Volume One of Three
It is well known to every man conversant with the earlier history of this country that, shortly subsequent to the cession of the Canadas to England by France, Ponteac, the great head of the Indian race of that period, had formed a federation of the various tribes, threatening extermination to the British posts established along the Western frontier. These were nine in number, and the following stratagem was resorted to by the artful chief to effect their reduction. Investing one fort with his warriors, so as to cut off all communication with the others, and to leave no hope of succor, his practice was to offer terms of surrender, which never were kept in the honorable spirit in which the far more noble and generous Tecumseh always acted with his enemies, and thus, in turn, seven of these outposts fell victims to their confidence in his truth.
Detroit and Michilimackinac, or Mackinaw as it is now called, remained, and all the ingenuity of the chieftain was directed to the possession of these strongholds. The following plan, well worthy of his invention, was at length determined upon. During a temporary truce, and while Ponteac was holding forth proposals for an ultimate and durable peace, a game of lacrosse was arranged by him to take place simultaneously on the common or clearing on which rested the forts of Michilimackinac and Detroit. The better to accomplish their object, the guns of the warriors had been cut short and given to their women, who were instructed to conceal them under their blankets, and during the game, and seemingly without design, to approach the drawbridge of the fort. This precaution taken, the players were to approach and throw over their ball, permission to regain which they presumed would not be denied. On approaching the drawbridge they were with fierce yells to make a general rush, and, securing the arms concealed by the women, to massacre the unprepared garrison.
The day was fixed; the game commenced, and was proceeded with in the manner previously arranged. The ball was dexterously hurled into the fort, and permission asked to recover it. It was granted. The drawbridge was lowered, and the Indians dashed forward for the accomplishment of their work of blood. How different the results in the two garrisons! At Detroit, Ponteac and his warriors had scarcely crossed the drawbridge when, to their astonishment and disappointment, they beheld the guns of the ramparts depressed—the artillerymen with lighted matches at their posts and covering the little garrison, composed of a few companies of the 42nd Highlanders, who were also under arms, and so distributed as to take the enemy most at an advantage. Suddenly they withdrew and without other indication of their purpose than what had been expressed in their manner, and carried off the missing ball. Their design had been discovered and made known by means of significant warnings to the Governor by an Indian woman who owed a debt of gratitude to his family, and was resolved, at all hazards, to save them.
On the same day the same artifice was resorted to at Michilimackinac, and with the most complete success. There was no guardian angel there to warn them of danger, and all fell beneath the rifle, the tomahawk, the war-club, and the knife, one or two of the traders—a Mr. Henry among the rest—alone excepted.
It was not long after this event when the head of the military authorities in the Colony, apprised of the fate of these captured posts, and made acquainted with the perilous condition of Fort Detroit, which was then reduced to the last extremity, sought an officer who would volunteer the charge of supplies from Albany to Buffalo, and thence across the lake to Detroit, which, if possible, he was to relieve. That volunteer was promptly found in my maternal grandfather, Mr. Erskine, from Strabane, in the North of Ireland, then an officer in the Commissariat Department. The difficulty of the undertaking will be obvious to those who understand the danger attending a journey through the Western wilderness, beset as it was by the warriors of Ponteac, ever on the lookout to prevent succor to the garrison, and yet the duty was successfully accomplished. He left Albany with provisions and ammunition sufficient to fill several Schnectady boats—I think seven—and yet conducted his charge with such prudence and foresight, that notwithstanding the vigilance of Ponteac, he finally and after long watching succeeded, under cover of a dark and stormy night, in throwing into the fort the supplies of which the remnant of the gallant "Black Watch," as the 42nd was originally named, and a company of whom, while out reconnoitering, had been massacred at a spot in the vicinity of the town, thereafter called the Bloody Run, stood so greatly in need. This important service rendered, Mr. Erskine, in compliance with the instructions he had received, returned to Albany, where he reported the success of the expedition.
The colonial authorities were not regardless of his interests. When the Ponteac confederacy had been dissolved, and quiet and security restored in that remote region, large tracts of land were granted to Mr. Erskine, and other privileges accorded which eventually gave him the command of nearly a hundred thousand dollars—enormous sum to have been realized at that early period of the country. But it was not destined that he should retain this. The great bulk of his capital was expended on almost the first commercial shipping that ever skimmed the surface of Lakes Huron and Erie. Shortly prior to the Revolution, he was possessed of seven vessels of different tonnage, and the trade in which he had embarked, and of which he was the head, was rapidly increasing his already large fortune, when one of those autumnal hurricanes, which even to this day continue to desolate the waters of the treacherous lake last named, suddenly arose and buried beneath its engulfing waves not less than six of these schooners laden with such riches, chiefly furs, of the West as then were most an object of barter.
Mr. Erskine, who had married the daughter of one of the earliest settlers from France, and of a family well known in history, a lady who had been in Detroit during the siege of the British garrison by Ponteac, now abandoned speculation, and contenting himself with the remnant of his fortune, established himself near the banks of the river, within a short distance of the Bloody Run. Here he continued throughout the Revolution. Early, however, in the present century, he quitted Detroit and repaired to the Canadian shore, where on a property nearly opposite, which he obtained in exchange, and which in honor of his native country he named Strabane—known as such to this day—he passed the autumn of his days. The last time I beheld him was a day or two subsequent to the affair of the Thames, when General Harrison and Colonel Johnson were temporary inmates of his dwelling.
My father, of a younger branch of the Annandale family, the head of which was attainted in the Scottish rebellion of 1745, was an officer of Simcoe's well-known Rangers, in which regiment, and about the same period, the present Lord Hardinge commenced his services in this country. Being quartered at Fort Erie, he met and married at the house of one of the earliest Canadian merchants a daughter of Mr. Erskine, then on a visit to her sister, and by her had eight children, of whom I am the oldest and only survivor. Having a few years after his marriage been ordered to St. Joseph's, near Michilimackinac, my father thought it expedient to leave me with Mr. Erskine at Detroit, where I received the first rudiments of my education. But here I did not remain long, for it was during the period of the stay of the detachment of Simcoe's Rangers at St. Joseph that Mr. Erskine repaired with his family to the Canadian shore, where on the more elevated and conspicuous part of his grounds which are situated nearly opposite the foot of Hog Island, so repeatedly alluded to in "Wacousta," he had caused a flag-staff to be erected, from which each Sabbath day proudly floated the colors under which he had served, and which he never could bring himself to disown.
It was at Strabane that the old lady, with whom I was a great favorite, used to enchain my young interest by detailing various facts connected with the siege she so well remembered, and infused into me a longing to grow up to manhood that I might write a book about it. The details of the Ponteac plan for the capture of the two forts were what she most enlarged upon, and although a long lapse of years of absence from the scene, and ten thousand incidents of a higher and more immediate importance might have been supposed to weaken the recollections of so early a period of life, the impression has ever vividly remained. Hence the first appearance of "Wacousta" in London in 1832, more than a quarter of a century later. The story is founded solely on the artifice of Ponteac to possess himself of those two last British forts. All else is imaginary.
It is not a little curious that I, only a few years subsequent to the narration by old Mrs. Erskine of the daring and cunning feats of Ponteac, and his vain attempt to secure the fort of Detroit, should myself have entered it in arms. But it was so. I had ever hated school with a most bitter hatred, and I gladly availed myself of an offer from General Brock to obtain for me a commission in the King's service. Meanwhile I did duty as a cadet with the gallant 41st regiment, to which the English edition of "Wacousta" was inscribed, and was one of the guard of honor who took possession of the fort. The duty of a sentinel over the British colors, which had just been hoisted was assigned to me, and I certainly felt not a little proud of the distinction.
Five times within half a century had the flag of that fortress been changed. First the lily of France, then the red cross of England, and next the stars and stripes of America had floated over its ramparts; and then again the red cross, and lastly the stars. On my return to this country a few years since, I visited those scenes of stirring excitement in which my boyhood had been passed, but I looked in vain for the ancient fortifications which had given a classical interest to that region. The unsparing hand of utilitarianism had passed over them, destroying almost every vestige of the past. Where had risen the only fortress in America at all worthy to give antiquity to the scene, streets had been laid out and made, and houses had been built, leaving not a trace of its existence save the well that formerly supplied the closely besieged garrison with water; and this, half imbedded in the herbage of an enclosure of a dwelling house of mean appearance, was rather to be guessed at than seen; while at the opposite extremity of the city, where had been conspicuous for years the Bloody Run, cultivation and improvement had nearly obliterated every trace of the past.
