"An' while you are thinkin' it over," said Shif'less Sol, "jest remember that I'm a belt bearer who has traveled a long way, an' that I'm pow'ful tired; so I guess I'll take a nap."
He rolled over on the softest of the skins, and was as good as his word. In five minutes he was sound asleep. Tom Ross leaned back against the skin wall and meditated. Henry Ware arose and walked in the village; but the moment he stepped from the lodge, all trace of the white youth was gone, and he was again Big Fox, the chief of the belt bearers from the Shawnees.
The village was the scene of an active savage life. It had been a season of plenty. Game and fish abounded, and, according to the Indian nature, they ate and overate of that plenty, thinking little of the morrow. Hence this life, besides being active, was also happy in its wild way. Big Fox noticed the fact, with those keen eyes of his that nothing escaped.
And all in their turn noticed Big Fox here, as he had been noticed in the Council House. Old and young alike admired him. They thought that no such splendid warrior had ever before entered their village. Surely the Shawnees were a nation of men when they could produce such as he. His height, his straight, commanding glance, the wonderful, careless strength and majesty of his figure, all impressed them. He looked to them like one without fear, and moreover, with such strength and quickness as his, he seemed one who had little to fear. But as he walked there, Yellow Panther came again, and spoke to him with sly, insinuating manner:
"The belt bearer is not weary, though he has traveled far."
"No," replied Big Fox. "Manitou has been kind to me, and has given me strong limbs and muscles that do not tire."
"Did Big Fox, in his journey from the Shawnee village, hear of white men? It is said that a band of them have been in this region about the lake, there to the southward. One of our warriors was slain, but we could not find those whom we pursued."
Big Fox wondered if it was a chance shot, but he looked straight into the eyes of Yellow Panther, which fell before the gaze of his, and replied:
"I came bearing belts, and I thought only of them. If there are white men in the Miami woods, the Miamis are warriors enough to take them."
Yellow Panther turned aside, but he followed the tall figure with a look of the most vindictive hate. Like Braxton Wyatt, he felt that something was wrong, but what it was he did not yet know. Big Fox mingled freely in the village life throughout the day, and never once did he make a mistake. All the Indian ways were familiar to him, and when he talked with the warriors about the Northwestern tribes, he showed full knowledge. Old Gray Beaver was delighted with him. The deference of this splendid young warrior was grateful to his heart.
That night the three belt bearers, calm and unconcerned, lay down in the great lodge that had been assigned to them, and slept peacefully. Far in the darkness, Yellow Panther and Braxton Wyatt crept to the side of the lodge and listened. They heard nothing from within, and at last the Miami carefully lifted the buffalo hide over the entrance. His sharp eyes, peering into the shadows, saw the three belt bearers lying upon their backs and sleeping soundly. Apparently they were men without fear, men without the cause of fear, and Yellow Panther, letting the tent flap fall softly back, walked away with Braxton Wyatt, both deeply disappointed.
They did not know that a pair of hands had lifted the tent flap ever so little, and that a pair of keen eyes were following them. The wonderful instinct of Henry Ware had warned him, and he had awakened the moment they looked in. But his eyes had not opened. He had merely felt their presence with the swish of cold air on his face, and now, after they had disappeared among the lodges, he wished to deepen the impression the belt bearers had made. Then he and his comrades must go back to Paul and Jim Hart, who lay out there in the forest, patiently waiting.
The next morning Big Fox, Brown Bear, and The Bat saw three Miami belt bearers depart with peace belts for the Shawnee village, but as for themselves, they would remain a while longer, enjoying the Miami hospitality.
In an open space just north of the village, Miami boys were practicing with the bow and arrow, shooting at the bodies of some owls tied on the low boughs of trees. Warriors were looking on, and the belt bearers, Big Fox, Brown Bear, and The Bat, joined them. By and by some of the warriors began to take a share in the sport and practice, using great war bows and sending the arrows whistling to the mark. At last the chief, Yellow Panther, himself handled a bow and surpassed all who had preceded him in skill. Then, turning with a malicious eye to Big Fox, he said:
"Perhaps the Shawnee belt bearers would like to show how well they can use the bow. Surely they are not less in skill than the Miamis?"
His look was full of venom. Shawnees, though armed now with rifles, were good bowmen, and whatever he suspected might be confirmed by the failure of the belt bearers to show skill, or not to shoot at all. He held in his hand the great bow that he had used, and, barring the malice of his eyes, his gesture was full of politeness.
Big Fox did not hesitate a moment. He stepped forward, took the bow and arrow from the hand of Yellow Panther, glanced at the great owl at which the chief had shot, and then walked back fifteen yards farther from it. A murmur of applause came from the crowd. He would shoot at a much greater distance than Yellow Panther had shot, and the chief and Braxton Wyatt, too, who had drawn near, frowned.
Big Fox glanced once more at the body of the great owl, and then, fitting the arrow to the string, he bent the bow. An involuntary cry of admiration came from a people who valued physical strength and skill when they saw the ease and grace with which he bent the tough wood. Not in vain had nature given Big Fox a figure of power and muscles of steel! Not in vain had nature given him an eye the like of which was not to be found on all the border! Not in vain had he achieved surpassing skill with the bow in his life among the Northwestern Indians!
There was silence as the bow bent and the arrow was drawn back to the head. Then that silence was broken only by the whizz of the feathered shaft as it shot through the air. But a universal shout arose as the arrow struck fairly in the center of the owl, pierced it like a bullet, and flew far beyond.
Big Fox turned and handed back the bow to Yellow Panther.
"Is it enough?" he asked gravely. "Can the Shawnee belt bearers use the bow and arrow?"
"It is enough," replied the chief, seeking in vain to hide his chagrin.
"It wuz great luck," whispered The Bat to Brown Bear, a little later, "that the challenge to the bow an' arrow should a-been made to perhaps the only white in all the West who could a-done sech a thing."
The belt bearers spent a second night in the same lodge, and on the morning of the third day they announced that they must depart for their own village. Gray Beaver hospitably, and Yellow Panther craftily, urged them to stay longer, but Big Fox replied that the Shawnees were going on a great hunt into the Northwest before the winter came, and the belt bearers would be needed. Braxton Wyatt knew nothing of the projected hunt, but for the present he was silent. Throughout the contest he had shown at a disadvantage against the diplomacy of Big Fox. Now the belt bearers courteously invited him to return home with them, but he declined, replying that he would not depart for some days. He did not say it aloud, but nothing could have induced him to go with the belt bearers.
Big Fox noticed that neither Yellow Panther nor Braxton Wyatt made any opposition to their going, and it was a fact that he did not forget, drawing from it his own inference. His power to read the faces of men was scarcely inferior to his wonderful skill in reading every sign of the forest.
Gray Beaver, and behind him a rabble, accompanied the Shawnee belt bearers to the edge of the woods, and there the aged chief said graciously to Big Fox:
"My son, my heart is warm toward you, and I am glad to have seen you in the lodges of the Miamis."
"Farewell, Gray Beaver," said Big Fox.
Then he and his two comrades turned, and disappeared like phantoms in the forest, so swiftly they went.
Autumn had made further advance. The dying leaves were falling fast, and the wilderness was more open. A crisp wind blew in the faces of the three belt bearers—now belt bearers no longer, but Henry Ware, Tom Ross, and Solomon Hyde, white of skin and white of heart. They sped forward on fleet foot many miles, and it was Shif'less Sol who spoke first.
"Shall we stop at this spring," he said, "an' wash the paint off our faces? I want to look like a white man agin, jest ez I am. I don't feel nat'ral at all ez an Injun."
"Neither do I," said Tom Ross, "I don't like to change faces, an' right here I wash mine."
The three stooped down to the spring, and as they rubbed off the paint they felt their right natures returning.
"I'm thankful I wuz born white," said Shif'less Sol. "Why, what is it, Henry?"
Henry Ware had raised his head in the attitude of one who listens. His eyes were intent and nostrils distended like those of a deer that suspects an enemy.
"We're followed," he said. "I thought we would be."
"Yellow Panther, uv course!" said Tom Ross, with emphasis.
"Of course! And like as not Braxton Wyatt is among those who are with him."
Sol Hyde looked at Henry. There was a queer light in the eyes of the shiftless one.
"Do we want 'em to ketch us?" he asked.
"I think we'd better wait and see."
It was in no tone of boasting that either spoke. Three borderers such as they could shake off the pursuit of any men who lived.
"S'pose we lead 'em on a while," said Tom Ross.
Henry nodded, and the three ran in a sort of easy trot toward the southeast. They took no trouble to hide their trail, and as the forest at this point was free from undergrowth, they were visible at a considerable distance. This easy trot they kept up for hours, and the extraordinary powers, or intuition, of Henry Ware told him that the Miamis were always there, a quarter of a mile, perhaps, behind. But the three men were never troubled. There was no fear in their minds. This was only sport to them.
They crossed brooks and little creeks, and at last, when they came to one of the latter a little larger than the others, Henry Ware said:
"I think it's time to bother 'em now. We'll wade here."
They entered the creek, which had a hard, pebbly bed, and walked rapidly against the stream for at least a quarter of a mile. Then they emerged in dense undergrowth, and turned backward in a course parallel to that by which they had come. But before going far they sank down in a dense thicket, and lay quite still. Then they saw the Miami band pass—fifteen or sixteen warriors, led by Yellow Panther, with Braxton Wyatt trailing at the rear. "The renegade!" said Shif'less Sol savagely, under his breath.
The band passed on, but the three borderers did not stir. They knew that the trail would be lost presently, and some, at least, of the warriors would come back seeking it.
Fifteen minutes, a half hour, passed, and then they heard distant footsteps. Henry Ware, peering above the bushes, saw a face that belonged to a white youth, and suddenly a daring project formed itself in his mind. Braxton Wyatt was alone! Other members of the Miami band must be near, but they were not in sight, and, above all, Braxton Wyatt was for the present alone! Only a few minutes were needed!
