The "old Indian" asserted itself in Deerfoot the Shawanoe. While every act, and in deed every thought, of the wonderful young warrior was prompted by conscience, yet his views of duty under certain circumstances, were fitted to bring a smile to the face of an impartial judge.
While standing behind the tree on the crest of the elevation, he was sure of two things: he had little time to lose in going to the help of Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub, and the Shawanoes who were trailing him were close at hand. He settled the dispute by deciding to stay where he was a few minutes longer. If his enemies did not appear within that brief period, he would hasten from the spot.
This conclusion on the part of the young Shawanoe presaged a desperate encounter between him and his foes, and he made preparation for it. He set his rifle on the ground, with the muzzle leaning against the tree which served to screen his body, and brought his long bow to the front. Drawing an arrow from its quiver, he glanced at it as if looking for some defect, but he knew none was there, nor was a single shaft of the score and a half in the quiver imperfect in any respect. The youth always made his own weapons. He glued on the feather which guided and steadied the missile in its flight, and he fastened the heads with metal obtained from the whites. Every one of his possessions had been tested and proven.
Deerfoot grasped the bow loosely in the centre, one finger of the same band also holding the arrow in place, with the notch against the deer sinew, not yet drawn backward. The amateur archer will understand that he was in form to bring the shaft to a head on the instant it should become necessary.
It was some five minutes after he had assumed this position, and while looking back over his own trail, that two Shawanoe warriors silently emerged from the bushes fifty yards off, and stealthily approached him. They moved absolutely without noise, for their woodcraft told them they were close upon the most dangerous being they had ever undertaken to hunt.
The foremost lifted his foot just clear of the ground and placed it squarely down again. His head and shoulders were thrown forward, so that most of his long, coarse, black hair dangled on both sides of his neck and over his chest. It hung in front of his face also, and, as his forehead was very low, he had the appearance, while continually glancing from side to side and in front, of a wild beast glaring from behind a hedge. He trailed his rifle in his right hand, the left resting on the handle of a knife, which, with that of a tomahawk, protruded from his girdle. He wore the usual hunting-shirt, leggings and moccasins, his body and limbs being well protected. His blanket would have been only an encumbrance, and while he was engaged in such delicate business, it was left with the canoe on the bank of the Mississippi. The ears when visible through the dangling hair, were seen to hold enormous rings of bone, while the nose hooked over and dipped in a fashion that showed that the organ had at some time held a pendant in the way of an ornament.
The countenance was blackened and disfigured with paint, in the style already made familiar to the reader, and the protuberant nose was rendered more striking by the retreating chin. The Shawanoe was crafty, cunning, treacherous and revengeful, which characteristics it may be said belong to the entire American race.
The second warrior, with the exception of his features, was the counterpart of the leader. Dress, paint, and ornaments, even to the strings of wampum around the neck, were similar. He carried his rifle in the same style, and his left hand rested on the weapons in his girdle. Both were strong and sinewy, and their sight lost not the slightest object in their field of vision.
It was this precaution which apprised them, at the same instant, that they were confronted by the most terrifying picture on which their eyes had ever rested. They halted as if transfixed by a lightning stroke.
Deerfoot the Shawanoe stood behind the trunk of an oak, a foot in diameter, with his arrow drawn to a head and pointed at the heart of the foremost warrior. The matchless youth was at bay, and in the exact posture for launching his deadly weapon—right foot forward, bow grasped in the centre, arrow held by the fingers of the left hand, which were drawn backward of the shoulder, while the bow itself, on account of its great length, was held diagonally in front.
The two Shawanoes who suddenly became aware of their danger, did not see all that has been described, for Deerfoot utilized the shelter so far as he could. Most of his body was carefully protected, and, though the bow was slanted, the lowermost point scarcely showed on the opposite side of the tree from the top of the weapon.
The warriors saw the head, left shoulder and hands of Deerfoot and the upper part of the bow, whose arrow was on the very point of speeding toward them. Directly over the shaft, with head slightly inclined, like that of a hunter sighting over his gun, were the gleaming eyes and face of the young Shawanoe. It looked as if he had turned his head to one side that he might catch the music made by the twang of the string when it should dart forward with the speed of the rattlesnake striking from its coil.
No more startling sight can be imagined than that of a gun aimed straight at us, with the finger of the marksman pressing the trigger. The first proof the pursuers received that they were within sight of the youth they were seeking was of that nature. Both stood for a second or more unable to stir. But their training prevented the spell lasting more than the briefest while.
The second warrior made a tremendous bound directly backward, dropping to a squatting posture as he landed, and then scrambling to cover with a quickness the eye could hardly follow. While employed in doing so, his companion emitted an ear-splitting screech which made the woods echo. He caught a shadowy glimpse of him as he leaped high in the air and fell backward, carrying with him the arrow of the marvelous archer, which had gone clear and clean through his body, and remained projecting both from the breast and back. A defiant shout rang from the elevation, and, peeping timidly forth, the crouching red man saw Deerfoot holding his bow aloft with one hand, while he swung the gun with the other and strode off, his face toward his pursuers.
"Where are the Shawanoes? Do they love to follow Deerfoot across the great river? His heart was sad for them because so many bowed to his bow and arrow—so he left them that his eyes might not look on their warriors who fell by his hand; the Shawanoes are fools, because they follow Deerfoot. They cannot harm him, for he is the friend of the white man, and the Great Spirit gives him his care; let the Shawanoes send Tecumseh and the Hurons send Waughtauk; Deerfoot stayed his hand when the time had come for Waughtauk to sing his death-song, but if the chief trails him across the great river, Deerfoot will not spare him."
The young warrior doubtless would have indulged in further annoying remarks, had he not kept moving all the time, so that his last words were uttered while he was beyond sight of the terrified Shawanoe crouching on the ground; but the voice of Deerfoot was raised to a key which prevented any observation being lost.
The declaration, following the act of the youth, showed that in his mind his relations toward his enemies changed when they followed him beyond the Mississippi. In Kentucky all stood on the same footing, and he often showed mercy, but if they pursued him into Louisiana they became his persecutors, and whoever crossed his path or sought to molest him, did so at his peril. He had voluntarily withdrawn from their chosen hunting-grounds, and they would be wise if they left him alone. He would not flee from them like a hunted deer, but would teach them severer lessons than they had ever yet learned.
The death-yell of the stricken Shawanoe was certain to bring others to the spot, but Deerfoot cared nothing for that. It mattered not if there were a score, for, if he chose to flee, he could out-speed the swiftest runner on either side the Mississippi. With the thousands upon thousands of miles of mountain, prairie, river, and wilderness at his back, he could laugh to scorn the rage of his enemies.
Though he had lived several months in this section, it was the first time his deadly foes had attempted to molest him. Self-defense demanded that they should be shown it would not pay to repeat the attempt.
Still retaining gun and bow, he passed rapidly down the slope, and, having previously fixed in his mind the course to pursue, pushed forward at an easy pace, which was much swifter than would be supposed.
Fast as he journeyed, he had not gone far when five Shawanoes (including him who had so narrowly escaped his bow), hurried to the spot where the smitten warrior lay. They had heard agonized cry in battle and knew what it meant. The second survivor was given but a minute to flee, when he encountered the others rushing thither, and he turned about and joined them. They would have been less arduous had they not known that the terrible Deerfoot was gone, as was shown by his defiant shout, which came from distant point in the woods.
Precisely eight Shawanoes (not a Miami among them) paddled over the Mississippi to hunt the youth: the only two absent from this party were pursuing Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub, while they journeyed toward the northwest, after the stray horse. The occasion, therefore, was a fitting one in which to consult as to the line of policy to be followed.
It may seem incredible, but it is an unquestioned fact, that five of the best warriors of the most formidable tribe in the West decided to give up the attempt to capture or kill a single one of their race whose years were considerably less than those of the youngest member of the party, and that, too, on the ground that the undertaking was too dangerous. One of those five Shawanoes, became converted to Christianity after the war of 1812, and settled in Kentucky, near the home of Ned Preston, to whom he gave the particulars of the council held by him and his comrades more than twenty years before.
Of course no one of the five admitted that personally he was afraid of Deerfoot. All expressed the greatest eagerness to meet him, where a chance to engage in fatal combat could be gained. Apparently no greater boon could befall them than such extreme good fortune.
But they could not shut their eyes to one or two discouraging facts: they had entered a country entirely strange to them, but which was familiar in a great measure to the fleet-footed traitor, who could never find himself lacking for some hole in which to hide himself. It was very much like hunting in an endless forest for the fawn that leaves no scent for the dog to follow.
But worse than all, the Shawanoes could not doubt that the execrated Deerfoot had formed alliance with the Osages, who would give him help whenever wanted. Such being their theory followed that they were not fleeing from a despised foe, but from a whole tribe of Indians. For five warriors to withdraw in the face of such overwhelming odds, could not be construed as cowardice, but only as wise discretion.
Such were the grounds on which the party based their decision, which was accompanied fierce lamentations that the fates had interposed to save Deerfoot from their vengeance.
"We talk that way," said the old Indian, long years afterward, while telling the story in broken English, "and," he added with a laugh twinkle in his dark eyes, "we much brave—we want to meet Deerfoot but we looked to see he did not come; if he came, then we wouldn't be so much brave; we turn, and run like buffalo, we much afraid of Deerfoot; we no want to see him."
AN UNEXPECTED INTERVIEW
Having turned his back on his pursuers, Deerfoot gave them no further attention. His purpose now was to defend Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub from the two red men in pursuit.
