THE FEAST OF THE VIRGINS
AND OTHER POEMS
I had rather write one word upon the rock Of ages, than ten thousand in the sand.
Entered according to act of Congress in the year 1891 by H.L. GORDON in the office of the Librarian of Congress, Washington, D.C.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Address to the Flag A Million More An Old English Oak Anthem Betzko Beyond Byron and the Angel Change Charge of the "Black-Horse" Charge of Fremont's Body-Guard Charity Chickadee Christmas Eve [Illustrated] Daniel Do They Think of Us? Dust to Dust Fame Fido Gettysburg: Charge of the First Minnesota Heloise Hope Hurrah for the Volunteers! Isabel Lines on the Death of Captain Coats Love will Find Mauley [Illustrated] Men Minnetonka [Illustrated] Mrs. McNair My Dead My Father-Land My Heart's on the Rhine Night Thoughts New Years Address, 1866 [Illustrated] O Let Me Dream the Dreams of Long Ago Only a Private Killed On Reading President Lincoln's Letter Out of the Depths Pat and the Pig Pauline [Illustrated] Poetry Prelude—The Mississippi Sailor Boy's Song Spring [Illustrated] Thanksgiving The Devil and the Monk [Illustrated] The Draft The Dying Veteran The Feast of the Virgins [Illustrated] The Legend of the Falls [Illustrated] The Minstrel The Old Flag The Pioneer [Illustrated] The Reign of Reason The Sea-Gull [Illustrated] The Tariff on Tin [Illustrated] To Mollie To Sylva Twenty Years Ago [Illustrated] Wesselenyi [Illustrated] Winona [Illustrated]
At odd hours during an active and busy life I have dallied with the Muses. I found in them, in earlier years, rest from toil and drudgery and, later, relief from physical suffering.
Broken by over-work and compelled to abandon the practice of my profession—the law, I wrote Pauline after I had been given up to die by my physicians. It proved to be a better 'medicine' for me than all the quackeries of the quacks. It diverted my mind from myself and, perhaps, saved my life. When published, its reception by the best journals of this country and England was so flattering and, at the same time, the criticisms of some were so just, that I have been induced to carefully revise the poem and to publish my re-touched Pauline in this volume. I hope and believe I have greatly improved it. Several of the minor poems have been published heretofore in journals and magazines; others of equal or greater age flap their wings herein for the first time; a few peeped from the shell but yesterday.
I am aware that this volume contains several poems that a certain class of critics will condemn, but they are my "chicks" and I will gather them under my wings.
"None but an author knows an author's cares, Or Fancy's fondness for the child she bears."—Cowper.
Much of my life has been spent in the Northwest—on the frontier of civilization, and I became personally acquainted with many of the chiefs and braves of the Dakota and Ojibway (Chippewa) Indians. I have written of them largely from my own personal knowledge, and endeavored, above all things, to be accurate, and to present them true to the life.
For several years I devoted my leisure hours to the study of the language, history, traditions, customs and superstitions of the Dakotas. These Indians are now commonly called the "Sioux"—a name given them by the early French traders and voyageurs. "Dakota" signifies alliance or confederation. Many separate bands, all having a common origin and speaking a common tongue, were united under this name. See "Tah-Koo Wah-Kan," or "The Gospel Among the Dakotas," by Stephen R. Riggs, pp. 1 to 6 inc.
They were but yesterday the occupants and owners of the fair forests and fertile prairies of Minnesota—a brave, hospitable and generous people—barbarians, indeed, but noble in their barbarism. They may be fitly called the Iroquois of the West. In form and features, in language and traditions, they are distinct from all other Indian tribes. When first visited by white men, and for many years afterwards, the Falls of St. Anthony (by them called the Ha Ha) was the center of their country. They cultivated corn and tobacco, and hunted the elk, the beaver and the bison. They were open-hearted, truthful and brave. In their wars with other tribes they seldom slew women or children, and rarely sacrificed the lives of their prisoners.
For many years their chiefs and head men successfully resisted the attempts to introduce spirituous liquors among them. More than a century ago an English trader was killed at Mendota, near the present city of St. Paul, because he persisted, after repeated warnings by the chiefs, in dealing out mini wakan (Devil-water) to the Dakota braves.
With open arms and generous hospitality they welcomed the first white men to their land, and were ever faithful in their friendship, till years of wrong and robbery, and want and insult, drove them to desperation and to war. They were barbarians, and their warfare was barbarous, but not more barbarous than the warfare of our Saxon, Celtic and Norman ancestors. They were ignorant and superstitious. Their condition closely resembled the condition of our British forefathers at the beginning of the Christian era. Macaulay says of Britain: "Her inhabitants, when first they became known to the Tyrian mariners, were little superior to the natives of the Sandwich Islands." And again: "While the German princes who reigned at Paris, Toledo, Aries and Ravenna listened with reverence to the instructions of bishops, adored the relics of martyrs, and took part eagerly in disputes touching the Nicene theology, the rulers of Wessex and Mercia were still performing savage rites in the temples of Thor and Woden."
The days of the Dakotas are done. The degenerate remnants of that once powerful and warlike people still linger around the forts and agencies of the Northwest, or chase the caribou and the elk on the banks of the Saskatchewan, but the Dakotas of old are no more. The brilliant defeat of Custer, by Sitting Bull and his braves, was their last grand rally against the resistless march of the sons of the Saxons. The plow-shares of a superior race are fast leveling the sacred mounds of their dead. But yesterday, the shores of our lakes and our rivers were dotted with their teepees, their light canoes glided over our waters, and their hunters chased the deer and the buffalo on the sites of our cities. To-day, they are not. Let us do justice to their memory, for there was much that was noble in their natures.
In the Dakota Legends, I have endeavored to faithfully present many of the customs and superstitions, and some of the traditions, of that people. I have taken very little 'poetic license' with their traditions; none, whatever, with their customs and superstitions. In my studies for these Legends I was greatly aided by the Rev. S.R. Riggs, author of the "Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language" "Tah-Koo Wah-Kan," &c., and for many years a missionary among the Dakotas. He patiently answered my numerous inquiries and gave me valuable information. I am also indebted to the late Gen. H.H. Sibley, one of the earliest American traders among them, and to Rev. S.W. Pond, of Shakopee, one of the first Protestant missionaries to these people, and himself the author of poetical versions of some of their principal legends; to Mrs. Eastman's "Dacotah," and last, but not least, to the Rev. E.D. Neill, whose admirable "History of Minnesota" so fully and faithfully presents almost all that is known of the history, traditions, customs, manners and superstitions of the Dakotas.
In Winona I have "tried my hand" on a new hexameter verse. With what success, I leave to those who are better able to judge than I. If I have failed, I have but added another failure to the numerous attempts to naturalize hexameter verse in the English language.
It will be observed that I have slightly changed the length and the rhythm of the old hexameter line; but it is still hexameter, and, I think, improved.
I have not written for profit nor published for fame. Fame is a coy goddess that rarely bestows her favors on him who seeks her—a phantom that many pursue and but few overtake.
She delights to hover for a time, like a ghost, over the graves of dead men who know not and care not: to the living she is a veritable Ignis Fatuus. But every man owes something to his fellowmen, and I owe much.
If my friends find half the pleasure in reading these poems that I have found in writing them, I shall have paid my debt and achieved success.
Minneapolis, November 1, 1891.
The numerals refer to Notes in appendix.
Onward rolls the Royal River, proudly sweeping to the sea, Dark and deep and grand, forever wrapt in myth and mystery. Lo he laughs along the highlands, leaping o'er the granite walls; Lo he sleeps among the islands, where the loon her lover calls. Still like some huge monster winding downward through the prairied plains, Seeking rest but never finding, till the tropic gulf he gains. In his mighty arms he claspeth now an empire broad and grand; In his left hand lo he graspeth leagues of fen and forest land; In his right the mighty mountains, hoary with eternal snow, Where a thousand foaming fountains singing seek the plains below. Fields of corn and feet of cities lo the mighty river laves, Where the Saxon sings his ditties o'er the swarthy warriors' graves.
Aye, before the birth of Moses—ere the Pyramids were piled— All his banks were red with roses from the sea to nor'lands wild, And from forest, fen and meadows, in the deserts of the north, Elk and bison stalked like shadows, and the tawny tribes came forth; Deeds of death and deeds of daring on his leafy banks were done, Women loved and men went warring, ere the siege of Troy begun. Where his foaming waters thundered, roaring o'er the rocky walls, Dusky hunters sat and wondered, listening to the spirits' calls. "Ha-ha!" cried the warrior greeting from afar the cataract's roar; "Ha-ha!" rolled the answer beating down the rock-ribbed leagues of shore. Now, alas, the bow and quiver and the dusky braves have fled, And the sullen, shackled river drives the droning mills instead.
Where the war-whoop rose, and after women wailed their warriors slain, List the Saxon's silvery laughter, and his humming hives of gain. Swiftly sped the tawny runner o'er the pathless prairies then, Now the iron-reindeer sooner carries weal or woe to men. On thy bosom, Royal River, silent sped the birch canoe Bearing brave with bow and quiver on his way to war or woo; Now with flaunting flags and streamers—mighty monsters of the deep— Lo the puffing, panting steamers through thy foaming waters sweep; And behold the grain-fields golden, where the bison grazed of eld; See the fanes of forests olden by the ruthless Saxon felled. Plumed pines that spread their shadows ere Columbus spread his sails, Firs that fringed the mossy meadows ere the Mayflower braved the gales, Iron oaks that nourished bruin while the Vikings roamed the main, Crashing fall in broken ruin for the greedy marts of gain.
Still forever and forever rolls the restless river on, Slumbering oft but ceasing never while the circling centuries run. In his palm the lakelet lingers, in his hair the brooklets hide, Grasped within his thousand fingers lies a continent fair and wide— Yea, a mighty empire swarming with its millions like the bees, Delving, drudging, striving, storming, all their lives, for golden ease.
Still, methinks, the dusky shadows of the days that are no more, Stalk around the lakes and meadows, haunting oft the wonted shore: Hunters from the land of spirits seek the bison and the deer Where the Saxon now inherits golden field and silver mere; And beside the mound where buried lies the dark-eyed maid he loves, Some tall warrior, wan and wearied, in the misty moonlight moves. See—he stands erect and lingers—stoic still, but loth to go— Clutching in his tawny fingers feathered shaft and polished bow. Never wail or moan he utters and no tear is on his face, But a warrior's curse he mutters on the crafty Saxon race.
