THE FUGITIVES OF THE BORDER
BY EDWARD S. ELLIS
AUTHOR OF "OONOMOO," "SET JONES," "IRONA," ETC.
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY HURST & COMPANY.
I. Zeb and his Master
II. The Night of Terror
III. Kent and Leslie
IV. The Captives
V. The Meeting on the River
VI. The Raft
VII. Lost and Found
VIII. The Companion in Captivity
IX. Zeb's Revenge
X. The Brief Reprieve
XI. A Friend
XIII. The Captive
XIV. The Rescue
XV. The Fugitives Flying no Longer
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"Hold! You strike the white man's friend!"
George and Rosalind
"Them varmints," said he, "are playing particular devil in these parts"
There were two horses in the party, and upon one of these Rosalind had been placed
"Ready," whispered Leslie, "you take the nearest one."
"You shoot Indian, eh?" said one, brandishing his knife at the same time
The savages were amusing themselves by ascertaining who could send his tomahawk nearest the body of their captive without touching him
"Does the maiden remember Pequanon?"
Two savages were left on shore
"Yonder is something approaching."
KENT, THE RANGER.
ZEB AND HIS MASTER.
At the southern part of Ohio, where the river of that name swerves from its south-western course, and makes a sweeping bend toward the north-west, many years ago stood a large and imposing dwelling. Its character, so different and superior to others found here and there along the Ohio, showed that its owner must have been a man both of superior taste and abundant means. It had been built by Sir William Leland, who had emigrated from Europe with his young wife, and erected a home in the western wilderness. Here they lived a goodly number of days; and when, at last, they took their departure within a year of each other, they left behind them a son and daughter to cherish and inherit their home.
George Leland, at the time of which we speak, was but twenty, while his sister Rosalind was three years his junior. Yet both, with the assistance of a faithful negro servant, managed to live quite comfortably. The soil was exceedingly rich, and, with a little pains, yielded abundantly every thing that could be wished, while the river and wood were unfailing resources. Three years had elapsed since the elder Leland's death, and during that time, although living in a country swarming with Indians, nothing had occurred to alarm the fears of our friends, or even to give them the slightest suspicion that danger threatened them.
When Sir William settled in this section, he followed the example of the great founder of Pennsylvania, and purchased every foot of his land from those who claimed it; and, in addition to the liberal remuneration which each received, they were given some charming present by their pale-faced brother. This secured their friendship; and, although many miles intervened between the whites and their nearest kindred, yet they had nothing to fear from the savages who surrounded them. Thus matters stood when George and Rosalind were left orphans, some years before the opening of our story.
It was a pleasant day in early summer that George and his sister were seated in front of their house. The sun was just setting, and they had remained thus a long time. Zeb, the negro, was absent for the time, and they were thus undisturbed.
"Do you really think," pursued the sister, "it can be true that the Indians have perpetrated the outrages which have been reported?"
"I should be glad to think differently, could I have reason for doing so; but these reports certainly have foundation; and what is more alarming, the suspicion that we are not safe, which was awakened some time ago, is now confirmed. For two or three days I have detected suspicious appearances, and Zeb informed me that he discovered a couple of savages lurking around the edge of the forest. I fear there is strong reason to apprehend danger."
"But, brother, will not the kindness which our parents showed them while living be a guaranty of our protection?"
"It may, to some extent; but you must remember that there are hundreds of Indians who have never seen or heard of them, who would not hesitate to kill or take us prisoners at the first opportunity."
"Can it be possible?"
"It is not only possible but true. You remember Roland Leslie, who was here last summer? Yesterday I saw him up the river, and he gave me the information that I have repeated. At first I deferred mentioning it to you, for the reason that I did not wish to alarm you until it could not be avoided."
"Why did he not come here?" asked the sister.
"He said that he should shortly visit us. He had heard rumors of another massacre some miles up the river, and wished to satisfy himself in regard to it before calling here. Leslie, although young, is an experienced hunter and backwoodsman, and I have not much fear for his personal safety. He assured me that, should he find the Indians above ravaging the country as fearfully as reported, he would immediately return to us."
"I hope so," earnestly replied Rosalind.
"Still," continued George, "what can we do, even then? He intends to bring a hunter back with him, and that will make only three of us against perhaps a thousand savages."
"But have we not the house to protect us?"
"And have they not the forest? Can they not lurk around until we die of hunger, or until they fire the building? There are a hundred contingencies that will bar an escape, while I confess no prospect of getting safely away presents itself."
"We have arms and ammunition," said Rosalind. "Of course Leslie and his friend are good marksmen, and why can we not do enough to deter and intimidate the savages? Finding us well prepared, they will doubtless retreat and not disturb us again. I hope the trouble will soon be over."
"I hope so too; but it is hoping against hope. This war will be a long and bloody one, and when it is over the country will present a different appearance. Many lives must be lost ere it is done, and perhaps ours are among that number."
"Perhaps so, brother; but do not be so depressed. Let us hope and pray for the best. It is not such a sad thing to die, and the country which has given us birth has certainly a strong claim upon us."
"Noble girl," exclaimed George, "it is so, and we have no cause for murmuring."
At this moment Zeb appeared. He was a short, dumpy, thick-set negro, with a most luxuriant head of wool, a portion of which hung around his head in small, close braids, resembling bits of decayed rope. His eyes were large and protruding, and his face glistened like a mirror. He was a genuine African. Some of their qualities in him were carried to the extreme. Instead of being a coward, as is often the case with his nation, he seemed never to know when there really was danger. He always was reckless and careless, and seemed to escape by accident.
"Heigh! massa George, what's up?" he exclaimed, observing the solemn appearance of the two before him.
"Nothing but what is known to you, Zeb. We were just speaking of the danger which you are aware is threatening us. Have you seen anything lately to excite suspicion?"
"Nothin' worth speakin' of," replied he, seating himself in front of George and Rosalind.
"What was it, Zeb?" asked the latter.
"When I's out tendin' to things, I t'ought as how I'd sit down and rest, and 'cordin'ly I squats on a big stone. Purty soon de stone begin to move, and come to look, 'twas a big Injin.
"'Heigh!' says I, 'what you doin' here?'
"'Ugh!' he grunted.
"'Yes, I'll "ugh!" you,' says I, 'if I cotches you here ag'in.' With dat I pitches him two, free rods off, and tells him to make tracks fur home."
"Heavens! if you would only tell the truth, Zeb. Did you really see an Indian, though?"
"'Deed I did, and he run when he see'd me in arnist."
"And you saw others yesterday, did you?" remarked Rosalind.
"Two or free, down toward de woods. I spied 'em crawlin' and smellin' down dar, and axes dem dar business. Dey said as how dey's lookin' for a jack-knife dat dey lost dar last summer. I told 'em dat dey oughter be 'shamed demselves to be smellin' round dat way; and to provide against dar doin's in future, I give dem each a good kick and sent dem away."
"Do not exaggerate your story so much," said Rosalind. "Give the truth and nothing else."
"Qua'r, folks won't believe all dis pusson observes," said he, with an offended air.
"Tell the truth and they will in all cases; but should you deceive once, you will always be suspected afterward."
"Dat's it," commenced the negro, spreading out his broad hand like an orator to illustrate the point. "If I tells de truf dey're sure to t'ink I's lyin', and what's de use?"
"Zeb," commenced George, not regarding the last remark, "you, as well as we, are aware that we are encompassed by peril. You have seen that the Indians are constantly prowling around, and evidently for no good purpose. What would you advise us to do under the circumstances?"
"Give 'em all a good floggin' and set 'em to work," he replied.
"Come, come, Zeb, we want no jesting," interrupted Rosalind.
"Dar 'tis ag'in. Who war jestin'? Dat's what I t'ink is de best. Give 'em a good lickin', and set 'em to work clearin' off de wood till dar spunk is gone."
"Fudge!" said George, impatiently, turning his back toward Zeb, whose head ducked down with a chuckle.
"Rosalind," said George, "the best plan is certainly to wait until Leslie returns, which will be either to-morrow or the next day. We will then determine upon what course to pursue. Perhaps we shall be undisturbed until that time. If not, it cannot be helped."
"Wished dis pusson warn't so hungry," remarked Zeb, picking up a stick and whittling it.
Rosalind smiled as she arose and remarked:
"It is getting late, George, and it perhaps is best to have supper."
He made no answer and turned toward the negro.
"Zeb," said he, "in all probability we shall be obliged to leave this place in a few days for a safer location. Of course you will accompany us, and I wish it to be understood that you are to lay aside this levity and carelessness. Remember that you are in danger, as much as ourselves. Your scalp may be the first taken."
"What, dis yere wool of mine? Yah! yah! yah! Lord bless you, dey'd have a handful!"
"How would you relish being roasted at the stake?" asked George, hoping to terrify him.
"Yah! yah! Dey'd be some sizzlin', I guess."
"You will think soberly about the matter, perhaps sooner than you suspect."
"Yas," said Zeb, and his face straightened out in an instant, while he slowly and thoughtfully continued whittling.
"Zeb," continued George, leaning toward him and speaking in an undertone, "I think we shall be attacked in two days at the latest."
"Jest keep de whip in good order, and I'll put it into 'em and teach 'em manners."
"I fear you will learn wisdom only by experience, even if you do then," returned George. "It would be a good thing for you, should you meet with something that would impress you with a sense of your peril. I can only wonder at your stupidity."
