The small party dispatched on this hazardous adventure, having crossed the river, penetrated a wood near it, where they rested till the light of the morning should afford them assistance to pass through it. One of the soldiers, who had a knowledge of the country, made light of the difficulties of their undertaking; and the whole party were in some degree cheerful, except Orlando, who, far from attending to the perils that surrounded himself, was lost in thinking of those to which Monimia was exposed; and in meditating schemes of vengeance against her persecutor, which he forgot that it was impossible for him to accomplish. In the midst of an immense American forest, surrounded with almost every species of danger, and suffering, if not actual hunger, a great deficiency of nourishment (for the whole army had been some days on short allowance) he felt nothing but that Monimia was liable to the insults of Sir John Belgrave; perhaps already the victim of his infamous designs—an idea that stung him almost to madness. The painful news he had heard from his father’s house added to the anguish of his spirit; and perhaps never was a mind more distracted with a variety of tormenting 142 apprehensions, not one of which he had the means of alleviating. As soon as it was light, the party renewed their journey, but had not proceeded half a quarter of a mile towards the thickest part of the wood before the war-whoop burst forth; and a shower of bullets fell among them, wounding some, and killing one of their small party. The Indians rushed forward the moment the English had at random fired among the trees, and Orlando saw no more; a violent blow on the head deprived him of his senses, and to all appearance of his life.
When he recovered his recollection, he found himself lying on the ground in one of those temporary huts which the Indians erect in their hunting parties. It was night, and he heard them in loud conversation near him—He found he was their prisoner, and concluded he was reserved for those horrid tortures of which he had heard so many terrific descriptions. Death appeared to him most desirable; and his great hope was that he should by death escape them—for the pain from the wound in his head was so excessive, that he doubted not but that his scull was fractured, and of course his dissolution near.
He attempted to rise; not with any hope of escape, for that was impossible, but with a sort of confused desire to accelerate his fate; when an Indian entered the hut with a light, in whom Orlando discovered his former acquaintance the Wolf-hunter.
This young savage approached and spoke kindly to him, telling him, that though his brothers had killed and scalped the rest of the party, he had saved him, and was his sworn friend—that no harm should come to him, and that the chief had promised him his life.
Orlando in a faint voice thanked him for his 143 kindness, which he said was too late, as he felt the wound in his head to be mortal. He then inquired why the Indian warriors had fallen upon a party of their allies and brethren, the soldiers of the king of England?
The Wolf-hunter replied, that the English had not dealt fairly with them—that they were promised provisions, rum and plunder, instead of which they got nothing in the English camp, but had lost some of their best men in defending the lines; and that, the English having thus deceived them, they were no longer their allies, but were going home to their own lands, determined to plunder the stragglers of whatever party they might meet in their way, to make themselves amends for the loss of time, and the heavier loss of brave warriors that had perished by believing the promises of the great English Captain.
Orlando’s generous heart bled for his comrades thus inhumanly sacrificed; and he lamented that they, as well as himself, had not fallen like his friend Fleming in the field. He asked if all the men who were with him had perished. His Indian friend answered, All but two—a white man and a negro—who had escaped while they were plundering the rest.
Orlando heard this with a sigh of deeper concern; for he knew that, unless these unfortunate men could again cross the river and regain the camp, they would probably die in the woods of hunger and fatigue. The Wolf-hunter then inquired of Orlando, if he thought he could march with them in the morning?—To which he answered, he hoped so; but at the same time imagined that he should long before that time be released from all his sufferings. He knew, however, that to complain would not only be fruitless, but injure him in the opinion of 144 his host, who made light of the wound he had received; and telling Orlando he would cure it, he cut off the hair, washed it with rum, and then laid on it a pledget of chewed leaves. An Indian blanket was thrown over him, for his own clothes were taken away; and the young savage giving him a drink, such as they had themselves been merry over, of rum, water and honey, desired him to sleep, and in a few moments set him the example.
Giddy and disturbed as was the unhappy Orlando from the effects of the blow, he now began to awaken to a sense of his condition; and in believing that the injury he had received was not of so fatal a nature as he had on the first sensation of pain imagined, he felt infinitely more miserable in supposing that he should live in such insupportable anguish as his fears for Monimia and his family would inflict upon him—condemned, probably as long as his life lasted, to drag on a wretched existence among the savage tribes of the American wilderness, and cut off from all communication with his country.
