Camp-fire and WigwamByEdward Sylvester Ellis
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Camp-fire and Wigwam
Edward Sylvester Ellis
CHAPTER I. AT HOME.
CHAPTER II. A DOUBTFUL ENTERPRISE.
CHAPTER III. WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED.
CHAPTER IV. CAPTORS AND CAPTIVES.
CHAPTER V. JOURNEYING SOUTHWARD.
CHAPTER VI. AN INVOLUNTARY BATH.
CHAPTER VII. TWO VISITORS.
CHAPTER VIII. A SURPRISE.
CHAPTER IX. BY THE CAMP-FIRE.
CHAPTER X. WAITING AND HOPING.
CHAPTER XI. THROUGH THE FOREST.
CHAPTER XII. THE SIGNAL FIRES.
CHAPTER XIII. THE INDIAN VILLAGE.
CHAPTER XIV. ON THE MOUNTAIN CREST.
CHAPTER XV. THE RETURN AND DEPARTURE.
CHAPTER XVI. A PERPLEXING QUESTION.
CHAPTER XVII. TWO ACQUAINTANCES AND FRIENDS.
CHAPTER XVIII. THE TRAPPERS.
CHAPTER XIX. DEERFOOT'S WOODCRAFT.
CHAPTER XX. SAUK AND SHAWANOE.
CHAPTER XXI. CHRISTIAN AND PAGAN.
CHAPTER XXII. AN ABORIGINAL SERMON.
CHAPTER XXIII. IN THE LODGE OF OGALLAH.
CHAPTER XXIV. A ROW.
CHAPTER XXV. THE WAR FEAST.
CHAPTER XXVI. AN ALARMING DISCOVERY.
CHAPTER XXVII. "GAH-HAW-GE."
CHAPTER XXVIII. A PATIENT OF THE MEDICINE MAN.
CHAPTER XXIX. CONVALESCENCE.
CHAPTER XXX. OUT IN THE WORLD.
CHAPTER XXXI. JOURNEYING EASTWARD.
CHAPTER XXXII. A MISCALCULATION.
CHAPTER XXXIII. CONCLUSION.
Jack's Wrestling Bout with the Young Indian.
On the evening of a dismal, rainy day in spring, a mother and her son were sitting in their log-cabin home in the southern portion of the present State of Missouri. The settlement bore the name of Martinsville, in honor of the leader of the little party of pioneers who had left Kentucky some months before, and, crossing the Mississippi, located in that portion of the vast territory known at that time as Louisiana.
There were precisely twenty cabins, all of which had been constructed with a view to rugged strength, durability, and comfort. Lusty arms had felled the trees, that were cut the proper length and dovetailed in the usual manner at the corners, the crevices being filled with a species of plaster, made almost entirely from yellow clay. The interiors were generally divided into two apartments, with a broad fireplace and the rude furniture of the border. Colonel Martin himself, with the assistance of his two full-grown sons, erected a more pretentious dwelling with two stories and a loft, but the other houses, as has already been stated, were of such a simple and familiar character that the American reader needs no further description.
Mrs. Carleton was a widow, whose husband had been slain by Indians in Kentucky some time previous, and who, in the daily requirement of her duties, and in her great love for her only child, Jack, found some relief from the dreadful sorrow that overshadowed her life. Kind neighbors had lent willing hands, and her home was as well made as any in the settlement. Jack and his companion, Otto Relstaub, had arrived only a couple of days before, and each had wrought so hard in his respective household that they had scarcely found time to speak to or see each other.
The evening meal had been eaten, the things cleared away, and wood heaped upon the fire which filled the little room with cheerful illumination. The mother was seated at one side, the silent spinning-wheel just beyond, while her deft fingers were busy with her knitting. Jack was half reclining on a rude bench opposite, recounting, in his boyish fashion, the adventures of himself and Otto on their memorable journey, which has been fully told in the "Lost Trail."
The good mother possessed an education beyond the ordinary, and, knowing its great value, insisted upon her son improving his spare moments in study. Jack was well informed for his years, for no one could have been blessed with a better teacher, counselor, and friend, than he was. Even now, when we reintroduce him to the reader, he held an old-fashioned spelling-book in his hand. He had tried to give his attention to his lesson, but, boy-like, his mind persisted in wandering, and his mother, looking fondly across the fire, was so pleased to hear him chat and to ask and answer questions, that she could not find it in her heart to chide him.
