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On Into The Wilderness








From: Far Past The Frontier

Great as the shock of the sudden attack and his narrow escape was, Ree
gave only a little yell of surprise and anger, and ran in the direction
from which the shot had come, drawing his pistol as he went. He found no
one. Though utterly regardless of the danger he might be in by thus
exposing himself, he made a careful search.

"Land o' livin', boy, ye'll be meat for the redskins before ye've crossed
the frontier, if ye don't be keerful!" cried the woodsman, quickly coming
up, springing from tree to tree, and thus always keeping their protecting
trunks between himself and the point from which the mysterious shot had
been fired. "What is the varmint pepperin' away at ye so, for?"

"I haven't the least idea, for I don't know who it is," Ree answered.

But he was glad the woodsman's frank manner left no room to suspect him
of treachery, although there had been grounds for this suspicion in the
circumstance of the shot having been fired just as his own rifle and that
of his friend had been discharged.

John had remained on guard beside Jerry and the cart, watchful for any
sign of their strange enemy, completely mystified by the attack.
Presently he joined Ree and the hunter who were searching for the trail
of the would-be assassin. Tracks were found at last (high up on the rocky
hillside)--those of a white man, for he wore boots; but they were very
faint and Ree declared he would waste no time in attempting to follow
them.

"But I do believe, John," he said, "that the shot which wounded North
Wind was intended for me, and the fellow who shot, then, fired again
to-day."

"You are thinking of Big Pete; I know you are!" John answered. "But I am
sure you are mistaken, Ree. Why it was miles and miles away that North
Wind was shot, and there hasn't been a day since then but what we could
have both been killed, perhaps, by some one hidden along the road."

The woodsman, when he had heard the story, coincided with John's opinion
and Ree said nothing more, though he was not convinced that he was
wrong.

The brisk talk of the stranger turned the boys' thoughts to other
subjects as the journey was resumed. He was by no means a disagreeable
fellow. His real name was "Thomas Trout," he said, but he was everywhere
known as "Tom Fish." He had tramped over all the hills and valleys for
miles around and seemed to know the country thoroughly. He accepted the
boys' invitation to eat dinner with them, and gave a share of the pounded
parched corn he carried in a pouch at his belt, in return for venison and
coarse corn bread, John having baked the latter on a flat stone beside
their camp-fire, the previous night.

When in the afternoon, Tom Fish left the boys he told them they would be
likely to see him at Fort Pitt, and gave them many directions as to where
they had better "put up" while at Pittsburgh, as he called the place,
such being its new name at that time.

John declared he would not sleep a wink that night, but remain on guard
until morning. "For we must be prudent," he said, in a very sober tone,
which from him sounded so funny that Ree laughed outright.

And yet John was probably as prudent a boy as Ree; for the latter was so
almost entirely fearless that he rushed into danger in a way not prudent
at all, and many severe lessons which he learned afterward did not make
him cautious as he should have been.

The night passed without one disturbing incident and the rising sun found
the boys on their way once more; before its setting they reached
Pittsburg.

"Fort Pitt," as they were accustomed to call the straggling hamlet, stood
at the foot of the hills at the confluence of the Allegheny and
Monongahela rivers. Because of its location it was an important place and
even at the time of which this is written (1790) was a point much
frequented by traders, trappers and hunters.

It was with a feeling of awe, that Ree and John drove into the town, and
noticed its old fort, its brick and log buildings and general air of
pioneer hospitality. People stared at them, and some called to them in
the familiar way of the border; but everyone was good-natured and helpful
and almost before the boys knew it their horse had been unhitched and fed
and they themselves were eating supper in a long, low brick building
which served as a sort of public house.

From the first it had been the young travelers' intention to sell their
horse and cart at Fort Pitt and secure passage for themselves and goods
on some flat-boat going down the river. They spoke of the settlement
which General Putnam and others had made at a place they called Marietta
(still known by that name) as their destination, and gave a general idea
of their plans to the men who talked with them as they gathered about the
big fire-place in the evening. They found they would probably be able to
secure transportation down the Ohio within a few days, in company with a
party of emigrants who had been building boats for the trip, expecting to
go to Kentucky.

When the young travelers started out next morning to find a purchaser for
old Jerry, however, they discovered that at that time of year, the demand
for such property was far from brisk. As they walked along the main
street or road, they chanced upon Tom Fish, who hailed them in his rough,
but happy way, and they told him just how they were situated.