Two objections have been urged against "Wacousta" as a consistent tale—the one as involving an improbability, the other a geographical error. It has been assumed that the startling feat accomplished by that man of deep revenge, who is not alone in his bitter hatred and contempt for the base among those who, like spaniels, crawl and kiss the dust at the instigation of their superiors, and yet arrogate to themselves a claim to be considered gentlemen and men of honor and independence—it has, I repeat, been assumed that the feat attributed to him in connection with the flag-staff of the fort was impossible. No one who has ever seen these erections on the small forts of that day would pronounce the same criticism. Never very lofty, they were ascended at least one-third of their height by means of small projections nailed to them for footholds for the artillerymen, frequently compelled to clear the flag lines entangled at the truck; therefore a strong and active man, such as Wacousta is described to have been, might very well have been supposed, in his strong anxiety for revenge and escape with his victim, to have doubled his strength and activity on so important an occasion, rendering that easy of attainment by himself which an ordinary and unexcited man might deem impossible. I myself have knocked down a gate, almost without feeling the resistance, in order to escape the stilettos of assassins.
The second objection is to the narrowness attributed in the tale to the river St. Clair. This was done in the license usually accorded to a writer of fiction, in order to give greater effect to the scene represented as having occurred there, and, of course, in no way intended as a geographical description of the river, nor was it necessary. In the same spirit and for the same purpose it has been continued.
It will be seen that at the termination of the tragedy enacted at the bridge, by which the Bloody Run was in those days crossed, that the wretched wife of the condemned soldier pronounced a curse that could not, of course, well be fulfilled in the course of the tale. Some few years ago I published in Canada—I might as well have done so in Kamschatka—the continuation, which was to have been dedicated to the last King of England, but which, after the death of that monarch, was inscribed to Sir John Harvey, whose letter, as making honorable mention of a gallant and beloved brother, I feel it a duty to the memory of the latter to subjoin.
GOVERNMENT HOUSE, FREDERICTON, N.B.,
Major Richardson, Montreal.
November 26th, 1839.
"Dear Sir;—I am favored with your very interesting communication of the 2nd instant, by which I learn that you are the brother of two youths whose gallantry and merits—and with regard to one of them, his sufferings—during the late war, excited my warmest admiration and sympathy. I beg you to believe that I am far from insensible to the affecting proofs which you have made known to me of this grateful recollection of any little service I may have had it in my power to render them; and I will add that the desire which I felt to serve the father will be found to extend itself to the son, if your nephew should ever find himself under circumstances to require from me any service which it may be within my power to render him."
"With regard to your very flattering proposition to inscribe your present work to me, I can only say that, independent of the respect to which the author of so very charming a production as 'Wacousta' is entitled, the interesting facts and circumstances so unexpectedly brought to my knowledge and recollection would ensure a ready acquiescence on my part."
"I remain, dear sir your very faithful servant"
"(Signed) J. HARVEY. "
The "Prophecy Fulfilled," which, however, has never been seen out of the small country in which it appeared—Detroit, perhaps, alone excepted—embraces and indeed is intimately connected with the Beauchamp tragedy, which took place at or near Weisiger's Hotel, in Frankfort, Kentucky, where I had been many years before confined as a prisoner of war. While connecting it with the "Prophecy Fulfilled," and making it subservient to the end I had in view, I had not read or even heard of the existence of a work of the same character, which had already appeared from the pen of an American author. Indeed, I have reason to believe that the "Prophecy Fulfilled," although not published until after a lapse of years, was the first written. No similarity of treatment of the subject exists between the two versions, and this, be it remembered, I remark without in the slightest degree impugning the merit of the production of my fellow-laborer in the same field.
New York City, January 1st, 1851.
As we are about to introduce our readers to scenes with which the European is little familiarised, some few cursory remarks, illustrative of the general features of the country into which we have shifted our labours, may not be deemed misplaced at the opening of this volume.
Without entering into minute geographical detail, it may be necessary merely to point out the outline of such portions of the vast continent of America as still acknowledge allegiance to the English crown, in order that the reader, understanding the localities, may enter with deeper interest into the incidents of a tale connected with a ground hitherto untouched by the wand of the modern novelist.
All who have ever taken the trouble to inform themselves of the features of a country so little interesting to the majority of Englishmen in their individual character must be aware,—and for the information of those who are not, we state,—that that portion of the northern continent of America which is known as the United States is divided from the Canadas by a continuous chain of lakes and rivers, commencing at the ocean into which they empty themselves, and extending in a north-western direction to the remotest parts of these wild regions, which have never yet been pressed by other footsteps than those of the native hunters of the soil. First we have the magnificent St. Lawrence, fed from the lesser and tributary streams, rolling her sweet and silver waters into the foggy seas of the Newfoundland.—But perhaps it will better tend to impress our readers with a panoramic picture of the country in which our scene of action is more immediately laid, by commencing at those extreme and remote points of our Canadian possessions to which their attention will be especially directed in the course of our narrative.
The most distant of the north-western settlements of America is Michilimackinac, a name given by the Indians, and preserved by the Americans, who possess the fort even to this hour. It is situated at the head of the Lakes Michigan and Huron, and adjacent to the Island of St. Joseph's, where, since the existence of the United States as an independent republic, an English garrison has been maintained, with a view of keeping the original fortress in check. From the lakes above mentioned we descend into the River Sinclair, which, in turn, disembogues itself into the lake of the same name. This again renders tribute to the Detroit, a broad majestic river, not less than a mile in breadth at its source, and progressively widening towards its mouth until it is finally lost in the beautiful Lake Erie, computed at about one hundred and sixty miles in circumference. From the embouchure of this latter lake commences the Chippawa, better known in Europe from the celebrity of its stupendous falls of Niagara, which form an impassable barrier to the seaman, and, for a short space, sever the otherwise uninterrupted chain connecting the remote fortresses we have described with the Atlantic. At a distance of a few miles from the falls, the Chippawa finally empties itself into the Ontario, the most splendid of the gorgeous American lakes, on the bright bosom of which, during the late war, frigates, seventy-fours, and even a ship of one hundred and twelve guns, manned by a crew of one thousand men, reflected the proud pennants of England! At the opposite extremity of this magnificent and sea-like lake, which is upwards of two hundred miles in circumference, the far-famed St. Lawrence takes her source; and after passing through a vast tract of country, whose elevated banks bear every trace of fertility and cultivation, connects itself with the Lake Champlain, celebrated, as well as Erie, for a signal defeat of our flotilla during the late contest with the Americans. Pushing her bold waters through this somewhat inferior lake, the St. Lawrence pursues her course seaward with impetuosity, until arrested near La Chine by rock-studded shallows, which produce those strong currents and eddies, the dangers of which are so beautifully expressed in the Canadian Boat Song,—a composition that has rendered the "rapids" almost as familiar to the imagination of the European as the falls of Niagara themselves. Beyond La Chine the St. Lawrence gradually unfolds herself into greater majesty and expanse, and rolling past the busy commercial town of Montreal, is once more increased in volume by the insignificant lake of St. Peter's, nearly opposite to the settlement of Three Rivers, midway between Montreal and Quebec. From thence she pursues her course unfed, except by a few inferior streams, and gradually widens as she rolls past the capital of the Canadas, whose tall and precipitous battlements, bristled with cannon, and frowning defiance from the clouds in which they appear half imbedded, might be taken by the imaginative enthusiast for the strong tower of the Spirit of those stupendous scenes. From this point the St. Lawrence increases in expanse, until, at length, after traversing a country where the traces of civilisation become gradually less and less visible, she finally merges in the gulf, from the centre of which the shores on either hand are often invisible to the naked eye; and in this manner is it imperceptibly lost in that misty ocean, so dangerous to mariners from its deceptive and almost perpetual fogs.