It will be remembered that the youthful warrior had fixed in his own mind the course taken by the others, and he hastened to a point where he was hopeful of finding the trail. But the calculation which led him thither was drawn too fine. Like the detective who spins a theory, perfect in every part and bristling with proof, he found that a slight hitch at the beginning destroyed it all. Neither the pursuers nor pursued had crossed the spot where he was so certain he would discover their footprints.
This was a disappointment to Deerfoot, who stood several minutes debating what to do. It would require considerable time to return point where he separated from the boys follow them thence, beside placing him well to the rear of the red men from whom the harm was dreaded. It was this fact which disturbed Deerfoot, but there seemed no other course open. He could easily speculate as to the routes by which to head off the warriors, but the mistake just made warned him that he had no time guesses of that character.
Clearly the only thing to do was to follow the course named, and with his usual promptitude, he moved through the wood toward the point where he was more than likely to come into collision with the larger party of Shawanoes. He turned aside from his own trail, as he invariably did under circumstances, but had not gone far when he found that which was lost.
The Shawanoe halted and looked at the ground with a grim smile, for he saw the print of the horse's hoof, the tracks made by Jack and Otto, and the lighter impressions of two pain of moccasins.
Having caught sight of the warriors not long previous, he knew they were at no great distance. They were walking at such a leisurely pace that unless it was increased, they were not likely to overtake the unconscious fugitives before they halted for the night.
The Shawanoe wheeled and hurried along the trail, with the loping, noiseless trot which could be maintained without distress from rise of morn till set of sun. He did not scrutinize the earth directly at his feet, but glanced several rods in front. He could readily detect the trail that far, and was thus enabled to keep keen watch of his surroundings, without retarding his own gait.
He occasionally flung a glance over his shoulder, but he was well satisfied that none of the larger party was after him: they had become impressed with the fact that it wouldn't pay.
A quarter of a mile off and he leaped lightly over a small stream, which crossed his path. He paused long enough to learn that the home had stopped to drink, doing so with some difficulty, for the water was so shallow that his lips must have stirred the mud on the bottom.
The boys did not halt, but one of the warriors had got down on his knees and hands, the latter spread apart like the fore legs of a camelopard, as to touch his dusky lips to the water, of which he drank his fill. All this Deerfoot noted, with only a few moments' pause, then he was off again.
But he had gone only a little way, when he observed other facts that were more disquieting. The Shawanoes had changed pace similar to his own, and beyond question were gaining upon the boys, who could not know peril. Deerfoot was convinced that the red men had hastened through fear of losing the trail in the coming darkness. It followed, therefore, that he himself must advance faster or lose the scent.
While able to follow the tracks of a horse, entirely by the sense of feeling, the progress must necessarily be too slow to be effective under circumstances like those which now confronted him.
The youth made a tremendous bound and struck a gait which rendered it unnecessary to look behind him, for no pursuer could equal his speed. He watched only the forest in front, through which he was hurrying with a velocity that raised a gale about his ears and kept him dodging and ducking his head to avoid unpleasant consequences.
All at once, he leaped sideways behind the nearest large tree, set down his rifle and bow and drew his tomahawk. He had discovered through the gathering twilight one of the Shawanoes returning over the trail. It was a fortunate accident which prevented him detecting his pursuer, since he was on the watch against that very danger, but Deerfoot was an instant quicker, and awaited him as grimly as he confronted the two warriors who followed him to the base of the hill, where one was pierced by his unerring arrow.
Deerfoot at first believed both were coming back, having been summoned thither perhaps by some signal from the larger party, but he saw there was only one. The youth could have picked him off without difficulty, but he was too chivalrous to do so, inasmuch as the red man was actually retreating instead of advancing, and had not as yet made the first move against him.
A guarded peep from his hiding-place showed the warrior approaching on a loping trot, similar to his own, his long rifle in his right band, while a glimpse was obtained of his blanket rolled and strapped like a knapsack behind his shoulders.
He held his head well forward, his restless eyes scanning the wood as it opened before him, but evidently with no thought of the danger which really menaced him. All at once, the figure of Deerfoot glided softly from behind the tree and confronted him with his tomahawk drawn back and ready to throw.
The Indian checked himself as abruptly as if an unfathomable chasm had opened at his feet, but quick as he was, Deerfoot was so close that the latter could have touched him with his extended bow.
The warrior, old enough to be the father of the other, saw that he was helpless. He was without the power to raise a finger to save himself, even though he held a loaded rifle in one hand and carried the regulation knife and tomahawk in his girdle. Had he made the first motion toward using his weapons, the upraised tomahawk would have left the grasp of Deerfoot with the swiftness of lightning, and the skull of his foe would have been cloven as though made of tissue paper.
"Let the Shawanoe obey the words of Deerfoot," said the youth, "and he shall not be harmed."
The other made no answer, but his frightened looks showed he was ready to follow any orders received from such high authority.
"He carries a blanket on his back which Deerfoot would love to have, that he may sleep upon it when the night is cold and he has no camp-fire to warm him."
The elder Shawanoe dropped his gun to the ground beside him, that he might use both bands more readily to unfasten the bundle for his master. Flinging it at his feet, he looked inquiringly up and awaited the next command.
Deerfoot did not stoop to take the article, for that would have invited a treacherous attack. He merely glanced downward and then asked, "Whither is my brother going?"
"He seeks those who sent him here; they are not far and we heard the shout of one of our warriors, which we did not understand."
"'Twas his cry when the arrow of Deerfoot pierced his heart," said the youth with flashing eye. "Deerfoot has crossed the great river and means never to visit the other shore; he has left Kentucky and Ohio, and the Shawanoes must look for his footprints on this side. They cannot find him, and he will shoot them from behind the trees and rocks. He will flee from them no more."
The red man to whom these words were addressed could not fail to understand their meaning. They gave distinct notice that the youth would strike back, whenever harm was offered him, while west of the Mississippi. He had located there for life and was prepared to defend himself against one and all of his enemies.
Beyond question, the elder Indian would have given much could he have been in Kentucky at that moment. He was watching for some chance to turn with panther-like quickness on his youthful conqueror, but the latter took care that no such opportunity was given him.
Deerfoot could not know that the group whom he left behind had resolved to withdraw from the dangerous country, and while their agreement would have been interesting and possibly gratifying news to him, yet he was not particularly concerned, since he was determined to force them sooner or later to that conclusion.
"Deerfoot took a gun that belonged to one of those who stole his blanket and broke his canoe; his blanket has been restored to him and he will now give the gun to his brother."
This statement was not understood by the other, which fact is not to be wondered at, since it was not only in violation of what may be called common sense, but the gun itself was not in sight.
It was within reach, however, and the youth had but to take a single step backward, when he grasped it with his right hand and proffered it to the other, whose very amazement caused him to take it with much awkwardness. Thus it came about that Deerfoot allowed the warrior to have two rifles, both loaded, while he stood guard over himself, with only his tomahawk in hand.
The transfer being made, the elder was at liberty to go, so soon as he answered a few questions. He knew much of Deerfoot from reputation, and, therefore, was not so dumfounded as otherwise he would have been, when informed that no harm would be done him.
"When my brother left his comrades, he took a warrior with him," said Deerfoot in his native tongue. "Where is he?"
Daring as the young Shawanoe was, he was guarded to give up the gun, until satisfied the second foe was not likely to appear on the scene. While he would have made his usual brilliant stand against two of his enemies, he would have needed all the means which he possessed to combat them.
"My brother waits my return; he sits on fallen tree and listens for my footsteps that may learn what ill has befallen our brothers nearer the great river."
"When my brother has learned and tells them what then will they do?"
"They will hasten across the great river and never come back."
Deerfoot smiled faintly, for he saw the purpose of this remark; the warrior was seeking to propitiate his conqueror. The latter might well have added that, inasmuch as he had already given him the fact, the elder was in duty bound to turn about and hasten to his waiting friend with the news; but it was too much to ask him to accept the word of an enemy, and the youth preferred that he should make the slight journey and ascertain the truth for himself.
What followed was unique and curious. Deerfoot stepped aside, just enough to allow the other to pass. The elder held a gun in each hand and stood motionless a moment, as if uncertain what to do; but his conqueror was waiting, and he, therefore, advanced three steps, enough to bring him opposite Deerfoot, while the fourth carried him beyond. It was at that juncture he caught sight of the long bow leaning against the tree where the gun had been standing. He longed to seize it, but he knew instant death would follow the attempt.
Without turning to the right or left, the released Shawanoe strode by with deliberate and dignified step. He held his own gun in his right hand, and with no evidence of what he was doing, he stealthily drew back the hammer which clasped the flint. He then noted carefully the number of paces he took.
When he had counted nearly fifty, he felt safe from the crash of the tomahawk. Dropping the strange rifle to the ground, he wheeled like a flash and sighted quickly at the spot where he last saw his conqueror, but he had vanished.
The task which Jack Carleton took upon himself, when he parted company with Otto Relstaub on the clearing, was of the simplest nature, and one which he was confident could be accomplished without trouble; it was to reach by a circuitous course a point directly opposite to his friend, and on a line with the horse, so that if the latter fled from one, he could be secured by the other.
The experience of the young Kentuckian averted some mistakes into which others might have fallen. One of the hardest things for a hunter to do, while tramping the forest, is to keep his bearings. There are few who have shouldered a gun that have not learned this fact, and, without a compass, landmarks, the bark of trees, or some other artificial aid, it may be set down as impossible for any one to escape bewilderment. If his wanderings are extended he will find himself traveling in a circle, and instances are known in which a person has followed his own trail for hours, without suspecting the grotesque truth.
