They walked to The Gap, where the cliff is only a few feet high. A windlass for hoisting shingle from the beach below stands at the edge of it. The Coastguard cottages are a little farther on, and an old ship’s figurehead of a Turk in a turban stared at them over the wall.
‘This time tomorrow we shall be at home, thank goodness,’ said Una. ‘I hate the sea!’
‘I believe it’s all right in the middle,’ said Dan. ‘The edges are the sorrowful parts.’
Cordery, the coastguard, came out of the cottage, levelled his telescope at some fishing-boats, shut it with a click and walked away. He grew smaller and smaller along the edge of the cliff, where neat piles of white chalk every few yards show the path even on the darkest night.
‘Where’s Cordery going?’said Una.
‘Half-way to Newhaven,’said Dan. ‘Then he’ll meet the Newhaven coastguard and turn back. He says if coastguards were done away with, smuggling would start up at once.’
A voice on the beach under the cliff began to sing:
Feet scrabbled on the flinty path. A dark, thin-faced man in very neat brown clothes and broad-toed shoes came up, followed by Puck.
the man went on.
‘Hssh!’ said Puck. ‘You’ll shock these nice young people.’
‘Oh! Shall I? Mille pardons!’ He shrugged his shoulders almost up to his ears—spread his hands abroad, and jabbered in French. ‘No comprenny?’ he said. ‘I’ll give it you in Low German.’ And he went off in another language, changing his voice and manner so completely that they hardly knew him for the same person. But his dark beady-brown eyes still twinkled merrily in his lean face, and the children felt that they did not suit the straight, plain, snuffy-brown coat, brown knee-breeches, and broad-brimmed hat. His hair was tied in a short pigtail which danced wickedly when he turned his head.
‘Ha’ done!’ said Puck, laughing. ‘Be one thing or t’other, Pharaoh—French or English or German—no great odds which.’
‘Oh, but it is, though,’ said Una quickly. ‘We haven’t begun German yet, and—and we’re going back to our French next week.’
‘Aren’t you English?’ said Dan. ‘We heard you singing just now.’
‘Aha! That was the Sussex side o’ me. Dad he married a French girl out o’ Boulogne, and French she stayed till her dyin’ day. She was an Aurette, of course. We Lees mostly marry Aurettes. Haven’t you ever come across the saying:
‘Then, are you a smuggler?’ Una cried; and, ‘Have you smuggled much?’said Dan.
Mr Lee nodded solemnly.
‘Mind you,’ said he, ‘I don’t uphold smuggling for the generality o’ mankind—mostly they can’t make a do of it—but I was brought up to the trade, d’ye see, in a lawful line o’ descent on’—he waved across the Channel—‘on both sides the water. ’Twas all in the families, same as fiddling. The Aurettes used mostly to run the stuff across from Boulogne, and we Lees landed it here and ran it up to London Town, by the safest road.’
‘Then where did you live?’ said Una.
‘You mustn’t ever live too close to your business in our trade. We kept our little fishing smack at Shoreham, but otherwise we Lees was all honest cottager folk—at Warminghurst under Washington—Bramber way—on the old Penn estate.’
‘Ah!’ said Puck, squatted by the windlass. ‘I remember a piece about the Lees at Warminghurst, I do:
I reckon that’s truth, Pharaoh.’
Pharaoh laughed. ‘Admettin’ that’s true,’ he said, ‘my gipsy blood must be wore pretty thin, for I’ve made and kept a worldly fortune.’
‘By smuggling?’ Dan asked. ‘No, in the tobacco trade.’
‘You don’t mean to say you gave up smuggling just to go and be a tobacconist!’ Dan looked so disappointed they all had to laugh.
‘I’m sorry; but there’s all sorts of tobacconists,’ Pharaoh replied. ‘How far out, now, would you call that smack with the patch on her foresail?’ He pointed to the fishing-boats.
‘A scant mile,’ said Puck after a quick look.
