Elsie Singmaster.

The long journey, by Elsie Singmaster online

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"Where is Quagnant?" asked Conrad.

The women imitated the sighting of a gun and pointed to their mouths.
The children, dressed in little coats and leggings of leather, pointed
with amazement to Conrad's fair skin and then at their own dark cheeks.
Finally one came close to him.

"Eyes-like-the-Sky," said he, and his companions repeated the strange
name.

It was repeated again when the hunters returned with deer meat, and
there seemed to be general satisfaction with the discernment of the
little boy whose own name was Young Deer.

At once the women prepared the feast. Portions of the meat were set
aside to be smoked; the rest was divided into slices and broiled. There
was no seasoning and the Indian bread was coarse, but the meal was
better than many which the guest had eaten.

For a few days Conrad watched the play of the children, who showed
him haunts of beaver and woodchuck, and taught him to make and spin
a heart-shaped top of wood. With them he played Blind Man's Buff, in
which the bandage across his eyes was his own dullness of vision which
could not see the little figure lying among the leaves. He watched also
the women braiding their baskets and grinding earth into the paint for
the faces and bodies of their husbands.

In the evening he sat with the Indians in Quagnant's house. At first
their speech was a strange jargon, but gradually the sounds stayed in
his mind and were associated with the objects to which they belonged.
The comfortable nights in the chief's wigwam and the good food put
color into his cheeks and flesh on his thin body.

But idleness and luxury did not long endure. He had come to look upon
the deerskins which served him for a bed as his own. One night, when he
wished to lie down, they were gone. He asked for them and was laughed
at.

"You have no deerskin," said Quagnant.

In the morning Quagnant gave him a gun and led the way into the forest.
Three days later when they returned, Quagnant had two deerskins and
Conrad none. Again he slept on the ground and again he went with
Quagnant into the forest. On the third journey he shot a buck.

For one night after the skin was dressed, he slept upon it in the
chief's house. At the next nightfall he found himself and his bed
thrust outside. The Indians laughed at his astonishment and every laugh
said, "Make a house for yourself!"

With the advice and aid of the children, Conrad built himself a wigwam.
At once Quagnant demolished it.

"Wind come - house gone. Eyes-like-the-Sky can do better."

When his house was finished to Quagnant's satisfaction, Conrad had a
few days of peace. Then for a day he was allowed no food; then for two
days; then for three. He was taken to a distant point in the forest and
required to find his way home. One bitter day he was dropped into a
deep, icy pond in a near-by stream.

As he understood more of the language, he listened earnestly to the
talk of the older Indians. Through all ran the consciousness of
danger, - distant, perhaps, but real. Sometimes messengers from other
tribes appeared suddenly in the village. Painted, armed, terrible, they
talked always of the bow and the string, the long line of the French
whom they called Onotio, and the shorter line of English whom they
called Onas.

"Upon Onas Onotio will make war. When we walk in the forest we hear it
shouted by the trees. We will all ally ourselves with Onas."

When there came to the village those who would exterminate all
pale-faces, Quagnant hurried Conrad out of the way. In January five
great chiefs came to visit Quagnant. Conrad gazed at them earnestly,
hoping to see the King of Rivers. They looked back at him scowling and
muttering, and Conrad retreated to his wigwam.

The chiefs went to Quagnant's house, and before them the women placed
broiled venison and wild turkey. Afterwards long pipes were solemnly
smoked. Then Quagnant gave a command to Little Squaw into whose eyes
came a frightened look. Quagnant saw her hesitate.

"Go!" he shouted.

Hidden away in the cache of Quagnant, where there was now little
else, there were a few black bottles, paid to him in return for many
beautiful skins carried to Schenectady. Little Squaw fetched them as
she was bidden.

In the middle of the night Conrad heard the sound of carousing and
looked out. The fire-water had done its evil work, and the Indians
sought some victim upon whom to spend their madness. There was a flash
of steel and past Conrad's head flew a sharp axe. Other weapons flashed
in the moonlight. Terrified, without blanket or other extra covering,
Conrad fled into the forest.

Two days later in a blinding snowstorm he ventured to return. Whether
Quagnant remembered his behavior it was difficult to tell. His visitors
had gone, and he sat, sullen and miserable, beside the fire in the
wigwam, making no answer to the complaints of Little Squaw.

