Read CHAPTER III - THE SONG OF THE LEAVES of The Riflemen of the Ohio, A Story of the Early Days along "The Beautiful River", free online book, by Joseph A. Altsheler, on ReadCentral.com.

The night had come a full hour when Anue stopped in a little glade hemmed in by mighty oaks and beeches.  The heat lightning flared again at that moment, and Henry saw that every one besides Timmendiquas and himself was panting.  Enduring as were all Wyandots, they were glad that Anue had stopped, and they were generous enough to cast looks of approval at the captive who stood among them still calm and still breathing regularly.  Timmendiquas did more.  He stepped into the circle, put one hand on Henry’s shoulder, and looked him directly in the eyes.

“You are strong,” he said gravely, “stronger even than most Wyandots, and your soul is that of the eagle.  If the boy is what he is, what will the man be?”

Henry knew that the words were meant, and he felt pride, but his modesty would not let him show it.

“I thank you, White Lightning,” he replied with a similar gravity.  “Your Manitou was kind enough to give me a strong body, and I, like you, have lived in the woods.”

“As I see,” said the chief sententiously.  “Now I tell you this.  We will take the bonds from your arms if you promise us not to seek to escape to-night.  Else you must lie among us bound, hand and foot, to a warrior on either side.  See, we are willing to take your word.”

Henry felt pride again.  These Wyandots, mortal enemies, who had never seen him before, would believe what he said, putting absolute faith in their reading of his character.  He looked up at the dusky sky, in which not a single star twinkled, and then at the black forest that circled about them.  Bound, and with a lightly sleeping Wyandot at either elbow, he would have a slender chance, indeed, of escape, and he could well bide his time.

“I give the promise and with it my thanks, White Lightning,” he said.

White Lightning cut the thongs with one sweep of his knife, and Henry’s arms fell free.  Sharp pains shot through them as the circulation began to flow with its old freedom, but he refused to wince.  He had chosen a policy, the one that he thought best fitted to his present condition, and he would abide by it through all things.  He merely stepped a little to one side and watched while they made the camp.

The task was quickly done.  Three or four warriors gathered fallen brushwood and set it on fire with flint and steel.  Then they cooked over it strips of venison from their pouches, giving several strips to Henry, which he ate with no appearance of haste or eagerness, although he was quite hungry.

It was growing very dark, and the lightning on the horizon became vivid and intense.  The air was heavy and oppressive.  The fire burned with a languid drooping flame, and the forest was absolutely still, except when the thunder grumbled like the low, ominous mutter of a distant cannonade.

“A storm comes,” said Timmendiquas, glancing at the lowering skies.

“It will be here soon,” said Henry, who knew that the words were spoken to him.

Every warrior carried a blanket, which he now wrapped closely about his body, but Henry asked for nothing.  He would not depart from his policy.

He stood in the center of the glade listening, although there was yet nothing to hear.  But it was this extraordinary breathless silence that impressed him most.  He felt as he breathed the heavy air that it was the sign of impending danger.  The warning of the wind among the leaves had not been more distinct.

A long, rolling crash came from their right.  “Heno (Thunder)!” said White Lightning.  He did not mean to say the obvious, but his emphasis indicated that it was very loud thunder.

The thunder sank away in a low, distant note that echoed grimly, and then the breathless silence came again.  A minute later the whole forest swam in a glare of light so dazzling that Henry was compelled to close his eyes.  It passed in an instant, and the wilderness was all black, but out of the southwest came a low, moaning sound.

“Iruquas (The wind)!” said the chief in the same sententious tone.

The groan became a rumble, and then, as the vanguard of the wind, came great drops of rain that pattered like hail stones.

“Inaunduse (It rains),” said the chief.

But it was merely a brief shower like a volley from withdrawing skirmishers, and then the rumble of the wind gave way to a crash which rose in a moment to a terrible roar.

“A hurricane!” exclaimed Henry.  As he spoke a huge compressed ball of air which can be likened only to a thunderbolt struck them.

