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Treed By Wolves








From: Far Past The Frontier

The disappearance of Tom Fish caused both boys considerable uneasiness.
They at first thought that he might return during the evening, though the
fact that the fire had gone out, indicated that he had left the cabin
early in the day. As they crept into their rough but comfortable bunks,
however, and no sign of his coming had been heard, the lads realized the
strong probability that the woodsman had set out by himself to avenge the
death of Arthur Bridges, and that he had intended going when he told Ree
the strange story of that young man, the night before.

What the consequences of Tom's undertaking might be, afforded grave cause
for alarm. By reason of his having been looked upon as a member of their
party, the Indians would consider the boys equally guilty in any offense
which he might give.

"We will have to make the best of it, though and if it comes to fighting,
we will fight like Trojans," said Ree, with some cheerfulness as he saw
that John was quite depressed. "But our best plan will be to say nothing
to Capt. Pipe's people about Tom. It may be that he left us on purpose to
avoid getting us into trouble."

John agreed to this way of reasoning, hoping as Ree did, that it would be
only a few days until they would see Tom and learn what his plans were.
But time passed rapidly and nothing was seen or heard of the missing man.
Had Tom been anything but a skilled woodsman the lads might probably have
worried for his safety. As it was, that phase of the situation was
scarcely thought of.

By working early and late, thawing the frozen clay beside their fire,
when the weather was cold, that they might quickly get all the cracks in
the cabin walls closed up, the boys accomplished a great deal in a week's
time. Several times little parties of Indians came to trade with them,
but the savages never mentioned Tom Fish's name. Big Buffalo came once
and appeared more hateful than ever, suggesting the unpleasant thought
that perhaps he knew more concerning the absent man than he would have
been willing to tell.

The Delawares were not the only Indians who passed along the river and
stopped to exchange skins for cloth, knives, beads or other articles. The
Wyandots, Chippewas and Senecas had villages to the west and north and
were coming or going quite frequently. Sometimes wandering Mingoes came
along, and for them it may be said that they were more disposed to make
trouble than any of the others. The reason probably lay in the fact that
they were still to some extent influenced by British traders who retained
feelings of hostility toward the colonies, and used their influence to
secretly cause Indian disturbances along the borders.

At no great distance from the cabin was the Portage trail referred to in
the previous chapter as passing near the Delaware town. This path was
much used by all the Indians in traveling between the Great Lakes and the
Ohio river, as it was the only stretch of land they must cross in making
all the remainder of the journey by water. Thus they willingly carried
their canoes over eight miles or so of land from the Cuyahoga to the
Tuscarawas river, or vice versa, for the sake of paddling on their way
with ease and rapidity the rest of the way, either north or south.

Thus, as their visitors were many, the loft the boys had built in their
cabin came to contain a richer and richer store, as they placed there the
furs they secured. Sitting before the fire at night they would sometimes
estimate their probable profits, and as they discussed this and other
subjects, the lads never forgot that their safety was the very first
thing with which they must reckon. In this connection they were glad when
they learned that Big Buffalo had gone away on a hunting trip with a
large party of Delawares and would probably not return until spring.

There was another subject which was sometimes spoken of--the fact that
the prowling enemy who had killed their horse had not for a long time
given any sign of being in the vicinity. Out of these talks grew a theory
that, perhaps, that secret foe was Big Pete Ellis, and that having killed
old Jerry he had at last decided that his revenge was complete.

Their health, too, was a matter for daily thought with the boys, and
remembering that they must be careful to guard against needless exposure,
but both being hardy and robust, they were little troubled.

So the time passed and all promised well. They contrived many traps for
the capture of fur-bearing animals, and to catch turkeys and other game
for food. Chief of their traps was the dead-fall, made by propping up one
end of a short piece of puncheon or hewed plank, in such a way that it
would fall upon the animal which attempted to secure the bait placed on a
trigger beneath it. This trigger was a part of the prop under the
puncheon and gave way at the slightest jar. As the plank fell it caught
the creature which had disturbed it, and being weighted down with stones,
held its victim fast.

Wolf pens were also made and very successfully used. These were built of
small logs on the same principle as a box trap, having a very heavy lid
which fell, shutting inside any animal which entered and attempted to eat
the bait placed on the spindle, which at the least pull, gave way,
letting the lid fall.

