THE BIG BROTHER
A Story of Indian War
GEORGE CARY EGGLESTON
Author of "How to Educate Yourself," Etc.
New York G. P. Putnam's Sons Fourth Avenue and Twenty-Third Street 1875.
Copyright. G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1875.
CHAPTER I. Page. SINQUEFIELD 7
CHAPTER II. THE STORMING OF SINQUEFIELD 17
CHAPTER III. SAM'S LECTURE 28
CHAPTER IV. SAM FINDS IT NECESSARY TO THINK 38
CHAPTER V. SAM'S FORTRESS 46
CHAPTER VI. SURPRISED 61
CHAPTER VII. CONFUSED 67
CHAPTER VIII. WEATHERFORD 71
CHAPTER IX. WEARY WAITING 83
CHAPTER X. FIGHTING FIRE 93
CHAPTER XI. IN THE WILDERNESS 104
CHAPTER XII. AN ALARM AND A WELCOME 118
CHAPTER XIII. JOE'S PLAN 124
CHAPTER XIV. THE CANOE FIGHT 130
CHAPTER XV. THE BOYS ARE DRIVEN OUT OF THE ROOT FORTRESS 143
CHAPTER XVI. WHERE IS JOE? 159
CHAPTER XVII. A FAMINE 163
CHAPTER XVIII. WHICH ENDS THE STORY 173
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE DOG CHARGE Frontispiece.
SAM'S PARTY 20
"WE'S DUN LOS'—DAT'S WHA' WE IS" 40
JUDIE ON THE RAFT 49
THE PERILOUS LEAP 83
THE BIG BROTHER.
In the quiet days of peace and security in which we live it is difficult to imagine such a time of excitement as that at which our story opens, in the summer of 1813. From the beginning of that year, the Creek Indians in Alabama and Mississippi had shown a decided disposition to become hostile. In addition to the usual incentives to war which always exist where the white settlements border closely upon Indian territory, there were several special causes operating to bring about a struggle at that time. We were already at war with the British, and British agents were very active in stirring up trouble on our frontiers, knowing that nothing would so surely weaken the Americans as a general outbreak of Indian hostilities. Tecumseh, the great chief, had visited the Creeks, too, and had urged them to go on the war path, threatening them, in the event of their refusal, with the wrath of the Great Spirit. His appeals to their superstition were materially strengthened by the occurrence of an earthquake, which singularly enough, he had predicted, threatening that when he returned to his home he would stamp his foot and shake their houses down. Their own prophets, Francis and Singuista, had preached war, too, telling the Indians that their partial adoption of civilization, and their relations of friendship with the whites, were sorely displeasing to the Great Spirit, who would surely punish them if they did not immediately abandon the civilization and butcher the pale-faces. Francis predicted, also, that in the coming struggle no Indians would be killed, while the whites would be completely exterminated. All this was promised on condition that the Indians should become complete savages again, quitting all the habits of industry and thrift which they had been learning for some years past, and fighting mercilessly against all whites, sparing none.
All these things combined to bring on the war, and during the spring several raids were made by small bodies of the Indians, in which they were pretty severely punished by the whites. Finally a battle was fought at Burnt-corn, in July 1813, and this was the signal for the breaking out of the most terrible of all Indian wars,—the most terrible, because the savages engaged in it had learned from the whites how to fight, and because many of their chiefs were educated half-breeds, familiar with the country and with all the points of weakness on the part of the settlers. Stockade forts were built in various places, and in these the settlers took refuge, leaving their fields to grow as they might and their houses to be plundered and burned whenever the Indians should choose to visit them. The stockades were so built as to enclose several acres each, and strong block houses inside, furnished additional protection. Into these forts there came men, women, and children, from all parts of the country, each bringing as much food as possible, and each willing to lend a hand to the common defence and the common support.
On the 30th of August, the Indians attacked Fort Mims, one of the largest of the stockade stations, and after a desperate battle destroyed it, killing all but seventeen of the five hundred and fifty people who were living in it. The news of this terrible slaughter quickly spread over the country, and everybody knew now that a general war had begun, in which the Indians meant to destroy the whites utterly, not sparing even the youngest children.
Those who had remained on their farms now flocked in great numbers to the forts, and every effort was made to strengthen the defences at all points. The men, including all the boys who were large enough to point a gun and pull a trigger, were organized into companies and assigned to port-holes, in order that each might know where to go to do his part of the fighting whenever the Indians should come. Even those of the women who knew how to shoot, insisted upon being provided with guns and assigned to posts of duty. There was not only no use in flinching, but every one of them knew that whenever the fort should be attacked the only question to be decided was, "Shall we beat the savages off, or shall every man woman and child of us be butchered?" They could not run away, for there was nowhere to run, except into the hands of the merciless foe. The life of every one of them was involved in the defence of the forts, and each was, therefore, anxious to do all he could to make the defense a successful one. Their only hope was in desperate courage, and, being Americans, their courage was equal to the demand made upon it. It was not a civilized war, in which surrenders, and exchanges of prisoners, and treaties and flags of truce, or even neutrality offered any escape. It was a savage war, in which the Indians intended to kill all the whites, old and young, wherever they could find them. The people in the forts knew this, and they made their arrangements accordingly.
Now if the boys and girls who read this story will get their atlases and turn to the map of Alabama, they will find some points, the relative positions of which they must remember if they wish to understand fully the happenings with which we have to do. Just below the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, on the east side of the stream, they will find the little town of Tensaw, and Fort Mims stood very near that place. The peninsula formed by the two rivers above their junction is now Clarke County, and almost exactly in its centre stands the village of Grove Hill. A mile or two to the north-east stood Fort Sinquefield. Fort White was several miles further west, and Fort Glass, afterwards called Fort Madison, stood fifteen miles south, at a point about three miles south of the present village of Suggsville. On the eastern side of the Alabama river is the town of Claiborne, and at a point about three miles below Claiborne the principal events of this story occurred. It will not hurt you, boys and girls, to learn a little accurate geography, by looking up these places before going on with the story, and if I were your schoolmaster, instead of your story teller, I should stop here to advise you always to look on the map for every town, river, lake, mountain or other geographical thing mentioned in any book or paper you read. I would advise you, too, if I were your schoolmaster, to add up all the figures given in books and newspapers, to see if the writers have made any mistakes; and it is a good plan too, to go at once to the dictionary when you meet a word you do not quite comprehend, or to the encyclopaedia or history, or whatever else is handy, whenever you read about anything and would like to know more about it. I say I should stop here to give you some such advice as this, if I were your schoolmaster. As I am not, however, I must go on with my story instead.
Within a mile or two of Fort Sinquefield lived a gentleman named Hardwicke. He was a widower with three children. Sam, the oldest of the three, was nearly seventeen; Tommy was eleven, and a little girl of seven years, named Judith, but called Judie, was the other. Mr. Hardwicke was a quiet, studious man, who had come to Alabama from Baltimore, not many years before, and since the death of his wife he had spent most of his time in his library, which was famous throughout the settlement on account of the wonderful number of books it contained. There were hardly any schools in Alabama in those days, and Mr. Hardwicke, being a man of education and considerable wealth, gave up almost the whole of his time to his children, teaching them in doors and out, and directing them in their reading. It was understood that Sam would be sent north to attend College the next year, and meantime he had become a voracious reader. He read all sorts of books, and as he remembered and applied the things he learned from them, it was a common saying in the country round about, that "Sam Hardwicke knows pretty nearly everything." Of course that was not true, but he knew a good deal more than most of the men in the country, and better than all, he knew how very much there was for him yet to learn. A boy has learned the very best lesson of his life when he knows that he really does not know much; it is a lesson some people never learn at all. But books were not the only things Sam Hardwicke was familiar with. He could ride the worst horses in the country and shoot a rifle almost as well as Tandy Walker himself, and Tandy, as every reader of history knows, was the most famous rifleman, as well as the best guide and most daring scout in the whole south-west. Sam had hunted, too, over almost every inch of country within twenty miles around, trudging alone sometimes for a week or a fortnight before returning, and in this way he had learned to know the distances, the directions, and the nature of the country lying between different places,—a knowledge worth gaining by anybody, and especially valuable to a boy who lived in a frontier settlement. He was strong of limb and active as he was strong, and his "book knowledge," as the neighbors called it, served him many a good turn in the woods, when he was beset by difficulties.
Sam's father was one of the very last of the settlers to go into a fort. He remained at home as long as he could, and went to Fort Sinquefield at last, only when warned by an Indian who for some reason liked him, that he and his children's lives were in imminent danger. That was on the first of September, and when the Hardwicke family, black and white, were safely within the little fortress, there remained outside only two families, namely, those of Abner James and Ransom Kimball, who determined to remain one more night at Kimball's house, two miles from Sinquefield. That very night the Indians, under Francis the prophet, burned the house, killing twelve of the inmates. Five others escaped, and one of them, Isham Kimball, who was then a boy of sixteen, afterwards became Clerk of Clarke County, where he was still living in 1857.
THE STORMING OF SINQUEFIELD.
