It being clear to all the Iroquois that Lena-Wingo was too cunning for them, although he had failed in carrying his charge across the Susquehanna, it was plain that all his enemies could do was to fix upon a plan to retrieve their own slip. And so, in full hearing of the leader of the fugitives, they discussed their different schemes. Lena-Wingo was not long in learning that there were plenty of his enemies watching both sides of the river, and that it was to be an undertaking of extreme difficulty for him to cross with his friends. This did not lessen his determination, but rather strengthened it, and he inwardly resolved that he himself would place his three companions on the southeastern shore, if Colonel Butler had his whole force of Indians and Tories arranged along the bank to prevent it!
The consultation between the Iroquois lasted all of half an hour, by which time they had decided what to do. They would all land and scatter up and down the river's margin, thus covering as much ground as possible, and watch for the moment when the whites would come out of their cover again. In other words, they meant to patrol the beach so vigilantly that it would be out of the power of the fugitives to leave their hiding-place without detection and capture.
DIAMOND CUT DIAMOND.
All that could be done for a time by the fugitives was to maintain their position and remain as quiet as the grave until the Indians moved from their immediate vicinity. The prowling Iroquois were keen-witted, and although they may have been careless at first, yet they were on the lookout for the slightest indication of their enemies. Consequently, the least movement at that time would have been pretty sure to tell them that the whites, whom they would suppose were hiding somewhere in the woods, were really close at hand, and within their power. Every one of the fugitives realized this, and did not stir while the consultation was going on.
By some means or other—Ned could never explain how—he had reached out his hand, at the moment they took these positions, and grasped that of Rosa Minturn. It seemed to have been one of those instinctive actions that are natural under certain peculiar circumstances. And so, during the better part of an hour, he enjoyed the sweet pleasure of feeling that delicate little hand nestling within his own.
At last, when the council of war was finished, the soft rustling among the leaves and undergrowth showed that the Iroquois were engaged in carrying out the programme they had just arranged among themselves. They were separating, and the danger now was that in leaving the spot they would stumble upon the whites themselves who were so near them. Nothing could be done to lessen this danger on the part of the fugitives, the only thing remaining for them being to continue the deathlike stillness until the peril was gone. Lena-Wingo was well satisfied that the Iroquois did not suspect the proximity of the whites, for the act of taking refuge so near their enemies was scarcely to be expected. They would not look, therefore, for them in such a place, and it was a matter of accident or providential interference that would carry the Iroquois beyond without learning of the presence of the fugitives. All the latter—even Rosa herself—understood this danger, and the succeeding few minutes were exceedingly trying.
The faint, catlike motion of the redskins proved they were very close, and likely to come closer any second; and if they happened to turn to the left but a few feet, it was sure to precipitate the collision that must be disastrous to the patriots. More than once Ned Clinton was certain a warrior was crouching so near him that he could touch him by reaching out his hand. The young scout was possibly correct in his surmise, for Rosa, who was next to him, was equally sure of the presence of an enemy, the supposition, in her case, extending even further. Her eyes were fixed upon the spot where she believed she could detect a dark form stealing along on the ground, so near that she fancied he must touch her dress. If she could see the Indian, she knew the eyes of the warrior were keen enough to discover her presence, from which some idea of the painful nature of her situation may be ascertained.
The senses of the girl were preternaturally acute, and still more, she was no less convinced that she could hear the breathing of the savage as he crept slowly forward. Fortunately for her, this fearful strain upon her nerves could last but a few minutes. If the Indian should come to a halt, she would take it as evidence that he had discovered the presence of the fugitives, and she would give the alarm to her friends, but so long as he kept moving, ever so slowly, there was cause to hope he was unaware of how close he was to the prize for which they were hunting. The dark form gradually passed from view, and a few minutes later the straining vision of Rosa was unable to discover anything to excite alarm, although her ears, for several minutes after, apprised her that some of the dreaded figures were still making their way through the undergrowth dangerously near to her and her friends.
It was, perhaps, a half hour more from the conclusion of the conference of the Iroquois that they got so far away from the spot that the fugitives felt as though the peril had lifted so that they could venture to draw a deep breath and move a cramped limb. However, all waited a while longer before they dared speak in the most cautious whisper, it being considered the duty of the whites to wait until Lena-Wingo took the initiative. Suddenly, in the gloom, it was noticed that the tall Mohawk was standing perfectly erect, as though looking at something in the direction of the river. He held this singular position a few minutes, and then knelt to the earth and applied his ear to the ground. This was one of his favorite methods when in the immediate vicinity of a foe, and it rarely failed to add to his knowledge of the movements of his enemies. While he was thus occupied, his friends patiently waited until he should be through and ready to direct them what to do. It did not take him long; for, according to the plans he had heard agreed upon, every minute only added to the difficulty of the task he had taken upon himself.
"Stay here," he whispered, his words being the first uttered since they crouched down in this spot. "Lena-Wingo go way—soon come back—don't make noise."
Every one wondered what the errand could be that should take the Mohawk away at this critical moment, and Rosa ventured to ask him.
"Why do you leave us, Lena-Wingo, when there is danger all around?"
"Won't go far—Lena-Wingo soon be back—stay right here."
"We've been staying now till we're tired of it, and if you can find other quarters, I'm sure I will be better satisfied, for one."
"Soon do so," responded the scout, and without any more explanation he began a cautious withdrawal from their presence. All were desirous of knowing what he was after, and they watched him as well as they could. This, of course, was only for an instant, but it was long enough to see that he was going in the direction of the river, from which they had retreated in so much haste. This fact led Clinton to suspect the true errand of the Mohawk the instant he started. He said nothing of his belief to his friends, however, as he had no wish to make a blunder, and the truth would soon become apparent. All were so impressed with the gravity of the situation, that only a few syllables passed between them during the absence of their leader.
As the Indian was not to be seen the three listened with the keenest attention, hoping to gain something of the purpose of the Indian. But the silence could not have been more profound had they been the only living creatures within a thousand miles. They could detect the soft flow of the Susquehanna, only a few yards from where they were hiding in the undergrowth. Once, too, the sound of a rifle broke upon their ears, but it seemed to be a full mile away, in the depths of the forest, and gave them no alarm, its only effect being to make the solemn stillness more solemn and impressive, and to inspire a feeling of loneliness that was almost painful. Once or twice a ripple of the water was heard, such as might be supposed to come from the movement of an enemy stealing through the current, but each of the three knew it was not caused by friend or foe. They had noticed the same thing many a time before, and knew it was caused by a drooping branch or projecting root, acted upon by the sluggish current which caused it to dip in and out of the stream.
And so that which might have excited apprehension in another caused no alarm on the part of those whose experience in the woods had taught them better. At the end of ten minutes, perhaps, Ned Clinton detected a slight rustle at his side, and turning his head to learn the cause, found that Lena-Wingo had returned.
A DELICATE AND DANGEROUS TASK.
Without using the broken language of the Mohawk scout, his mission may be explained. While the conference between the Iroquois was under way, he detected sounds that told him a canoe had arrived among them—confirmed immediately after by the sound of the quarrel already referred to. The instant he became aware of this, he resolved to obtain possession of the boat and appropriate it to his own use. Every reason urged him to do this. One of the most powerfully exciting causes was the wish—natural to the white as well as the red man—to outwit his enemies. To capture their canoe would be a brilliant winding up of the shrewd escape he had made from the parties on the water and land. Besides this, it had become plain that the only way to get across the Susquehanna was by using a craft equal in every respect to those employed by his enemies.
To venture out again in the scow would be to surrender to the Iroquois, and, as sharp as was the Mohawk, he could not but wonder that they were enabled, as it was, to get back after putting out from shore, with all the chances so against them. He supposed the redmen would leave the boat lying where it was, while they scattered up and down the shore to keep watch for the fugitives, should they attempt to repeat the embarkation. As the scow was moored near to where the canoe was drawn up, it was to be expected that the Iroquois would hold that place and its vicinity under close watch. This rendered the task of the Mohawk one of the most difficult in the world, and all the more relished on that account. Suffice it to say that he succeeded in reaching the spot, where he found one of the best canoes of his experience resting lightly against the bank. A further examination of the craft told the Mohawk that the boat was his own, having been stolen from a place up stream where he had left it, not suspecting it was in danger.
