Which is the merchant here, and which the Jew? --Shakspeare.
The day dawned, the following morning, on a more, tranquil scene. The work of blood had entirely ceased; and as the sun arose, its light was shed on a broad expanse of quiet and solitude. The tents of Ishmael were still standing, where they had been last seen, but not another vestige of human existence could be traced in any other part of the waste. Here and there little flocks of ravenous birds were sailing and screaming above those spots where some heavy-footed Teton had met his death, but every other sign of the recent combat had passed away. The river was to be traced far through the endless meadows, by its serpentine and smoking bed; and the little silvery clouds of vapour, which hung above the pools and springs, were beginning to melt in air, as they felt the quickening warmth, which, pouring from the glowing sky, shed its bland and subtle influence on every object of the vast and unshadowed region. The prairie was like the heavens after the passage of the gust, soft, calm, and soothing.
It was in the midst of such a scene that the family of the squatter assembled to make their final decision, concerning the several individuals who had been thrown into their power, by the fluctuating chances of the incidents related. Every being possessing life and liberty had been afoot, since the first streak of grey had lighted the east; and even the youngest of the erratic brood seemed conscious that the moment had arrived, when circumstances were about to transpire that might leave a lasting impression on the wild fortunes of their semi-barbarous condition.
Ishmael moved through his little encampment, with the seriousness of one who had been unexpectedly charged with matters of a gravity, exceeding any of the ordinary occurrences of his irregular existence. His sons however, who had so often found occasions to prove the inexorable severity of their father's character, saw, in his sullen mien and cold eye, rather a determination to adhere to his resolutions, which usually were as obstinately enforced as they were harshly conceived, than any evidences of wavering or doubt. Even Esther was sensibly affected by the important matters that pressed so heavily on the interests of her family. While she neglected none of those domestic offices, which would probably have proceeded under any conceivable circumstances, just as the world turns round with earthquakes rending its crust and volcanoes consuming its vitals, yet her voice was pitched to a lower and more foreboding key than common, and the still frequent chidings of her children were tempered by something like the milder dignity of parental authority.
Abiram, as usual, seemed the one most given to solicitude and doubt. There were certain misgivings, in the frequent glances that he turned on the unyielding countenance of Ishmael, which might have betrayed how little of their former confidence and good understanding existed between them. His looks appeared to be vacillating between hope and fear. At times, his countenance lighted with the gleamings of a sordid joy, as he bent his look on the tent which contained his recovered prisoner, and then, again, the impression seemed unaccountably chased away by the shadows of intense apprehension. When under the influence of the latter feeling, his eye never failed to seek the visage of his dull and impenetrable kinsman. But there he rather found reason for alarm than grounds of encouragement, for the whole character of the squatter's countenance expressed the fearful truth, that he had redeemed his dull faculties from the influence of the kidnapper, and that his thoughts were now brooding only on the achievement of his own stubborn intentions.
It was in this state of things that the sons of Ishmael, in obedience to an order from their father, conducted the several subjects of his contemplated decisions, from their places of confinement into the open air. No one was exempted from this arrangement. Middleton and Inez, Paul and Ellen, Obed and the trapper, were all brought forth and placed in situations that were deemed suitable to receive the sentence of their arbitrary judge. The younger children gathered around the spot, in momentary but engrossing curiosity, and even Esther quitted her culinary labours, and drew nigh to listen.
Hard-Heart alone, of all his band, was present to witness the novel and far from unimposing spectacle. He stood leaning, gravely, on his lance, while the smoking steed, that grazed nigh, showed that he had ridden far and hard to be a spectator, on the occasion.
Ishmael had received his new ally with a coldness that showed his entire insensibility to that delicacy, which had induced the young chief to come alone, in order that the presence of his warriors might not create uneasiness, or distrust. He neither courted their assistance, nor dreaded their enmity, and he now proceeded to the business of the hour with as much composure, as if the species of patriarchal power, he wielded, was universally recognised.
