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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hidden Children - Chapter 13. The Hidden Children
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The Hidden Children - Chapter 13. The Hidden Children Post by :JoePace Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1644

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The Hidden Children - Chapter 13. The Hidden Children

CHAPTER XIII. THE HIDDEN CHILDREN

So silently, suddenly, and with such incredible swiftness had this happened, and so utterly unprepared were we for this devilish audacity, that the Erie had shoved his trade-rifle against my ribs and fired before anybody comprehended what he was about.

But he had driven the muzzle so violently against me that the blow knocked me breathless and flat on my face, and his rifle, slipping along with the running swivel of my pouch buckle, was discharged, blowing the pouch-flap to fragments, and setting fire to my thrums without even scorching my body.

As, partly stunned, I lay on the moss, choking in the powder smoke, my head still ringing with the crash of the old smooth-bore, man after man leaped over me like frantic deer, racing at full speed toward the river. And I swayed to my knees, to my feet, and staggered after them, beating out the fire on my smoking fringes as I ran.

The Erie took the bank at one bound, struck the river sand like a ball, and bounded on. Both Oneidas shot at him, and I tried to wing him in mid-stream, but my hands were unsteady from the shock, and he went under like a diver-duck, drifted to the surface under the willows far below, and was out and among them before we could fire again.

The sight of him tore a yell of fury from the Oneidas' throats; but the Mohican, rifle a-trail, was speeding low and swiftly, and we sprang forward in his tracks.

A few moments later the Sagamore gave tongue to the fierce, hysterical view-halloo of his Wolf Clan; the Oneidas answered till the forest rang with the dreadful tumult of the pack-cry. Then, as I ran up breathless to where they were crouching, a more terrible whoop burst from them. The quarry was at bay.

It was where the river turned south, making a vast and glassy bay. A smooth cliff hung over it, wet and shining with the water from hidden springs, and sheering down into profound and limpid depths.

High on the face of the cliff, squatted on a narrow shelf, and hidden by the rocky formation, our quarry had taken cover. The twisted strands of a wild grapevine, severed by his knife, hung dangling below his eyrie, betraying his mode of ascent. He had gone up hand over hand, aided by his powerful shoulder muscles and by his feet, which must have stuck like the feet of flies to the perpendicular wall of rock.

To follow him, even with the aid of the vine he had severed, had been hopeless in the face of his rifle fire. A thousand men could not have taken him that way, while his powder and lead held out, for they would have been obliged to ascend one by one in slow and painful file, and he had but to shove his gun-muzzle in their faces as they appeared.

The war-yelps of the Oneidas had subtly changed their timbre so that ever amid the shrill yelling I marked the guttural snarls of baffled rage. The Mohican lay on his belly behind a tree, silent, but his eyes were like coals in their red intensity.

Presently the Oneidas, lying prone at our side, ceased their tumult and became silent. And for a long while we lay waiting for a shot.

All this time the Erie had given no sign of life, and I had begun to hope that he had been hit and would ultimately perish there, as wild things perish in solitude and silence.

Then the Mohican said in my ear:

"Unless we can stir him to move and expose himself, we must lose him. For his fellows will surely track us to this place."

"Good God! By what unfortunate accident should such a hiding place exist so near!" I said miserably.

The Sagamore's stern visage slightly relaxed.

"It is no accident, Loskiel. Do you not suppose he knew it was here? Else he had never dared attempt what he did."

"The vile Witch-cat has been here many a time," said the Grey-Feather, his ferocious gaze fixed on the cliff.

"Is the Mole dead?" I asked.

"He is with his God--Tharon or Christ, whichever it may be, Loskiel."

"The Mole must not be scalped," said Tahoontowhee softly. "If the Senecas pass that way they will have at last one thing to boast of."

I said to the Mohican:

"Hold the Erie. The Night-Hawk and I will go back and bury our dead against Seneca profanation."

"Let the Grey-Feather go, Loskiel."

"No. The Mole was Christian. Does a Christian fail his own kind at the last?"

"Loskiel has spoken," said the Mohican gravely. "The Grey-Feather and I will hold the filthy cat."

So we went back together across the river, the young Oneida and I; and we hid the Mole deep in the bed of a rotting log, and laid his Testament on his breast over the painted cross, and his weapons beside him. Then, working cautiously, we rolled back the log, replaced the dead leaves, brushed up the deep green pile of the moss, and smoothed all as craftily us we might, so that no Seneca prowling might suspect that a grave was here, and disinter the dead to take his scalp.

