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The Beginning Of A Perilous Journey








From: Far Past The Frontier

"Hitch yer cheers up t' the blaze; it's a cool night fer September," said
Captain Bowen, drawing his own splint-bottom chair toward the great
fire-place of his homely but thoroughly comfortable home, and slowly
sipping new cider, just old enough to sparkle, from the bright pewter mug
containing it.

"An' help yerselves to some more cider, naow dew; I like a man to feel at
home," he went on as Return Kingdom and John Jerome gave heed to his
kindly bidding.

"Naow as I was a sayin'," Captain Bowen continued, "I r'ally kent advise
yeu youngsters t' undertake these plans yer minds air set on. The Injuns
hev hated us whites worse than ever sence the British turned their back
to 'em after the war was over, an' comin' so soon after their hevin'
helped the pestiferous Redcoats so much--they fit fer 'em tooth an'
toe-nail as the sayin' is, ye know--as I was sayin' it rankles in their
in'ards. General Washington--peace to him--he's did all he kin toward
pacifyin' 'em, an' it ain't no wonder they call him the 'Great Father';
but so many other men hev cheated 'em, an' so many settlers air crowdin'
into their huntin' graounds thet they air jist ready to lift the hair of
any white man they catch sight on, a'most. Ye air takin' long chances,
boys, I do tell ye."

"We want to hear both sides of the matter," Ree answered, and Captain
Bowen resumed, saying in his own slow, homely but kindly way, that it was
into the very thick of the savages that the boys were planning to go. He
reminded them of the barbarous cruelties the Indians had practiced as
allies of the King's troops in the war, and told them briefly the story
of the battle Col. Crawford had fought with the savages in the Ohio
country, ending with the burning of Col. Crawford at the stake.

He cautioned his young friends further of the hazardous nature of the
journey through an unsettled country, a long part of the way lying over
the Allegheny mountains. He told them of the cutthroats they would be
likely to encounter--rough men, who, for adventure's sake, had gone into
the war, and had never been satisfied to settle down to lives of peace
and respectability after the close of the Revolution. As he paused at
last, there was quiet for a minute or two. Then Return Kingdom said:

"We have thought of these things, Captain, and maybe we are head-strong,
but we are bent on going. There is little future for a young man here. I
will soon have no home, and John can well be spared from his. All we can
do, if we do not emigrate and secure homes of our own, is to hire out as
farm hands, and, as you know, labor is not greatly in demand. And as we
have said, we expect to go among the Indians partly as traders. The land
we shall settle upon, we expect to buy from them.

"Traders who have behaved themselves have not had much trouble, and we
hope to make peace with every tribe we fall in with. The truth is,
Captain, we really have more fear of finding ourselves in the woods with
a lot of stuff we do not need, taking up the room in our cart and adding
to our load, while that which we should have will not be within reach,
than we have of trouble with the Indians."

"People say it will be only a few years until all the country about the
Ohio river will be settled," put in John Jerome.

"Y-a-as, land agents say that," smiled Captain Bowen, "but I ain't so
sure on it. Folks kin still find plenty of hardships right here in
Connecticut 'thout pokin' off t' the Ohio Valley or the northwest kentry.
But I tell you what, youngsters," he exclaimed with sudden enthusiasm, "I
wish I was ten years younger, I'd go with ye, bless me if I wouldn't!
They do bring tales of a marvelous kentry from the valley where my ol'
friend General Putnam an' his colony settled!"

From that moment Ree and John had smooth sailing so far as getting advice
and information from Captain Bowen was concerned. Then and there,
however, the Captain had to tell them all he knew about the colony of
brave men who had founded Marietta on the Ohio river, nearly three years
earlier. "An' they do tell that game is thick there as fleas on a
homeless, yaller dog," he said.

Though he knew that his wish that he might accompany the boys could never
be gratified, Captain Bowen entered into the spirit of their plans and
hopes with whole-souled ardor. He took great delight in telling the boys
of his own youth and his adventures. He seemed to grow young again in
their presence. Many times, too, he told them of sixteen-year-old Jervis
Cutler, who, as a member of General Putnam's party, was the first to leap
ashore and the first to cut down a tree in the new country whose
settlement their enterprise had started.

Throughout, the boys found Captain Bowen's assistance of the greatest
value. He went to town with them and helped them make their purchases,
which he took into his own home, as a central point of assembling, the
articles bought for the expedition, and helped to pack them in the
handiest and most compact manner; and many a thing of value and use which
he paid for with his own money, found its way at his hands into the
outfit the lads were getting together.

