Their interest in the discussion frequently brought the profile of the further one into view and showed so much of his front, that his tribal character was settled beyond question; he was a Shawanoe, one of the dreaded people who did more than any other to earn the name of Dark and Bloody Ground for one section of the Union.
It was established, therefore, that there were two distinct parties in that particular section. The Miamis and Shawanoes were natural allies, and there could be no question that a perfect understanding existed between those who gave our friends so much concern.
Jack Carleton was debating with himself whether it would be a safe undertaking for him to withdraw, and, venturing further into the woods, seek to flank the warriors who had risen so unexpectedly in his path. He had already been so delayed that his agreement with Otto was likely to be disarranged, and it would not do to stay too long where he had halted.
Before a conclusion was formed, the interview between the couple ended. They abruptly ceased talking, and one started north and the other south.
As they did so Jack learned another significant fact—they belonged to different tribes. The one who went northward looked squarely in the face of his friend, just before moving out, and, in doing so, gave the best view of his countenance that the boy had yet obtained. That view revealed him as a Miami beyond all question.
The other wheeled about and advanced almost in a direct line toward Jack, who felt that his situation was becoming very delicate and peculiar. There could be no mistaking the tribe of that warrior, who was a splendid' specimen of physical vigor and manhood. Jack suspected that he was not only a Shawanoe, but was a chief or leader. The hideous paint which was smeared over his repulsive face, was more elaborate than in the case of the two from whom the youth effected such a narrow escape.
That which Jack saw confirmed his belief of a perfect understanding between the different parties. They probably numbered a dozen altogether, and had determined to bring the friendly Indian and two white men to account for the outrage of the young Shawanoe—for, brief as was the time mince it had been perpetrated, it was more than probable that it was known to all.
"I wish that heathen would take it into his head to move some other way," thought Jack to himself, as he drew his head back, fearful of being seen. "If he comes straight on, he'll bump his forehead against this tree, and, if he turns out, he will pass so close to the trunk that I've got to be lively if he doesn't run against me."
Listening intently, he was able to hear the soft footfall of the warrior upon the leaves, scarcely louder than the faint tipping of the claw of a small bird. Had the Shawanoe suspected there was the slightest need for care, his tread would have been silent.
A few seconds passed when the delicate sound ceased. What could it mean? Did the Indian suspect the truth? Was he standing motionless, or was he advancing with that noiseless step which the ear of the listening Indian himself fails to note?
These were the questions which the young Kentuckian asked, and which for the time be could not answer. He shrank close to the bark of the tree, with his gun clasped and the hammer raised ready to fire at an instant's notice. Knowing so well the subtlety of the red men, it occurred to Jack that his foe perhaps was stealthily flanking him. He was moving to one side and the moment he could gain a shot he would fire.
The suspense became more trying than disaster itself could be, and Jack determined to end it by learning the precise situation of the Shawanoe, and what he was likely to attempt to do in the way of hostilities.
A TIMELY ARRIVAL
One of the most convincing evidences of a Power beyond our comprehension, governing and directing everything for the best, is the marvelous degree to which the different faculties of our nature can be trained. There is a skill which cannot be explained or understood by him who attains it; and, interwoven through the five senses which science assigns to us, seems to be a sixth not yet understood, of whose wonderful functions every one of us has seen proof.
The Shawanoe warrior, after parting with his companion, walked leisurely toward the tree behind which the young Kentuckian was hiding, until about twenty yards separated them. Then he stopped as abruptly as if stricken by a thunderbolt. There was "something in the air" which whispered danger.
The Indian had neither seen nor heard anything to cause this misgiving, but he knew that peril confronted him. What he would have done in the event of Jack Carleton remaining silent and stationary behind the trunk can only be conjectured; but the impatience of the youth ended that phase of the situation.
Softly removing his cap, the young Kentuckian slowly moved the side of his head to the right. In doing so, he kept his face in a perpendicular position, so that the least possible part of his head was exposed. Had he inclined it, the upper portion would have shown before the eye could have been brought into use.
The first object on which Jack's vision rested was the Shawanoe warrior, standing erect, one foot slightly advanced and both hands grasping the rifle in front of him. The face was daubed and streaked with paint, and the gleaming black eyes were looking straight at the startled youth.
Like a flash the dusky arms brought the gun to his shoulder, and it is safe to say that Jack Carleton never in all his life drew back his head with such celerity.
Quick as was the Indian, he was not quick enough to catch the lad, who, it will be seen, had very little to do in order to save himself for the moment. With a faint whoop, the redskin bounded behind the nearest tree, and, with his cocked rifle at command, awaited an opening that would allow him to slay his foe.
Thus the two occupied precisely the same, relative position; each was protected by a trunk of a tree large enough to shield his body, and each grasped a loaded and cocked rifle, eager to use it the instant the opportunity presented itself.
Who was to win in this curious contest? Looking at the situation dispassionately, it must be admitted that the chances favored the Indian. He was older, stronger, more active, and possessed greater cunning than did the youth. What, after all, is one of the most important factors in such a problem, the American race possess by training, and nature—patience scarcely second to that of the Esquimau. The probabilities were that the Shawanoe would wait until the youth was led into some fatal indiscretion.
All this, be it remembered, is based on the condition that no such thing as "foreign interference" took place.
Is there any reader of mine who has not been entertained in his early youth by the story of the white man and the Indian, who, being placed in the situation of Jack and the Shawanoe, remained in hiding from each other, until the Caucasian drew the shot of the American, by placing his cap on the end of the ramrod or gun and projecting it far enough from behind the tree, thus leading the Indian to believe that the head of his foe was in range? If such an incident ever took place, the warrior must have been unusually stupid to leap from cover, as the story makes him do, until certain he had brought the other down.
Jack Carleton attempted the same artifice, except that, instead of taking the trouble to draw his ramrod or using his rifle for that purpose, he held his cap in hand, shoving it forward very slowly and with great care,
The trick failed. The Shawanoe must have suspected the truth on the first appearance of the head-gear. Jack pushed it forward until sure it was seen, but no demonstration came from the warrior, who, for aught the youth knew, was essaying the same deception.
Determined to learn something about his enemy, Jack threw his head to one side and drew it back again before the warrior could pull the trigger. He knew precisely where to look, but he was unable to catch sight of the Shawanoe or his weapon.
"I wonder whether he has shifted his quarters," said Jack to himself. "If he has, he will shot at me before I can learn where he is. Holloa!"
The second time he thrust forward his face withdrawing it with the same celerity as before, he caught a passing glimpse of the Shawanoe, who, rather curiously, adopted exactly the same artifice. This "located" the savage and relieved Jack, for the moment, of his terrifying dread that death threatened from an unknown point.
But, within the next minute, the redskin utterance to a faint whoop, clearly meant as a signal to a comrade not far off.
"He is calling back the Miami, who left him a few minutes ago," was the conclusion of Jack. "It'll go rough with me if I have two of them to fight. I'll try a little of the signaling myself."
Placing the thumb and forefinger of his left hand against his tongue, he emitted a low, tremulous whistle, such as he and Otto used when on hunting expeditions together. He repeated it, and then, greatly to his relief, received a reply, though it was so guarded that he could not guess the point whence it came.
"Now, if Otto proves sharp enough to grasp the situation, without running into ambush, we may settle the matter with this fellow before the other can take a hand—"
As on the previous day, something twinkled among the trees to the left. A glance in that direction and Jack saw, with dismay, that the Miami warrior had arrived.
The worst of it, too, was that he appeared so far over from where the Shawanoe stood that lines connecting the three would have made almost a right angle. It looked as if the youth must be exposed to the enfilading fire of one of his enemies.
It was a frightful situation, but the brave Kentuckian did not lose heart. He pressed against the bark as closely as he could, endeavoring to watch both points, but he was fearfully handicapped, and there was little hope for him, unless his friend could interfere.
Suddenly the Miami, who, naturally enough, had taken to the shelter of a tree, after the manner of his comrade, made a bound of several feet which placed him behind a second trunk that was still further to the rear of Jack Carleton. Another such leap and the youth would be effectually uncovered.
But the anxiously prayed for deliverance came at this critical moment. While the Miami was maneuvering for position, Otto Relstaub appeared behind him, and, in the twinkling of an eye, the merciless warrior was placed between two fires.
"You let dot chap alone?" called out the German, with his gun to his shoulder, "or py gracious I'll shoot my ramrod clean through you as nefer vos I don't it?"
The unexpected discovery of his mortal peril threw the Miami into a panic. It was impossible for him to find shelter at the same moment from both his enemies, for, on whatever side of the tree he took refuge, he would be in range of one of them. With a howl of consternation, he whirled on his heel and ran like a frightened deer. As he did so, he ducked his head and leaped from side to side, after the manner of the Digger Indians of the present day, with a view of distracting the fire of his enemies.
It would have been a feat of marksmanship had either lad brought him down, when so many and varying objects intervened, and neither of the youths made the attempt. When the terrified fugitive vanished, he was without a wound or scratch to tell of the danger from which he had fled.
During these stirring moments, the Shawanoe had taken no part and given no sign of interest in what was going on; but Jack, who was fully aroused by the venomous attempt on his life, called to his friend, whose position he knew commanded that of the savage:
"Otto, shoot the wretch!"
