Chapter 32 IN WHICH WE ARE THE GUESTS OF AN EMPEROR
I HAD before this spent days among the Indians, on voyages of discovery, a_onqueror, as negotiator for food, exchanging blue beads for corn and turkeys.
Other Englishmen had been with me. Knowing those with whom we dealt for sl_nd fierce heathen, friends to-day, to-morrow deadly foes, we kept our musket_eady and our eyes and ears open, and, what with the danger and the novelt_nd the bold wild life, managed to extract some merriment as well as profi_rom these visits. It was different now.
Day after day I ate my heart out in that cursed village. The feasting and th_unting and the triumph, the wild songs and wilder dances, the fantasti_ummeries, the sudden rages, the sudden laughter, the great fires with thei_ings of painted warriors, the sleepless sentinels, the wide marshes tha_ould not be crossed by night, the leaves that rustled so loudly beneath th_ightest footfall, the monotonous days, the endless nights when I thought o_er grief, of her peril, maybe,—it was an evil dream, and for my own pleasur_ could not wake too soon.
Should we ever wake? Should we not sink from that dream without pause into _eeper sleep whence there would be no waking? It was a question that I aske_yself each morning, half looking to find another hollow between the hill_efore the night should fall. The night fell, and there was no change in th_ream.
I will allow that the dark Emperor to whom we were so much beholden gave u_ourteous keeping. The best of the hunt was ours, the noblest fish, the mos_elicate roots. The skins beneath which we slept were fine and soft; the wome_aited upon us, and the old men and warriors held with us much statel_onverse, sitting beneath the budding trees with the blue tobacco smok_urling above our heads. We were alive and sound of limb, well treated an_ith the promise of release; we might have waited, seeing that wait we must, in some measure of content. We did not so. There was a horror in the air. Fro_he marshes that were growing green, from the sluggish river, from the rottin_eaves and cold black earth and naked forest, it rose like an exhalation. W_new not what it was, but we breathed it in, and it went to the marrow of ou_ones.
Opechancanough we rarely saw, though we were bestowed so near to him that hi_entinels served for ours. Like some god, he kept within his lodge with th_inding passage, and the hanging mats between him and the world without. A_ther times, issuing from that retirement, he would stride away into th_orest. Picked men went with him, and they were gone for hours; but when the_eturned they bore no trophies, brute or human. What they did we could no_uess. We might have had much comfort in Nantauquas, but the morning after ou_rrival in this village the Emperor sent him upon an embassy to th_appahannocks, and when for the fourth time the forest stood black against th_unset he had not returned. If escape had been possible, we would not hav_waited the doubtful fulfillment of that promise made to us below th_ttamussac temples. But the vigilance of the Indians never slept; they watche_s like hawks, night and day. And the dry leaves underfoot would not hol_heir peace, and there were the marshes to cross and the river.
Thus four days dragged themselves by, and in the early morning of the fifth, when we came from our wigwam, it was to find Nantauquas sitting by the fire, magnificent in the paint and trappings of the ambassador, motionless as _iece of bronze, and apparently quite unmindful of the admiring glances of th_omen who knelt about the fire preparing our breakfast. When he saw us he ros_nd came to meet us, and I embraced him, I was so glad to see him. "Th_appahannocks feasted me long," he said. "I was afraid that Captain Perc_ould be gone to Jamestown before I was back upon the Pamunkey."
"Shall I ever see Jamestown again, Nantauquas?" I demanded. "I have m_oubts."
He looked me full in the eyes, and there was no doubting the candor of hi_wn. "You go with the next sunrise," he answered. "Opechancanough has given m_is word."
"I am glad to hear it," I said. "Why have we been kept at all? Why did he no_ree us five days agone?"
He shook his head. "I do not know. Opechancanough has many thoughts which h_hares with no man. But now he will send you with presents for the Governor, and with messages of his love to the white men. There will be a great feas_o-day, and to-night the young men and maidens will dance before you. Then i_he morning you will go."
"Will you not come with us?" I asked. "You are ever welcome amongst us, Nantauquas, both for your sister's sake and for your own. Rolfe will rejoic_o have you with him again; he ever grudgeth you to the forest."
He shook his head again. "Nantauquas, the son of Powhatan, hath had much tal_ith himself lately," he said simply. "The white men's ways have seemed ver_ood to him, and the God of the white men he knows to be greater than Okee, and to be good and tender; not like Okee, who sucks the blood of the children.
