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Wacousta: A Tale of the Pontiac Conspiracy--Volume 3 By John Richardson Characters: 29859

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


With the general position of the encampment of the investing Indians, the reader has been made acquainted through the narrative of Captain de Haldimar. It was, as has been shown, situate in a sort of oasis close within the verge of the forest, and (girt by an intervening underwood which Nature, in her caprice, had fashioned after the manner of a defensive barrier) embraced a space sufficient to contain the tents of the fighting men, together with their women and children. This, however, included only the warriors and inferior chiefs. The tents of the leaders were without the belt of underwood, and principally distributed at long intervals on that side of the forest which skirted the open country towards the river; forming, as it were, a chain of external defences, and sweeping in a semicircular direction round the more dense encampment of their followers. At its highest elevation the forest shot out suddenly into a point, naturally enough rendered an object of attraction from whatever part it was commanded.

Darkness was already beginning to spread her mantle over the intervening space, and the night fires of the Indians were kindling into brightness, glimmering occasionally through the wood with that pale and lambent light peculiar to the fire-fly, of which they offered a not inapt representation, when suddenly a lofty tent, the brilliant whiteness of which was thrown into strong relief by the dark field on which it reposed, was seen to rise at a few paces from the abrupt point in the forest just described, and on the extreme summit of a ridge, beyond which lay only the western horizon in golden perspective.

The opening of this tent looked eastward and towards the fort; and on its extreme summit floated a dark flag, which at intervals spread itself before the slight evening breeze, but oftener hung drooping and heavily over the glittering canvass. One solitary pine, whose trunk exceeded not the ordinary thickness of a man's waist, and standing out as a landmark on the ridge, rose at the distance of a few feet from the spot on which the tent had been erected; and to this was bound the tall and elegant figure of one dressed in the coarse garb of a sailor. The arms and legs of this individual were perfectly free; but a strong rope, rendered doubly secure after the manner of what is termed "whipping" among seamen, after having been tightly drawn several times around his waist, and then firmly knotted behind, was again passed round the tree, to which the back of the prisoner was closely lashed; thus enabling, or rather compelling, him to be a spectator of every object within the tent.

Layers of bark, over which were spread the dressed skins of the bear and the buffalo, formed the floor and carpet of the latter; and on these, in various parts, and in characteristic attitudes, reposed the forms of three human beings;-one, the formidable warrior of the Fleur de lis. Attired in the garb in which we first introduced him to our readers, and with the same weapons reposing at his side, the haughty savage lay at his lazy length; his feet reaching beyond the opening of the tent, and his head reposing on a rude pillow formed of a closely compressed pack of skins of wild animals, over which was spread a sort of mantle or blanket. One hand was introduced between the pillow and his head, the other grasped the pipe tomahawk he was smoking; and while the mechanical play of his right foot indicated pre-occupation of thought, his quick and meaning eye glanced frequently and alternately upon the furthest of his companions, the prisoner without, and the distant fort.

Within a few feet of the warrior lay, extended on a buffalo skin, the delicate figure of a female, whose hair, complexion, and hands, denoted her European extraction. Her dress was entirely Indian, however; consisting of a machecoti with leggings, mocassins, and shirt of printed cotton studded with silver brooches,-all of which were of a quality and texture to mark the wearer as the wife of a chief; and her fair hair, done up in a club behind, reposed on a neck of dazzling whiteness. Her eyes were large, blue, but wild and unmeaning; her countenance vacant; and her movements altogether mechanical. A wooden bowl filled with hominy,-a preparation of Indian corn,-was at her side; and from this she was now in the act of feeding herself with a spoon of the same material, but with a negligence and slovenliness that betrayed her almost utter unconsciousness of the action.

At the further side of the tent there was another woman, even more delicate in appearance than the one last mentioned. She, too, was blue-eyed, and of surpassing fairness of skin. Her attitude denoted a mind too powerfully absorbed in grief to be heedful of appearances; for she sat with her knees drawn up to her chin, and rocking her body to and fro with an undulating motion that seemed to have its origin in no effort of volition of her own. Her long fair hair hung negligently over her shoulders; and a blanket drawn over the top of her head like a veil, and extending partly over the person, disclosed here and there portions of an apparel which was strictly European, although rent, and exhibiting in various places stains of blood. A bowl similar to that of her companion, and filled with the same food, was at her side; but this was untasted.

