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An Indian's Revenge by Daniel P. Thompson

 

Some twenty-five or thirty years ago, circumstances made me, for a few days, an inmate of a family situated in the heart of the Green Mountains. It was the family of a hardy young farmer, who, with a wife, young, active and ambitious as himself, had in a few years before, made his pitch on a lot of wild land, and was now, by the steady efforts of his industry, rapidly transforming the patch of brown wilderness, which he had selected as his home, into a cultivated field. It was now the night of a beautiful summer's day, and the sun was slowly sinking behind the woody hills which, deeply environing the log house and the little opening around it, stood clothed in all the green majesty of nature sending forth on the fine atmosphere, cooled and moistened by the evaporating spray of a thousand falling rills, their sweet and healing breath impregnated with all the blooming fragrance of the blooming wilderness. The farmer had returned from his labor in the field, and was silently pacing the room with an air of dejection and pensiveness. He gave no reason for this change in his deportment, and remained silent until he was kindly interrogated by his wife: "I know not how it is Rebecca, but I have felt this day a sensation of uncommon uneasiness, rather of mind than of body I believe, the same unaccountable feeling that I have always experienced when some hidden danger was lurking about me. "I think it all your own fancyings" replied she, with some apparent concern. "My husband she continued," turning to me with the air of one who seems to consider some explanation called for by the circumstances; "my husband is a little subject at times, to dark and moody turns, and often starts at imaginary dangers, while real ones appear to be the least of his concern." While she was speaking, the husband had approached the side of the house and was intently looking through a large crevice between the logs from which the moss, a substance in common use to stop the crevices of log buildings, had been partly removed. In a moment, he started back with a look of dismay, seized his rifle from the wooden hooks by which it was suspended from a beam above him, and instantly cocked it. "Rebecca," said he in a hurried tone, "come here!" She tremblingly obeyed, and looking through the crevice in the direction of his quivering finger. She instantly recoiled from the view, with her husband who was now in the attitude of raising the muzzle of the piece to the crevice. Seizing it with both hands, "you cannot be so thoughtless," said she, "as to fire upon them—O! fly, fly out of the other window, and you can reach the woods unseen."

The husband pausing a moment and giving a quick glance in every direction around him, replied, "You are right,"—while she, as if reading at a look his wishes, reached his powder horn and ball pouch, and was hurrying him to the window. As he passed me he said "stay here and protect my family till I return, and all but life shall reward you." He then threw himself out of the window, and bowing almost to the ground and sometimes creeping, he pursued his way hastily through the weeds and bushes that bordered a small rivulet, till he reached the woods and disappeared. "There, said she," drawing her suspended breath, "thank heaven, he is safe!" Amazed at what I had witnessed, I hastily asked for an explanation. Convulsively seizing my arm she conducted me to the crevice. "Look beneath yonder clump of trees," said she. I did so, and to my surprise, I beheld three Indians apparently holding a consultation and watching the house, They were armed with rifles, tomahawks, cords, and such other implements as their warriors are known to carry when on expeditions of massacre or capture. "There, sir, is the cause of our fears. We have before been alarmed in this manner, but my husband, then, as he has now, providentially escaped them. Had he been seen here, it would probably have been their endeavor to have taken him to night and carried him off to their tribe, to murder him after their own fashion; or, had they failed in this, they would have ambushed and shot him. But now they have not seen him, they will watch for a day or two and depart as noiseless as they came." I expressed some doubts of their hostile intentions, and suggested the improbability that they would here dare to seek the life of an individual, since the country had become so far settled, that on the least alarm, a force could soon be rallied sufficient to exterminate the whole tribe. "My husband," said she, "was formerly a hunter on the lakes, and he then innocently was the cause of an accident which terminated fatally to an Indian, and which, it seems, they think he can only atone for with his life. Though they pass peaceably through the country, and as yet have committed no violence, still my husband too well knows their deadly purpose. How they have discovered his present residence is still unknown to him. But I choose that he should tell his own story. Stay with us over to-morrow; they will depart, and he will return." I consented. The Indians after reconnoitering the house from different positions disappeared for the night. They repeated the same several times the next day, when, towards night they disappeared, and were soon heard of several miles off, making their way northward. The farmer returned the next day, when he related the following adventure of his early days:

