Vol. 1 by James Fenimore Cooper
The manner in which the writer of this book came into possession of
most of its materials, is mentioned in the work itself. Any well bred
reader will readily conceive that there may exist a thousand reasons,
why he should not reveal any more of his private sources of
information. He will only say, on his own responsibility, that the
portions of the tale for which no authorities are given, are quite as
true as those which are not destitute of this peculiar advantage, and
that all may be believed alike.
There is, however, to be found in the following pages an occasional
departure from strict historical veracity, which it may be well to
mention. In the endless confusion of names, customs, opinions, and
languages, which exists among the tribes of the west, the Author has
paid much more attention to sound and convenience than to literal
truth. He has uniformly called the Great Spirit, for instance, the
Wahcondah, though he was not ignorant that there were different names
for that Being among the nations he has introduced. So, in other
matters he has rather adhered to simplicity, than sought to make his
narrative strictly correct at the expense of all order and clearness.
It was enough for his purpose that the picture should possess the
general features of the original: in the shading, attitude, and
disposition of thefigures, a little liberty has been taken. Even this
brief explanation would have been spared, did not the Author know that
there is a certain class of learned Thebans who are just as fit to read
a work of the imagination, as they are qualified to write one.
It may be necessary to meet much graver and less easily explained
objections, in the minds of a far higher class of readers. The
introduction of one and the same character, as a principal actor in no
less than three books, and the selection of a comparative desert, which
is aided by no historical recollections, and embellished by few or no
poetical associations, for the scene of a legend, in these times of
perilous adventure in works of this description, may need more
vindication. If the first objection can be removed, the latter must
fallof course, as it would become the duty of a faithful chronicler to
follow his hero wherever he might choose to go.
It is quite probable that the narrator of these simple events has
deceived himself as to the importance they may have in the eyes of
other people. But he has seen, or thought he has seen, something
sufficiently instructive and touching in the life of a veteran of the
forest, who, having commenced his career near the Atlantic, had been
driven by the increasing and unparalleled advance of population, to
seek a final refuge against society in the broad and tenantless plains
of the west, to induce him to hazard the experiment of publication.
That the changes which might have driven a man so constituted to such
an expedient have actually occurred within a single life, is a matter
of undeniable history; that theydid produce such an effect on the Scout
of the Mohicans, the Leatherstocking of the Pioneers, and the Trapper
of the Prairie, rests on an authority no less imposing than those
veritable pages, from which the reader shall no longer be detained, if
he still be disposed to peruse them, after this frank avowal of the
poverty of their contents.
"I pray thee, shepherd, if that love, or gold
Can in this desert place buy entertainment,
Bring us where we may rest ourselves and feed."
—— As you like it
Much was said and written, at the time, concerning the policy of
adding the vast regions of Louisiana, to the, already, immense and but
half-tenanted territories of the United States. As the warmth of
controversy, however, subsided, and personal considerations gave place
to more liberal views, the wisdom of the measure began to be,
generally, conceded. It soon became apparent to the meanest capacity,
that, while nature had placed a barrier of desert to the extension of
our population in the west, the measure had made us the masters of a
belt of fertile country, which, in the revolutions of the day, might
have become the property of a rival nation. It gave us the sole command
of the great thoroughfare of the interior, and placed the countless
tribes of savages, who lay along our borders, entirely, within our
control; it reconciled conflicting rights, and quieted national
distrusts; it opened a thousand avenues to the inland trade, and to the
waters of the Pacific; and, if ever time or necessity should require a
peaceful division of this vast empire, it assures us of a neighbour
that would possess our language, our religion, our institutions, and it
is also to be hoped, our sense of political justice.
Although the purchase was made in 1803, the spring of the
succeeding year was permitted to open, before the official prudence of
the Spaniard, who held the province for his European master, admitted
the authority, or even of the entrance, of its new proprietors. But the
forms of the transfer were no sooner completed, and the new government
acknowledged, than swarms of that restless people, which is ever found
hovering on the skirts of American society, plunged into the thickets
that fringed the right bank of the Mississippi, with the same careless
hardihood, as had, already, sustained so many of them in their toilsome
progress from the atlantic states, to the eastern shores of the "father
Time was necessary to blend the numerous and affluent colonists of
the lower province with their new compatriots; but the sparser and more
humble population, above, was almost immediately swallowed in the
vortex which attended the tide of instant emigration. The inroad from
the east was a new and sudden out-breaking of a people, who had endured
a momentary restraint, after having been rendered, nearly, resistless
by success. The toils and hazards of former undertakings were
forgotten, as these endless and unexplored regions, with all their
fancied as well as real advantages, were laid open to their enterprise.
The consequences were such as might easily have been anticipated, from
so tempting an offering, placed, as it was before the eyes of a race
long trained in adventure and nurtured in difficulties.
Thousands of the elders, of what were then called the New States,
broke up from the enjoyment of their hard earned indulgencies, and were
to be seen leading long files of descendants, born and reared in the
forests of Ohio and Kentucky, deeper into the land, in quest of that
which might be termed, without the aid of poetry, their natural and
more congenial atmosphere. The distinguished and resolute forester who
first penetrated the wilds of the latter state, was of the number. This
adventurous and venerable patriarch was now seen making his last
remove; placing the "endless river" between him and the multitude, his
own success had drawn around him, and seekingfor the renewal of
enjoyments which were rendered worthless in his eyes, when trammelled
by the forms of human institutions.
In the pursuit of adventures, such as these, men are ordinarily
governed by their previous habits or deluded by their secret wishes. A
few, led by the phantoms of hope, and, ambitious of sudden affluence,
sought the mines of the virgin territory; but, by far the greater
portion of the emigrants were satisfied to establish themselves along
the margins of the larger water-courses, content with the rich returns
that the generous, alluvial, bottoms of the rivers never fail to bestow
on the most desultory industry. In this manner were communities formed
with magical rapidity; and most of those who witnessed the purchase of
the empty empire, have lived to see already a populous and sovereign
state, parcelled from its inhabitants, and received into the bosom of
the national confederacy, on terms of political equality.
The incidents and scenes which are connected with our present
legend, occurred in the earliest periods of the enterprises which have
led to so great and so speedy a result.
The harvest of the first year of our possession had long been
passed, and the fading foliage of a few scattering trees was, already,
beginning to exhibit the hues and tints of autumn, when a train of
wagons issued from the bed of a dry rivulet, to pursue its course
across the undulating surface, of what, in the language of the country
of which we write, is called a "rolling prairie." The vehicles, loaded
with household goods and implements of husbandry, the few straggling
sheep and black cattle that were herded in the rear, and the rugged
appearance and careless mien of the sturdy men who loitered at the
sides of the lingering teams, united to announce a band of emigrants
seeking for the Elderado of their desires. Contrary to the usual
practice of the men of their caste, this party had leftthe fertile
bottoms of the low country, and had found its way, by means only known
to such adventurers, across glen and torrent, over deep morasses and
arid wastes, to a point far beyond the usual limits of civilized
habitations. In their front were stretched those broad plains, which
extend, with so little diversity of character, to the bases of the
Rocky Mountains; and many long and dreary miles in their rear, foamed
the swift and turbid waters of La Platte.
The appearance of such a train, in that bleak and solitary place,
was rendered the more remarkable by the fact, that the surrounding
country offered so little, that was tempting to the cupidity of
speculation, and, if possible, still less that was flattering to the
hopes of an ordinary settler of new lands.
The meagre herbage of the prairie, promised nothing, in favour of a
hard and unyielding soil, over which the wheels of the vehicles rattled
as lightly as though they travelled on a beaten road; neither wagons
nor beasts making any deeper impression, than to mark that bruised and
withered grass, which the cattle plucked, from time to time, and as
often rejected, as food too sour, for even their hunger to render
Whatever might be the final destination of these adventurers, or
the secret causes of their apparent security in so remote and
unprotected a situation, there was no visible sign of uneasiness or
alarm betrayed in the countenance or the deportment of any among them.
Including both sexes, and every age the number of the party exceeded
At some little distance in front of the whole, march ed the
individual, who, both by his position and air appeared to be the leader
of the band. He was a tall, sun-burnt, man, past the middle age, whose
dull countenance and listless manner denoted any other emotion than
that of compunction for the past or anxiety for the future. His frame
appeared loose and flexible; but it was vast, and in reality of
prodigious power. It was, only at moments, however, as some slight
impediment opposed itself to his loitering progress, that his person,
which, in its ordinary gait seemed so lounging and nerveless, displayed
any of those energies, which lay latent in his system, like the
slumbering and unwieldy, but terrible, strength of the elephant. The
inferior lineaments of his countenance were coarse, extended and
vacant; while the superior, or those nobler parts which are thought to
affect the intellectual being, were low, receding and mean.
The dress of this individual was a mixture of the coarsest
vestments of a husbandman with the leathern garments, that fashion as
well as use, had in some degree rendered necessary to one engaged in
his present pursuits. There was, however, a singular and wild display
of prodigal and ill judged ornaments, blended with his motley attire.
In place of the usual deer-skin belt, he wore around his body a
tarnished silken sash of the most gaudy colours; the buck-horn haft of
his knife was profusely decorated with plates of silver; the martin's
fur of his cap was of a fineness and shadowing that a queen might
covet; the buttons of his rude and soiled blanket-coat were of the
glittering coinage of Mexico; the stock of his rifle was of beautiful
mahogany, riveted and banded with the same precious metal, and the
trinkets of no less than three worthless watches dangled from different
parts of his person. In addition to the pack and the rifle which were
slung at his back, together with the well filled, and carefully guarded
pouch and horn, he had carelessly cast a keen and bright wood-axe
across his shoulder, sustaining the weight of the whole with as much
apparent ease, as though he moved, unfettered in his limbs, and free
from the smallest incumbrance.
A short distance in the rear of this man, came a groupe of youths
very similarly attired, and bearing sufficient resemblance to each
other, and to their leader, to distinguish them as the children of one
family. Though the youngest of their number could not much have passed
the period, that, in the nicer judgment of the law is called the age of
discretion, he had proved himself so far worthy of his progenitors as
to have reared already his aspiring person to the standard height of
his race. There were one or two others, of different mould, whose
descriptions must however be referred to the regular course of the
Of the females, there were but two who had arrived at womanhood;
though several white-headed, olive-skin'd faces were peering out of the
foremost wagon of the train, with eyes of lively curiosity and
characteristic animation. The elder of the two adults, was the sallow
and wrinkled mother of most of the party, and the younger was a
sprightly, active, girl, of eighteen, who in figure, dress and mien
seemed to belong to a station in society several gradations above that
of any one of her visible associates. The second vehicle was covered
with a top of cloth so tightly drawn, as to conceal its contents, with
the nicest care. The remaining wagons, were loaded, with nothing more
valuable than such rude furniture and other personal effects, as might
be supposed to belong to one, ready at any moment, to change his abode,
without reference to season or distance.
Perhaps there was little in this train, or in the appearance of its
proprietors, that is not daily to be encountered on the highways of our
changeable and moving country. But the solitary and peculiar scenery in
which it was so unexpectedly exhibited, gave to the party a marked
character of wildness and adventure.
In the little vallies, which, in the regular formation of the land,
occurred at every mile of their progress, the view was bounded, on two
of the sides, by the gradual and low elevations, which give name to
that description of prairie, we have mentioned; while onhe others, the
meagre prospect ran off in long, narrow, barren perspectives, but
slightly relieved by a pitiful show of coarse, though, somewhat,
luxuriant vegetation. From the summits of the swells, the eye became
fatigued with the sameness and chilling dreariness of the landscape.
The earth was not unlike the Ocean, when its restless waters are
heaving heavily after the agitation and fury of the tempest have begun
to lessen. There was the same waving and regular surface, the same
absence of foreign objects, and the same boundless extent to the view.
Indeed so very striking was the resemblance between the water and the
land, that, however much the geologist might sneer at so simple a
theory, it would have been difficult for a poet not to have felt, that
the formation of the one had been produced by the subsiding dominion of
the other. Here and there a tall tree rose out of the bottoms,
stretching its naked branches abroad, like some solitary vessel; and,
to strengthen the delusion, far in the utmost distance, appeared two or
three rounded thickets, looming in the misty horizon like islands
resting on the bosom of the waters. It is unnecessary to warn the
practised reader, that the sameness of the surface, and the low stands
of the spectators exaggerated the distances; but still, as swell
appeared after swell, and island succeeded island, there was a
disheartening assurance that long, and seemingly interminable, tracts
of territory must be passed, before the wishes of the humblest
agriculturist could be realized.
Still, the leader of the emigrants steadily pursued his way, with
no other guide than the sun, turning his back resolutely on the abodes
of civilization, and plunging, at each step, more deeply if not
irretrievably, into the haunts of the barbarous and savage occupants of
the country. As the day drew nigher to a close, however, his mind,
which was, perhaps, incapable of maturing any connected system of
forethoughtbeyond that which related to the interests of the present
moment, became, in some slight degree, troubled with the care of
providing for the wants of the coming hours of darkness.
On reaching the crest of a swell that was a little higher than the
usual elevations, he lingered a minute, and cast a half curious eye, on
either hand, in quest of those well known signs, which might indicate a
place, where the three grand requisites of, water, fuel and fodder were
to be obtained in conjunction.
It would seem that his search was fruitless; for after a few
moments of indolent and listless examination, he suffered his huge
frame, to descend the gentle declivity, in the same sluggish manner
that an over fatted beast would have yielded to the downward pressure.
His example was silently followed by those who succeeded him,
though not until the young men had manifested much more of interest, if
not of concern in the brief inquiry, which each, in his turn, made on
gaining the same look-out. It was now evident by the tardy movements
both of beasts and men, that the time of necessary rest, was not far
distant. The matted grass of the lower land, presented obstacles which
fatigue began to render formidable, and the whip was becoming necessary
to urge the lingering teams to their labour. At this moment, when, with
the exception of the principal individual, a general lassitude was
getting the mastery of the travellers, and every eye was cast, by a
sort of common impulse, wistfully forward, the whole party was brought
to a halt, by a spectacle, as sudden as it was unexpected.
The sun had fallen below the crest of the nearest wave of the
prairie leaving the usual, rich and glowing, train on its track. In the
centre of this flood of fiery light, a human form appeared, drawn
against the gilded background, as distinctly, and, seemingly as
palpable, as though it would come within the graspof any extended hand.
The figure was colossal; the attitude musing and melancholy, and the
situation directly in the route of the travellers. But imbedded, as it
was, in its setting of garish light, it was impossible to distinguish
more concerning its proportions or character.
The effect of such a spectacle was instantaneous and powerful. The
man in front of the emigrants came to a stand, and remained gazing at
the mysterious object, with a dull interest, that soon quickened into a
species of superstitious awe. His sons, so soon as the first emotions
of surprise had a little abated, drew, slowly, around him, and, as they
who governed the teams, gradually, followed their example, the whole
party was soon condensed in one, silent, and wondering groupe.
Notwithstanding the impression of a supernatural agency was very
general among the travellers, the ticking of gun-locks was heard, and
one or two of the bolder of the youths cast their rifles forward, in
guarded readiness for any service.
"Send the boys off to the right," exclaimed the resolute wife and
mother, in a sharp, dissonant voice, "I warrant me, Asa, or Abner will
give some account of the creatur!"
"It may be well enough, to try the rifle," muttered a dull looking
man, whose features both in outline and expression, bore no small
resemblance, to the first speaker, and who loosened the stock of his
piece and brought it dexterously to the front, while delivering this
decided opinion; "the Pawnee Loups are said to be hunting by hundreds
in the plains; if so, they'll never miss a single man from their
"Stay!" exclaimed a soft toned, but fearfully alarmed female voice,
which was easily to be traced to the trembling lips of the younger of
the two women; "we are not all, together; it may be a friend!"
"Who is scouting, now?" demanded the father, scanning, at the same
time, the cluster of his stoutsons, with a displeased and sullen eye.
"Put by the piece, put by the piece;" he continued, diverting the
other's aim, with the finger of a giant, and with the air of one it
might be dangerous to deny. "My job is not yet ended; let us finish the
little that remains, in peace."
The man, who had manifested so hostile an intention, appeared to
understand the other's allusion, and suffered himself to be diverted
from his object. The sons turned their inquiring looks, on the girl,
who had so eagerly spoken, to require an explanation; but, as if
content with the respite she had obtained for the stranger, she had
already sunk back, in her seat, and now chose to affect a maidenly
In the mean time, the hues of the heavens had often changed. In
place of the brightness, which had dazzled the eye, a gray and more
sober light had succeeded, and as the setting lost its brilliancy, the
proportions of the fanciful form became less exaggerated, and finally
quite distinct. Ashamed to hesitate, now, that the truth was no longer
doubtful, the leader of the party resumed his journey, using the
precaution, as he ascended the slight acclivity, to release his own
rifle from the strap, and to cast it into a situation more convenient
for sudden use.
There was little apparent necessity, however, for such
watchfulness. From the moment when it had thus unaccountably appeared,
as it were, between the heavens and the earth, the stranger's figure
had neither moved nor given the smallest evidence of hostility. Had he
harboured any such evil intention, the individual who now came plainly
into view, seemed but little qualified to execute them.
A frame that had endured the hardships of more than eighty seasons
was not qualified to awaken apprehension, in the breast of one as
powerful as the emigrant. Notwithstanding his years, and his look of
emaciation if not of suffering, there was that aboutthis solitary
being, however, which said that time, and not disease, had laid his
hand too heavily on him. His form, had withered, but it was not wasted.
The sinews and muscles, which had once denoted great strength, though
shrunken, were still visible; and his whole figure had attained an
appearance of induration, which, if it were not for the well known
frailty of humanity, would have seemed to bid defiance to the further
approaches of decay. His dress was chiefly of skins, worn with the hair
to the weather; a pouch and horn were suspended from his shoulders; and
he leaned on a rifle of uncommon length, but which like its owner,
exhibited the wear of long and hard service.
As the party drew nigher to this solitary being, and came within a
distance to be heard, a low growl issued from the grass at his feet,
and then, a tall, gaunt, toothless, hound, arose lazily from his lair,
and shaking himself made some show of resisting the nearer approach of
"Down, Hector, down;" said his master, in a voice, that was a
little tremulous and hollow with age. "What have ye to do, pup, with
men who journey on their lawful callings."
"Stranger, if you ar' much acquainted in this country," said the
leader of the emigrants, "can you tell a traveller where he may find
necessaries for the night."
"Is the land filled on the other side of the Big River?" demanded
the old man, solemnly, and without appearing to hearken to the other's
question; "or why do I see a sight, I had never thought to behold
"Why, there is country left, it is true, for such as have money,
and ar' not particular in the choice," returned the emigrant; "but to
my taste, it is getting crowdy. What may a man call the distance, from
this place to the nighest point on the main river."
"A hunted deer could not cool his sides, in the Mississippi,
without travelling a long five hundred miles."
"And in what way may you name the district, hereaway?"
"By what name," returned the old man, pointing significantly
upward, "would you call the spot, where you see yonder cloud?"
The emigrant looked at the other, like one who did not comprehend
his meaning and who half suspected he was trifled with, but he
contented himself by saying——
"You ar' but a new inhabitant, like myself, I reckon, stranger,
otherwise you would'n't be backward in helping a traveller to some
advice; which costs but little, seeing it is only a gift in words."
"It is not a gift, but a debt that the old owe to the young. What
would you wish to know?"
"Where I may 'camp for the night. I'm no great difficulty maker, as
to bed and board, but, all old journeyers, like myself, know the virtue
of sweet water, and a good browse for the cattle."
"Come then with me, and you shall be master of both; and little
more is it that I can offer on this hungry prairie."
As the old man was speaking, he raised his heavy rifle to his
shoulder, with a facility a little remarkable for his years and
apearance, and without further words led the way over the acclivity
into the adjacent bottom.
"Up with my tent: here will I lie to night,
But where, to-morrow?——Well, all's one for that."
—— Richard the Third
The travellers soon discovered the usual and unerring evidences,
that the several articles necessary to their situation were not far
distant. A clear and gurgling spring burst out of the side of the
declivity, and joining its waters to those of other similar little
fountains, in its vicinity, their united contributions formed a run,
which was easily to be traced for miles, along the prairie, by the
scattering foliage and verdure which occasionally grew within the
influence of its moisture. Hither, then, the stranger held his way,
eagerly followed by the willing teams, whose instinct gave them a
prescience of refreshment and of rest from labour.
On reaching what he deemed a suitable spot, the old man halted, and
with an inquiring look, he seemed to demand if it possessed the needful
conveniences. The leader of the emigrants cast his eyes,
understandingly, about him, and examined the place with the keenness of
one competent to judge of so nice a question, though in that dilatory
and heavy manner, which rarely permitted him to betray any unmanly
"Ay, this may do," he said, when satisfied with his scrutiny;
"boys, you have seen the last of the sun; be stirring."
The young men manifested a characteristic obedience to the
injunction. The order, for such, in tone and manner it was, in truth,
was received with respect; but the utmost movement was the falling of
an axe or two from the shoulder to the ground, whiletheir owners
continued to regard the place with listless and incurious eyes. In the
mean time, the elder traveller, as if familiar with the nature of the
impulses by which his children were governed, disencumbered himself of
his pack and rifle, and, assisted by the man already mentioned as
disposed to appeal so promptly to the rifle, he quietly proceeded to
release the cattle from the gears.
At length the eldest of the sons stepped heavily forward, and,
without any apparent effort, he buried his axe to the eye, in the soft
body of a cotton-wood tree. He stood, a moment, regarding the effect of
his blow, with that sort of contempt with which a giant might be
supposed to contemplate the puny resistance of a dwarf, and then
flourishing the implement above his head, with the grace and dexterity
with which a master of the art of offence would wield his nobler though
less useful weapon, he quickly severed the trunk of the tree bringing
its tall top crashing to the earth, in submission to his prowess. His
companions had regarded the operation with indolent curiosity, until
they saw the prostrate trunk stretched along the ground, when, as if a
signal for a general attack had been given, they advanced in a body to
the work, and in a space of time, and with a neatness of execution that
would have astonished an ignorant spectator, they stripped a small but
suitable spot of its burden of forest, as effectually, and almost as
promptly, as if a whirlwind had passed along the place.
The stranger, had been a silent but attentive observer of their
progress. As tree after tree came whistling down, he cast his eyes
upward, at the vacancies they left in the heavens, with a melancholy
gaze, and finally turned away, muttering to himself with a bitter
smile, like one who disdained giving a more audible utterance to his
discontent. Pressing through the groupe of active and busy children,
whohad already lighted a cheerful fire, the attention of the old man
became next fixed, on the movements of the leader of the emigrants and
of his savage looking assistant.
These two had, already, liberated the cattle, which were eagerly
browsing the grateful and nutritious extremities of the fallen trees,
and were now employed about the wagon, which has been described, as
having its contents concealed with so much apparent care.
Notwithstanding it appeared to be as silent, and as tenantless as the
rest of the vehicles, the men applied their strength to its wheels, and
rolled it apart from the others, to a dry and elevated spot, near the
edge of the thicket. Here they brought certain poles, which had,
seemingly, been long employed in such a service, and fastening their
larger ends firmly in the ground, the smaller were attached to the
hoops that supported the covering of the wagon. Large folds of cloth
were next drawn out of the vehicle, and after being spread around the
whole, were pegged to the earth in such a manner as to form a tolerably
capacious and exceedingly convenient tent. After surveying their work
with inquisitive, and perhaps jealous eyes, arranging a fold here and
driving a peg more firmly there, the men once more applied their
strength to the wagon, pulling it, by its projecting tongue, from the
centre of the canopy, until it appeared in the open air, deprived of
its covering, and destitute of any other freight, than a few light
articles of furniture. The latter were immediately removed, by the
traveller, into the tent with his own hands, as though to enter it,
were a privilege, to which even his bosom companion was not entitled.
As curiosity is a passion that is rather quickened than destroyed
by seclusion, the old inhabitant of the prairies did not view these
precautionary and mysterious movements, without experiencing some of
itsimpulses. He approached the tent, and, was about to sever two of its
folds, with the very obvious intention of examining, more closely, into
the nature of its contents, when the man who had once already placed
his life in jeopardy, seized him by the arm, and with a somewhat rude
exercise of his strength threw him from the spot he had selected as the
one most convenient for his object.
"It's an honest regulation, friend," the fellow, drily observed,
though with an eye that threatened volumes, "and sometimes it is a safe
one, which says, mind your own business."
"Men seldom bring any thing to be concealed into these deserts,"
returned the old man, as if willing, and yet a little ignorant how to
apologize for the liberty he had been about to take, "and I had hoped
no offence, in looking into the place."
"They seldom bring themselves, I reckon," the other roughly
answered; "this has the look of an old country, though to my eye it
seems not to be overly peopled."
"The land is as aged as the rest of the works of the Lord, I
believe; but you say true, concerning its inhabitants. Many months have
passed since I have laid eyes on a face of my own colour, before your
own. I say again, friend, I had hoped, no harm; I didn't know, whether
there was not, something behind the cloth, that might bring former days
to my thoughts."
As the stranger ended his simple explanation, he walked meekly
away, like one who felt the deepest sense of the right which every man
has to the quiet enjoyment of his own, without any troublesome
interference on the part of his neighbour; a wholesome and just
principle that he had, also, most probably imbibed from the habits of
his secluded life. As he passed back, towards the little encampment of
the emigrants, for such the place had now become, he heard the voice of
the leader calling aloud, in its hoarse and authoritative tones, the
The girl who has been already introduced to the reader, and who was
occupied with others of her sex, around the fires, sprang willingly
forward, at this summons, and passing the stranger with the activity of
a young antelope, she was instantly lost, behind the forbidden folds of
the fent. Neither her sudden disappearance, nor any of the arrangements
we have mentioned, seemed, however, to excite the smallest surprise,
among the remainder of the party. The young men who had already
completed their tasks, with the axe, were all engaged after their
lounging and listless manner; some in bestowing equitable portions of
the fodder, among the different animals; others in plying the heavy
pestle of a moveable hommony-mortar, and one or two, in wheeling the
remainder of the wagons aside and arranging them, in such a manner as
to form a sort of outwork for their, otherwise, defenceless bivouac.
These, several, duties were soon performed, and, as darkness, now,
began to conceal the objects on the surrounding prairie, the shrill
toned termagant, whose voice since the halt had been diligently
exercised among her idle and drowsy offspring, announced in tones that
might have been heard at a dangerous distance, that the evening meal
waited only for the approach of those who were to consume it. Whatever
may be the other qualities of a border man, he is seldom deficient in
the virtue of hospitality. The emigrant no sooner heard the sharp call
of his wife, than he cast his eyes about him in quest of the stranger,
in order to proffer to him the place of distinction, in the rude
entertainment to which they were so unceremoniously summoned.
"I thank you, friend," the old man replied to therough invitation
to take a seat nigh the smoking kettle; "you have my hearty thanks; but
I have eaten for the day, and I am not one of them, who dig their
graves with their teeth. Well; as you wish it, I will take a place, for
it is long sin' I have seen people of my colour, eating their daily
"You ar' an old settler, in these districts, then," the emigrant
rather remarked than inquired, with a mouth filled nearly to
overflowing with the delicious hommony, prepared by his skilful, though
repulsive spouse. "They told us below, we should find settlers
something thinnish, hereaway, and I must say, the report was mainly
true; for, unless, we count the Canada traders on the big river, you
ar' the first white face I have met, in a good five hundred miles; that
is calculating according to your own reckoning."
"Though I have spent some years, in this quarter, I can hardly be
called a settler, seeing that I have no regular abode, and seldom pass
more than a month, at a time, on the same range."
"A hunter, I reckon?" the other continued, glancing his eyes aside,
as if to examine the equipments of his new acquaintance; "your fixen
seem none of the best, for such a calling."
"They are old, and nearly ready to be laid aside, like their
master," said the old man, regarding his rifle, with a look in which
affection and regret were singularly blended; "and I may say they are
but little needed, too. You are mistaken, friend, in calling me a
hunter; I am nothing better than a trapper."
"If you ar' much of the one, I'm bold to say you ar' something of
the other; for the two callings, go mainly together, in these
"To the shame of the man who is able to follow the first be it so
said!" returned the trapper, whom in future we shall choose to
designate by his pursuit; "for more than fifty years did I carry my
rifle in thewilderness, without so much as setting a snare for even a
bird that flies the heavens;——much less, a beast that has nothing but
legs, for its gifts."
"I see but little difference whether a man gets his peltry by the
rifle or by the trap," said the ill-looking companion of the emigrant,
in his rough and sullen manner. "The 'arth was made for his comfort;
and, for that matter, so ar' its creatur's."
"You seem to have but little plunder, stranger, for one who is far
abroad," bluntly interrupted the emigrant, as if he had a reason for
wishing to change the conversation. "I hope you ar' better off for
"I make but little use of either," the trapper, quietly replied.
"At my time of life, food and clothing be all that is needed, and I
have little occasion for what you call plunder, unless it may be, now
and then, to barter for a horn of powder or a bar of lead."
"You ar' not, then, of these parts, by natur', friend!" the
emigrant continued, having in his mind the exception which the other
had taken to the very equivocal word, which he himself, according to
the customs of the country, had used for "baggage" or "effects."
"I was born on the sea-shore, though most of my life has been
passed in the woods."
The whole party, now looked up at him, as men are apt to turn their
eyes on some unexpected object of general interest. One or two of the
young men, repeated the words "sea-shore," and the woman tendered him
one of those civilities, with which, uncouth as they were, she was
little accustomed to grace her hospitality, as if in deference to the
travelled dignity of her guest. After a long, and, seemingly a
meditating silence, the emigrant, who had, however, seen no apparent
necessity to suspend the functions of his powers of mastication,
resumed the discourse.
"It is a long road, as I have heard, from the waters of the west to
the shores of the main sea?"
"It is a weary path, indeed, friend; and much have I seen, and
something have I suffered in journeying over it."
"A man would see a good deal of hard travel in going its length!"
"Seventy and five years have I been upon the road, and there are
not half that number of leagues in the whole distance, after you leave
the Hudson, on which I have not tasted venison of my own killing. But
this is vain boasting! of what use are former deeds, when time draws to
"I once met a man, that had boated on the river he names," observed
one of the sons, speaking in a low tone of voice, like one who
distrusted his knowledge, and deemed it prudent to assume a becoming
diffidence in the presence of a man who had seen so much; "from his
tell, it must be a considerable stream, and deep enough for a keel,
from top to bottom."
"It is a wide and deep water-course, and many sightly towns, are
there growing on its banks," returned the trapper; "and yet it is but a
brook, to the waters of the endless river!"
"I call nothing a stream, that a man can travel round," exclaimed
the ill-looking associate of the emigrant; "a real river must be
crossed; not headed, like a bear in a country hunt."
"Have you been far towards the sun-down, friend?" again interrupted
the emigrant, as if he desired to keep his rough companion, as much as
possible out of the discourse. "I find it is a wide tract of clearing,
this, into which I have fallen."
"You may travel weeks, and you will see it the same. I often think
the Lord has placed this barren belt of prairie, behind the states, to
warn men to what their folly may yet bring the land! Ay! weeks if not
months, may you journey in these open fields, in which there is neither
dwelling, nor habitation for man or beast. Even the savage animals
travel mileson miles to seek their dens. And yet the wind seldom blows
from the east, but I conceit the sounds of axes, and the crash of
falling trees are in my ears."
As the old man spoke with the seriousness and dignity that age
seldom fails to communicate, even, to less striking sentiments, his
auditors were deeply attentive, and as silent as the grave. Indeed, the
trapper was left to renew the dialogue, himself, which he soon did by
asking a question, in the indirect manner so much in use by the border
"You found it no easy matter to ford the water-courses, and make
your way so deep into the prairies, friend, with teams of horses, and
herds of horned beasts?"
"I kept the left bank of the main river," the emigrant replied,
"until I found the stream leading too much to the north, when we rafted
ourselves across, without any great suffering. The woman lost a fleece
or two from the next year's shearing, and the girls have one cow less
to their dairy. Since then, we have done bravely, by bridging a creek,
every day or two."
"It is likely you will continue west, until you come to land more
suitable for a settlement?"
"Until I see reason to stop, or to turn ag'in," the emigrant
bluntly answered, rising at the same time, and cutting short the
dialogue, by an air of dissatisfaction, no less than by the suddenness
of the movement. His example, was followed by the trapper, as well as
the rest of the party, and then, without much deference to the presence
of their guest, the travellers proceeded to make their dispositions to
pass the night. Several little bowers, or rather huts, had already been
formed of the tops of trees, blankets of coarse country manufacture,
and the skins of buffaloes, united without much reference to any other
object than temporary comfort. Into these covers the children with
their mother soon drew themselves,and where, it is more than possible,
they were all speedily lost in the oblivion of sleep. Before the men,
however, could seek their rest, they had sundry little duties to
perform; such as completing their works of defence; carefully
concealing the fires; replenishing the fodder of their cattle, and
setting the watch that was to protect the party in the approaching
hours of deeper night.
The former was effected by dragging the trunks of a few trees, into
the intervals left by the wagons, and along the open space, between the
vehicles and the thicket, on which, in military language, the
encampment would be said to have rested; thus forming a sort of
chevaux-de-frise on three sides of the position. Within these narrow
limits (with the exception of what the tent contained,) both man and
beast were now collected; the latter being far too happy in resting
their weary limbs, to give any undue annoyance to their scarcely more
intelligent associates. Two of the young men took their rifles, and
first renewing the priming and examining the flints, with the utmost
care, they proceeded, the one to the extreme right and the other to the
left of the encampment, where they posted themselves, within the
shadows of the thicket, but in such positions, as enabled each to
overlook his proper portion of the prairie.
The trapper had loitered about the place, declining to share the
straw of the emigrant, until the whole arrangement was completed; and
then without the ceremony of an adieu, he slowly retired from the spot.
It was now in the first watch of the night, and the pale,
quivering, and deceptive light, from a new moon, was playing over the
endless waves of the prairie, tipping the swells with gleams of
brightness, and leaving the interval land in deep shadow. Accustomed to
scenes of solitude like the present, the old man, as he left the
encampment proceeded aloneinto the wide waste, like a bold vessel
leaving its haven to trust itself on the trackless field of the ocean.
He appeared to move for some time, without object, or indeed, without
any apparent consciousness, whither his limbs were carrying him. At
length, on reaching the rise of one of the undulations, he came to a
stand, and for the first time, since leaving the band, who had caused
such a flood of reflections and recollections to crowd upon his mind,
the old man became aware of his present situation. Throwing one end of
his rifle to the earth, he stood leaning on the other, again lost in
deep contemplation for several minutes, during which time his hound
came and crouched close at his feet. It was a deep, menacing, growl
from the faithful animal, that first aroused him from his musing.
"What now, dog?" he said, looking down at his companion, as though
he addressed a being of an intelligence equal to his own, and speaking
in a voice of great affection. "What is it, pup? ha! Hector; what is it
nosing, now? It won't do, dog; it won't do; the very fa'ns play in open
view of us, without minding two such worn out curs, as you and I.
Instinct is their gift, Hector; and, they have found out how little we
are to be feared, now; they have!"
The dog stretched his head upward, and responded to the words of
his master by a long and plaintive whine, which he even continued after
he had again buried his head in the grass as if he held an intelligent
communication with one who so well knew how to interpret dumb
"This is a manifest warning, Hector!" the trapper continued,
dropping his voice, to the tones of caution and looking warily about
him. "What is it, pup; what is it?"
The hound had, however, already laid his nose to the earth, and was
silent; appearing to slumber. But the keen quick glances of his master,
soon caught aglimpse of a distant figure, which seemed, through the
deceptive light, floating along the very elevation on which he had
placed himself. Presently its proportions became more distinct, and
then an airy, female form appeared to hesitate, as if considering
whether it would be prudent to advance. Though the eyes of the dog,
were now to be seen glancing in the rays of the moon, opening and
shutting lazily, he gave no further signs of displeasure.
"Come nigher; we are friends," said the trapper, associating
himself with his companion by long use and, probably, through the
strength of the secret tie that connected them together; "we are your
friends; none will harm you."
Encouraged by the mild tones of his voice, and perhaps led on by
the earnestness of her purpose, the female approached, until, she stood
at his side; when the old man perceived his visiter to be the young
woman, with whom the reader, has already become acquainted by the name
of "Ellen Wade."
"I had thought you were gone," she said, looking timidly and
anxiously around. "They said you were gone; and that we should never
see you again. I did not think, it was you!"
"Men are no common objects in these empty fields," returned the
trapper, "and I humbly hope, though I have so long consorted with the
beasts of the wilderness, that I have not yet lost the look of my
"Oh! I knew you to be a man, and I thought I knew the whine of the
hound, too," she answered, hastily, as if willing to explain she knew
not what, and then checking herself, as though fearful of having,
already, said too much.
"I saw no dogs, among the teams of your father," the trapper dryly
"Father!" exclaimed the girl, feelingly, "I have no father! I had
nearly said no friend." The old man, turned towards her, with a look of
kindness and interest, that was even more conciliating than the
ordinary, upright, and benevolent expression of his weather-beaten
"Why then do you venture in a place where none but the strong
should come?" he demanded. "Did you not know that, when you crossed the
big river, you left a friend behind you that is always bound to look to
the young and feeble, like yourself."
"Of whom do you speak?"
"The law——'tis bad to have it, but, I sometimes think, it is worse,
where it is never to be found. Yes ——yes, the law is needed, when such
as have not the gifts of strength and wisdom are to be taken care of. I
hope, young woman, if you have no father, you have at least a brother."
The maiden felt the tacit reproach conveyed in this covert
question, and for a moment remained in an embarrassed silence. But
catching a glimpse of the mild and serious features of her companion,
as he continued to gaze on her with a look of interest, she replied,
firmly, and in a manner that left no doubt she comprehended his
"Heaven forbid that any such as you have seen, should be a brother
of mine or any thing else near or dear to me! But, tell me, do you then
actually live alone, in this desert district, old man; is there really
none here besides yourself?"
"There are hundreds, nay, thousands of the rightful owners of the
country, roving about the plains; but few of our own colour."
"And have you then met none who are white, but us?" interrupted the
girl, like one too impatient to await the tardy explanation his age and
deliberation were about to make.
"Not in many days——Hush, Hector, hush," he added in reply to a low,
and nearly inaudible, growl from his hound. "The dog scents mischief in
thewind! The black bears from the mountains sometimes make their way,
even lower than this. The pup is not apt to complain of the harmless
game. I am not so ready and true with the piece as I used-to-could-be,
yet I have struck even the fiercest animals of the prairie, in my time;
so, you have little reason for fear, young woman."
The girl, raised her eyes, in that peculiar manner which is so
often practised by her sex, when they commence their glances, by
examining the earth at their feet, and terminate them by noting every
thing within the power of human vision; but she rather manifested the
quality of impatience, than any feeling of alarm.
A short bark from the dog, however, soon gave a new direction to
the looks of both, and then the real object of his second warning
became dimly visible.
"Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood, as any in Italy;
and as soon mov'd to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved."
—— Romeo and Juliet
Though the trapper manifested some surprise when he perceived that
another human figure was approaching him, and that, too, from a
direction opposite to the place where the emigrant had made his
encampment, it was with the steadiness of one long accustomed to scenes
"This is a man," he said; "and one who has white blood in his
veins, or his step would be lighter. It will be well to be ready for
the worst, as the half-and-halfs, that one meets, in these distant
districts, are altogether more barbarous than the real savage."
He raised his rifle while he spoke, and assuredhimself of the state
of its flint, as well as of the priming by manual examination. But his
arm was arrested, while in the act of throwing forward the muzzle of
the piece, by the eager and trembling hands of his companion.
"For God's sake, be not too hasty," she said; "it may be a
friend——an acquaintance——a neighbour."
"A friend!" the old man repeated, deliberately releasing himself,
at the same time, from her grasp. "Friends are rare in any land, and
less in this, perhaps, than in another; and the neighbourhood is too
thinly settled, to make it likely, that he who comes towards us is even
"But though a stranger, you would not seek his blood!"
The trapper earnestly regarded her anxious and frightened features,
a moment, and then he dropped the butt of his rifle on the ground,
again, like one whose purpose had undergone a sudden change.
"No," he said, speaking rather to himself, than to his timid
companion, "she is right; blood is not to be spilt, to save the life of
one so useless, and so near his allotted time. Let him come on; my
skins, my traps, and even my rifle shall be his, if he sees fit to
"He will ask for neither——He wants neither," returned the girl; "if
he be an honest man, he will surely be content with his own, and ask
for nothing that is the property of another."
The trapper had not time to express the surprise he felt at the
incoherent and contradictory language he heard, for the man who was
advancing, was, already, within fifty feet of the place where they
stood.—— In the mean time, Hector had not been an indifferent witness
of what was passing. At the sound of the distant footsteps, he had
arisen, from his warm bed at the feet of his master; and now, as the
stranger appeared in open view he stalked slowly towards him,crouching
to the earth like a panther about to take his leap.
"Call in your dog," said a firm, deep, manly voice, in tones of
friendship, rather than of menace; "I love a hound, and should be sorry
to do an injury to the animal."
"You hear what is said about you, pup?" the trapper answered; "come
hither, fool. His growl and his bark are all that is left him now; you
may come on, friend; the hound is toothless."
The stranger instantly profited by the intelligence. He sprang
eagerly forward, and at the next instant stood at the side of Ellen
Wade. After assuring himself of the identity of the latter, by a hasty
but keen glance, he turned his attention, with a quickness and
impatience, that proved the interest he took in the result, to a
similar examination of her companion.
"From what cloud have you fallen, my good old man?" he said in a
careless, off-hand, heedless manner that seemed too natural to be
assumed. "Or do you actually live, hereaway, in the prairies."
"I have been long on earth, and never I hope nigher to heaven, than
I am at this moment," returned the trapper; "my dwelling, if dwelling I
may be said to have, is not far distant. Now may I take the liberty
with you, that you are so willing to take with others? Whence do you
come, and where is your home?"
"Softly, softly; when I have done with my catechism, it will be
time to begin with your's. What sport is this, you follow by moonlight?
You are not dodging the buffaloes at such an hour!"
"I am, as you see, going from an encampment of travellers, which
lies over yonder swell in the land, to my own wigwam; in doing so, I
wrong no man."
"All fair and true. And you got this young woman to show you the
way, because she knows it so well and you know so little about it."
"I met her, as I have met you, by accident. For ten tiresome years
have I dwelt on these open fields, and never, before to-night, have I
found human beings with white skins on them, at this hour. If my
presence here gives offence, I am sorry; and will go my way. It is more
than likely that when your young friend, has told her story, you will
be better given to believe mine."
"Friend!" said the youth, lifting a cap of skins from his head, and
running his fingers leisurely through a dense mass of black and shaggy
locks, "if I ever laid eyes on the girl before to-night, may I..."
"You've said enough, Paul," interrupted the female, laying her hand
on his mouth, with a familiarity, that gave something very like the lie
direct, to his intended asseveration. "Our secret will be safe, with
this honest old man. I know it by his looks, and kind words."
"Our secret! Ellen, have you forgot..."
"Nothing. I have not forgotten any thing I should remember. But
still I say we are safe with this honest trapper.
"Trapper! is he then a trapper? Give me your hand, father; our
trades should bring us acquainted."
