He was anxious to join Will and George, who he knew were waiting impatiently for him; but he felt very much as you would have felt had you stood in his shoes. He thought the Indian was trying to bully him, and he was not willing to submit. Had the Wyandot asked him to let him have the game, he would have been glad to do so; but when it was not clear which of the two was the rightful claimant to the prize, the sturdy young hunter did not mean to be dictated to by a young Indian whose face was painted like his. Before yielding he would resist him.
"Now, see here," said Jack; after the young Indian straightened up, "you have told me more than once that that deer is yours. I don't know whether it is or not, for the creature didn't fall till I shot him-"
"He mine! he mine!" interrupted the other, laying his hand in a threatening manner on his knife. "My name Arowaka-me Wyandot; father, Hua-awa-oma-he great chief!"
"He may be a great chief among his own people, but you won't find him of much account among white folk. What I meant to say, Arowaka, is that your saying that the game is yours doesn't make it yours. You have your hand on your knife. I have a knife too, and I am not afraid of you."
The young Wyandot showed by his manner that he was surprised. Clearly he did not expect such a rebuff as this, and, though his swarthy hand still rested on his weapon, he did not draw it forth.
"What is your bow good for, any way?" continued Jack, with a smile at the primitive weapon. "You Indians can't do half as much with your bows and arrows as we can with our guns. I killed two painters with my rifle last night, and I'll warrant that that's more than you ever did in all your life."
At this point it struck Jack that he would do a foolish thing to engage in a quarrel with the young Indian over the ownership of so small a thing as the carcase of a deer. Since he had not only defied the other, but forced him to pause in his demands, the white youth felt more kindly towards him.
"See here, Arowaka," he added, "I think I have as much right to the game as you, but I don't want it half as bad. I'll let you have it. Why don't you pick it up and carry it off?"
The Wyandot, who must have understood these words, looked at the speaker with a curious expression, that is, so far as it could be seen through the paint with which his face was daubed.
"What your name?" he asked, in a lower voice than before.
"Jack Gedney, and I live only a short distance up the path yonder."
"Me know," said the other. "Jack have fine gun."
"You are right about that," was the proud answer of the lad.
"Me like see him."
Jack was too wise to trust his valuable weapon in the hands of the young scamp, who would be glad enough to steal it. Still, he thought it safe to let him have a better view of it than he could have so long as it was held in the two hands of the owner.
So our young friend was foolish enough to compromise.
Jack took care to stand quite close to the piece, so that, if the young Wyandot should make an attempt to seize it, he could be ahead of him.
To the surprise of Jack, the Wyandot, instead of advancing towards the weapon, moved back several paces, just as a person does when he wishes to view all the points of some large object.
"He knows better than to try to take it from me," was the conclusion of Jack, "for I would fight him like a painter, and I would never give up that gun except with my life."
At this moment came the greatest surprise of Jack Gedney's life. He was looking admiringly at his weapon when the hand of an Indian warrior softly reached from behind the tree, and grasped the barrel. An instant later the figure of a Wyandot stepped into sight, holding his bow in one hand and the captured rifle in the other.
No one can imagine the consternation of Jack Gedney, who had allowed his prize to pass from his possession without so much as raising a finger to prevent it. It looked indeed as if the young Wyandot had been trying to get him to do the very thing that he had done. This, however, could not have been the case, for two Indians must have felt able to overcome so young a lad as Jack, even with his loaded gun.
Jack could hardly keep from crying, for his grief overflowed. The next instant he was filled with anger.
"That is mine," said he, stepping towards the Indian, and reaching out his hand.
The savage extended the weapon, as if he meant to pass it back to the lad; but before the latter could seize it it was withdrawn, and the Indian grinned more than ever.
The warrior was dressed similarly to Arowaka, the paint on his face being daubed in much the same fashion. From this, and the fact that several glances passed between the two, Jack Gedney rightly concluded that they were father and son, the warrior being Hua-awa-oma, who, as his offspring claimed, was a great chief.
"Want gun?" asked the savage, speaking for the first time.
"Yes, it is mine. I must have it! I will have it!"
In his indignation, Jack was ready to draw his knife, and leap at his tantalising enemy. Such a step could not have helped him, while it might have caused him much harm.
