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Rolf in the Woods(Chapter82)

2006-09-08 20:02

  CHAPTER LXXXII Memory's Harp and the Indian Drum pic

  In early morning, or in dew time, before using his tom-tom, Quonab would tune it by warming it over the fire. On wet days it was so relaxed that he would tighten the back thongs. One day, after a thong tightening and warming, it sang so shrilly that Rolf turned to inquire, when crack! and the skin split open.

  "It was old; I make a new one," was all its owner said. That morning Rolf saw how it was made. A six-foot length of a four-inch hickory sapling was split and trimmed down to a long strip three inches wide and an inch thick in the middle, thin at the edges, rounded on one side, flat on the other. Then, flat side in, it was bent into a large hoop, and after treatment with hot water and steam to keep it from breaking, the hoop was reduced to fifteen inches across, and the ends, when thinned down. were lashed in place with some thongs cut from a rawhide and soaked in water till soft.

  Raw buckskin is best for a tom-tom head, but having none, Quonab took an old calfskin from his storehouse under the rock. After this was softened by soaking over night in the pond, he covered the hairy side with a cream of quicklime and water. Next morning the hair was easily scraped off; then, after all fat and loose ends were removed from the hide, the hoop was set on it, and a circle cut out about five inches larger on all sides; a strong thong of rawhide was laced through the edge of this, and used as a puckering string when the looseflap was brought together on the upper side of the hoop. Now thongs were passed tightly across the back in four different places, so that they crossed in the centre, making eight rows of spokes. A final thong passed over and under these, in the centre, round and round, stretched the skin as much as desired. As soon as it dried out, the tension became very marked, and the sound of the ever-hardening rawhide took on almost a metallic character.

  As the Indian tummed it Rolf felt strangely influenced. What was it in his nature that responded? He did not know, any more than the soldier knows, or the Salvationist knows, what power to sway the soul there is in the rhythmic, vibrant "tum-ta-tum-ta" of the big drum. But the power is there, and the wise halt not to seek the reason, but accept its help to make good their sway —— the king who rules the army, the preacher who leads the Salvationists, and the medicine-man who would shape the red man's life.

  Quonab sang at length his song of the long ago when his people, the Wabanaki, the Men of the Day-dawn, came westward, fighting their way, till they possessed all the country to the great Shatemuk, which white men call the Hudson. And, singing, he stirred his memory, till it opened up his heart. The silent Indian, like King William the Silent, got his reputation because of his behaviour at certain times. To strangers Indians are silent, reserved, and shy. Among themselves they are very human, some of them very talkative; and Rolf found that silent Quonab could, in the intimacy of camp life, become very outspoken when the right cord was touched in the very right way.

  The song of the Wabanaki led Rolf to ask, "Did your people always live right here?" And then, in fragments, he got a history.

  Long before the white man came, the Sinawa won and held this land from Quinnuhtekut to Shatemuk; then came the white men, Dutchmen from Manhattan and Englishmen from Massachusetts. First they made treaties; then, in time of peace, they gathered an army, and taking advantage of the truce and of the mid-winter festival that gathered all the tribe in the walled town of Petuquapen, the soldiers surrounded the place, and when the flames of their burning homes drove out the folk, they were slaughtered like deer in the snow-drifts.

  "There stood the great village of my fathers," and the Indian pointed a quarter mile away to the level place next the rock ridge that lies along the west of Strickland's Plain.

  "There stood the house of the mighty Amogerone, who was so honest that he thought all men were to be trusted, so trusted even the whites. That road away from the north was the moccasin trail, and where it forks to go to Cos Cob and Myanos, it ran ankle deep in blood that night; from that low mount to this the snow was black with bodies.

  "How many perished? A thousand, mostly women and children. How many of the attack were killed? None, not one. Why should they? It was a time of peace. Our people were unprepared - were without guns. The enemy was in ambush.

  "Only the brave Mayn Mayano escaped; he who bitterly opposed the Chief when the treaty was made —— the 'Fighting Sagamore,' the English called him. Now all was open war for him. Many and many a scalp he took. He never feared to face double odds, and won and won, till he grew reckless. 'One Indian Sagamore is better than three white men,' he boldly proclaimed, and proved it again and again. But on an evil day, when armed only with a tomahawk, he attacked three soldiers wearing armour and bearing guns and pistols. The first he killed, the second disabled, but the third, a captain in a steel helmet that turned the tomahawk, had little ado to stand ten feet aside and shoot the brave Mayn Mayano through the heart. Yonder by that hill, on the highway to Stamford where he fell, his widow buried him. On the river that bears his name the remnant of his people lived, till all were gone but my father's lodge.

  "Here Cos Cob, my father, brought me when a child, even as his grandfather once brought him, and showed me the place of our Royal Petuquapen. There along the plain it stretched, and there is the trail that ran so deep in blood. Here in the little swampy woods, where the ground was soft, the butchers piled our dead; close under that rocky hill beside the Asamuk, lie the murdered tribe. Our children used to come in the Wild Goose Moon to the top of that hill, because there, first of all, the little blue-eyes of spring used to show. I often come to find them, and as I sit I seem to hear the cry that rang in the night from the burning town, of mothers, of babies, killed like rabbits.

  "But I remember, too, the brave Mayn Mayano. His spirit comes to help me as I sit and sing the songs of my people —— not the war songs, but the songs of another land. I alone am left. A little while, and I shall be with them. Here have I dwelt, and here I would die." The Indian ceased and again became the silent one.

  Late that day he took his new song-drum from its peg, went quietly to the top of the great rock, where he prayed, and the words of the song that he sang were:

  "Father, we walk in darkness;Father we do not understand;Walking darkly, we bow the head."

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