THE HUNTERS OF THE OZARK.
BY EDWARD S. ELLIS
Author Of "Young Pioneer Series," "Log Cabin Series," "Great River Series," Etc., Etc.
Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Co.
Copyright, 1887, by PORTER & COATES.
I.—AN ESTRAY, 5 II.—THE TINKLE OF A BELL, 15 III.—AN ABORIGINAL PLOT, 25 IV.—A PARTY OF THE THIRD PART, 34 V.—A FRIEND IN NEED, 44 VI.—FRED LINDEN RECEIVES A MESSAGE FROM THE OZARK CAMP, 54 VII.—THE HUNTERS OF OZARK, 64 VIII.—A WELCOME ACQUAINTANCE, 74 IX.—A MISHAP, 84 X.—A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE, 94 XI.—TRAMPING SOUTHWARD, 104 XII.—A STRANGE ANIMAL, 114 XIII.—A TROUBLESOME VISITOR, 124 XIV.—A WELCOME ALLY, 134 XV.—"DEERFOOT WILL BE SENTINEL TO-NIGHT," 144 XVI.—AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE, 154 XVII.—A SUSPICIOUS SOUND, 164 XVIII.—LIKE A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, 174 XIX.—SHAWANOE AND WINNEBAGO, 185 XX.—ANOTHER NIGHT VISITOR, 195 XXI.—THE CAMP OF THE WINNEBAGOS, 205 XXII.—"KEEP TO THE TRAIL," 215 XXIII.—AN INFURIATE SHAWANOE, 225 XXIV.—THE DEFIANCE, 236 XXV.—THE SIGNAL FIRE, 245 XXVI.—ON THE EDGE OF THE PRAIRIE, 257 XXVII.—A MORNING MEAL, 269 XXVIII.—A STRANGE RIDE, 281 XXIX.—A YOUNG HUNTER'S STRATEGY, 293 XXX.—TERRY FINISHES HIS RIDE, 305 XXXI.—THE DEVIL'S PUNCH BOWL, 316 XXXII.—THE TERROR IN THE AIR, 328 XXXIII.—FRED LINDEN AWAKENS TO AN ALARMING FACT, 340 XXXIV.—THE CANOE, 352 XXXV.—AMERICA VERSUS IRELAND, 364 XXXVI.—AMERICA VERSUS AMERICA, 376 XXXVII.—THE LAST CAMP-FIRE, 388 XXXVIII.—CONCLUSION, 400
THE HUNTERS OF THE OZARK.
One day in the autumn Terence Clark came to the house of Frederick Linden and urged him to join in a hunt for a cow that had been missing since the night before. The latter got the consent of his mother and the two lads started on a search that proved to be the most eventful one they had ever known.
A few words in the way of explanation must be given at this point. The date of the events I have set out to tell was toward the close of the last century, and the scene the south-western part of the present State of Missouri, but which was then a part of the vast territory known as Louisiana. Though the town of St. Louis had been settled a good many years before, there were only a few pioneers scattered through the almost limitless region that stretched in every direction from the Mississippi. Here and there the hunters and trappers were often absent from their homes for months at a time, during which they suffered much exposure and hardship. They slept for weeks in the open woods, or when the severity of the weather would not allow this, they found refuge in caves or hollow trees. Then, when enough skins had been gathered to load their pack-horses they started on the long tramps to the French trading post on the Mississippi. They followed faintly marked paths or trails that converged from a score or hundred different points until they reached the Father of Waters, where the peltries were soon sold and the proceeds, too often, squandered within the succeeding few hours.
At the date of which I am speaking, a small settlement known as Greville stood in the south-western section of the large State of Missouri, as it is now known. The first cabins were put up only a few years before, and the settlers, including men, women and children, numbered about two hundred. Near the center of the straggling settlement stood a rude but strong blockhouse to be used for refuge in the event of an attack by Indians. As yet this emergency had not arisen, for the red men in that section were far less warlike and hostile than those in Ohio and Kentucky.
The father of Fred Linden was one of the hunters and trappers who made regular visits to the wild section near the Ozark Mountains for the purpose of gathering furs. He never had less than two companions, and sometimes the number was half a dozen. As you are well aware, the furs of all animals are in the finest condition in wintry weather, since nature does her best to guard their bodies from the effects of cold. Thus it came about that the party of hunters, of whom I shall have more to say further on, left Greville in the autumn of the year, and as a rule were not seen again until spring. Since they entered a fine, fur-bearing country, these trips generally paid well. One convenience was that the hunters were not obliged to go to St. Louis to sell them. An agent of the great fur company that made its headquarters at that post, came regularly to Greville with his pack-horses and gave the same price for the peltries that he would have given had they been brought to the factory, hundreds of miles away. He was glad to do this, for the furs that George Linden and his brother hunters brought in were not surpassed in glossiness and fineness by any of the thousands gathered from the four points of the compass.
Among the daring little band that made these regular visits to the Ozark region was an Irishman named Michael Clark, who had had considerable experience in gathering furs along the Mississippi. It was at his suggestion that Greville was founded, and one-half of their periodical journeys thus cut off. On the year following, Clark was shot and killed by a prowling Indian. Since his wife had been dead a long time, the only child, Terence, was thus left an orphan. The lad was a bright, good-natured fellow, liked by every one, and he made his home with the family of one of the other hunters named Rufus MacClaskey. The boy was fifteen years old on the very day that he walked over to the cabin of Fred Linden and asked him to help him hunt for the missing cow.
The family of George Linden, while he was away, consisted of his wife, his daughter Edith, fourteen, and his son Fred, sixteen years old. All were ruddy cheeked, strong and vigorous, and among the best to do of the thirty-odd families that made up the population of Greville.
"Has the cow ever been lost before?" asked Fred, as he and the Irish lad swung along beside each other, neither thinking it worth while to burden himself with a rifle.
"Niver that I knows of, and I would know the same if she had been lost; we're onaisy about the cow, for you see that if this kaaps on and she doesn't come back I'll have to live on something else than bread and milk and praties."
"Our cow came back just at sunset last night."
"And so did them all, exciptin' our own, which makes me more onwillin' to accipt any excuse she may have to give."
"Let me see, Terry; Brindle wore a bell round her neck, didn't she?"
"That she did, and she seemed quite proud of the same."
"Did you make hunt for her last night?"
"I hunted as long as I could see to hunt; she wasn't missed, that is till after they got home. Whin I found that I didn't find her I started to find her; but I hadn't time to hunt very long whin it got dark and I had to give it up."
"And didn't you hear any thing of the bell?"
"Do ye think that if I heard the bell I wouldn't have found the cow? Why was the bell put round her neck if it wasn't to guide friends? I listened many a time after it got dark, but niver a tinkle did I hear."
"That is queer," said Fred half to himself; "for, when no wind is blowing and it is calm, you can hear that bell a long ways; father has caught the sound in the woods, when the Brindle was all of a mile off. I wonder whether she could have lost the bell."
"I've thought of that, and said to meself that it might be also that she had become lost herself in trying to find it."
"She hardly knows enough for that; and, if she found the bell she wouldn't know what to do with it; but if that leathern string around her neck had broken, it may be that she is close by. A cow after losing one milking is apt to feel so uncomfortable that she hurries home to be relieved; but what's the use of talking?" added Fred, throwing up his head and stepping off at a more lively pace; "we've started out to find her and that's all we have to do."
Perhaps a dozen acres had been cleared around the little town of Greville. This had been planted with corn, potatoes and grain, though scores of unsightly stumps were left and interfered with the cultivation of the soil. Beyond this clearing or open space extended the immense forests which at one time covered almost the entire face of our country. On the south side of the town and distant a furlong wound a creek, which after many shiftings and turnings found its way into the Mississippi and so at last into the Gulf of Mexico. The course of this stream was so winding that it extended on two sides of the town and ran in a westerly direction, exactly the opposite of that it finally had to take in order to reach its outlet.
As a rule, it was about twenty feet wide with a depth of from one or two to six feet. It was subject to tremendous overflows which sometimes tripled its volume and increased its width to that of a river. At such times a series of enormous rocks through which the creek at "low tide" lazily wound its way, lashed the turbid current into a fury somewhat like that seen in the "whirlpool" below Niagara. Could you have stood on the shore and looked at the furiously struggling waters, you would have been sure that even if a man were headed up in a barrel, he could not have lived to pass through the hundred yards of rapids, though there was reason to believe that more than one Indian had shot them in his canoe.
Terry Clark told his friend that his search of the night before and of the morning following had been to the north and west of the settlement, so that it was hardly worth while to continue the hunt in that direction. The cows sometimes stood in the water, where so much switching of their tails was not needed to keep away the flies, and, though there was quite a growth of succulent grass on the clearing, the animals often crossed the creek and browsed through the woods and undergrowth on the other side.