"Watch what I do!" whispered Henry Ware to his comrades—he knew that their keen minds would need no other hint.
Braxton Wyatt came back, looking on the ground, his rifle lying loosely across his shoulder. He dreamed of no danger. The three suspected belt bearers must be fleeing fast. Moreover, Yellow Panther and his Miami friends were near. He walked on, and the fiend he served gave him no warning.
He came to a dense clump of bushes, and turned to go around it. There was a sudden rustling in those bushes, and he looked up. A terrifying form threw itself upon him and bore him to the ground. A heavy hand was clapped upon his mouth, and the cry that had risen to his lips died in his throat. He looked up and saw the face of Henry Ware. Beside him stood two others whom he knew—Tom Ross and Shif'less Sol. He became blue about the lips, and expected a quick death.
"Listen!" said Henry Ware, and every word that he said was burned into Braxton Wyatt's wretched soul. "You are not to die, not at this time. But you are to do what we say. Go back there, under those trees by the big rock, and when Yellow Panther and the other Miamis come up, tell them that you have lied! We were the belt bearers, and you are to say to Yellow Panther that you knew us as real Shawnees, but you were so anxious for the war that you denied us. Tell it as if it were true. Don't tremble! Don't look once at these bushes! Our three rifles will be aimed at you all the time, and if you say a single word that will make them suspect, we fire, and you know that no one of us ever misses. Do as we say!"
He was released, the heavy hand was taken away from his mouth, and his captors disappeared so suddenly and silently in the bushes that it was almost unbelievable. Then Braxton Wyatt rose to his feet and trembled violently. Though he could not see them now, he must believe. He could feel that powerful grasp yet upon his arms, and that heavy hand yet upon his mouth. He knew, too, as well as he knew that he was living, that the unseen muzzles were there, trained upon him. As Henry Ware truly said, no one of the three ever missed, and he had no chance.
He stopped his trembling with an effort of the will and walked to the rock under the trees, thirty or forty yards away. Already he saw Yellow Panther and the other Miamis coming, and he rebelled at the deadly menace from the bushes. But the love of life was strong within him. He looked at Yellow Panther, who was approaching with five or six warriors, and then he tried to form a rapid plan. He would talk with the chief, saying at first what his terrible enemies wished, and then, gradually drawing him away, he would tell the truth, and thus achieve the destruction of the three whom he hated and feared so horribly.
Braxton Wyatt raised one hand and wiped the perspiration from his face. Then, when a deadly fear struck him, he composed his features. Henry Ware had said he must tell a tale that seemed true. There must be no suspicion. The fatal muzzles were trained on him, he well knew, and the sharpest of eyes and ears were watching. He longed to cast one look at the bushes, only one, but he dared not for his life. It was forbidden!
Yellow Panther was at hand now, plainly showing annoyance. The lost trail could not be found, and wrath possessed him. He looked at the renegade, and uttered his discontent.
Braxton Wyatt longed more than ever to tell; they were there so near, it seemed he must tell; but the deadly rifles held him back. No one of their bullets would miss!
"Yellow Panther," he said, and his voice faltered, "let us abandon the trail and go back."
Yellow Panther looked at him, astonished by words and manner alike.
"Go back!" he said. "Did you not tell me that they were false, that there were no such warriors in the Shawnee village?"
Braxton Wyatt trembled, and the cold sweat came again on his forehead. If only those rifles were not there in the thicket! A mighty power seemed to draw him about for one look, only one! But he did not dare—it was death!—and with a supreme effort he wrenched himself away.
"I was wrong," he said. "I was eager for war, eager to see the Shawnees and Miamis go together against the white settlements in the south—so eager that I forgot the men. But I remember them now."
"Have you a crooked tongue?" asked Yellow Panther.
"No, no!" cried Braxton Wyatt, in mortal terror of the three rifles. "I had, but I have not now! I am telling you the truth! As I live I am, Yellow Panther! I was anxious for the war, anxious as you are, and it brought a cloud before my eyes. I could not remember then, but I remember now! The men were true Shawnees, and the Shawnee nation does not wish to go on the great war trail this year."
Yellow Panther looked at him with indignation and contempt, and hesitated. Braxton Wyatt trembled once more. Would the chief believe? He must believe! He must make him believe, or he would die!
"I wished to tell you before we started, Yellow Panther," he said, "but I feared then your just anger. Now we have lost the trail, and I must save you from further trouble. Why should I tell you this now if it is not true? Why else should I avow that I have spoken false words?"
Yellow Panther looked at the unhappy figure and face, and believed.
"It is enough," he said. "We will go back to our own village. Come!"
He spoke to his warriors, and they returned swiftly on their own tracks to the Miami village. Braxton Wyatt went with them, and he dared not look back once at that fateful clump of bushes.
When they were gone far beyond sight, Henry Ware, Tom Ross, and Shif'less Sol rose up, looked at each other, and laughed.
"That wuz well done, Henry," said Shif'less Sol lazily. "I never knowed a purtier trick to be told. He's clean caught in his own net. If he wuz to tell the truth now to the chief, Yellow Panther wouldn't believe him."
"And if he were to believe him, Yellow Panther, in his anger, would tomahawk him," said Henry Ware, "No, Braxton Wyatt will not dare to tell."
"And now we may take it easy," said Tom Ross. "But I wouldn't like to be in your place, Henry, ef ever you wuz to fall into the hands uv Yellow Panther an' that renegade."
"I'll take care that I don't have any such bad luck," said Henry. "And now we must find Paul and Jim."
Serenely satisfied, they resumed their journey, but now they went at a slower gait.
IN WINTER QUARTERS
The three walked slowly on for a long time, curving about gradually to the region in which Paul and Jim Hart remained hidden. They did not say much, but Shif'less Sol was slowly swelling with an admiration which was bound to find a vent some time or other.
"Henry," he burst out at last, "this whole scheme o' yours has been worked in the most beautiful way, an' that last trick with Braxton Wyatt wuz the finest I ever saw."
"There were three of us," said Henry briefly and modestly.
"It's a great thing to use your brain," said the shiftless one sagely. "I'm thinkin' o' doin' it hereafter myself."
Tom Ross laughed deeply and said:
"I'd make a beginning before it wuz too late, ef I wuz you, Sol."
"How long do you think it will take the Shawnees an' the Miamis to straighten out that tangle about the great war trail?" asked the shiftless one of Henry.
"Not before snow flies," replied the youth; "and then there will be so much mutual anger and disgust that they will not be able to get together for months. But we must stop up here, Sol, and watch, and egg on the misunderstanding. Don't you think so, Tom?"
"Of course!" replied Ross briefly, but with emphasis. "We've got to hang on the Injun flanks."
Late in the afternoon they reached familiar ground, or at least it was so to the sharp eyes of these three, although they had seen it but once. Here they had left Paul and Jim Hart, and they knew that they must be somewhere near. Henry gave forth the whip-poor-will cry—the long, wailing note, inexpressibly plaintive and echoing far through the autumn woods. It was repeated once and twice, and presently came the answering note.
The three walked with confidence toward the point from which the answer had come, and soon they saw Paul and Jim Hart advancing joyously to meet them.
Paul listened with amazement to the story of their wonderful adventure, told in a few brief phrases. Not many words were needed for him. His vivid imagination at once pictured it all—the deadly play of words in the Council House, the ambushing of Braxton Wyatt, and the triumphant result.
"That was diplomacy, statesmanship, Henry," he said.
"We're going to stay up here a while longer, Paul," said Henry. "We think our presence is needed in these parts."
"I'm willing," said Paul, wishing to have assurances, "but what about the powder for Marlowe, and what will our people at Wareville think has become of us?"
"As long as we can keep back these tribes, Marlowe will not need the powder, and some of the buffalo hunters have taken word to Wareville that we have come into the North."
"I purpose," said Shif'less Sol, "that so long ez we're goin' to stay in these parts that we go back to the haunted islan' in the lake. It's in the heart o' the Injun country, but it's the safest spot within five hundred miles o' us."
"I think with Sol," said Henry. "We can prepare there for winter quarters. In fact, we've got a hut already."
"An' I won't have nothin' to do," said the shiftless one, "but lay aroun' an' hev Jim Hart cook fur me."
"You'll hev to be runnin' through the frozen woods all the time fur game fur me to cook, that's what you'll hev to do, Sol Hyde," retorted Jim Hart.
The idea of going into winter quarters on the island appealed to Paul. He had grown attached to the little hollow in which he and Jim Hart had built the hut, and he thought they could be very snug and warm. So he favored Sol's proposition with ardor, and about twilight they brought the hidden canoe again from the bushes, paddling boldly across the lake for the island. The place did not now have an uncanny look to Paul. Instead, it bore certain aspects of home, and he forgot all about the mummies in the trees, which were their protection from invasion.
"It's good to get back again," he said.
They landed on the island, hid the canoe, and went straight to the hollow, finding everything there absolutely undisturbed.
"We'll sleep to-night," said Henry, "and in the morning we'll plan."
Paul noticed, when he rose early the next day, that the whole earth was silver with frost, and he felt they were particularly fortunate in having found some sort of shelter. The others shared his satisfaction, and they worked all day, enlarging the hut, and strengthening it against the wind and cold with more bark and brush. At night Henry and Ross took the canoe, went to the mainland, and came back with a deer. The next day Jim Hart and Shif'less Sol were busy drying the venison, and Paul spent his time fishing with considerable success.
Several days passed thus, and they accumulated more meat and more skins. The latter were particularly valuable for warmth. Paul draped them about their hut, arranging them with an artistic eye, while Jim Hart and Shif'less Sol, with a similar satisfaction, watched their larder grow.
