In the minds of many the close of the French and Indian War—the Seven Years War as it was fought in the New World—meant an end to the aspirations of France for imperial possessions in the west and a close of hostilities between the British, their colonies and Indian allies and the French and theirs. The Revolution and the War of American Independence was but a decade and a half into the future and all the turmoil that led to the first exchange of fire was already boiling in the pot of colonial discontent. But this is merely an effect of the condensation of history. In 1760 there were yet Frenchmen, French colonists and those white men and red on the continent of North America who espoused the cause of the Oriflame and who thought that cause was yet far from lost. Pontiac, the mighty warrior chieftain of the Ottawa’s and a mighty figure of influence over other tribes, nursed grievance and hatred against the King’s redcoats and the farmers who had come to settle a wilderness under protection of their muskets and bayonets. The frontier was still sparsely garrisoned in timber forts and blockhouses and that which could not be achieved or taken by direct assault could be won by stealth and treachery. Such is the factual background to this essential, substantial and exciting historical novel by John Richardson, originally published in 3 separate volumes, all of which are brought to Leonaur readers in one special volume available in soft cover and hard cover for collectors. For those who love fiction of spirit, such as ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ or ‘Drums Along the Mohawk,’ this will be a welcome addition to their libraries.
For some moments all was still and hushed as the waveless air; and then again a loud chorus of shouts was heard from the ramparts of the fort. The choked breathing of the young girl became more free, and the blood rushed once more from her oppressed heart to the extremities. Never did tones of the human voice fall more gratefully on the ear of mariner cast on some desert island, than did those on that of the highly excited Clara. It was the loud laugh of the soldiery, who, collected along the line of rampart in front, were watching the progress of the ball-players. Cheered by the welcome sounds, she raised herself from the bed to satisfy her eye her ear had not deceived her.<br>
The windows of both bedchambers looked immediately on the barrack square, and commanded a full view of the principal entrance. From that at which she now stood, the revived but still anxious girl could distinctly see all that was passing in front. The ramparts were covered with soldiers, who, armed merely with their bayonets, stood grouped in careless attitudes—some with their wives leaning on their arms—others with their children upraised, that they might the better observe the enlivening sports without—some lay indolently with their legs overhanging the works—others, assuming pugilistic attitudes, dealt their harmless blows at each other,—and all were blended together, men, women, and children, with that heedlessness of thought that told how little of distrust existed within their breasts.<br>
The soldiers of the guard, too, exhibited the same air of calm and unsuspecting confidence; some walking to and fro within the square, while the greater portion either mixed with their comrades above, or, with arms folded, legs carelessly crossed, and pipe in mouth, leant lazily against the gate, and gazed beyond the lowered drawbridge on the Indian games.<br>
A mountain weight seemed to have been removed from the breast of Clara at this sight, as she now dropped upon her knees before the window, and raised her hands in pious acknowledgment to Heaven.<br>
“Almighty God, I thank thee,” she fervently exclaimed, her eye once more lighting up, and her cheek half suffused with blushes at her late vague and idle fears; while she embraced, at a single glance, the whole of the gladdening and inspiriting scene.<br>
While her soul was yet upturned whither her words had gone before, her ears were again assailed by sounds that curdled her blood, and made her spring to her feet as if stricken by a bullet through the heart; or powerfully touched by some electric fluid. It was the well-known and devilish war-cry of the savages, startling the very air through which it passed, and falling like a deadly blight upon the spirit. With a mechanical and desperate effort at courage, the unhappy girl turned her eyes below, and there met images of death in their most appalling shapes. Hurry and confusion and despair were everywhere visible; for a band of Indians were already in the fort, and these, fast succeeded by others, rushed like a torrent into the square, and commenced their dreadful work of butchery.<br>
Many of the terrified soldiers, without thinking of drawing their bayonets, flew down the ramparts in order to gain their respective block-houses for their muskets: but these everywhere met death from the crashing tomahawk, short rifle, or gleaming knife;—others who had presence of mind sufficient to avail themselves of their only weapons of defence, rushed down in the fury of desperation on the yelling fiends, resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible; and for some minutes an obstinate contest was maintained: but the vast superiority of the Indian numbers triumphed; and although the men fought with all the fierceness of despair, forcing their way to the block-houses, their mangled corpses strewed the area in every direction.<br>
Neither was the horrid butchery confined to these. Women clinging to their husbands for protection, and, in the recklessness of their despair, impeding the efforts of the latter in their self-defence—children screaming in terror, or supplicating mercy on their bonded knees—infants clasped to their parents’ breasts,—all alike sunk under the unpitying steel of the blood-thirsty savages. At the guard-house the principal stand had been made; for at the first rush into the fort, the men on duty had gained their station, and, having made fast the barricades, opened their fire upon the enemy. Mixed pele-mele as they were with the Indians, many of the English were shot by their own comrades, who, in the confusion of the moment, were incapable of taking a cool and discriminating aim.<br>
These, however, were finally overcome. A band of desperate Indians rushed upon the main door, and with repeated blows from their tomahawks and massive war-clubs, succeeded in demolishing it, while others diverted the fire of those within. The door once forced, the struggle was soon over. Every man of the guard perished; and their scalpless and disfigured forms were thrown out to swell the number of those that already deluged the square with their blood.<br>
Even amid all the horrors of this terrific scene, the agonised Clara preserved her consciousness. The very imminence of the danger endued her with strength to embrace it under all its most disheartening aspects; and she, whose mind had been wrought up to the highest pitch of powerful excitement by the mere preliminary threatenings, was comparatively collected under the catastrophe itself. Death, certain death, to all, she saw was inevitable; and while her perception at once embraced the futility of all attempts at escape from the general doom, she snatched from despair the power to follow its gloomy details without being annihilated under their weight.<br>
The confusion of the garrison had now reached its acme of horror. The shrieks of women and the shrill cries of children, as they severally and fruitlessly fled from the death certain to overtake them in the end,—the cursings of the soldiers, the yellings of the Indians, the reports of rifles, and the crashings of tomahawks;—these, with the stamping of human feet in the death struggle maintained in the council-room below between the chiefs and the officers, and which shook the block-house to its very foundation, all mixed up in terrible chorus together, might have called up a not inapt image of hell to the bewildered and confounding brain. And yet the sun shone in yellow lustre, and all Nature smiled, and wore an air of calm, as if the accursed deed had had the sanction of Heaven, and the spirits of light loved to look upon the frightful atrocities then in perpetration.<br>
In the first distraction of her spirit, Clara had utterly lost all recollection of her cousin; but now that she had, with unnatural desperation, brought her mind to bear upon the fiercest points of the grim reality, she turned her eye everywhere amid the scene of death in search of the form of her beloved Madeline, whom she did not remember to have seen cross the parade in pursuance of the purpose she had named. While she yet gazed fearfully from the window, loud bursts of mingled anguish and rage, that were almost drowned in the fiercer yells with which they were blended, ascended from the ground floor of the block-house.<br>
These had hitherto been suppressed, as if the desperate attack of the chiefs on the officers had been made with closed doors. Now, however, there was an evident outburst of all parties into the passage; and there the struggle appeared to be desperately and fearfully maintained. In the midst of that chaotic scene, the loud and piercing shriek of a female rose far above the discordant yell even of the savages. There was an instant of pause, and then the crashing of a skull was heard, and the confusion was greater than before, and shrieks, and groans, and curses, and supplications rent the air.