After all, the young man knew that the peril of both lay in the habitual recklessness of the ignorant fellow.
At first Zeb entirely overdid the matter. The trained elephant that steps over the prostrate and pompous form of Van Amburgh, was not more careful and tardy in the performance of his feat than was the negro in passing the unconscious form of a Shawnee. Although Leland deemed this circumspection unnecessary, he did not protest, as he feared, in case he did so, the negro would run into the opposite extreme.
The foot of Zeb was lifted in the very act of stepping over the third and last savage, when a smoldering ember parted, and a twist of flame flared up. At that instant, he looked down and recognized in the features of the Indian, the one who had taken such especial delight in tormenting him through the day. The negro paused while he was yet astride of him.
"Look dar!" he whispered, "dat's him; tired himself out so much pullin' at my wool, dat he is sleepin' like a chicken in de egg."
Leland made no reply, but motioned for him to proceed; but Zeb stubbornly maintained his position.
"Look what a mouf he has!" he added; "tremenjus! If 'twas only two, free inches wider on each side, he mought outshine me; but it's no use de way de affair is got up jes' now."
"Go on! go on!" repeated Leland, shoving him impatiently with his hand.
"In jes' one minit. Dat's him dat bothered me so much to-day. I'd like to smoke him for it! Gorra! if he hain't woke. Dar—take dat!"
The savage, who had been awakened and alarmed by the voice of the negro, received a smashing blow in his face, that straightened him out completely. Realizing his imminent peril, Leland at once leaped away in the woods at the top of his speed, the negro taking a direction almost opposite. Every Shawnee was aroused; the critical moment for the fugitives was upon them.
THE BRIEF REPRIEVE.
Leland succeeded in getting outside the circle of savages when, feeling himself in the open woods, he dashed away at the top of his speed. He ran with astonishing swiftness for a few moments, when, as might naturally be expected, he so exhausted himself that he was scarcely able to stand.
From the moment of starting, the Shawnees seemed to understand the identity of the fugitives; and while they did not neglect to send in pursuit of the flying negro, four of their fleetest runners instantly dashed after the white man. Were it in the daylight, the latter would not have stood a moment's chance against them; but he hoped to elude them in the darkness and gloom of the woods. The obscuration being only partial, his pursuers close in his rear, and the noise of the rustling leaves beneath his feet betraying every step, it will be seen at once that he was in the most constant and imminent danger.
Pausing but a few seconds—barely sufficient to catch his "second breath," he again leaped away. There is no telling how long he would have run, had he not stepped into a hole, deep and narrow—the mouth of a fox's burrow evidently, for it was quite hidden by overgrowth—he fell into the hole with a sudden violence which confused and stunned him. Panting and exhausted, he lay still and awaited his pursuers.
They were far closer than he imagined. He seemed scarcely to have disappeared, when the whole four passed within a few feet of him. How fearfully his heart throbbed as the foot of one threw several leaves upon his person!
Leland had lain here less than five minutes, when a second footstep startled him. It came from an entirely different direction; and approaching to within about a dozen feet, it halted. Rising to his hands and feet so that his head was brought upon a level with the ground, he peered through the darkness at the object. One long, earnest, scrutinizing look, revealed the dress of a large Indian. His position was so favorable that he could even make out the rifle he held in his hand.
He stood as motionless as a statue for a moment, and then gave utterance to a cry that resembled exactly that of the whippoorwill. Receiving no response, he repeated it again, but with no better success than before. The cowering fugitive was listening for the slightest movement upon his part, when to his unfeigned amazement, the Indian in a suppressed whisper called out, "Leland!"
The young man, however, was not thrown off his guard. He knew that every one of his captors spoke the English language, some of them quite fluently. It need scarcely be said that he made no response to the call, even when it was iterated again and again. The savage during these utterances did not stir a hand or foot, but seemed to bend all his faculties into the one of listening. He had stood but a few moments, when Leland caught the rustle of approaching feet.
The Indian detected them at the same moment, and instantly moved off, but with such a catlike tread that the young man scarcely heard him at all. Ah! had he but known the identity of that strange Indian, and responded to his call, he would have been saved.
It was scarcely a moment later when the whole four Indians came back at a leisurely gait, and halted not more than a rod from where Leland imagined he lay concealed. They commenced conversing at once in broken English:
"White man got legs of deer—run fast," said one.
"Yeh!—git away from four Shummumdewumrum—run much fast," added another.
"Go back to camp—stay dere—won't come among Shawnee ag'in—don't like him, t'ink."
"He run much fast—mebbe fast as black man."
At this point the whole four laughed immoderately, as if in remembrance of the ludicrous figure of Zeb. Their mirth continued for several moments, when they sobered down and renewed their conversation.
"Wait till daylight—den foller trail t'rough woods—Shummumdewumrum git eye on it—soon cotch him."
This Leland felt was now his great danger. Should his pursuers return to their camp, he hoped the distance that he thus gained upon them would be sufficient to carry him entirely beyond their reach; but if they decided to remain where they were, his only chance was to steal away before the morning came. Judging such to be their intention, he determined to make the attempt at once.
On his hands and knees he commenced crawling forward, listening to every word that was uttered.
"White man try hard to git away—don't like Shawnee great much."
"He run much fast, den fall down in woods!"
"Den try to crawl away like snake!"
Leland saw that it was all over with him and gave up at once. The Indians had been aware of his hiding-place from the moment he fell, and their passage beyond it, their return and their conversation, were all made on purpose to toy with his fears, as a cat would play with a mouse before destroying it.
As one of the savages uttered the last words, he walked directly to the prostrate man, and ordered him to arise. Leland judged it best to resist no further. He accordingly obeyed; and, saddened and despairing, was led back a prisoner to the Indian camp.
* * * * *
We have heard of a fish, known in the humble fisherman's parlance as the ink-fish, which, when pursued by an enemy, has the power of tinging the water in its immediate vicinity with such a dark color, that its pursuer is completely befogged and gives up the hopeless chase in disgust.
A realizing sense of his recklessness and his imminent peril came over Zeb when he felled the rising Shawnee to the earth. It was his intention, in the first place, to serve every one in the same manner; but as they came to their feet far more rapidly than he anticipated, he gave over the idea, and, with a "Ki! yi!" plunged headlong into the woods. At this very juncture, the attention of the Indians was taken up with Leland, as the more important captive of the two, and for a moment the negro escaped notice; but the instant the four started after him, two others gave Zeb their undivided attention.
The sable fugitive, with all his recklessness, did the very best thing that could have been done under the circumstances. Instead of fleeing, as did Leland, he ran less than a hundred yards, when he halted abruptly and took a position behind a sapling. Here he stood as motionless as death, while his enemies came on. Whether his intensely black countenance had the power of diffusing deeper darkness into the surrounding gloom, or whether it was the unexpected manner of his flight that deluded his pursuers, we are unable to say. Certain it is that although the two savages passed very closely to him, neither saw nor suspected his presence.
"Gorra, but dat's soothin'," chuckled Zeb. "Dey've missed me dis time, shuah! Wonder whether dey'll outlive dar disapp'intment, when dey finds out dat when dey finds me, dey hain't found me! Ki! yi!"
He maintained his motionless position for several moments longer, all the while listening for his enemies. As their footsteps finally died out in the distance, and he realized that he was left alone indeed, his former characteristic returned to him.
"What's to be done, dat am de question!" said he, speaking in an incautiously loud voice, as he spread out his left hand at the same time, and rested the forefinger of his right upon it. "In de fust place, I don't know what has become of Master Leland. If he's done got away, how am I to find him? If I sets up a yell to cotch his ear, like 'nuff de oders will hear it also likewise. Den if he hasn't got away what am de use ob bawlin' to him. Guess I won't bawl."
So much was settled at least. The fact that it would not only be a useless but an extremely dangerous undertaking to make an outcry at that particular time, worked itself through his head, and the intention was accordingly given over for the present.
"One thing am sartin, howsumever," he added. "I'm hungry, and I know dar am some meat left by dat camp-fire, dat would relish high jus' now. But had I oughter to go dar or not? Dey mought found me, but den I'm hungry."
When our own personal feelings are put into the balance, they are apt to outweigh the dictates of prudence and sense. The experiences of the night, although fraught in their teachings to the ignorant black man, had not as yet attained sufficient dignity to stand before the animal feelings of his nature.
Although he comprehended in a degree the risk he run, he decided it was worth his while to do it, rather than suffer for a few hours longer the cravings of what was only a moderate degree of hunger.
"De stummich am de most importantest part ob man, and consequently am de fust thing dat should receive his undiwided attention."
With this philosophical conclusion, he turned his footsteps toward the camp-fire. Despite its proximity, he experienced considerable difficulty in finding it. The few smoldering embers, gleaming like a demon's eye, guided him, however, to the spot.
"Dar am anoder matter sartin," thought he, as he came up. "Mr. Zebenezer Langdon is not agwine to be able to s'arch here for de meat onless he has some more light—Ki! dat coal am warm!" he exclaimed, as he hopped off from the fiery end of a fagot.
It required but a few moments to gather sufficient fuel to replenish the fire. The hot coals set the wood almost immediately into a roaring blaze, which threw a warm, rich light through the surrounding woods for many yards around.
