"To your tent," was the answer.
"But the Pawnees will have gone," I remarked.
"No fear of that while any liquor remains," he observed.
I knew that I might as well have spoken to the winds as have attempted to dissuade my wild friends from attacking their enemies. Still I tried to explain my view of the case. John seemed much struck by what I said. He observed that he had never seen it in that light before. He had been taught to do good to your friends, but to injure your enemies to the utmost of your power. He had no notion that such was not the Christian's creed. His father was a Christian; so was he—not that he knew much about religion. That was all very well for people who lived in towns. I tried to show him that all men had souls; that one Saviour died for all; that all would have to stand before the judgment-seat of God; and that therefore religious faith and religious practice were essential for all.
Such was one of the many subjects of our conversation which beguiled our way. My long solitude had made me reflect and remember many things I had before forgotten, and my late merciful escape had not been without its effects in turning my heart to my Maker. I wish that I could say that, like the compass, it has ever since kept true to the pole. I did not feel, however, that I was making very deep impression on my auditors. We pushed on, not as fast as I had come, but still at a very rapid rate; and if I at all showed signs of flagging, two of the huge Indians would lift me up by the shoulders and help me along, scarcely allowing my feet to touch the ground. We camped in a wood for a short time, making an arbour with fir branches to keep off the cold, and then on we went. My heart beat quick as, soon after daylight, we approached the height whence we could look down, I knew, on my tent. We reached the spot—the one where I had been standing when I saw the Pawnees coming to destroy me. I looked eagerly for the tent. It was no longer there, nor was there a sign of living beings near. Two scouts went down to examine all the places of concealment near. After a time they signed to us to approach. We hurried down. There lay the remains of the tent, almost burned to pieces, and among a confused mass of cinders and various articles which the tent had contained, lay scattered about the blackened and mangled remains of my late captors.
"Verily let not man attempt to avenge himself," I repeated. "Here is a proof of those solemn words, 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay.'"
I HAVE CAUSE TO REJOICE THAT I DID NOT AVENGE MYSELF—MY GREAT MEDICINE WORK—I RISE IN THE ESTIMATION OF MY NEW FRIENDS—AN INDIAN ENCAMPMENT— AM OFFERED A WIFE, BUT COMPELLED TO DECLINE THE HONOUR—JOHN PIPESTICK— SURROUNDED BY ENEMIES—A FIERCE ATTACK—WE FIGHT WITH DESPERATION, AND RESOLVE TO DIE LIKE BRAVE MEN.
The disappointment of my Ottoe friends was very considerable when they found all their enemies killed, and not even a scalp remaining to carry off as a trophy; besides which, a large portion of the property contained in the tent had been destroyed. There was still enough, however, to be looked upon as a valuable prize by the red-skins, and I accordingly begged them to appropriate it. This they, without any show of reluctance, did, and immediately set to work to hollow out a large hole under the snow where they might bury it. How thankful I felt that my hand had refrained from slaughtering those poor wretches when they lay in my power.
As I considered the subject, I had no doubt of the cause of the catastrophe. After the savages had consumed the cask of spirits they had fallen on the barrel of gunpowder, probably hoping that it might contain more of their favourite fire-water. They were very likely smoking at the time, and perhaps all bending round the cask in their eagerness to get some of its contents. A spark from one of their pipes must in an instant have finished their business. I cannot say that I indulged in any sentimental grief at what had occurred. It was vexatious to lose so many things which might have been of use, but the most serious loss was that of the gunpowder. Fortunately, however, I had a good supply, which would last for some time. I never was addicted to burning gunpowder uselessly.
The warriors proposed to await the arrival of the rest of the party where we were, but I entreated them to return to meet their friends. I pointed out to them that perhaps other bands of Pawnees might be moving about—probably, as I found was the case, suffering from hunger; and that first their wives and those with them, and then we ourselves, might be overpowered. John Pipestick translated what I said, and finally they were persuaded to follow my advice. They laughed very much when I proposed to bury the remains of the dead men, and replied that it would be just as well to let the wolves perform that office, which in the course of another night they certainly would do. They found quite enough labour, indeed, in concealing the remains of my property. After they had dug the hole they deposited all the articles within, and then built up a pile of logs over it, which even an inquisitive bear would have had some difficulty in pulling to pieces.
My chief anxiety was now about Obed. I got the Ottoes to describe to me exactly the position of their village, about a hundred miles to the south-east of where we then were. Then I took one of the sticks which had served me for a crutch, and making a split in one end, I stuck the other deep into the ground. On a leaf which I tore from my pocket-book, I wrote a brief account of what had occurred and where I was going, and putting it into the cleft of the stick, bound the whole securely up. The Ottoes looked on with intense wonder at my proceedings, till John told them I was performing a great medicine work, which satisfied them.
Having thus done my best to enable Obed to join me, I set off with my friends to return to their camp. I paused again for an instant when I reached the summit of the hill, to take what I hoped might be a farewell look at the place which had been the scene of so much suffering to me, and lately that of so dreadful a catastrophe. A small black patch on the dazzling white plain alone was perceptible to mark the spot. I turned from the contemplation of the melancholy scene, and hastened after my friends. I found them moving very leisurely along. I urged John to persuade them to go faster. I could not cast from my mind the notion that more parties of Pawnees, Dacotahs, or other hostile tribes might be about, driven out by hunger to forage in the neighbourhood, and were very likely to attack them. I had, therefore, what I might have called a presentiment that my friends were in danger. I am not generally influenced much by such sensations. Certainly I was more liable to be so at the present moment than at any other. I do not deny the existence of such an influence, but still I cannot help thinking that it is caused by our reason, which tells us that such a thing is likely to happen. Sometimes it does happen, but often probably we find that we are mistaken. My red friends had an idea that the stick I had placed in the ground had something to do with the matter, and that I was positively informed of what was about to occur, so hurried on faster than I found agreeable.
My feet had become very sore from my previous exercise, and whenever we came to soft places they sunk into the snow, the thick cake of ice above cutting my ankles almost to the bone. Sometimes I felt that I must stop, but I was anxious to help my new friends, and I knew that it would never do even to appear to flag on such an occasion. I had won their good opinion by the powers of endurance I had hitherto exhibited. They especially admired me for killing the two Pawnees, and for escaping from their comrades; though they could not understand why I had not destroyed the whole gang when I had the power of doing so, and of adorning my belt with their scalps. I saw, therefore, that it would be very disadvantageous to me to run any risk of being lowered in their estimation. John Pipestick and one of the Indians remained with me, while the others went on faster ahead; but, exerting myself to the utmost, we pushed on to overtake them. Besides the idea which I had originated that their friends might be attacked, hunger induced them to move at a rapid rate; for they had brought but a scanty supply of provisions with them, and they had no means of cooking the rice found in the tent. We were passing a wood when I stopped my companions, for my eye had fallen on several prairie-fowls sitting on the boughs of one of the outer trees a little way off.
"We should have no chance of hitting at this distance," said John Pipestick.
"Stay then, I will try what my rifle can do," I answered; and creeping carefully up till I got them within easy range, I settled in my mind which bird I should fire at with my first, and which with my second barrel. I let fly; down tumbled a bird, and the next barrel was even more fortunate than the first, for two birds were brought to the ground. Both my companions warmly expressed their delight. I had established my fame as a first-rate shot, and had, moreover, provided the whole party with a meal. Knowing how welcome we should be, my companions helping me along, we pushed on, and at length overtook our friends, preparing to camp for half an hour or so in the thicket, that they might be the better able afterwards to pursue their course.
I need not say that the game I brought was thankfully welcomed, and very quickly cooked and consumed. I found that the Indians were growing anxious at not by this time meeting with the rest of their party, and they were about, while resting, to hold a consultation as to what course to pursue. We were soon again in motion; night or day made no difference to us. On we pushed. It was about noon when, on reaching a height, we saw a thin light smoke curling up into the pure, intense blue sky, from the bottom of a pine-clad ravine below us. All appeared to rest in perfect peace and quietness, and I began to be ashamed of my nervous anxieties. I was greatly afraid that I should lose my influence with my friends, and as my predictions, or rather warnings, had not been verified, I should in future be looked on as a false prophet.