In such reflections on his own wretchedness he passed this miserable night, his Indian protector soundly sleeping in the same hut. Before the dawn of day they began to move; as the chief, or leader of the party, was anxious to escape, with the plunder they had already got, to the Iroquois country, from which they came. Orlando, contrary to his expectations, found he could walk; and his friend the Wolf-hunter, pleased with the resolution he exerted, sometimes assisted him when he appeared on the point of failing in this rapid and difficult march, through a country known and accessible only to Indians. His shoes and stockings had been taken from him, and his feet bled at every step: but he went on in a sort of desperation, hoping that the 145 more severe his sufferings were, the sooner they would end; nor was it the least of these, that, on the first dawn of morning, he saw the scalps of his unfortunate comrades triumphantly carried by the chief of the party, whose title was the Wild Elk.
New scenes of horror awaited him on his way. As plunder was now the avowed purpose of this party of Iroquois, which consisted of near forty men, they attacked the defenceless villages of the English Americans whose men were out with the army; and destroyed the women and children, or led them away to captivity infinitely worse than death. Some few the Wolf-hunter, who was the second in power, was influenced by the entreaties of Orlando to spare; but even these were, he feared, reserved only for a more lingering and deplorable fate; and in fact many hundreds of the unhappy people thus driven from their dwellings in the course of the war, perished by famine in the woods and gullies.
Orlando was now nearly recovered of the wound in his head, notwithstanding so rude a method of cure; but, in fact, the skull had not been injured. The blow was given with the butt end of a musket, and not with a tomahawk, which are almost always mortal. His friend the Wolf-hunter had equipped him like an Indian warrior. His fine hair was cut off, all but a long lock on the crown of his head—and he was distinguished from an Iroquois by nothing but his English complexion. In these circumstances, after a long and fatiguing march of eleven days, he arrived with his protector at the camp or rendezvous of those Indians who had taken up the hatchet as allies to the King of England, where they halted and held a general council. A party who had just arrived before them, brought intelligence of the convention of Saratoga, so fatal 146 to the British, and their German allies; in consequence of this, one body of the Indians returned again towards the seat of war, on a scheme of general depredation; and the other, in which was the Wolf-hunter, who carried every where with him his English friend, went to the town of their district, with an intention of recruiting their numbers, and falling upon the back settlements while they were in their present defenceless state.
The ground was now every where frozen; and their way seemed to lay over sharpened flints—so impenetrable it was become. Orlando was inured to every personal suffering: but those of the unhappy victims of this war—victims that every day seemed to multiply around him, and very few of whom he could save, were a continual source of torment to him; while, at every pause of these horrors, the fears of what might happen, perhaps had already happened at home, were even more dreadful than his actual miseries. He found that Perseus, Warwick’s black servant that had attended him, was among those who escaped from his unfortunate party: if he did not fall a victim to hunger, or failed of being destroyed by some other wandering horde of savages, he might, as he was a stout man, inured to hardship, and of good courage, find his way to New-York, and from thence to England, where he would undoubtedly report to Mr. Somerive and his distracted family, that he saw Orlando die under the hands of an Indian. The wretchedness that such news would inflict on his friends, on his Monimia, there was no likelihood of his being able to remove; for, in his present situation, there was no means of conveying a letter with any hope of its ever reaching the place of its destination. He tried to prevail on his savage friend to let him go with the party who were returning towards 147 Boston, in hopes that he might escape from them, and find his way alone to some fort, either of English Americans or English: but this, for reasons which Orlando did not altogether comprehend, the Wolf-hunter refused, and even expressed some resentment that it was proposed.
By the time they had reached the Indian village, it was the end of November; and the winter set in with such severity that the Indians, however eager after plunder, felt but little disposed to encounter its rigour. Orlando then saw that the dreary months between November and April he must be condemned to pass among these barbarians, deprived of all human intercourse, and in a kind of living death. Even if he could have forced his mind from the consideration of his own disastrous situation, to contemplate the wonderful variety which Nature exhibits, and to have explored these wild scenes, this resource was denied him; for the whole country was a wide waste of snow, and every thing around him seemed cold and hopeless as his own destiny.
The booty which the Indians had divided at their camp comprised, among other articles, a small portfolio of his, a memorandum book, his pocket-book, and a writing case: these had fallen to the share of his friend the Wolf-hunter, who was very willing to restore to Orlando things of so little use to himself. This was the only alleviation the unhappy Orlando found to his sorrows; yet it was a melancholy one, to write letters which he could hardly expect would ever be read, to make for his father a journal of occurrences so mournful, and to feel, while he wrote it, that it was too probable the eye for which it was intended was closed for ever.
