NEW DEERFOOT SERIES
Deerfoot in the Mountains
EDWARD S. ELLIS
Author of "Deerfoot in the Forest," "Deerfoot on the Prairies," "An American King," "The Cromwell of Virginia," "The Boy Pioneer Series," "Log Cabin Series," Etc., Etc.
with Eight Engravings by J. Steeple Davis
PHILADELPHIA: THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO. 1905
THE NEW DEERFOOT SERIES
EDWARD S. ELLIS
Illustrated by J. STEEPLE DAVIS
No. 1.—Deerfoot in the Forest No. 2.—Deerfoot on the Prairies No. 3.—Deerfoot in the Mountains
Each contains seven half-tone engravings and color frontispiece. They make more real the fortunes and adventures of the heroic little band that journeys through the wilderness and prairies from the Ohio to the Pacific. It was in the time of daring when Lewis and Clark were engaged in their thrilling expedition that the adventures narrated by the distinguished author of boys' books are described as occurring. Our old friends, George and Victor, of the "Log Cabin Series," are again met with in these pages, and the opportunity of once more coming face to face with Deerfoot will be welcomed by every juvenile reader.
The New Deerfoot Series is bound in uniform style in cloth, with side and back stamped in colors.
Price, single volume $1.00
Price, per set of three volumes, in attractive box 3.00
COPYRIGHT BY THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO., 1905
CHAP. I. EASTWARD BOUND 9
CHAP. II. LOST, STRAYED OR STOLEN 23
CHAP. III. THE TRAIL NORTHWARD 37
CHAP. IV. THE LAND OF THE ASSINIBOINES 51
CHAP. V. A WELCOME SIGHT 65
CHAP. VI. COMRADES TRUE 79
CHAP. VII. A MISHAP 93
CHAP. VIII. ENEMIES AND FRIENDS 106
CHAP. IX. IN THE ROCKIES 121
CHAP. X. IN THE BLACKFOOT COUNTRY 135
CHAP. XI. IN WINTER QUARTERS 149
CHAP. XII. BLACKFOOT CITIZENS 161
CHAP. XIII. SUMMONED TO COURT 173
CHAP. XIV. A NEW BLACKFOOT CITIZEN 185
CHAP. XV. THE SPIRIT CIRCLE 197
CHAP. XVI. THE FIELD OF HONOR 211
CHAP. XVII. A MEMORABLE DUEL 221
CHAP. XVIII. DISCIPLINE IN THE RANKS 234
CHAP. XIX. "BEHOLD HE PRAYETH" 245
CHAP. XX. LIGHT IN DARKNESS 258
CHAP. XXI. HOMEWARD BOUND 267
CHAP. XXII. A MEMORABLE MEETING 280
CHAP. XXIII. LEWIS AND CLARK'S EXPEDITIONS 292
CHAP. XXIV. OVERBOARD 304
CHAP. XXV. JACK HALLOWAY AGAIN 315
CHAP. XXVI. A TEMPERANCE AGITATOR 329
CHAP. XXVII. "GOOD-BYE" 343
CHAP. XXVIII. RETROSPECT 350
FRONTISPIECE: (COLOR PLATE) A FRIEND IN NEED
"THIS HORSE WAS WHIRLWIND" 72
"NOW, WHIRLWIND, RUN HIM DOWN" 112
DEERFOOT LOST IN REVERIE BY THE CAMP FIRE 136
AN OMINOUS INTERVIEW 177
A MEMORABLE DUEL 224
A VISIT FROM CAPTAINS LEWIS AND CLARK 289
"IT WAS DEERFOOT, THE SHAWANOE" 301
Deerfoot in the Mountains
Deerfoot the Shawanoe, Mul-tal-la the Blackfoot, and the twin brothers, George and Victor Shelton, had completed their long journey from the Ohio River to the Pacific slope, and, standing on an elevation near the Columbia, spent hours in looking out upon the face of the mightiest ocean of the globe. They feasted their vision on the magnificent scene, with the miles of wilderness, mountain, vale, river and Indian villages spread between their feet and the ocean.
It was a picture worth journeying across the continent to see. From beyond the convex world a ship had sailed up to view, its snowy sails looking at first like a tiny but growing cloud in the soft sky. As the craft drew steadily nearer, they saw it careening to one side under the impulse of the wind against the bellying canvas, while the curling foam at the bows spread out like a fan and dissolved in the clear waters beyond the stern.
Deerfoot had taken the glass after Mul-tal-la was through, and he stood for a long time gazing at the waste of waters. None spoke, for there was that in the scene and the occasion which made all thoughtful. The grandeur, the majesty, the vastness filled them with awe and held them mute. Finally, the Shawanoe lowered the instrument, and turning toward the boys, said gravely, as he pointed first to the east and then to the west:
"Yonder is the endless forest of wood, and yonder the endless forest of water; they shall all become the home of the white man."
"I don't doubt you are right," replied George Shelton, "but it will be hundreds of years after you and I are dead; there is room between here and the Ohio for millions upon millions, but where will they come from?"
"The white men will become like the leaves in the forest and the sands on the seashore; no one can count the numbers that will overspread the land; they will be everywhere."
"And what of your own people, Deerfoot?" asked Victor.
The dusky youth shook his head, as if the problem was beyond him.
"The two ought to live in peace side by side, for such is the will of the Great Spirit. The white man cannot become like the red man, but the red man may grow into the ways of the pale-faces, and all may be brothers, and so live till time shall be no more."
The theme was too profound for the youths, though it was manifest that the Shawanoe had given much thought to it. He added nothing, and while the day was young they walked back to the Columbia, re-entered the canoe and headed up stream.
Henceforward their work was different from that which they faced when descending the river. There were long stretches where, despite the current, the dusky boatmen found no special trouble in driving the craft eastward; but, as they progressed, the labor became severer, for the stream narrowed and the velocity of its flow became greater. The portages were long and toilsome, and, as the party advanced, many places were met where these portages became necessary on account of the rapidity of the current alone. All, however, bent resolutely to work, Victor and George taxing their strength to the utmost. Deerfoot seemed tireless, but he could never be inconsiderate to others. He could have outworn Mul-tal-la, though not till after the exhaustion of the boys, who agreed between themselves that the job was the biggest they had ever tackled; and yet their adult companions not only did the work the twins were doing, but swung the paddles in addition.
Our friends stayed one night at the Echeloot or Upper Chinook village, which they had visited when coming down the river. You will remember that it was there they first saw wooden houses made by Indians. The explorers were treated as hospitably as before, but, as you will also recall, the natives were Flatheads, and the sight of the misshapen skulls, towering at the rear like the ridge of a roof, was so disagreeable that the travelers were glad to turn their backs upon them.
You have not forgotten the thrilling descent of the Falls of the Columbia, where all the skill of Deerfoot and Mul-tal-la was needed to save the canoe from being dashed upon the rocks.
"Are you going to paddle through them again?" asked Victor.
"Deerfoot does not wish to see his brother scared so bad as he was before."
"I was about to say that if you and Mul-tal-la don't feel equal to the task, George and I are ready to take it off your hands."
"The heart of Deerfoot is made glad to hear the words of his brother," replied the Shawanoe, handing his paddle to the youth. Not expecting that, Victor scratched his head and looked quizzically at George.
"Shall we show those fellows how to do such things?"
"I don't think it is worth while; they won't appreciate it."
"Deerfoot is sorry," was all that was said by the Shawanoe, as the boat was drawn out of the waters and hoisted upon the shoulders of the party.
The Shawanoe gave another illustration of his stern principles when, at the close of day, the canoe was run into shore at the point where the travelers had encamped beside the pile of lumber from which they were led to take what fuel they needed through the misrepresentation of the three Indians who called upon them. The night was one of the coldest of several weeks, and at their elbows, as may be said, was enough fuel to make them comfortable for months.
The brothers looked longingly at the mass of lumber, but did not dare touch it in the presence of their friend.
"I wonder if we can't persuade him to look the other way for a little while," said Victor in a low tone to George.
"It wouldn't make any difference if he did—he would see us just the same; the only thing to do is to appeal to his common sense."
"You try it; he won't pay any attention to me."
"See here," said the shivering lad; "it seems to me, Deerfoot, that since we have already stolen some lumber from that pile, it can't be any harm to steal a little more; you see, with your good sense, that it will be only taking two bites from the same apple."
The Shawanoe looked gravely at his young friends, whom no one understood better than he, and abruptly asked:
"How much do two and two make?"
"As near as I can figure out," interposed Victor, "the answer to that problem is four."
"When we used the wood we thought we had the right to take it; we should pay the owner if we could find him. If we use any of it now it will be a sin, as sure as two and two make four, for we know it belongs to another; it is better to freeze than to steal wood. Deerfoot does not wish to hear his brothers say anything more."
"I suppose he is right," growled Victor, "but doesn't he draw it mighty fine? We may as well prepare to spend one of the worst nights we have had since leaving the Ohio."
The canoe was drawn up the bank and then turned over, so as to shield the property beneath. Then the blankets were spread so that the four lay near one another and thus secured mutual warmth. The region had become familiar to our friends because of their former visit, and they knew that all the natives were friendly. Deerfoot, therefore, said there was no need of mounting guard. They had eaten enough dried salmon to stay the pangs of hunger, though the boys would have relished something warm and more palatable.
