"Let my brother listen," said the Shawanoe, stepping closer to him, as if to make his words more impressive. "When the sun is yonder," pointing to the horizon, "Lone Bear will come to this tree; he will look on the ground, and will draw the leaves aside; when he does so he will find his rifle, his knife and his tomahawk; his brothers shall never know they have been touched by Deerfoot!"
There was a certain chivalry in this proceeding, for it gave to Lone Bear the means of rejoining his friends without the humiliating confession he would be obliged to make if he appeared unarmed; for he could invent no fiction that would wholly conceal the truth. All that remained to do was to keep out of sight until sunset, when he could make his way to the spot, recover his weapons and go back with a story of the long reconnoissance that had held him away much longer than was anticipated.
Lone Bear thanked his conqueror for the regard shown him, and the Shawanoe strode off toward the main body of hostiles. He made no change in the route, until beyond sight of the Pawnee. Then he turned to the left, his course being part of the circumference of a large circle, until it brought him to the westward, or, as may be expressed, to the rear of the single enemy. He now approached the large tree which had served him so well. As he expected, Lone Bear was not in sight.
Deerfoot smiled as he stepped to the spot, and, bending over, laid the captured weapons on the ground and covered them with leaves, so as not to attract the notice of any one passing near. That done, he withdrew, the faint smile still playing around his mouth.
Having promised Lone Bear that his weapons should be given back to him in payment for his story (which the Shawanoe was satisfied was true), the conscientious young warrior would not allow any thing to prevent the fulfillment of his pledge; but he expected that when sunset came he would be many miles away, and it would be a grievous inconvenience to return. Much, therefore, was to be gained by this course. Again, Lone Bear, having no thought that his property would be given up by the Shawanoe before the time he had set, would not be likely to go near the tree until the close of the day. Then, when he was armed again, it would be too late for him to work Deerfoot ill. Possibly, however, he might take it into his head to return earlier; but the Shawanoe cared very little if he did, for even then he felt there was little, if any, cause for fear.
That which Deerfoot now wished to do was to proceed westward with all speed. He had learned from Lone Bear a description of the camp where Otto was left, so that he was confident he could find it with little trouble. Although considerable time had passed, yet when such a party moved through the wilderness they left a trail which could be followed a long time. Deerfoot was confident he and his friends could reach the spot in a couple of days, but his plan was that he should press on alone, leaving Hay-uta and Jack Carleton to follow at a pace more suitable to them. By putting forth his amazing speed, he knew that the three days' journey of the Pawnees could be covered between the rising and setting of a single sun.
Had he been alone, he would have crossed the river at once, and by the time night was closing in would have been many miles on his way; but the first step was to rejoin the Sauk and his young friend. A perfect understanding must exist between him and them, and that could be done only by an interview.
Furthermore, though a quiet seemed to hang over wood and river, it could not be doubted that Hay-uta and Jack were in much personal danger. They were on the same side of the stream with the hostiles who were hunting for them, and it would be no trifling matter to extricate themselves.
And again, Lone Bear would be sure to give a "pointer" to the rest of the warriors, by which they would suspect that the purpose of the little party was to push on and hunt for the boy that had been left alone to die in the woods. Thus, while Hay-uta and Jack were following their friend, the Pawnees would be trailing them and another curious complication of affairs was likely to result.
Deerfoot had seen enough, while along the river, to satisfy him that his friends were further down the stream than the hostiles whom they were seeking to avoid. His first step, therefore, was to circle to the left, so as to pass around the spot where he had seen them gather near their canoe. On his way, he discovered one of the scouts prowling through the wood; he easily avoided him and took care that his own presence was not suspected.
At the proper moment he emitted the signal, which in case the Sauk was listening, would be understood by him. It required great care, for more than likely some shrewd Pawnee would catch it up and turn it to account, as has been done times innumerable under similar circumstances.
There was no response, and Deerfoot did not repeat it until he had gone some distance further. Then the whistle was emitted in the same guarded manner, and almost immediately brought its reply. Fearful that the latter came from a foe, Deerfoot kept his position, and, with all his senses alert, indulged in some variations which were answered as only Hay-uta could answer them. All doubt being gone, Deerfoot now advanced unhesitatingly, and a minute or two later was with his friends.
AN INTERESTING QUESTION.
The faces of the Sauk and Jack Carleton lightened up, when Deerfoot appeared, and warningly raised his finger for them to remain quiet. That he did not mean they were in imminent peril was shown when he said, as he took each hand in turn:
"Deerfoot is glad to look upon his brothers."
"And we needn't tell you how glad we are to see you, old fellow," responded Jack, modulating his voice to the same low key as that of the Shawanoe; "you were gone so long that we began to think we would have to hunt you up. Here, take these blamed things," he added, passing the bow and quiver to their owner; "I never was so glad so get rid of any thing."
The lad had shoved the hat of Otto Relstaub under his coat, where he meant to keep it from the sight of the Shawanoe until after hearing his story. The young warrior, convinced that no Indians were near, and that it would require an hour and probably more for the Pawnees to trace the little party, conversed freely.
The narrative, as may well be supposed, was one of transcendent interest to Jack Carleton, for it was the first definite knowledge obtained of his missing friend. The heart of the listener was filled with pitying sorrow when he learned how Otto had been left to die alone in the wilderness. Tears filled his eyes, his voice trembled, and he said:
"We know now that he was living a few days ago, but what hope is there that he has lasted this long? I am afraid that the most we can do is to give him burial—and we haven't the means to do even that very well."
The three seated themselves on the fallen tree near which the hat was found, and talked as freely as though no hostile was within a hundred leagues of them. The Sauk had little to say, a few words between him and Deerfoot being sufficient. Then, as if to allow them to talk unreservedly (though, of course, he could not understand any thing said), he walked a short distance away. He was just far enough removed to be visible to the two friends. His purpose was to mount guard while they conversed, though there was little need, for Deerfoot could never forget his vigilance.
When the touching story was ended, Jack looked at his friend and asked:
"Do you think he is dead?"
The young Shawanoe nodded his head.
"The Pawnees saw he was very ill; his face was like snow; he was weak; they laid his gun beside him and covered him with leaves."
"Why didn't they take the gun? It was worth a good deal, and the Indians hold such things in high value."
"When the Pawnees bury a warrior, they bury his weapons with him; they were afraid to take the gun; they covered his face with his hat——"
"Are you sure of that?" broke in Jack.
"Such were the words of Lone Bear, who spoke with a single tongue."
"If they left Otto three days' journey away, with his hat lying on his face, I should like to know how it comes to be here."
And Jack drew the article from under his coat, and handed it to Deerfoot. The latter did not conceal his astonishment, for he identified Otto's property at once. He asked his friend for the particulars, and received them.
Deerfoot's theory was overturned by this discovery, and it was beyond his power to explain the presence of the hat so far away from where the owner had been abandoned. It would be supposed that the discovery would throw discredit on the story told by Lone Bear, inasmuch as the two seemed irreconcilable; but such was not the case. Deerfoot did not doubt Lone Bear's words, and I make free to say just here, that subsequent discoveries proved that the vanquished Pawnee had not deviated from the truth in the first particular.
The active brain of the young Shawanoe grappled with the puzzling problem, and he was still unable to solve it, when the faint report of a gun was borne to the ears of himself and friends. It was so faint, indeed, that Jack Carleton just caught the sound, but it was as distinct to the warrior as if fired within a hundred yards.
I am aware that it sounds incredible when I state that the single report of the rifle, far away in the wilderness, as it was softly borne through the miles of intervening space, told the whole story to Deerfoot the Shawanoe; it solved the mystery; it made clear that which was hidden; he no longer saw through a glass darkly; the history of Otto Relstaub was as plain as if it had fallen from his own lips.
I repeat that it will seem incredible to the reader that such a thing could be true, but I shall soon make plain how it all came about.
The sound of the gun was from a point due south. Deerfoot having fixed it clearly in his mind, said something in a low voice to the Sauk, who had turned his head and was looking as if he expected some summons. Then, rising to his feet, he addressed Jack:
"The night will soon come; we must make haste."
"Ain't you going to search the ground for Otto's trail?" asked Jack, who had hoped that the powerful eyes of Deerfoot would reveal to him that which was hidden from the Sauk.
"There is no trail here," replied the Shawanoe, glancing at the ground, and walking away with a stride which seemed reckless, when it is remembered that the Pawnees were not far off. In fact, the course of the three took them close to the war party who were so clamorous for their scalps; but the task of flanking a company of hostiles was not difficult to Deerfoot. He let his friends know when the situation was delicate, and each used the utmost circumspection; but the young leader deviated so far to one side that he soon placed them in the rear.
Nearly half the day remained, and there was time to cover a great deal of ground. Deerfoot did not break into that loping trot which he could maintain from sunrise to sunset, but his strides were so long and rapid that Jack was on the point more than once of being forced into a run.
The Shawanoe so shaped his course that he passed the tree near which he had placed the rifle, tomahawk, and knife of Lone Bear. A glance showed him they were still there, and he smiled in his shadowy way, but held his peace. He did not tell his friends the story, knowing the panic-stricken Pawnee would not reclaim his weapons until the hour fixed—sunset.