Hua-awa-oma showed that, like many an American Indian, he had a vein of waggery in his composition. The race to which he belonged is probably the most melancholy in the world, but there are times when its people show something akin to mirth. The chief set the gun against the tree where it was standing a few minutes before, and then beckoned to his son to come nigher.
Arowaka walked forward until he stood near the wondering Jack Gedney.
"You wrestle, you two!" said he. "One throw other, him have gun."
The meaning of this was clear enough: the ownership of the gun was to be decided by a wrestling bout between Jack Gedney and the young Wyandot.
The heart of the white youth gave a quick throb of delight, for there was no boy in the settlement within two years of his age whom he could not easily master in such a contest. He had thrown Will Burton, taller and older than he, with as much ease as he had every lad anywhere near his age.
The lads, having been told to begin, lost no time in doing so. It was fortunate for Jack that his opponent proved to be left-handed, since that gave Jack the hold which he wished. With their arms encircling each other, and the hands clasped in front, their heads bent slightly forward, so that they could watch each other's feet, the struggle began.
At this juncture the question came to Jack Gedney-
"If I do throw this fellow and win, will the chief keep his promise?"
It must be confessed that there was little reason to believe that Hua-awa-oma (He who fights without falling) would show the least regard for his pledge. This, however, did not weaken the arm of Jack Gedney, who, bending his body slightly forward and downward, suddenly caught his opponent on his hip and flung him on his back before the fellow could prevent it. Jack fell so heavily across him that he almost forced the breath from his body.
But Arowaka was on his feet scarcely a second behind Jack, who was given no time to see how the chief took it, when he found both shoulders seized by his opponent.
Jack was quick to do the same, so that the two contestants faced each other. The young Wyandot took a lesson from his fall, and he was so guarded that he defeated several efforts to catch him unawares.
All at once, like a flash, Jack, tightly grasping the arms of Arowaka, dropped his own shoulders, kicked the feet of the other from beneath him, and, with the most powerful effort he could put forth, lifted the Wyandot clear from the ground.
Finding himself going, Arowaka struggled desperately, his feet beating the air like frantic drumsticks, but he could not save himself. The next instant he shot over Jack's head as if fired from a gun, and struck the ground with a shock that seemed violent enough to break his neck.
No one could have won the wrestling bout more fairly than did Jack Gedney, who, having thrown the young Wyandot by the usual side hold, had now tossed him over his head with such violence that the youthful redskin must have made a big dent in the earth where his crown struck it.
The victor was startled for a moment by the fear that he had seriously injured his opponent, and, running forward, he stooped over him.
"Is Arowaka hurt? I am sorry," he said, kindly. "I did not really mean to do it."
But the latter was on his feet like a flash, thus proving the toughness of his race. He was so angered that his small black eyes flashed fire. No doubt he ranked as a skilful wrestler among his own people, and he was chagrined beyond bearing by his defeat.
Grasping the handle of his knife, he drew it forth with the intention of rushing upon Jack; but before he could do so the chieftain, Hua-awa-oma, took part in the proceedings.
You know that the American Indians show little indulgence to their children, whom they rear much as wild animals rear their young. They are made to suffer hardships while infants that would prove fatal to you or me when double their age. The doctrine of forbearance, kindness, and patience, is unknown among those peculiar people.
The chief had watched the contest between his heir and the white boy, who was not as tall by several inches as the other. He had seen Arowaka beaten as if he were a child in the grasp of a giant. The chief was furious. Arowaka was in the very act of drawing his knife when his father seized one of his arms, and began belabouring him with his long bow, which he had caught up with the other hand.
Jack Gedney was so amazed for a few seconds that he could only stare in silence. Then he was pleased, for the son deserved his punishment, not because he was overthrown, but because he drew his knife upon the one who had fairly conquered him. In the midst of the odd scene Jack Gedney awoke to the fact that his darling rifle was leaning against the very tree where he first placed it for Arowaka to view. The chief and his son were closer to it than Jack, and the latter dared not make a rush to recover it while the Indian was in such a furious mood, but he stealthily edged that way, in the hope of getting near enough to seize it before the Wyandot could prevent him.