"There is little call for handicrafts in this region," returned the
other, examining the athletic and active form of the youth, as he
leaned carelessly and not ungracefully, on his rifle; "the art of
taking the creatur's of God, in traps and nets, is one that needs more
cunning than manhood; and yet am I brought to practise it, in my age!
But it would be quite as seemly, in one like you, to follow a pursuit
better becoming your years and courage."
"Me! I never took even a slinking mink or a paddling musk-rat in a
cage; though I admit having peppered a few of the dark-skin'd devils,
when I had much better have kept my powder in the horn andthe lead in
its pouch. Not I, old man; nothing that crawls the earth is for my
"What then may you do for a living, friend; for little profit is to
be made in these districts, if a man denies himself his lawful right in
the beasts of the fields."
"I deny myself nothing. If a bear crosses my path, he is soon no
bear. The deer begin to nose me; and as for the buffaloe, I have kill'd
more beef, old stranger, than the largest butcher in all Kentuck."
"You can shoot, then!" demanded the trapper, with a glow of latent
fire, glimmering about his small, deep-set, eyes; "is your hand true,
and your look quick?"
"The first is like a steel trap, and the last nimbler than a
buck-shot. I wish it was hot noon, now, grand'ther; and that there was
an acre or two of your white swans or of black feathered ducks going
south, over our heads; you or Ellen, here, might set your heart on the
finest in the flock, and my character against a horn of powder, that
the bird would be hanging head downwards, in five minutes, and that
too, with a single ball. I scorn a shot-gun! No man can say, he ever
knew me carry one, a rod."
"The lad has good in him! I see it plainly by his manner;" said the
trapper, turning to Ellen with an openly, encouraging air; "I will take
it on myself to say, that you are not unwise in meeting him, as you do.
Tell me, lad; did you ever strike a leaping buck atwixt the antlers?
Hector; quiet, pup; quiet. The very name of venison, quickens the blood
of the cur;——did you ever take an animal in that fashion, on the long
"You might just as well ask me, did you ever eat? There is no
fashion, old stranger, that a deer has not been touched by my hand,
unless it was when asleep."
"Ay, ay; you have a long, and a happy——ay, and an honest life afore
you! I am old, and I suppose Imight also say, worn out and useless;
but, if it was given me to choose my time, and place, again,——as such
things are not and ought not ever to be given to the will of
man——though if such a gift was to be given me, I would say, twenty and
the wilderness! But, tell me; how do you part with the peltry?"
"With my pelts! I never took a skin from a buck, nor a quill from a
goose, in my life! I knock them over, now and then, for a meal, and
sometimes to keep my finger true to the touch; but when hunger is
satisfied, the prairie wolves get the remainder. No ——no——I keep to my
calling; which pays me better, than all the fur I could sell on the
other side of the big river."
The old man appeared to ponder a little; but shaking his head, he
soon musingly continued——
"I know of but one business that can be followed here with
He was interrupted by the youth, who raised a small cup of tin,
which dangled at his neck before the other's eyes, and springing its
lid, the delicious odour of the finest flavoured honey, diffused itself
over the organs of the trapper.
"A bee hunter!" observed the latter, with a readiness that proved
he understood the nature of the occupation, though not without some
little surprise at discovering one of the other's spirited mien engaged
in so humble a pursuit. "It pays well in the skirts of the settlements,
but I should call it a doubtful trade, in the open districts."
"You think a tree is wanting for a swarm to settle in! But I know
differently; and so I have stretched out a few hundred miles farther
west, than common, to taste your honey. And, now, I have bated your
curiosity, stranger, you will just move aside, while I tell the
remainder of my story to this young woman."
"It is not necessary, I'm sure it is not necessarythat he should
leave us," said Ellen, with a haste that implied some little
consciousness of the singularity if not of the impropriety of the
request. "You can have nothing to say that the whole world might not
"No! well, may I be stung to death by drones, if I understand the
buzzings of a woman's mind! For my part, Ellen, I care for nothing nor
any body; and am just as ready to go down to the place where your
uncle, if uncle you can call one, who I'll swear is no relation, has
hoppled his teams, and tell the old man my mind now, as I shall be a
year hence. You have only to say a single word, and the thing is done;
let him like it or not."
"You are ever so hasty and so rash, Paul Hover, that I seldom know
when I am safe with you. How can you, who know the danger of our being
seen together, speak of going before my uncle and his sons!"
"Has he done that of which he has reason to be ashamed?" demanded
the trapper, who had not moved an inch from the place he first
"Heaven forbid! But there are reasons, why he should not be seen,
just now, that could do him no harm if known, but which may not yet be
told. And, so, if you will wait, father, near yonder willow bush, until
I have heard what Paul can possibly have to say, I shall be sure to
come and wish you a good night, before I return to the camp."
The trapper drew slowly aside, as if satisfied with the somewhat
incoherent reason Ellen had given why he should retire. When completely
out of ear shot of the earnest and hurried dialogue, that instantly
commenced between the two he had left, the old man, again paused, and
patiently awaited the moment when he might renew his conversation with
beings in whom he felt a growing interest, no less from the mysterious
character of their intercourse, than from a natural sympathy in the
welfare of a pair soyoung, and who, as in the simplicity of his heart
he was also fain to believe, were also so deserving. He was accompanied
by his indolent, but attached dog, who once more made his bed at the
feet of his master, and soon lay slumbering as usual, with his head
nearly buried in the dense fog of the prairie grass.
It was a spectacle so unusual to see the human form amid the
solitude in which he dwelt, that the trapper bent his eyes on the dim
figures of his new acquaintances, with sensations to which he had long
been a stranger. Their presence awakened recollections and emotions, to
which his sturdy but honest nature had latterly paid but little homage,
and his thoughts began to wander over the varied scenes of a life of
hardships, that had been strangely blended with scenes of wild and
peculiar enjoyment. The train taken by his thoughts had, already,
conducted him, in imagination, far into an ideal world, when he was,
once more suddenly, recalled to the reality of his situation, by the
movements of his faithful hound.
The dog, who, in submission to his years and infirmities, had
manifested such a decided propensity to sleep, now, arose, and stalked
from out the shadow cast by the tall person of his master, and looked
abroad into the prairie, as though his instinct apprised him of the
presence of still another visiter. Then, seemingly, content with his
examination, he returned to his comfortable post and disposed of his
weary limbs, with the deliberation and care of one who was no novice in
the art of self-preservation.
"What; again, Hector!" said the trapper in a soothing voice, which
he had the caution, however, to utter in an under tone; "what is it,
dog? tell his master, pup; what is it?"
Hector answered with another growl, but was content to continue in
his lair. These were evidences of intelligence and distrust, to which
one as practised as the trapper could not turn an inattentive ear.He
again spoke to the dog, encouraging him to watchfulness, by a low,
guarded, whistle. The animal however, as if conscious of having,
already, discharged his duty, obstinately refused to raise his head
from the grass.
"A hint from such a friend is far better than man's advice!"
muttered the trapper, as he slowly moved towards the couple who were
yet, too earnestly and abstractedly, engaged in their own discourse, to
notice his approach; "and none but a conceited settler would hear it
and not respect it, as he ought. Children," he added, when nigh enough
to address his companions, "we are not alone in these dreary fields;
there are others stirring, and, therefore, to the shame of our kind, be
it said, danger is nigh."
"If one of them lazy sons of Skirting Ishmael is prowling out of
his camp to-night," said the young bee-hunter, with great vivacity, and
in tones that might easily have been excited to a menace, "he may have
an end put to his journey, sooner than either he or his father is
"My life on it, they are all with the teams," hurriedly answered
the girl. "I saw the whole of them asleep, myself, except the two on
watch; and their natures have greatly changed, if they, too, are not
both dreaming of a turkey hunt or a court-house fight, at this very
"Some beast, with a strong scent, has passed between the wind and
the hound, father, and it makes him uneasy; or, perhaps, he too is
dreaming. I had, a pup, of my own in Kentuck, that, would start upon a
long chase from a deep sleep; and all upon the fancy of some dream. Go
to him, and pinch his ear, that the beast may feel the life within
"Not so——not so," returned the trapper, shaking his head as one who
better understood the qualities of his dog.——"Youth sleeps, ay, and
dreams too; but age is awake and watchful. The pup is never falsewith
his nose, and long experience tells me to heed his warnings."
"Did you ever run him upon the trail of carrion?"
"Why, I must say, that the ravenous beasts have sometimes tempted
me to let him loose, for they are as greedy as men, after the venison,
in its season; but then I knew the reason of the dog, would tell him
the object——No——no, Hector is an animal known in the ways of man, and
will never strike a false trail when a true one is to be followed!"
"Ay, ay, the secret is out! you have run the hound on the track of
a wolf, and his nose has a better memory than his master!" said the
I have seen the creatur' sleep for hours, with pack after pack, in
open view. A wolf might eat out of his tray without a snarl, unless
there was a scarcity; then, indeed, Hector would be apt to claim his
"There are panthers down from the mountains; I saw one make a leap
at a sick deer, as the sun was setting. Go; go you back to the dog, and
tell him the truth, father; in a minute, I..."
He was interrupted by a long, loud and piteous howl from the hound,
which rose on the air of the evening, like the wailing of some spirit
of the place, and passed off into the prairie, in cadences that rose
and fell, like its own undulating surface. The trapper was impressively
silent, listening intently. Even the reckless bee-hunter, was struck
with the wailing wildness of the sounds. After a short pause the former
whistled the dog to his side, and then turning to his companions he
said with the seriousness, which, in his opinion, the occasion
"They who think man enjoys all the knowledge of the creaturs of
God, will live to be disappointed, if they reach, as I have done, the
age of fourscore years. I will not take upon myself to say what
mischiefis brewing, nor will I vouch that, even, the hound himself
knows so much; but that evil is nigh, and that wisdom invites us to
avoid it, I have heard from the mouth of one who never lies. I did
think, the pup had become unused to the footsteps of man, and that your
presence made him uneasy; but his nose has been on a long scent the
whole evening, and what I mistook as a notice of your coming, has been
intended for something much more serious. If the advice of an old man,
is, then, worth hearkening to, children, you will quickly, go different
ways to your places of shelter and safety."
"If I quit Ellen, at such a moment," exclaimed the youth, "may I
"You've said enough!" the girl interrupted, by again interposing a
hand that might, both by its delicacy and colour, have graced a far
more elevated station in life; "my time is out; and we must part, at
all events——So good night, Paul——Father——good night."
"Hist!" said the youth, seizing her arm, as she was in the very act
of tripping from his side—— "Hist! do you hear nothing? There are
buffaloes playing their pranks, at no great distance——That sound beats
the earth like a mad herd of the scampering devils!"
His two companions listened, as people in their situation would be
apt to lend their faculties to discover the meaning of any doubtful
noises, especially, when heard after so many and such startling
warnings. The unusual sounds were now unequivocally though still
faintly audible. The youth and his female companion, had made several
hurried, and vacillating conjectures concerning their nature, when a
current of the night air brought the rush of trampling footsteps, too
sensibly, to their ears, to render mistake any longer possible.
"I am right!" said the bee-hunter; "a panther is driving a herd
before him; or may be there is a battle among the beasts."
"Your ears are cheats;" returned the old man, who, from the moment
his own organs had been able to catch the distant sounds, had stood
like a statue made to represent deep attention——"The leaps are too long
for the buffaloe, and too regular for terror. Hist! now they are in a
bottom where the grass is high, and the sound is deadened! Ay, there
they go on the hard earth! And now they come up the swell, dead upon
us; they will be here afore you can find a cover!"
"Come, Ellen," cried the youth, seizing his companion by the hand,
"let us make a trial for the encampment."
"Too late! too late!" exclaimed the trapper, "for the creaturs are
in open view; and a bloody band of accursed Siouxs they are, by their
thieving look, and the random fashion in which they ride!"
"Siouxs or devils, they shall find us men!" said the bee-hunter,
with a mien as fierce as though he led a party of superior strength,
and of a courage equal to his own——"You have a piece, old man, and will
pull a trigger in behalf of a helpless, christian, girl!"
"Down, down into the grass——down with ye both," whispered the
trapper, intimating to them to turn aside to the tall weeds, which
grew, in a denser body than common, near the place where they stood.
"You've not the time to fly, nor the numbers to fight, foolish boy.
Down into the grass, if you prize the young woman, or value the gift of
your own life!"
His remonstrance, seconded, as it was, by a prompt and energetic
action, did not fail to produce the submission to his order, which the
occasion now seemed, indeed, so imperiously to require. The moon had
fallen behind a sheet of thin, fleecy, clouds, whichskirted the
horizon, leaving just enough of its faint and fluctuating light, to
render objects visible, dimly revealing their forms and proportions.
The trapper, by exercising that species of influence, over his
companions, which experience and decision usually assert, in cases of
emergency, had effectually succeeded in concealing them in the grass,
and by the aid of the feeble rays of the luminary, he was enabled to
scan the disorderly party which was riding, like so many madmen,
directly upon them.
A band of beings, who resembled demons rather than men, sporting in
their nightly revels across the bleak plain, was in truth approaching,
at a fearful rate, and in a direction to leave little hope that some
one among them, at least, would not pass over the spot were the trapper
and his companions lay. At intervals, the clattering of hoofs was borne
along by the night wind, quite audibly in their front, and then, again,
their progress through the fog of the autumnal grass, was swift and
silent; adding to the unearthly appearance of the spectacle. The
trapper, who had called in his hound, and bidden him crouch at his
side, now kneeled in the cover, also, and, kept a keen and watchful eye
on the route of the band, soothing the fears of the girl, and
restraining the impatience of the youth, in the same breath.
"If there's one, there's thirty of the miscreants!" he said in a
sort of episode to his whispered comments. "Ay, ay; they are edging
towards the river ——Peace, pup——peace——no, here they come this way
again——the thieves don't seem to know their own er rand! If there were
just six of us, lad, what a beautiful ambushment we might make upon
them, from this very spot——it wont do, it wont do, boy; keep yourself
closer, or your head will be seen——besides, I'm not altogether strong
in the opinion it would be lawful, as they have done us no harm——There
they bend ag'in to the river——no; here they come up theswell——now is
the moment to be as still, as if the breath had done its duty and
departed the body."
The figure of the old man sunk into the grass while he was
speaking, as though the final separation to which he alluded, had, in
his own case, actually occurred, and, at the next instant, a band of
wild horsemen, whirled by them, with the noiseless rapidity in which it
might be imagined a troop of spectres would pass. The dark and fleeting
forms were already vanished, when the trapper ventured, again, to raise
his head to a level with the tops of the bending herbage, motioning, at
the same time to his companions, to maintain their positions and their
"They are going down the swell, towards the encampment," he
continued, in his former guarded tones; "no, they halt in the bottom,
and are clustering together like deer, in council. By the Lord, they
are turning, ag'in, and we are not yet done with the reptiles!"
Once more he sought his friendly cover, and at the next instant,
the dark troop were to be seen riding, in a disorderly manner, on the
very summit of the little elevation. It was now soon apparent that they
had returned to avail themselves of the height of the ground, in order
to examine the dim horizon.
Some dismounted, while others rode to and fro, like men engaged in
a local inquiry of much interest. Happily, for the hidden party, the
grass in which they were concealed, not only served to skreen them from
the eyes of the savages, but opposed an obstacle to prevent their
horses, which were no less rude and untrained than their riders, from
trampling on them, in their irregular and wild paces.
At length an athletic and dark looking Indian, who, by his air of
authority, would seem to be the leader, summoned his chiefs about him,
to a consultation, which was held, mounted. This body was collected on
the very margin of that mass of herbagein which the trapper and his
companions were hid. As the young man looked up and saw the threatening
and fierce aspect of the groupe, which was increasing at each instant
by the accession of some countenance and figure, apparently more
forbidding than any which had preceded it, he drew his rifle, by a very
natural impulse, from beneath him, and commenced putting it in a state
for instant service. The female, at his side, buried her face in the
grass, by a feeling that was, possibly, quite as natural to her sex and
habits, leaving him to follow the impulses of his hot blood, but his
aged and more prudent adviser, whispered, sternly, in his ear,
"The tick of the lock is as well known to the knaves, as the blast
of a trumpet to a soldier! lay down the piece——lay down the
piece——should the moon touch the barrel, it could not fail to be seen
by the devils, whose eyes are keener than the blackest snake's! The
smallest motion, now, would be sure to bring an arrow among us."
The bee-hunter so far obeyed as to continue immoveable and silent.
But there was still sufficient light to convince his companion, by the
contracted brow and threatening eye of the young man, that a discovery
would not bestow a bloodless victory on the savages. Finding his advice
disregarded, the trapper took his measures accordingly, and awaited the
result with a resignation and calmness that were characteristic of the
In the mean time, the Siouxs (for the sagacity of the old man was
not deceived in the character of his dangerous visiters) had terminated
their council, and were again dispersed along the ridge of land as if
they sought some hidden object.
"The imps have heard the hound!" whispered the trapper, "and their
ears are too true to be cheated in the distance. Keep close, lad, keep
close; down with your head to the very earth, like a dog that sleeps."
"Let us rather take to our feet, and trust to manhood," returned
his impatient companion——
He would have proceeded, but feeling a hand laid rudely on his
shoulder, he turned his eyes upward, and beheld the dark and savage
countenance of an Indian gleaming full upon him. Notwithstanding the
surprise and the disadvantage of his attitude, the youth was not
disposed to become a captive, so easily. Quicker than the flash of his
own gun, he sprang upon his feet, and was throttling his opponent with
a power that would soon have terminated the contest, when he felt the
arms of the trapper thrown around his body, confining his exertions by
a strength very little inferior to his own. Before he had time to
reproach his comrade for this apparent treachery, a dozen Siouxs, were
around them, and the whole party were compelled to yield themselves as
"With much more dismay,
I view the fight, than those that make the fray."
—— Merchant of Venice
The unfortunate bee-hunter and his companions had now become the
captives of a people, who might, without exaggeration, be called the
Ishmaelites of the American deserts. From time immemorial, the hands of
the Siouxs had been turned against their neighbours of the prairies,
and even at this day, when the influence and authority of a civilized
government are beginning to be felt around them, they are considered as
a treacherous and dangerous race. At the period of our tale, the case
was far worse; few white men trusting themselves in the remote and
unprotected regions where so false a tribe was known to dwell.
Notwithstanding the peaceable submission of the trapper, he was
quite aware of the character of the band, into whose hands he had
fallen. It would have been difficult, however, for the nicest judge to
have determined whether fear, policy or resignation formed the secret
motive of the old man, in permitting himself to be plundered as he did,
without a murmur. So far from opposing any remonstrance to the rude and
violent manner in which his conquerors performed the customary office,
he even anticipated their cupidity, by tendering to the chiefs such
articles as he thought might prove the most acceptable. On the other
hand Paul Hover, who had been literally a conquered man, manifested the
strongest repugnance to submit to the violent liberties that were taken
with his person and property. He even, gave several, exceedingly,
unequivocal demonstrations of his displeasure during the summary
process, and would, more than once, have broken out, in open and
desperate resistance, but for the admonitions and intreaties of the
trembling girl, who clung to his side, in a manner so dependant, as to
show the youth, that her hopes were now placed, no less on his
discretion, than on his disposition to serve her.
The Indians had, however, no sooner deprived the captives of their
arms and ammunition, and stript them of a few articles of dress of
little use and perhaps of less value, than they appeared disposed to
grant them a respite. Business of greater moment pressed on their
hands, and required their instant attention. Another consultation of
the chiefs was con vened, and it was apparent, by the earnest and
vehement manner of the few who spoke, that the warriors conceived their
success as yet to be far from complete.
"It will be well," whispered the trapper, who knew enough of the
language he heard to comprehend perfectly the subject of the
discussion, "if thetravellers who lie near the willow brake are not
awoke out of their sleep by a visit from these miscreants. They are too
cunning to believe that a woman of the "pale-faces" is to be found so
far from the settlements, without having a white man's inventions and
comforts at hand."
"If they will carry the tribe of wandering Ishmael to the Rocky
Mountains," said the young bee-hunter, laughing in his vexation with a
sort of bitter merriment, "I may forgive the rascals."
"Paul! Paul!" exclaimed his companion in a tone of reproach, "you
forget all! Think of the dreadful consequences!"
"Ay, it was thinking of what you call consequences, Ellen, that
prevented me from putting the matter, at once, to yonder red-devil, and
making it a real knock-down and drag-out! Old trapper, the sin of this
cowardly business lies on your shoulders! But it is no more than your
daily calling, I reckon, to take men, as well as beasts, in the
"I implore you, Paul, to be calm——to be patient."
"Well, since it is your wish, Ellen," returned the youth,
endeavouring to swallow his spleen, "I will make the trial; though, as
you ought to know, it is part of the religion of a Kentuckian, to fret
himself, a little, at a mischance."
"I fear your friends in the other bottom will not escape the eyes
of the imps!" continued the trapper, as coolly as though he had not
heard a syllable of the intervening discourse——"They scent plunder; and
it would be as hard to drive a hound from his game as to throw the
varmints from its trail."
"Is there nothing to be done!" asked Ellen, in an imploring manner
which proved the sincerity of her concern.
"It would be an easy matter to call out, in so loud a voice as to
make old Ishmael dream that the wolves were among his flock," Paul
replied; "I can makemyself heard a mile in these open fields, and his
camp is but a short quarter from us."
"And get knocked on the head for your pains," returned the
trapper——"No, no; cunning must match cunning, or the hounds will murder
the whole family."
"Murder! no——no murder. Ishmael loves travel so well, there would
be no harm in his having a look at the other sea, but the old fellow is
in a bad condition to take the long journey! I would try a lock myself
before he should be quite murdered."
"His party is strong in number, and well armed; do you think it
"Look here, old trapper——Few men love Ishmael Bush and his seven
sledge-hammer sons less than one Paul Hover; but I scorn to slander
even a Tennessee shot-gun. There is as much of the true stand-up
courage among them, as there is in any family that was ever raised in
Kentuck. They are a long-sided and a double-jointed breed; and let me
tell you, that he who takes the measure of one of them on the ground,
must be a workman at a hug."
"Hist! The savages have done their talk, and are about to set their
accursed devices in motion Let us be patient; something may yet offer
in favour of your friends."
"Friends! call none of the race a friend of mine, trapper, if you
have the smallest regard for my affection! What I say in their favour
is less from love than honesty."
"I did not know but the young woman was of the kin," returned the
other, a little drily——"But no offence should be taken, where none was
The mouth of Paul was again stopped by the hand of Ellen, who took
on herself to reply, in her gentle and conciliating tones, "We should
be all of a family, when it is in our power to serve each other. We
depend entirely on your experience, honest old man,to discover the
means to apprise our friends of their danger."
"There will be a real time of it," muttered the bee-hunter,
laughing, "if the boys get at work in good earnest with these red
He was interrupted by a general movement which took place among the
band. The Indians dismounted to a man, giving their horses in charge to
three or four of the party, who were also intrusted with the safe
keeping of the prisoners. They then formed themselves in a circle
around a warrior, who appeared to possess the chief authority; and at a
given signal the whole array moved slowly and cautiously from the
centre in straight and consequently in diverging lines. Most of their
dark forms were soon blended with the brown covering of the prairie;
though the captives, who watched the slightest movement of their
enemies with vigilant eyes, were now and then enabled to discern a
human figure, drawn against the horizon, as some one, more eager than
the rest, rose to his greatest height in order to extend the limits of
his view. But it was not long before even these fugitive glimpses of
the moving, and constantly increasing circle, were lost, and
uncertainty and conjecture were added to apprehension. In this manner
passed many anxious and weary minutes, during the close of which the
listeners expected at each moment to hear the whoop of the assailants
and the shrieks of the assailed, rising together on the stillness of
the night. But it would seem, that the search which was so evidently
making, was without a sufficient object; for at the expiration of half
an hour the different individuals of the band began to return singly,
gloomy and sullen, like men who were disappointed.
"Our time is at hand," observed the trapper, who noted the smallest
incident, or the slightest indication of hostility among the savages;
"we are now to bequestioned; and if I know any thing of the policy of
our case, I should say it would be wise to choose one among us to hold
the discourse, in order that our testimony may agree. And furthermore,
if an opinion from one as old and as worthless as a hunter of
fourscore, is to be regarded, I would just venture to say, that man
should be the one most skilled in the natur' of an Indian, and that he
should also know something of their language——Are you acquainted with
the tongue of the Siouxes, friend?"
"Swarm your own hive," returned the discontented bee-hunter. "You
are good at buzzing, old trapper, if you are good at nothing else."
"'Tis the gift of youth to be rash and heady," the trapper calmly
retorted. "The day has been, boy, when my blood was like your own, too
swift and too hot to run quietly in my veins. But what will it profit
to talk of silly risks and foolish acts at this time of life! A grey
head should cover a brain of reason, and not the tongue of a boaster."
"True, true," whispered Ellen; "and we have other things to attend
to now! Here comes the Indian to put his questions."
The girl, whose apprehensions had quickened her senses, was not
deceived. She was yet speaking when a tall, half naked savage,
approached the spot where they stood, and after examining the whole
party as closely as the dim light permitted, for more than a minute in
perfect stillness, he gave the usual salutation in the harsh and
guttural tones of his own language. The trapper replied as well as he
could, which it seems was sufficiently well to be understood. In order
to escape the imputation of pedantry we shall render the substance,
and, so far as it is possible the form of the dialogue that succeeded,
into the English tongue.
"Have the pale-faces eaten their own buffaloes, and taken the skins
from all their own beavers," continuedthe savage, allowing the usual
moment of decorum to elapse, after his words of greeting, before he
again spoke, "that they come to count how many are left among the
"Some of us are here to buy, and some to sell," returned the
trapper; "but none will follow, if they hear it is not safe to come
nigh the lodge of a Sioux."
"The Siouxes are thieves, and they live among the snow; why do we
talk of a people who are so far, when we are in the country of the
"If the Pawnees are the owners of this land, then white and red are
here by equal right."
"Have not the pale-faces stolen enough from the red men, that you
come so far to carry a lie? I have said that this is a hunting-ground
of my tribe."
"My right to be here is equal to your own," the trapper rejoined
with undisturbed coolness; "I do not speak as I might——It is better to
be silent. The Pawnees and the white men are brothers, but a Sioux dare
not show his face in the village of the Loups."
"The Dahcotahs are men!" exclaimed the savage, fiercely; forgetting
in his anger to maintain the character he had assumed, and using the
appellation of which his nation was most proud; "the Dahcotahs have no
fear! Speak; what brings you so far from the villages of the
"I have seen the sun rise and set on many councils, and have heard
the words only of wise men. Let your chiefs come, and my mouth shall
not be shut."
"I am a great chief!" said the savage, affecting an air of offended
dignity. "Do you take me for an Assiniboine! Weucha is a warrior often
named, and much believed!"
"Am I a fool not to know a burnt-wood Teton!" demanded the trapper,
with a steadiness that did great credit to his nerves. "Go; it is dark,
and you do not see that my head is grey!"
The Indian now appeared convinced that he had adopted too shallow
an artifice to deceive one so practised as the man he addressed, and he
was deliberating what fiction he should next invent, in order to obtain
his real object, when a slight commotion among the band put an end at
once to all his schemes. Casting his eyes behind him, as if fearful of
a speedy interruption, he said in tones much less pretending than those
he had first resorted to——
"Give Weucha the milk of the Long-Knives, and he will sing your
name in the ears of the great men of his tribe."
"Go;" said the trapper, motioning him away, with strong disgust.
"Your young men are speaking of Mahtoree——My words are for the ears of
The savage cast a look on the other, which, notwithstanding the dim
light, was sufficiently indicative of implacable hostility. He then
stole away among his fellows, anxious to conceal the counterfeit he had
attempted to practise, no less than the treachery he had contemplated
against a fair division of the spoils, from the man named by the
trapper, whom he now also knew to be approaching, by the manner in
which his name passed from one to another, in the band. He had hardly
disappeared before a warrior of powerful frame advanced out of the dark
circle, and placed himself before the captives, with that high and
proud bearing for which a distinguished Indian chief is ever so
remarkable. He was followed by all the party, who arranged themselves
around his person, in a deep and respectful silence.
"The earth is very large," the chief commenced, after a pause of
that true dignity which his counterfeit had so miserably affected——"Why
can the children of my great white father never find room on it?"
"Some among them have heard that their friends in the prairies are
in want of many things," returned the trapper; "and they come to see if
it be true. Some want, in their turns, what the red men are willing to
sell, and they come to make their friends rich, with powder and
"Do traders cross the big river with empty hands?"
"Our hands are empty because your young men thought we were tired,
and they lightened us of our load. They were mistaken, I am old, but I
"It cannot be. Your load has fallen in the prairies. Show my young
men the place, that they may pick it up, before the Pawnees find it."
"The path to the spot is crooked, and it is now, night. The hour is
come for sleep," said the trapper, with perfect composure——"Bid your
warriors go over yonder hill; there is water and there is wood; let
them light their fires and sleep with warm feet. When the sun comes
again I will speak to you."
A low murmur, but one that was clearly indicative of great
dissatisfaction, passed among the attentive listeners, and served to
inform the old man that he had not been sufficiently wary in proposing
a measure that he intended should notify the travellers in the brake of
the presence of such dangerous neighbours. Mahtoree, however, without
betraying in the slightest degree, the excitement which was so strongly
exhibited by his companions, continued the discourse in the same lofty
manner as before. "I know that my friend is rich," he said; "that he
has many warriors not far off, and that horses are plentier with him,
than dogs among the red-skins."
"You see my warriors, and my horses."
"What! has the woman the feet of a Dahcotah, that she can walk for
thirty nights in the prairies, and not fall! I know the red men of the
woods make long marches on foot, but we, who live where the eye cannot
see from one lodge to another, love our horses."
The trapper now hesitated, in his turn. He was perfectly aware that
deception, if detected, might prove dangerous, and for one of his
pursuits and character, he was strongly troubled with an
unaccommodating regard to the truth. But, recollecting that he
controlled the fate of others as well as of himself, he quickly decided
to let things take their course, and to permit the Dahcotah chief to
deceive himself if he would.
"The women of the Siouxes and of the white men are not of the same
wigwam," he answered evasively. "Would a Teton warrior make his wife
greater than himself! I know he would not; and yet my ears have heard
that there are lands where the councils are held by squaws."
Another slight movement in the dark circle apprised the trapper
that his declaration was not received without surprise, if entirely
without distrust. The chief alone seemed unmoved or disposed, in any
degree, to relax from the loftiness and high dignity of his air.
"My white fathers who live on the great lakes have declared," he
said, "that their brothers towards the rising sun are not men; and now
I know they did not lie! Go——what is a nation whose chief is a squaw!
Are you the dog and not the husband of this woman?"
"I am neither. Never did I see her face before this day. She came
into the prairies, because they had told her a great and generous
nation called the Dahcotahs lived there, and she wished to look on men.
The women of the pale-faces, like the women of the Siouxes, open their
eyes to see things that are new; but she is poor, like myself, and she
will want corn and buffaloes, if you take away the little that she and
her friend still have."
"Now do my ears listen to many wicked lies!" exclaimed the Teton
warrior, in a voice so stern thatit startled even his red auditors. "Am
I a woman! Has not a Dahcotah eyes! Tell me, white hunter; who are the
men of your colour, that sleep near the fallen trees?"
As he spoke, the indignant chief pointed in the direction of
Ishmael's encampment, leaving the trapper no reason to doubt, that the
superior industry and sagacity of this man had effected a discovery,
which had eluded the search of the rest of his party. Notwithstanding
his regret at an event that might prove fatal to the sleepers, and some
little vexation at having been so completely outwitted, in the dialogue
just related, the old man continued to maintain his former air of
"It may be true," he answered, "that white men are sleeping in the
prairie. If my brother says it, it is true; but what men are thus
trusting to the generosity of the Tetons, I cannot tell. If there be
strangers asleep, send your young men to wake them up, and let them say
why they are here; every pale-face has a tongue."
The chief shook his head with a wild and fierce smile, answering
abruptly, as he turned away to put an end to the conference——
"The Dahcotahs are a wise race, and Mahtoree is their chief! He
will not call to the strangers, that they may rise and speak to him
with their carabines. He will whisper softly in their ears. Then let
the men of their own colour come and awake them!"
As he uttered these words, and turned on his heel, a low and
approving laugh passed around the dark circle, which instantly broke
its order and followed him to a little distance from the stand of the
captives, where those who might presume to mingle opinions with so
great a warrior, again gathered about him in consultation. Weucha
profited by the occasion to renew his importunities; but the trapper,
who had now discovered how great a counterfeit hewas, shook him off in
high displeasure. An end was, however, more effectually put to the
annoyance of this malignant savage, by a mandate for the whole party,
including men and beasts, to change their position. The movement was
made in dead silence, and with an order that would have done credit to
far more enlightened beings. A halt, however, was soon made, and when
the captives had time to look about them, they found they were in view
of the low, dark outline of the copse, near which lay the slumbering
party of Ishmael.
Here another short but exceedingly grave and deliberative
consultation was held.
The beasts, which seemed trained to such covert and silent attacks,
were once more placed under the care of keepers, who as before were
again charged with the duty of watching the prisoners. The mind of the
trapper was in no degree relieved from the uneasiness which was, at
each instant, getting a stronger possession of him, when he found
Weucha was placed nearest to his own person, and, as it appeared by the
air of triumph and authority he assumed, at the head of the guard also.
The savage, however, who doubtless had his secret instructions, was
content, for the present, with making a significant gesture with his
tomahawk, which threatened instant destruction to Ellen. After
admonishing in this expressive manner his male captives of the fate
that would instantly attend their female companion, on the slightest
alarm proceeding from any of the party, he was content to maintain
during the whole of the succeeding scene a rigid and deep silence. This
unexpected forbearance, on the part of Weucha, enabled the trapper and
his two associates to give their undivided attention to the little that
might be seen of those interesting movements which were passing in
Mahtoree took the entire disposition of the arrangementson himself.
He pointed out the precise situation he wished each individual to
occupy, like one intimately acquainted with the qualifications of his
respective followers, and he was obeyed with the deference and
promptitude with which an Indian warrior is wont to submit to the
instructions of his chief, in moments of trial. Some he despatched to
the right, and others to the left. Each man departed with the noiseless
and quick step peculiar to the race, until all had assumed their
alloted stations, with the exception of two chosen warriors, who
remained nigh the person of their leader. When the rest had
disappeared, Mahtoree turned to these select companions, and intimated
by a sign that the critical moment had now arrived, when the enterprise
he contemplated was to be put in execution.
Each man laid aside the light fowling-piece which, under the name
of a carabine, he carried in virtue of his rank, and then divesting
himself of every article of exterior or heavy clothing, he stood
resembling a dark and fierce looking statue, in the attitude and nearly
in the garb of nature. Mahtoree assured himself of the right position
of his tomahawk, felt that his knife was secure in its sheath of skin,
tightened his girdle of wampum, and saw that the lacing of his fringed
and highly ornamented leggings was secure and likely to offer no
impediment to his exertions. Thus prepared at all points, and ready for
his desperate undertaking, the Teton chieftain gave the signal to
The three advanced in a line with the encampment of the travellers,
until, in the dim light by which they were seen, their dusky forms were
nearly lost to the eyes of the prisoners. Here they paused, looking
around them like men who deliberate and ponder long on the consequences
before they take a desperate leap. Then sinking together, they became
lost in the grass of the prairie.
It is not difficult to imagine the distress and anxiety of those
different spectators of these threatening movements, who felt so deep
an interest in their results. Whatever might be the reasons of Ellen
for entertaining no strong attachment to the family in which she has
first been seen by the reader, the feelings of her sex, and, perhaps,
some lingering seeds of kindness, asserted their existence in her
bosom. More than once she felt tempted to brave the awful and instant
danger that awaited such an offence, and to raise her feeble and in
truth impotent voice in the notes of warning. So strong, indeed, and so
very natural was the inclination, that she would most probably have put
it in execution, but for the often-repeated though whispered
remonstrances of Paul Hover. In the breast of the young bee-hunter
himself, there was a singular union of emotions. His first and chiefest
solicitude was certainly in behalf of his gentle and dependant
companion; but the sense of her danger was mingled in the breast of the
reckless woods-man with a consciousness of a high and wild, and by no
means unpleasant excitement. Though united to the emigrants by ties
still less binding than those of Ellen, he longed to hear the crack of
their rifles, and, had occasion offered, he would gladly have been
among the first to rush to their rescue. There were in truth moments
when he felt in his turn an impulse, that was nearly resistless, to
spring forward and awake the unconscious sleepers; but a glance at
Ellen would serve to recall his tottering prudence, and to admonish him
of the consequences. The trapper, alone, remained calm and observant,
as though nothing that involved his personal comfort or safety had
occurred. His evermoving, vigilant eyes, watched the smallest change
with the composure of one too long inured to scenes of danger to be
easily moved, and with an expression of cool determination which
denoted the intentionhe actually harboured, of profiting by the
smallest oversight on the part of the captors.
In the mean time the Teton warriors had not been idle. Profiting by
the high fog which grew in the bottoms, they had wormed their way
through the matted grass, like so many treacherous serpents stealing on
their prey, until the point was gained, where an extraordinary caution
became necessary to their further advance. Mahtoree, alone, had
occasionally elevated his dark, grim countenance above the herbage,
straining his eye-balls to penetrate the gloom which skirted the border
of the brake. In these momentary glances he gained sufficient
knowledge, added to that he had obtained in his former search, to be
the perfect master of the position of his intended victims, though he
was still profoundly ignorant of their numbers, and of their means of
His efforts to possess himself of the requisite knowledge
concerning these two latter and essential points were, however,
completely baffled by the stillness of the camp, which lay in a quiet
as deep as though it were literally a place of the dead. Too wary and
distrustful to rely, in circumstances of so much doubt, on the
discretion of any less firm and crafty than himself, the Dahcotah bade
his companions remain where they lay, and pursued the adventure alone.
The progress of Mahtoree was now slow, and to one less accustomed
to such a species of exercise, it would have proved painfully
laborious. But the advance of the wily snake itself is not more certain
or noiseless than was his approach. He drew his form, foot by foot,
through the bending grass, pausing at each movement to catch the
smallest sound that might betray any knowledge on the part of the
travellers of his proximity. He succeeded, at length, in dragging
himself out of the sickly light of the moon, into the shadows of the
brake, where not only hisown dark person was much less liable to be
seen, but where the sorrounding objects became more distinctly visible
to his keen and active glances.
Here the Teton paused long and warily to make his observations,
before he ventured further. His position enabled him to bring the whole
encampment, with its tent, wagons and lodges, into a dark but clearly
marked profile; furnishing a clue by which the practised warrior was
led to a tolerably accurate estimate of the force he was about to
encounter. Still an unnatural silence pervaded the spot, as though men
suppressed even the quiet breathings of sleep, in order to render the
appearance of their confidence more evident. The chief bent his head to
the earth, and listened intently. He was about to raise it again in
disappointment, when the long drawn and trembling respiration of one
who slumbered imperfectly met his ear. The Indian was too well skilled
in all the means of deception to become himself the victim of any
common artifice. He knew the sound to be natural, by its peculiar
quivering, and he hesitated no longer.
A man of nerves less tried than those of the fierce and conquering
Mahtoree would have been keenly sensible of all the hazard he now so
fearlessly incurred. The reputation of those hardy and powerful white
adventurers, who so often penetrated the wilds inhabited by his people,
was well known to him; but while he drew nigher, with the respect and
caution that a brave enemy never fails to inspire, it was with the
vindictive animosity of a red man, jealous and resentful of the lawless
inroads of the stranger.
Turning from the line of his former route, the Teton dragged
himself directly towards the margin of the thicket. When this material
object was effected in safety, he arose to his seat, and took a still
better survey of his situation. A single moment served to apprise him
of the place where the unsuspectingtraveller lay. The reader will
readily anticipate that the savage had succeeded in gaining a dangerous
proximity to one of those slothful sons of Ishmael, who were deputed to
watch over the isolated encampment of the travellers.
When certain that he was undiscovered, the Dahcotah raised his
person again, and bending forward, he moved his dark visage above the
face of the sleeper, in that sort of wanton and subtle manner with
which a reptile is often seen to play about its victim before it
strikes the deadly blow. Satisfied at length, by his scrutiny, not only
of the condition but of the character of the stranger, Mahtoree was in
the act of withdrawing his head when a slight movement on the part of
the sleeper announced the symptoms of reviving consciousness. The
savage seized the knife which hung at his girdle, and in an instant it
was poised above the breast of the young emigrant. Then changing his
purpose, with an action as rapid as his own flashing thoughts, he sunk
back behind the trunk of the fallen tree against which the other
reclined, and lay in its shadow, as dark, as motionless, and apparently
as insensible as the wood itself.
The slothful sentinel opened his heavy eyes, and after gazing
upward for a moment at the hazy heavens, he made an extraordinary
exertion and raised his powerful frame from the support of the log.
Then he looked about him, with an air of something like watchfulness,
suffering his dull glances to run over the misty objects of the
encampment until they finally settled on the distant and dim field of
the open prairie. Meeting with nothing more attractive than the same
faint outlines of swell and interval, which everywhere rose before his
drowsy eyes, he changed his position so as completely to turn his back
on his dangerous neighbour, and suffered his person to sink sluggishly
down into its former recumbent attitude. A long, and, on the part of
the Teton, an anxious andpainful silence succeeded, before the deep
breathing of the traveller again announced that he was indulging in his
slumbers. The savage was, however, far too jealous of a counterfeit to
trust to the first appearance of sleep. But the fatigues of a day of
unusual toil lay too heavy on the sentinel to leave the other long in
doubt. Still the motion with which Mahtoree again raised himself to his
knees was so noiseless and guarded, that even a vigilant observer might
have hesitated to believe he stirred. The change was, however, at
length effected, and the Dahcotah chief, then bent again over his
enemy, without having produced a noise louder than that of the
cotton-wood leaf which fluttered at his side in the currents of the
Mahtoree now felt himself master of the sleeper's fate. At the same
time that he scanned the vast proportions and athletic limbs of the
youth, in that sort of admiration which physical excellence seldom
fails to excite in the breast of a savage, he very coolly prepared to
extinguish the principle of vitality which could alone render them
formidable. After making himself sure of the seat of life, by gently
removing the folds of the intervening cloth, he raised his keen weapon,
and was about to unite his strength and skill in the impending blow,
when the young man threw his brawny arm carelessly backward, exhibiting
in the action the vast volume of its muscles.
The sagacious and wary Teton paused. It struck his acute faculties
that sleep was less dangerous to him, at that moment, than even death
itself might prove. The smallest noise, the agony of struggling, with
which such a frame would probably relinquish its hold of life,
suggested themselves to his rapid thoughts, and were all present to his
experienced senses. He looked back into the encampment, turned his head
into the thicket, and glanced his glowing eyes abroad into the wild and
silent prairies. Bendingonce more over the respited victim, he assured
himself that he was sleeping heavily, and then abandoned his immediate
purpose in obedience alone to the suggestions of a more crafty policy.