Jack Carleton was well aware, from the manner of Deerfoot, that he was carrying out some theory of his own, though the boy failed to connect it with that far-away report of a rifle. He was far from suspecting the surprising truth. Nothing would have pleased him more than to have had the Shawanoe explain what line of policy he had adopted, but I have shown long ago that Deerfoot was inclined to keep such matters to himself until their truth or falsity was established. Jack knew better than to seek to draw any thing from him, and, since he was equally reserved toward Hay-uta, the young Kentuckian could not feel that he had any ground for impatience.
As they advanced, the ground became broken and rocky. Traveling was difficult—that is, to Jack Carleton—who bruised himself several times in his efforts to hold his own. He was on the point of protesting, when Deerfoot halted.
Hay-uta showed some signs of the severe strain to which he had been subjected. His chest rose and sank faster than usual, and his dusky countenance was slightly flushed. Jack's face was aglow; he breathed hard and fast, and felt as though he would like to sit down and rest a few hours. But Deerfoot was as unruffled as if he had walked only a mile or two at a leisurely pace.
And yet a crisis was at hand. There was something in the eyes and face of the Shawanoe which showed a consciousness that they were near the end: within the following few hours it would come.
Deerfoot pointed to a ridge a short distance to the south. The top was rocky and precipitous, and the trees and vegetation were so scarce that the rugged baldness could be seen a long ways through the woods.
"The Sauk will hunt from there to there," said the Shawanoe, indicating a spot a quarter of a mile to the south, and pointing by the sweep of his arm to another almost opposite where they stood. "Deerfoot will hunt from there to there," he added, marking out a similar, though more extensive field, in the other direction.
"And what am I to do?" asked Jack, half amused and just a little provoked at what he knew was coming.
"My brother's legs are weary; they want rest; let him sit down and wait till Deerfoot and Hay-uta come back to him."
"The same old dodge!" exclaimed the lad. "I would give a good deal if some one would explain why in the mischief I was brought along with this party anyhow."
"My brother is gentle-hearted; his voice is soft as that of the pappoose when it laughs in its mother's eyes; his face is beautiful; the hearts of Hay-uta and Deerfoot are sad, but when they look into the face of their brother their hearts become light and they feel strong."
This was the most extensive joke in the way of a remark that Deerfoot had ever been known to originate. Jack Carleton saw his slight smile and the twinkle of his black eyes, and knew he was quizzing him. Assuming a seriousness which deceived no one, the doughty Kentuckian deliberately leaned his gun against the nearest tree, pretended to roll up his sleeves, spat on his hands, rubbed them together and clenched them and advanced threateningly upon the Shawanoe. The latter feigned alarm, and, ducking his head, as if to dodge the threatened blow, ran away so swiftly that before Jack could take more than half a dozen steps in pursuit, he was out of sight.
Hay-uta could not be considered handsome, but the smile which lighted up his features made them interesting, to say the least. When he grinned, he did so to the extent of his ability, which was considerable in that direction.
But the Sauk had been assigned to an important duty, and the Shawanoe having departed, he did not linger. He waved a parting salute to Jack Carleton, who, a few minutes later, found himself alone, much the same as he had been left when Shawanoe and Sauk crossed the river to reconnoiter the Pawnee camp.
"There's one thing certain," he said to himself, recalling the parallelism, "whatever happens, I won't be caught as I was then; I'm not going to climb a tree, and I mean to hold fast to my gun; but we have come so far from the river that we must be a long ways from that party of Pawnees, unless," he reflected, glancing to the rear, "they have struck our trail and have followed hard after us."
The possibility of such danger was not great, but Jack Carleton changed his position to one where he could keep a better lookout, with less danger of discovery. He was sure his friends would not be absent a long time, and he meant to avoid embarrassing their action.
"It was the sound of that gun which led Deerfoot to come all this way. I wonder what it can mean."
Jack had got this far in his meditation, when he heard a footfall near him, and, just as he turned his head, a familiar voice called out:
"Helloa, Shack, ish dot you?"
A STRANGE STORY.
The amazement of Jack Carleton, when he recognized the figure before him, was beyond description. It was Otto Relstaub—the same honest German lad from whom he parted weeks previous when the two were captives in the hands of the wandering Sauks, the divisions of which took such different directions. It was the same lad—the only noticeable difference being that he was bareheaded and his garments were much frayed and torn. He held his gun in his right hand, the stock resting on the ground, while he looked with a half-inquiring expression, as if doubting the identity of the young Kentuckian who had come such a distance to help restore him to his friends. But a second stare satisfied both, and rushing toward each other, they shook hands, laughed and cried for very joy, their expressions disjointed and only clear in their evidence of the delight which overflowed in their hearts.
"Oh, I forgot!" exclaimed Jack, drawing Otto's hat from under his coat and slapping it on the yellow crown of his friend; "here's something which belongs to you."
"Vere did you got him?" asked Otto, taking it from his head and inspecting it. "I never dinks I would sees him agin."
Jack gave the particulars which the reader learned long ago, adding an account of the efforts made by Deerfoot and the Sauk to trace him, and of the despair all felt when they were told the captive had been left to die alone in the woods.
"I never expected to meet you again," said Jack, "and I couldn't understand why it was Deerfoot had any hope."
"'Cause he knowed," was the truthful remark.
"But what was the matter with you? You must have got well in a hurry."
Otto threw back his head and laughed in his old-fashioned, hearty style, adding:
"Do you dinks I vos very sick?"
And then the lad told his strange story, which perhaps you would prefer to hear in a little better accent than that of the narrator.
The statement made to Deerfoot by Lone Bear only a few hours before was shown to be accurate in every particular by the narrative of Otto himself, but it had a phase which neither Lone Bear nor any of his comrades suspected.
The Sauks who wandered away from their fellows, taking Otto along as their prisoner, met the Pawnees, who, as the reader well knows, were a long ways from home. Otto was bartered to them, and his captors continued toward their village, many days' journey to the north and west. They went at a moderate pace, stopping and hunting by the way and making themselves familiar with the country, with a view of removing their lodges thither, provided they could find a satisfactory place.
They were many hours on this dismal tramp when Otto asked himself whether it would not be as well to give up all thought of returning home, and of becoming one of the people into whose hands he had fallen. The hardship imposed by his parents impelled him to such a course, and, more than once, he decided not to make any effort to leave the Pawnees, even if a good opportunity offered. Had it not been for Jack Carleton and his kind mother he probably would have become an adopted Pawnee.
But, as the distance between him and his humble cabin in far away Martinsville increased, a feeling of homesickness crept over him until he was utterly miserable. He finally reached the resolve that he would never rest until he was back again in the log cabin near the banks of the Mississippi; no matter how oppressive his lot, it was home, and that was preferable to a gilded palace.
The prisoner in the dungeon finds no difficulty in making up his mind to leave; the insurmountable task is to carry out his intention; and the days and nights passed without the first glimmer of hope appearing in the sky of Otto Relstaub.
Several times he saw chances which he believed would enable him to get away, but he feared the inevitable pursuit. He was so many miles from home that the most laborious tramping would be required for many days, even if able to proceed in a direct line.
It was this dread which prevented such an attempt on the part of Otto, while his homesickness increased until his appetite vanished and his looks were woe-begone. While in this pitiful condition the poor fellow asked himself whether he could not feign illness to such a degree that his captors would abandon him to die.
The probabilities pointed the other way. In the first place the Pawnees were quite certain to perceive the sham, and, in case they were deceived, they were likely to tomahawk Otto so as to end the annoyance. These two considerations kept him plodding along with the party, which, fortunately for him, progressed slowly.
But while the youth's physical condition was not bad enough to deceive the Indians, he became desperate, and determined to take the first opportunity that presented itself. Within an hour he found a chance to pilfer some tobacco belonging to Lone Bear. He did so with such care that he was not suspected. Straightway he swallowed it, and I need not say that it was unnecessary for Otto to pretend he was ill; he was never in such a state of collapse in his life.
His deathly paleness convinced the Pawnees that their captive was at death's door. They urged him to walk, but he could not, and they stayed in camp longer than was intended, in the hope that the patient would rally.
Otto showed a good deal of pluck when, finding himself recovering, he resolutely swallowed some more of the poisonous weed and soon became so prostrated that he really believed his last hour was at hand. He was in great danger, for the nicotine threatened the seat of life, and Otto lost interest in every thing, feeling that it would be a relief to perish and end his misery.
This was his condition when the Pawnees formed the opinion that he could not live more than an hour or two at the most. Accordingly, they covered him with leaves, laid his hat over his face, and, placing his gun beside him, went off. The youth lay hovering, as it seemed, between life and death. While in that condition, he detected a footfall near him. He was able to turn his head, but could not move his body. He recognized Red Wolf, who was standing a few steps away, knife in hand. He had returned to take the scalp of the dying lad, and would have done so, had not Lone Bear, coming from another direction, interfered. By some argument he led the other to change his mind, and both walked away.
From that moment reaction set in, and Otto rallied fast. It was beginning to grow dark, and he was soon shut in by impenetrable gloom. Fearful that Red Wolf or some one else would steal upon him in the night, he crept deeper into the wood, where he knew he could not be found when the sun was not shining.
