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- The Lost Trail - 30/42 -


flung one to her master, who dextrously caught it with his right hand while he removed the pipe with the other. Laying the latter on the ground beside him, he began eating his supper, using both hands, much as a bear employs his paws.

The wife devoured her share in the same manner, the two forming a striking, but by no means attractive, picture. The meat was obviously tough, but their teeth were equal to the work, and plates, knives and forks would have been only an encumbrance.

While the mother was thus occupied, she kept looking across at her baby, who seemed to be watching her with comical wishfulness. By-and-by, the parent gave a flirt of her hand, and a piece of the venison, which she bad bitten off, went flying toward the head of the youngster. He made an awkward grab with both hands, but it landed on his pug nose. He quickly found it, and shoving it between his lips, began fiercely sucking and tugging, as though it afforded the most delicious nourishment, which undoubtedly was fact.

"I dinks they have forgot me," Otto said himself, with a sigh; "I vish dot she would fro me a piece of dot, and see whedder she could hit mine nose; yaw--Id just open mine mouth and cotch him on de fly."

The lad had seated himself with his back against the side of the wigwam, and no one could have looked at his face and failed to know he was as hungry as one of his years could well be. Had the people possessed more food than they wished, and had it been cooked, it is possible they would have tossed him a piece, but, as it was, they had no intention of doing anything of the kind, as Otto plainly saw.

"They am pigs," he said, taking care that the huge chief did not overhear his muttered words; "if I starve, dey will sot dere and laugh at me till they dies."

The meat soon vanished, and then the squaw began fumbling among the leaves where the uncooked venison lay. Otto's eyes sparkled with hope.

"She is going to cook mit a piece for meawh!"

Instead of food, she fished out a pipe, similar to that of her master. Walking to him she held out her hand, and he passed over a pouch of tobacco, from which she filled the bowl of her pipe, punching in and compressing the stuff with her forefinger. Then it was lighted, with a coal of fire which she deftly scooped up, and sitting, so that she faced her guest, she crossed her feet, and leaning her elbows on her knees, stared at him, the picture of enjoyment, as she puffed her pipe. At the same time, the baby eagerly sucked and chewed his bit of meat, and, no doubt, was as happy as its parents.

But this had continued only a few minutes, when all the adults started, for footsteps on the outside showed that some one was approaching the wigwam.

CHAPTER XXIV

DEERFOOT

When Deerfoot the Shawanoe bade good-by to Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub, it was with the declaration that they would soon see each other again. Precisely what he meant would be hard to say; but probably it implied that he would take pains in the near future to make them a visit when they should be settled in their own log-cabins at home.

He left them, as has been intimated, because he believed there was no further need of bearing them company, and because business of great importance to himself demanded that he should take another course, and travel many long miles toward that wild region in the southern part of Missouri, which is broken and crossed by the Ozark range of mountains.

For fully an hour after he turned away from his friends he pushed through the forest in a south-western direction. He advanced at a leisurely pace, for there was no call for haste, and he loved to be alone in the vast solitude, where be often held sweet communion with the Great Spirit, whom he worshiped and adored with a fervency of devotion scarcely known except by those who have died for His sake.

The sun had descended but a brief way in the western sky when the youthful warrior found himself steadily climbing an elevation of several hundred feet. He had been over the ground before, and he knew that, after passing the ridge, the surface sloped downward for many miles, shutting the Mississippi out of sight altogether.

For some time a suspicion had been steadily taking shape in the mind of Deerfoot, and it was that which led him to hasten his footsteps until he reached the crest of the elevation, where he paused to make an investigation.

The thought which ran through his mind was the probability that all danger from the Miamis and Shawanoes (especially the latter) was not yet at an end. He reasoned from well established facts; they knew beyond question that it was he who had outwitted them in his efforts to save the boys when they were placed in such extreme peril. The Shawanoes hated him with an intensity beyond description, and, despite the repeated disasters which had overtaken those who sought, his ruin, they would strive by every means to revenge themselves upon him.

