Title: The Half-Breed; A Tale of the Western Frontier
Creator: Walt Whitman [listed as A Brooklynite]
Date: June 6, 1846
Whitman Archive ID: per.00359
Source: The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and King's County Democrat, June 6, 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).1
A TALE OF THE WESTERN FRONTIER.
BY A BROOKLYNITE.
Peter Brown was indeed much injured. When the monk looked upon him he saw that it would be dangerous to have him carried the distance between the cave and the village. Father Luke, as is frequently the case with those of his profession, had considerable knowledge of surgery and medicine—and he determined to tax that knowledge to its utmost for the benefit of his guest.
He prepared a simple plaster, and washing the wound, bound it round the blacksmith's head. Some cooling drinks were then given him, and he felt less faint.
"Tell me," said he to the monk, "what was done in the village, where you say you heard of this silly matter."
Father Luke thought the talk might wile away his patient's thoughts from his suffering, and he readily acceded to his request.
"You may imagine," said he, "with what horror we first heard the story of your death, and in such a manner. Your poor wife, with whom I had been for a couple of hours, was like one distracted—and wished at once to start forth for the scene of the calamity. We of course prevented her, for that would have done no good, even had the case been as bad as was stated.
"Shortly, on going into the heart of the village, I saw the hunting party themselves. Arrow-Tip was there, in custody between two of your neighbors, of whom I inquired more particularly with respect to your death. They stated that it was too true—that they had themselves seen your corpse. From what Boddo there has told me, it must have been while you were lying senseless after the blow. Bitterly grieving that such sad things should disturb the happiness of our peaceful settlement, I questioned the men over and over again with regard to the details of their story. But they told that story with evident truth—and I could not but believe them.
"It was hastily arranged that a party should be immediately despatched for your dead body. And in the mean time, Arrow-Tip was to be strictly guarded, and prevented from any chance of escape, until proper measures could be taken for his punishment. Judging from the fierce glances of your neighbors towards him—and their strongly-uttered sentiments of revenge—the poor Indian's fate, had you indeed been killed, would have proved quite as painful as yours; and, indeed, he would have followed you before many hours. A band of six are to keep watch day and night, in the strong room where he is confined."
Painful as was the situation of the blacksmith, he could not help feeling some sympathy for Arrow-Tip, to whose proud nature he knew the scoffs and threats of the villagers would be scathing agony. Confinement, too, even for a few hours, was a terrible infliction to such a being as the Indian chief—apart from the disgrace—which, in itself, was no small matter.
"Let Boddo go at once to the village," said the blacksmith, "and tell the truth of the story. And I would not have my wife come hither, at least at present—for I think of no good she can do. Now let us talk no more; for I feel a strange drowsiness all over me, and would sleep. Tell me, Father Luke, how long do you think will be the duration of my illness?"
"That," answered the monk, looking reverently upward, "is in the hands of God. But judging from the best of my knowledge, I may be able to recover you in three days, so that you can travel to your own house. At present you are not fit to walk a rod. At this very moment you are falling into a fever which will require all my watchfulness. Now, my son, compose yourself to sleep."
Drawing down a rude curtain that served the double office of door and of shade—if the latter were needed in so obscure an apartment—the monk took Boddo by the hand, and stepping into the outer part of the hut, gave him his directions, and his message and bade him hasten to the village. The hunchback sullenly listened, and made no rejoinder, as he started forth on his errand. Then softly stepping in again, the Lonesome Man took his seatreat beside the blacksmith, who already slumbered. He saw that his patient would indeed need his closest and most unremitting care.
Let us go with Boddo toward the village. Why as this hapless creature arrived beyond sight of the entrance to Father Luke's dwelling—why did he stop, and gaze cautiously around a moment, sit himself dawn upon a bank, and remain there a long hour apparently buried in the profoundest meditation? What thoughts passed through the miserable young man's brain as he rested there? What strange wishes, or petty resolves of evil, or hopes for revenge?
In the early light of that very day, it will be remembered, the hunchback had been detected by Arrow-Tip in the theft, and exposed before all of Mr. Thorne's family. Boddo, used as he was to all kinds of scorn and insult—had times when the bestowal of such insult would plant itself so deeply within his breast that it could never be blotted out, but by signal revenge. Once he was known to have kept for nearly two years, the memory of a blow given him by a boy, and taken vengeance for it, at last, by destroying a pet dog of his young injurer. Another time when refused by an irritable dame a drink of water, he, ten months afterwards, frightened the woman half to death, by wrapping a white garment around him, and starting out before her as she returned home alone one evening from a tea-party with some of her gossips. Numerous were the instances in which he would suddenly verge from his sometime patient endurance of contempt—such as that related at the opening of this tale—and resolve upon a signal scheme of retaliation.
The present case as he turned it over in his mind, might afford him an opportunity of repaying Arrow Tip for the shame of the event of the morning.—The chief was now in custody in the village, and, according to Father Luke's account, surrounded by those who had those who had little good-will toward him. Boddo felt sure that the course of 'justice'—were the people allowed to remain with the unquestionable belief of Peter Brown's death—would neither be very lenient, nor wait very long to be carried to its consummation. Suppose he should not do his errand, as enjoined upon him by Brown and the monk? The monk himself, in all probability, would be unable to leave the cave to visit the village—and they had desired him to request the absence of the immediate friends of the blacksmith. Would not his revenge then triumph?
The malignant hunchbackhuncback laughed in his heart, as he determined upon carrying out his plan. He rose, and with the swiftness of a deer, more than that of a man, he soon gained the neighborhood of the village.
Within a hundred rods, or thereabout, of the outermost house, Boddo beheld a party of eight or ten men approaching him with sedate and gloomy demeanour. Among them was Quincy Thorne.—They paid no attention to the hunchback, although he was directly in their path. But that personage, suspecting their errand, determined on accompanying them. He attached himself to Quincy, entered into conversation with him, and walked on with the rest.
"You have seen the body you say?" asked the boy, in rejoinder to something the hunchback was telling him; "and you are sure it was quite dead?"
Without design, Quincy looked full into the other's eyes. Boddo, resolute and impudent as he was, could not stand that gaze. His countenance expressed something from which young Thorne strongly judged he knew more of the matter than he felt disposed to tell.
"It was cold and stiff as a nail," answered Boddo, "and I was frightened, and run away from the place."
Less than an hour brought them to the limits of the spot. The two hunters who had heard the conflict, and carried Arrow-Tip to the rendezvous a prisoner, were with them, and pointed out the way.
How were they amazed upon coming to the exact place, to find the blacksmith's body missing! There were tracks and signs of a struggle—andend the blood lay thick upon the leaves where the hunters told Brown's body had been—but the corpse itself was no where to be seen!
For a minute or two they gazed on one another, without knowing what to do or say.
"Comrades!" said one of them, suddenly, "a new light breaks upon me. We all know that the brother of this cursed Arrow-Tip is near at hand. He was with us in the hunt. Without doubt he has concealed the body, in the hope to give the murderer a chance of escape from justice!"
The glances which, from each to his fellow, followed this opinion, showed that every one assented to it.
[To be continued.]2
1. This installment is preceded on the front page of the Eagle by a poem titled "The old man in Thought," attributed to Thos. Haynes Bayly. [back]