In following the links of this extensive chain of lakes and rivers, it must be borne in recollection, that, proceeding seaward from Michilimackinac and its contiguous district, all that tract of country which lies to the right constitutes what is now known as the United States of America, and all on the left the two provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, tributary to the English government, subject to the English laws, and garrisoned by English troops. The several forts and harbours established along the left bank of the St. Lawrence, and throughout that portion of our possessions which is known as Lower Canada, are necessarily, from the improved condition and more numerous population of that province, on a larger scale and of better appointment; but in Upper Canada, where the traces of civilisation are less evident throughout, and become gradually more faint as we advance westward, the fortresses and harbours bear the same proportion In strength and extent to the scantiness of the population they are erected to protect. Even at the present day, along that line of remote country we have selected for the theatre of our labours, the garrisons are both few in number and weak in strength, and evidence of cultivation is seldom to be found at any distance in the interior; so that all beyond a certain extent of clearing, continued along the banks of the lakes and rivers, is thick, impervious, rayless forest, the limits of which have never yet been explored, perhaps, by the natives themselves.
Such being the general features of the country even at the present day, it will readily be comprehended how much more wild and desolate was the character they exhibited as far back as the middle of the last century, about which period our story commences. At that epoch, it will be borne in mind, what we have described as being the United States were then the British colonies of America dependent on the mother-country; while the Canadas, on the contrary, were, or had very recently been, under the dominion of France, from whom they had been wrested after a long struggle, greatly advanced in favour of England by the glorious battle fought on the plains of Abraham, near Quebec, and celebrated for the defeat of Montcalm and the death of Wolfe.
The several attempts made to repossess themselves of the strong hold of Quebec having, in every instance, been met by discomfiture and disappointment, the French, in despair, relinquished the contest, and, by treaty, ceded their claims to the Canadas,—an event that was hastened by the capitulation of the garrison of Montreal, commanded by the Marquis de Vaudreuil, to the victorious arms of General Amherst. Still, though conquered as a people, many of the leading men in the country, actuated by that jealousy for which they were remarkable, contrived to oppose obstacles to the quiet possession of a conquest by those whom they seemed to look upon as their hereditary enemies; and in furtherance of this object, paid agents, men of artful and intriguing character, were dispersed among the numerous tribes of savages, with a view of exciting them to acts of hostility against their conquerors. The long and uninterrupted possession, by the French, of those countries immediately bordering on the hunting grounds and haunts of the natives, with whom they carried on an extensive traffic in furs, had established a communionship of interest between themselves and those savage and warlike people, which failed not to turn to account the vindictive views of the former. The whole of the province of Upper Canada at that time possessed but a scanty population, protected in its most flourishing and defensive points by stockade forts; the chief object of which was to secure the garrisons, consisting each of a few companies, from any sudden surprise on the part of the natives, who, although apparently inclining to acknowledge the change of neighbours, and professing amity, were, it was well known, too much in the interest of their old friends the French, and even the French Canadians themselves, not to be regarded with the most cautious distrust.
These stockade forts were never, at any one period, nearer to each other than from one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles, so that, in the event of surprise or alarm, there was little prospect of obtaining assistance from without. Each garrison, therefore, was almost wholly dependent on its own resources; and, when surrounded unexpectedly by numerous bands of hostile Indians, had no other alternative than to hold out to the death. Capitulation was out of the question; for, although the wile and artifice of the natives might induce them to promise mercy, the moment their enemies were in their power promises and treaties were alike broken, and indiscriminate massacre ensued. Communication by water was, except during a period of profound peace, almost impracticable; for, although of late years the lakes of Canada have been covered with vessels of war, many of them, as we have already remarked, of vast magnitude, and been the theatres of conflicts that would not have disgraced the salt waters of ocean itself, at the period to which our story refers the flag of England was seen to wave only on the solitary mast of some ill-armed and ill-manned gunboat, employed rather for the purpose of conveying despatches from fort to fort, than with any serious view to acts either of aggression or defence.
In proportion as the colonies of America, now the United States, pushed their course of civilisation westward, in the same degree did the numerous tribes of Indians, who had hitherto dwelt more seaward, retire upon those of their own countrymen, who, buried in vast and impenetrable forests, had seldom yet seen the face of the European stranger; so that, in the end, all the more central parts of those stupendous wilds became doubly peopled. Hitherto, however, that civilisation had not been carried beyond the state of New York; and all those countries which have, since the American revolution, been added to the Union under the names of Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, &c., were, at the period embraced by our story, inhospitable and unproductive woods, subject only to the dominion of the native, and as yet unshorn by the axe of the cultivator. A few portions only of the opposite shores of Michigan were occupied by emigrants from the Canadas, who, finding no one to oppose or molest them, selected the most fertile spots along the banks of the river; and of the existence of these infant settlements, the English colonists, who had never ventured so far, were not even aware until after the conquest of Canada by the mother-country. This particular district was the centre around which the numerous warriors, who had been driven westward by the colonists, had finally assembled; and rude villages and encampments rose far and near for a circuit of many miles around this infant settlement and fort of the Canadians, to both of which they had given the name of Detroit, after the river on whose elevated banks they stood. Proceeding westward from this point, and along the tract of country that diverged from the banks of the Lakes Huron, Sinclair, and Michigan, all traces of that partial civilisation were again lost in impervious wilds, tenanted only by the fiercest of the Indian tribes, whose homes were principally along the banks of that greatest of American waters, the Lake Superior, and in the country surrounding the isolated fort of Michilimackinac, the last and most remote of the European fortresses in Canada.
When at a later period the Canadas were ceded to us by France, those parts of the opposite frontier which we have just described became also tributary to the English crown, and were, by the peculiar difficulties that existed to communication with the more central and populous districts, rendered especially favourable to the exercise of hostile intrigue by the numerous active French emissaries every where dispersed among the Indian tribes. During the first few years of the conquest, the inhabitants of Canada, who were all either European French, or immediate descendants of that nation, were, as might naturally be expected, more than restive under their new governors, and many of the most impatient spirits of the country sought every opportunity of sowing the seeds of distrust and jealousy in the hearts of the natives. By these people it was artfully suggested to the Indians, that their new oppressors were of the race of those who had driven them from the sea, and were progressively advancing on their territories until scarce a hunting ground or a village would be left to them. They described them, moreover, as being the hereditary enemies of their great father, the King of France, with whose governors they had buried the hatchet for ever, and smoked the calumet of perpetual peace. Fired by these wily suggestions, the high and jealous spirit of the Indian chiefs took the alarm, and they beheld with impatience the "Red Coat," or "Saganaw," [Footnote: This word thus pronounced by themselves, in reference to the English soldiery, is, in all probability, derived from the original English settlers in Saganaw Bay.] usurping, as they deemed it, those possessions which had so recently acknowledged the supremacy of the pale flag of their ancient ally. The cause of the Indians, and that of the Canadians, became, in some degree, identified as one, and each felt it was the interest, and it may be said the natural instinct, of both, to hold communionship of purpose, and to indulge the same jealousies and fears. Such was the state of things in 1763, the period at which our story commences,—an epoch fruitful in designs of hostility and treachery on the part of the Indians, who, too crafty and too politic to manifest their feelings by overt acts declaratory of the hatred carefully instilled into their breasts, sought every opportunity to compass the destruction of the English, wherever they were most vulnerable to the effects of stratagem. Several inferior forts situated on the Ohio had already fallen into their hands, when they summoned all their address and cunning to accomplish the fall of the two important though remote posts of Detroit and Michilimackinac. For a length of time they were baffled by the activity and vigilance of the respective governors of these forts, who had had too much fatal experience in the fate of their companions not to be perpetually on the alert against their guile; but when they had at length, in some degree, succeeded in lulling the suspicions of the English, they determined on a scheme, suggested by a leading chief, a man of more than ordinary character, which promised fair to rid them altogether of a race they so cordially detested. We will not, however, mar the interest of our tale, by anticipating, at this early stage, either the nature or the success of a stratagem which forms the essential groundwork of our story.
While giving, for the information of the many, what, we trust, will not be considered a too compendious outline of the Canadas, and the events connected with them, we are led to remark, that, powerful as was the feeling of hostility cherished by the French Canadians towards the English when the yoke of early conquest yet hung heavily on them, this feeling eventually died away under the mild influence of a government that preserved to them the exercise of all their customary privileges, and abolished all invidious distinctions between the descendants of France and those of the mother-country. So universally, too, has this system of conciliation been pursued, we believe we may with safety aver, of all the numerous colonies that have succumbed to the genius and power of England, there are none whose inhabitants entertain stronger feelings of attachment and loyalty to her than those of Canada; and whatever may be the transient differences,—differences growing entirely out of circumstances and interests of a local character, and in no way tending to impeach the acknowledged fidelity of the mass of French Canadians,—whatever, we repeat, may be the ephemeral differences that occasionally spring up between the governors of those provinces and individual members of the Houses of Assembly, they must, in no way, be construed into a general feeling of disaffection towards the English crown.
