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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hidden Children - Chapter 20. Yndaia
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The Hidden Children - Chapter 20. Yndaia Post by :JoePace Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2892

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The Hidden Children - Chapter 20. Yndaia

CHAPTER XX. YNDAIA

At the mouth of the pass which led to the Vale Yndaia I lay with my Indians that night, two mounting guard, then one, then two more, and the sentinels changed every three hours throughout the night. But all were excited and all slept lightly.

Within the Vale Yndaia, perhaps a hundred yards from the mouth of the pass, stood the lonely little house of bark in which Madame de Contrecoeur had lived alone for twenty years.

And here, that night, Lois lay with her mother; and no living thing nearer the dim house than we who mounted guard--except for the little birds asleep that Madame de Contrecoeur had tamed, and the small forest creatures which had learned to come fearlessly at this lonely woman's low-voiced call. And these things I learned not then, but afterwards.

Never had I seen such utter loneliness--for it had been less a solitude, it seemed to me, had the little house not stood there under the pale lustre of the stars.

On every side lofty hills enclosed the valley, heavily timbered to their crests; and through the intervale the rill ran, dashing out of the pass and away into that level, wooded strip to the fern-glade which lay midway between the height of land and Catharines-town; and there joined the large stream which flowed north. I could see in the darkness little of the secret and hidden valley called Yndaia, only the heights silhouetted against the stars, a vague foreground sheeted with mist, and the dark little house standing there all alone under the stars.

All night long the great tiger-owls yelped and hallooed across the valley; all night the spectral whip-poor-will whispered its husky, frightened warning. And long after midnight a tiny bird awoke and sang monotonously for an hour or more.

Awaiting an attack from Catharines-town at any moment, we dared not make a fire or even light a torch. Rotten trunks which had fallen across the stream we dragged out and piled up across the mouth of the pass to make a defence; but we could do no more than that; and, our efforts ended, my Indians sat in a circle cross-legged, quietly hooping and stretching their freshly taken scalps by the dim light of the stars, and humming their various airs of triumph in low, contented, and purring voices. All laboured under subdued excitement, the brief and almost silent slaughter in the ferns having thoroughly aroused them. But the tension showed only in moments of abrupt gaiety, as when Mayaro challenged them to pronounce his name, and they could not, there being no letter "M" in the Iroquois language--neither "P" nor "B" either, for that matter--so they failed at "Butler" too, and Philip Schuyler, which aroused all to nervous merriment.

The Yellow Moth finished braiding his trophy first, went to the stream, and washed the blood from his weapons and his hands, polished up knife and hatchet, freshened his priming and covered it, and then, being a Christian, said his prayers on his knees, rolled over on his blanket, and instantly fell asleep.

One by one the others followed his example, excepting the Sagamore, who yawning with repressed excitement, picked up his rifle, mounted the abattis, and squatted there, his chin on a log, motionless and intent as a hunting cat in long grass. I joined him; and there we sat unstirring, listening, peering ahead into the mist-shot darkness, until our three hours' vigil ended.

Then we noiselessly summoned the Grey-Feather, and he crept up to the log defence, rifle in hand, to sit there alone until his three hours' duty was finished, when the Yellow Moth and Tahoontowhee should take his place.

It was already after sunrise when I was awakened by the tinkle of a cow-bell. A broad, pinkish shaft of sunshine slanted through the pass into the hidden valley; and for the first time in my life I now beheld the Vale Yndaia in all the dewy loveliness of dawn. A milch cow fed along the brook, flank-deep in fern. Chickens wandered in its wake, snapping at gnats and tiny, unseen creatures under the leaves.

Dainty shreds of fog rose along the stream, films of mist floated among sun-tipped ferns and bramble sprays. The little valley, cup-shaped and green, rang with the loud singing of birds. The pleasant noises of the brook filled my ears. All the western hills were now rosy where the rising sun struck their crests; north and south a purplish plum-bloom still tinted velvet slopes, which stretched away against a saffron sky untroubled by a cloud.

But the pretty valley and its green grass and ferns and hills held my attention only at moments, for my eyes ever reverted to the low bark house, with its single chimney of clay, now stained orange by the sun.

All the impatience and tenderness and not ignoble curiosity so long restrained assailed me now, as I gazed upon that solitary dwelling, where the unhappy mother of Lois de Contrecoeur had endured captivity for more than twenty years.