Lena-Wingo was rather pleased than otherwise to learn this, for it was proof that, if he could secure possession of the little vessel—abundantly able to contain all the party—he would have the one of all others which he could manage with his own consummate skill. The paddle was there, only awaiting a claimant. But in making his reconnoissance, Lena-Wingo ascertained that an Iroquois sentinel was stationed within a dozen feet, where he was using his eyes and ears as only a redskin knows how to use those organs. It was necessary to get the canoe from beneath his nose before there was any prospect of escape, and the question was as to how this should be done.
The Mohawk, with his usual perception, saw that the boat could not be entered at the point where it now lay, and he so informed his friends. His plan was to move it some twenty feet or more down stream, where it would be beyond the range of the sentinel's vision. That accomplished, he looked upon the rest as a small matter. He instructed them, therefore, to steal as quietly as they could for about the distance named down stream, and there await him. This being understood, they began the cautious movement, while he went back to the still more difficult task.
It was an easy matter for the three whites to do as they were bid without betraying themselves, and it was done in perfect silence, after which they resumed their waiting, watching, and listening. When Lena-Wingo reached the river-side again, he found the Iroquois at his station, where he would be likely to detect the first design upon the canoe. Then how was the latter to be used by the red scout? There was a method that would have suggested itself to any one. That was the very obvious plan of stealing up to the unconscious sentinel, and putting him out of the way so effectually that he could never disturb them more.
The reason why the warrior hesitated to employ the method which his enemies would have been only too glad to use against him was in obedience to that strange forbearance in his composition, and which rendered him reluctant to shed blood, unless in legitimate warfare. There was not a particle of doubt that he could have stolen up to the guard and dispatched him before he could make a single outcry or apprise his companions of what was going on. This would leave the coast clear for him to take the whites aboard and use his own leisure to reach the other shore. But the scheme he had in his mind would leave the sentinel unharmed, while its after effect would be almost equal to death itself. This plan was to steal the canoe away without attracting the notice of the Iroquois—a proceeding which would be such a disgrace to the warrior that he was likely to fare ill at the hands of his comrades, who were exasperated over the failures already made.
His course of action being decided upon, the Mohawk went at it with his accustomed caution and promptness. His rifle had been left in the hands of Ned Clinton so that his arms were untrammeled, and he entered the water a short distance below where the boat was lying against the bank. Fortunately, the stream was deeper than he anticipated, rising to his waist when he was within a yard of the land. This gave him the facility he desired, as by stooping he was able to hide all but his head, which was so placed that the canoe, resting high upon the surface, was brought between him and the sentinel. This concealed him from the sight of the warrior, and gave him the shelter so indispensable. It then required but a minute to make his way through the water to the stern of the canoe, which he cautiously grasped.
All depended upon the skill with which he managed this part of the scheme. If the Iroquois should suspect any such attempt, the suspicion was sure to defeat it. After placing his hand upon the rear gunwale, he paused for fully a minute and listened. The stillness remained undisturbed, and it looked as if the way were clear for the daring attempt. At the very instant that Lena-Wingo began to exert a gently increasing pressure, his keen sense of hearing told him the sentinel was moving, and the scout paused before the frail boat had yielded to the force.
The Iroquois was approaching the canoe, as if he suspected mischief.
The boat itself was no quieter than the Mohawk, as he listened to the advance of his enemy. He could tell what the latter was doing as well as if he were looking directly at him. He knew he was picking his way to where the boat was lying, and a minute after, had paused within arm's length of the same. There he stood while the Mohawk awaited his next move.
If the sentinel should step into the craft, it would show that he intended to look over the stern, in which case the Mohawk held himself ready to sink below the surface, coming up so far out in the stream that he would be invisible. But if the Iroquois really suspected any such act upon the part of the great enemy of his tribe, his fears were removed by the utter silence. After waiting a little longer, he returned to his former position with the same caution and silence as before. Lena-Wingo hardly paused until he was out of the way, when he drew a little harder upon the stern, and felt it slowly yielding to the force. A few more minutes of undisturbed action, and he was sure of having the canoe just where he wanted it!
IROQUOIS AGAINST IROQUOIS.
Slowly and evenly, as the shadow steals along the face of the dial, did the Mohawk draw the canoe from its resting place on the dark bank of the river. One might have stood and gazed directly at it for ten minutes without suspecting what was going on, it being only when he compared its situation with what it was a short time before that the difference was likely to be noticed. If the Iroquois sentinel should be on the alert for some such strategy on the part of the Mohawk, who was known to all as one of the most cunning of his race, it would seem that the trick was impossible. But there was every reason to hope that he did not suspect it, as his action in returning to his first station after the brief examination, showed, and the Mohawk acted on this belief.
The retrograde movement, once started, was not abated till the boat was drawn clear of the shore and floated free in the water. Then, without shifting its position as regarded the bank itself, the motion was continued down the current, until some eight or a dozen feet were passed. The hopes of Lena-Wingo were high, for the fact that the sentinel had failed to discover what was going on under his very eyes indicated that his suspicions were turned in another direction. Even should he detect the change of position on the part of the boat, there was reason to hope he would attribute it to the action of the current, for the motion of the craft was made to imitate such progression by the cunning Mohawk.
Something like half the distance was accomplished, when Lena-Wingo made a change in his own position. Instead of remaining at the stern of the canoe as he had done before, he changed to the side, so that he could appear at the front or rear the moment the necessity arose. The reason for this step was that he had progressed so far that he was determined there should be no failure. The experiment had in his eyes been an assured success. If the Iroquois should appear and attempt to interfere, Lena-Wingo would meet him half way, and dispose of him for all time to come. Fortunately for the sentinel, he seemed to be unusually obtuse that night, and allowed the daring scheme to be carried out under his very nose, without objection on his part.
The motion of the canoe was not hastened in the least, but continued in the same steady, uninterrupted manner till the point was reached where the fugitives were anxiously awaiting the success of the plan of the scout. The first indication the latter received of what was done, and the approach of the Mohawk, was his cautious "'Sh!" uttered just loud enough to reach their ears. Not one of the three had been able to detect the slightest sound that indicated what the scout was doing, so skillfully had he conducted the whole affair. Ned returned the almost inaudible exclamation to apprise their friend that they were expecting him. A minute later, the Mohawk appeared among them with the silence of a shadow.
"All here?" was his rather curious question.
"All here," replied Ned.
"Boat ready—come along—make no noise."
The four stole forward after the manner of those who knew their lives depended upon perfect silence, and they succeeded in reaching the side of the stream without alarming the sentinel, who still held a position dangerously near the fugitives. Rosa was the first to enter, and she took her place in the extreme end, there being no difference between the bow and stern of such a craft. Immediately after her came Ned, who placed himself as close to her as possible. Then followed the Mohawk, paddle in hand, Jo Minturn locating himself in the prow, so as to give the Mohawk the best position in which to manage the craft, and to "trim ship," as the expression goes.
This was as the red scout wanted matters arranged; and when he grasped the paddle it was with a greater confidence than he had felt at any time during the night. But he had entered upon one of the most perilous attempts conceivable, and he was sure the trick would be detected within the succeeding five minutes. In fact, it was discovered in less than that time; for he had no more than fairly dipped the oar in the water than he heard a low, vibrating whoop from the spot where the Mohawk was stationed. That sound, as Lena-Wingo well knew, meant danger, and was intended as a signal for his companions to hasten to the spot—a signal that was sure to be promptly obeyed when more than a half dozen were on the alert and waiting for just such a call. It was so distinct that the whites accepted it as evidence that their flight was discovered, and pursuit was sure to follow.
Rosa was much frightened, for she felt they had gone so far that they could not return, and it was a question whether they would reach the other side of the river in safety, or be captured on the stream itself, with the probabilities in favor of the latter. Everything depended upon the skill and sagacity of the Mohawk, who showed himself equal to the occasion. At the same instant that the sound mentioned reached his ear, he dipped his paddle deep into the water, and sent the canoe, with one powerful sweep, several rods down the bank, keeping so close to the land that the leaves of the overhanging limbs brushed the heads of the occupants, and compelled them to duck their heads. This done, he allowed the boat to rest, while he listened to learn what his enemies were doing. The sounds that fell upon his ear told him the flight of the boat had been detected, and there could be no doubt that the whole force of Iroquois would be engaged in the hunt in the next few minutes. Without speaking, he dipped the paddle again, and the canoe was driven as far as before down the stream; but, in this instance, he did not permit it to rest, continuing the process until he had gone fully a hundred yards from his starting point. This done, he considered he had reached the point where he could make a change in the direction, and he headed boldly out into the river, aiming for the other shore, which had been their destination so long, and which he was determined to make this time.