"You have never seen Deerfoot, have you, mother?" he asked, abruptly breaking in on his own narrative.
"Yes, I have seen him; he saved the life of your father."
"What!" exclaimed Jack, straightening up and staring at his parent in open-mouthed amazement: "I never heard of that before."
"Didn't Deerfoot tell you?"
"He never hinted anything of the kind. He once asked me about father's death and about you, but I thought it was only a natural interest he felt on my account. But tell me how it was, mother."
"Some months before your father's death, he was absent a couple of days on a hunt to the south of our home. He kindled a camp-fire in a deep valley, where the undergrowth was so dense that he felt sure of being safe against discovery. The night was very cold, and snow was flying in the air. Besides that, he had eaten nothing all day, and was anxious to broil a wild turkey he had shot just as it began to grow dark. He started the fire, ate his supper, and was in the act of lying down for the night, when a young Indian walked out from the woods, saying in the best of English that he was his friend. Your father told me that he was the most graceful and handsome youth he had ever looked upon——"
"That was Deerfoot!" exclaimed the delighted Jack.
"There can be no doubt of it, for he told your father that such was his English name. I forget what his own people called him. Well, he said to your father, in the most quiet manner, that a party of Shawanoes were very near him. They had heard the report of his rifle, and, suspecting what it meant, were carefully arranging to capture him for the purpose of torture. Deerfoot had seen them, and, having also heard the gun, learned what was going on. If your father had stayed where he was five minutes longer, nothing could have saved him. I need not tell you that he did not stay. Under the guidance of Deerfoot he managed to extricate himself from his peril, and, by traveling the entire night, was beyond all danger when the sun rose again. Deerfoot did not leave him until certain he had no cause for fear. Then, when your father turned to thank him, he was gone. He had departed as silently as a shadow."
"That was just like Deerfoot!" exclaimed Jack, with kindling eye; "it seems to me he is like Washington. Though he has been in any number of dangers, I don't believe he has so much as a scar on his little finger. He has been fired upon I don't know how often, but, like Washington, he carries a charmed life."
The serious mother shook her head, and, looking over her knitting at her boy, made answer:
"Such a thing is unknown in this world; more than likely he will fall by the knife or bullet of an enemy."
"I suppose he is liable to be shot, like any one else; but the Indian that does it has got to be mighty smart to get ahead of him. Plenty of them have tried it with knife and tomahawk, but they never lived to try it on any one else. But that ain't the most wonderful part of it," added Jack, shaking his head and gesticulating in his excitement with both arms; "Deerfoot knows a good deal more about books than I do."
"That does not imply that he possesses any remarkable education," said the mother, with a quiet smile.
The boy flushed, and sinking back said:
"I know I ain't the best-educated fellow in the settlement, but who ever heard of a young Indian knowing how to read and write? Why, that fellow can write the prettiest hand you ever saw. He carries a little Bible with him: the print is so fine I can hardly read it, but he will stretch out in the light of a poor camp-fire, and read it for an hour at a time. I can't understand where he picked it all up, but he told me about the Pacific Ocean, which is away beyond our country, and he spoke of the land where the Saviour lived when he was on earth. I never felt so ashamed of myself as I did when he sat down and told me such things. He can repeat verse after verse from the Bible; he pronounced the Lord's Prayer in Shawanoe, and then told me and Otto that if we would only use the English a little oftener the Great Spirit would hear us. What do you think of that?"
"It is very good advice."
"Of course it is, but the idea of a young Indian being that sort of fellow! Well, there's no use of talking," added Jack, as though unable to do justice to the theme, "he beats anything I ever heard of. If the truth should be written as to what he has done, and put in a book, I don't 'spose one person in a hundred would believe it. He promised to come and see us."
"I hope he will," said the mother; "I shall always hold him in the highest esteem and gratitude for his kindness to your father and to you."
"I tell you it would have gone rough with Otto and me if it hadn't been for him. I wonder how Otto is getting along?" said Jack, with an expression of misgiving on his face.
"Why do you ask that?" inquired his mother.
"I think Deerfoot was worried over him."