"Dot is vot I vos going to do," was the reply of the German, who took careful aim around the side of the tree.
He was in plain view of Jack, who watched him with a rapidly beating heart, knowing as he did that the fellow carried an excellent gun and was it good shot.
But, while glancing along the rifle-barrel, with one eye closed, Otto raised his head, opened both eyes and looked toward the point at which he had been aiming. Then his cheery laughter rang out.
"What is the matter?" asked the astonished Jack.
"Now, ain't dot funny? He Indian ain't dere!"
"Yes, he is," shouted Jack, suspecting trickery. "He will shoot you, if you don't bring him down!"
Otto glanced affrightedly behind him, as though he heard a stealthy footstep, but called back once more that the Shawanoe had disappeared.
It occurred to the other youth, just then, that if the warrior was in the vicinity and could be seen by Otto, he must be visible to him. But a sweeping survey of the field failed to bring to light the painted face and feathered crown.
There could be no doubt that the Shawanoe had taken advantage of the diversion caused by Otto's arrival, and had not stood on the order of his going. Five minutes before, there seemed no chance of Jack Carleton preserving his life. Now, how changed! Toward whatever point of the compass he looked, he saw not the first evidence that peril threatened.
But for all that, it was uncomfortably nigh, and it was difficult to find a place in which there was less safety than where they were. Jack resolved to leave at once.
At the moment he stepped from behind the tree which had sheltered him, Otto strode toward him, his broad face still broader on account of his beaming pleasure.
"Dot vos me," he said, triumphantly. "Otto doned it."
"Scared 'ern so dot they forgits him nefer."
"You did well, beyond question. I cannot see how I would have saved myself if you hadn't come as you did. I shall never forget it, Otto, though I think it was a mistake when we parted company it short while ago. It looks as though these Miamis and Shawanoes are on all sides of us, and we must find some kind of shelter or make a hasty change of base."
"Dot's vot I dinks," assented the other. "I am waiting for you to show me vot's I doesn't do."
"It is hard to tell what is the best course," said Jack, who, while talking, was moving slowly toward the Mississippi, watching, meanwhile, every point of the compass. "But, somehow or other I feel there's less danger by the river than anywhere else."
"I likes it dere better than other places, for if we finds the Indians are going to boder us, we can cheat 'em as easy as nefer vos."
"We can jump in the river and drowns mit, ourselves; won't dey be fooled!"
"Perhaps they would be disappointed; but I don't see where we are likely to gain anything."
"I doesn't see hims mineself," grinned Otto, whose whims led him to be amusing during the most trying moments, as well as grave when others were light-hearted.
"I only wish we were on the other side," said the young Kentuckian, who at that moment caught the gleam of the Mississippi through the trees in front.
While Jack and Otto were talking in guarded tones, and carefully picking their way through the wood, each stopped and became silent at the same instant. They saw nothing, but their ears told them some person or animal was approaching through the undergrowth behind them.
Within the same minute the creature revealed himself in the form of a large, black bear, which was lumbering along unmindful that enemies were near.
"Mebbe he don't be an Indian," whispered Otto, who knew much of the cunning of the red men.
The same thought had occurred to the Kentuckian, who held his gun at full cock, until he should be able to learn the truth. While thus employed be could not help reflecting on the improbability of such a clumsy artifice being that time, for there was no call for the attempt, no prospect of deceiving two persons who displayed such excellent woodcraft.
Jack speedily saw that the bear was a genuine one, probably on his way to the river. There no occasion for shooting him, and the hunters stepped aside to allow him to pass. Jack kept eye on him, however, for it being the spring of year, he had not been long out of his hibernating quarters, and was likely to be lean, hungry, fierce.
Bruin caught sight of the hunters, while several rods off, and throwing up his snout, took a look at them, as though uncertain of the species to which they belonged.
"He looks pig, don't he?" said Otto, referring to his size, and half inclined to give him a shot. "One pullet would make him put up dot snout down."
"Let him alone, so long as he doesn't disturb us. He isn't half so dangerous as the Indians and they would be likely to rush upon us before you could reload your gun."
Otto saw the prudence of his friend's words, and he not only let down the hammer of his rifle, but emphasized his intention by turning his back upon the bear.
The huge beast seemed disposed to attack the boys. It may be that the plump, ruddy-faced Gorman looked specially tempting to him while in his hungry state, for Jack fancied that it was he on whom his large eyes were fixed with a peculiar lodging.
The bear took several steps toward the couple, and Jack cocked his gun, believing he would have to fire. Otto, seeing the movement, turned, but at that moment the animal, if he had actually any purpose of opening hostilities, changed his mind, moving off to one side, and continued his awkward gait toward the river.
The boys watched him until be reached the stream and began lapping the water, when they resumed their withdrawal from the spot, still walking in a northerly course along the right bank of the Mississippi.
Both were anxious to get as far away as they could, in the hope that they would be able to keep a safe space between themselves and the red men, whom they held in such fear.
Their uneasiness was not lessened when the sharp crack of a rifle broke upon their ears, from a point not far down the stream. It was followed by another report deeper in the woods, and then several whoops came from different parts of the forest, all being within a short radius.
The boys could not guess the cause of the firing, unless they were meant as signals, but they were sure the cries referred to them. Most likely, as they viewed it, they were meant to direct the actions of the parties, who must have felt that it only needed a little care and energy to capture the youths that, up to that time, had baffled the enmity of both the Miamis and Shawanoes.
The result was, that Jack and Otto, keeping as near as was prudent to the river, pushed on as fast as they could. A species of running vine close to the ground caused them much annoyance, the more chubby one falling forward several times on his hands and knees.
They had traveled a short distance only, when the signals that had so alarmed them were heard again. The Indiana called to each other by means of the whoops and shouts, as intelligible to those for whom they were meant as if they were so many spoken words.
The lads could not fail to observe that they were considerably nearer than before. The red men were evidently converging in their pursuit, and meant to force the struggle to an issue with the least delay possible.
"We must travel faster," said Jack Carleton, compressing his lips, after glancing behind him. "This has settled down to a regular race between us."
"Dot is so," assented Otto, sprawling forward again on his hands and knees, from the running vine which caught, like fine wire, around his ankles. "If it Vos who falls down the most and cracks his head, den I would beat dem, don't it?"
"We shall have to make a fight for they can travel a great deal faster than we—"
"Let's jump mit the river; we gets so far off afore dey learns vot we don't do."
It seemed to be the only recourse left to the fugitives, and they turned toward the Mississippi. But at that very moment Jack caught sight of a pile of logs only a short distance ahead.
It seemed a direct interference of Providence, totally unexpected by both. Whether the logs were the retreat of a friend or enemy could only be guessed. The probabilities were that the former was the case, since the structure was not of the kind made by Indians.
Jack caught the arm of Otto and whirled him back.
"Vot ain't de matter?" asked the German, half angrily at the check, when there was so much necessity for haste.
"See?" asked Jack, in turn, pointing to the logs as seen through the trees.
Otto nodded his head. It was enough, and he made a desperate rush to reach the refuge, catching his foot and falling headlong again.
"Dunderation!" he exclaimed; "wonder if dere ain't no blamed vines that I hef not fall over and proke mine nose."
The whoops of the Miamis and Shawanoes sounded still closer; they were pressing the pursuit with utmost vigor, and were upon the heels of the fugitives.
The Kentuckian, who continually glanced back, caught sight of more than one figure flitting among the trees. Suddenly something red gleamed; it was the flash of a gun, and, at the same moment the sharp report rang out, the bullet passed between Jack and Otto, who were striving desperately to get beyond reach before a fair aim could tempt their enemies.
The second view which Jack caught of the shelter told him it was simply four walls of logs, a dozen feet square, half as high, and without any roof. When, why, and by whom they had been put up was a mystery.
But no oasis in the flaming desert could be more welcome to the traveler dying with thirst than was this simple structure to the panting fugitives. Jack Carleton, with a recklessness caused by the imminence of his peril, flung his gun over into the enclosure, sprang upward so as to grasp the topmost log, and scrambled after it with the headlong impetuosity of a wounded animal.
Otto was only a second or two behind him, and, .puffing and gasping, he dropped squarely on his head and shoulders, rolled over, caught up his gun again, and sprang to his feet.
"Dot's de way I always climb down stairs," he exclaimed, raising the hammer of his gun and holding it ready to fire on the first appearance of a foe.
"It's all well enough, if you ain't hurt, but look out for the red men; they're right on us."
"Dot's vot I don't dinks," replied Otto, who, still panting from his exertion, seemed to have recovered his coolness; "if dey climbs up dot vall, den dey run agin de, pall of mine gun and one of dem gets hurt, and it ain't de pall-don't it?"
The pursuers were so close to the fugitives that the tramp of their moccasins was heard at the moment the boys braced themselves for the shock which they were sure would come within the next few seconds. The sight of a flying foe intensifies the courage of the pursuer, and it may have been that the Shawanoe who discharged his gun at the lads, when they were so close to the shelter, believed he had wounded one at least, and that a vigorous assault could not fail to end the struggle speedily. There may, in fact, have been a dozen causes which incited him to a bravery and personal effort greater than that of any of his companions.
"They'll try to overwhelm us," said Jack. "Hold your gun ready."