Zeb was radiant with smiles. The cool night and the constrained position had chilled him considerably, and he gave the fire a few moments to infuse the comfortable warmth into his person.
"Now I'll jes' warm up my hands like," said he, after a few minutes, "and den I'll go to work;" and forthwith he held them toward the blaze, rubbing and turning them into each other with great zest and enjoyment.
"Dar, I guess dat'll do. Now I'll make a s'arch—Gorra! whar did you come from?"
As the negro turned, he found himself standing face to face with the two Shawnees who had started in his pursuit but a short time before! He realized that he was recaptured, and made no resistance. He was instantly re-bound to the very tree from which he had escaped, while the Indians sat upon the ground very near him, firmly resolved that he should not again have so favorable an opportunity to leave them.
The negro was hardly secured, when the other savages made their appearance with Leland. He was also fastened to the identical tree from which he had been loosened; and there, sad, gloomy and despairing, he was left until morning.
In a short time the whole body of Indians were awake and astir. The morning meal was soon prepared and hastily eaten, and they set forward. Leland found that his wound was much better, and he traveled without difficulty. The savages took a southerly direction, and appeared to be journeying toward the destination of those who held Rosalind.
Their march continued without interruption until noon, when they halted for a couple of hours for rest and food. For the first time, George partook of some, and felt in a more hopeful frame of mind. Zeb was as usual, and continued quarreling and abusing and threatening every one within his reach.
"If dis isn't shameful, treating a pusson like me in dis way. I's sorry dat I ever come wid you. I 'spects ebery bone in my body is broke in pieces."
"You said last night that they dare not touch you," interrupted Leland.
"Well, dat's a subject dat you can't understand, and I haven't time to 'splain it. Dey're perwoken, anyhow, and dey's agwine to cotch dar pay some ob dese days."
Consoled with this reflection, Zeb kept steadily upon his way, seemingly as happy as a person could be when laboring under a slight provocation. No further words passed between him and Leland for a considerable time. The latter was busy with his own thoughts, and began to feel the fatigues of their long-continued journey. They had set out at an early hour, and had halted only at noon. The traveling was very difficult at times, often leading through tangled underwood and swamps, where a person's weight bore him deep into the mire; and now and then some sluggish, poisonous serpent crawled from beneath their feet, or hissed at them from some decayed tree.
About the middle of the afternoon they paused upon the banks of a stream of considerable size, which was a tributary to the Big Sandy. Though broad, it was not deep, and could be easily forded. The water flowed quite swiftly, and being perfectly translucent, the bottom could be seen from either shore.
Here the Indians exhibited their usual cunning and foresight. During their journey, they had proceeded in "Indian file," permitting their prisoners, however, to walk after their usual manner. The reason for their adopting the caution mentioned with themselves, was more from habit than anything else. Although suspecting they might be pursued, yet they had little fear of an enemy, and omitted, as we have seen, to employ a sentinel at night.
One of the savages stepped into the water, and, taking a few steps, was followed by another, who placed his feet upon the stones, in the tracks that he had used and made. Thus each one did until Leland and Zeb were driven in and warned to do likewise. The former had no difficulty in obeying, but the latter, either through mistake or design, made several provoking blunders. He seemed to use his utmost endeavors to step into the tracks of those before him, but instead of succeeding, was sure to place his foot a good distance from it; and losing his foothold when about in the center of the stream, came down with an awkward splash into the water.
"Gorra!" he exclaimed, regaining his position, "dat fish pulled awful." The savages nearest cast threatening looks toward him, and he reached the shore without further mishap.
At about sundown the party came to a halt, and a fire was started. Leland and Zeb found themselves in the same condition as upon the preceding night, with the exception that a closer surveillance was kept upon their actions. George partook sparingly of supper, while Zeb's appetite was as insatiate as ever. A guard was stationed as soon as it was fully dark, and the Indians appeared disposed to amuse and enjoy themselves until a late hour. One of their number, with a hoarse, guttural "Ugh!" approached the negro.
"You needn't come here," ejaculated Zeb, divining his intention. The savage paid no attention to him, but continued approaching. Had the negro been free, he might have offered resistance and occasioned considerable trouble; but besides having his arms bound; his legs were joined at the ankles and he was thus rendered helpless.
"Plenty wool," said the savage, placing his hand upon his head. He made no answer, but glanced furtively and suspiciously at him. "Nice, good," he added; then closing his hand, gave a vigorous jerk.
"Lord help me!" screamed Zeb, rolling over in helpless agony.
"Poor fellow," repeated the Indian, approaching him and rubbing his back, after the manner which a celebrated horse-tamer advises. Then, watching his opportunity, he seized another quantity and pulled it forth. To his surprise, this elicited no remark from his victim, and he repeated it.
This time he succeeded no better than before.
Zeb was lying upon his back and staring at his tormentor in unspeakable fury. The Indian, still determined upon amusement, again approached. Zeb remained motionless until he stooped over him; then bending his knees to his chin, he gathered all his strength, and planted both feet in his chest, throwing him a dozen feet. The savage groaned and doubled up in his agony, and gasped spasmodically for breath.
"Dar, how does dat set on your stummich? Yah! yah! dat's fun!"
Although this for the moment amused the others, yet it likewise excited their anger, and there is no telling what the end would have been, had not their attention been suddenly called in another direction. This was occasioned by the arrival of a stranger among them.
Leland gazed at the new-comer, and saw a tall, powerfully-built and well-shaped savage stalk boldly forward toward the fire, and exchange salutations with those seated around. All regarded him suspiciously at first, yet his boldness and assurance seemed to disarm them, and room was made for him. The pipe was passed to him, and taking it, he smoked several minutes in silence, during which time he seemed unconscious that the eye of every one was bent upon him. Having finished, he turned and passed it to the one nearest him, then gazing thoughtfully for a few moments in the fire, commenced a conversation with the chief. He spoke their tongue as correctly and fluently as any of them, which served to disarm them still more. He stated that he had been out with a couple of Indians, scouring the country for prey, when they were set upon and pursued by two hunters, who at the first shot killed his companion. He succeeded in effecting his escape after a hot pursuit of nearly a day, and encountering a trail which he supposed to be his friends', he followed it up and found that he was not mistaken.
On hearing this recital, several of the savages appeared to suspect that Kent and Leland were the two to whom he referred, and directed his attention toward their captives. The savage stared wonderingly toward them for a moment, and slowly shook his head. He had never seen either before.
Although none of the Indians could show any reason for suspecting their visitor, except his strange arrival among them, still they were not reckless and foolish enough to leave him to himself, or to permit him to depart. Besides the two who were stationed at a distance as sentinels, one remained awake to keep an eye upon his movements. Yet this precaution was useless; for to all appearances, he slept as deeply as any of them, and was among the latest who awoke in the morning.
Leland fell asleep about midnight, and gained a few hours of undisturbed rest. In the morning he was considerably refreshed, and had it not been for the awful doom that threatened him, would have possessed a joyous fund of spirits. His wound, which had been only an ugly flesh one, had ceased to trouble him, and he experienced no pain except from the ligaments that bound him. As he increased in strength, these were increased in number and tightness, until his limbs swelled and pained him more than his hurt.
It is the same with the body as with the mind. The sorest affliction that can visit us will not occasion half the murmuring and discontent that the petty annoyances and grievances of every-day life do. Could the pain which harassed Leland, and in the end nearly drove him frantic, have been concentrated into a few moments, or even into a half-hour, he could have borne it without a murmur; but it was the continual, never-ceasing, monotonous length of it that troubled him.
Several times in the course of their journey, Leland was upon the point of beseeching his enemies to kill him at once, and end his misery; and had he reason to believe that they would have gratified him, he would not have hesitated a moment; but such a request would have been useless.
At noon, as usual, the party came to a halt, and a couple proceeded to bind Leland to a tree. During the proceeding he broke the cords that pained him so much, and they were replaced by others. The latter, however, were much more lax, and he felt greatly relieved when they were placed upon him.
As soon as he was secured to the body of the tree, the savage left him and joined his companions. Leland closed his eyes as if to shut out the terrible reality, and the dancing lights that flickered before him, together with the hum that filled his ears, told him that for a moment he had succeeded. But he was soon recalled to a sense of his situation by the zip of a tomahawk within a few inches of his head. Opening his eyes, he soon comprehended the state of things. The savages were amusing themselves by ascertaining who could send his tomahawk nearest the body of their captive without touching him. The first weapon that had been sent had missed his head, as we have said, by a few inches; but the next was still closer, and Leland felt the wind of it, as it buried itself in the solid oak by his cheek. He again closed his eyes, and fervently prayed that one of their hatchets might sink into his skull instead of the tree; yet there was not much danger of such an occurrence; for the savages exercised perfect skill, and rarely failed of sending their weapons to the very point intended.
Leland opened his eyes as a tomahawk came fearfully close to his forehead. He wished to see who had hurled it. He soon saw that it was the strange Indian, who was approaching to withdraw it. It was buried deeper than the others; and as the savage placed his hand upon it, it required considerable of an effort to extricate it. While doing so, Leland heard the following words whispered by the stranger:
"Don't be scart, George; it's Kent Whiteman that has got his eye upon you."
