Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

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 the French, during the troubled period between 1690 and 1762. He was taken by the Indians, and his wife saw him suffer a horrid and lingering death. By the humanity of one of the savages, she made her escape, with her youngest son, the only one remaining of eight fine boys. She well knew the residence of that devoted lover, whom her weakness of purpose had driven to a life of solitude and self-denial; and to him she resolved to appeal for protection. Worn out with wandering and privation, she died suddenly in the wilderness, when her arduous journey was well nigh completed; and the conscientious priest, even in the anguish of a breaking heart, felt that it was well for him she had died; for to have seen the widowed one depending upon him for protection, when the solemn vows of his order had separated them for ever, would have been worse than death to endure. The affection he had borne the mother rested on the child; and in him he found, what he had in vain wished for since his residence in the New World, a docile and intelligent scholar.

The boy was indeed a sort of " young Edwin," a sad, imaginative child, fond of his books, and still more fond of rambling far and wide with the wayward Saupoolah. The log-house of good Mrs Allan was the only place where William spoke in the language of his lather; for English was a hateful sound to the ear of the Jesuit. The troubles between the neighbouring villages of English and Abnakis increased daily; and not a few of the latter were induced to revolt against their spiritual ruler. Distrust, jealousy, and weakness characterized all their councils. Their deep, but fluctuating feelings alternately showed themselves in insults to the priest, and acts of violence on their neighbours. Representatives were sent from the English villages on the Kennebec to the government at Boston, who protested against Sebastian Ralle, for constantly using his influence to excite Indian revenge to its utmost rancour; and letters filled with charges of this nature may still be seen in the records of the Historical Society. It is probable that they were, in some measure, well founded; for it was the dangerous creed of the Jesuits, that all human power, good or bad, should be made subservient to one grand end. Yet the Norridgewocks had so much reason to complain of the fraud and falsehood of the English, that it is difficult to decide to whom the greatest share of blame rightfully belongs. Be that as it may, affairs went from bad to worse. Mutual dislike became every day more inveterate; and Mrs Allan was the only one who had not in some way or other suffered from the powerful arm of the implacableOtoolpha. His French origin, the great influence he had over his tribe, and his entire submission to the will of the Jesuit, procured (or him a double portion of hatred. Dislike was returned with all the fierceness and impetuosity of his savage nature; and English mothers often frightened their children into obedience by the use of his terrible name. In the autumn of 1724, these discontents were obviously approaching a fearful crisis. A Council Fire was kindled at the village of the Abnakis; and fierce indeed were the imprecations uttered, and terrible the resolutions taken against the English.

Wautoconomese in his fury said, that the Evil Spirit had governed them ever since William Ponsonby came among them; and he demanded that the boy should at once be sacrificed to an offended Deity. The lip of the venerable priest quivered and turned pale for an instant; but it passed quickly, and so carefully had even the muscles of his face been trained to obedience to the Society of Jesus, that rigid indifference could alone be read there, as he carelessly asked, "Wherefore should the child die?" The fierce old prophet watched his emotions as the snake fixes her infernal eye on the bird she is charming unto death. "Because the Great Spirit who dwells among the windy hills, and covers himself with the snow mantle, has whispered it in the ear of the wise man," said he proudly. "Wherefore else did he breathe softly on the wood, for four sleeps, and take his garments from, the sun, that it might give warmth to the pale papoose, on his way through the wilderness? I tell you, he sent him to Wautoconomese, that he might sacrifice him instead of the young fawn and the beaver; for he loves not the white face and the double tongue of the Yengees."

"And the love I bear them is such as the panther gives the stricken deer," replied the Jesuit. "Ye are all one! yeareallone!" answered the raging prophet. "The Yengees say their king has counted more scalps than any other chief; and you say he is but a boy to the great king, who lives where the vines run with oil. Ye both have faces pale as a sick woman. One hisses like a snake, and the other chatters like a mad cat bird; but both hunt the poor Indian like a buffalo to his trap. Wautoconomese was once a very big prophet. The Great Spirit spoke to him loud, and his tribe opened their eyes wide, that they might look on him. What is Wautoconomese now? He speaks the words of the Great Spirit; and ye laugh when ye tell the young men of his tribe that his ears are old, and he cannot hear."

His stormy eloquence awakened the slumbering pride of his warlike nation: and against the whole race of white men they inwardly breathed a vow of extermination.

