During this exchange of opinions, the officers had again moved to the opposite point of the limited walk of the younger. Scarcely had they reached it, and before Captain Blessington could find time to reply to the fears of his friend, when a loud and distant booming like that of a cannon was heard in the direction of the fire. The alarm was given hastily by the sentinels, and sounds of preparation and arming were audible in the course of a minute or two every where throughout the fort. Startled by the report, which they had half inclined to imagine produced by the discharge of one of their own guns, the half slumbering officers had quitted the chairs in which they had passed the night in the mess-room, and were soon at the side of their more watchful companions, then anxiously listening for a repetition of the sound.
The day was just beginning to dawn, and as the atmosphere cleared gradually away, it was perceived the fire rose not from the hut of the Canadian, but at a point considerably beyond it. Unusual as it was to see a large fire of this description, its appearance became an object of minor consideration, since it might be attributed to some caprice or desire on the part of the Indians to excite apprehension in their enemies. But how was the report which had reached their ears to be accounted for? It evidently could only have been produced by the discharge of a cannon; and if so, where could the Indians have procured it? No such arm had recently been in their possession; and if it were, they were totally unacquainted with the manner of serving it.
As the day became more developed, the mystery was resolved. Every telescope in the fort had been called into requisition; and as they were now levelled in the direction of the fire, sweeping the line of horizon around, exclamations of surprise escaped the lips of several.
“The fire is at the near extremity of the wood on Hog Island,” exclaimed Lieutenant Johnstone. “I can distinctly see the forms of a multitude of savages dancing round it with hideous gestures and menacing attitudes.”
“They are dancing their infernal war dance,” said Captain Wentworth. “How I should like to be able to discharge a twenty-four pound battery, loaded with grape, into the very heart of the devilish throng.”
“Do you see any prisoners?—Are any of our friends among them?” eagerly and tremblingly enquired De Haldimar of the officer who had last spoken.
Captain Wentworth made a sweep of his glass along the shores of the island; but apparently without success. He announced that he could discover nothing but a vast number of bark canoes lying dry and upturned on the beach.
“It is an unusual hour for their war dance,” observed Captain Blessington. “My experience furnishes me with no one instance in which it has not been danced previous to their retiring to rest.”
“Unless,” said Lieutenant Boyce, “they should have been thus engaged all night; in which case the singularity may be explained.”