THE LOST TRAIL
By Edward S. Ellis
AN ENEMY IN A TREE
One afternoon in early spring, Jack Carleton, a sturdy youth of seventeen years, was following a clearly-marked trail, leading through the western part of Kentucky toward the Mississippi river. For many a mile he followed the evenly spaced tracks made by a horse on a walk, the double impressions being a trifle more than three feet apart.
"Helloa!" exclaimed, Jack, when he looked at the earth again and observed that the tracks had taken a new form, with nearly eight feet between them. "Otto has forced the colt to a trot. He must be in a hurry, or he thinks I am fond of traveling."
Thus far the lusty young Kentuckian felt no misgiving, but within fifty yards the trail underwent the startling change—the footprints being separated by more than three yards now.
"My gracious," muttered the boy, coming to a full stop, "something is wrong: Otto would not have put the horse on a dead run if he hadn't been scared."
Jack Carleton proved his training by the keenness and quickness with which he surveyed his surroundings. The woods were on every hand, but they were open and free from undergrowth, so that he gained an extensive view.
As he advanced with vigorous steps along the winding path, his eyes sometimes rested on the pendulous branches of the majestic elm, a small purple flower here and there still clinging to the limbs and resisting the budding leaves striving to force it aside; the massive oak and its twisted, iron limbs; the pinnated leaves of the hickory, whose solid trunk, when gashed by the axe, was of snowy whiteness; the pale green spikes and tiny flowers of the chestnut; the sycamore, whose spreading limbs found themselves crowded even in the most open spaces, with an occasional wild cherry or tulip, and now and then a pine, whose resinous breath brooded like a perennial balm over the vast solitude.
Jack Carleton was arrayed in the coarse, serviceable garb of the border: heavy calf-skin shoes, thick trousers, leggings and coat, the latter short and clasped at the waist by a girdle, also of woolen and similar to that of the modern ulster. The cap was of the same material and, like the other garments, had been fashioned and put together by the deft hands of the mother in Kentucky. Powder-horn and bullet-pouch were suspended by strings passing over alternate sides of the neck and a fine flint-lock rifle, the inseparable companion of the Western youth, rested on the right shoulder, the hand grasping it near the stock.
Jack's hasty survey failed to reveal any cause for fear, and he resumed his pursuit, as it may be termed. The quick glances he cast on the ground in front showed, in every instance, that the horse he was following was fleeing at the same headlong pace. His rider had spurred him to a dead run, at which gait he had shot underneath the limbs of the trees at great risk to himself as well as to his rider.
The trail was broad, for loaded horses had passed in both directions, and wild animals availed themselves of it more than once in making their pilgrimages to the Mississippi, or in migrating from one part of the country to the other.
But there were no footprints that had been made within the past few days, with the single exception noted—that of the horse which had abruptly broken into a full run.
The balmy afternoon was drawing to a close, and Jack began to believe the chances were against overtaking his friend and companion, young Otto Relstaub.
"If he has kept this up very long, he must be far beyond my reach, unless he has turned about and taken the back trail."
Glancing at the sky as seen through the branches overhead, the youth observed that it was clear, the deep blue flecked here and there by patches of snowy clouds, resting motionless in the crystalline air.
Comparatively young as was Jack, he had been thoroughly trained in woodcraft. When beyond sight of the cabins of the straggling settlement, where he made his home, he was as watchful and alert as Daniel Boone or Simon Kenton himself. His penetrating gray eyes not only scanned the sinuous path, stretching in front, but darted from side to side, and were frequently turned behind him. He knew that if danger threatened it was as likely to come from one point as another.
He could not avoid one conclusion: the peril which had impelled the young German's horse to such a burst of speed must have been in the form dreaded above all others—that of the wild Indians who at that day roamed through the vast wilderness of the West and hovered along the frontier, eager to use the torch, the rifle, or the tomahawk, whenever and wherever the way opened.
The probability that such was the cause of the horseman's haste threw the young Kentuckian at once on his mettle. Inasmuch as he was putting forth every effort to rejoin his companion, there was good reason for fearing a collision with the red men. He had been in several desperate affrays with them, and, like a sensible person, he spared no exertion to escape all such encounters.
"If they will let me alone I will not disturb them," was the principle which not only he, but many of the bravest frontiersmen followed daring the eventful early days of the West.
The youth now dropped into the loping trot of the American Indian—a gait which, as in the case of the dusky warrior himself, he was able to maintain hour after hour, without fatigue. The sharp glances thrown in every direction were not long in making a discovery, though not of the nature anticipated.
A short distance in front a white oak, whose trunk was fully two feet in diameter, grew beside the trail which he was following. Its shaggy limbs twisted their way across the path and among the branches on the other side. The exuberant leaves offered such inviting concealment to man and animal that the youth subjected them to the keenest scrutiny.
His trot dropped to a slow walk, and he instinctively glanced at the lock of his gun to make sure it was ready for any emergency.
Something was moving among the branches of the forest monarch, but Jack knew it was not an Indian. No warrior would climb into a tree to wait for his prey, when, he could secure better concealment on the ground, where he would not be compelled to yield the use of his legs, which play such an important part in the maneuverings of the red man.
The lad caught several glimpses of the strange animal, and, when within a few rods, identified it.
"It's a painter," he said to himself, with a faint smile, resuming his slow advance and giving a sigh of relief; "I don't know whether it is worth while to give him a shot or not."
The name "painter," so common among American hunters, is a corruption of "panther," which is itself an incorrect application, the genuine panther being found only in Africa and India. In South America the corresponding animal is the jaguar, and in North America the cougar or catamount, and sometimes the American lion.
Jack Carlton did not hold the brute in special fear, though he knew that when wounded or impelled by hunger he was a dangerous foe. During an unusually cold day, only a few months before, one of them had made an open attack on him, inflicting some severe scratches and tearing most of his clothes to shreds.
It would have been one of the easiest things in the world for the young Kentuckian to settle the whole question by leaving the trail and making a detour that would take him safely by the treacherous beast, which, as a rule, is afraid to assault a person. The lad was certain that at that season of the year it would not leave the tree to attack him.
But if he took such a course, it would be a confession of timidity on his part against which, his nature and training rebelled.
"No," Said he, after brief hesitation, "I won't leave the path for all the painters this side of the Mississippi. It may not be wise for me to fire my gun just now and I won't do it, if he behaves himself, but I don't mean to put up with any nonsense."
He brought his weapon in front, raised the hammer and closely watched the animal above, while the quadruped was equally intent in observing him. It was a curious sight—the two scrutinizing each other with such defiant distrust.
The cougar was crouching on a broad limb, just far enough from the trunk of the oak to be directly over the trail. He was extended full length, and, as partly seen through the leaves, offered the best target possible for the marksman below.
But Jack preferred not to fire his gun, for the reason that the report was likely to be heard by more dangerous enemies. His purpose was to refrain from doing so, unless forced to shoot in self defense, and his pride would not permit him to deviate a hair's-breadth from the path in order to escape the necessity of shooting.
He walked with the deliberate, noiseless tread of an Indian, looking steadily upward at the eyes which assumed a curious, phosphorescent glare, that scintillated with a greenish light, as the relative position of the enemies changed.
The lad passed under the limbs staring unflinchingly aloft. When exactly beneath, the cougar was hidden for an instant from sight, but, recognizing the changing conditions, he quickly lifted his head to the right, and the lad again saw the greenish glare, the white teeth, and blood red mouth. He traced the outlines of the sinewy body close along the limb, and through which he could have driven a bullet with fatal certainty. The "painter," whose scream is often mistaken for the cry of a human being, uttered an occasional snarling growl as he looked down on the lad. His attitude and manner seemed to say: "I've got my eye on you, young man! Walk very straight or you will find yourself in trouble."
The probability that a cougar is gathering his muscles on a limb with the intention of bounding down on one's shoulders, is enough to make the bravest man uneasy. Jack Carleton did feel a creeping chill, but the same pride which prevented him deviating a hair's-breadth from the trail, would not allow him to increase or retard his gait.
"If you think you can make me run, old fellow," he muttered, with his gaze still fixed on the beast, "you are mistaken. We don't meet wild animals in Kentucky that are able to drive us out of the woods. You needn't fancy, either, that I am in any hurry to walk away from you."
And, to show the contempt in which he held the beast, the youth at that moment came to a full stop, turned about and faced him.
WHAT A RIFLE-SHOT DID
The moment the young Kentuckian assumed this attitude, he became aware that the cougar had determined upon hostilities.