The retreat of Mahtoree was as still and guarded as had been his
approach. He now took the direction of the encampment, stealing along
the margin of the brake, as a cover into which he might easily plunge
at the smallest alarm. The drapery of the solitary hut attracted his
notice in passing. After examining the whole of its exterior, and
listening with painful intensity, in order to gather counsel from his
ears, the savage ventured to raise the cloth at the bottom, and to
thrust his dark visage beneath. It might have been a minute before the
Teton chief drew back and seated himself again with the whole of his
form without the linen tenement. Here he sat, seemingly brooding over
his own reflections, for many moments, in rigid inaction. Then he
resumed his crouching attitude, and once more projected his visage
beyond the covering of the linen dwelling. His second visit to the
interior was longer, and, if possible, more ominous than the first. But
it had, like every thing else, its termination, and the savage again
withdrew his glaring eyes from the secrets of the place.
Mahtoree had drawn his person many yards from the spot, in his slow
progress towards the cluster of objects which pointed out the centre of
the position, before he again stopped. Then he made another pause, and
looked back at the solitary little dwelling he had left, as if doubtful
whether he should not return. But the chevaux-de-frise of branches now
lay within reach of his arm, and the very appearance of precaution it
presented, as it announced the value of the effects it encircled,
tempted his cupidity the more strongly, and induced him to proceed.
The passage of the savage through the tender andbrittle limbs of
the cotton-wood could be likened only to the sinuous and noiseless
winding of the reptiles which he imitated no less in sagacity than in
the manner of his approach. When, however, he had effected his object,
and had taken an instant to become acquainted with the nature of the
localities within the enclosure, the Teton used the precaution to open
a way through which a retreat might be made with fewer impediments to
obstruct its rapidiity. Then raising himself on his feet, he stalked
through the encampment, like the master of evil, seeking whom and what
he should first devote to his fell purposes. He had already ascertained
the contents of the lodge in which were collected the woman and her
young children, and had passed several gigantic frames, stretched on
different piles of brush, which happily for him lay in unconscious
helplessness, when he at last reached the spot occupied by Ishmael in
person. It could not escape the sagacity of one like Mahtoree, that he
had now within his power the principal man among the travellers. He
stood long hovering above the recumbent and Herculean form of the
emigrant, keenly debating in his own mind the chances of his
enterprise, and the most effectual means of reaping its richest
He had sheathed the knife, which, under the hasty and burning
impulse of his thoughts, he had been tempted to draw, and was passing
on, when Ishmael turned in his lair, and demanded roughly who it was
that he dimly saw moving before his half-opened eyes. Nothing short of
the readiness and cunning of a savage could now have evaded bringing
the crisis to an immediate issue. Imitating the gruff tones and nearly
unintelligible sounds he heard, Mahtoree threw his body heavily on the
earth, and appeared to dispose himself to sleep. Though the whole
movement was seen by Ishmael in a sort of stupid observation. the
artifice was too bold and too admirablyexecuted to fail of success. The
drowsy father once more closed his eyes, and soon slept heavily, with
this treacherous inmate in the very bosom of his family.
It was necessary for the Teton to maintain the position he had
taken for many long and weary minutes, in order to make sure that he
was no longer watched. Though his body lay so motionless, his active
mind was not idle. He profited by the delay to mature a plan which he
intended should put the whole encampment, including both its effects
and their proprietors, entirely at his mercy. The instant he could do
so with safety, the indefatigable savage was again in motion. He now
took his way towards the slight pen which contained the domestic
animals, worming himself along the ground in his former subtle and
The first animal he encountered among the beasts occasioned a long
and hazardous delay. The weary creature, perhaps conscious through its
secret instinct that in the endless wastes of the prairies its surest
protector was to be found in man, was so exceedingly docile as quietly
to submit to the close examination it was doomed to undergo. The hand
of the wandering Teton passed over the downy coat, the meek countenance
and the slender limbs of the gentle animal, with untiring curiosity;
but he finally abandoned the prize, as useless in his predatory
expeditions, and offering too little temptation to the appetite. As
soon, however, as he found himself among the beasts of burden, his
gratification was extreme, and it was with difficulty that he
restrained the customary ejaculations of pleasure that were more than
once on the point of bursting from his lips. Here he lost sight of the
hazards by which he had gained access to his dangerous position, and
the watchfulness of the wary and long practised warrior was momentarily
forgotten in the exultation of a savage.
"Why, worthy father, what have we to lose?"
—— ——The law
Protects us not. Then why should we be tender
To let an arrogant piece of flesh threat us!
Play judge and executioner."
While the Teton warrior thus enacted his subtle and characteristic
part, not a sound broke the stillness of the surrounding prairie. The
whole band lay at their several posts, waiting, with the wellknown
patience of the natives, for the signal which was to summon them to
action. To the eyes of the anxious and deeply interested spectators who
occupied the little eminence already described as the position of the
captives, the scene merely presented the broad, solemn view of a waste,
dimly lighted by the glimmering rays of a clouded moon. The place of
the encampment was marked by a gloom deeper than that which faintly
shadowed out the courses of the bottoms, and here and there a brighter
streak tinged the rolling summits of the ridges. As for the rest, it
was the deep, imposing, breathing quiet of a desert.
But to those who so well knew how much was brooding beneath this
mantle of stillness and night, it was a scene of high and wild
excitement. Their anxiety gradually increased, as minute after minute
passed away, and not the smallest sound of life arose out of the calm
and darkness which enveloped the brake. The breathing of Paul grew
louder and deeper, and more than once Ellen trembled at she knew not
what, as she felt the quivering of his active frame, while she leaned
dependantly on his arm for support.
The shallow honesty, as well as the besetting infirmity of Weucha,
have already been exhibited.The reader, therefore, will not be
surprised to learn that he was the first to forget the regulations he
had himself imposed. It was at the precise moment when we left Mahtoree
yielding to his nearly ungovernable delight, as he surveyed the number
and quality of Ishmael's beasts of burden, that the man he had selected
to watch his captives chose to indulge in the malignant pleasure of
tormenting those it was his duty to protect. Bending his head nigh to
the ears of the trapper, the savage rather muttered than whispered——
"If the Tetons lose their great chief by the hands of the
Long-knives, old shall die as well as young!"
"Life is the gift of the Wahcondah," was the unmoved reply——"The
burnt-wood warrior must submit to his laws, as well as his other
children. Men only die when he chooses; and no Dahcotah can change the
"Look!" returned the savage, thrusting the blade of his knife
before the face of his captive. "Weucha is the Wahcondah of a dog."
The old man raised his eyes to the fierce visage of his keeper,
and, for a moment, a gleam of honest and powerful disgust shot from
their deep cells; but it instantly passed away, leaving in its place an
expression of commiseration, if not of sorrow.
"Why should one made in the real image of God suffer his natur' to
be provoked by a mere effigy of reason!" he said in English, and in
tones much louder than those in which Weucha had chosen to pitch the
conversation. The latter profited by the unintentional offence of his
captive, and seizing him by the thin, grey locks, that fell from
beneath his cap, was on the point of passing the blade of his knife in
malignant triumph around their roots, when a long, shrill, yell rent
the air, and was instantly echoed from the surrounding waste, as though
a thousand demons had opened their throats in common at thesummons.
Weucha relinquished his grasp and uttered a cry of savage exultation.
"Now!" shouted Paul, unable to control his impatience any longer,
"now, old Ishmael, is the time to show the native blood of Kentucky!
Fire low, boys——Level into the swales, for the red skins are settling
to the very earth!"
His voice was, however, lost, or rather unheeded, in the midst of
the shrieks, shouts, and yells, that were by this time, bursting from
fifty mouths on every side of him. The guards still maintained their
posts at the side of the captives, but it was with that sort of
difficulty with which steeds are restrained at the starting-post, when
expecting the signal to commence the trial of their speed. They tossed
their arms wildly in the air, leaping up and down more like exulting
children than sober men, and continued to utter the most frantic and
In the midst of this tumultuous disorder a rushing sound was heard,
similar to that which might be expected to precede the passage of a
flight of buffaloes, and then came the flocks and cattle of Ishmael
into view, in one confused and frightened drove.
"They have robbed the squatter of his beasts!" said the attentive
trapper. "The reptiles have left him as hoofless as a beaver!" He was
yet speaking when the whole body of the terrified animals rose the
little acclivity and swept by the place where he stood, followed by a
band of dusky and demon-like looking figures, who pressed madly on
The impulse was communicated to the Teton horses, who were long
accustomed to sympathize in the untutored passions of their owners, and
it was with difficulty that their keepers were enabled to restrain
them. At this moment, when all eyes were directed to the passing
whirlwind of men and beasts, the trapper caught the knife from the
hands of his inattentive keeper, with a power that his age would have
seemed to contradict, and at a single blow severed the thong of hide
which connected the whole of the drove. The wild animals snorted with
joy and terror, and tearing the earth with their heels, they dashed
away into the broad prairies, in a dozen different directions.
Weucha turned upon his assailant with the ferocity and agility of a
tiger. He felt for the weapon of which he had been so suddenly
deprived, fumbled with impotent haste for the handle of his tomahawk,
and at the same moment glanced his eyes after his flying cattle, with
all the longings of a Western Indian. The struggle between thirst for
vengeance and cupidity was short but severe. The latter quickly
predominated in the bosom of one whose passions were proverbially
grovelling, and scarcely a moment intervened between the flight of the
animals and the swift pursuit of all the guards. The trapper had
continued calmly facing his foe, during the instants of suspense that
succeeded his own hardy act, and now that Weucha was seen following his
companions, he pointed after the dark train, saying, with his deep and
nearly inaudible laugh——
"Red-natur' is red-natur', let it show itself on a prairie, or in a
forest! A knock on the head would be the smallest reward to him who
should take such a liberty with a Christian sentinel; but there goes
the Teton after his horses as if he thought two legs as good as four in
such a race! And yet the imps will have every hoof of them afore the
day sets in, because its reason ag'in instinct. Poor reason, I allow;
but still there is a great deal of the man in an Indian. Ah's me! your
Delawares were the red-skins of which America might boast; but few and
scattered is that mighty people, now! Well! the traveller may just make
his pitch where he is; he has plenty of water, though natur' has
cheated him of the pleasure of stripping the 'arth of its lawful trees.
Hehas seen the last of his four-footed creatures, or I am but little
skilled in Sioux cunning."
"Had we not better join the party of Ishmael," said the bee-hunter.
"There will be a regular fight about this matter, or the old fellow has
suddenly grown chicken-hearted."
"No——no——no," hastily exclaimed Ellen.
She was stopped by the trapper, who laid his hand gently on her
mouth as he answered——
"Hist!——hist!——the sound of voices might bring us into danger. Is
your friend," he added turning to Paul, "a man of spirit enough——"
"Don't call the squatter a friend of mine!" interrupted the youth.
"I never yet harboured with one who could not show hand and seal for
the land which fed him."
"Well——well. Let it then be acquaintance. Is he a man to maintain
his own stoutly by dint of powder and lead?"
"His own! ay, and that which is not his own, too! Can you tell me,
old trapper, who held the rifle that did the deed for the sheriff's
deputy, that thought to rout the unlawful settlers who had gathered
nigh the Buffaloe lick in old Kentucky! I had lined a beautiful swarm
that very day into the hollow of a dead beech, and there lay the
people's officer at its roots, with a hole directly through the "grace
of God;" which he carried in his jacket pocket covering his heart, as
though he thought a bit of sheepskin was a breastplate against a
squatter's bullet! Now, Ellen, you need'n't, be troubled; for it never
strictly was brought home to him; and there were fifty others who had
pitched in that neighbourhood with just the same assistance from the
The poor girl shuddered, struggling powerfully to suppress the sigh
which arose in spite of her efforts, as if from the very bottom of her
Thoroughly satisfied that he understood the characterof the
emigrants, by the short but comprehensive description conveyed in
Paul's reply, the old man raised no further question concerning the
readiness of Ishmael to revenge his wrongs, but rather followed that
train of thoughts which was suggested to his experience by the
"Each one knows the ties which bind him to his fellow-creatures
best," he answered. "Though it is greatly to be mourned that colour,
and property, and tongue, and l'arning should make so wide a difference
in those who, after all, are but the children of one father!
Howsomever," he continued, by a transition not a little characteristic
of the pursuits and feelings of the man, "as this is a business in
which there is much more likelihood of a fight than need for a sermon,
it is best to be prepared for what may follow—— Hush! there is a
movement below; it is an equal chance that we are seen."
"The family is stirring;" cried Ellen with a tremor in her voice
that announced nearly as much terror at the approach of her friends, as
she had before manifested at the presence of her enemies. "Go, Paul,
leave me. You, at least, must not be seen!"
"If I leave you, Ellen, in this desert before I see you safe in the
care of old Ishmael, at least, may I never hear the hum of another bee,
or, what is worse, fail in sight to line him to his hive!"
"You forget this good old man. He will not leave me. Though I am
sure, Paul, we have parted before, where there has been more of a
desert than this."
"Never! These Indians may come whooping back, and then where are
you! Half way to the Rocky Mountains before a man can fairly strike the
line of your flight. What think you, old trapper? How long may it be
before these Tetons, as you call them, will be coming for the rest of
old Ishmael's goods and chattels?"
"No fear of them," returned the old man again,laughing in his own
peculiar and silent manner; "I warrant me the devils will be scampering
after their beasts these six hours yet! Listen! you may hear them in
the willow bottoms at this very moment; ay, your real Sioux cattle will
run like so many long-legged elks. Hist! crouch again into the grass,
down with ye both; as I'm a miserable piece of clay, I heard the
ticking of a gun-lock!"
The trapper did not allow his companions time to hesitate, but
dragging them both after him, he nearly buried his own person in the
fog of the prairie, while he was speaking. It was fortunate that the
senses of the aged hunter remained so acute, and that he had lost none
of his readiness of action. The three were scarcely bowed to the
ground, when their ears were saluted with the well-known sharp, short
reports of the western rifle, and instantly, the whizzing of the ragged
lead was heard, buzzing within a dangerous proximity of their heads.
"Well done, young chips! well done, old block!" whispered Paul,
whose spirits no danger nor situation could entirely depress. "As
pretty a volley, as one would wish to hear on the wrong end of a rifle!
What say, trapper! here is likely to be a three-cornered war. Shall I
give'em as good as they send?"
"Give them nothing, but fair words," returned the other, hastily,
"or you are both lost."
"I'm not certain it would much mend the matter, if I were to speak
with my tongue instead of the piece," said Paul in a tone half jocular
"For the sake of heaven, do not let them hear you!" cried Ellen!
"Go, Paul, go; you may easily go!"
Several shots in quick succession, each sending its dangerous
messenger, still nearer than the preceding discharge, cut short her
speech, no less in prudence than in terror.
"This must end," said the trapper rising with thedignity of one
bent only on the importance of his object. "I know not what need ye may
have, children, to fear those you should both love and honour, but
something must be done to save your lives. A few hours more or less can
never be missed from the time of one who has already numbered so many
days; therefore I will advance. Here is a clear space around you.
Profit by it as you need, and may God bless and prosper each of you, as
Without waiting for any reply, the trapper walked boldly down the
declivity in his front, taking the direction of the encampment, neither
quickening his pace in trepidation, nor suffering it to be retarded by
fear. The light of the moon fell brighter for a moment on his tall,
gaunt form, and served to warn the emigrants of his approach.
Indifferent, however, to this unfavourable circumstance, he held his
way, silently and steadily towards the copse, until a stern,
threatening voice met him with the challenge of——
"Who comes; friend or foe?"
"Friend," was the reply; "one who has lived too long to disturb the
close of life with quarrels."
"But not so long as to forget the tricks of his youth," said
Ishmael, rearing his huge frame from beneath the slight covering of a
low bush, and meeting the trapper, face to face; "old man, you have
brought this tribe of red devils upon us, and to-morrow you will be
sharing the booty."
"What have you lost?" calmly demanded the trapper.
"Eight as good mares as ever travelled in gears, besides a foal
that is worth thirty of the brightest Mexicans that bear the face of
the King of Spain. Then the woman has not a cloven hoof for her dairy
or her loom, and I believe even the grunters, foot sore as they be, are
ploughing the prairie. And now, stranger," he added, dropping the butt
of his rifle on the hard earth, with a violence and clatterthat would
have intimidated one less firm than the man he addressed, "how many of
these creatures, may fall to your lot?"
"Horses have I never craved, nor even used; though few have
journeyed over more of the wide lands of America than myself, old and
feeble as I seem. But little use is there for a horse among the hills
and woods of York——that is, as York was, but as I greatly fear York is
no longer——as for woollen covering and cow's milk, I covet no such
womanly fashions! The beasts of the field give me food and raiment. No,
I crave no cloth better than the skin of a deer, nor any meat richer
than his flesh."
The sincere manner of the trapper, as he uttered this simple
vindication, was not entirely thrown away on the emigrant, whose dull
nature was gradually quickening into a flame, that might speedily have
burst forth with dangerous violence. He listened like one who doubted,
though not entirely convinced; and he muttered between his teeth the
denunciation, with which a moment before he intended to precede the
summary vengeance he had certainly meditated.
"This is brave talking," he at length grumbled; "but to my
judgment, too lawyer-like, for a straight forward, fair-weather, and
"I claim to be no better than a trapper," the other meekly
"Hunter or trapper——There is little difference. I have come, old
man, into these districts because I found the law sitting too tight
upon me, and am not over fond of neighbours who can't settle a dispute
without troubling a justice and twelve men; but I didn't come to be
robb'd of my plunder, and then to say thank'ee to the man who did it!"
"He, who ventures far into the prairies, must abide by the ways of
"Owners!" echoed the sullen squatter, "I am as rightful an owner of
the land I stand on, as any governorin all the states! Can you tell me,
stranger, where the law or the reason is to be found, which says that
one man shall have a section, or a town, or perhaps a county, to his
use, and another have to beg for earth to make his grave in. This is
not nature, and I deny that it is law. That is, your legal law."
"I cannot say that you are wrong," returned the trapper, whose
opinions on this important topic, though drawn from very different
premises, were in singular accordance with those of his companion, "and
I have often thought and said as much, when and where I have believed
my voice could be heard. But your beasts are stolen by them who claim
to be masters of all they find in the deserts."
"They had better not dispute that matter with a man who knows
better," said the other in a voice of portentous tones, though it
seemed as deep and sluggish as he who uttered it. "I call myself a fair
trader, and one who gives to his chaps as good as he receives. You saw
"I did——they held me a prisoner, while they stole into your camp."
"It would have been more like a white-man and a christian, to have
let me known as much in better season;" retorted Ishmael, casting
another ominous side-long glance at the trapper, as if still meditating
evil. "I am not much given to call every man I fall in with, cousin,
but colour should be something, when christians meet in such a place as
this. But what is done, is done, and cannot be mended, by words. Come
out of your ambush boys; here is no one but the old man: he has eaten
of my bread, and should be a friend; though there is such good reason
to suspect him of harbouring with my enemies."
The trapper made no reply to the harsh suspicion which the other
did not scruple to utter without the smallest delicacy, notwithstanding
the explanationsand denials to which he had just listened. The summons
of the unnurtured squatter brought an immediate accession to their
party. Four or five of his sons made their appearance from beneath as
many covers, where they had been posted under the impression that the
figures they had seen, on the swell of the prairie, were a part of the
Sioux band. As each man approached, and dropped his rifle into the
hollow of his arm, he cast an indolent but inquiring glance at the form
of the stranger, though neither of them expressed the least curiosity
to know whence he had come or why he was there. This forbearance,
however, proceeded only in part, from the sluggishness of their common
temper; for long and frequent experience in scenes of a similar
character, had taught them the virtue of discretion. The trapper
endured their sullen but silent scrutiny with the steadiness of one as
practised as themselves, and with the entire composure of innocence.
Content with the momentary examination he had made, the eldest of the
groupe, who was in truth the delinquent sentinel by whose remissness
the wily Mahtoree had so well profited, turned towards his father and
"If this man is all that is left of the party I saw on the upland,
yonder, we haven't altogether thrown away our ammunition."
"Asa, you are right;" said the father, turning suddenly on the
trapper, as though a lost idea was recalled by the hint of his sluggish
son. "How is it, stranger; there were three of you, just now, or there
is no virtue in moonlight!"
"If you had seen the Tetons racing across the prairies, like so
many black-looking evil-ones, on the heels of your cattle, my friend,
it would have been an easy matter to have fancied them a thousand."
"Ay, for a town bred boy or a skeary woman; though, for that
matter, there is old Esther yon; she has no more fear of a red-skin
than of a suckling cub, or of a wolf pup. I'll warrant ye, had your
stealing devils made their push by the light of the sun, the good woman
would have been seen smartly at work among them, and the Siouxes would
have found she was not given to part with her cheese and her butter
without a price. But there'll come a time, stranger, right soon, when
justice will have its dues, and that too, without the help of what is
called the law. We ar' of a slow breed, it may be said, and it is often
said of us; but slow is sure; and there ar' few men, living, who can
say they ever struck a blow, that they did not get one as hard in
return, from Ishmael Bush."
"Then has Ishmael Bush followed the instinct of the beasts rather
than the genuine principle which ought to belong to his kind," returned
the stubborn trapper. "I have struck many a blow myself, but never have
I felt the same ease of mind that of right belongs to a man who follows
his reason, after slaying even a fawn when there was no call for his
meat or hide, as I have felt at leaving a Mingo unburied in the woods,
when following the trade of open and honest warfare."
"What, you have been a soldier, have you, trapper! I made a forage
or two among the Cherokees, when I was a lad myself; and I followed mad
Anthony, one season, through the beeches; but there was altogether too
much tatooing and regulating among his troops for me; so I left him
without calling on the paymaster to settle my arrearages. Though, as
Esther afterwards boasted, she had made such use of the pay-ticket,
that the States gained no great sum, by the oversight. You have heard
of such a man as mad Anthony, if you tarried long among the soldiers."
"I fou't my last battle, as I hope, under his orders," returned the
trapper, a gleam of sun-shine shootingfrom his dim eyes, as if the
event was recollected with pleasure, and then a sudden shade of sorrow
succeeding, as though he felt a secret admonition against dwelling on
the violent scenes in which he had so often been an actor. "I was
passing from the states on the sea shore into these far regions, when I
cross'd the trail of his party, and I fell in, on his rear, just as a
looker-on; but when they got to blows, the crack of my rifle was heard
among the rest, though to my shame it may be said, I never knew the
right of the quarrel as well as a man of threescore and ten should know
the reason of his acts afore he takes mortal life, which is a gift he
never can return!"
"Come, stranger," said the emigrant, his rugged nature a good deal
softened when he found that they had fought on the same side in the
wild warfare of the west, "it is of small account, what may be the
ground-work of the disturbance, when it's a Christian ag'in a savage.
We shall hear more of this horse-stealing to-morrow; to-night we can do
no wiser or safer thing than to sleep."
So saying, Ishmael deliberately led the way back towards his rifled
encampment, and ushered the man, whose life a few minutes before had
been in real jeopardy through his resentment, into the presence of his
family. Here, with a very few words of explanation, mingled with scarce
but ominous denunciations against the plunderers, he made his wife
acquainted with the state of things on the Prairie, and then announced
his own determination to compensate himself for his broken rest, by
devoting the remainder of the night to sleep.
The trapper gave his ready assent to the measure, and adjusted his
gaunt form on the pile of brush that was offered him, with as much
composure as a sovereign, could resign himself to sleep in the security
of his capital and surrounded by his armed protectors.The old man, did
not close his eyes, however, until he had assured himself that Ellen
Wade was among the females of the family, and that her relation or
lover, whichever he might be, had observed the caution of keeping
himself out of view: after which he slept, though with the peculiar
watchfulness of one long accustomed to vigilance, even in the hours of
"He is too picked, too spruce, too affected, too odd,
As it were too peregrinate, as I may call it."
The Anglo-American is apt to boast, and not without a show of
reason, that his nation may claim a descent more truly honourable than
that of any other people whose history is to be credited. Whatever
might have been the weaknesses of the original colonists, their virtues
have rarely been disputed. If they were superstitious, they were
sincerely pious, and, consequently, honest. The descendants of these
simple and single-minded provincials have been content to reject the
ordinary and artificial means by which honours have been perpetuated in
families, and have substituted a standard which brings the individual
himself to the ordeal of the public estimation, paying as little
deference as may be to those who have gone before him. This
forbearance, self-denial, or common sense, or by whatever term it may
be thought proper to distinguish the measure, has subjected the nation
to the imputation of having an ignoble origin. Were it worth the
enquiry, it would be found that more than a just proportion of the
renowned names of the mother country are, at this hour, to be found in
her ci-devant colonies, and it isa fact well known to the few who have
wasted sufficient time to become the masters of so unimportant a
subject, that the direct descendants of many a failing line, which the
policy of England has seen fit to sustain by collateral supporters, are
now discharging the simple duties of citizens in the bosom of our
republic. The hive has remained stationary, and they who flutter around
the venerable straw are wont to claim the empty distinction of
antiquity, regardless alike of the frailty of their tenement and of the
enjoyments of the numerous and vigorous swarms that are culling the
fresher sweets of a virgin world. But as this is a subject which
belongs rather to the politician and historian than to the humble
narrator of the home-bred incidents we are about to reveal, we must
confine our reflections to such matters as have an immediate relation
to the subject of the tale.
Although the citizen of the United States may claim so just an
ancestry, he is far from being exempt from the penalties of his fallen
race. Like causes are well known to produce like effects. That tribute,
which, it would seem nations must ever pay, by way of a weary
probation, around the shrine of Ceres before they can be indulged in
her fullest favours, is in some measure exacted in America, from the
descendant instead of the ancestor. The march of civilization with us,
has a strong analogy to that of all coming events, which are known "to
cast their shadows before." The gradations of society, from that state
which is called refined to that which approaches as near barbarity as
connexion with an intelligent people will readily allow, are to be
traced from the bosom of the states, where wealth, luxury and the arts
are beginning to seat themselves, to those distant, and ever-receding
borders which mark the skirts, and announce the approach, of the
nation, as moving mists precede the signs of day.
Here, and here only, is to be found that widely spread though far
from numerous class which may be at all likened to those who have paved
the way for the intellectual progress of nations, in the old world. The
resemblance between the American borderer and his European prototype is
singular, though not always uniform. Both might be called without
restraint; the one being above, the other beyond the reach of the
law——brave, because they were inured to dangers——proud, because they
were independent, and vindictive, because each was the avenger of his
own wrongs. It would be unjust to the borderer to pursue the parallel
much farther. He is irreligious, because he has inherited the knowledge
that religion does not exist in forms, and his reason rejects a mockery
that his conscience does not approve. He is not a knight, because he
has not the power to bestow distinctions; and he has not the power,
because he is the offspring and not the parent of a system. In what
manner these several qualities are exhibited, in some of the most
strongly marked of the latter class, will be seen in the course of the
Ishmael Bush had passed the whole of a life of more than fifty
years on the skirts of society. He boasted that he had never dwelt
where he might not safely fell every tree he could view from his own
threshold; that the law had rarely been known to enter his clearing,
and that his ears had never willingly admitted the sound of a church
bell. His exertions seldom exceeded his wants, which were peculiar to
his class, and rarely failed of being supplied. He had no respect for
any learning except that of the leech; because he was ignorant of the
application of any other intelligence, than such as met the senses. His
deference to this particular branch of science had induced him to
listen to the application of a medical man, whose thirst for natural
history had led him to the desire of profiting by the
migratorypropensities of the squatter. This gentleman he had cordially
received into his family, or rather under his protection, and they had
journeyed together, thus far through the prairies, in perfect harmony:
Ishmael often felicitating his wife on the possession of a companion,
who would be so serviceable in their new abode, wherever it might
chance to be, until the family were thoroughly "acclimated." The
pursuits of the naturalist frequently led him, however, for days at a
time, from the direct line of the route of the squatter, who rarely
seemed to have any other guide than the sun. Most men would have deemed
themselves fortunate to have been absent on the perilous occasion of
the Sioux inroad, as was Obed Bat, (or as he was fond of hearing
himself called, Battius) M. D. and fellow of several cis-atlantic
learned societies——the adventurous gentleman in question.
Although the sluggish nature of Ishmael was not actually awakened,
it was sorely pricked by the liberties which had just been taken with
his property. He slept, however, for it was the hour he had allotted to
that refreshment, and because he knew how impotent any exertions to
recover his effects must prove in the darkness of midnight. He also
knew the danger of his present situation too well, to hazard what was
left, in pursuit of that which was lost. Much as the inhabitants of the
prairies were known to love horses, their attachment to many other
articles, still in the possession of the travellers, was equally well
understood. It was a common artifice to scatter the herds, and profit
by the confusion. But, Mahtoree, had it would seem in this particular,
undervalued the acuteness of the man he had assailed. The phlegm with
which the squatter learned his loss, has already been seen, and it now
remains to exhibit the results of his more matured determinations.
Though the encampment contained many an eyethat was long unclosed,
and many an ear that listened greedily to catch the faintest evidence
of any new alarm, it lay in deep quiet during the remainder of the
night. Silence and fatigue finally performed their accustomed offices,
and before the morning all but the sentinels were again buried in
sleep. How well these indolent watchers performed their duties, after
the assault, has never been known, inasmuch as nothing occurred to
confirm or disprove their subsequent vigilance.
Just as day, however, began to dawn, and a gray light was falling
from the heavens, on the dusky objects of the plain, the half startled,
anxious and yet blooming countenance of Ellen Wade was reared above the
confused mass of children, among whom she had clustered on her stolen
return to the camp Arising warily she stepped lightly across the
recumbent bodies, and proceeded with the same caution to the utmost
limits of the defences of Ishmael. Here, she listened, as though she
doubted the propriety of venturing further. The pause was only
momentary, however; and long before the drowsy eyes of the sentinel,
who overlooked the spot where she stood, had time to catch a glimpse of
her active form, it had glided along the bottom and stood on the summit
of the nearest eminence.
Ellen now listened long and intently to hear some other sound, than
the breathing of the morning air, which faintly rustled the herbage at
her feet. She was about to turn in disappointment from the inquiry,
when the sound of human feet making their way through the matted grass
met her ear. Springing eagerly forward, she soon beheld the outlines of
a figure advancing up the eminence, on the side opposite to the camp,
as though it had caught the view of her own person drawn against the
heavens. She had already uttered the name of Paul, and was beginning to
speak in the hurried and eager voice withwhich female affection is apt
to greet a friend, when, drawing back, the disappointed girl closed her
salutation by coldly adding:
"I did not expect, Doctor, to meet you at this unusual hour."
"All hours and all seasons are alike, my good Ellen, to the genuine
lover of nature"——returned a small, slightly made, but exceedingly
active man, dressed in an odd mixture of cloth and skins, a little past
the middle age, who advanced directly to her side, with the familiarity
of an old acquaintance; "and he who does not know how to find things to
admire by this gray light, is ignorant of a large portion of the
blessings he enjoys."
"Very true," said Ellen, suddenly recollecting the necessity of
accounting for her own appearance abroad at that unseasonable hour, "I
know many who think the earth has a pleasanter look in the night, than
when seen by the brightest sunshine."
"Ah! Their organs of sight must be too convex. But the man who
wishes to study the active habits of the feline race, or the variety,
albinos, must be stirring at this hour. I dare say, there are men who
prefer even looking at objects by twilight, for the simple reason, that
they see better at that time of the day."
"And is this the cause why you are so much abroad in the night?"
"I am abroad at night, my good girl, because the earth in its
diurnal revolutions leaves the light of the sun but half the time on
any given meridian, and because what I have to do cannot be performed
in twelve or fifteen consecutive hours. Now have I been off two days
from the family, in search of a plant, that is known to exist on the
tributaries of La Platte, without seeing even a blade of grass that is
not already enumerated and classed."
"You have been unfortunate, Doctor, but——"
"Unfortunate!" echoed the little man, sideling nigher to his
companion, and producing his tablets with an air in which exultation
struggled, strangely, with an affectation of self abasement. "No, no,
Ellen, I am any thing but unfortunate. Unless, indeed a man may be so
called, whose fortune is made, whose fame may be said to be established
for ever, whose name will go down to posterity with that of
Buffon——Buffon! a mere compiler; one who flourishes on the foundation
of other men's labours. No; pari passu with Solander, who bought his
knowledge with pain and privations!"
"Have you discovered a mine, Doctor Bat?"——
"More than a mine; a treasure coined, and fit for instant use,
girl——Listen! I was making the angle necessary to intersect the line of
your uncle's march, after my fruitless search, when I heard sounds like
the explosion produced by fire arms——"
"Yes," exclaimed Ellen eagerly, "we had an alarm——"
"And thought I was lost," continued the man of science, too much
bent on his own ideas, to understand her interruption. "Little danger
of that. I made my own base, knew the length of the perpendicular by
calculation, and to draw the hypothenuse had nothing to do but to work
my angle. I supposed the guns were fired for my benefit, and changed my
course for the sounds——not that I think the senses more accurate, or
even as accurate as a mathematical calculation, but I feared, that some
of the children might need my services."
"They are all happily——"
"Listen;" interrupted the other, already forgetting his affected
anxiety for his patients, in the greater importance of the present
subject. "I had crossed a large tract of prairie——for sound is conveyed
far where there is little obstruction——when I heard the trampling of
feet, as though bisons were beating theearth. Then I caught a distant
view of a herd of quadrupeds, rushing up and down the swells——animals,
which would have still remained unknown and undescribed, had it not
been for a most felicitous accident! One, and he a noble specimen of
the whole, was running a little apart from the rest. The herd made an
inclination in my direction, in which the solitary animal coincided,
and this brought him within fifty yards of where I stood. I profited by
the opportunity, and by the aid of my steel and taper, I wrote his
description on the spot. I would have given a thousand dollars, Ellen,
for a single shot from the rifle of one of the boys!"
"You carry a pistol, Doctor, why didn't you use it?" said the half
inattentive girl, anxiously examining the prairie, but still lingering
where she stood, quite willing to be detained.
"Ay, but it carries itself nothing but the most minute particles of
lead, adapted to the destruction of the larger insects and reptiles.
No, I did better than to attempt waging a war, in which I could not be
the victor. I recorded the event; noting each particular with the
precision necessary to science. You shall hear, Ellen; for you are a
good and improving girl, and by retaining what you learn in this way,
may yet be of great service to learning, should any accident occur to
me. Indeed, my worthy Ellen, mine is a pursuit, which has its dangers
as well as that of the warrior. This very night," he continued,
glancing his eye, involuntarily behind him, "this awful night, has the
principle of life, itself, been in great danger of extinction!"
"By the monster I have discovered. It approached me often, and ever
as I receded, it continued to advance. I believe nothing but the little
lamp, I carried, was my protector. I kept it between us, whilst I
wrote, making it serve the double purposeof a luminary and a shield.
But you shall hear the character of the beast, and you may then judge
of the risk we promoters of science run in behalf of mankind."
The naturalist now raised his tablets to the heavens and disposed
himself to read as well as he could, by the dim light they yet shed
upon the plain; premising with saying——
"Listen, girl, and you shall hear, with what a treasure it has been
my happy lot to enrich the pages of natural history!"
"Is it then a creature of your forming," said Ellen, turning away
from her fruitless examination, with a sudden lighting of her sprightly
blue eyes, that shewed she knew how to play with the foible of her
"Is the power to give life to inanimate matter the gift of man? I
would it were! You should speedily see a Historia naturalis Americana,
that would put the sneering imitators of the Frenchman de Buffon to
shame! A great improvement might be made in the formation of all
quadrupeds in particular; especially those, in which velocity is a
virtue. Two of the inferior limbs should be on the principle of the
lever; wheels, perhaps, as they are now formed; though I have not yet
determined whether the improvement might be better applied to the
anterior or posterior members, inasmuch as I am yet to learn whether
dragging or shoving requires the greatest muscular exertion. A natural
exudation of the animal might assist in overcoming the friction, and a
powerful momentum be obtained. But all this is hopeless——at least for
the present!"——he added, with a slight sigh, raising his tablets again
to the light and reading aloud; "Oct. 6, 1805, that's merely the date,
which I dare say you know better than I——mem. Quadruped; seen by
star-light, and by the aid of apocket-lamp, in the prairies of North
America——see Journal for Latitude and Meridian. Genus——unknown:
therefore named after the discoverer, and from the happy coincidence of
being seen in the evening——Vespertilio Horribilis, Americanus.
Dimensions (by estimation)——Greatest length, eleven feet; height, six
feet; head, erect; nostrils, expansive: eyes, expressive and fierce;
teeth, serrated and abundant; tail, horizontal, waving and slightly
feline; feet, large and hairy; talons, long, curvated, dangerous; ears,
inconspicuous; horns, elongated, diverging and formidable; colour,
plumbeous-ashy with fiery spots; voice, sonorous, martial and
appalling; habits, gregarious, carnivorous, fierce and fearless.
There," exclaimed Obed, when he had ended this sententious but
comprehensive description, "there is an animal , which will be likely
to dispute with the lion his title to be called the king of the
"I know not the meaning of all you have said, Doctor Battius,"
returned the quick-witted girl, who understood the weakness of the
philosopher, and often indulged him with a title he loved so well to
hear, "but I shall think it dangerous to venture far from the camp, if
such monsters are prowling over the prairies."
"You may well call it prowling," returned the naturalist, nestling
still closer to her side, and dropping his voice to such low and
perhaps undignified tones of confidence as possibly conveyed a meaning
still more pointed than he had intended. "I have never before
experienced such a trial of the nervous system; there was a moment I
acknowledge, when the fortiter in re faltered before so terrible an
enemy; but the love of natural science bore me up, and brought me off
"You speak a language so different from that we use in Tennessee,"
said Ellen, struggling to conceal her laughter, "that I hardly know
whether I understand your meaning. If I am right, you wish to say you
were a little chicken-hearted."
"An absurd simile drawn from an ignorance of the formation of the
biped. The heart of a chicken has a just proportion to its other
organs, and the domestic fowl is, in a state of nature, a gallant bird.
"Ellen," he added with a countenance so solemn as to produce an
impression on the attentive girl, "I was pursued, hunted, and in a
danger that I scorn to dwell on——what's that?"
Ellen started; for the earnestness and simple sincerity of her
companion's manner had produced a certain degree of credulity even on
her buoyant mind. Looking in the direction indicated by the Doctor, she
beheld, in fact, a beast coursing over the prairie, and making a
straight and rapid approach to the very spot they occupied. The day was
not yet far enough advanced to enable her to distinguish its form and
character, though enough was discernible to induce her to imagine it a
fierce and savage animal.
"It comes, it comes!" exclaimed the Doctor, fumbling, by a sort of
instinct, for his tablets, while he fairly tottered on his feet under
the powerful efforts he made to maintain his ground. "Now, Ellen, has
fortune given me an opportunity to correct the errors made by
star-light,——hold,——ashy-plumbeous, ——no ears,——horns, excessive."——His
quivering voice and shaking hand were both arrested by a roar, or
rather a shriek from the beast, that was sufficiently terrific to appal
even a stouter heart than that of the naturalist. The cries of the
animal passed over the prairie in strange and savage cadences, and then
succeeded a deep and solemn silence, that was only broken by a
heart-felt and uncontrolled fit of merriment from the more musical
voice of Ellen Wade. In the mean time the naturalist stood like a
statue ofamazement, permitting a well-grown ass, against whose approach
he no longer offered his boasted shield of light, to smell about his
person, without comment or hindrance.
"It is your own ass!" cried Ellen, the instant she found breath for
words; "your own patient, hard working, hack!"
The Doctor rolled his eyes wildly from the beast to the speaker,
and from the speaker to the beast; but gave no audible expression of
"Do you refuse to know an animal that has laboured so long in your
service!" continued the still laughing girl. "A beast, that I have
heard you say a thousand times, has served you well, and whom you loved
like a brother!"
"Asinus domesticus!" ejaculated the Doctor, drawing his breath like
one who had been near suffocation. "There is no doubt of the genus; and
I will always maintain that the animal is not of the species equus.
This is undeniably Asinus himself, Ellen Wade; but this is not the
Vespertilio horribilis of the prairies! Very different animals, I can
assure you, young woman, and differently characterised in every
important particular. That, carnivorous," he continued, glancing his
eye at the open page of his tablets; "this, granivorous; habits,
fierce, dangerous; habits, patient, abstemious; ears, inconspicuous;
ears, elongated; horns, diverging, etc. horns, none!"
He was interrupted by another burst of merriment from Ellen, which
served, in some measure, to recall him to his recollection.
"The image of the Vespertilio was on the retina," the astounded
enquirer into the secrets of nature observed, in a manner that seemed a
little apologetic, "and I was silly enough to mistake my own faithful
beast for the monster? Though even now I greatly marvel to see the
animal running at large!"
Ellen then proceeded to explain, in detail, the history of the
attack and its results. She described, with an accuracy that might have
raised suspicions of her own movements in the mind of one less simple
than her auditor, the manner in which the beasts burst out of the
encampment and the headlong speed with which they had dispersed
themselves over the open plain. Although she forbore to say as much in
terms, she so managed as to present before the eyes of her listener the
strong probability of his having mistaken the frightened drove for
savage beasts, and then terminated her account by a lamentation for
their loss, and some very natural remarks on the helpless condition in
which it had left the family. The naturalist listened in silent wonder,
neither interrupting her narrative nor suffering a single exclamation
of surprise to escape him. The keen-eyed girl, however, saw that as she
proceeded, the important leaf was torn from the tablets, in a manner
which shewed that their owner had got rid of his delusion at the same
instant. From that moment the world has heard no more of the
Vespertilio horribilis Americanus, and the natural sciences have
irretrievably lost an important link in that great animated chain which
is said to connect earth and heaven, and in which man is thought to be
so familiarly complicated with the monkey.
When Dr. Batt was put in full possession of all the circumstances
of the inroad, his concern immediately took a different direction. He
had left sundry folios, and certain boxes well stored with botanical
specimens and defunct animals, under the good keeping of Ishmael, and
it immediately struck his acute mind, that marauders as subtle as the
Siouxes would never neglect the opportunity to despoil him of these
treasures. Nothing that Ellen could say to the contrary served to
appease his apprehensions, and, consequently, they separated; he to
relieve his doubtsand fears together, and she to glide, as swiftly and
silently as she had just before passed it, into the still and solitary
"What, fifty of my followers, at a clap!"
The day had now fairly opened on the seemingly interminable waste
of the prairie. The entrance of Obed at such a moment into the camp,
accompanied as it was by vociferous lamentations over his anticipated
loss, did not fail to rouse the drowsy family of the squatter. Ishmael
and his sons, together with the forbidding-looking brother of his wife,
were all speedily afoot; and then, as the sun began to shed his light
on the place, they became gradually apprised of the extent of their
Ishmael looked round upon the motionless and heavily loaded
vehicles with his teeth firmly compressed, cast a glance at the amazed
and helpless groupe of children, which clustered around their sullen
but despondent mother, and walked out upon the open land, as if he
found the air of the encampment too confined to breathe in. He was
followed by several of the men, who were his attentive observers
watching the dark expression of his eye as the index of their own
future movements. The whole proceeded in profound and moody silence to
the summit of the nearest swell, whence they could command an almost
boundless view of the naked plains. Here nothing was visible but a
solitary buffaloe, that gleaned a meagre subsistence from the decaying
herbage, at no great distance, and the ass of the physician, who
profited by his freedom to enjoy a richer meal than common.
"Yonder is one of the creatures left by the villains to mock us,"
said Ishmael, glancing his eye towards the latter, "and that the
meanest of the stock. This is a hard country to make a crop in, boys;
and yet food must be found to fill so many hungry mouths."
