"Whereabouts is the river?" asked Dan.
"In the lower regions," said Joe, striking his spade against a hard substance.
"What's that you're scraping the dirt off of?" asked Sneak.
"Oh, my goodness!" cried Joe, leaping out of the grave.
"Let it remain!" said Boone, in a commanding tone, looking in and discovering a skull; "I once buried a friend here—he was shot down at my side by the Indians."
"Fill up the hole agin! Posin shan't lay on top of any of your friends!" exclaimed Sneak, likewise leaping out of the grave.
"It matters not—but do as you please," said Boone, turning away and marking the distressed yelping of the hounds, which indicated, from some unusual cause, that they did not enjoy the chase as much as was their wont.
"Split me if he shan't be buried somewhere else, if I have to dig the hole myself," said Sneak, filling up the grave.
"I'll stick by you, Sneak," said Dan.
"Dan and me 'll finish the job; all the rest of you may go off," said Sneak, releasing the rest of the party from any further participation in the depositing of the remains of Posin in the earth.
"Glenn does not yet understand Ringwood and Jowler," said Boone, still listening to the chase.
"I never heard the dogs bark that way before until to-day," said Joe; "only that night when we killed the buffalo."
"Something besides the buffalo caused them to do it then," replied Boone.
"Yes, indeed—they must have known the fire was coming—but the fire can't come now."
"Sneak," said Boone, "when you are done here, come to Mr. Glenn's house."
"I will, as soon as I go to my muskrat trap out at the lake and get my rifle."
"Be in a hurry," said Boone; and turning towards the chase, he uttered a "Ya-ho!" and instantly the hounds were hushed.
"Dod!" exclaimed Sneak, staring a moment at Boone, while his large eyes seemed to increase in size, and then rolling up his sleeves, he delved away with extraordinary dispatch.
In a very short space of time, Ringwood and Jowler rushed from the thicket, and leaping up against the breast of their old master, evinced a positive happiness in once more beholding him. They were soon followed by Glenn, who dashed briskly through the thicket to see who it was that caused his hounds to abandon him so unceremoniously. No sooner did he discover his aged friend than he ran forward and grasped his hand.
"I thought not of you, and yet I could think of no one else who might thus entice my noble hounds away. Return with me, and we will have the fox in a few minutes—he is now nearly exhausted," said Glenn.
"Molest him not," said Boone. "Did you not observe how reluctantly the hounds chased him?"
"I did; what was the cause of it?" asked Glenn.
"The breeze is tainted with the scent of Indians!" whispered Boone.
"Again thou art my preserver!" said Glenn, in a low tone.
"I came to give you intelligence that the Osages would probably be upon you in a few days," said Boone; "but I did not think they were really in the neighbourhood until I heard your unerring hounds. Col. Cooper, of my settlement, made an excursion southward some ten days ago to explore a region he had never visited; but observing a large war-party at a distance, coming hitherward, he retreated precipitately, and reached home this morning. Excessive fatigue and illness prevented him from accompanying me over the river; and what is worse, nearly every man in our settlement is at present more than a hundred miles up the river, trapping beaver. If we are attacked to-night, or even within a day or two, we have nothing to depend upon but our own force to defend ourselves."
"Should it be so, I doubt not we will be able to withstand them as successfully as we did before," said Glenn.
"Let us go with Roughgrove to his house, and take his daughter and his effects to your little fortress," said Boone, joining the old ferryman, whom a single word sufficed to apprize of the state of affairs.
"I must prepare for the worst, now," said Roughgrove; "they will never forget or forgive the part I acted on the night of their defeat."
Boone, Glenn, and Roughgrove proceeded down the valley, while Joe seemed disposed to loiter, undetermined what to engage in, having cast an occasional curious glance at Boone and his master when engaged in their low conversation, and rightly conjecturing that "something wrong was in the wind," as he expressed it.
"Why don't you go home?" asked Sneak, rolling the dead body into the grave, and dashing the mingled earth and snow remorselessly upon it.
"I'll go when I'm ready," replied Joe; "but I should like to know what all that whispering and nodding was about."
"I can tell you," said Dan; but his speech was suddenly arrested by a sign from Sneak.
"I wish you would tell me," continued Joe, manifesting no little uneasiness.
"Have you got a plenty to eat at your house?" asked Sneak.
"To be sure we have," said Joe; "now tell me what's in the wind."
"If I was to tell you, I bet you'd be frightened half to death," remarked Sneak, driving down a headstone, having filled up the grave.
"No! no—I—indeed but I wouldn't, though!" said Joe, trembling at every joint, the true cause, for the first time, occurring to him. "Ain't it Indians, Mr. Sneak?"
"Don't call me Mister agin, if you please. There are more moccasins than the one you found in these parts, that's all."
"I'll go home and tell Mr. Glenn!" said Joe, whirling round quickly.
"Dod rot your cowardly hide of you!" said Sneak, staring at him contemptuously; "now don't you know he knowed it before you did?"
"Yes—but I was going home to tell him that some bullets must be run—that's what I meant."
"Don't you think he knows that as well as you do?" continued Sneak.
"But I—I must go!" exclaimed Joe, starting in a half run, with the hounds (which had been forgotten by their master) following at his heels.
"Let me have the hounds, to go after my gun—the red skins might waylay me, if I go alone, in spite of all my cunning woodcraft," said Sneak.
"Go back!" cried Joe, to the hounds. They instantly obeyed, and the next moment Joe was scampering homeward with all the speed of which his legs were capable.
When he reached the house, his fears were by no means allayed on beholding the most valuable articles of Roughgrove's dwelling already removed thither, and the ferryman himself, his daughter, Boone and Glenn, assembled in consultation within the inclosure. Joe closed the gate hurriedly after him, and bolted it on the inside.
"Why did you shut the gate? Open it again," said Glenn.
"Ain't we besieged again? ain't the Indians all around us, ready to rush in and take our scalps?" said Joe, obeying the command reluctantly.
"They will not trouble us before night," said Roughgrove.
"No, we need not fear them before night," remarked Boone, whose continued thoughtful aspect impressed Glenn with the belief that he apprehended more than the usual horrors of Indian warfare during the impending attack.
"They will burn father's house, but that is nothing compared to what I fear will be his own fate!" murmured Mary, dejectedly.
"We can soon build him another," said Glenn, moved by the evident distress of the pale girl; "and I am very sure that my little stone castle will suffice to preserve not only your father and yourself, but all who take shelter in it, from personal injury. So, cheer up, Mary."
"Oh, I will not complain; it pained me most when I first heard they were coming once more; I will soon be calm again, and just as composed when they are shooting at us, as I was the other time. But you will be in a great deal more danger than you were that night. Yet Boone is with us again—he must save us," said Mary.
"Why do you think there will be more danger, Mary?" asked Glenn.
"Yes, why do you think so?" interposed Joe, much interested in the reply.
"Because the snow is so deep and so firm, they will leap over the palisade, if there be a great many of them," replied Mary. Glenn felt a chill shoot through his breast, for this fact had not before occurred to him.
"Oh, goodness!—let us all go to work and shovel it away on the outside," cried Joe, running about in quest of the spades. "Oh, St. Peter!" he continued, "the spades are out at the cave-spring!"
"Run and bring them," said Glenn.
"Never—not for the world! They'd take my scalp to a certainty before I could get back again," replied Joe, trembling all over.
"There is no danger yet," said Roughgrove, the deep snow having occurred to him at the first announcement of the threatened attack, and produced many painful fears in his breast, which caused a sadness to rest upon his time-worn features; "but," he continued, "it would not be in our power to remove the snow in two whole days, and a few hours only are left us to prepare for the worst."
"Let them come within the inclosure," said Glenn, "and even then they cannot harm us. The walls of my house are made of stone, and so is the ceiling; they can only burn the roof—I do not think they can harm our persons. We have food enough to last for months, and there is no likelihood of the siege lasting a single week."
"I'll make sure of the deer," muttered Joe; and before any one could interpose, he struck off the head of the doe with an axe, as it still lay bound upon the sled. And he was brandishing the reeking steel over the neck of the fawn, that stood by, looking on innocently, when a cry from Mary arrested the blow.
"If you injure a hair of Mary's gift," said Glenn, in anger, "you shall suffer as severe a fate yourself."
"Pardon me," said Joe to Mary; "I was excited—I didn't hardly know what I was doing. I thought as we were going to be pent up by the Indians, for goodness only knows how long, that we'd better provide enough food to keep from starving. I love the fawn as well as you do, and Mr. Glenn loves it because you gave it to him; but its natural to prefer our own lives to the lives of dumb animals."
"I forgive you," said Mary, playing with the silken ears of the pet.
"Say no more about it," said Glenn; "but as you are so anxious to be well provided with comforts, if we are besieged, there is one thing I had forgotten, that is absolutely necessary for our existence, which you can procure."
"What is it? Be quick, for we havn't a moment to lose," said Joe.
"Water," replied Glenn.
"That's a fact—but—its way off at the spring, by the ferry," said Joe, disliking the idea of exposing himself without the inclosure.
"True, yet it must be had. If you can get it nearer to us, you are at liberty to do so," said Glenn.
"Here comes Sneak," said Mary; "he will assist you."
Sneak readily agreed to the proposition, and he and Joe set out, each with a large bucket, while the rest of the party, with the exception of Boone (who desired to be left alone,) retired within the house.
When Sneak and Joe were filling their buckets at the spring the second time, the hounds (which attended them at Joe's special request) commenced barking.
