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- The Lost Trail - 10/42 -
afflicted with a forgetfulness all too common with most boys of his age, yet his life on the frontier had not been without its lessons to him. At times he showed a shrewdness and knowledge of woodcraft which surprised Jack Carleton, who often became impatient with his shortsightedness. The manner in which he seconded the efforts of his companion to mislead the Indians, known to be close at hand, certainly was deserving of high praise.
The friends advanced some twenty rods or more, Otto keeping close behind Jack, without seeing or hearing anything of their enemies. Looking across the Mississippi, nothing was observed of Deerfoot or his canoe, so that no help was to be expected for many hours from him. Indeed, Jack was confident that nothing of the kind could be done before night, when the matchless Shawanoe would have the darkness to help him. To the young Kentuckian, the advent of Deerfoot was of that nature that he failed to see that it had accomplished any good. If he and Otto could gain a suitable start, they would swim across.
"Sh!" whispered the German, reaching forward and catching the arm of his friend; "waits one, two, dree smond."
"What is the matter?" asked the alarmed Jack, as he turned hastily about.
"Let you go dot way and me go dot way, and it leetle ways off we comes togedder agin once inore."
Rather curiously, the leader was asking himself at that moment whether something could not be gained by him and Otto separating and afterward meeting at some point further up stream.
Such, as is well known, is the practice of the Apaches when hotly pursued to their mountain fastnesses. A large company will dissolve into its "original elements," as may be said, rendering pursuit out of the question.
The wisdom of this course on the part of Jack and Otto might well be questioned, but, without giving the matter any thought, the young Kentuckian acted upon the suggestion.
"You keep close to the river," he said, "while I turn to the right, and will come back to the shore a few hundred yards above. We'll use our old signal if we have anything to say to each other."
Otto nodded his bead to signify that he understood the arrangement, and, without another word, the two diverged, speedily losing sight of each other in the wood, which showed more under growth than that through which they passed the day before.
"I declare," said Jack to himself, before he had gone far, "I much misgive myself whether this is going to help matters; it must be a good deal easier for the Indians to pick up one of us at a time, than it is to take the two together. It may be best after all," he added a minute later, with the natural hopefulness of his nature, "for I learned long ago that if two or three hunters separate while in the Indian country, they can take better care of themselves than if they stay together."
He stood still and looked and listened. The wood, as has been said, was denser than that to which he had been accustomed, and, when he used his eyes to the utmost, he saw nothing to cause alarm. The lynx-eyed Miamis could follow his trail with little trouble, no matter how much be sought to conceal it, and the fact that he saw and heard nothing could be no proof that danger itself was not near.
"I am sure those were Shawanoes that I saw yesterday," he muttered, "and yet Deerfoot insists they were Miamis who broke up his canoe. Wonder whether there's a war party of both--"
The bright eyes of the youth at that very moment told him a singular fact: only a short distance in front of him stood two red men in their war paint. They were talking together and had their backs toward him. Indeed, they were so motionless, that he had failed to see them in the first place, and would have failed again but for the low, guttural murmur of their voices.
Jack instantly stepped behind the large trunk of a tree and peered out with an interest that may well be understood. It was curious that the youth should have approached so close without detection, but it was complimentary to his woodcraft that such was the fact.
Whatever the subject of conversation between the Indians, they speedily became absorbed in it, their arms sawed the air, and their voices rose to it pitch that carried the sound far beyond where he stood.
Their interest in the discussion frequently brought the profile of the further one into view and showed so much of his front, that his tribal character was settled beyond question; he was a Shawanoe, one of the dreaded people who did more than any other to earn the name of Dark and Bloody Ground for one section of the Union.
It was established, therefore, that there were two distinct parties in that particular section. The Miamis and Shawanoes were natural allies, and there could be no question that a perfect understanding existed between those who gave our friends so much concern.
Jack Carleton was debating with himself whether it would be a safe undertaking for him to withdraw, and, venturing further into the woods, seek to flank the warriors who had risen so unexpectedly in his path. He had already been so delayed that his agreement with Otto was likely to be disarranged, and it would not do to stay too long where he had halted.
Before a conclusion was formed, the interview between the couple ended. They abruptly ceased talking, and one started north and the other south.
As they did so Jack learned another significant fact--they belonged to different tribes. The one who went northward looked squarely in the face of his friend, just before moving out, and, in doing so, gave the best view of his countenance that the boy had yet obtained. That view revealed him as a Miami beyond all question.
The other wheeled about and advanced almost in a direct line toward Jack, who felt that his situation was becoming very delicate and peculiar. There could be no mistaking the tribe of that warrior, who was a splendid' specimen of physical vigor and manhood. Jack suspected that he was not only a Shawanoe, but was a chief or leader. The hideous paint which was smeared over his repulsive face, was more elaborate than in the case of the two from whom the youth effected such a narrow escape.
That which Jack saw confirmed his belief of a perfect understanding between the different parties. They probably numbered a dozen altogether, and had determined to bring the friendly Indian and two white men to account for the outrage of the young Shawanoe--for, brief as was the time mince it had been perpetrated, it was more than probable that it was known to all.
"I wish that heathen would take it into his head to move some other way," thought Jack to himself, as he drew his head back, fearful of being seen. "If he comes straight on, he'll bump his forehead against this tree, and, if he turns out, he will pass so close to the trunk that I've got to be lively if he doesn't run against me."
Listening intently, he was able to hear the soft footfall of the warrior upon the leaves, scarcely louder than the faint tipping of the claw of a small bird. Had the Shawanoe suspected there was the slightest need for care, his tread would have been silent.
A few seconds passed when the delicate sound ceased. What could it mean? Did the Indian suspect the truth? Was he standing motionless, or was he advancing with that noiseless step which the ear of the listening Indian himself fails to note?
These were the questions which the young Kentuckian asked, and which for the time be could not answer. He shrank close to the bark of the tree, with his gun clasped and the hammer raised ready to fire at an instant's notice. Knowing so well the subtlety of the red men, it occurred to Jack that his foe perhaps was stealthily flanking him. He was moving to one side and the moment he could gain a shot he would fire.
The suspense became more trying than disaster itself could be, and Jack determined to end it by learning the precise situation of the Shawanoe, and what he was likely to attempt to do in the way of hostilities.
A TIMELY ARRIVAL
One of the most convincing evidences of a Power beyond our comprehension, governing and directing everything for the best, is the marvelous degree to which the different faculties of our nature can be trained. There is a skill which cannot be explained or understood by him who attains it; and, interwoven through the five senses which science assigns to us, seems to be a sixth not yet understood, of whose wonderful functions every one of us has seen proof.
The Shawanoe warrior, after parting with his companion, walked leisurely toward the tree behind which the young Kentuckian was hiding, until about twenty yards separated them. Then he stopped as abruptly as if stricken by a thunderbolt. There was "something in the air" which whispered danger.
The Indian had neither seen nor heard anything to cause this misgiving, but he knew that peril confronted him. What he would have done in the event of Jack Carleton remaining silent and stationary behind the trunk can only be conjectured; but the impatience of the youth ended that phase of the situation.
Softly removing his cap, the young Kentuckian slowly moved the side of his head to the right. In doing so, he kept his face in a perpendicular position, so that the least possible part of his head was exposed. Had he inclined it, the upper portion would have shown before the eye could have been brought into use.
The first object on which Jack's vision rested was the Shawanoe warrior, standing erect, one foot slightly advanced and both hands grasping the rifle in front of him. The face was daubed and streaked with paint, and the gleaming black eyes were looking straight at the startled youth.
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