CAMP-FIRE AND WIGWAM.
By EDWARD S. ELLIS
AUTHOR OF "NED IN THE BLOCK-HOUSE," "NED IN THE WOODS," "NED ON THE RIVER," "THE LOST TRAIL," ETC.
PHILADELPHIA: PORTER & COATES.
COPYRIGHT, 1885, BY PORTER & COATES.
II.—A DOUBTFUL ENTERPRISE
III.—WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED
IV.—CAPTORS AND CAPTIVES
VI.—AN INVOLUNTARY BATH
IX.—BY THE CAMP-FIRE
X.—WAITING AND HOPING
XI.—THROUGH THE FOREST
XII.—THE SIGNAL FIRES
XIII.—THE INDIAN VILLAGE
XIV.—ON THE MOUNTAIN CREST
XV.—THE RETURN AND DEPARTURE
XVI.—A PERPLEXING QUESTION
XVII.—TWO ACQUAINTANCES AND FRIENDS
XX.—SAUK AND SHAWANOE
XXI.—CHRISTIAN AND PAGAN
XXII.—AN ABORIGINAL SERMON
XXIII.—IN THE LODGE OF OGALLAH
XXV.—THE WAR FEAST
XXVI.—AN ALARMING DISCOVERY
XXVIII.—A PATIENT OF THE MEDICINE MAN
XXX.—OUT IN THE WORLD
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
JACK'S WRESTLING BOUT WITH THE YOUNG INDIAN
A NARROW ESCAPE
CAMP-FIRE AND WIGWAM.
On the evening of a dismal, rainy day in spring, a mother and her son were sitting in their log-cabin home in the southern portion of the present State of Missouri. The settlement bore the name of Martinsville, in honor of the leader of the little party of pioneers who had left Kentucky some months before, and, crossing the Mississippi, located in that portion of the vast territory known at that time as Louisiana.
There were precisely twenty cabins, all of which had been constructed with a view to rugged strength, durability, and comfort. Lusty arms had felled the trees, that were cut the proper length and dovetailed in the usual manner at the corners, the crevices being filled with a species of plaster, made almost entirely from yellow clay. The interiors were generally divided into two apartments, with a broad fireplace and the rude furniture of the border. Colonel Martin himself, with the assistance of his two full-grown sons, erected a more pretentious dwelling with two stories and a loft, but the other houses, as has already been stated, were of such a simple and familiar character that the American reader needs no further description.
Mrs. Carleton was a widow, whose husband had been slain by Indians in Kentucky some time previous, and who, in the daily requirement of her duties, and in her great love for her only child, Jack, found some relief from the dreadful sorrow that overshadowed her life. Kind neighbors had lent willing hands, and her home was as well made as any in the settlement. Jack and his companion, Otto Relstaub, had arrived only a couple of days before, and each had wrought so hard in his respective household that they had scarcely found time to speak to or see each other.
The evening meal had been eaten, the things cleared away, and wood heaped upon the fire which filled the little room with cheerful illumination. The mother was seated at one side, the silent spinning-wheel just beyond, while her deft fingers were busy with her knitting. Jack was half reclining on a rude bench opposite, recounting, in his boyish fashion, the adventures of himself and Otto on their memorable journey, which has been fully told in the "Lost Trail."
The good mother possessed an education beyond the ordinary, and, knowing its great value, insisted upon her son improving his spare moments in study. Jack was well informed for his years, for no one could have been blessed with a better teacher, counselor, and friend, than he was. Even now, when we reintroduce him to the reader, he held an old-fashioned spelling-book in his hand. He had tried to give his attention to his lesson, but, boy-like, his mind persisted in wandering, and his mother, looking fondly across the fire, was so pleased to hear him chat and to ask and answer questions, that she could not find it in her heart to chide him.
"You have never seen Deerfoot, have you, mother?" he asked, abruptly breaking in on his own narrative.
"Yes, I have seen him; he saved the life of your father."
"What!" exclaimed Jack, straightening up and staring at his parent in open-mouthed amazement: "I never heard of that before."
"Didn't Deerfoot tell you?"
"He never hinted anything of the kind. He once asked me about father's death and about you, but I thought it was only a natural interest he felt on my account. But tell me how it was, mother."
"Some months before your father's death, he was absent a couple of days on a hunt to the south of our home. He kindled a camp-fire in a deep valley, where the undergrowth was so dense that he felt sure of being safe against discovery. The night was very cold, and snow was flying in the air. Besides that, he had eaten nothing all day, and was anxious to broil a wild turkey he had shot just as it began to grow dark. He started the fire, ate his supper, and was in the act of lying down for the night, when a young Indian walked out from the woods, saying in the best of English that he was his friend. Your father told me that he was the most graceful and handsome youth he had ever looked upon——"
"That was Deerfoot!" exclaimed the delighted Jack.
"There can be no doubt of it, for he told your father that such was his English name. I forget what his own people called him. Well, he said to your father, in the most quiet manner, that a party of Shawanoes were very near him. They had heard the report of his rifle, and, suspecting what it meant, were carefully arranging to capture him for the purpose of torture. Deerfoot had seen them, and, having also heard the gun, learned what was going on. If your father had stayed where he was five minutes longer, nothing could have saved him. I need not tell you that he did not stay. Under the guidance of Deerfoot he managed to extricate himself from his peril, and, by traveling the entire night, was beyond all danger when the sun rose again. Deerfoot did not leave him until certain he had no cause for fear. Then, when your father turned to thank him, he was gone. He had departed as silently as a shadow."
"That was just like Deerfoot!" exclaimed Jack, with kindling eye; "it seems to me he is like Washington. Though he has been in any number of dangers, I don't believe he has so much as a scar on his little finger. He has been fired upon I don't know how often, but, like Washington, he carries a charmed life."
The serious mother shook her head, and, looking over her knitting at her boy, made answer:
"Such a thing is unknown in this world; more than likely he will fall by the knife or bullet of an enemy."
"I suppose he is liable to be shot, like any one else; but the Indian that does it has got to be mighty smart to get ahead of him. Plenty of them have tried it with knife and tomahawk, but they never lived to try it on any one else. But that ain't the most wonderful part of it," added Jack, shaking his head and gesticulating in his excitement with both arms; "Deerfoot knows a good deal more about books than I do."
"That does not imply that he possesses any remarkable education," said the mother, with a quiet smile.
The boy flushed, and sinking back said:
"I know I ain't the best-educated fellow in the settlement, but who ever heard of a young Indian knowing how to read and write? Why, that fellow can write the prettiest hand you ever saw. He carries a little Bible with him: the print is so fine I can hardly read it, but he will stretch out in the light of a poor camp-fire, and read it for an hour at a time. I can't understand where he picked it all up, but he told me about the Pacific Ocean, which is away beyond our country, and he spoke of the land where the Saviour lived when he was on earth. I never felt so ashamed of myself as I did when he sat down and told me such things. He can repeat verse after verse from the Bible; he pronounced the Lord's Prayer in Shawanoe, and then told me and Otto that if we would only use the English a little oftener the Great Spirit would hear us. What do you think of that?"
"It is very good advice."
"Of course it is, but the idea of a young Indian being that sort of fellow! Well, there's no use of talking," added Jack, as though unable to do justice to the theme, "he beats anything I ever heard of. If the truth should be written as to what he has done, and put in a book, I don't 'spose one person in a hundred would believe it. He promised to come and see us."
"I hope he will," said the mother; "I shall always hold him in the highest esteem and gratitude for his kindness to your father and to you."
"I tell you it would have gone rough with Otto and me if it hadn't been for him. I wonder how Otto is getting along?" said Jack, with an expression of misgiving on his face.
"Why do you ask that?" inquired his mother.
"I think Deerfoot was worried over him."
"I do not understand you."
"Why, you know Otto has got the meanest father in the whole United States of America——"
"Those are strong words," interrupted the parent reprovingly.
"It is contrary to your teaching to talk that way, but you know, too, that it is the solemn truth. Deerfoot stopped at Jacob Relstaub's cabin, in this very settlement, some weeks ago, when it was raining harder than now, and asked for something to eat, and to stay all night. What do you 'spose Relstaub did? He abused him and turned him away."