"Why does the girl refuse to eat?" asked the warrior of her next him, as he fiercely rolled a volume of smoke from his lips. "Make her eat, for I would speak to her afterwards."

"Why does the girl refuse to eat?" responded the woman in the same tone, dropping her spoon as she spoke, and turning to the object of remark with a vacant look. "It is good," she pursued, as she rudely shook the arm of the heedless sufferer. "Come, girl, eat."

A shriek burst from the lips of the unhappy girl, as, apparently roused from her abstraction, she suffered the blanket to fall from her head, and staring wildly at her questioner, faintly demanded,-

"Who, in the name of mercy, are you, who address me in this horrid place in my own tongue? Speak; who are you? Surely I should know that voice for that of Ellen, the wife of Frank Halloway!"

A maniac laugh was uttered by the wretched woman. This continued offensively for a moment; and she observed, in an infuriated tone and with a searching eye,-"No, I am not the wife of Halloway. It is false. I am the wife of Wacousta. This is my husband!" and as she spoke she sprang nimbly to her feet, and was in the next instant lying prostrate on the form of the warrior; her arms thrown wildly around him, and her lips imprinting kisses on his cheek.

But Wacousta was in no mood to suffer her endearments. He for the first time seemed alive to the presence of her who lay beyond, and, to whose whole appearance a character of animation had been imparted by the temporary excitement of her feelings. He gazed at her a moment, with the air of one endeavouring to recall the memory of days long gone by; and as he continued to do so, his eye dilated, his chest heaved, and his countenance alternately flushed and paled. At length he threw the form that reposed upon his own, violently, and even savagely, from him; sprang eagerly to his feet; and clearing the space that divided him from the object of his attention at a single step, bore her from the earth in his arms with as much ease as if she had been an infant, and then returning to his own rude couch, placed his horror-stricken victim at his side.

"Nay, nay," he urged sarcastically, as she vainly struggled to free herself; "let the De Haldimar portion of your blood rise up in anger if it will; but that of Clara Beverley, at least-."

"Gracious Providence! where am I, that I hear the name of my sainted mother thus familiarly pronounced?" interrupted the startled girl; "and who are you,"-turning her eyes wildly on the swarthy countenance of the warrior,-"who are you, I ask, who, with the mien and in the garb of a savage of these forests, appear thus acquainted with her name?"

The warrior passed his hand across his brow for a moment, as if some painful and intolerable reflection had been called up by the question; but he speedily recovered his self-possession, and, with an expression of feature that almost petrified his auditor, vehemently observed,-

"You ask who I am! One who knew your mother long before the accursed name of De Haldimar had even been whispered in her ear; and whom love for the one and hatred for the other has rendered the savage you now behold! But," he continued, while a fierce and hideous smile lighted up every feature, "I overlook my past sufferings in my present happiness. The image of Clara Beverley, even such as my soul loved her in its youth, is once more before me in her child; THAT child shall be my wife!"

"Your wife! monster;-never!" shrieked the unhappy girl, again vainly attempting to disengage herself from the encircling arm of the savage. "But," she pursued, in a tone of supplication, while the tears coursed each other down her cheek, "if you ever loved my mother as you say you have, restore her children to their home; and, if saints may be permitted to look down from heaven in approval of the acts of men, she whom you have loved will bless you for the deed."

A deep groan burst from the vast chest of Wacousta; but, for a moment, he answered not. At length he observed, pointing at the same time with his finger towards the cloudless vault above their heads,-"Do you behold yon blue sky, Clara de Haldimar?"

"I do;-what mean you?" demanded the trembling girl, in whom a momentary hope had been excited by the subdued manner of the savage.

