Unella” is by Madge, a subscriber to Robert Merry’s Museum; she was probably in her twenties when this story was published. In an overt example of romanticism, a white child is adopted by Native Americans; this story exemplifies an idealized self often found in pieces by inexperienced writers.

“Unella,” by Madge (from Robert Merry’s Museum, June 1865; pp. 171-173)

Far in the depths of the grandest of American forests lived a tribe of Indians, fierce and warlike in temper. The greensward where their wigwams were pitched was smooth and soft as velvet, and the sun shone down in flickering gentle rays through the tall trees. But they did not stay much in this lovely spot, but all the men of the tribe were off daily on long excursions, leaving the women and children—or, as they call them, squaws and pappooses—to take care of the wigwams and cock their suppers; for they came home hungry enough from all their hunting and fighting, you may be sure, and sometimes not in the best of humors.

Among the “pappooses” that spent their time in playing through the woods, after they were old enough to be released from their birch-bark cradles, was a little girl very different from the others in appearance. Her complexion was not brown and dark like theirs, but fair and rosy, though somewhat tanned by exposure to the sun, and her eyes were blue and soft instead of black and glittering, and her hair hung in long brown ringlets, unlike the straight Indian elf-locks. You will conjecture at once she was

p. 172

an English child. She had been found by one of the prominent chiefs in a raid on a hostile tribe, and carried off with other booty. Charmed by her cunning and winsome ways, she had found her path into the hearts of all this fierce and silent race, and was adopted as a little pet and princess by universal consent. They knew nothing of her name or history further than has been related, and she herself knew as little. She was called Unella, a pretty and musical name which well became her. Mercilessly she tyrannized in her childish days over the old squaw, Menonnu, who had the care of her. And capriciously she received the gifts which the stern-browed warriors brought, many of them, at the close of each day. She ruled the little throng of children entirely at her pleasure. To be selected as playmate by Unella was a much-coveted honor, and many frowns followed the unlucky wight who displeased her. This was never Ondino, the tallest and strongest and bravest of the boys, and a chief’s son. He was the most quiet and reserved of all Unella’s playmates, never engaging in a noisy conflict of words and blows. But he followed Unella like her shadow; and if she found a basket of large fresh berries at the door of her wigwam in the early morning, or a bunch of bright and rare forest flowers, she well knew who had placed them there.

So the years rolled on, and Unella grew into a sunny maiden of sixteen, and her old playmates into tall boys and girls older and younger than herself. But Ondino was still the tallest and bravest and proudest, and still as devoted to Unella. She had a beautiful little bow and quiver full of arrows that one of the old men had made for her, and it was Ondino who taught her to shoot. And one day, rambling off alone, she sat down on a rock by the side of the river, and leaned over to look at the great waterfall too far, for her foot slipped; it was no one but Ondino who caught and saved her. She clung to him trembling, when she realized what she had escaped, and as she looked up in his face, saw tears for the first time in his dark eyes. But his voice was calm when he told Unella to avoid that place, as the rock was not firm.

There was an end coming to this wild woodland life. A council of the great men of the tribe met to prepare for the reception of some distinguished strangers. A body of white men, powerful and wealthy, were traveling through the country from the far East, and wished to visit the spot, with only friendly intentions. So the calumet of peace was made ready for their welcome.

The rest is soon told. How one of the noblest, most distinguished among them saw Unella in her robe of soft furs, with bracelets on her beautiful arms, standing like a lily amid dark shadows. How in her lovely features he saw the face of a dead wife, and of a daughter long supposed dead, but whom he now knew to be alive and before him. There needed no proof, but enough was given by the chief who had taken Unella from the hostile tribe by whom she was stolen.

All that long night, in front of Helen Langley’s—or let us still say Unella’s—wigwam, paced a dark figure, with regular, noiseless steps. The arms were folded, the lips set, in the dim starlight. As the morning dawned he turned to go, but stopped, hesitated, and finally waited and watched. At last, as he expected, Unella appear-

p. 173

ed, her face pale and her eyes heavy with tears, for it was hard to break up the ties of her life, even to go with one whom she already loved, as her father.

“Take this, Unella,” said Ondino, finally, “my last gift. Farewell, my star! The glory of Ondino’s life sets with your going. Farewell!”

And he was out of sight in an instant. He had given her a little box made of beautifully-veined wood exquisitely polished, and in it a small but heavy gold cross, made with little skill, but simple and beautiful.

It was a sad parting with the friends and protectors of her childhood, and eyes unused to tears, moistened as she rode away. And in her lovely home, though she never saw Ondino’s face again, she kept him always in faithful and kind remembrance.

Copyright 1999-2024, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.