The gun which was fired just then sent the bullet, as may be said, directly under the nose of the German, who lowered his face with such quickness that the whole boat jarred from the bump against the bottom.
"Deerfoot, won't it be a good thing to send a shot at them?" asked Jack; "it seems to me they would not be quite so ready with their guns."
The Shawanoe was evidently of the same mind. He had the choice of two weapons, and need it be said which was the one selected?
Standing erect in the canoe, he fitted an arrow to the string with incredible dexterity and launched it with a speed that rendered it almost invisible. The distance caused him to elevate the missile slightly, but the aim of Simon Kenton or Daniel Boone, with his long, trusty rifle, could not have been more unerring.
The red men on shore were well aware of his amazing skill, and they lost no time in adopting the dodging tactics. The instant the form of the graceful young warrior was thrown in relief against the sky and wooded shore, they bounded behind the nearest trees, peering forth like frightened children.
The movement saved one life at least, for the winged missile which, a second later, whizzed over the spot where they had been standing, was driven with a force that would have caused it to plunge clean through the body of any one in its path.
Deerfoot remained erect in the canoe until the shaft had landed, when he gave utterance to a defiant shout; sat down, and deliberately took up the paddle again.
It will be borne in mind that the yellow current of the Mississippi was swollen by freshets near its headwaters, and the canoe not only danced about a great deal, but was borne swiftly downward, seeing which the Indians hastened in a parallel course, with the purpose of holding it within range. Furthermore, other red men continually appeared at a lower point. It is within bounds to say that there was not one who did not understand the stratagem by which the young Shawanoe had outwitted them, and there was no means within their reach which they would not have put forth to revenge themselves upon him.
Within a brief space of time the guns of the warriors began popping from so many different points that Deerfoot dare not attempt to use the paddle. The blue puffs of smoke were so near that it would have been fatal to expose himself to the aim of his enemies, but, unless the canoe could be propelled still further from them, it was likely to be riddled by the converging fires.
"Things are in a bad shape," remarked Jack Carleton, afraid to raise his head a single inch, for the boat rode most uncomfortably high; "we must do something, and yet what can we do?"
Deerfoot made no answer; his fertile brain had extricated other parties from more critical situations than the one in which he was now placed, and he was quick to decide upon an expedient for doing the same in the present instance.
THE LOUISIANA SHORE
Deerfoot threw himself over the side of the canoe into the river, holding fast to the gunwale with one hand and keeping the boat between him and the Indians on shore. With the arm which was free, he swam toward the Louisiana side, towing the craft after him.
While it seemed absolutely necessary that something of the kind should be done, yet the reader will perceive that the course of the Shawanoe was extremely perilous, not only for himself, but for his friends whom he was so anxious to benefit. His removal from the canoe caused it to ride higher, and thereby exposed them to the bullets that were continually skipping about it. Deerfoot himself was forced to keep his shoulders at such an elevation that he was liable to be perforated by some flying missiles, but he increased the distance between himself and enemies with greater speed than would be supposed.
"I dinks dis ish good style," said Otto to Jack, who moved his head so as to see what he was doing. The sagacious German had gathered the three paddles so they were added to that side of the craft which served as a partial shield against the shots from the shore. The implements were so arranged that the lad felt safe against harm, unless the boat should turn half way round before he could accommodate himself to the changed condition of things.
"It is a good idea," said Jack, admiringly, as he hastened to avail himself of the defense; "I don't believe one of their bullets can pierce our shield."
Something cold made itself felt through the clothing of the young Kentuckian, where his hip pressed the bottom of the canoe. Groping with his hand he found it was water, which he saw bubbling through a bullet-hole that was forced below the surface by the vigor of Deerfoot's arm. The opposite side of the boat was lifted correspondingly high, so that the sunlight shone through.
It will be understood that the conditions prevented the Shawanoe from towing the boat directly across the Mississippi. The swift current rendered a diagonal course necessary, and even that could not be pushed with enough power to prevent the party drifting down stream.
The red men kept up a desultory fire, but it was less frequent and manifestly less hopeful than at first. They could not but see that the craft was steadily passing beyond range, and the chances of inflicting injury grew less every moment. Soon the firing ceased altogether.
A moment later, the dripping form of Deerfoot flipped over the gunwale again, diffusing moisture in every direction. Without a word, he seized the paddle and plied it with his old-time skill and vigor. He looked keenly toward Kentucky, but saw nothing of his enemies: they must have concluded to withdraw and bestow their attention elsewhere.
But, convinced that they were still watching the course of the canoe, he again rose to his feet, and, circling the paddle over his head, gave utterance to a number of tantalizing whoops. His enemies had been outwitted with such cleverness that the youth could not deny himself the pleasure of expressing his exultation in that characteristic fashion.
When Jack Carleton discovered the water bubbling through the bullet-hole in the side of the canoe, as though it was a tiny spring that had just burst forth, he was afraid it would sink the craft. He inserted the end of his finger to check, in some measure, the flow; but Deerfoot, observing the act, shook his head to signify it was unnecessary.
"My brothers shall reach land," he said.
"I have no doubt we shall, since you are using the paddle again, but a little while ago it looked as though the land we were going to reach was at the bottom of the river. Deerfoot," added Jack, with a smile, "they have punctured this boat pretty thoroughly. I cannot understand how it was we all escaped when the bullets seemed to be everywhere."
"The Great Spirit turned aside the bullets," said the Shawanoe.
"No he didn't," was the sturdy response of Jack; "I acknowledge His mercies, which have followed us all the days of our lives, but that is not the way He works. You know as well as do I, that if yon get in the way of a Shawanoe or Miami rifle, you will be hit unless yon are very quick to get out of the way again; but for all that," the Kentuckian hastened to add, noticing a reproving expression on the countenance of his dusky friend, "my heart overflows with gratitude because we have been saved, when there seemed not the first ray of hope for us. The bullets came near, but none touched us."
"I dinks different," was the unexpected remark of Otto, who, assuming the sitting position, took off his cap, and, after fumbling awhile through his shock of yellow hair, actually found a ball, which he held up between his fingers.
"Vot don't you dinks ob him, eh?" he asked, triumphantly.
The amazed Jack took the object and examined it. No need was there of doing so; it was a rifle ball beyond question.
"How in the name of all that's wonderful did that get into your hair?" asked his friend.
"I 'spose he was shot dere, and my head was too hard for it to pass through, so he stops, don't it?"
The canoe was so close to shore that Deerfoot stopped paddling for the moment and extended his band for the missile. He simply held it up, glanced at it, and then tossed it back to Otto with the remark:
"The head of my brother is thick like the rock, but the ball was not fired from a gun."
With a bewildered expression, as though some forgotten fact was beginning to dawn upon him, Otto laid his cap in his lap and began searching through his hair with both hands. A moment later, his face beamed with one of his most expansive smiles, and he showed two more rifle-bullets that had been fished from the capillary depths.
"Yaw, I forgots him; I puts dem pullets in mine hat yesterday and I dinks dey was lost; dat is looky, ain't it?"
"I don't see anything particularly lucky about it," said Jack, who suspected that much of the lad's stupidity was assumed. A healthy youngster never fails to have the organ of mirth well forward in development, and the promptings of Otto's innate love of fun seemed to have little regard for time, place or circumstances.
The American Indian is probably the most melancholy of the five races of men; but even he is not lacking in the element of mirth which it is maintained is often displayed by dumb animals.
When Deerfoot heard the explanation of Otto, he did not smile, but with a grave expression of countenance gave his entire attention to the paddle in his hand. The German sat with his back toward the front of the canoe, the other two facing him, the Shawanoe being at the rear. The shore was only a few rods away, the Mississippi being much less agitated at the side than in the middle.
Without any display of effort, the warrior used the long paddle with all the power he could put forth. Very soon the craft attained a speed greater than either of the pale faces suspected.
"No," repeated Jack Carleton, "I can't see where there is any special luck in finding the bullets in your hair; I shouldn't be surprised if they had been there for a week. You must use a very coarse-toothed comb."
"My brother uses no comb at all," suggested Deerfoot, in a solemn voice, from the rear of the boat, which was speeding like an arrow over the water.
"Now you have struck the truth," laughed Jack.
Otto rose to a stooping position, steadying himself as best he could, and extended his hand to shake that of the Shawanoe, as proof that he indorsed his remark. He placed a hand on the shoulder of the Kentuckian to steady himself, for he knew that it is a difficult matter for one to keep his balance in such a delicate structure as an Indian canoe.
"Deerfoot ish not such a pig fool as he don't look to be, somedimes I dinks he knows more nodins dan nopody; den van he h'ists sail in his canoe and sails off mitout saying nodings to nopody, den I don't dinks."
Otto Relstaub had reached that point in his remark, when the bow of the canoe arrived in Louisiana. It struck the shore with a violence that started the seams through the entire structure. The author of all this of course kept his seat, for he had braced himself for the shook. At the same time he caught the shoulder of Jack Carleton, as if to hold him quiet, but it was all pretense on his part. There was no "grip" to his fingers, and Jack immediately plunged forward, his head bumping the bottom of the boat with a crash.
As for Otto Relstaub, the consequences took away his breath. As he was trying to stand on his feet, he had a great deal more of falling to do it than his friend. He did it most thoroughly, sitting down with such emphasis that the side of the canoe gave way, and he continued the act on dry land, being stopped by a small sapling in his path.
Otto whirled over on his face, and scrambling to his feet, stared around to learn the extent of the calamity. He gathered up his gun and hat, and then, stooping, passed his hands over the bark and attentively examined it.
"I dinks it ish split a good deal mit my head," he remarked, with a grave countenance.
