HARDSCRABBLE; or, The Fall of Chicago A Tale of Indian Warfare
by John Richardson
It was on a beautiful day in the early part of the month of April, 1812, that four persons were met in a rude farm-house, situated on the Southern Branch of the Chicago river, and about four miles distant from the fort of that name. They had just risen from their humble mid-day meal, and three of them were now lingering near the fire-place, filled with blazing logs, which, at that early season, diffused a warmth by no means disagreeable, and gave an air of cheerfulness to the interior of the smoke-discolored building.
He who appeared to be master of the establishment was a tall, good looking man of about forty-five, who had, evidently, been long a denizen of the forest, for his bronzed countenance bore traces of care and toil, while his rugged, yet well-formed hands conveyed the impression of the unceasing war he had waged against the gigantic trees of this Western land. He was habited in a hunting-frock of grey homespun, reaching about half way down to his knee, and trimmed with a full fringe of a somewhat darker hue. His trowsers were of the same material, and both were girt around his loins by a common belt of black leather, fastened by a plain white buckle, into which was thrust a sheath of black leather also, containing a large knife peculiar to the backwoodsmen of that day. His feet were encased in moccasins, and on his head, covered with strong dark hair, was carelessly donned a slouched hat of common black felt, with several plaited folds of the sweet grass, of the adjoining prairie for a band. He was seemingly a man of strong muscular power, while his stern dark eye denoted firmness and daring.
The elder of the two men, to whom this individual stood, evidently, in the character of a superior, was a short thick-set person of about fifty, with huge whiskers that, originally black, had been slightly grizzled by time. His eyebrows were bushy and overhanging, and almost concealed the small, and twinkling eyes, which it required the beholder to encounter more than once before he could decide their true color to be a dark gray. A blanket coat that had once been white, but which the action of some half dozen winters had changed into a dirty yellow, enveloped his rather full form, around which it was confined by a coarse worsted sash of mingled blue and red, thickly studded with minute white beads. His trowsers, with broad seams, after the fashion of the Indian legging, were of a dark crimson, approaching to a brick-dust color, and on his feet he wore the stiff shoe-pack, which, with the bonnet bleu on his grizzled head, and the other parts of his dress already described, attested him to be what he was—a French Canadian. Close at his heels, and moving as he moved, or squatted on his haunches, gazing into the face of his master when stationary, was a large dog of the mongrel breed peculiar to the country—evidently with wolf blood in his veins.
His companion was of a different style of figure and costume. He was a thin, weak-looking man, of middle height, with a complexion that denoted his Saxon origin. Very thin brows, retrousse nose, and a light gray eye in which might be traced an expression half simple, half cunning, completed the picture of this personage, whose lank body was encased in an old American uniform of faded blue, so scanty in its proportions that the wrists of the wearer wholly exposed themselves beneath the short, narrow sleeves, while the skirts only "shadowed not concealed," that part of the body they had been originally intended to cover. A pair of blue pantaloons, perfectly in keeping, on the score of scantiness and age, with the coat, covered the attenuated lower limbs of the wearer, on whose head, moreover, was stuck a conical cap that had all the appearance of having been once a portion of the same uniform, and had only undergone change in the loss of its peak. A small black leather, narrow ridged stock was clasped around his thin, and scare-crow neck, and that so tightly that it was the wonder of his companions how strangulation had so long been avoided. A dirty, and very coarse linen shirt, showed itself partially between the bottom of the stock, and the uppermost button of the coat, which was carefully closed, while his feet were protected from the friction of the stiff, though nearly wornout, military shoes, by wisps of hay, that supplied the absence of the sock. This man was about five and thirty.
The last of the little party was a boy. He was a raw-boned lad of about fourteen years of age, and of fair complexion, with blue eyes, and an immense head of bushy hair, of the same hue, which seemed never to have known the use of the comb. His feet were naked, and his trowsers and shirt, the only articles of dress upon him at the moment, were of a homespun somewhat resembling in color the hunting frock of his master. A thick black leather strap was also around his loins—evidently part of an old bridle rein.
The two men first described, drew near the fire and lighted their pipes. The ex-militaire thrust a quid of tobacco into his cheek, and taking up a small piece of pine board that rested against the chimney corner, split a portion off this with his jack-knife, and commenced whittling. The boy busied himself in clearing the table, throwing occasionally scraps of bread and dried venison, which had constituted the chief portion of the meal, to the dog, which, however, contrary to custom, paid little attention to these marks of favor, but moved impatiently, at intervals, to the door, then returning, squatted himself again on his haunches, at a short distance from his master, and uttering a low sound betwixt a whine and a growl, looked piteously up into his face.
"Vat the devil is de matter wid you, Loup Garou?" remarked the Canadian at length, as, removing the pipe from his lips, he stretched his legs, and poised himself in his low wood-bottomed chair, putting forth his right hand at the same time to his canine follower. "You not eat, and you make noise as if you wish me to see one racoon in de tree."
"Loup Garou don't prate about coons I guess," drawled the man in the faded uniform, without, however, removing his eyes from the very interesting occupation in which he was engaged. "That dog I take it, Le Noir, means something else—something more than we human critters know. By gosh, boss," looking for the first time at him who stood in that position to the rest of the party—"If WE can't smell the varmint, I take it Loup Garou does."
At this early period of civilization, in these remote countries, there was little distinction of rank between the master and the man—the employer and the employed. Indeed the one was distinguished from the other only by the instructions given and received, in regard to certain services to be performed. They labored together—took their meals together—generally smoked together—drank together—conversed together, and if they did not absolutely sleep together, often reposed in the same room. There was, therefore, nothing extraordinary in the familiar tone in which the ci-devant soldier now addressed him whose hired help he was. The latter, however, was in an irritable mood, and he answered sharply.
"What have you got into your foolish head now, Ephraim Giles? You do nothing but prophesy evil. What varmint do you talk of, and what has Loup Garou to do with it? Speak, what do you mean?—if you mean anything at all."
As he uttered this half rebuke, he rose abruptly from his chair, shook the ashes from his pipe, and drew himself to his full height, with his back to the fire. There had been nothing very remarkable in the observation made by the man to whom he had addressed himself, but he was in a peculiar state of mind, that gave undue importance to every word, sounding, as it did, a vague presentiment of some coming evil, which the very singular manner of the dog had created, although he would scarcely acknowledge this to himself.
The man made no reply, but continued whittling, humming, at the same time, the air of "Yankee Doodle."
"Answer me, Ephraim Giles," peremptorily resumed his master; "leave off that eternal whittling of yours, if you can, and explain to me your meaning."
"Etarnal whittling! do you call it, Boss? I guess it's no such thing. No man knows better nor you, that, if I can whittle the smallest stick in creation, I can bring down the stoutest tree as well as ere a fellow in Michigan. Work is work—play is play. It's only the difference, I reckon, of the axe and the knife."
"Will you answer my question like a man, and not like a fool, as you are?" shouted the other, stooping, and extending his left hand, the fingers of which he insinuated into the stock already described, while, with a powerful jerk, he both brought the man to his feet, and the blood into his usually cadaverous cheek.
Ephraim Giles, half-throttled, and writhing with pain, made a movement as if he would have used the knife in a much less innocent manner than whittling, but the quick, stern eye of his master, detected the involuntary act, and his hand, suddenly relinquishing its hold of the collar, grasped the wrist of the soldier with such a vice-like pressure, that the fingers immediately opened, and the knife fell upon the hearth.
The violence of his own act, brought Mr. Heywood at once to a sense of the undue severity he had exercised towards his servant, and he immediately said, taking his hand:
"Ephraim Giles, forgive me, but it was not intended. Yet, I know not how it is, the few words you spoke just now made me anxious to know what you meant, and I could not repress my impatience to hear your explanation."
The soldier had never before remarked so much dignity of manner about his Boss, as he termed Mr. Heywood, and this fact, added to the recollection of the severe handling he had just met with, caused him to be a little more respectful in his address.
"Well, I reckon," he said, picking up his knife, and resuming his whittling, but in a less absorbed manner, "I meant no harm, but merely that Loup Garou can nose an Injin better than ere a one of us."