‘Just about. It’s seven fathom under her—clean sand. That was where Uncle Aurette used to sink his brandy kegs from Boulogne, and we fished ’em up and rowed ’em into The Gap here for the ponies to run inland. One thickish night in January of ’Ninety-three, Dad and Uncle Lot and me came over from Shoreham in the smack, and we found Uncle Aurette and the L’Estranges, my cousins, waiting for us in their lugger with New Year’s presents from Mother’s folk in Boulogne. I remember Aunt Cecile she’d sent me a fine new red knitted cap, which I put on then and there, for the French was having their Revolution in those days, and red caps was all the fashion. Uncle Aurette tells us that they had cut off their King Louis’ head, and, moreover, the Brest forts had fired on an English man-o’-war. The news wasn’t a week old.
‘“That means war again, when we was only just getting used to the peace,” says Dad. “Why can’t King George’s men and King Louis’ men do on their uniforms and fight it out over our heads?”
‘“Me too, I wish that,” says Uncle Aurette. “But they’ll be pressing better men than themselves to fight for ’em. The press-gangs are out already on our side. You look out for yours.”
‘“I’ll have to bide ashore and grow cabbages for a while, after I’ve run this cargo; but I do wish”—Dad says, going over the lugger’s side with our New Year presents under his arm and young L’Estrange holding the lantern—“I just do wish that those folk which make war so easy had to run one cargo a month all this winter. It ’ud show ’em what honest work means.”
‘“Well, I’ve warned ye,” says Uncle Aurette. “I’ll be slipping off now before your Revenue cutter comes. Give my love to Sister and take care o’ the kegs. It’s thicking to southward.” ‘I remember him waving to us and young Stephen L’Estrange blowing out the lantern. By the time we’d fished up the kegs the fog came down so thick Dad judged it risky for me to row ’em ashore, even though we could hear the ponies stamping on the beach. So he and Uncle Lot took the dinghy and left me in the smack playing on my fiddle to guide ’em back.
‘Presently I heard guns. Two of ’em sounded mighty like Uncle Aurette’s three-pounders. He didn’t go naked about the seas after dark. Then come more, which I reckoned was Captain Giddens in the Revenue cutter. He was open-handed with his compliments, but he would lay his guns himself. I stopped fiddling to listen, and I heard a whole skyful o’ French up in the fog—and a high bow come down on top o’ the smack. I hadn’t time to call or think. I remember the smack heeling over, and me standing on the gunwale pushing against the ship’s side as if I hoped to bear her off. Then the square of an open port, with a lantern in it, slid by in front of my nose. I kicked back on our gunwale as it went under and slipped through that port into the French ship—me and my fiddle.’
‘Gracious!’ said Una. ‘What an adventure!’
‘Didn’t anybody see you come in?’ said Dan.
‘There wasn’t any one there. I’d made use of an orlop-deck port—that’s the next deck below the gun-deck, which by rights should not have been open at all. The crew was standing by their guns up above. I rolled on to a pile of dunnage in the dark and I went to sleep. When I woke, men was talking all round me, telling each other their names and sorrows just like Dad told me pressed men used to talk in the last war. Pretty soon I made out they’d all been hove aboard together by the press-gangs, and left to sort ’emselves. The ship she was the Embuscade, a thirty-six-gun Republican frigate, Captain Jean Baptiste Bompard, two days out of Le Havre, going to the United States with a Republican French Ambassador of the name of Genet. They had been up all night clearing for action on account of hearing guns in the fog. Uncle Aurette and Captain Giddens must have been passing the time o’ day with each other off Newhaven, and the frigate had drifted past ’em. She never knew she’d run down our smack. Seeing so many aboard was total strangers to each other, I thought one more mightn’t be noticed; so I put Aunt Cecile’s red cap on the back of my head, and my hands in my pockets like the rest, and, as we French say, I circulated till I found the galley.
‘“What! Here’s one of ’em that isn’t sick!” says a cook. “Take his breakfast to Citizen Bompard.”
