"Listen, woman," said he, "to the words of a great warrior, whose hand is open, and who will fill his brother's wigwam with many deer skins. In return he asks but little of his sister, and that little she may easily give. Has my sister," continued he, raising his voice and glancing at the woman, "milk for a little daughter?"
The backwoodsman's wife stared at her interlocutor in great astonishment.
"Will she," continued the redskin, "give a share of her milk to a little daughter, who must else die of hunger?"
The countenance of the woman brightened as she discerned that the Indian wanted something of her, and that it was in her power to grant or refuse a favour. She took a step towards him, and impatiently awaited further explanation of his singular demand. The Indian, without deigning to look at her, opened the ample folds of his blanket, and drew forth a lovely infant, wrapped in a pelisse of costly furs. For a few seconds the woman stood in mute surprise; but curiosity to obtain a nearer view of the beautiful child, and perhaps also a feeling of compassion and motherly tenderness, speedily restored to her the use of her tongue.
"Good God!" cried she, stretching out her hands to take the infant; "what a sweet little darling; and come of good parents too, I'll be sworn. Only look at the fur, and the fine lace! Did you ever see such a thing! Where did you get the child? Poor little thing! Feed it? To be sure I will. This is no red-man's child."
The worthy lady seemed disposed to run on in this way for some time longer, had not a significant sign from her husband stopped her mouth. The chief, without vouchsafing her the smallest attention, unfastened the pelisse of grey fox skin, stripped it off, and then proceeded to divest the infant of the first of the coats in which it was enveloped, like a silkworm in its cocoon. But when, after having with some difficulty accomplished this, a third, fourth, and fifth wrapper appeared, he seemed suddenly to lose patience, and drawing his knife, he, with one cut, ripped the whole of the child's clothes from its body, and handed it over stark naked to the tavern-keeper's wife.
"Incarnate fiend!" screamed the shuddering woman, as she snatched the infant from his hands.
"Stop!" cried the Indian, his cold and imperturbable gaze fixed upon the infant's neck, from which a small medal was suspended by a gold chain. Without uttering a word, the woman stripped the chain over the child's head, threw it into the face of the savage, and hurried to her bed.
"The devil's in the woman!" muttered her husband, apparently not a little uneasy at her violence.
"The red warrior," said the Indian, with immovable calm, "will pay with beaver skins for the milk that his little daughter drinks, but he will keep what he has found, and the door must open when he comes for the child."
"That's all very well," said the tavern-keeper, to whom it suddenly appeared to occur that some farther explanation might not be altogether superfluous; "and I'll keep the child willingly enough, though, thank God, I've plenty of my own. But if the parents should come, or the white father hear of the child, what then? The red chief knows that his hand reaches far."
The Indian remained for a while silent, and then replied in a significant tone—
"The child's mother will never come. The night is very dark, the storm howls in the forest—to-morrow nothing will be seen of the red men's footsteps. It is far to the wigwam of the white father. If he hears of the child, my white brother will have told him. It he takes it, then will the red chief take the scalps of his white brother's children."
"Then take your child back again," said the backwoodsman, in a decided tone, "I'll have nought to do with it."
The Indian drew his knife, upon which fresh blood-stains were visible, and cast an ominous glance towards the bed.
"We will take care of it; no one shall hear of it!" screamed the horrorstruck woman. The Indian calmly replaced the knife in his girdle, and again spoke.
"The throats of the red men are dry," said he.
A muttering was heard behind the curtains of the bed, sounding not unlike the Christian wish, that every drop the bloodhounds swallowed might prove poison to them; the host, however, whose humanity was less vindictive than that of his wife, hastened to the bar to comply with his guest's demand. The chief drank a half-gill of whisky at a draught, and then passed the glass to his neighbour. When a sixth bottle had been emptied, he suddenly rose, threw a Spanish gold piece upon the table, opened the curtains of the bed, and hung a string of corals, which he took from his wampum girdle, round the neck of the child.
"The red men will know the daughter of a warrior," said he, fixing his eyes upon the infant, which now lay wrapped in flannel upon the bosom of the hostess. He gave a second glance at woman and child, and then passing silently out at the door disappeared with his companions in the darkness.
"The hurricane is over," said the tavern-keeper, who had followed the Indians with his eyes as they glided like dim shadows to their birch canoes upon the Coosa.
"In heaven's name! who is that incarnate red devil?" cried his wife, drawing a deep breath of relief, and shuddering as she spoke.
"Hush, woman!—hold your tongue! till the Coosa's between it and the redskins. This is no joking matter, I can tell you."
As he spoke he closed the door; and, taking up the light, approached the bed, where his wife was suckling the child.
"Poor little thing!" said he, "if you could speak you would tell us a tale that might well make our hair stand on end. This affair may cost us dear yet; those red devils are come from a scalping expedition; of that there is no doubt. But in what direction, God alone knows. Well, if it were only amongst the Spaniards," continued he, glancing alternately at the child, and at the gold coin in his hand, "I should not much care about it, but"—
And without finishing the sentence he resumed his place in the bed, although some hours elapsed before the recollection of the strange scene that had occurred allowed sleep to revisit his eyelids.
In defiance of the menaces of the savages, Captain John Copeland, the rough but worthy host of the Indian King, institutes inquiries concerning the parentage of the infant so unceremoniously imposed upon him. Various obstacles are thrown in the way of his researches by the disturbed state of the country, and by the Indians themselves, who suspect his intentions, and keep a strict watch on his movements; and when at last a more settled state of things enables him to prosecute his inquiries, it is with small success, or at least he does not admit that he has discovered any thing, although he suspects the child, which is a little girl, to belong to one of the French or Spanish planters on the Mississippi. Seven years elapse, during which the numbers of the backwoodsman's family are doubled, and his worldly wealth augments in a far larger proportion. The shores of the Coosa have become populous and flourishing, the solitary block-house is now a roomy and convenient dwelling, situated in the midst of smiling plantations, and Captain Copeland is well to do, and much respected by his neighbours. One summer evening, however, the Captain is disturbed at his supper, and his family frightened from their propriety, by the appearance of a tall gaunt Indian, who enters the room unannounced, and is recognised by a missionary there present as Tokeah, the miko or king of the Oconees, the principal tribe of the Creek Indians. This Tokeah is one of the most deadly and persevering enemies of the white men, whom he detests with a bitter hate, because they have driven his nation from its hunting grounds. He it was who, seven years previously, gave the little girl in charge to Copeland and his wife; since then he has regularly sent furs and beaver-skins as payment for her maintenance, and he now comes to claim her as his property. Resistance to his demand would be in vain, for he is backed by an imposing force of Indian warriors; the entreaties of Mrs Copeland and the missionary are insufficient to turn him from his purpose, and he takes away the child, who has been christened by the name of Rosa. The third chapter of the book, which we will now extract, opens, after a second lapse of seven years, at the latter end of the year 1814.
At the northern extremity of the Sabine lake, and in the midst of the reed and cypress swamps that extend southwards to the sea, there lies, between the rivers Sabine and Natchez, a narrow tongue of land, which, widening in proportion as the rivers recede, forms a gently swelling eminence, enclosed by the clear and beautiful waters of the two streams. The latter flow through dark thickets of cypress and palmetto, to the lake above named, which, in its turn, is united with the Gulf of Mexico, and it would almost appear as if nature, in a capricious moment, had chosen thus distinctly to mark the boundary of the two vast countries which the Sabine severs. On the right bank of that river rises a black and impenetrable forest, so thickly matted and united by enormous thorns, that even the hunted deer or savanna wolf will rarely attempt an entrance. The earth is overgrown by an impenetrable carpet of creeping plants, under whose treacherous shelter innumerable rattlesnakes, king's-heads, and copperheads, writhe themselves, or lie coiled up on the watch for the wild pigeons, mockingbirds, parroquets, and black squirrels, who share with them the shelter of the thicket. Rarely is the maze broken by a clearing, and where it is so, is seen a chaos of mouldering tree-trunks, uprooted by the frequent tornados, and piled up like some artificial fortification. The wild luxuriance of the place reaches its acme in the neighbourhood of the cypress swamp, but on the further side of that it assumes a softer character, and the perplexed wanderer through these beautiful scenes finds himself on a sudden transported into one of the most enchanting of Mexican landscapes, where the myrtle, the stately tulip-tree, and the palma-christi, alternate with the dark-leaved mangrove, and on the rising grounds the cotton-tree and sycamore spread their silver-green branches above a sward of the tenderest verdure. The whole forest is interwoven, like a vast tent or awning, with the jessamine and the wild vine, which, springing from the ground, grapple themselves to the tree-trunks, ascend to the highest branches, and then again descending, cling to another stem, and creeping from mangrove to myrtle, from magnesia to papaw, from papaw to the tulip-tree, form one vast and interminable bower. The broad belt of land, in the centre of which the waters of the Natchez flow, presents to the beholder a waving and luxuriant field of rustling palmettos, extending from the forest a full half mile to the stream, in whose waters the mangrove and cypress dip their drooping foliage.
