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At a distance of two miles above Heywood's farm, and on the southern branch of the Chicago, which winds its slightly serpentine coarse between the wood and the prairie, there was at that period a small deep bay, formed by two adjacent and abrupt points of densely wooded land, in the oool shadows of which the pike, the black bass, and the pickerel loved to lie in the heat of summer, and where, in early spring, though in less numbers, they were wont to congregate. This was the customary fishing spot of the garrison—six men and a non-commissioned officer going almost daily, with their ample store of lines and spears, as much, although not avowedly, for their own amusement, as for the supply of the officers' table. What remained, after a certain division among these, became the property of the captors, who, after appropriating to themselves what was necessary for their next day's meal, distributed the rest among the non-commisaioned officers and the company. As the season advanced and the fish became more plentiful, there was little limitation of quantity, for the freight nightly brought home, and taken by the line and spear alone, was sufficient to afford to every one abundance. In truth, even in the depth of winter, there was little privation on the score of fresh food endured by the garrison,—the fat venison brought in, and sold for the veriest trifle by the Indians, the luscious and ample prairie-hen, chiefly shot by the officers, and the fish we have named, leaving little necessity for the consumption of the salt food with which it was but indifferently stored.
On the day on which our narrative has commenced, the usual fishing party had ascended the river at an early hour, for the severeness of the season and the shortness of the days Tendered it an object that they should be on the accustomed "spot" as soon as possible.
They had left the Fort at daybreak, passing Heywood's farm at the moment when, for the purpose of foddering the cattle, he was with the boy, William, crossing in the canoe in which Ephraim Giles afterwards made his escape; the latter, with the Canadian, being engaged in felling trees, although in a different direction. Arrived at the little bay to which we have just adverted, the boat was fastened to the trunk of a tree which projected over the deep water at the point. This done, they stepped on shore, taking with them their fishing rods, bait, and haversacks, but leaving their spears and muskets in the boat, and dispersed themselves at short distances along the curve that formed the bay—which, however, was not more than three hundred yards in extent, from point to point.
When they first cast their lines into the water, the sun's rays were dimly visible through the thick wood in their rear. The early morning too had been cold, almost frosty, so much Bo that the wild ducks, which generally evinced a good deal of shyness, now seemingly emboldened by the briskness of the atmosphere, could be seen gliding about in considerable numbers about half a mile below them, while the fish, on the contrary, as though dissatisfied with the temperature of their element, refused to do what the men called the "amiable," by approaching the hook. Their occupation had been continued until long past midday, during which time not more than a dozen fish had been taken. Vexed at his nonsuccess, for he had not even had a nibble, one of the men flung his rod upon the bank impatiently, and then seated himself on the projecting root of a large tree, declaring it was all nonsense to play the fool any longer, and that the most sensible thing they could do was to take their dinners, smoke their pipes, and wash down the whole with a little of the Wabash.
"I say, Collins," remarked the Corporal good-naturedly, "we shall have poor fare even for the officers' mess, let alone ourselves, if we all follow your example, and give up so soon. But, as you say, it's time to have some grub, and we'll try our luck afterwards."
"Bome wasn't built in a day," said the man who had been fishing next to Collins, and drawing in his line also; "we've a good many hours left yet."
Following the recommendation of their chief, the rest of the party sat down near the edge of the bank, and, opening their haversacks, produced each his allowance of corn bread and venison, or salted pork, after despatching which, with the aid of clasp-knives, they took a refreshing " horn" from the general canteen that Collins carried suspended over his shoulder, and then drew forth and lighted their pipes.
As the latter puffed away, with a vigour that proved either a preoccupied mind, or extreme gratification in the "weed," he cast his eyes carelessly down the stream, where a large description of duck, called, by the French natives of the country, the cou rouge, from the colour of their necks, were disporting themselves as though nothing in the shape of a firearm was near them—now diving—now rising on their feet, and shaking their outstretched wings—now chasing each other in limited circles—and altogether so apparently emboldened by their immunity from interruption, as to come close to the bank, at a distance of little more than fifty yards from the spot where he sat.