In proportion also as the Canadians have felt and acknowledged the beneficent effects arising from a change of rulers, so have the Indian tribes been gradually weaned from their first fierce principle of hostility, until they have subsequently become as much distinguished by their attachment to, as they were three quarters of a century ago remarkable for their untameable aversion for, every thing that bore the English name, or assumed the English character. Indeed, the hatred which they bore to the original colonists has been continued to their descendants, the subjects of the United States; and the same spirit of union subsisted between the natives and British troops, and people of Canada, during the late American war, that at an earlier period of the history of that country prevailed so powerfully to the disadvantage of England.
And now we have explained a course of events which were in some measure necessary to the full understanding of the country by the majority of our readers, we shall, in furtherance of the same object, proceed to sketch a few of the most prominent scenes more immediately before us.
The fort of Detroit, as it was originally constructed by the French, stands in the middle of a common, or description of small prairie, bounded by woods, which, though now partially thinned in their outskirts, were at that period untouched by the hand of civilisation. Erected at a distance of about half a mile from the banks of the river, which at that particular point are high and precipitous, it stood then just far enough from the woods that swept round it in a semicircular form to be secure from the rifle of the Indian; while from its batteries it commanded a range of country on every hand, which no enemy unsupported by cannon could traverse with impunity. Immediately in the rear, and on the skirt of the wood, the French had constructed a sort of bomb-proof, possibly intended to serve as a cover to the workmen originally employed in clearing the woods, but long since suffered to fall into decay. Without the fortification rose a strong and triple line of pickets, each of about two feet and a half in circumference, and so fitted into each other as to leave no other interstices than those which were perforated for the discharge of musketry. They were formed of the hardest and most knotted pines that could be procured; the sharp points of which were seasoned by fire until they acquired nearly the durability and consistency of iron. Beyond these firmly imbedded pickets was a ditch, encircling the fort, of about twenty feet in width, and of proportionate depth, the only communication over which to and from the garrison was by means of a drawbridge, protected by a strong chevaux-de-frise. The only gate with which the fortress was provided faced the river; on the more immediate banks of which, and to the left of the fort, rose the yet infant and straggling village that bore the name of both. Numerous farm-houses, however, almost joining each other, contributed to form a continuity of many miles along the borders of the river, both on the right and on the left; while the opposite shores of Canada, distinctly seen in the distance, presented, as far as the eye could reach, the same enlivening character of fertility. The banks, covered with verdure on either shore, were more or less undulating at intervals; but in general they were high without being abrupt, and picturesque without being bold, presenting, in their partial cultivation, a striking contrast to the dark, tall, and frowning forests bounding every point of the perspective.
At a distance of about five miles on the left of the town the course of the river was interrupted by a small and thickly wooded island, along whose sandy beach occasionally rose the low cabin or wigwam which the birch canoe, carefully upturned and left to dry upon the sands, attested to be the temporary habitation of the wandering Indian. That branch of the river which swept by the shores of Canada was (as at this day) the only navigable one for vessels of burden, while that on the opposite coast abounded in shallows and bars, affording passage merely to the light barks of the natives, which seemed literally to skim the very surface of its waves. Midway, between that point of the continent which immediately faced the eastern extremity of the island we have just named and the town of Detroit, flowed a small tributary river, the approaches to which, on either hand, were over a slightly sloping ground, the view of which could be entirely commanded from the fort. The depth of this river, now nearly dried up, at that period varied from three to ten or twelve feet; and over this, at a distance of about twenty yards from the Detroit, into which it emptied itself, rose, communicating with the high road, a bridge, which will more than once be noticed in the course of our tale. Even to the present hour it retains the name given to it during these disastrous times; and there are few modern Canadians, or even Americans, who traverse the "Bloody Bridge," especially at the still hours of advanced night, without recalling to memory the tragic events of those days, (handed down as they have been by their fathers, who were eye-witnesses of the transaction,) and peopling the surrounding gloom with the shades of those whose life-blood erst crimsoned the once pure waters of that now nearly exhausted stream; and whose mangled and headless corpses were slowly borne by its tranquil current into the bosom of the parent river, where all traces of them finally disappeared.
These are the minuter features of the scene we have brought more immediately under the province of our pen. What Detroit was in 1763 it nearly is at the present day, with this difference, however, that many of those points which were then in a great degree isolated and rude are now redolent with the beneficent effects of improved cultivation; and in the immediate vicinity of that memorable bridge, where formerly stood merely the occasional encampment of the Indian warrior, are now to be seen flourishing farms and crops, and other marks of agricultural industry. Of the fort of Detroit itself we will give the following brief history:—It was, as we have already stated, erected by the French while in the occupancy of the country by which it is more immediately environed; subsequently, and at the final cession of the Canadas, it was delivered over to England, with whom it remained until the acknowledgement of the independence of the colonists by the mother-country, when it hoisted the colours of the republic; the British garrison marching out, and crossing over into Canada, followed by such of the loyalists as still retained their attachment to the English crown. At the commencement of the late war with America it was the first and more immediate theatre of conflict, and was remarkable, as well as Michilimackinac, for being one of the first posts of the Americans that fell into our hands. The gallant daring, and promptness of decision, for which the lamented general, Sir Isaac Brock, was so eminently distinguished, achieved the conquest almost as soon as the American declaration of war had been made known in Canada; and on this occasion we ourselves had the good fortune to be selected as part of the guard of honour, whose duty it was to lower the flag of America, and substitute that of England in its place. On the approach, however, of an overwhelming army of the enemy in the autumn of the ensuing year it was abandoned by our troops, after having been dismantled and reduced, in its more combustible parts, to ashes. The Americans, who have erected new fortifications on the site of the old, still retain possession of a post to which they attach considerable importance, from the circumstance of its being a key to the more western portions of the Union.
It was during the midnight watch, late in September, 1763, that the English garrison of Detroit, in North America, was thrown into the utmost consternation by the sudden and mysterious introduction of a stranger within its walls. The circumstance at this moment was particularly remarkable; for the period was so fearful and pregnant with events of danger, the fort being assailed on every side by a powerful and vindictive foe, that a caution and vigilance of no common kind were unceasingly exercised by the prudent governor for the safety of those committed to his charge. A long series of hostilities had been pursued by the North-American Indians against the subjects of England, within the few years that had succeeded to the final subjection of the Canadas to her victorious arms; and many and sanguinary were the conflicts in which the devoted soldiery were made to succumb to the cunning and numbers of their savage enemies. In those lone regions, both officers and men, in their respective ranks, were, by a communionship of suffering, isolation, and peculiarity of duty, drawn towards each other with feelings of almost fraternal affection; and the fates of those who fell were lamented with sincerity of soul, and avenged, when opportunity offered, with a determination prompted equally by indignation and despair. This sentiment of union, existing even between men and officers of different corps, was, with occasional exceptions, of course doubly strengthened among those who fought under the same colours, and acknowledged the same head; and, as it often happened in Canada, during this interesting period, that a single regiment was distributed into two or three fortresses, each so far removed from the other that communication could with the utmost facility be cut off, the anxiety and uncertainty of these detachments became proportioned to the danger with which they knew themselves to be more immediately beset. The garrison of Detroit, at the date above named, consisted of a third of the —— regiment, the remainder of which occupied the forts of Michilimackinac and Niagara, and to each division of this regiment was attached an officer's command of artillery. It is true that no immediate overt act of hostility had for some time been perpetrated by the Indians, who were assembled in force around the former garrison; but the experienced officer to whom the command had been intrusted was too sensible of the craftiness of the surrounding hordes to be deceived, by any outward semblance of amity, into neglect of those measures of precaution which were so indispensable to the surety of his trust.
