“Ay, we heard of you, did we not, James?” the man enquired, turning to his companion.
“Ay, we heard of you, Miss, on our way here, as William says,” the other replied, “But so great have been our own cares and sorrows since then that we have forgotten about you.”
“Do you live here?” Jean asked, wondering who these men could be.
“No, no, not living, but dying here, we and our wives and children. We are Loyalists, Miss, who arrived with the Fall Fleet. We came up the river in open boats, mistook this river one night for the main channel, and were frozen in here before morning. Our sufferings have been great. We are starving to death. Though,” he added after a slight pause, “there are not so many to provide for now.”
“What! have some died?” Jean asked.
“Seven, Miss, mostly little ones. They are all under the snow, and the rest of us will soon be with them.”
“Come, come, you must not give up yet,” the girl encouraged. “Sam and Kitty will help you, I am sure. Where do you live?”
“Just over there,” and the man motioned to the right. “It’s a poor place, and the last storm was terribly hard on us.”
“Take me there, then,” Jean ordered. “I want to see your women and children.”
A feeling of responsibility had suddenly come to her such as she had never before known. These two men before her were in the depths of despair, so something had to be done to arouse and stimulate them with courage. Hitherto she herself had been dependent upon others, and followed their guidance. But now it was different. Here were people in a strange land, and in difficult circumstances who had for the time lost their grip of things, and needed special assistance. It all came upon her in a flash, transforming her from a follower to a leader; from dependent girlhood to the glory of responsible womanhood.
Guided by the two men, they soon reached the encampment but a hundred yards away. At sight of this Jean stopped and stared in profound amazement. It was no wonder that the women and children huddled there were cold. The ones who had fashioned these rude abodes were evidently unacquainted with life in the open, so desolate was the place, and with very little protection from the driving storms.
There were about ten families in all encamped here, and at the first glance Jean could tell that they were actually starving. The women, who received her kindly, presented as brave an appearance as possible. But their faces were worn and haggard, showing plainly the sufferings they had endured. The children, especially the younger ones, looked better, having no doubt received extra food and attention.
The arrival of the visitors caused considerable excitement and interest among the Loyalists. Men, women, and children all crowded around one fire, and listened with wonder to the tale Jean related of her capture, and how she was rescued by the two good Indians. She in return heard the pathetic story of these unfortunate people from the time they left their old homes until the present.