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قراءة كتاب Wacousta : a tale of the Pontiac conspiracy — Volume 3

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‏اللغة: English
Wacousta : a tale of the Pontiac conspiracy — Volume 3

Wacousta : a tale of the Pontiac conspiracy — Volume 3

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 4

those who were engaged in it speedily glided to the deck again, ready for a more arduous service. The boats had, meanwhile, been got forward, and into these the sailors sprang, with an alacrity that could scarcely have been expected from men who had passed not only the preceding night, but many before it, in utter sleeplessness and despair. But the imminence of the danger, and the evident necessity existing for exertion, aroused them to new energy; and the hitherto motionless vessel was now made to obey the impulse given by the tow ropes of the boats, in a manner that proved their crews to have entered on their toil with the determination of men, resolved to devote themselves in earnest to their task. Nor was the spirit of action confined to these. The long sweeps of the schooner had been shipped, and such of the crew as remained on board laboured effectually at them,—a service, in which they were essentially aided, not only by mine host of the Fleur de lis, but by the young officers themselves.

At mid-day the headlands were seen looming largely in the distance, while the immediate shores of the ill-fated fortress were momentarily, and in the same proportion, disappearing under the dim line of horizon in the rear. More than half their course, from the spot whence they commenced towing, had been completed, when the harassed men were made to quit their oars, in order to partake of the scanty fare of the vessel, consisting chiefly of dried bear's meat and venison. Spirit of any description they had none; but, unlike their brethren of the Atlantic, when driven to extremities in food, they knew not what it was to poison the nutritious properties of the latter by sipping the putrid dregs of the water-cask, in quantities scarce sufficient to quench the fire of their parched palates. Unslaked thirst was a misery unknown to the mariners of these lakes: it was but to cast their buckets deep into the tempting element, and water, pure, sweet, and grateful as any that ever bubbled from the moss-clad fountain of sylvan deity, came cool and refreshing to their lips, neutralising, in a measure, the crudities of the coarsest food. It was to this inestimable advantage the crew of the schooner had been principally indebted for their health, during the long series of privation, as far as related to fresh provisions and rest, to which they had been subjected. All appeared as vigorous in frame, and robust in health, as at the moment when they had last quitted the waters of the Detroit; and but for the inward sinking of the spirit, reflected in many a bronzed and furrowed brow, there was little to show they had been exposed to any very extraordinary trials.

Their meal having been hastily dispatched, and sweetened by a draught from the depths of the Huron, the seamen once more sprang into their boats, and devoted themselves, heart and soul, to the completion of their task, pulling with a vigour that operated on each and all with a tendency to encouragement and hope. At length the vessel, still impelled by her own sweeps, gradually approached the land; and at rather more than an hour before sunset was so near that the moment was deemed arrived when, without danger of being perceived, she might be run up along the shore to the point alluded to by the boatswain. Little more than another hour was occupied in bringing her to her station; and the red tints of departing day were still visible in the direction of the ill-fated fortress of Michilimackinac, when the sullen rumbling of the cable, following the heavy splash of the anchor, announced the place of momentary concealment had been gained.

The anchorage lay between two projecting headlands; to the outermost extremities of which were to be seen, overhanging the lake, the stately birch and pine, connected at their base by an impenetrable brushwood, extending to the very shore, and affording the amplest concealment, except from the lake side and the banks under which the schooner was moored. From the first quarter, however, little danger was incurred, as any canoes the savages might send in discovery of their course, must unavoidably be seen the moment they appeared over the line of the horizon, while, on the contrary, their own vessel, although much larger, resting on and identified with the land, must be invisible, except on a very near approach. In the opposite direction they were equally safe; for, as Mullins had truly remarked, none, save a few wandering hunters, whom chance occasionally led to the spot, were to be met with in a part of the country that lay so completely out of the track of communication between the fortresses. It was, however, but to double the second headland in their front, and they came within view of the Sinclair, the head of which was situated little more than a league beyond the spot where they now lay. Thus secure for the present, and waiting only for the rising of the breeze, of which the setting sun had given promise, the sailors once more snatched their hasty refreshment, while two of their number were sent aloft to keep a vigilant look-out along the circuit embraced by the enshrouding headlands.

During the whole of the day the cousins had continued on deck clasped in each other's arms, and shedding tears of bitterness, and heaving the most heart-rending sobs at intervals, yet but rarely conversing. The feelings of both were too much oppressed to admit of the utterance of their grief. The vampire of despair had banqueted on their hearts. Their vitality had been sucked, as it were, by its cold and bloodless lips; and little more than the withered rind, that had contained the seeds of so many affections, had been left. Often had Sir Everard and De Haldimar paused momentarily from the labour of their oars, to cast an eye of anxious solicitude on the scarcely conscious girls, wishing, rather than expecting, to find the violence of their desolation abated, and that, in the full expansion of unreserved communication, they were relieving their sick hearts from the terrible and crushing weight of woe that bore them down. Captain de Haldimar had even once or twice essayed to introduce the subject himself, in the hope that some fresh paroxysm, following their disclosures, would remove the horrible stupefaction of their senses; but the wild look and excited manner of Madeline, whenever he touched on the chord of her affliction, had as often caused him to desist.

Towards the evening, however, her natural strength of character came in aid of his quiescent efforts to soothe her; and she appeared not only more composed, but more sensible of the impression produced by surrounding objects. As the last rays of the sun were tinging the horizon, she drew up her form in a sitting position against the bulwarks, and, raising her clasped hands to heaven, while her eyes were bent long and fixedly on the distant west, appeared for some minutes wholly lost in that attitude of absorption. Then she closed her eyes; and through the swollen lids came coursing, one by one, over her quivering cheek, large tears, that seemed to scald a furrow where they passed. After this she became more calm—her respiration more free; and she even consented to taste the humble meal which the young man now offered for the third time. Neither Clara nor herself had eaten food since the preceding morning; and the weakness of their frames contributed not a little to the increasing despondency of their spirits; but, notwithstanding several attempts previously made, they had rejected what was offered them, with insurmountable loathing. When they had now swallowed a few morsels of the sliced venison ham, prepared with all the delicacy the nearly exhausted resources of the vessel could supply, accompanied by a small portion of the cornbread of the Canadian, Captain de Haldimar prevailed on them to swallow a few drops of the spirit that still remained in the canteen given them by Erskine on their departure from Detroit. The genial liquid sent a kindling glow to their chilled hearts, and for a moment deadened the pungency of their anguish; and then it was that Miss de Haldimar entered briefly on the