Henry shot another black bear, very small but quite fat and tender, and he was quickly added to their store. More wild ducks and wild geese were caught in the snares, and they had now been on the oasis more than a week without the slightest sign from their foes. Danger seemed so far away that it could never come near, and they enjoyed the interval of peace and quiet, devoted to the homely business of mere living.
Then came a day when great mists and vapors rose from the swamp, and the air grew heavy. Everything turned to a sullen, leaden color. Henry glanced at their hut.
"We have built in time," he said. "All this heaviness and cloudiness foretells a storm and I think we'll sleep under a roof tonight. What say you, Sol?"
"I shorely will, Henry. Them that wants to lay on the ground, an' take a wettin' kin take it, but, ez fur me, a floor, a roof an' four walls is jest what I want."
"Everybody will agree with you on that," said Paul.
No one spoke again for a long time. Meanwhile the vapors and mists thickened and the skies became almost as black as night. The whole swamp, save the little island on which they sat, was lost in the dusk, and a wind, heavy with damp, came moaning out of the vast wilderness. Thunder rumbled on the horizon, then cracked directly overhead, and flashes of lightning cut the blackness.
The five retreated to their hut, and, with a mighty rushing of wind and a great sweep of rain, the storm burst over the oasis.
INTO THE NORTH
When the wilderness was under the beat of wind or rain or hail or snow Henry and Paul, if sheltered well, never failed to feel an increase of comfort, even of luxury. The contrast between the storm without and the dryness within gave an elemental feeling of relaxation and content that nothing else could supply. It had been so at the rocky hollow, and it was so here.
Their first anxiety had been for the little house. Being built of poles and bark it quivered and trembled, as the wind smote it hard, but it held fast and did not lose a timber. That apprehension passed, they looked to see whether it would turn the rain, and noted with joy in their workmanship and pleasure in their security that not a drop made its way between the poles and bark.
These early fugitive fears gone, they settled down to ease and observation of the storm, being able to leave the door open about a foot, as the wind was driving against the back of the house. It was almost as dark as night, with gusts that whistled and screamed, and the rain seemed to come in great waves of water. Despite the dusk, they saw leaves torn from the trees and whirled away in showers. Every phase and change of the storm was watched by them with the keenest attention and interest. Weather was a tremendous factor in the life of the borderer, and he was compelled to guide most of his actions by it.
"How long do you think it will last, Sol?" asked Henry.
"I don't see no break in the clouds," replied the shiftless one. "This wind will die after a while, but the rain will keep right on. I look for it to last all today, an' all the night that's comin'."
"I think you're right, Sol, an' it's a mighty big rain, too. The whole swamp except our island will be swimming in water."
"But it won't be no flood, that is, like the big flood," said Long Jim. "But ef one did come I wouldn't mind it much ef we had an ark same ez Noah. Ef you could only furgit all them poor people that got theirselves drowned it would be mighty fine, sailin' 'roun' in an ark a mile or so long, guessin' at the places whar the towns hev stood, an' lettin' down a line now an' then to sound fur the tops uv the highest mountains in the world."
"You wouldn't hev no time fur lettin' down lines fur mountain tops, Jim Hart," said Shif'less Sol.
"An' why wouldn't I hev time fur lettin' down lines fur anythin' I wanted, you lazy Solomon Hyde?"
"'Cause it would be your job to feed the animals, an' to do it right you'd hev to git up early in the mornin' an' work purty nigh to midnight all the forty days the flood lasted. Me an' Henry an' Paul an' Tom would spen' most o' our time settin' on the edge o' the ark with our umbrellers h'isted, lookin' at the scenery, while you wuz down in the bowels o' the ark, heavin' in more meat to the lions an' tigers, which wuz allus roarin' fur more."
"I wouldn't feed no animals, not ef every one uv 'em starved to death. Besides, what would be the use uv it? 'Cause when the flood dried up the woods would soon be full uv 'em ag'in."
"Jim Hart, hevn't you no sense a-tall, a-tall? Ef all the animals wuz drowned, ev'ry last one o' 'em, how could the woods be full o' 'em ag'in?"
"Don't ask me, Sol Hyde. Thar are lots uv things that are too deep fur you an' me both. Now, how did the animals git into the woods in the fust place?"
"I can't answer, o' course."
"Nor can I, but I reckon they'd git into the woods in the second place, which is after the flood, we're s'posin', jest the same way they did in the fust place, which wuz afore the flood, an' that, I reckon, settles it. I don't feed no wild animals, nohow."
"What will the big storm and the deluge of rain mean to us, anyway?" asked Paul.
"It will help us," replied Henry promptly. "I've been worried about all those mists and vapors rising from the decayed or sodden vegetation. There was malaria in them. Our systems have resisted it, because the life we lead has made us so tough and hard, but maybe the poison would have soaked in some time or other. Now the flood of clean rain will freshen up the whole swamp. It will lay the mists and vapors and wash everything till it's pure."
"An' it will flood the swamp so tremenjeously," said the shiftless one, "that fur days thar will be no gittin' in or gittin' out. Anybody that tries it will sink over his head afore he goes a hundred yards."
"Which makes us all the more secure," said Paul. "It certainly appears as if the elements fight for us. For a week at least we're as safe here as if we were surrounded by a stone wall, a thousand feet thick and a mile high. And in that time I intend to enjoy myself. It will be the first rest in two or three years for us to have, absolutely free from care. Here we are with good shelter, plenty of food, nothing to do, and, such being the happy case, I intend to take a big sleep."
He rolled himself in a blanket, stretched his body on a bed of leaves, and soon was in slumber. The others also luxuriated in a mighty sleep, after their great labors and anxiety, and the little hut that they had builded with their own hands not only held fast against the wind, but kept out the least drop of water. The rain, true to Shif'less Sol's prediction, lasted all night, but the morning came, beautiful and clear, with a pleasant, cool touch.
The swamp was turned into a vast lake, and they shot two deer that had taken refuge from the flood on their oasis. Henry, despite the rising waters, was able to reach the salt spring, and they cured the flesh of the deer, adding to it a day or two later several wild turkeys that alighted in their trees. They continued to prepare themselves for a long stay, and they were not at all averse to it. Rest and freedom from danger were a rare luxury that every one of the five enjoyed.
Henry's assumption that the great rain would freshen the swamp proved true. All the mists and vapors were gone. There was no odor of decaying wood or of slime. It seemed as if the place had been cleaned and scrubbed until it was like a fine lake. Silent Tom caught bigger fish than ever, and they agreed that they were better to the taste, although they agreed also that it might be an effect of fancy. The island itself was dry and sunny, but from their home they looked upon a wilderness of bushes, cane and reeds, growing in what was now clear water. The effect of the whole was beautiful. The swamp had become transformed.
"It will all settle back after a while," said Henry quietly.
But a second rain, though not so hard and long as the first, filled up the basin again, and they foresaw a delay of at least two weeks before it returned to its old condition. They accepted the increased time with thankfulness, and remained in their camp, doing nothing but little tasks, and gathering strength for the future.
"I should fancy that the warriors would hunt us here some time or other," said Paul. "Shrewd and cunning as they are, and missing us as they have, they'd think to penetrate it!"
"It seems so to me," said Henry. "Red Eagle is a great chief, and, after he searches everywhere else for us and fails to find us, he'll try for a way into this swamp, unlikely though it looks as a home."
"But lookin' at the water an' the canes, an' the reeds an' the bushes I've figgered it out that he can't come fur two weeks," said Shif'less Sol, "an' so I've made up my mind to enjoy myse'f. Think o' it! A hull two weeks fur a lazy man to do nothin' in! An' I reckon I kin do nothin' harder an' better than any other man that ever lived. Ef it wuzn't fur gittin' stiff I wouldn't move hand or foot fur the next two weeks. I'd jest lay on my back on the softest bed I could make, an' Long Jim Hart would come an' feed me three times ev'ry day."
"I think," said Henry, "we'd better build a raft. It'll help us with both the fishing and the hunting, and with plenty of willow withes we ought to hold enough timbers together."
The raft was made in about a day. It was a crude structure, but as it was intended to have a cruising radius of only a few hundred yards, pushing its way through strong vegetation, to which the bold navigators could cling, it sufficed, proving to be very useful in visiting the snares and decoys they set for the wild ducks and wild geese. The swamp, in truth, now fairly swarmed with feathered game, and, had they cared to expend their ammunition, they could have killed enough for twenty men, but they preferred to save powder and lead, and rely upon the traps, and fish which were abundant.