But Jack was disappointed. Such a severe punishment as the chieftain gave to his son could not, in the nature of things, last long. Probably a score of blows descended on the back and limbs of Arowaka when they ceased. The chief gave the youth an angry shove, as though he was ashamed of him, and then, turning about, he took a few quick paces and snatched up the gun.
As he seized the weapon, the Wyandot, without glancing at his disgraced son, who stood sullenly apart, looking askance at the scene, walked straight to Jack and handed it to him.
"Take him-brave boy-make great warrior-Hua-awa-oma love Jack."
Doubting the earnestness of the chief, the youth reached out his hand, expecting the weapon to be withdrawn as before; but it was not; and a thrill of delight passed through the lad when he felt that his rifle was once more in his own possession.
"Huo-awa-oma, I thank you; you speak with a single tongue; you are a brave warrior; you have spoken truth; we are friends for ever."
The Wyandot made no response to this, but turning his back alike on white and red boy, he strode angrily off in the woods, taking a direction that led him towards the clearing where stood the cabin in which Jack Gedney was born.
Hua-awa-oma had gone only a couple of rods when his son followed him. He did not speak, but as he moved away he turned his head for an instant and glanced at Jack.
What that look meant was beyond the power of the boy to guess, but he believed it was a threat-a warning that he had not yet finished with him.
However, Jack was not alarmed by the fierce glance of the dusky youth. He was so delighted over the restoration of his rifle that for a few minutes he could think of nothing else.
Making his way back to the trail, he resumed his walk towards the home of the Burton boys, who he knew were already impatient over his delay.
"It's very strange," he said, recalling the incidents that have just been described; "I don't believe that one Indian in a thousand would have kept his word like Hua-awa-oma. Having got hold of my gun, he would not have let go; but I suspect, after all, the chief is not such an honourable fellow as he seems to be from his actions. If Arowaka had made a better fight, even though I beat him, his father would have let him have the gun; but I threw him so easily that the chief was maddened, and he gave the gun back to me more because he was angry with his son than because of his promise to me."
I must say that this conclusion of Jack Gedney was worthy of one much older than he. You may think he showed an amazing amount of wisdom for a lad so young, but bear in mind that he was not only a bright boy, but he had the training that gave him a knowledge of the woods often denied to those of his years.
The presence of the two Indians in this neighbourhood could not fail to set Jack to thinking what it meant. The Wyandots were among those who had fought the white settlers with intense fierceness. Some of their leaders were the most daring and skilful of the combined tribes, and the warriors were as brave and treacherous as the Apaches of the present time.
The natural question that Jack asked himself was as to the meaning of the presence of this chief and his son so near to the settlement and the few scattered cabins of that section. One alarming fact could not be lost sight of: during the past summer and early autumn the Indians had been unusually hostile.
Some weeks before, Mr. Gedney was on the point of moving with his family to the settlement until the trouble should pass; but he disliked leaving the cabin and all the gains he had made since coming to the West. About that time, however, came news that drove away his fears, and he decided to stay, at least until more alarming tidings should reach him.
The thought that naturally came to Jack was that a chief generally had a number of warriors within call, and since they were Wyandots they were hostile to the whites, who were trying to take their hunting-grounds away from them. The chief himself had shown a friendship towards Jack which he might extend to his relatives, but of course that was mere guesswork.
While the boy found plenty of cause for serious thought, he took comfort in his faith in the bravery and address of his father. He had been through some of the most thrilling scenes on the frontier, and in all he had carried himself so as to win the praise of every one.
So it was natural, as you will see, that, though Jack was disturbed by his fears, he was able to find relief in his faith in his father.
"He knows all about Indians," said the youth to himself; "if they mean anything wrong, he will find it out; they will never be able to catch him asleep."
And with this conclusion the boy walked more briskly than before along the trail over which he had journeyed so many times.
All of Jack Gedney's doubts and misgivings left him for the time when he caught sight of the cabin of Mr. Burton. The moment he stepped into the clearing, where he could be seen, he was greeted by shouts from Will and George.
"We've been waiting more than a half-hour for you," called out the elder; "what kept you?"
"I didn't start quite as early as I wanted to, and I was stopped on the way by a couple of Indians."