Vines of the flowering scarlet bean ran up the bark sides of the house, and over the low doorway; and everywhere around grew wild flowers and thickets of laurel and rhododendron, as in a cultivated park. And I saw that she had bordered a walk of brook-pebbles with azaleas and marsh-honeysuckles, making a little path to the brook over which was a log bridge with hand rails.

But laurel, azalea, and rhododendron bloomed no longer; the flowers that now blossomed in a riot of azure, purple, and gold on every side were the lovely wild asters and golden-rod; and no pretty garden set with formal beds and garnished artfully seemed to compare with this wild garden in the Vale Yndaia.

As the sun warmed the ground, the sappy perfume of tree and fern and grass mounted, scenting the pure, cool air with warm and balm-like odours. Gauzy winged creatures awoke, flitted, or hung glittering to some frail stem. The birds' brief autumn music died away; only the dry chirring of a distant squirrel broke the silence, and the faint tinkle of the cow-bell.

My Indians, now all awake, were either industriously painting their features or washing their wounds and scratches and filling them with balsam and bruised witch-hazel, or were eating the last of our parched corn and stringy shreds of leathery venison. All seemed as complacent as a party of cats licking their rumpled fur; and examining their bites, scratches, bruises, and knife wounds, I found no serious injury among them, and nothing to stiffen for very long the limbs of men in such a hardy condition.

The youthful Night Hawk was particularly proud of an ugly knife-slash, with which the Black Snake had decorated his chest--nay, I suspected him of introducing sumac juice to make it larger and more showy--but said nothing, as these people knew well enough how to care for their bodies.

Doubtless they were full as curious as was I concerning Madame de Contrecoeur--perhaps more so, because not one of them but believed her the Sorceress which unhappy circumstances had obliged her to pretend to be. Pagan or Christian, no Indian is ever rid of superstition.

Yet, devoured by curiosity, not one of them betrayed it, forbearing, at least in my presence, even to mention the White Prophetess of the Senecas, though they voiced their disappointment freely enough concerning the escape of Amochol.

So we ate our corn and dried meat, and drank at the pretty rill, and cleansed us of mud and blood, each after his own fashion--discussing the scalping of the Eries the while, the righteous death of the Black-Snake, the rout of Butler's army, and how its unexpected arrival had saved Amochol. For none among us doubted that, another half hour at most, and we had heard the cracking signal of Boyd's rifles across the hideous and fiery space.

We were not a whit alarmed concerning Boyd and his party. Reconnoitring Catharines-town from the north, they must have very quickly discovered the swarm of partly crippled hornets, so unexpectedly infesting the nest; and we felt sure that they had returned in safety to watch and keep in touch with the beaten army.

Yet, beaten at Chemung, exhausted after a rapid and disorderly retreat, this same defeated Tory army was still formidable and dangerous. We had seen enough of them to understand that. Fewer men than these at Catharines-town had ambuscaded Braddock; fewer still had destroyed another British expedition; while in the north Abercrombie had been whipped by an enemy less than a quarter as strong as his own force.

No, we veteran riflemen knew that this motley army of Butler and McDonald, if it had indeed lost a few rattles, had however parted with none of its poison fangs. Also, Amochol still lived. And it had been still another Montour of the wily and accursed Frontenac breed--"Anasthose the Huron"--who had encompassed the destruction of Braddock.

That the night had passed without a sign of an enemy, and the dawn had heralded no yelling onset, we could account for either because no scouts from Catharines-town had as yet discovered the scalped bodies of the Eries in the glade, or because our own pursuing army was so close that no time could be taken by the Senecas to attack a narrow pass held by five resolute men.

Now that the sun had risen I worried not at all over our future prospects, believing that we would hear from our advancing army by afternoon; and the Sagamore was of my opinion.

And even while we were discussing these chances, leaning against our log abattis in the sunshine, far away across the sunlit flat-woods we saw a man come out among the ferns from the southward, and lie down. And then another man came creeping from the south, and another, and yet another, the sunlight running red along their rifle barrels.

After them went both Oneidas, gliding swiftly out and speeding forward just within the encircling cover, taking every precaution, although we were almost certain that the distant scouts were ours.

And they proved to be my own men--a handful of Morgan's--pushing far in advance to reconnoitre Catharines-town from the south, although our main army was marching by the western ridges, where Boyd had marked a path for them.

A corporal in my corps, named Baily, came back with the Oneidas, climbed with them over the logs, sprang down inside, and saluted me coolly enough.

His scout of four, he admitted, had made a bad job of the swamp trail--and his muddy and disordered dress corroborated this. But the news he brought was interesting.

