Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
The Avenger
By Robert Montgomery Bird (1806–1854)
 
[Born in New Castle, Del. Died in Philadelphia, Penn., 1854. Nick of the Woods, or The Jibbenainosay: a Tale of Kentucky. 1837. Revised Edition. 1852.]

THE STEPS approached; they reached the door; Nathan threw himself back, reclining against his pile of furs, and fixed his eye upon the mats at the entrance. They were presently parted; and the old chief Wenonga came halting into the apartment,—halting, yet with a step that was designed to indicate all the pride and dignity of a warrior. And this attempt at state was the more natural and proper, as he was armed and painted as if for war, his grim countenance hideously bedaubed on one side with vermilion, on the other with black; a long scalping-knife, without sheath or cover, swinging from his wampum belt; while a hatchet, the blade and handle both of steel, was grasped in his hand. In this guise, and with a wild and demoniacal glitter of eye, that seemed the result of mingled drunkenness and insanity, the old chief stalked and limped up to the prisoner, looking as if bent upon his instant destruction. That his passions were up in arms, that he was ripe for mischief and blood, was indeed plain and undeniable; but he soon made it apparent that his rage was only conditional and alternative, as regarded the prisoner. Pausing within three or four feet of him, and giving him a look that seemed designed to freeze his blood, it was so desperately hostile and savage, he extended his arm and hatchet,—not, however, to strike, as it appeared, but to do what might be judged almost equally agreeable to nine-tenths of his race,—that is, to deliver a speech.
  1
  “I am Wenonga!” he cried, in his own tongue, being perhaps too much enraged to think of any other.—“I am Wenonga, a great Shawnee chief. I have fought the Long-knives, and drunk their blood: when they hear my voice, they are afraid;—they run howling away, like dogs when the squaws beat them from the fire—who ever stood before Wenonga? I have fought my enemies, and killed them. I never feared a white-man: why should I fear a white-man’s devil? Where is the Jibbenainosay, the curse of my tribe?—the Shawneewannaween, the howl of my people? He kills them in the dark, he creeps upon them while they sleep; but he fears to stand before the face of a warrior! Am I a dog? or a woman? The squaws and the children curse me, as I go by: they say I am the killer of their husbands and fathers; they tell me it was the deed of Wenonga that brought the white-man’s devil to kill them; ‘if Wenonga is a chief, let him kill the killer of his people!’ I am Wenonga; I am a man; I fear nothing: I have sought the Jibbenainosay. But the Jibbenainosay is a coward; he walks in the dark, he kills in the time of sleep—he fears to fight a warrior! My brother is a great medicine-man; he is a white-man, and he knows how to find the white-man’s devils. Let my brother speak for me; let him show me where to find the Jibbenainosay; and he shall be a great chief, and the son of a chief: Wenonga will make him his son, and he shall be a Shawnee!”  2
  “Does Wenonga, at last, feel he has brought a devil upon his people?” said Nathan, speaking for the first time since his capture, and speaking in a way well suited to strike the interrogator with surprise. A sneer, as it seemed, of gratified malice crept over his face, and was visible even through the coat of paint that still invested his features; and, to crown all, his words were delivered in the Shawnee tongue, correctly and unhesitatingly pronounced; which was itself, or so Wenonga appeared to hold it, a proof of his superhuman acquirements.  3
  The old chief started as the words fell upon his ear, and looked around him in awe, as if the prisoner had already summoned a spirit to his elbow.  4
  “I have heard the voice of the dead!” he cried. “My brother is a great Medicine! But I am a chief—I am not afraid.”  5
  “The chief tells me lies,” rejoined Nathan, who, having once unlocked his lips, seemed but little disposed to resume his former silence;—“the chief tells me lies: there is no white-devil hurts his people!”  6
  “I am an old man, and a warrior,—I speak the truth!” said the chief, with dignity; and then added, with sudden feeling,—“I am an old man: I had sons and grandsons—young warriors, and boys that would soon have blacked their faces for battle—where are they? The Jibbenainosay has been in my village, he has been in my wigwam—there are none left—the Jibbenainosay killed them!”  7
  “Ay!” exclaimed the prisoner, and his eyes shot fire as he spoke, “they fell under his hand, man and boy—there was not one of them spared—they were of the blood of Wenonga!”  8
  “Wenonga is a great chief!” cried the Indian: “he is childless; but childless he has made the Long-knife.”  9
