« AnteriorContinuar »
over a picturesque country, sleeping in clefts where panthers hid themselves, and scaling precipices from which they scared the screaming eagles. Perhaps cultivated intellect never received brighter thoughts from the holy rays of the evening star, or a stormier sense of grandeur from the cataract, than did these children of the wilderness. Their far leaping ideas, clothed in brief, poetic language, were perhaps more pleasant to the secluded priest, than frequent intercourse with his own learned, but crafty order. To him they were indeed as "diamonds in the desert;" and long and painful were the penances he inflicted upon himself, for an all-absorbing love, which his erring conscience deemed a sin against that God, who bestowed such pure, delicious feelings on his mysterious creatures. The Jesuit was deeply read in human nature, and it needed but little sagacity to foresee that Saupoolah would soon be to her brother "something than sister dearer." When Otoolpha was but seventeen, and his companion not quite fifteen, their frank and childish affection had obviously assumed a different character. Restlessness when separated, and timidity and constraint when they met, betrayed their slavery to a new and despotic power. Sebastian Ralle observed it with joy. Early disappointment and voluntary vows had made the best and most luxurious emotions of our nature a sealed fountain within his own soul; but the old man had not forgotten youthful hopes and feelings, and for these beloved ones he coveted all earth had of happiness. They were married in presence of the whole tribe, with all the pomp and ceremony his limited means afforded. This event made no alteration in the household of the Jesuit. The old squaw, who had taken care of his adopted children from their infancy, performed all the services their half civilized way of life required, and the young hunters led the same wandering and fearless life as before. At the hour of sunset, it was the delight of the lonely priest to watch for their return, from a small opening, which served as a window to his study. It was a time he usually devoted to reflection and prayer; but the good man had virtues, which he called weaknesses and sins, and a spirit of devotion would not always remain with him at such seasons. The vine covered hills of France, his mother's kiss, and a bright, laughing girl, who had won his heart in early youth, would often rise before him with the distinctness of visions. The neglected rosary would fall from his hand, and love, as it first stole over a soul untainted by sensuality or selfishness, was the only heaven of which he dreamed. Such were the feelings with which he awaited the return of Otoolpha and Saupoolah, on the eleventh of December, 1719. Notwithstanding the lateness of the season, the day had been as mild as the first weeks of September. The drowsy sunshine, dreaming on the hemlocks, pines, and cedars, had drawn forth an unusual fragrance; the children were at rest in the wigwams; most of the sanups had gone to Moose Head Lake, on a hunting expedition; and the few old men who remained, sat at the doors of their huts smoking their pipes in lazy silence.
Wautoconomese, an aged prophet among them, declared this unnatural warmth to be a prelude of terrible things. He had gained his power of judging by a close observation of electrical phenomena, and all the various changes of the weather, and it was no difficult matter to make his tribe mistake experience for inspiration. The women were all in alarm at his predictions; nor is it strange that the learned Jesuit, living as he did in a superstitious age, and believing doctrines highly calculated to excite the imagination, should be more affected by their terrors than he was willing to acknowledge even to himself. These feelings naturally embodied themselves in anxiety concerning the two eccentric beings, whose presence was as morning sunshine in his dreary dwelling. The hour at which they usually returned, had long since passed; and strong and vigilant as he knew them to be, fearful thoughts of panthers and wolves crowded on his heart. Waking, he knew the fiercest prowlers of the wilderness would have shunned them; but they might have slept where loup-cerviers where in ambush, and roused too late for safety.
