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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 4. - 6/14 -
Yet when I looked back at the town on those strong heights, and saw the bonfires burn to warn the settlers of our escape, saw the lights sparkling in many homes, and even fancied I could make out the light shining in my dear wife's window, I had a strange feeling of loneliness. There in the shadow of my prison walls, was the dearest thing on earth to me. Ought she not to be with me? She had begged to come, to share with me these dangers and hardships; but that I could not, would not grant. She would be safer with her people. As for us desperate men bent on escape, we must face hourly peril.
Thank God, there was work to do. Hour after hour the swing and dip of the paddles went on. No one showed weariness, and when the dawn broke slow and soft over the eastern hills, I motioned my good boatmen towards the shore, and landed safely. We lifted our frigate up, and carried her into a thicket, there to rest with us till night, when we would sally forth again into the friendly darkness. We were in no distress all that day, for the weather was fine, and we had enough to eat; and in such case were we for ten days and nights, though indeed some of the nights were dreary and very cold, for it was yet but the beginning of May.
It might thus seem that we were leaving danger well behind, after having travelled so many heavy leagues, but it was yet several hundred miles to Louisburg, our destination; and we had escaped only immediate danger. We passed Isle aux Coudres and the Isles of Kamaraska, and now we ventured by day to ramble the woods in search of game, which was most plentiful. In this good outdoor life my health came slowly back, and I should soon be able to bear equal tasks with any of my faithful comrades. Never man led better friends, though I have seen adventurous service near and far since that time. Even the genial ruffian Clark was amenable, and took sharp reprimand without revolt.
On the eleventh night after our escape, our first real trial came. We were keeping the middle of the great river, as safest from detection, and when the tide was with us we could thus move more rapidly. We had had a constant favouring wind, but now suddenly, though we were running with the tide, the wind turned easterly, and blew up the river against the ebb. Soon it became a gale, to which was added snow and sleet, and a rough, choppy sea followed.
I saw it would be no easy task to fetch our craft to the land. The waves broke in upon us, and presently, while half of us were paddling with laboured and desperate stroke, the other half were bailing. Lifted on a crest, our canoe, heavily laden, dropped at both ends; and again, sinking into the hollows between the short, brutal waves, her gunwales yielded outward, and her waist gaped in a dismal way. We looked to see her with a broken back at any moment. To add to our ill fortune, a violent current set in from the shore, and it was vain to attempt a landing. Spirits and bodies flagged, and it needed all my cheerfulness to keep my good fellows to their tasks.
At last, the ebb of tide being almost spent, the waves began to fall, the wind shifted a little to the northward, and a piercing cold instantly froze our drenched clothes on our backs. But with the current changed there was a good chance of reaching the shore. As daylight came we passed into a little sheltered cove, and sank with exhaustion on the shore. Our frozen clothes rattled like tin, and we could scarce lift a leg. But we gathered a fine heap of wood, flint and steel were ready, and the tinder was sought; which, when found, was soaking. Not a dry stitch or stick could we find anywhere, till at last, within a leather belt, Mr. Stevens found a handkerchief, which was, indeed, as he told me afterwards, the gift and pledge of a lady to him; and his returning to her with out it nearly lost him another and better gift and pledge, for this went to light our fire. We had had enough danger and work in one night to give us relish for some days of rest, and we piously took them.
The evening of the second day we set off again, and had a good night's run, and in the dawn, spying a snug little bay, we stood in, and went ashore. I sent my two Provincials foraging with their guns, and we who remained set about to fix our camp for the day and prepare breakfast. A few minutes only passed, and the two hunters came running back with rueful faces to say they had seen two Indians near, armed with muskets and knives. My plans were made at once. We needed their muskets, and the Indians must pay the price of their presence here, for our safety should be had at any cost.
I urged my men to utter no word at all, for none but Clark could speak French, and he but poorly. For myself, my accent would pass after these six years of practice. We came to a little river, beyond which we could observe the Indians standing on guard. We could only cross by wading, which we did; but one of my Provincials came down, wetting his musket and himself thoroughly. Reaching the shore, we marched together, I singing the refrain of an old French song as we went,
En roulant, ma boule roulant, En roulant, ma boule
so attracting the attention of the Indians. The better to deceive, we all were now dressed in the costume of the French peasant--I had taken pains to have Mr. Stevens secure these for us before starting; a pair of homespun trousers, a coarse brown jacket, with thrums like waving tassels, a silk handkerchief about the neck, and a strong thick worsted wig on the head; no smart toupet, nor buckle; nor combed, nor powdered; and all crowned by a dull black cap. I myself was, as became my purpose, most like a small captain of militia, doing wood service, and in the braver costume of the coureur de bois.
