THERE were three of the "younger ones." Denham, a bright manly boy of twelve; Ella, a fair-haired lassie close upon ten; and Harry, just passed his fifth birthday, whose first birthday had been his mother's dying day and had left the four children orphans. Since then the supervision of all things appertaining to the "young ones" had devolved upon the elder sister, at that time herself but a little lass of thirteen, but thoughtful beyond her years. And having the while made good use of the excellent opportunities of learning all needful branches of a lady's education, which her father had afforded her, she was now no mean governess for Ella and Harry, nor even for Denham when aided and supplemented by Mr. Holford.
Full of these now accustomed duties, and of many new and less familiar ones, the time did not lag with Minnie Holford in the little farmhouse by the Otonabee, and winter melted into spring, and spring passed into the hot, full-hued, magnificent Canadian summer, before she was well aware how rapidly the time had flown. And if Minnie had begun to admire her newly adopted country even in the frozen and bitter month of February, much more did she do so when she saw her arrayed in the gorgeous liveries of June and July; when the rocky banks of the Otonabee were crowned with the waving and full-foliaged branches of the alder and the birch, the cedar and the maple-tree, and decked with the soft hues of the Canadian rose, the harebell, and the lady's slipper; when the glittering clearness of the crystal waves reflected it all its depth of radiant colour the intense blue of the summer sky, and the sombre grandeur of the vast forest gave the needful setting of dark back-ground to relieve and set off all this wealth of brilliant colour.
"Only one thing is wanting, papa," she said as she walked with him by the side of the leaping river, "only one thing to make both this scene and our life here perfect in beauty and enjoyment."
"I think I guess the thing you mean, Minnie. A church spire! Am I not right?"
"Yes indeed, papa; How increasingly one misses that, and all which its presence would imply. And yet I sometimes fear that one will in time get used to doing without it, and cease to feel desirous for it. Look at our good old Mary, now; how little she seems to care."
"There is a reason for that over and above her long residence in the Bush. When she left your dear mother's service to marry that thriftless Irishman, she half adopted his creed. Half only,--there was partly the mischief of it, for so she grew indifferent to both sides. The youngest girl, your foster-sister, who, I hear, tikes after the father in person and character, Mary allowed to be brought up in the father's faith, and Rose is as staunch a Roman Catholic as Jessie is a Protestant. As for the mother, she is a faithful old soul, as she ever was, and right glad am I that I chanced to find her in this locality when I came out here, and so had the opportunity of securing her services, but I fear she has halted between two opinions so long, that she has no particular religious faith of her own left."
"Does the farm pay well, papa?" asked Minnie a little abruptly after a few minutes' pause."
"Very fairly now that I am getting it into working order, and am following your uncle's directions and advice in my plans of fanning. What are you thinking of, little daughter? some scheme is floating through your busy brain. Let me hear it."
Minnie laughed at her father's quick reading of her countenance, and coloured a little. "I was only thinking how nice it would be to set aside a portion of the income each year for the building of a church. But I am afraid you will laugh at my thought as a silly one."
"Far from that, my child. I think it is a very right and good thought. We have been blessed with more success than often falls to the lot of new settlers, and it will be most ungrateful and undutiful if we do not return at least a tithe for the direct service of the great Giver of our success."
"Oh papa, will you really do it?" exclaimed Minnie joyfully.
"Most certainly I will. A tenth of my income I used always to set aside for such purposes, and there is nothing in my present humble position, humbler and poorer though it be than was my former one, to prevent my doing the same now. I am glad you have suggested so good and definite an object as the erection of a church here. Only I hope, dear child, you do not anticipate that our sole efforts will be able to accomplish the work."
"No, I did not think that. But if one settler led the way it is very likely that many others would be induced to join in such a scheme, and their united efforts might raise a pretty church,--like Weston Church." Minnie's eyes sparkled with delight. Her father smiled.
"You must not hope for stained glass and carved woodwork the first year. Curb your enthusiastic thoughts a little, my Minnie. You will have to be content probably with small steps at first. And now that I may have the wherewith to contribute to these small steps, (and the larger ones too in due time,) I must go and superintend boy Jonathan and my two hired 'helps' in the field."
And so when the summer and autumn crops were safely in, and the Fall wheat sown, and winter (although it held off until remarkably late that year) was impending, Minnie was called into her father's councils, and the first sum for the building of their future parish church was laid by. It was the first Sunday in November, and though the day was frosty and cold, the first great fall of snow had not yet made its appearance, so that they turned out after a while and strolled up and down the river bank, without feeling inconvenienced by the cold.
We will call our church 'All Saints,' papa," said Minnie; "the day is but just past--last Wednesday; it will remind us of this happy commencement of the undertaking. Beautiful Otonabee, how much more dearly I shall love you when a church bell chimes over your waters!"
"It is in this way that many of the churches have been provided in this country," said her father. "There is, alas! but too much division here, and an alarming multiplicity of sects, but still here and there are to be found steady and devoted sons of the Church, who gradually leaven the neighbourhood around them. In due time I hope we may have our own bishop for the Upper Province, and increase our scanty supply of clergy, which now, I am told, numbers under the hundred; and for this wide expanse of country, which is becoming every half year more and more thickly settled over, this is a sadly scanty allowance. Our late revered Bishop, Dr. Stewart, felt this keenly, and it was undoubtedly the anxiety he felt about the spiritual needs of his vast and ill-provided diocese which wore him out quite as much as his excessive toils."
"He was long in the country, was he not, papa, before he became Bishop of Quebec?"
