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Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter IX


Chapter IX

A New Danger

'Tis too late
To crush the hordes who have the power and will
To rob thee of thy hunting-grounds and fountains,
And drive thee backward to the Rocky Mountains.

Edward Sandford.


The moon was now well up in the sky, although it was still comparatively early in the night. It was hardly possible that the escape of Miss Prescott could be discovered before morning, yet the Huron was too prudent not to guard against the most remote probability, by taking up their march at once in a direct line for the settlement. The eight or ten hours of unmolested travel that were before them, were amply sufficient to place all beyond danger, at least from the Shawnees who had just been left behind. Taking the lead, as usual, he proceeded at a moderate walk, timing his progress to the endurance of the maiden with him, still keeping the impatient Cato behind.

"I say, Oonomoo," called out Lieutenant Canfield, in a suppressed voice, "suppose Miss Prescott and myself should indulge in conversation, would you have any objection?"

"No—don't care—talk sweet—talk love—so no one hear but gal—gal talk low, sweet, so no one but him hear," returned the Indian, pleasantly.

Falling a rod or so in the rear, the Lieutenant took the willing hand of his betrothed, and said:

"Tell me, dear Mary, of your captivity—of all that happened to you since they took you from your home."

The girl proceeded to relate what is already known to the reader, adding that but for the friendship of Hans Vanderbum and Oonomoo, she never would have hoped to escape from her captivity.

"The Dutchman is a stupid, honest-hearted fellow, whose heart is in the right place, and the Huron has endeared himself to hundreds of hearts by his self-sacrificing devotion in their hour of affliction."

"What possible motive could influence him to risk his life in my rescue?"

"His own nature. He has been with those holy men, the Moravians, and he is, what is so rarely seen, a Christian Indian. But, he has been thus friendly to the whites for many years. The Shawnees inflicted some great injury upon him. What it was I do not know. I have heard that his father was a chief, and, while Oonomoo was still a boy, he was broken of his chiefdom, and both he and his wife inhumanly massacred. This is the secret of his deadly hostility to that tribe, and, I am told, that among the scores and scores of scalps which grace his lodge, there is not one which has not been torn from the head of a Shawnee. But for a year or two, he has refrained from scalping his foes, and he has killed none except in honorable warfare."

"Has he a wife and family?"

"He has a wife and son, and his lodge is deep in the forest, no one knows where. Its location is so skillfully chosen that it has baffled all search for years. His wife, I have been told, has been a sincere Christian from childhood, and her piety and faithfulness have had a good influence on him."

"He is a noble man, and my dear father will reward him for this."

"No, he will not. Oonomoo has never accepted a reward for his services and never will. Presents and mementoes have been showered upon him, but his proud soul scorns anything like payment for his services. Do you suppose that I could ever remunerate him for the happiness he has brought me?" asked the Lieutenant, pressing the hand of his beloved.

"I am sure my joy is very great, too. Oh! how my dear mother and sister must have agonized over this calamity."

"They probably have known nothing of it."

"But you say you saw the light of the fire, and you were fully as far off as they."

"It is true, but I had not the remotest suspicion of its being your home. It seems unlikely that your mother should have suspected the truth, as she had every reason to believe the Indians were friendly to your family."

"They must have seen the illumination in the sky, and, knowing the location of our home so well, they could but have their worst apprehensions aroused."

"If such indeed be the case, let us congratulate ourselves that we are so soon to undeceive them."

"I am glad that father cannot possibly hear of this until he is assured of our safety."

"I am not so sure of that. When I left, the chances were that he might follow me almost immediately on a visit to the block-house at the settlement, and from what I heard I am pretty certain that if he has not already been, he soon will be appointed to the command of the garrison at that place. It is not at all impossible that he may be in charge of it this very minute."

"We will reach there to-morrow, when, as you said, their anxiety will be relieved, although it will be no trifling loss to father when he finds his house and all his possessions destroyed by the savages."

"But, as nothing when weighed in the balance with his loved child."

"And then the poor servants! Oh! what an awful sight to see them tomahawked when praying for mercy."

"And, I am told, by their only survivor, Cato there, that none implored so earnestly for them as did you yourself, never once asking for your own life, which was in such peril."

"I thought that I might accomplish something for them, but it was useless. Cato only escaped, and it was Providence, alone, that saved him."

"What ye 'scussin' ob my name for?" called out the negro, who had caught a word or two of the last remark.

"Stop noise," commanded Oonomoo, peremptorily.

"Hebens, golly! ain't dem two talkin', and can't I frow in an obserwashun once in a while, eh?"

"Dey love—talk sweet—you nigger and don't love!"