Over the blood-wet leaves where he had fallen, we made a fire of dry twigs, letting it burn enough to deceive. Then we covered it as hunters cover their ashes; the Oneida took the Erie's hatchet; and we hastened back to the others.

They were still lying exactly where we left them. Neither the Erie nor they had stirred or spoken. And, as I settled down in my ambush beside the Mohican, I asked him again whether there was any possible way to provoke the Erie so that he might stir and expose some portion of his limbs or body.

The Night-Hawk, who carried strapped to his back the quiver of an Oneida adolescent containing a boy's short bow and a dozen game arrows, consulted with the Grey-Feather in a low voice.

Presently he wriggled off to where some sun-dried birch-bark fluttered in the river breeze, returned with it, shredded it with care, strung his bow, tipped an arrow with the bark, and held it out to me.

I struck flint to steel, lighted my tinder, and set the shred of bark afire.

Then the Night-Hawk knelt, bent his bow, and the blazing arrow soared whistling with flame, and fell behind the rock on the shelf.

Arrow after arrow followed, whizzing upward and dropping accurately; but the wet mosses of the cliff extinguished the flashes.

As the last arrow fell, flared a moment, then merely smoked, an insulting laugh came from aloft, and my Indians uttered fierce exclamations and cuddled their rifle-stocks close to their cheeks, fairly trembling for a shot.

"Dogs of Oneidas!" called the Erie. "Go howl for your dead pig of a Stockbridge slave."

"The Mole wears his scalp with Tharon!" retorted the Grey-Feather, choking with fury. "But Tahoontowhee's hatchet is still sticking in the Senecas' heads!"

"For which the Night-Hawk shall burn at the Seneca stake, sobbing his death-song!" shouted the Erie, so fiercely that for a moment we lay silent, hoping that by some ungovernable movement he might expose himself.

"Taunt him!" I whispered; and the Mohican said with a derisive laugh:

"Four scalp-tufts from the mangy Cats of Amochol trim my hatchet-sheath. When the young men ask me what this sparse and sickly fur may be, I shall strip it off and cast it at their feet, saying it is but Erie filth to spit upon."

"Liar of a conquered nation!" roared the Erie, "for every priest of Amochol who fell by Otsego under your cowardly butcher's knife, a Siwanois Sagamore shall burn three days, and yet live to die the fourth! The day that August dies, so shall the Sagamore die at the Festival of Dreams in Catharines-town!"

"I shall remember," said I in a low voice to the Sagamore, "that the Onon-hou-aroria is to be celebrated in Catharines-town on the last day of August."

He nodded, then:

"A Mohican Sagamore insults a dirty priest of Amochol! I do you honour by offering you battle, with knife, with hatchet, with rifle, with naked hands! Choose, spawn of Atensi--still-born kitten of Iuskeha, choose! Not one soul except myself will raise hand against you. By Tharon, I swear it! Choose! And the victor passes freely and whither he wills!"

The Erie mocked him from his high perch:

"Squirrels talk! Long since has your Tharon been hurled headlong into Biskoonah by Atensi and her flaming grandson!"

At this awful blasphemy, the Mohican fairly blanched so that under his paint his skin grew ashy for a moment.

The Grey-Feather shouted:

"Lying and degraded priest! Mowawak Cannibal of a Sinako Cat! It is Atensi herself who burns with Iuskeha in Biskoonah; and the sacrilegious fires lick your altars!"

The Erie laughed horribly:

"Where is your fool of a stripling called Loskiel? Is he there with you? Or did my hatchet fetch him such a clip that he died of fright and a bullet in his belly?"

"He is unharmed," replied the Mohican, tauntingly. "A squaw shoots better than a Cat!"

"A lie! I saw my rifle blow a hole in his body!"

"Hatchet and rifle failed. The Ensign, Loskiel, laughed, asking what forest-flies were buzzing at his ear. Loskiel spits on Cats, and brushes their flying hatchets from his ears as others brush mosquitos!"

"Let him speak, then, to prove it!" shouted the Erie, incredulously.

But I remained silent.

Then the Erie's ferocious laugh rang out from the cliff.

