E-text prepared by Al Haines
OONOMOO THE HURON
EDWARD S. ELLIS
Author of "The Trail-Hunter," "Hunter's Cabin," etc.
New York Hurst & Company Publishers Copyright, 1911, by Hurst & Company.
I. Hans Vanderbum II. Other Characters III. Oonomoo and the Shawnees IV. The Young Lieutenant and Cato V. The Home of the Huron VI. Adventures on the Way VII. The Plan for the Rescue VIII. The Exploit of Hans Vanderbum IX. A New Danger X. Conclusion
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, ain't you got dat cooked?"
A girl, fifteen or sixteen years of age, seated on the ground, beside a squaw.
"If you don't want to be killed, get up," said the young officer.
"Niniotan, my son, is late."
"You have saved me, and I want to grasp your hand for it."
But Oonomoo and the Miami had whipped out their knives.
So terrible did the exasperated Huron appear, that the entire party of Shawnees paused out of sheer horror.
Niniotan stood like a statue, his arms folded and his stony gaze fixed upon the senseless forms of his parents.
OONOMOO, THE HURON.
The mountain's sides Are flecked with gleams of light and spots of shade; Here, golden sunshine spreads in mellow rays, and there, Stretching across its hoary breast, deep shadows lurk. A stream, with many a turn, now lost to sight, And then, again revealed, winds through the vale, Shimmering in the early morning sun. A few white clouds float in the blue expanse, Their forms revealed in the clear lake beneath, Which bears upon its breast a bark canoe, Cautiously guided by a sinewy arm. High in the heavens, three eagles proudly poise, Keeping their mountain eyrie still in view, Although their flight has borne them far away. Upon the cliff which beetles o'er the pool, Two Indians, peering from the brink, appear, Clad in the gaudy dress their nature craves— Robes of bright blue and scarlet, but which blend In happy union with the landscape round. Near by a wigwam stands—a fire within Sends out a ruddy glow—and from its roof, Cone-shaped, a spiral wreath of smoke ascends. Not far away, though deeper in the woods, Another hut, with red-men grouped about, Attracts the eye, and wakens saddened thoughts Of that brave race who once were masters here, But now, like autumn leaves, are dying out.—BARRY GRAY.
"Shtop dat noise! shtop dat noise!" vociferated Hans Vanderbum, growing red in the face with fury, because his repeated commands had received so little attention.
The scene was deep in the forests of Ohio, a short distance from the Miami river. An Indian town of twenty-five or thirty lodges here stood, resembling a giant apiary, with its inhabitants flitting in and out, darting hither and thither, like so many bees. The time was early in the morning of a radiant spring, when the atmosphere was still and charming; the dew lingered upon the grass and undergrowth; birds were singing in every tree; the sky glowed with the pure blue of Italy; and the whole wilderness in its bloom looked like a sea of emerald. Everything was life and exhilaration, one personage alone excepted—Hans Vanderbum was unhappy!
The Indian lodges differed very little from each other, being of a rough, substantial character, built with an eye to comfort rather than beauty. One at the extreme northern edge of the village is that with which our story deals. A brief description of it will serve as a general daguerreotype of all those wild abodes.
The wigwam was composed of skins and bark, the latter greatly predominating. The shape was that of a cone. The framework was of poles, the lower ends of which were placed in a sort of circle, while the tops were intersected, leaving a small opening, through which the smoke reached the clear air above. Unsightly and repulsive as this might seem from the outside view, the dwelling, nevertheless, was water-proof and comfortable, and abundantly answered the end for which it was built.
A thin vapor was ascending in a bluish spiral at the top of the lodge indicated. A Shawnee squaw was occupied in preparing the morning meal, while her liege lord still reclined in one corner, in the vain effort to secure a few minutes more of slumber. This latter personage was Hans Vanderbum—our friend Hans—a huge, plethoric, stolid, lazy Dutchman, who had "married" an Indian widow several years before. At the time of her marriage this squaw had a boy some three or four years of age, while a second one, the son of the Dutchman, was now just large enough to be as mischievous as a kitten. They were a couple of greasy, copper-hued little rascals, with eyes as black as midnight, and long, wiry hair, like that of a horse's mane. Brimful of animal spirits, they were just the reverse of Hans Vanderbum, whose laziness and stupidity were only excelled by his indifference to the dignity and rights of human nature.
Hans Vanderbum lay fiat upon his back, for the atmosphere of the wigwam was too warm for covering, his ponderous belly rising and falling like a wave of the sea, and his throat giving forth that peculiar rattling of the glottis, which might be mistaken for suffocation. The boys certainly would have been outside, basking in the genial sunshine, had not their mother, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, positively denied them that coveted privilege. The commands of the father might be trampled upon with impunity, but the young half-breeds knew better than to disobey their mother.
"Shtop dat noise! shtop dat noise!" repeated Hans, raising his head without stirring his body or limbs.
His broad face seemed all ablaze from its fiery red color, and the threatening fury throned upon his lowering forehead would almost have annihilated him who encountered it for the first time. As it was, the two boys suddenly straightened their faces, and assumed an air of meek penitence, as if suffering the most harrowing remorse for what they had done; and the father, after glaring at them a moment, as if to drive in and clinch the impression he had made, let his head drop back with a dull thump upon the ground, and again closed his eyes.
The black, snaky orbs of the boys twinkled like stars through their overhanging hair. Glancing first at their mother, who did not deign to notice them, the eldest picked up his younger brother, who was grinning from ear to ear with delight, and, summoning all his strength, he poised him over the prostrate form of his father for a moment, and then dropped him! The prolonged snore which was steadily issuing from the throat of the sleeping parent, terminated in a sharp, explosive grunt. As his eyes opened, the boys scrambled away like frogs to the opposite side of the lodge, under the protecting care of their mother.
"Dunder and blixen! You dunderin' Dutch Indians, dishturbin' your poor old dad dat is wearing his life out for you! I'll pound both of you till you're dead!"
Hans Vanderbum's system had suffered too great a shock for further slumber. He rose to the sitting position, and, digging both hands into his head, glared at his offspring a moment, and then began his regular lecture.
"Quanonshet, you little Dutchman, and Madokawandock, you little bigger Dutchman, vot does you t'ink of yourselves? Vot does you t'ink will become of you, disgracing your parents in this manner? You oughter be pounded to death to treat your poor old fader in this manner, who is working of himself away to bring you up in the way you ought for to go. Eh? vot do you t'ink of yourself, eh? Vot do you t'ink of yourself?" demanded Hans, furiously shaking his head toward the boys at each word.
Quanonshet and Madokawandock were too confounded for reply.
"Shposing your poor old fader should go crazy!! Here he is working himself to skin and bone—Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, ain't you got dat cooked?"
"No!" screamed the wife. "You big, lazy man, get up and stir yourself! You don't do anything but sleep and smoke, while I'm working all the flesh off my bones for you!"
These forcible remarks were made in the pure Shawnee tongue, and were accompanied by gesticulation too pointed and significant for Hans to mistake the spirit in which they were given. Although it is the invariable custom among the North American Indians for the husband to rule the wife, and impose all burdens upon her, except those of the hunt, and fight, such, by no means, was the case with the present couple. Hans Vanderbum's body was too unwieldy for him to accompany the young men (or even the old men) upon their hunting expeditions; in short, he contributed nothing toward the support of his interesting family. The first husband of Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock had been an Indian, with all the characteristics of his race—indolent, selfish and savage; and her life with him had been that of the usual servitude and drudgery. Accordingly, when she ventured a second time upon the sea of matrimony, she naturally fell into the same routine of labor, planting and cultivating what little corn, beans and vegetables were raised for the family, and doing all the really hard work. Hans Vanderbum sometimes gathered firewood, and frequently, when the weather was pleasant, spent hours in fishing. He was an inveterate smoker and sleeper; and, beyond doubt, was perfectly content in his situation. Having been taken a prisoner some years before, and adopted into this branch of the Shawnee tribe, he was offered the hand of Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock in marriage, and accepted it at once, totally forgetful of his first love, which had been the beautiful inmate of the Hunter's Cabin.
Hans Vanderbum sat and gazed at his wife with an admiring eye, as she busied herself with the preparations of the morning meal. Hoping to mollify her, he commenced flattering her, speaking in a low tone as if it were not his wish that she should hear him, but taking good care, at the same time, that nothing should escape her ears.
"Shplendid figger, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock has got. No wonder all te braves of te Shawnee tribe should love her, and dat Hans Vanderbum gots her at last. Jis' look at dat foot! long and flat like a board, and she's de same shape all de way down from her head to her heels. Ishn't dat breakfast ready, my dear wife?"
The wife gave a spiteful nod, and Hans Vanderbum shambled up beside her, where the food, consisting of meat and a few simple vegetables, was spread upon a rude table which had no legs. Quanonshet and Madokawandock were not behind-hand in their movements, and the whole four fell to with such voracity, that, in a very short time, their hunger was satisfied.
"Now, you two fellers come out doors and learn your lessons," said the father, lighting his pipe, and putting on a very stern and dignified look.
The boys tumbled over each other in their eagerness to get into the open air. Hans followed them, while Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock busied herself about her household duties. Quanonshet and Madokawandock rollicked and frisked awhile before they were "called to order." After repeated commands, they approached their father, and standing side by side, awaited his instructions.
Hans Vanderbum had provided himself with a long pole, and stood by a sandy portion of ground, upon which he had no difficulty in tracing what letters and characters he wished. With due preparation and importance he marked out the first letter of the German alphabet, and then, straightening himself up, demanded in a thundering tone "vot dat was." His two sons looked mute and dumbfounded. They had not the remotest idea in the world of its name and significance. For over three months the patient father had instructed them daily in regard to this character, and the two together must have repeated it several thousand times. But, it mattered not; neither had any conception now of it, and their looks showed such unmistakably to their instructor.
"Dunder and blixen, vot Dutch Indians!" he exclaimed, impatiently. Repeating its name, he again demanded "vot dat was." This time they answered readily, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure.
