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Marse Charles say ter me one night atter I been playin' de banjer fur de boys, 'Come ter my tent Nelse fo turnin' in--I wants ter see you. He been er writin' en done had two letters writ. He say, 'Nelse, we gwine ter git outen dese trenches ter-morrer. It twell be my las' charge. I feel it. Ef I falls, you take my swode, en watch en dese letters back home to your Mist'ess and young Marster, en you promise me, boy, to stan' by em in life ez I stan' by you.
Pears ter me I nebber see so many dead Yankees on dis yearth ez we see layin' on de groun' whar we brake froo dem lines! But dey des kep fetchin' up annudder army back er de one we breaks, twell bymeby, dey swing er whole millyon er Yankees right plum behin' us, en five millyon er fresh uns come er swoopin' down in front.
Den yer otter see my Marster! He des kinder riz in de air-- pear ter me like he wuz er foot taller en say to his men --' 'Bout face, en charge de line in de rear! We git mos back ter de trenches, when Marse Charles drap des lak er flash! I runned up to him, en dar wuz er big hole in his breas' Page 11 whar er bullet gone clean froo his heart.
He nebber groan. I tuk his head up in my arms en cry en take on en call him! I pull back his close en listen at his heart. Hit wuz still. I takes de swode an de watch en de letters outen de pockets en start on--when bress God, yer cum dat whole Yankee army ten hundred millyons, en dey tromple all over us!
De Yankees wuz ev'y whar. Pear ter me lak dey riz up outer de groun'. All dat day I try ter get away fum 'em. En long 'bout night dey 'rested me en fetch me up fo er Genr'l, en he say,. Doan yer know yer free now, en if you go back you'd be a slave ergin? Dey kep on ketchin' me twell bimeby er nasty stinkin low-life slue-footed Yankee kotched me en say dat I wuz er dang'us nigger, en sont me wid er lot er our prisoners way up ter ole Jonson's Islan' whar I mos froze ter deaf.
I stay dar twell one day er fine lady what say she from Boston cum er long, en I up en tells her all erbout Marse Charles and my Missus, en how dey all waitin' fur me, en how bad I want ter go home, en de nex news I knowed I wuz on er train er whizzin' down home wid my way all paid. I get wid Page 12 our men at Greensboro en come right on fas' ez my legs'd carry me. There was silence for a moment and then slowly Mrs.
Gaston said, "May God reward you, Nelse! Gaston had lived daily in a sort of trance through those four years of war, dreaming and planning for the great day when her lover would return a handsome bronzed and famous man. She had never conceived of the possibility of a world without his will and love to lean upon. The Preacher was both puzzled and alarmed by the strangely calm manner she now assumed.
Before leaving the home he cautioned Aunt Eve to watch her Mistress closely and send for him if anything happened. When the boy was asleep in the nursery adjoining her room, she quietly closed the door, took the sword of her dead lover-husband in her lap and looked long and tenderly at it.
On the hilt she pressed her lips in a lingering kiss. She sat motionless for an hour with eyes fixed without seeing. At last she rose and hung the sword beside his picture near her bed and drew from her bosom the crumpled, worn letters Nelse had brought. The first was addressed to her. I feel the shadows of defeat and ruin closing upon us. I am surer day by day that our cause is lost and surrender is a word I have never learned to speak. If I could only see you for one hour, that I might tell you all I have thought in the lone watches of the night in camp, or marching Page 13 over desolate fields.
Many tender things I have never said to you I have learned in these days. I write this last message to tell you how, more and more beyond the power of words to express, your love has grown upon me, until your spirit seems the breath I breathe. My heart is so full of love for you and my boy, that I can't go into battle now without thinking how many hearts will ache and break in far away homes because of the work I am about to do.
I am sick of it all. I long to be at home again and walk with my sweet young bride among the flowers she loves so well, and hear the old mocking bird that builds each spring in those rose bushes at our window. If I am killed, you must live for our boy and rear him to a glorious manhood in the new nation that will be born in this agony. I love you,--I love you unto the uttermost, and beyond death I will live, if only to love you forever.
For two hours she held this letter open in her hands and seemed unable to move it. And then mechanically she opened the one addressed to "Charles Gaston, jr. It will be all I can bequeath to you from the wreck that will follow the war. This sword was your great grandfather's.
He held it as he charged up the heights of King's Mountain against Ferguson and helped to carve this nation out of a wilderness. It was a sorrowful day for me when I felt it my duty to draw that sword against the old flag in defence of my home and my people. You will live to see a reunited country. Hang this sword back beside the old flag of our fathers when the end has come, and always remember that it was never Page 14 drawn from its scabbard by your father, or your grandfather who fought with Jackson at New Orleans, or your great grandfather in the Revolution, save in the cause of justice and right.
I am not fighting to hold slaves in bondage. I am fighting for the inalienable rights of my people under the Constitution our fathers created. It may be we have outgrown this Constitution. But I calmly leave to God and history the question as to who is right in its interpretation.
Whatever you do in life, first, last and always do what you believe to be right. Everything else is of little importance. With a heart full of love,. This letter she must have held open for hours, for it was two o'clock in the morning when a wild peal of laughter rang from her feverish lips and brought Aunt Eve and Nelse hurrying into the room. It took but a moment for them to discover that their Mistress was suffering from a violent delirium.
They soothed her as best they could. The noise and confusion had awakened the boy. Running to the door leading into his mother's room he found it bolted, and with his little heart fluttering in terror he pressed his ear close to the key-hole and heard her wild ravings. How strange her voice seemed! Her voice had always been so soft and low and full of soothing music. Now it was sharp and hoarse and seemed to rasp his flesh with needles.
What could it all mean? Perhaps the end of the world, about which he had heard the Preacher talk on Sundays. At last unable to bear the terrible suspense longer he cried through the key-hole,. Open the door quick. Yo Ma's awful sick. You run out ter de barn, ketch de mare, en fly for Page 15 de doctor while me en Nelse stay wid her. Run honey, day's nuttin' ter hurt yer. His little bare feet were soon pattering over the long stretch of the back porch toward the barn.
The night was clear and sky studded with stars. There was no moon. He was a brave little fellow, but a fear greater than all the terrors of ghosts and the white sheeted dead with which Negro superstition had filled his imagination, now nerved his child's soul. His mother was about to die! His very heart ceased to beat at the thought. He must bring the doctor and bring him quickly. He flew to the stable not looking to the right or the left.
The mare whinnied as he opened the door to get the bridle. Mama's sick. We must go for the doctor quick! The mare thrust her head obediently down to the child's short arm for the bridle. She seemed to know by some instinct his quivering voice had roused that the home was in distress and her hour had come to bear a part.
In a moment he led her out through the gate, climbed on the fence, and sprang on her back. The mare bounded forward in a swift gallop as she felt his trembling bare legs clasp her side, and the clatter of her hoofs echoed in the boy's ears through the silent streets like the thunder of charging cavalry. How still the night!
He saw shadows under the trees, shut his eyes and leaning low on the mare's neck patted her shoulders with his hands and cried,. Please, dear God, and I will Page 16 always be good. I am sorry I robbed the bird's nests last summer--I'll never do it again.
Please, Lord I'm such a wee boy and I'm so lonely. I can't lose my Mama! He looked across the square as he passed the court house in a gallop and saw a light in the window of the parsonage and felt its rays warm his soul like an answer to his prayer.
He reached the doctor's house on the further side of the town, sprang from the mare's back, bounded up the steps and knocked at the door. No one answered. He knocked again. How loud it rang through the hall! May be the doctor was gone! He had not thought of such a possibility before. He choked at the thought. Springing quickly from the steps to the ground he felt for a stone, bounded back and began to pound on the door with all his might.
The window was raised, and the old doctor thrust his head out calling,. Who is that? The boy waited and waited. It seemed to him hours, days, weeks, years! To every impatient call the doctor would answer,. At last he emerged with his lantern, to catch his horse.
The doctor seemed so slow. He fumbled over the harness. Doctor you're so slow! I tell you my Mama's sick--! Page 17 When the boy saw the doctor's horse jogging quickly toward his home he turned the mare's head aside as he reached the court house square, roused the Preacher, and between his sobs told the story of his mother's illness. Durham had lost her only boy two years before.
Soon Charlie was sobbing in her arms. I want you and Dr. Durham to come as quick as you can. I'm afraid to go home. I'm afraid she's dead, or I'll hear her laugh that awful way I heard to-night. We will be there almost as soon as you can get to the house. He rode slowly along the silent street looking back now and then for the Preacher and his wife.
As he was passing a small deserted house he saw to his horror a ragged man peering into the open window. Before he had time to run, the man stepped quickly up to the mare and said,. The man sighed, and the boy saw by his gray uniform that he was a soldier just back from the war, and he quickly added,.
I was afraid of it. Page 18 They say she's a bad woman, and my Mama would never let me go near her. The man flinched as though struck with a knife, steadied himself for a moment with his hands on the mare's neck and said,. Don't tell anybody you saw me,--them that knowed me will think I'm dead, and it's better so.