"Several years ago, I made an excursion to lake Memphremagog for the purpose of spending the fall in hunting and catching furs around the shores of that lake, which is now associated with recollections which I fear will always be fatal to my happiness. I had been there several weeks, when, one day being out in quest of a deer which my dog had started, I heard the report of a rifle at some distance, and pursuing my way in the direction of the sound, I soon came across an Indian who lay wounded and bleeding on the ground. From appearances, as well as his signs, I learned that being in the range of the game and his companions, he had been wounded by the ball from one of their rifles, and that they, unconscious of what they had done, had pursued the chase and left him in this condition, fainting from the loss of blood. I staunched his wound the best way I could, revived and conveyed him to my tent. The wound was not dangerous, and in a few days, during which I paid all the attention in my power, he was enabled to depart to his tribe who were encamped round the other end of the lake. After this, he frequently visited my tent, bringing me game and taking various ways to express his gratitude, spending considerable time with me, and often joining me in hunting excursions, I soon became much attached to him, and repaid his kindness with many little presents of various kinds of trinkets which I had brought with me. This probably awakened the jealousy of his companions, as I afterwards noticed an uncommon coolness and reserve in their manner towards me when I met them. While matters continued thus, one night as I lay in my tent, I was awakened by a furious barking of my dog. The terrified animal, by his unnatural cries, and the manner in which he ventured forth and frequently retreated back into the door of my tent, told me that no common animal was near me. I arose, renewed the priming of my gun, and looked out in the direction where the attention of the dog was confined. At length my sight was caught by two hideously glaring eye-balls that were beaming out from the boughs of a thick pine that stood but eight or ten rods from my tent. I at once knew it to be an enormous catamount. And, judging from the of the animal that he was about to leap towards me, I resolved to hazard a shot, although sensible of the uncertainty of my aim in the dark. I accordingly levelled my piece, and carefully directing my aim between the two bright orbs that were glowing down upon me with the intenseness of a furnace, I fired, and the animal with a tremendous leap and a scream that echoed for miles among the mountains of the lake, fell to the ground about half way from the tree to where I stood, my dog still refusing to approach the spot, and knowing the animal to be dangerous, even with the last gasp of life, I hastily reloaded for another fire. At this moment I heard a rustling among the bushes, and discerning some dark object to move in the direction of the animal, and supposing he was preparing for another leap, I fired, something fell to the ground, and my blood curdled as I heard the sounds of the human voice in the hollow groan that accompanied the fall! I hastened to the spot: the lifeless body of the catamount lay upon the ground—and a little further, I beheld a human being writhing in the agonies of death. I applied a torch light to his face, and to my unutterable grief, discovered him to be my Indian friend. Having been belated on an excursion, he was probably approaching the tent for the night at the time I was reconnoitering the catamount; and having seen him fall he was cautiously approaching the animal when arrested by my fatal shot, which it was my luckless destiny to give him. Though unable to speak, a fierce and vengeful expression was beaming in his eyes, as he beheld me. In a moment, however, as if satisfied of the innocence of my motives on witnessing the agony of my feelings, his countenance assumed a mild and benignant expression. He stretched out his hand to receive mine; and with this last convulsive effort of appeased and friendly feeling, he immediately expired. I soon began to feel sensible of the peculiar difficulties and dangers of my situation. If I should call in the Indians, I doubted greatly whether I should be able to prevent them from suspecting me of intentionally killing their companion; and such suspicions, I feared, would be fostered by some of the tribe in their present feelings towards me. And as suspicion, in the creed of the Indian, is but little better than conviction, and fearful of the fiery tortures that must follow such a conclusion in their minds, I concluded, perhaps unwisely, to dispose of the body secretly. With this determination, I took the rifle and several steel traps which the deceased had with him, and lashing them to the body, conveyed it to my canoe and rowed to the deepest part of the lake. I shall never forget the painful and gloomy feeling that attended the performances of this sad and fearful office. Though conscious of my innocence, and of being only dictated by prudence in thus disposing of him to whom I could have wished an honorable interment, still a kind of guilty feeling, and self-condemnation, weighed deeply on my mind. Even the murmuring winds that were sighing mournfully through the tall pines that stood towering along the shores of the lake, seemed to upbraid me; and the low wailings of the waves, dashing sullenly on the distant beach, seemed to fall on my ear in the sounds of reproach for the deed I was committing; dark presentiments of approaching danger oppressed and sunk gloomily on my spirits. On arriving into the deep waters of the lake, I lifted the body over the side of the canoe into the water, and it immediately sunk by the weight of iron by which it was encumbered, and disappeared from my sight. I then turned and rowed back hastily to the shore. As I was about to step out of my canoe, I heard the plash of an oar at a distance down the lake. This circumstance, though I could discern nothing, much alarmed me, as I supposed the Indians were abroad on the lake, and had probably observed my movement—in which case I feared that a discovery was inevitable; for though they must be perfectly ignorant of my business at the time, yet on missing their companion, they would be sure to revolve this circumstance in their minds, in every bearing, and perhaps with some ingenious conclusion, connect it with his fate; for there are no people who can vie with the natives of our forests in the scrutinizing closeness of their observations, the minuteness and accuracy of comparing circumstances, and the faculty of drawing conclusions from presumptive evidence. I returned to my tent and lay down— but not to sleep. Alone, in a dark wilderness, many miles from the dwelling of a civilized being, and deprived of my only friend by the very blow that had brought me into the situation where he was the most needed—the gloomy stillness of the house, and the dark forebodings of the future, rushed on my mind, and conspired to fill my bosom with feelings of grief, anxiety, and utter loneliness.

