Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

66

returning from examining his traps, late one evening, he was somewhat astonished, and not a little vexed, at his wife's neglecting to meet him, according to her wonted custom, some short distance from the log-cabin.

“ Where is Minamee, I wonder?” said he, striding towards the door; and as he reached the threshold, he stumbled heavily against something laid across it. Upon stooping to ascertain the cause, he discovered the lifeless body of his faithful deerhound.

“Minamee!” he shouted, with Stentorian lungs. “ Sea and earth! how did this happen? Minamee, I say!”

“ Hush!” exclaimed a voice, in a whisper. “Hush, you'll wake my child.”

“ Wake your child!” repeated he, hearing his wife nestling her infant to her bosom, as he threw open the door. “ Wake your-" the sentence was unfinished. Fell horror petrified him with the sight that presented itself; his lower jaw dropped, and his eyes seemed ready to start from their strained sockets; the warm blood curdled in his veins, and the checked pulse ceased its throbbing. Sitting before the hearth, upon the floor, there was the young mother, bearing marks of cruel violence in her gashed features and disordered dress, and pressing to her breast the headless trunk of her infant. Pale was her countenance; and the fixed, glassy stare betokened madness in all its horrid form.

· Say,” screamed the trapper, rushing to the side of his demented wife—“ say how—who has done this?”

“Hush!” replied Minamee. “Do you not see he sleeps?”

“God of heaven!” exclaimed he— she's daft-gone wild-mad!” and, scarcely less so himself, the strong, bold hunter howled in his misery

For days he was unable to learn the particulars of the terrible catastrophe. At length, a change took place in the benighted reason of his wife; but, like the remaining spark in the charred ember, it was the last effort of the mind ere death expunged its miseries.

It appeared that at sunset Minamee was preparing to set out to meet her husband, after rolling her little charge in a robe of buffaloskin, and placing him on his bed of straw, when the long shadow of a man was cast suddenly into the entrance, and as quickly disappeared. The deerhound sprung from the floor, on which he had been lying, and, as he leaped to the doorway, followed by his mistress, the sharp crack of a rifle was heard, and the noble animal fell dead at her feet. In an instant afterwards, the form of an Indian, whom Minamee at once recognised as the foiled assassin at her marriage, bounded into the cabin, and, despite the mother's furious struggles, clutched her child from his little couch, and brandishing his knife with savage yells, severed the head from its body.

“ There,” said he, pitching the corpse towards the frantic mother, “ is my revenge. Blood to the red man's wrong is as water to fire. I am satisfied. Farewell!” and turning upon his heel, he quitted the spot, like one who had accomplished a noble deed, with a slow and haughty footfall.

The hitherto happy and contented home of the trapper was now desolated. It was a long, long time since tears had fallen from Nick Wolsey's eyes; but as he watched the sinking moments of his dying wife, they chased each other down his furrowed cheeks in streams, and shewed the floodgates of his heart were open. As the sun rose, the spirit of Minamee fled.

“Revenge!” exclaimed the trapper, rising from the side of the dead body of his wife, over which he had mourned for hours. “I'll have such revenge, that in tale and story none can equal. I'll be more bloody than the panther; more cruel than beast or savage of any kind or time. Revenge!" continued he, with a convulsive laugh. The white man's vengeance shall at least match the red.”

Mounting his small but fleet horse, caught from the wild prairie, the trapper turned his head towards the west, and driving his heels into his flanks, galloped, like one reckless of life and limb, to the valley of the Mohawk. There, as he anticipated, he found the tribe from whom his Indian wife had been chosen. Brief was the horrid tale of his wrongs, and as brief his demand for justice.

“Give me,” said he, “the murderer, and let me deal with him as I list.”

The chiefs listened with that seeming apathy with which they listen to every relation, whether of good or of evil; and continued to send volumes of smoke, curling upwards from their lips, as they sat in a circle about the fire, without a perceptible emotion of any kind. At length the elder said, after a long silence, “ My white brother says well. Let it be so. Deal with him as you list. Take him hence.”

The consent obtained, a howl of savage delight burst from the trapper's breast as he pounced like a galled tiger upon his victim. “You're mine!” cried he, clutching the remorseless wretch by the throat, and lifting him from the earth in his brawny grasp like a weak, puny child. “ You're mine!” repeated he; “ and as ye gave no mercy, none shall be given ye."

Winding long narrow strips of untanned hide round the shoulders, arms, and wrists of his prisoner, he bound them tight to his body, and fixing one end to his rude stirrup, threw himself upon his horse to retrace his steps at a slow and leisurely pace. The trapper appeared even to select the path with care, so that the prisoner might not be injured by brake or brier in their progress.