In this he pursued a line of policy happily adapted to the delicate nature of his position. Unwilling to excite the anger or wound the pride of the chiefs, by any outward manifestation of distrust, he affected to confide in the sincerity of their professions, and, by inducing his officers to mix occasionally in their councils, and his men in the amusements of the inferior warriors, contrived to impress the conviction that he reposed altogether on their faith. But, although these acts were in some degree coerced by the necessity of the times, and a perfect knowledge of all the misery that must accrue to them in the event of their provoking the Indians into acts of open hostility, the prudent governor took such precautions as were deemed efficient to defeat any treacherous attempt at violation of the tacit treaty on the part of the natives. The officers never ventured out, unless escorted by a portion of their men, who, although appearing to be dispersed among the warriors, still kept sufficiently together to be enabled, in a moment of emergency, to afford succour not only to each other but to their superiors. On these occasions, as a further security against surprise, the troops left within were instructed to be in readiness, at a moment's warning, to render assistance, if necessary, to their companions, who seldom, on any occasion, ventured out of reach of the cannon of the fort, the gate of which was hermetically closed, while numerous supernumerary sentinels were posted along the ramparts, with a view to give the alarm if any thing extraordinary was observed to occur without.
Painful and harassing as were the precautions it was found necessary to adopt on these occasions, and little desirous as were the garrison to mingle with the natives on such terms, still the plan was pursued by the Governor from the policy already named: nay, it was absolutely essential to the future interests of England that the Indians should be won over by acts of confidence and kindness; and so little disposition had hitherto been manifested by the English to conciliate, that every thing was to be apprehended from the untameable rancour with which these people were but too well disposed to repay a neglect at once galling to their pride and injurious to their interests.
Such, for a term of many months, had been the trying and painful duty that had devolved on the governor of Detroit; when, in the summer of 1763, the whole of the western tribes of Indians, as if actuated by one common impulse, suddenly threw off the mask, and commenced a series of the most savage trespasses upon the English settlers in the vicinity of the several garrisons, who were cut off in detail, without mercy, and without reference to either age or sex. On the first alarm the weak bodies of troops, as a last measure of security, shut themselves up in their respective forts, where they were as incapable of rendering assistance to others as of receiving it themselves. In this emergency the prudence and forethought of the governor of Detroit were eminently conspicuous; for, having long foreseen the possibility of such a crisis, he had caused a plentiful supply of all that was necessary to the subsistence and defence of the garrison to be provided at an earlier period, so that, if foiled in their attempts at stratagem, there was little chance that the Indians would speedily reduce them by famine. To guard against the former, a vigilant watch was constantly kept by the garrison both day and night, while the sentinels, doubled in number, were constantly on the alert. Strict attention, moreover, was paid to such parts of the ramparts as were considered most assailable by a cunning and midnight enemy; and, in order to prevent any imprudence on the part of the garrison, all egress or ingress was prohibited that had not the immediate sanction of the chief. With this view the keys of the gate were given in trust to the officer of the guard; to whom, however, it was interdicted to use them unless by direct and positive order of the Governor. In addition to this precaution, the sentinels on duty at the gate had strict private instructions not to suffer any one to pass either in or out unless conducted by the governor in person; and this restriction extended even to the officer of the guard.
Such being the cautious discipline established in the fort, the appearance of a stranger within its walls at the still hour of midnight could not fail to be regarded as an extraordinary event, and to excite an apprehension which could scarcely have been surpassed had a numerous and armed band of savages suddenly appeared among them. The first intimation of this fact was given by the violent ringing of an alarm bell; a rope communicating with which was suspended in the Governor's apartments, for the purpose of arousing the slumbering soldiers in any case of pressing emergency. Soon afterwards the Governor himself was seen to issue from his rooms into the open area of the parade, clad in his dressing-gown, and bearing a lamp in one hand and a naked sword in the other. His countenance was pale; and his features, violently agitated, betrayed a source of alarm which those who were familiar with his usual haughtiness of manner were ill able to comprehend.
"Which way did he go?—why stand ye here?—follow—pursue him quickly—let him not escape, on your lives!"
These sentences, hurriedly and impatiently uttered, were addressed to the two sentinels who, stationed in front of his apartments, had, on the first sound of alarm from the portentous bell, lowered their muskets to the charge, and now stood immovable in that position.
"Who does your honour mane?" replied one of the men, startled, yet bringing his arms to the recover, in salutation of his chief.
"Why, the man—the stranger—the fellow who has just passed you."
"Not a living soul has passed us since our watch commenced, your honour," observed the second sentinel; "and we have now been here upwards of an hour."
"Impossible, sirs: ye have been asleep on your posts, or ye must have seen him. He passed this way, and could not have escaped your observation had ye been attentive to your duty."
"Well, sure, and your honour knows bist," rejoined the first sentinel; "but so hilp me St. Patrick, as I have sirved man and boy in your honour's rigimint this twilve years, not even the fitch of a man has passed me this blissed night. And here's my comrade, Jack Halford, who will take his Bible oath to the same, with all due difirince to your honour."
The pithy reply to this eloquent attempt at exculpation was a brief "Silence, sirrah, walk about!"
The men brought their muskets once more, and in silence, to the shoulder, and, in obedience to the command of their chief, resumed the limited walk allotted to them; crossing each other at regular intervals in the semicircular course that enfiladed, as it were, the only entrance to the Governor's apartments.
Meanwhile every thing was bustle and commotion among the garrison, who, roused from sleep by the appalling sound of the alarm bell at that late hour, were hastily arming. Throughout the obscurity might be seen the flitting forms of men, whose already fully accoutred persons proclaimed them to be of the guard; while in the lofty barracks, numerous lights flashing to and fro, and moving with rapidity, attested the alacrity with which the troops off duty were equipping themselves for some service of more than ordinary interest. So noiseless, too, was this preparation, as far as speech was concerned, that the occasional opening and shutting of pans, and ringing of ramrods to ascertain the efficiency of the muskets, might be heard distinctly in the stillness of the night at a distance of many furlongs.
HE, however, who had touched the secret spring of all this picturesque movement, whatever might be his gratification and approval of the promptitude with which the summons to arms had been answered by his brave troops, was far from being wholly satisfied with the scene he had conjured up. Recovered from the first and irrepressible agitation which had driven him to sound the tocsin of alarm, he felt how derogatory to his military dignity and proverbial coolness of character it might be considered, to have awakened a whole garrison from their slumbers, when a few files of the guard would have answered his purpose equally well. Besides, so much time had been suffered to elapse, that the stranger might have escaped; and if so, how many might be disposed to ridicule his alarm, and consider it as emanating from an imagination disturbed by sleep, rather than caused by the actual presence of one endowed like themselves with the faculties of speech and motion. For a moment he hesitated whether he should not countermand the summons to arms which had been so precipitately given; but when he recollected the harrowing threat that had been breathed in his ear by his midnight visiter,—when he reflected, moreover, that even now it was probable he was lurking within the precincts of the fort with a view to the destruction of all that it contained,—when, in short, he thought of the imminent danger that must attend them should he be suffered to escape,—he felt the necessity of precaution, and determined on his measures, even at the risk of manifesting a prudence which might be construed unfavourably. On re-entering his apartments, he found his orderly, who, roused by the midnight tumult, stood waiting to receive the commands of his chief.
"Desire Major Blackwater to come to me immediately."
The mandate was quickly obeyed. In a few seconds a short, thick-set, and elderly officer made his appearance in a grey military undress frock.
"Blackwater, we have traitors within the fort. Let diligent search be made in every part of the barracks for a stranger, an enemy, who has managed to procure admittance among us: let every nook and cranny, every empty cask, be examined forthwith; and cause a number of additional sentinels to be stationed along the ramparts, in order to intercept his escape."
"Good Heaven, is it possible?" said the Major, wiping the perspiration from his brows, though the night was unusually chilly for the season of the year:—"how could he contrive to enter a place so vigilantly guarded?"
"Ask me not HOW, Blackwater," returned the Governor seriously; "let it suffice that he has been in this very room, and that ten minutes since he stood where you now stand."
The Major looked aghast.—"God bless me, how singular! How could the savage contrive to obtain admission? or was he in reality an Indian?"
"No more questions, MAJOR Blackwater. Hasten to distribute the men, and let diligent search be made every where; and recollect, neither officer nor man courts his pillow until dawn."
The "Major" emphatically prefixed to his name was a sufficient hint to the stout officer that the doubts thus familiarly expressed were here to cease, and that he was now addressed in the language of authority by his superior, who expected a direct and prompt compliance with his orders. He therefore slightly touched his hat in salutation, and withdrew to make the dispositions that had been enjoined by his Colonel.
