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The Settlers in Canada
Chapter XVIII The Angry Snake

“Here come Martin and John at last,” said Mr Campbell, after they had been about a quarter of an hour at table.

But he was mistaken; instead of Martin and John, Malachi Bone made his appearance, and, to their surprise, he was accompanied by his young squaw, the Strawberry-Plant.

Everyone rose to welcome them, and the Misses Percival went to their little female acquaintance, and would have made her sit down with them, but she refused, and took her seat on the floor near the fire.

“She an’t used to chairs and stools, miss; let her be where she is,” said old Bone, “she’ll be more comfortable, and that’s what you want her to be, I’m sure. I brought her with me, because I could not carry all the venison myself, and also to shew her the way in and out of the house, and how it is fastened, in case of sending a message by night.”

“Of sending a message by night,” said Mrs Campbell, with surprise, “why, what possible occasion could there be for that?”

Captain Sinclair and Alfred, who perceived that the old hunter had said too much, were quite at a loss what to say.

They did not like to frighten Mrs Campbell and the girls about the Indians, especially as they had just been so much alarmed with the accident of the morning. At last Alfred replied, “The fact is, my dear mother, that ‘forewarned is being forearmed,’ as the saying is; and I told Martin to request Malachi Bone, if he should hear of any Indians being about or near us, to let us know immediately.”

“Yes, ma’am, that is the whole story,” continued Malachi. “It’s the best plan when you’re in the woods always to have your rifle loaded.”

Mrs Campbell and the girls were evidently not a little fluttered at this fresh intimation of danger. Captain Sinclair perceived it, and said, “We have always spies on the look-out at the fort, that we may know where the Indians are and what they are about. Last month, we know that they held a council, but that it broke up without their coming to any determination, and that no hostile feeling was expressed so far as we could ascertain. But we never trust the Indians, and they, knowing that we watch them, have been very careful not to commit any outrages; they have not done so for a long while, nor do I think they will venture again. At the same time, we like to know where they are, and I requested Alfred to speak to Malachi Bone, to send us immediately word if he heard or saw anything of them: not, however, that I intended that the ladies should be wakened up in the middle of the night,” continued Captain Sinclair, laughing; “that was not at all necessary.”

Malachi Bone would have responded, but Alfred pinched his arm; the old man understood what was meant, and held his tongue; at last he said, “Well, well, there’s no harm done; it’s just as well that the Strawberry should know her way about the location, if it’s only to know where the dogs are, in case she comes of a message.”

“No, no,” replied Mr Campbell, “I’m glad that she is come, and hope she will come very often. Now, Malachi, sit down and eat something.”

“Well, but about the Indians, Captain Sinclair,” said Mrs Campbell;—“that you have not told us all I am certain, and the conviction that such is the case, will make me and the girls very uneasy; so pray do treat us as we ought to be treated; we share the danger, and we ought to know what the danger is.”

“I do not think that there is any danger, Mrs Campbell,” replied Captain Sinclair, “unless Malachi has further information to give us. I do, however, perfectly agree with you, that you ought to know all that we know, and am quite ready to enter upon the subject, trifling as it is.”

“So I presume it must be, my dear,” observed Mr Campbell, “for I have as yet known nothing about the matter. So pray, Captain Sinclair, instruct us all.”

Captain Sinclair then stated what he had before mentioned to Alfred, and having so done, and pointed out that there was no occasion for alarm, he requested Malachi Bone would say if he had any further information.

“The Injuns did meet as you say, and they could not agree, so they broke up, and are now all out upon their hunting and trapping for furs. But there’s one thing I don’t exactly feel comfortable about, which is that the ‘Angry Snake,’ as he is called, was at the ‘talk,’ and was mighty venomous against the English, and has squatted for the winter somewhere about here.”

“The Angry Snake,” said Captain Sinclair. “Is that the chief who served with the French, and wears a medal?”

