Open main menu

Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter VI


Chapter VI

Adventures on the Way

The paths which wound 'mid gorgeous trees,
    The streams whose bright lips kissed the flowers,
The winds that swelled their harmonies,
    Through these sun-hiding bowers,
The temple vast, the green arcade,
The nestling vale, the grassy glade,
    Dark cave and swampy lair;
These scenes and sounds majestic, made
    His world, his pleasures, there.—A. B. Street.

"You have saved our lives," exclaimed Lieutenant Canfield, as the dusky form of the Huron appeared beside him.

"Ain't hurt, eh? den we go," said he, not noticing the remark.

"No, neither of us is hurt."

"I beliebes a bullet struck me aside de head," said Cato, removing his cap, and scratching his black poll.

"A bullet struck you?" repeated the Lieutenant, in astonishment. "Where did it hit you?"

"When dat gun went off, sunkin' struck me slap right above my ear, and I t'ought I felt it flatten dar."

"Fudge! you are not hurt. But I say, Oonomoo," resumed the soldier, with a more determined air, "you have saved me, and I want to grasp your hand for it."

The Huron extended his hand, but it hung limp in that of the ardent young man. It was easy to see that the iterated thanks were distasteful to him. He said nothing until the jubilant Cato also made a spring at it as soon as it was released.

"Nebber mind—nottin'—Oonomoo do nottin'."

"Hebens, golly! yes, you did. If you hadn't come jes' as you did, I'd had to fout de Injines all alone, single-handed, widout any feller to help me, and, like as not, would've got hurt."

"Can't hurt Cato's head—hard," said the Huron, dropping his hand upon the superabundant wool of the negro, and allowing it to bound up as if an elastic cushion were beneath it. "Make nice scalp—Shawnee like it," added the Indian, still toying with it.

"De Lord bless me! I hopes he nebber will get it, and he nebber will if I can hender dem."

It was now quite dark, and, to the surprise of the Lieutenant, a round, full, bright moon appeared above the forest. The preceding night had been without a moon to light up the cloudy heavens; but there was scarcely a cloud visible now in the sky. Here and there a small fleck floated overhead, like a handful of snow cast there by some giant, while not a breath of wind disturbed the tree-tops. All was silent and gloomy as the tomb.

"When are we to go to the Shawnee village?" asked the Lieutenant.

"Now!" replied the Huron.

"Then why do you linger?"

"Cato go with us?"

"That is just as you say, Oonomoo. If you think it imprudent to take him along, he must remain behind."

"You ain't agoin' to leab me here, be you?"

"Know de way to settlement?" asked the Huron.

"No, no; I (recollecting what he had told the Lieutenant) did know de way once, but, I's afraid I've forgot it. My mem'ry is gittin' poor."

"You find de way—must go—can't stay wid us."

"Oh, gorry! don't leab me among de Injines; dey will eat me up alive!" replied the negro, bellowing like a bull.

Canfield saw the glitter of the Huron's eyes, and taking Cato by the arm, said:

"Let us hear no more of this, Cato, or you will arouse the anger of Oonomoo, and there is no telling what he may do."

"But, I's afraid to go t'rough de dark woods, dat am full of de Shawnees," said the negro, in pitiful accents.

"It will be no more dangerous than to go with us. We shall probably find ourselves right among them before long; while, if you are cautious, there is little probability of your encountering them. Go, Cato, and tell Mrs. Prescott and Helen what has happened, but do not exaggerate it. Tell them, for me, that they can hope for the best, and that they shall soon hear from Oonomoo and myself."

The words of the Lieutenant had the desired effect upon the negro. When he saw that he had but a choice between two dangers, he prudently took that which seemed to be the least, replying that, "all t'ings 'sidered, 'twould be 'bout as well to tote off to de settlement, and guv de news to de folks dar." He added that he was not influenced by "pussonal fear, but was simply actin' on de advice ob de Leftenant."

Accordingly, Cato took his departure. Our two friends watched him as he shuffled across the clearing, and finally disappeared in the shadowy wood beyond.

Then the Huron turned to the duty before him. Taking a northerly direction, he proceeded at such a rapid walk that the young soldier was compelled every now and then to run a few steps to maintain his place beside him. He kept up his pace for a half-hour or so, when he suddenly halted.