"It's very ridiculous," he at length remarked, pouring forth, at the same time, an unusual volume of smoke, and watching its curling eddies as it rose far above his head, "its very ridiculous, I say, that order of the Captain's, that we sha'n't fire. Look at them ducks, how they seem to know all about it, too."
"By Gosh," said another, "I've a great notion to git my musket and have a slap into them—shall I, Corporal?"
"Certainly not, Green," was the answer. "If 'twas known in the Fort I had permitted any of the party to fire, I should be broke, if I didn't get picketed for my pains—and none of us would ever get out again."
"No great harm in that either," said the man who had made the novel observation that Rome had not been built in a day.
The Corporal looked sharply at the last speaker, as if not fully comprehending his meaning.
"Jaokson means, no great harm if we never get out again," interposed Collins, "and I think as he does; for I see no fun in rowing
four or five miles to fish, and scarcely get a sight of one."
"Well, but Collins, that's not always oar luck; I'm sure we've had sport enough before. It must be because the weather's rather cold to-day that the fish won't bite."
"It's of no use his grumbling, Philips," remarked Corporal Nixon. "We're here not so much for our own sport, as on a duty for the garrison. Let me hear no more of this, Collins."
"Well, Corporal, that's true enough," said Green; "but, dash me, if it isn't temptin' to see them fellows there stealin' upon us, and we lookin' on and doin' nothin'."
"What fellows do you mean ?" inquired the Corporal, suddenly starting to his feet, and looking down the river.
"Why, them ducks to be sure—see how they come sailin' towards us, as if they knew all about the Captain's order—no jumpin' or friskin' now, but all of a heap."
"Yes, but I say, what's that black-looking thing beyond the ducks?" asked one who had not hitherto spoken, pointing with his finger.
"Where—where, Weston?" exclaimed one or two voices, and the speakers looked in the direction indicated.
"Hang me if it isn't a bear!" said Collins, in a low tone; "that's the chap that has sent the ducks so near us. Do let me have a crack at him, Corporal. He's large enough to supply the whole garrison with fresh meat for three days, and will make up for the bad fishing— only one shot, Corporal, and I engage not to miss him."
True enough, there was, near the centre of the stream, a dark object, nearly half a mile distant, which all joined in pronouncing to be a bear. It was swimming vigorously across to their own side of the river.
"I think we might take him as he lands," observed Green. "What say you, Corporal? I reckon you'll let us try that, if you won't let us fire."
"Stay all of you where you are," was the reply. "I can manage him myself with a spear, if I can only be in time before he reaches the shore. If not, it's no matter, because I won't allow a trigger to be pulled."
Corporal Nixon was a tall, active, stronglimbed Virginian. He soon cleared the space that separated them from the boat, and jumping to the stern, seized one of the fishingspears, and then moved on through the wood that densely skirted the bank. But he had not been ten minutes gone when he again made his appearance, not immediately by the halfformed path he had previously taken, but by a slight detour to the rear.
"Hist, hist!" said he in an audible whisper,
as soon as he saw that he was perceived, motioning at the same time with his hand to enjoin silence and concealment; then, beckoning to Weston to join him, he again moved along the path with the light tread of one who fears to alarm an object unconscious of danger.
All had the sense to understand that there was some good reason for the conduct of the Corporal, and with the exception of Weston, who had promptly obeyed the signal, busily but silently resumed their morning's occupation.
