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- [Sub The Tory's Daughter] - 6/72 -
can't the original sound, and which is made by the striking up there of the roar of the river above us; that of course must be open, having already broken up and got the ice in motion somewhere. But hark again! Now, don't you hear that rumbling noise? Can't you, now, both hear and feel those quick, irregular, deep, jarring sounds?"
"Yes, plainly--very plainly, now--you are right. Sure enough, the ice in the river above us is on the move!" responded all, with excited looks.
"To be sure it is; and from the noise it makes, it must be coming down upon us with the speed of a race-horse! Let us all to the hills, boys, where we can get a fair view of the spectacle."
The company, accordingly, now all ran to gain the top of a neighboring swell, which commanded a view of West River for a long distance up the stream, as well as one of a considerable reach of the more distant Connecticut, both of which views were obstructed, at the spot they had just left, by a point of woods and turn in the river in the former instance, and by intervening hills in the latter.
Among the many wild and imposing exhibitions of nature, peculiar to the mountainous regions of our northern clime, there is no one, perhaps, of more fearful magnificence, than that which is sometimes presented in the breaking up of one of our large rivers by a winter flood; when the ice, in its full strength, enormous thickness, and rock-like solidity, is rent asunder, with loud, crashing explosions, and hurled up into ragged mountains, and borne onward before the raging torrent with inconceivable force and frightful velocity, spreading devastation along the banks in its course, and sweeping away the strongest fabrics of human power which stand opposed to its progress, like the feeble weeds that disappear from the path of a tornado.
Such a spectacle, as they reached their proposed stand, now burst on the view of the astonished travellers. As far as the eye could reach upwards along the windings of the stream, the whole channel was filled with the mighty mass of ice, driving down towards them with fearful rapidity, and tumbling, crashing, grinding, and forcing its way, as it came, with collisions that shook the surrounding forest, and with the din and tumult of an army of chariots rushing together in battle. Here, tall trees on the bank were beaten down and overwhelmed, or, wrenched off at the roots and thrown upwards, were whirled along on the top of the rushing volume, like feathers on the tossing wave. There, the changing mass was seen swelling up into mountain-like elevations, to roll onward a while, and, then gradually sinking away, be succeeded by another in another form; while, with resistless front, the whole immense moving body drove steadily on, ploughing and rending its way into the unbroken sheet of ice before it, which burst, divided, and was borne down beneath the boiling flood, or hurled upwards into the air, with a noise sometimes resembling the sounds of exploding muskets, and sometimes the crash of falling towers.
But the noise of another and similar commotion in an opposite direction, now attracted their attention, They turned, and their eyes were greeted with a scene, which, though less startling from its distance, yet even surpassed, in picturesque grandeur, the one they had just been witnessing. Through the whole visible reach of the Connecticut, a long, white, glittering column of ice, with its ridgy and bristling top towering high above the adjacent banks, was sweeping by and onward, like the serried lines of an army advancing to the charge; while the broad valley around even back to the summits of the far-off hills, was resounding with the deafening din that rose from the extended line of the booming avalanche, with the deep rumblings of an earthquake mingled with the tumultuous roar of an approaching tempest.
The attention of the company, however, was now drawn from this magnificent display of the power of the elements, by an object of more immediate interest to their feelings. This was an open double sleigh, approaching, on the opposite side of the river, towards the place at which they had just crossed over, in the manner we have described. The mountain mass of ice that was still forcing its way down the river before them, with increasing impetus, was now within three hundred yards of the pass, to which those in the sleigh were hastening, with the evident design of crossing. And though the latter, owing to a point of woods that intervened at a bend in the stream a short distance above, could not see the coming ice, yet they seemed aware of its dangerous proximity; for, as they now drove down to the edge of the water, they paused, and a large man, who appeared to have control of the team, rose to his feet, and with words that could not be distinguished in the roaring of the wind and the noise from the scene above, made an appealing gesture, which was readily understood by our foot travellers as an inquiry whether the team would have time to cross before the ice reached the spot.
"It is Colonel Carpenter and his company," said Woodburn. "He will have no time to spare, but enough, I think, if he instantly improves it, to get safely over. He has smart horses, and is anxious to be on this side of the river. Let him come."
Accordingly, they returned him encouraging gestures, which being seen and understood by him, he instantly whipped up his horses, and, forcing them on the ice, soon effected his passage in safety, and drove rapidly down the road, leading along the northern bank of the stream to Connecticut, the object of his speed being obviously to keep forward of the icy flood, which by his progress might otherwise be soon obstructed.
"There," resumed Woodburn, breaking the silence with which he and his companions had been witnessing the rather hazardous passage of their friends,--"there, the colonel is well over; but his is the last sleigh to cross this year, unless it be drawn by winged horses."
