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THE NEW HAVEN EVENING REGISTER
BY CHAS. W. CHESNUTT
Author of "A Secret Ally."
(Copyrighted, 1887, by the Author.)
"How thankful we ought to be that the accident of birth has made us children of a civilized and progressive race! Just imagine the fate of one connected by birth or marriage with these untutored children of the forest and compelled to pass his whole life among them!"
Bella responded with some remark to the effect that if one had been born an Indian, one probably wouldn't find anything uncommon or disagreeable about it, and that as for marrying one of them, there was no necessity or reason for either of us to make such a sacrifice, when a startling feat of horsemanship performed by a half-breed Apache excited her interest and put an end to my moralizing.
I did not call at Bella's that evening, having been with her all the afternoon. As I was sauntering down town after supper, who should I run across but Bilkins, a young friend of mine, of sporting proclivities. Bilkins proposed that we have a game of billiards. We played one game--two games--half a dozen games--during the course of which I smoked several cigars and imbibed a number of mixed drinks.
I started home about 11 o'clock. I was feeling a little tired from having stood on my feet so much during the evening, and as I passed through a small public park which lay in my homeward route, I sat down on an iron bench to rest for a moment. The bench which I occupied was just across the walk from a life-sized bronze statue of an Indian, clad in the traditional garb of the forest, of a period antecedent to the introduction by the white man of whiskey and blankets.
I had been looking at this statue for several minutes when it seemed to me that the bronze plume which decorated the warrior's scalp-lock began to wave to and fro in the gentle wind. Of course the idea was preposterous, and I had formed a satisfactory hypothesis to account for the delusion, when the statue upset my theory by stepping from its granite pedestal and advancing with a stately stride to the place where I sat.
"Ugh!" said the voice of the statue, with a metallic ring which sounded just a little out of the common.
"The same to you," I answered politely, not knowing exactly what it meant.
"I am Worm-in-the-Bud, the last of the Ojibways."
"Pleased to meet you," I murmured. "My name is Jones."
The statue--or I may say, the Indian--glared at me a moment, and then extending his right arm, with a commanding movement swept it slowly from right to left.
"This was once the hunting ground of my fathers," he said, and then paused as though he expected me to say something. But the circumstances were so unusual that I could not think of anything appropriate.
"Through the forest which adorned these shores once roamed the red deer and the moose, where now the street-car horse toils wearily; the war whoop of the Ojibways resounded where now the shrill piping of the hand-organ announces the return of spring. Who has wrought these changes?" and he paused again.
I was about to remark that the great American people had wrought these changes, and that he would find a complete description of it in Bancroft's History of the United States, when the Indian continued fiercely:
"'Tis the paleface! The false-hearted paleface who has stolen our inheritance. But we shall be avenged. You are my prisoner. Come!" And he grasped his tomahawk so significantly that I did not stop to argue the point, but arose and followed him.
We went to the edge of the park and took a streetcar. There were several passengers aboard, and I might have raised an alarm and made my escape; but I hated to make a scene in public, and so sat quietly by the side of my bronze companion.
We had taken the car which went past the baseball park, and a ride of about fifteen minutes brought us to the entrance, at which we alighted. My companion put his hand to his mouth and emitted the cry of the screech owl. A guttural voice murmured something in the darkness, and the gate swung open before us.
In a moment the place was swarming with Indians--every copper colored attache of the show was evidently on hand. Somehow they seemed different in the moonlight from what they had appeared in the afternoon: their faces wore a fiercer expression, they walked with a longer stride and freer movement, and much of their cheap modern clothing had been replaced with deer and buffalo skins, and a profusion of feathers.
"Braves and squaws," said my captor to the crowd, which had surrounded us closely, "this is one of the accursed pale-faces, who have stolen our hunting grounds, dug up the bones of our fathers, and driven our tribe to the barren mountains of the far west. What shall we do with him?"
Several voices spoke confusedly together, but I could not distinguish what they said, and only knew that a discussion was going on. Finally a conclusion seemed to have been reached. An Indian broke away from the circle and brought a square block of building stone, which he placed in the center of the group, while another brought forward a sledgehammer, ordinarily used for driving tent poles.
I was wondering what this meant, when I was firmly seized from behind, and a rawhide lariat wrapped around me half a dozen times and tied securely. I was then laid upon the ground, face downward, with my nose resting upon the cold stone. Twisting my head a little to one side, I saw a burly brave spit on his hands and grasp the sledgehammer. Still I said nothing, for I was curious to see how far the red devils would go with their tomfoolery. Worm-in-the-Bud gave a signal, and the sledge hammer was raised, when I heard a shrill voice exclaim, in pretty fair English:
"Hold! He shall not die! I will adopt him for my husband."
The sledge-hammer sank to the ground, and an expression of disappointment gathered in the faces of the crowd. But it was their custom, and they did not think of opposing it. I was raised to a sitting posture, which gave me an opportunity to get a good look at the squaw to whom I owed my life. As I turned my head, I felt a sinking of the heart, a presentiment of evil, which was realized when I recognized in the speaker the old squaw whom I had observed in the afternoon. She looked ten times more hideous in the moonlight than she had seemed in the daytime. It was evident that she had been forced to adopt a husband for the reason that she could never have obtained one in the natural and ordinary way. The lariat had been partially removed when I remarked:
"Stop a moment. Is this the only way in which I can escape death?"
"It is the only way," replied Worm-in-the-Bub.
"Cannot one of those younger women be substituted for this venerable relic?" "By no means," he replied, frowning, "you must either marry Nokomis or die."
"Then let the execution proceed," I said calmly, but decisively, and laid my head upon the block. Once more the bronze chieftain gave the signal; once more the fatal sledge-hammer was raised, and began its descent--when I awoke to find the cold club of a policeman resting quietly across my upturned nose, and to hear a blue-coated myrmidon of the law remark, in peremptory accents:
"Well, now, move on, will you. This park is no hotel."
I moved, and as I looked back, I could distinctly see a scowl of disappointment on the bronze face of the statue.
Chesnutt, Charles W. "A Midnight Adventure." The New Haven Evening Register 6 Dec. 1887: 3.