Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter V


Chapter V

The Home of the Huron

'Tis nature's worship—felt—confessed,
Far as the life which warms the breast!
The sturdy savage midst his clan,
The rudest portraiture of man,
In trackless woods and boundless plains,
Where everlasting wildness reigns,
Owns the still throb—the secret start—
The hidden impulse of the heart.—Byron.

The Huron, after his escape from the Shawnees, quickened his pace, as we have stated, and went many a mile before he changed his long, sidling trot into the less rapid walk. When he did this, it was upon the shore of a large creek, which ran through one of the wildest and most desolate regions of Ohio. In some portions the banks were nothing more than a continuous swamp, the creek spreading out like a lake among the reeds and undergrowth, through which glided the enormous water-snake, frightened at the apparition of a man in this lonely spot. The bright fish darted hither and thither, their sides flashing up in the sunlight like burnished silver.

The agile Indian sprung lightly from one turf of earth to another, now balancing himself on a rotten stump or root, now walking the length of some fallen tree, so decayed and water-eaten that it mashed to a pulp beneath his feet, and then leaping to some other precarious foothold, progressing rapidly all the time and with such skill that he hardly wetted his moccasin.

While treading a log thus, which gave back a hollow sound, the head of an immense rattlesnake protruded from a hole in the tree, its tail giving the deadly alarm, as it continued issuing forth, as if determined to dispute the passage of man in this desolate place. The fearless Huron scarcely halted. While picking his way through the swamp he had carried his rifle lightly balanced in his left hand, and he now simply changed it to his right, grasping it by the muzzle, so that the stock was before him. He saw the cavernous mouth of the snake opened to an amazing width; the thin tongue, that resembled a tiny stream of blood; the small, glittering eyes; the horn-like fangs, at the roots of which he well knew were the sacks filled almost to bursting with the most deadly of all poisons; the thin neck, swelling out until the scaly belly of the loathsome reptile was visible.

The Huron continued steadily approaching the revolting thing. He was scarcely a yard distant when the neck of the snake arched like a swan's, and the head was drawn far back to strike. In an instant the stock of his rifle swept over the top of the log with the quickness of lightning. There followed a sharp, cracking noise, like the explosion of a percussion-cap, and the head of the rattlesnake spun twenty feet or more out over the swamp. It struck the branch of a tree, and, dropping to the water, sunk out of sight. The headless body of the reptile now writhed and doubled over itself, and smote the tree in the most horrible agony. Oonomoo walked quietly forward, and with his feet shoved it from the log. Still twisting and interlocking, it sunk down, down, down into the clear spring-like waters until it could be seen on the gravelly bottom, where its struggles continued as he passed on.

Not affected by this occurrence, the Huron walked on as quietly as before, his dark, restless eye seemingly flitting over every object within his range of vision. The character of the swamp continued much the same. A broad sheet of water, from nearly every portion of which rose numerous trees, like thin, dark columns, here and there twisted round and round, and, seemingly, smothered by some luxuriant vine; others prostrate, the roots sunk out of sight, and the trunk protruding upward, as if a giant had used them for spears and hurled them into the swamp; shallow portions, where the water was but a few inches deep, and then others, where you could gaze down for twenty feet, as if you were looking through liquid air. These were the peculiarities of this singular spot in the wilderness, through which the Huron was journeying.

He must have proceeded fully a half-mile into this water wilderness, when he reached what might properly be termed the edge of the swamp; that is, the one through which he had been making his way, for there was still another a short distance from him. The growth of trees terminated almost in a mathematical line, and a lake of water, something less than a quarter of a mile in width, stretched out before him, perfectly clear of every obstruction. The Indian stood a long time, looking about in every direction. What was unusual, there was an expression of the most intense anxiety upon his countenance. Well might there be; for, sooner than to have a human eye (whether it was that of the white or red man) to witness the movements he was now about to make, he would have suffered death at the stake a thousand times!

Apparently satisfied, he laid his rifle on the tree upon which he had been standing, and then sprung out into the deeper water, sinking like a stone from sight. When he came to the surface, he brought something with him, which proved to be a canoe. With this he swam to the tree, where he righted and turned the water from it. A paddle was secured in it. Taking his seat, the canoe went skimming like a swallow over the water toward the opposite swamp.

Reaching this, he shot in among the trees, avoiding them with as much ease and dexterity as would a bird on the wing. Going a hundred yards in this manner, he arose in his canoe and looked around. A shade of displeasure crossed his face, apparently of disappointment at not discovering some person or object for whom he was looking. Waiting a moment, he placed his thumb on his mouth, and gave utterance to a low, tremulous whistle, an exact imitation of a bird often found in the American swamps. A moment later, there came a response exactly the same, except that it sounded fainter and a considerable distance away. The moment it caught the ear of the Huron, he reseated himself and folded his arms in the attitude of patient waiting.