"Nose an Indian better than any one of us! Well, perhaps he can—he sees them every day, but what has that to do with his whining and growling just now?"
"Well, I'll tell you, Boss, what I mean, more plain-like. You know that patch of wood borderin' on the prairie, where you set me to cut, t'other day?"
"I do. What of that?"
"Well, then, this mornin' I was cuttin' down as big an oak as ever grew in Michigan, when, as it went thunderin' through the branches, with noise enough to scare every buffalo within a day's hunt, up started, not twenty yards from it's tip, ten or a dozen or so of Injins, all gruntin' like pigs, and looking as fierce as so many red devils. They didn't look quite pleasant, I calcilate."
"Indeed," remarked Mr. Heywood, musingly; "a party of Pottawattamies I presume, from the Fort. We all know there is a large encampment of them in the neighborhood, but they are our friends."
"May-be so," continued Ephraim Giles, "but these varmint didn't look over friendly, and then I guess the Pottawattamies don't dress in war paint, 'cept when they dance for liquor."
"And are you quite sure these Indians were in their war paint?" asked his master, with an ill-concealed look of anxiety.
"No mistake about it," replied Giles, still whittling, "and I could almost swear, short as the squint was I got of 'em, that they were part of those who fought us on the Wabash, two years ago."
"How so, den, you are here, Gile. If dey wicked Injin, how you keep your funny little cap, an' your scalp under de cap?"
This question was asked by the Canadian, who had hitherto, while puffing his pipe, listened indifferently to the conversation, but whose attention had now become arrested, from the moment that his fellow-laborer had spoken of the savages, so strangely disturbed by him.
"Well, I don't exactly know about that, myself," returned the soldier, slightly raising his cap and scratching his crown, as if in recollection of some narrowly escaped danger. "I reckon, tho', when I see them slope up like a covey of red-legged pattridges, my heart was in my mouth, for I looked for nothin' else but that same operation: but I wur just as well pleased, when, after talkin' their gibberish, and makin' all sorts of signs among themselves, they made tracks towards the open prairie."
"And why did you not name this, the instant you got home?" somewhat sternly questioned Mr. Heywood.
"Where's the use of spilin' a good dinner?" returned the soldier. "It was all smokin' hot when I came in from choppin', and I thought it best for every man to tuck it in before I said a word about it. Besides, I reckon I don't know as they meant any harm, seein' as how they never carried off my top-knot;—only it was a little queer they were hid in that way in the woods, and looked so fierce when they first jumped up in their nasty paint."
"Who knows," remarked Mr. Heywood, taking down his rifle from the side of the hut opposite to the chimney, and examining the priming, "but these fellows may have tracked you back, and are even now, lurking near us. Ephraim Giles, you should have told me of this before."
"And so," replied the soldier, "I was goin' to, when Loup Garou began with his capers. Then it was I gave a parable like, about his scentin' the varmint better nor we human critters could."
"Ephraim Giles," said Mr. Heywood, sharply, while he fixed his dark eye upon him, as if he would have read his inmost soul, "you say that you have been a soldier, and fought with our army on the Wabash. Why did you leave the service?"
"Because," drawled the ex-militaire, with a leering expression of his eye, "my captin was a bad judge of good men when he had 'em, and reckoned I was shammin' when I fell down rale sick, and was left behind in a charge made on the Injins at Tippecanoe. I couldn't stand the abuse he gave me for this, and so I left him."
"Cool, indeed," sneered Mr. Heywood; "now then, Ephraim Giles, hear my opinion. Your captain thought you were a coward, for he judged you from your conduct. I, too, judge you from your conduct, and have no hesitation in pronouncing you to be a rogue or a fool."
"Well, I want to know!" was the only rejoinder of the man, as he went on unconcernedly with his whittling.
"Le Noir," said his master to the Canadian, who, imitating his example, had taken down a long duck gun from the same side of the hut, "take your dog with you and reconnoitre in the neighborhood. You speak Indian, and if any of these people are to be seen, ascertain who they are and why—"
Here he was interrupted by the gradually approaching sounds of rattling deer hoofs, so well known as composing one of the lower ornaments of the Indian war-dress, while, at the same moment, the wild moaning of Loup Garou, then standing at the front door-way, was renewed even more plaintively than before.
Mr. Heywood's cheek blanched. It was not with fear, for he was a man incapable of fear in the common acceptation of the word, but independently of certain vague apprehensions for others, his mind had been in a great degree unhinged by an unaccountable presentiment of evil, which instinctively had come over it that day. It was this, that, inducing a certain irresoluteness of thought and action, had led him into a manifestation of peevish contradiction in his address to Ephraim Giles. There are moments, when, without knowing why, the nerves of the strongest—the purposes of the wisest, are unstrung—and when it requires all our tact and self-possession to conceal from others, the momentary weakness we almost blush to admit to ourselves.
But there was no time for reflection. The approach to the door was suddenly shaded, and in the next instant the dark forms of three or four savages, speedily followed by others, amounting in all to twelve, besides their chief, who was in the advance, crossed the threshold, and, without uttering a word, either of anger or salutation, squatted themselves upon the floor. They were stout, athletic warriors, the perfect symmetry of whose persons could not be concealed even by the hideous war-paint with which they were thickly streaked—inspiring anything but confidence in the honesty or friendliness of their intentions. The head of each was shaved and painted as well as his person, and only on the extreme crown had been left a tuft of hair, to which were attached feathers, and small bones, and other fantastic ornaments peculiar to their race—a few of them carried American rifles—the majority, the common gun periodically dealt out to the several tribes, as presents from the British Government, while all had in addition to their pipe-tomahawks the formidable and polished war-club.
Such visitors, and so armed, were not of a description to remove the apprehensions of the little party in the farm-house. Their very silence, added to their dark and threatening looks, created more than mere suspicion—a certainty of evil design—and deeply did Mr. Heywood deplore the folly of Ephraim Giles in failing to apprise him of his meeting with these people, at the earliest moment after his return. Had he done so, there might have been a chance, nay, every assurance of relief, for he knew that a party from the fort, consisting of a non-commissioned officer and six men, were even now fishing not more than two miles higher up the river. He was aware that the boy, Wilton, was an excellent runner, and that within an hour, at least, he could have reached and brought down that party, who, as was their wont, when absenting themselves on these fishing excursions, were provided with their arms. However, it might not yet be too late, and he determined to make the attempt. To call and speak to the boy aside, would, he was well aware, excite the suspicions of his unwelcome guests, while it was possible that, as they did not understand English, (so at least he took it for granted) a communication made to him boldly in their presence, would be construed into some domestic order.
"Wilton," he said calmly to the boy, who stood near the doorway with alarm visibly depicted on his countenance, and looking as if he would eagerly seize a favorable opportunity of escape, "make all haste to the fishing party, and tell Corporal Nixon who commands it, to lose no time in pulling down the stream. You will come back with them. Quick, lose not a moment."
Delighted at the order, the boy made no answer, but hatless—shoeless as he was, disappeared round the corner of the house. Strange to say, the Indians, although they had seemingly listened with attention to Mr. Heywood while issuing these directions, did not make the slightest movement to arrest the departure of the boy, or even to remark upon it—merely turning to their chief, who uttered a sharp and satisfied "ugh."
During all this time, Mr. Heywood and Le Noir stood at some little distance from the Indians, and nearly on the spot they had occupied at their entrance, the one holding his rifle, the other his duck-gun, the butts of both, resting on the floor. At each moment their anxiety increased, and it seemed an age before the succor they had sent for could arrive. How long, moreover, would these taciturn and forbidding-mannered savages wait before they gave some indication of overt hostility, and even if nothing were done prior to the arrival of the fishing party, would these latter be in sufficient force to awe them into a pacific departure? The Indians were twelve in number, exclusive of their chief, all fierce and determined. They, with the soldiers, nine; for neither Mr. Heywood nor Le Noir seemed disposed to count upon any efficient aid from Ephraim Giles, who, during this dumb scene, continued whittling before the Indians, apparently as cool and indifferent to their presence, as if he had conceived them to be the most peaceably disposed persons in the world. He had, however, listened attentively to the order given to Wilton by his master, and had not failed to remark that the Indians had not, in any way, attempted to impede his departure.