The boys were inclined to think that the brindle had taken that course during the afternoon and had actually gone astray,—something which a quadruped is less likely to do than a biped, though the former will sometimes make the blunder. There was nothing unreasonable in the theory that the bell had fallen from her neck and that the owner therefore might be not far away.
At intervals, Terry shouted "Bos! bos! bos!" the Latin call which the cow sometimes recognized, though she generally paid no attention to it. It was the same now, possibly due to the fact that she did not hear the call.
Reaching the edge of the stream, the boys began walking along the bank toward the left and scrutinizing the spongy earth close to the water. If the missing animal had crossed the creek she could not have failed to leave distinct footprints.
THE TINKLE OF A BELL.
The examination of the shore of the creek had lasted but a few minutes, when Terry Clark, pointing to the moist earth at their feet, called out in some excitement:
"Do ye mind that now?"
There, sure enough, were the footprints of a cow that had entered the stream from the same side on which the boys stood. The impressions could be seen for some distance in the clear water, which in the middle of the stream was no more than a yard deep, and they were plainly observed where the animal had emerged on the other side.
"I don't suppose there is any difference in the tracks of cows, but I guess, Terry, that we are safe in making up our minds we are on the trail of Brindle."
"I'm thinking the same," replied the other, who was not only looking across the creek, but into the woods beyond, as though he expected to catch sight of the cow herself; "though it may be the one that crossed there isn't the one that we're after."
Fred Linden was asking himself whether there was not some way in which they could reach the other side without going to the trouble of removing their shoes and leggins, and hunting a shallow portion, or allowing their garments to become saturated. He exclaimed: "Why didn't I think of it? There's our canoe!"
A number of these frail craft were owned in Greville, and Fred had a fine one himself, which was only a short distance off. Three minutes later the two reached it.
The barken structure was moored by means of a long rope to a tree a considerable distance from the water, so that in case of one of those sudden rises that sometimes took place, it would not be carried away by the freshet. The boat was quickly launched, and a few strokes of the paddle carried the two to the opposite bank of the stream.
"I wonder whether there is any danger of a rise," remarked Fred, as he carried the rope to a tree twenty feet distant and made it fast to a limb; "there was a good deal of thunder and lightning last night off to the east."
"But the creek doesn't come from that way," said the surprised Terry; "so what is the odds, as me father said he used to ask when the Injins was on all sides of him, and a panther in the tree he wanted to climb, and he found himself standing on the head of a rattlesnake."
"The creek winds through every point of the compass, so it doesn't make much difference, as you say, where it rains, since it is sure to make a rise; the only question is whether the rain was enough to affect the creek so that it will trouble us."
"If it was goin' to do that, wouldn't it have done so before this?" was the natural question of his companion.
"That depends on how far away the rain was."
The boys were not idle while talking. The canoe was soon made fast, and then they resumed their hunt for the estray. They were not skillful enough in woodcraft to trace the animal through the forest by the means that an Indian would have used, but they were hopeful that by taking a general direction they would soon find her. If she still had the bell tied around her neck, there was no reason why they should not be successful.
But while walking forward, Fred Linden asked a question of himself that he did not repeat aloud.
"Has she been stolen?"
This query was naturally followed by others. It certainly was unreasonable to think that a cow would leave her companions and deliberately wander off, at the time she was milked twice daily. She would speedily suffer such distress that she would come bellowing homeward for relief. If she really was an estray, she had missed two milkings—that of the previous night and the morning that succeeded.
It was certain, therefore, that if she was stolen, the thief had attended to her milking. But who could the thief be? That was the important question that Fred confessed himself unable to answer.
There had been occasional instances of white men who had stolen horses from the frontier settlements, but the lad could recall nothing of the kind that had taken place in that neighborhood; all of which might be the case without affecting the present loss, since it was evident that there must be a first theft of that nature.
But, somehow or other, Fred could not help suspecting that the red men had to do with the disappearance of the animal. I have intimated in another place that Greville had never been harmed by the Indians, who were scattered here and there through the country, for there was no comparison between them and the fierce Shawanoes, Wyandottes, Pottawatomies and other tribes, whose deeds gave to Kentucky its impressive title of the Dark and Bloody Ground; but among the different bands of red men who roamed through the great wilderness west of the Mississippi, were those who were capable of as atrocious cruelties as were ever committed by the fierce warriors further east.
What more likely, therefore, than that a party of these had stolen the cow and driven her away?
There were many facts that were in favor of and against the theory; the chief one against it was that if a party of Indians had driven off one cow, they would have taken more. Then, too, the soft earth that had revealed the hoof tracks ought to have shown the imprint of moccasins.
You will see, therefore, that Fred could speculate for hours on the question without satisfying himself. He was sorry that he and Terry had not brought their guns with them, and was half inclined to go back. It was not yet noon, and they had plenty of time in which to do so.
"Terry," said Fred, turning suddenly about and addressing his friend, who was walking behind him, "we made a mistake in not bringing our guns."
The Irish lad was about to answer when he raised his hand in a warning way and said:
Both stood as motionless as the tree trunks about them, all their faculties centered in the one of hearing.
There was the low, deep roar which is always heard in a vast wood, made by the soft wind stealing among the multitudinous branches, and which is like the voice of silence itself. They were so far from the creek that its soft ripple failed to reach them.
"I don't hear any thing," said Fred at the end of a full minute.
"Nor do I," said Terry.
"Why then did you ask me to listen?"
"I was thinkin' be that token that we might hear something."
"What made you think so?"
"The tinkle of a bell."
"What!" exclaimed the amazed Fred, "are you sure?"
"That I am; just as I was about to speak, I caught the faint sound—just as we've both heard hundreds of times."
"From what point did it seem to come?"
His friend pointed due south.
"Strange it is that ye didn't catch the same."
"So I think; it may be, Terry, that you are mistaken, and you wanted to hear the bell so much that the sound was in your fancy."
The lad, however, would not admit this. He was sure there had been no mistake. Fred was about to argue further when all doubt was set at rest by the sound of a cow-bell that came faintly but clearly through the forest.
"You are right," said Fred, his face brightening up; "we are on the track of old Brindle sure enough. It's mighty strange though how she came to wander so far from home."
"She got lost I s'pose," replied Terry, repeating the theory that had been hit upon some time before.
"It may be, but it is the first instance I ever heard of, where an animal lost its way so easily."
The boys were in too high spirits, however, to try to explain that which puzzled them. The cow was a valuable creature, being the only one that belonged to the family with whom Terence lived, and who therefore could ill afford her loss.
The friends had pushed perhaps a couple hundred yards further when Terry called to Fred that he was not following the right course.
"Ye're bearing too much to the lift; so much so indaad that if ye kaap on ye'll find yersilf lift."
"Why, I was about to turn a little more in that direction," replied the astonished Fred; "you are altogether wrong."
But the other sturdily insisted that he was right, and he was so positive that he stopped short, and refused to go another step in the direction that his friend was following. The latter was just as certain that Terry was amiss, and it looked as if they had come to a deadlock.
"There's only one way to settle it," said Fred, "and that is for each of us to follow the route he thinks right. The cow can't be far off and we shall soon find out who is wrong. The first one that finds Brindle shall call to the other, and he'll own up what a stupid blunder he has made."
"Ye are speakin' me own sentiments," replied Terry, who kept looking about him and listening as if he expected every moment that the cow herself would solve the question. Fred Linden read the meaning of his action, and he, too, wondered why it was that when both had plainly caught the tinkle of the telltale bell, they should hear it no more. Strange that when it had spoken so clearly it should become silent, but such was the fact.
Little did either suspect the cause.
AN ABORIGINAL PLOT.
The boys tried the plan of Fred Linden; he swerved slightly to the left, while Terry Clark made a sharp angle to the right. They never thought of getting beyond hearing of each other, and, but for the plentiful undergrowth they would have kept in sight. They had taken but a few steps when Fred looked around and found that he was alone. He could hear his young friend pushing his way among the trees, and once or twice he caught snatches of a tune that he was whistling—that being a favorite pastime of the lad when by himself.
"It's curious how he could make such a blunder," thought Fred, with a smile to himself; "he will go tramping around the woods only to find that he was nowhere in the neighborhood of the cow. Ah, the storm is not yet over."
He was looking to the eastward, where the sky, as he caught a glimpse of it among the treetops and branches, was as black as if overcast with one huge thunder cloud.
"It was there it raged so violently last night, and the rain is falling in torrents again. We shall find the creek a river when we go back."
The sturdy youth pressed on fully two hundred yards more, when the old suspicion came back to him. There was something wrong. When he could not explain some things he was satisfied that it was because there was an element of evil in those things—something that boded ill to both him and his friend.
"I have traveled far enough since hearing that bell to pass a long ways beyond it," he said, compressing his lips and shaking his head; "and if that was Brindle that rang it the first time, she would have done it the second time."
