Another day passed, and he did not sleep at all in the night that followed, as the warriors were so near now that his keen ear often heard them moving, and once the sound of the men talking to one another came to him distinctly. It was obvious that he must soon make his attempt to break through the ring. Fortunately the night was foggy again, and while he was deliberating anew, concentrating all the power of his mind upon the attempt to find a plan, he heard a faint rustle in the thicket directly in front of him, and he instantly threw his rifle forward, sure that the warriors were upon him. Instead, a shambling figure poked its head through the thicket and looked curiously at him out of little red eyes.
It was the black bear that he had ousted, and Henry thought he saw sympathy as well as curiosity in the red eyes. The bear, far from upbraiding him for driving it from its home, had pity, and no fear at all. He could not see any sign of either alarm or hostility in the red eyes. The gaze expressed kinship, and his own was reciprocal.
"I hope the warriors won't get you, but you're running a mighty big risk," was his thought. Then came a second thought quick upon the heels of the first. How had the bear come through the ring of the warriors? Had the Indians seen it they would certainly have shot at it, because they loved bear meat. Not only had no shot been fired, but the bear was deliberate and free from apprehension. Then like lightning came a third thought. The bear had come in some providential way to save him. It had been sent by the greater powers.
There was something almost human in the gaze of the bear and Henry could never persuade himself afterward that its look did not have understanding. It began to withdraw slowly through the thicket, and, rising up, taking his rifle, blanket and supplies, he followed. A strange feeling seized him. He was transported out of himself. He believed that the miraculous was going to happen. And it happened.
The bear led ten or fifteen feet ahead, and then turned sharply to the right, where apparently it would come up dead against the blank stone wall of the hill. But it turned to look once at Henry and disappeared in the wall. He stood in amazement, but followed nevertheless. Then he saw. There was a narrow cleft in the stone, the entrance to which was completely hidden by three or four bushes growing closely together. The wariest eye would have passed over it a hundred times without seeing it, but the bear had gone in without hesitation, and now Henry, parting the bushes, went in, too.
He found a ravine not more than three feet wide that seemed to lead completely through the hill. The foliage met above it, and it was dark there, but he saw well enough to make his way. He could also trace the dim figure of the bear shambling on ahead, and his heart made a violent leap as he realized that in very truth and fact he was being led out of the Indian ring. Chance or intent? What did it matter? Who was he to question when favors were showered upon him? It was merely for him to take the gifts the greater powers gave, and, with voiceless thanks, he followed the lead of the animal which shambled steadily ahead.
The narrow ravine, or rather crack in the stone, might have ended against a wall, or it might have led up to the crest of the hill where Indian warriors lay watching, but he knew that it would do neither. He felt with all the certainty of actual knowledge that it would go on until it came out on the far side of the circling hills, and beyond the Indian ring.
He walked a full mile, his dumb guide leading faithfully. Sometimes the ravine widened a little, but always the foliage met overhead, and he was never able to catch more than glimpses of the sky. At last the width increased steadily, and then he came out into the forest with the hills behind him. The form of the bear was disappearing among the trees, but Henry sent after him his voiceless thanks. Again he felt that he could not question whether it was chance or intent, but must accept with gratitude the great favor that had been granted to him. Behind him, as reminders, came from far across the hills the faint calls of wolf and owl, the cries of the Indians to one another, as the chiefs directed the closing in of the ring upon the fugitive who was no longer there, the fugitive who had been guided in a miraculous manner to the only way of escape.
He sat down upon a fallen tree trunk, laughing silently at the chagrin his pursuers would feel when they came upon the lair, the empty lair. Braxton Wyatt would rage, Blackstaffe would rage, and while Red Eagle and Yellow Panther might not rage openly, they would burn with internal fire. Then his laughter gave way to far more solemn feelings. Who was he to laugh at two great Indian chiefs who certainly would have taken or slain him had it not been for the intervening miracle?
Henry's heart was filled with admiration and gratitude. He had been a friend for a day or two to the beasts of the forest and one of them had come to his rescue. The feeling of reversion to a primitive golden age was still strong within him, and doubtless the bear, too, had really felt the sense of kinship. He looked in the direction in which the shambling animal had gone, but there was no sign of him. Perhaps he had disappeared forever, because his mission was done.
Again came the calls of animals to one another, the cries of the owl and wolf, and then their own natural voices, in which Henry now, in fancy or in fact, detected the note of chagrin. They had found the lair at last, and they had found it empty! A long yell, fiercer than any of the others, confirmed him in the belief, and despite the solemnity of his own feelings at such a time, when he had been saved in such a manner, he was compelled to laugh silently, but with intense enjoyment.
Then he addressed himself to his new problems. Because he had escaped with his life, it did not mean that his troubles were ended. The warriors would come quickly out of the maze and Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, with the host at their command, would send innumerable scouts and trailers in every direction to find his new traces. It would be with them not only a question of removing their enemy, but a matter of pride as well, and they were sure to make a supreme effort.
It was his knowledge of the minds of the chiefs that had kept him from turning back to the oasis and his comrades. To return would be merely to draw a fresh attack upon them, and he resolved to continue his flight to the northeast. It was characteristic of him that he should not be headlong, exhausting himself, but he sat down calmly, ate a slice of the deer meat, and waited until he should hear the Indian signals again. They came presently from the segment of the circling hills nearest to him, and he knew that the pursuit had been organized anew and thoroughly. Then he rose and fled in the direction he had chosen.
He did not stop until the next night, covering a distance of about thirty miles, and although he heard nothing further then from the warriors, he knew the pursuit was still on. But he was so far ahead that he believed he could take rest with safety, and, creeping into a thicket, he made his bed once more among the leaves of last year. He slept soundly, but awakening at midnight, he scouted a bit about his retreat. Finding no evidence that the enemy was near, he slept again until dawn. Then he renewed the flight, turning a little more toward the north.
He yet had enough of the deer meat to last, with economy, three or four days, and he did not trouble himself for the present about the question of a further food supply. Instead he began to rejoice in his own flight. He was now fifty or sixty miles further north than the oasis, and as the country was higher and some time had elapsed since his departure, autumn was much more advanced. It was a season in which he was always uplifted. It struck for him no note of decay and dissolution. The crispness and freshness that came into the air always expanded his lungs and made his muscles more elastic and powerful. He had the full delight of the eye in the glorious colors that came over the mighty wilderness. He saw the leaves a glossy brown, or glowing in reds or yellows. The sumac bushes burned like fire. Everything was sharp, clear, intense and vital.
There was never another forest like that of the Mississippi Valley, a million square miles of unbroken woods, cut by a myriad of streams, varying in size from the tiniest of brooks to the great Father of Waters himself. Henry loved it and gloried in it, and he knew it well, too. It now contained various kinds of ripening berries that served as a sauce for his deer meat, and occasionally he would crack some of the early nuts that had ripened and fallen. The need for food would not be strong enough for some days yet to make him fire upon any of his new comrades, the wild animals.
But it is true that Henry still remained a creature of that primitive golden age. Never were his senses more acute. The lost faculties of man when he lived wholly in the woodland came back to him. He detected the presence of the hidden deer in the thickets, and he knew that the buffaloes were on the little prairies long before he came to them. He might have shot any number of the big beasts with ease, but he passed them by as he continued his steady flight into the north.
He had not seen any sign of his pursuers in two days, and now he stopped for them to come up, meanwhile eating plentifully in a berry patch. The berries were rich and large, and he took his time and ease, enjoying his stay there all the more because of his new comrades. Two black bears preyed upon the farther edge of the patch, and he laughed at them when their noses were covered with crimson stains. They seemed to be friendly, but he did not put the tie of friendship to too severe a test by approaching closely. Instead, he watched them from a little distance, when, after having eaten enormously, they played with each other like two boys, pushing and pulling, their reddened noses giving them the look of the comedians they were.
A stag watched the sportive bears from a little distance, standing body deep among the bushes, and regarding them with gravity. It pleased Henry to see a twinkle of amusement in the great eyes of the deer, which kept his ground unafraid, despite the presence of his usual enemy, man.
