NICK OF THE WOODS
Or, Adventures of Prairie Life
ROBERT M. BIRD, M.D.
Unenlightened man— A savage, roaming through the woods and wilds In quest of prey, and with th' unfashiomed fur Bough clad.
At the period when "Nick of the Woods" was written, the genius of Chateaubriand and of Cooper had thrown a poetical illusion over the Indian character; and the red men were presented—almost stereotyped in the popular mind—as the embodiments of grand and tender sentiment—a new style of the beau-ideal—brave, gentle, loving, refined, honourable, romantic personages—nature's nobles, the chivalry of the forest. It may be submitted that such are not the lineaments of the race—that they never were the lineaments of any race existing in an uncivilised state—indeed, could not be—and that such conceptions as Atala and Uncas are beautiful unrealities and fictions merely, as imaginary and contrary to nature as the shepherd swains of the old pastoral school of rhyme and romance; at all events, that one does not find beings of this class, or any thing in the slightest degree resembling them, among the tribes now known to travellers and legislators. The Indian is doubtless a gentleman; but he is a gentleman who wears a very dirty shirt, and lives a very miserable life, having nothing to employ him or keep him alive except the pleasures of the chase and of the scalp-hunt—which we dignify with the name of war. The writer differed from his critical friends, and from many philanthropists, in believing the Indian to be capable—perfectly capable, where restraint assists the work of friendly instruction—of civilisation: the Choctaws and Cherokees, and the ancient Mexicans and Peruvians, prove it; but, in his natural barbaric state, he is a barbarian—and it is not possible he could be anything else. The purposes of the author, in his book, confined him to real Indians. He drew them as, in his judgment, they existed—and as, according to all observation, they still exist wherever not softened by cultivation,—ignorant, violent, debased, brutal; he drew them, too, as they appeared, and still appear, in war—or the scalp-hunt—when all the worst deformities of the savage temperament receive their strongest and fiercest development.
Having, therefore, no other, and certainly no worse, desire than to make his delineations in this regard as correct and true to nature as he could, it was with no little surprise he found himself taken to account by some of the critical gentry, on the charge of entertaining the humane design of influencing the passions of his countrymen against the remnant of an unfortunate race, with a view of excusing the wrongs done to it by the whites, if not of actually hastening the period of that "final destruction" which it pleases so many men, against all probability, if not against all possibility, to predict as a certain future event. Had the accusation been confined to the reviewers, he might not, perhaps, have thought it safe to complain; but currency was given to it in a quarter which renders a disclaimer the more reasonable or the less presumptuous. One may contend with a brother author who dares not resist the verdict of the critics. In the English edition of the novel, published at the same time as the American, in a preface furnished by Mr. Ainsworth, the distinguished author of "Rookwood," "Crichton," &c. &c., to whom he is indebted for many polite and obliging expressions respecting it, it is hinted, hypothetically, that the writer's views were "coloured by national antipathy, and by a desire to justify the encroachments of his countrymen upon the persecuted natives, rather than by a reasonable estimate of the subject." The accused notices this fancy, however injurious he first felt it to be, less to refute than to smile at it. He prefers to make a more philosophic and practical application. The real inference to be drawn is, that he has succeeded very ill in this, somewhat essential, portion of his plan,—on the principle that the composition must be amiss, the design of which is so readily misapprehended. He may plead guilty to the defect; but he cannot admit the charge to have had any foundation in truth.
The writer confesses to have felt a little concern at an imputation, which was once faintly attempted to be made, he scarcely now remembers by whom, that in the character of Nathan Slaughter he intended to throw a slur upon the peaceful Society of Friends, of which Nathan is described as having been an unworthy member. This notion is undeserving of serious challenge. The whole object was here to portray the peculiar characteristics of a class of men, very limited, of course, in number, but found, in the old Indian days, scattered, at intervals, along the extreme frontier of every State, from New York to Georgia; men in whom the terrible barbarities of the savages, suffered through their families, or their friends and neighbours, had wrought a change of temper as strange as fearful. That passion is the mightiest which overcomes the most powerful restraints and prostrates the strongest barriers; and there was a dramatic propriety, at least, in associating with such a character as Nathan's, obstacles of faith and habit, which gave the greater force to his deeds and a deeper mystery to his story. No one conversant with the history of border affairs can fail to recollect some one or more instances of solitary men, bereaved fathers or orphaned sons, the sole survivors, sometimes, of exterminated households, who remained only to devote themselves to lives of vengeance; and "Indian-hating" (which implied the fullest indulgence of a rancorous animosity no blood could appease) was so far from being an uncommon passion in some particular districts, that it was thought to have infected, occasionally, persons, otherwise of good repute, who ranged the woods, intent on private adventures, which they were careful to conceal from the public eye. The author remembers, in the published journal of an old traveller—an Englishman, and, as he thinks, a Friend; but he cannot be certain of this fact, the name having escaped him, and the loose memorandum he made at the time, having been mislaid—who visited the region of the upper Ohio towards the close of the last century, an observation on this subject, which made too deep an impression to be easily forgotten. It was stated, as the consequence of the Indian atrocities, that such were the extent and depth of the vindictive feeling throughout the community, that it was suspected in some cases to have reached men whose faith was opposed to warfare and bloodshed. The legend of Wandering Nathan is, no doubt, an idle and unfounded one, although some vague notions touching the existence of just such a personage, whose habitat was referred to Western Pennsylvania, used to prevail among the cotemporaries, or immediate successors, of Boone and Kenton, M'Colloch and Wetzel. It is enough, however, for the author to be sustained in such a matter by poetical possibility; and he can afford to be indifferent to a charge which has the scarce consistent merit of imputing to him, at one and the same time, hostility towards the most warlike and the most peaceable of mankind.
NICK OF THE WOODS.
The sun of an August afternoon, 1782, was yet blazing upon the rude palisades and equally rude cabins of one of the principal stations in Lincoln county, when a long train of emigrants, issuing from the southern forest, wound its way over the clearings, and among the waving maize-fields that surrounded the settlement, and approached the chief gate of its enclosure.
The party was numerous, consisting perhaps of seven or eight score individuals in all, men, women, and children, the last bearing that proportion to the others in point of numbers usually found in a borderer's family, and thus, with the help of pack-horses, cattle, and a few negroes, the property of the more wealthy emigrants, scattered here and there throughout the assemblage, giving to the whole train the appearance of an army, or moving village, of Vandals in quest of some new home to be won with the edge of the sword. Of the whole number there were at least fifty well-armed; some of these, however, being striplings of fourteen, and, in one or two instances, even of twelve, who balanced the big rifle on their shoulders, or sustained it over their saddle-bows, with all the gravity and dignity of grown warriors; while some few of the negroes were provided with the same formidable weapons. In fact, the dangers of the journey through the wilderness required that every individual of a party should be well armed, who was at all capable of bearing arms; and this was a kind of capacity which necessity instilled into the American frontiersman in the earliest infancy.
Of this armed force, such as it was, the two principal divisions, all well mounted, or at least provided with horses, which they rode or not as the humour seized them, were distributed in military order on the front and in the rear; while scouts, leading in the van, and flanking parties beating the woods on either side, where the nature of the country permitted, indicated still further the presence of a martial spirit on the part of the leaders. The women and children, stowed carefully away, for the most part with other valuable chattels, on the backs of pack-horses, were mingled with droves of cattle in the centre, many of which were made to bear burdens as well as the horses. Of wheeled carriages there was not a single one in the whole train, the difficulties of the road, which was a mere bridle-path, being such that they were never, at that early day, attempted to be brought into the country, unless when wafted in boats down the Ohio.
Thus marshalled, and stealing from the depth of the forest into the clearings around the Station, there was something in the appearance of the train—wild, singular, and striking. The tall and robust frames of the men, wrapped in blanket coats and hunting-frocks,—some of which, where the wearers were young and of gallant tempers, were profusely decked with fringes of yellow, green, and scarlet; the gleam of their weapons, and the tramp of their horses, gave a warlike air to the whole, typical, it might be supposed, of the sanguinary struggle by which alone the desert was to be wrung from the wandering barbarian; while the appearance of their families, with their domestic beasts and the implements of husbandry, was in harmony with what might be supposed the future destinies of the land, when peaceful labour should succeed to the strife of conquest.
