The Eyes of the Woods - Cover

The Eyes of the Woods

Copyright© 2023 by Joseph A. Altsheler

Chapter 11: The Greater Powers

When the Shawnee chief rose to talk he stood at one side of the open space, scarcely twenty feet from the corner of the council house in which Henry lay hidden, and as he said what he had to say in the usual oratorical manner of the Indians upon such occasions, the youth easily heard every word.

Red Eagle spoke in Shawnee, which Henry surmised was a kindred language to that of the village, and which it was obvious they easily understood. He told them a startling tale. He said that far in the south five white scouts and foresters, two of whom were only boys in years, although one of the boys was the largest and strongest of the five, had kept the Indians from destroying the white settlements in Kain-tuck-ee. By trick and device, by wile and stratagem, they had turned back many an attack. It was not their numbers, but the cunning they used and the evil spirits they summoned to their aid that made them so powerful and dangerous. Until the five were removed the Indians could not roam their ancient hunting grounds in content.

So the Shawnees, the Miamis, the Wyandots, the Delawares and the kindred tribes had organized to pursue the five to the death. They had struck the trail of one, the youth who was the largest, the strongest and the most formidable of them all, and they had never ceased to follow it. Twice they had drawn around him a ring through which it seemed possible for nothing human to break, but on each occasion he had called to the evil spirits, his friends, and they had answered him with such effect that he had vanished like a bird at night.

Murmurs of wonder came from the listening crowd. Truly, the young white warrior was of marvelous prowess, and it would not be well for one of them alone to meet him, when he not only had his formidable weapons, but could summon to his help spirits yet more dreadful. They cast apprehensive glances at the deep woods into which he had fled.

Red Eagle was an impressive orator, and the forest setting was admirable. The great Shawnee chief stood full six feet in height, his brow was broad and his eyes clear and sparkling. He made but few gestures, and he spoke in a full voice that carried far. Before him were the people of the village, and behind him was the great forest, blazing in autumn red. The renegades, Blackstaffe and Wyatt, stood near, each leaning against a tree trunk, following closely all that Red Eagle said. They, too, wished the destruction of the great youth, but their enmity to him was baser than that of the Indians, since it was an innate jealousy and hatred, and not a hostility based upon difference of race and interest.

When Henry looked at the renegades the desire to laugh was strong again. What rage they would feel if they ever came to know that when Red Eagle was making his address with his veteran warriors around him, the fugitive, for whose capture or death a red army had striven in vain for days, lay at his ease within fifty or sixty feet of them, a buffalo robe of the Indians’ themselves, his bed, and one of their own houses his shelter!

Red Eagle continued, in his round, full voice, telling them he had tracked the fugitive northward, his warriors picking up the trail again, and that he must have passed near their village. He wished to know if they had seen any trace of him, and he asked their help in the hunt. A middle-aged man, evidently the head of the village, replied with equal dignity, but in a dialect that Henry could not understand. Still, he assumed that it was a full assent, as, a few minutes after he had finished, ten warriors of the village, taking their weapons, went into the forest, and Henry knew that they were looking for him or his trail. But Red Eagle, his warriors and the renegades remained by the fire, still resting, because they were weary, very weary, no fugitive before ever having led them such a troublesome chase.

Red Eagle, the Shawnee chief, was a statesman as well as a warrior. While it was true that young Ware was helped by evil spirits, he felt that the pursuit must be maintained nevertheless. Ware was the great champion of the white people, who far to the south were cutting down the forest and building houses. He had acquired a wonderful name. His own deeds were marvelous, but superstition had added to the terror that he carried among the Indians. He must be removed. The necessity for it grew greater and more pressing every day. All the Indian power must be turned upon him, and when the task was achieved they could deal with his four comrades. He had talked over the problem with Yellow Panther, first chief of the Miamis, a man full of years, wise in council and great on the war path, and he had agreed with him fully that the pursuit must be maintained, even if it went to the Great Lakes, or those other great lakes in the far misty Canadian region beyond.

Now, Red Eagle, as he rested by the fire and received the hospitality of the tiny tribe in the wilderness, was very thoughtful. Intellect as well as prowess had made him a great chief; like the one whom he pursued, he loved the forest, and when he looked upon it now, in all its glowing colors of autumn, the glossy browns, the blazing reds and the soft yellows, he was not willing for a single one of its trees to be cut down. And while he meant to carry the pursuit to the very rim of the world he knew, if need be, he did not withhold admiration and a certain liking for the fugitive.

Red Eagle glanced at the renegades, who had sat down now before the fire and who were in a half doze. Although they were useful to the Indians, who valued them for many reasons, he felt a strong aversion toward them at that moment. He knew that if Ware were taken they would clamor at once for his life. None would be more eager for the torture than they, but Red Eagle had another plan in his mind. The principle of adoption was strong among the Indians. Captives were often received into the tribes, and Ware, with death as the alternative, might become a splendid young adopted son for him and, in time, the greatest chief of the Shawnees. He would not come as a renegade, like Blackstaffe and Wyatt, but as a valiant prisoner taken fairly in battle, to whom was left no other choice.