When the news of the massacre at Kimball's reached Fort Glass, a detachment of ten men was sent out to recover the bodies, which they brought to Fort Sinquefield for burial. The graves were dug in a little valley three or four hundred yards from the fort, and all the people went out to attend the funeral. The services had just come to an end when the cry of "Indians! Indians!" was raised, and a body of warriors, under the prophet Francis, dashed down from behind a hill, upon the defenceless people, whose guns were inside the fort. The first impulse of every one was to catch up the little children and hasten inside the gates, but it was manifestly too late. The Indians were already nearer the fort than they, and were running with all their might, brandishing their knives and tomahawks, and yelling like demons.
There seemed no way of escape. Sam Hardwicke took little Judie up in his arms, and, quick as thought calculated the chances of reaching the fort. Clearly the only way in which he could possibly get there, was by leaving his little sister to her fate and running for his life. But Sam Hardwicke was not the sort of boy to do anything so cowardly as that. Abandoning the thought of getting to the fort, he called to Tom to follow him, and with Judie in his arms, he ran into a neighboring thicket, where the three, with Joe, a black boy of twelve or thirteen years who had followed them, concealed themselves in the bushes. Whether they had been seen by the Indians or not, they had no way of knowing, but their only hope of safety now lay in absolute stillness. They crouched down together and kept silence.
"What's we gwine to do here, I wonder," whispered the black boy. "Whar mus' we go, Mas Sam?"
Sam did not answer. He was too much absorbed in studying the situation to talk or even to listen. The Indians were coming down upon the white people from every side, and the only wonder was that Sam's little party had managed to find a gap in their line big enough to escape through.
"Be patient, Joe," said little Judie, in the calmest voice possible. "Brother Sam will take care of us. Give him time. He always does know what to do."
"Be still, Joe," said Sam. "If you talk that Indian'll see us," pointing to one not thirty steps distant, though Joe had not yet seen him.
A terrified "ugh!" was all the reply Joe could make.
Meantime the situation of the fort people was terrible. Cut off from the gates and unarmed, there seemed to be nothing for them to do except to meet death as bravely and calmly as they could. A young man named Isaac Harden happened to be near the gates, however, on horseback, and accompanied by a pack of about sixty hounds. And this young man, whose name has barely crept into a corner of history, was both a hero and a military genius, and he did right then and there, a deed as brilliant and as heroic as any other in history. Seeing the perilous position of the fort people, he raised himself in his stirrups and waving his hat, charged the savages with his pack of dogs, whooping and yelling after the manner of a huntsman, and leading the fierce bloodhounds right into the ranks of the infuriated Indians. The dogs being trained to chase and seize any living thing upon which their master might set them, attacked the Indians furiously, Harden encouraging them and riding down group after group of the bewildered savages. Charging right and left with his dogs, he succeeded in putting the Indians for a time upon the defensive, thus giving the white people time to escape into the fort. When all were in except Sam's party and a Mrs. Phillips who was killed, Harden began looking about him for a chance to secure his own safety. His impetuosity had carried him clear through the Indian ranks, and the savages, having beaten the dogs off, turned their attention to the young cavalier who had balked them in the very moment of their victory. They were between him and the gates, hundreds against one. His dogs were killed or scattered, and he saw at a glance that there was little hope for him. The woods behind him were full of Indians, and so retreat was impossible. Turning his horse's head towards the gates, he plunged spurs into his side, and with a pistol in each hand, dashed through the savage ranks, firing as he went. Blowing a blast upon his horn to recall those of his dogs which were still alive, he escaped on foot into the fort, just in time to let the gate shut in the face of the foremost Indian. His horse, history tells us, was killed under him, and he had five bullet holes through his clothes, but his skin was unbroken.
Francis and his followers were balked but not beaten. Retiring for a few minutes behind the hill, they rallied and came again to the assault, more furiously than ever. Their savage instincts were thoroughly aroused by the unexpected defeat they had sustained in the very moment of their victory, and they were determined now to take the fort at any cost. Their plan of attack showed the skill of their leader, who was really a man of considerable ability in spite of his fanatical belief in his own prophetic gifts. He avoided both the errors usually committed by Indian leaders in storming fortified places. He refused, on the one hand, to let his men waste their powder and their time in desultory firing, and, on the other, he decided not to risk everything on the hazard of a single assault. His plan was to take the fort by storm, but the storming was to be done systematically. Dividing his force into two parts, he sent one to the attack, and held the other back in the hope that the first would gain a position so near the stockade as to make the assault of the second, led by himself, doubly sure of success. The plan was a good one, without doubt, and no man was better qualified than Francis to carry it out.
When the storming party came, the people in the fort were ready for it. Counting out the women and children, their numbers were not large, but they were a brave and determined set of men and boys, who knew very well in what kind of a struggle they were engaged. They reserved their fire until the Indians were within thirty yards of the fort, and then delivered it as rapidly as they could, taking care to waste none of it by random or careless shooting. The fort consisted, as all the border fortifications did, of a simple stockade, inside of which was a block-house for the protection of the women and children, and designed also as a sort of "last ditch," in which a desperate resistance could be made, even after the fort had been carried. The stockade was made of the trunks of pine-trees set on end in the ground, close together, but pierced at intervals with port-holes, through which the men of the garrison could fire. Such a stockade afforded an excellent protection against the bullets and the arrows of the Indians, and gave its defenders a great advantage over the assailing force, which must, of course, be exposed to a galling fire from the men behind the barriers. As the stockade was about fifteen feet high, climbing over it was almost wholly out of the question, and the only way to take the fort was to rush upon it with fence rails, stop up the port-holes immediately in front, and keep so close to the stockade as to escape the fire from points to the right and left, while engaged in cutting down the timber barrier. If the Indians could do this, their superior numbers would enable them to rush in through the opening thus made, and then the block-house would be the only refuge left to the white people. The block-house was a building made of very large timbers, hewed square, laid close upon each other and notched to an exact fit at the ends. It had but one entrance, and that was near the top. This could be reached only by a ladder, and should the Indians gain access to the fort, the whites would retire, fighting, to this building, and when all were in, the ladder would be drawn in after them. From the port-holes of the block-house a fierce fire could be delivered, and as the square timbers were not easily set on fire, a body of Indians must be very determined indeed, if they succeeded in taking or destroying a block-house. At Fort Mims, however, they had done so, burning the house over the heads of the inmates.
The reader will understand, from this description of the fort, how possible it was for the people within it to withstand a very determined attack, and to inflict heavy loss upon the savages, without suffering much in their turn. Francis's men charged furiously upon the silent stockade, but were sent reeling back as soon as they had come near enough for the riflemen within to fire with absolute accuracy of aim. Then the second body, under Francis himself, charged, but with no better success. A pause followed, and another charge was made just before nightfall.
This time some of the savages succeeded in reaching the stockade and stopping up some of the port-holes. They cut down a part of the pickets too, and had their friends charged again at once, the fort would undoubtedly have been carried. As it was, Francis saw fit to draw off his men, for the time at least, and retire beyond the hill. What was now to be done? The attack had been repulsed, but it might be renewed at any moment. The Indians had suffered considerably, while the casualties within the fort were limited to the loss of one man and one boy. But the obstinate determination of Francis was well known, and it was certain that he had not finally abandoned his purpose of taking the little fort. He had already demonstrated his ability to carry the place, and it was, at the least, likely that he would come again within twenty-four hours, probably with a larger force, and should he do so, the little garrison was not in condition to repel his attack. To remain in the fort, therefore, was certain destruction; but the country was full of savages, and to attempt a march to Fort Glass, fifteen miles away, which was the nearest available place, the other forts being difficult to reach, was felt to be almost equally hazardous. A council was held, and it was finally determined that the perilous march to Fort Glass must be undertaken at all hazards. Accordingly, not long after nightfall the whole garrison, men, women and children, stealthily left the fort and silently crept away to the south.
Sam had seen the dog charge and the escape of the whites into the fort.
"What a fool I was!" he exclaimed, "not to stay where I was! We might have got in with the rest of them."
"Why can't we go to de fort now, or leastways, as soon as de Injuns goes away?" asked Joe.
"They ain't going away," said Sam. "They're going to storm the fort,—look, they're coming right here for a starting-point, and 'll be on top of us in a minute. Come!—don't make any noise, but follow me. Crawl on your hands and knees, and don't raise your heads. Look out for sticks. If you break one, the Indians 'll hear it."
"Mas' Sam—dey's Injuns ahead'n us an' a-comin right torge us too. Look dar!"
Sam looked, and saw a body of Indians just in front of him coming to reinforce the others. He and his friends were cut off between two bodies of savages.
"Lie down and be still," he whispered. "It's all we can do—and I'm to blame for it all!"
The people of the fort made no search for Sam and his companions; not because they cared nothing for them, but simply because they believed them certainly dead. Mr. Hardwicke, himself, had seen Sam start with little Judie towards the fort, before the dog charge was made, and as neither the boys nor Judie had ever reached the gates, he had no doubt whatever that his three children were slain, as was Mrs. Phillips, the only other person who had failed to get inside the stockade. Mr. Hardwicke wished to go out in search of their bodies, but was overruled by his companions, who, knowing that the savages were still in the immediate vicinity, thought it simply a reckless and unnecessary risk, to go hunting for the bodies of their friends hundreds of yards away, and immediately in front of the place at which the Indians were last seen. The idea was abandoned, therefore, and the fort party marched away in the darkness of a cloudy night, towards Fort Glass. Leaving them to find their way if they can, let us return to Sam and his little band. Seeing the Indians coming towards them, they lay down in the high weeds. The savages hurrying forward to reinforce their friends, passed within a few feet of the young people, but did not see them. The storming of the fort then began, and after watching the evolutions of the Indians for some time, Sam said:
"We mustn't stay here. Those red skins are working around this way, and 'll find us. Crawl on your hands and knees, all of you, and follow me."
