Red Wolf and the other Pawnee sat near, but neither lighted his pipe. They had done all they cared to do in the way of tantalizing their comrade, who had spent a part of his early boyhood among the Shawanoes on the other side of the Mississippi. They saw he was in an ugly mood, and would be likely to fight if provoked further. Though they did not hold him in fear, they did not seek a quarrel. Besides, too, they saw the serious side to the business: Deerfoot had already proved that he was a remarkable warrior, for, amid the shooting and firing of guns, which came from the forest beyond, there was heard no signal which told that the daring youth had been shot or captured. The moment such a result should take place, it would be made known by the exultation whoop from the one fortunate enough to bring it about.
The question which presented itself to Red Wolf and his companion was, whether it was probable the wonderful Deerfoot was alone. The Pawnees were returning from a long excursion eastward, which had led them across and into new hunting grounds, where their presence was sure to arouse enmity whenever discovered. On that journey toward the Mississippi, the Pawnees had come in collision with other parties of red men; guns had been fired and one or two scalps taken, including one lost. In addition, the invaders had destroyed much game, so that abundant ground for complaint rested with the strangers. What more probable than that some of those aggrieved tribes had determined on a retaliatory policy, by sending a strong party to chastise the Pawnees?
Before Red Wolf could start a discussion on this question, the one at his side became so interested in what was going on deeper in the woods that he sprang to his feet and was off like a shot. This left Red Wolf and Lone Bear alone, and the former felt much less disposition to pick a quarrel than before.
"Are not the hunting grounds of the Shawanoes beyond the Great River?" asked Red Wolf.
Lone Bear glared at him, as if doubting the sincerity of the question, but, satisfied a moment later that the inquirer was in quest of truth, he shook off his surliness and answered:
"Two suns' travel beyond the Great River lie the hunting grounds of the Shawanoes and Wyandots."
"The Shawanoes are brave warriors?"
"Only the Pawnees excel them," was the reply of Lone Bear, who in those words uttered the greatest compliment possible to the warlike tribe which did more than any other to give Kentucky its baptismal name of the Dark and Bloody Ground.
"Why is the Shawanoe whom you call Deerfoot journeying toward the hunting grounds of the Pawnees?"
This was a pertinent question, which Lone Bear would have been glad to have some one answer for him, but which, as might be expected, he sought to solve without hesitation.
"He has come to look upon the woods and streams and prairies so favored by the Great Spirit, where the bravest warriors, the Pawnees, are born, and from which they drive all strangers."
Had Red Wolf chosen, he might have reminded the speaker of the bad taste of this remark, when he had been so recently overthrown and disgraced by one of the tribe which he placed lower in rank than his own; but Red Wolf was disposed to take a more practical view of matters, and it was natural he should go to the Pawnee who had once lived among the Shawanoes.
"We saw only one Shawanoe, but there may be more hiding among the trees, and waiting to fire at the Pawnees when they have their eyes closed in slumber."
"Red Wolf has seen no Shawanoe!" exclaimed the other, wrathfully. "There has been none here."
"Why does Lone Bear speak in riddles? What is the totem of the young warrior called Deerfoot?"
"He was a Shawanoe; his father was Allomaug the great chief; but Deerfoot became a pale-face; he listened to the prating of the missionaries, and turned away from the wigwams of his people; he has not consorted with the Shawanoes for years; they would give a hundred scalps if they could tear his from his crown. If the warriors of the Shawanoes were in the woods," added Lone Bear, with a sweep of his right arm, "Deerfoot would not be here, for he is a dog that runs when he hears the call of his masters."
None could be more aware of the falsity of this than Lone Bear, who, though he left the tribe before Deerfoot did, had heard of his exploits since then, and knew him to be one of the bravest youths that ever lived. And, again, he lost sight of his recent experience with him.
But when he reminded Red Wolf that the Shawanoe dwelt beyond the Great River, whither the Pawnees had not penetrated, and that Deerfoot had made known that his errand was to look for the captive pale-face, all fear of his being in the company of a war party was removed.
However, no matter what explanation was given, it brought forward other questions which could not be explained away. One of these was the natural one, that, if the Pawnees had happened to have the German lad in their custody, by what means did he hope to recover him? He brought with him nothing in the shape of a ransom, so far as could be seen, and it was hard to imagine what other method he expected to employ.
When Otto was bought of the Sauks, a pretty fair price was paid for him, and it was not to be expected that his purchasers would discount that compensation. The conclusion that the daring Shawanoe relied upon other means, which were not apparent, gave a vague misgiving to Lone Bear and Red Wolf, as they sat near the camp-fire talking over the stirring incidents of the last half hour.
Now and then they ceased and listened to the sounds which came from the forest, wherein the efforts were pushed to make prisoner the young Shawanoe, who was dodging hither and thither as if running a gauntlet. The temptation was strong to mingle in the general melee, as it may be called, but the treatment Lone Bear had received at the hands of the Shawanoe filled him with a fear that he had never known before, for there was a tinge of superstition in it, as appeared in the next remark he made.
"Deerfoot calls himself a Shawanoe; he was born with the people, but when he left them he became an Evil Spirit."
This was Lone Bear's method of saying that the devil bore an active part in the exploits of the youth, an opinion which was shared by Red Wolf.
"The Evil One is his friend: if he was not, he would have fallen by the bullets that were aimed at him. Lone Bear would have slain the greatest warrior, when he was running before him as Deerfoot ran, but he could not slay Deerfoot, because the Evil One was his friend."
This was the kind of remark to please Lone Bear, for it implied that the best possible reason existed for his failure; his enemy was of the supernatural class, and, therefore, beyond the power of any human being to overcome.
Lone Bear turned his head toward the woods, while he held his lips closed over his pipe-stem. The sharp report of a rifle had reached their ears, and the two Pawnees listened for a minute without moving or speaking. Deerfoot just then was doing wonders in the way of dodging and running, and the warriors sitting by the camp-fire could almost read the narrative, as you have done from these printed pages.
Red Wolf leaned forward and lighted his pipe from the glowing coals, and then seated himself a little closer than before to his companion. They were at the end of the fire, as may be said, and so near each other that when they talked and gesticulated their heads almost touched.
"They will not harm the Shawanoe," was the truthful remark of Lone Bear, though in his heart he hoped they would bring his reeking scalp into camp. "The Evil One runs at his side, and when the bullet is aimed by the brave Pawnees, he catches it in his hand and holds it that it may not harm the Shawanoe."
This was an ingenious explanation, for it helped to release the warrior from a questionable situation. Red Wolf, who was sitting cross-legged, like a tailor, sent an enormous puff of smoke over his shoulder, and nodded several times with much vigor, to signify that he indorsed the sentiments of his comrade.
"He can not be harmed until the Good Spirit shall drive the Evil One away; then the bullet of Lone Bear and the tomahawk of Red Wolf and the knives of the Pawnees shall reach him. He shall then die as dies the rattlesnake coiled in our path."
At intervals the two ceased speaking, and, looking toward the wood, listened, but an interval of silence followed. Both began to hope that in spite of the armor they had thrown around the Shawanoe, he had been brought down by some of the Pawnees, who were making such efforts to destroy him.
It will be remembered that the wood from which Deerfoot had caught sight of the Pawnee war party came down to the edge of the broad stream over which he swam in order to reach them. On their side, the growth of the forest ceased some rods away from the water, so that for a considerable distance, a broad band of open land lined the river. In this cleared space the camp-fire of the Pawnees was burning, and they were grouped around it, with nearly as many warriors at varying distances in the wilderness beyond. When they looked, it was toward the nearest trees, from which they expected almost every moment to see some of their comrades emerge, escorting the prisoner.
Red Wolf seemed to glow with anger, because the Shawanoe persisted in keeping out of the hands of the Pawnees, who, it may be said, surrounded him. Removing his long-stemmed pipe from between his teeth, he held it poised in his left hand, while he gesticulated with his right.
"Who are the bravest warriors that hunt through the wilderness and over the prairies?" he asked, launching out in that vain-glorious boasting, so characteristic of his race: "who drove all other red men before them? Whose war-whoop makes the pale-faces run to their cabins and hold their doors closed? Whose shouts cause their enemies to tremble and call on the Great Spirit to protect them? Who is it that sweeps—"
A splintering crash broke in upon this series of questions, and the bowl of Red Wolf's pipe was shattered into a hundred fragments, the atoms flying into the faces of the startled Pawnees, who, accustomed to surprises, leaped to their feet and glanced right and left to learn the cause of the astounding occurrence.
At that instant something like the flitting of a bird's wing twinkled in front of their eyes, and the quick "chuck" which followed showed them an Indian arrow with its head buried in the ground fifty feet beyond, and the feathered point still a-tremble from the force with which it had been driven from the bow.
Like a flash they looked toward the opposite point, and that which met their gaze was perhaps the most alarming sight they had ever seen. Scarcely a hundred feet away, on the edge of the wood, stood Deerfoot the Shawanoe. He had already launched two arrows, and, when they caught sight of him, he was standing with a third drawn to the head, and apparently in the very act of letting fly at one of the terrified warriors.
The American Indian as a rule is not powerful, and his muscular development is moderate; but his life accustoms him to quickness of movement, and he generally excels in running and leaping. Any one looking upon Lone Bear and Red Wolf at that moment would have set them down as the champions of their tribe. When they identified the archer and saw that he was on the point of discharging another missile, they made a break for shelter.