"I do not understand you."
"Why, you know Otto has got the meanest father in the whole United States of America——"
"Those are strong words," interrupted the parent reprovingly.
"It is contrary to your teaching to talk that way, but you know, too, that it is the solemn truth. Deerfoot stopped at Jacob Relstaub's cabin, in this very settlement, some weeks ago, when it was raining harder than now, and asked for something to eat, and to stay all night. What do you 'spose Relstaub did? He abused him and turned him away."
"What a shame!" exclaimed the good woman indignantly. "Why did Deerfoot not come here or to one of the other cabins?"
"I don't know, but he went off in the woods by himself. Otto tried to befriend him, and was whipped for it; but Deerfoot never forgot it, and he risked his life to help Otto and me."
"It was very unkind in Mr. Relstaub, but you have not told me why you and Deerfoot were alarmed for Otto."
"Otto had the best horse that his father owns. It ran away from us, and, though we tried hard to get him again, we couldn't, and Otto and I came home on foot. Knowing his father as well as we do, Deerfoot and I were afraid the poor fellow would be punished because he lost the animal. I haven't had a chance to say much to Otto, and when I did, I didn't want to ask him about it, but I would like to know whether he has been punished for what he couldn't help."
"I can answer that question," said Mrs. Carleton, softly; "his father whipped him most cruelly yesterday."
"The old scamp——"
"Tut, tut!" warned the parent, raising her finger, "it was cruel, but Otto will survive it, as he has many other times, and before many years he will become so large that his father will not be able to punish him."
"I hope he will undertake it, and Otto will knock him——"
"Stop!" said the mother, more sternly, "you have already allowed your feelings to lead you too far."
"Pardon me, mother," said Jack, humbly, "I would not hurt your feelings for the world; but there is such a contrast between his father and you, and his mother is just as bad——"
Jack checked himself again, for his quick ear detected something. He turned quickly toward the door of the cabin, and his mother, reading the meaning of the movement, did the same, holding her fingers motionless while both listened.
The rain beat upon the roof, dashed against the window-panes, and rattled on the logs of the cabin, with a melancholy sound that made the interior seem doubly cheerful by contrast. At times the wind roared among the trees, and some of the pattering drops found their way down the chimney, and hissed among the flaming brands, making tiny black points that were instantly wiped out by the ardor of the fire itself.
Suddenly the latch-string, which was only drawn in when the inmates were ready to retire, was pulled, the latch raised, the door opened, and Otto Relstaub, his garments dripping water, entered the room.
"Good-evening!" he called, pausing a moment to close the door against the driving storm.
Both greeted the visitor, and Jack, laying aside his book, advanced and warmly shook the hand of his friend, bringing him forward and giving him a seat on the bench, which was drawn still nearer the fire.
Otto was attired very much as when we saw him last, but he did not carry his gun with him. He took off his peaked hat, shook the water from it, and then his broad, good-natured face, gleaming with moisture and rugged health, was raised to meet the mild, inquiring gaze of the lady, who asked him how he was.
"Oh, I ish well," he answered, speaking English much better than he did a short time previous, "I have been working so hard dot I couldn't come over before."
"I'm real glad to see you," said Jack, cordially, slapping him on the back and making the water fly; "if you hadn't called to-night I would have dropped in to-morrow to see you. We've hardly had a chance to speak to each other since we got back."
"No, dot ish so," said Otto, with a sigh. "Father, he makes me work harder as I never did, to make up for the time dot I wasted in play, he says. By Jiminy! I don't think dot was much play, do you, Jack?"
"It was the worst play I ever went through; two boys never worked harder for their lives than did we, and if it hadn't been for Deerfoot, we never would have reached Martinsville. I suppose your father gave you a whipping for losing Toby?"
"I should thinks he did! I hadn't been home one hours, when he went out and cut a stick, and used it up on me, and he doned the same yesterday."
Jack was about to break forth into vigorous language, when his mother anticipated him. Her voice was slightly tremulous, for, despite her enforced calmness, she could not altogether restrain her feelings.
"Surely he could not have understood the matter; I will speak to your mother."
Otto shrugged his shoulders, with a laugh in which there was more sadness than mirth.