With a rasping snarl he buried his claws in the shaggy bark, pressing his body still closer to the limb, and then shot downward straight toward Jack, who was too vigilant to be caught unprepared. Leaping backward a couple of steps, he brought his gun to his shoulder, like a flash, and fired almost at the moment the animal left his perch. There could be no miss under the circumstances, and the "painter" received his death wound, as may be said, while in mid-air. He struck the ground with a heavy thump, made a blind leap toward the youthful hunter, who recoiled several steps more, and then, after a brief struggle, the beast lay dead.
During these moments, Jack Carleton, following the rule he was taught when first given his gun, occupied himself with reloading the weapon. A charge of powder was poured from the hollow cow's horn, with its wooden stopper, into the palm of his hand, and this went rattling like fine sand down the barrel. The square piece of muslin was hammered on top until the ramrod almost bounded from the gun; then the bullet which the youthful hunter had molded himself, was shoved gently but firmly downward, backed by another bit of muslin. The ramrod was pushed into its place, and the hammer, clasping the yellow, translucent flint, was drawn far back, like the jaw of a wild cat, and the black grains sprinkled into the pan. The jaw was slowly let back so as to hold the priming fast, and the old fashioned rifle, such as our grandfathers were accustomed to use, was ready for duty.
Jack surveyed the motionless figure on the ground and said:
"I don't think you'll ever amount to anything again as a painter; at any rate, you ain't likely to drop on to a fellow's head when he is walking under a tree."
And, without giving him any further notice, he turned about and resumed his walk toward the Mississippi.
It was vain, however, for him to seek to suppress his anxiety. The trail of the flying horse still indicated that he was going on a dead run, and some unusual cause must have impelled him to do so. Jack could not doubt that his friend Otto was driven to such severe effort by the appearance of Indians, but it would seem that the terrific gait of the Steed ought to have taken him beyond all danger very speedily, whereas, for more than a mile, the pace showed not the slightest diminution.
At the most, Otto was not more than an hour in advance, and his friend, therefore, had good reason to fear he was in the immediate vicinity of the dreaded red men.
The young hunter was brave, but he was not reckless. He had refused to turn aside to avoid a collision with the cougar, but he did not hesitate to leave the trail, in the hope of escaping the savages who were likely to be attracted by the report of the gun.
From the beginning the lad had stepped as lightly as possible, bringing his feet softly but squarely down on the ground, after the fashion of the American Indian, when threading his way through the trackless forest. He now used the utmost care in leaving the trail, for none knew better than he the amazing keenness of the dark eyes that were liable to scan the ground over which he had passed.
Not until he was several rods from the footprints of the flying horse did he advance with anything like assurance. He then moved with more certainty until he reached a chestnut, whose trunk was broad enough to afford all the concealment he could desire.
Stepping behind this, Jack assumed a position which gave him a view of the trail, with no likelihood of being seen, unless the suspicion of the Indians should be directed to the spot.
"If they are coming, it is time they showed themselves."
The words were yet in the mouth of the youth, when something seemed to twinkle and flicker among the trees, in advance of the point where he had turned aside from the path. A second look allowed that two Indian warriors were returning along the trail.
He recognized them as Shawanoes—one of the fiercest tribes that resisted the march of civilization a century ago. It may be said that they corresponded to the Apaches of the present day.
The couple were scrutinizing the ground, as they advanced with heads thrown forward and their serpent-like eyes flitting from side to side. Manifestly they were expecting to discover certain parties along the trail itself. There may have been something in the peculiar sound of the rifle, which raised their suspicions, though it is hard to understand wherein the report of two similarly made weapons can possess any perceptible difference.
Be that as it may, that which Jack Carleton feared had taken place—the shot which killed the cougar brought far more dangerous enemies to the spot.
The lad would have had no difficulty in picking off one of the warriors, but he had not the remotest intention of doing so. There could be no justification for such a wanton act, and the consequences could not fail to be disastrous to himself. He was never better prepared to support the creed of the frontiersmen who would willingly leave the red men unmolested if they in turn sought to do them no harm.
The Shawanoes soon passed by, making no pause until they reached the carcass of the panther. They quickly saw the bullet-wound, between his fore legs, and understood that his heart had been pierced while in the act of leaping from his perch upon the hunter beneath. A brief scrutiny of the ground brought to light the impressions of the calf-skin shoes of him who had fired the fatal shot.
They understood at once that the party was a white person, and, judging from the size of the footprints, he clearly was an adult-one who, it was safe to conclude, was able to taking good care of himself; but it must have been a relief to the warriors when their examination of the earth showed that only a single member of the detested race had been concerned in the death of the cougar.
That which followed was precisely what the watcher expected. The moment the red men were certain of the direction taken by the hunter they started along the same line. The foremost looked down for an instant at the ground, and then seemed to dart a glance at every visible point around him. The other warrior did not once look down, but guarded against running into any ambush for it need not be said that the task on which they were engaged was most delicate and dangerous.
The American Indian cannot excel the white man in woodcraft and subtlety, and no Kentucky pioneer ever stood still and allowed a dusky foe to creep upon him.
It will be conceded that a point had been reached where Jack Carleton had good cause for alarm. Those Shawanoe were following his trail, and they had but to keep it up for a short distance when he was certain to be "uncovered."
"I wish there was only one of them," muttered the youth, stealthily peering from behind the tree; "it will be hard to manage two."
The coolness of Jack was extraordinary. Though he felt the situation was critical in the highest degree, yet there was not a tremor of the muscles, nor blanching of the countenance, as it would seem was inevitable when such a desperate encounter impended.
There was a single, shadowy hope; it was fast growing dark in the woods, and the eyes of the Shawanoes, keen as they were, must soon fail them. The sun had set and twilight already filled the forest arches with gloom.
Peering around the bark, Jack saw the leading Indian bend lower, leaving to the other the task of guarding against mishap. He walked more slowly; it was plain his task was not only difficult, but was becoming more so every moment.
Jack followed the movements with rapt attention. Knowing the precise point where he had left the path, his heart throbbed faster than was its wont, when he saw his enemies close to the tingle in his course. A half minute later they were beyond—they had overrun his trail.
A short distance only was passed, when the warriors seemed to suspect the truth. They came to a halt, and the trail-hunter sank upon his knees. His head was so close to the ground that it looked as if he were drawing lines and figures with his curving nose, which slowly circled around and back and forth. At the same time the palm of his right hand gently moved over the leaves, touching them as lightly as the falling snowflakes, and with as wonderful delicacy as that of the blind reader, when his fingers are groping over the raised letters of the Book of Life.
The young Kentuckian from his place of concealment smiled to himself.
"There are some things which even a Shawanoe, cannot do, and that's one of them."
Such was the fact; for, with that care which the trained pioneer never permits himself to forget or disregard, the lad had adopted every artifice at his command to add to the difficulty of identifying his footsteps.
The warrior straightened up with an impatient "Ugh!" which brought another smile to the face of the watcher, for it proved beyond question the failure of his foes.
The Shawanoe, however, had established one fact—the overrunning of the trail. The one for whom they were searching had left the path at some point behind them. Scant chance was there of learning the precise spot.
"Follow me if you can," was the exultant thought of Jack, who carefully lowered the hammer of his rifle. "I'm glad that as the painter was determined on picking a quarrel with me he did not do it earlier in the day—helloa!"
While speaking to himself, he became aware that the warriors were invisible. They may have believed they were acting as oscillating targets for some hidden enemy, who was likely to press the trigger at any moment; and, unable even to approximate as they were his biding-place, they withdrew in their characteristic fashion.
Jack thrust his head still further from behind the tree, and finally stepped forth that he might obtain the best view he could. But the red men had vanished like the shadows of swiftly-moving clouds. Nothing more was to be feared from that source.
But with the lifting of the peril from his own shoulders, there returned his distressing anxiety for his absent companion. No doubt could exist that when he put his horse to his hurried flight, he had done so to escape the Indians. Whether he had succeeded remained to be learned, but Jack felt that every probability was against it.
He might well debate as to his own duty in the premises. His one desire was to learn what had become of Otto, the German lad, with whom he left the Settlements a couple of days before. Neither had ever visited this section, but they were following the instructions of those who had, and the young Kentuckian knew the precise point in their journey that had been reached.
Standing as motionless as the trees beside him and amid the darkening shadows, Jack Carleton listened with the intentness of an Indian scout stealing into a hostile camp.
The soft murmur which seems to reach us when a sea-shell is held to the ear filled the air. It was the voice of the night—the sighing of the scarcely moving wind among the multitudinous branches, the restless movements of myriads of trees—the soft embrace of millions of leaves, which, like the great ocean itself, even when the air is pulseless, is never at rest.