Meanwhile, Jack Carleton had regained his upright position and shaken himself together. When he saw Otto in an inverted position, he broke into hearty laughter, hastened, no doubt, by the fact that Deerfoot was shaking from head to foot with mirth. His black eyes glistened with tears, caused by his amusement over the performance of the German. He was laughing all over, though he gave out not the slightest sound.
As for Jack Carleton, he chuckled and gurgled with a noise like that of water running out of a bottle, while the main victim of all this merriment was as solemn as an owl. After rubbing and adjusting himself, as may be said, he turned slowly about and gazed inquiringly at his friends in the boat, as if puzzled to understand the cause of their emotions.
"Vot ish dot you seem to laugh mit?" he demanded, in an injured voice; "I see nodings."
When the others had somewhat recovered from their mirth, Otto began laughing with scarcely less heartiness than they showed. The absurd occurrence seemed slow to impress itself upon his consciousness.
Deerfoot did not allow himself to remain idle many minutes. The fractured front of the craft being immovably fixed in the bank, he leaned his head over the side and washed the paint from his face. He disliked to disfigure himself in that fashion, though he always carried the stuff with him, to be used in such an emergency as has been described.
The blanket stolen from him had been carried away by one of the warriors, so that Deerfoot held only the rifle and ammunition in the way of a reprisal; but they were more than sufficient to replace the property he had lost, and he had no cause for complaint.
Stepping on solid land again, with the water dripping from his clothing, the handsome warrior stood erect, and looked at Kentucky across the "Father of Waters." Instead of the villages and towns which now grace the locality, he saw only the lonely woods stretching north and south until lost to view.
But he knew enemies were there, and the keen vision of the youth was searching for them. They must have become discouraged over what had taken place, for not the first sign of the red men could be discerned. They seemed to have "folded their tents," and stolen off as silently as the Arabs.
But far down the Mississippi, a canoe put out from the Kentucky side and approached the opposite bank. It kept out of sight until Deerfoot the Shawanoe had withdrawn, and then it advanced with the care and stealth of the trained Indian on the war-path.
The craft was full of Miamis and Shawanoes, armed to the teeth, and impelled by the greatest incentive that can inflame the passions of the American Indian—revenge.
ON THE LOUISIANA SHORE
At last the little party were across the Mississippi. The Indian canoe, so injured that it was useless until repaired, was pushed back into the turbid current and went spinning down the river, sometimes bumping against the bank and then dancing further from shore, until striking broadside against a nodding "sawyer," it overturned, and thereafter resembled an ordinary log, on its way toward the Gulf.
It was the first time that Jack Carleton had placed foot on Louisiana soil, and be stood for a moment gazing backward at Kentucky, amid whose confines he was born and beyond which he never strayed, except when on an occasional hunting excursion into Ohio.
"I wonder whether I shall ever tread those forests again," he said to himself; "I can't say that I'm anxious to do so, for there have always been too many Indians for comfort. They killed my father and broke the heart of my mother. No, Kentucky, good bye," he added, turning his face toward the west, with a feeling that in that direction lay his future home.
Meanwhile Deerfoot and Otto took but a few minutes to prepare for their journey. The Indian having lost his blanket, held only the, rifle and ammunition by way of superfluous luggage, and it could not be said that his companions were unduly burdened, since the runaway colt had relieved them in that respect.
Deerfoot slung his long bow back of his shoulders, as he was accustomed to do when he wished the unrestrained use of both arms, and carried the rifle as the others did theirs.
The belief obtained with all three that in leaving Kentucky they bade good-bye to most of the personal peril to which they bad been subjected. The reader knows that that section was ravaged by the fierce Shawanoes, Miamis, Hurons and other tribes who were implacable in their hostility to the white men, and who did so much to give it the name of the Dark and Bloody Ground by which it was so long known. There were thousands of red men ranging through the immense province known as Louisiana, and the crack of the hostile rifle, the war-cry of the dusky chieftain, and the shock, of mortal combat marked the meeting of the races, whether on the clearing, in the forest, or in the lonely defile in the mountain.
In that section to which I have referred more than once, as now bearing the name of Missouri, the fighting between the whites and Indians was much less than on the eastern bank of the Mississippi. It will be understood, therefore, why, when the little company of friends stood on the western shore, they felt much less concern than while on the other side.
Less than two days' tramp to the westward lay the young settlement where dwelt the mother of Jack Carleton, the parents of Otto Relstaub and a dozen other families who had emigrated thither from Kentucky. Far beyond and to the southward among the wildest fastnesses of the Ozark mountains the young Shawanoe had taken refuge, where he felt secure against those of his race who hated him with irrestrainable ferocity.
As it would require no great digression on the part of Deerfoot, and as it was not to be supposed that time was very valuable to him, Jack and Otto supposed he would go with them the entire distance to the log cabin of Jacob Relstaub. To their surprise, however, he quietly said be could keep them company only a short time longer.
"I had no doubt you would be with us to the end," said the disappointed Jack.
"It would make the heart of Deerfoot glad if he could go with his brothers whom he loves; but he cannot."
"Vot ain't de reason?" asked Otto, unrestrained by the sense of propriety which held the tongue of Jack silent.
"Deerfoot is called yonder," was the reply, pointing south of the path which lay before the others.
They were silent a minute or so, in the hope that, he would explain his meaning, but he did not, and even Otto saw that he had no right to question him further.
Aware that his friends were waiting for him to add something, Deerfoot continued:
"The path of my brothers is straight, and they will not get down on their knees to look for the trail. There are no Shawanoes among the trees to fire when they are not looking, and Deerfoot can may no words that will do good."
"It is not that which causes us to hope for your company," replied Jack, who was standing several feet away from the youthful warrior and looking in his serious countenance; "but it is because we like you, not only for what we have heard from others, but for what we have seen with our own eyes, and for what you have done for us, that we are loath to part with you."
"Deerfoot will go part of the way," the Indian hastened to say, perceiving the feeling of his friends, "but it cannot be long."
"Far be it from me to question what you do; no right belongs to me, but I could not let you go without telling bow much we appreciate what you have done for us, and how much we admire your noble character."
It was one of the peculiarities of Deerfoot that he never accepted the most pointed compliment. When forced to reply to a direct one, he turned it aside with an indifference which showed he placed no value upon it. As Jack Carleton remarked later on, praise ran from Deerfoot like water from a duck's back.
But another matter forced itself upon the attention of the boys, who were on their way to the settlement. It has been stated already that the father of Otto Relstaub was penurious, miserly, and cruel. The colt on which the boy had ridden to Coatesville, Kentucky, and part of the way back again, was the better of the two horses owned by him. Its loss was certain to throw him into a great rage, and doubtless would bring down the severest punishment on the back and shoulders of the son.
Jack Carleton understood this prospect as well as did Otto himself, and he was of the belief that a resolute effort should be put forth to recover the horse. When the matter was stated to Deerfoot, his own knowledge of the ill-tempered German caused him to urge the attempt. In fact he would have done so, had the case been otherwise, for the value of the animal was considerable. Furthermore, Deerfoot was of the opinion that the colt could be regained without serious difficulty, and he told them they had little to fear from hostile Indians.
Had the Shawanoe seen the canoe, loaded to the gunwales with red men in their war paint, which at that very moment was stealing close under the Louisiana shore, be would have modified his remarks to a very considerable extent.
The peculiarly original manner in which the boys crossed the Mississippi had resulted in carrying them some distance below the trail that trended to the westward. As the runaway horse had undergone the same experience, and as Otto had descried him when he emerged from the river, it was easy to locate quite closely the point where he entered Louisiana.
"It ish below vere we don't stands not dis moment," he said, when they were ready to move off.
"My gracious, Otto," exclaimed Jack, "can't you handle English a little better than that? I thought your father was the crookedest of speech of any person I ever heard, but he can't be any worse than you."
"Yaw-don't it?" grinned Otto.
"Try to improve yourself! You ain't much of a fool on other matters, and you may as well learn to talk like a civilized being. I have seen Deerfoot shocked more than once at the horrible style in which you mangle the king's English. I want you to promise to make an effort to do better; will you?"
"Yaw; I dinks not efery dimes dot I does much better as nefer vos; vot doesn't you dinks not apout it, eh-don't it? Yaw!"
Deerfoot had taken a couple of steps along the bank with the purpose of hunting the hoof-prints of the missing horse, but he paused and half turned about, looking with an amused expression at his friends who were holding their characteristic conversation.
There was something noteworthy in the fact that while Otto had heard the English tongue spoken quite correctly, from the hour he was able to toddle out doors, he could not compare in his lingual skill to Deerfoot, who had never attempted a word of the language until wounded and taken prisoner by the whites. What caused all this difference?
The same thing which distinguishes one man from another, and crowns failure with success, or reverses it, as the case may be—brains.
The three youths moved down the bank in an irregular Indian file, for no one saw the need of extra precaution. Deerfoot was about a rod in advance, walking with a brisk step, for his searching eyes took in everything in the field of vision, and the trail for which he was searching was sure to be marked with a distinctness that could permit no mistake.
It was the same apparently endless forest which met their eyes when they looked across from Kentucky, and which seemed to encroach on the borders of the river itself, as though envious of its space. There was little undergrowth, and they advanced without difficulty.
"I dinks be ish close to vere de colt goomes owet", said Otto, his words uttered with such deliberation that it was manifest he was doing his best to heed the appeal of the young Kentuckian.
"That is a decided improvement," Jack hastened to say, with an approving smile. You don't pronounce very well, but you built up that sentence better than usual."