While philosophy was struggling with these harassing ideas, and every moment growing weaker in the contest, he observed in the north a flash more brilliant than ever precedes the rising sun. For a moment it was stationary; then it moved, quivered, hurtled, and flashed, as if there had been " war in heaven," and the clouds, rolling themselves up "as a scroll," showed the gleaming of javelins, thrown thick and fast along the embattled line. All at once, a vivid stream of light from the south towered up, like Lucifer in his terrific greatness, and rushed onward with a mighty noise. The fiery forces, nearly meeting at the zenith, were separated only by a clear, deep spot of blue, surrounded by a few fleecy clouds. The effect was awful. It seemed as if the All-seeing Eye were looking down upon a sinful world, in mingled wrath and pity. The Catholic bowed his head, and his subdued spirit was mute in worship and fear. His solitude was soon interrupted by Wautoconomese, whose trembling agitation betrayed how little he had foreseen that his pompous prophecies would be thus sublimely fulfilled. Next the aged squaw, who, from fear of interrupting her master in his devotions, had long been crouching in her own corner of the wigwam, more dead than alive, came in, and reverentially crossing herself, implored permission to remain. To these were soon added an accession of almost all the women in the hamlet. Perhaps Sebastian Ralle was hardly aware how much the presence of these rude, uninformed beings relieved his spirit. His explanations to them, mixed with the consolations of religion, nerved his mind with new strength; and he began to look upon the awful appearance in the heavens with a calmness and rationality worthy of him. By degrees the light grew dim, then closed upon the speck of blue sky, which had appeared to keep watch over the souls of superstitious men, and the glorious scene seemed about to end. But suddenly a luminous bow shot from north to south with the rushing sound of a rocket, and divided the heavens with a broad belt of brightness. The phenomena of that night had been more extraordinary than any the Jesuit had ever witnessed; but until that moment he had known their name and nature; and, with that strange tendency to a belief in supernatural agency, which the greatest and wisest minds have, in a state of high excitement, his cheek now turned pale, and his heart dropped heavily within him, at what he deemed a sure presage of ruin to those he loved. Reason would have indeed told him that it did not comport with the economy of Providence to change the order of creation for so insignificant a thing as man; but who is not more under the influence of feeling than of reason?
Unable to endure the terrific creations of his own fancy, he left the house, followed only by one of the tribe, and entered the path by which the young hunters usually returned. He pursued this route, for nearly a mile, without seeing any traces of the objects of his anxiety. At last, he heard a loud " Willoa." The source of the clear, ringing sound could not be mistaken; for Saupoolah alone could give the shrillest tones of the human voice such depth and smoothness of melody. The Jesuit, by his long residence with the savages, had acquired their quickness of eye and ear, and a few moments brought him within view of his adopted child. She was standing in a thickly shaded part of the wood, her hand resting on her brow, looking backward, apparently listening with eagerness to the coming footsteps. A light shade of disappointment passed over her face when she saw Otoolpha was not with her father; but itsoon gave place to an affectionate smile, at his enthusiastic demonstrations of joy. From her brief account it appeared they had early in the evening heard distressed noises apparently proceeding from a human voice; that they had separated in search of those from whom it came, and had thus lost each other. As she finished her story, another loud shout sent echoing through the forest, betrayed more anxiety than was common to her fearless nature. Yet even amid her doubt and perplexity, her romantic soul was open to the influence of the sublime scene above her. As they wound along through the forest, ever and anon shouting with their united voices, in hopes the echo would arouse Otoolpha, she occasionally fixed her eye on the bright arch, which still preserved its wavy radiance, though a little softened by light flashes of clouds, through which the stars were distinctly visible. "The arrows have been flying fast among the tribes of heaven to night," said she. "The stars have chased their enemies over the hills. They are returning victorious; and the moon has spread her mantle in their war path."
