Title: The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as A Brooklynite]
Date: June 5, 1846
Whitman Archive ID: per.00358
Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and King's County Democrat, June 5, 1846: . Transcribed from digital images of a microfilm reproduction of an original issue.
Contributors to digital file: Sara Duke and Nicole Gray
cropped image 1
Original Novelette (Continued).
A TALE OF THE WESTERN FRONTIER.
BY A BROOKLYNITE.
Just out from the village, when the hunting party started that morning, they had been joined by Arrow-Tip's brother, the Deer. He, accompanied by a favourite dog, was watching the evolutions of a large bird that lazily skimmed near the surface of a cascade near by—a charming spot, that, were it in the neighbourhood of our eastern cities, would be visited by thousands for its beauty.
"Call the dog from me, brother," said the Deer, "he frightens the bird."
Arrow-Tip did as he was desired. The party had passed on, bidding the two Indians to follow. And the chief sat himself down a moment, at the foot of a large tree, and waited till the successful aim of the Deer should bring the bird to the ground. One hand grasped his hunting-bow, and with the other he caressed the dog.
The plot of the narrative makes it preferable not to detail minutely here all the events that took place during the day. One of those events—a startling and bloody one—has already been intimated to the reader, at the conclusion of the last chapter.
Soon after Arrow-Tip and the Deer came up with the rest of the party, whom they found proceeding onward with light and buoyant steps—they all arrived at the destined point of their enterprise. It is unusual in such cases for a band to be sub-divided into smaller groups, each having its section, or look-out spot. The animals to be hunted are thus encompassed and met at every turn, and seldom fail of becoming, sooner or later, a prey to the sportsmen.
"I think," said Mr. Thorne, "it will be the best for Quincy to come with my party. Arrow-Tip, suppose you and Peter Brown take the Bend at Oak Creek for your station?"
"That will suit me," answered the blacksmith.
Arrow-Tip also expressed his consent to the arrangement.
Four or five other groups, of two or three in each, were despatched to their various posts—and the business of the day soon commenced in good earnest.
It was fine sport—and the young villagers of Warren, in this case, found their labours attended with that alternate good and ill-fortune which makes such amusement more agreeable even than a continued current of success.
A hunt in the western forests! To those who have tasted of the fun, and know its pleasures, we need say but little! With the great woods all about, and no sign of man's neighborhood except the cheerful voices of your companions; with the wide, solemnly wide, stretching of unpeopled territory to a distance which it would take the journey of months to compass; with the blue sky overhead, clear, and not murky from the smoke of a million chimneys; with that strange, and exhilaratingexhilirating, and pervading sense of freedom, which strikes into all your sense and body, as it were, from the illimitable, and untrammelled, the boundless nature of every thing about you—is it not a right manly and glorious sport? There are no appearances of the artificial about such a hunt—no park walls and no cultivated and regularly-laid-out grounds to be crossed. It is all nature—all wild, beautiful, and inspiriting business, which no systematic chasing of a poor deer, within fences, and by trained packs, can equal! One week of such fine and wholesome recreation would do more good to our enervated city gentry, than a hundred gymnasiums, or all the medicines of the drug-shop!
During the morning, and the earlier half of the afternoon, the various groups of the party saw each other at intervals; and those who had been most successful threw out merry gibes against their less fortunate companions.
The day advanced, and the sun wanted but a couple of hours to his setting. Mr. Thorne, and one or two others, who, being the elder and more experienced, had, by general consent, been called upon to act as leaders of the party, began to think of collecting their scattered forces and returning homeward.
It was at this period that the following incident happened—casting a gloom over the occasion, and throwing the whole of the village, when it became known, in a paroxysm of agitation and horror.
Two of the hunters, young men who had come out with the rest of the party, had to pass, on their return to the general rendezvousrendexvous, near the station assigned to Peter Brown and the Indian. The young men made themselves a rude raft, and were floating down the river toward their destination—for this was an easier and more agreeable method of travelling than breaking their way through the thickets of the forest. As they came off against the mouth of Oak Creek they heard sounds of human voices in the wood, in loud and angry talk. They paused and listened. They soon distinguished the voices to be those of the blacksmith and Arrow-Tip.