These words came near proving fatal to both. They so startled Leland that he could not prevent himself from betraying somewhat his emotion and excitement. This was observed by a savage near at hand, who approached to satisfy himself of the cause. Leland, suspecting his motive, repeated the action and accompanied it by a shudder, as though the scene which was being enacted had overcome him. This satisfied the wily Indian, who retreated and joined the others.
Hope was again awakened in Leland's breast—painful hope, that increased his doubts and fears—hope that drowned the torture that beset him—hope that sent the life-blood coursing rapidly and hotly through his veins, and increased the charms which life had held out to him.
Leland was shortly released from his unenviable situation, and Zeb put in his place. The negro made no threats or declaration, but submitted to the trying ordeal without a word. The scenes through which he had passed had evidently had some effect upon him. He seemed to possess a faint realization of the danger in which he and his companion were placed. And yet it could not be said that he was really frightened, for he evinced no fear of any of his enemies, and his silence had the appearance of being occasioned by sullenness and apathy. He did not tremble in the least, but gazed unflinchingly at the tomahawks, as they came revolving and seemingly directed toward his head, and struck beside him.
Finding that they had about lost their power over their captives, the Indians released Zeb, and permitted him and his master to lie down upon the ground.
Leland could not prevent his gaze from wandering toward Kent now and then, yet their eyes did not meet. The latter betrayed no interest whatever in either of the captives, and seemed as indifferent to their fate as any of the others.
The negro had no suspicion of the true state of things, and perhaps it was best that he had not. He might have unwittingly betrayed it, and Kent did not choose to warn him. The fact was, it could have done him but little good at any rate; for Kent had determined to rescue Leland, if possible, and leave Zeb for the present to shift for himself. The white man was the first upon whom they would wreak their vengeance, and aside from the greater estimation in which his life was held, from the very nature of the case, he required the first attention.
The hunter in the course of the day had gained a full knowledge of the intentions of the Indians in regard to their captives. Leland was to suffer death at the stake at an early period, while the negro was to be reserved until some indefinite time in the future, to be tortured.
The hunter had completely succeeded in disarming his enemies of every suspicion. He had employed himself, as we have seen, in throwing his tomahawk at Leland; and learning through a casual remark that he was to be put to the torture, he expressed his opinion strongly in favor of it, urging them at the same time to do it as soon as possible. He made himself perfectly at home, and was so free among them, that a stranger would have considered him one of the leading characters.
So perfectly had Kent dissembled, that at night, unexpectedly to himself, he was chosen as one to watch Leland. The negro was firmly fastened to a tree and left to himself, while George was to sleep between two savages.
At supper-time Kent brought him a good-sized piece of well-cooked meat, and gave him to understand that he was to eat it at all events. Leland took it without daring to meet his benefactor's eye, and ate all that was possible. The negro received his meal from the same hand without the remotest suspicion that a friend was so near him, and even went so far as to insult him as much as was in his power, for not bringing him a larger quantity of food. To carry out still further the appearance of things, Kent tore a small tuft from the negro's head, as if to revenge himself.
"Blast you," he shouted, "if I doesn't flog you till you can't stand. Just hold out your paw a minute."
Zeb used his utmost powers of persuasion to induce Kent to reach his hand toward him, hoping to revenge himself as he had upon a former occasion; but the hunter was too shrewd for him, and with a threatening gesture, left him to himself, and joined his companions.
"Gorra!" said Zeb to Leland, "if I doesn't believe dat dat's de nigger I sawed up in de barn toder day."
"You mean cut up?"
"All de same; leastways ef 'tis him, he's cotched his pay afore he come sneakin' about here."
Now that Leland knew assistance was at hand, he experienced a desire to converse with the negro, and thus help to pass away time, which had grown intolerably monotonous. Turning to the old slave, he resumed:
"He is a savage-looking individual."
This was said in order to quell any suspicion or doubt that might have entered his head.
"Dat he is; but he'd better keep away from me, if he doesn't want his picter sp'iled," returned the negro.
"What were you abusing him for, a few minutes ago, when he brought your food?"
"Well, you see, he's afraid I's agwine to hurt him, and begun to beg off. It makes me so mad to see any feller afraid dat I let out on him, and he took himself off in a mighty big hurry."
"Have you lost much of your wool?"
"Two or free hands full; dat's all. 'Bout all growed in ag'in; but I ca'culate dat de next dat gits his hand in my head'll get it in a steel-trap. If I gits my grinder on 'im he'll see," said Zeb, with a meaning shake of his head.
"I guess that they will not trouble you further for the present," added Leland, with that air of assurance which one feels for the safety of another when his own case is free from danger.
"Don't know 'bout dat, but I'd like to have 'em try."
"Well, your wish is about to be gratified," said Leland, as he noticed a savage approaching him.
"Gorra, don't come here!" said Zeb, staring at him. The savage did not heed his warning, however, but continued to advance, and made a motion as if to strike him. The black man closed his eyes, bent his head toward him and drew his face in all manner of furious contortions. The savage, however, left him without provoking him further.
Leland was allowed to remain in his position until the savages stretched themselves out to rest. They remained up later than usual, smoking and recounting their deeds and boasting of the exploits they intended to accomplish. Kent narrated some marvelous stories, which greatly excited their wonder and admiration of him.
The time thus occupied seemed interminable to Leland, who was in a fever of excitement and anxiety; but at last Kent stretched himself beside him, while the other watch did the same upon the opposite side.
Still it would probably be hours before anything could be done, and Leland was compelled to suffer the most intense and anxious impatience for a long time. His thoughts prevented him from feeling the least desire to sleep, and he could only worry and writhe in his helpless position.
Kent, in arranging a place for himself beside him, bent his head to his ear and breathed:
"Pretend to sleep."
Although this was said in less than a whisper, Leland heard the words distinctly and prepared to follow the warning. To prevent the slightest suspicion, he continued to groan and move for some minutes; but he gradually ceased, and after a while settled down into a state of rest. Soon his heavy, regular breathing would have led any one into the belief that a heavy sleep was upon him. Not the slightest voluntary motion was made, and Kent remarked to his brother sentinel that their captive must be unconscious of the doom that awaited him.
A cord was fastened to Leland's wrist and then to Kent's arm, so that the slightest movement upon the part of the former would disturb and awake the latter should he fall asleep. The other watch, noticing this, failed to adopt the same precaution.
For a few more minutes the savage held a conversation with Kent; but in the course of a half-hour the answers of the latter began to grow brief and indistinct, and finally ceased altogether; then he began to breathe more slowly and heavily, and the savage at last believed that both guard and prisoner were sound asleep.
When lying upon the earth at night, with no one with whom a conversation can be held, and with nothing but the will to combat the approach of sleep, the person is almost sure to succumb sooner or later. At any rate, such was the case with the savage in question, and scarce an hour had elapsed since he had ceased speaking when he was as unconscious of the state of things around as though he had never been born.
Now was the time to commence operations; the critical moment had arrived, and Kent commenced the work upon which probably more than one life depended.
First he withdrew his knife from his belt, and severed the cord that bound him to Leland. Then as cautiously, silently and quickly, cut the thong that held his feet. This was the first intimation Leland had that his friend was at work.
Leland's hands, as we have said, were bound behind; consequently it was necessary that he should turn upon his side in order that Kent might reach them. He knew this and made the movement; but his excitement and agitation were so great that he turned too far, and in recovering himself, awoke the savage. His presence of mind and Kent's cunning saved him. He groaned deeply and muttered to himself, while the hunter started up as though he had just awoke, and gazed wonderingly at him.
"I wish he'd keep still," said he, in the Indian tongue, lying down again. This satisfied the other, who fell back and closed his eyes.
For an hour neither stirred. At the end of that time, Kent raised his head and gazed cautiously around upon the circle of sleeping savages. Zeb was at a short distance, resting as calmly as an infant upon its mother's breast. The one beside Leland had again passed off to the land of dreams; yet an Indian never sleeps soundly, and the slightest mishap upon the part of those who were awake and expecting to move, might arouse the whole body and bring certain and instant death upon them. It would not do to awaken the sleeping sentinel again. Life now hung upon a thread.
Kent reached beneath Leland and cut the cord. He was now free and at liberty to move.
"Be careful!" whispered the hunter, as he assisted him to his feet. Leland could not suppress his agitation, yet he used all the caution in his power. But cautious as they both were, the savage nearest them awoke. Kent had his eye upon him, and the instant he stirred, sprung like a panther toward him. One hand clutched his mouth, his knee pressed heavily upon his breast, and whipping out his knife, he forced it to the hilt in his body. Nothing but the dull, fleshy sound, as it sunk into the seat of life, was heard. The bloody stream silently followed its withdrawal, there were several spasmodic struggles, and the savage straightened out in death.
Kent arose from the body and motioned to Leland to follow him. Not another being was awake, and tremblingly he followed over their prostrate, sleeping forms. They were just passing into the thick surrounding darkness, when the negro, through some means, awoke.
"Gorra," he shouted, "isn't you gwine to help dis pusson too?"
"Cuss that nigger," muttered the hunter. "Keep close to me and use your pegs, fur a long run's before us."