"Nothing," he coolly rejoined; "only that were your mother to appear there at this moment, clad in all the attributes ascribed to angels, her prayer would not alter the destiny that awaits you. Nay, nay; look not thus sorrowfully," he pursued, as, in despite of her efforts to prevent him, he imprinted a burning kiss upon her lips. "Even thus was I once wont to linger on the lips of your mother; but hers ever pouted to be pressed by mine; and not with tears, but with sunniest smiles, did she court them." He paused; bent his head over the face of the shuddering girl; and gazing fixedly for a few minutes on her countenance, while he pressed her struggling form more closely to his own, exultingly pursued, as if to himself,-"Even as her mother was, so is she. Ye powers of hell! who would have ever thought a time would come when both my vengeance and my love would be gratified to the utmost? How strange it never should have occurred to me he had a daughter!"

"What mean you, fierce, unpitying man?" exclaimed the terrified Clara, to whom a full sense of the horror of her position had lent unusual energy of character. "Surely you will not detain a poor defenceless woman in your hands,-the child of her you say you have loved. But it is false!-you never knew her, or you would not now reject my prayer."

"Never knew her!" fiercely repeated Wacousta. Again he paused. "Would I had never known her! and I should not now be the outcast wretch I am," he added, slowly and impressively. Then once more elevating his voice,-"Clara de Haldimar, I have loved your mother as man never loved woman; and I have hated your father" (grinding his teeth with fury as he spoke) "as man never hated man. That love, that hatred are unquenched-unquenchable. Before me I see at once the image of her who, even in death, has lived enshrined in my heart, and the child of him who is my bitterest foe. Clara de Haldimar, do you understand me now?"

"Almighty Providence! is there no one to save me?-can nothing touch your stubborn heart?" exclaimed the affrighted girl; and she turned her swimming eyes on those of the warrior, in appeal; but his glance caused her own to sink in confusion. "Ellen Halloway," she pursued, after a moment's pause, and in the wild accents of despair, "if you are indeed the wife of this man, as you say you are, oh! plead for me with him; and in the name of that kindness, which I once extended to yourself, prevail on him to restore me to my father!"

"Ellen Halloway!-who calls Ellen Halloway?" said the wretched woman, who had again resumed her slovenly meal on the rude couch, apparently without consciousness of the scene enacting at her side. "I am not Ellen Halloway: they said so; but it is not true. My husband was Reginald Morton: but he went for a soldier, and was killed; and I never saw him more."

"Reginald Morton! What mean you, woman?-What know you of Reginald Morton?" demanded Wacousta, with frightful energy, as, leaning over the shrinking form of Clara, he violently grasped and shook the shoulder of the unhappy maniac.

"Stop; do not hurt me, and I will tell you all, sir," she almost screamed. "Oh, sir, Reginald Morton was my husband once; but he was kinder than you are. He did not look so fiercely at me; nor did he pinch me so."

"What of him?-who was he?" furiously repeated Wacousta, as he again impatiently shook the arm of the wretched Ellen. "Where did you know him?-Whence came he?"

"Nay, you must not be jealous of poor Reginald:" and, as she uttered these words in a softening and conciliating tone, her eye was turned upon those of the warrior with a mingled expression of fear and cunning. "But he was very good and very handsome, and generous; and we lived near each other, and we loved each other at first sight. But his family were very proud, and they quarrelled with him because he married me; and then we became very poor, and Reginald went for a soldier, and-; but I forget the rest, it is so long ago." She pressed her hand to her brow, and sank her head upon her chest.

"Ellen, woman, again I ask you where he came from? this Reginald Morton that you have named. To what county did he belong?"

"Oh, we were both Cornish," she answered, with a vivacity singularly in contrast with her recent low and monotonous tone; "but, as I said before, he was of a great family, and I only a poor clergyman's daughter."

"Cornish!-Cornish, did you say?" fiercely repeated the dark Wacousta, while an expression of loathing and disgust seemed for a moment to convulse his features; "then is it as I had feared. One word more. Was the family seat called Morton Castle?"

"It was," unhesitatingly returned the poor woman, yet with the air of one wondering to hear a name repeated, long forgotten even by herself. "It was a beautiful castle too, on a lovely ridge of hills; and it commanded such a nice view of the sea, close to the little port of --; and the parsonage stood in such a sweet valley, close under the castle; and we were all so happy." She paused, again put her hand to her brow, and pressed it with force, as if endeavouring to pursue the chain of connection in her memory, but evidently without success.