"What's that?" cried Joe, dashing his bucket, water and all, in Sneak's lap, and running ten or fifteen feet up the hill.
"Dod rot your cowardly heart!" exclaimed Sneak, rising up and shaking the cold water from his clothes; "if I don't pay you for this, I wish I may be shot!"
"I thought it was the Indians," said Joe, still staring at the small thicket of briers, where the hounds were yet growling and bounding about in a singular manner.
"I'll see what it is and then pay you for this ducking," said Sneak, walking briskly to the edge of the thicket, while the water trickled down over his moccasins.
"What is it?" cried Joe, leaping farther up the ascent with great trepidation, as he saw the hounds run out of the bushes as if pursued, and even Sneak retreating a few paces. But what seemed very unaccountable was a smile on Sneak's elongated features.
"What in the world can it be?" repeated Joe.
"Ha! ha! ha! if that ain't a purty thing to skeer a full-grown man into fits!" said Sneak, retreating yet farther from the thicket.
"What makes you back out, then?" inquired Joe. The hounds now ran to the men, and the next moment a small animal, not larger than a rabbit, of a dark colour, with long white stripes from the nose to the tail, made its appearance, and moved slowly toward the spring. Sneak ran up the hill beyond the position occupied by Joe, maintaining all the time a most provoking smile.
"Who's scared into fits now, I should like to know?" retorted Joe.
"I wish I had my gun," said Sneak.
"Hang me, if I'm afraid of that little thing," said Joe. Still the hounds ran round, yelping, but never venturing within thirty feet of the animal.
"I'll be whipped if I understand all this!" said Joe, in utter astonishment, looking at Sneak, and then at the hounds.
"Why don't you run?" cried Sneak, as the animal continued to advance.
"I believe you're making fun of me," said Joe; "that little thing can't hurt anybody. Its a pretty little pet, and I've a notion to catch it."
"What are you talking about? You know you're afraid of it," said Sneak, tauntingly.
"I'll show you," said Joe, springing upon the animal. The polecat (for such it was) gave its assailant a taste of its quality in a twinkling. Joe grasped his nose with both hands and wheeled away with all possible expedition, while the animal pursued its course towards the river.
"My goodness, I've got it all over my coat!" exclaimed Joe, rolling on the snow in agony.
"Didn't I say I'd pay you for spilling the cold water on me?" cried Sneak, in a convulsion of laughter.
"Why didn't you tell me, you rascal?" cried Joe, flushed in the face, and forgetting the Indians in his increasing anger.
"Oh, I'll laugh myself sore—ha! ha! ha!" continued Sneak, sitting down on the snow, and laughing obstreperously.
"You long, lopsided scoundrel, you. My Irish blood is up now," said Joe, rushing towards Sneak with a resolution to fight.
"I'll be whipt if you tech me with them hands," said Sneak, running away.
"Oh, what shall I do?" cried Joe, sinking down, his rage suddenly subdued by his sickening condition.
"If you'll say all's square betwixt us, I'll tell you what to do. If you don't do something right quick, they won't let you sleep in the house for a month."
"Well. Now tell me quick!"
"Pull off your coat before it soaks through."
"I didn't think of that," said Joe, obeying with alacrity, and shivering in the cold air.
"Now twist a stick into it, so you can carry it up to the house, without touching it with your hands, that is, if none of it got on 'em," continued Sneak.
"There ain't a bit anywhere else but on the shoulder of my coat," said Joe, acting according to Sneak's instructions. Filling their buckets, they at length started towards the house, Joe holding a bucket in one hand, and a long pole, on which dangled his coat, in the other. When they entered, the company involuntarily started; and Glenn, losing all control over his temper, hurled a book at his man's head, and commanded him not to venture in his presence again until he could by some means dispense with his horrid odor.
"Foller me," said Sneak, leading the way to the stable, and taking with him one of the spades he had brought in from the burial; "now," he continued, when they were with the horses, "dig a hole at this end of the stall, and bury your coat. If you hadn't took it in the house, like a dunce, they'd never 'ave known any thing about it."
"Oh, my goodness! I'm sick!" said Joe, urging the spade in the earth with his foot, and betraying unequivocal signs of indisposition. However, the garment was soon covered up, and the annoyance abated.
But no sooner was Joe well out of this difficulty, than the dread of the tomahawk and scalping knife returned in greater force than ever.
Boone remained taciturn, his clear, eagle-eye scanning the palisade, and the direction from which the savages would be most likely to come.
Joe approached the renowned pioneer for the purpose of asking his opinion respecting the chances of escaping with life from the expected struggle, but was deterred by his serious and commanding glance. But soon a singular change came over his stern features, and as sudden as strange. His countenance assumed an air of triumph, and a half-formed smile played upon his lip. His meditations had doubtless resulted in the resolution to adopt some decisive course, which, in his opinion, would insure the safety of the little garrison. His brow had been watched by the inmates of the house, and, hailing the change with joy, they came forth to ascertain more certainly their fate.
"How much powder have you, my young friend?" asked Boone.
"Five kegs," answered Glenn, promptly.
"Then we are safe!" said Boone, in a pleasant and affable manner, which imparted confidence to the whole party.
"I thought—I almost knew that we were safe, with you among us," said Mary, playing with Boone's hand.
"But you must not venture out of the house as much as you did before, my lass, when arrows begin to fly," replied Boone, kissing the maiden's forehead.
"But I'll mould your bullets, and get supper for you," said Mary.
"That's a good child," said Roughgrove; "go in, now, and set about your task."
Mary bowed to her father, and glided away. The men then clustered round Boone, to hear the plan that was to avail them in their present difficulty.
"In times of peril," said Boone, "my knowledge of the Indian character has always served me. I first reflect what I would do were I myself a savage; and, in taking measures to provide against the things which I imagine would be done by myself, I have never yet been disappointed. The Indians will not rashly rush upon us, and expose themselves to our bullets, as they storm the palisade. Had they the resolution to do this, not one of us would escape alive, for they would tear down the house. It is a very large war-party, and they could begin at the top and before morning remove every stone. But they shall not touch one of them—"
"I'm so glad!" ejaculated Joe.
"Hush your jaw!" said Sneak.
"They will be divided into two parties," continued Boone; "one party will attack us from the west with their arrows, keeping at a respectful distance from our guns, while the other will force a passage to the palisade from the east without being seen, for they will come under the snow! We must instantly plant a keg of powder, on the outside of the inclosure, and blow them up when they come. Joe, bring out a keg of powder, and also the fishing rods I saw in the house. The latter must be joined together, and a communication opened through them. They must be filled with powder and one end placed in the keg, while the other reaches the inclosure, passing through an auger hole. You all understand now what is to be done—let us go to work—we have no time to spare."
It was not long before every thing was executed according to the directions of Boone, and at nightfall each man was stationed at a loophole, with gun in hand, awaiting the coming of the savages.
Night—Sagacity of the hounds—Reflection—The sneaking savages—Joe's disaster—The approach of the foe under the snow—The silent watch.
The night was beautiful. The moon sailed through a cloudless sky, and the north wind, which had whistled loudly among the branches of the trees in the valley at the close of day, was hushed, and a perfect calm pervaded the scene.
"What're you leaving your post for?" asked Sneak, as Joe suddenly abandoned his watch on the west side of the inclosure, and tripped across to Roughgrove.
"Mr. Roughgrove—Mr. Roughgrove," said Joe, in a low tone.
"Well, what do you want with me?" responded the old ferryman.
"I wanted to tell you that your two oarsmen are forgotten, and to ask you if we hadn't better call to them to come up here, where they'll be out of danger?"
"They are not forgotten," said Roughgrove; "I sent them over the river to procure assistance, if possible."
"Thank you. I'm glad they're out of danger. I couldn't rest till I found out something about them," said Joe, retiring; but instead of resuming his watch, he slipped into the house.
"He's at his old tricks agin," said Sneak, when he observed him stealthily enter the door. "Come out, I say!" he continued, in a loud voice.
"What is the matter?" interrogated Glenn, from his station on the north.
"Why, that feller's crept into the house agin," replied Sneak.
"Well, but he's come out again," said Joe, reappearing, and walking reluctantly to his loophole.
"What did you go in for?" demanded Glenn.
"I just wanted to tell Miss Mary that the two oarsmen that helped us to bury Posin were gone over the river, and were safe."
"Did she ask for this information?" inquired Glenn.
"No, not exactly," responded Joe; "but I thought if I was uneasy about the young men myself, that she, being more delicate than a man, must be considerably distressed."
"A mere subterfuge! See that you do not leave your post in future, under any circumstances, without permission to do so."
"I won't," replied Joe, peering through his loophole.
Matters remained quiet for a great length of time, and Glenn began to hope that even Boone had been mistaken. But Boone himself had no doubts upon the subject. Yet he seemed far more affable and cheerful than he did before the plan of resistance was formed in his mind. Occasionally he would walk round from post to post, and after scanning the aspect without, direct the sentinels to observe closely certain points, trees or bushes, where he thought the enemy might first be seen. He never hinted once that there was a possibility of escaping an attack, and the little party felt that the only alternative was to watch with diligence and act with vigor and resolution when assailed.
"Do you think they are now in this immediate neighbourhood?" inquired Glenn.
"They are not far off, I imagine," replied Boone; and calling the hounds from the stable, he continued, "I can show you in which quarter they are." The hounds well understood their old master. At his bidding they snuffed the air, and whining in a peculiar manner, with their heads turned towards the west, the vicinity of the savages was not only made manifest, but their location positively pointed out.
