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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Frontier Fort: Stirring Times In The N-west Territory Of British America - Chapter 9
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The Frontier Fort: Stirring Times In The N-west Territory Of British America - Chapter 9 Post by :Todd_Couch Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2568

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The Frontier Fort: Stirring Times In The N-west Territory Of British America - Chapter 9

CHAPTER NINE

So resolutely carried on was the attack of the Indians, that Captain Mackintosh could not help fearing that it must succeed. Two of his men had been killed, and both his sons were wounded, although they refused to retire, and continued firing through the loop-holed walls. The fiercest attack was made on the gate, which Mysticoose evidently hoped to break open, and to force his way in. Loraine undertook to defend it to the last. Captain Mackintosh, knowing that he would do so, was able to turn his attention to other points.

Notwithstanding the desperate manner in which they came on to the attack, the assailants were kept at bay; but so much powder had at length been expended, that Captain Mackintosh found to his dismay that the stock was running short.

"We must manage to hold out until daylight, and then, through Heaven's mercy, the savages may be induced to give up the attempt," he observed to Sandy, who brought him the alarming information.

"Ay, sir, that we will; and when the powder is done, we will take to our pikes and bayonets. The Redskins will have no mind to face them."

The savage chief seemed resolved, however, to succeed. Again and again he and his followers rushed up to the gate, which they assailed with their axes, hewing at the stout wood in the expectation of cutting it through. Many fell in the attempt by the hot fire kept up on them from either side.

At last they were driven back, and the garrison gave vent to a loud cheer, confident that the enemy were about to take to flight.

For a short interval the fighting ceased; but the savages, urged by Mysticoose, again came on, this time to make another effort to scale the palisades. Some stood on the backs of their companions, trying to reach the summit; others tugged away at the stout timbers, endeavouring to pull them down; but they resisted all their efforts.

The defenders of the fort rushed here and there, striking fierce blows with their axes wherever an Indian showed himself, thrusting with their pikes, and hurling back their assailants. Still, it was too likely that numbers would prevail. On either side the Indians were swarming up, and one man had often to contend with a dozen before others of the defenders could come to his assistance. Several more of the garrison had been wounded; but no one, while he had strength to wield a weapon, retired from his post. At last the Indians, finding that so many of their party had fallen, and that, in spite of all their efforts, they were unable to climb over the palisades, desisted from the attempt, and again retired out of gunshot. Though they could not be seen, their voices were heard on three sides of the fort, showing that they had not altogether abandoned the attempt.

"I wonder what they will do next?" said Hector to his brother. "Do you think they have had enough of it?"

"If that fellow Mysticoose has escaped, I'm afraid he'll urge them to come on again," answered Norman. "It still wants an hour to daylight, and they are up to some trick or other, you may depend upon that. Perhaps they are creeping round to try and get in at the rear of the fort by climbing up on that side, thinking that we should not guard it so carefully as the front. Come along, let us try and find out what they are about."

They accordingly hurried up to the ramparts overlooking the river; but when they peered down through the gloom, they could see nothing moving. They urged the men on guard to keep a watchful look-out.

"No fear about our doing that," was the answer. "The Redskins have had enough of climbing over for the present. They are more likely again to try and beat down the gate."

Still the shouts and shrieks in the distance continued.

Hector and Norman returned to their posts in front. They had scarcely got there when Hector's sharp eyes perceived some dark objects moving along the ground. He would have taken them, under other circumstances, for a herd of buffalo, so shapeless did they seem.

He immediately warned the rest of the garrison. The objects came nearer and nearer. It was evident that they were men carrying loads on their backs, who, bounding on before a fire could be opened on them, got close up to the gates at the foot of the palisades. The next instant a number of Indians were observed making off at full speed. They were fired at; but so rapid were their movements, that most of them effected their escape without being hit.

Scarcely had the firing ceased, than small flames were seen rising out of the loads left close to the fort, which it was now discovered were faggots, brought by the savages for the purpose of burning down the palisades.

Loraine, on seeing this, volunteered to head a party to drag away the faggots before the flames should have time to blaze up; but just as he was about to set out, and the gates were being opened, some more Indians, protected by a band of horsemen, were seen approaching, laden with an additional supply of faggots, with which, using them as shields, they endeavoured to protect themselves from the fire of the garrison. But by this time many of the men, having only a round or two of ammunition remaining, were unwilling to expend it, and the savages as before escaped with slight loss.