Red Wolf headed for the river, possibly because he didn't dare to lose the time it would take to turn partly on his feet. He ran as if he meant to make the effort to leap entirely across, or at least to outrun the arrow which he believed was chasing him.
He hadn't far to go, and it didn't take him long to travel it. A bound, a splash, and he vanished.
Lone Bear knew he was closer to the wood than to the water, and he was equally determined to attain shelter. In his tremendous effort, he seemed to think he could dodge the shafts that were whizzing through the air in quick succession after him. He bent his head so that he was crouching half way to the ground, and leaped from side to side, ducked and dodged and contorted himself in an indescribable fashion. When he bounded among the trees, he must have felt he had made the escape of his life.
But the third arrow did not leave the bow. Deerfoot had not sought to harm either of the Pawnees, but in obedience to that disposition to humor which he sometimes displayed, he took pains to fire as close as he could without hitting them. When he saw their dismay, he shook from head to foot with silent laughter.
But his mirth was brief. A slight noise caused him to turn his head. There stood two other Indians directly behind him, one with his gun leveled directly at his heart.
SAUK AND PAWNEE.
When Hay-uta, the ally of Deerfoot, parted with him so that the reconnoissance of the Pawnee camp could be made separately, he went down stream—that is, in the direction opposite to that taken by Deerfoot. He moved faster than the Shawanoe, and emerged from the river at the moment the other entered it.
Before this, he had taken another scrutiny of the two warriors, whom he had pointed out as members of the party that bought Otto Relstaub from the Sauks. He thought it unlikely that a mistake could have been made, and the second inspection proved he was right beyond all doubt.
Without any reason for such belief, Hay-uta concluded there were other Pawnees in the vicinity. The appearance of the camp suggested in some way that several were missing. He therefore conducted his movements as though danger threatened him from all points.
Hay-uta was daring and skillful. He had been engaged on more than one similar enterprise, with the difference that the camps where he reconnoitered previously were those of bitter enemies. Having met the Pawnees before, on what may be considered neutral if not friendly ground, he would have felt no great misgivings while marching into their camp, without any effort at concealment.
But, if discovered prowling through the woods, the case would be different. It would be hard to offer any explanation, and, therefore, it was the more necessary to avoid detection while thus employed.
The Sauk was as much puzzled as Deerfoot to guess what had become of Otto. Two of the warriors, if not all of them, were able to tell, but Hay-uta could not expect to draw the information from them. Perhaps Deerfoot might do so.
There was good ground to fear the poor lad had been put out of the way forever, but the Sauk was still more convinced that he was not only alive and well, but was at no great distance from the camp of the Pawnees.
Instead of going directly toward the latter, as did Deerfoot, the Sauk started out on what may be described as a large circle, inclosing the war party near the river. His action was based on the somewhat curious theory that the Pawnees which he had seen did not compose the main body that would be found grouped somewhere within the woods. It may as well be said that he was mistaken in this supposition, though the reader has learned that a number of Indians were scattered at different points, and it was their rapid convergence which kept Deerfoot on the move.
Hay-uta had not gone far on the edge of the semi-circle, when the shouts and sounds of firearms from that direction of the camp left no doubt that trouble had broken out there. Desirous of learning what it meant, he moved toward the point, but before he went near enough to discover any thing, he detected one of the Pawnees doing the same thing.
The warrior was just far enough in advance for Hay-uta to catch a glimpse of his figure as it twinkled among the trees. He was going on a long, loping trot, which, if not very rapid, was sufficiently so to carry him beyond sight within a few seconds after the Sauk observed him.
The unexpected turn which events had taken led Hay-uta to stop and question himself as to the right course to follow. His intelligence told him that Deerfoot was fleeing through the woods, with an indefinite number of enemies in pursuit. The Sauk grimly smiled.
"The Pawnees will overtake the young Shawanoe when they outrun the eagle as he flies among the clouds. The arrow of his own bow is scarce faster than he."
The confidence of Hay-uta in the prowess of Deerfoot was warranted, as we can not help agreeing, but suspecting the truth, as the Sauk did, we can hardly understand how he believed he would succeed in extricating himself.
Making sure that no one was in the vicinity the Sauk stood for perhaps fifteen minutes, while he listened closely to the sounds which came from different points in the wood. He was able to form a pretty fair idea of what it all meant, though of necessity much was left to conjecture.
It was the training of Hay-uta, from his earliest youth, which led him to keep his glances flitting here and there in all directions, while using his ears to determine what was going on. Had he not done so, he would have failed to note a suspicious proceeding on his right.
Although looking toward a different point just then, he detected something which led him to believe that one of the strange warriors was trying to steal close to him. It seemed as if a Pawnee, having discovered the Sauk, was trying to get close enough to make the aim of his gun sure.
The first glance toward that point convinced Hay-uta that his enemy was making for the trunk of a tree, less than a hundred yards distant. Its diameter was so great that it would have sheltered two persons at the same time; and it exceeded to such an extent all the others near it, that it was natural for one to seek its protection.
The Sauk was sure that the warrior was several rods beyond this tree, toward which he was stealing, while striving to keep the trunk between him and Hay-uta. So long, therefore, as the Sank remained motionless, the Pawnee would be protected, though there were other trees of less size behind which he could escape should it become necessary.
It is not to be supposed that the Sauk was stupid enough to stand like a wooden Indian, and allow his enemy every advantage he sought. There were plenty of trunks, also, which he could use as a screen while engaged in a characteristic duel with the other Indian; but, instead of doing so, he began striding off toward the right, keeping his gaze fixed on the larger trunk, and holding his rifle at full cock, so that it could be aimed and fired on an instant's call. At the same time, he swung his right arm about his head, and then struck the left hand over his heart. This was the sign of comity, and the moment it should catch the eye of the Pawnee, he would be sure to recognize it as such, though whether he would accept it remained to be seen.
The action of the Sank was so prompt, and apparently so unexpected, that the crouching savage was caught unawares. He was uncovered with great cleverness, and indeed Hay-uta could have "winged" him had he chosen to do so. It was not from lack of inclination that he held his fire, but because prudence demanded it. As it was, he was confident of his ability to anticipate any hostile movement on the part of the other.
Flanked in this fashion, the Pawnee was equally prompt in reciprocating the gestures of good-will which greeted him. While in the act of straightening up, he imitated the salutations which, though somewhat different from those to which he was accustomed, were too plain in their meaning to be mistaken.
When two strangers open negotiations by declaring themselves friends, it is natural they should advance and shake hands (provided that manner of salutation is in vogue), and such was the next proceeding of the red men.
"The heart of Hay-uta bounds with joy when he looks upon the face of his brave brother of the unknown totem," said the Sauk.
"The Flying Deer, of the Pawnees, would weep till the Great Spirit in sorrow for him called him home, had he been made to wait for this brave warrior, who has journeyed so many suns that he may look upon his face," was the substantial response of the Pawnee.
All this was very fine, but one drawback remained—neither Indian understood a single syllable uttered by the other, but the beaming expressions scarcely needed literal interpretation. Truth makes it necessary to add that, with all this effusiveness, the warriors distrusted each other.
Now began a conversation by means of signs, which it would be tedious to give in full. Fortunately for Hay-uta, he was so far removed from the scene of action in which Deerfoot and the others were playing such an active part, that he was quite secure against interruption, unless the fleeing Shawanoe should happen to take a turn in his flight which might bring the swarming pursuers in that direction.
It was impossible for Hay-uta to know the real sentiments of the other, but, as a matter of precaution, he sought to draw him further away from the theater of action. The Pawnee must have understood, from the signals which had reached him, that an enemy was making a great stir, and that his own presence was desired.
Furthermore, as the Sauk was a stranger, the natural supposition would be that he was an ally of the enemy. This could not fail to cause suspicion, but, having just vowed eternal friendship, policy required him to conceal his real sentiments.
On the invitation of the Sauk, the other accompanied him a few rods, during which they conversed as well as they could in pantomime. While they managed to communicate a great deal, yet the limit was speedily reached. When Hay-uta tried to ask after the missing Otto, the other did not comprehend him, or, if he did, failed to make his sentences clear. In that respect, therefore, the mission of the Sauk was as barren of results as was that of Deerfoot.
The Pawnee had not gone far, when he seemed to awake to the fact that he was doing an imprudent thing. He came to a halt and showed by his manner that he would go no further. Hay-uta could not urge him, and the two, therefore, stood face to face in the depth of the forest, while they talked to each other.
The Sauk asked himself more than once whether, in a hand to hand fight with the other, the struggle being fair on each side, he could vanquish him. The Pawnee was tall, well-formed, athletic, and the knife thrust in the skin-sheath at his girdle looked as if it was longer and keener than the one Hay-uta carried, without sheath at all. The Pawnee was certain to be a formidable antagonist in such a contest, but the Sauk would not have hesitated to assail him, except through fear that others would be brought to the spot.
No doubt the Pawnee took the measure of the stranger in the same manner, and it is reasonable to conclude that he felt no special fear of him. In fact, the two were like a couple of bull dogs, ready to fly at each other's throat, without once thinking of what the issue was likely to be.
But while they were holding their conversation, the Sauk carried out a singular thought. He asked himself whether he could not make a friend of the stranger—that is to say, a genuine friend, who would be held to him by gratitude.
As to the method by which this was to be attained, even the ingenious mind of the warrior was unable to determine. All he could do was to seek to keep him company until some way should be open. The coming of any of the Pawnees, who were trooping at the heels of the Shawanoe, would be liable to scatter all such plans to the wind.