"I was not aware, before, of the inestimable value of your gift," said Glenn, gazing at the hounds, and completely convinced that their conduct was an unerring indication of the presence of the foe.
"Eh! Ringwood!" exclaimed Boone, observing that his favorite hound now pointed his nose in a northern direction and uttered a low growl. "Indeed!" he continued, "they have got in motion since we have been observing the hounds. I was not mistaken. Even while we were speaking they divided their strength. One party is even now moving round to the east, and at a given signal the other will attack us on the west, precisely as I predicted. See! Ringwood turns gradually."
"And you think the greatest danger is to be apprehended from those on the east?" said Glenn.
"Yes," said Boone, "for the others cannot approach near enough to do much injury without exposing themselves to great peril."
"But how can you ascertain that they will cut a passage under the snow, and the precise direction in which they will come?"
"Because," said Boone, "we are situated near the cliff on the east, to the summit of which they can climb, without being exposed to our fire, and thence it is likewise the shortest distance they can find to cut a passage to us under the snow. Mark Ringwood!" he continued, as the hound having made a semicircle from the point first noticed, became at length stationary, and crouching down on the earth, (where the snow had been cleared away at Boone's post,) growled more angrily than before, but so low he could not have been heard twenty paces distant.
"This is strange—very strange," said Glenn.
A sound resembling the cry of an owl was heard in the direction of the cliff. It was answered on the west apparently by the shrill howl of a wolf.
"The signal!" said Boone. "Now let us be on the alert," he continued, "and I think we will surprise them, both on and under the snow. Let no one fire without first consulting me, even should they venture within the range of your guns."
The party resumed their respective stations, and once more not a sound of any description was heard for a considerable length of time. Roughgrove was at the side of Boone, and the other three men were posted as before described. The hounds had been sent back to their lair in the stable. Not a motion, animate or inanimate, save the occasional shooting of the stars in the begemmed firmament, could be observed.
While Glenn rested upon his gun, attracted ever and anon by the twinkling host above, a throng of unwonted memories crowded upon him. He thought of his guileless youth; the uncontaminated days of enjoyment ere he had mingled with the designing and heartless associates who strove to entice him from the path of virtue; of the hopes of budding manhood; of ambitious schemes to win a name by great and honourable deeds; of parents, kindred, home; of her, who had been the angel of all his dreams of paradise below: and then he contemplated his present condition, and notwithstanding his resolution was unabated, yet in spite of all his struggles, a tear bedewed his cheek. He felt that his fate was hard, but he knew that his course was proper, and he resolved to fulfil his vow. But with his sadness, gloomy forebodings, and deep and unusual thoughts obtruded. In the scene of death and carnage that was about to ensue, it occurred to him more than once that it might be his lot to fall. This was a painful thought. He was brave in conflict, and would not have hesitated to rush reckless into the midst of danger; but he was calm now, and the thought of death was appalling. He would have preferred to die on a nobler field, if he were to fall in battle. He did not wish to die in his youth, to be cut off, without accomplishing the many ends he had so often meditated, and without reaping a few of the sweets of life as the reward of his voluntary sacrifice. He also desired to appear once more in the busy and detracting world, to vindicate the character that might have been unjustly aspersed, to reward the true friendship of those whose confidence had never been shaken, and to rebuke, perhaps forgive, the enemies who had recklessly pursued him. But another, and yet a more stirring and important thought obtruded upon his reflections. It was one he had never seriously considered before, and it now operated upon him with irresistible power. It was a thought of things beyond the grave. The stillness of midnight, the million stars above him, the blue eternal expanse through which they were distributed—the repose of the invisible winds, that late had howled around him—the never-ceasing flow of the ice-bound stream before him, and the continual change of hill and valley—now desolate, and clothed in frosty vestments, and anon with verdure and variegated beauty—constrained him to acknowledge in the secret portals of his breast that there was a great, ever-existing Creator. He then called to mind the many impressive lessons of a pious mother, which he had subsequently disregarded. He remembered the things she had read to him in the book of books—the words of prayer she taught him to utter every eve, ere he closed his eyes in slumber—and he now repeated that humble petition with all the fervency of a chastened spirit. He felt truly convinced of the fallacy of setting the heart and the affections altogether on the things of this world, where mortals are only permitted to abide but a brief space; and a hearty repentance of past errors, and a firm resolve to obey the requisitions of the Omnipotent in future, were in that hour conceived and engraven indelibly upon his heart.
"Mr. Boone—Mr. Boone—Mr. Boone!" cried Joe, softly.
"Dod! don't make sich a fuss," said Sneak.
"Be silent," whispered Boone, gliding to Joe, and gazing out on the snow, where he beheld about twenty savages standing erect and motionless, not eighty paces distant.
"I came within an ace of shooting," said Joe, "before I thought of what you had said. I pulled the trigger with all my might before I remembered that you said I musn't shoot till you told me, but as good luck would have it, my musket wasn't cocked." Boone went to each of the other loopholes, and after scrutinizing every side very closely, he directed Sneak and Glenn to abandon their posts and join him at Joe's stand, for the purpose of discharging a deadly volley at the unsuspecting foe.
"Does it not seem cruel to spill blood in this manner?" whispered Glenn, when he viewed the statue-like forms of the unconscious Indians.
"Had you witnessed the barbarous deeds that I have seen them perform—had you beheld the innocent babe ruthlessly butchered—your children—your friends maimed, tomahawked, scalped, burned before your eyes—could you know the hellish horrors they are now meditating—you would not entertain much pity for them," said Boone, in a low tone, evidently moved by terrible memories, the precise nature of which the one addressed could not understand. But Glenn's scruples vanished, and as a matter of necessity he determined to submit without reserve to the guidance of his experienced friend.
"I should like to know how them yaller rascals got up here so close without being eyed sooner," said Sneak to Joe.
"That's what's been puzzling me, ever since I first saw them," said Joe, in scarce audible tones.
"Split me if you havn't been asleep," said Sneak.
"No indeed I havn't," said Joe. "I'll declare," he continued, looking out, "I never should have thought of that. I see now, well enough, how they got there without my seeing them. They've got a great big ball of snow, half as high as a man's head, and they've been rolling it all the time, and creeping along behind it. They're all standing before it now, and just as I looked one moved his leg, and then I saw what it was. This beats the old boy himself. It's a mercy they didn't come all the way and shoot me in the eye!"
"Hush!" said Boone. "They must have heard something, or supposed they did, or else your neglect would have been fatal to you ere this. They are now waiting to ascertain whether they were mistaken or not. Move not, and speak no more, until I order you."
"I won't," said Joe, still gazing at the erect dark forms.
"See how many there is—can't you count 'em?" said Sneak, in a whisper, leaning against Joe, and slyly taking a cartridge from his belt, slipped it in the muzzle of the musket which was standing against the palisade.
"What're you doing with my gun?" asked Joe, in a very low tone, as he happened to turn his head and see Sneak take his hand away from the muzzle of the musket.
"Nothing—I was only feeling the size of the bore. It's big enough to kick down a cow."
"What are you tittering about? you think it's a going to kick me again, but you're mistaken—it ain't got two loads in this time."
"Didn't Mr. Boone jest tell you to keep quiet?" said Sneak.
"Don't you speak—then I won't," responded Joe.
The moon had not yet reached the meridian, and the dark shadow of the house reaching to the palisade on the west, prevented the Indians from observing the movements of the whites through the many slight apertures in the inclosure, but through which the besieged party could easily observe them.
After a long pause, during which neither party had uttered a word or betrayed animation by the least movement, Glenn felt the weight of a hand laid gently on his shoulder, and turning beheld Mary at his side. Without a motion of the lips, she placed in his hand some bullets she had moulded, and then passing on to the other men, gave each a like quantity.
"Retire, now, my lass," said Boone; and when she returned to the house, he continued, addressing Glenn—"If they do not move one way or the other very soon, we will give them a broadside where they are."
"And we could do execution at this distance," observed Glenn.
"I'd be dead sure to kill one, I know I would," said Sneak.
"Let me see if I could take aim," said Joe, deliberately pointing his musket through the loophole. The musket had inadvertently been cocked, and left in that condition, and no sooner did Joe's finger gently press upon the trigger, than it went off, making an astounding report, and veiling the whole party in an immense cloud of smoke.
"Who did that?" cried Boone, stamping with vexation.
"Was that you, Joe?" demanded Glenn.
Joe made no answer.
"Oh, dod! my mouth's smashed all to pieces!" said Sneak, crawling up from a prostrate position, caused by the rebound of the musket, for he was looking over Joe's shoulder when the gun went off.
"Where's Joe?" inquired Glenn, pushing Sneak aside.
"He's dead, I guess—I believe the gun's busted," said Sneak.
"Now, sir! why did you fire?" cried Glenn, somewhat passionately, stumbling against Joe, and seizing him by the collar. No answer was made, for poor Joe's neck was limber enough, and he quite insensible.
"He's dead in yearnest, jest as I told you," said Sneak; "for that gun kicked him on the shoulder hard enough to kill a cow—and the hind side of his head struck my tooth hard enough to've kilt a horse. He's broke one of my upper fore-teeth smack in two."
"Every man to his post!" exclaimed Boone, as a shower of arrows rattled about the premises.
