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    Chapter 17

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    Chapter 18
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    "And what will my brother do?"

    For minutes before John heard and answered it the question had been singing in his ears to the beat of the paddles. He supposed that Menehwehna had asked it but a moment ago.

    "I cannot tell. Let us press on; it may be we shall find my countrymen at Frontenac."

    "As a child breaks down a lodge which another child has built, and runs away, so your countrymen will have departed."

    Fort Amitie lay far behind. They were threading their way now among the Thousand Isles, and soon Lake Ontario opened before them, spreading its blue waters to the horizon. But John heeded neither green islands nor blue lake, nor their beauty, nor their peace, but only the shame in his heart. He saw only the dazzle on the water, heard only the swirl around his paddle, stroke by stroke, hour after hour; prayed only for fatigue to drug the ache and bring about oblivion with the night.

    Coasting the shore they came at the close of day upon the charred skeletons of three ships lifting their ribs out of the shallows against the sunset, and beyond these, where the water deepened, to a deserted quay.

    They landed; and while they climbed the slope towards the fort, out of one of its breaches its only inhabitant crawled to them--a young dog, gaunt and tame with hunger.

    The dog fawned upon Menehwehna. But John turned his back on the smoke-blackened walls in a sick despair, seated himself on the slope, and let his gaze travel southward over the shoreless water. Beyond the rim of it would lie Oswego, ruined by the French as the English had ruined Frontenac.

    The dog came and stretched itself at his feet, staring up with eyes that seemed at once to entreat his favour and to marvel why he sat there motionless. Menehwehna had stepped down to the canoe to fetch food for it, and by and by returned with a handful of biscuit.

    "He will be useful yet," said Menehwehna, seating himself beside the dog and feeding it carefully with very small pieces. "He cannot be more than a year old, and before the winter is ended we will make a hunter of him."

    John did not answer.

    "You will come with me now, brother?" Still Menehwehna kept his eyes on the dog. "There is no other way."

    "There is one way only," answered John, with his eyes fastened on the south. "Teach me to build a canoe, and let me cross the water alone. If I drown, I drown."

    "And if you reached? Your countrymen are all gathering back to the south; until the snow has come and passed, there will be no more fighting. You are better with me. Come, and when the corn begins to shoot again you shall tell me if you are minded to return."

    "Menehwehna, you do not understand."

    "I have studied you, my brother, when you have not guessed it; and I say to you that if you went back now to your people it would be nothing to their gain, nor to yours, for the desire of fighting has gone out of you. Now in my nation we do not wonder when a man loses that desire, for we put it away as men by eating put away the desire of food. All things come to us in their season. This month the corn ripens, and at home my wife and children are gathering it; but anon comes the Moon of Travel, and they will weary of the village and watch the lake for me to arrive and lead them away to the hunting-grounds. So the beasts have their seasons; the buck his month for belling, and the beaver his month for taking shelter in his house which he has stored. And with us, when the snow melts, it may happen that the war-talk begins--none knowing how--and spreads through the villages: first the young men take to dancing and painting their faces, and the elder men catch fire, and a day sees us taking leave of our womankind to follow the war-path. But in time we surfeit even of fighting, and remember our lodges again."

    Menehwehna paused awhile, and patted the dog's head.

    "Therefore, brother, were you of our race, I should not wonder that the spirit of war has gone out of you. I myself am weary of it for a season; I forget that Frenchman differs from Englishman, and think of the sound of thin ice above the beaver's wash, the blood of the red-deer's hocks on the snow, the smell of his steak over the fire. But of the pale-faces some are warriors, some are not; and the warriors fight, year in and year out, whenever they can. That is your calling, brother, is it not?"

    "I am not grown a coward, I hope."

    "No," said Menehwehna thoughtfully, "you are not a coward; else my heart had never gone out to you. But I think there is something dead within you that must come to life, and something alive within you that must die, before you grow into a warrior again. As for your going back to-day, listen--

    "There was war once between our nation and the Pottawatamies, and in an open fight our braves killed many of their enemies and scattered the rest to their villages. Great was the victory, but mournful; for in the chase that followed it an arrow pierced the throat of the leader of the Ojibways. His name was Daimeka, and he a chief in my own island of Michilimackinac. Where he fell there he lay. His people lifted the body and propped it against a tree, seated, with its face towards the forest into which the Pottawatamies had fled. They wiped the dirt from his head-dress, set his bow against his shoulder, and so, having lamented him, turned their faces northward to their own country.