First a quarter of an hour, and then minute after minute passed away, yet there was no sign of the return of their companions. What could be the meaning of this? If the bear had not proved to be too much for both, they onght to have killed him and rejoined them before this. Curiosity—nay, apprehension— finally overcame the strong sense of obedience to orders which had been literally drilled into them, and they all, at the suggestion of Green, dropped their rods on the bank, and moved cautiously in the direction that had been taken by the Corporal and Weston. Great was the surprise, however, of Collins, then a little in advance, when, on nearing the spot where the boat lay moored, he beheld, not those of whom they were in search, but a naked and hideously painted savage, in the very act of untying the rope by which the skiff was fastened to the gnarled and projecting root of the tree. Sensible that there was impending danger, although he knew not of what precise kind, inasmuch as there was no reason to apprehend anything hostile from the Indians, with all of whom around the Fort they had always been on the best terms, he sprang forward to arrest the movement. But the distance was several rods, and the savage, alarmed by the rustling made among the brushwood and foliage, now put his shoulder to the boat, and in the next instant would have had it far into the stream, had not a hand, suddenly protruded from beneath the hollow clump of earth on which the tree grew, grasped him firmly by the ankle, even while in the act of springing into the forcibly impelled skiff. For a moment or two he grappled tightly with his hands upon the bow of the boat, but finding the pressure on his imprisoned limb too great for resistance, he relinquished his hold, falling upon his face in the water, from which he was dragged, although without violence, by Corporal Nixon, who had emerged from his hiding-place.
When the Indian was suffered to rise, there was a threatening expression on his countenance, which not even the number of those by whom he was surrounded could check, and he made an involuntary motion of his hand to his scalping-knife (the only weapon with which he
was armed), that lny in its sheath dangling from his girdle. Seeing, however, that there was no hostile disposition manifested by the party, he speedily relinquished his first impulse, and stood upright before them, with a bold but calm look.
"What you want with boat?" asked the Corporal, almost involuntarily, and without the slightest expectation that his question could be understood.
"Me want 'em cross," replied the Indian, pointing to the opposite shore.
"But why you come in bearskin?" and in his turn the Corporal pointed with his finger in the direction in which the supposed bear had been seen.
"Ugh!" muttered the savage, finding that he had been detected in his disguise.
"What nation you? Pottawatomie?"
"Curious enough," remarked Corporal Nixon, addressing himself to his comrades. "I don't half like the look of the fellow, but I suppose it's all right. We must not offend him.—You chief?" he continued, pointing to a large silver medal suspended over the breast of the athletic and well-proportioned Indian.
"Yea; me chief,—Pottawatomie chief," and he made a sign in the direction of the Fort, near which the encampment of that tribe lay.
"You friend, then?" pursued the Corporal, extending his hand.
"Yes, me friend," he answered promptly, brightening up and taking the proffered hand. "You give 'em boat?"
"Do you see anything green in my eye?" asked the Virginian, incapable, even under the circumstances, of repressing the indulgence of his humour.
But the party questioned, although speaking a little English, was not sufficiently initiated in its elegancies to comprehend this, so he merely answered with a "ugh!" while the greater portion of the menlaughed boisterously, both at the wit of the Corporal and the seeming astonishment it excited.
This mirth by no means suited the humour of the Indian. He felt that it was directed towards himself, and again he stood fierce and motionless before them.
Corporal Nixon at once became sensible of his error. To affront one of the friendly chiefs would, he knew, not only compromise the interests of the garrison, but incur the severe displeasure of the commanding officers, who had always enjoined the most scrupulous abstinence from anything offensive to them.
"I only meant to say," he added, again extending his hand, "I can't give 'em boat . White chief,"—and he pointed in the direction of the Fort—"no let me."
"Ugh!" grunted the savage, his stern features brightening up as with a last hope. "Spose come with Injin?"
For a moment or two the Corporal hesitated whether or not to put the man across, but when he reflected on the singular manner of his advent, and other circumstances connected with his appearance among them, his customary prudence came to his aid, and, while avoiding all ground for offence by his mode of refusal, he gave him peremptorily to understand that there was an order against his suffering the boat to leave its present station.