The exiles were already in the heart of their land of promise, and many within view of the haven where they were to end their wanderings. Smiles of pleasure lighted their wayworn countenances, as they beheld the waving fields of maize and the gleam of the distant cabins; and their satisfaction was still further increased when the people of the Station, catching sight of them, rushed out, some mounted and others on foot, to meet them, uttering loud shouts of welcome, such as, in that day, greeted every band of new comers; and adding to the clamour of the reception a feu-de-joie, which they fired in honour of the numbers and martial appearance of the present company. The salutation was requited, and the stirring hurrahs returned, by the travellers, most of whom pressed forward to the van in disorder, eager to take part in the merry-making ere it was over, or perhaps to seek for friends who had preceded them in the journey through the wilderness. Such friends were, in many instances, found, and their loud and affectionate greetings were mingled with the scarce less cordial welcomes extended by the colonists, even to the unknown stranger. Such was the reception of the emigrants at that period and in that country, where men were united together by a sense of common danger; and where every armed visitor, besides being an accession to the strength of the colonists, brought with him such news of absent friends and still remembered homes as was sure to recommend him to favour.
The only individual who, on this occasion of rejoicing, preserved a melancholy countenance, and who, instead of riding forward, like the others, to shake hands with the people of the Station, betrayed an inclination to avoid their greetings altogether, was a young man, who, from the position he occupied in the band, and from other causes, was entitled to superior attention. With the rank and nominal title of second-captain,—a dignity conferred upon him by his companions, he was, in reality, the commander of the party, the ostensible leader being, although a man of good repute on the Virginia border, entirely wanting in the military reputation and skill which the other had acquired in the armies of the Republics, and of which the value was fully appreciated, when danger first seemed to threaten the exiles on their march. He was a youth of scarce twenty-three years of age; but five of those years had been passed in camps and battles; and the labours, passions, and privations of his profession had antedated the period of manhood. A frame tall and athletic, a countenance which, although retaining the smoothness and freshness of youth, was yet marked with the manly gravity and decision of mature life, added, in appearance, at least six years to his age. He wore a hunting-frock of the plainest green colour, with cap and leggings of leather, such as were worn by many of the poorest or least pretending exiles; like whom also he bore a rifle on his shoulder, with the horn and other equipments of a hunter. There was little, therefore, to distinguish him at the first view, from among his companions; although his erect military bearing, and the fine blooded bay horse which he rode, would have won him more than a passing look. The holsters at his saddle-bow, and the sabre at his side, were weapons not indeed very generally worn by frontiersmen, but still common enough to prevent their being regarded as badges of rank.
With this youthful officer the rear-guard, which he commanded, having deserted him, to press forward to the van, there remained only three persons, two of whom were negro slaves, both mounted and armed, that followed at a little distance behind, leading thrice their number of pack-horses. The third was a female, who rode closely at his side, the rein of her pony being, in fact, grasped in his hand; though he looked as if scarce conscious that he held it,—a degree of insensibility that would have spoken little in his favour to an observer; for his companion was both young and beautiful, and watched his moody countenance on her part with looks of the most anxious and affectionate interest. Her riding-habit, chosen, like his own garments, with more regard to usefulness than beauty, and perhaps somewhat the worse for its encounters with the wind and forest, could not conceal the graceful figure it defended; nor had the sunbeam, though it had darkened the bright complexion exposed to its summer fury, during a journey of more than six weeks, robbed her fair visage of a single charm. There was, in the general cast of features, a sufficient resemblance between the two to indicate near relationship; although it was plain that the gloom seated upon the brow of her kinsmen, as if a permanent characteristic, was an unwelcome and unnatural visitant on her own. The clear blue eye, the golden locks floating over her temples, the ruddy cheek and look of seventeen, and, generally, the frank and open character of her expression, betokened a spirit too joyous and elastic to indulge in those dark anticipations of the future or mournful recollections of the past, which clouded the bosom of her relative. And well for her that such was the cheerful temper of her mind; for it was manifest, from her whole appearance, that her lot, as originally cast, must have been among the gentle, the refined, and the luxurious, and that she was now, for the first time, exposed to discomfort, hardship, and suffering, among companions, who, however kind and courteous of conduct, were unpolished in their habits, conversation, and feelings, and, in every other respect, unfitted to be her associates.
She looked upon the face of her kinsman, and seeing that it grew the darker and gloomier the nearer they approached the scene of rejoicing, she laid her hand upon his arm, and murmured softly and affectionately—
"Roland,—cousin,—brother!—what is it that disturbs you? Will you not ride forward, and salute the good people that are making us welcome?"
"Us!" muttered the young man, with a bitter voice; "who is there on earth, Edith, to welcome us? Where shall we look for the friends and kinsfolk, that the meanest of the company are finding among yonder noisy barbarians?"
"You do them injustice, Roland," said the maiden. "Yesternight we had experience at the Station we left, that these wild people of the woods do not confine their welcomes to kinsmen. Kinder and more hospitable people do not exist in the world."
"It is not that, Edith," said the young man; "I were but a brute to doubt their hospitality. But look, Edith; we are in Kentucky, almost at our place of refuge. Yonder hovels, lowly, mean, and wretched—are they the mansions that should shelter the child of my father's brother? Yonder people, the outcasts of our borders, the poor, the rude, the savage—but one degree elevated above the Indians, with whom they contend,—are they the society from whom Edith Forrester should choose her friends?"
"They are," said Edith, firmly; "and Edith Forrester asks none better. In such a cabin as these, and, if need be, in one still more humble, she is content to pass her life, and dream that she is still in the house of her fathers. From such people, too, she will choose her friends, knowing that, even among the humblest of them, there are many worthy of her regard and affection. What have we to mourn in the world we have left behind us? We are the last of our name and race; fortune has left us nothing to regret. My only relative on earth, saving yourself, Roland,—saving yourself, my cousin, my brother,"—her lip quivered, and, for a moment her eyes were filled with tears,—"my only other living relation resides in this wilderness-land; and she, tenderly nurtured as myself, finds in it enough to engage her thoughts and secure her happiness. Why, then, should not I? Why should not you? Trust me, dear Roland, I should myself be as happy as the day is long, could I only know that you did not grieve for me."
"I cannot but choose it," said Roland. "It is to me you owe the loss of fortune and your present banishment from the world."
"Say not so, Roland, for it is not true; no! I never can believe that our poor uncle would have carried his resentment, for such a cause, so far. But supposing that he could, and granting that all were as you say, I am prouder to be the poor cousin of Roland Forrester, who has bled in the battles of his country, than if I were the rich and courted kinswoman of one who had betrayed the memory of his father."
"You are, at least, an angel," said the youth; "and I am but a villain to say or do anything to give you pain. Farewell then to Fell-hallow, to old James River, and all! If you can forget these things, Edith, so will I; at all events, I will try."
"Now," said Edith, "you talk like my true cousin."
"Well, Edith, the world is before us; and shame be upon me, if I, who have health, strength, and youth to back my ambition, cannot provide you a refuge and a home. I will leave you for a while in the hands of this good aunt at the Falls; and then, with old Emperor there for my adjutant, and Sam for my rank and file, I will plunge into the forest, and scatter it as I have seen a band of tories scattered by my old major (who, by the bye, is only three years older than myself), Henry Lee, not many years back. Then, when I have built me a house, furrowed my acres with my martial plough-share (for to that, it appears, my sword must come), and reaped my harvest with my own hands (it will be hard work to beat my horse-pistols into a sickle), then, Edith—"
"Then, Roland," said the maiden, with a smile and a tear, "if you should still remember your poor cousin, it will not be hard to persuade her to follow you to your retreat, to share your fortunes of good and of evil, and to love you better in your adversity than she ever expected to love you in your prosperity."
"Spoken like my true Edith!" said the young officer, whose melancholy fled before her soft accents, as the evil spirit of Saul before the tinklings of the Jewish harp,—"spoken like my true Edith; for whom I promise, if fate smile upon my exertions, to rear a new Fell-hallow on the banks of the Ohio, in which I will be, myself, the first to forget that on James River. And now, Edith, let us ride forward and meet yon gay looking giant, whom, from his bustling demeanour, and fresh jerkin, I judge to be the commander of the Station, the redoubtable Colonel Bruce himself."