"What a shame!" exclaimed the good woman indignantly. "Why did Deerfoot not come here or to one of the other cabins?"
"I don't know, but he went off in the woods by himself. Otto tried to befriend him, and was whipped for it; but Deerfoot never forgot it, and he risked his life to help Otto and me."
"It was very unkind in Mr. Relstaub, but you have not told me why you and Deerfoot were alarmed for Otto."
"Otto had the best horse that his father owns. It ran away from us, and, though we tried hard to get him again, we couldn't, and Otto and I came home on foot. Knowing his father as well as we do, Deerfoot and I were afraid the poor fellow would be punished because he lost the animal. I haven't had a chance to say much to Otto, and when I did, I didn't want to ask him about it, but I would like to know whether he has been punished for what he couldn't help."
"I can answer that question," said Mrs. Carleton, softly; "his father whipped him most cruelly yesterday."
"The old scamp——"
"Tut, tut!" warned the parent, raising her finger, "it was cruel, but Otto will survive it, as he has many other times, and before many years he will become so large that his father will not be able to punish him."
"I hope he will undertake it, and Otto will knock him——"
"Stop!" said the mother, more sternly, "you have already allowed your feelings to lead you too far."
"Pardon me, mother," said Jack, humbly, "I would not hurt your feelings for the world; but there is such a contrast between his father and you, and his mother is just as bad——"
Jack checked himself again, for his quick ear detected something. He turned quickly toward the door of the cabin, and his mother, reading the meaning of the movement, did the same, holding her fingers motionless while both listened.
The rain beat upon the roof, dashed against the window-panes, and rattled on the logs of the cabin, with a melancholy sound that made the interior seem doubly cheerful by contrast. At times the wind roared among the trees, and some of the pattering drops found their way down the chimney, and hissed among the flaming brands, making tiny black points that were instantly wiped out by the ardor of the fire itself.
Suddenly the latch-string, which was only drawn in when the inmates were ready to retire, was pulled, the latch raised, the door opened, and Otto Relstaub, his garments dripping water, entered the room.
"Good-evening!" he called, pausing a moment to close the door against the driving storm.
Both greeted the visitor, and Jack, laying aside his book, advanced and warmly shook the hand of his friend, bringing him forward and giving him a seat on the bench, which was drawn still nearer the fire.
Otto was attired very much as when we saw him last, but he did not carry his gun with him. He took off his peaked hat, shook the water from it, and then his broad, good-natured face, gleaming with moisture and rugged health, was raised to meet the mild, inquiring gaze of the lady, who asked him how he was.
"Oh, I ish well," he answered, speaking English much better than he did a short time previous, "I have been working so hard dot I couldn't come over before."
"I'm real glad to see you," said Jack, cordially, slapping him on the back and making the water fly; "if you hadn't called to-night I would have dropped in to-morrow to see you. We've hardly had a chance to speak to each other since we got back."
"No, dot ish so," said Otto, with a sigh. "Father, he makes me work harder as I never did, to make up for the time dot I wasted in play, he says. By Jiminy! I don't think dot was much play, do you, Jack?"
"It was the worst play I ever went through; two boys never worked harder for their lives than did we, and if it hadn't been for Deerfoot, we never would have reached Martinsville. I suppose your father gave you a whipping for losing Toby?"
"I should thinks he did! I hadn't been home one hours, when he went out and cut a stick, and used it up on me, and he doned the same yesterday."
Jack was about to break forth into vigorous language, when his mother anticipated him. Her voice was slightly tremulous, for, despite her enforced calmness, she could not altogether restrain her feelings.
"Surely he could not have understood the matter; I will speak to your mother."
Otto shrugged his shoulders, with a laugh in which there was more sadness than mirth.
"Moder is worse than him; she tole him he didn't whips me half enough, and so he tried it again yesterday. I heard her tells him to-night dot I needed more, so I slips out and comes over here before he could get everythings ready. May I stay here all night?"
"All night!" repeated Jack, "you may stay a week—a month—a year—yes, forever."
"I don't want to stay dot long," said Otto, with his pleasant laugh; "but fader, he tells me he will beat me every day till I brings back de horse."
"Very well," said Jack, compressing his lips, "you won't go back till you get the horse—if it takes five years."
"Did your father tell you to stay away till you recovered the animal?" asked Mrs. Carleton.
"Dot vos just vot he says."
"Then it is proper that you should obey him."
Otto nodded his head to signify that his sentiments were those of his friends. He glanced slyly around the room, but did not explain what he was looking for, and, unfortunately, neither mother nor son suspected the meaning of the look; but Otto's hard-hearted parents had actually driven him from their home without allowing him to eat a mouthful of dinner or supper. He was suffering with hunger, but was plucky enough to bear it without complaining, since his friends had partaken and cleared away the table long before.
"What do you intend to do?" asked Mrs. Carleton, who deeply sympathized with the poor lad.
"I goes home in de mornings and gets my gun and powder-horn before they can whips me, and then I goes off to hunt for Toby."
"And I'll go with you!" exclaimed the impulsive Jack, springing to his feet; "you'll let me, mother, won't you?" he asked, turning beseechingly toward her.
Recalling the perils through which her only child had passed so recently, the widow could not but contemplate with dismay the prospect of having him venture into the wilderness again; but she felt deeply for poor honest Otto, who was so willing and good-natured, and who had shown such a desire to help her while her own boy was in Kentucky.
Furthermore, she knew that Louisiana was a much less dangerous country than the Dark and Bloody Ground. Few of the Shawanoes, Hurons, and other actively hostile tribes ever crossed to the western side of the Mississippi, where the Osages gave little trouble to the settlers scattered through that immense territory.
Otto's eyes sparkled when Jack Carleton leaped to his feet and declared he would go with him on the search for the lost horse (subject, of course, to the consent of his mother), and the German youth looked pleadingly toward the good woman, who, it is hardly necessary to say, yielded consent, giving with it a large amount of motherly counsel, to which the boys listened respectfully, though candor compels me to say that the thoughts of both were far away among the green woods, beside the sparkling streams, and in the shadows of the chasms, ravines, and gloomy mountains, whither, as they well knew, the curious search would lead them.
A DOUBTFUL ENTERPRISE.
One of the commendable habits of the early settlers and old-fashioned folks was that of retiring and rising early. They were ardent believers in the saying of Poor Richard that "early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
It was not yet nine o'clock, when Jack and Otto, despite the deep interest they felt in their projected campaign, voluntarily withdrew to the other room, where they fell asleep within five minutes after their heads touched the pillow. The mother remained by the fire some time after the boys withdrew. Her small white fingers flitted hither back and forth, while her mild brown eyes seemed to look beyond the flashing needles, and into the glowing coals on the hearth. Her thoughts were sad and sorrowful, as they always were when she sat thus alone. They wandered back to that awful time when her loved husband was stricken down in defence of her and their little boy.
But to-night she was thinking more of that boy than of the father. She saw how much like the latter he was growing, and she trembled when she recalled that he was soon to start on another excursion into the wilderness, to be gone for days, and likely for weeks, and with no certainty of ever returning again.
As the night advanced, the fury of the storm diminished. At "low twelve" the fall of rain ceased altogether. The wind blew strongly, sometimes with a power which caused the strongest trees to bow their heads to the blast. As the morning approached, it died out altogether, and the sun rose on one of the fairest days that ever was seen.
Early as was the orb, the inmates of the cabin were waiting to greet it when it appeared above the horizon. The boys were in high spirits over the beautiful morning, and both felt that it promised well for the venture before them.
"I tell you we're going to win!" said Jack, compressing his lips and shaking his head. "I feel it in my bones, as your father says, just before a storm comes."
"Dot's vot I dinks," assented Otto, whose only discomfort was his exceeding hunger: "Vot you dinks, Mrs. Carleton?"
"I hope you will not be disappointed; that is the most I can say. Jack's feeling that you are going to succeed is simply his pleasure over the prospect of a ramble in the woods. We will eat breakfast, after which you can go home and make your preparations for the journey."
When they were seated at the table and Otto's hunger was nearly satisfied, he told his friends with a grin, that it was the first food he had tasted in twenty-four hours. They were shocked, and both took him to task for his failure to make known the truth the evening before. He made the philosophic reply that if he had done so he would have missed the boundless enjoyment of such a meal as that of which he was then partaking.