"The faggots may blaze up, my boys," cried Captain Mackintosh; "but it will take some time to burn down our palisades." His heart, however, began to sink, as he thought that too probably the enemy would succeed in their design.

Loraine, seeing the fearful danger to which the fort was exposed, again offered to rush out at the head of a party of men, and endeavour to drag away the burning branches. There was a risk, however, that while they were so engaged, the enemy might make a rush for the gate. Already the flames were ascending. As they burned brightly, their glare would expose him and his followers to view. Still, the position of affairs required that the risk, great as it was, should be run. Dense volumes of smoke were coming through the interstices of the palisades, and the circle of flame which rose up round the fort showed that no time must be lost.

Captain Mackintosh sent those who had most ammunition to fire away at the enemy, should they approach. The gates were opened, and Loraine, with his followers, issued forth armed with pikes, to drag away the burning mass. Those at the gate were soon hurled to a distance. They then began to labour away at those spots where the greatest danger was threatened to the palisades.

So rapid were their movements that it was some time before their object was discovered by the Indians, who, however, at length perceived what they were about, and, uttering a war whoop, came rushing towards them.

In vain the party from above endeavoured to keep the savages in check. Loraine ran a fearful risk of being cut off.

Captain Mackintosh, seeing the danger to which he was exposed, shouted to him to retire, while the men within stood ready to close the gates the moment he and his companions had entered. Although warned that the enemy were drawing near, he laboured on to the last, when, turning round, he saw, by the light of the flames, the savages, with tomahawks uplifted, scarcely a dozen paces from him.

His first impulse was to stop and encounter Mysticoose; but by so doing he would delay, he knew, the closing of the gate, and the savages might succeed in entering.

A tomahawk whirled by his head. In another moment he would have a dozen enemies upon him. He sprang back after his companion, and the gate was closed against their assailants, who at once, to wreak their vengeance, began to throw back the blazing faggots against it.

A few shots were fired at the enemy, and then not a single report was heard. Every grain of powder in the fort had been expended.

The Blackfeet had in the mean time been collecting a fresh supply of faggots, and now, finding themselves unmolested, brought them up to the stockades. At length the stout gate, having caught fire, showed signs of giving way, while the forked flames appeared in all directions between the palisades. In vain the bold hunters sprang here and there with buckets of water--for the fort was well supplied--and dashed it against the burning timbers. It was too evident that ere long the whole front of the fort would be one mass of fire.

"Never fear, lads," cried old Sandy Macpherson, as he saw to a certainty what would happen. "Even when the walls come down, the Redskins won't be in a hurry to make their way over them. We may still keep the 'varmints' at bay for a good time longer, and then just take shelter in the big house, and they'll no get into that in a hurry, while we make good play with our pikes and bayonets."

If Sandy did not forget that the savages, as soon as they got into the inner part of the fort, would set fire to the buildings, he thought it prudent not to say so.

In the mean time, Loraine began to fear that notwithstanding the heroic efforts he and his companions were making, the helpless ones, whom they were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect, would fall into the power of the savages. Language, indeed, cannot describe his feelings. Rather would he have seen his beautiful Sybil dead than carried off by the Indian. "Would it not be possible to get through the back of the fort, and to place the ladies in the boat, then either to carry them down the river, or enable them to make their escape to the northward?" he asked of Captain Mackintosh. "Surely it would be safer than defending them in the house."

"I much fear that the savages, though we do not see them, are watching the banks, and that the attempt would be unsuccessful; yet, as a last resource, we must try it," answered Captain Mackintosh. "I will commit them to your charge."

Loraine's feelings prompted him eagerly to accept the office, and yet, influenced by a high motive, he replied--

"I would propose that your sons should escort them. They are well acquainted with the navigation of the river, and would be more likely to find their way across the country than I should."

"My boys and I must remain at our posts and defend the fort to the last," said Captain Mackintosh. "You must go, my friend. We have but a short time to prepare. Old Sandy shall accompany you. The boat will hold no more. Go on, and let my wife and poor girls know what we have decided, and I will make the required arrangements."

"I will do as you desire," answered Loraine.

