Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter IV


Chapter IV

The Young Lieutenant and Cato

Suddenly rose from the South a light, as in autumn the blood-red
Moon climbs the crystal walls of heaven, and o'er the horizon,
Titan-like, stretches its hundred hands upon mountain and meadow,
Seizing the rocks and the rivers and piling huge shadows together.

Longfellow.

From a long distance the conflagration had been visible, its light throwing a red glare far up in the sky, and revealing the huge clouds that swept forward like crimson avalanches, while the surrounding trees glowed as if their branches were burning hot. Those nearest had their bark blistered and their leaves curled and scorched from the intense heat. A conflagration at night, when viewed from a distance, always seems awful in its sublimity. There is something calculated to inspire terror in the illuminated dome of the heavens and the onward sweep of this fearful element, when viewed in a civilized country; but it is only in the wilderness, away from the abode of man, that such an exhibition partakes of all the elements of grandeur and terror.

The solitary hunter, as he stood upon the banks of some lonely stream, leaned on his rifle and gazed with a beating heart at the brilliant redness that lit up so much of the sky. The beasts in their lair turned their glowing eyeballs toward the dreadful illumination, and stood transfixed with fear until its light died away; while the dark face of the vengeful Shawnee grew darker and more terrible as he gazed upon this work of his own hands. A silence, deep and profound, rested like a pall upon the wilderness and remained there until darkness again held undisputed reign.

Lieutenant Canfield had seen the glowing light from a great distance, when its appearance was much like that of the moon as it comes up in the horizon. Little did he suspect its true nature. It was not until the next morning that he encountered Oonomoo, the Huron, who related the particulars of the attack of the Shawnee party upon the house of Captain Prescott and the capture of his daughter. Had not the impulsive Lieutenant thus learned of his beloved's safety from massacre, had he not received the assurance of an immediate attempt for her recapture, there is no telling to what imprudent lengths he might have gone in his blind devotion to the young captive. Oonomoo remained with him but a short time, when he departed on his mission to the Shawnee village, and the lover continued on toward the estate of Captain Prescott.

It was nearly noon when Lieutenant Canfield reached the place—now nothing but a mass of charred and blackened ruins. Leaving his horse in the woods, he dismounted and examined the remains of the mansion and smaller buildings. The ghastly corpses of the negroes still lay upon the ground, having been undisturbed, and with a feeling of heart-sickness the young soldier passed them by. In his profession, he had witnessed many revolting sights, but none that affected him more than this. He shuddered, as he reflected that the very barbarians who had wantonly inflicted his woe were the captors of the adored daughter of Captain Prescott, and that they had inflicted as shocking outrages even upon such defenseless captives as she.

Walking thus moodily forward, he was suddenly brought to a standstill by coming in front of an awkward, odd-looking structure, which excited his wonder in no small degree. The charred remains of the logs of one of the buildings had been collected together and piled one above the other, so that they bore some resemblance to a rudely-fashioned oven. From the circumstances of the case, these must have been arranged in this manner subsequently to the visit of the Shawnees, and it was this fact which awakened the curiosity of the Lieutenant. His first supposition was that it was the doings of the Huron. But what reason could he have had for rearing such a structure? What possible purpose could it serve him?

All at once it flashed upon the Lieutenant that it was the work of the Shawnees themselves, and he began to view the contrivance with some apprehension. This feeling was considerably strengthened when he either heard or fancied he heard the movement of some one within it. Prudence dictated that he should place a little more distance between it and himself. Accordingly he began to retreat, walking backward and keeping his gaze fixed upon it, ready for any demonstration from his concealed enemies.

Suddenly something within the hollow of the structure fell with a dull thump that nearly lifted the Lieutenant from his feet. At the same moment he heard a suppressed growl, as if made by a caged bear. He now began to feel more wonder than fear.

"What in the name of creation is the meaning of that concern, and what sort of animal is caged in it?" he muttered, staying his retreat.

The Lieutenant debated whether or not to approach and examine the interior of the odd-looking hut. It seemed hardly possible that any human being could be within, although it was certain there was some living object there.