"The cache is almost empty," said she. "All the summer I labored and
now you have given large presents to the Oneidas. I saw them go heavily
laden. Now we will have a great storm when no hunting can be done."

The first day of the snowstorm Conrad spent in repairing the damage to
his wigwam. He thought of his father and his brothers and sisters, and
wondered once more, in deep depression, to what goal his wanderings
would bring him. At nightfall he ate the last of his food.

It was still dark when he woke in the morning; at least no light came
through the chinks of the wigwam or through the opening at the top.
Stiff and sore, he turned and slept. When he woke again, he sprang up
and went to lift the curtain at the door. To his amazement he looked
into darkness. When he thrust out his hand he discovered that it was
not night which surrounded him, but a wall of snow, higher than the
wigwam.

He was not at first alarmed. He had heard more than one story of
imprisonment for days while the great snows fell. The snow was porous,
and the wigwams, thus blanketed, were warm. He had, it was true, no
food, but he could go without food for a day or two. He was still not
thoroughly rested and he would sleep.

He was wakened by what sounded like the report of a gun. His heart
failed. Perhaps Quagnant's friends had come back and were prepared to
finish the work which they had threatened! Again there came the sharp
explosion. Now Conrad remembered the cold nights of the great frost in
Gross Anspach when the trees had cracked like pistols. The snow must
have ceased to fall and rescue would soon come.

In the morning his mind was not clear. He heard a whistling sound in
the top of the wigwam and saw a pale light filtering in. Deep drifts
must be forming.

"It will be best to stay here," said he heavily.

As the hours passed he fell into a stupor. The wind died, the light
of sunset showed for a few minutes in a yellow haze at the top of the
wigwam, and once more through the long night the trees cracked like
pistols.

Quagnant and his squaw and their large brood got comfortably through
the three days of imprisonment. Quagnant grew mild and peaceable; he
told stories to the children and obeyed his wife. But when she ordered
him to go and dig Conrad out, he sent several young Indians in his
place. The recollection of the flying hatchet disturbed him.

"I will drink no more fire-water," he promised himself solemnly.

Run-as-the-Wind and Turkey Feather and Young Deer all worked diligently
with the hoes which they borrowed from their mothers. As they
approached the door of the wigwam they cried, -

"Eyes-like-the-Sky! Wake up! Wake up!"

When there was no answer they worked faster.

"Perhaps Eyes-like-the-Sky had no food!"

"A bear might have devoured him as he slept!"

"He is brave; he would kill the bear."

When they had reached the door of the wigwam and still Conrad did not
answer, the rescuing party grew very quiet. Little Squaw was the first
to thrust her head through the hole which the boys made.

"He lies here like the snow itself! Quick! some hot broth from
Quagnant's kettle!"

With a wooden spoon she forced a few drops through Conrad's lips, then
a little more. Then she sent Turkey Feather to Quagnant.

"Tell Quagnant a good bed is to be made by the fire. Tell him Little
Squaw sends him this and this." And Little Squaw picked up the hatchets
of Quagnant and his friends.

That night the Mohawk village feasted again. Relieved by the ending of
the storm and the restoration of Conrad, the squaws forgot the alarming
emptiness of each family cache.

The snow thawed little by little. When a crust formed, it was not thick
enough to bear the weight of the hunters. Food grew more scarce and the
usual two meals a day dwindled to one. Another heavy snow made hunting
impossible. More sullen grew the warriors, more angry the squaws, more
miserable the little children.

After the second great snow a crust formed and Quagnant started at
once into the forest, taking Conrad with him. The two crossed the hill
which lay toward the west and followed the next valley to the north.
It was bitterly cold; insufficiently clad and weak from lack of food,
Conrad trudged along, his heart heavy, his mind dull. To him now the
new country was a trap in which all the Germans would be finally lost.
Quagnant did not speak except to give sullen orders. At nightfall the
two camped supperless and without shelter. There was now no warming of
a bed, since the wood lay deep under the snow.

When the two took up their weary journey, it seemed to Conrad that
Quagnant tried deliberately to court death. He climbed another western
hill, and his voice became more gruff. Was it possible that he meant to
lead Conrad far away and desert him? Then there would be one less mouth
in the Indian village.

