FAR PAST THE FRONTIER
By JAMES A. BRADEN
Illustrated by W. H. FRY
Akron, Ohio THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING CO. New York—Chicago
MADE IN U. S. A.
Copyright, 1902 By The Saalfield Publishing Company
CHAPTER PAGE I The Flight of Big Pete Ellis. 5 II A Bound Boy's Story. 19 III The Beginning of a Perilous Journey. 32 IV The Man Under the Bed. 47 V A Mysterious Shot in the Darkness. 62 VI On Lonely Mountain Roads. 76 VII On Into the Wilderness. 91 VIII Friends or Foes? 105 IX The Scalp at Big Buffalo's Belt. 121 X A Night With the Indians. 134 XI Again a Hidden Enemy. 150 XII Building a Cabin. 164 XIII The Strange Story of Arthur Bridges. 179 XIV Treed by Wolves. 192 XV A Maple Sugar Camp in the Wilderness. 206 XVI The Hatred of Big Buffalo. 219 XVII Danger. 232
FAR PAST THE FRONTIER.
The Flight of Big Pete Ellis.
"Look out thar!"
A young, red-bearded man of herculean frame fiercely jerked the words between his teeth as he leaped between two boys who were about to enter the country store, from the door of which he sprang.
Diving aside, but quickly turning, the lads saw the cause of their sudden movement bound into a wagon standing near, and with a furious cry to the horses, whip them to such instant, rapid speed that the strap with which the animals were tied, snapped like a bit of string. With a clatter and rumbling roar the team and wagon dashed around a corner, the clumsy vehicle all but upsetting, as the wheels on one side flew clear of the ground.
Running forward, the boys were in time to see, fast disappearing down the road toward where the September sun was setting, the reckless driver bending over, lashing the horses to a frantic gallop. The wagon swayed and jolted over the ruts and holes, threatening momentarily to throw the fellow headlong. An empty barrel in the box bounced up and down and from side to side like a thing alive.
"Something has happened! Big Pete isn't doing that for fun!" the larger of the boys exclaimed.
"Run for Dr. Cartwright, quick! Big Pete has killed Jim Huson, I'm afraid!"
The speaker was Marvel Rice, proprietor of the store in which Huson was a clerk. "Tell him to hurry—hurry!" the merchant cried again, as without a second's hesitation the two boys sped away along the tan-bark path.
"Are you coming, Ree?" asked the more slender lad, glancing over his shoulder with a droll smile. He was a wiry chap of sixteen and ran like a grey hound, easily taking the lead.
His companion made no reply, but his spirit fired by the sarcastic question, he forged ahead, and the other found it necessary to waste no more breath in humor.
An admirer of youthful strength and development would have clapped his hands with delight to have seen the boys' close race. Return Kingdom, whom the slender lad had called "Ree," was a tall, strongly built, muscular fellow of seventeen. His fine black hair waved under the brim of a dilapidated beaver as he ran. His brown eyes were serious and keen and his mouth and chin emphasized the determination expressed in them. Though his clothes were of rough home-spun stuff, and his feet were encased in coarse boots, an observing person would have seen that he was possessed of the decision and strength in both mind and body which go to make leaders among men.
The smaller boy was John Jerome—quick, vigorous, brown-haired, blue-eyed, freckled, and his attire was like that of his companion whose follower he was in everything save foot-racing. In that he would give way to no one, not excluding the trained Indian runners who sometimes came to the neighboring village.
"Easy, easy!" Dr. Cartwright sang out, the boys nearly colliding with him as he was driving from his dooryard. "Somebody dying?" he asked as the runners halted.
"Jim Huson's been hurt; they want you at the store, quick," Ree Kingdom breathlessly explained.
"Badly?" asked the doctor with provoking deliberation, drawing on his gloves.
"Pretty nigh killed, I guess; Big Pete Ellis did it," put in John Jerome, amazed that the physician did not at once drive off at lightning speed.
"And they want me to finish the job do they?" smiled Dr. Cartwright, who was never known to become excited. "Well, I'll see what I can do. Daisy, get up."
The latter words were for the faithful mare that had drawn the doctor's chaise, or two-wheeled carriage, summer and winter for so many years that she was as well known as the physician himself. The horse set off at a leisurely jog, but the master's second "Get up Daisy," though drawled out as if haste were the last thing to be thought of, quickened the animal's speed to a lively trot.
The boys started back at a walk, speculating on what could have provoked Big Pete's assault and how serious Jim Huson's injury might be.
"It upsets all our plans," said John; "for Jim was just the fellow to tell us the price of everything and just what western emigrants should take along. We can't talk to Mr. Rice about our going, as we could talk to Jim."
"Mr. Rice is so excitable he may have thought Huson worse hurt than he is," Ree answered. "Anyway, we are not to start for three weeks, and Jim may be up and around long before we go. So don't be blue. There is more than one way to skin a cat. If we can't have Jim's advice we can talk with some one else, or use our own judgment as to what we must buy. In the end we will have to depend entirely on ourselves as to what we should or should not do, anyway; but come what may, three weeks from this very Monday, we shall go, if we live and have our health."
"Bully for you, Ree! In three weeks our faces will be turned toward the setting sun!"
"Our backs will be toward the rising sun in three weeks, less one day," Ree answered. "But scamper along; let's get back to the store and find out first how Jim was hurt and how badly. It will be a sorry job for Pete Ellis, if they catch him."
The assault on the clerk at the Corners' store had aroused the neighborhood. Coming at the hour of sundown when the day's work was nearly over, it found people with leisure to hurry to the scene to learn all about the affair. A dozen men and boys and a few women and children were gathered near when Return Kingdom and John Jerome arrived. The boys found that their injured friend had been carried to the inn across the street, where Dr. Cartwright was attending him, and all were anxiously waiting that good man's opinion.
The story of the assault as it was told, over and over again, as the crowd about the store increased, was that Big Pete had attempted to pass counterfeit money on Jim Huson. The latter refused it, accusing Ellis of having brought spurious coin to him at other times as well, and threatening to cause his arrest. Without warning Big Pete seized a heavy butter firkin and threw it squarely at the clerk's head.
Huson dropped unconscious to the floor, and Mr. Rice, who ran to his aid, received a similar blow. Ellis lost no time in dashing through the open door, then adding to his other crimes the theft of horses and wagon to assist in his escape.
"Well, there is no great loss without some small gain," said one man. "We are quit of Big Pete, that's certain, and it is a good riddance of bad rubbish. He was the worst man in this bailiwick, and I am thinking that more than one job of pilfering might safely be laid at his door."
It was, indeed, true. Big Pete was not looked upon as a desirable citizen. So bad had his name become that he could scarcely find employment where he was known. The honest people of old Connecticut had little liking for dishonesty, notwithstanding the stories of the money-making ingenuity of that state's inhabitants.
Leaning against a post, apart from the other men, Ree Kingdom presently noticed an aged farmer, alternately wringing his hands and burying his face in them. He was the owner of the team which had been stolen, and, heedless of all else idly lamented his loss, complaining that no one went in pursuit of the thief to secure his horses, but wholly forgetful of the best of scriptural proverbs that God helps those who help themselves. The boy was about to speak to him, when two men dashed up on horseback.
"There's the constable," John Jerome exclaimed—"The constable and his brother, and they are going after Big Pete."
Before Ree could answer, the officer called for volunteers to assist in his undertaking, for Ellis was known to be a dangerous man.
"Here, some of you young bucks that can ride bare-back, strip the harness off my team an' help ketch that murderous heathen! Only wish't I wasn't all crippled up with rheumatics, I'd show him!"
The speaker was Captain William Bowen, who had fought in the Revolutionary War, ending seven years earlier, (1783) and was proud of it; and who, though really sadly crippled by rheumatism, was still a sure shot and not the man to be trifled with by law-breakers. He would permit no one to call him anything but "Captain." His old rifle was always within reach and two big pistols were ever his companions.
For a minute no one made a move to accept the captain's offer, and then with: "Come on, John," Ree Kingdom waited no longer. In a twinkling the boys unharnessed the horses, leaving only the bridles on them, and were mounted. Tom Huson, the blacksmith and Peter Piper, a half-breed Indian, a sort of roustabout in the neighborhood, had also hurriedly prepared to join in the chase.
"Take my twins, lads, they bite as hard as they bark," called Captain Bowen, passing his brace of pistols up to Ree and John, and in another moment the party was galloping in pursuit of the big fellow whose crime might yet be murder, Dr. Cartwright having reported that only time could tell.
"Who-ho-ho-ho-ho!" John Jerome could not resist the temptation to give an Indian war-whoop. There is an exhilaration in a rapid ride by moonlight at any time, and with the clatter of the hoofs of a half dozen horses upon the beaten road, the forms of other riders, shadowy and ghost-like on either side to lend a feeling of companionship, and a knowledge of danger's presence to make every sense the more alert, there is no finer excitement. Little wonder is it that John could not repress a yell, and though of a much quieter disposition, Ree felt like shouting, also.
"Who-ho-ho-ho!" John yelled again, a half hour later, and the women and children ran to the door of a house they were passing to see who it might be that was dashing by at such breakneck speed. The air came soft and cool to the riders half hidden in the shadows of the trees which bordered the road, though the moon was shining gloriously.
"We will send you on ahead to tell Pete we are coming, if you are so fond of making it known, youngster," exclaimed the constable as John gave still another whoop.
"He'd have a cat fit if he knew you were after him, I'll wager," the boy answered, nettled by the man's sarcasm. "Suppose I do ride on and let him know."