The skill with which he controlled and swayed the ashen blade was wonderful. The night was still, without a breath of air stirring the tree-tops, but the instant the boat left the cover of the bank, the faces of the whites were swept as if by a gale. At that rate, the other shore would be made in a very short time, and the action of the Mohawk indicated that such was his purpose, guided, perhaps, by the hope that it might be done before the alarm could reach those grouped on that side.
But they were as vigilant as the ones who had made the discovery of the flight, and a whoop that came from some point ahead warned the Mohawk that the passage was not to be as uneventful as he expected. The worst of it was, the reply heard by all in the canoe came from immediately in front, so that they had only to keep on in the direction in which they were going to run straight into ambush. At this time the fugitives were near the middle of the Susquehanna, the night being so dark that they were invisible to any upon either shore, and they were hardly liable to discovery unless some of their enemies should start out upon the river in quest of them. It was obviously the duty of the Mohawk to hold that position, and move up or down stream, as might seem best. The whites supposed he would continue down the current, but, to their surprise, he headed straight against it, and sped upward with astonishing speed.
Up to that time the fugitives, although steadily drifting down stream, seemed to keep directly in the way of the parties whom they were seeking to avoid; for, no matter where they headed, or at what point they aimed, they were sure to find some of the Iroquois waiting to receive them. It looked, indeed, as if the redmen were shrewd enough to make allowance for this fact, judging from the way the attempt turned out in each instance. It was the purpose of Lena-Wingo, in heading up stream, to break through this chain that seemed thrown around them, and there appeared no other way of doing it.
Neither to the right nor left turned he, but swinging his paddle powerfully and noiselessly, he drove the deeply-laden canoe against the current with a force that sent the water foaming from the prow, the soft wash and rustle of the current being the only noise that marked this bird-like flight. Going at such a rate, he did not need much time to pass over considerable space, and he was still forging ahead in the same swift fashion when he caught the sound of another paddle. This, then, was proof that the pursuers did not care to wait till the fugitives should land, but had sent some of their warriors out to search for them.
Lena-Wingo recognized the sound as coming from the shore which he meant to reach, but at some distance below them, which fact was proof of his wisdom in taking the course he did. He kept up his flight without the least cessation, and had every reason to hope that the Iroquois were outwitted, when he was more angered than alarmed by hearing the sweep of still another paddle—this time coming from a point above where he was, but on the same side of the river as the former. The Iroquois were making the hunt hotter than he anticipated. The Mohawk stopped paddling and looked around in the gloom that shut down on every hand, for there was cause to expect the appearance of other boats, and it was necessary to watch where his own craft was going.
"We have got along very well so far," said Jo, who, not having noticed the evidence of their pursuit, supposed their friend had merely paused to take his bearings.
"Pretty well," assented the Mohawk, speaking in the lowest key and scanning the stream in every direction.
"Do you think they know where we are?" continued the young scout.
"Know we on river—they find us."
Upon hearing these alarming words, Rosa Minturn straightened up and peered anxiously about, impelled thereto by the manner, more than the utterance, of the leader.
"I think I hear the sound of another paddle," she said in a whisper, turning inquiringly to the Indian.
"Yes, two boats on water; looking for us; maybe find us."
"In which direction is this last one that Rosa noticed, and which I also hear?" asked Ned Clinton, in the same guarded tone.
Lena-Wingo answered by pointing toward the shore a little above a spot opposite where they were lying in the stream.
"Right there—he go 'bout—look for us."
"Yes, and I see him, too!" added Rosa, the next instant.
"There he come!" added the Mohawk, making the discovery at the same moment. "Stoop down, quick! must not see you! Put head low down, so can't see you—make no noise."
His command was obeyed at once. The other canoe having approached near enough to be seen itself, was sure to discover the boat. The heads of Ned Clinton and of the brother and sister were instantly lowered, so that they could not be seen from the outside, and they waited with throbbing hearts for the issue. The occupants of the strange boat descried the Mohawk almost as soon as he saw them, and as he expected they headed straight toward him. The action of Lena-Wingo depended for success on its very boldness, and he went at it with as much coolness and self-possession as if failure was impossible.
Lena-Wingo, being a Mohawk, was also an Iroquois, as much as if he were a member of the Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, or Seneca branch of the powerful confederation known as the Six Nations. His intention was to assume the character of a genuine enemy of the white race, and to answer whatever questions were put to him in a way to mislead their foes. Still, this trick had been played so often by him, that it required all the skill of which he was master. It was necessary also that he should not permit the strange canoe to come too near, else the deception would be detected.
As the boat drew nigh, he kept up a slight movement of his paddle, which caused the craft to glide in a slanting direction from the other.
"Where are the pale faces?" asked one of the four Iroquois who sat in the new boat, while the couple were separated by two or three rods.
"How should Magawan know?" asked the Mohawk in return, in a surly voice, as if angry that the question was put to him. "The warriors on the land are squaws, and they do not know how to look for the traitor and the pale faces. They have let them go again."
These words were spoken in the Indian tongue, the accent as clear as that of those who addressed him. There was truth and sense in what Lena-Wingo said, for it was this very suspicion that the Indians were not doing as well as they should that led to the canoe being launched from the other side.
"But they called to us that Lena-Wingo was on the river in a canoe," said one of the new-comers, sidling up toward the Mohawk, who was as cautiously sidling away from him.
"They spoke the truth if they said the pale faces have gone off again. I am looking for them."
"Why does Magawan look for them this way?"
"To find them," was the quick response. "Are you searching for them?"
"We have been sent out by Taunwaso, the great chief of the Oneidas, to find Lena-Wingo, the traitor, and the whites."
"Why don't you find them, then? If they are not here they are somewhere else. Go there and find them."
And, as if he were tired of the conversation, the Mohawk dipped his paddle lower than before, and deliberately paddled away from his questioners. The surliness of the repulse made it quite effective, and the four Iroquois sat for several minutes as if undecided what they ought to do after such an interview.
Lena-Wingo knew that he was in great peril, for he believed from the first that the others were not satisfied with the appearance of things. He shaped his action on the supposition that they would speedily detect the trick and start in pursuit. He kept up the river until he had gone far enough to screen his movements, when he made a sharp bend in the course he was following, and headed for the bank on his right. There was another canoe that was also hunting for them, as will be remembered, and, in case these two should meet, the whole truth would become known at once. Lena-Wingo was not mistaken in his suspicion that he heard the two boats at the same time, showing that they were not only very near, but drawing nearer every minute.
While the Mohawk was paddling in this fashion, striving to make his landing-place as far up stream as he could, he knew the two canoes had joined and that the hottest kind of a hunt was on foot. But there was not a great deal of water between him and the shore, and he quickly made it still less.
"Raise head now—make no noise!" he said, as the water foamed again from the bow of the canoe.
As the fugitives obeyed, they saw they were close to the bank, and the limbs of the overhanging trees were within their reach. Lena-Wingo kept along the shore for some distance further, when one turn of the paddle sent the canoe in so sharply against the bank that it stuck fast, and all were forced forward by the sudden stoppage. The Susquehanna was crossed at last.
THE SOUTHEASTERN SHORE.
The Mohawk felt that he had accomplished a great feat in the taking of the canoe before the very eyes of the Iroquois sentinel set to watch it and in successfully eluding the pursuit of the others. But the danger was not yet disposed of, for, at the moment the fugitives stepped from the canoe, the other two crafts were in swift pursuit, the occupants having learned the trick played upon them by the wily Mohawk. Although the canoe of the latter was invisible, yet they were well aware of the direction taken, and could not avoid a pretty accurate guess as to the destination of the occupants. Thus it was that they headed almost in a direct line for the precise point where the fugitives landed, and were not much behind them in reaching the spot.
