BOONE AND KENTON SERIES, NO. 2
THE PHANTOM OF THE RIVER
A SEQUEL TO "SHOD WITH SILENCE"
BY EDWARD S. ELLIS
AUTHOR OF "THE LOG CABIN SERIES," "DEERFOOT SERIES," "WYOMING SERIES," ETC.
PHILADELPHIA HENRY T. COATES & CO. COPYRIGHT, 1896,
I. LONGING FOR NIGHT
II. THE CAWING OF A CROW
III. THE HALT IN THE WOODS
IV. ON THE EDGE OF THE CLEARING
V. DARING AND DELICATE WORK
VI. THE RIGHT OF EMINENT DOMAIN
VII. A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP
VIII. BY THE WAY
IX. THE "ACCIDENT"
X. AT RATTLESNAKE GULCH
XI. WATCHING AND WAITING
XII. CARRYING THE WAR INTO AFRICA
XIII. UNKIND FATE
XIV. THE INTRUDER
XV. A DARK PROSPECT
XVI. SIMON KENTON IN A PANIC
XVII. A RUN OF GOOD FORTUNE
XVIII. "IT'S AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NOBODY ANY GOOD"
XIX. A FELLOW-PASSENGER
XX. WAR'S STRATEGY
XXI. THE PHANTOM OF THE RIVER
XXII. PUTTING OUT FROM SHORE
XXIII. THE SHAWANOE CAMP
XXIV. THE FORLORN HOPE
XXV. FACE TO FACE
XXVI. IN THE LION'S DEN
XXVII. THE LAST RECOURSE
XXVIII. THE RETURN
XXIX. SQUARING ACCOUNTS
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
BOONE AND KENTON.
JETHRO IN TROUBLE.
THE PHANTOM BOAT.
THE MISSIONARY'S TRIUMPH.
PHANTOM OF THE RIVER.
LONGING FOR NIGHT.
"I think there's trouble ahead, Dan'l."
"There isn't any doubt of it, Simon."
The first remark was made by the famous pioneer ranger, Simon Kenton, and the second fell from the lips of the more famous Daniel Boone.
It was at the close of a warm day in August, more than a century ago, that these veterans of the woods came together for the purpose of consultation. They had threaded their way along parallel lines, separated by hardly a furlong, for a mile from their starting-point, when the above interchange of views took place.
Boone had kept close to the Ohio while stealthily moving eastward, while Kenton took the same course, gliding more deeply among the shadows of the Kentucky forest until, disturbed by the evidence of danger, he trended to the left and met Boone near the river.
The two sat down on a fallen tree, side by side, and, while talking in low tones, did not for a moment forget their surroundings. They had lived too long in the perilous wilderness to forget that there was never a moment when a pioneer was absolutely safe from the fierce or stealthy red man.
"Dan'l," said Kenton, in that low, musical voice which was one of his most marked characteristics, "this 'ere bus'ness has took the qu'arest shape of anything that you or me have been mixed up in."
"I haven't been mixed up in it, Simon," corrected Boone, turning his somewhat narrow, but clean-shaven face upon the other, and smiling gently in a way that brought the wrinkles around a pair of eyes as blue as those of Kenton himself.
"Not yet, but you're powerful sartin to be afore them folks reach the block-house."
Boone nodded his head to signify that he agreed with his friend.
"You wasn't at the block-house, Dan'l, when the flatboat stopped there?"
"Neither was I; I was tramping through the woods on my way to make a call on Mr. Ashbridge."
"That's the man who put up the cabin a mile back down the river?"
"Yes; you see Norman Ashbridge or his son George—and the same is a powerful likely younker—come down the Ohio last spring in their flatboat, and stopped at the clearing a mile below us, where they put up a tidy cabin. A few weeks ago the father started east to bring down his family in another flatboat. George, the younker, got tired of waiting and set out to meet 'em; him and me come together in the woods, and had a scrimmage with the varmints afore we got on the boat with 'em. Things were purty warm on the way down the river, for The Panther made matters warm for us."
"The Panther!" repeated Boone, turning toward his friend; "I was afraid he was mixed up in this."
"I should say he was—ruther," replied Kenton, with a grin over the surprise of his older companion. "That chap sneaked onto the boat last night, believing he had a chance to clean us all out. Of course, I knowed what was up, but The Panther made a powerful big mistake. He got mixed up with that darkey you seed—his name is Jethro Juggens—and you may shoot me if the darkey didn't throw him down and hold him fast till we made him prisoner."
Boone had heard something of this extraordinary exploit, but he looked questioningly at Kenton, as though he could hardly credit the fact.
"It's all as true as Gospel. We kept Wa-on-mon, which the same is The Panther, till late that night, when Mr. Ashbridge and Altman and me went over in a canoe to the other flatboat, which the Shawanoes had cleaned out, to even up accounts with 'em. Sime Girty was with 'em, but they left afore we got to the craft, and we sot it afire and come back."
"I seed the light last night, but didn't know what it was."
"While we was gone, Mr. Altman's darter, Agnes (she ain't much more than a child), felt so sorry for The Panther, thinking, too, that I meant to shove him under, that she cut the cords that bound him—"
"What a fool of a gal!"
"Dan'l," sternly interrupted Kenton, laying his hand on the arm of his friend, "you mustn't speak that way of Tom Altman's child. There ain't a finer, smarter, purtier, sweeter gal in all Ohio or Kaintuck than little Agnes Altman. She made a powerful big mistake, but she done it in the kindness of her heart, and, Dan'l, you and me knows there ain't many such mistakes made. But that little gal showed her pluck when she follered up Wa-on-mon, snatched the knife from his hand when he warn't looking, and warned young Ashbridge in time to save him. Wal, The Panther made a rush to jump overboard, but he happened to step onto that darkey again, so he was nabbed."
"But what's become of The Panther?" asked Boone, hoping to hear that the career of this terrible scourge of the border was ended.
Kenton rested his long, formidable flintlock rifle on the log at his side, clasped his thin iron fingers over one knee, the foot of which was raised from the ground, and looked thoughtfully among the trees in front. His coonskin cap was shoved back from his forehead, and a frown settled on it, and his thin lips were compressed for a few moments before he spoke.
"Dan'l, things haven't turned out altogether to suit me. As you know, the flatboat kept on down the river till it reached the clearing this morning. Afore we went ashore, I diskivered that Girty and several varmints was in the cabin. They knowed we was going there, and they meant to wait until we got inside, when they'd clean us all out. While we was man[oe]uvring round like, so as to trade places with 'em, a powerful qu'ar thing happened."
"There's a good many queer things happening in this part of the world, Simon," curtly remarked Boone.
"Two of them Shawanoes was shot—one killed or the other hit hard—and in both cases it was done by that darkey, Jethro Juggens. He's a big, strong, simple chap, that hates work worse nor pizen, but he knows how to shoot that gun of his in a way that'll open your eyes."
"But what about The Panther?" asked Boone, feeling more interest in him than in Jethro Juggens. Kenton's brow clouded again as he made answer:
"Consarn The Panther! I forgot about him. It was agreed that him and me would meet, all by ourselves, in the woods near the clearing, and settle that account between us. If I come back all right, Girty and the varmints was to leave the cabin. I come back and they left."
"And you evened up matters with The Panther?" exclaimed Boone, with a glow of satisfaction, in strong contrast to the scornful disgust on the rugged countenance of his friend.
"No; I went to the spot, but The Panther didn't show himself."
The readers of "Shod with Silence" will recall the circumstances. Simon Kenton hurried to the appointed place of meeting, eager for the encounter with Wa-on-mon, the famous war chief of the Shawanoes, but the crafty miscreant had vanished, and nothing was seen of him.
"I never thought Wa-on-mon was a coward," bitterly repeated Kenton.
"And, Simon," said Boone, impressively, "don't make the mistake of thinking so now; the reason why he didn't meet you wasn't that he was afraid of you."
"What was it?"
"You know as well as me."
And so he did. The savage leader of the Shawanoes merely deferred his furious meeting with the ranger in order to strike a more fearful blow against the pioneers.
The moment Wa-on-mon plunged into the woods near the clearing, with the avowed purpose of meeting Kenton, he was off like a deer in search of a large war party that he knew was somewhere in the neighborhood. With them he meant to return and "wipe out" every man, woman and child of the settlers.
Meanwhile, the Altmans and Ashbridges, assisted by their companions, removed all their goods from the flatboat against the bank and placed them in the cabin, prepared some time before for the occupancy of the Ashbridges. This was hardly done when Daniel Boone appeared at the clearing with disquieting news. He advised them, however, to stay, since their means of defence was good, but hardly was the decision reached when a runner came in with the news that an uprising among the surrounding tribes had already begun, and it would not do for the pioneers to remain another day. Nothing could save the lonely cabins and exposed dwellings except immediate flight to the nearest settlement or block-house.
Ten miles from the clearing, and standing on the northern bank of the Ohio, was the block-house in charge of Captain Bushwick. The Altmans and Ashbridges made the sad mistake of not fastening the flatboat to the bank and taking up their quarters at this frontier post until the full truth was learned about the dangers confronting them.
The first intention of Boone and his party was to escort the settlers back to the block-house. They had a brush with a company of Shawanoes, and defeated them. It was not the main body, however, under the leadership of The Panther. That remained to be heard from, and its whereabouts was unknown.
Mr. Altman, his wife, and daughter Agnes, and his negro servant, Jethro Juggens, Mr. Ashbridge and his wife, daughter Mabel, and their son George set out for the block-house on the Ohio side of the river.
Their plan was to keep along the Kentucky bank until opposite the post, when the means would be readily found for crossing. The two families were in charge of the rangers that Boone had brought with him for the purpose of acting as their escort. They were forced to leave behind them all their earthly possessions in the solitary cabin, with not the remotest prospect of ever seeing them or it again.