The diplomats were doing their best to entertain each other, when a most unlooked-for interference took place.
From where they stood, they were able to locate the clearing by means of a thinness of the trees, a few more rays of daylight penetrating from that direction. Hay-uta happened to be looking toward that point, when he caught the outline of a figure stealing along the margin of the opening.
The sight was so unexpected that the manner of the Sauk betrayed the discovery, the instance being one of those rare ones in which he was caught off his guard. He reproached himself, for the back of his companion was turned toward the other, who was moving as silently as the shadow over the face of a sun-dial.
The head of the Pawnee turned quickly, and he muttered a soft "—st!" At the same moment he began moving toward the other, with the absolute silence that the trained Indian shows when creeping into a hostile camp, where the rustling of a leaf brings discovery.
Hay-uta could not but admire the skill of the Indian. At the same time, the action of the Pawnee in moving away from the Sauk, while his eyes were turned from him, thus placing himself at the mercy of Hay-uta, was an appeal to the honor of the latter, which, of itself, was the strongest safeguard of the Pawnee.
Hay-uta fell in behind him, and the two advanced in their stealthy fashion among the trees for some twenty steps, when they gained full view of the third Indian, whose course was rather peculiar. He had stepped from the woods into the clearing, and was standing facing the other way, with his attention fixed on something too far off to be seen by the couple that were watching him.
Hay-uta was astounded almost into betraying himself again when he saw that the Indian was Deerfoot the Shawanoe. He was watching the two Pawnees near the camp-fire, and was in the act of discharging the first arrow which broke the pipe of Red Wolf and threw him and Lone Bear into such consternation.
It may have been because the youth carried a bow and arrow, instead of firearms, that the Pawnee thought he was a wanderer from beyond the Rocky Mountains, who had drifted into that section and was now making his way home. Certainly he could have had no suspicion of the prowess of the Shawanoe, nor could he have dreamed that he had been the sole cause of the hubbub that had reigned among the Pawnees, and even then was hardly ended. He appeared to believe, however, that he was one of a party who were their enemies, for he signed to Hay-uta that he meant that the stranger should not escape him.
A REVERSAL OF SITUATION.
The situation was most peculiar for all three concerned. Despite the vigilance and woodcraft of Deerfoot the Shawanoe, he had allowed an enemy to creep up behind him and secure an advantage which could not be overcome. In the common parlance of the West, the Pawnee had the drop on the Shawanoe.
But Hay-uta the Sauk was too deeply attached to the matchless young warrior to permit harm to befall him. He learned from his companion that it was not his purpose to shoot Deerfoot, but simply to keep him covered with his gun until he surrendered. Hay-uta decided to permit this, because he believed no harm to his friend could result, and he saw the possibility of showing a chivalry toward the Pawnee which might win his friendship.
Having made sure the warrior did not mean to fire, Hay-uta kept a few paces in the background, while the two noiselessly advanced a half-dozen steps or more. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the Sauk to apprise Deerfoot of his danger! a slight rustling of the leaves was all that was wanted. But it was not done, for, as I have said, Hay-uta was convinced that no immediate danger threatened his friend.
Sauk and Pawnee stood motionless until Deerfoot was seen to be shaking with silent laughter. The sight of the two warriors running for life from the camp-fire in the open space satisfied the Pawnee that the youth had done his best to kill them, and was amused to see their fright at the moment when they were not in the slightest peril.
The Pawnee now purposely rustled the leaves with his moccasin. The Shawanoe faced about like a flash. As he did so, Hay-uta, standing just back of the captor, made a gesture to his friend. Deerfoot "caught on", and dropped his hands to his side, to signify his surrender. He divined the situation, and, schooled as he was in self-control, it was hard for him to restrain a smile over the thought of the trick played on the Pawnee. Probably no man was ever "fooled" to a more astounding extent than he was at that moment.
The only thing feared by Deerfoot was that some of the other Pawnees would soon reach the spot and complicate matters, but, while the apparent conqueror was sanguine that he commanded the situation, Deerfoot knew he was master from the first.
Looking straight at the Pawnee, he slowly said:
"My brother the Sauk is wise; his companion is a Pawnee; let no harm befall him, for he has done no harm to us; but other Pawnees may soon be here; let Hay-uta point his rifle at the Pawnee so that he will turn his gun away from Deerfoot."
While speaking the Shawanoe kept his eyes fixed on those of the Pawnee, who, of course, supposed the words were addressed to him. He could not catch their meaning, but no doubt believed they referred to the completeness of the surrender just made. Had he been an aboriginal linguist, how different would have been his feelings!
Having dropped his hands, and spoken his sentences, Deerfoot waited the action of Hay-uta.
The latter still held the hammer of his rifle at full cock, and he instantly leveled it at the Pawnee, harshly ordering him to lower his weapon.
The Pawnee was surprised. I am aware that this is stating it mildly, but so would it be if I used the strongest words at command. He seemed transfixed, and actually was unable to stir or even to lower his gun. But the action of his companion told the truth, and it must be believed that he was filled with biting chagrin because he was not acute enough to know that the aliens (one of whom seemed to come from the east and the other from the west) were allies.
However, the tables were turned and no choice was left him. Down came his gun, the hammer was lowered and the stock dropped spitefully to the ground. It was the Shawanoe and Sauk who now "had the drop" on the Pawnee.
By way of putting matters in a business-like shape, Deerfoot called to Hay-uta to keep his gun at a level, while he disarmed the prisoner. The Sauk obeyed, and Deerfoot walked quietly forward, and in the most matter-of-fact manner drew the knife of the Pawnee from its sheath at his girdle, extracted his tomahawk, and then gently removed the rifle from his nerveless grasp. Distributing the first two weapons about his person, the Shawanoe stepped back several paces, holding his bow in one hand and the gun in the other.
Supposing Hay-uta had not been present, what would have been the result?
I haven't a particle of doubt that the Pawnee would have been vanquished by Deerfoot. The former could not have stood forever with his gun aimed, and when he lowered it he would have presented an "opening" of which the Shawanoe would have availed himself with the quickness of the lighting stroke.
While Deerfoot was disarming the sinewy warrior, Hay-uta explained his wish to show him such consideration as to win his friendship. That being done, probably some way would open by which he could be used in tracing Otto Relstaub.
"My brother is wise," commented Deerfoot, who admired the cleverness of the Sauk, "but let him beware that the Pawnee does not betray him."
No one would have supposed from the deliberation of the Shawanoe that he was in fear of any thing, but, if it can be said that he was ever nervous over any thing, such was his condition now, through fear of irruption by a part or all of the Pawnee war-party. He felt that the danger increased every moment.
No time, therefore, was lost. The Pawnee was directed to move on, the course taken being directly away from the camp-fire, and close to the open space between the woods and river. No fault could be found with the promptness displayed by the captive, who strode off as though on his way to a marriage feast.
It was not necessary to keep a close watch over the prisoner, since the most he could do was to try to ran away, and he was not likely to attempt that when two loaded guns almost touched him.
But the Pawnee did do something, which, under the circumstances, was a daring act.
The procession had proceeded for a hundred feet or so, when he gave utterance to a ringing whoop, which could have been heard a half mile. Deerfoot was astounded, and half raised the gun with the intention of shooting him, but he changed his mind before the weapon reached his shoulder.
But never did the Shawanoe display quicker readiness of resource than then. The Pawnee acted as though he believed his life would pay for what he had done, for, being a barbarian, he must have felt from the first that no mercy awaited him. Wheeling around, he folded his arms, straightened up and looked defiantly at the Shawanoe, saying plainly by his actions:
"I am ready; look and see a warrior die!"
But Deerfoot did a much wiser thing. Convinced that the whoop was a summons for help, he managed to impress the Pawnee with the fact, that the only way to save his life was to send a second signal, the import of which would be that he was in no need of help and had no news to give, but would be glad to receive any tidings his friends possessed.
It required some vigorous sign language on the part of Deerfoot to bring the Pawnee to his views. One of the most convincing arguments, however, was the thunder-cloud on the face of the Shawanoe, and the upraised tomahawk, poised and ready to be buried in the skull of the captive.
And so the desired message was sent from the throat of the frightened Pawnee. Deerfoot could not be certain that the cry conveyed the meaning he desired, but he noticed that the modulation of the voice was different and he was almost satisfied on the point.
As a matter of precaution, he now fell to the rear, directing Hay-uta to take care of the captive. He was at liberty to shoot him if he made a break for freedom, and there was little doubt that Hay-uta would do so.
As for the Shawanoe, he meant to keep watch for the other Pawnees, who were now all behind them. Even if their prisoner had countermanded his call for help, little time could elapse before Lone Bear and Red Wolf would make known how recently they had seen the dusky demon. Of course they would suppress the part they had played in the proceeding, but would be likely to send a large party after the Shawanoe, as soon as it could be brought together.
Deerfoot, therefore, dropped a hundred feet to the rear, still carrying the captured gun and his bow, and half disposed to make a compulsory trade with the Pawnee. He could hardly convince himself, however, that such a proceeding would be pleasing to the Great Spirit, and he put the temptation behind him.
He was on the lookout for the warriors who had shown themselves so plentiful only a short time before. His purpose was to apprise Hay-uta the moment they appeared, when without a second's delay, the two would dash off, leaving their prisoner to return to his friends. In the event of such an issue, as it would be impossible to make a friend of their captive, the Sauk favored sending a bullet through him before parting; but Deerfoot was so emphatic in protesting against such savagery, that Hay-uta promised to obey him.