Although his rugged system rapidly threw off the nicotine poisoning, he was weak and dizzy. He gained a few hours sleep before morning, but was awake at the earliest streakings of light and started on his return.
Otto Relstaub's previous experience in the woods now served him well. He discovered that the war party, instead of continuing westward, were retrograding and doubling on their own trail. He suspected the true reason they were prospecting for a new site for their villages. He had judged from their actions that something of the kind was in their thoughts.
As the course of the lad lay in the same direction, he wisely chose to deviate until he was far off their trail, so as to avoid any risk of them.
Otto's deliverance from captivity was singular indeed, but he was too wise to consider it complete until certain that such was the case. He feared that Red Wolf or some of his comrades would return to the spot where he had been abandoned; and, discovering the trick, instantly pursue him.
He therefore devoted many hours to elaborate efforts to obliterate his own trail, or to shape it so that even a bloodhound could not track him. He crossed all the streams he could, wading long distances through the water where the depth was too great to permit his footprints to be seen. When he finally emerged, he often did so on the same side which he entered, perhaps repeating his maneuver once or twice before leaving the stream by the opposite bank.
This played havoc with Otto's garments, which were torn and injured until it looked doubtful whether they would last him through his journey. Sometimes, while walking where the water was only a little above his knees, he would abruptly step into that which was six or eight feet deep, but he always reached bottom.
During the first day, when the vigorous system of the fugitive demanded food, and he saw the chance of bringing down a wild turkey which trotted swiftly across his path, he refrained through fear that the report of his gun would betray him. He ate a few berries that seemed to have lived over from the preceding winter (the season being rather early for any thing of the kind to have grown since), chewed some tender buds, and lying down at night, thanked heaven he felt so well.
Reaching the bank of the river across which his friends had passed several times, he felt the opportunity for which he longed had come.
With much labor, he succeeded in constructing a raft sufficiently buoyant to float him without resting any part of his body in the water. Pushing this out into the stream, he drifted fully three miles, gradually working the support toward the further shore.
"Dere," he exclaimed, when he stepped out on land, "dey won't find my tracks if dey don't look all summer."
This was the fact, so far as trailing the fugitive from the spot where he was abandoned, but it so happened that the course of the raft down stream carried him into the very section where his late captors were hunting back and forth. The wonder was that he was not discovered, for there must have been times when his enemies were on each side the river, and he was floating directly between them—and that, too, when the sun was shining.
He was so tired that he lay down beside a fallen tree and slept until near nightfall. Even then he was aroused by the report of a gun so near him that he started up and rushed off in such haste that he left his hat behind him. Soon another rifle was discharged so close that he believed he was surrounded by foes. He had missed his hat, but dared not go back after it, the last gun seeming to have been fired from a point near it. All he strove to do was to get as far from the spot as he could in the least time possible. A strong wind, accompanied by some rain, followed and hastened his footsteps.
It certainly was remarkable that the fugitive's presence so near a number of the hostiles was not discovered, but there is no reason to believe that any such suspicion entered their minds, or that they dreamed of the trick played on them by the captive when he seemed to be lying at the point of death.
Otto pressed on, until once more he felt he had the best ground for believing he would elude his enemies; but he was famishing for food, and when in the moment of temptation, a dozen wild turkeys trotted by him in the woods, he fell and let fly at the plumpest, which also fell.
A STARTLING INTERRUPTION.
When Deerfoot, the Shawanoe, first saw the recovered hat of Otto Relstaub, and tried hard to guess how it came to be left where Jack Carleton found it, he recalled the words of Lone Bear to the effect that it was placed over the face of the boy who was deserted three days' journey away in the woods. The conclusion was natural that the hat had been carried the intervening distance by the boy himself, who must have recovered from the severe illness that brought him low.
At the very moment the young warrior was beginning to suspect the truth about the youth's illness, the faint report of a rifle came to his ears. Necessarily there could be nothing in the sound of the gun which could identify it, but Deerfoot was sure it was fired by Otto, who was either defending himself against some danger or was after his dinner.
Whatever the immediate cause, the Shawanoe felt that haste was necessary to reach the fugitive, who was likely to be sought by the Pawnees, who also must have heard the report of his rifle. He therefore started on the pursuit, as it may be called, with the Sauk and Jack Carleton at his heels.
That marvelous delicacy of hearing, which was one of the characteristics of Deerfoot, enabled him not only to assure himself of the precise direction of the sound, but to fix the point whence it came. Gaining sight of the ridge, he was convinced that the lad who fired it was in that vicinity. He therefore pointed out the portion which was to be examined by the Sauk, while he reserved a similar area to be gone over by himself—the difference being that he was confident of finding Otto, provided he had not moved far from the spot where he stood when he discharged his gun.
On the way thither, the Shawanoe glanced right and left in search of the trail, but as an intervening storm had obliterated it, and Deerfoot went in a direct line, he of course failed to find it.
Otto Relstaub's woodcraft enabled him to travel intelligently through the wilderness. The second storm overtook him just before reaching the rocky ridge, and he was fortunate to find shelter in a slight cave from the driving rain. Despite the peril from which he had just escaped, he determined to stay where he was until, so to speak, he could recruit. The wild turkeys, of which I have spoken, were abundant in the neighborhood, and he had no difficulty in killing one when he wanted it. He did so, on first reaching the vicinity, and the last one was brought down at the moment Deerfoot was studying the vexing problem as to what had become of their young German friend.
The Shawanoe was approaching the truth when, as I have said, the report solved the mystery, and, while hurrying through the woods with Jack and the Sauk, he was almost positive that they would find the lad for whom they had sought so long in vain. He did not believe, of course, that Otto had entirely feigned the sickness which was the means of saving his life, for the story of Lone Bear forbade that. He did suspect, however, that the captive had been taken ill and probably made it appear worse than was the case, and that, when left alone, he rapidly recovered and took advantage of the surprising chance thus given him in perfect innocence by the Pawnees. What struck Deerfoot as singular was that the Indians should have been so deceived, and that none of them returned afterward—excepting Red Wolf and Lone Bear—to learn whether he had perished. Most likely they went over their trail once more on their homeward journey. That of necessity must have been so long after the abandonment of the lad, that (leaving out of account the doing of Otto's friends) the Pawnees would not make the effort to hunt again for the fugitive whose long start put him beyond danger of recapture.
When Otto Relstaub had finished his story, Jack's eyes sparkled and he again grasped the hand of his friend.
"It is the most wonderful experience of which I have ever heard. I thought my escape from the Sauks was remarkable, and so it was, but it can't compare with yours. I never knew of the Indians being fooled in that manner; but show me where you have spent the last day or two."
"It ishn't as fine as your cabin dot is home in Martinsville, but it ish de best dot I can find."
"You're mighty lucky to find anything," was the remark of Jack Carleton, following his young friend toward the rocky ridge which had attracted the notice of the Shawanoe some time before.
"I wonder whether Deerfoot will find it?" said he, musing over the strange experience of his friend; "I suppose you have left plenty of footprints which he is likely to see and which will guide him to the right spot."
"I vos going to leave dis place to-nights or to-morrow mornings," said Otto, quite proud of the part he was acting as guide of his old friend, "but dinks dot I stays till I feels like being better."
Before Otto Relstaub could finish his remark, the crack of two rifles cut short his words. At the same moment the whistling bullets and the war whoops left no doubt of the explanation. Several Pawnees had been prowling along their trail, when the sight of the boys moving away led them to believe they had taken the alarm and were trying to escape. Firing hastily, they broke into a run, with less than a hundred yards separating pursuer and pursued.
"Fly, Otto!" called his companion; "if you can run, now is the time; they're on our heels!"
As the German lad knew the right course, he was obliged to take the lead, while Jack Carleton was behind him. The latter was much the fleeter of foot, and it made him desperate to observe what seemed the sluggish movements of his guide.
"Hurry!" he added, pushing him forward; "they will be on us in a minute and then it's all up!"
"Yaw; I ish doing petter as nefer I couldn't does," replied Otto, who in his excitement dropped back into his crooked words and sentences.
"You ain't half trying, I've seen you do twice as well."
"Yaw; but I dinks—"
The catastrophe came. Like the immortal John Smith, Otto was so busy with his eyes that he had no opportunity to watch where his feet led him. He sprawled forward on his hands and knees, and Jack Carleton narrowly missed going headlong over him. The situation was too critical to laugh, and Otto, thoroughly scared, was up again in an instant, plunging forward with unabated ardor.
The Pawnees lost no time, and the peril was of the most imminent nature. But having regained his feet, Otto dashed forward with the utmost speed he could command, so that the frightened Jack could not find fault with his tardiness.
The leader was following no beaten path or clearly marked trail, but was heading toward a point half way up the ridge, where a mass of rocks rose higher than any others near them, and among which the boy had found a refuge from the storm that drove him thither—a storm which it may be necessary to say, was so local in its character, that Deerfoot and his friends, who were not far off, saw nothing of the elemental disturbance.
The Pawnees, who were seeking to surround the boys at the moment they started, came from different points, all converging so as to shut in the fugitives, as they would have done had a little more time been given them. As it was, when Jack and Otto faced the rocks, their enemies in their rear, one or two were uncomfortably close.