Strong as he was, Henry was thrown to the ground, and he saw the chief go down beside him.  Then everything was blotted out in pitchy blackness, but his ears were filled with many sounds, all terrible, the fierce screaming of the wind as if in wrath and pain, the whistling of boughs and brushwood, swept over his head, and the crash of great oaks and beeches as they fell, snapped through at the trunk by the immense force of the hurricane.

Henry seized some of the bushes and held on for his life.  How thankful he was now that he had given his promise to the chief, and that his hands were free!  A shiver swept over him from head to foot.  Any moment one of the trees might fall upon him, but he was near the center of the glade, the safest place, and he did not seek to move.

He was conscious, as he clung to the bushes, of two kinds of movement.  He was being pulled forward and he was being whirled about.  The ball of air as it shot from southwest to northeast revolved, also, with incredible rapidity.  The double motion was so violent that it required all of Henry’s great strength to keep from being wrenched loose from his bushes.

The hurricane, in its full intensity, lasted scarcely a minute.  Then with a tremendous rush and scream it swept off to the northeast, tearing a track through the forest like a tongue of flame in dry grass.  Then the rain, pouring from heavy black clouds, came in its wake, and the lightning, which had ceased while the thunderbolt was passing, began to flash fitfully.

Henry had seen hurricanes in the great Ohio Valley before, but never one so fierce and violent as this, nor so tremendous in its manifestations.  Awe and weirdness followed in the trail of that cannon ball of wind.  The rumble of thunder, far and echoing, was almost perpetual.  Blackest darkness alternated with broad sheets of lightning so intense in tint that the forest would swim for a moment in a reddish glare before the blackness came.  Meanwhile the rain poured as if the bottom had dropped out of every cloud.

Henry struggled to his feet and stood erect.  He could have easily darted away in the confusion and darkness among the woods, but such a thought did not occur to him.  He had given his promise, and he would keep it despite the unexpected opportunity that was offered.  He remained at the edge of the circle, while Timmendiquas, the real leader, hastily gathered his men and took count of them as best he could.

The chief, by the flare of the lightning, saw Henry, upright, motionless, and facing him.  A singular flash of understanding quicker than the lightning itself passed between the two.  Then Timmendiquas spoke in the darkness: 

“You could have gone, but you did not go.”

“I gave my promise to stay, and I stayed,” replied Henry in the same tone.

The lightning flared again, and once more Henry saw the eyes of the chief.  They seemed to him to express approval and satisfaction.  Then Timmendiquas resumed his task with his men.  Hainteroh of the broad back had been dashed against a sapling, and his left arm was broken.  Another man had been knocked senseless by a piece of brushwood, but was sitting up now.  Three or four more were suffering from severe bruises, but not one uttered a complaint.  They merely stood at attention while the chief made his rapid inspection.  Every man had wrapped his rifle in his blanket to protect it from the rain, but their bodies were drenched, and they made no effort now to protect themselves.

Hainteroh pointed to his broken arm.  The chief examined it critically, running his hand lightly over the fracture.  Then he signaled to Anue, and the two, seizing the arm, set the broken bone in place.  Hainteroh never winced or uttered a word.  Splints, which White Lightning cut from a sapling, and strips of deerskin were bound tightly around the arm, a sling was made of more deerskin from their own scanty garb, and nature would soon do the rest for such a strong, healthy man as Hainteroh.

They stood about an hour in the glade until the lightning and thunder ceased, and the rain was falling only in moderation.  Then they took up the march again, going by the side of the hurricane’s path.  It was impossible for them to sleep on the earth, which was fairly running water, and Henry was glad that they had started.  It was turning much colder, as it usually does in the great valley after such storms, and the raw, wet chill was striking into his marrow.

The line was re-formed just as it had been before, with Anue leading, and they went swiftly despite the darkness, which, however, was not so dense as that immediately preceding and following the hurricane.  The trained eyes of the Wyandot and of the prisoner could now easily see the way.