"Moder is worse than him; she tole him he didn't whips me half enough, and so he tried it again yesterday. I heard her tells him to-night dot I needed more, so I slips out and comes over here before he could get everythings ready. May I stay here all night?"
"All night!" repeated Jack, "you may stay a week—a month—a year—yes, forever."
"I don't want to stay dot long," said Otto, with his pleasant laugh; "but fader, he tells me he will beat me every day till I brings back de horse."
"Very well," said Jack, compressing his lips, "you won't go back till you get the horse—if it takes five years."
"Did your father tell you to stay away till you recovered the animal?" asked Mrs. Carleton.
"Dot vos just vot he says."
"Then it is proper that you should obey him."
Otto nodded his head to signify that his sentiments were those of his friends. He glanced slyly around the room, but did not explain what he was looking for, and, unfortunately, neither mother nor son suspected the meaning of the look; but Otto's hard-hearted parents had actually driven him from their home without allowing him to eat a mouthful of dinner or supper. He was suffering with hunger, but was plucky enough to bear it without complaining, since his friends had partaken and cleared away the table long before.
"What do you intend to do?" asked Mrs. Carleton, who deeply sympathized with the poor lad.
"I goes home in de mornings and gets my gun and powder-horn before they can whips me, and then I goes off to hunt for Toby."
"And I'll go with you!" exclaimed the impulsive Jack, springing to his feet; "you'll let me, mother, won't you?" he asked, turning beseechingly toward her.
Recalling the perils through which her only child had passed so recently, the widow could not but contemplate with dismay the prospect of having him venture into the wilderness again; but she felt deeply for poor honest Otto, who was so willing and good-natured, and who had shown such a desire to help her while her own boy was in Kentucky.
Furthermore, she knew that Louisiana was a much less dangerous country than the Dark and Bloody Ground. Few of the Shawanoes, Hurons, and other actively hostile tribes ever crossed to the western side of the Mississippi, where the Osages gave little trouble to the settlers scattered through that immense territory.
Otto's eyes sparkled when Jack Carleton leaped to his feet and declared he would go with him on the search for the lost horse (subject, of course, to the consent of his mother), and the German youth looked pleadingly toward the good woman, who, it is hardly necessary to say, yielded consent, giving with it a large amount of motherly counsel, to which the boys listened respectfully, though candor compels me to say that the thoughts of both were far away among the green woods, beside the sparkling streams, and in the shadows of the chasms, ravines, and gloomy mountains, whither, as they well knew, the curious search would lead them.
One of the commendable habits of the early settlers and old-fashioned folks was that of retiring and rising early. They were ardent believers in the saying of Poor Richard that "early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
It was not yet nine o'clock, when Jack and Otto, despite the deep interest they felt in their projected campaign, voluntarily withdrew to the other room, where they fell asleep within five minutes after their heads touched the pillow. The mother remained by the fire some time after the boys withdrew. Her small white fingers flitted hither back and forth, while her mild brown eyes seemed to look beyond the flashing needles, and into the glowing coals on the hearth. Her thoughts were sad and sorrowful, as they always were when she sat thus alone. They wandered back to that awful time when her loved husband was stricken down in defence of her and their little boy.
But to-night she was thinking more of that boy than of the father. She saw how much like the latter he was growing, and she trembled when she recalled that he was soon to start on another excursion into the wilderness, to be gone for days, and likely for weeks, and with no certainty of ever returning again.
As the night advanced, the fury of the storm diminished. At "low twelve" the fall of rain ceased altogether. The wind blew strongly, sometimes with a power which caused the strongest trees to bow their heads to the blast. As the morning approached, it died out altogether, and the sun rose on one of the fairest days that ever was seen.
Early as was the orb, the inmates of the cabin were waiting to greet it when it appeared above the horizon. The boys were in high spirits over the beautiful morning, and both felt that it promised well for the venture before them.
"I tell you we're going to win!" said Jack, compressing his lips and shaking his head. "I feel it in my bones, as your father says, just before a storm comes."
"Dot's vot I dinks," assented Otto, whose only discomfort was his exceeding hunger: "Vot you dinks, Mrs. Carleton?"
"I hope you will not be disappointed; that is the most I can say. Jack's feeling that you are going to succeed is simply his pleasure over the prospect of a ramble in the woods. We will eat breakfast, after which you can go home and make your preparations for the journey."