In building the fort, the timbers had been so placed that an opening could easily be formed on such an emergency as now occurred. Captain Mackintosh, summoning Sandy, they together removed part of the wood-work. Sandy was about to step through the opening, when he hurriedly drew back, and replacing the timbers exclaimed--

"The Redskins have found us out. I saw half a score of them creeping along the bank. Quick, quick, captain, and stop up the gap!"

All hope of enabling the ladies to escape as he proposed had to be abandoned, and Captain Mackintosh, with a sad heart, leaving Sandy to watch the spot, went back to tell them of the impossibility of carrying out their projected plan.

Scarcely had he reached the building than the towers on either side of the gate, which were blazing furiously, and a large portion of the front, fell down outwards with a loud crash.

A fearful yell of exultation was uttered by the savages, but the encircling flames and the burning timbers still kept them at bay. In a short time, however, the flames would burn out, and they might spring over the smouldering logs.

Disheartened by the desperate way in which their attacks had been met, and not aware that the garrison were destitute of ammunition, they kept at a distance, feeling confident that their prey could not escape them.

As the flames decreased, Captain Mackintosh ordered the men to retreat into the two chief buildings, urging them to hold out bravely to the last. He feared, however, with too much reason, that although they might prolong their resistance, their ultimate destruction was inevitable. Every moment the flames in front were decreasing, although on either side they were creeping along the stockades, threatening everything with speedy destruction.

The savages, hovering round, had been waiting for the moment when they might force their way over the burning ruins. It came at last. Again uttering their fearful war whoops, they came rushing on, confident of success, when a cheer was heard from the left, followed by a rattling fire of musketry. The fierce warriors turned and fled. Their chief himself, who was distinguished by his tall figure and waving plume, was seen to fall. Some of his followers endeavoured to lift him from the ground, but fled with the rest, and in another minute a large body of horsemen galloped up, who were seen, as the glare of the burning stockades fell on them, to be mostly half-breed hunters, led by a white man.

"Hurrah! Hurrah! It's Allan Keith," cried Hector, who had been on the look-out through one of the barricaded windows.

In an instant the door was thrown open. The men of the garrison rushed to the burning walls, some with axes to cut them down, others with buckets of water to extinguish the flames.

While the half-breeds were pursuing the flying foe, another party appeared on the right, and in a short time Dr McCrab and Dan Maloney, who had led them, were heartily greeting Captain Mackintosh and his companions, and congratulating them on their narrow escape.

"Faith, my boy, I'm mighty glad that we've come just in the nick of time, and that we shouldn't have done, I'm after thinking, if it hadn't been for falling in with old Isaac Sass, and his impish follower, Master Greensnake," exclaimed Maloney, as he shook Hector's hand. "He told us if we wanted to save you, to put our best feet foremost while he showed us the course to take. It's my belief, too, that he afterwards managed to fall in with Allan Keith and his party, or it's possible they might have arrived as we should have done, just in time to be too late."

The men belonging to the fort had been successful in extinguishing the flames, though the whole front was either in ruins or presented a fearfully shattered and blackened appearance.

Dr McCrab, with coat off and sleeves tucked up, was busily employed in attending to the wounded men, while Loraine was assisting Sybil and Mrs Mackintosh in calming the fears of poor Effie, who, not seeing Allan Keith among those who had just arrived, had feared that some accident had happened to him. He soon, however, with his active horsemen, having driven the enemy to a distance, arrived unhurt, and his appearance quickly tranquillised her mind.

"We must not, however, forget our friend Mr Harvey," exclaimed Captain Mackintosh. "The Blackfeet may possibly direct their course towards his station and revenge themselves for their failure here by attempting its destruction."

On hearing this remark, Allan Keith and Loraine offered to lead a party of men to the assistance of the missionary, and about thirty of the hunters having volunteered to accompany them, fresh horses were brought across the river, and they immediately set out.

Norman and Hector, notwithstanding their wounds, wished to go, but the Doctor refused to allow them, and insisted on their turning in and getting the rest they greatly needed. Not an hour was lost in commencing the repairs of the fort, that it might be in a condition to resist any further attack which the Indians might venture to make on it. A few men were also sent to bury the Blackfeet, who had fallen either in the attack or flight. Among the bodies that of Mysticoose himself was found, his followers being unable to carry him away. He was buried in the common grave at a distance from the fort.

