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Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter VII


Chapter VII

The Plan for the Rescue

Oft did he stoop a listening ear,
    Sweep round an anxious eye,
No bark or ax-blow could he hear,
    No human trace descry.
His sinuous path, by blazes, wound
Among trunks grouped in myriads round;
    Through naked boughs, between
Whose tangled architecture fraught
With many a shape grotesquely wrought,
    The hemlock's spire was seen.—A. B. Street.


By this time, daylight was at hand. A thin mist, rising from the river, was passing off through the woods; for the half-hour preceding the appearance of the sun, the darkness was more palpable than it had been at any time through the night. The air, too, had a disagreeable chilliness in it, which, however little it affected the Huron, made the soldier, for the time being, exceedingly uncomfortable and impatient for the full light of day.

The Shawnee village was about a mile distant, on the same bank of the stream with that upon which our friends found themselves. As there was not the least probability of Hans Vanderbum being astir for several hours yet, they proceeded at a moderate walk through the wood. One of the peculiar effects of this chilly morning air was to keep Lieutenant Canfield constantly gaping; his movements were so languid and his mind listless even to antipathy for conversation. He maintained his place in silence beside Oonomoo. The Indian was as watchful and keen as ever.

As the young Lieutenant was yawning, and gazing around listlessly, he caught a glimpse of some body, as it threw itself prostrate behind a clump of bushes. He looked at the Huron and was startled to observe upon his countenance no indication of having noticed this singular occurrence.

"Oonomoo," he whispered, placing his hand upon his arm, "there's a person behind the bush, and we are in danger. I saw him this very minute."

"Me see'd 'em," said the Indian, walking straight toward the spot where he was concealed.

This was too much for the young man. When he reflected that, in all probability a rifle-barrel was leveled through those bushes, ready to do its deadly work, he was not ashamed to halt and allow the Huron to proceed alone. But, no fear seemed to enter the head of the Indian. He strode straight forward, as if he had discovered something which he was about to pick, and, reaching the bushes, he parted and stepped among them. The astonished soldier saw him stoop and lift some dark object, and then throw it down upon the ground again.

Lieutenant Canfield now came forward. Great was his amazement to recognize, in this dark object, the negro, Cato! He lay upon his face, as lax and motionless as a piece of inanimate matter.

"What is the matter with him?" asked the soldier. "Is he dead?"

"Scart near to def'—make b'lieve dead."

Such undoubtedly was the case. The negro, frightened at the appearance of two strangers, the foremost of whom he recognized as an Indian, had prostrated himself behind the bushes and feigned death in the hope that they would pass him by unnoticed. The Lieutenant, now that they were so close to the Shawnees, where so much caution and skill were required, felt provoked to see the negro, and had little patience with his fooleries.

"Get up, Cato," said he, rolling him over with his foot. "You are not hurt, and we don't want to see any of your nonsense."

One of the negro's eyes partially opened, and then he commenced yawning, stretching and shoving his feet over the leaves, as though he was just awaking.

"Hebens, golly! but dis nigger is sleepy," said he. "Hello! dat you, Oonomoo? And bress my soul, if dar ain't Massa Canfield," he added, rising to his feet.

"How came you here?" asked Canfield.

"Come here my pussonal self—walked and runn'd most ob de way."

"But, we sent you to the settlement. Why did you not go?"

"Bress your soul, Massa Canfield, I'll bet dar's ten fousand million Injines in de wood, atween us and de settlement. I tried to butt my way trough dem, but dar was a few too many, and I had to gub it up."

"How came you to wander so far out of your way as to get here?"

"Dunno; t'ought I'd take a near cut home, and s'pose I got here widout knowing anyt'ing about it.".

"Well, Oonomoo, what's to be done with him?"

"Take him 'long—kill him if don't do what want to."

"You understand, Cato? We don't want you with us, but, there seems no help for it now; so we shall have to take you. You must follow in our steps, and in no case make any outcry."

The negro promised obedience, and, taking his position behind, they continued their journey, the Huron leading the way. He proceeded some distance until he reached a dense portion of the wood, when he halted and turned around.

"Plenty time—sleep some."

