On Lonely Mountain Roads





"What's happened, Ree?"



The tone in which John asked the question, satisfied Kingdom that his

friend knew nothing of the shooting. Better than this, however, it

satisfied the Indian who knelt silently nearby, still listening, that the

boy he had so nearly shot, knew nothing of the person who had fired from

the darkness.



Quietly, but in tones the Indian could hear, Ree related what he knew of

the mysterious occurrence.



"Who could it have been, Chief!" John asked, turning to the Redskin and

addressing him with the easy familiarity he used toward every one.



The Indian shook his head. "Paleface," he grunted at last; "no tried to

kill Indian; tried to kill white brother there. Black Eagle thinks long

and knows how bullet flew. Man-that-shoots-from-the-dark wishes much to

steal."



Black Eagle's theory was far from satisfying Ree, but the Indian's manner

persuaded the boy that the redskin at least knew nothing of the attack

himself. Yet both boys knew the necessity of keeping a sharp eye turned

in all directions. They could not tell positively as yet whether the

Indians were friends or foes, nor at what moment an attack might be made

by a hidden enemy.



"What kept you, John? I was worried," Ree said in an undertone, yet

taking care that Black Eagle should hear, lest the savage should suspect

him of plotting. But before John could answer, the red man, bending low,

darted away in the darkness.



"What's the old chap up to?" asked John, startled by the Indian's sudden

movement.



"I think he is only scouting around to see what he can discover; but keep

your eyes and ears open, it has been mighty ticklish around here

to-night."



As they watched and listened, John told of his afternoon's experience. He

had gone a long way into the woods without seeing any such game as he

wished, and had about decided to content himself with some squirrels, and

return to the road, when he came upon a deer-lick--a pool of salt or

brackish water, in a flat, level place, to which deer and other animals

came to drink, or to lick the earth at the water's edge to satisfy the

craving which all animals have for salt. As it was then nearly sundown he

determined to hide nearby, confident he would get a shot at a deer as

soon as darkness came. Concealing himself in some brush at the north side

of the lick, the wind being from the south, he waited.



Scarcely had the sun set when a fine young doe approached the brackish

pool. One shot from his rifle brought the pretty animal down, and in a

few more minutes he had secured the skin and best portions of the meat.

Slinging these over his shoulder, he set out to find the road and Ree's

camp-fire. But he had been careless in keeping his bearings, and walked a

long way in the wrong direction. When he did find the road at last, he

knew not which way to go to find the camp. He secured a light, however,

by flashing powder in his gun, and thus found the tracks of old Jerry and

the cart. He then knew which way to go, but traveled a couple of miles

before coming within sight of the camp-fire.



He heard a rifle shot but paid little attention to it, and saw nothing of

any prowler, though he came up in the direction from which the mysterious

attack was made. When Ree called to him, he had dropped the venison and

it still lay at the roadside a hundred yards from camp.



"We must have an understanding with one another that when either of us

leaves camp, he shall return at a given time unless something happens to

prevent it," said Ree; "then the other will know that something has

happened and can act accordingly. I was probably not more than a mile

away when you found that deer-lick. If you had let me know, it would have

saved a lot of worry on my part. Why, I was just on the point of going in

search of you. And as it was, old boy, you whistled just in time. That

Indian heard you coming before I did, and a little more--"



"And he would have sent me to Kingdom come," said John, finishing the

sentence, very soberly. "Your watchfulness saved me, and I can't--"



"You better get your venison into camp," Ree whispered, interrupting

John's thanks, "I'll crawl over and see how that young Indian's getting

along--poor chap."



The wounded Redskin was conscious as Ree bent over him.



"Don't speak if it will hurt you, but if you can, tell me who fired that

shot at you," Ree urged.



"Black Eagle come soon," was the buck's only answer; and indeed it was

but a few minutes until the other Indian returned. Ree met him and

inquired calmly. "What luck, Black Eagle?"



"Gone. Paleface robber gone."



"Who was it? Where has he gone?"



"Gone," the savage repeated.



"Turn in and get some sleep, John; Black Eagle and I will watch a while,"

said Ree.



"Gone," growled the Indian with gruff dignity; and wrapped himself in a

blanket and was soon asleep.



John likewise lay down, but Ree, resolving to exercise every care,

remained awake through the whole night. Twice John awoke and wanted to

take a turn at guard duty but each time he was told to go back and "Cover

up his head." Reluctantly he did so. He felt that he would do anything in

his power for Ree Kingdom, but he was far from guessing what Fate had in

store for him to do in his friend's behalf before they should see

Connecticut again.



