Oonomoo the Huron/Chapter VIII
The Exploit of Hans Vanderbum
God forgive me,
(Marry and amen!) how sound is she asleep!
—Romeo and Juliet.
Hans Vanderbum loitered on his way back to the village, to avoid giving the impression to any who might chance to see him that there was anything unusual upon his mind. The precious substance handed to him by the Huron—a sort of gum—he wrapped in a leaf and stowed away in his bosom, guarding it with the most jealous care. Upon it depended his hopes for the success of his cherished scheme.
After several hours' intense thought, he decided upon his programme of action. He would go fishing about the middle of the forenoon, giving his wife to understand that he would be back with what he had caught in time for dinner, so that she would rely upon him for that meal; but, instead of doing so, he would keep out of sight until toward night, by which time he rightly concluded his spouse and children would be so ravenously hungry that they would devour the fish without noticing any peculiar taste about them.
It was also necessary to place Miss Prescott on her guard against eating them, as it would seriously inconvenience him if she should fall into a deadly stupor at the very time when she would most need her senses. All this was not definitively provided for until a long time after his return to his wigwam.
The more fully to carry out his plans, Hans feigned sickness shortly after his return, so that Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, who really had a sort of affection for him, allowed him to remain inside, while she busied herself with the corn-planting. This was the very opportunity for which Hans longed, and he lost no time in improving it.
"I've see'd Oonomoo," said he, by way of introduction.
"Have you, indeed?" and the countenance of Miss Prescott became radiant with hope.
"Yaw; see'd somebody else, too."
The deep crimson that suffused the beautiful captive's face, even to the very temples, showed the stolid Dutchman that it was not necessary for him to mention the other person's name.
"Yaw; see'd him, too."
"And what did he say?"
"Didn't say much, only grin and laughed. De dunderin' nigger liked to kill me."
Miss Prescott was dumbfounded to hear her lover spoken of in this manner.
"Why, what do you mean, my friend? Why do you speak of him in that manner?"
"He jumped down out of a tree on top of mine head, and nearly mashed it down lower dan my shoulders. Den he rolled round, kicked up his heels and laughed at me."
"Of whom are you speaking? Lieutenant Can—"
"A big nigger dat called himself Cato."
"Oh, I thought—" and the embarrassed girl covered her face to hide her confusion and disappointment.
"See'd him too," said Hans, pleasantly.
"Lieutenant Canfield," he whispered.
"Where is he? what did he say? when shall I see him? Oh! do not keep me in suspense."
"De Huron Injin, him and anoder nigger am out in de woods waitin' for de night to come, when I'm goin' for to take you out to dem."
"But Keeway—your wife?"
"Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock? Yaw, she mine frow; been married six—seven years. Nice name dat. Know what Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock means?"
"No, I have never heard," replied Miss Prescott, thinking it best to humor the whims of her friend.
"It means de 'Lily dat am de Same Shape all de Way Down,' which am her. What you ax?"
"But will your Lily allow me to depart?"
"Dat am what I'm going for to tell you. I'm going fishing purty soon, and won't be back till de arternoon. When I come back we'll have fish for supper. De Huron Injin give me something for to put in de fish, dat will put mine frow and de little ones to sleep, so dat dey won't wake up when we go out de wigwam."
"And I suppose you do not wish me to eat of them?"
"No, for you'd get to sleep too, den I shall have to carry you."
"There is no danger of my having much appetite after what you have told me."
"Den you won't forget. Remembers dat—I t'inks I feels better."
Hans Vanderbum caught a glimpse of his amiable wife in the door of his lodge at this moment, which was the cause of the sudden change in his conversation. Suiting his action to his words, he arose and said:
"I t'inks I feels better, Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, and guesses I go fishing."
"I guess you might as well."
"Mine dear frow, shust gits te line and bait, while I lights mine pipe."
His wife complied, and a few minutes later Hans Vanderbum sallied forth fully equipped for duty. He did not forget to tell his partner several times not to prepare dinner until his return, and she also promised this, from some cause or other, she being in a far better humor than usual.
The demon of mischief seemed to possess Quanonshet and Madokawandock that day. In making his way to the "fishing-grounds," he was tripped so often that he began to wonder what could possibly be the reason for it. He stooped down to examine his path.
"Dat ish funny de way dat grass grows. Dat bunch on dat side has growed over and met dat bunch on de oder side, and den dey've growed togedder in one big knot, and den I catches mine foot under and tumbles down. Dat ish funny for te grass to grow dat way."
The innocent man did not once suspect that his boys had anything to do with this peculiar growth of the grass, although, had he looked behind him, he would have seen their dirty, grinning faces as they rolled upon the grass in ecstasies at his perplexity.