Both darted away together, as the wild yells told them that their escape was discovered. Those horrid, unearthly whoops, of which no idea can be had unless they be heard, set Leland's blood on fire. In a moment the whole forest seemed swarming with their enemies, and the yells of many were fearfully near. Kent could distance any of them when alone, yet the presence of Leland retarded him somewhat. However, by taking the latter's hand, they both passed over the ground with great swiftness, and neither had much fear of being overtaken.
On, on plunged the pursued, until many a mile had been passed; still they halted not. The voices and answering shouts of the savages could be heard upon every side, and they had yet by no means reached a place of safety. Now some limb brushed in Leland's face, or he stumbled over some fallen tree, and then, without a murmur, arose and pursued his way. On, on they hurried, until the dispersing darkness told them that the day was not far distant.
"I can travel no further," said Leland, sinking to the earth.
"Give out?" queried Kent.
"I believe I have. This is a terrible chase; but the prospect of a recapture and death cannot goad me further, until I have rested."
"Wal, no mistake we have tramped some; but Lord save you, this is just fun for me."
"Do you not think that they will abandon pursuit?"
"No danger of that. As soon as 'tis light they'll pounce upon our trail, and foller it until it's lost or we are cotched."
"Which must not be."
"Wal, p'raps if they get their claws on you you wouldn't feel very comfortable."
But they had passed through the most trying ordeals, and had now only to make their way as best they could. Kent had some idea of the nature of the ground, and they progressed with greater ease and rapidity, after a short rest.
"Here we are," said the hunter, coming to a halt. Leland gazed ahead, and saw a broad sheet of water which he knew must be the Ohio.
"And now," added Kent, "we've got to hunt up Leslie. He can't be far off, and I'm in hopes we'll stumble upon him afore day. Just squat and make yourself miserable while I take a run up and down the bank."
Leland obeyed him, and in a moment was left alone, shivering in the chilly night-air, and feeling miserable indeed in his lonely situation. But he was not disposed to murmur; he had escaped death—that was enough.
In the course of an hour Kent returned with the information that he had found the boat about half a mile up, but that Leslie was not in it. Both started, and, after stumbling over bushes loaded with water, and sinking into the miry shore, and wading in the river by turns, they came upon it, pulled high up on the bank. It was becoming lighter every moment, and as Kent knew that as soon as possible their trail would be followed, he was unwilling to brook the slightest delay.
"As soon as one is out the scrape another gets in. Here you have got clear, and now he must go and make a fool of himself. If he's got taken, that's the meanest trick yet."
"Perhaps he is not far off," said Leland, stepping in the boat and searching it. "He is not here, certainly," he added, after looking over it.
"I'll wait a while, and then we must look out for ourselves. No use of losing our own hair in tryin' to help him," rejoined Kent.
Both took the boat, and turning it over so as to free it from water, shoved it out from the beach.
"Halloa, Leslie! If you're about just say so, and if you ain't let us know," shouted Kent, in a loud voice.
A silence of a few moments followed, when he repeated the call. To the surprise of both it was answered.
"That you, Kent?" came a voice as if its owner had just waked.
"Wal, I rather guess so; and it's my private opinion that you'd better tumble yourself in here in short order," returned Kent.
A dark form arose to all appearance from the ground, and pitching awkwardly forward, exclaimed:
"You don't suppose a fellow would be in the boat through all that rain, do you? Oh! is Leland there?" he asked, pausing and collecting his senses.
"No! Poor fellow's scalped and burned at the stake. Had to kill nine of them to save my own hair."
Leslie made no reply, but stepped silently into the boat. Making his way toward the stern, he encountered the very person of whom he had been speaking.
"Hey! who is this?" he exclaimed, starting back.
"A dead red-skin that I cotched," answered Kent.
"Leland, sure as I live!" said Leslie, joyously catching his hand.
For a few moments they heeded not the mirth of Kent at his joke, in their mutual congratulations. Then they turned and heard him say:
"What a couple of fools."
They appreciated his rough kindness too well to make any reply. The boat was out in the river, and under the long, powerful impulses that the hunter gave it, was moving rapidly downward.
Leland and Leslie conversed and recounted to each other their adventures until those were exhausted, when they endeavored to keep off the chill by taking turns at the oars. Morning at length began to appear. In a short time darkness lifted from the water, and the bright rays of the morning sun pierced the foliage of the forest and rested upon the stream.
About the middle of the forenoon, Kent ran in under the bank and sprung ashore. The day was quite warm, and it was a pleasure for the three to step upon the land and stretch themselves in the genial sunshine. They had, however, halted for consultation, and to determine upon the plan to pursue in order to rescue Rosalind.
"One more job finished and we'll rest a while," said Kent.
"And as we have depended upon and been guided and saved by your wisdom," said Leslie, "of course, in this most important case your advice must be followed."
"Let's hear what you chaps have got to say first, 'cause p'raps you might accidentally say somethin' smart without knowin' it. I'll decide it after we all get through."
"What seems to me the most feasible is this," commenced Leland. "Let all three of us follow the savages which have taken my sister, and after reaching their vicinity, by stratagem recover her. If it be impossible to do it in this way, make a bold dash and venture among them, and take her at all events."
"Killin' first 'bout one hundred Injins, just to get 'em out the way, you know," said Kent, with mock gravity. "Come, Leslie, it's your turn; and bein' you're so much interested, I 'spects to hear somethin' awful grand."
Leslie, to save his life, could not prevent a blush at this allusion. As might be expected, he had thought of more than one plan, long before asked for it, and replied without hesitation:
"What I say is, rescue her at all events, as George has said. Of course, it's out of the question to do it by force, and we must outwit the savages. This I think possible, for the good reason that it has so often been done. All three of us, or perhaps, what would be better, you and myself can follow them up and retake her. George, in his present state, could do but little to aid us, and in all probability, will endanger the safety of all concerned."
"I agrees with you there; and a little further. Mr. Leslie, 'in his present state,' would do but little to aid us, and in all probability, endanger the safety of all concerned."
"There is no need of jesting, Kent. You know that it would be the best for you to have a companion, and who can you take but me?"
"Don't know but what it would. Now, s'posen an old feller that don't know nothin' says somethin'?" said Kent, good-humoredly; for he, as is generally the case with those of his class, had a habit of depreciating his own sagacity and foresight, when he really knew how much superior it was to his companion's.
"Don't know but what it would," he repeated. "S'pose if I's in your case, I'd feel the same; but you see, there's somethin' else to think of. S'posen we gets her, we hain't got any place to stick our heads in, and may be hunted forever after by the skunks. Now as soon as convenient, we'll paddle down to the place where Leland's house was burned, and drop him there; fur it won't do to take you 'long, George. Leslie understands the Injins better than you, and it would just git us all into a muss, and like enough, make 'em knock her on the head, to save trouble. We'll take you up to your farm 'cause that'll be a place we can't miss very well; and if there's a shed or anything left, you can stow yourself away till we gets back. Keep a good lookout, and don't get into any trouble. I'll take Leslie along, for I s'pose he won't stay, and I've thought of a plan that'll take him to work with. There, you have my plan."
"Which you must admit, is the one that must be followed," said Leslie, turning toward Leland.
"I suppose," he returned, "that your advice should be taken, although I confess that I had hoped to accompany you; but as I said, Kent knows best, and the only proper course is to obey him."
"Well, let us not wait, now that we have decided what to do," said Leslie, rising to his feet.
"No; we ought to be movin', fur I opine we've a good tramp afore us."
Again the boat was shoved out, and shot onward. Nothing worthy of mention occurred on the way. The next day, at noon, they reached their destination. Leland's heart sunk within him, as he gazed up from the river and saw, where once his home had been, nothing but black and charred ruins. A portion of what had once been used as the barn remained entire, having escaped the flames.
"This is just the thing," said Kent, approaching it. "We'll fix it up a little and I'd advise you to go to sleep, and stay so until we get back."
The three set vigorously to work, and in a short time they had made it quite comfortable. It consisted of logs placed firmly and compactly together, and secured so that a single person well armed could offer effectual resistance to a formidable enemy. Being in a sort of clearing, it had the additional advantage of affording its inhabitant such a view that he could not be approached by any person without their being observed and thus giving him time to prepare for them.
"There!" said the hunter, retreating a short distance and gazing at it. "I wouldn't ax a better place. You might bring down a hundred Injins, and give me plenty powder and ball, I'd have the best fun in creation."
"Suppose they come upon all sides?" suggested Leland.
"All you got to do is to take the stock off your gun and shoot out of both ends of the barrel."
"You can go now as soon as you please; but first tell me what time to expect you back."
Kent folded both arms over the muzzle of his gun, and shutting one eye, remained for a few moments buried in earnest thought. Then he replied:
"Between five and eight days; probably on the sixth."
"All ready?" queried Leslie.
"All ready," returned Kent.
Both bade Leland good-by, and after a few unimportant words, started upon their journey. Leslie felt a wild, joyous thrill as he realized that he was really nearing Rosalind; that in a short time, as he firmly believed, he should see and be able to assist her to procure her liberty. He could hardly restrain his impatience, but vainly urged Kent to quicken his thoughtful, lagging steps. The sun had set, and darkness was slowly spreading over the great forest, when the two plunged into its depths and ventured upon their perilous, doubtful undertaking.