"Gorra mighty! do you s'pose dere's anything that'd make me afeard of dem Injins? Why, bless you, forty of 'em wouldn't dare to frow a stone at me. I've licked free, four dozen of 'em, and dey all respect me awful."
"I suppose so," rejoined young Leland, with mock seriousness.
"Last summer," pursued Zeb, "when you's down de river fishin', dere's thirteen of 'em come up one day to borrer de wood-box. I s'pose dey wanted to keep dar dogs and pappooses in it, and I 'cluded as how dey warn't gwine to get it. So I told 'em I's very sorry dat I couldn't 'commodate 'em, but de fact war we wanted to put de wood in it ourselves. When I said dat, one of de niggers begin to got sassy. I just informed 'em dat dey'd better make demselves scarce mighty quick, if dey didn't want dis pusson in dar wool. Dey didn't mind what was said, howsumever, and purty soon I cotched 'em runnin' off wid de wood-box. Dat raised my dander, and I grabbed de box and frowed it right over dar heads and cotched 'em fast. Den I put a big stone on it, and kept 'em dere free weeks, and afore I let 'em out I made 'em promise to behave 'emselves. Now I considers dat we'd better serve 'em some sich trick. Tie two, free hundred to de fence, and leave 'em dere for a few months."
"You are welcome to try it," returned George, rather disgusted at the negro's propensity for big story telling. He arose and passed within, where the ample table was laid. Yet he could not eat the plain, sweet food which Rosalind's own hands had prepared. The dreadful sense of danger was too real a guest for any rest or peace of mind.
THE NIGHT OF TERROR.
Few words were interchanged during the evening. George and Rosalind had enough to occupy their minds, and Zeb, finding them taciturn, relapsed into a sullen silence.
At an early hour each retired. Rosalind now felt more than George that unaccountable presentiment which sometimes comes over one in cases of danger. During the last few hours it had increased until it nearly resolved itself into a certainty.
The view from the front of the house was clear and unobstructed to the river, a quarter of a mile distant. Along this lay the cultivated clearing, while the forest, stretching miles away, approached to within a few yards of the rear of the house.
Rosalind's room overlooked this wilderness. Instead of retiring, she seated herself by the window to gaze out upon it. There was a faint moon, and the tree-tops for a considerable distance could be seen swaying in the gentle night-wind. The silence was so profound that it seemed to make itself felt and, in that vast solitude, few indeed could remain without being impressed with the solemn grandeur of nature around.
Hour after hour wore away; still Rosalind remained at the window. As there was no inclination to sleep, she determined to remain in her position until morning. She knew that it must be far beyond midnight, and at the thought there sprung up a faint hope within her breast. But she was startled by the dismal hoot of an owl. She sprang up, with a beating heart, listening intently and painfully; but no other sound was heard. Trying to smile at her trepidation, she again seated herself and listened; in a moment that cry was repeated, now in an opposite direction from which the first note was heard.
Rosalind wondered that the simple circumstance should so affect her; but try as much as she might, she could not shake it off. Again, for a few minutes, she remained trembling with an undefinable fear, when there came another hoot, followed instantly by another, in an opposite direction. She began now to entertain a fearful suspicion.
Her first impulse was to awaken her brother, but, after a moment's thought, she concluded to wait a short time. A few more sounds were heard, when they entirely ceased. During this time, Rosalind, although suffering an intense fear, had been gazing vacantly toward the point or clearing nearest the house. As her eyes rested upon the spot, she caught the shadowy outlines of a dark body moving stealthily and noiselessly along upon the ground.
Without waiting a moment, she darted to George's room. He had not slept, and in an instant was by her side.
"Call Zeb," she exclaimed. "We are surrounded by Indians."
Leland disappeared, and in a moment came back with the negro.
"Gorra mighty!" said the latter, in a hurried, husky whisper, "where am de cussed niggers? Heigh, Miss Rosa?"
"Keep quiet," she replied, "or you will be heard."
"Dat's just what I wants to be, and I calkilates I'll be felt too, if dar are any of 'em 'bout."
"Stay here a moment," said George, "while I look out. Rosalind, what did you see?"
"A body approaching the house from the woods. Be careful and do not expose yourself, George."
He made no answer and entered her room, followed by herself and the negro, who remained at a safe distance, while he cautiously approached the window. He had no more than reached it, when Zeb asked:
This question was repeated perhaps a dozen times without an answer, when the patience of Zeb becoming exhausted, he shuffled to the window and pressed his head forward, exclaiming:
"Gorra mighty, whar am dey?"
"Hist! there is one now—yes, two of them!"
"Keep your mouth shut," interrupted the young man, his vexation causing him to speak louder than he intended.
"Heigh! dat's him! Look out!"
And before young Leland suspected his intentions or could prevent it, Zeb had taken aim and fired. This was so sudden and unexpected that, for a moment, nothing was heard but the dull echo, rolling off over the forest and up the river. Then arose a piercing, agonized yell, that told how effectual was the shot of the negro. Rosalind's face blanched with terror as she heard the fearful chorus of enraged voices, and thought of the fearful scene that must follow.
"Are the doors secured?" she asked, laying her hand upon George's shoulder.
"Yes, I barricaded them all," he answered. "If they do not fire the building, we may be able to keep them off until morning. I don't know but what Zeb's shot was the best, after all—God save us!"
This last exclamation was caused by a bullet whizzing past, within an inch of his face. For a while Leland was uncertain of the proper course to pursue. Should he expose his person at the window, he was almost certain to be struck; yet this or some other one equally exposed, was the only place where he could exchange shots, and the savages must be kept in check.
Zeb had reloaded his gun, and peering around the edge of the window, caught a glimpse of an Indian. As reckless of danger as usual, he raised his rifle and discharged it. He was a good marksman, and the shot was as effective as the other.
"Gorra mighty!" he exclaimed, "I can dodge dar lead. Didn't I pick dat darkey off awful nice? Just wait till I load ag'n." Chuckling over his achievements, he proceeded to prime his rifle. George Leland withdrew to the window of another room, from which he succeeded in slaying a savage, and by being careful and cautious, he was able to make his few shots tell with effect.
When Zeb shot the first savage, the red-skins sprung to their feet and commenced yelling and leaping, feeling that those within were already at their mercy; but the succeeding shots convinced them of their mistake, and retreating to cover, they were more careful in exposing themselves. Several stole around to the front of the house, but George had anticipated them, and there being no means of concealing their appearance, they were easily kept at a distance. Rosalind followed and assisted him as far as lay in her power, while Zeb was left alone in his delight and glory.
"Be careful," said Leland; "don't come too near. Just have the powder and wadding ready and hand it to me when I need it."
"I will," she replied, in a calm, unexcited voice, as she reached him his rod.
"Just see what Zeb is at, while I watch my chance."
She disappeared, and in a moment returned.
"He seems frantic with delight, and is yet unharmed."
"God preserve him," said George, "for his assistance is needed."
"Be careful," said Rosalind, as George approached the window.
"I shall—whew! that's a close rub!" he muttered, as a bullet pierced his cap. "There, you're past harm," he added, as he discharged his gun.
Thus the contest was kept up for over an hour. But few shots were interchanged on either side, each party becoming more careful in their action. Young Leland remained at his window, and kept a close watch upon his field; but no human being was seen. Zeb laughed, ducked his head, and made numerous threats toward his enemies, but seemed to attract no notice from them.
Now and then Rosalind spoke a word to her brother, but the suspense which the silence of their enemies had put them in, sealed their lips, and, for a long while, the silence was unbroken by either. They were startled at length by the report of Zeb's rifle, and the next minute he appeared among them, exclaiming:
"Gorra mighty! I shot out my ramrod. I seen a good chance, and blazed away 'fore I thought to take it out. It went through six of 'em, and stuck into a tree and hung 'em fast. Heigh! it's fun to see 'em."
"Here, take mine, and for God's sake, cease your jesting!" said Leland, handing his rod to him.
"Wish I could string some more up," added Zeb, as he rammed home his charge. "Yer oughter seen it, Miss Rosa. It went right frough de fust feller's eye, and den frough de oder one's foot, den frough de oder's gizzard, and half way frough de tree. Gorra, how dey wriggled! Looked just like a lot of mackerel hung up to dry. Heigh!"
At this point Leland discharged his gun, and said, without changing his position:
"They are trying to approach the house. Go, Zeb, and attend to your side. Be very sharp!"
"Yes, I's dar, stringing 'em up," he rejoined, as he turned away.
"Hark!" exclaimed Rosalind, when he had gone. "What noise is that?"
Leland listened awhile, and his heart died within him as he answered:
"Merciful Heaven! the house is on fire! All hope is now gone!"
"Shall we give ourselves up?" hurriedly asked Rosalind.
"No; come with me."
"Hurry up, massa, dey's gwine to roast us. De grease begins to siss in my face a'ready," said Zeb, as he joined them.
The fugitives retreated to the lower story, and Leland led the way to a door which opened upon the kitchen, at the end of the house. His hope was that from this they might have a chance of escaping to the wood, but a short distance off, ere they were discovered.
Cautiously opening the door, he saw with anxious, hopeful joy, that no Indians were visible.
"Now, Rosalind," he whispered, "be quick. Make for the nearest trees, and if you succeed in reaching them, pass to the river-bank and wait for me. Move softly and rapidly."