‘I carried the tray to the cabin, but I didn’t call this Bompard “Citizen.” Oh no! “Mon Capitaine” was my little word, same as Uncle Aurette used to answer in King Louis’ Navy. Bompard, he liked it. He took me on for cabin servant, and after that no one asked questions; and thus I got good victuals and light work all the way across to America. He talked a heap of politics, and so did his officers, and when this Ambassador Genet got rid of his land-stomach and laid down the law after dinner, a rooks’ parliament was nothing compared to their cabin. I learned to know most of the men which had worked the French Revolution, through waiting at table and hearing talk about ’em. One of our forecas’le six-pounders was called Danton and t’other Marat. I used to play the fiddle between ’em, sitting on the capstan. Day in and day out Bompard and Monsieur Genet talked o’ what France had done, and how the United States was going to join her to finish off the English in this war. Monsieur Genet said he’d justabout make the United States fight for France. He was a rude common man. But I liked listening. I always helped drink any healths that was proposed—specially Citizen Danton’s who’d cut off King Louis’ head. An all-Englishman might have been shocked—but that’s where my French blood saved me.
‘It didn’t save me from getting a dose of ship’s fever though, the week before we put Monsieur Genet ashore at Charleston; and what was left of me after bleeding and pills took the dumb horrors from living ’tween decks. The surgeon, Karaguen his name was, kept me down there to help him with his plasters—I was too weak to wait on Bompard. I don’t remember much of any account for the next few weeks, till I smelled lilacs, and I looked out of the port, and we was moored to a wharf-edge and there was a town o’ fine gardens and red-brick houses and all the green leaves o’ God’s world waiting for me outside.
‘“What’s this?” I said to the sick-bay man—Old Pierre Tiphaigne he was. “Philadelphia,” says Pierre. “You’ve missed it all. We’re sailing next week. “
‘I just turned round and cried for longing to be amongst the laylocks.
‘“If that’s your trouble,” says old Pierre, “you go straight ashore. None’ll hinder you. They’re all gone mad on these coasts—French and American together. ’Tisn’t my notion o’ war.” Pierre was an old King Louis man.
‘My legs was pretty tottly, but I made shift to go on deck, which it was like a fair. The frigate was crowded with fine gentlemen and ladies pouring in and out. They sung and they waved French flags, while Captain Bompard and his officers—yes, and some of the men—speechified to all and sundry about war with England. They shouted, “Down with England!”—“Down with Washington!”—“Hurrah for France and the Republic!” I couldn’t make sense of it. I wanted to get out from that crunch of swords and petticoats and sit in a field. One of the gentlemen said to me, “Is that a genuine cap o’ Liberty you’re wearing?” ’Twas Aunt Cecile’s red one, and pretty near wore out. “Oh yes!” I says, “straight from France.” “I’ll give you a shilling for it,” he says, and with that money in my hand and my fiddle under my arm I squeezed past the entry-port and went ashore. It was like a dream—meadows, trees, flowers, birds, houses, and people all different! I sat me down in a meadow and fiddled a bit, and then I went in and out the streets, looking and smelling and touching, like a little dog at a fair. Fine folk was setting on the white stone doorsteps of their houses, and a girl threw me a handful of laylock sprays, and when I said “Merci” without thinking, she said she loved the French. They all was the fashion in the city. I saw more tricolour flags in Philadelphia than ever I’d seen in Boulogne, and every one was shouting for war with England. A crowd o’ folk was cheering after our French Ambassador—that same Monsieur Genet which we’d left at Charleston. He was a-horseback behaving as if the place belonged to him—and commanding all and sundry to fight the British. But I’d heard that before. I got into a long straight street as wide as the Broyle, where gentlemen was racing horses. I’m fond o’ horses. Nobody hindered ’em, and a man told me it was called Race Street o’ purpose for that. Then I followed some black niggers, which I’d never seen close before; but I left them to run after a great, proud, copper-faced man with feathers in his hair and a red blanket trailing behind him. A man told me he was a real Red Indian called Red Jacket, and I followed him into an alley-way off Race Street by Second Street, where there was a fiddle playing. I’m fond o’ fiddling. The Indian stopped at a baker’s shop—Conrad Gerhard’s it was—and bought some sugary cakes. Hearing what the price was I was going to have some too, but the Indian asked me in English if I was hungry. “Oh yes!” I says. I must have looked a sore scrattel. He opens a door on to a staircase and leads the way up. We walked into a dirty little room full of flutes and fiddles and a fat man fiddling by the window, in a smell of cheese and medicines fit to knock you down. I was knocked down too, for the fat man jumped up and hit me a smack in the face. I fell against an old spinet covered with pill-boxes and the pills rolled about the floor. The Indian never moved an eyelid.