O thou dark, mysterious River, speak and tell thy tales to me; Seal not up thy lips forever—veiled in mist and mystery. I will sit and lowly listen at the phantom-haunted falls Where thy waters foam and glisten o'er the rugged, rocky walls, Till some spirit of the olden, mystic, weird, romantic days Shall emerge and pour her golden tales and legends through my lays.
Then again the elk and bison on thy grassy banks shall feed, And along the low horizon shall the plumed hunter speed; Then again on lake and river shall the silent birch canoe Bear the brave with bow and quiver on his way to war or woo: Then the beaver on the meadow shall rebuild his broken wall, And the wolf shall chase his shadow and his mate the panther call. From the prairies and the regions where the pine-plumed forest grows Shall arise the tawny legions with their lances and their bows; And again the cries of battle shall resound along the plain, Bows shall twang and quivers rattle, women wail their warriors slain; And by lodge-fire lowly burning shall the mother from afar List her warrior's steps returning from the daring deeds of war.
THE FEAST OF THE VIRGINS
A LEGEND OF THE DAKOTAS
In pronouncing Dakota words give "a" the sound of "ah",—"e" the sound of "a",—"i" the sound of "e" and "u" the sound of "oo;" sound "ee" as in English. The numerals refer to Notes in appendix.
THE GAME OF BALL
Clear was the sky as a silver shield; The bright sun blazed on the frozen field. On ice-bound river and white-robed prairie The diamonds gleamed in the flame of noon; But cold and keen were the breezes airy Wa-zi-ya blew from his icy throne.
On the solid ice of the silent river The bounds are marked, and a splendid prize, A robe of black-fox lined with beaver, Is hung in view of the eager eyes; And fifty merry Dakota maidens, The fairest-molded of womankind Are gathered in groups on the level ice. They look on the robe and its beauty gladdens And maddens their hearts for the splendid prize. Lo the rounded ankles and raven hair That floats at will on the wanton wind, And the round, brown arms to the breezes bare, And breasts like the mounds where the waters meet, And feet as fleet as the red deer's feet, And faces that glow like the full, round moon When she laughs in the luminous skies of June.
The leaders are chosen and swiftly divide The opposing parties on either side. Wiwaste is chief of a nimble band, The star-eyed daughter of Little Crow; And the leader chosen to hold command Of the band adverse is a haughty foe— The dusky, impetuous Harpstina, The queenly cousin of Wapasa.
Kapoza's chief and his tawny hunters Are gathered to witness the queenly game. The ball is thrown and a net encounters, And away it flies with a loud acclaim. Swift are the maidens that follow after, And swiftly it flies for the farther bound; And long and loud are the peals of laughter, As some fair runner is flung to ground; While backward and forward, and to and fro, The maidens contend on the trampled snow. With loud "Iho!—Ito!—Iho!" And waving the beautiful prize anon, The dusky warriors cheer them on. And often the limits are almost passed, As the swift ball flies and returns. At last It leaps the line at a single bound From the fair Wiwaste's sturdy arm Like a fawn that flies from the baying hound. The wild cheers broke like a thunder storm On the beetling bluffs and the hills profound, An echoing, jubilant sea of sound. Wakawa, the chief, and the loud acclaim Announced the end of the hard-won game, And the fair Wiwaste was victor crowned.
Dark was the visage of Harpstina When the robe was laid at her rival's feet, And merry maidens and warriors saw Her flashing eyes and her look of hate, As she turned to Wakawa, the chief, and said: "The game was mine were it fairly played. I was stunned by a blow on my bended head, As I snatched the ball from slippery ground Not half a fling from Wiwaste's bound. The cheat—behold her! for there she stands With the prize that is mine in her treacherous hands. The fawn may fly, but the wolf is fleet; The fox creeps sly on Maga's retreat, And a woman's revenge—it is swift and sweet."
She turned to her lodge, but a roar of laughter And merry mockery followed after. Little they heeded the words she said, Little they cared for her haughty tread, For maidens and warriors and chieftain knew That her lips were false and her charge untrue.
Wiwaste, the fairest Dakota maiden, The sweet-faced daughter of Little Crow, To her teepee turned with her trophy laden, The black robe trailing the virgin snow. Beloved was she by her princely father, Beloved was she by the young and old, By merry maidens and many a mother, And many a warrior bronzed and bold. For her face was as fair as a beautiful dream, And her voice like the song of the mountain stream; And her eyes like the stars when they glow and gleam Through the somber pines of the nor'land wold, When the winds of winter are keen and cold.
Mah-pi-ya Du-ta, the tall Red Cloud, A hunter swift and a warrior proud, With many a scar and many a feather, Was a suitor bold and a lover fond. Long had he courted Wiwaste's father, Long had he sued for the maiden's hand. Aye, brave and proud was the tall Red Cloud, A peerless son of a giant race, And the eyes of the panther were set in his face: He strode like a stag, and he stood like a pine; Ten feathers he wore of the great Wanmdee; With crimsoned quills of the porcupine His leggins were worked to his brawny knee. The bow he bent was a giant's bow; The swift, red elk could he overtake, And the necklace that girdled his brawny neck Was the polished claws of the great Mato He grappled and slew in the northern snow. Wiwaste looked on the warrior tall; She saw he was brawny and brave and great, But the eyes of the panther she could but hate, And a brave Hohe loved she better than all. Loved was Mahpiya by Harpstina But the warrior she never could charm or draw; And bitter indeed was her secret hate For the maiden she reckoned so fortunate.
THE GIANT'S DANCE.
The night-sun sails in his gold canoe, The spirits walk in the realms of air With their glowing faces and flaming hair, And the shrill, chill winds o'er the prairies blow. In the Tee of the Council the Virgins light The Virgin-fire for the feast to-night; For the Sons of Heyoka will celebrate The sacred dance to the giant great. The kettle boils on the blazing fire, And the flesh is done to the chief's desire. With his stoic face to the sacred East, He takes his seat at the Giant's Feast.
For the feast of Heyoka the braves are dressed With crowns from the bark of the white-birch trees, And new skin leggins that reach the knees; With robes of the bison and swarthy bear, And eagle-plumes in their coal-black hair, And marvelous rings in their tawny ears That were pierced with the points of their shining spears. To honor Heyoka Wakawa lifts His fuming pipe from the Red-stone Quarry. The warriors follow. The white cloud drifts From the Council-lodge to the welkin starry, Like a fog at morn on the fir-clad hill, When the meadows are damp and the winds are still.
They dance to the tune of their wild "Ha-ha" A warrior's shout and a raven's caw— Circling the pot and the blazing fire To the tom-tom's bray and the rude bassoon; Round and round to their heart's desire, And ever the same wild chant and tune— A warrior's shout and a raven's caw— "Ha-ha,—ha-ha,—ha-ha,—ha!" They crouch, they leap, and their burning eyes Flash fierce in the light of the flaming fire, As fiercer and fiercer and higher and higher The rude, wild notes of their chant arise. They cease, they sit, and the curling smoke Ascends again from their polished pipes, And upward curls from their swarthy lips To the god whose favor their hearts invoke.
Then tall Wakawa arose and said: "Brave warriors, listen, and give due heed. Great is Heyoka, the magical god; He can walk on the air; he can float on the flood. He's a worker of magic and wonderful wise; He cries when he laughs and he laughs when he cries; He sweats when he's cold, and he shivers when hot, And the water is cold in his boiling pot. He hides in the earth and he walks in disguise, But he loves the brave and their sacrifice. We are sons of Heyoka. The Giant commands In the boiling water to thrust our hands; And the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire Heyoka will crown with his heart's desire."
They thrust their hands in the boiling pot; They swallow the bison-meat steaming hot; Not a wince on their stoical faces bold, For the meat and the water, they say, are cold: And great is Heyoka and wonderful wise; He floats on the flood and he walks on the skies, And ever appears in a strange disguise; But he loves the brave and their sacrifice, And the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire Heyoka will crown with his heart's desire.
Proud was the chief of his warriors proud, The sinewy sons of the Giant's race; But the bravest of all was the tall Red Cloud; The eyes of the panther were set in his face; He strode like a stag and he stood like a pine; Ten feathers he wore of the great Wanmdee, With crimsoned quills of the porcupine His leggins were worked to his brawny knee. Blood-red were the stripes on his swarthy cheek, And the necklace that girdled his brawny neck Was the polished claws of the great Mato He grappled and slew in the northern snow. Proud Red Cloud turned to the braves and said, As he shook the plumes on his haughty head: "Ho! the warrior that scorneth the foe and fire Heyoka will crown with his heart's desire!" He snatched from the embers a red-hot brand, And held it aloft in his naked hand. He stood like a statue in bronze or stone— Not a muscle moved, and the braves looked on. He turned to the chieftain—"I scorn the fire— Ten feathers I wear of the great Wanmdee; Then grant me, Wakawa, my heart's desire; Let the sunlight shine in my lonely tee. I laugh at red death and I laugh at red fire; Brave Red Cloud is only afraid of fear; But Wiwaste is fair to his heart and dear; Then grant him, Wakawa, his heart's desire." The warriors applauded with loud "Ho! Ho!" And he flung the brand to the drifting snow. Three times Wakawa puffed forth the smoke From his silent lips; then he slowly spoke: "Mahpiya is strong as the stout-armed oak That stands on the bluff by the windy plain, And laughs at the roar of the hurricane. He has slain the foe and the great Mato With his hissing arrow and deadly stroke My heart is swift but my tongue is slow. Let the warrior come to my lodge and smoke; He may bring the gifts; but the timid doe May fly from the hunter and say him no."
Wiwaste sat late in the lodge alone, Her dark eyes bent on the glowing fire: She heard not the wild winds shrill and moan; She heard not the tall elms toss and groan; Her face was lit like the harvest moon; For her thoughts flew far to her heart's desire. Far away in the land of the Hohe dwelt The warrior she held in her secret heart; But little he dreamed of the pain she felt, For she hid her love with a maiden's art. Not a tear she shed, not a word she said, When the brave young chief from the lodge departed; But she sat on the mound when the day was dead, And gazed at the full moon mellow-hearted. Fair was the chief as the morning-star; His eyes were mild and his words were low, But his heart was stouter than lance or bow; And her young heart flew to her love afar O'er his trail long covered with drifted snow. She heard a warrior's stealthy tread, And the tall Wakawa appeared, and said: "Is Wiwaste afraid of the spirit dread That fires the sky in the fatal north? Behold the mysterious lights. Come forth: Some evil threatens, some danger nears, For the skies are pierced by the burning spears."