Although the day was well along when the start was made, yet the situation was so critical, because of the part The Panther was certain to play in the coming events, that Boone and Kenton took the advance, proceeding by parallel but separated lines, and on the guard against any stealthy approach from the Indians.
It was the hope that by preventing or, rather, averting any attack until nightfall, the prospects of the pioneers would be vastly improved. Though the forest possessed no available trail that could be used even in the daytime, the rangers, and especially Kenton and Boone, were so familiar with it, that they could guide their friends with unerring accuracy when the darkness was so profound that it was almost worthy of the old remark that a person could not see his hand before his face.
Accordingly, all yearned or prayed for the coming of darkness.
"Hark," whispered Kenton, turning to Boone, and raising his hand as a gesture for silence.
No need of that, for the elder had caught the sound—a faint and apparently distant cawing of a crow from some lofty tree-top.
Both had heard the same cry more than once that afternoon, and instead of its being the call of a crow, they knew it came from the throat of an Indian warrior, and therefore a relentless enemy.
THE CAWING OF A CROW.
Three separate times previous to this that faint cawing signal had been heard, as it seemed, from the distant tree-tops. The most sensitive ear could not say of a certainty it was not made by one of those black-coated birds calling to its mate or the flock from which it had strayed. Neither Boone nor Kenton distinguished any difference between the tone and what they had heard times without number, and yet neither held a doubt that it was emitted by a dusky spy stealing through the woods, and that it bore a momentous message to others of his kith and kin.
The keen sense of hearing enabled the rangers to locate the signal at less than a quarter of a mile in front and quite close to the Ohio. From the first time it was heard, no more than half an hour before, it held the same relative distance from the river, but advanced at a pace so nearly equal to that of Boone and Kenton that it was impossible to decide whether it was further off or nearer than before.
There was no reply to the call, and it was uttered only three times in each instance. The oppressive stillness that held reign throughout the forest on that sultry summer afternoon enabled the two men to hear the cawing with unmistakable distinctness.
In short, our friends interpreted it as a notice from the dusky scout to his comrades that he was following the progress of the pioneers, which was therefore fully understood by the war party that was seeking to encompass their destruction.
When the signal sounded for the fourth time, the rangers seated on the fallen tree looked in each other's faces without speaking. Then Kenton asked, in his guarded undertone:
"What do you make of it, Dan'l?"
"There's only one thing to make of it; them Shawanoes are keeping track of every movement of the folks behind us, and we can't hinder' em."
"How many of the varmints are playing the spy?"
"There may be one, and there may be a dozen."
This answer, of necessity, was guess-work, for there was no possible means of determining the number, since the hostiles in front so regulated their progress that not a glimpse had been caught of the almost invisible trail left by them.
And yet the matter was not wholly conjecture, after all.
"Dan'l," said Kenton, with a significant smile, "there's more than one of 'em, and you and me know it."
The older smiled in turn and nodded his head.
"You're right; there's two, and may be more—but we know there's two."
Nothing could show more strikingly the marvelous woodcraft of these remarkable men than their agreement in this declaration, which was founded upon this fact.
There was a shade of difference between the tone of the last signal and those that preceded it. You and I would have shaken our heads and smiled, had we been asked to distinguish it, but to those two past masters in woodcraft it was as absolute as between the notes of a flute and the throbbing of a drum.
It was as if, after a Shawanoe had cawed three times, he permitted a companion to try his hand, or rather his throat, at it, and he who made the attempt acquitted himself right well.
"Now, Simon," remarked the elder, "as I make it, it's this way—they mean to ambush the party at Rattlesnake Gulch."
"You're right! that's it," remarked Kenton, with an approving nod of his head, "and if we don't sarcumvent 'em the varmints will have every scalp, including ours."
"Rattlesnake Gulch" was a name given to a deep depression on the Kentucky side of the river, and within one hundred yards of the stream. It was less than a half a mile in advance of where the two rangers were seated on the fallen tree, as the summer day was drawing to a close.
A trail made by buffaloes, deer, and other wild animals led through the middle of this densely-wooded section. No doubt this path had been in existence at least one hundred years. Beyond the gulch it trended to the right and deeper into the woods, terminating at a noted salt lick, always a favorite resort of quadrupeds whether wild or domestic.
The forest was so deep and matted with undergrowth, both to the right and left of this depression, that nothing but the most pressing necessity could prevent a person from using the trail when journeying to the eastward or westward through that section. Evidently, the Shawanoes counted upon the settlers following the path, and such they would assuredly do unless prevented by the advance scouts.
"Captain Bushwick was out on a little scout himself last summer," remarked Kenton, who, despite their alarming surroundings, seemed to be in somewhat of a reminiscent mood, "when, on his way back, he started through that holler. The fust thing he did was to step into a rattler, which burried his fangs in his leggins, just missing his skin. Afore the sarpent could strike again, the captain made a sweep with his gun bar'l that knocked off his head. He was a whopper, and the captain pulled out his knife to cut off his rattles to bring to the block-house, when he catched the whir of another rattler just behind him, and if he hadn't jumped powerful lively he would have catched it that time sartin. Howsumever, the sarpint couldn't reach him, and the captain shot the mate, and brought the music box of each home with him."
"It was Captain Bushwick who gave the name Rattlesnake Gulch to the place, I 'spose," was the inquiring remark of Boone.
"Yes, he seemed to think that name was not only purty, but desarving, though I've been through the holler a good many times and never seed a sarpent."
"When was that?"
"Less than two weeks ago, I was just entering from the other side when I caught sight of a buck that was on his way to the lick. He would have seed me if he hadn't seed just then something else in the path in front of him that interested him more. It was a rattler as big as them of the captain's. The buck was a fool, for instead of backing out, as you know animals are quick to do at sight of a rattler, he began to snuff and cavort about the snake, and finally brought his front hoofs down on it. Of course, he cut the serpent all to ribbons, but afore he done it the buck was stung once or twice, and inside of half an hour he jined the rattler he had sent on afore. Rattlers are as bad as Injins!" muttered Boone, with an expression of disgust.
"They may be in some partic'lars, but in some they ain't, Dan'l; f'r instance, they don't caw like a crow, and don't try to ambuscade folks, and they give you warning afore they strike, which is more than the two-legged varmints do."
"Talk about the rattler giving warning afore he strikes," repeated Boone, who had a poor opinion of the genus crotalus, "he'd be a much more decent sarpint if he didn't strike at all. The black snake doesn't sting you, and yet he'll kill the rattler every time. Howsumever," added the elder ranger, "what's snakes got to do with the bus'ness afore us?"
"That's what I was thinking. Now, Dan'l, we've got to make the varmints think we're going to try to pass through Rattlesnake Gulch to-night, so they'll all gather there to welcome us."
"And then what will our folks do?"
"Take some other route."
"But which one? The woods are so thick on the right and left that they, especially the women, can't go ten feet without making a noise that'll be sartin to be heard by the varmints."
"There are several things they can do," replied Kenton, thoughtfully, proving that, like his companion, he had speculated much on the matter. "In the first place, they must move so slow that they won't reach the neighborhood of the gulch till after dark, and yet if they move too slow the Shawanoes will be suspicious. I wish night was near at hand."
"What good does wishing do?"
"None, and never did; but when night does come we can turn about—that is, some of the boys can, with the women—and cross the river further down stream, strike the trail on the other side of the Ohio, and go straight to the block-house."
Boone shook his head. The scheme did not impress him favorably.
"How are you going to get them women and two children across the river? It isn't likely that any one of 'em knows how to swim a stroke."
"What trouble would it be to tote 'em over?"
Boone again shook his head; he was not pleased with the suggestion.
"I didn't mean to do anything of the kind, but," added Kenton, more seriously, "there's a canoe of mine hid under the bushes just this side of the gulch, purvided the varmints haven't tumbled over it."
"More'n likely they've took it away or smashed it, but if I ain't mistook, there's a craft alongside the flatboat that you left at the clearing."
"You are right."
"Why not go back for that?"
"It ain't a bad idee," remarked Kenton, thoughtfully. "If I can manage to fetch the boat up the river without any of the varmints 'specting it, it'll be just the thing."
"It won't carry all the women and children and rest of the folks at once."
"Then we can make two v'yages or more, if it's necessary."
"It's risky bus'ness, but it's the best thing that can be done. If you are lucky 'nough to find tother boat where you left it, seems to me things will look up."
Kenton glanced around among the tree-tops, as if searching for something. So he was, though not for any special object.
"'Cording to the way things look it'll be a good two hours afore it'll be dark 'nough to set to work to sarcumvent the varmints. Them two hours are long 'nough for the folks to make the trip to Rattlesnake Gulch twice over. Some plan has got to be fixed up not to git thar till after two hours is gone, and yet not to have the Shawanoes 'spect that we 'spect anything. Can you tell me how the thing is to be done, Dan'l?"
"There ought to be a good many ways," replied the elder, after a brief pause; "some accident might happen, such, f'r 'nstance, as getting bit by a rattler."
Kenton saw the twinkle in the eyes of his friend, who spoke with the utmost gravity. "Remember," said the younger, "I never seed any rattler near the gulch; you have; you're the one, therefore, to see some of 'em agin. You're the one to let a big rattler sting you. After he's made sartin he's done his work well, why I'll happen 'long and smash the rattler, and then look after you—helloa!"
Both instinctively grasped their rifles, for they heard the rustling of leaves, which showed that some one was approaching. Had the noise been less pronounced the two rangers would have darted behind the nearest sheltering trees; but the noise was too distinct for either Boone or Kenton to suspect that an enemy was at hand. They knew it was a friend—at least one from whom they had nothing to fear.
