"Mid forests and meadow lands, though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home,
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home,
There's no place like home;
There's no place like home."
THIS event troubled Malaeska, and gathering up her little property, she unmoored the boat, and made progress up the river. The child was delighted with the change, and soon lost all unpleasant remembrance of the rattlesnake. But Malaeska was very careful in the selection of her encampment that afternoon, and kindled a bright fire before she spread the tiger-skin for William's bed, which she trusted would keep all venomous things away. They ate their supper under a huge white pine, that absorbed the firelight in its dusky branches, and made every thing gloomy around. As the darkness closed over them William grew silent, and by the heaviness of his features Malaeska saw that he was oppressed by thoughts of home. She had resolved not to tell him of the relationship which was constantly in her thoughts, till they should stand at the council-fires of the tribe, when the Indians should know him as their chief, and he recognize a mother in poor Malaeska.
Troubled by his sad look, the Indian woman sought for something in her stores that should cheer him. She found some seed-cakes, golden and sweet, which only brought tears into the child's eyes, for they reminded him of home and all its comforts.
"Malaeska," he said, "when shall we go back to grandfather and grandmother? I know they want to see us."
"No, no; we must not think about that," said Malaeska, anxiously.
"But I can't help it—how can I?" persisted the boy, mournfully.
"Don't—don't say you love them—I mean your grandfather—more than you love Malaeska. She would die for you."
"Yes; but I don't want you to die, only to go back home," he pleaded.
"We are going home—to our beautiful home in the woods, which I told you of."
"Dear me, I'm so tired of the woods."
"Tired of the woods?"
"Yes, I am tired. They are nice to play in, but it isn't home, no way. How far is it, Malaeska, to where grandfather lives?"
"I don't know—I don't want to know. We shall never—never go there again," said the Indian, passionately. "You are mine, all mine."
The boy struggled in her embrace restively.
"But I won't stay in the woods. I want to be in a real house, and sleep in a soft bed, and—and— there, now, it is going to rain; I hear it thunder. Oh, how I want to go home!"
There was in truth a storm mustering over them; the wind rose and moaned hoarsely through the pines. Malaeska was greatly distressed, and gathered the tired boy lovingly to her bosom for shelter.
"Have patience, William; nothing shall hurt you. Tomorrow we will row the boat all day. You shall pull the oars yourself."
"Shall I, though?" said the boy, brightening a little; "but will it be on the way home?"
"We shall go across the mountains where the Indians live. The brave warriors who will make William their king."
"But I don't want to be a king, Malaeska!"
"A chief—a great chief—who shall go to the war-path and fight battles."
"Ah, I should like that, with your pretty bow and arrow, Malaeska, wouldn't I shoot the wicked red-skins?"
"Ah, my boy, don't say that."
"Oh," said the child, shivering, "the wind is cold; how it sobs in the pine boughs. Don't you wish we were at home now?"
"Don't be afraid of the cold," said Malaeska, in a troubled voice; "see, I will wrap this cloak about you, and no rain can come through the fur blanket. We are brave, you and I—what do we care for a little thunder and rain—it makes me feel brave."
"But you don't care for home; you love the woods and the rain. The thunder and lightning makes your eyes bright, but I don't like it; so take me home, please, and then you may go to the woods, I won't tell."
"Oh, don't—don't. It breaks my heart," cried the poor mother. "Listen, William: the Indians— my people—the brave Indians want you for a chief. In a few years you shall lead them to war."
"But I hate the Indians."
"They are fierce and cruel."
"Not to you—not to you!"
"I won't live with the Indians!"
"They are a brave people—you shall be their chief."
"They killed my father."
"But I am of those people. I saved you and brought you among the white people."
"Yes, I know; grandmother told me that."
"And I belonged to the woods."
"Among the Indians?"
"Yes. Your father loved these Indians, William."
"Did he—but they killed him."
"But it was in battle."
"In fair battle; did you say that?"
"Yes, child. Your father was friendly with them, but they thought he had turned enemy. A great chief met him in the midst of the fight, and they killed each other. They fell and died together."
"Did you know this great chief, Malaeska?"
"He was my father," answered the Indian woman, hoarsely; "my own father."
"Your father and mine; how strange that they should hate each other," said the boy, thoughtfully.
"Not always," answered Malaeska, struggling against the tears that choked her words; "at one time they loved each other."
"Loved each other! that is strange; and did my father love you, Malaeska?"