Jack Carleton had spent too many days and nights in the woods to be greatly impressed with the solemnity and grandeur of his surroundings. That which would have awed his soul, if noted for the first time, had lost the power to do so from its familiarity; but while in the attitude of listening, he became conscious of another sound which did not belong to the vast forest, the throbbing air, nor the gathering darkness.
ON THE BANK OF THE MISSISSIPPI
That which reached the ears of Jack Carleton, while he stood in the woods, silent and listening, was a peculiar swashing noise, which continued a few seconds, followed by the same space of silence—the intervals being as regular as the ticking of a huge pendulum. Accompanying the sound was another, a soft, almost inaudible flow, such as one hears when standing on the bank of a vast stream of water.
He knew that both were caused by the sweep of the mighty Mississippi which was near at hand. The reason for the first he could not understand, but that of the latter was apparent. He had never looked upon the Father of Waters, but many a time he had rested along the Ohio and been lulled to sleep by its musical flow, even while the camp-fires of the hostile red men twinkled on the other shore.
Manifestly nothing could be done by remaining where he was, and, in the same guarded manner in which he left the trail a half hour before, he began picking his way back. Probably he ran greater personal risk in following the beaten path, yet he was controlled by a true hunter's instinct in every movement made.
When he reached the trail, he observed that not only had the night descended, but the full moon was shining from an almost unclouded sky. The trees, crowned with exuberant vegetation, cast deep shadows, like those of the electric light, and only here and there did the arrowy moonbeams strike the ground, redolent with the odors of fresh earth and moldering leaves.
"Some of the warriors may be returning or groping along the trail," was the thought of the youth, who glided silently forward, his senses on the alert. His misgivings, however, were much less than when watching the two Shawanoes, for with the dense gloom of the forest inclosing him on every hand, he felt that the shelter was not only secure but was of instant avail.
Less than a furlong was passed, when he caught the shimmering of water. A few steps further and he stood for the first time on the bank of the Mississippi.
The youth felt those emotions which must come to every one when he emerges from a vast forest at night and pauses beside one of the grandest streams of the globe. At that day its real source was unknown, but Jack, who was unusually well informed for one of his years, was aware that it rose somewhere among the snowy mountains and unexplored regions far to the northward, and that, after its winding course of hundreds of leagues, during which it received the volume of many rivers, enormous in themselves, it debouched into the tropical waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The reflection of the turbid current showed that it was flowing swiftly. The dark line of the forest on the other shore appeared like a solid wall of blackness, while to the north and south the view ended in the same impenetrable gloom.
Impressed and awed by the scene, the lad saw something which at first startled him by its resemblance to a man, standing in the river, with his feet braced against the bottom and his head and shoulders above the surface. The current seemed to rush against his bared breast, from which it was cast back and aside, as though flung off by a granite rock. Then the head bowed forward, as if the strong man sought to bathe his brain in the cooling waters, that he might be refreshed against the next shock.
A minute's scrutiny was enough to show Jack that the object was a tree, which, rolling into the river at some point, perhaps hundreds of miles above, had grown weary of its journey, and, plunging its feet into the muddy bed of the stream, had, refused to go further. The fierce current would lift the head several feet with a splash, but could hold it thus only a part of a minute, when it would dip for a brief while, to rise again and repeat the action.
The tree was what is known to-day on the Mississippi as a "sawyer," and which is so dreaded by the steamers and other craft navigating the river. Many a boat striking at full speed against them, have had their hulls pierced as if by a hundred-pound shell, and have gone to the bottom like stone.
It was the sound made by the "sawyer" which had puzzled Jack Carleton before he caught sight of the great river. He could not wonder that he had failed to guess the cause of the intermittent swash which reached him through the woods.
"And we must cross that stream," murmured Jack, with half a shudder, as he looked out upon the prodigious volume rushing southward like myriads of wild horses; "it seems to me no one can swim to the other shore, nor can a raft or boat be pushed thither."
The plucky boy would not have felt so distrustful and timid had the sun been shining overhead.
"Ish dot you, Jack?"
Young Carleton turned his head as if a war hoop had sounded in his ear. He fairly bounded feet when he recognized his old friend at his elbow. The good-natured German lad was grinning with delight, as he extended his chubby hand and asked:
"How you vos?"
"Why, Otto!" gasped Jack, slapping his palm against that of his friend and crushing it as if in a vise. "I am so glad to see you."
"So I vos," was the grinning response; "I'm always glad to shake hands mit myself"
"But," said the other, looking furtively over each shoulder in turn, "let's move away the trail, where we cannot be seen or heard."
The suggestion was a wise one, and acted upon without delay. The friends entered the wood, which continued quite open, and tramped steadily forward with the intention of finding place where they could start a fire and converse without danger of discovery by enemies.
The hearts of both were too full for hold their peace while stealing forward among the trees.
"Otto," said Jack, "where is the colt?"
"I dinks he's purty near New Orleans as soon as dis time."
Young Carleton looked wonderingly toward friend and asked, "What do you mean?"
"I don't mean vot I don't say and derefore dinks I mean vot I vos."
"So the colt went into the river? Where were you?"
"Mit de colt and he vos mit me, so we bot vos mit each other. Just feels of me."
Jack reached out his hand and pinched the clothing of his friend in several places. It was saturated.
"Ven I valks, de vater in my shoes squishes up to mine ears—don't you hear 'em?"
"Why don't you pour it out?"
"I hef done so, tree time already—I done so again once more."
And, without ado, the young German threw himself forward on his hands and head and kicked his feet with a vigor that sent the moisture in every direction. Indeed the performance was conducted with so much ardor that one of the shoes flow off with considerable violence. Otto then reversed himself and assumed the upright posture.
"Mine gracious," he exclaimed, "where didn't dot shoe of mine went?"
"It just missed my face," replied Jack, with a laugh.
"Dot vos lucky," said Otto, beginning to search for his property.
"Yes; it might have hurt me pretty bad."
"I means it vos lucky for de shoe," added Otto, who, in groping about, stumbled at that moment upon the missing article. "Bime by de vater soaks down mine shoes agin and I stands on head and kicks it out."
But Jack Carleton was anxious to learn what had befallen his friend since their voluntary separation some hours before, and so, while they were advancing along the shore, the story was told.
Otto, as he had agreed to do, was riding at a leisurely pace, when, without the least warning, the sharp crack of a rifle broke the stillness of, the woods on his right, and the bullet zipped so close to his forehead that it literally grazed the skin, leaving a faint mark, which was visible several days afterward.
The lad was never so frightened in all his life. For a minute or so he was absolutely speechless, during which the horse, alarmed in a less degree than he, broke into a trot. Otto, however, quickly regained his self-control, and fully realized his danger. He did not glance behind him nor to the right or left. No investigation was needed convince him of his peril. He put the horse to a dead run, first throwing himself forward on his neck so as to offer the least possible target to his enemies.
Only the single shot was fired, and Jack counted it strange that the report failed to reach his ears. When the fugitive had gone a considerable distance, he ventured to look back. He thought he saw several Indians, but it was probably fancy, for had they observed he was leaving them behind (as would have been the case), they surely would have appealed to their rifles again.
Otto was in such danger from the overhanging limbs, and was so fearful that he was running a gauntlet of Indians, that he kept his head close to the mane of his steed and scarcely looked to see where they were going.
The awakening came like an electric shock, when the terrified horse made a tremendous plunge straight out into the river. The first notice Otto received was the chilling embrace of the waters which enveloped him to the ears. He held his rifle in his right hand, and, in his desperate efforts to save that, was swept from the back of the animal, which began swimming composedly down stream, carrying saddle, blankets and other valuable articles that were strapped to him back.
Encumbered with his heavy clothing and his gun, young Otto Relstaub had all he could do to fight his way back to land. He escaped shipwreck as by a hair's-breadth, from the sawyer which had attracted the notice of Jack.
"I vos swimming as hard as nefer vos," he explained, "and had just got in front of the tree, ven as true as I don't live, it banged right down on top mit me and nearly knocked out my brains out. I grabbed hold of it, when it raised up and frowed me over its head. Den I gots mad and swims ashore."
Jack laughed, for, though he knew his friend was prone to exaggeration, he could understand that his experience was similar, in many respects, to what he had stated.
"After the shore reaches me," continued Otto, "I turns around free, four times to find where I ain't. I see de colt going down stream as fast as if two Indians was on his back sitting and paddling him mit paddles. I called to him to come back and explained dot he would cotch him cold if he didn't stay too long in de vater, but he makes belief he don't hears me, and I bothers him no more."
