The Scalp At Big Buffalo's Belt





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

happened?"



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

exclaimed.



"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

am."



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

been.



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.





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