The skies were very clear now and they watched them for threads of Indian smoke which could be seen far, many miles in such a thin atmosphere, but the bright heavens were never defiled by any such sign. It was the opinion of Henry that the main Indian band, under Red Eagle, had gone northward in the search, but it would be folly to leave the swamp now, since other detachments had certainly been left to the southward. The ring might be looser and much larger, but it was sure to be still there, and it was not hard for such as they, trained in patience and enjoying a rare peace, to wait. Thus the days passed without event, and the five felt their muscles growing bigger and stronger for the great tasks bound to come. But a curious feeling that war and danger were half a world away grew upon them. They were in love for a time with peace and all its ways. They were reluctant even to shoot any of the larger wild animals that wandered through the swamp, and they felt actual pain when they slew the wild ducks and wild geese caught in their snares.
"I'm bein' gentled fast," said Shif'less Sol. "Ef this keeps on fur a month or so I won't hev the heart to shoot at any Injun who may come ag'inst me. I'll jest say: 'Here, Mr. Warrior, hop up an' take my skelp. It's a good skelp, a fine head o' hair an' I wuz proud o' it. I would like to hev kep' it, but seein' that you want it bad, snatch it off, hang it in your wigwam, tell the neighbors that thar is the skelp o' Solomon Hyde, an' I'll git along the best I kin without it.'"
"You may feel that way now, Sol," said Long Jim, "but you jest wait till the Injun comes at you fur your skelp. Then you'll change your mind quicker'n lightnin', an' you'll reach fur your gun, an' blow his head off."
"Reckon you're right, Jim," said the shiftless one.
Silent Tom stared at them in amazement.
"What's the matter, Tom?" asked Paul. "Why do you look at them in that manner?"
"Agreed!" replied Silent Tom.
"Agreed? Oh, I understand what you mean! Sol and Jim hold the same opinion about something."
"Yes. Fust time!"
"Don't you be worried, Tom Ross," said Shif'less Sol, "I'll see that it never happens ag'in."
"Me, too," said Long Jim Hart. "You see, Tom, that wuz the only time in his life that Sol wuz ever right when he wuz disputin' with me, an' me bein' a truthful man had to agree with him."
Another week passed and the atmosphere of peace and content that clothed the great marsh grew deeper. The waters subsided somewhat, but it was still impossible to pass from the oasis to the firm land without, except in a canoe, and that they did not have. Nor was it likely that the Indians would produce a canoe merely to navigate a flooded marsh. While sure that none would come, all nevertheless kept a good watch for a possible invader.
The weather began to turn cooler and the first fading tints appeared on the foliage. It was the time when one season passed into another, usually accompanied by rains and winds, but they were more numerous than usual this year. The strong little hut again and again proved its usefulness, not only as a storehouse, but as a shelter, although it was so crowded now with stores that scarcely room was left for the five to sleep there. The skins of the two bears had been dressed and Henry and Paul slept upon them, while much of their cured food hung from pegs which they contrived to fix into the walls.
As the waters sank still farther, they noticed that the swamp was full of life. What had seemed to be a waste was inhabited in reality by many of the people of the wilderness. The five had approached it from the west, and now Henry, who was able to go farther east than they had been before, found a small beaver colony at a point on the brook, where there was enough firm ground to support a little grove of fine trees.
The beavers had dammed the stream and were already building their houses for the distant winter. Henry, hidden among the bushes, watched them quite a while, interested in their work, and observing their methods of construction. He could easily have shot two or three, and beaver tail was good to eat, but he had no thought of molesting them, and, after he had seen enough, drew off cautiously, lest he disturb them in their pursuits.
He saw many muskrats and rabbits and also the footprints of wildcats. A magnificent stag, standing knee deep in the water, looked at him with startled eyes. He would have been a grand trophy, but Henry did not fire, and, a moment or two later, the stag floundered away, leaving the young leader very thoughtful. What had the big deer been doing in such difficult territory? It would scarcely come of its own accord into so deep a marsh, and Henry concluded that it must have fled there for refuge from hunters, and the only hunters in that region were Indians. Then they must still be not far away from the marsh!
It was such a serious matter and he was so preoccupied with it that a huge black bear, springing up almost at his feet, passed unnoticed. The bear lumbered away, splashing mud and water, stopping once to look back fearfully at the strange creature that had disturbed it, but Henry went on, caring nothing for bears or any other wild animals just then.
When he returned, however, he was bound to take notice of the vast quantity of wild fowl in the swamp. Every pond or lagoon swarmed with wild ducks and wild geese, and hawks and eagles swooped from the air, splashed the water, and then rose again with fish in their talons. Two big owls, blinking in the light, sat on the bough of an oak. Another flight of wild pigeons streamed southward. The life of the swamp was so multitudinous that Henry and his comrades could have lived in it indefinitely, even without bread.
When he was back on the oasis he said nothing of his meeting with the deer and the significance that he had read in it, thinking it not worth while to cause alarm until he had something more tangible. Another week, and there was a perceptible increase in the autumnal tints. All the green was gone from the leaves. Red and yellow dyes, not yet glowing, but giving promise of what they would be, appeared. The early flights southward of more wild fowl, taking time by the forelock, increased, and in the minds of some of the five came thoughts of leaving the swamp.
"They must have given up the pursuit by this time," said Paul. "They wouldn't hunt us forever."
"Looks that way to me, too," said Long Jim.
Henry shook his head.
"Some of the warriors have gone away," he said, "but not all of them. Red Eagle, the Shawnee chief, is a man who thinks, and a man who holds on. He knows that we couldn't sink through the earth or fly above the clouds, and the time will come when he will look into this matter of the swamp. It appears to be impenetrable, but he will conclude at last that there is a way."
"I'm o' your mind," said Shif'less Sol. "When you're carryin' on a war it ain't jest a matter o' guns an' ammunition, an' the lay o' the land. You've got to think what kind o' a gen'ral is leadin' the warriors ag'inst you. You must take his mind into account. Ain't that so, Paul? Wuzn't it true o' that old Roman, Hannybul?"
"Hannibal was not a Roman, not by a great deal, Sol, as I told you before."
"Well, he wuz a Rooshian, or mebbe an Eyetalian. What diff'unce does it make? He wuz some kind o' a furriner, an' ef what you tell us 'bout him is true, Paul, as I reckon it is, it wuz his mind that led his men on to victory over the Rooshians an' the Prooshians an' the French an' the Dutch."
"Over the Romans, Sol."
"Ez I told you once, Paul, it makes no diff'unce. They're all furriners, an' all furriners are jest the same. Hannybul wuz the kind that wouldn't give up. You've talked so much 'bout him, Paul, that I kin see him in my fancy an' I know jest how he done. Often a big battle seemed to be goin' ag'inst him. His men hev shot away all thar powder an' bullets. The Shawnees an' the Miamis an' the Wyandots are comin' on hard, shoutin' the war whoop, swingin' thar glitterin' tomahawks 'bout thar fierce heads. The Romans already feel the hands o' the warriors on thar skelps, an' they are tremblin', ready to run. But Hannybul swings his rifle, clubs the leadin' Injun over the head with it, an' yells to his men: 'Come on, fellers! Draw your hatchets an' knives! Drive 'em into the brush! We kin whip 'em yet!' An' the Romans, gittin' courage from thar leader, go in an' thrash the hull band. Now, that's the kind o' a leader Red Eagle is. I give him credit fur doin' a power o' thinking an' holdin' on. Braxton Wyatt and Blackstaffe will say to him: 'Come, chief, let's go away. They slipped through our lines in the night, an' they're somewhar up on the shore o' one o' the big lakes, a-laffin' an' a-laffin' at us. We'll go up thar, trail 'em down an' make 'em laff if they kin, a-settin' among the live coals.' But that Red Eagle, wise old chief that he is, will up an' say: 'They haven't got through. They couldn't without bein' seen by our scouts an' watchers. An' since they haven't passed, it follers that they're somewhar inside the ring. So, we'll jest thresh out ev'ry inch o' ground in thar, ef it takes ten years to do it.'"
Silent Tom looked at him with admiration.
"Mighty long speech," he said. "How do you find so many words?"
"Oh, they're all in the dictionary," replied the shiftless one, "an' a heap more, too. I'm an eddicated man, ez all o' you kin see, though bein' jealous some o' you won't admit it. Thar are nigh onto a million good words in the dictionary, an' ev'ry one o' 'em is known to me. Ev'ry one o' 'em would reckernize me ez a friend, an' would ask me to use it ef I looked at it, but I'm mighty pertickler an' I take only the best ones. Returnin' to the subject from which we hev traveled far, I think we'd better be on the lookout fur old Red Eagle an' his Shawnees."
"Think so, too," said Silent Tom.
Henry announced the next morning that he would start at once on a scout, and that he probably would go outside the swamp.
"I go with you, o' course," said Shif'less Sol.
"I think it best to travel alone."
"Why, you couldn't git along without me, Henry!"
"I'll have to try, Sol."
"I wouldn't talk you to death," said Silent Tom.
Long Jim and Paul also wanted to go, but the young leader rejected them all, and they knew that it was a waste of time to argue with him. He started in the early morning and they waved farewell to him from the oasis.
