marked Cynthia Elizabeth's first encounter with tragedy. Though she had
experienced with her parents all the terrors and discomforts of flight,
she was too much of a child to realize its full significance.
The romantic, adventurous side of the matter interested her most, even the
hardships they endured, she had accepted with a child's philosophy; and
through it all there had been the thrill of conscious nobility, owing to
their father's steady emphasis that all this was experienced and endured
for England's sake. But this was different. A sense of loss, a
remembrance of horror that would not pass. The strong, kindly friend they
had grown to know and love was no longer there. The little cabin her
independence had insisted should be built stood empty. Celista, now
weeping bitterly, was in Mother Hamilton's care; Pear Dew was standing
near, watching with wide, frightened eyes; and Slow Deer, more abandoned
in her grief than women of her race usually are, never left them. So
Cynthia Elizabeth went down the hill to the water-side, and under the
shadow of a great rock she found a new-made grave, upon which was laid a
roughly fashioned cross, bearing a simple inscription burnt in rough-made
lettering. 'Jessie Nelson, who gave her life for others, October 15,
1792. She saved others; herself she could not save.'
So it came about that Cynthia Elizabeth first encountered that splendid spirit of sacrifice which made the United Empire Loyalists unbeatable. The place was not deserted; her father was there, with Jimmie - a red-eyed, grim-faced Jimmie -- who, though he stood calm now, had been ashamed of the grief that rocked his soul. They were talking together as the girl drew near, and she heard Jimmie say:
'I never forgot the story of the Grecian boy, sir; and you promised you would tell me when you thought my time had come.'
'I did, Jimmie,' returned Father Hamilton, 'and I am ready to redeem that promise now; for I think you are grown-up enough to start off any time.'
Then Cynthia Elizabeth broke in, 'Start off? Why, Jimmie, where are you going?'
'I am going back east, to try to find my father.'
'Oh, Jimmie! But what about the cabin, your farm, and little Celista?'
'Your good father and Asahel will tend my farm, and my little sister, I know, I can leave in your mother's care.'
Cynthia Elizabeth gasped. Could this be her old play-fellow? He seemed so remote, so grave, so grown-up! Then she answered readily, ' Of course you can leave Celista with us -- you know we will always love her. But, Jimmie, what about the sheep? You have ten in the flock now, for Slow Deer told me a baby lamb was born only this morning.'
The lad nodded gravely. 'I know. But I thought maybe you'd take care of them for me, Cynthia Elizabeth.'
'Oh, Jimmie, of course I will, I will; I'll be glad to. But -- Jimmie, after all this -- awfulness -- must you go, so soon?'
The boy gave a heavy sigh. 'My putting off the journey won't alter the awfulness, Cynthia. I have a chance to travel overland with Captain Brant's friend, the missionary. By taking that I will be in Cataraqui before the winter sets in. From there I can start inquiries, then searching, in the spring, though it's going to be pretty hard, as your father reminds me, to pick up a trail four years old.'
Cynthia Elizabeth was weeping now. 'Oh, Jimmie, first Mother Nelson, and now you! Oh why, why must it all happen so?'
The lad slid a comforting arm round her. 'I don't know why, but it has happened so,' he sighed. Then gently, but very steadily, 'Cynthy, if you were in my place, what would you do?'
There was a pause, then the girl dried her eyes, raised her head, and, smiling bravely into his grave face, answered quietly, ' I would do just what you are going to do, Jimmie. Don't worry about things here. We'll take care of Celista, and I'll mind the sheep. As for the cabin --'
'Asahel and Rebecca are going to live in that,' he put in, and she nodded brightly.
'Then you can go away with a mind at ease, Jimmie. And oh, I do hope you find your father and come back soon. But remember, whether you can get back soon or late, everything of yours will be taken care of, and -- I'll be waiting!'
That was the farewell word Jimmie took away with him when he rode along the sunlit trails soon after, with the good missionary and his pack-horse. He thought of it much as they travelled east in the direction of Fort Toronto, the sparkling expanse of Ontario to their right, and all about them the newly emerging pasture-lands of a district that would some day be titled 'the Garden of Canada'. he was only a boy in years, but suffering and danger had made him older and graver in his mind. And somehow he knew that next to finding his father and his brother, the greatest hope treasures within his memory was embodied in those three words.
