Willie Wharton -
Would you like to read a story which is true, and yet not true? The one
I am going to tell you is a superstructure of imagination on a basis of
facts. I trust you are not curious to ascertain the exact proportion of
each. It is sufficient for any reasonable reader to be assured that many
of the leading incidents interwoven in the following story actually
occurred in one of our Western States, a few years ago.
It was a bright afternoon in the spring-time; the wide, flowery prairie
waved in golden sunlight, and distant tree-groups were illuminated by
the clear, bright atmosphere. Throughout the whole expanse, only two
human dwellings were visible. These were small log-cabins, each with a
clump of trees near it, and the rose of the prairies climbing over the
roof. In the rustic piazza of one of these cabins a woman was sewing
busily, occasionally moving a cradle gently with her foot. On the
steps of the piazza was seated a man, who now and then read aloud some
paragraph from a newspaper. From time to time, the woman raised her eyes
from her work, and, shading them from the sunshine with her hand, looked
out wistfully upon the sea of splendor, everywhere waving in flowery
ripples to the soft breathings of the balmy air. At length she said,—
"Brother George, I begin to feel a little anxious about Willie. He was
told not to go out of sight, and he is generally a good boy to mind; but
I should think it was more than ten minutes since I have seen him. I
wish you would try the spy-glass."
The man arose, and, after looking abroad for a moment, took a small
telescope from the corner of the piazza, and turned it in the direction
the boy had taken.
"Ah, now I see the little rogue!" he exclaimed. "I think it must have
been that island of high grass that hid him from you. He has not gone
very far; and now he is coming this way. But who upon earth is he
leading along? I believe the adventurous little chap has been to the
land of Nod to get him a wife. I know of no little girl, except my
Bessie, for five miles round; and it certainly is not she. The fat
little thing has toppled over in the grass, and Willie is picking her
up. I believe in my soul she's an Indian."
"An Indian!" exclaimed the mother, starting up suddenly. "Have you heard
of any Indians being seen hereabouts? Do blow the horn to hurry him
A tin horn was taken from the nail on which it hung, and a loud blast
stirred the silent air. Moles stopped their digging, squirrels paused in
their gambols, prairie-dogs passed quickly from one to another a signal
of alarm, and all the little beasts wondered what could be the meaning
of these new sounds which had lately invaded the stillness of their
George glanced at the anxious countenance of his sister, and said,—
"Don't be frightened, Jenny, if some Indians do happen to call and see
us. You know you always agreed with me that they would be as good as
Christians, if they were treated justly and kindly. Besides, you see
this one is a very small savage, and we shall soon have help enough to
defend us from her formidable blows. I made a louder noise with the horn
than I need to have done; it has startled your husband, and he is coming
from his plough; and there is my wife and Bessie running to see what is
the matter over here."
By this time the truant boy and his companion approached the house, and
he mounted the steps of the piazza with eager haste, pulling her after
him, immediately upon the arrival of his father, Aunt Mary, and Cousin
Bessie. Brief explanation was made, that the horn was blown to hurry
Willie home; and all exclaimed,—
"Why, Willie! who is this?"
"Found her squatting on the grass, pulling flowers," he replied, almost
out of breath. "Don't know her name. She talks lingo."
The whole company laughed. The new-comer was a roly-poly, round enough
to roll, with reddish-brown face, and a mop of black hair, cut in a
straight line just above the eyes. But such eyes! large and lambent,
with a foreshadowing of sadness in their expression. They shone in her
dark face like moonlit waters in the dusky landscape of evening. Her
only garment was a short kirtle of plaited grass, not long enough to
conceal her chubby knees. She understood no word of English, and, when
spoken to, repeated an Indian phrase, enigmatical to all present. She
clung to Willie, as if he were an old friend; and he, quite proud of
the manliness of being a protector, stood with his arm across her brown
shoulders, half offended at their merriment, saying,—
"She's my little girl. I found her."
"I thought he'd been to the land of Nod to get him a wife," said Uncle
Little Bessie, with clean apron, and flaxen hair nicely tied up with
ribbons, was rather shy of the stranger.
"She'th dirty," lisped she, pointing to her feet.
"Well, s'pose she is?" retorted William. "I guess you'd be dirty, too,
if you'd been running about in the mud, without any shoes. But she's
pretty. She's like my black kitten, only she a'n't got a white nose."
Willie's comparison was received with shouts of laughter; for there
really was some resemblance to the black kitten in that queer little
face. But when the small mouth quivered with a grieved expression, and
she clung closer to Willie, as if afraid, kind Uncle George patted her
head, and tried to part the short, thick, black hair, which would not
stay parted, but insisted upon hanging straight over her eyebrows. Baby
Emma had been wakened in her cradle by the noise, and began to rub her
eyes out with her little fists. Being lifted into her mother's lap, she
hid her face for a while; but finally she peeped forth timidly, and
fixed a wondering gaze on the new-comer. It seemed that she concluded
to like her; for she shook her little dimpled hand to her, and began to
crow. The language of children needs no interpreter. The demure little
Indian understood the baby-salutation, and smiled.
Aunt Mary brought bread and milk, which she devoured like a hungry
animal. While she was eating, the wagon arrived with Willie's older
brother, Charley, who had been to the far-off mill with the hired man.
The sturdy boy came in, all aglow, calling out,—"Oh, mother! the boy at
the mill has caught a prairie-dog. Such a funny-looking thing!"
He halted suddenly before the small stranger, gave a slight whistle, and
"Halloo! here's a funny-looking prairie-puss!"
"She a'n't a prairie-puss," cried Willie, pushing him back with doubled
fists. "She's a little girl; and she's my little girl. I found her."
"She's a great find," retorted the roguish brother, as he went behind
her, and pulled the long black hair that fell over her shoulders.
"Now you let her alone!" shouted Willie; and the next moment the two
boys were rolling over on the piazza, pommelling each other, half in
play, half in earnest. The little savage sat coiled up on the floor,
watching them without apparent emotion; but when a hard knock made
Willie cry out, she sprang forward with the agility of a kitten, and,
repeating some Indian word with strong emphasis, began to beat Charley
with all her might. Instinctively, he was about to give blows in return;
but his father called out,—
"Hold there, my boy! Never strike a girl!"
"And never harm a wanderer that needs protection," said Uncle George.
"It isn't manly, Charley."
Thus rebuked, Charley walked away somewhat crestfallen. But before he
disappeared at the other end of the piazza, he turned back to sing,—
"Willie went a-hunting, and caught a pappoose."
"She a'n't a pappoose, she's a little girl," shouted Willie; "and she's
my little girl. I didn't hunt her; I found her."
Uncle George and his family did not return to their cabin till the warm,
yellow tint of the sky had changed to azure-gray. While consultations
were held concerning how it was best to dispose of the little wanderer
for the night, she nestled into a corner, where, rolled up like a dog,
she fell fast asleep. A small bed was improvised for her in the kitchen.
But when they attempted to raise her up, she was dreaming of her
mother's wigwam, and, waking suddenly to find herself among strangers,
she forgot the events of the preceding hours, and became a pitiful image
of terror. Willie, who was being undressed in another room, was brought
in in his nightgown, and the sight of him reassured her. She clung to
him, and refused to be separated from him; and it was finally concluded
that she should sleep with her little protector in his trundle-bed,
which every night was rolled out from under the bed of his father and
mother. A tub of water was brought, and as Willie jumped into it, and
seemed to like to splash about, she was induced to do the same. The
necessary ablutions having been performed, and the clean nightgowns put
on, the little ones walked to their trundle-bed hand in hand. Charley
pulled the long hair once more, as they passed, and began to sing,
"Willie went a-hunting"; but the young knight-errant was too sleepy and
tired to return to the charge. The older brother soon went to rest also;
and all became as still within-doors as it was on the wide, solitary
The father and mother sat up a little while, one mending a harness, the
other repairing a rip in a garment. They talked together in low tones of
Willie's singular adventure; and Mrs. Wharton asked her husband whether
he supposed this child belonged to the Indians whose tracks their man
had seen on his way to the mill. She shared her brother's kindly feeling
toward the red men, because they were an injured and oppressed race.
