Charles James Lever.

The adventures of Arthur O'Leary online

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tore the mangled corpses as they lay, and bathed them-
selves in blood. But not there did' it end. The flame
that gleamed frona 'the Teeth' rocks was i^.iit an Indian


device to dra^Y the wreckers out to sea. A pine-wood fire
had been lighted on the tallest clift' at low water, to at-
tract their attention, bj- some savages in canoes, and left
to burn away slowly during the night.

" Deceived, and baffled, the wreckers made towards
shore, to which already their eyes were turned in terror,
for the red blaze of the burning huts was seen, miles off,
in the bay. Scarcely had the first boat neared the shore,
when a volley of fire-arms poui-ed in upon her, while the
war-ci"y that rose above it told them their hour was come.
The Indians were several hundreds in number, ai-med to
the teeth ; the others few, and without a single weapon.
Contest, it was none. The slaughter scarce lasted many
minutes, for ere the flame from the distant rock subsided,
the last white man lay a corpse on the bloody strand.
Such was the terrible retribution that followed on ci"ime,
and, at the very moment, too, when their cruel hearts
were bent on its perpetration.

" This talc, which was told me in a broken jargon, be-
tween Canadian-French and English,- concluded with
words which were not to me, at the time, the least shock-
ing part of the story, as the narrator, with glistening
eyes, and in a voice whose guttural tones seemed almost
too thick for utterance, said, ' It was I that planned it! '

" Tou will ask me, by what chance did I escape with
life among such a tribe. An accident — the merest accident
— saved me. "When a smuggler, as I have already told
you I was, I once, when becalmed in the Bay of Biscay,
got one of the sailors to tatoo my arm with gunpowder, a
very common practice at sea. The operator had been
in the North American trade, and had passed ten years as
a prisoner among the Indians, and l^rought away with him
innumeraVjle recollections of their habits and customs.
Among others, their strange idols had made a great im-
pression on his mind ; and, as I gave him a discretionary
power as to the frescoes he was to adorn me with, he
painted a most American-looking savage Avith two faces
on his head, his body all stuck over with arrows and spear-
points, while he, apparently unmoved by such visitors,
was skipping about, in something that might be a war-

THE smuggler's STORY. 93

"This, with all its appropriate colours — for, as the
heraldry folk say, ' It was proper' — was-a very conspicuous
object on ray arm, and no sooner seen by the chief, than
he immediately knelt down beside me, dressed my wounds,
and tended me ; while the rest of the tribe, recognizing
me as oue whose existence was charmed, showed me every
manner of respect, and even devotion.

" Indeed I soon felt my popularity to be my greatest
difficulty; for whatever great event was going forward
among the tribe, it became the etiquette to consult me
on it, as a species of soothsayer, and never was a prophet
more sorely tested. Sometimes it was a question of the
whale-fishery — whether ' bottle-noses,' or ' sulphur-bot-
toms,' were coming up the bay, and whether, in the then
season, it was safe, or not, to strike the ' calf whales' first.
Now it was a disputed point as to the condition of bears ;
or, worse than either, a little marauding party would be
undertaken into a neighbour's premises, where T was
expected to perform a very leading part, which, not having
the same strong convictions of my invulnerable nature as
my worthy associates, I undertook with as few feelings of
satisfaction as you may imagine. But these were not all ;
ofiers of marriage from many noble families pressed me on
every side ; and though polygamy to any extent was per-
missible, I never could persuade myself to make my for-
tune in this manner. The ladies, too, I ani bound to say,
were not so seductive as to endanger my principles. Flat-
tened heads, bent-down noses, and lip-stones, are very
strong antidotes to the tender passion. And I was obliged
to declare, that I was compelled by a vow not to marry for
three moons. I dared not venture on a longer period of
amnesty, lest I should excite suspicion of any insult to
them on a point where their vengeance never forgives ;
and I hoped, ere that time elapsed, that I should be able
to make my escape — though how, or when, or where to,
were points I could not possibly guess at.