All slept soundly, and the night passed without the slightest disturbance from prowling man or animal. Victor Shelton was the first to awake. He was lying on his side with his back against that of his brother, and his face so covered by his blanket that only a small orifice was left through which to breathe. His first sensation was that of pressure, as if a heavy weight was distributed over the blanket and was bearing him down. He moved his arm and found that the blanket, from some cause, was really heavier than usual. A vigorous flirt freed his shoulder from the wrapping, and he then saw the cause of the peculiar feeling he had noticed: the earth was covered with several inches of snow. Anyone coming upon the camp in the gray light of morning would have noted nothing but the mass of lumber, the flowing river, the overturned canoe and several white mounds. The snowfall had ceased, and fortunately there had been a considerable rise of temperature. The snow was soft and wet, and one could move about without extra protection, and not suffer from cold.
Victor lay still for a minute or two, engaged in thinking. Then he gently pushed the blanket off his shoulder and body, so as to leave his limbs free. With the same stealth he rose to his feet and looked around. There lay his three friends, encased even to their heads and feet in the warm protection.
"I think there couldn't be a better time for me to settle my accounts with you fellows," muttered the lad, looking down on the mounds.
"Master George Shelton, you have a bad habit of making slurring remarks about my walking pretty fast from the wounded antelope, forgetting that by doing so I drew him on to his own destruction. You need a lesson and I'm going to give it to you.
"Mr. Mul-tal-la, you didn't say much at the time I was explaining that little matter to George, but I saw the grin on your face, and I knew you were thinking a good deal more than you had any right to think. You need to be taught better manners.
"As for you, Mr. Deerfoot, you are the worst of all. I can't forget the scandalous tricks you have played on me. It will take a long time to even matters between us, but I'm going to make a good start to-day."
Knowing how lightly the Shawanoe slept, Victor picked his way with great skill until he had taken a dozen or more steps. The down-like carpet enabled him to do this absolutely without noise, a fact which explains why Deerfoot did not awake.
Victor now stooped and began silently manufacturing snowballs. He packed the soft substance as hard as he could while circling it about in his palms and rounding it into shape. When the missile suggested a 12-pound shot he laid it at his feet, with the whispered words:
"That's for you, Master George Shelton."
The second sphere was compressed and modeled with the same pains and placed beside the first.
"That's for you, Mr. Mul-tal-la, and you're going to get it good! As for you, Mr. Deerfoot, you shall have a double dose."
Crooking his left arm at the elbow, Victor laid three of the nicely molded snowballs in the hollow, which served as a quiver serves for arrows. The fourth missile was grasped in his right hand, and he drew it slowly back and sighted carefully at his brother. Victor was a fine thrower, and when the ball flashed from his hand it landed on the top of George's cap and burst into fragments. The sleeper was in the midst of a dream in which Zigzag played a leading part, and the youth's first impression was that he had received the full force of a kick on his crown.
Paying no further attention to him, Victor quickly let fly at Mul-tal-la, and the throw was as good as the first.
The disturbance, slight as it was, roused Deerfoot, who flung the blanket off his face and raised his head. He was just in time to receive the compact sphere between the eyes, and before he could dodge the second it landed on his ear, packed the passage full of snow and plastered the side of his face with the snowy particles.
"I meant those for you and here's another!" shouted Victor, who, having exhausted his ammunition, snatched up a handful of snow and began hastily molding a new missile.
"You needn't scramble and claw about! I've got you down and I'm going to pay you for beating me at wrestling, for tickling my nose, for stealing my clothes when I was swimming, and"——
The reason why the lad ceased his remarks so abruptly was because a snowball, fired as if from a cannon, crashed into his mouth that instant and half strangled him. Before he could pull himself together he knew his nose was flattened by another missile and Deerfoot was on the point of launching a third shot. This was more than Victor had bargained for, and, wheeling, he "ran for life," yelling at the top of his voice for George and Mul-tal-la to come to his help.
"Soak him, George! Give it to him, Mul-tal-la; don't you see he's killing me?"
Now, there was no reason why the two thus appealed to should heed the prayer, since each had suffered at the hands of the youth who was in extremity. Nevertheless, Mul-tal-la and George attacked Deerfoot, observing which, Victor was unprincipled enough to turn back and join the assailants. Thus the Shawanoe was forced to defend himself against three, every one of whom was a good thrower. Right bravely did the dusky youth do his work—never yielding an inch, but driving his missiles right and left, with the merciless accuracy and the power of an arrow from his bow, or a bullet from his rifle. So lightning-like were his throws that neither the man nor the boys were able to dodge them, unless they widened the space between themselves and their master. Deerfoot's last missile cracked like a pistol when the ball impinged against the side of Mul-tal-la's head, and the latter gave up the contest.
This left only the boys. The Shawanoe hastily fashioned a couple of balls, and with one in either hand started for the brothers, who called out, "Enough!" and flung their own ammunition to the ground in token of surrender. He looked from one to the other and said:
"Let us not stop; Deerfoot is beginning to like it."
"That's the trouble," replied George; "you like it too much; I don't want any more; maybe Victor does."
"I'll do my own talking," replied the latter; "didn't you see me throw down my snowball? What do you 'spose I did that for?"
"Didn't you throw it at Deerfoot?" asked the Shawanoe. "The shot came as near hitting him as some of those you threw."
"We'll take up the fight again some time," was the vague promise of Victor, panting from his exertion.
"Deerfoot hopes you will do so."
But the good-natured contest was never renewed. Not again could the lads expect to have such a golden opportunity, and their defeat was so decisive that they knew better than to repeat it.
The labor of the return grew heavier as they progressed, and the time came when it was so hard to make headway against the powerful current that the effort was given up. The last few miles became a real portage, though when our friends were descending the river the passage could not have been easier.
And so in due time the four reached the Nez Perce village, where they had left their horses and some of their property. Henceforth the journey to the Blackfoot country was to be made by land. The former task had proved one of the severest of their lives, and glad indeed were all when it was over.
LOST, STRAYED OR STOLEN.
You have already learned something of the Nez Perces, who in our times have produced one of the greatest Indian leaders of the past century. He was Chief Joseph, who gave the United States regulars such a brilliant campaign as to excite their admiration. Perhaps you saw the aged chief on his visit to the East a short time since. He was chivalrous, high-minded and a loyal friend of the whites, and showed this when he handed his rifle to Colonel Miles and said: "From where the sun stands in yonder heavens, I fight the white man no more."
You will recall that the Nez Perces are large, fine-looking men, of dark complexion, and that the women have attractive features. A century ago they had a rough time of it. They were forced to work hard during the summer and autumn in gathering salmon and their winter supply of edible roots. In winter they hunted deer on snow shoes, and, as spring advanced, crossed the mountains to the headwaters of the Missouri to traffic in buffalo robes. You will see, therefore, that they were kept unusually busy, and red men have never shown a fondness for manual labor. But, beside this, they had numerous fights with enemies from the west, often losing some of their warriors and many of their horses.
At the time of the visit by our friends, Amokeat was principal chief of the Nez Perces. He and Mul-tal-la the Blackfoot were attached to each other, and the confidence of the latter in the dusky leader was complete. Had he not been so warm in his expressions of this faith in Amokeat, Deerfoot would never have left the stallion Whirlwind in his care while the explorers were pressing their way down the Columbia to tidewater.
As it was, the Shawanoe was troubled by misgivings from the hour he parted company with his matchless steed. As the distance between him and the Nez Perce village lessened, it was hard for the dusky youth to suppress his nervousness. He was reserved, speaking only now and then when necessary, and unconsciously hurrying his footsteps, until the brothers were ready to drop from exhaustion. Had the village been a mile farther off they would have been obliged to beg for rest.
The arrival of the party caused less excitement than would be supposed. The majority of the men and women were away, assisting in the harvesting of salmon, while fully a score of the ablest warriors were off somewhere in the mountains, either hunting or scouting, preparatory to some movement the Nez Perces as a tribe had in view. There were enough on hand, however, to give our friends due attention and to welcome them back.
The first inquiry of Deerfoot was as to the horses. To the south of the main village stretched an expanse of undergrowth, bushes, succulent grass and herbage, where the animals of the tribe were turned loose to roam at will when not needed by their owners. The Nez Perces, with gestures and the few words that were understood by Mul-tal-la, said the horses of their visitors would be found at the place described. It was not far off, and Deerfoot broke into a lope, his friends at his heels.
It required but a few minutes to reach the tract, which covered a number of acres. At different points glimpses were caught of horses cropping the grass and herbage. The first animal recognized was Zigzag, who was so near that the moment the party debouched into the space he raised his head, looked at them and gave a neigh of recognition. Then he resumed his grazing, as if he felt that he had done all the honors due from him.
"Yonder is Prince!" exclaimed Victor, running forward to greet his horse, while George Shelton began searching hither and yon for Jack. Mul-tal-la did not see Bug, and showed more interest in Deerfoot's search than in his own animal.
The Shawanoe had halted on the edge of the pasturage ground, glanced quickly over his field of vision, and then, placing a thumb and forefinger between his teeth, he emitted a blast like that of a steam whistle. It was a signal he had taught the stallion, and he knew that if the horse was within a mile he would come toward him on a full gallop. Deerfoot repeated the call twice and then waited and looked and listened. None of the horses so much as raised his head, and the heart of the youth became like lead.
