Hanford Lennox Gordon Poems >>
Winona - In Camp

With sable wings wide o'er the land
     night sprinkles the dew of the heavens;
And hard by the dark river's strand,
     in the midst of a tall, somber forest,
Two camp fires are lighted and beam
     on the trunks and the arms of the pine trees.
In the fitful light darkle and gleam
     the swarthy-hued faces around them.
And one is the camp of DuLuth,
     and the other the camp of Tamdoka.
But few are the jests and uncouth
     of the voyageurs over their supper,
While moody and silent the braves
     round their fire in a circle sit crouching;
And low is the whisper of leaves
     and the sough of the wind in the branches;
And low is the long-winding howl
     of the lone wolf afar in the forest;
But shrill is the hoot of the owl,
     like a bugle-blast blown in the pine-tops,
And the half-startled _voyageurs_ scowl
     at the sudden and saucy intruder.
Like the eyes of the wolves are the eyes
     of the watchful and silent Dakotas;
Like the face of the moon in the skies,
     when the clouds chase each other across it,
Is Tamdoka's dark face in the light
     of the flickering flames of the camp-fire.
They have plotted red murder by night,
     and securely contemplate their victims.
But wary and armed to the teeth
     are the resolute Frenchmen, and ready,
If need be, to grapple with death,
     and to die hand to hand in the forest.
Yet skilled in the arts and the wiles
     of the cunning and crafty _Algonkins_
They cover their hearts with their smiles,
     and hide their suspicions of evil.
Round their low, smouldering fire,
     feigning sleep, lie the watchful and wily Dakotas;
But DuLuth and his _voyageurs_ heap
     their fire that shall blaze till the morning,
Ere they lay themselves snugly to rest,
     with their guns by their sides on the blankets,
As if there were none to molest
     but the gray, skulking wolves of the forest.

'Tis midnight. The rising moon gleams,
     weird and still, o'er the dusky horizon;
Through the hushed, somber forest she beams,
     and fitfully gloams on the meadows;
And a dim, glimmering pathway she paves,
     at times, on the dark stretch of river.
The winds are asleep in the caves--
     in the heart of the far-away mountains;
And here on the meadows and there,
     the lazy mists gather and hover;
And the lights of the Fen-Spirits flare
     and dance on the low-lying marshes,
As still as the footsteps of death
     by the bed of the babe and its mother;
And hushed are the pines, and beneath
     lie the weary-limbed boatmen in slumber.
Walk softly,--walk softly, O Moon,
     through the gray, broken clouds in thy pathway,
For the earth lies asleep and the boon
     of repose is bestowed on the weary.
Toiling hands have forgotten their care;
     e'en the brooks have forgotten to murmur;
But hark!--there's a sound on the air!--
     'tis the light-rustling robes of the Spirits,
Like the breath of the night in the leaves
     or the murmur of reeds on the river,
In the cool of the mid-summer eyes,
     when the blaze of the day has descended.
Low-crouching and shadowy forms,
     as still as the gray morning's footsteps,
Creep sly as the serpent that charms,
     on her nest in the meadow, the plover;
In the shadows of pine-trunks they creep,
     but their panther-eyes gleam in the fire-light,
As they peer on the white-men asleep,
     in the glow of the fire, on their blankets.
Lo in each swarthy right-hand a knife;
     in the left-hand, the bow and the arrows!
Brave Frenchmen, awake to the strife!--
     or you sleep in the forest forever.
Nay, nearer and nearer they glide,
     like ghosts on the field of their battles,
Till close on the sleepers, they bide
     but the signal of death from Tamdoka.
Still the sleepers sleep on. Not a breath
     stirs the leaves of the awe-stricken forest;
The hushed air is heavy with death;
     like the footsteps of death are the moments.
"_Arise!_"--At the word, with a bound,
     to their feet spring the vigilant Frenchmen;
And the depths of the forest resound
     to the crack and the roar of their rifles;
And seven writhing forms on the ground
     clutch the earth. From the pine-tops the screech-owl
Screams and flaps his wide wings in affright,
     and plunges away through the shadows;
And swift on the wings of the night
     flee the dim, phantom-forms through the darkness.
Like _cabris_ when white wolves pursue,
     fled the four yet remaining Dakotas;
Through forest and fen-land they flew,
     and wild terror howled on their footsteps.
And one was Tamdoka. DuLuth
     through the night sent his voice like a trumpet:
"Ye are _Sons of Unktehee_, forsooth!
     Return to your mothers, ye cowards!"
His shrill voice they heard as they fled,
     but only the echoes made answer.
At the feet of the brave Frenchmen, dead,
     lay seven swarthy _Sons of whitehead_;
And there, in the midst of the slain,
     they found, as it gleamed in the fire-light,
The horn-handled knife from the Seine,
     where it fell from the hand of Tamdoka.