Of course a watch was kept at night, though it was not thought probable that the Indians, even should they discover the absence of Loraine and Keith, would renew the attack.

A week passed by. The sawyers and carpenters had worked so energetically, that already the fort had assumed its former appearance, with some improvements to add to its strength. There was no time to be lost, as winter was approaching, and most of the men who had arrived under Dan Maloney and Dr McCrab, had to return to Fort Edmonton.

Sybil and Effie had at first kept up their spirits, but they were growing anxious at the non-appearance of Loraine and Keith.

Evening was approaching, when a shout was raised by the sentry on the western watch-tower, that a large train was coming across the prairie, on which Norman and Hector, with several other inmates of the fort, hastened up the platform to take a look at it.

"I am much mistaken, if they are not Loraine and Keith and their party," exclaimed Hector.

"They have carts with them, so there can be no doubt about their being white men," said Norman.

Hector getting a telescope soon discovered that he was right in his conjectures. As the train drew nearer, the gates were opened, and a large party hurried out to meet the newcomers, who proved to be not only those who were expected, but Mr Harvey and his family, with several Indians who had accompanied them.

"He came," he said, "to ask for protection for himself and his wife and children, as well as for the converts, until it could be ascertained that the Blackfeet had finally left the district."

It need not be said that Loraine and Keith had warmly urged him to take this step.

Captain Mackintosh, giving him a hearty welcome, assured him of the use he would be to the inmates of the fort.

"In truth, my dear friend," he observed, "I believe you can do more real good among my half heathen people, than you could to any of the few Indians who would visit you during the winter."

Mr Harvey, besides his wife, had two daughters, nearly grown up, and a son, who, there could be no doubt, would prove a great addition to the society at the fort, the inmates of which had little chance of enjoying much communication with the outer world for many months to come.

Soon after his arrival, Mr Harvey inquired for Isaac Sass. "I half expected to have found him here," he observed to Captain Mackintosh, "though he left without saying in what direction he was going. I am thankful to believe that his visit to me was of spiritual benefit to him; for, opening his heart, he confessed that he had been a careless liver, having endeavoured, though in vain, to put God out of his thoughts. I was the instrument of bringing his mind into a better state, and I trust that in a contrite spirit he sought forgiveness from God through the gracious means He has offered to sinners. Before leaving me, he put into my hands a packet to be delivered to you; and from what he said, I suspect that he is deeply interested in the young lady whom I believed to be your daughter, until he assured me that such was not the case. He had recognised her by her likeness to one whom he truly loved, but who had been lost to him for ever, though, I conclude, you will learn his history from the contents of the packet which I now give you."

Captain Mackintosh, on opening the packet, found it contained a long manuscript written in a large but somewhat shaky hand. It would occupy too much space were it to be copied. His life, like that of many others, had been an adventurous one. His true name was Hugh Lindsay, and his family was an old and good one. Having left home at an early age, he entered the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and had every reason to expect to become one of its leading members, when his family so strongly expressed their annoyance at hearing of his marriage with a beautiful half-Cree girl, that he ceased to hold any communication with them. He had not long after this quarrelled with his employers, when he left their service, and commenced the life of a free trader and trapper. For some time he had considerable success, and as his wife had presented him with a daughter, whom he devotedly loved, he was doubly anxious to gain the means of supporting and educating her in the rank of a lady. Neither he nor her mother, however, could bear to part with her.

At an early age she was seen and admired by Donald Grey, a young clerk in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, who sought for and obtained her hand. He, however, had managed, as his father-in-law had done, to quarrel with the chief officer of the fort where he was stationed, and having some means of his own, had taken up his residence at the Red River Settlement.

After living there a year, and becoming the father of a little girl, he received intelligence from England that he had inherited a good property. He had embarked with his young wife and child and a Cree nurse, intending to proceed through the Lake of the Woods, across Lake Superior to Canada. From that day, weeks, months, and years went by, and the old trapper, still supposing that they had arrived safely in England, waited in vain to receive intelligence of them.