"Oh, dat's de difference, am it? Well, den, I forefwif proceeds all for to cease making remarks. But before ceasing altogever, I will obsarve that you are a pretty smart feller, Oonymoo, and I hain't see'd de Shawnee Injine yet dat knows as much as your big toe. Hencefofe I doesn't say noffin more;" and the negro held strict silence for a considerable time.

Lieutenant Canfield and Miss Prescott conversed an hour or so longer, in tones so low that they were but a mere murmur to the Huron, and then as the forest grew more tangled and gloomy, their words became fewer in number, until the conversation gradually ceased altogether.

The party were walking thus silently, when they reached a portion of the wood where, for a short distance, it was perfectly open, as if it had been totally swept over by a tornado. In this they were about entering, when, brought in relief against the moon-lit sky beyond, the form of an Indian was seen standing as motionless as a statue. At first sight, the form appeared gigantic in its proportions, but a second glance showed that instead of being a man it was a mere boy. He stood in the attitude of listening, as if he had just caught the sound of the approaching company.

The Huron, disdaining to draw his rifle upon such a foe, halted and looked steadily at him, while those in the rear, who had all discovered the savage, did the same, the negro's teeth chattering like a dice-box, as he fully believed him to be the advance-guard of an overwhelming force. The boy standing thus a moment, sprung with the quickness of lightning to the cover of the trees. As he did so, there was something about the movement which awakened the suspicion of Oonomoo, and without stirring, he gave utterance to a low, trilling whistle. Instantly there came a similar response, and the boy appeared again to view, bounding forward quickly toward Oonomoo.

"Niniotan."

"Oonomoo."

"What brings you thus far in the woods?"

"The Shawnees have discovered the home of Oonomoo!"

"And where is Fluellina?" demanded the Huron, starting as if stricken by a thunderbolt.

"She is hid in the woods, waiting for Oonomoo."

"Did she send Niniotan for him?"

"She sent him this morning, and he searched the woods until now, when he found him in this opening."

"When did Fluellina and my son leave their home on the island in the water?"

"Last night, shortly after the moon had come above the tree-tops, they left in the canoe, and they went far before the morning light had appeared, when they dared not return."

"And when saw you the Shawnees?"

"Yesterday, after you had gone, a canoe-full of their warriors passed by the island in their canoe. We saw them through the trees, and hid in the bushes until they had passed, and they searched until night for us."

"Where is Fluellina hid?"

"Close by the side of the stream which floats by the island, but many miles from it."

"How long will it take Niniotan to guide Oonomoo there?"

"Four or five hours. The wood is open and clear from briers."

"And are the Shawnees upon Fluellina's trail?"

"If the eye of the Shawnee can follow the trail of the canoe, he has tracked us to the hiding-place."

This conversation being carried on in the Huron tongue, of course the others failed to catch its meaning; but Lieutenant Canfield suspected, from the singularly hurried and excited manner of Oonomoo, that something unusual had occurred with him. Never before had he seen him give way to his feelings, or speak in such loud, almost fierce tones. The soldier remained at a respectful distance, until the Huron turned his head and told him to approach.

"Dis my son Niniotan," said he. "He go wid us."

"I am glad of his company I am sure. Did you expect to meet him in this place?"

"No—Fluellina, his mother, send him in big hurry to Oonomoo—been huntin' all day—jes' found us."

"No trouble, I trust?"

"Tell in de mornin'—mus' walk fas' now—don't talk much—git to settlement quick as can. Take gal's hand—lead her fast."

The soldier knew there must be cause for this haste of his friend, and acting upon the hint which he had given him to ask no further questions, he took the hand of Miss Prescott, and the party moved forward at a rapid walk. Little did he suspect the true cause of the Huron's silence. Knowing the solicitations that would be made by the soldier and the girl for him to leave them at once and attend to the safety of his wife, the noble Indian refrained from imparting the truth. It was his intention to conduct his friends as far as possible during the night, that they might be beyond all danger, when, accompanied by his son, he would make all haste to his Fluellina, and carry her to some place beyond the reach of his inhuman foes.

For fully eight hours, the little party hurried through the woods. Miss Prescott bore the fatigue much better than she expected. Being strong, healthy, and accustomed to long rambles and sports in the open air, and having been so long inactive in the Shawnee village, the rapid walk for a long time was pleasant and exhilarating to her. It sent the blood bounding through her glowing frame, and there being withal the spice of an unseen and unknown danger to spur her on, she was fully able to go twice the distance, when the Huron gave the order to halt.