"At any rate I'll stir him up," he concluded, resolutely approaching. The growls were now redoubled, and he really believed some four-footed animal was the cause of all the uproar.

"It may be the Shawnees have attempted a little pleasantry after their bloody work, and caged up some poor creature within those logs," thought he. "I'll let him loose if such be the case."

He placed his hand upon the stump of a log nearest to him, when a thunderbolt appeared to have exploded before him. He started back as though he had received an electric shock. A perfect battery of howls was leveled against him, and for a moment his ears were stunned with the deafening uproar. He determined, however, to solve the mystery. Giving the structure a push that brought it tumbling to the ground, he sprung back and held his rifle prepared for any foe, were he a four-footed or a two-footed one. Instead of either, what was his amazement to see a negro, as black as midnight, emerge from the ruins, and cringe at his feet.

"Oh, Mr. Injine, please don't shoot! please don't kill me! Nice, good Mr. Injine, don't hurt me! Please don't tomahawk poor Cato! He never hurt an Injine in all his life. Please don't! Oh, don't! don't! don't! boo-hoo! oo!-oo-oo!"

"Get up, get up, Cato, and don't make a fool of yourself," said the Lieutenant, recognizing in the frightened negro the favorite servant of Captain Prescott's family.

"Oh, please don't hurt me! Please don't kill poor Cato! He never hurt good Injine in all his life! Please, good, nice Mr. Injine, let me go, and I'll do anyt'ing you wants me to, and lubs you as long as I lib. Please, don't hurt poor nigger Cato," repeated the servant, fairly beside himself with terror.

"If you don't want to be killed, get up," said the young officer, sternly enough to bring Cato to his senses; but only after he had been assisted by what he supposed to be a ferocious Indian, ready to brain him, was he enabled to rise and to keep his feet.

"Don't you know me, Cato?" asked the Lieutenant, laughing heartily at the woe-begone appearance of the negro.

"Hebens, golly! ain't you an Injine, Massa Canfield?" he asked, his knees still shaking with terror.

"Do I look like one?"

"Guess you isn't, arter all," added the negro, with more assurance. "Hebens, golly! I ain't afeard!" he suddenly exclaimed, straightening up proudly. "Didn't t'ink Cato was afeard, Massa Canfield?"

"I must say that the circumstantial evidence of your cowardice is hard to resist."

The negro's eyes enlarged as he heard the large words of the soldier, and his looks showed that he had no idea of their meaning.

"Doesn't t'ink I's afeard?"

"Why did you build such a looking concern as that?"

"Why I build dat? To keep de rain off of me."

"It hasn't rained at all for several days."

"Know dat, but, den, expect maybe 'twill. Bes' to be ready for it when does come."

"But, as there were no evidences of a storm coming very soon, why should you get in there just now?"

"Storms out in dese parts bust berry suddent sometimes. Oughter know dat, Massa Canfield."

"Yes, I do; but, why in the name of common sense did you set up such a growling when I came near your old cabin?"

"Did I growl at you?"

"Yes: made as much noise as a grizzly bear could have done."

"Done it jist for fun, Massa. Hebens, golly! wanted to see if you was afeard, too."

"But," said the soldier, assuming a more serious air, "let the jesting cease. When did you put those logs together, Cato?"

"Dis morning, arter dey went away," he replied, with a shudder, casting a look of terror around him.

"And when did they—the Shawnees—go away?"

"Didn't stay long, Massa; come in de night, berry late—bust on de house all at once."

Lieutenant Canfield felt a painful interest in all that related to Mary Prescott. Although the Huron had given him the principal incidents of the attack and massacre, he could not restrain himself from questioning the negro still further.

"Had you no warning of their approach?"

"Nothing; didn't know dey war about till dey war among us."

"What was the first thing you heard, Cato? Give me the particulars so far as you can remember."

"Hebens, golly! I'll neber forgit dat night if I lib a fousand years. Wal, you see I and Big Mose had just gwane to bed and blowed de candle out—"

"Had Miss Mary retired?"