The sun was high when they came to the top of the hill. Another valley
lay before them with a swift, dark stream flowing through its center.
Another hill rose opposite. Conrad wondered drearily whether his numb
feet must climb that also.

"I wish that the end would come soon," said he bitterly. "I wish - "

Walking heedlessly as he had walked on the Schenectady meadow, Conrad
came with a thump into the same obstacle. Before him Quagnant had
stopped rigid. Terrified, Conrad looked up. Quagnant was staring down
into the valley, where along the stream beside a deep pool a small herd
of deer nibbled the green laurel leaves. They were almost motionless
and they were within easy shot.

Quagnant pulled the trigger and a deer dropped. His comrades lifted
their heads, but before they could dash away in terror another fell.
The flight of the remainder soon ended. Before them the stream plunged
over a precipice; on both sides the icy walls rose steeply. A third and
a fourth fell before Quagnant's accurate shots. There was a glow on his
dark cheeks, a fire in his black eyes. He took a step to one side and
pulled the trigger again.

Then, in spite of the silence to which he had been trained, Quagnant
gave a fierce yell. He had gone a little too near the edge of the steep
slope. His feet slipped as the gun recoiled and he slid, making frantic
efforts to regain his footing.

But his efforts were vain. With increasing speed he coasted down the
hillside, his course leading straight toward the rocky wall which
dropped abruptly for at least fifty feet. It was as though an insect
should slip down the side of a cup with sure drowning in the bottom.
Then, near the brink of the pool, a bush caught the pack on his
shoulders and held him suspended.

Now Quagnant was silent. The deer thongs which bound the pack were
strong, but his body was heavy. He could see below him the black pool.
In its icy water he might keep himself afloat for a few seconds, but
to climb out would be impossible. Across the stream he could see the
bodies of the slain deer, food for all his people, and he could hear
the snow crust breaking as the others made their escape. Conrad, far
above him in safety, he could not see.

Quagnant shut his eyes and listened to the gurgle of the water and
looked into his poor Indian soul. The logic of the case was simple.
He could not move without help, and Conrad would not help him. He had
abused the pale-face and the pale-face would certainly desert him. Even
if there were mercy in his heart, Conrad could not come down the hill
without risking his life nor return to the village for help before
Quagnant would die of cold.

Then Quagnant heard above the gurgle of the water a strange sound as
though some one were following his wild flight. There was the sound
of sliding feet, then silence, then again the sound of sliding feet.
Presently began a sharp chip, chip, as though the ice were being struck
with a hatchet. Quagnant, with eyes still closed, began to address the
Great Spirit.

"I pray that I may not be cut off from my present life, Great and Good
Spirit."

Nearer and nearer came the sound of chipping; higher and higher rose
the hopes of Quagnant. It would be fearful, indeed, to slip over the
precipice with rescue at hand! But was it rescue? Quagnant remembered
again with sickening pain the sharp hatchet hurled at Conrad. It was
that very hatchet which Conrad held in his hand!

Now Quagnant could feel each stroke on the ice. They were near his
head - he gave himself up. They had passed his head and were even with
his waist - he dared to breathe again. When the chipping had sounded for
a long time beside his foot, he felt a hand touch his foot and move it
to a hole in the ice in which it could find support. Thus aided, he
was able to lift his arms and draw himself up beside the little bush.
Near by, supporting himself by a tree, sat Conrad.

With immobile countenance and without even his customary grunt,
Quagnant climbed the mountain in the tracks which Conrad had made.
After he had rested for a few minutes and had ceased to tremble, he
walked along the ridge until he found an easy descent to the stream
and to the carcases of the deer. He did not speak until he had dressed
a portion of the meat with his long knife and cooked it over a little
fire of driftwood which had been carried high on the bank where it had
been protected by thick laurel and hemlock shrubbery. This he would not
touch until Conrad had eaten. Then at last he spoke.

"A cloud had come between us, Conrad, and the skies were dark. It is
past now forever and the skies are clear."