The words were yet in his mouth, when a peculiar, soft scratching, which was ended the instant it began, told that one of the warriors had inserted the toe of his moccasin in a crevice of the logs, with the purpose of climbing over into the enclosure.
"I'll attend to him if there's only one," added Jack, naturally fearful of throwing away a shot.
"I dinks I 'tends him mit myself—"
Suddenly the painted face of a Shawanoe Indian rose to view. One hand had grasped the top log, and he was drawing himself rapidly upward with the purpose of leaping over. The countenance was frightful beyond description—the streaks and circles in red, yellow, and black, from amid which glared the black eyes, with an expression of ferocity like that of a Bengal tiger, and the white teeth, gleaming between the parted lips, drawn far back at the corners, gave a hideous fierceness to the visage that would have appalled a brave man who saw it for the first time.
"I dinks I 'tends him mit myself—"
Just as Otto Relstaub reached that point in his remark, he pulled the trigger of his rifle. A rasping howl followed, and the horrible face vanished a speedily as if the owner had been standing on a trap-door, which was sprung.
"Yaw—I dinks I 'tends mit him," repeated Otto, coolly lowering his gun and looking at the spot where the head and shoulders were visible an instant before.
"Load up quick!" said Jack, who held his cocked rifle in hand while his eye glanced hastily along the upper part of the logs, "don't lose a second."
The thump of the body was heard as the Shawanoe—dead before he could fall the brief space—struck the ground on the outside. At the same moment a second warrior (a Miami that time), drew himself upward close to the place from which the Shawanoe had dropped. He rose until his tufted head, his sloping forehead and his gleaming eyes appeared just above the horizon of the enclosure. Staring downward, he looked straight into the muzzle of a rifle, held by a young Kentuckian, who had just become aware of his presence.
Down went the Indian, possibly with a suspicion that his bronzed skull was also perforated, as he fell across the limp body beneath him; but Jack Carleton had not fired, not because the opportunity was not inviting enough nor because he felt the least scruple about shooting one of the savages who were thirsting for his life, but he was afraid to discharge his piece before Otto should force another bullet home.
Repeating and percussion rifles were unknown at that day, and it took much valuable time to reload musket or gun after its discharge. Knowing this, the infuriated redskins were likely to make a rush whenever they knew that the weapons within the enclosure were unloaded.
Inasmuch as the boys possessed no other firearms, it will be seen that in such an event they would be helpless. Indeed, it was impossible for them to hold out if their assailants determined to force matters. They had but to leap over the walls, as could be easily done, and the contest would be decided right speedily; that decision must inevitably be against the daring defenders.
A PRIMITIVE FORT
The sharp repulse of the Indians delayed rush which, as has been said, could ended only in the discomfiture of the defenders. The occurrence proved that the first warriors to scale the walls were certain to share the fate of him who had already made the attempt.
With such knowledge it would be unnatural to expect any Shawanoe or Miami to throw himself into the breach, since, as a rule, men are not anxious to sacrifice themselves for others.
The brief respite thus afforded Jack and Otto enabled them to make a closer survey of the shelter which had presented itself so providentially to them. They found little not apparent to their terrified gaze when they scrambled within. There were the four walls and nothing more. With that morbid interest in trifling things which often manifests itself in the most critical moments, Otto counted the logs on each of the four sides.
"Dere be nine dere," said he, indicating the western side, "ten dere, and nine and ten on de other sides."
"That must be right," remarked Jack, "for I make them the same."
"Tis funny dat we bofe counts dem at de same tine, when each one is not doing it togedder."
The only entrance to the enclosure, as it seems proper to call it, was the one used by the boys. Nothing to suggest a door, or any purpose of making one, was to be seen on any side of the walls.
It was not impossible that some hunters, who had encamped in the vicinity, had started the structure with the intention of roofing it over, and of providing some original means of ingress and egress which was not apparent to the little garrison.
Convinced that they would not be disturbed for some time to come, Jack hastily searched for loopholes, with which it would seem the structure ought to have been provided, but nothing of the kind was discovered.
Whoever had hewn and put together the logs, had done so with admirable skill. The gaps in the ends had been cut with a nicety that made a perfect fit in every case. Had the house been completed, it certainly would have been a substantial one.
While the absence of loop-holes removed to a great extent the fear of treacherous shots from the outside, yet in another respect it was an annoyance. The boys could see nothing of their assailants. The sense of hearing and conjecture it lelf were all that were left to inform them of what was going on so near them.
It was not to be supposed that the Indians, after driving the youths into shelter, would leave them undisturbed. The death of one of their warriors was enough to rouse the passion of revenge to the highest point—a necessity which, as shown by the incidents already narrated, did not exist.
When Jack and Otto were given a little time for reflection, they were forced to see that their situation was hopeless. Every advantage was with their enemies, who, if they chose to save themselves the risk of a determined assault, had only to wait. Without food or water, with no means of leaving the place, the hour must surely come when exhausted nature would compel this little garrison to yield.
The boy's were many miles from the settlements on either side of the river, and there was no means of sending word to their friends of the dire strait in which they were placed. Even could such message reach Coatesville, or the cabins on the other side of the Mississippi, several days must necessarily elapse before assistance could arrive.
Jack Carleton's thoughts naturally turned to Deerfoot the Shawanoe. He had heard so many stories of his wonderful woodcraft and skill that he leaned upon him, when he was present to lean upon; but, hopeful as was the nature of the young Kentuckian, he could gather no crumbs of comfort in that direction.
Deerfoot had crossed the river in the Miami canoe, and could not be expected to return until under cover of darkness. Even then he must be powerless. There are limits to all human skill, and what greater folly than to expect him to release two boys, shut in a log enclosure, and surrounded by a score or less of vigilant Indian warriors.
But it was not the nature of either Jack or Otto, to yield without a struggle. So long as they could fight off the dread end, so long they would put, forth every effort to do so.
For fifteen minutes after the discharge of gun absolute silence prevailed. Not the slightest rustling told of the crouching savages without. The boys leaned against the logs of waited and listened.
During the interval, the young Kentuckian became filled with irresistible curiosity to learn what their enemies were doing. It was certain they were plotting mischief, but he could form no idea of its nature.
How was he to gain the coveted knowledge? Manifestly there was but the one way.
"Otto," he said in a low voice, "I'm going to climb up the logs and look over."
"And got your head blown off, dot's vot you does!" exclaimed his horrified friend.
"I'll come to that sooner or later any way," was the reply; "but I'm not going to be shot; I'm not such a dunce as that; I mean to take one glance over the logs, and will draw back so quickly that no one will get a chance to shoot me."
Otto protested, but, seeing it was useless, gave over and made the sensible suggestion that, instead of climbing up the wall and thereby probably making known what he was doing, he should stand on the shoulders of Otto. That would give him enough elevation, and the lad added:
"If I sees any noise vot I don't like, den I drops you so quick dot you vill bump the ground so hard dot it bulges out mit China on de other side."
At the very moment Jack made ready to avail himself of his friend's support, they heard a movement on the part of the Indians, the meaning of which was not understood.
A number of them seemed to be moving heavily over the ground, as though carrying some weighty body or marching in military step. The boys listened closely, but it was impossible to tell what it meant.
The noise added to Jack's curiosity, and, leaning his gun against the logs, he said"
"Help me up, Otto; I'm bound to find out what all that is about."
It was an easy matter to mount the shoulders of his young friend, whose strength would have supported double his weight. Jack found, as he anticipated, that he would be able to look over the logs without difficulty. Steadying himself by placing his hand against the wall, he slowly raised his head until almost on a level with the top, when he quietly looked over.
No movement of the kind was expected by the Indians, and the face was withdrawn before any one of them could fire.
Under such circumstances, a person can see a great deal in an exceedingly brief space of time. Jack Carleton learned much about that which had excited his curiosity.
Inasmuch as the walls had been put up from material cut in the immediate vicinity, a number of stumps surrounded the structure, beside which a single unused log was lying. It had been cut entirely off at the base, several of the lower limbs trimmed, but most of the bushy top remained. It looked as if the builders had been interrupted while at work, or they had voluntarily abandoned it for something else.
Some six or eight warriors had lifted this log from the ground and were laboriously hearing it In the direction of the fort (if the name can be permitted). Others were moving hither and thither, as though they enjoyed viewing the job more than assisting with it. One of them caught sight of the face of the young Kentuckian and brought his gun to his shoulder; but, quick as he was, he was just a moment too late. When he was ready to fire, the target was gone.
"They're going to batter down the logs!" exclaimed Jack, dropping lightly to the ground, and taking possession of his gun; "they're carrying a log toward us, and mean to hammer these down about our heads."
"What for they don't want to do dot?"
"It seems to me it would be a good plan for them to tumble our house about our heads."
"I don't dink they doos dots," persisted the German, and he proved to be right in his surmise.
With great labor the warriors bore the heavy tree forward, so that the larger end was against the side of the fort. Then, instead of using it as a battering ram, they lifted it higher until, with an exertion that must have been very great, it was raised even with the log wall. A combined effort rested the butt on the support, the trunk sloping downward, until the top reached the ground, probably thirty feet away.
As the butt was a foot in diameter, it will be seen that the work must have been very onerous to the American Indian, who hates physical labor as much as does the tramp of modern times.
