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Chapter XXVII 

  I'll no swaggerers: I am in good name and fame with the very best:
  --shut the door;--there come no swaggerers here: I have not lived
  all this while, to have swaggering now: shut the door, I pray you.

Mahtoree encountered, at the door of his lodge, Ishmael, Abiram, and Esther. The first glance of his eye, at the countenance of the heavy- moulded squatter, served to tell the cunning Teton, that the treacherous truce he had made, with these dupes of his superior sagacity, was in some danger of a violent termination.

"Look you here, old grey-beard," said Ishmael, seizing the trapper, and whirling him round as if he had been a top; "that I am tired of carrying on a discourse with fingers and thumbs, instead of a tongue, ar' a natural fact; so you'll play linguister and put my words into Indian, without much caring whether they suit the stomach of a Red- skin or not."

"Say on, friend," calmly returned the trapper; "they shall be given as plainly as you send them."

"Friend!" repeated the squatter, eyeing the other for an instant, with an expression of indefinable meaning. "But it is no more than a word, and sounds break no bones, and survey no farms. Tell this thieving Sioux, then, that I come to claim the conditions of our solemn bargain, made at the foot of the rock."

When the trapper had rendered his meaning into the Sioux language, Mahtoree demanded, with an air of surprise--

"Is my brother cold? buffaloe skins are plenty. Is he hungry? Let my young men carry venison into his lodges."

The squatter elevated his clenched fist in a menacing manner, and struck it with violence on the palm of his open hand, by way of confirming his determination, as he answered--

"Tell the deceitful liar, I have not come like a beggar to pick his bones, but like a freeman asking for his own; and have it I will. And, moreover, tell him I claim that you, too, miserable sinner as you ar', should be given up to justice. There's no mistake. My prisoner, my niece, and you. I demand the three at his hands, according to a sworn agreement."

The immovable old man smiled, with an expression of singular intelligence, as he answered--

"Friend squatter, you ask what few men would be willing to grant. You would first cut the tongue from mouth of the Teton, and then the heart from his bosom."

"It is little that Ishmael Bush regards, who or what is damaged in claiming his own. But put you the questions in straight-going Indian, and when you speak of yourself, make such a sign as a white man will understand, in order that I may know there is no foul play."

The trapper laughed in his silent fashion, and muttered a few words to himself before he addressed the chief--

"Let the Dahcotah open his ears very wide," he said 'that big words may have room to enter. His friend the Big-knife comes with an empty hand, and he says that the Teton must fill it."

"Wagh! Mahtoree is a rich chief. He is master of the prairies."

"He must give the dark-hair."

The brow of the chief contracted in an ominous frown, that threatened instant destruction to the audacious squatter; but as suddenly recollecting his policy, he craftily replied--

"A girl is too light for the hand of such a brave. I will fill it with buffaloes."

"He says he has need of the light-hair, too; who has his blood in her veins."

"She shall be the wife of Mahtoree; then the Long-knife will be the father of a chief."

"And me," continued the trapper, making one of those expressive signs, by which the natives communicate, with nearly the same facility as with their tongues, and turning to the squatter at the same time, in order that the latter might see he dealt fairly by him; "he asks for a miserable and worn-out trapper."

The Dahcotah threw his arm over the shoulder of the old man, with an air of great affection, before he replied to this third and last demand.

"My friend is old," he said, "and cannot travel far. He will stay with the Tetons, that they may learn wisdom from his words. What Sioux has a tongue like my father? No; let his words be very soft, but let them be very clear. Mahtoree will give skins and buffaloes. He will give the young men of the Pale-faces wives, but he cannot give away any who live in his own lodge."

Perfectly satisfied, himself, with this laconic reply, the chief was moving towards his expecting counsellors, when suddenly returning, he interrupted the translation of the trapper by adding--

"Tell the Great Buffaloe" (a name by which the Tetons had already christened Ishmael), "that Mahtoree has a hand which is always open. See," he added, pointing to the hard and wrinkled visage of the attentive Esther, "his wife is too old, for so great a chief. Let him put her out of his lodge. Mahtoree loves him as a brother. He is his brother. He shall have the youngest wife of the Teton. Tachechana, the pride of the Sioux girls, shall cook his venison, and many braves will look at him with longing minds. Go, a Dahcotah is generous."

