Friends Or Foes?





Tom Fish had a profound respect for Return Kingdom from the moment the

latter threw him; but he was no less pleasant and agreeable than before,

and he proved himself a valuable friend then and in days long afterward.



When night came, as the wind was blowing cold, Tom very deftly built a

shelter of branches and small saplings. His way of bending two little

trees down and fastening them together with their own branches, making of

them the support of the "shack," was a method Ree and John had never seen

used and was the secret of his being able to "build a house" in very

little time.



It was very comfortable sitting before the fire, thus sheltered from the

wind. Tom especially enjoyed it for his tongue ran on at a tremendous

rate as he told stories of extraordinary adventures.



John urged him to tell more and more, and he might have gone on talking

all night had not Ree admonished him and John that they must turn in

promptly in order to make an early start in the morning. Wolves were

howling not far away, and the plaintive but terrorizing cry of a panther

could be heard in the distance, as the little party lay down to sleep. No

doubt the young emigrants thought many times before dreams came to them,

of what the depths of the wilderness must be, if the foreboding sounds

which reached them were a fair example of what the outer edge of the

forest fastnesses afforded; but they rested well and were early astir.



Crossing a fine, level country, though thickly grown with great trees, on

this day, the boys saw plainly the evidences of the road made by the

Boquet expedition. There were the stumps of big and little trees and the

half-decayed remnants of the trees which had been cut down, on both sides

of them. Although so many years had passed since Col. Boquet had made

this trail, the work his men had done made the progress of the

Connecticut boys and their hunter companion faster than it would

otherwise have been, and three days passed rapidly without other

adventure than the meeting of a small party of Indians who scowled and

passed on, and the killing of a large panther by Ree, the animal having

terribly frightened old Jerry by dropping from a tree squarely upon the

faithful horse's back, one night.



On the fifth day after leaving Pittsburg the travelers crossed a high

ridge and obtained a glorious view of the country toward which they were

pressing on. In the distance rivers of water and great oceans of tree

tops, deep valleys and wooded hillsides were seen.



"Ye ain't fer from the 'Promised Land,'" said Tom Fish, lightly, much

less moved by the grandeur of nature's display than were the boys. Then

he indicated the location of a point, far beyond and out of view, at

which the old trail they were following, turned to the southwest and an

Indian trail turned toward the northwest, leading on to the "Sandusky

Plains" near Lake Erie.



It was apparent that Tom had settled in his own mind the locality in

which the boys should erect their cabin and make their home. He had their

interest at heart, the lads did not doubt, but they were unwilling to

accept his judgment absolutely. It was arranged between them, therefore,

that Ree should go ahead and spy out the lay of the land--and especially

investigate the "lake country" of which Tom had so often spoken. If he

should find it all that was represented, well and good; if not, they knew

that along almost any of the rivers to the south and west of them, were

fertile lands and Indian villages which would afford that which they

sought--crops and trade.



And so on the morning of the fourth day after their having taken to the

Indian trail toward the "Sandusky Plains," the matter having been

explained to Tom Fish, Ree left his friends behind. It was a perilous

undertaking upon which he set out. They had now reached a wild and rugged

country whose hills and valleys almost swarmed with game. Deer, bears and

wolves were abundant. Panthers, wildcats and smaller game were frequently

seen, and Indians were all about, though the party had thus far met but

few.



But Return Kingdom had no fear--that was something he did not then know.

He was only anxious to quickly find the right place for their residence

and to make no mistake in selecting it. A light snow had already fallen,

making it desirable that he and John should get themselves settled

without delay. This was his thought as he hurried on alone.



Under a big beech tree Ree camped at night, building no fire lest it draw

unwelcome guests toward him, but wrapping his blanket about himself and

sitting, not lying, on the ground, his rifle between his knees. Any one

passing, even very near, would have supposed his dark figure to be that

of an old stump, and he spent the night with a feeling of safety, not

entirely comfortable in his position, but little disturbed by the

snapping of twigs and the rustle of leaves which told that forest

prowlers were near.



Crossing a river at a shallow place next day, Ree mounted a hill and

climbed a tall hickory whose upper branches rose above all other trees

near it.



The weather had become warm and pleasant again and he would be able, he

knew, to obtain a fine view. Just what he expected to see, he had not

thought, but the grandeur of the scene he beheld was magnificent. Far as

he could see the ocean of nearly leafless treetops rose and fell in giant

waves, broken here and there by lakes or rivers, he knew not which,

glimpses of whose waters and bushy banks, he caught. Here were

lowlands--there highlands, and through the latter he traced for a long

distance the course of the river he had crossed earlier in the day. Ree

drew out a chart he had obtained at Pittsburg.



"It must be the Cuyahoga river--or Cayuga as some call it--and I am right

in the heart of the lake country," he whispered, as he steadied himself

in the tree top. "We will build our cabin near the river."