"Whirlwind is not here," he said sadly to the Blackfoot. George and Victor hurried back, drawn by the signal whose meaning they understood. In truth, when they left his side it had been more for the purpose of hunting for the stallion than for their own animals. Their hearts ached for Deerfoot, whose face was the picture of disappointment and grief.
"Call to him again," suggested George.
"It can do no good. If he is near he would have heard Deerfoot; he is gone."
"He may have wandered beyond reach of your signal," said Victor. "You know he never felt friendly toward other horses and always kept by himself."
With a weak hope that his friend was right, Deerfoot walked a hundred yards to where an uprooted tree lay on its side, climbed upon the trunk, and, facing the different points of the compass in turn, whistled so shrilly that in the afternoon stillness the sound awoke the echoes for miles in every direction. Then he stood in the attitude of intense attention. Certain that the stallion had not gone far of his own accord, he knew these calls would bring him dashing to the spot, provided no person had had a hand in his disappearance.
But the minutes passed without anything of this nature occurring, and the Shawanoe sprang down from the slight elevation and came back to where his sympathizing friends awaited him. They were silent, for none could say aught to comfort him.
"We will look for Amokeat," he quietly remarked, leading the way to the village. There the inquiries of Mul-tal-la brought the first definite information of the missing horse. It was of anything but a pleasant nature.
It has been said that about a score of Nez Perce warriors were absent on a scouting or hunting expedition. They were under the lead of Amokeat, who rode away on the back of Whirlwind. They had been gone several days and were liable to return at any hour, or they might be absent for a week or more longer.
When Deerfoot gained this information he was filled with indignation. Without speaking, he turned his back upon his friends and walked to and fro for several minutes. He was striving to gain control of his emotions, and some time passed before he could do so. When he succeeded he rejoined his comrades, several of the Nez Perces gathering round and watching the four with no little curiosity.
"Amokeat did not ask Deerfoot that he might ride Whirlwind," said the Shawanoe, the flash not fully gone from his eyes, and a slight tremulousness showing in his voice.
"He had no business to do so," added the impulsive Victor; "I wonder that the horse allowed anyone to ride him except you."
George Shelton tried to soothe his troubled friend.
"I understand how you feel, Deerfoot, but it looks to me as if it will come out all right. The Nez Perces rode off on their horses, with Whirlwind in the lead. Why should they not come back the same way, with Whirlwind none the worse? Amokeat did not expect you for some time, and who can wonder that he wished to ride such a steed?"
Deerfoot turned and looked in the face of the lad.
"Does my brother wish Deerfoot to sit down and fold his hands and wait for days and weeks, all the time not knowing whether Whirlwind will come back again or not? Does not my brother see that there is not a day nor an hour to be wasted? Deerfoot would die many times while waiting for Amokeat; he cannot do it."
This was another way of declaring that the young Shawanoe meant to set out to recover his steed without an hour's unnecessary delay. All felt in the circumstances that it was the best thing to do. No one offered further suggestion. Mul-tal-la, who had spoken hardly a word, now told Deerfoot he would find out all that was to be learned of Amokeat and his party.
Left alone with the lads, the Shawanoe explained the plan he had formed.
"Mul-tal-la will take my brothers to his home among the Blackfeet, where they will stay until spring comes; winter is too near for them to travel any farther toward the Ohio. Mul-tal-la will make them welcome and they will not want for food and comforts."
"And what of you?"
"When Deerfoot meets Whirlwind, the two will join his brothers and all will be together till the sun begins to melt the snow on the sides of the mountains. Then they will set out for the Ohio which they left so many months ago."
"Will you make this search for Whirlwind on horseback or on foot?"
"On foot; there is no horse that can help me. Whirlwind would be offended if he saw me come after him on any other of these animals. Deerfoot can travel better on foot than any other way."
"You wish us to take our horses with us to the Blackfoot country?"
The Shawanoe nodded.
"Take the four and keep them among the Blackfeet; they will be needed by us when spring comes."
"You have plenty of bullets and powder. Is there anything of ours that you would like?" asked Victor.
"Yes,—that; it may be of help to Deerfoot."
The dusky youth pointed to the spyglass suspended by a cord around the neck of George Shelton. The owner instantly slipped the string over his head.
"You are welcome to it and to anything else of ours."
"Deerfoot thanks his brothers, but there is nothing more he wishes. He has his rifle, his powder horn, his bullet pouch, his flint and steel and his hunting knife. Anything more would be a burden, but his heart is warm with gratitude to his brothers."
At this point in the conversation, Mul-tal-la returned with news of what he had learned by his inquiries among the Nez Perces.
The knowledge amounted to little. Chief Amokeat had led his warriors northward three days before, starting just as the sun appeared. He gave no word as to when he would come back, and none could do anything more than guess, nor was the leader clear as to the nature of the business on which he ventured. Perhaps he himself did not know.
Still the task that Deerfoot had set himself seemed possible of accomplishment. Knowing the point at which the party left the village and the course taken by them, he could strike the trail, and to keep to it would not be more difficult than many feats he had performed amid the forests and canebrakes of Kentucky and Ohio. He made sure that there was no mistake at the beginning. Then he bade his friends good-bye.
Before doing so he talked for some minutes with Mul-tal-la. The Blackfoot favored the course Deerfoot had laid out for himself, though it was not unlikely that the fact that opposition was useless may have had its weight in the conclusion reached by Mul-tal-la. He told the Shawanoe that he would proceed straight to the Blackfoot country, and there await the coming of his friend, who expected like the boys to spend the winter in that northern region.
Deerfoot disliked "scenes" as much as did George and Victor Shelton. The only ceremony between him and the three was the shaking of hands and the expression of good wishes. Thus they parted. The dusky youth made his way directly to the point where he had been informed Amokeat and his party had left on their northward excursion, and, without looking behind him, found the trail and began his long journey.
Mul-tal-la waited for some minutes after his departure and then gave the word for the brothers to make ready. Accordingly, the horses were brought to the village, the saddles and bridles taken from the lodge of the chieftain, where they had been stored, together with the superfluous articles left behind when the explorers started on their canoe voyage down the Columbia. To this property was added that which had gone on the voyage. Everything was carefully packed on the back of Zigzag, saddles and bridles were put in place, all three mounted, waved good-bye and thanks to the Nez Perces, most of those that remained behind having gathered to see the visitors off. Then these in turn began the journey which was to take them through a pass in the Rocky Mountains and into the extensive Blackfoot country. For a time we will leave them to themselves and give our attention to Deerfoot, who was never more resolute of purpose than when he determined not to rejoin his friends until he had recovered Whirlwind, or at least gained tidings of him.
It may be said that the young Shawanoe was hopeful of finding the stallion unharmed, and he had reasonable ground for such hope. He could not help feeling displeased with the action of Amokeat, who certainly had presumed in thus using the property of another. Still, if no harm had befallen the steed, the Shawanoe would check the reproof he had in mind.
Several facts caused Deerfoot uneasiness. The beauty and nobleness of the stallion could not fail to excite envy wherever and by whomever seen. His owner believed that Amokeat would steal him if he had the chance, but it need not be explained that the circumstances rendered that impossible. In venturing upon this raid, the Nez Perces were sure to come in collision with hostile Indians. They had lost warriors and horses before. Indeed, their enemies had invaded the homes of the Nez Perces and robbed them. Suppose Amokeat and his companions got into a fight with some of the northern tribes. As likely as not the Nez Perces would be defeated. In that case, Whirlwind would be first of the spoils gathered in by the victors.
Suppose again the Nez Perces were victorious. The possession of the matchless stallion must be betrayed to their enemies, who would leave no stone unturned to capture him. There was every reason, too, to fear that the hostiles would be successful; for they would be in their own country and have every advantage on their side. With all the charity that Deerfoot could feel, he could not help condemning the Nez Perce chieftain for taking the great risk of causing the loss of Whirlwind.
You need hardly be reminded that if Deerfoot found this had taken place, he had no thought of giving up the hunt. If it was conceivable that the steed had fallen into the hands of the Eskimos, and they had journeyed to the Arctic circle with him, the Shawanoe would have kept straight on until he overtook the despoilers.
The Shawanoe gave a fine exhibition of his consummate skill in tracking a party of horsemen. When this party numbered a score, more or less, it was no trouble to keep to the trail, which was plainly marked; but had he done this his progress would have been delayed, for he would have had to follow every turning and doubling, which would have made the journey twice as lengthy as a straight line.
When Deerfoot was hardly a mile from the Nez Perce village he followed the footprints to the top of a ridge, where he paused and scanned the broad, mountainous country spread out before him. He knew the Nez Perces must have reached this point shortly after sunrise. He noted the general direction of the trail as it descended the slope in front, and accepted that as the course which the horsemen intended to follow. Then he fixed upon the point where they would be likely to make their midday halt. It was a clump of trees and undergrowth on the shores of a small lake, whose waters gleamed in the sun. Paying no further attention to the trail itself, Deerfoot set out at a swift lope for the body of water.
THE TRAIL NORTHWARD.