"Whar's ye gwine to, Mas' Sam?" asked Joe.
"Sh, sh," said Judie. "Don't talk Joe, but do as Brother Sam tells you. Don't you know he always knows what's best? Besides, maybe he hasn't quite found out where he's going yet, himself."
But Joe was not as confident of Sam's genius for doing the right thing as Judie was, and so, after crawling for some distance, he again broke silence.
"What do you want, Joe?"
"Does you know whar Mas' Sam's a-takin' us to, an' what he's gwine to do when he gits dar?"
"No, of course I don't."
"How you know den, dat he's doin' de bes' thing?"
But the conversation was terminated by a word from Sam, who said, in a whisper,
"Joe, I'll tell you where we're going if you keep talking."
"Whar, Mas' Sam?"
"Into the hands of the Indians. Keep your mouth shut, if you don't want your hair lifted off your head."
As the black boy certainly did not want his hair cut Indian fashion, he became silent at once.
When they had travelled in this way until they could no longer hear the yells of the Indians and the popping of guns at the fort, Sam called a halt. It was now nearly midnight.
"Here is a good place to spend the rest of the night," he said, "and we must be as still as we can. We can stay here till to-morrow night, and then we must try to get to Fort Glass. It's about twelve or thirteen miles from here."
"Le's go on now, Mas' Sam; I'se afear'd to stay here," said the black boy.
"We can't," said Sam. "I got scratched in the foot with a stray bullet, just as we went into the thicket there at the fort, and I can't walk. I am a little faint and must lie down."
At this little Judie, who fairly idolized Sam, and felt perfectly safe from Indians and everything else when he was with her, was disposed to set up a wail of sorrow and fright. If poor Sam were wounded, he might die, she thought, and the thought was too much for her.
Sam soothed her, however, and the poor, tired little girl was soon fast asleep in his arms.
"Bring some moss, boys," he said to his companions, "and make a bed for Judie here by this log."
When he had laid her down, he drew off his shoe and wrapped the wounded foot in some of the long gray moss which hangs in great festoons from the trees of that region. Joe, with the true negro genius for sleeping, was already snoring at the foot of a tree. Sam quietly called Tom to his side.
"Tom," said he, "my foot is bleeding pretty badly, and I can't see till morning to do anything for it. I have wrapped it up in moss, stuffing the softest parts into the wound, and that may stop it after a while. But I may not be able to travel to-morrow night, and if I can't you must leave me here and try to find your way to Fort Glass, with Judie. You must remember that her life will depend on you, and try to do your duty without flinching. Don't try to travel in the daytime. Go on to the south as fast as you can of nights, keeping in the woods and thickets, and as soon as you see a streak of gray in the sky find a good hiding-place and stop. You can get some corn and some sweet potatoes out of any field, but you must eat them raw, as it wont do to make a fire. Now go to sleep. I may be able to travel myself, but if I shouldn't, remember you are a brave man's son, and must do your duty as a Hardwicke should." And with that he shook the little fellow's hand.
After a time Tom, overcome by weariness, fell asleep, but Sam remained awake all night, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his foot. He knew that if he could go on with the others their chance of safety would be vastly greater than without him, and so he was disposed to leave no effort untried to be in a fit condition to travel the next night. When morning came Sam called Tom and Joe, and directed them to examine his wound, into which he could not see very well.
"Is the blood of a bright red, as it comes out, or a dark red?" he asked.
"Bright," they both said.
"Then it comes from an artery," he replied. "Are you sure it is bright red?"
The boys were not quite sure.
"Does it come in a steady stream or in spurts?" he asked.
"It spurts, and stops and spurts again," said Tom.
"It is an artery, then," said Sam. "Look and see if you can find the place it comes from."
The boys made a careful examination and at last found the artery, a small one, which was cut only about half way across.
"All right," said Sam. "If that's the case, I think I know how to stop the blood. Put your finger in, and break the artery clear in two".
"O Sam, then you'll bleed to death," said Tom.
"No I won't. Do as I tell you."
"Let me cut it, then. It wont hurt you so much."
"No, no, no," cried Sam, staying his hand. "Don't cut it. Tear it, I tell you, and be quick."
Tom tore it, and the blood stopped almost immediately. Sam then bound the foot up with strips of cloth torn from his clothing, and as he did so said:
"Now I'll tell you both all about this so that you'll know what to do another time. If you know only what to do, you may forget; but if you know why, you'll remember. The blood comes out from the heart to all parts of the body in arteries, and when it leaves the heart it is bright red, because it is clean and pure. Your heart is a sort of force-pump, and every time it beats it forces the blood all over you. The arteries fork and branch out in every direction, until they terminate in millions of little veins smaller than the finest hairs, and these running together make bigger veins, through which the blood is carried to the lungs. In the veins it flows steadily, because the capillary veins, the ones like hairs, are so small that the spurts can't be felt beyond them. The blood in the veins is thick and dark, because it has taken up all the impurities from the system; but when it gets to the lungs your breath takes up all these and carries them off, leaving the blood pure again for another round. Now the arteries are long elastic tubes, that is to say, they will stretch a little, and fly back again, if you pull them, and when one is cut nearly but not quite off, the contraction keeps it wide open. If it is cut or torn entirely in two, the end draws back, and nine times in ten, if the artery is a small one, the drawing back shuts the end up entirely and the blood stops. But it is better to tear it than to cut it, because when torn the edges are jagged and it shrivels up more. I don't quite understand why, myself, but that is what the surgical books say. When anybody is hurt and bleeding badly, the first thing to do is to find out whether it is an artery or a vein that's cut. If the blood is bright and comes out in spurts, it's an artery. If it is dark, and flows steadily, it's a vein. If it's an artery and isn't cut quite in two, tear it in two. If that don't stop it, you must make a knot in a handkerchief and then press your finger above the cut in different places till you find where the artery is by the blood stopping. Then put the knot on that place and tie the handkerchief around the limb. You can stop a vein in the same way and more easily, but if it's a vein you must tie the handkerchief so that the cut place will be between it and the heart. You see the blood comes from the heart in the arteries, and goes back towards the heart in the veins, and so to stop an artery you tie inside, and to stop a vein outside of the cut place."
I think it altogether probable that Master Sam would have gone into quite a lecture on anatomy and minor surgery, if little Judie had not waked up just then complaining of hunger. What he told the boys, however, is well worth remembering. He took little Judie on his lap and sent the two boys out to find a field of potatoes or corn. When they came back all four made a breakfast of raw sweet potatoes, drinking water which Tom brought in his wool hat from a creek not very far away. Sam grew stronger during the day, and at night the party set out on their way to Fort Glass. Sam's foot was not painful, but he was afraid of starting the blood again, and so he held it up, walking with a rude crutch which he had made during the day.
SAM FINDS IT NECESSARY TO THINK.
It was twelve miles from their first encampment to Fort Glass, and if Sam had been strong and well, and the way open, they might easily have made the journey before morning, by carrying little Judie a part of the way. As it was, they had to go through the thickest woods to avoid Indians, and must move cautiously all the time, as they could never know when they might stumble upon a party of savages around a camp-fire, or sleeping under a tree. Those of my readers who live in the far South know what thick woods are in that part of the country, but others may not. The trees grow as close together as they can, and the underbrush chokes up the space between them pretty effectually. Then the great vines of various kinds wind themselves in and out until in many places they literally stop the way so that a strong man with an axe could not go forward a hundred feet in a week. In other places the thick cane makes an equally impenetrable barrier, and Sam needed all his knowledge of the forest to enable him to work his way southward at night through such woods as those. The little party of wanderers sometimes found themselves apparently walled in in the pitchy darkness, with no possible way out but Sam's instinct, as he called it, which was simply his ability to remember the things he had learned, and to put two facts together to find out a third, always extricated them. Once they found themselves in a swamp, where the water was about eight inches deep. The underbrush, canes and vines made it impossible for them to see any great distance in any direction.
"Oh, I know we will never get out of here," whined poor little Judie, ready to sink down in the water.
"Yes we will, lady bird," said Sam cheerily. "What's the good of having a big brother if he can't take care of you? Tell me that, will you? Keep your courage up, little girl, I think I know where we are. Let me think."
"I know wha' we is. Mas' Sam," said Joe.
"Where, Joe," asked Sam, incredulously.
"We'se dun' los',—dat's wha' we is," replied Joe.
"I know more than that," said Tom, "I know where we're lost."
"Wha', Mas' Tom?" cried Joe, eagerly.
"In a swamp," said Tom.
"And I know what swamp," said Sam, "which is better still. This swamp is the low grounds of a little creek, and I've been in it before to-night. I don't know just which way to go to get out, because I don't know just what part of the swamp we're in. But if my foot was well I'd soon find out."
"How, Mas' Sam?"
"I'd climb that sweet gum and look for landmarks."
"Lan' marks? what's dem, Mas' Sam? will dey bite?"
"No, Joe, I mean I would look around and find something or other to steer by,—a house an open field or something."