The bears, which were young, and hence festive, continued their sport, encouraged, perhaps, by a gathering and appreciative audience. A wildcat ran out on a long bough, looked at them and yowled twice. As they paid no attention to him, he concluded that it was best to be in a good humor after all, as obviously nobody meant him any harm. So he lay on the bough and watched the game. His eyes showed green and yellow in the sunlight, but it pleased Henry to think that they also held a look of laughter.
Three gray squirrels rattled the bark of an oak that overhung the berry patch. Then came a fox squirrel, with his more glowing color and big bushy tail, and all four looked at the bears. Sometimes they seemed glued to the bark. Then they would scuttle a short distance, to become glued again. Their beady eyes were twinkling. Henry could not see them, but he knew it must be so.
A slender nose and a pointed head pushed through the bushes, and then a long, strong figure followed. A great gray wolf! A beast of prey, but no thought of the hunt seemed to be in his mind now. He was about twenty feet from the rolling bears, and he regarded Henry with a look that said very plainly: "I enjoy the sport, but I would not do it myself." Henry gave back the look in kind, and the two, who would have been natural enemies at any other time, stood at opposite sides of the berry patch, looking with grave amusement at the sportive animals which still tumbled about, crushing the ripe berries under them, until not only their noses but almost their entire bodies were streaked with red stains.
A tiny spot appeared in the blue sky far overhead, grew with astonishing swiftness, as a great bald eagle, descending with the utmost velocity, and then abruptly checking its flight, alighted on the bough of a tree over Henry's head, where it sat, its eyes upon the comedy passing in the berry patch. At any other time the eagle would have regarded the youth as his natural enemy, but now there was no hostility between them. They were merely innocent spectators.
A rabbit, disturbed in its cosy nest under the briars, hopped out, sat on a little mound and looked on with interest, unafraid of the bears, the wolf, the eagle or the human being. A red bird flew in a circle over the berry patch and then alighted among the leaves of a tree, where it burned in a splash of flame against the glossy brown. Another bird, in a more sober garb, poured forth a joyous song.
The wilderness was at peace. Moreover, it was witnessing a comedy, presented by the true comedians of the forest, the young bears, and Henry's sense of kinship grew stronger. It gave him a feeling of great warmth, too, to see that they were not afraid of him. In a measure and for the time at least he was received into the forest family.
A quarter of an hour passed, and the comedy was not yet finished, but Henry heard a lone far cry in the south, and he knew it was the signal of warrior to warrior. In a minute the answering signal was given, but much nearer, and the two bears stopped in their play, standing up, their stained noses in the air and their streaked bodies quivering with apprehension. A third time came the call, and the figures of the bears stiffened. Then they slid through the berry patch and disappeared in the forest, going like shadows. The eagle unfolded his wings, shot upward like a bolt and was lost in the vast blue vault. The wolf vanished so silently that Henry found himself merely looking at the place where he had been. The rabbit disappeared from the mound. The spot of flame on the glossy brown that marked the presence of the tanager was gone, and the sober brown bird ceased to sing. The forest idyll was over and Henry was alone in the berry patch.
He felt bitter anger against the approaching warriors. Before he had regarded them merely as enemies whose interests put them in opposition to him. In their place, doubtless, he would do as they were doing, but now, seeking his death, they had broken the wilderness peace. A desire for revenge, a wish to show them that pursuers as well as pursued could be in danger, grew upon him, and, as he fled again, he used little speed, allowing them to gain until he saw one of the brown figures among the tree trunks. Then he fired, and, when the figure fell, he uttered a shout of triumph in the Indian fashion. A yell of rage answered him, and now, reloading as he ran, he fled at a great rate. Twice he heard the distant cries, and then no more, but he knew that Shawnees and Miamis still followed on. The death of the warrior would be an additional incentive to the pursuit. He would seem to them to be taunting them, and, in truth, he was.
But he had been refreshed so much by his stay in the berry patch that his speed now was amazing, wishing to leave them far behind as usual when the time came for sleep. A river, narrow but deep, suddenly threw itself across his path. It was an unwelcome obstruction, but, managing to keep his arms and ammunition dry, he swam it. The water was cold, and when he was on the other side he ran faster than ever in order to keep the blood warm in his veins and dry his clothing.
There was but little sunshine now, and a raw, damp wind came out of the northwest. He looked at the skies anxiously, and they gave back no assurance. He knew the region had been steadily rising, and he had his apprehensions. In an hour they were justified. The raw, damp wind brought with it something that touched his face like the brush of a feather. It was the year's first flake of snow, premature and tentative, but it was followed soon by others, until they became a thin white veil, driven by the wind. The brown leaves rustled and fell before them, and the appearance of the forest, that had been glowing in color an hour or two before, suddenly became wintry and chill. The advance of twilight made the wilderness all the more somber, and Henry's anxiety increased. He must find shelter for the night somewhere, and he did not yet know where.
He came out upon the crest of a low ridge, and searched the forest with his eyes, hopeful that he might find again a rocky hollow equipped with dead leaves, or even a windrow matted with bushes and vines, but he saw neither. He beheld instead, and to his great surprise, a smoke in the north, a smoke that must be large or it would not be so plain in the dusk. He studied it, and finally came to the conclusion that it marked the presence of an Indian village. This region was not known to him, but as obviously it was a splendid hunting ground it was not at all strange that he should come upon such a town.
It was Indian smoke, but it beckoned to him, because there was warmth beneath it. It was not likely to be a large village, but the skin lodges and the log cabins perhaps would give ample protection against snow and cold. In every age, whether stone, cave or golden, man had to have something over his head on winter nights, and Henry, acting upon his usual belief that boldness was the best policy, went straight toward the village. He had some sort of an idea that he might pilfer the hospitality of his enemies. That would be a great joke upon them, and the more he thought of it the better he liked it.
He used the last precaution as he approached. He was quite sure that the village stood in the woods, and he did not really fear anything except the stray curs usually found around Indian homes. But none barked as he drew near and he began to believe that his luck would find the place without them. Presently he saw the lights of two or three fires glimmering through the bushes, and then he came to a heap of bones, those of buffalo, wild turkey, deer, bear and every other kind of game, like one of the kitchen middens of ancient man in Europe. He drew at once the conclusion that the village, though small, was as nearly permanent as an Indian village could be.
He went closer. Nobody sat by the fire. Apparently there was no watch, which was not strange, as here in the heart of their own country no enemy was likely to come. He counted fourteen lodges, four small log cabins and a larger one standing among the trees apart from the others. Thin threads of smoke rose from the four cabins and several of the tepees, but not from the larger cabin. It was certain now that there were no dogs, as, scenting him, they would have given tongue earlier. The fortune in which he trusted had not betrayed him.
His eyes passed again over the lodges and the smaller cabins and rested on the larger one, which was built of poles and had a wooden figure, carved rudely, standing at every one of the four corners. He noted these figures with intense satisfaction, and, having followed bold tactics, he became yet bolder, creeping through the forest toward the long cabin.
The snow was still falling in fine, feathery flakes, not enough to make a real snow, but enough to cause great discomfort, and he exercised all his skill and caution.
While the Indians slept, yet someone among them always slept lightly, and he knew better than to bring such a swarm of hornets upon him. He reached the long cabin and saw in it a door opening toward the eastern forest and away from the village.
The door was closed with a heavy curtain of buffalo robe, but lifting it without hesitation he entered. Then he stood a little while near the entrance until his eyes grew accustomed to the dusk. The room, which had a floor of bark, was empty save for skins of buffalo or other animals hanging from poles, and two curtained recesses, in which stood totem figures like those at the corners of the house.
Henry knew that it was a council house or house of worship. He had known that as soon as he saw the figures outside. No one would enter it until the chiefs came from a greater village to hold council or make worship. Any possible trail that he might have left would soon be covered by the falling snow, and, going within one of the curtained alcoves, he lifted the wooden figure there a little to one side. Then he spread one of the buffalo robes within the space and, folding his blanket about himself, lay down upon it. Soon he was asleep, while nearly a hundred of his enemies, men, women and children, also slept but fifty yards away.