The singular coolness, with which the Teton concluded this audacious proposal, confounded even the practised trapper. He stared after the retiring form of the Indian, with an astonishment he did not care to conceal, nor did he renew his attempt at interpretation. until the person of Mahtoree was blended with the cluster of warriors, who had so long, and with so characteristic patience, awaited his return.

"The Teton chief has spoken very plainly," the old man continued; "he will not give you the lady, to whom the Lord in heaven knows you have no claim, unless it be such as the wolf has to the lamb. He will not give you the child, you call your niece; and therein I acknowledge that I am far from certain he has the same justice on his side. Moreover, neighbour squatter, he flatly denies your demand for me, miserable and worthless as I am; nor do I think he has been unwise in so doing, seeing that I should have many reasons against journeying far in your company. But he makes you an offer, which it is right and convenient you should know. The Teton says through me, who am no more than a mouthpiece, and therein not answerable for the sin of his words, but he says, as this good woman is getting past the comely age, it is reasonable for you to tire of such a wife. He therefore tells you to turn her out of your lodge, and when it is empty, he will send his own favourite, or rather she that was his favourite, the 'Skipping Fawn,' as the Siouxes call her, to fill her place. You see, neighbour, though the Red-skin is minded to keep your property, he is willing to give you wherewithal to make yourself some return!"

Ishmael listened to these replies, to his several demands, with that species of gathering indignation, with which the dullest tempers mount into the most violent paroxysms of rage. He even affected to laugh at the conceit of exchanging his long-tried partner for the more flexible support of the youthful Tachechana, though his voice was hollow and unnatural in the effort. But Esther was far from giving the proposal so facetious a reception. Lifting her voice to its most audible key, she broke forth, after catching her breath like one who had been in some imminent danger of strangulation, as follows--

"Hoity-toity; who set an Indian up for a maker and breaker of the rights of wedded wives! Does he think a woman is a beast of the prairie, that she is to be chased from a village, by dog and gun. Let the bravest squaw of them all come forth and boast of her doings; can she show such a brood as mine? A wicked tyrant is that thieving Red- skin, and a bold rogue I warrant me. He would be captain in-doors, as well as out! An honest woman is no better in his eyes than one of your broomstick jumpers. And you, Ishmael Bush, the father of seven sons and so many comely daughters, to open your sinful mouth, except to curse him! Would ye disgrace colour, and family, and nation, by mixing white blood with red, and would ye be the parent of a race of mules! The devil has often tempted you, my man, but never before has he set so cunning a snare as this. Go back among your children, friend; go, and remember that you are not a prowling bear, but a Christian man, and thank God that you ar' a lawful husband!"

The clamour of Esther was anticipated by the judicious trapper. He had easily foreseen that her meek temper would overflow at so scandalous a proposal as repudiation, and he now profited by the tempest, to retire to a place where he was at least safe from any immediate violence on the part of her less excited, but certainly more dangerous husband. Ishmael, who had made his demands with a stout determination to enforce them, was diverted by the windy torrent, like many a more obstinate husband, from his purpose, and in order to appease a jealousy that resembled the fury with which the bear defends her cubs, was fain to retire to a distance from the lodge, that was known to contain the unoffending object of the sudden uproar.

"Let your copper-coloured minx come forth, and show her tawney beauty before the face of a woman who has heard more than one church bell, and seen a power of real quality," cried Esther, flourishing her hand in triumph, as she drove Ishmael and Abiram before her, like two truant boys, towards their own encampment. "I warrant me, I warrant me, here is one who would shortly talk her down! Never think to tarry here, my men; never think to shut an eye in a camp, through which the devil walks as openly as if he were a gentleman, and sure of his welcome. Here, you Abner, Enoch, Jesse, where ar' ye gotten to? Put to, put to; if that weak-minded, soft-feeling man, your father, eats or drinks again in this neighbourhood, we shall see him poisoned with the craft of the Red-skins. Not that I care, I, who comes into my place, when it is once lawfully empty; but, Ishmael, I never thought that you, who have had one woman with a white skin, would find pleasure in looking on a brazen--ay, that she is copper ar' a fact; you can't deny it, and I warrant me, brazen enough is she too!"