‘“Pick up the pills! Pick up the pills!” the fat man screeches.
‘I started picking ’em up—hundreds of ’em—meaning to run out under the Indian’s arm, but I came on giddy all over and I sat down. The fat man went back to his fiddling.
‘“Toby!” says the Indian after quite a while. “I brought the boy to be fed, not hit.”
‘“What?” says Toby, “I thought it was Gert Schwankfelder.” He put down his fiddle and took a good look at me. “Himmel!” he says. “I have hit the wrong boy. It is not the new boy. Why are you not the new boy? Why are you not Gert Schwankfelder?”
‘“I don’t know,” I said. “The gentleman in the pink blanket brought me.”
‘Says the Indian, “He is hungry, Toby. Christians always feed the hungry. So I bring him.”
‘“You should have said that first,” said Toby. He pushed plates at me and the Indian put bread and pork on them, and a glass of Madeira wine. I told him I was off the French ship, which I had joined on account of my mother being French. That was true enough when you think of it, and besides I saw that the French was all the fashion in Philadelphia. Toby and the Indian whispered and I went on picking up the pills.
‘“You like pills—eh?” says Toby. ‘“No,” I says. “I’ve seen our ship’s doctor roll too many of ’em.”’
‘“Ho!” he says, and he shoves two bottles at me. “What’s those?”
‘“Calomel,” I says. “And t’other’s senna.”’
‘“Right,” he says. “One week have I tried to teach Gert Schwankfelder the difference between them, yet he cannot tell. You like to fiddle?” he says. He’d just seen my kit on the floor.
‘“Oh yes!” says I,
‘“Oho!” he says. “What note is this?” drawing his bow across.
‘He meant it for A, so I told him it was.’
‘“My brother,” he says to the Indian. “I think this is the hand of Providence! I warned that Gert if he went to play upon the wharves any more he would hear from me. Now look at this boy and say what you think.”
‘The Indian looked me over whole minutes—there was a musical clock on the wall and dolls came out and hopped while the hour struck. He looked me over all the while they did it.
‘“Good,” he says at last. “This boy is good.”
‘“Good, then,” says Toby. “Now I shall play my fiddle and you shall sing your hymn, brother. Boy, go down to the bakery and tell them you are young Gert Schwankfelder that was. The horses are in Davy Jones’s locker. If you ask any questions you shall hear from me.”
‘I left ’em singing hymns and I went down to old Conrad Gerhard. He wasn’t at all surprised when I told him I was young Gert Schwankfelder that was. He knew Toby. His wife she walked me into the back-yard without a word, and she washed me and she cut my hair to the edge of a basin, and she put me to bed, and oh! how I slept—how I slept in that little room behind the oven looking on the flower garden! I didn’t know Toby went to the Embuscade that night and bought me off Dr Karaguen for twelve dollars and a dozen bottles of Seneca Oil. Karaguen wanted a new lace to his coat, and he reckoned I hadn’t long to live; so he put me down as “discharged sick.”
‘I like Toby,’ said Una.
‘Who was he?’ said Puck.
‘Apothecary Tobias Hirte,’ Pharaoh replied. ‘One Hundred and Eighteen, Second Street—the famous Seneca Oil man, that lived half of every year among the Indians. But let me tell my tale my own way, same as his brown mare used to go to Lebanon.’
‘Then why did he keep her in Davy Jones’s locker?’ Dan asked.
‘That was his joke. He kept her under David Jones’s hat shop in the “Buck” tavern yard, and his Indian friends kept their ponies there when they visited him. I looked after the horses when I wasn’t rolling pills on top of the old spinet, while he played his fiddle and Red Jacket sang hymns. I liked it. I had good victuals, light work, a suit o’ clean clothes, a plenty music, and quiet, smiling German folk all around that let me sit in their gardens. My first Sunday, Toby took me to his church in Moravian Alley; and that was in a garden too. The women wore long-eared caps and handkerchiefs. They came in at one door and the men at another, and there was a brass chandelier you could see your face in, and a nigger-boy to blow the organ bellows. I carried Toby’s fiddle, and he played pretty much as he chose all against the organ and the singing. He was the only one they let do it, for they was a simple-minded folk. They used to wash each other’s feet up in the attic to keep ’emselves humble: which Lord knows they didn’t need.’
