Edward Ellis.

The Boy Hunters of Kentucky



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For the second time the bear found his victim slipping away from him after he was within reach. You cannot wonder that he was in the angriest possible mood. He must have called to mind, too, that a third boy was somewhere near, for he could not have failed to see him when he started after the bigger lad.

But where was the third of the party?

The bear looked here, there, everywhere, but saw nothing of him.

Ah! if the brute had gazed a little closer at that big oak trunk, off to his left, he would have seen a short, sturdy-looking boy, who had just finished pouring the priming into the pan of his rifle, and drawing back the hammer, was stealthily peering around the trunk, so as to decide how best to aim at the creature.

It so happened that the latter was in the best position to receive such a charge, and George took but a few seconds to make his aim sure. When he let fly, the little sphere of lead that whistled from his rifle tore its way through the heart of the beast, which rolled over on his side and died immediately, almost without a struggle.

You remember there were two other bears. They were lumbering along the trail some distance behind the leader, but quite close together. They did not become aware that anything unusual was going on until Jack fired his first shot. Then they looked up in their stupid way, and stood still while the first part of the stirring incidents took place.

Before the crisis was reached, the couple seemed to conclude that there was no necessity to stay where they were likely to get hurt. So, without turning aside from the trail, they pushed on in the direction they were following when first seen.

Jack and Will quickly slid down from the saplings in which they had taken refuge, and, catching up their guns, ran towards the carcase of the bear, reached it almost at the same time with George, the three converging from different directions.

"He's dead sure enough," said Jack, kicking the bulky body.

"He ought to be, with three or four bullets in him," said Will; "George and I struck him the first time we fired, and you must have hit him. How was it, Jack, that you didn't kill him?"

"I'll find out," replied Jack, stooping down and examining the skull of the brute.

"I see how it is," he said, straightening up again; "I fired for his eye, but there was a stick across my line of aim-just enough to turn the ball aside, so that it didn't hurt him much."

"But it made him mad," suggested George.

"I should say it did; and then the other two balls made him so mad that he couldn't get any madder."

"He stood just right for me," said George; "and since he couldn't see me, I had all the time I wanted to take aim."

"And you did it well," added Jack; "and it was fortunate for us, for we couldn't use our guns. But what's become of the other two bears?" he asked, looking around.

"They didn't see any fun in staying here," replied Will, "and so they went off."

"Let's follow them."

But Will was not inclined to do so.

"You know we started out for a hunt," said he, "and I am in favour of making it as varied as we can.

You found a couple of painters last night, and an Indian or two this morning. Awhile ago, you had a little fun with a bull buffalo, and he had more fun with you. We are just through with the bears, and I'm in favour of trying something else."

"What shall it be?" asked his brother.

"Whatever comes along-wolves, deer, or anything that turns up."

While the three stood near the carcase they were busy re-loading their guns, for the brothers, as well as Jack, had been taught that that was the first duty after discharging their weapons.

Naturally the boys were in high spirits over their adventure, which had ended without harm to any one of the company.

"It seems to me," said George, "that we can find all the fun we want by following this path to the lick."

"It looks to me," added Jack, "as though we may find more than we want."

"Not unless we meet more buffaloes," remarked Will, with a sly glance at Jack, whose face flushed.

"I wouldn't mind having one of them, for it will soon be dinner time, and their meat is good at this season."

"There may be others along the path, and then you can run out and scare one to death."

"To do that," retorted Jack, "I would have to run as fast as you did when the bear was at your heels."

"But hardly as fast as you ran when you missed your shot and got up the tree just in time."

"Any boy that will run from a wounded bear will run from a buffalo bull when he has his head down and is coming for him: I think one is as bad as the other."

"That may be, which is a good reason why you shouldn't try to drive him off as though he were a rooster scratching up your corn."

George grinned over this bit of conversation, which took place with the best nature on both sides. When it had gone on for a few minutes more, Will stopped, laughed, and reached out his hand.

"Shake," said he; "I have laughed until I can't laugh any more, and now we'll drop it."

"I notice one thing that you may not know," said Will, looking up as he spoke, through the tree tops, "and that is that the sky is not anything like as clear as it was a little while ago."