John leaned back and slapped his horse's flank. The animal, scarcely more than a colt, sprang forward at great speed. At the same time the young rider raised up on his knees, then on his feet and keeping his balance with seeming ease, standing nearly erect, the horse running its fastest, he held the reins in one hand, waved his hat in the other, and again yelled like an Indian.
"That young dare-devil will kill himself one of these days," said the blacksmith. "That colt of Captain Bowen's is likely to take it into her head to bring up short at any minute. Better call him back, Kingdom."
Ree had no fear that his friend could not take care of himself, but in answer to the suggestion, he gave a shrill, peculiar whistle which made the woodland ring. Like a shot John dropped to a sitting posture as he heard the call, and in another minute Ree had ridden up beside him. Before either could speak, a black object loomed up in the narrow road and they had barely time to rein their horses in before they were upon it, the animals leaping sidewise to avoid a collision.
"Big Pete's wagon, sure as shooting! It's broken down!" ejaculated Ree.
"Scotland! Where would I have landed if I had been standing up and this colt had run into it?" John exclaimed. As he spoke the others of their party came up.
"Here's the wagon, but Pete and the horses are gone," called Ree. "He can't be far ahead."
"There's no telling. Hurry on," answered the constable who had hastily sprung off his horse to examine the wreck. "Here are the harnesses, but Pete is trying to get away with both horses. Keep your wits about you, boys, there is likely to be some shooting!"
Ree had been the first to start forward, and was one hundred yards in advance of the others when his quick eye detected the dim outlines of a man on horseback in the shadow of a low branching oak just before him at the roadside. He recognized the huge figure of Big Pete and without a word guided his horse straight toward the fellow. The criminal saw him and with a yell started off.
Ree's horse with a splendid bound cleared the ditch beside the highway, and in another moment the boy had seized the bridle of the horse Big Pete was leading, just as the fellow was getting the animal he bestrode under rapid way for a race for his liberty. It was clear that he had been delayed by the breaking down of the wagon, and had hidden at the roadside hoping his pursuers would pass him by. With a determined grip Ree clung to the bridle of the lead horse, though he was nearly jerked to the ground. With his other hand he sought to check his own animal, but the skittish young thing had taken fright and was now running ahead of the flying criminal's horses.
A great out-cry came from the constable and his party as they saw what had happened and dug spurs into their mounts. Down the road the pursued and pursuers raced, Ree Kingdom wholly unable to retard Big Pete's progress but still clinging to the bridle of the horse between them, the constable and his men trying their best to overtake the fugitive, but unable to gain on him.
"Shoot! why don't you shoot?" yelled Ree to his friends at last, and a pair of pistols cracked simultaneously, a third and fourth rapidly following.
Ree heard the bullets whistle near his head and realized that he was in almost as much danger of being hit, as Big Pete. But again he cried:
The pursuers were slowly but surely falling behind in the race. The burly Ellis, glancing back, was quick to see that fortune favored him. He leaned far over from his horse and before Ree Kingdom could detect his purpose in the dusky light, seized the boy by the neck. With a giant's strength he pulled the lad partially from his seat, endeavoring to hurl him to the ground. Failing, he relinquished his hold on the reins, and using both hands, succeeded in drawing Kingdom over the unridden horse between them to the shoulders of his own horse. And then with herculean efforts he tried to throw the boy to the earth.
But Ree held to his own horse's reins with bull dog ferocity, and with all his strength resisted the other's effort. As he was jerked from his seat, however, the strain on the reins caused his horse to sharply swerve inward, crowding against the other animals, and in a twinkling the three of them, already frantic with the fury of their wild race, left the course and sped across a woodland at the unfenced roadside.
Gasping an oath, the enraged giant tried again to push Ree to the ground, and this time he succeeded; but he himself went off head-foremost with the boy, who held to his arm with a grip of steel, dragging him suddenly down. Freed of their burden, the horses ran on, Big Pete cursing frightfully as he sprang to his feet to find them far beyond his reach.
Lying still, bruised but not seriously hurt by his fall, Ree Kingdom was thinking fast. He felt for his pistol inspired by the thought that he would capture the criminal yet, and wishing he had used it earlier. But the weapon was gone—lost in the wild ride, no doubt. The next instant Ellis swiftly turned and seized him by the throat; and he knew that his life was in the giant's hands.
A Bound Boy's Story.
With the horses gone beyond recapture, Big Pete must needs depend on his own legs if he meant to escape. The constable's party could not be far behind, and with the boy, whose throat he clutched, to point the way in which he had gone, when the officer came up, his chance of getting away was much less than it would be should that boy be powerless to give any information.
Ree Kingdom thought of this and lay perfectly still, feigning insensibility but keenly wondering what disposition would be made of him, and resolved to fight to the last breath if his pretense of unconsciousness were discovered. Then the giant's grip about his throat grew tighter, and he felt that a terrible struggle and perhaps death were just at hand. Between his almost closed eyelids he saw the man's big frame bending silently over him and thus moments which seemed like hours passed.
The slow-thinking fugitive could not at once decide what he should do. He was hoping Ree would spring to his feet and run. Then, pretending to try to catch him, he would escape among the darker shadows before the boy could see in which direction he had gone. He was not deceived by the pretense of unconsciousness, as Ree thought, and really hoped to be saved the necessity of killing the lad or of knocking him senseless, to a certainty, lest such a blow might produce death. He shuddered as he remembered that his hands were probably already stained with blood.
If Ellis had but known it, flight was far from Kingdom's thoughts. He was steadfast in his every purpose, to a fault, and having set out to capture Big Pete, the idea of running away just as he was face to face with the giant fellow, did not so much as occur to him, though he well knew his peril.
"Scoot!" With sudden fury Ellis dragged Ree to his feet and violently pushed him as he spoke, expecting to see the boy dash away.
Ree could not prevent a grim smile from crossing his lips as he turned quickly toward the giant again, realizing that the fellow had intended to frighten him. Each moment, however, he looked for a deadly conflict to begin, and as he stood in quiet defiance, trying to determine what the fugitive's next move would be, and momentarily expecting a struggle, there was in the background of his thoughts a vision of an unmarked, flower-strewn grave in a quiet church-yard. Strongly intertwined with it was memory of his past life. But hark!
"Clockety-clack-clockety-clack!" It was the sound of horses' hoofs close by. The constable had discovered them at last. Big Pete heard the hoof-beats and knew he had paused too long.
"Death to ye!" he cried with an oath, and lodged a hammer-like blow on Kingdom's head, sending the lad staggering, while he swiftly took to his heels.
Dazed, but still conscious, Ree sprang after him, shouting "Come on!" to the party of horsemen now but a few rods distant, "Ellis has just this minute run into the woods!"
For an hour the men searched for the fugitive, but in vain. He had disappeared completely and in the deep darkness pervading the thickly-grown brush and trees of the forest he eluded his pursuers with ease.
In disappointment the chase was abandoned and attention given to capturing the escaped horses. This was at last accomplished, and as the early moon was waning, the constable and his volunteers turned homeward. One source of satisfaction was theirs—they had, at least, recovered the stolen team and wagon, though the latter would need many repairs before again being fit for service.
Ree briefly told of his adventure as the party rode along. John Jerome could not withhold his words of regret that his horse had been too slow for the race, nor could he quite understand how the stolen team had been able to outstrip the others.
"I'll tell you how that was," said the constable's brother. "The nags Big Pete had was really runnin' away. I guess you know how much faster a dog will run when he has a rattle tied to his tail, than when he's jest runnin' for the fun on it! Wall, this here's a parallel case."
Although it was nearly midnight, a small crowd of curious ones was found still lingering about Mr. Rice's store, anxious to learn all that had been done. Ree Kingdom received a large share of the praise for the return of the stolen horses. Captain Bowen was delighted over his behavior and would not listen to one word about the lost pistol.
"I'll drive over that way an' pick it up along the road somewheres in the mornin'," he said. "An' to-morrow night I want you to come an' try some o' the new cider. You come too, son," he added, turning to John.
The boys thanked him heartily, for well they might esteem it a great favor and an honor to receive this invitation from the warlike old veteran. Again they inquired for the latest news of Jim Huson, and learning that he was likely to recover, set out for their homes.
"I have a presentiment that we shall see Big Pete again," said Ree thoughtfully.
"Are you afraid of him?" John quietly asked.
"No, I am not afraid of him, yet I would rather we should never meet again. But I think he will go west and though it is a big country, we might find him there. By the way, John, Capt. Bowen is just the man to give us advice about our expedition. Meet me about sundown at the old place. We will have a lot to talk about as we are on the way to make our call."
A few minutes later the boys separated. John going to the overcrowded little house of his parents; Ree to the Henry Catesby farm, which was the only home he had known since childhood. As he crept into bed in his attic room, and stretched his full length restfully on the straw-filled tick, again there came to him a vision of an unmarked grave in the quiet burying-ground, bringing an influence of sadness to all his thoughts.
"Oh, mother, my memory of you is the dearest thing in life," he softly whispered to himself, and his mind turned fondly to his childhood. Faintly he remembered his father. More vividly he recalled the coming of a neighbor with the news of his father's death—killed by Gen. Howe's troops as they advanced on Philadelphia, after succeeding in defeating the American soldiers at Wilmington, because Gen. Washington was misled by false information.
Poor Ree! How well did he remember his mother's grief, though he was too young to understand—too care-free to grieve long or deeply himself. Many times he had heard the story in after days, how his father and two companions were fired upon as they were hurrying forward to give notice of the enemy's coming; and one of the three being wounded, his father would not leave him, though in trying to save him, his own life was sacrificed. It was the third man, who escaped, who spread the news of the bravery and death of the elder Return Kingdom.
