The Story of Isaac Brock: Hero, Defender and Saviour of Upper Canada/17

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A few minutes only had elapsed when Elliott returned. The sentry's challenge caused Brock to look up from the table, littered with plans and despatches. Another figure darkened the doorway.

"This, sir," said Elliott, "is Tecumseh, the Shawanese chief of whom you have heard, and who desires to be presented to you."

The General, who had removed the stains of travel and was in uniform, rose to his full height, bowed, extended his hand and explained in manly fashion the reason for asking that the firing be stopped. The contrast presented by the two men was striking. The old world and the new, face to face—a scene for the brush of an impressionist. Brock, tall, fair, big-limbed, a blue-eyed giant, imposing in scarlet coat and blue-white riding trousers, tasselled Hessian boots, and cocked-hat in hand. On his benevolent face was an irresistible smile.

The Indian, though of middle height, was of most perfect proportions, an athlete in bronze, lithe and supple as a panther. His oval face, set in a frame of glistening black hair, shone like a half-polished copper relief. Overlooking the nose, straight as one of his own arrows, and from which some tinkling silver coins were suspended, a pair of hawk-like eyes, hazel-black and unflinching—in which the secrets of the world seemed slumbering[Pg 97]—gleamed upon Brock. His dress, a hunting jacket of tanned deer-skin and close-fitting leggings. Fringed mocassins of the same material, richly embroidered in silk and porcupine quills dyed in divers colours, encased his feet. The light from the open log fire flickered fitfully, half revealing the antlered heads of moose and caribou and other trophies of the chase that, hanging from the rafters, looked down upon the group, adding weirdness to the picture.

Brock briefly explained that he had come to fight the King's enemies, enemies who so far had never seen his back, and who were Tecumseh's enemies also. "Would Tecumseh maintain an honourable warfare?"

Perhaps no eulogy of Brock was ever penned that so well summed up his qualities as did the terse, four-worded certificate of character uttered by the Indian before replying to the British general's appeal. Tecumseh looked "Master Isaac's" commanding physique up and over, over and down—Brock's caution as to waste of powder doubtless weighing with him—until eye met eye, and then, impulsively extending his thin brown hand, turned to his followers, exclaiming in tones of highest admiration:

"This is a man!"

Assenting "Ughs" and "Ho-hos" followed in rapid succession, and in response to Brock's invitation the headmen, painted and plumed and in striped blankets, squatted on their stained reed mats and wild-beast skins on the basswood log floor. Questioned as to the nature of the country westward, Tecumseh took a roll of elm-bark and with the point of his scalping-knife traced on its white inner surface the features of the region—hills, forests, trails, rivers,[Pg 98] muskegs and clearings. Rough, perhaps, but as accurate, he said, as if drawn by a pale-face teebahkeè-wayninni (surveyor).

That night, after Tecumseh's return, Brock again held council with his staff, proposing an attack on Detroit. Only one of his chief officers, the staunch colonial quartermaster, Lieutenant-Colonel Nichol, agreed with him. Colonel Henry Procter, from whom he had expected whole-hearted support, strongly objected. History teaches us that the conception of a daring plan is the offspring of great minds only. Procter was not of this class, as his subsequent record shows. Some of our hero's critics have described his resolve to attack Detroit as "audacious and desperate." Isaac Brock was, of course, nothing if not contemptuously daring. The greater the difficulty that faced him the more was he determined to challenge the obstacle, that to a less confident man would have been rejected as insurmountable. He had, however, resolved and planned not only upon taking Detroit, but, if need be, the pursuit and capture of Hull's entire army, compelling him to either stand and fight or surrender. With habitual prescience he had weighed well the issues and chosen the lesser alternative. His own defeat and possibly his death, on the one hand, against the probable salvation of half a continent on the other. What true soldier could hesitate?

While patiently hearing objections, he brushed the most of them aside as mere flies on the wheel. Surely the way had been opened to him. The seized despatches had revealed the discord among Hull's troops and shown him that while the United States militia, the flower of Ohio[Pg 99] and Kentucky, was of good material, the United States soldiers were not. He knew that the situation in Upper Canada called for extreme measures, and that the time to strike was now or never, for his scouts had truly reported that 350 United States mounted troops were pressing close upon his rear. They were, in fact, only a mile or two distant. If his own inferior force was outflanked, or his communication with the Canadian interior cut, it spelled utter disaster. He was in a wilderness without hope of reinforcements. As Colonel Cass, the United States commander, later reported to the President, Brock was "between two fires and with no hope of succour." Brock knew he must act at once or even retreat might be impossible. With inborn acumen he saw at a glance the peril of his own position, and with cool courage hastened to avert it. He realized that upon the "destruction or discomfiture" of Hull's forces "the safety of the province depended."

Brock listened closely to Procter's argument—by this time he knew, of course, that Hull's own line of communication with his reserves had been cut—then rising, when all who cared to speak had finished, he said: "Gentlemen, I have definitely decided on crossing the river and attacking Fort Detroit. Instead of further advice I must beg of you to give me your hearty support. The general orders for to-morrow will be issued at once."

This decision was typical of the man of action. "Prudent only where recklessness was a fault, and hazardous only when hesitation meant defeat."