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Again A Hidden Enemy








From: Far Past The Frontier

The boys were early astir the following morning. As soon as they were up
Capt. Pipe's wife placed a dish of boiled corn, like hominy, before them,
and this was their breakfast. A little later, telling Capt. Pipe of the
great amount of work they had to do, the lads bade him good-bye, the
chief giving them each a pouch of parched corn, and sending an Indian to
take them in a canoe across the lake.

It was two hours past noon when Tom Fish suddenly started up from the
broiled turkey with which he was regaling himself, as he heard some one
approach, and discovered Ree and John returning. He greeted them gladly,
but not in his usual hilarious fashion, and they could not but notice how
unlike himself he was as he carved for them some juicy slices from the
fine young gobbler he had cooked. Yet he listened with interest to Ree's
account of their trip, John often breaking in with such jolly comment as:
"You should have heard those Indians talk! Why they beat a quilting bee
for gabbling, except that they didn't all talk at once."

"But they are real orators," added Ree quite soberly. "I've heard that an
Indian has three ambitions--to be a mighty hunter, a great warrior and a
grand orator; and there are some splendid speakers among the Delawares."

"The's some red-handed, bloody murderers among 'em, too, I kin tell ye,"
Tom Fish growled. "I got no rest whilst ye was gone, a thinkin' of it."

"Has anything happened, Tom?" asked Ree, struck by his friends grave
manner.

"Cheer up, Thomas, cheer up!" cried John. "You've been about as cheerful
company as a box of indigo ever since you saw that--that hideous thing at
Big Buffalo's belt."

"Well, it's a wonder the' didn't nothing happen, an' somethin's goin' to
happen, I know," the hunter replied to Ree's question, ignoring John's
bantering, as he often did. "That Buffalo varmint means harm. I've been
thinkin' it all over an' the' ain't no two ways about it. If I ain't a
sight mistaken, I seen him peekin' down from the hill back there, not a
half hour ago--either him or some dirty Mingo; I didn't exactly see him,
but I heard some one, an' I'd a' peppered away at him if you kittens
hadn' 'a been gone an' me not knowin' just where ye might be. So I've
been thinkin' it all over, an' mighty sorry I am I ever piloted ye into
this hostyle kentry. The's only one thing to do, an' that's to take what
stuff ye kin an' get back to Pittsburg fast as yer legs kin take ye. Now
as fer me, I kin take care of myself, but I'll see ye part way anyhow,
an' I'd go clear back with ye if I didn't have somethin' very important
to 'tend to."

Ree could not help but smile at Tom's drooping spirits, though the
discouraging talk made it necessary for him to appear really more
cheerful than he felt, as he realized that Big Buffalo really seemed
anxious to cause trouble. But he shook his head at John, as he saw the
latter about to scold Tom for bringing them into this part of the
wilderness only to advise them to leave it; for his chum's face showed
that he was not pleased with Tom's manner.

"There is just one thing to be done," Ree exclaimed.

"An' that's get right back--" Tom Fish was saying.

But the youthful leader of the party interrupted: "Go back? No, sir! The
one thing to do is to go forward, and take our goods with us without
further loss of time. We will get a good, stout cabin up and then we'll
be better prepared for trouble if it comes. And that prowler, you heard,
Tom, must have been the same cowardly wretch who shot old Jerry. We must
watch for him. We cannot be too careful, but if he is the same fellow who
fired on us and nearly killed Black Eagle's son, 'way back on the
Pennsylvania border, I think I can guess who it is, and I can tell you,
he is a coward. But let's get to work."

"I like yer spunk, lad, an' I like you, but what I want to say is, that
Tom Trout as some calls Fish, will stick by ye till ye get some sort of a
shack throwed up, anyhow."

"Bully for you, Tom! And bully for you, too, Ree," exclaimed John
springing up to begin whatever task awaited him. "I was beginning to get
away down in the mouth, the way Tom was talking a minute ago."

"We must take the goods out of the cart and pack them in convenient shape
for carrying," Ree directed, without further ado. "By dragging a few
things forward a hundred rods or so, then coming back for more and so on,
we should reach the river in a couple of days."

And so all fell to work with a will. The cart did not contain a heavy
load, as it would have been impossible for old Jerry to have hauled it
through the woods, up hills, across streams and boggy places. But when it
came to carrying forward everything except the cart, which must be
abandoned, without the aid of a horse, the task was found to be a most
laborious one.