"What do you think of these people, Le Noir," at length asked Mr. Heywood, without, however removing his gaze from his visitors. "Can they be friendly Pottawattamies?"
"Friendly Pottawattamies! no, sare," returned the Canadian seriously, and shrugging up his shoulders. "Dey no dress, no paint like de Pottawattamie, and I not like der black look—no, sare, dey Winnebago."
He laid a strong emphasis on the last word, and as he expected, a general "ugh" among the party attested that he had correctly named their tribe.
While they were thus expressing their conjectures in regard to the character and intentions of their guests, and inwardly determining to sell their lives as dearly as possible if attacked. Ephraim Giles had risen from his seat in the corner of the chimney, and with his eyes fixed on the stick he was whittling, walked coolly out of the door, and sauntered down the pathway leading to the river. But if he had calculated on the same indifference to his actions that the Indians had manifested towards the boy, he was mistaken. They all watched him keenly as he slowly sauntered towards the water, and then, when he had got about half way, the chief suddenly springing to his feet, and brandishing his tomahawk demanded in broken, but perfectly intelligible English, where he was going.
"Well, I want to know," exclaimed the soldier, turning round, and in a tone indicating surprise that he had thus been questioned—"only goin over thar," he continued, pointing to the haystacks on the opposite side of the river, around which stood many cattle, "goin I guess to give out some grub to the beasts, and I'll he back in no time, to give you out some whisky." Then, resuming his course, he went on whittling as unconcernedly as before.
The chief turned to his followers, and a low, yet eager conversation ensued. Whether it was that the seeming indifference of the man, or his promise of the whisky on his return, or that some other motive influenced them, they contented themselves with keeping a vigilant watch upon his movements.
Mr. Heywood and the Frenchman exchanged looks of surprise; they could not account for the action of Ephraim Giles, for although it was his office to cross the river daily for the purpose he had named, it had never been at that period of the day. How the Indians could suffer his departure, if their intentions were really hostile, it was moreover impossible for them to comprehend; and in proportion as the hopes of the one were raised by this circumstance, so were those of the other depressed.
Mr. Heywood began to think that the suspicions of the Canadian were unfounded, and that their guests were, after all, but a party of warriors on their way to the Fort, either for purposes of traffic with the only merchant residing in its vicinity, or of business with the officer commanding. It was not likely, he reasoned, that men coming with hostile designs, would have suffered first the boy to be despatched on a mission which, obscurely as he had worded his directions, must in some measure have been understood by the chief; and, secondly, permitted Ephraim Giles to leave the house in the manner just seen—particularly when the suspicion entertained by him as well as by Le Noir and himself, must have been apparent.
But the Canadian drew no such inference from these facts. Although he could not speak the Winnebago language, he was too conversant with the customs of the Indians, to perceive, in what they permitted in this seeming confidence, anything but guile. He felt assured they had allowed the boy to depart on his errand SOLELY that they might have a greater number of victims in their power. Nothing was more easy, numerous as they were, than to despatch THEM, and then, lying in ambush among the trees that skirted the banks, to shoot down every one in the fishing boat before a landing could be effected, and preparations made for defence; while, in the indifference of their conduct in regard to the departure of Ephraim Giles, he saw but a design to disarm suspicion, and thus induce them to lay by their arms, the reports of which would necessarily alarm the party expected, and so far put them on their guard as to defeat their plans. The very appearance of Giles, moreover, crossing the water, if seen by the descending boat would, he thought they imagined, be a means of lulling the party into security, and thus rendering them a more easy prey.
While the master and the servant were thus indulging their opposite reflections, without, however, making any intercommunication of them, Ephraim Giles, who had now thrust his knife and stick into the pocket of his short skirt, shoved off the only canoe that was to be seen, and stepping into it, and seizing the paddle, urged it slowly, and without the slightest appearance of hurry, to the opposite bank, where, within less than ten minutes, he had again hauled it up. Then, as coolly ascending the bank, he approached one of the haystacks, and drew from it a few handfuls of fodder which he spread upon the ground, continuing to do so, as the cattle assembled around, until he had gained the outermost haystack bordering immediately upon the wood. This reached, he gave a loud yell, which was promptly answered by the Indians, who had continued to watch his movements up to the very moment of his disappearance; and darting along a narrow path which skirted the wood, ran with all his speed towards the Fort. His flight had not lasted five minutes, when the reports of several guns, fired from the direction he had just quitted, met his ear, and urged him to even greater exertion, until at length, haggard and breathless, he gained his destination, and made his way to the commanding officer, to whom he briefly detailed the startling occurrences he had witnessed.
The Fort of Chicago, at that period, stood upon a portion of the same ground occupied by its successor, and was, in fact, a very epitome of a fortress. On the western side, two block-houses constituted its chief defence, while on the north, a subterranean passage led from the parade-ground to the river, near the banks of which it had been erected. The uses of this sally port were two-fold—firstly, to afford the garrison a supply of water in the event of a siege—secondly, to facilitate escape, if necessary. The country around, now the seat of fruitfulness and industry, was at that time a wilderness, tenanted only by the savage, and by the few daring and adventurous whites who had devoted their lives to purposes of traffic, yet whose numbers was so small as to induce them, with a view to their safety, to establish themselves as near the Fort as possible. Roads, there were none, and the half formed trail of the Indian furnished the only means of communication between this distant port, and the less thinly-settled portions of Michigan. Nor were these journeys of frequent occurrence, but performed at long intervals, by the enterprising and the robust men—who feared not to encounter privations and hardships—camping at night in the woods, or finding a less desirable repose in the squalid wigwam of the uncertain Indian.
The mouth of the Chicago River was then nearly half a mile more to the southward than it is now. At a short distance from the lake, which gives its name to the territory, it soon branched off abruptly to the north, and then again, taking another turn, pursued its original westernly coarse, and, passing near the Fort, gave to the latter the appearance of a slightly elevated peninsula, separated only from the water by a gentle declivity of no great extent. On the same side of the river was the Government Agency House, and at about a quarter of a mile from that, a spot generally used as a place of encampment by the friendly Indians—at that moment occupied by a numerous band of Pottawattamies. Immediately opposite to the Fort, stood the residence and trading establishment of Mr. Mackenzie—a gentleman who had long mixed with the Indians—had much influence with, and was highly regarded by them; and, close to his abode, lived with his family, consisting of his wife and her sister, French Canadians like himself, Ouilmette, one of the most attached of his people, and enjoying almost equal popularity with the red men. About a quarter of a mile beyond Ouilmettes, and immediately opposite to the Pottawattamie encampment, from which it was divided only by the river, was another small but neat dwelling. This belonged to Mr. Heywood, and was then inhabited by his wife and daughter, whom he would not permit to reside at the farm, as well on account of its rudeness of accommodation, as of the dread of exposing them, in that remote situation, to the very danger which we have seen he had himself so recently encountered.
Such was the civilian population of that sparsely inhabited country in 1812. Let us now see the strength of its garrison.
For the defence of so distant an outpost, almost cut off, as we have already shown, from communication with the more inhabited portions of the States, the American government had not thought it requisite to provide more than a single company of soldiers, a force utterly inadequate to contend in a case of emergency, with the hordes of savages that could be collected around them within a few hours, and WEEKS before any efficient succor could be obtained. This error, grave at any time, in those who sought to extend the influence of their name and arms throughout that fertile region which has now, within little more than a quarter of a century, become the very head of American commerce and navigation, was especially so at this particular epoch, when the Indian spirit, stirred to action by the great chief who had so recently measured his strength with his hated enemies at Tippecanoe, was likely to be aroused on all occasions where facility of conquest seemed to present itself. And, yet, that government well knew that there were, even at that moment, difficulties existing between themselves and Great Britain of a character to lead to an interruption of the friendly intercourse that had hitherto subsisted between the two countries, and which, if suffered to ripen into hostilities, would necessarily, associate many of the Indian tribes with the forces of England, drawing down certain destruction on those remoter posts, whose chief reliance on immunity from danger, lay, in a great degree, in the array of strength they could oppose to their subtle and calculating enemy.