"Shmart boys," said he, approvingly. "You learns well, now. One dese days—"
Hans Vanderbum's words were cut short by the sudden sharp explosion of his pipe, the bowl being shattered in a hundred pieces, while nothing but the stem remained in his mouth.
"Where's mine pipe?" he asked, looking around in the vain hope of descrying it somewhere upon the ground. Quanonshet and Madokawandock indulged in one short scream of laughter, then instantly straightened their faces and looked as meek and innocent as lambs. Gradually the truth began to work its way into the head of Hans. Looking sternly at the two, he asked, in a threatening voice:
"Which of you put dat powder in mine meerschaum, eh? which of you done dat, eh?"
Neither answered, except by hanging their heads and looking at their bare feet.
"I axes you once more, and dis is de last time."
Each now protested that it was not himself but the other, so that if there really were but one culprit, Hans had no means of determining. Under the circumstances, he concluded the safest plan was to believe both guilty. Accordingly he made a sudden dash and commenced whacking them soundly with the stick he held in his hand. They yelled, kicked, and screamed; and squirming themselves loose, scampered quickly away from their irate instructor.
"Dat meerschaum can't be fixed," he soliloquized, taking the bare stem out of his mouth and looking sorrowfully at it. "'Cause dere ishn't anything to fix it mit. It ish wonderful what mischief gets into dem boys; dere ain't no time when dey ain't doin' notting what dey hadn't not ought to—all de times just de same way, while I toils myself to death to educate dem and bring 'em up in de way apout which dey ought to go."
Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock being in the habit of frequently indulging in the use of tobacco, her husband was not deprived entirely of his solace. Going into the wigwam, he unbosomed his griefs to her, and she kindly loaned him her own pipe.
"I hopes dere ain't no powder in dat," he remarked, glancing uneasily into the bowl.
"Nothing but tobac," replied his spouse, in her native tongue, "unless you've put the powder in yourself."
"Dunderation, I don't does dat, and blow mine eyes out my head. Dem little Dutchmen is up to all kinds of such tricks, and some dese days dey will blow deir poor fader's brains out of his head, and den what will become of dem?" feelingly inquired Hans Vanderbum.
"What will become of them?" repeated Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, her voice rising higher and higher at each word. "Who is it that supports them now and takes care of them? Who is it that does that? Who is it—"
"It's you—it's you," replied her husband, seeing the mistake he had made. "I doesn't do nottings—I doesn't do nottings; it's my wife, my good Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, dat does it all. She's a very nice squaw, de same shape all de way down."
These concessions and compliments greatly soothed the feelings of the incensed spouse. She scolded her husband no more.
"What you going to do, my dear frau?" he asked, in a voice as cooing and winning as a dove's.
"Going to work, to plant the corn, to get food for you and Quanonshet and Madokawandock when the snow falls."
"Very kind, clever woman; good frau is mine Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock."
"What are you going to do?" asked the wife, as the two passed out the wigwam.
"Going to shmoke and meditate—meditate hard," replied Hans Vanderbum, impressively.
"Can't you think as well while you're fishing?"
"I shpose I can; if my Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock t'inks so, I can."
"Well, she thinks so."
The fact that his wife "thought so" was equivalent to a command with Hans. He manifested no unwillingness or reluctance in obeying. Accordingly, he furnished himself with a hook, line and bait, and set out for the river.
It was now getting well along in the forenoon, the sun being above the tree-tops. The Shawnee Indians had left their wigwams to engage in their daily avocations. The women were mostly toiling in the field, their pappooses hanging from the trees or leaning against their trunks. The older children were frolicking through the woods, or fishing or hunting. A few warriors and old men still lounged about the wigwams, but the majority either were engaged in the hunt, or were upon the war-trail.
Stolid and indifferent as was the nature of Hans, it struck him that there was something unusual in the appearance and actions of the Indians. It seemed as though some startling event had occurred from which they had not fully recovered. They were uneasy and restless in their movements, constantly passing to and from the river. Upon reaching the banks of the latter, the Dutchman found a considerable number already there. They were not engaged in fishing, but lay close to the edge of the water, as if they expected the appearance of something upon its surface. Had he been a little more observant, there was something else which would have attracted his attention, on his passage through the woods. Fully a dozen times a peculiar sound, like the whistle of a bird, reached his ears, and he supposed it to be nothing more, although it did seem odd to him that the bird should follow him almost to the river bank. Besides this, he caught a flitting glimpse of an Indian now and then, some distance in the woods, that appeared to be watching him; but Hans did not care, even if such were the case, and he paid no further heed to him.
Reaching the river, he made his preparations with great care and elaboration. He had several hooks pendent from his line, upon each of which he shoved the wriggling worms, spitting upon them during the operation, as if to make them more tractable. To the line also was fastened a pebble, to make it sink. Swinging this several times around his head, he let go, when it spun far out in the river, and he commenced cautiously following it by means of a projecting tree-trunk. This latter extended a dozen feet out over the surface of the water, and had been used as a seat a great many times by him. Passing out to the extremity, he was afforded a comfortable resting-place where he could sit hour after hour smoking his pipe and engage in fishing. Had he noticed the large branch of the tree upon which he seated himself, he would have hesitated before trusting the weight of his body upon it, but his nature was too unsuspicious to be attracted by anything trivial in its appearance, and he made his way out upon it, as he had done scores of times before.
Ensconcing himself in his seat, he gave his whole attention to his line and his pipe, not noticing the interested glances which the Shawnees along the bank bestowed upon his operations. After the space of a few minutes, he felt something pull at his line, and doing the same, he hauled a fine plump fish out of the water, casting it upon the land.
"Dat is purty goot," he mused, "and I will soon got a lot more, and my Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock will feel goot too, when I takes 'em home. She won't— Dunder and Blixen!"
The limb upon which he was seated suddenly broke short off, and Hans dropped into the river out of sight. But such a ponderous body as his could not sink, and upon coming to the surface, he paddled hurriedly to the shore.
"Dem little Dutchmen, Quanonshet and Madokawandock, will be de death of deir old fader afore long. Dat is deir work. I knows it, I knows it, and I will pound 'em all up when I gits home."
Looking about his person, he found that one of the hooks, catching in his clothes, had brought the line to shore; and, as his involuntary bath had not really been unpleasant, he was able to continue his labor. But, before going out upon the tree he examined the roots to satisfy himself that no further mischief had been perpetrated by his hopeful sons. Feeling assured upon this point, he again passed out on the tree, and was soon engaged in fishing as before, totally unmindful of the broad grins of the delighted Shawnees who had witnessed his discomfiture.
The fish bit readily. In a short time he had taken enough to insure him a welcome reception in his own wigwam. He was debating with himself whether it would not be better to return, especially as his pipe had been extinguished by his immersion, when a piece of bark floated down toward him and caught against his line.
There certainly was nothing remarkable in this. After freeing it of the obstruction, he continued fishing. But, scarcely a minute had elapsed before a second and a third piece of bark, precisely like the first, lodged against his line, and remained there with such persistency that it required considerable effort upon his part to remove them.
"Where in dunderation did dey come from?" he asked, looking inquiringly about him. His first impression was that the Shawnees along the banks were throwing these pieces out into the river for the purpose of annoying him; but, on looking toward them, he could discover nothing in their appearance to warrant such a supposition. He turned elsewhere for the cause. Resuming his attention to his line, he found several other pieces passing beneath him, and he began now to feel really provoked at this repeated annoyance. He was about to break out into some exclamation, when the appearance of these floating objects arrested his attention. A glance showed him there was something meant more than mere mischief. The pieces of bark were of a peculiar construction, roughly cut into the shape of an Indian canoe, showing unmistakably that they were sent down the stream for the purpose of arresting his notice.
"Dat means something," exclaimed Hans, decidedly, "and I must find out what it is."
By simply looking up-stream, he could discern this fleet of miniature boats coming down toward him in a straight line. In the clear sunlight they were visible for a great distance, and it was no difficult matter to determine their starting point. Some two hundred yards above, another tree projected out over the water very much the same as that upon which Hans was seated, so similar in fact that he had often used it for the same purpose. As the line of the pieces of bark pointed directly toward these, there was but little doubt that here they were launched upon the water.
"It can't be dat Quanonshet and Madokawandock is dere," mused Hans Vanderbum, "for to try to worry deir poor old fader. Dey're too big Dutchmen to build such boats, and dey wouldn't know how to make 'em float under me if dey did. No; dere's somebody out on dat tree, and he's doing it to make me look up at him. I'm looking but I can't see notting."
He shaded his eyes as he spoke, and looked long and searchingly at the tree, but for a considerable time could discover nothing unusual about it. At length, however, he fancied that he saw one of the limbs sway gently backward and forward in a manner that could hardly be caused by the wind. Gradually it began to dawn upon him that if there was any person upon the tree, he meant that his presence should not be suspected by the Shawnees along the bank. Accordingly Hans Vanderbum was more circumspect in his observations.
Still watching the tree, he soon discovered something else that he thought was meant to attract his eye. The water directly beneath it flashed and sparkled as if it was disturbed by some object. Straining his gaze, he finally discerned what appeared to be a human hand swaying backward and forward.
"Dat is enough!" thought Hans Vanderbum. "Dere's somebody dere dat wants to see me, and is afeard of dese oder chaps about, so I goes to him."
Working his way cautiously backward, he reached the land and started apparently to return to his wigwam. As he did so, he looked at the Shawnees and was gratified to see that their suspicions had not been aroused by his movements. Proceeding some distance, he hid his fish and line and made his way up the river, escaping the Shawnees by means of a long detour.
Reaching the stream and tree, he was somewhat taken aback by not finding any one at all. Considerably perplexed, he looked about him.
"Can't be dat Quanonshet and Madokawandock have been fooling deir poor old fader again," said he. "I'm purty sure I seen some one on the tree, when dem pieces of bark come swimming downstream."
A subdued whistle reached his ear. Looking behind him, he saw a Huron Indian standing a few yards away. The eyes of both lit up as they encountered the gaze of each other, for they were both friends and old acquaintances.
