Niagara, to rise on thy light mist to realms above

As the dark shadows of night; gathered closely around, made brilliant by innumerable fire-flies, sportively decking all nature in spangles, women and children disappeared to their wigwams, while their dusky protectors seated themselves 'round the great fire, the red flashes of which fell brightly on the strongly bound prisoners, proud and defiant, awaiting their doom.

Only one more night and the mild rays of the moon would fall on good and bad alike--would gaze on the beautiful, bright colored path over the dark and fearful abyss they were so soon to follow to the Happy Hunting Ground. The breaking of the waves against the rocks on the shore, the melancholy cry of the night bird, like soft music, partially subdued their tortured spirits, and each recalled with fond longing the memory of a distant home now lying in ashes, and the sound of some voice now silent, whose tones would go with them to the Manitou's home.

Calm night, our soothing mother, bringing rest to all, freed them at last from the insulting taunts of their savage guards as their swarthy forms were swallowed up in the surrounding darkness.

Oh! how many heartfelt and anxious prayers have been sent, Niagara, to rise on thy light mist to realms above.

The Indian's simple supplication, so full of hope and faith, needed not the assistance of other creeds to be heard by _his_ Great Manitou. And if thou dost pray sincerely for strength, Grey Eagle, unflinchingly to stand thy torture and joyfully to take thy final leap, it will be given thee.

As the dampness of night fled from before the rays of the morning sun it revealed a cooler, calmer crowd around the big wigwam.

In sight of the great waters, and almost deafened by its thundering, warning voice, Sachems, Chiefs and Warriors were quietly and orderly assembled. Directly in front were placed the securely bound prisoners, surrounded by aspiring young braves, too willing to show their skill in throwing arrows and tomahawks as near as possible to the captives' heads, delighting the dusky children, who with the women formed the outside circle.

For several minutes the pipe, with the sweet-scented kinny-kinick, was passed from one to another in silence. Not a word escaped them, the Chiefs viewing with each other in betraying no symptom of idle curiosity or impatience. At length a Chief turned his eyes slowly towards the old Sachem, and in a low voice, with great delicacy in excluding all inquisitiveness, addressed him:

"Our father sent us the wampum; we are here, when our father speaks his childrens' ears are open,"--again resuming the pipe with due and becoming solemnity.

After a moment's silence, during which the children even became mute, the Sachem arose with dignity and commenced his brief story in a solemn, serious manner, becoming himself and the occasion.

"'Tis well; my childrens' ears shall drink no lies. Their brothers have been on the war-path. The Great Manitou smiled on the young brave; sent him back with fresh trophies and prisoners; not one escaped. The Great Manitou has also frowned on his people, hushed their song of triumph, sent them back to their tribe crying, 'where is the great War Chief, the nation's pride?' Do my sons see or hear the War Eagle in the wigwam of his people? No; he came not back; the Manitou needed him; he has gone to the Happy Hunting Ground; our eyes are dim; we shall see him no more. Who will lead the young braves on the war-path? Who will protect the wigwams, the women, children, and old men? Let my children speak, their father will listen."

With the last words all excitement seemed to pass from him, and the face of Great Oak assumed that immovable expression which rendered it so impossible to surmise what really were his thoughts or wishes. The murmuring wails of the women in remembrance of War-Eagle and the threatening tomahawks that were shaken at the prisoners, all ceased as slowly the first Chief again rose to speak.

"Let our brother, the young brave who followed where War Eagle led, and returned with prisoners and trophies to appease his mourning people--let the Black Snake speak, that we may know how to counsel our father."