Mrs. Carleton on rising in the morning felt that Otto ought not to be allowed to go on the expedition until after a further talk with his parents, who, despite what they had said, might be unwilling for him to engage in such an undertaking; but when she learned how the poor fellow had been made to suffer with hunger her feelings changed. It was hard to repress her indignation, and she made up her mind to talk to the cruel folks as they had never been talked to before; but she allowed no impatient word to escape her in the presence of their son. She simply advised him to depart as soon as he could upon the hunt for the horse, and not to return, if possible, until it was recovered or another obtained.
"Dot is vot I does," replied Otto with a shake of his head and a determined expression; "Otto doesn't comes back till he brings some kind of animal—if it's only a 'coon or 'possum."
When he walked over to his own home (the building for which was precisely the same as that of widow Carleton), his father and mother were eating their breakfast. They looked surlily at him as he entered, and the mother showed her incredible heartlessness by asking her only child in German:
"Where is Toby that you lost?"
"How can I tell, mother, except that he is in the woods? I tried hard to find him again, and had it not been for Deerfoot I would have lost my life; but he is gone."
"Did I not tell you to go and not come back until you brought him with you?" demanded the father, glaring at his boy as though he was ready to throttle him.
"So you did—so you did; but I couldn't do much last night, when it was so dark and stormy. I have come over to get my gun and ammunition."
The father and mother looked in each other's faces, as though in doubt whether they would let the lad have the property, but before the question could be debated Otto had flung the powder-horn over his shoulders, adjusted the bullet-pouch, shoved the hunting-knife in the girdle at his waist, and walked to the front door, where he halted and looked back.
"Can't I have breakfast before I go?"
"No!" fairly shouted the father; "begone; you shall not have a mouthful under my roof till you bring back the colt you have lost."
"Nobody wants anything you've got on that table," the lad was indignant enough to reply: "I've had one meal that was worth more than a dozen like that. Good-by!"
And before the dumfounded parents could rally from the unparalleled impudence of the youth he was gone.
When he reached the home of Jack Carleton, the latter was waiting and impatient to start. Jack had already kissed his mother good-by several times and he repeated the fond embrace. Tears were in the eyes of both, and the mother stood in the door of her cabin shading her eyes with her hand until the two passed from sight in the forest beyond the clearing.
Several of the pioneers who were busy about the settlement greeted the boys and inquired their errand. Colonel Martin shook hands with them, and asked all the particulars of the business on which they were engaged. His age and position authorized him to ask such searching questions, had the couple been full-grown men instead of boys.
Otto answered truthfully, and the colonel smiled grimly and shook his head.
"It's mighty little chance you have of ever finding that horse again, but you may come upon another. Take my advice, however," added the colonel with a wink of his left eye, "make certain the owner isn't in sight when you walk off with the animal."
"Why, colonel, you don't think we mean to steal a horse!" exclaimed the horrified Jack.
"Certainly not—certainly not," the principal man of the settlement hastened to say, "I don't believe you could be persuaded to do such a thing—that is if the owner was looking."
"We couldn't be persuaded to do such a thing under any circumstances," exclaimed Jack, his face flushing over the idea that any one who knew him should suspect him capable of such a crime.
"See here," said the colonel, dropping his voice and stepping in front of them, "you tell me you are going after a horse. Have you the money with you to buy one?"
"No; we cannot get one that way."
"I judged not; how then do you propose to obtain him?"
"Toby, the colt belonging to Otto's father, is wandering in the woods not very far away——"
"How do you know he is?" interrupted the colonel.
"Why, he was doing so only a few days ago."
"That is no proof that he is keeping it up; in fact it is scarcely possible that such is the case. Recollect, my boy, that several tribes of Indians hunt through this portion of Louisiana, and they would be much quicker than you to observe the trail of a horse wearing an iron shoe; they would be inquiring enough also to investigate for themselves, and, when they came upon the colt, they would snap him up quicker than lightning."
The boys felt that somehow or other the wonderful young Shawanoe would appear at the right moment and lend them the help which they were certain to need. Should he fail to do so, they could no more recapture and take the colt to his owner than they could penetrate into the Dark and Bloody Ground and bring back the great war chief Tecumseh as a prisoner.
But neither Colonel Martin nor any one in the village knew anything about the extraordinary Indian youth, and, while Jack was asking himself whether he should linger long enough to explain the situation, the gentleman relieved them from the embarrassment by a hearty slap on the shoulder of Jack, and the exclamations:
"I was once a boy myself! I haven't forgotten that jolly time: we always liked to have some sort of excuse when we went off on a frolic. You see what a lot of work there is to do in clearing the ground and getting it ready for cultivation; you would much rather be hunting and rambling through the woods; I can't say I blame you, so off with you, and when you come back with word that the horse was mean enough to keep out of your way, why we won't be too hard on you."
And with another resounding slap, the hearty colonel gave the boys a vigorous shove which sent them forward among the trees, near which they had halted.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED.
Jack Carleton was too sensible a youth to suppose that the Lost Trail could be found by a blind wandering through the immense expanse of wilderness, which stretched hundreds of miles in almost every direction from the little settlement of Martinsville. Both he and Otto had a strong hope, when they reached home after their stirring adventure with Deerfoot, that the colt Toby would follow them of his own accord. He belonged to a species possessing such unusual intelligence that there would have been nothing remarkable in such a proceeding, and the fact that he did not do so, gave ground for the belief that he had fallen into the hands of parties who prevented the animal from doing as he chose.
One fact was clearly established; Toby had been within a comparatively short distance of the settlement, and, if he had remained anywhere in the neighborhood during the late storm, traces of him must be found without much difficulty. But one of the easiest things in the world is to theorize over any problem; to push that theory to a successful conclusion is altogether another matter.
While it lacked a couple of hours of noon, the boys reached an elevated section which gave them an extended view in every direction. Looking to the eastward, Otto fancied he could detect the gleam of the distant Mississippi, but Jack assured him he was mistaken. Too many miles lay between them and the mighty Father of Waters for the eye to traverse the space.
Young Carleton took off his cap and drew his handkerchief across his perspiring forehead. Then he sighed and smiled.
"This doesn't appear so hopeful to me as it did last night, when we sat around the fire and talked it over; but of course we won't give up so long as there's the least hope."
"And it won't do for me to give him up then," replied Otto, with a meaning shake of his head; "you don't know my fader as well as me."
"I don't want to either," remarked Jack, who did not think it his duty to refrain from showing the contempt he felt for the miserly, cruel parent of his friend.
"No," observed Otto, with a touch of that grim humor which he sometimes displayed, "I doesn't dinks dot you and him could have much fun together."
The young friends were too accustomed to the immensity of nature, as displayed on every hand, to feel specially impressed by the scene which would have held any one else enthralled. It may be said they were "on business," though it had very much the appearance of sport.
"Halloo! I expected it!" called out Jack Carleton, whose gaze abruptly rested on a point due southwest, and more than a mile away.
His companion did not need the guidance of the outstretched arm and index finger leveled toward the distant spot, where the smoke of a camp-fire was seen climbing toward the blue sky. The scene on which the boys looked was similar to that which met the eye of Ned Preston and Deerfoot when they lay on the broad flat rock and gazed across at the signal-fire in the distance.
The wooded country gradually sloped to the south and west from the elevation whereon the young friends had halted, slowly rising and undulating until the eye could follow the blue wavy outlines no further. At the point already named, and in the lowest portion of the intervening country, a camp-fire was burning. The smoke, as it filtered upward through the branches of the trees, and gradually dissolved in the pure air above, was seen with such distinctness that it caught the eye of Jack the moment it was turned in that direction.
It was not a signal-fire, such as one is likely to detect when journeying through an Indian country, but the vapor from the camp of some body of men who were not making the slightest attempt to conceal themselves, for it cannot be conceived that they had any reason for doing so.
If the party were Indians, they surely had no necessity for stationing a sentinel on the outskirts of their camp to watch for danger.
Jack and Otto looked in each other's faces and smiled; the natural question had presented itself at the same moment. It was, "Can it be that the horse we are seeking is with them?"