Ree did not know how long a time had elapsed, but it seemed a very little while after this sad story reached his mother that she removed with him to a newer part of Connecticut, where she earned a living for them both by weaving and spinning. A happy year or two slipped by and then—ah, well, he remembered the dreary day when some neighbors had taken him to see her whom he loved so well, buried beneath the elm trees, and he knew he was left alone.
Memory of the bitter tears he shed came freshly to the boy as he recalled it all—how, in but a few days, he was "bound out" to Henry Catesby with the promise that he should have a home and want for nothing.
Had he been in want? Oh, he had been supplied with food and clothing and a roof over his head. Could he ask more? Yes, a thousand times, yes! He wanted friends, companionship, love. He remembered no one who had cared for him in those early days, except—Mary Catesby, his hard master's little daughter. And she was still but a child when she was told to have no association with the "bound boy;" learning of which, he had steeled his proud young heart and had spoken to her only when necessary.
So with work, day in and day out, save for a few winter weeks in school, the years had passed, until he made the acquaintance of John Jerome, the son of a distant neighbor. Too poverty-distressed to be proud, he had known little happiness except a sort of sad pleasure he found in visiting the church-yard, where in summer he placed great bunches of wild flowers on the mound to him most sacred.
For two years he and John had been intimate friends. The latter being sometimes employed by Mr. Catesby, gave the boys additional opportunities of being with one another. Late at night after a long, hard day in the harvest fields, they had gone swimming together. They had borrowed a gun, and John's money bought the ammunition they used in learning to shoot, to practice which they had risen before sunrise; for at Old Sol's first peep the day's work must be begun. Many a time they had labored all day, then tramped the woods all night, hunting 'coons, coming home in time only to catch a wink of sleep before jumping into their clothes and away to work again.
Sometimes in winter when, by reason of John helping him with his work, Ree was able to secure a half-day off, the boys had sought other game, and shared the profits arising from their hunting and trapping. What with the knowledge they thus picked up themselves, and the instruction given them by Peter Piper and others, there were no two boys in Connecticut better versed in woodcraft.
Ree thought of all these things as he lay awake looking out through his window at the stars in the western sky. And as his thoughts ran on, he reflected on the death of Mr. Catesby a short eight months ago, and the great change it had brought into his life. From the moment Mrs. Catesby had called him to go for the doctor when her husband was taken ill, she had depended on him in nearly everything. It was he who took charge of all the farm work of the spring and summer, and the neighbors had said the Catesby place never produced better crops. With scarcely a pause except on Sundays, he had toiled early and late to accomplish this. Only within the past few weeks when the rush of the harvest was over, had he allowed himself any time for recreation. Yet it had been a happy summer, he thought. Mrs. Catesby, appreciative of his splendid services, had been all kindness; Mary Catesby had been agreeable as his own sister might have been. Both had forgotten, or at least no longer observed, the bar of social inequality which Mr. Catesby had set up against the "bound boy."
Then in August had come Mrs. Catesby's decision to remove to the city that her daughter might have educational advantages. It was with genuine regret that Ree had learned her plans. He would never have admitted even to himself that he had, in a certain boyish, vague way, dreamed of a dim, distant time when he and Mary might be more than friends; but maybe some such thought had been in his mind at some time. Strange it would be had nothing of the kind occurred to him.
Thus as he lay awake still pondering on the past, the present and the future, in the depths of Ree's heart of hearts there may have been a wish that he should become a successful man, wealthy perhaps, well-to-do certainly; but in any event, looked up to and respected.
But, oh!—What obstacles confronted him! How could he ever be more than a rough, uneducated "bound boy" that he was! The subject was not a pleasant one, but he gave it most serious thought, and determined for the hundredth time, that, come what might, he would make the most of his opportunities and ever be able to hold up his head in any company.
So his reflections passed to the future. He was to receive $100 for his summer's work. He also had some money which he had secured in odd sums from time to time, safely put away in the chest beneath his bed.
John Jerome had a hoard of savings, too. How should they best invest their joint capital for their proposed journey to the western wilderness, where, they planned, they would make homes and secure farms for themselves amid savages and wild beasts! They must be obtaining this and other information at once. They would have learned much that very evening had not the man to whom they were going in quest of advice, been assaulted by Big Pete Ellis. And what of that burly giant, by the way?
"But this will never do. I must be getting to sleep," Ree said to himself.
Going to sleep just when one wishes, however, is not always easy. Ree found it the very opposite. Tired as he was, his mind went over the adventure of the night, and in a round-about way to his future home in the wilderness, again, before his eyes closed. At last dreams came to him, and in one of them he saw Big Pete waving a white handkerchief as a flag of truce. He could not make out for whom the sign of peace was meant; for a war party of Indians seemed to be hot on the giant's trail, and it was in the opposite direction that Pete waved the handkerchief.
Ree recalled the dream when pulling on his boots in the morning, and pondered over the possibility of its having some significance.
Many times during that day the young man had occasion to remember the incidents of the night preceding. Everyone he met, it seemed, had heard of his adventure with Big Pete and they all congratulated him. More than one, too, warned him against the giant Ellis, saying the fellow would surely seek revenge.
Ree gave but little heed to this talk. Big Pete had had the chance to kill him, or at least to attempt it, and had not done so, evidently wishing to avoid blood-shed. But Peter Piper came along during the afternoon with a story which he had heard in the adjacent village, that gave the boy some uneasiness. Big Pete had sent word by a farmer he had seen at daybreak, that he would return to his old haunts and that not a man would dare to touch him; that he would not be driven off, though he had killed both Jim Huson and Marvel Rice, and that those who had interfered with him would suffer for it.
"He's a braggart," said Ree contemptuously.
"Jes' what he says, he will do. He's bad, bad, bad," said Peter Piper in his simple, earnest way.
So Ree came to look upon the matter with much seriousness. Somehow it occurred to him that the giant might seek revenge by burning the barn or poisoning the horses, or some such cowardly thing—he knew not what. For himself he was not afraid, and it is not strange that in the wildest flights of his lively fancy he did not for a moment imagine under what startling circumstances he was destined to next behold the fugitive criminal.
The Beginning of a Perilous Journey.
"Hitch yer cheers up t' the blaze; it's a cool night fer September," said Captain Bowen, drawing his own splint-bottom chair toward the great fire-place of his homely but thoroughly comfortable home, and slowly sipping new cider, just old enough to sparkle, from the bright pewter mug containing it.
"An' help yerselves to some more cider, naow dew; I like a man to feel at home," he went on as Return Kingdom and John Jerome gave heed to his kindly bidding.
"Naow as I was a sayin'," Captain Bowen continued, "I r'ally kent advise yeu youngsters t' undertake these plans yer minds air set on. The Injuns hev hated us whites worse than ever sence the British turned their back to 'em after the war was over, an' comin' so soon after their hevin' helped the pestiferous Redcoats so much—they fit fer 'em tooth an' toe-nail as the sayin' is, ye know—as I was sayin' it rankles in their in'ards. General Washington—peace to him—he's did all he kin toward pacifyin' 'em, an' it ain't no wonder they call him the 'Great Father'; but so many other men hev cheated 'em, an' so many settlers air crowdin' into their huntin' graounds thet they air jist ready to lift the hair of any white man they catch sight on, a'most. Ye air takin' long chances, boys, I do tell ye."
"We want to hear both sides of the matter," Ree answered, and Captain Bowen resumed, saying in his own slow, homely but kindly way, that it was into the very thick of the savages that the boys were planning to go. He reminded them of the barbarous cruelties the Indians had practiced as allies of the King's troops in the war, and told them briefly the story of the battle Col. Crawford had fought with the savages in the Ohio country, ending with the burning of Col. Crawford at the stake.
He cautioned his young friends further of the hazardous nature of the journey through an unsettled country, a long part of the way lying over the Allegheny mountains. He told them of the cutthroats they would be likely to encounter—rough men, who, for adventure's sake, had gone into the war, and had never been satisfied to settle down to lives of peace and respectability after the close of the Revolution. As he paused at last, there was quiet for a minute or two. Then Return Kingdom said:
"We have thought of these things, Captain, and maybe we are head-strong, but we are bent on going. There is little future for a young man here. I will soon have no home, and John can well be spared from his. All we can do, if we do not emigrate and secure homes of our own, is to hire out as farm hands, and, as you know, labor is not greatly in demand. And as we have said, we expect to go among the Indians partly as traders. The land we shall settle upon, we expect to buy from them.
"Traders who have behaved themselves have not had much trouble, and we hope to make peace with every tribe we fall in with. The truth is, Captain, we really have more fear of finding ourselves in the woods with a lot of stuff we do not need, taking up the room in our cart and adding to our load, while that which we should have will not be within reach, than we have of trouble with the Indians."
"People say it will be only a few years until all the country about the Ohio river will be settled," put in John Jerome.
"Y-a-as, land agents say that," smiled Captain Bowen, "but I ain't so sure on it. Folks kin still find plenty of hardships right here in Connecticut 'thout pokin' off t' the Ohio Valley or the northwest kentry. But I tell you what, youngsters," he exclaimed with sudden enthusiasm, "I wish I was ten years younger, I'd go with ye, bless me if I wouldn't! They do bring tales of a marvelous kentry from the valley where my ol' friend General Putnam an' his colony settled!"