Sneak now occupied Joe's station, and the first glance in the direction of the savages sufficed to determine him how to act. Perhaps no one ever discharged a rifle more rapidly than he did. And a brisk and well-directed fire was kept up for some length of time, likewise, by the rest of the besieged.
It was, perhaps, a fortunate thing that Joe did fire without orders, and without any intention of doing so himself. It seemed that the savages had been meditating a desperate rush upon the fort, notwithstanding Boone's prediction; for no sooner did Joe fire, than they hastily retreated a short distance, scattering in every direction, and, without a moment's consultation, again appeared, advancing rapidly from every quarter. It was evident that this plan had been preconcerted among them; and had all fired, instead of Joe only, they might easily have scaled the palisade before the guns could have been reloaded. Neither had the besiegers been aware of the strength of the garrison. But they were soon made to understand that they had more than Glenn and his man to contend against. The discharges followed in such quick succession that they paused, when but a moment more would have placed them within the inclosure. But several of them being wounded, and Boone and Glenn still doing execution with their pistols, the discomfited enemy made a precipitate retreat. An occasional flight of arrows continued to assail the besieged, but they came from a great distance, for the Indians were not long in scampering beyond the range of the loopholes.
When Glenn could no longer see any of the dark forms of the enemy, he turned round to contemplate the sad condition of Joe. Joe was sitting up, with his hands locked round his knees.
"Well, split me in two!" cried Sneak, staring at his companion.
"What's the matter, Sneak?" asked Joe, with much simplicity.
"That's a purty question for you to ask, after there for dead this half-hour almost"
"Have the Indians been here?" asked Joe, staring round wildly.
"Hain't you heard us shooting?"
"My goodness," cried Joe, springing up. "Oh! am I wounded? say!" he continued, evincing the most lively alarm.
"Well, if this don't beat every thing that ever I saw in all my life, I wish I may be shot!" said Sneak.
"What is it?" asked Joe, his senses yet wandering.
"Jest feel the back of your head," said Sneak. Joe put his hand to the place indicated, and winced under the pain of the touch. He then looked at his hand, and beholding a quantity of clotted blood upon it, fell down suddenly on the snow.
"What's the matter now?" asked Glenn, who had seen his man sitting up, and came swiftly to him when he fell.
"I'm a dead man!" said Joe, mournfully.
"That's a lie!" said Sneak.
"What ails you, Joe?" asked Glenn, his tone much softened.
"I'm dying—oh! I'm shot through the head!"
"Don't believe him, Mr. Glenn—I'll be smashed if its any thing but my tooth," said Sneak.
"Oh—I'm dying!" continued Joe, pressing his hand against his head, while the pain and loss of blood actually produced a faintness, and his voice became very weak.
"Are you really much hurt?" continued Glenn, stooping down, and feeling his pulse.
"It's all over!" muttered Joe. "I'm going fast. Sancte Petre!—Pater noster, qui es in coelis, sanctificeter nomen tuum; adveniat regnum tu—"
Here Joe's voice failed, and, falling into a syncope, Glenn and Sneak lifted him up and carried him into the house.
"Is he shot?" exclaimed Mary, instantly producing some lint and bandages which she had prepared in anticipation of such an event.
"I fear he has received a serious hurt," said Glenn, aiding Mary, who had proceeded at once to bind up the wound.
"I'll be split if he's shot!" said Sneak, going out and returning to his post. Glenn did likewise when he saw the first indications of returning consciousness in his man; and Mary was left alone to restore and nurse poor Joe. But he could not have been in better hands.
"I should like to know something about them curious words the feller was speaking when he keeled over," said Sneak, as he looked out at the now quiet scene from the loophole, and mused over the events of the night. "I begin to believe that the feller's a going to die. I don't believe any man could talk so, if he wasn't dying."
"Have you seen any of them lately?" inquired Boone, coming to Sneak's post and running his eye along the horizon through the loophole.
"Not a one," replied Sneak, "except that feller laying out yander by the snowball."
"He's dead," said Boone, "and he is the only one that we are sure of having killed to-night. But many are wounded."
"And smash me if Joe didn't kill that one when his musket went off before he was ready," said Sneak.
"Yes, I saw him fall when Joe fired; and that accident was, after all, a fortunate thing for us," continued Boone.
"But I'm sorry for poor Joe," said Sneak.
"Pshaw!" said Boone; "he'll be well again, in an hour."
"No, he's a gone chicken."
"Why do you think so?"
"Didn't he say so himself? and didn't he gabble out a whole parcel of purgatory talk? He's as sure gone as a stuck pig, I tell you," continued Sneak.
"He will eat as hearty a breakfast to-morrow morning as ever he did in his life," said Boone. "But let us attend to the business in hand. I hardly think we will be annoyed any more from this quarter, unless yonder dead Indian was a chief, and then it is more than probable they will try to steal him away. However, you may remain here. I, alone, can manage the others."
"Which others?" inquired Sneak.
"Those under the snow," replied Boone; "they are now within twenty paces of the palisade."
"You don't say so?" said Sneak, cocking his gun.
"I have been listening to them cutting through the snow a long while, and it will be a half hour yet before I spring the mine," said Boone.
"I hope it will kill 'em all!" said Sneak.
"Watch close, and perhaps you will kill one yet from this loophole," said Boone, returning to his post, where the slow-match was exposed through the palisade near the ground; and Roughgrove stood by, holding a pistol, charged with powder only, in readiness to fire the train when Boone should give the word of command.
Boone applied his ear to a crevice between the timbers near the earth, where the snow had been cleared away. After remaining in this position a few moments, he beckoned Glenn to him.
"Place your ear against this crevice," said Boone.
"It is not the Indians I hear, certainly!" remarked Glenn. The sounds resembled the ticking of a large clock, differing only in their greater rapidity than the strokes of seconds.
"Most certainly it is nothing else," replied Boone.
"But how do they produce such singular sounds? Is it the trampling of feet?" continued Glenn.
"It is the sound of many tomahawks cutting a passage," replied Boone.
"But what disposition do they make of the snow, when it is cut loose."
"A portion of them dig, while the rest convey the loose snow out and cast it down the cliff."
While the above conversation was going on, a colloquy of a different nature transpired within the house. Joe, after recovering from his second temporary insensibility, had sunk into a gentle doze, which lasted many minutes. Mary had bathed his face repeatedly with sundry restoratives, and likewise administered a cordial that she had brought from her father's house, which seemed to have a most astonishing somniferous effect. When the contents of the bottle were exhausted, she sat silently by, watching Joe's apparent slumber, and felt rejoiced that her patient promised a speedy recovery. Once, after she had been gazing at the fawn, (that had been suffered to occupy a place near the wall, where it was now coiled up and sleeping,) on turning her eyes towards the face of Joe, she imagined for a moment that she saw him close his eyelids quickly. But calling him softly and receiving no answer, she concluded it was a mere fancy, and again resigned herself to her lonely watch. When she had been sitting thus some minutes, watching him patiently, she observed his eyes open slowly, and quickly smack to again, when he found that she was looking at him. But a moment after, conscious that his wakefulness was discovered, he opened them boldly, and found himself possessed of a full recollection of all the incidents of the night up to his disaster.
"Have they whipt all the Indians away that were standing out on the snow, Miss Mary?"
"Yes, long ago—and none have been seen, but the one you killed, for some time," she replied, encouragingly.
"Did I kill one sure enough?" asked Joe, while his eyes sparkled exceedingly.
"Yes, indeed," replied she; "and I heard Mr. Boone say he was glad it happened, and that the accident was, after all, a fortunate thing for us."
"Accident!" iterated Joe; "who says it was an accident?"
"Wasn't it an accident?" asked the simple girl.
"No, indeed!" replied Joe. "But," he continued, "have they blown up the other Indians yet?"
"Not yet—but I heard them say they would do it very soon. They can be heard digging under the snow now, very plainly," said Mary.
"Indeed!" said Joe, with no little terror depicted in his face. "I wish you'd go and ask Mr. Boone if he thinks you'll be entirely safe, if you please, Miss Mary," said Joe beseechingly.
"I will," responded Mary, rising to depart.
"And if they ask how I am," continued Joe, "please say I am a great deal better, but too weak yet to go out."
Mary did his bidding; and when she returned, what was her astonishment to find her patient running briskly across the room from the cupboard, with a whole roasted prairie-hen in one hand, or at least the body of it, while he tore away the breast with his teeth, and some half dozen crackers in the other! In vain did he attempt to conceal them under the covering of his bed, into which he jumped as quickly as possible. Guilt was manifest in his averted look, his trembling hand, and his greasy mouth! Mary gazed in silent wonder. Joe cowered under her glance a few moments, until the irresistible flavour of the fowl overcame him, and then his jaws were again set in motion.
"I fear that eating will injure you," remarked Mary, at length.
"Never fear," replied Joe. "When a sick person has a good appetite, it's a sure sign he's getting better."
"If you think so you can eat as much as you please," said Mary; "and you needn't hide any thing from me."
Joe felt a degree of shame in being so palpably detected, but his appetite soon got the better of his scruples, and he gratified the demands of his stomach without reserve.
"But what did Mr. Boone say?" asked he, peeping out.
"He says he thinks there is no danger. But the Indians are now within a few feet of the palisade, and the explosion is about to take place."
Sneak skills a sow that "was not all a swine"—The breathless suspense—The match in readiness—Joe's cool demeanour—The match ignited—Explosion of the mine—Defeat of the savages—The captive—His liberation—The repose—The kitten—Morning.