There is something elevating in the possession of authority, however it may be abused. The mind is apt to make some efforts to prove the fitness between its qualities and the condition of its owner, though it may often fail, and render that ridiculous which was only hated before. But the effect on Ishmael Bush was not so disheartening. Grave in exterior, saturnine by temperament, formidable by his physical means, and dangerous from his lawless obstinacy, his self-constituted tribunal excited a degree of awe, to which even the intelligent Middleton could not bring himself to be entirely insensible. Little time, however, was given to arrange his thoughts; for the squatter, though unaccustomed to haste, having previously made up his mind, was not disposed to waste the moments in delay. When he saw that all were in their places, he cast a dull look over his prisoners, and addressed himself to the Captain, as the principal man among the imaginary delinquents.
"I am called upon this day, to fill the office which in the settlements you give unto judges, who are set apart to decide on matters that arise between man and man. I have but little knowledge of the ways of the courts, though there is a rule that is known unto all, and which teaches, that an 'eye must be returned for an eye,' and a
'tooth for a tooth.' I am no troubler of countyhouses, and least of all do I like living on a plantation that the sheriff has surveyed; yet there is a reason in such a law, that makes it a safe rule to journey by, and therefore it ar' a solemn fact that this day shall I abide by it, and give unto all and each that which is his due and no more."
When Ishmael had delivered his mind thus far, he paused and looked about him, as if he would trace the effects in the countenances of his hearers. When his eye met that of Middleton, he was answered by the latter--
"If the evil-doer is to be punished, and he that has offended none to he left to go at large, you must change situations with me, and become a prisoner instead of a judge."
"You mean to say that I have done you wrong, in taking the lady from her father's house, and leading her so far against her will into these wild districts," returned the unmoved squatter, who manifested as little resentment as he betrayed compunction at the charge. "I shall not put the lie on the back of an evil deed, and deny your words. Since things have come to this pass between us, I have found time to think the matter over at my leisure, and though none of your swift thinkers, who can see, or who pretend to see, into the nature of all things, by a turn of the eye, yet am I a man open to reason, and give me my time, one who is not given to deny the truth. Therefore have I mainly concluded, that it was a mistake to take a child from its parent, and the lady shall be returned whence she has been brought, as tenderly and as safely as man can do it."
"Ay, ay," added Esther, "the man is right. Poverty and labour bore hard upon him, especially as county officers were getting troublesome, and in a weak moment he did the wicked act; but he has listened to my words, and his mind has got round again into its honest corner. An awful and a dangerous thing it is to be bringing the daughters of other people into a peaceable and well-governed family!"
"And who will thank you for the same, after what has been already done?" muttered Abiram, with a grin of disappointed cupidity, in which malignity and terror were disgustingly united; "when the devil has once made out his account, you may look for your receipt in full only at his hands."
"Peace!" said Ishmael, stretching his heavy hand towards his kinsman, in a manner that instantly silenced the speaker. "Your voice is like a raven's in my ears. If you had never spoken, I should have been spared this shame."
"Since then you are beginning to lose sight of your errors, and to see the truth," said Middleton, "do not things by halves, but, by the generosity of your conduct, purchase friends who may be of use in warding off any future danger from the law--"
"Young man," interrupted the squatter, with a dark frown, "you, too, have said enough. If fear of the law had come over me, you would not be here to witness the manner in which Ishmael Bush deals out justice."
"Smother not your good intentions; and remember, if you contemplate violence to any among us, that the arm of that law you affect to despise, reaches far, and that though its movements are sometimes slow, they are not the less certain!"
"Yes, there is too much truth in his words, squatter," said the trapper, whose attentive ears rarely suffered a syllable to be utterly unheeded in his presence. "A busy and a troublesome arm it often proves to be here, in this land of America; where, as they say, man is left greatly to the following of his own wishes, compared to other countries; and happier, ay, and more manly and more honest, too, is he for the privilege! Why do you know, my men, that there are regions where the law is so busy as to say, In this fashion shall you live, in that fashion shall you die, and in such another fashion shall you take leave of the world, to be sent before the judgment-seat of the Lord! A wicked and a troublesome meddling is that, with the business of One who has not made His creatures to be herded, like oxen, and driven from field to field, as their stupid and selfish keepers may judge of their need and wants. A miserable land must that be, where they fetter the mind as well as the body, and where the creatures of God, being born children, are kept so by the wicked inventions of men who would take upon themselves the office of the great Governor of all!"
During the delivery of this pertinent opinion, Ishmael was content to be silent, though the look, with which he regarded the speaker, manifested any other feeling than that of amity. When the old man was done, he turned to Middleton, and continued the subject which the other had interrupted.