In silence-without one word being spoken in that long, long night - they continued on through waste and wild. The unruffled Hudson reflected the clear rays of the moon, bright and unbroken as a lookingglass. The refreshing mists rolled along the sides of the highlands in graceful folds, and nothing broke on the ear but the wash of waters and the melancholy note of the whip-poor-will. Just as the first tinge of light streaked the east, the trapper arrived at the door of his cabin; and after securing his prisoner, beyond the chance of escape, to the trunk of a primeval willow hard by, he at once began the task of his unequalled, unheard of revenge. With a hatchet, he cut long and stout branches from the willow, and tying them firmly together with pieces of dried skin, formed a sort of rough, strong basket, resembling a large cradle. When this was complete, he threw his helpless captive into it, at full length, with his face upwards, and, passing strips of hide through the apertures of the cradle from his feet to his neck, bound him fast, that not even a sinew might be moved. Then, taking the corpse of his wife-ill-fated Minamee!-he placed it face to face with his prisoner. The horrified wretch clenched and ground his teeth as the body pressed upon his; but no groan escaped his lips. His bloodshot eyes revealed the anguish of his soul; still he would not

one.

speak. In a few minutes the living and the dead were lashed together. The breathing man and putrid corpse, festering in corruption, were as

When so much of the horrid work was finished, the trapper stood with folded arms, and, with a fiendish smile, surveyed the advancement of his task.

“And now to complete it,” said he, lifting the load lightly in his arms, and placing it longways on the back of his horse tethered on the greensward. The animal sniffed the air, and would have plunged from his burthen had not the well-known voice of his master soothed and quieted him. Still he stood with fiery eyeballs and dilated nostrils, ready to fly from his own shadow as he smelt the offensive stench issuing from the cradle. Girding it, in the same fashion as the bodies were bound together, round the loins, ribs, and neck of the horse, he so contrived to fix it that neither jolt nor jar could move it from the firm position.

“Now, my eagle of the rock," said the trapper, addressing his horse—“ my untamed unicorn, you shall, for the first time since ye left the prairie-grass, feel the effects of the lash;” and taking a punishing switch in his hand, he struck the animal sharply until wrought to a pitch of fury and pain. Flakes of foam flew from his mouth, and streams of perspiration rolled from every pore in his skin. Leaping in the air, like a stricken stag, he strove to snap the bond which held him, and at length, with one terrific plunge and cry of terror, broke away with the speed of thought, and swept through forest,

swamp, and wild, with madness in every stride. On, on he went. The flood was passed, the prairie gained; still on he went. A wild, piercing shriek broke on the unbounded waste, and lent new fear to the maddened horse. On, on he went. The noontide sun darted his rays, unbroken by leaf or bough, upon the fleeing o'erloaded steed; but still his gallop was unslackened. His skimming shadow became gigantic in the falling light; and still he continued on. The pale moon tipped the thin fleecy clouds with her silver light; and yet his speed was unabated.

'Tis said—but ever in a whisper-by the hunters of the far west, that the horse may still be seen scouring the plains, where the footfall of man is seldom heard, with his load of the living and the dead.

[blocks in formation]

136

MY HOUSE IN CECIL STREET.

BY MRS. WHITE.

THE REPRIEVE, -PART II.

Hour after hour wore on, and still the same suffocating sobs—the same bitter cries broke from the chamber beside me. What would I not have given for the means of comforting her unhappy spirit; but unconscious of the cause of her mental suffering, I knew not what anodyne to apply. One moment, the recollection of her father's friendship, of her own youth, and my maternity, seemed to give me a right to share with her such consolation as one heart (that has itself passed through the fiery furnace of many-shaped affliction) can offer to another; but there was such a mystery in her distress—a beloved daughter-an adorod wife—(for I had heard from her father that she was happily and unexceptionably married)—I knew not what to think, and dreaded something wrong-some story of woman's frailness, and inconsistency, and late remorse. Oh, how I wronged her! Little did I surmise that the high and holy purpose of her mission—the secret of her urgent agony at the footstool of her God, was the forfeit life of her husband! Oh, Earth-Earth! which of thy children can count on the seeming fairness of his destiny? But I anticipate.