"Fast walk—make breathe fast," said he, his black eye sparkling.

"It is rather rapid walking, Oonomoo, but I can stand it. Don't stop on my account."

"Plenty time—git dar mornin'—soon enough."

"How far are we from the Shawnee village?"

"Two—eight—dozen miles—go in canoe part way."

"When will we rescue her from the dogs—the Shawnees?" asked the young Lieutenant, scarcely able to restrain his curiosity.

"Dunno—may be can't get her 't all."

"Won't get her?" he repeated, his heart throbbing painfully. "My God, Oonomoo, why do you say that?"

"'Cause true—hain't got her yit—may be won't—Shawnee watch close—t'ink Oonomoo 'bout."

"But you expect to rescue her, do you not?"

"Yeh, 'spect to—do all can—ain't sartin—mustn't t'ink I am—be ready for her dead."

"I will try to be prepared for the worst, Oonomoo, but I place great hopes on you."

"Place hopes on Him—He do it, may be."

Never, to his dying day, did Lieutenant Canfield forget the rebuke of that Huron Indian. As he uttered these words he pointed upward—a flood of moonlight, streaming down through the trees upon his upturned face, rested like a halo of glory upon his bronzed brow. Years afterward, when Oonomoo had been gathered to his fathers, and Lieutenant Canfield was an old man, he asserted that he could hear those words as distinctly, and see that reverential expression as plainly as upon that memorable night.

"You are right, Oonomoo." said the Lieutenant, "and I feel the reproof you have given me. The merciful God is the only one upon whom we can rely, and under Him it is upon your sagacity and skill that I depend."

"Dat so—we go purty soon."

After resting a half-hour, the two moved forward at a much slower rate than before. As the moon ascended, its light was so clear and unobstructed that in the open spots in the woods he could easily have read a printed page. For a night of reconnoitering and action it possessed all the advantages and disadvantages of a clear day. The Huron almost invariably held his peace when walking, and the young soldier did not attempt to disturb him upon the present occasion. From his remarks, he gathered that it was his wish to reach the neighborhood of the Shawnee village in a few hours, and wait until daylight before attempting to accomplish anything. To carry out his intentions, it was necessary, in the first place, to see Hans Vanderbum, and secure his cooperation. Fully aware of his astonishing sleeping qualities, the Huron knew he might as well try to wake a dead man as to secure an interview with him during the night.

An hour later the bank of the Miami was reached. As they stood on the shore and looked down-stream, its clear surface, glistening brightly in the moonlight, could be seen as plainly as at noonday, until it disappeared from sight in a sweeping bend. From their stand-point it resembled a lake more than a river, the woods, apparently, shutting down in such a manner as to hide it entirely. Not a ripple was heard along the shore, and only once a zephyr hurried over its bosom, crinkling the surface as it passed, and rustling the tops of a few trees along the bank as it went on and was lost in the wood beyond. The great wilderness, on every hand, stretched miles and miles away, until it was lost afar, like a sea of gloom, in the sky. Once a night-bird rushed whirring past, so startlingly close, that the Lieutenant felt a cold chill run over him as its wings fanned his face. It shot off like a bullet directly across the river, and could be distinguished for several minutes, its body resembling a black ball, until it faded out from view. Nothing else disturbed the solemn stillness that held reign. Everything wore the spirit of quietness and repose.

The soldier was the first to speak.

"Isn't this an impressive sight, Oonomoo?"

"Yeh—make think of Great Spirit."

"That is true. You seem to be more than usually solemn in your reflections, my good friend, and I am glad to see it. This calm moonlight night, the clear sky and the deep, silent wood, is enough to make any person thoughtful; but it must have required something more than ordinary to impress you thus."

"Saw Fluellina to-day, Oonomoo's wife."

Lieutenant Canfield was considerably puzzled to understand how this could account for the peculiar frame of the Huron's mind, but he had too much consideration to question him further. It was not until he spoke again, that he gained a clear idea of his meaning.

"Fluellina Christian—got Bible—tell 'bout God—Great Spirit up dere—read out of it—tell Oonomoo 'bout t'ings in it—Oonomoo nebber take anodder scalp."