But, in her old New-England home, she had heard and read stories that
made a painful impression on the imagination of childhood; and though
she was now a sensible and courageous woman, the idea of Indians in the
vicinity rendered the solitude of the wilderness oppressive. The sudden
cry of a night-bird made her start and turn pale.
"Don't be afraid," said her husband, soothingly, "It is as George says.
Nothing but justice and kindness is needed to render these wild people
firm friends to the whites."
"I believe it," she replied; "but treaties with them have been
so wickedly violated, and they are so shamefully cheated by
Government-agents, that they naturally look upon all white men as their
enemies. How can they know that we are more friendly to them than
"We have been kind to their child," responded Mr. Wharton, "and that
will prevent them from injuring us."
"I would have been just as kind to the little thing, if we had an army
here to protect us," she rejoined.
"They will know that, Jenny," he said. "Indian instincts are keen. Your
gentle eyes and motherly ways are a better defence than armies would
be." The mild blue eyes thanked him with an affectionate glance. His
words somewhat calmed her fears; but before retiring to rest, she looked
out, far and wide, upon the lonely prairie. It was beautiful, but
spectral, in the ghostly veil of moonlight. Every bolt was carefully
examined, and the tin horn hung by the bedside. When all preparations
were completed, she drew aside the window-curtain to look at the
children in their trundle-bed, all bathed with silvery moonshine. They
lay with their arms about each other's necks, the dark brow nestled
close to the rosy cheek, and the mass of black hair mingled with the
light brown locks. The little white boy of six summers and the Indian
maiden of four slept there as cozily as two kittens with different fur.
The mother gazed on them fondly, as she said,—
"It is a pretty sight. I often think what beautiful significance there
is in the Oriental benediction, 'May you sleep tranquilly as a child
when his friends are with him!'"
"It is, indeed, a charming picture," rejoined her husband. "This would
be a text for George to preach from; and his sermon would be, that
confidence is always born of kindness."
The fear of Indians vanished from the happy mother's thoughts, and she
fell asleep with a heart full of love for all human kind.
The children were out of their bed by daylight. The little savage padded
about with naked feet, apparently feeling much at home, but seriously
incommoded by her night-gown, which she pulled at restlessly, from
time to time, saying something in her own dialect, which no one could
interpret. But they understood her gestures, and showed her the kirtle
of plaited grass, still damp with the thorough washing it had had the
night before. At sight of it she became quite voluble; but what she said
no one knew. "What gibberish you talk!" exclaimed Charley. She would not
allow him to come near her. She remembered how he had pulled her hair
and tussled with Willie. But two bright buttons on a string made peace
between them. He put the mop on his head, and shook it at her, saying,
"Moppet, you'd be pretty, if you wore your hair like folks." Willie was
satisfied with this concession; and already the whole family began to
outgrow the feeling that the little wayfarer belonged to a foreign race.
Early in the afternoon two Indians came across the prairie. Moppet saw
them first, and announced the discovery by a shrill shout, which the
Indiana evidently heard; for they halted instantly, and then walked
on faster than before. When the child went to meet them, the woman
quickened her pace a little, and took her hand; but no signs of emotion
were perceptible. As they approached the cabin, Moppet appeared to be
answering their brief questions without any signs of fear. "Poor little
thing!" said Mrs. Wharton. "I am glad they are not angry with her. I was
afraid they might beat her."
The strangers were received with the utmost friendliness, but their
stock of English was so very scanty that little information could be
gained from them. The man pointed to the child, and said, "Wik-a-nee, me
go way she." And the woman said, "Me tank." No further light was ever
thrown upon Willie's adventure in finding a pappoose alone on the
prairie. The woman unstrapped from her shoulder a string of baskets,
which she laid upon the ground. Moppet said something to her mother, and
placed her hand on a small one brightly stained with red and yellow. The
basket was given to her, and she immediately presented it to Willie. At
the same time the Indian woman offered a large basket to Mrs. Wharton,
pointing to the child, and saying, "Wik-a-nee. Me tank." Money was
offered her, but she shook her head, and repeated, "Wik-a-nee. Me tank."
The man also refused the coin, with a slow motion of his head, saying,
"Me tank." They ate of the food that was offered them, and received a
salted fish and bread with "Me tank."
"Mother," exclaimed Willie, "I want to give Moppet something. May I give
her my Guinea-peas?"
"Certainly, my son, if you wish to," she replied.
He ran into the cabin, and came out with a tin box. When he uncovered
it, and showed Moppet the bright scarlet seeds, each with a shining
black spot, her dark eyes glowed, and she uttered a joyous "Eugh!"
The passive, sad expression of the Indian woman's countenance almost
brightened into a smile, as she said, "Wik-a-nee tank."
After resting awhile, she again strapped the baskets on her shoulder,
and taking her little one by the hand, they resumed their tramp across
the prairie,—no one knowing whence they came, or whither they were
going. As far as they could be seen, it was noticed that the child
looked back from time to time. She was saying to her mother she wished
they could take that little pale-faced boy with them.
"So Moppet is gone," said Charley. "I wonder whether we shall ever see
her again." Willie heaved a sigh, and said, "I wish she was my little
Thus met two innocent little beings, unconscious representatives of
races widely separated in moral and intellectual culture, but children
of the same Heavenly Father, and equally subject to the attractions of
great Mother Nature. Blessed childhood, that yields spontaneously to
those attractions, ignoring all distinctions of pride or prejudice!
Verily, we should lose all companionship with angels, were it not for
the ladder of childhood, on which they descend to meet us.
It was a pleasant ripple in the dull stream of their monotonous life,
that little adventure of the stray pappoose. At almost every gathering
of the household, for several days after, something was recalled of
her uncouth, yet interesting looks, and of her wild, yet winning ways.
Charley persisted in his opinion that "Moppet would be pretty, if she
wore her hair like folks."
"Her father and mother called her Wik-a-nee," said Willie; "and I like
that name better than I do Moppet." He took great pains to teach it
to his baby sister; and he succeeded so well, that, whenever the
red-and-yellow basket was shown to her, she said, "Mik-a-nee,"—the W
being beyond her infant capabilities.
Something of tenderness mixed with Mrs. Wharton's recollections of the
grotesque little stranger. "I never saw anything so like the light of an
astral lamp as those beautiful large eyes of hers," said she. "I began
to love the odd little thing; and if she had stayed much longer, I
should have been very loath to part with her."
The remembrance of the incident gradually faded; but whenever a far-off
neighbor or passing emigrant stopped at the cabin, Willie brought
forward his basket, and repeated the story of Wik-a-nee,—seldom
forgetting to imitate her strange cry of joy when she saw the scarlet
peas. His mother was now obliged to be more watchful than ever to
prevent him from wandering out of sight and hearing. He had imbibed an
indefinite idea that there was a great realm of adventure out there
beyond. If he could only get a little nearer to the horizon, he thought
he might perhaps find another pappoose, or catch a prairie-dog and tame
it. He had heard his father say that a great many of those animals lived
together in houses under ground,—that they placed sentinels at their
doors to watch, and held a town-meeting when any danger approached.
When Willie was summoned from his exploring excursions, he often
remonstrated, saying, "Mother, what makes you blow the horn so soon?
You never give me time to find a prairie-dog. It would be capital fun
to have a dog that knows enough to go to town-meeting." Charley took
particular pleasure in increasing his excitement on that subject.
He told him he had once seen a prairie-dog standing sentinel at the
entrance-hole of their habitations. He made a picture of the creature
with charcoal on the shed-door, and proposed to prick a copy of it into
Willie's arm with India-ink, which was joyfully agreed to. The likeness,
when completed, was very much like a squash upon two sticks, but it
was eminently satisfactory to the boys. There was no end to Willie's
inquiries. How to find that hole which Charley had seen, to crawl into
it, and attend a dogs' town-meeting, was the ruling idea of his life.
Unsentimental as it was, considering the juvenile gallantry he had
manifested, it was an undeniable fact, that, in the course of a few
months, prairie-dogs had chased Wik-a-nee almost beyond the bounds of
Autumn came, and was passing away. The waving sea of verdure had become
brown, and the clumps of trees, dotted about like islands, stood denuded
of their foliage. At this season the cattle were missing one day, and
were not to be found. A party was formed to go in search of them,
consisting of all the men from both homesteads, except Mr. Wharton, who
remained to protect the women and children, in case of any unforeseen
emergency. Charley obtained his father's permission to go with Uncle
George; and Willie began to beg hard to go also. When his mother told
him he was too young to be trusted, he did not cry, because he knew it
was an invariable rule that he was never to have anything he cried
for; but he grasped her gown, and looked beseechingly in her face, and
"Oh, mother, do let me go with Charley, just this once! Maybe we shall
catch a prairie-dog."