The route of the journey Captain Bowen also aided the boys in planning,
and his knowledge of the country stood them in excellent stead. He
prepared maps for them--home-made affairs it is true, and not absolutely
accurate, but yet worth much to those who planned to cross a thinly
settled country to the wilderness beyond. It was by the way of Braddock's
road that he advised the boys to go, following for the most part the
course Gen. Putnam's party had taken after leaving Hartford in 1788. This
party had made the trip in three months, including a long wait while
boats were built in which to float down the Ohio river.

Captain Bowen figured that Ree and John could make better time and reach
Fort Pitt (Pittsburg) before November first. There they could probably
secure passage down the river without difficulty. In many other ways the
genial old man lent his aid, and the boys never went to him that they did
not find him brimming over with ideas for their benefit.

The news that Ree and John were going to the Ohio wilderness, and
alone--soon spread through the surrounding country. Men who hitherto had
scarcely noticed them, now came up to shake hands and advise the lads as
to this or that, whenever they chanced to meet them. Others shook their
heads gloomily and lost no opportunity to throw cold water on the
project. The young people of the community talked more of Ree Kingdom and
John Jerome going west than of anything else. There were envious ones who
predicted that the boys would return a great deal faster than they went,
or that they would not live to return at all. There were those of better
dispositions, however, who, while recognizing the peril of the proposed
venture, hoped and promised for the chums, all success.

It was with one of the former that John had an encounter which was talked
about for weeks afterward. Jason Hard, the cobbler, a stocky Englishman,
thirty years old perhaps, had been making slighting remarks about both
John and Ree and their plans in the presence of a small company of men
who were at the tavern awaiting the coming of the stage. As John
approached the inn someone said:

"Now here's young Jerome himself, just say to his face what you were
saying behind his back, Jason Hard!"

"I was sayin' that if his father wasn't shiftless, the young 'un wouldn't
need to be leavin' 'ome, an' I say it again," ejaculated the cobbler,
with arms akimbo, standing directly in front of John in an insolent
manner.

"Look here! Take that back, you son of a Tory; my father has worked too
hard to help his son get a start in life, for me to stand by and hear
such talk! I say, take it back!" John bristled up like a porcupine.

The insolent Englishman sprang toward him as though to strike him, paused
a moment, then suddenly let fly a blow straight for the boy's jaw. Most
luckily John dodged in time, then with the agility of a cat he jumped
toward the fellow and planted one fist just below his ear and the other
squarely on his chin tumbling him to the ground.

Captain Bowen, who drove up just in time to see the encounter, was
tickled amazingly. Others enjoyed the exhibition almost as much, and gave
a cheer for the boy, while the badly bruised cobbler stood by rubbing his
head, as though he wondered what had occurred.

Captain Bowen cautioned John against being too prone to take offense,
especially as he would soon have Indians to deal with, but he secretly
rejoiced in the lad's spunk. The Captain drove out of his way to take
John home in his light wagon, while he was thus advising him.

The day of their separation was drawing quickly nearer, and John was
spending as much time with his parents, brothers and sisters as he
conveniently could. Often they urged him to abandon his preparations, but
as it was with Return Kingdom that he was going, neither the father nor
mother was willing to say he must not go. Both felt that he would be in
good hands and in good company.

And Mrs. Catesby and Mary more than once, also, sought to dissuade Ree
from emigrating. It was kind of them and their words of sympathy did Ree
good, but he smiled at their fears and promised that he would return to
assist in welcoming them home from the city, if they should be returning
when Mary's education was completed.

How often Ree had cause to remember these promises so light-heartedly
made, and the comforts he was leaving behind, within a few short
months--when days of danger and sleepless nights of peril came!

There was so much to be done that time passed quickly. The Sunday
preceding the Monday morning on which they were to start, Ree and John
went to church together, and heard the good old preacher make special
reference to them in his prayer--that God would guide and protect the
young wayfarers and that they would not forget His mercy and wisdom.
Every eye in the church was turned toward the boys, embarrassing them
more than a little and making them wish they were safely started and well
away from their excellent but altogether too curious friends.

Ree went home to dinner with John, and on his way to the Catesby farm in
the evening he went across the fields to the quiet church-yard. Under the
clear, cold stars he sat beside a grassy mound and for an hour was quiet
as the grave itself. Many tender memories crept through his heart and in
his thoughts was an unspoken prayer. Thus he took leave of the spot to
him most sacred--his angel mother's grave.

To his surprise Ree found Mrs. Catesby and Mary waiting for him in the
combined sitting-room and kitchen, when he entered the house.

"As you will be leaving so very early, sir, we thought to say good-bye to
you to-night," said Mary with feigned solemnity. And a little later she
said as they were talking, "I do hope you will be as good as your name
and will bring your scalp safely home with you when you do 'return'."

Ree laughed and promised he would do so, but he blushed, and seeing
which, Mary Catesby did the same, and looked her very prettiest.