The small lake which was the destination of Deerfoot seemed to be only two or three miles distant, but he knew it was all of twenty miles away. Being on foot, he took the most direct course. The route of the horses was of necessity so tortuous and difficult that it must have been fully a half greater than the direct one. The task was so easy for the Shawanoe that he did not lope or run, but kept up his swinging gait, which caused him not the least fatigue. Now and then he was forced to make a circuit around a mass of rocks, or a densely wooded section, but these diversions were of little account. They might have been twice as extensive and still he would not have minded them.
When near the body of water he climbed another ridge, upon whose crest the growth of wood was slight, and took a sweeping survey of the surrounding country. The scenery was magnificent and impressive. Far to the northward rose a towering range of mountains, whose snowy peaks pierced the sky and suggested enormous white clouds piled against the horizon. To the west rose another range, one of whose summits was loftier than any within his range of vision. Seen in the far distance, the soft air gave it a slight bluish tint, which gradually dissolved into fleecy whiteness toward the crest. To the eastward the landscape was made up of ridges, elevations and valleys, with growths of pine, cedar, oak and other species of wood. The lake's outlet was toward the west, winding in and out among the depressions until a curve hid it from sight fully a score of miles away.
There was a biting sharpness in the air that told of the nearness of winter, for the month of November was come, and in that northern latitude the rigorous season would soon set in. A whiff of air which fanned the face of the Indian brought the chill of snow and ice in it, while here and there the leaves of some of the deciduous trees drifted downward like the soft falling flakes of snow.
Deerfoot raised the glass to his eyes and slowly swept the field of vision. It was a striking proof of the solitude of this immense region that he did not see the first sign of a human being. No horsemen riding across the open spaces or climbing the wooded heights formed a part of the picture, nor in any direction could he detect the faint smoke of a camp fire. Wherever the Nez Perces whom he was pursuing might be, they were still a long distance away.
But the diversified landscape did not lack animal life. The most interesting sight was that of two grizzly bears, that were frolicking like a couple of puppies in an open space at the foot of a slight elevation. Deerfoot held the glass pointed at them for some minutes and more than once smiled at the odd picture. The great hulking brutes tumbled, rolled, pawed and boxed each other, all the while pretending to bite and yet taking care that neither tooth nor nail did harm. Then one would start to run off, as if frightened, with the other in hot pursuit. When overtaken, and sometimes before, the fugitive would wheel and cuff and bite at the other, as if in a dreadful rage. You know how amusing the antics of kittens and puppies are. Imagine, if you can, two enormous bears disporting themselves in the same comical fashion, and you will understand why the Shawanoe watched the couple minute after minute, forgetting for the time the serious business on which he was engaged.
But this was not all that attracted him in his surroundings. From out the undergrowth on the northern side of the stream forming the outlet of the lake came two or three hundred buffaloes, their dusky bodies imparting a strange appearance of agitation to that portion of the landscape. They headed for the stream, which was no more than a hundred feet in width, and plunged in, pausing long enough to drink, flirting their tails and tossing their heads, bellowing and crowding one another. The water was too shallow to force them to swim, but it was splashed and flung in all directions. When those at the front emerged they broke into a gallop, with the others dashing tumultuously after them.
Their course brought them within a few rods of the base of the elevation on which Deerfoot was standing. He walked down the slope until quite near the head of the herd, when he brought his rifle to his shoulder and sent a bullet just back of the foreleg of one of the bulls. The stricken beast made a single plunging dive and then rolled over dead. Being on the fringe of the herd he was not trampled upon, and none of his companions paid any attention to him. The bison is—or rather was—a stupid creature, his own destruction often resulting from his lack of ordinary intelligence.
Deerfoot waited until the last animal had passed, when he went forward to where the carcass of the game lay and deftly extracted its tongue. He did not touch any other portion, but, washing the delicacy in the stream, carried it to the small grove of trees which he had fixed upon in his mind as the place of the encampment of the Nez Perces, on their first day after leaving their village.
Before he reached the shelter of the clump of trees the quick eye of the Shawanoe saw the imprints of hoofs, and signs of a party of horsemen having halted at the spot. Chief Amokeat and his Nez Perces had made their first meal on fish drawn from the lake, as was shown by the fragments of their feast scattered round. Considerable ashes indicated the spot where a fire had been kindled, in the usual primitive manner of spinning a light pointed stick, whose sharpened end was thrust into another dry branch.
Thus Deerfoot's calculations proved to be right. He had reached the scene of the midday halt of the Nez Perces by traveling about two-thirds of the distance of his predecessors. With his flint and steel he soon had a blaze going. Over it he broiled the bison tongue, cut into thin strips, and ate his fill. The meal was a big one for him, and he would not go out of his way to procure any more food for twenty-four hours or more. Taking a long draught from the cold, crystalline waters, he resumed his journey, which was due north, his blanket fastened about his shoulders, and his rifle sometimes resting in the crook made by bending his left arm at the elbow, after the style of modern sportsmen, held sometimes in a trailing position, and again reposing upon his shoulder.
For two miles or more he kept to the trail, inasmuch as it was direct and nothing was to be gained by leaving it. With his senses alert, he finally turned to the right, in order to take advantage of a mass of rocks on ground so elevated that a more extensive view than the former one could be secured. He climbed as nimbly as a monkey to the top, glanced over the many square miles spread out before his gaze and then looked northward.
Ah! he saw something suggestive. The glass was pointed toward the spot and instantly confirmed the unaided eye. In the horizon, in the mist of a stretch of wooded country, he observed a faint, almost invisible line of vapor climbing upward into the cold blue sky, and gradually dissolving, until at the height of a hundred feet or less all trace of it vanished.
The most careful scrutiny could not tell anything more. The spot was between fifteen and twenty miles away, with the roughest sort of country intervening. It was a good day's journey distant, but in the same moment that Deerfoot made his interesting discovery he resolved to thread his way to the place without a minute's halt on his part until he reached his destination.
His quick mind instantly saw several explanations of the "sign." It could not be the Nez Perces riding north, for it was impossible that they had lagged to such an extent on the road. If it was Amokeat and his party, they must be returning from their raid, or hunting expedition, or whatever had engaged their energies. It would seem more likely that the Indians belonged to some other tribe. Be that as it may, the only means of answering the question was by finding out for himself, and that Deerfoot started to do with the grim, unshakable resolution of his nature.
With all his matchless swiftness and endurance, he would not have been able to travel the distance until the night was well advanced; for, though there were numerous places where he broke into his fleet lope, and more than once rose to a higher pace, he was compelled to make detours that greatly lengthened the distance and added to the labor. Again, a moderate walk was the best he could do.
About the middle of the afternoon he came upon the bank of a deep, swift stream fully a hundred yards wide. No doubt he could have found a ford had he taken the time to search for it, but the minutes were too valuable to waste. With hardly a moment's hesitation he took three steps over the flinty floor, and then found he had to swim. He had not so much as loosened the blanket looped about his shoulders and which threatened to interfere with the movements of his arms. He held his rifle above his head, so as to prevent any water running into the barrel, either at the muzzle or by percolation at the vent, and swam with his other arm and his feet. For a portion of the way he "trod water," apparently with the same ease that he walked upon solid earth. So he overcame the powerful current and emerged almost directly opposite the point where he had entered. You will remember that in approaching the stream he left the trail some time before, but he knew it was not far off, and doubtless would have led him to a ford. That he would not dally long enough to hunt out the more convenient crossing place was another illustration of Deerfoot's indifference to his own comfort. What though his garments were dripping when he stepped upon solid earth again, and the air was almost wintry in its chill, he cared naught. The exercise threw his frame into a glow and the moisture gradually left his clothing.
A few miles farther and the Shawanoe solved one question over which he had been speculating. In the distance he caught sight of a party of horsemen approaching from the direction of the camp whose smoke he had noticed hours before. They were no more than two or three miles distant, and when first seen were coming almost in a direct line for Deerfoot.
The first sight was that of a single horseman, who had ridden up the farther side of a slope, and came into view as he neared the top. Without pausing, he began the descent, and was followed by others, all in single file, until seventeen rode into the field of vision. Before Deerfoot brought his glass into use he had recognized the horsemen as Nez Perces. They were returning from their expedition, and if the statement of the number that had left home was correct, had lost at least three.
The spyglass disclosed the chieftain Amokeat to the Shawanoe, who, with his horse on a walk, was riding at the head of the procession. The instrument revealed another significant fact:
Neither Amokeat nor any of his warriors was mounted on Whirlwind.
Deerfoot had to struggle to restrain his indignation. Had he been within reach of Amokeat at that moment, it is not unlikely he would have dragged him from his horse and given him a lesson he could never forget. The very thing the Shawanoe had feared from the first had occurred: the stallion was either stolen or dead.
But as Deerfoot advanced to meet the party, who soon observed and identified him, he pulled himself together. It would have taken one who knew him intimately, like Simon Kenton, or George or Victor Shelton, to read in the slightly pale face and peculiar gleam of the dark eyes the evidence of the emotion that the Shawanoe held well under control.
It was in the depth of a broad valley, where there was a semblance to a trail which had been made by bison or other animals on their way to water, that Chief Amokeat drew up and awaited the approach of the Shawanoe. The latter, as was his custom, made a half-military salute, and, without any more preliminaries came to the point. He used the Blackfoot tongue, which was familiar to the Nez Perce.