So it proved; for while they were peering toward the point whence the figure was known to be approaching, Jethro Juggens, the burly colored servant lad of Mr. Altman, slouched into sight, with his rifle slung over his shoulder. Not until he had advanced a dozen steps further did he see two hunters seated on the fallen tree. Then he stopped suddenly, with a startled expression, and brought his heavy rifle to the front.
"None of that!" called Kenton, uncertain what the fellow might do.
"Hello, Mr. Kenton, dat's yo'self, am it?" called Jethro, with a grin; "I tinked you was de Panther. I was jes' gwine to plug yo'; lucky yo' spoke when yo' done did, or I'd wiped out bofe ob yo' afore anybody could hold me; but," added Jethro, in an awed undertone, "I's got bery important news for yo', Mr. Kenton and Mr. Boom."
THE HALT IN THE WOODS.
The appearance of Jethro Juggens surprised Boone and Kenton as they sat on the fallen tree, for they were looking for nothing of the kind. When he announced that he was the bearer of important tidings, he naturally became an object of increased interest, for the fate of the little party of pioneers was the problem that the two great rangers were trying to solve.
"You bring important news," repeated Kenton, who, as the reader already knows, was quite partial to the negro, for, with all his stupidity, he had given proof of astonishing skill in marksmanship. "What is your news?"
"I's very well," replied Jethro, taking his seat beside the men on the log, removing his cap, and fanning his shining countenance.
"That being so," continued Kenton, "what's the news you brought?"
"Haben't I jes' told yo'? I's bery well, 'cepting dat I's hungry, dough I can't make none ob de folks blebe it. Howsumeber, I guess dey blebes it, but dey don't keer."
"Haven't you any other news for us?" asked Boone, looking sternly at Jethro, who did not note, or, noting perhaps, did not care for his displeasure.
"Nuffin else in 'tickler, 'cept dat de folks am also well."
"That is some kind of news, though only what we expected. Nothing has happened to any of 'em?" inquired Kenton.
"Nuffin dat I reckomembers."
"Where are they?"
"Don't you know?" asked Jethro, in turn, looking around in surprise that he should put the question, when he had parted with his friends only comparatively a short time before. "Whar do you 'spose dey am, Mr. Kenton?"
"I know where they ought to be," said the ranger, gravely; "they ought to be about a half a mile or so down the river, picking their way through the woods to this tree where we're setting; but I didn't know but what something had happened."
"Didn't I just tole you dat nuffin didn't happen?"
"Are the folks coming up the river towards us?"
"Dey were settin' still on some rocks on the ground when I left."
"What's that for?"
"I 'spose dey're tired; want to rest."
Kenton looked significantly at Boone. Jethro's theory would not answer. There was no member of the little party of pioneers, not even Agnes Altman, nor Mabel Ashbridge, only ten years of age, who would become so wearied by twice as long a tramp as to feel the need of rest.
"Did you come yourself, or were you sent ahead to see us?"
"I come myself, dat is, nobody fotched me on his back; but Mr. Hastings subgested dat I come, by saying if I didn't he would kick me."
Weber Hastings was the sturdy member of the escort party who, in the absence of Boone, had charge of them.
Jethro Juggens began to display more sense in his words than he had yet shown. He became more serious in his manner.
"De way ob it was dis: One ob de men from de block-house had been scoutin' frough de woods, and he come back and tole Mr. Hastings what he seed——"
"What was it?" interrupted Kenton.
"Being as he didn't tole me, yo'll hab to obscoose me from answerin' dat question, but I was invited to go on ahead and to tell yo' folks dat Mr. Hastings wanted one ob yo' or bofe ob yo' to come back again, as he had somethin' he wanted to see yo' about."
Neither Boone nor Kenton made any comment on the singular course of Hastings in selecting Jethro Juggens to bear such a message, when, among all the male members of the company probably there was not one that was less qualified.
"I don't know what it means," said Boone, rising from the tree, "but it means something. You had better go back with this simpleton at once."
"I'll push ahead and larn what I kin. It won't make any difference whether I'm with you or not, if there's a fight coming, but I'll do my best to jine you. I'm likely to run onto something ahead that we oughter know."
"Do you expect to use any signallin' for me?" asked Kenton, who had also risen to his feet.
"Don't see that there'll be any need, but if there is you'll understand it. You and me are too used to each other, Simon, to make any slip up——"
Kenton raised his hand and smiled. While the words were in the mouth of Boone, the soft, faint cawing of the crow was heard for the fifth time.
At the same moment two interesting facts were impressed upon the rangers.
The call did not sound half so far away as in any one of the former instances, and it came from a throat which essayed it for the first time in the hearing of Boone and Kenton.
"Now we know there's three of 'em," remarked the latter.
"They're wondering why me and the rest of 'em aren't pushing faster through the woods. But off with you, Simon; we're losing time."
Without another word these two great pioneers separated, the elder moving silently among the trees to the eastward, that is, up the Ohio and toward Rattlesnake Gulch, now a place of the first importance to all concerned. He did not look around to note what was done by the other.
But Kenton had taken only a few steps when he stopped and looked back.
Jethro Juggens was standing by the fallen tree with his gun on his shoulder and glancing inquiringly from the disappearing figure of Boone to that of Kenton, only a few yards away.
"What's the matter?" asked the latter. "What are you waiting for?"
"Which ob yo' folks wants me, Mr. Kenton?"
"I don't think either one of us will die of a broken heart if we lose you; but come along with me."
"Sure Mr. Boone won't feel bad if I don't go wid him?"
"Come along, keep close to me and don't make any noise, for the woods is full of the varmints."
Enough has been told for the reader to understand the situation. The Altman and Ashbridge families were threading their way through the Kentucky wilderness, from the clearing where a cabin had been erected some weeks before, to the block-house ten miles distant and on the opposite side of the river. They were escorted by a number of rangers and scouts from the block-house, under the charge of Daniel Boone, and sent thither by Captain Bushwick, who discovered the imminent peril of the families after they had declined the invitation to tarry at the block-house, and had passed beyond and down the Ohio in the flatboat.
Kenton was not mistaken in his theory about the return journey of himself and companion. Not the slightest sign of danger appeared, and in a comparatively short time they came upon their friends, who, from their appearance, might well have been taken for a picnic party on an outing of their own.
What more inviting opening could the crouching Shawanoes ask than was here presented to them? From their lurking places among the surrounding trees they could pour in a frightfully destructive volley that would stretch many of the helpless party lifeless on the ground.
And why did they not do so? Because they knew the cost to them. Those hunters and rangers were used to the Indian method of fighting. If the redskins could approach nigh enough to fire before detection, there would be enough white men left to make many of them bite the dust ere they could get beyond reach of the deadly rifles.
No; in the estimation of the Shawanoes there was a plan open to them that was a thousandfold more preferable.
Rattlesnake Gulch was the beau ideal place for an ambuscade, for it not only offered a certain chance for the destruction of the entire party of whites, but afforded a perfect protection against any unpleasant consequences to the ambuscaders.
ON THE EDGE OF THE CLEARING.
The arrival of Kenton naturally caused a stir on the part of all the members of the party that halted on their way through the Kentucky wilderness to the block-house, somewhat less than ten miles distant and on the other side of the Ohio River.
Not only Hastings and his brother rangers, but the Ashbridges and Altmans gathered around the pioneer to hear what he had to say and the directions as to their own proceedings.
Mr. Ashbridge and his friend Altman were roused by the murmur of voices and the subdued excitement, and joined the group that surrounded the tall, athletic figure—all excepting little Mabel Ashbridge, who was just getting her tiny dam in shape, and deemed that of more importance than listening to the conversation of the elders.
The words of Weber Hastings proved that he was as quick as Boone and Kenton to comprehend the peculiar peril which confronted the party.
"It isn't far to the block-house," he replied to the question of Kenton, "and we can do it in two or three hours, if the redskins would give us the chance."
"What caused you to make this stop, Weber?"
"Rattlesnake Gulch," was the response.
"What's the matter with that?"
"There's where the Shawanoes mean to ambush us."
"You're right," replied Kenton, nodding his head and compressing his lips. "That's just what the varmints have fixed things to do, and if they can do it they'll wipe out every one of this party. Boone and me made up our minds that that was their trick. He's gone ahead to watch 'em, and I've come back to help you folks."
"From what Mr. Hastings said," remarked the elder Ashbridge, who, like his friend Altman, was thoroughly roused, "the woods are so matted and choked with dense undergrowth on both sides of the gulch that it is impossible for us to pick our way through it at night without being heard by the Indians."
"He's right," was the emphatic comment of Kenton, "the thing can't be done."
"That being admitted," said Altman, "why would it not be wise to cross the river at this point, or make the rest of the journey through the Ohio woods? We who know how to swim can take over those who cannot, or better, perhaps, construct a raft upon which to float to the other side."
"That would be the idee exactly, if it could be hid from the varmints, but they're watching us, and have been doing so ever since we've left the clearing. They know everything you do. Afore you could get half-way cross the river with the raft they would open on you from the woods on both sides, and pick off each woman and gal and them as was pushing the raft."
"I do not doubt what you say," observed Altman, with a shudder at the graphic picture drawn by the scout, "but it seems strange to me," he added, with a glance around, as if he expected to catch sight of some of their terrible enemies, "that they have not already opened upon us, while we are here in camp, as may be said. What better chance could they ask?"
"They could pick off a number of you, but Weber here and the rest of the boys would make them dance to lively music if they tried it. That's what holds 'em back, for these chaps," remarked Kenton, looking proudly around upon his companions, "have fout the varmints afore to-day."
"Then we are doing the only thing possible, by remaining here until it becomes so late in the day that we shall not reach Rattlesnake Gulch until after dark, and then, instead of attempting to go through it, we will cross the river, I presume, though I am not aware of the decision that has been reached by Mr. Hastings."