After several more tumbles, Hans Vanderbum reached his favorite log, and crawled out like a huge turtle to the further extremity. The exciting adventure which was before him occupied his thoughts so constantly that the mischievous propensities of his children never once entered his head, until the log suddenly snapped off at its trunk, and left him struggling in the water. Reaching the land with considerable difficulty after this second mishap, he concluded that Quanonshet and Madokawandock were still living, and had lately visited that neighborhood.
By noon, he had collected a goodly quantity of fish, and fearful that if he delayed his return much longer, his wife would come in search of him, he proceeded some distance down the bank, and concealed himself beneath a large clump of bushes, continuing his piscatorial labors as heretofore. His precaution proved timely and prudent, for he had hardly ensconsed himself in his new position, when he caught a glimpse of Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock through the branches, and shrunk further out of sight. From his secure hiding-place, the valorous husband watched her proceedings. He saw her brow "throned with thunder," as she strode hastily forward, the blank, dismayed expression, as she witnessed the destruction of his favorite perch, the anxious haste with which she examined the shore to discover whether he had emerged or not, the relief that lit up her countenance as she learned the truth, and, at length, the first expression, so boding and potent in its meaning, that he lay down on the ground and dare not look at her again. When he cautiously raised his head, she had disappeared, and with a sigh of relief, he resumed his line.
The slow, weary hours wore on, and finally the sun was half-way down the horizon. Hans Vanderbum's heart gave a big throb as he started on his return to the village. In spite of the exciting drama that was now commencing, and in which he was to play such a prominent part, the most vivid picture that presented itself to him was his irate wife, waiting at the wigwam to pounce upon him, and he could not force the dire consequences of his temerity from his mind.
Slowly and tremblingly he approached the lodge, but saw none of its inmates. The profound silence filled him with an ominous misgiving. He paused and listened. Not a breath was audible. He stepped softly forward and cautiously peered in. He saw Miss Prescott apparently asleep in one corner, and his wife trimming the fire. Hans hesitated a moment, and no pen can describe or artist depict the shivering horror with which he stepped within the lodge. His heart beat like a trip-hammer, and when his wife lifted her dark eyes upon him, he nearly fainted from excess of terror. Great was his amazement, therefore, when, instead of rebukes and blows, she came smilingly forward and asked:
"Has my husband been sick?"
That question explained everything. Believing him to be sick, her feelings were not of wrath, but of solicitude. Hans wiped the perspiration from his forehead and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, replied:
"B'lieves I didn't feel very much well—kinder empty in de stomach as dough I'd like to have dinner."
"You shall have it at once."
Now, to insure the success of Hans Vanderbum's plans, it was necessary that he should cook the fish, in order that he might find opportunity to mix the gum with it; but the wife, out of pure kindness refused to allow this. He was taken all aback at this unfortunate slip in his programme. By resorting again to intense thought, he hit upon an ingenious plan to outwit her, even at this disadvantage. The children needed no commands to remain out doors.
The food was nicely cooking, when Hans started up as if alarmed.
"What's the matter?" inquired his wife.
"I t'inks I hears some noise outside. Hadn't you better goes out, my dear, good, kind Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, and see vot it is?"
The obliging woman instantly darted forward, and Hans proceeded to his task with such trembling eagerness that there was danger of its failure. First flattening the gum between his thumb and finger, he dropped it upon one of the fish, where it instantly dissolved like butter. He was busy stirring this, when his partner entered.
"Good man," said she; "kind to Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock."
Hans Vanderbum felt as if he were the greatest monster upon earth thus to deceive his trusting wife, and there was a perceptible tremor in his voice, as he replied:
"I will tends to de fish."
He saw that the gum had united thoroughly with the food, and then with a flushed face, he resigned his place to his wife. The dinner, or more properly the supper, was soon completed, when Hans concluded that he was too unwell to eat anything. The squaw was somewhat surprised when Miss Prescott, after being awakened from a feigned sleep, turned her head away from the tempting food in disgust.
"You sick too?" she asked.
"No—no—no," shutting her eyes and turning her back upon her.
"I wouldn't coax her to eat, my good, dear frow," said Hans. "Let de little Dutchmen eat it; dey're hungry enough."
In answer to a shrill call, Quanonshet and Madokawandock came tumbling in, and fell upon the food like a couple of wolves. After two or three mouthfuls they stopped and smacked their lips as if there was something peculiar in the taste of their fish, and Hans' heart thumped as he saw the mother do the same. To forestall any inquiries, he remarked that he had caught the fish in another portion of the stream, and perhaps they might taste bitter, but he guessed "dey was all right." This satisfied them, and in a few minutes more there was nothing left but a few bones. Thus far all went well.