When such thoughts as these came over her, Saupoolah's eyes had a brightness totally different from the keenness and outward brilliancy common to fine looking Indians; it was a light that came from within, gleaming up from fires deep, deep down in the soul. It was probably this peculiarity, which had so universally gained for her the title of " Daughter of a Prophet;" and its effect on the savage, who had attended the Jesuit, was instantly observable; for he devoutly crossed himself, and walked at a great distance from the object of his veneration. Sebastian Ralle, accustomed as he was to the wild freaks, and almost infantile tenderness of his adopted children, had often smiled at their power over the tribe; yet something of pride almost of deference, mingled with his own love of them. Saupoolah's remark, and the look of inspiration, with which she fixed her eye on the heavens, awakened in his mind the remembrance of many a season, when he had listened to their wild eloquence with wonder and delight. This train of thought betrayed itself in an eagerly affectionate glance at Saupoolah, and a loud shout to Otoolpha, that made the woods ring again. The young wife suddenly assumed the Indian attitude of intense listening; and joy flushed her whole face, like a sunbeam, as she exclaimed, " It is answered!" Another shout; there could be no mistake. It could not be the reverberation of an echo, for it was repeated louder and louder, at irregular intervals. A rapid and devious walk, guided by sounds which evidently grew nearer, brought Otoolpha in sight. Quick as a young fawn, overflowing with life and frolic, Saupoolah bounded forward and sprang upon his neck. But the eye of the Jesuit, always rapid and restless in its movements, quickly glanced from his new found treasure to the objects around. A European lady, possessed of much matronly beauty, lay lifeless at his feet; and a fragile looking boy, apparently eight or nine years old, was bending over her, and weeping bitterly. This child alone in the wilderness with his dead mother, had uttered those cries of distress and terror, which had startled Otoolpha and his companion. The sight of a white man seemed to the desolate boy a pledge of safety. He nestled close to the side of the priest, and looking up in his face imploringly, burst into tears. The heart of the Jesuit was touched. There was something in the bov's voice and the lady's features, that troubled the waters of along sealed fountain. The Indians exchanged whispers with that air of solemnity, which the presence of the dead always inspires. They read a mixed feeling of agony and doubt in the countenance of Sebastian Ralle, but they did not ask, and they never knew its origin. After a moment's silence, during which he seemed struggling with powerful emotion, he placed his hand gently on the boy's head, and spoke soothing words in French, which the child understood with perfect facility. No sigh, no outward sign of despair escaped him; but there was marble stillness, which, like the ominous quiet of a volcano, betrayed that raging materials were at work within.
He ordered the corpse to be borne to his wigwam with all possible gentleness; and when the unevenness of the path occasioned the least violence of motion, he would cringe, as if an adder had stung him. It was in vain that Wautoconomese and his frightened companion sought protection from him on his return. Remarkable electrical appearances, in every variety of form, continued during the whole night; but the miserable man regarded them not. The lifeless mother was placed in his study, and he knelt down beside it with the boy, and spoke not a word. The old squaw brought in her tallest bayberry wax candles, and tried to prolong her stay in the room by a thousand little officious arts; but a gentle signal to withdraw was all she could gain from her heart-stricken master. Day dawned, and found him unchanged in countenance or position. The boy, weary with grief and fatigue, had fallen asleep, and lay on the floor in a slumber as deep and as peaceful as if unalloyed happiness had been his portion. The sight of his tranquil innocence, as the daylight shone upon his childish features, brought tears to the eyes of the rigid priest. It was a charm that broke the spell of agony which had bound down his spirit. The terribly cold and glassy look departed from him; but never, after that night, was Sebastian Ralle as he had been. Affliction did not soften and subdue him. It deepened the gloom with which he had long looked upon the world, and seemed to justify him in giving up his whole soul to the stern dictates of Jesuitical maxims. Even Otoolpha and Saupoolah met with occasional harshness; and William Ponsonby, the English boy, alone received uniform mildness and affection at his hands. He was a fair and delicate blossom; such a being as the heart would naturally cling to for its fragility and dependence; but to none on earth, save Sebastian Ralle, was it known that there were other and deeper reasons for his peculiar tenderness.
The lady, whom he had loved in early youth, had been induced by her parents to marry a wealthy Englishman, in preference to the unportioned Frenchman, whom alone she had truly loved. Her husband lost much of his fortune and joined his countrymen against