"The only way to find out is to go forward and see for ourselves," said Jack, after they had discussed the question for several minutes.
"'Spose dot de horse is with them—what den?"
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
"Deerfoot used to say that he could never answer such a question until he knew exactly how everything stood. Now, we can't be certain whether they are Indians or white men, and I don't know as it makes much difference one way or the other, for our own horse thieves over in Kentucky were dreaded as much as were the Shawanoes. They were a good deal meaner, too, for they oppressed their own race."
"Dot is vot I sometimes dinks of fader," was the unexpected remark of Otto; "if he was only a colored man or Injin I would have more respect for him; dot is so."
"Come on; we have started out to do something, and we can't gain anything by staying here."
The brief halt had refreshed the boys, and they now moved forward with their naturally vigorous and almost bounding steps. While they had much curiosity, and a somewhat singular misgiving, yet they were in no particular fear, for it was impossible to believe they were in any real peril.
It was quite a tramp to reach the camp in which just then they felt so much interest, and the sun was close to meridian when Jack, who was slightly in advance, slackened his gait, and remarked in an undertone:
"It can't be far—halloo!"
While picking their way through the valley, they lost sight of the wavering column of vapor, except once or twice when they were able to catch a glimpse of it through the tree-tops. Jack's exclamation was caused by another sight of the murky column, which, as he suspected, proved to be little more than a hundred yards distant.
There was so much undergrowth that nothing of the fire itself could be observed, though the smoke showed itself distinctly in the clear air above.
"Vell, vot does we does now?" was the natural query of Otto, as he placed himself beside his young friend.
"I guess we may as well keep on, until we find out who they are."
"After we finds out vot we does den?"
"We shall see—come on."
It was simple prudence that they should speak in whispers, and step with as much care as if they were scouts entering the camp of an enemy. It would have been rashness to neglect so simple a precaution, no matter how favorable the circumstances.
"Holds on!" whispered Otto, "I dinks I goes around the oder side while you takes a look on dis side."
"There is no need of doing that," interposed Jack; "we found out the consequence of separating when in danger. You needn't keep behind me, but you may walk at my side."
"All right," responded Otto, obeying the suggestion.
A rod or two further, and something red gleamed, among the trees and undergrowth. Smoke was observed at the same moment, and immediately after came the hum of voices and the sight of persons stretched on the ground in lolling, indolent positions, while some were sitting on a fallen tree, and two were engaged in broiling some venison, which evidently was meant to furnish dinner for the rest. The majority were smoking a species of red clay pipe, and the appearance of the party suggested that they were resting after a laborious tramp through the woods.
There were precisely ten, and they were Indians—every one. Jack could not be certain of the tribe to which they belonged, but inasmuch as it was apparent they were neither Shawanoes nor Hurons, he was confident they were Osages, though it was not impossible that their totem was another altogether.
Several peculiarities about the strange Indians interested the youth. They were noticeably shorter in stature than the Hurons and Shawanoes whom they had been accustomed to meet on the other side of the Mississippi. The poetical American Indian is far different from the one in real life. It is rarely that a really handsome warrior or squaw is met. They are, generally a slouchy, frowsy, lazy, unclean people, of whom nothing is truer than that distance lends enchantment to their view.
Those upon whom Jack and Otto gazed with natural curiosity, were not only shorter in stature, but of homelier countenance. Their eyes were smaller, more piggish, and further apart, their cheek-bones more prominent, the foreheads lower and more sloping, while Jack always asserted that they had much larger mouths than the Indians with whom he was familiar.
While asking themselves whether it was wise to go any closer and to make their acquaintance, the lads stood side by side, each with the stock of his gun resting on the earth, while their whole attention was absorbed by the curious scene before them.
It would naturally follow that if the Indian party was in such plain sight of the boys, they themselves must have been visible to the red men had they chosen to cast their searching glances towards the spot where the two were standing, even though the latter were partially hidden by the undergrowth.
Had Jack and Otto been as vigilant and suspicious as they ought to have been, their misgivings would have been awakened by what took place within the next ten minutes. Two of the warriors, leaving their rifles where they were leaning against a fallen tree, leisurely rose and sauntered into the woods, taking a course directly opposite to that which would have led them to where the boys stood. The latter observed the movement, but thought nothing of it.
"What do you say?" finally asked Jack, in a guarded voice; "shall we go forward and make their acquaintance?"
"Dey haven't any horses that we can see, and I dinks dot we better goes away till some other time."
"I am inclined to believe you are right——"
At that moment, and without the least warning, a brawny, coppery arm shot over the shoulder of Jack Carleton, and, grasping his rifle with an iron grip, snatched it from him. At the same instant, a precisely similar movement deprived Otto Relstaub of his most important weapon, the two friends being made prisoners before they dreamed they were in the least danger.
CAPTORS AND CAPTIVES.
With an exclamation of affright, Jack Carleton whirled on his heel and found the broad, grinning face of one of the warriors almost against his own. Holding the rifle back, as if expecting an attempt to recover it, the savage thrust his head forward, with a tantalizing expression overspreading his ugly features. At the same moment he muttered something very rapidly in his own tongue. Not a word was understood by Jack, but he was sure the warrior said, "Ah, ha, young man, I've caught you, and you can't help yourself."
The experience of Otto Relstaub was slightly different from that of his companion. When he found his rifle gone and a squatty Indian at his elbow, he was panic-stricken.
"Mine gracious!" he exclaimed, "this ain't de best place for me; I dinks I goes to some oder place."
Naturally he made a dash to retrace his steps, but the warrior was too quick for him. He had taken his second step only, when his captor grasped the ankle of the foot that was rising from the ground, and drew backward with such force that Otto sprawled on his face.
Jack, who could not believe that these red men were of a very sanguinary disposition, laughed outright over the discomfiture of his friend.
"Can't you kick him loose?" he called.
"If he don't hang on too tight," replied Otto, trying with might and main to free himself.
The moment the boys were captured, the attention of the entire company was centred upon them. All talking ceased, and every one stood up and looked toward the point of interest. Several went forward to meet the captives, and the general grin that lighted up the aboriginal countenances seemed to shed a mild sort of sunlight among and under the trees.
"It's no use," said Jack to his friend; "we can't get away until they are ready to let us go."
"Vot does they mean to do mit us?"
"That is hard to tell," replied the young Kentuckian, with a serious countenance; "I don't know to what tribe they belong, but I believe they ain't half as bad as the Shawanoes."
"Dey couldn't be any more cruel don dem," was the truthful observation of the young German.
In the course of a few seconds the boys were fully introduced to the camp-fire of the strange Indians, who were not in war paint, and who, as the boys rightly believed, belonged to a less bloodthirsty totem than did the redskins on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.
Every warrior was standing on his feet, and they all crowded around the boys, as though they had never seen any of their race until that moment. They continually talked in their guttural, grunting fashion, smiling and nodding their heads. Two of them pinched the limbs of the boys as though testing their muscle. So far from showing any alarm, Jack Carleton clenched his fist and elevated his arm, swaying the hand back and forth as if proud to display the development of his biceps. But Otto was in too doleful a mood to indulge in anything of the kind.
As a matter of course, the Indians could not feel the slightest misgiving on account of their prisoners. They must have known of the settlement only a few miles distant, and they had not offered to disturb it, nor had they molested any of the pioneers when they ventured into the woods in quest of game.
Such being the case, it can be readily seen that, so far as the settlers were concerned, the Indians were safe. Although within gunshot of Martinsville, the red men took no precaution at all against molestation from them.
It struck Jack as curious that among the warriors gathered around them, not one had as yet spoken a word that he could understand. The American race have shown a quickness from the first to pick up expressions from the language of those near them. Who has forgotten Samoset's "Welcome, Englishmen!" uttered to the first settlers at Plymouth, who were at a loss to understand where the red man learned the pleasant words?
Jack Carleton, who retained his self-possession much better than did his friend, listened hopefully for some word which he could recognize.
While he was disappointed in that respect, he could not believe that he and Otto were in any imminent peril from their captors, though, on the other hand, he was very far from feeling safe against harm. With a coolness that must have awakened admiration among the barbarians, the youth, standing in the middle of the group, folded his arms, and smilingly looked in the repellant faces, none of which were at a greater altitude than his own.