In the gray of the morn, ere the sun
     peeped over the dewy horizon,
Their journey again was begun,
     and they toiled up the swift, winding river;
And many a shallow they passed
     on their way to the Lake of the Spirits;
But dauntless they reached it at last,
     and found Akee-pa-kee-tin's village,
On an isle in the midst of the lake;
     and a day in his teepees they tarried.
Of the deed in the wilderness spake,
     to the brave Chief, the frank-hearted Frenchman.
A generous man was the Chief,
     and a friend of the fearless explorer;
And dark was his visage with grief
     at the treacherous act of the warriors.
"Brave Wazi-kute is a man,
     and his heart is as clear as the sunlight;
But the head of a treacherous clan
     and a snake-in-the-grass, is Tamdoka,"
Said the chief; and he promised DuLuth,
     on the word of a friend and a warrior,
To carry the pipe and the truth
     to his cousin, the chief at Kathaga;
For thrice at the _Tanka Mede_
     he smoked in the lodge of the Frenchman;
And thrice had he carried away
     the bountiful gifts of the trader.

When the chief could no longer prevail
     on the white men to rest in his _teepees_,
He guided their feet on the trail
     to the lakes of the winding Rice-River.
Now on speeds the light bark canoe,
     through the lakes to the broad _Gitchee Seebee_;
And up the great river they row,--
     up the Big Sandy Lake and Savanna;
And down through the meadows they go
     to the river of blue _Gitchee-Gumee_.
Still onward they speed to the Dalles--
     to the roar of the white-rolling rapids,
Where the dark river tumbles and falls
     down the ragged ravine of the mountains.
And singing his wild jubilee
     to the low-moaning pines and the cedars,
Rushes on to the unsalted sea
     o'er the ledges upheaved by volcanoes.
Their luggage the _voyageurs_ bore
     down the long, winding path of the portage,
While they mingled their song with the roar
     of the turbid and turbulent waters.
Down-wimpling and murmuring there
     'twixt two dewy hills winds a streamlet,
Like a long, flaxen ringlet of hair
     on the breast of a maid in her slumber.

All safe at the foot of the trail,
     where they left it, they found their felucca,
And soon to the wind spread the sail,
     and glided at ease through the waters,--
Through the meadows and lakelets and forth,
     round the point stretching south like a finger,
From the pine-plumed hills on the north,
     sloping down to the bay and the lake-side
And behold, at the foot of the hill,
     a cluster of Chippewa wigwams,
And the busy wives plying with skill
     their nets in the emerald waters.
Two hundred white winters and more
     have fled from the face of the Summer
Since DuLuth on that wild, somber shore,
     in the unbroken forest primeval,
From the midst of the spruce and the pines,
     saw the smoke of the wigwams up-curling,
Like the fumes from the temples and shrines
     of the Druids of old in their forests.
Ah, little he dreamed then, forsooth,
     that a city would stand on that hill-side,
And bear the proud name of DuLuth,
     the untiring and dauntless explorer,--
A refuge for ships from the storms,
     and for men from the bee-hives of Europe,
Out-stretching her long, iron arms
     o'er an empire of Saxons and Normans.

The swift west-wind sang in the sails,
     and on flew the boat like a sea-gull,
By the green, templed hills and the dales,
     and the dark, rugged rocks of the North Shore;
For the course of the brave Frenchman lay
     to his fort at the _Gah-mah-na-tek-wahk,_
By the shore of the grand Thunder Bay,
     where the gray rocks loom up into mountains;
Where the Stone Giant sleeps on the Cape,
     and the god of the storms makes the thunder,
And the _Makinak_ lifts his huge shape
     from the breast of the blue-rolling waters.
And thence to the south-westward led his course
     to the Holy Ghost Mission,
Where the Black Robes, the brave shepherds,
     fed their wild sheep on the isle _Wauga-ba-me_,
In the enchanting _Cha-quam-e-gon_ Bay
     defended by all the Apostles,
And thence, by the Ke-we-naw,
     lay his course to the Mission Sainte Marie,
Now the waves clap their myriad hands,
     and streams the white hair of the surges;
DuLuth at the steady helm stands,
     and he hums as he bounds o'er the billows:

  O sweet is the carol of bird,
  And sweet is the murmur of streams,
  But sweeter the voice that I heard--
  In the night--in the midst of my dreams.