The warriors rally beneath the moon; They shoot their shafts at the evil spirit. The spirit is slain and the flame is gone, But his blood lies red on the snow-fields near it; And again from the dead will the spirit rise, And flash his spears in the northern skies.
Then the chief and the queenly Wiwaste stood Alone in the moon-lit solitude, And she was silent and he was grave. "And fears not my daughter the evil spirit? The strongest warriors and bravest fear it. The burning spears are an evil omen; They threaten the wrath of a wicked woman, Or a treacherous foe; but my warriors brave, When danger nears, or the foe appears, Are a cloud of arrows—a grove of spears."
"My Father," she said, and her words were low, "Why should I fear? for I soon will go To the broad, blue lodge in the Spirit-land, Where my fond-eyed mother went long ago, And my dear twin-sisters walk hand in hand. My Father, listen—my words are true," And sad was her voice as the whippowil When she mourns her mate by the moon-lit rill, "Wiwaste lingers alone with you; The rest are sleeping on yonder hill— Save one—and he an undutiful son— And you, my Father, will sit alone When Sisoka sings and the snow is gone. I sat, when the maple leaves were red, By the foaming falls of the haunted river; The night-sun was walking above my head, And the arrows shone in his burnished quiver; And the winds were hushed and the hour was dread With the walking ghosts of the silent dead. I heard the voice of the Water-Fairy; I saw her form in the moon-lit mist, As she sat on a stone with her burden weary, By the foaming eddies of amethyst. And robed in her mantle of mist the sprite Her low wail poured on the silent night. Then the spirit spake, and the floods were still— They hushed and listened to what she said, And hushed was the plaint of the whippowil In the silver-birches above her head: 'Wiwaste, the prairies are green and fair When the robin sings and the whippowil; But the land of the Spirits is fairer still, For the winds of winter blow never there; And forever the songs of the whippowils And the robins are heard on the leafy hills. Thy mother looks from her lodge above— Her fair face shines in the sky afar, And the eyes of thy sisters are bright with love, As they peep from the tee of the mother-star. To her happy lodge in the Spirit land She beckons Wiwaste with shining hand.'
"My Father—my Father, her words were true; And the death of Wiwaste will rest on you. You have pledged me as wife to the tall Red Cloud; You will take the gifts of the warrior proud; But I, Wakawa,—I answer—never! I will stain your knife in my heart's red blood, I will plunge and sink in the sullen river Ere I will be wife to the dark Red Cloud!"
"Wiwaste," he said, and his voice was low, "Let it be as you will, for Wakawa's tongue Has spoken no promise;—his lips are slow, And the love of a father is deep and strong. Be happy, Micunksee; the flames are gone— They flash no more in the northern sky. See the smile on the face of the watching moon; No more will the fatal, red arrows fly; For the singing shafts of my warriors sped To the bad spirit's bosom and laid him dead, And his blood on the snow of the North lies red. Go—sleep in the robe that you won to-day, And dream of your hunter—the brave Chaske."
Light was her heart as she turned away; It sang like the lark in the skies of May. The round moon laughed, but a lone, red star, As she turned to the teepee and entered in, Fell flashing and swift in the sky afar, Like the polished point of a javelin. Nor chief nor daughter the shadow saw Of the crouching listener, Harpstina.
Wiwaste, wrapped in her robe and sleep, Heard not the storm-sprites wail and weep, As they rode on the winds in the frosty air; But she heard the voice of her hunter fair; For a fairy spirit with silent fingers The curtains drew from the land of dreams; And lo in her teepee her lover lingers; In his tender eyes all the love-light beams, And his voice is the music of mountain streams.
And then with her round, brown arms she pressed His phantom form to her throbbing breast, And whispered the name, in her happy sleep, Of her Hohe hunter so fair and far: And then she saw in her dreams the deep Where the spirit wailed, and a falling star; Then stealthily crouching under the trees, By the light of the moon, the Kan-e-ti-dan,  The little, wizened, mysterious man, With his long locks tossed by the moaning breeze. Then a flap of wings, like a thunder-bird,  And a wailing spirit the sleeper heard; And lo, through the mists of the moon, she saw The hateful visage of Harpstina.
But waking she murmured—"And what are these—— The flap of wings and the falling star, The wailing spirit that's never at ease, The little man crouching under the trees, And the hateful visage of Harpstina? My dreams are like feathers that float on the breeze, And none can tell what the omens are—— Save the beautiful dream of my love afar In the happy land of the tall Hohe—— My handsome hunter—my brave Chaske."
"Ta-tanka! Ta-tanka!" the hunters cried, With a joyous shout at the break of dawn And darkly lined on the white hill-side, A herd of bison went marching on Through the drifted snow like a caravan. Swift to their ponies the hunters sped, And dashed away on the hurried chase. The wild steeds scented the game ahead, And sprang like hounds to the eager race. But the brawny bulls in the swarthy van Turned their polished horns on the charging foes And reckless rider and fleet footman Were held at bay in the drifted snows, While the bellowing herd o'er the hilltops ran, Like the frightened beasts of a caravan On Sahara's sands when the simoon blows. Sharp were the twangs of the hunters' bows, And swift and humming the arrows sped, Till ten huge bulls on the bloody snows Lay pierced with arrows and dumb and dead. But the chief with the flankers had gained the rear, And flew on the trail of the flying herd. The shouts of the riders rang loud and clear, As their foaming steeds to the chase they spurred. And now like the roar of an avalanche Rolls the bellowing wrath of the maddened bulls They charge on the riders and runners stanch, And a dying steed in the snow drift rolls, While the rider, flung to the frozen ground, Escapes the horns by a panther's bound. But the raging monsters are held at bay, While the flankers dash on the swarthy rout: With lance and arrow they slay and slay; And the welkin rings to the gladsome shout—— To the loud Ina's and the wild Iho's,  And dark and dead, on the bloody snows, Lie the swarthy heaps of the buffaloes. All snug in the teepee Wiwaste lay, All wrapped in her robe, at the dawn of day, All snug and warm from the wind and snow, While the hunters followed the buffalo. Her dreams and her slumber their wild shouts broke; The chase was afoot when the maid awoke; She heard the twangs of the hunters' bows, And the bellowing bulls and the loud Iho's, And she murmured—"My hunter is far away In the happy land of the tall Hohe—— My handsome hunter, my brave Chaske; But the robins will come and my warrior too, And Wiwaste will find her a way to woo."
And long she lay in a reverie, And dreamed, wide-awake, of the brave Chaske, Till a trampling of feet on the crispy snow She heard, and the murmur of voices low:—— Then the warriors' greeting—Iho! Iho! And behold, in the blaze of the risen day, With the hunters that followed the buffalo—— Came her tall, young hunter—her brave Chaske. Far south has he followed the bison-trail With his band of warriors so brave and true. Right glad is Wakawa his friend to hail, And Wiwaste will find her a way to woo.
Tall and straight as the larch-tree stood The manly form of the brave young chief, And fair as the larch in its vernal leaf, When the red fawn bleats in the feathering wood. Mild was his face as the morning skies, And friendship shone in his laughing eyes; But swift were his feet o'er the drifted snow On the trail of the elk or the buffalo, And his heart was stouter than lance or bow, When he heard the whoop of his enemies. Five feathers he wore of the great Wanmdee And each for the scalp of a warrior slain, When down on his camp from the northern plain, With their murder-cries rode the bloody Cree. But never the stain of an infant slain, Or the blood of a mother that plead in vain, Soiled the honored plumes of the brave Hohe. A mountain bear to his enemies, To his friends like the red fawn's dappled form; In peace, like the breeze from the summer seas—— In war, like the roar of the mountain storm. His fame in the voice of the winds went forth From his hunting grounds in the happy North, And far as the shores of the Great Mede  The nations spoke of the brave Chaske.
Dark was the visage of grim Red Cloud, Fierce were the eyes of the warrior proud, When the chief to his lodge led the brave Hohe, And Wiwaste smiled on the tall Chaske. Away he strode with a sullen frown, And alone in his teepee he sat him down. From the gladsome greeting of braves he stole, And wrapped himself in his gloomy soul. But the eagle eyes of the Harpstina The clouded face of the warrior saw. Softly she spoke to the sullen brave: "Mah-pi-ya Duta—his face is sad; And why is the warrior so glum and grave? For the fair Wiwaste is gay and glad; She will sit in the teepee the live-long day, And laugh with her lover—the brave Hohe Does the tall Red Cloud for the false one sigh? There are fairer maidens than she, and proud Were their hearts to be loved by the brave Red Cloud. And trust not the chief with the smiling eyes; His tongue is swift, but his words are lies; And the proud Mah-pi-ya will surely find That Wakawa's promise is hollow wind. Last night I stood by his lodge, and lo I heard the voice of the Little Crow; But the fox is sly and his words were low. But I heard her answer her father—'Never! I will stain your knife in my heart's red blood, I will plunge and sink in the sullen river, Ere I will be wife to the dark Red Cloud!' Then he spake again, and his voice was low, But I heard the answer of Little Crow: 'Let it be as you will, for Wakawa's tongue Has spoken no promise—his lips are slow, And the love of a father is deep and strong.'
"Mah-pi-ya Duta, they scorn your love, But the false chief covets the warrior's gifts. False to his promise the fox will prove, And fickle as snow in Wo-ka-da-wee,  That slips into brooks when the gray cloud lifts, Or the red sun looks through the ragged rifts. Mah-pi-ya Duta will listen to me. There are fairer birds in the bush than she, And the fairest would gladly be Red Cloud's wife. Will the warrior sit like a girl bereft, When fairer and truer than she are left, That love Red Cloud as they love their life? Mah-pi-ya Duta will listen to me. I love him well—I have loved him long: A woman is weak, but a warrior is strong, And a love-lorn brave is a scorn to see.
"Mah-pi-ya Duta, O listen to me! Revenge is swift and revenge is strong, And sweet as the hive in the hollow tree; The proud Red Cloud will avenge his wrong. Let the brave be patient, it is not long Till the leaves be green on the maple tree, And the Feast of the Virgins is then to be— The Feast of the Virgins is then to be!"