"Now, you Mohican slave and you Oneida dogs, you shall know the power of Amochol. For what was done to Loskiel and to the Praying Mole, will be done to you all on the last day of this month, when the Dream Feast is held at Catharines-town! You shall die. And others shall die--not as you, but on the red altar of the Great Sachem Amochol! Strangled, disemboweled, sacrificed to clothe Atensi!"

The Grey-Feather, unable any longer to retain his self-control, was getting to his feet, staring wildly up at the cliff; but the Mohican drew him back into his form and held him there with powerful grip.

"Listen," he hissed, "to what this warlock blabbs."

The Erie laughed, evidently awaiting a retort. None came, and he laughed again triumphantly.

"Amochol's arm is long, O you Oneida dogs who howl outside the Long House gates! Amochol's eyes are like the white-crested eagle's eyes, seeing everything, and his ears are like the red buck's ears, so that nothing stirs unheard by him.

"Phantoms arise and walk at night; Amochol sees. Under earth and water, demons are breathing; Amochol hears. Then we Eries listen, too, and make the altar fires burn hotter. For the ghosts of the night and the demons that stir must be fed."

He waited again, doubtless expecting some exclamation of protest against his monstrous profession. After a moment he went on:

"Spectres and demons must be fed--but not on the foul flesh of dogs like you! We cut your throats to feed the Flying Heads."

He paused; and as no reply was forthcoming, the sorcerer laughed scornfully.

"Your blood becomes water! You cringe at the power of Amochol. But the red altar is not for you. Listen, dogs! Had I not found it necessary to slay your stripling, Loskiel, he had been burned and strangled an that altar!... And there is another at Otsego who shall die strangled on the altar of Amochol--the maiden called Lois! Long have we followed her. Long is the arm of the Red Priest--when his White Sorceress dreams for him!

"And now you know, you Mohican mongrel, why Amochol was at Otsego. His arm reaches even into the barracks of Clinton! Because to Atensi the sacrifice of these two would be grateful--the maiden Lois and your Loskiel. Only the pure and guarded pleasure her. And these two are Hidden Children. One has died. The other shall not escape us. She shall die strangled by Amochol upon his own altar!"

I sat up, sick with horror and surprise, and stared at the Mohican for an explanation. He and the Oneidas were now looking at me very gravely and in silence. And after a moment my head dropped.

I knew well enough what the brutal Erie meant by "Hidden Children." But that I was one I never dreamed, nor had it occurred to me that Lois was one, in spite of her strange history. For among the Iroquois and their adopted captives there are both girls and boys who are spoken of as "Hidden Persons" or "Hidden Children." They are called Ta-neh-u-weh-too, which means, "hidden in the husks," like ears of corn.

And the reason is this: a mother, for one cause or another, or perhaps for none at all, decides to make of her unborn baby a Hidden Child. And so, when born, the child is instantly given to distant foster-parents, and by them hidden; and remains so concealed until adolescence. And, being considered from birth pure and unpolluted, a girl and a boy thus hidden are expected to marry, return to their people when informed by their foster-parents of the truth, and bring a fresh, innocent, and uncontaminated strain into their clan and tribe.

What the Erie said seemed to stun me. What did this foul creature know of me? What knowledge had this murdering beast of Lois? And Amochol--what in God's name did the Red Sorcerer know of us, or of our history?

Even the horrid threat against Lois seemed so fantastic, so unreal, so meaningless, that at the moment, it did not impress me even with its unspeakable wickedness.

The Sagamore touched my arm as though with awe and pity, and I lifted my head.

"Is this true, brother?" he asked gently.

"I do not know if it is," I said, dazed.

"Then--it is the truth."

"Why do you say that, Mayaro?"

"I know it, now. I suspected it when your eyes first fell on the Ghost-bear rearing on my breast. I thought I knew you, there at Major Lockwood's house in Poundridge. It was your name, Loskiel, and your knowledge of your red brothers, that stirred my suspicions. And when I learned that Guy Johnson had sheltered you, then I was surer still."

"Who, then, am I?" I asked, bewildered.

The three Indians were staring at me as though that murderer aloft on his eyrie did not exist. I, too, had forgotten him for the moment; and it was only the loud explosion of his smooth-bore that shocked us to the instant necessity of the situation.

The bullet screamed through the leaves above us; we clapped our rifles to our cheeks, striving to glimpse him. Nothing moved on the rocky shelf.

"He fired to signal his friends," whispered the Mohican. "He must believe them to be within hearing distance."