It is necessary here to remark that when the superintendent at the company's post on the Sault Saint Marie made inquiries of the chief factors and other officers throughout the north-west territory, they replied that no person connected with them was missing, or had crossed Lake Superior at the time he mentioned. From the American traders also he could obtain no information. Not until Isaac Sass, or more properly, Hugh Lindsay, heard Captain Mackintosh describe the way Sybil had been discovered, did he suspect the fate of his daughter and son-in-law. He had accounted for never having received a letter from them, by supposing that on reaching the old country, and occupying a new sphere of life, they had forgotten him, or had not taken the trouble to write. His wife, dying soon after their daughter's marriage, he had taken to the wild life he had from that time forward led, believing that he himself was forgotten by his kindred, and endeavouring in a misanthropical spirit to banish from his mind all thoughts of the past.

On seeing Sybil, a chord had been struck in his heart, and on hearing her history, he was at once convinced, from her extraordinary likeness to his own child, that she was her daughter though fairer, and of a more refined beauty, such as mental culture gives; but for her sake he was unwilling to make himself known, believing that neither she nor Loraine would be gratified at finding that she was the grand-daughter of a rough old trapper. He especially fancied that the gentlemanly young Englishman would object to him, and having himself a bad opinion of human nature, he supposed that it might even cause him to give up Sybil. Still, after he had been brought to a better state of mind by Mr Harvey, he could not resist the temptation of writing a sketch of his history, and by informing his grand-daughter of her birth and parentage, enable her, as he hoped, to gain the property which would have been her father's. He added all the information he possessed for the discovery of Ronald Grey's family, and whether or not he had ever arrived in England.

While listening to this narrative which Captain Mackintosh read to him, Loraine exclaimed, "Grey was my mother's name, and I remember hearing that a cousin of hers had gone out to the north-west territory, in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, and that although property had been left him he had not returned to claim it, and has never since been heard of. Ultimately it came to my mother, through whom it forms a portion of the fortune I possess, and I will willingly resign it to the rightful heiress."

"I don't suppose that she, with equal willingness, will deprive you of it," said Captain Mackintosh, laughing.

Mr Harvey again expressed his regret that the old man had not remained behind with him, though he added, "I felt confident he has embraced the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, and I fully expect to see him again before long."

The wounded men having recovered under the care of Dr McCrab, he and Dan Maloney returned, with a portion of their followers, to Fort Edmonton, while the half-breeds set off eastward for their homes at the Red River. Allan Keith, much to his own satisfaction, having had permission to remain at Fort Duncan with the rest, to reinforce its garrison.

It was fully expected that the old trapper would some day make his appearance, but time went by, and no tidings could be gained of him.

Before Mr Harvey returned in the spring to his mission station, he united Sybil and Effie to the two gentlemen to whom they had given their hearts.

Loraine and his bride immediately set off for the Red River, intending to proceed from thence to Canada, on their way to England, while Allan Keith took his to a fort, to the charge of which he had been appointed.

Loraine, by means of the information Captain Mackintosh had given him, and such as he was able to obtain at the Red River, was able to prove that his wife was the daughter of Ronald Grey, but was saved a vast amount of legal expenses by her refusal to claim the property of which he was already in possession.

Some time afterwards, Allan Keith and Effie came over to pay them a visit. They brought some deeply interesting information. Search had for a long time been fruitlessly made for the old hunter, until at length, Norman and Hector Mackintosh, when on an exploring expedition, had discovered on a tree-covered hill, overlooking a calm lake, a solitary grave. Over it had been placed, in regular order, a pile of huge logs, cut by an Indian axe. Searching further, they found in a hut hard by, a hump-backed Indian, life apparently ebbing fast away.

He pointed above. "I am going," he whispered, "to that heaven of which my friend and protector, he who lies yonder, has told me, through the merits of One who died for sinful men. I have fulfilled his last wish, which was to be buried, and but yesterday finished my task. It has been a long one, for the trees were hard to cut down, and now I go with joy to meet him, in the happy land from which there is no return. I am thankful that you have come to know where he is laid."

In the hopes of resuscitating the poor lad, Norman and Hector endeavoured to make him take some nourishment, but he was in too exhausted a condition to swallow the food, and he breathed his last just as the setting sun cast a bright glow across the calm waters on the old trapper's grave.

 

(THE END)
(W Kingston's Book: Frontier Fort: Stirring Times in the N-West Territory of British America)

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