Back at Stony Creek life went on in its customary strenuous fashion. Winter set in early, and was, even for that part of the world, unusually long and severe. Then followed what has since gone down into Canadian history as 'the Hunger Year', when, according to old records, some actually died of starvation. Spring, late in coming, made hunting difficult, planting was delayed, meagre crops were leaner, and some kind of blight infested the potatoes, cutting the yield in half. So hard put to it were the settlers that they were thankful when the wheat was large enough to rub out and boil, for such a dish was for them a positive treat. With amazing self-denial, neither the Hamiltons nor any of their neighbours thought of killing one of the precious sheep. That little flock increased again, and was now of respectable size. In them, as the Loyalists knew, was the promise of clothing for the future. Had supplies been easier to obtain they might have reasoned differently, but the Rapids of the St.Lawrence practically cut them off from the more civilized parts of Canada, and communication, even from Cataraqui, was uncertain and slow. then again, a peculiar honour was strong in them. That flock of sheep was held in trust for one who was absent and in memory of another who had dies heroically, and each Loyalist would rather have dies of hunger than kill one lamb. So they struggled along, searching for ground-nuts, living on herbs and, before that, cutting holes in the ice to fish, sometimes all night.
Kind-hearted Chief Brant did what he could for everybody; of his own substance he gave freely, and travelled far and wide trying to alleviate what suffering he could. But he had his own particular responsibility, the Indians of Oswego; for they suffered as did the rest. So the Loyalists had to rely largely on their own resourcefulness, and among them the Hamilton family proved their worth. They worked early and late. Father Hamilton would fish all night, if he could do nothing else, chop wood all day, snatching sleep and meagre rations when he could. Mother Hamilton, in between spinning and weaving homespun, undertook to fashion clothing not only for themselves, but for their neighbours. Then one day, Cynthia Elizabeth, while rummaging among a pile of rubble close to the water's edge, uncovered a queer-shaped block of iron. Long it was, shaped something like a man's toeless foot, and with a curved handle, also of iron, reaching from end to end. Cynthia Elizabeth had no idea what it was, but she picked up the heavy thing and struggled up the hill with it to the house. Then she deposited it on the porch before her surprised mother, for when she saw it Mrs. Hamilton exclaimed in wonder:
'Why, Cynthia Elizabeth, what a find! And it was among the rubble on the shore? Why, who on earth would think of leaving a tailor's goose there?'
'A -- what, Mother?'
'A tailor's goose -- a heavy iron the tailors used at home to press the clothes they made,' explained Mrs. Hamilton laughing at her daughter's puzzlement. 'That makes you quite rich, Cynthy, for now you can help me with the clothes-making now, and we can do better work.'
So they did, and Rebecca helped, too. Also, both girls, who had absorbed much of their father's and mother's learning, found time to organize a few classes during those dark days and teach the Settlement children. White and Red alike were welcomed there, and Frances Rebecca's cabin was the school-house, where many A's and O's and pot-hooks were guided by her own and her sister's patient fingers, marking them on strips of light bark, with pencils of pointed charcoal. Stanley James was a great help now. He was a tall, fearless lad, nearly fourteen, and the tending of the livestock or the hunting of small game he could take in his stride, though Cynthia Elizabeth never forgot that the sheep were her own special trust. But Stanley was a willing lad, and tireless, too. Many a pittance did he earn for that sorely pressed family, and he was able to cover the ground so quickly that from the Indians he earned a tribal nickname which means Fleet-of-Foot.
So life went on till the summer came again. Then, to the alarm of the family, Mother Hamilton began to droop. It was not that she was actually ill, but ailing. Her strength seemed to ebb; she was weak and listless, and soon their plain fare sickened her. She could not work, she could not eat, but lay on her rough bed all day, trying to smile, but somehow seeming too weary to make the effort.
'It's really cool water she needs,' declared Father Hamilton, during one anxious family consultation. 'Something that comes deep down from the earth, is cold and perfectly pure. Something into which we might put fruit till it gets really cold; a deep grotto spring, or a well.'