After pinching different parts of the bodies of the boys, the Indians seemed to be satisfied and stepped back. The majority sat down on the log, others sauntered away, relighting their pipes that had burned out, and the two who had been serving as cooks, gave their attention to the venison steak, whose appetizing odor filled the surrounding space.
"Otto, we may as well take it quietly," said Jack, sauntering to the butt of the log, and seating himself, "they don't mean to tomahawk us just yet, and I hope they will give us some dinner before they dispose of us."
The German imitated the action of Jack, but he did not share his self-possession. He shook his head in a way which showed he was far from feeling comfortable.
"You seem more scared than when we were behind the logs, with the Shawanoes and Hurons on the outside," said Jack; "I don't understand how that can be. I am sure there is less to dread from these Indians than from them."
"It ain't de Injins dot makes me feel so bad," replied Otto with a rueful expression, "but fader."
"What's the matter with him?"
"De colt is lost and now dey takes mine gun from me; if I goes back dot way, fader will whip me harder than ever."
Jack was serious for a moment and then he laughed.
"I never dreamed that that was your trouble. Of course, if you go home without your gun the old gentleman will be angry, but there is one good thing about the matter."
"No matter what happens, he can't be any meaner and more cruel than he is now."
Otto removed his tall, conical hat, looked thoughtfully down at the ground in front, and slowly scratched his head. Manifestly he was in deep thought. Suddenly he looked up, his face aglow.
"Dot is so. I don't care now vot dey takes, I will valks home and tells fader and moder dot I lost it, den won't they be mad! Oh, mine gracious!"
And leaning far back on the log and donning his hat, he slapped his knee with his right hand and shook all over with laughter. There is something contagious in such an exhibition, as we all know, and not only did Jack laugh in unison, but several of the warriors showed they were amused.
"I thought all the time Otto was alarmed on account of the Indians," said Jack to himself, "and it was nothing of the kind; he was only afraid that his father will be madder than ever when he goes back not only without the lost horse, but without some of the property he took away with him. Now that fear is gone and Otto begins to feel better than I do, for," thought the youth, looking around him, "we certainly are not in the best situation in the world."
The youth could not help observing that while the Indians seemed to pay little attention to them, he and Otto were under strict surveillance. As no motion had been made to bind them, the boys could make a sudden break or dash for liberty whenever the whim took possession of them, but nothing could be gained and a great deal might be lost by such an attempt. Stumpy and heavy-set as were the warriors, they could easily outrun their captives, and rather than permit them to get away, they would doubtless riddle them with bullets. Consequently, while the same thought came to each of the friends more than once, as they sat conversing on the log, neither proposed any effort to get away.
They had brought nothing in the shape of lunch with them, and it may be doubted whether any one of the Indians was more ravenously hungry than were they. It would go hard with them, if deprived of their share of the dinner, prepared by the aboriginal cooks.
When the huge slices of venison were half broiled, the distribution followed. The cooks handled their hunting-knives with such deftness, that in a twinkling, as may be said, the jaws of the entire party were vigorously at work. After receiving their respective shares, few made the slightest use of their knives. The aborigines live and eat so much like wild animals, that, almost without exception, they possess admirable teeth which need no artificial assistance.
"My gracious!" whispered Jack, "I believe they don't mean to give us so much as a bite."
"If dey doesn't do so, den I dies mit hunger," was the despairing exclamation of Otto, who forgot that only a few hours had passed since he had partaken liberally of food. "I never felt so hungry as I feels now, and now I'm growing worser——"
Something thumped against the side of the speaker's head with such force that his hat fell off. Jack had just time to see that it was a piece of cooked venison, when a similar blessing struck him.
The two Indians were dexterous throwers, and they and half a dozen were grinning over the result.
The result was satisfactory in every way to the victims, if such they may be considered, for, besides furnishing them with the much-needed nourishment, it was a strong proof of the indifference, if not the good-will of their captors. Had they felt ill inclined toward the boys, they would not have shown such kindness toward them.
"When you are in Rome, do as the Romans do," laughed Jack, seating himself on the fallen tree and devouring the half-cooked meat with the gusto of those around him. Indeed he and Otto had eaten many a time in a similar style, and few persons find difficulty in making savages of themselves in every respect, whenever the inclination so to do takes possession of them.
The boys would have relished double the amount of food, but enough had been given to remove all discomfort, and they would have found it hard to describe the thorough enjoyment the lunch imparted.
But now that the troublesome question was answered, the thought of the youths naturally turned to the immediate future. Had these Indians formed any purpose respecting their prisoners? If so, what was it likely to be? Did they intend to kill them with rifle, tomahawk, or knife? Or would they be taken away captives? Did the red men belong to the Osage tribe of Indians, or was theirs some fiercer or milder totem from a distant part of the country?
It is a fact that among many of the early settlements in Missouri and other Western States, the warriors who were occasionally encountered in the forests, or who fired from the cover of the trees, belonged to tribes whose hunting-grounds were many leagues away. They were not Shawanoe, Huron, Pottawatomie, Osage, Miami, Delaware, Illinois, Kickapoo, or Winnebago. Sometimes a veteran trapper recognized the dress and general appearance that he had noted among the red men to the northward, and far beyond the Assiniboine; others who had ventured hundreds of miles to the westward, remembered exchanging shots with similar dusky warriors on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
Indeed it cannot be questioned that the American race not only produced warriors, orators, and magnificent leaders, but it had its travelers and explorers—the name being accepted in its restricted meaning.
More than once Jack had wondered whether this party had not come from a long distance in the interior, perhaps hundreds of miles, and that having completed the errand on which they had journeyed so far, were now on their return.
"If this is so," he said to Otto, when they observed the party making preparations to leave, "they will take us on a good long march."
"I dinks maybe dey knocks us in the head, so as not to makes us feel bad apout going away from home."
Further conversation was checked by some minutes of bustle and activity. The Indians seemed to have come very suddenly to the conclusion to depart, and the boys naturally shared the excitement; but possibly their dismay can be imagined, when it became apparent that the red men intended to divide into two parties, and that as a consequence the boys would have to part company, and who shall say whether it was to be for a few days, a few years, or forever?
It never occurred to Jack and Otto that their captors meant to separate until the division actually took place. As if by a general understanding, one half of the party moved to the right, and the rest partly to the left, the course of the former being due west, and of the latter directly south.
"Halloo, Otto!" called Jack, turning his head and stopping among the members of his own division who were moving off; "they're going to part company."
"Dot is vot it looks like; but I guess it ain't going to be for one great vile. Good-by!"
Jack was unwilling to part with his friend in this abrupt fashion, and he started toward him with a view of shaking his hand. He did not dream that his movement would awaken the least opposition; but he presumed too much on the indulgence of the red men, for, before he could take three steps, one of the warriors caught his arm, and, with a violent wrench, flung him in the opposite direction.
It required the utmost effort of Jack to save himself from falling, and a stinging pain ran through his shoulder. His hot Kentucky blood was aflame, and the instant he could poise his body he drew his knife and rushed upon the Indian with the fury of a tiger.
"I'll show you that you can't treat me that way!" he exclaimed.
The warrior whom he was about to assail faced him in a crouching posture, both hands resting on his knees, while his ugly countenance was bisected by a tantalizing grin which showed the molars of both jaws. His black eyes gleamed like those of a rattlesnake, and his whole attitude and manner showed that he was seeking to goad the lad to attack him.
The impetus was not needed. Jack Carleton had no thought of hesitation, though even in his rage he felt that there was scarcely a shadow of hope that he would escape with his life from such an encounter.
The moment Jack was close enough he bounded forward and made a sweeping blow, with the knife gripped in his right hand. Had the weapon struck where it was aimed, there would have been one Indian less before the spectators could have realized what had taken place. The other warriors were looking upon the picture as though in doubt of what was coming. Among those watching the scene was Otto Relstaub, whose eyes were riveted on his friend. The thrilling encounter had opened so suddenly that he fairly held his breath, certain that Jack would not live two minutes longer.