It was an afternoon of that magnificent latter autumn known as the Indian summer, and the sun, golden and glorious, as it is only to be seen in that country and at that season, was declining behind the summits of the trees which fringe the western shore of the Natchez. Its beams already assumed that rich variety of tint, so beautiful to behold, varying from bright green to golden, from purple to orange, as the rays passed between the leaves of the myrtle, the palma-christi, or some other variety of the surrounding foliage. Not a cloud was in the heavens, the air was balm itself, the soft evening stillness was only now and then broken by some babbling parroquet, by the whistling tones of the mockingbird, or the sudden rising of a flock of waterfowl, thousands of which floated on the broad bosom of the Natchez, and dressed their plumage for their winter flight. Along a narrow path between the forest and the palmetto field above referred to, a female figure was seen tripping towards a small opening in the wood, formed by the uprooting of a mighty sycamore. On reaching the prostrate tree she leaned against a branch, apparently to take breath. She was a young girl of about twenty years of age, whose complexion denoted Indian parentage, but whose countenance had something in the highest degree interesting, even noble, in its expression. Her forehead was well formed, her black eyes had an arch, almost a roguish, glance, her finely cut lips, and the whole contour of her physiognomy, betrayed a frank and joyous disposition, whilst the slight curve of her Roman nose gave her an air of decision and self-reliance, with which her bearing and costume corresponded. This costume was far superior to the usual dress of Indian girls, and as remarkable for simplicity as for good taste. She wore a sleeveless calico gown, reaching to the ankles, and her hair, instead of hanging long and straight down her back, as is customary with Indian women, was twisted into a knot, and held together on the crown of the head by an elegant comb. A pair of gold ear-rings, bracelets of the same metal, and half-boots of alligator's skin and scarlet cloth, completed her graceful exterior. From her girdle was suspended a pocket knife of considerable length, and in her hand she carried an empty basket. Her step could be called neither walking nor running; it was an odd sort of frisking springing movement. After each ten or twelve paces she stopped, looked back along the path, and then again sprang forward, again to stop and look behind her.
"But, Rosa!" cried she at last, as she leaned panting against the sycamore; "but, Rosa!" she repeated, in the Indian tongue, and in a tone of slight impatience, retracing her steps, and hurrying to meet another young girl who now advanced along the winding path, "why do you remain behind, Rosa?" And so saying, she threw herself upon her knees before the new-comer, and clasped her arms around her with a rapidity and suppleness that almost resembled the coilings of a snake.
"Ah, the white Rose!" cried she, in a tone of melancholy reproach; "she is no longer the same. See, the grass grows upon the path which her foot used often to press. Why is my white Rose sorrowful?"
The complaining tones of the Indian maiden were so touching, her whole posture so imploring, love and anxiety were so plainly depicted on her countenance, that it seemed uncertain whether the interest she took in her friend had its source in the ties of near relationship, or was caused by the manifold charms and graces of the young girl whom she now so tenderly caressed, and who had as yet scarcely emerged from childhood. This was the same Rosa whose acquaintance we have already made, seven years previously, at the tavern of the Indian King, and who now stood in an attitude of enchanting and unstudied grace, her dark eyes, shaded by their long and silky lashes, alternately reposing their glances upon her kneeling friend, or gazing out into the distance with a mournful, pensive look. The gently swelling breast, the cheeks overspread with the most delicate tint of the rose, the airy and elastic form, might have belonged to the goddess of love herself, in the days of her freshest youth; but on the other hand, the childish innocent glance, the nobly-formed forehead, the rosy mouth, of which the coral lips were rather indicated than displayed, and an indescribable something in her whole appearance, gave her an air of purity and dignified modesty calculated to prevent her beauty from exciting the slightest sensual thought. Her hair, of a dark gold colour, fell in long tresses around a snow white and exquisitely moulded neck; a gown of green silk enveloped her person, and reached to a pair of the minutest feet that ever supported the form of woman. Her mocassins were similar to those of the Indian girl, a white silk kerchief veiled her neck, and in her hand she carried a straw hat.
A tear gathered in the eyes of Rosa as she gazed kindly, but mournfully, at her friend, and then stooping down she folded her in her arms, and pressed a kiss upon her lips. For a short time, no sound was audible save the sobbing of the maidens. At last the Indian spoke, in a plaintive tone.
"See," said she, "Canondah's bosom is open to the grief of Rosa."
"My dearest Canondah!" exclaimed the beautiful girl thus addressed; and again a flood of tears gushed from her eyes.
"Oh!" implored the Indian, "tell thy Canondah the cause of this grief. See," continued she, in tones melodiously mournful, "see, these arms bore the white Rose when yet she was very little, on these shoulders did she hang when we crossed the great river, on this bosom did she lie like a waterfowl that suns itself on the broad mirror of the Natchez. Day and night, like the doe after his fawn, did Canondah follow the steps of the white Rose, to shield her from harm; and yet, now that she is a woman, and has become the white Rose of the Oconees, she shuts her from her heart. Tell thy Canondah what it is that makes thy bosom heave, and thy cheek grow pale."
"Does not Canondah know?" replied Rosa in a gentle tone. "Poor Rosa has good cause to be sad and heavy of heart."
"Is the great chief of the Salt Lake the cause of her grief?"
Rosa shuddered, took a step backwards, and, covering her face with her hands, sobbed aloud. The Indian girl sprang to her feet, and throwing her arm round her friend's waist, drew her gently towards a neighbouring cotton-tree, up which a vine had crept and twined itself, and now dangled its graceful festoons, tasselled with ripe grapes, from the very top-most branches. "Sad is the path of an Oconee maiden," said Canondah, after a long pause, during which she had filled her basket with the grapes. "Whilst the warriors are absent at the hunting grounds, we sigh away our days in the wigwam, or labour wearily in the fields. Would that Canondah were a man!"
"And El Sol?" lisped Rosa with a melancholy smile. "Canondah should not complain."
The Indian girl placed one hand upon the lips of her friend, whilst with the other she playfully menaced her.
"Yes," said she, "El Sol is a great chief, and Canondah owes him her life. She will cook his venison, and sew his hunting shirts, and follow him with a light heart. Let the white Rose listen to the words of her sister. Soon will El Sol visit the wigwam of the Oconees, and then will Canondah whisper softly in his ear. He is a great warrior, and the miko will hear his words, and return the presents to the chief of the Salt Lake, and the white Rose shall never see his wigwam."
Rosa shook her head doubtingly.
"Does Canondah know her father so little? The storm may bow the feeble reed, but not the silver stem of the mighty tree. It may be uprooted, and broken in its fall, but never bent. The miko," continued she with a desponding sigh, "sees the chief of the Salt Lake with the eye of a warrior, not of a maiden. He has promised him Rosa for his wife, but Rosa would rather die than"—
"No, no," interrupted Canondah, "Rosa must not die. El Sol loves Canondah, and the miko of the Oconees knows that he is a far greater warrior than the chief of the Salt Lake. But listen! what is that?" cried she, "turning her head in the direction of the swamp, whence a loud splashing was now audible.
"What is it?" repeated Rosa.
"Perhaps an alligator or a bear," replied the Indian girl.
The noise continued, although less loud than before. "Canondah!" exclaimed Rosa with visible uneasiness, "you will not again hunt the great water-snake?"
Her words were in vain. With the swiftness of a deer the Indian maiden sprang through the reeds, and in a moment had disappeared. Rosa had no choice but to follow. Whilst making her way through the innumerable stems that barred her passage, she heard a loud cry, but it was not Canondah's voice. A noise like that of a heavy body falling into the water, immediately followed, accompanied by a short but violent splashing and beating in the mud, and then all was again still. Breathless and terrified, Rosa forced her way through the reeds, and at length reached the river bank, where she descried her companion standing among the cypresses and mangroves, which grew down into the water.
"Canondah!" she exclaimed, in a tone of bitter reproach, as her friend pointed to an enormous alligator that lay beating the mud with its tail in the agonies of death. "Why do you do these things? Must Rosa lose her sister, because she foolishly wishes to be a man, and to fight the water-snake?"
"See there!" replied Canondah, pointing to a deep wound in the neck of the alligator, and triumphantly waving her bloody knife; "I plunged it to the hilt in his throat. The daughter of the Miko of the Oconees knows how to strike the water-snake. But," added she, indifferently, "this one was young, and already benumbed, for the water begins to be cold. Canondah is only a weak girl, but she could teach the young white man to strike the water-snake." As she spoke the last words, she glanced in the direction of a cypress-tree which sprang out of the shallow water at a few paces from the bank.
"The young white man?" said Rosa enquiringly.
The Indian girl laid her forefinger significantly upon her lips, washed the blood from her hands and knife, and approached the tree. Separating the impending branches with her left hand, she held out her right, open and with the palm upwards, in sign of friendship, and then pointed to the shore, towards which she herself slowly advanced. The boughs were put aside, and a young man appeared, walking cautiously and with difficulty towards the bank, clutching for support at the reeds that grew around him. Rosa gazed in astonishment at the stranger.