I'm after the doctor for my Mama, --she's very sick. I'm afraid she's going to die, and if you ever pray I wish you'd pray for her. The soldier came closer. But it seemed to me I forgot everything that was good in the war, and there's nothin' left but death and hell. But I'll not forget you, good-bye! When Charlie was in bed he lay an hour with wide staring eyes, holding his breath now and then to catch the faintest sound from his mother's room.
All was quiet at last and he fell asleep. But he was no longer a child. The shadow of a great sorrow had enveloped his soul and clothed him with the dignity and fellowship of the mystery of pain. Gaston's place, there stood in the midst of an orchard a log house of two rooms, with hallway between them.
There was a mud-thatched wooden chimney at each end, and from the back of the hallway a kitchen extension of the same material with another mud chimney. The house stood in the middle of a ten acre lot, and a woman was busy in the garden with a little girl, planting seed. Yer Pappy 'll get home to-day sure.
Colonel Gaston's Nelse come last night. Yer Pappy was in the Colonel's regiment an' Nelse said he passed him on the road comin' with two one-legged soldiers. He ain't got but one leg, he says. But, Lord, if there's a piece of him left we'll praise God an' be thankful for what we've got. I mos' forgot--'s been so long sence I seed him? He was the handsomest man in Campbell county! He had a tall fine figure, brown curly beard, and the sweetest mouth that was always smilin' at me, an' this eyes twinklin' over somethin' funny he'd seed or thought about.
When he was young ev'ry gal around here was crazy about him. I got him all right, an' he got me too. Oh me! I can't help but cry, to think he's been gone so long. But he's comin' to-day! I jes feel it in my bones. It's Tom! Tom was entering the gate of his modest home in as fine style as possible, seated proudly on a stack of bones that had once been a horse, an old piece of wool on his head that once had been a hat, and a wooden peg fitted into a stump where once was a leg.
His face was pale and stained with the red dust of the hill roads, and his beard, now iron grey, and his ragged buttonless uniform were covered with dirt. He was truly a sight to scare crows, if not of interest to buzzards.
But to the woman whose swift feet were hurrying to his side, and whose lips were muttering half articulate cries of love, he was the knightliest figure that ever rode in the lists before the assembled beauty of the world. Tom, Tom, Tom, my ole man! You've come at last! Got er Minie ball in that one. He stumbled and fell. In a moment the strong arms of his wife were about him and she was helping him into the house. She laid him tenderly on the bed, petted him and cried over him.
You're so weak, Tom--I can't believe it. You were so strong. But we'll take care of you. Don't you worry. You just sleep a week and then rest all summer and watch us work the garden for you! He lay still for a few moments with a smile playing around his lips. You can't believe it, but this is the first feather bed I've touched in four years. Suddenly Tom pushed her aside and sprang up in bed. Run, fetch 'em in quick! Tom struggled to his feet and met them at the door. I've seen some fine places in my time, but this is the handsomest one I ever set eyes on.
Now, Annie, put the big pot in the little one and don't stand back for expenses. Let's have a dinner these fellers 'll never forget. It was a feast they never forgot. Tom's wife had raised a brood of early chickens, and managed to keep them from being stolen. She killed four of them and cooked them as only a Southern woman knows how. She had sweet potatoes carefully saved in the mound against the kitchen chimney.
There were turnips and greens and radishes, young onions and lettuce and hot corn dodgers fit for a king; and in the centre of the table she deftly fixed a pot of wild flowers little Annie had gathered. She did not tell them that it was the last peck of potatoes and the last pound of meal. This belonged to the morrow. To-day they would live. They laughed and joked over this splendid banquet, and told stories of days and nights of hunger and exhaustion, when they had filled their empty stomachs with dreams of home.
If it hadn't been for him, M'am, we'd a been peggin' along somewhere way up in Virginny 'stead o' bein' so close to home. You see he let us ride his hoss a mile and then he'd ride a mile. We took it turn about, and here we are. I was sorter cryin' and wonderin' how I'd get home with that stump of wood instead of a foot, when along come a chunky heavy set Yankee General, looking as glum as though his folks had surrendered instead of Marse Robert.
He saw me, stopped, looked at me a minute right hard and says, "Where do you live? I got a wife and baby down there I ain't seed fer nigh four years, and I want to see 'em so bad I can taste 'em. I was lookin' the other way when I said that, fer I was purty well played out, and feelin' weak and watery about the eyes, an' I didn't want no Yankee General to see water in my eyes.
Give my love to your folks when you get home. I've known what it was to be a poor white man down South myself once for awhile. I thanks you from the bottom of my heart," I says as quick as I could find my tongue, "if it had to be surrender I'm glad it was to such a man as you. So ole woman, you know the reason I named that hoss, 'General Grant.
Dinner over, Tom's comrades rose and looked wistfully down the dusty road leading southward. Jes climb up, pull the lever and let her go. The men's faces brightened, their lips twitched. They looked at Tom, and then at the old horse.
They looked down the long dusty road stretching over hill and valley, hundreds of miles south, and then at Tom's wife and child, whispered to one another a moment, and the elder said:. It's all yer got now ter make a livin' on yer place. Didn't you hear her cryin' an' shoutin' like she's crazy when I got home? Didn't you see my little gal with eyes jes like her daddy's? Don't you see my cabin standin' as purty as a ripe peach in the middle of the orchard when hundreds of fine houses are lyin' in ashes?
Ain't I got ten acres of land? Ain't I got God Almighty above me and all around me, the same God that watched over me on the battlefields? All I got? That old stack o' bones that looks like er hoss? Well I reckon not! Get off you fools," said Tom good-naturedly, "ain't it my hoss?
Can't I do what I please with him? So with hearty hand-shakes they parted, the two astride the old horse's back. One had lost his right leg, the other his left, and this gave them a good leg on each side to hold the cargo straight. I'm all right! Before reaching the house he sat down on a wooden bench beneath a tree to rest. It was the first week in May and the leaves were not yet grown. The sun was pouring his hot rays down into the moist earth, and the heat began to feel like summer.
As he drank in the beauty and glory of the spring his soul was melted with joy. The fruit trees were laden with the promise of the treasures of the summer and autumn, a cat-bird was singing softly to his mate in the tree over his head, and a mocking-bird seated in the topmost branch of an elm near his cabin home was leading the oratorio of feathered songsters.
The wild plum and blackberry briars were in full bloom in the fence corners, and the sweet odour filled the air. He heard his wife singing in the house. Thank God! May I never see a gun or a sword, or hear a drum or a fife's scream on this earth again! A hound came close wagging his tail and whining for a word of love and recognition. You'll have to chase cotton-tails by yourself now.
Bob's eyes watered and he licked his master's hand apparently understanding every word he said. Breaking from his master's hands the dog ran toward the gate barking, and Tom rose in haste as he recognized Page 26 the sturdy tread of the Preacher, Rev. John Durham, walking rapidly toward the house. Grasping him heartily by the hand the Preacher said,. When you left, I felt like a man who had lost one hand. I've found it to-day. You're the same stalwart Christian full of joy and love.
Some men's religion didn't stand the wear and tear of war. You've come out with your soul like gold tried in the fire. Colonel Gaston wrote me you were the finest soldier in the regiment, and that you were the only Chaplain he had seen that he could consult for his own soul's cheer. That's the kind of a deacon to send to the front! I'm proud of you, and you're still at your old tricks.
I met two one-legged soldiers down the road riding your horse away as though you had a stable full at your command. You needn't apologise or explain, they told me all about it. I can't tell you how glad I am to be home again and shake your hand. I tell you it was a comfort to me when I lay awake at night on them battlefields, a wonderin' what had become of my ole woman and the baby, to recollect that you were here, and how often I'd heard you tell us how the Lord tempered the wind to the shorn lamb.
Annie's been telling me who watched out for her them dark days when there was nothin' to eat. I reckon you and your wife knows the way to this house about as well as you do to the church. Tom had pulled the Preacher down on the seat beside him while he said this. I've come to see you to have you cheer me up. Somehow you always seemed to me to be closer to God than any man in the church.
You will need all your faith now. It seems Page 27 to me that every second woman I know is a widow. Hundreds of families have no seed even to plant, no horses to work crops, no men who will work if they had horses. What are we to do? I see hungry children in every house. As long as He is in the sky everything will come all right on the earth. When I hear these birds in the trees an' see this old dog waggin' his tail at me, and smell the breath of them flowers, and it all comes over me that I'm done killin' men, and I'm at home, with a bed to sleep on, a roof over my head, a woman to pet me and tell me I'm great and handsome, I don't feel like I'll ever need anything more to eat!
I believe I could live a whole month here without eatin' a bite. You come to the prayer meeting to-night and say a few things like that, and the folks will believe they have been eating three square meals every day. I ain't asked Annie what she's got, but I know she's got greens and turnips, onions and collards, and strawberries in the garden.
Irish taters 'll be big enough to eat in three weeks, and sweets comin' right on. We've got a few chickens. The blackberries and plums and peaches and apples are all on the road. Preacher, it's my soul that's been starved away from my wife and child! I am always giving, giving myself in sympathy and help to others, I'm famished now and then. I feel faint and worn out. You seem to fill me again with life.
I get Page 28 down-hearted sometimes, when I recollect I'm nothin' but a poor white man. I'll remember your words. I'm goin' to do my part in the church work. You know where to find me. I want you to help me look after Mrs. Gaston and her little boy.
