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The Scalp At Big Buffalo's Belt

From: Far Past The Frontier

A great lump came in Ree's throat as he looked upon the body of honest
old Jerry, and stood for a few seconds watching in a dazed, helpless way
the big blue flies which buzzed about the lifeless animal in the morning
sunlight. Then he saw for the first time that carion birds, buzzards,
perhaps, had been feeding on the horse's flesh.

The oppressive silence and desolation of the camp were as dead weights on
the lad's spirits, already burdened with most unhappy thoughts, and
standing as still as the motionless trees about him, he could not summon
back the resolution and courage which had kept him unfaltering throughout
the night. The snapping of a twig recalled his scattered senses, however,
and his sudden movement frightened a gaunt wolf which had crept up almost
to the lifeless horse, and now went skulking away.

"I cannot understand--cannot think, I must get my wits to working, some
way!" the boy exclaimed in a half whisper, "what in the world can have

Again Ree's mind gained the mastery over his fatigued body and his
powerful determination seemed again to drive the weariness away. He
stooped and stroked but once or twice the dead horse's damp foretop, then
hastened to the cart. Nothing in it had been disturbed. He looked
carefully about the shelter of poles and brush which had been built, and
found everything in comparatively good order. Surely things would not be
in this state if his friends had been driven off or killed by Indians. It
must be that they were attacked, had repulsed the enemy and had now gone
in pursuit.

But why had they not returned? There was no doubt but that old Jerry had
been dead at least a day, and John and Tom would, in that case, have been
absent nearly as long.

With feverish anxiety Ree searched for a trail which would show the
direction taken by the enemy or his friends, or both, but the sound of a
stealthy footstep on the bank above caused him to spring to the shelter
of a tree.

As he watched and listened, he heard voices, and quietly stepped into the
open; for he would have known John's tones among ten thousand. And at the
same minute John and Tom Fish saw Ree gazing up at them, and both ran
toward him, John crying excitedly: "Return Kingdom! Oh, but I am glad to
see you!"

"Dutch rum an' fire-water, it's happy I am y'er back!" Tom Fish

"What has happened, John?" asked Ree in his usual quiet way, grasping his
friend's hand.

"What ain't happened? It beats me as I ain't ever been beat yet," Tom
Fish made answer.

"It was another of those mysterious shots, Ree--the very morning you left
us," said John, putting his hand affectionately on his chum's arm.

"Another?" Ree spoke more to himself than to either John or Tom, and
something made him think of Big Pete Ellis and the fellow's threats.

"It was the same sort of a shot as before, but in broad daylight," John
answered. "We had just got the cart down into this gully and were
preparing to get it up the other side, when we heard a rifle shot
and--old Jerry fell dead. I saw the smoke curling out from the bushes
just half a minute later, and Tom and I both ran back up the hill. But
there was no one near. We did find a trail but it was mingled with the
tracks of the horse and cart, and the snow being gone, we could not
follow it. For miles around the woods seemed as quiet as a Sunday at
home. We looked all about but--"

"Only one thing is plain, some Mingo or somebody has a grudge ag'in ye,
or else there's been some consarned queer coincidences," broke in Tom
Fish. "It beats me!"

"I don't see what we are to do, Ree! Tom and I decided just to wait here
until you came back. But what have you been doing? Why, your hands and
face are frightfully scratched, and you look all played out!"

"I guess I've had my hands full," said Ree with a sad little smile. "But
tell me where you two were. Why is there no fire?"

"Such a time as we have had!" was John's sorrowful answer. "Poor old
Jerry was scarcely dead before there were hawks or buzzards circling
around above us, and when night came, wolves and other animals howled all
around us, and so near we would have been afraid, had we not had a big
fire. Toward morning it became quieter and I was asleep, and Tom on
watch, when a bear came poking around."

"Biggest bear ye ever seen," interrupted Thomas Fish.

"Well," John went on, "we both set out after that bear, though it was
pitch dark. We had a long chase for nothing, though, for we caught sight
of the big fellow only once, and not long enough to get a shot at him.
Coming back, it was light, and we stopped to explore the gully. But we
did not expect to find you here, Ree. We would not have come back when we
did, only to keep the buzzards away from the horse till we can burn the
body. And I don't see what we are to do. But you haven't told a word
about yourself."