"I kin climb, Mas' Sam," replied Joe, "an' I'll be up dat dar tree in less'n no time."
And up the tree he went as nimbly as any squirrel might. As he went up, Sam cautioned him to make no noise, and not to shout, but to look around carefully, and then to come down and tell what he had seen.
"I see a big openin'," said Joe, when he reached the ground again, "an' nigh de middle uv it dey's a big grove, wid a littler one jis' off to de left."
"Yes," said Sam, "I thought you'd see that. That's where Watkins's house stood: now which way is it?"
"Which-a-way's what, Mas' Sam?"
"The opening with the groves in it."
"I 'clar' I dunno, Mas' Sam."
It had not entered Joe's head to mark the direction, and so he had to climb the tree again. In going up and coming down, however, he wound around the tree two or three times and was no wiser when he returned to the ground than before he began his ascent.
"Look, Joe," said Sam. "Do you see that bright star through the trees?"
"De brightest one, Mas' Sam?"
"Yes, I sees it."
"Well, climb the tree, and when you get to the top, turn your face towards that star. Then see which way the opening is, and remember whether it is straight ahead of you, behind you, or to the right or left."
Joe went up the tree again and this time managed to bring down the information that when he looked at the star the opening was on his left.
With the knowledge of locality and direction thus gained, Sam was not long in finding his way to firm ground again, and as soon as he did so he selected a hiding-place for the day, as the morning was now at hand.
The next night they had fewer difficulties, the woods through which they had to pass being freer from undergrowth than those they had already traversed, and when the third morning broke they were within a mile or two of Fort Glass. Sam thought at first of pushing on at once to the fort, but, seeing "Indian sign" in the shape of some smouldering fires near a spring, he abandoned the undertaking until night should come again, and hid his little company in the woods. Something to eat was the one immediate necessity. They were all nearly famished, and neither corn nor sweet potatoes were to be found anywhere in the vicinity. Sam directed the boys to bring some rushes from the creek bottoms, and peeling these, he and his companions ate the pith, which is slightly succulent and in a small degree nourishing. Sam had learned this fact by accident while out hunting one day, and Sam took care never to forget anything which might be useful. Towards night, when the rushes failed to satisfy their hunger, Sam was puzzling himself over the problem of getting food, when Tom asked him if he knew the name of a singular tree he had seen while out after rushes.
"It has the biggest leaves I ever saw," he said, "and they all grow right out of its top. Some of 'em are six feet long, and they've got folds in 'em. There ain't any limbs to the tree at all."
"Where did you see that?" asked Sam eagerly.
"Right over there, about a hundred yards."
"Good! It's palmetto. I didn't know there was one this far from the sea though. Here, take my big knife and you and Joe go and cut out as much as you can of the soft part just where the leaves come out. It's what they call palmetto cabbage, and it's very good to eat too, I can tell you."
The boys, after receiving minute instructions, went to the palmetto-tree and brought away several pounds of the terminal bud. On this the little company made a hearty meal, finding the "cabbage," as it is called, a well-flavored, juicy and tender kind of white vegetable substance, very nourishing and as palatable as cocoanut, which it closely resembles in flavor. Storing what was left in their pockets, they began to prepare for their night's journey to the fort, which they hoped to reach within an hour or two. They were just on the point of starting when a party of Indians, under Weatherford, the great half-breed chief, who was the life and soul of the war, rode across a neighboring field, and settled themselves for supper within a dozen yards of Sam's camp. The sky was overcast with clouds, and so night fell even more quickly than it usually does in Southern latitudes, where there is almost no twilight at all. Sam made his companions lie down at the approach of the savages, and as soon as it was fairly dark, the little party crept silently away. Before leaving, however, Sam had heard enough of the conversation between Weatherford and Peter McQueen, the other great half-breed warrior, to know that he could not reach the fort that night. The two half-breeds talked most of the time in English, and Sam learned that they had a large body of Indians in the vicinity, who were scouring the country around Fort Glass. Sam knew enough of Indian warfare to know that there would be numerous small parties of savage scouts lurking immediately around the fort day and night, for the purpose of picking off any daring whites who might venture outside the gates, and especially any messenger who might attempt to pass from that to any other fortress. He knew, therefore, that for some time to come it would be impossible to reach Fort Glass, and penetrating the woods for a considerable distance he stopped and sat down on a log, burying his face in his hands, and telling his companions not to speak to him, as he wanted to think.
Sam's companions kept perfectly still. Their reverence for Sam had grown with every foot of their travels, and their confidence in his ability to get out of any difficulty, and ultimately to accomplish his purposes in the face of any obstacle, was now quite unbounded. And so, when he told them it was impossible to reach the fort and that he wanted to think, they patiently awaited the results of his thinking, confident that he would presently hit upon precisely the right thing to do.
After a while he raised his head from his hands and said:
"Come on, we must get clear away from here before morning;" but he said not a word about where he was going. His course was now nearly south-east, and just as the day was breaking he stopped and said:
"There is the river at last. Now let's go to sleep."
They obeyed him unquestioningly, though they had not the faintest idea where they were or what river it was which he had seen a little way ahead. When Sam waked it was nearly noon, and he ate a little of the palmetto cabbage left in his pockets, while the others slept. His face was very pale, however, and he sat very still until his companions aroused themselves. Then he explained.
"When I found that we could not get to Fort Glass, the question was, where should we go? Fort Stoddart is probably surrounded by Indians too, and so the only thing to do was to make our way down through the Tensaw Country to Mobile; but that is about eighty or a hundred miles away, and the fact is I am a little sick from my wound. My foot and leg are all swelled up, and I've been having a fever, so that I can't travel much further. It seemed to me that the best thing to do, under the circumstances, was to find a good hiding-place where it will be easy to get something to eat, and to stay there till I get better, or something turns up, and so I thought of the Alabama River as the very best place, because mussels and things of that kind are better than sweet potatoes, and here we are; now the next thing is to find a hiding-place, and I think I know where one is. It has a spring by it, too, which is a good thing, for drinking this swamp and creek water will make us all sick. I was all through here on a camp-hunt once, and I remember a place on the other side of the river where two big hollow trees stand right together on top of a sort of bluff. About fifty yards further down the river there is a spring, just under the bluff. We must find the place if we can, to-night, and to do it we must first get across the river. It's so low now we can easily wade it, I think, and Judie can be pushed across on a log."
As soon as night fell the plan was put into execution. The river was extremely low at the time, and Sam was confident that by choosing a wide place for their crossing, they could wade the stream easily; but lest there might be a channel too deep for that, he fastened four logs together with grapevines, and putting Judie on this raft bade the two boys tow it over, telling them that if they should find the water too deep for wading at any point, they could easily support themselves by clinging to the logs. They had no difficulty, however, and were soon on the east bank of the stream. Sam's task was a much harder one. The current was very rapid and the bottom too soft for the easy use of his crutch, while his strength was almost gone. His spirit sustained him, however, and after a while he reached the shore. When all were landed, the search began for the hiding-place Sam had described. It proved to be more than a mile higher up the river, and when they found it, the day was breaking. The trees were not hollow, as Sam had supposed. The river bank in that place is in three terraces, and the two great trees stood almost alone on the second one of these. The sandy soil had been gradually washed out from under the great trunks, so that the trees proper began about fifteen feet from the ground, the space below being occupied by a great net-work of exposed roots, some of them a foot or two in thickness, and others varying in size all the way down to mere threads. The freshets which had washed the earth away from the roots, had piled a great mass of drift-wood against one side of them. Sam made a careful examination of the place, and then all went to work. The two boys so disposed some of the drift-wood as to make a sort of covered passage from the edge of the bank to the two trees whose roots were interlaced with each other. Sam cut away some of the roots with his jackknife so as to make an entrance, and once inside the circle of outer roots, he was not long in making a roomy hiding-place for the whole party, immediately under the great trees.
"We can enlarge our house with our knives whenever we choose," he said, "and if we stay here long enough, we must make Judie a room for herself under the other tree, with a passage leading from this into it."
Sam said this to avoid saying something which would have alarmed and distressed the others. In truth he knew himself to be really ill, and believed that he would be much worse before being any better. For this reason he knew they must have more room than the present hiding-place afforded, and it was his plan to cut another room under the other tree, with a very narrow passage between. "Then," thought he, "if the Indians find us here, as I am afraid they will, they will find only poor sick Sam here in the outer room, and won't think of hunting further." Sam thought he was going to die at any rate, and his only care now was to save the lives of the others. He had made them gather some mussels at the river, and some green corn in a neighboring field, and he now said to the two boys, "These things must be cooked. It will not do for you to eat them raw any longer. They aren't wholesome that way, and so I've been thinking of a plan for cooking them. The spring is down under the lower bluff, and a fire down there won't make much smoke above the upper banks. We must make one out of drift-wood, but we mustn't use any pine. That smokes too much. The fire must be made in the daytime, because at night it would be seen too far. You boys must do the cooking, while I keep a look-out for Indians, and if any come within sight you can both get in here before they discover you, or if they do see you, they can't find you after you run away from the fire, and they will look for you out in the woods somewhere. Nobody would think of looking here. Now let me tell you how to cook the things. I was at a 'clam bake' in New England once, and I know how to make these mussels and corn taste well. You must dig a sort of fireplace in the sand bank and build your fire in there. When it burns away until you have a good bank of coals, you must put down on them a layer of the corn, in the shuck, then a layer of mussels, then a layer of corn, and finally cover them all up with coals and hot ashes, and leave them there for an hour or two, when they will be cooked beautifully."