These were pleasant words to the Lieutenant, who, in spite of his impatience, felt the need of sleep and rest before proceeding further. All stretched themselves upon the ground, where, in a few minutes, they were wrapped in slumber. The negro, Cato, lay some distance from the other two, and was the first to awake. Carefully raising his head and discovering that the dreaded Huron was still unconscious, he silently arose to his feet, and, retreating some distance with great care and caution, he suddenly turned and ran at the top of his speed. His motive for so doing will soon appear.

*****

While our two friends are thus preparing themselves for the perilous duty before them, we will return to our old acquaintance, Hans Vanderbum, and his fair charge, in whom the reader, doubtless, feels a lively interest.

It will be remembered that Miss Prescott was consigned to the care of the amiable Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, wife of Hans Vanderbum. The reasons for this were several. In the first place, the Shawnees were actuated in a small degree by their desire to lessen the sufferings of their captive. This squaw had learned enough of the English language from her husband to hold almost an intelligible conversation in it; and; as quite an acquaintance had already been established between him and the maiden, she would certainly feel more at home in their company than among the others, who could not speak a word of her tongue. What might be done with Miss Prescott in case she remained among the Shawnees for several years, of course it would be impossible to say; but it was certain they meditated no violence for the present, only wishing to hold her simply as a prisoner. Was there danger of her escape they would not have hesitated to kill her, it being considered one of the greatest reproaches that can be cast in a Shawnee face to accuse him of having lost a prisoner.

Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock was too thoroughly loyal for her to be suspected of any disposition to aid the prisoner in escape; and whatever might be the wishes of Hans Vanderbum, he was too stupid and lazy to be taken into account.

Miss Prescott, accordingly, was installed in their lodge, where the first day was passed without anything of note occurring, save the discovery, on her part, of the total hopelessness of escape, without the assistance of friends. There was but one entrance to the lodge, of barely sufficient width to afford the passage of Hans Vanderbum's body, and the sides of the wigwam were too strong and firm for her to think either of piercing or breaking them. Added to this, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock at night laid herself directly before this entrance, compelling Hans Vanderbum to lie down beside her, so that their united width was some four or five feet—rather too long a step to be taken by the girl without danger of awaking her jailers. When we add that Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock's slumbers were so light that the least noise awakened her, and that Miss Prescott never lay down to sleep without having her ankles bound together, no more need be said to convince the reader that the ingenuity of her captors could not have made her situation more secure. Nevertheless, Hans Vanderbum managed to convey enough to her to keep hope alive in her breast, and to convince her that it would not be long before some enterprise for her freedom would be attempted by her friends.

On the second morning of her captivity, Hans Vanderbum awoke at an unusually early hour, and the first thought that entered his mind was that he had an appointment with Oonomoo, the Huron; for it is a fact, to which all will bear witness, that, by fixing our thoughts upon any particular time in the night, with a determined intensity, we are sure to awaken at that moment. Thus it was that he arose before his spouse; but his step awakened her.

"What's the matter, Hans? Are you sick?" she asked, with considerable solicitude.

"No, my dear, good Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, I feels so goot as, ever, but I t'inks te mornin' air does me goot, so I goes out to got a little."

No objection being interposed, he sauntered carelessly forth, taking a direction that would lead him to the spot where he had held the interview with the Huron upon the previous day. He walked slowly, for it lacked considerable of the hour which had been fixed upon for the meeting, and, knowing the mathematical exactitude with which his friend kept his appointments, he had no desire to reach the spot in advance.

"I doeshn't wish to hurry, so I t'inks I will rest myself here, and den when—"

Hans was prevented any further utterance, by some heavy body striking his shoulders with such force that he was thrown forward upon his face, and his hat smashed over his eyes.

"Mine Gott! vot made tat tree fall on me?" he exclaimed, endeavoring to crawl from beneath what he supposed to be the trunk of an immense oak which he had noticed towering above him. This belief was further strengthened by a glimpse which he caught of a heavy branch upon the ground.

"Hebens, golly! dat you, ole swill-barrel?" greeted his ears; and he picked his hat and himself up at the same time, to see the negro, Cato, lying on the ground, with his heels high up in the air.

"Dunder and blixen! who are you?" inquired Hans, more astonished than ever. "Did you drop down out te clouds?"

"Yah! yah! yah! what makes you fink so, old hogsit, eh? No, sir-ee! I's Mr. Cato, a nigger gentleman of Mr. Capting Prescott."