This company, consisting, of seventy-five men—many of them married and with families—was under the command of an officer whose conduct throughout the eventful and trying scenes about to be recorded, has often been the subject of much censure—with what justice our readers must determine.
Captain Headley was one of those officers who, without having acquired no greater rank at the age of forty than he now possessed, had served in the army of the United States from his boyhood, and was, in all the minutiae of the service, a strict disciplinarian. He had, moreover, acquired habits of deference to authority, which caused him, on all necessary occasions, to regulate his conduct by the orders of his superiors, and so strongly was this engrafted on his nature, that while he possessed mind and energy sufficient to plan the most feasible measures himself, his dread of that responsibility which circumstances had now forced upon him, induced the utmost disinclination to depart from the letter of an instruction once received, and unrevoked.
These, however, were purely faults of his military education. To a commanding person and dignified manners, Captain Headley united a mind highly cultivated, and feelings and sentiments which could not fail to secure the respect even of those who were most ready to condemn that caution and prudence of character which so eminently distinguished his career as a subordinate soldier. It was well known and conceded that, if he erred, the error grew not so much out of his own want of judgment, but was rather the fruit of the too great deference to authority which led him, implicitly, to adopt the judgment of others. In the private relations of life, he was deservedly esteemed, excelling in all those higher accomplishments that ensure favor with society, and seldom fail to win for their possessor the approbation of women. Such, indeed, had been his success in this particular application of the gifts with which nature had endowed him, that he had, for some years, been the possessor of the affections and the hand of one of the noblest of her sex, whom, however, we shall take a later opportunity of introducing to the reader.
The next officer in rank was Lieutenant Elmsley, married also, and about ten years the junior of Headley. From causes, which will be explained in the coarse of our narrative, the subaltern did not incline to place that confidence in the measures and judgment of his captain, which, it has been shown, the latter almost invariably accorded to HIS superiors, and hence arose feelings, that, without absolutely alienating them—for, in their relative military positions this could never be—rendered their intercourse daily more and more formal, until, in the end, a sentiment almost of enmity prevailed. In a remote garrison like this such an evil was the more to be regretted, even while there was the greater probability, from absence of serious occupation, of its occurrence.
The junior subaltern was Ensign Ronayne, a high-spirited young Southerner, who had now been three years at the post, and within that period, had, by his frank demeanor, and handsome person, won the regard of all—military and civil—there and in the neighborhood. Enterprising, ardent, fearless, and chivalrous, this young man had passed the first year of what he, then, considered little short of banishment, in a restless desire for adventure; but at the end of that period, came a marked change over him, and the spirit that had panted exclusively for action, now bent before a gentler and a holier influence.
Last of the officers of this little fort, was the surgeon. Doctor Von Vottenberg, who as his name would imply, was a descendant from one of the earlier Dutch settlers in the colonies. There was nothing remarkable about this gentleman. He was short, stoat, rather of a bilious temperament—clever in his profession, and much addicted to compounding whisky punch, which he not only brewed, but drank most satisfactorily. What other attributes and accomplishments he possessed, the incidents herein related must develop.
It has been said that, on its Western side, the Fort was protected by two block-houses, while on the northern a sally port communicated with the tower. On each side of the sally port were two small stores, reserved for the ammunition and arms, and for the provisions and spare clothing of the garrison. On the north and south faces, rose a series of small low wooden buildings, appropriated to the officers, and capable of containing thrice the number now occupying them. The southern face, or that which looks towards the locale of the scene described in our last chapter, was now the residence of the commanding officer, and of his senior subordinate, who, with their families and domestics, tenanted the whole of that range of buildings, with the exception of one large room in the centre, generally used as a hall of council with the Indians. In the other range, precisely similar in construction, were quartered Ensign Ronayne and the surgeon Von Vottenberg, who each, however occupied but one apartment. The central and largest serving as their mess-room. The other half of the building was vacant, or rather had been so, until the doctor obtained the permission of the commanding officer to use it as a temporary surgery—the hospital being a distinct edifice between the two block-houses. These latter, capacious for the size of the fort, accommodated the non-commissioned officers and men—the company being divided as equally as possible between the two.
Without the whole of these buildings stood a strong stockade, about twelve feet high, loop-holed for musquetry, with a bastion at each angle, facing the four principal points of the compass, on each of which was placed a small gun, that the men had been trained to work. The entrance to the fort was from the westward, and in the direction of the agency house, which two of these bastions immediately flanked.
The guard consisted of a non-commissioned officer and nine men—three sentries being furnished for the necessary duties—one for the stores already described—another for the commanding officer's quarters—the mess-room and the surgery, and the third for the, southern bastion, upon which floated the glorious stars and stripes of the Union. A fourth sentry at the gate had been dispensed with, in consequence of the proximity to it of the guard-house. This, was a small building immediately in front of the hospital, which, with the gate, came particularly under the surveillance of the non-commissioned officer of the guard.
With the character for strict attention to discipline, which has been ascribed to Captain Headley, it will be easily understood that every man on duty was expected to be as correct in the execution of its details, as though he had been at the Head Quarters of his regiment, or at the Seat of Government itself. The utmost regard to dress, and to the efficiency of arms was moreover enjoined, and so far did their commander feel indisposed to trust the inspection of them to the non-commissioned officer of the guard, that, although there were in the Fort, but two regimental officers besides himself, he had, from the moment of assuming the command, required them alternately to perform the necessary duties; superintending the relief of guards, and parading all men off duty and out of hospital, in full dress, at least once in the twenty-four hours.
At the outset, this had been a source of much discontent with the men, who conceiving that, in that remote region, the rigor of the service might be dispensed with, almost openly expressed their desire that there might be sent to command them, some officer less severe in his exactions. This had been reported to Captain Headley by his senior subaltern, from whose manner, while communicating the information, it was apparent that he did not wholly disapprove of a remonstrance against measures which involved the sacrifice of his own comfort. His superior was not slow to remark this, he, however, quietly observed that he was not, at his years, and in his responsible position, to be told the duty required to be performed by the troops under his command; and that, if he perceived any symptoms of insubordination, he would take the proper means to suppress it. The lieutenant made no reply, but bit his lip, and withdrew. This was the first manifestation of any thing approaching to disunion, between these two officers.
Lieutenant Elmsley, although by no means a negligent officer, was no disciplinarian. He could not but look upon formal guard mountings and parades, in that isolated quarter, as unnecessary—serving only to create discontent amongst the men, and to induce them—the unmarried especially—to desert, whenever an opportunity presented itself; while, bringing the subject more immediately home to himself, he deemed it to be a needlessly severe tax upon the only two subalterns of the garrison. This, he thought might, situated as they were, have been dispensed with, without the slightest inconvenience to the service; and the duty left to the superintendence of the non- commissioned part of the force. Hence his annoyance with his superior.
But Captain Headley was of a different opinion. He thought that the very remoteness of his post, rendered it the more necessary that no appearance of carelessness should be remarked by the tribes of Indians, who were in the vicinity, and who, however amicable their relations THEN with the United States, might later, from caprice or events yet unforeseen, take advantage of the slightest negligence, to attempt the destruction of all.
Better, he thought, that they who received the pay of the Government, for upholding its interests and dignity, should be subject to a frequent recurrence of duty—not in itself particularly irksome-than that an important post—the nucleus of the future prosperity of the State—should be perilled by the absence of that vigilance which ought to characterize the soldier. If he allowed to be retrenched, or indeed left unemployed, any of that military exhibition, which tends to impress upon the many the moral superiority of the few, where, he argued, would be their safety in the hour of need; and if those duties were performed in a slovenly manner, and without due regard to SCENIC effect, the result would be to induce the wily savage to undervalue that superiority which discipline chiefly secured to the white warrior. Captain Headley was discriminating and observant. He had, more than once, remarked the surprise and admiration created among the Indians who had access within the stockade, at the promptness and regularity of the system introduced into it, and this, of itself, was a sufficient motive to cause him to persevere in the course his judgment had adopted.