She is prostrated over the death of the Colonel and is hanging between life and death. She is in a delirious condition all the time and must be watched day and night. I want you to watch the first half of the night with Nelse, and Eve and Mary will watch the last half. He was the bravest man that ever led a regiment, and he was a father to us boys. I'll be there. But I won't set up with that nigger.
He can go to bed. He's a human being. It's not right. To tell you the truth, I have my doubts. Anyhow, I can't help it. God knows I hate the sight of 'em like I do a rattlesnake. That nigger Nelse, they say is a good one. He was faithful to the Colonel, I know, but I couldn't bear him no more than any of the rest of 'em. I always hated a nigger since I was knee high. My daddy and my mammy hated 'em before me. Somehow, we always felt like they was crowdin' us to death on them big plantations, and the little ones too.
And then I had to leave my wife and baby and fight four years, all on account of their stinkin' hides, that never done nothin' for me except make it harder to live. Every time I'd go into battle and hear them Minie balls begin to sing over us, it seemed to me I could see their black ape faces grinnin' Page 29 and makin' fun of poor whites.
At night when they'd detail me to help the ambulance corps carry off the dead and the wounded, there was a strange smell on the field that came from the blood and night damp and burnt powder. It always smelled like a nigger to me! It made me sick. Yes, Preacher, God forgive me, I hate 'em! I can't help it any more than I can the color of my skin or my hair. You take the first part of the night 'till twelve o'clock.
I'll go down with you from the church to-night," said the Preacher, as he shook Tom's hand and took his leave. Gaston was stricken a forlorn little boy sat in the kitchen watching Aunt Eve get supper. He saw her nod while she worked the dough for the biscuits. I can't sleep for hours and hours. I lie awake and cry when I hear her talking 'till I feel like I'll die.
I must do something to help her. You can't keep 'wake 'tall. You get so lonesome and skeered all by yerself. So that night at midnight he took his place by the bedside. His mother was sleeping, at first. He sat and gazed with aching heart at her still, white face. She stirred, opened her eyes, saw him, and imagined he was his father.
What a long, long time you have been away. How brown the sun has tanned your face, but it's just as handsome. I Page 31 think handsomer than ever. And how like you is little Charlie! I knew you would be proud of him! While she talked, her eyes had a glassy look, that seemed to take no note of anything in the room.
The child listened for ten minutes, and then the horror of her strange voice, and look and words overwhelmed him. He burst into tears and threw his arms around his mother's neck and sobbed. Mama dear, it's me, Charlie, your little boy, who loves you so much. Please, don't talk that way. Please look at me like you used to.
Let me kiss your eyes 'till they are soft and sweet again! The mother seemed dazed for a moment, held him off at arm's length, and then burst into laughter. You must run to bed now. Kiss me good night. Again she ignored his presence. She was back in the old days with her Love. She was kissing her hand to him as he left her for his day's work. Charlie looked at the clock. It was time to give her the soothing drops the doctor left.
She took it, obedient as a child, and went on and on with interminable dreams of the past, now and then uttering strange things for a boy's ears. But so terrible was the anguish with which he watched her, the words made little impression on his mind. It seemed to him some one was strangling him to death, and a great stone was piled on his little prostrate body. When she grew quiet, at last, and dosed, how still the house seemed! How loud the tick of the clock! How slowly the hands moved!
He had never noticed this before. He watched the hands for five minutes. It seemed each minute was an hour, and five minutes were as long as a day. What strange noises in the house! Suppose Page 32 a ghost should walk into the room! Well, he wouldn't run and leave his Mama; he made up his mind to that. Some nights there were other sounds more ominous. The town was crowded with strange negroes, who were hanging around the camp of the garrison.
One night a drunken gang came shouting and screaming up the alley close beside the house, firing pistols and muskets. They stopped at the house, and one of them yelled,. It's our turn now! The terrified boy rushed to the kitchen and called Nelse. In a minute, Nelse was on the scene. There was no more trouble that night. The next day when the Rev. John Durham had an interview with the Commandant of the troops, he succeeded in getting a consignment of corn for seed, and to meet the threat of starvation among some families whose condition he reported.
This important matter settled, he said to the officer,. The town is swarming with vagrant negroes, bent on mischief. There are camp followers with you organizing them into some sort of Union League meetings, dealing out arms and ammunition to them, and what is worse, inflaming the worst passions against their former masters, teaching them insolence and training them for crime.
They live a charmed life. That night, as the Preacher walked home from a visit to a destitute family, he encountered a burly negro on the sidewalk, dressed in an old suit of Federal uniform, Page 33 evidently under the influence of whiskey. He wore a belt around his waist, in which he had thrust, conspicuously, an old horse pistol.
Standing squarely across the pathway, he said to the Preacher,. It was his first experience with Negro insolence since the emancipation of his slaves. Quick as a flash, his right arm was raised. But he took a second thought, stepped aside, and allowed the drunken fool to pass. He went home wondering in a hazy sort of way through his excited passions what the end of it all would be. Gradually in his mind for days this towering figure of the freed Negro had been growing more and more ominous, until its menace overshadowed the poverty, the hunger, the sorrows and the devastation of the South, throwing the blight of its shadow over future generations, a veritable Black Death for the land and its people.
The spirit of the returned soldiers was all that he could ask. There was nowhere a slumbering spark of war. There was not the slightest effort to continue the lawless habits of four years of strife. Everywhere the spirit of patience, self-restraint and hope marked the life of the men who had made the most terrible soldiery.
They were glad to be done with war, and have the opportunity to rebuild their broken fortunes. They were glad, too, that the everlasting question of a divided Union was settled and settled forever. There was now to be one country and one flag, and deep down in their souls they were content with it. The spectacle of this terrible army of the Confederacy the memory of whose battle cry yet thrills the world, transformed in a month into patient and hopeful workmen, has never been paralleled in history.
Who destroyed this scene of peaceful rehabilitation? Hell has no pit dark enough, and no damnation deep enough for these conspirators when once history has fixed their guilt. The task before the people of the South was one to tax the genius of the Anglo-Saxon race as never in its history Page 35 even had every friendly aid possible been extended by the victorious North.
Four million negroes had suddenly been freed, and the foundations of economic order destroyed. Five billions of dollars worth of property were wiped out of existence, banks closed, every dollar of money worthless paper, the country plundered by victorious armies, its cities, mills and homes burned, and the flower of its manhood buried in nameless trenches, or worse still, flung upon the charity of poverty, maimed wrecks. The task of organising this wrecked society and marshalling into efficient citizenship this host of ignorant negroes, and yet to preserve the civilization of the Anglo-Saxon race, the priceless heritage of two thousand years of struggle, was one to appal the wisdom of ages.
Honestly and earnestly the white people of the South set about this work, and accepted the Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery without a protesting vote. The President issued his proclamation announcing the method of restoring the Union as it had been handed to him from the martyred Lincoln, and endorsed unanimously by Lincoln's Cabinet. This plan was simple, broad and statesmanlike, and its spirit breathed Fraternity and Union with malice toward none and charity toward all.
It declared what Lincoln had always taught, that the Union was indestructible, that the rebellious states had now only to repudiate Secession, abolish slavery, and resume their positions in the Union, to preserve which so many lives had been sacrificed.
The people of North Carolina accepted this plan in good faith. They elected a Legislature composed of the noblest men of the state, and chose an old Union man, Andrew Macon, Governor. Against Macon was pitted the man who was now the President and organiser of a federation of secret oath-bound societies, of which the Page 36 Union League, destined to play so tragic a part in the drama about to follow was the type.
This man, Amos Hogg, was a writer of brilliant and forceful style. Before the war, a virulent Secessionist leader, he had justified and upheld slavery, and had written a volume of poems dedicated to John C. He had led the movement for Secession in the Convention which passed the ordinance.
But when he saw his ship was sinking, he turned his back upon the "errors" of the past, professed the most loyal Union sentiments, wormed himself into the confidence of the Federal Government, and actually succeeded in securing the position of Provisional Governor of the state!
He loudly professed his loyalty, and with fury and malice demanded that Vance, the great war Governor, his predecessor, who, as a Union man had opposed Secession, should now be hanged, and with him his own former associates in the Secession Convention, whom he had misled with his brilliant pen.
But the people had a long memory. They saw through this hollow pretense, grieved for their great leader, who was now locked in a prison cell in Washington, and voted for Andrew Macon. In the bitterness of defeat, Amos Hogg sharpened his wits and his pen, and began his schemes of revengeful ambition. The fires of passion burned now in the hearts of hosts of cowards, North and South, who had not met their foe in battle. Their day had come. The times were ripe for the Apostles of Revenge and their breed of statesmen.
The Preacher threw the full weight of his character and influence to defeat Hogg and he succeeded in carrying the county for Macon by an overwhelming majority. At the election only the men who had voted under the old regime were allowed to vote. The Preacher had not Page 37 appeared on the hustings as a speaker, but as an organizer and leader of opinion he was easily the most powerful man in the county, and one of the most powerful in the state.
There were but two churches, the Baptist and the Methodist. The Episcopalians had a building, but it was built by the generosity of one of their dead members. There were four Presbyterian families in town, and they were working desperately to build a church. The Baptists had really taken the county, and the Methodists were their only rivals. The Baptists had fifteen flourishing churches in the county, the Methodists six.
