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- On the Trail of Pontiac - 5/40 -
"Not a soul. I looked everywhere, an' tried to git a shot at some of the wild beasts, but they had gone clean an' clear. Then I made up my mind the best to do war to get them babies to some shelter, or they'd freeze to deth. I didn't know ef other folks around here war to hum, so I made for this place. When I got to the split hickory I war so tuckered out I set up the yell you heard."
"Did the man have anything with him besides the babies?" asked Rodney.
"No bundle. But he had his pistols, the knife, a gold watch, some gold and silver, and some other things which I didn't pick up because of the snow an' the wind. Here are the things I did bring along," and Sam Barringford brought them forth from a bag he had carried and laid them in a pile on the table.
SEARCHING FOR CLEWS
The others gathered around and surveyed the articles Barringford had brought along with keen interest. The money amounted to two pounds and six shillings, some in Spanish coin, but mostly in English. The pistols were English weapons, but the knife was such as could be bought at any frontier town in the colonies. The watch was a large, open-faced affair, and on the dial was marked, Richard Gardell, Maker, London, 1742.
"Hard to tell if he was an Englishman or a colonist," mused James Morris. "What of his clothing, Sam?"
"Almost torn to ribbons by the wild beasts."
"We'll have to go back to the spot as soon as the storm clears away," said Joseph Morris.
"You didn't find anything with the man's name on it?" came from Dave.
"Nary a thing, lad. But my search wasn't any too good, remember," answered Barringford.
"As soon as I saw the babies I started for here with 'em."
"Each has a locket around its neck," came from Mrs. Morris suddenly. "Perhaps they will give some clew."
"I trust they do," answered her husband. "That man may have been their father or otherwise only a servant sent to take them to some place. But, be that as it may, we must discover where the little ones belong."
"Oh, let us keep them!" burst in little Nell "I want some little brothers to play with!"
"Hush, dear!" came from the mother. "Mayhap the mother of these little ones is this moment mourning for them and wondering where they can be."
The lockets were small, oval affairs, rather hard to open until a thin knife blade was inserted between the two parts of each. One contained a miniature of an old lady in court dress and the other a portrait of an elderly gentleman, with powdered wig and gold-rimmed spectacles. The face of each was full of kindness and nobleness.
"Two fine old folks, I'll warrant," came from Joseph Morris.
"More than likely the grandparents of the little ones," returned his brother.
"The lockets seem new," said Rodney. "Perhaps they were christening presents, or given to the babies on their first birthday."
"The babies look very much alike and seem of an age," said Mrs. Morris, who had by this time fed them all they cared to eat. "I doubt not but that they are twins."
"Just what I was thinking," said Henry. "You had better remember which locket belongs to each, or you may get 'em mixed up."
"Mercy on us! I never thought of that!" exclaimed his mother. "Let me see,--yes, the first locket came from this one," and she hastened to replace it.
"There is a slight difference in their looks," said Dave, after a close survey of the two tiny faces. "One has a rounder chin than the other and a flatter nose."
"Dave is right," answered his aunt. "But the difference is not very great."
"Will you keep the babies for the present?" questioned Sam Barringford. "I don't know what to do with 'em, I'm sartin."
"To be sure we will," said Mrs. Morris. "Poor dears! if it was their father who was killed, it may go hard with them."
The matter was talked over during the meal and for two hours afterward, but none could reach any conclusion regarding the identity of the little strangers. All agreed that the best thing to do would be to look for more clews as soon as the weather permitted.
There was a large Indian basket in the cabin, in which Dave and Henry usually brought in kindling for the fire. This was emptied and cleaned and in it was made a comfortable bed for the babies to sleep on. Having satisfied their hunger and become thoroughly warm both slept soundly, nor did they awaken until early morning.
By sunrise the storm was practically over, although a few hard particles of snow still whirled down in the high wind. Joseph Morris said they had better wait an hour or two longer for the wind to go down, and this was done.
"Can I go along?" asked Dave eagerly. "I'm sure I won't mind the walk at all."
"I'd like to go, too," added Henry; and when the party started it consisted of the two youths, their fathers, and Sam Barringford.
The men took turns at leading the way and breaking open the trail, no mean task when in some spots the snow lay to a depth of four and five feet. They kept as much as possible in the shelter of the trees and bushes, where the drifts were not so high. The sun, shining clearly, made the scene on all sides a dazzling one. Not a sound broke the stillness, birds and beasts being equally silent.
It took over an hour to reach the ruins of the Chelingworth cabin--one of the first erected in that territory and burnt four times before it was finally abandoned. As they passed the ruins Sam Barringford came to a halt.
"Listen!" he said briefly.
All did so, and at a distance heard a sudden yelping, which gradually increased.
"Wolves!" cried Henry.
"You are right," answered the old frontiersman. "Reckon they have come back to finish their work."
"Let us drive them off," put in Dave, with a shudder. "If there is anything left of the man, we ought to give him a decent burial."
"Yes, lad, I agree; but there ain't much left but bones."
All pushed forward and soon reached the spot where Sam Barringford had made his strange discovery. Five wolves were close by, sniffing eagerly through the snow, and more were in the rear.
"I've my shot-gun," said Dave. "Shall I give 'em a dose?"
"Yes," answered Barringford, and taking aim at two of the foremost wolves, the youth pulled the trigger of his weapon. The report was followed by a mad yelp of pain, and both wolves went down, one dead and the other badly wounded. The other wolves then ran off with all possible speed.
[Illustration: The report was followed by a mad yelp of pain]
"A fair shot, Dave!" cried the old frontiersman, and striding forward he dispatched the wounded wolf with his hunting knife. "Doin' almost as well as Henry now, ain't ye?"
"Not quite as well as that," was Dave's modest answer.
The new fall of snow had covered all traces of the tragedy recently enacted at the spot, but the Morrises had brought along a pair of shovels and a broom, and soon the party was at work, clearing away the snow as Sam Barringford directed.
The remains of man and horse were at last uncovered, and then began an earnest search for some clew which might lead to the identity of the unfortunate person.
"Here is a gold ring," said Henry presently, and held it up.
Joseph Morris took the ring and examined it with care. There was an inscription inside, but it was so worn he could not decipher it.
They also brought to light several pieces of clothing, torn to tatters as Barringford had said. The horse's saddle was likewise there and the reins and curb, but absolutely nothing which gave either name or address.
"This looks as if we were stumped," said Henry, pausing in his labor of digging away the snow.
"Right ye are," came from Barringford. "Too bad! I'd like to know who them twins belong to."
"Reckon they'll belong to you, Sam," said James Morris, with a faint smile.
"Me! Well, I vum! An old man like me, all alone in the world, with twins! What'll I do with 'em? Answered me thet, will ye?" And he scratched his head in perplexity.
"We can keep them for the present," answered Joseph Morris. "Indeed, I don't think my wife will care to give them up in a hurry. She said this morning the youngsters had taken a tight hold of her heart."
"Ef I had a hum of my own--" began Barringford. "But no, 'tain't right--I ought to find out whar they belong."
"Perhaps you can find out all about them at Bedford, or Fort Loudan, or
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