"How came he here?" said she softly to her friend.
The Indian girl pointed in silence to a boat entangled amongst the reeds, through which an attempt had evidently been made to force it. The stranger had now arrived within a few paces of the shore, when he began to stagger, and Canondah, who hurried to his assistance, was but just in time to prevent his falling back into the water. Supporting him in her arms she assisted him to the bank, and the cause of his weakness became apparent, in a stream of blood that flowed from his leg, severely wounded by the jaws of the alligator. Canondah hastened to Rosa.
"Your white brother has been bitten by the water-snake," said she, "and you see that Canondah has only her gown."
Whilst speaking, she untied the silk 'kerchief from her friend's neck, then stooping down, she gathered, with the quickness of thought, a handful of a certain herb, broke a young palma christi across her knee, and took out the delicate, fleshy substance found under the bark of that tree. Returning to the stranger, she filled the wound with the pith, overlaid it with herbs, and bound it with the handkerchief. The whole was the work of an instant, and so rapid and decided were Canondah's movements, that Rosa's neckerchief was tied round the leg of the stranger before the blush that its loss occasioned had faded from the cheek of its owner.
When the bandaging of the wounded limb was completed to Canondah's satisfaction, she again stepped into the water, and carefully examined the boat in which the stranger had arrived; then returning to her patient, she gazed steadfastly at him for a moment, returned a second time to the boat, and finally, approaching Rosa, whispered in her ear a few words which brought a paleness like that of death over the young girl's countenance. In her turn, Rosa gazed earnestly at the stranger, the contraction of whose features, and the dull glaze that overspread his eyes, betrayed the highest degree of exhaustion. His ashy-pale complexion, sunken cheeks, and hollow eyes, bespoke long privations and severe suffering; he looked more like a corpse thrown up by the waves, than a living creature. His hair, bleached by the action of seawater, hung in tangled locks over his neck and forehead, and the original colour of his apparel could only be guessed at. He appeared very young, and his features, allowance made for their emaciation, were by no means disagreeable, as he sat leaning against the trunk of a cypress-tree, through the branches of which the sunbeams played upon his countenance, and lit up its suffering expression.
"Our white brother's canoe," said Canondah, "is that of the chief of the Salt Lake, but he is not one of his warriors."
"He is perhaps what they call a sailor," remarked Rosa.
"No," replied Canondah, in a decided tone. "Look at his hands, they are small and delicate as those of a girl, though the seawater has stained them brown."
"He may be a messenger," suggested Rosa doubtfully.
The Indian maiden again shook her head. "See," said she, "he comes from the great salt lake which drinks the waters of our river, and yet he knows not how to bring his boat through the thick grass. He took the water-snake for a rotten tree, and stepped upon it, and it buried its teeth in his flesh. Thy white brother has fled from the chief of the Salt Lake."
She spoke these words with as much confidence and decision as if she had herself accompanied the stranger on his adventurous voyage.
"And will Canondah," said Rosa, "leave her brother to perish of fever in the cold night air—he who never harmed her or hers?"
"My sister speaks with the tongue of a white, but Canondah is the daughter of the great Miko," replied the Indian girl, with some severity of manner. The next moment her countenance again brightened, and she took Rosa's hand.
"Canondah will listen to the words of her sister," said she, "and will befriend her white brother. She will take him to the hollow tree."
The two maidens now raised the young man, and each taking one of his arms, assisted him through the thick growth of reeds. It was a long and wearisome task, for loss of blood, and previous privations, had rendered the stranger nearly helpless, and they were hardly able, by the utmost exertion of their strength, to keep him on his feet and convey him along. At one moment, when half-way through the palmettos, he seemed about to breathe his last; his strength left him, and it was only by the most laborious and painful efforts that the young girls got him over the rest of the field. Panting and trembling, they at last reached its extremity, and Rosa sank upon the ground, incapable of further exertion. By a last effort Canondah drew her burthen out of the palmettos, and then threw herself down by the side of her friend.
The last rays of the sun still played upon the summits of the loftier trees, of which the lower branches were dimly seen in the rapidly thickening twilight, when Rosa approached the Indian maiden, and with the words, "The sun is low," roused her from her state of exhaustion and semi-unconsciousness. Canondah sprang to her feet, and the two girls tripped side by side into the wood, until they at last paused before an enormous cotton-tree. Several gigantic vines, in whose powerful and enervating embrace the mighty trunk had perished, still clasped the magnificent colossus with their shining red tendrils, whilst the interior of the tree, hollowed by the tooth of time, was of a fantastical configuration, not unlike a Gothic chapel, and sufficiently spacious to contain twenty men. The care with which the hollow had been swept out, and the neighbourhood of a salt spring, showed that it was used by the Indian hunters as a resting-place and ambush. Canondah cautiously approached the tree and returned to Rosa with the intelligence that it was unoccupied. From the branches of a neighbouring cypress, the two girls now stripped quantities of Spanish moss, wherewith they speedily composed a soft and luxurious bed in the interior of the cotton-tree. This done, they rolled blocks of wood and fragments of trees to the entrance, apparently to form a rampart against the nocturnal intrusion of bear or panther. These preparations completed, they returned to the wounded man. Canondah passed her left arm under his legs, and signed to Rosa to grasp her hand, whilst their arms should serve as a support to his back. Rosa blushed and hesitated.
"Does the white Rose," said Canondah, "fear to touch her brother, for whose life she was lately so anxious?"
For sole reply, the young girl took her friend's hand, and raising the stranger from the ground, they carried him to the hollow tree, and laid him down upon his mossy couch.
"When the earth is covered with darkness," said Canondah, bending over him, "Canondah will visit her brother, and pour balsam into his wounds."
But her words were unmarked by the person addressed, who, with the exception of a faint breathing, gave no sign of life. The two maidens struck into the path by which they had first approached the river, and along which we will now precede them in order to introduce the reader into an entirely new world.
At a short distance from the scene of the adventure above narrated, was a wide clearing, extending for about three miles along the shore. It had originally been part of a palmetto field covering the bank of the river for the breadth of half a mile, at which distance a limit was put to it by the colossal stems of the aboriginal forest. The clearing had been made by the burning of the palmettos, in whose place a carpet of luxuriant grass had sprung up, dotted with groups of magnificent trees, and intersected by natural hedges of myrtle, mangrove, palm, and tulip trees, giving to the whole tract of land the appearance of a beautiful artificial park. Here and there, through the branches of the sycamore and cotton trees, small swirls of smoke were seen curling upwards, telling of the presence of man, and on nearer inspection there became visible, under various of the groups of trees, one or more huts, surrounded by little plantations of Indian corn and tobacco, and forming collectively a scattered hamlet of some fifty habitations.
No particular rule had been observed in the architecture of these modest dwellings, whose builders had been more remarkable for indolence than for refinement of taste, and had carefully avoided overworking themselves during their construction. The simplest materials had sufficed, and had been used in the same rough state in which nature afforded them. The walls were constructed of the smaller boughs of the cotton-tree, with Spanish moss stuffed into the interstices. Instead of the clapboards, wherewith, to the west of the Alleghany range, the dwellings of the poorer class of country people are usually roofed, the palmetto reed had been made use of, a selection that gave the hamlet a peculiar air of rustic simplicity. The houses were for the most part without windows, and their interior received light through the chimney or door, which latter, instead of being of wood, consisted of a buffalo hide suspended in front of the doorway, and thrown back during the day upon the low roof. The principal charm of the village, however, lay not in its style of building, but in the manner in which the humble dwellings seemed to nestle under the numerous clusters of trees. The universal cleanliness and absence of all offal formed another remarkable feature, and went far to increase the favourable impression made by the delightful situation of the hamlet. It was truly a lovely spot, as its ruins still show. The broad Natchez flowing majestically by, on its way to the sea; the dark framework of cypresses and mangroves fringing its shores, their tall shadows reflected in the clear waters; the innumerable groups of trees, with huts peeping out of their shade like so many hermitages; and finally, the spacious clearing itself, enclosed at either end by the waving palmettos, and bounded on the third side by a wall of gigantic and venerable trees, gave to the whole scene an air of enchanting repose and seclusion.
The inhabitants of this retired spot, although offering fewer charms than did their residence, were in many respects scarcely less interesting. In front of the foremost hut was assembled a group of creatures with dark shining skins, which, at a first glance, and owing to their comical movements, might well have been taken for a herd of apes. Now, like those animals, they leaped the hedges and bushes, and then, like snakes, wound along the ground, or rolled down the river bank with a rapidity of motion that the eye could scarcely follow. Further on in the village were seen lads of a maturer age, practising warlike games and exercises. They were performing the spy-dance. Whilst one party crept stealthily over the grass, others lay upon the ground in a listening posture, and with their ears pressed to the earth, strove to distinguish the movements of their antagonists. At last, when the two parties had approached each other, they sprang suddenly up, and forming themselves in Indian file, commenced a combat in which they dealt furious blows with their blunt wooden tomahawks, exhibiting in every movement an extraordinary degree of activity and natural grace. Little interest was shown in these evolutions by the adult inhabitants of the village, whose extreme apathy and indifference contrasted curiously with the display of violent exertion on the part of the young Indians. Before the open doors of the huts sat the squaws and their daughters, stripping the maize from the ear, beating hemp, or picking tobacco; the children, who, according to Indian custom, are from their very birth kept in an upright posture, hanging against the outer walls on long concave boards or pieces of bark, to which their hands and feet were fastened by thongs of buffalo hide, their only garment a strip of calico round the hips.