Proudly she turned from the silent brave, And went her way; but the warrior's eyes— They flashed with the flame of a sudden fire, Like the lights that gleam in the Sacred Cave, When the black night covers the autumn skies, And the stars from their welkin watch retire.
Three nights he tarried—the brave Chaske; Winged were the hours and they flitted away; On the wings of Wakandee they silently flew, For Wiwaste had found her a way to woo. Ah little he cared for the bison-chase, For the red lilies bloomed on the fair maid's face; Ah little he cared for the winds that blew, For Wiwaste had found her a way to woo. Brown-bosomed she sat on her fox-robe dark, Her ear to the tales of the brave inclined, Or tripped from the tee like the song of a lark, And gathered her hair from the wanton wind. Ah little he thought of the leagues of snow He trod on the trail of the buffalo; And little he recked of the hurricanes That swept the snow from the frozen plains And piled the banks of the Bloody River. His bow unstrung and forgotten hung With his beaver hood and his otter quiver; He sat spell-bound by the artless grace Of her star-lit eyes and her moon-lit face. Ah little he cared for the storms that blew, For Wiwaste had found her a way to woo. When he spoke with Wakawa her sidelong eyes Sought the handsome chief in his hunter-guise. Wakawa marked, and the lilies fair On her round cheeks spread to her raven hair. They feasted on rib of the bison fat, On the tongue of the Ta that the hunters prize, On the savory flesh of the red Hogan, On sweet tipsanna and pemmican And the dun-brown cakes of the golden maize; And hour after hour the young chief sat, And feasted his soul on her love-lit eyes.
The sweeter the moments the swifter they fly; Love takes no account of the fleeting hours; He walks in a dream 'mid the blooming of flowers, And never awakes till the blossoms die. Ah lovers are lovers the wide world over— In the hunter's lodge and the royal palace. Sweet are the lips of his love to the lover— Sweet as new wine in a golden chalice From the Tajo's slope or the hills beyond; And blindly he sips from his loved one's lips, In lodge or palace the wide world over, The maddening honey of Trebizond.
O what are leagues to the loving hunter, Or the blinding drift of the hurricane, When it raves and roars o'er the frozen plain! He would face the storm—he would death encounter The darling prize of his heart to gain. But his hunters chafed at the long delay, For the swarthy bison were far away, And the brave young chief from the lodge departed. He promised to come with the robins in May With the bridal gifts for the bridal day; And the fair Wiwaste was happy-hearted, For Wakawa promised the brave Chaske. Birds of a feather will flock together. The robin sings to his ruddy mate, And the chattering jays, in the winter weather, To prate and gossip will congregate; And the cawing crows on the autumn heather, Like evil omens, will flock together, In common council for high debate; And the lass will slip from a doting mother To hang with her lad on the garden gate. Birds of a feather will flock together— 'Tis an adage old—it is nature's law, And sure as the pole will the needle draw, The fierce Red Cloud with the flaunting feather, Will follow the finger of Harpstina.
The winter wanes and the south-wind blows From the Summer Islands legendary; The skeskas fly and the melted snows In lakelets lie on the dimpled prairie. The frost-flowers peep from their winter sleep Under the snow-drifts cold and deep. To the April sun and the April showers, In field and forest, the baby flowers Lift their blushing faces and dewy eyes; And wet with the tears of the winter-fairies, Soon bloom and blossom the emerald prairies, Like the fabled Garden of Paradise.
The plum-trees, white with their bloom in May, Their sweet perfume on the vernal breeze Wide strew like the isles of the tropic seas Where the paroquet chatters the livelong day. But the May-days pass and the brave Chaske  O why does the lover so long delay? Wiwaste waits in the lonely tee. Has her fair face fled from his memory? For the robin cherups his mate to please, The blue-bird pipes in the poplar-trees, The meadow lark warbles his jubilees, Shrilling his song in the azure seas Till the welkin throbs to his melodies, And low is the hum of the humble-bees, And the Feast of the Virgins is now to be.
THE FEAST OF THE VIRGINS
The sun sails high in his azure realms; Beneath the arch of the breezy elms The feast is spread by the murmuring river. With his battle-spear and his bow and quiver, And eagle-plumes in his ebon hair, The chief Wakawa himself is there; And round the feast, in the Sacred Ring, Sit his weaponed warriors witnessing. Not a morsel of food have the Virgins tasted For three long days ere the holy feast; They sat in their teepee alone and fasted, Their faces turned to the Sacred East. In the polished bowls lies the golden maize, And the flesh of fawn on the polished trays. For the Virgins the bloom of the prairies wide— The blushing pink and the meek blue-bell, The purple plumes of the prairie's pride, The wild, uncultured asphodel, And the beautiful, blue-eyed violet That the Virgins call "Let-me-not forget," In gay festoons and garlands twine With the cedar sprigs and the wildwood vine. So gaily the Virgins are decked and dressed, And none but a virgin may enter there; And clad is each in a scarlet vest, And a fawn-skin frock to the brown calves bare. Wild rose-buds peep from their flowing hair, And a rose half blown on the budding breast; And bright with the quills of the porcupine The moccasined feet of the maidens shine.
Hand in hand round the feast they dance, And sing to the notes of a rude bassoon, And never a pause or a dissonance In the merry dance or the merry tune. Brown-bosomed and fair as the rising moon, When she peeps o'er the hills of the dewy east, Wiwaste sings at the Virgins' Feast; And bright is the light in her luminous eyes; They glow like the stars in the winter skies; And the lilies that bloom in her virgin heart Their golden blush to her cheeks impart— Her cheeks half-hid in her midnight hair. Fair is her form—as the red fawn's fair— And long is the flow of her raven hair; It falls to her knees and it streams on the breeze Like the path of a storm on the swelling seas.
Proud of their rites are the Virgins fair, For none but a virgin may enter there. 'Tis a custom of old and a sacred thing; Nor rank nor beauty the warriors spare, If a tarnished maiden should enter there. And her that enters the Sacred Ring With a blot that is known or a secret stain The warrior who knows is bound to expose, And lead her forth from the ring again. And the word of a brave is the fiat of law; For the Virgins' Feast is a sacred thing. Aside with the mothers sat Harpstina; She durst not enter the Virgins' ring.
Round and round to the merry song The maidens dance in their gay attire, While the loud Ho-Ho's of the tawny throng Their flying feet and their song inspire. They have finished the song and the sacred dance, And hand in hand to the feast advance— To the polished bowls of the golden maize, And the sweet fawn-meat in the polished trays.
Then up from his seat in the silent crowd Rose the frowning, fierce-eyed, tall Red Cloud; Swift was his stride as the panther's spring, When he leaps on the fawn from his cavern lair; Wiwaste he caught by her flowing hair, And dragged her forth from the Sacred Ring. She turned on the warrior, her eyes flashed fire; Her proud lips quivered with queenly ire; And her sun-browned cheeks were aflame with red. Her hand to the spirits she raised and said: "I am pure!—I am pure as the falling snow! Great Taku-skan-skan will testify! And dares the tall coward to say me no?" But the sullen warrior made no reply. She turned to the chief with her frantic cries: "Wakawa,—my Father! he lies,—he lies! Wiwaste is pure as the fawn unborn; Lead me back to the feast or Wiwaste dies!" But the warriors uttered a cry of scorn, And he turned his face from her pleading eyes.
Then the sullen warrior, the tall Red Cloud, Looked up and spoke and his voice was loud; But he held his wrath and he spoke with care: "Wiwaste is young; she is proud and fair, But she may not boast of the virgin snows. The Virgins' Feast is a sacred thing; How durst she enter the Virgins' ring? The warrior would fain, but he dares not spare; She is tarnished and only the Red Cloud knows."
She clutched her hair in her clinched hand; She stood like a statue bronzed and grand; Wakan-dee flashed in her fiery eyes; Then swift as the meteor cleaves the skies— Nay, swift as the fiery Wakinyan's dart, She snatched the knife from the warrior's belt, And plunged it clean to the polished hilt— With a deadly cry—in the villain's heart. Staggering he clutched the air and fell; His life-blood smoked on the trampled sand, And dripped from the knife in the virgin's hand.
Then rose his kinsmen's savage yell. Swift as the doe's Wiwaste's feet Fled away to the forest. The hunters fleet In vain pursue, and in vain they prowl And lurk in the forest till dawn of day. They hear the hoot of the mottled owl; They hear the were-wolf's winding howl; But the swift Wiwaste is far away. They found no trace in the forest land; They found no trail in the dew-damp grass; They found no track in the river sand, Where they thought Wiwaste would surely pass.
The braves returned to the troubled chief; In his lodge he sat in his silent grief. "Surely," they said, "she has turned a spirit. No trail she left with her flying feet; No pathway leads to her far retreat. She flew in the air, and her wail—we could hear it, As she upward rose to the shining stars; And we heard on the river, as we stood near it, The falling drops of Wiwaste's tears."
Wakawa thought of his daughter's words Ere the south-wind came and the piping birds— "My Father, listen—my words are true," And sad was her voice as the whippowil When she mourns her mate by the moon-lit rill, "Wiwaste lingers alone with you; The rest are sleeping on yonder hill— Save one—and he an undutiful son— And you, my Father, will sit alone When Sisoka sings and the snow is gone." His broad breast heaved on his troubled soul, The shadow of grief o'er his visage stole Like a cloud on the face of the setting sun.
"She has followed the years that are gone," he said; "The spirits the words of the witch fulfill; For I saw the ghost of my father dead, By the moon's dim light on the misty hill. He shook the plumes on his withered head, And the wind through his pale form whistled shrill. And a low, sad voice on the hill I heard, Like the mournful wail of a widowed bird." Then lo, as he looked from his lodge afar, He saw the glow of the Evening-star; "And yonder," he said, "is Wiwaste's face; She looks from her lodge on our fading race, Devoured by famine, and fraud, and war, And chased and hounded by fate and woe, As the white wolves follow the buffalo;" And he named the planet the Virgin Star.