"Yes—she'd been gone a good while. You see, me and Big Mose am generally de last niggers dat am up, specially myself. I goes around for to see if de t'ings am all right about de house. Wal, me and Mose had been around to see if eberyt'ing was right, and was coming back from de barn and got purty near de house, when Mose whispers, 'Cato, I see'd a man crawling on de ground back dar. I didn't say nuffin' for fear ob scaring ob you.' 'Oh! git out,' says I, 'you's skeart.' But I felt a little oneasy myself, 'cause I kind ob t'ought I heern somefin' when we was a little furder off. I commenced for to walk fast, and Big Mose commenced for to walk fast, and afore we knowed it, we bofe was a canterin', and when we come aginst de door, we'd like to 've busted it in, we was tearing along so fast. We tumbled in ober each oder, and fastened dat door in a hurry you'd better beliebe."

"Wal, we went to our room, and blowed out de candle and said our prayers and went to bed. We hadn't been laying dar long, when Big Mose turned ober toward me, and whispers, 'I tell you, Cato, dar am Inj'ines about de house. 'Cause why I see'd one, and I had a dream last night dat a whole lot ob dem comes here in de night and killed all of us niggers and burnt Missis Mary!' Hebens, golly! Massa Canfield, I begun to turn white about de gills when I heerd him say dat. I'd been shibering and shaking, and now I shook like de ager. I told Big Mose to be still and go to sleep, 'cause it seemed to me if I went to sleep when t'ings looked bad, dey would be all right agin in de mornin'. But, he wouldn't be still and says, 'I tell you, Cato, dar am Injines crawlin' around ob dis house dis very minute, 'cause I can hear dar knees and hands on de ground.' I couldn't make Big Mose keep quiet. Bimeby, he says, 'Cato, let's git up and be ready for 'em, for dey're comin'. I knows it, I ken feel it in my bones. Let's wake up Missis Mary and de niggers and fight 'em, for dey'll be here afore morning, sure.' Wal, dat nigger worrid me awful. I told him I wouldn't git up, but was going to sleep, and turned ober in bed, but I couldn't keep my eyes shet.

"Bimeby, I heard Big Mose crawling soft-like out de bed. He was trying to make no noise, so he wouldn't wake me, finking I was asleep. He stepped like a cat on de floor, and I listened to see what he was going to do. I heerd him move around and den all was still. 'What you doing, Mose?' I axed. 'I'm going to say my prayers,' he said, 'and it's de last time too, 'cause de Injines will soon be here.' I didn't try to stop him, for I felt so bad, I commenced saying mine in de bed.

"Big Mose kept mumbling and crying for a long time, and I shaking more and more, when all at once, hebens, golly! I see'd somefin' bright-like shine trough de winder, and I looked out and de barn was all afire. Den dar come a yell dat nearly blowed de roof off de house. Big Mose gib a screech and run, and bang-bang went a lot ob guns all around us. De Injines was dar, burnin', tomahawkin', screechin', shoutin', and killin' de poor niggers as fast as dey showed demselves. I see'd Miss Mary—"

"Did they harm her?"

"No! She didn't 'pear skeart a bit. She tried to keep de Injines from killing de poor niggers, not t'inking anyt'ing about herself."

"How was it that you escaped?"

"I stayed where I was till I was nearly burnt up, when I sneaked out and none of 'em didn't 'pear to notice me. I hid in de woods and stayed dar till mornin'."

"Did you see anything more of Miss Mary?"

"Yes, I see'd de Injines go away purty soon, and take her along. Dey didn't take any ob de niggers, 'cause dey had killed 'em all but me, and I was already dead, but I comed to agin."

"None of Captain Prescott's family were in the house besides Mary, were they?" asked the Lieutenant, asking a question of which he well knew the answer.

"Nobody else wan't dar—bress de Lord! Missis Prescott and Helen went off on a visit to de settlement, t'ree, four days ago."

"How was it Miss Mary remained behind?"

"Ki-yi! you doesn't know, eh?" said Cato, grinning vastly, in total forgetfulness, for the moment, of his dreadful surroundings.

"How should I know? Of course, I do not."