Twice before Fred fancied he heard something moving among the undergrowth a short distance in advance, and a little to one side. The noise was now so distinct that he could no longer deceive himself; there was some specific cause for it.
"I guess Terry has worked over this way, finding what a mistake he has made—no! by gracious! it isn't Terry!"
Fred started in alarm, confident that it was an Indian that was moving through the wood. It will be admitted that there was cause for his fear, if such should prove to be the case, for he was without any firearms with which to defend himself; but while he stood meditating whether he should turn and take to his heels, he caught enough of a glimpse of the object to make out that it was a quadruped instead of a biped.
This was a great relief, though it did not remove all fear, for he was not in form to meet any of the wild beasts that one was liable to run against at any time. The next minute, he broke into a hearty laugh, for that which he saw was the lost cow, quietly browsing on the tender herbs, as though just turned loose by her owner.
"Well, that is funny," said the youth, walking hastily toward her; "this proves that I was right. You are a pretty one, old Brindle, to lead us on such a chase!"
The cow, hearing the voice and footsteps, stopped cropping, and with her motionless jaws dripping with leaves and buds, started at Fred as if she wasn't sure of his identity. She knew enough, however, to see that he was a friend, and so resumed her feeding.
Assuring himself that she was the estray, Fred looked at her bag to see the condition of that. It was only moderately full, proving that she had been milked later even than the preceding night.
Fred Linden had approached close enough to place his hand on the handsome creature, when he noticed—what indeed he knew before—the bell was not fastened to her neck; that explained why, after hearing the sound, it was heard no more.
"The cord has broken just after the tinkle, and let the bell fall to the ground; no wonder that it was not heard again. Some one has been kind enough to give Brindle a milking."
The words were yet in the mouth of Fred when he received a shock that for a moment held him speechless; a long distance to the right he caught the sound of the cow-bell!
It was precisely the same that he and his friend had noticed, and since the bell of Brindle was gone, there could be but one meaning to the signal; it was made by some one for the purpose of drawing the boys into a trap.
Without pausing to think over the dozen questions that came with this conclusion, Fred set off at the most hurried pace possible to warn his friend of his peril.
"He has no suspicion of any thing wrong, and is sure to do the very thing that he ought not to do."
Fred Linden was right in this conclusion. It can be readily understood, why no thought of peril should enter the brain of the Irish lad, who was never so sure that he was right and Fred wrong when the two parted to take different routes in search of the cow.
"It's a bright lad—is Fred," said Terry, "but there isn't any law that I knows of by which he is to be right ivery time and Mr. Terence Clark wrong. I'm going straight for the point where the tinkle of the bell came from."
The same thought puzzled him that puzzled Fred Linden; after walking more than the whole distance that first intervened, the cow was still invisible. There was nothing in the fact that when she had strayed so far from home, she should keep on in the same direction.
"It may be that she has heard something about the Pacific Ocean, and has set out to see for herself whither the reports are correct," was the quaint thought of the Irish lad, as he pushed vigorously through the undergrowth, which was dense enough to turn him aside more than once and compel him to keep his wits about him to prevent going astray altogether.
Now and then he paused, naturally expecting (as did Fred), that he would hear more of the bell; but it is not necessary to say that, like his companion, he was disappointed. He had fixed the point whence came the noise so firmly in his mind, that he could not go wrong, though a boy of less experience in the woods would have been sure to do so.
Now, if any of you lads have ever driven cows or sheep, around whose necks bells were hung, you have noticed the natural fact that they have a sound peculiar to themselves. Referring particularly to cows, you may have observed the jangle, jangle, made by the motion of the head in cropping the grass, varied now and then by the confused jumble caused by the animal flinging her head over the back of her neck or fore part of the body to drive away the insects plaguing her. There is a certain regularity in all this which will continue for hours, and that may be said to be produced by the natural action of the animal, and which is altogether different from that made by the swaying motion of the hand.
But Terry Clark inherited a sharpness of wits from his parents, and, while pushing forward among the trees and undergrowth, it struck him that there were several curious features about the matter.
"It was a mistake, as Fred said," he thought more than once, "that we did not bring our guns with us."
Then the second sound of the cow-bell fell upon the ear of Fred Linden; Terry was within a hundred feet of the point whence it came, and he could not have heard it more distinctly had he been standing on the spot himself. The noise was so peculiar that a flood of misgiving overwhelmed him. The tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, was so regular that nothing was plainer than that no living quadruped could have made the sound.
"That was not the cow," whispered the startled Terry; "she has more sinse than to do any thing of the kind, as me uncle used to obsarve whin he was accused of kaapin' sober; but I'll find out by the same token what it all means."
Since he had no firearms with which to defend himself, and since he was sure he was threatened by danger, he ought to have hastened homeward; but his curiosity would not permit him to do so.
He advanced with all the caution possible, parting the obstructing bushes in front and stepping as lightly on the carpet of leaves as though he were a scout entering the camp of an enemy. He often stopped, listened and peered, not only in front and the sides, but to the rear. Whatever might take place, he did not intend to be surprised.
He had advanced a couple of rods in this manner, when a faint sound from the bell caught his ear, but was instantly suppressed, as though some one had stopped at the instant he started to sway it. Faint as was the tinkle, however, he was able to locate the precise point whence it came, and after a little hesitation he moved toward it.
All at once he caught sight of a figure in a crouching position, stepping softly among the trees and undergrowth. He stood still, and a moment later was able to distinguish the figure of an Indian warrior, bending slightly forward, advancing inch by inch and holding the cow-bell in his hand.
A PARTY OF THE THIRD PART.
The Indian warrior whom Terry Clark saw advancing stealthily through the undergrowth, cow-bell in hand, was a frightful object. His head and shoulders were bent forward, and he was stepping slowly and silently, while he glanced from right to left, as if searching for some object, or awaiting the occurrence of an expected event. His face was daubed with black and red paint, his long hair, as coarse as that of a horse's tail, dangled about his shoulders and alongside his neck, so that his eyes, when staring through it, seemed to be blazing among so much tangled brush. The ordinary hunting shirt, fringed in front, inclosed his chest, and was gathered at the waist by a sash or belt into which were thrust his hunting knife and tomahawk. The usual breechcloth, leggins and moccasins completed his dress.
He carried a fine rifle in his left hand, in a trailing position, while a powder horn and bullet pouch were supported by a string passing over his shoulder. He was what may be called a thoroughly equipped warrior, without taking into account the cow-bell, which was suspended by the thumb and fingers of the right hand. It was thus he must have grasped the implement when he caused it to give out the sound that caught the ear of Fred Linden and Terry Clark. But at the moment the Irish lad saw him, and for some minutes after, he held the bell in such careful poise that it gave no sound at all.
The Indian probably suspected his imitation of the action of the animal was so poor that it was likely to cause distrust, and therefore he was sparing in resorting to the stratagem.
Now, nothing can be clearer than that if the warrior was in such a plain view of Terry Clark, the latter was equally exposed to his eye. The Indian was moving in his guarded fashion over a course at right angles to that followed by the lad, who was quick to realize his peril. He knew that every second he remained thus exposed he was likely to be seen. He had hardly taken a glance of his enemy, when he stooped so that his knees almost touched the ground, and moved as noiselessly and quickly as he could to the nearest tree, behind which he took shelter.
This tree was an oak, large enough to hide two such boys, standing side by side, so that the youth felt secure for the time.
"Ah, if I only had me gun," was the regret that naturally came to him; "I would quickly settle with the spalpeen that stole old Brindle, and now wants to run away wid me."
It will be admitted that the situation of Terry was peculiar, for he was quite close to the warrior, who, there was every reason to believe, was hunting for him, and who was so nigh that there was imminent danger of discovery. It might be asked why the redskin should have taken this course, for in some respects it had more than one absurd feature. If he wanted to kill a white person, all this maneuvering with a cow-bell was ridiculous, while his conduct from first to last was in some respects unreasonable. The best explanation was that which was made sometime afterward by a person, who as yet has not been introduced to the reader, but who, when he does appear, will be admitted to be the best judge. I allude to Deerfoot the Shawanoe.
The Indian with the cow-bell was a Winnebago warrior, whose home was a long ways to the northward, but who had gone thither in company with several others on what may be called a tour of investigation. The driving off of the cow was probably an inspiration of the moment. The Indians kept her until they had got all the milk they wanted, first removing the bell so that her friends could not recover her until they were through. The stratagem which I have been describing was an afterthought. None of the Winnebagos except the one who tried the plan would have any thing to do with it, though they were willing enough that every white person in the settlement of Greville should perish, if the same could be brought about without risk to them.
Left to himself, the Winnebago decided to make a prisoner of whomsoever should be sent to find the cow. He had reason to believe that this person would be a youth, and since every thing was so quiet in that section, he was not likely to be armed. Hence, it would be an easy matter to decoy him a goodly distance from the settlement, when the warrior could pounce upon, make him a prisoner and compel him to go with him. After the couple were far enough from the settlement the lad could be put to death, if his captor or the party to which the captor belonged, should so elect.