The majority of persons, in making such a flight, would have started for the depths of the forest without an instant's delay, but the Mohawk perpetrated a little piece of strategy which proved of inestimable benefit to him and his friends. At the moment they stepped from the boat he seized the latter in a strong grasp and gave it a powerful impulse that sent it far out and down the stream. Although their pursuers were coming up rapidly, yet they were not quite in sight, and in the brief interval that must elapse before they could catch a glimpse of the empty craft, the purpose of Lena-Wingo was perfected. An exultant whoop from one of the pursuing canoes told of the discovery of the drifting boat, whose occupants had effected a landing but a second or two before. But the craft which caused the outcry was several rods below the spot where it had touched the land, and the fugitives themselves were still further removed from the water's edge, stealing along in the darkness of the woods from the Iroquois who were hastily gathering to the spot, apprised by a dozen signals of what had taken place.
The Indian, telling his friends to keep on the move and make no noise, remained in the rear, to learn what his foes intended to do. He saw the two canoes halt for a moment beside the empty boat, as if they wished to make sure that it held none of the party for whom they were hunting, and then they shot their own craft in to the shore, leaving the other to drift aimlessly down the river. The two which struck the bank did so at a point something more than a rod below where the other landing had taken place. There they met quite a number of others who came down from the woods, where they had been signaling to and answering calls from those across the stream. Then followed a wrangle, with the same prospect of conflict that occurred at no great time before. The provocation in the latter instance was much greater than in the former, for the fugitives had slipped through the hands of the Iroquois in the most exasperating manner. But there seemed, also, to be the identical level-headed ones, who were backed by an authority sufficient to compel the fiery warriors to keep the peace. The storm of passion subsided almost as soon as it rose.
Lena-Wingo was desirous of learning what the party, as a whole, would do, now that it was clear that the fugitives had succeeded in crossing the Susquehanna in spite of all the preparations to prevent it; but the warriors gathered around were so numerous and began to spread out in such a fashion, that his position became untenable, and he found it no easy matter to get out of his rather uncomfortable quarters and to rejoin his companions, who were awaiting him some little distance off. All were in high spirits over the success of the strategy of the Mohawk, but they could not shut their eyes to the fact that in one sense they had crossed the Rubicon. As there was no turning back, they must press forward.
With many whispered congratulations over the discomfiture of the Iroquois, the fugitives hurried forward until they reached the spot where they felt free to say what they chose without danger of being heard by their pursuers. The Mohawk was at the head of the little party and conducted them to the edge of a large clear space, where grain had been growing. As there was every convenience for sitting down and enjoying a comfortable rest, they paused, and for the first time that night felt the pleasure of knowing that there was nothing to be feared from the Tories and Indians.
"Lena-Wingo, you're a brick!" exclaimed Jo Minturn, taking the liberty of slapping the grim Indian a resounding blow on the back. "I couldn't have done that thing better if I had taken the contract myself."
The guide did not resent this familiarity, though at times it would have offended him.
"Iroquois get mad," he replied, with his usual grin. "When Iroquois get mad, then Lena-Wingo get glad."
"Yes; I suspect you were inclined that way, from what I've heard of your dealings with those people."
"Recollect that we haven't reached Wilkesbarre yet," put in Rosa, "and it isn't wise to rejoice until we're well out of the woods. It seems to me that the hardest part of the work still lies before us."
"Gal speak right," assented the Mohawk, with an approving nod. "Iroquois all round—look everywhere."
"It strikes me that is what they've been doing for the past few days," added Jo, who was not to be discouraged. "But they haven't made a success of it, so far."
"It seems to me," said Ned, addressing Jo, but meaning his words for Lena-Wingo, "that when the approaches to Wilkesbarre are guarded so closely it will be wiser for us to go somewhere else."
This scheme had been freely discussed by the two young scouts, and they had arranged that it should be introduced in this manner for the purpose of learning the views of the Mohawk.
"I have thought of the same thing," replied Jo, as if it were the first time it had been mentioned in his hearing. "And it does look as if it is risking a great deal to push right through the woods in this way, when there are hundreds of other paths by which we can escape the Iroquois."
"It would be a good trick on Colonel Butler, when he has arranged his redskins and Tories so that he is sure we will walk right into their hands, for him to learn that we have gone somewhere else."
"It can be done," said Jo, carrying out the plan fixed upon some time before. "We have already shown them that there is no use of their trying to stop us, when we have made up our minds to do something,—I mean Lena-Wingo more than us,—and so we can afford to retire and leave them to themselves."
"If they can't stop us," said Rosa, "what, then, is the use of acting as though they had done so?"
"See here," said her brother, turning rather sharply, "I thought Ned and I had arranged without your help."
Not one of the three imagined that Lena-Wingo was quick enough to take the cue from what was thus said by Jo, but such was the case. The Mohawk held his peace and listened, but he was not deceived.
THE MOHAWK OBJECTS.
"I forgot," Rosa answered, laughingly; "but you must try to put a little more logic in what you say."
"Logic!" repeated the young man. "What does a woman know about logic? However, we will discuss that some other time. Just now I'm busy with the new idea of Ned's. There's a good deal in what you said," he added, addressing his companion again, "and the more I consider it, the more favorably am I inclined. We can continue up the Susquehanna till we go so far that there's no danger from the Indians, and, when we believe the way is clear, we can come back. Colonel Butler is not going to stay long at Wyoming, for he dare not. He don't know how soon there will be a gathering of the forces that will swoop down on him, and he'll get out while he can. Consequently all we have to do is to remain invisible until he leaves."
"Nothing easier in the world," was the prompt remark of Ned, backing up his friend. "Jack, here, can keep out of their reach with no trouble. It would be a great relief to your parents, too, to know that Rosa is not running such a risk as it will be to try to get into the fort at Wilkesbarre."
"How angry Butler will be!" exclaimed Jo, with as much zest as if he saw the villain tearing his hair on account of his disappointment.
The plan of the young scouts was pretty well unfolded by this time, so that both were satisfied the Mohawk knew what the opinions were, and was able to give his own for the asking. Calm consideration of the proposition of the friends and companions must lead one to speak of them favorably. Colonel Butler knew that the fugitives were aiming for Wilkesbarre, and had taken every precaution to secure their capture. Nothing could be more certain than that they could not enter, nor even approach within range of the fortifications of that place, without encountering some of these redmen or Tories. It would seem, therefore, that the most foolhardy thing for the whites to do was to persevere in the effort to reach that place in the face of such danger. There were plenty of other directions that could be taken, and the plan suggested by the youths in their brief conversation was only one of the many that suggested themselves whenever they thought of the subject. Jo Minturn, believing their wishes had been sufficiently uncovered by what had been said, now addressed himself directly to the Mohawk:
"Lena-Wingo, you heard what we said; now I should like to know what you think of it."
There it was! an opinion about which there could be no misunderstanding. There was enough moonlight for the young scouts to see each other's faces, and they stared in blank dismay. The next thing they did was to look at Rosa, who was trying hard to restrain her laughter.
"You ought to be satisfied," she said, "without scowling at me that way; you asked Lena-Wingo what he thought of your plans, which you and Ned fixed up between you, and he told you in one word."
"That's the trouble; he didn't take quite as many words as we would have liked to hear. If he had talked the whole thing over, we would have gained a chance to argue, and perhaps convince him."
The Mohawk, as a matter of course, heard all that passed between his friends, and he seemed to think the time had come for him to put in an additional word or two.
"All nonsense," he said, by way of introducing the subject. "The Iroquois say Lena-Wingo shan't go to Wilkesbarre—all lie—Lena-Wingo will go there—Iroquois say Lena-Wingo shan't take gal there—all lie—will take gal there—Iroquois say Lena-Wingo run away from Brandt—all lie—never run away."
These broken sentences contained the secret of the Mohawk's course of action. It had now become a matter of pride with him, and since the Tories and Indians had made such elaborate preparations to prevent the fugitives reaching Wilkesbarre, he was fired by the resolve that the lines should be passed through, and the maiden placed safely behind the fortifications at that town. In making this determination he did not forget the interests of Rosa. He knew what he was doing, and was sure that he could accomplish it with safety to her, though he felt there was a possible doubt about running the two young men through the environing danger.
He saw, as well as his companions, that the plan proposed by them was attended with little danger, but when a scheme was in that shape it lost all attraction for him. To escape the Iroquois by dodging or running was attended, in his estimation, with a certain ignominy that made it repulsive to him. He was naturally elated in reflecting how neatly he had just outwitted them, and that fact was not calculated to lessen his confidence in his own prowess.