Succeeding events left no doubt that the prisoner did precisely as ordered by his captor; that is to say, he recalled his first signal and notified his comrades that he had no need of their presence.
When, some minutes later, several of the Pawnees straggled back to camp, they found Red Wolf and Lone Bear awaiting them. The former looked as if he had been put to soak for several days in the river, while Lone Bear was weak from the fright he had received. He did not blush, when he made the statement that the young demon had appeared but a few minutes before on the margin of the wood, accompanied by seven warriors, and that they instantly opened by launching arrow after arrow in the direction of the Pawnees.
Red Wolf said that he hastened to the river bank with a view of securing a spot from which to reconnoiter their enemies, but he caught his foot in a root and fell into the water; that accounted for his moist condition.
The warrior had hardly reached that point in his narrative, when he perceived that he had gone too far. Indian scouts, when stealing along the banks of a stream, are not apt to roll into it and under the surface, either accidentally or for the fun of the thing. The Pawnee, therefore, told the truth, except that he joined Lone Bear in declaring that their foe was accompanied by seven others, who seemed as eager as he to slay them.
It would seem that the fact that none of the other Pawnees had discovered any of the seven, would have discredited the statement of Red Wolf and Lone Bear; but the two were so strenuous in their declaration that it produced the effect desired. Some of the listeners believed there was a large party of enemies at hand, and prudence demanded that their own warriors should be called together and precautions taken against surprise.
It was accordingly so done.
By this time the sun had reached the rim of the horizon, and the shadows were deepening under the trees. Deerfoot dropped further behind the Sauk and Pawnee, the three still pushing westward, which was opposite the course that would have been taken to reach the camp-fire. The highly trained senses of the young Shawanoe could hear and see nothing to show that his enemies were near at hand.
Every minute now lessened the danger, for only a little more obscurity was required to prevent the keenest eyes of an American Indian from detecting the footprints in the forest. He concluded that, from some cause or other, the Pawnees had given over the pursuit.
So soon as Deerfoot was convinced on this point, he hastened to overtake Hay-uta, who was walking almost on the heels of the captive. The latter was not lacking in a certain dignity. He did not shamble along, as though his courage had been driven from his body. He walked erect, with head high, scarcely deigning to bend it to avoid an occasional interfering limb. He preferred to flank rather than stoop to such an obstruction. His carriage was so proud indeed that it looked as if he were a conqueror, with his two slaves walking behind him. Not once did he look about, or act as though he suspected the presence of friend or foe.
This curious procession lasted until the three were nearly a half mile from camp. By that time, night was closing in, and the gloom was such that Deerfoot was persuaded he need give no further thought to the Pawnee war party.
Hay-uta had acted the part of conductor, without much thought as to the course they were taking. Swerving to the right, they were soon beyond sight of the open space, and for a while the march was through the trackless forest; but, while the red men deviated very little from the path, the river, like all streams, took a winding course, and, just at the moment that Deerfoot joined the Sauk, the three debouched from the woods and (inasmuch as the open space had dwindled to a mere ribbon) found themselves close to the edge of the stream. There of necessity they halted.
The Pawnee now glanced over his shoulder and stopped, as if waiting for some command. Receiving none he started along the stream, but was checked by a word from Deerfoot, whose gesture explained what he meant. The warrior paused, and folding his arms confronted them with the same calm defiance as before.
There was something in his demeanor that compelled the admiration of his captors. It proved that whatever the Pawnee might be, he was not a coward, and it recalled to the young Shawanoe, the days when he wandered through the forests and cane brakes of Kentucky, like a raging cat o' mountain in his hatred of the pale-faces. There were depths in the nature of the youth which were rarely sounded; but now and then he caught glimpses of the possibilities within himself which caused him to shrink back, as if from the presence of a supernaturally evil being.
For the last part of the march the same thought occupied the minds of both Deerfoot and Hay-uta: in what manner could they win the friendship of the captive, and thus open the way to a solution of the mystery respecting Otto Relstaub?
Now that the journey was over for the present, the captors consulted together. When Deerfoot called on Hay-uta for the method that had presented itself to him, the Sauk replied that the only thing of which he could think was to make the Pawnee believe that he had but a few moments to live that there was no possible escape; and then, when that view was impressed on the prisoner, they would present him with his liberty.
Such was the plan also of Deerfoot, but when Hay-uta proposed that the Pawnee should be soused into the water and held under the surface until on the point of drowning, the Shawanoe shook his head.
Deerfoot showed a far-seeing mind in the course which he adopted, and to which Hay-uta assented without fathoming its full purpose. The youth felt that the circumstances were such that it was more important for the Sauk to figure as a merciful captor than for himself to play that part.
Deerfoot, it may be said, had proved his ability to take care of himself, where it was possible for a human being to do so. The Sauk was skillful, but in the perilous times close at hand, he was likely to stand in greater need of a friend "at court" than was the Shawanoe. It was this motive which actuated the latter in what he now did.
"Deerfoot will make ready to slay the Pawnee," said he, "and then Hay-uta will stay his hand."
The Sauk nodded to signify he understood the arrangement.
"Let my brother wait till all is ready; let him stand still till the Pawnee has no hope: when Deerfoot raises his tomahawk, then shall my brother forbid."
There was something touching in the dignity of the Pawnee, when he felt that no hope remained to him. He had no blanket, and all his weapons had been removed. He stood perhaps twenty feet, or slightly less, from Deerfoot, in plain sight, though the twilight had given place to that of the moon, which was partly full and shining from a sky in which were a number of drifting clouds. He was only a step or two from the woods, which it would seem offered a temptation too great to be resisted.
Doubtless some such thought entered his mind, but the Shawanoe never turned his face, and maintained such unremitting watch, that the captive must have felt he was shut in on every side.
Deerfoot had laid aside his bow and rifle and grasped his tomahawk—that weapon which in his hands was as unerring for a short distance as was the arrow from his bow. On the first motion of his captive toward flight, no matter how quickly made, the tomahawk would split the skull as if it were a rotten apple.
The Pawnee made no such attempt. He remained with his fine figure drawn to its full height. The weight of his body supported mainly on his right foot, while the left rested lightly a few inches in front, the posture similar to that which a trained athlete would assume when about to leap over a slight obstruction.
His arms were folded across his chest, his shoulders thrown back, while his eyes were fixed on the face of his captor a short distance away. Once or twice they flitted to the gloomy woods on his left, as though a faint hope fluttered in his heart that his friends would rush to his relief; but he knew that if such a thing were possible, it would have been done long before. Night and darkness had shut out all help from them.
The words between Deerfoot and Hay-uta were few, for the arrangements were so simple that many were not required. Hay-uta stepped back, and Deerfoot gathered himself like a marksman about to fire at a target.
The slightest incident did not escape the Pawnee. He saw that his last minute was at hand. Without changing his posture or unfolding his arms, he leaned forward and bowed his head, so that the crown was presented to his master, and his eyes, had they been open, would have looked directly on the ground. But they were closed, and his attitude was that of the devout worshipers in the congregation who, having risen to their feet and joined in the singing, bow their heads while the minister pronounces his benison.
The feet of Deerfoot were placed similarly to those of his victim, and his tomahawk was held idly in his left hand, the blade pressing the side of his knee. When necessary it would be raised over and back of his shoulder like a flash of light, and sent crashing into the brain of his victim.
The stillness became more impressive from a sound which blended with, rather than broke into it; a low monotone, like the sweeping of the wind over the strings of some rude instrument of music, issued from the lips of the Pawnee. It became broken, but at no time lost its distinctive character. It never rose to a high key, and from the beginning to the end, its variation in tone was no more than two notes of the musical scale. Had the volume been less, it would have called to mind the crooning of the housewife by her spinning wheel or over the cradle of the infant she was lulling to sleep.
But there was a depth, and a certain sonorous resignation in the death-song of the Pawnee, which rendered it unlike any thing else. The Shawanoe and Sauk had heard it sung more than once, and, accustomed as they were to the most dreadful scenes, they were always relieved when it ended; it was too much like a despairing refrain from the grave itself.
Gradually the volume of the Pawnee's death song deepened. For a time it was as if the voice were swaying from side to side in the struggle to free itself from some weight holding it down and smothering it. The weight was flung off, when, throwing up his head again, the Pawnee defiantly confronted the Shawanoe. The unspeakably dismal monotone sounded loud and clear as a trumpet blast borne on the wind, which, having blown at angles to the line of sound, suddenly becomes favorable, and throws the notes forward as if on eagles' wings.
The death song was ended; the Pawnee had finished his preparation for the leap into the dark, and he calmly awaited the pleasure of his master.
Instead of whirling his tomahawk aloft, Deerfoot slowly brought it above his head, the blade making a gleaming circle, as it swung over and finally paused, the handle so held that it pointed upward and backward, at an angle of forty-five degrees. He seemed to be gathering his muscles for the supreme effort, which should extinguish life in the defiant Pawnee as quickly as if he were smitten by a bolt from heaven. But, before the missile could leave his hand, the Sauk uttered an exclamation, and, having laid aside his gun, strode forward with both hands raised in protest.
His first two steps were rapid, and then, making a great bound, he seized the left arm of Deerfoot with both of his hands. The Shawanoe seemed to struggle fiercely to free himself, and his voice sounded harsh and angry as he ordered the other to step aside and leave him alone. But the Sauk, with no abatement of earnestness, refused, and, for a second or two, the contest was so desperate that the wonder was the prisoner did not make a break for life. Possibly he did not understand the nature of the struggle until it was over, or it may have been that, having made his preparations for death, he was loth to change the programme.
