Toward the hour of midnight, the storm subsided. Fragments of the black curtain which had hung over the face of the heavens, shot up from the eastern horizon in stupendous blue masses, every now and then illuminated to their summits with the reflection of the raging elements beyond. The violence of the conflict in Bacon's breast had also subsided. He rode along the banks of the Chickahominy, his charger dripping with wet and panting with the exhaustion of fatigue. The bridle hung loose upon his neck, and his rider bent over his mane like a worn-out soldier. His own locks had unbent their stubborn curls to the driving storm, and hung about his neck in drooping masses. His silken hose were spattered with mud, and his gay bridal dress hung about his person in lank and dripping folds. His horse had for some time followed the bent of his own humour, and was now leading his master in the neighbourhood of human habitations. The boughs of the tall gloomy pines were fantastically illuminated with broad masses of light, which ever and anon burst from the smouldering remnants of a huge pine log fire. Its immediate precincts were surrounded by some fifty or more round matted huts, converging toward the summit like a gothic steeple. Around the fire, and under a rude shelter, lay some hundred warriors, wrapped in profound slumber while one of their tribe stood sentinel over the camp.
When Bacon had approached within a short distance of this picturesque group, the sentinel sprung upon his feet, and uttered a shrill war-whoop. The horse stood still, erected his neck and pricked up his ears, while his master folded his arms upon his breast and calmly surveyed the scene. Those warriors who slept under the sheds near the fire, assumed the erect attitude with a simultaneous movement, joining in the wild chorus of the sentinel's yell as they arose.
Hundreds of men, women, and children poured from the surrounding huts, – most of the grown males, with their faces painted in blue and red stripes, their heads shaved close to the cranium, except a tuft of hair upon the crown, and all armed in readiness for battle. Bacon assumed the command of his horse and rode into the very centre of this wild congregation, – the fore hoofs resting upon the spent embers of the fire.
He was greeted with another yell, after which the savages stood back and viewed his strange and untimely appearance with wonder not unmixed with awe. His bridle again fell from his hand, and his arms were crossed upon his breast. His countenance was wild and haggard, and a flash of maniacal enthusiasm shot athwart his pale features. His dress under present circumstances was fantastical in the extreme.
A grim old warrior with savage aspect after staring some time intensely at the intruder, was suddenly struck with something in his appearance, and stepping out a few paces from the mass of his companions began to address them in his own language, now and then pointing to the horseman, and using the most violent gesticulations. At another time the youth would have been not a little alarmed at certain significant signs which the speaker used when pointing to himself. These consisted in twirling his war club round and round, as if he was engaged in the most deadly conflict. Then he placed his hand to the side of his head and bent it near the earth as if about to prostrate himself, and finally pointing to Bacon. When he had done this, several of the crowd closed in toward his horse, and seemed intensely to examine the lineaments of his countenance. Having satisfied themselves, they set up a simultaneous yell of savage delight. He was quickly drawn from the saddle, his hands tied behind him, and then placed in the centre of the assembled throng.
Their savage orgies now commenced; a procession of all the grown males moved in a circle of some fifty feet in diameter round his person. Several of the number beat upon rude drums, formed of large calabashes with raw hides stretched tight and dried over the mouths; while others dexterously rattled dried bones and shuffled with their feet to their own music. Others chanted forth a monotonous death song; the whole forming the rudest, wildest, and most savage spectacle imaginable.
Bacon himself stood an unmoved spectator of all these barbarous ceremonies. He felt a desperate and reckless indifference to what might befall him. Human endurance had been stretched to its utmost verge, and he felt within him a longing desire to end the vain struggle in the sleep of death. To one like him, who had in the last few hours endured the mental tortures of a hundred deaths, their savage cruelties had no terrors. A faint hope indeed may have crossed his mind, that some warrior more impetuous than his comrades, might sink his tomahawk deep into his brain in summary vengeance for the death of their chief. But they better understood the delights of vengeance. After performing their rude war-dance for some time, they commenced the more immediate preparations for the final tragedy. His hands were loosed, his person stripped and tied to a stake, while some dozen youths of both sexes busied themselves in splitting the rich pine knots into minute pins. These being completed, a circular pile of finely cleft pieces of the same material was built around his body, just near enough for the fire to convey its tortures by slow degrees without too suddenly ending their victim. A deafening whoop from old and young announced the commencement of the ceremony. Each distinguished warrior present had the privilege of inserting a given number of splinters into his flesh. The grim old savage who had first identified Bacon as the slayer of their chief, stepped forward and commenced the operation. He thrust in the tearing torments with a ferocious delight, not a little enhanced by the physical convulsive movements of his victim at every new insertion. Worn out nature however could not endure the uninterrupted completion of the process, and the victim swooned away.