At a short distance from the upper part of the clearing stood two wooden huts, which might have passed for two of the school or meeting-houses often met with in the American backwoods. Like the other dwellings composing the hamlet, they were propped against sycamore-trees, but they were distinguished by their larger dimensions and more careful style of building, by the bowers of palm and mangrove that surrounded them, and the plots of smooth turf before their doors. In front of one of these little houses, and in the centre of the lawn, about fifty men were squatted upon the ground, enveloped in a thick cloud of smoke, proceeding from tobacco-pipes, three to five feet in length, with which all of them were provided. They were attired in hunting-shirts, open in front, and showing the naked breast down to the wampum girdle, to which a second garment, reaching to the knee, was attached. Instead of the shaved head and scalping-tuft adopted by many Indian tribes, they wore the whole of their hair. They appeared to have taken their places according to their rank, the inner half-circle being composed of the older warriors, whilst the young men formed a second and third line. In the centre of the curve sat an old warrior, on whom the eyes of the assembly were respectfully fixed, and whose remarkable exterior, combined with the deference shown him, bespoke the chief of the tribe. It would be difficult to imagine a more singular, and at the same time interesting-looking person, than this old man, whose body seemed to consist of nothing but skin and bone. All the coarse and fleshy portions of his frame were dried up, and only veins and sinews remained. His open hunting-shirt disclosed a breast far broader than that of any one of his companions, resembling a board that had been chopped and hacked, so covered was it with the scars of many wounds. The chief characteristic of his countenance was a gloomy stoical gravity, mingled with a resigned expression, telling a tale of many a fearful struggle, and of grievous mental suffering. The fall of his tribe, and seven years' exile, had brought about this change in the Miko of the Oconees.
This old man is Tokeah, who, driven by the Americans from his hunting grounds, has taken refuge, with the remnant of his tribe, upon Mexican territory. Canondah is his daughter, and the young man whom she rescued from the jaws of the alligator is an English midshipman belonging to a frigate employed in sounding the entrances of the Mississippi, preparatory to the expedition against New Orleans. Whilst away from his ship on a turtling party, he and two of his comrades have been captured by Lafitte, the famous French pirate, whose chief haunt was on the island of Barataria, in the Gulf of Mexico, whence, from amidst shoals and swamps impenetrable to those unacquainted with their intricacies, he issued forth to commit depredations on the high seas, and especially in the Mexican Gulf. During an inland excursion, about two years previously to the date of this tale, Lafitte discovered the Indian village on the Natchez, and was at first about to attack and plunder it; but the determined attitude of its defenders, and, still more, the reflection that their alliance might be useful to him against the Louisianian authorities, who had set a price upon his head, induced him to change his intention, and to hold out the right hand of good fellowship to the red men. Tokeah, whose ruling passion is hatred of the Americans, gladly concluded an alliance with the pirate, who professed an equal detestation of them. The Frenchman speedily ingratiated himself with the old chief, with whom he bartered a portion of his plunder for provisions of various kinds; and after a time, Tokeah, unsuspicious of the real character of his disreputable ally, whom he believed the chief of an independent tribe living on the sea-shore, promised him Rosa in marriage, an arrangement to which, as has already been seen, the poor girl was any thing but a consenting party.
Early upon the morrow of the arrival of the midshipman, upon whom our author has bestowed the unromantic name of James Hodges, the Oconee warriors depart on a hunting expedition, and the wounded man is removed to a hut in the village. During their absence, Canondah, at the entreaty of Rosa, between whom and the young Englishman a kindness has grown up during the convalescence of the latter, and who fears for his life should Tokeah discover him, disguises the midshipman in Indian paint and apparel, supplies him with arms, and explains to him the road to New Orleans, which he trusts to find occupied by British troops. She has guided him through the swamp and ferried him across the Sabine, when some words she lets fall apprise him of the peril she and Rosa will be in from her father's anger, when he returns from his hunting party, and is informed by the squaws of the evasion of one of the detested Americans, to which nation he will naturally feel assured that the English midshipman belongs. To avert all danger from the heads of his deliverers, the young man then wishes to go back to the village, but this the noble-minded girl refuses to allow, and pushes off her canoe from the shore, to which all his entreaties are insufficient to induce her to return. She retraces her steps to the hamlet, and shut up in her wigwam with Rosa, awaits, in alarm and deep dejection, her father's return from the chase.
Twenty-four hours had elapsed, during the whole of which time Canondah had not left her hut, nor had any of the squaws been to visit her. At last, towards morning, the voices of men were heard upon the shore. It was the Miko and his hunters. His daughter rose, her knees trembling under her, and looked out of the window. She saw the old squaws whispering to the men, and pointing to the wigwam in which the Englishman had dwelt. Presently the Miko entered his hut, followed by several warriors, and Canondah stepped forward to welcome her father. With hands folded upon her throbbing bosom, she silently awaited his commands.
"The men of the Oconees," he began, after a pause, during which he seemed to read his daughter's soul, "have told their Miko that a messenger from the chief of the Salt Lake has reached his wigwam. Why do not my eyes behold him?"
The trembling girl made no reply, but remained with her eyes fixed upon the ground.
"Has Canondah so forgotten her father's blood as to bring a Yankee into his wigwam, and to show him the path that leads to the villages of the pale faces? The Miko thought he had a daughter," said the old man, with the most cutting scorn; "but Canondah is not the daughter of the Miko of the Oconees. Go," continued he, in an accent of unspeakable disgust; "a miserable Seminole deceived her mother, and gave life to a traitress."
On hearing these terrible words, the maiden sank to the ground as if struck by lightning, and, writhing like a worm, crept to her father's feet, and laid hold of his garment. He pushed her from him with loathing.
"Go," said he; "she sang in the ears of the Miko, and implored the Great Spirit to protect him, whilst she cherished and concealed the foe of his race. Therefore could not the White Rose sing the night-song, because the spy was waiting for her in the forest. The Miko has nourished a snake in his bosom, his beaver-skins have been thrown away, and the White Rose has brought a spy into his wigwam to betray him to his foes. In a few suns he and his will be hunted by their enemies like the wild panther of the forests."
An angry howl escaped the Indians, and two of the most ferocious looking glided towards the curtain of Rosa's apartment. Canondah was lying speechless, apparently almost senseless, upon the ground, but hardly had the red men taken a step, when she suddenly stood before them.
"It is I," she cried; "it is Canondah, who guided the pale face across the swamp, and showed him the path he should follow. The White Rose knows it not."
Scarcely had she spoken, when the curtain was lifted and Rosa appeared. The Indian girl clasped her in her arms as if to shield her from harm, and the two maidens stood with drooping heads before the incensed Miko. The eyes of the chief had followed the rapid movement of his daughter, and he appeared astounded at the boldness with which she interposed between him and the intended sacrifice to his wrath. On beholding Rosa, a grim smile distorted his features; he made a step forward, and raised his knife.
"It was I!" cried the affrighted Canondah.
"No!" exclaimed Rose, in trembling tones; "I it was who brought the white youth into the wigwam."
The Miko stood like one petrified. Gradually, however, the generous rivalry and self-devotion of the two beautiful beings before him produced its effect on his savage nature. The expression of his features softened.
"Go," said he with bitter scorn; "does Canondah think the Miko a fool, and that his eyes do not see who brought the white spy into the wigwam? It was the foot of Canondah that opened the path, but the treacherous tongue of the White Rose prevailed with her to do it."
"Will my father," said Canondah, folding her hands humbly on her breast—"will my father loosen the tongue of his daughter?"
A long pause ensued, during which anger and paternal feeling held a visible contest in the bosom of the deeply-moved chief. Finally, the latter prevailed.
"Canondah may speak."
"My father, the white youth has sworn to me that he is no spy, and not one of the Yengheese. He is from the island of the foolish chief, the land of which you have told me that it is cold and icy. His people are on the war-path against our foes, the Yengheese. It is but a few suns since he and his friends came across the great salt lake; they will go up the great river and burn the wigwams of our enemies. The chief of the Salt Lake, he says, is a thief, who overpowered him and his brothers whilst they caught oysters and turtle, and took them to his wigwam. He escaped, and for eight suns he suffered hunger. His people will hang the chief of the Salt Lake by the neck to a tree. See, father, thy daughter delivered him from the jaws of the great water-snake, and he was already nearly dead. He has returned to his brothers, to lift the hatchet against your foes. He is no spy; his hands are soft and he was weak."
"Has Canondah more lies to tell her father?" said the old man, in a milder tone. "Her tongue is very nimble."