"As to ourselves, young Captain, there has been wrong on both sides. If I have borne hard upon your feelings, in taking away your wife with an honest intention of giving her back to you, when the plans of that devil incarnate were answered, so have you broken into my encampment, aiding and abetting, as they have called many an honester bargain, in destroying my property."
"But what I did was to liberate--"
"The matter is settled between us," interrupted Ishmael, with the air of one who, having made up his own opinion on the merits of the question, cared very little for those of other people; "you and your wife are free to go and come, when and how you please. Abner, set the Captain at liberty; and now, if you will tarry until I am ready to draw nigher to the settlements, you shall both have the benefit of carriage; if not, never say that you did not get a friendly offer."
"Now, may the strong oppress me, and my sins be visited harshly on my own head, if I forget your honesty, however slow it has been in showing itself," cried Middleton, hastening to the side of the weeping Inez, the instant he was released; "and, friend, I pledge you the honour of a soldier, that your own part of this transaction shall be forgotten, whatever I may deem fit to have done, when I reach a place where the arm of government can make itself felt."
The dull smile, with which the squatter answered to this assurance, proved how little he valued the pledge that the youth, in the first revulsion of his feelings, was so free to make.
"Neither fear nor favour, but what I call justice, has brought me to this judgment," he said, "do you that which may seem right in your eyes, and believe that the world is wide enough to hold us both, without our crossing each other's path again! If you ar' content, well; if you ar' not content, seek to ease your feelings in your own fashion. I shall not ask to be let up, when you once put me fairly down. And now, Doctor, have I come to your leaf in my accounts. It is time to foot up the small reckoning, that has been running on, for some time, atwixt us. With you, I entered into open and manly faith; in what manner have you kept it?"
The singular felicity, with which Ishmael had contrived to shift the responsibility of all that had passed, from his own shoulders to those of his prisoners, backed as it was by circumstances that hardly admitted of a very philosophical examination of any mooted point in ethics, was sufficiently embarrassing to the several individuals, who were so unexpectedly required to answer for a conduct which, in their simplicity, they had deemed so meritorious. The life of Obed had been so purely theoretic, that his amazement was not the least embarrassing at a state of things which might not have proved so very remarkable had he been a little more practised in the ways of the world. The worthy naturalist was not the first by many, who found himself, at the precise moment when he was expecting praise, suddenly arraigned, to answer for the very conduct on which he rested all his claims to commendation. Though not a little scandalised, at the unexpected turn of the transaction, he was fain to make the best of circumstances, and to bring forth such matter in justification, as first presented itself to his disordered faculties.
"That there did exist a certain compactum, or agreement, between Obed Batt, M.D., and Ishmael Bush, viator, or erratic husbandman," he said, endeavouring to avoid all offence in the use of terms, "I am not disposed to deny. I will admit that it was therein conditioned, or stipulated, that a certain journey should be performed conjointly, or in company, until so many days had been numbered. But as the said time has fully expired, I presume it fair to infer that the bargain may now be said to be obsolete."
"Ishmael!" interrupted the impatient Esther, "make no words with a man who can break your bones as easily as set them, and let the poisoning devil go! He's a cheat, from box to phial. Give him half the prairie, and take the other half yourself. He an acclimator! I will engage to get the brats acclimated to a fever-and-ague bottom in a week, and not a word shall be uttered harder to pronounce than the bark of a cherry- tree, with perhaps a drop or two of western comfort. One thing ar' a fact, Ishmael; I like no fellow-travellers who can give a heavy feel to an honest woman's tongue, I--and that without caring whether her household is in order, or out of order."
The air of settled gloom, which had taken possession of the squatter's countenance, lighted for an instant with a look of dull drollery, as he answered--
"Different people might judge differently, Esther, of the virtue of the man's art. But sin' it is your wish to let him depart, I will not plough the prairie to make the walking rough. Friend, you are at liberty to go into the settlements, and there I would advise you to tarry, as men like me who make but few contracts, do not relish the custom of breaking them so easily."
"And now, Ishmael," resumed his conquering wife, "in order to keep a quiet family and to smother all heart-burnings between us, show yonder Red-skin and his daughter," pointing to the aged Le Balafre and the widowed Tachechana, "the way to their village, and let us say to them --God bless you, and farewell, in the same breath!"