"Wal, den, Oonymoo, dat red Injine, told her as how maybe you'd be 'long dese parts 'bout dis time, and she 'cluded she'd be't home when you called. Dat's how she was heah!"

A thrill went through the gallant Lieutenant at this evidence of the affection of the fair maiden he had journeyed so far to see. Despite the heart-sickness which had come over him at sight of the revolting scenes around, he experienced a sort of pleasure from the words of the negro, and felt anxious for him to say more.

"How do you know, Cato, that this was the reason she remained behind?"

"Hebens, golly! didn't I hear her tell Missis so?"

"Her mother? And what did she say?"

"Oh! she and Missis Helen kinder laughed, and showed all dar white teef, and dey didn't try to persuade her to go, 'cause dey knowed dar wan't no use ob tryin' to do nuffin' like dat. She lubs the Leftenant altogeder too much. Yah! yah!" and Cato kicked up his heels, hugely delighted.

"Have you told me when you built this house of yours?"

"T'ought I had. Done dat ar workmanship dis mornin', arter all de Injines had gone. T'ought dar'd be somebody 'long dis way afore long."

"There has been nothing saved," said the Lieutenant, looking around and speaking apparently to himself.

"Noffin' but dis poor nigger, and I don't know what will become of him now dat he's all alone," said Cato, with a woe-begone demeanor.

"Have no anxiety upon that account. You shall be attended to. Captain Prescott and all his family are living, and, depend upon it, you will not suffer if he can prevent it."

"But de house am gone—de horses—de corns—eberyt'ing but me."

The young soldier continued musing for a moment and then asked:

"How far from here is the settlement to which Mrs. Prescott has gone?"

"Ten, fifteen or forty miles."

"Can't you tell me more precisely than that?"

"Somewhere atween ten and forty or fifty—dat's all I can tell."

"Have you ever been there yourself?"

"Offin—horseback."

"You know the way?"

"Jes' as well as did from de house to de barn."

"How would you like to go there?"

"What! alone?" asked Cato, the old look of terror coming back to his countenance.

"Certainly—you have been there and back you said, didn't you?"

"Yes, but bress your soul! de Injines wan't about den."

"I guess there were as many as there are this minute."

"Oh! gracious! I don't want to go alone. What made ye ax me dat queshun?"

"Why, I thought this, Cato. You see I expect Oonomoo to return to this place by nightfall, when I intend to accompany him to the Shawnee village where Miss Mary is held captive—"

"Goin' to git her?"

"We hope to. I was going to propose that you should make your way to the settlement and carry the news of this sad affair to Mrs. Prescott and her daughter, assuring her that the Huron and myself will do all we can to rescue Mary. They must have seen the light, last night, and no doubt are dreadfully anxious to learn whether it was their mansion or not. Besides, I doubt whether the Huron will be willing that you should accompany us."

"Why won't he? I guess Cato knows enough to take care of his self. Allus has done it. Done it last night."

"We will let the matter rest until his return. It shall be as he says."

"What time 'spect him?"

"In the course of a few hours. In the mean time, there is another matter that must be attended to. Do you know whether there is a spade or shovel lying about?"

"Dunno; guess dar is dough. I'll see in a minute."

Cato ran some distance to where the charred remains of another building were heaped together, and searching among the ruins, brought forth a spade with a portion of the handle still left.

"What ye want to do dat ar?" he asked, as he brought it to the Lieutenant.

"We must bury those bodies, Cato. It would be wrong to deny them a decent burial when we possess the time and means."

Cato had a mortal horror of touching any creature that was dead, but more than once he had wished that the corpses were placed in the ground, although he had not the courage to put them there. He showed no reluctance now to the performance of his portion of the task.

"You know how to dig, I presume?" asked the Lieutenant.

"Yis, I offin dug wid dis berry same spade. Whar'd you want thar graves?"

"One grave will answer for the four, and this spot will do as well as any other."

The soldier gave the proper directions, and the negro commenced his labor at once. In an hour or two, he had hollowed out a grave, ready for the reception of the dead bodies. He could not conceal his repugnance to touching them, although he did not refuse to do so.