But the dispute ended as quickly as it began. The Sauk triumphed, as, judging from the size of the two, he was likely to do in such a wrangle. The hand of Deerfoot became nerveless and dropped to his side. He stood silent and sullen, as though he had no more interest in the matter.
Using mild language again, the Pawnee was surprised when the Sauk walked forward, and handed back the rifle, which Deerfoot had taken from him a short time before. The prisoner hesitated a moment as if in doubt, but the manner of Hay-uta was too plain to be mistaken. He accepted the weapon, giving utterance to what was probably meant as an expression of thanks.
Returning a few steps, the Sauk picked up the tomahawk and knife from the ground, and advancing once more in front of the Pawnee, presented them to him with the grace of the Crusader. His pleasure in giving was surely equal to that of the Pawnee in receiving them.
All this time Deerfoot remained like a statue of sullenness, glowering on the two, as though he would have been pleased to tomahawk both actors in the singular drama.
The Pawnee was quick to catch the purport of his friend in need. He shoved the blade of his knife into the skin-sheath at his girdle; he thrust the handle of his tomahawk through the same support, but further to one side, as if to balance the other weapon. Then he grasped his gun near the flint, and was ready for the next step in the proceedings.
Placing his hand on the prisoner's shoulder, Hay-uta turned him partly around, so that he faced up stream and in the direction of the camp, where so many of his friends were gathered. Pushing him gently forward, he exclaimed in an undertone and in his own language:
The Pawnee obeyed, the same dignity marking his movement as when he stood in the presence of death. He strode forward until he reached the darkness of the wood, into which he seemed to blend as if a part of the gloom itself.
When within the shelter, however, he laid aside his courtliness, as it may be called, and used the utmost haste in placing himself beyond danger.
Having played a part so long, he seemed to "go all to pieces", and dashed under the limbs and among the trunks like a terrified deer.
This panic, however, was soon over, and he came to an abrupt stop when only a short distance away. Standing a second or two, as if in deep thought, he turned, and began stealing toward the narrow open space where he had stood a few minutes before, with bowed head, while he chanted his death song. His movement was noiseless, and he speedily peered from among the trees upon the forms of the Shawanoe and Sauk, who were in the act of moving off. They were in plain sight, and the swarthy countenance gleamed, as, carefully muffling the sound of the hammer, he drew it back and brought the rifle to his shoulder.
The distance was short and he could not mistake his aim. Though his life had just been spared by the couple, he fairly held his breath in his eagerness to take their lives. Could he have done so, he would have waited till they were in range, in order that he might bring both low.
But only a moment elapsed, after raising his rifle, when he pressed the trigger.
The dull click of the flint was followed by a whirring flash, as the powder vanished in a white puff, but there was no report. Deerfoot, while carrying the weapon, had quietly withdrawn the charge, leaving the priming, however, in the pan. He knew just how far it is safe to trust the average American Indian.
THE TWINKLE OF A CAMP-FIRE.
Slight as was the noise made by the flashing of the powder, Deerfoot not only heard it, but knew what it meant. He was so angered that he bounded back among the trees like a tiger leaping upon the hunter that has wounded him. He grasped his knife and sought the treacherous Pawnee, with a fierceness that seemed could not be denied.
Hay-uta stepped softly in the other direction, where he was under the shadow of the trees, and waited for events to develop before doing any thing further.
In the depth of the woods where the vegetation was dense, the darkness was impenetrable. Keen as were the eyes of the Shawanoe, they were not those of the owl or cat, and his enemy was wise enough to remain still. So long as he did so, he was in no danger.
Had Deerfoot been able to find the traitor, he would have made short work with him, but suspecting what he was doing, or rather what he was not doing, he did not tarry. He withdrew so cautiously that no straggling ray of moonlight could fall on his figure, as he moved among the trees. Rejoining the Sauk, they passed down stream.
They had not gone far when they stopped near the edge of the water. There was none of the band on the open space on which the Pawnee camp-fire had been kindled a half mile or so above, so they were covered by all the shelter they could wish.
From the moment of turning their backs for the last time on the Pawnee who had sought to shoot one of them, the Shawanoe and Sauk had not spoken a word. They understood each other too well to need conversation; but, remembering the click of the flint lock and the useless flash of the powder, they made sure that no chance was given for a second attempt.
The Pawnee, who understood why he failed to bring down one of them, was wise enough to withdraw and make his way back to the camp-fire, pondering on the road the explanation which he would add to the store of extraordinary narratives related by his comrades, who had been brought in contact with the young Shawanoe.
The sky was cloudy and the light of the moon treacherous and uncertain. Sometimes the surface of the swiftly flowing river in front was lighted up, and the shadowy line of wood on the other shore stood out clear, and again it seemed to recede, when the face of the moon was obscured.
It was not far to the other bank, and the Indian friends expected to swim across, as they had done scores of times under similar circumstances. Fully two hours had passed since they left young Jack Carleton. During that period not the slightest sign was received from him, and he might have been dead or a thousand miles distant, for all that indicated the contrary.
And yet, it is not to be supposed that either the Sauk or Shawanoe felt any concern for the lad. They had seen no hostiles on that side of the stream; besides, the experience of Jack ought to have kept him from any possible harm.
But the understanding was that the three were to come together at nightfall, or as soon thereafter as possible. Consequently, Jack would be looking for them.
Deerfoot and Hay-uta stood by the margin of the wood, listening and looking. The soft murmur of the forest and the ripple of the current, as it twisted around some gnarled root along shore or struck against the dipping branch of a tree overhanging the water, were the sounds which first fell on their ears. But a moment later the wailing scream of a panther came from the depths of the wilderness, answered a moment after by a similar cry from a point a mile away.
As if the night was to be given no rest, a husky whistle, like that which a locomotive sends faintly through many miles of fog and damp, reached their ears. Deerfoot and Hay-uta recognized it as a signal from one of the Pawnees who were so numerous in the neighborhood. It came from a point near where Deerfoot had caught his first sight of the group around the camp-fire.
But the friends were in a section where they had never been before, and were playing battledore and shuttlecock with a warlike tribe of whom they knew nothing. It was impossible, therefore, for them to understand the meaning of the signal, for whose response they listened with close attention.
They were astonished that no answer was returned. They would have heard it had there been any, but for several minutes the stillness was unbroken. It was as if one of the Pawnees had called to another who was too distant to be reached, and consequently no response could be sent.
But the next interruption was the report of a gun, sounding startlingly distinct on the quiet air. That, so far as could be judged, came from near the spot whither was sent the first signal.
The Sauk and Shawanoe waited further, but nothing was heard that threw the least light on the plans or doings of the warriors with whom Deerfoot had had such a sharp brush.
"My brother has learned naught of the pale face?" remarked the Shawanoe, inquiringly, when his companion had related the experience through which he passed, after their separation during the afternoon.
"The lips of the Pawnees are shut to the Sauk," replied Hay-uta, alluding to the tongue of the red men, which was unintelligible to him.
"Their lips are shut to Deerfoot, but Lone Bear speaks the words which Deerfoot can understand."
"What were his words to my brother!" asked Hay-uta.
"He says he and Red Wolf have never looked upon the pale face."
"Lone Bear and Red Wolf speak lies!" exclaimed the Sauk with more feeling than would be expected. "What does Deerfoot think?" he asked, as if his opinion was a matter of vital importance.
"Deerfoot believes the word of Hay-uta; he told Lone Bear, while looking in his eyes, that his tongue was double and his heart was full of lies; Lone Bear rushed upon Deerfoot and sought to slay him for his words."
This reply was gratifying to Hay-uta, who held the young Shawanoe that had vanquished him with such brilliancy, in higher esteem than any one else in the world. He was silent, as if unable to express his feelings, and the Shawanoe continued:
"Hay-uta has talked with the Great Spirit; he has listened to the words of the kind Father who looks down from the moon behind the clouds; the whisperings of the Great Spirit have been sweet in his ears; Hay-uta could not speak with a double tongue, when he thinks of his goodness."
As the Sauk replied, he looked upward at the sky. The ragged cloud which a moment before was passing across the face of the moon, glided off, and the soft light shone full upon the coppery countenance that glowed with a feeling, such as only a close communion with God stirs in the recesses of the heart.
"Hay-uta has heard the voice of the Great Spirit," said the Sauk, speaking in low tones, "but his words were whispers and Hay-uta did not hear them all, and sometimes he could not hear aright."
This confession that the mists had not cleared from before the Sauk's vision did not surprise Deerfoot, for his own gropings after light were too distinct for him ever to forget the winding path over which he trod.
"The Great Spirit never sleeps," replied Deerfoot, in a voice almost as low as his companion's; "he listens for the words of his children and his ear is always open; he will hear Hay-uta, if he calls upon him and speaks and acts so that when the Great Spirit looks down he will smile."
"Hay-uta will talk with the Great Spirit, so that the whispers which he now hears shall become so loud that Hay-uta can not mistake them."
Deerfoot added a few words of encouragement, and then, having paused long enough on the shore, they addressed themselves to the duty before them.