Scarce five minutes had elapsed, when the plash of another paddle was heard, and a second canoe made its appearance, carefully approaching that of the Huron. In it was seated an Indian boy, not more than twelve years of age, who handled it with a skill scarcely second to that of his father, Oonomoo.

"Niniotan, my son, is late," said the latter, sternly, as the boy came alongside.

"I was chasing a deer this morning, and was carried further in the woods than I thought," meekly replied the boy.

"Has the Moravian missionary given Niniotan two tongues that he should think Oonomoo speaks idle words?"

"Niniotan does not think so," said the son, in a humble voice of thrilling sweetness.

"Oonomoo said when the sun was over yonder tree-top he would be waiting for his boy Niniotan. He waited, but Niniotan was not here."

The son of the Huron warrior bowed his head as if he had nothing to say to the merited rebuke. The father took his seat in the canoe of his son, who carried him rapidly forward through the swamp, for perhaps a quarter of a mile further, when the ground became so solid that they landed and walked upon it. The grass was green and luxuriant, the trees stood close together, and in some places the shrubbery seemed almost impenetrable. But Niniotan never hesitated. The way was perfectly familiar. A rabbit could scarcely have glided through the wood with more dexterity than did he and his father.

Finally the two reached what appeared to be a large mound of earth, covered over with rank grass and brilliant flowers. On one side was a perfect bank of bushes, so that the mound could not be seen until it was closely approached. A Shawnee Indian might have encamped beside it, without once having his suspicion awakened in regard to its nature. This was the retreat and home of Oonomoo, the friendly Huron, where his wife, Fluellina, and son, Niniotan, dwelt, which was regularly visited by him, and where he frequently spent days, enjoying the sweets of home. No living person besides these three knew of its existence. It stood upon this vast island in the midst of this swamp, almost inaccessible to approach, and where no one would have dreamed of looking for the dwelling place of a human being. The surrounding waters were as cold and clear as crystal, and were swarming with the choicest fish. Abundance of game was upon the land, and, what might seem curious, considering the location of the island, its air possessed an extraordinary degree of salubrity.

The mound was but a mere shell, the interior of which was lined with luxurious furs and skins, and furnished with every convenience and comfort that the fancy of a warrior's wife might covet. Within, too, were numerous presents, such as rifles, knives, pistols, beads and picture-books which had been given Oonomoo by his numerous white friends. In addition there was a magnificent gold watch—a gift from a wealthy lady, whose life the Huron had saved several years before. Hearing that he had a young wife, she sent the present to her, and it had hung within their "wigwam" ever since. Its use was understood, and it was regularly wound and attended to with great care.

Fluellina, the wife of Oonomoo, was also a Huron, who had been educated at one of the Moravian missionary stations in the West, and was a professing Christian. She was a mild, dove-eyed creature, a number of years younger than her husband, whom she loved almost to adoration, and for whom she would not have hesitated to lay down her life at any moment. She had had another child—a boy, born two years before Niniotan, but he had died when but six years of age, and was buried in the clear depths of the water which surrounded his home.

Regularly every month, Fluellina, accompanied by her son, visited a Moravian missionary who dwelt with his family on the site of the once flourishing station of Gnadenhutten, where, in 1782, was enacted one of the darkest episodes in American history. It was here the infamous monster, Colonel Williamson, murdered the one hundred Moravian Indians—a crime for which it seems a just God would have smitten him and his followers to the earth. Here this faithful Huron woman and her son received instruction in holy things from the aged missionary—a white man who alone knew the relation which she bore to the famous Huron, Oonomoo, and who never betrayed it to his dying day. By this means, her regular visits were rendered safe and free from the annoyance of being watched—an exemption she never could have had, had any one else suspected the truth.

Fluellina succeeded in inducing her husband to visit this missionary on several occasions, when he proved an attentive listener to the aged disciple of God. He took in every doctrine and subscribed to every truth except one—that of loving his enemies. He believed he never could love the Shawnees—they who had first caused his father to be broken of his chiefdom, and then had murdered his mother. He had sworn eternal hatred against them, and in the interior of his lodge hung such an incredible number of their scalps that we decline to name it—knowing that we should be suspected of trifling with the credulity of our readers. He had never taken the scalp of a white man, and would promise never to harm any being except the Shawnees; but, toward them his feelings must be those of the deadliest enmity.

The sublime truths of the great Book of books, its glorious promises, and its awful mysteries, thrilled the soul of the Huron to its center, and many a time when wandering alone through the great, solemn forests, he felt his spirit expanding within him, until his eyes overflowed, and he, the mighty, scarred warrior, wept like a child. The sweet instruction, too, of the gentle Fluellina had not been lost entirely upon him. It was owing to these that for a year he had not taken the scalp of a Shawnee, though he had been sorely tempted and had slain more than one. He could not yet bring himself to the point of letting them go free altogether.