Rosalind stepped quickly out. The yells of the infuriated savages deafened her; but, although fearfully near, she saw none, and started rapidly forward. Leland watched each step with an agony of fear and anxiety which cannot be described. The trees were within twenty yards, and half the distance was passed, when Leland knew that her flight was discovered. A number of savages darted forward, but a shot from him stopped the course of the foremost. Taking advantage of the confusion which this had occasioned, Rosalind sprung away and succeeded in reaching the cover; but here, upon the very threshold of escape, she was reached and captured.
"Gorra mighty!" shouted Zeb, as he saw her seized and borne away. "Ef I don't cowhide ebery nigger of 'em for dat trick."
And clenching his hands he stalked boldly forward and demanded:
"Whar's dat lady? Ef you doesn't want to git into trouble, I calkilate you'd better bring her back in double-quick time."
Several savages sprung toward him, and Zeb prepared himself for the struggle. His huge fist felled the first and the second; but ere he could do further damage he found himself thrown down and bound.
"Well, dar, if dat ain't de meanest trick yet, servin' a decent prisoner dis way. I'll cowhide ebery one ob you. Oh, dear, I wish I had de whip!" he muttered, writhing and rolling in helpless rage upon the ground.
Leland had seen this occurrence and taken advantage of it. It had served to divert the action of the savages, and the attention of all being occupied with their two prisoners, he managed with considerable difficulty to reach the wood without being discovered.
Here, at a safe distance, he watched the progress of things. The building was now one mass of flame, which lit up the sky with a lurid, unearthly glare. The border of the forest was visible and the trunks and limbs of the trees appeared as if scorched and reddened by the consuming heat. The savages resembled demons dancing and yelling around the ruin which they had caused. It was with difficulty that Leland restrained himself from firing upon them. With a sad heart he saw the house which had sheltered him from infancy fall inward with a crash. The splinters and ashes of fire were hurled in the air and fell at his feet, and the thick volume of smoke reached him.
Yet he thought more of the captives which were in the hands of their merciless enemies. Their safety demanded his attention. Thoughtfully and despondingly he turned upon his heel and disappeared in the shadows of the great forest.
KENT AND LESLIE.
When Roland Leslie reached his destination some miles up the Ohio, his fears and suspicions were confirmed. There had been a massacre, a week previous, of a number of settlers, and the Indians were scouring the country for more victims.
This information was given by Kent Whiteman, the person for whom he was searching. This personage was a strange character, some forty years of age, who led a wandering hunter's life, and was known by every white man for a great distance along the Ohio. Roland Leslie had made his acquaintance when but a mere lad, and they often spent weeks together hunting and roaming through the great wilderness, which was the home of both. He cherished an implacable hatred to every red-man, and they in turn often sought his life, for they had no enemy so dangerous as he.
"Yes, sir, them varmints," said he, as he leaned upon his long rifle and gazed at Leslie, "are playing particular devil in these parts, and I calkelate it's a game that two can play at."
"Jump in the boat, Kent," said Leslie, "and ride down with me; I promised George Leland that if he needed assistance I would bring it to him."
"He needs it, that's a p'inted fact, and as soon as it can conveniently reach him too."
"Well, let us be off." Leslie dipped his oars in the water and pulled out into the stream. It was the morning after the burning of the Lelands' home, which of course was unknown to them. For a few moments the boat glided rapidly down the stream, when Whiteman spoke:
"Where'd you put up last night, Leslie?"
"About ten miles down the river. I ran in under the bank and had an undisturbed night's rest?"
"Didn't hear nothin' of the red-skins?"
"Wal, it's a wonder; they're as thick as flies in August, and I calkelate I'll have rich times with 'em."
"I cannot understand how it is, Kent, that you cherish such a deadly hatred for these Indians."
"I have good reason," returned the hunter, compressing his lips.
"How long is it that you have felt thus?"
"Ever since I's a boy. Ever since that time."
"What time, Kent?"
"I have never told you, I believe, why the sight of a red-skin throws me into such a fit, have I?"
"No; I should certainly be glad to hear."
"Wal, it doesn't take long to tell. Yet how few persons know it except myself. It is nigh thirty years ago," commenced Kent, "that I lived about a dozen miles above the place that we left this morning. There I was born and lived with my old father and mother until I was ten or eleven years old.
"One dark, stormy night we war attacked by them red devils, and that father and mother were butchered before my eyes. During the confusion of the attack, I escaped to the woods and secreted m'self until it was over. It was a hard matter to lie there, scorched by the flames of your own home, and see your parents, while begging for mercy, tomahawked and slain before your eyes. But in such a position I was placed, and remained until the savages, satisfied with their bloody work, took their departure.
"When the rain, which fell in torrents, had extinguished the smoking ruins, I crawled from my hiding-place. I felt around until I come upon the cold bodies of my father and mother lyin' side by side, and then kneelin' over them, I took a fearful oath—an oath to which I have devoted my life. I swore that as long as life was given me, it should be used for revengin' the slaughter of my parents. That night these savages contracted a debt of which they little dreamed. Before they left the place, I had marked each of the dozen, and I never forgot them. For ten years I follered and tracked them, and at the end of that time I had sent the last one to his final account. Yet that did not satisfy me. I swore eternal enmity against the whole people, and as I said, it shall be carried out. While Kent is alive, he is the mortal enemy of every red-skin."
The hunter looked up in the face of Leslie, and his gleaming eyes and gnashing teeth told his earnestness. His manner and recital had impressed the latter, and he forbore speaking to him for some time.
"I should think," observed Leslie, after a short silence, "that you had nearly paid that debt, Kent."
"It is a debt which will be balanced," rejoined the hunter, "when I am unable to make any more payments."
"Well, I shouldn't want you for an enemy," added Leslie, glancing over his shoulder at the stream in front of him.
Both banks of the river at this point, and, in fact, for many miles, were lined with overhanging trees and bushes, which might afford shelter to any enemy. Kent sat in the stern and glanced suspiciously at each bank, as the boat was impelled swiftly yet silently forward, and there was not even a falling leaf that escaped his keen eye.
"Strikes me," said Leslie, leaning on his oars, "that we are in rather a dangerous vicinity. Those thick bushes along the shore, over there, might easily contain a few red gentlemen."
"Don't be alarmed," returned the hunter, "I'll keep a good watch. They've got to make some movement before they can harm us, and I'll be sure to see them. The river's wide, too, and there ain't so much to fear, after all."
Leslie again dipped his oars, and the boat shot forward in silence. Nothing but the suppressed dip of the slender ashen blades, or the dull sighing of the wind through the tree-tops, broke the silence of the great solitude. Suddenly, as Leslie bent forward and gazed into the hunter's face, he saw him start and gaze anxiously at the right shore, some distance ahead.
"What's the matter?" asked Leslie.
"Just wait a minute," returned the hunter, rising and gazing in the same direction. "Stop the boat. Back water!" he added, in a hurried tone.
Leslie did as he was bidden, and again spoke:
"What is it, Kent?"
"Do you see them bushes hangin' a little further out in the stream than the others?"
"Yes; what of them?"
"Watch them a minute. There—look quick!" said Kent.
"I can see a fluttering among the branches, as if a bird had flown from it," answered Leslie.
"Wal, them birds is Indians, that's all," remarked the hunter, dropping composedly back into the boat. "Go ahead!"
"They will fire into us, no doubt. Had I not better run in to the other shore?"
"No; there may be a host of 'em there. Keep in the middle of the stream, and we'll give 'em the slip yet."
It must be confessed that Leslie experienced rather strange sensations as he neared the locality which had excited their suspicion, especially when he knew that he was exposed to any shot that they might feel inclined to give. A shudder ran through his frame, when, directly opposite the spot, he distinctly heard a groan of agony.
Kent made a motion for him to cease rowing. Bending their heads down and listening, they again heard that now loud, agonizing expression of mortal pain.
As soon as Leslie was certain that the sound proceeded from some being in distress, he headed the boat toward the shore.
"Stop!" commanded Kent; "you should have more sense than that."
"But will you not assist a person in distress?" asked he, gazing reproachfully into his face.
"Who's in distress?"
"Oh, Gorra mighty! I's been dyin'," now came from the shore.
"Hallo there! what's wantin'?" called Whiteman.
"Help, help, 'fore dis Indian gentleman—'fore I dies from de wounds dat dey's given me."
"I've heard that voice before," remarked Kent to Leslie, in an undertone.
"So have I," replied the latter. "Why, it is George Leland's negro; he wouldn't decoy us into danger. Let us go in."
"Wait until I speak further with him." (Then, to the person upon shore): "What might be your name?"
"Zeb Langdon. Isn't dat old Kent?"
"Yes; how came you in this scrape, Zeb?"
"Gorra mighty! I didn't come into it. Dem red dogs—dese here nice fellers—brought me here 'bout two months ago, and den dey all fired at me fur two or free days, and den dey hung me up and left me to starve to death. Boo-hoo-oo!"
"But," said Leslie, "you were at home yesterday when I came up the river."
"Yes; dey burned down de house last night, and cooked us all and eat us up. I's come to live ag'in, and crawled down here to get you fellers to take me home; but, Lord bless you, don't come ashore—blast you, quit a hittin' me over de head," added the negro, evidently to some one near him.
Leslie and Whiteman exchanged significant glances, and silently worked the boat further from the land.
"Who is that you spoke to?" asked the former, when they were at a safe distance.
"Dis yere blasted limb reached down and pulled my wool," replied the negro, with perfect nonchalance.
"Where is George Leland?" asked Leslie.
"Dunno; slipped away from dese yere nice fellers what's pulled all de wool out of me head, and is tellin' me a lot o' yarns to tell you. Gorra mighty! can't you let a feller 'lone, when he's yarnin' as good as he can?"
