As for Gray, he met Miss Fleming on the day succeeding, and if withering glances ever really withered anything, he would have been as a dry leaf. But he did not wither. He went East, and is now connected with the Pennsylvania Broad Gauge. Miss Fleming married Mr. Muggles, and I understand the store is doing only moderately well. What puzzles me is that after Gray's triumph up the canyon on this occasion, the United States Government should have abandoned the rain-making experiments. The facts related in this very brief account are respectfully submitted to the consideration of the Department of Agriculture.
WITHIN ONE LIFE'S SPAN
A river flows through green prairies into a vast blue lake. There are log houses along the banks, and near the lake a more pretentious structure, also built of logs. Quaint as an old Dutch mill, with its overhanging second story, this fort of rude type answers its purpose well, for only Indians are likely to assail it, and Indians bring no artillery.
A summer morning comes, an August morning in the year 1812. There is war, and there have been disgraces and defeats and wavering counsels. To the soldiers in the fort has been given the advice of a weakling in peril, and it has had unhappy weight. About the fort are gathering a host of Indians, dark Pottowatomies, treacherous and sullen. Yet the fort is to be abandoned. The scanty garrison will venture forth with its women and its children.
To the south, along the lake, are reaches of yellow sand and a mile or more away are trees and scanty shrubbery. From the fort file slowly out the soldiers with their baggage-wagons, in which the weaker are bestowed. Among the young is a boy of eight—a waif, the orphan of a hunter. Forest-bred, he is alert and in some things older than his years. He is old enough to have a sense of danger. From his covert in the wagon he watches all intently.
The few musicians play a funeral march, and the procession moves apprehensively, though it moves steadily, for there are brave men in the ranks, men who will not flinch, though they rage at the evil folly to which they have been driven. They do not doubt the issue, though they face it. They have not long to wait. The bushes which fringe the rising ground do not conceal the shifting enemy. The marching column huddles. There are sharp commands and the reports of muskets. The Indians are attacking. The massacre has begun!
Hampered, unsheltered, outnumbered by a vengeful host, the whites must die. The men die fighting, as men in such straits should. The Indians are close upon the women and children in the wagon. Into one of them, that which contains the hunter's child, leaps a savage, in whose beady eyes are all cruelty and ferocity. His tomahawk sinks into the brain of the nearest helpless one, and at the same instant, swift as an otter gliding into water, the boy is out and darting away among the bushes. Oddly enough he is unnoticed—a remnant of the soldiers are dying hardly—and he escapes to where the bushes are more dense. About a cottonwood tree in the distance appears greater covert. Around the tree has been part of the struggle, but the ghastly tide has passed, and there are only dead men there. The boy is in mortal terror, but his instinct does not fail him. There is a heap of brush, the top of some tree felled by a storm, and beneath the mass he writhes and wriggles and is lost from view.
There is a rush of returning footsteps; there is a clamor of many Indian voices about the brush-heap, but the boy is undiscovered. The savages are not seeking him. They count all the whites as slain or captured, and are now but intent on plunder. Night falls. The child slips from his hiding place, and runs to the southward. Suddenly a dark figure rises in his path, and the grasp of a strong hand is upon his shoulder. He struggles frantically, but only for a moment. His own language is spoken. It is in the voice of a friendly Miami fleeing, like the boy, from the Pottowatomies. The Indian takes the boy by the hand, and hurries him to the westward, to the Mississippi.
It is the year 1835. One of a band of trappers venturing up the Missouri is a slender, quiet man, the deadliest shot in the party. Good trapper he is, but the fame he has earned among adventurers of his class is not from fur-getting. He is a lonely man, but a creature of action. He never seeks to avoid the Indian trails. Cautious and crafty he is, certainly, but he follows closely the westward drift of the red men, and when opportunity comes he spares not at all. He is a hunter of Indians, vengeance personified. He is the boy who hid beneath the brush-heap; the memory of that awful day and night is ever with him, and he seeks blindly to make the equation just. To his single arm have fallen more savages than fell whites on the day of the massacre by the lake. Still he moves westward.
It is the year 1893 now. An old man occupies a farm in the remote Northwest. He has lost none of his faculties, nor nearly all his strength, though he is eighty-nine years of age. The long battle with the dangers of the wilds is done. The old man listens to the talk of those about him, of how a great nation is inviting all the nations of the world to take part in a monster jubilee, because of the quadri-centennial of a continent's discovery. He hears them tell of a place where this mighty demonstration will be made, and a torrent of memory sweeps him backward over eighty years. He thinks of one awful day and night. An irresistible longing to look again upon the regions he has not seen for more than three-quarters of a century, a wild desire to revisit the junction of the river and the great blue lake, and to wander where the sandreaches and the cottonwood tree were, possesses him. And, resolute as ever, he acts upon the impulse which now becomes a plan.
An old man, as strangely placed as some old gray elk among a herd of buffalo, is hurried along the swarming, roaring thoroughfares of a great city. He has found the river and the lake, but nothing else save pandemonium. He is seeking now the place where the cottonwood tree stood, though he scarcely hopes to find it. He asks what his course shall be, and is answered kindly. He finds his way to a broad thoroughfare bearing the blue lake's name, and is told to seek Eighteenth Street, and there walk toward the water. He does as he is directed, and—marvelous to him, now—he finds the Tree.
There it stands, the cottonwood of the massacre, with blunt white limbs outstretched and dead, as dead as those who were slaughtered at its base and whose very bones have long been dust. The old man walks about it as in a dream. He finds the spot where was the brush-heap beneath which he passed shuddering hours so long ago, and he stands there upon a modern pavement. The marble piles of rich men loom above him on each side. Where were the sand ridges cast up by the lake, rush by the burdened railroad trains. He cannot comprehend it—but there is more to come.
The old man has sought the oak-dotted prairie miles to the south. Surely, something, somewhere must be unchanged! He has attained the spot where the trees were densest. He is in a swirl of hosts. He looks upon vast, splendid structures, such as the world has never seen before. Through shining thoroughfares are surging the people of all nations. And here was where the Miami Indian found the boy!
An old man is sitting again in his cabin in the far Northwest. He is wondering, wondering if it has been but a dream, his old-age journey. How could it be real? Surely there was once the fort where the river joined the lake, and there were the yellow sand-ridges, and the low, green prairie and the wilderness. He had seen them. They were there, familiar to the pioneers, the features of a landscape where was the outpost in the wilderness of the race which conquers. He knew there could be no mistake about it, that what he remembered was something real, for the river was in its ancient channel; though dark its waters, the lake was blue and vast as of old, and the tree with its stark branches was still the Tree. Those who had lived with him in his old age in the far Northwest had seemed never to doubt in him the retained possession of all his faculties, and he knew that he could not be mistaken as to the things that were. He had lived with them. How could such changes have come within the span of a single lifetime? Yet he had seen the new! How could it be? And the old man could not tell.