Treed By Wolves





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.





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