"But Mas' Sam," said Joe.
"Well, what is it, Joe?"
"How's we gwine to git de fire?"
"Well, how do you think, Joe?"
"I 'clare I dunno, Mas' Sam, 'thout you got some flints an' punk in your pockets."
"No, I have no flints and no punk, Joe, but I'm going to get you some fire when the sun gets straight overhead."
"Is you gwine to git it from de sun, Mas' Sam?"
"What wid, Mas' Sam?"
"With water, Joe."
"Wid water, Mas' Sam! You'se foolin'. How you gwine to git fire wid water, I'd like to know."
"Well, wait and see. I'm not fooling."
To tell the truth, Tom was quite as much at a loss as Joe was, to know how Sam could get fire with water; but his confidence in his "big brother," as he called Sam, was too perfect to admit of a doubt or a question. As for Judie, she would hardly have raised her eyebrows if Sam had burned water, or whittled it into dolls' heads before her eyes. She believed in Sam absolutely, and supposed, as a matter of course, that he knew everything and could do anything he liked. But Joe was not yet satisfied that water could be made to assist in the kindling of a fire. He said nothing more, however, but carefully watched all of Sam's preparations.
That young gentleman began by tearing a strip of cotton cloth from his shirt, and picking it to pieces. He then gathered from the drift-wood a number of dry sticks, and broke and split them up very fine.
"We must have a few splinters of light-wood," he said; "but after the fire is once started, we mustn't put any more pine on."
So saying, he split off a few splinters from a piece of rich heart-pine, which Southern people call "light-wood," because the negroes use it instead of lamps or candles.
"Come now," said Sam, "its nearly noon, and I think I can get fire for you. Go up on top of the drift-pile, Tom, and look out for Indians. If you don't see any we can all go down to the spring together long enough to start a fire. Then I must come back to Judie, and I'll keep a look-out for Indians while you and Joe get the corn on. When you get it on, come back here and wait until it has time to cook. Stop a minute, Tom. Let's understand each other. If the one on the look-out sees Indians, he must let the others know; but it won't do to holler. Let me see. Can you whistle like a kildee, Tom?"
"Yes, or like any other bird."
"Can you, Joe?"
"I reckon I kin, Mas' Sam," said Joe, who, to prove his powers straightway gave a shrill kildee whistle, which nearly deafened them all.
"There, that'll do, Joe. Well, let's understand then, that if anyone of us sees Indians, he must whistle like a kildee. If the Indians hear it they'll think nothing of it."
Tom went to the look-out, and seeing no savages anywhere, returned, and the whole party, little Judie excepted, proceeded to the spring. Sam then laid his sticks down in a pile, and taking out his watch removed the crystal. This he filled with clear water from the spring, and holding it over the cotton ravellings, moved it up and down until the sunlight, passing through it, gathered itself into a small bright spot on the cotton. Joe, eager to see, thrust his head over Sam's shoulder, and directly between the glass and the sun.
"Take your head away, Joe, or I'll have to draw the fire right through it," said Sam, laughing.
"Mercy, Mas' Sam, don't do dat. I'se 'feard o' your witches' ways, anyhow," said Joe, drawing back. The glass was again put in position and the spot of bright sunlight reappeared. Presently a little cloud of smoke rose, and a moment afterwards, the cotton was fairly afire. It was not difficult now to get the light-wood and dry sticks to blazing, and a good fire was soon secured.
"Now boys," said Sam, "I'll go back to the drift-pile and keep a look-out. If you hear the kildee call, run in as quickly as you can. When you get the corn and mussels on, and covered up, come back at once."
No Indians showing themselves anywhere in the neighborhood, the boys got their dinner on or rather in the fire, and then returned to the root cavern to await the completion of the cooking process. When they were all safely stowed away in their places, Tom gave voice to the curiosity with which he was almost bursting.
"Sam," he said, "how did you do that?"
"How did I do what, Tom?"
"How did you make the sun set the cotton on fire?"
"I don't know whether I can make you understand it or not," said Sam, "but I'll try. You know light always goes in straight lines, if left to itself, don't you?"
"No, I didn't know that!
"Yes you did, only you never thought of it. If you want to keep light out of your eyes, you always put your hand between them and the light, because you know the light goes straight and so will not go around your hand."
"Yes, that's true, and when I want to make a shadow anywhere, I put something right before the light."
"Certainly. Well, the rays of the sun all come to us straight, and side by side. They are pretty hot, but not hot enough to set fire to anything that way. But if you can gather a good many of these rays together and make them all shine on one little spot, they will set fire to whatever they fall on. Now a piece of glass or any other thing that you can see through easily,—that is, any transparent thing, lets the sunlight through it, and if it is flat on both sides, it doesn't change the directions of the rays. But if both sides are rounded out, or if one side is rounded out and the other side is flat, it turns all the rays a little, and brings them right together in a point not far from the glass. If the sides are hollowed in instead of bulging out, the rays scatter, and if one side bulges out and the other bulges in, as they do in a watch crystal, one side scatters and the other side collects the rays, and so it is the same as if the glass had been perfectly flat, one side undoes the other's work. Now I have no glass which bulges out on both sides, and none that bulges out on one side and is flat on the other, but my watch crystal bulges out on one side and in on the other. But when I filled it with water, the water being as clear as the glass, it made it flat on top and bulging underneath, and so it gathered the sun's rays together in the light spot you saw, and set fire to the cotton."
"Yes, but why did you have to wait till noon?" asked Tom.
"Because the glass must be held right across the rays of light, and as I couldn't turn the crystal to either side without spilling the water, I had to use it at noon, when the sun was almost exactly overhead, and its rays came nearly straight down. If I had had a glass rounded out on both sides I could have got fire any time after the sun was well up in the sky. Now let me tell you what they call all these different kinds of glasses. One that is flat on one side and bulges out on the other is called a convex lens; if it bulges out on both sides it is a double convex lens; if it is hollowed in on one side and flat on the other it is a concave lens; if hollowed in on both sides we call it a double concave lens; and when it is hollowed in on one side and bulged out on the other, as any watch crystal does, it is a concave convex lens."
"Where did you learn all that, Sam?" asked Tom.
"I learned part of it with father's spectacles, and part out of a book father lent me when I asked him why I couldn't make the bright, hot spot with a pair of near-sighted glasses that I found in one of mother's old work boxes. You see, when people begin to get old, their eyes flatten a little, and so everything they look at seems to be shaved off. They see well enough at a distance, but can't see small things close to them."
"Is that the reason pa always looks over his spectacles when he looks at me?" asked Judie.
"Yes, little woman. He can't see to read without his glasses, but he can see you across the room without them, well enough. Well, to remedy this defect, old people wear spectacles with double convex lenses in them. But near-sighted people have exactly the opposite trouble. They can't see things except by bringing them near their eyes, because their eyes are not flat enough, and so their spectacles are made with double concave lenses. When I asked father about it, he gave me a book that explained it all, and that is where I learned the little I know about it."
"The little! I'd like to know what you call a good deal," said Tom. "I never saw anybody that knew half as much as you do."
"That is only because we live in a new country, Tom, where there are no very well educated people, and because you don't know how much there is to learn in the world. If these Indians ever get quiet, I hope to learn a good deal more every year than I know now. But it's time to see about our mussel bake. Run to the look-out, Tom, and then we can all go down and bring up the dinner."
The baked corn and mussels made a savory dish, or one which would have been savory enough but for the absence of salt. The boys knew well enough that salt was not to be had, however, and so they made a joke of its absence, and even pretended that they did not like their food salted at any time. Little Judie was so hungry that she cared very little whether food tasted well or not, provided it satisfied her appetite.