"There are our friends, most probably," said John Pipestick; "but we don't proceed as carelessly as you people from the East are apt to do. We shall send out scouts and approach cautiously, lest our enemies devise some means to destroy us. Such a thing has been done before now. Those left in an encampment while the rest have been out hunting have been attacked and slaughtered, while their enemies have taken possession of their tents, and dressed and painted themselves like those they have killed. There they have remained till the hunting-party have unsuspiciously returned, perhaps a few at a time, and thus all in detail have fallen victims. It was a clever trick, but we should deserve to die if we allowed it to be repeated on us."
While John was speaking, three of our party, making a wide circuit, crept cautiously forward towards the edge of the ravine, so that they might look down and see what was going on below. We, meantime, lay down behind some bushes so as to be completely concealed, the chief only keeping watch, that he might direct us to act according to circumstances. I could not help admiring their caution, though it was very tiresome to wait in the cold instead of being within their warm tents. At last the chief gave the sign for us to proceed. I started up, prepared to meet the enemy I expected. We advanced towards the edge of the ravine and began to descend, when we caught sight of the tents pitched at the bottom of it, the smoke issuing forth from the apertures in their summits. I inquired of John Pipestick if all was right.
"Yes, all right," he answered; "no enemies have come; they may perhaps though; but we shall not remain here many hours."
The scene was very different from any I had, for many weeks, set eyes on. By the side of what I knew was a stream were three tents. Each was formed of some eighteen or twenty long, slender rods, the butt-end stuck in the ground, in a circle, and the tops bent over to meet each other, forming the framework of the habitation. Over this was stretched a covering of buffalo-skins, very neatly sewed together with thin strips of leather, and secured so firmly at the foot with pegs, that it was as tight as a drum, and capable of throwing off any amount of rain, or the snow melting from the heat within. The hides, being tanned white, had a very neat and tent-like look. I cannot say much for the cleanliness inside, but I have been compelled in my wanderings to put up in dirtier places, and that is all I can say in their favour.
These habitations are much more substantial than the wigwams of the Canadian Indians, which are formed in a conical shape by uniting at the top a dozen straight poles stuck in a circle in the ground, and by covering them thickly with birch-bark. In both cases a hole is left at the top to serve as a chimney. Inside the tents of my present friends the ground was spread with mats all round the edges, except in the centre, where a bare spot was left for the fire-place. Many of the tribes differ in the way of forming their cooking-place, and often the only means of ascertaining whether friends or foes have encamped on the spot, is by an examination of the place where they have lit their fires. The cots for the babies, and the pots and pans, and bows and arrows, and fishing-spears, and buffalo tongues, and bears' hams, with numberless other articles, are hung up to the tent rods, and often garnish them rather oddly.
As we approached the tents, men, women, and children hurried out to meet us, and welcomed us warmly, all eager to hear our adventures. But Indians are not addicted to rattling out news, as is our habit in the old country, so they had to wait till various ceremonies were first gone through.
The old chief invited me into his tent, an honour John advised me not to refuse, and then having sat down before his fire, and taken off my outer coat and my torn moccasins, his women-kind hooked out of a huge pot hanging from the centre over the fire, a lump of bear's flesh, and several other dainties, the exact nature of which I could not at first learn. Curiosity prompted me to inquire, by holding up a piece of the meat between my thumb and fingers, when a respectable old dame, whom I took to be his spouse, replied by a "bow-wow-wow," by which I guessed rightly that it was a bit of a young puppy.
A few days afterwards a deep "bow-wow-wow" showed me that I was dining off an older animal of the same species. I cannot say that I had any repugnance to the meat, for after living on wolves' flesh for so long it was to me a delicate luxury. I objected rather to the quantity than the quality of the food placed before me, for the old chief—Waggum-winne-beg was his name, at least it sounded like that— wishing to do me unusual honour, gave me a double allowance each time he stuck his stick into the pot. I expressed my gratitude as well as I could, and pointed first to my chest and then to my throat, to show him that I thought the food must have got thus high; but he only laughed, and kept on helping me as before. At last I stuck a piece in my mouth, and pretended that I could not get it down further; but he was too good an anatomist to be so taken in, and offered to get a ramrod to help me down with it.
"Now, old fellow," said I, getting savage, "it may be a very good joke to you; but more I will not eat, and that's enough."
Luckily John Pipestick coming in, explained that though Englishmen eat as much as any red-skins, they were in the habit of taking several moderate meals during every day throughout the year, and that the Indian fashion of one day gormandising, and for many days starving, would not suit them. I was not sorry to find that my friends were almost as much tired as I was, and that they would remain another whole day to rest.
During the day, however, I received a piece of information from John Pipestick, which somewhat discomposed me. I found that the old chief, my host Waggum-winne-beg, proposed bestowing on me one of his daughters to become my wife. Now, although I had no dislike to the notion of matrimony, I had a decided preference for a wife of my own colour and style of education. Miss Waggum-winne-beg was a very charming young lady, I had no doubt, and could dress a puppy-dog to perfection, and could manufacture moccasins unsurpassed by those of any other young damsel in the tribe, and embroider with coloured grass, or make mats of great beauty; indeed, I cannot enumerate all her accomplishments and attractions. Still she had not won my heart, and indeed, a wife, whether white, or red, or black, would have been very inconvenient while I was leading my present wandering style of life. I gave this as the best reason I could think of for not accepting my host's generous offer; but he laughed at my scruples, and replied that I should find a wife very useful, as she could work for me, and carry my gun and baggage of every description; that she would also cook my food and make my moccasins and tent covering, and weave fringe for my leggings and other garments, and manufacture the mats and various requisite utensils. Indeed it would be difficult to find, in any part of the world, so accomplished a young lady, or one more industrious and obedient; that I might always beat her as much as I liked, if I found her either idle or disobedient.
I begged Pipestick to explain that, however good the customs of the red-skins were—a point I did not wish then to dispute—those of the English differed from them; that there were a few idle, lazy, good-for-nothing fellows in England, among the chiefs, who looked out for wives with fortunes, and among the lower classes, who made their wives work for them, but it was the pride and endeavour of all true braves to secure the means of supporting their wives, either through inheriting a fortune from their ancestors, or by the exertion of their own strength and talents, and that this latter way was considered the most honourable. This was the method I proposed to follow, and before I could accept the peerless daughter of the chief, I must procure the means of supporting her. Pipestick did not exactly understand the reasons I gave for declining the chief's offer, but he explained them as well as he could. I was rather thunder-struck when the chief remarked that, though he approved of them highly, he would waive all such arrangements in my case, and that he would supply his daughter with ample goods and chattels for our use. To this I could only reply that I was highly flattered by his preference, but that it was against my medicine to avail myself of his offer; that I was an Ottoe at heart; that I loved the Ottoes, and would fight for the Ottoes, and that the time might come when I should be an Ottoe indeed; but that, at present, my medicine did not show me how that was to be accomplished.
The name of the young lady, the subject of this long conversation, was, I found, the "Firefly"; and certainly, as I watched her light figure, decked with red feathers and garments with red trimmings, I thought she was very appropriately so called; at the same time, I did not for one moment indulge the base idea of accepting the chief's offer. My earnest desire was to find my way back, as soon as possible, to the society of civilised men. I was heartily glad, then, when, once more, our tents were struck, and we continued our journey. As we travelled with women, children, and a wagon, our progress was very much slower than when we had gone alone. Often it was hard work getting the wagon through the snow. Generally the poor women had to drag it; and I rather scandalised the red warriors by putting my shoulder very frequently to the wheel and by pushing on behind. Pipestick said that it was considered very derogatory to the dignity of a warrior. I said that I thought it might be disagreeable to the inclinations of an idle rascal; but that chiefs in my country never let their wives do any hard work at all, and that I could not bear to stalk on ahead with only my rifle at my back, while the poor creatures were toiling away in that fashion. I suppose Pipestick translated my remarks correctly, for the chiefs tossed their heads and afterwards had a very long talk about the matter. I saw that they began to look on me as a sad republican, and to suspect that I purposed introducing mutiny into their camp.