Against this ebullition of wounded female pride, the experienced husband made no other head, than by an occasional exclamation, which he intended to be precursor of a simple asseveration of his own innocence. The fury of the woman would not be appeased. She listened to nothing but her own voice, and consequently nothing was heard but her mandates to depart.

The squatter had collected his beasts and loaded his wagons, as a measure of precaution, before proceeding to the extremity he contemplated. Esther consequently found every thing favourable to her wishes. The young men stared at each other, as they witnessed the extraordinary excitement of their mother, but took little interest in an event which, in the course of their experience, had found so many parallels. By command of their father, the tents were thrown into the vehicles, as a sort of reprisal for the want of faith in their late ally, and then the train left the spot, in its usual listless and sluggish order.

As a formidable division of well-armed borderers protected the rear of the retiring party, the Siouxes saw it depart without manifesting the smallest evidence of surprise or resentment. The savage, like the tiger, rarely makes his attack on an enemy who expects him; and if the warriors of the Tetons meditated any hostility, it was in the still and patient manner with which the feline beasts watch for the incautious moment, in order to ensure the blow. The counsels of Mahtoree, however, on whom so much of the policy of his people depended, lay deep in the depository of his own thoughts. Perhaps he rejoiced at so easy a manner of getting rid of claims so troublesome; perhaps he awaited a fitting time to exhibit his power; or it even might be, that matters of so much greater importance were pressing on his mind, that it had not leisure to devote any of its faculties to an event of so much indifference.

But it would seem that while Ishmael made such a concession to the awakened feelings of Esther, he was far from abandoning his original intentions. His train followed the course of the river for a mile, and then it came to a halt on the brow of the elevated land, and in a place which afforded the necessary facilities. Here he again pitched his tents, unharnessed his teams, sent his cattle on the bottom, and, in short, made all the customary preparations to pass the night, with the same coolness and deliberation as if he had not hurled an irritating defiance into the teeth of his dangerous neighbours.

In the mean time the Tetons proceeded to the more regular business of the hour. A fierce and savage joy had existed in the camp, from the instant when it had been announced that their own chief was returning with the long-dreaded and hated partisan of their enemies. For many hours the crones of the tribe had been going from lodge to lodge, in order to stimulate the tempers of the warriors to such a pass, as might leave but little room for mercy. To one they spoke of a son, whose scalp was drying in the smoke of a Pawnee lodge. To another, they enumerated his own scars, his disgraces, and defeats; with a third, they dwelt on his losses of skins and horses; and a fourth was reminded of vengeance by a significant question, concerning some flagrant adventure, in which he was known to have been a sufferer.

By these means the men had been so far excited as to have assembled, in the manner already related, though it still remained a matter of doubt how far they intended to carry their revenge. A variety of opinions prevailed on the policy of executing their prisoners; and Mahtoree had suspended the discussions, in order to ascertain how far the measure might propitiate, or retard, his own particular views. Hitherto the consultations had merely been preliminary, with a design that each chief might discover the number of supporters his particular views would be likely to obtain, when the important subject should come before a more solemn council of the tribe. The moment for the latter had now arrived, and the preparations were made with a dignity and solemnity suited to the momentous interests of the occasion.

With a refinement in cruelty, that none but an Indian would have imagined, the place, selected for this grave deliberation, was immediately about the post to which the most important of its subjects was attached. Middleton and Paul were brought in their bonds, and laid at the feet of the Pawnee; then the men began to take their places, according to their several claims to distinction. As warrior after warrior approached, he seated himself in the wide circle, with a mien as composed and thoughtful, as if his mind were actually in a condition to deal out justice, tempered, as it should be, with the heavenly quality of mercy. A place was reserved for three or four of the principal chiefs, and a few of the oldest of the women, as withered, as age, exposure, hardships, and lives of savage passions could make them, thrust themselves into the foremost circle, with a temerity, to which they were impelled by their insatiable desire for cruelty, and which nothing, but their years and their long tried fidelity to the nation, would have excused.