For a considerable time we have left Rosalind to herself, and with the reader's permission we will now return to her.
The Indians which held her, as was stated, journeyed far into the interior of Kentucky before making a final halt. Here they reached the village or headquarters of their tribe, and gave her to understand that her journey was at an end.
The village numbered several hundred, and considering her defenseless position, the savages allowed her considerable liberty. From the first, however, she was made a slave and a drudge, and compelled to toil with the hardy squaws of their tribe, bearing their insults and sometimes even their blows. The hope and prospect of a speedy relief and deliverance enabled her to bear this without murmuring. She had not much fear of death, as she judged by their actions that their intention was to make her a prisoner for life.
There is nothing in the animal creation but which is affected by kindness and obedience, and there is no race upon which it makes a more ready impression than the American. Rosalind's continual gentleness and pleasing manner melted the hearts of many of the warriors, and more than one rude epithet was restrained by the meek loveliness of her face.
Yet she was sometimes in greater danger than she ever dreamed. All did not act and feel thus toward her; more than one voice demanded her blood, and while she lay quietly dreaming of some loved one, there was many an angry discussion over her life. Deadly, baleful glances were given her, when in her musings she was unconscious of the notice of any one; and among the entire female portion there was not a squaw but what regarded her with feelings of jealousy and hatred. Had she remained a month, at the end of that time her life would no doubt have been sacrificed. To quiet the continual broiling and angry feelings, the Indians would have acted as they did in nearly a similar case some years before; she would have been tomahawked, as was the young Miss McCrea.
Rosalind often wondered who the person could be that had interrupted her conversation with Zeb upon the first night of her captivity. One day she was gratified with the knowledge. A savage approached her and commenced a conversation:
"How is the pale-faced maiden?"
She started at hearing her tongue spoken so well, and looking up recognized a middle-aged Indian, that had frequently visited her house during her father's life. She replied:
The savage was uneasy, and waited a few moments for her to speak further, but as she evinced no disposition to do so, he at length added:
"Does the maiden remember Pequanon?"
"She does," she returned, looking him steadily in the face. "She remembers him as one who received kindness both from her father's hand and her own, and as one who shows his gratitude by treacherously burning her home, and carrying her into captivity. Yes, Pequanon," she continued, bursting into tears at the remembrance of the event, "she remembers you and can never forget your conduct."
"Pequanon saved your life," he returned, feelingly.
"And gave me a fate that is worse."
"He went with his brothers when they burned your home, but he did not help. He went to save your life, and did do it. When the tomahawk was lifted over your head, he caught the arm and turned it aside. When your blood was called for, Pequanon swore that it should not be had, and he has kept his word. Pequanon never forgets kindness, and will die for the maiden that clothed and fed him."
Rosalind felt her heart moved with pity toward the poor, untutored savage who had thus really been grateful, and no doubt had done all in his power for her good. She recalled many instances where she believed that he was the cause of the lenity upon the part of the captors, and where it seemed that some one had shown an interest in her welfare. She informed him that she believed he had done her all the good that was in his power, and expressed her heartfelt thanks for it. The Indian seemed gratified beyond measure, and after further conversation took his departure, promising eternal fidelity to her.
This circumstance, though trivial in itself, had a great influence upon Rosalind. It gave her a knowledge of the true position in which she stood. Although she doubted not but that she had friends among the savage beings around her, yet she well knew that there were many deadly enemies, who, when an opportunity offered, would not hesitate to take her life. Every night when she lay down, it was with the prayer that her life might be preserved until morning, and that, were it in the power of her friends to rescue her, they would do it speedily.
The lodge in which she slept was that of the chief. Besides his own wife, several squaws remained in it during the night. A young woman, her most bitter and hateful enemy, slept beside Rosalind most of the time, and the slightest movement on the part of the latter was sure to occasion some insulting word or command from her. She bore this without a word, hoping each night that it was the last she was to spend in this manner.
One night she suddenly awoke to a full state of consciousness—so suddenly that it startled and alarmed her. It seemed as though something had awakened her, and yet she could recall nothing. She turned her head and gazed at her companion, but she, to all appearances, was sound asleep, and could not have been the cause. She experienced no more of drowsiness or inclination to sleep, but concluded to feign it in the hope of satisfying herself of any danger that might be lurking near her.
She half closed her eyes, yet kept a close watch of everything around her. In a moment there was a rustling upon the outside; the next instant the point of a knife protruded through a gap in the skin of the lodge, and two eyes were seen gleaming like a tiger's; then the hand that held the knife was thrust forward, and it was held over her.
Rosalind tried to scream, but could not utter a sound. She seemed frozen with terror, and only made a spasmodic movement that awoke her companion. As soon as the latter moved, the hand was withdrawn and the rent closed of its own accord.
"Oh!" she murmured, "did you see it?"
Her companion, more angered on account of being awakened from her sleep, struck her a blow and commanded silence; but Rosalind could not remain in her position, and arising and stepping softly over the sleeping form beside her, seated herself in the center of the lodge. Here she remained until morning, when she made the inmates understand the nature of her nocturnal fright. All treated it lightly, and she began to entertain a suspicion that they knew more of it than she did herself.
In the course of the day she narrated the circumstance to Pequanon, showing him also the aperture that had been made in the lodge. He examined it carefully, and appeared troubled about it. The marks of a person's knee and moccasin could be seen upon the soft earth, and there was no doubt that her life had been sought. Pequanon informed her of something that surprised and alarmed her as much as this. Several of the warriors, since her first appearance among them, had shown a desire to obtain Rosalind for a wife; and although it may seem strange that she herself was not aware of the fact, Pequanon had noticed it from the commencement, and now for the first time warned her of it. One who suspected that he should be disappointed, had taken the means to procure the revenge that we have mentioned. Ever after this Pequanon remained in the lodge during the night, and Rosalind was careful to keep at a safe distance from the sides of it.
She saw in the fact that he had given her, the cause of the hatred upon the part of the females toward her. They had seen the favor with which she was regarded by numbers of the warriors, and were filled with jealousy at it. From them she had as much to fear as from the Indians who wished to obtain her.
Rosalind was a good distance from the Ohio, and consequently a long way was to be traveled by Kent and Leslie. During the first night of their journey, a bright moon favored them, and they continued on without halting until morning. The hunter struck the trail at an early hour in the day, and the two continued their pursuit with renewed ardor until the sun was high in the heavens, when they halted for rest.
When they finally halted, it was on the banks of Big Sandy, at the point where the West Fork unites with it. Here they discovered signs of the encampment of a large body of Indians. Leslie felt hope increase, and was impatient to pursue their way. They judged it best—or rather Kent judged it best—to remain in their present position, and follow the trail only during the day.
The hunter left Leslie in order to search for game, as they both were exceedingly hungry. He returned in a short time, to the surprise of Leslie, who had not heard the report of his gun. Kent informed him that he had slain it without firing a shot, as he dared not to risk one. A fire was started, it being concealed by the river-bank as much as possible, and their food was cooked. This finished, the fire was extinguished, and they partook of the repast.
A moon as bright as that of the preceding night arose, and the clear river, glistening in the moonlight like liquid silver, was visible for a great distance. Leslie was soon asleep, but Kent lay awake the greater part of the night, revolving in his mind the best course to pursue in regard to capturing Rosalind. At last he hit upon the plan, and having fully determined what to do, he fell into a peaceful slumber.
"Now to the rescue," said Leslie, springing to his feet as soon as it was fairly light.
"I'd advise you to put a stopper on that jaw of yourn, if you don't want the whole pack down here in a twinklin'," quickly retorted the hunter, slowly coming to the sitting posture.
"Why, what's the matter, Kent?"
"Oh, nothin'; only there's a few Injins squatted over on t'other shore."
"Ah! well, they can't see us, at any rate, for a thick fog has gathered during the night and is resting upon the river."
"Wal, they can hear you easy 'nough, 'specially if you go on that way."
"Come, come, Kent, don't be cross. I'll wager that they haven't heard me, and I promise that they shall not."
The two shouldered their rifles, and, as the mist was slowly rising from the river, again commenced their journey. The trail was now easily discovered, and followed without difficulty. It led most of the time along the bank of the river, and its distinctness showed that the savages had no fear or cared little for pursuit. Instead of proceeding in Indian file, as they had at first, they traveled promiscuously and carelessly, and their number could be easily made out by their footsteps. During the course of the day Kent gave the exact number to Leslie, and the precise time that they had journeyed over the ground.
Leslie, in the ardor of his hopes, still had a fear that they might not really be upon the track of Rosalind. Might not some other party be misleading them? Was it not possible that the party had subdivided, and the one that held her taken an entirely different course? The probability of error prevented him from experiencing the joyous hopefulness that he might have otherwise felt. This worried and caused him so much anxiety, that he expressed his fears to Kent.
"Don't know but what we are," returned the hunter, composedly.
"Do you think that we are?" asked Leslie, earnestly.
"Can't say; I'll go back if you want to."
"Heigh! what's that?"
He sprung forward and caught a shred fluttering from a bush.