Henry was not averse to action. The long period of idleness on the island, much as he had enjoyed it, was coming to its natural end, and his active mind and body looked forward to new events. The swamp had returned to the state in which they had found it, and remembering the path by which they had come he had no great difficulty in making his journey.
Three hundred yards away and the oasis was hidden completely by the marshy thickets. He could not even see the tops of the trees, and he reflected that it was the merest chance that had led them there. It was not likely that the chance would be repeated in the case of any of Red Eagle's warriors, and perhaps it would be better for all of the five to stay snug and tight on the oasis, even if they did not move until full winter came. But second thought told him that Red Eagle would surely thresh up the swamp. The reasoning of Shif'less Sol was correct, and it was better to go on and see what was being prepared for them by their enemies.
His progress was necessarily slow, as he was compelled to pick his way, but he had plenty of strength and patience, and noon found him near the outer rim, where he paused to watch the sky. Henry had an idea that he might see smoke, betraying the presence of Indian bands, but not even his keen eyes were able to make out any dark traces against the heavens, which had all the thinness and clearness of early autumn. Reflection convinced him, however, that if Red Eagle were meditating a movement against the swamp he would avoid anything that might warn its occupants. He abided by his second thought, and began anew his cautious progress toward the edge of the bushes and reeds.
The ending of the swamp was abrupt, the marshy ground becoming firm in the space of a few yards, and Henry, emerging upon what was in a sense the mainland, crept into a dense clump of alders, where he lay hidden for some time, examining from his covert the country about him. He did not see or hear anything to betoken a hostile presence, but, as wary as any wild animal that inhabited the forest, he ventured forth, still using every kind of cover that he could find.
His course took him toward the east, and a quarter of a mile passed, his eye was caught by the red gleam of a feather in the grass. He retrieved it, and saw at once that it was painted. Hence, it had fallen from the scalplock of an Indian. It was not bedraggled, so it had fallen recently, as the winds had not beaten it about. It was sure, too, that a warrior or warriors had gone that way within a few hours. He searched for the trail, stooping among the bushes, lest he fall into an ambush, and presently he came upon the faint imprint of moccasins, judging that they had been made by about a half dozen warriors.
The trail led to the east, and Henry followed it promptly, finding as he advanced that it was growing plainer. Other and smaller trails met it and merged with it, and he became confident that he would soon locate a large band. He was no longer dealing with supposition, he had actualities, the tangible, before him, and his pulses began to leap in expectation. The shiftless one and he had been right. Red Eagle had never left the neighborhood of the swamp, and Henry believed that he would soon know what the wily old Indian chief was intending. There was a certain exhilaration in matching his wits against those of the great Shawnee, and he knew that he would need to exercise every power of his mind to the utmost. He followed the trail steadily about a half hour as it led on among trees and bushes, and he reckoned that it was made now by at least twenty warriors who had no wish to conceal their traces. Presently he came to one of the little prairies, numerous in that region, and as the trail led directly into it he paused, lest he be seen and be trapped when he was in the open.
But as he examined the prairie from the shelter of the bushes, he became convinced that the warriors must have increased their speed when they crossed it, and were now some distance ahead. At the far edge, two buffaloes, a bull and a cow, and two half-grown calves, were grazing in peace. Two deer strolled from the forest, nosed the grass and then strolled back again. The wild animals would not have been so peaceful and unconcerned, if Indians were near, and, trusting to his logic, Henry boldly crossed the open. The four buffaloes sniffed him and lurched away to the shelter of the trees, thus proving to him that they were vigilant, and that he was the only human being in their neighborhood.
He entered the forest again and followed on the broad trail, increasing his own speed, but neglecting nothing of watchfulness. The country was a striking contrast to the great swamp, firm soil, hilly and often rocky, cut with many small, clear streams. He judged that the swamp was the bowl into which all these rivulets emptied.
Reaching the crest of one of the low hills he caught a red gleam among the bushes ahead of him and he sank down instantly. He knew that the flash of scarlet was made by a fire, and he suspected that the warriors whom he was following had gone into camp there. Then he began his cautious approach after the border fashion, creeping forward inch by inch among the bushes and fallen leaves. It was necessary to use his utmost skill, too, as the dry leaves easily gave back a rustle. Yet he persisted, despite the danger, because he needed to know what band it was that sat there in the thicket.
A hundred yards further and he looked into a tiny valley, where was burning a fire of small sticks, over which Indian warriors were broiling strips of venison. But the majority of the band sat on the ground in a half circle about the fire, and Henry drew a long breath when he saw that Red Eagle, the Shawnee chief, was among them. Then he no longer had the slightest doubt that the hunt was at its full height, that the Shawnees were still using every device they knew to destroy the five who had troubled them so much.
Red Eagle was a man of massive features and grave demeanor, one of the great Indian chiefs who, their circumstances considered, were inferior in intellectual power to nobody. Henry watched him as he sat now with his legs crossed and arms folded, staring into the flames. He was a picturesque figure, and he looked the warlike sage, as he sat there brooding. The little feathers in his scalplock were dyed red, his leggings and moccasins were of the same color, and a blanket of the finest red cloth was draped about his shoulders like a Roman toga. He was a man to arouse interest, respect and even admiration.
Red Eagle did not speak until the strips of meat were cooked and eaten and all were sitting about the fire, when he arose and addressed them in a slow, solemn and weighty manner. Henry would have given much to understand the words, as he believed they referred to the five and might tell the chief's plans, but he was too far away to hear anything except a murmur that meant nothing.
He saw, however, that Red Eagle was intensely earnest, and that the warriors listened with fixed attention, hanging on every word and watching his face. Their only interruptions were exclamations of approval now and then, and, when he finished and sat down, all together uttered the same deep notes. Then eight of the warriors arose, and to Henry's great surprise, came back on the trail.
He recognized at once that a sudden danger had presented itself. The Shawnees would presently find his trail mingled with theirs, and they were sure to give immediate pursuit. He thrust himself back into the bushes, crawled a hundred yards or so, then rose and ran, curving about the fire and passing to the eastward of it. Three hundred yards, and he sank down again, listening. A single fierce shout came from the portion of the band that had turned back. He understood. They had come upon his trail, and in another minute Red Eagle would organize a pursuit by all the warriors, a pursuit that would hang on through everything.
Henry, knowing well the formidable nature of the danger, felt, nevertheless, no dismay. He had matched himself against the warriors many times, and he was ready to do so once more. He swung into the long frontier run that not even the Indians themselves could match in speed and ease.
It was characteristic of him that he did not turn toward the swamp, in which he could speedily have found refuge. Instead, wishing to draw the enemy away from his comrades, he offered himself as bait, and fled on the firm ground toward the east.
THE BUFFALO RING
Henry, feeling some alarm at first over the discovery of his trail, soon felt elation instead. He was at the very height of his powers. The long rest on the oasis had restored all his physical vigor. Every nerve and muscle was flexible and strong, as if made of steel wire. His eye had never before been so clear, nor his ear so acute, and above all, that sixth sense, the power of divination almost, which came from a perfect correlation of the five senses, developed to the utmost degree, was alive in him. Nothing could stir in the brush without his knowing it, and, welcoming the pursuit, the spirit of challenge was so strong in him that he threw back his head and uttered a long, thrilling cry, the note of defiance, just as the trumpet of the mediaeval knight sang to his enemy to come to the field of battle.
Then he continued his flight toward the northwest, not too fast, because he wished his trail to remain warm for the warriors who followed, but stooping low, lest some wanderers from the main band should see him as he ran. No answer came to his cry, but he knew well enough that the Indians had heard it, and he knew, too, that it filled them with rage because any of the five had been bold enough to defy their full power.
Reaching the crest of one of the low hills in which the region abounded, he looked toward the southwest and saw the vast maze of the swamp in which his comrades lay hidden. He had not been able to think of any plan to turn aside the forces of Red Eagle, but now it came to him suddenly. He intended when the pursuit ended to be far away from the swamp, and then he could rejoin the four at some other point.
He reached a brook, leaped it and passed on. He could have followed the bed of the stream, hiding his trail for a space, but he knew the pursuers would soon find it again, and after all he did not wish his trail to be hidden. He laughed a little as he planted his moccasin purposely in a soft spot in the earth, and noticed the deep imprint he left. There was no warrior so blind who would not see the trace, and he sped on, leaving other such marks here and there, and finally sending forth another thrilling note of defiance that swelled far over the forest, a cry that was at once an invitation, a challenge and a taunt. It bade the warriors to use the utmost speed, because they would need it. It asked them to pursue, because the one who fled wished to be followed, and so wishing, he did not hide his trail from them. He would be bitterly disappointed if they did not come. It told them, too, that if they did come, no matter how great their speed, the hunters could never catch the hunted.