When they were seated at the table and Otto's hunger was nearly satisfied, he told his friends with a grin, that it was the first food he had tasted in twenty-four hours. They were shocked, and both took him to task for his failure to make known the truth the evening before. He made the philosophic reply that if he had done so he would have missed the boundless enjoyment of such a meal as that of which he was then partaking.
Mrs. Carleton on rising in the morning felt that Otto ought not to be allowed to go on the expedition until after a further talk with his parents, who, despite what they had said, might be unwilling for him to engage in such an undertaking; but when she learned how the poor fellow had been made to suffer with hunger her feelings changed. It was hard to repress her indignation, and she made up her mind to talk to the cruel folks as they had never been talked to before; but she allowed no impatient word to escape her in the presence of their son. She simply advised him to depart as soon as he could upon the hunt for the horse, and not to return, if possible, until it was recovered or another obtained.
"Dot is vot I does," replied Otto with a shake of his head and a determined expression; "Otto doesn't comes back till he brings some kind of animal—if it's only a 'coon or 'possum."
When he walked over to his own home (the building for which was precisely the same as that of widow Carleton), his father and mother were eating their breakfast. They looked surlily at him as he entered, and the mother showed her incredible heartlessness by asking her only child in German:
"Where is Toby that you lost?"
"How can I tell, mother, except that he is in the woods? I tried hard to find him again, and had it not been for Deerfoot I would have lost my life; but he is gone."
"Did I not tell you to go and not come back until you brought him with you?" demanded the father, glaring at his boy as though he was ready to throttle him.
"So you did—so you did; but I couldn't do much last night, when it was so dark and stormy. I have come over to get my gun and ammunition."
The father and mother looked in each other's faces, as though in doubt whether they would let the lad have the property, but before the question could be debated Otto had flung the powder-horn over his shoulders, adjusted the bullet-pouch, shoved the hunting-knife in the girdle at his waist, and walked to the front door, where he halted and looked back.
"Can't I have breakfast before I go?"
"No!" fairly shouted the father; "begone; you shall not have a mouthful under my roof till you bring back the colt you have lost."
"Nobody wants anything you've got on that table," the lad was indignant enough to reply: "I've had one meal that was worth more than a dozen like that. Good-by!"
And before the dumfounded parents could rally from the unparalleled impudence of the youth he was gone.
When he reached the home of Jack Carleton, the latter was waiting and impatient to start. Jack had already kissed his mother good-by several times and he repeated the fond embrace. Tears were in the eyes of both, and the mother stood in the door of her cabin shading her eyes with her hand until the two passed from sight in the forest beyond the clearing.
Several of the pioneers who were busy about the settlement greeted the boys and inquired their errand. Colonel Martin shook hands with them, and asked all the particulars of the business on which they were engaged. His age and position authorized him to ask such searching questions, had the couple been full-grown men instead of boys.
Otto answered truthfully, and the colonel smiled grimly and shook his head.
"It's mighty little chance you have of ever finding that horse again, but you may come upon another. Take my advice, however," added the colonel with a wink of his left eye, "make certain the owner isn't in sight when you walk off with the animal."
"Why, colonel, you don't think we mean to steal a horse!" exclaimed the horrified Jack.
"Certainly not—certainly not," the principal man of the settlement hastened to say, "I don't believe you could be persuaded to do such a thing—that is if the owner was looking."
"We couldn't be persuaded to do such a thing under any circumstances," exclaimed Jack, his face flushing over the idea that any one who knew him should suspect him capable of such a crime.
"See here," said the colonel, dropping his voice and stepping in front of them, "you tell me you are going after a horse. Have you the money with you to buy one?"
"No; we cannot get one that way."
"I judged not; how then do you propose to obtain him?"
"Toby, the colt belonging to Otto's father, is wandering in the woods not very far away——"
"How do you know he is?" interrupted the colonel.
"Why, he was doing so only a few days ago."
"That is no proof that he is keeping it up; in fact it is scarcely possible that such is the case. Recollect, my boy, that several tribes of Indians hunt through this portion of Louisiana, and they would be much quicker than you to observe the trail of a horse wearing an iron shoe; they would be inquiring enough also to investigate for themselves, and, when they came upon the colt, they would snap him up quicker than lightning."
