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Wacousta: A Tale of the Pontiac Conspiracy--Volume 3 By John Richardson Characters: 11392

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Night had long since drawn her circling mantle over the western hemisphere; and deeper, far deeper than the gloom of that night was the despair which filled every bosom of the devoted garrison, whose fortunes it has fallen to our lot to record. A silence, profound as that of death, pervaded the ramparts and exterior defences of the fortress, interrupted only, at long intervals, by the customary "All's well!" of the several sentinels; which, after the awful events of the day, seemed to many who now heard it as if uttered in mockery of their hopelessness of sorrow. The lights within the barracks of the men had been long since extinguished; and, consigned to a mere repose of limb, in which the eye and heart shared not, the inferior soldiery pressed their rude couches with spirits worn out by a succession of painful excitements, and frames debilitated, by much abstinence and watching. It was an hour at which sleep was wont to afford them the blessing of a temporary forgetfulness of endurances that weighed the more heavily as they were believed to be endless and without fruit; but sleep had now apparently been banished from all; for the low and confused murmur that met the ear from the several block-houses was continuous and general, betraying at times, and in a louder key, words that bore reference to the tragic occurrences of the day.

The only lights visible in the fort proceeded from the guard-house and a room adjoining that of the ill-fated Charles de Haldimar. Within the latter were collected, with the exception of the governor, and grouped around a bed on which lay one of their companions in a nearly expiring state, the officers of the garrison, reduced nearly one third in number since we first offered them to the notice of our readers. The dying man was Sir Everard Valletort, who, supported by pillows, was concluding a narrative that had chained the earnest attention of his auditory, even amid the deep and heartfelt sympathy perceptible in each for the forlorn and hopeless condition of the narrator. At the side of the unhappy baronet, and enveloped in a dressing gown, as if recently out of bed, sat, reclining in a rude elbow chair, one whose pallid countenance denoted, that, although far less seriously injured, he, too, had suffered severely:-it was Lieutenant Johnstone.

The narrative was at length closed; and the officer, exhausted by the effort he had made in his anxiety to communicate every particular to his attentive and surprised companions, had sunk back upon his pillow, when, suddenly, the loud and unusual "Who comes there?" of the sentinel stationed on the rampart above the gateway, arrested every ear. A moment of pause succeeded, when again was heard the "Stand, friend!" evidently given in reply to the familiar answer to the original challenge. Then were audible rapid movements in the guard-house, as of men aroused from temporary slumber, and hastening to the point whence the voice proceeded.

Silently yet hurriedly the officers now quitted the bedside of the dying man, leaving only the surgeon and the invalid Johnstone behind them; and, flying to the rampart, stood in the next minute confounded with the guard, who were already grouped round the challenging sentinel, bending their gaze eagerly in the direction of the road.

"What now, man?-whom have you challenged?" asked Major Blackwater.

"It is I-De Haldimar," hoarsely exclaimed one of four dark figures that, hitherto, unnoticed by the officers, stood immediately beyond the ditch, with a burden deposited at their feet. "Quick, Blackwater, let us in for God's sake! Each succeeding minute may bring a scouting party on our track. Lower the drawbridge!"

"Impossible!" exclaimed the major: "after all that has passed, it is more than my commission is worth to lower the bridge without permission. Mr. Lawson, quick to the governor, and report that Captain de Haldimar is here: with whom shall he say?" again addressing the impatient and almost indignant officer.

"With Miss de Haldimar, Francois the Canadian, and one to whom we all owe our lives," hurriedly returned the officer; "and you may add," he continued gloomily, "the corpse of my sister. But while we stand in parley here, we are lost: Lawson, fly to my father, and tell him we wait for entrance."

With nearly the speed enjoined the adjutant departed. Scarcely a minute elapsed when he again stood upon the rampart, and advancing closely to the major, whispered a few words in his ear.

"Good God! can it be possible? When? How came this? but we will enquire later. Open the gate; down with the bridge, Leslie," addressing the officer of the guard.

The command was instantly obeyed. The officers flew to receive the fugitives; and as the latter crossed the drawbridge, the light of a lantern, that had been brought from the guard-room, flashed full upon the harassed countenances of Captain and Miss de Haldimar, Francois the Canadian, and the devoted Oucanasta.

Silent and melancholy was the greeting that took place between the parties: the voice spoke not; the hand alone was eloquent; but it was in the eloquence of sorrow only that it indulged. Pleasure, even in this almost despaired of re-union, could not be expressed; and even the eye shrank from mutual encounter, as if its very glance at such a moment were sacrilege. Recalled to a sense of her situation by the preparation of the men to raise the bridge, the Indian woman was the first to break the silence.

