As we rode slowly homeward, behind
the trap which conveyed the dear-bought slave, Moore
was extremely moody and disinclined for conversation.
“Is your purchase not rather
an expensive one?” I ventured to ask, to which
Moore replied shortly
“No; think he is perhaps the
cheapest nigger that was ever bought.”
To put any more questions would have
been impertinent, and I possessed my curiosity in
silence till we reached the plantation.
Here Moore’s conduct became
decidedly eccentric. He had the black man conveyed
at once into a cool, dark, strong room with a heavy
iron door, where the new acquisition was locked up
in company with a sufficient meal. Moore and
I dined hastily, and then he summoned all his negroes
together into the court of the house. “Look
here, boys,” he cried: “all these
trees” and he pointed to several clumps
“must come down immediately, and all the shrubs
on the lawn and in the garden. Fall to at once,
those of you that have axes, and let the rest take
hoes and knives and make a clean sweep of the shrubs.”
The idea of wholesale destruction seemed not disagreeable
to the slaves, who went at their work with eagerness,
though it made my heart ache to see the fine old oaks
beginning to fall and to watch the green garden becoming
a desert. Moore first busied himself with directing
the women, who, under his orders, piled up mattresses
and bags of cotton against the parapets of the verandahs.
The house stood on the summit of a gradually sloping
height, and before the moon began to set (for we worked
without intermission through the evening and far into
the night) there was nothing but a bare slope of grass
all round the place, while smoke and flame went up
from the piles of fallen timber. The plantation,
in fact, was ready to stand a short siege.
Moore now produced a number of rifles,
which he put, with ammunition, into the hands of some
of the more stalwart negroes. These he sent to
their cabins, which lay at a distance of about a furlong
and a half on various sides of the house. The
men had orders to fire on any advancing enemy, and
then to fall back at once on the main building, which
was now barricaded and fortified. One lad was
told to lurk in a thicket below the slope of the hill
and invisible from the house.
“If Wild Bill’s men come
on, and you give them the slip, cry thrice like the
‘Bob White,’” said Moore; “if
they take you, cry once. If you get off, run
straight to Clayville, and give this note to the officer
commanding the cavalry.”
The hour was now about one in the
morning; by three the dawn would begin. In spite
of his fatigues, Moore had no idea of snatching an
hour’s rest. He called up Peter (who had
been sleeping, coiled up like a black cat, in the
smoking-room), and bade him take a bath and hot water
into the room where Gumbo, the newly purchased black,
had all this time been left to his own reflections.
“Soap him and lather him well, Peter,”
said Moore; “wash him white, if you can, and
let me know when he’s fit to come near.”
Peter withdrew with his stereotyped
grin to make his preparations.
Presently, through the open door of
the smoking-room, we heard the sounds of energetic
splashings, mingled with the inarticulate groans of
the miserable Gumbo. Moore could not sit still,
but kept pacing the room, smoking fiercely.
Presently Peter came to the door
“Nigger’s clean now, massa.”
“Bring me a razor, then,” said Moore,
“and leave me alone with him.”
When Moore had retired, with the razor,
into the chamber where his purchase lay, I had time
to reflect on the singularity of the situation.
In every room loaded rifles were ready; all the windows
were cunningly barricaded, and had sufficient loopholes.
The peaceful planter’s house had become a castle;
a dreadful quiet had succeeded to the hubbub of preparation,
and my host, yesterday so pleasant, was now locked
up alone with a dumb negro and a razor! I had
long ago given up the hypothesis that Gumbo had been
purchased out of pure philanthropy. The disappointment
of baffled cruelty in Moore’s brother would not
alone account for the necessity of such defensive
preparations as had just been made. Clearly
Gumbo was not a mere fancy article, but a negro of
real value, whose person it was desirable to obtain
possession of at any risk or cost. The ghastly
idea occurred to me (suggested, I fancy, by Moore’s
demand for a razor) that Gumbo, at some period of his
career, must have swallowed a priceless diamond.
This gem must still be concealed about his person,
and Moore must have determined by foul means, as no
fair means were available, to become its owner.