Ree was busily thinking, and for a little time made no answer. Then Tom
and John spoke again, asking where he had been and what he had found.

"Why, I'll tell you," he answered them. "I came upon a first-class place
for a cabin, on a bluff right at the bank of a splendid little river, and
a little natural clearing around it. About five minutes later I came upon
some Delaware Indians and as they wouldn't believe me when I told them
who I was, they made me a prisoner. I got away in the night, and here I

John's eyes opened wide, and excitedly he demanded to know all the
particulars of Ree's adventure. Tom Fish whistled a long, low note and
almost closing his eyes, he looked toward Ree with a squint which was
more expressive of his astonishment and interest than words could have

As the three of them sat on the thills of the now useless cart, Ree told
them more fully of his experiences. Many were John's outbursts of
interest, and Tom whistled in his peculiar way more than once.

"Can't more than kill us, and we may as well die that way as starve to
death," said the old hunter, as Ree spoke of the probability of the
Indians soon finding their camp, and straightway he began preparations
for breakfast. As they gathered about the savory meal which soon was
ready, the conversation turned again to the mysterious attack which had
ended the life of their horse.

John could not be persuaded that it was not some prowling Indian who had
fired the shot, but Ree urged both him and Tom to be on their guard
constantly and he would be the same, he said, for there was no knowing
when another bullet might come whizzing toward them, nor when one of
their own lives might not be thus snuffed out.

As breakfast was finished, John and Tom pleaded with Ree that he should
lie down and get some rest, but he took a cold bath in the brook close
by, instead, and would not listen to them further. All three were keeping
their eyes open to detect the approach of Indians, for they did not doubt
the savages would soon come, especially since the re-kindling of the fire
had sent a stream of smoke steadily skyward, and now this signal of their
whereabouts was made all the more plain by the building of a much larger
fire upon and about the body of the unfortunate horse.

"Let them come," was the confident declaration of Return Kingdom, as Tom
Fish had suggested that the savages could not be far away. "We will meet
them as friends," he went on, "and I honestly believe that when they find
that we are peaceable traders, there will be no trouble whatever."

Tom whistled and squinted as Ree took this bold stand, but he had learned
that the boy "had a long head," and made no further remonstrance against
the plan proposed.

About noon the savages arrived. John discovered a dark face peering out
from some bushes on the bluff, and waved his hand in that direction in a
friendly way. The searching eyes instantly disappeared. It required
courage to follow the program Ree had mapped out, now when it was known
that vengeful and cruel Delawares were lurking so near, themselves fully
protected by the bank and brush, and trees; but when, a few minutes later
Ree saw an Indian looking down at them, and the fellow put down his gun
as a sign of friendliness, they knew they had acted wisely.

Notwithstanding the show of friendliness, however, Tom Fish said: "Keep
your wits about ye, kittens, there ain't no snake in the woods as
treacherous as them varmints."

Two savages were soon seen coming down the path, and Ree and John, laying
down their guns, as the Indians had done, walked forward to meet them.
Thus peace was secured for the time being, at least, and as the boys
shook hands with the Redskins, the latter gave them to understand that
their chief was in waiting to be met and conducted to the camp.

Ree went to the cart and secured from their stock of merchandise a small
hand-mirror in a round, pewter frame with a pewter lid over it, and with
this for a present to the chief, he and John were guided to a spot not
far away where the savage warrior and his braves were assembled. He was a
tall muscular young fellow and would have been handsome had it not been
for a look of malicious cunning and wickedness in his small dark eyes.
But the gift of the mirror pleased his savage fancy greatly and he
accepted it with a show of friendliness.

There were eleven Indians in the party. John could not repress a smile
when he saw the singed hair and burned face of the young brave whom Ree
had knocked into the fire, but even Kingdom failed to recognize the
savage with whom he had battled for his very life alone in the darkness.
By sign or otherwise neither of the boys made any reference to the
adventure of the day and night before, but with perfect friendliness
conducted the Indians to their camp.

Tom Fish's spirits had grown lighter when he saw that a fight would be
avoided and he greeted each Indian in his happy-go-lucky fashion.