From that moment Ree and John had smooth sailing so far as getting advice and information from Captain Bowen was concerned. Then and there, however, the Captain had to tell them all he knew about the colony of brave men who had founded Marietta on the Ohio river, nearly three years earlier. "An' they do tell that game is thick there as fleas on a homeless, yaller dog," he said.
Though he knew that his wish that he might accompany the boys could never be gratified, Captain Bowen entered into the spirit of their plans and hopes with whole-souled ardor. He took great delight in telling the boys of his own youth and his adventures. He seemed to grow young again in their presence. Many times, too, he told them of sixteen-year-old Jervis Cutler, who, as a member of General Putnam's party, was the first to leap ashore and the first to cut down a tree in the new country whose settlement their enterprise had started.
Throughout, the boys found Captain Bowen's assistance of the greatest value. He went to town with them and helped them make their purchases, which he took into his own home, as a central point of assembling, the articles bought for the expedition, and helped to pack them in the handiest and most compact manner; and many a thing of value and use which he paid for with his own money, found its way at his hands into the outfit the lads were getting together.
The route of the journey Captain Bowen also aided the boys in planning, and his knowledge of the country stood them in excellent stead. He prepared maps for them—home-made affairs it is true, and not absolutely accurate, but yet worth much to those who planned to cross a thinly settled country to the wilderness beyond. It was by the way of Braddock's road that he advised the boys to go, following for the most part the course Gen. Putnam's party had taken after leaving Hartford in 1788. This party had made the trip in three months, including a long wait while boats were built in which to float down the Ohio river.
Captain Bowen figured that Ree and John could make better time and reach Fort Pitt (Pittsburg) before November first. There they could probably secure passage down the river without difficulty. In many other ways the genial old man lent his aid, and the boys never went to him that they did not find him brimming over with ideas for their benefit.
The news that Ree and John were going to the Ohio wilderness, and alone—soon spread through the surrounding country. Men who hitherto had scarcely noticed them, now came up to shake hands and advise the lads as to this or that, whenever they chanced to meet them. Others shook their heads gloomily and lost no opportunity to throw cold water on the project. The young people of the community talked more of Ree Kingdom and John Jerome going west than of anything else. There were envious ones who predicted that the boys would return a great deal faster than they went, or that they would not live to return at all. There were those of better dispositions, however, who, while recognizing the peril of the proposed venture, hoped and promised for the chums, all success.
It was with one of the former that John had an encounter which was talked about for weeks afterward. Jason Hard, the cobbler, a stocky Englishman, thirty years old perhaps, had been making slighting remarks about both John and Ree and their plans in the presence of a small company of men who were at the tavern awaiting the coming of the stage. As John approached the inn someone said:
"Now here's young Jerome himself, just say to his face what you were saying behind his back, Jason Hard!"
"I was sayin' that if his father wasn't shiftless, the young 'un wouldn't need to be leavin' 'ome, an' I say it again," ejaculated the cobbler, with arms akimbo, standing directly in front of John in an insolent manner.
"Look here! Take that back, you son of a Tory; my father has worked too hard to help his son get a start in life, for me to stand by and hear such talk! I say, take it back!" John bristled up like a porcupine.
The insolent Englishman sprang toward him as though to strike him, paused a moment, then suddenly let fly a blow straight for the boy's jaw. Most luckily John dodged in time, then with the agility of a cat he jumped toward the fellow and planted one fist just below his ear and the other squarely on his chin tumbling him to the ground.
Captain Bowen, who drove up just in time to see the encounter, was tickled amazingly. Others enjoyed the exhibition almost as much, and gave a cheer for the boy, while the badly bruised cobbler stood by rubbing his head, as though he wondered what had occurred.
Captain Bowen cautioned John against being too prone to take offense, especially as he would soon have Indians to deal with, but he secretly rejoiced in the lad's spunk. The Captain drove out of his way to take John home in his light wagon, while he was thus advising him.
The day of their separation was drawing quickly nearer, and John was spending as much time with his parents, brothers and sisters as he conveniently could. Often they urged him to abandon his preparations, but as it was with Return Kingdom that he was going, neither the father nor mother was willing to say he must not go. Both felt that he would be in good hands and in good company.
And Mrs. Catesby and Mary more than once, also, sought to dissuade Ree from emigrating. It was kind of them and their words of sympathy did Ree good, but he smiled at their fears and promised that he would return to assist in welcoming them home from the city, if they should be returning when Mary's education was completed.
How often Ree had cause to remember these promises so light-heartedly made, and the comforts he was leaving behind, within a few short months—when days of danger and sleepless nights of peril came!
There was so much to be done that time passed quickly. The Sunday preceding the Monday morning on which they were to start, Ree and John went to church together, and heard the good old preacher make special reference to them in his prayer—that God would guide and protect the young wayfarers and that they would not forget His mercy and wisdom. Every eye in the church was turned toward the boys, embarrassing them more than a little and making them wish they were safely started and well away from their excellent but altogether too curious friends.
Ree went home to dinner with John, and on his way to the Catesby farm in the evening he went across the fields to the quiet church-yard. Under the clear, cold stars he sat beside a grassy mound and for an hour was quiet as the grave itself. Many tender memories crept through his heart and in his thoughts was an unspoken prayer. Thus he took leave of the spot to him most sacred—his angel mother's grave.
To his surprise Ree found Mrs. Catesby and Mary waiting for him in the combined sitting-room and kitchen, when he entered the house.
"As you will be leaving so very early, sir, we thought to say good-bye to you to-night," said Mary with feigned solemnity. And a little later she said as they were talking, "I do hope you will be as good as your name and will bring your scalp safely home with you when you do 'return'."
Ree laughed and promised he would do so, but he blushed, and seeing which, Mary Catesby did the same, and looked her very prettiest.
"We shall think of you often, Return, and maybe you will be able sometimes to send us a letter. We shall be glad to hear from you, and oh, my boy, be careful—careful in all things," Mrs. Catesby said.
There were more teasing words from Mary, and more advice and real tears, from Mrs. Catesby and her daughter, too, before the final good-byes were said at last.
* * * * *
The late September sun spread a soft, warm haze over old Connecticut. A great, two-wheeled, canvas-covered cart lumbered slowly along the country road. Walking beside the one large horse which drew the vehicle, was Return Kingdom, his battered beaver hat on the back of his head, a smile of buoyant hope upon his lips. Sitting on a chest, his feet hanging over the front of the wagon box, his back against a bundle of blankets which made a fine cushion, was John Jerome. Joy in living and satisfaction with himself and all mankind were written in every line of his face. It was eight o'clock of a Monday morning. Two hours earlier the long journey toward the unknown Northwest had begun.
"Why, ye'r in a terrible hurry, youngsters! Thought I'd never ketch ye!"
It was Captain Bowen who called out, driving his spirited team alongside of the emigrant wagon as he did so.
"After ye'd gone, it come to me all of a sudden that ye'd stand a chance of meetin' an old friend of mine. He is an Iroquois Injun of the Mohawk tribe an' his name is High Horse. General Putnam gave him this knife fer doin' some thin' or other one time, an' High Horse gave it to me 'cause I shared powder an' bullets with him when he was out, an' durin' the war at that. Seems t' me naow, tew, that I pulled him through some sick spell or somethin'. Any haow he give me the knife. If ye see him tell him ye know me. I heerd that he was livin' up some crick emptyin' into the Ohio."
Almost before the boys could thank the Captain he had turned and was gone, having thrown a long-bladed knife with a curiously carved ivory handle—a relic of some Dutch trader perhaps—to Ree.
"I say! Maybe ye didn't hear as haow Jim Huson was able to git about t'day! Ye'll be hungry enough fer news I was thinkin', before ye air back agin!"
John waved his old cap and Ree shouted their thanks again, but if Captain Bowen heard he gave no heed; at least he did not look back.
At noon a halt was made at the roadside, close to a running brook, while the horse was fed and watered and the boys ate their lunch. They would not have exchanged places with a prince, now that they felt themselves fairly launched upon their long-talked-of enterprise. Their hopes were unblemished by any unhappy circumstance and the fine weather was as a tonic to their already lively spirits. They carefully examined their goods and wagon to see that all was in proper order before starting on, resolving to be attentive to every detail and let no mishap come to them through carelessness. On the road, too, they exercised care, remembering that a steady gait and not too fast, was necessary. And so the first day of their journey was passed most pleasantly.
For the novelty of it the boys camped out the first night, beneath a clump of beech trees, and no two young men ever more fully enjoyed a campfire's cheerful blaze.
Another and another day passed. It was in the afternoon of the fourth day of the journey that John stopped whistling "Yankee Doodle" to inquire of his companion who was taking his turn riding on the box:
"Ree, do you know much about this Eagle tavern where we are to stop to-night? I just happened to remember a story that was told in war time, that the house was haunted."
"Haunted by Redcoat spies, I guess," Ree answered. "The whole kit of them there at that time were the worst kind of Tories at heart, I have heard folks say, and Captain Bowen said something about it, too, you remember? But I guess they are all right now—got on the right side of the fence after the war was over."
"I don't mind Indians or wild animals—fact is, I'm just hankering to kill a bear, but I don't want anything to do with spooks or witches or anything of that sort," returned John. "I'll keep my eyes wide open for ghosts and robbers if we stay at the Eagle, at any rate."
"There is probably more reason to be afraid of bed-bugs," laughed Ree. "I don't believe the Eagle is so very bad a place or Captain Bowen would not have marked it as a stopping place. There was a man robbed and murdered there, it is true; but that was years ago, and needn't worry us."