At last we reached the spot where I had spent so many weeks of suffering and anxiety. Scarcely a particle of the remains of the Indians were to be seen, but a few scattered bones and torn bits of garments. The things hidden by the Ottoes were untouched, so they dug them up, and I having added a few words to the paper in my medicine stick, as I called it, we proceeded on our way. We encamped four or five miles off that night, and the next day made good very nearly fifteen miles. The tents were pitched on the lee side of a wood, where there was but little snow, and the air was comparatively warm. All hands, that is to say the women and children, were soon employed in gathering sticks for our fires, and in digging up hickory nuts. It was the chief occupation of the men in the evening, as they sat round the fire, to crack and chew these nuts: the taste indeed was pleasant. The camp was not left altogether without some fortification. The wagon was placed in front, and some logs of half rotten timber were dragged out, and served to fill up the space left open in the little nook in which the tents were ensconced.
John Pipestick had a tent of his own, but he came to the old chiefs tent, where I had been asked to take up my abode, to act as interpreter. We sat up till a late hour, cracking nuts and telling very long-winded stories, which, as Pipestick occasionally interpreted them for my benefit, took up a double portion of time, and were not especially interesting. I was not sorry, at last, to find myself comfortably covered up by a pile of buffalo-skins, with the prospect of a sound sleep till daylight.
How long I had slept I do not know, when I was awoke by the barking of one of the dogs, then by another and another, till the whole tribe were in full yelp, in every key, from full bass to double treble. The old chief sprang off his couch, so did I, and as we rushed out of the tent, we found all the warriors standing on the alert, and with their rifles in their hands, peering out into the darkness. Two or three advanced cautiously into the wood, the dogs following at their heels yelping furiously, till they were summoned back by those in the camp. I tried to discover the cause of the alarm, but could discover nothing over the white plain spread out before us. If there were enemies, they were in the wood; but to see them was impossible. We waited for the return of the scouts. There was a complete silence: the howl of the wolves had ceased; not a night-bird disturbed the quiet of the night. Suddenly a piercing, terror-inspiring, unearthly shriek was heard ringing through the quiet wood. Directly afterwards the feet of one of the scouts, as we supposed, were heard rushing through the wood. It was one of our companions. The whirl of a dozen tomahawks flying after him showed how closely he was pursued, as he broke into the encampment, crying out, "The enemy are upon us, the enemy are upon us!" What made the suspense more trying was, that not a foe could be seen. We had no doubt that they were there in strong force, and that the two other scouts had been surprised and slaughtered by them. Probably the wood swarmed with them, yet I did not see a sign of fear among any of my friends. Old Waggum-winne-beg was in his element, and he was ably seconded by John Pipestick. To send any more scouts into the wood would have been perfect madness; so, each man sheltering himself as best he could behind trees and bushes, and logs of fallen timbers, we waited in silence for the attack. Some time passed away.
"I wonder if it is a false alarm," thought I. "Still, if it is so, what has become of the scouts?" I whispered to Pipestick that I thought it might be a mistake.
"Not at all," was the answer; "wait a bit. It you ever shot well, shoot well now, if you care for your scalp."
The advice had scarcely been given, when there arose a sound close to us, more hideous and terrific than I ever before heard in my life. The red-skin's war-whoop was heard above all. I turned my head for an instant to the east. The first faint streaks of dawn were appearing in the sky. Through the pale light thus afforded I could see a number of dark forms flitting about among the trees, while they kept up a continued discharge of arrows and darts. Now and then a musket-ball came whizzing by us; but it was very evident that the greater number of our assailants were armed only with bows and arrows; at the same time there could be no doubt that they very far outnumbered us. This would prove of serious consequence should they come to close quarters.
Red-skins, however, are not fond of close quarters, unless they can take an enemy by surprise, which our dogs and scouts had prevented them doing in our case. I do not think it is fair to call them cowards. Their notions are altogether different to ours, and they consider stratagem and deceit as the chief art of warfare. They have no notion of risking their own lives, if they can by any other way destroy their enemies, and they consider white men as committing the height of folly when they stand up and exchange shots with similar weapons in a duel. I don't know that they are far wrong.
Our assailants, having tried to shake our nerves by their shrieks and showers of arrows, appeared to retire, and again the whole wood was wrapped in perfect silence. It was but of short continuation. Once more those unearthly shrieks and cries broke forth, and this time they were echoed by our people, who kept their muskets ready, and the moment an enemy appeared flitting from one tree to another, did not fail to fire—with what effect I had not time to observe. I felt that I was bound, on every account, to take an active part in the fight, and kneeling down behind a log of timber, I loaded and fired as rapidly as I could, whenever my eye caught sight of the dusky form of an Indian warrior. I did not often miss, but I suspected that I inflicted more wounds on the limbs than on the bodies of our enemies.
"Who are they, think you?" I asked of Pipestick, who was at my side.
"Dacotahs or Pawnees," he answered. "They have had scouts on our trail for some time probably. When they discovered that their friends were destroyed, they thought that we had done the deed, and have come in force resolved to be revenged."
It appeared to me that we might as well have tried to shoot down all the trees in the wood, as to destroy our enemies. They swarmed round us like hornets, seemingly resolved, as John observed, to cut us off to a man. I turned my eye to the right; a band was just emerging on that side from the wood, and the same minute I saw another coming out on the left, in a long line, evidently for the purpose of surrounding us. I picked off two or three fellows as they flew over the snow, but so rapid and eccentric were their movements, that it was no easy matter to get a fair shot at them, especially as all the time we were assailed with showers of arrows. Some were sent from too great a distance to do us much harm; but at the same time they not a little distracted us. Others again had more deadly effect. Some of our people were struck down; two were killed outright, the arrows passing right through their bodies; while several were more or less injured. I, happily, had hitherto escaped unhurt, and so had Pipestick; but the old chief was wounded in the arm, and one of the poor little children was killed, in spite of the protection its mother attempted to afford it. This made me feel more bitter than anything else, and yet such an incident is but a too common consequence of warfare.
The old chief proved himself well worthy of the dignity bestowed on him. By word and gesture he animated his people to fight bravely, and to resist to the last; and every time they raised one of their war-whoops, he led the chorus, which these returned with no less vehemence. Still, as I considered the matter, I began to apprehend that we were completely in the power of our vindictive enemies. While we were inside our entrenchments, they knew that it was more prudent not to come to the hand-to-hand encounter; but if we attempted to move onward, we should be instantly surrounded and cut down. The Dacotahs had enough men to keep watch and watch, and to tire us out. Had we been a party of men alone, we might have cut our way through them; but, of course, with the women and children that was impossible. As long as the powder lasted we might keep them at bay; and thus all we could do was to hold out bravely, and to hope that some turn might occur in our favour.
The cold grey dawn was just breaking, when with shrieks and whoops louder, more terrific than ever, numbers of the savages rushed out of the wood, closely pressing round us. To count how many there were was impossible, for they flew here and there, and sprang about in a most wonderful way, and then on they came in a body towards us. Several of our people were knocked over, and as I saw the hideous fellows flourishing their tomahawks and scalping-knives, I began to feel a most painful sensation round the top of my head. The old chief stood boldly at his post, picking off his enemies as they drew near, while John Pipestick did no dishonour to his father's land or the men of Kent, I did my best to reduce the number of our foes, but it was of little avail, and in another instant we were engaged, with overwhelming numbers, in a desperate hand-to-hand conflict. I looked round; not a ray of hope appeared, and thus like brave men we resolved to make our foes pay a heavy price for our lives.
OUR POWDER EXPENDED—I BELIEVE THAT MY LAST MOMENT HAS ARRIVED— UNEXPECTED SUCCOUR—A DANGEROUS PREDICAMENT—OBED'S GALLANTRY—OUR ENEMIES TAKE TO FLIGHT—WE RECOMMENCE OUR JOURNEY—GENEROSITY OF THE OLD CHIEF—OFFERS ME TWO WIVES INSTEAD OF ONE—OBED'S NARRATIVE—HOW HE ESCAPED FROM THE BEAR—A FRESH ALARM—THE APPROACH OF A STRANGER.
The infuriated Dacotahs thronged thickly around us, uttering the most horrible yells and shrieks, those in the distance plying us incessantly with their arrows and darts, while those in the front ranks kept whirling their tomahawks above our heads, watching for an opportunity to send them crashing down upon our skulls. Not a shot was heard; our rifles were useless; all our powder was expended. We fought as men driven to desperation generally will fight for none of us had, I am sure, the faintest hope of escaping with our lives; for my part, I fully believed that the next moment would be my last. Old Waggum-winne-beg had received a desperate wound on his shoulder, and had been beaten to the ground; the gallant Pipestick had been brought on his knee, and I found myself without support on either side just as a gigantic chief with uplifted battle-axe made a desperate rush at me. I raised the butt-end of my rifle, which had hitherto done me such good service, to parry the blow, but I felt conscious that it would not avail me. I was in the power of my vindictive enemy. I saw the keen-edged weapon glittering in the first beams of the rising sun, as the glorious luminary of day appeared above the snow-covered plain; I felt as if in another instant it would come crushing through my brain, when the sharp crack of a distant rifle sounded in my ear, and I saw my enemy leap up in the air and fall dead at my side, his axe missing my head and just grazing my arm.