On regaining the parade, he caused the men, already forming into companies and answering to the roll-call of their respective non-commissioned officers, to be wheeled into square, and then in a low but distinct voice stated the cause of alarm; and, having communicated the orders of the Governor, finished by recommending to each the exercise of the most scrutinising vigilance; as on the discovery of the individual in question, and the means by which he had contrived to procure admission, the safety of the whole garrison, it was evident, must depend.
The soldiers now dispersed in small parties throughout the interior of the fort, while a select body were conducted to the ramparts by the officers themselves, and distributed between the sentinels already posted there, in such numbers, and at such distances, that it appeared impossible any thing wearing the human form could pass them unperceived, even in the obscurity that reigned around.
When this duty was accomplished, the officers proceeded to the posts of the several sentinels who had been planted since the last relief, to ascertain if any or either of them had observed aught to justify the belief that an enemy had succeeded in scaling the works. To all their enquiries, however, they received a negative reply, accompanied by a declaration, more or less positive with each, that such had been their vigilance during the watch, had any person come within their beat, detection must have been inevitable. The first question was put to the sentinel stationed at the gate of the fort, at which point the whole of the officers of the garrison were, with one or two exceptions, now assembled. The man at first evinced a good deal of confusion; but this might arise from the singular fact of the alarm that had been given, and the equally singular circumstance of his being thus closely interrogated by the collective body of his officers: he, however, persisted in declaring that he had been in no wise inattentive to his duty, and that no cause for alarm or suspicion had occurred near his post. The officers then, in order to save time, separated into two parties, pursuing opposite circuits, and arranging to meet at that point of the ramparts which was immediately in the rear, and overlooking the centre of the semicircular sweep of wild forest we have described as circumventing the fort.
"Well, Blessington, I know not what you think of this sort of work," observed Sir Everard Valletort, a young lieutenant of the —— regiment, recently arrived from England, and one of the party who now traversed the rampart to the right; "but confound me if I would not rather be a barber's apprentice in London, upon nothing, and find myself, than continue a life of this kind much longer. It positively quite knocks me up; for what with early risings, and watchings (I had almost added prayings), I am but the shadow of my former self."
"Hist, Valletort, hist! speak lower," said Captain Blessington, the senior officer present, "or our search must be in vain. Poor fellow!" he pursued, laughing low and good humouredly at the picture of miseries thus solemnly enumerated by his subaltern;—"how much, in truth, are you to be pitied, who have so recently basked in all the sunshine of enjoyment at home. For our parts, we have lived so long amid these savage scenes, that we have almost forgotten what luxury, or even comfort, means. Doubt not, my friend, that in time you will, like us, be reconciled to the change."
"Confound me for an idiot, then, if I give myself time," replied Sir Everard affectedly. "It was only five minutes before that cursed alarm bell was sounded in my ears, that I had made up my mind fully to resign or exchange the instant I could do so with credit to myself; and, I am sure, to be called out of a warm bed at this unseasonable hour offers little inducement for me to change my opinion."
"Resign or exchange with credit to yourself!" sullenly observed a stout tall officer of about fifty, whose spleen might well be accounted for in his rank of "Ensign" Delme. "Methinks there can be little credit in exchanging or resigning, when one's companions are left behind, and in a post of danger."
"By Jasus, and ye may say that with your own pritty mouth," remarked another veteran, who answered to the name of Lieutenant Murphy; "for it isn't now, while we are surrounded and bediviled by the savages, that any man of the —— rigimint should be after talking of bating a retrate."
"I scarcely understand you, gentlemen," warmly and quickly retorted Sir Everard, who, with all his dandyism and effeminacy of manner, was of a high and resolute spirit. "Do either of you fancy that I want courage to face a positive danger, because I may not happen to have any particular vulgar predilection for early rising?"
"Nonsense, Valletort, nonsense," interrupted, in accents of almost feminine sweetness, his friend Lieutenant Charles de Haldimar, the youngest son of the Governor: "Murphy is an eternal echo of the opinions of those who look forward to promotion; and as for Delme—do you not see the drift of his observation? Should you retire, as you have threatened, of course another lieutenant will be appointed in your stead; but, should you chance to lose your scalp during the struggle with the savages, the step goes in the regiment, and he, being the senior ensign, obtains promotion in consequence."
"Ah!" observed Captain Blessington, "this is indeed the greatest curse attached to the profession of a soldier. Even among those who most esteem, and are drawn towards each other as well by fellowship in pleasure as companionship in danger, this vile and debasing principle—this insatiable desire for personal advancement—is certain to intrude itself; since we feel that over the mangled bodies of our dearest friends and companions, we can alone hope to attain preferment and distinction."
A moment or two of silence ensued, in the course of which each individual appeared to be bringing home to his own heart the application of the remark just uttered; and which, however they might seek to disguise the truth from themselves, was too forcible to find contradiction from the secret monitor within. And yet of those assembled there was not one, perhaps, who would not, in the hour of glory and of danger, have generously interposed his own frame between that of his companion and the steel or bullet of an enemy. Such are the contradictory elements which compose a soldier's life.
This conversation, interrupted only by occasional questioning of the sentinels whom they passed in their circuit, was carried on in an audible whisper, which the close approximation of the parties to each other, and the profound stillness of the night, enabled them to hear with distinctness.
"Nay, nay, De Haldimar," at length observed Sir Everard, in reply to the observation of his friend, "do not imagine I intend to gratify Mr. Delme by any such exhibition as that of a scalpless head; but, if such be his hope, I trust that the hour which sees my love-locks dangling at the top of an Indian pole may also let daylight into his own carcass from a rifle bullet or a tomahawk."
"And yit, Captin, it sames to me," observed Lieutenant Murphy, in allusion to the remark of Blessington rather than in reply to the last speaker,—"it sames to me, I say, that promotion in ony way is all fair and honourable in times of hardship like thase; and though we may drop a tare over our suparior when the luck of war, in the shape of a tommyhawk, knocks him over, still there can be no rason why we shouldn't stip into his shoes the viry nixt instant; and it's that, we all know, that we fight for. And the divil a bitter chance any man of us all has of promotion thin yoursilf, Captin: for it'll be mighty strange if our fat Major doesn't git riddlid like a cullinder through and through with the bullits from the Ingians' rifles before we have quite done with this business, and thin you will have the rigimintal majority, Captin; and it may be that one Liftinint Murphy, who is now the sanior of his rank, may come in for the vacant captincy."
"And Delme for the lieutenancy," said Charles de Haldimar significantly. "Well, Murphy, I am happy to find that you, at least, have hit on another than Sir Everard Valletort: one, in fact, who will render the promotion more general than it would otherwise have been. Seriously, I should be sorry if any thing happened to our worthy Major, who, with all his bustling and grotesque manner, is as good an officer and as brave a soldier as any his Majesty's army in Canada can boast. For my part, I say, perish all promotion for ever, if it is only to be obtained over the dead bodies of those with whom I have lived so long and shared so many dangers!"
"Nobly uttered, Charles," said Captain Blessington: "the sentiment is, indeed, one well worthy of our present position; and God knows we are few enough in number already, without looking forward to each other's death as a means of our own more immediate personal advancement. With you, therefore, I repeat, perish all my hopes of promotion, if it is only to be obtained over the corpses of my companions! And let those who are most sanguine in their expectations beware lest they prove the first to be cut off, and that even before they have yet enjoyed the advantages of the promotion they so eagerly covet."
This observation, uttered without acrimony, had yet enough of delicate reproach in it to satisfy Lieutenant Murphy that the speaker was far from approving the expression of such selfish anticipations at a moment like the present, when danger, in its most mysterious guise, lurked around, and threatened the safety of all most dear to them.
The conversation now dropped, and the party pursued their course in silence. They had just passed the last sentinel posted in their line of circuit, and were within a few yards of the immediate rear of the fortress, when a sharp "Hist!" and sudden halt of their leader, Captain Blessington, threw them all into an attitude of the most profound attention.
"Did you hear?" he asked in a subdued whisper, after a few seconds of silence, in which he had vainly sought to catch a repetition of the sound.
"Assuredly," he pursued, finding that no one answered, "I distinctly heard a human groan."
"Where?—in what direction?" asked Sir Everard and De Haldimar in the same breath.
"Immediately opposite to us on the common. But see, here are the remainder of the party stationary, and listening also."