The unpacking and rearranging consumed so much time that darkness had
come on before the last bundle of the merchandise and provisions had been
carried forward to the first stopping place, a little way beyond the top
of the bluff, in the valley below which the camp had been.

While John and Tom erected a shelter for the night, for the wind was cold
and raw, Ree returned to the valley to procure coals with which to start
a fire at the new camp. He found it necessary to enliven the dying embers
with a few fresh sticks of wood, and as he stooped over to blow greater
life into the struggling blaze which started up, he heard a rustling in
the leaves on the hill behind him, in the direction opposite that in
which his friends were. Like a flash he sprang away from the fire into
the half-darkness which filled the valley. He was in the nick of time. A
rifle cracked and a bullet threw up the ashes and sent the sparks flying
where his head had been just a second before.

With the speed of the wind Ree ran in the direction from which the shot
had come, his own rifle cocked and ready. He thought he heard some one
making off in the darkness as he reached the top of the hill, but whether
white man or Indian--Delaware or Mingo, he could not tell. He called out
a command to halt, but no attention was given his order for the uncertain
sound of fleeing footsteps continued. He chanced a shot in the direction
of the unknown enemy, although he realized it would probably do no good.

While he reloaded his rifle Ree stepped behind a tree, and a few seconds
later John came running up. As it was too dark to continue the chase,
both boys returned to camp, stopping in the ravine to secure a fire brand
to start a blaze to prepare their supper. In vain did John ask questions
as to whom Ree believed the would-be murderer was; they could not be
answered, for, as Ree said, he had not seen the person.

Tom Fish, disconsolate as he well could be, sat on a big bundle of
merchandise as the boys rejoined him.

"It's sure death to stay here, lads," were the first words he said, and
his tone was not calculated to make the young travelers comfortable; but
resolving to look on the brighter side, Ree cheerily answered:

"A man is in some danger wherever he is. We will all feel better when we
smell some venison on the hot coals. And just wait till we get our cabin
built! We are going to get some beans and late squashes from the Indians,
and bake some corn bread, and have a regular old-fashioned Connecticut
supper!"

"Did ye hit him, d'ye think, Ree?" asked Tom, brightening up.

"No, but he scared him into eleven kinds of fits," John answered for his
friend, catching the spirit of the latter's courage and enthusiasm.

"It ain't that I am caring for myself. Tom Fish, or Tom Trout didn't ever
lose a wink o' sleep bein' afraid he couldn't look out for number one,"
the woodsman went on. "But after--after that--thing we saw the other
day--but I guess we've got our appetites left," he said, suddenly
changing the subject.

It was not long until the supper was ready and eaten and all did feel
much the better for it, as Ree had predicted. The ordinary noises of the
forest, the howling of wolves, in pursuit of some poor deer, perhaps, the
far-away shriek of a panther balked of its prey, it may have been, gave
them little concern. Though the darkness was intense and enemies might
draw very near without being observed, the boys believed they had made
peace with the Indians and the presence of four-footed enemies did not
worry them.

Tom Fish felt very differently about the matter of the Indians'
friendship, but he kept these thoughts to himself for the time being, and
though there are far more comfortable places than a camp in a great
wilderness on a cold November night, the lads from Connecticut would have
been entirely happy had it not been for the mystery of the strange
prowler, the thought that several times they had been secretly fired
upon, and that there was no knowing when another attack might be made in
which the aim of the dastardly assailant need be but a trifle better to
end the life of one or both of them, perhaps.

Yet, even these gloomy facts could not dispel the good spirits which
accompany good health and the hopefulness of youth. Even Tom seemed to
forget his dark forebodings as he was persuaded to tell a number of
stories of his own adventures. Quite comfortable, therefore, though on
the alert to catch the first sound of danger's coming, the little party
sat for an hour or two beneath the rude shelter which had been erected,
while the firelight performed its fantastic feats around them.

Tom volunteered to remain on guard the first part of the night, and crept
out at the back of their little house of poles and brush, that he might
not be observed, should anyone be watching. Then, softly through the
darkness he made his way to a convenient tree against which he leaned, in
the dark shadows. Ree and John, wrapped in their blankets on their beds
of deerskins spread over the autumn leaves, were soon asleep.