'I wonder you never thought of trying that old well on the hillside, just below our cabin, Father Hamilton,' remarked Asahel McCollum. 'It's near us, but on your property, you know.'
'What's the use, lad? It's been dry and full of rubble ever since we came here,' sighed the elder man.
But Asahel shook his head.
'How do you know that, Father? It was dug sometime -- quite likely by the people who were here before you. No, Rebecca, I can't tell why they left; I was only a little chap when it happened. The place was deserted for years; it had a bad name, you see, and that well could easily have been crammed with rubbish, and not really dry at all.'
'We could try of course,' agreed Father Hamilton, doubtfully. 'Come and give us a hand, Asahel.'
So the two collected spades and scoops and hooks and started off towards the well. And then, 'Did you never hear anything about the people who were here before us, Asahel?' asked the elder man, when they were out of earshot of the house.
'Well, yes I did, Father,' returned the young man, glancing around cautiously, to see that neither of the girls was near, 'But it was queer, and we didn't like to talk about it. A family lived here and built your house. There were two or three men, rough-looking fellows, but handsome in a dark-brooding fashion. There was also a sickly-looking woman, who might have been handsome once, and a little child, just toddling. We thought them of French extraction. It seems to me they spoke that language -- when they talked at all. But they were an exclusive bunch, and the rumour went around that they were rich, for once one of them paid for something in gold. But they kept to themselves, did not encourage neighbourliness, and so when they weren't seen for two or three days nobody wondered much. Then came a day when one of the Settlement children wandered that way and came back running to say that she could see nobody, but the little child was somewhere screaming. I remember that, for my father was among those who hurried off. But when they got there all was silent, and even the baby -- for she was little more -- had disappeared.'
They were by the well-mouth now, starting to clear away the brush and rubble that nearly filled it, but their earnest talk made the work seem light.
'Queerly enough, there were no signs of struggle, though lots of prints of moccasins and bare feet. Those must have been very recent, however, so I remember my father declared, for anything older than the previous night would have been washed away.'
'Then you came to the conclusion that whatever happened to the others, Indians stole the child?' remarked Father Hamilton, digging vigorously.
Asahel nodded. "Just that. We looked for them to return, of course, but they never did until -- until --'
Father Hamilton almost dropped his tool. 'I know, until the day we came, and Mother saved Pear Dew from the wild cat!'
Asahel nodded again. 'That's it. And, you see, we of the Settlement didn't know that. You were all alone, as a party when it happened. You never told us Pear Dew wasn't with you when you landed, and we accepted her with you.'
Gather Hamilton paused to wipe a sweating brow. 'They do say in the Old Land that sooner or later a wrong-doer will be drawn back to the scene of his crime,' he muttered, and Asahel heard him.
'Pear Dew a little French-Canadian, after all! I can hardly believe it!' ejaculated Father Hamilton. But he seemed very pleased. 'Well, I'll see to it that she is brought up as such, and taught to be a Loyalist, proud of her heritage. What's that?'
Asahel's pick had struck something different! They had cleared most of the rubble, were working on stones apparently embedded in mud near the bottom, and glancing meanwhile hopefully at the signs of moisture they encountered as they went deeper down. Now the iron tool the young man wielded rang on metal, and at the same time water began to trickle fast.
'It's a box, Father Hamilton!' cried Asahel, dragging at the object. 'An iron box, with heavy handles!'
'Let me help you, lad!' cried Father Hamilton. 'No, wait. I'll run up and get a rope. We must work fast, for, praise be, the water's coming up for sure!'
He hurried up the ladder, snatched up a nearby rope, and lowered it. Asahel made it fast to the box, then, catching up his tools, scurried for safety, though not before he was ankle-deep in the precious spring water.
'It's icy cold' he declared as he climbed out, 'and as clear as crystal. Al right, Father Hamilton, here goes; we'll pull together!'
They had to pull hard, for the box was heavy. But slowly, reluctantly, it came up. then they set about prizing open the heavy lid, and when at last it yielded and swung back, Asahel gave a cry of astonishment. 'Father Hamilton, the story of those people must be true; for, look, this box is full of gold!'