"A wise determination; such a brave man as you needs no proof of your bravery, and that good Being which your Fluellina has told you about will smile upon your noble conduct."

"Know dat—feel it," added the Huron, eagerly. He stood a moment longer, and then added, "Time dat we go."

"You spoke of going part way in a canoe, but I do not see any for us."

"Down yonder, by dat rock."

The Indian pointed down the river as he spoke, and, following the direction of his finger, Lieutenant Canfield distinguished a large rock projecting some distance from the shore, but could distinguish nothing of the canoe of which he spoke. Knowing, however, that it must be concealed somewhere in the vicinity, he remarked, as they withdrew again into the wood:

"How is it, Oonomoo, that you have your canoe in every part of the country? You must be the owner of quite a fleet."

"Got two—free—twenty—more'n dat—all ober—in Big Miami—Little Miami—all 'long Ohio—Soty (Sciota)—Hocking—Mussygum (Muskingum)—'way out 'long de Wabash—hid all ober—got 'em eberywhere."

"And I suppose you find occasion to use them all?"

"Use 'em all. Out on Wabash last winter—snow deep—two days in de snow—paddlin' on de ribber—hab 'em hid 'long de shore—sometime lose 'em."

"How did you get them in these different places? Carry them there yourself?"

"Made 'em—knowed want use 'em—made 'em and hid 'em."

The young soldier was about to speak, when the Huron motioned for him to maintain his peace. The conversation had been carried on in so low tones that a third party, a rod distant, could not have overheard their words. Before the Indian spoke, he had glanced around to satisfy himself that it was impossible for a human being to be concealed within that area.

Now, however, he was about to change his position, and the strictest silence was necessary.

The two passed down through the woods, and were just emerging again upon the bank, when the Huron, who was in front, suddenly started back, so quickly and lightly that the Lieutenant did not understand his movement till he saw their relative change of position.

"What is the matter?" he asked, in a whisper.

"'Sh! Shawnees dere."

"Where? on the rock?"

The Huron pointed across the river.

"Dere! on dat shore—may be come over."

The soldier, was much puzzled to know how his companion had made such a sudden discovery, when they were so far away. As there could be no danger of their words being overheard, he made the inquiry.

"See'd water splash," replied Oonomoo. "Got canoe."

"Not yours?"

"No—deir own—come ober here, putty soon."

His words were true. He had hardly spoken, when a noise, as of the dipping of a paddle, was heard, and the next moment a canoe shot out from the bank and headed directly toward them. This being the case, it was impossible to determine the number of savages in it, although there must have been several.

"Would it not be best to move to prevent discovery?" asked the Lieutenant, as he watched the approaching Shawnees with considerable anxiety.

"Won't land here—go 'low us."

A moment later the head of the canoe turned down-stream. It was then seen to be of considerable size. Five savages were seated within it. Oonomoo bent his head, took one earnest glance at them, and then said:

"Ain't Shawnees—Miamis."

"Friends or foes?"

"Jes' as bad—take scalp—kill white people—take your scalp—see you."

Lieutenant Canfield by no means felt at ease at the indifference with which his friend uttered these words. It certainly was no pleasant prospect—that of having these bloodthirsty Miamis for such near neighbors, and he expressed as much to Oonomoo.

"Won't come here—keep quiet—won't git hurt," replied the imperturbable Huron.

Considerably relieved at this assurance, he said no more, but watched the canoe. To his astonishment and dismay it again changed its course, and headed directly toward the rock in front of them. He looked at his companion, but his face was as immovable as a statue's and, determined not to show any childish fear, he maintained his place and said no more.

Reaching the outer end of the rock, the Miamis halted for a moment or two, when they turned down the river again, and landed about a hundred yards below where our two friends were standing. The latter waited for full half an hour, when, seeing and hearing nothing more of them, the Huron resolved to obtain his canoe, and continue their journey down the river.

"But where is it?" asked the soldier, when he announced his intention.

"Fastened out end of rock."

"May be the Miamis discovered it and have destroyed it."

"Dunno—meb' so—didn't take him 'way, dough."

"Is the water very deep?"

"Two—t'ree—twenty feet—swim dere."