  “The Long-knife, and the son of Onas!” said Nathan.  10
  The chief staggered back, as if struck by a blow, and stared wildly on the prisoner.  11
  “My brother is a medicine-man,—he knows all things!” he exclaimed. “He speaks the truth: I am a great warrior; I took the scalp of the Quakel——”  12
  “And of his wife and children—you left not one alive!—Ay!” continued Nathan, fastening his looks upon the amazed chief, “you slew them all! And he that was the husband and father was the Shawnees’ friend, the friend even of Wenonga!”  13
  “The white-men are dogs and robbers!” said the chief: “the Quakel was my brother; but I killed him. I am an Indian—I love white-man’s blood. My people have soft hearts; they cried for the Quakel: but I am a warrior with no heart. I killed them: their scalps are hanging to my fire-post! I am not sorry; I am not afraid.”  14
  The eyes of the prisoner followed the Indian’s hand, as he pointed, with savage triumph, to the shrivelled scalps which had once crowned the heads of childhood and innocence, and then sank to the floor, while his whole frame shivered as with an ague-fit.  15
  “My brother is a great medicine-man,” iterated the chief: “he shall show me the Jibbenainosay, or he shall die.”  16
  “The chief lies!” cried Nathan, with a sudden and taunting laugh: “he can talk big things to a prisoner, but he fears the Jibbenainosay!”  17
  “I am a chief and warrior: I will fight the white-man’s devil!”  18
  “The warrior shall see him then,” said the captive, with extraordinary fire. “Cut me loose from my bonds, and I will bring him before the chief.”  19
  And as he spoke, he thrust out his legs, inviting the stroke of the axe upon the thongs that bound his ankles.  20
  But this was a favor which, stupid or mad as he was, Wenonga hesitated to grant.  21
  “The chief!” cried Nathan, with a laugh of scorn, “would stand face to face with the Jibbenainosay, and yet fears to loose a naked prisoner!”  22
  The taunt produced its effect. The axe fell upon the thong, and Nathan leaped to his feet. He extended his wrists. The Indian hesitated again. “The chief shall see the Jibbenainosay!” cried Nathan; and the cord was cut. The prisoner turned quickly round; and while his eyes fastened with a wild but joyous glare upon his jailer’s, a laugh that would have become the jaws of a hyena lighted up his visage, and sounded from his lips. “Look!” he cried, “thee has thee wish! Thee sees the destroyer of thee race,—ay, murdering villain, the destroyer of thee people, and theeself!”  23
  And with that, leaping upon the astounded chief with rather the rancorous ferocity of a wolf than the enmity of a human being, and clutching him by the throat with one hand, while with the other he tore the iron tomahawk from his grasp, he bore him to the earth, clinging to him as he fell, and using the wrested weapon with such furious haste and skill that, before they had yet reached the ground, he had buried it in the Indian’s brain. Another stroke, and another, he gave with the same murderous activity and force; and Wenonga trod the path to the spirit-land, bearing the same gory evidences of the unrelenting and successful vengeance of the white-man that his children and grand-children had borne before him.  24
  “Ay, dog, thee dies at last! at last I have caught thee!”  25
  With these words, Nathan, leaving the shattered skull, dashed the tomahawk into the Indian’s chest, snatched the scalping-knife from the belt, and with one grinding sweep of the blade, and one fierce jerk of his arm, the gray scalp-lock of the warrior was torn from the dishonored head. The last proof of the slayer’s ferocity was not given until he had twice, with his utmost strength, drawn the knife over the dead man’s breast, dividing skin, cartilage, and even bone, before it, so sharp was the blade and so powerful the hand that urged it.  26
  Then, leaping to his feet, and snatching from the post the bundle of withered scalps—the locks and ringlets of his own murdered family,—which he spread a moment before his eyes with one hand, while the other extended, as if to contrast the two prizes together, the reeking scalp-lock of the murderer, he sprang through the door of the lodge, and fled from the village; but not until he had, in the insane fury of the moment, given forth a wild, ear-piercing yell, that spoke the triumph, the exulting transport, of long-baffled but never-dying revenge. The wild whoop, thus rising in the depth and stillness of the night, startled many a wakeful warrior and timorous mother from their repose. But such sounds in a disorderly hamlet of barbarians were too common to create alarm or uneasiness; and the wary and the timid again betook themselves to their dreams, leaving the corse of their chief to stiffen on the floor of his own wigwam.  27
 
 
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