He had not seen Boyd. The Battle of the Chemung had ended in a disorderly rout of Butler's army, partly because we had outflanked their works, partly because Butler's Indians could not be held to face our artillery fire, though Brant displayed great bravery in rallying them. We had lost few men and fewer officers; grain-fields, hay-stacks, and Indian towns were afire everywhere along our line of march.

Detachments followed every water-course, to wipe out the lesser towns, gardens, orchards, and harvest fields on either flank, and gather up the last stray head of the enemy's cattle. The whole Iroquois Empire was now kindling into flames and the track our army left behind it was a blackened desolation, as horrible to those who wrought it as to the wretched and homeless fugitives who had once inhabited it.

He added to me in a lower voice, glancing at my Indians with the ineradicable distrust of the average woodsman, that our advanced guard had discovered white captives in several of the Indian towns--in one a young mother with a child at her breast. She, her husband, and five children had been taken at Wyoming. The Indians and Tories had murdered all save her and her baby. Her name was Mrs. Lester.

In one town, he said, they found a pretty little white child, terribly emaciated, sitting on the grass and playing with a chicken. It could speak only the Iroquois language. Doubtless its mother had been murdered long since. So starved was the little thing that had our officers not restrained it the child might have killed itself by too much eating.

Also, they found a white prisoner--a man taken at Wyoming, one Luke Sweatland; and it was said in the army that another young white girl had been found in company with her little brother, both painted like Indians, and that still another white child was discovered, which Captain Machin had instantly adopted for his own.

The Corporal further said that our army was proceeding slowly, much time being consumed in laying the axe to the plum, peach, and apple orchards; and that it was a sad sight to see the heavily fruited trees fall over, crushing the ripe fruit into the mud.

He thought that the advanced guard of our army might be up by evening to burn Catharines-town, but was not certain. Then he asked permission to go back and rejoin the scout which he commanded; which permission I gave, though it was not necessary; and away he went, running like a young deer that has lagged from the herd--a tall, fine, wholesome young fellow, and as sturdy and active as any I ever saw in rifle-dress and ruffles.

My Indians lay down on their bellies, stretching themselves out in the sun across the logs, and, save for the subdued but fierce glimmer under their lazy lids, they seemed as pleasant and harmless as four tawny pumas a-sunning on the rocks.

As for me, I wandered restlessly along the brook, as far as the bridge, and, seating myself here, fished out writing materials and my journal from my pouch, and filled in the events of the preceding days as briefly and exactly as I knew how. Also I made a map of Catharines-town and of Yndaia from memory, resolving to correct it later when Mr. Lodge and his surveyors came up, if opportunity permitted.

As I sat there musing and watching the chickens loitering around the dooryard, I chanced to remember the milch cow.

Casting about for a receptacle, I discovered several earthen jars of Seneca make set in willow baskets and standing by the stream. These I washed in the icy water, then slinging two of them on my shoulder I went in quest of the cow.

She proved tame enough and glad, apparently, to be relieved of her milk, I kneeling to accomplish the business, having had experience with the grass-guard of our army on more than one occasion.

Lord! How sweet the fragrance of the milk to a man who had seen none in many days. And so I carried back my jars and set them by the door of the bark house, covering each with a flat stone. And as I turned away, I saw smoke coming from the chimney; and heard the shutters on the southern window being gently opened.

Lord! What a sudden leap my heart gave as the door before me moved with the soft sliding of the great oak bolt, and was slowly opened wide to the morning sunshine.

For a moment I thought it was Lois who stood there so white and still, looking at me with grey, unfathomable eyes; then I stepped forward uncertainly, bending in silence over the narrow, sun-tanned hand that lay inert under the respectful but trembling salute I offered.

"Euan Loskiel," she murmured in the French tongue, laying her other hand over mine and looking me deep in the eyes. "Euan Loskiel, a soldier of the United States! May God ever mount guard beside you for all your goodness to my little daughter."

Tears filled her eyes; her pale, smooth cheeks were wet.

"Lois is still asleep," she said. "Come quietly with her mother and you shall see her where she sleeps."

Cap in hand, coon-tail dragging, I entered the single room on silent, moccasined feet, set my rifle in a corner, and went over to the couch of tumbled fawn-skin and silky pelts.

As I stood looking down at the sweetly flushed face, her mother lifted my brier-scarred hand and pressed her lips to it; and I, hot and crimson with happiness and embarrassment, found not a word to utter.

"My little daughter's champion!" she murmured. "Brave, and pure of heart! Ah, Monsieur, chivalry indeed is of no nation! It is a broader nobility which knows neither race nor creed nor ancestry nor birth.... How the child adores you!"