As he spoke the individual thus alluded to, separating himself from the throng, galloped up to the speaker, and displayed a person which excited the envy even of the manly looking Forrester. He was a man of at least fifty years, but as hale as one of thirty, without a single gray hair to deform the beauty of his raven locks, which fell down in masses nearly to his shoulders. His stature was colossal, and the proportions of his frame as just as they were gigantic; so that there was much in his appearance of real native majesty. Nothing, in fact, could be well imagined more truly striking and grand than his appearance, as seen at the first glance; though the second revealed a lounging indifference of carriage, amounting, at times, to something like awkwardness and uncouthness, which a little detracted from the effect. Such men were oft-times, in those days, sent from among the mountain counties of Virginia, to amaze the lesser mortals of the plains, who regarded them as the genii of the forest, and almost looked, as was said of the victor of the Kenhawa, himself of the race, to see the earth tremble beneath their footsteps. With a spirit corresponding to his frame, he would have been the Nimrod that he seemed. But nature had long before extinguished the race of demigods; and the worthy Commander of the Station was not of them. He was a mortal man, distinguished by little, save his exterior, from other mortal men, and from the crowd of settlers who had followed him from the fortress. He wore, it is true, a new and jaunty hunting-shirt of dressed deer-skin, as yellow as gold, and fringed and furbelowed with shreds of the same substance, dyed as red as blood-root could make them; but was otherwise, to the view, a plain yeoman, endowed with those gifts of mind only which were necessary to his station, but with the virtues which are alike common to forest and city. Courage and hospitality, however, were then hardly accounted virtues, being too universal to be distinguished as such; and courtesy was equally native to the independent borderer.
[Footnote 1: Gen. Andrew Lewis.]
He shook the young officer heartily by the hand, a ceremony which he instantly repeated with the fair Edith; and giving them to understand that he claimed them as his own especial guests, insisted with much honest warmth, that old companionship in arms with one of their late nearest and dearest kinsmen had given him a double right to do so:—
"You must know," said he, "the good old Major your uncle, the brave old Major Roly, as we called him, Major Roland Forrester: well, K'-yaptin,—well, young lady,—my first battle war fought under his command; and an excellent commander he war; it war on the bloody Monongahela, whar the Frenchmen and Injuns trounced us so promiskous. Perhaps you've h'ard him tell of big Tom Bruce,—for so they called me then? I war a copporal in the first company of Rangers that crossed the river. Lord! how the world is turning upside down! I war a copporal then, and now I'm a k'-yunnel; a greater man in commission than war ever my old Major; and the Lord, he nows, I thought my old Major Forrester war the greatest man in all Virginnee, next to the G'-yovernor and K'-yunnel George Washington! Well, you must know, we marched up the g'yully that runs from the river; and bang went the savages' g'-yuns, and smash went their hatchets; and it came to close quarters, a regular rough-and-tumble, hard scratch! And so I war a-head of the Major, and the Major war behind, and the fight had made him as vicious as a wild cat, and he war hungry for a shot; and so says he to me, for I war right afore him, 'Git out of my way, you damned big rascal, till I git a crack at 'em!' And so I got out of his way, for I war mad at being called a damned big rascal, especially as I war doing my best, and covering him from mischief besides. Well! as soon as I jumped out of his way, bang went his piece, and bang went another, let fly by an Injun;—down went the Major, shot right through the hips, slam-bang. And so said I, 'Major,'—for I warn't well over my passion,—'if you'd 'a' taken things easy, I'd 'a' a stopped that slug for you.' And so says he, 'Bang away you big fool, and don't stand talking.' And so he swounded away; and that made me vicious, too, and I killed two of the red niggurs, before you could say Jack Robinson, just by way of satisfaction for the Major; and then I helped to carry him off to the tumbrels. I never see'd my old Major from that day to this; and it war only a month ago that I h'ard of his death. I honour his memory; and so, K'-yaptin, you see, thar's a sort of claim to old friendship between us."
To this characteristic speech, which was delivered with great earnestness, Captain Forrester made a suitable response; and intimating his willingness to accept the proffered hospitality of his uncle's companion in arms, he rode forward with his host and kinswoman towards the Station, of which, when once fairly relieved of the forest, he had a clear view.
It seemed unusually populous, as indeed it was; but Roland, as he rode by, remarked, on the skirts of the village, a dozen or more shooting-targets set up on the green, and perceived it was a gala-day which had drawn the young men from a distance to the fort. This, in fact, he was speedily told by a youth, whom the worthy Bruce introduced to him as his eldest son and namesake, "big Tom Bruce,—the third of that name; the other two Toms,—for two others he had had,—having been killed by the Injuns, and he having changed the boy's name, that he might have a Tom in the family." The youth was worthy of his father, being full six feet high, though scarcely yet out of his teens, and presented a visage of such serene gravity and good-humoured simplicity as won the affections of the soldier in a moment.
"Thar's a boy now, the brute," said Colonel Bruce, sending him off to assist in the distribution of the guests among the settlers, "that comes of the best stock for loving women and fighting Injuns in all Kentucky! And so, captain, if young madam, your sister h'yar, is for picking a husband out of Kentuck, I'll say it, and stand to it, thar's not a better lad to be found than Tom Bruce, if you hunt the district all over. You'd scarce believe it, mom," he continued, addressing Edith herself, "but the young brute did actually take the scalp of a full-grown Shawnee before he war fourteen y'ar old, and that in fa'r fight, whar thar war none to help him. The way of it war this: Tom war out in the range, looking for a neighbour's horse; when what should he see but two great big Shawnees astride of the identicular beast he war hunting! Away went Tom, and away went the bloody villians hard after, one of 'em afoot, the other on the horse. 'Now,' said Tom, this won't do, no how;' and so he let fly at the mounted feller; but being a little skeary, as how could he help it, the young brute, being the first time he ever banged at an Injun, he hit the horse, which dropped down in a flurry; and away comes the red devil over his head, like a rocket, end on to a sapling. Up jumps Tom and picks up the Injun's gun; and bang goes the other Shawnee at him, and jumps to a tree. 'A bird in the hand,' said Tom, 'is worth two in a bush;' and with that he blows out the first feller's brains, just as he is gitting up, and runs into the fort, hard chased by the other. And then to see the fellers, when I asked him why he didn't shoot the Injun that had fired at him, and so make sure of both, the other being in a sort of swound-like from the tumble, and ready to be knocked on the head at any moment? 'Lord!' said Tom, 'I never thought of it, I war such a fool!' and with that he blubbered all night, to think he had not killed them both. Howsomever, I war always of opinion that what he had done war good work for a boy of fourteen.—But, come now, my lovely young mom; we are entering the Station. May you never enter a house where you are less welcome."
Men and boys had rushed from the fortress together, to greet the new comers, and few remained save the women; of whom not a few, particularly of the younger individuals, were as eager to satisfy their curiosity as their fathers and brothers. The disorderly spirit had spread even among the daughters of the commandant, to the great concern of his spouse; who, although originally of a degree somewhat humbler even than his own, had a much more elevated sense of the dignity of his commission as a colonel of militia, and a due consciousness of the necessity of adapting her manners to her rank. She stood on the porch of her cabin, which had the merit of being larger than any other in the fort, maintaining order among some half dozen or more lasses, the eldest scarce exceeding seventeen, whom she endeavoured to range in a row, to receive the expected guests in state, though every moment some one or other might be seen edging away from her side, as if in the act of deserting her altogether.
"Out on you, you flirting critturs!" said she, her indignation provoked, and her sense of propriety shocked by such unworthy behaviour:—"Stop thar, you Nell! whar you going? You Sally, you Phoebe, you Jane, and the rest of you! ha'nt you no better idea of what's manners for a Cunnel's daughters? I'm ashamed of you,—to run ramping and tearing after the strange men thar, like tom-boys, or any common person's daughters! Laws! do remember your father's a Cunnel in the milishy, and set down in the porch here on the bench, like genteel young ladies; or stand up, if you like that better, and wait till your father, Cunnel Bruce that is, brings up the captains: one of 'em's a rale army captain, with epaulets and broad-sword, with a chance of money, and an uncommon handsome sister,—rale genteel people from old Virginnee: and I'm glad of it,—it's so seldom you sees any body but common persons come to Kentucky. Do behave yourselves: thar's Telie Doe thar at the loom don't think so much as turning her eyes around; she's a pattern for you."
"Law, mother!" said the eldest of the daughters, bridling with disdain, "I reckon I know how to behave myself as well as Telie Doe, or any other girl in the settlement;"—a declaration echoed and re-echoed by her sisters, all of whom bent their eyes towards a corner of the ample porch, where, busied with a rude loom, fashioned perhaps by the axe and knife of the militia colonel himself, on which she was weaving a coarse cloth from the fibres of the flax-nettle, sat a female somewhat younger than the eldest of the sisters, and doubtless of a more humble degree, as was shown by the labour in which she was engaged, while the others seemed to enjoy a holiday, and by her coarse brown garments, worn at a moment when the fair Bruces were flaunting in their best bibs and tuckers, the same having been put on not more in honour of the exiles, whose coming had been announced the day before, than out of compliment to the young men of the settlement, who were wont to assemble on such occasions to gather the latest news from the States.