Jack Carleton therefore took every precaution against going astray. He had in fact but one landmark, so to speak, and that was the moon, then well up in the sky. He located the luminary with such exactness, that he knew it would be directly over his right shoulder when he arrived at a point precisely opposite his friend, and, as he hoped, in a straight line with the colt between them.
"That means good luck," said he to himself, with a smile; "I always like to see the moon over my right shoulder, though it can't mean anything after all, as mother has told me many a time. She said that she and father, a few nights before he was killed by the Shawanoes, watched the new moon, which shone through the window, over his right shoulder and on my bare head. Father was in good spirits, for he believed in signs, and I think mother, though she chided him, had a sly belief in them, too; but," added the boy with a sigh, "she shudders now at the mere mention of such a thing."
While Jack was indulging in this sad reminiscence, he was carefully picking his way among the trees, making sure that he did not get the points of the compass confused. There was no call for haste, and it may be said he felt every step of the way.
"Otto is an odd fellow," he muttered, allowing his fancy to stray whither it chose, "and I hope he won't become bewildered. He is so anxious to get the colt, that he will run into trouble if there's any into which he can run. He is shrewd, brave, and somewhat stupid, and it is never certain what be will do or say. Let me see."
He stood still, and, peeping at the moon, as beat he could through the foliage overhead, studied its position in the heavens, with particular reference to his own.
"I haven't reached the right spot yet; it must be a hundred yards further."
His aim was to halt some twenty or thirty rods beyond the clearing. Then, when assured he had gone far enough, he would walk directly toward Otto, the two keeping the horse between them.
"I do so hope we will get him," muttered Jack, beginning to feel a misgiving now that the decisive moment was at hand, "for if we fail it will end the business. If he goes home without the colt, his father will beat him, and more than likely will drive him into the woods and forbid him to come back till he brings the horse with him. He is such a hard-hearted, miserly old fellow, that he will accept no excuse from Otto, and his mother doesn't seem to be much better."
After a time Jack reached the point where he found the moonlight streaming over his right shoulder. Of course, he could have secured that lucky omen at any time, but it resulted now from the systematic course he had followed, and he was sure no mistake had been made.
He had no more than formed the conclusion that everything was as it should be, when he was surprised to hear the neigh of a horse within bowshot of where he stood. As it came from the direction of the clearing, no doubt remained that it was the animal for which he was hunting.
"It looks as if it is to be my fortune after all to recover the colt," thought the pleased lad. "It will be a surprise to Otto, but I hope we shall not have to wait any longer, for we have lost a good deal of time."
He moved through the wood, stepping softly, so as not to frighten the animal, which probably had had enough of liberty to be unwilling to go back to bondage.
A brief distance was passed, when the young Kentuckian caught sight of the stray steed. In an opening, less than a tenth of an acre, where there was an abundance of grass, stood the identical colt which ran away the day before. Saddle and bridle were still in place, though even the moonlight was sufficient to show they had suffered much from the journey of the horse. The latter, evidently was suspicious that something was amiss. He was cropping the grass, when the sound of Jack's footsteps alarmed him. He stood with his head up, the grass dripping like water from his mouth, while he listened for the cause of alarm.
Jack Carleton was well aware of the difficulty that faced him when on the very threshold of success. Though he was close to the animal, he was not yet secured.
"Ah! If Deerfoot was here," sighed the boy, "then there would be no doubt of the result, for he would dart forward and catch him. If the horse wanted to run away, he would let him do it, and then the Shawanoe would chase him down, just as easily as he would me or Otto; but it is going to be hard work for me."
It was difficult to decide on the best course of procedure. The sagacious creature would not only be quick to recognize Jack, but equally quick to understand his purpose in approaching him. It was too much to expect him to submit quietly to recapture.
Jack softly plucked a handful of grass, and, stepping out from the cover of the woods began moving gently toward the colt. The latter turned his head and uttered a sniff of inquiry, at the same time showing an inclination to whirl about and gallop off. The boy stood still and, holding out the grass, deftly manipulated it so that a part dropped loosely to the ground: this insured its notice by his victim. Jack also addressed him in his most soothing tones. He called him all the pet names at his command, and, as the steed still held his ground, the youth resumed his stealthy advance.
Jack Carleton's heart throbbed with hope. The animal threw his head higher, snuffed louder, and manifestly was hesitating whether to permit a closer approach before fleeing, or whether to turn his face at once from temptation.
"A few steps more and he is mine," was the thought of Jack, who repeated the pet names with greater ardor, interspersing them with a variation of cluckings and chirpings that would have charmed a prattling baby. He increased his pace, for he was almost within reach, while the beast snorted with excitement.
All at once Jack dropped the gun in his other hand, and made a desperate plunge, meaning to grasp the forelock of the horse. It may be said that he succeeded, for he felt the coarse, cool hair as it was swept through his fingers by the flirt of the animal's head. Jack missed success, by what may be truly said to have been a hair's breadth.
"Whoa! confound you!"
This command was uttered in a very different tone from that in which he had been addressing the colt a minute before. There was nothing soothing in it, and the animal showed his contempt by whirling about, kicking up his heels and dashing into the woods.
Jack snatched his gun from the ground and bounded after him at the imminent risk of breaking his neck. He was too far from Otto and his captor to attract attention, but the noise may have reached the ears of the Indian. The angered pursuer did not coax or order the colt, for what he had done in that line was sufficient to show the effort was thrown away.
He listened: the animal was still going at a rate which showed he believed the danger was at his heels. The sound he made, while galloping over the leaves and through the bushes, grew fainter and fainter until it died out altogether.
"I suppose he will keep it up for several hours. If he faces toward the settlement, he will reach it to-morrow, but if he veers to the right or left, Otto may as well give up the job."
Jack was keenly disappointed, for he had been confident of success, and now he was forced to admit there was scarcely a hope of ever seeing the colt again.
"It's a bad go," he said, turning about and moving toward the clearing, where he had left his friend; "we'll keep up the hunt to-morrow, but if he isn't caught before sundown, I shall insist that we go home. Mother's anxious to see me," he added, in a softer voice, "but no more than I am to see her. It has been weeks since we parted, and if anything should happen to her while I am loitering by the way, I can never forgive myself."
He did not reflect that he was exposed to tenfold more harm than his parent. He reproached himself that he had tarried in Coatesville until Otto came for him. He was ready and waiting several days, during which he could have made the journey on foot, without the guidance of his friend.
However, it was too late now for regrets, and he tried to take matters philosophically.
The young Kentuckian made certain he was steadily pursuing the right course, and, when he thought he had advanced far enough, he emitted the whistle agreed upon. Of course no reply came back, for, as the reader knows, the young Teuton for whom the signal was meant was not in a situation to make suitable answer. In fact it did not reach his ears at all.
Without losing any more minutes, Jack Carleton pushed forward, until he was brought to a stand-still by catching the unmistakable glimmer of a light a short distance ahead among the trees.
Naturally the first impression of Jack Carleton, on seeing the light, was that it proceeded from the fire kindled by Otto. It struck him as curious that he should do so before be could be certain the horse was captured; but, in accordance with his training, Jack took nothing for granted. A few guarded steps, and he discovered the truth; the light was much closer than he suspected, and came through a slight rent in the side of an Indian wigwam.
The young Kentuckian was astounded, for he had never dreamed of anything of the kind. He concluded he must be on the confines of an Indian village, and made a further investigation; but it did not take long to learn that the lodge stood alone in the great forest.
"I suppose some chieftain or warrior has quarreled with his people and lives by himself," was the remarkably accurate guess of the boy; "I don't know how he feels toward white folks, but I'll take a little further look and then hunt up Otto."
He could not fail to note that the lodge stood close to the clearing where he had agreed to meet his friend, and he was unable to free himself of a dread, while stealing forward for the purpose of peeping through the rent in the side of the aboriginal structure. Otto must have seen the wigwam before reaching it, though the proprietor might have been quicker in detecting the approach of a stranger.
Fully sensible of the care required, Jack advanced slowly, without noise, feeling every inch of the way. At last he was able to bend forward and peep through the slight opening, which first told him of the location of the wigwam. It required some delicate maneuvering to gain a good view of the interior, and it need not be said that the result was of the most interesting nature.
His eyes, or rather eye (inasmuch as he used only one), first rested on the dusky baby, that had managed to kick off the blanket, and was fiercely tugging at the piece of cooked venison which his dusky mother bad tossed him. He held it between his scant teeth, grasping it with his chubby hands, while his feet beat the air, occasionally catching under his chin, as though he was using hands and feet to force the meat apart. He worked his legs with such a vigor that at times he seemed in danger of making a back somersault and bumping through the side of the lodge.
Under other circumstances Jack Carleton would have laughed outright at the comical figure of the bright-eyed infant; but the sight of Otto Relstaub checked all such feeling, and deepened the alarm which came with the first sight of the wigwam.
It so happened that Jack was much closer to his friend than he was to any of the other three figures. No more than two feet separated the boys, and in peering into the lodge, the eavesdropper looked directly over the head and shoulders of Otto. The familiar peaked hat, which had not been removed, the rather long, curling hair, the round, rosy check, broad shoulders, the tip of the pug nose, the plump chin, the feet, and the arms resting idly on the drawn-up knees—all these made the young German look like an exaggerated fairy, that had dropped in on some superstitious mortals and was regaling them with tales of wonderland. But Otto was not discoursing to listeners; he was looking from one to the other, sometimes smiling at the snuffing, kicking, clawing infant, and then assuming an anxious expression, when his eyes rested on the face of the others who shared the lodge with him.