"Don't you think I know who you are, and what you're after?" said Sneak, as he observed a large black sow, or what seemed to be one, rambling about on the snow within a hundred paces of him. "If that ain't my sow! She's gone, that's dead sure; and if I don't pepper the red rascal that killed her I wish I may be split. That Indian 'll find I'm not such a fool as he took me for. Just wait till he gits close enough. I ain't to be deceived by my own sow's dead skin, with a great big Osage in it, nohow you can fix it." Sneak's conjecture was right. The Indian that Joe had killed was a chief, and the apparent sow was nothing more than a savage enveloped in a swine's skin. The Indian, after reconnoitering the premises with some deliberation, evidently believed that his stratagem was successful, and at length moved in the direction of his dead comrade, with the manifest intention of bearing the body away.
"I'll let you have it now!" said Sneak, firing his rifle, when the seeming sow began to drag the fallen chief from the field. The discharge took effect; the savage sprang upright and endeavoured to retreat in the manner that nature designed him to run; but he did not go more than a dozen paces before he sank down and expired.
"That's tit for tat, for killing my sow," said Sneak, gazing at his postrate foe.
"Come here, Sneak," said Boone, from the opposite side of the inclosure.
"There was but one, and I fixed him," said Sneak, when they asked him how many of the enemy were in view when he fired.
"They heard the gun," said Glenn, applying his ear to the chink, and remarking that the Indians had suddenly ceased to work under the snow.
"Be quiet," said Boone; "they will begin again in a minute or two."
"They're at it a'ready," said Sneak, a moment after, and very soon they were heard again, more distinctly than ever, cutting away with increased rapidity.
"Suppose the match does not burn?" observed Glenn, in tones betraying a fearful apprehension.
"In such an event," said Boone, "we must retreat into the house, and fasten the door without a moment's delay. But I do not much fear any such failure, for the dampness of the snow cannot so soon have penetrated through the dry reeds to the powder. Still we should be prepared—therefore, as there is no necessity that more than one of us should be here now, and as I am that man, withdraw, all of you, within the house, and remain there until your ears and eyes shall dictate what course to pursue." Boone's command was promptly obeyed, and when they reached the house and looked back, (the door was kept open,) they beheld the renowned pioneer standing erect, holding a pistol in his right hand (which he pointed at the cotton that connected with a train of powder running along a short plank to the reed that reached the buried keg,) while the moon, now midway in the heavens, "and beautifully bright," revealed the stern and determined expression of pale brow and fixed lip. Thus he stood many minutes, and they seemed hours to those who gazed upon the breathless scene from the house. Not a sound was heard, save the rapid ticking of tomahawks under the snow outside of the inclosure, or the occasional hasty remark of those who were looking on in painful and thrilling suspense. Once Boone bowed his head and listened an instant to the operations of the savages, and when he rose erect again, the party looking on confidently expected he would fire the train. But the fatal moment had not yet arrived. Still he pointed the pistol at the combustible matter, and his eye glanced along the barrel; but he maintained a statue-like stillness, as if awaiting some preconcerted signal.
"Why don't he fire?" inquired Glenn, in a whisper.
"It is not quite time yet," responded Roughgrove.
"Dod! they'll crawl up presently, and jump over the fence," said Sneak.
"Oh, goodness! I wish he'd shoot!" said Joe, in low, sepulchral tones, his head thrust between Sneak's legs, whither he had crawled unobserved, and was now peering out at the scene.
"Who are you?" exclaimed Sneak, leaping away from Joe's bandaged head, which he did not recognize at the first glance.
"It's nobody but me," said Joe, turning his face upward, that his friend might not suppose him an enemy.
"Well, what are you doing here? I thought you was a dying."
"I'm a good deal better, but I'm too weak to do any thing yet," said Joe, in piteous tones, as he looked fearfully at Boone, and listened to the strokes of the Indians without, which became louder and louder.
"Stand back a little," said Boone to those in the door-way, "that I may enter when I fire—the match may burn more briskly than I anticipated."
A passage was opened for him to enter. He pulled the trigger—the pistol missed fire—he deliberately poured in fresh priming from his horn, and once more taking aim, the pistol was discharged, and, running to the house, and entering a little beyond the threshold, he paused, and turned to behold the realization of his hopes. The light combustible matter flashed up brightly, and the blaze ran along the ground a moment in the direction of the end of the reed; but at the instant when all expected to see the powder ignited, the flames seemed to die away, and the darkness which succeeded impressed them with the fear that the damp snow had, indeed, defeated their purpose.
"Split me if it shan't go off!" cried Sneak, running out with a torch in his hand, that he snatched from the fireplace. When he reached the trench that had been dug along the palisade, and in which the slow match was placed, he looked down but once, and dashing his fire-brand behind him, sprang back to the house, with all the celerity of which he was capable. "Dod!" said he, "it's burning yet, but we couldn't see it from here. It'll set the powder off in less than no time!"
"I trust it will!" said Boone, with much anxiety. And truly the crisis had arrived, beyond which, if it were delayed a single minute, it would be too late! The voices of the Indians could now be heard, and the sounds of the tomahawks had ceased. They were evidently on the eve of breaking through the icy barrier, and rushing upon their victims. Boone, with a composed but livid brow, placed his hand upon the ponderous door, for the purpose of retreating within, and barring out the ruthless assailants. The rest instinctively imitated his motions, but at the same time their eyes were yet riveted on the dimly burning match. A small flash was observed to illumine the trench—another and a larger one succeeded! The first train of powder was ignited—the Indians were bursting through the snow-crust with direful yells—the blaze ran quickly along the plank—it reached the end of the reed—a shrill whizzing sound succeeded—a sharp crash under the snow—and then all was involved in a tremendous chaotic explosion! An enormous circular cloud of smoke enveloped the scene for a moment, and then could be seen tomahawks, bows, and arrows, and even savages, sailing through the air. The moon was darkened for the space of several minutes, during which time immense quantities of snow poured down from above. The startling report seemed to rend both the earth and the heavens, and rumbled far up and down the valley of the Missouri, like the deep bellowing of a coruscant thunder-cloud, and died away in successive vibrations until it finally resembled the partially suppressed growling of an angry lion.
When the inmates of the house sallied forth, the scene was again quiet. After clearing away the enormous masses of snow from the palisade, they looked out from the inclosure through the loophole on the east, and all was stillness and silence. But the view was changed. Instead of the level and smooth surface, they now beheld a concave formation of snow, beginning at the earth, which was laid bare where the powder had been deposited, and widening, upward and outward, till the ring of the extreme angle reached a height of fifteen or twenty feet, and measured a circumference of fifty paces. But they did not discover a single dead body. On the contrary, they soon distinguished the sounds of the savages afar off, in fiendish and fearful yells, as they retreated in great precipitation.
"Dod! none of 'em's killed!" exclaimed Sneak, looking about in disappointment.
"Hang it all, how could they expect to kill any, without putting in some lead?" replied Joe, standing at his elbow, and evincing no symptoms of illness.
"What're you a doing out here? You'd better go in and finish dying," said Sneak.
"No, I thank you," said Joe; "my time's not come yet; and when it does come, I'll know what to do without your instructions. I'm well now—I never felt better in my life, only when I was eating."
"Go to the horses, Joe, and see if they have suffered any injury," said Glenn. "I don't believe a single Indian was killed by the explosion," he continued, addressing Boone.
"The snow may have preserved them," replied Boone; "and yet," he continued, "I am sure I saw some of them flying up in the air."
"I saw them too," said Glenn, "but I have known instances of the kind, when powder-mills have blown up, where men were thrown a considerable distance without being much injured."
"It answered our purpose, at all events," said Boone, "for now, no inducement whatever can ever bring them back"
"If I were sure of that," replied Glenn, "I would not regret the bloodless result of the explosion."
"You may rely upon it implicitly," said Boone; "for it was a surprise they can never understand, and they will attach to it some superstitious interpretation, which will most effectually prevent them from meditating another attack"
"Goodness gracious alive!" exclaimed Joe, nimbly springing past Boone and Glenn, and rushing into the house.
"What can be the matter with the fellow, now?" exclaimed Glenn.
"He was alarmed at something in the stable—see what it is, Sneak," said Boone.
"I've got you, have I? Dod! come out here!" exclaimed Sneak, when he had been in the stable a few moments.
"Who are you talking to?" asked Glenn.
"A venimirous Osage smutty-face!" said Sneak, stepping out of the stable door backwards, and dragging an Indian after him by the ears.
"What is that?" demanded Glenn, staring at the singular object before him. The question was by no means an unnatural one, for no being in the human shape ever seemed less like a man. The unresisting and bewildered savage looked wildly round, displaying a face as black as if he had just risen from the bottom of some infernal lake. His tattered buckskin garments had shared the same fate in the explosion; his eyebrows, and the hair of his head were singed and crisped; and, altogether he might easily have passed for one of Pluto's scullions. He did not make resistance when Sneak led him forth, seeming to anticipate nothing else than an instantaneous and cruel death, and was apparently resigned to his fate. He doubtless imagined that escape and longer life were utterly impossible, inasmuch as, to his comprehension, he was in the grasp of evil spirits. If he had asked himself how he came thither, it could not have occurred to him that any other means than the agency of a supernatural power threw him into the hands of the foe.
"I thought I saw one of them plunging through the air over the inclosure," said Boone, smiling.