"Don't sell the nag, then; come right along with me. I'll show you the
way into a country full of Injuns and game enough to suit ye, in short
order; an' ye won't have to pay no passage down river. Why, there's jes
the spot ye're lookin' for west o' here--rivers an' little lakes, an'
fish an' game--no end o' game. Good place for tradin' too; Injun towns
every forty rods or so."

The woodsman then went on to tell the boys that several years earlier, a
fort, known as Fort Laurens, had been erected on the Tuscarawas river, in
the woods beyond Pittsburg. He was planning to go in that direction, for
a purpose he did not state, and would willingly act as guide. He
cautioned the boys, however, that there was little sign of a broken road
for them to travel upon and that Fort Laurens had long been abandoned
because of the hostility of the savages. But the confidence of the young
traders that they could make friends with the Indians, and Tom's glowing
accounts of the country of which he spoke, caused them to look with favor
upon his proposition.

"We will think about this matter," said Ree, "and let you know. You will
be here a day or two?"

"Yaas, a day or two," said Tom Fish. "But don't let me influence ye; it's
mighty reesky business you kittens is bent on."

"It seems to me like a good plan," Ree reflected aloud, when he and John
were alone. "If we went to General Putnam's settlement we would still
feel that we must go up the Muskingum river to reach the Indians and
profitable trading, and would have to build a raft or buy a boat to carry
our goods. Moreover, people here say that within a few years the country
all about Pittsburg will be settled up and that land will become
valuable."

"Whatever you say suits me," said John with a laugh; and then and there
Ree gave him a talking to for being so ready to accept the judgment of
another, instead of having thoughts and opinions of his own.

But one or two ridiculously low offers the boys received for their horse
and cart, and the discovery that they could not find room on the boat
down the Ohio except at a fancy price, resulted in their decision to join
Tom Fish. They talked all day of the subject, but when they went to bed
that night, they knew that not for many months to come would they sleep
again within the borders of civilization.

A frosty November morning ushered in another day, and early as they were
astir Ree and John found the little town wide awake. Tom Fish was
sky-larking all about saying good-bye to friends, and just a little under
the influence of whiskey. It seemed that everybody knew him; and people
having found out from Tom what they had not already found out from
others, about the venturesome lads from Connecticut, quite an assemblage
gathered to wish the travelers good luck.

A repeated suggestion which had been made to the boys was that they
should abandon their cart and take with them only such goods as they
could carry by using old Jerry as a pack-horse. It was true that for a
portion of the distance they proposed to travel, there was a rough road,
but beyond Fort McIntosh, at the mouth of the Beaver river, they would
have no road but the rough Indian trail. But Tom Fish said he "reckoned
old Colonel Boquet's road was still there," and that they should take the
cart; and they did so.

Tom had joined the boys as their clumsy vehicle creaked along a muddy
street, a little more serious than usual, because of some news he had
heard, he said, but boastful as ever.

"I was talkin' to a big seven-footer in the tavern last night," he
said--"A feller that had a grudge ag'in' me once. He never liked me till
I threw him over a house one day;--threw him clean over a house. It makes
me larff!"

John laughed, too, at this, but he said: "Tom Fish, you weigh a good
three stone (forty-two) more than I do, but I believe I could throw you
in a wrestle. When we stop for dinner, I am going to put you on your
back!"

A laugh long and loud came from the woodsman's throat. "Why, what a
playful kitten ye be!" he exclaimed. "Why, I could toss ye up in the air
and ketch ye nigh a dozen times whilst ye were only thinkin' of throwin'
me."

"I'd like to see you try it," cried John.

"Put aside your nonsense, you two, until noon, now do," Ree laughingly
urged, "and tell us, Tom, of that Colonel Boquet whose road we are to
follow."

"Waal, that's quite a yarn," said Tom Fish. "But le' me see now; le' me
see. It was back when I was jes a young buck, 'long 'bout '64, that this
Colonel Boquet, who was a mighty decent citizen for a Frenchman, made up
his mind to get a whack at the pesky Injuns which had been killin' an'
scalpin' an' burnin' an' robbin' all along the border of Pennsylvania an'
Virginia an' Lord knows where all.

"Waal, the state of Pennsylvania an' the state of Virginia helped him
with sojers an' he mustered scouts enough so that in all he had nigh onto
2,000 men. He marched 'em straight into the woods, the whole caboodle on
'em, clearin' a road as he went, an' takin' along a lot o' sheep an'
cows, and provender for the sojers without end. He went straight along
till he come to the Muskingum river, an' there he camped out, makin' a
show with all his men an' pack-horses an' everything, that scared the
Mingoes an' the Delawares half to death for fear he'd stay right there
an' build a town amongst 'em.