As it seemed impossible to run even the most ordinary risk, the Lieutenant felt no apprehension at all when he saw him walk down to the water without his rifle, and wade out and commence swimming. The moon, as we have said, was unusually bright, and not only the dark, ball-like head of the Huron could be seen, floating on the surface, but, when his face was turned in the right direction, his black eyes and aquiline nose and high cheek-bones were plainly distinguishable, while his long, black hair, simply closed in one clasp (years before it was always gathered in the defiant scalp-lock), floated like a veil behind him. The soldier watched him until he disappeared around the corner of the rock, and then patiently awaited his return.

The Huron was a most consummate swimmer, and moved, while in the water, as silently as a fish. More from habit than anything else, as he found himself in the eddy made by the twisting of the river around the upper edge of the stone, he "backed water," and, for a moment, remained perfectly motionless. The moon was in such a quarter of the sky that a long line of shadow was thrown out from the rock, far enough to envelop both Oonomoo and his canoe, lying several yards below him. As he caught sight of the latter, he saw a Miami Indian seated in it, apparently waiting and watching for some one. As quick as lightning the meaning of the singular action of the other canoe flashed upon his mind. By some means which he could only conjecture, the Miamis had gained a knowledge of his movements. Perhaps the discovery of his boat was what first awakened their suspicions. At any rate, they had learned enough to satisfy themselves that a rich prize was within their grasp. Leaving one of their number in the strange canoe, they had passed on down-stream, concealing the absence of their comrade with such skill, that the watchful eye of the Huron failed to detect it. Beyond a doubt they were lingering in the vicinity, ready to come to his assistance at the first signal.

The instructions of the warrior who remained behind were to shoot the savage at the moment of his appearance, and, in case he had a companion, to put out in the stream at once and call to his friends, who would immediately come to him. A brief glance at the situation of the Miami will show that his task was one of no ordinary peril, especially if the returning Indian should have any apprehension of danger. If he chose, the latter could swim out to the rock, and walk over its surface to its outer edge, when he would be directly above the Miami, and could brain him with his tomahawk in an instant. As the physical exertion thus incurred would be greater than the simple act of swimming out to the canoe, it was not likely such a thing would take place, unless, as we have said, the suspicions of the approaching savage be aroused. The probability was that the latter would take precisely the same course that we have seen the Huron take, that is, if he believed the coast clear; but as there was no certainty of this, the Miami was compelled to keep watch both up-stream and down-stream, and it was thus it happened that his back was turned to Oonomoo at the very moment he came around the edge of the rock.

The different methods by which the Miami could be disposed of occurred to the Huron with electric quickness. To the first—that of passing over the rock and tomahawking him, there was one objection so important as to make it a fatal one. In the bright moonlight, he would offer too fine a target to the other Miamis concealed along the bank. Without the responsibility of his white friend's safety, Oonomoo felt it would be hardly short of suicide, for it would be affording his deadliest enemies the opportunity of capturing or killing him as they preferred. He had but the choice of two plans: that of pressing forward and engaging the Miami, or of instantly returning to the shore, and proceeding to the Shawnee village by land. He chose the former.

Every thing depended now upon the quickness of the Huron's movements. The Miami being compelled to watch both directions, it was certain he would turn his head in a moment, when, if Oonomoo was still in the water, his fate would be pretty certain. Accordingly he shot rapidly forward, and was so close when he halted, that, do his utmost, he could not prevent his head from striking the prow of the canoe. Slight as was the shock, it did not escape the notice of the Miami, who instantly turned his head, and approaching the prow, leaned over and looked in the water.

The Huron had been expecting this movement, and to guard against its consequences, sunk quietly beneath the surface, and allowed the current to carry him just the length of the canoe, when he again rose, with his head beneath its stern. Resting here a moment, with his nose and eyes just in sight, he commenced drifting down-stream, inch by inch, until he caught a glimpse of the Miami's head over the edge of the canoe when he returned to his former position under the stern and gathered his energies for the struggle.

Sustaining himself by his feet alone, he reached his hands upward, grasped the canoe in such a manner that it was firmly held on each side. Holding it thus only long enough to make his hold sure, he pressed the stern quickly downward, and then by a sudden wrench threw the Miami upon his back in the water. Letting go his hold, the Huron made a dash at him, and closing in the deadly embrace, the two went down—down—down—till their feet struck the soft bottom, when they shot up again like two corks.