It was to the credit of Red Eagle’s heart and brain, as he sat deeply pondering, that he evolved such a plan, but he made one mistake. High as he estimated the mental and physical powers of the fugitive to be, he did not estimate them high enough. Few would have had the strength of will that Henry displayed then to lie quiet in the council house while his enemies were all about him and the warriors were searching the forest around for his trail. It was fortunate, in truth, that the snow had come and passed, hiding any possible traces he might have left.

His conviction that he was safe, for the present at least, remained. He knew there was no occasion for the chiefs to enter the sacred building in which he lay, and the others would not dare to do so. Nothing troubled him at present but thirst. His throat and mouth were dry and craved water, as one in the desert, but he knew that he must endure.

Late in the day, the warriors of the village who had gone out to look for his trail began to return, and when they had made their reports, Henry knew by the disappointment evident on the faces of Red Eagle and the renegades, that they had found nothing. He saw the Shawnee chief give orders to his own men, half of whom plunged into the forest to the northward and disappeared. They reckoned that he had gone on, and, spreading out in the usual fan fashion, would continue the pursuit. But it seemed that Red Eagle, with the remainder of his immediate force and the renegades, intended to pass the night in the village.

A supper of great abundance and variety was served to the Shawnee chief and his men, and, when he saw the pure fresh drinking water brought to them, Henry raged inwardly. They had not taken him yet, but already he was being put to the torture. It was bitter irony that he should suffer so much for water when the forest contained countless streams and pools. He shut his teeth tight together and waited for the coming of the night, now not far away. The lack of water would drive him out of the council house, and in the dark he must seize anything that looked like an opportunity.

He hoped for the clouds again and another veil of snow, however thin, but his hopes were not fulfilled. When the slow dusk came, he lifted the buffalo curtain and emerged from his corner, feeling an intense relief, despite the shooting pain, because he could stand up again. Then he stretched and rubbed himself until all the soreness was gone from his muscles, and, standing there, tried to think of a way to escape.

His eyes, used to the dark of the room, fell upon a great headdress of twisted buffalo horns, profusely decorated with feathers. A long coat of buffalo skin adorned with feathers and porcupine quills in strange designs lay beside it upon the poles. He had seen many such equipments. It was a sort of regalia worn by Indian dancers, and now and then by great chiefs upon solemn occasions.

He looked at it, idly at first, and then with growing interest, as an idea was born in his brain. The dress must be almost sacred in character, or it would not be left here in the council house, and kind fortune had certainly put it on the poles for his particular use. Once more he was thoroughly convinced that he was watched over by the greater powers, not because of any especial merit of his, but for reasons of their own, and he clothed himself in the headdress and the strange, variegated robe that fell to his ankles. Then even Shif’less Sol would have had to take a third look to know him.

Henry’s heart beat high and fast. He was thoroughly convinced that he had found a way. He had now only to use that rarest and greatest of qualities, patience, and, by a supreme exertion of the will, he managed to wait until it was far into the night.

Red Eagle had gone into one of the log cabins, and was probably asleep. Henry, from the crack, was not able to see what had become of the renegades, but he surmised that they, too, were sleeping somewhere. Two of the fires still burned in the open, but nobody watched beside them, and he judged that the time was ripe for the trial.

He gave a final touch to the headdress and the buffalo robe. He would have been glad to have seen himself in a glass, but he was sure, nevertheless, that he looked his part of a great medicine man, a reincarnation of some ancient chief who had come back to spend a while within the sacred precincts of the council house. His rifle he managed to hide beneath the great painted coat, at the same time holding it convenient for his use, and, lifting the curtain of buffalo robe, he stepped out.

It was neither a dark nor a fair night, but much fleecy vapor was floating between earth and sky, imparting to the village and the forest a misty, unreal effect which was suited admirably to Henry’s purpose, enlarging his figure and giving to it a fantastic and weird effect. Knowing it, and having the utmost confidence in himself, he chose a path directly through the center of the open, walking slowly, but taking strides of great length and stepping from tiptoe to tiptoe.

Two Indian sentinels, a Shawnee and a native of the village, were dozing by the wall of one of the log cabins, when they heard the step in the open. They lifted heavy eyelids and beheld a gigantic figure, attired in a garb that ordinary mortals do not wear, stalking toward the forest, caring nothing for the sentinels, the village or anything else. They were in the midway region between sleeping and waking, when images are printed upon the brain in confused or exaggerated shapes, and the mysterious visitor, who was even then taking his departure, seemed to them at least fifteen feet high, while, from under the headdress of twisted buffalo horns, two great eyes, hot and blazing like coals, stared at them. This terrifying figure, as they gazed upon it, raised a huge hand full of menace and shook it at them. They gave a yell of terror and darted into the forest.

The source of this story is Finestories

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