As the sun descended in the western sky, and the magnificent American twilight gathered upon the forest and river, the excited Hans Vanderbum could scarcely conceal his impatience and anxiety. Never before, since his marriage, had he been in such a predicament, and never again, he hoped, would he feel the misery that was now torturing him. Time always passes wearily to the watcher. It seemed an age to him ere the sun slipped down behind the wilderness out of sight. At length, however, the dusk of early evening enveloped the lodge, and shortly after Quanonshet and Madokawandock came in, and dropping down fell almost immediately asleep.
To expedite matters, Hans Vanderbum feigned slumber, but he kept one eye upon the movements of his wife. He marked her listless, absent air, and he could scarcely conceal his joy when she stretched herself in front of the door, without speaking or ordering him to lie beside her, as was her usual custom. Five minutes later, she was as unconscious as though she were never to wake again. To make "assurance doubly sure," he waited full half an hour without moving. Then he raised his head, and called in a whisper to Miss Prescott:
"I say dere."
"Well! what is it?" she responded, rising.
"You ishn't ashleep bees you?"
"No, I am ready."
"Well, I guesses it bees purty near times."
"Are they all sound asleep—your Lily and children?"
"Yaw, dey's won't wake if you pound 'em."
"Would it not be best to take a look outside and see whether there is any danger of our being discovered?"
"Yaw—I t'inks so."
In passing out, Hans trod upon the outstretched arm of his wife, but her sleep was so sound that she did not awaken. The situation of the lodge was such that all the Shawnees visible were upon one side of it, so that the chances of discovery were comparatively slight, if the least precaution was used. Appearing at the entrance of the wigwam, without entering, he motioned for the captive to come out. She arose, stepping cautiously and carefully, and when she found herself in the open air once more, with the cool night-wind blowing upon her fevered cheek, she almost fainted from excessive emotion.
"Come, now, walks right behind me, and if you sees—dunder and blixen! dere comes an Injin!"
The girl had caught a glimpse of two shadowy figures, and without thought, she did the wisest possible thing for her to do under the circumstances. Springing back within the lodge, she reseated herself beyond the form of her prostrate sentinel, and waited for them to pass.
"How do you do, brother?" asked one of them, in the Shawnee tongue, as they halted. "How gets along our prisoner?"
"Pretty good; she is in de lodge."
"She is safe in the hands of Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, but I will look in." The savage stepped to the entrance and merely glanced inside. The darkness was so great that he saw nothing but the figure of the squaw before him, and he and his companion passed on. The captive waited until she was sure they were beyond sight and hearing, and then she stepped forth again.
"Let us hurry," said she, eagerly. "There may be others near."
"Yaw, but don't push me over on mine nose."
"Oh! if she awakes, or we are seen!"
"She won't do dat. She shleeps till morning, and bimeby I shleeps too, and won't wake up afore she does."
"Be careful, be careful, my good friend, and do not linger so," said the girl, nearly beside herself with excitement, "and let us stop talking."
"Yaw, I bees careful! I ain't talking. It bees you all de time dat is making de noise. I knows better dan for to make noise, when dey might hear. Doesn't you fink I does?"
"Yes, yes, yes."
"I'm glad dat you t'inks so. I knowed a gal once; she was a good 'eal like you; Annie Stanton was her name; she had a feller dat was a good 'eal like de Lieutenant, and dey didn't t'ink I knowed much, but dey found dey was mistaken. Don't you b'lieve dey did?"
"Yes, yes—but you are talking all the while."
"Dat ish so—I doesn't talk no more."
Finally, the impression reached the brain of Hans Vanderbum that he was making rather more noise than was prudent, and he resolutely sealed his lips—so resolutely that, being compelled to breathe through his nostrils, Miss Prescott feared that the noise thus made was more dangerous than had been his indulgence in conversation. She endeavored to warn him, but he firmly refused to hear, waddling ahead, his huge form stumbling and lumbering forward like a young elephant just learning to walk. The moon being directly before them, his massive shoulders were clearly outlined against the sky, when the woods were open enough to permit an unobstructed entrance to its light. A dozen yards from the wigwam, and the two were clear of the Shawnee village, their only danger being from any wandering Indian whom they might chance to meet. They had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile, when the captive's heart nearly stopped beating as she saw the hand of a savage outlined against the sky. As she observed that he was steadily approaching, she halted and was debating whether or not to dart off in the woods, and depend upon herself for safety, when Hans spoke:
"Dat you, Oonomoo?"