So with talk of their journey and the progress they hoped to make in view of the necessity of reaching the wilderness before winter set in severely, the lads whiled away the time. It was nearly sundown when, passing through a woods which skirted both sides of the road, they found the Eagle tavern in view.
"See any spooks about?" asked Ree with a smile.
"No," said John quite seriously, "but I did see a mighty wicked looking man peeking out of the window of the barn across the road from the tavern there, just now. He seemed to be wanting to find out who we were and what sort of an outfit we had, without being seen by us. Without joking, Ree, I tell you I don't like it!"
The Man Under the Bed.
The Eagle tavern was a long, low structure and stood close beside the highway, on the opposite side of which was the weather-beaten log and frame barn to which John had referred. Near the tavern was a well and an old-fashioned sweep towering above it. At the roadside there was a moss-covered log trough at which horses were watered. An air of loneliness, such as is noticed about old, deserted houses, whose door-yards have grown up to rank weeds and briars, hung over the tavern, and the deep shadows cast by the setting sun heightened this effect. Little wonder is it that a feeling of depression came over the young travelers as they approached.
No other houses were near the tavern and guests were evidently few. The road which passed it was not a main thoroughfare, and no stage-coach made the Eagle a regular stopping-place. It may have been a handsome; much-frequented place at one time, but those days had long since departed.
Up to the watering-trough Ree drove, however, and unreined the horse, that it might drink.
"It does look kind of creepy around here," he remarked in an undertone; "but put on a bold front, John, we are going to stay, just to prove to ourselves that we are not afraid."
"I would a great deal rather camp out," John frankly confessed, "but you are the captain, Ree. I can stand it if you can."
A skulking fellow of about thirty years, none the handsomer for having lost nearly all his front teeth, came to help put up their horse when the boys had made their wants known inside the tavern. No unusual thing occurred, however, and the young travelers had shaken off the gloomy feelings which the lonely place inspired by the time their supper was ready. As they were by themselves at the table, a man whom Ree had not seen before approached and took a chair nearby, tilting back against the wall and calmly surveying them.
John kicked Ree's shins under the table. It was not, perhaps, a polite way of imparting the information that this was the fellow he had seen peering out of the barn, but Ree understood perfectly.
Having eyed the boys for a minute or two, the stranger said, in a gruff, indifferent tone:
"Good evening, sir," spoke Ree, and John's voice repeated the words like an echo.
"Traveled far?" growled the stranger.
"Far enough for one day," Ree answered, little inclined to engage in conversation with the man, for the fellow's appearance was far from favorable. The sneaking glance of his eyes, his unshaved face and uncouth dress, half civilized, half barbarian, gave him an air of lawlessness, though except for these things he might have been considered handsome.
For a minute the stranger did not speak, and John suppressed a laugh as he saw with what cool unconcern Ree returned the fellow's stare whenever he looked at them.
"Don't show off your smartness, bub," sharply spoke the man at last, as he fully comprehended that Ree had purposely given him an evasive answer, "I asked a civil enough question."
"And got a civil answer," Ree quickly replied.
"I see you are emigrating," the stranger went on, trying to make his coarse voice sound friendly. "I just had in mind puttin' a flea in your ear. Because it is the wrong time of year to be goin' west, in the first place, and the woods are full of Indians and the roads alive with cutthroats, in the second place. If I was you young shavers I'd sell out and wait a year or two, or till next spring anyhow, before goin' any further. I s'pose you have a lot of goods in your cart; goin' to do some tradin' with the Mingoes, maybe."
John pricked up his ears at this reference to the nature of their cart's contents, but waited for Ree to speak. This the latter did at once, respectfully but firmly.
"We are much obliged for your advice and the interest you take in us, but we expect to be able to take care of ourselves both on the road and in the woods. Aren't you the man we saw in the barn as we were coming up?"
The question was an experimental thrust. Ree wished to learn whether the fellow would give a reason for having spied upon them. The man looked at him searchingly before replying.
"I never clapped eyes on you till you come into this room," he coolly said, however. "What do you take me for? I was only goin' to tell you that I know a man that will buy your outfit if you want to sell!"
"Which we do not," said Ree with moderate emphasis.
"You would find a little ready money mighty handy; I don't s'pose you have any too much," the stranger replied with assumed carelessness.
"Say; tell us what you are trying to get at, will you!" John spoke up, with a show of spirit.
"Hold your horses, sonny!" the fellow growled. "You are almost too big for your breeches!"
"Well what do you take us for! Maybe you have some more questions to ask!" John exclaimed, and Ree smiled to see how heated he had become.
The stranger relapsed into silence, and presently arose and strolled away.
Having finished their supper, the boys went into the general sitting-room of the tavern, a long room in one end of which there was a bar, and sat down by themselves to talk. As their conversation flagged, Ree drew from his belt beneath his coat, the ivory handled knife Captain Bowen had been at such pains to give them. In an idle, listless way he began stropping the blade on his boot-leg.
A tall, lank man of fifty, with a thin, sharp face and nose, whom the lads had noticed sitting opposite them, reading a pamphlet of some kind, came nearer and seemed to take an unusual interest in the sharpening of the knife. His keen eyes watched every movement the blade made. Coming close up, he quietly said:
"If that ar ain't Cap. Bowen's knife over to Bruceville, he hes the mate to it! His'n is the only knife I ever see with a handle like that."
"Do you know Captain Bowen?" asked Ree, and as the man said he did, and told them who he was, both lads held out their hands which the newcomer shook cordially. It was like meeting someone from home; for the lanky individual was a peddler who had often visited at Captain Bowen's house and knew many of their friends.
As they talked further the peddler said, sinking his voice to an undertone, "I want yeow youngsters to hev some advice; it won't cost ye nothin', an' it may save ye a heap of trouble. There's a bad 'un stayin' at this old tavern, an' he's likely to want yeow boys to pay fer his rum. Naow, he won't ask ye fer money, but be all-fired keerful that he don't git it from ye anyhow. Jes sleep with one eye open, an' hev a hick'ry club handy t' yer bed."
Ree told the peddler of their conversation with the stranger at the table, and as he described the fellow, their new friend said:
"He ar the one, an' him an' the hos'ler here are bad 'uns."
As the hour grew late Ree and John went to the barn to see that their cart and horse had been properly cared for, and returning, went immediately to bed. For half an hour they lay awake talking of their journey. Their money was between them in the big four-poster and each had a pistol within reach. At last they said "Good night" to one another, and settling themselves in comfortable positions, composed themselves to sleep.
All had grown quiet about the old tavern. The ticking of the big clock down stairs, and the baying of a hound off in the woods somewhere, were the only sounds which reached the ears of the young emigrants. And thus they forgot their travels and where they were, and the danger which hovered near.
It was sometime after midnight when Ree was suddenly awakened. He had heard no sound, nor could he tell what had disturbed his slumber; but he had instantly found himself, eyes wide open, every sense alert. Without the slightest noise or movement he lay listening. A minute later he felt for just an instant the touch of something cold against his skin.
"A snake," was his first thought, and a little thrill of horror crossed him as the idea of a reptile being in their bed, flashed over his brain. Again he felt the touch, cold and clammy against his side; and, intending to grab the serpent, if such it was, and hurl it from the bed, with a quick movement of his arm he made a desperate grab. He caught and for but an instant held a human hand, large and coarse.
"John!" Ree spoke the name with startled emphasis, and its owner rose up in bed like a flash.
"What? What is it?"
"There is some one in this room! He has been reaching into the bed, trying to rob us."
As he spoke Ree sprang out upon the floor. "And here's the window open! That shows where he came in. Get your pistol and be ready to fire if he tries to jump out. I am going to skirmish for the rascal!"
Faint rays of moonlight made the room not entirely dark, but Ree could see no sign of the intruder as he stepped softly to the middle of the floor. It was a useless action; for, as he was between the three dark walls and the window in the outer wall, the robber could easily see him without being seen himself. It was a fault of Return Kingdom's that he did not properly consider his own safety, and the wonder is that he did not in this instance become the target for a bullet.
"I'd better yell for help," suggested John.
"You'd better not!" said Ree emphatically, peering into the dark corners. "I cannot be mistaken, but if I should be—well we don't care to be laughed at."
Not a sound was heard as both boys remained perfectly quiet. Then on tip-toe Ree went to all the corners of the room, his left hand outstretched before him while his right held a pistol ready for instant use.
"John, did you sneeze?" he demanded as a smothered "kerchoo" came from the direction of his friend.
"He's under the bed, Ree! He's under the bed! Call help!" This was John's answer and his tone was sharp with excitement.
In a trice Ree was at the foot of the bed and looking beneath it. A dark object there moved slightly.
"Come out of that!" Ree sternly demanded, and the click of his pistol as he cocked the weapon sounded loud and clear. At the same moment the object beneath the four-poster began to crawl and soon coming forth, stood erect—the stranger the boys had met at supper.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" ejaculated Ree with an inflection of contempt in his voice; but the next instant the intruder's hands were about his throat.
"Help! Help!" yelled John Jerome.
Finding the young man he had seized, a much harder problem than he was prepared to handle, and frightened by John's cries, the stranger gave Ree a shove and sprang toward the window.
"Help! Robbers!" yelled John again, and now the stranger had one leg out of the window. But he got no further. Ree seized him about the body; the robber seized him in turn, and his foot striking the ladder by which he had climbed up, it went tumbling to the ground. With a frightful oath the fellow endeavored to throw Ree after it. For a second they both balanced on the window sill at the very verge of falling. Then John seized the robber's hair, and dealt him a blow with the butt of his pistol. He raised the weapon to strike again, but Ree had now secured his release from the villain's grasp and fired at him just as the fellow plunged to the ground, leaving a bunch of his black hair quivering in John's hand.