The boys felt that somehow or other the wonderful young Shawanoe would appear at the right moment and lend them the help which they were certain to need. Should he fail to do so, they could no more recapture and take the colt to his owner than they could penetrate into the Dark and Bloody Ground and bring back the great war chief Tecumseh as a prisoner.
But neither Colonel Martin nor any one in the village knew anything about the extraordinary Indian youth, and, while Jack was asking himself whether he should linger long enough to explain the situation, the gentleman relieved them from the embarrassment by a hearty slap on the shoulder of Jack, and the exclamations:
"I was once a boy myself! I haven't forgotten that jolly time: we always liked to have some sort of excuse when we went off on a frolic. You see what a lot of work there is to do in clearing the ground and getting it ready for cultivation; you would much rather be hunting and rambling through the woods; I can't say I blame you, so off with you, and when you come back with word that the horse was mean enough to keep out of your way, why we won't be too hard on you."
And with another resounding slap, the hearty colonel gave the boys a vigorous shove which sent them forward among the trees, near which they had halted.
Jack Carleton was too sensible a youth to suppose that the Lost Trail could be found by a blind wandering through the immense expanse of wilderness, which stretched hundreds of miles in almost every direction from the little settlement of Martinsville. Both he and Otto had a strong hope, when they reached home after their stirring adventure with Deerfoot, that the colt Toby would follow them of his own accord. He belonged to a species possessing such unusual intelligence that there would have been nothing remarkable in such a proceeding, and the fact that he did not do so, gave ground for the belief that he had fallen into the hands of parties who prevented the animal from doing as he chose.
One fact was clearly established; Toby had been within a comparatively short distance of the settlement, and, if he had remained anywhere in the neighborhood during the late storm, traces of him must be found without much difficulty. But one of the easiest things in the world is to theorize over any problem; to push that theory to a successful conclusion is altogether another matter.
While it lacked a couple of hours of noon, the boys reached an elevated section which gave them an extended view in every direction. Looking to the eastward, Otto fancied he could detect the gleam of the distant Mississippi, but Jack assured him he was mistaken. Too many miles lay between them and the mighty Father of Waters for the eye to traverse the space.
Young Carleton took off his cap and drew his handkerchief across his perspiring forehead. Then he sighed and smiled.
"This doesn't appear so hopeful to me as it did last night, when we sat around the fire and talked it over; but of course we won't give up so long as there's the least hope."
"And it won't do for me to give him up then," replied Otto, with a meaning shake of his head; "you don't know my fader as well as me."
"I don't want to either," remarked Jack, who did not think it his duty to refrain from showing the contempt he felt for the miserly, cruel parent of his friend.
"No," observed Otto, with a touch of that grim humor which he sometimes displayed, "I doesn't dinks dot you and him could have much fun together."
The young friends were too accustomed to the immensity of nature, as displayed on every hand, to feel specially impressed by the scene which would have held any one else enthralled. It may be said they were "on business," though it had very much the appearance of sport.
"Halloo! I expected it!" called out Jack Carleton, whose gaze abruptly rested on a point due southwest, and more than a mile away.
His companion did not need the guidance of the outstretched arm and index finger leveled toward the distant spot, where the smoke of a camp-fire was seen climbing toward the blue sky. The scene on which the boys looked was similar to that which met the eye of Ned Preston and Deerfoot when they lay on the broad flat rock and gazed across at the signal-fire in the distance.
The wooded country gradually sloped to the south and west from the elevation whereon the young friends had halted, slowly rising and undulating until the eye could follow the blue wavy outlines no further. At the point already named, and in the lowest portion of the intervening country, a camp-fire was burning. The smoke, as it filtered upward through the branches of the trees, and gradually dissolved in the pure air above, was seen with such distinctness that it caught the eye of Jack the moment it was turned in that direction.
It was not a signal-fire, such as one is likely to detect when journeying through an Indian country, but the vapor from the camp of some body of men who were not making the slightest attempt to conceal themselves, for it cannot be conceived that they had any reason for doing so.
If the party were Indians, they surely had no necessity for stationing a sentinel on the outskirts of their camp to watch for danger.