The coldness increased, and the diminishing rain now felt almost like hail stones, but the clouds were floating away toward the northeast, and the skies steadily lightened.  Henry felt the warming and strengthening influence of the vigorous exercise.  His clothing was a wet roll about him, but the blood began to flow in a vigorous stream through his veins, and his muscles became elastic.

They followed by the side of the hurricane’s track for several miles, and Henry was astonished at the damage that it had done.  Its path was not more than two hundred yards wide, but within that narrow space little had been able to resist it.  Trees were piled in tangled masses.  Sometimes the revolving ball had thrown them forward and sometimes it had thrown them, caught in the other whirl, backward.

They turned at last from this windrow of trees, and presently entered a little prairie, where there was nothing to obstruct them.  The rain was now entirely gone, and the clouds were retreating far down in the southwest.  Timmendiquas looked up.

“Washuntyaandeshra (The Moon),” he said.

Henry guessed that this very long name in Wyandot meant the moon, because there it was, coming out from the vapors, and throwing a fleecy light over the soaked and dripping forest.  It was a pleasing sight, a friendly one to him, and he now felt unawed and unafraid.  The wilderness itself had no terrors for him, and he felt that somehow he would slip through the hands of the Wyandots.  He had escaped so many times from great dangers that it seemed to him a matter of course that he should do so once more.

They made greater speed on the prairie, which was covered only with long grass and an occasional clump of bushes.  But near its center something rose up from one of the clumps, and disappeared in a streak of brown.

“Oughscanoto (Deer),” said the chief.

But Henry had known already.  His eyes were as quick as those of Timmendiquas.

They crossed the prairie and entering the woods again went on without speaking.  The moonlight faded, midnight passed, when Anue suddenly stopped at the entrance to a rocky hollow, almost a cave, the inner extension of which had escaped the sweep of the storm.

“We rest here,” said White Lightning to Henry.  “Do you still give your promise?”

“Until I awake,” replied the youth with a little laugh.

He entered the hollow, noticed that the dry leaves lay in abundance by the rocky rear wall, threw himself down among them, and in a few moments was asleep, while his clothes dried upon him.  All the warriors quickly followed his example except Timmendiquas and Anue, who sat down at the entrance of the hollow, with their rifles across their knees, and watched.  Neither spoke and neither moved.  They were like bronze statues, set there long ago.

Henry awoke at the mystical hour when the night is going and the dawn has not yet come.  He did not move, he merely opened his eyes, and he remembered everything at once, his capture, the flight through the forest, and the hurricane.  He was conscious of peace and rest.  His clothes had dried upon him, and he had taken no harm.  He felt neither the weight of the present nor fear for the future.  He saw the dusky figures of the Wyandots lying in the leaves about him sound asleep, and the two bronze statues at the front of the stony alcove.

Clear as was Henry’s recollection, a vague, dreamy feeling was mingled with it.  The wilderness always awoke all the primitive springs within him.  When he was alone in the woods ­and he was alone now ­he was in touch with the nymphs and the fauns and the satyrs of whom he had scarcely ever heard.  Like the old Greeks, he peopled the forest with the creatures of his imagination, and he personified nearly everything.

Now a clear sweet note came to his half-dreaming ear and soothed him with its melody.  He closed his eyes and let its sweetness pierce his brain.  It was the same song among the leaves that he had heard when he was out with the shiftless one, the mysterious wind with its invisible hand playing the persistent and haunting measure on the leaves and twigs.

It was definite and clear to Henry.  It was there, the rhythmic note ran through it all the time, and for him it contained all the expression of a human voice, the rise, the fall, the cadence, and the shade.

But its note was different now.  It was not solemn, ominous, full of warning.  It was filled with hope and promise, and he took its meaning to himself.  He would escape, he would rejoin his comrades, and the great expedition would end in complete success.

Stronger and fuller swelled the song, the mysterious haunting note that was played upon the leaves, and Henry’s heart bounded in response.  He was still in that vague, dreamy state in which things unseen look large and certain, and this was a call intended for him.  He glanced at the brown statues.  If they, too, heard, they made no sign.  He glanced at the leaves, and he saw them moving gently as they were played by the unseen hand.