This was simply to cross to the other side, so as to rejoin Jack Carleton. As there was but the one means of passing over, it was idle to hesitate. The Shawanoe stepped carefully a few paces, when the water reached his armpits, and he began swimming. He did so, holding his bow above the surface with one hand, so as to protect the string from moisture. This was one of the disadvantages of that weapon, though the rifle was not free from a similar inconvenience; but Hay-uta fastened it to his back, so that the muzzle projected above his head and the water could not run into the barrel. Sometimes he used a cork-like piece of wood to keep the load from wetting, and again he took no precautions, but drew the charge after leaving the stream. Even with all the care that could be taken, the clumsy hammer and flint let down in the pan often failed to protect the powder.
But both were splendid swimmers, and, though the current was powerful, they advanced with steady, even strokes until their feet touched bottom, when they walked out on the opposite side. There the shore was similar to the one just left, so that when their moccasins pressed dry land again, they stood in the shadow of the overhanging trees, millions of which, at that day, covered the vast western wilderness.
Their course had been such that (supposing Jack Carleton remained near the spot where the parting took place), it was now necessary to make their way for some distance up the stream. As there was reason to believe that the broad, swift current interposed between them and the hostiles, Deerfoot and Hay-uta looked back at the land just left behind.
The view was so similar to what has already been described, that no more words are needed. The clouds were still floating in front of the moon, and quaint shadows moved across the river, forest and openings, but the searching vision failed to show the twinkle of any camp-fire, nor could the keen eyes of the Shawanoe catch the faintest glimpse of any shadowy figures stealing along shore.
Though it was the mild season, the night was quite cool, and it will be remembered that neither carried his blanket with him. Most persons would have shivered with discomfort, but the American Indian is educated to the severest exposure and inured to sudden changes of temperature. It would have been more pleasant had they been arrayed in dry clothing rather than in their clinging garments, yet neither acted as if he cared for the difference.
They were moving along the river bank in their usual guarded manner, when both came to an abrupt stop; they had caught the twinkle of a camp-fire among the trees just ahead.
IN THE TREE-TOP.
When Deerfoot and Hay-uta parted company with Jack Carleton, he feared he had several hours on his hands without any means of employing mind or body. The active operations of the campaign, so to speak, were in charge of the Sauk and Shawanoe division, while the young Kentuckian in reserve had little prospect of being called upon to take part in the engagement.
But Jack, it will be noted, was almost opposite the open ground, whereon burned the Pawnee camp-fire, and, by using care, he could hold it under inspection as long as he chose. He had his choice of peeping from the trees and undergrowth along shore, or of climbing the tree from whose top the Shawanoe and Sank gained their first knowledge of the Pawnees. Nearly every one would have stayed on the ground, but in obedience to a whim, the lad climbed to the perch where his friends held themselves a short time before. He carried his gun with him, for though it would have been much more convenient to leave it below, the act would have been a piece of remissness unpardonable in his situation. When, however, he was half-way to the top, he carefully shelved it among some branches, where it could not fall. He continued to climb until the limbs bent with his weight. Cautious at all times, Jack then softly pushed aside the branches in front of his face and found he was looking directly across and down upon the Pawnee encampment.
At the moment of doing so, a slight incident caused him some uneasiness. Among the group on which he gazed with such interest, he observed a warrior standing on the other side of the fire, rifle in hand, with his face turned toward the young Kentuckian. Not only that, but he seemed to be watching Jack himself. So startling was his appearance, that the youth shrank back, allowing the vegetation to close in front of his face. This was done with a certain abruptness, which (if he was right in his suspicion), was unfortunate, since the action would be the more noticeable to the Pawnee. Then Jack stealthily parted the leaves and peered out again.
The warrior was motionless, the stock of his gun on the ground, while his right hand lightly clasped the barrel, his left thumb inserted at his girdle, close to the handle of his knife, much after the fashion of some of us who use the arm holes of our vests for that purpose.
The distance, slight as it was, prevented Jack Carleton from verifying or disproving his suspicion. The painted face was turned directly toward him and held stationary, as is often the case when a person is trying to identify some sound which faintly reaches his ear. Had he been gazing straight at the lad, he would have appeared just as he did when stealthily viewed by the youth.
"I wonder whether that rascal is looking at me," said Jack to himself, when he peeped timidly out the second time; "they're as sharp-eyed as owls, but he never could have thought of any one in this perch, if he hadn't accidentally looked at the spot. I'm afraid it would mix things for Hay-uta and Deerfoot, if any of them should get a sight of me."
He was reminded of the experience of himself and Otto Relstaub when, some weeks before, they were made captives by the Sauks, within a short distance of Martinsville. At that time, one or two of the warriors, while the boys were watching them, walked away from the camp in such an off-hand manner, that neither dreamed their real purpose was to pass to the rear of the prowlers and make them prisoners.
"I'll keep my eyes on him," was the wise conclusion of Jack, "and if he starts off in the woods, I'll slide down this tree and make a change of base in short order."
To the great relief of Jack the warrior did not maintain his impressive pose, nor did he do what was dreaded and half expected. One of the red men addressed him and he immediately gave attention.
"It was only an accident," was the conclusion of the youth; "he couldn't have seen me—helloa!"
Jack had full warrant for his excitement, for, at that moment, who should walk into his field of vision but Deerfoot, the young Shawanoe.
He advanced from the wood as I have already described, and saluting the astonished Pawnees with a certain stateliness, opened the conversation. He was not long in discovering that Lone Bear was the only one with whom he could converse intelligently, and the two, as you remember, were soon seated beside each other. It was Lone Bear who, at the first glance, Jack Carleton thought was looking at him.
The dread that the boy felt, when first left alone, that time would hang heavily on his hands was gone. He knew the Shawanoe well enough to feel certain that he would keep things moving.
And so he did. I will not repeat the story of Deerfoot's experience, which partook more of a comedy than of a tragedy. The young Kentuckian held his breath when Lone Bear drew his knife and rushed upon the Shawanoe, and his excitement was almost irrestrainable as the latter began dancing backward with his infuriated assailant plunging and striking at him. When the Pawnee sprawled, with his feet kicking the air, Jack forgot where he was and laughed with delight.
"Hurrah for Deerfoot!" he called; "the whole crowd ain't enough for you! you are worth all of them!"
The Pawnees were on their feet hurrying toward the combatants, and scarcely less excited than the young Kentuckian perched in the tree-top. But, stirring as was the incident, it was very brief. With the exceptions already made known, the red men dashed into the woods in hot pursuit of the fugitive.
"Deerfoot against the world!" exclaimed Jack, jerking off his cap, as though he was about to fling it toward the clouds, but he restrained himself and the cheer which could not be locked between his lips was so impeded in its escape that it reached no ears on the other side the river.
"Deerfoot beats the beaters," he added, bringing his feelings under control; "I don't believe there ever was such a fellow; it must be that Providence intends him for some work, and like Washington he can not be killed until that work is done."
Jack had made a similar remark to his mother, when they were talking about the Shawanoe some weeks previous, and he now recalled with a shudder her comment, to the effect that the slightest of causes would bring death to him just as quickly as to any one else, and, sooner or later, he must succumb to the inevitable. It seemed not unlikely that the prowess of the young Shawanoe was an element of peril to him, since he relied too much upon it.
But the youth had eluded the hostiles, when they seemed about to overwhelm him, and Jack was confident now that he had the cover of the woods, where he was at home, that he could laugh his enemies to scorn. The reports of guns, however, which reached his ears, could not but produce a disquieting effect, which the lad felt for a long time afterward.
"I wonder whether any one could have heard me," he muttered some minutes later, when his nerves became calmer. "I forgot myself, as the Indians themselves did, but I guess no one noticed it."
That prudence which should never leave the frontiersman, suggested that he ought to descend the tree, and seek some other place of hiding. Unfortunately, he decided to stay for awhile where he was.
There was much to occupy his attention, and keep alive his interest; for the discomfited Lone Bear and his mock sympathizers were in plain sight, and the gesticulations were so clear that it seemed to Jack he could comprehend the words spoken.
But the most stirring scenes lose in time their interest, and, despite the situation of Jack Carleton, it was not long before his thoughts reverted to Otto Relstaub.
"Poor fellow," he muttered, "it does seem as if every thing went wrong with him; I have no father, but if I had, he could love me no more than mother. With Otto, however, it is a thousand fold worse, for he is treated as if he were an intruder in his own home. He has been abused, almost starved, and, to crown all, sent into the woods to look for a horse that was lost a long time before, and of which there remains not the faintest footprint. I wonder whether they will ever grieve for Otto if we go back and tell them he is dead?"
When Jack pondered over the cause which led his friend to leave home, he could not express his feelings. To him there was something incomprehensible in the brutality of the parents toward their only child. He was tempted to believe it was all a great mistake.
But second thought showed there was no error, and he asked himself whether there was any ground to hope that the German lad was alive, and, if so, whether he could be restored to his friends.
The fact that Otto was not among the group on the other side of the stream, added to the misgiving. Hay-uta had made known that he recognized members of the strange party of Indians to whom the boy was sold. If they had kept their captive, where else could he be except with them?
"Every thing points to his death," was the sad conclusion of Jack; "it isn't likely they would trade him off to some one else."
Indeed, to believe such a thing would be to give the captive an unreasonable value as a circulating medium; it was far more likely that, finding his presence a burden, his captors had settled it in the most natural manner that presented itself.
A still darker side to the picture caused Jack to shudder. If the captors of Otto Relstaub had put him to death, was it by a quick taking off, or had he been subjected to torture? Alas, that Jack Carleton was forced to answer the query as he most dreaded.
"But, if he is dead," he added, with a sigh, "he perished long ago, and it can make no difference now to him; but I ain't ready to give up all hope and I won't do so, so long as Deerfoot holds on."
