Page:Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II Dec 1859 to June 1860.pdf/124

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February 4, 1860.]
111
A NIGHT ON THE ICE.

A NIGHT ON THE ICE.

A man and a horse with a woman on its back attempt to swim to the shore of a turbulent river full of floating ice.

Shortly after my arrival in Canada, a severe accident, received on a shooting expedition, caused me to be placed for a time under the hospitable roof of the stipendiary magistrate of Tircouaga, one of the prospective cities of the far west; and during the severe illness that followed, I could not have received more kindness had I been in my own home. When I left the woods the tints of autumn were flushing them with crimson and orange, as if their leaves had suddenly burst into blossom; but ere I looked on them again their glories had all vanished beneath the stern sway of the northern winter, with its train of biting frosts and deep snows, while the broad winding Tircouaga river, which I had last seen so blue and wavy, was now hushed and stilled by the universal ice-fetter.

To me, but recently arrived from England, it seemed strange how, amid so wild a solitude, this advent of a six or seven months’ winter could be welcomed as I saw it by those around me. I did not yet know that winter was the only season when the bonds of their isolation were loosened, nor that the snow was the magician smoothing the difficulties of social intercourse in a district where neighbours dwelt miles apart, and the roads between them were mere lanes cut through the primeval forest, and abounding in holes, and ruts, and stumps of trees.

As soon as I was sufficiently recovered, I was the companion of Mr. Norton and his daughters in all these exchanges of courtesy; and if I cared little for the visiting, I greatly enjoyed the drives in the swiftly-gliding sleigh over the gleaming snow; while, instead of leaves, the trees above our heads were hung with icicles, sparkling and flashing in the sunshine, like the ruby and emerald fruit and foliage of eastern story; and the long rhythmical chimes of our sleigh bells echoing through the arches of the trees, were the only sounds, save our own laughter, that broke the silence of those ancient woods.

We went to merrymakings, too—real backwoods “frolics”—held in rude barns, whose decorations were essentially rustic, but where the warmth of the hospitality compensated for every deficiency; the friend of a guest was kindly welcomed, the passing traveller was pressed to stay, and the wandering merchant, with his stores of finery and news, was received with delight, especially by the fair sex. Then the home-coming was almost as merry; the long strings of sleighs with their bells sounding cheerily through the midnight woods, and the joyous leave-takings of the occupants as each went his separate way.

On one occasion we had been to one of these festivities, some six or seven miles beyond the Tircouaga, and were returning home in two light one-horse sleighs, the first containing Mr. Norton and his elder daughter, the second her sister and
VOL. II.
No. 32.