"No, darling," she replied. "You are not old enough to go so far. When
you are a bigger boy, you shall go after the cattle, and go a-hunting
with father, too, if you like."
"Oh, dear!" he exclaimed, impatiently, "when shall I be a bigger boy?
You never will let me go far enough to see the prairie-dogs hold a
The large brown eyes looked up very imploringly.
Mr. Wharton smiled and said,—
"Jenny, you do keep the little fellow tied pretty close to your
apron-string. Perhaps you had better let him go this time."
Thus reinforced, the petted boy redoubled his importunities, and finally
received permission to go, on condition that he would be very careful
not to wander away from his brother. Charley promised not to trust him
out of his sight; and the men said, if they were detained till dark,
they would be sure to put the boys in a safe path to return home
before sunset. Willie was equipped for the excursion, full of joyous
anticipations of marvellous adventures and promises to return before
sunset and tell his parents about everything he had seen. His mother
kissed him, as she drew the little cap over his brown locks, and
repeated her injunctions over and over again. He jumped down both steps
of the piazza at once, eager to see whether Uncle George and Charley
were ready. His mother stood watching him, and he looked up to her with
such a joyful smile on his broad, frank face, that she called to him,—
"Come and kiss me again, Willie, before you go; and remember, dear, not
to go out of sight of Uncle George and Charley."
He leaped up the steps, gave her a hearty smack, and bounded away.
When the party started, she stood a little while gazing after them. Her
"What a pet you make of that boy, Jenny. And it must be confessed he is
the brightest one of the lot."
"And a good child, too," she rejoined. "He is so affectionate, and so
willing to mind what is said to him! But he is so active, and eager for
adventures! How the prairie-dogs do occupy his busy little brain!"
"That comes of living out West," replied Mr. Wharton, smiling. "You know
the miller told us, when we first came, that there was nothing like it
for making folks know everything about all natur'."
They separated to pursue their different avocations, and, being busy,
were consequently cheerful,—except that the mother had some occasional
misgivings whether she had acted prudently in consenting that her
darling should go beyond sound of the horn. She began to look out for
the boys early in the afternoon; but the hours passed, and still they
came not. The sun had sunk below the horizon, and was sending up regular
streaks of gold, like a great glittering crown, when Charley was seen
coming alone across the prairie. A pang like the point of a dagger went
through the mother's heart. Her first thought was,—
"Oh, my son! my son! some evil beast has devoured him."
Charley walked so slowly and wearily that she could not wait for his
coming, but went forth to meet him. As soon as she came within sound of
his voice, she called out,—
"Oh, Charley, where's Willie?"
The poor boy trembled in every joint, as he threw himself upon her neck
and sobbed out,—
"Oh, mother! mother!"
Her face was very pale, as she asked, in low, hollow tones,—
"Is he dead?"
"No, mother; but we don't know where he is. Oh, mother, do forgive me!"
was the despairing answer.
The story was soon told. The cattle had strayed farther than they
supposed, and Willie was very tired before they came in sight of them.
It was not convenient to spare a man to convey him home, and it was
agreed that Charley should take him a short distance from their route
to a log-cabin, with whose friendly inmates they were well acquainted.
There he was to be left to rest, while his brother returned for a while
to help in bringing the cattle together. The men separated, going in
various circuitous directions, agreeing to meet at a specified point,
and wait for Charley. He had a boy's impatience to be at the place of
rendezvous. When he arrived near the cabin, and had led Willie into the
straight path to it, he charged him to go into the house, and not leave
it till he came for him; and then he ran back with all speed to Uncle
George. The transaction seemed to him so safe that it did not occur to
his honest mind that he had violated the promise given to his mother.
While the sun was yet high in the heavens, his uncle sent him back to
the log-cabin for Willie, and sent a man with him to guide them both
within sight of home. Great was their alarm when the inmates of the
house told them they had not seen the little boy. They searched, in hot
haste, in every direction. Diverging from the road to the cabin was a
path known as the Indian trail, on which hunters, of various tribes,
passed and repassed in their journeys to and from Canada. The prints of
Willie's shoes were traced some distance on this path, but disappeared
at a wooded knoll not far off. The inmates of the cabin said a party of
Indians had passed that way in the forenoon. With great zeal they joined
in the search, taking with them horns and dogs. Charley ran hither and
thither, in an agony of remorse and terror, screaming, "Willie! Willie!"
Horns were blown with all the strength of manly lungs; but there was no
answer,—not even the illusion of an echo. All agreed in thinking that
the lost boy had been on the Indian trail; but whether he had taken it
by mistake, or whether he had been tempted aside from his path by hopes
of finding prairie-dogs, was matter of conjecture. Charley was almost
exhausted by fatigue and anxiety, when his father's man guided him
within sight of home, and told him to go to his mother, while he
returned to give the alarm to Uncle George. This was all the unhappy
brother had to tell; and during the recital his voice was often
interrupted by sobs, and he exclaimed, with passionate vehemence,—
"Oh, father! oh, mother! do forgive me! I didn't think I was doing
wrong,—indeed, I didn't!"
With aching hearts, they tried to soothe him; but he would not be
Mr. Wharton's first impulse was to rush out in search of his lost child.
But the shades of evening were close at hand, and he deemed it unsafe to
leave Jenny and Mary and their little girls with no other protector than
an overtired boy.
"Oh, why did I advise her to let the dear child go?" was the lamenting
cry continually resounding in his heart; and the mother reproached
herself bitterly that she had consented against her better judgment.
Neither of them uttered these thoughts; but remorseful sorrow manifested
itself in increased tenderness toward each other and the children. When
Emma was undressed for the night, the mother's tears fell fast among her
ringlets; and when the father took her in his arms to carry her to the
trundle-bed, he pressed her to his heart more closely than ever before;
while she, all wondering at the strange tearful silence round her, began
to grieve, and say,—
"I want Willie to go to bed with me. Why don't Willie come?"
Putting strong constraint upon the agony her words excited, the unhappy
parents soothed her with promises until she fell into a peaceful
slumber. As they turned to leave the bedroom, both looked at the vacant
pillow where that other young head had reposed for years, and they fell
into each other's arms and wept.
Charley could not be persuaded to go to bed till Uncle George came; and
they forbore to urge it, seeing that he was too nervous and excited to
sleep. Stars were winking at the sleepy flowers on the prairie, when the
party returned with a portion of the cattle, and no tidings of Willie.
Uncle George's mournful face revealed this, before he exclaimed,—
"Oh, my poor sister! I shall never forgive myself for not going with
your boys. But the cabin was in plain sight, and the distance so short I
thought I could trust Charley."
"Oh, don't, uncle! don't!" exclaimed the poor boy. "My heart will
A silent patting on the head was the only answer; and Uncle George never
reproached him afterward.
Neither of the distressed parents could endure the thoughts of
discontinuing the search till morning. A wagon was sent for the miller
and his men, and, accompanied by them, Mr. Wharton started for the
Indian trail. They took with them lanterns, torches, and horns, and a
trumpet, to be sounded as a signal that the lost one was found. The
wretched mother traversed the piazza slowly, gazing after them, as their
torches cast a weird, fantastic light on the leafless trees they passed.
She listened to the horns resounding in the distance, till the tremolo
motion they imparted to the air became faint as the buzz of insects. At
last, Charles, who walked silently by her side, was persuaded to go to
bed, where, some time after midnight, he cried himself into uneasy,
dreamful slumber. But no drowsiness came to the mother's eyelids. All
night long she sat watching at the bedroom-window, longing for the gleam
of returning torches, and the joyful fanfare of the trumpet. But all
was dark and still. Only stars, like the eyes of spirits, looked down
from the solemn arch of heaven upon the desolate expanse of prairie.
The sun had risen when the exploring party returned, jaded and
dispirited, from their fruitless search. Uncle George, who went forth to
meet them, dreaded his sister's inquiring look. But her husband laid his
hand tenderly on her shoulder, and said.—-
"Don't be discouraged, Jenny. I don't believe any harm has happened to
him. There are no traces of wild beasts."