"Hanged if I didn't think so too," said Joe, who had at length returned to gaze at the captive, when he ascertained that he was entirely meek and inoffensive.
"Have you got over your fright already?" asked Sneak.
"What fright?" demanded Joe, with affected surprise.
"Now, can you say you weren't skeered?"
"Ha! ha! ha! I believe you really thought I was frightened. Why, you dunce, you! I only ran in to tell Miss Mary about it."
"Now go to bed. Don't speak to me agin to night," said Sneak, indignantly.
"I'll go and get something to eat," said Joe, retreating into the house.
"Tell Roughgrove to come here," said Boone, speaking to Joe.
"I will," said Joe, vanishing through the door.
When the old ferryman came out, Boone requested him (he being the most familiar with the Osage language,) to ask the savage by what means he was enabled to get inside of the inclosure. Roughgrove did his bidding; and the Indian replied that the Great Spirit threw him over the palisade, because he once killed a friend of Boone's at the cave-spring, and was now attempting to kill another.
"Why did you wish to kill us?" asked Roughgrove.
The Indian said it was because they thought Glenn had a great deal of money, many fire weapons, and powder and bullets, which they (the savages) wanted.
"Was it right to rob the white man of these things, and then to murder him?" continued Roughgrove.
The savage replied that the prophet (Raven) had told the war-party it was right. Besides, they came a long and painful journey to get (Glenn's) goods, and had suffered much with cold in digging under the snow; several of their party had been killed and wounded, and he thought they had a good right to every thing they could get.
"Did the whites ever go to your village to rob and murder?" inquired the old ferryman.
The Indian assumed a proud look, and replied that they had. He said that the buffalo, the bear, the deer, and the beaver—the eternal prairies and forests—the rivers, the air and the sky, all belonged to the red men. That the whites had not been invited to come among them, but they had intruded upon their lands, stolen their game, and killed their warriors. Yet, he said, the Indians did not hate Boone, and would not have attacked the premises that night, if they had known he was there.
"Why do they not hate Boone? He has killed more of them than any one else in this region," continued Roughgrove.
The Indian said that Boone was a great prophet, and was loved by the Great Spirit.
"Will the war-party return hither to-night?" asked Roughgrove.
The Indian answered in the negative; and added that they would never attack that place again, because the Great Spirit had fought against them.
Boone requested Roughgrove to ask what would be done with the false prophet who had advised them to make the attack.
The savage frowned fiercely, and replied that he would be tied to a tree, and shot through the heart a hundred times.
"What do you think we intend to do to you?" asked Roughgrove.
The savage said he would be skinned alive and put under the ice in the river, or burned to death by a slow fire. He said he was ready to die.
"I'll be shot if he isn't a spunky fellow!" said Sneak.
"Do you desire such a fate?" continued the old ferry man.
"The Indian looked at him with surprise, and answered without hesitation that he did—and then insisted upon being killed immediately.
"Would you attempt to injure the white man again if we were not to kill you?"
The Indian smiled, but made no answer.
"I am in earnest," continued Roughgrove, "and wish to know what you would do if we spared your life."
The Indian said such talk was only trifling, and again insisted upon being dispatched.
After a short consultation with Boone and Glenn, Roughgrove repeated his question.
The savage replied that he did not believe it possible for him to escape immediate death—but if he were not killed, he could never think of hurting any of those, who saved him, afterwards. Yet he stated very frankly that he would kill and rob any other pale-faces he might meet with.
"Let me blow his brains out," said Sneak, throwing his gun up to his shoulder. The Indian understood the movement, if not the words, and turning towards him, presented a full front, without quailing.
"He speaks the truth," said Boone; "he would never injure any of us himself, nor permit any of his tribe to do it, so far as his influence extended. Yet he will die rather than make a promise not to molest others. His word may be strictly relied upon. It is not fear that extorts the promise never to war against us—it would be his gratitude for sparing his life. Take down your gun, Sneak. Let us decide upon his fate. I am in favour of liberating him."
"And I," said Glenn.
"And I," said Roughgrove.
"I vote for killing him," said Sneak.
"Hanged if I don't, too," said Joe, who had been listening from the door.
"Spare him," said Mary, who came out, and saw what was passing.
"We have the majority, Mary," said Glenn; "and when innocence pleads, the generous hand is stayed."
Roughgrove motioned the savage to follow, and he led him to the gate. The prisoner did not understand what was to be done. He evidently supposed that his captors were about to slay him, and he looked up, as he thought, the last time, at the moon and the stars, and his lips moved in deep and silent adoration.
Roughgrove opened the gate, and the savage followed him out, composedly awaiting his fate. But seeing no indication of violence, and calling to mind the many wild joys of his roving youth, and the horrors of a sudden death, he spoke not, yet his brilliant eyes were dimmed for a moment with tears. His deep gaze seemed to implore mercy at the hands of his captors. He would not utter a petition that his life might be spared, yet his breast heaved to rove free again over the flowery prairies, to bathe in the clear waters of running streams, to inhale the balmy air of midsummer morning, to chase the panting deer upon the dizzy peak, and to hail once more the bright smiles of his timid bride in the forest-shadowed glen.
"Go! thou art free!" said Roughgrove.
The Indian stared in doubt, and looked reproachfully at the guns in the hands of his captors, as if he thought they were only mocking him with hopes of freedom, when it was their intention to shoot him down the moment he should think his life was truly spared.
"Go! we will not harm thee!" repeated Roughgrove.
"And take this," said Mary, placing some food in his yielding hand.
The Indian gazed upon the maiden's face. His features, by a magical transition, now beamed with confidence and hope. Mary was in tears—not tears of pity for his impending death, but a gush of generous emotion that his life was spared. The savage read her heart—he knew that the white woman never intercedes in vain, and that no victim falls when sanctified by her tears. He clasped her hand and pressed it to his lips; and then turning away in silence, set off in a stately and deliberate pace towards the west. He looked not back to see if a treacherous gun was pointed at him. He knew that the maiden had not trifled with him. He knew that she would not mock a dying man with bread. He neither looked back nor quickened his step. And so he vanished from view in the valley.
"Dod! he's gone! We ought to've had his sculp!" said Sneak, betraying serious mortification.
"We must give it up, though—we were in the minority," said Joe, satisfied with the decision.
"In the what?" asked Sneak.
"In the minority," said Joe.
"Let's go in the house and git something to eat," said Sneak.
"Hang me if I ain't willing to be with you there," said Joe.
The whole party entered the house to partake of a collation prepared by the dainty hands of Mary. Mary had frequently insisted upon serving them with refreshments during the night, but hitherto all her persuasions had been unavailing, for the dangers that beset them on every hand had banished all other thoughts than those of determined defensive operations.
Boone was so certain that nothing farther was to be apprehended from the enemy, that he dispensed with the sentinels at the loopholes. He relied upon Ringwood and Jowler to guard them through the remainder of the night; and when a hearty meal was eaten he directed his gallant little band to enjoy their wonted repose.
Ere long Mary slumbered quietly beside her father, while Boone and Glenn occupied the remaining couch. Sneak was seated on a low stool, near the blazing fire, and Joe sat in Glenn's large arm chair, on the opposite side of the hearth. The fawn and the kitten were coiled close together in the centre of the room.
Save the grinding jaws of Sneak and Joe, a death-like silence reigned. Occasionally, when Sneak lifted his eyes from the pewter platter that lay upon his knees, and glanced at the bandages on his companion's head, his jaws would cease to move for a few moments, during which he gazed in astonishment at the ravenous propensity of the invalid. But not being inclined to converse or remonstrate, he endeavoured to get through with his supper with as much expedition as possible, that he might enjoy all the comforts of refreshing sleep. Yet he was often on the eve of picking a quarrel with Joe, when he suffered a sudden twinge from his broken tooth, while striving to tear the firmer portion of the venison from the bone. But when he reflected upon his peculiar participation in the occurrence which had caused him so justly to suffer, he repressed his rising anger and proceeded with his labour of eating.
Joe, on the other hand, discussed his savoury dish with unalloyed satisfaction; yet he, too, paused occasionally, and fixing his eyes upon the glaring fire, seemed plunged in the deepest thought. But he did not glance at his companion. At these brief intervals he was apparently reflecting upon the incidents of the night. One thing in particular puzzled him; he could not, for the life of him, conceive how his musket rebounded with such violence, when he was positively certain that he had put but one charge in it, and that only a moderate one. He was sometimes inclined to think the blow he received on the head was dealt by Sneak; but when he reflected it would be unnatural for one man to strike another with his teeth, and that Sneak had likewise sustained a serious injury at the same time, conjectures were entirely at fault.
"What are you a thinking about so hard?" asked Sneak.
"I'm trying to think how I got that blow on the back of my head," said Joe, turning half abstractedly to Sneak.
"Yes, and I'd like to know how you come to mash my mouth so dod-rottedly," said Sneak, in well-affected ill nature.
"Hang it, Sneak, you know well enough that I wouldn't do such a thing on purpose, when I was obliged to almost knock out my own brains to do it," said Joe, apologetically.
"If I hadn't thought of that," replied Sneak, "I don't know but I should've shot you through when I got up."
"And I should never have blamed you for it," said Joe, "if it had been done on purpose. Does it hurt you much now?"
"Don't you see how its bleeding?"
"That's gravy running out of your mouth, ain't it?"
"Yes, but its bloody a little," said Sneak, licking his lips.
"I shall have to sit up and sleep," said Joe; "for my head's so sore I can't lie down."