"The rifle is better than the hoe, in such a place as this,"
returned the eldest of his sons, kicking the hard and thirsty soil on
which he stood, with an air of fierce scorn. "It is good for such as
they who make their dinner better on beggars' beans than on homminy. A
crow would shed tears if forced to fly across the district."
"What say you, trapper;" returned the father, showing the slight
impression his powerful heel had made on the compact earth, and
laughing with frightful ferocity. "Is this the quality of land a man
would choose who never troubles the county clerk with title deeds!"
"There is richer soil in the bottoms," returned the old man calmly,
"and you have passed millions of acres to get to this dreary spot,
where he who loves to till the 'arth might have received bushels in
return for pints, and that too at the cost of no very grievous labour.
If you have come in search of land, you have journeyed hundreds of
miles too far, or as many leagues too little."
"There is then a better choice towards the other Ocean?" demanded
the squatter, pointing in the direction of the Pacific.
"There is, and I have seen it all;" was the answer of the other,
who dropped his rifle to the earth, and stood leaning on its barrel,
like one who recalled the scenes he had witnessed with melancholy
pleasure. "I have seen the waters of the two seas! On one of them was I
born, and raised to be a lad like yonder tumbling boy. America has
grown, my men, since the days of my youth, to be a country largerthan I
once had thought the world itself to be. Near seventy years I dwelt in
York, province and state together——You've been in York, 'tis like?"
"Not I——not I; I never visited the towns; but often have heard the
place you speak of named. 'Tis a wide clearing there, I reckon——"
"Too wide! too wide! They scourge the very 'arth with their axes.
Such hills and hunting-grounds as I have seen stripped of the gifts of
the Lord, without remorse or shame! I tarried till the mouths of my
hounds were deafened by the blows of the chopper, and then I came west
in search of quiet. It was a grievous journey that I made; a grievous
toil to pass through falling timber and breathe the thick air of smoky
clearings, week after week, as I did! 'Tis a far country too, that
state of York from this!"
"It lies ag'in the outer edge of old Kentuck, I reckon; though what
the distance may be I never knew."
"A gull would have to fan a thousand miles of air, to find the
eastern sea. And yet it is no mighty reach to hunt across, when shade
and game are plenty! The time has been when I followed the deer in the
mountains of the Delaware and Hudson, and took the beaver on the
streams of the upper lakes, in the same season: but my eye was quick
and certain at that day, and my limbs were like the legs of a moose!
The dam of Hector," he added, dropping his look kindly to the aged
hound that crouched at his feet, "was then a pup, and apt to open on
the game the moment she struck the scent. She gave me a deal of
trouble, that slut, she did."
"Your hound is old, stranger, and a rap on the head would prove a
mercy to the beast."
"The dog is like his master," returned the trapper, without
appearing to heed the brutal advice the other gave, "and will number
his days, when his work amongst the game is over, and not before. Tomy
eye things seem ordered to meet each other in this creation. 'Tis not
the swiftest running deer that always throws off the hounds, nor the
biggest arm that holds the truest rifle. Look around you, men; what
will the Yankee Choppers say, when they have cut their path from the
eastern to the western waters, and find that a hand, which can lay the
'arth bare at a blow, has been here and swept the country, in very
mockery of their wickedness. They will turn on their tracks like a fox
that doubles, and then the rank smell of their own footsteps will show
them the madness of their waste. Howsomever, these are thoughts that
are more likely to rise in him who has seen the folly of eighty
seasons, than to teach wisdom to men still bent on the pleasures of
their kind! You have need yet, of a stirring time, if you think to
escape the craft and hatred of the burnt-wood Indians. They claim to be
the lawful owners of this country, and seldom leave a white more than
the skin he boasts of, when once they get the power, as they always
have the will, to do him harm."
"Old man," said Ishmael sternly, "to which people do you belong?
You have the colour and speech of a Christian, while it seems that your
heart is with the red-skins."
"To me there is little difference in nations. The people I loved
most are scattered as the sands of the dry river beds fly before the
fall hurricanes, and life is too short to make use and custom with
strangers, as one can do with such as he has dwelt amongst for years.
Still am I a man without the cross of Indian blood; and what is due
from a warrior to his nation, is owing by me to the people of the
states; though little need have they, with their militia and their
armed boats, of help from a single arm of fourscore."
"Since you own your kin, I may ask a simple question. Where are the
Siouxes who have stolen my cattle?"
"Where is the herd of buffaloes, which was chased by the panther
across this plain, no later than the morning of yesterday! It is as
"Friend," said Dr. Battius, who had hitherto been an attentive
listener, but who now felt a sudden impulse to mingle in the discourse,
"I am grieved when I find a venator or hunter, of your experience and
observation, following the current of vulgar error. The animal you
describe is in truth a species of the bos ferus (or bos sylvestris, as
he has been happily called by the poets), but, though of close
affinity, is altogether distinct from the common bubulus. Bison is the
better word, and I would suggest the necessity of adopting it in
future, when you shall have occasion to allude to the species."
"Bison or buffaloe, it makes but little matter. The creatur' is the
same, call it by what name you will, and——"
"Pardon me, venerable venator; as classification is the very soul
of the natural sciences, the animal or vegetable must, of necessity, be
characterised by the peculiarities of its species, which is always
indicated by the name——"
"Friend," said the trapper, a little positively, "would the tail of
a beaver make the worse dinner, for calling it a mink; or could you eat
of the wolf with relish, because some bookish man had given it the name
As these questions were put with no little earnestness and some
spirit, there was every probability that a hot discussion would have
succeeded between the two, of whom one was so purely practical and the
other so much given to theory, had not Ishmael seen fit to terminate
the dispute, by bringing into view a subject that was much more
important to his own immediate interests.
"Beavers' tails and minks' flesh may do to talk about before a
maple fire and a quiet hearth," interruptedthe squatter, without the
smallest deference to the interested feelings of the disputants; "but
there is something more than foreign words, or words of any sort, now
needed. Tell me, trapper; where are your Siouxes skulking?"
"It would be as easy to tell you the colours of the hawk that is
floating beneath yonder white cloud! When a red-skin strikes his blow,
he is not apt to wait until he is paid for the evil deed in lead."
"Will the beggarly savages believe they have enough when they find
themselves master of all the stock?"
"Natur' is much the same, let it be covered by what coloured skin
it may. Do you ever find your longings after riches less when you have
made a good crop, than before you were master of a kernel of corn? If
you do, you differ from what the experience of a long life tells me is
the common cravings of man."
"Speak plainly, old stranger," said the squatter, striking the butt
of his rifle heavily on the earth, his dull capacity finding no
pleasure in a discourse that was conducted in such obscure allusions;
"I have asked a simple question, and one I know well that you can
"You are right, you are right. I can answer, for I have too often
seen the disposition of my kind to mistake it, when evil is stirring.
When the Siouxes have gathered in the beasts, and have made sure that
you are not upon their heels, they will be back nibbling like hungry
wolves to take the bait they have left: or it may be, they'll shew the
temper of the great bears, that are found at the falls of the Long
River, and strike at once with the paw, without stopping to nose their
"You have then seen, the animals you mention!" exclaimed Dr.
Battius, who had now been thrownout of the conversation quite as long
as his impatience could well brook, and who approached the subject with
his tablets ready opened, as a book of reference. "Can you tell me if
what you encountered was of the species, ursus horribilis——with the
ears, rounded——front, arquated——eyes——destitute of the remarkable
supplemental lid——with six incisores, one false, and four perfect
"Trapper, go on," interrupted Ishmael; "you believe we shall see
more of the robbers."
"Nay——nay——I do not call them robbers, for it is the usage of their
people, and what may be called the prairie law."
"I have come five hundred miles to find a place where no man can
ding the words of the law in my ears," said Ishmael, fiercely, "and I
am not in a humour to stand quietly at a bar, while a red-skin sits in
judgment. I tell you, trapper, if another Sioux is seen prowling around
my camp, wherever it may be, he shall feel the contents of old
Kentuck," slapping his rifle, in a manner that could not be easily
misconstrued, "though he wore the medal of Washington, himself; I call
the man a robber who takes that which is not his own."
"The Teton, and the Pawnee, and the Konza, and men of a dozen other
tribes, claim to own these naked fields."
"Natur' gives them the lie in their teeth. The air, the water and
the ground, are all free gifts to man, and no one has the power to
portion them out in parcels. Man must drink, and breathe, and walk
——and therefore each has a right to his perfect share of 'arth. Why do
not the surveyors of the states set their compasses and run their lines
over our heads as well as beneath our feet? Why do they not cover their
shining sheep-skins with big words, giving to the land-holder, or
perhaps he should becalled air-holder, so many rods of heaven, with the
use of such a star for a boundary-mark, and such a cloud to turn a
As the squatter uttered his wild conceit, he laughed from the very
bottom of his chest in scorn. The deriding but frightful merriment
passed from the mouth of one of his ponderous sons to that of the
other, until it had made the circuit of the whole family.
"Come, trapper," continued Ishmael in a tone of better humour, like
a man who feels that he has triumphed, "neither of us, I reckon, has
ever had much to do with title-deeds, or county clerks, or blazed
trees; therefore we will not waste words on fooleries. You ar' a man
that has tarried long in this clearing, and now I ask your opinion,
face to face, without fear or favour, if you had the lead in my
business, what would you do?"
The old man hesitated, and seemed to give the required advice with
deep reluctance. As every eye, however, was fastened on him, and
whichever way he turned his face, he encountered a look riveted on the
lineaments of his own working countenance, he answered in a low,
"I have seen too much mortal blood poured out in empty quarrels, to
wish ever to hear an angry rifle again. Ten weary years have I
sojourned alone on these naked plains, waiting for my hour to come, and
not a blow have I struck, ag'in an enemy more humanized than the
"Ursus horribilis," muttered the Doctor.
The speaker paused at the sound of the other's voice, but
perceiving it was no more than a sort of mental ejaculation, he
continued in the same strain——
"More humanized than the grizzly bear, or the panther of the Rocky
Mountains; unless the beaver, which is a wise and knowing animal, may
be soreckoned. What would I advise? Even the female buffaloe will fight
for her young!"
"It never then shall be said, that Ishmael Bush has less kindness
for his children than the bear for her cubs!"
"And yet this is but a naked spot for a dozen men to make head in,
ag'in five hundred."
"Ay, it is so," returned the squatter, glancing his eye towards his
humble camp; "but something might be done, with the wagons and the
The trapper shook his head incredulously, and pointed across the
rolling plain in the direction of the west, as he answered——
"A rifle would send a bullet from these hills into your very
sleeping-cabins; nay, arrows from the thicket in your rear would keep
you all burrowed, like so many prairie dogs: it wouldn't do, it
wouldn't do. Three long miles from this spot is a place, where as I
have often thought in passing across the desert, a stand might be made
for days and weeks together, if there were hearts and hands ready to
engage in the bloody work."
Another low, deriding laugh passed among the young men, announcing,
in a manner sufficiently intelligible, their readiness to undertake a
task even more arduous. The squatter himself eagerly seized the hint
which had been so reluctantly extorted from the trapper, who by some
singular process of reasoning had evidently persuaded himself that it
was his duty to be strictly neutral. A few direct and pertinent
inquiries served to obtain the little additional information that was
necessary, in order to make the contemplated movement, and then
Ishmael, who was, on emergencies, as terrifically energetic, as he was
sluggish in common, set about effecting his object without delay.
Notwithstanding the industry and zeal of all engaged, the task
however, was one of great labour and difficulty. The loaded vehicles
were to be drawn, by hand, across a wide distance of plain, without
track or guide of any sort, except that which the trapper furnished by
communicating his knowledge of the cardinal points of the compass. In
accomplishing this object, the gigantic strength of the men was taxed
to the utmost, nor were the females or the children spared a heavy
proportion of the toil. While the sons distributed themselves about the
heavily loaded wagons, and drew them by main strength up the
neighbouring swell, their mother and Ellen, surrounded by the amazed
groupe of little ones, followed slowly in the rear, bending under the
weight of such different articles as were suited to their several
Ishmael himself superintended and directed the whole, occasionally
applying his colossal shoulder to some lagging vehicle, until he saw
that the chief difficulty, that of gaining the level of their intended
route, was accomplished. Then he pointed out the required course,
cautioning his sons to proceed in such a manner that they should not
lose the advantage they had with so much labour obtained, and beckoning
to the brother of his wife, they returned together to the empty camp.
Throughout the whole of this movement, which occupied an hour of
time, the trapper had stood apart, leaning on his rifle, with the aged
hound slumbering at his feet, a silent but attentive observer of all
that passed. Occasionally, a smile lighted his hard, muscular, but
wasted features, like a gleam of sunshine flitting across a naked
ragged ruin, and betrayed the momentary pleasure he found in witnessing
from time to time the vast power the youths discovered. Then, as the
train drew slowly up the ascent, a cloud of thought and sorrow threw
all intothe shade again, leaving the expression of his countenance in
its usual state of quiet melancholy gravity. As vehicle after vehicle
left the place of the encampment, he noted the change, with increasing
attention; seldom failing to cast an inquiring look at the little
neglected tent, which with its proper wagon, still remained, as before,
solitary and apparently forgotten. The summons of Ishmael to his gloomy
associate, had however, as it would now seem, this hitherto neglected
portion of his effects for its object.
First casting a cautious and suspicious glance on every side of
him, the squatter and his companion advanced to the little wagon, and
caused it to enter within the folds of the cloth, much in the same
manner that it had been extricated the preceding evening. They both
then disappeared behind the drapery, and many moments of suspense
succeeded, during which the old man, secretly urged by a burning desire
to know the meaning of so much mystery, insensibly drew nigher to the
place, until he stood within a few yards of the proscribed spot. The
agitation of the cloth betrayed the nature of the occupation of those
whom it concealed, though their work was conducted in the most rigid
silence. It would appear that long practice had made each of the two
acquainted with his particular duty, for neither sign nor direction of
any sort was necessary from Ishmael, in order to apprise his surly
associate of the manner in which he was to proceed. In less time than
has been consumed in relating it, the interior portion of the
arrangement was completed, when the men re-appeared without the tent.
Too busy with his occupation to heed the presence of the trapper,
Ishmael began to release the folds of the cloth from the ground, and to
dispose of them in such a manner around the vehicle as to form a
sweeping train to the new form the little pavilion had now assumed. The
arched rooftrembled with the occasional movement of the light vehicle,
which, it was now apparent, once more supported its secret burden. Just
as the work was ended the scowling eye of Ishmael's assistant caught a
glimpse of the figure of the attentive observer of their movements.
Dropping the shaft, which he had already lifted from the ground
preparatory to occupying the place that was usually filled by an animal
less reasoning and perhaps less dangerous than himself, he bluntly
"I am a fool, as you often say! But look for yourself: if that man
is not an enemy, I will disgrace father and mother, call myself an
Indian, and go hunt with the Siouxes!"
The cloud as it is about to discharge the subtle lightning is not
more dark nor threatening, than was the look with which Ishmael greeted
the intruder. He turned his head on every side of him, as if seeking
some engine sufficiently terrible to annihilate the offending trapper
at a blow; and then, possibly recollecting the further occasion he
might have for his counsel, he forced himself to say, with an
appearance of moderation that nearly choked him——
"Stranger, I did believe this prying into the concerns of others
was the business of women in the towns and settlements, and not the
manner in which men, who are used to live where each has room for
himself, deal with the secrets of their neighbours. To what lawyer or
sheriff do you calculate to sell your news?"
"I hold but little discourse except with one; and then chiefly of
my own affairs," returned the old man, without the least observable
apprehension, and pointing imposingly upward; "a judge; and judge of
all. Little does he need knowledge from my hands, and but little will
your wish to keep any thing secret from him profit you, even in this
The mounting tempers of his unnurtured listenerswere rebuked by the
simple, solemn manner of the trapper. Ishmael stood sullen and
thoughtful; while his companion stole a furtive and involuntary glance
at the placid sky, which spread so wide and blue above his head, as if
he expected to see the Almighty eye itself beaming from the heavenly
vault. But impressions of a serious character are seldom lasting on
minds long indulged in forgetfulness. The hesitation of the squatter
was consequently of very short duration. The language, however, as well
as the firm and collected air of the speaker, were the means of
preventing much subsequent abuse, if not violence.
"It would be shewing more of the kindness of a friend and comrade,"
Ishmael returned, in a tone sufficiently sullen to betray his humour,
though it was no longer threatening, "had your shoulder been put to the
wheel of one of yonder wagons, instead of edging itself in here, where
none are wanted but such as are invited."
"I can put the little strength that is left me," returned the
trapper, "to this, as well as to another of your loads."
"Do you take us for boys!" exclaimed Ishmael, laughing, half in
ferocity and half in derision, applying his powerful strength at the
same time to the little vehicle, which rolled over the grass with as
much seeming facility as though it were drawn by its usual team.
The trapper paused, and followed the departing wagon with his eye,
marvelling greatly as to the nature of its concealed contents, until it
had also gained the summit of the eminence, and in its turn disappeared
behind the swell of the land. Then he turned to gaze at the desolation
of the scene around him. The absence of human forms would have scarce
created a sensation in the bosom of one so long accustomed to solitude,
had not the site of the deserted camp furnished such strong memorials
of its recent visiters, and as the old man was quick to detect, of
their waste also. He cast his eye upwards, with a significant shake of
the head, at the vacant spot in the heavens, which had so lately been
filled by the branches of those trees that now lay stripped of their
verdure, worthless and deserted logs, at his feet."
"Ay!" he muttered to himself, "I might have know'd it! I might have
know'd it! often have I seen the same before, and yet I brought them to
the spot myself, and have now sent them to the only neighbourhood of
their kind, within many long leagues of the spot where I stand. This is
man's wish, and pride, and waste, and sinfulness! He tames the beasts
of the field to feed his idle wants, and having robbed the brutes of
their natural food, he teaches them to strip the 'arth of its trees to
quiet their hunger."
A rustling in the low bushes that still grew for some distance,
along the swale, that formed the thicket on which the camp of Ishmael
had rested, caught his ear at the moment and cut short the soliloquy.
The habits of so many years spent in the wilderness, caused the old man
to bring his rifle to a poise, with something like the activity and
promptitude of his youth; but suddenly recovering his recollection, he
dropped it into the hollow of his arm again, and resumed his air of
"Come forth, come forth!" he said aloud; "be ye bird or be ye
beast——ye are safe from these old hands. I have eaten and I have drunk;
why should I take life, when my wants call for no such sacrifice. It
will not be long afore the birds will peck at eyes that shall not see
them, and perhaps light on my very bones; for if things like these are
only made to perish, why am I to expect to live for ever! Come
forth——come forth; ye are safe from harm, at these weak hands."
"Thank you for the good word, old trapper," cried Paul Hover,
springing actively forward from his place of concealment. "There was an
air about you, when you threw forward the muzzle of the piece, that I
did not like; for it seemed to say that you were master of all the rest
of the motions."
"You are right! you are right!" cried the trapper, laughing with
inward self complacency, at the recollection of his former skill. "The
day has been, when few men knew the virtues of a long rifle, like this
I carry, better than myself, old and useless as I now seem. You are
right, young man; and the time was, when it was dangerous to move a
leaf, within ear-shot of my stand, or," he added, dropping his voice
and looking serious, "for a Red Mingo to show even an eyeball from his
ambushment. You have heard of the Red Mingos?"
"I have heard of minks," said Paul, taking the old man by the arm,
and gently urging him towards the thicket as he spoke, while at the
same time he cast quick and uneasy glances behind him, in order to make
sure he was not observed. "Of your common black minks; but of none of
any other colour."
"Lord! lord!" continued the trapper, shaking his head, and still
laughing in his deep but quiet mannan; "the boy mistakes a brute for a
man! Though, a Mingo is little better than a beast; or, for that
matter, he is worse, when rum and opportunity are placed before his
eyes. There was that accursed Huron from the upper lakes, that I
knocked from his perch, among the rocks in the hills, back of the
His voice was lost in the thicket, into which he had suffered
himself to be led by Paul, while speaking; too much occupied by
thoughts which dwelt onscenes and acts that had taken place half a
century earlier in the history of the country, to offer the smallest
"Now they are clapper-clawing one another; I'll go look on. That
dissembling abominable varlet, Diomed, has got that same scurvy,
doting, foolish young knave in his helm."
—— Troilus and Cressida
It is necessary, in order that the thread of the narrative should
not be spun to a length which might fatigue the reader, that he should
imagine a week to have intervened between the scene with which the
preceding chapter closed, and the events with which it is our intention
to resume its relation in this. The season was on the point of changing
its character; the verdure of summer giving place more rapidly to the
brown and party-coloured livery of the fall. The heavens were clothed
in driving clouds, piled in vast masses one above the other, which
whirled violently in the gusts; opening, occasionally, to admit
transient glimpses of the bright and glorious sight of the heavens
dwelling in a magnificence, by far too grand and durable to be
disturbed by the fitful efforts of the lower world. Beneath, the wind
swept across the wild and naked prairies, with a violence that is
seldom witnessed in any section of the continent less open. It would
have been easy to have imagined, in the ages of fable, that the god of
the winds had permitted his subordinate agents to escape from their
den, and that they now rioted, in wantonness, across wastes, where
neither tree, nor work of man, nor mountain, nor obstacle of any sort
opposed itself to their gambols.
Though nakedness might, as usual, be given as the pervading
character of the spot, whither it is now necessary to transfer the
scene of the tale, it was not entirely without the signs of human life.
Amid the monotonous rolling of the prairie, a single naked and ragged
rock arose on the margin of a little water-course, which found its way,
after winding a vast distance through the plains, into one of the
numerous tributaries of the Father of Rivers. A swale of low land lay
near the base of the eminence, and as it was still fringed with a
thicket of alders and sumack, it bore the signs of having once nurtured
a feeble growth of wood. The trees themselves had been transferred,
however, to the summit and crags of the neighbouring rocks. It was on
this little elevation that the signs of man were to be found, to which
the allusion just made applies.
Seen from beneath, they presented no more than a breast-work of
logs and stones, intermingled in such a manner as to save all
unnecessary labour; of a few low roofs made of bark and boughs of
trees; of an occasional barrier, constructed like the defences on the
summit, and placed on such points of the acclivity as were easier of
approach than the general face of the eminence, and of a little
dwelling of cloth, perched on the apex of a small pyramid, that shot up
on one angle of the rock, the white covering of which glimmered from a
distance like a spot of snow——or to make the simile more suitable to
the rest of the subject, like a spotless and carefully guarded
standard, which was to be protected by the dearest blood of those who
defended the citadel beneath. It is hardly necessary to add, that this
rude and characteristic fortress was the place where Ishmael Bush had
taken refuge, after the robbery of his flocks and herds.
On the day to which the narrative is advanced; the squatter was to
be seen standing near the base ofthese very rocks, leaning on his
rifle, and regarding the sterile soil that supported him with a look in
which contempt and disappointment were strongly blended.
"'Tis time to change our natur's," he observed to the brother of
his wife, who was rarely far from his elbow; "and to become ruminators,
instead of people used to the fare of Christians and free men. I
reckon, Abiram, you could glean a living among the grasshoppers; you
ar' an active man, and might outrun the nimblest skipper of them all."
"The country will never do," returned the other, who relished but
little the forced humour of his kinsman; "and it is well to remember
that a lazy traveller makes a long journey."
"Would you have me draw a cart at my heels, across this desert, for
weeks; ay, months!" retorted Ishmael, who, like all of his class, could
labour with incredible efforts on emergencies, but who too seldom
exerted continued industry, on any occasion, to brook a proposal that
offered so little repose. "It may do for your people, who live in
settlements, to hasten on to their houses. But, thank Heaven, my farm
is too big for its owner ever to want a resting-place!"
"Since you like the plantation, then, you have only to make your
"That is easier said than done, on this corner of the estate. I
tell you, Abiram, there is need of moving for more reasons than one.
You know I'm a man that very seldom enters into a bargain; but who
always fulfils his agreements better than your dealers in wordy
contracts written on rags of paper. If there's one mile, there ar' a
hundred still needed to make up the distance for which you have my
As he spoke, the squatter glanced his eye upward at the little
tenement of cloth which crowned thesummit of his ragged fortress. The
look was understood and answered by the other, and by some secret
influence, which operated either through their interests or feelings,
it served to re-establish that harmony between them, which had just
been threatened with something very like a momentary breach.
"I know it, and feel it in every bone of my body. But I remember
the reason, why I have set myself on this accursed journey too well, to
forget the distance between me and the end. Neither you nor I will ever
be the better for what we have done, unless we thoroughly finish what
is so well begun. Ay; that is the doctrine of the whole world, I judge:
I heard a travelling preacher, who was skirting it down the Ohio, a
time since, say, if a man should live up to the faith for a hundred
years and then fall from his work a single day, he would find the
settlement was to be made for the finishing blow that he had put to his
job, and that all the bad and none of the good would come into the
"And you believed what the hungry hypocrite preached!"
"Who said that I believed it!" retorted Abiram with a bullying
look, that betrayed how much his fears had dwelt on the subject he
affected to despise. "Is it believing to tell what a roguish——And yet,
Ishmael, the man might have been honest after all! He told us that the
world was, in truth, no better than a desert, and that there was but
one hand that could lead the most learned man through all its windings
of good and evil. Now, if this be true of the whole world, it may be
true of a part."
"Abiram, out with your grievances like a man," interrupted the
squatter, with a hoarse, taunting laugh. "You want to pray. But of what
use will it be, according to your own doctrine, to serve God five
minutes and the devil an hour. Harkee, friend; I'm not much of a
husbandman, but this I know tomy cost; that to make a right good crop,
even on the richest bottom, there must be hard labour; and your
snufflers often liken the 'arth to a field of corn, and the men, who
live on it, to its yield. Now I tell you, Abiram, that you are no
better than a thistle or a mullin; yea, ye ar' wood of too open a pore
to be good even to burn!"
The malign glance which shot from the scowling eye of Abiram,
announced the angry character of his feelings, but as the furtive look
quailed, almost immediately, before the unmoved, steady countenance of
the squatter, it also betrayed how much the bolder spirit of the latter
had obtained the mastery over his craven nature.
Content with his ascendency, which was too apparent, and had been
too often exerted on similar occasions, to leave him in any doubt of
its extent, Ishmael coolly continued the discourse, by adverting more
directly to his future plans.
"You will own the justice at any rate of paying every one in kind,"
he said; "I have been robbed of my stock, and I have a scheme to make
myself as good as before, by taking hoof for hoof; or for that matter,
when a man is put to the trouble of bargaining for both sides, he is a
fool if he dont pay himself something in the way of commission."
As the squatter made this declaration in a loud and decided tone,
which was a little excited by the humour of the moment, four or five of
his lounging sons, who had been leaning against the foot of the rock,
came forward with the indolent step so common to the whole family.
"I have been calling Ellen Wade, who is on the rock keeping the
look-out, to know if there is any thing to be seen," observed the
eldest of the young men; "and she shakes her head for an answer. Ellen
is sparing of her words, for a woman; and mightbe taught manners, at
least, without spoiling any of her uncommon good looks."
Ishmael cast his eye upward to the place, where the offending, but
unconscious girl was holding her anxious watch. She was seated at the
edge of the uppermost crag, by the side of the little tent, and at
least a hundred feet above the level of the plain. Little else was to
be distinguished, at that distance, but the outline of her form, her
fair hair streaming in the gusts beyond her shoulders, and the steady
and seemingly unchangeable look that she had riveted on some remote
point of the prairie.
"What is it, Nell?" cried Ishmael, lifting his powerful voice a
little above the rushing of the element. "Have you got a glimpse of any
thing bigger than one of them burrowing barkers?"
The lips of the attentive Ellen parted; she rose to the utmost
height her small stature admitted, seeming still to regard the unknown
object; but her voice, if she spoke at all, was not sufficiently loud
to be heard amid the roaring of the wind.
"It ar' a fact that the child sees something more uncommon than a
buffaloe or a prairie dog!" continued Ishmael. "Why, Nell, girl, ar' ye
deaf? Nell, I say;——I hope it is an army of red-skins she has in her
eye; for I should mightily relish the chance to pay them for their
kindness, under the favour of these logs and rocks!"
As the squatter had accompanied his vaunt with corresponding
gestures, and directed his eyes to the circle of his equally confident
sons while speaking, he had drawn their gaze from Ellen to himself; but
now, when they turned together to note the succeeding movements of
their female sentinel, the place which had so lately been occupied by
her form was vacant.
"As I am a sinner," exclaimed Asa, usually one of the most
phlegmatic of the youths, in a tone of extraordinary excitement, "the
girl is blown away by the wind!"
Something like a sensation was exhibited among them, which might
have denoted that the influence of the laughing blue eyes, flaxen hair,
and glowing cheeks of Ellen, had not been lost on the dull natures of
the young men, and looks of dull amazement, mingled slightly with
concern, passed from one to the other, as they gazed, in stupid wonder,
at the point of the naked rock.
"It might well be!" added another; "she sat on a slivered stone,
and I have been thinking of telling her she was in danger for more than
"Is that a riband of the child, dangling from the corner of the
hill below!" cried Ishmael; "ha! who is moving about the tent; have I
not told you all——"
"Ellen! 'tis Ellen!" interrupted the whole body of his sons in a
breath; and at that instant she re-appeared to put an end to their
different surmises, and, to relieve more than one sluggish nature from
its unwonted excitement. As Ellen issued from beneath the folds of the
tent, she advanced with a light and fearless step to her former giddy
stand, and pointed toward the prairie, appearing to speak in an eager
and rapid voice to some invisible auditor.
"Nell is mad!" said Asa, half in contempt and yet not a little in
concern. "The girl is dreaming with her eyes open; and thinks she sees
some of them fierce creatur's, with hard names, with which the Doctor
fills her ears."
"Can it be, the child has found a scout of the Siouxes," said
Ishmael, bending his look toward the plain; but a low, significant
whisper from Abiram drew his eyes quickly upward again, where they were
turned just in time to perceive that the cloth of the tent was agitated
by a motion very evidentlydifferent from the quivering occasioned by
the wind. "Let her, if she dare!" the squatter muttered in his teeth.
"Abiram; they know my temper too well to play the prank with me!"
"Look for yourself! if the curtain is not lifted, I can see no
better than an owl by daylight."
Ishmael struck the breech of his rifle violently on the earth, and
shouted in a voice that might easily have been heard by Ellen, had not
her attention still continued rapt on the object which so unaccountably
attracted her eyes in the distance.
"Nell!" continued the squatter; "away with you, fool! will you
bring down punishment on your own head. Why Nell!——she has forgotten
her native speech; let us see if she can understand another language."
Ishmael threw his rifle to his shoulder, and at the next moment it
was pointed upward at the summit of the rock. Before time was given for
a word of remonstrance, it had sent forth its contents, in its usual
streak of bright flame. Ellen started like the frightened chamois, and
uttering a piercing scream, she darted into the tent, with a swiftness
that left it uncertain whether terror or actual injury had been the
penalty of her slight offence.
The action of the squatter was too sudden and unexpected to admit
of prevention, but the instant it was done, his sons manifested, in an
unequivocal manner, the temper with which they witnessed the desperate
measure. Angry and fierce glances were interchanged, and a murmur of
disapprobation was uttered by the whole in common.
"What has Ellen done, father," said Asa, with a degree of spirit,
which was the more striking from being unusual, "that she should be
shot at like a straggling deer or a hungry wolf!"
"Mischief;" deliberately returned the squatter, but with a cool
expression of defiance in his eyethat showed how little he was moved by
the ill-concealed humour of his children. "Mischief, boy; mischief!
take you care that the disorder don't spread."
"It would need a different treatment in a man, than in you
"Asa, you ar' a man, as you have often boasted; but remember I am
your father, and your better."
"I know it well; and what sort of a father!"
"Harkee, boy: I more than half believe that your drowsy head let in
the Siouxes. Be modest in your speech, my watchful son, or you may have
to answer yet for the mischief your own bad conduct has brought upon
"I'll stay no longer to be hectored like a child in petticoats. You
talk of law, as if you knew of none, and yet you keep me down, as
though I had not life and wants of my own to provide for. I'll stay no
longer to be treated like one of your meanest cattle."
"The world is wide, my gallant boy, and there's many a noble
plantation on it, without a tenant. Go; you have title deeds sign'd and
seal'd to your hand. Few fathers portion their children better than
Ishmael Bush; you will say that for me at least, when you get to the
end of your journey."
"Look! father, look!" exclaimed several voices at once, as though
they seized, with avidity an opportunity to interrupt a dialogue which
threatened to become still more violent.
"Look!" repeated Abiram, in a voice which sounded hollow and
warning; "If you have time for any thing but quarrels, Ishmael, look!"
The squatter turned slowly from his offending son, and cast an eye
upward that still lowered with deep resentment, but which, the instant
it caught a view of the object that now attracted the attention of all
around him, changed its expression to one of astonishment and dismay.
A female stood on the spot, from which Ellen had been so fearfully
expelled. Her person was of the smallest size that is believed to
comport with beauty, and which poets and artists have chosen as the
beau idéal of feminine loveliness. Her dress was of a dark and glossy
silk, and fluttered like gossamer around her form. Long, flowing, and
curling tresses of hair, still blacker and more shining than her robe,
fell at times about her shoulders, completely enveloping the whole of
her delicate bust in their ringlets; or at others streaming long and
waving in the wind. The elevation at which she stood prevented a close
examination of the lineaments of a countenance which, however, it might
be seen was youthful, speaking, and, at the moment of her unlooked-for
appearance, chanrged with powerful emotion. So young, indeed, did this
fair and fragile being appear, that it might be doubted whether the age
of childhood was entirely passed. One small and exquisitely moulded
hand was pressed on her heart, while with the other she made an
impressive gesture, which seemed to invite Ishmael, if any further
violence was meditated, to direct it against her bosom.
The silent wonder, with which the groupe of borderers gazed upward
at so extraordinary a spectacle, was only interrupted as the person of
Ellen was seen emerging with marked timidity from the tent, as if
equally urged, by apprehensions in behalf of herself and the fears
which she felt on account of her companion, to remain concealed and to
advance. She spoke, but her words were unheard by those below, and
unheeded by her to whom they were addressed. The latter, however, as if
content with the offer she had made of herself as the most proper
victim to the resentment of Ishmael, now calmly retired, and the spot
she had so lately occupied became vacant, leaving a sort of stupid
impression on the spectators beneath, not unlike that which it might be
supposed would have been created had they just been gazing at some
More than a minute of profound silence succeeded, during which the
sons of Ishmael still continued gazing at the naked rock in stupid
wonder. Then, as eye met eye, an expression of novel intelligence
passed from one to the other, indicating that to them, at least, the
appearance of this extraordinary tenant of the pavilion was as
unexpected as it was incomprehensible. At length Asa, in right of his
years, and moved by the still rankling impulse of his recent quarrel,
took on himself the office of interrogator. Instead, however, of
braving the resentment of his father, of whose fierce nature, when
aroused, he had had too frequent evidence to excite it wantonly, he
turned upon the cowering person of Abiram, observing with a sneer——
"This then is the beast you were bringing into the prairies for a
decoy! I know you to be a man who seldom troubles truth, when any thing
worse may answer, but I never knew you to outdo yourself so thoroughly
before. The newspapers of Kentuck have called you a dealer in black
flesh a hundred times, but little did they reckon that you drove the
trade into white families."
"Who is a kidnapper!" demanded Abiram with a blustering show of
resentment. "Am I to be called to account for every lie they put in
print throughout the states! Look to your own family, boy; look to
yourselves. The very stumps of Kentucky and Tennessee cry out ag'in ye!
Ay, my tonguey gentleman, I have seen father and mother and three
children, yourself for one, published on the logs and stubs of the
settlements, with dollars enough for reward to have made an honest man
He was interrupted by a back-handed but violent blow on the mouth,
that caused him to totter, andwhich left the impression of its weight
in the starting blood and swelling lips.
"Asa," said the father, advancing with a portion of that dignity
with which the hand of Nature seems to have invested the parental
character, "you have struck the brother of your mother!"
"I have struck the abuser of the whole family," returned the angry
youth; "and, unless he teaches his tongue a wiser language, he had
better part with it altogether as the unruly member. I'm no great
performer with the knife, but, on an occasion, could make out, myself,
to cut off a slande——"
"Boy, twice have you forgotten yourself to-day. Be careful that it
does not happen the third time. When the law of the land is weak, it is
right the law of nature should be strong. You understand me, Asa; and
you know me. As for you, Abiram, the child has done you wrong, and it
is my place to see you righted. Remember; I tell you justice shall be
done; it is enough. But you have said hard things ag'in me and my
family. If the hounds of the law have put their bills on the trees and
stumps of the clearings, it was for no act of dishonesty as you know,
but because we maintain the rule that the 'arth is common property. No,
Abiram; could I wash my hands of things done by your advice, as easily
as I can of the things done by the whisperings of the devil, my sleep
would be quieter at night, and none who bear my name need blush to hear
it mentioned. Peace, Asa, and you too man; enough has been said. Let us
all think well before any thing is added, that may make what is already
so bad still more bitter."
Ishmael waved his hand with authority as he ended, and turned away
with the air of one who felt assured, that those he had addressed would
not have the temerity to dispute his commands. Asa evidently struggled
with himself to compel the requiredobedience, but his heavy nature
quietly sunk into its ordinary repose, and he soon appeared again the
being he really was; dangerous, only, at moments, and one whose
passions were too sluggish to be long maintained at the point of
ferocity. Not so with Abiram. While there was an appearance of a
personal conflict, between him and his colossal nephew, his mien had
expressed the infallible evidences of engrossing apprehension, but now,
that the authority as well as gigantic strength of the father were
interposed between him and his assailant, his countenance changed from
paleness to a livid hue, that bespoke how deeply the injury he had
received rankled in his breast. Like Asa, however, he acquiesced in the
decision of the squatter, and the appearance, at least, of harmony was
restored again among a set of beings, who were restrained by no
obligations more powerful than the frail web of authority with which
Ishmael had been able to envelope his restless children.
One effect of the quarrel had been to divert the thoughts of the
young men from their recent visiter. With the dispute that succeeded
the disappearance of the fair stranger, all recollection of her
existence appeared to have vanished. A few ominous and secret
conferences it is true were held apart, during which the direction of
the eyes of the different speakers betrayed their subject; but these
threatening symptoms soon disappeared, and the whole party was again
seen broken into its usual, listless, silent and lounging groupes.
"I will go upon the rock, boys, and look abroad for the savages,"
said Ishmael shortly after, advancing towards them with a mien which he
intended should be conciliating at the same time that it was absolute.
"If there is nothing to fear, we will go out on the plain; the day is
too good to be lost inwords, like women in the towns wrangling over
their tea and sugared cakes."
Without waiting for approbation or dissent, the squatter then
advanced to the base of the rock, which formed a sort of perpendicular
wall near twenty feet high around the whole acclivity. Ishmael,
however, directed his footsteps to a point where an ascent might be
made through a narrow cleft, which he had taken the precaution to
fortify with a breast-work of cotton-wood logs, and which, in its turn,
was defended by a chevaux-de-frise of the branches of the same tree.
Here an armed man was usually kept, as at the key of the whole
position, and here one of the young men now stood, indolently leaning
against the rock, ready to protect the pass, if it should prove
necessary, until the whole party could be mustered at the several
points of defence.
From this place the squatter found the ascent still difficult,
partly by nature and partly by artificial impediments, until he reached
a sort of terrace, or to speak more properly the plain of the
elevation, where he had established the huts in which the whole family
dwelt. These tenements were, as already mentioned, of that class which
are so often seen on the borders, and such as belonged to the infancy
of architecture; being simply formed of logs, bark, and poles. The area
on which they stood contained several hundred square feet, and was
sufficiently elevated above the plain greatly to lessen if not to
remove all danger from Indian missiles. Here Ishmael believed he might
leave his infants in comparative security, under the protection of
their spirited mother, and here he now found Esther engaged at her
ordinary domestic employments, surrounded by her daughters, and lifting
her voice, in the tones of declamatory censure, as one or another of
the idle fry incurred her displeasure, and far too much engrossedwith
the tempest of her own conversation to know any thing of the violent
scene which had been passing among the party below.
"A fine windy place you have chosen for the camp, Ishmael!" she
commenced or rather continued, by merely diverting the attack from a
sobbing girl of ten, at her elbow, to her husband. "My word! if I
haven't to count the young ones every ten minutes, to see they are not
flying away among the buzzards or the ducks. Why do ye all keep
hovering round the rock, like lolloping reptiles in the spring, when
the heavens are beginning to be alive with birds, man! D'ye think
mouths can be filled, and hunger satisfied, by laziness and sleep!"
"You'll have your say, Eester;" said the husband, using the
provincial pronunciation of America for the name, and regarding his
noisy companions, with a look of habitual tolerance rather than of
affection. "But the birds you shall have, if your own tongue don't
frighten them to take too high a flight. Ay, woman," he continued,
standing on the very spot whence he had so rudely banished Ellen, which
he had by this time gained, "and buffaloe too, if my eye can tell the
animal at the distance of a Spanish league."
"Come down; come down, and be doing, instead of talking. A talking
man is no better than a barking dog. Nell shall hang out the cloth, if
any of the red-skins show themselves, in time to give you notice. But,
Ishmael, what have you been killing, my man; for it was your rifle I
heard a few minutes agone, unless I have lost my skill in sounds."
"Poh! 'twas to frighten the hawk you see sailing above the rock."
"Hawk, indeed! at your time of day to be shooting at hawks and
buzzards, with eighteen open mouths to feed. Look at the bee, and at
the beaver, my good man, and learn to be a provider. Why, Ishmael! I
believe my soul," she continued, droppingthe tow she was twisting on a
distaff, "the man is in that tent ag'in! More than half his time is
spent about the worthless, good-for-nothing——"
The sudden re-appearance of her husband closed the mouth of the
wife; and, as the former descended to the place where Esther had
resumed her employment, she was content to grumble forth her
dissatisfaction, instead of expressing it in more audible terms.
The dialogue that now took place between the affectionate pair was
sufficiently succinct and expressive. The woman was at first a little
brief and sullen in her answers, but care for her family soon rendered
her more complaisant. As the purport of the conversation was merely an
engagement to hunt during the remainder of the day, in order to provide
the chief necessary of life, we shall not stop to record it.
With this resolution, then, the squatter descended to the plain and
divided his force into two parts, one of which was to remain as a guard
with the fortress, and the other to accompany him to the field. He
warily included Asa and Abiram in his own party, well knowing that no
authority, short of his own, was competent to repress the fierce
disposition of his headlong son, if fairly awakened. When these
arrangements were completed, the hunters sallied forth, separating at
no great distance from the rock, in order to form a circle about the
distant herd of buffaloes.
"Priscian a little scratch'd;
—— Love's Labour Lost
Having made the reader acquainted with the manner in which Ishmael
Bush had disposed of his family, under circumstances that might have
proved so embarrassing to most other men, we shall again shift the
scene a few short miles from the place last described, preserving,
however, the due and natural succession of time. At the very moment
that the squatter and his sons departed in the manner mentioned in the
preceding chapter, two men were intently occupied in a swale that lay
along the borders of a little run, just out of cannon-shot from the
encampment, discussing the merits of a savoury bison's hump, that had
been prepared for their palates with the utmost attention to the
particular merits of that description of food. The choice morsel had
been judiciously separated from the adjoining and less worthy parts of
the beast, and, enveloped in the hairy coating provided by nature, it
had duly undergone the heat of the customary subterraneous oven, and
was now laid before its proprietors in all the culinary glory of the
prairies. So far as richness, delicacy and wildness of flavour, and
substantial nourishment were concerned, the viand might well have
claimed a decided superiority over the meretricious cookery and
laboured compounds of the most renowned restaurateur; though the
service of the dainty was certainly achieved in a manner far from
artificial. It would appear that the two fortunate mortals, to whose
happy lot it fell to enjoy a meal in which health and appetite lent so
keen a relish to the exquisite food of the American deserts, were
farfrom being insensible of the advantage they possessed.