He stopped two minutes perhaps, long enough for the fleetest of the warriors to come within sight. Just as their brown bodies appeared among the trees he uttered his piercing cry a third time and took to flight again at a speed greater than any of theirs. Two shots were fired, but the bullets cut only the uncomplaining leaves, falling far short. He gained a full hundred yards, and then he turned abruptly toward the north. His sixth sense, in which this time the supreme development of hearing was predominant, warned him that other warriors were coming up from the south. In truth they were approaching so fast that they uttered a cry of triumph in reply to his own cry, but, increasing his speed, he merely laughed to himself once more, knowing that he had evaded the trap. His elation grew. His plan was succeeding better than he had hoped. One after another he was drawing the Indian bands upon his trail, and he hoped to have them all. He hoped that Red Eagle would lead the pursuit and he hoped that Blackstaffe and Wyatt would be there.
His ear had given warning before, and now it was his eye that told him of the menace. He caught a glimpse of a flitting figure in the north, and then of two more. And so a third band was bearing down upon him, but from a point of the compass opposite the second. Any one of ordinary powers might well have been trapped now, but he yet had strength in reserve, and now he put forth an amazing burst of speed that carried him well ahead of all three bands.
Then he entered another low region covered with bushes and reeds, and, lest they lose his trail, he took occasion, as he fled, to trample down a clump of reeds here and a bush there. On the far side of this sunken land he came to a creek, in which the water rose to his knees, but he forded it without hesitation, and even took the time to make a plain trail after he had crossed.
He knew that the warriors would pursue, in spite of every obstacle, and he knew, too, that they would divine who it was whom they followed. Using a new burst of speed, he widened the gap as he surmised to a full quarter of a mile. And then he let his gait sink to not much more than a long walk, wishing to recover his full physical powers. His spirit of elation remained. In very truth, he was enjoying himself, and he felt that he could lead them on forever. He was even able to note the character of the country as he passed, the numerous brooks, the splendor of the forest, the brown leaves as they fell before the light wind, and then a great patch of early blackberries hanging ripe and rich. He paused a moment or two, long enough to gather many of the berries and eat them, noting that they were the juiciest and best he could recall to have tasted.
Then he came into a country that the animal kingdom seemed to have made its own. He could not remember having seen anywhere else such an abundance of game. Buffaloes, puffing and snorting, ran to one side as he crossed the little prairies. Deer, some big and some little, sped away through the thickets. Bears, hidden in their coverts, gazed at him with curious eyes. Rabbits leaped away in the grass, squirrels ran in alarm out on the farthest boughs, and flocks of wild fowl rose with a whirr and a rush.
Henry was so sure of himself, so sure he could not be overtaken, that he noted the character of this country which seemed to be so much favored by the creatures of earth and air. Some time, when all their present dangers were over, he and his comrades would come back there and have a pleasant and peaceful hunt. Doubtless it had been neglected a long time by the Indians, who were in the habit of using a region for a season or two and then of letting it lie fallow until the wild animals should forget and come back again.
He ascended a hill larger and higher than the others, and bare, being mostly a stony outcrop. Here he sat down in the shadow of a ledge and took long breaths. He felt that the pursuit was then fully a mile behind, and he could afford to stop for a little while. From the lofty summit he saw a great distance. Toward the southwest was where the swamp lay, but, despite the height, it was invisible now. Behind him was the deep forest through which his pursuers were coming, to the north lay the same forest, but to the east he caught a shimmer of blue through the browning leaves. It was so faint that at first he was not certain of its nature, but a second look told him it was one of the little lakes often to be found in the country north of the Ohio.
His flight, as he was making it, would take him straight against that body of blue water, impassable to him then, and as he drew a deep breath of gratitude he felt that he was in truth being watched over by a supreme power. If not, why were all the turns of chance in his favor? Why had he stopped to rest a moment or two by the stony ledge, and why in doing so had he caught a glimpse of the lake which soon would have been an insuperable bar across his path, enabling the Indians to hem him in on either flank?
He breathed his thanks, and then he lay back against the ledge for another minute or two of rest. Near grew a dwarf oak, still thick in green foliage, and as if by command the wind suddenly began to sing among its leaves, and the leaves, as if touched by the hand of a master artist, gave back a song. Henry had heard that song before. It came to him in his greatest moments of spiritual exaltation. Always it was a song of strength and encouragement, telling him that he would succeed, and now its note was not changed.
He opened his eyes, sure that his pursuers were not yet within rifle shot, and rising, refreshed, passed over the hill and into the forest again, curving now toward the north. When he was sure he was well hidden by the bushes, he ran at great speed, intending to pass between the northern wing of his pursuers and the lake. They, of course, had known of the water there and were expecting to catch him in the trap, and as he ran he heard the two wings calling distantly to each other. His silent laugh came once more. He had invisible guides who always led him out of traps, and he had heard the voice that sang to him so often saying this pursuit, like so many others, might be long, but in vain.
Fifteen minutes more, and he caught another view of the lake, which appeared to be about two miles long and a quarter of a mile across, a fine sheet of water, on which great numbers of wild fowl swam, or over which they hovered. It was heavily wooded on all sides, and had he not seen it earlier it would surely have proved an obstacle leading to his capture or destruction. The pursuing bands, evidently believing that the trap had been closed with the fugitive in it, began to exchange signals again, and Henry discerned in their cries the note of triumph. It gave the great youth satisfaction to feel that they would soon be undeceived.
Now he called up all the reserves of strength that he had been saving for some such emergency as this, and sped toward the northeast at a pace few could equal, cleaving the thickets, leaping gullies, and racing across the open. The lake on his right came nearer and nearer, but he was rapidly approaching the northern end, and he knew that he would pass it before the band pursuing in that quarter could close in upon him.
Now the critical time came and he increased his speed to the utmost, running through a thicket, passing the extreme northern curve of the lake, and entering a wood where only firm ground lay before him. The great obstacle was passed and he felt a mighty surge of triumph. He was for the time being primitive and wild, like the warriors who pursued him, thinking as they thought, and acting as they acted. Feeling now that he was victorious anew, he raised his voice and sent forth once more that tremendous thrilling cry, a compound of triumph, defiance and mockery. Yells of disappointment came from the deep woods behind him, and to hear them gave him all the satisfaction he had anticipated.
He kept a steady course toward the east, not running so fast as before, but maintaining a steady pace, nevertheless. As he ran he began to think now of hiding his trail, not in such a manner that it could be lost permanently, that being impossible, but long enough for him to take rest. However great one's natural powers might be and however severely and often one might have been hardened in the fire, one could not run on forever. He must lie down in the forest by and by, and the time would come, too, when he must sleep.
He glanced up at the sun and saw that the day would not last more than two hours longer. There were no clouds and the night was likely to be bright, furnishing enough light for the warriors to find an ordinary trail, and willing to delude them now he began to take pains to make his own trail one that was not ordinary. He resorted to all the usual forest devices, walking on hard ground, stones and fallen trees, and wading in water whenever he came to it, methods that he knew would merely delay the warriors, but that could not baffle them long.
He did not hear the bands signaling again and he surmised that the one on the south would pass around the southern end of the lake, reuniting with the other as soon afterward as possible. Nevertheless he curved off in that direction, and, sinking now to a long walk, he went steadily ahead, until the great sun went down in a sea of gold behind the forest and night threw a dusky veil over the wilderness. Then he stopped entirely, and standing against a huge tree trunk, with which his figure blended in the night, he took deep breaths.
At first he felt weakness. No one, no matter how powerful and well trained, could run so long without putting an immense strain upon the nerves, and for a little space bushes and trees danced before him. Then the world steadied itself, his heart ceased to beat so hard and the suffusion of blood retreated from his head. He saw nothing nor heard anything of his foes, but he knew that the pursuit would not cease. He felt that this was his great flight, one that might go on for days and nights, in which every faculty he had would be tested to the utmost, but he was willing for it to be so. The longer the flight continued the further he would draw away from the Indian power, and that was what he wished most of all. He would make such a fugitive as the chiefs had never known before.
Henry stood a full fifteen minutes beside the brown trunk of the tree, of which in the dark he seemed to be a part, and so great was his physical power and elasticity that the time was sufficient to restore all his strength. When he thought he caught a glimpse of a bush moving behind him, he resumed the long running walk that covered ground so rapidly. An hour later he came to a brook, in the bed of which he walked fully a mile. But he did not expect this to bother his pursuers very long. They would send warriors up and down either bank until in the moonlight they struck the trail anew, and then they would follow as before. But it would give him time, and not doubting that he would find some new circumstance to aid him, it came sooner than he had expected or hoped.
Less than half a mile farther he encountered the wreckage left by a hurricane of some former season, a path not more than three hundred yards wide, a perfect tangle of fallen trees, amid which bushes were already growing. The windrow led two or three miles to the northeast, and he walked all the way on the trunks, slipping lightly from tree to tree. It was now late, and as the night fortunately began to turn considerably darker, he bethought himself of a place in which to sleep, because in time sleep one must have, whether or not a fugitive.