Jack and Otto looked in each other's faces and smiled; the natural question had presented itself at the same moment. It was, "Can it be that the horse we are seeking is with them?"
"The only way to find out is to go forward and see for ourselves," said Jack, after they had discussed the question for several minutes.
"'Spose dot de horse is with them—what den?"
Jack shrugged his shoulders.
"Deerfoot used to say that he could never answer such a question until he knew exactly how everything stood. Now, we can't be certain whether they are Indians or white men, and I don't know as it makes much difference one way or the other, for our own horse thieves over in Kentucky were dreaded as much as were the Shawanoes. They were a good deal meaner, too, for they oppressed their own race."
"Dot is vot I sometimes dinks of fader," was the unexpected remark of Otto; "if he was only a colored man or Injin I would have more respect for him; dot is so."
"Come on; we have started out to do something, and we can't gain anything by staying here."
The brief halt had refreshed the boys, and they now moved forward with their naturally vigorous and almost bounding steps. While they had much curiosity, and a somewhat singular misgiving, yet they were in no particular fear, for it was impossible to believe they were in any real peril.
It was quite a tramp to reach the camp in which just then they felt so much interest, and the sun was close to meridian when Jack, who was slightly in advance, slackened his gait, and remarked in an undertone:
"It can't be far—halloo!"
While picking their way through the valley, they lost sight of the wavering column of vapor, except once or twice when they were able to catch a glimpse of it through the tree-tops. Jack's exclamation was caused by another sight of the murky column, which, as he suspected, proved to be little more than a hundred yards distant.
There was so much undergrowth that nothing of the fire itself could be observed, though the smoke showed itself distinctly in the clear air above.
"Vell, vot does we does now?" was the natural query of Otto, as he placed himself beside his young friend.
"I guess we may as well keep on, until we find out who they are."
"After we finds out vot we does den?"
"We shall see—come on."
It was simple prudence that they should speak in whispers, and step with as much care as if they were scouts entering the camp of an enemy. It would have been rashness to neglect so simple a precaution, no matter how favorable the circumstances.
"Holds on!" whispered Otto, "I dinks I goes around the oder side while you takes a look on dis side."
"There is no need of doing that," interposed Jack; "we found out the consequence of separating when in danger. You needn't keep behind me, but you may walk at my side."
"All right," responded Otto, obeying the suggestion.
A rod or two further, and something red gleamed, among the trees and undergrowth. Smoke was observed at the same moment, and immediately after came the hum of voices and the sight of persons stretched on the ground in lolling, indolent positions, while some were sitting on a fallen tree, and two were engaged in broiling some venison, which evidently was meant to furnish dinner for the rest. The majority were smoking a species of red clay pipe, and the appearance of the party suggested that they were resting after a laborious tramp through the woods.
There were precisely ten, and they were Indians—every one. Jack could not be certain of the tribe to which they belonged, but inasmuch as it was apparent they were neither Shawanoes nor Hurons, he was confident they were Osages, though it was not impossible that their totem was another altogether.
Several peculiarities about the strange Indians interested the youth. They were noticeably shorter in stature than the Hurons and Shawanoes whom they had been accustomed to meet on the other side of the Mississippi. The poetical American Indian is far different from the one in real life. It is rarely that a really handsome warrior or squaw is met. They are, generally a slouchy, frowsy, lazy, unclean people, of whom nothing is truer than that distance lends enchantment to their view.
Those upon whom Jack and Otto gazed with natural curiosity, were not only shorter in stature, but of homelier countenance. Their eyes were smaller, more piggish, and further apart, their cheek-bones more prominent, the foreheads lower and more sloping, while Jack always asserted that they had much larger mouths than the Indians with whom he was familiar.
While asking themselves whether it was wise to go any closer and to make their acquaintance, the lads stood side by side, each with the stock of his gun resting on the earth, while their whole attention was absorbed by the curious scene before them.
It would naturally follow that if the Indian party was in such plain sight of the boys, they themselves must have been visible to the red men had they chosen to cast their searching glances towards the spot where the two were standing, even though the latter were partially hidden by the undergrowth.
Had Jack and Otto been as vigilant and suspicious as they ought to have been, their misgivings would have been awakened by what took place within the next ten minutes. Two of the warriors, leaving their rifles where they were leaning against a fallen tree, leisurely rose and sauntered into the woods, taking a course directly opposite to that which would have led them to where the boys stood. The latter observed the movement, but thought nothing of it.