"Ish dat you, Oonomoo?" inquired Hans Vanderbum.
"Yeh—me—Oonomoo," replied the Indian, pronouncing his name somewhat differently from the Dutchman, (and from that by which we have before referred to him).
"Was dat you on de tree out dere?"
"Yeh, me—Oonomoo out dere on log."
"And did you make dem pieces of bark to come swimming down by me?"
"Yeh, me made 'em."
"And shtirred de water wid yer hand and moved de limb?"
"Yeh, Oonomoo do all dat."
"I shpose you wanted to see me?"
"Yeh, wanted to see you—want talk wid you," said the Huron, motioning for Hans to follow him. The latter did not hesitate to do so, as he had perfect faith in his honesty, knowing much of his history. The savage led the way some distance into the woods, where they were not likely to be seen or overheard, and then stopped and confronted his companion.
"Where'd you come from, Oonomoo?" asked the latter.
"From fightin' de Shawnees," replied the savage, proudly.
"Yaw, I sees yer am in de war-paint. Did you get many?"
"The lodge of Oonomoo is full of the scalps of the cowardly Shawnees, taken many moons ago," answered the Huron, his eyes flashing fire and his breast heaving at the remembrance of his exploits. This reply was made in the Shawnee language, as he spoke it as well as one of their warriors; and, as Hans also understood it, the conversation was now carried on in that tongue.
"When did you see Annie Stanton last?" inquired the Dutchman, showing considerable interest.
"Several moons ago, when the sun was in the woods and the waters were asleep."
"Is her husband, that rascally Ferrington, living?"
Oonomoo replied that he was.
"And is their baby, too?"
"Yes, they have two pappooses."
"Dunder and blixen!" exclaimed Hans Vanderbum, and then resuming the English language, or rather his version of it, he added:
"Dat gal wanted to marry mit me once."
"Why no marry den?" inquired Oonomoo, also coming back to the more difficult language.
"She wan't te right kind of a gal—she wan't like my Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, dat is de same shape all de way down from her head to her heels. So I let dat Ferrington have her."
The Huron, who understood all about that matter, indulged in a broad smile at this remark. Whatever his business was, it was manifest he was in no hurry, else he would not have indulged in this by-play of words with his friend.
"You doesn't t'ink de baby will dies, does you?"
"No—in de settlement—Shawnee can't git her now—don't live off in de woods like as dey did afore."
"Dat's lucky for her; don't t'ink dey will get her there, 'cause dey tried it once—dat time, you remember, when we was all in de HUNTER'S CABIN in de woods, and you came down de chimney, and I watched and kept de Shawnee off."
The Huron signified that he remembered the circumstance well.
"Dem was great times," added Hans Vanderbum, calling up the recollection of them. "I left de village one hot afternoon, and walked all de way t'rough de woods to get to de cabin to help dem poor folks. We had mighty hard times. I catched a cold and couldn't shtop my dunderin' nose one night when it wanted to shneeze, and dat's de way de Shawnee catched me. Twan't so bad arter all," added Hans Vanderbum, musingly, "'cause if it wasn't for dat I wouldn't got my Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock."
"How soon go back?" asked Oonomoo.
"To de village, do you mean?"
"Any time afore noon will does, so Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock gits de fish for our dinner."
"One, two hours," said the Huron, looking up at the sky, "den sun git dere," pointing to the zenith. "Shawnees know here?"
"Know me here? Guesses not; don't care if dey does, nor dey doesn't care neider."
"Shawnees won't come here?"
"No, no, Oonomoo, you needn't be afraid—"
"Afraid who?" demanded the Huron, with quick fierceness. "Oonomoo never run afore one—two—t'ree—dozen Shawnees. He only runs when dey comes like de leaves in de woods."
"Dey won't come like de leaves. If dey does, why you can leave too, and I t'inks you know how to use dem legs dat you've got tacked onto you. I t'inks you run as fast as me."
"So I t'inks," replied the Indian, with a grin.
"Dere's no mistake but dem Shawnees would like to get your scalp, Oonomoo."
"Two—t'ree—hundreds—all Shawnees like to git Oonomoo's scalp—nebber git him—Oonomee die in his lodge—scalp on his head," said the Huron, proudly.
"I hopes so; hopes I will, too."
The expression of the Indian's face was changed. It assumed a dark, earnest appearance. He was done trifling, and wished to commence business.
"See her dis mornin'?" he asked, in short, quick tones.
"See who?" asked Hans Vanderbum, in turn, completely at a loss to understand him.
"De gal? Who you talking about—Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock?"
"De gal Shawnees got in de village."
The Dutchman's blank expression showed that he did not comprehend what the Huron was referring to; so he added, by way of explanation:
"Shawnees kill women and children—deir warriors squaws—don't fight men—burn houses toder day—run off wid gal—got her now in de village—she gal of Oonomoo's friend—Oonomoo want to get her."
From these rather disconnected expressions, Hans Vanderbum understood that a war-party of Shawnees had brought in a prisoner who was a friend of the Huron's. It was for the purpose of learning something regarding her that he had signaled the fisherman to leave his hook and line and come to him. The captive having reached the village quite recently, he had failed to be apprised of it, so that Oonomoo learned no more than he already knew regarding her.
"When did dey took her?" asked Hans Vanderbum.
"When sun dere, yisterday," replied the Indian, pointing off in the western horizon.
"Do you want to know 'bout her?"
"Den I goes find out."
So saying, Hans Vanderbum strode away through the forest in the direction of the Shawnee village.
"He joys to scour the prairies wide, Upon the bison's trail; To pierce his dark and shaggy hide With darts that never fail.
"His is the lion's strength in war, In peace, the lion's rest; And the eagle hath not flown so far As his fame throughout the West."
Upon leaving the Huron, Hans Vanderbum hurried toward the village, as rapidly as the peculiar structure of his body would allow. As has been remarked, he was well acquainted with Oonomoo, knowing him to be a faithful ally of his race. He was anxious, therefore, to show his friendship to the savage. Down, too, somewhere in the huge heart of the plethoric Dutchman, was a kindly feeling for the distress of a human being, and he felt willing and anxious to befriend any hapless captive that had fallen into the hands of the relentless Shawnees.
So absorbed was he in meditating, that he took no heed of his footsteps until he was suddenly confronted by his spouse, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, who, flourishing a sort of hoe over his head, demanded, or rather screeched:
"Where's your fish?"
Hans Vanderbum winked very rapidly, and putting his hands up over his head, as if to protect it, "I forgots all about dem. I goes right back and gots dem."
He wheeled around as he spoke, receiving a resounding whack from the hoe, by way of a reminder, and went lumbering through the woods in search of his basket of fish. He experienced little difficulty in finding it, and in a few moments was back again to his affectionate partner.
"How did you get wet?" she asked, looking at his flapping garments.
"Dem little Dutchmen done it; dey fixed de limb and made it proke and let me down in de water and almost drownded. Quanonshet and Madokawandock will be de death of deir poor dad."
The wife vouchsafed no reply, but jerking the fish from his hand, entered the wigwam for the purpose of cooking them, while Hans Vanderbum himself went lounging on through the village, it being his purpose not to seem too anxious and hurried in his effort to gain his news regarding the captive. He was, despite his stupidity, not devoid of sagacity at times.
He had not long to search. In the very center of the town, his eyes fell upon a promiscuous crowd collected around a wigwam, gazing at something within.
"Vot you got dere?" he demanded, in a tone of great indignation, as he shoved his way through the bystanders. Those addressed made no reply, waiting for him to satisfy his curiosity by seeing the object for himself. In the interior, he descried a young woman, or rather a girl, for she could scarcely have been more than fifteen or sixteen years of age, seated upon the ground, beside a squaw, with whom it was apparent she had been endeavoring to hold a conversation; but, finding it impossible in the ignorance of each other's language, they had ceased their efforts by common consent and were now sitting motionless.
As Hans Vanderbum gazed curiously at her, his big heart filled with pity. She was attired in the plain, homespun dress common among the settlers at that period, her head totally uncovered, and her long, dark hair falling in luxuriant masses around her shoulders. Her hands were clasped and her head bowed with a meek, resigned air that reached more than one Shawnee heart. Her complexion was rather light, her features not dazzlingly beautiful, but prepossessing, the expression which instantly struck the beholder being that of refinement; speaking a nature elevated and holy, as much above that of the beings who surrounded her, as would have been that of an angel had he alighted amid a group of mortals.
The great exertion made by Hans Vanderbum in reaching the wigwam, caused him to breathe so heavily as to attract the attention of the captive. Catching sight of a white man, she arose quickly, and approaching him, said, eagerly:
"Oh! I'm so glad to meet one of my own color and race, for I am sure you must be a friend."
"Yaw, I's your friend," replied Hans Vanderbum, hardly knowing what he said; "and I's sorry as nobody to see you here. How did you got here?"
"They brought me, the Shawnee warriors did. They attacked the house in the night, when I was alone with the servants. They murdered them all except me. They have brought myself here to perish in captivity."
"Yaw, de Shawnees ish great on dat business. 'Cause I shneezed dey cotched me once and brought me here to perish in captivity mit yourself," said Hans Vanderbum, in a feeling voice.
"Are you a prisoner, also?" asked the captive, in considerable surprise.
"Yaw, but I likes it! I's got a wife, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, dat is de same shape all de way down, and a little Dutchman, Madokawandock; so dey hasn't to watch, like I shpose dey will have to you."
"Can any of these around me understand English?" asked the girl, in a low tone.
"No; de women don't know notting about it, except my wife, and she ain't here; and de men know notink. You needn't be afraid to say anything you pleases to me."
"You could not betray me," added the girl, turning her dark, soulful eyes anxiously full upon him.
"No, no," he replied, energetically. "Voot's your name?"
"How fur does you live from here—dat is, how fur did you live?"
"It must be over thirty miles, in an eastern direction, I think."
"Does you know Oonomoo?"
Hans Vanderbum asked the question in a lower tone, for the name was well known to all present.