Henry did not awaken while the night lasted. He had reached the limit of endurance, and every nerve and muscle in him cried aloud for rest. Moreover, his freedom from apprehension conduced to quick and sound slumber, and it was long after daylight when his eyes opened and he stretched himself. He remembered at once where he was, and he felt a great sense of comfort. It was very warm and pleasant on the buffalo robe, with his blanket wrapped about his body, and sitting up he looked out through a narrow crevice between the poles.
He saw a cold morning, with a skim of snow on the ground, already melting fast before the sun, and destined to be gone in a half hour, fires that had been built anew until they burned brightly, and squaws cooking before them, while warriors, with blankets drawn about their shoulders, sat near and ate. Children ran about, also eating or doing errands. It was a homely wilderness scene, and Henry knew at once that these people had nothing to do with the great hunt for him that was being conducted by Red Eagle and Yellow Panther, though they would seize him quickly enough if they knew of his presence.
They were neither Miamis nor Shawnees, nor any other tribe he knew. They might be a detached fragment of some northwestern tribe with which he had never come in contact, or they might be a tiny tribe in themselves. In the vast American wilderness old tribes were continually perishing, and new tribes were continually being formed from the pieces of the old. The people of this village seemed to Henry a fine Indian race, much like the great warrior nation, the Wyandots. The men were well built and powerful, and the women were taller than usual.
He saw that it was a village of plenty. It was usually a feast or a famine with the Indians, but now it was unquestionably a period of feast. The squaws were broiling buffalo, deer, wild turkey, smaller game and fish over the coals. They were also cooking corn cakes, and Henry looked at these hungrily. It had been many days since he had eaten bread, and, craving it with a fierce craving, he resolved to pilfer some of the cakes if a chance offered.
The odors, so pleasant in his nostrils and yet so tantalizing, reminded him that he had with him the haunch of venison, of which a large portion was yet left. He ate, but it was cold. There was no water to drink with it, and he was not satisfied. His resolve to become an uninvited guest at their table, as well as under their roof, grew stronger.
Yet he liked these Indians and he became convinced that they were in truth a little tribe of their own or a fragment split off from a larger tribe, buried here in the woods, to be the germ of bigger things. He was seeing them at their best, leading, amid abundance, the life to which they had been born and which they loved. All, men, women and children, ate until they could eat no more. Then they idled about, the sun driving away the last of the snow and warming earth and air again. In a cleared space the half-grown boys began to play ball with the earnestness and vigor the Indians always showed in the game. The men, full and content, sat on their blankets and looked on. Thus the morning passed.
In the hours before noon Henry did not chafe. He rather enjoyed the rest; but in the latter half of the day he grew impatient. He longed to be up and away again, but there would be no chance to leave until night, and he forced himself to lie still. He yet had no fear that any one would come into the council room. Such chambers were little used, unless the occasion was one of state.
The afternoon was warm. The cold and light snow of the night before had been premature, and the vanguard of autumn returned to its normal state. While many leaves had fallen, more remained, and the colors were deeper and more vivid than ever. The whole forest burned with red fire. Through a narrow opening among the trees Henry saw a small field, full of ripened maize, with yellow pumpkins between the stalks. The sight made him hungrier than ever for bread.
About the middle of the afternoon, the warriors who were lying on their blankets rose suddenly and stood in an attitude of attention. They seemed to be listening, rather than looking, and Henry strained his ears also. He heard what appeared to be an echo, and then one of the warriors in the village replied with a long, thrilling whoop that penetrated far through the forest.
He divined at once that the pursuit was at hand, not because the warriors had been led there by his trail, which in truth was invisible now, but because some portion of the net they had spread out must in time reach the village.
The whole population gathered in the cleared space where the fires had burned and looked toward the southern forest. Henry, from his crack between the poles, saw ripples of interest running among them, the warriors exchanging sober comment with one another, the women and children not hesitating to talk and chatter as in a white village when visitors of interest were approaching. It was on the whole a bright and animated picture, and he did not feel any hostility to a soul in that lost little town in the wilderness.
Another cry came in five minutes from the forest, and now it was clear and piercing. A warrior in the village replied, and then they all waited, a vivid, eager crowd, to see who came. The whole space was within visible range of Henry's crevice, and he watched with equal interest.
A tall figure emerged from the forest, the figure of an elderly man, powerful despite his years, and with a face of authority. It was Red Eagle, head chief of the Shawnees, and behind him came the renegades, Wyatt and Blackstaffe, and twenty warriors. Despite their haughty bearing they showed signs of weariness.
The chief of the village stepped forward and gravely saluted Red Eagle, who replied with equal gravity. They exchanged a few words, and with a wave of the arms the chief made them welcome. The fires were built anew, and, the guests sitting about them, smoked with their hosts a pipe of peace which was passed from one to another. Then food was brought and Red Eagle, his warriors and the renegades ate.
Henry would have given much to hear what they said, but he knew they would not speak of their errand for a while. Some time must be allowed for courtesy and for talk that had nothing to do with their purpose. Nevertheless he saw that Red Eagle and all his band were worn to the bone, and he was glad. He had led them on such a chase as they had never pursued before, and he would lead them yet farther. He could afford to laugh.
The guests ate hungrily and the women continued to serve food to them until they were satisfied. Then all except the adult male population of the village withdrew, and Red Eagle rose to address his hosts.
THE GREATER POWERS
When the Shawnee chief rose to talk he stood at one side of the open space, scarcely twenty feet from the corner of the council house in which Henry lay hidden, and as he said what he had to say in the usual oratorical manner of the Indians upon such occasions, the youth easily heard every word.
Red Eagle spoke in Shawnee, which Henry surmised was a kindred language to that of the village, and which it was obvious they easily understood. He told them a startling tale. He said that far in the south five white scouts and foresters, two of whom were only boys in years, although one of the boys was the largest and strongest of the five, had kept the Indians from destroying the white settlements in Kain-tuck-ee. By trick and device, by wile and stratagem, they had turned back many an attack. It was not their numbers, but the cunning they used and the evil spirits they summoned to their aid that made them so powerful and dangerous. Until the five were removed the Indians could not roam their ancient hunting grounds in content.
So the Shawnees, the Miamis, the Wyandots, the Delawares and the kindred tribes had organized to pursue the five to the death. They had struck the trail of one, the youth who was the largest, the strongest and the most formidable of them all, and they had never ceased to follow it. Twice they had drawn around him a ring through which it seemed possible for nothing human to break, but on each occasion he had called to the evil spirits, his friends, and they had answered him with such effect that he had vanished like a bird at night.
Murmurs of wonder came from the listening crowd. Truly, the young white warrior was of marvelous prowess, and it would not be well for one of them alone to meet him, when he not only had his formidable weapons, but could summon to his help spirits yet more dreadful. They cast apprehensive glances at the deep woods into which he had fled.
Red Eagle was an impressive orator, and the forest setting was admirable. The great Shawnee chief stood full six feet in height, his brow was broad and his eyes clear and sparkling. He made but few gestures, and he spoke in a full voice that carried far. Before him were the people of the village, and behind him was the great forest, blazing in autumn red. The renegades, Blackstaffe and Wyatt, stood near, each leaning against a tree trunk, following closely all that Red Eagle said. They, too, wished the destruction of the great youth, but their enmity to him was baser than that of the Indians, since it was an innate jealousy and hatred, and not a hostility based upon difference of race and interest.
When Henry looked at the renegades the desire to laugh was strong again. What rage they would feel if they ever came to know that when Red Eagle was making his address with his veteran warriors around him, the fugitive, for whose capture or death a red army had striven in vain for days, lay at his ease within fifty or sixty feet of them, a buffalo robe of the Indians' themselves, his bed, and one of their own houses his shelter!