"Ever since the year 1807. And both as priest and bishop he has been one of the most zealous, devout, and successful missionaries that the Canadas have ever been blest with. He devoted the whole of his private income to acts of charity and the needs of the Church. He was especially active in church-building, and he shrank from no labour, privation, or fatigue which was necessary for the due fulfilling of his sacred trust. Think, Minnie, of your own fatigue in travelling here, of those two long successive days spent in the ox-sleigh during the cold spring, and then you can somewhat imagine what missionary priests and bishops must have to go through, who endure such journeys, and harder and more perilous ones still, as the regular habit of their lives, and as a part of their sacred duties. The Bishop was but in his sixty-second year when he was compelled at last, by rapidly failing health, to resign his post and return to England. He never allowed himself to be embroiled in the political agitations and party strife which for some time past have been rife in both provinces, but especially in Lower Canada, and yet all who met him felt that he took the most lively and intelligent interest in the welfare and prospects of his diocese, both secular and ecclesiastical."
"He must have been a splendid bishop, papa! How many good bishops the colonies have had! It seems as if the hardships and rough life they underwent made them, both in simplicity of manner and in single-hearted saintliness of purpose, resemble the primitive bishops more closely even than the bishops of the mother-country."
"Each man to his place, Minnie. Perhaps the excellent Bishop Stewart would not have made so good an English prelate."
Their conversation was here interrupted by the approach of the blanket-shrouded and not ungraceful figure of an Indian woman, who with the stealthy step common to all the North American savages had gained upon them unawares. She did not speak, but stood before them in silence, at once dignified and respectful, until they chose to notice her. She was somewhat small of stature; and slightly made. Her dark features were by no means devoid either of beauty or of pleasing expression, and were lighted up by a pair of large, dark eyes, in whose liquid depths you might read all the passing emotions of courage or timidity, love or aversion, which might be passing in the mind of their owner. At the moment when she presented herself before. Mr. Holford and his daughter, their expression was one of exceeding sorrow and depression.
"What is it, Anoonk?" said Mr. Holford, who had already made acquaintance with her, and had experienced several little acts of graceful kindness at her hands when hunting in the vicinity of the Indian encampment. "You look sad to-day. Are you in any trouble?"
"Anoonk is sad," answered the young Indian, in a measured and musical tone of voice that was more pathetic than the wildest outburst of lamentations. "For her it is dark night even while the still shines. And the laughing voice of the gay river does but sadden Anoonk the more. For Sekoskee, the great chief her husband, lies sick. He looks at her but he does not know her, his hands are hot like pine-logs on the hearth, and he would drink all the waters of the lake could Anoonk bring them to him. The medicine-man cannot cure him. Anoonk has listened to the pale-face preacher, and she trusts no more in the medicine-man."
"I am very sorry to hear that Sekoskee is so ill," said Mr. Holford kindly. "He has got a fever upon him, evidently, Anoonk. If it will be any comfort to you I will come and see him directly; but remember I am no medicine-man. And pray, Anoonk, speak, what English you can, for my daughter does not understand a word of your pretty language yet, and I myself only understand half of what you say."
Anoonk's graceful and artless way of expressing her gratitude to the "Lofty Pine," as these Indians had called Mr. Holford, on account of his height and somewhat stately bearing, quite won Minnie's heart, who was already much prepossessed by the young squaw's interesting appearance and sweet voice.
"Let me go with you, papa," she pleaded; after a little hesitation Mr. Holford consented. It was a cold walk, for by the time they started it was nearing sundown, and the way lay over a bleak plain and through a dark and dismal cedar-swamp for the best part of the journey. But Minnie was so much in love with her new acquaintance that she declared she liked the chillness of the air and the gloom of the swamp, and would on no account turn back under the escort of "boy Jonathan," who chanced to be out that way, having been on the prowl for squirrels and chissmunks in the maple-wood beyond. On reaching the chiefs wigwam they found the unfortunate "Rising Sun" in a very bad state. Mr. Holford would not permit Minnie to go inside the wigwam, not being sure of the nature of the Indian's malady, so she was obliged to content herself with expressing to Anoonk many kind words of sympathy for her distress, and promising to prepare a large jug of cooling drink which might help to allay his fever. Anoonk's lustrous eyes glistened with tearful delight as she beard Minnie's kind promise, and thought of the good that might come of it.
"White girl good to poor Indian sick," she said in broken English, mindful of Mr. Holford's information touching Minnie's ignorance of the Indian tongue. "Indian squaw forget never. White girl sick, hungry, Anoonk run help her." And to Minnie's surprise the Indian slipped her pretty dark arm round her neck and kissed the "white girl's" cheek with great warmth. Not less heartily did Minnie return the salute, and a strong friendship sprang up between the two from that day. By her father's desire she refrained from again visiting the Indian encampment until all risk of fever and infection was gone; but the "Rising Sun" shook off his attack, severe though it had been for a time, and then the light-footed Indian squaw was not more often to be seen about the precincts of the little farm by the Otonabee than was the slender English girl ("White Cloud," as her new acquaintances called her,) to be seen tripping fearlessly through the groups of fierce-looking and somewhat uncouth Chippewa warriors in the Indian encampment, on her way to visit the pretty Anoonk, whose untaught courtesy and wild, but never rough ways, greatly entertained her English visitor. One reason for this growing intimacy was, that Minnie cherished a hope which she at present divulged to no one,--not even to her father,--the hope of winning Anoonk to Christianity. She shrank from saying anything about it, from the fear that her attempting to do so might be presumptuous, young as she was, and not specially called to missionary work. But despite this fear, this hope took fast root beside the church-building hope, and lightened many an hour that might otherwise have been weary and aimless in the backwood farm by the Otonabee.