"Dat ar is poor Big Mose," said he, as they took hold of a Herculean negro, who had been brained by the keen tomahawk. "And he knowed the Injines war a-comin' a long time afore dey did. Poor Mose," he added, as the big tears trickled down his cheek, "he neber will eat any more big suppers or come de double-shuffle or de back-action-spring by moonlight. Poor feller! he had a big heel and knowed how to handle it."

The body was carefully lowered into the grave, and the others, one by one, were placed beside it. It was a sight which haunted Lieutenant Canfield for many a night—those black, upturned corpses—awful evidences of the terrible passions of the Shawnees. The earth was carefully deposited over them and the last sad rites performed.

The sun was now past the meridian, and the young soldier began to look momentarily for the appearance of the Huron. An hour or two had passed, when Cato spoke:

"Massa Canfield, 'tain't noways likely dat ar Injine will be along afore dark. Dat's de time dem critters likes to travel, so what's de use ob our waitin' here so long. Oder Injines mought be around dese parts and wouldn't it be a good idee to git in de woods whar dey wouldn't be so apt to see us?"

It struck the Lieutenant that there was some sense in the advice of the negro; so he concluded to act upon it. Moving away toward the wood, his foot struck and scattered a pile of black cinders lying near the ruins of the house. Looking down, he saw something glitter. What was his surprise to discover in the ashes a gold watch and chain which he had often seen upon the neck of Mary Prescott. A portion of the chain had been melted by the intense heat, but by some singular means, the watch had been so well preserved that there was scarcely a blemish upon it. As he picked it up, Cato exclaimed, with rolling eyes:

"Dat is Miss Mary's! dat is Miss Mary's!"

"It couldn't have been around her neck, certainly, when it was lost."

"No, she allers laid it on de stand aside her bed, and dat's de way it got dar. See, dar's de legs ob de stand."

It was as the negro said, and in the hope of finding some more of the valuables of the family, the soldier kicked the ashes and cinders hither and thither and searched among them for a considerable time. Nothing further rewarded him, however. Placing the watch upon his own person, he went on, across the edge of the clearing, into the woods beyond. He led his horse further into their protection, and then beckoned the negro to his side.

"Do you feel sleepy, Cato?"

"No! what'd you ax that fur?"

"Well I do, and I am going to try to get a little sleep. I wish you to keep watch of the clearing while I do."

"Don't 'spect none of dem Injines will be back here?"

"No, but Oonomoo will probably soon be. I want you to see him the minute he comes, and awaken me so that there shall be no unnecessary delay."

Cato promised to obey, and took his station nearer the clearing, while the fatigued soldier stretched himself upon the ground and was soon wrapped in a dreamless slumber.

Lieutenant Canfield slept until nearly sunset, and would have slept even longer had he not been aroused by Cato roughly shaking his shoulder.

"Why, what's the matter?" he asked, looking up in the terror-stricken countenance of the negro.

"Hebens, golly! dey've come!"

"Who has come? what are you talking about?"

"De Injines. Dar's forty fousand of 'em out dar in de clearing!"

Considerably flurried by the husky words of his sable friend, Lieutenant Canfield arose and walked stealthily toward the clearing to satisfy himself in regard to the cause of the negro's excessive fear. "Be keerful, or dey'll see you," admonished the latter, following several yards behind.

Approaching as near the edge of the wood as he deemed prudent, he was rewarded by the sight of some six or eight Indians—undoubtedly Shawnees—who were examining the ruins that lay around them with considerable curiosity. They were ugly-looking customers in their revolting war-paint and fantastic costumes, and the Lieutenant felt that the wisest plan he could adopt was to give them a wide berth. Withdrawing further into the wood, he asked the negro when he had first seen them.

"Massa Canfield, I stood and watched out dar for two, free hours till I fell asleep myself and come down kerwollup on de ground. I laid dar a good while afore I woke, and de fust t'ing I see'd when I looked out dar, war dem Injines walking round, kickin' up t'ings and makin' darselves at home ginerally. You'd better beliebe I trabeled fast to tell you ob it."

"From which direction do you think they come?"