Hiding in the stream, away from the sharp claws of panther or wildcat,
the meat which they could not carry, the two set out for home. The
next day the hunters brought in, not only Quagnant's kill, but three
more deer. That evening Conrad was invited to the feast of the grown
men and was given a long pipe. He did not like the strong tobacco, but
he did his best to smoke, aware that he had been paid a great honor.
At him Quagnant looked solemnly, both during the feast and afterwards
when they sat together by the fire. In Quagnant's mind was taking shape
a strange plan, at once brilliant and cunning. If Conrad could have
looked into the chief's mind and could have seen there, slowly forming,
the last episode in his strange apprenticeship, he might well have been
terrified. The meeting in the London fog was about to bear its fruit.

At last the sullen winter was past and the trees began to bud and the
meadows to grow green. The women prepared their little patches of
ground for maize and potatoes, old canoes were mended and new canoes
were built, the young men began to court and the maidens to grow more
shy. When Conrad spoke of joining his father, who must be by this time
in Schoharie, Quagnant shook his head.

"You have been with us through the cruel winter: you cannot leave when
the Great Spirit is making all things beautiful."

Now dark forms glided through the forest once more, as though there
were perpetual patrol in its dim aisles. Messengers came to the
village, messengers were sent away. The Mohawks spoke of their country
as the Long House whose back was at the Hudson River and whose door was
Niagara. In the spring weather all the inhabitants were astir.

One morning, at dawn, Conrad felt a touch on his shoulder and sprang up
as he had been trained. Quagnant stood before him, enormous in the pale
light. In his hand he held a new suit of doeskin and a bowl of the red
paint with which his tribe painted stars and turtles on their cheeks.
With a few strokes he decorated Conrad's tanned face. Together they ate
and upon the shoulder of each Little Squaw fastened a pack of food and
a blanket.

"Where are we going?" asked Conrad.

Quagnant made no answer except to motion Conrad to follow him through
the village. There, with his long stride, Quagnant took up the trail
toward the southwest.




X

JOURNEY'S END


It would be difficult to tell which fared the worse during the long
winter, the Germans who had forced their way to the Schoharie Valley in
November, or those who remained, like John Conrad, in the settlements.
All were poor, all were ill-clad, all were insufficiently fed. The
cruel winter continued the weeding-out of the weak. At Schoharie the
Indians helped the newcomers according to their promise, and what food
and furs they could spare they gave cheerfully.

In March, John Conrad and all those who had remained started to
Schoharie. There were indications of an early spring, and it was
important that crops should be sown. From Conrad nothing had been heard
and his father grew daily more anxious. Sabina, like Margareta and
Magdalena, had found a mate, and Barbara had taken her place with the
kind Englishwoman.

No sooner had the journey begun than the last of the winter's storms
was upon the little party. Little children died and grown persons
suffered cruelly. Joined with their friends at Schoharie in the valley
of their dreams, the pilgrims waited, with what patience they could
summon, for spring.

When, finally, the snow had melted for the last time and the meadows
were growing green and the willows were yellow along the river, the
hearts of the Germans rested at last. The lovely valley was lovelier
than their dreams. Log houses were built, farms were laid out, and with
their poor tools they prepared to create a German valley which should
bloom like the rose.

Still no word of Conrad was to be had. He was in the village of
Quagnant to the west - that the Indians knew, but they could tell no
more. His father grew more and more anxious and unhappy. As he worked
the soil, he lifted his head to watch; when his day's work was done, he
walked into the forest toward the west.

Meanwhile, as Conrad followed the long stride of Quagnant through
the budding forest, he remembered the weary journey in November from
Schenectady to the Indian village. Then he had nearly perished with
exhaustion; now he walked without weariness. Quagnant remembered also
and commented approvingly.

"Eyes-like-the-Sky does not stumble or faint. He is a true Indian."

"This is a smooth trail."

In Indian fashion Quagnant made a comparison.

"That was a smooth trail, but to Eyes-like-the-Sky it was unfamiliar.
The heart of the Indian seemed also strange to you, but now it is
plain."

As the two sat by a little camp-fire in the cool evenings, Quagnant
looked solemnly at Conrad. They had now many companions; tall chiefs
wrapped in blankets and stalking solemnly, young men heavily armed and
thickly painted. The strangers stared at Conrad in amazement, their
keen eyes piercing the thick layer of paint with which his cheeks were
covered. When Conrad glanced back at them, they looked at his eyes
and shook their heads. They talked with Quagnant of the Long House,
of distant enemies whom they called the Lenape, and of other matters
which Conrad did not understand. It was clearly evident that Conrad's
presence startled and shocked them.