Red Eagle continued, in his round, full voice, telling them he had tracked the fugitive northward, his warriors picking up the trail again, and that he must have passed near their village. He wished to know if they had seen any trace of him, and he asked their help in the hunt. A middle-aged man, evidently the head of the village, replied with equal dignity, but in a dialect that Henry could not understand. Still, he assumed that it was a full assent, as, a few minutes after he had finished, ten warriors of the village, taking their weapons, went into the forest, and Henry knew that they were looking for him or his trail. But Red Eagle, his warriors and the renegades remained by the fire, still resting, because they were weary, very weary, no fugitive before ever having led them such a troublesome chase.
Red Eagle, the Shawnee chief, was a statesman as well as a warrior. While it was true that young Ware was helped by evil spirits, he felt that the pursuit must be maintained nevertheless. Ware was the great champion of the white people, who far to the south were cutting down the forest and building houses. He had acquired a wonderful name. His own deeds were marvelous, but superstition had added to the terror that he carried among the Indians. He must be removed. The necessity for it grew greater and more pressing every day. All the Indian power must be turned upon him, and when the task was achieved they could deal with his four comrades. He had talked over the problem with Yellow Panther, first chief of the Miamis, a man full of years, wise in council and great on the war path, and he had agreed with him fully that the pursuit must be maintained, even if it went to the Great Lakes, or those other great lakes in the far misty Canadian region beyond.
Now, Red Eagle, as he rested by the fire and received the hospitality of the tiny tribe in the wilderness, was very thoughtful. Intellect as well as prowess had made him a great chief; like the one whom he pursued, he loved the forest, and when he looked upon it now, in all its glowing colors of autumn, the glossy browns, the blazing reds and the soft yellows, he was not willing for a single one of its trees to be cut down. And while he meant to carry the pursuit to the very rim of the world he knew, if need be, he did not withhold admiration and a certain liking for the fugitive.
Red Eagle glanced at the renegades, who had sat down now before the fire and who were in a half doze. Although they were useful to the Indians, who valued them for many reasons, he felt a strong aversion toward them at that moment. He knew that if Ware were taken they would clamor at once for his life. None would be more eager for the torture than they, but Red Eagle had another plan in his mind. The principle of adoption was strong among the Indians. Captives were often received into the tribes, and Ware, with death as the alternative, might become a splendid young adopted son for him and, in time, the greatest chief of the Shawnees. He would not come as a renegade, like Blackstaffe and Wyatt, but as a valiant prisoner taken fairly in battle, to whom was left no other choice.
It was to the credit of Red Eagle's heart and brain, as he sat deeply pondering, that he evolved such a plan, but he made one mistake. High as he estimated the mental and physical powers of the fugitive to be, he did not estimate them high enough. Few would have had the strength of will that Henry displayed then to lie quiet in the council house while his enemies were all about him and the warriors were searching the forest around for his trail. It was fortunate, in truth, that the snow had come and passed, hiding any possible traces he might have left.
His conviction that he was safe, for the present at least, remained. He knew there was no occasion for the chiefs to enter the sacred building in which he lay, and the others would not dare to do so. Nothing troubled him at present but thirst. His throat and mouth were dry and craved water, as one in the desert, but he knew that he must endure.
Late in the day, the warriors of the village who had gone out to look for his trail began to return, and when they had made their reports, Henry knew by the disappointment evident on the faces of Red Eagle and the renegades, that they had found nothing. He saw the Shawnee chief give orders to his own men, half of whom plunged into the forest to the northward and disappeared. They reckoned that he had gone on, and, spreading out in the usual fan fashion, would continue the pursuit. But it seemed that Red Eagle, with the remainder of his immediate force and the renegades, intended to pass the night in the village.
A supper of great abundance and variety was served to the Shawnee chief and his men, and, when he saw the pure fresh drinking water brought to them, Henry raged inwardly. They had not taken him yet, but already he was being put to the torture. It was bitter irony that he should suffer so much for water when the forest contained countless streams and pools. He shut his teeth tight together and waited for the coming of the night, now not far away. The lack of water would drive him out of the council house, and in the dark he must seize anything that looked like an opportunity.
He hoped for the clouds again and another veil of snow, however thin, but his hopes were not fulfilled. When the slow dusk came, he lifted the buffalo curtain and emerged from his corner, feeling an intense relief, despite the shooting pain, because he could stand up again. Then he stretched and rubbed himself until all the soreness was gone from his muscles, and, standing there, tried to think of a way to escape.
His eyes, used to the dark of the room, fell upon a great headdress of twisted buffalo horns, profusely decorated with feathers. A long coat of buffalo skin adorned with feathers and porcupine quills in strange designs lay beside it upon the poles. He had seen many such equipments. It was a sort of regalia worn by Indian dancers, and now and then by great chiefs upon solemn occasions.
He looked at it, idly at first, and then with growing interest, as an idea was born in his brain. The dress must be almost sacred in character, or it would not be left here in the council house, and kind fortune had certainly put it on the poles for his particular use. Once more he was thoroughly convinced that he was watched over by the greater powers, not because of any especial merit of his, but for reasons of their own, and he clothed himself in the headdress and the strange, variegated robe that fell to his ankles. Then even Shif'less Sol would have had to take a third look to know him.
Henry's heart beat high and fast. He was thoroughly convinced that he had found a way. He had now only to use that rarest and greatest of qualities, patience, and, by a supreme exertion of the will, he managed to wait until it was far into the night.
Red Eagle had gone into one of the log cabins, and was probably asleep. Henry, from the crack, was not able to see what had become of the renegades, but he surmised that they, too, were sleeping somewhere. Two of the fires still burned in the open, but nobody watched beside them, and he judged that the time was ripe for the trial.
He gave a final touch to the headdress and the buffalo robe. He would have been glad to have seen himself in a glass, but he was sure, nevertheless, that he looked his part of a great medicine man, a reincarnation of some ancient chief who had come back to spend a while within the sacred precincts of the council house. His rifle he managed to hide beneath the great painted coat, at the same time holding it convenient for his use, and, lifting the curtain of buffalo robe, he stepped out.
It was neither a dark nor a fair night, but much fleecy vapor was floating between earth and sky, imparting to the village and the forest a misty, unreal effect which was suited admirably to Henry's purpose, enlarging his figure and giving to it a fantastic and weird effect. Knowing it, and having the utmost confidence in himself, he chose a path directly through the center of the open, walking slowly, but taking strides of great length and stepping from tiptoe to tiptoe.
Two Indian sentinels, a Shawnee and a native of the village, were dozing by the wall of one of the log cabins, when they heard the step in the open. They lifted heavy eyelids and beheld a gigantic figure, attired in a garb that ordinary mortals do not wear, stalking toward the forest, caring nothing for the sentinels, the village or anything else. They were in the midway region between sleeping and waking, when images are printed upon the brain in confused or exaggerated shapes, and the mysterious visitor, who was even then taking his departure, seemed to them at least fifteen feet high, while, from under the headdress of twisted buffalo horns, two great eyes, hot and blazing like coals, stared at them. This terrifying figure, as they gazed upon it, raised a huge hand full of menace and shook it at them. They gave a yell of terror and darted into the forest.
Red Eagle, sleeping the sleep of the just and tired, heard the shout of alarm, and it impinged so heavily upon his unconscious brain that he was shocked at once into an awakening. He leaped to his feet and ran out of the cabin, just in time to meet the head chief of the village coming out of another one. The two stared at each other, and then they saw the great figure, in its mystic apparel, just where forest and open met. Each uttered a gasp, and, before they could gasp a second time, the apparition was gone among the trees, vanishing from their stupefied gaze like a wisp of smoke before the wind. Then Red Eagle and his host, great and wise chiefs though they were, looked at each other again and trembled.
Henry meanwhile was racing through the forest and toward the north, always toward the north, and as he ran he shook with laughter. He had seen the look of dismay on the faces of the Indians and he rejoiced. He was sorry that he had not seen Braxton Wyatt and Blackstaffe too. Their minds were less subject to superstition than those of the red men, but no doubt in the first minute or two they were frightened also if they saw him.
Yet he believed that the renegades would arouse the Indians and perhaps would suspect that the terrific stranger, who had come and departed so mysteriously, was none other than the fugitive himself. He did not care if they did; in truth, he rather hoped they would. He could imagine their mortification and disappointment, and since they had gone to dwell with strangers and fight their own people, it was only a fraction of what they deserved.