"Well, Lena-Wingo," said Jo, when the ripple of fun had died out, "you seem to have made up your mind on the subject, and I suppose there is no use of arguing with you."
"No use," was the response of the Indian.
"If that's the case," added Ned, "we may as well dismiss it, and find out what is to be done."
"Go to Wilkesbarre," said the Mohawk, as if he were determined there should be no misunderstanding of his position.
"I understand that, but the night must be pretty well gone, and it won't do for us to sit here for two or three days, so I would like to know what the next step is to be."
Ned Clinton expressed the wish that was on the tongue of his two friends, and they listened eagerly to the reply. The Indian straightened up his form, so that his slim, tall figure looked slimmer and taller than ever, and he took a minute or two to gaze into the gloom before answering.
"We go back yonder," he said, pointing in the direction of the mountains which form the southeastern boundary of the valley of Wyoming. "We go yonder—stay there—find way to go to Wilkesbarre."
The whites correctly interpreted this as meaning that he believed it prudent, in view of the fact that the direct approach to the place was so closely watched, to use some strategy to secure an entrance, the point in his mind being merely to beat the Iroquois, without considering the means by which it was done. In the range of mountains stretching to the southeast of the valley, where the Mohawk had taken Rosa many a time on a hunt, were numerous places offering secure hiding for the fugitives from the hunt of the enemies. It was the intention of Lena-Wingo to conduct his friends to that neighborhood, as he explained further, and then look over and watch the ground so carefully that he could commit no mistake when he did make his move. So soon as he should see the way clear, he would take Rosa to the shelter before the Tories and Indians could learn what he was trying to do.
Lena-Wingo spoke with so much quiet confidence that his listeners could not but feel something of the same spirit. As for Rosa, she favored his plan, and so expressed herself. The Indian had made his resolve before that, but he was as firm as the rock of Gibraltar, reinforced by her endorsement.
THE LONGEST WAY HOME.
The little party of fugitives occupied the position on the margin of the grain-field for an hour or so longer, discussing the past and arranging their plans for the immediate future. As they had the time, the Mohawk took pains to explain some of his movements made on the other side of the river, and also when they were engaged in stealing across, which movements none of the party understood at the time. It was necessary at this stage of the proceedings for all to comprehend as fully as possible the plans that were now to be followed in the game, where the stakes were life itself.
Lena-Wingo assured them that with the coming of daylight the Iroquois would use every exertion to capture them, as it had also become a matter of pride on their part to outwit the Mohawk, with whom they were really making the fight. Some of them would hunt and follow the trail of the party, and every approach to the Wilkesbarre fortifications would be guarded by their best warriors. Such being the case, Ned and Jo were more convinced than ever that their plan of giving up this method was wise, but they said nothing, for they knew it was useless.
While they were talking the growing light in the eastern horizon apprised them that day was near, and that it was unsafe to wait longer. All instantly rose to their feet, looking upon the face of the warrior for direction as to what they were to do. Before he could speak, the sound of a rifle was heard, causing a start of alarm on the part of his companions. The latter noticed that the direction of the report was from the river, and, as it seemed, from the very spot where they had left it.
"What is the meaning of that?" asked Ned. "Can it have—"
Bang! bang! bang! came several other reports in quick succession, showing that something serious was going on. Every voice was hushed, and they looked in each other's faces, and then stared at the Mohawk as if they would read the explanation in his painted countenance. At the first glance there was nothing that could give them a clue on those bronzed features, as seen in the early light of the morning. The Indian was also listening and waiting till he could hear and learn more before saying anything. The firing lasted until it sounded as if a skirmish was going on close at hand. Could it be that a party of fugitive patriots was engaged in a fight with a lot of Tories and Indians?
When the firing had continued in a desultory way for several minutes, the whites caught the sound of whoops, showing that the redmen had a part in the trouble. The instant these cries fell on the ears of the Mohawk, his dark face lit up with a gleam of satisfaction, the expression of delight being noticed by all.
"What is it, Lena-Wingo?" asked Rosa. "Are they Iroquois and white folks that are fighting?"
"No, not that."
"Iroquois fighting Iroquois."
So his wish was granted, after all. The warriors had fallen into battle among themselves, with a sure benefit to the fugitives. Hence it was natural that the Mohawk, after being disappointed twice on the preceding night, should listen to the sounds of the strife with genuine pleasure. It looked as if with the coming of daylight the Iroquois had discovered that some of their number had blundered in the hunt for the Mohawk in a way that could not be forgiven. A deadly quarrel was the result, with the certainty that more than one of their bravest warriors would bite the dust before it could be terminated, even by the chiefs and leaders themselves. The fight lasted but a short time, for it was a fierce fire, which must exhaust itself speedily for want of fuel.
The Mohawk, however, heard enough to convince him that execution had been done, and his rejoicing was not interfered with through any fear that it had been quieted down as were the other two impending disturbances. But the morning was advancing, and the hours were as precious to the fugitives as to the Iroquois. The probabilities were that the revengeful enemies would soon be on their track, and the whites had but to remain where they were a short time longer to fall into their hands.
At the moment the noise of the conflict between the Indians ceased, Lena-Wingo, who had maintained the standing position from the first, moved off in a southerly course, looking around as a signal for his companions to follow him. They were heading toward the range of mountains which bounded the Wyoming valley on the southeast, and which loomed up dark and frowning in the gray mist of the early morning.
This route led them over cultivated ground and through woods, where it seemed to the whites they might halt and find all the shelter they could need. But the Mohawk pressed straight on, his destination being the mountains themselves. The guide of the party kept away from the cultivated portions of the valley as much as possible, for it was dangerous to approach any body of men, or the places where they were likely to be found. Lena-Wingo was in his own territory, and it was his intention to manage the business without asking for or accepting any suggestions from his friends.
The company had advanced something like a half mile when the morning was fairly upon them—another of those clear, mild summer days common to this latitude at that season of the year. They were approaching rising ground, and soon began ascending to a higher level than that which they had been treading for some time. The Indian still stuck to the forest, for he felt a confidence in its shadows such as the open country could not afford.
While progressing in this manner it was noticed by the youths that he led them over as rough and stony paths as possible, and that at the same time he stepped as carefully as he knew how—no doubt with the purpose of hiding their tracks from the too curious Iroquois.
Lena-Wingo evinced no objections to his companions talking together as they picked their way along, provided they kept their voices below "concert pitch"—a precaution which they were sure to remember, in view of what they had passed through so recently. For all that, the Mohawk advanced with a confidence which at times resembled recklessness, and Ned Clinton more than once was on the point of remonstrating with him. But he held his peace, through fear of offending him. The journey was continued in this fashion, the party walking quite rapidly until they were well into the rising ground of the mountains, when a halt was made.
It was a good omen that the whites had been able to go thus far without encountering any of the Iroquois, and they were not a little cheered thereby. But the fact remained—and it took somewhat from their rejoicing—that they were further from Wilkesbarre at the time of halting than they were at starting. It was because they had gone away from instead of toward their destination that accounted for their immunity from disturbance. Still, it is the longest way home which is often the surest, and the Mohawk, in conducting his companions in that direction, was only carrying out a plan which he had formed while on the other side of the Susquehanna, and of which this was but the preliminary step.
A CURIOUS DISCOVERY.
"Stay here," said the Mohawk, as soon as they halted; "Lena-Wingo go look for Iroquois—soon be back—don't go away—don't make noise, listen—watch, don't go away."
"But suppose some of them come down upon us, Jack?" asked Ned, determined to understand the situation as fully as possible.
"Keep out way—won't come down—stay away."
"Well, if you are enough satisfied to give me a written guarantee, that's all there is about it. How long do you expect to be gone?"
"Not long—soon be back."
This was not very definite, but it was all the Mohawk would say, and without any more words he took his departure, walking back over the trail which they had been following since leaving the river.
"I can't understand why he is sure that no one will make a call on us while he is gone," said Jo Minturn to Ned, as the three once more seated themselves, this time on a fallen tree.
"The only reason that suggests itself to me is that he believes we are so far off the track of the Iroquois that the only possibility that can lead them this way is by their discovering our trail, and if they attempt that, they will run against him, as he is going backward over it."
