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Wacousta: A Tale of the Pontiac Conspiracy--Volume 3 By John Richardson Characters: 23816

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

"Nearly a month passed away in this manner; and at each interview our affection seemed to increase. The days of our meeting were ever days of pure and unalloyed happiness; while the alternate ones of absence were, on my part, occupied chiefly with reading the glowing letters given me at each parting by your mother. Of all these, however, there was not one so impassioned, so natural, so every way devoted, as the first. Not that she who wrote them felt less, but that the emotion excited in her bosom by the manifestation of mine on that occasion, had imparted a diffidence to her style of expression, plainly indicating the source whence it sprung.

"One day, while preparing to set out on my customary excursion, a report suddenly reached me that the route had arrived for the regiment, who were to march from -- within three days. This intelligence I received with inconceivable delight; for it had been settled between your mother and myself, that this should be the moment chosen for her departure. It was not to be supposed (and I should have been both pained and disappointed had it been otherwise,) that she would consent to abandon her parent without some degree of regret; but, having foreseen this objection from the first, I had gradually prepared her for the sacrifice. This was the less difficult, as he appeared never to have treated her with affection,-seldom with the marked favour that might have been presumed to distinguish the manner of a father towards a lovely and only daughter. Living for himself and the indulgence of his misanthropy alone, he cared little for the immolation of his child's happiness on its unhallowed shrine; and this was an act of injustice I had particularly dwelt upon; upheld in truth, as it was, by the knowledge she herself possessed, that no consideration could induce him to bestow her hand on any one individual of a race he so cordially detested; and this was not without considerable weight in her decision.

"With a glowing cheek, and a countenance radiant with happiness, did your mother receive my proposal to prepare for her departure on the following day. She was sufficiently aware, even through what I had stated myself, that there were certain ceremonies of the Church to be performed, in order to give sanctity to our union, and ensure her own personal respectability in the world; and these, I told her, would be solemnised by the chaplain of the regiment. She implicitly confided in me; and she was right; for I loved her too well to make her my mistress, while no barrier existed to her claim to a dearer title. And had she been the daughter of a peasant, instead of a high-born gentleman, finding her as I had found her, and loving her as I did love her, I should have acted precisely in the same way.

"The only difficulty that now occurred was the manner of her flight. The opening before alluded to as being the point whence the old woman made her weekly sally to the market town, was of so intricate and labyrinthian a character that none but the colonel understood the secret of its fastenings; and the bare thought of my venturing with her on the route by which I had hitherto made my entry into the oasis, was one that curdled my blood with fear. I could absolutely feel my flesh to contract whenever I painted the terrible risk that would be incurred in adopting a plan I had once conceived,-namely, that of lashing your mother to my back, while I again effected my descent to the ledge beneath, in the manner I had hitherto done. I felt that, once on the ridge, I might, without much effort, attain the passage of the fissure already described; for the habit of accomplishing this leap had rendered it so perfectly familiar to me, that I now performed it with the utmost security and ease; but to imagine our united weight suspended over the abyss, as it necessarily must be in the first stage of our flight, when even the dislodgment of a single root or fragment of the rock was sufficient to ensure the horrible destruction of her whom I loved better than my own life, had something too appalling in it to suffer me to dwell on the idea for more than a moment. I had proposed, as the most feasible and rational plan, that the colonel should be compelled to give us egress through the secret passage, when we might command the services of the old woman to guide us through the passes that led to the town; but to this your mother most urgently objected, declaring that she would rather encounter any personal peril that might attend her escape, in a different manner, than appear to be a participator in an act of violence against her parent whose obstinacy of character she moreover knew too well to leave a hope of his being intimidated into the accomplishment of our object, even by a threat of death itself. This plan I was therefore compelled to abandon; and as neither of us were able to discover the passage by which the deer always effected its entrance, I was obliged to fix upon one, which it was agreed should be put in practice on the following day.

"On my return, I occupied myself with preparations for the reception of her who was so speedily to become my wife. Unwilling that she should be seen by any of my companions, until the ceremony was finally performed, I engaged apartments in a small retired cottage, distant about half a mile from the furthest extremity of the town, where I purposed she should remain until the regiment finally quitted the station. This point secured, I hastened to the quarters of the chaplain, to engage his services for the following evening; but he was from home at the time, and I repaired to my own rooms, to prepare the means of escape for your mother. These occupied me until a very late hour; and when at length I retired to rest, it was only to indulge in the fondest imaginings that ever filled the heart of a devoted lover. Alas! (and the dark warrior again sighed heavily) the day-dream of my happiness was already fast drawing to a close.