The great headdress of twisted buffalo horns was heavy and the big painted buffalo coat flapped around him, but he would not discard them yet. Stray warriors might be in the forest near the village, and, if so, he wished to reserve for them his awful and threatening appearance. But he could not stand them more than a mile. Then he threw the headdress into a creek, hoping that it would float away with the current, but, thinking he would have further use for it, he kept the painted coat. Then he crossed the creek and resumed his northward flight at great speed.
He did not stop until dawn, when he felt that he was safe, for a day at least, from pursuit. He had brought with him what was left of the deer meat, and, sitting down by the bank of a small brook, he ate, drinking afterward of the clear stream and giving thanks. He had been saved again in a miraculous manner. When skill and strength themselves would have been of no avail, fortune had put the council house and the ceremonial robes in his way. He could not doubt that the greater powers were working in his behalf, and he felt all the elation that comes from the assurance of continued victory.
But it was a bleak dawn. A cold sun was rising in a cold, blue sky. There was no snow now, but the dry grass was white with frost, and whenever the wind stirred a little, the dead leaves fell with a dry rustle. He retreated deeper into the thicket, and he was glad that he had kept the great painted coat, as he wrapped himself in it from head to foot and lay down between two fallen logs, with the dense bushes over his head.
He must find another interval of rest and sleep, and feeling that his best chance lay here, he drew the coat very close. It kept him thoroughly warm, and, as soon as his nerves settled into their normal condition, he slept.
He awoke before noon, and the morning was still frosty and cold. Yet the wilderness was more beautiful than ever. The frost had merely deepened its colors. While many dead leaves had fallen, myriads remained, and they had taken on more intense and glowing tints. The air had all the purity and tonic of an American autumn. The light winds were the breath of life itself.
He ate the last of the deer, and then he found bunches of wild grapes, small and bitter sweet, but refreshing. Later in the day he must secure game, though he still felt averse to shooting anything, since the creatures of the forest had saved him more than once. But in the end it would come to it.
It was a rolling country, and, walking to the crest of the highest ridge, he examined it in all directions. He saw only the great forest in its reds and yellows and browns, and he was alone in it, its uncrowned king, if he chose to call himself so.
Although the country was new to him, Henry believed that he was about two hundred and fifty miles north of the Ohio and in the region inhabited by the warlike northwestern tribes. Several of their great villages must lie not very far to the east of him, and he smiled at the thought that he was leading the pursuit back to the homes of the pursuers. He wondered what his comrades were doing, but he believed that they would remain in the swamp, or near it, until he came back.
Not knowing what else to do, he moved northward again, and presently heard a low, monotonous sound, which after a little listening he decided to be Indian squaws chanting. Further listening convinced him that there were only two voices, and he approached cautiously among the trees.
Two Indian women, one quite young and the other quite old, were cooking by the side of a small brook, in which they had evidently been washing deerskin clothing earlier in the day, as it now lay drying on the bank. Probably they were the wife and mother of some warrior preparing for his return from the hunt. Henry took little interest in the deerskins they had washed, but his attention was concentrated quickly upon their cooking.
They were broiling a fat, juicy wild turkey. He had an especially tender tooth for wild turkey, particularly when it was young and fat. It, more than anything else, was his staff of life, and now he set covetous eyes upon the one that was broiling over the coals. He did not like to rob women, but it must be done, and he bethought himself of his painted coat. Pulling it high over his head, concealing his rifle under it and uttering a tremendous woof, he stalked into the open in which the fire was burning.
The two Indian women, when they beheld the apparition, uttered simultaneous screams and fled into the forest, while the hungry young robber, lifting their turkey from the fire, where it was already well broiled, disappeared among the trees in the opposite direction, happy to have secured his rations through the aid of fright only and without violence. He knew, however, that he could not afford to satisfy his hunger just then. Warriors, and perhaps a village, could not be far away, and the men, divining that the fright of the women was caused by a human being, would soon come in pursuit. So he went at least two or three miles before he sat down and ate a substantial dinner, reserving the remainder for future use. Truly the wild turkey was his best friend.
That night he lay again in the forest, and he was devoutly glad that he had saved the painted robe. The climate of the great valley is fickle, and it rapidly turned colder again. Raw winds whistled through the woods, and he had difficulty in finding a sheltered place where, even with the aid of the robe, he could keep warm. He selected at last a tiny glen, well grown with tall bushes on every side, heaped up parallel rows of dead leaves, and then, lying down between them, wrapped in the robe, fell asleep.
When he awoke his face felt cold, and opening his eyes, he found that it had good reason to be so. It was covered with snow, and upon the robe itself the snow lay deep. The whole forest was white, and, as he stood up, he heard branches cracking beneath the weight that had gathered on them in the night. It had come down in thick and great flakes, but so softly that it had failed to awaken him.
Henry, despite his courage and strength, was alarmed. It is one thing even for the best trained to live in the forest in summer, but quite another in winter. Nor was the aspect of the sky encouraging. It was somber with clouds, and, even as he looked at it, the snow began to fall again. It was not an ordinary snow, but the clouds just ripped their bottoms out and let their entire burden fall at once. A huge white cataract seemed to fill the whole air, and Henry's alarm deepened into dismay. The snow would soon be six inches deep, then a foot, and what was he to do?
He was thankful once more for the painted robe, and also for the wild turkey that he had pilfered, and knowing that he must keep warm, he started on a dreary walk toward the north. The snow was pouring so hard that he could scarcely see, but he heard a sound to his right, and presently he was able to discern an immense stag floundering in some undergrowth in which its hoofs seemed to be caught.
Henry could easily have shot the deer and it would have furnished an unlimited supply of food, at a time when he might be snowed up for days. He always believed afterward, too, that the deer expected to be killed, as it ceased its struggles and looked at him with great, pathetic eyes. It was a magnificent stag, the largest he had ever seen, but he had no heart to shoot. His own eyes met the appealing gaze from those of the king of the woods and he felt sorry. Nothing could have induced him to shoot. He sincerely hoped that the stag would pull free, and as the thought came to him the wish was fulfilled.
The left forefoot, which was entangled, suddenly came loose and unhurt. Never did Henry see a transformation more rapid and complete. The stag, before pathetic and depressed, a beaten beast, expanded in the twinkling of an eye into a mighty monarch of the forest. He stood erect, threw back his great head in a gesture of triumph, looked once more at the human being whom nature had taught him instinctively to dread, but who had not harmed him when he was at his mercy, then stalked away, until he was lost behind the white veil of the snowy fall.
Henry felt gladness. He was glad that he had not shot, and he was glad that the stag had released his foot, or otherwise he would have perished under the teeth of wolves. Then he addressed himself to his own peril, which was great and increasing. He hunted the deepest portions of the woods, but the snow sought him there. He stood under the trees of the thickest boughs, but the white fall gradually poured through, heaping upon his head, his shoulders and the folds of his robe. He would brush it off and move on to another place, merely to find it gathering again, and, by and by, his great muscles began to feel weariness. He plodded for hours in the deepening snow, seeking a refuge from this persistent and deadly fall, but finding none. A sort of despair, almost unknown to him, oppressed him for a little while. He had fought off innumerable attacks of warlike and powerful savages, he had triumphed over hardships and dangers the very name of which would make the ordinary man shudder, and here he was about to be conquered by a mere shift of the wind that brought snow.
He could have shouted aloud in anger, but instead he summoned all his courage and strength anew and continued his hunt for a refuge.
THE STAG'S COMING
The snow, famous in the annals of the tribes as one of the greatest that ever fell so early in the autumn, continued to pour down. Where Henry had sunk to his ankles, he now sank almost to his knees, and the wilderness stretched away, without offering the shelter of any covert or rocky hollow. His exertions made him very warm, but he was too wise to take off the painted coat, lest he cool too fast. To fall ill in the snowy forest, hunted by savages, was a thought to make the boldest shudder, and he took no chances.