" Before the half of my probation had expired, we were
visited by an old Indian of a distant tribe — a strange old
fellow he was, clothed in goats' skins, and wearing strong
leather boots and rackets (snow shoes), a felt hat, and a
kind of leather sack strapped on his back, and secured by


a lock. This vSingular-looking fellow was ' the post.' He
travelled once a year from a small settlement near Miri-
michi, to Quebec, and back, carrying the letters to and from
these places, a distance of something like seven hundred
miles, which he accomplished entirely on foot, great part
of it through dense forests and over wild uninhabited
prairies, passing through the hunting-grounds of several
hostile tribes, fording rivers and climbing mountains, and
all for the moderate 2)ayment of ten pounds a year, half of
which he spent in rum before he left Quebec, and while
waiting for the return mail ; and, strangest of all, though
for forty years he had continued to perform this journey,
not only no accident had ever occurred to the letters, but
he himself was never kuowa to be behind his appointed
time at his destination.

"'Tahata,' for such was his name, was, however, a
character of great interest, even to the barbarous tribes
through whose territories he passed. He was a species of
savage newspaper, i^ecounting various details respecting
the hunting and iishing seasons — the price of skins f.t
Quebec or Montreal — what was the peltry most in request,
and how it would bring its best price. Cautiously abstain-
ing from the local politics of these small states, his infor-
mation onl}'- bore on such topics as are genei'ally useful
and interesting, and never for a moment partook of any
partisan character ; besides, he had ever some petty com-
mission or other from the squaws to discharge at Quebec.
There was an amber bead, or a tin ornament, a bit of red
ribbon, or a glass button, or some such valuable, every-
where he went ; and his coming was an event a 3 much
longed and looked for as any other that marked their
monotonous existence.

" He rested for a few da3^s at our village, when I learned
these few particulars of his life, and at once resolved,
come what might, to make my escape with liini, and, if
possible, reach Quebec. An opportunity, fortunately, soon
oii'ered for my doing so with facility. The day of the
courier's departure was fixed for a great fishing excursion,
on which the tribe were to be absent for several days.
Affecliiig illness, I remained on shore, and never stirred
fi-uin llic wigwam till the last canoe had disappeared froiu

THE smuggler's STORY. 95

pMit ; tlien I slowly sauntered out, and telling tlie squaws
that I would stroll about, for an Lour or so, to breathe the
air, I followed tbelrack which was pointed out to me by
the courier who had departed early on the same morning.
Before sunset I came up with my friend, and with a heart
overflowing with delight, sat down to partake of the little
supper he had provided for our first day's joux'ney ; after
that, each day was to take cai'e of itself.

•' Then began a series of adventures, to which all I have
hitherto told you are as nothing. It was the wild life of the
prairies in companionship with one who felt as much at
home in the recesses of a pine forest as ever I did in the
snug corner of mine inn. Now, it was a night spent
under the starry sky, beside some clear river's bank, where
the fish lay motionless beneath the red glare of our watch-
fire ; now, we bivouacked in a gloomy forest, planting
stockades around to keep off the wild beasts; then, we
would chance upon some small Indian settlement, where
we Avere regaled with hospitality, and spent half the night
listening to the low chant of a red man's song, as he
deplored the downfall of his nation, and the loss of their
hunting-grounds. Through all, my guide pi-eserved the
steady equability of one who was tra-velling a well-worn
patli — some notched tree, some small stone heap, some
fissured rock, being his guide through wastes, where, it
seemed to me, no human foot had ever trod. He lightened
the road with many a song and many a story, tlie latter
always displaying some curious trait of his people, whose
high sense of truth and uriswerving fidelity to their word,
once pledged, apjicared to be an invariable feature in every
narrative ; and though he could well account for the feeling
that makes a man more attached to his own nation, he
more than once half expressed his surprise, how, having
lived among the simple-minded childien of the forest, I
could ever return to the haunts of the plotting and design-
ing white men.

" This story of mine," continued Mi*. O'Kelly, " has
somehow spun itself out far more than I intended. My
desire was, to show you briefly in what strange and dis-
similar situations I have been thrown in life — how I have
lived among every rank and class, at home and abroad, in