"At half an hour before noon, I was again in the oasis; your mother was at the wonted spot; and although she received me with her sunniest smiles, there were traces of tears upon her cheek. I kissed them eagerly away, and sought to dissipate the partial gloom that was again clouding her brow. She observed it pained me to see her thus, and she made a greater effort to rally. She implored me to forgive her weakness; but it was the first time she was to be separated from her parent; and conscious as she was that it was to be for ever, she could not repress the feeling that rose, despite of herself, to her heart. She had, however, prepared a letter, at my suggestion, to be left on her favourite moss seat, where it was likely she would first be sought by her father, to assure him of her safety, and of her prospects of future happiness; and the consciousness that he would labour under no harrowing uncertainty in regard to her fate, seemed, at length, to soothe and satisfy her heart.

"I now led her to the aperture, where I had left the apparatus provided for my purpose: this consisted of a close netting, about four feet in depth, with a board for a footstool at the bottom, and furnished at intervals with hoops, so as to keep it full and open. The top of this netting was provided with two handles, to which were attached the ends of a cord many fathoms in length; the whole of such durability, as to have borne weights equal to those of three ordinary sized men, with which I had proved it prior to my setting out. My first care was to bandage the eyes of your mother, (who willingly and fearlessly submitted to all I proposed,) that she might not see, and become faint with seeing, the terrible chasm over which she was about to be suspended. I then placed her within the netting, which, fitting closely to her person, and reaching under her arms, completely secured her; and my next urgent request was, that she would not, on any account, remove the bandage, or make the slightest movement, when she found herself stationary below, until I had joined her. I then dropped her gently through the aperture, lowering fathom after fathom of the rope, the ends of which I had firmly secured round the trunk of a tree, as an additional safeguard, until she finally came on a level with that part of the cliff on which I had reposed when first she beheld me. As she still hung immediately over the abyss, it was necessary to give a gradual impetus to her weight, to enable her to gain the landing-place. I now, therefore, commenced swinging her to and fro, until she at length came so near the point desired, that I clearly saw the principal difficulty was surmounted. The necessary motion having been given to the balance, with one vigorous and final impulsion I dexterously contrived to deposit her several feet from the edge of the lower rock, when, slackening the rope on the instant, I had the inexpressible satisfaction to see that she remained firm and stationary. The waving of her scarf immediately afterwards (a signal previously agreed upon), announced she had sustained no injury in this rather rude collision with the rock, and I in turn commenced my descent.

"Fearing to cast away the ends of the rope, lest their weight should by any chance effect the balance of the footing your mother had obtained, I now secured them around my loins, and accomplishing my descent in the customary manner, speedily found myself once more at the side of my heart's dearest treasure. Here the transport of my joy was too great to be controlled; I felt that NOW my prize was indeed secured to me for ever; and I burst forth into the most passionate exclamations of tenderness, and falling on my knees, raised my hands to Heaven in fervent gratitude for the success with which my enterprise had been crowned. Another would have been discouraged at the difficulties still remaining; but with these I was become too familiar, not to feel the utmost confidence in encountering them, even with the treasure that was equally perilled with myself. For a moment I removed the bandage from the eyes of your mother, that she might behold not only the far distant point whence she had descended, but the frowning precipice I had daily been in the habit of climbing to be blest with her presence. She did so,-and her cheek paled, for the first time, with a sense of the danger I had incurred; then turning her soft and beautiful eyes on mine, she smiled a smile that seemed to express how much her love would repay me. Again our lips met, and we were happy even in that lonely spot, beyond all language to describe. Once more, at length, I prepared to execute the remainder of my task; and I again applied the bandage to her eyes, saying that, although the principal danger was over, still there was another I could not bear she should look upon. Again she smiled, and with a touching sweetness of expression that fired my blood, observing at the same time she feared no danger while she was with me, but that if my object was to prevent her from looking at me, the most efficient way certainly was to apply a bandage to her eyes. Oh! woman, woman!" groaned Wacousta, in fierce anguish of spirit, "who shall expound the complex riddle of thy versatile nature?