"There will be trouble at home when your father finds out the colt is lost," said Jack Carleton, who knew how harsh the parent of Otto was; "it must be he returned to land further down."
"Yes; bimeby he comes ashore."
"Why didn't you recover him?"
"'Cause he swims out on de oder side and he would not wait till I could go back mit de settlenients and got mine frens to come and build one boat. I vos gone so long dot it vos night ven I comes back, and ven I sees you I dinks you vos an Indian or maybe some other loafer."
Jack Carleton was about to reply to this remark when both he and his friend caught sight the same moment of the star-like twinkle of a point of light.
While there was nothing specially noteworthy in this, yet both were impressed by the fact that the light was not only on the river, but was serving as a signal to some one standing on the same shore with them.
THE VISITOR FROM THE OTHER SHORE
Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub saw the twinkling point of light, glowing like a star from the bank of darkness on the other side the Mississippi. It shone for a minute with an intense brightness, and then, to their amazement, began revolving in a circle of a foot or more in diameter. It sped round and round with such swiftness that it resembled a wheel of fire without the slightest break in the flaming periphery.
"What can it mean?" asked the mystified Jack.
"I vos told something apout afire dot vos to jump apout in one circle," was the remarkable statement of Otto.
"What was it?"
"I don't forgot him now," replied the German with the hesitating speech of one in doubt.
"Well, you're the prize blockhead of the West," was the impatient comment of the young Kentuckian. "How you could have heard anything of that signal—as it must be—and forget it is beyond my understanding."
"Dot's what I dinks. I'll remember sometime after a few days— helloa!"
His exclamation was caused by the blotting out of the circular fire which had caused so much speculation. Looking toward the western bank of the Mississippi all was darkness again, the light having vanished.
Jack stooped so as to bring his head on a level with the surface of the river, and peered intently out over the moonlit surface.
"That torch was waved by an Indian in a canoe," said he, in a low voice, "and he is paddling this way."
Otto imitated the action of his friend, and saw that he had spoken the truth. The outlines of a boat, dimly distinguishable, were assuming definite shape with such rapidity that there could be no doubt the craft was approaching them.
As there was no question that the fiery ring was meant for a signal, Jack Carleton concluded that a party of red men were communicating with those from whom the boys had effected so narrow an escape. Such a supposition showed the necessity of great care, and the friends, without speaking, stepped further from the edge of the stream, where they were in no danger of being seen.
As the boat came nearer, and its shape was more clearly marked, the boys discovered that only a single warrior sat within. He was in the stern, manipulating his long, ashen paddle with such rare skill that he seemed to pay no heed to the current at all.
"There's only one of them," whispered the astonished Jack. "How easily we can pick him off!"
Otto brought his gun to his shoulder.
"What do you mean?" demanded the angry Jack.
"Pick him off!"
"No, you don't. He may be a friend."
"We'll found dot out, after we don't shoot him. Let's shoot him first," was the suggestion of Otto, "and then ax him the question."
"Even if an enemy—as he undoubtedly is—it would be cowardly to slay him in that fashion. As there is only one—!"
"Dere!" exclaimed the young Teuton, hardly to suppress his excitement over the recollection; "I knowed dat I had recumlected some dings."
"What is it?"
"Dot young gentleman in dot boat is a great friend of mine. He told me he would meet me at the crossing, if I didn't reach him pefore till it was come dark. Dot vos vat I didn't forget till de fire pegun to whirl apout, and then I didn't remember."
"Who is he?" asked the astonished Jack.
"Deerfoot, the Shawanoe," was the reply of Otto, who, with a light heart, stepped closer to the edge of the swiftly flowing river and called out:
"Holloa, Deerfoot! How you vos?"
The mention of the name called up strange emotions in the breast of Jack Carleton. For a year previous, stories had reached the settlement where he had made his home, of the wonderful Shawanoe youth, who was captured when a child, and while he was as untameable in his hatred of the whites as a spitting wildcat, but who was transformed by kindness into the most devoted friend of the pioneers.
Ned Preston, who lived at Wild Oaks, nearly a hundred miles distant from Jack's home, visited the latter a few months before, while on a hunting excursion, with his colored friend Wild-blossom Brown, and it was from him that Jack had gained many particulars of the remarkable history of the young Shawanoe.
Jack credited the statements of Deerfoot's amazing skill in the use of his bow and arrow, his wonderful fleetness of foot, and his chivalrous devotion to his friends; but when told that the youth could not only read, but could write an excellent hand, and that he was a true Christian, Jack felt many misgivings of the truth of the whole story.
Jack recalled further the statement that Deerfoot was held in such detestation by his own race that he became convinced his presence was an element of weakness rather than strength to his friends, and it was for that reason he had migrated west of the Mississippi.
The youthful warrior, seated in the stem of the canoe, gave no evidence that he saw the stubby figure of the German lad who stepped close to the water and hailed him by name. One powerful impulse of the paddle sent the bark structure far up the bank, like the snout of some aquatic monster plunging after the lad awaiting it.
Before it came to rest, Deerfoot sprang lightly ashore, and, grasping the front of the boat, drew it still further from the river, where it was not only safe against being swept away, but could not be seen by any one passing in the neighborhood.
His next proceeding was to pick up his bow from the bottom of the canoe, after which he was prepared to see that others were near him. Turning about, he extended his hand to Otto with the smiling greeting: "How do you do, my brother?"
The words were spoken with as perfect accentuation as Jack Carleton could have used. Had the speaker been invisible, no one would have believed him to be an Indian.
"I does vell," replied Otto, shaking his hand firmly. "Dis ish my friend, Jack Carleton, dot I dinks a good deal of."
Dropping the hand of the German, Deerfoot took one step forward and saluted the young Kentuckian in the same manner. He pressed his hand warmly, and, with the same smile as before, said:
"Deerfoot is glad to meet his brother."
As he uttered these words the moonlight fell on his face and the front part of his body, so that a better view of countenance and features could not have been obtained.
Nearly a year had passed since we last saw Deerfoot (see "Ned on the River"). During that period, he had almost attained the full stature of a warrior. It may be said that there was no single person, whether of his own or the Caucasian race, whom Deerfoot held in personal fear.
Those who have done me the honor of reading the "Young Pioneer Series," will recall the marked attractiveness of Deerfoot's countenance. The classical regularity of his features was relieved from effeminacy by the slightly Roman nose, which, with the thin lips, gave him an expression of firmness and nerve that was true to his character.
When he stepped in front of the great Tecumseh, with his knife clenched in his band, and dared the chieftain to mortal combat, the luminous black eyes flashed lightning, and the muscles on the graceful limbs were knotted like iron. They were now in repose and the eyes were as soft as those of a maiden.
When Deerfoot smiled it was rarely more than it faint, shadowy expression, just sufficient to reveal the small, even, white teeth and to add to the winsomeness of his expression.
The love of finery and display seems natural to every human being, and it manifested itself in the dress of the young Shawanoe. The long black hair, which streamed down his shoulders, was ornamented at the crown by several eagle feathers, brilliantly stained and thrust in place. The fringes of the neatly fitting leggings were also colored, and the moccasins which incased the small shapely feet, were interwoven with beads of every line of the rainbow. The body of the hunting shirt as well as the skirt, which descended almost to his knees, showed what may be called a certain subdued gaudiness which was not without its attractiveness.
The waist of the Shawanoe was clasped by a girdle into which were thrust a knife and tomahawk. Relying upon the bow, instead of the rifle, he carried a quiver full of arrows, just showing over the right shoulder, where they could be readily plucked with his deft left hand, whenever required.
Deerfoot had tested both the rifle and the bowl and as has been shown gave his adherence to the latter.
Jack Carleton said to himself, "He is the handsomest being I ever looked upon."
He was perfect in build, graceful in every movement, with an activity and power almost incredible, an eye large, black, and honest, but keen and penetrating, and a command of which approached the marvelous.
These characteristics of the young warrior struck Jack Carleton while pressing the warm hand of his new friend and looking into his pleasing countenance for the first time.
"I am delighted to see you," he said, recalling the amazing stories told of Deerfoot by Ned Preston, and beginning to think that, after all, they may have contained more truth than fiction.
Before Jack could add anything more, Otto Relstaub, who was staring at the two, heaved a great sigh, as if fearing some danger would come upon them.
"What is the matter with my brother?" asked Deerfoot, looking inquiringly toward him with his old smile.
"I asks mineself if we stands here till all last night, don't it?"
"I suppose we may as well seek more comfortable quarters," remarked Jack Carleton, who turned to the young warrior and added, "When Deerfoot is present no one else dare lead. What says he?"
AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE
On a tempestuous night in midwinter the little settlement of Coatesville, in Kentucky, was assailed by a fierce band of Shawanoes and Hurons. The pioneers were surprised, for the hour was near daybreak, and, accustomed as they were to the forays of the border, they were without the slightest warning of the danger which burst upon them. They rallied, however, and made an heroic defense, but when with the dawning of day the warriors withdrew, they left more than half the hearthstones darkened with sorrow and woe, because of one or more of its defenders who had fallen in the strife.
Among those that had perished was Abram Carleton, shot down on his own threshold while fighting for his wife and his boy Jack, who themselves were doing their utmost to beat back their merciless enemies.
The youth, as he grew older, gradually recovered from his grief, but the blow was so terrible to the stricken widow that its effect remained with her through all the years that followed. The vivacious, bright-hearted wife became the sad, thoughtful woman, who rarely smiled, and who walked forever in the shadow of her desolation. She had only her boy Jack, and to him she gave the whole wealth of her attention; but she could never forget the brave one that had yielded his life for her and her child.
Some years later a portion of the settlers became dissatisfied with their home, peculiarly exposed as it was to attacks from marauding red men, and determined to cross the Mississippi into that portion of Louisiana which to-day forms the great State of Missouri.
To many it seemed a strange refuge, for the change, it may be said, took them still further from civilization; but the reader well knows that the settlement of no portion of the Union was marked by such deeds of ferocity as that of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and the pioneers had good grounds to hope for better things in the strange land toward which they turned their footsteps.
The lead mines of Missouri attracted notice a early as 1720, and Saint Genevieve, its oldest town, was founded in 1755. At the breaking out of the Revolution, St. Louis contained nearly a thousand inhabitants, the country at that time belonging to Spain, and a considerable fur trade was carried on with the Indians.
Among those who crossed the Mississippi was the widow Carleton. Her friends believed that if she removed forever from the scene of her great affliction she might recover; but if she remained she must soon succumb. She suffered herself to be persuaded, and went in the company of those who promised to give her the tenderest attention and care.
Her decision was not made until the little company, that had spent weeks in preparation, was on the eve of starting. It thus became necessary for Jack to stay behind to look after certain interests of both, his purpose being to follow in the course of a few weeks.
The long journey westward was made in safety, a thriving settlement begun, and young Otto Relstaub, the son of a hard-hearted, penurious German, was sent back over the trail, according to promise, to guide Jack Carleton, who was impatiently awaiting him. The next morning after his arrival the two started westward, all their earthly effects packed upon the single horse.
They took turns in riding the animal. Accustomed as they were to constant activity, they would have enjoyed the journey on foot much more than on horseback. At first both walked, but, after their animal had run away several times, his capture causing much delay, trouble, and roiling of temper, they concluded that a change would have to be made if they expected ever to reach their destination.
One afternoon, when Otto was riding considerably in advance of his friend, he was fired upon by Indians, narrowly escaping with his life. The incidents immediately following have already been told the reader.
It was yet early in the evening when Deerfoot the Shawanoe acted upon the request of Otto, that some more convenient spot should be selected in which to continue their talk.
Inasmuch as the destination of the boys lay to the westward, it seemed to Jack Carleton that, the wisest thing to do was to enter the canoe, and allow the young Shawanoe to paddle them across; but he held the gifts and skill of the wonderful warrior in such high estimation that he feared a hint of the kind might not be received with favor.
Deerfoot led the way through the wood until a depression was reached, where considerable undergrowth grew. He came to a stop and seemed to be looking around in the darkness, which to the others was impenetrable.
"Let a fire be kindled," said he.
Only a few minutes were needed to gather all the fuel required. It was heaped against the trunk of a tree, and as each carried a flint and steel, a bright roaring blaze was soon under way.
Had Jack and Otto been alone, they would have been troubled by the fear that their campfire would be seen by prowling enemies but the air of unconcern on the part of the Shawanoe infused into them a feeling of confidence which drove away all fear.
Enough branches and leaves were piled together to afford them the best sort of couch. Not one had it blanket with him, and had the weather been cold, they must have suffered not a little. The boys had lost theirs when their horse ran away the last time, and Deerfoot had not brought any with him, though one remained in his canoe.
Fortunately the night was not only mild, but scarcely a breath of air was stirring. The fire radiated all the heat needed to make each comfortable. They assumed easy postures on the ground, and, as the reflection lit up each countenance, they looked curiously at one another, as if seeking more intimate knowledge of their appearance.
Deerfoot and Jack have already been sufficiently referred to, and a little attention is due to the honest German youth, who has his part to play in the following pages.
Otto was about a year younger than his friend, and bore very little resemblance to him. Jack possessed a certain rugged grace, and, while he was not handsome, his face showed intelligence with mental strength, sustained by bounding youth, and a physical vigor which was perfect.
Otto was a head shorter than Jack, and his growth seemed to run mostly to breadth. His short legs bowed outward at the knees, and a curve seemed necessary in order to preserve the harmony of general expanse.
His face was very wide, the small twinkling eyes fax apart, and the funny pug nose inclined in the same direction. His neck was short, and hair long and thick. His dress was similar to that worn by Jack Carleton, except that everything, even to the shoes, were of the coarsest possible nature.
Jacob Relstaub, the father of Otto, was not merely penurious, but he was miserly and mean. Jack Carleton knew him so well that he was certain there would be serious trouble with the lad if he showed himself in the little frontier town without the valuable horse which had run away and swam the river.
There was one respect in which the dress of the German differed from that of the American. Instead of wearing a cap, he was furnished with a hat something similar to those seen in some portions of the Tyrol. It had a brim of moderate width, and the crown gradually tapered until it attained a height of six inches, where it ended in it point. The thrifty mother possessed a secret of imparting a stiffness to the head gear which caused it to keep its shape, except when limp from moisture.
Such youths as Otto and Jack are always blessed with the most vigorous appetites, but they had eaten during the afternoon and were well content to wait until the morrow. As for Deerfoot, it made little difference to him whether he had partaken since the rising of the sun, for he had been taught from his infancy to hold every propensity of his nature in the sternest check. Oft-times he went hungry for no other purpose than that of self-discipline.
"How was it you came to meet Otto?" asked Jack of the dusky youth, who, assuming an easy position on the ground, was examining his bow. He looked up, smiled faintly, and hesitated a moment before answering.
"Two suns ago Deerfoot came upon a log cabin. It was raining and cold, and he was a long ways from home. He saw the glimmer of a light and reached for the latch-string, but it was pulled in. He knocked on the door and it was opened by the man who lived there. Deerfoot asked that he might stay till morning, but the pale face called him an Indian dog, and said that if he did not hasten away he would shoot him—"
"Don't you know who dot vos?" interrupted Otto, whose face seemed to grow wider with its immense grin.
"How should I know." asked Jack, in turn.
"Dot was mine fader. I dinks yon vosn't such a fool dot you wouldn't know dot right away."
"I knew that he was the stingiest man in Kentucky, but I didn't suppose you spelled his name 'h-o-g."'
"Dot's just de way to spell it," said Otto, slapping his friend on the shoulder and laughing as though pleased beyond measure. "Wait till you don't know him as well as I don't."
"Deerfoot turned to walk away," continued the young Shawanoe; "he had slept many times in the wood, and he was not afraid, but he had not taken many steps when some one called him. It was too dark to see, but the voice was of a boy. While Deerfoot waited he threw a heavy, blanket over his shoulders and made Deerfoot walk back to the cabin. He asked him to enter the window where the father could not see him, and he told Deerfoot he would place him in his bed and he should have food."
The narrator paused in his story and glanced toward Otto Relstaub. Jack, with a laugh, looked at the stubby youngster, who was blushing deeply and holding one hand over his face, the fingers spread so far apart that he could see the others. Otto was also smiling, and his hand could not begin to hide it, so that each side of his mouth wits in sight.
"Deerfoot was too proud to receive the offer of the boy, but he took the blanket."
"And mine gracious!" struck in the lad again; "didn't mine fader whip me for dat? He proke up three hickory sticks onto me and kept me dancing out of de cabin and in again, and over the roof, till I vos so disgusted as nefer vos."
"How did you explain the absence of the blanket?" asked Jack.
"I told mine fader I didn't know not any nodings apout it, and he whipped me 'cause I didn't know vot I did know, and, when Deerfoot brought pack de blanket next day, den he knows dat I lied and he whipped some more as nefer pefore."