"They are the captives of the Pawnee, according to the rules of Indian warfare, and I cannot meddle with his rights."
"Beware the devil, my man! He's a cheat and a tempter, and none can say they ar' safe with his awful delusions before their eyes! Take the advice of one who has the honour of your name at heart, and send the tawny Jezebel away."
The squatter laid his broad hand on her shoulder, and looking her steadily in the eye, he answered, in tones that were both stern and solemn--
"Woman, we have that before us which calls our thoughts to other matters than the follies you mean. Remember what is to come, and put your silly jealousy to sleep."
"It is true, it is true," murmured his wife, moving back among her daughters; "God forgive me, that I should forget it!"
"And now, young man; you, who have so often come into my clearing, under the pretence of lining the bee into his hole," resumed Ishmael, after a momentary pause, as if to recover the equilibrium of his mind, "with you there is a heavier account to settle. Not satisfied with rummaging my camp, you have stolen a girl who is akin to my wife, and who I had calculated to make one day a daughter of my own."
A stronger sensation was produced by this, than by any of the preceding interrogations. All the young men bent their curious eyes on Paul and Ellen, the former of whom seemed in no small mental confusion, while the latter bent her face on her bosom in shame.
"Harkee, friend Ishmael Bush," returned the bee-hunter, who found that he was expected to answer to the charge of burglary, as well as to that of abduction; "that I did not give the most civil treatment to your pots and pails, I am not going to gainsay. If you will name the price you put upon the articles, it is possible the damage may be quietly settled between us, and all hard feelings forgotten. I was not in a church-going humour when we got upon your rock, and it is more than probable there was quite as much kicking as preaching among your wares; but a hole in the best man's coat can be mended by money. As to the matter of Ellen Wade, here, it may not be got over so easily. Different people have different opinions on the subject of matrimony. Some think it is enough to say yes and no, to the questions of the magistrate, or of the parson, if one happens to be handy, in order to make a quiet house; but I think that where a young woman's mind is fairly bent on going in a certain direction, it will be quite as prudent to let her body follow. Not that I mean to say Ellen was not altogether forced to what she did, and therefore she is just as innocent, in this matter, as yonder jackass, who was made to carry her, and greatly against his will, too, as I am ready to swear he would say himself, if he could speak as loud as he can bray."
"Nelly," resumed the squatter, who paid very little attention to what Paul considered a highly creditable and ingenious vindication, "Nelly, this is a wide and a wicked world, on which you have been in such a hurry to cast yourself. You have fed and you have slept in my camp for a year, and I did hope that you had found the free air of the borders, enough to your mind to wish to remain among us."
"Let the girl have her will," muttered Esther, from the rear; "he, who might have persuaded her to stay, is sleeping in the cold and naked prairie, and little hope is left of changing her humour; besides, a woman's mind is a wilful thing, and not easily turned from its waywardness, as you know yourself, my man, or I should not be here the mother of your sons and daughters."
The squatter seemed reluctant to abandon his views of the abashed girl, so easily; and before he answered to the suggestion of his wife, he turned his usual dull look along the line of the curious countenances of his boys, as if to see whether there was not one among them fit to fill the place of the deceased. Paul was not slow to observe the expression, and hitting nigher than usual on the secret thoughts of the other, he believed he had fallen on an expedient which might remove every difficulty.
"It is quite plain, friend Bush," he said, "that there are two opinions in this matter; yours for your sons, and mine for myself. I see but one amicable way of settling this dispute, which is as follows:--do you make a choice among your boys of any you will, and let us walk off together for the matter of a few miles into the prairies; the one who stays behind, can never trouble any man's house or his fixen, and the one who comes back may make the best of his way he can, in the good wishes of the young woman."
"Paul!" exclaimed the reproachful, but smothered voice of Ellen.
"Never fear, Nelly," whispered the literal bee-hunter, whose straight- going mind suggested no other motive of uneasiness, on the part of his mistress, than concern for himself; "I have taken the measure of them all, and you may trust an eye that has seen to line many a bee into his hole!"
"I am not about to set myself up as a ruler of inclinations," observed the squatter. "If the heart of the child is truly in the settlements, let her declare it; she shall have no let or hinderance from me. Speak, Nelly, and let what you say come from your wishes, without fear or favour. Would you leave us to go with this young man into the settled countries, or will you tarry and share the little we have to give, but which to you we give so freely?"