"Disengaging the rope from the handles of the netting, I now applied to these a broad leathern belt taken from the pouches of two of my men, and stooping with my back to the cherished burden with which I was about to charge myself, passed the centre of the belt across my chest, much in the manner in which, as you are aware, Indian women carry their infant children. As an additional precaution, I had secured the netting round my waist by a strong lacing of cord, and then raising myself to my full height, and satisfying myself of the perfect freedom of action of my limbs, seized a long balancing pole I had left suspended against the rock at my last vi

sit, and commenced my descent of the sloping ridge. On approaching the horrible chasm, a feeling of faintness came over me, despite of the confidence with which I had previously armed myself. This, however, was but momentary. Sensible that every thing depended on rapidity of movement, I paused not in my course; but, quickening my pace as I gradually drew nearer, gave the necessary impetus to my motion, and cleared the gap with a facility far exceeding what had distinguished my first passage, and which was the fruit of constant practice alone. Here my balance was sustained by the pole; and at length I had the inexpressible satisfaction to find myself at the very extremity of the ridge, and immediately at the point where I had left my companions in my first memorable pursuit. Alas!" continued the warrior, again interrupting himself with one of those fierce exclamations of impatient anguish that so frequently occurred in his narrative, "what subject for rejoicing was there in this? Better far we had been dashed to pieces in the abyss, than I should have lived to curse the hour when first my spirit of adventure led me to traverse it." Again he resumed:-

"In the deep transport of my joy, I once more threw myself on my knees in speechless thanksgiving to Providence for the complete success of my undertaking. Your mother, whom I had previously released from her confinement, did the same; and at that moment the union of our hearts seemed to be cemented by a divine influence, manifested in the fulness of the gratitude of each. I then raised her from the earth, imprinting a kiss upon her fair brow, that was hallowed by the purity of the feeling I had so recently indulged in; and throwing over her shoulders the mantle of a youth, which I had secreted near the spot, enjoined her to follow me closely in the path I was about to pursue. As she had hitherto encountered no fatigue, and was, moreover, well provided with strong buskins I had brought for the purpose, I thought it advisable to discontinue the use of the netting, which must attract notice, and cause us, perhaps, to be followed, in the event of our being met by any of the hunters that usually traversed these parts. To carry her in my arms, as I should have preferred, might have excited the same curiosity, and I was therefore compelled to decide upon her walking; reserving to myself, however, the sweet task of bearing her in my embrace over the more difficult parts of our course.

"I have not hitherto found it necessary to state," continued Wacousta, his brow lowering with fierce and gloomy thought, "that more than once, latterly, on my return from the oasis, which was usually at a stated hour, I had observed a hunter hovering near the end of the ledge, yet quickly retreating as I advanced. There was something in the figure of this man that recalled to my recollection the form of your father; but ever, on my return to quarters, I found him in uniform, and exhibiting any thing but the appearance of one who had recently been threading his weary way among rocks and fastnesses. Besides, the improbability of this fact was so great, that it occupied not my attention beyond the passing moment. On the present occasion, however, I saw the same hunter, and was more forcibly than ever struck by the resemblance to my friend. Prior to my quitting the point where I had liberated your mother from the netting, I had, in addition to the disguise of the cloak, found it necessary to make some alteration in the arrangement of her hair; the redundancy of which, as it floated gracefully over her polished neck, was in itself sufficient to betray her sex. With this view I had removed her plumed bonnet. It was the first time I had seen her without it; and so deeply impressed was I by the angel-like character of the extreme feminine beauty she, more than ever, then exhibited, that I knelt in silent adoration for some moments at her feet, my eyes and countenance alone expressing the fervent and almost holy emotion of my enraptured soul. Had she been a divinity, I could not have worshipped her with a purer feeling. While I yet knelt, I fancied I heard a sound behind me; and, turning quickly, beheld the head of a man peering above a point of rock at some little distance. He immediately, on witnessing my action, sank again beneath it, but not in sufficient time to prevent my almost assuring myself that it was the face of your father I had beheld. My first impulse was to bound forward, and satisfy myself who it really was who seemed thus ever on the watch to intercept my movements; but a second rapid reflection convinced me, that, having been discovered, it was most likely the intruder had already effected his retreat, and that any attempt at pursuit might not only alarm your mother, but compromise her safety. I determined, however, to tax your father with the fact on my return to quarters; and, from the manner in which he met the charge, to form my own conclusion.

"Meanwhile we pursued our course; and after an hour's rather laborious exertion, at length emerged from the succession of glens and rocks that lay in our way; when, skirting the valley in which the town was situated, we finally reached the cottage where I had secured my lodging. Previous to entering it, I had told your mother, that for the few hours that would intervene before the marriage ceremony could be performed, I should, by way of lulling the curiosity of her hostess, introduce her as a near relative of my own. This I did accordingly; and, having seen that every thing was comfortably arranged for her convenience, and recommending her strongly to the care of the old woman, I set off once more in search of the chaplain of the regiment Before I could reach his residence, however, I was met by a sergeant of my company, who came running towards me, evidently with some intelligence of moment. He stated, that my presence was required without delay. The grenadiers, with the senior subaltern, were in orders for detachment for an important service; and considerable displeasure had been manifested by the colonel at my absence, especially as of late I had greatly neglected my military duties. He had been looking for me every where, he said, but without success, when Ensign de Haldimar had pointed out to him in what direction it was likely I might be found.