"This is the finest winter camp in all the wilderness," said Shif'less Sol.
"You couldn't beat it," said Jim Hart.
These were happy days to Paul. Knowing now that a message had been sent hack to Wareville, he was released from worry over the possible anxiety of his people on his account, and he was living a life brimful of interest. Everyone fell almost unconsciously into his place. Henry Ware, Ross, and Shif'less Sol scouted and hunted far and wide, and Paul and Jim Hart were fishermen, house builders, and, as Paul called it, "decorators."
The hut in the hollow began to have a cozy look. Henry and Ross brought in three buffalo skins, which Jim promptly tanned, and which Paul then used as wall coverings. Wolfskins, deerskins, and one beautiful panther hide were spread upon the floor. This floor was made mainly of boughs, broken up fine, and dead leaves, but it did not admit water, and the furs and skins were warm. In one corner of the place grew up a store of dried venison and buffalo meat, over which Jim Hart watched jealously.
All of the cooking was done at night, but in the open, in a kind of rude oven that Jim Hart built of loose stones, and never did food taste better in the mouth of a hungry youth than it did in that of Paul. The air was growing much colder. Paul, who was in the habit of taking a dip in the lake every night, found the waters so chill now that he could not stay in long, although the bath was wonderfully invigorating. Whenever the wind blew the dead leaves fell in showers, and Paul knew he would soon be deeply thankful they had the hut as a retreat.
About ten days after their return Henry came back from a scout around the Miami village, and he brought news of interest.
"Braxton Wyatt is still there," he said, "and he is so mixed up that he does not know just what to do for the present. After saying one thing and then denying himself, he is in the bad graces of both parties of the Miamis. For the same reason he doesn't dare to go back for a while to the Shawnees, so he is waiting for things to straighten themselves out, which they won't do for a long time. The Miami belt bearers have not yet returned from the Shawnee village, and then belts will have to go back and forth a dozen times each before either tribe can find out what the other means."
"An' if we kin keep 'em misunderstandin' each other," said Shif'less Sol, "they can't make any attack on the white settlements until away next spring, an' by that time a lot more white people will arrive from over the mountains. We'll be at least twice ez strong then."
"That's so," said Henry; "and the greatest work we five can do is to stay here and put as many spokes as we can in the Indian alliance."
"And I am glad to be here with all of you," said Paul earnestly. It seemed to him the greatest work in the world, this holding back of the tribes until their intended victim should acquire strength to beat them off, and his eyes shone. Besides the mere physical happiness that he felt, there was a great mental exhilaration, an exaltation, even, and he looked forward to the winter of a warrior and a statesman.
Paul's body flourished apace in the cold, nipping air and the wild life. There were discomforts, it is true, but he did not think of them. He looked only at the comforts and the joys. He knew that his muscles were growing and hardening, that eye, ear, all the five senses, in truth, were growing keener, and he felt within him a courage that could dare anything.
Henry made another expedition, to discover, if he could, whether the Miamis suspected that the haunted island harbored their foes. They did not ask him what means he used, how he disguised himself anew, or whether he disguised himself at all, but he returned with the news that they had no suspicion. The island was still sacred to the spirits—a place where they dare not land. This was satisfying news to all, and they rested for a while.
Three or four days after Henry's return a strong wind stripped the last leaves from the trees. All the reds and yellows and browns were gone, and the gusts whistled fiercely among the gray branches. The surface of the lake was broken into cold waves, that chased each other until they died away at the shore.
The next day heavy rolling clouds were drawn across the sky, and all the world was somber and dark. Paul stood at the entrance to the hut, and now, indeed, he was thankful that they had that shelter, and that they had furs and skins to reinforce their clothing. As he looked, something cold and wet came out of the sky and struck him upon the face. Another came, and then another, and in a few moments the air was full of flakes whirled by the wind.
"The first snow," said Paul.
"Yes," said Henry, "and let us pray for snows—many, hard, and deep. The fiercer the winter the easier it will be to hold back the allied tribes."
It was not a heavy snow, but it gave an earnest of what might come. The bare boughs were whipped about in the gale, and creaked dismally. The ground was covered with white to the depth of about two inches, and dark, rolling waves, looking very chill, chased one another across the lake. Jim Hart and Paul had managed to build of stones, in one corner of their hut, a rude oven or furnace, with an exterior vent. They had plastered the stones together with mud, which hardened into a sort of cement, and in this furnace they kindled a little fire. They did not dare to make it large, because of the smoke, but they had enough coals to give out a warm and pleasant glow.
All of them retreated for a while to the "mansion," as Paul rather proudly called it, and Henry. Ross, and Shif'less Sol busied themselves with making new and stout moccasins of deerskin, fastened with sinews and lined with fur. Shif'less Sol was especially skillful at this work; in fact, the shiftless one was a wonderfully handy man at any sort of task, and with only his hunting knife, a wooden needle of his own manufacture, and deer sinews, he actually made Paul a fur-lined hunting shirt, which seemed to the boy's imaginative fancy about the finest garment ever worn in the wilderness. All of them also put fur flaps on their raccoon-skin caps, and Shif'less Sol even managed to fashion an imitation of gloves out of deerskin.
"I wouldn't advise you to try to use your hands much with these gloves on," he said; "leastways, not to shoot at anything till you took 'em off; but I do say that so long ez your hands are idle, they'll be pow'ful warmin' to the fingers."
"We don't have to go out very much just now," said Paul, "and if we only had two or three books here, we could pass the time very pleasantly."
"That's so," said Shif'less Sol musingly. "You an' me, Paul, wuz intended to be eddicated men. Ez fur Jim Hart here, he's that dull he'd take more pride in cookin' in a stone furnace than in writin' the finest book in the world."
"When I cook I git's somethin' that I kin see," said Jim Hart. "I never read but one book in my life, an' I didn't find it very sustainin'. I guess if you wuz starvin' to death here in the wilderness, you'd ruther hev a hot hoe cake than all the books in the world."
"'Tain't worth while, Paul, to talk to Jim Hart," said Shif'less Sol sadly. "He ain't got no soul above a hoe cake. I've allus told you, Paul, that you an' me wuz superior to our surroundings. Ef Jim Hart wuz locked up in a schoolhouse all his life he'd never be an eddicated man, while ez fur me, I'm one without ever gittin' a chance, jest because it's in my natur'."
Paul laughed at them both, and drew a little closer to the bed of red coals. The warmth within and the cold without appealed to all the elements of his vivid and imaginative nature. Not for worlds would he have missed being on this great adventure with these daring men.
"I'm a-thinkin'," said Ross, as he lifted the buffalo robe over their door and looked out, "that ez soon ez the wind dies the lake will freeze over."
"An' it will be harder than ever then," said Paul, "to catch fish."
"I guess we kin do about ez well through holes in the ice," said Ross.
Ross's prediction soon came true. When they awoke on the morning two days afterwards the lake curved about them in a white and glittering sheet, reflecting back a brilliant sun in a million dazzling rays.
"I'm glad all of our party are here on the island together," said Henry, "because the ice isn't thick enough to support a man's weight, and it isn't thin enough to let a canoe be pushed through it. We're clean cut off from the world for a little while."
"An' this is whar poor old Long Jim becomes the most vallyble uv us all," said Jim Hart. "It's a lucky thing that I've got a kind uv stove an' buffalo meat an' venison an' other kinds uv game. I'm jest willin' to bet that you four hulkin' fellers will want to lay aroun' an' eat all the time."
"I wouldn't be surprised, Jim, if we didn't get hungry once in a while," said Henry, with a smile.
Two more days passed, and the ice on the lake neither melted nor grew thicker, and they were as well shut in and others were as well shut out as if they had been on a lone island in the Pacific Ocean. Once they saw a thin column of smoke, only a faint blue spire very far away, which Henry said rose from an Indian camp fire.
"It's several miles from here," he said, "and it's just chance that they are there. They don't dream that we are here."
Nevertheless, they did not light the fire in their furnace again for two days. Then, when the skies grew too dark and somber for a faint smoke to show against its background, they kindled it up again, and once more enjoyed warm food.
"Ef I jest had a little coffee, an' somethin' to b'il it in, I'd be pow'ful happy," said Jim Hart. "I'd jest enjoy b'ilin' a gallon or two apiece fur you fellers an' me."
"Wa'al, ez you ain't got any coffee an' you ain't got anythin' to b'il it in, I reckon we'll hev to be jest ez happy without it," said Shif'less Sol.
The night after this conversation Paul was awakened by a patter upon their skin and thatch roof. It must have been two or three o'clock in the morning, and he had been sleeping very comfortably. He lay on furs, and the soft side of a buffalo robe was wrapped close about him. He could not remember any time in his life when he felt snugger, and he wanted to go back to sleep, but that patter upon the roof was insistent. He raised himself up a little, and he heard along with the patter the breathing of his four comrades. But it was pitch dark in the hut, and, rolling over to the doorway, he pulled aside a few inches the stout buffalo hide that covered it. Something hard and white struck him in the face and stung like shot.
It was hailing, pouring hard and driven fiercely by the wind. Moreover, it was bitterly cold, and Paul quickly shut down the buffalo flap, fastening it tightly. "We're snowed in and hailed in, too," he murmured to himself. Then he drew his buffalo robe around his body more closely than ever, and went back to sleep. The next morning it rained on top of the hail for about an hour, but after that it quickly froze again, the air turning intensely cold. Then Paul beheld the whole world sheathed in glittering ice. The sight was so dazzling that his eyes were almost blinded, but it was wonderfully beautiful, too. The frozen surface of the lake threw back the light in myriads of golden sheaves, and every tree, down to the last twig, gleamed in a silvery polished sheath.
"It 'pears to me," said Shif'less Sol lazily, "that we ain't on an islan' no longer. The Superior Powers hev built a drawbridge, on which anything can pass."