I eagerly looked forth in the direction whence the shot had come, to discover, if I could, by whom I had been preserved. I could as yet see no one, but I observed that our assailants were influenced by some disturbing cause, and were gathering together in the north-west, as if to prepare for resisting some expected attack. Still those near us seemed resolved to gratify their vindictive feelings by destroying us if they could before our unknown friends could come to our aid. I had little doubt that the party who had appeared so opportunely to relieve us must, by some means or other, have been collected by Obed; and I prayed heartily that it might be of sufficient strength at once to put our enemies to flight. I had little time, however, to think about the matter. The Indians pressed us harder than ever, and scarcely a man of us remained unwounded, while many of the poor women were hurt. The rest of the women fought with as much fierceness and desperation as the men. Yet I felt that in spite of all the heroism which had been exhibited, and in spite of the aid which was so close at hand, our lives would be sacrificed.
Again the Dacotahs gathered thick around us; I could not restrain myself; I shouted loudly for help, though I scarcely expected it to be sent; my shout was replied to by a hearty cheer, and nearly a dozen white men, followed by three times as many Indians, broke through the masses of our enemies with sword and battle-axe and club, and beat them down or drove them back, shrieking and howling with rage and fear. One figure I recognised, more active than the rest, making his way towards me. It was that of Obed.
"Hurra, old feller, hurra! I am glad you're safe, that I am," he shouted, as he sprang over the barricade, and grasped my hand.
"But we must drive these varmint away, or shoot them down, every mother's son of them, or they'll be gaining heart and coming back on us. Come on, lads; come on—hurra, hurra!"
Uttering these shouts, he again leaped out of our encampment, and, beckoning on his followers, they were all once more in pursuit of the flying enemy. Just as he went, Obed handed me a powder-flask and a bag of bullets.
"You'll want them, boy, I guess; and I have plenty," said he, as he flew off.
I was about to join him, when I found my limbs refused to perform their office. The moans also of old Waggum-winne-beg, John Pipestick, as well as of others of my companions, made me feel that I must stay where I was, both for the sake of attending to them and of guarding them should any of the Dacotahs who might be prowling about in the wood take the opportunity, while our friends were at a distance, to rush in and scalp them, and be off again before pursuit could be made. I have on many occasions found the importance of not despising an enemy. I urged Pipestick to keep a look out while I was attending to the hurts of the old chief, and helping some of the poor women who were the most severely injured.
I had been thus employed for some time, occasionally looking out to see how it fared with Obed and his party in their pursuit of the enemy. Wherever they went, the Dacotahs scattered before them, but rallied again directly afterwards in the distance, and seemed as ready as ever to renew the attack. When I looked up the next time, they were once more flying as chaff before the wind. I at once saw that their purpose was to weary out their pursuers, and then to unite and to make a desperate attack on them altogether. I hoped that my friends would be too wary to be led into the snare laid for them.
I had been for some time stooping down to try and bind up the lacerated wounds of a poor fellow who had been cruelly cut about by the Indian's tomahawks, when a shout from Pipestick made me lift my head, and I saw a dozen or more Dacotahs come scampering like demons out of the wood with the evident intention of making an attack on us. I sprang to my feet, and helped Pipestick to get up. We both of us had our rifles loaded, as had several of the Indians, from the ammunition furnished me by Obed. The cunning rogues did not know this, and thought that they were going to catch us unprepared. We presented our rifles. They laughed derisively, as much as to say, "Oh, they will do us no harm, we know that." Never were they more mistaken in their lives, and it was the last mistake they ever made. We let them come on without shrinking.
"John," said I, "let me take the fellow on my right-hand side; do you take the next, and tell our Indian friends to follow my lead. We'll astonish those red-skins, I guess."
Pipestick did as I advised. We let the Indians approach within a hundred yards of us. On they came, making a desperate rush at us, and uttering their fearful war-whoops confident of victory.
"Now, my boys, give it them," I shouted; "and take care that every shot tells."
Pipestick repeated my words. We all fired at the same moment, and six of the Indians were knocked over. So eager were the rest that they did not discover that their companions had fallen. They were still very formidable antagonists. We had not time to load our rifles before they were upon us. Pipestick, in consequence of his wounds, was scarcely able to offer any effectual resistance, but the Indians fought bravely, and all the women who were unhurt came to our assistance. I certainly was very far from despising their assistance. They enabled me and Pipestick to fall back to load our rifles and those of our companions, and, taking a steady aim, we soon turned the fortunes of the day. Three more Indians were knocked over, and the rest turned tail, and ran off as fast as their long legs would carry them, to avoid the shots which we sent whizzing away in their rear. My great anxiety was now to get Obed to come back into the camp, fearing lest he and his party might be led by the manoeuvres of the enemy to too great a distance from it, and that the Indians might get in between us and our friends, so I resolved to go myself.
There was no time for consideration: loading my rifle and seizing the tomahawk of one of the dead Indians, I sprang out and ran faster than I thought I could possibly have moved. Just as I had got half-way from the camp towards them, another party of Indians darted out of the wood, and, setting up their war-whoops, ran out with terrible fleetness towards me. I ran faster, I believe, than I had ever before done, shouting out to Obed to come and rescue me. He at that time, unfortunately, was repelling a strong body of Indians, who seemed to press him very hard. I saw that I must depend on myself; I halted, and, kneeling down, took a steady aim at the headmost of my pursuers. He was, I thought, aware that his fate was sealed when he saw me pointing my rifle at him. He threw up his arms even before I had fired, and then over he fell, shot through the breast. I ran on as hard as I could pelt. There is no disgrace running from an overpowering enemy. Again and again I shouted at the top of my voice to Obed. The Dacotahs pushed on. I loaded as I ran. I thought if I could bring down another of them I might stop the progress of the rest. With no little difficulty I got my rifle-ball rammed down. I turned suddenly and rather surprised my pursuers by lifting my weapon to my shoulder and letting fly at the leading red-skin. He, as had his companion, tumbled over, but his death only the more exasperated the rest, and they sprang forward more intent than ever to take my life. There was no time to load again. The fellows were gaining most uncomfortably on me. I began to feel very much as a person does in a dream, when he cannot get away from monsters in chase of him.
"Obed, Obed, fire—do fire," I shouted.
At length Obed heard me, and a dozen of his followers faced about and hurried to meet my enemies. The latter, setting that their chance of cutting me off was gone, turned tail and endeavoured to escape into the wood. I entreated my new friends not to pursue them, and they saw the wisdom of my advice. We accordingly went back to join the rest of the party, who had come to my relief. What was my surprise and pleasure to see three of my old friends, Obed's brothers, among them. Just then the remnant of the Dacotahs once more took to flight, and allowed my friends leisure to address me. They hurried up and heartily shook me by the hand, telling how glad they were to find that I was alive, while I assured them that I was equally rejoiced to find that they had escaped. We had no time, however, for talking. I urged them at once to assemble in the camp, so as to enable my friends to proceed on their journey, till they could stop at a more secure resting-place. We got back to the camp just in time to scare away another party of Dacotahs, who like vultures had been hovering about ready to pounce down on their prey. Indeed we had enough to do to keep our scattered enemies at bay. We found old Waggum-winne-beg considerably recovered, and John Pipestick not much the worse for his wounds: indeed, it is extraordinary what knocking about a red-skin will take without suffering materially, provided he keeps clear of the fire-water.
Some of the white men, when they found that I wished to proceed farther east, till I had seen my friends in safety, grumbled very much, and said that they had come to help me, but had no notion of going through so much fatigue and danger for a set of varmint Indians. I told them in reply that I was very much obliged to them for all they had gone through on my account, but that I was bound by every law of God, and by every rule of right, to help those who had helped me; and that, come what might, I could not and would not desert them. The Raggets supported me, more especially Obed.