"Deerfoot seeks his horse. Where is he?"
Amokeat must have expected the question, for he shook his head and answered in the language of the Blackfeet:
"Amokeat is grieved to tell Deerfoot he will never see the horse he loves again. It saddens the heart of Amokeat, but he speaks with a single tongue."
"Is my horse dead?"
"That Amokeat does not know. Yesterday the Assiniboines took him from us, and they are now far on their way to their villages."
"Why did Amokeat take my horse from where Deerfoot had left him? Why did he not wait until he could see Deerfoot and ask him. He has stolen my horse."
This was a pointed charge, but Deerfoot could not wholly curb his anger. The chief, however, did not seem to feel the sting of the words, though more than one of his warriors, who had drawn up their horses and were looking on and listening, showed resentment.
Amokeat now proceeded to tell in his own way what had befallen him and his companions. He said they had started out for a hunt, though expecting to have an encounter with some of their enemies before their return. At a point about a hundred miles to the northeast, while riding through a canyon, they were suddenly attacked by fully a hundred red men, whom they recognized as Assiniboines that were a long way from their hunting grounds.
While it is more than likely the Nez Perce leader exaggerated the number of his assailants, no doubt they were superior to the smaller company. The latter put up a brave fight, but before they could extricate themselves from the trap five of their number were shot from their horses. This statement showed that originally the Nez Perces numbered more than a score.
Amokeat was on the back of Whirlwind, who carried him off with such amazing speed that he was soon separated from his warriors. Deerfoot's lips curled when he heard this statement, for to him it was a proof of the cowardice of the chief. The party had no time to recover the bodies of their fallen comrades, who were left to be scalped and despoiled by the victors, the stray horses also passing into the hands of the Assiniboines.
Amokeat was in full flight when, in dashing through a mass of undergrowth, he suddenly came face to face with eight or ten Assiniboines (probably the number was less). He was ambushed so cleverly that escape was out of the question. He would have resisted, however, had not one of his enemies called out that he wished to have a parley with him.
This warrior, who was the leader of the little party, told Amokeat that if he would swap the black stallion he rode for the pony of the Assiniboines, the chief would not be harmed, but would be left free to go to his own home. Had the grinning Nez Perce put his conclusion in English, it would have been something like this:
"I counted myself most fortunate, for what was to prevent the Assiniboines from shooting me from the back of the stallion and then taking him away with them? So the trade was made and he is now in the hands of the Assiniboines."
THE LAND OF THE ASSINIBOINES.
As Deerfoot listened to the story of the Nez Perce leader his gorge steadily rose, for the account was worse, if possible, than he had expected to hear. Not only did he resent the cool appropriation of his steed by Amokeat, but he read the proof of the cowardice of the chief, who had deserted his companions when in peril and then, instead of making a brave defence when cornered by the Assiniboines, had eagerly passed over to them the property of another in order to secure his own safety.
The Shawanoe could not trust himself any further in the presence of Amokeat, who sat on the back of his pony and looked serenely down in his face, exulting over his own escape from the revenge of an enemy.
"Amokeat is a dog!" exclaimed Deerfoot, compressing his lips, turning around and walking from the presence of the chief and his party. He was on the alert, for he half expected an attack from more than one of them. If they had such action in mind, it was changed by the command of the leader, who called to them to follow him as he resumed the journey toward his own village.
The Shawanoe had learned several important facts. Whirlwind had passed from the hands of the Nez Perces to those of a wandering band of Assiniboines, whose villages and hunting grounds lay well to the northeast, some below and some above the boundary line in the country of the Saskatchewan. Thither the Shawanoe would go, though knowing absolutely nothing of the region or the people. In his contemptuous scorn of Amokeat, Deerfoot did not so much as look behind him until the afternoon was nearly gone and night was closing in. Then, when he turned his gaze to the rear, he saw nothing of men or horses.
He was thinking hard. It was evident that the only course which promised hope was for him to keep to the trail left by the Nez Perces until he reached the scene of the fight. From that point he would be guided by the footprints of the Assiniboine animals. Of course there was no distinguishable difference between those of Whirlwind and the impressions made by any other of his species, but there ought to be little difficulty in keeping to the main trail until he ran the party down.
You will understand that a number of puzzling complications threatened. It might be that the Assiniboines would continue their hunting or raiding excursions for days, turning off and pushing to the south or east or west, with a view of attacking some of the tribes within United States territory. The Shawanoe hoped that such would be the course of the raiders, for it would simplify the situation. He would have a small party to operate against, instead of a whole village or tribe.
A singular difficulty presented itself. Deerfoot relied upon entering the Assiniboine settlements or joining the raiders without rousing any suspicion of his real errand. Then he would content himself in patience and await a chance of slipping off with Whirlwind. The likelihood of gaining such opportunity would be almost destroyed if his errand became known. Now, the danger of betrayal was in the stallion himself. He could not be made to understand the need of cunning and silence, but was sure to show his joy at sight of his owner. When this was observed by his captors, they would be certain to connect it with the long journey of the stranger, who would then have all he could do to guard his own life.
Reflecting over this probable phase of the situation, Deerfoot decided what his own conduct should be. He resolved that if Whirlwind made a rush for him, thereby revealing the truth, he would leap upon his back, throw himself forward, and send the steed flying off at the highest speed. There would be imminent risk of both being shot before they could pass beyond range, but the danger would be no greater than the Shawanoe had faced many times, and still he did not bear a scar upon his body.
His plan, however, was to rely upon subtlety. If he could succeed in locating his pet, he would keep out of the animal's sight until the crisis came. He knew Whirlwind was alive, and was not very far off. Less than two days previous he had passed over the same spot, and the trail left by him and his companions could be readily followed.
So it was that the young Shawanoe pressed forward with long, swift strides until the gloom shut out all sight of the footprints. He could calculate quite closely from the different landmarks the course followed by the Nez Perces, but he determined to run no chances. Time was too precious, and he was resolved not to go astray.
He was in a wild, mountainous country, interspersed with ridges, isolated peaks and lofty ranges. There were numerous valleys, canons, gorges and ravines, with stretches of wood and stunted undergrowth. The sound of falling waters, cascades and rapids was hardly ever absent. Naturally the horsemen had sought the most favorable route, keeping mainly to the valleys, but occasionally riding over elevated portions. Thus the course was easier for Deerfoot than it would have been had the party been on foot like himself. The Assiniboines were not likely to make haste, for they had no reason for doing so. With his long strides, his lope and occasional running, as the ground offered the chance, the pursuer knew he was gaining upon those whom he was so anxious to overtake.
When night had fairly come, Deerfoot sought out a place among the rocks in which to sleep. He did not look for food, nor did he so much as drink from the mountain stream that he heard rippling near at hand. It took some time to find a suitable spot for a bed. He fixed upon a cavity large enough for him to stretch out with his blanket wrapped about him. He could have readily kindled a fire, but preferred not to do so, since it was liable to draw the attention of wild animals, or possibly of those of his own race who might be in the vicinity. As it was, a prowling wolf or bear might threaten, but the youth felt no misgiving when, after spending a brief time in prayer, he lay down and speedily sank into slumber.
At the first streakings of light he was on his feet. Praying again, he fastened his blanket about his shoulders, knelt at the mountain stream, drank deeply, bathed face and hands and was off once more. No move was made toward procuring the morning meal, which most folks in his situation would have found indispensable.
The trail was clearly marked, but before resuming his pursuit Deerfoot climbed to the highest elevation near at hand and spent a few minutes in studying the surrounding country. The main features were similar to those already described, except perhaps in the increase of the ruggedness of the scenery. He was within the Rocky Mountain district, but kept mainly to the foothills, where journeying was easier than among the mountains themselves.
Noting that the general course of the trail he was following up was from the northeast, he scanned with special interest the country in that direction. He picked out a point some twenty miles distant as the place where the Nez Perces were most likely to have made one of their camps. While he might have shortened the time by keeping a direct line to it, he stuck to his resolution not to turn aside from the trail.
Though he did not catch sight of any horseman, he saw that which roused his curiosity. Hardly a mile away he observed a single Indian coming toward him on foot. It may be said the stranger leaped into view, for Deerfoot was looking over a certain spot at the country beyond when a peculiar, flitting movement caused him to depress his glass to learn the cause.
The Indian seemed to have been following a roughly marked path, when he came to a huge boulder, which, instead of passing around, he climbed, walked across the top, and then dropped to the ground again. It was this action which caused Deerfoot to turn his gaze upon him.
Under the glass the stranger was seen with as much distinctness as if he were only a few rods distant. When looking at him the Shawanoe, for the first time in his life, saw a dwarf belonging to his own race. The man had broad shoulders and body and sturdy legs, but his height could not have been more than four and a half feet. Moreover he was very bow-legged, was a hunchback, had a broad mouth, a flat nose and small twinkling eyes. His long black hair dangled loosely about his shoulders, he was clad in a hunting dress similar to that worn by the Shawanoe, except that he was without a blanket, and his clothing was much shabbier. He carried a bow fully double his own length, and advanced with a curious sidelong, wabbling gait, which accented more strikingly his difference from those of his own people.