There were no others. The meetings at the Baptist church in the village of Hambright were the most important gatherings in the county. On Sunday mornings everybody who could walk, young and old, saint and sinner, went to church, and by far the larger number to the Baptist church. You could tell by the stroke of the bells that the two were rivals. The sextons acquired a peculiar skill in ringing these bells with a snap and a jerk that smashed the clapper against the side in a stroke that spoke defiance to all rival bells, warning of everlasting fire to all sinners that should stay away, and due notice to the saints that even an apostle might become a castaway unless he made haste.
The men occupied one side of the house, the women the other. Only very small boys accompanying their Page 39 mothers were to be seen on the woman's side, together with a few young men who fearlessly escorted thither their sweethearts. Before the services began, between the ringing of the first and second bells, the men gathered in groups in the church yard and discussed grave questions of politics and weather. The services over the men lingered in the yard to shake hands with neighbours, praise or criticise the sermon, and once more discuss great events.
The boys gathered in quiet, wistful groups and watched the girls come slowly out of the other door, and now and then a daring youngster summoned courage to ask to see one of them home. The services were of the simplest kind. The Preacher never touched on politics, no matter what the event under whose world import his people gathered. War was declared, and fought for four terrible years.
Lee surrendered, the slaves were freed, and society was torn from the foundations of centuries, but you would never have known it from the lips of the Rev. John Durham in his pulpit. These things were but passing events. When he ascended the pulpit he was the Messenger of Eternity. He spoke of God, of Truth, of Righteousness, of Judgment, the same yesterday, to-day and forever. Only in his prayers did he come closer to the inner thoughts and perplexities of the daily life of the people.
He was a man of remarkable power in the pulpit. His mastery of the Bible was profound. He could speak pages of direct discourse in its very language. To him it was a divine alphabet, from whose letters he could compose the most impassioned message to the individual hearer before him. Its literature, its poetic fire, the epic sweep of the Old Testament record of life, were Page 40 in-wrought into the very fibre of his soul. As a preacher he spoke with authority. He was narrow and dogmatic in his interpretations of the Bible, but his very narrowness and dogmatism were of his flesh and blood, elements of his power.
He never stooped to controversy. He simply announced the Truth. The wise received it. The fools rejected it and were damned. That was all there was to it. But it was in his public prayers that he was at his best. Here all the wealth of tenderness of a great soul was laid bare. In these prayers he had the subtle genius that could find the way direct into the hearts of the people before him, realise as his own their sins and sorrows, their burdens and hopes and dreams and fears, and then, when he had made them his own, he could give them the wings of deathless words and carry them up to the heart of God.
He prayed in a low soft tone of voice; it was like an honest earnest child pleading with his father. What a hush fell on the people when these prayers began! With what breathless suspense every earnest soul followed him! Before and during the war, the gallery of this church, which was built and reserved for the negroes, was always crowded with dusky listeners that hung spellbound on his words.
Now there were only a few, perhaps a dozen, and they were growing fewer. Some new and mysterious power was at work among the negroes, sowing the seeds of distrust and suspicion. He wondered what it could be. He had always loved to preach to these simple hearted children of nature, and watch the flash of resistless emotion sweep their dark faces.
He had baptised over five hundred of them into the fellowship of the churches in the village and the county during the ten years of his ministry. He determined to find out the cause of this desertion Page 41 of his church by the negroes to whom he had ministered so many years.
At the close of a Sunday morning's service, Nelse was slowly descending the gallery stairs leading Charlie Gaston by the hand, after the church had been nearly emptied of the white people. The Preacher stopped him near the door. Eve she stay wid er dis mornin', while I fetch dis boy ter church. He des so sot on goin'.
Dey has meetin' now in de school house dat Yankee 'oman built. De teachers tell 'em ef dey aint good ernuf ter set wid de white folks in dere chu'ch, dey got ter hole up dey haids, and not 'low nobody ter push em up in er nigger gallery. So dey's got ole Uncle Josh Miller to preach fur 'em. He 'low he got er call, en he stan' up dar en holler fur 'em bout er hour ev'ry Sunday mawnin' en night. En sech whoopin', en yellin', en bawlin'!
Yer can hear 'em er mile. Dey tries ter git me ter go. I tell 'em, Marse John Durham's preachin's good ernuf fur me, gall'ry er no gall'ry. I tell 'em dat I spec er gall'ry nigher heaven dan de lower flo' enyhow--en fuddermo', dat when I goes ter church, I wants ter hear sumfin' mo' den er ole fool nigger er bawlin'.
I can holler myself. En dey low I gwine back on my colour. En den I tell 'em I spec I aint so proud dat I can't larn fum white folks. En dey say dey gwine ter lay fur me yit. I spec dey gone fur good. Niggers aint got no sense nohow.
I des wish I own 'em erbout er week! Dey gitten madder'n madder et me all de time case I stay at de ole place en wuk fer my po' sick Mistus. Dey sen' er Kermittee ter see me mos' ev'ry day ter 'splain ter me I'se free. De las' time dey come I lam one on de haid wid er stick er wood erfo dey leave me lone. Des sorter crack his skull er little ter show 'im what I gwine do wid 'im nex' time dey come pesterin' me.
But dey sont me word dey gwine git de Freeman's Buro atter me. En I sont 'em back word ter sen Mr. Buro right on en I land 'im in de middle er a spell er sickness, des es sho es de Lawd gimme strenk. They have absolute power over all questions between the Negro and the white man.
They can prohibit you from working for a white person without their consent, and they can fix your wages and make your contracts. Come to me if you get into trouble with them," was the Preacher's parting injunction. Nelse made his way out leading Charlie by the hand, and bowing his giant form in a quaint deferential way to the white people he knew.
He seemed proud of his Page 43 association in the church with the whites, and the position of inferiority assigned him in no sense disturbed his pride. He was muttering to himself as he walked slowly along looking down at the ground thoughtfully.
There was infinite scorn and defiance in his voice. Des let 'em fool wid me! I'll make 'em see de seben stars in de middle er de day! She had been in the village often within the year, running up from Independence where she was building and endowing a magnificent classical college for negroes. He had often heard of her, but as she stopped with negroes when on her visits he had never met her.
He was especially interested in her after hearing incidentally that she was a member of a Baptist church in Boston. On entering the parlour the Preacher greeted his visitor with the deference the typical Southern man instinctively pays to woman. She looked him squarely in the face for a moment as though surprised and smilingly replied,. You have a way of making every woman believe you think her a queen. It pleases me, I can't help confessing it, though I sometimes despise myself for it.
But I am not going to give you an opportunity to feed my vanity this morning. I've come for a plain face to Page 45 face talk with you on the one subject that fills my heart, my work among the Freedmen. You are a Baptist minister. I have a right to your friendship and co-operation. A cloud overshadowed the Preacher's face as he seated himself. He said nothing for a moment, looking curiously and thoughtfully at his visitor.
There were other captives among the Mohawks. As the canoes emerged from the islands, Radisson counted one hundred and fifty Iroquois warriors, with two French captives, one white woman, and seventeen Hurons. Flaunting from the canoe prows were the scalps of eleven Algonquins. The victors fired off their muskets and shouted defiance until the valley rang. As the seventy-five canoes turned up the Richelieu River for the country of the Iroquois, hope died in the captive Hurons and there mingled with the chant of the Mohawks' war-songs, the low monotonous dirge of the prisoners:—.
Twelve miles up the Richelieu, the Iroquois landed to camp. The prisoners were pegged out on the sand, elbows trussed to knees, each captive tied to a post. In this fashion they lay every night of encampment, tortured by sand-flies that they were powerless to drive off.
At the entrance to the Mohawk village, a yoke was fastened to the captives' necks by placing pairs of saplings one on each side down the line of prisoners. By the rope round the waist of the foremost prisoner, they were led slowly between the lines of tormentors. The captives were ordered to sing. If one refused or showed fear, a Mohawk struck off a finger with a hatchet, or tore the prisoners' nails out, or thrust red-hot irons into the muscles of the bound arms.
Men, women, and children armed with rods and skull-crackers—leather bags loaded with stones—rushed on the slowly moving file of prisoners. The prisoners moved mournfully on. The Hurons chanted their death dirge. The Mohawk women uttered screams of mockery. Suddenly there broke from the throng of onlookers the Iroquois family that had adopted Radisson.
Pushing through the crew of torturers, the mother caught Radisson by the hair, calling him by the name of her dead son, "Orimha! Thou makest thyself an enemy! Thou lovest us not, though we saved thy life! Wouldst kill me, too? It's a merry business you've got into! Give him something to eat! Trembling with fear, young Radisson put as bold a face on as he could and made a show of eating what the squaw placed before him.
He was still relating his adventures when there came a roar of anger from the Mohawks outside, who had discovered his absence from the line. A moment later the rabble broke into the lodge. Jostling the friendly chief aside, the Mohawk warriors carried Radisson back to the orgies of the torture. The prisoners had been taken out of the stocks and placed on several scaffoldings. One poor Frenchman fell to the ground bruised and unable to rise.
