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- Hardscrabble - 1/36 -


HARDSCRABBLE; or, The Fall of Chicago A Tale of Indian Warfare

by John Richardson

CHAPTER I.

It was on a beautiful day in the early part of the month of April, 1812, that four persons were met in a rude farm-house, situated on the Southern Branch of the Chicago river, and about four miles distant from the fort of that name. They had just risen from their humble mid-day meal, and three of them were now lingering near the fire-place, filled with blazing logs, which, at that early season, diffused a warmth by no means disagreeable, and gave an air of cheerfulness to the interior of the smoke-discolored building.

He who appeared to be master of the establishment was a tall, good looking man of about forty-five, who had, evidently, been long a denizen of the forest, for his bronzed countenance bore traces of care and toil, while his rugged, yet well-formed hands conveyed the impression of the unceasing war he had waged against the gigantic trees of this Western land. He was habited in a hunting-frock of grey homespun, reaching about half way down to his knee, and trimmed with a full fringe of a somewhat darker hue. His trowsers were of the same material, and both were girt around his loins by a common belt of black leather, fastened by a plain white buckle, into which was thrust a sheath of black leather also, containing a large knife peculiar to the backwoodsmen of that day. His feet were encased in moccasins, and on his head, covered with strong dark hair, was carelessly donned a slouched hat of common black felt, with several plaited folds of the sweet grass, of the adjoining prairie for a band. He was seemingly a man of strong muscular power, while his stern dark eye denoted firmness and daring.

The elder of the two men, to whom this individual stood, evidently, in the character of a superior, was a short thick-set person of about fifty, with huge whiskers that, originally black, had been slightly grizzled by time. His eyebrows were bushy and overhanging, and almost concealed the small, and twinkling eyes, which it required the beholder to encounter more than once before he could decide their true color to be a dark gray. A blanket coat that had once been white, but which the action of some half dozen winters had changed into a dirty yellow, enveloped his rather full form, around which it was confined by a coarse worsted sash of mingled blue and red, thickly studded with minute white beads. His trowsers, with broad seams, after the fashion of the Indian legging, were of a dark crimson, approaching to a brick-dust color, and on his feet he wore the stiff shoe-pack, which, with the bonnet bleu on his grizzled head, and the other parts of his dress already described, attested him to be what he was--a French Canadian. Close at his heels, and moving as he moved, or squatted on his haunches, gazing into the face of his master when stationary, was a large dog of the mongrel breed peculiar to the country--evidently with wolf blood in his veins.

His companion was of a different style of figure and costume. He was a thin, weak-looking man, of middle height, with a complexion that denoted his Saxon origin. Very thin brows, retrousse nose, and a light gray eye in which might be traced an expression half simple, half cunning, completed the picture of this personage, whose lank body was encased in an old American uniform of faded blue, so scanty in its proportions that the wrists of the wearer wholly exposed themselves beneath the short, narrow sleeves, while the skirts only "shadowed not concealed," that part of the body they had been originally intended to cover. A pair of blue pantaloons, perfectly in keeping, on the score of scantiness and age, with the coat, covered the attenuated lower limbs of the wearer, on whose head, moreover, was stuck a conical cap that had all the appearance of having been once a portion of the same uniform, and had only undergone change in the loss of its peak. A small black leather, narrow ridged stock was clasped around his thin, and scare-crow neck, and that so tightly that it was the wonder of his companions how strangulation had so long been avoided. A dirty, and very coarse linen shirt, showed itself partially between the bottom of the stock, and the uppermost button of the coat, which was carefully closed, while his feet were protected from the friction of the stiff, though nearly wornout, military shoes, by wisps of hay, that supplied the absence of the sock. This man was about five and thirty.

The last of the little party was a boy. He was a raw-boned lad of about fourteen years of age, and of fair complexion, with blue eyes, and an immense head of bushy hair, of the same hue, which seemed never to have known the use of the comb. His feet were naked, and his trowsers and shirt, the only articles of dress upon him at the moment, were of a homespun somewhat resembling in color the hunting frock of his master. A thick black leather strap was also around his loins--evidently part of an old bridle rein.

The two men first described, drew near the fire and lighted their pipes. The ex-militaire thrust a quid of tobacco into his cheek, and taking up a small piece of pine board that rested against the chimney corner, split a portion off this with his jack-knife, and commenced whittling. The boy busied himself in clearing the table, throwing occasionally scraps of bread and dried venison, which had constituted the chief portion of the meal, to the dog, which, however, contrary to custom, paid little attention to these marks of favor, but moved impatiently, at intervals, to the door, then returning, squatted himself again on his haunches, at a short distance from his master, and uttering a low sound betwixt a whine and a growl, looked piteously up into his face.

"Vat the devil is de matter wid you, Loup Garou?" remarked the Canadian at length, as, removing the pipe from his lips, he stretched his legs, and poised himself in his low wood-bottomed chair, putting forth his right hand at the same time to his canine follower. "You not eat, and you make noise as if you wish me to see one racoon in de tree."

"Loup Garou don't prate about coons I guess," drawled the man in the faded uniform, without, however, removing his eyes from the very interesting occupation in which he was engaged. "That dog I take it, Le Noir, means something else--something more than we human critters know. By gosh, boss," looking for the first time at him who stood in that position to the rest of the party--"If WE can't smell the varmint, I take it Loup Garou does."

At this early period of civilization, in these remote countries, there was little distinction of rank between the master and the man--the employer and the employed. Indeed the one was distinguished from the other only by the instructions given and received, in regard to certain services to be performed. They labored together--took their meals together--generally smoked together--drank together--conversed together, and if they did not absolutely sleep together, often reposed in the same room. There was, therefore, nothing extraordinary in the familiar tone in which the ci-devant soldier now addressed him whose hired help he was. The latter, however, was in an irritable mood, and he answered sharply.

"What have you got into your foolish head now, Ephraim Giles? You do nothing but prophesy evil. What varmint do you talk of, and what has Loup Garou to do with it? Speak, what do you mean?--if you mean anything at all."

As he uttered this half rebuke, he rose abruptly from his chair, shook the ashes from his pipe, and drew himself to his full height, with his back to the fire. There had been nothing very remarkable in the observation made by the man to whom he had addressed himself, but he was in a peculiar state of mind, that gave undue importance to every word, sounding, as it did, a vague presentiment of some coming evil, which the very singular manner of the dog had created, although he would scarcely acknowledge this to himself.

The man made no reply, but continued whittling, humming, at the same time, the air of "Yankee Doodle."

"Answer me, Ephraim Giles," peremptorily resumed his master; "leave off that eternal whittling of yours, if you can, and explain to me your meaning."

"Etarnal whittling! do you call it, Boss? I guess it's no such thing. No man knows better nor you, that, if I can whittle the smallest stick in creation, I can bring down the stoutest tree as well as ere a fellow in Michigan. Work is work--play is play. It's only the difference, I reckon, of the axe and the knife."

"Will you answer my question like a man, and not like a fool, as you are?" shouted the other, stooping, and extending his left hand, the fingers of which he insinuated into the stock already described, while, with a powerful jerk, he both brought the man to his feet, and the blood into his usually cadaverous cheek.

Ephraim Giles, half-throttled, and writhing with pain, made a movement as if he would have used the knife in a much less innocent manner than whittling, but the quick, stern eye of his master, detected the involuntary act, and his hand, suddenly relinquishing its hold of the collar, grasped the wrist of the soldier with such a


Hardscrabble - 1/36

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