"We shall think of you often, Return, and maybe you will be able
sometimes to send us a letter. We shall be glad to hear from you, and oh,
my boy, be careful--careful in all things," Mrs. Catesby said.

There were more teasing words from Mary, and more advice and real tears,
from Mrs. Catesby and her daughter, too, before the final good-byes were
said at last.

* * * * *

The late September sun spread a soft, warm haze over old Connecticut. A
great, two-wheeled, canvas-covered cart lumbered slowly along the country
road. Walking beside the one large horse which drew the vehicle, was
Return Kingdom, his battered beaver hat on the back of his head, a smile
of buoyant hope upon his lips. Sitting on a chest, his feet hanging over
the front of the wagon box, his back against a bundle of blankets which
made a fine cushion, was John Jerome. Joy in living and satisfaction with
himself and all mankind were written in every line of his face. It was
eight o'clock of a Monday morning. Two hours earlier the long journey
toward the unknown Northwest had begun.

"Why, ye'r in a terrible hurry, youngsters! Thought I'd never ketch ye!"

It was Captain Bowen who called out, driving his spirited team alongside
of the emigrant wagon as he did so.

"After ye'd gone, it come to me all of a sudden that ye'd stand a chance
of meetin' an old friend of mine. He is an Iroquois Injun of the Mohawk
tribe an' his name is High Horse. General Putnam gave him this knife fer
doin' some thin' or other one time, an' High Horse gave it to me 'cause I
shared powder an' bullets with him when he was out, an' durin' the war at
that. Seems t' me naow, tew, that I pulled him through some sick spell or
somethin'. Any haow he give me the knife. If ye see him tell him ye know
me. I heerd that he was livin' up some crick emptyin' into the Ohio."

Almost before the boys could thank the Captain he had turned and was
gone, having thrown a long-bladed knife with a curiously carved ivory
handle--a relic of some Dutch trader perhaps--to Ree.

"I say! Maybe ye didn't hear as haow Jim Huson was able to git about
t'day! Ye'll be hungry enough fer news I was thinkin', before ye air back
agin!"

John waved his old cap and Ree shouted their thanks again, but if Captain
Bowen heard he gave no heed; at least he did not look back.

At noon a halt was made at the roadside, close to a running brook, while
the horse was fed and watered and the boys ate their lunch. They would
not have exchanged places with a prince, now that they felt themselves
fairly launched upon their long-talked-of enterprise. Their hopes were
unblemished by any unhappy circumstance and the fine weather was as a
tonic to their already lively spirits. They carefully examined their
goods and wagon to see that all was in proper order before starting on,
resolving to be attentive to every detail and let no mishap come to them
through carelessness. On the road, too, they exercised care, remembering
that a steady gait and not too fast, was necessary. And so the first day
of their journey was passed most pleasantly.

For the novelty of it the boys camped out the first night, beneath a
clump of beech trees, and no two young men ever more fully enjoyed a
campfire's cheerful blaze.

Another and another day passed. It was in the afternoon of the fourth day
of the journey that John stopped whistling "Yankee Doodle" to inquire of
his companion who was taking his turn riding on the box:

"Ree, do you know much about this Eagle tavern where we are to stop
to-night? I just happened to remember a story that was told in war time,
that the house was haunted."

"Haunted by Redcoat spies, I guess," Ree answered. "The whole kit of them
there at that time were the worst kind of Tories at heart, I have heard
folks say, and Captain Bowen said something about it, too, you remember?
But I guess they are all right now--got on the right side of the fence
after the war was over."

"I don't mind Indians or wild animals--fact is, I'm just hankering to
kill a bear, but I don't want anything to do with spooks or witches or
anything of that sort," returned John. "I'll keep my eyes wide open for
ghosts and robbers if we stay at the Eagle, at any rate."

"There is probably more reason to be afraid of bed-bugs," laughed Ree. "I
don't believe the Eagle is so very bad a place or Captain Bowen would not
have marked it as a stopping place. There was a man robbed and murdered
there, it is true; but that was years ago, and needn't worry us."

So with talk of their journey and the progress they hoped to make in view
of the necessity of reaching the wilderness before winter set in
severely, the lads whiled away the time. It was nearly sundown when,
passing through a woods which skirted both sides of the road, they found
the Eagle tavern in view.

"See any spooks about?" asked Ree with a smile.

"No," said John quite seriously, "but I did see a mighty wicked looking
man peeking out of the window of the barn across the road from the tavern
there, just now. He seemed to be wanting to find out who we were and what
sort of an outfit we had, without being seen by us. Without joking, Ree,
I tell you I don't like it!"





Next: The Man Under The Bed

Previous: A Bound Boy's Story



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