The Iroquois tore the scalp from his head and threw him into the fire. That was Radisson's first glimpse of what was in store for him. Then he, too, stood on the scaffolding among the other prisoners, who never ceased singing their death song. In the midst of these horrors— diableries , the Jesuits called them—as if the very elements had been moved with pity, there burst over the darkened forest a terrific hurricane of hail and rain. This put out the fires and drove all the tormentors away but a few impish children, who stayed to pluck nails from the hands and feet of the captives and shoot arrows with barbed points at the naked bodies.
Every iniquity that cruelty could invent, these children practised on the captives. Red-hot spears were brought from the lodge fires and thrust into the prisoners. The mutilated finger ends were ground between stones. Thongs were twisted round wrists and ankles, by sticks put through a loop, till flesh was cut to the bone.
As the rain ceased falling, a woman, who was probably the wife of one of the murdered Mohawks, brought her little boy to cut one of Radisson's fingers with a flint stone. The child was too young and ran away from the gruesome task. Gathering darkness fell over the horrible spectacle. The exhausted captives, some in a delirium from pain, others unconscious, were led to separate lodges, or dragged over the ground, and left tied for the night.
The next morning all were returned to the scaffolds, but the first day had glutted the Iroquois appetite for tortures. The friendly family was permitted to approach Radisson. The mother brought him food and told him that the Council Lodge had decided not to kill him for that day—they wanted the young white warrior for their own ranks; but even as the cheering hope was uttered, came a brave with a pipe of live coals, in which he thrust and held Radisson's thumb.
No sooner had the tormentor left than the woman bound up the burn and oiled Radisson's wounds. He suffered no abuse that day till night, when the soles of both feet were burned. The majority of the captives were flung into a great bonfire. On the third day of torture he almost lost his life. First came a child to gnaw at his fingers.
Then a man appeared armed for the ghastly work of mutilation. Both these the Iroquois father of Radisson sent away. Once, when none of the friendly family happened to be near, Radisson was seized and bound for burning, but by chance the lighted faggot scorched his executioner. A friendly hand slashed the thongs that bound him, and he was drawn back to the scaffold. Past caring whether he lived or died, and in too great agony from the burns of his feet to realize where he was going, Radisson was conducted to the Great Council.
Sixty old men sat on a circle of mats, smoking, round the central fire. Before them stood seven other captives. Radisson only was still bound. A gust of wind from the opening lodge door cleared the smoke for an instant and there entered Radisson's Indian father, clad in the regalia of a mighty chief. Tomahawk and calumet and medicine-bag were in his hands. He took his place in the circle of councillors. Judgment was to be given on the remaining prisoners. After passing the Council Pipe from hand to hand in solemn silence, the sachems prepared to give their views.
One arose, and offering the smoke of incense to the four winds of heaven to invoke witness to the justice of the trial, gave his opinion on the matter of life or death. Each of the chiefs in succession spoke. Without any warning whatever, one chief rose and summarily tomahawked three of the captives. That had been the sentence. The rest were driven, like sheep for the shambles, to life-long slavery.
Radisson was left last. His case was important. He had sanctioned the murder of three Mohawks. Not for a moment since he was recaptured had they dared to untie the hands of so dangerous a prisoner. Amid deathly silence, the Iroquois father stood up. Flinging down medicine-bag, fur robe, wampum belts, and tomahawk, he pointed to the nineteen scars upon his side, each of which signified an enemy slain by his own hand. Then the old Mohawk broke into one of those impassioned rhapsodies of eloquence which delighted the savage nature, calling back to each of the warriors recollection of victories for the Iroquois.
His eyes took fire from memory of heroic battle. The councillors shook off their imperturbable gravity and shouted "Ho, ho! And as they applauded, there glided into the wigwam the mother, singing some battle-song of valor, dancing and gesticulating round and round the lodge in dizzy, serpentine circlings, that illustrated in pantomime those battles of long ago. Gliding ghostily from the camp-fire to the outer dark, she suddenly stopped, stood erect, advanced a step, and with all her might threw one belt of priceless wampum at the councillors' feet, one necklace over the prisoner's head.
Before the applause could cease or the councillors' ardor cool, the adopted brother sprang up, hatchet in hand, and sang of other victories. Then, with a delicacy of etiquette which white pleaders do not always observe, father and son withdrew from the Council Lodge to let the jury deliberate. The old sachems were disturbed.
They had been moved more than their wont. Twenty withdrew to confer. Dusk gathered deeper and deeper over the forests of the Mohawk Valley. Tawny faces came peering at the doors, waiting for the decision. Outsiders tore the skins from the walls of the lodge that they, too, might witness the memorable trial of the boy prisoner.
Sachem after sachem rose and spoke. Tobacco was sacrificed to the fire-god. Would the relatives of the dead Mohawks consider the wampum belts full compensation? Could the Iroquois suffer a youth to live who had joined the murderers of the Mohawks? Could the Mohawks afford to offend the great Iroquois chief who was the French youth's friend? As they deliberated, the other councillors returned, accompanied by all the members of Radisson's friendly family.
Again the father sang and spoke. This time when he finished, instead of sitting down, he caught the necklace of wampum from Radisson's neck, threw it at the feet of the oldest sachem, cut the captive's bonds, and, amid shouts of applause, set the white youth free. One of the incomprehensible things to civilization is how a white man can degenerate to savagery. Young Radisson's life is an illustration.
In the first transports of his freedom, with the Mohawk women dancing and singing around him, the men shouting, he leaped up, oblivious of pain; but when the flush of ecstasy had passed, he sank to the mat of the Iroquois lodge, and he was unable to use his burned feet for more than a month.
During this time the Iroquois dressed his wounds, brought him the choice portions of the hunt, gave him clean clothing purchased at Orange Albany , and attended to his wants as if he had been a prince. No doubt the bright eyes of the swarthy young French boy moved to pity the hearts of the Mohawk mothers, and his courage had won him favor among the warriors. He was treated like a king.
The women waited upon him like slaves, and the men gave him presents of firearms and ammunition—the Indian's most precious possessions. Between flattered vanity and indolence, other white men, similarly treated, have lost their self-respect. Beckworth, of the Missouri, became to all intents and purposes a savage; and Bird, of the Blackfeet, degenerated lower than the Indians. Other Frenchmen captured from the St. Lawrence, and white women taken from the New England colonies, became so enamored of savage life that they refused to leave the Indian lodges when peace had liberated them.
Not so Radisson. Though only seventeen, flattered vanity never caused him to forget the gratitude he owed the Mohawk family. Though he relates his life with a frankness that leaves nothing untold, he never at any time returned treachery for kindness. The very chivalry of the French nature endangered him all the more. Would he forget his manhood, his birthright of a superior race, his inheritance of nobility from a family that stood foremost among the noblesse of New France?
The spring of came with unloosening of the rivers and stirring of the forest sap and fret of the warrior blood. Radisson's Iroquois father held great feasts in which he heaved up the hatchet to break the kettle of sagamite against all enemies. Would Radisson go on the war-path with the braves, or stay at home with the women and so lose the respect of the tribe?
In the hope of coming again within reach of Three Rivers, he offered to join the Iroquois in their wars. The Mohawks were delighted with his spirit, but they feared to lose their young warrior. Accepting his offer, they refused to let him accompany them to Quebec, but assigned him to a band of young braves, who were to raid the border-lands between the Huron country of the Upper Lakes and the St. This was not what Radisson wanted, but he could not draw back. There followed months of wild wanderings round the regions of Niagara.
The band of young braves passed dangerous places with great precipices and a waterfall, where the river was a mile wide and unfrozen. Radisson was constrained to witness many acts against the Eries, which must have one of two effects on white blood,—either turn the white man into a complete savage, or disgust him utterly with savage life. Leaving the Mohawk village amid a blare of guns and shouts, the young braves on their maiden venture passed successively through the lodges of Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, and Cayugas, where they were feasted almost to death by the Iroquois Confederacy.
Snow still lay in great drifts under the shadow of hemlock and spruce; and the braves skimmed forward winged with the noiseless speed of snow-shoes. When the snow became too soft from thaw for snow-shoes, they paused to build themselves a skiff. It was too early to peel the bark off the birch, so they made themselves a dugout of the walnut tree.
The wind changed from north to south, clearing the lakes of ice and filling the air with the earthy smells of up-bursting growth. But this was not war. It was play, and play of the sort that weans the white man from civilization to savagery. One day a scout, who had climbed to the top of a tree, espied two strange squaws.
They were of a hostile tribe. The Mohawk bloodthirst was up as a wolf's at the sight of lambs. In vain Radisson tried to save the women by warning the Iroquois that if there were women, there must be men, too, who would exact vengeance for the squaws' death. The young braves only laid their plans the more carefully for his warning and massacred the entire encampment. Prisoners were taken, but when food became scarce they were brutally knocked on the head. These tribes had never heard guns before, and at the sound of shots fled as from diabolical enemies.
It was an easy matter for the young braves in the course of a few weeks to take a score of scalps and a dozen prisoners. At one place more than two hundred beaver were trapped. At the end of the raid, the booty was equally divided.
Radisson asked that the woman prisoner be given to him; and he saved her from torture and death on the return to the Mohawks by presenting her as a slave to his Indian mother. All his other share of booty he gave to the friendly family. The raid was over. He had failed of his main object in joining it. He had not escaped. But he had made one important gain. Orange, or Albany, consisted at that time of some fifty thatched log-houses surrounded by a settlement of perhaps a hundred and fifty farmers.