Jack Carleton threw back his bead and laughed, though he took care that he made little noise in doing so; but the face of the Shawanoe was grave. His refined nature could see nothing mirthful in the cruel punishment inflicted upon the boy because he did a kindness to a stranger of another race. The brutal father had only to thank the Christian restraint of Deerfoot that he was not pierced by an arrow from his bow for his conduct.
The Shawanoe did not need explain that the little act of Otto had secured his lasting gratitude. The latter was not one to seek his company or intrude himself upon him; but he was ready to do the young German any service in his power.
A few days before, when Deerfoot was returning from the direction of the Mississippi, he met Otto on horseback. The latter told him he was going to Coatesville to bring back a young friend, whose mother was in the new settlement. For some reason, which the Shawanoe did not make known, he could not accompany Otto, or he would have done so; but he gave him full directions and numerous suggestions, every one of which Otto forgot within the following fifteen minutes.
Deerfoot, however, after making some calculations as to the time the boys would reach the Mississippi on their return, promised to meet them there and to take them across in his canoe, which was hidden not far away.
The Shawanoe particularly instructed Otto that, if the meeting should take place at night, he would make known his departure from the Louisiana side by swinging a torch in a circular manner. It was this signal which recalled the agreement to the mind of Otto Relstaub, who remembered much more than he would have Jack Carleton believe.
NIGHT AND MORNING
Deerfoot made known his purpose to take his friends across the Mississippi on the morrow in his canoe, after which he would keep them company for some distance along the trail, though he would be forced to leave them long before reaching their destination.
Jack Carleton naturally felt a deep interest in the youthful warrior, and expected him to give some facts in his wonderful history, as well as an intimation of what his life was likely to be in the new country to which he had removed, but much to the young Kentuckian's disappointment, he carefully avoided all reference to himself. His conversation being of such a nature that it is hardly worth recording in this place.
When the evening was well along, Otto threw more wood on the flames which crackled and gave out a cheerful glow. Deerfoot rose to his feet, and without a word passed out into the gloom. The hour for retiring was close at hand, and he preferred to make a reconnaissance before trusting themselves to slumber.
He returned as noiselessly as he went, remarking as he resumed his seat that no danger whatever threatened them, and they could slumber in peace. While speaking, he drew from a pocket within the skirt of his bunting-shirt, the little Bible which had been presented to him months before by Mrs. Preston of Wild Oaks, after the other volume was destroyed by the bullet that was aimed at the heart of the youth, by the hostile chieftain.
Adjusting himself in an easy posture on the ground, so that the ruddy fire-light came over his shoulders and fell upon the page with its minute letters, the young Shawanoe read for several minutes to himself. The others held their peace, impressed with the singular sight. Neither could doubt that he clearly comprehended every word of the sublime volume, and they felt that it was wrong to break in upon his meditation.
All at once he raised his head and asked, "Would my brothers wish to hear Deerfoot read?"
"We would, indeed," was the reply of Jack Carleton; "I never saw an Indian who could read from a, printed book, but I have been told that you can write an excellent hand."
Deerfoot shook his head disparagingly.
"My brother mistakes, but Deerfoot will try and read the words which the Great Spirit speaks to all his people, whether they are pale faces or red men."
And then, in a low musical voice, tremulous with emotion and impressive beyond description, the Shawanoe read an entire chapter from the book of Revelations, his favorite portion of the blessed Book, the others listening spellbound. Even Otto Relstaub, who saw and heard little of genuine Christian teachings in his cheerless home, was touched as never before by the indescribably solemn story of the apocalyptic vision.
The silence which succeeded lasted several minutes, when Jack said in a low voice:
"Deerfoot, I wish you would speak some sentences from the Bible in your own tongue."
"Does my brother wish to learn the Shawanoe language?"
"I have heard Shawanoes, Hurons and Miamis talk, but I can't understand a word; I have a curiosity to know how it will sound to hear some parts of the Bible with which I am familiar tittered in an unknown tongue."
"What part of the book can my brother repeat without reading the words?"
"Well—that is—I don't know," replied Jack, confused by the question of Deerfoot, who fixed his eyes inquiringly upon him; "I mean any sentence."
"Does my brother not read the Bible every day?" asked the Indian, in a grieved rather than a reproving voice; "he must know the Lord's Prayer—"
"O yes, yes," replied Jack, desperately clutching at the single straw. "I meant to ask you to repeat that."
In the same low, reverent voice he had used while reading, the warrior uttered the inspired petition, which shall last through all time. When he had finished, he said:
"My brother would like to remember the words as Deerfoot has spoken them; Deerfoot will print them for him."
And drawing a species of red chalk from the same pocket which held the Bible, he wrote for several minutes on one of the fly-leaves of the bock. When he had finished he glanced over the words, carefully tore out the leaf and handed it across to Jack.
The latter examined the paper, and saw written in a fine, delicate hand the following words, which are preserved to this day, and which, when properly pronounced, constitute the Lord's Prayer as it has been uttered many a time by the dusky lips of the Shawanoe warrior, when his fiery nature was subdued by its blessed teachings:
"Coe-thin-a, spim-i-key yea-taw-yan-ee, O wes-sa-yeg yey-sey-tho-yan-ae; Day-pale-i-tum-any-pay-itch tha-key, yea-issi-tay-hay-yon-ae, issi-nock-i-key, yoe-ma assis-key-kie pie-sey spin-I-key. Me-li-na-key oe noo-ki cos-si-kie ta-wa-it-ihin oe yea-wap-a-ki tuck-whan-a; puck-i-tum-I-wa-loo kne-won-ot-i-they-way. Yea-se-puck-I-tum-a-ma-chil-i-tow-e-ta thick-i na-chaw-ki tussy-neigh-puck-sin-a wa-pun-si-loo wau po won- ot-i-they ya key-la tay pale-i-tum-any way wis-sa kie was- si-sut-i-we-way thay-pay-wo-way."
Jack studied the singular words several minutes, and then, with some hesitation, undertook to pronounce them. He did only fairly, even when corrected by Deerfoot, who added the rebuke:
"Let my brother say them over many times in his own language, for the Great Spirit knows all tongues when he who speaks the words speaks them with his heart."
The consciousness that these words were uttered by one who belonged to what is generally regarded its a pagan race, brought a blush to the face of the sturdy youth that had listened to the same appeal more than once from the lips of his mother.
Under the assurance of Deerfoot, the boys stretched themselves on the leaves and branches and soon sunk into a refreshing slumber. Jack recalled that his last remembrance was of Deerfoot resting his head on his elbow, while he seemed absorbed in his book. He lay as motionless as a figure in bronze, but no matter how much he might be enchained by the words, he could not be insensible of what was going on around him.
Both Jack and Otto slept until the light of morning was stealing through the woods. Then, when they arose to their feet, they saw the Shawanoe broiling a couple of whitefish which he had managed to coax from the Mississippi. He had almost finished before his friends suspected what was doing.
After greeting the warrior, the others passed through the woods to the margin of the mighty river, where they bathed their faces and hands, took a slight swallow of the somewhat muddy water and then rejoined Deerfoot, who had their breakfast ready.
"Did my brothers see any signs that frightened them?" asked Deerfoot, when the three had seated themselves on the ground and were partaking of their meal.
"I took the best survey I could of the river," replied Jack, "but saw nothing of friend or foe. I don't suppose, as a rule, there are many Indians in this section."
"The Shawanoes often hunt to the river, but do not cross; the Miamis come down from the north, and Deerfoot sees their footprints in the Woods."
"What tribes are we likely to meet on the other side of the Mississippi?" asked the young Kentuckian, who naturally felt much interest in the land wherein he expected to make his home.
"There are many red men, even to the mountains which stretch far beyond the rivers and prairies, and raise their heads among the clouds."
Jack Carleton was surprised at this reference, which, he believed, was to the Rocky Mountains, of which little more than their simple existence was known to the rest of the Union at that day. But the words which followed astonished him still more:
"Beyond the mountains opens the great sea, wider than that which the pale faces came across from the Old World; beyond that great sea lies the land where He died for you and me; all the way to the shore, of the great water you will find the red men; they are like the leaves in the woods, and Deerfoot and his friends will die without ever hearing their names."
"But you have spent some time on the other side the Mississippi, and must know something of your race there."
"Deerfoot has seen the Osages hunting among the mountains and in the forest; has seen the Miamis, and, to the northward, may be met the Sacs and Foxes. Far toward the ice of the North is the land of the Assiniboine and the Dacotah."
