The Hidden Children
Chapter 12. At The Ford
When at length from the forest's edge we saw star-beams splintering over broken water,
cutting the flat, translucent darkness of the river with necklaces of light, we halted; for
this was the ford foaming there in obscurity with its silvery, mellow voice, unheeded in
the wilderness, yet calling ever as that far voice called through the shadows of ages dead.
Now, from where we stood the faint line of sparkles seemed to run a little way into the
darkness and vanish. But the indications were sufficient to mark the spot where we
should enter the water; and, stepping with infinite precaution, we descended to the gravel.
Here we stripped to the clout and laid our rifles on our moccasins, covering the pans with
our hunting shirts. Then we strapped on our war-belts, loosening knife and hatchet, pulled
over our feet our spare ankle-moccasins of oiled moose-hide soled with the coarse hair of
the great, blundering beast himself.
I led, setting foot in the icy water, and moving out into the shadow with no more noise
than a chub's swirl or a minnow's spatter-leap when a great chain-pike snaps at him.
Feeling my way over bed stones and bottom gravel with my feet, striving in vain to
pierce the dense obscurity, I moved forward with infinite caution, balancing as best I
might against the current. Ankle-deep, shin-deep, knee-deep we waded out. Presently the
icy current chilled my thighs, rising to my waistline. But it grew no deeper.
Yet, here so swift was the current that I scarcely dared move, and was peering around to
find the Sagamore, when a shape loomed up on my left. And I reached out and rested my
hand on the shadowy shoulder, and stood so, swaying against the stream.
Suddenly a voice said, in the Seneca dialect:
"Is it thou, Butler?"
And every drop of blood froze in my body.
God knows how I found voice to answer "Yes," and how I found courage to let my hand
remain upon my enemy's shoulder.
"It is I, Hiokatoo," said the low voice.
"Move forward," I said; and dropped my hand from his shoulder.
Somehow, although I could see nothing, all around me in the water I felt the presence of
living creatures. At the same moment somebody came close to me from behind, and the
Sagamore breathed his name in my ear.