The rest and the more wholesome food seemed to restore Sam to something like his customary strength during the first ten days of his stay in the "root fortress," as he had named their singular dwelling. His wounded foot got better, though it was still far from well, and, better than all, his fever left him. As he regained strength he began to lay plans again. To stay where they were was well enough as a temporary device for escaping the savages, but Sam's main purpose now was to get the little people under his charge back to civilization somewhere, and then to do his part in the war between the Indians and whites. He must first find a way to get Tom and Judie and Joe into one of the forts or into some safe town, and how to do this was the problem. He was unwilling to take them away from their present pretty secure hiding-place until he could decide upon some definite plan offering a reasonable prospect of escape. If he could have known as much as we now know of the movements of the savages, he would have had little difficulty. The larger part of the Indians had left the peninsula now forming Clarke County, and crossed to the south-eastern shore of the Alabama river,—the side on which Sam's root fortress stood, and if he could have known this, he would have made an effort to cross the river again and reach Fort Glass. The chief difficulty in the way of this undertaking would have been that of crossing the river, which was now swollen by recent rains. He knew nothing about the matter, however, and as Fort Mims, the first point attacked by the savages, was on the south-east side of the river, he reasoned that having afterwards crossed to Clarke County the Indians would not again cross to the south-east side in any considerable force. In this, as we know, he was mistaken, and the error led him into some danger, as we shall see. Thinking the matter over, he decided that his first plan of a march down through the Tensaw Country to the neighborhood of Mobile would be the safest and best thing to undertake. He was unwilling, however, to begin it with his companions without making a preliminary reconnoissance. Accordingly he explained the plan to Tom and Joe, and said:
"I'm going to-night down towards old Fort Mims, to see if the country is pretty free from Indians, and to find out what I can about the chance of getting away from here. I'll leave you here with Judie, and you must be extra careful about exposing yourselves. You've corn and mussels and sweet potatoes enough already cooked, to last you a week, and I'll probably be back before that; if not you must eat them raw till I do come: it won't do to build a fire while I'm away." After giving minute directions for their guidance during his absence, Sam put a sweet potato in one pocket and an ear of corn in the other, and set out on his journey, walking with a stout stick, having discarded his crutch as no longer necessary. How far he walked that night, I am unable to say, his course being a very circuitous one. The moon rose full, soon after dark, and shone so brightly that Sam dared not cross the fields, but skirted around them keeping constantly in the woods and the edges of canebrakes. The next night and the next he continued his journey, though he found the country full of Indians. He saw their "sign" everywhere, and now and then saw some of the Indians themselves. The fourth evening found him so lame (his foot having swelled and become painful again) that he could not possibly go on. He had already gone far enough to discover that the country on that side of the river was too full of Indians for him to carry his little party safely through it, and so he determined to work his way back to the root fortress, and try the other side. Seeing a house in a field near by the place in which he had spent the day, he resolved to visit it for the purpose of bringing away any article he could find which might be useful to him in his effort to provide for his little band. In a grove near the house he found a horse,—a young and powerful animal, and as he feared his lameness would not permit him to reach his root fortress again on foot, he determined to ride the animal in spite of the fact that on horseback he would be in much greater danger of discovery by the Indians than on foot. The horse had a bridle on, and had evidently escaped, probably during a skirmish, from its white or red master.
Sam tied him in the grove, and went on to the house, which had been sacked and partially burned. Looking around in the moonlight, Sam discovered a hatchet, and, in the corner of what had once been a store-house, the remains of a barrel of salt. These were two valuable discoveries. The hatchet would be of great service to him not only in the root fortress but even more in forcing a pathway through the canebrakes when he should again cross the river and try to reach one of the forts. The salt he must have at any cost, and as he had no bag he made one by ripping off the sleeve of his coat and tying its ends with strips of bark. He had just filled it, and tied up the ends when, hearing a noise, he turned, and saw two Indians within six feet of him.
The two Indians who had startled Sam, were on the point of entering the old dwelling house, and seemingly were unaccompanied by any others. Sam happened fortunately to be standing in shadow, and they passed without seeing him. But what was he now to do? He was at the back of the house, and a high picket fence around the place made it impossible for him to escape by the front-way, towards which the savages had gone. Looking through the door-way, he saw that the pair had passed through the room nearest him and into the adjoining apartment. He knew that other Indians were in the neighborhood, and that a dozen of them might wander into the enclosure at any moment. Resolving upon a bold manoeuvre, he stepped lightly into the rear room of the house, and climbed up inside the wide mouthed chimney. Whether the Indians heard him or not he never knew, but at any rate he was none too soon in hiding, for he had hardly cleared the fireplace in his ascent when four or five savages came into the room and began to demolish the few articles of furniture left in the house. They had got whiskey somewhere, and having drank freely were even noisier than white men get under the influence of strong drink. They remained but a short time, when, setting fire again to the half-burned house, they left the place yelling as savages only can. Sam escaped as soon as he could from his uncomfortable quarters and made his way to the grove. Mounting his horse he rode away in the direction of the root fortress, keeping in the woods as well as he could and taking every precaution to avoid coming suddenly upon savages.
As he rode only at night, the Indians' almost universal habit of building camp-fires wherever they stop for the night, helped him to avoid them. When morning came he sought a place deep in the forest, when he turned his horse loose to graze all day, while he slept at some distance from the animal, so that the noise of the beast's stamping and browsing might not lead to the discovery of his own whereabouts.
As the evening of the second day of his return came round, Sam found himself genuinely sick. His foot and leg were much inflamed, and the excitement of the preceding night, together with his continued exposure to the drenching dews of the Southern autumn, had brought back his fever with increased violence, and a very brief experiment convinced him that he could not go further that night. He mounted his horse, but had ridden less than a mile when he felt a giddiness coming over him and found it necessary to abandon the effort to ride that night. He could hardly see, and the pain in his head, neck, back and limbs was excruciating. He dismounted and threw himself down on the ground without taking the trouble even to separate himself from his horse. The truth is, Sam had what they call in South Carolina country fever, a high type of malarial fever, which stupefies and benumbs its victim almost as soon as it attacks him. The dews in the far South, especially in the fall, are so heavy that the water will drip and even stream off the foliage of the trees all night, and Sam had been drenched every night during both his journeys, having no fire by which to warm himself or dry his clothes. Even without this drenching the poisonous exhalations of the swamps and woods would doubtless have given him the fever, and as it was he had it very severely. He laid down again almost under his horse's feet and fell into a sort of stupor. He knew that his fever required treatment, and that it would rapidly sap his strength, and the thought came to him: What if he should die there and never get back to the tree fortress? He was too sick to care for himself, but the thought of little Judie haunted his dreams, and he was seized with a semi-delirious impulse to remount his horse and ride straight away to the hiding-place in which he had left her, regardless of Indians, and of everything else. He dreamed a dozen times that he was doing this, and finally, when morning came, he forgot all about the danger of travelling by daylight, and mounting his horse in a confused, half-delirious way, rode straight out of the woods towards the open country, which he had hitherto so carefully avoided.
The fiercest and most conspicuous leader of the Indians in this war was William Weatherford, or the Red Eagle, as the Indians called him. He is commonly spoken of in history as a half-breed, but he was in reality almost a white man, with just enough of the Indian in his composition to add savage emotions to Scotch intellect and Scotch perseverance. His father was a Scotchman, and his mother a half-breed Indian Princess. He was brought up in the best civilization the border had, his father being wealthy. He became very rich himself, and, despite his savage instincts, which were always strong, his wealth, in land and slaves, made him a conservative. At first he favored a war with the whites, but a calmer afterthought led him to desire peace, and when he found that the tempest he had helped to stir up would not subside at his bidding, he began casting about for a way of escape. He was a man of unquestionable genius; a soldier of rare strategic ability; an orator of the truest sort, and his courage in danger was simply sublime. Such a man was likely to be of great value to the Indians in their approaching war, and when they began to suspect his loyalty to the nation, they watched him narrowly. Finding it impossible to postpone the war, and not wishing to sacrifice his fine property near the Holy Ground, he made a secret journey to the residence of his half brother David Tait and his brother John Weatherford, who lived among what were known as the "peacefuls," namely, the Indians disposed to remain at peace with the whites in any event. His brothers, hearing his story, advised him to bring his negroes, horses and movable property generally, together with his family, to their plantations, and to remain there, inactive and neutral, during the struggle. When he returned to his residence for the purpose of doing this, however, he found that the hostile Indians had seized his family and his negroes as hostages, and, under the compulsion of their threat that they would kill his wife and children if he should dare to remain at peace, he joined in the war against the whites, becoming the fiercest of all the chieftains. He planned and led the assault upon Fort Mims, and was everywhere foremost in all the fighting. When the Creeks were utterly routed at the battle of the Holy Ground a month or so after the time of which I am writing, General Jackson issued a proclamation refusing terms of peace to the chiefs until Weatherford, whom he had determined to put to death, should be brought to him, alive or dead. Weatherford hearing of this, although he was safe beyond the borders and might have easily made his escape to Florida, as his comrade Peter McQueen did, rode straightway to Jackson's head-quarters, where he said to the commander who had set a price upon his head:—
"I am Weatherford. I have come to ask peace for my people. I am in your power. Do with me as you please. I am a soldier. I have done the white people all the harm I could. I have fought them and fought them bravely. If I yet had an army I would fight and contend to the last. But I have none. My people are all gone. I can now do no more than weep over the misfortunes of my nation."
Jackson was so impressed with the sublime courage and the dignity of the man upon whose head he had set a price, that he treated him at once with chivalrous consideration. He told him that the only terms upon which the Indians could secure peace were unconditional submission and uniform good conduct; but "as for yourself," he said, "if you do not like the terms, no advantage shall be taken of your present surrender. You are at liberty to depart and resume hostilities when you please. But if you are taken then, your life shall pay the forfeit of your crimes."
Weatherford calmly folded his arms and replied; "I desire peace for no selfish reasons, but that my nation may be relieved from its sufferings; for independent of the other consequences of the war, my people's cattle are destroyed and their women and children destitute of provisions. I may well be addressed in such language now. There was a time when I had a choice and could have answered you. I have none now. Even hope has ended. Once I could animate my warriors to battle. But I cannot animate the dead. My warriors can no longer hear my voice. Their bones are at Talladega, Tallashatche, Emuckfaw and Tohopeka. I have not surrendered myself thoughtlessly. While there were chances of success I never left my post nor supplicated peace. But my people are gone, and I now ask peace for my nation and myself. On the miseries and misfortunes brought upon my country, I look back with the deepest sorrow, and wish to avert still greater calamities. If I had been left to contend with the Georgia army, I would have raised my corn on one bank of the river and fought them on the other. But your people have destroyed my nation. General Jackson, you are a brave man,—I am another. I do not fear to die. But I rely upon your generosity. You will exact no terms of a conquered and helpless people but those to which they should accede. Whatever they may be it would now be folly and madness to oppose them. If they are opposed, you shall find me among the sternest enforcers of obedience. Those who would still hold out can only be influenced by a mean spirit of revenge. To this they must not and shall not sacrifice the last remnant of their country. You have told us what we may do and be safe. Yours is a good talk, and my nation ought to listen to it. They shall listen to it."