Having accomplished what must be admitted to be quite a feat, the toilers rested, while the boys looked up at the jagged end on the logs, suggesting the head of some monster peering down upon them, and speculated as to the meaning of the movement.
"Dot is so to help dem climbs to de top," said Otto, "or maybe they will runs him across and play I see-saw.'
"It is to cover up some mischief on their part."
"If we only knowed when dey don't stands right under him, we would shove off de end off and let him drop onto dem and mash 'em all!"
"It would take a good deal more strength than we have to do that," said Jack. "I would like to take another peep over the edge, but it won't do, because they will be on the lookout for us."
"Dot's vot I didn't dink some times ago," maid Otto, meaning a little different from what his words implied.
It was yet early in the day, and the boys could not but feel that the crisis was sure to come long before night. The temperature was mild and pleasant, no clouds floating in the space of clear sky visible overhead. The friends kept their loaded and cocked guns in their hands all the while and moved to and fro, in the circumscribed space, on the alert for the first demonstration from the red men, distressed by the consciousness that their cunning enemies were sure to do the very thing which was least expected.
Jack Carleton noticed that whenever he stood with his back against the logs, he could see the upper portions of the trees which grew close to the structure. It occurred to him that some of the daring warriors were liable to turn the fact to account. It would take no great skill for one or two of them to climb into the limbs, from which they would command a portion of the interior. No better opportunity could be asked—in case they were not discovered by the lads—to fire down upon them.
"I've been dinking of dot," replied Otto, when the matter was mentioned; "and I dinks dot iss de tree yonder, and py gracious dere is an Indian 'mong de limbs!"
This startling declaration was the truth. The friends were standing at the eastern end of the structure, so that they looked in the direction of the river, where towered a bushy oak, fully twenty feet of the upper portion being in sight. Something was among the branches, though the object could not be seen distinctly. Fortunate it was that both were gazing toward the point when their suspicion was first awakened.
"Yes, it is an Indian, as sure as I live!" added Jack, in an excited manner. "Rash fool! He has sealed his fate, for I couldn't want a fairer target. Leave him to me!"
"All right; I leaves him!"
The young Kentuckian was sure of his man, even though he was only partially revealed, when the rifle was pointed. He took careful aim, but while in the act of pressing the trigger, he lowered the weapon, with the whispered exclamation.
"Great heavens! It is Deerfoot the Shawanoe!"
AMONG THE TREE-TOPS
Jack Carleton was astounded. Up to that moment he was absolutely certain that the young Shawanoe was on the other side of the Mississippi, and would make no attempt to return to the Kentucky shore until night. Yet he had not only recrossed, but was actually within fifty feet of the enclosure, directly among his fiercest enemies, who were assailing it, and, more remarkable than all, he had climbed among the limbs of a tree, where he could gain a view of the interior.
There was a minute or so during which the Kentuckian actually doubted his own senses.
"He must be an enemy who closely resembles Deerfoot," was his thought; "I will shoot him before he shoots me."
The probability of such being the case was increased by the fact that the Indian had a rifle instead of a bow and arrow, and there were some daubs of paint on his face; but, for all that, the warrior was Deerfoot, as a second scrutiny convinced Jack and Otto beyond all question.
"It ish Deerhead! I means Deerfoot," whispered the German lad; "dinks a whirlwind lifs him out te boat and drops him in de tree; what don't he vants?"
The young Shawanoe had managed to reach a place amid the foliage, where, if he could be seen at all by those below, the view was indistinct, while, by pushing the branches carefully aside in front of his face, he was plainly revealed to his friends.
When Jack Carleton raised his gun and sighted at the object in the tree, the latter swept aside the curtain in front and made a signal with his hand, which declared his identity. Even though the paint had been plentifully used by him, his regular features were recognized when he smiled, and kept his hand waving in front of him as though brushing smoke from his eyes.
"Yes, it's Deerfoot!" muttered Jack, lowering his weapon, and staring with open mouth at the figure; "but things are getting mixed, and I ain't exactly understand what it is all about." But the situation was too critical on every hand for the young friends to give way to the wonderment caused by the discovery. It speedily became clear that while the Shawanoe dare not speak, he was trying very hard to convey some message to his friends by means of pantomime. Holding the gun of the Miami in one hand, he kept the other going energetically, but neither Jack nor Otto could guess his meaning.
"Speak louder!" called Otto, forgetting himself; "vot vasn't dot dot you didn't say?"
Instantly Deerfoot drew back his head, allowing the bushes to close, so that he was only partly revealed.
"He is going to shoot!" exclaimed Jack.
Such, it was evident, was the intention of their friend, who brought his rifle to a level, the black barrel plainly visible as it was thrust among the branches. Instead of being aimed downwards, it was pointed at a considerable elevation above the defenders at some object at the other side of the fort.
Turning their beads, the boys saw, from the agitation in the branches of a tree, almost large as the oak, that something was moving among the limbs. The truth flashed upon both. While they were watching their friend, he had detected an enemy stealing into the tree behind them, and sought to make known the alarming truth by means of gesture. Seeing they failed to catch his meaning, he decided to attend to the matter himself, though it can be understood that the shot would render his own death almost certain.
"That will never do!" exclaimed the young Kentuckian; "Deerfoot is too valuable to be sacrificed."
The savage, who was climbing, did so with great care. Now a beaded moccasin would twinkle alongside the trunk, whisking out of sight like a frolicking squirrel; then a red feather flashed to sight and away again, the broad, painted face peeped from behind the tree, while glimpses of the clothing here and there showed the rate with which the warrior went upward.
Deerfoot must have seen the savage at the moment he began ascending the trunk, and could not fail to know his purpose. It was all-important that the dangerous individual should be "attended to," and, observing that his friends were too much absorbed in watching his movements to remember their own peril, the friendly Shawanoe did not hesitate to take the frightful risk upon himself.
It may be said that it would be utterly impossible for him to discharge his gun from the elevation without the other warriors discovering the fact, though one or two might suspect the weapon was fired within the enclosure; yet it was characteristic of the youth that, when the necessity presented itself, he did not hesitate.
But Jack Carleton's presence of mind came to his assistance. He began such vigorous gestures that the attention of Deerfoot was caught; without lowering his gun, he glanced downward. He saw Jack shaking his head from side to side, swinging his hand back and forth and darting his finger excitedly at the tree on the other side of the fort.
The quick-witted Shawanoe caught his meaning, and took his gun from his shoulder. Again he pushed the bushes aside, so that his face came to view, and, looking down on his friends, smiled, nodded, and made several gestures toward the other redskin, who was still cautiously climbing the tree. Then the curtain was drawn again, and Deerfoot assumed the part of spectator instead of actor.
It is almost incredible that this performance could have taken place without detection from below; but it came about that, while it was going on, the attention of the red men was occupied by another occurrence which will be told at the proper time. The only ones who showed any interest in Deerfoot and his enemy, steadily making his way aloft, were the boys within the enclosure.
Accepting the lesson, Jack told Otto in a low voice to keep the closest watch on all the tree-tops within sight, for it seemed likely that still more of their enemies would resort to the same strategy.
"Let there be no mistake about this," he said to his companion; "if you catch sight of any one else, give him a shot, but I'm to settle the question with this particular gentleman."
"Dot ish all right," assented Otto; "dot ish, it will be all right if he ain't all wrong when you hits him."
Jack Carleton made no reply. He was standing with his left foot thrown slightly forward, his rifle, at his right shoulder, his head inclined and his left eye, closed. He was following the movements of the Miami (as he judged him to be), who was seeking a perch from which to fire down on the defenders of the primitive fort.
It would have been the easiest thing in the world for our friends to place themselves beyond danger from that particular warrior; they had only to step a little nearer the eastern wall, when it would intervene between them and the savage; but Jack grasped the situation well enough to understand the advantage of impressing their assailants with the danger of any kind of attack. If the defenders should busy themselves with dodging the aim of their foes, the trees were likely to swarm with them, and it would become impossible to elude their aim.
As before, the climbing Miami afforded occasional glimpses of himself. Now a moccasin, then a hand, his gun, the black horse-hair-like covering for his crown, with the painted eagle feathers, then an instant gleam of the eyes, and then nothing at all.
Remembering that a wound would be as effective its death itself, Jack coolly waited the opportune moment. Suddenly he saw the rifle, arm and shoulder of the warrior, as he flung them partly over a limb to help draw himself upward. Without a second's delay the youth fired, his view being much less obstructed than was the care with his friend in the other tree.
An ear-splitting screech broke the stillness, and the wounded Miami came tumbling downward as though every possible support had given way beneath him. To the watchful lads it looked as if he struck nothing at all in his descent, but fell with the swiftness of a cannon-ball, until the intervening logs shut him from sight.
"I dinks some dings dropped," said Otto, with a grin; "mebbe he don't try to fool us some more agin, don't it?"
Jack made no comment, but, as was his rule, reloaded his gun with utmost haste, dreading all the time a rush from their enemies. It may be set down as singular that something of the kind did not take place, since the assailants must have known it could not fail to be effective.