Such was the condition of affairs at the moment when Ephraim Giles, breathless with speed, and fancying the party of Winnebagoes close upon his heels, made his entry into the Fort. The news he brought was of a nature to assemble the officers, as well as many of the men and women, all anxious to hear the details of an occurrence, which now, for the first time since their arrival at the Fort, had created serious apprehension. But there was one of the party who manifested more than ordinary uneasiness. His impatience was great, and, after having whispered a few words in the ear of Captain Headley, and received an affirmative reply, coupled with an injunction of caution, he left the building in haste, and proceeded towards the block-houses, where, selecting half a dozen men, and ordering them to arm on the instant, he passed with them through the gate—sprang into a large scow which was unchained from its moorings, on the bank of the river, and pulled in the direction of the house already said to have been occupied by the wife and daughter of Mr. Heywood.
Meanwhile, Captain Headley closely interrogated the fugitive as to the number and appearance of the Indians who had created all this alarm, their probable object in visiting the farm in this seemingly hostile manner, and the number of shots he had heard fired. To all these questions the soldier, who had now, in some degree, recovered from his panic, replied in the usual drawling tone, his stick and knife, which had been drawn forth again from his pocket, in which he had deposited them in crossing from the farm-house, affording him his usual amusement, but nothing, of course, was elicited beyond what has already been related. Whether any one had been killed in the house, or the guns merely discharged to frighten the fugitive, or that the reports had proceeded from the fishing party that had been sent for, with a view to alarm the Indians, and deter them from the commission of outrage, were surmises that severally occurred to Captain Headley, but without enabling him to arrive at any definite opinion. That there was cause for apprehension, there was no doubt. The appearance of a band of strange Indians in the neighborhood, however small in number, dressed in their war-paint, gave earnest of coming trouble, not only through their own acts, but through the influence of example on the many other tribes whom they had been accustomed to look upon as friends and allies. In the midst of these reflections arose a feeling of self-gratulation that he had preserved that discipline and strict attention to duty, which, he knew, that all must now admit to have been correct, and which, if any difficulty did occur, could not fail to prove of the utmost importance.
His first consideration now was the safety of the small fishing party, to which allusion has more than once been made in the preceding pages, and which it was a source of satisfaction to him to recollect were, in accordance with an order never departed from on these and similar excursions, furnished with the necessary arms and ammunition, although only in their fatigue dress.
"Mr. Elmsley," he said turning to that officer, who stood waiting his orders, "who commands the fishing party?"
"Corporal Nixon, sir," replied the lieutenant, at once entering into his motive for the inquiry, "a brave, but discreet soldier, and one who, I am sure, will evince all necessary resolution, should he see anything of these Indians. The men who are with him are also fine young fellows, and among our best shots."
"I am glad to hear this," was the rejoinder, "but still, twelve Indians firing from the woods upon half their number in an open boat, and taken by surprise, would, I fear, render the activity, courage, and skill of these latter but of little avail. My hope is, that Corporal Nixon may see nothing of them, but that, on the contrary, if he has been apprised by the boy, as the fellow says he was to be, of their presence at Heywood's farm, he will make his way back without stopping, or at least, use every precaution to conceal himself, until he can drop down under cover of the darkness."
"What, sir," said the lieutenant, with a surprise he could ill conceal, "would you desire him not to afford the necessary succor to Mr. Heywood, if, indeed, he should be in time to render any service?"
"Mr. Elmsley," remarked his captain, somewhat sternly, "my sympathy for the fate of those at the farm, is, perhaps quite as strong as yours, but I have a higher stake at issue—a higher object than the indulgence of personal sympathy. I can ill afford, threatening as appearances are at this moment, to risk the lives of six men, the best you say in the fort, out of the very small force at my disposal. Nothing must be left undone to secure their safety. Order a gun to be fired immediately from the southern bastion. It will be distinctly heard by the party, and if not already apprised of the existing danger they will at once understand the signal. Moreover the report may have the effect of alarming the savages."
Lieutenant Elmsley withdrew to execute the order, and soon after the dull booming of a cannon was heard reverberating throughout the surrounding woods, and winding its echoes along the waters of the narrow and tranquil Chicago. So unusual an event as this excited a good deal of speculation, not only among the inmates of the Fort, but among the numerous friendly Indians encamped without, who, wholly unacquainted with the cause of the alarm, were, by the strict orders of Captain Headley, kept ignorant of the information of which Ephraim Giles had been the bearer—
That night there was a more than usual vigilance exercised by the sentinels, and although the rest of the garrison were exempt from extraordinary duty, the watchful and anxious commanding officer slept not until dawn.
At a distance of about two miles above Heywood's farm, and on the southern branch of the Chicago, which winds its slightly serpentine course between the wood and the prairie. There was at the period of which we treat, a small deep bay formed by two adjacent and densely wooded points of land, in the cool shades of which the pike, the black bass, and the pickerel loved to lie in the heat of summer, and where, in early spring, though in less numbers, they were wont to congregate. This was the customary fishing spot of the garrison—six men and a non-commissioned officer, repairing there almost daily, with their ample store of lines and spears, as much, although not avowedly, for their own amusement, as for the supply of the officer's table. What remained, after a certain division among these, became the property of the captors, who, after appropriating to themselves what was necessary for their next day's meal, distributed the rest among the non-commissioned, and men of the company. As the season advanced, and the fish became more plenty, there was little limitation of quantity, for the freight, nightly brought home, and taken with the line and spear alone, was sufficient to afford every one abundance. In truth, even in the depth of winter, there was little privation endured by the garrison—the fat venison brought in and sold for the veriest trifle by the Indians—the luscious and ample prairie hen, chiefly shot by the officers, and the fish we have named, leaving no necessity for consumption of the salt food with which it was but indifferently stored.
On the day on which our narrative has commenced, the usual fishing party had ascended the river at an early hour, for the newness of the season and the shortness of the days rendered it an object that they should be on the accustomed haunt as soon as possible. They had left the Fort at daylight, passing Heywood's farm at the moment when, for the purpose of foddering the cattle on the opposite bank, he, with the boy Wilton, was crossing to the very canoe in which Ephraim Giles afterwards made his escape—the latter with the Canadian, being engaged in felling trees higher up the river.
Arrived at the little bay to which we have just adverted, the boat was fastened to the gnarled trunk of a tree, which projected over the deep water at the nearest point, and the party, taking with them their fishing rods, baits, and haversacks, but leaving their spears and muskets in the boat, dispersed themselves at short distances along the curve that formed the bay, which, however, was not more than three hundred yards in extent, from point to point.
When they first cast their lines into the water, the sun's rays were clearly visible through the thick wood in their rear. The early morning, too, had been cold—almost frosty—so much so, that the wild ducks, which generally evinced a good deal of shyness, NOW, seemingly emboldened by the briskness of the atmosphere, could be seen gliding about in considerable numbers, about half a mile below them; while the fish, on the contrary, as though dissatisfied with the temperature of their element, refused to do what the men called "the amiable," by approaching the hook. Their occupation had been continued until long past mid-day, during which time not more than a dozen fish had been taken. Vexed at his ill luck, for he had not had even a nibble, one of the men flung his rod upon the bank, impatiently, and then, seating himself on the projecting root of a large tree, declared it was all nonsense to play the fool any longer, and that the most sensible thing they could do, was to take their dinners—smoke their pipes—and wash the whole down with a little of the Monongahela.
"I say, Collins," remarked the corporal, good-naturedly, "we shall have poor fare for the officers' mess, let alone our own, if we all follow your example, and give up so soon. But, as you say, it's time to have some grub, and we'll try our luck afterwards."
"Rome wasn't built in a day," said the man who had been fishing next to Collins, and drawing in his line also, "we've a good many hours left yet."
Following the recommendation of the corporal, the rest of the party sat down on the edge of the bank, and, opening their haversacks, produced each his allowance of corn bread and venison, or salted pork, after dispatching which, with the aid of their clasp knives, they took a refreshing "horn" from the general canteen that Collins carried suspended over his shoulder, and then drew forth and lighted their pipes.
