“Tomo and the Wild Lakes,” by Rev. John Todd, D.D. (from Youth’s Companion, 19 July 1849, pp. 45-46)
From Eagle Island was a distance of about three miles when they came to the “carrying place.” On landing, the young man with his rifle went forward in the little path, to be seen only by the practiced eye. Behind him came the canoe carried on the head of an Indian; and then followed the others, all in silence. In a time almost incredible, they had passed through the woods about a mile, when they came to a small pond. What a beautiful place! It was about half a mile in diameter, perfectly round, and its clear, beautiful waters seemed to reflect back the trees that stood round it, and the heavens which hung over it. It was indeed the jewel of the desert. On its grassy shores were more than one deer timidly feeding, while here and there the huge trout threw out his forked tail in sheer ecstacy. A single loon sat in the middle of the pond, and raised his clear shrill notes on seeing the new comers. As this was in the traveled way of the Mohawks, the company hurried on silently. The very rifle in the hands of the youth seemed to ache to shoot one of the deer, but prudence told him better. They slackened not their efforts until they had passed through those beautiful ponds—and down Stony brook into the Raquette river. They then turned up the river, and felt safer, because now out of track of any new band of Mohawks who might be coming up the Raquette. By great and almost superhuman labors, they were over and beyond the upper falls by sunset. Here they might safely hunt; for the roar of the falls, full one and a half miles of rocks and roar, precluded the possibility of their being heard. Not a morsel of food had they eaten during all the journey of one day. Two of the Indians now made a camp fire, and having smoked their pipe, coiled up under the smoke, and in a few minutes, were fast asleep. The chief peeled a small spruce, and with its bark and a stick of a yard in length, soon made “a jack,” or half lantern—open in front and dark behind. He next got some dry roots of pine, full of gum and highly inflammable. Then some dry outside bark of the cedar, which he pounded very fine, and tied with green bark—which was the “Indian candle.” By midnight, the jack was in the bow of the canoe, the pitchy roots in the jack ready to be lighted up in an instant, and the Indian candle lighted and slowly burning, like the end of a dry rope. They were going to hunt deer in the Indian way. In the bow of the canoe sat the young man just behind the jack, while the old Indian sat in the stern to paddle. In perfect silence and darkness the canoe moved up the river toward the outlet of Long Lake. The plunge of the muskrat and the lunge of the otter as he gamboled and slid off the steep bank into the water, were frequent; but no deer was heard. At length a noise like a calf walking in the water was heard, and the young man raised the Indian candle and swung it in the air a few times, and it was all in a light blaze. He then applied it to the pine-knots in the jack, and they too were on fire. There was now a strong light thrown out in front of the canoe, while all behind the jack was perfect darkness. Slowly, and without lifting his paddle from the water, and almost without moving it, the Indian turned the canoe toward the deer. As it neared the animal, he was seen standing in the water about knee deep. He looked at the light without moving, while his eyeballs appeared to be balls of fire. He seemed like a picture of a huge deer—such a picture as is thrown upon the canvass by the magic lantern. The bats are flying in all direction,—the owls seem to be holding a jubilee, and hoot and laugh and sneeze in all imaginable and unimaginable tones. The strange light changes the trees on the banks of the river into all manner of shapes—castles, towers, churches and palaces. The thin, cold fog rises from the river like a vail, and again the banks are covered with domes, and pyramids, and cones of silver. The forest seems like a breast work of most wonderful workmanship. The wild cat, too, screams, and the wolf in the distance is howling. But the deer—the deer! The Indian and the young keep their eye on him alone. There he stands—a huge buck, with his monstrous horns and his eyes of fire! He dreams of no danger. He never thinks of what may be behind the brilliant light. The canoe hardly moves, and the Indian gently shakes it, as much as to say, I can go no further. The rifle rises up, the outer sight just so as to have the light strike it, while the back sight is in the dark. But the young Hawk knows what he is about. Quick as thought he raises the deadly iron, and a stream of fire leaps from its muzzle. The deer gives one supernatural leap high in the air, and drops dead! “The Saradac Hawk no forget where to point the winding gun yet,” said the Indian, in great admiration. By straining every muscle, they got the deer into the canoe, and returned to the starting place. The two sleepers were now aroused, who proceeded to dress the deer, and to roast unweighed steaks for their repast. After which, the two hunters went to rest; and they sat up, and cut up the deer and dried it in the smoke and blaze of their fire. They worked, and the others slept until ten o’clock the next morning, when a new meal was cooked, and nearly an hundred pounds were cured and ready for transportation. They were now prepared to return and carry their plans into execution.