The pattern of good manners thus referred to, was as unconscious of the compliment bestowed upon her by the worthy Mrs. Bruce as of the glances of disdain it drew from the daughters, being apparently at that moment too much occupied with her work to think of anything else; nor did she lift up her eyes until, the conversation having been resumed between the mother and daughters, one of the latter demanded "what was the name of that army captain, that was so rich and great, of whom her mother had been talking?"
"Captain Roland Forrester," replied the latter; at the sound of which name the maiden at the loom started and looked up with an air of fright, that caused exceeding diversion among the others. "Look at Telie Doe!" they cried, laughing: "you can't speak above your breath but she thinks you are speaking to her; and, sure, you can't speak to her, but she looks as if she would jump out of her skin, and run away for her dear life!"
And so, indeed, the girl did appear for a moment, looking as wild and terrified as the animal whose name she bore, when the first bay of the deer-hound startles her in the deep woodland pastures, rolling her eyes, catching her breath convulsively, shivering, and, in short, betraying a degree of agitation; that would have appeared unaccountable to a stranger; though, as it caused more amusement than surprise among the merry Bruces, it was but fair to suppose that it sprung from constitutional nervousness, or the sudden interruption of her meditations. As she started up in her confusion, rolling her eyes from one laughing maiden to another, her very trepidation imparted an interest to her features, which were in themselves pretty enough, though not so much as to attract observation, when in a state of rest. Then it was that the observer might see, or fancy he saw, a world of latent expression in her wild dark eyes, and trace the workings of a quick and sensitive spirit, whose existence would have been otherwise unsuspected, in the tremulous movement of her lips. And then, too, one might have been struck with the exquisite contour of a slight figure, which even the coarse garments, spun, and perhaps shaped, by her own hands, could not entirely conceal. At such times of excitement, there was something in her appearance both striking and singular—Indian-like, one might almost have said. Such an epithet might have been borne out by the wildness of her looks, the darkness of her eyes, the simple arrangement of her coal-black hair—which instead of being confined by comb or fillet, was twisted round a thorn cut from the nearest locust-tree—and by the smallness of her stature, though the lightness and European tinge of her complexion must have instantly disproved the idea.
Her discomposure dispelled from the bosoms of her companions all the little resentment produced by the matron's invidious comparison; and each now did her best to increase it by cries of "Jump, Telie, the Indians will catch you!" "Take care, Telie, Tom Bruce will kiss you!" "Run, Telie, the dog will bite you!" and other expressions, of a like alarming nature, which, if they did not augment her terror, divided and distracted her attention, till quite bewildered, she stared now on one, now on the other, and at each mischievous assault, started, and trembled, and gasped for breath, in inexpressible confusion. It was fortunate for her that this species of baiting, which from the spirit and skill with which her youthful tormentors pursued it, seemed no uncommon infliction, the reforming mother considered to be, at least at that particular moment, unworthy the daughters of a colonel in the militia.
"Do behave yourselves, you ungenteel critturs," said she; "Phoebe Bruce, you're old enough to know better; don't expose yourself before stranngers. Thar they come now; thar's Cunnel Bruce that is, talking to Captain Forrester that is, and a right-down soldier-looking captain he is, too. I wonder whar's his cocked hat, and feather, and goold epaulets? Thar's his big broad-sword, and—but, Lord above us, ar'nt his sister a beauty! Any man in Kentucky will be proud of her; but, I warrant me, she'll take to nothing under a cunnel!"
The young misses ceased their sport to stare at the strangers, and even Telie Doe, pattern of propriety as she was, had no sooner recovered her equanimity than she turned her eyes from the loom and bent them eagerly upon the train now entering through the main gate, gazing long and earnestly upon the young captain and the fair Edith, who with the colonel of militia, and a fourth individual, parted from it, and rode up to the porch. The fourth person, a sober, and substantial-looking borderer, in a huge blanket-coat and slouched hat, the latter stuck round with buck's tails, was the nominal captain of the party. He conversed a moment with Forrester and the commandant, and then, being given in charge by the latter to his son Tom, who was hallooed from the crowd for this purpose, he rode away, leaving the colonel to do the honours to his second in command. These the colonel executed with much courtesy and gallantry, if not with grace, leaping from his horse with unexpected activity, and assisting Edith to dismount, which he effected by taking her in his arms and whisking her from the saddle with as little apparent effort as though he were handling an infant.
"Welcome, my beautiful young lady," said he, giving her another hearty shake of the hand: "H'yar's a house that shall shelter you; though thar's not much can be said of it, except that it is safe and wholesome. H'yar's my old lady too, and my daughters, that will make much of you; and as for my sons, thar's not a brute of 'em that won't fight for you; but th' ar' all busy stowing away the stranngers; and, I reckon, they think it ar'nt manners to show themselves to a young lady, while she's making acquaintance with the women."
With that the gallant colonel presented the fair stranger to his wife and daughters, the latter of whom, a little daunted at first by her appearance, as a being superior in degree to the ordinary race of mortals, but quickly re-assured by her frank and easy deportment, loaded her with caresses, and carried her into the house, to improve the few hours allowed to make her acquaintance, and to assist her in changing her apparel, for which the means were furnished from sundry bags and packages, that the elder of the two negromen, the only immediate followers of her kinsmen, took from the back of a pack-horse. The mother of the Bruces thought it advisable to follow them, to see, perhaps, in person, that they conducted themselves towards their guest as a colonel's daughter should.
None of the females remained on the porch save Telie, the girl of the loom, who, too humble or too timid to seek the acquaintance of the stranger lady, like the others, had been overlooked in the bustle, and now pursued her labour with but little notice from those who remained.
"And now, Colonel," said the young officer, declining the offer of refreshments made by his host, "allow me, like a true soldier, to proceed to the business with which you heard our commander, Major Johnson, charge me. To-morrow we resume our journey to the Falls. I should gladly myself, for Miss Forrester's sake, consent to remain with you a few days, to recruit our strength a little. But that cannot be. Our men are resolved to push on without delay; and as I have no authority to restrain them, I must e'en accompany them."
"Well," said Colonel Bruce, "if it must be, it must, and I'm not the brute to say 'No' to you. But lord, Captain, I should be glad to have you stay a month or two, war it only to have a long talk about my old friend, the brave old major. And thar's your sister, Captain,—lord, sir, she would be the pet of the family, and would help my wife teach the girls manners. Lord!" he continued, laughing, "you've no idea what grand notions have got into the old woman's head about the way of behaving, ever since it war that the Governor of Virginnie sent me a cunnel's commission. She thinks I ought to w'ar a cocked hat and goold swabs, and put on a blue coat instead of a leather shirt; but I wonder how soon I'd see the end of it, out h'yar in the bushes? And then, as for the girls, why thar's no end of the lessons she gives them;—and thar's my Jenny,—that's the youngest,—came blubbering up the other day, saying, 'she believed mother intended even to stop their licking at the sugar-troughs, she was getting so great and so proud!' Howsomever, women will be women, and thar's the end of it."
To this philosophic remark the officer of inferior degree bowed acquiescence, and recalling his host's attention to the subject of most interest to himself, requested to be informed what difficulties or dangers might be apprehended on the further route to the Falls of Ohio.
"Why, none on 'arth that I know of," said Bruce; "you've as cl'ar and broad a trace before you as man and beast could make—a buffalo-street, through the canes; and, when thar's open woods, blazes as thick as stars, and horse-tracks still thicker: thar war more than a thousand settlers have travelled it this year already. As for danngers, Captain, why I reckon thar's none to think on. Thar war a good chance of whooping and howling about Bear's Grass, last year, and some hard fighting; but I h'ar nothing of Injuns thar this y'ar. But you leave some of your people h'yar: what force do you tote down to the Falls to-morrow?"
[Footnote 2: The bison-paths when very broad, were often thus called.]
"Twenty-seven guns in all: but several quite too young to face an enemy."
"Thar's no trusting to years in a matter of fighting!" said the Kentuckian. "Thar's my son Tom, that killed his brute at fourteen; but, I remember, I told you that story. Howsomever, I hold thar's no Injuns on the road; and if you should meet any, why, it will be down about Bear's Grass, or the Forks of Salt, whar you can keep your eyes open, and whar the settlements are so thick, it is easy taking cover. No, no, Captain, the fighting this year is all on the north side of Kentucky."