The sagacious Deerfoot seemed to believe that his position was no longer tenable, for, instead of staying where he was, he began descending, apparently in panic of fear, lest he should share the fate of the other red man. So far as he could, he kept the trunk of the tree between him and the youthful marksmen until beyond all danger of being harmed.
Jack saw just enough of the movement to understand its meaning, and he smiled grimly.
"After doing what you have done, you ought to take the part of leader and draw off the warriors."
The young Kentuckian stood near the middle of the enclosure glancing upward in different directions while reloading his piece, for he understood too well the necessity of unremitting vigilance whenever the American Indian takes a hand in proceedings.
Otto was not behind him in that respect. He walked softly around the fort close to the walls, attentively listening for sounds that would give some knowledge of what was going on outside. At intervals he stopped and with his knife gouged the wood, where it seemed thinner than usual, but in every case found the thickness too great to be pierced.
Just beneath the spot where the butt of the tree rested on the upper edge of the wall, he stopped Once more and pressed his ear against the logs. He stood fully a minute, when, without moving his head, he looked sideways at his friend, who was watching him. The expression of his face was so significant that Jack knew he had made a discovery of importance.
"What is it?" he asked.
Otto motioned for him to keep quiet. Jack stepped forward in front of him.
As Otto was looked at him without speaking, he also pressed his ear against the logs, with a view of learning what was going on.
Every one knows that wood is a good conductor of sound, and, though in this case there were several layers of logs through which the noise passed, the second listener at once suspected the truth.
The scratching of the bark indicated that some one was carefully climbing up the inclined tree.
"That is to be their next move," muttered. Jack, hastily stepping back to the centre of the space; "if they make a rush over that bridge they will be down in a twinkling—"
Otto kept his position, with his ear still glued to the logs, and not yet certain what the noise meant.
Just as Jack looked upward he saw, to his amazement, the head and front of the huge black bear coming up the inclined tree with the intent purpose of entering the interior. It instantly occurred to the youth that it was the same daring bruin that came so near attacking them a short while before.
He has used this place as his den and means to return to it; the Indians have seen him prowling around, and placed the tree so as to temp him to climb upward on it.
The beast advanced until he could look downward on the couple, and then, gazing only a second or two, he backed out of sight and dropped to the ground with a strange, chuckling growl.
At the same instant a feeling of unutterable chagrin came over the lad who witnessed the maneuver, for, just a breath too late, he comprehended the shrewd trick by which be had been outwitted. Confused by the unexpected sight, he failed to note that the creature was not a bear at all, but a Shawanoe warrior skillfully disguised as much.
With the skin of one of the beasts gathered over his head and shoulders, he had made his way up the support, peered at the defenders, and then withdrawn before the watchful Jack could tumble him to the earth with the bullet that would have pierced his body had five seconds more been given in which to aim and fire.
Jack's chagrin was deepened the more he reflected upon the singular occurrence. Had he been outwitted by some skillfully-executed trick of the Indians, he would have accepted it as a mishap liable to overthrow the most experienced ranger of the woods; but he felt he ought to have known on the instant that no real bear would have attempted anything of the kind.
There was not a phase of the artifice which was not a reproach to him. Had the beast used the enclosure as a den or a retreat—a thing of itself incredible—the evidence of that fact would have been noticed the moment the boys climbed within. Then the likelihood of his clambering up the inclined tree in the presence of a war party of Shawanoes and Miamis, who had laid it for that very purpose, was too grotesquely absurd to be thought of with patience.
"Maybe it is as well," he said, with an effort to extract some consolation from the blunder; "for perhaps it will lead them to repeat the trick."
"Mine gracious! why didn't he drop down onto mine bead?" said Otto, stepping hastily away from his position; "he would have mashed me out as flat as—-as—as a big tree itself."
"I don't see why they didn't form a procession of bears and walk right over among us? We would have stood still and allowed them to hug us to death."
Admitting the only explanation that presented itself, Jack and Otto were not yet able fully to account for the proceeding. The labor of dragging the fallen trunk and lifting the butt to the wall, seemed too great to suppose it was to be used only to allow one of the Indians to climb to the top and peer over upon the boys beneath. The same thing could be accomplished by ascending one of the trees and avoiding the peril to which some of them had been exposed.
But, beside all that, what in reality was gained by taking a peep at the youths? The assailants knew they were there, and it could not matter a jot in what particular manner they were employing themselves. They could do nothing that could give those on the outside the slightest concern. It was the defenders whose interests required the anticipation of the movements of the warriors.
"I can't understand it," said Jack, standing close to his friend and talking in a low voice.
"So ain't I—harks!"
They listened a full minute, but the silence could not have been more profound. A gentle wind stirred the leaves overhead, and the tops of the trees nearest them could be seen slightly swaying against the clear sky beyond. The murmur of the great forest was like the voice of silence itself while the almost inaudible murmur of the Mississippi, sweeping so near, made itself manifest the first time since they had turned at bay.
The deep quiet was more impressive than the whoops and screeches of the warriors would have been. Under such circumstances, it boded mischief, and the utter uncertainty of its nature almost unsettled the remarkable courage both up to that moment had displayed.
"I hears nodings," added Otto; "I'mebbe don't go to sleep and wait for the night to come."
"Night is a good many hours off," replied Jack, with an uneasy glance at the sky, which showed him the sun had not yet reached meridian; "they can beat any people in the world waiting, when they have a mind to do so, but there's been no necessity of halting at all. If they had followed up over the logs it would have been all ended by this time."
"Yaw; they would have tumbled all over us, like a pig lot of trees falling down, but now I dinks they waits."
"Why will they do that?"
"If dey climbs over like as dey didn't does, don somepody git hurt, but if dey holds on till night den we'll have to climb over and falls on 'em."
This was Otto's manner of expressing what was inevitable, in case the besiegers should conclude to wait for the hour, which could not be very distant, when the defenders must lose all power of resistance.
The two did not forget to keep a continuous guard over the "watch-towers" of the enemy. Despite the repulse that had followed their attempts, it was by no means uncertain that they would not repeat them. The success of the bear trick was likely to tempt them to another essay in the same direction.
Otto Relstaub was leaning against the solid logs, his position such that the sun, which was now near meridian, shone directly upon him. His friend was almost immediately opposite—the two looking in each other's face, and exchanging words in low tones.
All at once the German became sensible of something cool just behind his neck.
"Vot ain't dot?" he said, putting up his hand as though to brush away some insect. Striking nothing, he turned to look.
"O-oh-oh!" he said, with a wondering expression, and an expansion of his big, honest eyes.
"There's an opening behind you," remarked his friend, moving hastily across to where he stood.
"Yaw; I sees him. Where's he been hiding himself when I voon't looking for him not a little while ago."
It certainly was curious that both boys should have made such a minute examination of the interior without finding the crevice between a couple of the logs, large enough to admit the passage of several bullets, and through which it would have been an easy matter for their enemies to shoot him who stood immediately in front.
The opening was some six inches wide, and no more than an eighth of an inch in height, resembling the crevice through which the captain looks out upon the enemy from the turret of a monitor. The fact that the red men had made no use of it was proof they did not suspect its existence, though that did not lessen the wonder of Otto that he had failed to find it himself, when making search.
"I see!" suddenly exclaimed Jack, who was attentively examining the place. "No wonder you missed it, for it was closed up. You must have rubbed one of your long ears against the stick which fits it so closely."
The piece with which it had been closed lay on the ground, at the feet of the boys, and made clear why they had failed to find that for which they had hunted so carefully.
Jack cut the stick apart with his knife and reinserted one half with a view of rendering it less liable to attract the notice of the besiegers. Then, quite sure that it was still unknown to them, he leaned forward with his eye to the opening.
"While I'm peeping here keep a lookout elsewhere, Otto."
His friend nodded, to signify he would be obeyed, and then Jack took a survey of his surroundings.
It so happened that he stood nearly under the tree which leaned against the wall, and thus gained a good view. He certainly saw enough to interest the most indifferent spectator. Five painted Indian warriors were seen standing around what seemed to be a dancing bear, who was gesticulating with his fore paws. Suddenly he cast off the shaggy hide and revealed the redskin who bad made the audacious ascent on the log in his disguise and peeped over on the boys below.
He seemed to be talking with his friends, while the whole half dozen were gesticulating with great energy, though, in spite of their excitement, their words were spoken so low that our friends could hear little more than the jumbling murmur of their voices.
No doubt more Indians were close at hand, but Jack saw none. He stealthily removed the other part of the stick, and thereby widened his view considerably, but he still failed to discover anything more. His vision took in the tree up which Deerfoot had climbed, but nothing was to be observed of him, or of any others gathered around the base.
Convinced that they were on the other side of the fort, Jack gave his whole attention to those before him.
It looked very much as if the author of the trick described was regaling his friends with an account of the highly successful manner in which he had played his points on the unsuspecting parties within the enclosure.
Jack was convinced that the rifle-shot which he and his friend heard, before rushing into the refuge, was the one that slew the bear. The Indians had hastily skinned the animal, probably completing the task near the time they became aware of the presence or rather the flight of the two boys. They had united in the pursuit, taking the bear-skin with them, and its use in the, manner described was suggested by the prostrate tree lying so close to the logs, though even that theory failed fully to satisfy the questions of the youth.