The squaw was slowly drawing in and exhaling the vapor from her pipe, with the deliberate enjoyment of an old smoker. With her elbows on her knees, she stared fixedly at Otto, who must have been annoyed by her persistency.
Wish-o-wa-tum, the Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, occupied his throne of bison skin on the other side of the wigwam, and, having tired of sitting erect as became a monarch, was lounging on his right elbow, leaving his left hand free to manipulate his pipe, which was occasionally taken from his lips, after the cheeks were filled to overflowing with pungent vapor. Then, forming his immense mouth into a contracted circle, be ejected the smoke with his doubled tongue, sending forth ring after ring, in any direction he chose. Looking up at the opening in the top of the lodge, he started a regular procession of blue circles, twisting inward and slowly expanding as they climbed toward the fresh air, where they were suddenly caught and whirled into nothingness.
Jack had the best view of the chieftain he could wish, and fearful of being detected, drew his head back a few inches so as to be in entire darkness, and studied the ugly countenance. He observed the small, piggish eyes far apart, the big cheek bones, the disfigured nose, the enormous mouth, the slouchy, untidy dress, and even the half dozen straggling hairs that sprouted here and there over his massive chin.
He noticed the flitting glances of the black eyes, and knew that the unattractive Indian had, in some way or other, made a prisoner of Otto Relstaub, whose rifle was missing. Standing on the outside with his loaded gun in hand, the young Kentuckian could have done as he pleased with the red man, who had no suspicions of danger; but the thought of shooting him was unspeakably shocking to Jack, who could not have been persuaded to the step unless forced to do so, in order to save the life of Otto or himself.
Cruel indeed must any one be who could look on the picture of domestic happiness, the stolid father, the contented mother, and the lusty youngster, without feeling his heart stirred by that deep, inborn sympathy which makes the whole world akin.
"He isn't a Shawanoe or Miami," was the conclusion of Jack, after a careful study of the warrior's face and general appearance; "I have never seen an Osage, but have heard much of them, and I'm quite sure he is one. If that is so, he isn't as fierce as his race on the other side the Mississippi, and I think we can get Otto out of there without harm to any one. If we are going to live in this part of the world, we must keep on good terms with the Indians. Helloa! what is the old fellow going to do?"
Jack noticed that the head of the family had stopped glancing from one part of the lodge to another, and was looking steadily at Otto, as if he meditated some design against him.
And so he did. Drawing in an enormous quantity of smoke, he removed the stem from his leathern lips, contracted them into another O, and suddenly shot out a vapory ring, followed instantly by a second, third and fourth, and then by so many that they stumbled over each other's heels, as may be said. Indeed, the mouth of Wish-a-wa-tum seemed to have become a mitrailleue for the moment, that sent a continuous volley across the wigwam.
When the bombardment opened, Otto was looking thoughtfully at the ground in the middle of the lodge, so that his face was turned toward the chieftain. The latter aimed with such skill that, as he intended, the first ring passed directly over the end of Otto's pug nose, which for the instant looked as though some painter had enclosed the organ in a delicately tinted circle.
The latter was no more than in place, when it was followed by several others. The series, however, was blown into nothingness by a resounding sneeze from Otto, which started the vapor toward the opening above, that seemed to exert a greater power as the distance from the ground increased. When within a few inches of the outlet, the smoke flew apart, spun around and whisked out of sight, with the current that was borne upward from every part of the lodge.
"Donderation!" exclaimed Otto as best he could, through the strangling vapor; "what for you don't do dot? Don't you vants to kill somepodys mit your smoke—don't it? Yaw I oogh!"
Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder did not stir. Still holding his pipe suspended in his left hand, he looked at the discomfited youth and smiled.
The smile was the most prodigious on which Jack Carleton had ever looked. He saw the corners of the mouth move back on the cheeks until it seemed they must touch the ears. Perhaps the chief smiled so seldom that the few served to bring up the "general average" of those that were lacking.
Wish-o-wa-tum could have added to the distress of Otto by continuing his vapory cannonade, but he refrained, and amused himself by sending the rings once more toward the chimney.
While this little episode was going on, the squaw, with her chin on her hands and her elbows on her knees, continued to stare at Otto; but she showed no disposition to smile even in the slightest degree. In her the element of mirth appeared to be totally lacking.
It is more than probable that she had not acquired the art of ejecting the circles of smoke, or she would have followed up the exhibition of her husband with a similar one, inspired thereto by the innate ugliness of her nature.
The incident described did much to dissipate the alarm of Jack Carleton for his friend. The overwhelming smile on the countenance of the chieftain made it attractive, for it was free from the disfigurement of hate.
"Yes, he is an Osage, with his wife and little one. He may not be a pleasant neighbor, but he would not dare to live away from his tribe, if he was as cruel as the Shawanoes or Hurons. Some of the settlers would shoot him and his squaw and papoose."
This theory was reasonable, but from the nature of the case it could not be complete in the assurance it brought to the mind of the young Kentuckian, inasmuch as it failed to explain several alarming facts.
In the first place, Otto, manifestly, was a prisoner in the lodge. He had no gun with which to defend himself, nor could the guarded peeping of the eavesdropper discover the weapon within the wigwam. In what manner the German had fallen into the power of the Osage was beyond conjecture, nor could Jack guess the ultimate intentions of the captor.
"I have my loaded gun," was the thought of the youth, "and I ought to be able to get Otto out of this scrape. I shall be sorry, indeed, to harm any one in the wigwam, and so long as it is possible to avoid it, I will. If the warrior receives injury it will be his own fault."
At such times, the most curious fancies often take possession of a person. Jack Carleton had convinced himself that the Indian, wigwam was the only one in the neighborhood; but he had scarcely decided what his course should be, when he began to fear he had made a mistake. It seemed unlikely that a single Osage should dwell apart from his tribe in that fashion.
"There must be other lodges near me," he thought, stepping softly back and peering around in the gloom.
It mattered not that he saw no lights from any of them, for he reasoned that they might be hidden by the intervening trees. So strong was the feeling, that he moved further off and repeated the very reconnaissance made a short time previous.
He would not have done so, had he not known that Otto was in no immediate danger from his captor. Had the latter offered him harm, the struggle would have been heard in the stillness of the night, and Jack would have rushed to the relief of his friend.
Finally, the eavesdropper became satisfied that whatever the issue of the strange situation, he had but the single family to face. Then he was distressed by the doubt as to what the squaw would do, it he carried out his scheme. It is well, known that the Indian women are as brave, and frequently more cruel, toward their captives than are the warriors themselves. If the one before him became violent, Jack would be likely to find he had undertaken a task beyond his power.
His determination was to walk directly into the lodge and act as if he believed the occupants were his friends. He therefore strode forward toward the entrance, purposely kicking the leaves with his feet; and it was that noise which apprised those within of his approach.
WITHIN THE WIGWAM
Jack Carleton walked to the flapping deerskin which closed the entrance to the wigwam, flung it aside, and, stooping slightly, stepped within. Looking into the face of Wish-o-wa-tum, he made a half military salute and, straightening up, called out:
"How do you do, brother?"
The etiquette of the visitor required him to advance and offer his hand, but he was afraid to do so while in doubt as to the sentiments of the chief. The young Kentuckian recalled an instance somewhat similar to the present, wherein a Huron warrior, grasping the hand of the white man who offered it, suddenly drew him forward and plunged his hunting-knife into his side.
The unexpected visit of Jack produced a sensation amounting, for the moment, almost to consternation. For the first time the squaw showed genuine surprise. Snapping the pipe from her mouth, she threw up her head with a grunt, and stared at the athletic youth. The kicking baby on the hearth appeared to understand that something unusual was going on, and held arms and legs still, while he stared, with his round black eyes, toward the figure at the other end of the lodge.
Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder turned his head, holding his pipe in hand, and looked inquiringly at the visitor. He showed no signs of fear, but, manifestly, he was astonished. His fragmentary conversation with the other boy had given him no cause to look for such a call, though he saw at a glance that the two were friends.
Otto Relstaub beamed with delight. With an expanse of smile second only to that of which the sachem was capable, he rose partly to his feet and, looking at Jack, called out:
"Mine gracious! Jack, I didn't look for nodings of you pefore, as dot ish—"
"Hold on!" interposed the lad at the door, with a laugh and wave of the hand, "sit down and compose yourself till you can talk straighter than that."
"I dinks I does—yaw," muttered the happy fellow, willing to do anything suggested by his companion; "but come in and sot down."
While addressing Otto, Jack kept his eyes on Wish-o-wa-tum, for it may be said he was the key of the situation. If he showed hostility, trouble was sure to follow. Jack half expected to see him make a leap for his bow or rifle, or attempt to draw his tomahawk.
If he does thought the boy, "I'll raise my gun first, and he will understand what that means."
But the looks and manner of the host (if such he may be called) were neither hostile nor friendly; they were indifferent, as though the whole business possessed no interest to him. After his first surprised stare, he swung his head back to its former position and slowly smoked his pipe as before.
Jack Carleton made up his mind on the moment that his true course was to carry out his first idea that is, to act as though there was no doubt of the friendship of the Osage.
Stepping to the left, he set his gun on the ground with the muzzle leaning against the side of the lodge. No more expressive sign of comity could have been given than this simple act. He then advanced to the beefy, stolid chieftain, to whom he offered his hand, repeating the words:
"How do you do, brother?"
Wish-o-wa-tum took the fingers in his own immense palm, and gave them a moderate pressure. Though it might have been called a warm salute, it sent a shiver through the youth, who unconsciously braced himself against any sudden pull of the savage, his other hand, at the same time, vaguely seeking the handle of his knife.