"Yet, I believe," said Roland, "there have been no troubles there since the defeat of Captain Estill on Little Mountain, and of Holder at that place,—what do you call it?"
"Upper Blue Licks of Licking," said Bruce; "and war'nt they troubles enough for a season? Two Kentucky captains (and one of them a south-side man, too,) whipped in fa'r fight, and by nothing better than brutish Injuns!"
"They were sad affairs, indeed; and the numbers of white men murdered made them still more shocking."
"The murdering," said the gallant Colonel Bruce, "is nothing, sir: it is the shame of the thumping that makes one feel vicious; thar's the thing no Kentuckian can stand, sir. To be murdered, whar thar's ten Injuns to one white man, is nothing; but whar it comes to being trounced by equal numbers, why thar's the thing not to be tolerated. Howsomever, Captain, we're no worse off in Kentucky than our neighbours. Thar's them five hundred Pennsylvanians that went out in June, under old Cunnel Crawford from Pittsburg, agin the brutes of Sandusky, war more ridiculously whipped by old Captain Pipe, the Delaware, thar's no denying."
"What!" said Roland, "was Crawford's company beaten?"
"Beaten!" said the Kentuckian, opening his eyes; "cut off the b, and say the savages made a dinner of 'em, and you'll be nearer the true history of the matter. It's but two months ago; and so I suppose the news of the affa'r hadn't got into East Virginnie when you started. Well, Captain, the long and short of it is,—the cunnel war beaten and exterminated, and that on a hard run from the fight he had hunted hard after. How many ever got back safe agin to Pittsburg, I never could rightly h'ar, but what I know is, that thar war dozens of prisoners beaten to death by the squaws and children, and that old Cunnel Crawford himself war put to the double torture and roasted alive; and, I reckon, if he war'nt eaten, it war only because he war too old to be tender."
"Horrible!" said the young soldier, muttering half to himself, though not in tones so low but that the Kentuckian caught their import; "and I must expose my poor Edith to fall into the power of such fiends and monsters!"
"Ay, Captain," said Bruce, "thar's the thing that sticks most in the heart of them that live in the wilderness and have wives and daughters;—to think of their falling into the hands of the brutes, who murder and scalp a woman just as readily as a man. As to their torturing them, that's not so certain, but the brutes arn't a bit too good for it; and I did h'ar of their burning one poor woman at Sandusky. But now, Captain, if you are anxious to have the young lady, your sister, in safety, h'yar's the place to stick up your tent-poles, h'yar, in this very settlement, whar the Injuns never trouble us, never coming within ten miles of us. Thar's as good land here as on Bear's Grass; and we shall be glad of your company. It is not often we have a rich man to take luck among us. Howsomever, I won't deceive you, if you will go to the Ohio; I hold, thar's no danger on the trace for either man or woman."
"My good friend," said Roland, "you seem to labour under two errors in respect to me which it is fitting I should correct. In the first place, the lady whom you have several times called, I know not why, my sister, claims no such near relationship, being only my cousin."
"Why, sure!" said the colonel, "someone told me so, and thar's a strong family likeness."
"There should be," said the youth, "since our fathers were twin brothers, and resembled each other in all particulars, in body, in mind, and, as I may say, in fortune. They were alike in their lives, alike also in their deaths: they fell together, struck down by the same cannon-ball, at the bombardment of Norfolk, seven years ago."
"May I never see a scalp," said the Kentuckian, warmly grasping the young man's hand, "if I don't honour you the more for boasting such a father and such uncles! You come of the true stock, captain, thar's no denying; and my brave old major's estates have fallen into the right hands; for, if thar's any believing the news the last band of emigrants brought of you h'yar, thar war no braver officer in Lee's corps, nor in the whole Virginnee line, than young Captain Forrester."
"Here," said Roland, looking as if what he said cost him a painful effort, "lies the second error,—your considering me, as you manifestly do, the heir of your old major, my uncle Roland,—which I am not."
"Lord!" said the worthy Bruce, "he was the richest man in Prince-George, and he had thousands of fat acres in the Valley, the best in all Fincastle, as I know very well, for I war a Fincastle man myself; and thar war my old friend Braxley,—he war a lieutenant under the major at Braddock's, and afterwards his steward, and manager, and lawyer-like,—who used to come over the Ridge to see after them. But I see how it is; he left all to the young lady?"
"Not an acre," said Roland.
"What!" said the Kentuckian: "he left no children of his own. Who then is the heir?"
"Your old friend, as you call him, Richard Braxley. And hence you see," continued the youth, as if desirous to change the conversation, "that I come to Kentucky, an adventurer and fortune-hunter, like other emigrants, to locate lands under proclamation-warrants and bounty-grants, to fell trees, raise corn, shoot bisons and Indians, and, in general, do any thing else that can be required of a good Virginian or good Kentuckian."
It was evidently the captain's wish now to leave altogether the subject on which he had thought it incumbent to acquaint his host with so much; but the worthy Bruce was not so easily satisfied; and not conceiving there was any peculiar impropriety in indulging curiosity in matters relating to his old major, however distasteful that curiosity might prove to his guest, he succeeded in drawing from the reluctant young man many more particulars of his story; which, as they have an important connection with the events it is our object to narrate, we must be pardoned for briefly noticing.
Major Roland Forrester, the uncle and godfather of the young soldier, and the representative of one of the most ancient and affluent families on James River (for by this trivial name Virginians are content to designate the noble Powhatan), was the eldest of three brothers, of whom the two younger, as was often the case under the ancien regime in Virginia, were left, at the death of their parent, to shift for themselves; while the eldest son inherited the undivided princely estate of his ancestors. This was at the period when that contest of principle with power, which finally resulted in the separation of the American Colonies from the parent State, first began to agitate the minds of the good planters of Virginia, in common with the people of all the other colonies. Men had already begun to take sides, in feeling as in argument; and, as usual, interest had, no doubt, its full share in directing and confirming the predilections of individuals. These circumstances,—the regular succession of the eldest-born to the paternal estate, and the necessity imposed on the others of carving out their own fortunes,—had, perhaps, their influence in determining the political bias of the brothers, and preparing them for contention when the increase of party feeling, and the clash of interests between the government abroad and the colonies at home, called upon all men to avow their principles and take their stands. It was as natural that the one should retain affection and reverence for the institutions which had made him rich and distinguished, as that the younger brothers, who had suffered under them a deprivation of their natural rights, should declare for a system of government and laws more liberal and equitable in their character and operation. At all events, and be the cause of difference what it might, when the storm of the Revolution burst over the land, the brothers were found arrayed on opposite sides—the two younger, the fathers of Roland and Edith, instantly taking up arms in the popular cause, while nothing, perhaps, but helpless feebleness and bodily infirmities, the results of wounds received in Braddock's war, throughout which he had fought at the head of a battalion of "Buckskins," or Virginia Rangers, prevented the elder brother from arming as zealously in the cause of his king. Fierce, uncompromising, and vindictive, however, in his temper, he never forgave his brothers the bold and active part they both took in the contest; and it was his resentment, perhaps, more than natural affection for his neglected offspring, that caused him to defeat his brothers' hopes of succession to his estates, (he being himself unmarried), by executing a will in favour of an illegitimate child, an infant daughter, whom he drew from concealment and acknowledged as his offspring. This child, however, was soon removed, having being burned to death in the house of its foster-mother. But its decease effected little or no change in his feelings towards his brothers, who, pursuing the principles they had so early avowed, were among the first to take arms among the patriots of Virginia, and fell, as Roland had said, at Norfolk, leaving each an orphan child—Roland, then a youth of fifteen, and Edith, a child of ten, to the mercy of the elder brother. Their death effected what perhaps their prayers never would have done. The stern loyalist took the orphans to his bosom, cherished and loved them, or at least appeared to do so, and often avowed his intention to make them his heirs. But it was Roland's ill fate to provoke his ire, as Roland's father had done before him. The death of that father, one of the earliest martyrs to liberty, had created in his youthful mind a strong abhorrence of everything British and loyal; and after presuming a dozen times or more to disclose and defend his hatred, he put the coping-stone to his audacity, by suddenly leaving his uncle's house, two years after he had been received into it, and galloping away, a cornet in one of the companies of the first regiment of horse which Virginia sent to the armies of Congress. He never more saw his uncle. He cared little for his wrath or its effects; if disinherited himself, it pleased his imagination to think he had enriched his gentle cousin. But his uncle carried his resentment further than he had dreamed, or indeed any one else who had beheld the show of affection he continued to the orphan Edith up to the last moment of his existence. He died in October of the preceding year, a week before the capitulation at York-town, and almost within the sound of the guns that proclaimed the fall of the cause he had so loyally espoused. From this place of victory Roland departed to seek his kinswoman. He found her in the house—not of his fathers, but of a stranger—herself a destitute and homeless orphan. No will appeared to pronounce her the mistress of the wealth he had himself rejected; but, in place of it, the original testament in favour of Major Forrester's own child was produced by Braxley, his confidential friend and attorney, who, by it, was appointed both executor of the estate and trustee to the individual in whose favour it was constructed.