‘How very queer!’ said Una.
Pharaoh’s eyes twinkled. ‘I’ve met many and seen much,’ he said; ‘but I haven’t yet found any better or quieter or forbearinger people than the Brethren and Sistern of the Moravian Church in Philadelphia. Nor will I ever forget my first Sunday—the service was in English that week—with the smell of the flowers coming in from Pastor Meder’s garden where the big peach tree is, and me looking at all the clean strangeness and thinking of ’tween decks on the Embuscade only six days ago. Being a boy, it seemed to me it had lasted for ever, and was going on for ever. But I didn’t know Toby then. As soon as the dancing clock struck midnight that Sunday—I was lying under the spinet—I heard Toby’s fiddle. He’d just done his supper, which he always took late and heavy. “Gert,” says he, “get the horses. Liberty and Independence for Ever! The flowers appear upon the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come. We are going to my country seat in Lebanon.”
‘I rubbed my eyes, and fetched ’em out of the “Buck” stables. Red Jacket was there saddling his, and when I’d packed the saddle-bags we three rode up Race Street to the Ferry by starlight. So we went travelling. It’s a kindly, softly country there, back of Philadelphia among the German towns, Lancaster way. Little houses and bursting big barns, fat cattle, fat women, and all as peaceful as Heaven might be if they farmed there. Toby sold medicines out of his saddlebags, and gave the French war-news to folk along the roads. Him and his long-hilted umberell was as well known as the stage-coaches. He took orders for that famous Seneca Oil which he had the secret of from Red Jacket’s Indians, and he slept in friends’ farmhouses, but he would shut all the windows; so Red Jacket and me slept outside. There’s nothing to hurt except snakes—and they slip away quick enough if you thrash in the bushes.’
‘I’d have liked that!’ said Dan.
‘I’d no fault to find with those days. In the cool o’ the morning the cat-bird sings. He’s something to listen to. And there’s a smell of wild grape-vine growing in damp hollows which you drop into, after long rides in the heat, which is beyond compare for sweetness. So’s the puffs out of the pine woods of afternoons. Come sundown, the frogs strike up, and later on the fireflies dance in the corn. Oh me, the fireflies in the corn! We were a week or ten days on the road, tacking from one place to another—such as Lancaster, Bethlehem-Ephrata—“thou Bethlehem-Ephrata.” No odds—I loved the going about. And so we jogged into dozy little Lebanon by the Blue Mountains, where Toby had a cottage and a garden of all fruits. He come north every year for this wonderful Seneca Oil the Seneca Indians made for him. They’d never sell to any one else, and he doctored ’em with von Swieten pills, which they valued more than their own oil. He could do what he chose with them, and, of course, he tried to make them Moravians. The Senecas are a seemly, quiet people, and they’d had trouble enough from white men—American and English—during the wars, to keep ’em in that walk. They lived on a Reservation by themselves away off by their lake. Toby took me up there, and they treated me as if I was their own blood brother. Red Jacket said the mark of my bare feet in the dust was just like an Indian’s and my style of walking was similar. I know I took to their ways all over.’
‘Maybe the gipsy drop in your blood helped you?’ said Puck.
‘Sometimes I think it did,’ Pharaoh went on. ‘Anyhow, Red Jacket and Cornplanter, the other Seneca chief, they let me be adopted into the tribe. It’s only a compliment, of course, but Toby was angry when I showed up with my face painted. They gave me a side-name which means “Two Tongues”, because, d’ye see, I talked French and English.