Another interesting discovery was that he had seen two of the Shawanoes before. He had no difficulty in recognizing them as those who had shown such eagerness to follow the trail of the hunter that had shot the panther some distance back on the path.
The warrior who had masqueraded in the character of a big, black bear belonged to the Miami tribe, the representatives of the two joining hands in the crusade against the young pioneers. Neither the wounded red man nor the one who was past wounding was to be seen anywhere.
The vigorous and somewhat suppressed conversation among the group continued a few minutes and then abruptly stopped. The entire party seemed to have become "talked out" the same instant.
"Now they will hatch up some more mischief," was the thought of the watcher. "I don't think it likely they will send that bear up the tree again. If they do he will come down a little quicker than he goes up."
The sensations of the young Kentuckian were very peculiar, when he became aware that the Shawanoe who had displayed so much skill in hunting for his footprints in the twilight was looking directly toward him. He seemed in fact to be gazing into the eyes of the youth, as though he was striving to stare him out of countenance.
Jack would have been glad at that moment had the opening been hermetically sealed; but, hopeful that he was not seen, he held his place, not stirring in the slightest, and striving to the utmost to keep from winking his eyes.
The singular tableau lasted much less time than the boy imagined. All at once the hum of conversation was renewed, every one of the half dozen seeming to be seized with the impulse at the same moment. He who had been gazing so steadily at Jack looked in the face of one of his comrades. Instantly the boy moved to one side and replaced the rest of the stick, so that the crevice was closed once more.
"There," he exclaimed, with a sigh, "I never was placed in a more trying situation than that."
"Vot voon't dot?"
Jack quickly told his experience, and his companion shuddered and shrugged his shoulders in sympathy.
"Have you seen any of them among the trees?"
"No. They vill not go to roost, I dinks, till the sun comes down."
"It won't do to calculate on that. If they wait they will try some new tricks."
"Vot can't them try?"
"The trouble is we cannot guess. You know the Indians are so cunning that they will think out something—"
Both boys started and looked around. Something had entered the enclosure like a bullet fired from a gun.
"Look!" whispered Jack, pointing to the other side, where an Indian arrow was seen sticking in the logs, at a point half way between the ground and the top.
"I dinks they used guns and not arrows," said the astonished, Otto, standing motionless and staring at the missile, whose barb was still trembling from the force with which it had been driven into the solid wood.
"They do use guns only," said Jack. "That arrow was fired by Deerfoot!"
"Dere is one piece of paper tied around mit it."
"It is a message from Deerfoot!" said Jack, stepping forward and, with considerable effort, drawing forth the arrow.
THE MANEUVRES OF DEERFOOT
Deerfoot the Shawanoe committed a serious mistake as he himself was the first to discover, when he upset the Miami warrior into the Mississippi and made off with his canoe. He had started out to help his friends, but his course was an injury to them, for it increased their danger without giving them the least assistance.
What he ought to have done, when he observed the drowsy fisherman, was to bring the boys to the spot, so that, directly after the red man was dispossessed, the three could have entered the boat and hastened across the river. Had he done so, all that which followed would have be averted.
In referring to the course of the young Shawano the most incredible statement is that the blunder was altogether due to his waggishness, because in his eagerness to play a joke upon an enemy, he forgot his usual caution; but such was the truth.
The warrior, however, was not the one to stay on the western shore when his friends were in danger. Though he had told them to expect him back at a certain hour, early in the afternoon, his intention was to return much earlier. It would have been folly for him to make for any point near that from which he departed when he set out from the Kentucky shore. Such a proceeding would be seen by his enemies, and would invite them to riddle him with bullets as he approached.
The moment he touched the Louisiana side, he ran under the overhanging limbs far enough to be out of sight of any who might be on the watch, and then pushed vigorously up stream. He continued until he had gone fully a half mile and had rounded quite a bend in the river. Then he paddled straight across to the other bank, down which he made his way with the same haste.
He speedily arrived in the vicinity of the lads and prepared, in his characteristic fashion, to take a hand in their rescue. Hoping that the chance for flight would speedily come, he carefully drew the canoe under cover, where he was confident it would not be seen by any enemies prowling in the vicinity. Then he stealthily plunged into the wood to give what help he could to his friends.
It took him only a little while to find they were at bay within the log enclosure and in much greater danger than he first supposed. The discovery caused a change in his plans. He returned to the canoe and took out the rifle which he had captured; his bow and, arrows were not left within the boat, for he valued them too highly to incur such risk; they were hidden where he knew no one could possibly steal them away from him. Then the little phial which he carried in the receptacle with his Bible was uncorked and the crimson paint applied with his forefinger to his face. The ornamentation was as fantastical as the imagination of the native American could make it.
Viewed for the first time by those who did not know him, he would have been classed as one of the fiercest warriors that ever went on the war trail. Had he been a pagan instead of a Christian, the idea would have been a correct one.
But Deerfoot was handicapped from the first by the fact that he was known to more than one of the party. It may be said that at that day there was scarcely a Shawanoe east of the Mississippi who had not heard of the execrated friend of the white men. They knew that his favorite weapons, beside his knife and tomahawk, were his bow and arrows; that his skill with them approached the marvelous; they knew that his fleetness surpassed that of any living person that he possessed a form and features of rare beauty; that his courage was surpassed by none, for, when but a stripling, he had handed a knife to the furious Tecumseh, and dared him to fight unto the death, and that his cunning and subtlety were beyond the reach of the ordinary warrior.
Deerfoot himself was aware of his general notoriety, and, though he might not have been seen by the Shawanoes, yet they would identify him at the first glance, provided he appeared before them in his own proper person.
It will be understood, therefore, why he disguised his appearance with such care. With the shrewdness of one of our modern detectives, he made a change also, as may be said, in "himself" that is, he walked differently, and used his arms and legs in style altogether foreign to his custom.
It must be remembered that there were several strong points in his favor; his was the tribe whose warriors hated him with unspeakable hatred, and he therefore was a master of every detail. When he was assisted by the gloom of night, he was in scarcely any danger, though it was far different under the glare of the sun.
Another advantage should be named, inasmuch as the reader is apt to overlook it; the separate war parties from the Shawanoe and Miami tribes were not only few in numbers, but they had not met until after arriving in the neighborhood where the youthful pioneers were traveling with little fear of molestation. Thus, in a certain sense, the warriors, while allies, were comparative strangers. After disguising himself he believed his identity would not be discovered by the Miamis, unless, possibly, by the lone fisherman. There was also a fair prospect that he could avert suspicion for a time on the part of the Shawanoes, unless particular attention was directed to him.
The foregoing seems necessary in order to justify what was done by the wonderful Deerfoot. He managed to appear on the outer fringe of the ring of assailants, without drawing special notice, and he used all his skill in learning what the assailants intended to do.
The warrior who had been shot while in the act of climbing over the logs after the boys, met his fate before Deerfoot arrived on the scene. The Indians were in a revengeful mood, and were unanimous in their determination to visit the worst punishment on the youths who were making such a brave fight for their lives.
"But for Deerfoot they would not be in this sad plight," was the thought of the young Shawanoe; "therefore the Great Spirit expects Deerfoot not to think of his own life until they are saved from the death which threatens them."
Fortunately for this purpose the warriors were scattered to a considerable extent, and seemed to give their whole thoughts to those within the enclosure. Deerfoot knew, when he observed the heavy log borne forward, and the butt placed on the wall, that it was meant to be used to carry out some plan not clearly settled in the minds of the assailants themselves. When he saw a move to climb the trees which stood near the rude fort, he feared his friends would be caught unawares, and he took to a tree with the hope of being able to give them warning in time.
On this point it will be seen the young warrior underrated the woodcraft of his friends. With a thrill of pleasure he glanced at the rifle of Jack Carleton pointed at him, before he had sought to open communication. It was only a natural precaution which led him to select a tree where he was able to use the sign language, without being seen by any of his enemies below. He made sure that enough foliage intervened to screen him from the inquiring gaze of his enemies during the proceeding.
Having made certain that his identity was known to his friends, it will be remembered that the sought to warn them of the very peril which threatened from the tree on the other side. Failing to make himself clear, he raised his own gun with the intention of shooting the savage from the perch, but providentially Otto Relstaub averted the necessity.
It is difficult to believe that had Deerfoot fired the shot he could have effected his own escape. The point from which the gun was discharged must have made itself manifest to more than one warrior below, and would have involved him in a labyrinth of peril, where his subtlety must have failed him.
But it need not be repeated that he would not have faltered on that account, had the need existed. He believed it his duty to hesitate at no risk, because he himself was wholly to blame for the dire straits in which the boys found themselves.
With a grim enjoyment that can hardly be understood, Deerfoot stood in the background and watched the antics of the warrior who had wrapped the bear-skin about his shoulders and body. He could not avoid a feeling of admiration for the cleverness with which the front was arranged, so as to resemble that of the beast, but he felt not the slightest fear that the trick would succeed. It was such an antiquated stratagem that he wondered it was attempted, especially after the defenders had given so convincing evidence of their watchfulness.
His amazement, therefore, may be appreciated when he saw the creature slowly make his way to the edge of the fort, look down on the boys, and then back a few steps and drop to ground.
He could not believe they had failed penetrate a disguise which could scarcely hope to deceive, except under very favoring circumstance but concluded they must have refrained good reason of their own.