"That seems to be a pretty good reason, but he may miss it, nevertheless. There may not be much danger of an invasion from any other direction, and yet there's no telling, either, from what point of the compass these wretches may come."
"You ought to have explained all that," said Rosa. "I am quite sure that Lena-Wingo would be grateful for all the instruction you can give him in the ways of the woods. But you know he is so much younger than you, and has had so little experience, that you must be charitable, and not judge him too harshly."
Jo laughed and shook his head at his sister, who persisted in "touching" him up on every occasion.
"As we are to stay here indefinitely," said Ned, "there can be no harm in taking an observation and learning something for ourselves."
"How are we to do it?" asked his friend.
Ned pointed to the towering trees which stood on every hand.
"Climb up among those branches; what better outlook can one ask than he can get among those limbs?"
"What a nice target a man would be, too, if an Indian should catch sight of him!" said Rosa, as she looked up at the leaves gently swaying in the slight morning breeze. "But after what Lena-Wingo said, I don't think there's much to be feared of that, and I look upon your idea as a good one, Edward."
"If my sister considers the idea a good one," said Jo, "that settles it, and you need have no further fear."
"Of course not," was the prompt assent of Ned, who moved to the tree which he had selected as his lookout.
As there was a remote possibility that some such a contingency as the one intimated by their fair companion might occur, Jo and Rosa stationed themselves beneath the tree to guard against surprise, Jo holding his gun ready, while Ned left his own piece in the hands of Rosa, who, should the occasion arise, knew how to employ it effectively. It was the work of a few minutes for the athletic young man to make his way to the top of the tree, which was one of the tallest in the neighborhood, and gave him the opportunity he wished. Ned remembered the words of Rosa, which, uttered in jest as they were, contained a good deal of sense. While making his way among the limbs, he frequently paused and carefully scrutinized the ground below, on the lookout for lurking Indians.
The most rigid scrutiny failed to reveal anything alarming, and reaching as high a point as was prudent, he settled himself among the luxuriant branches, and then, like the shipwrecked mariner, looked long and searchingly over the waste around him.
Peering to the northward, from his elevated perch, Ned saw the stretch of woods, cultivated fields, the broad, smoothly-flowing Susquehanna, with the faint view of the ruins of Fort Wintermoot and of Forty Fort beyond. The view was a lovely one, as seen in the clear sunlight of this summer morning, and it was hard to realize that the fair vale had been desecrated within so brief a time by the merciless white and red men, who had not yet left the valley. No wonder that the beauties of this enchanting spot have drawn the tribute of the poets of the Old and New World.
Ned Clinton had often gazed on the attractions of his native vale, and he appreciated them always, but he restrained the admiration which he might have felt at any other time. The first glance over the extended scene failed to discover any signs of life; but when he had looked again, he detected the figure of a canoe crossing the river, the distance making it appear but a speck, while the number of occupants was indistinguishable. To the southwest, almost in the line of the Susquehanna, he observed a black cloud resting like a smirch of dirt against a clear, blue sky. This, he had no doubt, was the smoke from some conflagration of the night before.
The little primitive town of Wilkesbarre, with its rude fortifications, lay also along the bank of the river, but owing to some intervening trees of tall growth, standing close to the fort, the view in that direction was not as complete as in others. Having scanned the outer boundaries of the field, Ned attended to those portions which lay nearer to him. It was a long time before he could fix upon any spot that promised to give him information of friend or foe. Nothing could be seen of Lena-Wingo, who was pursuing his investigations in his own way, and was not likely to return until he had accomplished something upon which to base an intelligent course of action. But by and by, as the youth was scanning a point two or three hundred yards away, his eye fell upon something which promised to give him the very knowledge he was seeking.
In an open space at the distance mentioned, he observed a large flat rock, which had nothing peculiar in its appearance, but which, it was evident, was being used by some one as a means of concealment, while he in turn took a survey of the young man in the tree. Ned was under the impression that no matter how much he played the sentinel, he was invisible to all outsiders that might be attempting to steal toward him and his friends. It happened that he glanced directly at the object at the moment that a man, whose dress showed him to be of the same race as the young scout, rose to his feet, stood a second or two, and then dropped down out of sight again. His action was such as a man would make when he suspected that some one else was trying to obtain a closer scrutiny than was agreeable. Ned was not a little puzzled by what he witnessed. He looked down to his friends, and spoke in a careful undertone:
"Keep a sharp lookout; I have discovered something which I want to study a while."
"All right," called back Jo; "manage your end of the rope as you ought, and we'll take care of ours."
Left thus free, the sentinel devoted himself to the task of watching the movements of the stranger, and learning what his intentions were in conducting himself in the manner described.
"He can't get away from where he is without my seeing him," was the reflection of the watcher, "and if he means mischief, I shall detect it in time to prevent his hurting us."
The stranger at this period was invisible, as he must continue to be so long as he kept behind the rock; but it was hardly likely that he would stay there long.
"It may be he is some fugitive like ourselves," added young Clinton, "and he doesn't feel certain enough of our identity as yet to trust himself within reach."
At the end of five or ten minutes Ned Clinton, with his eyes fixed upon the broad, flat rock, was sure he saw the figure of a man behind it. It was only the top of his head, thrust a little above the edge of the stone, as if the stranger were seeking a view of the one who was watching him without his purpose being detected. The slouched hat and the eyes and forehead were in plain sight for a minute or two, when they sank down again and all was as before.
"If he is a friend," thought Ned, "he is very timid, or he has a queer way of showing his good will."
The distance between the two was too great for either to do anything in the way of shooting, but the youth was inclined to send a rifle shot in that direction, as a challenge for the strange craft to come out and show its colors.
He called down to Jo again, to watch for the approach of any foe, for he was compelled to give close attention to this particular stranger, and another might steal up beneath the very tree without the one in the branches detecting his danger. In this way nearly an hour passed without any change in the situation, and the fugitives began to look for the return of the Mohawk, he having promised not to stay away long.
"I wish he would come," said the watchman, to himself, "for it wouldn't take him a great while to find out what that fellow is driving at. I don't see that I have much chance of learning without his help."
If there was any opportunity for the stranger to withdraw, Ned would have suspected the man had done so, but he was satisfied it was impossible for him to elude him in that way, and consequently he must still be behind the rock. Clinton at last grew tired and called to Jo that he was about to fire his gun, to compel the stranger to let him know who he was and what he wanted. Before doing so, he scanned the wood in his immediate vicinity, fearing that some other questionable character had stolen near enough to take a shot at him.
He was relieved, however, when after the closest search he was unable to find any cause for fear. There seemed to be no grounds for further delay, and pointing his weapon at the spot where he had last seen the head, he took a quick aim and pulled the trigger. It was a strange coincidence that at this very instant the man was in the act of rising to view again, and the poorly aimed shot, even when the distance was so great, came near proving fatal to the stranger. The smoke was scarcely wafted from the muzzle of the rifle, when the man sprang up from behind the rock, and standing erect, called out in a voice that penetrated far beyond the point aimed at.
"What the mischief are you trying to do?"
"I was trying to make you show yourself," replied the amazed Ned Clinton, "and that seemed to be the only way to do it."
"Well, I can't admit that I fancy that style of saying how-de-do to a fellow. Why don't you sing out to him and ask him what he is after?"
As the individual asked this question in the same loud voice, he unhesitatingly stepped from behind his concealment and began walking toward the one that had used him as a target. Ned accepted this proceeding as a proffer of good will, and although he was not quite satisfied, yet he began descending the tree, so as to be on the ground to meet him. He had barely time to acquaint Jo and Rosa Minturn with what had occurred, when the stranger appeared at the base of the tree and seemed not a little surprised to meet another young man with his handsome sister.
The new-comer was a man apparently in middle life, with a yellow, shaggy beard, reaching nearly to his eyes, dressed in rather tattered garments, that had more of the look of the farmer than the military about them. His face, so far as it could be seen, was by no means a pleasing one; the eyes were of a gray color, but with a strange, restless glitter. His appearance would lead one to set him down as a vagabond settler—one who was so lazy that he spent the greater part of his time in hunting the woods for game, or searching the streams for fish.
He was sharply scrutinized as he came to view, while he, in turn, keenly surveyed the fugitives.