Terry Clark had stood behind the sheltering tree for perhaps five minutes, when he became aware of an alarming fact: the warrior with the bell was slowly approaching him. The faint tinkle that it gave out once or twice told this, and when finally the lad ventured to peep around the side of the tree, the sight was a startling one. The Indian had risen almost to the upright posture, and holding the gun and bell as described, was moving directly toward the oak behind which the boy stood. Moreover at the moment the latter took the cautious look, the visage of the Indian showed that he was looking straight at the tree.
"By the powers!" gasped Terry, "but the spalpeen observed me, and I'm thinkin' that he saw me before I did him."
It was not at all unlikely that such was the case. The Indian may have felt sure of his victim, and so he indulged in a little by-play, as a cat often does with a mouse. Such a cruel proceeding was characteristic of his race.
The belief that this was the case placed Terry Clark in a most trying position. He was without the means with which to defend himself, and in fact was hopeless. It was useless to try to run away, for if the warrior could not overtake him at once, he could bring him down with his rifle.
You know how rare a thing it is for an Irishman to submit meekly, even when there is no hope in resistance. Terry muttered:
"If he lays hands on me, there's going to be a fight; I wish Fred was near, that he could see that I git fair play."
No person could have been more in earnest than was the Irish lad.
"I'll wait till his head comes round the corner of that tree and then I'll give him a whack that'll tumble him over on his back, afore he knows what's the matter wid him; then I'll amuse myself wid hammerin' him after he is down till I git tired and then I'll take his gun and knife and tomahawk and the bell and make him walk before me to the sittlement."
The lad had just gone over in his mind this roseate programme, when a soft tinkle told him that the Winnebago was within a few steps of the tree; and at the same moment that the youth made this interesting discovery, another still more astonishing one broke upon him.
Just fifty feet away and behind a trunk very similar to the one that sheltered the lad, stood a second Indian warrior. His position was such that he was in plain view of Terry, though the Winnebago could not see him except when the latter should approach quite close to the shelter of the boy. The strange Indian was closely watching the hostile one, and, with that remarkable intuition that sometimes comes to a person in grave crises, Terry was convinced that he was an enemy of the Winnebago, though whether a friend of the youth was not so certain.
In his amazement, the lad for the moment forgot his own danger and gave his attention to the stranger, who was the most striking looking warrior he had ever seen. He seemed to be about eighteen or twenty years of age, and was the picture of manly grace and beauty.
He had long, luxuriant black hair which hung about his shoulders, being gathered by a loose band at the neck, so as to keep it from getting in front of his eyes. In the crown of this natural covering were thrust three stained eagle feathers, while there were two rows of colored beads around the neck. The fringed hunting shirt which reached almost to his knees was of a dull, yellow color and the sash or belt around the waist was of a dark red. A small but handsome bracelet encircled his left wrist, and the fringes of his leggins were of varied and brilliant hues, as were the beaded moccasins that incased his shapely feet. A tomahawk and knife were in his girdle, while he held a finely ornamented rifle in his right hand, the manner in which he manipulated the weapon showing that he was left-handed.
The face was strikingly fine, the nose being slightly aquiline, the cheek bones less prominent, and the whole contour more symmetrical than is generally the case with his race. There was something in the situation that evidently amused him, for Terry saw him smile so unmistakably that he noticed his small and regular white teeth.
It was plain that he was watching the movements of the Winnebago, though he said nothing, and made no gesture to the lad, whose wondering look he must have understood. Be that as it may, the sight of the strange Indian, and the belief that he was an enemy of the other with the cow-bell, inspired the Irish lad with a courage that he would not have known had the other warrior been absent.
"He's waiting to see how I condooct mesilf when the spalpeen lays hands on me," thought Terence; "he won't have to wait long."
The youth was right. The crouching Winnebago, doubtless feeling that he had no immediate use for the bell that had served him so well, dropped it to the ground beside him, and holding only his rifle in hand, stepped forward with the same cat-like tread that had marked his advance from the first. He knew that his victim was shrinking behind the trunk of the oak, and he was having his own peculiar sport with him.
So intense was the attention of Terry that he heard distinctly the footsteps of the warrior, who a moment later was close enough to touch the tree with his hand, had he been so minded.
A FRIEND IN NEED.
Terry Clark, the Irish lad, placed his right foot behind the left, his weight equally supported on both, and stood as rigid as iron, with both fists clinched and half raised, in the attitude of one holding himself ready to use nature's weapons to his utmost ability.
He heard the soft moccasin press the layer of brown autumn leaves, and the next moment the point of a knobby, painted nose came slowly in sight around the side of the trunk, followed by the sloping forehead, the hideous face and the shoulders of the warrior, whose right hand was held so far to the rear with the gun that it was the last to come into view.
As the Winnebago caught sight of the white-faced boy, his countenance was disfigured by a grin that made it more repulsive than before.
Just then Terry Clark let fly. He was a lusty lad, and he landed both fists, one after another, squarely in the painted face, with such force that the warrior was knocked completely off his feet. He went over backward as though from the kick of a horse; but, contrary to the hopes of his assailant, he did not let go of his gun. Had he done so, the youth would have caught it up and shot him before he could regain his feet.
The blow was most presumptuous, and would have insured the death of the one who gave it but for the intervention of the second Indian, who seemed to take but a couple of bounds from the tree near which he was standing when he landed on the spot. The infuriated Winnebago was in the act of clambering to his feet, when he caught sight of the lithe, graceful warrior, standing only a couple of steps away, with loaded rifle pointed at him.
"Dog of a Winnebago," he said in a voice slightly above an ordinary tone; "if he harms the pale face, he shall die!"
There are some expressions so forcible that they can not be made more so. The young Indian spoke in the lingo of the Winnebago, whose totem he had recognized, but his posture, erect on his feet, with his cocked rifle in such a position that he had only to pull the trigger to send the bullet through the bronzed skull before him;—all this required no words of explanation. The Winnebago grasped the situation, and, to use the homely expression common at this day, he saw that the other "had the drop" on him.
The Indian, though larger, older, heavier and stronger, was taken at such disadvantage that he ceased his effort to rise, and looked up at his conqueror with a helplessness so grotesque that under other circumstances it would have caused a smile. Indeed, Terry Clark did indulge in a slight laugh, for he saw that it was safe to do so; the Winnebago was on the ground before his master.
"If ye want me to ring the old coow-bell, I'll be glad to obleege, for the performance looks as if a little moosic would give tone to the same. Howsumever, I'll step back and let this good looking young gintleman run the show."
Thereupon Terry withdrew several paces and watched the proceedings with a depth of interest that can be fully understood.
The look of the Winnebago, who was half reclining on his side, supporting his body with the hand that grasped his gun, plainly indicated the question that came from his lips.
"Why does my brother look with evil eyes on the Wolf, who has come from the lodges of the Winnebagos? Are not all red men brothers?"
"Deerfoot is a Shawanoe, whose warriors have consorted with those of the Winnebagos; but Deerfoot has left his lodge beyond the Mississippi and lives alone in the woods. He will not hurt the brave Winnebago who fights men, but he slays the Wolf that bites the children of the pale faces, that have never harmed him."
Possibly the Wolf was inclined to argue the matter with the Shawanoe, who had caught him at such disadvantage; but the manner and words of Deerfoot showed that he was in no mood for discussion.
"What does my brother want?" asked the Winnebago, in a voice that proved all fight had left him. The most, indeed, that he ventured to do was gently to rub his forehead and nose, where the fists of the sturdy Terry Clark had landed.
"Let the Wolf rise to his feet, but when he does so, his gun must lie on the ground."
This was a harsh order, but there was no help for it; the Indian hesitated a moment, and then, black and scowling, he slowly assumed the upright posture, and, folding his arms across his chest, looked in the face of the bright-eyed Deerfoot, to signify that he was awaiting his next command.
"The Wolf shall now turn his face away from Deerfoot."
The Winnebago obeyed the order as promptly as if he were a soldier undergoing drill.
"Let my brother now raise his eyes, until he sees the beech with the white trunk," said Deerfoot, using the word "brother" for the first time.
The object to which he alluded was perhaps fifty yards distant, the light color of the bark showing only here and there among the branches and undergrowth that happened to be less frequent than in other directions. The Wolf signified that he recognized the tree to which his conqueror referred.
"Now let my brother run; when he reaches the beech he can leap behind it, and it will shield his body; if my brother is slow Deerfoot may fire his gun and Wolf will never bite again."