Imminent as was the peril of Oonomoo, his greatest fear was that their struggles would carry them below the rock, where the moonlight would discover them to the Miamis on the bank. With a skill as wonderful as it was rare even among his own people, he regulated his movements while submerged, in such a manner that they operated to carry both combatants up-stream, had there been no current, so that when they came to the surface, it was very nearly in the same spot that they had gone down.

But Oonomoo and the Miami had whipped out their knives, and they raised them aloft at the same instant. But neither descended. They were still in the air, when the one spoke the simple word. "Heigon!" and the other simultaneously with him uttered the name of "Oonomoo," and the hands of both dropped beside them. Without speaking, the Miami grasped the edge of the rock and clambered to the surface, and beckoned for the Huron to follow; but the latter held back, and whispered, in the tongue of his companion:

"Miamis on shore wait to make Oonomoo a prisoner."

"Oonomoo is the friend of Heigon, and the Miamis will not injure him."

The Huron hesitated no longer, but the next moment stood beside the Miami on the broad mass of stone. Heigon gave a short peculiar whoop, which was instantly followed by the appearance of the other canoe with its four inmates, who impelled it forward with great rapidity, and in almost a twinkling were also upon the rock. Each held a glittering knife in hand, and they gazed upon their victim with exulting eyes, who stood firm, unmoved, and returned their glances with as proud and defiant an air as a king would have looked upon the vassals beneath him. They were about to proceed to violence, when Heigon simply said: "He is my friend." Instantly every knife was sheathed, and the gloating expression of the Miamis changed to one of interest and pleasure. They gathered more closely around the Huron, and looked to their companion for some further explanation.

"When the snow was upon the ground," said he, "Heigon was hunting, and he became weak and feeble, like an old man, or the child that cannot walk.,ref>Meaning he became sick from some cause or other</ref> The snow came down till it covered the rocks like this, and Heigon grew weaker and feebler until he could walk no further, and lay down in the snow to die. When he was covered over, and the Great Spirit was about to take him to himself, another Indian came that way. He was Heigon's enemy, but he lifted him to his feet and brushed the snow from his face and limbs and poured his fire-water down his throat. He dug the snow away until he came to the dry leaves, and then he kindled a fire to warm Heigon by. He stayed by him all night, and in the morning Heigon was strong and a man again. When he went away, he asked the Indian his name. It was Oonomoo, the Huron. He stands by us, and is now in our power."

The eyes of the Miamis fairly sparkled as they listened to this narration of their comrade, and they looked upon the far-famed Huron with feelings only of friendship and admiration. He had been considered for years as one of the deadliest enemies of the Miamis, and his capture or death by them would have been an exploit that would have descended through tradition to the last remnant of their people. Fully sensible of this, this same Huron had come upon one of their most distinguished warriors when he was as helpless as an infant, and could have been scalped by a mere child. But the magnanimous savage had acted the part of a good Samaritan, feeding and warming him and sending him on his way in the morning, refreshed and strengthened. Such a deed as this could never be forgotten, either by the recipient or those of his tribe to whom it became known.

During the narrative the Huron stood with arms folded, and as insensible to the praises of Heigon as if he had not uttered a syllable since the advent of his companions. He who appeared to be the leading warrior now asked:

"Whither does my brother Huron wish to go?"

"To the Shawnee village on the shore of the Miami."

"We journey thither, and will take our brother with us."

"Oonomoo goes as the enemy of the Shawnees. He goes to save a pale-faced maiden who has fallen into their hands. My Miami brothers go as the friends of the Shawnees."

"They go as the friends of Oonomoo, who saved one of their warriors, and they will carry him in their canoe."

"The feet of Oonomoo are like the deer's, and his eyes are as the eagle's. He can see his path at night in the wood, and can journey from the rising until the setting sun without becoming weary."

"We know our brother is brave and fleet of foot. His Miami friends will carry him far upon his journey, and when he wishes to go through the woods, they will leave him upon the shore."