"And your father's name was Clayton?" said

the warrior, enquiringly; "Henry Clayton, if I recollect aright?"

"Ha! who names my father?" shrieked the wretched woman. "Yes, sir, it was Clayton-Henry Clayton-the kindest, the noblest of human beings. But the affliction of his child, and the persecutions of the Morton family, broke his heart. He is dead, sir, and Reginald is dead too; and I am a poor lone widow in the world, and have no one to love me." Here the tears coursed each other rapidly down her faded cheek, although her eyes were staring and motionless.

"It is false!" vociferated the warrior, who, now he had gained all that was essential to the elucidation of his doubts, quitted the shoulder he had continued to press with violence in his nervous hand, and once more extended himself at his length; "in me you behold the uncle of your husband. Yes, Ellen Clayton, you have been the wife of two Reginald Mortons. Both," he pursued with unutterable bitterness, while he again started up and shook his tomahawk menacingly in the direction of the fort,-"both have been the victims of yon cold-blooded governor; but the hour of our reckoning is at hand. Ellen," he fiercely added, "do you recollect the curse you pronounced on the family of that haughty man, when he slaughtered your Reginald. By Heaven! it shall be fulfilled; but first shall the love I have so long borne the mother be transferred to the child."

Again he sought to encircle the waist of her whom, in the strong excitement of his rage, he had momentarily quitted; but the unutterable disgust and horror produced in the mind of the unhappy Clara lent an almost supernatural activity to her despair. She dexterously eluded his grasp, gained her feet, and with tottering steps and outstretched arms darted through the opening of the tent, and piteously exclaiming, "Save me! oh, for God's sake, save me!" sank exhausted, and apparently lifeless, on the chest of the prisoner without.

To such of our readers as, deceived by the romantic nature of the attachment stated to have been originally entertained by Sir Everard Valletort for the unseen sister of his friend, have been led to expect a tale abounding in manifestations of its progress when the parties had actually met, we at once announce disappointment. Neither the lover of amorous adventure, nor the admirer of witty dialogue, should dive into these pages. Room for the exercise of the invention might, it is true, be found; but ours is a tale of sad reality, and our heroes and heroines figure under circumstances that would render wit a satire upon the understanding, and love a reflection upon the heart. Within the bounds of probability have we, therefore, confined ourselves.

What the feelings of the young Baronet must have been, from the first moment when he received from the hands of the unfortunate Captain Baynton (who, although an officer of his own corps, was personally a stranger to him,) that cherished sister of his friend, on whose ideal form his excited imagination had so often latterly loved to linger, up to the present hour, we should vainly attempt to paint. There are emotions of the heart, it would be mockery in the pen to trace. From the instant of his first contributing to preserve her life, on that dreadful day of blood, to that when the schooner fell into the hands of the savages, few words had passed between them, and these had reference merely to the position in which they found themselves, and whenever Sir Everard felt he could, without indelicacy or intrusion, render himself in the slightest way serviceable to her. The very circumstances under which they had met, conduced to the suppression, if not utter extinction, of all of passion attached to the sentiment with which he had been inspired. A new feeling had quickened in his breast; and it was with emotions more assimilated to friendship than to love that he now regarded the beautiful but sorrow-stricken sister of his bosom friend. Still there was a softness, a purity, a delicacy and tenderness in this new feeling, in which the influence of sex secretly though unacknowledgedly predominated; and even while sensible it would have been a profanation of every thing most sacred and delicate in nature to have admitted a thought of love within his breast at such a moment, he also felt he could have entertained a voluptuous joy in making any sacrifice, even to the surrender of life itself, provided the tranquillity of that gentle and suffering being could be by it ensured.