comparative affluence — in narrow poverty ; how I have
looked on at the world, in all its gala dress of wealth, and
rank, and beauty — of power, of station, and command of
intellect; and how I have seen it poor, and mean, and
naked — the companion of gloomy solitudes, and the denizen
of pathless forests ; and yet found the same Imraan pas-
sions, the same love and hate, the same jealousy and fear,
courage and daring — the same desire for power, and the
same wish to govern in the red Indian of the prairie, as in
the star-bedecked noble of Europe. The proudest lank
of civilized life has no higher boast than in the practice of
such virtues as I have seen rife among the wild dwellers
in the dark forest. Long habit of moving thus among my
fellow-men has worn off much of that conventional rever-
ence for class which forms the standing point of all our
education at home. The tarred and weather-beaten sailor,
if he be but a pleasant fellow, and has seen life, is to me
as agreeable a companion as the greatest admiral that
ever trod a quarter-deck. My delight has been thus, for
many a year back, to ramble through the world, and look
on its game, like one who sits before the curtain, and has
no concern with the actors, save in so far as they amuse

" There is no cynicism in this. No one enjoys life
more than I do. Music is a passion with me — in paint-
ing, I take the greatest delight, and beauty has still her
charm for me. Society never was a greater pleasure.
Scenery can give me a sense of happiness which none
but solitary men ever feel — yet, it is less as one identified
with these, than as a mere spectator. All this is selfish
and egotistical, you will say — and so it is. But then,
think what chance has one like me of any other pleasure ?
To liow many annoyances should I expose myself, if I
adopted a different career. Think of the thousand in-
quiries, of — who is he ? what is his family ? where did he
come from ? what are his m.eans ? and all such queries,
which would beset me, were I the respectable denizen of
one of your cities. Without some position, some rank,
home settled phice in society, you give a man nothing — ho
can neither have friend nor home. Now, I am a wanderer
— my choice of life happily toc'k an humble turn. 1 have

THE smuggler's STORY. 97

placed myself in a good situation for seeing' tlie game —
and I am not too fastidious if I get somewhat crushed by
the company about mo : but now, to finish this long story,
for I see the day is breaking, and I must leave Antwerp
by ten o'clock.

" At last, then, we readied Quebec, It was on a bright,
clear, frosty day, in December, when all the world was
astir — sledges flying here and there — men slipping along
in rackets — women wrapped up in furs, sitting snugly in
chairs, and pushed along the ice some ten or twelve miles
the hour — all gay, all lively, and all merry-looking — while
I and my Indian friend bustled our way through the ci'owd
towards the post-office. He was a well-known character,
and many a friendly nod and knowing shake of the head
welcomed him as ho passed along. I, however, was an
object of no common astonishment, even in a town where
every variety of costume, from full dress to almost
nakedness, was to be met with daily. 'Still, something
remained as a novelty, and it would seem I had hit on it.
Imagine, then, an old and ill-used foraging cap, drawn
down over a red night cap, from beneath which my hair
descended straight, somewhere about a foot in length —
beard and moustaches to match — a red uniform coat,
patched with brown seal-skin, and sui-mounted by a kind
of blanket of buffalo hide — a pair of wampum shorts,
decorated with tin and copper, after the manner of a
marqueterie table — gray stockings, gartered with fish skin
— and mocassins made after the fashion of high-lows, an
invention of my own, which I trust are still known as
* O'Kellys' among my friends the red men.

" That I was not an Indian, was sufiiciently apparent —
if by nothing else, the gingerly delicacy witli which I trod
the pavement after a promenade of seven hundred miles,
would have shown it ; and yet there was an evident re«
luctance on all sides to acknowledge me as one of them-
selves. The crowd that followed our steps had by this
time attracted the attention of some officers, who stopped
to see what was going forward, when I recognized the
major of my own regiment among the number. I saw,
however, that he did not remember me, and hesitated
with myself whether I should return to my old servitude



The thought that no mode of subsistence was open to mo
— that I was not exactly prepossessing enough to make my
way in the world by artiiicial advantages — decided the
question, and I accosted him at once.

" I will not stop to paint the astonishment of the officer,
nor shall I dwell on the few events which followed the re-
cognition — suflBce it to say, that, the same evening I re-
ceived my appointment, not as a sergeant, but as regimental
interpreter between our people and the Indians, with
whom we were then in alliance against the Yankees. The
regiment soon left Quebec for Trois Rivieres, where my
ambassadorial functions were immediately called into play
— not, I am bound to confess, under such weight}- and
onerous responsibilities as I had been led to suspect would
ensue between two powerful nations — but on matters of
less moment, and fully as much difficulty, viz. the barter
of old regimental coats and caps for bows and arrows ; the
exchange of I'um and gunpowder for mocassins and wam-
pum ornaments — in a word, the regulation of an Anglo-
Indian tariff, Avhich accurately defined the value of ever^^-
thing, from a black fox-skin to a pair of old gaiters — from
an Indian tomahawk to a tooth-pick.