"But the Indians," she murmured, faintly.
"I am glad to hear you say that," said Uncle George. "My belief is that
he is with the Indians; and for that reason, I think we have great cause
to hope. Very likely he saw the Indians, and thought Wik-a-nee was with
them, and so went in pursuit of her. If she, or any of her relatives,
are with those hunters, they will be sure to bring back our little
Willie; for Indians are never ungrateful."
The mother's fainting heart caught eagerly at this suggestion; and
Charley felt so much relieved by it that he was on the point of saying
he was sure it must have been either Moppet or a dogs' town-meeting that
lured Willie from the path he had pointed out to him. But everybody
looked too serious for jesting; and memory of his own fault quickly
repressed the momentary elasticity.
Countless were the times that the bereaved parents east wistful glances
over the prairie, with a vague hope of descrying Indians returning
with their child. The search was kept up for days and weeks. All the
neighbors, within a circuit of fifteen miles, entered zealously into
the work, and explored prairie and forest far and wide. At last these
efforts were given up as useless. Still Uncle George held out the
cheerful prospect that the Indians would bring him, when they returned
from their long hunting-excursion; and with this the mother tried to
sustain her sinking hopes. But month after month she saw the snowy
expanse of prairie gleaming in the moonlight, and no little footstep
broke its untrodden crust. Spring returned, and the sea of flowers again
rippled in waves, as if Flora and her train had sportively taken lessons
of the water-nymphs; but no little hands came laden with blossoms to
heap in Emma's lap. The birds twittered and warbled, but the responsive
whistle of the merry boy was silent; only its echo was left in the
melancholy halls of memory. His chair and plate were placed as usual,
when the family met at meals. At first this was done with an undefined
hope that he might come before they rose from table, and afterward
they could not bear to discontinue the custom, because it seemed like
acknowledging that he was entirely gone.
Mrs. Wharton changed rapidly. The light of her eyes grew dim, the color
faded from her cheeks, and the tones of her once cheerful voice became
plaintive as the "Light of Other Days." Always, from the depths of her
weary heart, came up the accusing cry, "Oh, why did I let him go?" She
never reproached others; but all the more bitterly did Mr. Wharton,
Uncle George, and above all poor Charley, reproach themselves. The once
peaceful cabins were haunted by a little ghost, and the petted child
became an accusing spirit. Alas! who is there that is not chained to
some rock of the past, with the vulture of memory tearing at his vitals,
screaming forever in the ear of conscience? These unavailing regrets are
inexorable as the whip of the Furies.
Four years had passed away, when some fur-traders passed through that
region, and told of a white boy they had seen among the Pottawatomie
Indians. Everybody had heard the story of Willie's mysterious
disappearance, and the tidings were speedily conveyed to the Wharton
family. They immediately wrote to the United-States Agent among that
tribe. After waiting awhile, they all became restless. One day, Uncle
George said to his sister,—
"Jenny, I have never forgiven myself for leaving your boys to take care
of themselves, that fatal day. I cannot be easy. I must go in search of
"Heaven bless you!" she replied. "My dear James has just been talking of
starting on the same journey. I confess I want some one to go and look
for the poor boy; but it seems to me selfish; for it is a long and
difficult journey, and may bring fresh misfortunes upon us."
After some friendly altercation between Mr. Wharton and the brother, as
to which should go, it was decided that George should have his way; and
brave, unselfish Aunt Mary uttered no word of dissuasion. He started on
his arduous journey, cheered by hope, and strong in a generous purpose.
It seemed long before a letter was received from him, and when it came,
its contents were discouraging. The Indian Agent said he had caused
diligent search to be made, and he was convinced there was no white
child among the tribes in that region. Uncle George persevered in
efforts to obtain some clue to the report which had induced him to
travel so far. But after several weeks, he was obliged to return alone,
and without tidings.
Mrs. Wharton's hopes had been more excited than she was herself aware
of, and she vainly tried to rally from the disappointment. This
never-ending uncertainty, this hope forever deferred, was harder to
endure than would have been the knowledge that her dear son was dead.
She thought it would be a relief, even if fragments of his clothes
should be found, showing that he had been torn to pieces by wild beasts;
for then she would have the consolation of believing that her darling
was with the angels. But when she thought of him hopelessly out of
reach, among the Indians, imagination conjured up all manner of painful
images. Deeper and deeper depression overshadowed her spirits and
seriously impaired her health. She was diligent in her domestic duties,
careful and tender of every member of her household, but everything
wearied her. Languidly she saw the seasons come and go, and took
no pleasure in them. A village was growing up round her; but the
new-comers, in whom she would once have felt a lively interest, now
flitted by her like the shadows in a magic-lantern. "Poor woman!" said
the old settlers to the new ones. "She is not what she was. She is
Eight years more passed away, and Mrs. Wharton, always feeble, but never
complaining, continued to perform a share of household work, with a
pensive resignation which excited tenderness in her family and inspired
even strangers with pitying deference. Her heartstrings had not broken,
but they gradually withered and dried up, under the blighting influence
of this life-long sorrow. It was mild October weather, when she lay down
to rise no more. Emma had outgrown the trundle-bed, and no one occupied
it; but it remained in the old place. When they led her into the bedroom
for the last time, she asked them to draw it out, that she might look
upon Willie's pillow once more. Memories of her fair boy sleeping there
in the moonlight came into her soul with the vividness of reality.
Her eyes filled with tears, and she seemed to be occupied with inward
prayer. At a signal from her, the husband and brother lifted her
tenderly, and placed her in the bed, which Aunt Mary had prepared. The
New Testament was brought, and Mr. Wharton read the fourteenth chapter
of John. As they closed the book, she said faintly, "Sing, 'I'm going
home.'" It was a Methodist hymn, learned in her youth, and had always
been a favorite with her. The two families had often sung it together on
Sabbath days, exciting the wonderment of the birds in the stillness of
the prairie. They now sang it with peculiar depth of feeling; and as
the clear treble of Aunt Mary's voice, and the sweet childlike tones of
Emma, followed and hovered over the clear, strong tenor of Uncle George,
and the deep bass of Mr. Wharton, the invalid smiled serenely, while her
attenuated hand moved to the measure of the music.
She slept much on that and the following day, and seemed unconscious of
all around her. On the third day, her watchful husband noticed that her
countenance lighted up suddenly, like a landscape when clouds pass from
This was followed by a smile expressive of deep inward joy. He stooped
down and whispered,—
"What is it, dear?"
She looked up, with eyes full of interior light, and said,—
She spoke in tones stronger than they had heard from her for several
days; and after a slight pause, she added,—
"Don't you see him? Wik-a-nee is with him, and he is weaving a string of
the Guinea-peas in her hair. He wears an Indian blanket; but they look
happy, there where yellow leaves are falling and the bright waters are
"It is a flood of memory," said Mr. Wharton, in a low tone. "She recalls
the time when Wik-a-nee was so pleased with the Guinea-peas that Willie
"She has wakened from a pleasant dream," said Uncle George, with the
same subdued voice. "It still remains with her, and the pictures seem
The remarks were not intended for her ear, but she heard them, and
"No,—not a dream. Don't you see them?"
They were the last words she ever uttered. She soon dozed away into
apparent oblivion; but twice afterward, that preternatural smile
illumined her whole countenance.
At that same hour, hundreds of miles away, on the side of a wooded hill,
mirrored in bright waters below, sat a white lad with a brown lassie
beside him, among whose black shining tresses he was weaving strings of
scarlet seeds. He was clothed with an Indian blanket, and she with a
skirt of woven grass. Above them, from a tree glorious with sunshine,
fell a golden shower of autumn leaves. They were talking together in
some Indian dialect.
"A-lee-lah," said he, "your mother always told me that I gave you these
red seeds when I was a little boy. I wonder where I was then. I wish I
knew. I never understood half she told me about the long trail. I don't
believe I could ever find my way."
"Don't go!" said his companion, pleadingly. "The sun will shine no more
on A-lee-lah's path."