This raid was bloodless. The warriors looted the farmers' cabins, emptied their cupboards, and drank their beer cellars dry to the last drop. Once more Radisson kept his head. While the braves entered Fort Orange roaring drunk, Radisson was alert and sober. A drunk Indian falls an easy prey in the bartering of pelts. The Iroquois wanted guns. The Dutch wanted pelts. The whites treated the savages like kings; and the Mohawks marched from house to house feasting of the best. Radisson was dressed in garnished buckskin and had been painted like a Mohawk.
Suspecting some design to escape, his Iroquois friends never left him. The young Frenchman now saw white men for the first time in almost two years; but the speech that he heard was in a strange tongue. As Radisson went into the fort, he noticed a soldier among the Dutch. At the same instant the soldier recognized him as a Frenchman, and oblivious of the Mohawks' presence blurted out his discovery in Iroquois dialect, vowing that for all the paint and grease, this youth was a white man below.
The fellow's blundering might have cost Radisson's life; but the youth had not been a captive among crafty Mohawks for nothing. Radisson feigned surprise at the accusation. That quieted the Mohawk suspicions and they were presently deep in the beer pots of the Dutch. Again the soldier spoke, this time in French. It was the first time that Radisson had heard his native tongue for months. He answered in French. At that the soldier emitted shouts of delight, for he, too, was French, and these strangers in an alien land threw their arms about each other like a pair of long-lost brothers with exclamations of joy too great for words.
From that moment Radisson became the lion of Fort Orange. The women dragged him to their houses and forced more dainties on him than he could eat. He was conducted from house to house in triumph, to the amazed delight of the Indians. The Dutch offered to ransom him at any price; but that would have exposed the Dutch settlement to the resentment of the Mohawks and placed Radisson under heavy obligation to people who were the enemies of New France.
Besides, his honor was pledged to return to his Indian parents; and it was a long way home to have to sail to Europe and back again to Quebec. Perhaps, too, there was deep in his heart what he did not realize—a rooted love for the wilds that was to follow him all through life.
By the devious course of captivity, he had tasted of a new freedom and could not give it up. He declined the offer of the Dutch. In two days he was back among the Mohawks ten times more a hero than he had ever been.
Mother and sisters were his slaves. But between love of the wilds and love of barbarism is a wide difference. He had not been back for two weeks when that glimpse of crude civilization at Orange recalled torturing memories of the French home in Three Rivers. The filthy food, the smoky lodges, the cruelties of the Mohawks, filled him with loathing.
The nature of the white man, which had been hidden under the grease and paint of the savage—and in danger of total eclipse—now came upper-most. With Radisson, to think was to act. He determined to escape if it cost him his life. Taking only a hatchet as if he were going to cut wood, Radisson left the Indian lodge early one morning in the fall of Once out of sight from the village, he broke into a run, following the trail through the dense forests of the Mohawk Valley toward Fort Orange.
On and on he ran, all that day, without pause to rest or eat, without backward glance, with eye ever piercing through the long leafy vistas of the forest on the watch for the fresh-chipped bark of the trees that guided his course, or the narrow indurated path over the spongy mould worn by running warriors. And when night filled the forest with the hoot of owl, and the far, weird cries of wild creatures on the rove, there sped through the aisled columns of star light and shadow, the ghostly figure of the French boy slim, and lithe as a willow, with muscles tense as ironwood, and step silent as the mountain-cat.
All that night he ran without a single stop. Chill daybreak found him still staggering on, over rocks slippery with the night frost, over windfall tree on tree in a barricade, through brawling mountain brooks where his moccasins broke the skim of ice at the edge, past rivers where he half waded, half swam. He was now faint from want of food; but fear spurred him on. The morning air was so cold that he found it better to run than rest. By four of the afternoon he came to a clearing in the forest, where was the cabin of a settler.
A man was chopping wood. Radisson ascertained that there were no Iroquois in the cabin, and, hiding in it, persuaded the settler to carry a message to Fort Orange, two miles farther on. While he waited Indians passed the cabin, singing and shouting. The settler's wife concealed him behind sacks of wheat and put out all lights. Within an hour came a rescue party from Orange, who conducted him safely to the fort. For three days Radisson hid in Orange, while the Mohawks wandered through the fort, calling him by name.
Central Park was a forest; goats and cows pastured on what is now Wall Street; and to east and west was a howling wilderness of marsh and woods. After a stay of three weeks, Radisson embarked for Amsterdam, which he reached in January, Sulte gives the name of the governor Duplessis-Kerbodot, not Bochart, as given in Parkman.
Bryce has unearthed the fact that in a petition to the House of Commons, , Radisson sets down his age as sixty-two. This gives the year of his birth as On the other hand, Sulte has record of a Pierre Radisson registered at Quebec in , aged fifty-one, which would make him slightly older, if it is the same Radisson.
Their daughter Marguerite married Chouart, known as Groseillers. Talon in shows there were families in Three Rivers. State papers from the Minister to M. Frontenac in show there were only French in all the colony. Averaging five a family, there must have been people at Three Rivers.
Fear of the Iroquois must have driven the country people inside the fort, so that the population enrolled was larger than the real population of Three Rivers. Sulte gives the normal population of Three Rivers in as 38 married couples, 13 bachelors, 38 boys, 26 girls—in all not Where did the Mohawks get their guns?
New York Colonial Documents show that between and the Dutch at Fort Orange had supplied the Mohawks alone with four hundred guns. All tribes have a trick of browning food on hot stones or sand that has been taken from fire. The Assiniboines gained their name from this practice: they were the users of "boiling stones. One daughter of a chief factor, who went through a six weeks' siege by hostiles in her father's fort, gave a still more graphic description.
She said: "you can imagine the snarls of a pack of furiously vicious dogs saying 'ah-oh' with a whoop, you have it; and you will not forget it! Catlin relates it of the Mandans, and Hearne of the Chipewyans. The latter considered it a crime to kiss wives and children after a massacre without the bath of purification. Could one know where and when that universal custom of washing blood-guilt arose, one mystery of existence would be unlocked.
Sulte's correction of the name of this governor. The mistake followed by Parkman, Tanguay, and others—it seems—was first made in , and has been faithfully copied since. Elsewhere will be found Mr. Sulte's complete elucidation of the hopeless dark in which all writers have involved Radisson's family.
Bad as these torments were, they were equalled by the deeds of white troops from civilized cities in the nineteenth century. A band of Montana scouts came on the body of a comrade horribly mutilated by the Indians. They caught the culprits a few days afterwards. Though the government report has no account of what happened, traders say the bodies of the guilty Indians were found skinned and scalped by the white troops. From Amsterdam Radisson took ship to Rochelle. Here he found himself a stranger in his native land.
He was still a week's journey from Three Rivers, but chance befriended him. Algonquin canoes were on the way up the river to war on the Iroquois. Joining the Indian canoes, he slipped past the hilly shores of the St. Lawrence and in five days was between the main bank on the north side and the muddy shallows of the Isle of Orleans. Sheering out where the Montmorency roars over a precipice in a shining cataract, the canoes glided across St. Charles River among the forests of masts heaving to the tide below the beetling heights of Cape Diamond, Quebec.
It was May, , when he had first seen the turrets and spires of Quebec glittering on the hillside in the sun; it was May, , that the Iroquois had carried him off from Three Rivers; and it was May, , when he came again to his own. He was welcomed back as from the dead. Changes had taken place in the interval of his captivity. A truce had been arranged between the Iroquois and the French. Now that the Huron missions had been wiped out by Iroquois wars, the Jesuits regarded the truce as a Divine provision for a mission among the Iroquois.
The year that Radisson escaped from the Mohawks, Jesuit priests had gone among them. A still greater change that was to affect his life more vitally had taken place in the Radisson family. The year that Radisson had been captured, the outraged people of Three Rivers had seized a Mohawk chief and burned him to death.
In revenge, the Mohawks murdered the governor of Three Rivers and a company of Frenchmen. Among the slain was the husband of Radisson's sister, Marguerite. Never did pagan heart hear an evangel more gladly than the Mohawks heard the Jesuits. The priests were welcomed with acclaim, led to the Council Lodge, and presented with belts of wampum.
Not a suspicion of foul play seems to have entered the Jesuits' mind. When the Iroquois proposed to incorporate into the Confederacy the remnants of the Hurons, the Jesuits discerned nothing in the plan but the most excellent means to convert pagan Iroquois by Christian Hurons.
Having gained an inch, the Iroquois demanded the proverbial ell. They asked that a French settlement be made in the Iroquois country. The Indians wanted a supply of firearms to war against all enemies; and with a French settlement miles away from help, the Iroquois could wage what war they pleased against the Algonquins without fear of reprisals from Quebec—the settlement of white men among hostiles would be hostage of generous treatment from New France.
Of these designs, neither priests nor governor had the slightest suspicion. The Jesuits were thinking only of the Iroquois' soul; the French, of peace with the Iroquois at any cost. Peace not bought by a victory is an unstable foundation for Indian treaty. The Mohawks were jealous that their confederates, the Onondagas, had obtained the French settlement. In , eighty Iroquois came to Quebec to escort one hundred Huron refugees back to Onondaga for adoption into the Confederacy.