"That's so," said Paul. "The ice must be thick enough now to bear a war party."
"Ef that war party didn't slip up an' break its neck," said Shif less Sol. "All that meltin' stuff froze hard, an' it's like glass now. Jest you try it, Paul."
Paul went out in the hollow, and at his very first step his feet flew from under him and he landed on his back. Everywhere it was the same way—ice like glass, that no one could tread on and yet feel secure.
"We have our drawbridge," said Paul, "but it doesn't seem to me to be very safe walking on it."
Nevertheless, Henry and Ross slipped away two nights later, and were gone all the next day and another night. When they returned they reported that the Miami village was pretty well snowed up, and that the hunters even were not out. Braxton Wyatt was still there, and they believed he would soon be up to some sort of mischief—it was impossible for him to remain quiet and behave himself very long.
"Meanwhile what are we to do?" asked Paul.
"Just stay quiet," said Henry. "We'll wait for Braxton and his savages to act first."
But the ice did not remain long, all melting away as the fickle northwestern weather turned comparatively warm again, and the five once more began to move about freely.
WORK AND PLAY
Henry and Ross were gone to the mainland, and Paul, Shif'less Sol, and Jim Hart were left on the island. Shif'less Sol stood at the edge of the hollow, hands on hips, admiring the hut.
"Paul," he said, "I think that thar house is jest about the finest I ever built."
"You built!" exclaimed Jim Hart indignantly. "Mighty little you had to do with it, Sol Hyde, but eat in it an' sleep in it, which two things you are willin' enough to do any time! It's me an' Paul who have reared that gran' structure."
"It appeals to my instincts as an eddicated man," went on Sol, calmly disregarding Jim. "We've got up the house without sp'ilin' the surroundin's. It jest blends with rock an' bush, an' we've helped natur' without tryin' to improve it."
"I believe you've got the truth of it, Sol," said Paul. "I'm getting fond of this place. How long do you think we'll stay here, Sol?"
Shif'less Sol cocked up his weather eye, and a look of surpassing wisdom came over his face.
"When the ground hog come out o' his hole in the fall an' saw his shadder, he went right back ag'in," he replied, "an' that means a hard winter. Besides, we're pretty far north, an' all the hunters say they have lot o' snow hereabouts. We're goin' to have cold an' snow right along. That's the opinion o' me, Solomon Hyde. Jim Hart may say somethin' else, but he ain't worth listenin' to."
"I said this mornin' that it wuz goin' to be a hard winter," growled Jim Hart. "You heard me sayin' so, an' that's the reason you're sayin' so now."
"Oh, Jim, Jim! Whatever will become o' you?" exclaimed Shif'less Sol sadly. "An' I've always tried to teach you that the truth wuz the right thing."
"Sol," he asked, "did you ever see a game of chess?"
"Chess? What's that? Is it a mark you shoot at?"
"No; you play it on a board with little figures made of wood, if you haven't got anything else. My father has a set of chessmen, and he plays often with Mr. Pennypacker, our school teacher. He's played with me, too, and I can show you how to make the things and to play."
A look of interest came into Sol's eyes.
"We've got lots o' time," he said. "S'pose you do it, Paul. I know I kin learn. I ain't so sure o' Jim Hart thar."
Jim was also interested, so much so that he forgot to reply to Shif'less Sol.
"How'll you do it?" he asked.
Paul's reply was to begin at once. He cut a big square piece of white fanned deerskin, and upon this he marked the little squares with coal-black. Then the three of them went to work with their sharp hunting knives, carving out the wooden figures. The results were crude, but they had enough shape for identification, and then Paul began to teach the game itself.
Sol and Jim were really men of strong intellect, and they had plenty of patience. Paul was surprised at their progress. They were soon thinking for themselves, and when Paul himself did not want to play, the two would fight it out over the deerskin.
"It's a slow game, but good," said Shif'less Sol. "It 'pears to me that a man to be at the head o' 'em all in this would hev to do nothin' else all his life."
"That is so," said Paul.
"Jim, thar ain't no earthly chance for you," said Shif'less Sol.
"I guess I've got you this time, anyhow," said Jim, with a deep chuckle of satisfaction. "Jest look at that thar board, Sol Hyde. Ef you ain't druv into a corner so you can't move this way nor that, then you can hev the huntin' shirt right off my back."
Shif'less Sol examined the deerskin square attentively.
"Blamed ef it ain't so," he said in a tone of deep disgust. "It wuz an accident, nuthin' but an accident, or else I've been talkin' too much."
"That's what you're always doin', Sol Hyde—talkin' too much."
"Then we'll jest try it over ag'in, an' I'll show you what it is to play ag'inst a real smart man."
They were deep in a fresh game a few moments later, and Paul went outside. He was glad to see them so interested, because he knew that otherwise the curse of dullness might fall upon them.
The air was raw and chill, and, although the snow and ice were gone, the lake and the hills beyond looked singularly cold. But Paul was neither uncomfortable nor unhappy. He was clothed warmly, and he had food in abundance and variety. Trusty comrades, too, surrounded him. Life at present seemed very pleasant.
He strolled up the island toward the trees that contained the Indian bodies, and after a while returned toward the home in the hollow. A warm, mellow light gleamed from its rude window, and Paul's heart throbbed with something of the feeling that one has only toward "home."
He opened the door and entered, just in time to hear Shif'less Sol's cry of triumph:
"Thar, Jim Hart, ef that don't settle you, I'd like to know what will! Now, who's doin' too much talkin'?"
"I can't see jest how it happened," said Jim Hart ruefully.
"No, an' you never will. Them things are too deep fur you. It's only eddicated men, like me an' Paul, that kin see to the bottom o' 'em."
"You're even, as it's game and game," said Paul, "so let's rest now. Henry and Tom ought to be coming pretty soon."
"An' they'll be ez hungry ez a hull pack uv wolves," said Jim Hart, "so I guess I'd better be cookin'. Here, Sol, give me them strips uv deer meat an' buffalo."
"I shorely will," said Shif'less Sol. "Thar is one thing, ef it is only one, that you kin do well, Jim Hart, an' it's cook."
The two, in the most friendly fashion, went about preparing the supper. They had many kinds of game to choose from, and once Ross had brought a bag of ground corn, perhaps taken by stealth from an Indian village, and now and then Jim made from it a kind of bread. He was to bake some to-night, in honor of the returning two, and soon the place was filled with pleasant odors.
Twilight was deepening, the supper was almost ready, and Paul went forth to see if Henry and Tom were yet in sight. Presently he saw them coming—two black figures against the setting sun, with the body of a deer that they had killed and dressed. He hastened to meet them and give them a helping hand, and together they approached the house.
First they swung the body of the deer from a bough, and then they opened the door. Deep silence reigned within. No friendly voice greeted them. The heads of Jim Hart and Shif'less Sol almost touched over a square of deerskin, at which both were looking intently. With the supper ready, and nothing else to do, they had got out the chessmen, and were playing the rubber. So absorbed were they that they neither heard nor saw.
"Now what under the sun is this?" exclaimed Tom Ross.
"It's a game I taught 'em while you and Henry were gone," explained Paul. "It's called chess."
Shif'less Sol and Jim sprang up, but Sol quickly recovered his presence of mind.
"I jest about had him cornered, an' your comin' saved him," he said.
"Cornered!" said Jim Hart. "He ain't even seed the day when he kin beat me!"
The chessmen were put aside for the time, and five hungry beings ate as only borderers could eat. Then Tom Ross demanded a look at the game. After the look he asked for instruction.
"I saw a set uv them fellers once when I wuz at Fort Pitt," he said, "but I never thought the time would come when I'd play with 'em. Push up the fire thar a little, will you, Jim, so I kin see better."
Paul and Henry looked at each other and smiled. Soon Tom himself, the senior of the party, was absorbed in the new game, and it was a happy thought of Paul's to introduce it, even with the rude figures which were the best that they could make.
Paul brought up again the next morning the subject of their weather prospects, and Tom and Henry agreed with the others in predicting a great deal of snow and cold.
"All signs show it," said Henry. "The rabbits are burrowing deeper than usual under the bushes, and I notice that the birds have built their nests uncommonly thick. I don't understand how they know what's coming, but they do."
"Instinct," said Paul.
"We know that a hound kin follow by smell the track of a man who has passed hours before," said Shif'less Sol, "when no man in the world kin smell anything at all o' that track. So it ain't any more strange that birds an' beasts kin feel in their bones what's comin' when we can't."
"Ef you'll imitate them squirrels an' rabbits an' birds an' things," said Jim Hart, "an' lay up lots uv things good to eat fur the winter, it'll give me pleasure to cook it ez it's needed."
"I've noticed something besides the forethought of the animals," added Henry. "The moss on the north side of the trees seems to me to be thicker than usual. I suppose that nature, too, is getting ready for a long, hard winter."
"When nature and the animals concur," said Paul, "it is not left to man to doubt; so we'd better be providing the things Jim promises to cook so well."
They had learned the border habit of acting promptly, and Henry Ross and Sol were to depart the very next morning for the mainland on a hunt for deer, while Long Jim was to keep house. Paul otherwise would have been anxious to go with the hunters, but he had an idea of his own, and when Henry suggested that he accompany them, he replied that he expected to make a contribution of a different kind.
All these plans were made in the evening, and then every member of the five, wrapping himself in his buffalo robe, fell asleep. The fire in Jim Hart's furnace had been permitted to die down to a bed of coals, and the glow from them barely disclosed the five figures lying, dark and silent, on the floor. They slept, clean in conscience and without fear.
Henry, Shif'less Sol, and Ross were off at dawn, and Paul, using a rude wooden needle that he had shaped with his own pocketknife, and the tendon of a deer as thread, made a large bag of buckskin. Then he threw it triumphantly over his shoulder.
"Now what under the sun, Paul, are you goin' to do with that?" asked Jim Hart.