But the knife of the boy missed its mark altogether. The keen point whizzed through empty air, the spiteful force of the blow turning the lad half way around on his feet, and leaving him utterly at the mercy of the warrior; the latter could have smitten him to the earth with the suddenness of the lightning stroke.
But the Indian did not so much as draw his weapon. With a quickness which the eye could scarcely follow, he snatched the wrist of the boy's hand and bent it back with such force that poor Jack was glad to let the weapon fall to the ground. He was discomfited and helpless.
Jack folded his arms, so as to bring the injured wrist against his left side and under his elbow. Pressing it close to his body, he shut his white lips and forced back the cry that struggled for utterance.
With wonderful coolness the triumphant red man stooped to the ground, picked up the hunting-knife, and with the same expanse of grin, presented it to Jack, the handle toward him.
"Takes him, Jack!" called out Otto, who was probably the most astounded spectator of the scene; "but don't try to kills him ag'in."
Young Carleton for a moment was as bewildered as a child; but his good sense rapidly returned, and, with a smile in answer to that of the Indian, he accepted the weapon and shoved it back in its place.
Jack was mortified beyond expression at the sorry show he had made. He had cut a ridiculous figure, and no wonder a general smile lighted up the faces of the red men gathered around.
But the youth made a mistake when he believed he had lowered himself in the eyes of his captors. The American race (like all others) admire true courage and pluck, even though judgment may be lacking, and the dauntless style in which the young captive attacked his tormentor, when there was no prospect of success, awoke a responsive chord in the breast of all. Had Jack shown himself a coward, they might have treated him as they often did such captives; but the brave young fellow was in no danger, at least for the present.
The occurrence took but a fraction of the time that has been occupied in the telling, and Jack was only given opportunity to replace the knife, when his captors, arranging themselves so as to surround him, resumed their march to the westward. Precisely at the same instant the other half of the company did the same in the other direction, and once more Otto Relstaub called out:
"Good-by, Jack! good-by to you!"
"Good-by, my friend!" shouted Jack, his heart filled with a deep misgiving over the singular event. "Keep up a good heart, though there's no telling whether we shall ever meet again."
"If I get home before you gets dere I will tell Colonel Martin, and we'll follow you to the Rocky Mountains——"
Even in that serious moment Jack Carleton broke into laughter when he saw that the usual fortune of Otto clung to him. His foot caught in some obstruction, and while in the act of waving his hand and exchanging greetings with his friend, he stumbled forward and went down. Clambering to his feet he turned to complete his words, but his captors seemed to have lost patience on account of the delay. One seized his right and another his left arm and began walking him rapidly off. The last sight which Jack gained of the fellow showed him between two Indians, who were hurrying him along with such vigor that his head rose and sank with each unwilling footstep, as though he was alternately lifted from and pressed down to the ground. A few seconds later and the intervening trees hid him from sight.
It would have been difficult for Jack Carleton to describe his varied emotions when forced to admit the fact that he was an actual prisoner among a band of wandering Indians. The memorable journey from Kentucky into Louisiana had been attended by many stirring experiences, and more than once every avenue of escape seemed to be closed, but, now for the first time, he found himself a captive within a few miles of his own home.
Whither would these red men take him? Did they mean to hold him a permanent captive, or, as is often the case with their race, would they put him to torture and finally to death? The settlements of Kentucky and Ohio were crimsoned with the deeds of the red men, and, though some tribes were less warlike than others, it was not to be supposed that any of them were distinguished for mercy and forbearance.
"If Colonel Martin only knew this," thought Jack, while tramping forward, "it wouldn't take him long to gather the men together, and they would come down on these folks like a whirlwind; but Otto and I may be gone for weeks before any one will suspect we are in trouble. Even then they won't know what to do. No, sir," added Jack, compressing his lips, "whatever is done must be done by myself, and, with the help of heaven, I shall part company with these red men just as soon as the chance presents itself."
Any one in the situation of Jack Carleton cannot lack for themes on which to employ his brain. It is safe to assert that the boy did more thinking while on that eventful march than he had done in the same space of time for years.
It may be said that while the party were on the march, and the warriors were together, it was utterly out of the question for Jack to leave against their will. Three strode along in front, while two were in the rear. Every one was fleeter of foot than he, and they had six rifles in their possession, while he had none at all. Could he secure several hundred yards' start, they would have no difficulty in trailing and running him down, for the sky was clear, the sun bright, and the footprints of the boy would show as distinctly to the keen eyes of the red men as though made in the dust of the highway.
No, he must wait for the darkness of the night, when a few yards between him and his enemies would prove like a stone wall; when insidious sleep would seal the eyes of the dusky barbarians, and he could steal out in the gloom, leaving them to wait for hours before taking up his trail.
One person was continually in the thoughts of Jack Carleton—Deerfoot. "Where is he? Is he days' journey to the south? Is there any hope of him playing the part of a friend for Otto and me?"
These and similar questions were asked again and again while the youth was tramping through the wood in the company of his captors, and his heart sank when his own good sense obliged him to answer each one in the most unsatisfactory manner.
He recalled that Deerfoot parted with them only a few days before in a manner which implied that considerable time must pass before they would see each other again. The young Shawanoe could not suspect that when his friends reached home, they would immediately proceed to get into trouble, as they had just done.
"No," added Jack, with a sigh, "from what I know and have heard of Deerfoot, he has a wonderful way of turning up when wanted, but it's no use to look for him in this case."
The conclusion of the boy was a sensible one, and he resolutely faced the situation as it presented itself to him. It was most serious, and it may be said that every passing hour rendered it more so, for he was moving away from home, and thereby increasing the difficulties of returning thither, should it become his good fortune to gain the opportunity to do so.
The warriors who were walking in front, followed the usual custom of their people—that is, they proceeded in Indian file, so that the boy was given a fair view only of the one immediately before him—the glimpses of the others being fragmentary. Glancing behind, he observed the same fact, so that the entire party made but the single trail, for Jack himself was wise enough to fall in with their custom.
"It may be," he muttered, after traveling several miles in silence, "that they live hundreds of miles off and that I won't have a chance to leave them for weeks or months or—years," he added in a hushed voice, and with an additional heart-throb, "but I shall never be reconciled to live in the wigwams of the red men."
It seemed curious to the young captive that a party of friends, like the Indians, should tramp mile after mile as they did without speaking a single word. Now and then, some one would utter an exclamation which sounded more like the grunt of a porker than anything else, but frequently they advanced steadily for an hour or more in perfect silence.
Sometimes the forest was open and free from undergrowth, then it was cluttered up with running vines which would have annoyed any one unaccustomed to them, but which proved no obstacle to the Indians. In fact, they walked without showing the least regard to them. Where Jack, if leading, would have lifted his feet, they shoved ahead and without effort snapped and turned them aside as though they were so many cobwebs.
"It all comes from training," concluded our friend, as he attempted to catch a switch which swung back and struck him across the face; "if I was alone, it would take me twice as long as it takes them, and then I would fare worse than they do."
All at once, they came upon a creek. It was barely twenty feet in width, but muddy, swift and deep. There was something impressive in the speed with which the volume of water rushed through the woods, as if fleeing in a panic from some peril at its heels.
The entire party came to a halt, ranging themselves along the bank and surveying the turbid torrents, as though they wished to talk with each other upon the best method of placing themselves on the other side.
"I hope they won't swim it," Jack said to himself, "for their people make no allowance for those that are not as skillful as they, and I will get into trouble."
AN INVOLUNTARY BATH.
It was not to be supposed that a party of Indians could be checked by a stream of water. If necessary they could swim across, but, inasmuch as the party separated, and while several went up, the rest walked down the stream, it was evident they were searching for a more suitable spot in which to make the passage.
Jack Carleton followed the larger party, which had gone only a few rods when a whoop from the others made known they had found what was wanted. The rest immediately turned around and joined them.
Jack saw at once that the means were provided for passing over dry shod. A tree, some six or eight inches in diameter, lay with the butt on one shore and the upper portion on the opposite bank. A glance showed that it had been felled by the axe of some pioneer, who probably thus formed a bridge for himself and friends. The limbs had been trimmed away, and the abraded bark proved that it had served a similar purpose for many wild beasts in passing to and fro. The faded color of the gashes in the trunk showed that a long time had passed since the bridge was made by the woodman's axe.