"And you, Madame. Has ever history preserved another such example of dauntless resolution and filial piety as Lois de Contrecoeur has shown us all?"

Her mother's beautiful head lifted a little:

"The blood of France runs in her veins, Monsieur." Then, for the first time, a pale smile touched her pallour. "Quand meme! No de Contrecoeur tires of endeavour while life endures.... Twenty-two years, Monsieur. Look upon her!... And for one and twenty years I have forced myself to live in hope of this moment! Do you understand?" She made a vague gesture and shook her head. "Nobody can understand--not even I, though I have lived the history of many ages."

Still keeping my hand in hers, she stood there silent, looking down at her daughter. Then, silently, she knelt beside her on the soft fawnskin, drawing me gently to my knees beside her.

"And you are to take her from me," she murmured.

"Madame----"

"Hush, soldier! It must be. I give her to you in gratitude--and tears.... My task is ended; yours at last begins. Out of my arms you shall take her as she promised. What has been said shall be done this day in the Vale Yndaia.... May God be with us all."

"Madame--when I take her--one arm of mine must remain empty--as half her heart would be--if neither may hold you also to the end."

She bent her head; her grey eyes closed, and I saw the tears steal out along the long, soft lashes.

"Son, if you should come to love me----"

"Madame, I love you now."

She covered her face with her slim hands; I drew it against my shoulder. A moment later Lois unclosed her eyes, looked up at us; then rose to her knees in her white shift and put both bare arms around her mother's neck. And, kneeling so, turned her head, offering her untouched lips to me. Thus, for the first time in our lives, we kissed each other.


There was milk, ash-bread, corn, and fresh laid eggs for all our party when Lois went to the door and called, in a clear, sweet voice:

* "Nai! Mayaro! Yon-kwa-ken-nison!"

(* "Oh, Mayaro! We are all assembled!")

Never have I seen any Indian eat as did my four warriors--the Yellow Moth cleaning his bark platter, where he sat on guard upon the logs at the pass, the others in a circle at our threshold.

Had we a siege to endure in this place, there was a store of plenty here, not only in apple-pit and corn-pit, but in the good, dry cellar with which the house was provided.

Truly, the Senecas had kept their Prophetess well provided; and now, before the snow of a not distant winter choked this pass, the place had been provisioned from the harvest against November's wants and stress.

And it secretly amused me to note the ever latent fear born of respect which my Indians endeavoured not to betray when in the presence of Madame de Contrecoeur; nor could her gentle dignity and sweetness toward them completely reassure them. To them a sorceress was a sorceress, and must ever remain a fearsome and an awesome personage, even though it were plain that she was disposed toward them most agreeably.

So they replied to her cautiously, briefly, but very respectfully, nor could her graciousness to the youthful Night Hawk for his unerring arrow, nor her quiet kindness toward the others, completely reassure them. They were not accustomed to converse, much less to take their breakfast, with a Sorceress of Amochol, and though this dread fact did nothing alter their appetites, it discouraged any freedom of conversation.

Lois and her mother and I understood this; Lois and I dared not laugh or rally them; Madame de Contrecoeur, well versed, God knows, in Indian manners and customs, calmly and pleasantly accepted the situation; and I think perhaps quietly enjoyed it.

But neither mother nor daughter could keep their eyes from each other for any length of time, nor did their soft hand-clasp loosen save for a moment now and then.

Later, Lois came to me, laid both hands over mine, looked at me a moment in silence too eloquent to misunderstand, then drew her mother with her into the little house. And I went back on guard to join my awed red brethren.

So the soft September day wore away with nothing untoward to alarm us, until late in the afternoon we saw smoke rising above the hills to the southwest. This meant that our devastating army was well on its way, and, as usual, laying waste the Indian towns and hamlets which its flanking riflemen discovered; and we all jumped up on our breastworks to see better.

For an hour we watched the smoke staining the pure blue sky; saw where new clouds of smoke were rising, always a little further northward. At evening it rolled, glowing with sombre tints, in the red beams of the setting sun; then dusk came and we could see the reflection on it of great fires raging underneath.

And where we were watching it came a far, dull sound which shook the ground, growing louder and nearer, increasing to a rushing, thundering gallop; and presently we heard our riflemen running through the flat-woods after the frightened herds of horses which were bred in Catharines-town for the British service, and which had now been discovered and frightened by our advance.