As he considered, he heard ahead of him a faint puffing and blowing which he knew to come from buffaloes, and their presence indicated one of the little prairies in which the country north of the Ohio abounded. He made his way through the bushes, came to the prairie and saw that it was black with the herd.
The buffalo, although numerous east of the Mississippi, invariably grazed in small bands, owing to the wooded nature of the country, and the present herd, four or five hundred at least, was the largest that Henry had ever seen away from the Great Plains. As the wind was blowing from him toward them, and they showed, nevertheless, no sign of flight, he surmised that the weaker members had been harassed much by wolves, and that the herd was unwilling to move from its present place of rest. They shuffled and puffed and panted, but there was no alarm.
He stood a few moments and gazed at them, his look full of friendliness. The Indians hunted the buffalo and they also hunted him. For the time being these, the most gigantic of North American animals, were his brethren, and then came his idea.
A little ridge ran into the prairie, terminating in a hillock, and it was clear of the buffaloes, as they naturally lay in the lower places. Henry walked down among the buffaloes along the ridge until he came to the hillock, where he took the blanket from his back, wrapped it about him, and reclined with his head on his arm. The buffaloes puffed and snorted and some of them moved uneasily, but they did not get up. Perhaps Henry was wholly a wild creature himself then and they discerned in him something akin to themselves, or perhaps they had been harassed by wolves so much that they would not stir for anything now. But as the human intruder lay soundless and motionless, they, too, settled into quiet.
Henry's friendly feeling for the buffaloes increased, and it had full warrant. He was surrounded by an army of sentinels. He knew that if the Indians attempted to cross the prairie, coming in a band, they would rise up at once in alarm, and if he fell asleep he would be awakened immediately by such a multitudinous sound. Hence he would go to sleep, and quickly.
If the buffaloes felt their kinship with Henry, he felt his kinship with them as strongly. Since they had sunk into silence they were like so many friends around him, ready to fend off danger or to warn him. From the crest of the low mound upon which he lay he saw the big black forms dotting the prairie, a ring about him. Then he calmly composed himself for the slumber which he needed so much.
But sleep did not come as speedily as he had expected. Wolves howled in the forest, and he knew they were real wolves, hanging on the flank of the buffalo herd, cutting out the calves or the weak. The big bull buffaloes moved and snorted again at the sound, but, when it was not repeated, returned to their rest, all except one that lumbered forward a step or two and then sank down directly on the little ridge by which Henry had come to his hillock, as if he were a rear guard, closing the way to the fugitive. He saw in it at once an omen. The superior power that was watching over him had put the buffalo there to protect him, and, free from any further apprehension, he closed his eyes, falling asleep without delay.
Henry always felt afterward that he must have been wholly a creature of the wild that night, else the buffaloes would have taken alarm at his presence and probably would have stampeded. But the kinship they recognized in him must have endured, or they had been harried so much by the wolves that they did not feel like moving because of an intruder who was so quiet and harmless that he was really no intruder at all. The huge bull, crouched across the path by which he had come, puffed and groaned at intervals, but he did not stir from his place. He was in very truth, if not in intent, a guardian of the way.
And yet, while Henry slept amid the herd, the pursuit of him was conducted with the energy, thoroughness and tenacity of which the Indians were capable. The spirit of the great Shawnee chief, Red Eagle, had been stung by his failure to overtake the fugitive, whom he knew to be the youth Ware, their greatest foe, and he was resolved that Henry should not escape. With him now were the renegades Blackstaffe and Wyatt, and they, too, urged on the chase. They felt that if Henry could be taken or destroyed, the four would fall easier victims, and then the eyes of the woods that watched so well for the settlers would have gone out forever.
All through the night the warriors ranged the forest, hunting for the trail. The moon and the stars returned, bringing with them a light that helped, and an hour or two after midnight a Shawnee found traces that led toward the prairie. He called to his comrades and they followed it to the prairie, where they lost it. The Indian warriors, looking cautiously from the brush, saw in the open the clustered black forms, looming gigantic in the moonlight, and they heard the heavings and puffings and groanings of the big bulls. Directly in front of them, across a low narrow ridge, lay the biggest bull of them all, a buffalo that stirred now and then as if he were glad to rub his body against the soil, which was rougher there than elsewhere. On the far side of the prairie, wolves yapped and barked, longing to get at the calves inside the ring of their elders.
The warriors crept away and began the entire circuit of the open, looking for the lost trail. It had entered it on the western side, and it would pass out somewhere, probably on the eastern. Red Eagle, Blackstaffe and Wyatt themselves came up and directed the chase, but they were mystified when their runners, completing the entire circling movement, reported that there was no sign of the trail's reappearance. Red Eagle, after taking thought, refused to believe it. The fugitive had surpassing skill, as all of them knew, but a human being could not take a flight through the air, like an eagle or a wild duck, and leave no trail behind him. They must have overlooked the traces in the moonlight, and he sent out the warriors anew, to right and to left.
Henry meanwhile slept the sleep of one who was weary and unafraid. He had not only the feeling, but the conviction, as he lay down, that he was within an inviolable ring of sentinels, and having dismissed all care and apprehension from his mind, he fell into a slumber so deep that for a long time nothing could disturb it. The yapping and barking of the wolves fell upon an unhearing ear. The puffings and groanings of the buffaloes were merely whispers to dull him into more powerful sleep. When the Indian scouts, not fifty yards away, looked at the body of the big bull that blocked the path, nothing whispered to him that danger was near. Nor was the whisper needed, as the danger passed as quickly as it had come.
He awoke at the first streak of dawn, stirred a little in his blanket, but did not rise yet. He saw the buffaloes all around him and realized that his faith in them had not been misplaced. The great bull, like a black mountain, still barred the path to him.
It was warm and snug in his blanket and he yawned prodigiously. It would have been pleasant to have remained there a few hours longer, but when one was pursued by a whole Indian nation he could not remain long in one place. He took the last strips of venison from his pack and ate them as he lay. Meanwhile the buffaloes themselves began to move somewhat, as if they were making ready for their day's work, and Henry wondered at their disregard of him. Perhaps his presence for a night, and the fact that he had been harmless, removed their fear of him.
He rose to his knees, and then suddenly sank back again. He had caught the gleam of red feathers in the forest to the west, and he knew they were in the scalplock of a Shawnee. Raising his head cautiously he saw several more. It was a small band passing toward the north. But he had too much experience to imagine that they were chance travelers. Beyond a doubt they were a part of Red Eagle's army, and that army had come up in the night and had surrounded him.
He lay back and listened. An Indian call arose in the west and another in the east, and then they came from north and south and points between. They were on all sides of him and he had been trapped as he slept. He saw that the danger was the most formidable he had yet encountered, but he did not despair. It was characteristic of him that when there seemed to be no hope, he yet had hope, and plenty of it. His heart beat a little faster, but he lay quiet in his blanket, taking thought with himself.
He had been aided before by storms, but there was not the remotest chance now of one. The sun was rising in the full splendor of an early autumn morning, and the thin, clear air had the brightness of silver. The blue skies held not a single cloud. Far over his head a flock of wild fowl in arrow formation flew southward, and for the moment they expressed to him, as he lay in the snare, the very quintessence of freedom. But he spent no time in vain longings. His eyes came back to the earth and that which surrounded him. Once more he caught the gleam of feathers in the forest and he was sure that the line about the prairie was now continuous.
He must find a way through that line, and he poured all his mind upon one point. When one thinks for life, one thinks fast and hard. Stratagem after stratagem flitted before him, to be cast aside one after another. Meanwhile the buffaloes were stirring more and more, and some of them began to nip at the dry grass of the prairie, but the big black bull on the little ridge remained crouched and motionless. He was not fifteen feet away and between him and Henry lay fragments of dead wood which had been blown from the forest by some old wind. His eyes alighted upon them idly, but remained there in interest, and then, in a sudden burst of intuition, came his plan. Hesitating not a single instant, he prepared for it.
Henry slid forward, recovered a long dead stick, and rapidly whittled from it a lot of shavings. He never knew why the buffaloes did not take alarm at his presence and actions, but he always supposed that the mystic tie of kinship still endured. Then using his flint and steel with all the energy and power that imminent danger could inspire, he lighted first the shavings and then the end of the long stick.
The buffaloes at last began to puff and snort and show alarm, and Henry, springing to his feet, whirled the torch in a circle of living fire around his head. The whole herd broke in an instant into a frightful panic, and with much snorting and bellowing rushed away in a black mass toward the east. He threw down his torch, and grasping his rifle and throwing his pack over his shoulder, followed close upon them, so close that not even the keenest eye in the forest could have distinguished him from the herd in the great cloud of dust that quickly rose.