The eyes of the young warrior thus alluded to flashed with fierce delight--his nostrils dilated with strong emotion. Passing with a haughty stride in front of the Chiefs, displaying to all the bloody trophies at his side, without dignity or feeling, but in an excited, vindictive manner, he gave an exaggerated account of the foe and the battle; spoke of the loss of the War Eagle; called on the young braves to help revenge his death, swinging his tomahawk around the heads of the prisoners, counting the scalps he had torn from the heads of their people, forcing them in their faces with malignant pleasure, and calling them women, who would cry when their tortures commenced. He said he only waited to attend the joyful dance before going on the war-path to avenge more fully the death of their Chief and earn the right to have a wigwam. He howled his fierce demands for an opportunity to show his willingness to execute the sentence the Chiefs should pass upon the prisoners. Then, adroitly pleading his youth, he said he would not ask to lead the braves on the war-path--he would follow where some braver one would lead. Throwing the string of scalps among the crowd, he said the women might have them to hang on their lodges--he was too young to carry them. Feeling he had made sufficient impression of his bravery to leave the decision in the hands of the Chiefs, without noticing his triumph in the applauding multitude, his fiery eyes rolled proudly from Chief to Chief. He passed with a haughty step before the Sachem, who had several times rather depreciated his bravery, rejoicing in this public opportunity of boasting a little before the Chiefs, evidently thinking it would greatly contribute to his ambitious purposes and make a good impression on the Sachem's dark-eyed daughter.

As he finished his speech the crowd commenced reciting the virtues of their deceased Chief, calling for revenge, and insulting the prisoners with every epithet their wild imagination could suggest. A dissatisfied "hugh" from the old Sachem caused the first Chief again to rise, when in an instant all again became quiet, such were the peculiar customs of these people and the great influence of their Chiefs and Rulers. In a calm voice he addressed again the old Sachem:

"Thy son has spoken with a brave and cunning tongue; yet he speaks not to the heart of his Chief. He is ready to strike the enemy. Who carries more arrows or sharper ones than Black Snake? Whose stone-headed war club is deadlier? Whose tomahawk is freer on the battle-field? The Black Snake coils himself under the bushes and springs upon his sleeping enemy. When they would strike him he is gone, and their club falls where he once stood. He will be a great warrior when he gathers a few more years. He needs experience to lead the young braves. Let our father speak from his heart, that he may hide nothing from his children, then will they know how to counsel."

Thus called upon, the old Chief rose with a calm brow, and advancing with great dignity, slowly scanned the faces of his dusky audience. His eyes beamed with respectful, hopeful submission on his circle of Chiefs, also upon the women judges, who make the final decision in choosing a new Chief after hearing the arguments in favor of each candidate. Glancing towards Black Snake with a stern, unwavering countenance, regarding the prisoners with unaffected sympathy, and finally resting with a fond look of painful solicitude upon his daughter, who was seated on a mossy carpet beneath a large tree, within hearing distance of all that was said--the wolf, the Fawn's devoted friend, coiled at her feet, and her neglected wampum carelessly thrown over his glossy neck--in a clear, low voice, as one who having once determined upon the necessity no hesitating fears should prevent, Great Oak addressed the now watchful and silent multitude.

"It is true the feet of the young brave have been far away on the war-path; his tomahawk and arrows have not been idle; he crept like a serpent upon his victims; his war club was stained with their blood; their scalps were many by his side; he came not back empty-handed; he brought prisoners to his people and gifts to his Manitou."

The low murmur of applause now increased to a shrill howl, which the echoing rocks sent flying on, mingling with the roar of the falling waters. This approval being taken for their approbation, which promised support to his opinion, Great Oak, thus confirmed in his remarks, continued:

"War Eagle came not back to his people; his wigwam is lonely; did he fly away like a frightened bird at the sight of his enemy?" An angry "hugh" was uttered sympathetically. "Did he die with his body filled with the arrows of his enemy?" After a short pause he answered himself:

"No, my children, the tomahawk was buried in the back of his head. Was his foe behind him? Yes, my children, but not Grey Eagle and his brave little band now standing in front of you. They were also in front of War Eagle, but he saw in them no enemies; Grey Eagle saw no enemies then. Look at the paint, of Grey Eagle and his braves; do you see the red and black worn by a Chief on the war-path? Has the Manitou thrown a cloud over the eyes of your Sachem? I see only the white paint of peace and friendship. When were our fathers ever known to bind a friend?

"Your Sachem has lived too long; he has lived to see the ceremonies of his people laughed at by boys--the sons of his friends with friendly colors bound at his feet by his own children, and the tomahawks of his people ready to bury themselves in their flesh."