Twenty young Frenchmen joined the party to seek their fortunes at the new settlement; but a man was needed who could speak Iroquois. It was midsummer before all preparations had been made. On July 26, the party of two hundred, made up of twenty Frenchmen, eighty Iroquois, and a hundred Hurons, filed out of the gates of Montreal, and winding round the foot of the mountain followed a trail through the forest that took them past the Lachine Rapids. The Onondaga voyageurs carried the long birch canoes inverted on their shoulders, two Indians at each end; and the other Iroquois trotted over the rocks with the Frenchmen's baggage on their backs.
The day was hot, the portage long and slippery with dank moisture. The Huron children fagged and fell behind. At nightfall, thirty of the haughty Iroquois lost patience, and throwing down their bundles made off for Quebec with the avowed purpose of raiding the Algonquins. On the way, they paused to scalp three Frenchmen at Montreal, cynically explaining that if the French persisted in taking Algonquins into their arms, the white men need not be surprised if the blow aimed at an Algonquin sometimes struck a Frenchman.
That act opened the eyes of the French to the real meaning of the peace made with the Iroquois; but the little colony was beyond recall. To insure the safety of the French among the Onondagas, the French governor at Quebec seized a dozen Iroquois and kept them as hostages of good conduct. Meanwhile, all was confusion on Lake St. Louis, where the last band of colonists had encamped. The Iroquois had cast the Frenchmen's baggage on the rocks and refused to carry it farther.
Leaving the whites all embarrassed, the Onondagas hurriedly embarked the Hurons and paddled quickly out of sight. The act was too suddenly unanimous not to have been premeditated. Why had the Iroquois carried the Hurons away from the Frenchmen? Father Ragueneau at once suspected some sinister purpose. Taking only a single sack of flour for food, he called for volunteers among the twenty Frenchmen to embark in a leaky, old canoe and follow the treacherous Onondagas.
Young Radisson was one of the first to offer himself. Six others followed his example; and the seven Frenchmen led by the priest struck across the lake, leaving the others to gather up the scattered baggage. The Onondagas were too deep to reveal their plots with seven armed Frenchmen in pursuit.
The Indians permitted the French boats to come up with the main band. All camped together in the most friendly fashion that night; but the next morning one Iroquois offered passage in his canoe to one Frenchman, another Iroquois to another of the whites, and by the third day, when they came to Lake St. Francis, the old canoe had been abandoned. The French were scattered promiscuously among the Iroquois, with no two whites in one boat.
The Hurons were quicker to read the signs of treachery than the French. There were rumors of one hundred Mohawks lying in ambush at the Thousand Islands to massacre the coming Hurons. On the morning of August 3 four Huron warriors and two women seized a canoe, and to the great astonishment of the encampment launched out before they could be stopped.
Heading the canoe back for Montreal, they broke out in a war chant of defiance to the Iroquois. The Onondagas made no sign, but they evidently took council to delay no longer. Again, when they embarked, they allowed no two whites in one canoe. The boats spread out. Nothing was said to indicate anything unusual. The lake lay like a silver mirror in the August sun. The water was so clear that the Indians frequently paused to spear fish lying below on the stones.
At places the canoes skirted close to the wood-fringed shore, and braves landed to shoot wild-fowl. Radisson and Ragueneau seemed simultaneously to have noticed the same thing. Without any signal, at about four in the afternoon, the Onondagas steered their canoes for a wooded island in the middle of the St. With Radisson were three Iroquois and a Huron. As the canoe grated shore, the bowman loaded his musket and sprang into the thicket.
Naturally, the Huron turned to gaze after the disappearing hunter. Instantly, the Onondaga standing directly behind buried his hatchet in the Huron's head. The victim fell quivering across Radisson's feet and was hacked to pieces by the other Iroquois. Not far along the shore from Radisson, the priest was landing. He noticed an Iroquois chief approach a Christian Huron girl. If the Huron had not been a convert, she might have saved her life by becoming one of the chief's many slaves; but she had repulsed the Onondaga pagan.
As Ragueneau looked, the girl fell dead with her skull split by the chief's war-axe. The Hurons on the lake now knew what awaited them; and a cry of terror arose from the children. Then a silence of numb horror settled over the incoming canoes. The women were driven ashore like lambs before wolves; but the valiant Hurons would not die without striking one blow at their inveterate and treacherous enemies. They threw themselves together back to back, prepared to fight.
For a moment this show of resistance drove off the Iroquois. Then the Onondaga chieftain rushed forward, protesting that the two murders had been a personal quarrel. Striking back his own warriors with a great show of sincerity, he bade the Hurons run for refuge to the top of the hill. No sooner had the Hurons broken rank, than there rushed from the woods scores of Iroquois, daubed in war-paint and shouting their war-cry.
This was the hunt to which the young braves had dashed from the canoes to be in readiness behind the thicket. Before the scattered Hurons could get together for defence, the Onondagas had closed around the hilltop in a cordon. The priest ran here, there, everywhere,—comforting the dying, stopping mutilation, defending the women. All the Hurons were massacred but one man, and the bodies were thrown into the river. With blankets drawn over their heads that they might not see, the women huddled together, dumb with terror.
When the Onondagas turned toward the women, the Frenchmen stood with muskets levelled. The Onondagas halted, conferred, and drew off. The fight lasted for four hours. Darkness and the valor of the little French band saved the women for the time. The Iroquois kindled a fire and gathered to celebrate their victory. Then the old priest took his life in his hands.
Borrowing three belts of wampum, he left the huddling group of Huron women and Frenchmen and marched boldly into the circle of hostiles. The lives of all the French and Hurons hung by a thread. Ragueneau had been the spiritual guide of the murdered tribe for twenty years; and he was now sobbing like a child. The Iroquois regarded his grief with sardonic scorn; but they misjudged the manhood below the old priest's tears. Ragueneau asked leave to speak.
They grunted permission. Springing up, he broke into impassioned, fearless reproaches of the Iroquois for their treachery. Casting one belt of wampum at the Onondaga chief's feet, the priest demanded pledges that the massacre cease. A second belt was given to register the Onondaga's vow to conduct the women and children safely to the Iroquois country.
The third belt was for the safety of the French at Onondaga. The Iroquois were astonished. They had looked for womanish pleadings. They had heard stern demands coupled with fearless threats of punishment. When Ragueneau sat down, the Onondaga chief bestirred himself to counteract the priest's powerful impression. Lounging to his feet, the Onondaga impudently declared that the governor of Quebec had instigated the massacre.
Ragueneau leaped up with a denial that took the lie from the scoundrel's teeth. The chief sat down abashed. The Council grunted "Ho, ho! Among the Thousand Islands, the French who had remained behind to gather up the baggage again joined the Onondagas. They brought with them from the Isle of Massacres a poor Huron woman, whom they had found lying insensible on a rock.
During the massacre she had hidden in a hollow tree, where she remained for three days. In this region, Radisson almost lost his life by hoisting a blanket sail to his canoe. The wind drifted the boat so far out that Radisson had to throw all ballast overboard to keep from being swamped. As they turned from the St. In spite of pledges to the priest, the meeting was celebrated by torturing the Huron women to entertain the newcomers. Not the sufferings of the early Christians in Rome exceeded the martyrdom of the Christian Hurons among the Onondagas.
As her mother mounted the scaffold of tortures, a little girl who had been educated by the Ursulines of Quebec broke out with loud weeping. The Huron mother turned calmly to the child:—. We shall this day be in heaven," said she; "God will pity us to all eternity. The Iroquois cannot rob us of that. As the flames crept about her, her voice was heard chanting in the crooning monotone of Indian death dirge: "Jesu—have pity on us! Jesu—have pity on us!
The Iroquois recognized Radisson. He sent presents to his Mohawk parents, who afterwards played an important part in saving the French of Onondaga. Having passed the falls, they came to the French fort situated on the crest of a hill above a lake. Two high towers loopholed for musketry occupied the centre of the courtyard. Double walls, trenched between, ran round a space large enough to enable the French to keep their cattle inside the fort.
The pilgrims had scarcely settled at Onondaga before signs of the dangers that were gathering became too plain for the blind zeal of the Jesuits to ignore. Cayugas, Onondagas, and Senecas, togged out in war-gear, swarmed outside the palisades. There was no more dissembling of hunger for the Jesuits' evangel.
The warriors spoke no more soft words, but spent their time feasting, chanting war-songs, heaving up the war-hatchet against the kettle of sagamite—which meant the rupture of peace. Then came four hundred Mohawks, who not only shouted their war-songs, but built their wigwams before the fort gates and established themselves for the winter like a besieging army. That the intent of the entire Confederacy was hostile to Onondaga could not be mistaken; but what was holding the Indians back?
Why did they delay the massacre? Then Huron slaves brought word to the besieged fort of the twelve Iroquois hostages held at Quebec. The fort understood what stayed the Iroquois blow. The Confederacy dared not attack the isolated fort lest Quebec should take terrible vengeance on the hostages. The French decided to send messengers to Quebec for instructions before closing navigation cut them off for the winter.