The one to whose knowledge in the culinary art the other was
indebted for his banquet, seemed the least disposed of the two to
profit by his own skill. He eat, it is true, and with a relish; but it
was always with the moderation with which age is apt to temper the
appetite. No such restraint, however, was imposed on the inclination of
his companion. In the very flower of his days and in the fullest vigour
of manhood, the homage that he paid to the work of his more aged
friend's hands was of the most profound and engrossing character. As
one delicious morsel succeeded another he rolled his eyes towards his
companion, and seemed to express that gratitude which he had not speech
to utter, in looks of the most benignant nature.
"Cut more into the heart of it, lad," said the trapper, for it was
the venerable inhabitant of those vast wastes, who had served the
bee-hunter with the banquet in question; "cut more into the centre of
the piece; there you will find the genuine riches of natur'; and that
without need from spices, or any of your biting mustard to give it a
"If I had but a cup of metheglin," said Paul, stopping to perform
the necessary operation of breathing, "I should swear this was the
strongest meal that was ever placed before the mouth of man!"
"Ay, ay, well you may call it strong!" returned the other laughing
after his peculiar manner, in pure satisfaction at witnessing the
infinite contentment of his companion; "strong it is, and strong it
makes him who eats it! Here, Hector," tossing his patient hound, who
was watching his eye with a wistful look, a portion of the meat, "you
have need of strength, my friend, in your old days as well as your
master. Now, lad, there is a dog that has eaten and slept wiser and
better, ay, and that of richer food, than any king of them all! and
why? because he has used and not abused the gifts of his Maker. He was
made a hound; and like a hound has he feasted. Them did He create men;
but they have eaten like famished wolves! A good and prudent dog has
Hector proved, and never have I found one of his breed false in nose or
friendship. Do you know the difference between the cookery of the
wilderness and that which is found in the settlements? No; I see
plainly you don't, by your appetite; then I will tell you. The one
follows man, the other natur'. One thinks he can add to the gifts of
the Creator, while the other is humble enough to enjoy them; therein
lies the secret."
"I tell you, trapper," said Paul, who was very little edified by
the morality with which his associate saw fit to season their repast,
"that, every day while we are in this place, and they are likely to be
many, I will shoot a buffaloe and you shall cook his hump!"
"I cannot say that, I cannot say that. The beast is good, take him
in what part you will, and it was to be food for man that he was
fashioned; but I cannot say that I will be a witness and a helper to
the waste of killing one daily."
"The devil a bit of waste shall there be, old man. If they all turn
out as good as this, I will engage to eat them clean myself, even to
the hoofs——how now, who comes here! some one with a long nose I will
answer; and one that has led him on a true scent, if he is following
the trail of a dinner."
The individual who had interrupted the conversation, and who had
elicited the foregoing remark of Paul, was seen advancing along the
margin of the run, with a deliberate pace, in a direct line for the two
revellers. As there was nothing formidable nor hostile in his
appearance, the bee-hunter, instead of suspending his operations,
rather increased his efforts,in a manner which would seem to imply that
he doubted whether the hump would suffice for the proper entertainment
of all who were now likely to partake of the delicious morsel. With the
trapper, however, the case was different. His more tempered appetite
was already satisfied, and he faced the new comer with a look of
cordiality, that plainly evinced how very opportune he considered his
"Come on, friend," he said waving his hand, as he observed the
stranger to pause a moment, apparently in doubt. "Come on, I say: if
hunger be your guide, it has led you to a fitting place. Here is meat,
and this youth can give you corn, parch'd till it be whiter than the
upland snow; come on, without fear. We are not ravenous beasts, eating
of each other, but Christian men, receiving thankfully that which the
Lord hath seen fit to give."
"Venerable hunter," returned the Doctor, for it was no other than
the naturalist on one of his daily exploring expeditions, who
approached, "I rejoice greatly at this happy meeting; we are lovers of
the same pursuits, and should be friends."
"Lord, lord!" said the old man laughing, without much deference to
the rules of decorum, in the philosopher's very face, "it is the man
who wanted to make me believe that a name could change the natur' of a
beast! Come, friend; you are welcome, though your notions are a little
blinded with reading too many books. Sit ye down, and after eating of
this morsel, tell me, if you can, the name of the creatur' that has
bestowed on you its flesh for a meal?"
The eyes of Doctor Battius (for we deem it decorous to give the
good man the appellation he most preferred) the eyes of Dr. Battius
sufficiently denoted the satisfaction with which he listened to this
proposal. The exercise he had taken, and the sharpnessof the wind, had
proved excellent stimulants, and Paul himself had hardly been in better
plight to do credit to the trapper's cookery, than was the lover of
nature, when the grateful sounds of the invitation met his ears.
Indulging in a small laugh, which his exertions to repress reduced
nearly to a simper, he took the indicated seat by the old man's side,
and made the customary dispositions to commence his meal without
"I should be ashamed of my profession," he said, swallowing a
morsel of the hump with evident delight, slily endeavouring at the same
time to distinguish the peculiarities of the singed and defaced skin,
"I ought to be ashamed of my profession were there beast or bird on the
continent of America that I could not tell by some one of the many
evidences which science has enlisted in her cause. This——then ——the
food is nutritious and savoury——a mouthful of your corn, friend, if you
Paul, who continued eating with increasing industry, looking
askaunt not unlike a dog when engaged in the same agreeable pursuit,
threw him his pouch, without deeming it at all necessary to suspend his
"You were saying, friend, that you have many ways of telling the
creatur'?"——observed the attentive trapper.
"Many; very many and infallible. Now, the animals that are
carnivorous are known by their incisores."
"Their what!" demanded the trapper.
"The teeth with which nature has furnished them for defence, and in
order to tear their food. Again——"
"Look you then for the teeth of this creatur'," interrupted the
trapper, who was bent on convincing a man who had presumed to enter
into competition with himself, in matters pertaining to the wilds,
ofgross ignorance; "turn the piece round and find your inside-overs."
The Doctor complied, and of course without success; though he
profited by the occasion to take another fruitless glance at the
"Well, friend, do you find the things you need, before you can
pronounce the creatur' a duck or a salmon?"
"I apprehend the entire animal is not here?"
"You may well say as much," cried Paul, who was now compelled to
pause from pure repletion; "I will answer for some pounds of the
fellow, weighed by the truest steel-yards west of the Alleghanies.
Still you may make out to keep soul and body together, with what is
left," reluctantly eyeing a piece large enough to dine twenty men,
which he felt compelled to abandon from satiety; "cut in nigher to the
heart, as the old man says, and you will find the riches of the piece."
"The heart!" exclaimed the Doctor, inwardly delighted to learn
there was a distinct part to be submitted to his inspection. "Ay, let
me see the organ ——it will at once determine the character of the
animal——certes this is not the cor——ay, sure enough it is——the animal
must be of the order belluæ, from its obese habits!"
He was interrupted by a long and hearty, but still noiseless fit of
merriment, from the trapper, which was considered so ill-timed by the
offended naturalist, as to produce an instant cessation of speech, if
not a stagnation in his ideas.
"Listen to his beasts' habits and belly orders," said the old man,
delighted, with the evident embarrassment of his rival; "and then he
says it is not the core! Why, man, you are farther from the truth than
you are from the settlements, with all your bookish larning and hard
words; which I have once for all, said cannot be understood by any
tribe or nation east of the Rocky Mountains. Beastly habits or no
beastly habits, the creatur's are to be seen cropping the prairies, by
tens of thousands, and the piece in your hand is the core of as juicy a
buffaloe-hump as stomach need ever crave!"
"My aged companion," said Obed, struggling to keep down a rising
irascibility, that he conceived would ill comport with the dignity of
his character, "your system is erroneous from the premises to the
conclusion, and your classification so faulty, as utterly to confound
the distinctions of science. The buffaloe is not gifted with a hump at
all. Nor is his flesh savoury and wholesome, as I must acknowledge it
would seem the subject before us may well be characterized——"
"There I'm dead against you, and clearly with the trapper,"
interrupted Paul Hover. "The man who denies that buffaloe beef is good,
should scorn to eat it!"
The Doctor, whose observation of the bee-hunter had hitherto been
exceedingly cursory, stared at the new speaker with a look which
denoted something like recognition.
"The principal characteristics of your countenance, friend," he
said, "are familiar; either you, or some other specimen of your class,
is known to me."
"I am the man you met in the woods east of the big river, and whom
you tried to persuade to line a yellow hornet to his nest: as if my eye
was not too true to mistake any other animal for a honey-bee, in a
clear day! we tarried together a week, as you may remember; you at your
toads and lizards, and I at my high-holes and hollow trees. And a good
job we made of it, between us! I filled my tubs with the sweetest honey
I ever sent to the settlements, besides housing a dozen hives; and your
bag was near burstingwith a crawling museum. I never was bold enough to
put the question to your face, stranger, but I reckon you are a keeper
"Ay! that is another of their wanton wickednesses!" exclaimed the
trapper. "They slay the buck, and the moose, and the wild cat and all
the beasts that range the woods, and after stuffing them with worthless
rags, and placing eyes of glass into their heads, they set them up to
be stared at, and call them the creatur's of the Lord; as if any mortal
effigy could equal the works of his hand!"
"I know you well," returned the Doctor, on whom the plaint of the
old man produced no visible impression. "I know you," offering his hand
cordially to Paul; "it was a prolific week, as my herbal and catalogues
shall one day prove to the world. Ay, I remember you well, young man.
You are of the class, mammalia; order, primates; genus, homo; species,
Kentucky." Then, after pausing an instant to smile complacently at his
own humour, the naturalist proceeded. "Since our separation, I have
journeyed far, having entered into a compactum or agreement with a
certain man, named Ishmael——"
"Bush!" interrupted the impatient and reckless Paul. "By the Lord,
trapper, this is the very blood-letter that Ellen told me of!"
"Then Nelly has not done me credit for what I trust I deserve;"
returned the single-minded Doctor, "for I am not of the phlebotomizing
school at all; greatly preferring the practice which purifies the blood
instead of abstracting it."
"It was a blunder of mine, good stranger; the girl called you a
"Therein she may have exceeded my merits," Dr. Battius continued,
bowing with sufficient meekness. "But Ellen is a good, and a kind, and
a spirited girl, too. A kind and a sweet girl I have ever found Nelly
Wade to be!"
"The devil you have!" cried Paul, dropping the morsel he was
sucking, from sheer reluctance to abandon the grateful hump, and
casting a fierce and direct look into the very teeth of the unconscious
physician. "I reckon, stranger, you have a mind to bag Ellen too!"
"The riches of the whole vegetable and animal world united, would
not tempt me to harm a hair of her head! I love the child, with what
may be called amor naturalis——or rather paternus——The affection of a
"Ay——that indeed is more befitting the difference in your years,"
Paul coolly rejoined, stretching forth his hand to regain the rejected
morsel. "You would be no better than a drone at your time of day, with
a young hive to feed and swarm."
"Yes, there is reason, because there is natur', in what he says,"
observed the trapper: "But, friend, you have said you were a dweller in
the camp of one Ishmael Bush?"
"True; it is, as you know, in virtue of a compactum——"
"I know but little of the virtue of packing, though I follow
trapping, in my old age, for a livelihood. They tell me that skins are
well kept, in the new fashion, but it is long since I have left off
killing more than I need for food and garments. I was an eye-witness,
myself, of the manner in which the Siouxes broke into your encampment,
and drove off the cattle; stripping the poor man you call Ishmael of
his smallest hoofs, counting even the cloven feet."
"Asinus excepted;" muttered the Doctor, who by this time was very
coolly discussing his portion of the hump, in utter forgetfulness of
all its scientific attributes. "Asinus domesticus Americanus excepted."
"I am glad to hear that so many of them are saved, though I know
not the value of the animals youname; which is nothing uncommon, seeing
how long it is that I have been out of the settlements. But can you
tell me, friend, what the traveller carries under the white cloth, he
guards with teeth as sharp as a wolf that quarrels for the carcass the
hunter has left?"
"You've heard of it!" exclaimed the other, dropping the morsel he
was conveying to his mouth, in manifest surprise.
"Nay, I have heard nothing; but I have seen the cloth, and had like
to have been bitten for no greater crime than wishing to know what it
"Bitten! then after all the animal must be carnivorous! It is too
tranquil for the ursus horridus; if it were the canis latrans, the
voice would betray it. Nor would Nelly Wade be so familiar with any of
the genus, feræ. Venerable hunter! the solitary animal confined in that
wagon by day, and in the tent at night, has occasioned me more
perplexity of mind than the whole catalogue of quadrupeds besides: and
for this plain reason; I did not know how to class it."
"You think it a ravenous beast?"
"I know it to be a quadruped: your own danger proves it to be
During this broken explanation, Paul Hover had sat silent and
thoughtful, regarding each speaker with eyes of deep attention. But, as
if suddenly moved by the confident manner of the Doctor, the latter had
scarcely time to utter his positive assertion, before the young man
"And pray, friend, what may you call a quadruped?"
"A vagary of nature, wherein she has displayed less of her infinite
wisdom than is usual. Could rotary levers be substituted for two of the
limbs, agreeably to the improvement in my new order of phalangacrura,
which might be rendered into thevernacular as lever-legged, there would
be a delightful perfection and harmony in the construction. But, as the
quadruped is now formed, I call it a mere vagary of nature; no other
than a vagary."
"Harkee, stranger! in Kentucky we are but small dealers in
dictionaries. Vagary is as hard a word to turn into English as
"A quadruped is an animal with four legs——a beast."
"A beast! Do you then reckon that Ishmael Bush travels with a beast
caged in that little wagon?"
"I know it, and lend me your ear——not literally, friend," observing
Paul to start and look surprised, "but figuratively through its
functions, and you shall hear. I have already made known that in virtue
of a compactum, I journey with the aforesaid Ishmael Bush; but though I
am bound to perform certain duties while the journey lasts, there is no
condition which says that the said journey shall be sempiternum, or
eternal. Now, though this region may scarcely be said to be wedded to
science, being to all intents a virgin territory as respects the
inquirer into natural history, still it is greatly destitute of the
treasures of the vegetable kingdom. I should therefore have tarried
some hundreds of miles more to the eastward, were it not for the inward
propensity that I feel to have the beast in question inspected and
suitably described and classed. For that matter," he continued,
dropping his voice, like one who imparts an important secret, "I am not
without hopes of persuading Ishmael to let me dissect it."
"You have seen the creature?"
"Not with the organs of sight; but with much more infallible
instruments of vision: the conclusions of reason, and the deductions of
scientific premises. I have watched the habits of the animal, young
man; and can fearlessly pronounce, by evidence that would be thrown
away on ordinary observers, that it is of vast dimensions, inactive,
possibly torpid, of voracious appetite, and, as it now appears by the
direct testimony of this venerable hunter, ferocious and carnivorous!"
"I should be better pleased, stranger," said Paul, on whom the
Doctor's description was making a very sensible impression, "to be sure
the creature was a beast at all."
"As to that, if I wanted evidence of a fact, which is abundantly
apparent by the habits of the animal, I have the word of Ishmael,
himself. A reason can be given for my smallest deductions. I am not
troubled, young man, with a vulgar and idle curiosity, but all my
aspirations after knowledge, as I humbly believe, are, first, for the
advancement of learning, and secondly, for the benefit of my
fellow-creatures. I pined greatly in secret to know the contents of the
tent, which Ishmael guarded so carefully, and which he had covenanted
that I should swear, (jurare per deos) not to approach nigher than a
defined number of cubits, for a definite period of time. Your
jusjurandum, or oath, is a serious matter, and not to be dealt in
lightly; but, as my expedition depended on complying, I consented to
the act, reserving to myself at all times the power of distant
observation. It is now some ten days since Ishmael, pitying the state
in which he saw me, a humble lover of science, imparted the fact that
the vehicle contained a beast, which he was carrying into the prairies
as a decoy, by which he intends to entrap others of the same genus, or
perhaps species. Since then, my task has been reduced simply to watch
the habits of the animal, and to record the results. When we reach a
certain distance where these beasts are said to abound, I am to have
the liberal examination of the specimen."
Paul continued to listen, in the most profound silence, until the
Doctor concluded his singular butcharacteristic explanation; then the
incredulous bee-hunter shook his head, and saw fit to reply, by
"Stranger, old Ishmael has burrowed you in the very bottom of a
hollow tree, where your eyes will be of no more use than the sting of a
drone. I, too, know something of that very wagon, and I may say that I
have lined the squatter down into a flat lie. Harkee, friend; do you
think a girl, like Ellen Wade, would become the companion of a wild
"Why not! why not!" repeated the naturalist; "Nelly has a taste for
learning, and often listens with pleasure to the treasures that I am
sometimes compelled to scatter in this desert. Why should she not study
the habits of any animal, even though it were a rhinoceros!"
"Softly, softly," returned the equally positive, and, though less
scientific, certainly, on this subject, better instructed bee-hunter;
"Ellen is a girl of spirit, and one too that knows her own mind, or I'm
much mistaken; but with all her courage and brave looks, she is no
better than a woman after all. Haven't I often had the girl, crying——"
"You are an acquaintance, then, of Nelly's?"
"The devil a bit. But I know a woman is a woman; and all the books
in Kentucky couldn't make Ellen Wade go into a tent alone with a
"It seems to me," the trapper calmly observed, "that there is
something dark and hidden in this matter. I am a witness that the
traveller likes none to look into the tent, and I have a proof more
sure than what either of you can lay claim to, that the wagon does not
carry the cage of a beast. Here is Hector, come of a breed with noses
as true and faithful as a hand that is all-powerful has made any of
their kind, and had there been a beas in theplace, the hound would long
since have told it to his master."
"Do you pretend to oppose a dog to a man! brutality to learning!
instinct to reason!" exclaimed the Doctor in some heat. "In what
manner, pray, can a hound distinguish the habits, species, or even the
genus of an animal, like reasoning, learned, scientific, triumphant
"In what manner?" coolly repeated the veteran woodsman. "Listen;
and if you believe that a schoolmaster can make a quicker wit than the
Lord, you shall be made to see how much you're mistaken. Do you not
hear something move in the brake? it has been cracking the twigs these
five minutes. Now tell me what the creatur' is?"
"I hope nothing ferocious!" exclaimed the Doctor, starting, for he
still retained a lively impression of his rencounter with the
vespertilio horribilis. "You have rifles, friends; would it not be
prudent to prime them, for my fowling-piece is little to be depended
"There may be reason in what he says," returned the trapper,
smiling, and so far complying as to take his piece from the place where
it had lain during the repast, and raising its muzzle in the air. "Now
tell me the name of the creatur'?"
"It exceeds the limits of earthly knowledge! Buffon himself could
not tell whether the animal was a quadruped, or of the order, serpens!
a sheep, or a tiger!"
"Then was your buffoon a fool to my Hector! Here; pup! What is it,
dog? Shall we run it down, pup——or shall we let it pass?"
The hound, which had already manifested to the experienced trapper,
by the tremulous motion of his ears, his consciousness of the proximity
of a strange animal, now lifted his head from his fore paws and
slightly parted his lips, as if about to shew the remnants of his
teeth. But, suddenly abandoning his hostile purpose, he snuffed the air
a moment, gaped heavily, shook himself, and then peaceably resumed his
former recumbent attitude.
"Now Doctor," cried the trapper, triumphantly, "I am well convinced
there is neither game nor ravenous beast in the thicket; and that I
call substantial knowledge to a man who is too old to be a spendthrift
of his strength, and yet who would not wish to be a meal for a
The dog interrupted his master by a loud growl, but still kept his
head crouched to the earth.
"It is a man!" exclaimed the trapper, rising. "It is a man, if I am
a judge of the creatur's ways. There is but little said atwixt the
hound and me, but we seldom make a blunder!"
Paul Hover sprang to his feet like lightning, and, throwing forward
his rifle, he cried in a voice of menace——
"Come forward, if a friend; if an enemy, stand ready for the
"A friend, a white man, and I hope a Christian," returned a voice
from the thicket; which opened at the same instant, and at the next,
the speaker himself made his appearance.
"Go apart, Adam, and thou shalt hear How he will shake me up."
—— As you like it
It is well known, that even long before the immense regions of
Louisiana changed their masters for the second, and, as it is to be
hoped for the lasttime, its unguarded territory was by no means safe
from the inroads of white adventurers. The semibarbarous hunters from
the Canadas, the same description of population, a little more
enlightened, from the States, and the metiffs or half-breeds, who
claimed to be ranked in the class of white men, were scattered among
the different Indian tribes, or gleaned a scanty livelihood in
solitude, amid the haunts of the beaver and the bison; or, to adopt the
popular nomenclature of the country——of the buffaloe.*
It was, therefore, no unusual thing for strangers to encounter each
other in the endless wastes of the west. By signs, which an unpractised
eye would pass unobserved, these borderers knew when one of his fellows
was in his vicinity, and he avoided or approached the intruder as best
comported with his feelings or his interests. Generally, these
interviews were pacific; for the whites had a common enemy to dread, in
the ancient and perhaps more lawful occupants of the country; but
instances were not rare, in which jealousy and cupidity had caused them
to terminate in scenes of the most violent and ruthless treachery. The
meeting of two hunters on the American desert, as we find it convenient
sometimes to call this region, was consequently, somewhat in the
suspicious and wary manner in which two vessels draw together in a sea
that is known to be infested with pirates. While neither party is
willing to betray its weakness, by exhibiting distrust, neither is
disposed to commit itself by any acts of confidence, from which it may
be difficult to recede.
Such was, in some degree, the character of the present interview.
The stranger drew nigh, deliberately; keeping his eyes steadily
fastened on themovements of the other party, while he purposely created
little difficulties to impede an approach which might prove too hasty.
On the other hand, Paul stood playing with the lock of his rifle, too
proud to let it appear that three men could manifest any apprehension
of a solitary individual, and yet too prudent to omit, entirely, the
customary precautions. The principal reason of the marked difference,
which the two legitimate proprietors of the banquet made in the
receptions of their guests, was to be explained by the entire
difference which existed in their respective appearances.
While the exterior of the naturalist was decidedly pacific, not to
say abstracted, that of the new comer, was distinguished by an air of
vigour, and a front and step which it would not have been difficult to
have at once pronounced to be military.
He wore a forage-cap of fine blue cloth, from which depended a
soiled tassel in gold, and which was nearly buried in a mass of
exuberant, curling, jet-black hair. Around his throat he had
negligently fastened a stock of black silk. His body was enveloped in a
hunting-shirt of dark green, trimmed with the yellow fringes and
ornaments that were sometimes seen among the border-troops of the
Confederacy. Beneath this, however, were visible the collar and
lappells of a jacket, similar in colour and cloth to the cap. His lower
limbs were protected by buckskin leggings, and his feet by the ordinary
Indian moccasins. A richly ornamented, and exceedingly dangerous
straight dirk, was stuck in a sash of red silk-net work; another girdle
or rather belt of uncoloured leather contained a pair of the smallest
sized pistols, in holsters nicely made to fit, and across his shoulder
was thrown a short, heavy, military rifle; its horn and pouch occupying
the usual places beneath his arms. At his back he bore a knapsack,
which was marked by the well known initialsthat have since gained for
the government of the United States, the good-humoured and quaint
appellation of Uncle Sam.
"I come in amity," the stranger said, like one too much accustomed
to the sight of arms to be startled at the ludicrously belligerent
attitude which Dr. Battius had seen fit to assume. "I come as a friend;
and am one whose pursuits and wishes will not at all interfere with
"Harkee, stranger," said Paul Hover, bluntly; "do you understand
lining a bee from this open place into a wood, distant, perhaps, a
"The bee is a bird I have never been compelled to seek," returned
the other, laughing; "though I have, too, been something of a fowler in
"I thought as much," exclaimed Paul, thrusting forth his hand
frankly, and with the true freedom of manner that marks an American
borderer. "Let us cross fingers. You and I will never quarrel about the
comb, since you set such little store by the honey. And, now, if your
stomach has an empty corner, and you know how to relish a genuine
dew-drop when it falls into your very mouth, there lies the exact
morsel to put into it. Try it, stranger; and having tried it, if you
dont call it as snug a fit as you have made since——How long ar' you
from the settlements, pray?"
"'Tis many weeks, and I fear it may be as many more, before I can
return. I will, however, gladly profit by your invitation, for I have
fasted since the rising of yesterday's sun, and I know too well the
merits of a bison's hump to reject the food."
"Ah! you're acquainted with the dish! Well, therein you have the
advantage of me, in setting out, though I think, I may say we could
now, start on equal ground. I should be the happiest fellow, between
Kentucky and the Rocky Mountains, if I had a snug cabin, near some old
wood that was filled with hollow trees, just such a hump every day as
that for dinner, a load of fresh straw for hives, and little El——"
"Little what?" demanded the stranger, evidently amused with the
communicative and frank disposition of the bee-hunter.
"Something that I shall have one day, and which concerns nobody so
much as myself;" returned Paul, picking the flint of his rifle, and
beginning very cavalierly to whistle an air well known on the waters of
During this preliminary discourse the stranger had taken his seat
by the side of the hump, and was already making a serious inroad on its
relics. Dr. Battius, however, watched his movements with a jealousy,
still more striking than the cordial reception which the open-hearted
Paul had just exhibited.
But the doubts or rather apprehensions of the naturalist were of a
character altogether different from the confidence of the bee-hunter.
He had been struck with the stranger's using the legitimate, instead of
the perverted name of the animal off which he was making his repast;
and as he had been among the foremost himself to profit by the removal
of the impediments which the policy of Spain had placed in the way of
all explorers of her Trans-Atlantic dominions, whether bent on the
purposes of commerce, or, like himself, on the more laudable pursuits
of science, he had a sufficiency of every-day philosophy to feel that
the same motives, which had so powerfully urged himself to his present
undertaking, might produce a like result on the mind of some other
student of nature. Here, then, was the prospect of an alarming rivalry,
which bade fair to strip him of at least a moiety of the just rewards
of all his labours, privations and dangers. Under these views of his
character, therefore, it is not at all surprising that the native
meekness of the naturalist'sdisposition was a little disturbed, and
that he watched the proceedings of the other with such a degree of
vigilance as he believed best suited to detect his sinister designs.
"This is truly a delicious repast," observed the unconscious young
stranger, for both young and handsome he was fairly entitled to be
considered; "either hunger has given a peculiar relish to the viand, or
the bison may lay claim to be the finest of the ox family!"
"Naturalists, sir, are apt, when they speak familiarly, to give the
cow the credit of the genus," said Dr. Battius, swelling with his
secret distrust, and clearing his throat, before speaking, much in the
manner that a duellist examines the point of the weapon he is about to
plunge into the body of his foe. "The figure is more perfect; as the
bos, meaning the ox, is unable to perpetuate his kind; and the bos, in
its most extended meaning, or vacca, is altogether the nobler animal of
The Doctor uttered this opinion with a certain air, which he
intended should express his readiness to come, at once, to any of the
numerous points of difference which he doubted not existed between
them; and he now awaited the blow of his antagonist, intending that his
next thrust should be still more vigorous. But the young stranger
appeared much better disposed to partake of the good cheer, with which
he had been so providentially provided, than to take up the cudgels of
argument on this, or on any other of the knotty points which are so apt
to furnish the lovers of science with the materials of a mental joust.
"I dare say you are very right, sir," he replied, with a most
provoking indifference to the importance of the points he conceded. "I
dare say you are quite right; and that vacca would have been the better
"Pardon me, sir; you are giving a very wrong construction to my
language, if you suppose I include, without many and particular
qualifications, the bibulus Americanus, in the family of the vacca.
For, as you well know, sir——or, as I presume I should say, Doctor——you
have the medical diploma, no doubt?——"
"You give me credit for an honour I can lay no claim to,"
interrupted the other.
"An under-graduate!——or perhaps your degrees have been taken in
some other of the liberal sciences?"
"Still wrong, I do assure you."
"Surely, young man, you have not entered on this important——I may
say, this awful service, without some evidence of your fitness for the
task! Some commission by which you can assert an authority to proceed,
or by which you may claim an affinity and a communion with your
fellow-workers in the same beneficent pursuits!"
"I know not by what means, or for what purposes, you have made
yourself master of my objects!" exclaimed the youth, reddening and
rising with a quickness which manifested how little he regarded the
grosser appetites, when a subject nearer his heart was approached.
"Still, sir, your language is incomprehensible. That pursuit, which in
another might perhaps be justly called beneficent, is, in me, a dear
and cherished duty; though why a commission should be demanded or
needed is, I confess, no less a subject of surprise."
"It is customary to be provided with such a document," returned the
Doctor, gravely; "and, on all suitable occasions to produce it, in
order that congenial and friendly minds may, at once, reject unworthy
suspicions, and stepping over, what may be called the elements of
discourse, come at once to those points which are desiderata to both."
"It is a strange request!" the youth muttered, turning his dark,
frowning eye from one to the other, as if examining the characters of
his companions, with a view to weigh their physical powers. Then,
putting his hand into his bosom, he drew forth a small box, and
extending it with an air of dignity towards the Doctor, he
continued——"You will find by this, sir, that I have some right to
travel in a country which is now the property of the American States."
"What have we here!" exclaimed the naturalist, opening the folds of
a large parchment. "Why, this is the sign-manual of the philosopher,
Jefferson! The seal of state! Countersigned by the minister of war! Why
this is a commission creating Duncan Uncas Middleton a captain of
"Of whom? of whom?" repeated the trapper, who had sat regarding the
stranger, during the whole discourse, with eyes that seemed greedily to
devour each lineament. "How is the name? did you call him
Uncas?——Uncas! Was it Uncas?"
"Such is my name," returned the youth, a little naughtily. "It is
the appellation of a native chief, that both my uncle and myself bear
with pride; for it is the memorial of an important service done my
family by a warrior in the old wars of the provinces."
"Uncas! did ye call him Uncas?" repeated the trapper, approaching
the youth and parting the dark curls which clustered over his broad
brow, without the slightest resistance on the part of their wondering
owner. "Ah! my eyes are old, and not so keen as when I was a warrior
myself; but I can see the look of the father in the son! I saw it when
he first came nigh; but so many things have since passed before my
failing sight, that I could not name the place where I had met his
likeness! Tell me, lad; by what name is your father known?"
"He was an officer of the States in the war of the revolution, of
my own name of course; my mother's brother was called Duncan Uncas
"Still Uncas! still Uncas!" echoed the other, trembling with
eagerness. "And his father?"
"Was called the same, without the appellation of the native chief.
It was to him, and to my grandmother, that the service of which I have
just spoken was rendered."
"I know'd it! I know'd it!" shouted the old man, in his tremulous
voice, his rigid features working powerfully, as if the names the other
mentioned awakened some long dormant emotions, connected with the
events of an anterior age. "I know'd it! son or grandson, it is all the
same; it is the blood, and 'tis the look! Tell me, is he they call'd
Duncan, without the Uncas——is he living!"
The young man shook his head sorrowfully, as he replied in the
"He died full of days and of honours. Beloved, happy and bestowing
"Full of days!" repeated the trapper, looking down at his own
meagre, but still muscular hands. "Ah! he liv'd in the settlements, and
was wise only after their fashions. But you have often seen him; and
you have heard him discourse of Uncas, and of the wilderness?"
"Often! he was then an officer of the king; but when the war took
place between the crown and her colonies, my grandfather did not forget
his birth-place, but threw off the empty allegiance of names, and was
true to his proper country; he fought on the side of liberty."
"There was reason in it; and what is better, there was natur'!
Come, sit ye down beside me lad; sit ye down, and tell me of what your
grand'ther used to speak, when his mind dwelt on the wonders of the
The youth smiled, no less at the importunity than at the interest
manifested by the old man; but as he found there was no longer the
least appearance of any violence being contemplated, he unhesitatingly
"Give it all to the trapper by rule, and by figures of speech;"
said Paul, very coolly taking his seat on the other side of the young
soldier. "It is the fashion of old age to relish these ancient
traditions, and, for that matter, I can say that I don't dislike to
listen to them myself."
Middleton smiled again, and perhaps with a slight air of derision;
but good-naturedly turning to the trapper, he continued——
"It is a long, and might prove a painful story Bloodshed and all
the horrors of Indian cruelty and of Indian warfare, are fearfully
mingled in the narrative."
"Ay, give it all to us, stranger," continued Paul; "we are used to
these matters in Kentuck, and, I must say, I think a story none the
worse for having a few scalps in it!"
"But he told you of Uncas, did he!" resumed the trapper, without
regarding the slight interruptions of the bee-hunter, which amounted to
no more than a sort of by-play. "And, what thought he and said ne of
the lad, in his parlour, with the comforts and ease of the settlements
at his elbow?"
"I doubt not he used a language similar to that he would have
adopted in the woods, and had he stood face to face, with his friend——"
"Did he call the savage his friend; the poor, naked, painted
warrior? he was not too proud then to call the Indian his friend?"
"He even boasted of the connexion; and as you have already heard,
bestowed a name on his firstborn, which is likely to be handed down as
an heir loom among the rest of his descendants."
"It was well done! like a man: ay! and like a Christian, too! He
used to say the Delaware was swift of foot——did he remember that?"
"As the antelope! Indeed, he often spoke of him by the appellation
of Le Cerf Agile, a name he had obtained by his activity."
"And bold, and fearless, lad!" continued the trapper looking up
into the eyes of his companion, with a wistfulness that bespoke the
delight he received in listening to the praises of one, whom it was so
very evident, he had once tenderly loved.
"Brave as a blooded hound! Without fear! He always quoted Uncas and
his father, who from his wisdom was called the Great Serpent, as models
of heroism and constancy."
"He did them justice! he did them justice! Truer men, were not to
be found in any tribe or nation, be their skins of what colour they
might. I see your grand'ther was just, and did his duty, too, by his
offspring! 'Twas a perilous time he had of it, among them hills, and
nobly did he play his own part! Tell me lad, or officer, I should
say,——since officer you be ——was this all?"
"Certainly not; it was, as I have said, a fearful tale, full of
moving incidents, and the memories both of my grandfather and of my
"Ah!" exclaimed the trapper, tossing a hand into the air as his
whole countenance lighted with the recollections the name revived.
"They called her Alice! Elsie or Alice; 'tis all the same. A laughing,
playful child she was, when happy; and tender and weeping in her
misery! Her hair was shining and yellow, as the coat of the young fawn,
and her skin clearer than the purest water that drips from the rock.
Well do I remember her! I remember her right well!"
"The lip of the youth slightly curled, and he regardedthe old man
with an expression, which might easily have been construed into a
declaration that such were not his own recollections of his venerable
and revered ancestor, though it would seem he did not think it
necessary to say as much in words. He was content to answer:——
"They both retained impressions of the dangers they had passed, by
far too vivid easily to lose the recollection of any of their
The trapper looked aside, and seemed to struggle with some deeply
innate feeling; then, turning again towards his companion, though his
honest eyes no longer dwelt with the same open interest, as before, on
the countenance of the other, he continued——
"Did he tell you of them all? Were they all red-skins, but himself
and the daughters of Munro?"
"No. There was a white man associated with the Delawares. A scout
of the English army, but a native of the provinces."
"A drunken, worthless vagabond, like most of his colour who harbour
with the savages, I warrant you!"
"Old man, your gray hairs should caution you against slander. The
man, I speak of, was of great simplicity of mind, but of sterling
worth. Unlike most of those who live a border life, he united the
better, instead of the worst qualities, of the two people. He was a man
endowed with the choicest and perhaps rarest gift of nature; that of
distinguishing good from evil. His virtues were those of simplicity,
because such were the fruits of his habits, as were indeed his very
prejudices. In courage he was the equal of his red associates; in
warlike skill, being better instructed, their superior. 'In short, he
was a noble shoot from the stock of human nature, which never could
attain its proper elevation and importance, for no other reason, than
because it grew in the forest:' such, old hunter, were the very words
of my grandfather, when speaking of the man you imagine so worthless!"
The eyes of the trapper had sunk to the earth, as the stranger
delivered this character of the subject of their discourse in the
ardent tones of generous youth. He played with the ears of his hound;
fingered his own rustic garment, and opened and shut the pan of his
rifle, with hands that trembled in a manner that would have implied
their total unfitness to wield the weapon. When the other had concluded
he hoarsely added——
"Your grand'ther didn't then entirely forget the white man!"
"So far from that, there are already three among us, who have also
names derived from that scout."
"A name, did you say?" exclaimed the old man, starting; "what, the
name of the solitary, unl'arned hunter? Do the great, and the rich, and
the honoured, and, what is better still, the just, do they bear his
very, actual, name?"
"It is borne by my brother, and by two of my cousins, whatever may
be their titles to be described by the terms you have mentioned."
"Do you mean the actual name itself; spelt with the very same
letters, beginning with an N and ending with an L?"
"Exactly the same," the youth smilingly replied. "No, no, we have
forgotten nothing that was his. I have at this moment a dog brushing a
deer, not far from this, who is come of a hound that very scout sent as
a present after his friends, and which was of the stock he always used
himself: a truer breed, in nose and foot, is not to be found in the
"Hector!" said the old man, struggling to conquer an emotion that
nearly suffocated him, and speaking to his hound in the sort of tones
he would have used to a child, "do ye hear that, pup! your kin andblood
are in the prairie! A name——it is wonderful ——it is very wonderful!"
Nature could endure no more. Overcome by a flood of unusual and
extraordinary sensations, and stimulated by tender and long dormant
recollections, strangely and unexpectedly revived, the old man had just
self-command enough to add, in a voice that was hollow and unnatural,
through the efforts he made to command it——
"Boy, I am that scout; a warrior once, a miserable trapper now!"
when the tears broke, over his wasted cheeks, out of fountains that had
long been dried, and, sinking his face between his knees, he covered it
decently with his buckskin garment, and sobbed aloud.
The spectacle produced correspondent emotions in his companions.
Paul Hover had actually swallowed each syllable of the discourse as
they fell alternately from the different speakers, his feelings keeping
equal pace with the increasing interest of the scene. Unused to such
strange sensations, he was turning his face on every side of him, to
avoid he knew not what, until he saw the tears and heard the sobs of
the old man, when he sprang to his feet, end grappling his guest
fiercely by the throat, he demanded by what authority he had made his
aged companion weep. A flash of recollection crossing his brain at the
same instant, he released his hold, and stretching forth an arm in the
very wantonness of his gratification, he seized the Doctor by the hair,
which instantly revealed its artificial formation, by cleaving to his
hand, leaving the white and shining poll of the naturalist with a
covering no warmer than the skin.
"What think you of that, Mr. Bug-gatherer!" he rather shouted than
cried; "is not this a strange bee to line into his hole!"
" 'Tis remarkable! wonderful! edifying!" returnedthe lover of
nature, good-humouredly recovering his wig, with twinkling eyes and a
husky voice. "'Tis rare and commendable! Though I doubt not in the
exact order of causes and effects."
With this sudden outbreaking, however, the commotion instantly
subsided; the three spectators clustering around the trapper with a
species of awe, at beholding the tears of one so aged.
"It must be so, or how could he be so familiar with a history that
is little known beyond my own family;" at length the youth observed,
not ashamed to acknowledge how much he had been affected, by
unequivocally drying his own eyes.
"True!" echoed Paul; "if you want any more evidence I will swear to
it! I know every word of it myself to be true as the gospel!"
"And yet we had long supposed him dead!" continued the soldier. "My
grandfather had filled his days with honour, and he had believed him
the junior of the two."
"It is not often that youth has an opportunity of thus looking down
on the weakness of age!" the trapper observed, raising his head, and
looking around him with composure and dignity. "That I am still here,
young man, is the pleasure of the Lord, who has spared me until I have
seen fourscore long and laborious years, for his own secret ends. That
I am the man I say, you need not doubt; for why should I go to my grave
with so cheap a lie in my mouth?"
"I do not hesitate to believe; I only marvel that it should be so!
But why do I find you, venerable and excellent friend of my parents, in
these wastes, so far from the comforts and safety of the lower
"I have come into these plains to escape the sound of the axe; for
here surely the chopper can never follow! But I may put the like
question to yourself. Are you of the party which the Stateshave sent
into their new purchase, to look after the natur' of the bargain they
"I am not, Lewis is making his way up the river, some hundreds of
miles from this. I come on a private adventure."
"Though it is no cause of wonder, that a man whose strength and
eyes have failed him as a hunter, should be seen nigh the haunts of the
beaver, using a trap instead of a rifle, it is strange that one so
young and prosperous, and bearing the commission of the Great Father,
should be moving among the prairies, without even a camp-colourman to
do his biddings!"
"You would think my reasons sufficient did you know them, as know
them you shall if you are disposed to listen to my story. I think you
all honest, and men who would rather aid than betray one bent on a
"Come, then, and tell us at your leisure," said the trapper,
seating himself, and beckoning to the youth to follow his example. The
latter willingly complied, and after Paul and the Doctor had disposed
of themselves to their several likings, the new comer entered into a
narrative of the singular reasons which had led him so far into the
"So foul a sky clears not without a storm."
—— King John
In the mean time the industrious and irreclaimable hours continued
their labours. The sun, which had been struggling through such masses
of vapour throughout the day, fell slowly into a streak of clear sky,
and thence sunk gloriously into the gloomy wastes, as he is wont to
settle into the waters of the ocean. The vast herds which had been
grazing among the wild pastures of the prairies, gradually disappeared,
and the endless flocks of aquatic birds, that were pursuing their
customary annual journey from the virgin lakes of the north towards the
gulf of Mexico, ceased to fan that air, which had now become loaded
with dew and vapour. In short, the shadows of night fell upon the rock,
adding the mantle of darkness to the other dreary accompaniments of the
As the light began to fail, Esther collected her younger children
at her side, and placing herself on a projecting point of her insulated
fortress, she sat patiently awaiting the return of the hunters. Ellen
Wade was at no great distance, seeming to keep a little aloof from the
anxious circle, as if willing to mark the distinction which existed in
"Your uncle is, and always will be a dull calculator, Nell,"
observed the mother, after a long pause in a conversation that had
turned on the labours of the day; "a lazy hand at figures and
foreknowledge is that said Ishmael Bush! Here he sat lolloping about
the rock from light till noon, doing nothing but
scheme——scheme——scheme——with seven as noble boys at his elbows as woman
ever gave to man; and what's the upshot! why, night is setting in, and
his needful work not yet ended."
"It is not prudent, certainly, aunt," Ellen replied, with a vacancy
in her air, that proved how little she knew what she was saying; "and
it is setting a very bad example to his sons."