But, whatever thoughts or intentions may have stirred the massive chieftain, they gave no evidence of their nature in his face. He looked up at the boy, and, as he slightly wabbled the hand within his own, said:
"How do, brudder?"
Jack then turned about and greeted Otto, who could scarcely contain himself. The movement, it will be noticed, placed the back of the former toward the chief, and he was conscious of another chill running up and down his spine; for no better opportunity could be given the Indian to strike one of those treacherous, lightning-like blows peculiar to the savage races.
"Keep your eye on him," said Jack, in an undertone, while shaking the hand of Otto, and both were talking loud and effusively.
Otto nodded his head and winked, to signify he caught on, and did not check, for a single moment, his rattling flow of talk. Jack, in the most natural manner, shifted his position to one side, so he was able to look upon every one in the wigwam without the appearance of any special object in doing so.
The great point with the callers was to secure the good-will of the savages. It may seem shrewd on their part, but any boy, no matter what his age, knows that the surest way to win the friendship of a household is to magnify the importance of the baby.
The thought occurred to Otto long before, and more than once he explored his garments in search of some present for the youngster; but he possessed nothing that would answer. His pockets were empty of anything in the shape of coin, bright medals, buttons, or playthings of any sort likely to attract the eye of the aboriginal American infant.
He might have handed his hunting-knife to him, but more than likely, in his blind striking and kicking, he would gouge out an eye or attempt to scalp himself, and then the mother would turn upon the donor in her wrath. Otto considered the project of borrowing the tomahawk of the chief and passing it over to the heir, but feared he would knock out his own brains or do something desperate, by which retribution would be visited on the head of Otto.
But Jack Carleton was more fortunate, for in the pocket of his trousers was an English shilling, worn smooth and shining with the friction to which it had been long subjected. It was just the thing to catch the eye of any baby, no matter what its nativity, and he stepped hastily forward and handed it to the one before him.
The movement interested the parents scarcely less than the child. They watched Jack closely. The little fellow snatched the bright coin in his snuffling, awkward fashion, and, when it was clutched in his fingers, made a furious shove, intending to drive it into his mouth.
"Hold on," called Jack, in alarm; "I didn't give it to you to eat; I don't believe you can digest it."
Just then the little fellow began to kick, cough, and fling himself harder than ever. The mother sprang forward with an exclamation in her native tongue, and, catching her baby in her arms, began manipulating him in the most original fashion. Standing upright in the middle of the wigwam, she inverted him, and, holding him by the heels, worked him up and down, as though he were the dasher of a chum.
"If she don't do dot a leedle harder his head vill bounce off," remarked Otto.
The shilling flew from the throat of the baby, and Jack, thinking it had done enough harm, scooped over to pick it up; but, before he could lay hands on it, the mother snatched it from the ground and shoved it into one of the capacious receptacles of her dress. Evidently she identified the coin and knew its value.
"All right," laughed Jack; "I'll be glad to have you keep it, if it will help to buy your friendship for us."
During this stirring episode, and when the boys feared the heir of the wigwam was likely to choke himself to death, the father never ceased smoking, his pipe. His piggish eyes were turned sideways, as though he thought the performance worth looking at; but, beyond that, he did not disturb himself.
The infant, after his unpleasant experience, seemed to be as well as ever, and being tumbled back on the bison skin resumed his kicking and, crowing, as though seeking to make up for lost time.
The occurrence produced an effect on Jack Carleton similar to that caused by the sight of the expansive smile of the Osage chieftain: he felt that no dangerous ill-will could exist wigwam which was the scene of the incident.
The boys resumed their seats beside each other, where the other occupants of the lodge were in sight all the time, and then spoke with freedom.
"I don't think they will, offer any harm," Jack, alluding, of course, to the squaw and the warrior. I suspect he is an Osage."
"Yaw—dot ish vot he tolds me," said Otto carefully weighing his words.
"What else did he tell you? But, first of all, let me know how you came to be his guest."
Thereupon the German related, in his own fashion, the story which long since became familiar to the reader. Jack Carleton listened with much interest, glancing from the husband to the wife and back again, with an occasional look at the baby, that had become so motionless as to show that he was asleep.
"So you didn't get anything to eat?" remarked the young Kentuckian; "when I first saw you here I thought you were after food. I am hungry, but I think the best thing we can do is to leave the lodge."
"Vy not stays till mornings?"
"It might do; but I'm a little too nervous to sleep, for there can be no certainty about them. I hunted around for other lodges, but found none, and yet there may be plenty not far off. He may have visitors, and, if they find us here, there's no telling what they will do."
"What for you leave your gun ober dere just as I does mit mine?"
"It struck me that that was the best way to show the old fellow that not only was I friendly myself, but that I took him to be a friend."
"Dot ish so; but it would be as nice as nefet vos if bofe of our guns had us."
"I will get mine."
"Mebbe he won't lets you."
"I'm almost as close to it as he; I can take a step or two before he will see what I mean to do, and then, if he undertakes to stop me, he will be too late."
"Vot musn't I does?"
"Attend to the squaw: if she makes a dive after me, you grab and hold her."
"Yaw," was the hesitating response of Otto, who saw what unpleasant phases the situation was likely to assume.
Before Jack Carleton rose to his feet, he discovered that something extraordinary was going on in the lodge. Although the chief was sitting in his lazy attitude, yet his senses were on the alert and some sort of telegraphy was passing between him and his wife. Both continued smoking their pipes and did not speak nor move their bodies. Any one unable to see their faces would not suspect they were looking at each other.
But they were not only doing so, but, singular as it may seem, were sending messages mainly by means of the smoke issuing from their dusky lips. It was puffed forth, in every variety of manner, sometimes with little short jets, then with longer ones, then from one corner of the mouth and again from the other, all being accompanied by a contortion of the flexible lips which doubtless suggested some of the words in the minds of the two.
"That's very strange," said Jack, in an undertone, after he and Otto had watched the performance several minutes.
"Yaw, dot ish vot I dinks."
"Why do they affect all that mystery? If they want to say anything to each other, why not speak in their own tongue? Neither of us can understand the first word."
"But they doesn't knows dot."
"They ought to know it. However, we can't guess what they're talking about, though I would give much to know."
Husband and wife were quick to observe they were under scrutiny, but they continued the curious interchange of thoughts for some time longer. By and by they ceased and seemed be doing nothing beside smoking; Carleton was right in his belief that the sachem had heard something on the outside wigwam which greatly interested them.
AN UNWELCOME VISITOR
Both Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub were disturbed by the singular behavior of the squaw and chief.
"They're talking about something outdoors," whispered Jack; "keep quiet and listen."
The faint rustling of the leaves, the gentle breathing of the sleeping infant, and the soft purring of the fire (caused by the sudden flaring up of one of the brands), were the only sounds that came to their ears. Wish-o-wa-tum held the stem of his pipe between his lips, without ejecting any smoke, while his eyes were fixed on the ground in front of his feet, with that absent expression which showed he was listening intently to something not visible to the eye. The attitude of the wife was similar, except that she looked steadily in the face of Jack Carleton, as though seeking to read his thoughts.
Hark! both the boys caught a stirring of the leaves, precisely as if made by the foot of an animal prowling around the wigwam.
"Sh!" warned Jack; "it's a man or beast!"
The words had no more than left his lips, when the flapping deerskin was silently drawn backward and an Indian warrior entered.
He was powerful and well formed in his war paint, and with his long rifle in his right hand. He had no blanket thrown over his shoulders, but he was fully dressed in other respects, with knife and tomahawk thrust in the girdle around his waist.
The first glance showed that he not only belonged to the Shawanoe tribe, but he was one of the most dreaded members of the same. Both Otto and Jack had seen him before, his forehead and cheeks being so curiously marked as to identify him wherever no one else was similarly ornamented.
When the boys were making their desperate run for the shelter of the logs on the other side, of the Mississippi, Otto threw back an affrighted look, which gave him such a vivid picture of that particular savage that he felt the memory would remain with him through life. A few minutes after, as my reader will recall, Jack deliberately held fast to the upper edge of the rude fort and looked over upon the fierce warriors outside. The one who particularly impressed him was the Shawanoe with the hideously painted countenance. It was this same Indian that flung the bear skin about his shoulders and, creeping up the inclined tree trunk, surveyed the astonished youths below, and it was he who now entered the lodge of Wish-o-wa-tum and confronted the inmates.
The truth flashed upon the boys: he was one of a party that had followed them across the Mississippi, and had traced them to this lodge. It was natural the youths should believe that others were not far off.
It will be remembered that Otto had left his gun on the edge of the clearing some distance away, while the weapon of Jack stood near the entrance of the lodge. The instant the Shawanoe stepped inside, his eye rested on it, and, as if divining the truth, he extended his hand and picked it up. The act gave him two guns, while neither of the boys possessed a fire-arm.
Having performed this clever exploit, the Shawanoe, still standing erect, just within the lodge, turned to the chief and addressed him in what may be termed a mixture of the Shawanoe and Osage tongues. He paid no attention to the squaw at the other end of the wigwam, for to an American Indian the native woman is of little account under any circumstances.
Nor did his face indicate that he was aware of the presence of the boys, who looked at him with dismay; but it was morally certain that the conversation which opened immediately related almost solely to them.
"My gracious!" said Jack, when able to recover himself, "this is bad for us. I never dreamed of anything of the kind."
He spoke very guardedly, with his head close to his friend's though both narrowly watched the warriors, while giving expression to their own fears.
"Vie didn't we start sooner don he comes?" whispered Otto, his jaw trembling with fear; "I don't see vot we doted does."