"What will they suspect, then, if we stop here?" asked George Ashbridge.
"Now you've hit the trouble. When they find you don't arrive at some p'int where they've been looking for you, they'll know you're stopped. Some of their spies will sneak back through the woods to l'arn what it means—more'n likely they've already done so," added Kenton, with another glance around him, "and then when they see you setting or standing or lolling around, without any partic'lar reason for your doing so, they'll understand the real cause powerful quick. As soon as they diskiver you don't mean to try the Rattlesnake Gulch route, they'll fix things to open onto you, and send as many as they can under."
"Then the problem, as I understand it," said the older Ashbridge, "is to act so as to convince the Indians that we intend to follow the path through the gulch where they mean to ambuscade us, and to keep up this impression until nightfall."
"You've hit it precisely, Mr. Ashbridge."
"But how is that to be done? I know of no one beside you to answer the question."
"Boone and me have been thinking powerful hard over the matter, and the best thing to be done, as I see it, is this: You know we left a canoe down by the clearing alongside the boat. I'll go back there and get it, that is, if it is still there. I'll try to keep so close in under the bank that the varmints won't know what I'm driving at. I'll manage to reach a p'int just this side of Rattlesnake Gulch early in the evening, and will wait for you. Then I'll hurry the women folks 'cross to the other side and make the rest of the journey to the block-house on the Ohio bank."
"You will have to make two trips with the canoe."
"Onless I can find another one that was hid under the bushes on this side not fur from the gulch. If that's there, I'll take one party over, and Boone, or some one else, tother."
"And the rest of us will have it out with the redskins," remarked Weber Hastings, with flashing eyes.
"You must start on agin," said Kenton, addressing Hastings, as the leader of the party in the absence of himself and Boone; "don't hurry, for as it is you've got too much time now on your hands. If you find you're getting too near Rattlesnake Gulch afore sun-down, you must have some sort of accident that'll give you an excuse for stopping for a time. That'll keep the varmints from 'specting anything."
"We ought to be able to arrange some accident," remarked George Ashbridge, with a smile, slyly pressing the hand of Agnes, standing beside him. "I'll fall over a log if necessary and break a leg."
"A better plan will be for Jethro to get shot accidentally like."
"Gorrynation, dat won't work!" exclaimed the negro, who did not let a word escape him; "de bestest way to fix dat will be to stuff me so full of victuals dat I won't be able to walk alone, and de rest ob yo' will hab to carry me slow like."
"Wal, time is passing; it won't do to stay here any longer; I leave you in charge of Weber; he can do as well as me or Boone."
The scout turned to move away, when Jethro Juggens laid his hand on his arm.
"See yar, Mr. Kenton, I's worried 'bout yo'," said the colored youth, with an anxious expression on his countenance.
"What's the cause of that?" asked the ranger, who, as already stated, held a kindly feeling toward the good-natured fellow.
"I's feard sumfin' will happen to yo'—feels it in my bones; I tink yo' oughter hab some one to look after yo' while yo's gone."
"Would you like to do it?"
"I tinks a good deal ob yo', Mr. Kenton, and I's willin' to take keer ob yo', and see dat yo' gets back all right."
Yielding to that waggish disposition which was a marked characteristic of Simon Kenton, sometimes under the most trying circumstances, the ranger said:
"Come on, younker, you shall take care of me."
And to the astonishment of the party, the two walked off side by side, and disappeared among the trees to the westward.
"We'll make this bargain," remarked Kenton, a few minutes after they were beyond sight of their friends: "You'll take care of me, and I'll do my best to take care of you."
"Dat hits me 'bout right."
"You'll do just what I tell you to do, and won't speak or move without my first telling you to do so."
"Dat's it; and yo' won't speak or move without fust askin' me; I'll be easy with yo', Mr. Kenton."
"But," gravely remarked the scout, "if each of us should happen to forbid t'other to stir or speak, we'd have to stand still forever. I'll act as boss at first, and then when I'm ready I'll give you your turn."
"Dat don't strike me ozactly right, but, as I jist obsarved, I'll be easy wid yo', Mr. Kenton, and let yo' start in," replied Jethro, somewhat puzzled at the off-hand manner in which the ranger took hold of the reins.
But the ranger never laid aside his caution and vigilance. He kept Jethro Juggens at his heels, forbidding him to speak a word, but to watch and listen to the utmost. The sun was in the horizon when, without any special incident, they arrived at the clearing, which all had left earlier in the day.
The first view brought a disappointment to Kenton. Nothing in the appearance of the settlers' cabin intimated that it had suffered any disturbance since the departure of the pioneers, and the unladen flatboat rested against the bank, just where it lay when the ranger cast a backward glance at it some hours before. The canoe, however, which was the magnet that drew him thither, was missing.
It was in as plain sight as the larger craft upon the departure of the party, but the keen vision was unable to discover the first outline of the bow or stern. Since it could not have removed itself, it followed that its disappearance was due to human agency.
"The varmints seem to be everywhere to-day," muttered the impatient ranger; "they've been there since we left, and more'n likely some of 'em are there now; but I've come after that canoe, and I'm going to have it, or my name isn't Sime Kenton."
"Shall I go wid yo' to see yo' don't get hurt?" inquired Jethro Juggens.
"No; stay where you be, and keep out of sight, and don't speak, nor stir, nor breathe, till I come back," replied the ranger, making ready to set out on one of the most perilous adventures of his eventful career.
DARING AND DELICATE WORK.
It will be borne in mind that Kenton had approached the clearing from the east, or up the river, so that it was necessary to cross the open space to reach the spot where the silent flatboat rested against the bank, and near which he expected to find the canoe, so necessary in the plan he had formed for saving the settlers and their families.
To start across this clear space was too risky a proceeding for so guarded a woodsman as he. If any of his enemies were on the other side, where he meant to look for the smaller boat, the ranger was certain to be detected. His plan, therefore, was to pass around the clearing by entering the woods and moving to the rear. This he set out to do upon parting from Jethro Juggens.
He had not yet passed from sight among the trees when his steps were arrested by a vigorous "St! st!"
Well aware of the point whence it came, he turned impatiently around, took a couple of steps toward his dusky companion, and demanded in an undertone:
"What do you want?"
"Yo' tole me not to speak or move or breve; if I don't speak or move, can't you let up on de breving bus'ness? I'm afraid it's gwine to bodder me to shet off breving."
"All right, so you don't forget to stay right where you are till I come back."
Kenton resumed his advance, keeping out of sight in the woods, until he had skirted three sides of the clearing and approached the river again, opposite the point where he had first halted with his companion, and failed to see the canoe.
As yet it was an absolute mystery as to what had become of the lesser boat. A half-dozen causes might account for its disappearance. It might have been set adrift by one of the Shawanoes, or captured and paddled across the river, or destroyed, or—
At that moment the figure of a sinewy Shawanoe shot up to view, as if from a jumping-box. He was near the canoe, but between it and Kenton, and so close, indeed, that but for the fact that his face was turned toward the river, he must have discovered the white man.
Kenton's heart gave a quick throb, for something in the shoulders, the back of the head and contour of the body suggested that the Indian was his old enemy, Wa-on-mon, The Panther.
"If it's the varmint himself," thought Kenton, "him and me can just as well have it now, even if there are others of his people not fur off."
Either the Indian did not see that on the river for which he was searching, or the view was satisfactory, for he now turned and looked toward the cabin. This brought his face into full view, and the glimpse which the white man caught from a peep around the edge of the bark showed the warrior to be a stranger.
Kenton's position enabled him to see the log cabin as clearly as did the Shawanoe, but it was impossible to detect anything to justify his interest in the building. The situation had become so peculiar that all the sagacity of the ranger was insufficient for him to decide upon the best course to pursue.
Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed, during which the warrior, sitting on the ground, with his back against the tree, remained as motionless as did The Panther, when a prisoner the night before on the flatboat.
"I'm blessed if I don't believe he's asleep," mused Kenton.
Nothing is easier than for a person to pretend unconsciousness, but in this case the white man could think of no reason for the red man doing that.
"Shod with silence," as Simon Kenton or his brothers were when threading their way among the forest shadows, he stepped from behind the tree and began moving toward the long, graceful canoe, whose nose rested against the bank.
His course took him near the Shawanoe, and he paused while yet several paces to the rear. The hostile was at his mercy. He could drive the life from his body with lightning-like suddenness.
"That isn't the way for a Christian to fight," concluded Kenton, making such an abrupt change in his course that the distance between the two was increased.
The pose of the Indian was the natural one of a sleeper. His back being against the trunk of a tree, his knees were drawn up, with his arms resting upon them. His long rifle reclined against the same support as his body, his knife and tomahawk were in place in the girdle around the waist of his half-naked person, his head was sunk, with the chin resting on his chest, and his coarse, black hair dangling in front or behind his shoulders.
As he sat thus, his face was turned partly away from the canoe. Kenton's course took him past the sleeper, whose eyes, as he noted, were closed. All doubt of his being unconscious were removed, since no reason was conceivable for any pretence on his part.
Fortune held the promise of a rare and remarkable triumph. It has been said that the canoe rested so lightly against the banks that only a very slight force was required to release and let it float down stream.
If, therefore, the Shawanoe should awake and note its absence, he would conclude that it was due to the action of the current, a conclusion that could not be formulated in the event of his rifle keeping it company. Following the suggestion of such a theory, the Shawanoe, in seeking to recover the boat, would look down instead of up stream for it.
With these reasons, therefore, swaying him, Kenton put past him all inclination to trifle with a sleeping sentinel, and with only a momentary pause stepped forward until he laid his hand on the arching prow of the canoe, which was the same as the stern.