"Where is Miss Leland?"
"How does I know? A lot of 'em run off wid her last night."
"Oh God! what I expected," said Leslie, dropping his voice, and gazing with an agonizing look at Whiteman. The latter, regardless of his emotion, continued his conversation with Zeb.
"Are you hurt any?"
"Now, Zeb, tell the truth. Did they capture George Leland?"
"Bless you, no. He got away during de trouble."
"Did they get Miss Leland?"
"'Deed they did."
"Is she with you?"
"No. It took forty of 'em to watch me and de rest."
Here the negro's words were cut short with a jerk, and he gave vent to a loud groan.
"Gorra mighty!" he ejaculated, in fury. "Come ashore, Mr. Whiteman and Mr. Leslie. Come quick, and let dese yer fellers got you. Dey wants yer too."
"Are there any of the imps with you?" asked Kent, more for amusement than anything else.
"What shall I tell him?" the negro asked, in a husky whisper, loud enough to be plainly heard by the two in the boat.
"Dey say dar ain't any of 'em. Talk yourself, if dat doesn't suit you," he added, in great wrath.
"Three cheers for you," shouted Whiteman. "Are there any of 'em upon the other side?"
"Dese fellers say dey am all dar. Gorra, don't kill me."
"Good; you're the best nigger 'long the 'Hio. I guess we'll go over to the other side and visit them."
So saying, Kent seized the oars and pulled for the opposite shore. He had not taken more than a couple of strokes when a dozen rifles cracked simultaneously from the bushes, and as many bullets struck the boat and glanced over the water.
"Drop down," he whispered to Leslie. Instead of doing the same himself, he bent the more vigorously to his oars. A few minutes sufficed to carry them so far down that little danger was to be apprehended from the Indians, who uttered their loudest shouts and discharged their rifles, as they passed beyond their reach.
"That's too good a chance to be lost," muttered the ranger, bringing his long rifle to his shoulder. Leslie followed the direction of his aim, and saw a daring savage standing boldly out to view, and making furious gesticulations toward them. The next instant Kent's rifle uttered its sharp report, and the Indian, with a yell, sprung several feet in the air, and fell to the ground.
"That was a good shot," remarked Leslie, gazing at the fallen body.
"Yes, and it's done just what I wanted it to," replied Kent, heading the boat toward shore.
"They are going to pursue us, are they not?" asked Leslie.
"Yes, and we'll have fun," added the ranger, as the boat touched the shore, and he sprung out.
"Come along and make up yer mind for a long run," said he, glancing furtively toward the savages.
Leslie sprung after him, and they darted away into the forest.
When Whiteman had fired his fatal shot the Indians were so infuriated, that, setting up their demoniac yells, they plunged down the banks of the stream, determined to revenge their fallen companion.
This was what Kent desired. He exulted as he saw that he was being gratified. "If there isn't fun pretty shortly it won't be my fault," said he, as he plunged onward into the forest.
In a short time the pursuers gained the opposite shore, and followed with renewed ardor into the wilderness. Kent and Leslie, however, had gained a good start. Both being rapid runners, they had not much to fear. Had nothing unusual occurred, they would easily have distanced their pursuers. But Leslie, following Kent in a leap across a rocky gorge, struck in his comrade's footsteps in the earth upon its edge. The earth had become loosened and started by the shock, and ere Leslie could recover his footing, he fell some fifteen or twenty feet to the bottom. The fall bruised him so much that he was unable to rise, or in fact hardly to stir.
"Hurt?" asked the ranger, gazing over at him.
"Yes," groaned Leslie. "I can't get up. Don't wait for me, for it's no use. Go on and save yourself."
"I hate to leave you, but it's got to be done. Lay down there; crawl in under that rock. Perhaps they won't see you. Quick, for I hear 'em comin'."
With these words the hunter turned and disappeared, and succeeded in getting beyond the gorge without being seen by his pursuers; but this delay had given them time to gain a great deal upon him, and when he started their hurried tramp could be distinctly heard.
His words had roused Leslie to a sense of his peril. By struggling and laboring for a few minutes he succeeded in disengaging himself and managed to crawl beneath a projecting ridge of rock. This effectually concealed him from sight, and had his pursuers no suspicion of his fall, he yet stood a chance of escaping.
In a few moments he heard them overhead, and the pain of his wounds was forgotten in the anxiety which he now felt for his safety. He knew that they had hesitated, but whether it was on account of the leap which they were required to make, or on account of any suspicion that they might entertain, he could not divine.
The place in which he had fallen had probably once been swept by a torrent, but now a tiny stream only warbled through it. The murmur of this, by Leslie's side, prevented his understanding the words of those above. The hum of their voices could be heard but not their words.
Presently, however, he distinguished a well-known voice evidently in expostulation with some one.
"Gorra mighty! does yer s'pects I can jump dat? It's bad 'nough to make me git drownded in dat river without broken my neck down dar!"
Leslie could not help wondering why Zeb was brought along, nor how he managed to keep pace with the rest. But as he had not heard his voice before, he concluded that the negro must have been brought by several Indians who remained behind for that purpose. This conclusion was confirmed by the words which he heard the next minute.
"Whar's de use ob jumpin'? Dem yere fellers'll soon be back, coz dey ain't agwine to cotch dat man nohow. He can run like a streak o' sunshine, and likes as not dey'll all get shot. You'd better go on and coax 'em to come back while I stay here and waits fur ye."
In answer to this, Leslie heard some angry muttering and mumbling, but could distinguish no words. In a moment, however, Zeb's voice was audible.
"Bless yer, you're de all-firedest fools I eber see'd. How does you s'pects I's gwine to light on toder side. Ef one of you'll take me on your back, I won't mind lettin' you try to carry me over; but I tells you I ain't agwine to try it. So you can shut up yer rat-traps."
Hardly a second elapsed before he again spoke:
"Hold on dar; you kickin' all my brains out! I'll try it!"
The next moment Leslie heard a dull thump, and Zeb came rolling down directly beside him.
"I's killed! Ebery bone is broken. I can't live anoder second."
"Zeb! Zeb!" whispered Leslie, in a hurried whisper.
The negro suddenly ceased his groaning and exclamations, and rolling his head over toward him, asked, in a whisper.
"It's I, Zeb. Get up quick, for God's sake, before they come down, or I'm lost!"
The negro clambered to his feet without difficulty, and disappeared, shouting to those above:
"I isn't hurt. It war de rock dat was broke by my head striking it! How de pieces flewed!"
When Rosalind Leland felt herself seized by the savage, she fainted in the arms of her swarthy captor, and so remained for a long space of time. When she recovered, she found that she was a secure prisoner in the hands of her enemies. She was grieved to see that Zeb was a companion in captivity. She felt that, could she alone suffer, she would willingly bear it. Although acquainted with many Indians, she was unable to recognize any of those around. This, of course, was a gratification. It showed that the kindness of her parents and herself had not been lost upon them. Although the recipients of her kindness might not strive to prevent violence being done her, yet they refused to participate in it themselves.
The whole Indian force numbered about thirty. As soon as they had done all in their power, and were convinced that there were no more captives to be secured, they took up the line of march. In the course of their journey, Rosalind found that she was near enough to hold a conversation with Zeb, and after a few minutes' silence, she ventured:
"How do you feel, Zeb?"
"Bless you, missus, if dese niggers doesn't get the all-firedest walloping when I gets de chance, dey may feel glad."
"Yes, but I'm afraid that you will not get the chance very soon."
"Oh, dey daresn't kill me; fur if dey did, I'd hang ebery one ob dem."
Despite Rosalind's painful situation, she could not but smile at the earnestness of tone in which Zeb delivered himself of this. She resumed:
"Are you bound, Zeb?"
"Not much; only a dozen ropes tied around one leg, and as many round de rest ob me body."
"Oh, Zeb, don't tell such stories."
"Fact, Missus Leland. I counted 'em when dey's puttin' 'em on, and dey cut like forty, too."
"Forty-two what?" asked a gruff voice by Zeb's side, in very good English.
"Gorra mighty, who's dat?"
No answer was given.
"Who de debbil was dat?" asked Zeb, speaking to Rosalind.
She made no answer and appeared to be lost in a reverie. Zeb repeated his question but failed to elicit any reply. Muttering something to himself, he permitted her silence to remain undisturbed.
There were two horses in the party, and upon one of these Rosalind had been placed. The other was bestrode by a savage, who appeared to be the leader of the band. Zeb's hands were pinioned behind his back, and he was compelled to walk behind the horse of Rosalind, with a guard that kept a close eye upon his movements.
Silently yet rapidly the body moved along through the forest of impenetrable darkness, where a perfect knowledge was required in order to make the least progress. Rosalind's horse was a powerful creature, and carried her with comparative comfort. Now and then the cold leaves brushed her face, or her body grazed some tree, yet the animal carried her safely and unharmed. Several times the thought of escape flashed upon her. It seemed easy to turn her horse's head and gallop beyond the reach of her enemies. But one of them was mounted, and she believed she could elude him. She could ride down those immediately around her, and what was there to prevent her making good her escape?
And yet, after a few more minutes of thought, she abandoned all hopes of liberty for the present. Her brother was free, and would leave no means untried until she was again restored to him; and there was another one, who, she knew in her heart, would exert himself to the utmost to save her. This thought caused her heart to beat faster and faster. There was a slight tremor in her voice as she spoke:
"Zeb, come a little nearer to me."