With the first light of morning Ree went reconnoitering hoping to find

the trail of the young Indian's mysterious assailant. Scarcely had he

started when Black Eagle joined him, and in the road three hundred paces

from the camp they came upon the trail together. A single man had

approached the camp on foot--a white man it was certain, for he wore

boots--and from behind a thick thorn bush had fired the shot. Then the

trail led back along the road, but soon disappeared in the woods.



"If North Wind die, scalp will hang here," said Black Eagle, pointing to

his belt. "Black Eagle follows trail long--even many moons, but he will

get the paleface scalp."



What to do Ree did not quite know. He disliked to lose time in helping

the Indian to find the man who had shot his son, yet disliked to leave

the wounded North Wind without doing something for him.



"White brothers go far; go now," said Black Eagle as they returned to the

camp. "Go long way off and never mind. North Wind stays with Black

Eagle," the Indian added.



Ree made no objection to this arrangement. Reaching camp they found that

John had some venison steaks ready. The young Indian arose and greeted

Ree by silently shaking his hand. It was plain to be seen that he was

suffering greatly, but he said nothing and when the breakfast was ready

he tried to eat.



Thankful that the night of watching was past, Ree and John prepared to

pursue their journey. They watered Jerry at the little brook hard by and

hitched him to the cart. When they were ready, Ree took a knife from

their stock of goods and gave it to Black Eagle, who with North Wind

stood looking on, saying:



"Maybe we will never meet again, but here is a present which we wish you

to keep. We do not know the enemy who fired upon us, but we were in

danger together and whether it was your foe or ours, who attacked us, we

would have fought together. Good-bye."



"We journey to the fires of the Mohawks," Black Eagle answered. "North

Wind now goes forward but Black Eagle, his father, follows the trail of

snake which shoots from the dark."



As he spoke the Indian turned and strode away. North Wind followed, Ree's

handkerchief still about his neck. He was really too sick to travel, but

it is a severe wound, indeed, which makes an Indian unable to move when

necessity demands it.



For a moment the young travelers looked after the red men; then a word to

their horse and they were once more upon their way.



It was a glorious morning. Particles of frost glistened on the leaves and

grass and in the road; a light wind set the trees and brushes rustling, a

rabbit went bouncing across the path, and still neither boy spoke as they

tramped along beside the cart, Ree in advance, driving.



"Who fired that shot?" John asked at last, as though speaking to

himself.



"May as well ask old Jerry, or the wind," Ree answered. "The same

question has been on my mind so long I am trying to think of something

else."



"But I can't help wondering," John persisted, "if it could have been the

lone horseman we saw the other day. Could it have been Big Pete Ellis,

trying to kill you, Ree? I have been expecting to meet that fellow."



"We must keep our eyes about us," was the only reply.



Several days passed and the mystery of the shot from the darkness was

still unsolved. The boys had now reached the mountainous country and the

nights were often cold. The days, too, gave promise of winter's coming,

and had it not been that they were hopeful of Indian summer weather in

November the young travelers would have been discouraged. Their progress

had not been so rapid as they had planned. The roads were too bad to

permit fast traveling. In many places they were little better than paths

through the woods, and though there were stretches of smoother going,

occasionally, there were other spots in which fallen trees or other

obstructions blocked the way.



Old Jerry stood the strain of the journey well, and that was certainly a

consolation; for some of their friends back in Connecticut had told the

boys they had better stay at home, than attempt to make the trip with

only one horse. Often, too, it was the case that the lads drove far out

of their course to pass around great obstacles, and they eventually found

that they had gone miles out of their true course. Many were the

hardships they encountered, and one adventure which they had must be

related here.



For days at a time no human being was met on those lonely mountain trails

and it was this fact which gave rise to much uneasiness when John one

day, for just a moment caught sight of a rough-appearing fellow in their

rear. He had gone back along the road to search for a bolt which was lost

from the cart box, when he chanced to look up and saw the strange fellow

a quarter of a mile away, coming toward him. The man raised his rifle and

sprang in among some trees as he caught sight of John, his movement being

so quick that the boy did not get a good look at him, and neither in

going on beyond the spot where the fellow had been, nor in returning

after he had found the lost bolt, did John see him again.



"We must be on the watch-out constantly," said Ree when told of the

incident. "I would have thought nothing of it, but for the man's desire

to hide."