The next day I went out and was absent nearly all day. As I was returning, when I came in sight of my tent, I saw two Indians intently examining the spot where the deceased had fallen. They then took the trail I had made in carrying the body to the lake, carefully noticing each leaf on the way till they reached the canoe, and after looking at it minutely awhile, they raised a kind of wailing whoop and departed towards their encampment. Judging from their appearance that they had formed conclusions unfavorable to me, I packed up my most valuable furs and other articles, and building a good fire at the door of the tent, I took a bear skin and laid down in a thicket at a distance, from which I could see directly into the tent. During the evening several Indians appeared around the tent, and finally entered it. Finding my moveables gone, they immediately raised the war-hoop and scattered in every direction. One came near me, pursuing his way down the lake. I remained awhile, then rose, and taking my pack, directed my course to the south end of the lake, from whence I intended to steer to the nearest white settlement. I reached the place before day, unmolested, and sought a concealment in an old tree top on the ground, where I laid still till nearly dark the next day. I then rose and was making my way homeward, when two Indians rose from a thicket and rushed upon me. I run for the shore of the lake which I had not yet left, and reached it as the Indians were within two rods of me. It was a precipice of rocks hanging perpendicularly fifty feet above the waters. I must be taken or leap the rock. I paused an instant, plunged headlong and was quickly buried in the deep waters beneath. When I arose, I saw my faithful dog, who had followed the desperate fortunes of his master, floating apparently lifeless on the surface, having so flatly struck the water in his fall that the shock had deprived him of breath and the power of motion. With as little of my head above water as possible, I swam under the shelving rocks so as to get out of the view of the Indians. Several balls were in quick succession sent into the body of the unconscious dog, it being now so dark the Indians could not distinguish it from me. Supposing they had done their bloody work, they ran up the lake, where they could get down to the water, to swim in after what they mistook to be my body. While doing this, I had swam in an opposite direction, till, unseen, having effected a landing, I took my course with rapid strides towards the settlements, and had proceeded some distance before I heard the whoop which told the disappointment of the Indians. I however travelled all night unmolested, and the next day at noon was safely lodged in the house of an old acquaintance."

After the narrator had concluded his story, I partook of some refreshment and soon took my leave of the family. Several years after, I was journeying through the town, and passed by the same dwelling. It was desolate and tenantless, and the weeds and bushes had grown up where I had before seen fields of waving grain. On inquiry, I learned that the former occupant, having again been haunted by the Indians, and, perhaps still more by his own imagination, had removed into the western country, without informing even his nearest neighbors of his intended residence.