Indeed, there was one fierce warrior nigh enough to interpose across the path of the fugitives. Otto had taken a dozen steps or so after climbing to his feet, when the savage, brandishing his tomahawk in one hand while he grasped his gun in the other, shouted continually some exclamation which was clearly a command to halt, but which, it need not be said, was disobeyed.
Quick to see that he was wasting his breath, the red man, with a couple of bounds, placed himself so directly in front of Otto that the latter could not pass him without turning to one side.
"There's no use of fooling with that fellow," was the conclusion of Jack Carleton, raising the hammer of his gun, without slackening his speed; but before he could bring the weapon to his shoulder, Otto stopped short, throwing up his gun at the same moment, and let drive at the warrior, who could not have had any suspicion that he was in danger until the red tongue shot from the muzzle almost in his face, and then scarce time was given him to know what was coming when his interest in earthly things ceased.
With an ear-splitting screech, he flung up both arms, the gun and tomahawk flying several feet in the air from the spasmodic movement, and he went forward on his face, head and shoulders being thrown so far back that his chest struck the ground first, chin and forehead following like the rockers of a chair.
"Well done!" called out Jack. "Push ahead and we shall be safe."
Suddenly Otto slackened and turned about with a blanched face.
"Mein gracious! I dinks I hef got de wrong road!"
Jack was in despair; then he was angered.
"Go on; go somewhere; don't stop here!" he said.
And he almost shoved him off his feet in his desperate impatience.
"Vosn't dot fooney?" said Otto, breaking into another desperate run; "it is the road arter all."
Not only at that moment, but for some time previous, it must have been in the power of the Pawnees to bring down both boys by shots from their guns. The intervening space was so brief, that all could not have missed, and when Otto made his last dash for safety, Jack Carleton was in such a direct line behind him, that a single well-aimed bullet would have laid both low; but the Indians, confident there was no escape for the boys, determined to make both prisoners.
Deerfoot, the Shawanoe, always referred to the action of the red men at that time as almost unexplainable. They must have known that the youths had friends close by, and that one of them was the young warrior whom they believed to be in league with the Evil One. The footprints which had guided them through the forest told that fact. There were only four Pawnees (one of whom was the warrior whom Deerfoot and Hay-uta held a prisoner the night before, and then allowed to go), and as the number of fugitives, if such they may be called, was the same, the advantage certainly could not be claimed by the hostiles. What common sense directed was for them to shoot the boys, and then withdraw, at least until re-enforcements arrived. Their failure to do so was a piece of shortsightedness which neither the Shawanoe nor Sauk understood.
The respite gained by the quick shot of Otto Relstaub was provident; it threw every one of their pursuers behind them, and the redoubled efforts of the lads carried them swiftly over the remaining space.
"Here we ish!" exclaimed the panting Otto, almost falling again.
"Where?" demanded the terrified friend; "I don't see anything like the cave you told me about."
"It ish de pest dot we have," replied the German lad, noticing the disappointment of his companion.
A FIGHT AND A RETREAT.
That which Otto had called a cave proved really no cave at all. Up the winding ascent the fugitives sped, until opposite a lip or shelf, which projected from the rocks on their left. It extended forward three or four feet, rudely sloping away like the forepiece of a cap, but the concavity below was less than half that depth. Jack expected to find a retreat ten or fifteen feet deep. As it was, there was barely room to screen themselves from the flying bullets, and had the rain been driven from the opposite direction when Otto first sought refuge there it would have given no protection at all.
Jack was half disposed to continue his flight over the ridge, but fearful of the greater peril to which they would be exposed, and alarmed by the knowledge that their enemies were almost on their heels, he darted to the left, and stood with his back against the rocky wall, grasping his loaded and cocked rifle, ready to fire on appearance of the pursuers. Otto did the same, and, taking a position beside him, began reloading his weapon.
The hostiles did not stop, but hastened up the rough gorge, and in a twinkling the foremost dashed into sight. Quick as Jack was in bringing his gun to his shoulder, some one else anticipated him. The red man bounded high in air, with the inevitable death shriek, and went over backward, his body pierced clean through with an arrow driven with resistless force from the bow of Deerfoot, the Shawanoe.
This checked the rush of the other two, who found, what they ought to have known before, that the "Evil One" was on hand. They turned and ran at break-neck speed down the slope, vanishing with a swiftness that rendered it almost impossible for Deerfoot to bring down either of them had he been so disposed. Rapid as was their charge up the slope, their descent was a great deal more rapid.
Directly behind the arrow came Deerfoot, landing in the presence of the youths with such suddenness that Jack half raised his gun under the belief that he was an enemy.
Otto was so startled that he spilled the powder he was pouring into the barrel of his rifle, and the young Shawanoe smiled and said:
"My brother is not glad to see Deerfoot."
"I ishn't! you shust waits till I gots dis gun loaded."
Working rapidly, he soon had the charge rammed home and the weapon primed for action. Then, leaning it against the wall, he impulsively threw his arms around the neck of the Shawanoe and kissed him on the cheek.
Jack Carleton was horrified, supposing the young warrior would be offended, but he smiled in a way which showed he was pleased with the honest fellow, who was not ashamed to show the affection he felt.
During the brief moments spent in pleasant interchange, Deerfoot was never quiet. His eyes were continually flitting hither and thither, and he glanced right and left, as though expecting some person or the occurrence of some event. The fact was, that, although the Indians who made the rash attack had fled, the Shawanoe was by no means satisfied. He reflected, that while only the four warriors had been seen, it was more than likely that others were within call.
There was no good reason for tarrying on the slope, and, as soon as Otto had finished loading his gun, Deerfoot signified they were to leave. For a brief spell nothing was to be feared from the panic-smitten Indians, but the Shawanoe glanced furtively down the gorge before leaving the partial shelter of the excavation in the rocks. Then they moved hastily to the top of the ridge, where a stop was made until all could take a survey of the surrounding country. This was an important matter, and Deerfoot did it in his usual thorough fashion, his eyes taking in the whole horizon.
The elevation of the ridge, and the sparse vegetation on the crest, gave the Shawanoe the best kind of an observatory, and he gained an extensive knowledge of the vast expanse of surrounding country.
Looking toward the south-east, the three saw a somewhat similar ridge, though less in extent. It seemed more than ten miles distant, and the attention with which Deerfoot regarded it showed that he was meditating some scheme in connection with it. It took him but a minute or two to form a conclusion. Then he scrutinized the territory in the opposite direction. Toward that point he was looking for enemies: it was there the Pawnee party was in camp or hunting back and forth.
Deerfoot was able to trace the river, on the other shore of which had been kindled the camp-fire of the Pawnees, but he could discover nothing of the warriors themselves. More than likely some of them identified the little party on the slope, and took good care to keep themselves out of sight.
Both Jack and Otto wondered at the absence of Hay-uta, the Sauk. He had been absent much longer than Deerfoot, and the report of guns and shouts of the Pawnees must have told him the same story which brought the Shawanoe in such haste to the spot.
Once more Deerfoot faced the distant ridge in the south-east Pointing toward it, he said:
"Let my brothers make haste thither, and wait for the coming of Deerfoot."
"What's the matter now?" asked Jack; "why don't you go with us?"
"The Pawnees are on our trail; they will follow fast; my brothers must make haste while Hay-uta and Deerfoot tarry."
A few words made clear the plan of Deerfoot. The Pawnees, like all their race, were extremely revengeful in their disposition, and they would never consent that the four intruders should be allowed to go back without punishment. They had slain several of their warriors, without receiving any injury in return. What though the Evil One, in the guise of a young Shawanoe, had charge of the little party, neither he nor they were invulnerable, and the well-aimed bullet must be more effective than the arrow of the matchless archer Deerfoot.
An additional incentive to pursuit lay in the fact that the Pawnees had learned of the trick that Otto Relstaub played on them. His presence in his own flesh and blood was evidence that could not be disputed. These and other considerations, which it is not necessary to give in detail, convinced Deerfoot that a sharp pursuit would be made by the hostiles. Such a pursuit would be pushed at a pace which neither of the pale-faced youths could equal; they were certain to be overtaken unless skillful strategy was employed.
The Shawanoe, therefore, directed the boys to make for the ridge which he pointed out in the south-east. He told them to use all haste and reach it at the earliest possible moment. It was probable they could not do so before dark, but he impressed upon them the duty of making no halt until their arrival there. If darkness overtook them while several miles away in the woods, they must push on. Both, and especially the young Kentuckian, had had enough experience to know how to maintain a straight course when the sun was not shining.
Deerfoot expected to join them before daylight, but in the event of his failing to do so, they were forbidden to wait for him. At the earliest dawn, they were to press their flight, and keep it up to the utmost limit until nightfall. If by that time no further molestation resulted, they might consider all danger ended, so far as that particular party of Pawnees was concerned.
Deerfoot instructed the two friends to resort to every expedient to hide their trail. When they reached a stream, they were never to cross it by a direct line, but, if possible, wade a considerable distance before stepping out on the other bank. If they should find their path crossed by any thing in the nature of a river, they were to make a raft and float a long distance with the current, before resting their feet again on dry land.
