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Then Hendrick rose, and, looking round the circle with that grave dignity of countenance and manner which was not less natural to himself than characteristic of his Indian friends, delivered himself as follows:--
"I and my friends are glad that Bearpaw recognises the hand of the Great Spirit in all that has occurred, for we rejoice to believe that He is the great First Cause of all things, and that men are only second causes, gifted, however, with the mysterious power to do evil.
"In thanking my Bethuck brother and his warriors for their kind invitation--I speak for all my party--we are all grateful, and we would greatly like to spend the winter here, and enjoy the hospitality of our red brothers. Especially would my friend Paul Burns rejoice to read more to you from his wonderful writing, and explain it; but we cannot stay. My paleface brothers wish to return with me to Crooked Lake, where the sweet singer and her little ones await the return of the hands that feed and protect them."
Hendrick, pausing, looked round and received some nods of approval at this point.
"The winter is long, however," he continued, "and when the snow is deep over all the land we can put on our snow-shoes and revisit Bearpaw; or, better still, Bearpaw and his warriors may come to Crooked Lake, when the sweet singer and her daughter will give them hearty welcome, supply them with more food than they can consume, and cause their ears and hearts to thrill with music."
Hendrick paused again, and decided marks of approval greeted his last words.
"But, my friends and kinsmen," he resumed, "when winter draws to a close, the palefaces will go to the coast to see how it fares with their comrades, and to try whether it is not possible for them to make a big canoe in which to cross the great Salt Lake, for some of them have wives and mothers, sisters, fathers, and other relations whom they love, in the mighty land that lies far away where the sun rises--the land of my own fathers, about which I have often talked to you. If they cannot make a big enough canoe, they will wait and hope till another great canoe, like the one they lost, comes to this island--as come it surely will, bringing many palefaces to settle in the land."
"When they come they shall be welcome," said Bearpaw, as Hendrick sat down, "and we will hunt for them till they learn to hunt for themselves; we will teach them how to capture the big fish with the red flesh, and show them how to track the deer through the wilderness--waugh! But will our guests not stay with us till the hard frosts set in?"
"No; we must leave before the deep snow falls," said Hendrick. "Much of that which fell lately has melted away; so we will start for Crooked Lake without further delay."
The Indian chief bowed his head in acquiescence with this decision, and the very next day Paul and the captain and Oliver, with their rescued comrades and Strongbow, set out for Hendrick's home, which they reached not long after, to find that all was well, that the old Indian servant had kept the family fully supplied with fish, flesh, and fowl; that no one had visited the islet since they left, that the sweet singers were in good voice; and that the family baby was as bright as ever, as great an anxiety to its mother, and as terrible a torment to its idolising nurse!
Among others who took up their abode at that time on the hunter's islet was the large dog Blackboy. That faithful creature, having always had a liking for Hendrick, and finding that the old master and mistress never came back, had attached itself to the party of palefaces, and quietly accepted the English name of Blackboy.
Now, it is impossible, with the s.p.a.ce at our command, to recount all the sayings and doings of this section of the _Water Wagtail's_ crew during that winter: how they built a hut for themselves close to that of their host; how they learned to walk on snowshoes when the deep snow came; how, when the lake set fast and the thick ice formed a highway to the sh.o.r.e, little Oscar taught Oliver Trench how to cut holes through to the water and fish under the ice; how hunting, sledging, football, and firewood-cutting became the order of the day; supping, story-telling, singing, and reading the ma.n.u.script Gospel according to John, the order of the evening, and sleeping like tops, with occasional snoring, the order of the night, when the waters were thus arrested by the power of frost, and the land was smothered in snow. All this and a great deal more must be left untold, for, as we have said, or hinted, or implied before, matters of greater moment claim our attention.
One night, towards the close of that winter, Paul Burns suggested that it was about time to go down to the coast and visit their comrades there.
"So say I," remarked Grummidge, who at the time was feeding the baby, to the grave satisfaction of Blackboy.
