« PreviousContinue »
for the prints of his father's moccasins, that he may make
no mistake, but be sure to come before the Master of Life by the same path that so many good Indians have already traveled. But who will follow? Le Balafré has no son. His oldest has ridden too many Pawnee horses ; the bones of the youngest have been gnawed by Konza dogs. Le Balafré has come to look for a young arm on which he may lean, and to find a son, that when he is gone his lodge may not be empty. Tachechana, the skipping fawn of the Tetons, is too weak to prop a warrior who is old. She looks before her and not backwards. Her mind is in the lodge of her husband.”
The enunciation of the veteran warrior had been calm, but distinct and decided. His declaration was received in silence; and though several of the chiefs who were in the counsels of Mahtoree turned their eyes
on their leader, none presumed to oppose so aged and venerated a brave in a resolution that was strictly in conformity to the usages of the nation. The Teton himself was content to await the result with seeming composure, though the gleams of ferocity that played about his eye occasionally betrayed the nature of those feelings with which he witnessed a procedure that was likely to rob him of that one of all his intended victims whom he most hated.
In the mean time Le Balafré moved with a slow and painful step towards the captives. He stopped before the person of Hard-Heart, whose faultless form, unchanged eye, and lofty mien he contemplated with high såtisfaction. Then making a gesture of authority, he waited until his order had been obeyed, and the youth was released from the post and his bonds by the same blow of the knife. When the young warrior was led nearer to his dimmed and failing sight the examination was renewed with strictness of scrutiny.
It is good,” the wary veteran murmured, when he found that all his skill in the requisites of a brave could detect no blemish; "this is a leaping panther. Does my son speak with the tongue of a Teton?”
The intelligence which lighted the eyes of the captive betrayed how well he understood the question, but still he was far too haughty to communicate his ideas through the medium of a language that belonged to a hostile people. Some of the surrounding warriors explained to the old chief that the captive was a Pawnee-Loup.
‘My son opened his eyes on the 'waters of the wolves,"” said Le Balafré, in the language of that nation, “but he will shut them in the bend of the river with a troubled stream.' He was born a Pawnee,
but he will die a Dahcotah. Look at me. I a
am a sycamore that once covered inany with my shadow. The leaves are fallen and the branches begin to drop. But a single sucker is springing from my roots; it is a little vine, and it winds itself about a tree that is green. I have long looked for one fit to grow by my side. Now have I found him. Le Balafré is no longer without a son ; his name will not be forgotten when he is gone. Men of the Tetons! I take this youth into my lodge.”
No one was bold enough to dispute a right that had so often been exercised by warriors far inferior to the present speaker, and the adoption was listened to in grave and respectful silence. Le Balafré took his intended son by the arm, and leading him into the very centre of the circle, he stepped aside with an air of triumph in order that the spectators might approve of his choice. Mahtoree betrayed no evidence of his intentions, but rather seemed to await a moment better suited to the crafty policy of his character. The more experienced and sagacious chiefs distinctly foresaw the utter impossibility of two partisans so renowned, so hostile, and who had so long been rivals in fame, as their prisoner and their native leader, existing amicably in the same tribe. Still the character of Le Balafré was so imposing, and the custom to which he had resorted so sacred, that none dared to lift a voice in opposition to the measure. They watched the result with increasing interest, but with a coldness of demeanor that concealed the nature of their inquietude. From this state of embarrassment the tribe was relieved by the decision of the one most interested in the success of the aged chief's designs.
During the whole of the foregoing scene, it would have been difficult to have traced a single distinct emotion in the lineaments of the captive. He had heard his release proclaimed, with the same indifference as the order to bind him to the stake. But now that the moment had arrived when it became necessary to make his election, he spoke in a way to prove that the fortitude which had brought him so distinguished a name had in no degree deserted him.
“My father is very old, but he has not yet looked upon everything,” said Hard-Heart, in a voice so clear as to be heard by all present. “He has never seen a buffalo change to a bat; he will never see a Pawnee become a Sioux !”
There was a suddenness and yet a calmness in the manner of delivering this decision which assured most of the auditors that it was
unalterable. The heart of Le Balafré, however, was yearning towards the youth, and the fondness of age was not so readily repulsed. Reproving the burst of admiration and triumph to which the boldness of the declaration and the freshened hopes of revenge had given rise, by turning his gleaming eye around the band, the veteran again addressed his adopted child as if his purpose was not to be denied.
“ It is well,” he said ; such are the words a brave should use, that the warriors may see his heart. The day has been when the voice of Le Balafré was loudest among the lodges of the Konzas. But the root of a white hair is wisdom. My child will show the Tetons that he is brave, by striking their enemies. Men of the Dahcotahs, this is my son!”