"I should like to know where you gathered all that information?" remarked the amazed Jack Carleton; "the country beyond the Mississippi is greater than that on this side, and one of these days it will overflow with population, then what a country ours will be!" exclaimed the young patriot, with kindling eye. "But you and I, Deerfoot, can never live to see that time, which is for those that come after us."
"Yaw," said Otto, seeming to feel it his duty to say something; "dere is enough land over dere, I 'spose, for that horse to hide a week before I don't catch him."
Jack intimated that he was likely to find his search extended beyond that time, while Deerfoot smiled over the simplicity of the lad, whose information was so small compared with his opportunities.
Conversing in this pleasant manner, the meal was soon finished, and they made ready to cross the river.
When the three emerged from the woods they were close to the swiftly flowing current. Jack and Otto paused, while Deerfoot walked the few rods necessary to find the canoe that had been drawn up the bank.
Both the boys could swim the Mississippi if necessary, though, with their rifles and clothing to take care of, it was anything but a light task. Had they been without any boat at command, they would have divested themselves of their garments and placed them and their "luggage" on it small float, while they swam behind and pushed it forward.
When the emigrants moved westward they halted long enough on the bank to construct a raft, sufficient to carry everything in the course of several trips back and forth. Otto made preparation when he reached the river some days before on horseback, and, forcing the animal into the current, slipped back, grasped his tail and allowed himself to be towed across. He might have done the same on the preceding day had he been given a few minutes in which to make preparation, and had he not been unwilling to leave his friend behind.
"But it will beat all that," remarked Jack Carleton, after they had discussed the different plans, "to be paddled over in the canoe of Deerfoot."
"Yaw, but I dinks dot we should go across last, night."
"What would we have gained by that?"
"Then we wouldn't have to go ober agin dis mornings."
"True, but there is no haste called for; if it was not that I am so anxious to see mother, I would as lief spend a week on the road."
"Dot wouldn't do for me, for mine fader would be looking for me wid two big gads to him—"
"Helloa! Here comes Deerfoot. What can be the matter? He is excited over something."
Such was the fact, indeed, for the sagacious Shawanoe had made an annoying if not alarming discovery.
A SURPRISED FISHERMAN
It may be said that Deerfoot the Shawanoe never lost his senses excepting when slumber stole them away. Young as he was, he had been through some of the most terrific encounters the mind can conceive, and yet, when he stood erect in the full glare of the noonday sun, not a scratch or scar spoke of those fearful affrays in the depth of the forest, among the hills and mountains and along the Shores of the rivers of Kentucky and Ohio.
I have said that he was so hated by his own people that he felt his presence near the settlements to the eastward was more to the disadvantage than the help of his friends, and that was one of the causes which led him to bid adieu forever to his friends.
It has been intimated also that still another reason actuated him, and that reason shall appear in due time.
When Deerfoot assured Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub that they might slumber in peace, he spoke the truth; it has been shown that not the first breath of danger touched them during the darkness, and the morning meal was partaken in the same enjoyable fashion.
But before the subtle young Shawanoe reached the spot where he left his canoe, he was disturbed by discovering the imprint of moccasins along shore. They led away from his friends and toward the canoe. A few minutes showed the latter had "received" some visitors since its owner left it.
It was utterly destroyed. The knives and tomahawks of several, warriors had hacked be bark structure to pieces. Even the paddle had been broken into a half dozen parts. Nothing was left of which use could be made, the blanket of the owner of course being absent.
Deerfoot looked on the wreck with something like dismay, which speedily turned to anger. The wantonness of the act roiled his feelings and stirred up the "old Indian" in his nature.
He surveyed the destruction for a minute or two, and then made a careful examination of the signs the perpetrators could not avoid leaving behind them.
There had been three Indiana engaged in the mischief, and the first supposition of Deerfoot was that they were the Shawanoes whom Jack Carleton saw the day previous; but a few minutes' study of the footprints betrayed a certain peculiarity (a slight turning outward of the left foot so slight, indeed, as almost to be imperceptible), which identified them as Miamis. Deerfoot had noticed the "sign manual" years before, so there was no room for mistake on his part.
The party had come down from the northward, most likely with other warriors, and had stumbled by mere chance upon the partially hidden canoe. They probably investigated matters enough to learn that it was in charge of two white persons and one red one—enough to satisfy them that the single Indian was friendly to the settlers, and therefore one to be despised and harried in every way possible.
It was that discovery which undoubtedly caused them to destroy the property and steal the blanket. They were not enough interested to seek the lives of the others, though it may be they were restrained by fear from doing so.
When Deerfoot came back to the boys, he purposely displayed some excitement in order to amuse them. He quickly explained what he had learned, and then, in the most indifferent voice and manner, said "The Miamis shall pay Deerfoot for his canoe."
"How will you make them do that?" asked Jack, who noticed the peculiar sparkle which the friends of the warrior always observed when his feelings were stirred.
"I doesn't not believes dot you and dem cannot agrees mit de price," said Otto; "derefore you sends for me and I tells you what de price ain't, and if dey don't agrees, den I knocks 'em ober de head—don't it?"
"Deerfoot will not need his brother," said the Indian, gravely; "but he asks his brothers to wait till he comes back"
"We'll do that," said Jack; "that is, as long as there is a prospect of your return. When shall we expect you?"
"Deerfoot will be with his brothers before the sun reaches yonder."
He pointed to the place in the sky which the orb would touch about the middle of the afternoon. Then, warning the two to be very careful, and to keep continual watch against detection, he moved away, vanishing from sight in the woods behind them, instead of keeping close to the shore.
He wept to the southward until he once more reached the spot which contained the remains of his canoe. He spent another minute in grimly surveying the ruins, and then, glancing down at the footprints, followed their direction. He had determined to call the scamps to account for the injury done him.
As they belonged to the Miami tribe, it was quite likely they had a boat with them, though their hunting-grounds were east of the Mississippi, and possibly they had other property upon which the offended Shawanoe meant to levy.
He followed the trail for nearly a furlong, when it divided; two of the warriors turned to the left and went deeper into the woods, while the third continued down stream in the same general direction as before.
The sagacious Shawanoe suspected the truth; the single Indian had gone to look after a canoe or something which lay close to the river, while the others were about to engage in a hunt of so kind. The discovery pleased Deerfoot; for, beside indicating that there was a boat for him to take it showed that he had but a single red man to meet.
Within less than a hundred yards this solitary warrior was found. A large canoe, evidently belonging to the three warriors, or possibly a larger party, lay against the bank, with one end on the land, while the other projected several yards into the river. In the stern sat an Indian, after the fashion of a civilized man; he was astride of the end, his moccasins banging over, one on either side, his back toward shore, while he leaned forward and sleepily watched a fish-line, one end of which rested in his hand, while the other was far out in the Mississippi.
His attitude was as lazy and contented as though he were a white man. It looked as if he had chosen the sport while his companions were off on a hunt that required more effort and exertion.
Deerfoot stood only a few seconds, when he smiled more fully than he had done for along time. He saw his opportunity, and he proceeded straightway to "improve" it.
He stole forward, as quietly as a shadow, until he had gone the few yards intervening. All that he feared was that the aboriginal fisherman might obtain a bite before the boat was reached. If he could catch a fish on his bone hook, he would be likely to fling him into the canoe behind him and to turn himself around.
From the moment Deerfoot placed eyes on the motionless figure, he felt he was master of the situation; but, with his usual quickness, he had formed his plan and was desirous of carrying it out in spirit and in letter.
Reaching the canoe, he laid his long bow on the ground beside it; then, stooping over, he seized the gunwale with both hands and, quickly as the blow of a panther, he jerked the craft slightly more than a foot further up the bank.
The result was inevitable. The astonished Miami sprawled forward from his seat and went down into the muddy Mississippi out of sight, doubtless frightening away the fish that was nibbling at his bait.
"Hooh!" he groaned, ejecting the water from his mouth as he came to view, and following it with an expression much in the nature of an expletive.
Only a couple of strokes were needed to bring him into the shallow water, when he rose to his feet and walked out upon dry land. Up to that moment he did not know the cause of his mishap, for the author stooped down on the upper side of the craft; but as the Miami stepped out, Deerfoot rose to his full height, with his keen tomahawk grasped in his left hand—that being his best one.
The dripping warrior, to put it mildly, was astonished, when he found himself confronted by the stranger. He stood staring and speechless, while the mouth of Deerfoot again expanded.
"Does my brother's heart grow weary that he seeks to urge the fish to bite his hook before they are ready?" asked the Shawanoe in the Miami tongue.
It was all clear to the victim, and, when he understood the trick that had been played upon him, his anger showed through the paint daubed on his face.