"A Huron Indian? Oh, yes; I know him well," replied the captive; her countenance lighting up. "He was well remembered in our neighborhood, and was a true friend to us all. Do you know him too? Though I suppose of course you do, from your asking me the question."
"Yaw, I knows him, and he knows me too, and we both knows each oder, so dat we are acquainted. Well, dat shentleman is hid off in de woods near here, and he has sent me in to l'arn what I cans about you."
The prisoner kept back the joyful exclamation that came to her lips, and said:
"Tell him that I am unharmed and hopeful, and trust that while he interests himself in me, he will not run into danger."
"Not run into danger!" repeated Hans Vanderbum; "dat is what Oonomoo lives on. He'd die in a week if he wan't into danger, out of grief. He don't do notting else; it's what he was made for," he added, growing enthusiastic in speaking of the Huron.
"I know he is a brave and true-hearted Indian, and is greatly esteemed by the Moravian missionaries. He hesitates at no risk when his friends are in danger."
"Ef he does run risk dey don't catch him, 'cause he knows how to run and fight, and ish shmarter dan de Shawnees. Where ish your parents?"
"My mother and sister happened to be absent on a visit to Falsington, which is fifteen or twenty miles distant from our place, while father, who is a Captain, is doing service somewhere on the frontier, in the American army. How thankful indeed I am that dear mother and Helen were away, for they have escaped this terrible captivity."
"You washn't left all alone?"
"Oh, no; there were several servants, and I saw them tomahawked, and heard their piercing cries."
The captive covered her face, and her frame shook like an aspen at the remembrance of the dreadful scenes through which she had so recently passed. It was several minutes before she recovered her self-command. When she did, Hans Vanderbum proceeded with his questions.
"Dey burnt de place, I shpose?"
"Yes, yes; they destroyed everything."
"I shpose your folks will feel bad when dey finds dese Shawnees have got you, won't dey?"
"Oh, yes, yes; do not speak of it."
At this point Hans Vanderbum began to get a sort of dim, vague idea that his style of conversation was not exactly calculated to soothe the feelings of the unfortunate prisoner; so he determined, if possible, to make amends for it. Patting her on the head, he said, gently:
"Don't feel bad, my darling; I ish shorry for you, but I wants to ax you anoder question."
"What is it?" queried the maid, with a wondering look.
"Will you answer it?" asked Hans Vanderbum, endeavoring to put on an arch, quizzical expression.
"If it is in my power I instantly will. Pray, do not hesitate to ask me anything you choose."
"Well, den, gits ready for it. I would shust like to know if dere ishn't some feller dat is in love mit you, and you is in love mit, and dat both ish in love mit each oder, eh?"
The crimson that suffused the cheeks and mounted to the very forehead of the captive, answered the question of Hans Vanderbum more plainly than words. Still, he insisted upon a verbal reply.
"There is no need of concealing the truth from you," she answered. "I have a dear young friend—"
"Who ish he?"
"Lieutenant Canfield, who is in service with my father," she replied.
"Oh, den he don't know notting about it?"
"I am not sure of that. Oonomoo has acted as a runner or bearer of messages between many of the men in the American army and their families, upon the frontier, and the last time I saw him he brought me word that Lieutenant Canfield intended shortly to visit me on furlough. He may have arrived immediately after the Indians burnt our place."
"A good t'ing; a good t'ing if he only has."
"Why would it be a good thing?"
"Does he know Oonomoo?"
"Certainly; he has known him for several years."
"Well, den, dey will come together, and dey'll fix up fings so dat dey will got you out of dis place afore long."
"I hope so; I hope so. Death would not be more terrible than the suffering I undergo here, especially at night. Oh! will you not stay by me?" asked the prisoner, the tears starting to her eyes.
Hans Vanderbum gouged his fists into his own visual organs, and muttered something about "de dunderin' shmoke," before he could reply.
"Yesh, yesh, I 'tends to you. You needn't be 'fraid. Dey won't hurt you, I doesn't t'ink. Dey jist keeps you. May be dey burns you, but dat ain't sartain. I must go to Oonomoo now, for I've been away from him a good long while."
"Tell him I am hopeful."
"Ain't dere notting else to tell him?" asked Hans Vanderbum, still lingering.
"I know of nothing else. He certainly needs no advice from me."
"Notting to send to Lieutenant Canfield, eh?" again queried Hans.
"Tell Oonomoo," said the girl, looking down to the earth, "that if he meets Lieutenant Canfield to say the same thing to him for me, that I am waiting and hopeful, and have a good friend constantly by me, which lightens, in a great measure, the gloom of my captivity."
"Who ish dat friend?"
"Yaw, I tells him. Good-by; be a good gal till I comes back. I bees back burty soon."
So saying, Hans passed out of the wigwam on his way to return to Oonomoo. His prolonged conversation with Miss Prescott had attracted the attention of the Indians who were lingering outside, and several asked him its purport. To these he invariably replied, "she didn't know wheder it was going for to rain or not, but she fought it would do one or toder."
From his long residence among the Shawnees and his family connection with them, Hans Vanderbum was not suspected of disaffection. Indeed, it could not properly be said that he felt thus toward them. He would not willingly do anything to injure them any more than he would have fought against his own race. Had he been dwelling among the whites, he would have befriended any hapless prisoner that might be in their power as he intended to befriend the poor girl with whom he had just been conversing.
It was about noon when he reached his own wigwam. He looked in, and seeing that the fish had been cooked and was ready, told his wife that he didn't feel very hungry and he guessed he would take a short walk for his health. She, however, ordered him at once to take his place inside and eat his dinner. The henpecked husband dared not refuse, and he was accordingly compelled to take part in the meal, while constantly occupied in thinking that the Huron was waiting for him; but, as patience is one of the cardinal virtues of the North American Indian, Hans was sure of finding him at the rendezvous upon his return.
Some twenty minutes later, Hans Vanderbum was at the tree, where he had first caught sight of Oonomoo. It was not long before the latter came from his concealment, and, after exchanging words upon unimportant subjects, for the purpose of concealing his curiosity, he inquired in regard to Miss Prescott.
"She tells me to tell you dat she's dere, and is hopeful, and ain't hurt, and hopes you won't hurt yourself to git her away."
"Oonomoo won't hurt his self—Shawnee won't hurt Oonomoo—he git gal away too."
"Oh, I like for to forgot. She tells me 'bout Lieutenant Canfield de same as she tells you. Will you see him?"
"See him dis mornin'—waitin' in woods fur me—see him 'gin—tell what gal said."
"I'm glad for to hear it, Oonomoo. I shpose you'll be back this way ag'in one dese days."
"Be back soon—have somebody with me—tell gal so—look out fur whistle—keep ears open—hear dis time."
"Yaw, I will. I heerd you dis oder time, too; but didn't t'ink 'twas you. I'll know de next time. You going now?"
The Huron signified that he was, and took his departure as quietly as he had come. Hans watched as the dusky figure flitted in and out among the trees and finally disappeared in the distance. Then, muttering to himself, he returned to the village.
The day was unusually warm for the season; there was little activity in the Indian town. Hans noticed that many of the Shawnees were still lingering along the Miami, although what object other than that of mere languor could induce them to remain, he could not possibly conceive. Reaching his own wigwam, he was confounded with joy to learn that the captive, Miss Prescott, was to be domiciled in it. He could scarce believe it until Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock told him that she was to be strictly guarded, used as her slave and never to be out of her sight for one minute. In case of her escape, Hans Vanderbum was to be held responsible for it, his life paying the forfeit.
"Dat is quare," he muttered. "I guess Oonomoo can fix it, if dey does do it."
It perhaps is well to remark here, by way of explanation, that the time in which the incidents occurred, which we intend to relate, was a few years subsequent to the great victory of Anthony Wayne over the combined forces of the various Indian tribes in the West. As a consequence of this splendid achievement and the no less splendid victory gained in the renowned treaty of Greenville, a long and almost undisturbed peace along the frontier was inaugurated, where, for years before, all had been strife of the most revolting kind. But, profound peace and security never existed on the border until the final removal of the Indians beyond the Mississippi. Isolated families, small bodies of men, and the lonely traveler through the forest, never were secure from the stealthy attacks of the red-men. Deep in the gloom of the solemn wilderness, many a deadly conflict occurred between the hunter and the Indian. Often the victim sunk noiselessly to the turf, and his bones bleached for years in these wilds, while none but his slayer knew of his fate.
Captain Prescott, placing great faith in the treaty of Greenville, had erected a fine mansion upon a tract of land received from Government. His residence was upon the extreme frontier. He had misgivings when he removed his wife and two daughters to that wilderness home. He provided a number of trusty servants for their protection in his absence with the army. Circumstances transpired which prevented his fulfilling his promise to return home to remain, and he continued absent nearly three years, occasionally making a short visit, and returning to his duties again before he had fairly greeted his family.
On one of these visits, Captain Prescott took, as his companion, a young Lieutenant named Canfield. It so happened that this visit lasted several days, and a period of greater happiness to the young Lieutenant probably never occurred. Mary Prescott, at that time, could not properly be called a woman, except in the grace and dignity of her character. She inherited the rich fancy, the nervous sensibility, and stern will of her father, and what may seem like a contradiction, the gentleness and modesty of her mother. She was the youngest child, and, naturally enough, the pet of the others; but, the parents were too sensible to spoil her by flattery or foolish indulgence. She was of that age when the female mind is most susceptible to the great passion of our nature in its most romantic phase, when Lieutenant Canfield visited their house. His frank bearing, his gentlemanly deportment, and, above all, the favorable reports which her father gave of his gallant conduct, conspired to enlist young Mary in his favor.
They were scarcely thrown into each other's society before the natural, though sometimes tardy, results of the virtues we have mentioned were seen. The tell-tale blush—the voice unconsciously lowered to the most thrilling softness—the timid glance—the deep-drawn sigh—the absent, vacant appearance when separated for a short time from each other—the supreme happiness when together—all were signs which escaped not the eyes of the sister and mother, although the matter-of-fact father failed to notice such trifles. His days of courtship had become a fable, if they were not forgotten.