The production of such a testament, so many years after the death of the girl, caused no little astonishment; but this was still further increased by what followed, the aforesaid Braxley instantly taking possession of the whole estate in the name of the heiress, who, he made formal deposition, was, to the best of his belief, yet alive, and would appear to claim her inheritance. In support of this extraordinary averment, he produced, or professed himself ready to produce, evidence to show that Forrester's child, instead of being burned to death as was believed, had actually been trepanned and carried away by persons to him unknown, the burning of the house of her foster-mother having been devised and executed merely to give colour to the story of her death. Who were the perpetrators of such an outrage, and for what purpose it had been devised, he affected to be ignorant; though he threw out many hints and surmises of a character more painful to Edith and Roland than even the loss of the property. These hints Roland could not persuade himself to repeat to the curious Kentuckian, since they went, in fact, to charge his own father, and Edith's, with the crime of having themselves concealed the child, for the purpose of removing the only bar to their expectations of succession.
Whatever might be thought of this singular story, it gained some believers, and was enough in the hands of Braxley, a man of great address and resolution, and withal, a lawyer, to enable him to laugh to scorn the feeble efforts made by the impoverished Roland to bring it to the test of legal arbitrament. Despairing, in fact, of his cause, after a few trials had convinced him of his impotence, and perhaps himself almost believing the tale to be true, the young man gave up the contest, and directed his thoughts to the condition of his cousin Edith; who, upon the above circumstances being made known, had received a warm invitation to the house and protection of her only female relative, a married lady, whose husband had, two years before, emigrated to the Falls of Ohio, where he was now a person of considerable importance. This invitation determined the course to be pursued. The young man instantly resigned his commission, and converting the little property that remained into articles necessary to the emigrant, turned his face to the boundless West, and with his helpless kinswoman at his side, plunged at once into the forest. A home for Edith in the house of a relative was the first object of his desires; his second, as he had already mentioned, was to lay the foundation for the fortunes of both.
There was something in the condition of the young and almost friendless adventurers to interest the feelings of the hardy Kentuckian; but they were affected still more strongly by the generous self-sacrifice, as it might be called, which the young soldier was evidently making for his kinswoman, for whom he had given up an honourable profession and his hopes of fame and distinction, to live a life of inglorious toil in the desert. He gave the youth another energetic grasp of hand, and said, with uncommon emphasis,—
"Hark'ee, Captain, my lad, I love and honour ye; and I could say no more, if you war my own natteral born father! As to that 'ar' Richard Braxley, whom I call'd my old friend, you must know, it war an old custom I have of calling a man a friend who war only an acquaintance; for I am for being friendly to all men that ar' white and honest, and no Injuns. Now, I do hold that Braxley to be a rascal,—a precocious rascal, sir! and, I rather reckon, thar war lying and villiany at the bottom of that will; and I hope you'll live to see the truth of it."
The sympathy felt by the Kentuckian in the story was experienced in a still stronger degree by Telie Doe, the girl of the loom, who, little noticed, if at all, by the two, sat apparently occupied with her work, yet drinking in every word uttered by the young soldier with a deep and eager interest, until Roland by chance looking round, beheld her large eyes fastened upon him, with a wild, sorrowful look, of which, however, she herself seemed quite unconscious, that greatly surprised him. The Kentuckian observing her at the same time, called to her,—"What, Telie, my girl, are you working upon a holiday? You should be dressed like the others, and making friends with the stranger lady. And so git away with you now, and make yourself handsome, and don't stand thar looking as if the gentleman would eat you."
"A qu'ar crittur she, poor thing!" said Bruce, looking after her commiseratingly; "and a stranger might think her no more nor half-witted. But she has sense enough, poor crittur! and, I reckon, is just as smart, if she war not so humble and skittish, as any of my own daughters."
"What," said Roland, "is she not then your child?"
"No, no," replied Bruce, shaking his head; "a poor crittur, of no manner of kin whatever. Her father war an old friend, or acquaintance-like; for, rat it, I won't own friendship for any such apostatised villians, no how:—but the man war taken by the Shawnees; and so as thar war none to befriend her, and she war but a little chit no bigger nor my hand, I took to her myself and raised her. But the worst of it is, and that's what makes her so wild and skeary, her father, Abel Doe, turned Injun himself, like Girty, Elliot, and the rest of them refugee scoundrels you've h'ard of. Now that's enough, you see, to make the poor thing sad and frightful; for Abel Doe is a rogue, thar's no denying, and everybody hates and cusses him, as is but his due; and it's natteral, now she's growing old enough to be ashamed of him, she should be ashamed of herself too,—though thar's nothing but her father to charge against her, poor creatur'. A bad thing for her to have an Injunised father; for if it war'nt for him, I reckon, my son Tom, the brute, would take to her, and marry her."
"Poor creature, indeed!" muttered Roland to himself, contrasting in thought the condition of this helpless and deserted girl with that of his own unfortunate kinswoman, and sighing to acknowledge that it was still more forlorn and pitiable.
His sympathy was, however, but short-lived, being interrupted on the instant by a loud uproar of voices from the gate of the stockade, sounding half in mirth, half in triumph; while the junior Bruce was seen approaching the porch, looking the very messenger of good news.
"What's the matter, Tom Bruce?" said the father, eyeing him with surprise.
"Matter enough," responded the young giant, with a grin of mingled awe and delight; "the Jibbenainosay is up again!"
"Whar?" cried the senior, eagerly,—"not in our limits?"
"No, by Jehoshaphat," replied Tom; "but nigh enough to be neighbourly,—on the north bank of Kentuck, whar he has left his mark right in the middle of the road, as fresh as though it war but the work of the morning!"
"And a clear mark, Tom?—no mistake in it?"
"Right to an iota!" said the young man;—"a reggelar cross on the breast, and a good tomahawk dig right through the skull; and a long-legg'd fellow, too, that looked as though he might have fou't old Sattan himself?"
"It's the Jibbenainosay, sure enough; and so good luck to him!" cried the commander: "thar's a harricane coming!"
"Who is the Jibbenainosay?" demanded Forrester.
"Who?" cried Tom Bruce: "Why, Nick,—Nick of the Woods."
"And who, if you please, is Nick of the Woods?"
"Thar," replied the junior, with another grin, "thar, strannger, you're too hard for me. Some think one thing, and some another; but thar's many reckon he's the devil."
"And his mark, that you were talking of in such mysterious terms,—what is that?"
"Why, a dead Injun, to be sure, with Nick's mark on him,—a knife-cut, or a brace of 'em, over the ribs in the shape of a cross. That's the way the Jibbenainosay marks all the meat of his killing. It has been a whole year now since we h'ard of him."
"Captain," said the elder Bruce, "you don't seem to understand the afta'r altogether; but if you were to ask Tom about the Jibbenainosay till doomsday, he could tell you no more than he has told already. You must know, thar's a creatur' of some sort or other that ranges the woods round about our station h'yar, keeping a sort of guard over us like, and killing all the brute Injuns that ar' onlucky enough to come in his way, besides scalping them and marking them with his mark. The Injuns call him Jibbenainosay, or a word of that natur', which them that know more about the Injun gabble than I do, say, means the Spirit-that-walks; and if we can believe any such lying devils as Injuns (which I am loath to do, for the truth ar'nt in 'em), he is neither man nor beast, but a great ghost or devil that knife cannot harm nor bullet touch; and they have always had an idea that our fort h'yar in partickelar, and the country round about, war under his friendly protection—many thanks to him, whether he be a devil or not; for that whar the reason the savages so soon left off a worrying of us."
"Is it possible," said Roland, "that any one can believe such an absurd story?"