    "But Daimeka, although he could neither speak nor stir, saw all that his friends did, and heard all that they said. He listened to their praises of him and their talk of their victory, and was glad; he felt the touch of their hands as they set out his limbs against the tree, but his own hands he could not lift. His tears, indeed, ran as they turned to abandon him; but this sign they did not see, and he could give no other.

    "The story says that little by little his hot tears melted the frost that bound him; and by and by, as he remembered the cry of home-coming--'Kumad-ji-wug! We have conquered!'--his spirit put forth an effort as a babe in its mother's travail, and he found his feet and ran after the braves. Then was he mad with rage to find that they had no eyes for him, and he no voice to call their attention. When they walked forward he walked forward, when they halted he halted, when they slept he slept, when they awoke he awoke; nay, when they were weary he felt weariness. But for all the profit it brought him he might still have been sitting under the tree; for their eyes would not see him, and his talk to them was as wind.

    "And this afflicted him so that at length he began to tear open his wounds, saying, 'This, at least, will move them to shame, who owe their victory to me!' But they heeded nothing; and when he upbraided them they never turned their heads.

    "At length they came to the shore where they had left the canoes, and put across for the island. As they neared it the men in Daimeka's canoe raised the war-shout, 'Kumad-ji-wug! We have conquered!' and old men, wives and children came running from the village, his own father and wife and children among them. 'Daimeka is dead!' was shouted many times in the uproar; and the warriors spoke his praises while his father wept, and his wife, and his two small ones.

    "'But I am alive!' Daimeka shouted; for by this time he was in a furious passion. Then he ran after his wife, who was fleeing towards his own lodge, tearing her hair as she went. 'Listen to me, woman!' he entreated, and would have held her, but could not. He followed her into the lodge and stood over her as she sat on the bed, with her hands in her lap, despairing. 'But I am alive!' he shouted again. 'See how my wounds bleed; bind them, and give me food. To bleed like this is no joke, and I am hungry.' 'I have no long time to live,' said the woman to one of the children, 'even now I hear my man calling me, far away.' Daimeka, beside himself, beat her across the head with all his force. She put up a hand. 'Children, even now I felt his hand caressing me. Surely I have not long to live.'

    "'I was better off under the tree,' said Daimeka to himself, and strode forth from the lodge. By the shore he launched one of the canoes; and now he felt no wish in his heart but to return to the battlefield and sit there dead, if only he could find his body again which he had left--as he now felt sure--sitting beneath the tree.

    "On the fourth day he reached the battlefield. Night was falling, and as he sought the tree he came on a blazing fire. Across it he could see the tree plainly, and at the foot of it his body with the light on its face.

    "He stepped aside to walk round the fire; but it moved as he moved, and again stood in his path. A score of times he tried to slip by it, but always it barred his way, and always beyond it stood the tree, with his own face fronting him across the blaze.

    "'Fire, I am a fool,' said he at the last; 'but, fire, thou art a worse fool to think that Daimeka would turn his back!' And so saying he strode straight through its flame. At once he found himself seated with his back to the tree in his dress of war, with his bow resting against his shoulder. 'Now I am dead,' said he, contentedly; nevertheless he began to finger his bow. 'On what do the dead feed themselves?' he wondered; and, for a trial, fixed and shot an arrow at a passing bird: for above the tree there was clear sky, though darkness lay around its foot and in the darkness the fire still burned. The bird fell; he plucked it, cooked it at the fire, and ate.

    "'In life I never ate better partridge,' said Daimeka, 'but now that I am a real ghost I will return once more to Michilimackinac and frighten my wife out of her senses, for she deserves it.'

    "So when the fire died down he arose, warm in all his limbs, and started northward again. On the fourth day he found his canoe where he had left it, and pushed off for the island. But, as he neared the shore, a man who had been standing there ran back to the village, and soon all his folk came running down to the beach, his wife in their midst.

    "'Daimeka!' they cried. 'It is indeed Daimeka returned to us!'

    "'That may be,' said Daimeka, as his wife flung her arms around him; 'and again, it may not be. But, dead or alive, I find it good enough.'

    "Such, my brother, is the tale of Daimeka. Is it better, now, to return to your people as a ghost or as a man who has found himself?"

    John lifted a face of misery.

    "Come," said Menehwehna, looking him straight in the eyes, and letting his hand rest from patting the dog, which turned and licked it feebly.

    "I will come," said John.
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