As the latter puffed away with a vigor that proved either a preoccupied mind, or extreme gratification with the weed, he cast his eyes carelessly down the stream, where a large description of duck, called by the French natives of the country, the cou rouge, from the color of their necks, were disporting themselves as though nothing in the shape of a fire arm was near them—now diving—now rising on their feet, and shaking their outstretched wings, now chasing each other in limited circles, and altogether so apparently emboldened by their immunity from interruption, as to come close to the bank, at a distance of little more than fifty yards from the spot where he sat.
"It's very ridiculous," he at length remarked, pouring forth at the same time, an unusual volume of smoke, and watching the curling eddies as they rose far above his head—"it's very ridiculous, I say, the captin's order that we sha'nt fire. Look at them ducks—how they seem to know all about it, too!"
"By gosh!" said another, "I've a good notion to fetch my musket, and have a slap into them. Shall I, corporal?"
"Certainly not, Green," was the answer. "If it was known in the Fort I had permitted any of the party to fire, I should be broke, if I did'nt get picketed for my pains, and none of us would ever get out again."
"No great harm in that, either," said the man who had made the novel observation that Rome had not been built in a day.
The corporal looked sharply at the last speaker, as if not fully comprehending his meaning.
"Jackson means no great harm if we never got out again," interposed Collins, "and I think as he does, for I see no fun in rowing four or five miles to fish, and scarcely getting a sight of one."
"Well, but Collins, that's not always our luck. I'm sure we've had sport enough before. It must be because the weather's rather cold today, that the fish won't bite."
"It's of no use his grumbling, Philips," remarked Corporal Nixon, "we're here, not so much for own sport as on a duty for the garrison. Let me hear no more of this, Collins."
"Well, corporal that's true enough," said Green, "but dash me if it isn't temptin' to see them fellows there stealin' upon us, and we lookin' on, and doin' nothin'."
"What fellows do you mean?" inquired the corporal, suddenly starting to his feet, and looking down the river.
"Why, them ducks to be sure, see how they come sailin' up to us, as if they knowed all about the captin's order—no jumpin' or friskin' now, but all of a heap like."
"Yes, but I say, what's that black looking thing beyond the ducks?" asked one who had not hitherto spoken, pointing his finger.
"Where, where, Weston?" exclaimed one or two voices, and the speakers looked in the direction indicated.
"Hang me if it isn't a bear," said Collins in a low, anxious tone; "that's the chap that has sent the ducks so near us. Do let me have a crack at him, corporal. He's large enough to supply us all with fresh meat for three days, and will make up for the bad fishing. Only one shy, corporal, and I engage not to miss him"
Sure enough, there was, in the centre of the stream, a dark object, nearly half a mile distant, which all joined in pronouncing to be a bear. It was swimming vigorously across to their aide of the river.
"I think we might take him as he lands," observed Green. "What say you, corporal; I reckon you'll let us try THAT, if you won't let us fire?"
"Stay all where you are," was the reply. "I can manage him myself with a spear, if I can only be in time before he reaches the shore. If not, it's no matter, for I won't allow a trigger to be pulled."
Corporal Nixon was a tall, active, strong-limbed Virginian. He soon cleared the space that separated them from the boat, and jumping to the stern, seized one of the fishing spears, and then moved on through: the wood that densely skirted the bank. But he had not been five minutes gone when he again made his appearance, not immediately by the half-formed path he had previously taken, but by a slight detour to the rear.
"Hist, hist," he said in an audible whisper, as soon as he saw that he was perceived, motioning at the same time with his hand to enjoin silence, and concealment. Then, beckoning to Weston to join him; he again moved along the path with the light tread of one who fears to alarm an object unconscious of interruption.
All had the sense to understand that there was some good reason for the caution of the corporal, and with the exception of Weston, who had promptly obeyed the signal, busily, but silently resumed their morning's occupation.
First, a quarter of an hour, and then minute after minute passed slowly away, yet there was no sign of the return of their companions. What could be the meaning of this? If the bear had not proved to be too much for them, they ought to have killed him, and rejoined them before this. Curiosity, nay, apprehension finally overcame the strong sense of obedience to orders, which had been literally drilled into them, and they all, at the suggestion of Green, dropped their rods on the bank, and moved cautiously in the direction that had been taken by the corporal and Weston. Great, however, was the surprise of Collins, then a little in advance, when, on nearing the spot where the boat lay moored, he beheld, not those of who they were in search, but a naked, and hideously painted savage, in the very act of untying the rope by which the skiff was fastened to the knotted and projecting root of the tree. Sensible that there was impending danger, although he knew not of what precise kind, inasmuch as there was no Reason to apprehend anything hostile from the Indians, with—all of whom around the fort, they had always been on friendly terms, he sprang forward to arrest the movement. But the distance was several rods, and the savage, alarmed by the rustling made among the foliage and brushwood in his rear, now put his shoulder to the boat, and, in the next instant would have had it far across this stream, had not a hand suddenly protruded from beneath the hollow clump of earth on which the tree grew, grasped him firmly by the ankle, even while in the act of springing into the forcibly impelled skiff. In a moment or two, he grappled tightly with his hands upon the bow of the boat, but, finding the pressure on his imprisoned limb too great for resistance, he relinquished his hold, falling upon his face in the water, from which he was dragged, although without violence, by Corporal Nixon, who had emerged from his hiding-place.
When the Indian was suffered to rise, there was a threatening expression on his countenance, which, not even the number of those by whom he was now surrounded could check, and he made an involuntary motion of his hand to his scalping knife, the only weapon with which he was armed, that lay in the sheath dangling from his girdle. Seeing, however, that there was no hostile disposition manifested by the party, he speedily relinquished his first impulse, and stood upright before them with a bold, but calm look.
"What you want with boat?" asked the corporal, almost involuntarily, and without the slightest expectation that his question would be understood.
"Me want 'em cross," replied the Indian, pointing to the opposite woods.
"But why you come in bear skin?" and, in his turn, the corporal pointed with his finger in the direction in which the supposed bear had been seen.
"Ugh!" grunted the savage doggedly, finding that he had been detected in his disguise.
"What nation you?—Pottawattamie?"
"Curious enough," pursued the corporal, addressing himself to his comrades. "I don't half like the look of the fellow, but I suppose it's all right. We musn't offend him. You chief?", he continued, pointing to a large silver medal suspended over the breast of the athletic and well-proportioned Indian.
"Yes, me chief. Pottawattamie chief," and he made a sign in the direction of the Fort, near which the encampment of that tribe lay.
"You friend, then?" remarked the corporal, extending his hand.
"Yes, me friend," he answered promptly, brightening up and taking the proffered hand; "you give 'em boat?"
"Do you see any thing green in my eye?" asked the Virginian, incapable, even under the circumstances, of repressing the indulgence of his humor.
But the party questioned, although speaking a little English, was not sufficiently initiated in its elegancies to comprehend this; so, he merely answered with a "ugh!" while the greater portion of the men laughed boisterously, both at the wit of the corporal, and at the seeming astonishment it excited.
This mirth by no means suited the humor of the Indian. He felt that it was directed towards himself, and again he stood fierce, and with a dilating frame before them.
Corporal Nixon at once became sensible of his error. To affront one of the friendly chiefs would, he knew, not only compromise the interests of the garrison, but incur the severe displeasure of the commanding officer, who had always enjoined the most scrupulous abstinence from any thing offensive to them.
"I only meant to say," he added, as he again extended his hand. "I can't give 'em boat. White chief" and he pointed in the direction of the Fort, "no let me."
"Ugh!" exclaimed the Indian, his stern features again brightening up with a last hope. "'Spose come with Injin?"
For a moment or two, the corporal hesitated whether or not to put the man across, but when he reflected on the singular manner of his advent, and other circumstances connected with his appearance among them, his customary prudence came to his aid, and while avoiding all ground for offence by his mode of refusal, he gave him peremptorily to understand that there was an order against his suffering the boat to leave its present station.
Again the countenance of the Indian fell, even while his quick eye rolled incessantly from one to the other of the group. "You no give 'em boat—Injin swim," he at length observed.
"Just as you please," answered corporal Nixon. "By and bye, sogers go to the Fort—take Injin with 'em."
"Wah! Injin cross here," and as he spoke, he sprang again to the bow of the boat, and at a single bound cleared the intervening space to the very stern.