When the astonished Deerfoot had noted these peculiarities, he scanned the vicinity of the dwarf for his companions. None was seen, and our friend decided that the fellow was entirely alone. It was impossible to make a guess as to the tribe to which he belonged, though Deerfoot suspected, without any particular reason, that he was an Assiniboine. As to how he came to be by himself, and traveling southward, no theory could be formed by the astute Shawanoe.
The latter lowered his glass, and, standing in full view, watched the hunchback as he drew near with his crab-like, wabbling gait. Although the Shawanoe was a much more conspicuous object on the landscape, it was evident the other did not discover him until he was almost within a hundred yards. No better proof could have been asked that the stranger was afflicted with poor eyesight.
Suddenly he descried the form on the rocks and stopped short. He was startled. Then he began hurriedly drawing an arrow from the bundle hung behind his shoulder. It was a curious coincidence, which caught Deerfoot's notice, that the dwarf was left-handed like himself. The latter laid his gun at his feet and raised both hands above his head, a sign of friendship. The stranger paused in his warlike preparations, but seemed in doubt whether to launch a missile or to accept the sign of comity. Deerfoot picked up his weapon, held his other hand over his head, and began carefully descending the elevation. He kept a close watch on the other, for he half expected he would let fly with his arrow, and it would have been unpleasant, to say the least, to act as a target, even at a considerable distance. The dwarf stood motionless, closely watching the Shawanoe as he came toward him, evidently doubting and hesitating, but Deerfoot kept up his signs of goodwill, which the other could not fail to understand.
It is not unreasonable to believe that the personality of Deerfoot had much to do with removing the misgivings of the stranger, for the smiling face of the Shawanoe as he drew near would have impressed anyone, though Deerfoot himself would never have admitted anything of the kind. Be that as it may, the meeting was friendly, though Deerfoot did not offer his hand in greeting, for he thought it unlikely that the other would have understood the meaning of the salutation.
He addressed the stranger in the Blackfoot tongue, only to receive a shake of the head in reply. The dwarf did not understand a syllable. In response, he used a language that was "all Greek" to the Shawanoe. There was no common ground, except that of signs, upon which the two could meet, and that was of slight service.
"Assiniboine? Assiniboine?" asked Deerfoot, with a marked rising inflection. Another shake of the head might indicate a denial of such tribal relation, or what was more likely, a failure to comprehend the question. Deerfoot repeated the word "Nez Perce," and was replied to as before.
The first bit of information that the Shawanoe could gather for a time was that the Indian of abbreviated stature came from the north. That was clearly established, as was the direction which he was following, but nothing was brought to light as to the nature of his errand in the south.
The thought had been in the mind of our friend from the first that this misshapen red man had seen the party of Assiniboines who held Whirlwind. How was the question to be asked?
Deerfoot stepped to a tree resembling the water maple that grew a few feet to the right of them. Its diameter was a foot or more. With his hunting knife he cut out a square some six inches in diameter and carefully peeled it off, the other attentively watching him all the time.
Deerfoot now proceeded to trace on the filmy inner side of the bark with the point of his knife the outlines of a horse with unusually long tail and mane. This done, he depicted a warrior sitting on him with no saddle except a blanket and without bridle. When the crude but symmetrical picture was finished, he handed the piece of bark to the other. The dwarf studied it a minute or two with close interest, Deerfoot meanwhile watching his countenance.
Suddenly the homely visage lit up. The stranger recognized the figure of the beautiful stallion. He had seen him!
With a thrill of hope the Shawanoe pointed north, his gesture clearly meaning that he wished to know whether it was there the animal had been met. The stranger shook his head. Deerfoot was disappointed, fearing his meaning had not been understood. It seemed to him that the Assiniboine horsemen must be journeying in that direction, and the negative motion of the other's head might indicate that he did not catch the drift of the question.
Deerfoot now pointed toward the rising sun, only to be answered by another shake of his head. He next indicated the northeast. The dwarf nodded vigorously several times. Then he gazed steadily into the handsome face and began circling one of his hands rapidly around his head, pointing to his moccasins and then to the sky. These peculiar gestures were repeated a number of times, when they ceased as abruptly as they began.
The Shawanoe could not form the first idea of what the man was trying to say, nor did he ever learn.
The dwarf perceived that he could not make himself understood, gave up the effort, and with an awkward good-bye resumed his tramp southward. Uncertain of what whim might suddenly take possession of him, Deerfoot, while also moving in the opposite direction, kept a furtive watch to the rear. He did not see the dwarf look behind him and it is not probable that he meditated any wrong.
The Shawanoe was not satisfied with what had occurred. Glancing down at the trail and as far ahead as it could be traced, he saw that its course was due north. He believed that it led for a long way toward that point of the compass. If such proved the fact the hunchback had tried to deceive the inquirer by making him believe that Whirlwind was to be sought to the northeast. The Shawanoe could no longer doubt that the nature of his inquiry had been understood, and the reply of the dwarf was clear. Deerfoot was inclined to believe the strange creature really belonged to the Assiniboine tribe and was trying to shield his countrymen.
Moreover, the Shawanoe knew little of this people. He understood in a vague way that their homes were well to the northward, and partly in another country than the United States. The true direction, however, was to the northeast. Thus the Indian of abbreviated stature had indicated the right course after all.
Adhering to his policy, Deerfoot wasted no time. While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he was loping forward with the trail still as his guide, and had not gone two miles when he came upon the scene of the fight between the Assiniboines and the Nez Perces.
A WELCOME SIGHT.
The first sign that caught the eye of the Shawanoe was the mute forms of the five Nez Perces, stretched here and there over a space of an eighth of a mile. All had been scalped and mutilated. But he had seen such shocking sights before, and he did not go near the bodies nor give them further attention. It was no great task for him to transfer his interest from the trail of one party to that of another, and he was speedily loping forward as rapidly as before.
To his astonishment he had gone only a little way when he discovered a marked change of course. The Assiniboine footprints pointed to the northeast. The information gained from the dwarf was reliable; the horsemen were heading for their own villages.
The Shawanoe called all his consummate woodcraft into play to determine how much time had passed since the party rode over this ground. He figured that it must have been on the previous day, though such conclusion did not fully accord with what was told him by the chieftain Amokeat. His opinion of that leader, however, made him ready to believe anything ill of him.
If the horsemen had twenty-four hours the start of their pursuer, and kept up their rapid flight, he could hardly expect to come up with them for several days. Deerfoot believed he could steadily gain, but he was on foot and they were mounted. Such gain, in the most favorable circumstances, must be gradual. Had they halted for any length of time, or diverged from the regular course, the prospect would be all the more favorable for him.
With this theory, Deerfoot now made a change of policy. Instead of keeping to the trail with all its windings (made in order to accommodate the horses), he adopted his other recourse—that of reasoning out the route most likely to be followed by the warriors, and, fixing upon a camp far in advance, making his way thither by the most direct course. Provided he fell into no error, he would thus save miles of distance and hours of time.
It was still early in the day when he forded a narrow, rapid stream, in which the water rose to his waist, and climbing the nearest elevation, which was a ridge crowned with rocks and a few stunted cedars, he paused to make a study of the country spread before him.
Naturally his first scrutiny was directed to the northeast. In that direction the surface was rolling, with numerous valleys and mountain spurs, but none of the latter was of great height. The towering peaks rose more to the north and west. There was variety and yet sameness in the vast undulating expanse, with its wealth of wood, of rocks, some bleak and dark of color, and others fringed with vegetation, of swelling hills, many of which elsewhere would have been called mountains, and beautiful valleys, with numerous streams hidden through most of their flow, all seeking an outlet in the Atlantic or Pacific, hundreds of miles away.
The bed of one mountain torrent could be traced for a long distance by the mist that hovered over it, though the spectator could not catch the first sight of the water itself. At another point to the right the Shawanoe saw what appeared to be a curved streak of silver, fifty feet in height and but two or three feet wide. It looked to be absolutely motionless, and yet it was a waterfall, from whose foamy base little clouds of steam floated upward or were wafted aside by the wisps of wind.
Deerfoot refrained from using the instrument until he had done all he could with his unaided vision. His reason for this was his wish to place himself in the same situation as the Assiniboine party. None of them knew what a spyglass is, and he tried to reason from what he saw upon what point they would be likely to fix as their halting place.
Had he known the precise minute or hour when the horsemen had ridden past the spot near where he was standing, the problem would have been easy of solution, but no Indian or white hunter ever lived who could settle such a question without more definite data. We hear stories of achievements of that nature, but most of them are mythical, though the woodcraft of many a trailer has enabled him to do things which to others were impossible.
The Shawanoe believed the Assiniboines had ridden past at a moderate pace about the middle of the preceding day. Acting on that supposition, he selected a point somewhat more than a dozen miles to the northeast as the one where they would have been likely to encamp for the night. The trouble was that there was little in the wooded place, near a small body of water, bearing a striking resemblance to the lake of the previous day, to favor it above others in the neighborhood. They might have halted several miles beyond or that much nearer the standpoint of the Shawanoe.
At the best it was guesswork; but having made his conjecture, Deerfoot now raised the glass to his eyes and centered his attention upon the spot. As he did so he was thrilled by a discovery which set his nerves at once on edge.
On the edge of the trees, near the lake itself, he saw two Indians, standing as if in conversation. When he lowered the glass it was impossible to make them out at so great distance, but the instrument revealed them clearly. Suddenly one of the couple came forward to the body of water, lay down on his face and drank. The other walked part of the way and then stopped, and was rejoined by the former. It looked as if they resumed their converse over some subject in which they were unusually interested.