[Footnote 1: For these speeches of Weatherford's and for other historical details I am indebted to a valuable and interesting book, "Romantic Passages in South Western History," by A. B. Mull, Mobile, S. H. Goetzsl & Co. publishers, which is now, unfortunately out of print. The speeches are well authenticated I believe.]
Jackson was too generous and too brave a man to remain unmoved under such a speech from a man who thus placed his own life in jeopardy for the sake of his people. He bade the chieftain return home, and promised peace to his people, a promise faithfully kept to this day. All this however occurred nearly two months after the time of which I write, and it is introduced here merely by way of explaining the things which happened to Sam on the morning of the rash resumption of his journey.
This man Weatherford, the fiercest enemy the whites had, with a party of about twenty-five Indians, bivouacked, the night before, in the edge of the woods, and when Sam mounted his horse that morning the Indians were lying asleep immediately in his path as he rode blindly out of the thicket. The first intimation he had of their presence was a grunt from a big savage who lay almost under his horse's feet. Coming to himself in an instant, Sam took in the whole situation at a glance, and with the rapidity and precision which people who are accustomed to the dangers and difficulties of frontier life always acquire, he mentally weighed all the facts bearing upon the question of what to do, and decided. He saw before him the savages, rising from the ground at sight of him. He saw their horses browsing at some little distance from them. He saw a rifle, on which hung a powder-horn and a bullet-pouch, standing against a bush. He saw that he had already aroused the foe, and that he must stand a chase. His first impulse was to turn around and ride back, in the direction whence he had come; but in that direction lay the thicket through which he could not ride rapidly, and so if he should take that course, he would lose the advantage which he hoped to gain from the fleetness of his particularly good horse. Besides, in the thicket he must of course leave a trail easily followed. Just beyond the group of Indians he saw the open fields, and he made up his mind at once that he would push his horse into a run, dash right through the camp of the savages, pick up the convenient rifle if possible, and reaching the open country make all the speed he could. In this he knew he would have an advantage, inasmuch as he would get a good many hundred yards away before the savages could catch and mount their horses for the purpose of pursuing him, and he even hoped that they, seeing how far he was in advance of them, would abandon the idea of pursuit altogether. All this thinking, and weighing of chances, and deciding was the work of a single half second, and the plan, once formed, was executed instantly. Without pausing or turning he pushed his horse at a full run through the group of savages, receiving a glancing blow from a war club and dodging several others as he went. He succeeded in getting possession of the rifle which stood by the bush, and reached the field before a gun could be aimed at him. It was now his purpose to get so far ahead as to discourage pursuit, and with this object in view he continued to urge his horse forward at his best speed. This hope was a vain one, as he soon discovered. The Indians, infuriated by his boldness, mounted their horses and gave chase immediately. Sam had an excellent habit, as we know, of keeping his wits about him, and of preparing carefully for difficulties likely to come. The first thing to be done was to escape, if possible, and so he continued to press his high-spirited colt forward, while he debated the probabilities of being overtaken, and discussed with himself the resources at his command if the savages should come up with him. He was armed now, at any rate, and if running should prove of no avail, he could and would sell his life very dearly. Indeed the possession of the rifle roused all the spirit of battle there was in him, and great as the odds were against him, he was sorely tempted to pause long enough to shoot once at least. He remembered Tom and Judie and Joe, however, and their dependence upon him for guidance and protection, and for their sake more than for his own, suppressed the impulse and continued his flight. The Indians were nearly half a mile behind him, and, as nearly as he could tell, were not gaining upon him very rapidly. His colt seemed equal to a long continued race, and as yet showed no sign of faltering or fatigue. The question had now resolved itself, Sam thought, into one of endurance. How long the Indians would continue a pursuit in which he had the advantage of half a mile the start, he had no way of determining, but that his horse's endurance was as great at least as their perseverance, he had every reason to hope.
Just as he had comforted himself with this thought, a new danger assailed him. One of the Indians, it seemed, taking advantage of a minute knowledge of the country, had saved a considerable distance by riding through a strip of woods and cutting off an angle. When Sam first caught sight of him, coming out of the woods, the savage was within a dozen yards of him, and evidently gaining upon him at every step. Sam's horse was a fleet one, but that of the Indian was apparently a thoroughbred, whose speed remained nearly as great after a mile's run as at the start. Knowing the Indians' skill in shooting while riding at full speed, Sam leaned as far as he could to one side, so that as little as possible of his person should be exposed to his pursuer's aim. He continued to press his horse too, but the savage gained steadily. Finding at last that he must shortly be overtaken, Sam resolved upon a bold manoeuvre, by which to kill his foremost pursuer. Seizing the hatchet he had brought away from the house, he suddenly stopped his horse, and, as the Indian came along-side, aimed a savage blow at his head.
"Don't you know me, Sam?" said the Indian in good English, dodging the blow. "I'm Weatherford. If I'd wanted to kill you I might have done so a dozen times in the last five minutes. You know I don't want to kill you, though you're the only white man on earth I'd let go. But the others will make an end of you if they catch you. Ride on and I'll chase you. Turn to the left there and ride to the bluff. I'll follow you. There's a gully through the top. Ride down it as far as you can and jump your horse over the cliff. It's nearly fifty feet high, and may kill you, but it's the only way. The other warriors are coming up and they'll kill you sure if you don't jump. Jump, and I'll tell 'em I chased you over."
Sam knew Weatherford well, and he knew why the blood-thirsty chief wished to spare him if he could, for Sam had rescued Weatherford once from an imminent peril at great risk to himself, though the story is too long to be told here. Whether or not there is nobleness enough in the Indian character to make the savage remember a benefit received, I am sure I cannot say, but Weatherford was three-fourths white, and with all his ferocity in war, history credits him with more than one generous impulse like that by which Sam was now profiting. The two rode on, Weatherford pretending to be in hot pursuit, shooting occasionally and yelling at every leap of his horse. The bluff towards which they rode was probably a hundred feet high, and was washed at its base by a deep but sluggish creek, on the other side of which lay a densely wooded swamp. Through the top of the bluff, however, was a sort of fissure or ravine washed by the flow of water during the rainy season, and where it terminated the height of its mouth above the stream was not more than forty or fifty feet. Down this gully Sam rode furiously, so that his horse might not be able to refuse the leap, which was a frightful one. Coming to the edge of the precipice with headlong speed, the animal could not draw back but plunged over with Sam sitting bolt upright on his back. Riding back to the top of the bank Weatherford met his warriors.
"Where is he?" asked the foremost.
"His body is down there in the creek. I drove him over the precipice," said the chief with well-feigned delight.
[Footnote 2: This incident of the leap over the precipice is strictly historical, else I should never have ventured to print it here. Weatherford himself, on the 23d of December, 1813, after the battle of Tohopeka, escaped a body of dragoons in a precisely similar manner. A still more remarkable leap was that of Major Samuel McCullock, on the 2d of September 1777, over a precipice fully 300 feet high near Wheeling, West Virginia. He jumped over on horseback, thinking such a death preferable to savage torture, but singularly enough, both he and his horse escaped unhurt.]
His purpose evidently, was to satisfy the warriors that Sam was certainly killed, so that they might pursue him no further. Whether he was yet alive or not, Weatherford himself had no means of knowing. The last he had seen of him was as he went over the precipice, sitting bolt upright on his horse, grasping his rifle and looking straight ahead. He heard a splash in the water below, after which everything was still.
The days seemed very long to Tom and Joe and little Judie after Sam left on his journey. They had nothing to do but to sit still in their corners among the roots all day, and time always drags very slowly when people are doing nothing. Their provisions, as we know, were already cooked,—enough of them at least, to last a week, and before Sam left he had made them bring more than a bushel of sweet potatoes and all the corn they could find which was still soft enough to eat, and store it away for use if his return should be delayed in any way. The result was that their legs got no stretching, and they became moody, dispirited and unhappy before the second day of Sam's absence had come to an end. They found doing nothing the hardest and the dullest work they ever had done in their lives. Joe managed to sleep most of the time, but Tom was nervous, and poor little Judie, without Sam to depend upon, grew low-spirited and began to fear all sorts of evil things. Finally Sam's week was up and Sam had not appeared. The little people were now fairly frightened. What had become of him? they wondered. Had he fallen into the hands of the Indians? And if so, what were they to do now? They had never before known how dependent they were upon him. Even during his absence they had been regulating their lives by his minute instructions, and depending upon him for guidance after he should return. But what if he should never return? And why hadn't he come already? These thoughts were too much for them. Judie sat in her corner brooding over her trouble, and crying a little now and then. Joe was simply frightened, and his eyes grew bigger and rounder than ever. Tom was sustained in part by the thought that the burden of responsibility was now on him, and so he suppressed all manifestations of uneasiness, as well as he could, and gave himself up to the duty of studying the situation, calculating his resources and trying to decide what was the best thing to be done if Sam should not come back at all. He hit upon several excellent ideas, but made up his mind that before trying to put any of them into practice he would wait at least a fortnight longer for Sam's return. Their stock of provisions, eaten raw, would last much longer than that, and the fields were full of sweet potatoes, wherefore he wisely thought it best not to lose any chance of having Sam to do the thinking and planning. He was so anxious for his brother's return that he spent the greater part of his time on the drift-pile where he had built himself a little observatory, so arranged that he could see in every direction without the possibility of being seen in his turn.