"Why not?" said Bruce, stoutly. "Thar's the Injuns themselves, Shawnees, Hurons, Delawares, and all,—but partickelarly the Shawnees, for he beats all creation a-killing of Shawnees,—that believe in him, and hold him in such eternal dread, that thar's scarce a brute of 'em has come within ten miles of the station h'yar this three y'ar; because as how, he haunts about our woods h'yar in partickelar, and kills 'em wheresomever he catches 'em,—especially the Shawnees, as I said afore, against which the creatur' has a most butchering spite; and there's them among the other tribes that call him Shawneewannaween, or the Howl of the Shawnees, because of his keeping them ever a-howling. And thar's his marks, captain,—what do you make of that? When you find an Injun lying scalped and tomahawked, it stands to reason thar war something to kill him?"
"Ay, truly," said Forrester; "but I think you have human beings enough to give the credit to, without referring it to a supernatural one."
"Strannger," said Big Tom Bruce the younger, with a sagacious nod, "when you kill an Injun yourself, I reckon,—meaning no offence—you will be willing to take all the honour that can come of it, without leaving it to be scrambled after by others. Thar's no man 'arns a scalp in Kentucky, without taking great pains to show it to his neighbours."
"And besides, captain," said the father, very gravely, "thar are men among us who have seen the creatur'!"
"That," said Roland, who perceived his new friends were not well pleased with his incredulity, "is an argument I can resist no longer."
"Thar war Ben Jones, and Samuel Sharp, and Peter Small-eye, and a dozen more, who all had a glimpse of him stalking through the woods, at different times; and, they agree, he looks more like a devil nor a mortal man,—a great tall fellow, with horns and a hairy head like a buffalo-bull, and a little devil that looks like a black b'ar, that walks before him to point out the way. He war always found in the deepest forests, and that's the reason we call him Nick of the Woods; wharby we mean Old Nick of the Woods; for we hold him to be the devil, though a friendly one to all but Injuns. Now, captain, I war never superstitious in my life,—but I go my death on the Jibbenainosay! I never seed the creatur' himself, but I have seen, in my time, two different savages of his killing. It's a sure sign, if you see him in the woods, that thar's Injuns at hand: and it's a good sign when you find his mark without seeing himself, for then you may be sure the brutes are off,—for they can't stand old Nick of the Woods no how! At first, he war never h'ard of afar from our station; but he has begun to widen his range. Last year he left his marks down Salt River in Jefferson; and now, you see, he is striking game north of the Kentucky; and I've h'ard of them that say he kills Shawnees even in their own country; though consarning that I'll not be so partickelar. No, no, Captain, thar's no mistake in Nick of the Woods; and if you are so minded, we will go and h'ar the whole news of him. But, I say, Tom," continued the Kentuckian, as the three left the porch together, "who brought the news?"
"Captain Ralph,—Roaring Ralph Stackpole," replied Tom Bruce, with a knowing and humorous look.
"What!" cried the father, in sudden alarm; "Look to the horses, Tom!"
"I will," said the youth, laughing: "it war no sooner known that Captain Ralph war among us than it was resolved to have six Regulators in the range all night! Thar's some of these new colts (not to speak of our own creaturs), and especially that blooded brown beast of the captain's, which the nigger calls Brown Briery, or some such name, would set a better man than Roaring Ralph Stackpole's mouth watering."
"And who," said Roland, "is Roaring Ralph Stackpole? and what has he to do with Brown Briarens?"
"A proper fellow as ever you saw," replied Tom, approvingly;—"killed two Injuns once, single-handed, on Bear-Grass, and has stolen more horses from them than ar' another man in Kentucky. A prime creatur'! but he has his fault, poor fellow, and sometimes mistakes a Christian's horse for an Injun's, thar's the truth of it!"
"And such scoundrels you make officers of?" demanded the soldier, indignantly.
"Oh," said the elder Bruce, "thar's no reggelar commission in the case. But whar thar's a knot of our poor folks out of horses, and inclined to steal a lot from the Shawnees (which is all fa'r plundering, you see, for thar's not a horse among them, the brutes, that they did not steal from Kentucky), they send for Roaring Ralph and make him their captain; and a capital one he is, too, being all fight from top to bottom; and as for the stealing part, thar's no one can equal him. But, as Tom says, he sometimes does make mistakes, having stolen horses so often from the Injuns, he can scarce keep his hands off a Christian's, and that makes us wrathy."
By this time the speakers had reached the gate of the fort, and passed among the cabins outside, where they found a throng of the villagers, surrounding the captain of horse-thieves, and listening with great edification to, and deriving no little amusement from, his account of the last achievement of the Jibbenainosay. Of this, as it related no more than the young Bruce had already repeated,—namely, that, while riding that morning from the north side, he had stumbled upon the corse of an Indian, which bore all the marks of having been a late victim to the wandering demon of the woods,—we shall say nothing; but the appearance and conduct of the narrator, one of the first, and perhaps the parent, of the race of men who have made Salt River so renowned in story, were such as to demand a less summary notice. He was stout, bandy-legged, broad-shouldered, and bull-headed, ugly, and villanous of look; yet with an impudent, swaggering, joyous self-esteem traced in every feature and expressed in every action of body, that rather disposed the beholder to laugh than to be displeased at his appearance. An old blanket-coat, or wrap-rascal, once white, but now of the same muddy brown hue that stained his visage—and once also of sufficient length to defend his legs, though the skirts had long since been transferred to the cuffs and elbows, where they appeared in huge patches—covered the upper part of his body; while the lower boasted a pair of buckskin breeches and leather wrappers, somewhat its junior in age, but its rival in mud and maculation. An old round fur hat, intended originally for a boy, and only made to fit his head by being slit in sundry places at the bottom, thus leaving a dozen yawning gaps, through which, as through the chinks of a lattice, stole out as many stiff bunches of black hair, gave to the capital excrescence an air as ridiculous as it was truly uncouth; which was not a little increased by the absence on one side of the brim, and by a loose fragment of it hanging down on the other. To give something martial to an appearance in other respects so outlandish and ludicrous, he had his rifle, and other usual equipments of a woodsman, including the knife and tomahawk, the first of which he carried in his hand, swinging it about at every moment, with a vigour and apparent carelessness well fitted to discompose a nervous person, had any such happened among his auditors. As if there was not enough in his figure, visage, and attire to move the mirth of beholders, he added to his other attractions a variety of gestures and antics of the most extravagant kinds, dancing, leaping, and dodging about, clapping his hands and cracking his heels together, with the activity, restlessness, and, we may add, the grace, of a jumping-jack. Such was the worthy, or unworthy, son of Salt River, a man wholly unknown to history, though not to local and traditionary fame, and much less to the then inhabitants of Bruce's Station, to whom he related his news of the Jibbenainosay with that emphasis and importance of tone and manner which are most significantly expressed in the phrase of "laying down the law."
As soon as he saw the commander of the station approaching, he cleared the throng around him by a skip and a hop, seized the colonel by the hand, and doing the same with the soldier, before Boland could repel him, as he would have done, exclaimed, "Glad to see you, cunnel;—same to you, strannger—What's the news from Virginnie? Strannger, my name's Ralph Stackpole, and I'm a ring-tailed squealer!"
"Then, Mr. Ralph Stackpole, the ring-tailed squealer," said Roland, disengaging his hand, "be so good as to pursue your business, without regarding or taking any notice of me."
"'Tarnal death to me!" cried the captain of horse-thieves, indignant at the rebuff, "I'm a gentleman, and my name's Fight! Foot and hand, tooth and nail, claw and mudscraper, knife, gun, and tomahawk, or any other way you choose to take me, I'm your man! Cock-a-doodle-doo!" And with that the gentleman jumped into the air, and flapped his wings, as much to the amusement of the provoker of his wrath as of any other person present.
"Come, Ralph," said the commander of the Station, "whar'd' you steal that brown mar' thar?"—a question whose abruptness somewhat quelled the ferment of the man's fury, while it drew a roar of laughter from the lookers-on.
"Thar it is!" said he, striking an attitude and clapping a hand on his breast, like a man who felt his honour unjustly assailed. "Steal! I steal any horse but an Injun's! Whar's the man dar's insinivate that? Blood and massacree-ation! whar's the man?"
"H'yar," said Bruce, very composedly. "I know that old mar' belongs to Peter Harper, on the north side."
"You're right, by Hooky!" cried Roaring Ralph; at which seeming admission of his knavery the merriment of the spectators was greatly increased; nor was it much lessened when the fellow proceeded to aver that he had borrowed it, and that with the express stipulation that it should be left at Bruce's Station, subject to the orders of its owner. "Thar, cunnel," said he, "thar's the beast; take it; and just tell me whar's the one you mean to lend me,—for I must be oft afore sunset."