While these troublesome thoughts were in the mind of Deerfoot, he kept his eye on the Miami, whose scant clothing had not dried after his voluntary plunge into the Mississippi, from the bow of his canoe. His victim acted as though he entertained some doubts as to the identity of the individual that did not mingle with the main body of the warriors.
Deerfoot knew that if he did suspect the truth, his curiosity was likely to cause trouble. The time had come when it was the part of wisdom to withdraw.
At last the Miami walked toward the enclosure, where two of his own tribe were talking same number of the Shawanoes. He said something which stirred up matters at once. All five began talking vigorously, and then they turned take a look at the youthful warrior.
He was gone, having vanished as silently as he appeared on the scene, and it was well that he did so, for the deception could have been carried no further.
Within the succeeding ten minutes the report of a rifle came from the direction of the river. Then a second was heard from another point in the wood, and again a third report awoke the echoes among the trees.
The red men did not know what it meant. All the surviving members of the two parties were together, and they could not understand who the new comers were. They were probably those of their own race, though the discomforting possibility remained that they might be white men on their way to the help of the beleaguered boys.
The truth was, Deerfoot was convinced that if Jack and Otto were not extricated from their peril long before night, no hope could remain for them. It was so clearly in the power of the red men to capture or destroy them whenever they chose to put forth the effort, that he knew they would not wait until night.
There were trees on every hand which would shelter the sharp-shooters. If they ensconced themselves among the limbs of these, the lads would be shut off from the chance of protecting themselves, for on whichsoever side of the space they stood, they would be within the range of one or two of the gunners.
The plan which he next proceeded to put into execution was in the mind of Deerfoot from the first moment be learned of the situation of the endangered ones. It was impossible to succeed without a perfect understanding with his friends, for they necessarily had an important part to play in the programme.
"Deerfoot will send them a message," he said to himself, with a throb of pride over the facility at his command; "that will tell everything."
Making his way to a safe point in the forest, he sat down on the ground, tore off a piece from the paper which he carried with his Bible, and with red chalk, sharpened to a point, he proceeded to write the words intended only for the eyes of his friends within the enclosure. The paper was twisted around the arrow, just back of the bead, and he then was ready to adopt the means which he had employed more than once in somewhat similar situations.
"TALL OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW"
Jack Carleton walked across the slight space that separated him from the arrow, quivering in the log on the opposite side of the enclosure. He knew that it had come from the bow of the young Shawanoe, who displayed his extraordinary skill by sending it at such an elevation that it passed over the heads of his friends.
"It is a message from Deerfoot," repeated the Kentuckian, as he drew out the missile and unwrapped the paper wound around it. "Let us see what he has to say."
The paper being unfolded, showed the following words in the small but graceful hand of the Shawanoe:
"Let my brothers listen! They will hear one gun; they will hear another, and then will sound a third! Let them listen closer, for they are meant for their ears! Then will come shouts and the sound of a gun the fourth time! Let my brothers climb over the logs and run as fast as they can to the river. Close by the ash that lies with its limbs in the water, they will find the canoe; they must make haste to paddle across or it will be too late. They must not wait for Deerfoot. He will take care of himself. Let my brothers listen and be not slow."
"There's no trouble to understand what he means," said Jack, after reading the words aloud.
"What ish it dot he does?" asked Otto, not quite certain as to the purpose of their dusky ally.
"He means to start a panic. He is going to try to scare the red men so that they will scatter and give us a chance to get away."
The German lad shook his bead.
"Nix. He can't do dot."
"It looks to me like a wild scheme, but as it is the last hope, we must be ready to give all the help we can, for I don't know of any one who ought to be more interested than we. Sh! What was that?"
Just then it was so still that the slightest noise made by a falling fragment of a stick reached their ears. Looking quickly around they saw that the bit of wood which had been used to close the orifice between the logs had fallen or had been pushed out and lay on the ground. The narrow slit would have shown daylight through it had it not been closed by altogether a different object or rather series of objects; for when the astonished boys contemplated the spot they caught the gleam of two pairs of eyes peering at them.
The Indians had found the opening and were scrutinizing the interior. The glitter of the four orbs which filled the crevice caused most peculiar sensations on the part of the boys who saw them.
"Ain't you not ashamed mit yourselves!" exclaimed Otto, quickly bringing his gun to his shoulder and firing directly through the opening.
"I teaches you mit better manners."
But, quick as he was, the warriors were quicker, and the darkened slit became light with the noiseless speed of a twinkling sunbeam. The Indians needed no second intimation of what was coming.
The crisis which followed this shot was more imminent than the defenders supposed. The assailants had become convinced that they were throwing away valuable time, and they assembled in a group to consider the best means of forcing matters to an issue.
It was at that moment that the report of the gun was heard from the direction of the river. Shawanoe and Miami suspended conversation and, looking inquiringly at each other, listened.
A brief while after, the second shot was heard from another point, followed by a third from still another direction.
"There are strangers in the woods," remarked one of the warriors, in a guarded voice.
"Our brothers have come to look for us."
As suddenly as the crash of a thunderbolt, the Shawanoe war-whoop broke on the air, followed by what seemed to be the shouts of white men.
Then a voice of mortal terror shouted in the same tongue:
"The white men are coming! The white men are coming!"
The sound of hurrying feet was heard, as though a dozen warriors were fleeing in hot haste from a dreaded foe. The effect intended by this diversion of Deerfoot promised the brilliant success he hoped rather than expected. One of the savages standing close to the fallen tree, started with an exclamation and dashed off in an opposite direction from the point whence came the alarming sounds. The effect was contagious: the others followed pell-mell, every one plunging forward with the frantic desperation which the bravest man will show in moments of panic.
It need not be said that Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub listened to these favorable sounds with breathless interest. They understood the stratagem of Deerfoot, and could not feel very hopeful of its success; but the noise of hastily departing warriors thrilled them with delight.
"They are running!" exclaimed the young Kentuckian, with beaming face; "who would have thought it?"
"I dinks it time dot we vasn't doing the same," said Otto, who, catching the top of the wall with both hands, drew himself upward and peered over. He was gratified with the sight of the two hindmost warriors just vanishing from sight. The whole party were panic-stricken.
Otto turned his head to tell the joyful news to his companion, when he saw that he had also drawn himself up beside him. The fourth report of a gun was heard.
"Now is your time," said Jack: "over with you; I'll hand you your gun."
Otto lost no time in scrambling over, and his feet scarcely touched the ground when his rifle whizzed end over end after him. It required all his activity to dodge it, and, while doing so, he received a sound thump from the gun of his friend, who seemed to be flinging weapons around with wild recklessness.
One important fact was clear to the boys: the panic of the Indians was certain to be short-lived. Before fleeing far, they would suspect the trick played on them, and would return with tenfold more fierceness than before.
The hearts of the boys throbbed high with hope when they found themselves outside the enclosure which had served them as a prison, and they knew the irrevocable step had been taken; they must now go forward at all hazards.
The Mississippi was near, and thither they made all haste, remembering the instructions of Deerfoot as conveyed through the note borne to them on the wings of the arrow. Jack, who was the fleeter of foot, kept slightly in advance, though he had no purpose of leaving his friend behind.
"Dot ish one good things as nefer vos," Otto took occasion to say, while panting close behind him: "dere ish not so many of demi blagued vines dot cotches me all de times ven I vos—oh mine gracious!"
As is too often the case, the lad rejoiced too soon, for the words were yet in his mouth when the very mishap he referred to overtook him. A running vine became entangled around his ankles, and he went forward on his hands and knees; but he was not injured, and speedily rose again.
In spite of their imminent peril, the young Kentuckian could not repress a smile when he glanced back and saw Otto picking himself up; but the smile was gone instantly, for the situation was anything but a mirthful one.
"Here we are!" called out Jack, halting on the bank of the river and glancing around him. "But where is the canoe?"
"I dinks the first things ish to find the ash tree what ish not laying up but standing down," suggested Otto, moving along the stream.
It was manifest that the boat could not be found until after locating the landmark named by the young Shawanoe; for it was certain Deerfoot had taken care to hide the canoe where some search would be necessary to find it.
But in specifying the fallen tree, Deerfoot gave no idea of where it was to be found. He must have believed it was so conspicuous that no direction was required.
During the few seconds that the friends stood irresolute, they used ears as well as eyes. Suddenly the whoop of an Indian was heard a brief distance away.
"My gracious!" whispered Jack; "they're coming back! They have discovered the trick."
"Dot ish so; let's jump on to de water and swim to de oder side."
The situation was enough to make the bravest nervous, and the sturdy German could not repress his impatience. Every second was of incalculable worth, and yet, knowing they were close to the means which was to take them to safety, they could not seize it.
"No; that won't do," replied Jack, resolutely; they will stand on the bank and pick us off without trouble to themselves; we must find the boat."
"But how can't we do dot?"
"You move up the bank and I will hurry down it the canoe cannot be far off; the instant you catch sight of it, whistle, and I'll do the same if I see it before you."
Otto sprang away with a more anxious expression on his broad, honest face than it wore when he was crouching behind the logs, and the young Kentuckian was scarcely less agitated. His feelings were similar to those which come to us in sleep, when we see some grisly terror approaching and have no power to flee before it. Somewhere, almost within reach, was the vehicle to carry them out of peril, and yet they could not lay their hands on it.