"Wakawa," he muttered, "the guilt is thine! She was pure—she was pure as the fawn unborn. O why did I hark to the cry of scorn, Or the words of the lying libertine? Wakawa, Wakawa, the guilt is thine! The springs will return with the voice of birds, But the voice of my daughter will come no more. She wakened the woods with her musical words, And the sky-lark, ashamed of his voice, forbore. She called back the years that had passed, and long I heard their voice in her happy song. O why did the chief of the tall Hohe His feet from Kapoza so long delay? For his father sat at my father's feast, And he at Wakawa's—an honored guest. He is dead!—he is slain on the Bloody Plain, By the hand of the treacherous Chippeway; And the face shall I never behold again Of my brave young brother—the chief Chaske. Death walks like a shadow among my kin; And swift are the feet of the flying years That cover Wakawa with frost and tears, And leave their tracks on his wrinkled skin. Wakawa, the voice of the years that are gone Will follow thy feet like the shadow of death, Till the paths of the forest and desert lone Shall forget thy footsteps. O living breath, Whence are thou, and whither so soon to fly? And whence are the years? Shall I overtake Their flying feet in the star-lit sky? From his last long sleep will the warrior wake? Will the morning break in Wakawa's tomb, As it breaks and glows in the eastern skies? Is it true?—will the spirits of kinsmen come And bid the bones of the brave arise? Wakawa, Wakawa, for thee the years Are red with blood and bitter with tears. Gone—brothers, and daughters, and wife—all gone That are kin to Wakawa—but one—but one— Wakinyan Tanka—undutiful son! And he estranged from his father's tee, Will never return till the chief shall die. And what cares he for his father's grief? He will smile at my death—it will make him chief. Woe burns in my bosom. Ho, warriors—Ho! Raise the song of red war; for your chief must go To drown his grief in the blood of the foe! I shall fall. Raise my mound on the sacred hill. Let my warriors the wish of their chief fulfill; For my fathers sleep in the sacred ground. The Autumn blasts o'er Wakawa's mound Will chase the hair of the thistles' head, And the bare-armed oak o'er the silent dead, When the whirling snows from the north descend, Will wail and moan in the midnight wind. In the famine of winter the wolf will prowl, And scratch the snow from the heap of stones, And sit in the gathering storm and howl, On the frozen mound, for Wakawa's bones. But the years that are gone shall return again, As the robin returns and the whippowil, When my warriors stand on the sacred hill And remember the deeds of their brave chief slain."
Beneath the glow of the Virgin Star They raised the song of the red war-dance. At the break of dawn with the bow and lance They followed the chief on the path of war. To the north—to the forests of fir and pine— Led their stealthy steps on the winding trail, Till they saw the Lake of the Spirit shine Through somber pines of the dusky dale. Then they heard the hoot of the mottled owl; They heard the gray wolf's dismal howl; Then shrill and sudden the war-whoop rose From an hundred throats of their swarthy foes, In ambush crouched in the tangled wood. Death shrieked in the twang of their deadly bows, And their hissing arrows drank brave men's blood. From rock, and thicket, and brush, and brakes, Gleamed the burning eyes of the "forest-snakes." From brake, and thicket, and brush, and stone, The bow-string hummed and the arrow hissed, And the lance of a crouching Ojibway shone, Or the scalp-knife gleamed in a swarthy fist. Undaunted the braves of Wakawa's band Leaped into the thicket with lance and knife, And grappled the Chippeways hand to hand; And foe with foe, in the deadly strife, Lay clutching the scalp of his foe and dead, With a tomahawk sunk in his ghastly head, Or his still heart sheathing a bloody blade. Like a bear in the battle Wakawa raves, And cheers the hearts of his falling braves. But a panther crouches along his track— He springs with a yell on Wakawa's back! The tall chief, stabbed to the heart, lies low; But his left hand clutches his deadly foe, And his red right clinches the bloody hilt Of his knife in the heart of the slayer dyed. And thus was the life of Wakawa spilt, And slain and slayer lay side by side. The unscalped corpse of their honored chief His warriors snatched from the yelling pack, And homeward fled on their forest track With their bloody burden and load of grief.
The spirits the words of the brave fulfill— Wakawa sleeps on the sacred hill, And Wakinyan Tanka, his son, is chief. Ah soon shall the lips of men forget Wakawa's name, and the mound of stone Will speak of the dead to the winds alone, And the winds will whistle their mock regret.
The speckled cones of the scarlet berries Lie red and ripe in the prairie grass. The Si-yo clucks on the emerald prairies To her infant brood. From the wild morass, On the sapphire lakelet set within it, Maga sails forth with her wee ones daily. They ride on the dimpling waters gaily, Like a fleet of yachts and a man-of-war. The piping plover, the light-winged linnet, And the swallow sail in the sunset skies. The whippowil from her cover hies, And trills her song on the amber air. Anon to her loitering mate she cries: "Flip, O Will!—trip, O Will!—skip, O Will!" And her merry mate from afar replies: "Flip I will—skip I will—trip I will;" And away on the wings of the wind he flies. And bright from her lodge in the skies afar Peeps the glowing face of the Virgin Star. The fox-pups creep from their mother's lair, And leap in the light of the rising moon; And loud on the luminous, moonlit lake Shrill the bugle-notes of the lover loon; And woods and waters and welkin break Into jubilant song—it is joyful June.
But where is Wiwaste? O where is she— The virgin avenged—the queenly queen— The womanly woman—the heroine? Has she gone to the spirits? and can it be That her beautiful face is the Virgin Star Peeping out from the door of her lodge afar, Or upward sailing the silver sea, Star-beaconed and lit like an avenue, In the shining stern of her gold canoe? No tidings came—nor the brave Chaske: O why did the lover so long delay? He promised to come with the robins in May With the bridal gifts for the bridal day; But the fair May-mornings have slipped away, And where is the lover—the brave Chaske?
But what of the venomous Harpstina— The serpent that tempted the proud Red Cloud, And kindled revenge in his savage soul? He paid for his crime with his own heart's blood, But his angry spirit has brought her dole; It has entered her breast and her burning head, And she raves and burns on her fevered bed. "He is dead! He is dead!" is her wailing cry, "And the blame is mine—it was I—it was I! I hated Wiwaste, for she was fair, And my brave was caught in her net of hair. I turned his love to a bitter hate; I nourished revenge, and I pricked his pride; Till the Feast of the Virgins I bade him wait. He had his revenge, but he died—he died! And the blame is mine—it was I—it was I! And his spirit burns me; I die—I die!" Thus, alone in her lodge and her agonies, She wails to the winds of the night, and dies.
But where is Wiwaste? Her swift feet flew To the somber shades of the tangled thicket. She hid in the copse like a wary cricket, And the fleetest hunters in vain pursue. Seeing unseen from her hiding place, She sees them fly on the hurried chase; She sees their dark eyes glance and dart, As they pass and peer for a track or trace, And she trembles with fear in the copse apart, Lest her nest be betrayed by her throbbing heart.
Weary the hours; but the sun at last Went down to his lodge in the west, and fast The wings of the spirits of night were spread O'er the darkling woods and Wiwaste's head. Then slyly she slipped from her snug retreat, And guiding her course by Waziya's star, That shone through the shadowy forms afar, She northward hurried with silent feet; And long ere the sky was aflame in the east, She was leagues from the spot of the fatal feast. 'Twas the hoot of the owl that the hunters heard, And the scattering drops of the threat'ning shower, And the far wolf's cry to the moon preferred. Their ears were their fancies—the scene was weird, And the witches dance at the midnight hour. She leaped the brook and she swam the river; Her course through the forest Wiwaste wist By the star that gleamed through the glimmering mist That fell from the dim moon's downy quiver. In her heart she spoke to her spirit-mother: "Look down from your teepee, O starry spirit. The cry of Wiwaste. O mother, hear it; And touch the heart of my cruel father. He hearkened not to a virgin's words; He listened not to a daughter's wail. O give me the wings of the thunder-birds, For his were wolves follow Wiwaste's trail; And guide my flight to the far Hohe— To the sheltering lodge of my brave Chaske."
The shadows paled in the hazy east, And the light of the kindling morn increased. The pale-faced stars fled one by one, And hid in the vast from the rising sun. From woods and waters and welkin soon Fled the hovering mists of the vanished moon. The young robins chirped in their feathery beds, The loon's song shrilled like a winding horn, And the green hills lifted their dewy heads To greet the god of the rising morn. She reached the rim of the rolling prairie— The boundless ocean of solitude; She hid in the feathery hazel-wood, For her heart was sick and her feet were weary; She fain would rest, and she needed food. Alone by the billowy, boundless prairies, She plucked the cones of the scarlet berries; In feathering copse and the grassy field She found the bulbs of the young Tipsanna, And the sweet medo  that the meadows yield. With the precious gift of his priceless manna God fed his fainting and famished child.
At night again to the northward far She followed the torch of Waziya's star; For leagues away o'er the prairies green, On the billowy vast, may a man be seen, When the sun is high and the stars are low; And the sable breast of the strutting crow Looms up like the form of the buffalo. The Bloody River  she reached at last, And boldly walked in the light of day, On the level plain of the valley vast; Nor thought of the terrible Chippeway. She was safe from the wolves of her father's band, But she trod on the treacherous "Bloody Land."
And lo—from afar o'er the level plain— As far as the sails of a ship at sea May be seen as they lift from the rolling main— A band of warriors rode rapidly. She shadowed her eyes with her sun-browned hand; All backward streamed on the wind her hair, And terror spread o'er her visage fair, As she bent her brow to the far-off band. For she thought of the terrible Chippeway— The fiends that the babe and the mother slay; And yonder they came in their war-array!
She hid like a grouse in the meadow-grass, And moaned—"I am lost!—I am lost! alas, And why did I fly from my native land To die by the cruel Ojibway's hand?" And on rode the braves. She could hear the steeds Come galloping on o'er the level meads; And lowly she crouched in the waving grass, And hoped against hope that the braves would pass.
They have passed; she is safe—she is safe! Ah no! They have struck her trail and the hunters halt. Like wolves on the track of the bleeding doe, That grappled breaks from the dread assault, Dash the warriors wild on Wiwaste's trail. She flies—but what can her flight avail? Her feet are fleet, but the flying feet Of the steeds of the prairies are fleeter still; And where can she fly for a safe retreat?
But hark to the shouting—"Iho!—Iho!" Rings over the wide plain sharp and shrill. She halts, and the hunters come riding on; But the horrible fear from her heart is gone, For it is not the shout of the dreaded foe; 'Tis the welcome shout of her native land!
Up galloped the chief of the band, and lo— The clutched knife dropped from her trembling hand; She uttered a cry and she swooned away; For there, on his steed in the blaze of day, On the boundless prairie so far away, With his polished bow and his feathers gay, Sat the manly form of her own Chaske!