He smiled and was silent for a few minutes, while he twined some of the
scarlet seeds on grasses round her wrist. He revealed the tenor of his
musings by saying,—
"A-lee-lah, I wish I could see my mother. Your mother told me she had
blue eyes and pale hair. I don't remember ever seeing a woman with blue
eyes and pale hair."
Suddenly he started.
"What is it?" inquired the young girl, springing to her feet.
"My mother!" he exclaimed. "Don't you see her? She is smiling at me.
How beautiful her blue eyes are! Ah, now she is gone!" His whole frame
quivered with emotion, as he cried out, in an agony of earnestness, "I
want to go to my mother! I must go to my mother! Who can tell me where
to find my mother?"
"You have looked into the Spirit-Land," replied the Indian maiden,
Was the mighty power of love, in that dying mother's heart, a spiritual
force, conveying her image to the mind of her child, as electricity
transmits the telegram? Love photographs very vividly on the memory;
when intensely concentrated, may it not perceive scenes and images
unknown to the bodily eye, and, like the sunshine, under favorable
circumstances, make the pictures visible? Who can answer such questions?
Mysterious beyond comprehension are the laws of our complex being.
The mother saw her distant son, and the son beheld his long-forgotten
mother. How it was, neither of them knew or thought; but on the soul
of each, in their separate spheres of existence, the vision was
In the desolated dwelling on the prairie, they were all unconscious of
this magnetic transmission of intelligence between the dying mother and
her far-off child. As she lay in her coffin, they spoke soothingly
to each other, that she had passed away without suffering, dreaming
pleasantly of Willie and the little Indian girl. Their memories were
excited to fresh activity, and the sayings and doings of Willie and
the pappoose were recounted for the thousandth time. Emma had no
recollection of her lost brother, and the story of his adventure with
Moppet always amused her young imagination. But such reminiscences never
brought a smile to Charley's face. When he heard the clods fall on
his mother's coffin, heavier and more dismally fell on his heart the
remembrance of his broken promise, which had so dried up the fountains
of her life. Four times had the flowers bloomed above that mother's
grave, and still, for her dear sake, all the memorials of her absent
darling remained as she had liked to have them. The trundle-bed was
never removed, the Indian basket remained under the glass in the
bedroom, where his own little hands had put it, and his chair retained
its place at the table. Out of the family he was nearly forgotten; but
parents now and then continued to frighten truant boys by telling them
of Willie Wharton, who was carried off by Indians and never heard of
The landscape had greatly changed since Mr. Wharton and his
brother-in-law built their cabins in the wilderness. Those cabins were
now sheds and kitchens appended to larger and more commodious dwellings.
A village had grown up around them. On the spire of a new meeting-house
a gilded fish sailed round from north to south, to the great admiration
of children in the opposite schoolhouse. The wild-flowers of the prairie
were supplanted by luxuriant fields of wheat and rye, forever undulating
in wave-like motion, as if Nature loved the rhythm of the sea, and
breathed it to the inland grasses. Neat little Bessie was a married
woman now, and presided over the young Squire's establishment, in a
large white house with green blinds. Charley had taken to himself a
wife, and had a little Willie in the cradle, in whose infant features
grandfather fondly traced some likeness to the lost one.
Such was the state of things, when Charles Wharton returned from the
village-store, one day, with some articles wrapped in a newspaper from
Indiana. A vague feeling of curiosity led him to glance over it, and his
attention was at once arrested by the following paragraph:—
"A good deal of interest has been excited here by the appearance of a
young man, who supposes himself to be twenty-three years old, evidently
white, but with the manners and dress of an Indian. He says he was
carried away from his home by Indians, and they have always told him he
was then six years old. He speaks no English, and an Indian interpreter
who is with him is so scantily supplied with words that the information
we have obtained is very unsatisfactory. But we have learned that the
young man is trying to find his mother. Some of our neighbors regard him
as an impostor. But he does not ask for money, and there is something
in his frank physiognomy calculated to inspire confidence. We therefore
believe his statement, and publish it, hoping it may be seen by some
Charles rushed into the field, and exclaimed,—
"Father, I do believe we have at last got some tidings of Willie!"
"Where? What is it?" was the quick response.
The offered newspaper was eagerly seized, and the father's hand trembled
visibly while he read the paragraph.
"We must start for Indiana directly," he said; and he walked rapidly
toward the house, followed by his son.
Arriving at the gate, he paused and said,—
"But, Charles, he will have altered so much that perhaps we shouldn't
know him; and it may be, as the people say, that this youth is an
The young man replied, unhesitatingly,—
"I can tell whether he is an impostor. I shall know my brother."
His voice quivered a little, as he spoke the last word.
Mr. Wharton, without appearing to notice it, said,—
"You have a great deal of work on hand at this season. Wouldn't it be
better for Uncle George and me to go?"
He answered impetuously,—
"If all my property goes to ruin, I will hunt for Willie all over the
earth, so long as there is any hope of finding him, I always felt as if
mother couldn't forgive me for leaving him that day, though she always
tried to make me think she did. And now, if we find him at last, she is
not here to"——
His voice became choked.
Mr. Wharton replied, impressively,—
"She will come with him, my son. Wherever he may be, they are not
The next morning Charles started on his expedition, having made
preparations for an absence of some months, if so long a time should
prove necessary. The first letters received from him were tantalizing.
The young man and his interpreter had gone to Michigan, in consequence
of hearing of a family there who had lost a little son many years ago.
But those who had seen him in Indiana described him as having brown eyes
and hair, and as saying that his mother's eyes were the color of the
sky, Charles hastened to Michigan. The wanderer had been there, but had
left, because the family he sought were convinced he was not their son.
They said he had gone to Canada, with the intention of rejoining the
tribe of Indians he had left.
We will not follow the persevering brother through all his travels.
Again and again he came close upon the track, and had the disappointment
of arriving a little too late. On a chilly day of advanced autumn, he
mounted a pony and rode toward a Canadian forest, where he was told some
Indians had encamped. He tied his pony at the entrance of the wood, and
followed a path through the underbrush. He had walked about a quarter of
a mile, when his ears were pierced by a shrill, discordant yell, which
sounded neither animal nor human. He stopped abruptly, and listened.
All was still, save a slight creaking of boughs in the wind. He pressed
forward in the direction whence the sound had come, not altogether free
from anxiety, though habitually courageous. He soon came in sight of a
cluster of wigwams, outside of which, leaning against trees, or seated
on the fallen leaves, were a number of men, women, and children, dressed
in all sorts of mats and blankets, some with tufts of feathers in their
hair, others with bands and tassels of gaudy-colored wampum. One or two
had a regal air, and might have stood for pictures of Arab chiefs or
Carthaginian generals; but most of them looked squalid and dejected.
None of them manifested any surprise at the entrance of the stranger.
All were as grave as owls. They had, in fact, seen him coming through
the woods, and had raised their ugly war-whoop, in sport, to see whether
it would frighten him. It was their solemn way of enjoying fun. Among
them was a youth, tanned by exposure to wind and sun, but obviously
of white complexion. His hair was shaggy, and cut straight across his
forehead, as Moppet's had been. Charles fixed upon him a gaze so intense
that he involuntarily took up a hatchet that lay beside him, as if he
thought it might be necessary to defend himself from the intruder.
"Can any of you speak English?" inquired Charles.
"Me speak," replied an elderly man.
Charles explained that he wanted to find a white young man who had been
in Indiana and Michigan searching for his mother.
"Him pale-face," rejoined the interpreter, pointing to the youth,
whose brown eyes glanced from one to the other with a perplexed
Charles made a strong effort to restrain his impatience, while the
interpreter slowly explained his errand. The pale-faced youth came
"Let me examine your right arm," said Charles.
The beaver-skin mantle was raised; and there, in a dotted outline of
blue spots, was the likeness of the prairie-dog which in boyish play he
had pricked into Willie's arm. With a joyful cry he fell upon his neck,
exclaiming, "My brother!" The interpreter repeated the word in the
Indian tongue. The youthful stranger uttered no sound; but Charles felt
his heart throb, as they stood locked in a close embrace. When their
arms unclasped, they looked earnestly into each other's faces. That sad
memory of the promise made to their gentle mother, and so thoughtlessly
broken, brought tears to the eyes of the elder brother; but the younger
stood apparently unmoved. The interpreter, observing this, said,—
"Him sorry-glad; but red man he no cry."
