The moment the father comprehended what we have endeavored to make plain, he raised his rifle, with the resolve to shoot the savage through the head. As he did so, he recalled the fact that he had but a single charge, and that, as a consequence, a miss would be the death-warrant of himself as well as of his child. But he knew his eye and hand would never fail him. His finger already pressed the trigger, when he was restrained by an unforeseen impediment.
While the deadly rifle was poised, the boy stretched himself up at full length, a movement which made known to the father that his child was exactly in range with the Indian himself, and that a bullet passing through the head of the savage could not fail to bury itself in the little fellow's body. This startling circumstance arrested the pressure of the trigger at the very moment the ball was to be sped upon its errand of death.
The missionary sunk down upon one knee, with the intention of bringing the head of the savage so high as to carry the bullet over the body of his boy, but this he found could not be done without too seriously endangering his aim. He drew a bead from one side of the tree, and then from the other, but from both stand-points the same dreadful danger threatened. The ground behind the tree was somewhat elevated, and was the only spot from which he could secure a fair view of the bronze head of the relentless enemy.
Two resorts were at the command of Richter. He could leave the tree altogether, and pass around so as to come upon the savage from a different direction; but this involved delay during which his boy might fall into the Indian's power and be dispatched, as he would be sure to do when he found that the father was close at hand; and from the proximity of the two men, it could hardly fail to precipitate a collision between them. The Indian, finding himself at bay, could not fail to prove a most troublesome and dangerous customer, unarmed, as Richter was, with weapons for a close encounter.
The father might also wait until the boy should pass out of range. Still, there was the possibility of his proceeding directly up to the spot where the savage lurked, thus keeping in range all the while. Then the attempted rescue would have to be deferred until the child was in the hands of the savage. These considerations, passing through Richter's brain much more rapidly than we have narrated them, decided him to abandon both plans, and to resort to what, beyond question, was a most desperate expedient.
The Indian held the bell in his left hand. It was suspended by the string which had clasped the neck of the goat, and, as it swayed gently back and forth, this string slowly twisted and untwisted itself, the bell, of course, turning back and forth. The father determined to slay the Indian and save his son by shooting this bell!
It is not necessary to describe the shape and make of the common cow-bell in general use throughout our country; but it is necessary that the reader should bear them in mind in order to understand the manner in which the missionary proposed to accomplish this result. His plan was to strike the bell when in the proper position, and glance the bullet into the head of the savage!
The desperate nature of this expedient will be seen at once. Should the gun be discharged when the flat side of the bell was turned toward him, the ball would pass through, and most probably kill his child without endangering the life of the Indian. If it struck the narrow side, it accomplished neither harm nor good; while, if fired at the precise moment, and still aimed but an inch too low, the bell would most likely be perforated. Consequently, it was requisite that the rifle be discharged at the precise instant of time when the signal brass was in the correct position, and that the aim should be infallibly true.
All this Richter realized only too painfully; but, uttering an inward prayer, he raised his rifle with a nerve that knew no faltering or fear, holding it pointed until the critical moment should arrive. That moment would be when the string was wound up, and was turning, to unwind. Then, as it was almost stationary, he fired.
No sound or outcry betrayed the result; but, clubbing his rifle, the father bounded forward, over the trees, to the spot where the Indian was crouching. There he saw him in his death-struggle upon the ground the bell still held fast in his hand. In that critical moment, Harvey Richter could not forbear glancing at it. Its top was indented, and sprinkled with white by the glancing passage of the lead. The blood, oozing down the face of the savage, plainly showed how unerringly true had been the aim.
Something in the upward look of the dying man startled the missionary.
"Harvey Richter—don't you know me?" he gasped.
"I know you as a man who has sought to do me a wrong that only a fiend could have perpetrated. Great Heaven! Can it be? Is this you, Brazey Davis?"
"Yes; but you've finished me, so there isn't much left."
"Are you the man, Brazey, who has haunted me ever since we came in this country? Are you the person who carried away poor, dear Cora?"
"Yes—yes!" answered the man, with fainting weariness.
Such, indeed, was the case. The strange hunter and the Indian known as Mahogany were one and the same person.
"Brazey, why have you haunted me thus, and done me this great wrong?"
"I cannot tell. When I thought how you took her from me, it made me crazy when I thought about it. I wanted to take her from you, but I wouldn't have dared to do that if you hadn't struck me. I wanted revenge then."
"What have you done with her?"
"She is gone, I haven't seen her since the day after I seized her, when a band of Indians took her from me, and went up north with her. They have got her yet, I know, for I have kept watch over her, and she is safe, but is a close prisoner." This he said with great difficulty.
"Brazey, you are dying. I forgive you. But does your heart tell you you are at peace with Him whom you have offended so grievously?"
"It's too late to talk of that now. It might have done years ago, when I was an honest man like yourself, and before I became a vagabond, bent on injuring one who had never really injured me."