"I'm going to add variety to our winter store. Just you wait, Jim Hart, and see."
Bearing the bag, he left the house and took his way to the north end of the island. He had not been above learning more than one thing from the squirrels, and he had recalled a grove of great hickory trees growing almost to the water's edge. Now the ground was thickly covered with the nuts which had fallen when the severe frosts and the snow and ice came. There were several varieties, including large ones two inches long, and the fine little ones known to boys throughout the Mississippi Valley as the scaly bark. Paul procured two stones, and, cracking several of them, found them delicious to the taste. Already in his Kentucky home he had become familiar with them all. The hogs of the settlers, running through the forest and fattening upon these nuts and acorns, known collectively as "mast," acquired a delicious flavor. Boys and grown people loved the nuts, too.
The nuts lay about in great quantities, and the thick, barky coverings, known to the boys as "hulls," almost fell off at a touch. Soon the ground was littered with these hulls, while the big buckskin bag was filled with the clean nuts. Then, lifting it to his shoulder, Paul marched off proudly to the house.
"Now, why didn't I think uv that?" said Jim Hart, as Paul threw down the bag before him and disclosed its contents. "An' all them hick'ry nuts jest layin' thar on the ground an' waitin' fur me."
"It's because you had so much else to do, Jim," said Paul; "and as I'm idle a good deal of the time, the thought occurred to me."
"You shorely do have the gift uv sayin' nice things, an' makin' a feller feel good, Paul," said Jim admiringly.
Paul laughed. Jim's words pleased him.
"I told nothing but the truth," he said. "Now, Jim, I'm going back for more, and I'd like to do this job all by myself. I think I can gather at least six bagfuls, and we'll heap them here by the wall."
"An' mighty good seas'nin' they'll be to deer an' buffalo an' b'ar meat," said Jim Hart. "It wuz a good thought uv yours, Paul."
Paul worked the whole morning, and when he had gathered all the nuts in the house he estimated the quantity at several bushels. Although he sought to conceal his pride, he cast more than one triumphant look at the great heap by the wall.
He and Jim went forth together in the afternoon with rude spades, made of wood and hardened at the edges in the fire, to dig for Indian turnip.
"It ain't much of a veg'table," said Jim, "but we might find it useful to give a new taste to our meat, or it might be uv some help doctorin', in case any uv us fell sick."
They found two or three of the roots, and the remainder of the afternoon they devoted to strengthening their house. They did this with huge slabs of bark lying everywhere on the ground, fallen in former seasons. Some they put on the roof, thatching in between with dry grass and leaves, and others they fastened on the sides.
"It ain't purty," said Jim, "but it turns rain an' snow, an' that's what we're after."
"I take another view," said Paul. "It does look well. It blends with the wilderness, and so it has a beauty of its own."
The three hunters were not to return that night, and Paul and Jim kept house. Jim slept lightly, and just before the dawn he rolled over in his buffalo robe and pushed Paul's shoulder.
Paul awoke instantly, and sat up.
"What is it, Jim?" he asked anxiously. It was his natural thought that some danger threatened, and it was so dark in the cabin that he could not see Jim's face.
"Do you hear that hoo-hooing sound?" asked Jim Hart.
Paul listened and heard faintly a low, mellow note.
"What is it, Jim?" he asked.
"The call of the wild turkey."
"What, Indians again?"
"No, it's the real bird, talkin'. An old gobbler is tellin' his hens that day is comin'. It's a plumb waste on his part, because they know it theirselves, but he must jest let 'em know what a smart bird he is. An' it's that pride uv his that will be his ruin. Git up, Paul; we must have him an' one uv his hens to eat."
"Where do you think they are?" asked Paul.
"In the hick'ry grove. I guess they lighted thar fur the night, when flyin' 'cross the lake."
The two hurried on their clothes, took their rifles, and stole out. A faint tinge of light was just showing under the horizon in the east, but the air was not yet gray. It was very cold at that early hour, and Paul shivered, but he soon forgot it in the ardor of the chase.
"Slip along softer nor a cat, Paul," said Jim. "We don't want to give old Mr. Gobbler any warnin' that his time hez come. Thar, hear him? The tarnal fool! He's jest bound to show us where he is."
The mellow call arose again, very clear and distinct in the silent air, and as they approached the edge of the hickory grove, Jim pointed upward.
"See him thar on the limb," he said, "the big feller with the feathers all shinin' an' glistenin'? That's the gobbler, an' the littler ones with the gray feathers are the hens. I'm goin' to take the gobbler. He may be old, but he's so fat he's bound to be tender; an' s'pose, Paul, you take that hen next to him. When I say 'Now,' fire."
The two raised their guns, took careful aim, and Jim said "Now." They fired together, aiming at the necks or heads. The big gobbler fell like a stone from the bough and lay still. The hen fell, too, but she fluttered about on the ground. The rest flew away on whirring wings. Paul ran forward and finished his bird with a stick, but Jim lifted the great gobbler and looked at him with admiring eyes.
"Did you ever see a finer turkey?" he said. "He must weigh all uv forty pounds, an' he's as fat as he can be with the good food uv the wilderness. An' he's a beauty, too! Jest look at them glossy blue-black feathers. No wonder so many hens wuz in love with him. I could be pop'lar with the women folks, too, ef I wuz ez handsome ez Mr. Gobbler here."
They picked and cleaned the turkeys, and then hung the dressed bodies from the boughs of a tree near the hut, where they would be frozen, and thus keep.
The hunters returned that afternoon with two deer, and were delighted with Jim and Paul's zeal and success.
"Ef things go on this swimmin' way," said Shif'less Sol, "we'd be able to feed an army this winter, ef it wuz needed."
It was very cold that evening, and they built the fire higher than usual. Great mellow rays of heat fell over all the five, and lighted up the whole interior of the cabin with its rich store of skins and nuts and dressed meats, and other spoil of the wilderness. The five, though no one of them ever for a moment forgot their great mission of saving Kentucky, had a feeling of content. Affairs were going well.
"Paul," said Shif'less Sol, "you've read books. Tell us about some o' them old fellers that lived a long time ago. I like to hear about the big ones."
"Well," said Paul, "there was Alexander. Did you ever hear of him, Sol?"
Shif'less Sol shook his head and sighed.
"I can't truly call myself an eddicated man," he replied, "though I have the instincks o' one. But I ain't had the proper chance. No, Paul, me an' Alexander is strangers."
"Then I'll make you acquainted," said Paul. He settled himself more comfortably before the fire, and the others did likewise.
"Alexander lived a long, long time ago," said Paul. "He was a Greek—that is, he was a Macedonian with Greek blood in him—I suppose it comes to the same thing—and he led the Greeks and Macedonians over into Asia, and whipped the Persians every time, though the Persians were always twenty to one."
"Who writ the accounts o' them thar battles?" asked Shif'less Sol.
"Why, the Greeks, of course."
"I thought so. Why, Jim Hart here must be a Greek, then. To hear him tell it, he's always whippin' twenty men at a time. But it ain't in natur' for one man to whip twenty."
"I never said once in my life that I whipped twenty men at a time," protested Jim Hart.
"We'll let it pass," said Paul, "and Sol may be right about the Greeks piling it up for themselves; but so they wrote it, and so we have to take it. Well, Alexander, although he wasn't much more than a boy, kept on whipping the Persians until at last their king, Darius, ran away with his wives."
Shif'less Sol whistled.
"Do you mean to tell me, Paul," he said, "that any white man ever had more than one wife! I thought only Injun chiefs had 'em?"
"Why, it was common a long time ago," replied Paul.
"What a waste!" said Shif'less Sol. "One man havin' a lot uv wives, an' Jim Hart here ain't ever been able to get a single one."
"An' you ain't, either, Sol Hyde," said Jim Hart.
"Oh, me!" replied Shif'less Sol carelessly. "I'm too young to marry."
"Let him go on about Alexander, the fightin' feller," interrupted Tom Ross.
"Alexander conquered all Asia," resumed Paul, "but it didn't agree with him. The more he conquered the more he wanted to conquer."
"Jest like a little boy eatin' turkey," said Shif'less Sol. "Can't hold enough to suit him. Stummick ain't ez big ez his appetite, an' he hez to cry about it. I don't think your Alexander wuz such a big man, after all."
"He was not, from one point of view, Sol, but he was certainly a general. After conquering all the world, he fell to drinking too much, and quarreling with his best friends. One day he got raging drunk, which made him hot all over, and he jumped into an icy river to cool off. That gave him a fever, and he died right away. He was only thirty-two."
Shif'less Sol sniffed in disgust.
"Dead at thirty-two!" he said. "Now, I call him a plumb failure. With fightin' goin' on all the time, an' fevers layin' aroun' fur you, I call it somethin' jest to live, an' I mean to stay in these parts till I'm a hundred. Why, that Alexander never had time, Paul, to think over what he'd done. I wouldn't change places with him, I think I'm a heap sight better off."
"I agrees with Sol ag'in," said Tom Ross, who had been in deep thought. "In dang'rous times it's doin' a heap jest to live, an' a man who dies off at thirty-two, all through his own foolishness, ain't much to brag about."
"Paul," he said, "you'll have to bring out better examples of greatness to satisfy Sol and Tom."
Paul laughed, too.
"I just tell things as they are," he said. "Maybe they are right."
Henry went to the door and looked out. The air was full of raw chill, and he heard the leafless boughs rustling in the winter wind. All around him was the dark wilderness, and, natural hunter and warrior though he was, he was glad to have the shelter, the fire, and his comrades. He turned back and closed the door tightly, in order to shut out any stray gust that might be of an unusually penetrating quality.
"I'm thinking that we'd better start away hunting again very early in the morning," he said. "The big snows are bound to come soon. That first little one was only a taste of what we're going to get."