Thus called upon to decide, Ellen could no longer hesitate. The glance of her eye was at first timid and furtive. But as the colour flushed her features, and her breathing became quick and excited, it was apparent that the native spirit of the girl was gaining the ascendency over the bashfulness of sex.
"You took me a fatherless, impoverished, and friendless orphan," she said, struggling to command her voice, "when others, who live in what may be called affluence compared to your state, chose to forget me; and may Heaven in its goodness bless you for it! The little I have done, will never pay you for that one act of kindness. I like not your manner of life; it is different from the ways of my childhood, and it is different from my wishes; still, had you not led this sweet and unoffending lady from her friends, I should never have quitted you, until you yourself had said, Go, and the blessing of God go with you!'"
"The act was not wise, but it is repented of; and so far as it can be done, in safety, it shall be repaired. Now, speak freely, will you tarry, or will you go?"
"I have promised the lady," said Ellen, dropping her eyes again to the earth, "not to leave her; and after she has received so much wrong from our hands, she may have a right to claim that I keep my word."
"Take the cords from the young man," said Ishmael. When the order was obeyed, he motioned for all his sons to advance, and he placed them in a row before the eyes of Ellen. "Now let there be no trifling, but open your heart. Here ar' all I have to offer, besides a hearty welcome."
The distressed girl turned her abashed look from the countenance of one of the young men to that of another, until her eye met the troubled and working features of Paul. Then nature got the better of forms. She threw herself into the arms of the bee-hunter, and sufficiently proclaimed her choice by sobbing aloud. Ishmael signed to his sons to fall back, and evidently mortified, though perhaps not disappointed by the result, he no longer hesitated.
"Take her," he said, "and deal honestly and kindly by her. The girl has that in her which should make her welcome, in any man's house, and I should be loth to hear she ever came to harm. And now I have settled with you all, on terms that I hope you will not find hard, but, on the contrary, just and manly. I have only another question to ask, and that is of the Captain; do you choose to profit by my teams in going into the settlements, or not?"
"I hear, that some soldiers of my party are looking for me near the villages of the Pawnees," said Middleton, "and I intend to accompany this chief, in order to join my men."
"Then the sooner we part the better. Horses are plenty on the bottom. Go; make your choice, and leave us in peace."
"That is impossible, while the old man, who has been a friend of my family near half a century, is left a prisoner. What has he done, that he too is not released?
"Ask no questions that may lead to deceitful answers," sullenly returned the squatter; "I have dealings of my own with that trapper, that it may not befit an officer of the States to meddle with. Go, while your road is open."
"The man may be giving you honest counsel, and that which it concerns you all to hearken to," observed the old captive, who seemed in no uneasiness at the extraordinary condition in which he found himself. "The Siouxes are a numberless and bloody-minded race, and no one can say how long it may be, afore they will be out again on the scent of revenge. Therefore I say to you, go, also; and take especial heed, in crossing the bottoms, that you get not entangled again in the fires, for the honest hunters often burn the grass at this season, in order that the buffaloes may find a sweeter and a greener pasturage in the spring."
"I should forget not only my gratitude, but my duty to the laws, were I to leave this prisoner in your hands, even by his own consent, without knowing the nature of his crime, in which we may have all been his innocent accessaries."
"Will it satisfy you to know, that he merits all he will receive?"
"It will at least change my opinion of his character."
"Look then at this," said Ishmael, placing before the eyes of the Captain the bullet that had been found about the person of the dead Asa; "with this morsel of lead did he lay low as fine a boy as ever gave joy to a parent's eyes!"
"I cannot believe that he has done this deed, unless in self-defence, or on some justifiable provocation. That he knew of the death of your son, I confess, for he pointed out the brake in which the body lay, but that he has wrongfully taken his life, nothing but his own acknowledgment shall persuade me to believe."
"I have lived long," commenced the trapper, who found, by the general pause, that he was expected to vindicate himself from the heavy imputation, "and much evil have I seen in my day. Many are the prowling bears and leaping panthers that I have met, fighting for the morsel which has been thrown in their way; and many are the reasoning men, that I have looked on striving against each other unto death, in order that human madness might also have its hour. For myself, I hope, there is no boasting in saying, that though my hand has been needed in putting down wickedness and oppression, it has never struck a blow of which its owner will be ashamed to hear, at a reckoning that shall be far mightier than this."