"And it is colder," added Jack, with a shiver; "it looks to me very much as though a storm is coming."

"If there is, it's likely to be a snow-storm, I feel sure."

"It's well I brought this blanket along with me," said George; "Will didn't think we needed it at all."

"I didn't think so as long as I believed mother meant that I should carry it. When I found that you were to take charge of it, why I concluded it well to bring it."

"I almost wish I had mine," said Jack; "but there are plenty of places where we can build a good roaring fire and the wind won't reach us, and so after all we will be comfortable, and that's everything."

"Yes," said Will, looking around as though he half expected to see what they were talking about; "there are spots where we could sleep without a blanket, after we had kindled a good fire, and it won't take us very long to find one of them."

At that moment, when all three were about to move toward the trail, they heard the report of a rifle. It sounded perhaps a quarter of a mile off, and directly to the south.

Now, there was nothing in this to cause any excitement on the part of the boys, but they looked in each other's faces with a half scared and half wondering expression, as though in doubt whether there was ground for fear or whether there was not.

"I believe that gun was fired by an Indian," said George in a whisper.

"How can you know that?" asked his brother, impatiently.

"I don't know it," answered the younger, "but I only think so."

"I don't know that it makes any difference to us whether it was an Indian or white man who fired it."

"Of course; and we can't know until we find out for ourselves," was the sensible but not altogether necessary remark of Master Jack.

CHAPTER XII.
THE STRANGE CAMP FIRE

The young hunters now asked themselves whether it was worth while to try to find out who had fired the gun whose report broke in upon them with such startling suddenness.

It was not at all unlikely that some of their friends from the settlement up the river, or from the scattered cabins, were out on a hunt through the woods.

But when young George blurted out his belief that it was an Indian who had fired the weapon, he uttered the very thought that was in the mind of Jack.

Ever since his meeting with the Wyandot chief and his son that morning he had been uneasy in mind. There were times when he would not think about the red men, but very soon his thoughts went back to the subject.

His misgiving may be understood when I repeat what I have already hinted, namely, that the presence of Hua-awa-oma and his son in the neighbourhood of the two cabins meant that a band of his warriors were not far away. The Wyandots, as you have already learned, were among the fiercest enemies of the settlers, and the painted faces of the chieftain and his son made it look as if the latter was on his first war path.

All this might be hard to explain in the light of the treatment received by Jack at the hands of Hua-awa-oma, or "He who fights without falling" but still it was not inexplainable. More than likely the chief gave back the gun as part punishment to his boy because he was beaten so badly in the wrestling bout.

Probably the dusky leader felt so much faith in his own place at the head of a war party of Wyandots that he believed it safe to indulge such a whim, believing as he did that not only the rifle but also the boy himself would be at his disposal whenever he cared to claim them.

"If there are Indians near us," said Jack, "we ought to know it, so as to be able to keep out of their way."

"They must have heard our guns, since we heard one of theirs," remarked Will.

"If they are white men, we ought to know that too," added George.

"Well, if we are careful I guess we can find out. Come on."

Jack led the way back to the path which they had followed for some distance, and crossing it, plunged into the wood on the other side. They had gone only a short way when the ground grew rougher, and sloped upward like a ridge. They pushed on until they reached the top of an elevation of several hundred feet.

Beyond this the land sloped off again into a valley, fully a half mile in width, beyond which it rose almost to the same height as the surface on which they stood.

The spot where they halted was so open and free from undergrowth that they had a good view of the small valley spread out before them, and over which they gazed with keen interest.

"Hallo, there they are!" whispered Will.

Following the direction of his finger, his companions saw near the middle of the valley a column of smoke ascending from among the trees, and lazily mingling with the air above, where it rested almost stationary, as though it had been there for hours.

"Yes," said Jack, "a camp fire is there, but we don't know whether it belongs to Indians or white men."

"That's what we have come to find out."

"It seems to me," said George, "that instead of going down together we ought to separate. What do you think, Jack?"

"It strikes me as a good plan; if we keep together it will be hard work for us to find out what we want to know without letting the Indians-if they are Indians-find out more than we want them to learn about us."