If he were a settler, as he appeared to be, there was not one of the three who remembered seeing him before. To Jo Minturn there came a faint impression that he had met him at some time, though he could not recall where or when it was. But the stranger quickly recovered from the temporary embarrassment he showed upon finding himself confronted by three, where he expected to see only one person.
"Well, now, I am glad to meet you," he said, in a hearty way that suggested the Mr. Perkins whom they had met when on the other side of the river. "I cotched sight of that young man climbing a tree, though I couldn't satisfy myself for a long time whether he was a friend or foe. I suppose you know me, don't you?"
Ned answered for the others:
"I have no recollection of having ever seen you before."
"Why, I remember you very well. You are Ned Clinton, and that young gentleman is Jo Minturn, with his sister Rosa."
"You are certainly right, as far as that goes, but you are none the less a stranger to us for all that!"
"My name is Worrell, and I am a settler, living about a mile up the river. I have often seen your father—both of them—at Forty Fort."
"That, I suppose, is where you have met us, also?"
"Yes, and at your homes near there. I do a great deal of hunting, and have sold Mr. Minturn and Mr. Clinton a good deal of game."
"How is it you didn't recognize me when you saw me in the tree?"
"I couldn't make sure, because I couldn't get a fair look at you."
"How is it, too, that you are abroad at this time, when the Indians and Tories are playing havoc in the valley?"
"That's just the reason," was the ready response of Worrell. "A party of them came so near my home that I had to dig out. That was day before yesterday, and I have been roaming about the woods ever since, not daring to go back home again."
"What did they do with your family?"
"I haven't got any family, so there was nothing done with them."
"What were you doing when you observed me?"
"I had just reached that rock and had sat down to rest myself, when I was scared by happening to look toward you and seeing you climbing the tree. I have been dodging the redskins and Tories all of two days, and have had pretty sharp work, I can tell you, and a good many narrow escapes. I had three scrimmages with redskins, and came so near losing my scalp in the last case that I have been mighty careful ever since as to how I went up to a stranger and shook hands with him till I was pretty sure he was a friend, which is why I waited so long with you."
"Well, you were cautious, indeed, but perhaps it was as well, for one can't be too careful at such a time as this."
"Then I take it you're dodging the same parties that I am?" said Worrell, taking a seat on the log, as if he meant to unite forces with the little party.
"Yes," replied Ned Clinton, willing to tell their new companion all their purposes, and glad of his company. "Yes, we set out for Wilkesbarre, but there are so many Indians in the path that we find the task a hard one."
"Are you alone?"
"Not exactly," was the answer. "We have an Indian scout with us."
"Who is he? Lena-Wingo, the Mohawk?"
It may have been fancy on the part of Rosa but at that moment she saw an expression flit over the small part of the man's face that was visible, that she thought betokened disappointment at these words.
DOUBT AND PERPLEXITY.
The fugitives felt like congratulating themselves upon the acquisition of so valuable a man as the patriot Worrell. A hunter like him, who had spent years in wandering through the woods, must be acquainted with all those places that were the most available as a means of concealment. There were many retreats which had proven of the greatest benefit to other fugitives, but they were those that had been seized upon in the frenzy of flight, when the thirsting pursuers were as eager as those whom they were hunting, and the slightest incident was frequently sufficient to turn aside the human bloodhounds. But something had now become necessary, for there was the danger of a carefully managed hunt by the Indians themselves, in which case the whites would need to take advantage of every expedient possible. What more likely, therefore, than that this man could give them the very assistance they needed in that respect?
The thought occurred to Ned Clinton and Jo Minturn at the same moment. Rosa remained seated when he came up, bowing politely to the stranger, but contenting herself with merely looking on and studying him as best she could. She was not much disturbed until she saw the expression of disappointment on the upper part of his face when he learned that Lena-Wingo, the Mohawk, had charge of the party and was expected soon to return. The opportunity of studying the character of the man from his face was limited on account of the shaggy, luxuriant beard; but woman has an intuitive perception, which avails her more than the reasoning power of man; and, although the maiden felt it was possible she was mistaken in what she saw there, the impression remained that he was one who ought to be regarded with distrust, if not suspicion. And yet she determined to say and do nothing that could interfere with any plans of her companions. She felt that she had already said much in that direction, and well convinced as she was that they were abundantly qualified to take care of themselves, it seemed to her the crisis was too grave for her to delay any movement by objections for which she could give no valid reason.
"You've had that Mohawk to help you ever since you left Forty Fort?" was the inquiring remark of Worrell, in answer to the information of Ned Clinton that the Indian was a member of the party.
"Yes; we couldn't have gotten along without him. There can be no doubt that we would have fallen into the hands of the Iroquois long ago but for his presence."
"Me and Red Jack—though I believe he likes his name of Lena-Wingo the best—have been on many a hunt together, and he beats anything I ever saw."
"There is no cause for his being otherwise, when he has spent so many years as a hunter and scout. The Iroquois would give a great deal to secure his scalp."
"You can just bet they would, and so would Colonel Butler, Captain Bagley or any of the Tories. You know that the fellow has done too much against the scamps to be forgiven. But where has he gone?"
"He is off taking a look through the neighborhood to see how the land lies, and what is the best thing for us to do."
"When do you expect him back?"
"We expect him from this time forward till he comes, but there is no telling when that will be. He is master of his own motions, and will return, I suppose, when he deems the hour is best for him to do so."
"I found that out long ago, but you don't know where he has gone?"
"No more than you. You seem interested."
"Well, Red Jack and me are old friends, and if I knowed where he was I might go out to hunt him up and give him a point or two about the lay of the land in these parts."
"I suppose you are acquainted with it all?"
"Well, I ain't the man to boast, and don't know that it is bragging to tell the truth. But if there is a spot I don't know all about in this neighborhood I'm ready to pay a good reward for a sight of the same."
"It seems to me you might be able to do us a good turn."
"I'll do anything in the world for you and the lady, if I have the chance. What have you in mind?"
"We feel that, as long as we occupy this position, we are in danger of being swooped down upon by the Iroquois—"
"You can bet on that! Didn't I tell you a minute ago how many narrer escapes I made while poking round in these woods? Why, it ain't an hour ago since I saw three Indians that must have been some of the painted Iroquois who are looking around for you!"
"Is that the case?" asked Jo Minturn, rising to his feet and walking closer to their visitor. "How far off were they?"
"Not more than a quarter of a mile at the most, and it took careful work on my part to keep out of their way."
The youths looked at each other with something like dismay, while Rosa became deeply interested.
"There can scarcely be a doubt that they were hunting for us," said Jo, in an undertone that was intended to escape his sister, but of which every word reached her ear. "It isn't a pleasant situation, with Lena-Wingo gone, and no one knowing when he will be back. He is the shrewdest fellow in the world, but no one is smart enough to save himself from mistake at all times. Who knows but that he has gone in just such a direction that he will escape seeing the very Indians from whom the visit is most likely to come?"
"I think that we had better get this fellow to take us to some good hiding-places where we can place Rosa—at least, till the Mohawk comes back. I don't believe he has any idea of trying to run into Wilkesbarre while it is day, but is getting up some plan for stealing in at night with her."
"It does look that way, which means our waiting in some place of hiding till the time shall come to make the attempt."
"And this isn't much of a hiding-place, when the minute I climbed a tree I was seen by Worrell, there."
"It makes Lena-Wingo angry," continued Jo, who felt a hesitation about running directly in the face of the well-known wishes of the dusky scout, "for us to disregard his instructions on a point like this; but I think if he understood the chance we have of helping him in this matter he would be glad for us to avail ourselves of it."
"Well, I can't see that there is any great risk run in allowing Worrell to conduct us to shelter. This will never be of any use to us, and I can't feel safe here one minute after what he has told us. I propose that we get him to find us other quarters."
"I'm favorable to the plan, because he is a good hunter, and while Lena-Wingo is operating in one direction, he may be of help in the way, also, of getting food for us."
And so it was that, look at the matter in whatever light they chose, it seemed a wise step for them to call in the services of the straggling patriot that had joined them in the rather curious manner already told. The only hesitation with the young men came from the consciousness that they were sure to violate either the expressed or understood command of the Mohawk. But they argued themselves into a justification of the step by the manifest advantages to be gained in taking it.
