far-off frontier, and there are the faces of those lying
safe under the cedars in the little graveyards close at home.  I have
heard the life stories of all, and so it seems quite natural for me to
hand out my pictures too.

As evening drew on and milking time approached, my guests gathered
together pails and baskets and, as we walked single file along the trail
to the dock, I tried to say something of what lies in my heart about all
the kindness they had shown me in the year gone by, but the lump that
rose in my throat choked back the words.  They climbed into their boats,
that sank to the gunwales under their weight, and I watched them away
across the purple water.

My holiday is over.  In a very few weeks I must go back to the city and
take up my work—the same, yet never again to be the same.  Here in the
quiet of the woods I am trying to take stock of all that this year has
done for me.

It has given me health.  I have forgotten all about jerking nerves and
aching muscles.  I sleep all night like a stone; I eat plain food with
relish; I walk and row mile after mile; I work rejoicing in my strength
and glad to be alive.

There has been also the renewing of my mind, for my standards of values
are changed.  Things that once were of supreme importance seem now the
veriest trifles.  Things that once I took for granted, believing them the
common due of mankind—like air and sunshine, warm fires and the kind
faces of friends—are now the most valuable things in the world.  What I
have learned here of the life of birds and beasts, of insects and trees
are the veriest primer facts of science to the naturalist—to me they are
inestimably precious, the possessions of my mind, for, like Chicken
Little, “I saw them with my eyes, and heard them with my ears.”  And I
shall carry away a gallery of mind-pictures to be a solace and
refreshment through all the years to come.

The camp is ready for its owner.  I have spent many hours in cleaning,
arranging, replacing, that she may find all as she left it ten months
ago.  The island lies neat and fair in the sunshine, reminding me of a
good child that has been washed and dressed and seated on the doorstep to
wait for company.  Never have the woods looked so fair to me, or the wide
lake, where the dragonflies are hawking to and fro over the water, so
beautiful.

This is dragonfly season.  Millions of them are darting through the
air—great green and brown ones with a wing-spread of three to four
inches; wee blue ones, like lances of sapphire light; little inch-long
yellow ones, and beautiful, rusty red.

To-day I spent three hours on the dock watching one make that wonderful
transition from the life amphibious to the life of the air.  Noon came
and went, food was forgotten while that miracle unfolded there before my
very eyes.

I was tying the boat, when I saw what looked like a very large spider,
crawling up from the water and out on a board.  It moved with such effort
and seemed so weak that I was tempted to put it out of its pain.  But if
I have learned nothing else in all these months in the woods, I have
thoroughly learned to keep hands off the processes of nature.  Too often
have I seen my well-meant attempts to help things along end in disaster.
So I gave the creature another glance and prepared to go about my
business, when I noticed a slit in its humped back, and a head with
great, dull beads of eyes pushing out through the opening.  Then I sat
down to watch, for I realized that this was birth and not death.

Very slowly the head emerged and the eyes began to glow like lamps of
emerald light.  A shapeless, pulpy body came working out and two feeble
legs pushed forth and began groping for a firm hold.  They fastened on
the board and then, little by little and ever so slowly, the whole insect
struggled out, and lay weak, almost inanimate, beside the empty case that
had held it prisoner so long.

Two crumpled lumps on either side began to unfurl and show as wings.  The
long abdomen, curled round and under, like a snail-shell, began to uncurl
and change to brilliant green, while drops of clear moisture gathered on
its enameled sides and dripped from its tip.  The transparent membrane of
the wings, now held stiffly erect, began to show rainbow colors, as they
fanned slowly in the warm air, and, at last, nearly three hours after the
creature had crept out of the water, the great dragon-fly stood free,
beside its cast-off body lying on the dock.  And

   “Because the membraned wings,
      So wonderful, so wide,
   So sun-suffused, were things
      Like soul and nought beside.”

Certain stupendous phrases rose in my mind and kept sounding through my
thoughts.

“Behold, I show you a mystery.  We shall not all sleep, but we shall all
be changed.”

There it stood, that living jewel, growing every moment more strong, more
exquisite, waiting perhaps for some trumpet call of its life.  Suddenly
it stiffened, the great wings shot out horizontally, and with one joyous,
upward bound, away it flashed, an embodied triumph, out across the
shining water, straight up into the glory of the sun.

When I came to myself I was standing a tiptoe gazing up after it, my
breath was coming in gasps and I heard my own voice saying: “It is sown
in weakness, it is raised in power. . . .  Thanks be to God, which giveth
us the victory.”

Then, standing there under those trees, clothed in their new green and
upspringing to the sky, and beside the lake, where the young ferns troop
down to the water’s edge, valiant little armies with banners, there came
to me one of those strange flashes of understanding, that pierce for an
instant the thick dullness of our minds, and give us a glimpse of the
meaning of this life we live in blindness here.

I had seen those woods, all bare and dead, rise triumphant in a glorious
spring.  I had seen that lake grow dark and still and lie icebound
through the strange sleep of winter.  Its water now lay rippling in the
sun.

Since my coming to Many Islands, one year ago, the Great War has broken
forth, civilization has seemed to die, and the hearts of half the world
have gone down into a grave.

But even to me has come the echo of the Great Voice that spoke to John,
as he stood gazing on a new heaven and new earth:

“I am the beginning and the end,” it said.  “Behold I make all things
new.”





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