If there were any displeasure at this state of affairs upon the part of her mother, it was only because she believed her daughter too young to entertain thoughts of marriage. Like a wise and prudent parent, however, she did not seek to accomplish an impossibility—that of preventing what no parent yet succeeded in preventing. Having great confidence in the young Lieutenant, from the representations of her husband, she merely resolved to be discreet with him. Accordingly, when, on the day of his departure, he found courage to mention his love of Mary to her parents, the mother took it upon her to reply that she entertained no objection to his suit, but, from the youth of her daughter, he must not expect their consent to a union for several years. At the same time she gracefully hinted that the suddenness of his passion might well excite suspicion that it was hardly genuine. Delighted beyond measure at this answer, Lieutenant Canfield added that he would not claim her hand until both father and mother were fully satisfied, and until he had proven to them that he was worthy of their daughter. Thus matters stood when Captain Prescott and the Lieutenant took their departure.
Matters were somehow or other so arranged that the Lieutenant found opportunity to visit the family of Captain Prescott oftener than the Captain himself. On these occasions, the mother was pleased to observe that while the attachment between him and her daughter became more and more marked, the Lieutenant always manifested the most scrupulous respect for the wishes of her parents, and never breathed a word to her that he believed could occasion the slightest objection upon their part.
Besides these visits, the lovers found ready means for exchanging their expressions of affection through the faithful Huron, Oonomoo, who made stated journeys from Captain Prescott's mansion to his post. On these occasions, he went loaded with missives from one party to another, carrying back as many as he brought. He was a great favorite with the whites, who appreciated his chivalrous faithfulness and fidelity, and loaded him with many expressions of their esteem. He had the reputation of being the fleetest runner, the most successful scout and best hunter in the West. Volumes would be required to record all the exploits told of him—of the marvelous number of scalps which hung in his lodge, and of the many hair-breadth escapes he had had. It was said he had a wife and child hid somewhere in the recesses of the forest, to whom he made stated visits, and whom his deadly enemies, the Shawnees, had sought in vain for years. He was now about thirty-five years of age, and had been known as a scout and friend of the whites for full a dozen years.
Somewhat less than two years after the first meeting of Lieutenant Canfield with the daughter of Captain Prescott, the wife and eldest daughter of the latter made a journey of pleasure to a neighboring settlement. Mary would have accompanied them, had she not received an intimation from Oonomoo that her lover proposed to make her a visit about that time. She accordingly remained at home with the servants.
Two nights afterwards, when the darkness was almost impenetrable, a large war-party of Shawnees suddenly attacked the place. The negroes had no time for defense, and only sought their own safety in flight. But one, however, escaped, the rest falling beneath the merciless tomahawk. Mary Prescott was carried off a prisoner.
OONOMOO AND THE SHAWNEES.
Through forty foes his path he made, And safely reached the forest-glade.—SCOTT.
After parting from Hans Vanderbum, the Huron sped noiselessly through the woods, taking a direction that would lead him to a point on the river fully three hundred yards below where he had signaled the German. The stream making a bend there, he would thus escape the observation of the Shawnees along the bank, at the point where the fisherman had been engaged in his labors.
So silent, yet rapid, was the motion of Oonomoo, that his figure flitted through the rifts in the wood like a shadow. His head projected slightly forward, in the attitude of acute attention, and his black, restless eyes constantly flitted from one point to the other, scarcely resting for a second upon any single object. In his left hand he trailed his long rifle, while his right rested upon the buckhorn handle of the knife in his belt.
He had progressed a considerable distance thus, when the Huron's gait decreased very rapidly. He was now in the vicinity of the river, where he had left his canoe drawn up on the bank. It was necessary to reconnoiter thoroughly before venturing to approach it. Accordingly, he halted. The movement of the panther in approaching his foe was not more stealthy and cautious than was his.
At length, reaching the shelter of a tree, and cautiously peering around, the Huron caught sight of the stern of his canoe. One glance and his dark eyes flashed fire! The Shawnees had been there!
What sign caught the notice of Oonomoo? What kindled the fire in his dark eye? What caused one hand to close over his knife, and the other to grasp his rifle? It was a sign of his enemy. Too well the sagacious Huron knew that the Shawnee was lying in wait for him.
The canoe, which Oonomoo left behind him, during his interview with Hans Vanderbum, lay precisely as it was first deposited. Not a surrounding limb, shrub or leaf had, so far as he could see, been disturbed since he left the spot. And yet the evidence which presented itself to the eyes of the Indian was as palpable and unmistakable as would have been the appearance of enemies themselves.
Oonomoo had carefully drawn his bark canoe up the river-bank and concealed it as well as the circumstances would admit. He had then deposited his long Indian paddle in it, leaving the blade projecting over the stern. The paddle was now several inches further to one side than it had been left by him!
This was the entire evidence. It was abundantly sufficient to satisfy the Huron. He did not doubt for an instant. His only uncertainty was in regard to the precise location of his foes. A few minutes' observation satisfied him that they were not between the canoe and the river. His course of action was accordingly determined. It would have been the easiest matter in the world for him to have escaped by swimming the river; but as an opportunity for a contest of skill with his enemies was offered, he was too proud not to embrace it at once. Retreating several rods, he continued his way upstream in his usual cautious manner, until he had gone perhaps a furlong above his canoe, when he approached and entered the stream.
The Miami, at this point, was so heavily wooded, that it was impossible to pass close under its shore without entering the water. Once within this and in a stooping position, a person would be invisible to any one on the same bank, although he could be plainly seen from the opposite shore. Oonomoo now commenced his descent of the river with the intention of recovering his canoe. This was necessarily a tedious and prolonged operation, as a single misstep, a slip or splash of the water might betray him to his enemies. But, he was equal to the task, and never hesitated for a moment except to listen for some sign of his enemies.
The Shawnees, by the merest accident, had discovered the Huron's canoe and examined it. Satisfied that it belonged to none of their tribe, and most probably had been left there by some hostile scout, they carefully allowed it to remain as they had found it, and endeavored to restore everything around to its natural position, so as not to arouse the suspicion of the owner upon his return. This done, they withdrew and awaited with loaded rifles for his reappearance. We have shown how a most trifling error in regard to the paddle placed the Huron on his guard.
It was perhaps a half-hour after Oonomoo had commenced his descent of the river, that the canoe, without any perceptible jar, slid an inch or two down the bank. So quietly and cautiously was this effected, that, had the Shawnees been looking directly at it, their suspicion would not have been aroused.
Some ten or fifteen minutes later, the boat moved about the same distance further. The expectant Shawnees, clutching their rifles, were listening anxiously for some sound that might indicate the approach of their foe, and paid little heed to the canoe itself. Ever and anon, it retreated an inch or two down the bank in the same mysterious manner—going short distances and so very slowly that no one but a thoroughly suspicious Indian would have believed there was any human agency connected with it.
The canoe was fully an hour and a half in moving a single foot, during which time the Huron managed, by the most consummate skill, to sustain it in such a manner that the shrubbery and undergrowth around appeared to occupy relatively the same position that they did before it had been disturbed. The river shore was only some twenty or thirty feet distant, and from where Oonomoo lay, the way was almost entirely clear to it, so that when he chose to make any sudden dash or movement, no hindering cause could possibly offer itself.
One of the Shawnees chanced to glance at the canoe. At the same instant, his keen eye detected its changed position, imperceptible almost as it was. With a guttural exclamation he arose and moved toward it, followed by his two companions. They had taken scarcely a step, when they saw the boat slide swiftly forward several feet, and then suddenly rising to the perpendicular position, whisk off through the bush at a still more rapid rate. Two twinkling moccasins, that looked as if they were its support, as they doubled over each other, fully explained to the Shawnees the cause of this singular scene.
With a loud yell, the three dashed forward, while the Huron ran at the top of his speed over the slight distance that lay between him and the river. Reaching the shore, he changed the canoe from his rear to his front, and holding it like a shield above and before him. With one foot in the edge of the water, he concentrated all his strength for the effort and leaped far out in the stream—the canoe falling with a loud splash perfectly flat upon the surface. The impetus thus given caused it to shoot like an arrow for a long distance, when the Huron, inclining his body to the left, careened it so much, that his own person was concealed from any who might be upon the shore, while, by reaching his hand over into the current, he was enabled to use it as a paddle, and continue his onward motion.
Oonomoo was fully aware that the delicate structure of the canoe was no obstruction at all against a rifle-shot. Accordingly, while descending the river, he had taken precaution to insure his safety, in case of such an occurrence as had now transpired. A large, rotten limb, hardly the length of his own body, was carried with him. At the moment of lifting the canoe from the ground, the limb was placed within it, and thus was carried back to the edge of the river. Lying flat upon his face, this limb was about the thickness of the Huron's waist, and by skillfully balancing the boat, it was interposed directly between him and his foes. The only parts of his person which possibly could be struck were his feet and the arm stretched over the side of the canoe. The former necessarily being in the stern, it was hardly probable that they would be wounded. There was such risk of the arm that Oonomoo drew it within the boat for a few moments. He had scarcely done so, when the reports of two rifles, and the peculiar zip of the bullets as they cut through the side of the canoe and buried themselves in the rotten wood, proved how wise was the precaution he had taken.
Quick as thought, the hand of the Huron was in the water again, where, as he vigorously used it, it flashed like some fish at play. The Shawnees, who plainly discerned the two holes their bullets had made, could scarcely believe their daring foe had escaped injury. But they were forced to believe he was still living from the fact that the canoe steadily progressed across and was not carried down-stream by the current. The whoop of the Shawnees had been heard by their comrades further down the bank. As the canoe reached the middle of the river, they caught a sight of it, and readily conjectured the true state of the case. In a twinkling, two of their own were launched in pursuit. Discovering this, Oonomoo arose to the upright position, and dipping his paddle deep in the water, sent his boat forward with astonishing swiftness. As it lightly touched the bank, he leaped ashore and pulled it up after him. Then uttering a defiant yell, he turned, and to show the scorn in which he held the Shawnees, walked slowly and deliberately into the forest. Once fairly beyond their sight, however, his pace quickened, and when the sun sunk low in the western horizon, he was many a mile from the Miami.