The long two-bladed paddle lay in the bottom, just as he himself had laid it after rowing ashore with The Panther. Everything was ready, but the hardest test of all now confronted the scout, who had performed his part thus far with a consummate skill that could not be surpassed.
Keeping his gaze upon his enemy, he dipped one end of the paddle in the water, and, with the same noiselessness as before, sent the boat up the stream and across the clear space at the foot of the clearing.
Something like assurance came to him when he drove it beneath the overhanging limbs and stepped ashore for Jethro Juggens. Knowing the precise spot where he had left him, he hurried thither without losing a second. But the fellow was gone.
"Sarved me right for bringing him along!" muttered the angry Kenton, "but what can have become of the younker?"
Well, indeed, might he ask the question.
THE RIGHT OF EMINENT DOMAIN.
It always seemed to Jethro Juggens that Kenton took a great deal more pains or used a greater degree of caution than was necessary when he undertook a task in which Indians were concerned. The density of the African's intellect did not blind him to the need of using caution or care in dealing with the treacherous people, but the excessive timidity of so active or powerful a man as the pioneer struck the dusky youth unfavorably.
"He tinks dat dat canoe am ober yender, somewhar near dat flatboat," mused Jethro, several minutes after the departure of the scout; "I has a little ob dat 'pinion myself. It wouldn't take more dan five minutes to run across to de oder side. Dat's what he oughter do, but instead ob dat he goes clear round de clearing frough de woods—de most obfoolishest ting dat he could do. He runs de risk ob steppin' on a rattlesnake and gettin' stung, or ob catchin' a limb under his chin and liftin' him offen his feet and droppin' him on his back wid a violence dat will shake all de teeth out ob his head."
The reader has learned the success of the plan adopted by Kenton.
"I don't feel perzactly right ober dis bus'ness," muttered Jethro, some minutes later. "I come along to help look after Mr. Kenton, and when de danger comes I let him slip away without me.
"He played de boss fust ober me, which am all right, 'cause dat am de way to fix dem tings, but it's 'bout time my turn come."
An expression of displeasure passed over the ebon countenance.
"He told me I musn't speak nor move nor breve. Dar ain't no sense in dat. Den he gib me percumission to breve. 'Sposen he hadn't done so, what would hab come of me? I couldn't hold my bref for free, four hours while he war gone. As for movin' and talkin', I hab already done dat, so dar ain't no use ob tinting any more 'bout it."
It was really a relief to reflect that he had violated all the commands laid upon him, for the fact ended the mental struggle which might have continued indefinitely. Inasmuch, therefore, as the bars were down, the disobedience grew or expanded.
Kenton, before parting with the servant, made sure he was in a place where there was little danger of discovery. The undergrowth was so dense that no one was likely to pass through it except in case of necessity, for work would be saved by making a much longer tour around. It was quite near the river, on the margin of the clearing, though far enough from the latter to prevent the fellow being seen if he used only ordinary prudence.
In open violation of his orders, Jethro made his way to the open space, putting forth no special precaution in doing so, and peered around. There was nothing in the appearance of the flatboat to interest him, nor could he note any change in the looks of the cabin.
"I don't feel dat dis matter am gwine right," he mused, returning to his former position; "I'se gettin' worried 'bout Mr. Kenton; it war understood dat I war to go 'long to help took care ob him, and dar's no knowing what trouble he'll get into."
Enough had passed between the two before their separation for Jethro to understand quite clearly the scheme he had in mind. He knew the ranger meant to take the longest way round to the other side of the clearing, throwing away, in the estimation of the African, a great deal of time and effort.
Fortunately, Jethro did not yield to his impulse to solve the matter by striding across the open space and making a hunt himself for the cause that was destined to play a most important part in the fortunes of the pioneers. Thus, a calamity, far-reaching in its consequences, was averted.
But a few minutes more of reflection induced the youth to do something hardly less dangerous or ill-advised.
He decided to follow after Kenton, taking the same course and making for the same destination.
"It'll s'prise him," thought Jethro, with a grin, "when I sort of whistle, and he looks round and sees me standin' dar smilin' at him. I'll doot!"
The youth was not sufficiently skilled in woodcraft to follow the ranger by means of his trail. Indeed, there was no need of his doing so, since the course was well known to him.
It was not without some misgiving that Jethro started upon his venture, for, despite his sophistries, he knew he was quite likely to incur the displeasure of Kenton, who had shown more than once a partiality toward him. If any disaster followed, the youth knew he would be blamed. It was his task, therefore, so to conduct himself that only the best results should flow from his violation of orders.
Jethro kept well back among the trees while circling around the clearing. The increased light on his right was all the guide he needed, even had he not gained a slight acquaintance with the section by his stirring experience earlier in the day.
Now and then he approached near enough to the cleared space to see the cabin, and thus took hardly a step without fully knowing where he was. At a point in a line with the cabin and the flatboat beyond, he came to a halt and glanced at his immediate surroundings.
"Dis is 'bout de spot whar I stood when I plugged dat Injun, and," added Jethro, with a chuckle, "whar I scooped de shirt dat dat Girty hung out to dry. Dey tried to make b'leve aftwards dat it war a flag ob trooce, meanin' dat dey wanted us all to stop shootin' while we had a talk wid each oder; dey fooled Kenton and de rest ob de folks, but dey didn't fool dis chile."
He found a fascination in studying the rear of the cabin, which George Ashbridge and his father had builded with so much care and labor.
"Lucky for me dat I wasn't wid' em," reflected Jethro, "for if I had been dey would hab sat 'round while I done all de work. Mighty strange dat eberybody tinks I'm good fur nuffin but work, but dey done forgot dat I knows how to shoot a gun as well as oder folks."
He stood for a minute or two in deep thought. He was revolving an important scheme in his mind.
"From de style dat Mr. Kenton moved wid when he luff me, it'll take him 'bout two days to git 'round to where he's gwine to find dat canoe, consequinchly dar ain't no use ob my being in such a hurry dat I'll broke my neck. I'll take a look inside dat house to make sure dat matters am all right."
And without the first hesitation he proceeded to carry out his extraordinary purpose.
He first approached the rear of the cabin, where, it will be remembered, were two windows on the lower floor and two on the upper. Each of these was too narrow to permit any man to force his body through. It was from one of the lower ones that Simon Girty had displayed the flag of truce, only to have it whipped off the ramrod and appropriated by the watchful Jethro, who, after wearing the garment for a time, laid it aside in order to escape the merriment his appearance caused for the others.
The dusky youth peeped through the opening at the interior, where the furniture and goods were tumbled about in great confusion. The view was unsatisfactory, and he passed around to the front, with the intention of entering by means of the door.
There are unnumbered incidents continually occurring, as they have occurred in the past, in which luck seems to play a most prominent part. We doubt whether any other explanation can be made of the extraordinary series of events in which Jethro Juggens now became involved, and which were destined to have a momentous bearing upon the fortunes of his friends, beyond even the calculations of the sagacious Boone and Kenton.
It is probable that had the colored youth presented himself in front of the door a half-hour sooner, he not only would have been instantly detected by some of the Shawanoes, but would have been slain. It is certain that had he delayed his movements for a less time than that named these consequences would have followed, for the reader has learned that before the warrior guarding the canoe fell asleep he showed a good deal of interest in the cabin in the clearing.
But Jethro's action was so timed (without any credit due to himself) that he escaped both perils, as well as that of being seen by Kenton, who, it will be remembered, gave considerable attention to the same quarter. It is hard to imagine what his feelings would have been, had the scout turned his gaze towards the building at the moment the colored youth came around the corner and walked to the front door.
"Dat's right," muttered Jethro, when he noted the latch-string hanging out; "dat makes it discumnecessary for me to kick in de door."
The leathern thong was smartly twitched, the door shoved gently inward, and, with a slightly quickened throbbing of the heart, Jethro Juggens stepped across the threshold.
Boxes of varying sizes were broken apart, or scattered here or there about the lower floor. Near the broad, spacious fireplace were a number of pots, kettles, a crane, and irons, or other simple utensils, such as were used by our forefathers. The whole floor was so cluttered up that care was necessary in moving about the circumscribed space.
The sloping ladder leading to the upper floor was in place, but little, if anything, had been carried thither. The time, of course, was too brief to permit it.
Jethro peeped through the windows in turn, but discovered nothing to cause alarm. Then, it may be said, he did his first sensible act of the day; he pulled in the latch-string to prevent an enemy stealing upon him unawares.
A chuckle escaped the youngster when his eye rested upon a box containing what was left of the bread that had furnished the pioneers with their last meal. Leaning his rifle against the wall, he clutched a goodly-sized loaf of the dark, wholesome staff of life, and buried his big, perfect teeth in it, crunching crust and lighter portion as though they were the most tender and delicious fruits.
Stretching out upon the hard floor, which served him as well as a bed of eider-down, he sank into a deep, peaceful slumber, with no thought of the consequences that were certain to flow from this unprecedented action upon his part.
By this time the long summer day was drawing to a close. When darkness finally settled over forest and river, Jethro Juggens was still sleeping.
A QUESTION OF OWNERSHIP.
Simon Kenton proceeded on the principle of the greatest good to the greatest number.
When, with consummate delicacy and skill, he withdrew the canoe from under the very nose of the sleeping Shawanoe, and noiselessly impelled it across the open space under the screening undergrowth on the other side, he did not dare to call to Jethro Juggens to join him, through fear that the slight noise would rouse the Indian only a few yards off, sitting with his back against a tree and his head bowed on his chest.
Instead, he stepped ashore and picked his way to where he had left him, only to find, as has been shown, that the colored youth, in the face of positive instructions, had gone elsewhere.
"Sarves me right for bringing him with me," repeated the disgusted pioneer. "I might have knowed he'd do something of the kind."