Thirteen men and one Jesuit left the fort the first week of September. Mohawk spies knew of the departure and lay in ambush at each side of the narrow river to intercept the party; but the messengers eluded the trap by striking through the forests back from the river directly to the St. Then the little fort closed its gates and awaited an answer from Quebec. Winter settled over the land, blocking the rivers with ice and the forest trails with drifts of snow; but no messengers came back from Quebec.
The Mohawks had missed the outgoing scouts: but they caught the return coureurs and destroyed the letters. Not a soul could leave the fort but spies dogged his steps. The Jesuits continued going from lodge to lodge, and in this way Onondaga gained vague knowledge of the plots outside the fort.
The French could venture out only at the risk of their lives, and spent the winter as closely confined as prisoners of war. Of the ten drilled soldiers, nine threatened to desert. One night an unseen hand plunged through the dark, seized the sentry, and dragged him from the gate.
The sentry drew his sword and shouted, "To arms! In the tussle the sentry was rescued, and gifts were sent out in the morning to pacify the wounded Mohawks. Fortunately the besieged had plenty of food inside the stockades; but the Iroquois knew there could be no escape till the ice broke up in spring, and were quite willing to exchange ample supplies of corn for tobacco and firearms.
The Huron slaves who carried the corn to the fort acted as spies among the Mohawks for the French. In the month of February the vague rumors of conspiracy crystallized into terrible reality. A dying Mohawk confessed to a Jesuit that the Iroquois Council had determined to massacre half the company of French and to hold the other half till their own Mohawk hostages were released from Quebec. Among the hostiles encamped before the gates was Radisson's Indian father.
This Mohawk was still an influential member of the Great Council. He, too, reported that the warriors were bent on destroying Onondaga. No answer had come from Quebec, and no aid could come till the spring. The rivers were still blocked with ice; and there were not sufficient boats in the fort to carry fifty men down to Quebec. It was as hard to get away from them as for a ship in full sea without a pilot.
They at once began constructing two large flat-bottomed boats of light enough draft to run the rapids in the flood-tide of spring. Carpenters worked hidden in an attic; but when the timbers were mortised together, the boats had to be brought downstairs, where one of the Huron slaves caught a glimpse of them. Boats of such a size he had never before seen. Each was capable of carrying fifteen passengers with full complement of baggage.
Spring rains were falling in floods. The convert Huron had heard the Jesuits tell of Noah's ark in the deluge. Returning to the Mohawks, he spread a terrifying report of an impending flood and of strange arks of refuge built by the white men. Emissaries were appointed to visit the French fort; but the garrison had been forewarned. Radisson knew of the coming spies from his Indian father; and the Jesuits had learned of the Council from their converts.
Before the spies arrived, the French had built a floor over their flatboats, and to cover the fresh floor had heaped up a dozen canoes. The spies left the fort satisfied that neither a deluge nor an escape was impending. Birch canoes would be crushed like egg-shells if they were run through the ice jams of spring floods. Certain that their victims were trapped, the Iroquois were in no haste to assault a double-walled fort, where musketry could mow them down as they rushed the hilltop.
The Indian is bravest under cover; so the Mohawks spread themselves in ambush on each side of the narrow river and placed guards at the falls where any boats must be portaged. Of what good were the boats? To allay suspicion of escape, the Jesuits continued to visit the wigwams. They consulted Radisson, who could go among the Mohawks as with a charmed life, and who knew the customs of the Confederacy so well.
Radisson proposed a way to outwit the savages. With this plan the priests had nothing to do. To the harum-scarum Radisson belong the sole credit and discredit of the escapade. On his device hung the lives of fifty innocent men.
These men must either escape or be massacred. Of bloodshed, Radisson had already seen too much; and the youth of twenty-one now no more proposed to stickle over the means of victory than generals who wear the Victoria cross stop to stickle over means to-day. Radisson knew that the Indians had implicit faith in dreams; so Radisson had a dream. The Indian will eat the last morsel of food set before him if he dies for it. He believes that the gods punish waste of food by famine. This dream he related to his Indian father.
The Indian like his white brother can clothe a vice under religious mantle. The Iroquois were gluttonous on a religious principle. Radisson's dream was greeted with joy. Coureurs ran through the forest, bidding the Mohawks to the feast. Leaving ambush of forest and waterfall, the warriors hastened to the walls of Onondaga. To whet their appetite, they were kept waiting outside for two whole days.
The French took turns in entertaining the waiting guests. Boisterous games, songs, dances, and music kept the Iroquois awake and hilarious to the evening of the second day. Inside the fort bedlam reigned. Boats were dragged from floors to a sally-port at the rear of the courtyard. Here firearms, ammunition, food, and baggage were placed in readiness.
Guns which could not be taken were burned or broken. Ammunition was scattered in the snow. All the stock but one solitary pig, a few chickens, and the dogs was sacrificed for the feast, and in the barracks a score of men were laboring over enormous kettles of meat. Had an Indian spy climbed to the top of a tree and looked over the palisades, all would have been discovered; but the French entertainers outside kept their guests busy.
On the evening of the second day a great fire was kindled in the outer enclosure, between the two walls. The trumpets blew a deafening blast. The Mohawks answered with a shout. The French clapped their hands. The outer gates were thrown wide open, and in trooped several hundred Mohawk warriors, seating themselves in a circle round the fire.
Another blare of trumpets, and twelve enormous kettles of mincemeat were carried round the circle of guests. A Mohawk chief rose solemnly and gave his deities of earth, air, and fire profuse thanks for having brought such generous people as the French among the Iroquois.
Other chiefs arose and declaimed to their hearers that earth did not contain such hosts as the French. Before they had finished speaking there came a second and a third and a fourth relay of kettles round the circle of feasters. Not one Iroquois dared to refuse the food heaped before him. By the time the kettles of salted fowl and venison and bear had passed round the circle, each Indian was glancing furtively sideways to see if his neighbor could still eat.
He who was compelled to forsake the feast first was to become the butt of the company. All the while the French kept up a din of drums and trumpets and flageolets, dancing and singing and shouting to drive off sleep. The eyes of the gorging Indians began to roll. Never had they attempted to demolish such a banquet. Some shook their heads and drew back. Others fell over in the dead sleep that results from long fasting and overfeeding and fresh air.
Radisson was everywhere, urging the Iroquois to "Cheer up! If sleep overcomes you, you must awake! Beat the drum! Blow the trumpet! But the end of the repulsive scene was at hand. By midnight the Indians had—in the language of the white man—"gone under the mahogany.
Perhaps, too, something had been dropped in the fleshpots to make their sleep the sounder. Radisson does not say no, neither does the priest, and they two were the only whites present who have written of the episode. It was a common thing for the fur traders of a later period to prevent massacre and quell riot by administering a quietus to Indians with a few drops of laudanum. The French now retired to the inner court.
The main gate was bolted and chained. Through the loophole of this gate ran a rope attached to a bell that was used to summon the sentry. To this rope the mischievous Radisson tied the only remaining pig, so that when the Indians would pull the rope for admission, the noise of the disturbed pig would give the impression of a sentry's tramp-tramp on parade.
Stuffed effigies of soldiers were then stuck about the barracks. If a spy climbed up to look over the palisades, he would see Frenchmen still in the fort. While Radisson was busy with these precautions to delay pursuit, the soldiers and priests, led by Major Dupuis, had broken open the sally-port, forced the boats through sideways, and launched out on the river.
Speaking in whispers, they stowed the baggage in the flat-boats, then brought out skiffs—dugouts to withstand the ice jam—for the rest of the company. The night was raw and cold. A skim of ice had formed on the margins of the river. Through the pitchy darkness fell a sleet of rain and snow that washed out the footsteps of the fugitives. The current of mid-river ran a noisy mill-race of ice and log drift; and the voyageurs could not see one boat length ahead.
To men living in savagery come temptations that can neither be measured nor judged by civilization. To the French at Onondaga came such a temptation now. Their priests were busy launching the boats. The departing soldiers seemed simultaneously to have become conscious of a very black suggestion.
Cooped up against the outer wall in the dead sleep of torpid gluttony lay the leading warriors of the Iroquois nation. Were these not the assassins of countless Frenchmen, the murderers of women, the torturers of children? Had Providence not placed the treacherous Iroquois in the hands of fifty Frenchmen? If these warriors were slain, it would be an easy matter to march to the villages of the Confederacy, kill the old men, and take prisoners the women.
New France would be forever free of her most deadly enemy. Like the Indians, the white men were trying to justify a wrong under pretence of good. By chance, word of the conspiracy was carried to the Jesuits. With all the authority of the church, the priests forbade the crime. Locking the sally-port, the company—as the Jesuit father records—"shook the dust of Onondaga from their feet," launched out on the swift-flowing, dark river and escaped "as the children of Israel escaped by night from the land of Egypt.
They were four hours carrying baggage and boats over this portage. Sleet beat upon their backs. The rocks were slippery with glazed ice; and through the rotten, half-thawed snow, the men sank to mid-waist. Navigation became worse on Lake Ontario; for the wind tossed the lake like a sea, and ice had whirled against the St.
Lawrence in a jam. On the St. Lawrence, they had to wait for the current to carry the ice out. At places they cut a passage through the honeycombed ice with their hatchets, and again they were compelled to portage over the ice.
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