"That is what I can't understand," said John, and as he thought the

matter over it added to a downcast feeling which had seized upon him. It

was by his looks more than by words that he betrayed his low-spirited

condition, then, and at other times, as day after day nothing save the

trees, great rocks and wooded hills and frowning mountain sides were

seen.



On the other hand, Ree's quiet disposition seemed almost to disappear in

the face of hardships and difficult obstacles. If the cart broke down he

whistled "Yankee Doodle," while he managed to mend it. If the road was

especially rough and their progress most unpleasantly slow, he was

certain to sing. Even Jerry could not fail to catch the spirit of his

cheerfulness no matter what bad luck they had, and from looking glum,

John would change to light-heartedness every time. Ree's smile was a

never failing remedy for his blues.



"Time enough to be blue and all put out when you have utterly failed,"

Ree exclaimed one day. "And if you only make up your mind to it, it is

the simplest thing in the world not to fail. If I were the general of an

army, I wouldn't own up that I was whipped as long as I had a breath

left. Now just suppose that Washington had given up at Valley Forge!"



"Well, I want to say that the chap who starts out west thinking he is

going on a frolic, will be mighty badly fooled," John answered. "I am

learning, but it is like the Indian who believed powder didn't amount to

much unless it was in a gun; so he filled his pipe with it. He learned a

heap."



"Ho, ho, pardners both!"



The voice came so suddenly to the young travelers, they started and

looked around questioningly. With a flying leap from some brush which

bordered the road, came an odd looking woodsman.



"Lift my ha'r if ye ain't the nearest bein' kittens of anythin' I've

clapped my old goggles on in the emygrant line in all my born days!"

Putting his hands to his sides the stranger laughed uproariously.



"Oh, it's funny, ain't it!" exclaimed John Jerome, witheringly.



"Age is not always a sign of wisdom," said Ree Kingdom in much the same

tone.



"Right ye be, lad; right ye be," said the woodsman, quieting himself.

"But I swan I'm that glad to see ye so young an' bloomin', both, that it

jes does me old eyes good. Where ye bound fer, anyhow?"



The speaker was tall and rugged, his age probably fifty years. A grizzled

beard clustered round his face and his unkempt hair hung almost to his

shoulders. On his head was a ragged coon-skin cap. All his dress was made

of skin or furs, in the crudest frontier fashion. He was not a

disagreeable appearing person, nevertheless, for his eyes twinkled

merrily as a boy's. Each in his own way, Ree and John noted these facts.



"I might say that we are going till we stop and that we came from where

we started," said John in answer to the stranger's inquiry.



"What a peart kitten ye be!" smiled the man, looking at him quizzically.



"To be honest with you, we are going to the Ohio country," said Ree

Kingdom, satisfied that the stranger wished to be friendly.



"Ye've got spunk, I swan!" the fellow exclaimed. "Don't let me be keepin'

ye though; drive along, we kin swap talk as we're movin'."



"How far do you call it to old Fort Pitt?" asked Ree.



"Well, it ain't so fer as a bird kin fly, an' its ferder than ye want to

walk in a day. If ye have good luck ye'll come on to Braddock's road

afore supper time, an' if ye don't have good luck, there's no tellin'

when ye'll get thar. It want such a great ways from here that Braddock

had his bad luck. If he hadn't had it--if he'd done as George

Washington wanted him to, he'd 'a' got along like grease on a hot

skillet, same as you youngsters."



"Hear that John? We will make Fort Pitt in a day or two," cried Ree.



"Yaas, it was forty odd years ago that Braddock had his bad luck when he

bumped into a lot of Injuns in ambush. I was jest a chunk of a boy then,

but I've hearn tell on it, many's the time, by my old gran'sire who

learned me how to shoot. I was a reg'lar wonder with a gun when I was

your age, kittens. I've picked up some since then though! See the

knot-hole in that beech way over yonder? Waal, I'm going to put a bullet

in the middle of it."



Taking aim, the stranger fired. "Ye'll find the bullet squar' in the

center," he said, in a boastful way.



"Shucks!" exclaimed John, who was often too outspoken for his own good.

He raised his rifle and fired. "There's another bullet right beside your

own, mister," he said.



"Well I swan! So there is!" called out the woodsman in great surprise.

"But I'll bet a coon-skin my tother kitten can't do the like."



Like a flash Ree's rifle flew to his shoulder and he seemed to take no

aim whatever; yet the bullet flew true. But just an instant after he

fired the crack of another rifle sounded behind him. A leaden ball

shrieked close to his head and a lock of his hair fell fluttering to the

ground.





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