"Dot's vot I dinks no times, yaw—I means dot ish vot I dinks mine Belf."
"Good!" said Jack, reaching out and patting his shoulder; "if you will devote a few minutes to hard thought before speaking a single word, you will improve until one of these days you will be able to speak as well as Deerfoot."
"Yaw, dot ish nodings—yaw, holds on I dinks hard!" exclaimed Otto, resolutely checking himself until he could gain time to frame the expression he had in mind. But before he succeeded, a slight exclamation from Deerfoot made own his discovery of the trail for which they were hunting.
The others hastened to his side, and looking at the ground, saw the hoof-prints of the horse that had run away with Otto Relstaub. As the animal was well shod, there could be no mistaking the trail, differing from that of the Indian ponies, which, as a matter of course, were without such protection for their feet.
"Yaw, dot ish him," remarked the German, his effort being to surprise Deerfoot as well as to please Jack Carleton by the correctness of his diction.
A brief examination of the foot-prints showed that the colt had taken matters leisurely after emerging from the Mississippi. Instead of breaking into a gallop and plunging straight into the woods, he had halted long enough to eat what little grass grew within reach, after which he wandered off for more.
The trail was followed several hundred yards, until a rising ground was reached. It was observed that for the distance named, the colt was following a course slightly north of west-the very one which, if persevered in long enough, would take him to the log cabin of his owner.
Deerfoot said it was likely that the animal had set out of his own accord to go home, and, provided he was not secured by some wandering Indians, it was more than likely he would arrive at that point in advance of the boys themselves.
Jack Carleton held the same views, and Otto, after taking a full minute to shape up his ideas, said with great impressiveness:
"Dot ish vot I dinks as—yaw, I dinks dot."
"Hold on," interrupted Jack, raising his hand with a laugh; "you have it straight now; don't spoil it by trying to improve it."
Otto nodded his head and held his peace. He was wise when he did so.
Deerfoot was on the point of adding an encouraging remark, when his keen vision detected something a short distance in advance which claimed his attention. Without a word, he motioned for them to hold their peace, and then ran rapidly several paces toward that which had caught his eye.
THE SMOKE OF A CAMPFIRE
Deerfoot identified the object before reaching it. His friends followed him doubtingly, and while a rod to the rear, saw him gather it up and hold it aloft.
"It is your blanket," said Jack Carleton to his companion.
"Dot ish what it be."
It was easy to understand why the piece of coarse cloth lay on the ground. Instead of rolling it up with the smaller one belonging to Jack Carleton, Otto had made a separate bundle and strapped it behind the other effects on the back of the horse. The latter in moving among the trees had displaced it.
It was saturated with water, which dripped from the folds when raised from the ground. Jack and Otto twisted it between them until all the moisture it was possible to wring out left it in a dozen tiny rills. "Deerfoot," said the German, wheeling about, "dot ish de blanket vot—vot I don't—vot I put on your shoulders ven it rained."
The Shawanoe bowed his head, smiled and said:
"Deerfoot knows his brother speaks truth."
"I gives him to you—be ish yours."
The Indian made no move to take it, and Jack added:
"We shall soon find the colt and with him my blanket and the other articles he has with him. We do not need this; you have none, and you have many miles to traverse before you reach your home; we shall be glad if you will take it from us."
Deerfoot partly raised his hand to accept the gift, but stepped back with a shake of his head.
"When my brother goes to the cabin of his father, and, he asks him for the blanket, what will he say?"
"I vill tells him dot I gives him mit you."
"Then the father of my brother will strike him."
"I dinks dot ish so," said Otto with a grin and shrug of his shoulders, "but I be glad to take a flogging for him dot does so much for me—don't it?"
The youth compressed his thin lips and made a single shake of his head, so positive in its character that nothing more was needed.
"But," added Jack Carleton, convinced from the hesitancy shown at first by Deerfoot, that he really wished the blanket, "if you are so desirous of saving Otto from a flogging, it can be easily done. When we take back the colt and Mr. Relstaub asks for the blanket, we can tell him that an Indian took it before we found the horse. That will be the truth."
Deerfoot looked straight in the face of the young Kentuckian, and his lips parted as if on the point of speaking, but he refrained, and with his shadowy smile, again shook his head. The gesture said as plainly as the words could have done:
"What you propose is as much a falsehood as anything can be."
"But I will give Otto my blanket," persisted Jack Carleton, determined to overcome the scruples of the remarkable Indian, "that will make things right."
"Where is my brother's blanket?" asked Deerfoot with a grave countenance.
"I shall soon find it: the horse can't be far off."
"Deerfoot will wait till my brother finds it."
"Well! well", said Jack, with a wondering sigh, "you are the strangest person I ever saw. It isn't worth while to argue any question with you. So we'll let it pass."
Such seemed to be the wish of Deerfoot, for, with his silent step, he moved along the elevated ground, until he arrived at a spot where the trees were so few and stunted that an extended view was obtained. There the three halted side by side, and spent several minutes gazing over the surrounding country.
Looking toward Kentucky, the majestic Mississippi was in plain sight as it swept southward, while beyond stretched the undulating forest, until it met the dim horizon in the distance. Far to the southward was seen the smoke of a campfire. It was unusually murky, and, as it ascended in a wavy line through the clear atmosphere, it looked as if the soiled finger of some great ogre had been drawn against the clear blue sky.
But it was a sight which every one of the party had seen before, and it excited little interest. It was no concern of theirs what took place in Kentucky, and Jack and Otto turned to survey the "promised land," which opened out to the westward.
Woods, patches of natural clearing, hills and misty mountains many miles away: these were the general features of the immense area which expanded before their sight. Ordinarily there was nothing among these of special account, but the eye of Deerfoot, which never seemed to lose anything, detected almost instantly a "sign" that signified a great deal to him and his companions.
In a depression, no more than a furlong distant, could be observed the faintest possible tinge of smoke, slowly ascending from a mass of dense forest. It was so faint, in fact, that neither Jack nor Otto noticed it, until Deerfoot pointed his finger in that direction, and said "The camp of red men!"
The vapor was of a light blue, just above the tree-top's, and it rose only a few feet more, when it dissolved in the clear atmosphere. But it showed that a camp-fire was burning beneath, though it may have been kindled many hours before, and those who started it possibly were miles away in the depths of the forest.
"Suppose they are Shawanoes or Miamis?" remarked Jack.
"They are not Shawanoes," said Deerfoot quietly.
"Deerfoot thinks they are not Miamis, but he cannot be sure till he sees the camp."
And without further remark, he went down the slope with a rapid step, which, it is hardly necessary to say, gave out no noise at all. Jack concluded he could not feel much misgiving or he would not have allowed him and Otto to follow so close on his heels. But they were some distance off, when he turned about and motioned them to halt.
"Let my brothers wait for Deerfoot," he said softly.
Knowing he would be obeyed without question, Deerfoot continued his advance, speedily disappearing from sight among the trees and undergrowth, while the others did as he requested.
The discovery of the camp-fire not only caused some misgivings about the personal safety of the little company, but it suggested that the missing horse was lost beyond recovery. Horse-flesh is the most "sensitive capital" on the frontier, and he who pilfers it runs more danger of lynching than does the man who takes the life of a fellow being. To the Indian, the noble animal is as indispensable as to the settler, and, if the party who had made the halt in that neighborhood learned that an unusually fine steed was wandering near them, they would lose no time in making him captive.
But from the moment our young friends left their elevated position, they followed a different route from that of the colt.
"Mine gracious!" whispered the disturbed German lad: "I dinks dot if they don't got de golt then the golt don't got dem, and fader he won't be as bleased as nefer vos."
"There isn't any hurry, Otto, in putting your words together, and it is a good time for you to try to string them so they will make a little sense."
"Yaw; I vill tries."
"Sh! There comes some one!"
It was Deerfoot, who appeared a moment later, and beckoned his friends to join him. His manner, while not careless, was so manifestly free from solicitude, that Jack knew there was no ground for alarm. He and Otto overtook the Shawanoe at the moment he stepped into the open space where a camp-fire had been burning some time before.
In fact it was still burning, else the smoke would not have caught the eye of the Indian youth; but it must have been smoldering for hours, judging from the thinness of the vapor, and the fact that little more than a pile of ashes and decaying embers met the sight.
There is naught to be said in the way of description. The fire, when kindled, had been a large one, and all the burning sticks were in one pile instead of two or three, as is often the case. The charred ends protruded irregularly from the white, feathery ashes, and one solitary brand, smothered almost from sight, sent up the faint bluish vapor which, creeping through the foliage overhead, told the vigilant Shawanoe where to look for the camp of his enemies.
"How long have they been gone?" asked Jack, gazing carefully around and assuring himself that no strangers were near.
"They went away when the sun first came up from the woods; many hours have passed since they left."
"Which course did they take?"
Deerfoot pointed toward the south.
"Were you right in saying they were not Shawanoes?"
"They did not belong to my tribe."
"Ah, then they were Miamis. I made up my mind to that."
"My brother is wrong," replied Deerfoot, with a flitting smile; "they were Osage Indians."
"How don't you know dot?"
"My other brother is wrong: Deerfoot said not he did not know it; he does know they were Osages."
Jack Carleton poked Otto in the side.
"Even Deerfoot corrects your language."
"All rights," said Otto, bristling up; "I'ven I don't haf a mind to, I talks mebbe better nor you does; but ven I does, den I don't; so I shets up my mouth up, mebbe—don't it?"
Deerfoot stepped to a fallen tree, which no doubt had served as a seat for most of the party, and picked up a strip of blanket, hardly a foot long and no more than an inch wide. It was not only cunningly woven, but showed brilliant blue and yellow colors on a background of black.