Without more delay the boy climbed down and strode forward in the

direction of a valley which he had seen two or three miles to westward.

In time he came to a sloping hillside and looking beyond he saw a

splendid stream of swiftly flowing water. At the foot of the hill was a

narrow tract of about four acres almost bare of trees, though deep grass

spoke of the soil's fertility. Rising above the river was a large knoll

sloping down to the natural clearing.



With every sense delighted by the fine prospect, Ree ran down the hill,

across the clearing and to the summit of the knoll or bluff. The ripple

and splash of the river, the bright sunshine and his discovery of this

ideal spot delighted him.



"The very place we are looking for!" he exclaimed aloud. "Here is grass

for Jerry, a fine clearing for the beginning of a farm--wood--water--

game--everything!"



Anxious to join his friends and tell them of this good fortune, Ree

dashed down the bluff and ascended the wooded hillside opposite. Panting,

he reached the summit and suddenly,--stopped.



As though they had been waiting for him, there stood watching him a party

of Indians. They were dressed entirely in savage costume. Not one wore

any garment of civilization as did many of the savages farther east. With

stolid composure the Redskins looked at the boy, though they must have

wondered what the young Paleface was doing, alone in the forest's

depths.



Quickly recovering his presence of mind, Ree coolly stepped toward them,

holding out his hand to one he supposed to be the chief, saying, "How,

brothers?"



The Indian shook his hand but did not speak. The same second another

Indian stepped up and seizing Ree's hat, put it on his own bare head.

Another grabbed the boy's rifle, as though to take it from him.



Ree smiled, but he held firmly to his gun, and snatched his hat from the

young brave who had seized it. One of the Indians now ordered that Ree be

let alone. But this was not the one the boy had taken to be the chief,

and Kingdom quickly perceived that he had made a rather serious mistake.

But he nodded his thanks to the Redskin and explained, using signs when

words would not do, that he was a trader and that his friends and store

of goods were not far away.



It caused Ree some alarm, however, when at a signal from the chief the

Indians gathered about in such a way as to hem him completely in. And

this alarm was decidedly increased as he noticed at the chief's belt, a

white man's scalp. There could be no mistaking it.



The savages made no move to molest the boy further than to prevent his

leaving them, but gave him to understand that they believed him to be a

spy. Seeing this the boy offered to conduct them to his friends and

merchandise. To this they agreed after some parleying and placing Ree

between two big, swarthy fellows, they set off in single file,

suspicious, it may be, that he would lead them into an ambush.



Ree gave little thought to this. He knew that if John and Tom had made

good progress that he could reach them by nightfall and the suspicions of

the Indians would be allayed.



It was wonderful how easily the savages followed Ree's back trail, and

they traveled at good speed. But hours passed and no sign of the wagon of

which the lad had told them was found. The doubt of the Indians increased

and they became ugly and impatient.



In vain Ree tried to explain that his friends must have been delayed, but

he himself could not understand why no gleam of light, no smoke of their

camp-fire, even, was visible as the day wore away, and soon he found that

he was indeed a prisoner; for as the savages presently prepared to go

into camp, their first act was to bind the white boy's hands behind him

and tie his feet with strong ropes of bark.



A full sense of his danger came to Ree's thoughts, but he put on a bold

front and emphatically objected to being tied, saying he had no thought

of running away and that early the next day his statement that he was a

trader would be found true.



The Indians gave no heed to his indignant words. They built a small fire

by flashing sparks with flint and steel, and ate their supper consisting

only of pounded parched corn and dried meat. This they shared with Ree,

and though he ate heartily he was thinking of other things. Every time he

looked across the fire he could see the gruesome scalp at the belt of the

chief of the party. Little wonder that he became apprehensive for his

safety. It would not do, however, he thought, to let the Indians see that

he was worried, and he began to whistle. The savages gazed at him in

wonder. Suddenly one young buck arose, stepped over to the boy and struck

him viciously on the cheek.



His temper instantly fired, Ree shot out his feet, bound together though

they were, striking the savage full in the stomach and sending him

headlong, partly into the fire.



As a tremendous howl of rage arose, Ree forgot that he was bound--forgot

that his better plan would have been to keep cool. He sprang up, breaking

the strings of bark which tied him, with seeming ease, and, as the

enraged Indian rushed toward him, he dodged the club the savage

brandished, and landing a tremendous blow on the redman's neck with his

fist, grabbed his rifle from the ground and sped away into the forest and

the darkness.



With terrific yells the Indians took up the pursuit. On and on Ree dashed

among the bushes and over brush and logs, springing wildly aside at times

to save himself from dashing out his brains against a tree--hurrying fast

and faster, he knew not whither, his pursuers crashing after him.