I set my teeth and stared savagely at the cliff.

"If that is so," said I, "we must leave him here and pull foot."

There was a tense silence, then, as we rose, an infuriated yell burst from the Oneidas, and in their impotence they fired blindly at the cliff, awaking a very hell of echo.

Through the clattering confusion of the double discharge, the demoniac laughter of the Erie rang, and my Oneidas, retreating, hurled back insult and anathema, promising to return and annihilate every living sorcerer in the Dark Empire, including Amochol himself.

"Ha-e!" he shouted after us, giving the evil spirits' cry. "Ha-e! Ha-ee!" From his shelf he cast a painted stick after us, which came hurtling down and landed in the water. And he screamed as he heard us threshing over the shallows: "Koue! Askennon eskatoniot!"

The thing he had cast after us was floating, slowly turning round and round in the water; and it seemed to be a stick something thicker than an arrow and as long, and painted in concentric rings of black, vermillion, and yellow.

Then, as we gave it wide berth, to our astonishment it suddenly crinkled up and was alive, and lifted a tiny, evil head from the water, running out at us a snake's tongue that flickered.

That this was magic my Indians never doubted. They gave the thing one horrified glance, turned, and fairly leaped through the water till the shallow flood roared as though a herd of deer were passing over.

As for me, I ran, too, and felt curiously weak and shaken; though I suspected that this wriggling thing now swimming back to shore was the poison snake of the Ksaurora, and no Antouhonoran witchcraft at all, as I had seen skins of the brilliant and oddly marked little serpent at Guy Park, whither some wandering Southern Tuscaroras had brought them.

But the bestial creature of the cliff had now so inspired us all with loathing that it was as though our very breath was poisoned; and in swift and silent file we pushed forward, as if the very region--land, water, the air itself--had become impure, and we must rid ourselves of the place itself to breathe.

No war-party burning to distinguish itself ever travelled more swiftly. Sooner than I expected, we crossed the small creek which joins the river from the east, opposite the Old England District, and saw the ruins of Unadilla across the water.

Here was a known ford; and we crossed to Old Unadilla, where that pretty river and the Butternut run south into the broadening Susquehanna.

At this place we halted to eat; and I was of two minds whether to go by the West Branch of the Delaware, by Owaga and Ingaren across the Stanwix Treaty Line to Wyalusing, and from thence up the river to the Chemung and Tioga Point; or to risk the Chenango country and travel southwest by Owego, and so cutting off that great southern loop that the Susquehanna makes through the country of the Esaurora.

But when I asked the opinion of my Indians, they were of one mind against my two, saying that to follow the river was the easiest, swiftest, and safest course to Tioga Point.

They knew better than did I. This side of Tioga the Oneidas knew the ground as well as the Siwanois; but beyond, toward Catharines-town, only my Siwanois knew. Indeed, if my Oneidas remained with me at all beyond Tioga I might deem myself lucky, in such dread and detestation did they hold that gloomy region where the Wyoming Witch brooded her deadly crew, and where the Toad Woman, her horrible sister, fed the secret and midnight fires of hell with the Red Priest, Amochol.

A grey hawk was circling above us mewing. Truly, our nerves had been somewhat shattered, for as we rose and resumed pack and sack, a distant partridge drumming on his log startled us all; and it was as though we had thought to hear the witch-drums rolling at the Onon-hou-aroria, and the hawk mewing seemed like the Sorcerers calling "Hiou! Hiou! Hiou!" And the Unadilla made a clatter over its stones like the False-Faces rattling their wooden masks.

"Eheu!" sighed the pines above us as we sped on; and ever I thought of Okwencha and the Dead Hunter. And the upward roar of a partridge covey bursting in thunder through the river willows was like the flight of the hideous Flying Heads.

On we went, every sound and movement of the forest seeming to spur us forward and add flight-feathers to our speeding feet. For in my Indians, ascendant now, was the dull horror of the supernatural; and as for me my hatred of the Sorcerers was tightening every nerve to the point of breaking.

As I travelled that trail through the strange, eternal twilight of the great trees, I vowed to myself that Amochol should die; that the Sagamore and I would guide a thousand rifles to his pagan altar and lay this foul priesthood prone upon it as the last sacrifice.

Then I recalled the Black-Snake's threat against Lois; and shuddered; then the astounding reason he had given for the Red Priest's design upon us both set me dully wondering again.