"That's it! that's it!" he shouted, fairly leaping with joy.
"That's what?" asked the hunter, seemingly disgusted at this display of childlike emotion.
"Why, a piece of her dress, sure enough," responded Leslie.
Here the corners of Kent's mouth gave a downward twitch, and turning his head so as to glance at Leslie, a deprecating grunt escaped him.
"She did it on purpose to guide us," added Leslie, not heeding him.
Kent's mouth jerked forward, and a loud guffaw was given.
"Let us hurry," said Leslie, starting forward.
"I allow," commenced the hunter, unable to restrain himself further, "that if you play many more such capers you'll go alone. If the sight of her dress sets you in such fits, what do you s'pose'll 'come of you when you set your eyes on her? and I daresn't think of the consequences of once gettin' your arm around her. Whew!"
"You must pardon my feeling, Kent; but the sudden assurance that we were not mistaken or proceeding by guess, completely overcame me."
"Somethin' queer come over you, no mistake."
"Well, if you don't like to see it, I will try and repress it in future."
"I hope you will when I'm about."
The two hurried on without further conversation for some time. At noon they made a shorter halt than usual, as Kent informed Leslie that, by pressing forward, they could gain the region of the savages by nightfall. As the afternoon advanced, the experienced eye of the hunter began to detect unmistakable signs of the presence of Indians.
Leslie could not repress his agitation as he realized that every minute was bringing him nearer and nearer to the object of his desires. Fear and hope filled him, and he was alternately gladdened by the one and tormented by the other.
He did not notice that Kent had changed his direction, and was proceeding more cautiously than before; he only knew that he was following closely in his footsteps, and relying entirely upon his guidance.
All at once the hunter came to a stop, and laid his hand upon Leslie's arm. He looked up, and there, before him, was the Indian village. Kent had conducted him to a sort of rising ground, which afforded them a complete view of it, while the forest gave them an effectual concealment.
"Is this the place?" asked he, in astonishment.
"This is the place," answered the ranger.
Leslie feasted his eyes a long time upon the scene before he withdrew his gaze. Every wigwam was visible, and the squaws and children could be seen passing to and fro through the sort of street or highway. Many of the warriors were gathered in groups, and reclined upon the ground, lazily chatting; while their far better halves were patiently toiling and drudging at the most difficult kinds of work.
Leslie scanned each form that came under his eye, in the hope of distinguishing one; but he was disappointed, and compelled to see the night closely settle over the village without obtaining a glimpse of her. "After all," he thought, "she may not be there, and I am doomed to be frustrated, at last." But again hope whispered in his ear, and rendered him impatient for the hour when his fate must be decided.
The moon arose at about midnight, consequently, all that was to be done must be done before that time. As soon as it had become fairly dark, so that Leslie was unable to distinguish anything in the village, he seated himself beside Kent to ascertain his intentions.
"The time," said he, "has arrove when we must commence business, and I allow that we must be at it soon. Here's your part. You are to stay here till I come back. I am goin' down into their nest to hunt her up, and when I come back you'll know whether she's to be got or not. Keep quiet, and don't stir from this spot till I give you the order. Remember, if we're goin' to do anythin', you must do as I tell you. Take care of yourself."
With these words the hunter departed—departed so silently and stealthily, that Leslie hardly comprehended that he was gone.
Kent, while it was yet light, had taken a survey of the village, and viewed it, too, with a scout's eye. He had distinguished the chief's lodge from the others, and rightly conjectured that this would be the most likely to contain Rosalind. Accordingly, he determined to direct his footsteps toward it, before looking in any other direction. This was situated in the center. He was, consequently, exposed to greater danger in reaching it; yet he placed great reliance upon his disguise, which he yet assumed, and determined to venture within the village in a short time.
He stood at the extreme end, and now and then could discern a shadowy form passing silently before him, or, perhaps, the voice of some warrior or squaw; but soon these sights and sounds ceased, and he commenced moving forward. Not a savage was encountered until he stood before the lodge for which he was seeking. He had now reached the point where his most subtle powers of cunning were called into requisition, yet thought not of hesitating.
Standing a second in front of the lodge, he glanced about him, but not a form was to be seen. Had he been observed he must have been taken for an Indian, and attracted no further notice. Kent being certain that his way was clear, sunk to the earth, and lying upon his face, worked himself slowly and cautiously toward the lodge. He seemed to glide precisely like a serpent, so easy and silent were his motions. In a moment he was beside it, and, as he believed, within ten feet of the object of his search. A dim light was burning. By its light he hoped to satisfy himself shortly of the truth of his conjectures. Running the keen point of his knife along the skin that formed the lodge, he had pierced it enough to admit his gaze, when the light was suddenly extinguished.
For a moment the hunter's calculations were at fault. He had not counted upon this, but had hoped to gain a view of the interior while the light was burning. He felt barely able to repress his disappointment, as he was again compelled to devise some other plan. For once he had been frustrated in his design, and he felt it keenly.
But he determined to risk a look at all hazards. The aperture was completed; Kent raised his head and peered in—and betrayed himself.
Pequanon was at his place in the inside as usual, watching, in the nobleness of his soul, the life of Rosalind. His quick ear detected the noise, slight as it was, occasioned by Kent's labor. The latter supposing the inmates of the lodge would be slumbering, hoped for an opportunity to do what he wished. But Pequanon was on the alert, and detected him at work. When his face was placed at the opening, it was brought between the sky and the darkness of the lodge, and the Indian plainly observed the outlines of his face. His first impulse was to seize a rifle and shoot the intruder instantly, for he believed that it was the one who sought the life of Rosalind; but checking himself, he arose and passed out noiselessly, determined to satisfy himself before action.
Two consummate hunters were now maneuvering against each other. The movements of both with respect to themselves were as much at fault as though they were inexperienced youngsters. The noise of Pequanon was so slight that it failed to awake either Rosalind or any of the inmates; yet Kent heard it distinctly, and crouched down upon the ground and listened. In an instant he caught the step upon the outside. He knew that he could spring to his feet and easily make his escape; but in doing so, he would raise an alarm, and thus effectually prevent anything of use being done by himself. He therefore withdrew some ten or fifteen feet, and trusted that the Indian would not search further; but he was mistaken. Pequanon was determined to satisfy himself in regard to Rosalind's secret enemy; and espying the shadowy form gliding along from him, he sprung toward it, hoping and expecting that it might leap to its feet.
The form leaped to its feet in a manner that he little suspected. Kent saw that an encounter was unavoidable, when, concentrating his strength, he bounded like a panther toward the savage, bearing him to the earth, with his iron hand clutching his throat. Pequanon struggled, but was powerless, and could not make a sound above a painful gurgle. Kent whipped out his knife, and had just aimed at his breast, when the savage found voice to speak a few words.
"Hold! you strike the white man's friend!"
The excellent English startled Kent, and he relaxed his hold.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
"Pequanon, the white man's friend."
"What did you come nosin' out here fur then?"
Kent's knees were upon the arms of the Indian, while he was seated upon his breast. The hunter loosed his grasp.
"The pale-faced maiden. Pequanon wished to save her."
"Wal, see here, old red-skin, I'm after her. You's sayin' as how you's her friend. Mind to help?"
The Indian answered in the affirmative.
"Wal, I'll let you up, pervidin' you'll go and bring her out. What you say?"
"Is it her friends that wish her?"
"You've hit it there. Goin' to help?"
"Pequanon will lay his life down for the captive."
"I'll let you up then, and give you two minutes to trot her out. If you undertake to come any of your tricks over me, I'll blow your brains out."
Kent permitted Pequanon to arise, who departed silently for the lodge without giving a reply to his remark.
The hunter was not to be deceived by any artifice of the savage, and to guard against treachery, withdrew still further from the lodge. He doubted very much whether the Indian would endeavor to assist him at all, but he had done the best he could under the circumstances.
In a moment his doubts were put to flight by the reappearance of the noble Indian, with Rosalind. As cool and collected as was the hunter, he could not repress a joyous start as he gazed upon her form.
"That's the fust Injin, accordin' to my opine," he muttered to himself, "that ever was a man."
Rosalind, all trembling eagerness and anxiety, on coming up to Kent, seemed unable to speak. The hunter noticed her action and forbore speaking, making a motion, as an apology, for silence. For a second the trio remained motionless and undetermined what course to pursue. Pequanon noticed this and started toward the river.
"Hold on, cap'n!" said Kent; "there's another chap that come with me."
The hunter now took the lead; and leaving them hopefully pursuing their way, let us glance at Leslie until they arrive.
Chafing, fretting, hoping, fearing and doubting sat Leslie, impatiently awaiting the appearance of Kent. The falling of a leaf, or rustling of the branches under some light breeze startled him; and when a night-bird, that had been resting above him gave utterance to its unearthly hoot, and swooped past, its voice he mistook for the yell of his savage foes, and the flap of its wings for their approaching tread.
Now he pictured the bliss that he hoped to feel; then again he was the prey of most poignant doubts and fears. Would he see her, and clasp her to his bosom, or was she a hopeless captive? Was she living or dead? Would Kent come back without information or hope? Suddenly there arose a wild, prolonged yell, that fairly froze him with terror. Kent was discovered, and all hope was gone! Oh, the agony of that moment!