"The Saganaw is safe within his fort, and the girl of the pale faces will lay her head upon his bosom," she remarked solemnly. "Oucanasta will go to her solitary wigwam among the red skins."

The heart of

Madeline de Haldimar was oppressed by the weight of many griefs; yet she could not see the generous preserver of her life, and the rescuer of the body of her ill-fated cousin, depart without emotion. Drawing a ring, of some value and great beauty, from her finger, which she had more than once observed the Indian to admire, she placed it on her hand; and then, throwing herself on the bosom of the faithful creature, embraced her with deep manifestations of affection, but without uttering a word.

Oucanasta was sensibly gratified: she raised her large eyes to heaven as if in thankfulness; and by the light of the lantern, which fell upon her dark but expressive countenance, tears were to be seen starting unbidden from their source.

Released from the embrace of her, whose life she had twice preserved at imminent peril to her own, the Indian again prepared to depart; but there was another, who, like Madeline, although stricken by many sorrows, could not forego the testimony of his heart's gratitude. Captain de Haldimar, who, during this short scene, had despatched a messenger to his room for the purpose, now advanced to the poor girl, bearing a short but elegantly mounted dagger, which he begged her to deliver as a token of his friendship to the young chief her brother. He then dropped on one knee at her feet, and raising her hand, pressed it fervently against his heart; an action which, even to the untutored mind of the Indian, bore evidence only of the feeling that prompted it, A heavy sigh escaped her labouring chest; and as the officer now rose and quitted her hand, she turned slowly and with dignity from him, and crossing the drawbridge, was in a few minutes lost in the surrounding gloom.

Our readers have, doubtless, anticipated the communication made to Major Blackwater by the Adjutant Lawson. Bowed down to the dust by the accomplishment of the curse of Ellen Halloway, the inflexibility of Colonel de Haldimar's pride was not proof against the utter annihilation wrought to his hopes as a father by the unrelenting hatred of the enemy his early falsehood and treachery had raised up to him. When the adjutant entered his apartment, the stony coldness of his cheek attested he had been dead some hours.

We pass over the few days of bitter trial that succeeded to the restoration of Captain de Haldimar and his bride to their friends; days, during which were consigned to the same grave the bodies of the governor, his lamented children, and the scarcely less regretted Sir Everard Valletort. The funeral service was attempted by Captain Blessington; but the strong affection of that excellent officer, for three of the defunct parties at least, was not armed against the trial. He had undertaken a task far beyond his strength; and scarcely had commenced, ere he was compelled to relinquish the performance of the ritual to the adjutant. A large grave had been dug close under the rampart, and near the fatal flag-staff, to receive the bodies of their deceased friends; and, as they were lowered successively into their last earthly resting place, tears fell unrestrainedly over the bronzed cheeks of the oldest soldiers, while many a female sob blended with and gave touching solemnity to the scene.

On the morning of the third day from this quadruple interment, notice was given by one of the sentinels that an Indian was approaching the fort, making signs as if in demand for a parley. The officers, headed by Major Blackwater, now become the commandant of the place, immediately ascended the rampart, when the stranger was at once recognised by Captain de Haldimar for the young Ottawa, the preserver of his life, and the avenger of the deaths of those they mourned, in whose girdle was thrust, in seeming pride, the richly mounted dagger that officer had caused to be conveyed to him through his no less generous sister. A long conference ensued, in the language of the Ottawas, between the parties just named, the purport of which was of high moment to the garrison, now nearly reduced to the last extremity. The young chief had come to apprise them, that, won by the noble conduct of the English, on a late occasion, when his warriors were wholly in their power, Ponteac had expressed a generous determination to conclude a peace with the garrison, and henceforth to consider them as his friends. This he had publicly declared in a large council of the chiefs, held the preceding night; and the motive of the Ottawa's coming was, to assure the English, that, on this occasion, their great leader was perfectly sincere in a resolution, at which he had the more readily arrived, now that his terrible coadjutor and vindictive adviser was no more. He prepared them for the coming of Ponteac and the principal chiefs of the league to demand a council on the morrow; and, with this final communication, again withdrew.

The Ottawa was right Within a week from that period the English were to be seen once more issuing from their fort; and, although many months elapsed before the wounds of their suffering hearts were healed, still were they grateful to Providence for their final preservation from a doom that had fallen, without exception, on every fortress on the line of frontier in which they lay.

Time rolled on; and, in the course of years, Oucanasta might be seen associating with and bearing curious presents, the fruits of Indian ingenuity, to the daughters of De Haldimar, now become the colonel of the -- regiment; while her brother, the chief, instructed his sons in the athletic and active exercises peculiar to his race. As for poor Ellen Halloway, search had been made for her, but she never was heard of afterwards.

THE END

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