He fought the storm for hours. Rightly it could be called no storm, as it was merely the placid fall of snow in huge quantities, but in the long run it contained more elements of danger than a hurricane. Night came and he was still struggling among the drifts, not walking now with firm, straight steps, but staggering. Nearly all of his tremendous strength was gone, exhausted, fighting against the impassive snowy depths that always held him back. Once or twice he fell, but his will brought him to his feet again, and he went on, his mind now directing wholly the almost inert mass that was his body.
Twilight came, adding a new gloom to the somber heavens. All the animals themselves seemed to have gone, and he strove alone for life amid the vast desolation. Then he recalled his courage once more. On this great expedition, when he was offering himself as a sacrifice for his people, the miracles were always happening. At the last moment, when it did not seem possible for him to be saved, he had always been saved, and surely the miracle would occur once more!
He came to a huge tree, blown down by the wind, but yet projecting above the snow, and sitting down on the trunk he leaned against an upthrust root. He closed his eyes, for a moment or two, and the desire to keep them shut, and sink into happy forgetfulness, was almost more than he could resist. He made a gigantic effort and pulled himself back to full consciousness, knowing that the easiest way, which in this case was the way of yielding, would be the fatal way. Drawing up the last ounces of his strength he staggered on, remembering to keep his rifle protected by the painted coat, and clinging also to the turkey.
He looked up at the heavens, but they gave no promise. They were without a break in the massed clouds, and the snow poured down in an unceasing white fall. The range of vision was so short that he could not tell the character of country into which he was coming, and, presently, he struck marshy ground, into which his moccasined feet sank deep, coming forth wet and cold. It was a new danger, and he stamped his feet hard and walked faster in an endeavor to keep the circulation going and to keep them from freezing. It was a peril that he had not foreseen, and it would, in truth, be the very irony of fate if, after so many miracles had intervened to save him from pressing dangers, he should perish in a premature snow storm.
Usually, one could find shelter of a sort in the wilderness. The forest of the great valley had become in the course of ages so dense with thickets and matted tangles of fallen trees that one did not have to go far before coming to a lair into which he could creep. But now everything of the kind evaded Henry. His eyes, almost blinded by the snow, saw only the straight trunks of trees, and open ground that offered no protection at all. Moreover, the chill from his wet feet, in spite of all his efforts, was extending and he shivered.
But he would not despair. He might have had such moments, but they were moments only, and he fought on, as those, whose souls are made of courage, fight. Yet the wilderness became gloomier, more desolate and more menacing than ever. The fall of snow was less heavy, but a bitter wind rose and it came with an alternate shriek and moan. The air grew colder and the chill of the wind struck into Henry's bones. Nevertheless he struggled on in the darkening night, going he knew not where, nor to what.
Courage and will can triumph over most things, but not over all things. There comes a time when hour, place and circumstances seem to combine against the individual, and such an hour had come for Henry. He searched everywhere for some place in which he could lie until the storm had passed, but it was always nothing, nothing, just the open forest, and the driving wind, and the creeping chill which was steadily going into all his bones.
At last, scarcely able to raise a foot, he sank down on a fallen log and stared into the gloomy woods which gave back not a single ray of hope. Again he felt the dreamy desire to sink into rest and complete oblivion, and again he fought it off, knowing that it was the way of death. Then he looked up at the somber skies, and prayed for one more miracle.
Henry, despite his wild, rough life, had much reverence in his nature. The wilderness, too, with its varied manifestations, encouraged the belief in a supreme power, just as it had given birth among the Indians to a natural religion closely akin to the revealed religion of the white man. Now, he was hopeful that in the extreme moment help would be sent to him, and that the last of the miracles had not yet been performed. Closing his eyes he said his prayer over and over again to himself, and then opening them he stared as before at the desolate forest, empty of everything living save his own presence.
But was it empty? Straight ahead of him he seemed to see an outline through the falling snow, like a dim and dusky figure behind a veil. He rose, new strength flowing into his veins, and took a step or two forward, fearful that he had been deceived by one of the fancies or visions, supposed to float before the eyes of the dying. Then he saw. The dim outlines on the other side of the snowy veil grew clearer and he traced the figure of a stag, larger than any other stag that had ever trod the earth, gigantic and majestic.
The stag, too, was staring at him, and he knew it to be the same that he had seen earlier in the day, though it had grown wonderfully in size since then. It showed not the slightest trace of fear, but, instead, the great luminous eyes seemed to him to express pity.
A thrill of superstitious awe ran through him. But it was awe, not fear. The stag, gigantic and almost a phantom, did not threaten. It pitied, and as Henry gazed at it with the fascinated eyes of one in a dream or in an illusion so deep that it was a twin brother to reality, the deer turned and walked slowly among the trees. Twenty paces, and, stopping an instant, it looked back. The human figure was following and the deer walked on, its stride measured and magnificent.
Henry did not doubt that his prayers had been answered, and that another miracle had been ordered for his salvation. He became transformed as if by magic. His head, which had been so heavy that it sagged upon his shoulders, grew singularly light. The blood, stagnant before, leaped in his veins like quicksilver, and his steps were straight and firm. The size of the deer did not decrease for him. It loomed immense and powerful through the driving snow, and, as it led steadily on, never looking back now, he followed with equal steadiness.
The stag turned once, going sharply to the right, and, in a few more minutes, the ground grew quite rough. Then he saw through the veil of the snow high hills rising on either side, but the stag led into a deep and narrow valley between them. As they advanced, it narrowed yet further, and the trees and bushes on the crests above them were so dense that the snow was not deep there, and the bitter wind was cut off entirely. Either hope and confidence or some measure of returning warmth drove the chill from Henry's bones, as he forgot the wet and cold and pressed forward eagerly when the stag increased his pace.
Henry's mental state became one of exaltation. He did not know to what he was going, but he knew that life lay at the end of the stag's trail, and he was willing to follow as long as need be. Nor did he ever know how long he followed, but he did notice that the cleft was growing deeper and narrower. After an unknown time he emerged into a tiny valley that was more like a well, it was set so deep in the hills and its slopes were so steep, the cliffs in truth overhanging on two sides.
He uttered a cry of joy. This was to be his refuge, and here he would be saved. Stretches of ground under the hanging cliffs were bare of snow, and heaped high with dead leaves. Dead wood lay all about. The bitter wind, with its alternate shriek and whistle, swept overhead, but it did not touch the floor of the well. The air was still and it did not bite.
The stag turned and looked back for the second and last time, and Henry, either in reality or in an illusion so deep that it was as vivid as reality, saw an expression of kinship in the great luminous eyes. Once more, for him at least, the old golden age when men and animals were friends had come back to endure an hour or two. Then, lifting its head very high and seeming taller and more majestic than ever, it passed out of the valley at a narrow opening on the other side.
Henry, shaking himself violently to bring back his wandering faculties, concentrated them upon his present needs, which were still urgent. Crouching in the best shelter that the hanging cliff furnished, he rapidly whittled shavings from the dead wood, until he had formed a heap close to the stony wall. Then, with the flint and steel that every hunter carried and laboring desperately, he managed to extract from the flint enough sparks to set fire to the shavings, hanging over the tiny blaze and shielding it with his body lest it go out and leave him alone in the cold and the dark.
The flame persisted and grew, reached out, and bit into more shavings, and then into larger pieces of dead wood that Henry presented to its teeth. Dead leaves helped it along, and he fed to it larger and larger sticks, until he had a splendid leaping fire, the very finest fire that was ever built in this world, a fire that sent up many high flames, red in the center and yellow at the edges, a fire that made great, glowing coals in beds, capable of keeping their heat all night.
Then Henry knew that in very truth and fact he was saved. Let the wind whistle and shriek above his head! He cared nothing for it. He took off his wet leggings and moccasins, and dried them and his feet and legs before the fire. The spirit of a youth returned to him. He tried to see how near he could hold his flesh to those wonderful coals and flames without burning it, and with the fire, which is a twin brother to life, he felt life itself flowing anew into his body.