“The very same, sir. He’s not a chief, though; he was a very good warrior in his day, and the French were very partial to him, as he served them well; but he is no chief, although he was considered as a sort of one from the consequence he obtained with the French. He is an old man now, and a very bitter one. Many’s the Englishman that he has tied to the stake, and tortured during the war. He hates us, and is always stirring up the Injuns to make war with us; but his day is gone by, and they do not heed him at the council now.”

“Then, why are you uncomfortable about him?” said Mr Campbell.

“Because he has taken up his quarters for the winter hunting not far from us, with six or seven of the young warriors, who look up to him, and he is mischievous. If the Injun nation won’t make war, he will do something on his own account, if he possibly can. He’s not badly named, I can tell you.”

“Will he attack you?”

“Me! no, no; he knows better. He knows my rifle well; he has the mark on his body; not but that he would if he dared, but I am Injun myself, and know Injun craft. Then you see, these people have strange ideas. During the whole war they never could even hit me with their rifles, and they think I am not to be hurt—that’s their superstition—and my rifle, they think, never misses (they’re almost right there, for it does not once in a hundred times), so what with this and that, they fear me as a supernatural, as we call it. But that’s not the case with you all here; and if the Snake could creep within these palisades, he might be mischievous.”

“But the tribes know very well that any attack of this kind would be considered as a declaration of hostilities,” said Captain Sinclair, “and that we should retaliate.”

“Yes; but you see the Snake don’t belong to these tribes about us; his nation is much farther off,—too far to go for redress; and the tribes here, although they allow him to join the ‘talk’ as an old warrior who had served against the English and from respect to his age, do not acknowledge him or his doings. They would disavow them immediately and with truth, but they cannot prevent his doing mischief.”

“What, then, is the redress in case of his doing any mischief?” said Henry.

“Why, upon him and his band, whenever you can find them. You may destroy them all, and the Injuns here won’t say a word, or make any complaint. That’s all that can be done; and that’s what I will do; I mean to tell him so, when I meet him. He fears me, and so do his men; they think me medicine.”

“Medicine! What is that?” said Henry.

“It means that he has a charmed life,” replied Captain Sinclair. “The Indians are very superstitious.”

“Yes, they be; well, perhaps, I’ll prove medicine; and I’ll give them a pill or two out of my rifle,” said Malachi, with a grim smile. “Howsomever, I’ll soon learn more about them, and will let you know when I do. Just keep your palisade gates fast at night and the dogs inside of them, and at any time I’ll give you warning. If I am on their trail the Strawberry shall come, and that’s why I brought her here. If you hear three knocks outside the palisade at any hour of the night, why it will be her, so let her in.”

“Well,” said Mrs Campbell, “I’m very glad that you have told me all this; now I know what we have to expect I shall be more courageous and much more on my guard.”

“I think we have done wisely in letting you know all we knew ourselves,” said Captain Sinclair. “I must soon take my leave, as I must be at the fort before sunset. Martin and John are to come with me, and bring back the dog.”

“An’t the boy going with me?” said Malachi.

“Yes; to-morrow morning he may go, but after his return from the fort it will be too late.”

“Well, then, I may as well stay here,” replied Malachi. “Where is he?”

“He is gone to skin a wolf, which he shot this morning,” replied Alfred. “He will soon be here.”

Mrs Campbell shortly related to Malachi the adventure of the wolf. The old hunter listened in silence, and then gave a nod of approbation.

“I reckon he’ll bring home more skins than that this winter,” said he.

The party then rose just as Martin and John made their appearance. Captain Sinclair conversed with the Misses Percival, while the old hunter spoke to the Strawberry-Plant in her own dialect; the others either went out or were busy in clearing the table, till Captain Sinclair took his departure with John and Martin, each armed with a rifle.

“Well, this has been an exciting day,” observed Mr Campbell, a little before they retired to bed. “We have much to thank God for, and great reason to pray for His continued protection and assistance. God bless you all, my children; good night.”

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