There was much to damp the pleasure of this strange interview. The
uncouth costume, and the shaggy hair falling over the forehead, gave
Willie such a wild appearance, it was hard for Charles to realize that
they were brothers. Inability to understand each other's language
created a chilling barrier between them. Charles was in haste to
change his brother's dress, and acquire a stock of Indian words. The
interpreter was bound farther north; but he agreed to go with them three
days' journey, and teach them on the way. They were merely guests at the
encampment, and no one claimed a right to control their motions. Charles
distributed beads among the women and pipes among the men; and two hours
after he had entered the wood, he was again mounted on his pony, with
William and the interpreter walking beside him. As he watched his
brother's erect figure striding along, with such a bold, free step, he
admitted to himself that there were some important compensations for the
deficiencies of Indian education.
Languages are learned rapidly, when the heart is a pupil. Before they
parted from the interpreter, the brothers were able, by the aid of
pantomime, to interchange various skeletons of ideas, which imagination
helped to clothe with bodies. At the first post-town, a letter was
despatched to their father, containing these words: "I have found him.
He is well, and we are coming home. Dear Lucy must teach baby Willie to
crow and clap his hands. God bless you all! Charley."
They pressed forward as fast as possible, and at the last stage of
their journey travelled all night; for Charles had a special reason for
wishing to arrive at the homestead on the following day. The brothers
were now dressed alike, and a family-likeness between them was obvious.
Willie's shaggy hair had been cut, and the curtain of dark brown locks
being turned aside revealed a well-shaped forehead whiter than his
cheeks. He had lost something of the freedom of his motions; for the
new garments sat uneasily upon him, and he wore them with an air of
The warm golden light of the sun had changed to silvery brightness,
and the air was cool and bracing, when they rode over the prairie so
familiar to the eye of Charles, but which had lost nearly all the
features that had been impressed on the boyish mind of William. At a
little distance from the village they left their horses and walked
across the fields to the back-door of their father's house; for they
were not expected so soon, and Charles wished to take the family by
surprise. It was Thanksgiving day. Wild turkeys were prepared for
roasting, and the kitchen was redolent of pies and plum-pudding. When
they entered, no one was there but an old woman hired to help on festive
occasions. She uttered a little cry when she saw them; but Charles put
his finger to his lip, and hurried on to the family sitting-room. All
were there,—Father, Emma, Uncle George, Aunt Mary, Bessie and her young
Squire, Charles's wife, baby, and all. There was a universal rush, and
one simultaneous shout of, "Willie! Willie!" Charles's young wife threw
herself into his arms; but all the rest clustered round the young
stranger, as the happy father clasped him to his bosom. When the tumult
of emotion had subsided a little, Charles introduced each one separately
to his brother, explaining their relationship as well as he could in the
Indian dialect. Their words were unintelligible to the wanderer, but he
understood their warmth of welcome, and said,—
"Me tank. Me no much speak."
Mr. Wharton went into the bedroom and returned with a morocco case,
which he opened and placed in the stranger's hand, saying, in a solemn
Charles, with a tremor in his voice, repeated the word in the Indian
tongue. Willie gazed at the blue eyes of the miniature, touched them,
pointed to the sky, and said,—
"Me see she, time ago."
All supposed that he meant the memories of his childhood. But he in fact
referred to the vision he had seen four years before, as he explained to
them afterward, when he had better command of their language.
The whole family wept as the miniature passed from hand to hand, and,
with a sudden outburst of grief, Charles exclaimed,—
"Oh, if she were only here with us this happy day!"
"My son, she is with us," said his father, impressively.
William was the only one who seemed unmoved. He did not remember his
mother, except as he had seen her in that moment of clairvoyance; and it
had been part of his Indian training to suppress emotion. But he put his
hand on his heart, and said,—
"Me no much speak."
When the little red-and-yellow basket was brought forward, it awakened
no recollections in his mind. They pointed to it, and said, "Wik-a-nee,
Moppet"; but he made no response.
His father eyed him attentively, and said,—
"It surely must be our Willie. I see the resemblance to myself. We
cannot be mistaken."
"I know he is our Willie," said Charles; and removing his brother's
coat, he showed what was intended to be the likeness of a prairie-dog.
His father and Uncle George remembered it well; and it was a subject of
regret that William could not be made to understand any jokes about his
boyish state of mind on that subject. Mr. Wharton pointed to the chair
he used to occupy, and said,—
"It seems hardly possible that this tall stranger can be the little
Willie who used to sit there. But it is our Willie. God be praised!"
He paused a moment, and added, "Before we partake of our Thanksgiving
dinner, let us all unite in thanks to our Heavenly Father; 'for this my
son was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found.'"
They all rose, and he offered a prayer, to which heart-felt emotion
Charles had taken every precaution to have his brother appear as little
as possible like a savage, when he restored him to his family; and now,
without mentioning that he would like raw meat better than all their
dainties, he went to the kitchen to superintend the cooking of some
Indian succotash, and buffalo-steak very slightly broiled.
For some time, the imperfect means of communicating by speech was a
great impediment to confidential intercourse, and a drawback upon their
happiness. Emma, whose imagination had been a good deal excited by the
prospect of a new brother, was a little disappointed. In her own private
mind, she thought she should prefer for a brother a certain Oberlin
student, with whom she had danced the last Thanksgiving evening. Bessie,
always a stickler for propriety, ventured to say to her mother that she
hoped he would learn to use his knife and fork, like other people. But
to older members of the family, who distinctly remembered Willie in his
boyhood, these things seemed unimportant. It was enough for them that
the lost treasure was found.
The obstacle created by difference of language disappeared with a
rapidity that might have seemed miraculous, were it not a well-known
fact that one's native tongue forgotten is always easily restored.
It seems to remain latent in the memory, and can be brought out by
favorable circumstances, as writing with invisible ink reappears under
the influence of warmth. Tidings of the young man's restoration to his
family spread like fire on the prairie. People for twenty miles round
came to see the Willie Wharton of whose story they had heard so much.
Children were disappointed to find that he was not a little rosy-cheeked
boy, such as had been described to them. Some elderly people, who prided
themselves on their sagacity, shook their heads when they observed his
rapid improvement in English, and said to each other,—
"It a'n't worth while to disturb neighbor Wharton's confidence; but
depend upon it, that fellow's an impostor. As for the mark on his arm
that they call a prairie-dog, it looks as much like anything else that
To the family, however, every week brought some additional confirmation
that the stranger was their own Willie. By degrees, he was able to make
them understand the outlines of his story. He did not remember anything
about parting from his brother on that disastrous day, and of course
could not explain what had induced him to turn aside to the Indian
trail. He said the Indians had always told him that a squaw, whose
pappoose had died, took a fancy to him, and decoyed him away; and that
afterward, when he cried to go back, they would not let him go. From
them he also learned that he called himself six years old, at the time
of his capture; but his name had been gradually forgotten, both by
himself and them. He wandered about with that tribe eight summers and
winters. Sometimes, when they had but little food, he suffered with
hunger; and once he was wounded by a tomahawk, when they had a fight
with some hostile tribe; but they treated him as well as they did their
own children. He became an expert hunter, thought it excellent sport,
and forgot that he was not an Indian. His squaw-mother died, and, not
long after, the tribe went a great many miles to collect furs. In the
course of this journey they encountered various tribes of Indians. One
night they encamped near some hunters who spoke another dialect, which
they could partly understand. Among them was a woman, who said she knew
him. She told him his mother was a white woman, with eyes blue as the
sky, and that she was very good to her little pappoose, when she lost
her way on the prairie. She wanted her husband to buy him, that they
might carry him back to his mother. He bought him for ten gallons of
whiskey, and promised to take him to his parents the next time the tribe
travelled in that direction,—because, he said, their little pappoose
had liked them very much.
"We remember her very well," said Mr. Wharton. "Her name was Wik-a-nee."
"That not name" replied William. "Wik-a-nee mean little small thing."
"You were a small boy when you found the pappoose on the prairie,"
rejoined his father. "You took a great liking to her, and said she
was your little girl. When she went away, you gave her your box of
"Guinea-peas? What that?" inquired the young man.
"They are red seeds with black spots on them," replied his father.
"Emma, I believe you have some. Show him one."