He made a movement, but was unable to approach much nearer.
"Are you listening?" she asked, in a subdued tone.
"Yes, missus; mouth, ears and eyes is open."
"Then," said she, bending toward him and lowering her voice still more, "I wish to ask you, Zeb, whether you would do me a favor?"
"Lord bless you, missus, you knows I'd die a hundred times for you."
"I believe you would," returned Rosalind, touched by his tone and words; "but it is no hardship that I ask of you."
"Well, out with it quick, fur dese fellers don't like to see yer horse's side rubbin' all de wool off ob my head."
"You are acquainted with Roland Leslie, Zeb?" asked Rosalind, bending lower and speaking in a whisper which she scarcely heard herself.
"Yes," answered Zeb, breathing hurriedly.
"Well, should you see him, tell him of my situation; and—and—tell him not to run into danger for my sake."
"I will," rejoined Zeb, fervently.
Here a savage, judging that matters had gone far enough, jerked the negro rudely back.
"You needn't be so spiteful," retorted Zeb; "she's told me all she's agwine to."
Rosalind had done so; nothing further passed between them.
Toward morning they reached the banks of a stream, where the savages divided into two parties. The one which retained the negro started down the Ohio, while those who held Rosalind continued their journey in a southerly direction.
The course of the former has already been given, and also a part of their doings. The latter, which numbered twenty, experienced nothing worthy of record for a considerable time. They moved forward rapidly, as they had some fears of pursuit. This was their reason for retaining Rosalind with them. They were cunning enough to know that what efforts might be made would be for her sake, while probably the negro would be left to himself.
Their progress south continued until Rosalind knew that she was many miles in Kentucky. They had kept along the banks of a river during the whole time, which she also knew to be the Big Sandy. From this she judged that her captors were a tribe, or at least a part of one, which belonged many miles distant from where her home had been.
Throughout all her trials, Rosalind relied upon Providence with a firm, unshaken faith. Although hope dawned but faintly upon her, she murmured not. Her fears were great for others beside herself. She was young, and her youthful blood coursed through her veins, bearing with it the pleasures and hopes of life just commenced. It was hard to die, hard to give up the hopes which had only begun to dawn in her bosom; yet, if it was His will, she felt that she could go without a murmur. "Thy will be done," was the prayer which but herself and Heaven heard.
THE MEETING ON THE RIVER.
For some minutes after Zeb's disappearance, Leslie remained without moving, scarcely breathing for fear there might still be some Indians overhead; but as minute after minute wore by, and no sound above warned him that his enemies were in the vicinity, he managed to creep from his hiding-place and seat himself upon a rock near by.
Now that he was safe for the present, he began to examine his wounds. There being no strong emotion to occupy his mind, the pain again came upon him, and he feared that he might be dangerously hurt; but, upon examination he was gratified to see that he was only bruised in two or three places. In falling, he had first struck upon his feet; his side, from the force of the concussion, came rather violently in contact with the jagged, projecting rocks. This gave a few severe flesh-cuts, which, for the time being, were more painful and distressing than would have been a wound of a more serious character.
Still, he found that he was unable to walk without great labor and pain, and concluded to remain in his present position until morning. He crawled back into the hiding-place, and disposed of himself for the night. Little sleep, however, was gained, and the night seemed the longest that he had ever spent.
When morning dawned, he emerged from his hard resting-place, and, with great difficulty, made his way to the top. Then, shaping his course toward the river, he reached it in the course of an hour or so. Here, to his great joy, he found the boat that he and Kent had left. It was pulled high and dry upon the bank, yet he succeeded in getting it in the water, and, with a light heart, pushed out from the shore.
It was so much easier to propel the boat than to walk, that he had no difficulty in making good headway. He had determined upon no course to pursue, but continued moving forward with a sort of instinct, hardly caring in what direction he went. He was moving toward the spot where once the house of the Lelands stood; some impulse seemed drawing him thitherward.
The truth was, Roland Leslie was thinking of Rosalind and her situation. Although he had spoken to her but comparatively a few times, yet those occasions had awakened a feeling in his breast which he found could not be subdued; his love was growing day by day. He knew not whether she was aware of his passion, but his fluttering heart told him, at least, that she had not frowned upon him.
Young love rests upon the slightest foundation; thus Leslie was encouraged and made hopeful by the remembrance of the friendly meeting which he had with Rosalind. Then, as he awoke from this pleasant reverie into which he had fallen, the consciousness that she was now a captive among the Indians, the thought maddened him. He dipped his oars deep in the water, and moved swiftly along.
It occurred to him that perhaps it would be best to keep a watch of the shores ahead, to prevent running carelessly into danger. There might be Indians concealed or lurking in the vicinity, and he would be easily drawn into a decoy, should he be careless and thoughtless.
He turned around and scanned the shore more closely and searchingly. Seeing nothing suspicious, he was about to resume rowing again, when, from an overhanging cluster of bushes came the sharp crack of a rifle, and a bullet split one of the oars, a few inches below his hand. Seizing his rifle, he turned toward the point from which the shot had come, but could see no person. The thin wreath of smoke curling slowly up from the bushes showed the point from which it had been given; but whoever the person might be, he kept himself well concealed. In a moment another shot was given, which glanced over the water a few feet from the stern.
Leslie began to think that he was in rather a close situation, and clutching his rifle nervously, endeavored to ascertain the point from which the shot had come, determined to return one at all hazards. He did not dare to pass over to the opposite side, for he had a suspicion that they were intended for that purpose. He believed that his person had not been aimed at, but the balls had been intended to pass closely enough to alarm him and cause him to seek safety by pulling for the other shore, where, probably, a foe was waiting. While he sat undetermined what course to pursue, a form stepped out in full view upon the bank, and accosted him.
"Well, I should think I ought to be. Why, is that you, George?"
"I believe so. Come in and take me aboard."
"What reason had you for firing upon me?" asked Leslie, approaching him.
"Well, not any. I saw you coming down-stream, and an idea seized me to learn if you were easily frightened."
"I felt rather nervous when that shot came," returned Leslie, pointing at the hole in his oar.
"It was a close rub; but, of course, I took good care not to make it too close."
"What is the news? What reason have you for being here?" asked Leslie, interrupting him.
"News enough," returned Leland, gloomily.
"Step in the boat and let me hear it."
As they passed down-stream, Leland narrated his story, and when he had finished, remarked:
"Roland, I have sought you for advice and assistance, and I trust both will be given."
"Gladly! Do you think, George, that I could rest as long as your sister is in the hands of those savages?"
"Pardon me," returned Leland, "if I at all doubted. This affliction weighs heavily upon me."
"I suspected this state of things," continued Leslie, "and it is the reason that I hurried down-stream. Yet the uncertainty of seeing you or any friend, deterred me from making haste to your place."
Here Leslie gave the circumstances of his encountering Zeb, and his subsequent misfortune, or, as he termed it, his fortune, of falling in the gorge.
"Then Kent is gone, is he?" asked George, when he had finished. "That is too bad, for we need his assistance greatly."
"In fact, I do not understand what we shall be able to do without him," added Leslie.
"Nor I; and here we are as helpless as if we were already in the hands of the Indians, so far as regards any assistance that we can give Rosalind," continued Leland.
"Oh, don't despair so soon. I trust that Kent will soon turn up, and we shall then have a good chance to recover her."
"Where do you suppose that Kent can be?"
"I can only guess."
"What reason have you then for thinking that we shall meet him?"
"This reason. He saw me fall, and was obliged to leave me for a time, as the pursuers were close at hand. I am certain that, as soon as he eluded and escaped them, he would return to the place for me."
"And find you gone and give you up."
"No; he would search the place, and seeing my trail, would follow it. I left a pretty plain one, and he will meet with no difficulty."
"But suppose the ranger is captured himself?"
"There is no supposition in the case," rejoined Leslie, with an air of assurance.
"Well, admitting what you say," continued Leland, "did you leave a trail after getting in the boat, that will be easy for him to follow?"
"Easy enough. He knows what course I would take, and, consequently, he knows what one to pursue."
"But, even then, can he overtake you?"
"I have not come very rapidly, and I think that he can. I believe that at this moment he is on the way."
"Well, Roland, we have probably speculated enough upon our chances of meeting him. In the meantime, what do you propose that we do with ourselves?"
"As to that, I am hardly decided. There is great danger in our remaining on the river, and yet I see no means which will be so apt to bring us in communication with Kent."
"This gliding down the Ohio in broad daylight, when we know the woods on both sides are full of our enemies, is rather dangerous business, although it may possess some advantages for us."
"I leave the matter with you," said Leslie. "The stream is very broad for a considerable distance, and both of us ought to understand enough of woodcraft to prevent running into danger."
"We ought to understand enough," said Leland, significantly, "but the fact is, we do not. There are so many contrivances these cunning rascals devise for a white man's destruction, that one needs to have a schooling of years in their ways to understand them. However," he added, in a whisper, "I understand that contrivance yonder."
"What is that?" inquired his companion, in some excitement.
"Take a careful look down-stream and tell me whether you see anything unusual."
"No—I don't know as I do," slowly repeated Leslie. "Hold on—yes, I do—yonder is a log, or more likely two or three of them—a raft. I suppose, Leland, it is for our benefit."
"Undoubtedly. It was constructed for the benefit of the white race generally; and, as we come first we are to be served first."
"Let us cut in to shore and give them the slip."
"It may be the very thing they wish us to do. The action of the savages, so far, shows that they are more anxious to take prisoners than to slay men. So keep quiet and don't allow yourself to become nervous."
