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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 21
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    A band of five-and-twenty Ojibways came filing down through the woods to the shore of Lake Ontario, at the point where the City of Toronto now stands. Back beyond the Lake aux Claies they had passed many lodges inhabited by women and children only, and had heard everywhere the same story: the men were all gone southward to Fort Niagara to take counsel with the English. This, too, was the goal of the Ojibways' journey, and Menehwehna hurried them forward.

    Fort Rouille by the waterside stood deserted and half ruined. They had hoped to find canoes here to carry them across the lake to Niagara; but here, too, all the male population had stampeded a week ago for the south, and those who wanted canoes must make them. This meant two days' delay but it could not be helped. They fell to work at once, cutting down elm-trees by the shore and stripping off their bark, while the children gathered from the lodges and stood at a little distance, watching.

    It was by no desire of his own that John made one of the embassage. As rumour after rumour of British successes came westward to Michilimackinac, and the Indians held long and anxious councils, he had grown aware that Menehwehna was watching him furtively, as if for a sign which could not be demanded in words.

    "Menehwehna," said he at length, "what is all this talk of English vengeance? It is not the way of my countrymen to remember wrongs after they have won the battle."

    "But who will assure my people of that?" asked Menehwehna. "They have heard that certain things were done in the south, and that toll will be taken."

    "What matters that to your people, though it be true? They were not at Fort William Henry."

    "But again, how shall they tell this to the English and hope to be believed?"

    "You cannot hide your heart from me, Menehwehna. You wish two things of me, and the first is my leave to tell your people that I am English."

    "Without your leave I will never tell them, my brother."

    "Did I ever suppose that you would? Well, as soon as you have told them, they will clamour for me to go to Fort Niagara, and at need to entreat for them. Now I say that there will be no need; but they will compel me to go, and you too will wish it. Have I not guessed?"

    Menehwehna was silent a while. "For my people I wish it," he said at length; "but for my own part I fear more than I wish."

    "You fear it because I go into great danger. By my countrymen I shall be rightly held a deserter; and, among them, for an officer to desert is above all things shameful."

    "But," answered Menehwehna with a cheerful readiness which proved that he had thought the matter out, "if, as you say, the Governor receive us kindly, we will hide that you are English; to that every man shall give his oath beforehand. If things go ill, we will hand you back as our prisoner and prove that we have kept you against your will."

    John shook his head, but did not utter the firm resolve of his heart--that even from ignominy no such lies should save him while he had a gun to turn against himself. "Why do you fear then, Menehwehna," he demanded, "if not for me?"

    "Do not ask, my brother!" Menehwehna's voice was troubled, constrained, and his eyes avoided John's.

    "Ah, well," said John lightly, after regarding him for a moment, "to you at least I will pay some of my debt. Go and tell your people that I am English; and add--for it will save talk--that I am ready to go with them to Fort Niagara."

    By dawn on the third day at Fort Rouille three canoes lay finished and ready, each capable of carrying eight or nine men. Pushing off from the Toronto shore, the embassage paddled southward across the lake.

    They came late that evening to a point of land four miles from Niagara, on the north side of the river mouth. Approaching it, they discerned many clusters of Indian encampments, each sending up its thin column of smoke against the sunset-darkened woods: but night had fallen long before they beached their canoes, and for the last three miles they paddled wide of the shore to skirt a fleet of fishing-boats twinkling with flambeaux, from the rays of which voices challenged them. The Ojibways answered with their own call and were made welcome. A common fear, it seemed, lay over all the nations-- Wyandots and Attiwandaronks from the west and north of Lake Erie, Nettaways and Tobacco Indians from around Nottawasaga Bay, Ottawas and Pottawatamies from the far west--who had not yet made their peace with the English. But Menehwehna, whose fear of arriving too late had kept him anxious throughout the voyage, grew cheerful again.

    They landed and pitched their camp on a spit of land close beside their old friend the Ottawa chief from L'Arbre Croche, to whose lodge Menehwehna at once betook himself to learn the news. But John, weary with the day's toil, threw himself down and slept.

    A touch on his shoulder awakened him at dawn, and he opened his eyes to see Menehwehna standing above him, gun in hand and dressed for an expedition.

    "Come," commanded Menehwehna, adding, as John's gaze travelled around upon the sleepers, "We two, alone."

    John caught up his gun, and the pair stepped out into the dawn together. An Indian path led through the forest to the southward, and Menehwehna took it, walking ahead and rapidly. Twice he turned about and looked John in the face with a searching gaze, but held on his way again without speaking. They walked in a dawn which as yet resembled night rather than day; a night grown diaphanous and ghostlike, a summer night surprised in its sleep and vanishing before their footfall. The flicker of fire-flies hurrying into deeper shades seemed, by a trick of eyesight, to pass into the glint of dew. The birds had not yet broken into singing, the shadows stirred with whispers, as though their broods of winged and creeping things held breath together in alarm. A thin mist drifted through the undergrowth, muffling the roar of distant waters; and at intervals the path led across a clearing where, between the pine-trunks to the left, the lake itself came into view, with clouds of vapour heaving on its bosom.

    These clearings grew more frequent until at length Menehwehna halted on the edge of one which sloped straight from his feet to a broad and rushing river. There, stepping aside, he watched John's eyes as they fell on Fort Niagara.

