Edward Ellis.

The Boy Hunters of Kentucky



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"Where paleface come from?" he asked, with such a good accent that George looked up at him in surprise.

"From my home over yonder," was his prompt reply, as he pointed to the northward-the direction in which his home lay.

"What name be?"

George gave it, whereupon his questioner took several whiffs of his pipe, nodded his head several times and grunted, as if to signify that he knew all about Mr. Burton.

"Come alone?"

"I came with my brother Will and Jack Gedney."

Again the Indian indulged in several whiffs, nods, and grunts.

It was quite clear that he was in a neighbourhood with which he was familiar.

"Where be they?"

"I do not know," was the truthful reply of the lad, who, all the same, would never say anything that could endanger his friends.

The eyes of his Wyandot questioner flashed, and without waiting to take any more puffs at his pipe, he added, in a louder voice-

"Tell me, or me kill you."

"I can't tell you, for I don't know. I parted from them some time ago, and don't know where they are."

"Why you leave them?"

"We saw the smoke of your camp fire, and we started out to find whether it belonged to white or red men."

The Indian looked sharply down in his face, and laid his hand on his tomahawk, as if asking himself whether he had not better end the whole matter by whipping out the weapon, and braining the little fellow as he sat on the log.

"Be oder Yengese in woods?"

"Not that I know of; Jack Gedney had a new gun given him yesterday by his father because it was his birthday, and he and we started into the woods to-day on a hunt."

Poor George would probably have added more had not an interruption taken place at that moment, caused by an important arrival.

CHAPTER XIV.
THE SIGNAL AND ITS REPLY

You will remember that when the three boys separated with the purpose of finding out who started the camp fire, Will went to the right and Jack to the left.

Will, being the oldest of the three, felt that in a certain sense he was the leader of the party, and the one to whom the others looked for guidance. He knew at the same time that Jack Gedney was just as well qualified as he, and that in some respects he was his superior. But a year makes a big difference with a youngster of his age.

Will made quite a long circuit to the right, his intention being to approach the camp fire from a point some distance beyond. There was little change in the general character of the wood, though at some points the undergrowth was so plentiful as to require labour and patience on his part.

He was pushing forward in this fashion when he caught his toe in one of the troublesome running vines, and went forward on his face. The fall was not violent enough to hurt him, though it caused a natural exclamation of impatience.

"It's well I am a good way from the camp," he thought, resuming his feet; "for if Indians were near they would have heard me sure."

A hundred yards farther, and he began turning to the left with the intention of approaching the camp; but he had gone only a short distance when he became aware that there was some one in front who was following the same course.

He knew this by the bent and broken twigs, the pressed bushes, and more than all by sounds of a moving body only a short distance off.

"That's queer," was the natural thought of the boy; "I wonder whether Jack or George has got over on my side. They ought to know better than to move that way."

The thought had hardly taken shape in the mind of Will when he caught a glimpse of the figure a few rods in advance. It was an Indian warrior, whose back was turned towards him.

He was walking among the trees and through the undergrowth in a leisurely fashion, that showed he not only knew how close he was to the camp, but that the parties gathered there were his friends.

When the boy observed him he stepped softly behind the nearest tree, and hardly dared to peep out until the red man had passed beyond sight. Had the savage turned his head at first, he must have detected the lad.

"That's strange," muttered Will, when he peeped around the tree, and found the Indian had disappeared; "if I had been a minute later in falling he must have heard me. His people don't travel in that style when they suspect enemies are near."

Will was sure he was right in his conclusion; the camp fire belonged to Indians, and the warrior who had just vanished was one of the party, as was shown by his carelessness of movement.

Such being the case, the boy felt that he had learned all that he needed to know, and it was not prudent for him to go farther. It was now certain that a war party of Indians were in the neighbourhood, and the right thing for the boys to do was to hasten back home, so as to warn their friends.

It cannot be denied that this was a sensible decision, and Will lost no time in acting upon it.

His belief was that he was ahead of the others in learning about the red men, and he was anxious to notify Jack and George, so as to keep them from running into danger. Remembering the signal that had been agreed upon, he placed the hollow of his hands together, applied his lips to the thumbs, and gave out the whistle like that made by a steam engine, when the sound comes a long way over land and through forest.

"They will hear that," he said to himself, as he stood a minute and listened, "and will keep away from the camp. The Indians will hear it too, but they won't have any idea what it means. Hallo!"

To the surprise of Will he detected an answer to his signal. It sounded faint and far off; but you remember what I said about the trouble of knowing the point from which such a signal comes. To save his life, the lad could not have told whether it issued from the north, south, east, or west.

"That's good," he said to himself, starting back over the course by which he had advanced. "I don't think either Jack or George has got nigh enough to the camp to run any risk, and it was fortunate that I found out the truth in time to warn them."

Some minutes later, when he had made fair progress, he stopped in his walk and repeated his signal, thinking possibly that the first had been heard by only one of his companions.

"That will reach both, and start them towards the top of the ridge."

While he was listening he again caught the reply. Since he was half expecting it, he laughed.

"I think that's Jack. There isn't any need of his answering, but I suppose he wants to show how well he can do it."

You would think that Will was sure of the course of the faint hollow whistle that trembled among the trees, but he was not. It may have been that because he expected the reply from a certain point that it seemed to come thence, but all the same he was mistaken.