"This was the blanket of an Osage warrior," said the Shawanoe, flinging it to Otto, who turned it over several times in silence, Jack looking over his shoulder.
"I suppose he caught sight of that before we came up and learned the truth; don't you think so?"
"I don't dink nodings more," replied Otto, still pouting from the offence given a few minutes previous.
Bending over, Deerfoot carefully drew some leaves aside and revealed the upper bone of a deer's foreleg, to which a good quantity of partially broiled venison was clinging. Judging from this discovery and the number of bones scattered about, the Osages had more food than they needed.
"We—that is, you and I, Deerfoot—are hungry. Is the meat in shape for us to eat?"
The Shawanoe had satisfied himself by examination that it was ready for the palate, and he so expressed himself.
"That is good; there is just enough to make as a good dinner. Otto doesn't look as though he cared about any, and he can wait till tomorrow."
This statement of the situation quickly loosened the tongue of the sturdy German, whose hunger had reached a ravenous point.
"I speaks mit myself luf ven I vishes," he hastened to say; "I vos as hungry as nefer could be, and what for you dinks I ain't, eh?"
Jack laughed, and, sitting on the same tree which had served the red men, all three used their keen hunting-knives upon the rarely-cooked meat. They could have enjoyed much more had it been at their disposal; but as it was, they made a substantial meal, receiving enough nourishment to last them till the morrow.
"How many warriors were here?" asked Jack of their leader.
"Seven," was the prompt reply.
"What brought them to this place?"
"They were hunting; an Osage village is not many miles off yonder," said Deerfoot, pointing to the southwest; "and they have gone there. They spent the night here."
"Did they get my horse?" asked Otto, whose face was aglow with good nature and grease.
"My brother shall soon know."
Deerfoot directed his course toward the elevation where he and his friends stood when they first caught sight of the smoke of the camp-fire. It was an easy matter to determine, whether the Osages had discovered the horse while in that section. If they had not done so, the probabilities were against their finding him at all.
An interesting question had already been answered by Deerfoot, respecting the degree of hostility of the Osage Indians. There was comfort in the thought that they were not active and malignant in their enmity. They were not likely to trail a white man for the sake of taking his life, as their fierce brethren across the Mississippi loved to do, nor did they possess the courage of the warlike Shawanoes, whose encounters with the early pioneers of the West form the most thrilling episodes in its history.
But, like the vagabond red men of to-day, the Osages were of that character that a white man would much prefer not to meet them in a lonely place, unless help was present or within call. If they should come across the two boys, their treatment of them would depend very much on the mood in which they happened to be. They would be inclined to rob them of everything worth taking, and might end the matter by shooting both or turning them adrift without guns or ammunition.
Had Deerfoot been alone, he would have given them no thought. He had visited their villages more than once, and though the questions of several of their warriors showed that they regarded him with suspicion, they offered no indignity, and made no objection to his departure.
Had the Osages found the wandering they would refuse to give him up on the demand of the owner. In that case, as in one already related, he could be regained only by strategy, in which the boys were sure to need the help of Deerfoot.
But all this speculation speedily ended. An examination revealed the fact that the trail of the steed and that of the warriors crossed, but the latter was fully two hours older than the former, and from the point of intersection they diverged. Thus it was proven that the colt had been grazing for a considerable time close to the Indians without them suspecting it.
The Osages had continued traveling in a southwesterly direction, while the stray horse had kept on in a course slightly to the north of west. There could be no doubt that the warriors were making their way homeward, while the animal seemed guided by an instinct that promised to place him in the possession of his owner, without any assistance from the son.
The discovery was most gratifying to all parties, Deerfoot expressing his pleasure that Otto was not likely to suffer at the hands of his irate parent for the disaster which was unavoidable on his part.
"Good fortune awaits my brother," said he; "he may not meet any red men on his way home, where Deerfoot hopes the horse will greet him when he arrives."
"Did you see any Indians on this side the Mississippi when you were riding him?" asked Jack.
Otto shook his head, as he was sure that style of answer could not be criticized by either of his companions.
"The outlook is a good one indeed," said Jack, heartily; "and what you have done, Deerfoot, is more than we can ever repay. You need not be, told that if it ever comes within our power to give you help, it will not be denied."
To their surprise the young Shawanoe extended his hand to Otto.
The lad shook it warmly, and said:
"Ish you going not—I means, will you leave us?"
"Deerfoot must go; good-bye, brother."
The second farewell was addressed to Jack Carleton, who fervently pressed the soft hand, an said with much feeling:
"Sorry are we to part company, but you your own master. I hope we shall soon meet again!"
"We shall," was all that the Shawanoe said as he released his hand and moved off, vanishing almost instantly among the trees.
The boys stood several minutes, silent and thoughtful, looking toward the point where the Shawanoe was last seen, as though they expected him to return; but the silence around them continued as profound as at "creation's morn." They knew that when the young warrior took such a step, he was in earnest.
He would have been glad to keep them company, but some good reason took him in another direction.
"We shall meet him again," said Jack Carleton, with a slight sigh of regret, recalling the last words of Deerfoot; "from all that was told me about him in Kentucky, he is such a friend to the whites that he was never away from their settlements for a very long time. I have been anxious to know him."
"They used to dell von great shtories apout him," said Otto, speaking with great care.
"And I never believed one half of them. The idea of a young Shawanoe reading his Bible every day, and being able to write the prettiest kind of a band, was something that made us laugh, but every word of it was true, as he proved to us."
"Den vot pig dings be doos in de woods!"
"I should say so. Just think of it, Otto! There we were among a pile of logs, surrounded as you may say by Indian warriors, bent on having our scalps, and yet he delivered a letter to us, explaining the plan he had formed, and then alone scared away the whole lot, so we could out. When you get back home and tell parents this story, what will they say?"
"Mine fader will say nodings, but he vill cut pig stick and bang me as bard as nefer vos lying."
"And I can't wonder much at it," said Jack with a laugh, "but it will be truth, nevertheless, and it is no more wonderful than many things he has done."
"Vy doesn't dey calls him Deerfoot—dot ish, why does dey?"
"On account of his fleetness; he is the swiftest runner ever known in Kentucky. A year or two ago, he was captured by the Wyandots, who hate him worse than poison. He pretended he was lame, which put the idea in the head of his capture to have some fun with him. They took him out on a long clearing and placed him in front of the swiftest warriors, and then told him to run for his life. Well, he ran."
"Did they cotch him and kill him, or didn't he get away?"
"Those Indians," said Jack, ignoring the absurdity of Otto's question, "saw such running as they never looked upon before. Deerfoot just scooted away from them, as though he had wings. One of the Hurons had treated him very bad and Deerfoot paid him."
"How vosn't dot?"
"He drove his tomahawk through his skull."
"Yaw; I dinks he doesn't bodder Deerfoot not much more."
"I never heard that he did, but you can't understand why the Indians hate him as they do. I've heard that Tecumseh offered a dozen horses, and I don't know how much wampum and other presents, to the warrior who would bring back his scalp. But I've no doubt he had to send out a proclamation taking back the offer."
"Vy vosn't dot?"
"I've been told that the rule was when a Huron or Shawanoe went out to hunt for Deerfoot, that was the last heard of him. He never came back, and you see that Deerfoot still wears his scalp."
"Vere didn't them goes to vot didn't comes back?"
"To their happy hunting-grounds. Sometimes, their bodies were found moldering in the woods. And sometimes no one ever knew where they perished. Deerfoot is a Christian (and, Otto, made me feel ashamed of myself), but he isn't the kind to sit down and allow any one to walk off with his scalp. Tecumseh is a young chief, who's is ambitious to make war upon the whites. He must have concluded that if he didn't stop his warriors hunting Deerfoot there would be none left for him! I can't understand, Otto, how it was your father turned him away from his door, when he stopped there at night in a storm."
"Ah, Jack, you doesn't know how mean mine fader ish," said the German with a grin though proud of his parent.
"He couldn't have known that it was Deerfoot," said Jack, reflectively.
"Dot wouldn't make no difference; he treat all Indians de same. One dimes they stole a pig vot didn't pelongs to him and he whipped me as hard as nefer vos, and he hates all Indians for dot."
"It is a great mistake," added Jack thoughtfully, "for you know how revengeful they are, and one of these days some trumping redskin that he has abused will steal up to his house and shoot him dead."
"Dot is vot I tolds him," said Otto; "and he will be as sorry as dunderation ven it afift too late."
"Well," added Jack, looking around him, "it isn't worth while to stand here, when we have such a long ways to travel, and there is no certainty the colt hasn't changed his course and gone away from the settlement instead of toward it."
Otto agreed with his friend, and, picking up his damp blanket, he threw it over his shoulder, and each with his gun in his hand, resumed the pursuit of the stray, which they hoped was at no great distance.
The hoof-prints showed that the horse continued to take matters very philosophically. His fastest gait was a leisurely walk, and often he stood still and nibbled the buds of the vegetation not yet fully developed.
It was gratifying to find that in spite of an occasional digression, his general course was as named. It is pleasant to discover that the missing wanderer is steadily making his ward, even though he is a long time in arriving at his destination.
It was comparatively early in the afternoon when Deerfoot the Shawanoe bade them good-bye, and for two hours the route underwent little change; but at time, Jack Carleton was forced to admit that the course they were following was not the one to take them to the settlement.
