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My pay was small; yet, having no soul dependent on my bounty and needing little myself, I had saved these pitiable dollars that our Congress paid us. Besides, I had a snug account with my solicitor in Albany. She might live on that. I did not need it; seldom drew a penny; my pay more than sufficing. And, after the war had ended-- ended----
Just here my heart beat out o' step, and thought was halted for a moment. But with the warm thought and warmer blood tingling me once again, I knew and never doubted that we had not done with one another yet, nor were like to, war or no war. For in all the world, and through all the years of youth, I had never before encountered any woman who had shared with me my waking thoughts and the last and conscious moment ere I slept. But from the time I lost this woman out of my life, something seemed also missing from the world. And when again I found her, life and the world seemed balanced and well rounded once again. And in my breast a strange calm rested me.
As I walked along the rutty lake road, all hatched and gashed by the artillery, I made up my mind to one matter. "She must have clothes!" thought I, "and that's flat!" Perhaps not such as befitted her, but something immediate, and not in tatters-- something stout that threatened not to part and leave her naked. For the brier-torn rags she wore scarce seemed to hold together; and her small, shy feet peeped through her gaping shoon in snowy hide-and-seek.
Now, coming hither from the fort, I had already noticed on the Stoney-Kill where our Oneidas lay encamped. So when I sighted the first painted tree and saw the stone pipe hanging, I made for it, and found there the Indians smoking pipes and not in war paint; and their women and children were busy with their gossip, near at hand.
As I had guessed, there by the fire lay a soft and heavy pack of doeskins, open, and a pretty Oneida matron sewing Dutch wampum on a painted sporran for her warrior lord.
The lean and silent warriors came up as I approached, sullenly at first, not knowing what treatment to expect-- more shame to the skin we take our pride in!
One after another took the hand I offered in self-respecting silence.
"Brothers," I said, "I come to buy. Sooner or later your young men will put on red paint and oil their bodies. Even now I see your rifles and your hatchets have been polished. Sooner or later the army will move four hundred miles through a wilderness so dark that neither sun nor moon nor stars can penetrate. The old men, the women, the children, and the littlest ones still strapped to the cradle-board, must then remain behind. Is it the truth I speak, my brothers?"
"It is the truth," they answered very quietly, "Then," said I, "they will require food and money to buy with. Is it not true, Oneidas?"
"It is true, brother."
I smiled and turned toward the women who were listening, and who now looked up at me with merry faces.
"I have," said I, "four hundred dollars. It is for the Oneida maid or matron who will sell to me her pretty bridal dress of doeskin-- the dress which she has made and laid aside and never worn. I buy her marriage dress. And she will make another for herself against the hour of need."
Two or three girls leaped laughing to their feet; but, "Wait!" said I. "This is for my little sister; and I must judge you where you stand, Oneida forest flowers, so I may know which one among you is most like my little sister in height and girth and narrow feet."
"Is our elder brother's little sister fat and comely?" inquired one giggling and over-plump Oneida maid.
"Not plump," I said; and they all giggled.
Another short one stood on tip-toe, asking bashfully if she were not the proper height to suit me.
But there was a third, graceful and slender, who had risen with the rest, and who seemed to me nearer a match to Lois. Also, her naked, dusky feet were small and shapely.
At a smiling nod from me she hastened into the family lodge and presently reappeared with the cherished clothing. Fresh and soft and new, she cast the garments on the moss and spread them daintily and proudly to my view for me to mark her wondrous handiwork. And it was truly pretty-- from the soft, wampum-broidered shirt with its hanging thrums, to the clinging skirt and delicate thigh-moccasins, wonderfully fringed with purple and inset in most curious designs with painted quills and beads and blue diamond-fronds from feathers of a little jay-bird's wing.
Bit by bit I counted out the currency; and it took some little time. But when it was done she took it eagerly enough, laughing her thanks and dancing away toward her lodge. And if her dusky sisters envied her they smiled on me no less merrily as I took my leave of them. And very courteously a stately chief escorted me to the campfire's edge. The Oneidas were ever gentlemen; and their women gently bred.
Once more at my own hut door, I entered, with a nod to Mayaro, who sat smoking there in freshened war paint. One quick and penetrating glance he darted at the Oneida garment on my arm, but except for that betrayed no curiosity.
"Well, Mayaro," said I, in excellent spirits, "you still wear war paint hopefully, I see. But this army will never start within the week."
The Siwanois smiled to himself and smoked. Then he passed the pipe to me. I drew it twice, rendered it.
"Come," said I, "have you then news that we take the war-trail soon?"
"The war-trail is always open for those who seek it. When my younger brother makes ready for a trail, does he summon it to come to him by magic, or does he seek it on his two legs?"
"Are you hoping to go out with the scout to-night?" I asked. "That would not do."
"I go to-night with my brother Loskiel-- to take the air," he said slyly.
"That may not be," I protested, disconcerted. "I have business abroad to-night,"
"And I," he said very seriously; but he glanced again at the pretty garments on my arm and gave me a merry look.
"Yes," said I, smilingly, "they are for her. The little lady hath no shoon, no skirt that holds together, save by the grace of cockspur thorns that bind the tatters. Those I have bought of an Oneida girl. And if they do not please her, yet these at least will hold together. And I shall presently write a letter to Albany and send it by the next batteau to my solicitor, who will purchase for her garments far more suitable, and send them to the fort where soon, I trust, she will be lodged in fashion more befitting."
The Sagamore's face had become smooth and expressionless. I laid aside the garments, fished out quill and inkhorn, and, lying flat on the ground, wrote my letter to Albany, describing carefully the maid who was to be fitted, her height, the smallness of her waist and foot as well as I remembered. I wrote, too, that she was thin, but not too thin. Also I bespoke a box of French hair-powder for her, and buckled shoes of Paddington, and stockings, and a kerchief.
"You know better than do I," I wrote, "having a sister to care for, how women dress. They should have shifts, and hair-pegs, and a scarf, and fan, and stays, and scent, and hankers, and a small laced hat, not gilded; cloak, foot-mantle, sun-mask, and a chip hat to tie beneath the chin, and one such as they call after the pretty Mistress Gunning. If women wear banyans, I know not, but whatever they do wear in their own privacy at morning chocolate, in the French fashion, and whatever they do sleep in, buy and box and send to me. And all the money banked with you, put it in her name as well as mine, so that her draughts on it may all be honoured. And this is her name----"
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. Chambers