‘They had their own opinions (I’ve heard ’em) about the French and the English, and the Americans. They’d suffered from all of ’em during the wars, and they only wished to be left alone. But they thought a heap of the President of the United States. Cornplanter had had dealings with him in some French wars out West when General Washington was only a lad. His being President afterwards made no odds to ’em. They always called him Big Hand, for he was a large-fisted man, and he was all of their notion of a white chief. Cornplanter ’ud sweep his blanket round him, and after I’d filled his pipe he’d begin—“In the old days, long ago, when braves were many and blankets were few, Big Hand said—” If Red Jacket agreed to the say-so he’d trickle a little smoke out of the corners of his mouth. If he didn’t, he’d blow through his nostrils. Then Cornplanter ’ud stop and Red Jacket ’ud take on. Red Jacket was the better talker of the two. I’ve laid and listened to ’em for hours. Oh! they knew General Washington well. Cornplanter used to meet him at Epply’s—the great dancing-place in the city before District Marshal William Nichols bought it. They told me he was always glad to see ’em, and he’d hear ’em out to the end if they had anything on their minds. They had a good deal in those days. I came at it by degrees, after I was adopted into the tribe. The talk up in Lebanon and everywhere else that summer was about the French war with England and whether the United States ’ud join in with France or make a peace treaty with England. Toby wanted peace so as he could go about the Reservation buying his oils. But most of the white men wished for war, and they was angry because the President wouldn’t give the sign for it. The newspaper said men was burning Guy Fawkes images of General Washington and yelling after him in the streets of Philadelphia. You’d have been astonished what those two fine old chiefs knew of the ins and outs of such matters. The little I’ve learned of politics I picked up from Cornplanter and Red Jacket on the Reservation. Toby used to read the Aurora newspaper. He was what they call a “Democrat,” though our Church is against the Brethren concerning themselves with politics.’
‘I hate politics, too,’ said Una, and Pharaoh laughed.
‘I might ha’ guessed it,’ he said. ‘But here’s something that isn’t politics. One hot evening late in August, Toby was reading the newspaper on the stoop and Red Jacket was smoking under a peach tree and I was fiddling. Of a sudden Toby drops his Aurora.
‘“I am an oldish man, too fond of my own comforts,” he says. “I will go to the Church which is in Philadelphia. My brother, lend me a spare pony. I must be there tomorrow night.”
‘“Good!” says Red Jacket, looking at the sun. “My brother shall be there. I will ride with him and bring back the ponies.
‘I went to pack the saddle-bags. Toby had cured me of asking questions. He stopped my fiddling if I did. Besides, Indians don’t ask questions much and I wanted to be like ’em.
‘When the horses were ready I jumped up.
‘“Get off,” says Toby. “Stay and mind the cottage till I come back. The Lord has laid this on me, not on you. I wish He hadn’t.”
‘He powders off down the Lancaster road, and I sat on the doorstep wondering after him. When I picked up the paper to wrap his fiddle-strings in, I spelled out a piece about the yellow fever being in Philadelphia so dreadful every one was running away. I was scared, for I was fond of Toby. We never said much to each other, but we fiddled together, and music’s as good as talking to them that understand.’
‘Did Toby die of yellow fever?’Una asked.
‘Not him! There’s justice left in the world still. He went down to the City and bled ’em well again in heaps. He sent back word by Red Jacket that, if there was war or he died, I was to bring the oils along to the City, but till then I was to go on working in the garden and Red Jacket was to see me do it. Down at heart all Indians reckon digging a squaw’s business, and neither him nor Cornplanter, when he relieved watch, was a hard task-master. We hired a nigger-boy to do our work, and a lazy grinning runagate he was. When I found Toby didn’t die the minute he reached town, why, boylike, I took him off my mind and went with my Indians again. Oh! those days up north at Canasedago, running races and gambling with the Senecas, or bee-hunting in the woods, or fishing in the lake.’ Pharaoh sighed and looked across the water. ‘But it’s best,’ he went on suddenly, ‘after the first frosts. You roll out o’ your blanket and find every leaf left green over night turned red and yellow, not by trees at a time, but hundreds and hundreds of miles of ’em, like sunsets splattered upside down. On one of such days—the maples was flaming scarlet and gold, and the sumach bushes were redder—Cornplanter and Red Jacket came out in full war-dress, making the very leaves look silly: feathered war-bonnets, yellow doeskin leggings, fringed and tasselled, red horse-blankets, and their bridles feathered and shelled and beaded no bounds. I thought it was war against the British till I saw their faces weren’t painted, and they only carried wrist-whips. Then I hummed “Yankee Doodle” at ’em. They told me they was going to visit Big Hand and find out for sure whether he meant to join the French in fighting the English or make a peace treaty with England. I reckon those two would ha’ gone out on the war-path at a nod from Big Hand, but they knew well, if there was war ’twixt England and the United States, their tribe ’ud catch it from both parties same as in all the other wars. They asked me to come along and hold the ponies. That puzzled me, because they always put their ponies up at the “Buck” or Epply’s when they went to see General Washington in the city, and horse-holding is a nigger’s job. Besides, I wasn’t exactly dressed for it.’