From where they were situated, the hunters could not distinctly see the quarrellers—but the latter were within a few rods, and their voices, and much of what they said, might be easily heard.—Brown was plainly wrought up to a high pitch of passion, and swore most terribly. Not many moments elapsed before the two men upon the raft were convinced that the dispute had ended in a scuffle. Fearful that some more than ordinary harm might be the consequence, they seized their poles, and rapidly pushed the raft to the shore. Upon landing there, to penetrate the wood, and reach the place of the combatants, took them but a few moments.
They started in alarm as they came in close view of the spot. No scuffling or angry words were there now. Brown, the blacksmith, lay upon the ground with a heavy gash on the side of his head—and Arrow-TipArkow-Tip stood leaning calmly and sullenly against a tree.
"Good God!" exclaimed one of the intruders, "he has murdered him."
They stepped quickly to Brown's prostrate form, and raised him up in a sitting posture—but it was too late. All sense was gone, and they saw that what they could do to restore him, would be of little avail.
Horror-struck at the terrible nature of the whole affair—the impulse of both the men was first to fly the place and bring some of their companions.—Then a very natural sentiment of indignation arose in their bosoms towards the murderermuderer, who stood there with so much apathy. They feared that if they left the spot, he would escape.
"Chief!" said he who had first spoken, "you have done a damned action—and must go with us to answer for it!"
Arrow-Tip made no sign of repugnance. Had he done so, indeed, the result might have been somewhat unfavorable to the others. He was a strong and agile man, and held in his grasp the gun which they recognized as belonging to Brown. Once only, as a remark was passed between them, about the propriety of binding his arms, the savage looked towards their faces with a glance which caused them to desist from their intention.
Arrow-Tip then, as they signed him to follow, walked after them. He spoke not a word, and offered nothing in the shape of remonstrance, excuse, or justification.
Ere they left the ground, one of the hunters took a blanket, which he happened to have with him, and threw it over the senseless body. It was to be there but a few minutes—when they would return, and bear it to the village, in company with the criminal, whom the desired first to place in security.
Return we to the scene of the conflict, and to the senseless body. The hunters were mistaken in supposing it dead. Though severely injured, Brown was not deprived of life—the blow had stunned him, and the loss of blood had made him faint.
Some fifteen minutes elapsed, and the flickering consciousness of existence came back to the wounded man. It came at first, painful and dream-like—then fuller and with more distinctness. When he awoke to a knowledge of his situation, and realized why it was that he lay there with a bloody gash upon his temple, and his hair clotted, and his limbs quite nerveless—he remembered the altercation, and the blows passed between himself and the Indian. Cooler in temper now, he thought of twenty little things wherein he had been in the wrong, and he determined to make up the quarrel, the first time he and the chief met. He shut his eyes a moment, conscious of a drowsy and disagreeable sensation.
What impish creature was that who met Brown's gaze as he looked again? The leaves and the twigs crackled, and a form which mocked the outlines of humanity bent over him—It was Boddo.
"Hah!" said the half-breed, an expression of dissatisfaction settling upon his face; "is he alive?— I thought the blow had killed him outright!"
And a second time, and more plainly, disappointment was evinced upon his features.
"How came you here?" said Brown in a weak voice.
"I saw it all," answered the hunchback, chuckling. "O, I saw it all. I have followed him—curse him forever! since the morning; and I thought he had killed you. Don't you call that murder?"
The wounded man made a sign of assent.
"And then he would have been hung! O, that it might—"
Boddo paused, for he saw he was going too far. He had a species of cunning, notwithstanding his natural dulness—and that taught him, on the present occasion, to repress the remarks he was going to make, nothing more or less than sorrow because the savage had not indeed made himself amenable to the severest punishment of the law.
"I am as weak as a baby," said Peter. "O, what would I give for a drink of cool water, and a quiet rest of an hour or two!"