Deerfoot was almost certain that the two were members of the party for whom he was hunting. If such were the fact, something must have occurred to cause them to linger on their return to their villages.
While he was speculating as to whether this was probable, smoke began filtrating through the tops of the pines, behind the couple. A fire had been started, though the hour of day was one when the party naturally would have been in motion.
The question remained as to whether the horsemen intended to stay where they were until the morrow or would soon resume their journey. The last supposition seemed the most likely.
The decision of the Shawanoe was to lessen the distance between him and the horsemen while such a fine opportunity offered. Flinging the glass over his shoulder he set out to overtake the party in advance, doing his best to decide upon the right policy, now that the important information had come to him.
The most puzzling phase of the situation has been explained. But for the certain recognition that Whirlwind would make of his master, the latter would have gone direct to the Assiniboine camp and watched for his opportunity; but as nearly as he could determine there must be fully a score if not more of the warriors. To "cut out" the stallion from among them when the sun was shining was clearly an impossibility, though, as has been intimated, Deerfoot was ready to make the attempt if no other chance offered.
Discretion warned him to keep out of sight of the party until nightfall. He could then reconnoiter the camp with good prospect of getting Whirlwind away. If the Assiniboines placed a sentinel on duty, Deerfoot was confident he could get the better of him in the darkness. The raiders would not be looking for any attack, though when on the war trail they were sure to adopt the usual precautions.
The Shawanoe, therefore, had not gone far when he decided upon his plan of action. He would stay out of sight of men and animals until the gloom gave him his opportunity. Meanwhile it was well to decrease the intervening distance so far as was prudent.
It was yet early in the afternoon when the interval was cut in half. While doing this he stopped and made frequent surveys of the lake and wood. It would have made no great difference had he been observed by the horsemen, for it was impossible for them to suspect his identity or his business. Still, it was just as well to have his presence in the neighborhood unknown and unsuspected.
All this time the vapor was climbing through the tree tops. Those who had kindled the fire were still there, for they could not leave by the "back door" without being seen by the vigilant Shawanoe. He was surprised that none showed himself during these hours. The couple who had first caught his eye had disappeared long before in the wood and remained out of sight.
His interest led Deerfoot to continue edging forward until, by the close of the afternoon, he was within a mile of the camp. He had accomplished this by taking advantage of all the protection possible. Since plenty offered, and the Assiniboines were not apprehending anything of that nature, the task was not so hard as it might seem.
The weather remained clear, though still keen and cold. The Shawanoe had not eaten food for a long time, but he gave no thought to that. He was ready to wait until the morrow before satisfying his hunger. His one resolution was to regain Whirlwind, if such a feat was within the range of human possibility.
The young Shawanoe did not forget that he was acting upon a theory that might prove a rope of sand. The camp which he was reconnoitering with such care might be that of another party, even though they were Assiniboines. The probabilities, however, justified him in believing he was on the right track.
A curious feature of the situation was that he had not as yet seen a single horse. When a company of Indians stopped to rest, even for a short time, they were accustomed to allow their animals to graze. Between the margin of wood and the lake the dull green of grass was plainly perceptible. Perhaps there was some open spot among the trees which offered better pasturage for the horses. Deerfoot could not feel clear in his own mind as to the explanation of the absence of all sight of the animals.
He was speculating as to the cause of this singular fact when six horses issued from among the timber and came frolicking and cavorting down to the water's margin, where they thrust their noses into the lake to drink. No Indians showed themselves, the training of the animals making it unnecessary to guard them.
One of the steeds emerged from a point several yards to the right of the others and kept apart from them, as if he felt too proud to associate with those of common blood. When he lowered his head he was fully a couple of rods from his companions. This horse was the stallion Whirlwind.
The sight of his peerless creature threw the Shawanoe into a flutter, and it required all his self-control to restrain himself from running forward and calling to Whirlwind to meet him, but he resolutely held his ground, sheltered behind the projection of the boulder he had used as a screen in keeping the camp under surveillance. The situation was so critical that Deerfoot perhaps was over-cautious.
He reasoned keenly. A mile separated steed and master. The latter could have no thought that the youth from whom he had been separated for weeks was near. If Deerfoot emitted his piercing whistle the call would not be recognized on the instant, and the animal would be confused. The dress of Deerfoot and his appearance were so similar to those of other Indians that Whirlwind would not be likely to identify him until they came considerably nearer each other. The Assiniboines were in camp. They, too, would hear the signal and be quick to discover what it meant. Rather than have the black stallion escape from their possession they would shoot him as he ran. A red man always prefers to slay a captive rather than surrender him. With the horse shot Deerfoot would be forced to have it out with the warriors at such disadvantage that only one result could follow, for the Assiniboines were not only armed with guns—at least several were thus equipped—but they were daring and resolute.
It was these fears which caused the young Shawanoe to decide to remain in hiding until nightfall, which was now at hand. It is quite probable that the plan of calling Whirlwind to him would have succeeded, as the youth afterward admitted; but it certainly would have been attended with risk of failure, and he never regretted the decision he made within the same minute that he caught sight of his equine friend.
Like the king that he was, the stallion, having drank his fill, wheeled and with dignified step passed back among the trees, keeping apart from the others, who would have felt (as had Zigzag felt) the impact of the fiercely driven heels had they ventured upon any familiarity.
So it came about that Deerfoot the Shawanoe stayed in concealment until the gathering gloom shut out the grove and its occupants. There was no moon, but the star-gleam was strong and gave him all the light he wished. He preferred that to stronger illumination.
During the slow passing minutes that the youth waited he reached the conclusion that the Assiniboines in the timber were only a part of the horsemen that had overthrown the Nez Perces. Some cause had led them to divide, and a half dozen or so were waiting for the others to rejoin them. Why this separation had taken place Deerfoot could not understand, nor did he allow himself to be interested in the question. The reason for his belief lay in the number of horses that had issued from among the trees. In the circumstances, all the animals would have gone for water at the same time.
Deerfoot was cool, calm and perfectly poised when he stepped from behind the boulder and began his stealthy approach to the Assiniboine camp. He loosed his blanket from the fastening which held the fold together in front and laid it over his right arm. He confidently expected a fight and did not mean to have his limbs hampered. Instinctively he slipped his hand down to his girdle. The knife was there. He had examined his rifle long before. The charge and priming were as they should be, and he grasped the weapon with his left hand. He gave no thought to the fact that more than twenty-four hours had passed since he had eaten food. He was accustomed to such abstinence and the situation drove away all appetite. He would not have taken a dozen paces to the right or left to pick up nourishment.
A complication was threatened by the return of the other Assiniboines, but aside from that Deerfoot did not mean to wait a half hour longer than was necessary. His stealthy approach was continued until in the gloom he made out the dim outlines of the timber. The western terminus of the lake lay just to the left, so that in order to reach the camp he had to diverge for some rods in that direction. But the way was clear and the brief circuit brought him to the edge of the wood, with the calm sheet of water stretching for a half mile to the east, which was on his right hand.
The first step was to locate the Indians and their horses, for the wise general acquaints himself with the battle ground upon which the momentous issue is to be decided. The twinkle of light that glimmered among the trees guided the Shawanoe, and with little trouble he gained a position from which, unsuspected by the Assiniboines, he had a perfect view of them.
The picture upon which Deerfoot looked recalled many similar ones in Ohio and Kentucky. There were six warriors seated on the ground, most of the party in lolling postures, three smoking long-stemmed pipes, and all had evidently partaken of food a short time before, for a faint odor of broiling venison or bison meat was in the air, and the signs within the camp showed that a meal had been prepared and eaten.
The burning sticks were piled against the base of a tree more than two feet in diameter and were burning so vigorously that the circle of light reached well beyond the group and pierced the shadows among the pines and cedars. A brief survey of the group left no doubt that they were awaiting the arrival of friends, as they had been doing for hours past, and might continue to do through the remaining night.
There was no reason why the Shawanoe should lose any time in surveying the Assiniboines, for he felt no interest in them. He was surprised to note that every one had a rifle, none being armed with the primitive bow and arrows. He tarried only long enough to decide in his mind who was the leader, and therefore the new proprietor of Whirlwind. Deerfoot had no special enmity against him, for it was Amokeat, the Nez Perce chieftain, who was responsible for the loss of the stallion.
The Shawanoe had straightened up and was silently withdrawing from his advanced position, holding the sheltering tree between him and the camp fire, when he was startled by a whinny from some point in the gloom close at hand. Turning his head he caught the dim outlines of Whirlwind making his way among the trees toward him. The sagacious stallion, through that wonderfully acute sense of smell which his species often show, had discovered the proximity of his master and had set out to find him. The space between the two was so brief that Deerfoot had hardly paused and looked behind him when the silken nose of Whirlwind was thrust against his face, and after his old fashion he touched his tongue to the cool cheek of his master and then affectionately rested his head on his shoulder.
It was a critical situation, for the steed had already warned the Assiniboines that something unusual was going on, but the delight and gratitude of the Shawanoe were so deep that he could not deny himself the pleasure of caressing his steed. He touched his lips to his nose, patted his forehead and neck and murmured:
"Whirlwind! Deerfoot's heart is thankful! He is happy, for he has found his best friend. No one shall part us again!"