About a fortnight previous to the commencement of our story, a young man was walking home with a charming girl, the choice and the pride of his heart, in one of these deep and beautiful glens which are so frequent in Vermont. Their parents had removed into this new and wild country years ago, and had lived as neighbors and friends—their log houses being about two miles apart. But others had come in, and the forest had fallen before the ringing ax; the humble school-house was seen at an early date, and all the blessings which follow in the wake of shrewd and watchful industry. Robert Ralston, and Mary Parker, were the eldest in each family, and from infancy they were so frequently in each other’s society, that it happened very early, that if either was absent from the little log school-house, the other found it a long and profitless day. Robert was sure to find the earliest flowers of the wilderness in the spring, and the sweetest wild grass in the autumn, and Mary was never forgotten. If the wolves were more plenty than common, or if the snow was deep and untrodden, Robert was sure to see that Mary got safely home. The heart beats in the wilderness just as it does in the city, only more freely and purely. Nothing had crossed them, and by the time they had arrived at manhood and womanhood, they ran to each other like two birds that had never been separated, and never dreamed that they could be. Almost without the common hopes, and fears, and crosses of lovers, it seemed to be understood, that as soon as Robert should get his farm cleared up, and a comfortable house and barn, they should go and occupy it. And so manfully had Robert applied himself, that the crops were in, the house raised—for the second generation of houses in Vermont were all framed houses—the barn was built, and partly filled, and a hug-horn cow, that would have been admired at any agricultural fair, had such things then been in vogue, fed in the pasture near by. Mary had her preparations well under way, her chest of towels and sheets all of pure linen, and most of them the work of her own nimble fingers. In two months they were to be married.
They were walking together toward Mary’s house just at evening, and engaged in conversation in the twilight voice of love, when suddenly a light glanced through the trees, red and fierce. Robert turned his head, and saw in a moment that it must have come from his new farm. “What can the matter be?” said he. The red glare increased. “Mary, can you get home alone, dear? There must be something wrong up yonder.”
“Certainly, Robert, I can already see our house, and shall be there in a few minutes.”
The lover gave the hasty kiss, and darted off through the woods, intending, to reach his new farm by a shorter way than the usual road. That determination saved his life. Although he ran like a deer, yet the distance was over a mile, and the woods were dark and so full of bushes and fallen trees, that it was long before he reached it. But when he did reach it, how his heart sunk within him! His house, and barn and their contents, were burning into ashes. Elsie, his pretty cow, was in the agonies of death by inhuman butchery, and his pigs, and a pet lamb, were all killed. The poor fellow could hardly keep from weeping aloud. He sat down on a stump in the edge of the woods, where the light of the fires could not reveal his person, if the foe were anywhere round, and there sat as motionless as the black stump on which he sat. He knew that this must be
the work of hostile Indians—but why they should select him he could not tell. The only imaginable reason to be assigned was, that once on a hunting excursion, he delivered the old chief, Tomo, from the hands of his enemies, who had nearly surrounded him, and were exulting that in a few hours they should have him in their power, and under their tortures. He did it by strategem, or “head-work,” as Tomo called it. Since that, he and Tomo had been the best of friends. Tomo gave him an Indian name, signifying “Saranac Hawk.” But while this gave Robert one warm friend in Tomo, it made all Tomo’s enemies to be his. They marked him for their vengeance. While thinking over the present and the future, he happened to turn his eyes back, and another stream of fire sent out its red light. It was in the direction of Mary’s home. Like a lion, he bounded away in the path which he had not taken, but which the Indians had, regardless of nothing. Away the poor fellow bounded, until he reached the well-known opening, and truly enough, Mr. Parker’s house and barns were in a bright flame. Not a soul was to be seen. The Indians had done the mischief and were off. By and by a neighbor came cautiously up, and among others, the Parker family, who had fled into the woods at the shouts of the savages—all but Mary—no one knew what had become of her. There were no signs of blood or murder, and it was evident that she had not been consumed in the house, unless she had first been murdered. But, oh! the agony of doubts and fears! They lifted up their voices and wept. The fires sent up their bright light upon the surrounding forest, only rendering it more intensely dark beyond their glare. They hung around the smoldering ashes, until, after a most weary night, the morning came. Then how anxious to find the trail of the foe, and to find who and what they were. Long and anxiously did they search and follow the woods; but so cunning had the Indians been in concealing their retreat, by walking backward over soft places, wading and following brooks, and the like, that it was almost impossible to follow them. But in the course of the second day, Robert Ralston got fairly on the trail, and with thrilling joy found the footprints of Mary Parker! She was then alive! These were the prints of her own little foot! They were even and regular, too, as if she was well and strong, though undoubtedly sore at heart. Without stopping for food, or anything, save his rifle, Robert followed the marauders, determined to rescue his betrothed, or die in the attempt. In a light bark canoe, he followed them on the waters, and carried it over the mountains, until he had found them in the upper Saranac lake, as before mentioned. He was hanging on their rear, when Tomo and his two companions came to him. Not daring to fire his rifle, or to make a fire in the day time, he had lived on fish, caught at daybreak, and cooked in the dead of the following night.