And a spasm of agony passed over the countenance of the speaker. He was evidently under much suffering.
"There is a place," rejoined Boddo, "nearer at hand, perhaps, than you imagine, where you might get what you wish."
The blacksmith looked up with a mute glance of inquiry in the other's face.
"Yonder," "continued Boddo, "where you see the crooked oak, is the cave of Father Luke. I have been there, and know the spot."
"Help me thither," said Brown, "and when I am taken home, I will remember your kindness."
He slightly raised his body, and waited for the hunchback's further assistance.
"See!" said that malicious personage, grinning, "how important is your Boddo, in cases of extremity! All along, no people care for him, except to mock him, until they are harmed, and then they ask his aid."
Brown, had he possessed his strength, would have found a summary way of replying to the provoking speech; but he was now fain to submit, and silently wait his pleasure.
The hunchback bent at the side of the blacksmith, and assisted him to rise. It was hardly until that moment that Brown felt how much injured he had really been. He could hardly hold himself up—and he shivered with a chill, and felt deadly sick.
So with slow and unsteady pace, leaning upon Boddo, and often stopping to rest against the trunk of a friendly tree, he traversed the few rods which intervened between the place of the quarrel and the rude dwelling of the Lonesome Man.
Boddo parted the shrubs around its entrance, and showed his companion the method of the safest ingress—for, either by accident or from its occupant's labour, there were certain thorny plants, and various twistings, and dark turns, which required some heed to read uninjured.
When they came into the room of the monk, they found it untenanted, without life or noise. They saw from the appearance of things that its dweller had probably left it that morning, and no doubt would be back ere long.
"Take that vessel," said Peter, faintly, pointing to a large tin cup which hung on the wall, "and bring me some water, from the nearest spring. I am dizzy and thirsty."
Boddo did as he was desired; and the sick man threw himself on a heap of bear skins that lay in one corner. He felt strangely, and miserably.—Perhaps, even now, the death Arrow-Tip had failed of inflicting, might not be far distant. He would have given half his little estate, had he been at home, and with his wife to soothe his sickness.
The indolent half-breed, loitering on his way to the spring, notwithstanding the emergency of the time, heard a step along a path near by, and, turning, saw Father Luke wending his way with hasty strides, and agitated features.
"Know you aught of this terrible business, my son?" said he, addressing Boddo, with a title which the poor wretch little knew his right to, in a worldly sense, as well as from the usage of the church.—"They tell me in the village that Peter Brown is murdered by Arrow-Tip!"
"What they say in the village is often false as true," replied Boddo, with a sneer.
The monk saw that the hunchback could relate more of the business—and a hope sprung in his mind that he should perhaps hear a refutation of the fearful rumor.
"Good son," said he, "do not tamper with me. Describe what you may of the matter, at once."
"Well, then," continued the other, "the plain truth is, that the Indian would have killed Peter, and did so try. But Peter, having a very thick skull, his life was saved. I saw it myself. They came and took Arrow-Tip away; and probably have him at the village, at this moment, where—"
"I know that," interrupted the holy father, impatiently; "I am just from Warren myself, and know all about that: Tell me where is Brown now?"
"Seeing the poor fellow in such distress," Boddo went on, "though to tell the fact, he did not know it himself for quite a long while—I, with my usual good kindness, walked round him and round him, and prayed for his recovery."
The hunchback leered.
"Blaspheme not!" said the monk, sharply. "Hasten with your narration, and use no more such wicked ridicule!"
"Shortly he came to himself, and I have taken the liberty of showing him the way to your luxurious dwelling, where he is at this moment reposing. Being dry, he wished a cup of water, which I am now to bring."
"God in heaven be blessed!" was the fervent ejaculation of the monk, as he heard Boddo's recital. "The curse of the Avenger of Blood will not fall on the chief's head—and the misery and crime be saved!"
Then bidding Boddo make speed, he turned toward the cave with a lighter heart.
[To be continued.]1