I signalled to the Indians, and, coming near, addressed them in French. They were deceived, and presently, abreast of them, in the midst of apparent ceremony, their firelocks were seized, and Mr. Stevens and Clark had them safe. I said we must be satisfied as to who they were, for English prisoners escaped from Quebec were abroad, and no man could go unchallenged. They must at once lead me to their camp. So they did, and at their bark wigwam they said they had seen no Englishman. They were guardians of the fire; that is, it was their duty to light a fire on the shore when a hostile fleet should appear; and from another point farther up, other guardians, seeing, would do the same, until beacons would be shining even to Quebec, three hundred leagues away.
While I was questioning them, Clark rifled the wigwam; and presently, the excitable fellow, finding some excellent stores of skins, tea, maple sugar, coffee, and other things, broke out into English expletives. Instantly the Indians saw they had been trapped, and he whom Mr. Stevens held made a great spring from him, caught up a gun, and gave a wild yell which echoed far and near. Mr. Stevens, with great rapidity, leveled his pistol and shot him in the heart, while I, in a close struggle with my captive, was glad--for I was not yet strong--that Clark finished my assailant: and so both lay there dead, two foes less of our good King.
Not far from where we stood was a pool of water, black and deep, and we sank the bodies there; but I did not know till long afterwards that Clark, with a barbarous and disgusting spirit, carried away their scalps to sell them in New York, where they would bring, as he confided to one of the Provincials, twelve pounds each. Before we left, we shot a poor howling dog that mourned for his masters, and sank him also in the dark pool.
We had but got back to our camp, when, looking out, we saw a well-manned four-oared boat making for the shore. My men were in dismay until I told them that, having begun the game of war, I would carry it on to the ripe end. This boat and all therein should be mine. Safely hidden, we watched the rowers draw in to shore, with brisk strokes, singing a quaint farewell song of the voyageurs, called La Pauvre Mere, of which the refrain is:
"And his mother says, 'My dear, For your absence I shall grieve; Come you home within the year.'"
They had evidently been upon a long voyage, and by their toiling we could see their boat was deep loaded; but they drove on, like a horse that, at the close of day, sees ahead the inn where he is to bait and refresh, and, rousing to the spur, comes cheerily home. The figure of a reverend old man was in the stern, and he sent them in to shore with brisk words. Bump came the big shallop on the beach, and at that moment I ordered my men to fire, but to aim wide, for I had another end in view than killing.
We were exactly matched as to numbers, so that a fight would be fair enough, but I hoped for peaceful conquest. As we fired I stepped out of the thicket, and behind me could be seen the shining barrels of our threatening muskets. The old gentleman stood up while his men cried for quarter. He waved them down with an impatient gesture, and stepped out on the beach. Then I recognized him. It was the Chevalier de la Darante. I stepped towards him, my sword drawn.
"Monsieur the Chevalier de la Darante, you are my prisoner," said I.
He started, then recognized me. "Now, by the blood of man! now, by the blood of man!" he said, and paused, dumfounded.
"You forget me, monsieur?" asked I.
"Forget you, monsieur?" said he. "As soon forget the devil at mass! But I thought you dead by now, and--"
"If you are disappointed," said I, "there is a way"; and I waved towards his men, then to Mr. Stevens and my own ambushed fellows.
He smiled an acid smile, and took a pinch of snuff. "It is not so fiery-edged as that," he answered; "I can endure it."
"You shall have time too for reverie," answered I.
He looked puzzled. "What is't you wish?" he asked.
"Your surrender first," said I, "and then your company at breakfast."
"The latter has meaning and compliment," he responded, "the former is beyond me. What would you do with me?"
"Detain you and your shallop for the services of my master, the King of England, soon to be the master of your master, if the signs are right."
"All signs fail with the blind, monsieur."
"I will give you good reading of those signs in due course," retorted I.
"Monsieur," he added, with great, almost too great dignity, "I am
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