They were off again at daybreak, and this time Paul went with them. The party turned to the southward, in order to avoid the chance of meeting Shawnees or Miamis, and soon had the luck to run into a small buffalo herd. They killed only what they could carry, and then returned with it toward the island. Henry continually watched the skies as they traveled, and he uttered an exclamation of relief when they landed. The heavens all the while had been leaden and somber, and there was no wind stirring.
"See," he said, "the great snow comes!"
The sullen skies opened, and big white flakes dropped down as they hurried with their fresh supplies to the cabin.
The snow fell three days and nights without ceasing, and they rejoiced greatly over their foresight in preparing so well for it, because it was a big snow, a very big snow. "It ain't jest snowin'," said Shif'less Sol; "the bottom o' the sky hez dropped out, an' all the snow's tumblin' down."
The great flakes never ceased for a moment to fall. The sun did not get a single chance to shine, and as fast as one cloud was emptied, another, huge and black, was drawn in its place across the sky. The island ceased to be an island, because the snow heaped up on the frozen surface of the lake, and it was impossible to tell where land ended and water began. The boughs of the trees bent and cracked beneath their load, and some fell to the ground. At times the sound of snapping boughs was like stray rifle shots.
Paul watched the snow deepen before their door. First an inch, then two, then four, then six, and on and on. The roof began to strain and creak ominously beneath the great weight. All rushed forth at once into the storm, and with poles and their rude shovels they thrust the great mass of accumulated snow from the roof. This task they repeated at intervals throughout the three days, but they had little else to do, except cook, eat, and sleep. They had recourse again to the chessmen and Paul's stories, and they reverted often to their friends and relatives at Wareville.
"At any rate," said Henry, "Kentucky is safe so long as this great snow lasts. What holds us holds the Shawnees and the Miamis, too; they can't go south through it."
"That's so," said Paul, with intense satisfaction, as he ran over all the chances of success or failure in their great task.
At the end of the third day the snow ceased. It lay three feet deep on the level, and deeper in the hollows and gullies. Then all the clouds floated away, the sun came out, and the whole world was a dazzling globe of white, so intense that it hurt Paul's eyes.
"We've got to guard against snow-blindness," said Shif'less Sol, "an' I'm thinkin' o' a plan that'll keep us from sufferin'."
He procured small pieces of wood, and fitted them together so there would be only a narrow slit between. These were placed over the eyes like spectacles, and fastened with deerskin string, tied behind the head. The range of vision was then very narrow, but all the glare from the snow was shut out. Shif'less Sol unconsciously had imitated a device employed by the Esquimaux of the far north to protect their eyesight. Sets were made for all, and they used them a few days until their eyes grew accustomed to the glare.
All had a great sense of coziness and warmth. The snow pushed from the roof had gone to reinforce that on the ground, and it now lay heaped up beside the house to a depth of five or six feet, adding to the snugness and security of their walls. They had gathered an ample supply of firewood, and a deep bed of coals always threw out a mellow and satisfying glow.
They did not spend their time in idleness. The narrow confines of their house would soon grow irksome to five able-bodied boys and men, and every one of them knew it. They went forth with rude wooden shovels, and began to clear paths in the snow—one to a point among the trees where the fallen brushwood lay thickest, another to the edge of the lake, where they broke holes in the ice and caught pickerel, and two or three more to various points around their little domain. This task gave them healthy occupation for two or three days, and on the fourth day, while Henry, Ross, and Jim Hart were fishing, Paul and Shif'less Sol sat together in the house.
"This snow is goin' to last a long time, Paul," said Sol, "an' we've got to stay here till at least most o' it's gone. The warriors won't be movin', nor will we. While we're idlin', I wish we had three or four o' them books that your father an' Mr. Pennypacker brought over the mountains with 'em."
"So do I," said Paul, with a sigh. He was thinking of an interminable romance, translated from the French of a certain Mademoiselle de Scudery, which his teacher, Mr. Pennypacker, had among his possessions, and which he had once secretly shown to Paul, who was his favorite pupil. But he added, resignedly: "You'd never find a book in all this region up here, Sol. We'd better make up our minds to some monotonous days."
Shif'less Sol had been leaning lazily against a heap of firewood, and suddenly he sat up with a look of interest in his eyes. His acute ear had detected a sound on the hill above them—a faint crunching in the snow.
"It's one o' the boys, I s'pose," he said. "Now, I wonder what he wants to be tramping around in the deep snow up thar fur."
"Yes, I hear him," said Paul, "and he's lumbering about queerly."
"He's comin' down toward the house," said Shif'less Sol. "Now, what in thunder is that?"
There was the sound of an angry "snuff!" a sudden, wild threshing in the snow, and the next instant a tremendous weight struck the roof of their house. A rending of bark and thatch followed, and a massive black form shot down into the center of the room and lay there a moment, stunned. Paul, too, was dizzy. He had been struck a glancing blow on the shoulder by the big black body in its fall, and hurled into a heap of furs. Shif'less Sol had been sent spinning in another direction.
When both rose to their feet the big black body also rose, growling savagely and extending long, powerful paws, armed with cruel claws. A bear, prowling in the snow, had fallen through the roof of their house, and it was furiously angry.
"Jump back, Paul, jump back!" shouted Shif'less Sol, "an' get to the door, ef you kin!"
Paul obeyed a part of his command instinctively and sprang away, just in time to escape the cruel claws. But he was compelled to press against the wall. The enraged animal was between him and the door. Shif'less Sol himself was darting here and there in an effort to keep out of the way. Both Paul's rifle and Shif'less Sol's stood in a corner far from reach.
The bear, blind with rage, fright, and astonishment, whirled around ripping into the air with his long claws. The man and the boy not able to reach the door, hopped about like jumping jacks, and the cold air poured down upon them from the huge hole in their damaged roof. The bear suddenly ran into Jim Hart's furnace and uttered a roar of pain. He stopped for a moment to lick his singed flank, and Shif'less Sol, seizing the opportunity, leaped for his rifle. He grasped it, and the next instant the cabin roared with the rifle shot. The great bear uttered a whining cry, plucked once or twice at his breast, and then stretched himself out in front of Jim Hart's furnace, quite dead. Paul stopped dancing to and fro, and uttered a gasp of relief.
"You got that rifle just in time, Sol," he said.
"We shorely did need a gun," Shif'less Sol said. "I guess nobody ever had a more sudden or unwelcome visitor than you an' me did, Paul. But I believe that thar b'ar wuz ez bad skeered ez we wuz."
"And just look at our house," said Paul ruefully. "Half the roof smashed in, our furs and our food supplies thrown in every direction, and a big bear stretched out in front of our fire."
They heard the patter of swift footsteps outside, and the three fishing at the lake, who had heard the shot, came in, running.
"It's nothin', boys," said Shif'less Sol carelessly. "A gentleman livin' in these parts, but a stranger to us, came into our house uninvited. He wouldn't go away when we axed him to, most earnest, so we've jest put him to sleep."
Ross pushed the bear with his foot.
"He's fat yet," he said, "an' he ought to be in winter quarters right now. Somethin' must have driv him out uv his hole an' have sent him wanderin' across the lake on the ice an' snow. That's what anybody gits fur not stayin' whar he belongs."
"An' ef Jim Hart had stayed whar he belongs—that is, right here in this house, cookin'—he'd have got that b'ar on his back, an' not me," said Shif'less Sol, rubbing the bruised place.
"That's once I wuz luckier than you wuz, Sol Hyde," said Jim Hart, chuckling.
"We've got a lot of fresh bear steak," said Henry Ware, "but we'll have to clean up all this mess, and rebuild our house, just as soon as we can."
They set to work at once. All, through forest life, had become skillful in such tasks, and it did not take them long to rethatch the roof. But they made it stronger than ever with cross-poles. Ingenious Sol cut up the bear hide, and made of it stout leggings for them all, which would serve in the place of boots for wading in the deep snow.
Then the camp returned to its wonted calm. But a few days later, Shif'less Sol, who had been unusually grave, called Paul aside and asked him to walk with him up the path to the hickory trees. When they arrived there, far out of hearing of the others, Shif'less Sol said:
"Do you know what day this is, Paul?"
"Why, no, Sol," replied Paul. "What does it matter?"
"It matters a heap," said Shif'less Sol, not departing one whit from his grave manner. "I know what day it is. I've kept count. See here!"
He pointed to a hickory tree. Clear and smooth was gash after gash, cut in the bark, one above another, by Sol with his stout knife.
"Every one o' them is a day," said Shif'less Sol, "an' to-day is the 24th of December. Now, what is to-morrow, Paul Cotter?"
"The 25th of December—Christmas Day."
"An' oughtn't we to hev Christmas, too, even ef we are up here in the wild woods, all by ourselves? Don't this look like Christmas?"
Paul looked around at the glittering and magnificent expanse of white wilderness. There was snow, snow everywhere. The trees were robed in it, unstained. It was a world of peace and beauty, and it did look like Christmas. They were preparing for it at Wareville at this very moment—the settlers were a religious people, and from the first they celebrated the great religious festival.
"Yes, Sol," he replied, "it does look like Christmas, and we ought to celebrate it, too."
"I'm glad you think ez I do," said Sol, in a tone of relief. "I wanted to hear what you thought o' it, Paul, afore I broached it to the other boys. We've got a lot to be glad about. We're all here, sound an' well, an' though we've been through a power o' dangers, we ain't sufferin' now."
"That's so," said Paul.
"Then we'll tell the boys right now."
They walked back to the cabin, and Shif'less Sol announced the date to the others, who agreed at once that Christmas should be celebrated by them there on their little island in the wilderness. All were touched in a way by the solemnity of the event, and they began to feel how strong was the tie that united them.
"We must have a big Christmas dinner," said Jim Hart, "an' I'll cook it."
"An' I'll help you," said Shif'less Sol.