The sufferings of Orlando were such as time, the 148 great softener of most affliction, served only to aggravate. What would he have given for even a hope of hearing from England! and how many conjectures were continually passing through his mind, each more distressing than another! In his dreams he often saw his Monimia pursued by Sir John Belgrave entreating his protection, and he started up to chastise the inhuman persecutor of her innocence. At other times fancy, more favourable, represented her as she used to appear in the early days of their attachment—cheerful, because unconscious of having erred—and tenderly trusting to him, even when she discovered that their clandestine meetings were contrary to the strict line of duty and propriety. He heard her voice, he admired her simple beauty, her innocent tenderness, the strength and candour of her uncultivated understanding—and supposed himself engaged, as he used to be, in the delightful task of improving it. Dreary was the contrast between his real situation and these soothing visions; and he often preferred such as gave him sleeping torment, to such as by flattering with happiness rendered more insupportable the despair which consumed him.
Five weeks, five miserable and dreary weeks had now crept away; when something like a change of ideas was offered by the arrival of two French Canadians and a party of Indians from that country, who had travelled across the snows and frozen lakes to the Indian village.
It was some comfort to the desolate Orlando to hear a European language; and though he could speak but little French, he could read it extremely well. But with these men he now constantly conversed, and soon found himself able to speak it fluently; from whence he was encouraged to hope 149 that he might contrive to get to Quebec, and that from thence a passage to Europe might easily be obtained.
“The miserable have no other medicine
But only hope”——
MEASURE FOR MEASURE.
—and of this the young soldier of late had so little, that the least glimpse of more restored his dejected spirits; which, when all the evils he felt or feared are remembered, it will be acknowledged that nothing but a temper naturally sanguine, and a constitution unusually strong, could have enabled him so long to support.
On sounding his savage protector, who was extremely attached to him, he found it seemed not very unlikely that he might go himself with five or six young warriors to Quebec to trade early in the spring, hunting or fighting on their way as occasion might offer. His Canadian friends encouraged this plan: and Orlando ventured to promise a considerable present of spirits from the Governor of Quebec, as an acknowledgment for the restoration of an English officer; and made many promises to the Wolf-hunter, of sending him from England what should give him a great superiority over all his countrymen, if he would release him and promote his return to Europe. The means of conciliating this his Indian master, and procuring his consent to a scheme that he formerly seemed so averse to, were suggested to him by his new Canadian friends, and promised to be successful.
Thus relieved by hope, the months of January, February, and March, passed less heavily. The spring, which in America approaches not gradually as it does in England, but appears at once, surprised him by the sudden change which it produced. 150 The snow was gone; and, in a very few days, the whole country was covered with verdure and burst into bloom. A thousand birds filled the extensive forests, as gay in their plumage as exquisite in their song; and, whichever way Orlando looked, a new Eden seemed to be opening around him.
On the 20th of April, 1778, Orlando, the French Canadians, and the Wolf-hunter leading a party of five-and-twenty Indian warriors, set out for Quebec—the Indians carrying great quantities of furs, the spoils of the animals they had taken during the winter. Of these Orlando carried his share: and now, reanimated by the soothing expectation of being restored to his country, he endeavoured to conform himself to the modes of his savage hosts, and was indeed become almost as expert an hunter, in their own methods, as the most active among them.
They had travelled some hundred miles, and were within a few days journey of Quebec, when it was resolved by the Wolf-hunter to encamp for some days, in a spot particularly favourable to hunting. This determination, however unpleasing to Orlando, he knew was not to be disputed; and though every delay was death to him, he was compelled to submit to what no remonstrance would avert.
The camp, therefore, was formed; and if any local circumstance could have reconciled him to the procrastination of a journey on which all the hopes of his deliverance from this wretched and tedious captivity depended, it was the very uncommon beauty of the scenery amid which these huts were raised.
