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- On the Trail of Pontiac - 10/40 -
and gather up the best part of the beans.
"Never mind," said Barringford philosophically. "Those beans will grow, and when you come back this way ag'in ye can pick 'em, Henry."
"Thank you, but I shan't come back just for a quart or two of beans," was the youth's answer. If the silence was sometimes oppressive during the day it was doubly so at night. Occasionally some birds would break the stillness, or they would hear the croaking of frogs in the marshes, or the bark of a distant fox, but that was all. If any big game was at hand it took good care to keep its distance.
The party soon reached the river where Dave had had his stirring adventure on horseback, as already described in "With Washington in the West," and the youth pointed out to his cousin the spot where he had gone into the rapids.
"I'll never forget that event," said he, with something like a shudder. "It was what Barringford would call a close call."
Fortunately there was now a good fording place at hand, so the entire party crossed without difficulty. On the other shore the trail made a new turn, and now began the ascent of a long hill, up which the pack-horses moved with the pace of snails. Those in the saddle had often to dismount and lead their steeds, and at the end of each mile all stopped for a needed rest.
"Don't know as this 'ere trail is as good as tudder," remarked Sam Barringford. "But they tell me it knocks three miles out o' the bend, an' that's something'."
James Morris and the old frontiersman had imagined the weather would remain fair, but on the morning of the fourth day out a cold rain set in that chilled all to the bone. The Indians under White Buffalo wished to go into camp at once, but James Morris decided to keep on and did so until the middle of the afternoon, when, as the storm increased, the party halted beneath a large clump of trees and lost no time in getting out their shelters and putting them up. The Indians had a wigwam of skins and the whites two canvas coverings. These were placed close together, and a roaring camp fire was started near by, where all hands tried to dry themselves and get warm. A steaming hot meal was also served, which did much to make everybody feel comfortable.
"I do hate a cold rain on a march," grumbled Henry, as he crouched in the shelter beside Dave. "Makes me feel like a wet hen that can't get inside of the coop."
"If only one doesn't catch cold," replied Dave. "Don't you remember the cold I caught when we were up at Lake Ontario?"
"To be sure; and I had a cold myself." Henry paused for a moment. "Where has Barringford gone?"
"He said he was going to try to stir up some game. I don't know what he expects to get in this rain."
"He ought to know what he is doing. He is the best white hunter that I ever ran across."
An hour passed, and by that time it was dark. The Indians sat in their wigwam smoking and talking in low guttural tones. The white hunters were also telling yarns of the war and of the various Indian uprisings before that time. They were thrilling tales and the youths listened to them with deep interest. Both Dave and Henry had been through a great deal themselves, so they knew that the stories, though wild and wonderful, were probably based on facts. To-day, when we live in such security and comfort, we can hardly realize the dangers and privations those pioneers endured to make our glorious country so full of rich blessings to us.
Growing tired of sitting down, Henry had just arisen to stretch his limbs, when a sudden rushing sound through the forest reached his ears.
"What is that?" he questioned, and instinctively reached for his rifle.
"Some animal, I reckon," answered Dave.
A rifle shot rang out, and the sound came closer. Then, as Henry ran out of the shelter, he uttered a yell of alarm.
"A buffalo! Lookout!"
He was right, a magnificent specimen of the buffalo tribe was crashing along under the wet trees and among the bushes. He was alone and rushing along at his best speed. In a twinkling he struck the clump of trees, and, hitting the shelter of the whites, smashed it flat!
HENRY'S STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE
In days gone by the American buffalo, or bison, roamed nearly the entire length and breadth of North America. The Indians hunted the animal industriously, but their efforts with bow and spear were not sufficient to exterminate the species.
But with the coming of the white man to America matters took a different turn. The buffalo could not run away so easily from a rifle shot, and armed with the best weapons they could obtain, Indians and white hunters rounded up the buffaloes at every possible opportunity, in order to obtain the pelts. This soon caused the animals to thin out and flee to the westward, beyond the Mississippi, where they at last sought refuge in the Rocky Mountains. So fiercely have they been hunted during the past seventy-five years that to-day but a few herds remain and ere long these promise to be totally exterminated.
Henry had never seen a buffalo so far to the eastward and he was therefore much astonished at the sudden appearance of the shaggy-headed beast. He gave a yell of alarm, which was followed by another yell from Dave, as the frail shelter bent beneath the weight of the buffalo.
"A bison!" shouted James Morris, and White Buffalo took up the cry of alarm. Then down went the canvas flat, and the buffalo made a plunge for the forest beyond. Henry heard a groan from Dave, as the youth was covered up. Not waiting longer, he raised his gun, took hasty aim at the animal and fired.
"Did ye git him?" The query came from Sam Barringford, as, bare-headed, he rushed into the little clearing back of the trees. "I give him one in the side but it didn't seem to stop him none."
"I don't know if I hit him or not," answered Henry. "He burst upon us so swiftly I hardly knew what to do."
While this talk was going on James Morris was crawling from under the wreck of the tent. Barringford reloaded and ran on after the buffalo and Henry did likewise. They could hear the great beast plunging headlong through the brush.
"He has got it putty bad," remarked Barringford. "If he hadn't he wouldn't ram into things so hard. Reckon he hardly knows what he is doin'."
"I hope we get him," answered Henry, his eyes filled with eager desire. "We would have fresh meat for a long time, and plenty of jerked beef, too."
More than half a mile was covered and still the buffalo kept on, much to the surprise of the young hunter and the pioneer.
"Not so badly hit as I reckoned on," panted Barringford.
"Perhaps I didn't hit him at all," was Henry's answer.
Soon they gained the top of a rise of ground. Here the rocks were smooth and slippery, and in a twinkling Henry went down and rolled over and over down a long hill.
"Hi! hi! stop yourself!" roared Barringford in quick alarm. "Stop, or ye'll go over the cliff!"
His alarm was justified, for the hill ended in a cliff all of thirty feet in height, below which were some jagged rocks and a small mountain torrent flowing into the upper Monongahela.
Henry heard the cry but did not understand the words. Yet he did not like the idea of rolling he knew not to where, and dropping his gun he caught at the wet rocks and bushes which came to hand. But his downward progress was not stayed, and in a few seconds he reached the edge of the cliff and rolled out of sight!
[Illustration: Henry ... rolled over and over down a long hill]
The incident happened so quickly that Barringford was almost stunned. He started to go down the hill after Henry but for fear of meeting a like fate, dropped on his breast in the wet and worked his way along from rock to bush with great caution. Twice he called Henry's name, but no answer came back.
"If he went over on them rocks it's likely he was smashed up," he groaned. "Why didn't I have sense enough to hold him back? I knew this dangerous spot was here."
Step by step he drew closer to the edge of the cliff. The snows of the past winter had washed away and loosened much of the ground, and once he felt as if everything was giving way and he was to share the fate of his companion.
At last he was within three feet of the edge of the cliff. He could look down into the gully beyond but not down on the side where he felt Henry must be resting.
"Henry!" he called loudly. "Henry!"
He waited for fully a minute, but no answer came back. His face grew more disturbed than ever.
"He is hurt, that's sartin," he muttered. "Like as not he broke his neck."
Barringford always carried a bit of rope with him and he now had the same piece used in dragging the elk to the Morris homestead. Taking this, he tied it to a stout bush, and by this means lowered himself to the very edge of the cliff.
Night was now approaching, and at the bottom of the gully all was so dark he could see only with the greatest of difficulty. The torrent ran among rough rocks and brushwood, with here and there a patch of long grass bent flat from the winter's snows.
"Henry! Where are you?"
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