"And I," added Paul.
That evening they sat around the fire, talking in the mellow glow; but their talk was not of the Indians, nor of the chase, nor of themselves, but of those behind at Wareville. Paul shut his eyes and looked dreamily into the fire. He could see the people at the settlement getting ready for the great festival, preparing little gifts, and the children crawling reluctantly into their homemade trundle, or box beds. He felt at that moment a deep kindness toward all things.
They covered up the ashes after a while, and then, in the darkness, every one in his turn laid out some little gift for the others—a clasp knife, a powderhorn, a prized deerskin, or something else that counted among his possessions. But no one was to look until the morning, and soon all fell asleep.
They were up the next day at the first sight of dawn, and compared their gifts with great rejoicings. Shif'less Sol had presented to Jim Hart a splendid clasp knife, a valuable possession in the wilderness, as a token of his great friendship and exceeding high regard, and Jim was like a child in his delight. In fact, there was something of the child, or rather of the child's simplicity, in all of them.
The Christmas dinner was a signal triumph in Jim Hart's life. Capably assisted by Paul and Shif'less Sol, he labored on it most of the day, and at last they sat down to a magnificent wilderness table of buffalo hump, venison, squirrel, rabbit, fish, wild turkey, and other kinds of game, flanked by bread baked of the Indian meal, and finished off with the nuts Paul had gathered. Forest and lake had yielded bounteously, and they ate long and happily.
"Why anybody wants to live back thar in the East in the towns is more'n I can understand," said Shif'less Sol. "You've got room to breathe here, an' the fat game is runnin' roun' in the woods, jest beggin' you to stick a knife in its back an' eat it."
"How about the danger from the Indians, Sol?" asked Paul.
"You don't expect to have a perfect world here below, do you, Paul?" replied Shif'less Sol. "Thar ain't never nothin' without a thorn in it, but our thorn is about ez little a one ez you could think of. The Injuns give us a kind o' excitin' variety, an' don't we always get away from 'em?"
No more work was done that day, and in the evening they went to sleep earlier than usual, and slept very soundly. A moon of pure silver came out, and bathed all the vast wilderness in its light. A huge, yellow panther, lean and fierce with hunger, wandered in the snow across the frozen lake, and put foot upon the island. There the pleasant odor of food came to his nostrils, and he lifted up his ears. As the pleasant odor came again his tawny eyes became more ferocious, and the lips curled back from the rows of cruel, white teeth. He drew his long, lithe body over the snow, and came to one of the paths. He might have turned back because the path was strong with the odor of a strange and perhaps powerful creature; but he was a very hungry, a very large, and a very bold panther, and he went on.
The path led straight to the cabin, and the panther trod it on noiseless pads, his eyes glowing, and hunger attacking him all the more fiercely because, mingled with the strange, new odor now came many odors that he knew, and all pleasant—odor of buffalo and deer and others—and he was very, very hungry.
He went down the path to the door of the cabin, and halted a moment there. A red gleam, a glow from the bed of coals, came through a chink beside the door, and it filled his heart with terror. He shivered, and fear drew a low growl from him.
One of the five sleepers inside stirred and sat up. He listened and heard a heavy breathing at the door. Then he arose, took a brand from the fire, stepped noiselessly to the door, and, opening it, rushed out, waving the burning brand in front of him. The panther, stricken with frightful panic, fled down the path, and then over the lake into the woods on the mainland. Henry Ware, laughing silently, returned to the cabin and lay down to sleep again beside his comrades, who had slept on, undisturbed.
FOOTPRINTS IN THE SNOW
The singular existence of the five in the little hollow in the haunted island endured much longer. The great cold had come early, and it held the earth fast in its grasp. The ice grew thicker on the lake beneath the snow, and winds that would freeze one to the marrow swept over its surface. Fortunately, there was plenty of fallen wood on the island, and they never allowed the fire in Hart's furnace to go out. They never built it up high, but a bed of coals was always smoldering there, sending out grateful light and heat.
Henry and Ross scouted at intervals, but only as a matter of habit rather than necessary precaution. They knew that the danger of an attack at such a time had decreased to the vanishing point. Now Paul became for a while the central figure of what he called their little colony. His mental resources were in great demand, and for the sake of his comrades he drew willingly upon his stores of learning. In the evening, when they were all sitting before the coals, and could just see one another's faces in the faint light, Paul would tell what he had read about other times and other lands. He knew the outlines of ancient history, and the victories of Hannibal, Alexander, and Caesar suffered nothing at his hands, though Alexander, as before, was condemned by Shif'less Sol and Ross. Paul, moreover, had both the dramatic and poetic sense, and he made these far-away heroes, of whom Jim Hart had never heard before, actually live in the little cabin.
"It 'pears to me," said Shif'less Sol reflectively, "that that feller Hannibal wuz jest about the finest fighter o' them all. Ef, ez you say, Paul, he had to hire all kinds o' strangers an' barbarians, too, like the red Injuns out thar in the woods, an' lead sech a mixed lot up ag'in the Romans, who were no slouches in a fracas, an' whip 'em over an' over ag'in, on thar own groun', too, then I call him about the smartest o' all them old fellers. But he shore had the luck ag'in' him, an' I admire the man who kin stan' up an' fight the odds."
"He has my sympathy," said Paul.
"What did them old-time fellers eat?" asked Jim Hart.
"Mostly vegetables and grain," replied Paul.
"No wonder they're dead," said Jim Hart solemnly. "I can't fight an' I can't march good on anything but buffalo steak an' venison an' things uv that kind. I has to have meat."
Then Jim rose gravely, and looked at what he called his kitchen.
"'Nough to last three or four weeks," he said. "We'll shorely get fat an' lazy layin' roun' here an' doin' nothin' but eatin' an' sleepin' an' listenin' to Paul's tales."
"You ought to appreciate your chance, Jim Hart," said Shif'less Sol. "Ef me an' Paul wuz to work on you about a hundred years, maybe we might make you into a sort o' imitation o' a eddicated man. But I reckon we'd have to work all the time."
"You an eddicated man!" said Jim Hart indignantly. "Why, readin' a book is harder work to you than choppin' wood, an' they say you won't chop wood 'less two big, strong men stand by you an' make you."
"Never min'," said Shif'less Sol complacently; "I know I ain't had much chances to become eddicated, but I hev the natur' o' an eddicated man. My mind jest glows at the idea uv learnin', an' I respecks eddication with a deep an' lastin' respeck."
Then both stopped to hear Paul begin the story of Troy for the second time, but when he came to the death of Hector he would have to stop to let Shif'less Sol utter what he called a "few cuss words." Hector, like Hannibal, had the sympathy of everyone, and Sol spoke for them all when he said: "'Twa'n't fair o' that air goddess Minerver hoppin' in an' helpin' A-Killus when Hector might hev a-slew him in a fair battle. Women ain't got no business mixin' in a fight. Whenever they do they allus help the wrong feller. I've no doubt that ef me an' Jim Hart was a-hittin' an' a-wrastlin', an' hevin' the terriblest fight you ever heard on, ef any woman wuz to come along she'd pull me off the ornery, long-legged, knock-kneed, ugly Jim Hart—an' me a handsome man, too."
"I wonder all the ice on the lake don't melt when it sees your face, Sol Hyde," retorted Jim Hart scornfully.
"I don't think much uv them old Greeks an' Trojans," said Tom Ross, who seldom delivered himself at length. "'Pears to me they had pow'ful cur'us ways uv fightin'. Think uv a feller, when he feels like takin' a scalp, comin' out before the hull army an' beatin' a big brass shield till it rattled like a tin pan, an' then, when he got 'em all to lookin' an' listenin', hollerin' at the top uv his voice, 'I'm A-Killus, Defyer uv the Lightnin', Slayer uv the Trojans, the terriblest fighter the world ever seed! I pick up a ship in my right ban', an' throw it, with all the sailors in it, over a hill! When I look at the sun, it goes out, skeered to death! I've made more widders an' orphans than any other ten thousan' men that ever lived.' 'Pears to me them wuz the pow'fullest boasters that ever wuz born. Why, what they said wuz mostly lies. 'Twas bound to be so, an' their ways uv fightin' wuz plumb foolishness. Why, ef A-Killus wuz to come along nowadays, beatin' his brass shield in the face an' hollerin' out his big words, some Shawnee layin' behind a rock would send a bullet through his head, jest ez easy ez knockin' over a rabbit, an' thet would be the end uv Mr. A-Killus, an' a good thing fur all, too."
"But there were no Shawnees and no rifles on the plains of Troy, Tom," said Paul.
"What uv it?" exclaimed Ross in hot indignation. "They didn't fight fair, anyway. It's jest ez Sol sez—whut did all them women goddesses mean by interferin' an' allus sp'ilin' a good stan'-up fight? Now, ez Paul tells it, Ole Jupe, a-settin' up on his golden throne, wuz willin' to tote fair an' let the Greeks an' Trojans fight it out among theirselves, but the women critters, whut had more power than wuz good fur 'em, couldn't keep their hands off. Every one uv 'em hed a fav'rite either among the Greeks or the Trojans, an' she had to go snoopin' 'roun', makin' his enemy see double, or throwin' a cloud over him so he couldn't see at all, or pumpin' all the blood out uv his veins an' fillin' 'em full uv water in the place. Why, there ain't a Shawnee or Miami in all these woods thet would he mean enough to take sech an' advantage ez askin' to be helped out by a squaw thet knowed witchcraft. Ez fur thet Paris feller, he wouldn't a-lived a week down in Kain-tuck-ee!"
"But all this happened a long, long time ago, Tom, when ways were different," said Paul.
Henry always listened with attention to these stories, and the sight of Paul's flushed face and vivid eyes, as he talked, would please him. He understood Paul. He knew that his comrade's mind ranged over not only the wilderness in which they dwelt, but over the whole world, and far into past and future times. Hence he respected Paul with a deep respect.