The turkey traps were made in the Indian fashion. A small, low enclosure
was built with sticks, a small opening or door being made close to the
ground. The pen was then covered with brush except for a passage way
leading to the door, and along this path beechnuts or other bait, were
scattered, the trail of nuts extending into the enclosure. A turkey
finding the food would follow it, its head near the ground, enter the
pen, and having eaten all it could find, would raise its head and so be
unable to see its way out.

The boys did not have so much time for hunting as they had planned upon,
and yet scarcely a day passed but one of them sallied forth, nearly
always coming home with valued furs or meat for their table. They found
it advisable that one should remain near the cabin, both for its
protection from Indians who might steal, and to trade with those who
passed. Thus, while Ree would be spending a day with his axe clearing the
land near their home, John would be miles away, perhaps, rifle in hand,
eyes and ears alert.

The next day, perhaps, Ree would have his turn at hunting. Every day,
too, they visited their traps to secure any creatures which had been
captured and to reset the snares or change their location. Wood for the
fire must be gathered, also, and it was wonderful how great a quantity of
fuel the big fire-place consumed; and pine knots from the rocky ravine
farther up the river, or hickory bark from the hillsides in the opposite
direction, must be secured every few days to afford light for the
evenings. There were also furs to be cured, and much else to be done, all
uniting to make the short winter days very busy ones, and to keep the
long winter evenings from being tedious.

Night was the favorite time for baking and for the preparation of such
dishes as they thought they would most enjoy. Many were the feasts the
young friends had, though their stock of supplies included little besides
meal and fresh meat. At first they had occasionally secured beans and
squashes from the Indians, but the improvident savages soon exhausted
their supplies and were themselves dependent on corn and game.

December had gone and January was well under way when there came a great
snow storm, which, at the end of a week left drifts piled high in all
directions. The snow was soft and light but so deep that it was well nigh
impossible for one to make his way through it, and Ree and John quickly
agreed to occupy themselves with work in and near the cabin. They set
about adding new conveniences to their home, such as shelves and
cupboards, pegs, etc. They hewed and whittled out long, thin hickory
slats, which they placed lengthwise on the rough bedstead they had built
in one corner, and found them so springy and comfortable to sleep upon,
when a couple of skins and a blanket had been spread over them, that they
were sorry they had not sooner thought of this improvement.

John made a broom of hickory splints which did its work to perfection,
and Ree sharpened up his knife and carved from a whitewood block several
plates and trays to add to their meager collection of dishes. Both boys
improved the opportunity also, while shut in, to give their wardrobes
attention, making themselves stout moccasins, coon-skin caps and buckskin
breeches.

Ree found time during many evenings to read again and again the few books
he had. John was less given to reading, but with much care and diligence
he managed to make a fife by boring a maple stick through from end to end
with a thin piece of iron from their cart, much of which had been carried
piece-meal to the cabin. Having natural musical talent, he learned to
play the instrument he thus fashioned, and though Ree had declared, as he
practiced, that he would surely bring the savages down upon them in war
paint, he liked the music as well as its maker.

So, for a fortnight the boys were scarcely out of sight of the cabin. The
weather was bitter cold much of that time and no Indians came near. There
at last came a day, however, when the wind blew steadily from the
southwest, bringing with it at night a cold rain. Changing to the north,
the wind turned the rain to sleet, followed by cold weather again.

"We must have snow-shoes," said Ree, when he saw what was taking place,
and the third day the boys ventured forth on such contrivances as they
had made and did finely with them on the thick, slippery crust which had
formed. Taking their rifles, they made their way through the river
valley, which, farther up the stream, became quite narrow, steep, rocky
banks rising on both sides to a height of fifty feet or more. No sooner
had they entered this canyon than they found evidences of deer and other
animals having taken shelter there.

Going quietly forward, the lads discovered four of the timid, beautiful
creatures huddled together. They went quite near before the deer leaped
away through the frozen snow, and Ree quickly brought one down. John did
better--or worse--killing one and wounding another. They secured the
skins and choice parts of the meat and hanging these in a tree for
safety, pushed on after the two which had escaped. They especially
desired to capture the doe which had been wounded, not so much for its
value, but because Ree insisted that it would be downright cruelty to let
the poor creature suffer from its injury for days, perhaps, then die at
last.