"It is never too late for God to forgive—"
"Too late—too late, I tell you! There!" He rose upon his elbow, his eyes burning with insane light and his hand extended. "I see her—she is coming, her white robes floating on the air. Oh, God, forgive me that I did her the great wrong! But, she smiles upon me—she forgives me! I thank thee, angel of good——"
He sunk slowly backward, and Harvey Richter eased the head softly down upon the turf. Brazey Davis was no more.
Heart leaps to heart—the sacred flood That warms us is the same; That good old man—his honest blood Alike we frankly claim.—SPRAGUE.
The missionary gazed sadly upon the inanimate form before him. He saw the playmate of his childhood stricken down in death by his own hand, which never should have taken human life, and although the act was justifiable under the circumstances, the good man could but mourn the painful necessity that occasioned it. The story, although possessing tragic interest, was a brief one. Brazey Davis, as he had always been termed, was a few years older than himself, and a native of the same neighborhood. He was known in childhood as one possessing a vindictive spirit that could never forgive an injury—as a person who would not hesitate at any means to obtain revenge. It so happened that he became desperately enamored of the beautiful Cora Brandon, but becoming aware, at length, that she was the betrothed of Harvey Braisted, the young missionary in embryo, the disappointed lover left the country, and was never heard of by the missionary until he made himself known in the singular manner that we have related at the opening of our narrative. He had, in fact, come to be a sort of monomaniac, who delighted in annoying his former rival, and in haunting his footsteps as if he were his evil shadow. The abduction of his wife had not been definitely determined upon until that visit to the cabin, in the garb and paint of an Indian, when he received the tremendous blow that almost drove the life from his body. Davis then resolved to take the revenge which would "cut" the deepest. How well he succeeded, the reader has learned.
The missionary's child stood pleading for an explanation of the strange scene before him. Loosening the bell from the grasp of the dead man, the minister took the little hand, and, with a heart overflowing with emotion, set out for his cabin. It was his wish to give the hunter a Christian burial; but, for the present, it was impossible. These dying words rung in his ears: "The Indians took her from me, and went up north with her, where she now is, and safe!" Blessed thought! She was then living, and was yet to be restored to his arms. The shadow of death passed away, and a great light illuminated his very being. The lost was found!
When the missionary came to be more collected, he concluded that this must be the tribe of which Teddy had once spoken, but which had been visited by him without success. The prize was too great to be intrusted in the hands of another, and Harvey determined to make the search in person, to settle, if possible, once and forever, the fate of his beloved wife.
He soon proceeded to the Indian village, where he left his boy and gave notice that he should not be back for several days. He then called one of the most trusty and skillful warriors aside, and asked for his company upon the eventful journey. The savage cheerfully complied, and the two set out at once. It was a good distance to the northward, and when night came down upon them, many miles yet remained to be passed. There was little fear of disturbance from enemies, and both lay down and slept until daylight, when they were immediately on their way again.
This journey through the northern wilderness was unvaried by any event worthy of record, and the details would be uninteresting to the reader. Suffice it to say that, just as the fourth day was closing in, they struck a small stream, which pursued a short distance, brought them directly upon the village for which they had been searching.
The advent of the Indian and missionary among them created considerable stir, but they were treated with respect and consideration. Harvey Richter asked immediately for the chief or leading man, and shortly stood in his presence. He found him a short, thick-set half-breed, whose age must have been well-nigh three-score years, and who, to his astonishment, was unable to speak English, although many of his subjects spoke it quite intelligibly. He understood Sioux, however, and the missionary's companion acted as interpreter.
Our friend made a full statement of his wife's abduction, years before, and of the assertion of the dying man that she had been taken from him by members of this tribe, who had retained her ever since. The chief waited sometime before replying; he seemed debating with himself as to the proper course to pursue. Finally he said he must consult with one of his warriors, and departed abruptly from the lodge.
Ten minutes later, while the missionary, with a painfully-throbbing heart, was gazing around the lodge, with that minute scrutiny of the most trifling objects peculiar to us at such times, he caught the sound of returning footsteps, and turned to the lodge door. There stood the Indian, and, directly beside him, his own lost Cora!
The next day at noon, a camp-fire might have been seen some miles south of the northern village of which we have made mention. An Indian was engaged in cooking a piece of meat, while the missionary and his reclaimed jewel, sitting side by side, her head reclining upon his shoulder and his hand dallying with her hair, were holding delightful communion. She looked pale and somewhat emaciated, for these years of absence had indeed been fraught with suffering; but the old sweet look had never departed. It was now changed into an expression of perfect joy.