Forcing the distressing subject from his mind, the youth compelled himself to give attention to what could be seen on the other side of the river. Lone Bear and Red Wolf were seated by the camp-fire, talking together, as has been told elsewhere, but the rest of the hostiles were out of sight. Jack naturally wondered the cause of the sudden quarrel that had sprung up between Deerfoot and the warrior who figured so ridiculously in it, but he could only await the return of the Shawanoe to hear the explanation.
The excitement of the lad boiled over again, when, with eyes roaming up and down the open space, he caught sight of his old friend, standing, bow in hand, on the edge of the wood. His pose showed he was making ready to give attention to the unsuspicious hostiles.
"I wonder whether he means to send an arrow through one, and follow it up with a second through another, before he can get out of their way. It may be that Deerfoot isn't as chivalrous as he pretends to be; give him a chance, and, if he thinks no one sees him, he will swing his tomahawk and use his knife right and left."
But we know that Jack did his friend an injustice, as speedily became apparent, when none of the arrows which sped from the large bow harmed either of the Pawnees. Their frantic flight and the laughter of Deerfoot proved that he had done precisely what he set out to do; he had given the couple a shock which they were not likely to forget for many a day.
The occurrence was so amusing that Jack parted the branches in front of his face and waved his hat to Deerfoot. If the latter saw the act of forgetfulness, he was so displeased that he paid no attention to it. When he vanished from sight in the wood behind him, he gave no responsive salute to that of his enthusiastic young friend.
AN UNEXPECTED CALL.
Three separate times Jack Carleton noticed a peculiar jar of the tree in which he was perched. He felt no alarm, but some curiosity to know the cause.
Peering downward between the limbs, he could see nothing to explain the occurrence. The first time he concluded it was imagination, but when it was repeated twice he knew there was "something in it". Still, as the most careful search failed to reveal the cause, he was at a loss to explain it. His first thought was that some animal might be chafing his body against the trunk, but that was unlikely, because no creature was visible. Then, when he noticed there was enough air stirring to cause a gentle swaying of the branches, he concluded that the disturbance was due to the friction of some of the limbs against others. The theory was more ingenious than reasonable, but was accepted in lieu of a better one, and once more the lad fixed his eyes on the open space across the stream.
The other Pawnees had not put in an appearance, and before they did so, the young gentleman in the tree-top found he had something on hand which required his whole attention.
A fourth time a jar went through the trunk from base to summit, and the disturbance was more marked than before.
"There must be some animal down there—"
Jack Carleton grasped a limb above him, leaned far over and peered among the branches below, but his examination was not finished when he saw the hand of an Indian warrior reach around the trunk, at a point half way between the top and the base, and grasp the rifle which the young Kentuckian had skewered between several supports. The stock caught slightly, and, while disengaging it, the savage brought his head into view.
He wore no scalp-lock, as was the fashion among many tribes, but the long, coarse hair dangled about his shoulders, and yellow, crimson and blue paint were mixed in that on his crown. There were no feathers, however, such as Deerfoot was fond of displaying, and the body was covered with a thin shirt of deerskin above the waist.
The Indian must have glanced aloft from the ground and taken in the situation at once. He had climbed with great care, and, when he stopped, was slightly below the point were rested the rifle of the youth. Had the latter taken the alarm, when he felt the first jar, he could have scrambled down and secured his gun ahead of the Indian. It would have been a stirring race between them, but as I have shown, the first knowledge of the truth came to Jack when he descried the extended arm and saw the coppery fingers in the very act of closing about his property.
Inasmuch as the dusky thief was forced to reach upward to seize the weapon, his face was lifted enough for the lad to gain a partial view of his countenance. It was similar to many he had seen among the Sauks and elsewhere. The forehead was broad at the base and narrow at the top (which was close to the forehead) and very retreating. The protuberant temples, small eyes, heavy nose, wide mouth and retreating chin—the whole smeared with daubs of paint, such as soiled the horsehair-like covering of his head, rendered the features the most repulsive on which the lad had ever looked. He certainly had never beheld a more unwelcome visitor.
Having secured the property of the lad, the warrior now threw his head further back, and looked directly up at him. The face, ugly as it was, appeared the worse because of the grin that split it in twain and displayed the white teeth which gleamed like those of a ravenous beast. The expression and action said as plainly as could the words themselves:
"It's no use, young gentleman; you may as well come down."
The Indian did not speak, and his frightful smile gradually relaxed until his mouth assumed its normal width. Then, holding the captured rifle in one hand, he began descending, Jack Carleton remained astride of the upper limb, watching the warrior, who went down with the nimbleness of a monkey. Viewed from above, the sight was odd. He seemed to see nothing but a mass of dangling hair and an indefinite number of arms and legs which were sawing back and forth, and moving up and down, while the body to which they were attached, remained stationary. The illusion, however, was dispelled, when the Indian made a slight leap and landed on the ground.
Immediately he turned, and standing close to the trunk (the better to see among the limbs), fixed his eyes on Jack Carleton, and solemnly beckoned with his arm for him to descend.
"My gracious!" thought the latter, "I don't believe there's any help for it. Ah, if Deerfoot only knew!"
It occurred to the youth that possibly the Shawanoe could be reached by signal. He hastily drew aside the leaves and looked toward the spot where he saw him but a short time before. But the scene had changed. Deerfoot was gone, and the Pawnees were swarming back to camp, a number listening with rapt attention to the monumental yarns which Lone Bear and Red Wolf were pouring into the ears of their credulous listeners, whose experience having been what it was, prepared them to believe almost any thing.
"No help from there," concluded the youth with a sigh, as he let the leaves come together and shut out his view of the other shore; "I wonder what this warrior will do with me; I suppose he will run me over to the rest, and they'll even up matters by taking their vengeance on me—helloa! there's no need of that!"
Looking downward, Jack saw that his captor was no longer beckoning for him to descend. Like the old farmer, who, finding there was no virtue in grass, resorted to stones, the Indian had substituted the gun, and held it pointed at the youngster, who was slow in moving from his lofty perch.
There was no call to fire; the youth grasped the situation at once and began lowering himself with great promptness. While doing so, he occasionally took a peep between his feet, and each time saw the warrior standing erect and following his movements with the gun, as a hunter does when aiming at a gyrating bird.
"I hope I'm giving satisfaction," muttered Jack, who felt the cold perspiration breaking out all over his body; "if he isn't satisfied, I'll let go and drop. I wish I could do it, so as to fall on his head and break his neck." When almost to the ground, Jack was relieved to observe the red man lower his weapon. He heard the click of the lock, as he let the flint down in place. It was a vast relief from suspense, but it may be doubted whether, after all, Jack's danger was any less than before. Whatever sinister thoughts were in the mind of the red man remained when the young Kentuckian stood before him an unresisting prisoner.
I need not say that while Jack Carleton was descending the tree he thought hard and fast. He was in a situation of the gravest peril, and there was no human arm on which he could rely for help. His hot Kentucky blood was aroused, and he resolved that if his captor offered him harm or indignity, he would give him the hottest fight of which he was capable. The youth still had his knife and he meant to keep it. While coming down the tree, he quietly shoved it inside of his coat where it could not be seen, but was available for instant use.
He feared the warrior had several comrades with him, but was relieved to find that such was not the case.
"He must have seen me from the other side," was the conclusion of the youth, "and slipped across without my noticing him, just as those Sauks got behind Otto and me when we never dreamed of danger. He ain't the Indian that was looking at me; I suppose that one who tumbled over Deerfoot told this dog, and here he is."
Dropping the stock of the captured rifle on the ground, the red skin grasped the barrel near the muzzle, standing in an easy attitude, with the weight of his body resting on one foot, and looked into the eyes of Jack Carleton, as if trying to read the secrets of his breast.
The youth was almost as tall as his captor, and he returned the scrutiny. He did not assume any defiant manner, for he was far from wishing to exasperate him who was master of the situation.
"I think I could give him a pretty good tussle," was the conclusion of Jack, "and whenever he chooses to sail in, I am ready, but I wish things were nearer even between us."
It was noticeable that the only rifle in sight was the one belonging to the prisoner. It seemed incredible that the warrior should have left camp without the indispensable weapon, though, if he had brought it away, it was now invisible.
But, in addition to the stolen piece, he carried the tomahawk and knife at his girdle, and there could be no question that he was an adept in their use.
When Jack looked down from his place in the tree top on the countenance of his captor, he perceived a curious distortion, which was now explained. At some time in his history the Indian had received a slash across the face, which clove the bone and cartilage of the nose and laid one of the cheeks open. The cicatrice, combined with the natural ugliness of the features, and the greasy ocher and paint, daubed and smeared over the skin, rendered the countenance of the warrior as frightful as can be conceived.
But Jack Carleton had met too many hideous Indians to be disturbed by their appearance. It was the action of this one in which he felt interest.
It was a noteworthy feature of the young Kentuckian's capture, that he was angered by the evidence that the Indian had brought no gun with him. Such a course implied that the youth was held in light regard, and not deemed the equal of a warrior in a hand-to-hand struggle.
"They think I am nothing but a boy," he thought, "and so they sent a warrior so horrible of face that they hope he will scare me out of my wits; at any rate, they don't believe it worth while for him to bring a gun; may be he'll regret that before he is through."
Having scrutinized the captive from head to foot, the captor seemed to be satisfied. Without attempting any words, he beckoned as before for Jack to follow him. The gesture was made at the moment the warrior turned and began walking over the course parallel to the river and leading toward its mouth.