Fear that his emissaries might penetrate our lines stirred me; and I remembered the moccasins she had received, and the messages sewed within them. If a red messenger had found her every year and had left at her door, unseen, a pair of moccasins, why might not an invisible assassin find her, too? Already, within our very encampment, she had received another pair of moccasins and a message entirely different from the customary one.

Whoever had brought it had come and gone unseen.

Distressed, perplexed, half sick with fear for her, I plodded on behind the Mohican, striving to drive from me the sombre thoughts assailing me, trying to reassure myself with the knowledge that she was safe at Otsego with her new friends, and that very shortly now she would be still safer in Albany, and under the shrewd and kindly eye of Mr. Hake.

The sun had set; the pallid daylight lingering along the forest edges by the river grew sickly and died. And after a little the Mohican halted on a hillock, and we cart our packs from us and peered around.

The forms of rocks took dim shape all about us, huge slabs and benches of stone, from which great bushes of laurel and rhododendron spread, forming beyond us an entangled and impenetrable jungle.

And under these we crawled and lay, listening for snakes. But there seemed to be none there, though our rocky fastness was a very likely place. And after we had eaten and emptied our canteens, the two Oneidas went out on guard to the eastern limit of the rocks; and the Sagamore and I lay on our sides, facing each other in the dark. And for a while we lay there, neither of us speaking. Finally I said under my breath:

"Then I am one of the Hidden People."

"Yes, brother," he replied very gently.

"Tell me why you believe this to be true. Tell me all you know."

For a little while the Mohican lay there very silent, and I did not stir. And presently he said:

"It was in '57, Loskiel, when I first laid eyes on you."

"What!"

"I am more than twice your age. You were then three years old."

In my astonishment it occurred to me that instead of twenty-two I was now twenty-five years of age, if what the Mohican said were true.

"Listen, Loskiel, blood-brother of mine, for you shall hear the truth now--the truth which Guy Johnson never told you.

"It was in '57; Munro lay at Fort William Henry; Webb at Fort Edward; and Montcalm came down from the lakes with his white-coats and Hurons and shook his sword at Munro and spat upon Webb.

"Then came Sir William Johnson to Webb with half a thousand Iroquois. And because Sir William was the only white man we Delawares trusted, and in spite of his Iroquois, three Mohicans offered their services--the Great Serpent, young Uncas, and I, Mayaro, Sagamore of the Siwanois."

He paused, then with infinite contempt:

"Webb was a coward. Nor could Sir William kick him forward. He lay shivering behind the guns at Edward; and Fort William Henry fell. And the white-coats could do nothing with their Hurons; the prisoners fell under their knives and hatchets--soldiers, women, little children.

"When Montcalm had gone, Webb let us loose. And, following the trail of murder, in a thicket among the rocks we came upon a young woman with a child, very weak from privation. Guy Johnson and I discovered them--he a mere youth at that time.

"And the young woman told him how it had been with her--that her husband and herself had been taken by the St. Regis three years before--that they had slain her husband but had offered her no violence; that her child had been born a few weeks later and that the St. Regis chief who took her had permitted her to make of it a Hidden Person.

"For three years the fierce St. Regis chief wooed her, offering her the first place in his lodge. For three years she refused him, living in a bush-hut alone with her child, outside the St. Regis village, fed by them, and her solitude respected. Then Munro came and his soldiers scattered the St. Regis and took her and her baby to the fort. And the St. Regis chief sent word that he would kill her if she ever married."

So painfully intent was I on his every low-spoken word that I scarce dared breathe as the story of my mother slowly unfolded.

"Guy Johnson and I took the young woman and her child to Edward," he said. "Her name was Marie Loskiel, and she told us that she was the widow of a Scotch fur trader, one Ian Loskiel, of Saint Sacrament."

There was another silence, as though he were not willing to continue. Then in a quiet voice I bade him speak; and he spoke, very gravely:

"Your mother's religion and Guy Johnson's were different. If that were the reason she would not marry him I do not know. Only that when he went away, leaving her at Edward, they both wept. I was standing by his stirrup; I saw him--and her.

"And--he rode away, Loskiel.... Why she tried to follow him the next spring, I do not know.... Perhaps she found that love was stronger than religion.... And after all the only difference seemed to be that she prayed to the mother of the God he prayed to.... We spoke of it together, the Great Serpent, young Uncas, and I. And Uncas told us this. But the Serpent and I could make nothing of it.