    It stood over the angle where the river swept into the lake; its timbered walls terraced high upon earthworks rising from the waterside, its roofs already bathed in sunlight, its foundations standing in cool shadow. Eyes no doubt were watching the dawn from its ramparts; but no sign of life appeared there. It seemed to sleep with the forests around it, its river gate shut close-lidded against the day, its empty flagstaff a needle of gold trembling upon the morning sky.

    Menehwehna had seated himself, his gun across his knees, upon a fallen trunk; and John, turning, met his eyes.

    "Do we cross over?"

    "To-day, or perhaps to-morrow. I wished you to see it first."

    "But why?"

    "Does my brother ask why? Well, then, I was afraid."

    "Were you afraid that I might wish to go back? Answer me, Menehwehna--By whose wish am I here at all?"

    "When I was a young man," answered Menehwehna, "in the days when I went wooing after Meshu-kwa, I would often be jealous, and this jealousy would seize me when we were alone together. 'She is loving enough now,' I said; 'but how will it be when other young men are around her?' This thought tormented me so that many times it drove me to prove her, pretending to be cold and purposely throwing her in the company of others who were glad enough--for she had many suitors. Then I would watch with pain in my heart, but secretly, that my shame and rage might be hidden."

    John eyed him for a moment in wonder. "For what did you bring me this long way from Michilimackinac?" he asked. "Was it not to speak at need for you and your nation?"

    "For that, but not for that only. Brother, have you never loved a friend so that you felt his friendship worthless to you unless you owned it all? Have you never felt the need on you to test him, though the test lay a hundred leagues away? So far have I brought you, O Netawis, to show you your countrymen. In a while the fort yonder will wake, and you shall see them on the parapet in their red coats, and if the longing come upon you to return to them, we will cross over together and I will tell my tale. They will believe it. Look! Will you be an Englishman again?"

    "Let us turn back," answered John wearily. "That life is gone from me for ever."

    "Say to me that you have no wish to go."

    "I had a wish once," said John, letting the words fall slowly as his eyes travelled over the walls of the fort. "It seemed to me then that no wish on earth could be dearer. Many things have helped to kill it, I think." He passed a hand over his eyes and let it drop by his side. "I have no wish to leave you, Menehwehna."

    The Indian stood up with a short cry of joy and laid a hand on his shoulder.

    "No, my friend," John continued in the same dull voice; "I will say to you only what is honest. If I return with you, it is not for your sake."

    "So that you return, Netawis, I will have patience. There was a time when you set your face against me; and this I overcame. Again there was a time when you pleaded with me that I should let you escape; and still I waited, though with so small a hope that when my child Azoka began to listen for your step I scolded her out of her folly."

    "In that you did wisely, Menehwehna. It is not everything that I have learned to forget."

    "I told her," said Menehwehna simply, "that, as the snow melts and slides from the face of a rock, so one day all thought of us would slip from your heart and you would go from us, not once looking back. Even so I believed. But the spring came, and the summer, and I began to doubt; and, as I questioned you, a hope grew in my heart, and I played with it as a bitch plays with her pups, trying its powers little by little, yet still in play, until a day came when I discovered it to be strong and the master of me. Then indeed, my brother, I could not rest until I had put it to this proof." He lit his pipe solemnly, drew a puff or two and handed it to John. "Let us smoke together before we turn back. He that has a friend as well as wife and children needs not fear to grow old."

    John stretched out a hand and touched the earthen pipe bowl. His fingers closed on it--but only to let it slip. It fell, struck against the edge of the tree stump and was shivered in pieces.

    Across the valley in Fort Niagara the British drums were sounding the reveille.

    He did not hear Menehwehna's voice lamenting the broken pipe. He stood staring across at the fort. He saw the river-gate open, the red-coats moving there, relieving guard. He saw the flagstaff halliards shake out the red cross of England in the morning sunlight. And still, like a river, rolled the music of British drums.


    Menehwehna touched his arm. At first John did not seem to hear, then his hand went up and began to unfasten the silver armlets there.

    "Netawis! O my brother!"

    But the ice had slipped from the rock and lay around its base in ruin, and the music which had loosened it still sang across the valley. He took a step down the slope towards it.

    "You shall not go!" cried Menehwehna, and lifting his gun pointed it full at John's back. And John knew that Menehwehna's finger was on the trigger. He walked on unregarding.

    But Menehwehna did not fire. He cast down his gun with a cry and ran to clasp his friend's feet. What was he saying? Something about "two years."

    "Two years?" Had they passed so quickly? God! how long the minutes were now! He must win across before the drums ceased . . .

    He halted and began to talk to Menehwehna very patiently, this being the easiest way to get rid of him. "Yes, yes," he heard himself saying, "I go to them as an Indian and they will not know me. I shall be safe. Return now back to my brothers and tell them that, if need be, they will find me there and I will speak for them."

    And his words must have prevailed, for he stood by the river's edge alone, and Menehwehna was striding back towards the wood. A boat lay chained by the farther shore and two soldiers came down from the fort and pushed across to him.

    They wore the uniform of the Forty-sixth, and one had been a private in his company; but they did not recognise him. And he spoke to them in the Ojibway speech, which they could not understand.

    From the edge of the woods Menehwehna watched the three as they landed. They climbed the slope and passed into the fort.
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