"Well, winged, or not winged, there is another, it seems, about to make the attempt," said one of the company, pointing across the river, where a covered double sleigh, with showy equipage was dashing at full speed down the road towards the stream.
"It is a hostile craft!" "Peters and his gang!" "We owe them no favors!" "Let the enemy take care of themselves!" were the exclamations which burst from the recently-incensed group, as all eyes were now turned to the spot.
"O, no! no!" exclaimed Woodburn, with looks of the most lively concern. "Be they foes or friends, they must not be suffered to enter upon that river. Why, the breaking ice has already nearly reached the bend, and unless it stops there, that path across the stream, within five minutes, will be as traceless as the ocean! Run down to the bank, and hail them!" he continued, turning to those around him. "I fear they would not listen to me. Will no one go to warn them against an attempt which must prove their destruction?" he added, reproachfully glancing around him.
"Shall we interfere unasked?" said one, who was smarting under a sense of former injuries; "ay, and interfere, too, to save such a man as Peters, that he may go on robbing us of our farms?"
"And save such a man as Sheriff Patterson, also, that he may hang the innocent and pious Herriot?" said another, bitterly.
"And save them all, that they may keep up the court which will soon hang or rob the whole of us?" added a third, in the same spirit.
"O, wrong--wickedly wrong! and, if no one will go, I must," cried Woodburn, turning hastily from the spot, and making his way down the hill towards the river with all the speed he was master of.
A few seconds sufficed to bring him to the edge of the stream, when, in a voice that rose above the roar of the wind and waters around, he called on Peters, who was already urging his reluctant and snorting horses down the opposite bank into the water, warned him of the situation of the ice, and begged him, as he valued the lives of his friends, to desist from his perilous attempt.
"Do you think to frighten me?" shouted Peters, who, perceiving the speaker to be his despised opponent, became suspicious, as the latter had feared, that the warning was but a _ruse_ to prevent him from going on that night,--"do you think to frighten me back, liar, when a heavy team has just passed safely over before my eyes?"
And, in defiance of the timely caution he had received, and the warning sounds, of which his senses might have apprised him, had he paused a moment to listen, he furiously applied the whip, and plunged madly through the water towards the middle ice But as rapidly as he drove, the team had not passed over more than one third of the distance across, before he and all with him became fully aware of the fearful peril they had so recklessly incurred; for, at this critical moment, with awful brunt, the mountain wave of icy ruins came rolling round the screening point into full view, and not fifty yards above them. A cry of alarm at once burst from every occupant of the menaced vehicle and Peters, no less frightened than the rest, suddenly checked the horses, with the half-formed design of turning and attempting to regain the shore he had just left. But on glancing round, he beheld, to his dismay, the ice burst upward from its winter moorings along the shore, leaving between them and the bank a dark chasm of whirling waters, over which it were madness to think of repassing. At that instant, with a deep and startling report, the broad sheet of ice confining the agitated river burst asunder parted, and was afloat in a hundred pieces around them. Another piercing cry of terror and distress issued from the devoted sleigh and Miss Haviland, with an involuntary impulse at the fearful shock, leaped out on to the large cake of ice on which the sleigh and horses were resting. She seemed instantly to perceive her error; but before she could regain the sleigh, or even be caught by the extended hands of her friends, the frightened horses made a sudden and desperate lunge forward, and, with a speed that could neither be checked nor controlled, dashed onward over the dissevering mass, leaping from piece to piece of their sinking support, and each in turn falling in, to be drawn out by his mate, till they reached the shore, and rushed furiously up the bank, beyond the sweep of the dreadful torrent from which they had so miraculously escaped.
"O God of heaven, have mercy on my daughter!" exclaimed Haviland, in a piteous burst of anguish, as he sprang out of the sleigh among the company, who, with horror-stricken looks, stood on the bank mutely gazing on the fast receding form of the luckless maiden, thus left behind, to be borne away, in all human probability, to speedy destruction.
For a moment no one stirred or spoke, all standing amazed, and seemingly paralyzed at the thought of her awful situation having no hope of her rescue, and expecting every instant to see her crushed, or ingulfed among the ice that was wildly heaving and tumbling on every side around her. But fortunately for her, the broad, solid block, on which she had alighted, and on which she continued still to retain her stand, was, by the submerged and rising masses beneath, gradually and evenly forced upwards to the top of the column, with which it was moving swiftly down the current. And there she stood, like a marble statue on its pedestal, sculptured for some image of woe, her bonnet thrown back from her blanched features, and her loosened hair streaming wildly in the wind; while one hand was extended doubtfully
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