White as death the poor woman turned; a hand was clenched under her deer-skin robe, and pressed hard against her heart; but she had promised to reveal nothing, and bravely kept her word.
The boy forgot his reckless question the moment it was asked, and did not heed her pale silence, for the storm was gathering darkly over them. Malaeska wrapped him in her cloak, and sheltered him with her person. The rain began to patter heavily overhead; but the pine-tree was thick with foliage, and no drops, as yet, could penetrate to the earth.
"See, my boy, we are safe from the rain; nothing can reach us here," she said, cheering his despondency. " I will heap piles of dry wood on the fire, and shelter you all night long."
She paused a moment, for flashes of blue lightning began to play fiercely through the thick foliage overhead, revealing depths of darkness that was enough to terrify a brave man. No wonder the boy shrank and trembled as it flashed and quivered over him.
Malaeska saw how frightened he was, and piled dry wood recklessly on the fire, hoping that its steady blaze would reassure him.
They were encamped on a spur of the Highlands that shot in a precipice over the stream, and the light of Malaeska's fire gleamed far and wide, casting a golden track far down the Hudson. Four men, who were urging a boat bravely against the storm, saw the light, and shouted eagerly to each other.
"Here she is; nothing but an Indian would keep up a fire like that. Pull steadily, and we have them."
They did pull steadily, and defying the storm, the boat made harbor under the cliff where Malaeska's fire still burned. Four men stole away from the boat, and crept stealthily up the hill, guided by the lightning and the gleaming fire above. The rain, beating among the branches, drowned their footsteps; and they spoke only in hoarse whispers, which were lost on the wind.
William had dropped asleep with tears on his thick eyelashes, which the strong firelight revealed to Malaeska, who regarded him with mournful affection. The cold wind chilled her through and through, but she did not feel it. So long as the boy slept comfortably she had no want.
I have said that the storm muffled all other sounds; and the four men who had left their boat at the foot of the cliff stood close by Malaeska before she had the least idea of their approach. Then a blacker shadow than fell from the pine darkened the space around her, and looking suddenly up, she saw the stern face of old Mr. Danforth between her and the firelight.
Malaeska did not speak or cry aloud, but snatching the sleeping boy close to her heart, lifted her pale face to his, half-defiant, half-terrified.
"Take my grandson from the woman and bring him down to the boat," said the old man, addressing those that came with him.
"No, no, he is mine!" cried Malaeska, fiercely. "Nothing but the Great Spirit shall take him from me again!"
The sharp anguish in her voice awoke the boy. He struggled in her arms, and looking around, saw the old man.
"Grandfather, oh! grandfather, take me home. I do want to go home," he cried, stretching out his arms.
"Oh!" I have not the power of words to express the bitter anguish of that single exclamation, when it broke from the mother's pale lips. It was the cry of a heart that snapped its strongest fiber there and then. The boy wished to leave her. She had no strength after that, but allowed them to force him from her arms without a struggle. The rattlesnake had not paralyzed her so completely.
So they took the boy ruthlessly from her embrace, and carried him away. She followed after without a word of protest, and saw them lift him into the boat and push off, leaving her to the pitiless night. It was a cruel thing—bitterly cruel— but the poor woman was stupefied with the blow, and watched the boat with heavy eyes. All at once she heard the boy calling after her:
"Malaeska, come too. Malaeska—Malaeska!" She heard the cry, and her icy heart swelled passionately. With the leap of a panther she sprang to her own boat, and dashed after her tormenters, pulling fiercely through the storm. But with all her desperate energy, she was not able to overtake those four powerful men. They were out of sight directly, and she drifted after them alone—all alone.
Malaeska never went back to Mr. Danforth's house again, but she built a lodge on the Weehawken shore, and supported herself by selling painted baskets and such embroideries as the Indians excel in. It was a lonely life, but sometimes she met her son in the streets of Manhattan, or sailing on the river, and this poor happiness kept her alive.
After a few months, the lad came to her lodge. His grandmother consented to the visit, for she still had compassion on the lone Indian, and would not let the youth go beyond sea without bidding her farewell. In all the bitter anguish of that parting Malaeska kept her faith, and smothering the great want of her soul, saw her son depart without putting forth the holy claim of her motherhood. One day Malaeska stood upon the shore and saw a white-sailed ship veer from her moorings and pass away with cruel swiftness toward the ocean, the broad, boundless ocean, that seemed to her like eternity.