The moment he saw it, he exclaimed,—
"Haha! A-lee-lah show me Guinea-peas. Her say me give she."
"Then you know Wik-a-nee?" said his father, in an inquiring tone.
The wanderer had acquired the gravity of the Indians. He never laughed,
and rarely smiled. But a broad smile lighted up his frank countenance,
as he answered,—
"Me know A-lee-lah very well. She not Wik-a-nee now."
Then he became grave again, and told how he was twining the red seeds in
A-lee-lah's hair, when his mother came and looked at him with great blue
eyes and smiled. Most of his auditors thought he was telling a dream.
But Mr. Wharton said to his oldest son,—
"I told you, Charles, that mother and son were not separated now."
William seemed perplexed by this remark; but he comprehended in part,
"Me see into Spirit-Land."
When asked why he had not started in search of his mother then, he
"A-lee-lah's father, mother die. A-lee-lah say not go. Miles big many.
Me not know the trail. But Indians go hunt fur. Me go. Me sleep. Me
dream mother come, say go home. Me ask where mother? Charles come. Him
The little basket was again brought forth, and Mr. Wharton said,—
"Wik-a-nee gave you this, when she went away; but when we showed it to
you, you did not remember it."
He took it and looked at it, and said,—
"Me not remember"; but when Emma would have put it away, he held it
fast; and that night he carried it with him to his chamber.
Some degree of restlessness had been observed in him previously to this
conversation. It increased as the weeks passed on. He became moody, and
liked to wander off alone, far from the settlement. The neighbors said
to each other,—"He will never be contented. He will go back to the
Indians." The family feared it also. But Uncle George, who was always
prone to look on the bright side of things, said,—
"We shall win him, if we manage right. We mustn't try to constrain him.
The greatest mistake we make in our human relations is interfering too
much with each other's freedom. We are too apt to think our way is
the only way. It's no such very great matter, after all, that William
sometimes uses his fingers instead of a knife and fork, and likes to
squat on the floor better than to sit in a chair. We mustn't drive him
away by taking too much notice of such things. Let him do just as he
likes. We are all creatures of circumstances. If you and I were obliged
to dance in tight boots, and make calls in white kid gloves, we should
feel like fettered fools."
"And be what we felt like," replied Mr. Wharton; "and the worst part
of it would be, we shouldn't long have sense enough to feel like
fools, but should fall to pitying and despising people who were of any
use in the world. But really, brother George, to have a son educated by
Indians is not exactly what one could wish."
"Undoubtedly not, in many respects; but it has its advantages. William
has already taught me much about the habits of animals and the qualities
of plants. Did you ever see an eye so sure as his to measure distances,
or to send an arrow to the mark? He never studied astronomy, but he
knows how to make use of the stars better than we do. Last week, when
we got benighted in the woods, he at once took his natural place as our
leader; and how quickly his sagacity brought us out of our trouble! He
will learn enough of our ways, by degrees. But I declare I would rather
have him always remain as he is than to make a city-fop of him. I once
saw an old beau at Saratoga, a forlorn-looking mortal, creeping about
in stays and tight boots; and I thought I should rather be the wildest
Ojibbeway that ever hunted buffaloes in a ragged blanket."
The rational policy recommended by Uncle George was carefully pursued.
Everything was done to attract William to their mode of life, but no
remark was made when he gave a preference to Indian customs. Still, he
seemed moody, and at times sad. He carried within him a divided heart.
One day, when he was sitting on a log, looking absent and dejected, his
father put his hand gently upon his shoulder, and said,—
"Are you not happy among us, my son? Don't you like us?"
"Me like very much," was the reply. "Me glad find father, brother. All
He paused a moment, and then added,—
"A-lee-lah's father, mother be dead. A-lee-lah alone. A-lee-lah did say
not go. Me promise come back soon."
Mr. Wharton was silent. He was thinking what it was best to say. After
waiting a little, William said,—
"Father, me not remember what is English for squaw."
"Woman," replied Mr. Wharton.
"Not that," rejoined the young man. "What call Charles's squaw?"
"His wife," was the reply.
"Father, A-lee-lah be my wife. Me like bring A-lee-lah. Me fraid father
not like Indian."
Mr. Wharton placed his hand affectionately on his child's head, and
"Bring A-lee-lah, in welcome, my son. Your mother loved her, when she
was Wik-a-nee; and we will all love her now. Only be sure and come back
The brown eyes looked up and thanked him, with a glance that well repaid
the struggle those words had cost the wise father.
So the uncivilized youth again went forth into the wilderness, saying,
as he parted from them, "Me bring A-lee-lah." They sent her a necklace
and bracelets of many-colored beads, and bade him tell her that they
remembered Wik-a-nee, and had always kept her little basket, and that
they would love her when she came among them. Charles travelled some
distance with his brother, bought a new Indian blanket for him, and
returned with the garments he had worn during his sojourn at home. They
felt that they had acted wisely and kindly, but it was like losing
Willie again; for they all had great doubts whether he would ever
He was incapable of writing a letter, and months passed without any
tidings of him. They all began to think that the attractions of a wild
life had been strong enough to conquer his newly awakened natural
affections. Uncle George said,—
"If it prove so, we shall have the consciousness of having done right.
We could not have kept him against his will, even if we had wished to do
it. If anything will win him to our side, it will be the influence of
love and freedom."
"They are strong agencies, and I have great faith in them," replied Mr.
Summer was far advanced, when a young man and woman in Indian costume
were seen passing through the village, and people said, "There is
William Wharton come back again!" They entered the father's house like
strange apparitions. Baby Willie was afraid of them, and toddled behind
his mother, to hide his face in the folds of her gown. All the other
members of the family had talked over the subject frequently, and had
agreed how they would treat Wik-a-nee, if she came among them again. So
they kissed them both, as they stood there in their Indian blankets, and
said, "Welcome home, brother! Welcome, sister!" A-lee-lah looked at them
timidly, with her large moonlight eyes, and said, "Me no speak." Mr.
Wharton put his hand gently on her head, and said, "We will love you, my
daughter." William translated the phrase to her, heaved a sigh, which
seemed a safety-valve for too much happiness, and replied, "Me thank
father, brother, sister, all." And A-lee-lah said, "Me tank," as her
mother had said, in years long gone by.
All felt desirous to remove from her eyebrows the mass of straight black
hair, which she considered extremely becoming, but which they regarded
as a great disfigurement to her really handsome face. However, no one
expressed such an opinion, by word or look. They had previously agreed
not to manifest any distaste for Indian fashions.
Mr. Wharton, apart, remarked to Charles,—
"When you were a boy, you said Moppet would be pretty, if she wore her
hair like folks. It was true then, and is still more true now."
"Let us have patience, and we shall see her handsome face come out of
that cloud by-and-by," rejoined Uncle George. "If we prove that we
love her, we shall gain influence over her. Wild-flowers, as well as
garden-flowers, grow best in the sunshine."
Emma tried to conform to the wishes of the family in her behavior; but
she did not feel quite sure that she should ever be able to love the
young Indian. It was not agreeable to have a sister who was clothed in
a blanket and wore her hair like a Shetland pony. Cousin Bessie thought
stockings, long skirts, and a gown ought to be procured for her
immediately. Her father said,—
"Let me tell you, Bessie, it would be far more rational for you to
follow her fashion about short skirts. I should like to see you step
off as she does. She couldn't move so like a young deer, if she had long
petticoats to trammel her limbs."
But Bessie confidentially remarked to Cousin Emma that she thought her
father had some queer notions; to which Emma replied, that, for her
part, she thought A-lee-lah ought to dress "like folks," as Charley used
to say, when he was a boy. They could not rest till they had made a
dress like their own, and had coaxed William to persuade her to wear it.
In a tone of patient resignation, she at last said, "Me try." But she
was evidently very uncomfortable in her new habiliments. She often
wriggled her shoulders, and her limbs were always getting entangled in
the folds of her long, full skirts. She finally rebelled openly, and,
with an emphatic "Me no like," cast aside the troublesome garments and
resumed her blanket.
"I suppose she felt very much as I should feel in tight boots and white
kid gloves," said Uncle George. "You will drive them away from us, if
you interfere with them so much."