An absurd scheme of escape suggested itself to Jack.
"I wonder whether we can't dash through the side of the lodge and get away."
"Wait till I sees."
Otto carefully leaned back with a view of learning bow much resistance the deerskins would offer. While they were quite strong, they were not taut, and yielded so much that the boy tipped over backwards, with his feet in the air, somewhat after the style of the baby when frolicking on the blanket.
The two warriors, including the squaw, looked stolidly at him, and there was not the trace of a smile on any countenance. Agitated as was Jack, he could not repress a slight laugh when he witnessed the discomfiture of his companion.
"Mine gracious!" muttered Otto, clambering to the sitting position again; "I dinks dot some one have pulls de lodge away van I don't leans against him."
Jack shook his head.
"There's no use of trying that; before we could get through they could catch us both. If they attack us, we'll have to make the beat fight we can."
"And dot won't be good for nodding," was the truthful remark of Otto, who looked toward the two warriors again.
The Shawanoe must have felt he was entire master of the situation. As if to remove any doubt on that point in the minds of the youths, he now set down the gun he had picked up, leaned his own against the side of the lodge, close to it, and then seated himself about half way between the door and the sleeping baby. This placed him opposite Wish-o-wa-tum and closer to the entrance where were Otto and Jack. For the latter to pass out, they must rush by both warriors, a feat utterly impossible, should the Indians object. It was equally beyond their power to secure the guns, which would have proven potent factors in settling the question.
"I believe he has left the rifles there on purpose to tempt us to make a dash for them," said Jack, half inclined to accept the challenge, hopeless as it was.
"Dot ish vot they does him for," assented Otto.
Jack was strongly of the belief that other Shawanoes were near. It was unreasonable to suppose that a single warrior would have crossed the Mississippi alone, when a dozen of them had proven unable to bring the boys to terms.
"They have found we are in here," was the thought of the boy, "and becoming tired of waiting for us, have sent this one to talk with the Osage and to hurry us out. Ah, why did Deerfoot leave us so soon? If we ever needed him, now is the time."
The name of the wonderful youth gave a new turn to the thoughts of the lad. He asked himself whether it was probable that the Shawanoes and Miamis had sent a party over to pursue the boys alone, or to revenge themselves upon Deerfoot. Their enmity against the latter must be tenfold greater than it could be against any one else.
The most natural decision to which the lad could come was that the hostiles were numerous enough to divide and follow both trails. At any rate it was improbable, as has already been said, that the task of running the youths to earth was entrusted to a single warrior.
While Wish-o-wa-tum and his latest visitor were talking in their odd, granting fashion, the boys carefully studied their countenances, in the vain effort to read the meaning of the words that passed their lips. They occasionally glanced at the squaw, who manifested more interest than was expected. Sometimes she held the pipe for a minute or two motionless, her eyes on the warriors, as if anxious to catch every word. Then she would give a snuff or grunt, lean forward and stir the fire and smoke with great vigor.
To the amazement of the listening boys, the red men all at once changed their language to the English—or rather they attempted to do so, for they made sorry work of it.
"Dog Deerfoot—he dog," was the somewhat obscure remark of the latest arrival.
"Him so," nodded Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, who probably had never beard of the individual until within the last few minutes.
"Deerfoot dog—coward—shoot Injin no more."
Wish-o-wa-tum started a reply in English, but the difficulty was such that he slid back into his own lingo. Consequently, the purport of what he said was lost upon the youths. Jack Carleton, however, was quick enough to suspect the meaning, of the proceeding which troubled him so much at first. The words in broken English were intended for the friends of Deerfoot. It was characteristic of the Shawanoe visitor that he should attempt to play upon the feelings of the hapless boys.
"Deerfoot dead," he added, with a sidelong glance toward the latter, which confirmed the suspicion of the young Kentuckian.
Otto started on hearing the words, but whispered, as he hitched closer to his friend:
"I don't dinks so."
"Nor do I—hark!"
"How die?" asked Wish-o-wa-tum again struggling with the tongue to which he was a subject rather than of which he was master.
"Arorara threw him down," replied the visitor, striking his fist against his breast to signify the name was his own; "jump on him—take scalp. Deerfoot dog!"
"I know how deceitful the Indians are," said Jack in the same low tone, "but that fellow don't know bow to lie in English. I should like to see the warrior that can throw Deerfoot down and take his scalp."
The Shawanoe seemed to have overheard the expression, or at least suspected its meaning, guarded though the words were in their utterance, for he leaped to his feet and again striking his fist against his chest, exclaimed in hot anger:
"Deerfoot dog—Deerfoot dead! Arorara take scalp."
To the amazement of Jack Carleton, Otto also sprang to his feet, and struck his chest a resounding thump.
"Arorara ish one pig liar!" he shouted; "he is a liar as never vos! He says dot Deerfoot is dead, and dere stands Deerfoot now!"
And as the German lad thundered the words, he pointed toward the deerskin, which had been flung back once more.
PURSUER AND PURSUED
When Deerfoot the Shawanoe encountered his enemy in the path and turned over the rifle to him, he knew that his leniency toward his implacable foe had not softened his heart in the least. He only awaited the opportunity to turn like a rattlesnake on his magnanimous master, and the youth therefore took particular care that such opportunity should not be given him.
Deerfoot held his tomahawk tightly grasped and poised, determined to hurl it with resistless and unerring aim on the very first move of the warrior against him. He remained as rigid as bronze until the other was a couple of rods distant. Then he noiselessly shoved back the tomahawk in his girdle, picked up his bow and vanished like a shadow. When the warrior turned, as the reader will recall, he saw no one.
Deerfoot was confident that after such a meeting, the one whom he had spared would not follow him. He would be glad enough to escape altogether without arousing the wrath of him who would not show mercy a second time. Nevertheless, the matchless youth sped along the path in the gathering gloom, with that swiftness which earned him his expressive name while he was yet a mere boy. No man, American or Caucasian, could hold his own against him in his phenomenal fleetness. He swept through the forest, never pausing, but darting forward like a bird on the wing, that eludes by the marvelous quickness of eye the labyrinth of limbs and obstructions which interpose almost every second across his line of flight.
Not until he had sped fully a half mile did slacken in the slightest his astonishing pace, and then there was not the least quickening of the pulse or hastening of the gentle breath. Had chose, he could have maintained the same for hours without discomfort or fatigue.
While, in one sense, Deerfoot was fleeing a Shawanoe, he was, in the same sense, pursue another, in whom his chief interest centered. The night deepened, and the moon, climbing above the tree tops, penetrated the gloomy recesses in few places with its silvery beams. When a mile had been passed, the young warrior paused and listened.
"He cannot follow me when his eyes see no trail," he said to himself, alluding to the Shawanoe whom he had spared.
It followed as a corollary that the same difficulty confronted him in pursuing his friends and the enemy who clung so close to their footprints. He stopped and softly passed his hand over the leafy ground. Not the slightest artificial depression was there; he had lost the trail of the party.
As it was utterly out of the question to learn how far he had diverged from the path, it was also beyond his power to return to it—that is, so long as the night lasted. The hoof-prints of the horse were cut so deep in the yielding earth that, with considerable trouble, he could have traced them among the trees; but even then he would lack the great help which the scout is generally able to command. In following a trail at night, he needs to possess a thorough knowledge of the country, so as to reason out the probable destination of his enemies, and consequently the general route they will take. More than likely they will aim for some crossing or camping ground, many miles in advance. The knowledge of the hunter may enable him to take a shorter course and, by putting his horse to his best, reach of them. About all he does, when engaged in this hot chase, is to take his observations at widely separated points, with a view of learning he is going astray.
It was precisely in this manner that the greatest scout of modern days, Kit Carson, led a party on the heels of a party of Mexican horse-thieves, with his steeds on a fall gallop the night thoroughly overtook the criminals at daylight, chastised them and recaptured the stolen property.
Deerfoot was lacking in that one requisite—familiarity with the country. He had journeyed up and down the shores of the Mississippi, had visited the settlement further west, and had gain much knowledge of the southwestern portion of the present State of Missouri; but this member of our Union occupies an immense area, and years would be needed to enable him to act as guide through every section of it. He had never traveled in many parts, and it will be perceived, therefore, that it was out of his power to theorize in the wonderfully brilliant manner which often made his successes due to an intuitive inspiration that at times seemed to hover on the verge of the unknowable sixth sense.
But strange must be the occasion in which Deerfoot would feel compelled to fold his, arms and say, "I can do no more."
He had stood less than three minutes in the attitude of deep attention, when he emitted a peculiar fluttering whistle, such as a timid night bird sometimes makes from its perch in the up most branches, while calling to its mate. It was still trembling on the air, when a response came from a point not far away and to the right. Could any one have seen the face of the youthful Shawanoe, he would have observed a faint but grim smile playing around his mouth.
He had uttered the signal which the Shawanoes rarely used. When members of their scouts became temporarily lost from each other, while in the immediate neighborhood of an enemy, and it was necessary they should locate themselves, they did so by means of the signal described. They refrained from appealing to it except in cases of the utmost urgency, for if used too often it was likely to become known to their enemies and its usefulness thus destroyed.
Deerfoot had secured a reply from the Shawanoe for whom he was hunting, and thus learned his precise whereabouts. He instantly began stealing his way toward him.
The usage among this remarkable tribe of Indians required him to repeat the peculiar cry after hearing it, and the party of the second should respond similarly. When the call had been wafted back and forth in this fashion, Shawanoe law forbade its repetition, except after a considerable interval, and then only under the most urgent necessity.