It was broad daylight and the sun was just rising. They were several miles beyond the ruins of Captain Prescott's mansion, so that the settlement could be easily reached in a few hours more. Oonomoo brought down a turkey with his rifle, dressed it, and had a fire burning with which to cook it. This was accomplished in a short time under his skillful manipulations, and a hearty meal afforded to every one of the little company. Lieutenant Canfield noticed that neither the Huron nor his son ate more than a mouthful or two, and he was now satisfied that the news brought by the latter was bad and disheartening. He refrained, however, from referring to the subject again, well knowing that the Indian would tell him all that he thought proper, when the time arrived.

They had just completed their meal, when Niniotan and Oonomoo started, raising their heads, as if something had caught their ears. Listening a moment, the latter said:

"Somebody comin'."

"Hebens, golly! am it Injines?" asked Cato, looking around for some good place to hide. The eyes of the soldier and Miss Prescott asked the same question, and the Huron replied:

"Ain't Injins—walk too heavy—white men."

"They must be friends then," exclaimed the girl, springing up and clapping her hands.

"Dey're comin'—hear 'em."

The dull tramp, tramp of men walking in regular file was distinctly audible to all, and while they listened, a clear, musical voice called out:

"This way, boys, we've a long tramp before we reach that infernal Indian town."

"Your father, as I live!" whispered the soldier to the girl beside him. The next moment, the blue uniform of an officer of the Federal army was distinguished through the trees, and the manly form of Captain Prescott, at the head of a file of a dozen men, came into full view.

"Hello! what have we here?" he asked, suddenly stopping and looking at the company before him. "Why there's Lieutenant Canfield as sure as I am alive, and if that ain't my dear little daughter yonder, I hope I may never lift my sword for Mad Anthony again. And there's Oonomoo, the best red-man that ever pulled the trigger of a rifle, with a little pocket edition of himself, and grinning Cato too! Why don't you come to the arms of your father, sis, and let him hug you?"

This unexpected meeting with his loved daughter, when his worst fears were aroused for her safety, caused the revulsion of feeling in Captain Prescott, and his pleasantry is perhaps excusable when all the circumstances are considered. The tears of joy coursed down the gray-headed soldier's cheeks as he pressed his cherished daughter to his bosom, and murmured, "God bless you! God bless you!" while the hardy soldiers ranged behind him smiled, and several rubbed their eyes as if dust had gotten in them.

"Is mother and sister well?" asked the daughter, looking up in her father's face.

"Yes, well, but anxious enough about you."

"Our house and place is destroyed forever."

"Who cares, sis? Who cares? Haven't I you left? Don't mention it."

"But the servants! All were killed except poor Cato there."

"Ah! that is bad! that is bad! I mourn them, poor fellows! poor fellows! But I have my own darling child left! my own darling child!" and the overjoyed father again pressed his daughter to him.

"But what am I about?" he suddenly asked, with a surprised look. "I haven't spoken to the others here. Lieutenant, allow me to congratulate you, sir, on this happy state of affairs. I congratulate you, sir."

Captain Prescott had a way of repeating his remarks, while his radiant face was all aglow with his hearty good-humor, that was irresistibly contagious in itself. His jovial kindness won every heart, and he was almost idolized by his men.

"A happy turn, indeed; but, Captain, I am somewhat surprised to see you here," said Lieutenant Canfield as he grasped the offered hand.

"Ah! yes, I haven't explained that yet; but the fact is, Lieutenant, you hadn't been gone two hours—not two hours—when the General told me I was to take charge of the garrison at the settlement, where my wife and daughter now are. I wasn't sorry to hear that—not sorry to hear that, and as you were to be Lieutenant, I didn't think it would be unpleasant to you either to be located so near our family—not unpleasant at all, eh, Lieutenant?"

"Nothing, certainly, could be more agreeable to me," replied the gallant young fellow, blushing deeply at the looks which were turned upon him.

"Glad to hear it! glad to hear it! Well, sir, I started right off—right straight off, and tried my best to overtake you, but, bless me, I might as well have tried to run away from my own shadow, as to catch up with a young chap when he is in love. I got to the settlement yesterday, toward night, and the first thing I heard was that my house had been burned, and my sweet little darling Mary there, either killed or carried off a prisoner. I felt bad about that," added the Captain, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief, but smiling all the while, "yes, I won't deny I felt a little bad about that. They had all seen the light from the settlement, and knowing the direction of my house, were pretty sure it was that. But, to be certain, one of the men came out here yesterday, and found there was no mistake about it. But the queerest part of the matter was, that all the people, the garrison especially, appeared to feel bad about it too—actually felt bad about it. And when I asked for volunteers, they all sprung forward and insisted that they would go—insisted that they would go. I picked out those twelve there—because they had all been in Indian fights and understood the country through which we would be compelled to go. They are all good fellows, and perfect phenomena, if you may believe all they say—perfect phenomena. You see that chap there, with the big mouth and crossed eyes. Well, sir, he informs me that he has dined off a live Indian every morning for the last seventeen years, and is certain that he should pine away and die, if he should be deprived of his usual meal. You see he is pretty nearly an Indian himself. His hair is black as a savage's, and if he goes a few months longer without washing, he will have the war-paint all over his face. That one standing beside him, with a nose like a hickory knot and with feet like flat-boats, calls himself 'half horse, half alligator, tipped with a wild-cat and touched with a painter.' The rest are about the same, so that I have a good mind to march right into the Indian country on a campaign against the whole set that have been in this business—the whole set that have been in this business."