Several heavy splashes in the water.—a muttered curse from the corporal—some confusion among his men, and the savage was seen nearly half-way across the river, swimming like an eel to the opposite shore.
"Damn the awkward brute!" exclaimed the former, angrily. "How many muskets are there overboard, Jackson?"
"Only three—and two cartouch boxes."
"ONLY three indeed! I wish the fellow had been at old Nick, instead of coming here to create all this confusion. Is the water deep at the stern?"
"Nearly a fathom I reckon," was the reply.
"Then, my lads, you must look out for other fish to-day. Jackson, can you see the muskets at the bottom?"
"Not a sign of them, corporal," answered the man, as lying flat on the boat, he peered intently into the water. "The bottom is covered with weeds, and I can just see the tails of two large pikes wriggling among them. By Gemini, I think if I had my rod here, I could take them both!"
"Never mind them," resumed the corporal, again delivering himself of a little wit; "muskets will be of far more use to us just now than pikes. We must fish them up—there will be the devil to pay if we go home without them."
"Then there's no other way than diving for them," said Jackson, still looking downwards. "Not even the glitter of a barrel can I see. They must have buried themselves in the weeds. I say, Weston," slightly raising his head and turning his face to the party named, "You're a good diver?"
"Yes, and Collins is better than me."
"Well then, here's at it," resumed Jackson, rising and commencing to strip. "It's only by groping and feeling that we can find the arms, and when once we've tumbled on 'em, it will be easy enough to get 'em up with one hand, while we swim with the other. We must plunge here from the stern," he added, as the men whom he had named jumped on board and commenced stripping themselves.
"How came the Injin to knock the muskets overboard, Corporal?" inquired one of the party who had not yet spoken—a fat, portly man, with a long hooked nose, and a peaked chin.
"I'm dashed," replied Nixon, "if I can tell myself, though I was looking at him as he jumped from one end of the boat to the other. All I know is, the firelocks were propped against the stern of the boat as we placed them, with the backs of the cartouch boxes slung under the ramrods, and I suppose, for I don't know how else it could be done, that instead of alighting on the seat, he must have passed it, and putting his foot on the muzzles, tipped them with the weight of his body, head over heels into the water."
"Corporal," Ventured Collins, as he removed his last garment, "you asked that painted chap if he saw anything green in your eye. Now, that's as it may be, but hang me, if it wasn't a little green to take him for a Pottawattamie?"
"And how do you know he was'nt a Pottawattamie? Who made you a judge of Indian flesh?" retorted the corporal, with an air of dissatisfaction.
"Didn't he say he was, and didn't he wear a chiefs medal?"
"Say? Yes, I'll be bound he'd say and wear anything to gull us, but I'm sure he's no Pottawattamie. I never seen a Pottawattamie of that build. They are tall, thin, skinny, bony fellows—while this chap was square, stoat, broad-shouldered, and full of muscle."
Corporal Nixon pondered a little, because half-convinced, but would not acknowledge that he could have been mistaken. "Are you all ready?" he at length inquired, anxious, like most men, when driven into a corner on one topic, to introduce another.
"All ready," answered Jackson, taking the first plunge in the direction in which he knew the muskets must have fallen.
Before following his example, the others waited for his report. This was soon made. He had got hold of one of the muskets, and partly lifted it from its bed, but the net-work of strong weeds above it, opposing too much resistance, he had been compelled to quit his hold, and came to the surface of the water for air.
"Here's for another trial," shouted Collins, as he made his plunge in the same direction. In a few seconds he too, reappeared, bearing in his right hand, not a firelock, but the two missing cartouch boxes.
"Better luck next time," remarked corporal Nixon. "I think my lads, if two of you were to separate the weeds with your hands, so as to clear each musket, the other might easily bring it up."
The suggestion of the corporal was at once acted upon, but it was not, until after repeated attempts had been made to liberate the arms, from their Web-like canopy, that two were finally brought up and placed in the boat. The third they groped for in vain, until at length, the men, dispirited and tired, declared it was utterly useless to prosecute the search, and that the other musket must be given up as lost.
This, however, did not suit the views of the correct corporal. He said, pointedly, that he would almost as soon return without his head as without his arms, and that the day having been thus far spent without the accomplishment of the object for which they were there, he was determined to devote the remainder to the search. Not being a bad diver himself, although he had not hitherto deemed it necessary to add his exertions to those of his comrades, he now stripped, desiring those who had preceded him to throw on their shirts and rest themselves for another plunge, when he should have succeeded in finding out where the missing musket had lodged.
"What's that?" exclaimed Jackson, pointing to a small, dark object, of a nearly circular shape, which was floating about half way between the surface of the place into which the divers had plunged, and the weeds below.
His companions turned their eyes in the direction indicated, but, almost immediately after Jackson had spoken, it had disappeared wholly from view.
"What did it loot like?" asked the corporal.
"It must have been a mush rat," returned Jackson, "there's plenty of them about here, and I reckon our diving has disturbed the nest."
Corporal Nixon now took his leap, but some paces farther out from the shore than his companions had ventured upon theirs. The direction was the right one. Extending his arms as he reached a space entirely free from weeds, his right hand encountered the cold barrel of the musket, but as he sought to glide it along, in order that he might grasp the butt, and thus drag it endwise up, his hand disturbed some hairy substance which rested upon the weapon causing it to float slightly upwards, until it came in contact with his naked breast. Now, the corporal was a fearless soldier whose nerves were not easily shaken, but the idea of a nasty mush rat, as they termed it, touching his person in this manner, produced in him unconquerable disgust, even while it gave him the desperate energy to clutch the object with a nervous grasp, and without regard to the chance of being bitten in the act, by the small, sharp teeth of the animal. His consternation was even greater when, on enclosing it within his rough palm, he felt the whole to collapse, as though it had been a heavy air-filled bladder, burst by the compression of his fingers. A new feeling-a new chain of ideas now took possession of him, and leaving the musket where it was, he rose near the spot from which he first started, and still clutching his hairy and undesirable prize, threw it from him towards the boat, into the bottom of which it fell, after grazing the cheek of Collins.
"Pooh! pooh! pooh," spluttered the latter, moving as if the action was necessary to disembarrass him of the unsightly object no longer there.
A new source of curiosity was now created, not only among the swimmers, but the idlers who were smoking their pipes and looking carelessly on. All now, without venturing to touch the loathsome looking thing, gathered around it endeavoring to ascertain really what it was. "What do you make of the creature?" asked corporal Nixon, who, now ascending the side of the boat, observed how much the interest of his men had been excited.
"I'm sure I can't say," answered Jackson. "It looks for all the world like a rat, only the hair is so long. Dead enough though, for it does not budge an inch."
"Let's see what it is," said the man with the long hooked nose, and the peaked chin.
By no means anxious, however, to touch it with his hands, he took up the spear and turned over and over the clammy and motionless mass.
"Just as I thought," exclaimed the corporal, with a shudder, as the weapon unfolding the whole to view, disclosed alternately the moistened hair and thick and bloody skin of a human head.
"Gemini," cried Jackson, how came this scalp here, it has been freshly taken—this very day—yet how could it get here?"
"Depend upon't," said Green, "that chief that was here just now, could tell somethin' about it, if he had a mind."
"Then he must have had it in his breech-cloth," remarked the corporal seriously, for not a rag besides had he about him. "No, no it couldn't be him, and yet it's very strange."
"Of course it couldn't be him," maliciously interfered Collins, who had so far conquered his first disgust, as to take the object of discussion into his own hands, "for you know he was a Pottawattamie, and therefore wouldn't scalp for the world."
"But whose can it be?" resumed Jackson, and how did it get here, I am sure its that of a boy."
"Could it have floated here from the farm?" half questioned Green musingly.
"Somethin' struck me like shots from that quarter, about an hour before the Injin swam across, and dash me, now I recollect it, I'm sure I heard a cry, just after the corporal left us to go after that bear."
"Nonsense," said the Virginian, "how could it float against the stream, and as for the shots you think you heard, you most have taken Ephraim Giles's axe blows for them. Besides, you couldn't hear shots at that distance. If you did, it most be from some of the hunters."