The deep silence which succeeded these words sufficiently showed the great veneration with which his people received their ideas from their oldest Chief. All listened with breathless expectation for what was to come. Black Snake and his few followers scowled revengefully, though not daring to reply. The Sachem continued:

"The Great Oak can no longer overshadow and protect his people--can no longer preserve the ceremonies of his fathers. His strength has gone, and his counsels fall to the ground like the branches of the dying tree; he is needed here no more. When my children next fill a canoe for the Manitou, place the old tree and all belonging to him in it. The tired birds that have flown to him for rest he can no longer protect, and it is time his people burned him down out of the way, that the saplings may find more room to grow. Let the arrows and tomahawk of Great Oak be prepared for the Manitou--he would pass from his people forever."

With the last words he moved slowly from the circle, and, placing himself by the side of his daughter, closed his eyes, manifesting his resignation of all interest in their present or future state. An appealing wail from the multitude brought several Chiefs to their feet.

"Our father must not leave us; his voice is the voice of wisdom; when his childrens' ears drink lies and their counsels are foolish the wind brings truth to the ears of Great Oak; they will fade away when Great Oak's shadows are withdrawn. Can his children feast and dance when their father hides his face with shame? The Manitou has counseled the Great Oak in his sleep; the women are in tears, and the young men are silent. We have spoken, and we wait for the voice of our Sachem."

"Why do my children wait for the voice of a Chief, whose words fall like leaves in the cold blast to be trod on by boys?"

"The words of the Great Oak, like the leaves, can bury the people. Let our father speak to the hearts of his children that they may know what to do. Has the wind whispered in the ear of our father and he tells not his children their story? We listen for the voice of our Chief." The old Sachem slowly opened his eyes and once more rose to his feet, standing erect in front of the tree whose name he bore, where still, with the wolf stretched at her feet, the Gentle Fawn remained seated. Without deigning a glance upon the multitude, but looking in the distance, as if invoking unseen aid from the air or sky, dropping their figurative language, he spoke in a low, prophetic tone.

"Yes, there has been whispering in the ears of your Chief. He shut his eyes on all around him, and opened them on a sunny spot, far off, where the rivers know no ice and the moccasin never tracks in the snow. There were more wigwams than he could count, filled with happy people. He saw a band of braves as straight as the pines of their forest go on a long path to get furs and meat for their people. After moons of success they joyfully returned; but not to hear the voice of their fathers or ever to see their faces again. The hand of the foe had spared none; their homes were in ashes; their friends sent without food or presents on their long journey to the Manitou's hunting-ground. I saw these tired, sad hunters gather the scattered bones and relics of their tribe in a large circle, placing plenty of furs and food, with pipes, beads and arrows in the center, and cover them high with stones and earth that wild beasts could not move. And they placed the Manitou's mark on this mound that no foe would dare to desecrate. Then turning their faces from their once happy home they sought a new one, and people to help them revenge this deed and recover their land. Winding their way to the land of snow and ice they saw approaching a band of warriors covered with emblems of peace, and, leaving their stony weapons in care of the younger braves, they walked open-handed to meet the strangers. War Eagle stood foremost among them. While passing the calumet [Footnote: Pipe of peace.] of friendship their ears were deafened with the war-whoop from many mouths. A tomahawk flew swiftlier and deadlier than an arrow and hid itself in the head of War Eagle."

Then, turning his eyes upon the multitude, he would question, and, looking off in the distance, in the same prophetic voice answer:

"Did the tomahawk fly with the stranger's hand? They came open-handed-- left their weapons behind them. Did any of War Eagle's braves protect him while his spirit was passing on its long journey? No; the arms of yonder brave protected him until they were bound, to his side. Can War Eagle's spirit leave his friend to receive the torture of the condemned and be tossed in those dark whirling waters forever? No; I hear his moans mingle threateningly with the roar of the Manitou's voice. His spirit cannot rise to the beautiful path while his friends are prisoners to his people. Would you leave War Eagle forever hovering over the turbulent waters? Who will cut the thongs and set the spirit of War Eagle free by freeing his friends?"