Clara, in her turn, had been in no condition to admit so exclusive a power as that of love within her soul. She had, it is true, even amid the desolation of her shattered spirit, recognised in the young officer the original of a portrait so frequently drawn by her brother, and dwelt on by herself. She acknowledged, moreover, the fidelity of the painting: but however she might have felt and acted under different circumstances, absorbed as was her heart, and paralysed her imagination, by the harrowing scenes she had gone through, she, too, had room but for one sentiment in her fainting soul, and that was friendship for the friend of her brother; on whom, moreover, she bestowed that woman's gratitude, which could not fail to be awakened by a recollection of the risks he had encountered, conjointly with Frederick, to save her from destruction. During their passage across lake Huron, Sir Everard had usually taken his seat on the deck, at that respectful distance which he conceived the delicacy of the position of the unfortunate cousins demanded; but in such a manner that, while he seemed wholly abstracted from them, his eye had more than once been detected by Clara fixed on hers, with an affectionateness of interest she could not avoid repaying with a glance of recognition and approval. These, however, were the only indications of regard that had passed between them.

If, however, a momentary and irrepressible flashing of that sentiment, which had, at an earlier period, formed a portion of their imaginings, did occasionally steal over their hearts while there was a prospect of reaching their friends in safety, all manifestation of its power was again finally suppressed when the schooner fell into the hands of the savages. Become the immediate prisoners of Wacousta, they had been surrendered to that ferocious chief to be dealt with as he might think proper; and, on disembarking from the canoe in which their transit to the main land had been descried that morning from the fort, had been separated from their equally unfortunate and suffering companions. Captain de Haldimar, Madeline, and the Canadian, were delivered over to the custody of several choice warriors of the tribe in which Wacousta was adopted; and, bound hand and foot, were, at that moment, in the war tent of the fierce savage, which, as Ponteac had once boasted to the governor, was every where hung around with human scalps, both of men, of women, and of children. The object of this mysterious man, in removing Clara to the spot we have described, was one well worthy of his ferocious nature. His vengeance had already devoted her to destruction; and it was within view of the fort, which contained the father whom he loathed, he had resolved his purpose should be accomplished. A refinement of cruelty, such as could scarcely have been supposed to enter the breast even of such a remorseless savage as himself, had caused him to convey to the same spot, him whom he rather suspected than knew to be the lover of the young girl. It was with the view of harrowing up the soul of one whom he had recognised as the officer who had disabled him on the night of the rencontre on the bridge, that he had bound Sir Everard to the tree, whence, as we have already stated, he was a compelled spectator of every thing that passed within the tent; and yet with that free action of limb which only tended to tantalize him the more amid his unavailable efforts to rid himself of his bonds,-a fact that proved not only the dire extent to which the revenge of Wacousta could be carried, but the actual and gratuitous cruelty of his nature.

One must have been similarly circumstanced, to understand all the agony of the young man during this odious scene, and particularly at the fierce and repeated declaration of the savage that Clara should be his bride. More than once had he essayed to remove the ligatures which confined his waist; but his unsuccessful attempts only drew an occasional smile of derision from his enemy, as he glanced his eye rapidly towards him. Conscious at length of the inutility of efforts, which, without benefiting her for whom they were principally prompted, rendered him in some degree ridiculous even in his own eyes, the wretched Valletort desisted altogether, and with his head sunk upon his chest, and his eyes closed, sought at least to shut out a scene which blasted his sight, and harrowed up his very soul.

But when Clara, uttering her wild cry for protection, and rushing forth from the tent, sank almost unconsciously in his embrace, a thrill of inexplicable joy ran through each awakened fibre of his frame. Bending eagerly forward, he had extended his arms to receive her; and when he felt her light and graceful form pressing upon his own as its last refuge-when he felt her heart beating against his-when he saw her head drooping on his shoulder, in the wild recklessness of despair,-even amid that scene of desolation and grief he could not help enfolding her in tumultuous ecstasy to his breast. Every horrible danger was for an instant forgotten in the soothing consciousness that he at length encircled the form of her, whom in many an hour of solitude he had thus pictured, although under far different circumstances, reposing confidingly on him. There was delight mingled with agony in his sensation of the wild throb of her bosom against his own; and even while his soul fainted within him, as he reflected on the fate that awaited her, he felt as if he could himself now die more happily.