The abashed maiden cast her eyes to the ground. Her words, however, had visibly made a deep impression upon the Miko, and he remained for a while sunk in reflection. Tokeah was a savage by birth, habit, and education; but he was neither bloodthirsty nor cruel. Under other circumstances, and in a civilized land, he might have been a hero, a benefactor of thousands or millions of his fellow-creatures; but in his wild condition, despised, goaded and insulted as he felt himself, his better feelings blunted, and his whole nature soured by real and fancied injuries, what wonder was it that he raised his knife even against his own daughter, entering the hut as he did with the full persuasion that the young man she had sheltered was a spy and emissary of his bitterest foes?
The account given of himself by the midshipman, and the imputations cast by him on the chief of the Salt Lake, as Lafitte is called by the Indians, receive strong confirmation from two handbills, which Tokeah, who has learned to read English in the course of his long intercourse with the white men, has torn, during his recent expedition, from a wall in one of the new Louisianian settlements. One of these papers is a proclamation by the authorities of Louisiana, enumerating the crimes and cruelties of the pirate of Barataria, and offering a reward of five hundred dollars for his head. The other is an address to the citizens of the state, summoning them to the defence of their country against the British. Notwithstanding this corroborative evidence of the correctness of his daughter's statement, Tokeah, unwilling to remain with the smallest doubt upon his mind, or to risk the discovery of the nook in which, for seven years, he has been unseen by an American eye, sets off with a party of warriors in pursuit of the young Englishman. The ensuing chapter, the last of the first volume, we will translate with small abridgement, and therewith, for the present, conclude our extracts.
The mood of mind in which we left our young Englishman may aptly be compared with that of the assassin neophytes, whom, according to the tale, the Old Man of the Mountain was wont to introduce into an enchanted garden, peopled with ravishing houris, whence, after a short enjoyment of the most voluptuous delights, he again thrust them forth into the dark and dismal night of the desert, with nothing remaining of their past pleasures save a wild confusion of the senses, a chaos of images and visions, and a burning desire to recover the lost paradise. True it is, as our readers know, that the young sailor had no such enjoyments to regret, and equally true that his own wish had driven him from his Eden; but he nevertheless experienced the tumult and confusion of thought, and the longing to return, above described. It seemed as if the nobler and inferior qualities of his nature were striving within him, the two principles alternately, as either got the upper hand, impelling him onwards and calling him back. A full hour elapsed, during which he several times walked away from the shore and then again returned to it, until at last he was surprised by the first beams of the sun, disclosing to him a scene whose sight assisted him to prompt decision.
Agreeably with what Canondah had told him, he found the left bank of the Sabine bare of trees, with the exception of a few stunted firs and cedars growing along the shore. Before him was spread a landscape which the most skilful pencil could but imperfectly sketch, the most powerful fancy with difficulty conceive. It was an interminable tract of meadow land, its long grass waving in the morning breeze, presenting an endless succession of gentle undulations, whilst in the far distance isolated groups of trees appeared to rock like ships upon the boundless ocean. Nowhere was a fixed point to be seen, and the whole stupendous landscape swam before his eyes, waving like the surface of the sea in a soft tropical breeze. Towards the north, the plain rose gradually into highlands, between whose picturesque clusters of trees his eye penetrated to the extremity of the vast panorama, where the bright tints of the landscape blended with those of the horizon. Eastward the huge meadow sank down into bottoms, shaded by trees, and overgrown with reeds and palmettos, shining, as the wind stirred them, like sails in the sunshine. The profound stillness of the sky-bounded plain, only broken by the plash of the waterfowl, or the distant howl of the savanna wolf, and the splendour of the rising sun, imparted an indescribable solemnity and grandeur to the scene. Lower down the river were detached groups of trees, amongst which grazed deer, who, with wondering glances, seemed to ask the wanderer whence he came; and after gazing at him for a while, tossed their antlers proudly in the air, and, as if displeased at the intrusion upon their territory, paced slowly back into the thicket. The whole landscape was dotted with diminutive hillocks of a conical form, the habitations of small brown animals, who sat in front of them with their faces to the sun, making their breakfast on the tender grass.
The district just described is the western portion of Louisiana, which, from the alluvial land of the Mississippi, Red River, Atchafalaya, and other smaller but deep streams, swells gradually upwards towards the west, and ends in these vast and magnificent savannas. The detached pictures that we have laid before our readers, in the endeavour to convey to them some idea of the whole, burst at once upon the young Englishman; and their view put him in much the same state of mind with the seaman, who, having left his ship during the night in a frail skiff, finds himself in the morning alone upon the wide waters, and hesitates whether he shall not, by one desperate plunge, avoid the misery and suffering that await him. This feeling of isolation and helplessness, like the last grain thrown into the balance, suddenly terminated the young man's indecision, and induced him to take a step, which, whilst it seemed to ensure his own destruction, attested the triumph of the better principle within. Hastily stripping off his clothes, he tied then in a bundle, and jumping into the chilly stream, in a quarter of an hour reached the opposite shore. The parting words of the noble Indian girl had decided him to return to the village, and give himself up to the fury of the terrible Miko. Any other consideration was subordinate to that generous motive.
Upon reaching the right bank of the river, Hodges proceeded to seek the path through the thicket. But the difficulties he encountered were such as might well deter the most persevering. The western side of the Sabine, like that of the Natchez, is a gentle slope, ending in a ridge which again sinks gradually and imperceptibly down to the swamp. The black masses of cypress and cedar allowed him to penetrate a few hundred paces through them, and to reach the summit of the rising ground; but as soon as the descent began, he found it impossible to get a step further. The slope was covered with a description of tree which he had never before seen or heard of. The stems were not thicker than a man's body, but they grew close together, and were covered with thorns as long as his arm, presenting the appearance of millions of brown bayonets, so thickly planted, and so manifold in their direction, as scarcely to allow a squirrel to set foot upon the trees on which they grew. He tried to call to mind the position of the path along which Canondah had conducted him; he investigated every thicket and opening in the bushes, but all in vain; hours passed away, and he had not found it. When he detected the trace of footsteps, they invariably proved to be his own. At last fortune seemed to smile upon him; he discovered the place where the canoe was concealed. He had still long to look, however, before he could find the track leading through the forest; and when he did hit upon it, it was so intricate, and led in such a zigzag line, now up the slope and then down again, that darkness came on, and he had not yet reached the swamp. Hungry and fatigued, he returned to the Sabine, and, fully determined to try his luck again next morning, he trusted with better success, he loaded the canoe upon his shoulders, launched it upon the water, and rowed to the opposite bank, where he had left the provisions with which Canondah had supplied him. Taking them with him, he recrossed the river, and after a short but hearty meal, busied himself in the preparation of a sleeping place. In that heavenly region, nature has supplied the means for a simple, but delightful bed, in the tillandsea or Spanish moss, whose long, delicate, horsehair-like threads, compose the most luxurious couch. With this moss Hodges now filled the canoe, and carried it to the hiding-place where he had found it. This had been selected between two cedars, whose lower boughs served as rollers, upon which he only had to raise the boat to be secure from observation. His gun at his side, and wrapped in his blanket, he fell asleep.
The fatigues of the day procured the young Englishman several hours of profound and untroubled slumber, but at the end of that time he was tormented by a strange dream. He thought he saw the corpses of Rosa and Canondah lying pale and bleeding before him, whilst over them strode a fantastical-looking monster, a knife in its claws, levelled at his heart. He turned round, he fought and wrestled, and strove to seize his gun. The desperate struggle awoke him.
That which had been a dream had now become reality. A grim savage really stood over him, one foot upon the canoe, in his hand a tomahawk, which he waved above his head with a scowl of triumph. One blow, and all would be over. Quick as thought the young Englishman raised his rifle, and pointed it at the breast of the Indian, who started on one side. The tomahawk descended, but, fortunately for Hodges, his sudden movement overturned the canoe at the very moment that the blow fell. This saved his life. Clasping the knees of the Indian with the strength of desperation, he brought him to the ground, and threw himself upon him. The deadly scalping-knife was about to pierce his heart, when he caught the wrist of the savage in his right hand, and with his left clutched his throat. For a moment the Indian struggled, glared at him with an expression of inveterate hate, and then his breath left him, his features became distorted, and he let the knife fall. The next instant it glittered in the hand of Hodges, and the Indian lay defenceless, his antagonist's knee on his breast, awaiting, with set teeth and staring eyes, the death which he deemed inevitable. During one second, the young man appeared to hesitate; then he sprang to his feet.
"Go," said he; "I will not sully myself with your blood."
"My young brother is really a friend of the red men," said a voice behind him.
Hodges turned, and beheld another Indian, a scalping-knife in his hand, which he seemed about to plunge into his back. Springing on one side, he confronted this new foe.
"My brother need not fear," said the second Indian, behind whom the other had now retreated, not unlike a dog, who, feeling himself guilty of a misdeed, creeps, with tail between his legs, behind the back of his master. The new-comer surveyed him with a severe glance.
"Milimach," said he, "would have taken a scalp from a sleeping man, but he has to thank the white youth that his own is still upon his head. Milimach has disobeyed the Miko."