"The Shawanoe is a fool," he replied. "His heart is filled with joy when he acts like a papoose."
"But he will now act like a warrior," said Deerfoot, in a sterner manner. "The dogs of the Miamis broke the canoe of the Shawanoe and stole his blanket."
"The Shawanoe is the friend of the white man," said the other with a sneer, though not without some misgiving, for, to use the language of the West, the young warrior "had the drop on him." He had only to make one movement in order to drive the glittering weapon through the skull of the Miami, as though it were mere card-board.
It must be confessed that he looked very much as if such was his intention.
"Deerfoot is the friend of the white man," repeated the Shawanoe; "he hoped to paddle them across the great river. The Miami dogs have broken his canoe, so Deerfoot will take their boat."
The warrior showed that he was astounded by the daring of the youth. Within the canoe lay the blanket of Deerfoot, beside the rifle; powder-horn, and bullet pouch, doubtless owned by the moist fisherman. The latter looked at his property as if he could not believe any one would dare molest that; but Deerfoot settled the question in his terse fashion.
"Let the dog of a Miami seat himself on the ground like a squaw, and watch his Shawanoe master while he takes the canoe and all that it holds."
The Miami stared at his conqueror as if uncertain whether he had heard aright. The conqueror enlightened him.
"The dog of a Miami longs to go to the happy hunting-grounds of his fathers."
As he uttered the words, he quickly feinted with the hand grasping the tomahawk. The warrior made such a sudden start to obey that his moccasins slipped on the wetter earth, his feet spread apart, as though he were learning to skate, and he sat down with such a sudden bump that it forced a grunt from him. He hastily scrambled up, and, with a frightened glance over his shoulder, sprang forward and sat down again, though the last time was according to instructions.
It required all the self-restraint of Deerfoot to suppress his mirth over the ridiculous performance of his captive, if such he may be called. When, the Miami seated himself with a grotesque effort at dignity, the Shawanoe placed his bow in the front of the canoe and then shoved the boat into the stream.
As it shot from the shore, he leaped in, and caught up one of the long three paddles with which it was navigated. Dipping it beneath the surface he made one prodigious sweep, which drove the craft swiftly ahead.
While thus employed the Miami faithfully obeyed orders. He sat immobile and silent, watching the daring young warrior making off not only with his private property, but with that which belonged to others.
The Miami must have thought to himself more than once—"Ah, if my comrades would only appear at this moment! They would make you change your tune very soon."
All at once the warrior uttered a whoop which plainly was meant as a signal to his friends. Instantly Deerfoot laid down his paddle, and, catching up the gun, pointed it at the redskin. The latter, in the extremity of his terror, turned a somersault backwards, and tumbled and scrambled into the woods, desperately striving to get beyond sight of the terrible youth who showed such recklessness in handling weapons.
No doubt the Miami believed his escape was a narrow one, when, the next instant, the rifle was discharged and the bullet cut through the leaves near his face.
And so, in truth, his escape was very narrow, but it was just as narrow as Deerfoot chose to make it. He had not the remotest intention of injuring the Miami.
BEHIND THE TREE
The report of the gun reached the ears of Otto and Jack, and naturally caused them alarm. They hurriedly made their way to the edge of the river and peered out from cover, not forgetting the warnings previously given by Deerfoot.
They had but to look a short distance down stream to see the Shawanoe paddling the large Indian canoe toward the other shore.
"Well, dere!" exclaimed Otto. "Deerfoot dinks as how I ain'ty forgotful, but don't he forget more than I does, when he dinks he has us in the canoe and we be here?"
"There is no danger of that," said Jack; "he knows it would not do for him to come after us, for the Indians would shoot him from this side."'
"Why would dey do dem things?"
"Because it is the nature of Indians to revenge themselves that way. Don't you see he has taken their canoe, and I shouldn't wonder if he killed one or two of their warriors before he was able to get off with it. That shot which we heard was probably fired at him."
But in this instance the ears of the German proved more correct than those of the American. He had noticed that the gun was discharged from the river, establishing the fact that it was fired by Deerfoot, though Jack Carleton could not understand the reason why it was done.
It was manifest that the Shawanoe meant to cross to the other side the Mississippi, in order to throw the Miamis "off the trail "—that is, he would keep out of their sight until be gained a chance to return for his friends.
It occurred at once to the young Kentuckian that such being the case, the situation of himself and Otto was one of considerable danger.
The high-handed course of the Shawanoe would rouse the enmity of the Miamis to the highest point. Revenge is one of the most marked characteristics of the American Indian, who is eager to retaliate upon the innocent when he cannot reach the guilty. The three who had suffered the indignity could easily follow the trail of the boys, wheresoever it might lead, excepting through water. What, therefore, was more likely than that they would seek to adjust matters by slaying those who had taken no hand in the capture of the canoe?
Jack knew that there were only three Miamis directly concerned, but Deerfoot had spoken of others in the neighborhood, beside which the young Kentuckian himself had seen a couple of Shawanoes, only a few hours before, at no great distance from that very spot.
When he made known his fears to Otto, the latter agreed they were in great peril, and the utmost care was necessary to keep clear of the red men.
The precise course best to adopt was hard to determine, but they began a guarded departure from the spot, stepping as carefully and lightly as possible.
Though Otto Relstaub, like his, parents, had never been able to handle the English language intelligently, and though he was afflicted with a forgetfulness all too common with most boys of his age, yet his life on the frontier had not been without its lessons to him. At times he showed a shrewdness and knowledge of woodcraft which surprised Jack Carleton, who often became impatient with his shortsightedness. The manner in which he seconded the efforts of his companion to mislead the Indians, known to be close at hand, certainly was deserving of high praise.
The friends advanced some twenty rods or more, Otto keeping close behind Jack, without seeing or hearing anything of their enemies. Looking across the Mississippi, nothing was observed of Deerfoot or his canoe, so that no help was to be expected for many hours from him. Indeed, Jack was confident that nothing of the kind could be done before night, when the matchless Shawanoe would have the darkness to help him. To the young Kentuckian, the advent of Deerfoot was of that nature that he failed to see that it had accomplished any good. If he and Otto could gain a suitable start, they would swim across.
"Sh!" whispered the German, reaching forward and catching the arm of his friend; "waits one, two, dree smond."
"What is the matter?" asked the alarmed Jack, as he turned hastily about.
"Let you go dot way and me go dot way, and it leetle ways off we comes togedder agin once inore."
Rather curiously, the leader was asking himself at that moment whether something could not be gained by him and Otto separating and afterward meeting at some point further up stream.
Such, as is well known, is the practice of the Apaches when hotly pursued to their mountain fastnesses. A large company will dissolve into its "original elements," as may be said, rendering pursuit out of the question.
The wisdom of this course on the part of Jack and Otto might well be questioned, but, without giving the matter any thought, the young Kentuckian acted upon the suggestion.
"You keep close to the river," he said, "while I turn to the right, and will come back to the shore a few hundred yards above. We'll use our old signal if we have anything to say to each other."
Otto nodded his bead to signify that he understood the arrangement, and, without another word, the two diverged, speedily losing sight of each other in the wood, which showed more under growth than that through which they passed the day before.
"I declare," said Jack to himself, before he had gone far, "I much misgive myself whether this is going to help matters; it must be a good deal easier for the Indians to pick up one of us at a time, than it is to take the two together. It may be best after all," he added a minute later, with the natural hopefulness of his nature, "for I learned long ago that if two or three hunters separate while in the Indian country, they can take better care of themselves than if they stay together."
He stood still and looked and listened. The wood, as has been said, was denser than that to which he had been accustomed, and, when he used his eyes to the utmost, he saw nothing to cause alarm. The lynx-eyed Miamis could follow his trail with little trouble, no matter how much be sought to conceal it, and the fact that he saw and heard nothing could be no proof that danger itself was not near.
"I am sure those were Shawanoes that I saw yesterday," he muttered, "and yet Deerfoot insists they were Miamis who broke up his canoe. Wonder whether there's a war party of both—"
The bright eyes of the youth at that very moment told him a singular fact: only a short distance in front of him stood two red men in their war paint. They were talking together and had their backs toward him. Indeed, they were so motionless, that he had failed to see them in the first place, and would have failed again but for the low, guttural murmur of their voices.
Jack instantly stepped behind the large trunk of a tree and peered out with an interest that may well be understood. It was curious that the youth should have approached so close without detection, but it was complimentary to his woodcraft that such was the fact.
Whatever the subject of conversation between the Indians, they speedily became absorbed in it, their arms sawed the air, and their voices rose to it pitch that carried the sound far beyond where he stood.