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Friends Or Foes?

From: Far Past The Frontier

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

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--

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

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,

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Next: The Scalp At Big Buffalo's Belt

Previous: On Into The Wilderness

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