"Hoity, toity, girl! who has reared you up as a judge over your
elders, ay, and your betters, too! I should like to see the man on the
whole frontier who sets a more honest example to his children than this
same Ishmael Bush! Show me, if you can, MissFault-finder, but not
fault-mender, a set of boys who will, on occasion, sooner chop a piece
of logging and dress it for the crop, than my own children; though I
say it myself, who, perhaps, should be silent; or a cradler that knows
better how to lead a gang of hands through a field of wheat, leaving a
cleaner stubble in his track, than my own good man! Then, as a father,
he is as generous as a lord; for his sons have only to name the spot
where they would like to pitch, and he gives 'em a deed of the
plantation, and no charge for papers is ever made!"
As the wife of the squatter concluded, she raised a hollow,
taunting laugh, that was echoed from the mouths of several juvenile
imitators, whom she was training to a life as shiftless and lawless as
her own; but which, notwithstanding its uncertainty was not without its
"Holloa! old Eester;" shouted the well-known voice of her husband,
from the plain beneath; "'ar you keeping your junketts, while we are
finding you in venison and buffaloe beef! Come down——come down, old
girl, with all your young; and lend us a hand to carry up the
meat——why, what a frolic you ar' in, woman! Come down, come down, for
the boys are at hand, and we have work here for double your number."
Ishmael might have spared his lungs more than a moiety of the
effort they were compelled to make in order that he should be heard. He
had hardly uttered the name of his wife, before the whole of the
crouching circle rose in a body, and tumbling over each other, they
precipitated themselves down the dangerous passes of the rock with
ungovernable impatience. Esther followed the young fry with a more
measured gait; nor did Ellen deem it wise, or rather discreet, to
remain behind. Consequently the whole were soon assembled at the base
of their citadel, on the open plain.
Here the squatter was found, staggering under the weight of a fine
fat buck, attended by one or two of his younger sons. Abiram quickly
appeared, and before many minutes had elapsed most of the hunters
dropped in, singly and in pairs, each man bringing with him some fruits
of his prowess in the field.
"The plain is free from red-skins, to-night at least," said
Ishmael, after the bustle of reception had a little subsided; "for I
have scoured the prairie for many long miles, on my own feet, and I
call myself a judge of the print of an Indian moccasin. So, old woman,
you can give us a few steaks of the venison, and then we will sleep on
the day's work."
"I'll not swear there are no savages near us," said Abiram. "I too,
know something of the trail of a red-skin, and unless my eyes have lost
some of their sight, I would swear, boldly, that there ar' Indians at
hand. But wait till Asa comes in. He pass'd the spot where I found the
marks, and the boy knows something of such matters too."
"Ay, the boy knows too much of many things," returned Ishmael,
gloomily. "It will be better for him when he thinks he knows less. But
what matters it, Hetty, if all the Sioux tribes, west of the big river,
are within a mile of us; they will find it no easy matter to scale this
rock, in the teeth of ten bold men."
"Call 'em twelve, at once, Ishmael; call'em twelve!" cried his
termagant assistant. "For if your moth-gathering, bug-hunting friend,
can be counted a man, I beg you will set me down as two. I will not
turn my back to him, with the rifle or the shot-gun, and for
courage!——the yearling heifer, that them skulking devils the Tetons
stole, was the biggest coward among us all; and after her came your
drivelling Doctor. Ah! Ishmael, you rarely attempt a regular trade but
you come out the loser; and this man, I reckon, is the hardest bargain
among themall! Would you think it, the fellow ordered me a blister
around my mouth, because I complained of a pain in the foot!"
"It is a pity, Eester," her husband coolly answered, "that you did
not take it; I reckon it would have done you considerable good. But,
boys, if it should turn out as Abiram thinks, that there are Indians
near us, we may have to scamper up the rock, and lose our suppers after
all. Therefore we will make sure of the game, and talk over the
performances of the Doctor when we have nothing better to do."
The hint was taken, and in a few minutes, the exposed situation in
which the family was collected, was exchanged for the more secure
elevation of the rock. Here Esther busied herself, working and
scolding, with equal industry, until the repast was prepared, when she
summoned her husband to his meal in a voice as sonorous as that with
which the Imaun reminds the Faithful of a more important duty.
When each had assumed his proper and customary place around the
smoking viands, the squatter set the example by beginning to partake of
a delicious venison steak, prepared like the hump of the bison, with a
skill that rather increased than concealed its natural properties. A
painter would gladly have seized the moment, to transfer the wild and
characteristic scene to the canvass.
The reader will remember that the citadel of Ishmael stood
insulated, lofty, ragged, and nearly inaccessible. A bright flashing
fire that was burning on the centre of its summit, and around which the
busy groupe was clustered, lent it the appearance of some tall Pharos
placed in the centre of the deserts, to light such adventurers as
wandered through their broad wastes. The flashing flame gleamed from
one sun-burnt countenance to another, exhibiting everyvariety of
expression, from the juvenile simplicity of the children, mingled as it
was with a shade of the wildness peculiar to their semi-barbarous
lives, to the dull and immovable apathy that dwelt on the features of
the squatter, when unexcited. Occasionally a gust of wind would fan the
embers, and, as a brighter light shot upwards, the little solitary tent
was seen as it were suspended in the gloom of the upper air. All beyond
was enveloped, as usual at that hour, in an impenetrable body of
"It is unaccountable that Asa should choose to be out of the way at
such a time as this," Esther pettishly observed. "When all is finished
and to-rights, we shall have the boy coming up, grumbling for his meal,
and hungry as a bear after his winter's nap. His stomach is as true as
the best clock in Kentucky, and seldom wants winding up to tell the
time, whether of day or night. A desperate eater is Asa, when
a-hungered, by a little work!"
Ishmael looked sternly around the circle of his silent sons, as if
to see whether any among them would presume to say aught in favour of
the absent delinquent. But now, when no exciting causes existed to
arouse their slumbering tempers, it seemed to be too great an effort to
enter on the defence of their rebellious brother. Abiram, however, who
since the pacification, either felt, or affected to feel, a more
generous interest in his late adversary, saw fit to express an anxiety,
to which the others were strangers——
"It will be well if the boy has escaped the Tetons!" he muttered.
"I should be sorry to have Asa, who is one of the stoutest of our
party, both in heart and hand, fall into the power of the red-devils."
"Look to yourself, Abriam; and spare your breath, if you can use it
only to frighten the woman and her huddling girls. You have whitened
the faceof Ellen Wade, already; who looks as pale as if she was staring
to-day at the very Indians you name, when I was forced to speak to her
through the rifle, because I couldn't reach her ears with my tongue.
How was it, Nell! you have never given the reason of your deafness?"
The colour of Ellen's cheek changed as suddenly as the squatter's
piece had flashed on the occasion to which he alluded, the burning glow
suffusing her features, until it even mantled her throat with its fine
healthful tinge. She hung her head abashed, but did not seem to think
it necessary to reply.
Ishmael, too sluggish to pursue the subject, or content with the
pointed allusion he had just made, rose from his seat on the rock, and
stretching his heavy frame, like a well-fed and fattened ox, he
announced his intention to sleep. Among a race who lived chiefly for
the indulgence of the natural wants, such a declaration could not fail
of meeting with sympathetic dispositions. One after another
disappeared, each seeking his or her rude dormitory, and, before many
minutes, Esther, who by this time had scolded the younger fry to sleep,
found herself, if we except the usual watchman below, in solitary
possession of the naked rock.
Whatever less valuable fruits had been produced, in this uneducated
woman by her migratory habits, the great principle of female nature was
too deeply rooted ever to be entirely eradicated. Of a powerful, not to
say fierce temperament, her passions were violent and difficult to be
smothered. But, however she might and did abuse the accidental
prerogatives of her situation, her love for her offspring, while it
often slumbered, could never be said to become extinct. She liked not
the protracted absence of Asa. Too fearless herself to have hesitated
an instant on her own account about crossing the dark abyss, into which
she now sat looking with longing eyes, herbusy imagination, in
obedience to this inextinguishable sentiment, began to conjure nameless
evils on account of her son. It might be true, as Abiram had hinted,
that he had become a captive to some of the tribes who were hunting the
buffaloe in that vicinity, or even a still more dreadful calamity might
have befallen. So thought the mother, while silence and darkness lent
their aid to the secret impulses of nature.
Agitated by these reflections, which put sleep at defiance, Esther
continued at her post, listening with that sort of acuteness which is
termed instinct, in the animals a few degrees below her in the scale of
intelligence, for any of those noises which might indicate the approach
of footsteps. At length, her wishes had an appearance of being
realized, for the long desired sounds were distinctly audible, and
presently she distinguished the dim form of a man, at the base of the
"Now, Asa, richly do you deserve to be left with an earthen bed
this blessed night!" the woman began to mutter, with a revolution in
her feelings, that will not be surprising to those who have made the
contradictions that give variety to the human character a study. "And a
hard one I've a mind it shall be! Why Abner; Abner; you Abner, do you
sleep? Let me not see you dare to open the hole, till I get down. I
will know who it is that wishes to disturb a peaceable, ay, and an
honest family too, at such a time in the night as this!"
"Woman!" exclaimed a voice, that intended to bluster, while the
speaker was manifestly a little apprehensive of the consequences;
"Woman, I forbid you on pain of the law to project any of your infernal
missiles. I am a citizen and a freeholder, and, a graduate of two
universities; and I stand upon my rights! Beware of malice prepense, of
chance medleyand of manslaughter. It is I——your amicus; a friend and
inmate. I——Dr. Obed Battius."
"Who!" demanded Esther, in a voice that nearly refused to convey
her words to the ears of the anxious listener beneath. "Did you say it
was not Asa?"
"Nay, I am neither Asa, nor Absalom, nor any of the Hebrew princes;
but Obed, the root and stock of them all. Have I not said, woman, that
you keep one in attendance who is entitled to a peaceable as well as an
honourable admission. Do you take me for an animal of the class
amphibia, and that I can play with my lungs as a blacksmith does with
The naturalist might have expended his breath much longer, without
producing any desirable result, had Esther been his only auditor.
Disappointed and alarmed, the woman had already sought her pallet, and
was preparing, with a sort of desperate indifference, to compose
herself to sleep. Abner, the sentinel below, however, had been aroused
from an exceedingly equivocal situation, by the outcry; and as he had
now regained sufficient consciousness to recognize the voice of the
physician, the latter was admitted, with the least possible delay. Dr.
Battius bustled through the narrow entrance, with an air of singular
impatience, and was already beginning to mount the difficult ascent,
when catching a view of the porter, he paused, to observe with an air
that he intended should be impressively admonitory——
"Abner, there are dangerous symptoms of somnolency about thee! It
is sufficiently exhibited in the tendency to hiation, and may prove
dangerous not only to yourself, but to all thy father's family!"
"You never made a greater mistake, Doctor," returned the youth,
gaping like an indolent lion, "I haven't a symptom, as you call it,
about any part of me; and as to father and the children, I reckon the
small-pox and the measles have been thoroughly through the breed these
many months ago."
Content with his brief admonition, the naturalist had surmounted
half the difficulties of the ascent before the deliberate Abner had
ended his justification. On the summit, Obed fully expected to
encounter Esther, of whose linguacious powers, he had too often been
furnished with the most sinister proofs, and of which he stood in an
awe too salutary to covet a repetition of her attacks. The reader can
foresee that he was to be agreeably disappointed. Treading lightly, and
looking timidly over his shoulder, as if he apprehended a shower of
something, even more formidable than words, the Doctor proceeded to the
place which had been allotted to himself in the general disposition of
Instead of sleeping, the worthy naturalist sat ruminating over what
he had both seen and heard that day, until the tossing and mutterings
which proceeded from the cabin of Esther, who was his nearest
neighbour, advertised him of the wakeful situation of its inmate.
Perceiving the necessity of doing something to disarm this female
Cerberus, before his own purpose could be accomplished, the Doctor,
reluctant as he was to encounter her tongue, found himself compelled to
invite a colloquial communication.
"You appear not to sleep, my very kind and worthy Mrs. Bush," he
said, determined to commence his applications with a plaster that was
usually found to adhere; "you appear to rest badly, my excellent
hostess; can I administer to your ailings?"
"What would you give me, man," grumbled Esther. "A blister to make
"Say rather a cataplasm. But if you are in pain, here are some
cordial drops, which taken in a glass of my own cogniac will give you
rest, if I know aught of the materia medica."
The Doctor, as he very well knew, had assailed Esther on her weak
side; and, as he doubted not of the acceptability of his prescription,
he sat himself at work, without unnecessary delay, to prepare it. When
he made his offering, it was received in a snappish and threatening
manner, but swallowed with a facility that sufficiently proclaimed how
much it was relished by the patient. The woman muttered her thanks, and
her leech reseated himself in silence, to await the operation of the
dose. In less than half an hour the breathing of Esther became so
profound, and as the Doctor himself might have termed it, so very
abstracted, that had he not known how easy it was to ascribe this new
instance of somnolency to the powerful dose of opium with which he had
garnished the brandy, he might have seen reason to distrust his own
prescription. With the sleep of the restless woman, the stillness
became profound and general.
Then it was that Dr. Battius saw fit to arise, with the silence and
caution of the midnight robber, and to steal out of his own cabin, or
rather kennel, for it deserved no better name, towards the adjoining
dormitories. Here he took time to assure himself that all his
neighbours were buried in deep sleep. Once advised of this important
fact, he hesitated no longer, but commenced the difficult ascent which
led to the upper pinnacle of the rock. His advance, though abundantly
guarded, was not entirely noiseless; but while he was felicitating
himself on having successfully effected his object, and he was in the
very act of placing his foot on the highest ledge, a hand was laid upon
the skirts of his coat, which as effectually put an end to his advance,
as though the gigantic strength of Ishmael himself had pinned him to
"Is there sickness in the tent," whispered a softvoice in his very
ear, "that Dr. Battius is called to visit it at such an hour?"
So soon as the heart of the naturalist had returned from its hasty
expedition into his throat, as one less skilled than Dr. Battius in the
formation of the animal would have been apt to have accounted for the
extraordinary sensation with which he received this unlooked-for
interruption, he found resolution to reply; using, as much in terror as
in prudence, the same precaution in the indulgence of his voice.
"My worthy Nelly! I am greatly rejoiced to find it is no other than
thee! Hist! child, hist! Should Ishmael gain a knowledge of our plans,
he would not hesitate to cast us both from off this rock, upon the
plain beneath. Hist! Nelly, hist!"
As the Doctor delivered his injunctions between the intervals of
his ascent, by the time they were concluded, both he and his auditor
had gained the upper level.
"And now, Dr. Battius," the girl gravely demanded, "may I know the
reason why you have run so great a risk of flying from this place,
without wings, and at the certain expense of your neck?"
"Nothing shall be concealed from thee, my worthy and trusty
Nelly——but are you certain that Ishmael will not awake?"
"No fear of him; he will sleep until the sun scorches his eye-lids.
The danger is from my aunt."
"Esther sleepeth!" the Doctor sententiously replied. "Ellen, you
have been watching on this rock to-day?"
"I was ordered to do so."
"And you have seen the bison, and the antelope, and the wolf, and
the deer, as usual; animals of the orders, pecora, belluæ and feræ."
"I have seen the creatures you named in English; but I know nothing
of the Indian languages."
"There is still an order that I have not named, which you have also
seen. The primates——is it not true?"
"I cannot say. I know no animal by that name."
"Nay, Ellen, you confer with a friend. Of the genus, homo, child?"
"Whatever else I may have had in view, I have not seen the
"Hush, Nelly, thy vivacity will betray us! Tell me, girl, have you
not seen certain bipeds, called men, wandering about the prairies?"
"Surely. My uncle and his sons have been hunting the buffaloe,
since the sun began to fall."
"I must speak in the vernacular, to be comprehended! Ellen, I would
say of the species, Kentucky."
Though Ellen reddened like the rose, her blushes were happily
concealed by the darkness. She hesitated an instant, and then summoned
sufficient spirit, to say, decidedly——
"If you wish to speak in parables, Doctor Battius, you must find
another listener. Put your questions plainly in English, and I will
answer them honestly in the same tongue."
"I have been journeying in this desert, as thou knowest, Nelly, in
quest of animals that have been hidden from the eyes of science, until
now. Among others, I have discovered a primates, of the genus, homo;
species, Kentucky; which I term, Paul——"
"Hist, for the sake of mercy!" said Ellen—— "speak lower, Doctor;
or we shall be heard."
"Hover; by profession a collector of the apes or bee," continued
the other. "Do I use the vernacular now,——am I understood?"
"Perfectly, perfectly," returned the agitated girl, breathing with
difficulty, in her surprise. "But what of him? did he tell you to mount
this rock——he knows nothing, himself; for the oath I gave my uncle, has
shut my mouth."
"Ay, but there is one, that has taken no oath, who has revealed
all. I would that the mantle which is wrapped around the mysteries of
nature, were as effectually withdrawn from its hidden treasures! Ellen!
Ellen! the man with whom I have unwittingly formed a compactum or
agreement is sadly forgetful of the obligations of honesty! Thy uncle,
"You mean Ishmael Bush, my father's brother's widow's husband,"
returned the offended girl, a little proudly.——"Indeed, indeed, it is
cruel to reproach me with a tie that chance has formed, and which I
would rejoice so much to break for ever!"
The humbled Ellen could utter no more, but sinking on a projection
of the rock, she began to sob in a manner that rendered their situation
doubly critical. The Doctor muttered a few words, which he intended as
an apologetic explanation, but before he had time to complete his
laboured vindication, she arose and said with great decision——
"I did not come here to pass my time in foolish tears, nor you to
try to stop them. What then has brought you hither?"
"I must see the inmate of that tent."
"You know what it contains?"
"I am taught to believe I do; and I bear a letter, which I must
deliver with my own hands. If the animal prove a quadruped, Ishmael is
a true man—— if a biped, fledged or unfledged, I care not, he is false,
and our compactum at an end!"
Ellen made a sign for the Doctor to remain where he was, and to be
silent. She then glided into the tent, where she continued many
minutes, that proved exceedingly weary and anxious to the expectant
without, but the instant she returned, she took him by the arm, and
together they entered beneath the folds of the mysterious cloth.
"Pray God the Duke of York excuse himself!"
—— King Henry VI.
The mustering of the borderers on the following morning was silent,
sullen, and gloomy. The repast of that hour was wanting in the
inharmonious accompaniment with which Esther ordinarily enlivened their
meals; for the effects of the powerful opiate the Doctor had
administered, still muddled her usually quick intellects. The young men
brooded over the absence of their elder brother, and the brows of
Ishmael himself were sternly knit, as he cast his scowling eyes from
one to the other, like a man who was preparing to meet and to repel an
expected assault on his authority. In the midst of this family
distrust, Ellen and her midnight confederate, the naturalist, took
their usual places among the children, without awakening suspicion or
exciting comment. The only apparent fruits of the adventure in which
they had been engaged, were occasional upliftings of the eyes, on the
part of the Doctor, which were mistaken by the observers for some of
his scientific contemplations of the heavens, but which, in reality,
were no other than furtive glances at the fluttering walls of the
At length the squatter, who had waited in vain for some more
decided manifestation of the expected rising among his sons, resolved
to make a demonstration of his own intentions.
"Asa shall account to me for this undutiful conduct!" he coolly
observed. "Here has the live-long night gone by, and he out-lying on
the prairie, when his hand and his rifle might both have been wanted in
a brush with the Siouxes, for any right he had to know the contrary."
"Spare your breath, good man;" retorted his wife, "be saving of
your breath; for you may have to call long enough for the boy before he
"It ar' a fact, that some men be so womanish, as to let the young
master the old! But, you, old Esther, should know better than to think
such will ever be the nature of things in the family of Ishmael Bush."
"Ah! you are a hectorer with the boys, when need calls! I know it
well, Ishmael; and one of your sons have you driven from you, by your
temper; and that, too, at a time when he is most wanted."
"Father," said Abner, whose sluggish nature had gradually been
stimulating itself to the exertion of taking so bold a stand, "the boys
and I have pretty generally concluded to go out on the search of Asa.
We are disagreeable about his 'camping on the prairie, instead of
coming in to his own bed, as we all know he would like to do——"
"Pshaw!" muttered Abiram; "the boy has killed a buck; or perhaps a
buffaloe; and he is sleeping by the carcass to keep off the wolves,
till day; we shall soon see him, or hear him bawling for help to bring
in his load."
" 'Tis little help that a son of mine will call for, to shoulder a
buck or to quarter your wild-beef!" returned the mother, "And you,
Abiram, to say such an uncertain thing! you, who said yourself that the
red-skins had been prowling around this place no later than the
"I!" exclaimed her brother, hastily, as if anxious to retract an
error; "I said it then, and I say it now; and so you will find it to
be. The Tetons are in our neighbourhood, and happy will it prove for
the boy if he is well shut of them."
"It seems to me," said Dr. Battius, speaking withthe sort of
deliberation and dignity one is apt to use after having thoroughly
ripened his opinions by sufficient reflection, "it seems to me, a man
but little skilled in the signs and tokens of Indian warfare,
especially as practised in these remote plains, but one, who I may say
without vanity has some insight into the mysteries of nature——it seems,
then, to me, thus humbly qualified, that when doubts exist in a matter
of such moment, it would always be the wisest course to appease them."
"No more of your doctoring for me!" cried the grum Esther; "no more
of your quiddities in a healthy family, say I! Here was I doing well,
only a little out of sorts with over instructing the young, and you
dos'd me with a drug that still hangs about my tongue, like a pound
weight on a humming-bird's wing?"
"Is the medicine out?" drily demanded Ishmael: "it must be a rare
doser that, if it gives a heavy feel to the tongue of old Eester!"
"Friend," continued the Doctor, waving his hand for the angry wife
to maintain the peace, "that it cannot perform all that is said of it,
the very charge of good Mrs. Bush is a sufficient proof. But to speak
of the absent Asa. There is doubt as to his fate, and there is a
proposition to solve it. Now, in the natural sciences truth is always a
desideratum; and I confess it would seem to be equally so in the
present case, which may be called a vacuum where, according to the laws
of physic, there should exist some pretty palpable proofs of
"Dont mind him, dont mind him," cried Esther, observing that the
rest of his auditors listened with an attention, which might proceed,
equally, from acquiescence in his proposal or ignorance of its meaning.
"There is a drug in every word he utters."
"Dr. Battius wishes to say," Ellen modestly interposed, "that as
some of us think Asa is in danger,and some think otherwise, the whole
family might pass an hour or two in looking for him."
"Does he?" interrupted the woman, "then Dr. Battius has more sense
in him that I believed! She is right, Ishmael; and what she says, shall
be done. I will shoulder a rifle myself; and woe betide the red-skin
that crosses my path! I have pulled a trigger before to-day; ay, and
heard an Indian yell, too, to my sorrow."
The spirit of Esther diffused itself, like the stimulus which
attends a victorious war-cry, among her indolent sons. They arose in a
body, and declared their determination to second so bold a resolution.
Ishmael prudently yielded to an impulse he could not resist, and in a
few minutes the woman appeared, shouldering her arms, prepared to lead
forth, in person, such of her descendants as chose to follow in her
"Let them stay with the children that please, she said, "and them
follow me, who ar' not chicken-hearted!"
"Abiram, it will not do to leave the huts without some guard,"
Ishmael whispered, glancing his eye upward.
The man whom he addressed started, and betrayed extraordinary
eagerness in his reply.
"I will tarry and watch the camp."
A dozen voices were instantly raised in objections to this
proposal. He was wanted to point out the places where the hostile
tracks had been seen, and his termagant sister openly scouted at the
idea, as unworthy of his manhood. The reluctant Abiram was compelled to
yield, and Ishmael made a new disposition for the defence of the place;
which was admitted, by every one, to be all-important to their security
He offered the post of commandant to Dr. Battius, who, however,
peremptorily and somewhathaughtily, declined the doubtful honour;
exchanging looks of singular intelligence with Ellen, as he did so. In
this dilemma the squatter was obliged to constitute the girl herself
castellain; taking care, however, in deputing this important trust, to
omit no words of caution and instruction. When this preliminary point
was settled, the young men proceeded to arrange certain means of
defence, and signals of alarm, that were adapted to the weakness and
character of the garrison. Several masses of rock were drawn to the
edge of the upper level, and so placed as to leave it at the discretion
of the feeble Ellen and her associates, to cast them or not, as they
might choose, on the heads of any invaders, who would, of necessity, be
obliged to mount the eminence by the difficult and narrow passage
already so often mentioned. In addition to this formidable obstruction,
the barriers were strengthened and rendered nearly impassable. Smaller
missiles, that might be hurled even by the hands of the younger
children, but which would prove, from the elevation of the place,
exceedingly dangerous, were provided in profusion. A pile of dried
leaves and splinters were placed, as a beacon, on the upper rock, and
then, even in the jealous judgment of the squatter, the post was deemed
competent to maintain a creditable siege.
The moment the rock was thought to be in a state of sufficient
security, the party who composed what might be called the sortie,
sallied forth on their anxious expedition. The advance was led by
Esther in person, who, attired in a dress half masculine, and bearing a
weapon like the rest, seemed no unfit leader for the groupe of wildly
clad frontier-men, that followed leisurely in her rear.
"Now, Abiram!" cried the Amazon, in a voice that was cracked and
harsh, for the simple reason of being used too often on a strained and
unnatural key, "Now, Abiram, run with your nose low; show yourselfa
hound of the true breed, and do some credit to your training. You it
was that saw the prints of the Indian moccasin, and it behoves you, to
let others be as wise as yourself. Come; come to the front, man; and
give us a bold lead."
The brother, who appeared at all times to stand in salutary awe of
his sister's authority, complied; though it was with a reluctance so
evident, as to excite sneers, even among the unobservant and indolent
sons of the squatter. Ishmael, himself, moved among his tall children,
like one who expected nothing from the search, and who was indifferent
alike to its success or failure. In this manner the party proceeded
until their distant fortress had sunk so low, as to present an object
no larger nor more distinct than a hazy point, on the margin of the
prairie. Hitherto their progress had been silent and somewhat rapid,
for as swell after swell was mounted and passed, without varying, or
discovering a living object to enliven the monotony of the view, even
the tongue of Esther was hushed in increasing anxiety. Here, however,
Ishmael chose to pause, and casting the butt of his rifle from his
shoulder to the ground, he observed——
"This is enough. Buffaloe signs, and deer signs, ar' plenty; but
where ar' the Indian footsteps that you have seen, Abiram?"
"Still farther to the west," returned the other, pointing in the
direction he named. "This was the spot, where I struck the tracks of
the buck, I killed; it was after I took the deer, that I fell upon the
"And a bloody piece of work you made of it, man;" cried the
squatter, pointing tauntingly to the soiled garments of his kinsman,
and then directing the attention of the spectators to his own, by the
way of a triumphant contrast. "Here have I cut the throat of two lively
does, and a scampering fawn,without spot or stain; while you,
blundering dog as you ar', you have made as much work for Eester and
her girls, as though butchering was your regular calling. Come boys; I
say it is enough. I am too old not to know the signs of the frontiers,
and no Indian has been here, since the last fall of water. Follow me;
and I will make a turn that shall give us at least the beef of a fallow
cow for our trouble."
"Follow me!" echoed Esther, stepping undauntedly forward. "I am
leader to-day, and I will be followed. For who so proper, let me know,
as a mother, to head a search for her lost child?"
Ishmael regarded his intractable mate with a smile of indulgent
pity. Observing that she had already struck out a path for herself,
different both from that of Abiram and the one he had seen fit to
choose, and being unwilling to draw the cord of authority too tight,
just at that moment, he again sullenly submitted to her will. But Dr.
Battius, who had hitherto been a silent and thoughtful attendant on the
woman, now saw fit to raise his feeble voice in the way of
"I agree with thy partner in life, worthy and gentle Mrs. Bush," he
said, "in believing that some ignis fatuus of the imagination has
deceived Abiram, in the signs or symptoms of which he has spoken."
"Symptoms, yourself!" interrupted the termagant. "This is no time
for bookish words, nor is this a place to stop and swallow medicines.
If you are a-leg-weary, say so, as a plain-speaking man should; then
seat yourself on the prairie, like a hound that is foot-sore, and take
your natural rest."
"I accord in the opinion," the naturalist calmly replied,
complying, literally, with the opinion of the deriding Esther, by
taking his seat, very coolly, by the side of an indigenous shrub; the
examination of which he commenced, on the instant, in order that
science might not lose any of its just and important dues. "I honour
your excellent advice, Mistress Esther, as you may perceive. Go thou in
quest of thy offspring; while I tarry here, in pursuit of that which is
better; viz. an insight into the arcana of nature's volume."
The woman answered with a hollow, unnatural, and scornful laugh,
and even her heavy sons, as they slowly passed the seat of the already
abstracted naturalist, did not disdain to manifest their contempt in
significant smiles. In a few minutes the train had mounted the nearest
eminence, and, as it turned the rounded acclivity, the Doctor was left
to pursue his profitable investigations in entire solitude.
Another half-hour passed, during which Esther continued to advance,
on her seemingly fruitless search. Her pauses, however, were becoming
frequent, and her looks wandering and uncertain, when footsteps were
heard clattering through the bottom, and at the next instant a buck was
seen to bound up the ascent, and to dart from before their eyes, in the
direction of the naturalist. So sudden and unlooked for had been the
passage of the animal, and so much had he been favoured by the shape of
the ground, that before any one of the foresters had time to bring his
rifle to his shoulder, it was already far beyond the range of a bullet.
"Look out for the wolf!" shouted Abner, shaking his head in
vexation, at being a single moment too late. "A wolf's skin will be no
bad gift in a winter's night; ay, yonder the hungry devil comes!"
"Hold!" cried Ishmael, knocking up the levelled weapon of his too
eager son. " 'Tis not a wolf; but a hound of thorough blood and bottom.
Ha! we have hunters nigh: there ar' two of them!"
He was still speaking when the animals in question came leaping on
the track of the deer, striving with noble ardour to outdo each other.
One was an aged dog, whose strength seemed to be sustained purelyby his
generous emulation, and the other a pup, that gambolled even while he
pressed most warmly on the chase. They both ran, however, with clean
and powerful leaps, carrying their noses high, like animals of the most
keen and subtle scent. They had passed; and in another minute they
would have been running open-mouthed with the deer in view, had not the
younger dog suddenly bounded from the course and uttered a cry of
surprise. His aged companion stopped also, and returned panting and
exhausted to the place, where the other was whirling around in swift,
and apparently in mad evolutions, circling the spot in his own
footsteps, and continuing his outcry, in a short, snappish barking.
But, when the elder hound had reached the spot, he seated himself, and
lifting his nose high into the air, he raised a long, loud, and wailing
"It must be a strong scent," said Abner, who had been, with the
rest of the family, an admiring observer of the movements of the dogs,
"that can break off two such creaturs' so suddenly from their trail."
"Murder them!" cried Abiram; "I'll swear to the old hound; 'tis the
dog of the trapper, whom we now know to be our mortal enemy."
Though the brother of Esther gave such hostile advice, he appeared
in no way ready to put it in execution himself. The surprise, which had
taken possession of the whole party, exhibited itself in his own
vacant, wondering stare, as strongly as in any of the admiring visages
by whom he was surrounded. His denunciation, therefore, notwithstanding
its dire import, was disregarded; and the dogs were left to obey the
impulses of their mysterious instinct, without let or hindrance.
It was long before any of the spectators broke the silence; but the
squatter, at length, so far recollected his authority, as to take on
himself the right to control the movements of his children.
"Come away, boys; come away, and leave the hounds to sing their
tunes for their own amusement," Ishmael said, in his coldest manner. "I
scorn to take the life of a beast, because its master has pitch'd
himself too nigh my clearing; come away, boys, come away; we have
enough of our own work before us, without turning aside to do that of
the whole neighbourhood."
"Come not away!" cried Esther, in tones that sounded like the
admonitions of some Sybil. "I say, come not away, my children. There is
a meaning and a warning in this; and as I am a woman and a mother, will
I know the truth of it all!"
So saying, the awakened wife of the squatter brandished her weapon,
with an air that was not without its wild and secret influence, and led
the way towards the spot where the dogs still remained, filling the air
with their long-drawn and piteous complaints. The whole party followed
in her steps, some too indolent to oppose, others obedient to her will,
and all more or less excited by the uncommon character of the scene.
"Tell me, you Abner——Abiram——Ishmael!" the woman cried, standing
over a spot where the earth was trampled and beaten, and plainly
sprinkled with blood; "tell me, you who ar' hunters! what sort of
animal has here met his death? Speak! Ye ar' men, and used to the signs
of the plains, all of ye; is it the blood of wolf or panther?"
"A buffaloe——and a noble and powerful creatur' has it been!"
returned the squatter, who looked down calmly on the fatal signs which
so strangely affected his wife. "Here are the marks of the spot where
he has struck his hoofs into the earth, in the death-struggle; and
yonder he has plunged and torn the ground with his horns. Ay, a
buffaloe bull of wonderful strength and courage has he been!"
"And who has slain him?" continued Esther,"man! where, then, are
the offals? Wolves! They devour not the hide! Tell me, ye men and
hunters, is this the blood of a beast?"
"The creatur' has plunged over the hillock," said Abner, who had
proceeded a short distance beyond the rest of the party. "Ah! there you
will find it, in yon swale of alders. Look! a thousand carrion birds,
ar' hovering, this very moment, above the carcass."
"The animal has still life in him," returned the squatter, "or the
buzzards would settle upon their prey! By the action of the dogs it
must be something ravenous; I reckon it is the white bear from the
upper falls. They are said to cling desperately to life!"
"Ay, let us go back," said Abiram; "there may be danger, and there
can be no good in attacking a ravenous beast. Remember, Ishmael, 'twill
be a risky job, and one of small profit!"
The young men smiled at this new proof of the well known
pusillanimity of their too sensitive uncle. The oldest even proceeded
so far as to express his contempt, by bluntly saying——
"It will do to cage with the other animal we carry; then we may go
back double-handed into the settlements, and set up for showmen, around
the court-houses and gaols of Kentucky."
The dark, threatening frown, which gathered on the brow of his
father, admonished the young man to forbear. Exchanging looks that were
half rebellious with his brethren, he saw fit to be silent. But instead
of observing the caution recommended by Abiram, they proceeded in a
body, until they again came to a halt within a few yards of the matted
cover of the thicket.
The scene had now, indeed, become wild and striking enough to have
produced a powerful effect on minds better prepared, than those of the
unnurturedfamily of the squatter, to resist the impressions of such an
exciting spectacle. The heavens were, as usual at the season, covered
with dark, driving clouds, beneath which interminable flocks of aquatic
birds were again on the wing, holding their toilsome and heavy way
towards the distant waters of the south. The wind had risen, and was
once more sweeping over the prairie in gusts, which it was often vain
to oppose; and then again the blasts would seem to mount into the upper
air, as if to sport with the drifting vapour, whirling and rolling vast
masses of the dusky and ragged volumes over each other, in a terrific
and yet grand disorder. Above the little brake, the flocks of birds
still held their flight, circling with heavy wings about the spot,
struggling at times against the torrent of wind, and then favoured by
their position and height, making bold swoops upon the thicket, away
from which, however, they never failed to sail, screaming in terror, as
if apprised, either by sight or instinct, that the hour of their
voracious dominion had not yet fully arrived.
Ishmael stood for many minutes, with his wife and children
clustered together, in an amazement, with which awe was singularly
mingled, gazing in death-like stillness on the imposing sight. The
voice of Esther at length broke the charm, and reminded the spectators
of the necessity of resolving their doubts in some manner more worthy
of their manhood, than by a dull and inactive observation.
"Call in the dogs!" she said; "call in the hounds, and put them
into the thicket; there ar' men enough of ye, if ye have not lost the
spirit with which I know ye were born, to tame the tempers of all the
bears west of the big river. Call in the dogs, I say, you Enoch! Abner!
Gabriel! has wonder made ye deaf as well as dumb?"
One of the young men complied; and having succeeded in detaching
the hounds from the place,around which, until then, they had not ceased
to hover, he led them down to the margin of the thicket.
"Put them in, boy; put them in," continued the woman; "and you,
Ishmael and Abiram, if anything wicked or hurtful comes forth, show
them the use of your rifles, like frontier-men. If ye ar' wanting in
spirit, before the eyes of my children will I put ye both to shame!"
The youths who, until now, had detained the hounds, let slip the
thongs of skin, by which they had been held, and urged them to the
attack by their voices. But, it would seem, that the elder dog was
restrained by some extraordinary sensation, or that he was much too
experienced to attempt the rash adventure. After proceeding a few yards
to the very verge of the brake, he made a sudden pause, and stood
trembling in all his aged limbs, apparently as unable to recede as to
advance. The encouraging calls of the young men were disregarded, or
only answered by a low and plaintive whining. For a minute the pup also
was similarly affected; but less sage, or more easily excited, he was
induced at length to leap forward, and finally to dash into the cover.
An alarmed and startling howl was heard, and, at the next minute, he
broke out of the thicket, and commenced circling the spot, in the same
wild and unsteady manner as before.
"Have I a man among my children!" demanded the aroused Esther.
"Give me a truer piece than a childish shot-gun, and I will show ye
what the courage of a frontier-woman can do."
"Stay mother," exclaimed Abner and Enoch; "if you will see the
creatur', let us drive it into view."
This was quite as much as the youths were accustomed to utter, even
on more important occasions, but having thus given a pledge of their
intentions, they were far from being backward in redeeming it.Preparing
their arms with the utmost care, they advanced with steadiness to the
brake. Nerves less often tried than those of the young borderers might
easily have shrunk before the dangers of so uncertain an undertaking.
As they proceeded, the howls of the dogs became more shrill and
plaintive. The vultures and buzzards settled so low as to flap the
bushes with their heavy wings, and the wind came hoarsely sweeping
along the naked prairie, as if the spirits of the air had also
descended to witness the approaching development.
There was a breathless moment when the blood of the usually
undaunted Esther flowed backward to her heart, as she saw her sons push
aside the matted branches of the thicket and bury themselves in its
labyrinth. A deep and solemn pause succeeded. Then arose two loud and
piercing cries, in quick succession, which were followed by a quiet
still more awful and appalling.
"Come back, come back, my children!" cried the woman, the feelings
of a mother getting the entire ascendancy in her bosom.
But her voice was hushed, and every faculty seemed frozen with
horror, as at that instant the bushes once more parted, and the two
adventurers re-appeared, pale, and nearly insensible themselves, and
laid at her feet the stiff and motionless body of the lost Asa, with
the marks of a violent death but too plainly stamped on every pallid
The dogs uttered a long and closing howl, and then breaking off
together, they disappeared on the forsaken trail of the deer. The
flight of birds wheeled upward into the heavens, filling the air with
their complaints at having been robbed of a victim which, frightful and
disgusting as it was, still bore too much of the impression of humanity
to become the prey of their obscene appetites.
"A pickaxe, and a spade, a spade,
For,——and a shrouding sheet:
O, a pit of clay for to be made
For such a guest is meet."
—— Song in Hamlet
"Stand back! stand off, the whole of ye!" said Esther hoarsely to
the crowd, which pressed too closely on the corpse; "I am his mother,
and my right is better than that of ye all! Who has done this! Tell me,
Ishmael, Abiram, Abner! open your mouths and your hearts, and let God's
truth and no other issue from them. Who has done this bloody deed?"
Her husband made no reply, but stood, leaning on his rifle, looking
sadly, but with an unaltered eye, at the mangled remains of his son.
Not so the mother, she threw herself on the earth, and receiving the
cold and ghastly head of the dead man into her lap, she sat many
minutes contemplating those muscular features, on which the death-agony
was still horridly impressed, in a silence even more expressive than
any language of lamentation could possibly have proved.
The voice of the woman was literally frozen in grief. In vain
Ishmael attempted a few words of rude consolation; she neither listened
nor answered. Her sons gathered about her in a circle, and expressed,
after their uncouth manner, their sympathy in her sorrow, as well as
their sense of their own loss, but she motioned them away, impatiently,
with her hand. At times her fingers played in the matted hair of the
dead, and at others they lightly attempted to smooth the painfully
expressive muscles of its ghastly visage, as the hand of the mother is
often seen tolinger fondly about the features of her sleeping child.
Then starting from their revolting office, her hands would flutter
around her, and seem to seek some fruitless remedy against the violent
blow, which had thus suddenly destroyed the child in whom she had not
only placed her greatest hopes, but so much of her maternal pride. It
was while engaged in the latter incomprehensible manner, that the
lethargic Abner turned aside, and swallowing the unwonted emotions
which were rising in his own throat, he observed——
"Mother means that we should look for the signs, that we may know
in what manner Asa has come by his end."
"We owe it to the accursed Siouxes!" answered Ishmael; "Twice have
they put me deeply in their debt! The third time, the score shall be
But, as if not content with this plausible explanation, and,
perhaps, secretly glad to avert their eyes from a spectacle which
awakened such extraordinary and unusual sensations in their sluggish
bosoms, the sons of the squatter turned away in a body from their
mother and the corpse, and proceeded to make the inquiries which they
fancied the former had so repeatedly demanded. Ishmael made no
objections; but, though he accompanied his children while they
proceeded in the investigation, it was more with the appearance of
complying with their wishes, at a time when resistance might not be
seemly, than with any visible interest in the result. As the borderers,
notwithstanding their usual dullness, were well instructed in most
things connected with their habits of life, an inquiry, the success of
which depended so much on signs and evidences that bore so strong a
resemblance to a forest trail, was likely to be conducted with skill
and acuteness. Accordingly, they proceeded to the melancholy task with
great readiness and intelligence.
Abner and Enoch agreed in their accounts as to the position in
which they had found the body. It was seated nearly upright, the back
supported by a mass of matted brush, and one hand still grasping a
broken twig of the alders. It was most probably owing to the former
circumstance that the body had escaped the rapacity of the carrion
birds, which had been seen hovering above the thicket, and the latter
proved that life had not yet entirely abandoned the hapless victim when
he entered the brake. The opinion now became general, that the youth
had received his death-wound in the open prairie, and had dragged his
enfeebled form into the cover of the thicket for the purpose of
concealment. A trail through the bushes confirmed this opinion. It also
appeared, on examination, that a desperate struggle had taken place on
the very margin of the thicket. This was sufficiently apparent by the
trodden branches, the deep impressions on the moist ground, and the
lavish flow of blood.
"He has been shot in the open ground and come here for a cover,"
said Abiram; "these marks would clearly prove it. The boy has been set
upon by the savages in a body, and has fou't like a hero as he was,
until they have mastered his strength and then drawn him to the
To this probable opinion there was now but one dissenting voice,
that of the slow-minded Ishmael, who demanded that the corpse itself
should be examined in order to a more accurate knowledge of its
injuries. On examination, it appeared that a rifle bullet had passed
directly through the body of the deceased, entering beneath one of his
brawny shoulders, and making its exit by the breast. It required some
knowledge in gun-shot wounds to decide this delicate point, but the
experience of the borderers was quite equal to the scrutiny; and a
smile of wild, and certainly of singular satisfaction, passed amongthe
sons of Ishmael, when Abner confidently announced that the enemies of
Asa had assailed him in the rear.
"It must be so," said the gloomy but attentive squatter. "He was of
too good a stock and too well trained, knowingly to turn the weak side
to man or beast! Remember, boys, that while the front of manhood is to
your enemy, let him be who or what he may, you ar' safe from cowardly
surprise.——Why Eester, woman! you ar' getting beside yourself; with
picking at the hair and the garments of the child! Little good can you
do him now, old girl."
"See!" interrupted Enoch, extricating from the fragments of cloth
the morsel of lead which had prostrated the strength of one so
powerful, "Here is the very bullet."