When this fancy struck me I began to feel that it
was my duty to interfere. I could not sit by
within call (had poor Gumbo been capable of calling)
and allow my friend to commit such a deed of cruelty.
As I thus parleyed with myself, the heavy iron door
of the store-room opened, and Moore came out, with
the razor (bloodless, thank Heaven!) in his hand.
Anxiety had given place to a more joyous excitement.
“Well?” I said interrogatively.
“Well, all’s well.
That man has, as I felt sure, the Secret of the Pyramid.”
I now became quite certain that Moore,
in spite of all his apparent method, had gone out
of his mind. It seemed best to humour him, especially
as so many loaded rifles were lying about.
“He has seen the myst’ry
Under Egypt’s pyramid,”
I quoted; “but, my dear fellow,
as the negro is dumb, I don’t see how you are
to get the secret out of him.”
“I did not say he knew
it,” answered Moore crossly; “I said he
had it. As to Egypt, I don’t know
what you are talking about ”
At this moment we heard the crack
of rifles, and in the instant of silence which followed
came the note of the “Bob White.”
Once it shrilled, and we listened
eagerly; then the notes came twice rapidly, and a
sound of voices rose up from the negro outposts, who
had been driven in and were making fast the one door
of the house that had been left open. From the
negroes we learned that our assailants (Bill Hicock’s
band of border ruffians, “specially engaged for
this occasion”) had picketed their horses behind
the dip of the hill and were advancing on foot.
Moore hurried to the roof to reconnoitre. The
dawn was stealing on, and the smoke from the still
smouldering trees, which we had felled and burned,
rose through the twilight air.
“Moore, you hound,” cried
a voice through the smoke of the furthest pile, “we
have come for your new nigger. Will you give
him up or will you fight?”
Moore’s only reply was a bullet
fired in the direction whence the voice was heard.
His shot was answered by a perfect volley from men
who could just be discerned creeping through the grass
about four hundred yards out. The bullets rattled
harmlessly against wooden walls and iron shutters,
or came with a thud against the mattress fortifications
of the verandah. The firing was all directed
against the front of the house.
“I see their game,” said
Moore. “The front attack is only a feint.
When they think we are all busy here, another detachment
will try to rush the place from the back and to set
fire to the building. We’ll ’give
them their kail through the reek.’”
Moore’s dispositions were quickly
made. He left me with some ten of the blacks
to keep up as heavy a fire as possible from the roof
against the advancing skirmishers. He posted
himself, with six fellows on whom he could depend,
in a room of one of the wings which commanded the back
entrance. As many men, with plenty of ready-loaded
rifles, were told off to a room in the opposite wing.
Both parties were thus in a position to rake the
entrance with a cross fire. Moore gave orders
that not a trigger should be pulled till the still
invisible assailants had arrived on his side, between
the two projecting wings. “Then fire into
them, and let every one choose his man.”
On the roof our business was simple
enough. We lay behind bags of cotton, firing
as rapidly and making as much show of force as possible,
while women kept loading for us. Our position
was extremely strong, as we were quite invisible to
men crouching or running hurriedly far below.
Our practice was not particularly good; still three
or four of the skirmishers had ceased to advance,
and this naturally discouraged the others, who were
aware, of course, that their movement was only a feint.
The siege had now lasted about half an hour, and I
had begun to fancy that Moore’s theory of the
attack was a mistake, and that he had credited the
enemy with more generalship than they possessed, when
a perfect storm of fire broke out beneath us, from
the rooms where Moore and his company were posted.
Dangerous as it was to cease for a moment from watching
the enemy, I stole across the roof, and, looking down
between two of the cotton bags which filled the open
spaces of the balustrades, I saw the narrow ground
between the two wings simply strewn with dead or wounded
men. The cross fire still poured from the windows,
though here and there a marksman tried to pick off
the fugitives. Rapidly did I cross the roof
to my post. To my horror the skirmishers had
advanced, as if at the signal of the firing, and were
now running up at full speed and close to the walls
of the house. At that moment the door opened,
and Moore, heading a number of negroes, picked off
the leading ruffian and rushed out into the open.