Leaving the Mohican and the Oneidas on guard, I went out with the Stockbridge, and soon came in touch with our light troops, stealing westward through the flat-woods to surround Catharines-town.

When I returned to our breastworks, Lois and her mother were standing there, looking at the fiery smoke in the sky, listening to the noise of the unseen soldiery. But on my explaining the situation, they went back to the little house together, after bidding us all good night.

So I set the first watch for the coming night, rolled myself in my blanket, and went to sleep with the lightest heart I had carried in my breast for many a day.

At dawn I was awakened by the noise of horses and cattle and the shouting of the grass-guard, where they were rounding to the half-wild stock from Catharines-town, and our own hoofed creatures which had strayed in the flat-woods.

A great cloud of smoke was belching up above the trees to the northward; and we knew that Catharines-town was on fire, and the last lurking enemy gone.

Long before Lois was astir, I had made my way through our swarming soldiery to Catharines-town, where there was the usual orderly confusion of details pulling down houses or firing them, troops cutting the standing corn, hacking apple-trees, kindling the stacked hay into roaring columns of flame.

Regiment after regiment paraded along the stream, discharged its muskets, filling the forests with crashing echoes and frightening our cattle into flight again; but they were firing only to clean out their pieces, for the last of our enemies had pulled foot before sunset, and the last howling Indian dog had whipped his tail between his legs and trotted after them.

Suddenly in the smoke I saw General Sullivan, mounted, and talking with Boyd; and I hastened to them and reported, standing at salute.

"So that damned Red Sachem escaped you?" said the General, biting his lip and looking now at me, now at Boyd.

Boyd said, glancing curiously at me:

"When we came up we found the entire Tory army here. I must admit, sir, that we were an hour late, having been blocked by the passage of two hundred Hurons and Iroquois who crossed our trail, cutting us from the north."

"What became of them?"

"They joined Butler, Brant, and Hiokatoo at this place, General."

Then the General asked for my report; and I gave it as exactly as I could, the General listening most attentively to my narrative, and Boyd deeply and sombrely interested.

When I ended he said:

"We have taken also a half-breed, one Madame Sacho. You say that Madame de Contrecoeur is at the Vale Yndaia with her daughter?"

"Guarded by my Indians, General."

"Very well, sir. Today we send back ten wagons, our wounded, and four guns of the heavier artillery, all under proper escort. You will notify Madame de Contrecoeur that there will be a wagon for her and her daughter."

"Yes, General."

He gathered his bridle, leaned from his saddle, and looked coldly at Boyd and me.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I shall expect you to take Amochol, dead or alive, before this command marches into the Chinisee Castle. How you are to accomplish this business is your own affair. I leave you full liberty, except," turning to Boyd, "you, sir, are not to encumber yourself again with any such force as you now have with you. Twenty men are too many for a swift and secret affair. Four is the limit--and four of Mr. Loskiel's Indians."

He sat still, gnawing at his lip for a moment, then:

"I am sorry that, through no fault apparently of your own, this Sorcerer, Amochol, escaped. But, gentlemen, the service recognizes only success. I am always ready to listen to how nearly you failed, when you have succeeded; I have no interest in hearing how nearly you succeeded when you have failed. That is all, gentlemen."

We stood at salute while he wheeled, and, followed by his considerable staff, walked his fine horse away toward the train of artillery which stood near by, the gun-teams harnessed and saddled, the guns limbered up, drivers and cannoneers in their saddles and seats.

"Well," said Boyd heavily, "shall we be about this matter of Amochol?"

"Yes.... Will you aid me in placing Madame de Contrecoeur and her daughter in the wagon assigned them?"

He nodded, and together we started back toward the Vale Yndaia in silence.

After a long while he looked up at me and said:

"I know her now."

"What?"

"I recognize your pretty Lois de Contrecoeur. For weeks I have been troubled, thinking of her and how I should have known her face. And last night, lying north of Catharines-town, it came to me suddenly."

I was silent.

"She is the ragged maid of the Westchester hills," he said.

"She is the noblest maid that ever breathed in North America," I said.

"Yes, Loskiel.... And, that being true, you are the fittest match for her the world could offer."

I looked up, surprised, and flushed; and saw how colourless and wasted his face had grown, and how in his eyes all light seemed quenched. Never have I gazed upon so hopeless and haunted a visage as he turned to me.

"I walk the forests like a damned man," he said, "already conscious of the first hot breath of hell.... Well--I had my chance, Loskiel."

"You have it still."

But he said no more, walking beside me with downcast countenance and brooding eyes fixed on our long shadows that led us slowly west.

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