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The sunrise gun awoke me. I rolled out of my blanket, saw the white cannon-smoke floating above the trees, ran down to the river, and plunged in.
When I returned, the Sagamore had already broken his fast, and once more was engaged in painting himself-- this time in a most ghastly combination of black and white, the startling parti-coloured decorations splitting his visage into two equal sections, so that his eyes gleamed from a black and sticky mask, and his mouth and chin and jaw were like the features of a weather-bleached skull.
"More war, O Mayaro, my brother?" I asked in a bantering voice. "Every day you prepare for battle with a confidence forever new; every night the army snores in peace. Yet, at dawn, when you have greeted the sun, you renew your war-paint. Such praiseworthy perseverance ought to be rewarded."
"It has already been rewarded," remarked the Indian, with quiet humour.
"In what manner?" I asked, puzzled.
"In the manner that all warriors desire to be rewarded," he replied, secretly amused.
"I thought," said I, "that the reward all warriors desire is a scalp taken in battle."
He cast a sly glance at me and went on painting.
"Mayaro," said I, disturbed, "is it possible that you have been out forest-running while I've slept?"
He shot a quick look at me, full of delighted malice.
And "Ho!" said he. "My brother sleeps sounder than a winter bear. Three Erie scalps hang stretched, hooped, and curing in the morning sun, behind the bush-hut. Little brother, has the Sagamore done well?"
Straightway I whirled on my heel and walked out and around the hut. Strung like drying fish on a willow wand three scalps hung in the sunshine, the soft July breeze stirring the dead hair. And as soon as I saw them I knew they were indeed Erie scalps.
Repressing my resentment and disgust, I lingered a moment to examine them, then returned to the hut, where the Siwanois, grave as a catamount at his toilet, squatted in a patch of sunshine, polishing his features.
"So you've done this business every night as soon as I slept," said I. "You've crept beyond our outer pickets, risking your life, imperilling the success of this army, merely to satisfy your vanity. This is not well, Mayaro."
He said proudly: "Mayaro is safe. What warrior of the Cat-People need a Sagamore of the Siwanois dread?"
"Do you count them warriors then, or wizards?"
"Demons have teeth and claws. Look upon their scalp-locks, Loskiel!"
I strove to subdue my rising anger.
"You are the only reliable guide in the army today who can take us straight to Catharines-town," I said. "If we lose you we must trust to Hanierri and his praying Oneidas, who do not know the way even to Wyalusing as well as you do. Is this just to the army? Is it just to me, O Sagamore? My formal orders are that you shall rest and run no risk until this army starts from Lake Otsego. My brother Mayaro knew this. I trusted him and set no sentry at the hut door. Is this well, brother?"
The Sagamore looked at me with eyes utterly void of expression.
"Is Mayaro a prisoner, then?" he asked quietly.
Instantly I knew that he was not to be dealt with that way. The slightest suspicion of any personal restraint or of any military pressure brought to bear on him might alienate him from our cause, if not, perhaps, from me personally.
I said: "The Siwanois are free people. No lodge door is locked on them, not even in the Long House. They are at liberty to come and go as the eight winds rise and wane-- to sleep when they choose, to wake when it pleases them, to go forth by day or night, to follow the war-trail, to strike their enemies where they find them.
"But now, to one of them-- to the Mohican Mayaro, Sagamore of the Siwanois, Sachem of the Enchanted Clan, is given the greatest mission ever offered to any Delaware since Tamenund put on his snowy panoply of feathers and flew through the forest and upward into the air-ocean of eternal light.
"A great army of his embattled brothers trusts in him to guide them so that the Iroquois Confederacy shall be pierced from Gate to Gate, and the Long House go roaring up in flames.
"There are many valiant deeds to be accomplished on this coming march-- deeds worthy of a war-chief of the Lenni-Lenape-- deeds fitted to do honour to a Sagamore of the Magic Wolf.
"I only ask of my friend and blood-brother that he reserve himself for these great deeds and not risk a chance bullet in ambush for the sake of an Erie scalp or two-- for the sake of a patch of mangy fur which grows on these Devil-Cats of Amochol."
At first his countenance was smooth and blank; as I proceeded, he became gravely attentive; then, as I ended, he gave me a quick, unembarrassed, and merry look.
"Loskiel," he said laughingly, "Mayaro plays with the Cat-People. A child's skill only is needed to take their half-shed fur and dash them squalling and spitting and kicking into Biskoonah!"
He resumed his painting with a shrug of contempt, adding:
"Amochol rages in vain. Upon this wizard a Mohican spits! One by one his scalped acolytes tumble and thump among the dead and bloody forest leaves. The Siwanois laugh at them. Let the red sorcerer of the Senecas make strong magic so that his cats return to life, and the vile fur grows once more where a Mohican has ripped it out!"
"Each night you go forth and scalp. Each morning you paint. Is this to continue, Sagamore?"
"My brother sees," he said proudly. "Cats were made for skinning."
There was nothing to do about it; no more to be said. I now comprehended this, as I stood lacing my rifle-shirt and watching him at his weird self-embellishment.
"The war-paint you have worn each day has seemed to me somewhat unusual," I said curiously.
He glanced sharply up at me, scowled, then said gravely:
"When a Sagamore of the Mohicans paints for a war against warriors, the paint is different. But," he added, and his eyes blazed, and the very scalp-lock seemed to bristle on his shaven head, "when a Lenape Sachem of the Enchanted Clan paints for war with Seneca sorcerers, he wears also the clean symbols of his sacred priesthood, so that he may fight bad magic with good magic, sorcery with sorcery, and defy this scarlet priest-- this vile, sly Warlock Amochol!"
Truly there was no more for me to say. I dared not let him believe that his movements were either watched or under the slightest shadow of restraint. I knew it was useless to urge on him the desirability of inaction until the army moved. Be might perhaps have understood me and listened to me, were the warfare he was now engaged in only the red knight-errantry of an Indian seeking glory. But he had long since won his spurs.
And this feud with Amochol was something far more deadly than mere warfare; it was the clash of a Mohican Sagamore of the Sacred Clan with the dreadful and abhorred priesthood of the Senecas-- the hatred and infuriated contempt of a noble and ordained priest for the black-magic of a sorcerer-- orthodoxy, militant and terrible, scourging blasphemy and crushing its perverted acolytes at the very feet of their Antichrist.
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The Hidden Children -by- Robert W. Chambers