His vitality was so great that his strength seemed to return all at once, and he built another fire as fine as the first, but a little distance from it. Then he lay between the two, and was warmed on both sides. Exposed to the double heat also, his moccasins and leggings soon dried and he put them on again. His feeling was now one of extraordinary comfort, and warming the turkey on the coals, he ate an abundant supper, while he listened to the wind overhead and saw snow drop in the valley, but not on him, where he lay well within the lee of the stone wall.
After resting awhile between the fires he began to gather wood, the whole valley being littered with it. He did not know how long the storm would hold him there, and he intended to have sufficient heat. He also heaped up the wood into a species of rude wall, until no drop of snow could blow into his cleft under the cliff, and then contemplated his work with satisfaction. He could stay here as long as the storm lasted, even for days, nor did he forget to give thanks once more for the wonderful manner in which the stag had saved him. It was first the buffaloes, then the bear and now the deer. What would it be next?
Henry let the two fires sink to glowing heaps of coals, and then, warming thoroughly before them the great painted buffalo coat, he retreated to the alcove behind his wooden wall and made his bed on the leaves. He felt for all the world like a bear gone into its snug den for the long winter sleep, and, as he drew the big coat about his body, he looked lazily at the fires, which were so placed that the heat from them warmed his corner despite the wooden barrier.
Then the usual relaxation, after a tremendous mental and physical struggle came over him, and he began to feel the extraordinary luxury of lying dry, warm, well fed and in safety. It was all the primitive man desired, the best he ever received, and Henry, who had been put in their position, rejoiced as one of those far, faraway men might have rejoiced, when he, too, attained all his wishes.
The feeling of luxurious ease kept him in a dreamy state a long time. Although he felt strong and active again, able to cope with any crisis, he had really been very near the end for the time being to the extraordinary powers with which nature had endowed him. Now, as his great vitality flowed back and he knew that he was safe, it was just a pleasure to lie still, to feel the warmth, and to see dreamily the glow of the fires, in truth, to feel as his ancestors had felt in like comfort forty thousand years ago.
Meanwhile the air turned a little warmer, just enough to admit a return of the heavy snowfall and the big flakes began to pour down again. Some of them, blown by the wind, fell on the sheltered fires, and hissed as they melted. But Henry was not troubled. He knew they could not reach him.
At the same time, but many miles to the south, a great force of Indian warriors, led by the two wise and valiant chiefs, Red Eagle, the Shawnee, and Yellow Panther, the Miami, was going into camp. Yellow Panther had come up with a force also and they had struck again the trail of the fugitive, but the coming of the storm had hidden it, of course, and as the snow deepened they were compelled to abandon, until the next day at least, all thought of catching Henry Ware, taking instead measures for their own preservation. Among them were men who knew the country, and they soon found a deep valley, in which they built their fires and ate their venison.
Red Eagle and Yellow Panther sat with the renegades, Blackstaffe and Wyatt, by one of the fires, and talked earnestly of the pursuit. The chiefs did not like the white men who had gone with strangers to fight against their own, but they respected their knowledge and tenacity. The chase had been long and arduous, it had drawn off much strength from the tribes, but they were in unanimous agreement that it should be continued, no matter how long, until their object was achieved. The great snow itself, deep and premature though it was, should not turn them back.
Henry could not see this council through the miles of hills and driving snow, but had his thoughts been turned in that direction he would have made to himself a picture just like it, nor would he ever have doubted for an instant that the chiefs and the renegades would pursue him as long as pursuit was possible.
It was well into the night, when his eyes closed and the sleep that took hold of him was far deeper than usual, carrying him into an oblivion that lasted until far after the sun had risen over a world, still white and misty with the falling snow.
He was surprised to see that the storm had not yet stopped, but he was not alarmed. The two fires were still smouldering, and the dead wood that he had heaped up was sufficient to last many days. It was true that he had only the wild turkey for food, but he was sure, in time, to discover other resources. He had seen the proof over and over again, that, for the time at least, he was a favorite of the greater powers. He was too modest to think it due to any particular merit of his own, but it seemed to him that he had been chosen as an instrument, and, for that reason, he was being preserved through every hardship and danger.
Secure in his belief, which was more than a belief, a conviction rather, he began to make a home for himself in his tiny valley, which was not more than fifty feet across, and above which the hills, steep like the side of a house, rose three or four hundred feet. His first precaution was to build the fires anew, not with a high flame, but with a slow steady burning that would make great beds of coals, glowing with heat. Then he examined the pass by which he had come, to find it choked with seven or eight feet of snow, and he looked next at the one by which the deer had gone, to discover that it was much like the first, leading a distance that was yet indefinite to him, as he did not care to follow it through the deep snow to its end.
Shaking the snow from the painted robe he came back to the covert and waited with as much patience as he could summon. Now he missed greatly his four comrades, and their talk. With them the time would have passed easily, but since they were not there he must do the best he could without them. The problem of food which he had resolutely pushed away, forced itself back again. A big, powerful body such as his was like an active engine. It required much fuel. There would be no food but animal food, and he was in no mood for killing an animal now. But he could not hide from himself the fact that it must be done, sooner or later.
On the second day he went through the pass by which the deer had gone, beating down the snow under his feet, until it was hard enough to sustain him, and, after about two miles of such difficult traveling, came upon fairly level ground. Here, hunting about, he surprised several rabbits in their deep nests, and killed them with blows of his rifle muzzle.
The hunt took nearly all day, and, when he returned to the cove with his game, night was coming. He was surprised to find how welcome the place was to him and how much it looked like a home. There was his sheltered alcove, with the wall of dead wood in front of it, and there were two heaps of coals sending their friendly glow to him through the cold dusk.
It was a home, and it was more. It was a refuge and a fortress. He had been guided to it by the greater powers, and he should value it for all it had afforded him, warmth, shelter and protection from his foes. He was not one to be lacking in gratitude or appreciation, and he sent admiring glances about his well, for it was more like a well than a valley. Lonely it might be, but bodily comforts it offered in abundance to such as Henry.
He cleaned the rabbits and hung them up in the alcove, knowing that their bodies would freeze hard in the night, and thus would be preserved, giving him with the wild turkey a supply of food sufficient for two or three days.
He was awakened the second night by cries, faint but very fierce, and he knew they were made by wolves howling. The ferocity, however, was not for him, as during that singular period his feeling of kinship for the animals extended even to the wolf. He knew that they howled because of hunger. The deep snow was hard on the wolves, making it difficult to find or pursue their prey, and they sent forth the angry lament because they were famished.
Henry merely drew the painted robe more closely about his body, looked contentedly at the glow from the two fine beds of coals, closed his eyes once more and went to sleep. He did not look for wolves in his well, although he heard them howling again the next night, the note plaintive and fierce alike with the call of intense hunger. The fourth day, he went out through the pass and killed more rabbits, adding them to his store. He saw a deer floundering in the deep snow, but he would not shoot it. The time might come when he would slay a deer, but he could not do it that week.
Now he began to study the skies. He knew that the premature snow, deep as it was, could not last long, and, likely enough, it would be followed by heavy rain. Then the snow would certainly pour in a deluge down the hillsides, and the water might rage in a torrent in the ravine. His well would be flooded and he would have to take to flight, but it would be no harder on pursued than on pursuers.
Two more days passed and the warm weather did not come. The snow ceased to fall, but it lay gleaming and deep on the ground, and the sound of boughs, cracking beneath its weight, was almost incessant. Indifferent to the deep trail he left, he climbed again to the heights and ranged over a considerable area. A second time, a floundering deer presented itself to his rifle, and a second time he refused to fire. The deer seemed to expect no danger, as it gazed at him with fearless eyes, and, waving to it a friendly farewell, he passed on among the trees, every one of which stood up an individual cone of white.
Then he heard the howl of wolves and traveling on to a valley beyond he saw a pack running far ahead. Twenty they were, at least, and whether or not they chased a deer he could not tell, but the fierce note of hunger was in their voices, and whatever it was they pursued they followed it fast.