They now stole gently forward a few paces, and were soon at the side of their companions, all of whom were straining their necks and bending their heads in the attitude of men listening attentively.
"Have you heard any thing, Erskine?" asked Captain Blessington in the same low whisper, and addressing the officer who led the opposite party.
"Not a sound ourselves, but here is Sir Everard's black servant, Sambo, who has just riveted our attention, by declaring that he distinctly heard a groan towards the skirt of the common."
"He is right," hastily rejoined Blessington; "I heard it also."
Again a death-like silence ensued, during which the eyes of the party were strained eagerly in the direction of the common. The night was clear and starry, yet the dark shadow of the broad belt of forest threw all that part of the waste which came within its immediate range into impenetrable obscurity.
"Do you see any thing?" whispered Valletort to his friend, who stood next him: "look—look!" and he pointed with his finger.
"Nothing," returned De Haldimar, after an anxious gaze of a minute, "but that dilapidated old bomb-proof."
"See you not something dark, and slightly moving immediately in a line with the left angle of the bomb-proof?"
De Haldimar looked again.—"I do begin to fancy I see something," he replied; "but so confusedly and indistinctly, that I know not whether it be not merely an illusion of my imagination. Perhaps it is a stray Indian dog devouring the carcass of the wolf you shot yesterday."
"Be it dog or devil, here is for a trial of his vulnerability.—Sambo, quick, my rifle."
The young negro handed to his master one of those long heavy rifles, which the Indians usually make choice of for killing the buffalo, elk, and other animals whose wildness renders them difficult of approach. He then, unbidden, and as if tutored to the task, placed himself in a stiff upright position in front of his master, with every nerve and muscle braced to the most inflexible steadiness. The young officer next threw the rifle on the right shoulder of the boy for a rest, and prepared to take his aim on the object that had first attracted his attention.
"Make haste, massa,—him go directly,—Sambo see him get up."
All was breathless attention among the group of officers; and when the sharp ticking sound produced by the cocking of the rifle of their companion fell on their ears, they bent their gaze upon the point towards which the murderous weapon was levelled with the most aching and intense interest.
"Quick, quick, massa,—him quite up," again whispered the boy.
The words had scarcely passed his lips, when the crack of the rifle, followed by a bright blaze of light, sounded throughout the stillness of the night with exciting sharpness. For an instant all was hushed; but scarcely had the distant woods ceased to reverberate the spirit-stirring echoes, when the anxious group of officers were surprised and startled by a sudden flash, the report of a second rifle from the common, and the whizzing of a bullet past their ears. This was instantly succeeded by a fierce, wild, and prolonged cry, expressive at once of triumph and revenge. It was that peculiar cry which an Indian utters when the reeking scalp has been wrested from his murdered victim.
"Missed him, as I am a sinner," exclaimed Sir Everard, springing to his feet, and knocking the butt of his rifle on the ground with a movement of impatience. "Sambo, you young scoundrel, it was all your fault,—you moved your shoulder as I pulled the trigger. Thank Heaven, however, the aim of the Indian appears to have been no better, although the sharp whistling of his ball proves his piece to have been well levelled for a random shot."
"His aim has been too true," faintly pronounced the voice of one somewhat in the rear of his companions. "The ball of the villain has found a lodgment in my breast. God bless ye all, my boys; may your fates be more lucky than mine!" While he yet spoke, Lieutenant Murphy sank into the arms of Blessington and De Haldimar, who had flown to him at the first intimation of his wound, and was in the next instant a corpse.
"To your companies, gentlemen, to your companies on the instant. There is treason in the fort, and we had need of all our diligence and caution. Captain de Haldimar is missing, and the gate has been found unlocked. Quick, gentlemen, quick; even now the savages may be around us, though unseen."
"Captain de Haldimar missing!—the gate unlocked!" exclaimed a number of voices. "Impossible!—surely we are not betrayed by our own men."
"The sentinel has been relieved, and is now in irons," resumed the communicator of this startling piece of intelligence. It was the adjutant of the regiment.
"Away, gentlemen, to your posts immediately," said Captain Blessington, who, aided by De Haldimar, hastened to deposit the stiffening body of the unfortunate Murphy, which they still supported, upon the rampart. Then addressing the adjutant, "Mr. Lawson, let a couple of files be sent immediately to remove the body of their officer."
"That shot which I heard from the common, as I approached, was not fired at random, then, I find," observed the adjutant, as they all now hastily descended to join their men.—"Who has fallen?"
"Murphy, of the grenadiers," was the reply of one near him.
"Poor fellow! our work commences badly," resumed Mr. Lawson: "Murphy killed, and Captain de Haldimar missing. We had few officers enough to spare before, and their loss will be severely felt; I greatly fear, too, these casualties may have a tendency to discourage the men."
"Nothing more easy than to supply their place, by promoting some of our oldest sergeants," observed Ensign Delme, who, as well as the ill-fated Murphy, had risen from the ranks. "If they behave themselves well, the King will confirm their appointments."
"But my poor brother, what of him, Lawson? what have you learnt connected with his disappearance?" asked Charles de Haldimar with deep emotion.
"Nothing satisfactory, I am sorry to say," returned the adjutant; "in fact, the whole affair is a mystery which no one can unravel; even at this moment the sentinel, Frank Halloway, who is strongly suspected of being privy to his disappearance, is undergoing a private examination by your father the governor."
"Frank Halloway!" repeated the youth with a start of astonishment; "surely Halloway could never prove a traitor,—and especially to my brother, whose life he once saved at the peril of his own."
The officers had now gained the parade, when the "Fall in, gentlemen, fall in," quickly pronounced by Major Blackwater, prevented all further questioning on the part of the younger De Haldimar.
The scene, though circumscribed in limit, was picturesque in effect, and might have been happily illustrated by the pencil of the painter. The immediate area of the parade was filled with armed men, distributed into three divisions, and forming, with their respective ranks facing outwards, as many sides of a hollow square, the mode of defence invariably adopted by the Governor in all cases of sudden alarm. The vacant space, which communicated with the powder magazine, was left open to the movements of three three-pounders, which were to support each face in the event of its being broken by numbers. Close to these, and within the square, stood the number of gunners necessary to the duty of the field-pieces, each of which was commanded by a bombardier. At the foot of the ramparts, outside the square, and immediately opposite to their several embrasures, were stationed the gunners required for the batteries, under a non-commissioned officer also, and the whole under the direction of a superior officer of that arm, who now walked to and fro, conversing in a low voice with Major Blackwater. One gunner at each of these divisions of the artillery held in his hand a blazing torch, reflecting with picturesque yet gloomy effect the bright bayonets and equipment of the soldiers, and the anxious countenances of the women and invalids, who, bending eagerly through the windows of the surrounding barracks, appeared to await the issue of these preparations with an anxiety increased by the very consciousness of having no other parts than those of spectators to play in the scene that was momentarily expected.
In a few minutes from the falling in of the officers with their respective companies, the clank of irons was heard in the direction of the guard-room, and several forms were seen slowly advancing into the area already occupied as we have described. This party was preceded by the Adjutant Lawson, who, advancing towards Major Blackwater, communicated a message, that was followed by the command of the latter officer for the three divisions to face inwards. The officer of artillery also gave the word to his men to form lines of single files immediately in the rear of their respective guns, leaving space enough for the entrance of the approaching party, which consisted of half a dozen files of the guard, under a non-commissioned officer, and one whose manacled limbs, rather than his unaccoutred uniform, attested him to be not merely a prisoner, but a prisoner confined for some serious and flagrant offence.
This party now advanced through the vacant quarter of the square, and took their stations immediately in the centre. Here the countenances of each, and particularly that of the prisoner, who was, if we may so term it, the centre of that centre, were thrown into strong relief by the bright glare of the torches as they were occasionally waved in air, to disencumber them of their dross, so that the features of the prisoner stood revealed to those around as plainly as if it had been noonday. Not a sound, not a murmur, escaped from the ranks: but, though the etiquette and strict laws of military discipline chained all speech, the workings of the inward mind remained unchecked; and as they recognised in the prisoner Frank Halloway, one of the bravest and boldest in the field, and, as all had hitherto imagined, one of the most devoted to his duty, an irrepressible thrill of amazement and dismay crept throughout the frames, and for a moment blanched the cheeks of those especially who belonged to the same company. On being summoned from their fruitless search after the stranger, to fall in without delay, it had been whispered among the men that treason had crept into the fort, and a traitor, partly detected in his crime, had been arrested and thrown into irons; but the idea of Frank Halloway being that traitor was the last that could have entered into their thoughts, and yet they now beheld him covered with every mark of ignominy, and about to answer his high offence, in all human probability, with his life.