There's a mote in my eye or a blot on the page, And I cannot tell of the joyful greeting; You may take it for granted, and I will engage, There were kisses and tears at the strange, glad meeting; For aye since the birth of the swift-winged years, In the desert drear, in the field of clover, In the cot, in the palace, and all the world over— Yea, away on the stars to the ultimate spheres, The greeting of love to the long-sought lover— Is tears and kisses and kisses and tears.
But why did the lover so long delay? And whitherward rideth the chief to-day? As he followed the trail of the buffalo, From the tees of Kapoza a maiden, lo, Came running in haste o'er the drifted snow. She spoke to the chief of the tall Hohe: "Wiwaste requests that the brave Chaske Will abide with his band and his coming delay Till the moon when the strawberries are ripe and red, And then will the chief and Wiwaste wed— When the Feast of the Virgins is past," she said. Wiwaste's wish was her lover's law; And so his coming the chief delayed Till the mid May blossoms should bloom and fade— But the lying runner was Harpstina.
And now with the gifts for the bridal day And his chosen warriors he took his way, And followed his heart to his moon-faced maid. And thus was the lover so long delayed; And so as he rode with his warriors gay, On that bright and beautiful summer day, His bride he met on the trail mid-way.
God arms the innocent. He is there— In the desert vast, in the wilderness, On the bellowing sea, in the lion's lair, In the mist of battle, and everywhere. In his hand he holds with a father's care The tender hearts of the motherless; The maid and the mother in sore distress He shields with his love and his tenderness; He comforts the widowed—the comfortless— And sweetens her chalice of bitterness; He clothes the naked—the numberless— His charity covers their nakedness— And he feeds the famished and fatherless With the hand that feedeth the birds of air. Let the myriad tongues of the earth confess His infinite love and his holiness; For his pity pities the pitiless, His mercy flows to the merciless; And the countless worlds in the realms above, Revolve in the light of his boundless love.
And what of the lovers? you ask, I trow. She told him all ere the sun was low— Why she fled from the Feast to a safe retreat. She laid her heart at her lover's feet, And her words were tears and her lips were slow. As she sadly related the bitter tale His face was aflame and anon grew pale, And his dark eyes flashed with a brave desire, Like the midnight gleam of the sacred fire.  "Mitawin," he said, and his voice was low, "Thy father no more is the false Little Crow; But the fairest plume shall Wiwaste wear Of the great Wanmdee in her midnight hair. In my lodge, in the land of the tall Hohe, The robins will sing all the long summer day To the happy bride of the brave Chaske.'"
Aye, love is tested by stress and trial Since the finger of time on the endless dial Began its rounds, and the orbs to move In the boundless vast, and the sunbeams clove The chaos; but only by fate's denial Are fathomed the fathomless depths of love. Man is the rugged and wrinkled oak, And woman the trusting and tender vine That clasps and climbs till its arms entwine The brawny arms of the sturdy stock. The dimpled babes are the flowers divine That the blessing of God on the vine and oak With their cooing and blossoming lips invoke.
To the pleasant land of the brave Hohe Wiwaste rode with her proud Chaske. She ruled like a queen in his bountiful tee, And the life of the twain was a jubilee Their wee ones climbed on the father's knee, And played with his plumes of the great Wanmdee. The silken threads of the happy years They wove into beautiful robes of love That the spirits wear in the lodge above; And time from the reel of the rolling spheres His silver threads with the raven wove; But never the stain of a mother's tears Soiled the shining web of their happy years. When the wrinkled mask of the years they wore, And the raven hair of their youth was gray, Their love grew deeper, and more and more; For he was a lover for aye and aye, And ever her beautiful, brave Chaske. Through the wrinkled mask of the hoary years To the loving eyes of the lover aye The blossom of beautiful youth appears.
At last, when their locks were as white as snow, Beloved and honored by all the band, They silently slipped from their lodge below, And walked together, and hand in hand, O'er the Shining Path to the Spirit-land, Where the hills and the meadows for aye and aye Are clad with the verdure and flowers of May, And the unsown prairies of Paradise Yield the golden maize and the sweet wild rice. There, ever ripe in the groves and prairies, Hang the purple plums and the luscious berries, And the swarthy herds of the bison feed On the sun-lit slope and the waving mead; The dappled fawns from their coverts peep, And countless flocks on the waters sleep; And the silent years with their fingers trace No furrows for aye on the hunter's face.
To the memory of my devoted wife dead and gone yet always with me I dedicate
The Flower of my heart nursed into bloom by her loving care and ofttimes watered with her tears
Fair morning sat upon the mountain-top, Night skulking crept into the mountain-chasm. The silent ships slept in the silent bay; One broad blue bent of ether domed the heavens, One broad blue distance lay the shadowy land, One broad blue vast of silence slept the sea. Now from the dewy groves the joyful birds In carol-concert sang their matin songs Softly and sweetly—full of prayer and praise. Then silver-chiming, solemn-voiced bells Rung out their music on the morning air, And Lisbon gathered to the festival In chapel and cathedral. Choral hymns And psalms of sea-toned organs mingling rose With sweetest incense floating up to heaven, Bearing the praises of the multitudes; And all was holy peace and holy happiness. A rumbling of deep thunders in the deep; The vast sea shuddered and the mountains groaned; Up-heaved the solid earth—the nether rocks Burst—and the sea—the earth—the echoing heavens Thundered infernal ruin. On their knees The trembling multitudes received the shock, And dumb with sudden terror bowed their heads To toppling spire and plunging wall and dome.
So shook the mighty North the sudden roar Of Treason thundering on the April air— An earthquake shock that jarred the granite hills And westward rolled against th' eternal walls Rock-built Titanic—for a moment shook: Uprose a giant and with iron hands Grasped his huge hammer, claspt his belt of steel, And o'er the Midgard-monster mighty Thor Loomed for the combat.
Peace—O blessed Peace! The war-worn veterans hailed thee with a shout Of Alleluias;—homeward wound the trains, And homeward marched the bayonet-bristling columns To "Hail Columbia" from a thousand horns— Marched to the jubilee of chiming bells, Marched to the joyful peals of cannon, marched With blazing banners and victorious songs Into the outstretched arms of love and home.
But there be columns—columns of the dead That slumber on an hundred battle-fields— No bugle-blast shall waken till the trump Of the Archangel. O the loved and lost! For them no jubilee of chiming bells; For them no cannon-peal of victory; For them no outstretched arms of love and home. God's peace be with them. Heroes who went down, Wearing their stars, live in the nation's songs And stories—there be greater heroes still, That molder in unnumbered nameless graves Erst bleached unburied on the fields of fame Won by their valor. Who will sing of these— Sing of the patriot-deeds on field and flood— Of these—the truer heroes—all unsung? Where sleeps the modest bard in Quaker gray Who blew the pibroch ere the battle lowered, Then pitched his tent upon the balmy beach? "Snow-bound," I ween, among his native hills. And where the master hand that swept the lyre Till wrinkled critics cried "Excelsior"? Gathering the "Aftermath" in frosted fields. Then, timid Muse, no longer shake thy wings For airy realms and fold again in fear; A broken flight is better than no flight; Be thine the task, as best you may, to sing The deeds of one who sleeps at Gettysburg Among the thousands in a common grave. The story of his life I bid you tell As it was told one windy winter night To veterans gathered around the festal board, Fighting old battles over where the field Ran red with wine, and all the battle-blare Was merry laughter and the merry songs— Told when the songs were sung by him who heard The pith of it from the dying soldier's lips— His Captain—tell it as the Captain told.
THE CAPTAIN'S STORY
"Well, comrades, let us fight one battle more; Let the cock crow—we'll guard the camp till morn. And—since the singers and the merry ones Are hors de combat—fill the cups again; Nod if you must, but listen to a tale Romantic—but the warp thereof is truth. When the old Flag on Sumter's sea-girt walls From its proud perch a fluttering ruin fell, I swore an oath as big as Bunker Hill; For I was younger then, nor battle-scarred, And full of patriot-faith and patriot-fire.
"I raised a company of riflemen, Marched to the front, and proud of my command, Nor seeking higher, led them till the day Of triumph and the nation's jubilee. Among the first that answered to my call The hero came whose story you shall hear. 'Tis better I describe him: He was young— Near two and twenty—neither short nor tall— A slender student, and his tapering hands Had better graced a maiden than a man: Sad, thoughtful face—a wealth of raven hair Brushed back in waves from forehead prominent; A classic nose—half Roman and half Greek; Dark, lustrous eyes beneath dark, jutting brows, Wearing a shade of sorrow, yet so keen, And in the storm of battle flashing fire.
"'Well, boy,' I said, 'I doubt if you will do; I need stout men for picket-line and march— Men that have bone and muscle—men inured To toil and hardships—men, in short, my boy, To march and fight and march and fight again.' A queer expression lit his earnest face— Half frown—half smile.
"'Well try me.' That was all He answered, and I put him on the roll— Paul Douglas, private—and he donned the blue. Paul proved himself the best in my command; I found him first at reveille, and first In all the varied duties of the day. His rough-hewn comrades, bred to boisterous ways, Jeered at the slender youth with maiden hands, Nicknamed him 'Nel,' and for a month or more Kept up a fusillade of jokes and jeers. Their jokes and jeers he heard but heeded not, Or heeding did a kindly act for him That jeered him loudest; so the hardy men Came to look up to Paul as one above The level of their rough and roistering ways. He never joined the jolly soldier-sports, But ever was the first at bugle-call, Mastered the drill and often drilled the men. Fatigued with duty, weary with the march Under the blaze of the midsummer sun, He murmured not—alike in sun or rain His utmost duty eager to perform, And ever ready—always just the same Patient and earnest, sad and silent Paul.
"The day of battle came—that Sabbath day, Midsummer.[A] Hot and blistering as the flames Of prairie-fires wind-driven, the burning sun Blazed down upon us and the blinding dust Wheeled in dense clouds and covered all our ranks, As we marched on to battle. Then the roar Of batteries broke upon us. Glad indeed That music to my soldiers, and they cheered And cheered again and boasted—all but Paul— And shouted 'On to Richmond!'—He alone Was silent—but his eyes were full of fire.
[A] The first battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.