All, but the chiefs already named, were now in their places. These had delayed their appearance, in the vain hope that their own unanimity might smooth the way to that of their respective factions; for, notwithstanding the superior influence of Mahtoree, his power was to be maintained only by constant appeals to the opinions of his inferiors. As these important personages at length entered the circle in a body, their sullen looks and clouded brows, notwithstanding the time given to consultation, sufficiently proclaimed the discontent which reigned among them. The eye of Mahtoree was varying in its expression, from sudden gleams, that seemed to kindle with the burning impulses of his soul, to that cold and guarded steadiness, which was thought more peculiarly to become a chief in council. He took his seat, with the studied simplicity of a demagogue; though the keen and flashing glance, that he immediately threw around the silent assembly, betrayed the more predominant temper of a tyrant.

When all were present, an aged warrior lighted the great pipe of his people, and blew the smoke towards the four quarters of the heavens. So soon as this propitiatory offering was made, he tendered it to Mahtoree, who, in affected humility, passed it to a grey-headed chief by his side. After the influence of the soothing weed had been courted by all, a grave silence succeeded, as if each was not only qualified to, but actually did, think more deeply on the matters before them. Then an old Indian arose, and spoke as follows:--

"The eagle, at the falls of the endless river, was in its egg, many snows after my hand had struck a Pawnee. What my tongue says, my eyes have seen. Bohrecheena is very old. The hills have stood longer in their places, than he has been in his tribe, and the rivers were full and empty, before he was born; but where is the Sioux that knows it besides himself? What he says, they will hear. If any of his words fall to the ground, they will pick them up and hold them to their ears. If any blow away in the wind, my young men, who are very nimble, will catch them. Now listen. Since water ran and trees grew, the Sioux has found the Pawnee on his war-path. As the cougar loves the antelope, the Dahcotah loves his enemy. When the wolf finds the fawn, does he lie down and sleep? When the panther sees the doe at the spring, does he shut his eyes? You know that he does not. He drinks too; but it is of blood! A Sioux is a leaping panther, a Pawnee a trembling deer. Let my children hear me. They will find my words good. I have spoken."

A deep guttural exclamation of assent broke from the lips of all the partisans of Mahtoree, as they listened to this sanguinary advice from one, who was certainly among the most aged men of the nation. That deeply seated love of vengeance, which formed so prominent a feature in their characters, was gratified by his metaphorical allusions, and the chief himself augured favourably of the success of his own schemes, by the number of supporters, who manifested themselves to be in favour of the counsels of his friend. But still unanimity was far from prevailing. A long and decorous pause was suffered to succeed the words of the first speaker, in order that all might duly deliberate on their wisdom, before another chief took on himself the office of refutation. The second orator, though past the prime of his days, was far less aged than the one who had preceded him. He felt the disadvantage of this circumstance, and endeavoured to counteract it, as far as possible, by the excess of his humility.

"I am but an infant," he commenced, looking furtively around him, in order to detect how far his well-established character for prudence and courage contradicted his assertion. "I have lived with the women, since my father has been a man. If my head is getting grey, it is not because I am old. Some of the snow, which fell on it while I have been sleeping on the war-paths, has frozen there, and the hot sun, near the Osage villages, has not been strong enough to melt it." A low murmur was heard, expressive of admiration of the services to which he thus artfully alluded. The orator modestly awaited for the feeling to subside a little, and then he continued, with increasing energy, encouraged by their commendations. "But the eyes of a young brave are good. He can see very far. He is a lynx. Look at me well. I will turn my back, that you may see both sides of me. Now do you know I am your friend, for you look on a part that a Pawnee never yet saw. Now look at my face; not in this seam, for there your eyes can never see into my spirit. It is a hole cut by a Konza. But here is an opening made by the Wahcondah, through which you may look into the soul. What am I? A Dahcotah, within and without. You know it. Therefore hear me. The blood of every creature on the prairie is red. Who can tell the spot where a Pawnee was struck, from the place where my young men took a bison? It is of the same colour. The Master of Life made them for each other. He made them alike. But will the grass grow green where a Pale- face is killed? My young men must not think that nation so numerous, that it will not miss a warrior. They call them over often, and say, Where are my sons? If they miss one, they will send into the prairies to look for him. If they cannot find him, they will tell their runners to ask for him, among the Siouxes. My brethren, the Big-knives are not fools. There is a mighty medicine of their nation now among us; who can tell how loud is his voice, or how long is his arm?--"