Shortly after the departure of their friend, they crossed the trail over which Otto had ridden some days before, and then the hoof-prints tended more to the north, so that, in a general way, the boys took the direction of the Mississippi itself. It could not be expected that while keeping a considerable distance from water, would follow its amazing tortuosity, probably surpasses that of any river on the globe. Thus it came about that sometimes Jack and Otto found themselves close to the immense stream and then again they were a long ways inland.
"It seems to me," said Jack, when the afternoon was drawing to a close, "that we ought be quite near the colt; we have gone steadily forward, while he has often stopped, and as yet has not traveled faster than a walk."
"But he starts a long time pefore we starts," said Otto.
"Not so very long. There's one thing quite certain: he doesn't care whether he finds his way to the settlement or not, for he isn't trying to do so."
"He changes agin, don't he?"
"Likely enough, and he may turn still further off from the right course. It is getting so late that we shall have hard work to reach home with him to-morrow."
"When we fluds him we gots on him and makes him go like he nefer goes mit pefore."
"We won't be able to travel fast until we get him back to the regular path, where the trees and limbs won't interfere with us."
"If Deerfoot vos mit us he tells us how close he be to us," said Otto, alluding to the skill of the Shawanoe in interpreting the age of a trail.
"He would do so at a glance. Helloa!"
Just then Jack, who was slightly in advance of his friend, caught sight of a bundle similar that which the Shawanoe found several hours before.
Hurrying forward, it was seen to be the blanket of Jack Carleton, which, like the other, had come displaced and fallen from the back of the wandering horse. Like that, too, it was saturated with Mississippi water, which, as far as could, the boys wrung from it.
THE NEIGH OF A HORSE
The stray horse appeared to be distributing the property of the boys in a promiscuous fashion. So far as they knew, he still retained his equipments and a roll of personal effects, fastened in front of the saddle instead of behind it, as was the case with the blankets.
"Seems to me," remarked Otto, who began to feel some weariness and impatience, "dot the animal ish not a good vile getting tired so as he vants to sot down and rest."
"He is likely to do so when it begins to grow dark, which will be before long," added Jack Carleton, noting the closing day.
The friends had been hopeful from the first that they would overtake the missing horse before sunset. They had been cheered by the belief that they were not far behind him at the start, and it was certain they had made much better progress than he, but it now looked as if they were to be disappointed.
When they arrived on the edge of a natural clearing, several acres in extent and covered with a luxuriant growth of grass, they were sure the horse was there, but a careful scrutiny showed no signs of him, though his tracks indicated that he had cropped some of the grass before passing on.
It was comparatively easy traveling for the boys, the woods being notably clear of the vines and undergrowth, which often added to the labor of journeying through them. They had not yet seen bird, animal or living person after parting company with Deerfoot, and Jack was conscious more than once of a strange feeling of loneliness, such as comes over the traveler when wandering in a vast and desolate land.
"Is this so different from Ohio and Kentucky?" he asked himself; "are there no Shawanoes because there is no game for them to hunt?"
He smiled when he asked himself the latter question, for his own knowledge rendered it pointless. He knew that the game was as limitless on one side of the Mississippi as on the other.
The sun-had gone down behind the rim of forest, when they found themselves on the edge of a clearing more extensive than the former, and intersected by a small, winding stream of water.
"Here, we will camp," said Jack, throwing down his moist bundle and leaning his rifle against a tree; "it will soon be so dark that we can't see the tracks of the horse, and, if we push on, we'll only have to do our work over again."
"Dot ish vot I dinks," said Otto, imitating the action. It must not be forgotten that the German, since the reproof received from the young Shawanoe, had resolved to improve his manner of expressing himself. He was of the age that he could do so rapidly, and he had (what he never possessed before) an earnest wish to succeed.
Something in the way of food would have been appreciated by both the sturdy youths, but nothing of the kind presented itself, and it was no great hardship for them to wait until the morrow.
"Vill a fire we kindle?" asked Otto.
"We may as well do so, for we shall need it to help dry our blankets, which have enough moisture, even after wringing them, to last a week."
The night was more chilly than the preceding one, and the warmth of the blankets would have been pleasant to both. As it was, their only resource was the extra fire, for which they began preparations.
They were plentifully supplied in the way of fuel, which they gathered, throwing it down in a pile near where they intended to start the blaze. The stream was small, but the water was clear, cool and refreshing. Whoever has been burned with consuming fever, or tormented by a torturing thirst, can never forget the ecstasy which thrilled every nerve, when he quaffed his full of the colorless, odorless and tasteless fluid, more exquisite in the delight it imparted than can be the "nectar of the gods."
"Ali!" said Otto, with a long-drawn sigh of happiness, "I could live on dot."
"It's certain you couldn't live very long without it," remarked his friend, as be drew down another armful of dry and decayed wood. "I don't think there is much to fear in the way of thirst in this part of the world. There may be deserts further west toward the Pacific, such as they have in other parts of the world, but I don't believe we can reach them in a week's journey."
"Ish not looking for them," said Otto, with a grin, "'cause I does not see vot I does with them ven I finds 'em."
"Our country is too rich in its natural resources to make it probable that it has much in the way of waste land—"
"Mine gracious!" exclaimed Otto, with a start, "didn't you hear dot?"
"Of course I did," replied Jack, turning his head like a flash and gazing across the clearing.
Indeed it would have been impossible for either to avoid noting the sound, which was the unmistakable neigh of a horse at no great distance from them.
"Dot vos de golt," said Otto, with a beaming countenance. "He vos near by and not far off."
Night was closing in so rapidly that the vision of the two was necessarily shortened. They could not see entirely across the clearing or opening, but in the dim, uncertain light, Otto Relstaub was positive he detected the animal they were so anxious to find.
"Dot ish he," he insisted, leveling his arm with the extended finger pointed at a certain spot. "He ish looking mit dis way; he has seen us and he dinks he don't know us, and he sings out mit dot way to ax us who we ain't; dot ish his style."
Jack Carleton was naturally strong of vision, and he believed his companion was right. He was able to discern some object, which, through the gloom, resembled a horse that seemed to have become aware of the presence of strangers, and, throwing up his head, had challenged them in the manner named.
"I think you are right," said Jack, still going across the intervening space, "though we can't make sure without getting closer to him. It is barely possible that he may be a horse of another color."
Otto shook his head by way of dissent. He could not be convinced be was not looking upon the very animal for which they had been hunting ever since they reached the western bank of the Mississippi.
The only way to settle the doubt was at their command. Nothing was to prevent a closer inspection of the quadruped that had awakened such interest.
They felt the necessity of great care. The horse was high-spirited and wild, and the taste gained of freedom had undoubtedly increased the difficulty of his capture. Great caution would be necessary to avoid scaring him away altogether.
It will be seen also that if they frightened the colt into dashing into the woods, it would be hard, under any circumstances, to secure him. He would run a good distance, and the morrow would compel another long and laborious search.
A simple plan suggested itself: one would make a cautious advance across the clearing, while the other worked his way around to the other side, so that the two would close in upon the animal, as may be said, and if he fled from the first he would run into the custody of the second.
As Jack was quicker in his movements, beside being a better horseman, than Otto, it was agreed that he should pass through the woods until beyond the animal; when he arrived at the proper point be was to notify Otto by means of the whistle which had served them so often as a signal. Then the young German would use the most seductive methods of which he was master soothe the colt into submission.
What was to be feared was that in the gloom the animal would fail to recognize his master an would be unusually timid on that account. The moon would shed no light on the scene for an hour or two, and from what has been said it will be admitted that the friends had undertaken a delicate and difficult task.
But the anxiety of both to obtain the animal was too great for them to throw away an opportunity, however slight. Jack, therefore, passed the few paces necessary to reach the cover of the wood, and with the promise that he should soon be heard from, disappeared.
The fire had not yet been started, and Otto, stood leaning on his gun and looking off in the gloom toward the colt that had led him on such a long chase. The darkness had increased since the first sight of the animal, so that he was no longer visible; but the lad was confident he had not changed his position, nor was he likely to do so for some time to come. The trail showed that he had been on the move almost continuously since morning, and he must feel a certain degree of fatigue that would make such a rest acceptable.
Otto held his position until Jack bad time to reach a point beyond the colt, when he laid down his gun and began his cautious advance. He walked straight across the clearing, until once more he was able to trace the outlines that caught his eye some time before.
"I doesn't knows vot he don't change mit, he stands where he stood a few minutes after awhile," said Otto to himself, relapsing into his old unintelligible style of expression, now that no one was at his elbow to criticize him. "Mebbe he don't do dot and mebbe he does, don't it?"
What the lad meant to express was his doubt whether the colt had moved during the preceding few minutes. If he had done so, it was to so slight extent, that it was hardly noticeable.
So soon as the boy's eyes rested on him again he was satisfied the colt was asleep in the standing position. His head was down, and his whole demeanor was that of rest, and consequently ignorance of what was going on near him.
"Dot ish goot," was the thought of Otto, "for he don't hear me ven I creeps up to him, and perfore he don't knows it he don't know nodings and I have him."
There was promise of such an issue of the attempt be proposed to make, provided he should succeed in stealing up to the animal without detection.
Otto stood motionless a moment, hoping to hear some signal from Jack Carleton, but none came, and it was only simple prudence on his part to move forward without delay.
"I dinks I does it," he muttered, hopefully, when he found himself within a couple of rods of the colt without having disturbed it in the slightest degree. "It ish as easy as nefer vos, and I will grab him in one two dree minute, and den I whips him 'cause he runs mit away, and den—mine gracious!"
It seems as if the vines which had tormented him so much during the day were not yet through with the honest German. Even on the tract of open-forest or clearing they intruded themselves, and he suddenly felt the familiar rasping vegetable wire twisting about his ankles. Impatient that such an obstruction should be encountered, he made a spiteful kick of the foot, meant to snap the vine asunder and to free himself; but he miscalculated the strength of the resistant.