The Winnebago wanted no explanation of this threat. It was hard for him to depart, leaving his rifle, but it was harder for him to lose his life, and he did not hesitate as to the choice. He made one tremendous bound that carried him a dozen feet, and then sped through the wood like a frightened deer. When he had passed half of the intervening distance, he seemed to fancy that he was not making satisfactory time for the Shawanoe, who, he doubtless imagined, was standing with leveled gun, finger on the trigger. He therefore began leaping from side to side, so as to disconcert the aim of the dreaded Deerfoot. In the hope also of further confusing him, he emitted several frenzied whoops, which added such grotesqueness to the scene that Terry Clark threw back his head and made the woods ring with laughter.
"I never saw a frog hop about like that, which beats any show."
Deerfoot did not have his rifle cocked or in position. The moment the Wolf started, he saw how great his fright was, and, lowering the flint of the weapon, he rested the stock on the ground and watched the antics of the fugitive. The Shawanoe, unlike most of his race, had a vein of humor in his composition. When Terry broke into mirth, he too laughed, but it was simply a smile, accompanied by a sparkle of his bright eyes which showed how much he enjoyed the scene.
The moment the Wolf arrived at the beech, he darted behind it, and for the first time looked over his shoulder. The sight could not have been reassuring, for he continued his frenzied flight until the keen ear of the Shawanoe could no longer hear him threshing through the wood.
By this time Terry Clark had made up his mind that whoever the new arrival might be, he was a friend. The Irish lad had not been able to understand any of the words that passed between the two, though their actions were eloquent enough to render much explanation unnecessary. But a person who treated the Winnebago in such style could not feel otherwise than friendly toward the one in whose behalf the interference was made. Terry blushed a little as he walked forward and reached out his honest hand.
"If it's all the same to ye, I'll be glad to give that purty hand of yours an owld-fashioned shake, such as a fellow sometimes gits when he catches the chills an' faver."
Deerfoot looked at the jolly lad with an odd expression, as he gave him his hand, which, I need not say, was shaken with enthusiasm. The young Shawanoe smiled in his own shadowy way and returned the pressure warmly.
"My brother is happy," said he when the salute was finished; "it makes the heart of Deerfoot glad that he could be his friend."
"Ye were a friend indade, though ye'll admit, Deerfut, that I toppled over the spalpeen in foine style, now didn't I?"
"The Wolf who is a Winnebago, fell as though the lightning struck him."
"How is it," asked Terry with no little curiosity, "that ye, who are as full-blooded an Injin as the Winnebago, can talk the English with almost as foine an accint as meself?"
"Deerfoot has lived among the pale faces; when he was a small child he went with the Shawanoes to harm the white men, but they took him prisoner; they treated him kindly, and told him about God, who loves all His children, whether they be white or red, or the color of the night; they showed him how to read books, and to make his name and words on paper, so that others might read."
"Can ye read and write?" asked the astonished Terry.
Deerfoot smiled and nodded his head.
"Well, well, that bates ivery thing!" said Terry, who instantly repeated the absurd belief of many of his race, by adding, "I didn't s'pose that an Injin could learn."
Without replying to the last remark, the Shawanoe, looking the lad steadily in the eye, said, "Deerfoot has a message for Fred Linden; does my brother know him?"
"Do I know him?" repeated Terry; "I know the same better than I know mesilf; he started wid me to hunt the coow, and I rickons that he can't be very fur away."
"He's coming," quietly said Deerfoot, looking off to the left of Terry, as if about to salute a new arrival. The Irish lad wheeled in his quick way, but his sharp eyes caught no glimpse of his approaching friend.
FRED LINDEN RECEIVES A MESSAGE FROM THE OZARK CAMP.
As soon as Fred Linden discovered the deception respecting the cow-bell, he made all haste toward the point whence came the sound, in the hope of warning Terry in time to save him from treachery. You will understand how quickly events passed when told that, although he came almost directly to the spot, he did not reach it until Deerfoot the Shawanoe asked for him. This wonderful Indian, of whom I shall have considerably more to tell, heard the coming of the lad whom he had never seen, before either the eye or ear of Terry Clark could detect his approach.
As may well be supposed, Fred Linden was amazed at what met his eyes. The sight of Terry in friendly converse with a strange Indian was the opposite of what he expected to see. He slackened his hurried walk and looked inquiringly at Terry. The latter could talk fast when he chose, and the few sentences he rattled off as his companion came up made the matter tolerably clear.
While the questioning and talk were going on, Deerfoot stood leaning on his long gun and gazing with a certain natural dignity at the two friends. He said nothing nor did he appear to show any special curiosity, though had any one studied his countenance, he would have seen that he was watching Fred Linden. He had said that he carried a message to him, and it was no more than natural that he should wish to know something about him.
As for Fred himself he did not try to hide his profound interest in the remarkable warrior who had appeared at such an opportune time, but of whom he had never before heard a word. He knew that the settlers along the frontier often found valuable allies in the friendly Indians, and he concluded that this red man was one of those who, having been maltreated by his own people or kindly used by the whites, had given his loyalty to the latter; for in the brief narrative of Terry Clark, he had time only to tell the leading facts about the rescue of himself. Just then, therefore, the Irish lad knew more about Deerfoot than did the American.
But it takes only a little time for such a group to become acquainted with each other. A general handshaking followed, and it happened more than once that all three were talking at the same moment. Had any one been able to translate the expression of Deerfoot's countenance, he would have seen that he was pleased with both the lads whom he now met for the first time. There was a rollicking good nature, a cheery courage and ever bubbling hopefulness about Terry that were contagious, and like so much sunshine that went with him wherever he went.
Fred Linden was of that manly mold and rugged appearance that he would have drawn favorable attention wherever he might be.
Such a lad in these days would have been picked out as a born athlete, one who was capable, with proper training, to become a first-class ball player, oarsman or boxer. He was a swift runner, a strong leaper, an expert rifle shot, and his rugged frame and rough, outdoor life gave him an endurance that few men could surpass. He was as tall as Deerfoot, with broad shoulders, muscular arms and legs, clear, keen eyes, a fine chest and a symmetrical frame.
The clothes of the two boys, it is hardly necessary to say, were of homespun, for a hundred years ago it would have been hard for them to procure any other kind of goods. The short coat was somewhat like those used to-day by bicyclists, reaching only a short distance below the waist, where the girdle was fastened in front. The trowsers, of the same material, reached to the knees, below which were the hunting leggins, common along the border. Then came the warm, woolen stockings and thick, heavy shoes, while the head was surmounted by a woolen cap, made by the deft fingers at home, and without any pattern. It was soft, and having no forepiece, sat on the head in whichever position it happened to be first placed. In this respect it resembled the valuable sealskins of the present day. The coats of the lads were open in front, and within were the pockets, which they used as required, the trowsers also being provided with a couple of these prime necessities.
When the rattling conversation had gone on for several minutes, Terry ran a few steps and picked up the bell that the Indian had placed on the ground. The string which had held it about the neck of the animal was missing, having probably been cut by the knife of the impatient Wolf.
"I'll take the same back home wid me and put it on Brindle if I iver maat her; I shouldn't be so 'stonished that I couldn't spake if I should find that the spalpeen had killed her."
"No," said Fred, "she isn't harmed; I found her off yonder, cropping the buds and leaves, as innocently as though she hadn't done any thing wrong in leading us on this long chase. I started her toward home, and if she keeps up the gait she must be pretty near there by this time."
This was good news to Terry, for the loss of the animal would have been serious to the family of Mr. MacClaskey, her owner. The Irish lad had hardly picked up the bell when Deerfoot pointed to the gun lying on the ground, where it had been left by the Wolf.
"That belongs to my brother."
The delighted Terry could hardly believe what was told him, and he stood looking doubtfully at Deerfoot, as if suspecting he had heard him amiss.
"It was you who captured the gun, Deerfoot, and so, if it belongs to any one, ye are the spalpeen."
The Shawanoe looked down at his own handsome weapon and shook his head. He had no need of any other weapon. Besides, this singular youth could not have conscientiously taken it. He did not feel justified in keeping it for his own use, no matter if in sore need of such a weapon; but, since the Winnebago had made his demonstration against Terry Clark, and was compelled to leave the gun behind, when he was permitted to go, it seemed proper that the prize should fall into the hands of the Irish lad.
What gave special propriety to the act was the fact that, although Fred Linden was the owner of a fine gun, Terry had none. When his father lost his life, his rifle was never recovered, and though there was one in the family of MacClaskey, the youth had no claim upon it. He longed for such a weapon, with a longing that it would be hard to understand. The prize, therefore, was appreciated to its full value. He picked it up with an embarrassed grin, which quickly became natural when he turned it over in his hands and saw what an excellent piece it was.
"More than likely it belonged to a white man in the first place," said Fred; "so it is right enough that it should come back to one of his own race."
"It's loaded," said Terry, slightly raising the hammer and noticing the powder in the pan. Then he brought the gun to his shoulder and pointing it at the white trunk of the beech, which partly showed through the intervening branches and undergrowth, he said:
"If the spalpeen should peep out from behind that tree, I'm thinkin' I could hit him a harder blow than when I landed me two fists on his mug."