"Dick is right, boys!" he exclaimed. "I would do the same as he proposes, and he would not be acting like himself if he did otherwise; the Ottoes have always been friends to the white man, and I've resolved to stick by Dick till we see them free from danger from these rascally Dacotahs."
These remarks soon won over by far the larger portion of the white men to our side, the Indians at once recognising their duty to assist their friends. The red-skins who had accompanied Obed were, I found, Kioways, a large tribe inhabiting the country bordering on the Rocky Mountains. I asked Obed how he had induced them to accompany him. "Oh, it is a long story. I'll tell you about that and many other things, when we have more time," he replied.
All hands now set to work to strike the tents and pack the wagons; it was soon done, and the wounded people stowed away in them on the top of their goods. Some of the men rather objected to have the poor wounded women placed in the wagons alongside of them, and seemed to think that, as long as the unfortunate wretches had life in them they might just as well get out and walk. Such are the chivalric notions of the Indian warriors we read so much about in novels, and our young ladies are taught to fancy such fine fellows. They have, notwithstanding, some few good qualities, but those belonging to the ancient code of chivalry are not among them.
We had not yet done with fighting, and we had not proceeded a mile before we caught sight of the Dacotahs hovering about us to the northward, watching for an opportunity to pounce down upon us. Although a good many of their warriors had been made to bite the dust, they still so far outnumbered our united parties that they might have some hopes, if they could take us by surprise, to cut us up altogether. This, of course, we took care that they should not do. Our attention, however, was so much occupied that Obed had no time to give me an account of his adventures. Our great wish was that the Indians would come on again once more and allow us to give them a lesson which we hoped might teach them to keep at a respectful distance from us. We pushed on as fast as beasts and men could move, and just before nightfall we reached a hillock with several rocks jutting out of it, which was considered a remarkably secure spot for camping. It was well fortified by nature, but the cunning backwoodsmen were not content to trust to it in that condition, but at once set to work to enable it to resist any attack which might possibly be made on it during the night.
Our old chief, to show his gratitude to his preservers, ordered an ample supply of provisions to be served out, and as soon as fires could be lighted and the food cooked we all sat down to our repast. We at first were too hungry to talk, but I gleaned from one or two remarks made by my friends that their family had escaped from the Indians, and were encamped for the winter at some distance to the eastward. There was plenty of dry underwood about, so we had made a blazing fire, round which we were seated. We had all lighted our pipes, and Obed was about to begin his narrative, when an Ottoe Indian came and said a few words to John Pipestick, who was sitting with us.
"Our chief, Waggum-winne-beg, is anxious to see you," said he to me. "He feels very ill, and as he believes you to be a mighty medicine-man, he thinks that you can certainly cure him."
I knew that there was no use in denying my power, so I at once got up to go and see the old man, accompanied by John as interpreter. He was lying down on a mat, with his head resting on a block of wood which served him as a pillow. He sat up as I entered, and with unusual warmth expressed his pleasure at seeing me. I merely give the substance of what he said, for he addressed a long speech to me, which he believed would have a powerful effect on my feelings.
"Stranger," he began, "you have met with friends, and undoubtedly you contemplate leaving the tents of the red-skins to accompany them whither they are going. Think well before you leave us. You shall be to us a son and a brother; we will adopt you; we will clothe you; we will paint you; you shall become like one of us in all things. I told you that I would give you one of my daughters. That was when I loved you a little. Now I love you much I will give you two. One does not surpass the other. Both are superior to any of their sex in my tribe, and I may venture to say in the world. I told you of Firefly's accomplishments; her sister Glow-worm is equal to her. You shall have a large tent where they can dwell together in harmony, for among their other perfections their tongues are never addicted to wrangle. Take them, then, my friend: be my son, and be happy."
This pathetic appeal did not influence me as forcibly as Waggum-winne-beg had hoped it might do. I did my best not to hurt his feelings, but I declined his offer. When he heard my decision he burst into tears.
"If it must be so," he said at last, commanding himself, "so it must be."
Having thus delivered himself, he, like a well-bred gentleman, did not further press the delicate subject. After a further conversation on other subjects, I begged that he would excuse me, as I wished to go back to my white friends who were waiting for me round their camp-fire, and having once more carefully dressed the old man's wounds, I took my departure. I made Obed and his brother laugh heartily when I narrated to them the flattering offer I had received, and one or two of their companions, backwoodsmen of the roughest sort, seemed rather inclined to offer themselves in my stead, as candidates for the honour of possessing the brown ladies' hands.
"Now, Obed," said I, "I should like to hear all about your proceedings; but before you begin, I must ask you if you have placed sentries round the camp, and sent out scouts to discover if our foes are lurking near?"
He had, I found, placed a couple of sentries, one on each side of the camp, but had not thought it necessary to send out any scouts. I urged him to do so, and he selected three of the most intelligent of the Indians, and directed them to feel their way out on every side of the camp, and to ascertain whether any enemies were lurking near. These arrangements being made, I once more took my seat by the camp-fire. I have always spoken of Obed as leader of the party. So in truth he was— his elder brothers having joined him after he had formed the expedition, and put themselves under his orders.
"Now, Obed, my dear fellow, do begin to tell me how it is you came to my rescue so exactly at the nick of time," said I, lighting my pipe over the fire and leaning back against a stone which served instead of an arm-chair. I ought to have remarked that a screen had been put up, composed of birch-bark, to serve as a shelter against the wind, so that we were far warmer than might have been expected in that wintry night. Our encampment had a very picturesque appearance. The white men were collected round one fire; the Indians who had come with Obed had three or four among them; while the tents of Waggum-winne-beg and his followers were in the centre, with a fire burning in the middle of each of them. The greater number of the Indians had thrown themselves down to rest, wrapped up in their fur mantles, under the shelter of the rocks and their birch-bark screens, with small fires at their feet. I could see in the distance the tall figures of those appointed to do duty as sentries walking up and down on their posts, while a few were still sitting up, bending over their fires, as they smoked their pipes and talked over the events of the day.
"Well, Dick, since you wish it, I'll begin," said Obed. "You remember the worthy Delaware who came to our tent and persuaded me to accompany him? He proved himself a trusty guide and companion. The rest and food he got with us restored his strength, and we set off at good speed. We were fortunate in killing several turkeys and prairie-hens, so that we were able to husband our dried pemmican, at the same time that we fed sumptuously. Very often I thought about you when we were making good way, and I wished that you were with us. We were anxious, of course, to push on before the cold weather set in, for we knew then that we should have difficulties enough to contend with. We had to be on our guard also against enemies of all sorts—red-skin Dacotahs and Pawnees, grizzly bears, rattlesnakes, and wolves; still my companion, from his long experience of their habits, was well able to take precautions against them. I, all the time, was anxiously looking out for traces of my family, but we had from the first got out of their track, and we met no one from whom we could make any inquiries. We always rose with the sun, and travelled on all day as long as our strength held out; but from weariness, or from the fear of not finding fit camping-ground, we sometimes had to stop an hour or two before sunset. We had done so on one occasion near a stream, whose steep banks sloped away down below us. While I lighted a fire, put up a wigwam, and prepared food, work to which the Delaware had an especial dislike, as it is always performed by women among the Indians, he, taking his rifle, went out along the bank of the stream to try and kill a wild turkey or two to supply the place of one I was about to cook. He was making his way onward, pushing aside the boughs with the barrel of his weapon, when up started, not five yards from him, an old grey she-bear, accompanied by three or four half-grown cubs. He started back to be able to make use of his rifle, but before he could bring it to his shoulder, the old bear sprang upon him, and with a blow of her paw knocked his rifle out of his hand. Had that blow struck his back he would instantly have been killed, and I should have been left alone in the desert. I saw my friend's danger, but could do nothing to help him, for if I fired I was as likely to injure him as the bear. As the brute was again about to strike, he drew his long knife, for, fortunately, his right arm was free, and began stabbing away at her neck. Notwithstanding this, the fierce monster did not relax her gripe, while her claws went deeper and deeper into his flesh, and the horrid cubs, coming to their dam's assistance, began to assail his legs. I was hurrying on to the assistance of my companion, resolved to lose my own life rather than not do my utmost to save his, when the bank gave way, and bear and Indian both rolled away into the stream together."