Slowly, silently and gently the boat glided onward—both Leslie and Leland as motionless as death, yet with hearts throbbing wildly and fearfully. The former stooped and whispered:
"There are three Indians on it, upon the opposite side from us. We must pass beyond the log before they will be in range of our guns. They will not fire until we begin to pass them. Take a quick but sure aim, and drop down in the bottom of the boat the instant your gun is discharged."
Nearer and nearer came the canoe to the log, until but a few rods separated them, but not a breath or fluttering of a leaf disturbed the profound silence.
When at the nearest point, scarcely more than two rods would separate them. Still onward the boat swept until its prow was even with the log.
"Ready," whispered Leslie, "you take the nearest one."
The next instant the enemies were in full view of each other. Simultaneously the two rifles in the boat broke the solemn stillness. But not a sound showed whether their shots had produced any effect at all! Not a savage's head, however, could be seen! They either had been slain or else had quietly drawn out of sight when they became aware of the danger that menaced them. The latter was most probably the case, although neither of the whites could satisfy himself upon that point.
As the thin haze from the guns diffused itself over the spot, the same oppressive silence settled upon the water, and the same absence of life was manifest in everything around. So sudden had been the interruption, that, a few minutes afterward, it was almost impossible to realize that it had actually occurred. More than once both Leslie and Leland caught themselves debating this very point in their minds.
For a few moments the two remained concealed within the boat, for they well knew that danger yet threatened; but, nervously excited over the event, Leland, with a sad want of discretion, peered over the gunwale of the canoe.
"Down, instantly," admonished his companion, catching his shoulder.
The report of another gun came at that very instant, and George dropped so suddenly and awkwardly out of sight, that Leslie inquired with much concern:
"Are you hurt?"
"Pretty near it, at any rate," returned Leland, putting his hand to his face.
He was not struck, however, although the ball had grazed and marked his cheek. The instant Leland saw that he was not injured, he raised himself and aimed toward the log. No sign of an enemy was visible, and not knowing but what there might be more loaded rifles behind the contrivance, he dropped his head again.
Peering cautiously over the gunwale, the young man saw the raft gradually approaching the Kentucky shore. The Indians possessing no means of reloading their pieces without running great risk, probably deemed it best to make a safe retreat.
The distance between the whites and the savages slowly but surely increased, and when the former judged they were comparatively safe, they arose and plied their paddles.
"Now if we can only come across Kent, I shall be pretty hopeful of getting out of the woods," remarked Leslie.
"But how is that to be done? There is just the trouble."
"I think he will find us if we only wait for him."
"I agree with you, that it is all that we can do. We will row down-stream a short distance further, where we will be sheltered more from the observation of our enemies, and wait until he comes, or until it is pretty certain that he will not."
Leslie bent to his oars, and the boat again shot forward. Each now felt a stronger hope. The depression of spirits under which Leland was laboring began to undergo a reaction.
Leslie was naturally of a more buoyant disposition than Leland, and seldom suffered those spells of melancholy which are so apt to affect those of a temperament less sanguine. The latter at seasons was more light-hearted than the former, yet adverse circumstances easily affected and depressed him.
The locality to which Leslie had referred was a place in the river where the overhanging boughs and underwood were so thick and luxuriant that it was an easy matter to send a small boat beneath them and remain effectually hidden from any enemy passing up or down the river.
Their plan was to conceal themselves, and thus, while affording themselves comparative security, to keep an unremitting watch for the appearance of Kent. They expected, and in fact were certain, that he would descend the opposite side, which, from their hiding-place, could be easily seen.
Leslie, with a vigorous pull, sent the boat under the sweeping branches, and, coming to rest, remarked:
"There, George, we are safe for the present. An Indian might pass within twenty feet of us, and not dream of our proximity."
"True, Leland, I feel glad that we are thus fortunate."
"See," continued Leslie, "what a nice arrangement. From my seat I can keep a good view of the opposite side."
"How long do you intend to remain here?" asked Leland, whose fears were ever on the alert.
"Can't say precisely."
"Remember that food will be necessary, and soon necessary, too."
"I am aware of that, yet we can do without it for some time. If Kent is going to pass us, it will be during to-morrow."
"Leslie," said Leland, earnestly, "I have been thinking deeply upon our chances of meeting him, and I must confess that they seem few indeed."
"I do not doubt it. They would have the same appearance to me, were it not for one thing. I have been calculating, and though, of course, a great deal of guess-work has been employed, yet I think that I have come to a very nearly correct conclusion. I'm pretty positive that if Kent reaches us, it will be in the neighborhood of to-morrow at mid-day. Not seeing him, I shall fire my rifle. Kent knows the sound of it, and will search for us."
"Perhaps he may not be upon the opposite shore."
"Which will be as well, yet I can think of no reason that would induce him to cross."
"In the meantime, how do you propose that we pass away time and keep off ennui."
"In sleep, if that is possible."
"I think it is with myself," returned Leland, with a light laugh.
"And the same with me," added Leslie.
"Well, the circumstances being favorable, I propose that we commence operations at once."
"A good suggestion."
Both disposed themselves as best they could in the boat, and being tired and fatigued, were soon asleep.
LOST AND FOUND.
The two young men slept soundly through the night. When Leslie awoke it was broad day, and his companion was still asleep. He suffered him to remain so until the day was well advanced. Then each felt the pangs of hunger. Leland proposed that one should land and go in quest of food, but Leslie answered:
"If Kent appears, it will be in the course of a few hours. We had better wait and see what comes of patience."
Another hour of silence wore away. Leland was about to speak when Leslie exclaimed, in a whisper:
They listened intently. In a moment the steady measured dip of paddles could be heard. Whoever was approaching had little fear or apprehension of danger; for they came fearlessly along, and were moving with considerable noise and swiftness.
Leland and Leslie held their breath as the sound came steadily nearer. Not a whisper was exchanged. The former, from his position, could not discern any object that might be passing, but the latter had a full view of the river.
In a moment the whole force passed before Leslie's eyes. Two canoes loaded with Indians glided past, unconscious of their proximity. Each drew a long breath of relief; but for a considerable time neither ventured a whisper.
"It appears to me that Indians are plenty in these parts," remarked Leland.
"Rather more than I could wish," returned his companion.
"Confound it, it will soon be time to fire your gun, and of course the savages will hear it."
"But for all that I shall risk it. It will not do to let Kent escape us."
"How soon do you intend discharging your piece?"
"In an hour or so."
"Well, see here, Roland, if Kent comes, it can not be expected that he will have any food. The report of your gun will doubtless reach the ears of enemies as well as friends."
"I expect it will."
"And still further: if such be the case, we shall not dare to land for fear of an encounter. We may be obliged to remain concealed for a few days, and no means will be left to procure food during that time. Now, what I am coming at is this: while we have an opportunity to get it, let us do it."
"How do you propose obtaining it?"
"Easily enough. Just let me land, and I will insure you success in a short time."
"But you have overlooked one thing."
"What is it?"
"The report of your gun will be heard as well as mine, and will be as likely to attract the attention of any enemies in the neighborhood."
"That is true, but I can reach the boat in time."
"And although Kent is within a short distance, I shall not dare to apprise him of our situation."
"Such appears to be the case; but you must see that it is absolutely necessary that some means should be taken to secure food."
"I admit it, and am willing that you should try."
"Hold!" exclaimed Leland, brightening up. "I have a plan. You say that Kent, in the course of an hour or so, will probably be near enough for you to fire. I will try and not bring down any game until that time, and the minute you hear the report of my gun you must discharge yours. This will have the effect that you wish, and I shall have time to reach you before any one can come up."
"A capital idea," said Leslie. "Hearing two guns, the Indians will have a little more fear in approaching us, than they would did they hear but one. You deserve credit, George, for the thought."
"Remember, and wait until you hear my gun, before you fire yours," replied he.
"I will wait an hour, George; and then, whether I hear yours or not, I shall discharge mine. As I said a while ago, it won't do to let Kent escape us, and I must be sure to warn him."
"I trust that I shall encounter game before that time; but should I not, you must do as you said. I will return upon hearing you."
"And return instantly," said Leslie, impressively. "Don't wait until the danger is increased. Although it may seem that a few minutes will enable you to procure abundant food, don't wait a single minute. It may cost you your life, if you do."
"I will remember your advice. Now shove in a little nearer shore and I will be off."
Leslie brought the boat to the bank, and Leland stepped off.
"Try and not be gone long; do not wander too far, for it will be an easy thing to get lost in this forest. Remember that it will take you considerable time to reach me, and if the distance be too great, an enemy may be ahead of you. Be careful in all your movements, and be sure to return the instant that my gun is heard."
"I will try and obey you," returned Leland. And George disappeared in the mazes of the woods.
Leslie returned to his former position, and more to occupy his mind than anything else, gazed out upon the broad bosom of the Ohio, as it glided majestically along, through the dark shadows of the forest. It then presented a far different appearance from what it does at this day. No crowded cities then lined its banks. The flaming steamboat had not broken its surface; the canoe, gliding noiselessly over it, was all that gave token of the presence of man. A rude cabin erected in some lone spot in the wilderness, like a green spot in the desert, showed the feeble footing which he had upon the soil.
Solemnly and silently the old Ohio rolled along through its hundreds of miles until it as solemnly and silently united with the great father of waters.