"The Winnebago is a long ways off," said Deerfoot, with a shake of his head; "he may meet my brother some day, but it will not be in this place."
The young Shawanoe having learned all that was to be learned about his young friends, now reached his hand in the breast of his hunting shirt and drew out a small, closely-printed Bible, from between the leaves of which he took a piece of paper that had been folded several times. He glanced at the superscription, as if to make sure it was right, and then handed it to Fred, who, as may be supposed, took it with astonishment. He recognized the penciled writing as that of his father.
Parting the folds, he read the following:
MY DEAR FRED:
You know that when we left home there were three of us, Hardin, Bowlby and myself. There are three of us still, but Bowlby considers himself of no account for some weeks to come, because of a hurt to his foot which will prevent his getting around for a long time. Such being the case, I have concluded, now that I have the chance, to send for you to join us. You are old enough and strong enough to make a full hand, and you can give us good help. Since we have all the animals, you will come afoot, but you will find no trouble in keeping to the trail, which has been traveled often enough to make it plain. It is no more than a hundred miles from Greville to our camp at the foot of the Ozark Mountains, so you ought to have no difficulty in reaching here in the course of three or four days. Love to your mother and Edith.
I send this by a young Shawanoe warrior, called Deerfoot. He is the most remarkable Indian I ever knew. I shall have a good deal to tell you about him when you reach here.
"Deerfoot bids his brothers good-by," said the young Indian, offering his hand, when he saw Fred had finished reading his letter; "he hopes that he shall see them again."
"It won't be our fault if he doesn't," was the cordial response of Fred Linden, in which Terry heartily joined him. After a few more pleasant words they parted, Deerfoot following in the footsteps of the fleeing Winnebago, while the others moved to the northward in the direction of the creek. They turned aside a little from the direct course so as to hunt for Brindle, that Fred had seen, but she was not found. To their delight, however, they saw her footprints on the edge of the creek, proving that she had gone home with the directness of one who felt remorse for wandering from the straight path. She had swum the stream, and was doubtless before the MacClaskey cabin at that moment.
But standing close to the edge of the creek, the boys became aware of a hard fact: it had not only risen with great rapidity during the last half hour, so as to become a rushing torrent, but it was still rising so fast that it was extremely dangerous for the boys to try to cross it in the canoe. Indeed, they hesitated to make the attempt, but finally concluded to do so.
THE HUNTERS OF OZARK.
I must tell you how it was that Deerfoot the Shawanoe came to bring the important letter of George Linden to his son Frederick.
It has already been stated that it was the custom of a party of hunters and trappers to leave the settlement of Greville in the autumn of each year and spend most of the cold weather among the streams at the foot of a certain part of the Ozark Mountains. At that period, the fur bearing animals abounded in the section, as they were found in hundreds of other portions of the vast area known under the general name of the Louisiana Territory. You must bear in mind that there were thousands of square miles that had not been trodden by a white man, and so sparse were the Indian villages that large portions of the country remained to be visited even by them.
Beaver, otter, foxes, bears, and buffaloes were the chief animals that were afterward driven west by the advancing tide of civilization, until the agents of the Missouri and Western Fur Companies were forced to do most of their work in the far west and north-west, where they came in collision with that vast monopoly known as the Hudson Bay Company, which, until recent years, not only trapped and hunted throughout Oregon, but along the Pacific coast as far south as California.
George Linden, Rufus Hardin and James Bowlby composed the party who, in the autumn of the year of which I am writing, rode each a horse a hundred miles to the south of the frontier settlement of Greville, and pitched their tent at the foot of the Ozark range. Beside the animals ridden, each hunter took a pack-horse to help bring back the peltries that were to be gathered during the cold weather. As a matter of course, they were provided with guns and plenty of munitions, and indeed with every necessity for their limited wants. They had spent several winters there and knew what was before them. They had hunted and trapped for years in other parts of the great west, and more than once had made the long journey to the post of St. Louis to dispose of their furs, a necessity that, as I have explained, was removed by the annual visit of the agents with their long train of pack-horses to gather up the peltries.
And so, without giving any of the interesting particulars of the ride southward from Greville, let us take a look at the little party gathered at their primitive camp in the wild Ozark region.
The six horses had been relieved of their burdens on reaching the place, and were turned loose to crop the grass that was plentiful in many places. Although there was snow now and then through the winter, there was hardly enough to cause any suffering on the part of the animals. When the storms, however, were violent or prolonged, the hardy beasts were provided with some of the stores of dried grass that was kept in stock, as may be said. In case that gave out they could make shift with the cottonwood and other trees, whose bark was not lacking in succulent qualities.
Although a tolerable shelter could have been found in any one of the numerous caves within reach, the hunters preferred to erect a rough cabin, that was almost strong enough to withstand a cyclone. The keen axes enabled them to trim off the interfering limbs, and they were joined at the corners so well that very little, if any, rain or snow could force its way through. Other logs and branches were laid across the top and ends fastened to the logs beneath by means of withes, so that the roof was not likely to be carried away unless the cabin itself went with it.
On the top of the roof was a thick layer of branches and leaves, packed so closely that little moisture could find its way through. There were no windows, for none was needed. The single door in front was large enough to allow free egress and ingress. At night, when there was a possibility that some curious wild animal might come snuffing around, the door was closed by means of a framework of thick limbs, also fastened together with withes, swinging on leathern hinges, and made secure by a brace leaning against it from the inside.
Within this structure were stored their supplies, and the blankets on which they slept were spread upon the bare ground. Their slumber was sweeter, too, than it would have been had they stretched themselves on "downy beds of ease," for health and weariness are two soporifics which art can never supplant.
The traps and appurtenances used in their toil were never taken away from the place, for there was no call to do so. Such repairs as were needed from time to time were made in the cabin or on the spot, as the necessity arose. The rifles, of course, furnished the food needed, while an abundance of fish could be taken at any time from the streams in the neighborhood.
A diet solely of flesh and fish is not acceptable to any one. Therefore, among the supplies annually brought to the cabin, were a quantity of coarse flour, meal, sugar, coffee, salt and tea. It may be said, that in one respect they were like modern campers out, except that they took the wrong season of the year for what so many boys consider the acme of enjoyment.
There was little in the appearance of the three men to call for special description. All were in middle life, strong, rugged, and inured to hardship. Linden was rather tall, his face covered by a heavy beard in which not a gray hair had yet appeared. Hardin was fully as tall, with shoulders somewhat bent, and his scant, dark beard was plentifully sprinkled with gray. Bowlby was short and stocky in appearance. When in the woods he allowed his black beard to grow all over his face, but at home he was always smooth-shaven. He was of a swarthy complexion, inclined to be silent, and often moody, but like his companions he was brave, industrious and patient, holding a strong dislike of all Indians, though not inclined to go to any unjustifiable length in his feelings.
The dress of the three men was similar to that of Fred and Terry, which has already been described. No one of them knew any thing about the modern overcoat or cloak. If there should come a spell of unusually severe weather, they had only to wrap a blanket or buffalo robe about the shoulders when compelled to visit the traps or remain long outdoors. Should it become necessary to kindle a fire within the cabin for the sake of warmth, a broad, flat stone was removed from an opening in the roof directly over the blaze, and the smoke, if so inclined, found its way to the clear air outside. The cooking was done under the adjoining trees. Of course it was of the most primitive character, but it suited, and that is all that is necessary.
The hunters reached their cabin about the middle of the forenoon of an autumn day. They had eaten their regular morning meal, and they got to work without delay. The horses were unloaded and turned adrift, the stores safely housed, the blankets spread on the floor of simple earth in the cabin, and then the men scattered to look after their traps. This was a large job, for the implements had to be examined and many of them slightly repaired, after which they must be carried long distances and set.
These traps were of the ordinary pattern, such as have been in general use for hundreds of years. The iron jaws was forced wide apart and kept in place by a catch, which was sprung by a slight pressure on the broad, flat portion in the middle. The trap being carefully hidden from sight, the unsuspecting animal had hardly time to rest one paw on this plate, when the fierce jaws, impelled by steel springs of prodigious strength, came together with the suddenness of lightning, and the animal, whatever he be, was in a grip from which there was no escape.
You can understand the care required to set these traps so that they would do their work. The beaver is highly intelligent, and quick to detect the signs of man's presence. Nothing can tempt him to venture where he sees that his worst enemy has been before him. The fox is the synonym of cunning, and will often outwit the shrewdest trapper. He will walk around the trap and stealthily secure the bait without harm to himself. One of those animals has been known to reach forward and spring the implement, jerking back his paw quickly enough to escape the sharp teeth. A fox, too, when caught in a steel trap will sometimes gnaw off the leg just above where it is imprisoned, and afterward go through life with little inconvenience on three legs. You may be sure that he is never caught again in that fashion.