Obed had got thus far in his narrative—I have omitted some of the particulars he told me—when the sharp crack of a rifle made us all start up, and seizing our weapons, we hurried to that part of the camp whence it proceeded. Looking out into the darkness, we could see the figure of a man running at full speed towards us, across the white sheet of snow with which we were surrounded. We had no doubt it was one of the scouts we had sent out; for who else was likely at that time to be coming to us? "If it is not one of our scouts, it may be some white trapper who has been caught by the Dacotahs, and has made his escape from them," observed John Pipestick, who had joined us. "They frequently come thus far west, and those varmints are certain to have been on the lookout for them." While we were waiting the arrival of the stranger, a piercing shriek broke the silence of night.
THE DACOTAHS ARE AGAIN UPON US—WE HURRY TO THE RESCUE—WE PRESERVE THE LIFE OF THE STRANGER—SAM SHORT, THE TRAPPER—HIS ADVENTURES—ESCAPE FROM THE RED-SKINS—DESPERATE COMBAT IN THE CANOE—SAM'S SEARCH FOR HIS COMPANIONS—DISCOVERS ONE IN THE HANDS OF THE INDIANS—THEY DISCOVER SAM, AND HE FLIES—FINDS BLOUNT, AND TOGETHER THEY GO IN SEARCH OF NOGGIN—AGAIN GET SIGHT OF NOGGIN, BUT HE IS FASTENED TO A STAKE—NOGGIN SHOWS THAT IN SPITE OF HIS NAME HE IS A HERO.
"Those vermin the Dacotahs are upon us again, and have taken the scalp of one of our scouts," cried Obed, when he heard that piercing shriek.
My experience of the previous night taught me too well also what it meant. Surrounded as we were by the rocks and thick shrubs on the top of the mound, we were probably not perceptible from the ground below. Presently, as the stranger approached us, we saw emerging from the darkness a dozen or more figures following one after the other slowly and stealthily, evidently fancying that they were not perceived. We had no doubt that they were a party of our late opponents the Dacotahs, but what was their purpose it was difficult to say; they must have known that we had heard the death-shriek of the murdered man, and they could not but have supposed that we should be on the watch for them. Perhaps this only precipitated a previously formed plan. The stranger approached us rapidly; we could hear aimed at him more than one shaft as it flew hissing through the air. Several axes also were thrown in savage fury, as the Indians saw that their hoped-for victim was about to escape them. The stranger came rushing on; he had good need of speed.
"Obed, my boy," said I, "let us sally out and protect that poor fellow. If we do not, the red-skins will be up to him before he reaches this hill!"
Obed was not a man it was necessary to ask twice to do a thing of the sort, nor were his brothers or their followers. The order was sent rapidly round to assemble together; not a word was uttered above a whisper—the sentries were left standing at their posts as if unconscious of what was going on in the plain below. But a few seconds were expended in preparations.
"Now, my boys, down upon them!" exclaimed Obed, and at the word we sprang over our entrenchments as quick as lightning; we were up to the stranger, who for a moment was somewhat startled at our sudden appearance, but soon, comprehending the state of affairs, took shelter behind us while we sprang on to meet the Indians. We halted within ten yards of them, and poured in a volley from our rifles which brought nearly one-half of them to the ground.
The remainder hesitated an instant, then hearing our loud shouts and huzzas, and seeing us come on with our axes gleaming in our hands, they turned tail and scampered off as fast as they could go. To pursue them would have been dangerous with so large a number of their tribe in the neighbourhood, and it was very probable that they had an ambush near at hand ready to cut us off. The sound of our fire-arms brought up two of our scouts, who joined us as we were returning to our camp, but the third did not make his appearance, and we had too much reason to fear that he had fallen a victim to the Dacotahs. By the time we got back to camp we found Waggum-winne-beg and all his people, both men and women, turned out and ready to resist any attack which might be made on us. We waited under arms for some time, and then finding that the enemy did not seem inclined to approach, we posted sentries all round, with directions to keep a strict lookout, and to give notice directly they perceived any suspicious movement below, and then we once more sat down round our fire. Our number was increased by the stranger, of whom we had not till then had time to take any notice beyond observing that he was a white man, and that he was dressed in the usual rough costume of a trapper. We now perceived, as he sat close up to the fire with the palms of his hands spread out before it, that he looked famished and weary.
"Friend, thou art hungry," said Obed, placing before him some dried deers' flesh and biscuit, and filling him up a cup of spirits-and-water. "Eat that while we cook a more savoury mess."
"Thank you," said the stranger; "you have discovered my chief want."
He showed that he spoke the truth by setting to work silently and heartily on the food like a man who had fasted long, and was in no way fastidious as to the nature of his provender, so that it was fit to support life. I have often felt ashamed of my civilised and refined friends as well as of myself, when I have watched the abstemious habits of those inhabitants of the backwoods. However varied, or however delicate, or highly flavoured the food placed before them, I have seen them over and over again sit down and help themselves to the nearest dish, eat as much as they required, and generally a very moderate quantity, and then perhaps, after taking a glass of cold water, get up and leave the table. We waited till the stranger had somewhat recovered his strength before asking him any questions. At last he stopped eating, gave his hunting-knife a turn or two over his legging, replaced it in its sheath, and looking up, said—"Well, friends, you've saved my life; I've to thankyou for that—not that I know that it is worth much; and now I guess you'd like to know where I come from, and what I've been about."
We all told him that we should particularly like to hear something about him.
"Then I'll tell," he replied. "My name is Sam Short; I'm a free trapper; I've hunted this country, man and boy, for pretty well fifty years, and that's a good slice in a man's life. It was at the end of last fall that I and two companions started westward to trap beavers and shoot bears, or any other game which came in our way. We'd left our horses and taken to a canoe to paddle up the Kansas river. Both my companions, Tom Noggin and Silas Blount, were staunch fellows. It doesn't do to have a man in our way of life one can't depend on. We had passed several beaver dams, which we settled to visit on our return, and as long as the season would allow to push higher up the stream. There's no pleasanter life than that we led. We landed when we felt inclined to stretch our legs and take a shot at a deer or a bear. We killed more deer than we could eat, so we only kept the tenderest parts; but the skins were of no little value.
"One evening we landed at an open spot, with plenty of thick trees though growing round, intending to camp there. We had lighted a small fire, and we took care that the wood was dry, so that it should send up no smoke to show our whereabouts to any lurking red-skins; Silas and Noggin took their guns, and said they would go and have a look for a deer, or a bear, or a turkey, while I sat over the fire and cooked the venison. I cut some right good steaks, and had dressed them to a turn, and was thinking that it was time my companions were back, when I heard Blount's voice singing out merrily as he came through the wood towards me. We had no fear of red-skins, for we had met with no traces of them as we came up the river, and the first thing we had done that day on landing was to look about for them in every direction. Blount sat himself down by my side and showed me a fat turkey he had just killed, when we heard a shot at some distance from us. We waited some time, thinking Noggin would be coming back; but, as he did not make his appearance, I asked Blount to climb a tree and see if he could make him out anywhere. Curiously enough, he slung his rifle on his back—he had already his shot belt and powder-horn about him—and up a high tree, a little way off, he went. Scarcely had he got to the top, when I heard him cry out, 'Fly, man, fly; the red-skins are on us!'
"I did not want a second warning. Seizing my rifle, I sprang to the riverside, and as I did so, a band of Indians burst through the woods brandishing their tomahawks, and uttering their hideous war-cries. I threw myself into the canoe, and with a kick of my foot shoved it off from the bank towards the middle of the stream. I looked for the paddles; there was only one in the canoe; I seized it, and began to paddle away down the stream with all my might. The Indians followed me some way, and seeing that I had but one paddle, and made but slow progress, three of them, running on ahead, plunged into the stream, for the evident purpose of cutting me off. I watched them as they approached. If either of them should succeed in getting hold of the canoe, I knew that my life would be lost. Fortunately they had separated somewhat, and were some fathoms distant from each other down the stream. I saw that my only chance was to destroy them in detail. I dropped my paddle and seized my rifle. It was of course loaded. I had no time to lose, for I had to fire and to load again to be ready for another enemy. I took a steady aim. The savage leaped out of the water, casting a look at me of the most intense hatred, and then down he went like a shot, leaving a red streak on the water to mark the spot. I loaded rapidly; the next fellow darted on, hoping to catch hold of the canoe before I was ready to fire; but I was too quick for him. When he saw this, he dived, thinking to escape my bullet. I was surprised at the length of time he kept under water. I thought that he would never come up again.