Oonomoo could not decline this kind offer. Simply to show in a small degree their friendship for him, the Miamis insisted upon carrying him in their canoe as far as he wished, landing him upon the bank whenever it was his desire that they should do so. The Miamis being allies of the Shawnees, and on their way to join one of their war-parties, they could not (even on account of their peculiar relations with the Huron) act as their enemies in any way; consequently the Huron did not expect or ask their assistance. But while they were prevented from aiding him in the least, in his attempt to rescue the captive, the claims which he had upon their gratitude were such, that he well knew they would carefully avoid throwing any obstacle in his way, and would act as neutrals throughout the affair, believing, however, that it was not inconsistent with such a profession to carry him even in sight of the Shawnee village itself. Beyond that it would be as if these five Miamis were a thousand miles distant.

All this time, it may well be supposed, that Lieutenant Canfield was no uninterested spectator of the interview between his Huron friend and the Miamis. When they made their appearance upon the rock, he believed that Oonomoo had been captured. He was about to seek his own safety in flight, but he was struck by the apparently good feeling of the conference. Their words being in the Miami tongue, he could not distinguish their meaning, but from their sound, judged them to be friendly in their nature. Still, there could be no certainty, and he was in a torment of doubt, when he was startled by hearing the Huron call his name. At first he determined not to answer, thinking his friend had been compelled to betray him by his captors. A moment's reflection, however, convinced him that such could not be the case.

"Canfiel'! Canfiel'!"

"What do you want, Oonomoo?"

"Go down bank—wait for us—Miami won't hurt."

The young soldier did as he requested, and the next moment saw the two canoes put out from the rock. In the first were the four Miamis, and in the second Oonomoo and Heigon, the latter using the paddle. They touched a point on the shore about a hundred yards down-stream, almost at the same moment that it was reached by the Lieutenant.

"How-de-do, brudder?" asked the foremost, extending his hand. The soldier exchanged similar greetings with the others, when at a signal the five seated themselves upon the ground, and he followed suit. A pipe, the "calumet of peace," was produced and passed from mouth to mouth, each one smoking slowly and solemnly a few whiffs.

This tedious ceremony occupied fully a half-hour, during which it was nearly impossible for the young Lieutenant to conceal his impatience. It seemed to him nothing but a sheer waste of time, and he wondered how Oonomoo could take it so composedly. At length the last smoker had taken what he evidently believed the proper number of whiffs, and they arose and embarked again in their canoes.

In the boat, which really belonged to the Huron, were seated himself, Lieutenant Canfield, and Heigon, who insisted upon using the paddle himself. For a moment they glided along under the shadow of the wooded bank, and then, coming out on the clear, moonlit surface of the river, they shot downstream like swallows upon the wing.

It was not quite ten miles to the Shawnee town, and, as it was now in the neighborhood of midnight, their destination would be easily reached in time.

All went well for some four or five miles, when an exclamation from the canoe in advance attracted the attention of Oonomoo and the soldier.

"What is it?" inquired the latter.

"Ugh! nudder canoe comin'—Shawnees."

Such proved to be the case. A large war-canoe, containing over a score of painted warriors, was coming up the river, nearly in the center of the stream, while the Miamis were nearer the right bank. When nearly opposite each other, the war-canoe paused while that which contained the four Miamis went over to it, somewhat after the manner that two friendly ships come to anchor in the midst of the ocean, and exchange congratulations and news.

During the interview, Heigon prudently kept at a safe distance, but from the gesticulations and words of the Shawnees it was evident they were making inquiries in regard to the inmates of his boat. The replies proved satisfactory, for a moment later, the canoes separated, and each party proceeded on his way. Little did the Shawnees dream that the very foe for whom they were searching—he whose scalp was worth that of a hundred warriors, whose death they would have nearly given their own life to secure—little did they dream, we say, that this very man was within a few rods of them—so close that he recognized the features of every one of their number!

Several miles further, and Oonomoo spoke to Heigon. They were now in the vicinity of the Shawnee village, and he wished to land. Heigon instantly turned the prow of his canoe toward shore, and the others, understanding the cause, followed. A moment later, Lieutenant Canfield and the Huron stood upon terra firma. They were compelled again to shake hands all around with their curiously-made friends, when they separated—the latter to go down the river as brothers to the warlike Shawnees, and the former to go to the same destination as their deadly enemies! [1] Meaning he became sick from some cause or other.