Again the countenance of the Indian fell, even while his quick eye rolled everywhere. "You no give 'em boat, Injin swim," he at length remarked.
"Just as you please," answered Corporal Nixon. "By and by soger go to the Fort, take Injin with 'em."
"No, Injin cross here;" and, as he spoke, he sprung again to the bow of the boat, and with one bound, cleared the intervening space to the very stern.
Several heavy splashes in the water—a muttered curse from the Corporal—some confusion among his men—and the savage was seen nearly half-way across the river, swimming like an eel to the opposite shore.
"The awkward brute!" exclaimed the Corporal angrily. "How many muskets are there overboard, Jackson?"
"Only three—and two cartouch boxes."
"Only three, indeed !—I wish the fellow had been at Old Nick, instead of coming here to create all this confusion. Is the water deep at the stern?"
"Nearly a fathom, I reckon," was the reply.
"Then, my lads, you must bob for other fish to-day. Jackson, can you see the muskets at the bottom?"
"Not a sign of them," answered the man, as, lying flat on the boat, he peered intently into the water; "the bottom is covered with weeds, and I can just see the tails of two large pikes wriggling among them. By Gemini, I think I could take them both if I had my rod here."
"Never mind them," resumed the Corporal, again delivering himself of a little wit. "Muskets will be of far more use to us just now than pikes. We must fish them up, or there will be the deuce to pay if we go home without them."
"Then there's no other way than diving for them," pursued Jackson, still looking downwards; "not even the glitter of a barrel can I see. They must have buried themselves in the weeds. I say, Weston," slightly raising his
head and turning his face to the party named, "you're a good diver?"
"Yes, and Collins better than myself."
"Well then, here's at it," resumed Jackson, rising, commencing to strip himself. "It's only by groping and feeling that we can find the arms, and when once we have tumbled on 'em, it will be easy enough to get them up with one hand while we swim with the other. Here, we must plunge from the stern," he added, as the men just named jumped on board and commenced undressing themselves.
"How come the Indian to knock the muskets overboard, Corporal?" inquired one of the party who had not yet spoken—a fat, portly man, with a long hooked nose and a peaked chin.
"I'm dashed if I can tell myself, though I was looking at him as he jumped from one end of the boat to the other. All I know is that the firelocks were propped against the stern of the boat as we placed them, with the belts of the cartouch boxes slung between the ramrods and the barrels; and I suppose, for 1 don't know how else it could be done, that, instead of lighting on the seat, he must have passed it and put his foot on the muzzles, and with the weight of his body, as he fell, tipped them heels over head into the water."
"Corporal," ventured Collins, as he removed his last garment, "you asked that painted chap if he saw anything green in your eye. Now that is as the case may be, but hang me, wasn't it a little green to take him for a Pottawatomie?"
"And how do you know he wasn't a Pottawatomie—who made you a judge of Indian flesh?" retorted the Corporal, with an air of dissatisfaction. "Didn't he say he was, and didn't he wear a chiefs medal?"
"Say! yes, I'll be bound he'd say and wear anything to gull us, but I'm sure he's no Pottawatomie. I never saw a Pottawatomie of that build. They are tall, thin, skinny, bony fellows, while this chap was square, stout, broad-shouldered, and full of muscle."
Corporal Nixon pondered a little,. because half-convinced, but would not acknowledge that he could have been mistaken. "Are you all ready?" he at length inquired, anxious, like most men, when driven into a corner on one topie, to introduce another.
"All ready," answered Jackson, taking the first plunge in the direction in which he knew the muskets must have fallen.
Before following his example, the others waited for his report. This was soon given. He had got hold of one of the muskets and partly lifted it from its bed, but the network of strong weeds above it opposing too much resistance, he had been compelled to quit his hold, and come to the surface of the water for iiir.
"Here's for another trial," said Collins, as he made his own plunge in the same direction. In a few minutes he too reappeared, bearing in his right hand, not a firelock, but two of the missing cartouch boxes with their belts.