Nothing better could be required, and several grunts of satisfaction escaped the warriors during the minute they stood together viewing the support that awaited the pressing of their feet.
Jack Carleton stepped forward, but one of the Indians grasped his arm and drew him back so violently as almost to throw him to the ground. The boy looked wonderingly in his face, and saw that it was aglow with passion. He shook his head rapidly and spoke fast and furious.
"I think I can guess what you mean," said Jack, stepping back, so as to allow the others to precede him, "and I will now await your commands."
He stood still until three had gone over, when they beckoned him to follow. Jack had noticed that when the Indians were walking on the log, they were obliged to move carefully, for their foothold was narrow and the swift running current was apt to make one dizzy. The lad, however, stepped forward without hesitation and advanced slowly but with certainty.
The three warriors, who stood facing him on the shore, showed that like Deerfoot the Shawanoe, they possessed a certain vein of waggery, for at the moment Jack was over the middle of the stream, one of them stooped, and, grasping the head of the trunk, moved it quickly fully a couple of feet to the right, all three bursting into an audible snicker at the same moment. The lad was looking downward, meanwhile stepping carefully, when he glanced across to learn the meaning of the action, the stooping Indian being in his field of vision.
Jack understood the trick, but he was without the means of defeating it. He stooped quickly with the intention of grasping the support with both hands, but before he could do so, he lost his balance, flung his arms aloft, and down he went with a loud splash that sent the spray flying in all directions.
No audience of countrymen ever laughed more heartily at the ancient jokes of a clown than did the five Indians when the boy disappeared under the water, his eyes staring with the shock of affright which came with his sudden contact with the current.
Jack was a capital swimmer, and he was satisfied there was no wish to drown him; but he had scarcely passed below the surface, when it occurred to him that there was a possibility of turning the jest upon his captors. The water was very deep, and he kept sinking until his feet softly touched the bottom. As he gave himself the slight impulse which sent him upward again, he not only swam swiftly with the rapid current, but moved as close to shore as possible, and began creeping up the side of the bank.
In doing this, he over-estimated his own strength. It took him a longer time to reach the surface than he calculated upon, and he narrowly escaped strangling; but he resolutely held out to the last second.
At the moment the rushing waters seemed to roar through his brain, his crown cleft the surface, and he drew a deep inspiration of the blessed air; but, even in that trying moment, he kept his self-possession, and the breath was taken so softly that no ear beside his own knew it.
He had emerged close to shore and directly under some overhanging brush, which was not so dense as he could wish, since he was able to see the warriors standing on the land and looking for him. It followed, therefore, that if they should scrutinize the bank very closely they would discover him; but the boy's hope lay in their lack of suspicion that such an artifice was in his mind.
Several circumstances united to help the youth; the water was roiled, as has already been said, while the friction of the swift current against the shore made a noise which overcame the slight ripple caused by his own movements. Only his nose and eyes were kept above the surface, and the shrubbery which inclosed them made a tolerable screen, though less effective than he desired.
Jack had landed, as may be said, a dozen yards below the log from which he had been thrown and on the side from which he set out, consequently he was opposite the five Indians who stood on the shore. He was led to do this from a natural desire to get as far away as he could from his captors, but it was a mistake on his part, for had he crawled under the other bank he would have been hidden altogether from the sight of the Indians.
Holding to a wire-like root with his left hand, he swung around so as to face up stream, and, through the slight spaces in the shrubbery kept his eyes fixed intently on the brawny red men.
Very soon the warriors looked at each other, and talked rapidly and with growing excitement. There could be no doubt they were discussing the unexpected shape matters had taken; the joke played on their captive had proven a very serious matter to him. It must have been that the pale-faced youth was unable to swim and was drowned. The white warrior was a pappoose.
"By and by they will make search for me," was the thought of Jack Carleton, still retaining his hold, "and then will come the tug of war. It won't be the live boy they'll expect to find, but his dead body, bobbing up and down and back and forth, and yet I don't see why they will care to hunt me up."
Whatever might be the issue, Jack was warranted in feeling hopeful, for he was sure the incident had taken a turn entirely unexpected to the warriors.
"If I had only floated a little further down stream," he thought more than once, noticing a sharp bend made by the current, "I would have been in a good deal better situation than this, for I would have been out of their sight altogether."
Several times he was on the point of letting go and dropping further down, but he dreaded some mistake which would draw attention to the spot. If he should try to swim under the surface, he might be forced to come up too soon, or might strike some obstruction in the stream that would fling him over as though he was a porpoise. It was the fear of a catastrophe of this nature which held him where he was, while he peered through the shrubbery like some wild animal glaring out from his covert upon his enemies.
The face of every Indian was in sight, and he studied the expression of each broad, coppery countenance. He knew they were talking by the movements of the thin lips, and, despite the noise of the rushing stream, he heard one of them grunt several times. This particular warrior was shorter and more solidly built than the rest, and appeared to be some kind of a leader, for he had the most to say, and the boy noticed, while on the march, that he directed the actions of the rest.
This Indian, as he stood, held his rifle in his right hand, while the thumb of his left was hooked over the belt at his waist, which supported his knife and tomahawk. His stomach protruded somewhat, and, when he spoke in his sententious manner, the belt would rise and sink in a spasmodic fashion which kept time with his words.
Jack kept close watch of the black eyes, which, like those of professional hunters and scouts, were never at rest. They flitted hither and thither, up and down stream and even to the rear, as though danger were apprehended from that direction.
What the boy was expecting and dreading was a search on the part of the Indians. None could know better than they how brief a time is required for a person to drown, and they were not long in arriving at the conclusion that the boy either was dead, or had left the stream at a point below. Three savages walked hastily over the creek on the log and began moving along shore, their serpent-like eyes scanning every foot of land and water that came in their field of vision. At the same time, the other two did the same from the opposite shore, and Jack Carleton knew that the crisis had come.
He felt quite secure against being seen by the two who were traveling together, for he was able to dispose of the undergrowth so as to increase its usefulness. While one hand held fast to the tough root, he softly drew down the bush with the other, so that it interposed between him and the couple who were held in such dread. If the others should step to the edge of the stream and part the bushes, it would be all up with the frightened lad.
The necessities of the case forced Jack to raise his head until both ears were above the surface, and thus, while he employed his eyes to follow the movements of the couple, he sought to use his ears to discover the approach of the trio, though the rushing torrent forbade full success in that respect.
The two warriors were in plain sight as they slowly picked their way downward. Jack saw the upper parts of their bodies, and his heart throbbed faster when they faced about and came down to the edge of the water. However, they were still several yards above him, so that he was quite certain they did not suspect his hiding-place. When they halted and leaned over the stream, the fugitive gave no thought to those who were undoubtedly much closer, but sank until only forehead, eyes and nose were in the air, while the scanty bush was drawn still closer to his face.
All at once, Jack's heart seemed to stand still; he saw that one of the Indians was looking straight at the spot where he was in hiding. The black orbs were centered upon him with such an inquiring expression, that he was sure he had been discovered. All hope was gone, until a moment after he observed that the savage was peering at the undergrowth below him, as though suspicious of everything which could afford any sort of a hiding-place.
"He didn't see me after all," was the conclusion of the delighted boy, "and now if the others let me alone, I shall have a chance to give them the slip."
Again the waists and shoulders of the two were observed moving slowly among the trees and undergrowth, until they passed out of sight, a considerable distance below the crouching fugitive. The relief of the latter was unspeakable, though he could not forget that other foes were also to be avoided.
But minute after minute passed, and still Jack saw and heard nothing of the red men. With each passing minute his hopes rose, until at the end of half an hour, he felt that his safety was well nigh secured.
"They have concluded I was drowned and my body is not likely to come to the surface for some time—anyway not until it is a long way from this spot. If they don't return, I'm safe."
But a thrill of alarm passed through him more than once, when he recalled that the strategy he had employed was of such a simple nature that it ought to suggest itself to the red men. If such was the case they would be certain to return to the fallen tree, renew their search, and prosecute it with greater care.