His body hung by the thongs which had bound his waist and hands to the stake, his head drooping forward as if the spirit had already taken its flight. He was immediately let down and the tenderest care observed to resuscitate him, in order that they might not be cheated of their full revenge. His head and throat were bathed in cold water and his parched lips moistened through the medium of a gourd. At length he revived, and strange as it may appear, to a keener consciousness of his situation than he had felt since he left the church. All the wild horrors of his fate stared him in the face. The savages screamed with delight at his returning animation. Copious drafts of water were administered as he called for them. The most intense pain was already experienced from the festering wounds around each of the wooden daggers driven into his flesh. Again he prayed that some of them might instantaneously reach his heart, but his prayer was not destined to be granted. He was again fastened to the stake, and the second in dignity and authority proceeded to perform his share of the brutal exhibition. At this moment a piercing scream rent the air, and all tongues were mute, all hands suspended.
The sound proceeded from the extreme right of the encampment. Here a larger hut than the rest stood in solitary dignity apart from the others, like an officer's marquée in a military encampment. In a few moments the rude door was thrust aside and an Indian female of exquisite proportions rushed to the scene of butchery, and threw herself between the half immolated victim and his bloodthirsty tormentors. Upon her head she wore a rude crown, composed of a wampum belt tightly encircling her brows, and surmounted by a circlet of the plumes of the kingfisher, facing outwards at the top. Around her waist was belted a short frock of dressed deer-skin, which fell in folds about her knees, and was ornamented around the fringed border with beads and wampum. Over her left shoulder and bust she gracefully wore a variegated skin dressed with the hair facing externally; from this her right arm extended, bare to the shoulder, save a single clasp at the wrist; and she carried in her hand a long javelin mounted at the end with a white crystal. The remaining parts of her figure exhibited their beautiful proportions neatly fitted with a pair of buck-skin leggins, extended and fringed on the seam with porcupine quills, copper and glass ornaments. Similar decorations were visible on her exquisitely proportioned feet and ankles. Thrusting her javelin in the ground with energy, and proudly raising her head, she cast a withering glance of scorn and indignation upon the perpetrators of the cruelty. Her address, translated into English, was to the following purport: "Is it for this," and she pointed to Bacon's bleeding wounds, "that I have been invested with the authority of my sires? Was it to witness the perpetration of these cruelties that I have been almost dragged from the house of my pale faced friends? Scarcely has the fire burned out which was kindled to celebrate my arrival among you, before it is rekindled to sacrifice in its flames him who redeemed me from captivity. Is this the return which Chickahominies make for past favours? If so, I pray you to tear from my person these emblems of my authority among you."
She was immediately answered by the old warrior who had commenced the tortures; "Did not the long knife1 slay the chief of our nation?"
He was answered by a yell of savage delight from all the warriors present. Wyanokee (for it was she, as the reader has no doubt already surmised) continued, "Ay, he did slay King Fisher and his son – but were they not unjustly attempting to take away the property of the pale faces? and did they not commit the deed against their solemn promise and treaty, and after they had smoked the pipe of peace? For shame, warriors and men – would ye turn squaws, and murder a brave and noble youth because he had fought for his own people and for the preservation of his own life?"
Her harangue was not received with the submission and respect which she expected – many murmured at her defence, and claimed the death of the captive as a prescriptive right and an act of retributive justice. She advanced to cut the cords which bound the prisoner, but twenty more powerful arms instantly arrested her movement. Tomahawks were raised in frightful array, while deep and loud murmurs of discontent, and demands for vengeance rent the air. She placed herself before the captive, and elevating her person to its utmost height, and extending her hands before him as a protection, she cried, "Strike your tomahawks here, into the daughter of your chief, of him who led you on to battles and to victory, but harm not the defenceless stranger." The principal warriors held a consultation as to the fate of the prisoner. It was of but short duration, there being few dissenting voices to the proposition of the old savage, already mentioned as principal spokesman of the party. They soon returned and announced to their new queen that the council of the nation had decreed the prisoner's death. "Never, never!" exclaimed the impassioned maiden, "unless you first cleave off these hands with which I will protect him from your fury. Ha!" she cried, as a sudden thought seemed to strike her; "there is one plan of redemption by your own laws. I will be his wife!" A deep blush suffused her cheeks as she forced the reluctant announcement from her lips. An expression of sadness and disappointment soon spread itself over the countenances of the revengeful warriors, for they knew that she had spoken the truth. Another council was immediately held; at which it was determined that their youthful queen, might according to the usages of the nation, take the captive for her husband, in the place of her kinsman who was slain. When this was proclaimed, Wyanokee slowly and doubtingly turned her eyes upon Bacon to see whether the proposition met a willing response in his breast. A single glance sufficed to convince her that it did not. Instantly, however, recovering her self-possession, she cut the cords and led him to her hut, where after having been reinvested with the sad remnants of his bridal finery, we must leave him for the night.