"They was willin' to do most anything to get rid of him, an' there was
only one thing that he would hear to. He give 'em jes' ten days to trot
into his camp every prisoner they had in all their towns far an' near,
an' told 'em that if ary a one was held back, he'd march on every pesky
village an' knock 'em sky high an' burn 'em down.

"Waal! them Injuns was so scared, they commenced gettin' their prisoners
together right off, and they trotted two hundred on 'em up to the front
door of Colonel Boquet's tent inside them ten days. An' there was doin's
for sartin then!--Pow wows among the sojers who found all sorts of
relations that the Delawares or the Wyandots or the pesky Mingoes had
carried off, an' pow wows among the men, an' the women an' the children
that was brought out o' their captivity like the Children of Israel.

"Then Colonel Boquet marched 'em all back to Fort Pitt an' he sent for me
an' told me what he'd done, an' asked me what I thought on it. I was
scoutin' out of Fort Pitt then, and I jes' shook his hand an' says:
'Colonel Boquet ye're a reg'lar rip-snorter.'"

"Did you ever hear of the terrible Captain Archer, the outlaw of war
times?" asked the fun-loving John, inventing the name to see what Tom
would say; for he had his own opinion as to Colonel Boquet having asked
Thomas Fish what he thought of that Indian expedition.

"Cap. Archer? Old Cap. Archer! Well I rayther guess I knew him, an' if he
ain't forgot it, he carries a little lead pill out of my old steel bottle
of Injun medicine, clean to this day. Yaas, many a scrimmage I had with
old Cap. Archer."

John was for carrying his questioning further, though he could hardly
keep from laughing, but Ree shook his head, unwilling to make fun of one
who was so kind to them.

The travelers made excellent progress that morning, finding a very fair
road for that rough country, along the river. They met occasional
settlers and hunters and whether he knew them or not, Tom Fish always
stopped to talk and always asked whether everything was quiet along the
border. Many shook their heads, and spoke gloomily of the outlook for
peace with the Indians remaining long unbroken.

From a couple of friendly Indians they met, Ree secured a quarter of
venison in exchange for a cheap trinket, and although he accompanied the
performance with a great deal of bragging, Tom did show the boys that he
was a past-master in the art of broiling venison steaks. The fine dinner
they had as a result, set his tongue wagging more than ever, however, and
John Jerome was more than anxious to take some of the vanity out of him.

They had camped upon a hillside sloping down to the river--the Ohio. The
day had come on bright and warm as Indian summer could be, and John had
thrown off his coat.

"Now, Mr. Fish," he said with a laugh, "You see the river down there?
I've been thinking there may be some one of the same name as yourself in
that water, and I've a mind to send you to visit your relations."

The merry laugh of the hunter rang shrill and clear.

"Be ye? Oh, be ye?" he cried, jumping to his feet. "If it wa'n't fer
hurtin' ye, I'd throw ye clean across to yon hillside!" and he pointed to
a spot nearly a mile away, across the river.

"It's a good thing for you there are so many leaves on the ground to
break your fall," John answered, rolling up his sleeves.

"Don't wrestle so much with your mouths," Ree admonished them.

"Why, I could handle both of ye; come on, the two of ye to onc't!" the
hunter cried.

But the next moment he found in John, alone, about as much of a task as
he cared to undertake. For two minutes they heaved and tugged, John's
wiry frame seeming to be all around the woodsman, who was by no means
clumsy, though he could not put him down. Then they broke apart and for a
minute made feints at one another, each hoping to secure an advantage.

At last the hunter's arms shot out, his hands seized John's arms so
quickly, and he lifted the boy off his feet and keeled him over with such
dexterity, that the lad lay sprawling on his back almost before he knew
what was happening.

The glee of Tom Fish was quite ridiculous. He danced about and almost
screamed with laughter.

"It is your turn, Ree," said John good-naturedly.

"Whenever our friend is ready," Ree responded.

"Come on! Come on!" Tom cried. "Oh, what frisky kittens ye be!"

Peter Piper, the half-breed, had taught Return Kingdom a trick or two at
wrestling. And now he allowed the hunter to lift him off the ground, then
he let his muscles relax, his dead weight falling in his opponent's arms.
Suddenly getting his feet to the ground in this way, he sprang against
the hunter's muscular frame with such rapidity of thought and motion that
he was able by a tremendous lightning-like effort to jerk one of the
man's legs from under him, sending him down, while he, himself, came
uppermost.

"Ye're pretty fair," Tom Fish muttered; but it was plain to be seen that
something he very little expected had happened to him.





Next: Friends Or Foes?

Previous: On Lonely Mountain Roads



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