The other assailants fired hurriedly and without aim,
then daunted by the attack so suddenly carried
into their midst, and by the appearance of one or
two of their own beaten comrades the enemy
turned and fairly bolted. We did not pursue.
Far away down the road we heard the clatter of hoofs,
and thin and clear came the thrice-repeated cry of
the “Bob White.”
“Dick’s coming back with
the soldiers,” said Moore; “and now I think
we may look after the wounded.”
I did not see much of Moore that day.
The fact is that I slept a good deal, and Moore was
mysteriously engaged with Gumbo. Night came,
and very much needed quiet and sleep came with it.
Then we passed an indolent day, and I presumed that
adventures were over, and that on the subject of “the
Secret of the Pyramid” Moore had recovered his
sanity. I was just taking my bedroom candle
when Moore said, “Don’t go to bed yet.
You will come with me, won’t you, and see out
the adventure of the Cheap Nigger?”
“You don’t mean to say
the story is to be continued?” I asked.
“Continued? Why the fun
is only beginning,” Moore answered. “The
night is cloudy, and will just suit us. Come
down to the branch.”
The “branch,” as Moore
called it, was a strong stream that separated, as
I knew, his lands from his brother’s. We
walked down slowly, and reached the broad boat which
was dragged over by a chain when any one wanted to
cross. At the “scow,” as the ferry-boat
was called, Peter joined us; he ferried us deftly
over the deep and rapid water, and then led on, as
rapidly as if it had been daylight, along a path through
“How often I came here when
I was a boy,” said Moore; “but now I might
lose myself in the wood, for this is my brother’s
land, and I have forgotten the way.”
As I knew that Mr. Bob Moore was confined
to his room by an accident, through which an ounce
of lead had been lodged in a portion of his frame,
I had no fear of being arrested for trespass.
Presently the negro stopped in front of a cliff.
“Here is the ‘Sachem’s
Cave,’” said Moore. “You’ll
help us to explore the cave, won’t you?”
I did not think the occasion an opportune
one for exploring caves, but to have withdrawn would
have demanded a “moral courage,” as people
commonly say when they mean cowardice, which I did
not possess. We stepped within a narrow crevice
of the great cliff. Moore lit a lantern and went
in advance; the negro followed with a flaring torch.
Suddenly an idea occurred to me, which
I felt bound to communicate to Moore. “My
dear fellow,” I said in a whisper, “is
this quite sportsmanlike? You know you are after
some treasure, real or imaginary, and, I put it to
you as a candid friend, is not this just a little bit
like poaching? Your brother’s land, you
“What I am looking for is in
my own land,” said Moore. “The river
is the march. Come on.”
We went on, now advancing among fairy
halls, glistering with stalactites or paved with silver
sand, and finally pushing our way through a concealed
crevice down dank and narrow passages in the rock.
The darkness increased; the pavement plashed beneath
our feet, and the drip, drip of water was incessant.
“We are under the river-bed,” said Moore,
“in a kind of natural Thames Tunnel.”
We made what speed we might through this combination
of the Valley of the Shadow with the Slough of Despond,
and soon were on firmer ground again beneath Moore’s
own territory. Probably no other white men had
ever crawled through the hidden passage and gained
the further penetralia of the cave, which now again
began to narrow. Finally we reached four tall
pillars, of about ten feet in height, closely surrounded
by the walls of rock. As we approached these
pillars, that were dimly discerned by the torchlight,
our feet made a faint metallic jingling sound among
heaps of ashes which strewed the floor. Moore
and I went up to the pillars and tried them with our
knives. They were of wood, all soaked and green
with the eternal damp. “Peter,”
said Moore, “go in with the lantern and try if
you can find anything there.”
Peter had none of the superstitions
of his race, or he would never have been our companion.
“All right, massa; me look for Brer Spook.”
So saying, Peter walked into a kind
of roofed over-room, open only at the front, and examined
the floor with his lantern, stamping occasionally to
detect any hollowness in the ground.
“Nothing here, massa, but this
dead fellow’s leg-bone and little bits of broken
jugs,” and the dauntless Peter came out with
his ghastly trophy.