"Then came the order—'Forward, double quick!' And we rushed into battle—formed our line Facing the foe—the ambushed, deadly foe, Hid in the thicket, with the Union flag— A cheat—hung out before it—luring us Into a blazing hell. The battle broke With wildest fury on us—crashed and roared The rolling thunder of continuous fire. We broke and rallied—charged and broke again, And rallied still—broke counter-charge and charged Loud-yelling, furious, on the hidden foe;— Met thrice our numbers and came flying back Disordered and disheartened. Yet again I strove to rally my discouraged men, But hell was fairly howling;—only Paul— Eager, but bleeding from a bullet-wound In the left arm—came bounding to my side. But at that moment I was struck and fell— Fell prostrate; and a swooning sense of death Came on me, and I saw and heard no more Of battle on that Sabbath.
"I awoke, Confined and jolted in an ambulance Piled with the wounded—driven recklessly By one who chiefly cared to save himself. Dizzy and faint I raised my head: my wound Was not as dangerous as it might have been— A scalp-wound on the temple; there, you see—" He put his finger on the ugly scar— "Half an inch deeper and some soldier friend, Among the veterans gathered here to-night, Perchance had told a briefer tale than mine.
"In front and rear I saw the reckless rout— A broken army flying panic-struck— Our proud brigades of undulating steel That marched at sunrise under blazoned flags, Singing the victory ere the cannon roared, And eager for the honors of the day— Like bison Indian-chased on windy plains, Now broken and commingled fled the field. Words of command were only wasted breath; Colonels and brigadiers, on foot and soiled, Were pushed and jostled by the hurrying hordes. Anon the cry of 'Cavalry!' arose, And army-teams came dashing down the road And plunged into the panic. All the way Was strewn with broken wagons, battery-guns, Tents, muskets, knapsacks and exhausted men. My men were mingled with the lawless crowd, And in the swarm behind us, there was Paul— Silent and soldier-like, with knapsack on And rifle on his shoulder, guarding me And marching on behind the ambulance. So all that dark and dreadful night we marched, Each man a captain—captain of himself— Nor cared for orders on that wild retreat To safety from disaster. All that night, Silent and soldier-like my wounded Paul Marched close behind and kept his faithful watch. For ever and anon the jaded men, Clamorous and threat'ning, sought to clamber in; Whom Paul drove off at point of bayonet, Wielding his musket with his good right arm. But when the night was waning to the morn I saw that he was weary and I made A place for Paul and begged him to get in. 'No, Captain; no,' he answered,—'I will walk— I'm making bone and muscle—learning how To march and fight and march and fight again.' That silenced me, and we went rumbling on. Till morning found us safe at Arlington.
"A month off duty and a faithful nurse Worked wonders and my head was whole again— Nay—to be candid—cracked a little yet. My nurse was Paul. Albeit his left arm, Flesh-wounded, pained him sorely for a time, With filial care he dressed my battered head, And wrote for me to anxious friends at home— But never wrote a letter for himself. Thinking of this one day, I spoke of it:— A cloud came o'er his face.
"'My friends,' he said, 'Are here among my comrades in the camp.' That made a mystery and I questioned him: He gave no answer—or evasive ones— Seeming to shrink from question, and to wrap Himself within himself and live within.
"Again we joined our regiment and marched; Over the hills and dales of Maryland Along the famous river wound our way. On picket-duty at the frequent fords For weary, laggard months were we employed Guarding the broad Potomac, while our foes, Stealthily watching for their human game, Lurked like Apaches on the wooded shores. Bands of enemy's cavalry by night Along the line of river prowled, and sought To dash across and raid in Maryland. Three regiments guarded miles of river-bank, And drilled alternately, and one was ours. Off picket duty, alike in fair or foul, With knapsacks on and bearing forty rounds, From morn till night we drilled—battalion-drill— Often at double-quick for weary hours— Bearing our burdens in the blazing sun, Till strong men staggered from the ranks and fell. Aye, many a hardy man in those hard days Was drilled and disciplined into his grave. Arose Murmurs of discontent, and loud complaints Fell on dull ears till patience was worn out And mutiny was hinted. As for Paul I never heard a murmur from his lips; Nor did he ask a reason for the things Unreasonable and hard required of him, But straightway did his duty just as if The nation's fate hung on it. I pitied Paul; Slender of form and delicate, he bore The toils and duties of the hardiest. Ill from exposure, or fatigued and worn, On picket hungered, shivering in the rain, Or sweltering in full dress, with knapsack on, Beneath the blaze of the mid-summer sun, He held his spirit—always still the same Patient and earnest, sad and silent Paul.
"We posted pickets two by two. At night, By turns each comrade slept and took the watch. Once in September, in a drenching storm, Three days and nights with neither tent nor fire Paul and a comrade held a picket-post. The equinox raged madly. Chilling winds In angry gusts roared from the northern hills, Dashing the dismal rain-clouds into showers That fell in torrents over all the land. In camp the soldiers crouched in dripping tents, Or shivered by the camp-fires. I was ill And gladly sought the shelter of a hut. Orders were strict and often hard to bear— Nor tents nor fire upon the picket-posts— Cold rations and a canopy of storms. I pitied Paul and would have called him in, But that I had no man to take his place; Nor did I know he took upon himself A double task. His comrade on the post Was ill, and so he made a shelter for him With his own blankets and a bed within; And took the watch of both upon himself. And on the third night near the dawn of day, In rubber cloak stole in upon the post A pompous major, on the nightly round, Unchallenged. All fatigued and drenched with rain, Still on his post with rifle in his hand— Against a sheltering elm Paul stood and slept. Muttering of death the brutal major stormed, Then pitiless pricked the comrade with his sword, And from his shelter drove him to the watch, Burning with fever. There Paul interposed And said:
"'I ask no mercy at your hands; I shall not whimper, but my comrade here Is ill of fever; I have stood his watch: Sir, if a human heart beats in your breast, Send him to camp, or he will surely die.'
"The pompous brute—vaingloriously great In straps and buttons—haughtily silenced Paul, Hand-bound and sent him guarded to the camp, And the poor comrade shivering stood the watch Till dawn of day and I was made aware. Among the true were some vainglorious fools Called by the fife and drum from native mire To lord and strut in shoulder-straps and buttons. Scrubs, born to brush the boots of gentlemen, By sudden freak of fortune found themselves Masters of better men, and lorded it As only base and brutish natures can— Braves on parade and cowards under fire.
"I interceded in my Paul's behalf, Else he had suffered graver punishment, But as himself for mercy would not beg— 'A stubborn boy,' our bluff old colonel said— To extra duty for a month he went Unmurmuring, storm or shine. When the cold rain Poured down most pitiless Paul, drenched and wan, Guarded the baggage and the braying mules. When the hot sun at mid-day blazed and burned, Like the red flame on Mauna Loa's top, Withering the grass and parching earth and air, I often saw him knapsacked and full-dressed, Drilling the raw recruits at double-quick; And yet he wore a patient countenance, And went about his duty earnestly As if it were a pleasure to obey.
"The month wore off and mad disaster came— Gorging the blood of heroes at Ball's Bluff. 'Twas there the brave, unfaltering Baker fell Fighting despair between the jaws of death. Quenched was the flame that fired a thousand hearts; Hushed was the voice that shook the senate-walls, And rang defiance like a bugle-blast. Broad o'er the rugged mountains to the north Fell the incessant rain till, like a sea, Him and the deadly ambush of the foe The swollen river rolled and roared between. Brave Baker saw the peril, but not his The soul to shrink or falter, though he saw His death-warrant in his orders. Forth he led His proud brigade across the roaring chasm, Firm and unfaltering into the chasm of death. From morn till mid-day in a single boat Unfit, by companies, the fearless band Passed over the raging river; then advanced Upon the ambushed foe. We heard the roll Of volleys in the forest, and uprose, From out the wood, a cloud of battle-smoke. Then came the yell of foemen charging down Rank upon rank and furious. Hand to hand, The little band of heroes, flanked and pressed, Fought thrice their numbers; fearless Baker led In prodigies of valor; front and flank Volleyed the deadly rifles; in the rear The rapid, raging river rolled and roared. Along the Maryland shore a mile below, Eager to cross and reinforce our friends, Ten thousand soldiers lay upon their arms; And we had boats to spare. In all our ranks There was not one who did not comprehend The peril and the instant need of aid. Chafing we waited orders. We could see That Baker's men were fighting in retreat; For ever nearer o'er the forest rolled The smoke of battle. Orders came at last, And up along the shore our regiment ran, Eager to aid our comrades, but too late! Baker had fallen in the battle-front; He fought like Spartan and like Spartan fell Defiant, clutching at the throat of fate. Their leader lost, confusion followed fast; Wild panic and red slaughter swept the field. Powerless to saves we saw the farther shore Covered with wounded and wild fugitives— Our own defeated and defenseless friends. Shattered and piled with wounded men the boat Pushed off to brave the river, while the foe Pressed on the charge with fury, and refused Mercy to the vanquished. Officers and men, Cheating the savage foemen of their spoils, Their flags and arms into the gurgling depths Despairing hurled, and following plunged amain. As numerous as the wild aquatic flocks That float in autumn on Lake Nepigon, The heads of swimmers moved upon the flood. And still upon the shore a Spartan few— Shoulder to shoulder—back to back, as one— Amid the din and clang of clashing steel, Surrounded held the swarming foes at bay. As in the pre-historic centuries— Unnumbered ages ere the Pyramids— Whereof we read on pre-diluvian bones And fretted flints in excavated caves, When savage men abode in rocky dens, And wrought their weapons from the fiery flint, And clothed their tawny thighs in lion-skins— Before the mouth of some well-guarded cave, Where smoked the savory flesh of mammoth, came The great cave-bear unbidden to the feast. Around the monster swarm the brawny men, Wielding with sinewy arms and savage cries Their flinty spears and tomahawks of stone. Erect old bruin growls upon his foes, And swings with mighty power his ponderous paws— Woe unto him who feels the crushing blow— Till, bleeding from an hundred wounds and blind, With sudden plunge he falls at last, and dies Amid the shouts of his wild enemies. So fought the Spartan few, till one by one, They fell surrounded by a wall of foes. The river boiled beneath the storm of lead; Weighed down with wounded comrades many sunk, But more went down with bullets in their heads. O! it was pitiful. The outstretched hands Of men that erst had faced the battle-storm Unshaken, grasping now in wild despair, Wrung cries of pity from us. Vain our fire— The range too long—it fell upon our friends; At which the foemen yelled their mad delight. A storm of bullets poured upon the boat, Mangling the mangled on her, till at last, Shattered and over-laden, suddenly She made a lurch to leeward and went down.