The bullet took effect, for the boys found blood on the ground beneath the window next morning; but the robber dashed around a corner out of range at such speed that there was no opportunity to fire a second time.
A pounding on the door told the youthful travelers that the house had been aroused, and they lost no time in admitting the landlord, accompanied by the greatly excited peddler.
"What's all the row about?" demanded the tavern-keeper, holding a lighted candle over his shoulder.
"I want to investigate before I say what it is all about," Ree answered, emphasizing the "all."
"A pretty sort of a place, this is!" put in John indignantly. "We might have been murdered in our beds!"
"How can I help it, boy? Just you keep your breeches on!"
"I'll have to put them on first," John ejaculated, and forthwith proceeded to do so.
Ree took the landlord's candle and turned back the bed clothing. He found the leather wallet containing their money, undisturbed, but as he picked it up, he noticed a hole in the sheets and tick of the bed.
"Look, here," he exclaimed, "here is where the row you complain of, began. The man who has just gone out of the window, evidently crawled under the bed and having cut a hole through the tick, reached for our wallet. His cold hand on my bare skin waked me up. The question is, how did he know where the money was?"
"The skunk!" exclaimed the peddler, eyeing the tavern-keeper sharply.
"How should I know anything about it?" the landlord hotly responded. "I ain't responsible for there being robbers about, am I?"
Ree had joined John in the task of dressing, while the proprietor of the establishment sat on the bed, the least concerned of any, over what had taken place.
"Haow should yeow know anythin' about it?" cried the peddler suddenly turning toward the man. "Why, yeow ain't even asked who the thief was! Yeow wouldn't 'a come up stairs if I hadn't 'most dragged ye! It looks consarned strange, that's what I say! An' yeow settin' there like a stick, sayin', 'Haow kin I help it!'"
The landlord winced and squirmed, and was glad enough to hurry down stairs when Ree said authoritatively: "Now let's have no further talk about this matter, but get our breakfasts at once, if you please. It will soon be daylight."
"Ree Kingdom, you make me mad!" cried John Jerome, as the landlord disappeared. "Why didn't you let me crack that old villain on the head? If I didn't know that you are the only one here who has kept cool, I'd be mad in earnest. If any of our goods have been disturbed, I'll show the old Tory!"
Ree smiled at his friend's blustering tone, but the peddler slapped him on the back and told him he was a "reg-lar man-o'-war with flags a-flyin'."
The gray glimmer of dawn was in sight as the boys crossed the road to the barn and by the light of the tallow candle in the old-time lantern, inspected their cart and horse. All was secure. Recognizing his young masters by the fine instinct some animals have, Jerry, their horse, whinnied loudly, as though saying he was all right but ready to move as soon as convenient. Hay and grain were given the faithful animal, and the boys went in to their own breakfast.
The meal of potatoes and bacon was soon disposed of, the peddler sitting at the table with them. He was going in their direction for a mile or two and would accompany the lads, he said.
"We'll be glad to have you," Ree answered.
"Whatever Ree Kingdom says, I say—only he always gets the words out first," said John. "I am like the old trapper who came hurrying up to General Washington saying he could lick all the Redcoats on earth with one hand tied behind his back. But the war was all over then, though he did not know it, and so he didn't get a chance to try. He meant well, you see, but was a little behind hand."
"That's a pert yarn," smiled the peddler, "an' there ain't nobody gladder than I be tew see yeow so chipper; but I swan, lads, I only hope ye'll be as jolly as ye be naow, come six months—I only hope ye will be!"
A Mysterious Shot in the Darkness.
"I am going to keep my eyes open for that cut-throat that was under the bed. There's no telling what he might not do," said John with quiet determination, to Ree, when the peddler had left them and they were fairly under way for the journey of another day.
"I have thought of that," Ree answered, "and you see I have put the rifles where they will be handy. There is no use of carrying them, I guess, but the time is coming when they must always be within reach."
The peddler had accompanied the boys to a cross-roads a couple of miles from the Eagle tavern, enlivening them with many odd tales of his experiences. Now they were alone again, and as the country through which they passed became rougher and wilder, the lads realized more fully than ever that theirs was a serious undertaking.
Yet they were happy. The trees were putting on bright colors; the air was fragrant with the odor of autumn vegetation. The water in every stream they crossed was fresh and clear, and fall rains had made green the woodland clearings. Quail called musically from time to time, and once the "Kee-kee-keow-kee-kee" of a wild turkey was heard.
At noon, beside a dashing brook which tumbled itself over a stony bed as though in glee with its own noisiness, the travelers halted. They unhitched Jerry that he might graze, and kindled a fire to boil some eggs. These with brown bread, a generous supply of which Mrs. Catesby had given them, and ginger cake which Mary Catesby had announced she had made with her own hands, made a meal which anyone might have relished. To the boys, their appetites sharpened by the fine air, every morsel they put between their lips seemed delicious.
"We won't long have such fare," they reminded one another.
"We will have venison three times a day though," said John.
"Yes, we will have so much meat we will be good and tired of it; because we must be saving of our meal this winter, and until our own corn grows," Ree answered thoughtfully.
"Well, don't be so melancholy about it, Old Sobersides," cried John. "Why, for my part, I could just yell for the joy of it when I think how snug we will be in our cabin this winter! And what a fine time we are going to have choosing a location and building our log house!"
"That, as I have so often said," Ree answered, "is the one thing about our whole venture that I do not like. We will be 'squatters.' We won't own the land we settle upon except that we shall have bought it of the Indians; and that is a deed which the government will not recognize. But we will have to take our chances of making our title good when the time comes, though we may have to pay a second time to the men or company, or whoever secures from the government the territory where we shall be. Or we might settle near enough to General Putnam's colony to be able to buy land of them. We must wait and see what is best to do."
"Ree," said John, earnestly, "I know you are right; you always are. But I don't like to think of those things—only of the hunting and trapping and fixing up our place, and eating wild turkey and other good things before our big fire-place in winter—and all that. You see we will have to sort of balance each other. You furnish the brains, and I'll do the work."
"Oh that sounds grand, but—" Ree laughed and left the sentence unfinished.
When, by the sun, their only time-piece, the boys judged they had been an hour and a half in camp, they resumed their journey. They had secured so early a start that morning, that they had no doubt they would reach the Three Corners, the next stopping-place designated on Captain Bowen's map, before night; and indeed it lacked a half hour of sundown when they drove up to the homely but pleasant tavern at that point. It was so different a place from the Eagle tavern that the boys had no fear when they went to bed, that the unpleasant experience of the night before would be repeated.
Several days followed unmarked by any special incident, except that the lads were delayed and a part of their goods badly shaken up by their cart upsetting into a little gully. Fortunately, however, little damage was done.
At the end of two weeks so thinly settled a country had been reached that nearly every night was spent in camp. Yet these were not disagreeable nor was there much danger. Only one man who answered the general description of a "cut-throat" had been seen, and he seemed inclined to make little trouble. He rode out on a jet black horse from a barn, near which a house had at one time stood, its site still marked by charred logs and a chimney. Perhaps it had been burned in the war-time; at any rate the place had a forsaken, disagreeable appearance, and the rough-looking stranger emerging suddenly from the barn, put the young emigrants on their guard at once.
For two hours the man rode in company with the boys, and finding out who they were, proposed to spend the night with them. Ree would have permitted it, but by his actions John so plainly gave the fellow to understand what he thought of him, that the stranger at last rode back in the direction he had come, cursing John for the opinions which the latter had expressed. The boys slept with "one eye open" that night.
Daily the road became worse and worse. For great distances it was bordered on both sides by forests and the country was rough and broken. There were wild animals and, undoubtedly, Indians not far away, but the settlements were yet too near for the young travelers to have much fear. So when their camp fire had burned low in the evening, they piled on large sticks of wood, put their feet to the blaze, and, wrapped in their blankets, slept splendidly. One night when it rained—and the water came down in torrents—they made their bed inside the cart; but if the weather was pleasant they preferred to be beside the glowing coals.
An adventure which had an important bearing on the future, befell the boys early in the fourth week of their travels. They had resolved to be saving of their ammunition, and wasted no powder in killing game for which they had no use, though they twice saw wild turkeys and once a bear, as they left civilization farther and farther behind. But when provisions from home began to run low, it happened, as so often it does, that when they felt the need of game to replenish their larder they chanced upon scarcely any.
"One of us must go through the woods, keeping in line with the road, and shoot something or other this afternoon," said Ree, at dinner one day. "The other will not be far away when he returns to the road again."
"Which?" John smiled.
"I don't care. You go this time and I will try my luck another day," Ree answered. "Get a couple of turkeys, if you can, old boy; or, if you can get a deer, the weather is cool and the meat will keep."
So John set off, planning to work his way into the woods gradually and then follow the general direction of the road and come out upon it sometime before sun-set. He waved his hand to Ree, a smile on his happy freckled face as he disappeared amid the timber.
Slowly old Jerry plodded on; slowly the miles slipped to the rear; slowly the time passed. Ree thought of many things during the afternoon and planned how he and John should spend the winter hunting and trapping and secure, he hoped, a large quantity of furs. Two chests they had were filled with goods for trade with the Indians, also, and they would receive skins in return. These would add greatly to the store they themselves accumulated, and they should realize a considerable sum when they came to market them. Ree hoped so. It was no part of his plan to go into the forest fastnesses merely to hunt and trap and lead a rough life. No, indeed! He wished to make a home, to grow up with the country and "be somebody."