The wife's great anxiety was to reach home and see the child she had left an infant, but who was now a frolicksome boy, and she could hardly consent to pause even when night overtook them, and her lagging limbs told her husband how exhausted she had become. Cora never had suspected the identity of the Indian and the hunter, until on that sad day when he sprung from behind the cabin and hurried her off into the wood. There was something, however, in his look, when he first felt the weight of her husband's blow, that never left her remembrance. While hurrying her swiftly through the wood he said nothing at all, and at night, while she pretended to sleep, he watched by the camp-fire. It was the light of this fire which had puzzled Teddy so much. On the succeeding day the abductor reached the river and embarked in his canoe. A half-hour later he leaned over the canoe and washed the paint from his face and made himself known in his true character, as Brazey Davis, her former lover. He had scarcely done so, when an Indian canoe rounded a bend in the river, and, despite his earnest protestations, the savages took the captive from him, and carried her with them to their village, where she had been ever since. Retained very closely, as all prisoners among Indians are, she had heard nothing of Teddy's visit. She was treated with kindness, as the destined wife of a young chief; but the suit for her consent never was pressed by the chief, as it is in an Indian's code of honor never to force a woman to a distasteful marriage. The young brave, with true Indian pertinacity, could wait his time, confident that his kindness and her long absence from home would secure her consent to the savage alliance. She was denied nothing but her liberty, and her prayers to be returned to her husband and child.
At this point in her narration, an exclamation from the Indian arrested attention. All listened and heard but a short distance away:
"Begorrah, Teddy, it's yerself that's entitled to a wee bit of rist, as yees have been on a mighty long tramp, and hasn't diskivered anything but a country that is big enough to hide the Atlantic ocean in, wid Ireland on its bosom as a jewel. The chances are small of yees iver gitting another glimpse of heaven—that is, of Miss Cora's face. The darlint; if she's gone to heaven, then Teddy McFadden don't care how soon somebody else wears out his breeches—that is, on the presumption that St. Peter will say, 'Teddy, me lad, ye can inter an' make yerself at home, to be sure!'"
The husband and wife glanced at each other significantly as the fellow rattled on.
"Wait a moment," said Harvey, rising to his feet, and carefully making his way in the direction of the sound.
It was curious that the Irishman should have paused for his noonday rest in such close proximity to our friends; but, he had learned from a trader who had recently visited the Red River country, that there was a white woman, beyond all question, among the tribe in the north, and he was on his way to make them a second visit.
The missionary found his servant seated by a tree. Teddy looked up as he heard a footstep. It seemed as if his eyes would drop from their sockets. His mouth opened wide, and he seemed, for the moment, confounded. Then he recovered his presence of mind in a measure, and proceeded to scratch his head vigorously. That, with him, ever was a sign of the clearing up of his ideas.
"How do you do, Teddy?" at length the missionary said, after having enjoyed the poor fellow's confusion.
"Faith, but ye sent the cold shivers over me. Is it yerself, Mister Harvey, out in these woods, or is it yer ghost on the s'arch for Misthress Cora? I sometimes thinks me own ghost is out on the s'arch without me body, an' I shouldn't be surprised to maat it some day. But I'm mighty glad it's yerself an' not yer ghost, for, to till the thruth, I don't jist like ghosts—they makes a body feel so quare in the stomach."
"Come with me; I have an Indian as company, and you may as well join us."
The Hibernian followed, a few paces behind, continually expressing his astonishment at seeing his master so far away from home. He did not look up until they were within a few paces of the camp-fire, when Richter stepped from before him.
"Save us! save us! but if there isn't the ghowst of Miss Cora come to haunt me for not finding her afore!" exclaimed Teddy, retreating a step or two in genuine terror. "Saint Patherick, Saint Pether, Saint Virgin Mary, protict me! I didn't mane to get dhrunk that day, ye know, nor to make a frind of—"
"I am no ghost but my own self, Teddy, restored to my husband in safety. Can you not welcome me?"
"Oorah! Oorah!" and he danced a moment in uncontrollable joy. Then he exclaimed: "God bliss yer own swate self!" taking her in his brawny arms. "God bliss you! No ghost, but yer own swate self. Oh, I feel like a blast of powder ready to go off!" And again he danced a singular commixture of the jig and cotillion, much to the Indian's amazement, for he thought him crazy. "I knew that I should look upon your face again; but, till me where it is yees have come from?" he finally subsided enough to ask.
Teddy was soon made to understand all that related to the return of the young wife. When he learned that Mahogany, with whom he had so often drank and "hobnobbed," was only the hunter disguised, who was thus plotting his crime, the Irishman's astonishment can hardly be described. He was irritated, also, at his own stupidity. "That Teddy McFadden iver should have been so desaved by that rascal of purgatory!" he exclaimed; but, as the evil man had gone to the great tribunal above, there was no disposition, even in Teddy's heart, to heap curses on his memory.
A few days more, and the three whites passed through the Indian village on their way to the Clearing. The joy of the savages at the return of their sweet, pale-faced sister was manifested in many ways, and she once feared they would never allow her to leave them and go to her own humble home. Finally, however, they reached the Clearing, and, as they walked side by side across it, opened the door and sat down within the cabin, and the fond mother took the darling boy in her lap, the wife and husband looked in each other's faces with streaming eyes, and murmured "Thank God! thank God!"
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