Presently the cold abated a little—just enough to let the surface of the ice and snow soften a bit, and make walking easier. Then Henry and Ross crossed once more to the mainland, partly to scout and partly to hunt. They easily killed a large deer which was half-imbedded in a snowdrift, and might have taken a fine cow buffalo in the same way; but, as the deer was enough, they spared her. They dressed the body of the deer where it had fallen, and, carrying it between them, started back. With instinctive caution they kept to the thickest part of the forest, wishing to be hidden as much as possible by the tree trunks, and they plodded along in silence, carrying their burden easily, because the two were very, very strong. Near the edge of the lake, but still in dense forest, Henry paused and looked down. Tom Ross also paused and looked down, his glance following Henry's. It was never necessary for these two to say much to each other. They did not talk about things, they saw them.
"Tracks of two Indians and one white," said Henry.
"Yes," said Tom Ross. "White is Braxton Wyatt, uv course. He's still hangin' about the Miami village."
"And perhaps suspecting that we are yet in these parts."
"Uv course. An' maybe thar will be trouble."
They said no more, but each understood. Their own trail would be left in the snow, and the sight of it would confirm all the suspicions of Wyatt and the savages. Some such chance as this they had always expected, and now they prepared to deal with it. They turned back into the forest, carrying with them the body of the deer, as they were resolved not to abandon it. Both had noticed that the slight abatement of the cold was not lasting. In an hour or two it would be as chill as ever, and once more the surface of the snow would be icy.
They stayed several hours in a dense clump of trees and bushes, and then, half walking, half sliding, they resumed their journey, but now they left no trail. Each also had every sense alert, and nothing could come within sound or sight and not be perceived first by these two wonderful trailers, masters of their craft. They reached the edge of the lake in the twilight, and then they sped swiftly over the ice to their island home.
"I'm thinking," said Henry Ware, at a council a little later, "that Braxton Wyatt suspects we're here. He, of course, does not believe in the Indian superstitions, and maybe he'll persuade them to search the island."
"An' since they kin come over the ice, we can't beat 'em off ez easy ez we could ef they came in canoes in the water," said Shif'less Sol. "I see trouble ahead fur a tired man."
Paul had been saying nothing, only sitting in a corner of the hut and listening intently to the others. Now his face flushed and his eyes sparkled with light, as they would always do whenever a great idea suddenly came to him.
"If Braxton Wyatt undertakes to persuade them there are no ghosts," he said, "it is for us to persuade them that there are."
"What do you mean, Paul?" asked Henry.
"We must show the ghosts to them."
Silence for a half minute followed. Then Shif'less Sol spoke up.
"Meanin' ourselves?" he said.
"Yes," said Paul.
The others looked at his glowing face, and they were impressed.
"Just how?" said Henry.
"If the Miamis come at all, they will come in the night, and that is when ghosts should appear. I'll be a ghost and Jim Hart will be another. The rest of you can lay hidden, ready to use the rifles if they are needed."
"Well planned!" said Henry Ware. "We'll do it."
WHAT THE WARRIORS SAW
A few nights later a strong band of warriors left the Miami village, led by the bold chief, Yellow Panther, and the renegade, Braxton Wyatt. The party was about thirty in number, and it included the most daring spirits among them. They were going against the wishes of the aged Gray Beaver, who foresaw only disaster from such a desecration; but Yellow Panther favored the venture, and Braxton Wyatt had urged it for a long time.
Wyatt was no coward, and he did not believe in spirits. They had seen tracks, white tracks, in the snow, and the sight confirmed him in his suspicion that those whom he hated were hiding on the island in the lake. He burned for revenge upon Henry Ware and his friends, but he had to fight all the influence of Gray Beaver and the power of Indian superstition. He was about to despair of moving them when they saw the tracks—tracks that led almost to the edge of the water. He considered this proof of his theory, and he urged it incessantly. He called attention to the encounter in the woods near the lake, and the later affair with the belt bearers. The latter had particular weight, as enough messengers had now passed between the Miamis and Shawnees to show that both had been the victims of a clever and daring trick. Wyatt, therefore, was reinstated in the good graces of the savages, and his words had meaning to them. At last, with the aid of Yellow Panther and the more daring spirits among the younger warriors, he prevailed, and the expedition started.
It was a really formidable war party, thirty warriors or more, all well armed with rifles and ammunition bought from the Canadian traders, all hideous with paint, and all skilled in the lore and devices of the wilderness. Braxton Wyatt had talked to them so much, he had told them so often that their superstitions were mere moonshine, that they began to believe, and they thrilled, moreover, with the hope of securing white scalps.
The cold was intense, and the frozen surface of the snow was very smooth; but the warriors, in thick moccasins of buffalo hide, with the hair underneath, sped with sure step toward the lake. As Henry and Ross had done, they kept in the thickest of the forest, passing from tree trunk to tree trunk, because the Indian loves a surprise, an easy victory being the greatest of triumphs to him. It was such that they expected now, and the blood of every one of them was inflamed by the logic and eloquence of Braxton Wyatt and Yellow Panther.
They reached the shores of the lake when the twilight had merged into the night and the darkness was deep. They had foreseen that it would be such a night, otherwise they would have waited; but all seemed admirably suited now to their purpose. They paused on the bank, and gathered in a close group. Across the white gleam of the snow they could barely see the dusky outline of the island, and, despite the courageous frame of mind into which they had lashed themselves, despite the boldness of their leaders, they felt a tremor. The savage mind is prone to superstitions, and it is not easy to cure it of them. That dim, dark outline out there in the middle of the lake, now that they beheld it again with their own eyes, still had its unknown and mysterious terrors for them.
But Braxton Wyatt and Yellow Panther knew too well to let them hesitate at the very margin of their great exploit. They urged them forward, and the two themselves led the way, stepping upon the frozen surface of the lake, and advancing directly toward the island. Then the warriors came after them in a close cluster, their fur-shod feet making no sound, and their forms invisible thirty yards away. Before them the black bulk of the island, with its great trees, now loomed more distinctly, and they gathered courage as nothing happened.
All knew that the ancient burying ground was on the north end of the island, and so Braxton Wyatt and Yellow Panther led the way to the south end, intending to make a gradual approach to the other portion.
Braxton Wyatt half expected, as he came near, that he might see a light among the trees. In weather so cold one must have a fire, and, relying upon the ghostly protection, Henry Ware and his band would light it. But he saw nothing, and he began to fear that he might be mistaken. If there was nobody on the island his credit with the Indians would be shaken, and he was anxious to establish his power among his red friends. But he and Yellow Panther pressed boldly on, and they could now see dimly the outlines of individual tree trunks standing up in rows.
The low shores of the island rose before them only thirty yards away, then twenty, then ten, then they were there. But another moment of hesitation came. Not in a generation had a Miami or any other Indian, so far as they knew, set foot upon this haunted island, and the beliefs of many years are not to be swept away in a breath.
It was Braxton Wyatt who took the lead again, and he boldly stepped upon the haunted soil. Then a terrible thing happened. Every warrior all at once saw two white figures perched upon the low bough of an oak. They were shaped like men, but the outlines of arms and legs could not be seen. Rather they were the bodies of warriors completely enclosed in buffalo robes or deerskins for the grave, and these figures, swaying back and forth in the moonlight, and bearing all the aspects of supernatural visitors, filled the superstitious hearts of the Miamis with the terrors of the unknown and invincible. The two shapes showed a ghostly white in the pale rays, and the Miamis, in fancy at least, saw fiery and accusing eyes looking down at the sacrilegious men who had presumed to put foot on the island dedicated to Manitou and the departed.
A gentle wind brought a low groan to the ears of every man among them.
The blood of the warriors chilled quickly in their veins. All their superstitions, all the inherited beliefs of many generations, all the lore of the old squaws, told about innumerable camp fires, came crashing back upon them as those two ghostly white shapes, hovering there in the darkness, continued to transfix them with an accusing gaze. There was an involuntary shudder, a sudden clustering together of the whole party, and then, with a simultaneous cry of horror, they broke and fled in a wild pellmell far out upon the icy surface of the lake, and then on, bearing with them in the rout both Yellow Panther and Braxton Wyatt. Nor did they dare to look back, because they knew that the terrible eyes of the long departed, upon whose territory they had intended to commit sacrilege, were boring into their backs. The island was haunted, and would remain so for many a year, despite all that Braxton Wyatt and Yellow Panther had said.
About the time the Miamis reached the mainland, and darted among the trees in the race for their own village, Paul Cotter and Long Jim Hart leaped lightly from the low bough of the oak, took off the enfolding robes of white tanned deerskin, with holes for the eyes.
"Jehoshaphat!" said Long Jim, as he threw the robes on the ground, "I'm glad that's over. Bein' a ghost jest about a minute is enough fur me. I wuz scared to death lest I didn't groan good an' horrible."
"But you never did a better job in your life, Jim," said Henry, as he came from behind a tree. "You and Paul were the finest ghosts I ever saw, and no Indian will dare to set foot on this island in the next hundred years."
"It shorely was a sight to see them braves run," said Shif'less Sol. "Thar's many a tired man in that lot now. I think some o' 'em didn't hit the ice an' snow more'n twice between here an' the lan'."
"Paul's made the islan' ez safe fur us ez a stone fort ez long ez we want to stay," said Tom Ross.
"It was a great plan, well done," said Henry.
Paul's face shone with the most intense delight. His imagination, leaping forward to meet a crisis, had served them all greatly, and he was happy. He had fought not with rifle and knife, but with the weapon of the intellect.
"Now that this job is over, an' we're the big winners," said Shif'less Sol, "I'm goin' to do what a tired man ought to do: go to sleep, wrapped up in buffalo robes, an' sleep about forty hours."