"Find out what Rosa thinks about it," finally suggested Ned, when the two had gone over all the arguments to each other.
Jo stepped over to where his sister was sitting and put the question to her.
"Whatever you think best," was her answer. "I don't feel, Jo, that I am competent to give advice."
"There can be no doubt that it is the best thing for us to do, but we hesitate because it will be a direct disregard of the wishes of Lena-Wingo himself."
"If the move is for the best, he will find no fault with you. But, Jo, are you sure that if you put yourself under charge of that man it will be for the best?"
THE NEW GUIDE.
Minturn looked in the face of his sister a moment, as if he would read her very thoughts. Then he asked in a whisper that not even Ned Clinton overheard:
"Do you mistrust him, Rosa?"
She regretted her words, and answered:
"I ought not to have said it, Jo, but I didn't like his looks when he first joined us; have you ever seen him before?"
"I think I have, though I can't recall the place or occasion."
"Well, that makes a different matter of it; do as you think best."
Believing that his sister had come to his view of the case, Jo so stated to Ned, and there was no further hesitation. While this little conference was going on, Worrell remained seated, acting as if he had no concern in the matter. He busied himself in examining his rifle, and making sure it was in order. A minute or so before Jo was prepared to make a definite proposition to him, he rose to his feet, and assumed an attitude of intense attention, as though some faint signal had fallen on his ear. Then as the young scout turned to address him, he spoke first:
"Well, I guess I'll have to bid you good-morning."
"And why so?" asked Jo, in some surprise.
"To tell the truth, this is too dangerous a place to stay any longer. I hear sounds in the woods that lead me to think there are some of the redskins not very far off, and I prefer to dig out; maybe it'll be safer and better for you to wait till Lena-Wingo comes back, and he'll get you out better than I can."
"No one could do better than the Mohawk if he were only here, but the trouble is he isn't here just now, and we've come to the conclusion that it is not safe to wait for him. Where do you mean to go?"
"Oh, there's a little hiding-place up here a way, where I'll crawl into, for, when I'm in there, you may trot out all the redskins in the valley, and I'll go to sleep while they're hunting. I don't care if Lena-Wingo is among them. I ca'c'late to spend some time there till the Indians get a little scarcer."
"What will you do for food?"
"I've got that fixed," replied Worrell, in a voice and with a manner that implied there was nothing to fear on that score.
"Well, if you will allow us to go with you—"
"Allow you!" exclaimed the man, in a gushing mood. "Haven't I been wanting you to go with me ever since I stopped and found in what trouble you were? Why, come along, and I'll put you in a place where you can stay a month, if you want to, without a living soul finding out where you are."
"We'll do it, and be forever grateful for your kindness; but you say even Lena-Wingo will be unable to find out where we are hiding. We must let him know where we are when he returns and misses us."
"That can be fixed. When we see him looking for us, we can step out and let him know we are around, and he'll be there in a second, of course."
"All right, then; lead the way."
The man placed himself at the head of the party, Jo following, while Ned and Rosa brought up the rear. The first move of Worrell impressed the youths in his favor, for he headed toward the mountain close at hand, a course that would suggest itself to one who was hunting a hiding-place. It looked as if he understood his business, and knew where to take them to find what they wanted. There was no material change in the appearance of the forest through which they were making their way, except that it grew somewhat rougher and more difficult to traverse, though the company continued to journey without any hesitation in their rate of progress.
They pushed along for quite a distance in this manner, when their guide halted, as if he had again detected something that did not suit him. He stood with his head bent in the way they noticed before starting, but said nothing.
"What's up now?" asked Jo, who thought they might as well understand everything as they went along.
"It's queer," replied their companion, in a low voice, "but I've fancied once or twice that I heard signals in the woods just such as have caught my ear when I knew the redskins were looking for some of us. Night before last, I picked up a poor chap—Tom Haley, a settler living near me, and was on my way to another place to hide him, when we heard the same sort of sounds, and we stopped to listen to 'em, but we hadn't stood more than five minutes when they come down on us. The first notice we had was the banging of about a dozen rifles, and that was the last of poor Tom. I was lucky enough to get away, but I don't want to meet any more neighbors like that."
This was not cheerful or soothing information, and the three fugitives felt anything but comfortable.
"Haven't you heard the sounds?" asked Worrell, addressing the three.
None of them had noticed anything, and Rosa asked:
"What do they resemble?"
"Nothing so much as the faint call of the whip-o'-will, so low and soft that the ear can hardly catch it."
"It is strange that you should be the only one to notice it," she continued; "are you sure that you weren't mistaken?"
"It may be I was, but my experience with the Iroquois has made me very suspicious; but I do hope I was off the track, for it may prove a bad thing if I wasn't."
"Do you hear it now?"
"Hark! let us listen."
All stood motionless, and scarcely breathing. But nothing resembling the sounds described by their guide was noticed.
"It does look as if I was mistaken," said Worrell, brightening up. "I hope I was."
"It could be very well the other way," said Ned Clinton. "The Indians may have made a dozen calls to each other, but they were not likely to keep it up very long. A few signals would accomplish all they want."
Nothing was to be gained by argument over the question, in which all was conjecture, and they moved on once more. It was not five minutes before their guide paused again, but it was only for a moment, and he said nothing. He acted as if he fancied he caught something suspicious, but seeing the whites with the appearance of attention, concluded he was mistaken, so long as nothing of the kind fell upon their ears. By that time the afternoon was well advanced, and the day was somewhat warmer than before.
None of the fugitives had gained a moment's sleep during the preceding night, while the exhaustion and privation of the past few days were so severe that they experienced the need of rest and food. Ned and Jo felt that the man could not do them a greater favor and kindness than to lead them into some retreat where they could recuperate in this respect,—sleep being needed more than anything else. Jo turned about while they were walking cautiously forward, and whispered to Ned immediately behind:
"Watch the route we take."
Ned nodded his head to signify he understood him. At intervals they reached and crossed small spaces of natural clearings, where Rosa and the youths scanned all the country that could be brought under their field of vision. In no instance were these very extensive, and the view resulted in nothing tangible as regarded the movements of their enemies. Much of the ground which was passed was rough and covered with stones. Upon these they stepped so carefully that they left a trail which it would require the keenest eye of the Indian warrior to detect and follow.
Twenty minutes or more was consumed by Worrell, in conducting the fugitives to the hiding-place, where he promised they should be secure from all molestation from their enemies. In making this journey they walked slowly, often pausing to examine the ground passed over, and to listen for those unfavorable signals which the straggling settler was sure he heard from the Iroquois. Thus it was that, in spite of the time consumed in making the expedition, they were really at no great distance from the starting point, and both Ned and Jo were confident that they could retrace their steps without difficulty.
"Here we are!"
As the guide uttered these words, he paused before a mass of boulders, or large stones, where there was an abundance of undergrowth, and the trees were so numerous that the view in all directions was almost cut off.
"I see we are here," responded Ned. "But what for?"
"Here is the hiding-place I told you about."
All three were looking inquiringly around, but their eyes saw nothing that could explain why the man called this a place of concealment.
"Do you mean that we are to crouch behind some of these stones, just as you did behind the rock, when you found I was looking at you?" asked Ned Clinton, with a laugh.
"Not exactly. Wait and I'll show you."
He walked forward a few steps further and turned to the right, approaching a large stone that looked heavy enough to require the strength of a Hercules to stir it. Nevertheless, with one hand he turned it aside, it being so nicely poised that there was no trouble in using it as a door on hinges. Drawn back, the astonished whites saw the entrance to a cave beyond. The indications were that, at some remote time, the stones had been placed in position by a party of aborigines of the country, and used by them as a retreat or dwelling.
"It is the very place," said Rosa; "for I have been inside."
"You? When?" asked her brother.
"Lena-Wingo brought me here one day last fall, when we were caught in a storm in these mountains!"
"What kind of a place is it?"
"There could be no better one for us. I thought of it this morning, and spoke to Lena-Wingo about it."
"What did he say?"
"He replied that he would probably take us here, if he found we had to keep out of sight for awhile."
"That is well, then. Mr. Worrell has done for us what the Mohawk meant to do later in the day."
"I don't know that I would not have proposed to you that we should come here after he left, if I had been sure of finding my way, but I wasn't."