THE YOUNG LIEUTENANT AND CATO.
Suddenly rose from the South a light, as in autumn the blood-red Moon climbs the crystal walls of heaven, and o'er the horizon, Titan-like, stretches its hundred hands upon mountain and meadow, Seizing the rocks and the rivers and piling huge shadows together. —LONGFELLOW.
From a long distance the conflagration had been visible, its light throwing a red glare far up in the sky, and revealing the huge clouds that swept forward like crimson avalanches, while the surrounding trees glowed as if their branches were burning hot. Those nearest had their bark blistered and their leaves curled and scorched from the intense heat. A conflagration at night, when viewed from a distance, always seems awful in its sublimity. There is something calculated to inspire terror in the illuminated dome of the heavens and the onward sweep of this fearful element, when viewed in a civilized country; but it is only in the wilderness, away from the abode of man, that such an exhibition partakes of all the elements of grandeur and terror.
The solitary hunter, as he stood upon the banks of some lonely stream, leaned on his rifle and gazed with a beating heart at the brilliant redness that lit up so much of the sky. The beasts in their lair turned their glowing eyeballs toward the dreadful illumination, and stood transfixed with fear until its light died away; while the dark face of the vengeful Shawnee grew darker and more terrible as he gazed upon this work of his own hands. A silence, deep and profound, rested like a pall upon the wilderness and remained there until darkness again held undisputed reign.
Lieutenant Canfield had seen the glowing light from a great distance, when its appearance was much like that of the moon as it comes up in the horizon. Little did he suspect its true nature. It was not until the next morning that he encountered Oonomoo, the Huron, who related the particulars of the attack of the Shawnee party upon the house of Captain Prescott and the capture of his daughter. Had not the impulsive Lieutenant thus learned of his beloved's safety from massacre, had he not received the assurance of an immediate attempt for her recapture, there is no telling to what imprudent lengths he might have gone in his blind devotion to the young captive. Oonomoo remained with him but a short time, when he departed on his mission to the Shawnee village, and the lover continued on toward the estate of Captain Prescott.
It was nearly noon when Lieutenant Canfield reached the place—now nothing but a mass of charred and blackened ruins. Leaving his horse in the woods, he dismounted and examined the remains of the mansion and smaller buildings. The ghastly corpses of the negroes still lay upon the ground, having been undisturbed, and with a feeling of heart-sickness the young soldier passed them by. In his profession, he had witnessed many revolting sights, but none that affected him more than this. He shuddered, as he reflected that the very barbarians who had wantonly inflicted his woe were the captors of the adored daughter of Captain Prescott, and that they had inflicted as shocking outrages even upon such defenseless captives as she.
Walking thus moodily forward, he was suddenly brought to a standstill by coming in front of an awkward, odd-looking structure, which excited his wonder in no small degree. The charred remains of the logs of one of the buildings had been collected together and piled one above the other, so that they bore some resemblance to a rudely-fashioned oven. From the circumstances of the case, these must have been arranged in this manner subsequently to the visit of the Shawnees, and it was this fact which awakened the curiosity of the Lieutenant. His first supposition was that it was the doings of the Huron. But what reason could he have had for rearing such a structure? What possible purpose could it serve him?
All at once it flashed upon the Lieutenant that it was the work of the Shawnees themselves, and he began to view the contrivance with some apprehension. This feeling was considerably strengthened when he either heard or fancied he heard the movement of some one within it. Prudence dictated that he should place a little more distance between it and himself. Accordingly he began to retreat, walking backward and keeping his gaze fixed upon it, ready for any demonstration from his concealed enemies.
Suddenly something within the hollow of the structure fell with a dull thump that nearly lifted the Lieutenant from his feet. At the same moment he heard a suppressed growl, as if made by a caged bear. He now began to feel more wonder than fear.
"What in the name of creation is the meaning of that concern, and what sort of animal is caged in it?" he muttered, staying his retreat.
The Lieutenant debated whether or not to approach and examine the interior of the odd-looking hut. It seemed hardly possible that any human being could be within, although it was certain there was some living object there.
"At any rate I'll stir him up," he concluded, resolutely approaching. The growls were now redoubled, and he really believed some four-footed animal was the cause of all the uproar.
"It may be the Shawnees have attempted a little pleasantry after their bloody work, and caged up some poor creature within those logs," thought he. "I'll let him loose if such be the case."
He placed his hand upon the stump of a log nearest to him, when a thunderbolt appeared to have exploded before him. He started back as though he had received an electric shock. A perfect battery of howls was leveled against him, and for a moment his ears were stunned with the deafening uproar. He determined, however, to solve the mystery. Giving the structure a push that brought it tumbling to the ground, he sprung back and held his rifle prepared for any foe, were he a four-footed or a two-footed one. Instead of either, what was his amazement to see a negro, as black as midnight, emerge from the ruins, and cringe at his feet.
"Oh, Mr. Injine, please don't shoot! please don't kill me! Nice, good Mr. Injine, don't hurt me! Please don't tomahawk poor Cato! He never hurt an Injine in all his life. Please don't! Oh, don't! don't! don't! boo-hoo! oo!-oo-oo!"
"Get up, get up, Cato, and don't make a fool of yourself," said the Lieutenant, recognizing in the frightened negro the favorite servant of Captain Prescott's family.
"Oh, please don't hurt me! Please don't kill poor Cato! He never hurt good Injine in all his life! Please, good, nice Mr. Injine, let me go, and I'll do anyt'ing you wants me to, and lubs you as long as I lib. Please, don't hurt poor nigger Cato," repeated the servant, fairly beside himself with terror.
"If you don't want to be killed, get up," said the young officer, sternly enough to bring Cato to his senses; but only after he had been assisted by what he supposed to be a ferocious Indian, ready to brain him, was he enabled to rise and to keep his feet.
"Don't you know me, Cato?" asked the Lieutenant, laughing heartily at the woe-begone appearance of the negro.
"Hebens, golly! ain't you an Injine, Massa Canfield?" he asked, his knees still shaking with terror.
"Do I look like one?"
"Guess you isn't, arter all," added the negro, with more assurance. "Hebens, golly! I ain't afeard!" he suddenly exclaimed, straightening up proudly. "Didn't t'ink Cato was afeard, Massa Canfield?"
"I must say that the circumstantial evidence of your cowardice is hard to resist."
The negro's eyes enlarged as he heard the large words of the soldier, and his looks showed that he had no idea of their meaning.
"Doesn't t'ink I's afeard?"
"Why did you build such a looking concern as that?"
"Why I build dat? To keep de rain off of me."
"It hasn't rained at all for several days."
"Know dat, but, den, expect maybe 'twill. Bes' to be ready for it when does come."
"But, as there were no evidences of a storm coming very soon, why should you get in there just now?"
"Storms out in dese parts bust berry suddent sometimes. Oughter know dat, Massa Canfield."
"Yes, I do; but, why in the name of common sense did you set up such a growling when I came near your old cabin?"
"Did I growl at you?"
"Yes: made as much noise as a grizzly bear could have done."
"Done it jist for fun, Massa. Hebens, golly! wanted to see if you was afeard, too."
"But," said the soldier, assuming a more serious air, "let the jesting cease. When did you put those logs together, Cato?"
"Dis morning, arter dey went away," he replied, with a shudder, casting a look of terror around him.
"And when did they—the Shawnees—go away?"
"Didn't stay long, Massa; come in de night, berry late—bust on de house all at once."
Lieutenant Canfield felt a painful interest in all that related to Mary Prescott. Although the Huron had given him the principal incidents of the attack and massacre, he could not restrain himself from questioning the negro still further.
"Had you no warning of their approach?"
"Nothing; didn't know dey war about till dey war among us."
"What was the first thing you heard, Cato? Give me the particulars so far as you can remember."
"Hebens, golly! I'll neber forgit dat night if I lib a fousand years. Wal, you see I and Big Mose had just gwane to bed and blowed de candle out——"
"Had Miss Mary retired?"
"Yes—she'd been gone a good while. You see, me and Big Mose am generally de last niggers dat am up, specially myself. I goes around for to see if de t'ings am all right about de house. Wal, me and Mose had been around to see if eberyt'ing was right, and was coming back from de barn and got purty near de house, when Mose whispers, 'Cato, I see'd a man crawling on de ground back dar. I didn't say nuffin' for fear ob scaring ob you.' 'Oh! git out,' says I, 'you's skeart.' But I felt a little oneasy myself, 'cause I kind ob fought I heern somefin' when we was a little furder off. I commenced for to walk fast, and Big Mose commenced for to walk fast, and afore we knowed it, we bofe was a canterin', and when we come aginst de door, we'd like to 've busted it in, we was tearing along so fast. We tumbled in ober each oder, and fastened dat door in a hurry you'd better beliebe."
"Wal, we went to our room, and blowed out de candle and said our prayers and went to bed. We hadn't been laying dar long, when Big Mose turned ober toward me, and whispers, 'I tell you, Cato, dar am Inj'ines about de house. 'Cause why I see'd one, and I had a dream last night dat a whole lot ob dem comes here in de night and killed all of us niggers and burnt Missis Mary!' Hebens, golly! Massa Canfield, I begun to turn white about de gills when I heerd him say dat. I'd been shibering and shaking, and now I shook like de ager. I told Big Mose to be still and go to sleep, 'cause it seemed to me if I went to sleep when t'ings looked bad, dey would be all right agin in de mornin'. But, he wouldn't be still and says, 'I tell you, Cato, dar am Injines crawlin' around ob dis house dis very minute, 'cause I can hear dar knees and hands on de ground.' I couldn't make Big Mose keep quiet. Bimeby, he says, 'Cato, let's git up and be ready for 'em, for dey're comin'. I knows it, I ken feel it in my bones. Let's wake up Missis Mary and de niggers and fight 'em, for dey'll be here afore morning, sure.' Wal, dat nigger worrid me awful. I told him I wouldn't git up, but was going to sleep, and turned ober in bed, but I couldn't keep my eyes shet.