When one has recently passed through an exciting and momentous occurrence, and is then left completely alone, it is difficult to keep from falling into a reverie; the subject which interests the mind most will finally occupy it to the exclusion of everything else.
Thus it was with Roland Leslie. At first he began speculating upon the probable success of Leland's enterprise; then upon the probability of his arresting the attention of Kent, should he chance to be in the vicinity. Having considered this for some time, he reflected upon the dangers through which he had passed, and upon the likelihood of further deliverance from them. This thought called to mind his mishap among the rocks, and he proceeded to examine his wounds, of which, for some time, he had entirely ceased to think. These being not very severe, as we have shown, had failed to trouble him, and he was glad to see that they needed no more attention.
Again left to his thoughts, they shortly wandered to Rosalind Leland. Where was she? Was she alive, or already slain? Was there any hope of meeting her again? Could he do anything toward rescuing her from bondage? He felt certain that she was alive, although a close prisoner, and was confident that recovery was possible. That he determined she should be rescued, and that he should be the one that would do it, was not strange.
Love will upset the mind of any person, and at times play the wild with him. Leslie was naturally clear-headed, far-sighted and sagacious; yet, when he permitted his ideas to dwell upon the object of his love, they sadly misused him. At such times he was another person. He lost sight of the obstacles and dangers which would have been apparent to any one gifted with ordinary shrewdness; and he formed plans which, in his sober moments, would have only excited his ridicule.
Strange as it may seem for such a person to have been guilty of such an idea, Leslie had not pondered upon the absorbing topic for any length of time before he deliberately came to the conclusion to rescue Rosalind in the course of three days, to rebuild her old home, and settle down with her for the rest of his life! Of course the savages would never disturb him, and he should be, without doubt, the happiest mortal in existence!
He was suddenly awakened from his reverie by the faint report of Leland's rifle. It sounded fully a mile distant, and the certainty of his danger made him tremble with apprehension. George, as he feared, had forgotten the warning given him, and, in the excitement, had unconsciously wandered to a greater distance than he supposed. In all probability he was lost, and would be obliged to seek the river and follow it in order to find Leslie. This would require time, and he had already exposed himself to danger by firing his gun.
Although Roland had promised to fire upon hearing Leland, yet he forebore to do it. The difference which a half-hour would make in the probability of Kent's hearing his own gun, would be in his favor. He supposed that Leland, upon discharging his piece, had instantly set out to return, and he wished to give him almost sufficient time to reach him.
Anxiously and painfully Roland listened, with his finger upon the trigger of his gun; and, as minute after minute wore away without a sound reaching him, he began to hope that Leland could be at no great distance.
A few more minutes were passed, when Roland concluded that the time for firing his signal had arrived. It would serve to guide Leland, and, had he not deceived himself, would reach the ears of Kent. Standing up in the boat, he raised the gun above his head, and was already pressing the trigger, when he paused, as he heard the sharp crack of Leland's rifle at no great distance. He waited a few seconds, until the echo had died away, and then discharged his own.
He remained stationary a moment, as though to permit the sound to escape entirely from his rifle. Then, reseating himself, proceeded to reload it. This done, he impatiently listened for a returning signal. He had placed a great deal of reliance and hope upon that shot, and, as he now was so soon to learn whether it had accomplished what he wished, he could not keep down his fearful anxiety.
He was nervous, and listened with painful interest for the slightest sound. The falling of a leaf startled him; and, at last, unable to restrain himself, he determined again to fire his gun.
At that instant there came a crash of Leland's rifle, followed by the maddened shouts of infuriated savages, so near that Leslie sprung to his feet and gazed about him. Recovering himself, he stooped, and, seizing a paddle, began shoving the boat toward shore, fully determined to afford his friend all the assistance that lay in his power.
The boat had hardly touched, when there was a rustling in the bushes directly before him, and the next instant Kent stood beside him.
"Quick—shove out! They are after me!" he exclaimed, springing into the boat and grasping the oars.
"Where is George?" asked Leslie.
"They've got him, and came nigh getting me. Cuss the infernal devils!"
In a moment the two had freed themselves from the bushes. As the yells of their enemies were heard upon the shore, they had reached the center of the stream, and were passing swiftly downward.
THE COMPANION IN CAPTIVITY.
When Leland left the boat, he wandered forward for a considerable distance, not noticing the direction in which he was going, only intent upon securing game of some sort or other. Still, he exercised considerable caution in his movements, and determined not to risk a shot unless he was certain of his success. Birds and quadrupeds were plenty, and he did not entertain any doubts of his ability to secure all that he wished. He permitted several good shots to pass, for the reason that he did not wish to fire until the hour was up. By this means he unconsciously increased the distance between himself and Leslie, until it occurred to him that the hour had nearly expired. A few minutes after, having a good opportunity, he improved it, and, securing his prize, turned to retrace his steps.
Then it flashed upon him, for the first time, that he was lost. As we said, he had failed to notice the direction, and had no idea of the course to pursue in order to reach the river. The only means left was to proceed by guess; contrary to what might be expected, he took the right course. His anxiety caused him to be somewhat heedless; and after proceeding a short distance, he again discharged his rifle. Then hearing the report of Leslie's rifle but a short distance away, he set joyously forward, confident of soon coming up to him. He had not gone far when he heard a suppressed, significant whistle. Hardly conscious of its meaning, he paused and listened. It was repeated, and becoming suspicious, he sprung behind a tree. While listening, the subdued voice of Kent reached him:
"Make for the river, George; the imps are on your trail."
He turned to obey this injunction, but had not taken a dozen steps when a rifle flamed from some concealment, and a twinge in his side told him that he was wounded. At the same instant several savages sprung toward him, setting up their demoniac howls. The pain of his wound maddened him, and, regardless of consequences, he raised his rifle and shot the foremost through the breast, when scarcely the length of his gun from him.
This act, though rash, and one which he would not have done in his cooler moments, was the means eventually of saving his life. The intention of the savages was to kill him on the spot; but the death of one of their number increased their fury and thirst for vengeance, and the chief or leader deterred the others from further violence, determined that his death should be at the stake.
"You shoot Indian, eh?" said one, through his closed teeth, brandishing his knife at the same time in the face of the young man.
He made no reply; but weakened by the loss of blood, sunk fainting to the ground. He was jerked to his feet, and although barely able to stand, was forced forward, and compelled to keep pace with the others.
The Indians who had thus captured Leland were the same band who had pursued him and Kent. The latter had taken a circuitous course, and, after placing a considerable distance between himself and his enemies, took the back track and reached the gorge where Leslie had fallen, hoping to find him there; but being disappointed, followed his trail to the river where he saw that he had embarked in the boat.
Kent knew that his own trail would be followed. In order to mislead the savages, he took to the water and swam about a half-mile down-stream before he landed upon the opposite side. But it seemed that fate was against him. The savages in pursuing him had separated somewhat. Kent's ruse one of them accidentally discovered, and apprised his companions. They collected and immediately took the right trail. The first intimation the ranger had of his danger was the whistling of a bullet a few inches from his head, as he was nearing the bank; and when his feet rested upon land, his unwearied and tenacious enemies were in the river, boldly crossing toward him.
When the Indians reached the bank, Kent was already at a great distance, yet they continued their pursuit, and had gone some distance, when the first report of Leland's rifle reached their ears. This they mistook for Kent's, and abandoning the trail, made directly toward it. The second discharge of the young man's gun occurred when he was but a short distance from them. Kent endeavored to warn him of his danger, but as we have seen, it was too late. He himself was discovered and hotly pursued to the boat, where he barely succeeded in making his escape.
Leland's captors took up their march toward the Ohio. Here, although their captive was suffering intense agony, they forced him into the water, and compelled him to swim across. Every stroke he thought would be his last, yet he reached the shore in safety. The band set forward at once. There were six savages, upon two of whom the duty of attending Leland devolved. Yet he required little watching or attention. The thought of escape was far from his mind; he was in a sad situation to rebel or offer resistance. Both hands were firmly secured behind him, and his strength was taxed to the utmost to keep up with his captors.
In the course of a couple of hours they came upon two of their companions, seated around and amusing themselves with a negro. Each appeared to enjoy himself prodigiously at the expense of the poor African, who was boiling over with furious rage.
"Get out, niggers!" he shouted, "my head's split wide open now, sure!"
Here one of the savages amused himself by letting the end of a weighty stick fall upon the head of the negro. The luxuriant wool caused it to re-bound again, to the infinite delight of the tormentors, who smiled horribly at it.
Leland recognized Zeb as he came up. It gave him a sort of pleasure, or rather served to lighten his pain, to know that they were to be companions in captivity. He could probably obtain information of Rosalind, while the conversation of the slave might assist to keep off the gloom which was settling over him.
"Gorra, ef dar ain't massa Leland," exclaimed the negro, turning toward the approaching Indians. "High! whar'd you come from, George? What did you let 'em cotch you fur?"
"Because I could not prevent it," returned he, with a faint smile.
"Well, now, if't had been dis pusson, you see, dey'd 've had some trouble."
"How is it that you are here, then?"
"Well, dat question requires considerable explanation. I know'd as how dey's agoin' to git you, and so I just come along to help you out de scrape."
Here the conversation ceased for the present. Leland had stretched himself upon the ground, and the pain of his wound increased. A savage noticing this, prepared a sort of poultice of pounded leaves and herbs, and placed it upon his side. Had this been done with a view to alleviate his suffering and not to preserve him for a great and awful torture, as it really was, Leland might have felt disposed to thank him for it.