Ishmael took it in his hand and eyed it long and closely.
"There's no mistake;" at length he muttered through his compressed
teeth. "It is from the pouch of that accursed trapper. Like many of the
hunters he has a mark in his mould, in order to know the work his rifle
performs; and here you see it plainly ——six little holes, laid
"I'll swear to it!" cried Abiram, triumphantly. "He shew'd me his
private mark, himself, and boasted of the number of deer he had laid
upon the prairies with these very bullets! Now, Ishmael, will you
believe me when I tell you the old knave is a spy of the red-skins!"
The lead passed from the hand of one to that of another; and
unfortunately for the reputation of the old man, several among them
remembered also to have seen the aforesaid private bullet-marks, during
the curious examination which all had made of his accoutrements. In
addition to this wound, however, were many others of a less dangerous
nature, all ofwhich were supposed to confirm the supposed guilt of the
The traces of many different struggles were to be seen, between the
spot where the first blood was spilt and the thicket to which it was
now generally believed Asa had retreated, as a place of refuge. These
were interpreted into so many proofs of the weakness of the murderer,
who would have sooner despatched his victim, had not even the dying
strength of the youth rendered him formidable to the infirmities of one
so old. The danger of drawing some others of the hunters to the spot,
by repeated firing, was deemed a sufficient reason for not again
resorting to the rifle, after it had performed the important duty of
disabling the victim. The weapon of the dead man was not to be found,
and had doubtless, together with many other less valuable and lighter
articles, that he was accustomed to carry about his person, become a
prize to his destroyer.
But what, in addition to the tell-tale bullet, appeared to fix the
ruthless deed with peculiar certainty on the trapper, was the
accumulated evidence furnished by the trail; which proved,
notwithstanding his deadly hurt, that the wounded man had still been
able to make a long and desperate resistance to the subsequent efforts
of his murderer. Ishmael seemed to press this proof with a singular
mixture of sorrow and pride: sorrow, at the loss of a son, whom in
their moments of amity he highly valued; and pride, at the courage and
power he had manifested to his last and weakest breath.
"He died as a son of mine should die," said the squatter, gleaning
a hollow consolation from so unnatural an exultation; "a dread to his
enemy to the last, and without help from the law! Come, children; we
have first the grave to make, and then to hunt his murderer."
The sons of the squatter set about their melancholy office, in
silence and in sadness. An excavation was made in the hard earth, at a
great expense of toil and time, and the body was wrapped in such spare
vestments as could be collected among the labourers. When these
arrangements were completed, Ishmael approached the seemingly
unconscious Esther, and announced his intention to inter the dead. She
heard him, and quietly relinquished her grasp of the corpse, rising in
silence to follow it to its narrow resting place. Here she seated
herself again at the head of the grave, watching each movement of the
youths with eager and jealous eyes. When a sufficiency of earth was
laid upon the senseless clay of Asa, to protect it from injury, Enoch
and Abner entered the cavity, and trode it into a solid mass, by the
weight of their huge frames, with an appearance of a strange, not to
say savage, mixture of care and indifference. This well-known
precaution was adopted to prevent the speedy exhumation of the body by
some of the carnivorous beasts of the prairie, whose instinct was sure
to guide them to the spot. Even the rapacious birds appeared to
comprehend the nature of the ceremony, for, mysteriously apprised that
the miserable victim was now about to be abandoned by the human race,
they once more began to make their airy circuits above the place,
screaming, as if to frighten the kinsmen from their labour of caution
Ishmael stood, with folded arms, steadily watching the manner in
which this necessary duty was performed, and when the whole was
completed, he lifted his cap to his sons, to thank them for their
services, with a dignity that would have become one much better
nurtured. Throughout the whole of a ceremony, which is ever solemn and
admonitory, the squatter had maintained a grave and serious deportment.
His vast features were visibly stamped with an expression of deep
concern; but at no time did they falter, until he turned his back, as
he believed for ever, on the grave of his first-born. Nature was then
stirring powerfully within him, and the muscles of his stern visage
began to work perceptibly. His children fastened their eyes on his, as
if to seek a direction to the strange emotions which were moving their
own heavy natures, when the struggle in the bosom of the squatter
suddenly ceased, and, taking his wife by the arm, he raised her to her
feet as though she had been an infant, saying, in a voice that was
perfectly steady, though a nice observer would have discovered that it
was kinder than usual——
"Eester, we have now done all that man and woman can do. We raised
the boy, and made him such as few others were like, on the frontiers of
America; and we have given him a grave. Let us go."
The woman turned her eyes slowly from the fresh earth, and laying
her hands on the shoulders of her husband, stood looking him anxiously
in the eyes for many moments, before she uttered in a voice, deep,
frightful, and nearly choked——
"Ishmael! Ishmael! you parted from the boy in your wrath!"
"May the Lord pardon his sins freely as I have forgiven his worst
misdeeds," calmly returned the squatter, "woman, go you back to the
rock and read in your bible; a chapter in that book always does you
good. You can read, Eester; which is a privilege I never did enjoy."
"Yes, yes," muttered the woman, yielding to his strength, and
suffering herself to be led, though with powerful reluctance, from the
spot. "I can read; and how have I used the knowledge! But he, Ishmael,
he has not the sin of wasted l'arning to answer for. We have spared him
that, at least! whether it be in mercy, or in cruelty, I know not."
Her husband made no reply, but continued steadily to lead her in
the direction of their temporary abode. When they reached the summit of
the swell of land, which they knew was the last spot from which the
situation of the grave of Asa could be seen, they all turned, as by
common concurrence, to take a farewell view of the place. The little
mound itself was not visible; but it was frightfully indicated by the
flock of screaming birds which hovered above it. In the opposite
direction a low, blue hillock, in the skirts of the horizon, pointed
out the place where Esther had left the rest of her young, and served
as an attraction to draw her reluctant steps from the last abode of her
eldest son. Nature quickened in the bosom of the mother at the sight,
and she finally yielded the rights of the dead, to the more urgent
claims of the living.
The foregoing occurrences had struck a spark from the stern tempers
of a set of beings so singularly moulded in the habits of their
uncultivated lives, which served to keep alive among them the dying
embers of family affection. United to their parents by ties no stronger
than those which use had created, there had been great danger, as
Ishmael had foreseen, that the overloaded hive would quickly swarm, and
leave him saddled with the difficulties of a young and helpless brood,
unsupported by the exertions of those, whom he had already brought to a
state of maturity. The spirit of insubordination, which emanated from
the unfortunate Asa, had spread among his juniors, and the squatter had
been made painfully to remember the time when, in the wantonness of his
youth and vigour, he had, reversing the order of the brutes, cast off
his own aged and failing parents, to enter into the world unshackled
and free. Butthe danger had now abated, for a time at least; and if his
authority was not restored with all its former influence, it was
visibly admitted to exist, and to maintain its ascendancy a little
It is true that his slow-minded sons, even while they submitted to
the impressions of the recent event, had glimmerings of terrible
distrusts, as to the manner in which their elder brother had met with
his death. There were faint and indistinct images in the minds of two
or three of the oldest, which pourtrayed the father himself, as ready
to imitate the example of Abraham, without the justification of the
sacred authority which commanded the holy man to attempt the revolting
office. But then, these images were so transient and so much obscured
in intellectual mists, as to leave no very strong impressions, and the
tendency of the whole transaction, as we have already said, was rather
to strengthen than to weaken the authority of Ishmael.
In this disposition of mind, the party continued their route
towards the place whence they had that morning issued on a search which
had been crowned with so melancholy a success. The long and fruitless
march which they had made under the direction of Abiram, the discovery
of the body and its subsequent interment, had so far consumed the day,
that by the time their steps were retraced across the broad tract of
waste which lay between the grave of Asa and the rock, the sun had
fallen far below his meridian altitude. The hill had gradually risen as
they approached, like some tower emerging from the bosom of the sea,
and when within a mile, the minuter objects that crowned its height
came dimly into view.
"It will be a sad meeting for the girls!" said Ishmael, who, from
time to time, did not cease to utter something which he intended should
be consolatory to the bruised spirit of his stricken partner. "Asa was
much regarded by all the young; and seldom failed to bring in from his
hunts something that they loved."
"He did; he did;" murmured Esther; "the boy was the pride of the
family.——My other children are as nothing to him!"
"Say not so, good woman," returned the father, glancing his eye a
little proudly at the athletic train which followed, at no great
distance, in the rear. "Say not so, old Eester; for few fathers and
mothers have greater reason to be boastful than ourselves."
"Thankful, thankful," muttered the humbled woman, "ye mean
"Then thankful let it be, if you like the word better, my good
girl,——but what has become of Nelly and the young! The child has
forgotten the charge I gave her, and has not only suffered the children
to sleep, but, I warrant you, is dreaming of the fields of Tennessee at
this very moment. The mind of your niece is mainly fixed on the
settlements, I reckon."
"Ay, she is not for us; I said it, and thought it, when I took her,
because death had stripped her of all other friends. Death is a sad
worker in the bosom of families, Ishmael! Asa had a kind feeling to the
child, and they might have come one day into our places, had things
been so ordered."
"Nay, she is not gifted for a frontier wife, if this is the manner
she is to keep house while the husband is on the hunt. Abner, let off
your rifle, that they may know we ar' coming. I fear Nelly and the
young ar' asleep."
The young man complied with an alacrity that manifested how gladly
he would see the rounded, active figure of Ellen, enlivening the ragged
summit of the rock. But the report was succeeded neither by signal nor
answer of any sort. For a moment, the whole party stood in suspense,
awaiting the result,and then a simultaneous impulse caused the whole to
let off their pieces at the same instant, producing a noise which might
not fail to reach the ears of all within so short a distance.
"Ah! there they come at last!" cried Abiram, who was usually among
the first to seize on any circumstance which promised relief from
"It is a petticoat fluttering on the line," said Esther, "I put it
"You ar' right; but now she comes; the jade has been taking her
comfort in the tent!"
"It is not so," said Ishmael, whose usually inflexible features
were beginning to manifest the uneasiness he violently felt. "It is the
tent itself blowing about loosely in the wind. They have loosened the
bottom, like silly children as they ar', and unless care s had, the
whole will come down!"
The words were scarcely uttered before a hoarse, rushing blast of
wind, swept by the spot where they stood, raising the dust into little
eddies, in its progress; and then, as if guided by a master hand, it
quitted the earth, and mounted in its progress to the precise spot, on
which all eyes were just then riveted. The loosened linen felt its
influence and tottered; but regained its poise, and, for a moment, it
became tranquil. The cloud of leaves next played in circling
revolutions around the place, and then descended with the velocity of a
swooping hawk, and sailed away into the prairie in long straight lines,
like a flight of swallows resting on their expanded wings. They were
followed for some distance by the snow-white tent, which, however, soon
fell behind the rock, leaving its highest peak as naked as when it lay
in the entire solitude of the desert.
"The murderers have been here!" moaned Esther. "My babes! my
For a moment even Ishmael faltered before theweight of such an
unexpected blow. But shaking himself, like an awakened lion, he sprang
forward, and pushing aside the impediments of the barrier, as though
they had been feathers, he rushed up the ascent with an impetuosity
which proved how formidable a sluggish nature may become, when
"Whose party do the townsmen yet admit?"
—— King John
In order to preserve an even pace between the incidents of the
tale, it becomes necessary to revert to such events as occurred during
the ward of Ellen Wade.
For the few first hours, the cares of the honest and warm-hearted
girl were confined to the simple offices of satisfying the
often-repeated demands which her younger associates made on her time
and patience, under the pretences of hunger, thirst, and all the other
ceaseless wants of captious and inconsiderate childhood. She had seized
a moment from their importunities to steal into the tent, where she was
administering to the comforts of one far more deserving of her
tenderness, when an outcry, which arose among the children she had
left, recalled her to the duties she had momentarily forgotten.
"See, Nelly, see!" exclaimed half a dozen eager voices, as she
re-appeared among them, "yonder ar' men; and Phœbe says that they ar'
Ellen turned her eyes in the direction in which so many arms were
already extended, and, to her consternation, beheld the forms of
several men, who were advancing, manifestly and swiftly, in a straight
line towards the rock. She counted four, but wasunable to make out any
thing concerning their characters, except that they were not any of
those who of right were entitled to admission into the fortress. It was
a fearful moment for Ellen. Looking around, at the juvenile and
frightened flock that pressed upon the skirts of her garments, she
endeavoured to recall to her confused faculties some one of the many
tales of female heroism, with which the history of the western frontier
abounded. In one, a stockade had been successfully defended by a single
man, supported by three or four women, for days, against the assaults
of a hundred enemies. In another, the women alone had been able to
protect the children, and less valuable effects of their absent
husbands; and a third was not wanting, in which a solitary female had
destroyed her sleeping captors and given liberty not only to herself,
but to a brood of timid and helpless young. This was the case most
nearly assimilated to the situation in which Ellen now found herself;
and, with flushing cheeks and kindling eyes, the encouraged girl began
to consider of, and to prepare her slender means of defence.
She posted the larger girls at the little levers that were to cast
the rocks on the assailants, the smaller were to be used more for shew
than any positive service they could perform, while, like any other
leader, she was reserved in her own person, as a superintendant and
encourager of the whole. When these dispositions were made, she
endeavoured to await the issue, with an air of composure, that she
intended should inspire her assistants with the confidence necessary to
insure their success.
Although Ellen was vastly their superior in that spirit which
emanates from moral qualities, she was by no means the equal of the two
eldest daughters of Esther, in the not less important military property
of insensibility to danger. Reared in all the hardihood of a constantly
migrating life, on the skirts ofsociety, where they had become
familiarized to the sights and dangers of the wilderness, these girls
promised fairly to become, at some future day, no less distinguished
than their mother for their daring, and for that singular mixture of
good and evil, which, in a wider sphere of action, would probably have
enabled the wife of the squatter to enrol her name among the remarkable
females of her time. Esther had already, on one occasion, made good the
log tenement of Ishmael against an inroad of savages; and on another,
she had been left for dead by her enemies, after a defence that with a
more civilized foe would have entitled her to the honours and
attentions of a liberal capitulation. These facts, and sundry others of
a similar nature, had often been recapitulated with a suitable
exultation in the presence of her daughters, and the bosoms of the
young Amazons were now strangely fluctuating between natural terror and
the ambitious wish to do something that might render them worthy of
being the children of such a mother. It now appeared that the
opportunity for distinction, of this wild and unnatural character, was
no longer to be denied them.
The party of strangers was already within a hundred rods of the
rock. Either consulting their usual wary method of advancing, or
admonished by the threatening attitudes of the two figures, who had
thrust forth the barrels of as many old muskets from behind their stone
entrenchment, the new comers halted under favour of an inequality in
the ground, where a growth of grass thicker than common offered them
the advantage of a place of concealment. From this spot they
reconnoitred the fortress for several anxious, and to Ellen, apparently
interminable minutes. Then one advanced singly, and apparently more in
the character of a herald than of an assailant.
"Phœbe, do you fire," and "no, Hetty, you," werebeginning to be
heard between the half-frightened and yet eager daughters of the
squatter, when Ellen probably saved the advancing stranger from some
imminent alarm, if from no greater danger, by exclaiming——
"Lay down the muskets; it is Dr. Battius!"
Her subordinates complied, so far as to withdraw their hands from
the locks, though the threatening barrels still maintained their
portentous levels. The naturalist, who had advanced with sufficient
deliberation to note the smallest hostile demonstration made by the
garrison, now raised a white handkerchief on the end of his own fusee,
and came within speaking distance of the fortress. Then assuming what
he intended should be an imposing and dignified semblance of authority,
he blustered forth, in a voice that might have been heard at a much
"What, ho! I summon ye all, in the name of the Confederacy of the
United Sovereign States of North America, to submit yourselves to the
"Doctor or no Doctor; he is an enemy, Nelly; hear him! hear him! he
talks of the law."
"Stop! stay till I hear his answer!" said the nearly breathless
Ellen, pushing aside the dangerous weapons which were again pointed in
the direction of the shrinking person of the herald.
"I admonish and forewarn ye all," continued the startled Doctor,
"that I am a peaceful citizen of the before named Confederacy, a
supporter of the Social Compact, and a lover of good order and amity;"
then, perceiving that the danger was, at least, temporarily removed, he
once more raised his voice to the hostile pitch, and continued——"I
charge ye all, therefore, to submit to the laws."
"I thought you were a friend," Ellen replied; "and that you
travelled with my uncle, in virtue of an agreement——"
"It is void! I have been deceived in the very premises, and, I
hereby pronounce, a certain compactum entered into and concluded
between Ishmael Bush, squatter, and Obed Battius, M. D. to be
incontinently null and of non-effect. Nay, children, to be null is
merely a negative property, and is fraught with no evil to your worthy
parent; so lay aside the fire-arms and listen to the admonitions of
reason. I declare it vicious——null——abrogated. As for thee, Nelly, my
feelings towards thee are kind, and not at all given to hostility;
therefore listen to that which I have to utter, nor turn away thine
ears in the wantonness of security. Thou knowest the character of the
man with whom thou dwellest, young woman, and thou also knowest the
danger of being found in evil company. Abandon, then, the trifling
advantages of thy situation, and yield the rock peaceably to the will
of those who accompany me——a legion, young woman——I do assure you an
invincible and powerful legion. Give, therefore, the effects of this
lawless and wicked squatter——nay, children, such disregard of human
life, is literally destroying the pleasures of all amicable
intercourse! Point those dangerous weapons aside, I entreat of you;
more for your own sakes, than for mine. Hetty, hast thou forgotten who
appeased thine anguish, when thy auricular nerves were tortured by the
colds and damps of the naked earth! and thou, Phœbe, ungrateful and
forgetful Phœbe, but for this very arm, which you would prostrate with
an endless paralysis, thy incisores would still be giving thee pain and
sorrow! Lay, then, aside thy weapons, and hearken to the advice of one
who has always been thy friend. And now, young woman," still keeping a
jealous eye on the musket which the girls had suffered to be diverted a
little from their aim. "And now, young woman, for the last, and
therefore the most solemn asking: I demand of thee the surrender of
this rock, without delay orresistance, in the joint names of power, of
justice and of the——" law, he would have added; but recollecting that
this ominous word would again provoke the hostility of the squatter's
children, he succeeded in swallowing it in good season, and concluded
with the less dangerous and more convertible term of "reason."
This extraordinary summons, failed however, of producing the
desired effect. It proved utterly unintelligible to his younger
listeners, with the exception of the few offensive terms, already
sufficiently distinguished, and though Ellen better comprehended the
meaning of the herald, she appeared as little moved by his rhetoric as
her companions. At those passages which he intended should be tender
and affecting, the intelligent girl, though tortured by painfully
contending feelings, had even manifested a disposition to laugh, while
to the threats she turned an utterly insensible ear.
"I know not the meaning of all you wish to say, Dr. Battius," she
quietly replied, when he had ended, "but I am sure if it would teach me
to betray my trust, it is what I ought not to hear. I caution you to
attempt no violence, for let my wishes be what they may, you see I am
surrounded by a force that can easily put me down, and you know, or
ought to know, too well the temper of this family, to trifle in such a
matter with any of its members, let them be of what sex or age they
"I am not entirely ignorant of human character," returned the
naturalist, prudently receding a little from the position, which he
had, until now, stoutly maintained at the very base of the hill. "But
here comes one who may know its secret windings still better than I."
"Ellen! Ellen Wade," cried Paul Hover, who had advanced to his
elbow, without betraying any of that sensitiveness on the subject of
danger, which had so manifestly discomposed the Doctor; "I didn't
expect to find an enemy in you!"
"Nor shall you, when you ask that, which I can grant without
treachery and disgrace. You know that my uncle has trusted his family
to my care, and shall I so far betray the trust as to let in his
bitterest enemies to murder his children, perhaps, and to rob him of
the little which the Indians have left?"
"Am I a murderer——is this old man——this officer of the States,"
pointing to the trapper and his newly discovered friend, both of whom
by this time stood at his side, "is either of these likely to do the
things you name?"
"What is it then you ask of me?" said Ellen, wringing her hands, in
the pain of excessive doubt.
"The beast! nothing more nor less than the squatter's hidden,
ravenous, dangerous beast!"
"Excellent young woman," commenced the young stranger, who had so
lately joined himself to the party on the prairie——but his mouth was
immediately stopped by a significant sign from the trapper, who
whispered in his private ear——
"Let the lad be our spokesman. Natur' will work in the bosom of the
child, and we shall gain our object all in good time."
"The whole truth is out, Ellen," Paul continued, "and we have lined
the squatter into his most secret misdoings. We have come to right the
wronged and to free the imprisoned; now, if you are the girl of a true
heart, as I have always believed, so far from throwing straws in our
way, you will join in the general swarming, and leave old Ishmael and
his hive to the bees of his own breed."
"I have sworn a solemn oath——"
"A compactum which is entered into through ignorance, or in
duresse, is null in the sight of all good moralists,' cried the Doctor.
"Hush, hush," again the trapper whispered, "leave it all to natur'
and the lad!"
"I have sworn in the sight and by the name of Him who is the
founder and ruler of all that is good, whether it be in morals or in
religion," the agitated Ellen continued, "neither to reveal the
contents of that tent, nor to help its prisoner to escape. We are both
solemnly, terribly sworn; our lives perhaps have been the gift we
received for the promises. It is true you are masters of the secret,
but not through any means of ours; nor do I know that I can justify
myself, for even being neutral, while you attempt to invade the
dwelling of my uncle in such a hostile manner."
"I can prove beyond the power of refutation," the naturalist
eagerly exclaimed, "by Paley, Berkeley, ay, even by the immortal
Binkerschoek, that a compactum, concluded while one of the parties, be
it a state or be it an individual, is in durance——"
"You will ruffle the temper of the child, with such abusive
language," said the cautious trapper, "while the lad, if left to human
feelings, will bring her down to the meekness of a playful fawn. Ah!
you are like myself, little knowing in the natur' of these sorts of
"Is this the only vow you have taken, Ellen!" Paul continued in a
tone which, for the gay, light-hearted bee-hunter, sounded dolorous and
reproachful. "Have you sworn only to this! are the words which the
squatter says, to be as honey in your mouth, and all other promises
like so much useless comb."
The paleness, which had taken possession of the usually cheerful
countenance of Ellen, was hid in a bright glow, that was plainly
visible even at the distance at which she stood. She hesitated a
moment, as if struggling to repress something very like resentment,
before she answered with all her native spirit——
"I know not what right any one has to question me about oaths and
promises, which can only concern her who has made them, if indeed any
of the sort you mention, have ever been made, at all. I shall hold no
further discourse with one who thinks so much of himself, and takes
advice merely of his own feelings."
"Now, old trapper, do you hear that!" said the unsophisticated
bee-hunter, turning abruptly to his aged friend. "The meanest insect
that skims the heavens, when it has got its load, flies straight and
honestly to its nest or hive, according to its kind; but the ways of a
woman's mind, are as knotty as a gnarled oak, and more crooked than the
windings of the Mississippi!"
"Nay, nay child," said the trapper, good-naturedly interfering in
behalf of the offending Paul, "you are to consider that youth is hasty
and not overgiven to thought. But then a promise is a promise, and not
to be thrown aside and forgotten, like the hoofs and horns of a
"I thank you for reminding me of my oath," said the still resentful
Ellen, biting her pretty nether lip with vexation; "I might else have
"Ah! female natur' is awakened in her," said the old man, shaking
his head in a manner to show how much he was disappointed in the
result, "but it manifests itself against the true spirit!"
"Ellen!" cried the young stranger, who until now, had been an
attentive listener to the parley, "since Ellen is the name by which you
"They often add to it another. I am sometimes called by the name of
"Call her Nelly Wade at once," muttered Paul; "it is her rightful
name, and I care not if she keeps it for ever!"
"Wade, I should have added," continued the youth. "You will
acknowledge that though bound by no oath myself, I at least have known
how to respect those of others. You are a witness yourself that I have
foreborne to utter a single call, while I am certain it could reach
those ears it would gladden so much. Permit me then to ascend the rock,
singly; I promise a perfect indemnity to your kinsman, against any
injury his effects may sustain."
Ellen seemed to hesitate, but catching a glimpse of Paul, who stood
leaning proudly on his rifle, whistling, with an appearance of the
utmost indifference the air of a boating song, she recovered her
recollection in time to answer:
"I have been left the captain of the rock, while my uncle and his
sons hunt, and captain will I remain, till he returns to receive back
"This is wasting moments that will not soon return, and neglecting
an opportunity that may never occur again," the young soldier gravely
"The sun is beginning to fall already, and many minutes cannot
elapse before the squatter and his savage brood will be returning to
Doctor Battius cast an anxious glance behind him, and took up the
discourse by saying——
"Perfection is always found in maturity, whether it be in the
animal or the intellectual world. Reflection is the mother of wisdom,
and wisdom the parent of success. I propose that we retire to a
discreet distance from this impregnable position, and there hold a
convocation or council to deliberate on what manner we may sit down
regularly before the place, or perhaps by postponing the siege to
another season gain the aid of auxiliaries from the inhabited
countries, and thus secure the dignity of the laws from any danger of a
"A storm would be better," the soldier smilingly answered,
measuring the height and scanning all its difficulties with a
deliberate eye; "'twould be but a broken arm or a bruised head at the
"Then have at it!" shouted the impetuous bee-hunter, making a
spring that at once put him out of danger from a shot, by carrying him
beneath the projecting ledge on which the garrison was posted; "now do
your worst, young devils of a wicked breed; you have but a moment to
work all your mischief in!"
"Paul! rash Paul!" shrieked Ellen, "another step and the rocks will
crush you! they hang but by a thread, and these girls are ready and
willing to let them fall!"
"Then drive the accursed swarm from the hive, for scale the rock I
will, though I find it covered with hornets."
"Let her if she dare!" tauntingly cried the eldest of the girls,
brandishing a musket with a mien and resolution that would have done
credit to her Amazonian dam——"I know you, Nelly Wade; you are with the
lawyers in your heart, and if you come a foot nigher, you shall have
frontier punishment. Put in another pry, girls; in with it. I should
like to see the man of them all that dare come up into the camp of
Ishmael Bush, without asking leave of his children!"
"Stir not, Paul, for your life keep beneath the rock!"——
Ellen was interrupted by the same bright vision, which on the
preceding day had stayed another scarcely less portentous tumult, by
exhibiting itself on the same giddy height where it was now seen.
"In the name of Him, who commandeth all, I implore you to
pause——both you, who so madly incur the risk, and you, who so rashly
offer to take that which you never can return!" said a sweet, imploring
voice, in a slightly foreign accent, that instantly drew all eyes
"Inez, Inez!" cried the officer, "do I again see you! mine shall
you now be, though a million devils were posted on this rock. Push up,
my brave woods man, and give room for another!"
The sudden appearance of the figure from the tent had created a
momentary stupor among the defendants of the rock, which might, with
suitable forbearance have been happily improved; but startled by the
voice of Middleton, the surprised Phœbe discharged her musket at the
female, scarcely knowing whether she aimed at the life of a mortal or
at some being which belonged to another world. Ellen uttered a cry of
horror, and then sprang after her alarmed or wounded friend, she knew
not which, into the tent.
During this moment of dangerous bye-play, the sounds of a serious
attack were very distinctly audible beneath. Paul had profited by the
commotion over his head to change his place so far as to make room for
Middleton. The latter had been followed by the naturalist, who, in a
state of mental aberration produced by the report of the musket, had
instinctively rushed towards the rocks for a cover. The trapper
remained where he was last seen, an unmoved but close observer of these
several proceedings. Though averse to enter into actual hostilities,
the old man was, however, far from being useless. Favoured by his
position, he was enabled to apprise his friends beneath of the
movements of those who plotted their destruction above, and to advise
and control their advance accordingly.
In the mean time the children of Esther were true to the spirit
they had inherited from their redoubtable mother. The instant they
found themselves delivered from the presence of Ellen and her unknown
companion, they bestowed an undivided attention on their more masculine
and certainly more dangerous assailants, who by this time had made a
completelodgment among the crags of the citadel. The repeated summons
to surrender, which Paul uttered in a voice that he intended should
strike terror to their young bosoms, were as little heeded as were the
calls of the trapper to abandon a resistance, which might prove fatal
to some among them without offering the smallest probability of
eventual success. Encouraging each other to persevere, they poised the
fragments of rocks, prepared the lighter missiles for immediate
service, and thrust forward the barrels of the muskets with a
business-like air, and a coolness that would have done credit to men
long practised in the dangers of warfare.
"Keep under the ledge," said the trapper, pointing out to Paul the
manner in which he should proceed; "keep in your foot more, lad——ah!
you see the warning was not amiss! had the stone struck it, the bees
would miss their companion for many a month. Now, namesake of my
friend; Uncas, in name and spirit! now, if you have the activity of Le
Cerf Agile, now you may make a far leap to the right, and gain good
twenty feet of height, without danger. Beware the bush——beware the
bush! 'twill prove a treacherous hold! Ah! he has done it; safely and
bravely has he done it! Your turn comes next, friend, that follows the
fruits of natur'. Push you to the left, and you will divide the
attention of the children. Nay, girls, fire——my old ears are used to
the whistling of lead; and little reason have I to prove a doe-heart
with fourscore years on my back." He shook his head with a melancholy
smile, but without flinching in a muscle, as the bullet which the
exasperated Hetty fired, passed innocently at no great distance from
the spot where he stood. "It is safer keeping in your track than
dodging when a weak finger pulls the trigger," he continued; "but it is
a solemn sight to witness how much human natur' is inclined to evil, in
one so young! Well done, myman of beasts and plants! Another such leap,
and you may laugh at all the squatter's bars and walls. The Doctor has
got his temper up! I see it in his eye, and something good will now
come of him! Keep closer, man——keep closer."
The trapper, though he was not deceived as to the state of Dr.
Battius' mind, was, however, greatly in error as to the exciting cause.
While imitating the movements of his companions and toiling his way
upward, with the utmost caution, and not without great inward
tribulation of spirit, the eye of the naturalist had caught a glimpse
of an unknown plant, a few yards above his head, and in a situation
more than commonly exposed to the missiles which the girls were
unceasingly hurling in the direction of the assailants. Forgetting, in
an instant, every thing but the glory of being the first to give this
jewel to the catalogues of science, he sprang upward at the prize, with
the avidity with which the sparrow darts upon the butterfly. The rocks,
which instantly came thundering down, announced that he was seen, and
for a moment, as his form was concealed in the cloud of dust and
fragments which followed the furious descent, the trapper gave him up
for lost; but the next instant he was seen safely seated in a cavity,
formed by some of the projecting stones which had yielded to the shock,
holding triumphantly in his hand the captured stem, which he was
already devouring with delighted, and certainly not unskilful eyes.
Paul profited by the opportunity. Turning his course with the quickness
of thought, he also sprang to the post which Obed thus securely
occupied, and unceremoniously making a footstool of his shoulder as the
latter stooped over his treasure, he bounded through the breach left by
the fallen rock, and gained the level. He was followed by Middleton,
who joined him in seizing and disarming the girls. In this manner a
bloodless and complete victory was obtained overthat citadel which
Ishmael had vainly flattered himself might prove impregnable, for the
short period of his absence.
"So smile the heavens upon this holy act,
That after-hours with sorrow chide us not!"
It is proper that the course of the narrative should be stayed,
while we revert to those causes, which have brought in their train of
consequences, the singular contest just related. The interruption must
necessarily be as brief as we hope it may prove satisfactory to that
class of readers, who require that no gap should be left by those who
assume the office of historians, for their own fertile imaginations to
Among the troops sent by the government of the Confederacy to take
possession of its newly acquired territory in the west, was a
detachment led by the young soldier who has become so busy an actor in
the scenes of our legend. The mild and indolent descendants of the
ancient colonists received their new compatriots without distrust, well
knowing that the transfer raised them from the condition of subjects,
to the more enviable distinction of citizens in a government of laws.
The new rulers exercised their functions with discretion and wielded
their delegated authority without offence. In such a novel
intermixture, however, of men born and nurtured in freedom, and the
compliant minions of absolute power, the catholic and the protestant,
the active and the indolent, some little time was necessary to blend
the discrepant elements of society. In attaining so desirable an end,
woman was made to perform her accustomed and grateful office. The
barriers of prejudiceand religion were broken through by the
irresistible power of the master-passion, and family unions ere long
began to cement the political tie which had made a forced conjunction
between people so opposite in their habits, their educations, and their
Middleton was among the first, of the new possessors of the soil,
who became captive to the charms of a Louisianian lady. In the
immediate vicinity of the post he had been directed to occupy, dwelt
the chief of one of those ancient colonial families, which had been
content to slumber for ages amid the ease, indolence and wealth of the
Spanish provinces. He was an officer of the crown, and had been induced
to remove from the Floridas, among the French of the adjoining
province, by a rich succession of which he had become the inheritor.
The name of Don Augustin de Certavallos was scarcely known beyond the
limits of the little town in which he resided, though he found a secret
pleasure himself in pointing it out, in large scrolls of musty
documents, to an only child, as enrolled among the former heroes and
grandees of old and of new Spain. This fact, so important to himself
and of so little moment to any body else, was the principal reason,
that while his more vivacious Gallic neighbours were not slow to open a
frank communion with their visiters, he chose to keep aloof, seemingly
content with the society of his daughter, who was a girl just emerging
from the condition of childhood into that of a woman.
The curiosity of the youthful Inez, however, was not so entirely
inactive. She had not heard the martial music of the garrison, melting
on the evening air, nor seen the strange banner, which fluttered over
the heights that rose at no great distance from her father's extensive
grounds, without experiencing some of those secret impulses which are
thought to distinguish her sex. Natural timidity, and that retiring
andperhaps peculiar lassitude, which forms the very groundwork of
female fascination in the tropical provinces of Spain, held her in
their seemingly indissoluble bonds; and it is more than probable, that
had not an accident occurred in which Middleton was of some personal
service to her father, so long a time would have elapsed before they
met, that another direction might have been given to the wishes of one
who was just of an age to be alive to all the power of youth and
Providence——or if that imposing word is too just to be classical,
fate——had otherwise decreed. The haughty and reserved Don Augustin was
by far too observant of the forms of that station on which he so much
valued himself, to forget the duties of a gentleman. Gratitude, for the
kindness of Middleton, induced him to open his doors to the officers of
the garrison, and to admit of a guarded but polite intercourse. Reserve
gradually gave way before the propriety and candour of their spirited
young leader, and it was not long ere the affluent planter rejoiced as
much as his daughter, whenever the well known signal at the gate
announced one of these agreeable visits from the commander of the post.
It is unnecessary to dwell on the impression which the charms of
Inez produced on the soldier, or to delay the tale in order to write a
wire-drawn account of the progressive influence that elegance of
deportment, manly beauty, and undivided assiduity and intelligence were
likely to produce on the sensitive mind of a romantic, warm-hearted,
and secluded girl of sixteen. It is sufficient for our purpose to say
that they loved, that the youth was not backward to declare his
feelings, that he prevailed with some facility over the scruples of the
maiden, and with no little difficulty over the objections of her
father, and that before the province of Louisiana had been sixmonths in
the possession of the States, the officer of the latter was the
affianced husband of the richest heiress on the banks of the
Although we have presumed the reader to be acquainted with the
manner in which such results are commonly attained, it is not to be
supposed that the triumph of Middleton either over the prejudices of
the father or of those of the daughter was achieved entirely without
difficulty. Religion formed a stubborn and nearly irremoveable obstacle
with both. The devoted young man patiently submitted to a formidable
essay, which father Ignatius was deputed to make in order to convert
him to the true faith. The effort on the part of the worthy priest was
systematic, vigorous, and long sustained. A dozen times (it was at
those moments when glimpses of the light, sylphlike form of Inez
flitted like some fairy being past the scene of their conferences) the
good father fancied he was on the eve of a glorious triumph over
infidelity; but all his hopes were frustrated by some unlooked-for
opposition on the part of the subject of his pious labours. So long as
the assault on his faith was distant and feeble, Middleton, who was no
great proficient in polemics, submitted to its effects with the
patience and humility of a martyr; but the moment the good father, who
felt such concern in his future happiness, was tempted to improve his
vantage ground by calling in the aid of some of the peculiar subtilties
of his own creed, the young man was too good a soldier not to make head
against the hot attack. He came to the contest, it is true, with no
weapons more formidable than common sense, and some little knowledge of
the habits of his country as contrasted with that of his adversary; but
with these homebred implements he never failed to repulse the father
with something of the power with which a nervous cudgel-player would
deal with a skilful masterof the rapier, setting at nought his passados
by the direct and unanswerable arguments of a broken head and a
Before the controversy was terminated, an inroad of Protestants had
come to aid the soldier. The reckless freedom of such among them, as
thought only of this life, and the consistent and tempered piety of
others, caused the honest priest to look about him, in concern. The
influence of example on one hand, and the contamination of too free an
intercourse on the other, began to manifest themselves, even in that
portion of his own flock, which he had supposed to be too thoroughly
folded in spiritual government ever to stray. It was time to turn his
thoughts from the offensive, and to prepare his followers to resist the
lawless deluge of opinion which threatened to break down the barriers
of their faith. Like a wise commander, who finds he has occupied too
much ground for the amount of his force, he began to curtail his
outworks. The relics were concealed from profane eyes; his people were
admonished not to speak of miracles before a race that not only denied
their existence, but who had even the desperate hardihood to challenge
their proofs, and even the bible itself was once more prohibited, with
terrible denunciations, for the triumphant reason that it was liable to
In the mean time it became necessary to report to Don Augustin the
effects his arguments and prayers had produced on the heretical
disposition of the young soldier. No man is prone to confess his
weakness at the very moment when circumstances demand the utmost
efforts of his strength. By a species of pious fraud, for which no
doubt the worthy priest found his absolution in the purity of his
motives, he declared that, while no positive change was actually
wrought in the mind of Middleton, there was every reason to hope the
entering wedge of argument hadbeen driven to its head, and that in
consequence an opening was left, through which, it might rationally be
hoped, the blessed seeds of a religious fructification would find their
way, especially if the subject was left uninterruptedly to enjoy the
advantage of Catholic communion.
Don Augustin himself was now seized with the desire of proselyting.
Even the soft and amiable Inez thought it would be a glorious
consummation of her wishes to be a humble instrument of bringing her
lover into the bosom of the true church. The offers of Middleton were
promptly accepted, and, while the father looked forward impatiently to
the day assigned for the nuptials, as to the pledge of his own success,
the daughter thought of it with feelings in which the holy emotions of
her faith were blended with the softer sensations of her years and
The sun rose the morning of her nuptials on a day so bright and
cloudless, that the sensitive Inez hailed it as a harbinger of her
future happiness. Father Ignatius performed the offices of the church,
in a little chapel that was attached to the estate of Don Augustin, and
long ere the sun had begun to fall, Middleton pressed the blushing and
timid young Creole to his bosom, as his acknowledged and unalienable
wife. It had pleased the parties to pass the day of the wedding in
retirement, dedicating it solely to the best and purest affections,
aloof from all the noisy and ordinarily heartless rejoicings of a
Middleton was returning through the grounds of Don Augustin from a
visit of duty to his encampment, at that hour in which the light of the
sun begins to melt into the shadows of evening, when a glimpse of a
robe, similar to that in which Inez had accompanied him to the altar,
caught his eye through the foliage of a retired arbour. He approached
thespot with a delicacy that was rather increased than diminished by
the claim she had perhaps given him to intrude on her private moments;
but the sounds of her soft voice, which was offering up prayers, in
which he heard himself named by the dearest of all appellations,
overcame his scruples, and induced him to take a position where he
might listen without the fear of detection. It was certainly grateful
to the feelings of a husband to be able in this manner to lay bare the
spotless soul of his wife, and to find that his own image lay enshrined
amid its purest and holiest aspirations. His self-esteem was too much
flattered not to induce him to overlook the immediate object of the
petitioner. While she prayed that she might become the humble
instrument of bringing him into the flock of the faithful, she
petitioned for forgiveness on her own behalf, if presumption or
indifference to the counsel of the church had caused her to set too
high a value on her influence, and led her into the dangerous error of
hazarding her own soul by espousing a heretic. There was so much of
fervent piety, mingled with so strong a burst of natural feeling, so
much of the woman blended with the angel in her prayers, that Middleton
could have forgiven her, had she termed him a Pagan, for the sweetness
and interest with which she petitioned in his favour.
The young man waited until his bride arose from her knees, and then
he joined her as though entirely ignorant of what had just occurred.
"It is getting late, my Inez," he said, "and Don Augustin would be
apt to reproach you with inattention to your health in being abroad at
such an hour. What then am I to do, who am charged with all his
authority, and twice his love?"
"Be like him in every thing," she answered, looking up in his face
with tears in her eyes, and speaking with a marked emphasis; "in every
thing. Imitatemy father, Middleton, and I can ask no more of you."
"Nor for me, Inez? I doubt not that I should be all you can wish,
were I to become as good as the worthy and respectable Don Augustin.
But you are to make some allowances for the infirmities and habits of a
soldier. Now let us go and join this excellent father."
"Not yet," said his bride, gently extricating herself from the arm,
that he had thrown around her slight form, while he urged her from the
place. "I have still another duty to perform, before I can submit so
implicitly to your orders, soldier though you are. I promised the
worthy Inesella my faithful nurse, she who, as you heard, has so long
been a mother to me, Middleton——I promised her a visit at this hour. It
is the last, as she thinks, that she can receive from her own child,
and I cannot disappoint her. Go you then to Don Augustin, and in one
short hour I will rejoin you.
"Remember it is but an hour!"
"One hour," repeated Inez, as she kissed her hand to him; and then
blushing, as if ashamed at her own boldness, she darted from the
arbour, and was seen for an instant gliding towards the cottage of her
nurse, in which at the next moment she disappeared.
Middleton returned slowly and thoughtfully to the house, often
bending his eyes in the direction in which he had last seen his wife,
as if he would fain trace her lovely form, in the gloom of the evening,
still floating through the vacant space. Don Augustin received him with
warmth, and for many minutes his mind was amused by relating to his new
kinsman plans for the future. The exclusive old Spaniard listened to
his glowing but true account of the prosperity and happiness of those
States, of which he had been an ignorant neighbour half his life,
partly in wonder, and partly with that sort of incredulity with which
one attends to what he fancies are the exaggerated descriptions of a
too partial friendship.
In this manner the hour for which Inez had conditioned passed away,
much sooner than her husband could have thought possible in her
absence. At length his looks began to wander to the clock, and then the
minutes were counted, as one rolled by after another, and Inez did not
yet appear. The hand had already made half of another circuit around
the face of the dial, when Middleton arose and announced his
determination to go and offer himself as an escort to the absentee. He
found the night dark, and the heavens charged with the threatening
vapour, which in that climate was the infallible forerunner of a gust.