It was easy to see where the sagacious beavers were in the habit of leaving the water and climbing the bank. The trap was carefully placed below the surface out of sight, and often it had no bait at all, for it would seem that the bait itself was liable to awaken the suspicion of the beavers. Occasionally, however, when it was desirable to attract them to the spot, an oily odoriferous substance obtained from the animal itself was smeared over the ground near the bank.
The otters were scarcer than the beavers, but were hunted much in the same manner. For foxes and fur-bearing animals that roamed the the woods, the steel trap was baited with such food as they were fond of (which was about every thing), and they were so numerous through that part of the territory that the hunters had little difficulty in securing what was wanted.
At the end of the second day all the traps were in position, and the three friends were grouped on the outside of the cabin smoking their pipes and talking over the outlook for the winter, which all agreed was favorable.
The bison or buffaloes, of which mention has been made, were found in the open spaces or prairies where there was plenty of grass. No such multitudinous herds were seen as have been gathered in later years on the western prairies, but there were enough to make very lively hunting for the trio, who had shot and skinned several while on their way to the beaver runs.
Within a half hour's walk of the camp was a beaver dam fully half a mile wide, built with astonishing skill and strength. The backwater flooded the country for many square miles, and gave the remarkable animals just the place they wanted for their curious huts, of which I shall have something to tell you further on.
A WELCOME ACQUAINTANCE.
On the fourth day after the arrival of the hunters at their cabin, the accident of which Mr. Linden made mention befell Bowlby. It was early in the morning, when the three were making their round of visits to the traps. Since no two inspected the same ones, they were quite widely separated from each other. Bowlby was walking over a rocky stretch of land alongside the creek when a loose stone turned under his foot, giving his ankle such a wrench that when he tried to stand he found he could not bear the least weight on it. It was one of those hurts that are more painful and troublesome than a fractured limb.
"Here's a pretty go," he growled, as he sat down on the ground, his face contorted with pain; "it'll be a long time before I'll be able to stand, and the boys will have to bring one of the hosses here or else carry me home. Hello!"
He shouted at the top of his voice, feeling no alarm, for he knew that his friends would come to his relief before long, even if they did not hear his voice; but then he reflected, as he sat on the ground beside the two beavers that he had killed and was carrying to his home, that he was in bad form if a wild animal should assail him, or there should happen to be a hostile Indian prowling in the vicinity. He had left his gun at the cabin, as was his practice, since he needed all his strength to bring in the products of the traps.
He was startled, therefore, after his third shout; an Indian warrior, fully armed, walked out of the wood and came toward him; but his signs of peace, and more than all, the words he uttered, removed his fears.
"My brother suffers; Deerfoot will help him to his cabin."
"If that's so," said the greatly relieved Bowlby, "you're just the chap I'm waiting for. We'll leave these beavers here for the others to come after, and if you'll let me lean on your shoulder I guess I can hobble back; but I'll have to lean heavy," he added, looking doubtfully at the Indian, "and you ain't much more than a likely lad."
"Let my brother try me," said Deerfoot, with a smile.
The disabled hunter did try him, often compelled, as he was, to bear to such an extent upon his new friend that it may be said the latter sustained half his weight. The progress was slow, and when they reached a small stream of water, Bowlby sat down and allowed the young Shawanoe to bathe the inflamed limb. Great relief was felt.
During this labored walk homeward, the two naturally talked a good deal together and learned much about each other. Deerfoot said that he had often hunted through the surrounding country, and he told why it was he had found it necessary to leave his tribe on the other side of the Mississippi. He said that he had spent more than one night in the deserted cabin of Bowlby and his friends during the summer months, when he found himself belated in the vicinity, and he once shot a wolf that was resolved on entering against his protest. It was his intention to make a call upon the hunters, and if they needed his aid, he was glad to give it in the way of helping trap or shoot game. You need not be told that though James Bowlby felt an innate dislike of the American race, there was now one exception: henceforth he was the sworn friend of Deerfoot the Shawanoe.
Linden and Hardin had got back from making their rounds, and were wondering what could have delayed their friend, when they saw him limping painfully on one foot, and supported by a fine looking young Indian warrior. Their astonishment was great, for they could not understand what it meant. Linden hastened to the help of Bowlby, but he waved him aside and said no one could do as well as Deerfoot.
While Hardin went out to bring in the two beavers that had been taken from the traps by Bowlby, the latter was assisted to a seat on the log in front of the cabin. Then Deerfoot insisted on giving attention to the injured limb. It had swollen a great deal since he bathed it. There was nothing in the cabin in the way of ointment or liniment, but Deerfoot hastened into the wood and soon came back with the leaves of some plant whose virtues seemed to be well known to him. These were wrapped in a piece of linen, which the establishment managed to afford, and pounded to a pulp, and then the poultice was gently applied to the inflamed ankle. Bowlby declared that it felt better at once, but his face lengthened when Deerfoot told him that it would be a moon, or several weeks, before he would fully recover the use of his limb.
"That will make us short-handed, and we need every one," said Mr. Linden; "I wish Fred was here to give us help."
"I think I can ride my hoss to Greville," said Bowlby, "and bring him back with me."
"That is hardly worth while."
"Where is the home of my brother?" gently asked Deerfoot.
"At the settlement of Greville, about a hundred miles to the north."
"Deerfoot knows where it is," he replied; "he will take a message for his brother, for his footsteps lead him that way."
"You're a mighty clever Indian; I will be ever so much obliged to you," said Linden; "I will write a few lines to my boy, which will explain our trouble, though I have no doubt you could take the message just as well; but it is such an unexpected one that the boy might doubt it unless it was in my own writing. See?"
The Shawanoe nodded his head to signify that it was all clear to him. Linden passed within the cabin, where he hurriedly wrote the few lines that are already known to the reader, folded the paper, and wrote on the outside:
"FREDERICK LINDEN, Grevil."
He then handed it to Deerfoot, saying:
"There is no special hurry, and if you are in the neighborhood of Greville, and can make it convenient to leave that at my house, it will be a great kindness to me."
"If the Great Spirit does not will different it shall be in his hands before the setting of three more suns, but," added Deerfoot, looking at the superscription on the back of the paper, "has not my brother made a mistake?"
"What do you mean?"
"When Deerfoot writes the word 'Greville,' he adds two letters more than does my brother; perhaps, though, Deerfoot is wrong."
No pen can describe the amazement that appeared on the faces of Linden and Bowlby. Here was a young Indian teaching a white man old enough to be his father how to spell in the English language! Was the like ever known?
For a full minute neither of the hunters spoke. They were sitting on the log, while Deerfoot was standing in front of them. He held his rifle in his right hand and the folded piece of paper in his left, while he looked inquiringly down in the faces of the two men, whose mouths and eyes were open, as though they could not believe the evidence of their own senses. Finally, with a deep sigh, Linden slowly rose to his feet—
"Well, by gracious! if that don't beat every thing! Do you mean to say that you can read writing? Impossible!"
Then, as if still in doubt, he reached out and took the paper. Drawing a stump of a lead pencil from his pocket he completed the word properly, opened the paper, and handing it back to the Indian, said:
"Let's hear you read that."
"My brother writes so that any one can read his words," observed the young Shawanoe by way of introduction, and then in a low, soft voice he read the brief note from beginning to end.
Bowlby, who had not yet spoken, seemed unable to express his emotions. Unable himself to read, the attainment of the Indian was almost past belief. As the best thing, therefore, that he could do, he solemnly reached out his hand to Linden and shook it with great earnestness. Settling painfully back on the log, he nodded his head several times as if he was almost overcome, as indeed was the case.
I should state at this point that although Linden had not seen fit to make it known, he had heard of Deerfoot the Shawanoe long before. He knew of some of his exploits in Kentucky, as well as those of later years on the western bank of the Mississippi (which are told in the "Young Pioneer" and the "Log Cabin Series"), but he had never met the youth, nor had he ever heard or suspected that he knew how to read and write. Taking hold of his arm, he asked:
"Where in the name of all that is wonderful did you learn that? When I wrote to Fred that I would tell him some things about you I did not know of the most extraordinary of all—that which I have just seen. Sit right down here, between me and Jim, and let us know all about it."
Deerfoot held back, but yielded, and finally answered in his modest way the numerous questions with which he was plied. Bowlby had managed to find his tongue, and his queries were about twice as numerous as those of his companion. By the time that Deerfoot had time to rest, Hardin came back, and there was little left to tell.
The Shawanoe had captured the Hunters of the Ozark. They insisted that he should stay to dinner with them, and he did so. Then he was badgered to enter into a shooting match. All were fine marksmen, and Linden was the best shot in Greville. Using his own rifle, Deerfoot beat every one of them. Then he exchanged weapons and allowed the crippled Bowlby to rest his piece, and the Shawanoe beat all three just as badly as before. They were delighted, and slapping him on the back, asked him to spend a week with them, but he shook his head.