" In addition to these fiscal regulations, I drew up a crimi-
nal code — which, in simplicity at least, might vie with any
known system of legislation — by which it was clearly laid
down, tliat any unknown quantity of Indians were only
equal to the slightest inconvenience in cuiTcd or discomfort
endured by an English officer: that the condescension of any
intercourse with them was a circumstance of the greatest
possible value — and its withdrawal the highest punish-
ment. A few other axioms of the like nature greatly
facilitated all bargains, and promoted universal good feel-
ing. Occasionally, a knotty point Avould arise, which
Komewhat puzzled me to determine. Now and then, some
Indian prejudice, some superstition of the tribe, would op-
pose a barrier to the summary process of my cheap justice ;
but then, a little adroitness and dexterity could soon re-
concile matters — and as I had no fear that my decisions
were to be assumed as precedents, and still less dread of
their being rescinded by a higher court, I cut boldly, and
generally severed the difficulty at a blow.

THE smuggler's STORY. 99

*• ;My life was now a pleasant one cnougli — for our
officers treated me on terms of familiarity, which gra-
dually grew into intimacy, as our quarters were in remote
Btations, and as they perceived that I possessed a certain
amount of education — which, it is no flattery to say, ex.
ceeded their own. My old qualities of convivialism, also,
gave me considerable aid ; and as I had neitlier forgotten
to compose a song, nor sing it aftervvaixls, I was rather
a piece of good fortune in this solitary and monotonous
state of life. Etiquette prevented my being asked to the
mess, but, most genei'ously, nothing interfered with their
coming over to my wigwam almost every evening, and
taking share of a bowl of sangaree and a pipe — kindnesses
I did my uttermost to repay, by putting in reqaisition all
the amusing talents I possessed : and certainly, nev^er
did a man endeavour more for great success in life, nor
give himself greater toil, than did I, to make time pass
over pleasantly to some half-dozen silly subalterns, a
bloated captain or two, and a plethoric old snuff-taking
mtijor, that dreamed of nothing but rappee, punch, and
promotion. Still, like all men in an ambiguous, or a false
position, I felt flattered by the companionship of people
•whom, in my heart, I thoroughly despised and looked
down upon ; and felt myself honoured by the society of
the most thick-headed set of noodles ever a man sat down
■with — Ay ! and laughed at their flat witticisms, and their
old stale jokes — and often tiirew out hints for Ion mots,
which, if they caught, I immediately applauded, and went
about, saying, did you hear ' Jones's last ? ' — ' do you know
what the major said this morning ? ' bless my heart ! what
a time it was. Truth will out — the old tuft-hunting leaven
was sti'ong in me, even yet — hardship and roughing had
not effaced it from my disposition — one more lesson was
wanting, and I got it.

" AmoDg my visitors was an old captain of the rough
school of military habit, with all the dry jokes of the re-
cruiting service, and all the coarseness which a life spent
most part in remote stations and small detachments, is
sure to impart. This old fellow. Mat Hubbart, a well-
known name in the Glengarries, had the greatest partiality
for practical iokcs, and could calculate to a nicety the pr>

y. 2


cise amount of a liberty •wliicli any man's rank in the
vicrvice permitted, -without the risk of being called to
account ; and the same scale of equivalents by which he
established the momenclature for female rank in the army,
was regarded by him as the test for those licenses he per-
mitted himself to take witli any man beneath him ; and
as he spoke of the colonel's 'lady,' the major's 'wife,' the
captain's ' woman,' the lieutenant's ' thing,' so did he
graduate his conduct to the husbands, never transgressing
for a moment on the grade by any undue familiarity or
any unwonted freedom. With me, of course, his powers
were discretionary, or rather, had no discretion whatever.
I was a kind of military outlaw that any man might
shoot at, and certainly he spared not his powder in my

" Among the few reliques of my Indian life, was a bear-
skin cap and hood, which I prized highly. It was a
present from my old guide — his parting gift — when I put
into his hands the last few pieces of silver I possessed in
the world. This was then to me a thing which, as I had
met with not many kindnesses in the world, I valued at
something far beyond its mere price, and would rather
have parted witli any, or everything I possessed, than lose
it. Well, one day on my return from a fishing excursion,
as I was passing the door of the mess-room, what should
I see but a poor idiot that frequented the barrack, dressed
in my bear.-skin.