"Are you the Miko?" cried Hodges—"the Miko of the Oconees?"
The old man fixed his calm and penetrating look upon his interrogator, and replied with much dignity, "My young brother has said it. He has nothing to fear; the Miko stretches out to him his hand, in peace and friendship."
"You the Miko of the Oconees?" repeated Hodges, grasping the Indian's hand, and heartily shaking it. "I am delighted to see you; and, to say the truth, I was on my way to your village."
"The maidens," said the chief, "told the Miko that the son of the great father who owns the two Canadas, had escaped from the chief of the Salt Lake, and sought shelter in his wigwam. My eyes have seen, and my soul believes what is true. But my brother has travelled very little of the path leading to his people."
"I will tell you why," said the young man. "You have an excellent girl for a daughter—Heaven bless her!—and she and that angel, Rosa, were like sisters to me. I would gladly have remained longer, had not the voice of duty called me away. But when your daughter left me upon the other side of the river, something escaped her that made it my first duty to return to your wigwam."
The chief had listened with much attention. "What did my daughter whisper in the ear of my young brother?" said he.
"Few words," was the reply, "but weighty ones. I understood that the poor girls would suffer for their goodness to me; and that, suspecting they had brought a Yankee spy into your wigwam, you would perhaps kill them."
"And my brother?" said the Miko.
"Held himself bound to return, to avert the danger from their innocent heads."
The Indian stood for a while in silent reflection. Then his countenance brightened, and once more he stretched out his hand to the Englishman, to whom this sign of good-will was rendered the more welcome by the appearance of a long line of savages who just then glided out of the thicket, and ranged themselves behind their leader.
"Does my brother wish to go to the village of the whites?" said Tokeah after a pause.
"I do wish," said Hodges, "to rejoin my ship as soon as possible. I am a British officer, and must not be wanting at my post."
The Indian shook his head. "The Miko," said he, "knows the sons of the great father of the Canadas; he has lifted the war-hatchet with them against the Yankees. Great warriors are they, but in our forests blind as the night-owl. My brother would never reach his people; he would perish of hunger in the wide wilderness. See," continued he, pointing to a group of trees that appeared like a black speck on the distant horizon, "my brother will go to those trees, but when he gets there, his head will dance and turn round, and he will wander in a circle, like a dog pursuing his own tail. In a hundred suns he will not find his way out of the meadows."
The comparison was not a very elegant one; but a single glance at the vast plain before him, convinced the young man that the Indian spoke the truth.
"Answer me one question," said he. "Have the maidens nothing to fear, and will the Miko generously forgive them for having brought a stranger into his wigwam?"
"The Miko will look upon his daughters with a well-pleased eye."
"Then I have nothing to do but to be off as quickly as possible. If I can only get to the Mississippi, I shall find our ships there."
The Indian seemed to reflect. "My brother's path is very long," said he, "and the canoes of his people are far away. His great father has many warriors, but the Yankees have more. Will my brother listen to the words of an old man, who has seen many summers, and whose hair is grey with age and sorrow?"
Hodges bowed his head, perhaps even lower than he intended to do.
"Let my young brother return to the wigwam of the Miko. The warriors will smoke with him, and the maidens will sing in his ears. In two suns the chief of the Salt Lake will come. To him will the Miko whisper, and he will take my brother in his canoe and restore him to his people."
"The chief of the Salt Lake! The pirate take me back to my people?" exclaimed Hodges, shaking his head. "My dear Miko, you are vastly mistaken. He will take good care not to do so, for his welcome would be a halter."
"Is the chief of the Salt Lake also at war with my brother's tribe?" inquired the Miko.
"Not at war; but he is a pirate, who robs and plunders wherever he goes, and, if taken, will of course be hung."
The countenance of the Indian darkened, and Hodges feared that he had touched a dangerous string.
"My brother is right," said Tokeah; "he must go. But, if he will remain, the wigwam of the Miko is open to him; the White Rose will cook his venison, and he shall be the son of Tokeah."
The Englishman took the old warrior's hand, and pressed it kindly.
"When the Oconees," said he, adopting the Indian phraseology, "have sworn to their Miko to lift the war-hatchet in his behalf, they must keep their word, or they are dogs. Even so must the son of the great father of the Canadas observe the oath that he has taken. He must hasten to his brothers, or he will be looked upon as a coward, and his name will be spoken with contempt."
These words, uttered with feeling and emphasis, were decisive. The chief nodded his approbation.
"The sun was low behind the hills," said he, "when my young brother approached the wigwam of Tokeah, and the chief was buried in sleep. His footsteps must not be seen by the white men. Will my brother swear by Him whom the Oconees call the Great Spirit, and the pale-faces name their God, that he will not betray Tokeah to his enemies?"
"I swear it solemnly."
"Will he promise never to say that the Miko and the chief of the Salt Lake have been friends?"
"I promise that also," replied Hodges, after a brief pause.
"Then may the bones of his fathers moulder in peace," said the old man, laying his hands on the shoulders of the Englishman. "The Miko will clear his brother's path from thorns, and his runners shall show him the way to the Coshattoes. But my brother is hungry," he added, "and his path is a long one."
He made a sign to his followers, and one of them emptied a hunting-pouch upon the grass; the Miko sat down, and, beckoning Hodges to do the same, offered him some cold game, of which he himself sparingly partook. A handful of roasted corn, and a calabash of tolerable wine, completed the repast. The meal dispatched, Tokeah rose, nodded in a friendly manner, and plunged into the forest, followed by all but one of the Indians. Hodges cast a last glance after their dark figures, as they disappeared between the trees, and then seized the canoe to carry it to the water. Upon reaching the opposite shore, the Indian concealed the boat amongst the bushes, and started off across the prairie at a pace with which the young Englishman had some difficulty in keeping up.
IRELAND—ITS CONDITION—THE LIFE AND PROPERTY BILL—THE DEBATE, AND THE FAMINE.
It is now some years since, in the pages of this Periodical, we pointed out to Sir Robert Peel's government the necessity of adopting coercive measures towards Ireland, in mercy to the peasantry themselves, and the folly of permitting sedition to run its course, in the delusive hope that the fallacy on which the arguments of the demagogues were founded would at length be discovered by their dupes, and that the repeated disappointment of their expectations would ultimately induce the deluded people to withdraw the confidence which they reposed in their political leaders. But our remonstrances, as well as the advice of others who equally understood the Irish character, were disregarded; and the consequences have been the destruction of property, the sacrifice of life, and the increase of crime, to such an appalling extent, that very shame compels the administration to propose now (with small chance of its efficiency, even should it be adopted) a measure, which, incomplete though it be, might then have been attended with considerable success.
The coercion bill introduced by Lord St Germains, is, though much to be approved of so far as it goes, perfectly inadequate to accomplish what it is intended to effect; for while it recognises the fact, that the action of the ordinary laws is inadequate to cope with the difficulties and the dangers of the emergency, it stops far short of the limits which would ensure its utility. It suspends the constitution, and incurs the odium which must ever attach to the violation of popular rights, without affording much hope of its being able to attain those results which alone can render such a proceeding justifiable. The perpetrator of crime is by it to be subjected to pains and penalties; while he who instigates him to the commission of it, is to be left in the full enjoyment of the liberty of action: the peasant is to be confined to his dwelling at night, but the demagogue may hold his monster meetings by day, when the law enacted "for the preservation of life and property" will be derided and denounced, and his misguided followers taught how to violate its provisions with safety, and to defeat its objects with success. But the principal defect of the bill is, that it does not enact a law, under which immediate and summary justice could be administered and the very terror of which would go far to check the commission of crime, by depriving the guilty of all hope of escape from the partisanship or the fear of their judges.
In their speeches on Lord St Germains' bill, both the Home Secretary and Mr O'Connell congratulated themselves that there was nothing of a sectarian or political character in the Irish outrages, that the lives and properties of Roman Catholics and Repealers were as much sought after, as were those of persons who differed from them in doctrines and opinions; yet this we consider the very worst feature in the case, for it exhibits a loosening of those ties which bind society together, and shows evidently enough that spoliation, and not redress, is the object of the people in the disturbed districts. Mr Sidney Herbert tells us, "men were there under the dominion of a power more irresponsible than any of the powers conferred by this bill—a power exercised by persons unseen, and for causes unknown, and exercised, too, in a manner not to be foreseen, which no conduct, no character however excellent, no virtue, no station, could avert." And it is while society is in such a state, that persons are to be found ranting about the violation of the constitution, and refusing to protect the lives of the virtuous and the innocent, lest in their endeavours to do so they should intrench on the liberties of the guilty. We cannot conceive how Christian men can, under such circumstances, put party objects in competition with the obvious dictates of duty, or seek to secure the triumph of their political principles at the expense of the blood of their fellow-creatures. Yet do we see a formidable opposition raised against what is represented to be an impotent measure, and English gentlemen battling in defence of the perpetrators of crime, under the banner of him who is morally responsible in the eyes of God and man for the awful state of his unfortunate country. But those protectors of anarchy will say—"In following Mr O'Connell, we must be right; O'Connell and his party represent the feelings of the Irish people"—ay, just as much as the Terrorists of the Revolution did the sentiments and the feelings of the people of France. His is indeed a reign of terror—of moral terror, if you will—but of a terror quite as effectual, and more powerful than that of the guillotine; a terror which pervades all classes of society, which is "exercised by persons unseen, and for causes unknown," and whose influence "no conduct, no character however excellent, no virtue, no station, can avert;" a terror which seeks to regulate not only political but private concerns, which causes even the Bishops of his own faith who dare to oppose him without the means of support, and such men as Sir William Somerville, to crouch under his denunciations, and at his behest to violate what must be the dictates of their own consciences, in order to purchase immunity from political defeat.