He remembers Matoax, too, and how she loved and cared for the white men an_ould weep when danger threatened them. And Rolfe is his brother and hi_eacher. But Opechancanough is his king, and the red men are his people, an_he forest is his home. If, because he loved Rolfe, and because the ways o_he white men seemed to him better than his own ways, he forgot these things, he did wrong, and the One over All frowns upon him. Now he has come back t_is home again, to the forest and the hunting and the warpath, to his king an_is people. He will be again the panther crouching upon the bough"—
"Above the white men?"
He gazed at me in silence, a shadow upon his face. "Above the Monacans," h_nswered slowly. "Why did Captain Percy say 'above the white men'?
Opechancanough and the English have buried the hatchet forever, and the smok_f the peace pipe will never fade from the air. Nantauquas meant 'above th_onacans or the Long House dogs.'"
I put my hand upon his shoulder. "I know you did, brother of Rolfe by natur_f not by blood! Forget what I said; it was without thought or meaning. If w_o indeed to-morrow, I shall be loath to leave you behind; and yet, were I i_our place, I should do as you are doing."
The shadow left his face and he drew himself up. "Is it what you call fait_nd loyalty and like a knight?" he demanded, with a touch of eagernes_reaking through the slowness and gravity with which an Indian speaks.
"Yea," I made reply. "I think you good knight and true, Nantauquas, and m_riend, moreover, who saved my life."
His smile was like his sister's, quick and very bright, and leaving behind i_ most entire gravity. Together we sat down by the fire and ate of the sylva_reakfast, with shy brown maidens to serve us and with the sunshine streamin_own upon us through the trees that were growing faintly green. It was a thin_o smile at to see how the Indian girls manoeuvred to give the choicest meat, the most delicate maize cakes, to the young war chief, and to see how quietl_e turned aside their benevolence. The meal over, he went to divest himself o_is red and white paint, of the stuffed hawk and strings of copper that forme_is headdress, of his gorgeous belt and quiver and his mantle of raccoo_kins, while Diccon and I sat still before our wigwam, smoking, and reckonin_he distance to Jamestown and the shortest time in which we could cover it.
When we had sat there for an hour the old men and the warriors came to visi_s, and the smoking must commence all over again. The women laid mats in _reat half circle, and each savage took his seat with perfect breeding; tha_s, in absolute silence and with a face like a stone. The peace paint was upo_hem all,—red, or red and white; they sat and looked at the ground until I ha_ade the speech of welcome. Soon the air was dense with the fragrant smoke; i_he thick blue haze the sweep of painted figures had the seeming of som_antastic dream. An old man arose and made a long and touching speech wit_uch reference to calumets and buried hatchets. When he had finished a chie_alked of Opechancanough's love for the English, "high as the stars, deep a_opogusso, wide as from the sunrise to the sunset," adding that the death o_emattanow last year and the troubles over the hunting grounds had kindled i_he breasts of the Indians no desire for revenge. With which highly probabl_tatement he made an end, and all sat in silence looking at me and waiting fo_y contribution of honeyed words. These Pamunkeys, living at a distance fro_he settlements, had but little English to their credit, and the learning o_he Paspaheghs was not much greater. I sat and repeated to them the bette_art of the seventh canto of the second book of Master Spenser's "Faer_ueen." Then I told them the story of the Moor of Venice, and ended b_elating Smith's tale of the three Turks' heads. It all answered the purpos_o admiration. When at length they went away to change their paint for th_oming feast Diccon and I laughed at that foolery as though there were non_eside us who could juggle with words. We were as light-hearted a_hildren—God forgive us!
The day wore on, with relay after relay of food which we must taste at least, with endless smoking of pipes and speeches that must be listened to an_nswered. When evening came and our entertainers drew off to prepare for th_ance, they left us as wearied as by a long day's march.
The wind had been high during the day, but with the sunset it sank to _esolate murmur. The sky wore the strange crimson of the past year a_eyanoke. Against that sea of color the pines were drawn in ink, and beneat_t the winding, threadlike creeks that pierced the marshes had the look o_pilt blood moving slowly and heavily to join the river that was black wher_he pines shadowed it, red where the light touched it. From the marsh aros_he cry of some great bird that made its home there; it had a lonely and _oding sound, like a trumpet blown above the dead. The color died into a_shen gray and the air grew cold, with a heaviness beside that dragged at th_ery soul. Diccon shivered violently, turned restlessly upon the log tha_erved him as settle, and began to mutter to himself.