It followed, as a matter of course, that all this strategy designed to throw the hostiles off the trail, ought to be equally effective against Sauk and Shawanoe; but the latter made necessary provisions against going astray. He had a clear understanding with Jack as to the distance he was to follow a small stream before leaving it on the other side, and, in case a river was reached, it was agreed that the youths were to drift downward a half mile. Then, when they emerged, a sign was to be left in the shape of a broken limb, dipping in the current. Such evidence would be detected at once by the Shawanoe from the opposite side of the bank—that is, if he had the daylight to assist him, and he could easily arrange that.
The sagacity of Deerfoot enabled him to provide against almost every contingency, and the time which he took in making such provision was but a fraction of that which I have consumed in the telling. Within three minutes after he directed them what they were to do, they were traveling down the slope, with their faces toward the distant ridge, and their feet carrying them rapidly in that direction.
Each of the boys understood the scheme of Deerfoot, and lost no time in speculating over its final issue. In fact the rule of invariable success seemed to apply so forcibly to every thing which he undertook that I am warranted in saying that neither felt any fear when he left the ridge and plunged into the forest stretching so many miles beyond.
"You have never seen Hay-uta," said Jack, after they had walked some ways, the Kentuckian taking the lead.
"No," replied Otto, walking faster than was his custom.
"He is a Sauk, and one of the five who went off with you when we parted from each other."
"Den I dinks I seen him," was the natural remark of the grinning German.
"Of course you have seen him very often, as he has seen you, but you never heard his name Hay-uta, and won't recognize him from any description I give you."
"Why not?" queried his companion.
"It seems to me," replied Jack with a laugh, "that all negro babies and all Indian warriors look so much alike that no one can describe the difference. I have seen a great many Sauks, but it was hard work to tell them apart when they were a little ways off. Some of them were so hideous that they could be identified by their appearance, as others could by the scars on their features or the particular style they had of painting their faces."
Otto naturally wanted to know how it was that a Sauk had come to be the ally of a Shawanoe, and why, when Hay-uta was any thing but a friend of Otto, he should travel so far and run into so much danger for the sake of rescuing him.
You and I know the explanation, and so it is not required that I should repeat the story of Hay-uta's encounter with Deerfoot in the depths of the wilderness, when the Shawanoe vanquished the warrior, overcoming not only his physical prowess but his hatred, and how the words fitly spoken at that time had proven to be seed sowed on good ground which was already springing up and bearing fruit.
The boys became so interested in the subject that they involuntarily slackened their gait, while they discussed the incident and recalled the gentle reproofs which Deerfoot had given them more than once. It is at such times that we feel the prickings of conscience, and both Otto and Jack asked themselves the question: If this American Indian, born and nursed as a heathen, was so quick to grasp the Word, what excuse shall we offer in the last day when God shall demand of us why, with a hundred fold more light, we persisted in rejecting him?
A SURPRISING DISCOVERY.
"What do you suppose Deerfoot once asked me?" said Jack Carleton, stopping short and staring in the face of his friend, who answered with native innocence,
"If you vasn't ashamed mit yourself, 'cause you didn't know more apout de woods?"
"He handed me some cold water in a cup which he made of oak leaves, and when I thanked him he smiled in that way of his which shows his beautiful teeth, and asked me whether I always thanked every body who handed me any thing like that, or who did me a favor; I told him that I would consider myself rude if I failed to do so. Then smiling a little more, he came for me! 'Who gives you the sunlight?' he asked; 'who makes the moon and stars to light your feet at night? who gave you your good mother, your health, your food and drink, your clothes, your life? Do you thank Him when you lie down at night, and when you rise in the morning, and through the day?'
"I tell you, Otto," continued Jack, "I stood dumb; he has reproved us both and made us feel thoughtful, but I never had any thing that went home like that. I have thought of it a hundred times since then, and that night when I lay down I prayed harder than ever before, and something told me that my prayers went higher, and that He who never turns away His ear was pleased. I didn't say any thing to Deerfoot, but you know, young as we are, that in running back as far as our memories will carry us there are some words and little occurrences that stick by us forever. It is so with that question which was asked me by an American Indian in the deep woods just as night was closing in about us; his questions will cling to me if I live a hundred years."
"I nefer heard him speak just dot way," said Otto, who was in as serious a mood as his companion, "but he said a good many dings to me and sometimes to both of us which I forgets nefer—nefer—nefer! When he left me and the Injins was as cruel almost as fader and moder, I dinks a good deal apouts dem; when I was a layin' by de fire and not knowin' weder dey wouldn't kill me, den I dinks apout dem again and prays hard; when I swallers de tobacco and feels as if I was dead, den I prays agin to Him and He makes me well and prings me owet all right; arter this I nefer forgets to prays to Him."
There could be no misjudging the sincerity of Otto. Jack heard nothing in his quaint accent which could cause him to smile. In truth he was equally thoughtful.
"Most people are willing to call on God when they are in trouble or they think death is close," was the truthful remark of the young Kentuckian, "but it seems to me He must despise a person who forgets all about Him when the danger goes by. I think if I was ashamed to profess Him before others, He ought to be ashamed of me when I came to die and called out in my distress."
The conversation continued in this vein, until both awoke to the fact that they were violating the orders of Deerfoot, by loitering on the road; they had allowed valuable time to pass unimproved—that is according to one view, but in another sense it could not have been better used.
As if to make amends for their forgetfulness, it was agreed they should cease talking for the time, and break into a moderate trot, which both could maintain for half an hour or more without much fatigue. Jack took the lead, and keeping the right direction, he struck the pace which resembled that of Deerfoot, though it was not so rapid nor could he maintain it for a tenth of the time the Shawanoe could run without becoming tired.
The wood as a general thing was favorable, though the occasional undergrowth cropping out of bowlders and rocks compelled some deviation and delayed their advance. No water appeared until they had gone several miles. Then it was that they found themselves alongside a stream of crystalline clearness. It was not very broad nor swift, though quite deep. Standing on one shore, the bottom could be distinctly seen clean to the other side. The bed was mainly a reddish clay, and here and there a few pebbles and large stones, but there was no difficulty in following with the eye the beautiful concave until the deepest portion in the middle was reached, and with the same line of beauty it arose to the land beyond.
"Otto, let's have a swim!" called out Jack Carleton, after admiring the stream for several minutes.
What youngster could withstand such temptation? The afternoon was warm, and though rather early in the season, the water itself could not have been more inviting. The only answer Otto Relstaub made was to begin disrobing as fast as he could. Then it became a race between him and Jack as to who should be the first. The Kentuckian was only a few seconds in advance, and both frolicked and disported themselves like a couple of urchins who know they are doing something which they should not do.
Deerfoot had ordered them to push on and not to rest until they reached the ridge many miles beyond, where he hoped to join them. He would not be pleased if he should learn in what manner his wishes had been disregarded.
The boys dove and swam hither and thither, splashing each other and reveling in the very luxury of enjoyment. It will be understood how a couple of persons so placed as were they found such a bath not only a luxury but a necessity. Men who spend days and weeks in tramping through the woods, without a change of clothing, can not preserve the most presentable toilet, and the washing of clothing, which at other times was done by those at home, was looked after to a greater or less degree by him who was many miles away.
But, oh the other hand, the garments worn by woodmen were far different from the fashion of to-day. They were tough and enduring, and the coarse texture next to the skin preserved its good appearance much longer than does the finer linen we wear. Often Jack Carleton had washed his, and frolicked in the water or lolled on the bank until it was given time to dry in the sun. He and Otto did not do so now, because their consciences would not permit them to linger long enough. As any wading they might do would leave their footprints in plain sight on the bed of the stream, they tried to satisfy their sense of duty by placing their garments and weapons on a light raft, and swimming behind it while it floated down stream. In this way they left no trace of whither they had gone, and a bloodhound would have been baffled in attempting pursuit.
The only mishap of this novel voyage was that while making it, the gun of Otto rolled off and went like a stone to the bottom, but the clearness of the current revealed where it lay, ten feet deep, and it was easy to dive and recover it.
When at last they emerged, a long distance below the point of entrance, a branch was bent and broken as Deerfoot had told them to do in case they crossed a river, and donning their garments, they turned the light raft adrift, and resumed their journey toward the ridge which still lay a long distance away.
By this time the sun was well down in the sky, and it was clear that if the elevation was to be reached before going into camp, several miles would have to be traveled by night, when the moon would give them scant light indeed; but both had done a good deal of that kind of traveling, and the prospect caused no uneasiness. The sight of some game or any thing which could be utilized as food would have been most welcome to the hungry lads.
Lest it may strike my reader that both were showing a degree of recklessness inconsistent with their training and character, it should be said that they kept their ears open for sounds from the rear. It was not considered possible for the Pawnees to press the pursuit with any vigor without the discharge of more than one firearm. The instant such report reached the youths, such tardiness would end.
That report came just before the sun sank from sight. Faint but distant as it floated to them from across the miles of wilderness, it told (like the sound of Otto's gun when heard by Deerfoot) an important truth; the Pawnees were on the southern side of the further ridge, and were pushing the pursuit of the boys with a persistency that left no doubt of their earnestness.