"That is good enough," observed Will, to whom the others looked to hear his opinion, "and I guess we may as well try it; but if we separate we have got to be mighty careful that we don't run into danger before we know it. I will turn to the right, you, Jack, to the left, while George can push straight down into the valley; we must be on the watch all the time. As soon as one of us sees anything that tells what we want to know, he must turn back to this place and wait for the others."

"The first one who finds the camp and learns who started it ought to signal to the others, so that they need not run any more risk."

"We will do that," said Jack; "and that is likely to be George, because he has a shorter distance than either of us to travel."

"What shall be the signal?"

Jack placed his two hands in front of his mouth, the palms curved toward each other, so that a hollow space was enclosed, the thumbs being in front. Pressing his lips against these, he blew gently, and made a soft, deep whistle, whose volume he could increase until it was audible for several hundred yards.

While the call thus made bore little resemblance to that of any animal or bird, it had the advantage of being hard to locate. That is, if a person should detect it in the forest it would require the closest attention, and then would have to be repeated several times before the hearer could fix the exact spot whence it came.

"You know how to do that?" he said, looking inquiringly at the brothers.

By way of reply, each fashioned his hands as Jack had done, and, with the lips against the thumbs, emitted a precisely similar sound.

"That's it," he said. "It is understood then that the first one who finds out what we want to know is to start straight back to this spot, and as soon as he reaches a point where it is safe to make the signal he will do so. Neither of the others will be too far off to hear, and will hurry back. Then, after we learn the truth, we'll settle what is best to be done."

All this was simple enough, and when each had added several cautions to the others they silently parted company.

You will see from what has been told that there was reason to believe that George Burton, who took the direct course to the camp fire, would be the first to reach it. Indeed, the others were so confident of his doing so that they were rather indifferent to their own progress.

Feeling the responsibility on him, young George acted like an old campaigner, using more care than seemed necessary at first; but he had felt quite sure from the beginning that they were near a party of Indian warriors, and he did not mean to betray himself and friends into their hands by any lack of caution. He was glad to see, after going a short distance down the slope, that there was an increase of undergrowth. This gave him a better chance to keep his body screened while approaching the camp.

"Whatever happens," was his thought, "it shan't be said that I was the cause of Jack and Will getting into trouble. If there are a party of Indians tramping through here, it is for no good, and the best thing we can do is to get back home as quick as we know how."

At the end of a quarter of an hour he thought he must be close to the camp. Since coming down into the valley he was unable to see the smoke that was in such plain sight when they were on top of the ridge, but he used his keen eyes and sense of hearing with a skill that an Indian scout would have found hard to surpass.

"It must be close at hand-sh!"

Sure enough, he had not gone five steps farther when he came in full view of the camp.

In the middle of a small open space a number of sticks had been piled together and kindled an hour or two before. This was plain, not only from the number of burnt-out embers and brands, but from the appearance of the smoke above the trees as already described.

On a fallen tree, near the fire, sat three Indian warriors, talking together in their low guttural voices. Another was in the act of stooping down and lighting his long-stemmed pipe, while a fifth was standing a few feet away, examining his rifle-this being all that were in sight.

Each was in his war paint, and, young as was George Burton, he was certain that they were but a fraction of the party that was in the woods bent on mischief.

"They must be Wyandots," he thought, forming this opinion from the story told by Jack of his encounter that morning; "and we must get home as fast as we can, and tell the folk."

Full of this purpose, he turned softly about to hasten back, when he found himself face to face with a gigantic and scowling Indian warrior!

CHAPTER XIII.
CAPTIVE AND CAPTORS

Poor George Burton! After creeping close to the Indian camp fire, and using all the care he could, he had turned about to go back with the important news thus gained, when he found himself face to face with a gigantic warrior, who had stolen up behind him without the least noise that could betray his approach. For a moment the lad was speechless. Young as he was, he saw that he was helpless, but with a weak hope that the savage might be friendly, he said in a faint voice-

"How do you do?"

He did not reach out his hand, being afraid to do so, but he took a step to one side and forward, with the purpose of attempting to pass around the red man who had suddenly stood in his path.

It was an idle hope. The other also moved a step that placed him in front of the boy, so as to block his way.

