« PreviousContinue »
supposed to have peculiar magical powers. The grandfather of Dred, on his mother's side, had been one of these reputed African sorcerers; and he had early discovered in the boy this peculiar species of temperament. He had taught him the secret of snake-charming, and had possessed his mind from childhood with expectations of prophetic and supernatural impulses. That mysterious and singular gift, whatever it may be, which Highland seers denominate second sight, is a very common tradition among
negroes; and there are not wanting thousands of reputed instances among them to confirm belief in it.
What this faculty may be, we shall not pretend to say. Whether there be in the soul a yet undeveloped attribute, which is to be to the future what memory is to the past, or whether in some individuals an extremely high and perfect condition of the sensuous organization endows them with something of that certainty of instinctive discrimination which belongs to animals, are things which we shall not venture to decide upon.
It was, however, an absolute fact with regard to Dred, that he had often escaped danger by means of a peculiarity of this kind. He had been warned from particular places where the hunters had lain in wait for him ; had foreseen in times of want where game might be ensnared, and received intimations where persons were to be found in whom he might safely confide; and his predictions with regard to persons and things had often chanced to be so strikingly true, as to invest his sayings with a singular awe and importance among his associates.
It was a remarkable fact, but one not peculiar to this case alone, that the mysterious exaltation of mind in this individual seemed to run parallel with the current of shrewd, practical sense ; and, like a man who converses alternately in two languages, he would speak now the language of exaltation, and now that of common life, interchangeably. This peculiarity imparted a singular and grotesque effect to his whole personality.
On the night of the camp-meeting, he was, as we have
already seen, in a state of the highest ecstasy. The wanton murder of his associate seemed to flood his soul with an awful tide of emotion, as a thunder-cloud is filled and shaken by slow-gathering electricity. And, although the distance from his retreat to the camp-ground was nearly fifteen miles, most of it through what seemed to be impassable swamps, yet he performed it with as little consciousness of fatigue as if he had been a spirit. Even had he been perceived at that time, it is probable that he could no more have been taken, or bound, than the demoniac of Gadara.
After he parted from Harry, he pursued his way to the interior of the swamp, as was his usual habit, repeating to himself, in a chanting voice, such words of prophetic writ as were familiar to him.
The day had been sultry, and it was now an hour or two past midnight, when a thunder-storm, which had long been gathering and muttering in the distant sky, began to develop its forces.
A low, shivering sigh crept through the woods, and swayed in weird whistlings the tops of the pines ; and sharp arrows of lightning came glittering down among the darkness of the branches, as if sent from the bow of some warlike angel. An army of heavy clouds swept in a moment across the moon; then came a broad, dazzling, blinding sheet of flame, concentrating itself on the top of a tall pine near where Dred was standing, and in a moment shivered all its branches to the ground, as a child strips the leaves from a twig. Dred clapped his hands with a fierce delight; and, while the rain and wind were howling and hissing around him, he shouted aloud :
" Wake, 0, arm of the Lord ! Awake, put on thy strength! The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars — yea, the cedars of Lebanon! The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire! The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh! Hail-stones and coals of fire !"
The storm, which howled around him, bent the forest like a reed, and large trees, uprooted from the spongy and tremulous soil, fell crashing with a tremendous noise; but, as if he had been a dark spirit of the tempest, he shouted and exulted.
The perception of such awful power seemed to animate him, and yet to excite in his soul an impatience that He whose power was so infinite did not awake to judgment.
“ Rend the heavens,” he cried, " and come down ! Avenge the innocent blood ! Cast forth thine arrows, and slay them! Shoot out thy lightnings, and destroy them !"
His soul seemed to kindle with almost a fierce impatience, at the toleration of that Almighty Being, who, having the power to blast and to burn, so silently endures. Could Dred have possessed himself of those lightnings, what would have stood before him ? But his cry, like the cry of thousands, only went up to stand in waiting till an awful coming day!