"I dinks we petter goes fast," said Otto, breaking into a trot, which Jack imitated in order to prevent himself from falling behind. They kept it up until the gathering darkness forced them to moderate their pace. A couple of miles still remained to be passed over, but their training rendered that an easy matter, and, but for the craving hunger, there would have been little choice between that and stopping short where they were.
The boys were relieved over one fact: they had come upon no broad stream or river. Indeed, they had seen but the one stream which proved such a means of enjoyment to them, and the configuration of the country rendered it unlikely that they would meet any thing of the kind, until after passing the ridge where they expected to go into camp.
Another source of relief was the certainty that their long swim down the stream would be an obstacle to pursuit by their enemies. They would be compelled to make search before the trail could be recovered, and that would take till the rising of the morrow's sun.
And thus it was that, while hurrying on, they were shut in by darkness, and progress became difficult. Even had the moon been at its full, the dense shadows under the trees would have rendered the sense of touch more useful than that of sight, but, as it was, they were making good progress when Jack, who still kept a slight lead, exclaimed in an undertone:
"By gracious, Otto, there's a light ahead! What can it mean?"
"It means dot some wood ish burning, I dinks."
Of one thing the boys were convinced—whoever had kindled the camp-fire was not a Pawnee. None of them could have reached such a position in advance of the fugitives, and the villages of the tribe were so far to the north-west that no other beside the main party were in the neighborhood.
"Deerfoot told us that we must not camp this side of that ridge," added Jack, "so we'll keep on until we find out who our neighbors are."
This was an easy matter, since no effort had been made to hide the light of the fire, which was visible a long distance away. As is the case at such, times, it appeared to be closer than it was, both the lads expressing disappointment that it seemed to recede, like the ignis fatuus, as they walked toward it.
But when at last our friends halted within a few rods, they were amazed to see but a single warrior in camp. It required some maneuvering to make certain on the point, but the fact was not only demonstrated, but the equally astonishing truth was established that the warrior belonged to the Sauk nation.
Both lads were so familiar with that people that it was scarcely possible to err. In spite of what Jack Carleton had said about the similarity in appearance of all Indian warriors, there were peculiarities of dress and looks which identified them. More than that, the young Kentuckian recalled this one, whom he had seen during his own captivity among that people. He was one of the wildest revelers at the feast described in "Campfire and Wigwam", though generally he was reserved. What drew Jack toward him was the recollection that no one in the village showed more consideration toward him than did he who sat on the blanket smoking his pipe and looking into the fire, as if in deep reverie. He had interfered several times when the prisoner was threatened with violence, and was so consistent, indeed, in his chivalry, that when Jack had assured himself the Sank was alone, he walked forward with Otto at his heels, and offered his hand.
The red man showed no surprise, though he must have been astonished to meet the white youths so many miles from their own home. He rose to his feet, without any appearance of haste, shook hands with both, muttering something which was doubtless meant as a welcome. Jack managed to speak a few words in the Sauk language, but, for practical purposes, they might as well have remained unspoken.
But several facts were extracted from the Indian which added to the pleasure of the visitors. The Sauk was alone, he had not seen any Indians for several days, and he had some meat left from that which he had rudely broiled for his own meal. When I say he placed this at the disposal of the guests, it need not be added that in a short time there was none of it left.
The reason why the Sauk had fixed on that spot for his camp was that a tiny spring bubbled from under some rocks near at hand. The bowl-like cavity, in which it collected before rippling away among the gnarled roots of the trees, held enough to afford all they could wish. The added moisture of this spring, as is often the case, nourished a vigorous growth of succulent green grass, which was also turned to good account.
Just as the boys finished eating, they were startled by the whinney and stamp of a horse near them. They looked inquiringly at the Sauk, who smiled and nodded in a fashion which showed that the animal belonged to him. Instead of traveling the long distance on foot, as did our friends, he had ridden a horse, which had been cropping the grass close at hand when the boys came up. The latter's reconnoissance of the camp before presenting themselves failed to show the presence of the animal.
Observing the interest of the boys, the Sauk picked up a brand from the camp-fire, swung it over his head until it was fanned into a vigorous flame, and then motioned them to follow him, while he showed his steed, of which he was very proud.
The horse snuffed and displayed some timidity when the flame was brought near him, but a few words from his master quieted him, and he stood still while the three walked around and admired his points. The boys said nothing until they were through. Then Jack, with the firelight lighting up his face, looked at Otto, who laughed and nodded his head.
The two had discovered the fact that the horse before them belonged to Otto Relstaub, and was the one for which the poor lad had hunted in vain so long and which, therefore, was the cause of all the misfortunes that had befallen him and Jack Carleton.
A FATAL FAILURE.
Deerfoot the Shawanoe made known only a few of the thoughts which troubled him, when he hurried Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub forward with orders to make no tarrying (except to cover their footprints), until they should reach the distant ridge, where, as I have stated, he hoped to join them.
But the conviction had come upon him that afternoon, that the crisis of the long hunt was at hand, and that success or failure, absolute and entire, was near. It will be admitted that they had been in situations of apparently much greater danger, but there was "something in the air" which foretold stirring events.
While he said nothing of the absence of Hay-uta the Sauk, he was uneasy over it. His own delay was meant to be as much in his interest as in that of the boys. If it should prove that the Sauk needed the help of Deerfoot, the latter wished to be free to give it, and that could not be done so long as the care of the boys was on his hands. When they were out of the way, nothing could interfere with the marvelous woodcraft of the young Shawanoe.
The first point which Deerfoot established, so far as it was possible to do so, was that the four Pawnees, with whom they had come in collision, were the only ones who had reached the neighborhood. The others were near the river, where they were first seen by our friends. The Shawanoe interpreted the reason of this state of affairs to be that, brave as the Pawnees were, the majority were unwilling to pursue their enemies further. They had eagerly crossed the river to engage in the fight, but, learning that the Evil One and two companions were moving toward their distant hunting grounds, as though indifferent to pursuit, they came to the conclusion that they had had enough of the business, and refused to go further.
But among the party were four, who either were braver, or were impelled by a more rancorous hatred, for, as we have learned, they pressed toward the ridge, overtook the fugitives, and paid the penalty of their rashness by losing two of their number. The other couple fled in wild haste down the slope, and one of them never paused until he rejoined his comrades, to whom he told his terrifying tale. The fourth stopped when he had run a short distance, and, after a brief rest, began making his way back to the ridge again.
It probably occurred to him that, since their enemies would not believe it possible for any of the Pawnees to return so soon, then was the opportunity to do effective work, and to get safely away. Accordingly he made his way with great care through the woods to the ridge, from which he had just fled in such mortal fear.
The return of this Pawnee (who was the one held captive by Deerfoot and Hay-uta the night before), was executed with such skill, that the Shawanoe learned nothing of it. He believed none of the hostiles was near, though he acted as though he suspected the contrary.
Deerfoot now devoted himself to finding Hay-uta. He emitted several signals, such as the two were accustomed to use, and he was disturbed because they brought no reply. Knowing the territory given his friend, he decided to make search through it. Possibly some accident had befallen him and he needed help.
Fortunately Deerfoot had not hunted long when he was more successful than he expected to be. He caught sight of Hay-uta, who was sitting on the ground with his back against a rock, his arms folded, and his gaze fixed on the western horizon, toward which the sun was sinking. His fine rifle was leaning against the rock beside him, and his other weapons were in place.
The position of Deerfoot was such that he had a view of the face of the Sauk, and it took him but a moment to understand the meaning of the action, or, rather, want of action on the part of his dusky friend. Many days before Deerfoot had spoken strange words to the Sauk whom he vanquished; they were words that lingered in his memory, and finally sent him in quest of the youth, that he might learn more of their wondrous meaning. He had sought and had obtained that knowledge, and its length and breadth and depth were so infinite, that at times it mastered the warrior, who gave himself up to meditation until he lost consciousness of every thing else.
Deerfoot was half tempted to smile when he reflected that the vigilant Sauk, while engaged on a delicate duty, had forgotten all about it, even to the personal danger involved. Reflecting on the new and divine revelation, he had sat down where he believed he was not likely to be disturbed, and given himself wholly up to the sacred joy of the hour.
While he sat thus guns were fired, shouts were uttered, and signals were sent out that were intended for his ear alone, but he was no more conscious of them, than if he had been wrapped in slumber a hundred miles distant. No statue in bronze could have been more immovable than he.
Viewing the countenance of the Sauk, Deerfoot noticed the radiant light which seemed to glow through every feature, and which told of the great peace that was brooding in his heart.
O blessed hope! as free to the beggar at the gate as to the master within the palace; to the sinking mariner, as to the sceptered king; to the savage in the depths of his own solitudes, as to those who listen to the silver chimes of magnificent churches; thou art free to every man, woman and child, and to the uttermost islands of the sea! Beneficent Father! thine ear is ever open, and thine hand is ever stretched forth to save the perishing everywhere!
Deerfoot stood lower down the slope, where he instinctively screened himself behind a tree. He was watching the face of his friend, when he became aware that another individual was similarly employed.