A heavy snow was sifting through the swaying branches of the trees when
Tom called Ree and the latter went on watch. This change in the weather
gave the quick-witted sentinel an idea. With the first streak of dawn he
called John to prepare breakfast, then hurried back to the valley where
their cart had been left, taking care to observe that there were no
tracks of any human creature along the way. From the box of the abandoned
two-wheeled wagon he secured two good sized boards and carried them to
camp.

John watched in open-mouthed astonishment as he saw Ree coming up with
the lumber, but in a minute or two he discovered what his friend designed
to do. With no other tools than an axe and auger he soon built a sled
large and strong enough to carry all their goods.

Ree's idea proved an excellent one. The snow-fall was just enough to make
a sled run smoothly, and by a little after sunrise "all the property of
Kingdom and Jerome, Indian traders and home-seekers," as John expressed
it, was piled upon the pair of runners which the senior member of the
firm had contrived, and they and Tom Fish were steadily drawing it toward
their long-sought destination.

"We must reach the Cuyahoga river by night," Ree urged, and his own
determination gave strength to himself and his companions. Up hill and
down hill they hurried, tugging, perspiring, making the best speed
possible through the silent forest.

And as the sun burst through a sea of gray-black clouds, and shone
brilliantly just before night's coming, it seemed an omen of good to the
little party in the wilderness, for at almost the same moment, Ree,
running on a head a little way, cried: "Here we are!"

Before the daylight closed, the site of the cabin, work on which was to
begin the next day, had been selected on the long irregular mound close
to the river, which has already been described.

Ree called attention to the natural advantages of the place--its sides
sloping down in three directions while on the fourth side and thirty feet
below was the river. It was a point which could be defended in case of an
attack, and the additional fact of the natural clearing and fertile lands
surrounding it, made the place seem most desirable.

"The's only one thing the matter with this location," said Tom Fish,
surveying the mound from the semi-circular valley around it, as the
twilight settled down. "The's likely to be ague in a place like this, it
bein' so nigh the water. It's a mighty good thing to steer clear of, ague
is."

"But there are so many natural advantages," Ree persisted, "and our cabin
will be well up in the air and the sunlight."

"That's a good point, Ree," John put in, "but think of it--we will have
to carry all our firewood up that hill."

"I'll carry the wood if you play out, old chap," was the answer and the
matter ended by Ree having his own way, as was generally the case, not
because he was selfish or obstinate, but because he was sure he was right
before he made up his mind, and because he had that born spirit of
leadership which gave himself and all others confidence in his decisions
and actions.

Although careful observation during the day had failed to reveal any sign
of their prowling foe, whoever he might be, Ree and John agreed to divide
the guard duty of the night between them. Ree took the first watch and
reported all quiet when John relieved him at midnight.

When daylight came John went a little way up the wooded hillside opposite
the mound to pick up some dry wood for their fire. Suddenly he stopped
and a startled look came upon his face. There in the snow were
foot-prints made by moccasined feet. They followed the trail the sled had
made the day before, up to the very edge of the clearing in which their
camp was made.

There, John found, as he guardedly investigated, they circled off to one
side a little way, hovered about, here and there, then re-crossed the
sled's track and disappeared in the woods. What could it mean? Instantly
he remembered that the foot-prints of the person who had several times
fired upon their camp, had been made by boots. He hurried to the camp
mentally ejaculating: "What will Tom Fish say of this?"

Tom was still asleep, but Ree had commenced the breakfast. "It is too
bad," he said, thinking aloud, as he learned of John's discovery. "I
suppose we ought to follow those tracks if only for safety's sake, and
find out who made them, but I do hate to lose the time when we ought to
be getting a cabin built."

The discovery was pointed out to Tom when he awoke a little later.

"A prowlin' Mingo!" the old hunter exclaimed as he inspected the
foot-prints. "Kittens both, the's trouble brewin'. It's a wonder the
varmint didn't shoot. I don't see what he's up to, always doggin' us this
way! But I'll tell ye what I'll do. You lads get yer axes an' go to work,
an' I'll foller up them tracks. An' bust my galluses, kittens both, I'll
give the varmint a dose as'll make him think of his pore ol' granddad, if
I ketch him!"

Tom's suggestion found favor at once, though the boys could not explain
the varying moods of their friend, which made him cool and courageous one
day and dejected and fearful another. But breakfast being over, Tom set
out.

"Be careful," Ree called after him. "Don't get yourself or us into any
row with the Delawares, unnecessarily." The hunter made no answer.





Next: Building A Cabin

Previous: A Night With The Indians



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