"At a calmer moment, I should have been startled at the last observation; but my mind was too much engrossed with the principal subject of my regret, to pay any attention to the circumstance. It was said the detachment would be occupied in this duty a week or ten days, at least; and how was I to absent myself from her whom I so fondly loved for this period, without even being permitted first to see and account to her for my absence? There was torture in the very thought; and in the height of my impatience, I told the sergeant he might give my compliments to the colonel, and say I would see the service d-d rather than inconvenience myself by going out on this duty at so short a notice; that I had private business of the highest importance to myself to transact, and could not absent myself. As the man, however, prepared coolly to depart, it suddenly occurred to me, that I might prevail on your father to take my duty now, as on former occasions he had willingly done, and I countermanded my message to the colonel; desiring him, however, to find out Ensign de Haldimar, and say that I requested to see him immediately at my quarters, whither I was now proceeding to change my dress.

"With a beating heart did I assume an uniform that appeared, at that moment, hideous in my eyes; yet I was not without a hope I might yet get off this ill-timed duty. Before I had completed my equipment, your father entered; and when I first glanced my eye full upon his, I thought his countenance exhibited evidences of confusion. This immediately reminded me of the unknown hunter, and I asked him if he was not the person I described. His answer was not a positive denial, but a mixture of raillery and surprise that lulled my doubts, enfeebled as they were by the restored calm of his features. I then told him that I had a particular favour to ask of him, which, in consideration of our friendship, I trusted he would not refuse; and that was, to take my duty in the expedition about to set forth. His manner implied concern; and he asked, with a look that had much deliberate expression in it, 'if I was aware that it was a duty in which blood was expected to be shed? He could not suppose that any consideration would induce me to resign my duty to another officer, when apprised of this fact.' All this was said with the air of one really interested in my honour; but in my increasing impatience, I told him I wanted none of his cant; I simply asked him a favour, which he would grant or decline as he thought proper. This was a harshness of language I had never indulged in; but my mind was sore under the existing causes of my annoyance, and I could not bear to have my motives reflected on at a moment when my heart was torn with all the agonies attendant on the position in which I found myself placed. His cheek paled and flushed more than once, before he replied, 'that in spite of my unkindness his friendship might induce him to do much for me, even as he had hitherto done, but that on the present occasion it rested not with him. In order to justify himself he would no longer disguise the fact from me, that the colonel had declared, in the presence of the whole regiment, I should take my duty regularly in future, and not be suffered to make a convenience of the service any longer. If, however, he could do any thing for me during my absence, I had but to command him.

"While I was yet giving vent, in no very measured terms, to the indignation I felt at being made the subject of public censure by the colonel, the same sergeant came into the room, announcing that the company were only waiting for me to march, and that the colonel desired my instant presence. In the agitation of my feelings, I scarcely knew what I did, putting several portions of my regimental equipment on so completely awry, that your father noticed and rectified the errors I had committed; while again, in the presence of the sergeant, I expressed the deepest regret he could not relieve me from a duty that was hateful to the last degree.

"Torn with agony at the thought of the uncertainty in which I was compelled to leave her, whom I so fondly adored, I had now no other alternative than to make a partial confidant of your father. I told him that in the cottage which I pointed out he would find the original of the portrait he had seen me painting on a former occasion,-the Cornish cousin, whose beauty he professed to hold so cheaply. More he should know of her on my return; but at present I confided her to his honour, and begged he would prove his friendship for me by rendering her whatever attention she might require in her humble abode. With these hurried injunctions he promised to comply; and it has often occurred to me since, although I did not remark it at the time, that while his voice and manner were calm, there was a burning glow upon his handsome cheek, and a suppressed exultation in his eye, that I had never observed on either before. I then quitted the room; and hastening to my company with a gloom on-my brow that indicated the wretchedness of my inward spirit, was soon afterwards on the march from --."

Again the warrior seemed agitated with the most violent emotion; he buried his face in his hands; and the silence that ensued was longer than any he had previously indulged in. At length he made an effort to arouse himself; and again exhibiting his swarthy features, disclosed a brow, not clouded, as before, by grief, but animated with the fiercest and most appalling passions, while he thus impetuously resumed.

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