Moore seemed not to lose heart.
“Perhaps,” he said, “there
is something on the roof. Peter, give me a back.”
Peter stooped down beside one of the
wooden pillars and firmly grasped his own legs above
the knee. Moore climbed on the improvised ladder,
and was just able to seize the edge of the roof, as
it seemed to be, with his hands.
“Now steady, Peter,” he
exclaimed, and with a spring he drew himself up till
his head was above the level of the roof. Then
he uttered a cry, and, leaping from Peter’s
back retreated to the level where we stood in some
“Good God!” he said, “what a sight!”
“What on earth is the matter?” I asked.
“Look for yourself, if you choose,”
said Moore, who was somewhat shaken, and at the same
time irritated and ashamed.
Grasping the lantern, I managed to
get on to Peter’s shoulders, and by a considerable
gymnastic effort to raise my head to the level of the
ledge, and at the same time to cast the light up and
The spectacle was sufficiently awful.
I was looking along a platform, on
which ten skeletons were disposed at full length,
with the skulls still covered with long hair, and the
fleshless limbs glimmering white and stretching back
into the darkness.
On the right hand, and crouching between
a skeleton and the wall of the chamber (what we had
taken for a roof was the floor of a room raised on
pillars), I saw the form of a man. He was dressed
in gay colours, and, as he sat with his legs drawn
up, his arms rested on his knees.
On the first beholding of a dreadful
thing, our instinct forces us to rush against it,
as if to bring the horror to the test of touch.
This instinct wakened in me. For a moment I
felt dazed, and then I continued to stare involuntarily
at the watcher of the dead. He had not stirred.
My eyes became accustomed to the dim and flickering
light which the lantern cast in that dark place.
“Hold on, Peter,” I cried,
and leaped down to the floor of the cave.
“It’s all right, Moore,”
I said. “Don’t you remember the picture
in old Lafitau’s ‘Moeurs des
Sauvages Americains’? We are in a
burying-place of the Cherouines, and the seated man
is only the kywash, ’which is an image of woode
keeping the deade.’”
“Ass that I am!” cried
Moore. “I knew the cave led us from the
Sachem’s Cave to the Sachem’s Mound, and
I forgot for a moment how the fellows disposed of
their dead. We must search the platform.
Peter, make a ladder again.”
Moore mounted nimbly enough this time. I followed
The kywash had no more terrors for
us, and we penetrated beyond the fleshless dead into
the further extremity of the sepulchre. Here
we lifted and removed vast piles of deerskin bags,
and of mats, filled as they were with “the dreadful
dust that once was man.” As we reached
the bottom of the first pile something glittered yellow
and bright beneath the lantern.
Moore stooped and tried to lift what
looked like an enormous plate. He was unable
to raise the object, still weighed down as it was with
the ghastly remnants of the dead. With feverish
haste we cleared away the debris, and at last lifted
and brought to light a huge and massive disk of gold,
divided into rays which spread from the centre, each
division being adorned with strange figures in relief figures
of animals, plants, and what looked like rude hieroglyphs.
This was only the firstfruits of the treasure.
A silver disk, still larger, and decorated
in the same manner, was next uncovered, and last,
in a hollow dug in the flooring of the sepulchre, we
came on a great number of objects in gold and silver,
which somewhat reminded us of Indian idols.
These were thickly crusted with precious stones, and
were accompanied by many of the sacred emeralds and
opals of old American religion. There were also
some extraordinary manuscripts, if the term may be
applied to picture writing on prepared deerskins that
were now decaying. We paid little attention to
cloaks of the famous feather-work, now a lost art,
of which one or two examples are found in European
museums. The gold, and silver, and precious stones,
as may be imagined, overcame for the moment any ethnological
Dawn was growing into day before we
reached the mouth of the cave again, and after a series
of journeys brought all our spoil to the light of the
upper air. It was quickly enough bestowed in
bags and baskets. Then, aided by three of Moore’s
stoutest hands, whom we found waiting for us in the
pine wood, we carried the whole treasure back, and
lodged it in the strong room which had been the retreat