With this somewhat lengthy parenthesis, we will now return to the present visit of the Huron to his island home.

Oonomoo was about to pass into the interior of the lodge, when a light exclamation caught his ear. As he turned his head, Fluellina came bounding to his arms. However stoical and indifferent the North American Indian may appear in the presence of his companions or of white men, it is a mistake to suppose that he is wanting either in the ordinary affections of humanity, or in those little demonstrations of love so peculiar to our own race. Deep in the woods, when alone with their families, they throw off restraint and are warriors no more—but men. The little child is dandled on the knee, or sported with upon the grass, and the proud mother receives her share of her husband's caresses. Great as may be the glory of the savage in the hunt and chase, his happiness in the bosom of his own family is unsurpassed by any other enjoyment which ever falls to his lot.

Fluellina received the embrace of her husband with a radiant countenance, and she seemed overflowing with joy as she looked up in his own glowing face. Taking her fondly by the hand, he led her a few yards away, where he seated her upon a half-imbedded rock and placed himself beside her. A glance at the two would have shown that there was no considerable difference in their ages. The wife could not have been over thirty at the most, and she looked much younger, while the husband was perhaps thirty-five. His square, massive chest was covered with scars—eloquent evidences of his bravery, for he had never received a wound in the back. His face, usually so stern and dignified, was now softened, and the bright, metallic glitter of eye was changed to the sparkle of gladness.

The handsome, symmetrical arms of Fluellina were bare to the shoulder, and Oonomoo held one in his broad palm, closing and opening upon the plump flesh and delicate muscle, with as much admiration as though he were still her young and ardent lover. They sat thus, gazing into each other's face for several moments without speaking, so full seemed their hearts. Finally Oonomoo seated himself upon the ground at the feet of Fluellina and leaned his head over upon her lap. This was what she wished, and she had maneuvered in that delicate manner peculiar to her sex, by which the desire of the lover is awakened without his suspecting the true cause.

Unfastening the bindings of his hair, she parted it carefully and drew her fingers slowly through and through it until it glistened like satin. She did not speak, for she had no desire to disturb the languor which she knew it cast over her husband. As his head drooped, she sustained it and gradually ceased, until he slept.

Oonomoo awoke in a short time, and reseated himself by the side of his wife.

"Where is Niniotan?" he asked, looking around him.

"He is dressing the meat of the deer which he slew this morning. Shall I call him?"

"No, I am not yet tired of my Fluellina."

The happy wife replied by placing her warm cheek against his, and holding it there a moment.

"Oonomoo has no wounds upon him," said she, raising her head and looking at his breast and shoulders.

"But he has been in danger."

"No scalps hang at his girdle."

"And none shall ever hang there again."

"Not the scalp of the Shawnee?"

"No," replied the Huron, in a voice as deep and solemn as a distant peal of thunder.

Fluellina looked at her husband a moment, with her face lit up by a strange expression. Then, as she read the determination impressed upon his countenance, and knew the sacredness with which he regarded his pledged word, she sunk down on her knees, and clasping her hands, turned her dark, soulful eyes to heaven and uttered the one exclamation:

"Great Spirit, I thank thee!"

The kneeling Indian woman, her face radiant with a holy happiness, the stern warrior, his dark countenance lighted up as he gazed down upon her as if the long obscured sun had once more struggled from behind the clouds—these two silent figures in the green wood of their island home formed a picture touchingly beautiful and sublime.

Who can picture the glory that illuminated the soul of the Huron warrior, the divine bliss that went thrilling through his very being, as he uttered this vow, and felt within him the consciousness that never, never again would he be overcome by the temptation to tear the scalp from the head of his enemy, the vengeful Shawnee.

"When has Fluellina seen the Moravian missionary?" he asked, as she reseated herself beside him.

"But a short time since. He inquired of Oonomoo."

"Oonomoo will visit him soon."

"Can he not go with Fluellina to-day?"

"When the sun is yonder," replied the Huron, pointing to a place which it would reach in about half an hour, "he must go, and when the sun sinks in the west, he must be many miles from here."

"When will he return again?"

"He cannot tell. He goes to befriend the white man and maid who is in the hands of the Shawnees."

"Fluellina will wait and will pray for Oonomoo and for them."

"Oonomoo will pray for himself, and his arm will be strong, for he fights none but warriors."

"And Niniotan will grow up like him; he will be a brave warrior who, I pray, will take no scalp from the head of his foe."

"What think the missionary of Niniotan?"

"He finds that the blood of Oonomoo flows strong in his veins. His eye burns, and his breast pants when he hears of the great deeds his father has performed, and he prays that he may go with him upon the war-path."

"He shall accompany him shortly. He can aim the rifle, and his feet are like those of the deer. He shall be a man whose name shall make the Shawnee warriors tremble in their lodges."