With the officers the reputation of Halloway for courage and fidelity stood no less high; but, while they secretly lamented the circumstance of his defalcation, they could not disguise from themselves the almost certainty of his guilt, for each, as he now gazed upon the prisoner, recollected the confusion and hesitation of manner he had evinced when questioned by them preparatory to their ascending to the ramparts.
Once more the suspense of the moment was interrupted by the entrance of other forms into the area. They were those of the Adjutant, followed by a drummer, bearing his instrument, and the Governor's orderly, charged with pens, ink, paper, and a book which, from its peculiar form and colour, every one present knew to be a copy of the Articles of War. A variety of contending emotions passed through the breasts of many, as they witnessed the silent progress of these preparations, rendered painfully interesting by the peculiarity of their position, and the wildness of the hour at which they thus found themselves assembled together. The prisoner himself was unmoved: he stood proud, calm, and fearless amid the guard, of whom he had so recently formed one; and though his countenance was pale, as much, perhaps, from a sense of the ignominious character in which he appeared as from more private considerations, still there was nothing to denote either the abjectness of fear or the consciousness of merited disgrace. Once or twice a low sobbing, that proceeded at intervals from one of the barrack windows, caught his ear, and he turned his glance in that direction with a restless anxiety, which he exerted himself in the instant afterwards to repress; but this was the only mark of emotion he betrayed.
The above dispositions having been hastily made, the adjutant and his assistants once more retired. After the lapse of a minute, a tall martial-looking man, habited in a blue military frock, and of handsome, though stern, haughty, and inflexible features, entered the area. He was followed by Major Blackwater, the captain of artillery, and Adjutant Lawson.
"Are the garrison all present, Mr. Lawson? are the officers all present?"
"All except those of the guard, sir," replied the Adjutant, touching his hat with a submission that was scrupulously exacted on all occasions of duty by his superior.
The Governor passed his hand for a moment over his brows. It seemed to those around him as if the mention of that guard had called up recollections which gave him pain; and it might be so, for his eldest son, Captain Frederick de Haldimar, had commanded the guard. Whither he had disappeared, or in what manner, no one knew.
"Are the artillery all present, Captain Wentworth?" again demanded the Governor, after a moment of silence, and in his wonted firm authoritative voice.
"All present, sir," rejoined the officer, following the example of the Adjutant, and saluting his chief.
"Then let a drum-head court-martial be assembled immediately, Mr. Lawson, and without reference to the roster let the senior officers be selected."
The Adjutant went round to the respective divisions, and in a low voice warned Captain Blessington, and the four senior subalterns, for that duty. One by one the officers, as they were severally called upon, left their places in the square, and sheathing their swords, stepped into that part of the area appointed as their temporary court. They were now all assembled, and Captain Blessington, the senior of his rank in the garrison, was preparing to administer the customary oaths, when the prisoner Halloway advanced a pace or two in front of his escort, and removing his cap, in a clear, firm, but respectful voice, thus addressed the Governor:—
"Colonel de Haldimar, that I am no traitor, as I have already told you, the Almighty God, before whom I swore allegiance to his Majesty, can bear me witness. Appearances, I own, are against me; but, so far from being a traitor, I would have shed my last drop of blood in defence of the garrison and your family.—Colonel de Haldimar," he pursued, after a momentary pause, in which he seemed to be struggling to subdue the emotion which rose, despite of himself, to his throat, "I repeat, I am no traitor, and I scorn the imputation—but here is my best answer to the charge. This wound, (and he unbuttoned his jacket, opened his shirt, and disclosed a deep scar upon his white chest,) this wound I received in defence of my captain's life at Quebec. Had I not loved him, I should not so have exposed myself, neither but for that should I now stand in the situation of shame and danger, in which my comrades behold me."
Every heart was touched by this appeal—this bold and manly appeal to the consideration of the Governor. The officers, especially, who were fully conversant with the general merit of Halloway, were deeply affected, and Charles de Haldimar—the young, the generous, the feeling Charles de Haldimar,—even shed tears.
"What mean you, prisoner?" interrogated the Governor, after a short pause, during which he appeared to be weighing and deducing inferences from the expressions just uttered. "What mean you, by stating, but for that (alluding to your regard for Captain de Haldimar) you would not now be in this situation of shame and danger?"
The prisoner hesitated a moment; and then rejoined, but in a tone that had less of firmness in it than before,—"Colonel de Haldimar, I am not at liberty to state my meaning; for, though a private soldier, I respect my word, and have pledged myself to secrecy."
"You respect your word, and have pledged yourself to secrecy! What mean you, man, by this rhodomontade? To whom can you have pledged yourself, and for what, unless it be to some secret enemy without the walls? Gentlemen, proceed to your duty: it is evident that the man is a traitor, even from his own admission.—On my life," he pursued, more hurriedly, and speaking in an under tone, as if to himself, "the fellow has been bribed by, and is connected with—." The name escaped not his lips; for, aware of the emotion he was betraying, he suddenly checked himself, and assumed his wonted stern and authoritative bearing.
Once more the prisoner addressed the Governor in the same clear firm voice in which he had opened his appeal.
"Colonel de Haldimar, I have no connection with any living soul without the fort; and again I repeat, I am no traitor, but a true and loyal British soldier, as my services in this war, and my comrades, can well attest. Still, I seek not to shun that death which I have braved a dozen times at least in the —— regiment. All that I ask is, that I may not be tried—that I may not have the shame of hearing sentence pronounced against me YET; but if nothing should occur before eight o'clock to vindicate my character from this disgrace, I will offer up no further prayer for mercy. In the name of that life, therefore, which I once preserved to Captain de Haldimar, at the price of my own blood, I entreat a respite from trial until then."
"In the name of God and all his angels, let mercy reach your soul, and grant his prayer!"
Every ear was startled—every heart touched by the plaintive, melancholy, silver tones of the voice that faintly pronounced the last appeal, and all recognised it for that of the young, interesting, and attached wife of the prisoner. Again the latter turned his gaze towards the window whence the sounds proceeded, and by the glare of the torches a tear was distinctly seen by many coursing down his manly cheek. The weakness was momentary. In the next instant he closed his shirt and coat, and resuming his cap, stepped back once more amid his guard, where he remained stationary, with the air of one who, having nothing further to hope, has resolved to endure the worst that can happen with resignation and fortitude.
After the lapse of a few moments, again devoted to much apparent deep thought and conjecture, the Governor once more, and rather hurriedly, resumed,—
"In the event, prisoner, of this delay in your trial being granted, will you pledge yourself to disclose the secret to which you have alluded? Recollect, there is nothing but that which can save your memory from being consigned to infamy for ever; for who, among your comrades, will believe the idle denial of your treachery, when there is the most direct proof against you? If your secret die with you, moreover, every honest man will consider it as having been one so infamous and injurious to your character, that you were ashamed to reveal it."
These suggestions of the Colonel were not without their effect; for, in the sudden swelling of the prisoner's chest, as allusion was made to the disgrace that would attach to his memory, there was evidence of a high and generous spirit, to whom obloquy was far more hateful than even death itself.
"I do promise," he at length replied, stepping forward, and uncovering himself as before,—"if no one appear to justify my conduct at the hour I have named, a full disclosure of all I know touching this affair shall be made. And may God, of his infinite mercy, grant, for Captain de Haldimar's sake, as well as mine, I may not then be wholly deserted!"
There was something so peculiarly solemn and impressive in the manner in which the unhappy man now expressed himself, that a feeling of the utmost awe crept into the bosoms of the surrounding throng; and more than one veteran of the grenadiers, the company to which Halloway belonged, was heard to relieve his chest of the long pent-up sigh that struggled for release.
"Enough, prisoner," rejoined the Governor; "on this condition do I grant your request; but recollect,—your disclosure ensures no hope of pardon, unless, indeed, you have the fullest proof to offer in your defence. Do you perfectly understand me?"
"I do," replied the soldier firmly; and again he placed his cap on his head, and retired a step or two back among the guard.