"Dunno, but I finks de way dey looks dat dey come purty near from dis way, mighty clus to whar we's standin'; and I t'inks dey'll take de same route to git back agin."

Somehow or other, the Lieutenant had the same impression as the negro. It was so strong upon him that he resolved to change their position at once. Accordingly, he proceeded to where his horse was tied, and unfastening, led him into the wood. Making a détour, he came back nearly upon the opposite side of the clearing, where, if possible, the wood was still thicker. Here they carefully screened themselves from observation and watched the Shawnees.

Hither and thither they passed, searching among the ruins for plunder, occasionally turning up some trifle upon which they pounced with the avidity of children, and examining the half-burnt remnants of chairs, tables and stands, etc. Here and there they pulled the black, twisted nails forth, that looked like worms burnt to a cinder, and carefully preserved them for future use. Every metallic substance was seized as a prize, and some of the wooden portions of instruments were also appropriated. Thin twists of smoke still ascended from different spots in the clearing, and the ashes when stirred showed the red live coals beneath them.

"Yah! yah! dat feller's got sumkin' nice," said Cato, laughing heartily and silently at one of the Indians, who had pulled forth a long board with evident delight. Turning it over, he balanced it on his shoulder and was walking rapidly away, when suddenly he sprung several feet in the air with a yell of agony, and jumped from beneath it, rubbing his shoulder very violently as if suffering acute pain.

"Yah! yah! knowed 'twould do dat. Lower part all afire, and reckoned it burnt him a little."

The Indian continued dancing around for several moments, not ashamed to show to his companions how much he suffered. He by no means was the only one who was caught in this manner. Very often, a savage would spring from the ground, with a sharp exclamation, as some coal pierced through his moccasin, and now and then another could be seen, slapping his fingers against his person, after he had hastily dropped some object. One eager Shawnee attempted to draw a red-hot nail from a slab with his thumb and finger, and roasted the ends of both by the operation, while a second seated himself upon a board which set fire to the fringe of his hunting-shirt. He did not become aware of it until a few minutes later, when, in walking around, the fire reached his hide. Placing his hand behind him, he received unmistakable evidence of its presence, when he set up a loud whoop and started at full speed for the spring, reaching which, he seated himself in it, before he felt entirely safe.

These, and many other incidents, amused the Lieutenant for the time being, while the delight of Cato was almost uncontrollable. He seemed in danger of apoplexy several times from the efforts he made to subdue his laughter. But, all at once there was a sudden cessation in his mirth, and a visible lengthening of his visage. Grasping the shoulder of the soldier, he exclaimed:

"Look dar! Look dar! See dem!"

"I see nothing to alarm us."

"Look dar whar we went into the clearin'. Don't you see dem Injines dar?"

Lieutenant Canfield did see something that alarmed him. The whole eight Indians had followed the track of himself and the negro to the edge of the wood, where they had halted and were consulting together. They certainly must have noticed it before, but had probably been too busy to examine it particularly. It had never once occurred to the white man that this evidence of his presence would tell against him, but he now saw the imminent peril in which he and the negro were placed.

"We must flee, Cato," said he. "Fortunately it will soon be dark, when they cannot follow us."

"Will we bofe git on de hoss?" asked the frightened negro.

"No; it will do no good. Let us take to the woods. Hush! What's that?"

Just as they were about moving, the sharp report of a rifle came upon their ears, and with a loud whoop the Shawnees rushed off in a body, taking an easterly direction, which was different from that followed by the soldier and negro. Now that all immediate danger was gone, the two remained behind, to learn, if possible, the cause of the mysterious shot and subsequent action of the Shawnees.

It was not until night, when Oonomoo, the Huron, returned, that the cause was made known. He had approached several hours before, and seen the savages in consultation, and divined the cause of it. To divert them from pursuing his two friends, whom they would most certainly have captured, he discharged his piece among them, and then purposely showed himself to draw them after him. The stratagem succeeded as well as he could have wished. He easily eluded them, until they had followed him some distance in the woods, when he made his way back again to the clearing, where he rejoined the Lieutenant and the negro.