Presently Quagnant grew communicative. One evening when he and Conrad
camped alone, he told him something of the affairs of the Indians.

"The Five Nations are at peace, but they will not always be at peace.
Many important things are coming to pass, Conrad."

It was in the middle of a bright May morning that Quagnant and his
companion reached the end of their journey. The trail led over the last
stream, through the last wood and thence to a great hill, upon whose
side lay a large Indian village. Here it was that the hundreds of small
human streams had converged; here the savages were gathered, it seemed
to Conrad, in an innumerable host. At sight of them, his heart throbbed
and his skin pricked with fright. Quagnant's face was hideous, and
here Quagnant was repeated hundreds of times. Quagnant's great body,
crowned with its bristling eagle feathers, was a bit terrifying even to
Conrad, and here was Quagnant's fierce strength multiplied by a great
army. There were Indians wrapped in blankets, Indians without covering,
Indians with hideous nose-rings, and here and there shamans or medicine
men with masks of animals, as though the very beasts of the forest had
come to join the council.

When strength returned to Conrad's frightened heart, he breathed a
frantic prayer to be allowed to escape. For such a scene as this no
experience of his life had prepared him. But he dared not show a sign
of fear; he must walk on behind Quagnant, up the street of the village
between the gigantic creatures and before the black, beady, piercing
eyes. As Quagnant approached, he was hailed with many a loud "Ho, Ho."
The sound which followed him was different, - a low, disapproving murmur.

Straight up the great hill led the feet of Quagnant; close to him
followed Conrad. At the summit of the hill the forest trees had been
cut in a wide circle and the ground had been beaten like a hard floor.
About the rim of the circle were placed tree-stumps and logs; in the
middle burned a fire, round which crouched shamans, more hideous than
the warriors. Beside them lay their drums of tightly stretched skin and
their rattles of turtle shell or gourd. They sat motionless, their eyes
upon the fire.

Quagnant bade Conrad sit down at the edge of the woods, and himself
sat beside him. One by one Indians came to speak to him, to Conrad
a consoling sign of his importance. Longest of all he spoke with an
Oneida chief named Shikellamy. What they said Conrad could not hear,
but he could see that Shikellamy looked upon him kindly.

"He has a great heart and a wise mind," said Quagnant as the chief went
away. "In council he makes our way clear."

At noon the shamans beat their drums and shook their rattles, and at
once, breaking off conversation with one another or with the squaws
of the village, the Indians approached the council fire. Certain
ones, Quagnant and Shikellamy among them, took seats together on the
tree-stumps; the others sat on logs or on the ground. Outside the
circle stood scores of young men. Presently the shamans ceased to beat
their drums and shake their rattles and crouched again about the fire.

Now followed a period of complete silence. The chiefs did not move; the
young warriors seemed scarcely to breathe; even from the village came
no sound of speech and no cry of child.

Shikellamy was the first to rise. He spoke in a deep voice and was
listened to with breathless attention.

"Brothers of the Long House, it is now many years since the great tree
was planted under whose young roots we buried our hatchets. Many moons
have risen and waned since we wove our wampum into one belt. Many
feasts have been eaten since the undying flame of our council fire was
lighted, and since Mohawk, Seneca, Onondaga, Oneida, and Cayuga became
brothers. The great tree will continue to grow, the sun and moon to
rise and the council fire to send out into the forest its clear light.
Our hatchets, buried in the ground, will rust before they are dug up.

"We are now at peace with all men, and strangers seek our favor. Our
enemies fear us and we fear no one.

"But, brothers of the Long House, there are matters to be considered.
Claims have been laid against us. Our young men, in the heat of anger
and inflamed by drink, have done here and there a little injury. The
tears of those whom they injured must be wiped away with presents. Each
wrong must be considered and we must make recompense without grudging.

"These matters are, however, small. Our brother Onotio has something to
say to us. Our brother Onas has also something to say to us. Between
Onotio on the one side and Onas on the other, there is undying hatred,
whose cause is shut off from our eyes. We cannot remain friends both to
Onotio and to Onas, who draw nearer and nearer to one another through
the forests. Soon the two black clouds will meet, and the grass on the


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Online LibraryElsie SingmasterThe long journey, by Elsie Singmaster → online text (page 7 of 8)