"Yeh—'tis me." The quick eye of the Huron had caught a glimpse of the girl behind the Dutchman, and he now came up and addressed her:
"Is my friend 'fraid?"
"No, no; thank Heaven! is that you, my good, kind Oonomoo?" asked the girl, reeling forward, until sustained by the gentle grasp of the Indian.
"Yeh—me take care of you. Here somebody else—t'ink he know how better—guess like him, too." She caught a glimpse of another form as the savage spoke in his jesting manner. She needed nothing more to assure her of its identity. Lieutenant Canfield came forward, and placing one arm around her waist, and drawing her fervently to him, he said:
"Oh! my dear Mary, I am so glad to see you again. Are you unharmed?"
"Not a hair of my head has been injured. And how is my dear father and mother and sister Helen?"
"Your father was perfectly well and in good spirits when I left him a few days since, and as he knows nothing of this calamity, there is no reason for believing it is any different with him. Your mother and sister I think know nothing of this, although I fear their apprehensions must be excited."
"I trust I shall soon be with them, and oh! I pray—"
"I's gettin' shleepy," suddenly exclaimed Hans Vanderbum.
"Yaw; took much as Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock."
"Git sleep soon—go back—don't wake up."
"Yaw, I will." And before any one could speak, Hans was lumbering through the bushes and woods on his way back to his lodge, fearful that if he delayed he would fall asleep. It was the wish of Lieutenant Canfield to thank him for his kindness to his betrothed, and the latter, very grateful for his honest friendship, intended to assure him of it, but his hasty exit prevented.
The gum of which Hans Vanderbum had partaken, began soon to have a perceptible effect. He stumbled forward against the bushes and trees, blinking and careless of what he did, until he reached the door of his wigwam. Here he summoned all his energies, and, stepping carefully over his wife, lay down beside her, and almost immediately was asleep.
As might be expected, the wife was the first to awaken. So profound had been her sleep that the forenoon of the next day was fully half gone before she opened her eyes, and then it required a few minutes to regain entire possession of her faculties. Looking around, she saw the inanimate forms of her children, and close beside her the unconscious Hans Vanderbum, and, horror of horrors, the captive was gone! She was now thoroughly awakened. With a shrill scream she sprung to her feet. Giving her husband several violent kicks, and shouting his name, she ran outside to arouse the Shawnees, and set them upon the track, if it was not already too late. Hans opened one eye, and, seeing how matters stood, he shut it again, to ruminate upon the story he should tell to the pressing inquiries of his friends, and, in a few minutes, he had prepared everything to his satisfaction. Five minutes later he heard a dull thumping upon the ground, and the next minute the lodge was filled with Shawnees. Sharp yells—the signals of alarm—could be heard in every quarter, even as far distant as the river. All seemed centering toward one spot. In answer to repeated shoutings, and kicks, and twitches of the hair, Hans opened his big, blue eyes, and stared around him with an innocent, wondering look.
"Where's the girl? Where's the pale-faced captive?" demanded several, including his wife.
"Ober dere; (pointing to her usual resting-place; and then, discovering her absence) no, dunder and blixen, she isn't."
"You helped her away in the night. We saw you when the moon was up standing in the lodge." His accuser was the Indian who had peered into the lodge the night before.
"Mine Gott! dat Huron, Oonomoo, has got her!" The name of the famous scout was familiar to all, and called forth a general howl of fury. Understanding that it was expected he should give some explanation, he said: "I see'd de Injin last night, and he gived me something dat he said I musht eat and mix wid my fish. I done so, and it made me, and Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock, and Quanonshet and Madokawandock go to shleep, and shust now we wakes up and de gal ain't here!"
This brief, concise statement was generally believed, all knowing the trustful, verdant nature of the Dutchman, and there was a general clearing of the wigwam, for the purpose of ascertaining which direction the Huron had taken; but they met with no success, as the woods were so thoroughly trodden by numerous feet, that it was impossible to distinguish any particular trail. One or two Shawnees, however, were not satisfied with what Hans had said, and, after making several more inquiries, they remarked:
"Oonomoo, the Huron, is a brave Indian, but could not enter the Shawnee lodges unless the door was opened from within. Our white brother—"
Hans' wife sprung up like a catamount, whose young were attacked. "You say my brave Hans let her go, eh? My brave warriors, I will show you," she exclaimed, springing at them in such a perfect fury that they tore out of the wigwam and were seen no more.
"My dear Hans."
"My dear, good Keewaygooshturkumkankangewock! de same shape all de way down."
And the loving wife and husband embraced with all the fervor of youthful lovers. And locked thus together, trusting, contented and happy, we take our final leave of them.