"I'm a going to lay my head on this stool and sleep; and I'm getting so drowsy I can't set much longer," said Sneak.
"All'll be square between us, about breaking your tooth, won't it?"
"Yes, I can't bear malice," said Sneak, shaking Joe's extended hand.
"Oh me!" said Joe, "I shan't be able to doze a bit, hardly, for trying to study out how the old musket came to kick me so."
"I've got a notion to tell you, jest to see if you'll sleep any better, then."
"Do you know?" asked Joe, quickly; "if you do, I'll thank you with all my heart to tell me?"
"Dod! if I don't!" said Sneak; "but all's square betwixt us?"
"Yes, if you're willing."
"Well, don't you remember when I told you to count the Indians standing out there, I leant agin you to look over your shoulder? I stole a cartrich out of your shot-bag then, and slipt it in the muzzle of your musket. Don't you know it was leaning agin the post?"
Joe turned round and looked Sneak full in the face for several moments, without uttering a word.
"When it went off," continued Sneak, "it made the tremendousest crack I ever heard in all my life, except when the keg of powder busted."
"You confounded, blasted rascal you!" exclaimed Joe, doubling up his fists, and preparing to assault his friend.
"Now don't go to waking up the folks!" said Sneak.
"I'll be hanged if I hain't got a great notion to wear out the iron poker over your head!" continued Joe, his eyes gleaming with rage.
"Look at my tooth," said Sneak, grinning in such manner that the remaining fragment of the member named could be distinctly seen. The ludicrous expression of his features was such as constrained Joe to smile, and his enmity vanished instantaneously.
"I believe you got the worst of the bargain, after all," said Joe, falling back in his chair and laughing quite heartily.
"You know," continued Sneak, "I didn't mean it to turn out as bad as it did. I jest thought it would kick you over in the snow, and not hurt you any, hardly."
"Well, let's say no more about it," said Joe; "but when you do any thing of that kind hereafter, pause and reflect on the consequences, and forbear."
"I'll keep my mouth out of the way next time," said Sneak; "and now, as all's square betwixt us, s'pose we agree about how we are to do with them dead Indians. S'pose we go halves with all the things they've got?"
"No, I'll be hanged if I do!" said Joe quickly. "The one I shot was a chief, and he's sure to have some gold about him."
"Yes, but you know you'd never a killed him if it hadn't been for me."
"But if it hadn't been for you I wouldn't have got hurt," replied Joe, reproachfully.
"Well, I don't care much about the chief—the one I killed maybe took all his silver and gold before I shot him. Anyhow, I know I can find something out there in the snow where they were blowed up," said Sneak, arranging a buffalo robe on the hearth and lying down.
"And we must hereafter let each other alone, Sneak," said Joe, "for the fact is, we are both too much for one another in our tricks."
"I'm willing," replied Sneak, lazily, as his eyes gradually closed.
Joe placed his dish on the shelf over the fireplace, and folding his arms, and leaning back in his great chair, likewise closed his eyes.
But a few moments sufficed to place them both in the land of dreams. And now the silence was intense. Even the consuming logs of wood seemed to sink by degrees into huge livid coals, without emitting the least sparkling sound. The embers threw a dim glare over the scene, such as Queen Mab delights in when she leads her fairy train through the chambers of sleeping mortals. A sweet smile rested upon the lips of Mary. A loved form flitted athwart her visions. Roughgrove's features wore a grave but placid cast. Boone's face was as passionless and calm as if he were a stranger to terrific strife. Perils could now make no impression on him. There was sadness on the damp brow of Glenn, and a tear was stealing through the corner of his lids. A scene of woe, or the crush of cherished hopes, was passing before his entranced vision. Sneak, ever and anon grasped the empty air, and motioned his arm, as if in the midst of deadly conflict. And Joe, though his bruised face betrayed not his cast of thought, still evinced a participation in the ideal transactions of the night, by the frequent involuntary motions of his body, and repeated endeavours to avoid visionary dangers.
The kitten lay upon the soft neck of the fawn, and at intervals resumed its low, humming song, which had more than once been hushed in perfect repose. At a late hour, or rather an early one, just ere the first faint ray of morning appeared in the distant east, puss purred rather harshly on the silken ears of its companion, and its sharp claws producing a stinging sensation, the fawn shook its head violently, and threw its little bed-fellow rather rudely several feet away. The kitten, instead of being angry, fell into a merry mood, and began to frisk about in divers directions, first running under the bed, then springing upon some diminutive object on the floor as it would upon a mouse, and finally pricking again the ear of the fawn. The fawn then rose up, and creeping gently about the room, touched the cheeks or hands of the slumbering inmates with its velvet tongue, but so softly that none were awakened. The kitten, no longer able to annoy its companion by its mischievous pranks, now paced up to the fire and commenced playing with a dangling string attached to Joe's moccasin. Once it jumped up with such force against his foot that he jerked it quickly several inches away. But this only diverted puss the more. Instead of being content with the palpable demonstration thus effected, it followed up the advantage gained by applying both its claws and teeth to the foot. While it confined its operations to the stout buckskin, but little impression was made; but when it came in contact with the ankle, which was only covered with a yarn stocking, the result was entirely different.
"Ugh! Confound the fire!" exclaimed Joe, giving a tremendous kick, which dashed puss most violently into Sneak's face.
"Hey! Dod! What is it?" cried Sneak, tearing the kitten (whose briery nails had penetrated the skin of his nose) away, and throwing it across the room. "I say! did you do that?" continued Sneak, wiping the blood from his nose with his sleeve, and addressing Joe, who kept his eyes fast closed, though almost bursting with suppressed laughter, and pretending to be steeped in earnest slumber. "I won't stand this!" said Sneak, smarting with his wounds, and striking the chair in which Joe sat with his foot. "Now," continued Sneak, "if you done that, jest say so, that's all."
"Did what?" asked Joe, opening his eyes suddenly.
"Why, throwed that ere pestiverous cat on me!" said Sneak.
"No. Goodness! is there a pole-cat in here?" exclaimed Joe, in such well-counterfeited tones of anxiety and alarm, that the real encounter occurring to Sneak, and his pain being now somewhat abated, he gave vent to a hearty fit of laughter, which awoke every person in the house.
The lead removed—The wolves on the river—The wolf hunt—Gum fetid—Joe's incredulity—His conviction—His surprise—His predicament—His narrow escape.
When Sneak opened the door, the sun had risen and was shining brightly. In a moment the inmates of the house were stirring. The horses neighed in the stable for their accustomed food and water, and when Joe hastened to them, he embraced the neck of each, in testimony of his joy that they were once more saved from the hands of the Indians. The hounds pranced round Boone and Glenn, manifesting their delight in being relieved of the presence of the enemy. The gate was thrown open, and the scene of the explosion minutely examined. Fortunately the channel cut under the snow by the savages ran a few feet apart from the powder, or the whole of them must inevitably have perished. As it was, not a single one lost his life, though many were blown up in the air to a considerable height. Joe and Sneak found only a few spears, knives, and tomahawks, that had been abandoned by the savages; and then they repaired to the west side of the inclosure, where the two dead Indians were still lying. They had scarce commenced searching their victims for booty, when a solitary Indian was seen approaching from the upper valley.
"We hain't got our guns!" exclaimed Sneak, pulling out his knife.
"I'll get mine!" cried Joe, running away with all his might.
"What's the matter?" inquired Boone, smiling, who had also seen the approaching Indian, and was walking to where the dead savages lay, accompanied by Glenn and Roughgrove, when he met Joe running swiftly towards the house.
"Hang me, if the Indians ain't coming back again," replied Joe.
"There is but one, and he has a white flag," said Boone, who had discovered a small rag attached to a pole borne by the Indian.
"What can he want?" inquired Glenn.
"He wants permission to bury the dead," replied Roughgrove.
"He's the very rascal we let loose last night," said Sneak.
This was true. Although the singed savage had removed some of the black marks produced by the explosion, yet so many palpable traces of that event were still exhibited on his person, there could be no doubt of his identity.
The Indian came for the purpose mentioned by Roughgrove, and his request was granted. He made a sign to a comrade he had left some distance behind, who, in a very few minutes, was seen to approach in a hasty though timorous pace.
"Don't go to shooting out here!" exclaimed Sneak, hearing a clicking sound, and the next moment observing Joe pointing his musket through the loophole nearly in a line with the spot where he stood.
"Come in! come in! come in!" cried Joe.
"Put your gun away, and be silent," said Glenn.
"I'll be silent," replied Joe, "but I'd rather stand here and watch awhile. If they ain't going to hurt any of us, it'll do no harm; and if they do try to kill any of you, it may do some good."
When the second Indian arrived, he seized the body of the savage enveloped in the swine-skin, (knowing that permission to do so had been obtained by his comrade,) and bore him away with great expedition, manifesting no inclination whatever to tarry at a place which had been so fatal to his brethren. But the other had every confidence in the mercy of the whites, and lingered some length of time, gazing at the corpse before him, as if hesitating whether to bear it away.
"Why do you not take him up?" inquired Roughgrove.
The Indian said it was the false prophet Raven, and that he hardly deserved to be buried.
Sneak turned the dead Indian over, (he had been lying on his face,) and he was instantly recognized by the whole party.
"I'm glad its him," said Sneak.
"I think we will have peace now," said Boone, "for Raven has ever been the most blood-thirsty chief of the tribe."
"Where is the war-party encamped? When do they return to their own country?" asked Roughgrove.