It was for this cloud of dust that he had bargained. The soil of the prairie became dry in the autumn, and the tramplings of four or five hundred huge beasts churned it into a powder which the wind picked up and blew into a blinding stream. Henry felt it in his eyes, his nose, his ears and his mouth, but he was glad and he laughed aloud in his joy. The rush and bellowings of the buffaloes made it a mighty roar, and the soul within him was wild and triumphant, as became one who was the very spirit and essence of the wilderness. He shouted aloud like Long Jim Hart, knowing that his voice would be lost in the thunder of the herd and could not reach the Indians.
"On, my gallant beasts!" he cried. "Charge 'em! Break their line! They can't stand before you! Faster! Faster!"
He struck one of them across the body with the butt of his rifle, but the herd was already running as fast as it could, while the cloud of dust was continually rising in greater and thicker volume. In the midst of this cloud, and hanging almost bodily to the herd itself, Henry was invisible as he rushed on, shouting his battle song of triumph and defiance, although no word of it reached the warriors who had lain in the brushwood and who were now fleeing in fright before the rush of the mad herd.
Mad it certainly was, said Red Eagle, for the chief himself, with Wyatt and Blackstaffe, had been directly in its path, and they had been compelled to run in undignified haste, while the great pillar of dust, filled with the dim figures of buffaloes, crashed and thundered past, trampling down bushes, crushing saplings, and driving off to the east, the pillar of dust still visible long after the buffaloes were deep in the forest. Red Eagle stared after it. He was a wise old chief, and he had seen buffaloes before in a panic, but he did not understand the cause of this sudden and terrific flight.
"It is strange," he said, "but we must let them run. We will go back now and look for Ware."
It was one of the most thrilling moments in the life of Henry Ware. He was in a kind of exaltation that made him equal to any task or danger, and rather to court, instead of avoiding them. His feeling of kinship with the herd that was saving him had grown stronger with the dawn. The dust entering his eyes and mouth, nose and ears, had a singular quality like burned gun powder that excited him and stimulated him to efforts far beyond the normal. He was for the time being a physical superman out of that old dim past, and he was scarcely conscious of anything he was doing, save that he ran with the great beasts, and was their friend.
His exalted state increased. He continued to shout to the buffaloes to run faster, and to hurl challenge and defiance at the warriors who could not hear him. Once more he swung his clubbed rifle and hit a buffalo on the side, not in anger, but as a salute from one hardy friend to another, and the buffalo, uttering a bellow, rushed on with mighty leaps.
Although he could not see them for the dust, Henry knew now by the crashing and crackling of boughs that they were among the bushes, but they did not trouble him, as the herd, like a huge wedge, first clearing the way trampled everything under foot. How long the race lasted and how long they ran he never knew, but after a lapse of time that was surcharged with an enormous elation and an unexampled display of physical power the herd began to recover in some degree from its panic. Its speed decreased. The great cloud of dust that had wrapped Henry around and that had saved him sank fast. Then he came suddenly to himself, out of the exalted regions of the spirit in which he had been dwelling. His throat was sore from excessive shouting and the sting of the dust, and it was a few minutes before he was able to clear his eyes and see with his usual keenness. Then he found that his body, too, ached from his flight with the buffaloes and his excessive exertions.
But he had escaped. Nothing could alter the fact. When he had been surrounded so completely by powerful foes that his destruction seemed inevitable a miraculous way had been opened through their lines. Kindly chance had drooped about him an impenetrable veil and he had passed his enemies unseen. His first emotion was of deep thankfulness and gratitude to the power that had saved him.
The pace of the herd sank to a walk. The light wind caught the last streamers of dust and carried them away over the trees. Then some of the buffaloes, puffing with exhaustion, stopped, and Henry, coming back wholly to himself, turned aside into the deep forest. But he gave a parting wave of his hand to the great animals that had enabled him to make his invisible flight. Never again would he kill a buffalo without reluctance.
An immense weariness came suddenly upon him. One could not run so far with a herd without draining to their depths the reservoirs of human endurance, but he would not let his body collapse. He knew he must put the danger far behind him before it was a danger passed or even a danger deferred. Calling upon his will anew, he turned toward the southeast and walked many miles through a stony region. Here again he felt that he was watched over by the greater powers, as leaping from stone to stone it was easy to hide his trail, for the time at least. When the last ounce of strength was exhausted he came to a blue pool, ten or fifteen yards across, clear and deep.
He looked at the pool and was about to make another effort to go on, but the blue waters crinkled up and laughed under a light wind, and looked so inviting that he concluded to take the risk. He still felt the dust in eye and ear, mouth and nose. He knew that it was caked upon his face by perspiration, until it had become a mask, and now his whole body tingled like fire with the tiny particles that had stopped up the pores. And there was the pool, clear, blue and beautiful, inviting him to come.
Delaying not an instant longer he threw off his clothing and sprang into the water. It was cold, but it was full of life. New strength shot into every vein. He dived again and again, but without noise, and then, swimming about a minute or two, emerged clean, shining and refreshed. While he stretched himself, flexing and tensing his muscles and drying his body in the sun, a stag, seeking water, came through the forest on the other side of the pool. Perhaps that sense of kinship was felt by the stag, too. It may be that Henry was in spirit an absolute creature of the wild that morning, and by some unknown transmission of knowledge the stag knew it.
However it was, the great deer took no fright, but, sniffing the air once or twice, looked at the great youth, and the great youth looked back at him. Henry would not have harmed any inhabitant of the forest then, and the deer may have read it in his eye, as after his first hesitation he came boldly to the pool and drank his fill. Henry on the other side was dressing rapidly. When the stag had drunk enough he raised his head and gazed out of great mild eyes at the human being who was perhaps the first he had ever seen. Then he turned and stalked majestically into the forest, his mighty antlers visible after his body was hidden.
Henry, lying down in the brown grass, remained a half hour by the pool, and he became a part of the wilderness, recognized as such by the others that dwelled in it. Wild fowl descended upon the water, swam there a while and then flew away, but not because of him. A black bear made havoc in a patch of berries, and paid no attention to the youth.
When he started anew he still kept to the northeast, but he was uncertain about his immediate action. He did not doubt that Red Eagle and his host would pick up his trail some time or other, and would follow with a patience that nothing could discourage. It would not be wise to turn back to the oasis and his comrades, as that would merely bring upon them the attack that he had drawn aside. Not knowing what to do he kept on in his present course until certainty should come to him.
Hunger assailed him and, imitating the bear, he ate great quantities of berries which were numerous everywhere in the forest. They were not substantial food, but they must suffice for a time. After a while, when he felt that he was far beyond the hearing of Red Eagle's men, he would shoot game, though in his present mood he did not like to kill anything that lived in the forest. But he knew that he must, in time, overcome his reluctance, as such a frame as his, in the absence of bread, could not live without meat.
He saw ahead of him a line of blue hills, much such a region as that in which lay their warm, stony hollow, and he believed that he might find kindred shelter there. At least it would be safer from pursuit, and, keeping a straight course, he reached the ridges in about two hours. He found an abundance of rocky outcrop, so much of it that he was able to walk on it a full mile without putting a foot on earth, but there was no deep hollow, although he did come to a tiny valley or cup among the stones, well sheltered from the winds, and here he lay for a long time on a bed that he made for himself on dead leaves. Toward night he went out and was fortunate enough to find a wild turkey, which, overcoming his reluctance, he shot. Then he cleaned it, and, daring all dangers, lighted a fire in the cup and cooked it.
But before taking a bite of the turkey he made a wide and careful circuit about the dip to discover whether any wandering warrior had seen the glow of his little fire, and, satisfied that none had been within sight, he returned and ate, putting what was left in his pack for future use. Then he lay down again and felt very grateful. The stars were out, and, in their courses, they had undoubtedly fought for him. He did not ascribe his great successes in the face of obstacles that seemed insurmountable to any especial virtue in himself, but the idea that, for some unknown cause, he was favored by the greater powers was still strong within him. He could but thank them and looking up at the sky he did so without words.
Then, feeling sure that his trail could not be found for hours, he wrapped his blanket about his body and pillowing his head on a heap of leaves fell asleep. The sense of watching remained so strong that it was alive while he slept, and about midnight it awakened him to see what a noise meant. It was, however, only the hungry whining of two wolves, drawn by the odor of the turkey, and, throwing a stick at them, he went back to sleep.
He did not awaken again until morning, and then he felt so warm and snug in his blanket and on the bed of leaves that he was loath to move. The dawn was clear and cold, the first frost of the season touching his blanket with white, and he yawned mightily. While his body was refreshed, his spirit was not as high as it had been the night before, and he would have been glad for the pursuit to stop, a day at least, while he dawdled there among the hills. He reflected that his four comrades were probably lying at their ease in the oasis, and the thought brought a certain envy, though the envy contained no trace of malice. He wished that he was back with them, but the wish vanished in an instant, and he was his old self, ingenious, resourceful, resolute.