The pursued nearly always has the advantage over the pursuer. Ree found

himself drawing slowly away from the Indians, who made so much noise

themselves they could scarcely hear him, and suddenly halting, he crept

softly away in another direction. Soon the savages went past, pell mell,

certain that the boy was ahead of them, and the sounds of the chase died

away.



Listening intently, to be ready for the slightest alarm, Ree turned to go

back the way he came. It was difficult in the darkness to do this, but he

believed that if he could return to the vicinity of the Indians'

camp-fire he could easily get his bearings and travel without loss of

time in the direction of his friends. The darkness seemed less intense

now that he had become accustomed to it, but he must exercise every care.

To step on a dry stick or to stumble and fall might be fatal--might mean

his capture and death.



Fortune favored the brave lad, for presently the dim light of the

smoldering camp-fire came into view. He paused a moment, then turned

confidently in the direction in which he thought John and Tom Fish must

be. He had not taken forty steps, however, when a dark figure loomed up

suddenly before him, and with exceeding quickness and quietness glided

behind a tree.



It was well indeed for Return Kingdom that his quick eye saw this

movement. Turning again, he ran, but instantly the dark figure darted in

pursuit. Discovering that he was in danger of being driven into the very

arms of the Indians he had so recently eluded, Ree changed his tactics.

Certain that but a single savage was behind him, he wheeled and ran

toward the Indian at full speed.



They were not far apart. Before the Redskin had made out what the boy was

doing, the latter had hurled himself upon him and thrown him to the

ground.



Fiercely the savage struggled; with tremendous energy Ree retained the

upper hold, his grip secure on his opponent's throat. Neither spoke. The

Indian could not, and Ree had no wish to add to the noise made by their

thrashing about among the leaves and dry twigs. He knew that he could

kill the savage warrior but he dreaded to do that. It would mean trouble

with the Indians for a long time to come, upsetting his most cherished

plans. And yet his own life was in danger, and--he dared not relax his

hold.



Yet something must be done, and quickly, for soon the other Indians would

be returning, and more than this he could not hold out long against the

greater strength of his red antagonist. Ree resolved, therefore, to make

the Indian understand that he did not wish to kill him, then let go and

take his chances in a foot race.



But at this instant, the Redskin, by a mighty effort raised himself

partially upon his feet, secured the release of his right arm, on which

Ree's knee had been, and clutched the boy's throat with a vise-like grip.

Never had the venturesome Connecticut lad been so near death as he was at

that moment. Steadily the Indian continued to gain the upper hand, and as

he tightened his grasp on Ree's throat the boy's tongue seemed to be

forced from his mouth.



Then it was that Return Kingdom's grim, unyielding determination which

meant victory or death--a determination which, once formed, would have

stopped for nothing though it swayed the earth, asserted itself. With the

power of an unbending purpose, Ree raised to his feet, dragging the

savage with him. He grasped the Indian's body and with strength most

extraordinary, lifted him from the ground, then suddenly he cast him

violently down as though the brave were a great stone which he wished to

break.



Astonished, bruised, exhausted, the Indian lay as he had fallen. The

whole struggle had occupied but a minute or two, but it had been furious.

Both the combatants were panting like dogs. Now was Ree's opportunity. He

stooped down, grasped the redman's hand and shook it gently.



"We should be brothers. I would not try to kill you," he spoke in a low,

friendly way.



The Indian made no answer. Again Ree shook his hand, then picked up his

rule and walked rapidly away. Looking back, he saw the savage rising to

his feet and returning to the camp-fire. He was sure then that he had

made a friend of an enemy. But he lost no time. There were but a few

hours of darkness remaining to cover his escape while he searched for his

friends, and with every sense alert he hastened on, though faint and

weary from the violence of his exertions. He felt the necessity of

finding and giving warning to John and Tom and the thought kept him

going.



At last the morning came--slowly at first and then with a rush of light

which set the crows a-cawing and wood-birds singing; and still the

worn-out, lonesome boy looked in vain for his friends. But he wavered not

for a moment, though ready to acknowledge himself completely lost, and

thus, pressing on, he came soon after sunrise to the bank of a deep, wide

ravine. He remembered having crossed it the day he left John and Tom, and

soon he found a path leading down into the gully.



Assuring himself by careful scrutiny that the coast was clear, Ree pushed

through the bushes and trotted down the bank's steep side; and in another

moment came squarely upon the cart and the camp of his friends. But where

were John and Tom? Consternation filled the lad as he wholly failed to

find them, and as he also discovered that the camp-fire was no fire at

all--only a heap of dead ashes. Where was old Jerry, too?



A great fear came into Ree's heart, which was increased a thousand fold,

as in another moment he saw the faithful horse a few rods away--dead.

There was a bullet hole in the gentle, patient animal's head.





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