Lower and lower the sun sank behind the darkness of the trees which seemed to rise skyward in the western horizon, and as the early October twilight approached, Ree began to watch for John's coming. He had listened from time to time but had heard no gun discharged, and he laughed to himself as he thought what John's chagrin would be if he were obliged to come into camp empty-handed. And when Old Sol, slipped out of sight and his chum had not appeared, he inwardly commented: "You went farther into the woods than was good for you, my boy! I suspect I have already left you a good ways behind."
So he drove to a little knoll beneath an old oak, and unhitched. He kindled a fire, then busied himself straightening up some of the boxes and bundles which had slipped from position during the day, often stopping to look back along the trail in hope of seeing John; and when the darkness had become so dense he could see but a few rods from the camp-fire and still his chum was missing, alarm invaded Ree's thoughts. He could not imagine what detained the boy. But he toasted some bread and broiled some bacon for his supper.
A sense of loneliness over his solitary meal added to Ree's anxiety, because of John's non-appearance, and presently he walked back along the road a considerable distance, whistling the call they had adopted years before. The darkness gave every object an unnatural, lifelike look; bushes and tree trunks assumed fantastic shapes. No human habitation was within miles of the spot, and as the echoes of the whistling died away and no answer came, Ree was almost frightened. Not for himself but on John's account was he conscious of a gloomy foreboding in all his thoughts. What should he do if the boy had fallen a victim of some bear, perhaps, or lawless men.
Slowly he retraced his steps to the campfire's light. Weighing the whole question carefully, however, as to whether he had not better go in search of his friend, he decided he could do no wiser thing than to remain where he was until daylight; then if John had not arrived, he would set out to find him.
Piling more wood on the fire that the light might help to guide John to camp, the lonely boy wrapped a blanket about his shoulders and sat down, resolved to remain awake to watch and listen. He heard only the soughing wind and old Jerry nibbling the short grass nearby, and the hooting of an owl in the forest gloom. Thus an hour passed, and then suddenly a sound of soft footsteps broke upon the boy's ear. Was it John slipping up stealthily to try to scare him? Ree thought it was, but in another instant he detected the foot-falls of more than one person, and sprang to his feet.
"How!" The word was spoken in a deep guttural tone almost before Ree had time to face about. At the same moment he saw two Indians stalking toward him.
"Howdy!" Ree promptly answered, though filled with misgiving; for at a glance he saw that the savages were fully armed. One was of middle age, tall and stately as a king. The other was much younger. As they came within reach Ree held out his hand, but the Indian either did not see or refused to accept the proffered greeting.
Nevertheless Ree spread a blanket near the fire and asked the savages to sit down. They made no reply. The older of them looked at him intently and gazed around in evident surprise to see the lad alone. The younger stepped around the fire and looked inquiringly into the cart.
"I am just a trader," said Ree, with an open frankness in his tones which even a savage must have appreciated. "There are two of us, but my partner went hunting and has not yet come back. Sit down, brothers; I have no fresh meat to offer you, but my friend will soon return with some, I hope."
The elder Indian seated himself saying: "White men steal, Indians no steal."
"There are good Indians and good white men," answered Ree, but he was keeping an eye on the younger savage, who seemed to have found something in the cart which interested him, for he slyly put his hand inside.
"Oh, do be seated!" Ree exclaimed as he noticed this. There was irony in his voice which made the older Indian shrug his shoulders, but the young white man led the Indian brave, a chap but little older than himself, away from the cart. With some force he drew the buck to a blanket and motioned to him to sit down.
Appearing to give the matter no further thought, Ree placed bacon before the Indians saying simply "Eat." They drew out their knives and cut and broiled each a slice of the meat. This they ate, and it was rather remarkable that they did so, for Ree well knew that the Redskins had no relish for food which had been freely salted. He therefore judged their eating to be a sign of friendliness, and seated himself quietly by the fire.
"White man go far—goes to Ohio? Yes—long way—far—far. Snow comes; hurry fast," said the older Indian.
"Yes," said Ree, guessing at the speaker's meaning. "We have a long way to go, and must be in our cabin before deep snow comes."
"Delaware country—much game," the Indian was saying, Ree having told him whither they were bound, when suddenly a rifle cracked behind them and a bullet whistled past Ree's ear. The young Indian at the opposite side of the fire, gasped and fell backward.
Seizing his rifle, Ree instantly sprang away from the firelight. The elder redskin did likewise and just as quickly.
Who could have fired the shot? Ree trembled with dread that it had been John. All was quiet save for the night wind rustling the leaves and branches overhead. There came no sound to indicate whose hand had sped the bullet from out of the forest gloom.
A minute passed. It seemed like ten, to Return Kingdom, and, forgetting prudence, he stepped from behind the cart's protection, full into the campfire's ruddy glow, making of himself an easy target. He bent over the wounded Indian and found the blood flowing from a wound in the young brave's neck. Quickly he tied his handkerchief about the injury, then bathed the fellow's forehead and temples with water from the bucket he had filled at supper time. The older Indian crept up to watch this operation, but did not come fully within the lighted circle.
"Who fired that shot, my friend?" Ree asked, very earnestly.
"White men steal," the Indian answered, and shook his head.
It was evident then that the savage suspected some white person of having made this attack with intent to commit robbery. Ree hoped this was the truth of the matter but there was a terrible suspicion growing in his mind that his own friend and partner, through some awful mistake, had fired upon the Indian. He drew the wounded man to the rear of the cart and placed him on a blanket beyond the campfire's light. The other savage made no move to help him, but crouched in the darkness intently listening, watching.
Of a sudden the Indian's rifle flew like a flash to his shoulder. At the same instant Ree heard John Jerome's familiar whistle, and springing forward, seized the red man's weapon in time to prevent the speeding of a leaden messenger of death to his friend's heart. He answered John's call as he did this, praying and hoping that it could not—must not, have been his friend who had fired the shot which would probably end the younger Indian's life.
On Lonely Mountain Roads.
"What's happened, Ree?"
The tone in which John asked the question, satisfied Kingdom that his friend knew nothing of the shooting. Better than this, however, it satisfied the Indian who knelt silently nearby, still listening, that the boy he had so nearly shot, knew nothing of the person who had fired from the darkness.
Quietly, but in tones the Indian could hear, Ree related what he knew of the mysterious occurrence.
"Who could it have been, Chief!" John asked, turning to the Redskin and addressing him with the easy familiarity he used toward every one.
The Indian shook his head. "Paleface," he grunted at last; "no tried to kill Indian; tried to kill white brother there. Black Eagle thinks long and knows how bullet flew. Man-that-shoots-from-the-dark wishes much to steal."
Black Eagle's theory was far from satisfying Ree, but the Indian's manner persuaded the boy that the redskin at least knew nothing of the attack himself. Yet both boys knew the necessity of keeping a sharp eye turned in all directions. They could not tell positively as yet whether the Indians were friends or foes, nor at what moment an attack might be made by a hidden enemy.
"What kept you, John? I was worried," Ree said in an undertone, yet taking care that Black Eagle should hear, lest the savage should suspect him of plotting. But before John could answer, the red man, bending low, darted away in the darkness.
"What's the old chap up to?" asked John, startled by the Indian's sudden movement.
"I think he is only scouting around to see what he can discover; but keep your eyes and ears open, it has been mighty ticklish around here to-night."
As they watched and listened, John told of his afternoon's experience. He had gone a long way into the woods without seeing any such game as he wished, and had about decided to content himself with some squirrels, and return to the road, when he came upon a deer-lick—a pool of salt or brackish water, in a flat, level place, to which deer and other animals came to drink, or to lick the earth at the water's edge to satisfy the craving which all animals have for salt. As it was then nearly sundown he determined to hide nearby, confident he would get a shot at a deer as soon as darkness came. Concealing himself in some brush at the north side of the lick, the wind being from the south, he waited.
Scarcely had the sun set when a fine young doe approached the brackish pool. One shot from his rifle brought the pretty animal down, and in a few more minutes he had secured the skin and best portions of the meat. Slinging these over his shoulder, he set out to find the road and Ree's camp-fire. But he had been careless in keeping his bearings, and walked a long way in the wrong direction. When he did find the road at last, he knew not which way to go to find the camp. He secured a light, however, by flashing powder in his gun, and thus found the tracks of old Jerry and the cart. He then knew which way to go, but traveled a couple of miles before coming within sight of the camp-fire.
He heard a rifle shot but paid little attention to it, and saw nothing of any prowler, though he came up in the direction from which the mysterious attack was made. When Ree called to him, he had dropped the venison and it still lay at the roadside a hundred yards from camp.
"We must have an understanding with one another that when either of us leaves camp, he shall return at a given time unless something happens to prevent it," said Ree; "then the other will know that something has happened and can act accordingly. I was probably not more than a mile away when you found that deer-lick. If you had let me know, it would have saved a lot of worry on my part. Why, I was just on the point of going in search of you. And as it was, old boy, you whistled just in time. That Indian heard you coming before I did, and a little more—"
"And he would have sent me to Kingdom come," said John, finishing the sentence, very soberly. "Your watchfulness saved me, and I can't—"
"You better get your venison into camp," Ree whispered, interrupting John's thanks, "I'll crawl over and see how that young Indian's getting along—poor chap."
The wounded Redskin was conscious as Ree bent over him.
"Don't speak if it will hurt you, but if you can, tell me who fired that shot at you," Ree urged.
