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- The Lost Trail - 4/42 -
"Otto," said Jack, "where is the colt?"
"I dinks he's purty near New Orleans as soon as dis time."
Young Carleton looked wonderingly toward friend and asked, "What do you mean?"
"I don't mean vot I don't say and derefore dinks I mean vot I vos."
"So the colt went into the river? Where were you?"
"Mit de colt and he vos mit me, so we bot vos mit each other. Just feels of me."
Jack reached out his hand and pinched the clothing of his friend in several places. It was saturated.
"Ven I valks, de vater in my shoes squishes up to mine ears--don't you hear 'em?"
"Why don't you pour it out?"
"I hef done so, tree time already--I done so again once more."
And, without ado, the young German threw himself forward on his hands and head and kicked his feet with a vigor that sent the moisture in every direction. Indeed the performance was conducted with so much ardor that one of the shoes flow off with considerable violence. Otto then reversed himself and assumed the upright posture.
"Mine gracious," he exclaimed, "where didn't dot shoe of mine went?"
"It just missed my face," replied Jack, with a laugh.
"Dot vos lucky," said Otto, beginning to search for his property.
"Yes; it might have hurt me pretty bad."
"I means it vos lucky for de shoe," added Otto, who, in groping about, stumbled at that moment upon the missing article. "Bime by de vater soaks down mine shoes agin and I stands on head and kicks it out."
But Jack Carleton was anxious to learn what had befallen his friend since their voluntary separation some hours before, and so, while they were advancing along the shore, the story was told.
Otto, as he had agreed to do, was riding at a leisurely pace, when, without the least warning, the sharp crack of a rifle broke the stillness of, the woods on his right, and the bullet zipped so close to his forehead that it literally grazed the skin, leaving a faint mark, which was visible several days afterward.
The lad was never so frightened in all his life. For a minute or so he was absolutely speechless, during which the horse, alarmed in a less degree than he, broke into a trot. Otto, however, quickly regained his self-control, and fully realized his danger. He did not glance behind him nor to the right or left. No investigation was needed convince him of his peril. He put the horse to a dead run, first throwing himself forward on his neck so as to offer the least possible target to his enemies.
Only the single shot was fired, and Jack counted it strange that the report failed to reach his ears. When the fugitive had gone a considerable distance, he ventured to look back. He thought he saw several Indians, but it was probably fancy, for had they observed he was leaving them behind (as would have been the case), they surely would have appealed to their rifles again.
Otto was in such danger from the overhanging limbs, and was so fearful that he was running a gauntlet of Indians, that he kept his head close to the mane of his steed and scarcely looked to see where they were going.
The awakening came like an electric shock, when the terrified horse made a tremendous plunge straight out into the river. The first notice Otto received was the chilling embrace of the waters which enveloped him to the ears. He held his rifle in his right hand, and, in his desperate efforts to save that, was swept from the back of the animal, which began swimming composedly down stream, carrying saddle, blankets and other valuable articles that were strapped to him back.
Encumbered with his heavy clothing and his gun, young Otto Relstaub had all he could do to fight his way back to land. He escaped shipwreck as by a hair's-breadth, from the sawyer which had attracted the notice of Jack.
"I vos swimming as hard as nefer vos," he explained, "and had just got in front of the tree, ven as true as I don't live, it banged right down on top mit me and nearly knocked out my brains out. I grabbed hold of it, when it raised up and frowed me over its head. Den I gots mad and swims ashore."
Jack laughed, for, though he knew his friend was prone to exaggeration, he could understand that his experience was similar, in many respects, to what he had stated.
"After the shore reaches me," continued Otto, "I turns around free, four times to find where I ain't. I see de colt going down stream as fast as if two Indians was on his back sitting and paddling him mit paddles. I called to him to come back and explained dot he would cotch him cold if he didn't stay too long in de vater, but he makes belief he don't hears me, and I bothers him no more."
"There will be trouble at home when your father finds out the colt is lost," said Jack Carleton, who knew how harsh the parent of Otto was; "it must be he returned to land further down."
"Yes; bimeby he comes ashore."
"Why didn't you recover him?"
"'Cause he swims out on de oder side and he would not wait till I could go back mit de settlenients and got mine frens to come and build one boat. I vos gone so long dot it vos night ven I comes back, and ven I sees you I dinks you vos an Indian or maybe some other loafer."
Jack Carleton was about to reply to this remark when both he and his friend caught sight the same moment of the star-like twinkle of a point of light.
While there was nothing specially noteworthy in this, yet both were impressed by the fact that the light was not only on the river, but was serving as a signal to some one standing on the same shore with them.
THE VISITOR FROM THE OTHER SHORE
Jack Carleton and Otto Relstaub saw the twinkling point of light, glowing like a star from the bank of darkness on the other side the Mississippi. It shone for a minute with an intense brightness, and then, to their amazement, began revolving in a circle of a foot or more in diameter. It sped round and round with such swiftness that it resembled a wheel of fire without the slightest break in the flaming periphery.
"What can it mean?" asked the mystified Jack.
"I vos told something apout afire dot vos to jump apout in one circle," was the remarkable statement of Otto.
"What was it?"
"I don't forgot him now," replied the German with the hesitating speech of one in doubt.
"Well, you're the prize blockhead of the West," was the impatient comment of the young Kentuckian. "How you could have heard anything of that signal--as it must be--and forget it is beyond my understanding."
"Dot's what I dinks. I'll remember sometime after a few days-- helloa!"
His exclamation was caused by the blotting out of the circular fire which had caused so much speculation. Looking toward the western bank of the Mississippi all was darkness again, the light having vanished.
Jack stooped so as to bring his head on a level with the surface of the river, and peered intently out over the moonlit surface.
"That torch was waved by an Indian in a canoe," said he, in a low voice, "and he is paddling this way."
Otto imitated the action of his friend, and saw that he had spoken the truth. The outlines of a boat, dimly distinguishable, were assuming definite shape with such rapidity that there could be no doubt the craft was approaching them.
As there was no question that the fiery ring was meant for a signal, Jack Carleton concluded that a party of red men were communicating with those from whom the boys had effected so narrow an escape. Such a supposition showed the necessity of great care, and the friends, without speaking, stepped further from the edge of the stream, where they were in no danger of being seen.
As the boat came nearer, and its shape was more clearly marked, the boys discovered that only a single warrior sat within. He was in the stern, manipulating his long, ashen paddle with such rare skill that he seemed to pay no heed to the current at all.
"There's only one of them," whispered the astonished Jack. "How easily we can pick him off!"
Otto brought his gun to his shoulder.
"What do you mean?" demanded the angry Jack.
"Pick him off!"
"No, you don't. He may be a friend."
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