In his impatience, he turned to leave the spot without further tarrying, but his partiality for the youth, whose skill in handling the rifle was so remarkable, caused him to linger a few moments and emit a couple of guarded signals.
Inasmuch as Jethro Juggens just then was inside the cabin making his evening meal, it is unnecessary to say that Kenton's effort was without success.
"If he did hear me he wouldn't know what it meant, and if he did know what it meant he'd yell back his answer loud enough to be heard at the block-house—so I'll let him look out for himself."
Before resuming his place in the canoe the ranger stole to a point near the edge of the clearing, where, by cautiously parting the undergrowth and peering out, he could look across to the flatboat and catch the outlines of the sleeping Shawanoe.
The pioneer was just in time to witness an entertaining scene.
The providential slumber of the warrior was what in ordinary parlance may be described as a "cat nap," inasmuch as it came to an end, of its own accord, a moment after Kenton took his last peep at him.
The Shawanoe raised his chin, and then in the most natural manner in the world, rubbed his eyes by gouging his forefingers into them, just as all boys and girls do when their senses are coming back to them. Next, he reached out his hand and brought his rifle in front, doing so while in the act of rising on his feet. Then he started, became rigid, and stared at the river as though doubting his own vision.
The canoe, which was there only a short time before, was gone.
After all, it would seem he should have felt no great astonishment, for, resting so lightly against the bank, it was not to be wondered at that it worked loose and floated off.
The painted face was turned inquiringly in the direction of Kenton, as though a glimmering of the truth had entered the brain of the red man, but clearly that was impossible, and he moved along the bank, speedily disappearing, in his search for the missing craft.
"He knows about how long he has slept," mused the smiling Kenton, "and he knows the boat can't have drifted far. When he goes fur 'nough to find it, and don't find it, he'll come back there again; he'll examine the ground, and will diskiver my footprints; he won't know whether the moccasins belong to a white man or one of the varmints, but he will get an idee of why the thing didn't float down instead of up stream. Wal," muttered the ranger, "it'll take sharper eyes than his to trail a canoe through the water, and I don't think he'll git this ere craft ag'in in a hurry."
While those thoughts were in the mind of Kenton, he had re-entered the boat again and taken up the broad ashen paddle.
The reader will understand the difficult task that was before him. From the clearing to Rattlesnake Gulch was all if not more than two miles. It was his work to reach the latter point by the time that night was fully come.
Ordinarily this would have been so easy that it could not be considered in the nature of work, but above all things it must be accomplished without the knowledge of the Shawanoes, who, it may be said, were on every hand. A sight of the ranger stealing his way up stream, and the halt of the pioneers before reaching the place fixed upon for the ambuscade, could not fail to apprise the Indians that their intended victims had no intention of walking into the trap set for them.
Since the war party would never knowingly permit the settlers to escape them, an attack was certain to follow; and though the veteran rangers, under the leadership of Boone and Kenton, were confident of beating them off, yet more or less casualties were certain to follow an attack. Some of the helpless ones would suffer; probably several would be killed or carried off, which meant the same thing.
To avert these woful afflictions was the cause of the extraordinary precautions on the part of Boone and Kenton, especially the latter.
Enough has been said to show that the problem Simon Kenton had set out to solve was anything but a simple one.
The arms which swayed the paddle, however, were sturdy and muscular, and could keep to the task for hours without sensible fatigue. Kenton did not mind a simple obstruction of that nature, and, indeed, would have been glad because of the curtain thus offered if it had continued all the way.
Once more and again was the frail craft impelled beneath the limbs, its progress ceasing almost at the moment the paddle was withdrawn from the water.
During these brief intervals of subsidence, the ranger listened intently for such sounds as could tell him of the whereabouts of his enemies. He knew, as may be said, that they were everywhere, and he was liable to collide with them at the most unexpected moments. The pioneers or their escort were subjected to the most eagle-eyed vigilance.
For a furlong the advance continued in this laborious fashion. Then Kenton made a longer pause than usual, for he had reached a point where it was necessary to drive the canoe across a space fully one hundred feet in width, and where there was nothing that could serve to the slightest extent as a screen.
The ranger debated with himself as to the best course to pursue.
"I don't b'leve there's any varmint on the watch there," was the conclusion of Kenton; "the Shawanoes know where the women folks and the boys are, and that's the place that they're watching—so here goes."
Again the ashen paddle was dipped in the clear current, but at the very moment of imparting the powerful impulse to it, the ranger checked himself with the suddenness of lightning.
From a point apparently directly across the river came the same signal that had disturbed him and Boone earlier in the afternoon. The faint cawing of a crow, as if calling from the upper branches of a tree to his mate, floated across the Ohio to the startled ears of the listening Kenton.
"Well, I'm blessed!" he muttered, "if crows ain't thicker in Kaintuck than I ever knowed 'em afore at this season of the year."
This signal, which the man did not doubt for a moment came from the throat of one of the Shawanoe spies, settled the question which he had been debating with himself.
Forcing the nose of the canoe against the bank, he stepped ashore. Before drawing it entirely forth, however, he decided to walk the short distance through the woods, so as to select the most favorable course to follow.
He had not far to go, but the simple act was marked by all the thoroughness with which he did everything relating to his life profession.
While the wood, because of the abundance of undergrowth, was not what he desired, yet he was confident of working his way through it and back to the water again without injuring the canoe. He set out to do so, returning to the starting-point at the end of fifteen or twenty minutes.
And there a surprise awaited him. The boat was gone!
If he had withdrawn it with incredible deftness from under the closed eyes of the Shawanoe, that same individual (for it must be he) had displayed hardly less cleverness in snatching it from his grasp.
Kenton lost no time in speculating over the matter, but hurried swiftly and noiselessly along the bank in quest of the daring thief. He came upon him, only a few rods distant, making his way with great care and skill along the bank, as though he had no fear of any dispute over the ownership of the craft, as, indeed, he did not; for, catching sight of the white man at the same instant the latter saw him, he leaped ashore, and, knife in hand, attacked him with the impetuous fury of a jungle tiger.
Ten minutes later, when Simon Kenton resumed possession of the canoe, he muttered, with grim significance:
"Sometimes a varmint makes a mistake; that air varmint made one, but he'll never make another, 'cause when the chance comes he won't be there!"
BY THE WAY.
Meanwhile, the families of the settlers and their escorts were not idle.
Turned back, when on the threshold as it were of success, they bore their hard lot with the fortitude and uncomplaining courage which was one of the most marked characteristics of the pioneers of the West.
They had entered the "promised land," as may be said, for all of the Ashbridges and Altmans had passed through the door of the cabin in the clearing; they had deposited their household goods and worldly possessions in the structure erected with so much care and labor; then, being warned of the imminent peril of staying, had set out for the block-house, ten miles distant, there to remain until it was safe for them to venture once more into the wilderness.
Daniel Boone was in advance of the company, scouting in the neighborhood of Rattlesnake Gulch, for it was indispensable that he should keep watch of the main war party of Shawanoes there, and learn, as far as possible, their intentions towards the whites.
Kenton had turned back to the clearing in quest of the canoe with which he hoped to carry the families across the Ohio during the favoring darkness of the night without discovery by the dusky enemies. We left him pushing his way up stream, after his deadly encounter with the Shawanoe who had withdrawn the craft from where it was left by the ranger during his temporary absence.
It may be said, that every man and woman, threading their way through the wilderness to the block-house, understood the scheme which it was hoped could be carried through to completion, and each, of course, was eager to lend his aid to its success.
Within ten minutes, therefore, of the departure of Kenton and Jethro Juggens, those whom they left behind took up the journey eastward—that is, toward dreaded Rattlesnake Gulch, which intervened between them and the post under the command of Captain Bushwick.
The line of march was simple. Weber Hastings acted as guide, or rather avant-courier, since all knew the route that was to be followed. He kept a hundred yards, or so, in advance of the company, which timed their gait to his, so that the intervening space was neither increased nor diminished.
A second scout kept pace with his chief, but so far removed to the right, and deeper in the forest, that only rarely did they catch sight of each other. There were no guards on the left or at the rear, the two named being considered sufficient to give timely notice of the approach of danger.
There was no attempt at anything like military order on the part of the others. The pioneer scouts were impatient of discipline, preferring to "fight fire with fire"—that is, to combat the Indian by methods peculiar to the Indians themselves.
Accordingly, the rest of the rangers straggled along, inclosing, so far as possible, the members of the families whom they hoped to deliver from their great peril. Mr. Ashbridge and his wife sauntered in front of their old friends, with little Mabel most of the time between them and holding a hand of each. Her disposition, however, to dart aside and pluck every brilliant flower that flashed among the green vegetation could not be restrained at all times, and was the cause of much anxiety on the part of her parents.
Next in order walked Mr. Altman and his wife, while of Agnes, the daughter, and George, it may be said they brought up the rear.
"I wonder," said Agnes, in her low, sweet voice, "whether, when we reach the block-house, we shall be safe, or whether we shall have to keep on going east until we arrive at our old home in Virginia before we can feel beyond the power of these dreadful red men."
"Why do you express that doubt, when it has been a good many years since the people in our old homes have suffered from the Indians?"
"Not so long ago that I cannot remember it."
"But don't forget that you are seventeen years old—"
"Several months more, please to remember, sir."
"And you can remember, I suppose, a dozen years; that is a good while. But it is not so bad as all that. Kenton explained matters yesterday when I was talking with him. There is what is called a flurry among the Indians, and as long as it lasts we must keep under the wing of some block-house or in some settlement."
"But how long is it to last?"
"There is only One who can answer that question. It may be in a few weeks, or months, or possibly a year or two. You know that such expeditions as Crawford's and St. Clair's make matters worse than before."