The Indian replied that they were encamped in a small grove on the border of the prairie, where they intended to bury their brothers, and then it was their intention to set out immediately for their villages. He added that one of their tribe, whom they had left at home, arrived that morning with intelligence that a war-party of Pawnees had invaded their territories, and it was necessary for them to hasten back with all possible dispatch to defend their wives and children.
Glenn asked Boone how the Indians managed to sleep in the cold prairie; and, Roughgrove repeating the inquiry to the savage, they were informed that the war-party carried with them a long but very light sled, in the shape of a canoe, to which was tied a rope made of buckskins, by which they pulled it along on the snow with great swiftness. This kept them warm with exercise through the day. A quantity of furs and buffalo skins were packed in the canoe that served to keep them warm at night.
"Mr. Roughgrove! Mr. Roughgrove!" cried Joe, from his loophole.
"What do you want with me?" responded the old man.
"Why, Miss Mary's gone down to your house to see if the Indians have been there, and they may be there now, perhaps."
"There's no danger now, you blockhead," replied Roughgrove.
"Keep your mouth shet!" said Sneak.
"Your mouth's mashed—recollect who did it," retorted Joe.
The savage at length lifted up the dead body, and set off at a brisk pace towards the prairie. The party then returned to the house and partook of a plenteous repast that had been provided by Mary.
When the breakfast was over, they repaired to the cliff, to examine the place where the Indians had first penetrated the snow. They had commenced operations at the very brow of the cliff, on a shelving rock, to attain which, without being seen from the garrison, they must have crawled on their hands and knees a considerable distance. Below could be seen an immense heap of snow, which had been thrown down from the place of entrance, just as Boone had described.
"Jest look yander!" cried Sneak, pointing up the river. The scene was a remarkable one. They beheld a very small deer (the lightness of which enabled it to run on the snow that covered the ice with great fleetness, without breaking through the crust,) chased about on the river by a pack of wolves! These hungry animals had evidently been racing after it a great length of time, from the distressed appearance of the poor victim, and, having driven it upon the ice, they seemed resolved to prevent it from ever again entering the thickets. The plan they adopted was systematic, and worthy the imitation of biped hunters. They dispersed in various directions, and formed themselves in a circle of about a half mile in diameter, hemming the deer in on all sides, while only one or two of their number at a time chased it. Round and round it ran; and though its pursuers were left far in the rear, yet it remained entirely surrounded by the enemy. Occasionally, when a chasing wolf became exhausted, one of the guards (abandoning his post) would enter the ring, and, not being fatigued, was able to carry on the pursuit with redoubled vigour. Thus the chase was kept up with increasing fierceness by means of a succession of fresh wolves, until the poor deer finally sank down and surrendered its life. The voracious pack then rushed from their stations indiscriminately, and coming in contact immediately over their prey, a most frightful contest ensued among them. Horrific yells and screams could be heard by the men as they looked on from their distant position. At times the wolves were so closely jumbled together that nothing could be distinguished but one black, heaving, and echoing mass. But the struggle was soon over. In a very few moments, they became quiet, and started off in a comparatively peaceful manner towards the island, whence their prize had been driven, in quest of others. When they abandoned the spot where their victim had fallen, not so much as a bone remained.
"That's making a clean business of it!" said Sneak.
"Its no such thing!" said Joe; "it's a nasty trick to swallow hide, bones, and bowels, in that manner."
"Its clean for wolves," said Sneak.
"Oh, may be you're part wolf," said Joe.
"Now, none of your gab, or I'll play some other trick on you, worse than that at the spring."
"You be hanged," retorted Joe; "I'll give you leave to do it when you get a chance the next time."
"It is a great pity that the deer are subject to such destruction," remarked Glenn.
"The wolves we saw are all on yonder island," said Boone, "and if you are disposed to have a hunt, I have no doubt we might kill some of them."
"We are entirely dependent upon the deer for animal food," said Roughgrove; "and if we could only surround that party of wolves as they did the deer, we might do the settlement much good service."
"I go in for it," said Sneak.
"I'd rather wait a day or two, till the Indians have gone clean off," said Joe.
"There is nothing to fear from them now," said Boone, "unless something they might steal should fall in their way. But it will not require an hour to rout the wolves on the little island."
"Then let us hasten and get our guns, and be upon them before they leave it," said Glenn.
They returned to the house, and were all soon equipped for the onslaught, except Joe, who made no preparation whatever.
"Get ready, Joe," said Glenn; "your redoubtable musket will do good service."
"I'd rather not," said Joe; "I'm hardly well enough to walk so far. I'll take care of Miss Mary. I wonder what's become of her? Mr. Roughgrove, Miss Mary hasn't come back yet!"
"Yes she has," replied the old ferryman; "I saw her bring this frozen flower up, while we were standing on the cliff, and she has only returned for the other pots, I hear her singing down the valley now," he added, after stepping to the gate and listening a moment.
"Have you any gum fetid?" asked Boone, addressing Glenn.
"I've got lots of it," interposed Joe, "that I brought along for the horses, because an old man at St. Louis told me they would never die so long as I kept a lump of it in the rack."
"What use do you make of it?" asked Glenn.
"The scent of it will at any time collect the wolves," said Boone, directing Joe to bring it along.
The party set out at a brisk pace, Joe with the rest, for it was necessary to station the men at as many points as possible. Boone, Roughgrove, and Glenn, when they reached the upper valley, descended to the river, while Sneak and Joe were directed to station themselves on the main-land opposite the upper and lower ends of the island. The party of three advanced towards the island on the ice, and Sneak and Joe pursued their way in a parallel direction through the narrow skirt of woods that bordered the range of bluffs.
Ere long the two on land descended from their high position and entered a densely-timbered bottom, the upper part of which (a half mile distant) was only separated from the island by a very narrow channel.
Here, for the first time that day, the thought that the island he was approaching was the haunted one of Glenn's dream occurred to Joe, and he paused suddenly.
"What are you stopping for?" asked Sneak.
"Because"—Joe hesitated, positively ashamed to tell the reason; and after a moment's reflection he was impressed with a thorough conviction that his apprehensions and scruples were ridiculous.
"Don't you hear me?" continued Sneak.
"I was thinking about going back for the dogs," said Joe.
"Yes, and they would be torn to bits in a little less than no time," said Sneak.
"Come on, then," said Joe, setting forward again, and dismissing all fears of the fire-wizard from his mind.
"Let me see how much asafoetida you've got," said Sneak, after they had walked a few moments in silence.
"Here it is," said Joe, unwrapping a paper containing several ounces; "but hang me, if that ain't rather too strong a joke of Mr. Boone's about its collecting the wolves. I can't believe that."
"Did you ever hear of Mr. Boone's telling a lie?" asked Sneak.
"No, I never did, and that's a fact," said Joe; "but I'm afraid he's got into a scrape this time—Jingo! look yonder!" he continued, throwing his musket up to his face, and pointing it at a very large black wolf that stood in the path before them.
"Don't shoot! I put two loads in your gun," cried Sneak, hastily.
"Confound your long-necked gourd-head, I say!" said Joe, throwing down the muzzle of his musket in an instant, and the next moment the wolf disappeared among the tall bushes. "Why, hang me, if you didn't tell a lie!" continued Joe, running down his ramrod.
"Don't I know it?" replied Sneak. "I jest said so to keep you from shooting; becaise if you had shot, you'd 'ave skeered all the other wolves away, and we wouldn't 'ave killed any."
"It's well you didn't put in another cartridge," said Joe, "for I wish I may be smashed if I stand this kicking business any longer."
"Now, I guess you'll believe there's something in the asafoetida, after all! and the wolves'll come all round you and won't go off for shooting at 'em, if you'll only rub it on the soles of your boots."
"I'll try it!" said Joe, suiting the action to the word, and then striding onward, and looking in every direction for the wolves.
"You'll have to tree, if they come too thick."
"Pshaw!" replied Joe, "you can't scare me in that way. I don't believe a hat full of it would make them stand and be shot at."
They were now opposite the island. Joe selected a position even with the upper end of it, and Sneak remained below. Boone, after stationing Roughgrove and Glenn to the best advantage, walked out to the main-land, and taking some of the gum fetid in Joe's possession, returned to the island; and, ere long, he, Roughgrove, and Glenn were heard discharging their guns with great rapidity, and the cries of the wolves attested that they were labouring with effect. But none of the beleaguered animals had yet retreated from the scene of destruction. On the contrary, several were seen to run across from the main-land and join those on the island. Presently Sneak commenced a brisk fire. There seemed to be a whole army of wolves congregated in the vicinity. Joe at first laughed, and then became confused and puzzled. He anxiously desired to make the roar of his musket join the melee; but at times he thought the ravenous enemy rather too numerous for him to be in perfect safety. The firing on the island continued without abatement. Sneak's gun was likewise still heard at regular intervals, and what seemed an extraordinary matter to Joe was that Sneak should yell out something or other about the "asafoetida," and "moccasin tracks," after every discharge. Joe was not long idle. He soon saw a huge black wolf trotting along the little deer path he had just traversed, with its nose down to the ground. A moment after, another, and then a third, were seen pursuing the same course, some distance behind. Joe became uneasy. His first impulse was to scamper over to the island: but, when he thought of the jeers and jests that would ensue from Sneak, he resolved to stand his ground. When the foremost wolf had approached within thirty paces of him, he leveled his musket and fired. The wolf uttered a fierce howl and expired.