"Howly do?" he asked, extending his brawny hand, which, it need not be said, was taken by George with much hesitation. The Indian, however, grasped and shook it without offering any injury.

The lad noticed that not only was the face of the red man hideously painted, but that his nose was awry, as though it had been slashed or broken by some frightful wound. He must have been several inches more than six feet in height, with a tremendous breadth of chest and reach of limb. He was dressed in the usual fashion of his people, and carried a tomahawk and knife in his belt.

Instead of being armed with a bow and arrow, as was Hua-awa-oma, whom Jack had spoken about, this remarkable warrior had a long fine rifle, with the necessary powder-horn and shot-pouch held by strings passing round his neck.

The first action after this greeting was an alarming one to George. Reaching out, he drew the rifle from the grasp of the lad, whose anguish was as great as that of Jack Gedney had been.

"Hoof! Yenghese brave-he go!"

The lad would not have caught the whole meaning of this but for the expressive gesture that accompanied it. The red man pointed towards the camp fire, thereby meaning that his captive should walk in that direction.

The circumstances being as they were, George did the wisest thing he could: he obeyed the order of his captor, who, had he chosen, could have smitten him to the earth with as much ease as though he were but an infant.

George, like all youngsters, was deeply interested in the accounts of frontier adventure. He had heard the hunters who sometimes stopped at his house say that the wisest course for a captive in the hands of Indians is to try to please them in every way. Any sullenness or disobedience rouses their anger, and they are quick to punish, and most likely to torment and kill, the hapless prisoner.

The agitation of George was great, but he forced himself to smile, and to say, "How do you do?" as he walked among the party, and took his seat on the log near where the three of whom I have spoken were waiting.

During the few minutes that George was allowed to sit undisturbed on the log he closely watched the faces of the Indians, and particularly of the one who had made him prisoner.

It was the ugliest countenance he had ever seen. Not only was the nose twisted out of shape, but the mouth was amazingly broad, though, like nearly all of the American race, his teeth were white and even. But his eyes were so small that they looked like beads. Around each was a white ring, while the greasy clay that served for paint was daubed over the rest of his features with an effect so hideous as to prove that the redskin was a genius in that line.

During those few minutes also the little fellow did a great deal of serious thinking.

The most natural question that he tried to answer was as to what the Indians were likely to do with him. The different tribes who roamed through the Ohio forests and Kentucky cane-fields were not famous for their kindness or mercy to their prisoners. It is well known that they often tortured them in the most shocking manner. Colonel Crawford, who commanded one of the expeditions sent into that section about the time of which I am telling you, was not only defeated, but he and many of his men were taken prisoners. Colonel Crawford was fastened to a stake driven into the ground, and burned to death with dreadful agony.

All this, not to name other similar incidents, was known to George Burton, who might well tremble for his own fate. Still he did not give up hope.

"Maybe they will think I don't amount to enough for them to bother with, and they may let me go, though I know there is no chance of ever getting my rifle back again. I am glad of one thing-they didn't catch Will or Jack."

The thought of them led George to glance behind and in front, as though he expected to see them approach. Natural as was the act on his part, it was noticed by the Wyandots (such was their tribe), who may have supposed that he expected some of his friends to come to his relief. They looked sharply at the boy, and then resumed their talk.

"We agreed," thought George, recalling their parting, "that we should all keep up the hunt until we learned what we wanted. So Jack or Will will prowl around this camp until they see what a scrape I'm in, and then, what will they do?"

Ay, what could they do?

"They'll run home and tell father," thought the captive, continuing his line of thought, "and he may set out to get me, but what can he do against all this crowd? He may go up to the settlement and bring a lot of the folk to help, but before they can come within reach of these people my fate will be settled."

There was every reason to believe that George Burton was quite right in the latter conclusion.

The conversation of the Wyandots, whatever its nature, lasted only a few minutes longer. Then the one who was occupied in filling his pipe when George first caught sight of the camp came forward, and stopped in front of him.

Most of the red men who live along the frontier soon pick up a few words of English, but it is seldom that one is seen who spoke so readily as did he who now addressed the captive. Doubtless on that account he was called upon.



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