Momentary, however, was the duration of this scene. Furious with anger at the evident disgust of his victim, Wacousta no sooner saw her sink into the arms of her lover, than with that agility for which he was remarkable he was again on his feet, and stood in the next instant at her side. Uniting to the generous strength of his manhood all that was wrung from his mingled love and despair, the officer clasped his hands round the waist of the drooping Clara; and with clenched teeth, and feet firmly set, seemed resolved to defy every effort of the warrior to remove her. Not a word was uttered on either side; but in the fierce smile that curled the lip of the savage, there spoke a language even more terrible than the words that smile implied. Sir Everard could not suppress an involuntary shudder; and when at length Wacousta, after a short but violent struggle, succeeded in again securing and bearing off his prize, the wretchedness of soul of the former was indescribable.

"You see 'tis vain to struggle against your destiny, Clara de Haldimar," sneered the warrior. "Ours is but a rude nuptial couch, it is true; but the wife of an Indian chief must not expect the luxuries of Europe in the heart of an American wilderness."

"Almighty Heaven! where am I?" exclaimed the wretched girl, again unclosing her eyes to all the horror of her position; for again she lay at the side, and within the encircling arm, of her enemy. "Oh, Sir Everard Valletort, I thought I was with you, and that you had saved me from this monster. Where is my brother?-Where are Frederick and Madeline?-Why have they deserted me?-Ah! my heart will break. I cannot endure this longer, and live."

"Clara, Miss de Haldimar," groaned Sir Everard, in a voice of searching agony; "could I lay down my life for you, I would; but you see these bonds. Oh God! oh God! have pity on the innocent; and for once incline the heart of yon fierce monster to the whisperings of mercy." As he uttered the last sentence, he attempted to sink on his knees in supplication to Him he addressed, but the tension of the cord prevented him; yet were his hands clasped, and his eyes upraised to heaven, while his countenance beamed with an expression of fervent enthusiasm.

"Peace, babbler! or, by Heaven! that prayer shall be your last," vociferated Wacousta. "But no," he pursued to himself, dropping at the same time the point of his upraised tomahawk; "these are but the natural writhings of the crushed worm; and the longer protracted they are, the more complete will be my vengeance." Then turning to the terrified girl,-"You ask, Clara de Haldimar, where you are? In the tent of your mother's lover, I reply,-at the side of him who once pressed her to his heart, even as I now press you, and with a fondness that was only equalled by her own. Come, dear Clara," and his voice assumed a tone of tenderness that was even more revolting than his natural ferocity, "let me woo you to the affection she once possessed. It was a heart of fire in which her image stood enshrined,-it is a heart of fire still, and well worthy of her child."

"Never, never!" shrieked the agonised girl. "Kill me, murder me, if you will; but oh! if you have pity, pollute not my ear with the avowal of your detested love. But again I repeat, it is false that my mother ever knew you. She never could have loved so fierce, so vindictive a being as yourself."

"Ha! do you doubt me still?" sternly demanded the savage. Then drawing the shuddering girl still closer to his vast chest,-"Come hither, Clara, while to convince you I unfold the sad history of my life, and tell you more of your parents than you have ever known. When," he pursued solemnly, "you have learnt the extent of my love for the one, and of my hatred for the other, and the wrongs I have endured from both, you will no longer wonder at the spirit of mingled love and vengeance that dictates my conduct towards yourself. Listen, girl," he continued fiercely, "and judge whether mine are injuries to be tamely pardoned, when a whole life has been devoted to the pursuit of the means of avenging them."

Irresistibly led by a desire to know what possible connection could have existed between her parents and this singular and ferocious man, the wretched girl gave her passive assent. She even hoped that, in the course of his narrative, some softening recollections would pass over his mind, the effect of which might be to predispose him to mercy. Wacousta buried his face for a few moments in his large hand, as if endeavouring to collect and concentrate the remembrances of past years. His countenance, meanwhile, had undergone a change; for there was now a shade of melancholy mixed with the fierceness of expression usually observable there. This, however, was dispelled in the course of his narrative, and as various opposite passions were in turn powerfully and severally developed.

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