"What do you say?" finally asked Jack, in a guarded voice; "shall we go forward and make their acquaintance?"
"Dey haven't any horses that we can see, and I dinks dot we better goes away till some other time."
"I am inclined to believe you are right——"
At that moment, and without the least warning, a brawny, coppery arm shot over the shoulder of Jack Carleton, and, grasping his rifle with an iron grip, snatched it from him. At the same instant, a precisely similar movement deprived Otto Relstaub of his most important weapon, the two friends being made prisoners before they dreamed they were in the least danger.
With an exclamation of affright, Jack Carleton whirled on his heel and found the broad, grinning face of one of the warriors almost against his own. Holding the rifle back, as if expecting an attempt to recover it, the savage thrust his head forward, with a tantalizing expression overspreading his ugly features. At the same moment he muttered something very rapidly in his own tongue. Not a word was understood by Jack, but he was sure the warrior said, "Ah, ha, young man, I've caught you, and you can't help yourself."
The experience of Otto Relstaub was slightly different from that of his companion. When he found his rifle gone and a squatty Indian at his elbow, he was panic-stricken.
"Mine gracious!" he exclaimed, "this ain't de best place for me; I dinks I goes to some oder place."
Naturally he made a dash to retrace his steps, but the warrior was too quick for him. He had taken his second step only, when his captor grasped the ankle of the foot that was rising from the ground, and drew backward with such force that Otto sprawled on his face.
Jack, who could not believe that these red men were of a very sanguinary disposition, laughed outright over the discomfiture of his friend.
"Can't you kick him loose?" he called.
"If he don't hang on too tight," replied Otto, trying with might and main to free himself.
The moment the boys were captured, the attention of the entire company was centred upon them. All talking ceased, and every one stood up and looked toward the point of interest. Several went forward to meet the captives, and the general grin that lighted up the aboriginal countenances seemed to shed a mild sort of sunlight among and under the trees.
"It's no use," said Jack to his friend; "we can't get away until they are ready to let us go."
"Vot does they mean to do mit us?"
"That is hard to tell," replied the young Kentuckian, with a serious countenance; "I don't know to what tribe they belong, but I believe they ain't half as bad as the Shawanoes."
"Dey couldn't be any more cruel don dem," was the truthful observation of the young German.
In the course of a few seconds the boys were fully introduced to the camp-fire of the strange Indians, who were not in war paint, and who, as the boys rightly believed, belonged to a less bloodthirsty totem than did the redskins on the eastern bank of the Mississippi.
Every warrior was standing on his feet, and they all crowded around the boys, as though they had never seen any of their race until that moment. They continually talked in their guttural, grunting fashion, smiling and nodding their heads. Two of them pinched the limbs of the boys as though testing their muscle. So far from showing any alarm, Jack Carleton clenched his fist and elevated his arm, swaying the hand back and forth as if proud to display the development of his biceps. But Otto was in too doleful a mood to indulge in anything of the kind.
As a matter of course, the Indians could not feel the slightest misgiving on account of their prisoners. They must have known of the settlement only a few miles distant, and they had not offered to disturb it, nor had they molested any of the pioneers when they ventured into the woods in quest of game.
Such being the case, it can be readily seen that, so far as the settlers were concerned, the Indians were safe. Although within gunshot of Martinsville, the red men took no precaution at all against molestation from them.
It struck Jack as curious that among the warriors gathered around them, not one had as yet spoken a word that he could understand. The American race have shown a quickness from the first to pick up expressions from the language of those near them. Who has forgotten Samoset's "Welcome, Englishmen!" uttered to the first settlers at Plymouth, who were at a loss to understand where the red man learned the pleasant words?
Jack Carleton, who retained his self-possession much better than did his friend, listened hopefully for some word which he could recognize.
While he was disappointed in that respect, he could not believe that he and Otto were in any imminent peril from their captors, though, on the other hand, he was very far from feeling safe against harm. With a coolness that must have awakened admiration among the barbarians, the youth, standing in the middle of the group, folded his arms, and smilingly looked in the repellant faces, none of which were at a greater altitude than his own.
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