The boy was bound for sacrifice, and evil eyes were cast upon the Jesuit. The ingratitude of those for whom he had toiled thirty long years, and threatened loss of the dearest object which God had left cheer his lonely pilgrimage, seemed to freeze the faculties of the old man; and that day would have ended his trials with his life, had not Otoolpha stepped into the centre of the Council Circle, and, with a low bow toWautoconomese, demanded to be heard. He spoke reverently of the prophet: but, by all the sufferings and kindness of their French Father, he conjured them not to be ungrateful to him in his old age. He begged for the boy's life, and promised to lead his tribe to war against every white man, woman, and child, from Corratwick Falls to the Big Sea, if they would thus reward his victory. He wasa favourite with his tribe, and they listened to him. After much consultation, they determined on midnight marches at the end of three weeks, by which means they intended to surprise and put to death all the English settlers on the Kennebec. If successful in this attempt, William Ponsonby was safe; if not, the innocent child must fall a victim to their savage hatred.

Saupoolah slept little the night after she listened to the Council of her tribe. She thought of Mrs Allan's kind looks, when she saved her from drowning; and she remembered the happy hours when she used to feed the children from her little berry basket. Could she not save her from the general ruin? She asked Otoolpha if no stratagem could be devised. He told her it would lead to detection, and the life of William and the priest would be forfeited. In her uneasy slumbers she dreamed of the murder of her benefactress; and she started up, declaring she would save Mrs Allan's life at the peril of her own. Otoolpha resolutely and somewhat harshly forbade her to do it. It was the first time he had ever spoken to her in a tone of authority; and her proud spirit rose against him. "I have loved him," thought she," but not with the tameness of a household drudge; if such is the service he wants, let him leave Saupoolah, and find a mate among the slaves of Abnakis." Her manner the next day was cold, suspicious, and constrained towards her husband. She said no more to him of her plans, but sought advice from the priest. The heart broken old man was roused into sudden energy, and solemnly and vehemently forbade her project. Saupoolah's soul struggled in cords to which she had been entirely unaccustomed. She was silent, but determined. That night she left Otoolpha in a sound sleep, and affected her dangerous purpose secretly. She told Mrs Allan all the plans of the Norridgewocks, beseeching her to make no other use of the knowledge, than to save herself and family. The terrified matron promised she would not. But could, or ought, such a promise to be kept?

» * * *

Time passed on, and threw no light on the dangerous deed Saupoolah had dp.red to perform. Fears of its consequences haunted her iiwu soul, like a restless demon; and^again and again did she exact

from Mrs Allan a vow never to betray her. More than half of her fault sprang from a kind and generous nature; but she could not forgive herself for the vexation that had mingled with better feelings. Her pride and her buoyancy were both gone; and upon Otoolpha, Sebastian Ralle, and William Ponsonby, she lavished the most anxious fondness.

The old priest cared little whether life or death were his portion; for he was old, and disappointment had ever been the shadow of his hopes. But for the dead mother's sake, his heart yearned for the life of the boy. Saupoolah, ever enthusiastic and self-sacrificing, promised to convey him away secretly, and place him under the pro tection of a Canadian priest. The time appointed was four days before the intended massacre of the English, when a Council Fire of one of the neighbouring tribes would induce most of the Norridgewocks to be absent. The night preceding his departure was a weary one to Sebastian Ralle. He spent it at William's couch in wakefulness and prayer. Affections, naturally intense, were all centred on this one object; and he had nerved himself to think that he must part with him, and then lay him down and die.

The gray tints of morning rose upon him, showing the whole of his miserable little apartment in cheerless obscurity. The old priest, stern, philosophic, and rigid elsewhere, was, in the seclusion of his own apartment, as wayward and affectionate as a child. He stooped down, and, parting William's soft hair, imprinted a kiss on his forehead. The boy, half unconscious what he did, fondly nestled his cheek into the hand that rested on him. Sebastian Ralle looked upward with an expression that seemed to say, " O Father, would that this cup might pass fromme." Just then the church bell, with feeble but sweet tones, announced the hour of early mass. William was on his feet in an instant, and as quickly knelt to his venerable friend to receive his customary benediction. In a few minutes, every living soul in the hamlet was within the walls of the church. Wigwams were all quiet, and canoes were wimpling about in Sandy river. The savages had all bowed down and crossed themselves before the unseen God. The broken voice of the Jesuit was heard loudly beseeching, "Ora, orapro nobis," when armed men rushed inamid their peaceful worship. The clashing of swords, the groans of the dying, and the yells of the frantic, mingled in one horridchaos of clamour. Not one escaped; not one. Some called out, "Save William Ponsonby and the priest!" Others aimed at the breast of the Jesuit, as if he had been the only victim desired. The English boy threw himself forward and received a stab, aimed at the heart of his old friend; and the priest, with one convulsive bound, and one loud shriek ofony, withdrew the sword and plunged it deeply in his own breast.

« AnteriorContinuar »