The wild cries of the multitude were stilled by the long protracted howl of Black Snake as he sprung in front of the Chiefs. With a dexterous flourish of his tomahawk he separated the thongs, liberated the prisoners, and with a wave of his hand commanded silence, while, shouting in a loud voice, he replied to the old Sachem:

"Our father asks who bound War Eagle's friends! It was the spirits of darkness that blinded his childrens' eyes to the color of Grey Eagle, and whispered in their ears, 'they are enemies.' It was the spirit of darkness that killed War Eagle and whispered in the ears of his braves, 'revenge his death.' It is the voice of the good Manitou that whispered to the Great Oak, and he has saved his children from the Manitou's wrath and freed the spirit of War Eagle." This ingenious speech showed the cunning of some candidates for office even in those early times, and had the desired effect of winning the confidence of many of his dusky auditors. Long talks followed within the circle by the Chiefs, while preparations were being made for feast and dance around the council fire that night.

Aye, Niagara! thou didst lull with thy awful and solemn voice as anxious and also as happy hearts beneath the soft furs that wrapped those dusky maidens--mingling their sweet voices with thy deep bass, dancing beneath the old trees on thy wild banks--as any there have been since in the princely halls where the old trees once stood, beneath silks and diamonds, that rival thy beautiful drops, to music that drowns for a time thine own tremendous voice.

The attention of the Chiefs being directed to Grey Eagle, the youthful Chief stepped lightly but proudly in front of them. His manner plainly indicated him a brave warrior and hunter. As he spoke of his people, now nearly exterminated, he pointed out to the council the necessity, and expressed his willingness, of merging their existence in that of another tribe. Many looked upon him with sympathy and regard. Speaking of the foes of his people, his dark eyes lighted up with contemplated revenge-- his mouth curled with contempt. He called them snakes with forked tongues; he wished to drive them from the ever green and pleasant valley of his fathers; he wished to share the land with his brothers of the snowy hills. He proved his skill as an orator by swaying the minds of his hearers, and amidst great rejoicing stepped back to the side of his own braves.

The old Sachem looked at him encouragingly, while the shy Fawn, gathering up her no longer neglected wampum, bounded away to mingle with the Indian maidens, followed by the devoted wolf, and the affectionate eyes of her father and of many admiring braves.

The feast and dance continued long into the night; but sunrise found the warriors and braves straightening their arrows and sharpening their stony points and newly cording with sinews their idle bows, withing the heads of their tomahawks, war-clubs and spears. Great and earnest preparations were made to follow the river in its noisy course past its dark whirling basin, down the stony mountain to where it mingles its wild dancing waves with the calm and beautiful lake, bringing only the faintest murmurs of the great falling waters to their favorite hunting grounds.

Within that valley, before the sun drops beneath the bright waves of Ontario, will be decided by individual skill, unassisted by friendly influence, the right between Black Snake and his adopted brother, Grey Eagle, to fill the place made vacant by the death of War Eagle.

This was the decision of the women. Among the Indians genealogy is reckoned on the mother's side alone; and, therefore, the important business of selecting a candidate to fill the place of War Eagle, who left no near relative, devolved upon the women, who decided the successful combatant was to be the future War Chief of the tribe and claim the wampum with the old Sachem's dark-eyed daughter.

Sympathy was pictured in most of the faces of those dark warriors, when passing the Great Oak's wigwam they beheld the moist eyes and tender leave-taking of that heroic old Chief and his motherless child, whose future depended so much on the coming contest, as following one after another they disappeared in the forest.

"The Gentle Fawn will stay in the shadow of her wigwam and work on her wampum." And the old Chief, whose words were law, also disappeared, following the narrow winding path, watched by the Fawn till the dense foliage hid him from her view. Without hearing the slightest noise the Fawn felt a hand upon her shoulder. Turning quickly, she beheld the pleasant face of Grey Eagle. Turning his hand in formal recognition, he addressed her:

"The Grey Eagle's eyes are very true, and his arms are very strong; shall he shut his eyes when he draws his bow?"

"May Grey Eagle's aim never be truer or his arm stronger than to-day." And love-light flashed from the soft eyes of the pretty Seneca maid.

"The Fawn has spoken well; Grey Eagle hears. When the wish-ton-wish sings his evening song Grey Eagle will be here again. The Fawn will welcome him."

The last of the warriors disappeared, followed by the old women and children, the latter with shouts and songs, going far towards the brow of the mountain, where evening would still find most of them gathering sticks and pine cones to light the evening fires.