His foot was more inextricably entangled than before, and a second fierce effort sent him forward on his hands and knees. Had his rifle been in hand it is more than likely it would have been discharged.
Otto was angered, because he was sure he had frightened the colt into dashing off at full speed. He sprang to his feet and made for the horse, resolved to secure him at all hazards.
He was spurred on by observing that the animal was slumbering so soundly that he had not yet taken the alarm. The distance was short, and he was very hopeful.
"Whoa, whoa dere," called out Otto, in a soothing voice, "don't you runs away agin dimes more, or py gracious I vill whip you so dot you vill want to die—"
While uttering the words he was advancing with the utmost haste. Feeling himself nigh enough to make the leap, he did so, and threw both arms around what he supposed to be he head of his colt. And as he did so he discovered that it was not the colt at all!
No boy could feel more chagrin and humiliation than did Otto Relstaub, when he sprang forward, and, seizing what he supposed to be the stray colt, found instead that he had grasped the stump of a tree.
He was speechless for a full minute, and could only stand still and wonder how it was possible for him to make such a blunder. A tree close to the edge of the clearing had been stricken by lightning, and partly breaking off some three or four feet above ground, a couple of yards of length lay with the top on the earth. In the gloom of the evening it could be readily mistaken for a different object, though Otto might well wonder where the resemblance to a horse could be figured out. But for the neigh which reached the ears of the young pioneers, they never would have made the mistake.
Still the fact remained that a short time before a horse was within call, and Otto was quite sure it was the one he was seeking. Night, however, had fully descended, and it was useless to hunt further before the morrow.
"Dot ish too bad," he said to himself, "but ishn't I glad dot Jack didn't come up and sees me, for he vould laugh till he went dead— mine gracious!"
It seemed indeed as if the youth had arrived in a strange latitude, for while he remained communing with himself, he caught the unmistakable odor of tobacco-smoke in the air. Some one was smoking a pipe whose fumes were too rank to permit any mistake on his part.
The discovery was startling enough to cause a shiver of fear, for it was manifest he was close to a stranger, since Jack Carleton did not use the noxious weed in any form. Otto bitterly reproached himself for leaving his rifle beyond reach, for his was the situation of the individual who may not have needed such a weapon often, but when he did, he wanted it with an emphasis beyond question.
"Dis ish de spot where I doesn't vant to be," was his truthful conclusion, "so I dinks I goes somewhere else."
He felt a strong yearning to break into a run, but dared not do so. Though filled with fear, his right policy was to conceal all evidence of it. He therefore turned about with the purpose of walking off with a dignified air; but he had taken only the first step, when a shock like that from an electric battery went through him, caused by the single exclamation:
It was the hail of an Indian. Otto was riveted to the spot by the sight of a brawny savage striding toward him. He came from the darkness of the wood, and, when he moved into the clearing, was just in time to catch the first beams of the moon rising above the forest.
The warrior was large, and his size was magnified by the blanket, which, wrapped like a shawl about him, reached below his knees. The long, black hair dangling around his shoulders, was ornamented at the crown by a number of eagle feathers; but the countenance, when shown by the moonlight, was devoid of paint, which, it may be said, was not needed to add to its ugliness.
His forehead was low and broad, the eyes small, black and restless, while the cheek-bones were not only protuberant, but were unusually far apart. Instead of the aquiline nose, which is so often a feature of the American Indian, his was as broad as that of the African, badly disfigured by a scar across the bridge, probably made by a knife or tomahawk.
When it is stated that his mouth was wider than that of Otto, enough has been said on that score. In one corner, the warrior held a pipe made of red clay, whose stem was a foot in length. He must have stood placidly puffing this during the entire time the boy was stealing upon the supposed horse. In the increasing moonlight, the strong vapor rose in blue puffs from both sides of his face and poisoned the air above and around him.
The position of the Indian was such that the blanket covered both arms, and Otto could not see whether or not he grasped a rifle beneath.
The entire manner of the red man showed that he knew he was master of the situation. He could not have felt otherwise, when he saw a partly grown boy standing before him, without any firearms with which to defend himself.
"Howdy, brudder?" he asked, in a gruff, guttural voice, extending his huge hand to Otto, who dared not refuse it.
"I isb—ish—dot be—ish well," stammered the poor fellow, vainly trying to speak in a steady voice.
The Indian gave a fervency to his grip of Otto's fingers which made him wince with pain, though he dared utter no protest.
The act of the warrior in advancing and saluting, caused his blanket to open in front, so as to disclose an untidy sash around his waist. The view was not clear, as the rays of the moon came over his shoulder, but the lad saw enough to satisfy him that the Indian carried a tomahawk and hunting-knife. However, as the other hand removed the pipe from between the leathern lips and held it, there was no instant intention of using either weapon.
It is only justice to the young German to say that, had he possessed his gun, he would not have permitted the Indian to take his hand. He knew the treacherous character of the race too well to give them the least advantage; but his belief was that the best, and indeed the only thing to do, was to avoid, so far as he could, giving any offence to his captor.
"Ven he don't be looking at me," was Otto's thought, "then I gives him the slip, and runs and gots mine gun, and shoots him afore heban do nodings."
The programme was a good one, provided it could be carried out, but it cannot be admitted that it offered much chance of success. Otto was never fleet of foot, and as his rifle was fully a hundred yards distant, there was no way of recovering it except by permission of the red man.
"Where brudder's home?" was the query, as he allowed the hand of the lad to fall from his grasp.
Otto felt authorized to answer that question at least truthfully.
"Good ways from dish place—a way off yonder."
The boy meant to locate his home correctly, but when he pointed toward the north, he unconsciously made a great error. However, it was unimportant.
The Indian slowly shoved the stem of the pipe in the comer of his immense mouth, sent out several pungent puffs towards the face of Otto, who, accustomed as he was to the sickening odor of his father's tobacco, was forced to recoil a step and cough the strangling vapor from him.
Then the warrior solemnly turned his head and looked behind in the gloomy depths of the wood, as though he expected to see the home of the boy. It isn't necessary to say that, if such was his expectation, he was disappointed.
When Otto observed the face of his dreaded captor turned away, he was thrilled by the sudden belief that the chance for which he had been praying had come at last. This was his time to make a sudden dash, regain his gun, and become master of the situation.
Was it possible? Beyond question, it was literally life or death with the lad. The red man would pursue and show him no mercy. If Otto failed to reach his rifle in time, a second trial would never be given him.
Absurd! he saw there was not an earthly chance of success; he could only wait and hope.
Failing to discern the log cabin in which Otto made his home, the Indian turned back his head, swinging it as on a pivot, so that the end of the pipe-stem, which, for the moment, he had been holding stationary in his hand, resumed its former place in the comer of his mouth.
"Where brudder's gun?"
"I—I don't not have him mit me," was the awkward reply of Otto, nervously anxious to escape saying anything which would give his captor a clue to his property.
The warrior did not press the question, as he might easily have done, but he smoked his pipe another minute in dignified silence, while Otto stood trembling and wondering how many more breathe he would be permitted to draw before the savage would leap upon him with upraised knife.
"Brudder go with Osage chief—he big warrior—oof!"
This was the first announcement the Indian made of his tribe, and the declaration that he was a chief astonished Otto Relstaub, who held no suspicion that he was in the presence of such a dignitary.
But he had been commanded to go with him, and the youth could only await more pointed instructions. The Osage motioned him to turn about and he did so, hopeful that his captor meant to drive him across the clearing toward the spot he and Jack Carleton had fixed upon for their camp. If such was the intention of the chief, it would be extremely favorable to the lad, but, unfortunately, the opposite course was the one fixed upon.
While Otto's face was away from his master, the latter stalked around in his front, where, taking the pipe from his dusky lips, he repeated his order, by means of gesture.
"I vonder if he don't make a top mit me," muttered Otto; "vy don't he tie von string round me and spin me dot way?"
But the boy was not in a situation to refuse, and, when ordered to walk, he did so. While seeking to obey the Osage, Otto unwittingly turned too far to the right.
"Oof! Dog!" grunted the Indian, catching him by the shoulder and wrenching him part way around; "go—go—go!"
The lad was startled, for the grip was of that violent nature that it pained him severely. It effectually dissipated his purpose of making a break for liberty, at least until a much more promising opening presented itself.
He began timidly feeling his way through the darkness, dreading every moment that he would take a misstep, that would bring down the anger of the Indian in a more dangerous form than before. He was enveloped in gloom, so that he kept both hands extended in front to protect his face.
"I goes as right as I can," he observed, seeking to avert the wrath of the terrible being that was at his heels: "when I doesn't goes right dot ish, 'cause I goes wrong—mine gracious!"
It was only a twig which just then collided with his eye. It inflicted no injury, and he still pushed forward as obediently as if it was his father who was driving him. The Indian said nothing, but he rustled the leaves with his moccasins, as if to prevent the lad forgetting his presence.
Here and there the arrowy moonlight pierced the foliage and afforded Otto a glimpse of his surroundings, but most of the time the gloom was so dense as to be absolutely impenetrable. Passing across a dimly-lit space, he could not avoid turning his head and looking back at the Osage chief as he stepped into the feeble light.
The figure of the Indian was striking. He was striding slowly along, as if impressed with his own importance, his arms folded beneath the blanket in front, so as to hold it together and keep them out of sight. His teeth were still closed on the red pipe-stem, and the blue puffs passed over his head as if it were steam which was working the machinery of his legs.