Still lower down the slope, and about the same distance from Hay-uta as was Deerfoot, a Pawnee warrior, who was creeping along noiselessly, rose to the upright position. He was bent so low at first that Deerfoot failed to see him; but when he straightened up behind the trunk of a tree, the Shawanoe shrank back a few inches, so as to hide himself. Then he watched the Pawnee, who was less than a hundred feet distant.
The first sight showed Deerfoot that he was the warrior whom he and Hay-uta captured the night before, and who was given his liberty by them. More properly it was given to him by Hay-uta, who, you remember, played the part of Pocahontas to Captain John Smith. The whole thing was a scheme of the Sauk, who hoped thereby to make a "friend at court", and to secure an ally who would give them help in their quest for Otto Relstaub.
The Pawnee, therefore, saw before him the party who, he must have believed, saved his life, when the captive was in such despair that he sang his death-song, and bowed his head to receive the crashing blow of the upraised tomahawk. Common gratitude would have bound the Pawnee to his preserver for life.
The red man must have been puzzled when he observed the abstraction of the warrior, but without losing time in studying the question, he cocked his rifle and slowly brought it to his shoulder, keeping his eyes fixed on the warrior up the ridge, whose arms were still folded, and who was gazing vacantly in the direction of the setting sun. There could be no mistake about it: the Pawnee meant to slay the Sauk.
But while the treacherous wretch was making his preparations, Deerfoot, with silent dexterity, fitted an arrow to the string of his bow. The Pawnee was within easy range, and, before the latter could bring his gun to a level, the Shawanoe with his unerring left hand drew back the string of his weapon. The sight of the hostile seeking the life of the Sauk who had befriended him, stirred the heart of Deerfoot to a fury which he rarely felt. He had seen ingratitude before, but rarely was he moved as by the sight before him.
Confident of his aim, he meant to drive the shaft with such force, that, unless stopped by some bone, it would pass clean through and beyond the body of the Pawnee, who, unconscious of his own peril, made his preparations with a deliberation which showed an almost inconceivable depth of hatred.
"Dog of the Pawnee!" muttered the Shawanoe; "you shall have no time to chant your death song this time!"
The arrow was drawn almost to a head, but in his anger Deerfoot give it a quick pull, as expressive of the fierceness of his wrath. As he did so, a sharp, splitting sound was heard, and the center of his closed palm felt as if pierced by a hundred needles.
The bow which had never failed him before had splintered in the middle, and the poised arrow dropped to the ground, its nerveless point falling between the moccasins of the astounded Deerfoot, who realized the full effect of the awful accident.
THE PRAYER OF HAY-UTA IS THE PRAYER OF DEERFOOT.
Deerfoot knew the extent of the mishap the instant it took place. There was no means at command for repairing it, but, in the hope of arousing Hay-uta and disconcerting the aim of the Pawnee, he bounded from the tree, giving utterance to the most terrific shout of which he was capable, and dashed toward the traitor. He had flung aside his useless bow and held his tomahawk in his left hand.
He failed in both his intentions, though possibly he might have succeeded had a few seconds more been at his service. The frightful cry did arouse the Sauk, but it hardly passed the lips of the Shawanoe when the gun of their enemy was fired, and Hay-uta, leaping half-way to his feet, fell back mortally wounded.
The Pawnee saw the raging Shawanoe rushing toward him like a flaming meteor. Knowing what it meant he dropped his gun and grasped his tomahawk, ready to fight the man who threatened his life only a short time before. The weapon was drawn but half way from his girdle, when, without checking his speed, Deerfoot sent his hatchet as though fired from the mouth of a cannon. The Pawnee could not have seen it coming when his skull was cloven in twain, and, with a half-suppressed shriek, he went to the earth, every spark of life driven from his body.
Deerfoot stood for a moment, panting and glaring at the miscreant whom he had brought low. Then without speaking or seeking to recover his tomahawk, he turned and walked toward the Sauk, knowing it was too late to help him.
A long time before when the rifle on which the young warrior relied flashed in the pan, he flung the weapon into the Ohio, and returned to his loved bow and arrow; but the failure in the former case could not be compared with that of the present; the bow had given out in the most disastrous manner that can be imagined.
Deerfoot never shrank from any duty, no matter how trying to his feelings. He supposed that Hay-uta was dead, but when he looked at him, he saw that he was sitting as before with his back against the rock, his arms folded, while he was gazing at the western sky as if lost in pleasant meditation; but the deathly pallor visible through his paint, showed he had but a short time to live.
Deerfoot hastened his steps, and Hay-uta turned his eyes with a smile and feebly extended his hand. The Shawanoe eagerly took it and kneeled on one knee.
"Why does my brother the brave Hay-uta smile?" he asked, in a voice as low as that of a mother.
"Hay-uta was looking at the clouds in the sky and he saw the face of the Great Spirit that Deerfoot told him about."
"Was the Great Spirit pleased?"
"He smiled and showed he loved Hay-uta,—who sees him again," added the dying warrior, turning his gaze toward the billowy clouds, tinted with gold in the rays of the declining sun. "He smiles and is waiting for me."
A divine joy suffused the heart of the Shawanoe, when he not only heard these words, but noted the expression which illuminated the countenance of the Sauk, who had but a few more minutes to live.
And while stirred by such emotions, there were other matters which Deerfoot could not forget. True, he had slain the only Pawnee near, but he could not feel sure that all danger from that source was gone. Others might be drawn to the spot, within a brief period, and he cast a searching glance on his surroundings, to make certain he was not taken unawares. Had a half dozen hostiles burst upon the scene, the Shawanoe would not have deserted Hay-uta, so long as breath remained in his body.
There was hope for a moment on the part of Deerfoot that his friend might not be mortally hurt, but such hope vanished almost as soon as it came. The wound was in the breast; it bled slightly, but the eye of the Shawanoe (aside from the appearance of the Sauk), showed the poor fellow was beyond the power of human help.
"The heart of Deerfoot is glad," said the Shawanoe, still resting on one knee, and holding the hand of Hay-uta, while he looked kindly into his face. "Deerfoot had drawn his bow, and would have driven his arrow through the heart of the dog of a Pawnee, but the bow broke and the arrow fell at the feet of Deerfoot."
This statement seemed to recall Hay-uta to his situation; he compressed his thin lips, as if forcing back a moan, and his free hand groped at his side in feeble quest of something. Before Deerfoot could divine his purpose, he grasped his handsome gun, leaning against the rock, and made as if to pass it to Deerfoot. The latter was obliged to help him, and resting the stock on the ground, he leaned the muzzle toward the other, and awaited his words.
"Had that been in the hand of Deerfoot, then Hay-uta had not died."
"My brother speaks with a single tongue, as he always did," replied the Shawanoe, in a sad voice; "the bow is broken."
"Let my brother use it no more; let him take the rifle which he now grasps."
"It shall be done as my brother wishes."
"The heart of Hay-uta rejoices; let my brother take the powder-horn and bullet-pouch of Hay-uta."
With great gentleness, Deerfoot slipped the string of the Sauk's powder-horn over his neck, unfastened the bullet-pouch, and placed them and the proffered tomahawk about his own person. Before doing so, he detached his quiver and flung it from him. The Sauk watched his actions with more interest than would be supposed, and his pale face showed that he was pleased with the change.
"My brother was given skill with the bow, but his skill is as great with the gun, and it will not fail him when he points it at the deer or at his enemy."
"It is the Great Spirit who guides the arrow and bullet," was the response of the Shawanoe. "Deerfoot will use the bow no more; he will keep the rifle and tomahawk his brother Hay-uta gave him. He will think of Hay-uta and the gun will be better in the hands than the bow."
"Then Deerfoot will be greater than any hunter in the west," was the remark of his friend, and that he was a true prophet will be shown by the incidents in which the Shawanoe was soon called to take part.
The young warrior had no wish to hear the deserved compliments at such a time, for he saw that only a few more words could fall from the lips of the Sauk. Still holding the hand tenderly in his own, he asked in a gentler voice:
"Does my brother see the face of the Great Spirit now?"
The eyes that were growing dull, brightened again, and were fixed on the tinted horizon as though he saw the countenance of his Heavenly Father (and who dare say he did not?), with as much distinctness as he discerned that of the Shawanoe kneeling before him.
"I see Him. He stands now with His side toward me; one foot is forward, and He is leaning over as if He is about to take a step. He reaches His hand toward me; He is only waiting till I place my hand in His." Then, fixing with an effort his gaze on the Shawanoe, Hay-uta, whose mind began to wander, said:
"The Great Spirit looks toward Deerfoot; He waits to hear him speak."
The Sauk became silent, and Deerfoot prayed for a few minutes with the touching faith of childhood. When he was nearly done, he unconsciously dropped into his own tongue.
"The prayer of Deerfoot to the Great Spirit is that He will take the hand of Hay-uta, which reaches upward to Him and lead him into the hunting grounds, beyond the clouds and sun and stars. The prayer of Hay-uta is the prayer of Deerfoot."
Having finished, the Shawanoe ceased and looked into the face of the Sauk, awaiting what further request he might make. The calm, triumphant expression which lit up the features, led him to expect a movement of the lips, but it needed only a second glance to discover that Hay-uta the Sauk was dead.