"A shallow boat lay moored upon the shore; Our gallant Colonel called for volunteers In mercy's name to man it and push out. But all could see the peril. Stout the heart Would dare to face the raging flood and fire, And to his call responded not a man— Save Paul and one who perished at the helm. They went as if at bugle-call to drill; Their comrades said, 'They never will return.' Stoutly and steadily Paul rowed the boat Athwart the turbid river's sullen tide, And reached the wounded struggling in the flood. Bravely they worked away and lifted in The helpless till the boat would hold no more; Others they helped to holds upon the rails, Then pulled away the over-laden craft. We cheered them from the shore. The maddened foe With furious volleys answered—hitting oft The little craft of mercy—hands anon Let go their holds and sunk into the deep. And in that storm Paul's gallant comrade fell. Trimming his craft with caution Paul could make But little headway with a single oar— Clutched in despair and madly wrenched away By drowning souls the other. Firm and cool Paul stood unscathed; then fell a sudden shower That broke his bended oar-stem at the blade. Down to the brink we crept and stretched our hands, And shouted, 'Overboard, Paul! and save yourself.'
"He stood a moment as if all were lost, Then caught the rope, and stretching forth his hand, Waved to the foe and plunged into the flood. Slowly he towed the clumsy craft and swam, Down-drifting with the rapid, rolling stream. Cheering him on adown the shore we ran; The current lent its aid and bore him in Toward us, and beyond the range at last Of foemen's fire he safely came to land, Mooring his boat amid a storm of cheers.
"Confined in hospital three days he lay Fatigued and feverous, but tender hands Nursed and restored him. Our old Colonel came And thanked him—patting Paul paternally— And praised his daring. 'My brave boy,' he said, 'Had I a regiment of such men, by Jove! I'd hew a path to Richmond and to fame.' Paul made reply, and in his smile and tone Mingled a touch of sarcasm:
"'Thank you, sir; But let me add—I fear the wary foe Would nab your regiment napping on the field. You have forgotten, Colonel—not so fast— I am the man that slept upon his post.' Our bluff old Colonel laughed and turned away; Ten minutes later came his kind reply— A basketful of luxuries from his mess.
"Paul marched and fought and marched and fought again, Patient and earnest through the bootless toils And fiery trials of that dread campaign Upon the Peninsula. 'Twas fitly called 'Campaign of Battles.' Aye, it sorely pierced The scarred and bleeding nation, and drew blood Deep from her vitals till she shook and reeled, Like some huge giant staggering to his fall— Blinded with blood, yet struggling with his soul, And stretching forth his ponderous, brawny arms, Like Samson in the Temple, to o'erwhelm And crush his mocking enemies in his fall.
"Ah, Malvern! you remember Malvern Hill— That night of dreadful butchery! Round the top Of the entrenched summit, parked and aimed, Blazed like Vesuvius when he bellows fire And molten lava into the midnight heavens, An hundred crashing cannon, and the hill Shook to the thunder of the mighty guns, As ocean trembles to the bursting throes Of submarine volcanoes; and the shells From the embattled gun-boats—fiery fiends— Shrieked on the night and through the ether hissed Like hell's infernals. Line supporting line, From base to summit round the blazing hill, Our infantry was posted. Crowned with fire, And zoned by many a burning, blazing belt From head to foot, and belching sulphurous flames, The embattled hill appeared a raging fiend— The Lucifer of hell let loose to reign Over a world wrapt in the final fires.
"In solid columns massed our frenzied foes Beat out their life against the blazing hill— Broke and re-formed and madly charged again, And thundered like the storm-lashed, furious sea Beating in vain against the solid cliffs. Foremost in from our veteran regiment Breasted the brunt of battle, but we bent Beneath the onsets as the red-hot bar Bends to the sledge, until our furious foes— Mown as the withered prairie-grass is mown By wild October fires—fell back and left A field of bloody agony and death About the base, and victory on the hill.
"I lost a score of riflemen that night; My first lieutenant—his last battle over— Lay cut in twain upon the battle-line. With lantern dim wide o'er the slaughter-field I searched at midnight for my wounded men, But chiefly searched for Paul. An hour or more I sought among the groaning and the dead, Stooping and to the dim light turning up The ghastly faces, till at last I found Him whom I sought, and on the outer line— Feet to the foe and silent face to heaven— Death pale and bleeding from a ragged wound Pleading with feeble voice to let him be And die upon the field, we bore him thence; And tenderly his comrades carried him, Sheltered with blankets, on the weary march At dead of night in dismal storm begun. We made a stand at Harrison's, and there With careful hands we laid him on a cot. Now I had learned to prize the noble boy; My heart was touched with pity. Patiently I watched o'er Paul and bathed his fevered brow, And pressed the cooling sponge upon his lips, And washed his wound and gave him nourishment. 'Twas all in vain, the surgeon said. I felt That I could save him and I kept my watch. A rib was crushed—beneath it one could see The throbbing vitals—torn as we supposed, But found unwounded. In his feverish sleep He often moaned and muttered mysteries, And, dreaming, spoke in low and tender tones As if some loved one sat beside his cot. I questioned him and sought the secret key To solve his mystery, but all in vain. A month of careful nursing turned the scale, And he began to gain upon his wound. Propt in his cot one evening as he sat And I sat by him, thus I questioned him: 'There is a mystery about your life That I would gladly fathom. Paul, I think You well may trust me, and I fain would hear The story of your life; right well I know There is a secret sorrow in your heart.'
"He turned his face and fixed his lustrous eyes Upon mine own inquiringly, and held His gaze upon me till his vacant stare Told me full well his thoughts had wandered back Into the depth of his own silent soul; Then he looked down and sadly smiled and said:
"'Captain, I have no history—not one page; My book of life is but a blotted blank. Let it be sealed; I would not open it, Even to one who saved a worthless life, Only to add a few more leaves in blank To the blank volume. All that I now am I offer to my country. If I live And from this cot walk forth, 'twill only be To march and fight and march and fight again,' Until a surer aim shall bring me down Where care and kindness can no more avail. Under our country's flag a soldier's death I hope to die and leave no name behind. My only wish is this—for what I am, Or have been, or have hoped to be, is now A blank misfortune. I will say no more.'
"I questioned Paul and pressed him further still To tell his story, but he only shook His head in silence sadly and lay back And closed his eyes and whispered—'All is blank.' That night he muttered often in his sleep; I could not catch the sense of what he said; I caught a name that he repeated oft— Pauline—so softly whispered that I knew She was the blissful burden of his dreams.
"Two moons had waxed and waned, and Paul arose, Came to the camp and shared my tent and bed. While in the hospital he helpless lay— To him unknown, and as the choice of all— Came his promotion to the vacant rank Of him who fell at Malvern. But, alas, Say what we would he would not take the place. To us who importuned him, he replied: 'Comrades and friends, I did not join your ranks For honor or for profit. All I am— A wreck perhaps of what I might have been— I freely offer in our country's cause; And in her cause it is my wish to serve A private soldier; I aspire to naught But victory—and there be better men— Braver and hardier—such should have the place.'
"His comrades cheered, but Paul, methought, was sad. One evening as he sat upon his couch, Communing with himself as he was wont, I stood before him; looking in his face, I said, 'Pauline—her name is then, Pauline.' All of a sudden up he rose amazed, And looked upon me with such startled eyes That I was pained and feared that I had done A wrong to him whom I had learned to love. Then he sat down upon his couch and groaned, Pressing his hand upon his wound, and said: 'Captain, I pray you, tell me truthfully, Wherefore you speak that name.'
"I told him all That I had heard him mutter in his dreams. He listened calmly to the close and said: 'My friend, if you have any kind regard For me who suffer more than you may know, I pray you utter not that name again.' And thereupon he turned and hid his face.
"There was a mystery I might not fathom, There was a history I might not hear: Nor could I further press that saddened heart To pour its secret sorrow in my ears. Thereafter Paul was tenant of my tent— Sat at my mess and slept upon my couch, Save when his duty called him from my side, And not a word escaped his lips or mine About his secret—yet how oft I found My eyes upon him and my bridled tongue Prone to a question; but that solemn face Forbade me and he wore his mystery.
"At that stern battle on Antietam's banks, Where gallant Hooker led the fierce attack, Paul bore a glorious part. Our starry flag, Before a whirlwind of terrific fire, Advancing proudly on the foe, went down. Grim death and pale-faced panic seized the ranks. Paul caught the flag and waving it aloft Rallied our regiment. He came out unscathed.
"At Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville he fought: Grim in disaster—bravest in defeat, He leaped not into danger without cause, Nor shrunk he from it though a gulf of fire, When duty bade him face it. All his aim— To win the victory; applause and praise He almost hated; grimly he endured The fulsome flattery of his comrades nerved By his calm courage up to manlier deeds.
"I saw him angered once—if one might call His sullen silence anger—as by night Across the Rappahannock, from the field Where brave and gallant 'Stonewall' Jackson fell, With hopeless hearts and heavy steps we marched. Such sullen wrath on other human face I never saw in all those bloody years. One evening after, as he read to me The fulsome General Order of our Chief— Congratulating officers and men On their achievements in the late defeat— His handsome face grew rigid as he read, And as he closed, down like a thunder-clap Upon the mess-chest fell his clinched fist: 'Fit pap for fools!' he said—'an Iron Duke Had ground the Southern legions into dust, Or, by the gods!—the field of Chancellorsville Had furnished graves for ninety thousand men!'[B]
"That dark disaster sickened many a soul; Stout hearts were sad and cowards cried for peace. The vulture, perched hard by the eagle's crag, Loud cawed his fellows from afar to feast. Ill-omened bird—his carrion-cries were vain! Again our veteran eagles plumed their wings, And forth he fled from Montezuma's shores— A dastard flight—betraying unto death Him whom he dazzled with a bauble crown. Just retribution followed swift and sure— Germania's eagles plucked him at Sedan. A gloomy month wore off, and then the news That Lee, emboldened by his late success, Had poured his legions upon Northern soil, Rung through the camps, and thrilled the mighty heart Of the Grand Army. Louder than the roar Of brazen cannon on the battle-field. Then rose and rolled our thunder-rounds of cheers.