"And whar are you going?" demanded Bruce.
"To St. Asaphis,"—which was a Station some twenty or thirty miles off,—replied Captain Stackpole.
"Too far for the Regulators to follow, Ralph," said Colonel Bruce; at which the young men present laughed louder than ever, and eyed the visitor in a way that seemed both to disconcert and offend him.
"Cunnel," said he, "you're a man in authority, and my superior officer; wharfo' thar' can be no scalping between us. But my name's Tom Dowdle, the ragman!" he screamed, suddenly skipping into the thickest of the throng, and sounding a note of defiance; "my name's Tom Dowdle, the ragman, and I'm for any man that insults me! log-leg or leather-breeches, green-shirt or blanket-coat, land-trotter or river-roller,—I'm the man for a massacree!" Then giving himself a twirl upon his foot that would have done credit to a dancing-master, he proceeded to other antic demonstrations of hostility, which when performed in after years on the banks of the Lower Mississippi, by himself and his worthy imitators, were, we suspect, the cause of their receiving the name of the mighty alligator. It is said, by naturalists, of this monstrous reptile, that he delights, when the returning warmth of spring has brought his fellows from their holes, and placed them basking along the banks of a swampy lagoon, to dart into the centre of the expanse, and challenge the whole field to combat. He roars, he blows the water from his nostrils, he lashes it with his tail, he whirls round and round, churning the water into foam; until, having worked himself into a proper fury, he darts back again to the shore, to seek an antagonist. Had the gallant captain of horse-thieves boasted the blood, as he afterwards did the name, of an "alligator half-breed," he could have scarce conducted himself in a way more worthy of his parentage. He leaped into the centre of the throng, where, having found elbow-room for his purpose, he performed the gyration mentioned before, following it up by other feats expressive of his hostile humour. He flapped his wings and crowed, until every chanticleer in the settlement replied to the note of battle; he snorted and neighed like a horse; he bellowed like a bull; he barked like a dog; he yelled like an Indian; he whined like a panther; he howled like a wolf; until one would have thought he was a living managerie, comprising within his single body the spirit of every animal noted for its love of conflict. Then, not content with such a display of readiness to fight the field, he darted from the centre of the area allowed him for his exercise, and invited the lookers-on individually to battle. "Whar's your buffalo-bull," he cried, "to cross horns with the roarer of Salt River? Whar's your full-blood colt that can shake a saddle off? h'yar's an old nag can kick off the top of a buck-eye! Whar's your cat of the Knobs? your wolf of the Rolling Prairies? h'yar's the old brown b'ar can claw the bark off a gum tree! H'yar's a man for you, Tom Bruce! Same to you, Sim Roberts! to you, Jimmy Big-nose! to you, and to you, and to you! Ar'n't I a ring-tailed squealer? Can go down Salt on my back, and swim up the Ohio! Whar's the man to fight Roaring Ralph Stackpole?"
Now, whether it happened that there were none present inclined to a contest with such a champion, or whether it was that the young men looked upon the exhibition as a mere bravado meant rather to amuse them than irritate, it so occurred that not one of them accepted the challenge; though each, when personally called on, did his best to add to the roarer's fury, if fury it really were, by letting off sundry jests in relation to borrowed horses and Regulators. That the fellow's rage was in great part assumed, Roland, who was, at first, somewhat amused at his extravagance, became soon convinced; and growing at last weary of it, he was about to signify to his host his inclination to return into the fort, when the appearance of another individual on the ground suddenly gave promise of new entertainment.
[Footnote 3: It is scarce necessary to inform the reader that by this term must be understood those public-spirited citizens, amateur jack-ketches, who administer Lynch-law in districts where regular law is but inefficiently, or not at all, established.]
"If you're ralely ripe for a fight, Roaring Ralph," cried Tom Bruce the younger, who had shown, like the others, a greater disposition to jest than to do battle with the champion, "here comes the very man for you. Look, boys, thar comes Bloody Nathan!" At which formidable name there was a loud shout set up, with an infinite deal of laughing and clapping of hands.
"Whar's the fellow?" cried Captain Stackpole, springing six feet into the air, and uttering a whoop of anticipated triumph. "I've heerd of the brute, and, 'tarnal death to me, but I'm his super-superior! Show me tho critter, and let me fly! Cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Hurrah for Roaring Ralph Stackpole!" cried the young men, some of whom proceeded to pat him on the back in compliment to his courage, while others ran forward to hasten the approach of the expected antagonist.
The appearance of the comer, at a distance, promised an equal match to tho captain of horse-thieves; but Roland perceived, from the increase of merriment among the Kentuckians, and especially from his host joining heartily in it, that there was more in Bloody Nathan than met the eye. And yet there was enough in his appearance to attract attention, and to convince the soldier that if Kentucky had shown him, in Captain Stackpole, one extraordinary specimen of her inhabitants, she had others to exhibit not a whit less remarkable. It is on the frontiers, indeed, where adventurers from every corner of the world, and from every circle of society are thrown together, that we behold the strongest contrasts, and the strangest varieties, of human character.
Casting his eyes down the road, or street (for it was flanked by the outer cabins of the settlement, and perhaps deserved the latter name), which led, among stumps and gullies, from the gate of the stockade to the bottom of the hill, Forrester beheld a tall man approaching, leading an old lame white horse, at the heels of which followed a little silky haired black or brown dog, dragging its tail betwixt its legs, in compliment to the curs of the Station, which seemed as hospitably inclined to spread a field of battle for the submissive brute, as their owners were to make ready another for its master. The first thing that surprised the soldier in the appearance of the person bearing so formidable a name, was an incongruity which struck others as well as himself, even the colonel of militia exclaiming, as he pointed it out with his finger, "It's old Nathan Slaughter, to the backbone! Thar he comes, the brute, leading a horse in his hand, and carrying his pack on his own back! But he's a marciful man, Old Nathan, and the horse thar, old White Dobbin, war foundered and good for nothing ever since the boys made a race with him against Sammy Parker's jackass."
As he approached yet higher, Roland perceived that his tall, gaunt figure was arrayed in garments of leather from top to toe, even his cap, or hat (for such it seemed, having several broad flaps suspended by strings, so as to serve the purpose of a brim), being composed of fragments of tanned skins rudely sewed together. His upper garment differed from a hunting shirt only in wanting the fringes usually appended to it, and in being fashioned without any regard to the body it encompassed, so that in looseness and shapelessness, it looked more like a sack than a human vestment; and, like his breeches and leggings, it bore the marks of the most reverend antiquity, being covered with patches and stains of all ages, sizes, and colours.
Thus far Bloody Nathan's appearance was not inconsistent with his name, being uncommonly wild and savage; and to assist in maintaining his claims to the title, he had a long rifle on his shoulder, and a knife in his belt, both of which were in a state of dilapidation worthy of his other equipments; the knife, from long use and age, being worn so thin that it seemed scarce worthy the carrying, while the rifle boasted a stock so rude, shapeless, and, as one would have judged from its magnitude and weight, so unserviceable, that it was easy to believe it had been constructed by the unskilful hands of Nathan himself. His visage, seeming to belong to a man of at least forty-five or fifty years of age, was hollow, and almost as weather-worn as his apparel, with a long hooked nose, prominent chin, a wide mouth exceedingly straight and pinched, with a melancholy or contemplative twist at the corners, and a pair of black staring eyes, that beamed a good-natured, humble, and perhaps submissive, simplicity of disposition. His gait, too, as he stumbled along up the hill, with a shuffling, awkward, hesitating step, was like that of a man who apprehended injury and insult, and who did not possess the spirit to resist them. The fact, moreover, of his sustaining on his own shoulders a heavy pack of deer and other skins, to relieve the miserable horse which he led, betokened a merciful temper, scarce compatible with the qualities of a man of war and contention. Another test and criterion by which Roland judged his claims to the character of a roarer, he found in the little black dog; for the Virginian was a devout believer, as we are ourselves, in that maxim of practical philosophers, namely, that by the dog you shall know the master, the one being fierce, magnanimous, and cowardly, just as his master is a bully, a gentleman, or a dastard. The little dog of Nathan was evidently a coward, creeping along at White Dobbin's heels, and seeming to supplicate with his tail, which now draggled in the mud, and now attempted a timid wag, that his fellow-curs of the Station should not be rude and inhospitable to a peaceful stranger.