He rose from his bed, folded the blanket into the usual tight square, which he fastened on his back, and took a look at his surroundings. There was no human presence save his own, but innumerable tracks showed him that the hills were full of game. Then sharp hunger assailed him, and he ate another portion of the wild turkey, calculating that enough would be left for several more meals. He considered himself extremely lucky in securing the turkey, as it undoubtedly would be dangerous now to fire his rifle, since the warriors must have come much nearer in the course of the night.
Going to the crest of the highest hill, whence he could get a long view, he saw smoke in the west, not more than three miles away, and he was quite certain it was made by some portion of Red Eagle's band. They would not allow so much smoke to rise, unless it was intended as a signal, and his eyes followed the circle of the horizon in search of the answer.
From his lofty perch he saw far over the tumbled mass of hills to the eastern sky, and there he caught a faint trace across the sunlit blue. It was miles away and only eyes of the keenest, like his, would have noticed the vague smudge, but he did not doubt that it was a response to the first signal. They could not see from the first to the third smoke, but there must be a second in between, probably to the north, where the hills shut out his view, and the messages were transmitted from the extremes through it.
He gazed a long time at the eastern smoke, trying to read what it was saying. The warriors of Red Eagle's band were not likely to have gone so far in the night, and, at last, he came to the conclusion that Yellow Panther and the Miamis had come up. The more he thought about it the more thoroughly he was convinced that it was so, and that his situation had become extremely dangerous again. The Shawnees were bound to pick up his trail in time, they would find that it led into the hills, and then, by means of signals of one kind or another, they would tell their allies, the Miamis, to close in on him. They would also send warriors to both north and south, and he would be surrounded completely.
Henry did not despair. It was characteristic of him that his spirits should rise to the highest when the danger was greatest. The lassitude of the soul that he had felt for a few moments disappeared and once more he was alert, powerful, with all his marvelous senses attuned, and with that sixth sense which came from the perfect coordination of the others ready to help him.
He examined as well as he could from his summit the maze of hills in which he stood, and it seemed to him to be a region three or four miles square, a network of crests, ridges, cups, and narrow valleys like ravines. He resolved that for the present, at least, he would make no attempt to break from it and pass the Indian lines. He would be for a day or two the needle in the haystack. One might move from cover to cover and evade pursuit for a long time in a tumbled and tangled mass of country fifteen or sixteen miles square, covered moreover with heavy vegetation of all kinds.
He had been the panther before, now he would be the fox, and leaping from stone to stone, and from fallen trunk to fallen trunk he plunged into the very heart of the maze, finding it wilder and even more broken than he had hoped. Small streams were flowing in several of the gullies or ravines, and there were pools, around which reeds and bushes grew thickly. At least he would not suffer for water while he lay in hiding.
Near the center of the little wilderness was a valley larger than the others, but before he descended into it he climbed a hill, and took another long look around the whole horizon. The smoke signals had increased to nearly a dozen, making a complete circuit of the hills, and it would have been obvious, even to an intelligence much less acute than his, that they were sure he was in the hills, and had drawn their lines about him.
Well, it would be a chase, he said to himself grimly. He did not particularly like the role of fox, but once he had undertaken it he would play it to the last detail. He went down into the valley which was like a bowl filled with a vast mass of bushes and briars, many of the briars covered with ripe berries, a fact of which he made a mental note, as he might need those berries later on, and picked a way through them until he came to the other slope, which was as rough and broken as if it had been taken up by an earthquake, shaken for several days, and then allowed to lie as the pieces fell. There were many blind openings, like the box canyons of the west, running back into the hills, and they were crossed by other gullies and ravines, and he decided that he would find a temporary covert somewhere among them.
As he wandered about in the maze of bushes and stones, he did not neglect the least possible precaution to hide all traces of footsteps, and he knew that he had left a trail invisible like that of a bird through the air. There were many able warriors among the Shawnees and Miamis, but if they found him at all it must be by currying the maze as if with a comb, and not by following directly in his path.
A ravine that he was following led a little distance up the slope, and then another crossed it at right angles. A small stream, rising above, flowed down the first ravine, and he resolved that he would not go far from it, as he could not lie long in hiding without water. The smaller cross ravine, which was pretty well choked with briars and bushes, ended under an overhanging stony ledge, and here he stopped.
As the place had a floor of dead leaves and was sheltered well he thought it likely that in some former time it had been a den of a large wild beast, but it could not have been put to such a use recently, as there was no odor. He was thankful that he had found the ledge. It would protect him from any rain except one driven fiercely into the face of it by the wind, and, if it came to the last resort and he had to make a fight, it would prove a formidable little fortress.
Having located his refuge he went back to the stream and took a long, deep drink of the water, which was cold and good. Then he returned to the ledge and lay down in its shadow, his eyes on the briars and bushes, through which alone one could approach.
He saw a few coarse hairs in the crevices of the rocks and he was confirmed in his opinion that it had once been a lair. Perhaps the original owner would return to it and claim it while he was there, and Henry smiled at the thought of the meeting. It would not be easy to displace him. The feeling that he too was wild, a creature of the forest, was growing upon him. He was hunted like one and he began to display their characteristics, lying perfectly still, facing the opening and ready to strike, the moment a foe appeared. However dangerous may have been the wild beast that once lived under the ledge it was far less formidable than its successor.
Henry was at his ease, watching the briars and bushes and with his rifle thrust forward a little, but a sort of cold rage grew upon him. It was the rage that a fierce animal must feel, when hunted beyond endurance, it turns at last. He rather hoped that one or two of their scouts would appear and try to force the ravine. They would pay for it richly, and he would take some revenge for being forced into such a hard and long flight.
But no scalplock appeared in the bushes, nor did he hear any sound of advancing men. But he was not deceived by the false appearance of peace. The Shawnees and Miamis had drawn their lines about the hills and they would search until they found. Now they had two great chiefs instead of one, both Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, to drive them on. Meanwhile he would wait patiently and take his ease until they did find him.
He was conscious of the passage of time, but he took little measure of it until he noticed that the sun was low. Then he ate another portion of the turkey, rolled himself into a new position on the leaves, and resumed the patient waiting which was not so hard for one trained as he had been in a school, the most important rule of which was patience.
The entire day passed. At times he dozed, but so lightly that the slightest movement in the thickets would have awakened him. He was neither lonely nor afraid, and his sense of comfort grew. He had been carried back farther than he knew into the old primitive world, in which shelter and ease were the first of all things. He was content now to wait any length of time while the warriors searched for him, and he was so still, he blended so thoroughly into his surroundings, that the other people of the maze accepted him as one of themselves.
He saw a splash of flame over his head, and a scarlet tanager, alighting on a bush not a yard from him, prinked and preened itself, until it felt that its toilet was perfect, when it deliberately flew away again. It had not shown the slightest fear of the motionless youth, and Henry was pleased. He intended no harm to the creatures of the forest then, and he was glad they understood it.
A small gray bird, far less brilliant in plumage than the tanager, alighted even nearer, and poured forth a flood of song to which Henry listened without moving. Then the gray bird also flew away, not in fear, but because its variable mind moved it to do so. It too had come as a friend and it departed without changing. A rabbit hopped through the brush, stared at him a moment or two, and then hopped calmly out of sight. Its visit had all the appearance of a friendly nature, and Henry was pleased once more.
When the twilight came, he crept through the bushes to the little stream in the ravine and drank deep again. His glance caught a pair of red eyes gleaming through the dusk and he saw a wildcat treading lightly. But the cat did not snarl or arch its back. Instead it moved away without any sign of hostility and climbed a big oak, in the brown foliage of which it was lost to Henry's sight. In his mind the thought grew stronger that he was being accepted as a brother to the wild, and it gave him a thrill, a compound of pleasure and of wonder. Had he really reverted so far? It seemed to be so, for the time, at least.
He crawled back through the bushes to his lair, ate another portion of the wild turkey and disposed his lodgings for the night, which he foresaw was going to be cold, drawing the dead leaves into a heap with a depression in the center, in which he could lie with the blanket over him.
The full dark had now come, and, as he finished his bed, he heard a light step which caused him to seize his rifle and sit silent, awaiting a possible enemy. The light step was repeated once, twice, thrice, and then stopped. But he knew it was not that of a human being. He had heard the pad, pad of an animal too often to be mistaken, and his tension relaxed, though he still waited.
He gradually made out an ungainly figure in the dusk, and then two small red eyes. The figure moved about a little and the eyes seemed to question. Henry smiled once more to himself. It was a large black bear, and he knew instinctively that it had not come as an enemy. Its visit was one of inquiry, perhaps of search for an old and comfortable home, which it remembered dimly. As it stared at him, showing no sign of fright and making no movement to run away, he knew then that he was in truth in a former home of the bear.
He was sorry that he had dispossessed any one. He would not willingly keep from his home a friendly and worthy black bear, but since it was the only home of the kind he needed that he could find, he must keep his place. The bear was not hunted as he was, and required less to give him comfort and shelter. He could improvise elsewhere a home that would suffice for him.