It was agreed that Aunt Mary would understand how to manage them better
than the young folks did; and the uncivilized couple were accordingly
invited to stay at their uncle's house. Emma cordially approved of this
arrangement. She told Bessie that she did hope Aunt Mary would make them
more "like folks," before the Oberlin student visited the neighborhood
again; for she didn't know what he would think of some of their ways.
"I feel as if I ought to invite William and his wife to dine with us;
but if any of my husband's family should come in, I should feel so
mortified to have them see a woman with a blanket over her shoulders
sitting at my table! Besides, they like raw meat, and that is dreadful."
"Certainly it is not pleasant," replied her father; "but I once dined in
Boston, at a house of high civilization, where the odor of venison and
of Stilton cheese produced much more internal disturbance than I have
ever experienced from any of their Indian messes."
This philosophical way of viewing the subject was thought by some of the
neighbors to be assumed, as the best mode of concealing wounded pride.
They said, in compassionate tones, that they really did pity the
Whartons; for, let them say what they would, it must be dreadfully
mortifying to have that squaw about. But if such a feeling was ever
remotely hinted to Uncle George, he quietly replied,—
"So far from feeling ashamed of A-lee-lah, we are truly grateful to her;
and we are deeply thankful that William married her. His love for her
safely bridges over the wide chasm between his savage and his civilized
life. Without her, he could not feel at home among us; and the
probability is that we should not be able to keep him. By help of his
Indian wife, I think we shall make him contented, and finally succeed
in winning them over to our mode of life. Meanwhile, they are happy in
their own way, and we are thankful for it."
The more enlightened portion of the community commended these sentiments
as liberal and wise; but some, who were not distinguished either for
moral or intellectual culture, said, sneeringly,—
"They talk about his Indian wife! I suppose they jumped over a stick
together in some dirty wigwam, and that they call being married!"
Uncle George and Aunt Mary had been so long in the habit of regulating
their actions by their own principles, that they scarcely had a passing
curiosity to know what such neighbors thought of their proceedings. They
never wavered in their faith that persevering kindness and judicious
non-interference would gradually produce such transformations as they
desired. No changes were proposed, till they and their untutored guests
had become familiarly acquainted and mutually attached. At first, the
wild young couple were indisposed to stay much in the house. They
wandered far off into the woods, and spent most of their time in making
mats and baskets. As these were always admired by their civilized
relatives, and gratefully accepted, they were happier than
millionnaires. They talked to each other altogether in the Indian
dialect, which greatly retarded their improvement in English. But it was
thus they had talked when they first made love, and it was, moreover,
the only way in which their tongues could move unfettered. Her language
no longer sounded to William like "lingo," as he had styled it in
the boyish days when he found her wandering alone on the prairie. No
utterance of the human soul, whether in the form of language or belief,
is "lingo," when we stand on the same spiritual plane with the speaker,
and thus can rightly understand it.
The first innovation in the habits of the young Indian was brought about
by the magical power of two side-combs ornamented with colored glass. At
the first sight of them, A-lee-lah manifested admiration almost equal to
that which the scarlet peas had excited in her childish mind. Aunt Mary,
perceiving this, parted the curtain of raven hair, and fastened it on
each side with the gaudy combs. Then she led her to the glass, put her
finger on the uncovered brow, and said,—
"A-lee-lah has a pretty forehead. Aunt Mary likes to see it so."
William translated this to his simple wife, who said,—
"Aunt Mary good. Me tank."
Mr. Wharton happened to come in, and he kissed the brown forehead,
"Father likes to have A-lee-lah wear her hair so."
The conquest was complete. Henceforth, the large, lambent eyes shone in
their moonlight beauty without any overhanging cloud.
Thus adroitly, day by day, they were guided into increasing conformity
with civilized habits. After a while, it was proposed that they should
be married according to the Christian form, as they had previously been
by Indian ceremonies. No attempt was made to offer higher inducements
than the exhibition of wedding-finery, and the assurance that all
William's relatives would be made very happy, if they would conform
to the custom of his people. The bride's dress was a becoming hybrid
between English and Indian costumes. Loose trousers of emerald-green
merino were fastened with scarlet cord and tassels above gaiters of
yellow beaver-skin thickly embroidered with beads of many colors. An
upper garment of scarlet merino was ornamented with gilded buttons, on
each of which was a shining star. The short, full skirt of this garment
fell a little below the knee, and the border was embroidered with
gold-colored braid. At the waist, it was fastened with a green morocco
belt and gilded buckle. The front-hair, now accustomed to be parted,
had grown long enough to be becomingly arranged with the jewelled
side-combs, which she prized so highly. The long, glossy, black tresses
behind were gathered into massive braids, intertwined on one side with
narrow scarlet ribbon, and on the other with festoons of the identical
Guinea-peas which had so delighted her when she was Wik-a-nee. The
braids were fastened by a comb with gilded points, which made her
look like a crowned Indian queen. Emma was decidedly struck by her
picturesque appearance. She said privately to Cousin Bessie,—
"I should like such a dress myself, if other folks wore it; but don't
you tell that I said so."
Charles smiled, as he remarked to his wife,—
"The grub has come out of her blanket a brilliant butterfly. Uncle
George and Aunt Mary are working miracles."
After the wedding-ceremony had been performed, Mr. Wharton kissed the
bride, and said to the bridegroom,—
"She is handsome as a wild tulip."
"Bright as the torch-flower of the prairies," added Uncle George.
When William made these compliments intelligible to A-lee-lah, she
maintained her customary Indian composure of manner, but her brown
cheeks glowed like an amber-colored bottle of claret in the sunshine.
William, though he deemed it unmanly to give any outward signs of
satisfaction, was inwardly proud of his bride's finery, and scarcely
less pleased with his own yellow vest, blue coat, and brass buttons;
though he preferred above them all the yellow gaiters, which A-lee-lah
had skilfully decorated with tassels and bright-colored wampum.
The next politic movement was to build for them a cabin of their own,
taking care to preserve an influence over them by frequent visits and
kind attentions. They would have been very happy in the freedom of their
new home, had it not been for the intrusion of many strangers, who came
to look upon them from motives of curiosity. The universal Yankee nation
is a self-elected Investigating Committee, which never adjourns its
sessions. This is amusing, and perhaps edifying, to their own inquiring
minds; but William and A-lee-lah had Indian ideas of natural politeness,
which made them regard such invasions as a breach of good manners.
By degrees, however, the young couple became an old story, and were left
in comparative peace. The system of attraction continued to work like a
charm. As A-lee-lah was never annoyed by any assumption of superiority
on the part of her white relatives, she took more and more pains to
please them. This was manifested in many childlike ways, which were
extremely winning, though they were sometimes well calculated to excite
a smile. As years passed on, they both learned to read and write English
very well. William worked industriously on his farm, though he never
lost his predilection for hunting. A-lee-lah became almost as skilful at
her needle as she was at weaving baskets and wampum. Her talk, with its
slightly foreign arrangement, was as pretty as the unformed utterance
of a little child. Her taste for music improved. She never attained
to Italian embroidery of sound, still less to German intonations of
intellect; but the rude, monotonous Indian chants gave place to the
melodies of Scotland, Ireland, and Ethiopia. Her taste in dress changed
also. She ceased to delight in garments of scarlet and yellow, though
she retained a liking for bits of bright, warm color. Nature guided her
taste correctly in this, for they harmonized admirably with her brown
complexion and lustrous black hair. She always wore skirts shorter than
others, and garments too loose to impede freedom of motion. Bonnets were
her utter aversion, but she consented to wear a woman's riding-hat with
a drooping feather. Those outside the family learned to call her Mrs.
William Wharton; and strangers who visited the village were generally
attracted by her handsome person and the simple dignity of her manners.
Her father-in-law regarded her with paternal affection, not unmixed with
"Who, that didn't know it," said he, "could be made to believe this
fine-looking woman was once little Moppet, who coiled herself up to
sleep on the floor of our log-cabin?"
Uncle George replied,—
"You know I always told you it was the nature of all sorts of flowers to
grow, if they had plenty of genial air and sunshine."
As for A-lee-lah's little daughter, Jenny, she is universally admitted
to be the prettiest and brightest child in the village. Mr. Wharton says
her busy little mind makes him think of his Willie, at her age; and
Uncle Charles says he has no fault to find with her, for she has her
mother's beautiful eyes, and wears her hair "like folks."