"Colonel Crawford, as you remember, was not only defeated, but he was made prisoner and burned to death at the stake. Then President Washington sent General St. Clair, and the combined tribes smote him hip and thigh. All this makes the Indians bolder and more open in their hostility, until I have no doubt that hundreds of them believe they are strong enough to drive every white man out of Ohio and Kentucky."
"Why doesn't General Washington send some one who knows how to fight the Indians, and with men enough to whip them?"
"St. Clair had enough men to whip the enemy, but the general didn't know how to handle them when he got into the Indian country. You have learned of the dreadful mistake that Braddock and his regulars made more than thirty years ago, during the French and Indian war, when all of the British soldiers would have been killed if it had not been for Washington and his Virginians."
"I should think General Washington himself would take command of a force. I know he would end all this trouble," added Agnes, with a glow of pride in the illustrious Father of his Country.
"I have no doubt he would if he wasn't President; but he has to stay in Philadelphia and make the other officers do their duty. But if he can't come himself, he knows enough now to send the right men. The next battle will see the Indians so badly whipped that they will stay so for many, many years to come."
"Hundreds and thousands of people will come from the East and settle in the West. The land will be cleared off and planted; cities and towns will spring up, and that clearing of ours, with the other acres we shall add, will make you and I wealthy, Agnes."
"It may make you wealthy, George; but how can it help me?"
He gave the dainty hand a warmer pressure than before and lowered his voice, so that only the shell-like ear, so close to his own, could catch his words.
"If it benefits me it must benefit you; for, God willing, long before that time we shall be one. Am I wrong in that hope, dearest?"
"George," said Agnes, when they had walked a little further in silence, "there is one prospect which causes me some discomfort."
"And what is that?"
"Of all our people being cooped up in the block-house for weeks, and perhaps months, until the trouble with the Indians is over. We stopped there the other day when we were coming down the river. It is a large, roomy structure, but there is nothing beside the single building. A good many men make their homes there at different times, and though they are all as kind as they can be, it will be anything but pleasant when your folks and ours are added to them."
"I don't wonder that you feel thus. The same thought has occurred to me and Kenton, and I guess every one else. Some other arrangement will have to be made. Captain Bushwick will have several strong cabins put up, if it looks as though you will have to stay more than a few days, or he may do better than that."
"Send us all to Boonesboro. That's where the great Daniel Boone, that's helping us just now, makes his home. It was named for him. It is a regular stockade, with a number of cabins inside, and abundant room for twenty families or more."
"How far off is it?"
"I am not sure, but less than fifty miles."
"Why not go there at once, without stopping at the block-house?"
"The trouble is that, if it would be safe to make the journey there now, it would be just as safe to stay in our own house at the clearing. The route leads through one of the most dangerous regions in Kentucky."
"If that is the case, how can we reach it from the block-house?"
"It will have to be done by awaiting some favorable chance; that chance, as you know, isn't now, but it may come in a short time. Kenton or Boone, or some of their men, will be quick to learn it."
Agnes was about to reply, when one of the rangers, who had wandered somewhat ahead or to one side, emitted a cry that must have penetrated a goodly part of a mile. His terrified friends stopped short, grasped their rifles more tightly, and stared wonderingly at the man, who was acting like a crazy person.
He had flung his gun aside, and caught up a heavy stick, with which he was threshing something on the ground.
It required hardly a second glance from those who ran toward him to recognize the writhing object as an immense rattlesnake. The man seemed to be in a frenzy, and continued belaboring the reptile even after all saw it was as dead as dead could be.
"What's the use, Jim?" called Hastings, who had hastened to return upon hearing his wild shout; "he's gone under; did he bite you?"
"Yes," replied the other, in a husky voice staggering backward and sinking to the ground; "he bit me twice before I seed him; I'm done for."
It would seem that the pioneers had more than enough to occupy their minds on this eventful journey through the woods, without coming in contact with such a frightful thing as a rattlesnake, but here was one of the hardy members of the escort apparently stricken unto death by the huge reptile that he had just slain.
By the time the poor fellow had collapsed and fallen to the earth, almost the entire party were gathered around him. That section of the Union, even in those early days, was not wholly lacking in whiskey. There may not have been a great deal of it manufactured in the territory, but those who made their homes in that favored land did not often suffer for lack of it.
Flasks there were in plenty, but it was noticeable that not one of the rangers who had come from the fort made haste to bring forth a supply and place it at the lips of their collapsed companion.
It was Mr. Altman who was quick to kneel beside the man and apply the vessel to his mouth, as he raised him to a sitting position.
"Don't you remember, George," said Agnes, "that Mr. Kenton said we must meet with some accident that would prevent our reaching Rattlesnake Gulch until night was fully come?"
"Well, that's the accident we have met."
A light flashed upon young Ashbridge. The amused expression on the faces of the escort was explained. James Deane had not been harmed by the rattlesnake which he had pounded to death. As is said, all this was done for effect.
The most real thing about the business was that Jim was procuring a prodigious supply of excellent whiskey without any expense to himself, and without any cause existing for such an over-dose.
Seeing the actual danger that threatened their friend, Hastings touched the shoulder of Mr. Altman, who looked up inquiringly at him.
"I wouldn't give him any more."
"It will be safer to fill him up with it, so as to counteract the poison."
"Yesh—fill him up," added Jim, thickly, reaching out his hand vaguely for the bottle; "fill him up—coun'act—hic—p'son—fill him up so he runs over."
"I think, Tom, he's running over now," suggested Mr. Ashbridge, who understood matters.
The words and the expressions on the countenances of the others caused the truth to flash upon the good Samaritan. He rose to his feet with a disgusted look. Then he shook his glass flask, and held it up between him and the sunlight.
"If I had suspected, he shouldn't have had a drop; he has drank enough to make three men drunk."
"And he's as drunk as three men can get," replied Ashbridge.
"Fetch on your rattler—hic," stuttered Jim, who was about to add some more remarks when he gave it up and toppled over on the ground, deferring all such observations to a more convenient season.
It assumed an almost grotesque phase, and sounds incredible when it is stated that this pretended rattlesnake bite was solely for the purpose of deceiving the members of the Shawanoe war party that were swarming through the woods, yet not only was such the fact, but the scheme, singular as it was, met the approval of Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, whose judgment in such matters all will admit should be accepted as final.
Meanwhile, Hastings was anxiously consulting with Ashbridge, Altman, and his own men.
The situation was grave to the last degree, and the crisis could not be far off.
"We don't need to wait here more'n half an hour," said he, "and may be not that long; then, when we start, night'll be fully here afore we reach the gulch."
"And the Indians have been deceived as to our purpose?" was the inquiring remark of Mr. Ashbridge.
"There's no sartinty of that, but it looks that way."
"But the most alarming feature of this business, as it seems to me," continued the pioneer, "is this: the time must soon come when these Shawanoes will learn we do not mean to pass through that valley of death."
Hastings nodded his head. He had thought of all this, as well as of the complications that were likely to follow.
"How long after we make our pause will they suspect the truth?"
"Inside of ten minutes; but," added the ranger, "they may think we've decided to wait till morning afore we pass through."
"Is that probable?" asked young Ashbridge.
"No; there isn't one chance in a thousand that they'll think anything of the kind, and yet there is that one chance."
Mr. Ashbridge again took up the exchange of views with the leader of the scouts, the others listening with the closest attention and interest.
"Suppose the Shawanoes believe we have merely postponed our passage through the gulch until morning, and that we are certain to attempt it then—what will they do?"
"Wait where they are till daylight, or for a week, if they were sure the thing would be tried; but," was the significant remark of Hastings, "don't build any hopes on any such idea as that."
"I am sure it would be foolish to do so, but we are getting down to bed-rock facts now. The Indians must soon learn that we have no intention of walking into their trap. What they will then do is not clear to you."
"No; but I don't think they'll make an attack till the night is purty well nigh gone. They always spend a good deal of time in figgering and man[oe]uverin' round. It's that time between the beginning of darkness and sun-up that's got to be used by us for the benefit of your folks, or it will not be used at all."
"Mr. Kenton seems to have taken wise steps, as he always does under such circumstances, for the safety of our families. He counts upon securing that canoe which was left with the flatboat, and has hope of finding another near the gulch. Suppose he fails in both instances—what then?"
"Only Kenton himself can answer that question; I believe he's as likely to fail as to win, but he'll soon be on hand; he won't keep us waiting long. Boone will be purty sure to jine us, and atween' em they'll do the right thing."
"There can be no doubt of that, but, if you will pardon me, Mr. Hastings, it seems to me that there is something for us to do. My solicitude for the dear ones around us, who cannot help themselves, must excuse my presumption."
"It's no presumption, sir; we are all glad to hear what you have to say."
"Accidents are liable to occur at any time, even though some of them are bogus," qualified Ashbridge, with a glance at the unconscious figure of Jim Deane a few rods away. "Boone and Kenton have placed themselves in great peril. One of them may be killed; it is impossible that both will fall. We are fortunate in having such good friends as you to stand by us, but the wisest man is he who provides, as far as he can, for every contingency. Suppose we see nothing of Boone or Kenton again?"
"I can't think such a thing as both of 'em going under at the same time can happen. One of 'em is sartin to turn up purty soon."
"But Kenton may fail to bring the canoe, upon which so much depends. Now, to come down to the point, when we halt near the gulch will our position be such that we can make a good defence against an attack?"
"I don't know," was the frank reply of the ranger; "we've only one man with us who knows all about Rattlesnake Gulch, and the ins and outs of the place."
"Who is that man?"
For reply, Hastings pointed to Jim Deane, sunk in a helpless stupor.
"Humph!" remarked the pioneer, "he is of no more account than a dead man, and won't be for some hours to come."
AT RATTLESNAKE GULCH.
By this time night was closing over forest and river. The sun had set, and a strong west wind blew steadily up stream. Masses of clouds were drifting across the sky, and when the moon should appear its light would be treacherous and uncertain.