Deerfoot held his peace, though he knew warrior was awaiting his answer. Failing to call the response, the other would conclude that the signal was in truth the call of a bird; but to guard against any error, he repeated the tremulous whistle, when the stealthy Deerfoot was within a few rods.
The latter could have taken his life with suddenness almost of the lightning bolt, but he had no wish to do so. If Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub were in danger it would be from this warrior alone, and so long as Deerfoot could keep him "in hand" no such danger existed.
In the open forest, where the moonlight penetrated, a shadowy figure assumed shape, and the pursuer recognized it as that of the Indian whom he was so anxious to find. He had concluded to wait no longer, and was advancing in a blind way along the trail of the lads.
Deerfoot stooped and passed his hand over the ground. One sweep was enough to, identify the prints of the horse's hoofs, and the more delicate impressions made by shoes and moccasins. The young Shawanoe, by a careful examination of the trail, did that which will scarcely be believed: he ascertained that one pair of moccasins went forward and the other took the opposite course. Consequently, the Shawanoes had parted company at a point slightly in advance (it could not be far), and the warrior whom he saw must have waited where he was while the night was closing in.
A few rods further and a second examination revealed the trail of a single pair of moccasins, the line of demarcation had been passed.
All this time the elder was pushing among trees, Deerfoot catching a glimpse of him now and then, so as to be able to regulate his own pace that of his enemy. It was needful also that much circumspection should be used, for when one person can trace the movements of another, it follows that the possibilities are reciprocal and the law vice versa obtains. The youth therefore held resolutely back, and so guarded his movements that he was assured against detection by any glance the warrior might cast behind him.
The trees in front diminished in number and soon ceased altogether. The Shawanoe had reached the edge of a natural opening or clearing. Pausing a moment, he stepped out where the moon shone full upon him, and then halted again. Having the advantage of cover, Deerfoot slipped carefully forward, until he stood within a few yards of the red man, who little dreamed of the dreaded one that was within the throw of a tomahawk.
The elder Indian seemed to be speculating the probable course of the unconscious fugitives. It could not be supposed that he was familiar with the country (since his home was on the other side of the Mississippi), but like the majority of mankind when in difficulty, he was able to form a theory, but unlike that majority, he proved his faith in it by his works. Instead of following the footprints, he diverged to the right and coursed along the edge of the clearing, where he was almost entirely concealed by the shadow of the trees.
He had not gone far, when Deerfoot silently emerged from the wood. His keen eye revealed what must have been noticed by the other: on that spot the boys had stopped with the intention of encamping for the night. Had they remained, beyond all doubt one or both would have been slain, but from some cause (long since explained to the reader) they passed on.
Deerfoot hurried on with a speed that was almost reckless, for that marvelous intuition seemed to whisper that the crisis was near. His friends could not be far off, and the question of safety or danger must be speedily settled.
Just beyond the clearing, while hastening forward, he caught, the glow of the fire shining through the rents and crevices of the shabby skin of the Osage wigwam. He heard the of voices within, and a few seconds later he was peeping through the same orifice that had a similar purpose for jack Carleton when played the part of eavesdropper.
TURNING THE TABLES
Although Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub understood nothing of the conversation (excepting the few words of mangled English) between Wish-o-wa-tum, the Osage chieftain, and the Shawanoe who entered his lodge, little was lost upon Deerfoot.
Without quoting the language, it may be said that Arorara declared the two boys to be thieves and wretches of the worst imaginable degree. They had stolen the horses of the Shawanoes and Miamis, and had treacherously shot, not only the warriors, but the squaws and papooses, when they lay asleep by their camp-fires.
Arorara said he had been sent by his people to follow across the river, and punish them for their many crimes. His purpose in placing the guns as he had done, near the entrance of the lodge, was to tempt the boys to make a rush to escape.
When they did so, Arorara proposed that he and Wish-o-wa-tum should leap upon them with knives.
When this plan was fully explained to the chief, he nodded his head and signified that he would willingly lend his hand. It was a matter of indifference to him, and, but for the coming of the Shawanoe, he probably would have allow the boys to depart without harm. With Wish-o-wa-tum the whole question resolved itself into one of policy. He lived alone and had never been disturbed by the white settlers, who were locating in different parts of the territory. If he should help in the taking off of youngsters, their friends would not be likely to suspect him, and there was little probability of the truth ever reaching their ears.
But, if he refused the request of the guest, the fierce tribe to which he belonged would be sure to go out of their way to punish him. He therefore gave his assent, and added that he was ready do his part whenever Arorara wished.
It was at that juncture that the two red men essayed expression in English, and Deerfoot saw that he must interfere at once. While moving to the front of the lodge, he scanned his immediate surroundings, so far as he could, but neither saw nor heard anything of the other Shawanoe. In short, from what has already been told, it will be seen that it was impossible for him to be in that vicinity.
Throwing back the deerskin, the youthful warrior stepped quickly within the wigwam. His bow was flung over his back, and, being perfectly familiar with the interior, he extended his hand and caught up the weapon nearest him, standing erect and facing all the occupants as did Arorara a short time before. This movement and the entrance itself were made with such deftness that no one observed his presence, with the exception of Otto Relstaub, who by accident happened to look toward him just as he entered.
But the startling words of the German lad, accompanied by the extension of his arm and finger toward the door, turned every eye like a flash in that direction. They were just in time to catch a glimpse of the arms of Deerfoot, as they were raised like the flitting of the wings of a bird, and almost in the same breath the youth was seen to be looking along the gleaming barrel pointed the breast of the astounded warrior.
"Dog of a Shawanoe!" exclaimed Deerfoot, his voice as firm and unwavering as his nerves; "coward! Serpent that creeps in the grass and strikes the heel of the hunter; Arorara speaks with a double tongue; he says he took the scalp of Deerfoot, but the scalp of Deerfoot is here, and he dares Arorara and Waughtauk and Tecumseh and all the chiefs and sachems and warriors of the Shawanoes, to take it!"
The rifle, with the hammer drawn back, was flung to the ground, and whipping out his hunting knife, the youth grasped the handle with fingers of steel and assumed a defiant attitude. His face was aflame with passion, and his breast became a raging volcano of wrath.
In truth, Deerfoot had lost control of himself for the moment. An overwhelming sense of his persecution caused his nature to revolt, and he longed for the excuse to leap upon the Shawanoe who had followed him across the Mississippi. There was a single moment when he gathered his muscles for a tiger-like bound at his enemy, he was restrained only by the pitiful expression on the terrified countenance.
The youth addressed his words to Arorara and his blazing eyes were fixed on him. He had no quarrel with Wish-o-wa-tum and understood his position, but he would not have shrunk from an attack by both. Deerfoot knew that either was more powerful than he, but in cat-like agility there could be no comparison between them.
Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, however, showed very plainly that he held the invader of his lodge in great fear. He displayed visible emotion, when listening to the ringing words of defiance; but he possessed sense enough to perceive they were not addressed to him, and he continued to smoke his pipe in silence.
The squaw at the further end of the wigwam started, and with the pipe in her grasp, stared with a dazed expression at the daring intruder; then, like the true mother the world over, she leaned forward, caught up her sleeping infant and held him to her breast, ready to defend him with her life.
Arorara looked in turn straight into the burning countenance of Deerfoot. The elder warrior had unconsciously assumed an admirable pose, his left foot forward, his hand resting on the handle of his tomahawk, his whole position that of a gathering his strength for a tremendous leap. But though his fingers toyed with the weapon at his waist, they did not draw it forth; it was for that precise signal the youth was waiting.
While in this attitude, which might have been accepted as indicating the most heroic courage, Deerfoot saw the lump or Adam's apple rise sink in his throat, precisely as if he were to swallow something. It was done twice, and was a sign of weakness on the part of Arorara.
The consuming anger of Deerfoot burned out like a flash of powder. Hatred became contempt; enmity turned to scorn, and the mortal peril of the warrior vanished.
"Who now is the dog?" asked Deerfoot in English, with a curl of his lip. "Arorara is brave when he stands before the youths who have no weapons; he then speaks with the double tongue; he cannot utter the truth. Arorara has his tomahawk and knife, Deerfoot has his; let them fight and see whose scalp shall remain."
"Don't you do dot, old Roarer," exclaimed Otto Relstaub, stepping forward in much excitement; "if you does, den you won't be old Roarer not any more, as nefer vose-yaw! Dunderation!"
"Let them alone," commanded Jack Carleton, catching his arm and drawing him back; "don't interfere."
"Don't you sees?" asked Otto, turning his head and speaking in a whisper; "I want to scare old Roarer."
"There's no call for doing that, for he's so seared now he can't speak; he won't fight Deerfoot."
Arorara possessed less courage than Tecumseh, who, when challenged by Deerfoot in almost the same manner, would have fought him to the death had not others interposed. The Shawanoe was now in mortal terror of such an encounter.
"Deerfoot and Arorara are brothers," said he, swallowing again the lump that rose in his throat; "they belong to the same totem; they are Shawanoes; the Great Spirit would frown to see them harm each other."
The words were spoken in Shawanoe, but Jack and Otto saw, from the looks and manner of the elder warrior, that he was subdued and could not be forced into a struggle with the lithe and willowy youth.
It was not flattering to the pride of the young Kentuckian and his companion that while Arorara felt no fear of them jointly, he was terrified by the bearing of Deerfoot, who voluntarily relinquished the advantage he possessed in the hope that it would induce the other to fight.
The abject words of Arorara caused a reaction in the feelings of Deerfoot. His conscience condemned him for his outburst of passion, and had the situation permitted, he would have prostrated himself in prayer and begged the forgiveness of the Great Spirit whom he had offended.