"But the cry, corporal," urged Jackson, "what say you to the cry Green says he heard when you left us?"
"All stuff; did anybody else hear it besides Green, you were all sitting on the bank with him?"
No one answering in the affirmative, Corporal Nixon declared the thing to be impossible, or he should have heard it too; nor could he see what connection there was between that cry—supposing there had been one—and the facts that had come immediately under their own observation.
"Hist," interrupted Collins, placing one hand upon the speaker's shoulder, and with the other directing his attention to what, now seen by the whole of the party, was ill calculated to re-assure them.
Stealthily gliding through the fresh and thinly foliaged wood, that skirted the opposite shore, yet almost concealed from view, Corporal Nixon now beheld the crouching forms of several armed Indians, nearly naked, and evidently in war costume. They were following the serpentine course necessitated by the interposing trees, and seeking cautiously to establish themselves behind cover on the very verge of the bank.
"Back men for your lives, there's nothing friendly there," exclaimed the Virginian the moment that his glance had taken in the scene, "out with the arms, and divide the dry ammunition. Collins, you are a smart fellow, do you and Green set to work and light a fire, but out of sight, and dry the muskets as fast as you can. There are twelve pounds in each of the five remaining cartouch boxes, these will do for a spell. Jackson, Philips, tree yourselves, while Cass lies flat in the stern, and keeps a good look out on the devils, without exposing himself. Now, my lads, do all this very quietly, and as if you didn't think there was danger at hand. If they see any signs of fear, they will pitch it into you directly. As it is, they are only waiting to settle themselves, and do it at their leisure."
"Pity they don't make a general of you, corporal," remarked Collins, as he proceeded quietly with Green to the execution of the duty assigned to them. "I guess Washington himself couldn't better command a little army. Is your battle order finished, general?"
"None of your nonsense, master Collins, this is no time for jesting. Go and dry these arms, and when you have them so that they can send a bullet from their throats, join Jackson and Philips in covering the boat. Weston and I will take up our first station."
And in less time than we have taken to describe the cause of the alarm, and the instructions given in consequence, the men had hastened to execute the several duties assigned to them on shore, while Cass remained, not only with a view of showing the Indians that the boat was not wholly unguarded, but to be enabled to inform his comrades, who could distinctly hear him without rendering any particular elevation of the voice necessary, of any important movement on the part of the former. This quietude of arrangement on the part of Corporal Nixon had, seemingly, been not without effect. It was evident that the Indians had no suspicion that they had been seen, and even when the men coolly quitted the boat, they showed no impatience indicative of an impression that the party were seeking to shield themselves from an impending danger.
"This silence is strange enough," said the corporal to his companion, after they had been some minutes secreted in the cavity from which the departure of the Indian with the boat had been arrested. "I almost wish they would fire a shot, for that would at once tell us how to act, and what we are to expect, whether they are friendly Indians or not."
But no shot was fired, and from the moment when the men quitted the boat, and took up their positions, everything had continued silent as the grave on the opposite shore, and not the vestige of an Indian could be seen.
"But for that scalp," again remarked the corporal, "I should take the party to have been friendly Indians, perhaps just returned from a buffalo hunt, and come down to the water to drink. They are surely gone again."
"Look there," said Weston, in a subdued tone, while he placed his hand on the shoulder of his superior, as both lay crouched in their hiding-place, "look there, corporal," and he pointed with his finger to the opposite bank. "Do you see that large, blackish log lying near the hickory, and with its end towards us?"
"I do—what of it?"
"Well, don't you see something crouching like between the log and the tree—something close up to both. See! it moves now a little."
Corporal Nixon strained his gaze in the direction indicated, but was obliged to admit that, although he distinctly enough saw the log and the tree, he could not discern any between thing them.
"NOW, do you see it?" again eagerly inquired Weston, as, at that moment, the same animal was seen to turn itself within the very limited space which had been indicated.
"Yes, I see it now," replied the Virginian, "but it's as likely to be a hog as a man, for anything I can make of that shape; a hog that has been filling his skin with hickory nuts, and is but now waking out of his sleep. Still, as the Injins were there just now, it may be that if they're gone, they've left a spy behind them. We'll soon know how matters stand, for it won't do to remain here all night. Cass," addressing the man in the boat who was seated low in the stern, only occasionally taking a sly peep, and immediately withdrawing his head, "place your cap on the rudder, and lie flat in the bottom. If they are there, and mean to fire at all, they will try their hands at THAT."
"I hope they are good marksmen, corporal," replied the man, as raising his right arm, he removed his forage cap and placed it so that the upper half only could be seen. "I've no great fancy for those rifle bullets, and give them a wide berth when I can."
"Now are you convinced?" asked Weston, addressing the corporal, as both distinctly saw the object upon which their attention had been anxiously fixed, raise his head and shoulders, while he deliberately rested his rifle against the log on his right.
"Close down, Cass—don't move," enjoined the Virginian; "the bait has taken, and we shall have a shot presently."
Two almost imperceptible jets of spiral smoke, and crack, crack, went two rifles, while simultaneously with the report, fell back into the boat, the perforated forage cap. Both balls had passed through it, and lodged in the heart of the tree to which the skiff was moored, and behind which Jackson and Philips had taken their stand.
Evidently believing that they had killed a man, the whole of the band, hitherto concealed behind logs and trees, now rose to their feet, and uttered a fierce and triumphant yell.
"Devilish good firin', that," remarked Green, whose face had been touched by a splinter of bark torn from the tree by one of the balls.
"Don't uncover yourselves, my lads," hastily commanded the corporal; "all the fellows want now is to see us exposed, that they may have a crack at us."
"We've dried the muskets after a fashion," said Collins, as he now approached Jackson and Philips. "Give us a cartridge, and let's see if we can't match the varmint at that sort of work." Then, having loaded, he, without asking the corporal's permission, leaned his musket against the tree, and taking a steady aim at the man who had fired from the point first noticed by Weston, drew the trigger.
The shot had evidently taken effect, for two other Indians were now seen going to the assistance of their comrade, whom they raised from the ground (where all had secreted themselves after the yell), and hurried to the rear.
A loud cheer burst from the lips of Collins, which was answered immediately by the whole of the savages, who, from various contiguous points, sprang again to their feet, and vociferating the war-whoop, dashed into the river nearly up to their necks, seemingly thirsting to overcome the only obstacle which prevented them from getting at their desired victims.
But, at the very moment, when several of them were holding their rifles aloft with their right hand, securing their powder-horns between their teeth, while Corporal Nixon issued to his men injunctions, not to pull another trigger until the savages should begin to swim, to the astonishment of all, came the sullen and unusual booming of the cannon from the Fort.
For a moment, the men, taking their eyes off the sights of their muskets, listened attentively for a repetition of the shot, but no second report reached their ears.
"That," said Green, "was a warnin' for us."
"It was," observed the corporal. "Had the danger been THERE, they would have fired again. Depend upon it, my lads, there's more going on about here than we think. So don't throw away your ammunition. Every bullet you send must tell!"
"Well, we can but sell our scalps as dearly as possible," interposed Collins, who had again loaded, and was now in the act of raising and supporting his, musket against the tree. "But look—see how the fellows are stealing off?"
"Don't fire, then, don't fire," hastily enjoined the corporal. "If they will go quietly, let them. We must not lose our time dallying here, but make our way back to the Fort. That gun was meant to recall us, as well as to warn us, and luckily it has frightened the Indians, so they won't care to attack us again."
Meanwhile the band of Winnebagoes, obeying, as it seemed, the command of their leader, whom Collins swore he could identify from his figure, even at that distance, to be the man who had attempted to carry off the boat, quitted the river for the cover of the woods, and, after an earnest consultation, retreated slowly in the direction of the prairie, without clamor of any description.
"Well rid of them, if they are gone," exclaimed the corporal, not a little relieved by their departure. "We must keep a sharp look out though, and see if they return."
"How many of them are there?" asked Jackson; "can you give a guess, Collins?"
"About a dozen I should say—indeed I counted as many as they passed through the small patch of clearing made by Eph. Giles's axe."