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- The Lost Trail - 5/42 -
"We'll found dot out, after we don't shoot him. Let's shoot him first," was the suggestion of Otto, "and then ax him the question."
"Even if an enemy--as he undoubtedly is--it would be cowardly to slay him in that fashion. As there is only one--!"
"Dere!" exclaimed the young Teuton, hardly to suppress his excitement over the recollection; "I knowed dat I had recumlected some dings."
"What is it?"
"Dot young gentleman in dot boat is a great friend of mine. He told me he would meet me at the crossing, if I didn't reach him pefore till it was come dark. Dot vos vat I didn't forget till de fire pegun to whirl apout, and then I didn't remember."
"Who is he?" asked the astonished Jack.
"Deerfoot, the Shawanoe," was the reply of Otto, who, with a light heart, stepped closer to the edge of the swiftly flowing river and called out:
"Holloa, Deerfoot! How you vos?"
The mention of the name called up strange emotions in the breast of Jack Carleton. For a year previous, stories had reached the settlement where he had made his home, of the wonderful Shawanoe youth, who was captured when a child, and while he was as untameable in his hatred of the whites as a spitting wildcat, but who was transformed by kindness into the most devoted friend of the pioneers.
Ned Preston, who lived at Wild Oaks, nearly a hundred miles distant from Jack's home, visited the latter a few months before, while on a hunting excursion, with his colored friend Wild-blossom Brown, and it was from him that Jack had gained many particulars of the remarkable history of the young Shawanoe.
Jack credited the statements of Deerfoot's amazing skill in the use of his bow and arrow, his wonderful fleetness of foot, and his chivalrous devotion to his friends; but when told that the youth could not only read, but could write an excellent hand, and that he was a true Christian, Jack felt many misgivings of the truth of the whole story.
Jack recalled further the statement that Deerfoot was held in such detestation by his own race that he became convinced his presence was an element of weakness rather than strength to his friends, and it was for that reason he had migrated west of the Mississippi.
The youthful warrior, seated in the stem of the canoe, gave no evidence that he saw the stubby figure of the German lad who stepped close to the water and hailed him by name. One powerful impulse of the paddle sent the bark structure far up the bank, like the snout of some aquatic monster plunging after the lad awaiting it.
Before it came to rest, Deerfoot sprang lightly ashore, and, grasping the front of the boat, drew it still further from the river, where it was not only safe against being swept away, but could not be seen by any one passing in the neighborhood.
His next proceeding was to pick up his bow from the bottom of the canoe, after which he was prepared to see that others were near him. Turning about, he extended his hand to Otto with the smiling greeting: "How do you do, my brother?"
The words were spoken with as perfect accentuation as Jack Carleton could have used. Had the speaker been invisible, no one would have believed him to be an Indian.
"I does vell," replied Otto, shaking his hand firmly. "Dis ish my friend, Jack Carleton, dot I dinks a good deal of."
Dropping the hand of the German, Deerfoot took one step forward and saluted the young Kentuckian in the same manner. He pressed his hand warmly, and, with the same smile as before, said:
"Deerfoot is glad to meet his brother."
As he uttered these words the moonlight fell on his face and the front part of his body, so that a better view of countenance and features could not have been obtained.
Nearly a year had passed since we last saw Deerfoot (see "Ned on the River"). During that period, he had almost attained the full stature of a warrior. It may be said that there was no single person, whether of his own or the Caucasian race, whom Deerfoot held in personal fear.
Those who have done me the honor of reading the "Young Pioneer Series," will recall the marked attractiveness of Deerfoot's countenance. The classical regularity of his features was relieved from effeminacy by the slightly Roman nose, which, with the thin lips, gave him an expression of firmness and nerve that was true to his character.
When he stepped in front of the great Tecumseh, with his knife clenched in his band, and dared the chieftain to mortal combat, the luminous black eyes flashed lightning, and the muscles on the graceful limbs were knotted like iron. They were now in repose and the eyes were as soft as those of a maiden.
When Deerfoot smiled it was rarely more than it faint, shadowy expression, just sufficient to reveal the small, even, white teeth and to add to the winsomeness of his expression.
The love of finery and display seems natural to every human being, and it manifested itself in the dress of the young Shawanoe. The long black hair, which streamed down his shoulders, was ornamented at the crown by several eagle feathers, brilliantly stained and thrust in place. The fringes of the neatly fitting leggings were also colored, and the moccasins which incased the small shapely feet, were interwoven with beads of every line of the rainbow. The body of the hunting shirt as well as the skirt, which descended almost to his knees, showed what may be called a certain subdued gaudiness which was not without its attractiveness.
The waist of the Shawanoe was clasped by a girdle into which were thrust a knife and tomahawk. Relying upon the bow, instead of the rifle, he carried a quiver full of arrows, just showing over the right shoulder, where they could be readily plucked with his deft left hand, whenever required.
Deerfoot had tested both the rifle and the bowl and as has been shown gave his adherence to the latter.
Jack Carleton said to himself, "He is the handsomest being I ever looked upon."
He was perfect in build, graceful in every movement, with an activity and power almost incredible, an eye large, black, and honest, but keen and penetrating, and a command of which approached the marvelous.
These characteristics of the young warrior struck Jack Carleton while pressing the warm hand of his new friend and looking into his pleasing countenance for the first time.
"I am delighted to see you," he said, recalling the amazing stories told of Deerfoot by Ned Preston, and beginning to think that, after all, they may have contained more truth than fiction.
Before Jack could add anything more, Otto Relstaub, who was staring at the two, heaved a great sigh, as if fearing some danger would come upon them.
"What is the matter with my brother?" asked Deerfoot, looking inquiringly toward him with his old smile.
"I asks mineself if we stands here till all last night, don't it?"
"I suppose we may as well seek more comfortable quarters," remarked Jack Carleton, who turned to the young warrior and added, "When Deerfoot is present no one else dare lead. What says he?"
AROUND THE CAMP-FIRE
On a tempestuous night in midwinter the little settlement of Coatesville, in Kentucky, was assailed by a fierce band of Shawanoes and Hurons. The pioneers were surprised, for the hour was near daybreak, and, accustomed as they were to the forays of the border, they were without the slightest warning of the danger which burst upon them. They rallied, however, and made an heroic defense, but when with the dawning of day the warriors withdrew, they left more than half the hearthstones darkened with sorrow and woe, because of one or more of its defenders who had fallen in the strife.
Among those that had perished was Abram Carleton, shot down on his own threshold while fighting for his wife and his boy Jack, who themselves were doing their utmost to beat back their merciless enemies.
The youth, as he grew older, gradually recovered from his grief, but the blow was so terrible to the stricken widow that its effect remained with her through all the years that followed. The vivacious, bright-hearted wife became the sad, thoughtful woman, who rarely smiled, and who walked forever in the shadow of her desolation. She had only her boy Jack, and to him she gave the whole wealth of her attention; but she could never forget the brave one that had yielded his life for her and her child.
Some years later a portion of the settlers became dissatisfied with their home, peculiarly exposed as it was to attacks from marauding red men, and determined to cross the Mississippi into that portion of Louisiana which to-day forms the great State of Missouri.
To many it seemed a strange refuge, for the change, it may be said, took them still further from civilization; but the reader well knows that the settlement of no portion of the Union was marked by such deeds of ferocity as that of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and the pioneers had good grounds to hope for better things in the strange land toward which they turned their footsteps.
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