"Black Eagle come soon," was the buck's only answer; and indeed it was but a few minutes until the other Indian returned. Ree met him and inquired calmly. "What luck, Black Eagle?"
"Gone. Paleface robber gone."
"Who was it? Where has he gone?"
"Gone," the savage repeated.
"Turn in and get some sleep, John; Black Eagle and I will watch a while," said Ree.
"Gone," growled the Indian with gruff dignity; and wrapped himself in a blanket and was soon asleep.
John likewise lay down, but Ree, resolving to exercise every care, remained awake through the whole night. Twice John awoke and wanted to take a turn at guard duty but each time he was told to go back and "Cover up his head." Reluctantly he did so. He felt that he would do anything in his power for Ree Kingdom, but he was far from guessing what Fate had in store for him to do in his friend's behalf before they should see Connecticut again.
With the first light of morning Ree went reconnoitering hoping to find the trail of the young Indian's mysterious assailant. Scarcely had he started when Black Eagle joined him, and in the road three hundred paces from the camp they came upon the trail together. A single man had approached the camp on foot—a white man it was certain, for he wore boots—and from behind a thick thorn bush had fired the shot. Then the trail led back along the road, but soon disappeared in the woods.
"If North Wind die, scalp will hang here," said Black Eagle, pointing to his belt. "Black Eagle follows trail long—even many moons, but he will get the paleface scalp."
What to do Ree did not quite know. He disliked to lose time in helping the Indian to find the man who had shot his son, yet disliked to leave the wounded North Wind without doing something for him.
"White brothers go far; go now," said Black Eagle as they returned to the camp. "Go long way off and never mind. North Wind stays with Black Eagle," the Indian added.
Ree made no objection to this arrangement. Reaching camp they found that John had some venison steaks ready. The young Indian arose and greeted Ree by silently shaking his hand. It was plain to be seen that he was suffering greatly, but he said nothing and when the breakfast was ready he tried to eat.
Thankful that the night of watching was past, Ree and John prepared to pursue their journey. They watered Jerry at the little brook hard by and hitched him to the cart. When they were ready, Ree took a knife from their stock of goods and gave it to Black Eagle, who with North Wind stood looking on, saying:
"Maybe we will never meet again, but here is a present which we wish you to keep. We do not know the enemy who fired upon us, but we were in danger together and whether it was your foe or ours, who attacked us, we would have fought together. Good-bye."
"We journey to the fires of the Mohawks," Black Eagle answered. "North Wind now goes forward but Black Eagle, his father, follows the trail of snake which shoots from the dark."
As he spoke the Indian turned and strode away. North Wind followed, Ree's handkerchief still about his neck. He was really too sick to travel, but it is a severe wound, indeed, which makes an Indian unable to move when necessity demands it.
For a moment the young travelers looked after the red men; then a word to their horse and they were once more upon their way.
It was a glorious morning. Particles of frost glistened on the leaves and grass and in the road; a light wind set the trees and brushes rustling, a rabbit went bouncing across the path, and still neither boy spoke as they tramped along beside the cart, Ree in advance, driving.
"Who fired that shot?" John asked at last, as though speaking to himself.
"May as well ask old Jerry, or the wind," Ree answered. "The same question has been on my mind so long I am trying to think of something else."
"But I can't help wondering," John persisted, "if it could have been the lone horseman we saw the other day. Could it have been Big Pete Ellis, trying to kill you, Ree? I have been expecting to meet that fellow."
"We must keep our eyes about us," was the only reply.
Several days passed and the mystery of the shot from the darkness was still unsolved. The boys had now reached the mountainous country and the nights were often cold. The days, too, gave promise of winter's coming, and had it not been that they were hopeful of Indian summer weather in November the young travelers would have been discouraged. Their progress had not been so rapid as they had planned. The roads were too bad to permit fast traveling. In many places they were little better than paths through the woods, and though there were stretches of smoother going, occasionally, there were other spots in which fallen trees or other obstructions blocked the way.
Old Jerry stood the strain of the journey well, and that was certainly a consolation; for some of their friends back in Connecticut had told the boys they had better stay at home, than attempt to make the trip with only one horse. Often, too, it was the case that the lads drove far out of their course to pass around great obstacles, and they eventually found that they had gone miles out of their true course. Many were the hardships they encountered, and one adventure which they had must be related here.
For days at a time no human being was met on those lonely mountain trails and it was this fact which gave rise to much uneasiness when John one day, for just a moment caught sight of a rough-appearing fellow in their rear. He had gone back along the road to search for a bolt which was lost from the cart box, when he chanced to look up and saw the strange fellow a quarter of a mile away, coming toward him. The man raised his rifle and sprang in among some trees as he caught sight of John, his movement being so quick that the boy did not get a good look at him, and neither in going on beyond the spot where the fellow had been, nor in returning after he had found the lost bolt, did John see him again.
"We must be on the watch-out constantly," said Ree when told of the incident. "I would have thought nothing of it, but for the man's desire to hide."
"That is what I can't understand," said John, and as he thought the matter over it added to a downcast feeling which had seized upon him. It was by his looks more than by words that he betrayed his low-spirited condition, then, and at other times, as day after day nothing save the trees, great rocks and wooded hills and frowning mountain sides were seen.
On the other hand, Ree's quiet disposition seemed almost to disappear in the face of hardships and difficult obstacles. If the cart broke down he whistled "Yankee Doodle," while he managed to mend it. If the road was especially rough and their progress most unpleasantly slow, he was certain to sing. Even Jerry could not fail to catch the spirit of his cheerfulness no matter what bad luck they had, and from looking glum, John would change to light-heartedness every time. Ree's smile was a never failing remedy for his blues.
"Time enough to be blue and all put out when you have utterly failed," Ree exclaimed one day. "And if you only make up your mind to it, it is the simplest thing in the world not to fail. If I were the general of an army, I wouldn't own up that I was whipped as long as I had a breath left. Now just suppose that Washington had given up at Valley Forge!"
"Well, I want to say that the chap who starts out west thinking he is going on a frolic, will be mighty badly fooled," John answered. "I am learning, but it is like the Indian who believed powder didn't amount to much unless it was in a gun; so he filled his pipe with it. He learned a heap."
"Ho, ho, pardners both!"
The voice came so suddenly to the young travelers, they started and looked around questioningly. With a flying leap from some brush which bordered the road, came an odd looking woodsman.
"Lift my ha'r if ye ain't the nearest bein' kittens of anythin' I've clapped my old goggles on in the emygrant line in all my born days!" Putting his hands to his sides the stranger laughed uproariously.
"Oh, it's funny, ain't it!" exclaimed John Jerome, witheringly.
"Age is not always a sign of wisdom," said Ree Kingdom in much the same tone.
"Right ye be, lad; right ye be," said the woodsman, quieting himself. "But I swan I'm that glad to see ye so young an' bloomin', both, that it jes does me old eyes good. Where ye bound fer, anyhow?"
The speaker was tall and rugged, his age probably fifty years. A grizzled beard clustered round his face and his unkempt hair hung almost to his shoulders. On his head was a ragged coon-skin cap. All his dress was made of skin or furs, in the crudest frontier fashion. He was not a disagreeable appearing person, nevertheless, for his eyes twinkled merrily as a boy's. Each in his own way, Ree and John noted these facts.
"I might say that we are going till we stop and that we came from where we started," said John in answer to the stranger's inquiry.
"What a peart kitten ye be!" smiled the man, looking at him quizzically.
"To be honest with you, we are going to the Ohio country," said Ree Kingdom, satisfied that the stranger wished to be friendly.
"Ye've got spunk, I swan!" the fellow exclaimed. "Don't let me be keepin' ye though; drive along, we kin swap talk as we're movin'."
"How far do you call it to old Fort Pitt?" asked Ree.
"Well, it ain't so fer as a bird kin fly, an' its ferder than ye want to walk in a day. If ye have good luck ye'll come on to Braddock's road afore supper time, an' if ye don't have good luck, there's no tellin' when ye'll get thar. It want such a great ways from here that Braddock had his bad luck. If he hadn't had it—if he'd done as George Washington wanted him to, he'd 'a' got along like grease on a hot skillet, same as you youngsters."
"Hear that John? We will make Fort Pitt in a day or two," cried Ree.
"Yaas, it was forty odd years ago that Braddock had his bad luck when he bumped into a lot of Injuns in ambush. I was jest a chunk of a boy then, but I've hearn tell on it, many's the time, by my old gran'sire who learned me how to shoot. I was a reg'lar wonder with a gun when I was your age, kittens. I've picked up some since then though! See the knot-hole in that beech way over yonder? Waal, I'm going to put a bullet in the middle of it."
Taking aim, the stranger fired. "Ye'll find the bullet squar' in the center," he said, in a boastful way.
"Shucks!" exclaimed John, who was often too outspoken for his own good. He raised his rifle and fired. "There's another bullet right beside your own, mister," he said.
"Well I swan! So there is!" called out the woodsman in great surprise. "But I'll bet a coon-skin my tother kitten can't do the like."
Like a flash Ree's rifle flew to his shoulder and he seemed to take no aim whatever; yet the bullet flew true. But just an instant after he fired the crack of another rifle sounded behind him. A leaden ball shrieked close to his head and a lock of his hair fell fluttering to the ground.
On Into the Wilderness.
Great as the shock of the sudden attack and his narrow escape was, Ree gave only a little yell of surprise and anger, and ran in the direction from which the shot had come, drawing his pistol as he went. He found no one. Though utterly regardless of the danger he might be in by thus exposing himself, he made a careful search.