Once more the little party were at the lower end of the Saranac, while the enemy, with their captive, was at the upper end, fifteen miles. They had come out of the pond, and were camped on a point projecting into the lake, by which the upper end is made into a bay in the shape of a T. Softly they went up the lake near the shore, listening to every sound, and watching every ripple of the waters. About midnight they passed the camp of the Indians, so silently, that not a dog barked. They could see that they had just come in from their night hunting, were talking and laughing, and apparently delighted with their success. The smell of roasting venison filled the air. Robert tried to pierce the darkness, to catch a glimpse of Mary, but in vain. In pursuance of their plan, upon which Robert had been contriving and working all day, and the night previous; some where about two o’clock in the morning, one of the Mohawks aroused his companions, and pointed to a small, bright, steady light on the Watch Rock, about a mile distant. They all started up and set off to see what it meant. In a moment, two more lights were seen, one east and the other west, deep in the bay! What could it be! As they came near Watch Rock, instantly the light was quenched. The others followed, and went out. They went round the rock, went to the shores—could hear nothing! Again they went to their camp to consult, when lo! these lights appeared again in three different places! They listened, but all was silence. They now began to be afraid. It must be Chepi! (ghosts.) The captive maiden, slightly bound, has her curiosity excited, and saw at once that it must be the light of the candle—sure sign that the white was near! She thought too that they burned steady and clear, like the candles of beeswax, which she had made for her own Robert to hunt with! She doubted in her own mind whether they were intended as signals to her, or for stratagem. After much talking and doubting, and fear, the Mohawks concluded once more to go out and see it if certainly was Chepi—and if so, to break up their camp, and be away as quickly as possible. They took their dogs with them to aid in the search. The lights now seemed to burn up directly out of the water! Again they came near, and again, one after another went out before they reached them. One of the old dogs stuck his nose over the side of the canoe, and after snuffing a moment uttered a yell. They all stopped and listened; but nothing was to be heard. Did old Wamparetah, (whitefoot,) see or hear a Chepi? Again they turned toward their camp, and when about half way to it, from where the lights were, they heard a blow, a low scream, and the paddles of a canoe! Cautiously they came to their swamp, when they found the sentinel whom they left with the captive, lying dead, with a blow which had crushed his skull. The captive, too, was gone, the fires put out or mostly so. Was it Chepi? They smoked and talked in low tones, until the day dawned. They then found the footprints of other feet beside their own, and little pieces of bark floating on the lake with pieces of candle on them, so well cut as to length, as to be quenched at the right time. They were more chagrined still, to find how completely they had been deceived.
The low scream which the Mohawks heard, was that of joy, when the captive maiden saw her lover strike one blow at the sentinel, and catch her in his arms the next moment. Quick as a deer, the youth bounded with her in his arms into the canoe, and long before the Mohawks got back to their camp, they were far down the lake.
All that night and the next day, the little party pushed on. On the second day, on “The Plains of Abraham,” they met a party of Green Mountain boys in pursuit. Loud were the cheers, warm the greetings, and unaffected the joy when Robert showed the uscathed, blushing maiden hanging on his arm. But who can tell the tears and sobs, when he delivered her to “the old folks?” They trembled, and wept, and laughed, and screamed. The loss of property was forgotten, and all united in a day of special thanksgiving to God, for his great goodness.
The neighbors all turned in and helped Robert put up a new house, and so he actually won his bride a month sooner than he otherwise would. Old Tomo assured all concerned, that the lesson which the Mohawks had received at Head Island, and on the Saranac lake, would keep them away in future. H pronounced Mary a pretty squaw, but stood to it, that the white man did not know how to court a wife.
[The School Friend.