Deerfoot looked closely at him, and then, rising to his feet, scanned the surrounding solitude. While Hay-uta had seated himself where he gained an unobstructed view of the sky, he was not at the top of the ridge, nor was he liable to be discovered by any enemies at a distance. It was a fatal mischance which brought the treacherous Pawnee that way.
From where Deerfoot stood, he could see the feet and leggings of the fallen Pawnee, who lay flat on his back as though looking at the sky; but no living person was in sight.
The Shawanoe waited a brief while, debating with himself as to his duty toward his dead friend. While he was without the means of burying him, he could place the body in some less conspicuous position, yet he took a different course.
Before the limbs of the dead warrior were given time to stiffen, Deerfoot adjusted them as they were when he first discovered him sunk in meditation. The body was made to sit erect, the back supported by the rock behind it; the feet were extended in a natural position, and the arms folded across the massive chest. The partly-open eyes seemed still to rest on the western horizon, behind which the sun had set. Though Indian superstition would have caused the body to face the other way, to greet the rising sun, Deerfoot had no wish to change the posture; for Hay-uta died not as dies the heathen, but as passes away the Christian.
It would have been hard for any one venturing from the woods, and catching sight of the body for the first time, to believe the spark of life had fled.
The Shawanoe viewed the striking figure, and felt that he had done the most fitting thing. Looking up at the darkened sky he asked the Great Spirit to protect the body from molestation by wild man or beast, and then, with a faint sigh, he turned away, and passing over the ridge, hastened toward the rendezvous, where Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub had been told to await his coming.
Months afterward, a party of trappers penetrating further than usual to the westward, came upon the skeleton of an Indian warrior, seated on the ground with his arms folded, and back resting against a rock behind him. They supposed he had been killed and then placed in that posture, but we know they were not altogether right in their belief.
Having turned his back for the last time on Hay-uta, the Shawanoe hurried toward the ridge where he expected to rejoin his friends. It was too dark to follow any trail, and indeed there was no call to do so. Had nothing interfered, he knew the neighborhood of the spot where he would find the boys, and he hastened toward it. Even if he went somewhat astray, it would be no difficult matter to open communication with them.
The stream in which Jack and Otto had such rare sport scarcely checked the progress of the Shawanoe, but when a short while after, he caught the glimpse of a camp-fire on the slope of the ridge, he was displeased; for it showed a degree of recklessness in them that he could not excuse. If they chose to encamp there, they ought to have known better than to turn it into a beacon light to guide the hostiles for miles around.
With an expression of displeasure, Deerfoot hastened his footsteps, and reached camp sooner than he or his young friends anticipated. It can be understood that the surprise was great on the part of all.
It was a surprising discovery for Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub when they learned that the solitary Sauk warrior who welcomed them to his camp, had in his possession the horse belonging to the German lad, for which they had sought so long in vain.
"Mine gracious!" exclaimed Otto, when they seated themselves again by the fire; "if we gots him, won't it be shust too good!"
"Then I suppose your father and mother will be satisfied."
"Yaw—but holds on!" he added, looking down at his clothing; "I have torn my trowsers shust a little, and dot will gif dem de oxcuse to whip me."
"No; they will be too glad to get the colt back to mind such a small thing as that; but isn't it one of the strangest things in the world that this Sauk should find and bring him all the way through the woods and across streams and prairies to this point, and then that we should come upon him."
"It peats everydings," replied Otto; "but he can't told us how he didn't do it."
"No; we shall have to wait till Deerfoot comes; he can talk the Sauk tongue and it won't take him long to find out the whole story."
The boys felt so little misgiving about entrusting themselves to the care of the stranger, that when they began to feel drowsy they stretched out on the blanket, with their backs against each other, and went to sleep.
An hour later, just as the Sauk was on the point of also turning in for the night, Deerfoot made his appearance. His coming was a surprise to the warrior, and at first caused him some alarm, but, so soon as he learned who he was, his feelings underwent a change, for, truth to tell, the Shawanoe was the very one whom the Sauk had come so many miles to meet.
The story of the Sauk was impressive. He was the brother of Hay-uta, and on the return of the latter to his home, he told of his encounter with Deerfoot, and dwelt on the extraordinary words of his conqueror. He, too, had heard something similar from the missionaries, whom he had seen at different posts in the West, but like most of his people he was indifferent to their arguments.
But the "sermon" preached by Deerfoot, through his kindred, got hold of the Sauk, and would not let go. He affected to despise the words, but he could not drive them from him. Some time afterward Hay-uta told his brother he must hunt up the friendly Shawanoe, and learn more of the Great Spirit whom he told him about. He asked him to bear him company, but the Sauk declined, just as all of us are prone to rebel against the better promptings of our nature.
The time soon came however when he started to hunt, not only for Hay-uta, but for Deerfoot also. Of necessity his search for awhile was a blind one, but while threading his way through the woods he found the horse of Otto Relstaub cropping the grass on a slight stretch of prairie. Some curious fortune had given him his liberty and led him into that section.
The brother was so prompt in following Hay-uta, that he kept to his trail long after the latter had found Deerfoot and Jack Carleton, but a peculiar shame-facedness held him back from joining them. Once or twice he resolved to overtake them, but each time he shrank back, and finally lingered so long that he lost the trail altogether.
But that restless longing for the great light, of which he had only the dim glimmerings, kept his face turned westward, while he hoped and yet dreaded to meet the young Shawanoe, who, unsuspected by himself, was the cause of his strange discontent.
The meeting took place in the manner already told. It was Deerfoot who found the Sauk instead of the Sauk who found him. In a tender, sympathetic voice the Shawanoe gave the other the particulars of his brother's death, making clear to him that when he crossed the dark river it was to enter the hunting grounds of the true Great Spirit, who beckoned him thither. The Sauk showed no grief over the loss of his kindred, though he mourned him with an emotion that was a singular mixture of sadness and pleasure. He seemed more interested in the story which Deerfoot told him about the One who died that all men might live, and whose approving smile could be won by whomsoever would do His will.
The two warriors lay a long time by the camp-fire, which was replenished several times, while the Shawanoe read from his Bible and discoursed of the momentous truths contained therein, and the listener questioned and answered, and appropriated the revelations thus made to him. Deerfoot, the Shawanoe, sowed good seed on that evening a long time ago; but the full fruitage thereof shall never be known until the last great day, for which all others were made.
When the Sauk learned that the horse which he had found astray in the wilderness belonged to one of the sleeping boys, he said it should be returned to him on the morrow. Deerfoot encouraged him by replying that such action would always please the Great Spirit, who knew the thoughts, words and deeds of every person that lived.
While the boys were sleeping, and when the gray light of morning was creeping over the forest, Deerfoot scouted through the country surrounding them. As he anticipated, he found no sign of enemies. The Pawnees had been handled so roughly that they made no further attempt to molest the little party that seemed to them to be under the special care of the Evil One.
Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub were permitted to sleep until breakfast was ready; then, when aroused, they were in high spirits over the prospect before them. The young Kentuckian, however, was saddened by the tidings of the death of Hay-uta, the brother of the Sauk who had befriended him.
Otto was informed that the lost colt was his property again, and all that he had to do was to prevent him from wandering beyond his reach, since no such good fortune was likely to repeat itself.
Three days later the Sauk bade them good-by, his course to his village rendering a divergence necessary. When in sight of the humble cabins of Martinsville, Deerfoot parted from Jack and Otto, expressing the hope that he would soon meet them again; when urged to visit his friends in the settlement he shook his head, making a reply which was not fully understood.
"Deerfoot must hasten; he is wanted by others; he has no time to lose."
Then flirting the gun given him by Hay-uta over his head, he added with a smile:
"Deerfoot uses the bow and arrows no more; the rifle is his weapon."
Waving them farewell again, he soon vanished from sight in the forest, and they saw him no more.
I need not tell you of the welcome Jack Carleton received from his mother and friends. He promised his anxious parent that he would never leave her again, and his pledge was not broken.
Perhaps the long absence of Otto softened his father and mother's hearts, or it may have been the return of the lost colt moved them to greater kindness. Be that as it may, hence forward all went smoothly in the Relstaub household, and the hardships and sufferings of Otto, so far as his parents were concerned, were ended forever.
From this time forth, as Deerfoot, the Shawanoe, declared, the rifle was his weapon. Great as was his skill with the bow and arrow, it could not equal that which he displayed with his gun, and I am confident you will agree with me when you come to read "The Hunters of the Ozark", which will form number one of the DEERFOOT SERIES.
Famous Castlemon Books.
No author of the present day has become a greater favorite with boys than "Harry Castlemon," every book by him is sure to meet with hearty reception by young readers generally. His naturalness and vivacity leads his readers from page to page with breathless interest, and when one volume is finished the fascinated reader, like Oliver Twist, asks "for more."
By Harry Castlemon.
Frank the Young Naturalist. Frank in the Woods. Frank on the Prairie. Frank on a Gunboat. Frank before Vicksburg. Frank on the Lower Mississippi.
GO AHEAD SERIES.
Go Ahead; or, The Fisher Boy's Motto. No Moss; or, The Career of a Rolling Stone. Tom Newcombe; or, The Boy of Bad Habits.