The action placed Jack behind his master, instead of in front, and it could not but suggest several desperate expedients to him, who was resolved not to allow himself to be taken across the river. He had witnessed enough from his elevated lookout to convince him that the stream on his right was his Rubicon; if he once passed that, there would be no return.
A STARTLING CONCLUSION.
Jack Carleton stealthily pressed his left hand against his breast; his knife was where he could whip it out when wanted.
Why couldn't he draw it, and leaping forward, bury it in the side of his captor before he could save himself?
"It will be a dreadful thing," he reflected, compressing his lips, "but it is the only chance I have; I'll try it!"
He began insinuating his hand under his coat, and groped for the only weapon on which he could now rely. In his eagerness he stepped more softly and slightly crouched, as one is apt to do at such a time.
It may have been that his captor took the lead for a short distance with a view of tempting him to make some such demonstration; but more than likely, the excessive caution of the lad betrayed him; for, before he could draw his knife, the face was turned, and stepping aside, he motioned Jack to assume the leadership—that is, under his direction.
The captive did not think it wise to refuse, but moved promptly to the front and continued the march in the same direction they had followed from the first.
"I wonder whether he is deaf and dumb," said Jack to himself; "he acts just as though he had no use of his tongue. Well, I don't know as it will make any difference, for I can't understand a word he says, and it isn't likely he knows any thing about English. But these redskins have a way of talking with their hands, heads and shoulders which almost any one can comprehend."
The change of positions caused Jack Carleton a new uneasiness. Having made ready for an attack on the Indian in front, it was only natural that he should suspect his captor would take the same course toward him. As indifferently as he could, the youth again slid his right hand under his coat, until it grasped the bone-handle of his hunting knife. He held it firmly, and listened closely for the first movement which would betray the other's intention.
But the youth erred as to the immediate purpose of the warrior. He strode along in his deliberate way, stepping in the footprints of his captive, so as neither to recede from nor approach him. Less than ten feet intervened between the two.
The couple were so near the river, that, when not able to catch a glimpse of its shining surface, it was located by the sparseness of the trees. Jack was so anxious to avoid the stream, that he began bearing to the left, hoping the individual behind him would not notice the deviation, but the lad was unwise to think such a thing possible.
The result of this weak piece of strategy was the proof that the red man was the owner of a voice.
The sound resembled the cough of a wild beast, and startled Jack. Glancing around, he saw the eyes of the warrior snapping, while his right arm was extended, and the finger pointing toward the river.
"All right," responded the lad, as though glad to be reminded of his forgetfulness; "we won't quarrel over the matter."
Jack, however, was too prudent to make an abrupt turn, which would bring him to the shore before going more than several rods. His divergence was perceptible, though the angle was obtuse.
The prisoner was astonished and mystified by what followed, and it may be said that he never fully understood its meaning.
"The rascal has proven that he has the use of his tongue—that's certain. I don't like the idea of keeping in front of him and leading the way to the river's edge. When we reach that, he can call to the others and bring over all he wants to help him—that is, if he feels he needs the help, which isn't likely. I'll keep on till we are close to the river, and then I'll make a fight!"
When only a few yards separated him from the river, the warrior emitted an exclamation precisely like that which first arrested the footsteps of the youth. He stopped, as before, and awaited the will of his captor. The latter advanced to the front, and, while the other stood still, the Indian made his way to the water's margin, parted the bushes and looked out.
The feature of the movement was its caution. The redskin acted as if his whole care was to escape being seen by any on the other side. Why he wished to do so was beyond the power of the youth to guess.
"They are his friends, and I should think he would want to let them know of his success."
The warrior stood fully two minutes leaning over the water, one hand grasping the gun and the other holding the undergrowth apart, while his eyes roved up and down, as if searching for that which he expected and yet dreaded to find. He was but a brief distance below the camp of the Pawnees, who were in sight. The sun had set and twilight was creeping through the wood and over the river. Soon objects would become indistinct; but, for a few minutes at least, it would be to the warrior as if the sun were in the sky.
The view was unsatisfactory, for he drew back, allowing the bushes to come together, and muttered some impatient expression. Looking angrily at Jack, he extended his arm and finger so as to point away from the stream, and signified by gesture that the youth was to take that course.
"Nothing will suit me better," was the thought of the latter, as he obeyed; "I don't understand what the mischief you are driving at, but I am glad to get as far as I can from the river."
As nearly as Jack could judge, this odd march lasted until he had tramped a hundred yards, when it was terminated by another emphatic "Waoof!"
They were in the woods, where the trees were close and there was little undergrowth. So far as could be seen, the nearest water was the river, but the captor showed that his purpose was to go into camp, as may be said, for a time at least. He broke off some dead limbs, threw them on the ground at the base of a large oak, and motioned to the captive to do the same. Jack's previous experience had taught him that the wisest course, under such circumstances, is promptly to obey, and he sprang to work with such vigor that it did not take him long to collect a large pile. As he always carried a flint and steel with him, he hoped to conciliate his captor to a slight extent by starting the fire, though the latter had also a stone in hand, from which, it is probable, he would have extracted fire with but little trouble. He stood still and watched the lad.
It was many years before such a thing as a lucifer match was known, and our ancestors acquired a deftness in igniting a flame from the simple contrivance named, which leads us to doubt whether they gained a great advantage when they threw it aside for the modern invention.
With the help of dried leaves, small dead twigs, and the swift blows of the steel across the face of the flint, a spark speedily darted to the combustible material and stuck there. Jack did not use the rag soaked in chemicals, which was common among the settlers, but caught the fire from the direct source, as it may be called. The tiny twist of flame was fanned and nursed by gently blowing until, in a brief space, a big fire was roaring, and scorching the shaggy bark of the oak.
It was impossible to tell from the looks of the Indian whether he was pleased or not. He stood a few paces off, watching the operation, and, when the fire was well under way, sat down cross-legged like a Turk, where he could feel the warmth, though, as I have stated in another place, the weather was not cold.
It was now growing dark. The shadows were on every hand, and the trunks of the trees looked grim and ghostly, as revealed by the fire, which Jack continually fed, until the circle of illumination was several rods in extent.
"I would give a good deal to know what he is thinking about," said the lad to himself, furtively watching the face on the other side of the fire; "something seems to have gone wrong with him, though why he should want to keep his movements from his friends across the river is more than I can guess; may be he has had a quarrel; they have taken his gun and set him adrift."
This theory, however, did not sound reasonable, and the lad was unsatisfied; whatever the cause of the redskin's erratic conduct, his captive could not explain it.
For a half hour the warrior was as mute and motionless as the oak against which the fire had been kindled. All that time, he sat six or eight feet from the flames and about the same distance from the captive. The fire, the Indian and the youth, each formed the corner of a triangle. He who was master of the situation retained his Turk-like pose, the captured gun between his arms and knees and his small eyes fixed on the flames, which the industry of the prisoner never allowed to grow less.
Strange musings must have stirred within the bronzed skull, but it is useless to speculate, since we have no more means of knowing their nature than had Jack Carleton, who wondered and guessed without satisfying himself.
But one thing was certain: whatever the thoughts of the warrior, they were of a disturbing nature. Jack could not mistake the scowl which wrinkled the brow, while now and then an evil light shone in the eyes.
"He doesn't think of supper, or, if he does, he knows there is no way of getting any thing to eat. He must make up his mind pretty soon what he intends to do with me. If he decides to stay here all night, I know I shan't close my eyes for a single second."
But the test did not come, and it can not be known, therefore, what the result would have been. The Indian seemed to rouse all at once to a sense of the situation, probably concluding that he was wasting time by indulging in such musings. His awaking was characteristic. He sprang to his feet, threw his gun aside, and placed his hand on the knife at his girdle. As he did so, his countenance flamed with ferocity, and the meaning of the look he bent on Jack Carleton could not be misjudged.
"It has been decided that mine shall be the same fate as that of poor Otto," was the thought of Jack, who displayed genuine Kentucky pluck in facing the peril.
He was only a second or two behind the warrior in bounding to his feet, and as he came up he whipped out his hunting knife from under his coat, and confronted his foe. The latter probably was unaware until then that his captive had a weapon about him, for otherwise he would have deprived him of it at the muzzle of the rifle; but surely it would seem he had no cause to fear the youth, who could not have been his equal in strength, activity or skill in handling such a weapon, though much his superior in courage.
Jack Carleton was as self-possessed as if he were awaiting a friendly wrestling bout with Otto Relstaub, though he knew that the assault meant death to one, and the chances were against himself.
"He will bound like a dog at me," was the thought of Jack, who, after the manner of a skillful boxer, kept his eye fixed on that of his foe, in the hope of reading his purpose; "and I will make believe I am bewildered by his style of attack (and may be I will be), but I'll jump to one side, as he comes, and, with the help of heaven, will show what a Kentucky boy can do when cornered."
Just then Jack Carleton smiled, and right good cause had he for doing so.
The Indian warrior was the picture of ferocity, as he crouched a few steps away, and, with his fingers griping the handle of his knife, slowly drew it from the skin sheath at his girdle. The end of his abstraction was the resolution to slay his captive then and there.
But, as the plucky youth faced the fierce red man and looked him in the eye, he saw another form rising to view in his field of vision. It was that of a warrior who slowly appeared behind the first, as if lifted upward from the ground, and peeped over his shoulder into the face of Jack Carleton. So perfect was the silence which marked the extraordinary manifestation, that it was like the shadow made by the firelight itself.