But in that joyful moment the delicate situation could not be forgotten. Instead of leaping upon the back of the horse where the trees and limbs would interfere with a rapid flight, in addition to placing the rider at a disadvantage in case of attack, Deerfoot told Whirlwind to pass out of the timber and wait for him. The horse promptly obeyed, for he understood the whispered words. Then the youth placed himself directly behind the horse, ready to fight off any and all assailants, and followed the steed, thus forming his rear guard.
Between Deerfoot and the camp fire loomed the form of an Assiniboine warrior. His sensitive ear had heard the soft neigh, and even the low voice of Deerfoot. He knew that a thief was in the grove—he must have thought he was a Nez Perce—and was making off with Whirlwind, who was held in higher esteem than all the other horses together.
The Shawanoe saw that a fight was inevitable. He passed his rifle to the right hand, over whose arm his blanket was resting, and drew his hunting knife. Even in that crisis the chivalry of the Shawanoe would not allow him to take full advantage of the situation. He could have struck down his enemy without the least risk to himself. He chose rather to give his antagonist warning.
"Dog of an Assiniboine!" he muttered in the Blackfoot tongue. "The Shawanoe fears you not!"
The warrior leaped forward like a crouching tiger. He had caught sight of the lithe form in the faint glow of the firelight, and he assailed it with all the vicious vigor of his nature. The lightning-like blow of his knife made a hissing sound as it cut the air and buried its point in the blanket which Deerfoot thrust forward to receive it. Then the Shawanoe delivered his blow. Enough said.
Brief as was the terrific encounter, it occurred too close to camp for the other Assiniboines to remain in doubt for a moment. Moreover, when the victim of the Shawanoe's prowess went down not to rise again he uttered an ear-splitting screech which echoed through the grove.
Deerfoot turned and ran among the trees after Whirlwind. From some cause the stallion had changed his direction and was waiting on the edge of the wood several rods from where his master emerged. The latter glanced hastily around in the gloom without seeing him. He uttered a low signal which the horse instantly obeyed, and with another neigh of delight trotted to his master.
Deerfoot was about to vault upon his back, but hesitated. The sounds indicated that the whole five Assiniboines had rushed to the spot and were already within arm's reach of master and stallion. They would be so near when Whirlwind made his dash that they would fire a volley which was certain to kill one or the other, and not unlikely both rider and animal.
Nor could anything be gained by turning at bay and fighting the whole five, though the Shawanoe would not have hesitated to do that had no other recourse been left to him. With that quick perception which approached the marvelous in him he ordered Whirlwind to gallop along the side of the timber and again wait for him. Then Deerfoot dived among the trees as if in fear of the fierce warriors closing in upon him. His aim was to draw the attention of the party from the stallion to himself, and he succeeded.
For three or four minutes he dodged in and out, where in the gloom he could not escape more than one collision with the limbs. The whole party plunged after him. They knew that the audacious stranger had slain one of their number and were determined he should not escape their vengeance, for with him disposed of the black stallion could be recovered at leisure.
All the time that Deerfoot was whisking here and there, leaping to the right and left, and getting forward as fast as he could, he held his knife grasped and ready to use on the instant the emergency arose. He was so handicapped by the obstructions and the darkness that he could do little more than hold his own. His enemies were too near for him to hide himself from them. Had he attempted to do so the whole lot would have descended upon him like an avalanche.
There was no chance to select his route; all he could do was to drive ahead and avoid being driven at bay. He took care not to pass near the fire, where the glow would have betrayed him. He feared his foes would shoot, though everything was so obscured that they were likely to wait in the hope of capturing him or gaining a fairer aim.
A faint lighting up in front showed that he was nearing the edge of the wood. Two bounds carried him clear, and then, with the utmost speed of which he was capable, he ran along the margin to a slight turn in the conformation of the grove, when he leaped out into the open air and was off with as great fleetness as he displayed on the home-stretch in his race with Ralph Genther, after the turkey shoot at Woodvale.
By his dodging and trickery he had gained an important start, but not enough to put him beyond sight of the Assiniboines, who debouched from the timber at the moment the form of the Shawanoe was fast dissolving in the gloom. They were fleet of foot, and in the belief that they could speedily run the fugitive to earth they made after him. Hardly had the singular race opened when the astounded pursuers saw no fugitive before them! He had been swallowed up in the darkness like an arrow launched from a powerful bow. The Assiniboines must have come to the belief that whoever the stranger was he knew how to run. You and I came to that belief long ago.
One of the chagrined pursuers fired in the direction of the flying fugitive. The bullet probably passed within fifty feet of him, certainly not near enough for Deerfoot to hear the whistle of the missile.
The Shawanoe was too wise to maintain his flight in a direct line, for there was no saying how long his enemies would hunt for him. He made a wide detour to the right and passed around the head of the lake, moving as silently as a shadow and issuing no call to Whirlwind to join him. Reaching the point he had in mind he stopped, peered around in the gloom and carefully located himself. Then he placed his thumb and forefinger between his teeth and pierced the stillness with that peculiar whistle which could have been heard a mile away.
Meanwhile, if we can believe that animals are capable of reasoning, Whirlwind must have had some uncomfortable thoughts. He was listening for the next orders of his master and could make nothing of the tumult going on near him. He would have been eager to lend a helping hand, or, rather, hoof, but did not know how to lend it. He might make matters worse by the attempt. He had received his commands and it only remained for him to obey them.
While thus waiting, the Assiniboine leader—he who claimed him as his particular property—assumed form in the starlight and drew near. Whirlwind snuffed suspiciously. He could not understand matters, but he had seen his master and comrade and resented any impertinence from others.
The Assiniboine hurried up and extended one hand to grasp the forelock of the stallion, in order to lead him back to his place on the other side of the camp. At that moment the signal of Deerfoot rang out.
Perhaps the Assiniboine suspected the meaning of the call, for he darted forward and seized the forelock. Whirlwind instantly reared, and with a single blow of his hoof knocked the red man senseless. He did not kill him, but it is safe to conclude that when the Assiniboine regained his senses he knew a good deal more than he ever knew before.
The waiting Shawanoe heard the sound of hoofs, and a minute later saw the form of the stallion as he galloped up and paused with his nose thrust forward, asking for another caress.
He received it and in his mute way expressed his own pleasure at being with his master again. The danger was not yet over, and the Shawanoe deferred further petting until the opportunity was more fitting. Resting one hand upon the neck of the stallion he leaped lightly astride of him, still keeping the blanket about his own shoulders, for the night was keen and the horse did not need the protection.
Whirlwind yearned to stretch his limbs and speed away with his master on his back. But it would have been unsafe. After leaving the vicinity of the lake the country was rough, and in the darkness the surest-footed horse was liable to fall. Moreover, there was no need of haste.
So the stallion passed out into the night at his usual graceful walk, while his rider for the time listened and peered into the darkness behind him for sound or sight of the Assiniboines who would have given much for a chance to revenge themselves upon the daring youth that had outwitted them.
At the end of half an hour Deerfoot slipped from the back of his steed and pressed his ear to the earth. If the Assiniboines were following and were near he would learn the fact through this better conductor of sound. He heard nothing and once more vaulted upon Whirlwind.
Relieved for the time of all cause for fear, Deerfoot now gave grateful attention to the proud stallion that was bearing him southward. He first tested his recollection of the words of command which he had taught him, and which you will remember were in a peculiar language known only to the two. Whirlwind proved his excellent memory by promptly responding to every order addressed to him. Then the Shawanoe guided him by pressure of his knees, and by a certain manner of striking the heels of his moccasins against his sides. The result could not have been more satisfactory.
"Whirlwind is a bad horse," said Deerfoot, feeling that it was time to have a little sport with him. "He ran away from Deerfoot on purpose. If he had had any sense he would have left the Assiniboines and set out to find Deerfoot instead of making Deerfoot travel so far to find him."
It would be absurd to pretend that a horse, even with the rare intelligence of Whirlwind, could grasp the meaning of these words. However, he understood the sharp pinch which his master gave him on the side of his neck, followed by a brisk slap with his hand. The stallion reached his head around and nipped at the leg of Deerfoot, who drew it back and flipped the nose of the animal.
Then Whirlwind flung his head around his other shoulder and snapped at the leg on that side, which was hardly snatched out of the way in time to escape. Deerfoot gently smote the nose to remind the steed that with all his strength and wisdom the youth was still his master. Thus they parried and played and plagued each other until Deerfoot, with that curious refinement of cruelty which we often show to those we love most, pretended to be offended.
"If Whirlwind wishes to bite Deerfoot he may do so."
And to show he meant what he said he reached forward and placed his hand between the lips of the horse. The latter instantly opened his jaws, so as to inclose the hand with his teeth. A slight effort would have crushed the fingers out of all semblance of symmetry and beauty. Whirlwind did bring his jaws nearly together, but took good care that the pressure was not sufficient to harm a fly.
Deerfoot's heart smoke him. He could not stand this cruelty to as true a friend as ever lived. Resting his rifle across his thighs, so as to leave his hands free, he leaned forward, and, inclosing the satin neck in his grasp, gave the noble creature as fervent an embrace as wooer ever gave to sweetheart.