"Bimeby, I heard Big Mose crawling soft-like out de bed. He was trying to make no noise, so he wouldn't wake me, finking I was asleep. He stepped like a cat on de floor, and I listened to see what he was going to do. I heerd him move around and den all was still. 'What you doing, Mose?' I axed. 'I'm going to say my prayers,' he said, 'and it's de last time too, 'cause de Injines will soon be here.' I didn't try to stop him, for I felt so bad, I commenced saying mine in de bed.
"Big Mose kept mumbling and crying for a long time, and I shaking more and more, when all at once, hebens, golly! I see'd somefin' bright-like shine trough de winder, and I looked out and de barn was all afire. Den dar come a yell dat nearly blowed de roof off de house. Big Mose gib a screech and run, and bang-bang went a lot ob guns all around us. De Injines was dar, burnin', tomahawkin', screechin', shoutin', and killin' de poor niggers as fast as dey showed demselves. I see'd Miss Mary——"
"Did they harm her?"
"No! She didn't 'pear skeart a bit. She tried to keep de Injines from killing de poor niggers, not t'inking anyt'ing about herself."
"How was it that you escaped?"
"I stayed where I was till I was nearly burnt up, when I sneaked out and none of 'em didn't 'pear to notice me. I hid in de woods and stayed dar till mornin'."
"Did you see anything more of Miss Mary?"
"Yes, I see'd de Injines go away purty soon, and take her along. Dey didn't take any ob de niggers, 'cause dey had killed 'em all but me, and I was already dead, but I comed to agin."
"None of Captain Prescott's family were in the house besides Mary, were they?" asked the Lieutenant, asking a question of which he well knew the answer.
"Nobody else wan't dar—bress de Lord! Missis Prescott and Helen went off on a visit to de settlement, t'ree, four days ago."
"How was it Miss Mary remained behind?"
"Ki-yi! you doesn't know, eh?" said Cato, grinning vastly, in total forgetfulness, for the moment, of his dreadful surroundings.
"How should I know? Of course, I do not."
"Wal, den, Oonymoo, dat red Injine, told her as how maybe you'd be 'long dese parts 'bout dis time, and she 'cluded she'd be't home when you called. Dat's how she was heah!"
A thrill went through the gallant Lieutenant at this evidence of the affection of the fair maiden he had journeyed so far to see. Despite the heart-sickness which had come over him at sight of the revolting scenes around, he experienced a sort of pleasure from the words of the negro, and felt anxious for him to say more.
"How do you know, Cato, that this was the reason she remained behind?"
"Hebens, golly! didn't I hear her tell Missis so?"
"Her mother? And what did she say?"
"Oh! she and Missis Helen kinder laughed, and showed all dar white teef, and dey didn't try to persuade her to go, 'cause dey knowed dar wan't no use ob tryin' to do nuffin' like dat. She lubs the Leftenant altogeder too much. Yah! yah!" and Cato kicked up his heels, hugely delighted.
"Have you told me when you built this house of yours?"
"T'ought I hahd. Done dat ar workmanship dis mornin', arter all de Injines had gone. T'ought dar'd be somebody 'long dis way afore long."
"There has been nothing saved," said the Lieutenant, looking around and speaking apparently to himself.
"Noffin' but dis poor nigger, and I don't know what will become of him now dat he's all alone," said Cato, with a woe-begone demeanor.
"Have no anxiety upon that account. You shall be attended to. Captain Prescott and all his family are living, and, depend upon it, you will not suffer if he can prevent it."
"But de house am gone—de horses—de corns—eberyt'ing but me."
The young soldier continued musing for a moment and then asked:
"How far from here is the settlement to which Mrs. Prescott has gone?"
"Ten, fifteen or forty miles."
"Can't you tell me more precisely than that?"
"Somewhere atween ten and forty or fifty—dat's all I can tell."
"Have you ever been there yourself?"
"You know the way?"
"Jes' as well as did from de house to de barn."
"How would you like to go there?"
"What! alone?" asked Cato, the old look of terror coming back to his countenance.
"Certainly—you have been there and back you said, didn't you?"
"Yes, but bress your soul! de Injines wan't about den."
"I guess there were as many as there are this minute."
"Oh! gracious! I don't want to go alone. What made ye ax me dat queshun?"
"Why, I thought this, Cato. You see I expect Oonomoo to return to this place by nightfall, when I intend to accompany him to the Shawnee village where Miss Mary is held captive——"
"Goin' to git her?"
"We hope to. I was going to propose that you should make your way to the settlement and carry the news of this sad affair to Mrs. Prescott and her daughter, assuring her that the Huron and myself will do all we can to rescue Mary. They must have seen the light, last night, and no doubt are dreadfully anxious to learn whether it was their mansion or not. Besides, I doubt whether the Huron will be willing that you should accompany us."
"Why won't he? I guess Cato knows enough to take care of his self. Allus has done it. Done it last night."
"We will let the matter rest until his return. It shall be as he says."
"What time 'spect him?"
"In the course of a few hours. In the meantime, there is another matter that must be attended to. Do you know whether there is a spade or shovel lying about?"
"Dunno; guess dar is dough. I'll see in a minute."
Cato ran some distance to where the charred remains of another building were heaped together, and searching among the ruins, brought forth a spade with a portion of the handle still left.
"What ye want to do dat ar?" he asked, as he brought it to the Lieutenant.
"We must bury those bodies, Cato. It would be wrong to deny them a decent burial when we possess the time and means."
Cato had a mortal horror of touching any creature that was dead, but more than once he had wished that the corpses were placed in the ground, although he had not the courage to put them there. He showed no reluctance now to the performance of his portion of the task.
"You know how to dig, I presume?" asked the Lieutenant.
"Yis, I offin dug wid dis berry same spade. Whar'd you want thar graves?"
"One grave will answer for the four, and this spot will do as well as any other."
The soldier gave the proper directions, and the negro commenced his labor at once. In an hour or two, he had hollowed out a grave, ready for the reception of the dead bodies. He could not conceal his repugnance to touching them, although he did not refuse to do so.
"Dat ar is poor Big Mose," said he, as they took hold of a Herculean negro, who had been brained by the keen tomahawk. "And he knowed the Injines war a-comin' a long time afore dey did. Poor Mose," he added, as the big tears trickled down his cheek, "he neber will eat any more big suppers or come de double-shuffle or de back-action-spring by moonlight. Poor feller! he had a big heel and knowed how to handle it."
The body was carefully lowered into the grave, and the others, one by one, were placed beside it. It was a sight which haunted Lieutenant Canfield for many a night—those black, upturned corpses—awful evidences of the terrible passions of the Shawnees. The earth was carefully deposited over them and the last sad rites performed.
The sun was now past the meridian, and the young soldier began to look momentarily for the appearance of the Huron. An hour or two had passed, when Cato spoke:
"Massa Canfield, 'tain't noways likely dat ar Injine will be along afore dark. Dat's de time dem critters likes to travel, so what's de use ob our waitin' here so long. Oder Injines mought be around dese parts and wouldn't it be a good idee to git in de woods whar dey wouldn't be so apt to see us?"
It struck the Lieutenant that there was some sense in the advice of the negro; so he concluded to act upon it. Moving away toward the wood, his foot struck and scattered a pile of black cinders lying near the ruins of the house. Looking down, he saw something glitter. What was his surprise to discover in the ashes a gold watch and chain which he had often seen upon the neck of Mary Prescott. A portion of the chain had been melted by the intense heat, but by some singular means, the watch had been so well preserved that there was scarcely a blemish upon it. As he picked it up, Cato exclaimed, with rolling eyes:
"Dat is Miss Mary's! dat is Miss Mary's!"
"It couldn't have been around her neck, certainly, when it was lost."
"No, she allers laid it on de stand aside her bed, and dat's de way it got dar. See, dar's de legs ob de stand."
It was as the negro said, and in the hope of finding some more of the valuables of the family, the soldier kicked the ashes and cinders hither and thither and searched among them for a considerable time. Nothing further rewarded him, however. Placing the watch upon his own person, he went on, across the edge of the clearing, into the woods beyond. He led his horse further into their protection, and then beckoned the negro to his side.
"Do you feel sleepy, Cato?"
"No! what'd you ax that fur?"
"Well I do, and I am going to try to get a little sleep. I wish you to keep watch of the clearing while I do."
"Don't 'spect none of dem Injines will be back here?"
"No, but Oonomoo will probably soon be. I want you to see him the minute he comes, and awaken me so that there shall be no unnecessary delay."
Cato promised to obey, and took his station nearer the clearing, while the fatigued soldier stretched himself upon the ground and was soon wrapped in a dreamless slumber.
Lieutenant Canfield slept until nearly sunset, and would have slept even longer had he not been aroused by Cato roughly shaking his shoulder.
"Why, what's the matter?" he asked, looking up in the terror-stricken countenance of the negro.
"Hebens, golly! dey've come!"
"Who has come? what are you talking about?"
"De Injines. Dar's forty fousand of 'em out dar in de clearing!"
Considerably flurried by the husky words of his sable friend, Lieutenant Canfield arose and walked stealthily toward the clearing to satisfy himself in regard to the cause of the negro's excessive fear.
"Be keerful, or dey'll see you," admonished the latter, following several yards behind.
Approaching as near the edge of the wood as he deemed prudent, he was rewarded by the sight of some six or eight Indians—undoubtedly Shawnees—who were examining the ruins that lay around them with considerable curiosity. They were ugly-looking customers in their revolting war-paint and fantastic costumes, and the Lieutenant felt that the wisest plan he could adopt was to give them a wide berth. Withdrawing further into the wood, he asked the negro when he had first seen them.
"Massa Canfield, I stood and watched out dar for two, free hours till I fell asleep myself and come down kerwollup on de ground. I laid dar a good while afore I woke, and de fust t'ing I see'd when I looked out dar, war dem Injines walking round, kickin' up t'ings and makin' darselves at home ginerally. You'd better beliebe I trabeled fast to tell you ob it."