‘D’you mean you were dressed like an Indian?’Dan demanded.
Pharaoh looked a little abashed. ‘This didn’t happen at Lebanon,’ he said, ‘but a bit farther north, on the Reservation; and at that particular moment of time, so far as blanket, hair-band, moccasins, and sunburn went, there wasn’t much odds ’twix’ me and a young Seneca buck. You may laugh’—he smoothed down his long-skirted brown coat—‘but I told you I took to their ways all over. I said nothing, though I was bursting to let out the war-whoop like the young men had taught me.’
‘No, and you don’t let out one here, either,’ said Puck before Dan could ask. ‘Go on, Brother Square-toes.’
‘We went on.’ Pharaoh’s narrow dark eyes gleamed and danced. ‘We went on—forty, fifty miles a day, for days on end—we three braves. And how a great tall Indian a-horse-back can carry his war-bonnet at a canter through thick timber without brushing a feather beats me! My silly head was banged often enough by low branches, but they slipped through like running elk. We had evening hymn-singing every night after they’d blown their pipe-smoke to the quarters of heaven. Where did we go? I’ll tell you, but don’t blame me if you’re no wiser. We took the old war-trail from the end of the Lake along the East Susquehanna through the Nantego country, right down to Fort Shamokin on the Senachse river. We crossed the Juniata by Fort Granville, got into Shippensberg over the hills by the Ochwick trail, and then to Williams Ferry (it’s a bad one). From Williams Ferry, across the Shanedore, over the Blue Mountains, through Ashby’s Gap, and so south-east by south from there, till we found the President at the back of his own plantations. I’d hate to be trailed by Indians in earnest. They caught him like a partridge on a stump. After we’d left our ponies, we scouted forward through a woody piece, and, creeping slower and slower, at last if my moccasins even slipped Red Jacket ’ud turn and frown. I heard voices—Monsieur Genet’s for choice—long before I saw anything, and we pulled up at the edge of a clearing where some niggers in grey-and-red liveries were holding horses, and half-a- dozen gentlemen—but one was Genet—were talking among felled timber. I fancy they’d come to see Genet a piece on his road, for his portmantle was with him. I hid in between two logs as near to the company as I be to that old windlass there. I didn’t need anybody to show me Big Hand. He stood up, very still, his legs a little apart, listening to Genet, that French Ambassador, which never had more manners than a Bosham tinker. Genet was as good as ordering him to declare war on England at once. I had heard that clack before on the Embuscade. He said he’d stir up the whole United States to have war with England, whether Big Hand liked it or not.
‘Big Hand heard him out to the last end. I looked behind me, and my two chiefs had vanished like smoke. Says Big Hand, “That is very forcibly put, Monsieur Genet -”
‘”Citizen—citizen!” the fellow spits in. “I, at least, am a Republican!”
“Citizen Genet,” he says, “you may be sure it will receive my fullest consideration.” This seemed to take Citizen Genet back a piece. He rode off grumbling, and never gave his nigger a penny. No gentleman!
‘The others all assembled round Big Hand then, and, in their way, they said pretty much what Genet had said. They put it to him, here was France and England at war, in a manner of speaking, right across the United States’ stomach, and paying no regards to any one. The French was searching American ships on pretence they was helping England, but really for to steal the goods. The English was doing the same, only t’other way round, and besides searching, they was pressing American citizens into their Navy to help them fight France, on pretence that those Americans was lawful British subjects. His gentlemen put this very clear to Big Hand. It didn’t look to them, they said, as though the United States trying to keep out of the fight was any advantage to her, because she only catched it from both French and English. They said that nine out of ten good Americans was crazy to fight the English then and there. They wouldn’t say whether that was right or wrong; they only wanted Big Hand to turn it over in his mind. He did—for a while. I saw Red Jacket and Cornplanter watching him from the far side of the clearing, and how they had slipped round there was another mystery. Then Big Hand drew himself up, and he let his gentlemen have it.’
‘Hit ’em?’ Dan asked.