These fears prevented my obtruding my sympathy; but I prayed heartily for her; and then again endeavoured to obtain the rest that my daily duties rendered necessary for me; but my state of mind made it impossible for me to sleep, though I occasionally fell into perturbed snatches of repose, as people in fever do; and as often as I woke up from these confused and unrefreshing slumbers, though I could not hear her footstep, I could tell by the recurring shadow that kept darkening the glimpse of light through the door, in her passage to and fro the room, that the poor young creature did not even endeavour at obtaining rest. No, all night long—all night long-she kept her melancholy vigil; perhaps the hours that to me appeared interminable all too short for her engrossing supplication. But, oh, it was a solemn thing to lie awake through those dismal hours, hearing, amidst the buffetings of the storm and plashing rains, the sadder dissonance of a mind in suffering, which no human hand could alleviate.

Never did I feel more grateful for the dawn of a new day than when the glare of the stormy clouds told me the shadows of the night had vanished; and then, too, either overcome with natural weariness, or fearful that the ears she had imagined sealed in the darkness of night should become cognizant of her distress, the poor lady's voice died away, and I trusted that for a time unconsciousness brought her a temporary relief from her affliction. She had desired to be called by a certain hour; and I took care that breakfast, in its most inviting form, should meet her upon leaving her apartment. But the full heart has no appetite; and though (in order to save the presence of servants) —for the night she had passed was deeply evidenced in her worn and pallid aspect-I made breakfast for her myself (an attention she felt, and thanked me for), she did nothing but trifle with a morsel of dry toast; and after two or three ineffectual attempts to swallow it, pushed aside the cup, into which her tears had fallen, and, with a look that seemed to say, “ You see I try to do as you wish me, and I thank you

[ocr errors]

very much ; but 'tis impossible;" turned away and wept. Now, who could look on at this sort of thing, and yet withhold the words of sympathy—it might be consolation, that the heart is longing to pour out. I waited till the overflow of her tears had in a measure relieved her, and then I expressed, what she must have before observed, my real anxiety at her distress. I pointed out to her, as one older than herself, and more accustomed to tread the red-hot ploughshares of affliction, that difficult lesson to the inexperienced in human sufferingthe necessity of resignation—for well I knew, that in the agony I had unintentionally witnessed the preceding night, there was no submission -it was the wrestling of a strong spirit for the mastery of its own will one restless cry for mercy—but not for strength to bear, should that mercy be denied. And here I struck on the master-chord of her grief; and the passionate burst that followed I shall never forget.

“ Yes,” she said, “all ordinary sorrows admitted of resignation; but there were some trials that the heart could not bear unbroken, and hers was one of them-it was too dreadful-time could not soften the blow, nor its certainty bow her to its endurance. It must not be. God had promised to hear prayer, and she would not cease to importune till hers was granted.” Alas! so dreadfully did grief prey on her mind, that I almost dreaded for her senses; yet I remarked, though sorrow is generally so communicative, that she never once alluded to its cause.

She would tell me by and by; and in the meantime, I was not to think too harshly of her impatience-it might be impiety. She knew it was very wrong, but she could not help it.

Alas, even my theoretical philosophy gave way before the strong reality of her grief! and at length I could only mingle my tears with hers, and pray that her sufferings, whatever their nature, might be alleviated. I have often thought since, how sadly her story evidenced that the Power that orders all things knows best what is good to be granted and what withheld-she gained her prayer, only to render tenfold more bitter the stern course of retributive justice, that, in this case, even a kingly voice failed to turn aside. While I still sat, vainly endeavouring to lead her mind from the distresses that absorbed it, the postman's rap brought a sudden hectic to her cheek that faded to ashy paleness as I placed in her hand a letter bearing an official seal. I saw that its contents, though probably expected, very much excited her, for her hands shook while reading it, and a sort of nervous tremor was in her voice when, a moment or two afterwards, she begged my assistance in making some slight alterations in her dress, already, I thought, unusually elegant for the time of day.

Two hours, perhaps, passed away-no doubt to her of the most restless anxiety, for I could hear her ceaseless footsteps to and fro the apartment, as she sought, by activity of motion, to relieve the perturbation of her mind and then a superb equipage drew up at the door, and a gentleman, who did not give his name, alighted, and a moment after, came down stairs with the lady on his arm, and they drove off at a rapid rate. I never saw her after: hour after hour passed by-night came back-but the lady did not return, nor the next day, nor the next.

I am afraid I must plead guilty to a large share of that innate love of scandal that is generally attributed to my sex. I thought over the affair in every point of view that my poor worldly imagination could devise, and I blush to say, I arrived at a very Mrs. Candour-like conclusion. There was something so inexplicable in her being alone, and unato

« EdellinenJatka »