Then he turned back toward his home, weary with walking through snow so deep, too deep yet for his further flight northward, and the fires in the covert seemed fairly to shine with welcome for him. That night he broiled and ate an entire rabbit for supper, but felt that he must have a more varied diet soon, if he was to preserve his strength. He looked again for the clouds which were to bring the great rain, destroyer of great snows, but the skies were clear, frosty and starry, and his eager eyes did not find a single blur.
It was evident that he must use all his patience and keep on waiting. So he set himself to the task of putting his body in the best possible trim, until such time as he would have to subject it to severe tests. He exercised himself daily and he always saw that his bed under the ledge was dry and warm. He never permitted the fires to go out, and gradually, as the snow about them melted from the heat, the ground there became hard and dry.
He was still able to procure food without firing a shot, finding plenty of rabbits in the deep snow on the hills, but he grew intensely weary of such a diet, and he felt that if he had to linger much longer he would kill a deer, although he had been saved by one. Every hour he scanned the heavens looking for the clouds which he knew would come in time, since the cold could not endure at such an early period in the autumn.
He had been in his retreat a week when he felt a light and soft touch on his face, the breath of the west wind. It had almost a summer warmth, and, then he knew that one of the great changes in temperature, to which the valley is subject, was coming. Throughout the afternoon the wind blew, and water began to trickle in the ravine. The sound of soft snow sliding down the hill was almost constant in his ears. Toward dusk, the clouds that he had expected came floating up from the horizon's rim, but he did not believe rain would fall before the next day.
Nevertheless, he took precautions, building a rough floor of dead wood in the alcove, and arranging to protect himself from the downpour which he considered inevitable. He also put his stores in the place that would remain safest and dryest, and lying down, high upon the dead wood, he fell asleep. He was awakened in the night by a rushing sound. The great rain that was to destroy the great snow had come, several hours earlier than he had expected it, and it was a deluge.
The trickle in the ravine became a torrent, and he heard it roaring. The floor of his little valley was soon covered with six inches of water and he was devoutly glad that he had built his platform of dead wood, upon which he could remain untouched by the flood, at least for the present. That it would suffice permanently he was not sure, as the rain was coming down at a prodigious rate, and there was no sign that it would decrease in violence.
He did not sleep any more that night, but sat up, watching and listening. It was pitchy dark, but he heard the roar of distant and new streams, and the sliding avalanches of sodden snow. He felt an awe of the elements, but he was not lonely now, nor was he afraid. That which he wished was coming, though with more violence and suddenness than he liked, but one must take the gifts of the gods, as they gave them, and not complain.
Dawn arrived, thick with vapors and mists, and dark with the pouring rain. From his place under the cliff he could not see far, but he knew that the snow was dissolving in floods. The six inches of water in his valley grew to a foot, and he began to be apprehensive lest the whole place be deluged to such an extent that he be driven out, a fear that was soon confirmed, as he saw two or three hours after dawn that he must go.
It would be impossible to keep the lower half of his body dry, but he was thankful once more for the great painted coat, under which he was able to secure his rifle and powder against rain. He also fastened in his belt two of the rabbits that he had cooked, and then with the rest of his baggage in a pack, he made his start.
He was forced to wade in chilly water almost to his knees, and it was impossible to leave the valley by either end of the ravine, as it was filled with a roaring flood many feet deep; but with the aid of bushes and stony outcrop he climbed the lofty slope, a slow and painful task attended by danger, as now and then a bush would pull out with his weight. But, at last, his hands torn, and his face running with perspiration, he attained the summit, where he turned his face once more toward the north.
He decided that he would keep to the ridges as the snow would leave them first, and he could also find some protection in the dense, scrubby growth that covered them.
He never passed a more trying day. The actual danger of Indian presence even would have been a relief. The rain beat in an unceasing deluge, and he was hard put to it to keep his rifle and ammunition dry. The sliding snow made his foothold so treacherous that he was compelled to keep among the wet and flapping bushes, where he could grasp support on an instant's notice.
At noon, though there was no sun to tell him that it had come, he stopped in a dense thicket and ate one of the rabbits, reflecting rather grimly that though he had been anxious for the rain to come it was making him thoroughly uncomfortable. Yet even these clouds covering all the heavens had at least one strip of silver lining. The harder and more persistently the rain fell the quicker the snow would be gone, and once more the wilderness would be fit for travel and habitation.
When he had eaten the rabbit, although he longed for some other kind of food, he felt better. He had at least furnished fuel for the engine, and, bending his head to the storm, he left the thicket and continued his journey, a journey the end of which he could not foresee, as he never doubted for an instant that the Indian host was still pursuing. He left no trail, of course, in such a storm, but the rain could not last forever, and, when it ceased, some warrior would be sure to pick it up again.
When night came he was thoroughly soaked, save for his precious ammunition, around which he had wrapped his blanket also. Most of the snow was gone, but pools stood in every depression, and turbid streams raced in every gully and ravine. Where he had trodden in snow before he now trod in mud, and every bone in him ached with weariness. Many a man, making no further effort, would have lain down and died, but it was not the spirit of Henry. He continually sought shelter and far in the night crowded himself into the hollow of a huge decayed tree. He was compelled to stand in a leaning position, but with the aid of the buffalo coat he managed to protect himself from further inroads of the rain, and by and by he actually fell asleep.
The sun was high when he awoke, and he was very stiff and sore from the awkward manner in which his body had been placed, but the rain had stopped and for that he was devoutly thankful, although the earth was sodden from the vast amount of water that had fallen.
It took him three hours to light a fire, so difficult was it to procure dry shavings, but, in the end, the task was achieved and it was a glorious triumph. Once more fire was king and he basked in it, drying his body and his wet clothing thoroughly, and lingering beside it all the afternoon. But at night he put it out reluctantly, since the warriors were sure to be abroad now, and he could not risk the light or the smoke.
He slept under the bushes, but in the morning he saw in the south smoke answering to smoke, and he did not doubt that it was detachments of the Indian host signaling to one another. Perhaps they had come upon his trail, and it was sure, if they had not done so, that they would soon find it. Watching the signals a little while, he turned and fled once more into the north.
THE LEAPING WOLF
Henry came presently into lower ground, where he judged the snowfall had not been so great, as the amount of standing water was much less and the streams were not so swollen. The air, too, was decidedly warmer, and while the forest had been stripped of all its leaves, it did not look so gloomy. A brilliant sun came out, flooded trees and bushes with light, and gave to the earth an appearance of youth and vitality that it has so often and so peculiarly in autumn, although that is the period of decay. He felt its tonic thrill, and when he came to a clear creek he decided that he would put himself in tune with the purity and clearness of the world about him.
He had lain so long in his clothes that he felt he must have the touch of clean water upon him, and, daring everything, he put his arms aside, removed his clothing and plunged into the creek. It made him shiver and gasp at first, but he kicked and dived and swam so hard that presently warmth returned to his veins, and with it a wonderful increase of spirits.
When he came out he washed his clothing as well as deerskin could be washed, and, wrapped in the blanket and painted coat, ran up and down the bank, or otherwise exercised himself vigorously, while it dried in the bright sun. It was a matter of hours, but it pleased him to feel that he was purified again and that he could carry out the purification in the very face of Indian pursuit itself. When he put on his clothing again he felt remade and reinvigorated in both body and mind, and, resuming his weapons, he set out once more upon his northward way.
The day continued warm and most brilliant, as if atonement were being made to him for the storms of snow and rain. He came to a stretch of country in which it was obvious that very little snow, if any, had fallen, as the trees were still thick with leaves in the deep colors of autumn, and it was satisfying to the eye to look upon the red glow again.
Late in the afternoon he saw five smokes in a half curve to the south, and he knew well enough that they were made by his pursuers. They were much nearer than those he had seen earlier in the day, but it was due to the long delay made necessary by his swim and the drying of his clothes. The rapid gain did not make him feel any particular apprehension. The joy of the struggle came over him. He was matched against the whole power of the Shawnee, Miami and kindred nations, and if they thought they could catch him, well, let them keep on trying. They should bear in mind, too, that the hunted sometimes would turn and rend the hunter.