This was on the banks of the river St. Lawrence at a spot where it was about a mile and a quarter 151 over. The banks where they encamped were of an immense height, composed of lime-stone and calcined shells: and an area of about an hundred yards was between the edge of this precipice, which hung over the river, and a fine forest of trees, so magnificent and stately as to sink the woods of Norway into insignificance. On the opposite side of the river lay an extensive savannah, alive with cattle, and coloured with such a variety of swamp plants, that their colour, even at that distance, detracted something from the vivid green of the new sprung grass; beyond this the eye was lost in a rich and various landscape, quite unlike any thing that European prospects offer; and the acclivity on which the tents stood sinking very suddenly on the left, the high cliffs there gave place to a cypress swamp, or low ground, entirely filled with these trees; while on the right the rocks, rising suddenly and sharply, were clothed with wood of various species; the ever-green oak, the scarlet oak, the tulip tree, and magnolia, seemed bound together by festoons of flowers, some resembling the convolvuluses of our gardens, and others the various sorts of clematis, with vignenias, and the Virginian creeper; some of these already in bloom, others only in the first tender foliage of spring: beneath these fragrant wreaths that wound about the trees, tufts of rhododendron and azalea, of andromedas and calmias, grew in the most luxuriant beauty; and strawberries already ripening, or even ripe, peeped forth among the rich vegetation of grass and flowers. On this side all was cheerful and lovely—on the other mournful and gloomy; the latter suited better with the disposition Orlando was in, and he reared his little hut on that side next the cypress swamp, and under the covert of the dark fir trees that waved 152 over it. They had been here three days, when with the usual capriciousness of his country, the Wolf-hunter determined to recommence their journey—a circumstance that gave Orlando some satisfaction; and he went to his couch of bear-skin with more disposition to sleep than he had felt for some time, and, contrary to his usual custom, soon sunk to repose; and his dreams were of his Monimia, soothing and consolatory.
There is in America a night-hawk*, whose cry is believed by the Indians always to portend some evil to those who hear it. In war they affirm that, if a chief falls, the funereal cry of this bird announces it to his distant survivors. Ignorance, the mother of superstition, has so deeply impressed this on the minds of the Indians, that it is an article of their faith, and Orlando had seen some of the most courageous and fierce among them depressed and discouraged by hearing the shriek of this bird of woe near their tents.
* Supposed to be the Caprimulgus Americanus: the bird that is called by the Anglo-Americans “Whip poor Will,” because his notes or cry seem to express those words.
From the most delicious dream of Rayland Hall, and of Monimia given to him by the united consent of Mrs. Rayland and his father, he was suddenly awakened by the loud shriek of this messenger of supposed ill tidings; piercing, and often repeated, it was echoed back from the woods; and Orlando, once roused to a comparison between his visionary and his real situation, was alive to the keenest sensations of sorrow. The hateful noise still continued, and he went out of his tent, for he knew any farther attempt to sleep would be vain—Alas! the turrets of Rayland Hall were no longer painted on his imagination—instead of them he 153 looked perpendicularly down on a hollow where the dark knots of cypress seemed, by the dim light of early morning, which threatened storms, to represent groups of supernatural beings in funereal habits; and over them he saw, slowly sailing amid the mist that arose from the swamp, two or three of the birds which had so disturbed him. Great volumes of heavy fog seemed to be rolling from the river, and the sun appeared red and lurid through the loaded atmosphere. Orlando endeavoured to shake off the uncomfortable sensations, which, in despite of his reason, hung about him; but he rather indulged than checked them, in throwing upon paper the following
ILL omen’d bird! whose cries portentuous float
O’er yon savannah with the mournful wind,
While as the Indian hears your piercing note
Dark dread of future evils fills his mind—
Wherefore with early lamentations break
The dear delusive visions of repose?
Why from so short felicity awake
My wounded senses to substantial woes?
O’er my sick soul, thus rous’d from transient rest,
Pale Superstition sheds her influence drear,
And to my shuddering fancy would suggest,
Thou com’st to speak of every woe I fear—
But aid me Heaven! my real ills to bear,
Nor let my spirit yield to phantoms of despair.
His fine hair was cut off, all but a long lock on the crown of his head
[This detail is accurate. The author must have read a book about the Iroquois.]
The spring, which in America approaches not gradually as it does in England, but appears at once
[In New York state, spring is hardly a distinct season at all. Winter simply recedes bit by bit until you realize that it hasn’t snowed in a while, so it must be summer.]
This was on the banks of the river St. Lawrence
[Has any country undergone more provincial reconfigurations than Canada? In 1778, Quebec included huge parts of what is now Ontario, notably the section that adjoins New York state, with the St. Lawrence river forming the boundary.]
[Footnote] Caprimulgus Americanus: the bird that is called by the Anglo-Americans “Whip poor Will”
[For more whippoorwills than you can shake a stick at, see Alonzo and Melissa, passim.]
the following SONNET
[In her introduction, Anna Laetitia Barbauld says that sonnets were what Charlotte Smith did best.]
Nor let my spirit yield to phantoms of despair.
[This final line would seem to have an extra foot. It would scan if you replaced “my spirit” with “me”.]
The increasing difficulties to which the British army were exposed
In a very few days after leaving this temporary settlement, Orlando arrived at Quebec.
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.