"Shall he be a merciful warrior?" asked Fluellina, looking up in the face of the Huron.

"Like his father, shall he be. He shall slay none but men in rightful combat, and no scalp shall ever adorn his lodge. He must drink in the words of the Moravian missionary."

"He does, but his heart is young. He will be valiant and merciful, but he longs to emulate the deeds of Oonomoo—his father."

"I will teach him to emulate what Oonomoo will do, not what he has done."

"He counts the scalps that hang in our lodge, and wonders why they do not increase. He gazes long and often upon those which you tore years ago from the heads of the two chiefs, and I know he burns to gain a trophy for himself."

"Has Fluellina the choicest food these forests can afford?"

"The eye of Niniotan is sure, and his mother never wants."

"He must not wander from the island, else his young arm may be overpowered by the Shawnees or Miamis. They would know he was the son of Oonomoo, and through the son murder the father and mother."

"Fluellina loves but three—Oonomoo, Niniotan, and," she added, reverentially raising her eyes to heaven, "the Great Spirit who is so kind to her."

"And Oonomoo loves him," added the Huron, in his deep, bass voice. "In the hunting-grounds beyond the sun, he and Fluellina and Niniotan will again live together on some green island in the forest, where the buffalo and deer wander in bands of thousands."

"And where Delaware, Mingo, Chippewa, Miami, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Shawnee, Huron, and the white man shall be brothers, and war against each other no more."

The Huron made no reply, for the words of his wife had awakened a train of reflection to which he had been a stranger. The thought that all the Indians, every tribe that had lived since the foundation of the world—those who were now the most implacable enemies to each other, the French, English and Americans—the thought of these living together in the Spirit Land in perfect brotherhood and good-will, was too startling for him to accept until Fluellina again spoke:

"It is only the good Delaware, Mingo, Chippewa, Miami, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Shawnee, Huron, and white man that shall live there."

It was all plain now to the simple-minded Indian, and he understood and believed. He sat a few moments, as if ruminating upon this new theme, and then said gently to his wife:

"Read out of Good Book to Oonomoo."

Fluellina drew a small Bible from her bosom, one that she always carried with her, and opening at the Revelations, commenced to read in a clear, sweet and distinct voice. The inspired grandeur, sublime truths and glorious descriptions of that most wonderful of all books thrilled her soul to its center with emotions unutterable; and she knew that the same effect, though perhaps in a lesser degree, was produced upon her husband. The particular portion was the twenty-first chapter, whose meaning the Moravian missionary had frequently explained to her, and it was these verses in particular upon which she frequently dwelt with such awed rapture:

"'And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

"'Having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal;

"'And had a wall, great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

"'And the building of the wall of it was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass.

"'And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;

"'The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst.

"'And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl; and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.

"'And I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.

"'And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day; for there shall be no night there.'"

The dim, vague glimpses afforded him from this and other portions of the book of the awful mysteries of the Last Day, the New Jerusalem, and the great white Throne, threw a spell over him which remained long after the words of the reader had ceased. Full ten minutes, he sat, after the volume had been closed; then raising his head, said:

"The sun is getting in the western sky, and Oonomoo must depart."

The wife did not seek to detain her husband. The wife of an Indian warrior never does. She merely walked beside him, while he signaled for his son to approach. He had scarce uttered the call, when Niniotan came bounding from the wood eager to obey the slightest wish of his father. Seeing from his actions that he was about to depart, he lingered behind until his mother had bidden him good-by, and paused; then he leaped ahead, leading the way as before.

The canoe reached, Oonomoo stepped within it, and Niniotan paddled him out among the trees until he came to where his own canoe was moored, into which the Huron stepped. As he was about to dip the paddle, he said: "Let Niniotan wait until Oonomoo returns, and he shall go with him upon the next war-path."

No pen can picture the glowing happiness that lit up the features of the boy at hearing these words. His dark eyes fairly danced, and he seemed unable to control his joy. His whole frame quivered, and he dipped his own paddle into the water, he bent it almost to breaking. Without noticing him further, Oonomoo sent his canoe spinning among the trees, and was soon in the broad sheet of water, crossing which, he reached the spot where he had brought up his boat. Stepping out upon the log, he secured the paddle to it, and then turning it over, filled it with water. It slowly sunk until it could be seen resting upon the bottom, when he sprung from the tree and commenced his departure from the swamp in the same manner that he had entered it.

Once again in the grand old forest, with the mossy carpet beneath his feet, and the magnificent arches over his head, through which the breezes came like the cool breath of the ocean, the Huron struck into his peculiar rapid trot, which was continued until sunset, by which time he reached the clearing. Approaching it in his usual cautious manner, he saw the Shawnees consulting together, and at the first glance understood the peril of his friends. We have related the measures which he took to save them, and shown how successful they were.