"Art cold?" I asked.
He shook his head. "Something walked over my grave," he said. "I would giv_ll the pohickory that was ever brewed by heathen for a toss of aqua vitae!"
In the centre of the village rose a great heap of logs and dry branches, buil_uring the day by the women and children. When the twilight fell and the owl_egan to hoot this pile was fired, and lit the place from end to end. Th_cattered wigwams, the scaffolding where the fish were dried, the tall pine_nd wide-branching mulberries, the trodden grass,—all flashed into sight a_he flame roared up to the top-most withered bough. The village glowed like _amp set in the dead blackness of marsh and forest. Opechancanough came fro_he forest with a score of warriors behind him, and stopped beside me. I ros_o greet him, as was decent; for he was an Emperor, albeit a savage and _agan. "Tell the English that Opechancanough grows old," he said. "The year_hat once were as light upon him as the dew upon the maize are now hailstone_o beat him back to the earth whence he came. His arm is not swift to strik_nd strong as it once was. He is old; the warpath and the scalp dance pleas_im no longer. He would die at peace with all men. Tell the English this; tel_hem also that Opechancanough knows that they are good and just, that they d_ot treat men whose color is not their own like babes, fooling them with toys, thrusting them out of their path when they grow troublesome. The land is wid_nd the hunting grounds are many. Let the red men who were here as many moon_go as there are leaves in summer and the white men who came yesterday dwel_ide by side in peace, sharing the maize fields and the weirs and the huntin_rounds together." He waited not for my answer, but passed on, and there wa_o sign of age in his stately figure and his slow, firm step. I watched hi_ith a frown until the darkness of his lodge had swallowed up him and hi_arriors, and mistrusted him for a cold and subtle devil.
Suddenly, as we sat staring at the fire we were beset by a band of maidens, coming out of the woods, painted, with antlers upon their heads and pin_ranches in their hands. They danced about us, now advancing until the gree_eedles met above our heads, now retreating until there was a space of tur_etween us. Their slender limbs gleamed in the firelight; they moved wit_race, keeping time to a plaintive song, now raised by the whole choir, no_allen to a single voice. Pocahontas had danced thus before the English many _ime. I thought of the little maid, of her great wondering eyes and he_iteous, untimely death, of how loving she was to Rolfe and how happy they ha_een in their brief wedded life. It had bloomed like a rose, as fair and a_arly fallen, with only a memory of past sweetness. Death was a coward, passing by men whose trade it was to out-brave him, and striking at the youn_nd lovely and innocent… .
We were tired with all the mummery of the day; moreover, every fibre of ou_ouls had been strained to meet the hours that had passed since we left th_aol at Jamestown. The elation we had felt earlier in the day was all gone.
Now, the plaintive song, the swaying figures, the red light beating agains_he trees, the blackness of the enshrouding forest, the low, melanchol_ind,—all things seemed strange, and yet deadly old, as though we had seen an_eard them since the beginning of the world. All at once a fear fell upon me, causeless and unreasonable, but weighing upon my heart like a stone. She wa_n a palisaded town, under the Governor's protection, with my friends abou_er and my enemy lying sick, unable to harm her. It was I, not she, that wa_n danger. I laughed at myself, but my heart was heavy, and I was in a feve_o be gone.
The Indian girls danced more and more swiftly, and their song changed, becoming gay and shrill and sweet. Higher and higher rang the notes, faste_nd faster moved the dark limbs; then, quite suddenly, song and motion cease_ogether. They who had danced with the abandonment of wild priestesses to som_ild god were again but shy brown Indian maids who went and set them meekl_own upon the grass beneath the trees. From the darkness now came a burst o_avage cries only less appalling than the war whoop itself. In a moment th_en of the village had rushed from the shadow of the trees into the broad, firelit space before us. Now they circled around us, now around the fire; no_ach man danced and stamped and muttered to himself. For the most part the_ere painted red, but some were white from head to heel,—statues come t_ife,—while others had first oiled their bodies, then plastered them over wit_mall bright-colored feathers. The tall headdresses made giants of them all; as they leaped and danced in the glare of the fire they had a fiendish look.
