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- The Lost Trail - 20/42 -
which stirred his brain. He was on the point of signaling to his friend to return, and, insisting that they should swim the river together, when he became aware that the undergrowth in front of him and close to the water, partially screened some object whose outlines could be faintly trace from where he sat.
With the exclamation, he straightened up and stared in blank astonishment. The contour of what he saw was so distinct that there could be no mistake; he was staring straight at the canoe for which he had been hunting so long.
Otto softly rose to his feet and looked behind him. He had been sitting on the very ash which Deerfoot had named as the guide that would direct them in finding the craft. Otto threw back his head and laughed, overcome by the reaction from the tense strain to which his nerves had been subjected.
"Ven somepody axes for de biggest fool dot efer vos, he looks at Otto Relstaub and says, 'I Dot ish him,' and dot will be him."
But he, shivered at the thought of the minutes that had slipped by, and, without indulging in any more soliloquy, placed his finger and thumb in his mouth and emitted the whistle which thrilled Jack Carleton down the river and brought him hurrying to the spot.
Satisfied that no repetition of the call was required, Otto gave his attention to the boat. It was a fine Indian canoe, buoyant enough to carry six or eight warriors, and furnished with three long paddles which, in skillful hands, could drive it with great speed through the water. It was made of bark, bow and stern being similar, curving inward toward the middle of the boat, and painted with rude designs outside, which showed more taste than did the ornamentation of the aboriginal countenances.
Deerfoot had displayed no little ingenuity in screening the craft from sight. Inasmuch as Otto had forgotten himself so far as to sit down on the very tree for which he was searching without once suspecting his forgetfulness, it is not to be supposed he would have discovered the boat at all but for the accident named.
Grasping one end, he began vigorously pushing it into the current. It was heavy, and he wondered at the strength of the young Shawanoe, who had drawn it clear of the water, overlooking the fact that moderate strength, skillfully applied, succeeds more frequently than does simple physical power.
After much effort, he shoved it clear of the land and held it floating on the surface.
"I wonder if Jack didn't hear me," he thought, looking around; "I thinks I calls him agin once more."
He did not utter the signal, however, for just then he heard approaching footsteps, and, a minute later, the flushed and panting Jack Carleton was beside him.
"Thank heaven!" he exclaimed; "I was in despair when your signal reached me; we haven't a second to lose."
"We ishet going to lose him, not at all. Hark!"
They heard just then, not only the faint whoop that had caused them so much disquiet, but caught sight of the warrior who uttered the alarming call.
He whisked between the trees with such bewildering quickness of movement that Jack, who had turned with his rifle half raised, saw no chance of firing with effect. Fortunately, the necessity for doing so did not exist, for the boys at the same moment recognized the red man as their friend Deerfoot, who walked forward smiling and pleased, carrying his bow and gun.
"My brothers did well," he said in his quiet way; "but they did not hasten as does the deer when the hounds are on his trail."
"We could not have hurried more than we did," replied Jack Carleton, taking the hand of the youthful warrior; "a little more haste and both of us would have broken our necks."
"Dot ish so," added Otto, emphatically; "I sot down on dis log to dinks if I couldn't run fitstery but I couldn't. What for you keep whooping all the time like a crazy person?"
"Deerfoot wished to see his brothers run, for the red men are looking for them."
"I've no doubt of that, and the wonder to me is how you managed to give them such a scare that they scattered and left us a chance to dig out."
"The wicked flee when no man pursueth," was the apt quotation of the extraordinary youth, who was so fond of studying his Bible. "But their fright will not last long."
"Such being the case we must not tarry."
The Shawanoe acted as though he did not intend to enter the canoe with them, seemingly having some object in remaining on the Kentucky side; but he changed his mind, probably concluding that his services were still needed by his friends.
He motioned to Jack, who stepped into the boat and picked up one of the paddles, Otto having done the same. Deerfoot leaped lightly after them, the impulse carrying the craft fully a rod from shore. He laid down his gun and bow, and, seizing the third paddle, made such a powerful sweep through the water that the others almost lost their balance. They essayed to help him, but he asked them with a smile to cease and leave the management of the boat entirely to him.
"We might as well," said Jack, "for we shall only hinder you."
"Dot ish de same as I doesn't dinks."
A few strokes sent the canoe well out from the land, and the Shawanoe still plied the paddle with extraordinary skill; but, as he left the shore, he knew that in one respect the danger of himself and companions was increased. If their enemies were anywhere along the Mississippi, with a suspicion of the truth, they could not fail to detect them.
It proved as he suspected. Several whoops echoed from a point a short distance below, and the quick eye of the leader caught sight of the Miamis and Shawanoes on the bank.
"Down! Down!" he said, excitedly; "let my brothers lower their heads or they will be killed."
Both Jack and Otto extended themselves flat on the bottom of the boat, but Deerfoot remained upright, plying the paddle with might and main. He headed out in the stream, and used every effort to get beyond reach of the rifles of his enemies.
"Why don't you duck your head, too?" demanded the alarmed Jack; "they can hit you as easily as us."
But Deerfoot had his eyes on the party and did not mean to throw away his life. He saw there were four red men who stood together on the very edge of the wood. When two of them raised their guns and sighted at him, he dropped like the loon, which dodges the bullet of the hunter by the flash of his gun.
A couple of reports sounded like one, and the three on the bottom of the canoe heard the bark fly. Both balls had pierced it, entering one side and passing out on the other. The weight of the occupants caused the boat to sink sufficiently to protect them, so long as they remained flat on the bottom. One of the bullets was aimed so low that it struck the water, ricocheting through the bark and bounding off in space. The other went within an inch of Deerfoot's figure, he being slightly higher than either of the others.
The echoes of the guns were ringing through the wood, when the Shawanoe straightened up and dipped the paddle into the waters again; but he had time for only one sweeping stroke when down he went once more, barely in time to escape the third shot.
Before using the paddles, he raised his head just enough to peep over the gunwale. He saw the three warriors deliberately reloading their weapons, while the other was waiting for his target to present itself. There were two others, who had been drawn thither by the calls of the first party.
"I dinks maybe I can does somedings to help," said Otto, timidly looking over the side of the craft; "mebbe I sees--mine gracious!"
The gun which was fired just then sent the bullet, as may be said, directly under the nose of the German, who lowered his face with such quickness that the whole boat jarred from the bump against the bottom.
"Deerfoot, won't it be a good thing to send a shot at them?" asked Jack; "it seems to me they would not be quite so ready with their guns."
The Shawanoe was evidently of the same mind. He had the choice of two weapons, and need it be said which was the one selected?
Standing erect in the canoe, he fitted an arrow to the string with incredible dexterity and launched it with a speed that rendered it almost invisible. The distance caused him to elevate the missile slightly, but the aim of Simon Kenton or Daniel Boone, with his long, trusty rifle, could not have been more unerring.
The red men on shore were well aware of his amazing skill, and they lost no time in adopting the dodging tactics. The instant the form of the graceful young warrior was thrown in relief against the sky and wooded shore, they bounded behind the nearest trees, peering forth like frightened children.
The movement saved one life at least, for the winged missile which, a second later, whizzed over the spot where they had been standing, was driven with a force that would have caused it to plunge clean through the body of any one in its path.
Deerfoot remained erect in the canoe until the shaft had landed, when he gave utterance to a defiant shout; sat down, and deliberately took up the paddle again.
It will be borne in mind that the yellow current of the Mississippi was swollen by freshets near its headwaters, and the canoe not only danced about a great deal, but was borne swiftly downward, seeing
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