"I dared not exchange my rifle for my paddle, or I would have got over farther to the opposite bank. All my attention was fixed on the spot where I knew that his head would appear. The instant I caught sight of his savage countenance grinning up at me, my bullet entered his brain, and he sank like his comrade. I had not time to finish loading before the third fellow, by desperate exertion, had got hold of the bow of the canoe with one of his hands, while with the other he attempted to seize my right arm, which was employed in ramming down the bullet into my rifle. He had his knife in his teeth, and I saw that the moment he had grasped my arm, he would seize it with his other hand, and plunge it into my side. My great fear was that he would upset the canoe, so that I had to lean back on the opposite side to prevent him from so doing. There is no more cunning or treacherous a varmint than a true-bred red-skin. When he found that I saw what he was at, he pretended to fall backwards, and as I stretched over to unloosen his hand from the gunwale of the canoe, he sprang up by a sudden stroke of his feet, and clutched me by the throat.
"So tight did he press my windpipe, that I felt I had but a slight chance of escaping with my life; still, I had lived too long a hunter's life to think of giving in while a hope of escape existed. I caught hold of the side of the canoe with one hand, and with the other, letting go my rifle, I felt about for my knife, which, with my powder-flask and other things, I had thrown into the bottom of the canoe. If I could find it, I had little fear that I should know how to use it.
"The Indian guessed what I was about, and pressed my throat tighter and tighter, till I felt myself growing black in the face. He saw his advantage; the time was come, he thought, to gain the victory. Letting go his hold of the canoe, he seized his knife with his right hand, and attempted to haul himself on board by means of my throat. His naked knee was on the gunwale, when at the same moment my fingers discovered my knife. I clutched the handle. My enemy's knee slipped off the smooth wood—his weapon missed its aim, scarcely grazing my side, and I plunged mine up to the hilt in his breast. His hand relaxed his hold of my throat, and he dropped back lifeless into the stream.
"I cannot describe my sensations; there was no time to think about them, at all events. I finished ramming down the bullet into my rifle, and while the rest of the Indians were hesitating whether to follow me or not, I pointed it at them, to show them what the first who might venture into the stream would have to expect. They watched me for some time, uttering howls of the most intense rage and hatred; and then, seeing that I was a good match for them, they turned back up the stream again, to wreak their vengeance, as I feared, on my companions. I pretended to be paddling down the stream, till I was certain they were out of sight; but I was not going to desert my friends in that way; such is not the backwoodsman's law. When I knew that they were well ahead, I ceased descending the stream, and, pulling to the south bank, I made fast my canoe to some bushes, and waited till dark.
"I thought about all that had occurred; Blount, I hoped, might possibly have escaped, but I greatly feared that Noggin would have fallen into the power of our enemies. Waiting till I could not be seen from the north shore, keeping on the opposite side, I paddled cautiously and slowly up the stream. I kept as much as possible in the eddies and little bays, and thus avoided the strength of the current, against which I could not otherwise have pulled. The nearer I got to the spot where I had left my companions, the more cautiously I proceeded; I knew that if the Indians had not killed them at once, they would not destroy them for three or four days, but would keep them alive to torture them, and to exhibit them to their old men and squaws at home. It was very necessary to be cautious how I proceeded; the slightest carelessness would betray me to the cunning varmints, and I should not only risk my own life, but be unable to help my friends.
"At last, about two hours after dark, I got directly opposite the spot where we had encamped; I watched, but could see no light to indicate that the red-skins were there; I pulled up a little farther, and then in perfect silence paddled across. Unless the red-skins had been on the lookout for me, I did not think that there was much chance of my being seen. I did not venture to let the bow of the canoe touch the bank, lest even the slight noise I might make against the grass should be heard, but allowed it to drop slowly down with the current, while I peered eagerly into every opening of the forest which presented itself. I began to fear that the Indians had gone away, and carried off Blount and Noggin with them, when my eye caught a glimmer of light a considerable distance off among the bushes. I had little doubt that the light proceeded from the camp-fire of my enemies: I resolved to ascertain whether this was so, and whether my friends were in their power. I carefully pushed my canoe alongside the bank, and securing her to a bush, stepped out with my hunting-knife in my belt, and my rifle in my hand. I know as well as a native-born Indian how to move silently through the woods, not allowing my feet to tread on a dry stick, or my shoulders to touch a rotten branch.
"Step by step, feeling my way with the greatest care, I approached the spot where I had seen the fire; at last I got close to the boundary of an open glade, and by looking through the bushes, I saw at the farther end of it some dozen or more Indians, decked in their war-paint and feathers, squatted round a fire. One was, I saw, speaking, while the others were listening to him with the deepest attention. I looked around, but could distinguish nothing beyond the immediate circle of the fire. At length the orator ceased, and one of the band threw a small quantity of fresh fuel on to the fire. This made it blaze up; and the glare from the bright flames extending to some distance, it fell upon the stump of a tree to which was bound a human figure. I watched to try and make out who it was, for the light was not at first sufficient to enable me to distinguish objects at a distance. I had long to wait. I should have to guide my movements according to which of my friends was in captivity. If it should prove to be Noggin, I might hope that Blount had escaped their vigilance; but if he himself was the prisoner, I should have to fear that Noggin had already fallen a victim to their ferocity.
"I had long to wait. One warrior after another got up, and made a vociferous speech, till at last one of them threw a large handful of sticks into the fire. At the same moment it was fanned by a fresh blast of wind which rustled through the forest, and flames darting upwards for a few moments, by their light I recognised the features of Noggin. His eyes were fixed on the group of warriors, as if he was trying to make out what they were saying. There was an expression of horror and despair on his countenance, for he knew full well that a death of torture was prepared for him. I observed, however, that his lips were firmly pressed together, as if he had made up his mind not to flinch, however much he might be called to suffer, while life might last. I looked round for Blount; he was nowhere to be seen; and as I could not discern any bloody scalp hung up on a pole as a trophy of their prowess, I began to hope that he might have escaped the vigilance of our enemies, and that I might still fall in with him.
"My great desire was, in the first place, to rescue Noggin; but how to do so was the question. Succour might almost seem hopeless. Even should Blount be alive and at large, he and I together could scarcely hope to succeed. I counted our enemies; there were twenty altogether. Three of these, from their costume and the way they talked, I judged to be chiefs or principal men. Three more, one of whom certainly was a chief, I had sent to their long home. As I could do no more good by staying in so dangerous a neighbourhood, I waited till another long speech was begun, and then crept back as carefully as I had approached, towards my canoe. I reached it in safety, and pushing off I crossed to the opposite side of the stream.
"I hunted about till I discovered a point with bushes growing thickly on it. Here I landed; and hauling up my canoe, hoped that I might remain concealed, should the red-skins again come down to the side of the river to look for me. After I had done this, so fatigued was I, that no sooner did I lie down by the side of my canoe than I fell fast asleep. It was daylight when I awoke. I sprang to my feet, rifle in hand, and peered through the bushes which effectually concealed me. I could distinguish in the distance the Indians, who had likewise just risen, and appeared to be in a state of no little excitement. They had discovered my trail, and were hunting about to ascertain in which direction I had gone.
"'Ah, ah!' I thought, 'I have crossed an element which allows no trail to be left on it. They will scarcely believe that I am still so near them; or should they even suspect it, they will not attempt to follow me, for they know the effects of my rifle, and that if they do, three or four of their number will probably have to pay the penalty of their lives.'
"On Noggin's account I did not want to exasperate them more than they were already, or I might have picked two or three of them off, when, having discovered my trail, they followed it to the banks of the river. I saw them peering about in every direction—now down the stream, now up it; but, clever as they were, they could not guess what way I had gone. They examined the bushes all round, but they told no tale which they could read. They were evidently not a little astonished at my audacity in having ventured so close to them as to watch their movements. It made them look upon me as a mighty brave, and they would, I doubted not, have tried their most exquisite tortures on me to prove my heroism had they been able to catch me. I knew that there was a possibility of their so doing, for I was resolved not to leave my friends to their fate without trying to rescue them, great as I knew the risk was that I was running. When they could not, with all their ingenuity, discover what had become of me, they stamped on the ground, and dashed their hatchets into it, and gnashed their teeth, and performed many other frantic gestures. I was pleased at this, because it showed that they had abandoned their search after me.