What more likely, therefore, than that they had crossed the Mississippi in pursuit? The certainty that they had done so would have caused Deerfoot no misgiving, so far as he was concerned, but his fear was for the boys. He reasoned that the Shawanoes would follow the trail of the three, including also that of the stray horse. When they reached the point where Deerfoot left them they would read its meaning at a glance. They would know the whites were following the animal, while the Shawanoe had gone about his own business.

Deprived of his matchless guidance and skill, the destruction of Jack and Otto would seem so easy that two or three would hasten after them. The action of their guide would naturally imply that he had no thought of any such attempt on the part of his enemies, who, therefore, would be the more strongly tempted to go in quest of his scalp.

As I have said, Deerfoot could laugh at all such strategy when directed against himself, but he was uneasy about the others, who would never think of their danger until too late. Ordinarily they were not likely to encounter any red men, except the half friendly Osages, and would be without protection against a stealthy shot from the woods behind them.

If such an issue threatened, Deerfoot felt that his duty was clear: he must spare no effort to protect the boys to the last extremity, and it was the hope that he would be able to catch sight of some almost invisible sign which would tell the truth that led him to halt on the crest of the elevation and gaze long and searchingly toward the Dark and Bloody Ground, which had been the scene of so many fearful encounters between the pioneers and untamable red men.

The great river was several miles distant, the almost unbroken forest stretching between. Deerfoot narrowly scrutinized the yellow surface as far as the eye could follow the winding course, but not the first evidence of life was to be seen. Not a solitary canoe or wild animal breasted the swift current which is now laden with thousands of crafts of almost every description.

The searcher after truth hardly expected to discover anything on the river itself, for if the Shawanoes were hunting for him they had crossed long before; but away beyond, in the solemn depths of the Kentucky wilderness, burned a camp-fire, whose faint smoke could be traced as it rose above the tree-tops. A careful study of the vapor led Deerfoot to suspect that it had served as a signal, but it was beyond his ken to determine its nature.

There was nothing on the other side of the Mississippi which could afford the faintest clew, and he began the study of Louisiana, so far as it was open to his vision. His altitude gave him an extended survey toward every point of the compass. As it was impossible that any of his enemies should be to the west of him, he did not bestow so much as a glance in that direction.

Again and again the keen eyes roved over the space between him and the great stream, but nothing rewarded the visual search. It was not to be expected that if the Shawanoes were stealing along his trail they would stop to build a fire--at least not before night closed in. The only circumstances under which they would attempt anything of the kind would be in the event of their wishing to signal some message to those left on the other shore. Possibly they wanted reinforcements, or wished those who were in waiting to make some movement of their own, and, if so they would be sure to telegraph.

If such was the case, the telegrams had been sent and the instrument--that is, the camp-fire had been destroyed. Nothing of the sort was now to be seen.

But Deerfoot did discover something to the northward. A long distance away could be detected another column of vapor--slight, but dark, and with a wavy, shuddering motion, such as is observed when the first smoke from the fire under an engine rises through the tall, brick chimney.

He watched it fixedly for several minute and then smiled, for he rightly interpreted its meaning.

"There is the wigwam of the Osage chief, Wish-o-wa-tum, the Man-not-Afraid-of-Thunder, who lives alone with his family in the woods, and smokes his pipe. He cares not for Miami or Huron or Shawanoe, but smokes in peace."

Inasmuch, as no other vapor met the eye, the sagacious Shawanoe adopted a very different line of investigation, or rather research. He was able to tell where the lesser elevation stood, on which he had bidden good-by to the boys, and could form a tolerably correct idea of the line he had followed since then.

If the Shawanoes were pushing the search for him, several must be somewhere along that line. Most of the time they would be effectually hidden from sight by the foliage of the trees, but there were open places here and there (very slight in extent), where they would be visible for the moment to one who fixed his eyes on that particular


The Lost Trail - 30/42

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