The pleasant humor with which this sarcasm was uttered, made every man laugh and respect their commander the more. They saw that while he rather disliked the extravagant boasting in which several of them had indulged, he still had great confidence in their skill and courage, as was shown by his selection of them for this perilous enterprise.

"They are the right stuff," added the Captain. "They ain't used to the drill, but they will soon understand that. I had some trouble to keep them in line in the woods, as they couldn't exactly see the use, but they were doing first rate, when we came upon you—doing first rate. But, I declare, I haven't spoken to Oonomoo, there, I dare say he is at the bottom of this rescue. He generally is—generally is."

Stepping forward in front of the Huron, who with his son had stood silent and gloomy, he said, as he grasped his hand:

"Oonomoo, receive the thanks of a delighted father for your kindness to his daughter. Your repeated services have won you the gratitude of hundreds——"

"Cap'n," said the Huron, speaking quickly and earnestly, "the Shawnees have found de lodge ob Oonomoo—his wife runnin' trough de woods—de Shawnees chasin' her—Oonomoo must go."

"God bless me! God bless me!" exclaimed Captain Prescott; "and here the noble-hearted fellow has been waiting a half-hour without saying a word, while my infernal tongue has been going all the time; that tongue will be the death of me yet. Your wife is in danger, eh? The —— Shawnees at their deviltry again here. See here, men," said he, turning around, "Oonomoo's wife is in danger, and are we going to help her out or not, eh? I want to know that. Are we going to stand by and let him do it alone, when for twenty years he has worked night and day for us?"

"NO!" responded every voice, in thunder tones.

"I say, Captain, if I ain't counted in this muss, I'll never smile agin. Freeze me to death on a stump, if I won't walk into their meat-houses in style, then my name ain't Tom Lannoch."

"Jes' place me whar tha'll be some heads to crack, with gougin' and punchin' thrown in, and then count me in."

"And hyer's Dick Smaddock, what—"

"Order!" roared the Captain; "I'll arrange matters without any gabbing from you. We are losing time. As we are pretty near the settlement, and as there can be no danger between us and that, we will let the Lieutenant take my daughter home, while we go with Oonomoo to shoot Shawnees."

"I must protest against that," said Lieutenant Canfield. "If I thought there could possibly be any danger to Miss Mary, I would not think of deserting her; but surely there cannot be. I, therefore, propose that Cato act as her guide, while all of us go to assist Oonomoo. I could never forgive myself if I failed to requite the faithful Huron, in such a small degree, when the opportunity is given."

The suggestion of the young soldier received the enthusiastic support of all; but, Captain Prescott, who could not bear the thought that his daughter should be placed in the least peril, selected one of his men, a bronzed border-ranger, who, accompanied by Cato, started at once for the settlement with her, which (we may as well remark here) was safely reached by them a few hours later.

"The matter is all arranged then," said Captain Prescott, when he had selected the man who was to take charge of his daughter. "We are now ready to follow you, Oonomoo."

"Come quick, den—Oonomoo can't wait—leave his trail—all see it."

As the Huron spoke, his son bounded off in the woods and dashed away like an arrow, while he followed him with such astonishing speed, that he almost instantly disappeared from sight.

"God bless me! that's an original way of guiding us!" exclaimed the Captain, taken aback by the unexpected disappearance of the Indian.

"The danger that threatens his wife is so imminent that he dare not wait for our tardy movements," said Lieutenant Canfield. "He will leave a trail that your men can follow without the least difficulty, and, I trust, we may come up in time to prevent anything serious occurring to him and her. His son joined him last night and brought the news of his misfortune to him, but the noble fellow, although his heart must have nearly burst within him, would not leave us until he was assured of your daughter's safety."

"Noble chap! noble chap! he must be paid for such devotion. Come, my boys, let us lose no time. As you all understand the woods better than I do, I must select one of you to walk beside me and keep the trail in sight, while the rest of you must remember and not fall out of line. If a tree should stand in the way, just step around it, but don't lose the step. There's nothing like discipline—nothing like discipline."

The guide was selected, who took his station beside Captain Prescott, and the word was given and away they started in the wake of the flying Huron.