"I think, my lads, if two of you were to separate the weeds with your hands, so as to clear each musket, the other might easily bring it up."
The suggestion of the Corporal was at once acted upon, but it was not until after several attempts had been made to liberate the arms from their weblike canopy, that two were finally brought up and placed in the boat. The third they groped for in vain, until at length the men, dispirited and tired, declared it was utterly useless to prosecute the search, and that the other musket must be given up for lost.
This, however, did not suit the views of the correct Corporal. He said pointedly, that he would almost as soon return to the Fort without his head as without his arms, and that the day having been thus far spent without the accomplishment of the object for which they were there, he was determined to devote the remainder of it to the searoh. Not being a bad diver himself, although he had not hitherto deemed it necessary to add his own exertions to those of his comrades, he now stripped himself, desiring those who had preceded him to throw on their shirts and rest themselves for another plunge, when he should have succeeded in finding out where the missing musket had lodged.
"What's that V exclaimed Jackson, pointing to a small dark object of an oblong shape, which was floating about half-way between the surface of the place into which the divers had plunged and the weeds below.
"Where? where V inquired several voices, but in the next instant it had wholly disappeared from their view.
"What did it look like," asked the Corporal, ever on the qui vive.
"It must have been a muskrat," said Jackson; "there's plenty of them about here, and I reckon our diving has disturbed the fellow."
Corporal Nixon now took his leap, but some paces farther out from the shore than his companions. The direction he had taken happened to be the right one. Extending his arms as he reached a space entirely free from weeds, his right hand encountered the cold barrel of the musket; but as he sought to glide it along in order, that he might grasp the butt, and thus drag it endwise up, his touch encountered the hair of some animal which rested on the weapon, and it to float slightly upwards, until it
came in contact with his naked breast. Now Corporal Nixon was a fearless soldier, whose nerves were not easily shaken, but the idea of a nasty muskrat, as they termed it, floating so near, and touching his naked person, produced in him unconquerable disgust, even while it gave him the desperate energy to clutch the object with a nervous grasp, without any regard to the chances of his being bitten in the act by the small sharp teeth of the animal. But the Corporal's consternation was even greater when, on enclosing it within his rough palm, he felt the whole to collapse, as though it had been a heavy air-filled bladder burst by the compression of his fingers. A new feeling, a new chain of ideas now took possession of him, and leaving the musket where it was, he rose near the spot from whence he had started, and still clutching his hairy and undesirable prize, threw it from him towards the boat, into the bottom of which it fell after grazing the cheek of Collins.
"Pooh ! pooh ! pooh !" spluttered the latter, moving as if the action was necessary to disembarrass him of the unsightly object no longer there.
A new source of curiosity was now created, not only among the swimmers, but the idlers who were smoking their pipes and looking carelessly on. All now, without venturing to touch the loathsome-looking thing, gathered around it, endeavouring to ascertain what it really was.
"What do you make of the creature ?" asked Corporal Nixon, who, now ascending the side of the boat, observed how much the interest of his companions had been excited.
"I'm sure I can't say," answered Jackson; "it looks for all the world like a rat—dead enough, though, for it does not budge an inch."
"I should say it was a great bat, rather," added Weston, "for when I saw it, before it hit Collins's face,"—here the latter shuddered, —"it seemed to have its wings quite spread out like."
"Let's see what it is," said the man with the long hooked nose and the peaked chin, whose name was Cass. By no means anxious, however, to touch it with his hands, he took up a spear and turned over and over the clammy and moveless mass.
"Just as I thought," exclaimed the Corporal shuddering, as the weapon, unfolding the whole to view, disclosed alternately the moistened hair and thick and bloody skin of a human head.
'' Gemini !" cried Jackson, "how can this be? That scalp has been freshly taken—this very day—yet how could it get here?"
"Depend upon it," said Green, "that ohief