A RIDE TOWARD WAR PAINT
"BY sundown we should be within sight of the Indian village," said Caleb Pusey as the six men on horseback descended the rough trail and came out in the glare of the afternoon sun. Below them spread a wide Pennsylvania valley, as yet untouched by a plow, for this was in the early days of the colony, long before the Revolutionary War.
"It lies just beyond yonder line of trees, does it not?" asked a younger man, James West, pointing down the valley.
Caleb nodded gravely. All the men looked extremely serious as in silence they guided their horses among the loose rocks and around fallen trees. Then one man spoke:
"Caleb, who was it brought the word to our settlement of the Indian uprising? You know I was not present last night when the Councillors met.?"
"It was old Red Wing's squaw. They were always most friendly to the whites. She came into the village late in the afternoon and stopped the first man she met, who happened to be the blacksmith. From his forge the news spread like fire, and I have never seen such panic. It was said five hundred, nay a thousand, Indian warriors were gathering for battle their faces were painted their drums were beating at any moment they would be upon us! Forgotten were the wise councils of William Penn and the long, unbroken peace with our red brothers. The talk was all of arming and marching against the Indians before they could reach us. Our settlers have never had arms nor needed them. Now they must be procured! The Council was called for immediate action."
"Ah, I wish you had heard Caleb at that meeting!" cried James West with boyish enthusiasm. "In the midst of the argument of the Councillors as to where guns could be procured, Caleb rose and his eyes shone like coals "
"It was my heart that burned with shame for my people," murmured Caleb.
James continued eagerly, "He cried in a voice that silenced their frantic bickerings, 'I will go to the place where the Indians are said to be gathering, if the Council will appoint five others to go with me unarmed.' The Council protested. They said it would be but a living sacrifice. The six men would be surely murdered. Caleb declared that as long as we were unarmed and unafraid, we were safe, as we always had been."
Caleb took the story up. "James, here, was at my side in an instant. These other good friends expressed their approval and willingness to go. I knew that I could depend on you. So the Council could not well refuse to allow us to depart on our errand, though they had little faith. I do not doubt, myself, that when we talk to the Indian chiefs we can discover the trouble and put matters right."
The others nodded. Still each man realized, in spite of these cheery words, that they were running a grave risk. Indians when once aroused, do not listen to argument. The hearts of the six white men beat faster as at last they came within sight of the tepees of the Indian village.
A few yellow curs barked shrilly and two little brown children playing on the edge of the woods, ran away and peeped at the strangers from behind trees. There was no other sign of life. Most of the wigwams were closed as if deserted. From the peak of one, larger than the rest and near the centre of the field, rose a lazy curl of smoke. The men rode to it. An old Indian, evidently the chief, lay on a pile of skins outside the open flaps, peacefully smoking a carved red-clay pipe. He rose slowly and stood courteously before the white men.
They dismounted, and Caleb offered the Indian his hand, which the old man shook warmly, inquiring in broken English, "What can an old chief do for his paleface friends?"
The thought crossed James West's mind that perhaps this was a trap, perhaps the warriors were all hidden ready to spring out upon them, or had already departed to attack the settlement of whites. Almost breathlessly he waited for the chief's answer when Caleb Pusey asked, carelessly:
"Your tepees seem empty, Chief. Where are your young men and maidens?"
The Chief waved his hand toward the forest beyond the valley.
"For three days my men have been hunting deer far away to the north. The women, old and young, are working in the fields beyond the river. What could my people do for the strangers?"
The sincerity of the old man's desire to be friendly was so evident that the white men were embarrassed and ashamed to have to explain their errand.
"The truth is that a false report reached the ears of the white settlers, and we were sent to determine whether it could be true," Caleb began. "An Indian woman told us that the tribes were rising against us."
The Chief stepped back as though he had been struck, his eyes blazing with anger.
"It is false!" he cried. "That woman should be burned to death, for she might have made much mischief! We have no quarrel with the white men."