But the young hunters traveled far before again coming upon the animals
they sought. The trail took them out of the narrow valley or canyon, and
a long distance through the woods to a locality they had never before
visited, where the earth was cut by deep ravines, zig-zagging in nearly
all directions, and great rocks often obstructing the way. Here the trail
of the deer they were following was lost amid the tracks of others which
had gone into the deep rugged gullies to escape the stinging wind.

"We may as well give it up, Ree," said John, as they sat down to rest.

"Oh no, we mustn't give up," Ree answered, "but I'll tell you what we'd
better do. It is more than likely the Indians will be out in snow shoes
the same as we are, and they may want to swap some dollar furs for penny
knick-knacks this afternoon. One of us should be at the cabin."

"I'll go," John willingly responded, for he liked to trade with the
Indians, and could make much better bargains than Ree; not but what he
was honest, but because Ree was so generous that he was often imposed
upon.

"Will you stop for the venison we left in the tree?" Ree asked.

"I think I'd better; there is no knowing where you will be when you find
that wounded deer! But don't stay out all night!"

With this sally John started homeward, and Ree resumed his search for
blood-stains in the snow which would show him the trail he sought. Going
about among the rocks he discovered an opening about half the size of a
door which seemed to lead straight back into a rocky cliff.

"Some sort of a cave," he mused, inspecting it more closely and looking
into it. He saw nothing, and, stooping down, ventured in a little way.
His eyes accustomed to the bright light of the snow, he was unable to see
anything in the darkness, or he might not have been so bold; for the next
moment a chorus of fierce growls caused him to retreat.

"Bears, or wolves--bears, most likely," said Ree to himself. "At least if
they are wolves there should be tracks about the mouth of the cave. I
must remember this place."

Having first looked about to make sure of the exact location of the
cavern, and resolving to explore it at some future time, the youthful
hunter hurried on. Under a clump of low pines he presently discovered a
herd of seven deer. One lagged behind, as they fled at his approach, and
Ree knew at once that it must be the wounded animal. He followed at the
best pace possible, but the deer was soon lost sight of, though the poor
thing had a difficult time of it to make any progress through the crusted
snow.

However, Ree kept to the trail for he was sure the doe could not go far;
yet hour after hour passed and he saw no hope of accomplishing his
purpose. Had it not been that the deer was traversing a circle, the trail
now taking him in the direction of the cabin, he would have been obliged
to give up the pursuit. But now he passed through the ravine where the
deer had been wounded and up a steep slope towards home. By this time the
sun was going down, and from not far ahead of him Ree heard the howling
of wolves. If he could have looked but a little way into the future, he
would have taken the shortest route to the cabin.

However, wolves had never given much trouble and Ree had no thought of
being afraid, though the howling sounded nearer and nearer as he
continued on. Soon, however, he guessed what had happened. The wounded
deer, unable to escape, had been killed by the fierce dogs of the
wilderness which were now devouring it. And in another minute the boy saw
them at their awful feast. With anger and foolhardy courage he sprang
directly among the struggling beasts, clubbing them with his rifle.

Mad with starvation and the taste of fresh blood, one big wolf leaped
toward the courageous boy and others followed. He was barely able to hold
them at bay while he backed away toward a tree, swinging his rifle right
and left with desperate energy as he went. Closer and closer still the
wolves pressed him, snapping, snarling, howling--their long sharp teeth
and red throats being so near that he could almost feel their hot breath
on his face. But he reached the tree--a beech, one of whose lower limbs
was almost within reach. He leaped upward to seize it, but as he did so
his rifle caught on a bush and was jerked from his hand. A great gray
foamy-jawed creature snapped closely at his heels and by a hair's breadth
he escaped, as he drew himself quickly upward.

Howling like enraged demons the wolves gathered about the tree. They
seemed to know that sooner or later they would drink human blood. Ree
thought of this. His only weapon was the knife Capt. Bowen had given him,
which he always carried. But his active brain was busy and he determined
to take a desperate chance in an effort to secure his rifle.





Next: A Maple Sugar Camp In The Wilderness

Previous: The Strange Story Of Arthur Bridges



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