The Pawnee hesitated a moment, and then stepping in front of the chief, he took his hard and wrinkled hand and laid it with reverence on his head, as if to acknowledge the extent of his obligation. Then recoiling a step, he raised his person to its greatest elevation, and looked
the hostile band by whom he was environed with an air of loftiness and disdain, as he spoke aloud in the language of the Siouxes,
“ Hard-Heart has looked at himself within and without. He has thought of all he has done in the hunts and in the wars. Everywhere he is the same. There is no change; he is in all things a Pawnee. He has struck so many Tetons that he could never eat in their lodges. His arrows would fly backwards; the point of his lance would be on the wrong end; their friends would weep at every whoop he gave; their enemies would laugh. Do the Tetons know a Loup ? Let them look at him again. His head is painted, his arm is flesh, his heart is rock. When the Tetons see the sun come from the Rocky Mountains and move toward the land of the Pale-faces, the mind of Hard-Heart will soften and his spirit will become Sioux. Until that day he will live and die a Pawnee.”
A yell of delight, in which admiration and ferocity were strangely mingled, interrupted the speaker, and but too clearly announced the character of his fate. The captive waited a moment for the commotion to subside, and then turning again to Le Balafré, he continued in tones conciliating and kind, as if he felt the propriety of softening his refusal in a manner not to wound the pride of one willing to be his benefactor.
“Let my father lean heavier on the fawn of the Dahcotahs,” he said ; "she is weak now, but as her lodge fills with young she will be stronger. See !” he added, directing the eyes of the other to the earnest countenance of the attentive trapper ; “ Hard-Heart is not without a gray-beard to show him the path to the blessed prairies. If he ever has another father it shall be that just warrior.”
Le Balafré turned away in disappointment from the youth, and approached the stranger who had thus anticipated his design.
DEATH OF LONG TOM COFFIN.
LIFTING his broad hands high into the air, his voice was heard in the tempest.
“God's will be done with me,” he cried ; I saw the first timber of the Ariel laid, and shall live just long enough to see it turn out of her bottom; after which I wish to live no longer.” But his shipmates were far beyond the sounds of his voice before these were half uttered. All command of the boat was rendered impossible, by the numbers it contained, as well as the raging of the surf; and as it rose on the white crest of a wave, Tom saw his beloved little craft for the last time. It fell into a trough of the sea, and in a few moments more its fragments were ground into splinters on the adjoining rocks. The coxswain (Tom) still remained where he had cast off the rope, and beheld the numerous heads and arms that appeared rising, at short intervals, on the waves, some making powerful and well-directed efforts to gain the sands, that were becoming visible as the tide fell, and others wildly tossed in the frantic movements of helpless despair. The honest old seaman gave a cry of joy as he saw Barnstable (the commander whom Tom had forced into the boat) issue from the surf, where one by one several seamen appeared also, dripping and exhausted. Many others of the crew were carried in a similar manner to places of safety; though, as · Tom returned to his seat on the bowsprit, he could not conceal from his reluctant eyes the lifeless forms that were, in other spots, driven against the rocks with a fury that soon left them but few of the outward vestiges of humanity.
Dillon and the coxswain were now the sole occupants of their dreadful station. The former stood, in a kind of stupid despair, a witness of the scene; but as his curdled blood began again to flow more warmly to his heart, he crept close to the side of Tom, with that
sort of selfish feeling that makes even hopeless misery more tolerable, when endured in participation with another.
When the tide falls,” he said in a voice that betr.:yed the agony of fear, though his words expressed the renewal of hope, "we shall be able to walk to land.”
“ There was one and only One to whose feet the waters were the same as a dry deck,” returned the coxswain ; "and none but such as have His power will ever be able to walk from these rocks to the sands." The old seaman paused, and turning his eyes, which exhibited a mingled expression of disgust and compassion, on his companion, he added, with reverence: " Had you thought more of Him in fair weather, your case would be less to be pitied in this tempest.”
“Do you still think there is much danger?” asked Dillon.
" To them that have reason to fear death. Listen! Do you hear that hollow noise beneath ye?
“ 'T is the wind driving by the vessel ! ”
“ 'Tis the poor thing herself,” said the affected coxswain, “ giving her last groans. The water is breaking upon her decks, and in a few minutes more the handsomest model that ever cut a wave will be like the chips that fell from her in framing !”
" Why, then, did you remain here?” cried Dillon, wildly.
“ To die in my coffin, if it should be the will of God,” returned Tom. These waves are to me what the land is to you ; I was born on them, and I have always meant that they shall be my grave.”
But — I–I,” shrieked Dillon, “I am not ready to die! — I cannot die ! - I will not die!”
“Poor wretch !” muttered his companion, “you must go like the rest of us; when the death-watch is called, none can skulk from the muster.”
“I can swim,” Dillon continued, rushing with frantic eagerness to the side of the wreck. “Is there no billet of wood, no rope, that I can take with me?”
“None; everything has been cut away, or carried off by the sea. If you are about to strive for your life, take with you a stout heart and a clean conscience, and trust the rest to God.”
“God!” echoed Dillon, in the madness of his frenzy. “I know no God; there is no God that knows me!”
Peace !” said the deep tones of the coxswain, in a voice that seemed to speak in the elements ; "blasphemer, peace!”