The thought which constantly remained with Otto Relstaub, and which caused him the keenest suffering, was that the Indian was likely at any moment to leap upon him with uplifted knife. It is a characteristic of the American race that its representatives often add to the distress of their captives by toying with them as a cat does with a mouse before crunching it in its jaws.
The lad was almost certain his captor meant to slay him, after first torturing him in this manner, but the poor boy could see no possible way in which to help himself. If the savage should spring upon him, it would be like the leap of the panther-quick, crushing, and resistless in its fury.
With a faint hope that he might be able to do something for himself when the worst should come, Otto stealthily drew out his hunting-knife, and held it tightly grasped. One thing was certain, that, weak and almost helpless as he was, he would not submit without making a good fight for himself.
AN ABORIGINAL HOME
The terrifying walk of Otto Relstaub ended sooner and more agreeably than he anticipated. He had in fact gone but a short ways when he became aware that the Osage had a definite destination before him. A light flashed out from the gloom in front, vanishing before the boy could locate it. A few steps further and it reappeared, again dropping from sight.
Otto was walking slowly, intently peering in the direction and naturally wondering what it all meant, when, as he moved slightly to the left, it once more came to view. This showed that it was visible only when approached along a certain line. It was not an ordinary camp-fire, but the light flitted in and out of sight, on account of the objects intervening between it and the spectator; there was absolutely but a single line of advance which would keep it in view.
The Indian gave no expression to his views, but the rustling leaves told that he was still treading on the heels of the lad, who knew that so long as he walked straight toward the light, he was following the wishes of his master.
Suddenly something flitted in front of the blaze, as though a person had stepped quickly past. But Otto had secured the range, so to speak, and so far as the trees and undergrowth permit, he advanced in a direct line. The distance being short, the whole thing speedily became clear to him.
The fire was burning within and at the further side of a wigwam, and was first seen through the opening which served as an entrance. Thus it was that when he diverged to the right or left it was shut from sight.
"It ish, de vigvam of him," thought Otto, "ish going to takes me mit dere, and pieces to makes de childrens laugh."
The boy softly returned the knife to its place, for he was anxious that the chieftain should see no signs of fear on his part. A few steps further and he stopped in front of the door of the lodge, afraid to enter until something more was said by his master.
The entrance of Otto into the aboriginal home was anything but dignified. The proprietor observing that he had halted, gave him such a powerful shove that he sprawled headlong in the middle of the "apartment."
"Oof!" grunted the sachem, bending his head so as to push his body through the opening, which was not closed after him; "lazy dog!"
Otto did not think it wise to dispute the question. He was not hurt by the fall, and rising, stepped back against the side of the lodge and took a good view of his surroundings.
The wigwam of the Osage chieftain was similar to those which may be found to-day on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, in the depths of the wilderness along the Assiniboine, on the shores of Athabasca Lake in the far North, and beyond the Llano Estacado of the South. It was modeled in the same style that was fashionable when Columbus saw the lights of the New World twinkling through the gloom of the night across the unknown sea, and which will prevail so long as the American Indian roams the woods and wields the tomahawk.
A half dozen poles were pushed into the ground in a rude circle, so as to include a space between four and five yards in diameter. The tops of the poles joined, as do the bayonets of muskets when stacked. This framework was covered with the skins of bison and deer, sewed together with the sinews of the latter. At the peak of the roof was an opening a foot in diameter, partly filled by the network of poles there locked together. This answered for a chimney to the fire kindled at one side of the lodge.
Directly opposite the fireplace (if it may be called that), was the opening which served as a door, there being no other outlet except the one named. The deer-skin could be flung back or allowed to hang down. If the wind set it to flapping, it was pinned fast with a knife or sharp stick.
The ground in most places was covered with bison-skins, so that in moderately cold weather they were comfortable and pleasant to sit and recline upon. The skins composing the sides of the wigwam were soiled with smoke, grease and dirt for alas! nearly all the romance and charm enveloping the American Indian is dissipated at first sight by his frightful lack of cleanliness.
But Otto Relstaub had viewed the interior of Indian wigwams before, and his interest was fixed upon the occupants, of whom there were three beside himself. The squaw or wife of the chief was at the further end, or rather the side opposite the door, busy broiling two slices of venison on the coals. She had no kettle, pan, knife or fork in the lodge, her sole implement being a sharpened stick, scarcely a foot in length, which she used in turning and handling the meat.
When Otto came tumbling through the door, the mistress was in the act of lifting one of the slices from the coals. She was on her knees, and paused for a second with the meat in air, while she glanced around to see whether her lord and master had been imbibing too much fire-water. One glance was enough, and she turned back and gave her attention to the culinary operations.
She wore moccasins, leggings, and a species of loose hunting-shirt, tied with a cord about the waist, and which protected her-body quite well, though the deer-skin composing it looked as if it had served as a part of the wigwam for a number of years. Her long, black hair dangled about her shoulders, as did that of her husband, and she was no more cleanly in her person than was he.
Perhaps the most interesting object in the place was an Indian infant, less than a year old, which lay on a bison-robe not far from the fire. It was a male, too young to walk, though it had been freed from the coffin-like cradle in which the aboriginal babies are strapped and carried on the backs of their mothers.
The little fellow was covered to his arm-pits, the bare arms lying outside on the bison-robe. He kept these going in an awkward, spasmodic fashion, which caused the infantile fist now and then to land in his eye. On such occasions the organ winked very suddenly, and the boy seemed to start with a gasp of surprise, but he did not cry. Young as he was, he had been trained in the iron school which makes the American Indian indifferent to suffering and torture.
This aboriginal youth showed more interest in the new arrival than did any one else. His fists became motionless, his head flapped over on one side, and the twinkling black eyes were fixed upon Otto as though they would read him through. If we could recall the fancies that flitted through our brains at that early stage of existence, what a wonderful kaleidoscope it would present!
The limits of the wigwam were so moderate that the sachem was compelled to lay aside most of his dignity. Seating himself on a robe, just across from their guest, he said something to his squaw, and then, leaning back, with his legs crossed and his arms folded, he placidly smoked his pipe and awaited supper. The wife answered with what sounded like a half dozen grunts, but did not look around or cease giving her full attention to the broiling venison.
The prisoner observed a long, fine-looking rifle leaning against one side of the wigwam, the powder-horn and bullet-pouch on the ground near the stock. Beside them, a bow as long and powerful as that of Deerfoot; and a quiver half full of arrows also lay on the earth. Like the Shawanoe, the Osage was an adept in the use of both weapons.
In addition to the furniture referred to, a few cast-off garments of the owners were flung on one side, while some additional pieces of venison lay upon, or rather among, a mass of leaves, where they could be found when needed. The smoke from the fire found its way through the opening in the roof, and the vapor from the pipe of the Osage, after slowly winding above his head, seemed to lean off to one side and grope its way toward the same vent. A partial draught was created through the door of the wigwam, by which the impure air was carried away, and the interior rendered much more pleasant than would be supposed.
Like a true native American gentleman, the chieftain sat calmly enjoying his pipe, while his wife did the work of the household, and she, in accordance with universal law, accepted the drudgery as one of the necessities of existence.
There were some facts respecting the Indian wigwam and its owner which may as well be stated in this place. The red man had been a chief of the Osage tribe, but a violent quarrel with his people caused him to withdraw, and he was living entirely alone in the woods with his family. The village where he had reigned so long was miles distant. He had a number of partisans who occasionally called at his "residence" to see and urge him to return, but he continued sulking in his tent, smoked his awful pipe, and shook his head to all their appeals.
The wigwam, while similar in shape to the hundreds still to be found in the wilderness of the North American continent differed in some respects, while retaining the same general form. Many a lodge contains but the single ridge-pole, standing in the centre of the structure, which, in the shape of a cone, is gathered at the top and spreads out at the bottom, where it is fastened in place by pegs, similar to those of the ordinary army tent.
Otto Relstaub, being relieved from his fear of instant death, became sensitive to the appetizing odor of the broiling deer-steaks, and looked longingly toward the unattractive cook, whose only redeeming feature was the beauty of her teeth, which were as regular and almost as white as those of Deerfoot.
When, a few minutes later, the slices of meat were ready, the squaw flung one to her master, who dextrously caught it with his right hand while he removed the pipe with the other. Laying the latter on the ground beside him, he began eating his supper, using both hands, much as a bear employs his paws.
The wife devoured her share in the same manner, the two forming a striking, but by no means attractive, picture. The meat was obviously tough, but their teeth were equal to the work, and plates, knives and forks would have been only an encumbrance.
While the mother was thus occupied, she kept looking across at her baby, who seemed to be watching her with comical wishfulness. By-and-by, the parent gave a flirt of her hand, and a piece of the venison, which she bad bitten off, went flying toward the head of the youngster. He made an awkward grab with both hands, but it landed on his pug nose. He quickly found it, and shoving it between his lips, began fiercely sucking and tugging, as though it afforded the most delicious nourishment, which undoubtedly was fact.
"I dinks they have forgot me," Otto said himself, with a sigh; "I vish dot she would fro me a piece of dot, and see whedder she could hit mine nose; yaw—Id just open mine mouth and cotch him on de fly."
The lad had seated himself with his back against the side of the wigwam, and no one could have looked at his face and failed to know he was as hungry as one of his years could well be. Had the people possessed more food than they wished, and had it been cooked, it is possible they would have tossed him a piece, but, as it was, they had no intention of doing anything of the kind, as Otto plainly saw.
"They am pigs," he said, taking care that the huge chief did not overhear his muttered words; "if I starve, dey will sot dere and laugh at me till they dies."