It had now begun to grow dark. A fire was started, and in a short time a large quantity of meat was roasted. A piece of this was offered to Leland, but, though a short time before he had felt keenly the pangs of hunger, the sight of food now filled him with loathing.
"S'posen you offer dis pusson a few pounds, just to see if he'll take it," suggested Zeb, gazing wistfully toward the Indian who held it.
Several pieces were given him, all of which he devoured voraciously and demanded more. An Indian approached him, and holding a piece within a few inches of his mouth, jerked it away as he was about to seize it. This was repeated several times, until Zeb, losing all patience, became morose and sullen and refused to snap at it. The savage seemed disposed to humor him and held it still closer. Zeb, watching his opportunity, made a quick motion, and nearly severed the finger of his tormentor's hand, between his teeth. The savage dropped the meat with a howl, and furiously shaking his wounded member, fairly danced with pain. He would have undoubtedly killed the negro had not his companions prevented. They enjoyed the sport and encouraged Zeb, who devoured his food for some time in dignified silence.
"Wouldn't mind tryin' some more. S'posen you hold out yer other hand!"
No one noticed this remark, and the negro was obliged to rest satisfied with what he had obtained.
As night came on, the savages stretched themselves upon the earth and left the prisoners to themselves. Each was securely fastened. Leland was within a few feet of Zeb, yet he concluded to wait until all were asleep before he ventured to hold converse with him.
At length when the night had considerably advanced, and the heavy breathing of the savages showed that slumber had at last settled upon them, George turned his head so that he faced the negro, and abruptly asked:
"Zeb, what do you know of my sister?"
"Noffin'!" returned the negro, earnestly.
"Were you not taken off together?"
"At fust we was; but dey took her one way and me anoder." He then proceeded to narrate all the circumstances which had occurred to him, since the burning of the house, in his own characteristic way.
"I am afraid you will soon have your last adventure," said Leland.
"Gorra! does you s'pose dat dey'd dare to shake a stick at me when I's mad."
"I think they were engaged at that when I came up."
"Well, dat you see is a mistake."
"Have you heard anything hinted of the manner in which they intend to dispose of you?"
"Not much, but I consates dat I knows. Dey'll just make me dar chief, if I'll stay wid 'em, and I's bout 'cluded dat I would, just so dat I can pay 'em for dis trick."
"Have they made the proposition yet?" asked George, feeling a strange impulse to amuse himself.
"Well, 'bout as good. Dey axed me not to hurt 'em, and said somefin' 'bout tying somebody to a tree and roastin' 'em. S'pose dey's 'fraid I'll do it to all ob 'em one dese days, if dey isn't careful."
"Why do they misuse you, if they intend to elevate you?"
"Well, dat's hard to tell. They've gone and went and cut all my curls off."
"Never mind such things," said Leland, again feeling depressed. "In all probability neither you nor I will see many more days. Unless we are rescued pretty soon, we shall be past all human help. I advise you, Zeb, to let serious thoughts enter your mind. Think of the world which you are soon to enter, and try and make some preparation for it."
The negro gazed wonderingly at Leland, then turned his head without speaking. The words probably had some effect upon him, for he made no further observations. His silence seemed occasioned by the doom pending over him.
That night was one never to be forgotten by Leland. The pain of his wound, and the still greater pain of his thoughts, prevented a moment's sleep. Hour after hour he gazed into the smoldering embers before him, buried in deep meditation, and conjuring up fantastic figures in the glowing coals. Then he watched the few stars which were twinkling through the branches overhead, and the sighing of the solemn night-wind made music that chorded with the feelings of his soul.
Far in the small hours of the night, he lay still awake, sending up his prayer to the only eye that saw him, and to the only one that could assist him.
When the King of Terrors shakes his sword at his victim, unwonted yearnings come over the human heart. To die alone, removed from home and friends, when strange faces are beside us, is a fate which we all fervently pray may not be ours. Yet, when these strangers are enemies, and our death is at their hands—when every shriek or moan elicits only jeers and laughter, how unspeakably dreadful is the fate! He who has lost a dear friend in war, that has languished and died in the hands of strangers, and perhaps received no burial at their hands—he who mourns such a loss, may be able to appreciate, in some degree, the mournful situation of young Leland, in the hands of the malignant Shawnees.
It is at such times as these, if at no other, that the stricken and bowed heart turns to the One who alone can cheer and sustain. When shut out from all prospect of human help, and conscious that there is but one arm which is not shortened, we do not draw back from calling upon that arm to sustain us in the dark hour of trial.
With the dull glow of the slumbering camp-fire, the grotesque groups of almost unconscious sleepers, the solemn sighing of the night-wind, and the twinkle of the stars through the branches overhead—with such mournful surroundings as these, George Leland sent up his prayer of agony to God.
He prayed, not for life, but for the preparation to meet the death impending. The soft wailing of the night-zephyr seemed to warn him that the death-angel was approaching every moment. He prayed for his beloved sister in the hands of ruthless enemies—prayed only as he could pray when he realized her peril. And he sent up his petition for the safety of Leslie, who might still be awaiting his return—for the rough ranger with him, and for the rude, untutored negro, now his brother-prisoner.
A short distance away, he could discern the shadowy form of Zeb, bound against a tree, while scattered around him were stretched the savage sentinels, whether asleep or not he was unable to tell. As for that matter, however, they might as well have been unconscious as awake, for the slumber of the North American Indian is so delicate that a falling leaf is sufficient to disturb it.
The heart of Leland bled for the poor ignorant colored man. His prolonged silence showed that he had begun to realize, in some measure, his appalling situation. His natural thoughtlessness and recklessness could not last forever. It might carry him into many a danger, but not beyond it.
The Shawnees seemed to imagine that the bonds of the prisoners were secure, and that there was no possibility of their escape. In fact, Leland had no hopes of release. Had his hands been free, he might have ventured to do something; but at present they were as useless as if he were deprived altogether of those members.
It was fully an hour beyond midnight, when, in spite of his situation, Leland began to yield to the fatigue of the day. His head drooped upon his breast, and he started fitfully. It is at such times as these that the nervous system seems to be most fully alive to what is passing. The prisoner was just in this state of mind when his attention was arrested by a sound no louder than the murmuring wind above him—so low, indeed, that it would have escaped his attention altogether, had it not been of a character different from that monotonous moaning.
With the consciousness of this sound, came also the knowledge that it was a continuous one, and had been in progress some time. At first it seemed to be in the tree above him, but a moment's listening proved that it came from the direction of the negro, Zeb. The darkness had deepened somewhat during the last hour, so that he could barely make the outline of the fellow, but could not discern any motion upon his part, unless it was an absolute change of position.
All doubt as to Zeb being the author of the disturbing sound was removed as soon as Leland became fully awake. It came directly from toward him, and was of such a nature that it could not have been caused by one of the sleeping Shawnees. With his eyes intently fixed upon the shadowy outlines of the negro, Leland saw the upper part of his body move forward, and then suddenly straighten itself again. This singular movement was repeated several times, and then, to his amazement, he saw the African step clear away from the tree and approach him!
As Zeb deposited his foot upon the ground, it was slowly and cautiously, and at each time he threw his outstretched arms upward, like a bird when flying, distorting his face also, as if the effort caused him extreme pain. But he passed the sleepers safely, and was soon beside his master.
"How did you succeed in freeing yourself?" he asked.
"Golly, I chawed 'em off!" he replied, with a suppressed chuckle. "Had a great notion of chawin' de tree off, so dat it mought fall on dem and broke dar necks."
"'Sh! you are making too much noise," admonished Leland, in a guarded whisper.
"Shall I eat up your cords?"
"Loosen them around my wrists and arms, and then I will help myself."
"Yere's de instruments dat will do dat same t'ing," said Zeb, applying himself to the task at once. He progressed with such celerity and success that in a few moments, to Leland's unspeakable delight, he found his arms at liberty. It need scarcely be said that these were immediately used to assist the negro in his further efforts.
The excitement and nervousness of the young man were so great, that when his limbs were freed of the fetters he was scarcely able to stand, and, for a few moments, was on the very verge of fainting. The sudden renewal of hope overcame him for the time. By a powerful effort he regained his self-possession, and strove, in the few hurried seconds that were his, to decide upon some means of action.
It may be said that the two prisoners were literally surrounded by savages. They were stretched on every side of them, and before either dare hope to escape, it was necessary (if the expression be allowable) to scale the dreaded prisonwall. Leland had good cause to fear success for himself and his sable companion in this attempt. He found, to his chagrin and dismay, that scarcely any reliance at all could be placed upon his own limbs. His legs especially, from their long confinement in one position, were so cramped and spasmodic, that, when he stepped out from the tree to join the negro, one of them doubled like a reed beneath him and let him fall to the ground. He believed it was all over with him; but his fall was so gentle as not to disturb the sleepers, and he once more raised himself to his feet.
"Shan't I carry dat sick leg while you walk wid de oder one?" inquired Zeb, in a sympathetic tone.
"It is almost useless to me at present," replied Leland. "Let me lean upon you while we walk, and for the love of heaven, Zeb, be cautious. A single mismove, and it will be all up with us."
"Strikes dis chile dat it was ober wid you jes' now, de way you cawalloped onto de ground jes' now."
"My leg is asleep and numb."
"Let's wake it up, den."
Leland paused a few moments until the circulation was somewhat restored; but, as every moment seemed so fraught with peril to him, he whispered to the negro to move ahead, repeating his petition for him to exercise the most extreme caution in all his movements.