Mr. Burton and his wife and daughter, who were within the cabin, came to the door when they heard this remark, for it was one in which it was natural that all should feel interest.
Jack followed the other boys into the house, where all sat down, and the visitor gave an account of his wrestling bout with the young Wyandot. When he came to relate how he sent the youth flying over his head, with his legs outspread like those of a frog, and of the trouncing the parent added to his defeat, every one of the listeners, including Mrs. Burton, laughed right merrily.
"It was bad enough to be tossed about in that fashion," said Mr. Burton, "but it was rough on the poor fellow to receive a whipping on that account."
"I would have given a good deal to see it," said Will who had been thrown more than once by the doughty Jack. "I can imagine how he felt when he went flying over your head, for I've been there myself."
"I was thinking," said Jack, more seriously, "that it might be that the chief and his boy are not alone in the woods. You know that a chief is pretty apt to have his warriors near him."
"More than likely you are right: what of it?" asked Mr. Burton.
The lightness with which this question was asked lessened the fears of Jack, and even made him ashamed that he was on the point of expressing them.
Then, too, Mrs. Burton, who was sometimes nervous about her children, showed no more signs of alarm than did little Ruth, standing by her side. Jack fairly blushed to recall how much he had been disturbed by his misgivings. He looked around at the boys, and asked abruptly-
"Well, are you ready, fellows?"
"Yes, and have been for nearly an hour."
"Then let's be off."
"How long do you think you will be away?" asked Mrs. Burton, putting her arms around each of her sons, and kissing them "good-bye."
"That depends on many things that can't be known now," said her husband, answering for the three. "I have no doubt they will spend one night in the woods, and perhaps two. I prefer that they should not be away any longer."
"We will not," said his elder boy, "unless something happens that we can't think of, and that won't let us get back."
"I don't think that is likely; but if you are not here by the close of the third day from this I shall start to hunt you up. Then, if your explanation is not satisfactory, I know two boys who will be made to dance a war-dance to which that of the young Wyandot cannot be compared."
All laughed at this remark of the father, and he himself spoke with a smile; but the young gentlemen concerned knew, all the same, that it was no laughing matter. Their parent would carry out his threat in spirit and letter.
Young George Burton, who was short and stout, carried a blanket done up in a compact bundle, and strapped to his back, that being about the only burden of which he was given charge, the other extras being at the command of his big brother.
You will observe that not one of the boys had a dog with him. Jack Gedney had been the owner of a fine hunter, but that had been killed in a fight with two bears only a month before. Mr. Burton had a good animal, but he preferred to keep him at home, where his intelligence was valuable. He gave notice of the approach of strangers in ample time to take all precaution against surprise. He was especially useful at night, when the most cautious Indian would have found it hard to steal up to the cabin without detection.
Besides, the young hunters were in less need of such an animal than you would think. During these later days, when the instinct of the brutes seem to be necessary to the most skilled sportsman, that man would be foolish who expected much success without one to help him. But a hundred years ago game was so plentiful along the river Ohio that the hunter could do very well without the aid of a dog. In the broad stretches of clearing or prairie roamed droves, numbering many hundreds, of American bison, or buffalo, as they are wrongly called; while the bears who at that season of the year were hunting for food, and the deer, wolves, and other animals, were so numerous that there was no excuse for any one failing to find them.
Such a buoyant party of young hunters are not likely to linger long over their farewells. Within the three minutes following the warning of Mr. Burton of what would follow if they overstayed their time all three were out of sight of the cabin.
The direction taken was almost due south where there were many miles of forest in which some at least of the wild animals had not yet seen a white man; more than likely many of them had not met a redskin for if they had done so they would not have been allowed to live to remember it.
Since there was no path to follow, the boys walked beside each other. This was because they could talk better than in Indian file, and three such lads as those I am telling you about could not have been persuaded to keep still by the offer of several fortunes in gold.
It surely is unsportsman-like to go hunting in that fashion. Not only were they without dogs (for which I have given you a reason), but they kept together, and talked a great deal, whereas professional hunters would have separated whenever in the neighbourhood of game, and taken all pains to steal upon the animals before the latter could find out their danger.