Sitting there in his look-out, watching for Sam, he had time to think of many things. His thinking was not always wise, as a matter of course, but for a boy of his age it did very well, certainly, and one day he hit upon a really valuable idea.
The way it came about was this. He fell into a reverie, and remembered the happy old days at home, and one day in particular, when he was busy all day making a little wagon in which to give Judie a ride, and he remembered how very short that day seemed, although it was in June. Just then it popped into his head to think that there was a reason for everything, and that that day had seemed so short only because he had been very busy as its hours went by. If he had known what "generalization" means, he would have generalized this truth as follows:—
"Time passes rapidly with busy people." He did nothing of the kind, however. He only thought.
"If poor little Judie had something to keep her busy all the time, she wouldn't be so miserable."
And so he cudgelled his brains to invent some plan or other by which to set Judie at work and keep her at it all the time.
When he returned to the fortress towards night, he said to the little woman; "Judie, I reckon poor Sam's foot is troubling him again, and that's the reason he hasn't got back yet. He'll work along slowly and get here after a while, but I'm afraid he'll be dreadfully tired and sick when he comes. We must have a good soft bed ready for him so that he can get a good rest."
To this Judie assented, though in her heart she feared she should never see Sam again, as indeed Tom did too, though neither would admit the fact to the other.
"Now I've been thinking," said Tom, "that it wont do, if he comes back half sick, to let him lie on green moss with all the outside on. Let me show you."
And taking a strand of the long moss he scraped the greenish gray outside off, leaving a black strand like a horse hair.
"There," he said, "Sam told me once that it's the soft outside part that holds water, while the inside is dry almost always. Now why can't we scrape the outside off of a great deal of moss and have the dry inside ready for Sam to sleep on when he comes back? It'll surprise him and he'll be glad too. He never cared for himself much, but he'll be glad to see that we care for him."
The plan pleased little Judie wonderfully well. She was always delighted to do anything for Sam, and now that she was uneasy about him, and kept thinking of him as dead or dying or sick somewhere, and could hardly keep her tears back, nothing could have pleased her so well as to work for his comfort. Tom and Joe went out after dark, and brought in a large lot of moss, and the next morning all went to work, Judie made very little progress with her scraping, but she kept steadily at it, and it served its purpose in making her less miserable than before. The days passed more rapidly to Tom and Joe, too, and the whole party grew more cheerful under the influence of work. It was now ten days, however, since Sam had gone away, and his non-appearance was really alarming. When work stopped for the night, the thought of Sam was uppermost in the minds of all three, and for the first time they talked freely of the matter.
Tom was disposed to cheer himself by cheering the others, and so he explained:
"It's about forty-five miles to where Fort Mims stood, so Sam told me, and he said he might go nearly that far, if he didn't see Indians. If he went only thirty-five miles it would take him four or five nights; say five nights, and five more to come back would make ten. But may be his foot got sore, or Indians got in the way, and so it has taken him longer than he thought. I don't think we ought to be uneasy even if he should stay two weeks in all."
That was all very well as a theory, and true enough too, but Tom was uneasy, nevertheless, and so were Joe and Judie. The worst of it was that none of them could hide the fact. The eleventh day came, and with it came an excitement. Tom was the first to wake, and without waiting for the others, he proceeded to make his breakfast off an ear of raw corn, which was almost hard enough to grind, and altogether too hard to be eaten as green corn at any well-regulated table. Tom ate it, however, having nothing better, and when Judie waked he offered her a softer ear, which he had carefully selected and laid aside. Judie tried but couldn't eat it. She was faint and almost sick, and found it impossible to swallow the raw corn.
"Poor little sister," said Tom. "If I had any fire I'd roast a potato for you to-day anyhow, but the fire's all out and I can't."
"Mas' Tom!" said Joe, "I'll tell you what! I dun see a heap o' fox grapes down dar by de creek, an' I'se gwine to git some for Miss Judie quicker'n you kin count ten." And so saying Joe ran first to the look-out, to make a preliminary reconnoissance. The boys rarely ever left the trees during the daytime, and when they did so they were careful first to satisfy themselves that there were no savages in the neighborhood. The creek, of which Joe spoke, emptied into the river a short distance above the root fortress, and, along its banks was a dense mass of undergrowth, which skirted the river below, all the way to the drift-pile. Joe had seen the grapes from the look-out, and had planned an excursion after them. He could follow the river bank to the creek, keeping in the bushes and moving cautiously, and if any Indians should appear he could retreat in the same way, without discovery. Tired of raw corn and sweet potatoes, the grapes had tempted him sorely, and it only needed Judie's longing for a change of diet to induce him, to make this foraging expedition.
Before proceeding to relate the incidents which follows, it is necessary to explain a little more fully the arrangement of the root fortress and the drift-pile. The two trees, which were enormous ones, had originally grown as close together as they could, and their roots had interlaced beneath the soil. The sand in which they grew having been gradually washed away, their great masses of roots were exposed for about fifteen feet below the original level of the soil and as they spread out they made two circles (one running a foot or two into the other), of about twelve or fifteen feet in diameter. Inside of this circle of great roots, the roots were mostly small, and the boys had cut them away with their knives, leaving just enough of them to stop up all the holes and obscure the view from without. The drift-pile, or hammock, as it is sometimes called at the South, had been years in forming, being drift-wood which had floated down the river during winter and spring freshets, and as it had lodged against the trees it lay only on their upper side, where it was piled up into a perpendicular wall nearly twenty feet high. Thence it stretched away up the river for a hundred yards or more. Now the only entrance big enough to admit a person into the root fortress was on the side next to the drift, and it opened only into an alley-way which the boys had partly found and partly made through the drift. This alley-way led past several little aisles running out to the right and left for a dozen yards or so,—aisles formed by the irregular piling of the logs on top of each other. In the fortress there were a dozen places at least, where the big roots were sufficiently wide apart to admit a grown man easily, but the boys had left the smaller roots which covered these gaps undisturbed, and cut only the one entrance. After cutting that on the side next the hammock, they had moved some of the drift so as to close up the sides of the entrance and make it open only into the alley-way. All this had been done under Sam's supervision, and as a result of his prudence and fore thought.
Joe had been gone nearly half an hour when he burst suddenly into the chamber in which the others were. His hands were full of the wild grapes, but of those he was evidently not thinking. His face was of that peculiar hue which black faces assume when if they were white faces they would grow pale; and his lips, usually red, were of an ashy brown. His eyes were of the shape of saucers, and seemed not much smaller. He gasped for breath in an alarming way, and Tom saw that the poor fellow was frightened almost out of his wits.
"What's the matter Joe? Tell me quick," said the younger boy.
"O Mas' Tom, we'se dun surrounded. I was jest a-gittin' de grapes when I seed a'most a thousand Injuns a-comin,' an' I dun run my life a'most out a-gittin' here. Dey did not see me, but I seed dem, an' I tell you dey's de biggest Injuns you ever did see. I 'clar dey's mos' as tall as trees."
"How many of 'em are there, Joe?" asked Tom standing up.
"I couldn't count 'em e'zactly, Mas' Tom, but I reckon dey's not less'n a thousand of 'em,—maybe two thousan' for all I know."
"Where are they, and what were they doing?" asked Tom; but before Joe could answer, the voices of the Indians themselves indicated their whereabouts, and Tom discerned that they were disagreeably close to his elbow.
Seeking a place in which to cook their breakfast the savages had selected the corner formed by the root fortress and the drift-pile as a proper place for a fire, and were now breaking up sticks with which to start one. They were just outside the fortress, and either of the boys could have touched them by pushing his arm out between the roots. Tom motioned the others to keep absolutely silent, and going a little way into the hammock, through the passage way he managed to find a place from which he could see the intruders. He soon discovered that Joe's account of them was slightly exaggerated in two important particulars. They were only ordinary Indians, neither larger nor smaller than grown Indians usually are, and instead of a thousand there were but three of them in all.
But three fully grown Indians were enough to justify a good deal of apprehension, and if they should discover the party in the tree, Tom knew very well they would make very short work of their destruction. He crept back to the tree therefore and again cautioned Joe and Judie, in a whisper, not to speak or make any other noise. Then he returned to his place of observation and watched the Indians. They soon made a crackling fire and proceeded to broil some game they had killed, this and the eating which followed occupied perhaps an hour, during which Tom made frequent journeys to the little room, nominally for the purpose of cautioning the others to keep still, but really to work off some portion of his uneasiness, which was growing with every moment. He was terrified at first upon general principles, as any other boy of eleven years old would have been. Then he was afraid that the Indians would by some accident, lean something against the curtain of small roots between two other big trees, and that the curtain might not be strong enough to support it, in which event their hiding-place would be discovered at once. He was afraid, too, that some slight noise inside the fortress might catch the uncommonly quick ears of the Indians.