quiet, resolute voice was reading some words written
on a piece of crumpled paper, and as it went on it seemed to mingle in
cadence and in rhythm with the dip of the paddles and the whispered lap of
water as it rippled by. Then the reader raised his head and smiled into
attentive faces turned towards him.
'Some day those words will be recorded,' he said, 'as a memorial of our endurance and our faith.'
'Our faith in what, Father?' asked a girl's clear voice, while from the others arose a sigh. And the man answered promptly:
'Our faith in the Empire, which we of Great Britain are even now creating, and at such a cost.'
The girl sighed again. Her lovely eyes glanced along the inhospitable, tree-girt banks on either side of the river, and though her slender arms never faltered as they wielded the paddle, it was evident she was weary, or all unused to the task.
Just then one of the other passengers crouching behind her spoke. 'Pass the paddle to me, Frances Rebecca, for I perceive you are weary and your arms must be aching.'
But the girl shook her head. 'Not so, Mother mine. Mine arms can support an ache better than yours. And since we must leave New England, and all our nice things, and - and' - here her voice broke, then she continued resolutely - 'and all our friends, itis fitting that I, with the others, should become accustomed to the hardships of the pioneers.'
'Then let me have the paddle,' offered a younger girl, who, with honey-coloured hair blowing in the wind, and wide blue eyes, had been listening to all of this.
'Do you think you are strong enough, Cynthia Elizabeth?' questioned the father, pausing in his own steady stroke, a slightly amused smile crossing his worn face. 'Remember, 'twill blister your hands sorely.'
'Am I not also a Loyalist Daughter?' answered the child, with a toss of the wind-blown curls. 'Come sister Rebecca, the paddle: you are like to drop with weariness.'
'Measure the stroke to mine, then,' cautioned the father, steadying the canoe with practised hands, as the young girl wriggled gingerly into position, 'and Stanley James - my son - do not do that again, or you will have us all, including our few poor goods, at the bottom of the river.'
This last remark was addressed to a well-grown lad of about nine, who had made a leap upright in the boat, and had been seized and dragged back just in time by his watchful mother.
He subsided at once, staring ruefully at the few bundles their badly overloaded canoe contained.
'Are those things all we have now?' he demanded, his childish voice shrill with amazement. 'Why where is my rocking-horse, and the big silver tea-urn I used to see my face in? And where is Mother's silk dress, that she wore at the grand parties when all the people came in rustling? And where is my pretty velvet suit, and the shoes with silver buckles that I wore on -'
'Gone, gone, - all gone,' interrupted the elder girl, looking over her shoulder, for she was lying back now in the bottom of the boat.
And Cynthia Elizabeth, with a sudden jerk of the paddle, splashed water over her brother and reproved him sharply. 'Have you forgotten so soon, addlepate, what Father read just now? We have left all those things behind - all the parties, the friends, the silver tea-urn, the rocking-horse - because we are proud to be United Empire Loyalists, and we do it all for England's sake.'
'What is England?' he demanded, the memory of his lost rocking-horse evidently rankling - 'what is England, that I should have to leave my rocking-horse for her?'
Cynthia Elizabeth glanced round severely, but it was the father who answered, and very quietly: 'England is our Mother Country, my son, and some day you will be glad you loved her enough to give all you had for her, just as we are doing now.'
The little fellow's eyes grew round with astonishment. 'Do countries have mothers the same as people?' he cried, and his father nodded.
Then Frances Rebecca raised her sweet, tired face from her impoverished pillow and, smiling into her small brother's eyes, asked gently:
'And Stanley, wouldn't you give up everything you ever had for our mother, if she needed it - even the rocking-horse?'
The little fellow stared dumbly first at his sister, then into the pale, worn face of his silent mother. He looked from that to her blistered hands, her soiled dress, then, 'Yes, yes, oh yes!' he cried, and dropping his head into her lap, began to sob.
The others paddled on silently through the afternoon heat, until Stanley's sobs grew less beneath the whispered comfort, and presently he slept.
Rebecca raised her head again, 'Poor Mother,' she said, gazing tenderly at the older woman. 'And she is the only one who hasn't complained, yet she must be weary and uncomfortable and just as sad as we are.'
But the mother smiled and shook her head. 'Why should I complain?' she demurred. 'And indeed I am not poor nor sad. On the contrary, I am rich and happy!'
'Rich! Happy!' ejaculated the others, and the paddles paused a fraction in their stroke.
But the lady nodded and went on.
'Yes, I am rich, in that I have children who are willing to give up all creature comforts for honour's sake, who would try not to mind about a lost rocking-horse, even though they weep. I am happy in the courage of my husband and my dear girls, who would endure the dislike of those they loved as friends, all for the sake of what they believe to be right. Such are more valuable to me than silver tea-urns, my daughters, and if our beloved England ever becomes as proud a Mother of Countries as I am of my children, then she will have cause for pride indeed. Cynthia Elizabeth, you are all unsed to the task. Let me take the paddle now. No? Well then, my husband, can we not rest from paddling for a little while, and let the river bear us on its breast?'
'If we do, the current will carry us downstream again,' he answered, ' and I am really anxious to be in sight of Cataraqui this night. But ship your paddle, Cynthia Elizabeth; for a while I can manage alone.'
'Surely we cannot be far from Cataraqui,' said the lady, glancing from side to side at the tree-covered islets between which their craft threaded its course. 'It seems to me we have passed thousands of these tiny blobs of land.'
'Maybe so,' returned her husband, with a nod, 'and directly we sight the clear water of Ontario, why then -- Hullo! What's that?'