The speech of the orator, who was beginning to enter into his subject with warmth, was cut short by the impatient Mahtoree, who suddenly arose and exclaimed, in a voice in which authority was mingled with contempt, and at the close with a keen tone of irony, also--

"Let my young men lead the evil spirit of the Palefaces to the council. My brother shall see his medicine, face to face!"

A death-like and solemn stillness succeeded this extraordinary interruption. It not only involved a deep offence against the sacred courtesy of debate, but the mandate was likely to brave the unknown power of one of those incomprehensible beings, whom few Indians were enlightened enough, at that day, to regard without reverence, or few hardy enough to oppose. The subordinates, however, obeyed, and Obed was led forth from the lodge, mounted on Asinus, with a ceremony and state which was certainly intended for derision, but which nevertheless was greatly enhanced by fear. As they entered the ring, Mahtoree, who had foreseen and had endeavoured to anticipate the influence of the Doctor, by bringing him into contempt, cast an eye around the assembly, in order to gather his success in the various dark visages by which he was encircled.

Truly, nature and art had combined to produce such an effect from the air and appointments of the naturalist, as might have made him the subject of wonder in any place. His head had been industriously shaved, after the most approved fashion of Sioux taste. A gallant scalp-lock, which would probably not have been spared had the Doctor himself been consulted in the matter, was all that remained of an exuberant, and at that particular season of the year, far from uncomfortable head of hair. Thick coats of paint had been laid on the naked poll, and certain fanciful designs, in the same material, had even been extended into the neighbourhood of the eyes and mouth, lending to the keen expression of the former a look of twinkling cunning, and to the dogmatism of the latter, not a little of the grimness of necromancy. He had been despoiled of his upper garments, and, in their stead, his body was sufficiently protected from the cold, by a fantastically painted robe of dressed deer-skin. As if in mockery of his pursuit, sundry toads, frogs, lizards, butterflies,

&c., all duly prepared to take their places at some future day, in his own private cabinet, were attached to the solitary lock on his head, to his ears, and to various other conspicuous parts of his person. If, in addition to the effect produced by these quaint auxiliaries to his costume, we add the portentous and troubled gleamings of doubt, which rendered his visage doubly austere, and proclaimed the misgivings of the worthy Obed's mind, as he beheld his personal dignity thus prostrated, and what was of far greater moment in his eyes, himself led forth, as he firmly believed, to be the victim of some heathenish sacrifice, the reader will find no difficulty in giving credit to the sensation of awe, that was excited by his appearance in a band already more than half-prepared to worship him, as a powerful agent of the evil spirit.

Weucha led Asinus directly into the centre of the circle, and leaving them together, (for the legs of the naturalist were attached to the beast in such a manner, that the two animals might be said to be incorporated, and to form a new order,) he withdrew to his proper place, gazing at the conjuror, as he retired, with a wonder and admiration, that were natural to the groveling dulness of his mind.

The astonishment seemed mutual, between the spectators and the subject of this strange exhibition. If the Tetons contemplated the mysterious attributes of the medicine, with awe and fear, the Doctor gazed on every side of him, with a mixture of quite as many extraordinary emotions, in which the latter sensation, however, formed no inconsiderable ingredient. Every where his eyes, which just at that moment possessed a secret magnifying quality, seemed to rest on several dark, savage, and obdurate countenances at once, from none of which could he extract a solitary gleam of sympathy or commiseration. At length his wandering gaze fell on the grave and decent features of the trapper, who, with Hector at his feet, stood in the edge of the circle, leaning on that rifle which he had been permitted, as an acknowledged friend, to resume, and apparently musing on the events that were likely to succeed a council, marked by so many and such striking ceremonies.