Henry closed his eyes again and listened to the note of hope, sweeter and more penetrating than ever.  A great satisfaction suffused him, and he did not open his eyes again.  The dreamy state grew, and presently he floated off again into a deep, restful slumber.

When Henry awoke the glade was flooded with brilliant sunlight.  A warm west wind was blowing and trees and grass were drying.  Several of the Wyandots were, like himself, just rising from sleep, but it was evident that others had been up far before, because at the edge of the glade lay a part of the body of a deer, recently killed and dressed.  Other Wyandots were broiling strips of the flesh on sharpened twigs over a fire built in the center of the glade.  The pleasant savor came to Henry’s nostrils, and he sat up.  Just at that moment a Wyandot, who had evidently been hunting, returned to the glade, carrying on his arm a large bird with beautiful bronze feathers.

“Daightontah,” said Timmendiquas.

“I suppose that word means turkey,” said Henry, who, of course, recognized the bird at once.

The chief nodded.

“Turkey is fine,” said Henry, “but, as it won’t be ready for some time, would you mind giving me a few strips of Oughscanoto, which I think is what you called it last night.”

The young chief smiled.

“You learn fast,” he said.  “You make good Wyandot.”

Henry seemed to see a significance in the tone and words, and he looked sharply at White Lightning.  A Spaniard, Francisco Alvarez, had tried to tempt him once from his people, but the attempt was open and abrupt.  The approach of the chief was far different, gentle and delicate.  Moreover, he liked White Lightning, and, as Henry believed, the chief was much the better man of the two.  But here as before there was only one answer.

The chief nodded at one of the men, who handed the broiled strips, and the boy ate, not with haste and greediness, but slowly and with dignity.  He saw that his conduct in the night and the storm had made an impression upon his captors, and he meant to deepen it.  He knew the Indian and his modes of thought.  All the ways of his life in the northwestern tribe readily came back to him, and he did the things that were of highest esteem in the Indian code.

Henry showed no anxiety of any kind.  He looked about him contentedly, as if place and situation alike pleased him more than any other in the world.  But this was merely an approving, not an inquiring look.  He did not seem to be interested in anything beyond the glade.  He was not searching for any way of escape.  He was content with the present, ignoring the future.  When the time came for them to go he approached White Lightning and held out his hands.

“I am ready to be bound,” he said.

A low murmur of approval came from two or three of the Wyandots who stood near.

“Let the promise go another day?” said White Lightning with a rising inflection.

“If you wish,” said Henry.  He saw no reason why he should not give such a promise.  He knew that the Wyandots would watch him far too well to allow a chance of escape, and another such opportunity as the storm was not to be expected.

The chief said not another word, but merely motioned to Henry, who took his old place as fourth in the line with Anue at the head.  Then the march was resumed, and they went steadily toward the northeast, moving in swiftness and silence.  Henry made no further effort to embarrass Hainteroh, who again was just before him.  His reasons were two ­the Wyandot now had a broken arm, and the boy had already proved his quality.

The day was beautiful after the storm.  The sky had been washed clean by wind and rain, and now it was a clear, silky blue.  The country, an alternation of forest and little prairies, was of surpassing fertility.  The pure air, scented with a thousand miles of unsullied wilderness, was heaven to the nostrils, and Henry took deep and long breaths of it.  He had suffered no harm from the night before.  His vigorous young frame threw off cold and stiffness, and he felt only the pleasure of abounding physical life.  Although the wind was blowing, he did not hear that human note among the leaves again.  It was only when his mind was thoroughly attuned and clothed about in a mystical atmosphere that it made a response.  But his absolute belief that he would escape remained.