"Sure, an' I'm agreeable," said Squills, who was too busy feeding himself to say more.
As Little Stubbs, George Blazer, Fred Taylor, and David Garnet were of the same opinion, and Hendrick had no objection, except that Trueheart, Goodred, and Oscar would be very sorry to part with them, and the family baby would be inconsolable, it was decided that a start should be made without delay.
They set out accordingly, Hendrick and Strongbow alternately leading, and, as it is styled, beating the track, while the rest followed in single file. It was a long, hard journey, but our travellers were by that time inured to roughing it in the cold. Every night they made their camp by digging a hole in the snow under the canopy of a tree, and kindling a huge fire at one end thereof. Every morning at dawn they resumed the march over the snow-clad wilderness, and continued till sun-down. Thus, day by day they advanced, living on the dried meat they carried on their backs, and the fresh meat and ptarmigan they procured with bolt and arrow. At last they reached the coast.
It was a clear, sharp, starry night when they arrived at Wagtail Bay, with an unusually splendid aurora lighting them on their way. Anxious forebodings filled the b.r.e.a.s.t.s of most of the party, lest they should find that their comrades had perished; but on coming in sight of the princ.i.p.al hut, Oliver exclaimed, "There's a light in the window, and smoke coming from--hurr--!"
He would have cheered, but Grummidge checked him.
"Shut up your hatchway, lad! Let us see what they are about before goin' in."
They all advanced noiselessly, Grummidge leading, Strongbow bringing up the rear. The hut had two windows of parchment, which glowed with the light inside, but through which they could not see, except by means of one or two very small holes, to which eager eyes were instantly applied.
A most comfortable scene was presented, and jovial sounds smote the ears of those who listened. As far as they could make out every man of the crew was there, except, of course, Big Swinton and Jim Heron. Some were playing draughts, some were mending nets or fashioning bows, and others were telling stories or discussing the events of the past day.
But a great change for the better was perceptible both in words and manners, for some of the seed which Paul Burns had let fall by the wayside, had, all unexpectedly, found good ground in several hearts, and was already bearing fruit. d.i.c.k Swan and Spitfire no longer quarrelled as they played together, and Bob Crow no longer swore.
"Heigho!" exclaimed the latter at the end of a game, as he stretched his arms above his head, "I wonder if we'll ever play draughts in Old England or see our friends again!"
"You'll see some of 'em to-night, anyhow, G.o.d bless ye, Bob Crow," cried Grummidge, as he flung open the door and sprang in, while his snow-sprinkled comrades came tramp, tramp, in a line behind him!
Who can describe that meeting as they shook hands, gasped, exclaimed, laughed--almost cried; while Blackboy leaped around wildly joyful at the sight of so many old friends? We will not attempt it; but, leaving them there, we will conduct the reader down to a small creek hard by, where a curious sight may be seen--a small ship on the stocks nearly finished, which will clearly be ready to launch on the first open water.
From the wreck of the old ship, tools, and timber, and cordage had been recovered. The forests of Newfoundland had supplied what was lacking.
Ingenuity and perseverance did the rest. Need we add that the work went on merrily now that the wanderers had returned?
Hendrick stayed with them till the little ship was launched. With a pleased yet sorrowful expression he watched as the eager men tested her stability and her sailing powers, and rejoiced with them on finding that she worked well and answered to her helm smartly.
"Good-bye, friends, and G.o.d watch over you and me till that day after which there shall be no more partings," he said, as they all shook hands for the last time.
He was left standing beside his Indian friend on the rocks when the _Morning Star_ finally set sail. The tall forms of the two men were still visible when the little vessel rounded the neighbouring headland and turned its prow towards England. They stood there sadly watching the lessening sails till the ship became a mere speck on the horizon and finally disappeared.
Then Hendrick slowly re-entered the forest, and, followed by Strongbow, returned to his own home in the beautiful wilderness of Newfoundland.