Judging from the tone of the debate, the admissions of the ministerial speakers, and the delays which have been submitted to, we would almost be inclined to doubt the sincerity of the government in wishing to pass even this measure, imperfect as it is. There seems to exist an extraordinary and ominous good feeling between the opposing parties. Sir James Graham is described by Mr O'Connell as having "stated the case of the promoters of the bill in a manner which could not dissatisfy any one;" "so hard a measure had never a more moderate exponent," (and well might the wily agitator pay the compliment, for his own share in producing the lamentable state of things was entirely left out of sight;) and, in detailing his budget of enormities, the minister seemed actuated by the most delicate feelings towards the guilty. "There were no indignant bursts of feeling;" and he even went the length of declaring, that he would have suppressed one of the most atrocious cases in the whole catalogue, "only that it had been previously alluded to by Lord George Bentinck." Of a verity, "the convicted conspirator" and the denounced "renegade" seem now to have a perfect understanding. But if the mild manner of the Home Secretary on the introduction of the bill is calculated to excite distrust in the minds of those who really wish for the establishment of tranquillity in Ireland, the speech of the Secretary at War is sufficient to convince them, that the government do not care to go the necessary length for accomplishing that object, for fear of coming in violent contact with the really guilty. Mr O'Connell twitted them with the obvious fact, that they gave no protection under their bill by day, although it was notorious that almost all the assassinations were then perpetrated. Mr Sidney Herbert is reported, with great naivete, and innocently enough, to have offered the following reasons for the omission:—"He could show from proofs before him, that the murders which were committed in broad day were, generally speaking, murders perpetrated against persons in the higher ranks of life; and that, on the other hand, the night murders were committed on the poor and defenceless; and for this reason,—the rich man lived in a house carefully secured, with his servants well armed, his windows barricaded, and every thing about it capable of standing a siege; and when such a man was murdered it was usually in the open day; perhaps fired at from a hedge when he was returning from the quarter sessions, or some other duty. But the poor man, who lived in a wretched thatched cottage, with the door and window ill secured—that man was attacked at night, shots were fired into his house, and incendiarism was almost solely confined to him, because he was poor and defenceless—he had no servants to repel the invasion of what ought to be his castle; and, therefore, he maintained that an obvious distinction must be made between the night class of murders, which especially required their interference, and those that were committed in broad day. The one class of victims called much more loudly for protection than did the other."—(Hear.) Here we have it unreservedly stated, that no restriction is sought to be imposed upon the evil-disposed by day—merely because none are then murdered but landlords, who cannot with convenience be come at by night; but, as if more fully to show the little sympathy which exists between the Irish proprietors and the government, the Secretary at War asks, in a subsequent passage, "How many murders of landlords had there been? Or rather, he should say, how few had there been? God knew he was not underrating the number who had thus lost their lives, but he asked the House to consider how few landlords had been murdered, in comparison with the whole number which had taken place in the five counties in which outrage had been so conspicuous. In these five counties there had been the following offences:—Firing at the person, 85; incendiarism, 139; threatening witnesses, 1043; firing into dwelling-houses, 93. Now, of all these, how many were attacks on landlords? There was Mr Gloster, Mr M'Leod, Mr Hoskins, Mr Carrick, Mr Booth, and some others; but they formed no comparison to the number of poor and defenceless."
Far be it from us to impute improper motives to any man, much less to a person of Mr Sidney Herbert's private character; but we would calmly ask that gentleman, whether such admissions, coming from a minister of the crown, are not likely to have the most pernicious effects upon the Irish people? No man who understands the system pursued in Ireland, can doubt but that they will be applied to the worst of purposes; the agitators will tell their dupes that the reason government took no precautions to protect life by day was, "because the only persons then murdered were the gentry;" and it will be said, "let the poor alone, and you may shoot as many landlords as you please—the opportunity is afforded you." A hint on the subject will be found perfectly sufficient for such intelligent persons.
"See," cries Mr Sidney Herbert, "the few, the very few, landlords murdered—only five, and a few others!" If the honourable gentleman's memory was not very fallacious, he might have greatly enlarged the list; and if those persecuted men do survive, they certainly do not owe their preservation to any extraordinary sympathy in their behalf, or any exertions made to protect them, by the administration of which he is a member. The very system of self-defence which they are compelled to practise seems to be perfectly well known to the government, without appearing to produce the slightest uneasiness in their minds; and a measure which its advocates propose for the suppression of crime is defended, not because the gentry are insecure under the operation of the existing laws, "but because the peasantry, not being able to have recourse to the same means of defence, are more easy victims to their assailants;" as if the executive were only bound to protect the poor, and had no responsibility imposed upon them as regards the rich. It appears the old system, said to have so long prevailed in Ireland, is still to be persevered in—with this difference only, that now the law is to be exclusively for the benefit of the poor, while the rich are left to shift for themselves. "Turn about" is, no doubt, considered as "fair play."
When we couple the delicacy of the Home Secretary with the admissions of Mr Sidney Herbert; and, further, take into consideration the statement of the O'Connor Don, that on his return from the Roscommon Assizes, in July last, Sir Thomas Freemantle, then Chief Secretary for Ireland, told him he was right in opposing a petition got up by the Grand Jury of his county, praying government to cause the enactment of some coercive law, "as ministers had no intention of introducing any such measure;" yet, at that very moment, we find, according to Lord George Bentinck's statement, that the crimes committed in the five disturbed counties greatly exceeded the number perpetrated now—when they find it convenient to do so. In the quarter ending 1st of August 1845, when we are thus told the Chief Secretary declared to O'Connor Don that the ministers would not interfere with the career of the assassins, the number of outrages perpetrated was 1180—in the last three months, when they profess an anxiety to do so, it amounted only to 806.
Sir Robert Peel affects to be embarrassed as to which of the two measures—the Corn Bill or Coercion Act—he should most immediately pass. On the one hand he says, "He wishes to prevent crime, but, perhaps, he should first relieve destitution." Now, as far as the present laws affect the introduction of food into Ireland, they are virtually repealed already; for the Indian corn is being and has been introduced duty free long since. We therefore humbly submit, that as no persons are said to be starving in this country, the preservation of the lives of our Irish fellow-subjects should first engross his attention.
But as if the open admission on the part of the government, that after witnessing for years the operation of a system of assassination with indifference, because the victims were of the upper order, they are now induced to apply a remedy, because latterly the peasantry were subjected to the same sanguinary code, would not be sufficient to mar the success of any measure they might introduce for the suppression of crime in Ireland, they accompany their Coercion Act with scraps of comfort to the discontented. On the one hand they hold out the terrors of a penal law, while on the other the people are led to hope that some of their wildest expectations may speedily be realized. Crime, they are told, (at least so far as regards its commission on their own class,) must be repressed; but they are left to infer that spoliation is to follow.
There never was a period of our history at which the state of Ireland formed a more important topic for the consideration of the British people than at the present moment. The hard-won earnings of their industry are applied to relieve her immediate wants, and to reduce her local burdens; while a change in their commercial policy, pregnant with the most momentous consequences, is sought to be effected, avowedly based upon the necessity of rescuing her impoverished people from the horrors of pestilence and famine. That there is much of what we should call misery and wretchedness in Ireland, there can be no doubt. The question is not, whether such is the case or not? for the fact is admitted; but the problem to be solved is, from what cause does this state of things arise? Is it from the misconduct of the landlords, or of the people themselves?—from the severity or mal-administration of the laws?—or from the absolute and total disregard of all social restraint whatever? And it is important, beyond measure, to ascertain the truth, not only because, upon the supposition that the people are blameless, the rights of private property are threatened with invasion, and a precedent established for legislative interference with personal privileges, which may at no distant period, in those days of uncertainty and change, be extended to ourselves; but because the disease being mistaken, and a wrong remedy applied, the state of that unhappy country must become worse, instead of better—her social condition more complicated and inexplicable, and demoralization and discontent be still further increased. In those days poverty and wretchedness appear to be the best recommendations to sympathy and support; to be poor and of the people, is sufficient to imply the possession of every virtue; to be rich, and of the aristocracy, is, in the estimation of the majority, proof "strong as holy writ" of hardness of heart and depravity of disposition. And hence it is that all compassion is reserved for the Irish people, because they are said to be poor, without duly inquiring whether or not their own misconduct is the principal cause of the misfortunes they suffer; and universal reprehension is heaped upon the Irish landlords, because, the people being impoverished, they are supposed to have neglected their duties;—and no inquiry is made as to whether they are enabled, if inclined, to perform their parts; or whether all their schemes to improve the condition of the people entrusted to their care, are not thwarted and counteracted by designing and unprincipled men, acting, from self-interested motives, on the passions and the prejudices of an excitable and ignorant population. We respect and would assist the poor man struggling with the difficulties which Providence has imposed upon his condition; but that is no reason why we should extend our kindly feelings to the degraded ruffian who reels in rags from the gin-shop.