Henry was troubled somewhat by the thought of his comrades.  He was afraid, despite his warning to them, that they would leave the fleet and search for him when he did not return, and he knew that Adam Colfax needed them sorely.  This was the country that they knew best, the country Adam Colfax and his men knew least.  It was best for another reason that they did not seek him.  So wary a foe as the Wyandot could keep away help from the outside, and, if he escaped, he must escape alone.

They traveled swiftly and almost without a word until noon, when they stopped for a half hour and ate.  They did not light any fire, but took cold food from their pouches, of which they had a variety, and once more Timmendiquas was most hospitable.

“Oghtaeh (Squirrel),” he said, holding up a piece.

“Yes, thank you,” replied the boy, who thought he recognized the flesh.

“Yuingeh (Duck)?” said the chief, holding up another piece.

“I’ll take that, too,” replied Henry.

“Sootae (Beaver)?” said the chief, producing a third.

“I’ll risk that, too,” replied Henry.  “It looks good.”

“Yungenah (Dog)?” said the hospitable Timmendiquas, offering a fourth fragment of meat.

Henry looked at it suspiciously.

“Yungenah?” he said.  “Now, Chief, would you tell me what Yungenah means?”

“Dog,” replied the Wyandot sententiously.

“No, no!” exclaimed Henry.  “Take it away.”

Timmendiquas smiled benevolently.

“Dog good,” he said, “but not make you eat it.  Wyandot glad enough to get it.”

They continued the journey throughout the afternoon, and did not stop until after sunset.  Henry’s promise was renewed for the second time, and he slept quietly within the circle of the Wyandots.  He awakened once far in the night, and he saw that the watch was most vigilant.  White Lightning was awake and sitting up, as also were three warriors.  The night was clear and bright save for a few small harmless clouds.  Henry saw that he had made no mistake in renewing his promise.  The chance of escape had not yet come.

White Lightning noticed that his captive’s eyes were open and he walked over to him.  This youth, so strong and so skillful, so brave and so frank, appealed to the young chief.  He would regret the necessity of putting him to death.  A way of escaping it would be welcome.

“It is not like last night,” he said pleasantly.

“No,” said Henry.  “There is no chance of another storm.”

“Oghtserah,” said the chief, pointing to the small, harmless clouds.

“But they are too little to mean anything,” said Henry, guessing from the chief’s gesture that “Oghtserah” meant clouds.

“You learn Wyandot,” said the chief in the same pleasant tone.  “You learn fast.  See Tegshe.”

He glanced up.

“Stars?” guessed Henry.

The chief smiled again.

“It is right,” he said.  “You stay long with us, you learn to talk to Wyandot.  Look!”

He held up one finger.

“Scat,” he said.

He held up two.

“Tindee,” he said.

He held up three.

“Shaight,” he said.

He held up four.  “Andaught.”

Five ­“Weeish.”

Six ­“Washaw.”

Seven ­“Sootare.”

Eight ­“Acetarai.”

Nine ­“Aintru.”

Ten ­“Aughsah.”

“Now you count ten,” he said somewhat in the tone of a schoolmaster to Henry.

“All right,” said Henry tractably.  “Here goes:  Scat, Tindee, Shaight, Andaught, Weeish, Washaw, Sootare, Acetarai, Aintru, Aughsah.”

The chief’s smile deepened.

“You good memory,” he said.  “You learn very fast.”  Then he added after a moment’s hesitation:  “You make good Wyandot.  Wyandots small nation, but bravest, most cunning and most enduring of all.  Wyandot being burned at the stake calls for his pipe and smokes it peacefully while he dies in the fire.”

“I don’t doubt it,” said Henry, who had heard of such cases.

The chief glanced at him and concluded that he said enough on that point.  Once more he looked up.

“Washuntyaandeshra.”

“The moon,” said Henry.  “Yes, it’s bright.”

“You learn.  You remember,” said the chief.  “Now you sleep again.”

He walked away, and Henry closed his eyes, but did not go to sleep just yet.  He had understood Timmendiquas perfectly, and it troubled him.  He liked the young chief, but white he was and white he would remain.  He resolutely forced the question out of his mind, and soon he was fast asleep again.