"You're a good un," he said to the chief. "Got a little muscle, too,
ain't ye? Ain't no religion in that eye o' your'n, though!"

And so it went with the whole party. As he noticed the buck who was
burned Tom laughed aloud. "Pretty near took the hide off, didn't it,
Smart Alec?" he exclaimed. "Doubled ye up like a two-bladed jack-knife, I
should guess. Oh, these here boys are frisky! No foolin' with them!"

John laughed at this, but no one took heed of him except Tom, who laughed
boisterously, as he always did when anyone showed an appreciation of his
crude jokes.

Almost immediately upon reaching the camp the Indians asked for
"fire-water," but Ree shook his head. It was true that in one of the
several packages of goods there was a large stone bottle of whiskey which
Capt. Bowen had provided for the boys together with other medicines, but
not for a great deal would Kingdom have let the Indians know it; and he
hoped that Tom would not find it out, either; for the truth was that Fish
had drunk more than was good for him at Pittsburg. But all the savages
ate of the meat which was placed before them, and Tom Fish, never
neglecting an opportunity of this kind, made out a square meal also. The
boys joining in, too, there was quite a feast.

One of the Indians, a good looking young buck, showed for Ree a warmer
friendship than any of the others. He was the one whom the boy had
mistaken for the chief of the party the day before. His name was Fishing
Bird and the chief's name was Big Buffalo. The latter was far from
showing entire friendship and a dispute arose between these two savages
when Ree told them that he and John wished to purchase land.

Fishing Bird indicated that the boys must go to the great chief of their
tribe, Hopocon, or Captain Pipe, as the whites called him, at the village
of the Delawares. Big Buffalo, on the other hand, contended that he
himself had power to sell land.

Ree rightly judged as he saw an ugly feeling between these two, that he
had made a serious mistake when he had mistaken Fishing Bird for the
chief the day before, arousing the other's jealousy very much. He thought
now, that he recognized in Fishing Bird the Indian with whom he had
grappled in the forest. If this were true, it was evident that that
Indian, unwilling to confess how he had been vanquished, had said nothing
to the others of his struggle with the escaped prisoner.

However, seeing that the land question might cause trouble, both Ree and
John dropped it, having learned from the savages that a day's journey to
the south and west would take them to the Delawares' town. They
determined, therefore, to visit the village of Captain Pipe and talk with
the great chief himself.

The afternoon was nearly spent before the Indians departed. They were
scarcely gone when Tom Fish called Ree and John to him and the boys
noticed for the first time that a great change had come over the old
hunter, who for some time had little or nothing to say.

"Did ye see that fresh scalp hangin' at that Buffalo varmint's belt?" he
asked. "That means blood. It means fightin'! I've seen many a Redskin,
but I never seen a wickeder one than that Buffalo. An' there's no more
play for Thomas Trout, which some calls Fish, my kittens, both! I tell ye
now, that from what I seed, there was nothin' kept us out of a fight this
day but the friendliness o' that chap Fishin' Bird. If Big Buffalo had a'
dared, he'd a' pitched onto us. Them's my honest sentiments; an' more'n
that, did ye see the scalp at that red devil's belt? Don't tell me they
ain't been on the warpath! Did ye see that scalp, an' the blood on it
hardly more 'n dry? Oh, sorry day! Oh, sorry day--the blood on it hardly
more'n dry. 'Cause I'm a plagued sight mistaken, kittens both, if I don't
know whose scalp that is! Oh, sorry day!"

Tom's voice had sunk almost to a whisper and involuntarily John
shuddered. The sinking sun cast thick, dark shadows in the narrow valley,
and a death-like silence was broken only by the soughing wind and the
tinkle of the brook.

These melancholy surroundings and the gruesome way in which Tom spoke,
were enough to remove all cheerfulness which might have existed, but Tom
said again, slowly and with a mournful emphasis, "I know--I know whose
scalp it is, lads; an' the blood on it hardly more'n dry."

The rough woodsman put his arm across his eyes and leaned mournfully on
his rifle, as he spoke.

Next: A Night With The Indians

Previous: Friends Or Foes?

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