They sang, too, but the air was rude, and broken by dreadful cries. Out of _ut behind us burst two or three priests, the conjurer, and a score or more o_ld men. They had Indian drums upon which they beat furiously, and long pipe_ade of reeds which gave forth no uncertain sound. Fixed upon a pole and born_igh above them was the image of their Okee, a hideous thing of stuffed skin_nd rattling chains of copper. When they had joined themselves to the thron_n the firelight the clamor became deafening. Some one piled on more logs, an_he place grew light as day. Opechancanough was not there, nor Nantauquas.
Diccon and I watched that uncouth spectacle, that Virginian masque, as we ha_atched many another one, with disgust and weariness. It would last, we knew, for the better part of the night. It was in our honor, and for a while we mus_tay and testify our pleasure; but after a time, when they had sung and dance_hemselves into oblivion of our presence, we might retire, and leave the ver_ld men, the women, and the children sole spectators. We waited for tha_elief with impatience, though we showed it not to those who pressed about us.
Time passed, and the noise deepened and the dancing became more frantic. Th_ancers struck at one another as they leaped and whirled, the sweat rolle_rom their bodies, and from their lips came hoarse, animal-like cries. Th_ire, ever freshly fed, roared and crackled, mocking the silent stars. Th_ines were bronze-red, the woods beyond a dead black. All noises of marsh an_orest were lost in the scream of the pipes, the wild yelling, and the beatin_f the drums.
From the ranks of the women beneath the reddened pines rose shrill laughte_nd applause as they sat or knelt, bent forward, watching the dancers. On_irl alone watched not them, but us. She stood somewhat back of he_ompanions, one slim brown hand touching the trunk of a tree, one brown foo_dvanced, her attitude that of one who waits but for a signal to be gone. No_nd then she glanced impatiently at the wheeling figures, or at the old me_nd the few warriors who took no part in the masque, but her eyes always cam_ack to us. She had been among the maidens who danced before us earlier in th_ight; when they rested beneath the trees she had gone away, and the night wa_uch older when I marked her again, coming out of the firelit distance back t_he fire and her dusky mates. It was soon after this that I became aware tha_he must have some reason for her anxious scrutiny, some message to deliver o_arning to give. Once when I made a slight motion as if to go to her, sh_hook her head and laid her finger upon her lips.
A dancer fell from sheer exhaustion, another and another, and warriors fro_he dozen or more seated at our right began to take the places of the fallen.
The priests shook their rattles, and made themselves dizzy with bending an_hirling about their Okee; the old men, too, though they sat like statues, thought only of the dance, and of how they themselves had excelled, long ag_hen they were young.
I rose, and making my way to the werowance of the village where he sat wit_is eyes fixed upon a young Indian, his son, who bade fair to outlast al_thers in that wild contest, told him that I was wearied and would go to m_ut, I and my servant, to rest for the few hours that yet remained of th_ight. He listened dreamily, his eyes upon the dancing Indian, but made offe_o escort me thither. I pointed out to him that my quarters were not fift_ards away, in the broad firelight, in sight of them all, and that it were _ity to take him or any others from the contemplation of that whirling Indian, so strong and so brave that he would surely one day lead the war parties.
After a moment he acquiesced, and Diccon and I, quietly and yet with som_stentation, so as to avoid all appearance of stealing away, left the press o_avages and began to cross the firelit turf between them and our lodge. Whe_e had gone fifty paces I glanced over my shoulder and saw that the India_aid no longer stood where we had last seen her, beneath the pines. A littl_arther on we caught a glimpse of her winding in and out among a row of tree_o our left. The trees ran past our lodge. When we had reached its entrance w_aused and looked back to the throng we had left. Every back seemed turned t_s, every eye intent upon the leaping figures around the great fire. Swiftl_nd quietly we walked across the bit of even ground to the friendly trees, an_ound ourselves in a thin strip of shadow between the light of the great fir_e had left and that of a lesser one burning redly before the Emperor's lodge.
Beneath the trees, waiting for us, was the Indian maid, with her light form, and large, shy eyes, and finger upon her lips. She would not speak or tarry, but flitted before us as dusk and noiseless as a moth, and we followed he_nto the darkness beyond the firelight, well-nigh to the line of sentinels. _igwam, larger than common and shadowed by trees, rose in our path; the girl, gliding in front of us, held aside the mats that curtained the entrance. W_esitated a moment, then stooped and entered the place.