Hardly comprehending the state of things, he formed a dozen different plans at once. Now he was going to rush madly forward and rescue Rosalind during the confusion, and then was about shouting for Kent.
All at once he heard a footstep. The pursuers were then at hand! Resolved to lay one savage low, he rushed forward toward the approaching figure. Could it be possible? Was it not a dream? There she stood before his eyes. His limbs trembled, and he felt upon the point of falling.
"Is this Mr. Leslie?" asked a sweet voice that had thrilled him more than once before.
"I guess it's him or his spook," answered Kent, for him. "If there's goin' to be any huggin' done, hurry up with it, fur they're follerin' us."
This threw off all reserve. Leslie folded Rosalind to his breast. She spoke not—resisted not—her trembling limbs and sobs told more than words could have done.
"That'll do for the present," interrupted Kent, in a kind tone. "We must be off now, fur the red-skins have smelt the rat, and I should judge by the noise they're makin' that they're in a confounded muss. Never mind, don't cry. When we get down home out of danger, I'll let you hug and cry as much as you please. Which way, Mr. Red-skin?"
Pequanon turned to the left and took long, impatient strides. Kent followed closely in his footsteps, while Leslie led the trembling Rosalind. Often, regardless of the danger which threatened, he pressed her to him and whispered words of which we can only guess the meaning.
On they hurried, half running, over the tangled underwood and fallen trees until they paused upon the brink of the river.
Here, to the surprise and joy of all, Pequanon running to a clump of bushes pulled forth a large canoe and shoved it into the stream. The others needed no admonition to use it.
"Here," said their guide, "we part. May the great Spirit guide you."
"Say, you, you'll get into trouble, won't you, if you go back?" queried Kent.
"The Great Spirit will protect me. Farewell."
"Wait, Pequanon," said Rosalind, rising from her seat.
"Pequanon has only paid his debt to the pale-faced maiden."
The Indian was gone.
Rosalind sunk back upon her seat in tears.
"He's the first Injin that I ever got my clutches on that has got away after it, and the first one that I ever felt like lettin' go. Somehow or other my old gun didn't burn and wriggle when I sot my eyes on him, as it is used to doin' in such cases; and if it wasn't fur that red hide of hisn' I wouldn't believe he was one of them."
All this time the shouts and yells of the savages could be heard, and now and then it seemed to the fugitives that they must have been discovered. Kent pulled the boat to the opposite shore, and as he expressed it, "hugged the bank mighty close." He had little fear of being discovered, but the utmost caution was to be used, for, in their rage, the savages would use every means in their power to recapture them.
Kent knew that by keeping on, he would in time reach the banks of the Ohio. Their enemies would probably suspect the true nature of their escape and take to the river in pursuit; and, as the Indians, in case of discovery, could easily overtake and recapture them, they must necessarily be saved by fortune and stratagem. Though scarce a ripple was heard, the shadowy form of the boat shot swiftly under the hanging trees and round the projecting points of the bank, like some serpent gliding noiselessly over the surface.
Soon the edge of the great moon slowly rose above the dark line of the forest, and its long rays streamed over wood and river; when it had finally risen high up in the heavens, the stream shone as brightly as at noonday. Its winding course could be discerned ahead until it was lost in the forest, and for miles behind, its banks were as clearly defined as it could have been under the sun's rays.
Now that the river and its objects were so plainly depicted, Kent kept closer yet under the shadows of the friendly bank. Now and then he hurried through some opening in the trees of the shore, where, for a minute, he was exposed to any gaze that might chance to be given; then, when the water was shallow, he struck the muddy bottom, and patiently worked himself on again. Being engaged in rowing, his face was turned toward the stern, and thus had a full sweep of the river which he had passed over, the only point from which he had reason to apprehend danger.
He was upon the point of speaking, when his quick eye detected a speck in view around a bend in the river, some distance back. He halted, for he knew its character.
"We're follered!" said he, guiding the boat in to shore.
A few minutes more and the boat could be plainly seen by all three. It was in the center of the stream, and approaching rapidly. The heads of four or five Indians could be discerned. Their object was plain to all.
Kent had run his boat against the shore, and the three were now waiting breathlessly for their enemies to pass.
The Indians plainly had no suspicion that the fugitives were so close at hand, and kept steadily onward. Hardly daring to breathe, our three friends saw the long, sharp canoe, with five of their mortal enemies, shoot past, and disappear.
"Did you see how my gun kept twitchin' and jumpin'? Why, I had all I could do to hold him. Thunder! it's too bad to see them fellers give you such a nice shot and then miss it," said the ranger, again taking the oars.
Kent now guided the boat with greater caution, ever and anon turning and looking ahead, not daring to leave the sole watch to Leslie, who had other things far more interesting to himself with which to occupy his mind.
THE FUGITIVES FLYING NO LONGER.
The fugitives continued moving forward until morning, when, to guard against needless exposure, Kent again ran the canoe under the bank, and remained at rest the entire day. All suffered so much from hunger, that the hunter left the boat during the afternoon, and, after a few hours' absence, obtained a sufficient quantity of meat for them all. This was cooked after his usual cautious and expert fashion, and was thankfully partaken of by his companions.
Roland and the maid were resting on the sheltered bank of the river; none but Kent ventured out of sight of the spot during the day. For aught they knew there might be hordes of savages within hearing of their voices, scouring the woods in every direction in their search; it needed but the slightest inadvertency upon their part to insure their own destruction.
Leslie sat conversing with Rosalind, when Kent started up, and, glancing behind, stepped down the river-bank and peered out upon the stream. Leslie was beside him in an instant, and, as the two gazed out, the boat which they had seen pursuing them during the night came into view. It was coming up-stream, evidently returning from the chase. It now contained but three savages. Although Leslie had but little to fear, nevertheless he watched the boat with intense interest. Pausing a second, he glanced around, and exclaimed, in terror:
"As sure as heaven, they are heading toward this point."
Kent commanded, in a whisper:
"Get your shootin'-iron ready, and be ready yourself. They're comin' in below us."
The savages had landed a few hundred yards down-stream, and seemed to suspect the presence of no one. Suddenly one of them uttered a loud whoop. In a moment it was repeated, and an answer came, apparently from a distance. Ere long two savages approached the canoe, and, entering, the five again shoved out, and commenced paddling up-stream. Leslie asked Kent the meaning of these proceedings.
"Plain enough," he answered; "they left them two fellers on the shore last night, so that, if they passed us, they would see us when we came along, and they've been watching there ever since. If we'd gone a half a mile further, they'd have shot us; but as we happened to stop afore they got eyes on us, they've missed us, that's all."
At night they again set out, proceeding fearlessly. When morning again dawned, many miles were placed between Rosalind and her captors.
It is needless to dwell upon the further particulars of their homeward journey. Every day occupied was like its predecessor: pressing boldly forward when the shade of night favored them; proceeding more cautiously through the day; resting sometimes in the center of the stream, and then again approaching the shore for food; now a prey to some imaginary fear, and then thrilling with hope, when they finally glided into the fair Ohio. Safely they reached their destination unpursued, and fearing no enemy.
"Wonder who's in them pile of logs up thar," remarked Kent, glancing suspiciously at Leslie, when they were approaching the ruins of the house.
"Why, who would be there?" returned he, with well-feigned ignorance.
"Looks as though somebody had fitted it up. Hallo, here!" demanded Kent, battering against the structure.
At this summons George Leland stepped forth.
The meeting was such as can be easily imagined; joy complete filled the hearts of all; friend, brother, sister and lover were reunited; nothing was wanting to fill their cup of bliss. The old hunter, as soon as his brief salutation was over, withdrew to the background. Leaning on his rifle, he remarked that he was "goin' to look on and see the fun."
As soon as the emotion of all had subsided, they turned toward the hunter. They were without shelter and home, and something must be done at once.
Kent at once divined their thoughts and said: "Wal, sit down and I'll tell you what's to be done."
The three did as required, and Kent unfolded his plan.
"There's too much trouble for you in these parts; you must leave. Up the river some distance is quite a settlement, and there's the only place you can stay, what I propose is this: we must leave here as soon as possible, and let us do it now."
"More than once have I thought of the plan which Kent has given," said Leslie, "and I hope that it will be carried out at the earliest moment. Every hour passed here is an hour of peril."
"The matter is then settled," said George. "Let us prepare to pass our last night here; then to seek another home."
The shelter in which Leland had spent his time during the absence of the others was found to be commodious enough to accommodate all, and into it they went. The old hunter kept watch during the night, while the rest slept, and we doubt very much whether four happier, more hopeful beings ever were congregated.
At the earliest streak of morn, the hunter aroused the others, and they prepared to take their final departure. The canoe in which the three had come was found to be sufficiently capacious for the entire party. With a tear of regret for the old home, the fair Rosalind entered the canoe, and soon it was cutting the waters on its upward course.
It is not necessary in this place to dwell upon the particulars of their journey. They encountered nothing unusual or alarming until, in rounding a bend in the river, they were startled by the sight of an unusual object far up the stream. With the exception of Kent, all manifested considerable surprise and apprehension.
"What are we to encounter now?" asked Leslie, as he earnestly scrutinized the approaching object. "Are we never to be rid of these brutes?"
