THE TRAIL TO OTTAWA
When my eyes again opened it was to darkness and silence as profound as that of my former unconsciousness. My mind was a blank, and seemingly I retained no sense of what had occurred, or of my present surroundings. For the moment I felt no certainty even that I was actually alive, yet slowly, little by little, reality conquered, and I became keenly conscious of physical pain, while memory also began to blindly reassert itself. It was a series of dim pictures projecting themselves on the awakening brain—the Indian attack on the cabin, the horrors of that last struggle, the gleaming tomahawk descending on my head to deal the death blow, the savage eyes of my assailant glaring into mine, and that awful flash of red and yellow flame, swept across my mind one by one with such intense vividness as to cause me to give vent to a moan of agony.
I could see nothing, hear nothing. All about was impenetrable blackness and the silence of the grave. I found myself unable to move my body and when I desperately attempted to do so, even the slightest motion brought pain. I became conscious also of a weight crushing down upon me, and stifling my breath. One of my arms was free; I could move it about within narrow limits, although it ached as from a serious burn. By use of it I endeavored through the black darkness to learn the nature of that heavy object lying across my chest, feeling at it cautiously. My fingers touched cold, dead flesh, from contact with which they shrank in horror, only to encounter a strand of coarse hair. The first terror of this discovery was overwhelming, yet I persevered, satisfying myself that it was the half-naked body of an Indian—a very giant of a fellow—which lay stretched across me, an immovable weight. Something else, perhaps another dead man, held my feet as though in a vise, and when I ventured to extend my one free arm gropingly to one side, the fingers encountered a moccasined foot. Scarcely daring to breathe, I lay staring upward and, far above, looking out through what might be a jagged, overhanging mass of timbers, although scarcely discernible, my eyes caught the silver glimmer of a star.
I was alive—alive! Whatever had occurred in that fateful second to deflect that murderous tomahawk, its keen edge had failed to reach me. And what had occurred? What could account for my escape; for this silence and darkness; for these dead bodies; for the flight of our assailants? Indians always removed their dead, yet seemingly this place was a perfect charnel house, heaped with slain. Surely there could be but one answer—the occurrence of a disaster so complete, so horrifying, that the few who were left alive had thought only of instant flight. Then it was that the probable truth came to me—that flash and roar; that last impression imprinted on my brain before utter darkness descended