"And while Guy Johnson was at Edward, only he and I and your mother ever saw or touched you.... And ever you were tracing with your baby fingers the great Ghost Bear rearing on my breast----"

"Ah!" I exclaimed sharply. "That is what I have struggled to remember!"

He drew a deep, unsteady breath:

"Do you better understand our blood-brotherhood now, Loskiel?"

"I understand--profoundly."

"That is well. That is as it should be, O my blood-brother, pure from birth, and at adolescence undefiled. Of such Hidden Ones were the White-Plumed Sagamores. Of such was Tamanund, the Silver-Plumed; and the great Uncas, with his snowy-winged and feathered head--Hidden People, Loskiel--without stain, without reproach.

"And as it was to be recorded on the eternal wampum, you were found at Guy Johnson's landing place asleep beside a stranded St. Regis canoe; and your dead mother lay beside you with a half ounce ball through her heart. The St. Regis chief had spoken."

"Why do you think he slew her?" I whispered.

"Strike flint. It is safe here."

I drew myself to my elbow, struck fire and blew the tinder to a glow.

"This is yours," he said. And laid in my hand a tiny, lacquered folder striped with the pattern of a Scotch tartan.

Wondering, I opened it. Within was a bit of wool in which still remained three rusted needles. And across the inside cover was written in faded ink:

"Marie Loskiel."

"How came you by this?" I stammered, the quick tears blinding me.

"I took it from the St. Regis hunter whom Tahoontowhee slew."

"Was he my mother's murderer!"

"Who knows?" said the Sagamore softly. "Yet, this needle-book is a poor thing for an Indian to treasure--and carry in a pouch around his neck for twenty years."

The glow-worm spark in my tinder grew dull and went out. For a long while I lay there, thinking, awed by the ways of God--so certain, so inscrutable. And understood how at the last all things must be revealed--even the momentary and lightest impulse, and every deepest and most secret thought.

Lying there, I asked of the Master of Life His compassion on us all, and said my tremulous and silent thanks to Him for the dear, sad secret that His mercy had revealed.

And, my lips resting on my mother's needle-book, I thought of Lois, and how like mine in a measure was her strange history, not yet fully revealed.

"Sagamore, my elder brother?" I said at last.

"Mayaro listens."

"How is it then with Lois de Contrecoeur that you already knew she was of the Hidden Children?"

"I knew it when I first laid eyes on her, Loskiel."

"By what sign?"

"The moccasins. She lay under a cow-shed asleep in her red cloak, her head on her arms. Beside her the kerchief tied around her bundle lay unknotted, revealing the moccasins that lay within. I saw, and knew. And for that reason have I been her friend."

"You told her this?"

"Why should I tell her?"

There was no answer to this. An Indian is an Indian.

I said after a moment:

"What mark is there on the moccasins that you knew them?"

"The wings, worked in white wampum. A mother makes a pair with wings each year for her Hidden One, so that they will bring her little child to her one day, swiftly and surely as the swallow that returns with spring."

"Has she told you of these moccasins--how every year a pair of them is left for her, no matter where she may be lodged?"

"She has told me. She has shown me the letter on bark which was found with her; the relics of her father; this last pair of moccasins, and the new message written within. And she asked me to guide her to Catharines-town. And I have refused.

"No, Loskiel, I have never doubted that she was of the Hidden People. And for that reason have I been patient and kind when she has beset me with her pleading that I show to her the trail to Catharines-town.

"But I will not. For although in rifle dress she might go with us--nay, nor do I even doubt that she might endure the war-path as well as any stripling eager for honour and his first scalp taken--I will not have her blood upon my hands.

"For if she stir thither--if she venture within the Great Shadow--the ghouls of Amochol will know it. And they will take her and slay her on their altar, spite of us all--spite of you and me and your generals and colonels, and all your troops and riflemen--spite of your whole army and its mighty armament, I say it--I, a Siwanois Mohican of the Enchanted Clan. A Sagamore has spoken."

Chill after chill crept over me so that I shook as I lay there in the darkness "Who is this maiden, Lois?" I asked.

"Do you not guess, Loskiel?"

"Vaguely."

"Then listen, brother. Her grandfather was the great Jean Coeur who married the white daughter of the Chevalier de Clauzun. Her mother was Mlle. Jeanne Coeur; her father the young Vicomte de Contrecoeur, of the Regiment de la Reine--not that stupid Captain Contrecoeur of the regiment of Languedoc, who, had it depended on him, would never have ventured to attack Braddock at all.