"From which direction do you think they come?"
"Dunno, but I finks de way dey looks dat dey come purty near from dis way, mighty clus to whar we's standin'; and I t'inks dey'll take de same route to git back agin."
Somehow or other, the Lieutenant had the same impression as the negro. It was so strong upon him that he resolved to change their position at once. Accordingly, he proceeded to where his horse was tied, and unfastening, led him into the wood. Making a detour, he came back nearly upon the opposite side of the clearing, where, if possible, the wood was still thicker. Here they carefully screened themselves from observation and watched the Shawnees.
Hither and thither they passed, searching among the ruins for plunder, occasionally turning up some trifle upon which they pounced with the avidity of children, and examining the half-burnt remnants of chairs, tables and stands, etc. Here and there they pulled the black, twisted nails forth, that looked like worms burnt to a cinder, and carefully preserved them for future use. Every metallic substance was seized as a prize, and some of the wooden portions of instruments were also appropriated. Thin twists of smoke still ascended from different spots in the clearing, and the ashes when stirred showed the red live coals beneath them.
"Yah! yah! dat feller's got sumkin' nice," said Cato, laughing heartily and silently at one of the Indians, who had pulled forth a long board with evident delight. Turning it over, he balanced it on his shoulder and was walking rapidly away, when suddenly he sprung several feet in the air with a yell of agony, and jumped from beneath it, rubbing his shoulder very violently as if suffering acute pain.
"Yah! yah! knowed 'twould do dat. Lower part all afire, and reckoned it burnt him a little."
The Indian continued dancing around for several moments, not ashamed to show to his companions how much he suffered. He by no means was the only one who was caught in this manner. Very often, a savage would spring from the ground, with a sharp exclamation, as some coal pierced through his moccasin, and now and then another could be seen, slapping his fingers against his person, after he had hastily dropped some object. One eager Shawnee attempted to draw a red-hot nail from a slab with his thumb and finger, and roasted the ends of both by the operation, while a second seated himself upon a board which set fire to the fringe of his hunting-shirt. He did not become aware of it until a few minutes later, when, in walking around, the fire reached his hide. Placing his hand behind him, he received unmistakable evidence of its presence, when he set up a loud whoop and started at full speed for the spring, reaching which, he seated himself in it, before he felt entirely safe.
These, and many other incidents, amused the Lieutenant for the time being, while the delight of Cato was almost uncontrollable. He seemed in danger of apoplexy several times from the efforts he made to subdue his laughter. But, all at once there was a sudden cessation in his mirth, and a visible lengthening of his visage. Grasping the shoulder of the soldier, he exclaimed:
"Look dar! Look dar! See dem!"
"I see nothing to alarm us."
"Look dar whar we went into the clearin'. Don't you see dem Injines dar?"
Lieutenant Canfield did see something that alarmed him. The whole eight Indians had followed the track of himself and the negro to the edge of the wood, where they had halted and were consulting together. They certainly must have noticed it before, but had probably been too busy to examine it particularly. It had never once occurred to the white man that this evidence of his presence would tell against him, but he now saw the imminent peril in which he and the negro were placed.
"We must flee, Cato," said he. "Fortunately it will soon be dark, when they cannot follow us."
"Will we bofe git on de hoss?" asked the frightened negro.
"No; it will do no good. Let us take to the woods. Hush! What's that?"
Just as they were about moving, the sharp report of a rifle came upon their ears, and with a loud whoop the Shawnees rushed off in a body, taking an easterly direction, which was different from that followed by the soldier and negro. Now that all immediate danger was gone, the two remained behind, to learn, if possible, the cause of the mysterious shot and subsequent action of the Shawnees.
It was not until night, when Oonomoo, the Huron, returned, that the cause was made known. He had approached several hours before, and seen the savages in consultation, and divined the cause of it. To divert them from pursuing his two friends, whom they would most certainly have captured, he discharged his piece among them, and then purposely showed himself to draw them after him. The stratagem succeeded as well as he could have wished. He easily eluded them, until they had followed him some distance in the woods, when he made his way back again to the clearing, where he rejoined the Lieutenant and the negro.
THE HOME OF THE HURON.
Tis nature's worship—felt—confessed, Far as the life which warms the breast! The sturdy savage midst his clan, The rudest portraiture of man, In trackless woods and boundless plains, Where everlasting wildness reigns, Owns the still throb—the secret start— The hidden impulse of the heart.—BYRON.
The Huron, after his escape from the Shawnees, quickened his pace, as we have stated, and went many a mile before he changed his long, sidling trot into the less rapid walk. When he did this, it was upon the shore of a large creek, which ran through one of the wildest and most desolate regions of Ohio. In some portions the banks were nothing more than a continuous swamp, the creek spreading out like a lake among the reeds and undergrowth, through which glided the enormous water-snake, frightened at the apparition of a man in this lonely spot. The bright fish darted hither and thither, their sides flashing up in the sunlight like burnished silver.
The agile Indian sprung lightly from one turf of earth to another, now balancing himself on a rotten stump or root, now walking the length of some fallen tree, so decayed and water-eaten that it mashed to a pulp beneath his feet, and then leaping to some other precarious foothold, progressing rapidly all the time and with such skill that he hardly wetted his moccasin.
While treading a log thus, which gave back a hollow sound, the head of an immense rattlesnake protruded from a hole in the tree, its tail giving the deadly alarm, as it continued issuing forth, as if determined to dispute the passage of man in this desolate place. The fearless Huron scarcely halted. While picking his way through the swamp he had carried his rifle lightly balanced in his left hand, and he now simply changed it to his right, grasping it by the muzzle, so that the stock was before him. He saw the cavernous mouth of the snake opened to an amazing width; the thin tongue, that resembled a tiny stream of blood; the small, glittering eyes; the horn-like fangs, at the roots of which he well knew were the sacks filled almost to bursting with the most deadly of all poisons; the thin neck, swelling out until the scaly belly of the loathsome reptile was visible.
The Huron continued steadily approaching the revolting thing. He was scarcely a yard distant when the neck of the snake arched like a swan's, and the head was drawn far back to strike. In an instant the stock of his rifle swept over the top of the log with the quickness of lightning. There followed a sharp, cracking noise, like the explosion of a percussion-cap, and the head of the rattlesnake spun twenty feet or more out over the swamp. It struck the branch of a tree, and, dropping to the water, sunk out of sight. The headless body of the reptile now writhed and doubled over itself, and smote the tree in the most horrible agony. Oonomoo walked quietly forward, and with his feet shoved it from the log. Still twisting and interlocking, it sunk down, down, down into the clear spring-like waters until it could be seen on the gravelly bottom, where its struggles continued as he passed on.
Not affected by this occurrence, the Huron walked on as quietly as before, his dark, restless eye seemingly flitting over every object within his range of vision. The character of the swamp continued much the same. A broad sheet of water, from nearly every portion of which rose numerous trees, like thin, dark columns, here and there twisted round and round, and, seemingly, smothered by some luxuriant vine; others prostrate, the roots sunk out of sight, and the trunk protruding upward, as if a giant had used them for spears and hurled them into the swamp; shallow portions, where the water was but a few inches deep, and then others, where you could gaze down for twenty feet, as if you were looking through liquid air. These were the peculiarities of this singular spot in the wilderness, through which the Huron was journeying.
He must have proceeded fully a half-mile into this water wilderness, when he reached what might properly be termed the edge of the swamp; that is, the one through which he had been making his way, for there was still another a short distance from him. The growth of trees terminated almost in a mathematical line, and a lake of water, something less than a quarter of a mile in width, stretched out before him, perfectly clear of every obstruction. The Indian stood a long time, looking about in every direction. What was unusual, there was an expression of the most intense anxiety upon his countenance. Well might there be; for, sooner than to have a human eye (whether it was that of the white or red man) to witness the movements he was now about to make, he would have suffered death at the stake a thousand times!
Apparently satisfied, he laid his rifle on the tree upon which he had been standing, and then sprung out into the deeper water, sinking like a stone from sight. When he came to the surface, he brought something with him, which proved to be a canoe. With this he swam to the tree, where he righted and turned the water from it. A paddle was secured in it. Taking his seat, the canoe went skimming like a swallow over the water toward the opposite swamp.
Reaching this, he shot in among the trees, avoiding them with as much ease and dexterity as would a bird on the wing. Going a hundred yards in this manner, he arose in his canoe and looked around. A shade of displeasure crossed his face, apparently of disappointment at not discovering some person or object for whom he was looking. Waiting a moment, he placed his thumb on his mouth, and gave utterance to a low, tremulous whistle, an exact imitation of a bird often found in the American swamps. A moment later, there came a response exactly the same, except that it sounded fainter and a considerable distance away. The moment it caught the ear of the Huron, he reseated himself and folded his arms in the attitude of patient waiting.
Scarce five minutes had elapsed, when the plash of another paddle was heard, and a second canoe made its appearance, carefully approaching that of the Huron. In it was seated an Indian boy, not more than twelve years of age, who handled it with a skill scarcely second to that of his father, Oonomoo.
"Niniotan, my son, is late," said the latter, sternly, as the boy came alongside.
"I was chasing a deer this morning, and was carried further in the woods than I thought," meekly replied the boy.
"Has the Moravian missionary given Niniotan two tongues that he should think Oonomoo speaks idle words?"
"Niniotan does not think so," said the son, in a humble voice of thrilling sweetness.
"Oonomoo said when the sun was over yonder tree-top he would be waiting for his boy Niniotan. He waited, but Niniotan was not here."
The son of the Huron warrior bowed his head as if he had nothing to say to the merited rebuke. The father took his seat in the canoe of his son, who carried him rapidly forward through the swamp, for perhaps a quarter of a mile further, when the ground became so solid that they landed and walked upon it. The grass was green and luxuriant, the trees stood close together, and in some places the shrubbery seemed almost impenetrable. But Niniotan never hesitated. The way was perfectly familiar. A rabbit could scarcely have glided through the wood with more dexterity than did he and his father.