The meat soon vanished, and then the squaw began fumbling among the leaves where the uncooked venison lay. Otto's eyes sparkled with hope.
"She is going to cook mit a piece for meawh!"
Instead of food, she fished out a pipe, similar to that of her master. Walking to him she held out her hand, and he passed over a pouch of tobacco, from which she filled the bowl of her pipe, punching in and compressing the stuff with her forefinger. Then it was lighted, with a coal of fire which she deftly scooped up, and sitting, so that she faced her guest, she crossed her feet, and leaning her elbows on her knees, stared at him, the picture of enjoyment, as she puffed her pipe. At the same time, the baby eagerly sucked and chewed his bit of meat, and, no doubt, was as happy as its parents.
But this had continued only a few minutes, when all the adults started, for footsteps on the outside showed that some one was approaching the wigwam.
When Deerfoot the Shawanoe bade good-by to Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub, it was with the declaration that they would soon see each other again. Precisely what he meant would be hard to say; but probably it implied that he would take pains in the near future to make them a visit when they should be settled in their own log-cabins at home.
He left them, as has been intimated, because he believed there was no further need of bearing them company, and because business of great importance to himself demanded that he should take another course, and travel many long miles toward that wild region in the southern part of Missouri, which is broken and crossed by the Ozark range of mountains.
For fully an hour after he turned away from his friends he pushed through the forest in a south-western direction. He advanced at a leisurely pace, for there was no call for haste, and he loved to be alone in the vast solitude, where be often held sweet communion with the Great Spirit, whom he worshiped and adored with a fervency of devotion scarcely known except by those who have died for His sake.
The sun had descended but a brief way in the western sky when the youthful warrior found himself steadily climbing an elevation of several hundred feet. He had been over the ground before, and he knew that, after passing the ridge, the surface sloped downward for many miles, shutting the Mississippi out of sight altogether.
For some time a suspicion had been steadily taking shape in the mind of Deerfoot, and it was that which led him to hasten his footsteps until he reached the crest of the elevation, where he paused to make an investigation.
The thought which ran through his mind was the probability that all danger from the Miamis and Shawanoes (especially the latter) was not yet at an end. He reasoned from well established facts; they knew beyond question that it was he who had outwitted them in his efforts to save the boys when they were placed in such extreme peril. The Shawanoes hated him with an intensity beyond description, and, despite the repeated disasters which had overtaken those who sought, his ruin, they would strive by every means to revenge themselves upon him.
What more likely, therefore, than that they had crossed the Mississippi in pursuit? The certainty that they had done so would have caused Deerfoot no misgiving, so far as he was concerned, but his fear was for the boys. He reasoned that the Shawanoes would follow the trail of the three, including also that of the stray horse. When they reached the point where Deerfoot left them they would read its meaning at a glance. They would know the whites were following the animal, while the Shawanoe had gone about his own business.
Deprived of his matchless guidance and skill, the destruction of Jack and Otto would seem so easy that two or three would hasten after them. The action of their guide would naturally imply that he had no thought of any such attempt on the part of his enemies, who, therefore, would be the more strongly tempted to go in quest of his scalp.
As I have said, Deerfoot could laugh at all such strategy when directed against himself, but he was uneasy about the others, who would never think of their danger until too late. Ordinarily they were not likely to encounter any red men, except the half friendly Osages, and would be without protection against a stealthy shot from the woods behind them.
If such an issue threatened, Deerfoot felt that his duty was clear: he must spare no effort to protect the boys to the last extremity, and it was the hope that he would be able to catch sight of some almost invisible sign which would tell the truth that led him to halt on the crest of the elevation and gaze long and searchingly toward the Dark and Bloody Ground, which had been the scene of so many fearful encounters between the pioneers and untamable red men.
The great river was several miles distant, the almost unbroken forest stretching between. Deerfoot narrowly scrutinized the yellow surface as far as the eye could follow the winding course, but not the first evidence of life was to be seen. Not a solitary canoe or wild animal breasted the swift current which is now laden with thousands of crafts of almost every description.
The searcher after truth hardly expected to discover anything on the river itself, for if the Shawanoes were hunting for him they had crossed long before; but away beyond, in the solemn depths of the Kentucky wilderness, burned a camp-fire, whose faint smoke could be traced as it rose above the tree-tops. A careful study of the vapor led Deerfoot to suspect that it had served as a signal, but it was beyond his ken to determine its nature.
There was nothing on the other side of the Mississippi which could afford the faintest clew, and he began the study of Louisiana, so far as it was open to his vision. His altitude gave him an extended survey toward every point of the compass. As it was impossible that any of his enemies should be to the west of him, he did not bestow so much as a glance in that direction.
Again and again the keen eyes roved over the space between him and the great stream, but nothing rewarded the visual search. It was not to be expected that if the Shawanoes were stealing along his trail they would stop to build a fire—at least not before night closed in. The only circumstances under which they would attempt anything of the kind would be in the event of their wishing to signal some message to those left on the other shore. Possibly they wanted reinforcements, or wished those who were in waiting to make some movement of their own, and, if so they would be sure to telegraph.
If such was the case, the telegrams had been sent and the instrument—that is, the camp-fire had been destroyed. Nothing of the sort was now to be seen.
But Deerfoot did discover something to the northward. A long distance away could be detected another column of vapor—slight, but dark, and with a wavy, shuddering motion, such as is observed when the first smoke from the fire under an engine rises through the tall, brick chimney.
He watched it fixedly for several minute and then smiled, for he rightly interpreted its meaning.
"There is the wigwam of the Osage chief, Wish-o-wa-tum, the Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, who lives alone with his family in the woods, and smokes his pipe. He cares not for Miami or Huron or Shawanoe, but smokes in peace."
Inasmuch, as no other vapor met the eye, the sagacious Shawanoe adopted a very different line of investigation, or rather research. He was able to tell where the lesser elevation stood, on which he had bidden good-by to the boys, and could form a tolerably correct idea of the line he had followed since then.
If the Shawanoes were pushing the search for him, several must be somewhere along that line. Most of the time they would be effectually hidden from sight by the foliage of the trees, but there were open places here and there (very slight in extent), where they would be visible for the moment to one who fixed his eyes on that particular spot. On the site of the encampment, where the little party had eaten their meal, and where not the slightest ember remained, the pursuers would halt for a brief consultation. If they divided into two companies of pursuit, it was there the division had taken or would take place.
Unfortunately the vegetation was so abundant just there, that he could not hope to catch sight of any of his enemies, until after they should reach a point a considerable distance away. It would therefore seem impossible for him to tell whether a portion of the war party turned to the northward in quest of the boys, or whether they all concentrated in the search for Deerfoot himself.
It would appear beyond his power, I say, for the extraordinary youth to settle the question, while standing carefully hidden behind the trunk of a tree, but a single slight chance presented itself, and to that he appealed.
He knew the general direction of the horse's trail after it had left the spot where Deerfoot parted company with his friends. Unless it turned abruptly to the right or left, it led across an open space, which was in plain view of the Shawanoe, and provided the crossing had not already been made, he would be able to observe it.
He therefore watched this opening with a keenness which would permit nothing to elude it. His brain had handled the problem with the certainty of intuition. Following a process of reasoning which cannot be fully explained, he convinced himself that the redskins had not yet fled across the narrow space. Whether they were to do so or not would be determined in a brief while.
If the savages hunting Jack and Otto had gone beyond the point named, before Deerfoot fixed his attention on it, then it followed of necessity that those who were so eager to suspend the scalp of the youth from the ridge-pole of their wigwams were at that moment close upon him. In any event, he was morally certain the whole question would be settled within the coming hour, for, if no sign appeared, it would be a sign of itself that nothing was to be feared.
Fully aware of the woodcraft of his own people, Deerfoot threw away no chances. He kept closely hidden behind the tree which served as a screen, as though an enemy was in ambush within bowshot.
He waited a briefer time than he anticipated. His eyes were flitting hither and thither, when a couple of warriors deliberately walked across the opening on which his attention was fixed. Though only two, they moved in Indian file, one directly behind the other.
There could be no doubt they were after the scalps of Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub.
It was equally certain that a larger number were hunting for Deerfoot. The fact would not have caused him an additional throb of the pulse, could he have been assured that no harm, would befall his friends. True, they had displayed much courage and brilliancy a few hours before in their contest on the other side of the Mississippi, and it would seem that, with their training from earliest youth, they ought to be able to protect themselves against an equal number of red men. But, reason on the matter as he chose, Deerfoot could not drive away the feeling that it was his duty to go to their help.
"The Great Spirit wills that Deerfoot shall be the friend of the white people who are his friends. The Shawanoes and Miamis have no right on these hunting-grounds," he added, with a dangerous flash of his black eyes; "if they follow Deerfoot here, he will teach them they do wrong."
Clearly it would not do for him to take the back trail and retrace his steps, for that would insure a collision with those who were so anxious to meet him. Much as he detested them, and little as he feared the issue of such a meeting, it would be certain to delay his good offices for those who caused him so much anxiety, and such delay was dangerous.
His purpose was to "cut across lots," that is, to hasten by the nearest route to a point which would place him in advance of the couple that were giving their attention to Jack and Otto, and to carry out that plan necessitated his making no mistake in his judgment as to the trail of his friends.
"The warriors will have to walk until the sun goes down," he said to himself, "before they will come up with them; if they run, or if my friends have paused to rest, then they will find them sooner. Deerfoot must not wait, for he is needed."
He had not yet left his place behind the tree, for he was convinced that some of the Shawanoes were close to him, even though he had received no proof that such was the fact, but that proof came within the following few minutes and before he had yet stirred from his position.