A shrill 'Halloo!' broke on their ears, to be repeated and repeated, accompanied by irregular, splashy strokes, as of an ill-managed canoe. Then round the jagged point of a wooded island nosed a large craft, bobbing perilously, and managed apparently by one lone paddler, a boy, who was obviously not equal to the task.
'Holloa there!' shouted the father, while the rest of the family sat upright, Stanley James yawning and rubbing his eyes, then pausing to stare with the rest.
The paddle was lifted, waved frantically, and across the stretch of water came the shrill cry, ' Help!'
They sprang into action. Cynthia Elizabeth forgot her weariness, Frances Rebecca caught up a third paddle, and soon they were skimming across the distance in the direction of the stranger boat. As they drew near they saw it was indeed guided by one lone paddler, a boy of about thirteen, and the only other occupant in sight was an aged Indian woman, who was bending over a bundle in the stern and crooning dolefully.
Suddenly the boy shipped his paddle, and with a white, set face, and a struggle because of its weight, set a musket into position.
'Come no nearer,' he called, his shrill voice quivering, his eyes wide, 'till ye declare whether ye be friend or foe!'
But the quick eyes of the Loyalists had seen much. 'Put down that weapon, lad,' called the man reassuringly. 'No foe are we, but John Hamilton, with his wife and family late of New England, loyal to the Empire, on our way to make a home in Upper Canada, where we can raise the British flag.'
At this the Indian woman raised her head and made frantic gestures of appeal, and the lad lowered the musket and cried piteously, 'Then, oh, Mr. Hamilton, help me, help me! I am Jimmie Nelson. We come from New England, too - all of us. But now there's only Mother and Slow Deer here, and - and my little baby sister, who was born a week ago.'
Without loss of time the Hamilton canoe drew alongside, to find stark tragedy, even as Jimmie had said. Mrs. Nelson and her baby lay in the bottom of the boat, wrapped all too inadequately in one blanket and some half-dried grass. The poor woman was delirious from exposure or shock, and the faithful squaw, fear written in her sloe-black eyes, was trying to crush a little wild fruit into a drink and cool it for the sufferer, while the lad, his bare feet blistered and his hands rubbed raw and red, had evidently been attempting a man's work without even proper tools.
'Where is your father, John Nelson, and where is your big brother Buck?' demanded Father Hamilton after they had encamped upon the shore of what is now Wolfe Island, and Mother Hamilton and her daughters were busying themselves in caring for the sick woman and her baby.
'Did you know him, sir?' asked Jimmie, looking up from where Cynthia, all compassion, was bathing his injured feet.
'Why, certainly I knew him. We were cronies in the old days, and strolled together much on Boston Wharf. He was steadfast to the Empire, I know, even as I am, but I thought he left long ago, and was safe in Canada ere this. Jimmie lad, surely he is not dead, and Buck too, and you and your mother --'
But here Jimmie's courage gave away, and he became a frightened little boy, sobbing out his woe to this strong and kindly friend.
'I don't know! I don't know!'
In company with other Loyalists, the Nelsons had left to join the British flag. They did not travel with a party, but set off by themselves, their few possessions loaded on to an ox-cart. All went well till they reached the south bank of the St.Lawrence, just before the island group begins. Here they camped for a few weeks, and here Jimmie's little sister was born.
'We call her Celista,' he said, his tearful face turning from one to the other, ' and it was on the night she came that it all happened. We were asleep outside the hut Father and Buck had built for Mother till she could travel again, and they came through the trees and pounced on us before we were aware.'
'They? --Who?' interrupted Father Hamilton. 'Do you mean the Revolutionists, boy?'
But Jimmie shook his head. 'I don't think they could have been,' he said. 'Father always said the Revolutionists were men of honour, like us, only they think differently. These men were bad; they didn't think at all; thet were just out to steal all they could get hold of.'
'What happened?' asked Father Hamilton, and the boy went on.
'They made Father and brother Buck prisoner before they were well awake, and I heard them shouting something about getting money from the Yankees for turning them over as prisoners of war. But we weren't: we were refugees! I woke in time, and rolled into a culvert behind the hut, so they didn't see me. Mother fainted, and they thought she was dead. Slow Deer there snatched up her blanket and ran into the woods. Then they took everything we had, even the ox-cart, and went away.'
'How did you get the musket and the canoe?' asked Father Hamilton.
'Slow Deer think pale squaw dead; Slow Deer came find Jeemee, find squaw live; give blanket; take care,' answered the Indian woman for herself, and Father Hamilton looked up to find her standing near.
'It was well done,' he replied, with an approving nod, then, ' You have been a brave lad, Jimmie - a true Loyalist. Now we must help you. Come along with us to Cataraqui, and we'll decide what is best to be done.'
But the lad started, then he shook his head. 'Oh, no, no, no, sir. I cannot,' he said. 'Take Mother and Celista and Slow Deer, too for she has been good to us. But I must go back and try to find my father.'
'But you are not big enough, Jimmie lad,' objected Father Hamilton. 'You had best come along with us.'
The lad, though struggling with his tears, rose to his feet, his chin set obstinately. 'I am, too,' he cried. 'I'm Jimmie Nelson, Loyalist's son and --'
Here a small hand was slipped into his, and he looked round and saw Cynthia Elizabeth standing beside him, her honey-coloured hair glinting in the rays of the setting sun, her eyes wide with sympathy.
'But you cannot go yet, Jimmie,' she said gravely. 'You may be brave, and I know you are, but you will have to grow big and strong before you can fight these wicked men. Right now you had best do as you are bid. You see, I am a Loyalist daughter, and I know.'
Jimmie looked from the child's blue eyes to the kindly ones of the man, then farther to the canoe, where Mother Hamilton and Rebecca were caring for his sick mother. His boyish fingers tightened round the slender ones of the little girl, then:
'All right, I will go with you,' he said.