The sun was already beyond the meridian, and there were reasons for his departure which he could not explain. They liked him too well to insist, though they made him promise that on the first chance he would make them a visit. Then Deerfoot gravely pressed hands with all and quickly disappeared in the woods, taking the trail that led toward Greville. You have already learned about his meeting with Terry Clark and Fred Linden.
Fred Linden and Terry Clark were alarmed when, on their way home, they came to the creek across which they had paddled only a short time before. It was then the comparatively shallow stream that was scarcely an obstacle in their path; now it was a rushing torrent, whose volume was increasing with great rapidity. The sinuosities of the creek had caused it to gather in a large part of the rain that had fallen some miles away, and its usual boundaries were overflowed.
It was well that Fred had tied his canoe to the tree that was quite a distance from the stream, for had he not done so it would have been swept away like an egg shell. As it was, the water had reached the base of the tree, while the boat was bobbing up and down almost in a straight line with the course of the creek, as though it was tugging to get loose.
"My gracious, Terry!" said Fred, "this is a little worse than I expected; it is going to be hard work to get across."
"Ye are right for once," added the other, gravely shaking his head; "them rapids are a little closer than I loike."
"It seems to me," added Fred, who was unwilling to admit that he was afraid to try the task, "that I have gone over the creek when it was just as high and rapid, and have crossed at this place, too."
"Who swung the paddle?"
"Father did once and Mr. Bowlby at another time."
"Did ye iver manage the paddle yersilf when the creek got onto one of its tears?"
"I don't remember that I have, but that has been only because the need did not arise; I am not afraid to try it, even if you are."
"Who said I was afraid?" demanded Terry; "I'm riddy to hop into the boat and sway the paddle mesilf, and I'll do it, too."
He stepped into the water, which was up to his shoe tops, and began drawing in the rawhide rope which held the frail boat from breaking away. His companion laughed and said nothing until the canoe was at their feet and drawn up on the land away from the rushing current.
"Don't be quite so touchy, Terry; that boat belongs to me and I can handle the paddle better than you; anyway I shall try to take us to the other side, and all that you have to do is to keep those limbs and trees from capsizing us."
The time occupied in pulling the boat to the spot had given the Irish lad a chance to regain his usual good nature, and he made no protest against the decision of his companion, though Terry was no unskillful handler of the paddle himself.
The creek was probably over a hundred feet wide, and the roiled current abounded with limbs and trees that swung up and down, sometimes out of sight and then popping up again, as though they were frolicking in the swift waters. It would require a strong arm and a cool head to force the birchen craft through these obstacles to the shore on the other side. It must be admitted, too, that it was a piece of imprudence on the part of the lads, who would have been wiser had they quietly waited where they were until the overflow exhausted itself. A stream that rises so fast subsides with the same quickness, and long before nightfall the creek would shrink to proportions that would take away all peril to any one in paddling across.
They would have been compelled to go a long distance up stream before finding a place where the crossing was easier, and it would have been almost impossible to drag the canoe thither. They would have held fast to one end of the rope and allowed it to dance through the rapids, so as to allow them to make the passage below, where the great peril was removed, had they not known that the chances were ten to one that it would be snatched from their grasp, thus shutting them out altogether.
Looking up and across the sloping clearing, the cabins forming the settlement of Greville could be seen at no great distance. From several of the stone chimneys the smoke was curling lazily upward, and now and then glimpses could be caught of persons moving hither and thither, but no one appeared to be looking in the direction of the creek, or if any one was doing so, he saw nothing of the two boys standing on the further shore and debating with themselves the best course to follow. At any rate no one would think they were unable to take care of themselves.
Both Fred and Terry knew that there was but one prudent plan to follow; that was quietly to wait where they were until near night, by which time all danger would be gone. But neither proposed the course nor made mention of it. It is natural for youth to be rash, and there was a semblance of timidity in such a shrinking back that was repellent to American and Irish lad alike. And so you will understand how it was that each showed an eagerness to enter into the contest with the angry current.
You will see, too, how foolish they were, when I tell you that during the few minutes they stood by the tree to which the rope had been tied discussing the situation, they saw the proof that the creek was subsiding. There was a perceptible lowering of the surface, as was shown by the soiled line against the trunk of the tree. Even Terry, when he looked down, observed that he was not standing in quite as deep water as he was a few minutes before. No danger, however, of his making mention of it.
It took but a minute or so to untie the long thong that was wrapped about the limb, and then, as Fred was on the point of flinging the coil into the bottom of the boat, the end of which was drawn up on the bank, and to take up the paddle and push off, Terry, with some excitement, caught his arm and said:
"Plase wait a minute, will ye?"
"I'll not be gone long; howld the boat only for a twinkling."
He ran a dozen steps or so from shore to where was the stump of a tree that had probably been splintered by a thunder-bolt, and around which sprouted a number of bushes that were dense enough to hide a large object within. Carefully parting these, Terry laid down his rifle and the bell, and then as carefully smoothed the undergrowth in place. Then he hurried back.
"There are plinty of lads about me own size," said he, "but there's only one gun that belongs to me, and if the canoe should upsit and both of us get drowned I want to be sure and save me gun."
Fred smiled at this Irish-like explanation, but he was glad that Terry had left the gun on shore. It was safely hidden until he should wish to get it again, while its presence in the canoe would be the worst kind of encumbrance. The new owner was so charmed with his prize that he would think more of saving that than of saving the boat. It was clear that the task of Terry in fighting off the rushing timber would be almost as difficult as that of guiding it across the swift stream.
"In with you!" said Fred to Terry, who carefully seated himself near the bow of the canoe and took up the long pole that lay in the bottom and projected some distance over the end of the boat. Fred Linden gave it a vigorous shove, landed in the stern, caught up the paddle, and instantly began his struggle.
You will see the difficulty and danger of his task, and must therefore join with me in condemning the lack of judgment showed by both. They had to paddle more than a hundred feet across a furious torrent in which were scores of uprooted trees, wrenched-off limbs, and craggy stumps, all speeding downward with great swiftness and force. The course of the boat being at right angles to these objects, must bring it in collision with some of them, at the great risk of overturning or shattering the canoe, that was not calculated to withstand any such blows.
And yet, though the task was a hard one, there was little doubt that the two lads could make their way across, provided they were given enough time in which to do so; but there were the rapids, so near that their roar was plainly heard. In case of an overturn or accident, the two would be swept among them. It was the same, on a smaller scale, as if a person should start to row across Niagara River, just above the falls, where by vigorous work he could make the passage, provided he did not drop a stroke on the way. You will say that any one making such an attempt placed little value on his own life.
Fred Linden used his paddle after the manner of an Indian—that is, he dipped the broad end first on one side of the boat and then on the other. The paddle was not widened at each end, as is sometimes the case, the one who wields it using the sides alternately and with great rapidity. In calm water such a light structure as an Indian canoe can be driven with great speed, and I have no doubt that the youths would have made a speedy passage had it not been for the interference of the floating objects to which I have referred.
Ten feet from land Fred was forced to back water suddenly to avoid a jagged stump that danced in front like a bull getting ready to charge, and finally did strike the bow with a thump that startled both the occupants.
"Me pole slipped off the side of that," Terry explained, as he brandished the stick in front on the lookout for the threatening waste-wood; "have a care that ye don't drive the boat agin something that is stronger than the boat itsilf."
By coolness, alertness and strength, Fred fought his way in safety until probably one-third of the distance was passed. Then he saw the great blunder he had made in trying to cross while the current was so high. The constant fighting with the floating stumps and trees caused them to lose so much ground—or rather water—that they were drifting frightfully close to the rapids, whose roar grew plainer every moment. But he had gone so far that it was as safe to keep on as to turn back, and so he dipped the paddle and swung it with renewed vigor.
"Look out!" he called to Terry, who in parrying the rush of a stump a couple of yards in advance, did not notice one that was coming broadside on, its presence betrayed by a tiny branch that protruded a few inches above the surface like the fin of a shark. Fred did his utmost to avoid it, but he was too slow, and a second later the pointed log not only struck the side of the canoe, but capsized it.
A STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.
The partly sunken log crashed into the side of the canoe with such suddenness that the craft was overturned and ruined, and the occupants struggling in the water, before either had time to utter more than a single exclamation.
But they were powerful swimmers, and, but for the nearness of the rapids, they could have afforded to laugh at their mishap. As it was, Terry Clark shouted, as he blew the muddy water from his mouth:
"What a sinsible young gintleman I was to lave me gun on the other side."
"We both would have been much more sensible had we left ourselves there," rejoined Fred, who was struggling with might and main for the land in front; "there's no time, Terry, to waste in talk; we've got to swim as never before, for nothing else will save us."