The large eyes of the Dutchman grew larger as he proceeded. "Vot makes you falls on mine head, eh?"

"I's up in de tree a-takin' ob obserwashuns, when jis' as you got down hyar, de limb broke, and down I comes. Much obleege fur yer bein' so kind fur to stand under and breaks my fall."

"And breaks mine own neck, too, eh?"

"Who might be you wid your big bread-basket?" inquired Cato, still lying upon his back and kicking up his heels.

"Me? I's Hans Vanderbum, dat pelongs to Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock."

Cato grew sober in an instant. He had heard Lieutenant Canfield mention this man's name in conversation with the Huron, and suspected at once that he was to perform a part in the day's work.

"You're Hans Vanderbum, eh? I've heerd Massa Canfield and Mister Oonymoo speak of you."

"Yaw, I'm him. Where am dey?"

"Ain't fur off. I lef 'em sleepin'; and come out for to see whedder dar war any Injines crawlin' round in de woods, and I didn't see none but you, and you ain't an Injine."

The appointed hour for the meeting between Hans Vanderbum and Oonomoo having arrived, the Dutchman added:

"He ish to meet me 'bout dis time or leetles sooner, and, so we both goes togedder mit each oder, so dat we won't bees alone."

"All right; go ahead, Mr. Hansderbumvan; I'm behind you," said Cato, taking his favorite position in the rear.

Several hundred yards further and Hans recognized the wished-for spot. He had hardly reached it, when a light step was heard, and the next moment Lieutenant Canfield and the Huron stood in his presence.

"Brudder comes in good time," said the latter, extending his hand.

"Yaw; Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock showed me de way to do dat," replied Hans, shaking hands with the young Lieutenant also. The latter expressed some surprise at seeing Cato present, saying that he had congratulated himself upon being well rid of him. The negro explained his departure upon the grounds of his extreme solicitude for the safety of his friends. The conversation between Hans and the Huron was now carried on in the Shawnee tongue.

"How does matters progress with my brother?"

"Very good; the gal is in my wigwam."

"What does she there?"

"Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock has charge of her."

"That is good."

"I don't know about that, Oonomoo; I think it couldn't be much worse; for Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock has got a bad temper, if she is the same shape all the way down."

"It is good, my brother. We will have the captive when the sun comes up again in the sky."

"How are you going to get her?"

"Give Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock this drug," said the Huron, handing him a dark, waxy substance.

"Dunder! ish it pizen?" asked Hans, in English. "Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock will kill me deat if I pizen her."

"It will not kill her; it will only put her in a sleep from which she will awake after a few hours."

"Quanonshet and Madokawandock will have to take it too, for they don't sleep any more than she does."

"There is enough for all. To-day mix this with that which the squaw and Quanonshet and Madokawandock shall eat, and when it grows dark they will sleep and not awaken till the morrow's sun."

"And what of the gal?"

"When the moon rises above that tree-top yonder, cut the bonds that bind her, and lead her through the woods to this place. Here Oonomoo will take her and conduct her to her friends in the settlement."

From this point the Indian dialect was dropped for intelligible English.

"And vot will become of me?" asked Hans Vanderbum, in considerable alarm. "When Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock wakes up and finds te gal gone, she will t'inks I done it, and den—den—den—" The awful expression of his countenance spoke more eloquently than any words, of the consequences of such a discovery and suspicion upon the part of his spouse.

"Take some self when git back—go to sleep—squaw wake up first."

Hans' eyes sparkled as he took in the beauty of the scheme prepared by the Huron. The arrangement was now explained to Lieutenant Canfield, who could but admire the sagacity and foresight of his Indian friend, that seemed to understand and provide against every emergency. It was further explained to Hans that he was to manage to give the drug to his wife and children several hours before sunset, as its effects would not be perceptible for fully four hours, and that he was to take a small quantity himself about dusk, to avert the consequences of his philanthrophy. Lieutenant Canfield admonished him to be cautious in his movements, and to take especial pains with his charge after leaving his lodge, in order to avoid discovery from the sleepless Shawnees. The situation of Hans' wigwam was fortunate indeed, as he ran little risk of discovery if he used ordinary discretion after leaving it.

Everything being arranged, Hans Vanderbum took his departure, and Oonomoo, the soldier and negro commenced the long, weary hours of waiting.