He waved his hand, but the bear did not withdraw, uttering instead a low growl which had some of the quality of a purr, and which was not at all hostile. Henry felt real grief at ousting such an amiable animal, and he realized anew that he had become, in fact, a creature of the wild. It was obvious that the bear looked upon him as a brother, else it would have taken to hasty flight long since. Instead it continued to stare at him, as if asking to come in that it might have a share of the leaves. But Henry shook his head. There was room for only one, and while not selfish he needed it worse than the bear, which, after a minute more of gazing, uttered another growling purr and then shambled away among the bushes. Henry felt real sorrow at its departure. Obviously it had been a good and kind bear, and he was regretful at having crowded it out of house and home.
But as bears were adaptable creatures and the dispossessed tenant would find quarters elsewhere, he settled himself back to further rest and contemplation. The lair under the ledge was really a better place than he had at first thought it. The leaves were so abundant that he had a soft bed, and they contributed not only to warmth in themselves, but he was able to throw them up in little ridges beside him, where they would cut off the cold air. He felt himself splendidly hidden, and both body and mind were invaded by a dreamy sense of peace and ease.
Believing that the invasion of the valley would yet be delayed some time, he dared to go to sleep, though he awoke at frequent intervals. All these awakenings told him that the warriors had not yet come nor was their vanguard even at hand. The bear was not the only wild animal to inhabit the valley and now and then he saw their dim figures moving in the leisurely manner that betokened no alarm brought by sight, scent or sound. He silently made them his sentinels, his watchers, the bear, the rabbit, the squirrel, the wildcat and even the tawny yellow panther.
Morning broke, the air heavy and clouds betokening rain. He strengthened his banks of leaves with some dead wood, and, after eating half the remaining portion of wild turkey, crouched again in the lair. In an hour it began to rain, not to the accompaniment of wind, but came down steadily, as if it meant to fall all day long.
Having a good shelter Henry was glad of the rain, as he knew that it would cause the warriors further delay in the search. The wilderness, cold and dripping with water, is a funereal sight, full of discomforts, and savage man himself avoids it if he can. The warriors, feeling that they had the fugitive within the inescapable circle, would wait. Henry would willingly wait with them. He had but one problem that troubled him greatly, and it was food. But perhaps the ravens would provide, as they had provided for the holy man in the olden time.
As he had foreseen, the chilling rain fell all day long, and no sign came from his pursuers. The valley grew sodden. He saw pools standing in low places, and cold vapors arose. At night he ate the last of the turkey, and, resolutely dismissing the question of more food from his mind for the time, fell asleep again and slept well.
The second dawn came, clear and cool, and the foliage and the earth dried rapidly under the bright sun. Henry's powerful frame craved breakfast but there was none, and, from necessity, he made up his mind to do without, as long as he could. But the cravings became so strong by noon that he stole out to the blackberry briars and ate his fill of the berries. He also found some ripening wild plums and ate those, too. Fruit alone was not very staying and he also saw the risk of disclosing his trail, but he felt that he must have it. One might talk lightly of enduring hunger, but to endure it was much harder. If he only had two or three more wild turkeys he felt that he might defy the siege.
That afternoon he heard the signals of Indians, showing that they were in the maze, looking for him. They imitated the cries of birds and animals, but they did not deceive him a single time. None was nearer than a quarter of a mile, and he was sure that they had a long hunt before them. Then he resolved upon a daring venture. If the coming night was dark he would make the Indians themselves provide him with food. It was tremendously risky, but the kind of life he lived was full of such risks.
His plan in mind, he watched the setting of the sun. It had mists and vapors around it, and he knew that he was about to have what he wished. Then the night settled down, heavy and dark, and he slipped cautiously from his lair. The last signal that he had heard came from the south and he advanced in that direction.
He calculated that boldness, as usual, might win. The warriors, daring themselves, nevertheless would not dream of an inroad upon them by the fugitive himself, and were likely to be careless in their night camp. It was possible that they would leave their own food where he could reach it unseen.
His progress was slow, owing to the extremely rough and broken nature of the ground, and his own great caution, a caution that made no sound, and that left no trail, as he always walked on rock. In an hour he saw the glimmer of a fire, and then he redoubled his caution, as he approached.
THE BEAR GUIDE
The fire was just beyond the thicket of reeds, and Henry addressed himself to the task of penetrating them without noise, a difficult thing to do, but which he accomplished in about five minutes, stopping just short of the outer edge, where he was still hidden well.
He was then able to see a small opening in which about a dozen warriors lay around a low fire, with two who were sentinels sitting up but nodding. He saw by their paint that they were Miamis, and thus he was confirmed in his belief that Yellow Panther had come with a large force from his tribe.
He knew that the sentinels had been set largely as a matter of form, since the Indians in the bowl itself would not anticipate any attack from a lone fugitive. The true watch would be kept on the outermost rim. So reasoning he waited, hoping that the two sentinels who were nodding so suggestively would fall asleep. Even as he looked their nods began to increase in violence. Their heads would fall over on their shoulders, hang there for a few moments and then their owners would bring them back with a jerk.
Indians, like white people, have to sleep, and Henry knew that the two warriors must have been up long, else they would not have to fight so hard to keep awake. That they would yield before long he did not now doubt, and he began to watch with an amused interest to see which would give in first. One was an old warrior, the other a youth of about twenty. Henry believed the lad would lead the way, and he was justified in his opinion, as the younger warrior, after bringing his head back into position two or three times with violent jerks, finally let it hang, while his chest rose with the long and deep breathing of one who slumbers. The older man looked at him with heavy-laden eyes and then followed him to the pleasant land of oblivion.
Henry now examined the camp with questioning eyes. In such a land of plentiful game they would be sure to have abundant supplies, and he saw there a haunch of deer well cooked, buffalo meat, two or three wild turkeys and wild ducks. His eyes rested longest on the haunch of the deer, and, making up his mind that it should be his, he began to creep again through the undergrowth to the sheltered point that lay nearest it, a task in which he exercised to the utmost his supreme gifts as a stalker, since these were the most critical moments of all.
The haunch lay not more than eight feet from the reeds, and he believed he could reach it without awakening any of the warriors. Once the older sentinel opened his eyes and looked around sleepily, and Henry instantly stopped dead, but it was merely a momentary return from slumberland, to which the man went back in a second or two, and then the stalker resumed his slow creeping.
At the point he sought, he slipped noiselessly into the open, seized the haunch and slid back in the same way, stopping in the shelter of the reeds to see if he had been noticed. But all the warriors still slept, and, thankful once more to the greater powers who had favored him, he made his way back to his shelter, provisioned now for several days. Then he ate a hearty supper, gathering more of the berries as a sauce, and drinking from the little stream.
He was well aware that the Indians, when they missed the haunch, would know that he lay somewhere in the bowl; but, with starvation as the alternative, he was compelled to take the risk. Before dawn, it rained again, removing all apprehensions that he may have felt about his trail, and he took a nap of two or three hours, relying upon his heightened senses to give him an alarm, if they drew near, even while he slept.
The next dawn came, cold and raw, with the rain ceasing after a while, but followed by a heavy fog that filled the whole bowl. Henry, sharp as his eyes were, could not see twenty feet in front of him, and, just like the bear that had once occupied it, he lay very close in his lair. The confinement was growing irksome to one of his youth and strength, as he felt his muscles stiffening, but it was necessary, because he heard the signals of the Indians to one another through the fog, sometimes not more than two or three hundred yards away. Their proximity, he knew, was due to chance, as there was nothing to disclose to them where he lay. They were merely following the plan of threshing out all the hay in the haystack in order to find the needle, and he knew that they would complete it even to the last wisp.
Another day and night passed in the lair, and the inactivity, confinement and suspense became frightful. He began to feel that he must move, even if he plunged directly into the Indian ranks, and the warriors permitted no doubt that they were near, since the calls of birds and animals were frequent. Two or three times he heard shots, and he knew it was the warriors killing game. He resented it, as all the animals in this little valley had proved themselves his friends, and he felt an actual grief for those that had been slain.
It was the truth that in these days of hiding and waiting Henry was reverting to some ancient type, not one necessarily ruder or more ferocious, but a primitive golden age in its way, in which man and beast were more nearly friends. There was proof in the fact that birds hopped about within a foot or two of him and showed no alarm, and that a rabbit boldly rested among the leaves not a yard away.
It would be, in truth, his happy valley were it not for the presence of the Indians. But they were drawing nearer. Call now answered to call, and they were only a few hundred yards away. He divined that they had threshed up most of the maze, and that a close circle was being drawn about him in the bowl. The next night, when he went out for water, he caught a glimpse of warriors stalking in the brush, and he did not believe that his lair would hide him more than a day or two longer. He must find some way to creep through the ring, but, for the present, he could think of none.