‘No, nor yet was it what you might call swearing. He—he blasted ’em with his natural speech. He asked them half-a-dozen times over whether the United States had enough armed ships for any shape or sort of war with any one. He asked ’em, if they thought she had those ships, to give him those ships, and they looked on the ground, as if they expected to find ’em there. He put it to ’em whether, setting ships aside, their country—I reckon he gave ’em good reasons—whether the United States was ready or able to face a new big war; she having but so few years back wound up one against England, and being all holds full of her own troubles. As I said, the strong way he laid it all before ’em blasted ’em, and when he’d done it was like a still in the woods after a storm. A little man—but they all looked little—pipes up like a young rook in a blowed-down nest, “Nevertheless, General, it seems you will be compelled to fight England.” Quick Big Hand wheeled on him, “And is there anything in my past which makes you think I am averse to fighting Great Britain?”
‘Everybody laughed except him. “Oh, General, you mistake us entirely!” they says. “I trust so,” he says. “But I know my duty. We must have peace with England.”
‘“At any price?” says the man with the rook’s voice.
‘“At any price,” says he, word by word. “Our ships will be searched—our citizens will be pressed, but—”
‘“Then what about the Declaration of Independence?” says one.
‘“Deal with facts, not fancies,” says Big Hand. “The United States are in no position to fight England.”
‘“But think of public opinion,” another one starts up. “The feeling in Philadelphia alone is at fever heat.”
‘He held up one of his big hands. “Gentlemen,” he says—slow he spoke, but his voice carried far—“I have to think of our country. Let me assure you that the treaty with Great Britain will be made though every city in the Union burn me in effigy.”
‘“At any price?” the actor-like chap keeps on croaking.
‘“The treaty must be made on Great Britain’s own terms. What else can I do?” He turns his back on ’em and they looked at each other and slinked off to the horses, leaving him alone: and then I saw he was an old man. Then Red Jacket and Cornplanter rode down the clearing from the far end as though they had just chanced along. Back went Big Hand’s shoulders, up went his head, and he stepped forward one single pace with a great deep Hough! so pleased he was. That was a statelified meeting to behold—three big men, and two of ’em looking like jewelled images among the spattle of gay-coloured leaves. I saw my chiefs’ war-bonnets sinking together, down and down. Then they made the sign which no Indian makes outside of the Medicine Lodges—a sweep of the right hand just clear of the dust and an inbend of the left knee at the same time, and those proud eagle feathers almost touched his boot-top.’
‘What did it mean?’ said Dan.
‘Mean!’ Pharaoh cried. ‘Why it’s what you—what we—it’s the Sachems’ way of sprinkling the sacred corn-meal in front of—oh! it’s a piece of Indian compliment really, and it signifies that you are a very big chief.
‘Big Hand looked down on ’em. First he says quite softly, “My brothers know it is not easy to be a chief.” Then his voice grew. “My children,” says he, “what is in your minds?”
‘Says Cornplanter, “We came to ask whether there will be war with King George’s men, but we have heard what our Father has said to his chiefs. We will carry away that talk in our hearts to tell to our people.”
‘“No,” says Big Hand. “Leave all that talk behind—it was between white men only—but take this message from me to your people—‘There will be no war.’”
‘His gentlemen were waiting, so they didn’t delay him—, only Cornplanter says, using his old side-name, “Big Hand, did you see us among the timber just now?”
‘“Surely,” says he. “You taught me to look behind trees when we were both young.” And with that he cantered off.
‘Neither of my chiefs spoke till we were back on our ponies again and a half-hour along the home-trail. Then Cornplanter says to Red Jacket, “We will have the Corn-dance this year. There will be no war.” And that was all there was to it.’
Pharaoh stood up as though he had finished.
‘Yes,’ said Puck, rising too. ‘And what came out of it in the long run?’
‘Let me get at my story my own way,’was the answer. ‘Look! it’s later than I thought. That Shoreham smack’s thinking of her supper.’ The children looked across the darkening Channel. A smack had hoisted a lantern and slowly moved west where Brighton pier lights ran out in a twinkling line. When they turned round The Gap was empty behind them.
‘I expect they’ve packed our trunks by now,’ said Dan. ‘This time tomorrow we’ll be home.’