Jack was resolved, in case the canoe was not speedily found, to do as Otto advised—leap into the Mississippi and swim boldly for the other shore. If they could gain a fair start, they would have cause to hope; but such an attempt, desperate as it was, must be undertaken very soon or not at all.
Again the dreaded whoop reached them from the woods, and the leader started as though he had caught the click of a gun-lock from behind a tree.
The cry was not a loud one, and was no doubt meant as a signal to some one not far off.
"I wonder where Deerfoot can be," muttered Jack, pushing his way hurriedly through the underbrush, and glancing in every direction for the fallen tree which was to show them the craft. "He told us not to wait for him, but it seems to me he ought to have given us help in finding the boat."
Again, and for the third time, the frightful signal trembled among the trees close behind him.
"He shan't catch me unprepared, at any rate," muttered the young Kentuckian, raising the hammer of his gun and looking defiantly toward the point whence came the cry.
The Indian did not show himself, and conscious that he was throwing away precious seconds, Jack pushed forward once more, keeping watch of his flank as well as his front, for a treacherous shot from the forest would render a canoe altogether useless, so far, at least, as Master Jack Carleton was concerned.
He was impatient and desperate. There is often a perverseness in inanimate things which is beyond endurance. He had started with the highest hopes a few minutes before, confident of finding the Indian canoe without trouble, and now he was baffled and held back when on the very threshold of safety.
"It is useless to wait," he finally said, coming to an abrupt halt. "I will call to Otto and we will swim for it."
But, before he could emit the whistle that had been agreed upon, his ears were set tingling by the identical signal coming from a point up the bank.
"Thank heaven!" was his exclamation, as he wheeled about and, forgetful of the other signal that had told him of peril, dashed along the bank of the stream with furious haste.
"Otto has been more fortunate than I," he added, as he bounded forward; "he has found the canoe, and I pray that he has not been too late for us to use it."
ON THE RIVER
The experience of Otto was somewhat similar to that which befell Jack Carleton in his search for the Indian canoe. Strong, self-possessed, and courageous by nature as was the German lad, he fretted over his forced restraint more than did the other.
He pushed forward with grim recklessness. He caught the signal of the warrior which caused Jack so much disquiet, but he did not permit it to interfere with his purpose.
"Let him boot all dot he doesn't vant to," muttered the angry lad; "he don't drive me away from looking for dot canoe, don't it?"
Several minutes passed, during which he failed to discover the first sign of the missing boat. Finally, realizing that a considerable distance must intervene between him and Jack, he came to a pause, and, sitting on a fallen tree, took off his cap, mopped his forehead, and heaved a great sigh:
"Dot ish queerer as efer vos; Deerfoot, he tells me dot we find his boat and we don't finds him; he says we must jump into the boat and paddles out mitdle Mississippi, but we finds the Mississippi, but vere ain't dot canoe? Dot ishn't the question. Vere isn't Jack? He ish looking for de canoe also mit likevise, and I don't bear him vistle for me—mine gracious!"
Otto spoke slowly, giving utterance only to a few of the thoughts which stirred his brain. He was on the point of signaling to his friend to return, and, insisting that they should swim the river together, when he became aware that the undergrowth in front of him and close to the water, partially screened some object whose outlines could be faintly trace from where he sat.
With the exclamation, he straightened up and stared in blank astonishment. The contour of what he saw was so distinct that there could be no mistake; he was staring straight at the canoe for which he had been hunting so long.
Otto softly rose to his feet and looked behind him. He had been sitting on the very ash which Deerfoot had named as the guide that would direct them in finding the craft. Otto threw back his head and laughed, overcome by the reaction from the tense strain to which his nerves had been subjected.
"Ven somepody axes for de biggest fool dot efer vos, he looks at Otto Relstaub and says, 'I Dot ish him,' and dot will be him."
But he, shivered at the thought of the minutes that had slipped by, and, without indulging in any more soliloquy, placed his finger and thumb in his mouth and emitted the whistle which thrilled Jack Carleton down the river and brought him hurrying to the spot.
Satisfied that no repetition of the call was required, Otto gave his attention to the boat. It was a fine Indian canoe, buoyant enough to carry six or eight warriors, and furnished with three long paddles which, in skillful hands, could drive it with great speed through the water. It was made of bark, bow and stern being similar, curving inward toward the middle of the boat, and painted with rude designs outside, which showed more taste than did the ornamentation of the aboriginal countenances.
Deerfoot had displayed no little ingenuity in screening the craft from sight. Inasmuch as Otto had forgotten himself so far as to sit down on the very tree for which he was searching without once suspecting his forgetfulness, it is not to be supposed he would have discovered the boat at all but for the accident named.
Grasping one end, he began vigorously pushing it into the current. It was heavy, and he wondered at the strength of the young Shawanoe, who had drawn it clear of the water, overlooking the fact that moderate strength, skillfully applied, succeeds more frequently than does simple physical power.
After much effort, he shoved it clear of the land and held it floating on the surface.
"I wonder if Jack didn't hear me," he thought, looking around; "I thinks I calls him agin once more."
He did not utter the signal, however, for just then he heard approaching footsteps, and, a minute later, the flushed and panting Jack Carleton was beside him.
"Thank heaven!" he exclaimed; "I was in despair when your signal reached me; we haven't a second to lose."
"We ishet going to lose him, not at all. Hark!"
They heard just then, not only the faint whoop that had caused them so much disquiet, but caught sight of the warrior who uttered the alarming call.
He whisked between the trees with such bewildering quickness of movement that Jack, who had turned with his rifle half raised, saw no chance of firing with effect. Fortunately, the necessity for doing so did not exist, for the boys at the same moment recognized the red man as their friend Deerfoot, who walked forward smiling and pleased, carrying his bow and gun.
"My brothers did well," he said in his quiet way; "but they did not hasten as does the deer when the hounds are on his trail."
"We could not have hurried more than we did," replied Jack Carleton, taking the hand of the youthful warrior; "a little more haste and both of us would have broken our necks."
"Dot ish so," added Otto, emphatically; "I sot down on dis log to dinks if I couldn't run fitstery but I couldn't. What for you keep whooping all the time like a crazy person?"
"Deerfoot wished to see his brothers run, for the red men are looking for them."
"I've no doubt of that, and the wonder to me is how you managed to give them such a scare that they scattered and left us a chance to dig out."
"The wicked flee when no man pursueth," was the apt quotation of the extraordinary youth, who was so fond of studying his Bible. "But their fright will not last long."
"Such being the case we must not tarry."
The Shawanoe acted as though he did not intend to enter the canoe with them, seemingly having some object in remaining on the Kentucky side; but he changed his mind, probably concluding that his services were still needed by his friends.
He motioned to Jack, who stepped into the boat and picked up one of the paddles, Otto having done the same. Deerfoot leaped lightly after them, the impulse carrying the craft fully a rod from shore. He laid down his gun and bow, and, seizing the third paddle, made such a powerful sweep through the water that the others almost lost their balance. They essayed to help him, but he asked them with a smile to cease and leave the management of the boat entirely to him.
"We might as well," said Jack, "for we shall only hinder you."
"Dot ish de same as I doesn't dinks."
A few strokes sent the canoe well out from the land, and the Shawanoe still plied the paddle with extraordinary skill; but, as he left the shore, he knew that in one respect the danger of himself and companions was increased. If their enemies were anywhere along the Mississippi, with a suspicion of the truth, they could not fail to detect them.
It proved as he suspected. Several whoops echoed from a point a short distance below, and the quick eye of the leader caught sight of the Miamis and Shawanoes on the bank.
"Down! Down!" he said, excitedly; "let my brothers lower their heads or they will be killed."
Both Jack and Otto extended themselves flat on the bottom of the boat, but Deerfoot remained upright, plying the paddle with might and main. He headed out in the stream, and used every effort to get beyond reach of the rifles of his enemies.
"Why don't you duck your head, too?" demanded the alarmed Jack; "they can hit you as easily as us."
But Deerfoot had his eyes on the party and did not mean to throw away his life. He saw there were four red men who stood together on the very edge of the wood. When two of them raised their guns and sighted at him, he dropped like the loon, which dodges the bullet of the hunter by the flash of his gun.
A couple of reports sounded like one, and the three on the bottom of the canoe heard the bark fly. Both balls had pierced it, entering one side and passing out on the other. The weight of the occupants caused the boat to sink sufficiently to protect them, so long as they remained flat on the bottom. One of the bullets was aimed so low that it struck the water, ricocheting through the bark and bounding off in space. The other went within an inch of Deerfoot's figure, he being slightly higher than either of the others.
The echoes of the guns were ringing through the wood, when the Shawanoe straightened up and dipped the paddle into the waters again; but he had time for only one sweeping stroke when down he went once more, barely in time to escape the third shot.
Before using the paddles, he raised his head just enough to peep over the gunwale. He saw the three warriors deliberately reloading their weapons, while the other was waiting for his target to present itself. There were two others, who had been drawn thither by the calls of the first party.
"I dinks maybe I can does somedings to help," said Otto, timidly looking over the side of the craft; "mebbe I sees—mine gracious!"