"It is undoubtedly one of their contrivances," added Leland, "and I'm afraid we shall have to take to the woods again to give it a go-by. How is it, Kent?"
The face of the hunter wore a quizzical look, and his only reply was a quiet smile. As he observed the looks of wonder his companions cast upon him, he became more thoughtful.
"This is bad business," said he, shaking his head; "that is something I didn't expect to see."
The progress of the canoe by this time was checked, and it was drifting with the current. The two young men had no desire for a nearer approach to the apparently formidable contrivance.
"Can't either one of you two chaps make out what sort of ship that is coming down-stream?"
Both Leland and Leslie were considerably puzzled, when they saw Rosalind smile, as if enjoying their stupidity.
"If you can't tell, just ask the gal," added the hunter, bursting into a loud laugh.
"Why, George I thought you had lived long enough in the western country to recognize a flat-boat!"
"What dunces we both are. How could any one imagine that to be anything else than a genuine flat-boat? Let us approach it and make the acquaintance of those on board."
"Sart'in, boys," said the hunter, dipping his paddles deep into the water and impelling the canoe rapidly forward.
"A cheer for them!" exclaimed Leslie, rising in the boat and swinging his hat over his head.
How unspeakably thankful were the hearts of the fugitives, as their salutation was returned by more than one voice! Friends indeed were near, and their dangers were over.
A few moments later the canoe was beside the flat-boat.
"Thank God! thank God!" fervently uttered Leland, as he clasped his sister in his arms and realized that they were now safe, safe! For the first time in weeks he felt the sweet consciousness of safety.
"It is almost worth the sufferings we have undergone!" said he. "This sweet consciousness that we are really beyond the reach of our foes is an enjoyment that we have not experienced for a long time."
"Do not forget the all-sustaining Hand that has brought us out of the very jaws of death."
"Forget it? May He forget me when I fail to remember Him. Great Father," said Leland, meekly uncovering and bowing his head, while the tears fell like rain down his face, "Great Father, for this and all other mercies I thank thee!"
"I join in thanksgiving with theirs," said Leslie, in the same reverent manner, as he approached brother and sister.
The flat-boat was no other than the celebrated expedition under Major Taylor, which established such a firm and prosperous settlement upon the northern bank of the Ohio. He had about thirty souls on board, a dozen of whom were men. The true cause of the astonishing success of this company was that both the leader and his comrades fully understood the perils they encountered in venturing into the great western wilderness. They were not men who could be decoyed into the simplest or most cunning contrivances that Indian ingenuity could suggest, nor were they those who expected to spend a life of ease and enjoyment in the woods. They simply understood and prepared for what was before them.
Major Taylor was a man rather inclined to corpulency, with a red face, Roman nose and eagle eye that seemed to penetrate everything at which it glanced. He was very affable and social, a great favorite among all his acquaintances, especially the female portion, who always felt safe in his presence. His men, nearly all of whom had served under him in the Revolution, trusted implicitly in him.
"Friends, you are welcome, doubly welcome to this boat," said he, raising his hat and saluting Rosalind with all the stately politeness of a gentleman of the old school. "I trust your stay upon it will be as prolonged as our own, who, in all probability, will be the last passengers it will ever carry."
Leslie related in a few words the main facts concerning the burning of Leland's home, the capture and subsequent escape of himself and sister, and finally of their desire to reach the upper settlements. The commiserations of all were given them. For Rosalind especially they seemed unable to do enough. She was taken within their cabin, where everything that was possible was done for her comfort.
"I must now insist that you remain with us," said Major Taylor. "Now that you have no home to which to return, you must accompany us and build a new one. If the red-skins take our homes from us they are welcome to do so; but when they undertake it, I suspect they will find they are troubling a set of men that know a trick or two as well as themselves. We've all seen service among the dogs."
"Do you think, Cap'n, there's likely to be a scrimmage where you drive your stakes?" inquired Kent, with a considerable degree of curiosity.
"I am sure I cannot tell," replied Major Taylor. "It certainly seems probable, but why do you ask?"
"'Cause if there's any likelibility of it, I'll agree to accept your invite and go with you."
"Well, well, my good man, you will go with us anyway, and take the chances of a brush with them. You strike me as a man who has seen considerable of the woods."
"He has indeed," said Leslie. "Under heaven, our safety is owing to his experience and sagacity. He has spent a lifetime in the woods, and I can honestly say he will be a valuable acquisition to your party."
"Come, none of that now, or I'll leave you!" said the hunter, in a warning tone to his young friend.
"I have no doubt of it—no doubt of it in the least. We need him, and if he will only go with us, I think I can promise that he will occasionally see the service for which his soul longs. But, you have not given us your decision."
"We are very grateful for your offer," said Leland; "we have indeed no other refuge to which we can go. The house which has sheltered my sister and myself since infancy is swept away by those whom we had learned to look upon as our friends and protectors. I think when we see men at your age beginning life again, we can afford to do it ourselves."
"Of course you can—of course you can," replied the officer, in his hearty manner. "We'll start a settlement on a grand scale. One of our men once took orders, and is licensed to marry, so that if either of you gentlemen should need his services at any time, you will always find him at hand."
"There is a servant—a negro, who was taken at the same time with my sister. I feel as though some effort should be made to recover him," added Leland, a few minutes later. "We shall be in a situation to do that by accompanying you, or, at least, we shall be more likely to find some means of doing so, than if we followed out the idea, entertained some time ago, of leaving the country altogether."
"I am decidedly of the opinion——"
The officer was interrupted by a man at the front of the boat, calling out his name. He instantly hastened beside him, and demanded what he wanted.
"Yonder is something approaching, and I cannot satisfy myself as to what it is. What do you make of it?" he asked.
Major Taylor bent his sharp gaze upon the object in question for a moment, and then replied:
"It looks like the head of a person, and yet it is certainly an odd-looking head. We will call this hunter that has just come on board. Undoubtedly he can assist us."
In answer to the summons, Kent approached the bow of the boat, rifle in hand. He peered across the water, but for a time, failed to identify the thing.
"Stand back a little, and I'll give it a shot. I'll graze it at first, so as to be sure of what I am going to hit when I shoot next time."
The hunter raised his rifle, and holding it a second, fired. At the same instant the unknown object disappeared.
"I think you struck it!" remarked Leland.
"I didn't aim at it, and consequently it ain't been hit," returned Kent, with an air of assurance.
"Yonder it is this moment!"
As these words were uttered, it again appeared, and to the amazement of all, called out to them:
"Gorra! what you wastin' your bullets on dis nigger's head for? Reckoned Kent knowed better."
The hunter seemed on the point of falling from laughter.
"Who'd a thought it was Zeb! Where has he come from? He beats all niggers in Kentuck for adventures and walloping lies."
A few minutes later the negro was received upon the flat-boat. It is scarcely necessary to say that his friends all experienced unfeigned joy at his return. He was as jubilant and reckless of the truth as ever, and it was a long time before they got at the truth regarding his escape from the Shawnees.
The flight of Leland, under Providence, was really the means of liberating the negro. The confusion occasioned by the escape of the former was so great, that the savages imagined he also had fled with him. Understanding that it was "do or die" with him, he tugged and struggled at his bonds with the strength of desperation. Being secured to a tree as usual, at some distance from the center of confusion, he escaped observation for a few moments. It is doubtful, however, whether he would have succeeded in freeing himself, had he not been covertly assisted by some unknown friend. Who this personage could be, was never known; perhaps some Indian who had been befriended by the Leland family, and who experienced some compunctions of honor (not of conscience) at the situation of the poor negro.
Zeb had learned enough by this time to exercise a little common sense. Accordingly, when he found himself free, he made the best use of his feet and wits, and used every effort to reach the Ohio river. According to his own narration, he overcame all manner of perils before succeeding. Undoubtedly he incurred great risk in the undertaking, and finally succeeded.
He was trudging wearily along the river margin, listening for some sound of his relentless enemies, who, he doubted not, were upon his trail, when he caught sight of the flat-boat. Although he did not identify it at once, he understood from its size and formation that the hand of the white man alone was concerned in its structure. He immediately plunged into the river, reaching it in due time, as we have already shown.
At last the pioneers reached their destination, and began a settlement which, at this day, is not a town merely but a flourishing city. As we have hinted in another place, their experience of frontier life and the sagacity and foresight of their nominal head, saved them from the misfortunes and sufferings that often befall settlers in the new country. It is true the red wave of the dreadful war in the West surged to their very doors; but they saw far away in the heavens the portentous signs, and so prepared that they passed through it unscathed.
* * * * *
The passing years touched lightly the heads of Roland and Rosalind Leslie. As the palmy days of peace settled upon them, an old hunter frequently spent days and weeks at their house. At such times, he took the children upon his knees, and told them of the hardships and suffering their parents had endured, and recounted many of his own adventures to them. Old Kent was a universal favorite in the settlement. As he became too old to spend his time entirely in the woods, he joined the boys in their hunts, and there was not one who would not have braved death in his defense. He died peacefully and happily, under the roof of those whom he had served so well, and was given a burial, at his own request, in the grand old woods which had ever been his delight and enjoyment.