Stimulated no less by the unpropitious aspect of the skies, than by his
secret uneasiness, he quickened his pace, making long and rapid strides
in the direction of the cottage of Inesella. Twenty times he stopped,
fancying that he caught glimpses of the fairy form of Inez, tripping
across the grounds on her return to the mansion-house, and as often he
was obliged to resume his course in disappointment. He reached the gate
of the cottage, knocked, opened the door, entered, and even stood in
the presence of the aged nurse without meeting the person of her whom
he sought. She had already left the place on her return to her father's
house. Believing that he must have passed her in the darkness,
Middleton retraced his steps to meet with another disappointment. Inez
had not been seen. Without communicating his intention to any one, the
bridegroom proceeded with a palpitating heart to the little sequestered
arbour, where he had overheard his bride offering up those petitions
for his happiness and conversion. Here, too, he was disappointed; and
then all was afloat, in the painful incertitude of doubt and
For many hours a secret distrust of the motives of his wife caused
Middleton to proceed in the search with delicacy and caution. But as
day dawned without restoring her to the arms of her father or her
husband, reserve was thrown aside, and her unaccountable absence was
loudly proclaimed. The inquiries after the lost Inez were now direct
and open; but they proved equally fruitless. No one had seen her or
heard of her from the moment that she left the cottage of her nurse.
Day succeeded day, and still no tidings rewarded the search that
was immediately instituted, until she was finally given over, by most
of her relations and friends, as irretrievably lost.
An event of so extraordinary a character was not likely to be soon
forgotten. It excited speculation, gave rise to an infinity of rumours,
and not a few inventions. The prevalent opinion, among such of those
emigrants who were overrunning the country, as had time in the
multitude of their employments to think of any foreign concerns, was
the simple and direct conclusion that the absent bride was no more nor
less than a felo de se. Father Ignatius had many doubts and much secret
compunction of conscience, but like a wise chief he endeavoured to turn
the sad event to some account in the impending warfare of faith.
Changing his battery, he whispered in the ears of a few of his oldest
parishioners, that he had been deceived in the state of Middleton's
mind, which he was now compelled to believe was completely stranded on
the quicksands of heresy. He began to shew his relics again, and was
even heard to allude once more to the delicate and nearly forgotten
subject of modern miracles. In consequence of these demonstrations on
the part of the venerable priest, it came to be whispered among the
faithful, and finally it was adopted, as part ofthe parish creed, that
Inez had been translated to heaven.
Don Augustin had all the feelings of a father, but they were
smothered in the lassitude of a Creole. Like his spiritual governor he
began to think that they had been wrong in consigning one so pure, so
young, so lovely, and above all so pious, to the arms of a heretic, and
he was fain to believe that the calamity, which had befallen his age,
was a judgment on his presumption and want of adherence to established
forms. It is true, that as the whispers of the congregation came to his
ears, he found present consolation in their belief, but then nature was
too powerful, and had too strong a hold of the old man's heart, not to
give rise to the rebellious thought that the succession of his daughter
to the heavenly inheritance was a little premature.
But Middleton, the lover, the husband, the bride-groom——Middleton
was nearly crushed by the weight of the unexpected and terrible blow.
Educated himself under the dominion of a simple and rational faith, in
which nothing is attempted to be concealed from the believers, he could
have no other apprehensions for the fate of Inez than such as grew out
of his knowledge of the superstitious opinions she entertained of his
own church. It is needless to dwell on the mental tortures that he
endured, or all the various surmises, hopes and disappointments, that
he was fated to experience in the first few weeks of his misery. A
jealous distrust of the motives of Inez, and a secret, lingering hope
that he should yet find her, had tempered his inquiries, without
however causing him to abandon them entirely. But time was beginning to
deprive him, even of the mortifying reflection that he was
intentionally, though perhaps temporarily, deserted, and he was
gradually yielding to the more painful conviction that she was
dead,when his hopes were suddenly revived in a new and singular manner.
The young commander was slowly and sorrowfully returning from an
evening parade of his troops, to his own quarters, which stood at some
little distance from the place of the encampment, and on the same high
bluff of land, when his vacant eyes fell on the figure of a man, who by
the regulations of the place, was not entitled to be there at that
forbidden hour. The stranger was meanly dressed, with every appearance
about his person and countenance of squalid poverty and of the most
dissolute habits. Sorrow had softened the military pride of Middleton,
and, as he passed the crouching form of the intruder, he said, in tones
of great mildness, or rather of kindness——
"You will be given a night in the guard-house, friend, should the
patrole find you here——there is a dollar——go, and get a better place to
sleep in, and something to eat!"
"I swallow all my food, captain, without chewing;" returned the
vagabond, with the low exultation of an accomplished villain, as he
eagerly seized the silver. "Make this Mexican twenty, and I will sell
you a secret."
"Go, go," said the other with a little of a soldier's severity,
returning to his manner. "Go, before I order the guard to seize you."
"Well, go it is then——but if I do go, captain, I shall take my
knowledge with me; and then you may live a widower bewitched till the
tattoo of life is beat off."
"What mean you, fellow?" exclaimed Middleton, turning quickly
towards the wretch, who was already dragging his diseased limbs from
"I mean to have the value of this dollar in Spanish brandy, and
then come back and sell you my secret for enough to buy a barrel."
"If you have any thing to say, speak now;" continued Middleton,
restraining with difficulty the impatience that urged him to betray his
"I am a-dry, and I can never talk with elegance when my throat is
husky, captain. How much will you give to know what I can tell you; let
it be something handsome; such as one gentleman can offer to another."
"I believe it would be better justice to order the drummer to pay
you a visit, fellow. To what does your boasted secret relate?"
"Matrimony; a wife and no wife; a pretty face and a rich bride; do
I speak plain now, captain?"
"If you know any thing relating to my wife, say it at once; you
need not fear for your reward."
"Ay, captain, I have drove many a bargain in my time, and sometimes
I have been paid in money, and sometimes I have been paid in promises:
now the last are what I call pinching food."
"Name your price."
"Twenty——No, damn it, it's worth thirty dollars, if it's worth a
"Here, then, is your money; but remember, if you tell me nothing
worth knowing, I have a force that can easily deprive you of it again,
and punish your insolence in the bargain."
The fellow examined the bank-bills he received with a jealous eye,
and then pocketed them, apparently well satisfied of their being
"I like a northern note," he said very coolly; "they have a
character to lose like myself. No fear of me, captain; I am a man of
honour, and I shall not tell you a word more, nor a word less than I
know of my own knowledge to be true."
"Proceed then without further delay, or I may repent and order you
to be deprived of all your gains; the silver as well as the notes."
"Honour, if you die for it!" returned the miscreant, holding up a
hand in affected horror at so treacherous a threat. "Well, captain, you
must know that gentlemen don't all live by the same calling; some keep
what they've got, and some get what they can."
"You have been a thief."
"I scorn the word. I have been a humanity hunter. Do you know what
that means? Ay, it has many interpretations. Some people think the
woolly-heads are miserable, working on hot plantations under a broiling
sun——and all such sorts of inconveniences. Well, captain, I have been,
in my time, a man who has been willing to give them the pleasures of
variety, at least, by changing the scene for them. You understand me?"
"You are, in plain language, a kidnapper."
"Have been, my worthy captain——have been; but just now a little
reduced, like a merchant who leaves off selling tobacco by the
hogshead, to deal in it by the yard. I have been a soldier, too, in my
day. What is said to be the great secret of our trade, now can you tell
"I know not," said Middleton, beginning to tire of the fellow's
"No, legs——legs to fight with, and legs to run away with——and
therein you see my two callings agreed. My legs are none of the best
just now, and without legs a kidnapper would carry on a losing trade;
but then there are men enough left, better provided than I am."
"Stolen!" groaned the horror-struck husband.
"On her travels, as sure as you are standing still!"
"Villain, what reason have you for believing a thing so shocking?"
"Hands off——hands off——do you think my tongue can do its work the
better for a little squeezing ofthe throat! Have patience, and you
shall know it all; but if you treat me so ungenteelly again, I shall be
obliged to call in the assistance of the lawyers."
"Say on; but if you utter a single word more or less than the
truth, expect my instant vengeance!"
"Are you fool enough to believe what such a scoundrel as I am tells
you, captain, unless it has probability to back it? No, I know you are
not: Therefore I will give my facts and my opinions, and then leave you
to chew on them, while I go and drink of your generosity. I know a man
who is called Abiram White.——I believe the knave took that name to shew
his enmity to the race of blacks! But this gentleman is now, and has
been for years, to my certain knowledge, a regular translator of the
human body from one State to another.——I have dealt with him in my
time, and a cheating dog he is! No more honour in him than meat in my
stomach.——I saw him here in this very town, the day of your wedding. He
was in company with his wife's brother, and pretended to be a settler
on the hunt for new land. A noble set they were, to carry on
business——seven sons, each of them as tall as your sergeant with his
cap on. Well, the moment I heard that your wife was lost, I saw at once
that Abiram had laid his hands on her."
"Do you know this——can this be true? What reason have you to fancy
a thing so wild?"
"Reason enough; I know Abiram White. Now, will you add a trifle
just to keep my throat from parching?"
"Go, go; you are stupified with drink already, miserable man, and
know not what you say. Go; go, and beware the drummer."
"Experience is a good guide"——The fellow called after the retiring
Middleton, and then turning with a chuckling laugh, like one well
satisfied with himself, he made the best of his way towards the shop of
A hundred times in the course of that night did Middleton fancy
that the communication of the miscreant was entitled to some attention,
and as often did he reject the idea as too wild and visionary for
another thought. He was awakened early on the following morning, after
passing a restless and nearly sleepless night, by his orderly, who came
to report that a man was found dead on the parade, at no great distance
from his quarters. Throwing on his clothes he proceeded to the spot,
and beheld the individual, with whom he had held the preceding
conference, in the precise situation in which he had first been found.
The miserable wretch had fallen a victim to his intemperance. This
revolting fact was sufficiently proclaimed by his obtruding eye-balls,
his bloated countenance, and the nearly insufferable odours that were
even then exhaling from his carcass. Disgusted with the odious
spectacle, the youth was turning from the sight, after ordering the
corpse to be removed, when the position of one of the dead man's hands
struck him. On examination, he found the fore-finger extended, as if in
the act of writing in the sand, with the following incomplete sentence,
nearly illegible, but yet in a state to be deciphered: "Captain, it is
true, as I am a gentle——" He had either died, or fallen into a sleep
which was the forerunner of his death, before the latter word was
Concealing this fact from the others, Middleton repeated his orders
and departed. The pertinacity of the deceased, and all the
circumstances united, induced him to set on foot some secret inquiries.
He found that a family, answering the description which had been given
him, had in fact passed the place the very day of his nuptials: They
were traced along the margin of the Mississippi for some distance,
until they took boat and ascended the river to its confluence with the
Missouri. Here they had disappeared, like hundreds of others, in
pursuit of the hidden wealth of the interior.
Furnished with these facts, Middleton detailed a small guard of his
most trusty men, took leave of Don Augustin, without declaring his
hopes or his fears, and having arrived at the indicated point, he
pushed into the wilderness in pursuit. It was not difficult to trace a
train like that of Ishmael until he was well assured its object lay far
beyond the usual limits of the settlements. This circumstance in itself
quickened his suspicions, and gave additional force to his hopes of
After getting beyond the assistance of verbal directions, the
anxious husband had recourse to the usual signs of a trail, in order to
follow the fugitives. This he also found a task of no difficulty until
he reached the hard and unyielding soil of the rolling prairies. Here,
indeed, he was completely at fault. He found himself, at length,
compelled to separate his followers, appointing a place of rendezvous
at a distant day, and to endeavour to find the lost trail by
multiplying, as much as possible, the number of his eyes. He had been
alone a week, when accident brought him in contact with the trapper and
the bee-hunter. Part of their interview has been related, and the
reader can readily imagine the explanations that succeeded the tale he
recounted, and which led, as has already been seen, to the recovery of
"These likelihoods confirm her flight from hence,
Therefore, I pray you, stay not to discourse,
But mount you presently;——"
An hour had slid by, in hasty and nearly incoherent questions and
answers, before Middleton, hanging over his recovered treasure with
that sort of jealous watchfulness with which a miser would regard his
hoards, closed the disjointed narrative of his own proceedings by
"And you, my Inez; in what manner were you treated?"
"In every thing, but the great injustice they did in separating me
so forcibly from my friends, as well perhaps as the circumstances of my
captors would allow. I think the man, who is certainly the master here,
is but a new beginner in wickedness. He quarrelled frightfully in my
presence, with the wretch who seized me, and then they made an impious
bargain, to which I was compelled to acquiesce, and to which they bound
me as well as themselves by oaths. Ah! Middleton, I fear the heretics
are not so heedful of their vows as we who are nurtured in the bosom of
the true church!"
"Believe it not; these villains are of no religion; did they
"No, not perjured: but was it not awful to call upon the good God
to witness so sinful a compact?"
"And so we think, Inez, as truly as the most virtuous cardinal of
Rome. But how did they observe their oath, and what was its purport?"
"They conditioned to leave me unmolested, and free from their
odious presence, provided I would give a pledge to make no effort to
escape; and thatI would not even shew myself, until a time that my
masters saw fit to name."
"And that time?" demanded the impatient Middleton, who so well knew
the religious scruples of his wife——"That time?"
"It is already passed. I was sworn by my patron saint, and
faithfully did I keep the vow, until the man they call Ishmael forgot
the terms by offering violence. I then made my appearance on the rock,
for the time too was passed; though I even think father Ignatius would
have absolved me from the vow, on account of the treachery of my
"If he had not," muttered the youth between his compressed teeth,
"I would have absolved him forever from his spiritual care of your
"You, Middleton!" returned his wife looking up into his flushed
face, while a bright blush suffused her own sweet countenance; "you may
receive my vows, but surely you can have no power to absolve me from
"No, no, no. Inez, you are right. I know but little of these
conscientious subtilties, and I am any thing but a priest: yet tell me,
what has induced these monsters to play this desperate game——to trifle
thus with my happiness?"
"You know my ignorance of the world, and how ill I am qualified to
furnish reasons for the conduct of beings so different from any I have
ever seen before. But does not love of money drive men to acts even
worse than this? I believe they thought that an aged and wealthy father
could be tempted to pay them a rich ransom for his child; and,
perhaps," she added, stealing an inquiring glance, through her tears,
at the attentive Middleton, "they counted something on the fresh
affections of a bridegroom."
"They might have extracted the blood from my heart, drop by drop!"
"Yes," resumed his young and timid wife, instantlywithdrawing the
stolen look she had hazarded, and hurriedly pursuing the train of the
discourse, as if glad to make him forget the liberty she had just
taken, "I have been told, there are men so base as to perjure
themselves at the altar, in order to command the gold of ignorant and
confiding girls; and if love of money will lead to such baseness, we
may surely expect it will hurry those, who devote themselves to gain,
into acts of lesser fraud."
"It must be so; and now Inez, though I am here to guard you with my
life, and we are in possession of this rock, our difficulties, perhaps
our dangers are not ended. You will summon all your courage to meet the
trial and prove yourself a soldier's wife, my Inez?"
"I am ready to depart this instant. The letter, you sent by the
physician, had prepared me to hope for the best, and I have every thing
arranged for flight, at the shortest warning."
"Let us then leave this place and join our friends."
"Friends!" interrupted Inez, glancing her eyes around the little
tent in quest of the form of Ellen. "I, too, have a friend who must not
be forgotten, but who is pledged to pass the remainder of her life with
us. She is gone!"
Middleton gently led her from the spot, as he smilingly answered——
"She may have had, like myself, her own private communications for
some favoured ear."
The young man had not however done justice to the motives of Ellen
Wade. The sensitive and intelligent girl had readily perceived how
little her presence was necessary in the interview that has just been
related, and had retired with that intuitive delicacy of feeling which
seems to belong more properly to her sex. She was now to be seen seated
on a point of the rock, with her person so entirely enveloped in her
dress as entirely to conceal her features. Here she had remained for
near an hour, no one approaching to address her, and as it appeared to
her own quick and jealous eyes, totally unobserved. In the latter
particular, however, even the vigilance of the quick-sighted Ellen was
The first act of Paul Hover, on finding himself the master of
Ishmael's citadel, had been to sound the note of victory, after the
quaint and ludicrous manner that is so often practised among the
borderers of the West. Flapping his sides with his hands, as the
conquering game-cock is wont to do with his wings, he raised a loud and
laughable imitation of the exultation of this bird; a cry which might
have proved a dangerous challenge had any one of the athletic sons of
the squatter been within hearing.
"This has been a regular knock-down and dragout," he cried, "and no
bones broke! How now, old trapper, you have been one of your training,
platoon, rank and file soldiers in your day, and have seen forts taken
and batteries stormed before this—— am I right?"
"Ay, ay, that have I," answered the old man, who still maintained
his post at the foot of the rock, so little disturbed by what he had
just witnessed, as to return the grin of Paul, with a hearty indulgence
in his own silent and peculiar laughter; "you have gone through the
exploit like men!"
"Now tell me, is it not in rule, to call over the names of the
living, and to bury the dead, after every bloody battle?"
"Some did and other some didn't. When Sir William push'd the
German, Dieskau, thro' the defiles at the foot of the Hori——"
"Your Sir William was a drone to Sir Paul, and knew nothing of
regularity. So here begins the roll-call——by-the-bye old man, what
between bee-hunting and buffaloe humps and certain other matters, I
have been too busy to ask your name, for I intend to beginwith my rear
guard, well knowing that my man in front is too busy to answer."
"Lord, lad, I've been called in my time by as many names as there
are people among whom I've dwelt. Now, the Delawares nam'd me for my
eyes, and I was called after the far-sighted hawk. Then, ag'in, the
settlers in the Otsego hills christened me anew, from the fashion of my
leggings; and various have been the names by which I have gone through
life; but little will it matter when the time shall come, that all are
to be muster'd, face to face, by what titles a mortal has played his
part! I humbly trust I shall be able to answer to any of mine in a loud
and manly voice."
Paul paid little or no attention to this reply, more than half of
which was lost in the distance, but pursuing the humour of the moment,
he called out in a stentorian voice to the naturalist to answer to his
name. Dr. Battius had not thought it necessary to push his success
beyond the comfortable niche, which accident had so opportunely formed
for his protection, and in which he now reposed from his labours with a
pleasing consciousness of security, added to great exultation at the
possession of the botanical treasure, already mentioned.
"Mount, mount, my worthy mole-catcher! come and behold the prospect
of skirting Ishmael; come and look nature boldly in the face, and not
go sneaking any longer, among the prairie grass and mullein tops, like
a gobbler nibbling for grasshoppers."
The mouth of the light-hearted and reckless bee-hunter was
instantly closed, and he was rendered as mute, as he had just been
boisterous and talkative, by the appearance of Ellen Wade. When the
melancholy maiden took her seat on the point of the rock as mentioned,
Paul affected to employ himself in conducting a close inspection of the
household effects of the squatter. He rummaged the drawersof Esther
with no delicate hands, scattered the rustic finery of her girls on the
ground, without the least deference to its quality or elegance, and
tossed her pots and kettles here and there, as though they had been
vessels of wood instead of iron. All this industry was however
manifestly without an object. He reserved nothing for himself, not even
appearing to be conscious of the nature of the articles which suffered
by his familiarity. When he had examined the inside of every cabin,
taken a fresh survey of the spot where he had confined the children,
and where he had thoroughly secured them with cords, and kicked one of
the pails of the woman, like a football, fifty feet into the air, in
sheer wantonness, he returned to the edge of the rock, and thrusting
both his hands through his wampum belt, he began to whistle the
'Kentucky Hunters' as diligently as if he had been hired to supply his
auditors with music by the hour. In this manner passed the remainder of
the time, until Middleton, as has been related, led Inez forth from the
tent, and gave a new direction to the thoughts of the whole party. He
summoned Paul from his flourish of music, tore the Doctor from the
study of his plant, and, as acknowledged leader, gave the necessary
orders for their immediate departure.
In the bustle and confusion that were likely to succeed such a
mandate, there was little opportunity to indulge in complaints or
reflections. As the adventurers had not come unprepared for victory,
each individual employed himself in such offices as was best adapted to
his strength and situation. The trapper had already made himself master
of the patient Asinus, who was quietly feeding at no great distance
from the rock, and he was now busy in fitting his back with the
complicated machinery that Dr. Battius saw fit to term a saddle of his
own inventionThe naturalist himself seized upon his port-folios,
herbals, and collection of insects, which he quickly transferred from
the encampment of the squatter to certain pockets in the aforesaid
ingenious invention, and which the trapper as uniformly cast away the
moment his back was turned. Paul shewed his dexterity in removing such
light articles as Inez and Ellen had prepared for their flight to the
foot of the citadel, while Middleton, after mingling threats and
promises, in order to induce the children to remain quietly in their
bondage, assisted the females to descend. As time began to press upon
them, and there was great danger of Ishmael's returning, these several
movements were made with singular industry and despatch.
The trapper bestowed such articles as he conceived were necessary
to the comfort of the weaker and more delicate members of the party in
those pockets, from which he had so unceremoniously expelled the
treasures of the unconscious naturalist, and then gave way for
Middleton to place Inez in one of those seats, which he had prepared on
the back of the animal for her and her companion.
"Go, child," the old man said, motioning to Ellen to follow the
example of the lady, and turning his head a little anxiously to examine
the waste behind him. "It cannot be long afore the owner of this place
will be coming to look after his household; and he is not a man to give
up his property, however obtained, without complaint!"
"It is true," cried Middleton; "we have wasted moments that are
precious, and have the utmost need of all our industry."
"Ay, ay, I thought it; and would have said it, captain; but I
remembered how your grand'ther used to love to look upon the face of
her he led away for a wife, in the days of his youth and hishappiness.
'Tis natur', 'tis natur', and 'tis wiser to give way a little before
its feelings, than to try to stop a current that will have its course."
Ellen advanced to the side of the beast, and seizing Inez by the
hand, she said, with heart-felt warmth, after struggling to suppress an
emotion that nearly choked her——
"God bless you, sweet lady! I hope you will forget and forgive the
wrongs you have received from my uncle——"
The humbled and sorrowful girl could say no more, her voice
becoming entirely inaudible in an ungovernable burst of grief.
"How is this?" cried Middleton; "did you not say, Inez, that this
excellent young woman was to accompany us, and to live with us for the
remainder of her life; or, at least, until she found some more
agreeable residence for herself?"
"I did; and I still hope it. She has always given me reason to
believe, that after having shown so much commiseration and friendship
in my misery, she would not desert me, should happier times return."
"I cannot——I ought not," continued Ellen, getting the better of her
momentary weakness. "It has pleased God to cast my lot among these
people, and I ought not to quit them. It would be adding the appearance
of treachery to what will already seem bad enough, with one of his
opinions. He has been kind to me, an orphan, after his rough customs,
and I cannot steal from him at such a moment."
"She is just as much a relation of skirting Ishmael, as I am a
bishop!" said Paul, with a loud hem, as if his throat wanted clearing.
"If the old fellow has done the honest thing by her in giving her a
morsel of venison, now and then, or a spoon around his homminy dish,
hasn't she pay'd him in teaching the young devils to read their bible,
or in helping oldEsther to put her finery in some shape and fashion.
Tell me that a drone has a sting, and I'll believe you as easily as I
will that this young woman is a debtor to any of the tribe of Bush!"
"It is but little matter who owes me, or where I am in debt. There
are none to care for a girl who is fatherless and motherless, and whose
nearest kin are the offcasts of all honest people. No, no; go, lady,
and Heaven for ever bless you! I am better here, in this desert, where
there are none to know my shame."
"Now, old trapper," retorted Paul, "this is what I call knowing
which way the wind blows! You ar' a man that has seen life, and you
know something of fashions; I put it to your judgment, plainly, isn't
it in the nature of things for the hive to swarm when the young get
their growth, and if children will quit their parents, ought one who is
of no kith nor kin——"
"Hist!" interrupted the man he addressed, "Hector is discontented.
Say it out, plainly, pup; what is it dog——what is it?"
The venerable hound had risen, and was scenting the fresh breeze
which continued to sweep heavily over the prairie. At the words of his
master he growled and contracted the muscles of his lips, as if half
disposed to threaten with the remnants of his teeth. The younger dog,
who was resting after the chace of the morning, also made some signs
that his nose detected a taint in the air, and then the two resumed
their slumbers, as though they had done enough.
The trapper seized the bridle of the ass and cried, as he urged the
"There is no time for words. The squatter an his brood are within a
mile or two of this blessed spot."
Middleton lost all recollection of Ellen, in the danger which now
so imminently beset his recoveredbride again, nor is it necessary to
add that Dr. Battius did not wait for a second admonition to commence
Following the route indicated by the old man, they turned the rock
in a body, and pursued their way as fast as possible across the
prairie, under the favour of the cover the light afforded.
Paul Hover, however, remained in his tracks, sullenly leaning on
his rifle. Near a minute had elapsed before he was observed by Ellen,
who had buried her face in her hands, as if to conceal her fancied
desolation from herself.
"Why do you not fly?" the weeping girl exclaimed, the instant she
perceived that she was not alone.
"I'm not used to it."
"My uncle will soon be here! you have nothing to hope from his
"Nor from that of his niece, I reckon. Let him come; he can only
knock me on the head."
"Paul, Paul, if you love me, fly."
"Alone!——if I do may I be——."
"If you value your life, fly!"
"I value it not, compared to you."
She extended both her hands and burst into another and a still more
violent flood of tears. The bee-hunter put one of his sturdy arms
around her thin waist, and in another moment he was urging her over the
plain, in rapid pursuit of their flying friends.
"Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon:——Do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves."
The little run, which supplied, the family of the squatter with
water, and had nourished the trees and bushes that had grown near the
base of the rocky eminence, took its rise at no great distance from the
latter, in a small thicket of cotton-wood and vines. Hither, then, the
trapper directed the flight, as to the place affording the only
available cover in so pressing an emergency. It will be remembered,
that the sagacity of the old man, which, from long practice in similar
scenes, amounted nearly to an instinct in all cases of sudden danger,
had first induced him to take this course, as it placed the hill
between them and the approaching party of their enemies. Favoured by
this circumstance he succeeded in reaching the bushes in sufficient
time, and Paul Hover had just hurried the breathless Ellen into the
tangled brush, as Ishmael gained the summit of the rock, in the manner
already described, where he stood like a man momentarily bereft of his
senses, gazing at the confusion which had been created among his
chattles, or at his gagged and bound children, who had been safely
bestowed by the forethought of the bee-hunter under the cover of a bark
roof, in a sort of irregular pile. A long rifle would have thrown a
bullet from the height, on which the squatter now stood, into the very
cover where the fugitives, who had wrought all this mischief, were
The trapper was the first to speak, as the man on whose
intelligence and experience they all depended for counsel, after
running his eye, over the different individuals who gathered about him,
in order to see that none were missing.
"Ah! natur' is natur', and has done its work!" he said, nodding to
the exulting Paul, with a smile of approbation. "I thought it would be
hard for those, who had so often met in fair and foul, by starlight and
under the clouded moon, to part at last in anger. Now is there little
time to lose in talk, and every thing to gain by industry! It cannot be
long afore some of yonder brood will be nosing along the 'arth for our
trail, and should they find it, as find it they surely will, and should
they push us to stand on our courage, the dispute must be settled with
the rifle; which may He in heaven forbid! Captain, can you lead us to
the place where any of your warriors lie?——For the stout sons of the
squatter will make a manly brush of it, or I am but little of a judge
in warlike dispositions!"
"The place of rendezvous is many leagues from this on the banks of
"It is bad——it is bad. If fighting is to be done, it is always wise
to enter on it on equal terms. But what has one so near his time to do
with ill-blood and hot-blood at his heart! Listen to what a gray head
and some experience have to offer, and then if any among you can point
out a wiser fashion for a retreat, we can just follow his design, and
forget that I have spoken. This thicket stretches for near a mile, as
it may be slanting, from the rock, and leads towards the sunset instead
of the settlements."
"Enough, enough," cried Middleton, too impatient to wait until the
deliberative and perhaps loquacious old man could end his minute
explanation. "Time is too precious for words. Let us fly."
The trapper made a gesture of compliance, and turning in his
tracks, he led Asinus across the trembling earth of the swale and
quickly emerged on thehard ground, on the side opposite to the
encampment of the squatter.
"If old Ishmael gets a squint at that highway through the brush,"
cried Paul, casting, as he left the place, a hasty glance at the broad
trail the party had made through the thicket, "he'll need no
finger-board to tell him which way his road lies. But let him follow! I
know the vagabond would gladly cross his breed with a little honest
blood, but if any son of his ever gets to be the husband of——"
"Hush, Paul, hush," said the blushing and terrified young woman,
who leaned on his arm for support, "your voice might be heard."
The bee-hunter was silent, though he did not cease to cast certain
ominous looks behind him, as they flew along the edge of the run, which
sufficiently betrayed the belligerent condition of his mind. As each
one was busy for himself, but a few minutes elapsed before the party
rose a swell of the prairie and descending without a moment's delay on
the opposite side, they were at once removed from every danger of being
seen by the sons of Ishmael, unless the pursuers should happen to fall
upon their trail. The old man now profited by the formation of the land
to take another direction, with a view to elude pursuit, as a vessel
changes her course in fogs and darkness, to escape from the vigilance
of her enemies.
Two hours, passed in the utmost diligence, had enabled them to make
a half circuit around the rock, and to reach a point that was exactly
opposite to the original direction of their flight. To most of the
fugitives their situation was as entirely unknown as is that of a ship
in the middle of the ocean to the uninstructed voyager: but the old man
proceeded at every turn, and through every bottom, with a decision that
inspired his followers with confidence, as it spoke favourably of his
own knowledge of the localities. His hound, stopping now and then, to
catch the expression of his eye, had preceded the trapper throughout
the whole distance, with as much certainty as though a previous and
intelligible communion between them had established the route by which
they were to proceed. But at the expiration of the time just named, the
dog suddenly came to a stand, and then seating himself on the prairie,
he snuffed the air a moment, and began a low and piteous whining.
"Ay——pup——ay. I know the spot——I know the spot, and reason there is
to remember it well!" said the old man, stopping by the side of his
uneasy associate, until those who followed had time to come up. "Now,
yonder, is a thicket before us," he continued, pointing forward, "where
we may lie till tall trees grow on these naked fields, afore any of the
squatter's kin will venture to molest us."
"This is the spot, where the body of the dead man lay!" cried
Middleton, examining the place with an eye that revolted at the
"The very same. But whether his friends have put him in the bosom
of the ground or not, remains to be seen. The hound knows the scent,
but seems to be a little at a loss, too. It is therefore necessary that
you advance, friend bee-hunter, to examine, while I tarry to keep the
dogs from complaining in too loud a voice."
"I!" exclaimed Paul, thrusting his hand into his shaggy locks, like
one who thought it prudent to hesitate before he undertook so
formidable an adventure; "Now heark'ee, old trapper; I've stood in my
thinnest cottons in the midst of many a swarm that has lost its
queen-bee, without winking, and let me tell you, the man who can do
that, is not likely to fear any living son of skirting Ishmael; but as
to meddling with dead men's bones, why it is neither my calling nor my
inclination; so, after thankingyou for the favour of your choice, as
they say, when they make a man a corporal in the Kentucky militia, I
The old man turned a disappointed look towards Middleton, who was
too much occupied in solacing Inez to observe his embarrassment, which
was, however, suddenly relieved from a quarter, whence, from previous
circumstances, there was little reason to expect such a demonstration
Doctor Battius had rendered himself a little remarkable, throughout
the whole of the preceding retreat, for the exceeding diligence with
which he had laboured to effect that desirable object. So very
conspicuous was his zeal indeed, as to have entirely gotten the better
of all his ordinary predilections. The worthy naturalist belonged to
that species of discoverers, who make the worst possible
travelling-companions to a man who has reason to be in a hurry. No
stone, no bush, no plant is ever suffered to escape the examination of
their vigilant eyes, and thunder may mutter, and rain fall, without
disturbing the pleasing abstraction of their reveries. Not so, however,
with the disciple of Linnæus, during the momentous period that it
remained a mooted point at the tribunal of his better judgment, whether
the stout descendants of the squatter were not likely to dispute his
right to traverse the prairie in freedom. The highest blooded and best
trained hound, with his game in view, could not have run with an eye
more riveted than that with which the Doctor had pursued his
curvilinear course. It was perhaps lucky for his fortitude that he was
ignorant of the artifice of the trapper in leading them around the
citadel of Ishmael, and that he had imbibed the soothing impression
that every inch of prairie he traversed was just so much added to the
distance between his own person and the detested rock. Notwithstanding
the momentary shock he certainly experienced, when he discovered this
error, he was the man who now so boldly volunteered to enter the
thicket in which there was some reason to believe the body of the
murdered Asa still lay. Perhaps the naturalist was urged to show his
spirit, on this occasion, by some secret consciousness that his
excessive industry in the retreat might be liable to misconstruction;
and it is certain that, whatever might be his peculiar notions of
danger from the quick, his habits and his knowledge had placed him far
above the apprehension of suffering harm from any communication with
"If there is any service to be performed, which requires the
perfect command of the nervous system," said the man of science, with a
look that was slightly blustering, "you have only to give a direction
to his intellectual faculties, and here stands one on whose physical
powers you may depend."
"The man is given to speak in parables," muttered the single-minded
trapper, "but I conclude there is always some meaning hidden in his
words, though it is as hard to find sense in his speeches, as to
discover three eagles on the same tree. It will be wise, friend, to
make a cover, lest the sons of the squatter should be out skirting on
our trail, and, as you well know, there is some reason to fear yonder
thicket contains a sight that may horrify a woman's mind. Are you man
enough to look death in the face; or shall I run the risk of the hounds
raising an outcry, and go in myself? You see the pup is willing to run
with an open mouth, already."
"Am I man enough? Venerable trapper, our communications have a
recent origin, or thy interrogatory might have a tendency to embroil us
in an angry disputation. Am I man enough? I claim to be of the class,
mammalia; order, primates; genus, homo! such are my physical
attributes; of my moralproperties, let posterity speak; it becomes me
to be mute."
"Physic may do for such as relish it; to my taste and judgment it
is neither palatable nor healthy; but morals never did harm to any
living mortal, be it that he was a sojourner in the forest or a dweller
in the midst of glazed windows and smoking chimneys. It is only a few
hard words that divide us, friend, for I am of an opinion that, with
use and freedom, we should come to understand one another, and mainly
settle down into the same judgments of mankind, and of the ways of the
world. Quiet, Hector, quiet; what ruffles your temper, pup; is it not
used to the scent of human blood?"
The Doctor bestowed a gracious but commiserating smile on the
philosopher of nature, as he retrograded a step or two from the place
whither he had been impelled by his excess of spirit, in order to reply
with less expenditure of breath and with a greater freedom of air and
"A homo is certainly a homo," he said, stretching forth an arm in
an imposing and argumentative manner; "so far as the animal functions
extend, there are the connecting links of harmony, order, conformity
and design between the whole genus; but there the resemblance ends. Man
may be degraded to the very margin of the line which separates him from
the brute, by ignorance; or he may be elevated to a communion with the
great master-spirit of all, by knowledge; nay I know not, if time and
opportunity were given him, but he might become the master of all
learning, and consequently equal to the great moving principle."
The old man, who stood leaning on his rifle in a thoughtful
attitude, shook his head, as he answered with a native steadiness, that
entirely eclipsed the imposing air which his antagonist had seen fit to
'This is neither more than less than mortal wickedness! Here have I
been a dweller on the earth for fourscore and six changes of the
seasons, and all that time have I look'd at the growing and the dying
trees, and yet do I not know the reasons why the bud starts under the
summer sun, or the leaf falls when it is pinch'd by the frosts. Your
l'arning, though it is man's boast, is folly in the eyes of Him, who
sits in the clouds, and looks down, in sorrow, at the pride and vanity
of his creatur's. Many is the hour that I've passed, lying in the
shades of the woods, or stretch'd upon the hills of these open fields,
looking up into the blue skies, where I could fancy the Great One had
taken his stand, and was solemnizing on the waywardness of man and
brute, below, as I myself had often look'd at the ants tumbling over
each other in their eagerness, though in a way and a fashion more
suited to His mightiness and power. Knowledge! It is his plaything.
Say, you who think it so easy to climb into the judgment-seat above,
can you tell me any thing of the beginning and the end? Nay, you're a
dealer in ailings and cures: what is life, and what is death? Why does
the eagle live so long, and why is the time of the butterfly so short?
Tell me a simpler thing: why is this hound so uneasy, while you, who
have passed your days in looking into books, can see no reason to be
The Doctor, who had been a little astounded by the dignity and
energy of the old man, drew a long breath, like a sullen wrestler who
is just released from the throttling grasp of his antagonist, and
seized on the opportunity of the pause to reply——
"It is his instinct."
"And what is the gift of instinct?"
"An inferior gradation of reason. A sort of mysterious combination
of thought and matter."
"And what is that which you call thought?"
"Venerable venator, this is a method of reasoning which sets at
nought the uses of definitions, and such as I do assure you is not at
all tolerated in the schools."
"Then is there more cunning in your schools than I had thought, for
it is a certain method of showing them their vanity;" returned the
trapper, suddenly abandoning a discussion, from which the naturalist
was just beginning to anticipate great delight, by turning to his dog,
whose restlessness he attempted to appease by playing with his ears.
"This is foolish, Hector; more like an untrained pup than a sensible
hound; one who has got his education by hard experience, and not by
nosing over the trails of other dogs, as a boy in the settlements
follows on the track of his masters, be it right or be it wrong. Well,
friend; you who can do so much, are you equal to looking into the
thicket? or must I go in myself?"
The Doctor again assumed his air of resolution, and, without
further parlance, proceeded to do as desired. The dogs were so far
restrained, by the remonstrances of the old man, as to confine their
noise to low but often-repeated whinings. When they saw the naturalist
advance, the pup, however, broke through all restraint, and made a
swift circuit around his person, scenting the earth as he proceeded,
and then, returning to his companion, he howled aloud.
"The squatter and his brood have left a strong scent on the earth,"
said the old man, watching as he spoke for some signal from his learned
pioneer to follow; "I hope yonder-school bred man knows enough to
remember the errand on which I have sent him."
Doctor Battius had already disappeared in the bushes, and the
trapper was beginning to betray additional evidences of impatience,
when the person of the former was seen retiring from the thicket
backwards, with his face fastened on the place he had just left as
though his look was bound in the thraldom of some charm.
"Here is something skeary, by the wildness of the creatur's
countenance!" exclaimed the old man relinquishing his hold of Hector,
and moving stoutly to the side of the totally unconscious naturalist.
"How is it, friend; have you found a new leaf in your book of wisdom?"
"It is a basilisk!" muttered the Doctor, whose altered visage
betrayed the utter confusion which had beset his faculties. "An animal
of the order serpens. I had thought its attributes were fabulous, but
mighty nature is equal to all that man can imagine!"
"What is't? What is't? The snakes of the prairies are harmless,
unless it be now and then an angered rattler, and he always gives you
notice with his tail, afore he works his mischief with his fangs. Lord,
Lord, what a humbling thing is fear! Here is one who in common delivers
words too big for a humble mouth to hold, so much beside himself, that
his voice is as shrill as the whistle of the whip-poor-will! Courage!
what is it, man? what is it?"
"A prodigy! a lusus naturæ! a monster, that nature has delighted to
form in order to exhibit her power! Never before have I witnessed such
an utter confusion in her laws, or a specimen that so completely bids
defiance to the distinctions of class and genera. Let me record its
appearance," fumbling for his tablets with hands that trembled too much
to perform their office, "while time and opportunity are allowed——eyes,
enthrallling; colour, various complex, and profound
"One would think the man was craz'd, with his enthralling looks and
pieball'd colours!" interrupted the discontented trapper, who began to
grow a little uneasy that his party was all this time neglectingto seek
the protection of some cover. "If there is a reptile in the brush, show
me the creatur', and should it refuse to depart peaceably, why there
must be a quarrel for the possession of the place."
"There!" said the Doctor, pointing into a dense mass of the
thicket, to a spot within fifty feet of where they both stood. The
trapper turned his look, with perfect composure, in the required
direction, but the instant his keen and practised glance met the object
which had so utterly upset the philosophy of the naturalist, he gave a
start himself, and threw his rifle rapidly forward, and as instantly
recovered it, as though a second flash of thought convinced him he was
wrong. Neither the instinctive movement nor the sudden recollection was
without a sufficient object. At the very margin of the thicket, and in
absolute contact with the earth, lay an animate ball, that might
easily, by the singularity and fierceness of its aspect, have justified
the disturbed condition of the naturalist's mind. It were difficult to
describe the shape or colours of this extraordinary substance, except
to say, in general terms, that it was nearly spherical, and exhibited
all the hues of the rainbow, intermingled without reference to harmony,
and without any very ostensible design. The predominant hues were a
black and a bright vermilion. With these, however, the several tints of
white, yellow, and crimson, were strangely and wildly blended. Had this
been all, it would have been difficult to have pronounced that the
object was possessed of life, for it lay as motionless as any stone;
but a pair of dark, glaring, and moving eyeballs which watched with
jealousy the smallest movements of the trapper and his companion,
sufficiently established the important fact of its possessing vitality.
"Your reptile is a scouter, or I'm no judge of Indian paints and
Indian deviltries!" muttered the old man, dropping the butt of his
weapon to the ground,and gazing with a steady eye at the frightful
object, as he leaned on its barrel, in an attitude of great composure.
"He wants to face us out of sight and reason, and make us think the
head of a red-skin is a stone covered with the autumn leaf; or he has
some other devilish artifice in his mind!"
"Is the animal human?" demanded the Doctor, "of the genus, homo? I
had fancied it a non-descript."
"It's as human, and as mortal too, as a warrior of these prairies
is ever known to be. I have seen the time when a red-skin would have
shewn a foolish daring to peep out of his ambushment in that fashion on
a hunter I could name, but who is too old now, and too near his time,
to be any thing better than a miserable trapper. It will be well to
speak to the imp, and to let him know he deals with men whose beards
are grown. Come forth from your cover, friend," he continued in the
language of the extensive tribes of the Dahcotahs; "there is room on
the prairie for another warrior."
The eyes appeared to glare more fiercely than before, but the mass
which, according to the trapper's opinion, was neither more nor less
than a human head, shorn, as usual among the warriors of the west, of
its hair, still continued without motion or any other sign of life.
"It is a mistake!" exclaimed the Doctor. "The animal is not even of
the class, Mammalia, much less a man."
"So much for your knowledge!" returned the trapper, laughing with
great inward exultation. "So much for the l'arning of one who has
look'd into so many books, that his eyes are not able to tell a moose
from a wild-cat. Now my Hector, here, is a dog of education after his
fashion, and, though the meanest primer in the settlements would puzzle
his information, you could not cheat the hound in a matterlike this. As
you think the object an't a man, you shall see his whole formation, and
then let an ignorant old trapper, who never willingly pass'd a day
within reach of a spelling-book in his life, know by what name to call
it. Mind, I mean no violence; but just to start the devil from his
The trapper now very deliberately examined the priming of his
rifle, taking care to make as great a parade as possible of his hostile
intentions, in going through the necessary evolutions with the weapon.
When he thought the stranger began to apprehend some danger, he very
deliberately presented the piece, and called aloud——
"Now, friend, I am all for peace, or all for war, as you may say.
No! well it is no man, as the wiser one, here, says, and there can be
no harm in just firing into a bunch of leaves."
The muzzle of the rifle fell as he concluded, and the weapon was
gradually settling into a steady, and what would easily have proved a
fatal aim, when a tall Indian sprang from beneath that bed of leaves
and brush, which he had probably collected about his person at the
approach of the party, and stood upright, uttering the sententious
END OF VOLUME I.