Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[ocr errors]

Art. VII.—The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish. A Tale; by the

Author of the “ Pioneers,” “Prairie,” &c. 2 vols. Philadelphia. 1829.

This work is a failure. It contains a few of those detached passages of spirited narration, to which our author's novels are, in a great measure, indebted for their popularity_and were it the performance of an inferior writer, or of a new candidate for fame, it would be entitled to favour as a very good imitation of Cooper-but those will be sadly disappointed, who regulate their expectations by the standard of the Pilot and the Red Rover. The moment we perceived that the scene was laid on shore, we anticipated no rivalry of the novelist's achievements on his own element. We did hope, however, that his maturer genius nerved and exhilarated by success—would, in the ample, and yet virginal region of American fiction, make wider excursions, explore deeper recesses, and unfold new and lavish sources of treasure; but we have been cheated of our promised gratification, by his lingering in the field of his former fame, and "fighting his battles o'er again," instead of securing farther conquests. He has lost the sustaining glow and energy of early adventure, and if other and yet prouder triumphs do not await him on the ocean, he must seek new sources of interest by travel or by study; for in his sojourning on the land, he has been at his ease only in the wilderness, and the work before us proves that he has exhausted even his forest craft.

Resuming the theme of border-life, he has not varied it with sufficient skill to avoid the dullness of repetition, and monotonous as the song of the bird from which it, too appropriately, receives its name, the Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish is but an echo of the Pioneers, the Last of the Mohicans, and the Prairie. If Mr. Cooper were merely manufacturing for the trade, he might be content to improve his monopoly by multiplying flat copies of a few partially successful sketches, and yet farther extending the catalogue of savage dangers and escapes, so prodigally commenced in the Last of the Mohicans ; but if fame be wis object, he must embody new creations. Let him desert a field which will produce no more under his mode of cultivation. He has worn out his tomahawk and scalping knife, and before his laurels have withered at the council-fires, let him wipe off his war-paint and abandon the frontier-Variare cupit rem prodigaliter unam.

The time of this novel is during the wars of King Philip or Metacom. Mark Heathcote, a rigid old Puritan, being scan

dalized by certain

religious innovations in the colouy, abandons the Atlantic settlements, and with

his son, Content, and their household, removes into the wilderness, and establishes a fortified farm, on a tributary of the Connecticut. Years glide over them, without interruption of the quiet of their simple lives, and thoush Massachusetts and Rhode-Island were kept in a state of constant apprehension, the emigrants have only heard of Indian alarms, without having been themselves molested in their border seclusion. The narrative commences by the arrival, one evening, of a middle-aged, toil-worn, and stern-looking stranger, who having briefly and secretly communed with the patriarch, departs mysteriously the same night. Soon after his departure, an alarm of Indians is given ; a watch is set, and Conanchet, the orphan son of the renowned and ill-fated Narragansett chief, Miantonimoh, is captured, lurking about the palisadoes. He is confined in a block-house, which had been erected by way of citadel, in the centre of the improvements. The succeeding day, certain low-bred men-at-arms arrive, in pursuit of the stranger, and are frightened away by apprehensions of the Indians. The young captive, called Miantonimoh by the family, is kindly treated but vigilantly guarded. After six months confinement, being permitted to accompany a bunting party, he returns not with the foresters, but re-appears late at night preceded by the stranger, between whom and the young Indian, there seems to be a mutual intelligence. This is afterwards explained by our being told that the blockhouse was not only the prison of the captive, but the hiding place of the stranger. After an carnest private conference between old Mark Heathcote and his persecuted guest, the little garrison is exhorted to be on the alert. Mysterious warnings are given by the frequent sounding of the conch at the postern, and these are followed by an attempt of the Narragansetts to surprise the defences. They are at first repulsed, but the onset is repeatedly and furiously renewed. In the confusion of the fight, a savage finds his way to the apartment of Ruth, (the wife of Content) and her children, but Conanchet rescues them from his tomahawk. Ruth, fearing a second attack of this nature, leaves her children, and flies for succour. Meantime, the savages break into the enclosure on every side, fire the buildings, and drive the whites for refuge to their citadel. In the moment of this horrible catastrophe, Ruth forgets her children, and does not recover her recollection until the building where they lie concealed, is in flames. Then she rushes into the blazing dwelling, followed by the intrepid stranger (Submission) but the savages are upon them, and to return with the children into the block house seems impossible.

“There was barely hope, that the space between the dwelling and the block-house might yet be passed in safety.

“ I would I had asked that the door of the block should be held in hand,' muttered Submission ; 'it would be death to linger an instant in that fierce light ; nor have we any manner of —

“ A touch was laid upon his arm, and turning, the speaker saw the dark eye of the captive boy looking steadily in his face.

" Wilt do it ?'' demanded the other, in a manner to show that he doubted, while he hoped.

“ A speaking gesture of assent was the answer, and then the form of the lad was seen gliding quietly from the room. “ Another instant, and Miantonimoh appeared in the court.

He walked with the deliberation that one would have shown in moments of the most entire security. A hand was raised towards the loops, as if to betoken amity, and then dropping the limb, he moved with the same slow step into the very centre of the area. Here the boy stood in the fullest glare of the conflagration, and turned his face deliberately on every side of him. The action showed that he wished to invite all eyes to examine his person. At this moment the yell ceased in the surrounding covers, proclaiming alike the common feeling that was awakened by his appearance, and the hazard that any other would have incurred by exposing himself in that fearful scene. When this act of exceeding confidence had been performed, the boy drew a pace nearer to the ene trance of the block.

"Comest thou in peace, or is this another device of Indian treachery ?' demanded a voice, through an opening in the door left expressly for the purposes of parley.

“The boy raised the palm of one hand towards the speaker, while he laid the other with a gesture of confidence on his naked breast.

“ Hast aught to offer in behalf of my wife and babes? If gold will buy their ransom, name thy price.'

Miantonimoh was at no loss to comprehend the other's meaning. With the readiness of one whose faculties had been early schooled in the inventions of emergencies, he made a gesture that said even more than his figurative words, as he answered

". Can a woman of the Pale-faces pass through wood ? An Indian arrow is swifter than the foot of my mother.'

* Boy, I trust thee,' returned the voice from within the loop. If thou deceivest heings so feeble and so innocent, Heaven will remember the wrong.'

Miantonimoh again made a sign to show that caution must be used, and then he retired with a step calm and measured as that used in his advance. Another pause to the shouts betrayed the interest of those whose fierce eyes watched his movements in the distance.

When the young Indian had rejoined the party in the dwelling, he led them, without being observed by the lurking baud that still hovered in the smoke of the surrounding buildings, to a spot that commanded a full view of their short but perilous route. At this moment the door of the block-house half-opened, and was closed again. Still the stranVOL. V, --N0. 9.

27

« VorigeDoorgaan »