" ' Halloa ' Hokey,' said I, ' where did you get that ? '
scarce able to restrain my temper.

" ' The captain gave it me,' said the fellow, touching his
cap, with a grateful look towards the mess-room windqw,
where I saw Captain Hubbart standing, convulsed with

" ' Impossible ! ' said I, yet half fearing the truth of his
a.s.scrtion. ' The captain couldn't give away what's mine,
ttnd not his.'

" ' Yes, but he did though,' said the fool, ' and told me,
too, he'd make me the "talk man" with the Indians, if
you didn't behave better in future.'

" 1 felt my blood boil up as I heard these words. I saw
at oucc that the joke was intended to insult and offend

THE smuggler's STORY. 101

me ; and probably meant as a lesson for my presumption
a few evenings before, since I had the folly, in a moment of
open-hearted gaiety, to speak of my family, and perhaps
to boast of my having betn;?-, geaiil<jinan. , i ,bung my
head in shame, and all my presence of mind was too little
to allow me to feign a look' of carelesgness.a^ 1, walked by
the window, from whence the coai'se laui^'latt'r of the cap-
tain was now heard peal after peal. I shall not tell you
how I suffered when I reached my hut, and what 1 felt at
every portion of this transaction. One thing forcibly im-
pressed itself upon my mind, that the part I was playing
must be an unworthy one, or I had never incurred such a
penalty; that if these men associated with me, it was on
terras which permitted all from them — nothing in return ;
and for a while I deemed no vengeance enough to satisfy
my wounded pride. Happily for me my thoughts took
another turn, and I saw that the position in which I had
placed myself invited the insolence it met with ; and
that if any man stoop to be kicked in this world, he'll
always find some kind friend ready to oblige him with th&
compliment. Had an equal so treated me, my course
had presented no difBculty whatever. Now, what could
I do ?

" While I pondered over these things a corporal came
up to say that a party of the officers were about to pay me
a visit after evening parade, and hoped I'd have something-
for supper for them. Such was the general tone of their
invitations, and I had received in my time above a hun-
dred similar messages, without any other feeling than
one of pride at my being in a position to have so many
distinguished guests. Now, on the contrary, the an-
nonnccment was a downright insult. My long-sleeping
pride suddenly awakened, I felt all the contumely of my
condition ; and my spirit, sunk for many a day in the
slavish observance of a miserable vanity, rebelled against
further outrage. I muttered a hasty ' all right ' to the
Boldier, and turned away to meditate on some scheme of

" Having given directions to my Indian follower, a half-
breed fellow of the most cunning description, to have all
ready in the wigwam, I wandered into the woods. To


no use was it that I tliouglit over my grievance, nothing
presented itself in any shape as a vindication of my
wounded feelings, nor could I see how anything short of
ridicule Oquld cnsi^o £i-upi !<-ll. mention of the transaction.
The clanking sound of an Indian drum broke on my
musings., iiud' toldp:ie iha-t the party were assembled, and
on my eateiing the uig^am I found them all waiting for
me. There were full a dozen ; many who had never dona
me the honour of a visit previously, came on this occasion
to enjoy the laugh at my expense the captain's joke was
sure to excite. Husbanding their resources, they talked
only about indifferent matters — the gossip and chit-chat
of the day — but still with such a secret air of something
to come, that even an ignorant observer could notice that
there was in reserve somewhat that must abide its timo
for development. By mere accident I overheard the cap-
tain whisper, in rc} ly to a question of one of the subalterns,
' No! no ! — not now — wait till we have the punch up.' I
guessed at once that such was the period they proposed
to discuss the joke played off at my cost, and I was right;
for no sooner had the largo wooden bowl of sangaree made
its appearance, than Hubbart, filling his glass, proposed a
bumper fo our new ally, Rokey ; a cheer drowned half his

Online LibraryCharles James LeverThe adventures of Arthur O'Leary → online text (page 9 of 40)