"If my father has taken life from one of his tribe," said the young Pawnee, whose quick eye had read the meaning of what was passing, in the bullet and in the countenances of the others, "let him give himself up to the friends of the dead, like a warrior. He is too just to need thongs to lead him to judgment."
"Boy, I hope you do me justice. If I had done the foul deed, with which they charge me, I should have manhood enough to come and offer my head to the blow of punishment, as all good and honest Red-men do the same." Then giving his anxious Indian friend a look, to re-assure him of his innocence, he turned to the rest of his attentive and interested listeners, as he continued in English, "I have a short story to tell, and he that believes it will believe the truth, and he that disbelieves it will only lead himself astray, and perhaps his neighbour too. We were all out-lying about your camp, friend squatter, as by this time you may begin to suspect, when we found that it contained a wronged and imprisoned lady, with intentions neither more honest nor dishonest than to set her free, as in nature and justice she had a right to be. Seeing that I was more skilled in scouting than the others, while they lay back in the cover, I was sent upon the plain, on the business of the reconnoitrings. You little thought that one was so nigh, who saw into all the circumventions of your hunt; but there was I, sometimes flat behind a bush or a tuft of grass, sometimes rolling down a hill into a bottom, and little did you dream that your motions were watched, as the panther watches the drinking deer. Lord, squatter, when I was a man in the pride and strength of my days, I have looked in at the tent door of the enemy, and they sleeping, ay, and dreaming too, of being at home and in peace! I wish there was time to give you the partic--"
"Proceed with your explanation," interrupted Middleton.
"Ah! and a bloody and wicked sight it was. There I lay in a low bed of grass, as two of the hunters came nigh each other. Their meeting was not cordial, nor such as men, who meet in a desert, should give each other; but I thought they would have parted in peace, until I saw one put his rifle to the other's back, and do what I call a treacherous and sinful murder. It was a noble and a manly youth, that boy--Though the powder burnt his coat, he stood the shock for more than a minute, before he fell. Then was he brought to his knees, and a desperate and manful fight he made to the brake, like a wounded bear seeking a cover!"
"And why, in the name of heavenly justice, did you conceal this?" cried Middleton.
"What! think you, Captain, that a man, who has spent more than threescore years in the wilderness, has not learned the virtue of discretion. What red warrior runs to tell the sights he has seen, until a fitting time? I took the Doctor to the place, in order to see whether his skill might not come in use; and our friend, the bee- hunter, being in company, was knowing to the fact that the bushes held the body."
"Ay; it ar' true," said Paul; "but not knowing what private reasons might make the old trapper wish to hush the matter up, I said as little about the thing as possible, which was just nothing at all."
"And who was the perpetrator of this deed?" demanded Middleton.
"If by perpetrator you mean him who did the act, yonder stands the man; and a shame, and a disgrace is it to our race, that he is of the blood and family of the dead."
"He lies! he lies!" shrieked Abiram. "I did no murder; I gave but blow for blow."
The voice of Ishmael was deep, and even awful, as he answered--
"It is enough. Let the old man go. Boys, put the brother of your mother in his place."
"Touch me not!" cried Abiram. "I'll call on God to curse you if you touch me!"
The wild and disordered gleam of his eye, at first induced the young men to arrest their steps; but when Abner, older and more resolute than the rest, advanced full upon him, with a countenance that bespoke the hostile state of his mind, the affrighted criminal turned, and, making an abortive effort to fly, fell with his face to the earth, to all appearance perfectly dead. Amid the low exclamations of horror which succeeded, Ishmael made a gesture which commanded his sons to bear the body into the tent.
"Now," he said, turning to those who were strangers in his camp, "nothing is left to be done, but for each to go his own road. I wish you all well; and to you, Ellen, though you may not prize the gift, I say, God bless you!"
Middleton, awe-struck by what he believed a manifest judgment of Heaven, made no further resistance, but prepared to depart. The arrangements were brief, and soon completed. When they were all ready, they took a short and silent leave of the squatter and his family; and then the whole of the singularly constituted party were seen slowly and silently following the victorious Pawnee towards his distant villages.Next