But nothing in his face or voice or manner betrayed the change.
He remained standing in front of the deerskin, which was thrown back, so that the light from the camp-fire shone against the gloom beyond; his left hand held the knife with the same rigid grasp, and the limbs, which in the American Indian rarely show much muscular development, were as drawn as steel.
The squaw clasped the sleeping infant to her husky bosom and glared at Deerfoot, like a lioness at bay. Had he advanced to do harm to her offspring, she would have sprang upon him with the fierceness of that beast and defended the little one to the death. Had the youth assailed Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, probably she would have sat an interested spectator of the scene until it became clear which way it was going, when she might have wrapped her baby in bison-skin, placed him carefully away, and taken a part in the struggle.
The Osage resumed the deliberate puffing of his pipe, but glanced from one face to the other of the two Shawanoes. Stolid and lazy as he was, by nature and training, he could not help feeling stirred by the curious scene.
Jack Carleton and Otto were on their feet, studying the two countenances with equal intentness. Both were cheered by the consciousness that danger no longer threatened them, and that whatever followed must accord with the fact that Deerfoot the Shawanoe was master of the situation.
"My brother speaks with a single tongue," said Deerfoot, replying to the cringing words of Arorara: "the Great Spirit will frown when be sees two brothers fighting each other. Deerfoot has slain more than one Shawanoe and has spared others; he will spare Arorara; he may sit down beside the Osage warrior and smoke pipe with him."
Immediately the youth shoved his knife in place, and for the first time seemed to become aware that he stood in the presence of others. He bestowed no attention on Wish-o-wa-tum or his squaw, but addressed his young friends.
"Let my brothers go from this lodge and make their way homeward; Arorara will not pursue them."
"Arorara will do them no harm," said the individual in as cringing manner as before.
"No, he will not, for Deerfoot will watch and slay Arorara if he seeks to do so," quietly remarked the youth, who, in every sense of the word, continued master of the situation.
"Let us do vot he tells us," suggested Otto, moving awkwardly toward the door.
Deerfoot stepped slightly aside, to make room for them, and Jack accepted the movement as an invitation for them to pass out. Otto held back so as to permit the other to go first, and he followed close behind him. Otto did not glance at or speak to either. He had his misgivings concerning not only Arorara, but the Osage, who might resent this invasion of his castle. Like the finely trained Indian, he "took no chances."
Jack and Otto were intensely interested in the situation, but they did not forget themselves. The former, as be passed out, picked up his own rifle, while Otto took the one belonging to the Indian, who was left at liberty to hunt the gun left on the clearing by the German lad when he prepared to start his camp-fire for the evening. Thus each boy was furnished with the weapon which is indispensable to the ranger of the woods.
Every one can understand the reluctance of the two to walk from the lodge with their turned upon their foe. With all their confidence in the prowess of Deerfoot, they felt a misgiving which was sure to distress them, so long as the enemies were in sight. On reaching the outside, therefore, they turned about, walked slowly backwards, and watched the wigwam.
The deerskin being drawn aside, they could the figure of the young Shawanoe, who had stepped back in front of it. Just beyond was partly visible the subdued Shawanoe, he and his conqueror obscuring the squaw, still further away, while Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder was out of range.
"I think that little place saw more surprises, this evening than it will ever see again," said Jack Carleton, bending his head with the purpose of gaining a better view; "in fact it has been a series of surprise parties from the beginning."
"Yaw, dot ish vot I dinks all a'while, but mine gracious!"
Hitherto it had been the running vines, growing close to the ground, which caused overturnings of Otto, but now it was another obstruction in the shape of a tree trunk, over which Jack stepped, taking care however, to say nothing to his companion concerning it. The smaller sticks lying near made it look as if the trunk served to help the squaw of Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, when she was breaking or cutting wood for the wigwam.
Be that as it may, the heels of Otto struck it and he went over on his back, with hat and gun flying and shoes pointed upward.
"I dinks dot vos a pig vine," he said, clambering to his feet and shaking himself together again.
"You're getting to be the best fellow at tumbling I ever saw," said Jack, suppressing, as well as he could, his laughter.
"Dot ish so," assented the victim, too good-natured to find fault after his fortunate escape.
By this time, they were so far from the Osage lodge that very little could be seen of the interior, and they turned round and walked side by side.
"It seems like a dream," remarked the young Kentuckian; "a few minutes ago, there was no escape for us, and now I cannot think we are in the least danger."
"Who dinks dot de Shawanoes comes over der river after us?" asked Otto.
"Nobody besides Deerfoot: there isn't anything that he doesn't think of that is worth thinking about."
"Den vy he leaves us, when we leaves him?"
"I've asked myself that question, Otto; it must be that, after we parted, he learned something which told him the Shawanoes had crossed the Mississippi after us. He changed his course and came to our help, and it's mighty fortunate he did so."
"I guess dot ish so; we will asks him when we don't see him."
"I have my doubt about seeing him again."
"How ish dot?"
"You remember he said more than once he had reason to take another course, and he did do so. He could not have been blamed for believing we were able to get along without him, after entering Louisiana. At any rate, he will think so now."
This was a reasonable conclusion, and Otto agreed with his friend that they were not likely to meet the extraordinary youth for some time to come. He would probably take another direction, for, after the threat he uttered to Arorara, and the panic into which he had thrown him, that warrior would be glad to hasten back to his friends, who were equally eager to reach Kentucky without loss of time.
The moon was high in the heavens and the woods open. Much to the relief of Otto, the vines gave him no further trouble, and they progressed without difficulty. The neighborhood was strange to them, but they had tramped the wilderness too often to care. They were sure of the general direction they were following, and were confident now of reaching home, which could be no great distance away.
Such a buoyancy of spirits came over the boys that it was hard to restrain themselves from shouting and leaping with joy. But for the mishaps attending such sport they would have run at full speed and flung their hats in air. Several miles were passed before they became thoughtful and quiet.
"Mine gracious!" abruptly exclaimed Otto, stopping short and striking his knee a resounding whack; "vere ain't dot hoss?"
"Had you forgotten about him?" asked companion with a smile.
"I nefer dinks apout him since we comes the lodge."
"I have, more than once; I made up my mind, when I found you in the wigwam, that if you got out alive, I would insist that we go straight home and think no more about the animal; but matters are in a better shape, and we'll wait till to-morrow before we decide."
"Dot suits me," assented Otto, nodding his head several times.
As nearly as they could conjecture, they were some six miles from the residence of Wish-o-wa-tum or Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, when they decided to stop for the night. They were fully warranted in believing that all danger from red men was ended; and, as they had no means of finding a good camping site, they stopped at once and began gathering fuel. The task was soon over, and the flint and steel gave the speedily grew into a roaring blaze, the boys sat and looked in each other's face.
The night was cool, but pleasant. Clouds, however, were continually drifting across the face of the moon, and a certain restlessness of feeling, of which even the rugged youngsters were sensible, told that a change was coming.
The hour spent in the Osage wigwam was redolent of smoking venison, and the boys smacked their lips and shook their heads, after the manner of youngsters, with healthful appetites but there was no way of procuring food, and they philosophically accepted the situation, refraining from reference to eatables until there was a prospect of obtaining them.
Through all the eventful experience of the evening, Jack and Otto had retained their blankets. The circumstances were such that neither of the Indians with whom they were brought in contact cared to secure them, though it may be suspected that, Wish-o-wa-tum would have laid claim to that of the German, except for the visit of Arorara and Deerfoot.
Seated by the cheerful fire, the friends talked in rambling fashion until drowsy, when they wrapped their blankets around them and lay down to sleep. Some risk was involved in the proceeding, inasmuch as the fire was likely to attract wild animals to the spot, but providentially none disturbed the young pioneers, who slept quiet and security until the sun was in the sky.
The first step was a hunt for breakfast, for Jack and Otto were in a state of ravenous hunger. They separated and were gone a half hour, when the rifle of the young Kentuckian rang out and he soon reappeared by the renewed camp-fire with a fine wild turkey, which, it need not be said, afforded a nourishing and delightful meal for them both.
"Otto," said Jack, springing to his feet like a refreshed giant, "we must hunt again for the horse."
"Dot ishn't vot I don't dinks too—dot ish I does dinks so."
"And you must now try to straighten out your English, so that Deerfoot and I may not be ashamed of you."
Otto nodded his head by way of assent, while he thought hard about the proper manner of expressing himself.
But an almost insurmountable difficulty confronted the boys from the first. It was impossible to make search for the missing animal until his footprints should be found, and the only way in which that could be done was by retracing, to a considerable extent, their own footsteps. Though somewhat disappointed, Jack Carleton was not surprised, when taking his bearings by the sun, he learned they had wandered from the proper path. They had turned to the left, until the course was south of southwest. They had gone far astray indeed.
The weather became more threatening. The sun had been above the horizon less than an hour when its light was obscured by clouds, and the windows of heaven were certain to be opened long before the orb should sink in the west.
Two miles were traveled, when the boys found themselves so close to a large clearing, that they wondered how it escaped their notice the preceding night. It covered more than an acre, and at one time was the site of an Indian village. As a matter of course a small stream ran near, and the red men who at no remote day made their dwelling places there must have numbered fully a hundred.
While wandering over the tract and looking about them, their eyes rested on an elevation no more than a third of a mile distant. It was thickly wooded, but a prodigious rock near the crest resembled a spot that had been burned clear.
"Helloa!" suddenly called out Jack Carleton, while gazing in the direction, "there's someone on that rock."