"Venerable venator, or hunter, or trapper," said the disconsolate Obed, "I rejoice greatly in meeting thee again. I fear that the precious time, which had been allotted me, in order to complete a mighty labour, is drawing to a premature close, and I would gladly unburden my mind to one who, if not a pupil of science, has at least some of the knowledge which civilisation imparts to its meanest subjects. Doubtless many and earnest enquiries will be made after my fate, by the learned societies of the world, and perhaps expeditions will be sent into these regions to remove any doubts, which may arise on so important a subject. I esteem myself happy that a man, who speaks the vernacular, is present, to preserve the record of my end. You will say that after a well-spent and glorious life, I died a martyr to science, and a victim to mental darkness. As I expect to be particularly calm and abstracted in my last moments, if you add a few details, concerning the fortitude and scholastic dignity with which I met my death, it may serve to encourage future aspirants for similar honours, and assuredly give offence to no one. And now, friend trapper, as a duty I owe to human nature, I will conclude by demanding if all hope has deserted me, or if any means still exist by which so much valuable information may be rescued from the grasp of ignorance, and preserved to the pages of natural history."

The old man lent an attentive ear to this melancholy appeal, and apparently he reflected on every side of the important question, before he would presume to answer.

"I take it, friend physicianer," he at length gravely replied, "that the chances of life and death, in your particular case, depend altogether on the will of Providence, as it may be pleased to manifest it, through the accursed windings of Indian cunning. For my own part, I see no great difference in the main end to be gained, inasmuch as it can matter no one greatly, yourself excepted, whether you live or die."

"Would you account the fall of a corner-stone, from the foundations of the edifice of learning, a matter of indifference to contemporaries or to posterity?" interrupted Obed. "Besides, my aged associate," he reproachfully added, "the interest, that a man has in his own existence, is by no means trifling, however it may be eclipsed by his devotion to more general and philanthropic feelings."

"What I would say is this," resumed the trapper, who was far from understanding all the subtle distinctions with which his more learned companion so often saw fit to embellish his discourse; "there is but one birth and one death to all things, be it hound, or be it deer; be it red skin, or be it white. Both are in the hands of the Lord, it being as unlawful for man to strive to hasten the one, as impossible to prevent the other. But I will not say that something may not be done to put the last moment aside, for a while at least, and therefore it is a question, that any one has a right to put to his own wisdom, how far he will go, and how much pain he will suffer, to lengthen out a time that may have been too long already. Many a dreary winter and scorching summer has gone by since I have turned, to the right hand or to the left, to add an hour to a life that has already stretched beyond fourscore years. I keep myself as ready to answer to my name as a soldier at evening roll-call. In my judgment, if your cases are left to Indian tempers, the policy of the Great Sioux will lead his people to sacrifice you all; nor do I put much dependence on his seeming love for me; therefore it becomes a question whether you are ready for such a journey; and if, being ready, whether this is not as good a time to start as another. Should my opinion be asked, thus far will I give it in your favour; that is to say, it is my belief your life has been innocent enough, touching any great offences that you may have committed, though honesty compels me to add, that I think all you can lay claim to, on the score of activity in deeds, will not amount to any thing worth naming in the great account."

Obed turned a rueful eye on the calm, philosophic countenance of the other, as he answered with so discouraging a statement of his case, clearing his throat, as he did so, in order to conceal the desperate concern which began to beset his faculties, with a vestige of that pride, which rarely deserts poor human nature, even in the greatest emergencies.

"I believe, venerable hunter," he replied, "considering the question in all its bearings, and assuming that your theory is just, it will be the safest to conclude that I am not prepared to make so hasty a departure, and that measures of precaution should be, forthwith, resorted to."

"Being in that mind," returned the deliberate trapper, "I will act for you as I would for myself; though as time has begun to roll down the hill with you, I will just advise that you look to your case speedily, for it may so happen that your name will be heard, when quite as little prepared to answer to it as now."

With this amicable understanding, the old man drew back again into the ring, where he stood musing on the course he should now adopt, with the singular mixture of decision and resignation that proceeded from his habits and his humility, and which united to form a character, in which excessive energy, and the most meek submission to the will of Providence, were oddly enough combined.

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