The Irish people have been so trained by the agitators in the art of deception, that it is almost impossible for those who have not an accurate and perfect knowledge of their objects, and their practices, to fathom their intentions, or to detect their impositions. They are always ready, always prepared, with arrangements to support their statements. Perhaps a better instance to exemplify their disregard of truth, and the lengths they will go to attain their objects, cannot be adduced, than one which we select from a letter of the "Times commissioner," who visited the property of Mr O'Connell. After describing the general wretchedness of the population, this gentleman proceeds—"A little apart from these was the house of T. Sullivan, jun., who, with his twelve children, a sick cow, and two pigs suffering under some grievous malady, occupied the same room. In answer to our enquiries as to his condition, he replied that the food of himself and family all the year round was potatoes and buttermilk. 'Were the potatoes good?' 'Troth they were not—bad as could be,' (and he proved the assertion by cutting open a number of them taken at random from a heap, and showing us the extent of the disease.) 'Had he plenty of potatoes?' 'Indeed he had not.' 'Of milk?' 'Never—nor half enough—never had enough for either dinner or breakfast.' All his children were as badly off as himself—not half enough of potatoes, and often nothing to drink with them, as he could only afford the milk of one stripper for his family.' He had no fish, 'and very little of any thing.' This was the substance of his story, translated to us by an interpreter, Mr Connell; and yet he was a large holder, though his bed was of straw—his cabin falling to pieces—and the mud outside percolating to the interior, where it was trodden into a filthy, adhesive, earthy glue, by the feet and hooves of the semi-naked children, pigs, fowl, and cattle." Now, can there be a more perfect picture of desolation and misery than this man's case presents? Could any rational person raise a doubt as to the truth of the sufferer's representations?—his potatoes were rotten, "and he proved it by taking them indiscriminately from a heap." Nothing could be more conclusive—"here there could be no deception"—and the graphic sketch which the talented gentleman drew of this wretched wight, would no doubt have formed the groundwork of many leading articles in the influential journal for which he reported, had he not been undeceived before he had time to forward his dispatch, and undeceived, too, by no less an authority than Mr Sullivan himself. At the conclusion of the very letter which contains this harrowing picture, we find the commissioner writing—"Whilst sitting at the hotel at Cahirceveen, Mr Trant, a magistrate of the county, entering the room, informed me that Thomas Sullivan of Aaghenming, whose house I visited on the preceding day, and whose testimony I have already given, was outside, and wished to make evidence on oath that he had quite misinformed me as to his condition; in other words, that he was desirous of swearing that he had been telling me lies. Sullivan was called in, and it appeared that he was quite ready to take an affidavit. I took from Mr Trant, who acted as interpreter, the following explanation of Sullivan's previous statements—'He imagined that I and your commissioner were coming from government to enquire into the state of the potato crop, and he therefore exaggerated the badness of its condition and his own poverty, as much as possible.' He now wished to say, 'That he was not nearly so badly off as he had stated; that he had plenty of potatoes and milk—that he had a bed-tick which was in the loft when we inspected his cottage.'"
Now, had Professors Playfair and Lyndley entered this man's house instead of the agents of the Times, no doubt his case would have been before this on the table of the House of Commons. Nor could we be much surprised that all should be taken as truth, when we consider his admirable state of preparation. The diseased potatoes selected and placed ready to be appealed to, as if they were the bulk of the crop. The bed-tick stowed away, "and all clear for action." We are indebted for the discovery of the cheat solely to the fact, that his statements would, if uncontradicted, have damaged Mr O'Connell. "Neither, unfortunately, can this be considered an isolated case; the bulk of the population are actuated by the same motives; and are, we lament to say, not only willing to deceive, but ready, no doubt, if need were, to substantiate their assertions by their oaths."
Hence arises the difficulty of ascertaining the true state of things in Ireland—hence the signal failures of the different commissions which have from time to time been appointed by the government of the day, when the truthfulness of their reports came to be tested by the working of the legislative measures founded upon them—"hence it comes, that out of 2,800,000 Irish persons reported to be in a state of utter destitution by the Poor-law Commissioners, not more than 68,000 could in any one year, since the establishment of the Poor-law, be induced to accept the relief which Parliament provided for them;" and for this reason it is, that the condition of the most idle and indolent people in Europe is compassionated, as if it resulted from the misconduct of others rather than their own; and that "the patient endurance" of the most turbulent and bloodstained peasantry on earth is pronounced, in Lord Devon's report, "as deserving of the highest commendation, and as entitling them to the best attention of the government."
It also most unfortunately happens, that in Ireland you can always find men—ay, and sometimes men in respectable stations in life too—who not only take the most opposite views of the same subjects, but who give a totally different explanation of the same facts—even when bound by the solemn obligations of an oath. Let any man look into Lord Devon's blue-book, and he will find ample evidence in support of our assertion; unhappily, the dicta of those least worthy of credit are generally adopted, because they pander to the popular feeling; and the country is called upon to decide a disputed point, and Parliament to legislate, on evidence to which no private individual would pay the slightest attention, merely because it has been adopted and sanctioned by the report of a government commission.
To explain the anomaly which the condition of Ireland presents to our consideration, has often been attempted without success, chiefly because we allow our feeling to overcome our judgment. We there see a people holding the most fertile lands on infinitely cheaper terms than ground of a much inferior quality is rented at in the other portions of the kingdom, relieved by special enactments from almost all the local burdens which press upon their fellow-subjects, and freed from participation to a most incredible extent in the general taxation of the country, enjoying the exclusive advantage of an easy access to the best markets in the world; and yet, with all those advantages, we find them in a continual state of destitution, a disgrace to our reputation, and a drain upon our resources.
In his opposition to the Life Preservation Bill, Mr O'Connell exhibited his usual extent of craft, with more than his habitual amount of exaggeration. With that cunning for which he is so remarkable, he kept aloof from all topics which could bring his own political conduct before the House, while there were no bounds, no limits, to his assertions. He appealed to evidence taken before commissions which sat some twenty years ago, to account for the present state of Ireland; while he studiously avoided quoting that which was more recently taken before Lord Devon's—contenting himself with adopting the oft-quoted description of the sufferings of the peasantry, which is contained in the report, and which has so often before been successfully pressed into his service. Now his reason for pursuing this course was simply because the passages on which he relied, were opinions given by persons supposed to be well informed as to the then condition of the country. They were generalities, and therefore their errors were even at the time difficult of detection, and are now wholly so; but the evidence taken before Lord Devon's committee contained special accusations, which were widely promulgated, and which, when they came to be substantiated, were proved to be utterly groundless. And this merit at least is due to those commissioners, that they gave each party an opportunity of being heard, and placed fairly before the world their respective statements. Had Mr O'Connell alluded to the charges, he must have also adverted to the explanations, and this would not have suited him; for with all his talent for perversion, and, until the appearance of Lord Devon's report, we thought that in this respect he was unequalled, he never could have made so good a thing out of the same materials as he found left cut and dry to his hand, in the passage of the report which he so often appeals to. He therefore most wisely left "well alone." May we not ask what became of all the instances of tyranny which were brought to light by "the committee of grievances" of the Association? why were they burked now, "when they might legitimately be used?" why go back for a quarter of a century, when the atrocities reported and disseminated by Mr Balfe, might have served him as an unanswerable justification for the adoption by his followers of the "wild justice of revenge?" It was because the charges made against the proprietors were proved to have been fabrications, and because the unblushing perjury of the peasantry would, if investigated, have excited horror and disgust. Even the kind-hearted and sympathizing commissioners, in speaking of the people whose condition they so much commiserated, are obliged to admit, that "there is frequently a readiness amongst these to attribute their own wretched condition exclusively to the conduct of their landlords, sometimes with an utter disregard of truth, and almost always without admitting, perhaps without seeing, how much of it arises from their own indolence or want of skill." With his usual disregard of truth, Mr O'Connell attributes the assassinations which have taken place in Tipperary, to the number of ejectments which have been carried into execution. "They found that in Tipperary, where the greatest number of ejectments took place, murders were most frequent. For that county, in one year, no less than 5304 ejectments issued from the Civil Bill Court, to which there were 14,816 defendants; and 1724 ejectments issued from the superior courts, to which there were 16,503 defendants; making a total of 7028 ejectments, and 31,319 defendants. Within the last five years, upwards of 150,000 persons had been evicted from their lands in the county of Tipperary."