"Once more they came to the edge of the water, and spat, and grinned at it to show their rage at its having disappointed them of their prey, and then they turned tail and went off back to their camp. I feared poor Noggin would be the sufferer, but I could not help that. I waited hidden away for three or four hours, till I thought that they would to a certainty have taken their departure, before I even stirred from my place of concealment. I knew the tricks they were up to, and that very likely they would have remained in ambush in the hope of my coming back to look after my friends. If they had killed Blount, then I felt sure they would not have stopped, but if they had found out that there were three of us, and he was still at large, then I considered it probable that they would be endeavouring to catch us, and that the very greatest caution would be necessary in my proceedings. Still I could not delay till night to commence my progress, which would have been the safest plan; for, in the first place, the Indians, if they had moved, would have got too much the start of me, and I was already so hungry that I was ready to run any risk to procure food to appease my appetite.
"At last I could wait no longer. I slipped into my canoe, and emerging from my hiding-place, went across the stream as fast as my one paddle could urge me. When I was about half-way over I saw something moving among the bushes. I stopped paddling and seized my rifle. It might be an Indian, or it might be a bear, or a stag. I was ready for anything. Just as I brought my rifle to my shoulder I heard a voice sing out, 'Hollo, Short! don't fire, old feller.'
"I knew at once that it was Blount who spoke, and right glad I was to hear him. Down went my rifle, and I paddled away, you may be sure, as hard as I could till I reached the shore where he, as big as life, stood ready to receive me. We shook hands warmly, and then he told me that he had been up the tree all the time; that he had watched the Indians pursuing me along the banks of the river, but could not tell whether or not they had killed me, though he saw them return with diminished numbers, and guessed that at all events I had not died without a desperate fight.
"When they came back they hunted about all round our camp, carried off or destroyed all our property, and at last retired farther into the woods to join their comrades. All the night he had spent in a state of uncertainty about me, and it was not till the following morning, when he saw the Indians come down to the river, and watched their movements, that he guessed I was alive and had paid them a visit. He saw them go away, and he then descended the tree, and like a cat in pursuit of a bird, crept after them. To his great satisfaction he saw them breaking up their camp, and then they moved off towards the north-west. Still he followed them till he had assured himself that they really were going in that direction. When he had done this he turned back and looked out for me. We agreed at once that we would set off and try to rescue Noggin as soon as we had killed a sufficient quantity of game to satisfy our hunger.
"We calculated that the red-skins were quite far enough off by this time not to hear the report of our rifles. Hunger, when not too long endured, sharpens men's wits. We soon killed a couple of wild turkeys and a deer, which we fell in with in great numbers on their way south. We hid away our canoe in the bank of the river, and so covered her with branches that even an Indian's sharp eyes were not likely to discover her. Having lighted a fire, we smoked, in a hurried way, as much food as would last us for several days, and then, taking a good meal of toasted venison, we set off on our perilous adventure.
"We soon found our way up to the Indian camp, and we observed that they took no pains to hide their trail, by which we judged that they did not suppose any of their enemies to be in the neighbourhood. There were no women or children, which showed that they had been on a hunting or war expedition, and also that their chief camp was at no great distance. This gave us the greatest concern, because if once they reached it we could scarcely hope to rescue Noggin from their power. We calculated that there were twenty warriors altogether. They were on foot. They were dragging Noggin on, but he evidently delayed them as much as possible. Perhaps, poor fellow, he suspected that Blount and I were following him. We travelled faster than they did, and towards the evening of the fifth day of our journey we saw, from the freshness of the trail, that we were not far from them. We examined our rifles to be ready for an emergency; but we knew that we could do nothing to help our friend before night. We supposed that we were about half a mile or so from our enemies, and not deeming it wiser to get much nearer, we continued to follow at the same pace at which they were going.
"At last we came to more open ground, and several times we caught sight of them. We were near enough indeed to count their numbers, and we found that we had made an exact estimate of them. Evening at last came, and we knew that they were encamped. It was now, therefore, necessary to be more careful than ever, for some of the warriors might be prowling about, and should they discover us, even though we might escape them or come off victorious, we should have to abandon all hopes of saving Noggin. We accordingly lay down in some thick cover where no one was likely to find us, and waited till they were likely to have gone to sleep for the night. We talked over all sorts of plans. Blount proposed going boldly into the camp himself dressed as a medicine-man; but then the difficulty was to find the wherewithal to fit himself out. I, too, opposed the scheme; for they would naturally be suspicious, and, come from whatever quarter he might, they would be apt to question him very narrowly before letting him range their camp at liberty.
"'Well, Short, it's all very well for you to say this plan won't do, or that won't do, but do you just tell me what will do.'
"This was a poser; I could not. We had our deerskin coats. They had been saved in the canoe. He proposed cutting his into strips, and with the aid of a red pocket-handkerchief he judged that he could turn himself into a very good white medicine-man. I at last consented to let him try the scheme, provided no opportunity occurred during the night of helping poor Noggin. When the plan was arranged, we crept nearer and nearer to the savages. They had camped in an open part of a green valley, the sides of which were clothed with trees. They were far enough from any trees not to be taken by surprise from any enemies except those armed with rifles. We climbed one of the trees, whence we could look down on them and watch their proceedings. We might indeed have picked several of them off had revenge alone been our object; but that would have done no good to poor Noggin, unless he could have managed to escape in the confusion.
"Hour after hour passed away. The savages sat up talking over their fire. Several of them at last lay down, but a party went out to examine the neighbourhood of the camp, and when they returned four of those who had previously gone to sleep got up and sat watching their prisoner, evidently with malignant pleasure. This vigilance of the enemy made us almost despair of being able to deliver our friend. Whenever we turned our eyes in the direction of the camp, there were the four wretches gazing up into the countenance of their victim, and he, poor fellow, already looked more dead than alive. Thus we lay stretched out at our length watching them hour after hour. No one moved. Our hearts sank within us. After about four hours the guards gave some loud grunts, and some of their companions starting up took their places. They seemed to watch the countenance of their victim with intense gratification. If, in spite of the bodily pain and mental suffering he was enduring, he dropped asleep, one of them would throw a burning brand at him, to rouse him up again to a full consciousness of his position. It was with the greatest difficulty that I could refrain from knocking over one of the scoundrels, when I saw him treating the poor fellow in that way.
"Daylight was now approaching; with heavy hearts we had to withdraw for fear of being discovered when the Indians should break up their camp in the morning. We feared, too, that we should not have another opportunity, for we judged that the Indians were close upon their village from the way in which they had feasted, leaving scarcely any food for the next day. A hunter is obliged to observe everything, and to make what he observes speak a plain language to him. We crept away from the camp to our former hiding-place, and then, overcome with fatigue, we both fell asleep. We were protected during these hours of helplessness by a power greater than man's.
"When we awoke the sun was already high in the heavens; we ate our frugal meal, and then set forward to overtake the Indians. They had started early, and had got much ahead of us. We pushed on, but still did not overtake them. We had been travelling some eight or nine hours, when, being on the top of some rising ground, we saw in the distance several curling wreaths of smoke rising up amid the forest. We guessed that without doubt they proceeded from the village of our enemies. Our chief chance of rescuing Noggin was gone. To get him out from among a village full of men, women, and children, all thirsting for his blood, was next to impossible. Still Blount said he would try it. We crept carefully in the track of the red-skins, stopping at every spot from which we could have a clear look ahead, and occasionally climbing trees whence we might hope to get a sight of the village. This was in one respect a dangerous proceeding, for should the Indians cross our trail, they would very likely discover us, although we took care to obliterate, as far as we are able, all marks of our progress. In this way we went on till Blount and I having got to the top of a thick-branched and wide-spreading fir, we saw, scarcely the eighth of a mile off, the conical-shaped wigwams of our enemies. Loud shouts and shrieks reached our ears; the old men, women, and children had gone out to welcome their warriors and their unfortunate captive. We could see him in the middle of them, and the women and children rushing up and hissing at him, and abusing him, and pinching him, and spitting at him, treating him, indeed, with every indignity. He stood quiet, as far as we could see, without flinching. At last he was led on and secured to a tree, close to one of the principal lodges. There the savages let him remain while they retired to their homes, and the women set to work to prepare them a feast.