Gradually the storm passed by; the big drops dashed less and less frequently; a softer breeze passed through the forest, with a patter like the clapping of a thousand little wings; and the moon occasionally looked over the silvery battlements of the great clouds.
As Dred was starting to go forward, one of these clear revealings showed him the cowering form of a man, crouched at the root of a tree, a few paces in front of him. He was evidently a fugitive, and, in fact, was the one of whose escape to the swamps the Georgia trader had complained on the day of the meeting.
“Who is here, at this time of night?” said Dred, coming up to him.
“I have lost my way,” said the other. “I don't know where I am!”
“A runaway?" inquired Dred.
" How did you get into the swamp
'I got away from a soul-driver's camp, that was taking us on through the states."
“0, 0!” said Dred. Camp-meeting and driver's camp right alongside of each other! Shepherds that sell the flock, and pick the bones! Well, come, old man; I'll take you home with me.”
“I'm pretty much beat out,” said the man. " It's been up over my knees every step; and I did n't know but they'd set the dogs after me. If they do, I'll let 'em kill me, and done with it, for I 'm 'bout ready to have it over with. I got free once, and got clear up to New York, and got me a little bit of a house, and a wife and two children, with a little money beforehand; and then they nabbed me, and sent me back again, and mas'r sold me to the drivers, and I believe I's 'bout as good 's die. There's no use in trying to live — everything going agin a body so !”
“Die! No, indeed, you won't,” said Dred; “ not if I've got hold of you! Take heart, man, take heart! Before morning I'll put you where the dogs can't find you, nor anything else. Come, up with you!”
The man rose up, and made an effort to follow ; but, wearied, and unused as he was to the choked and perplexed way, he stumbled and fell almost every minute.
“ How now, brother ?” said Dred. « This won't do! I must put you over my shoulder as I have many a buck before now!” And, suiting the action to the word, he put the man on his back, and, bidding him hold fast to him, went on, picking his way as if he scarcely perceived his weight.
It was now between two and three o'clock, and the clouds, gradually dispersing, allowed the full light of the moon to slide down here and there through the wet and shivering foliage. No sound was heard, save the humming of insects and the crackling plunges by which Dred made his way forward.
“You must be pretty strong!" said his companion. “Have you been in the swamps long ?”
“ Yes,” said the other, “I have been a wild man - every
man's hand against me — a companion of the dragons and the owls, this many a year. I have made my bed with the leviathan, among the reeds and the rushes. I have found the alligators and the snakes better neighbors than Christians. They let those alone that let them alone ; but Christians will hunt for the precious life.”
After about an hour of steady travelling, Dred arrived at the outskirts of the island which we have described. For about twenty paces before he reached it, he waded waist-deep in water. Creeping out, at last, and telling the other one to follow him, he began carefully coursing along on his hands and knees, giving, at the same time, a long, shrill, peculiar whistle. It was responded to by a similar sound, which seemed to proceed through the bushes. After a while, a crackling noise was heard, as of some animal, which gradually seemed to come nearer and nearer to them, till finally a large water-dog emerged from the underbrush, and began testifying his joy at the arrival of the new comer, by most extravagant gambols. “So, ho ! Buck! quiet, my boy!” said Dred.
“ Show us the way in !”
The dog, as if understanding the words, immediately turned into the thicket, and Dred and his companion folhowed him, on their hands and knees. The path wound up and down the brushwood, through many sharp turnings, till at last it ceased altogether, at the roots of a tree ; and, while the dog disappeared among the brushwood, Dred climbed the tree, and directed his companion to follow him, and, proceeding out on to one of the longest limbs, he sprang nimbly on to the ground in the cleared space which we have before described.
His wife was standing waiting for him, and threw herself upon him with a cry of joy.
“0, you've come back! I thought, sure enough, dey'd got you dis time !"
“Not yet! I must continue till the opening of the seals till the vision cometh! Have ye buried him ?”