"We must wait no longer," said Hastings, "for we shall run the risk of an attack where we are, and that would be almost as bad as an ambush."
"True," remarked Altman, with a shudder, as he glanced around them, "we are without any protection at all in this open ground. We must hit upon a better place than this in which to make our halt."
The leader nodded toward two of his men, who advanced to where the sleeping Jim lay on the ground, as helpless and inanimate as a log. Each taking him by a shoulder lifted him to his feet. Then they let go, and he dropped like a bundle of rags.
He was yanked up again, shaken, slapped, and vigorously told to stand up.
"I'm all right," mumbled Jim, "fetch on (hic) your rattler; let 'em bite—who cares? Whiskey'll cure him—fetch on your whiskey."
After some more heroic treatment, the man was finally roused to that degree that he was able to wobble forward, partly supported by his two friends, one of whom took charge of his gun.
"If I had known nothing was the matter with him," said the disgusted Mr. Altman, "he wouldn't have gotten a drop from me. The only man who can give us the information we need might just as well be dead."
The company advanced much in the same fashion as earlier in the day, except that still greater precaution was observed. The females were kept near the centre and the husbands close to them, so that there was a rude resemblance to a hollow square.
Hastings took the lead, as he always did in the absence of Kenton and Boone, and had not gone far when he became aware that he was following a well-marked path. A companion on his right and another on his left had noted something of the kind some minutes before. The three paths, not to mention others, converged and became one a little further on.
These, as had been intimated, were the trails made by wild animals on their way to the salt lick lying some distance on the other side of Rattlesnake Gulch. The pioneers were now quite close to that ill-omened spot, and the burden of the expedition rested wholly upon the shoulders of Weber Hastings, who maintained a position never less than fifty feet in advance of his nearest companion.
Hastings caught a faint, momentary rustling directly in front of him. He instantly stopped and listened. It sounded the next moment further to the right. He knew it made by one of the Shawanoes, who, with all their skill, could not advance in perfect silence amid such gloom any more than could the white man.
Suddenly he detected a different sound. It was as if something was gliding over the leaves, and was accompanied by a delicate whirring noise, which Hastings recognized on the instant, for many a time and oft he had heard it before.
Those of our readers who have caught the warning of the rattlesnake can make no mistake when they hear it a second time.
Another of those baleful reptiles was gliding across the path of the pioneers, as if to apprise them of the appropriateness of the name of the gulch, which was now near at hand.
The greatest annoying hindrance in this stealthy groping among the trees was the condition of Jim Deane, who had taken a prodigious over-dose of the universal remedy for the rattlesnake's venom. When in his sober senses, he was one of the bravest and most skilful scouts in the west, and was held in special high esteem by Capt. Bushwick, for whom he had performed arduous and perilous service.
But, naturally enough, he was now another person, the opposite of himself. In order to leave their escort free to attend to their delicate task, George Ashbridge and his father took charge of Jim, and, in assuming the contract, they found it was all they could do to "deliver the goods."
Deane rallied after several stumbles, and managed to walk with less help from the father and son, though he swayed from side to side and leaned heavily upon both. He continued muttering and talking, partly to himself and partly to those who were aiding him in locomotion.
"Going to the gulch—all right," he mumbled, when they were quite near their destination, "want to go into the fort; that's the place for you folks."
The scout stopped as suddenly as if he had run against the trunk of a tree. Despite his broken utterance, a vague sense of his situation was gradually forcing itself upon him.
He realized, in a dim but increasingly distinct way, the necessity of throwing off the spell which muddled his brain. As he repeated and renewed the effort, he gained more strength.
Holding himself somewhat unsteadily, he looked around in the gloom at his elder escort, and demanded:
"We are trying to reach the block-house, but it's a long way off. We are now close to Rattlesnake Gulch."
"That's all right," repeated Deane, wobbling forward again; "going to the fort—our fort."
Jim Deane stopped abruptly as before, and blinked and started in the vain effort to penetrate the gloom in which all were enveloped. His companions noted that he was now able to maintain the erect position without any help from them.
"Can't you get a candle?" he asked, his brain still muddled, "too dark to see; get candle, and I'll show you the fort."
The company was now so near Rattlesnake Gulch that Weber Hastings, the guide, decided it would not do to approach any closer. They must await the coming of Kenton before doing anything further.
Gradually, or with less difficulty than would be suspected, the ranger brought all his men together, or they gathered around the families whom they had set out to escort to the block-house. Although they could hardly see each other's forms in the darkness, a few minutes sufficed to prove none were missing. All were there, but, ah! for how long should this be said of them? "We are so near Rattlesnake Gulch," explained Hastings, "that if we go a hundred yards further, we'll walk straight into the ambush the varmints have set for us."
"What is to be done?" asked Mr. Altman, in a guarded undertone.
"We'll move a little further down the slope to the edge of the river, and wait for Kenton or Boone; one of them will be here purty soon."
Mr. Ashbridge now made known what Jim Deane had declared in his broken way. Before he could be questioned, the fellow, who was still nearer sobriety, said:
"Boys, you think I don't know what I'm saying; I'm not as sober as I oughter be, but I give it to you straight; you've made a big mistake, and I'll prove it to you."
WATCHING AND WAITING.
Deane had rapidly regained control of his senses during the past few minutes. The open air, the continued action of his body and the growing consciousness of the imminent peril of the company, combined to give him mastery over the insidious enemy that he had taken into his mouth to steal away his brains.
By this time, too, his friends were convinced that he was not talking at random, and that when he spoke of the "fort" near at hand he had ground for his words.
"Wal, Jim," remarked Hastings, in a low voice, as the party gathered closely around the fellow in the gloom; "I guess you understand matters better than you did a few minutes ago. Take the lead and we'll follow, but don't forget that a feller's eyes ain't of much use to him just now."
"I, I think I've got my bearings; the river off here to the left is how fur away?"
"Something like a hundred yards—a little more I reckon."
"That's what I thought, and Rattlesnake Gulch is right ahead. Wal, in a straight line down the slope toward the river is a lot of limbs, brush and stones that we got together some months ago, when the varmints cornered us, or wiped us nearly all out. If we're going to make a halt, that's the place for us."
"Go ahead, then, for it won't be long afore the varmints will notice we have stopped."
The ranger—he paddled no longer—took charge of matters with the assurance of one who feels himself master of the situation. As they advanced, the ground inclined downward to the river. The wood was quite open, but considerable undergrowth appeared, through which it was impossible even for the rangers to make their way in the darkness without some rustling, which was almost certain to betray their movements to the Indians.
Fortunately, however, they had not far to go to their destination. Hastings, who was but a pace or two behind Deane, became conscious at the end of a few minutes that he had stopped.
"Here we are," whispered the guide; "pass the word back for 'em to look out they don't stumble, for things are rough round here."
Not only did the leader of the company notify his own men, who were instant to understand the situation, but they assisted the Ashbridges and Altmans into the exceedingly rude fortification. The utmost care was used, but, in spite of all, there were several stumbles, and more than one hasty exclamation at the accident.
When matters became clear to all, as they soon did, it was learned that they were now upon the spot where Hastings and his companions made their last stand when attacked by The Panther and his Shawanoes, some months before. Foreseeing the desperate struggle at hand, the scouts had seized the brief time at their command to throw up some intrenchments.
An ash that had been splintered by lightning gave much help, and laid the foundation, as may be said, of the fortification. The trunk had been wrenched off a dozen feet above ground, leaving the stump, with its hundreds of needle-like points, projecting upward. The fragments of several large limbs were of help, and a prostrate tree, some yards away, was of incalculable benefit, even though the trunk was less than a foot in diameter.
Then there were a few boulders and large stones scattered around. Ordinarily, a dozen men would hesitate to try to move them, but, with the energy of desperation, these had been tumbled into place, and served their part well.
The conclusion of all this haste and effort to throw up a protection around themselves was, that a very primitive and broken fortification extended in an irregular circle from the splintered tree, right and left, until it enclosed a space thirty feet across at its largest diameter. It was not a complete circle, however, but formed three-fourths of one. The side toward the river was left open, so as to preserve the means of retreat if the worst came.
The worst did come, as has been intimated, and through this opening the few defenders that were left, after the resistless assault of The Panther and his warriors, dashed in the supreme effort to save their lives. Such is an imperfect description of the "fort" into which the pioneers were conducted, when the time arrived for them to essay no further concealment of their intention to leave Rattlesnake Gulch wholly to itself.
Fifteen or twenty minutes were used by the fugitives, as they may be considered, in "locating" themselves. In other words, they improved the time in learning, so far as possible, their immediate surroundings, and the best means of defence against the Shawanoes, that were certain to leave them but a short time to themselves.
Above all things, it was necessary that Hastings and his men should know this, and, with the help of Deane, the knowledge was soon acquired. Finally, Hastings stationed his men in their proper positions, and then conducted the others to a spot near the splintered ash. He made sure that all were near him, and that each heard every word he spoke, though he guarded the utterances with a care that would have shut them from a listening Shawanoe a rod away.
"You understand, my friends, that this place is only a makeshift; we're powerful lucky that Jim got sober in time to find it for us. This is the safest spot, and here the women and children will stay till we leave."
"And when is that likely to be?" asked Mr. Altman.
"I can't say till Kenton gets back; he'll be here afore long."
"Suppose anything happens to him and Boone?" suggested Mr. Ashbridge.
"Something like that has been said afore; Boone and Kenton are always having something happen to them, but that both of 'em should slip up and not show themselves agin—why, that sort of thing can't be."
"It might take place," remarked young Ashbridge, whose faith in the two great pioneers equaled that of Hastings, "but it is so unlikely that it isn't worth considering it. As I understand it, we have to wait here until Kenton comes back."