It was the dread of the latter which led Jack to creep carefully out of the stream, after he had been in hiding perhaps half an hour. Of course his clothing was saturated, and he had become chilled from his long submersion, so that his teeth rattled, and he trembled in every limb. Extended flat on the ground, he crawled with the utmost care until a couple of rods from the water. Then he stopped and listened. He was so far from the stream that its noise did not prevent him detecting any slight noise which might have been made by some other cause, but he heard nothing at all.
There was still considerable undergrowth around him, so that he felt screened from the observation of any other Indians wandering in the vicinity.
"They thought they were very cunning," muttered Jack, with a chuckle, "when they tumbled me into the water, but I played a trick on them worth two of their kind. I only wish there was some way of letting them know how completely I have outwitted them——"
A cold shiver passed down the spine of Jack Carleton, when he distinctly heard a guttural, grunting laugh behind him. Turning like a flash, he saw the five Indian warriors from whom, up to that moment, he had believed he was free, standing within a rod, and all grinning to an extent that seemed to take the corners of their mouths around to their ears.
The truth broke upon Jack: the red men had never lost sight of him, except for the moment he was under the water. They knew where he was when he supposed himself invisible, and they had been amusing themselves at his expense.
On the evening succeeding the departure of Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub from the little settlement of Martinsville, the widowed mother of Jack was seated by her fireside engaged in knitting. The night was cold, and the huge sticks of wood were roaring and crackling in the broad fireplace, and throwing a cheerful glow and warmth through the room. The tallow candle on the mantel had not been lit, for there was no need of it, and, despite the loneliness and poverty of the sad-faced woman, there was an air of neatness and comfort about her home which would have tempted any one who could look through the narrow window into the homely, old-fashioned apartment.
The deft fingers flew back and forth as regularly as the most delicate machinery, until all at once the lady stopped and allowed her hands to rest in her lap. At the same moment a sigh escaped her, and she looked into the glowing embers.
It was not hard to guess where her thoughts were; they were with that only child who had gone forth in the woods to help the German lad look for the missing horse. Mrs. Carleton smiled as she reflected upon a certain absurdity which marked the whole business, for, look at it as she chose, there was something grotesque in the project of two youths setting out to hunt for a horse that had been wandering for days in a limitless wood. But the smile quickly gave way to the serious expression which not often left the face of the mother since that awful night when her husband was stricken down by the fierce red men of Kentucky.
"I trust God will not forget my boy," were the almost inaudible words that came to her lips. "He has wonderfully preserved him through many perils, and my heart misgives me now that I allowed him to go from under my roof."
Just then the latch-string was spitefully pulled, the door was pushed inward, and Jacob Relstaub entered. The angry man was short of stature, clumsily dressed, and the only weapon he carried was a heavy, knotted cane, if that may be termed such, which was his companion when moving about the sparse settlement. It has already been said that he was parsimonious, cross-grained, and cruel-hearted, and he had been in specially ill-temper since the return of his boy without the horse upon which so much value was set.
The door swung to of itself, and the German, stopping short in the middle of the room, banged his cane upon the floor, and, looking savagely at the quiet lady who had nodded and bidden him good evening, demanded:
"Vere is mine poy, Otto?"
"Don't you know?" asked the widow in return, with a tone of surprise.
"No, I does not; he says he goes off mit your poy, but dey both lies—don't it?"
"My boy never tells a falsehood," was the quiet response of Mrs. Carleton, whose pale cheek slightly flushed. "Your Otto told the truth as you well know. Not only that, but he only obeyed you when he went out in the woods to run into all kinds of danger in search of an animal which I do not believe can possibly be found."
"All poys ish bad," said the visitor with an impatient sniff, as he took off his cap and slouched to a chair on the opposite side of the fire. "Your poy ish badder dan any oder poy; mine Otto is lazy, and if he doesn't pring pack dot horse I vill pounds him till he don't live."
"He may never come back," said the lady in a low, impressive voice which would have moved anyone else, but it was lost on the boorish visitor.
"Hoof! No fear of dot; he alvays comes back ven ve doesn't vant him to come back."
"Well," said Mrs. Carleton with a sigh, "I am sorry I let Jack go, for if he had insisted on staying home your boy would have done the same, though if I was in Otto's place I would consider the woods, with all their dangers and sufferings, preferable to living with a parent who is as unfeeling as you."
Jacob Relstaub had both of his horny hands folded over the top of his heavy cane, which rested on the floor between his large shoes, while his cap, somewhat resembling the peaked head-gear of his boy, lay beside him. His broad, ill-favored countenance was darkened by a frown, and it was easy for the lady to see that the fellow still doubted her word. His manner of looking about the large room, and a habit of listening intently, as though he expected to bear approaching footsteps, showed that he suspected Otto was hiding somewhere in the cabin. Mrs. Carleton understood his feelings and she was annoyed to anger, for her sensitive nature felt the insult keenly. Beside, she despised the coarse nature of the man who seemed so totally lacking in humanity.
The lady was on the point of reproving him with sharp words, when both were astonished by a gentle knock on the door, such a hail being contrary to all the rules of the frontier, when the latch-string is not drawn in. Both looked quickly toward the entrance, and the lady raised her voice and said:
"The latch-string is out!"
The words were yet on her lips when it was pulled, and the door swung inward.
The firelight fell upon the figure of an Indian warrior, who stopped on the threshold as if he doubted whether he would be welcome when those within saw him. As he stood with the blank darkness behind him and the crimson glow from the burning logs lighting up the front of his body, he formed a most striking picture.
He was the ideal of symmetry and manly beauty—one of those productions of the American race which are very rare, but which, when seen, are the nearest approach to physical and mental perfection that is ever attained in this world. He was about five feet ten inches in height, and with body and limbs in as perfect proportion as the chisel of Phidias ever carved from marble. Even his long, black hair, which hung luxuriantly and loosely about his shoulders, was of softer texture than is the rule with his people. Several stained eagle feathers slanted upward and outward from the crown, and a double row of brilliant beads encircled his neck. A fine gold bracelet clasped his left wrist, and the deer-skin hunting shirt and leggings were clean, and of the finest possible make. They retained their dull, yellow hue, but the girdle which clasped his body at the waist was of a red color, so bright that it seemed likely to attract dangerous attention in the forest. The leggings were fringed, and the delicate moccasins were also ornamented with colored beads. The heavy blanket which he carried during severe weather was lacking, for it would have been only an encumbrance when the climate was mild.
Into the girdle were thrust a tomahawk and hunting knife, while a long bow was carried in his right hand, and a quiver full of arrows rested behind his right shoulder, where they could be snatched forth on the instant. The youthful warrior carried no firearms, for he depended alone on the primitive weapons which his people had used for centuries.
Splendid as were the frame and limbs of the youth, the greatest attraction lay in his countenance. His features were classical in their regularity, excepting the nose, which was just enough aquiline to give character to his face, and take away the femininity which otherwise might cling to it.
When he smiled in his faint, shadowy fashion, his teeth were seen to be small, white, regular, and without the slightest defect, while the lustrous black eyes glowed with light and feeling. Having closed the door behind him, he still hesitated to advance until assured he was welcome.
Although Mrs. Carleton had never seen him before, she was certain of his identity, and, rising from her seat, she asked:
"Are you Deerfoot the Shawanoe?"
He smiled and inclined his head.
"You are the friend of my boy, and of Otto, the son of Mr. Relstaub. There is no one in the world who could be more welcome than you. Come forward and take a seat nearer the fire."
The dusky countenance flushed with pleasure, for the words were warmer than he was accustomed to hear.
Deerfoot advanced a couple of steps, and, reaching over, drew the rude stool to him. His diffidence would not allow him to go very near the blaze.
When Jacob Relstaub heard the name pronounced, he uttered an angry sniff and banged his cane upon the floor. He said nothing; but he detested the handsome Indian youth, whom he had driven from his door when he asked for shelter, and he knew he had been the companion of his boy on the stirring journey from Kentucky to Louisiana. It mattered not that the masterful woodcraft of the dusky friend had saved the life of Otto Relstaub; all that the German remembered was that the valuable horse was lost, and he blamed this Indian for it, as he censured Jack Carleton for the same misfortune. The man, however, said nothing for a few minutes.