"This is true, because I knew them both--both of these Contrecoeur captains. And the picture she showed to me was that of the officer in the Regiment de la Reine.

"I saw that regiment die almost to a man. I saw Dieskau fall; I saw that gay young officer, de Contrecoeur, who had nicknamed himself Jean Coeur, laugh at our Iroquois as he stood almost alone--almost the last man living, among his fallen white-coats.

"And I saw him dead, Loskiel--the smile still on his dead lips, and his eyes still open and clear and seeming to laugh up at the white clouds sailing, which he could not see.

"That was the man she showed me painted on polished bone."

"And--her mother?" I asked.

"I can only guess, Loskiel, for I never saw her. But I believe she must have been with the army. Somehow, Sir William's Senecas got hold of her and took her to Catharines-town. And if the little Lois was born there or at Yndaia, or perhaps among the Lakes before the mother was made prisoner, I do not know. Only this I gather, that when the Cats of Amochol heard there was a child, they demanded it for a sacrifice. And there must have been some Seneca there--doubtless some adopted Seneca of a birth more civilized--who told the mother, and who was persuaded by her to make of it a Hidden One.

"How long it lay concealed, and in whose care, how can I know? But it is certain that Amochol learned that it had been hidden, and sent his Cat-People out to prowl and watch. Then, doubtless did the mother send it from her by the faithful one whose bark letter was found by the new foster-parents when they found the little Lois.

"And this is how it has happened, brother. And that the Cat-People now know she is alive, and who she is, does not amaze me. For they are sorcerers, and if one of them did not steal after the messenger when he left Yndaia with the poor mother's yearly gift of moccasins, then it was discovered by witchcraft."

"For Amochol never forgets. And whom the Red Priest chooses for his altar sooner or later will surely die there, unless the Sorcerer dies first and his Cat-People are slain and skinned, and the vile altar is destroyed among the ashes of its accursed fire!"

"Then, with the help of an outraged God, these righteous things shall come to pass!" I said between clenched teeth.

The Sagamore sat with his crested head bowed. And if he were in ghostly communication with the Mighty Dead I do not know, for I heard him breathe the name of Tamanund, and then remain silent as though listening for an answer.

I had been asleep but a few moments, it seemed to me, when the Grey-Feather awoke me for my turn at guard duty; and the Mohican and I rose from our blankets, reprimed our rifles, crept out from under the laurel and across the shadowy rock-strewn knoll to our posts.

The rocky slope below us was almost clear to the river, save for a bush or two.

Nothing stirred, no animals, not a leaf. And after a while the profound stillness began to affect me, partly because the day had been one to try my nerves, partly because the silence was uncanny, even to me. And I knew how dread of the supernatural had already tampered with the steadiness of my red comrades--men who were otherwise utterly fearless; and I dreaded the effect on the Mohican, whose mind now was surcharged with hideous and goblin superstitions.

In the night silence of a forest, always there are faint sounds to be heard which, if emphasizing the stillness, somehow soften it too. Leaves fall, unseen, whispering downward from high trees, and settling among their dead fellows with a faintly comfortable rustle. Small animals move in the dark, passing and repassing warily; one hears the high feathered ruffling and the plaint of sleepy birds; breezes play with the young leaves; water murmurs.

But here there was no single sound to mitigate the stillness; and, had I dared in my mossy nest behind the rocks, I would have contrived same slight stirring sound, merely to make the silence more endurable.

I could see the river, but could not hear it. From where I lay, close to the ground, the trees stood out in shadowy clusters against the vague and hazy mist that spread low over the water.

And, as I lay watching it, without the slightest warning, a head was lifted from behind a bush. It was the head of a wolf in silhouette against the water.

Curiously I watched it; and as I looked, from another bush another head was lifted--the round, flattened head and tasselled ears of the great grey lynx. And before I could realize the strangeness of their proximity to each other, these two heads were joined by a third--the snarling features of a wolverine.

Then a startling and incredible thing happened; the head of the big timber-wolf rose still higher, little by little, slowly, stealthily, above the bush. And I saw to my horror that it had the body of a man. And, already overstrained as I was, it was a mercy that I did not faint where I lay behind my rock, so ghastly did this monstrous vision seem to me.

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