"I'll be the first to the ridge, and most likely will be the only one that has got any news. My gracious!"

This time the tremulous call was so close that he could not mistake its direction. It sounded in front, and not twenty rods distant. The affrighted Will halted, knowing that something was wrong.

"I don't believe that is either Jack or George," he said to himself. "They couldn't have got back there in time."

Whatever doubt might have lingered in the mind of Will was removed by the sight of the one who had just emitted the signal. The head of a Wyandot warrior was thrust so far from behind the trunk of a tree that his shoulders was seen through the black mass of coarse hair dangling about them.

The redskin was within easy gunshot, and he held his rifle pointed straight at the boy, but the latter, not knowing whether it was a summons to surrender, or whether the savage meant to fire, bounded behind the nearest tree.

"I've got a gun as well as you, and you don't catch me for the asking."

The same signal that had been heard several times once more fell upon the ear of Will. Like the last, it was so near that he could not mistake its direction-it was from the rear.

Turning his head, he saw a second Indian within fifty feet, with a bow and arrow. He did not try to screen his body, but his primitive weapon was held in such a position that he could launch the shaft before the boy could have used his weapon.

Will was caught between two fires, for you will see that since one of his enemies was in front and the other in the rear, he could not use the tree as a screen against both; in whatever position he took he would be exposed to their aim.

"There is no help for it," was the despairing thought of the lad, when both Indians began walking towards him. Not wishing to exasperate them, he dropped the butt of his gun to the ground, as he stepped out from behind the tree that he had used for the moment as a screen against the first warrior.

His captors accepted this as a sign of friendship, and the one with a rifle also lowered his weapon, though both he and his ally kept a close watch on the youth, who, like ripe fruit, had fallen into their hands without "shaking."

It was a trying ordeal for Will to stand motionless while these two aborigines drew nigh, but he recalled what Jack had told him about his meeting with the chieftain Hua-awa-oma, and his wrestling bout with Arowaka, his son.

"This must be his party; maybe that fellow with the bow and arrow is the chief himself. If he was so kind to Jack, he may show a little indulgence to me. But there is no way now of helping myself, and I must trust to God to take care of me, as He has done all my life."

The first act of the Indian with the bow and arrow was to take the gun of Will Burton from him. He did not ask for the powder-horn and bullet-pouch, satisfied, no doubt, that they were his whenever he chose to take them. But the gun was loaded, and the safest course was to withdraw it from the hands of him who might feel like doing harm with it.

Will looked sharply at the redskin as he passed his rifle to him. He observed that he was dressed as Jack had described, and his face was hideously painted.

"Are you Hua-awa-oma?" asked the boy.

The savage looked inquiringly at him, and Will repeated the question. The warrior muttered something, and shook his head. He was not Hua-awa-oma, for he did not understand a word said to him.

The other Wyandot stood for a moment while this brief interview took place. Then pointing toward the camp fire, he made an angry gesture, nodded his head several times, and said something in his own tongue, which was clearly meant as the order "March!"

Will did not wait for a second command, but stepped briskly forward, and a few minutes later joined the group which I have already described as gathered around the Wyandot camp fire.

CHAPTER XV.
ANOTHER ARRIVAL

It was the arrival of Will Burton in charge of his two captors that broke in upon the interview between George and the Wyandot, who was asking him a number of questions shaped in very good English.

The meeting of the brothers, as you may well suppose, was a painful surprise to both of them.

"How came you to be here?" asked the elder, taking a seat beside the other on the log.

"One of them stole up behind me when I wasn't thinking," replied George, swallowing a lump in his throat. "I didn't believe any of them would catch you."

"Nor I either," replied Will, with a shake of his head, and turning pale; "but they are mighty cunning and smart. Did you hear me when I signalled?"

George shook his head. It should be said that during the few minutes the brothers were allowed to talk with each other the Indians themselves were conversing. The arrival of the captives evidently started several theories and questions, which required some time to discuss.

The Wyandots kept an eye on the boys sitting on the fallen tree, but they made no objection to their talking together. The latter noticed that all were on their feet, speaking earnestly, and gesticulating with much energy. Among them were a couple who had bows and arrows instead of guns, though the majority were furnished with the more deadly rifle.

"I wonder if they'll catch Jack too?" said the younger, after his brother had told him how his own signal had betrayed him.

"I shouldn't wonder. I suppose there was so much going on here that you didn't hear me when I whistled, but it must have reached Jack and started him on the move, and likely enough he has made the same blunder that we have. You know he went on the other side from me, and must have come just as close to camp."

"What do you suppose they will do with us, Will?"

The elder shook his head.

"I can't tell, any more than you can; we can only hope that they will spare our lives."

"If they do let us go they won't give us back our guns."

"Of course not; they will be a big loss to us, but not so much as our lives."

"We can't be sure that we won't lose them too," was the truthful remark of George. "I was thinking," he added, "that if Jack keeps out of their hands he will see what has happened to us. He'll hurry back home, and they may be able to get enough men together to make the Indians give us up."

Will shook his head, and compressed his lips.

"There is no hope there; you know how fast the Indians travel through the woods. They will get away before any of our friends can start."

"But their villages are not so far off that they cannot be found. You remember how Daniel Boone chased the Indians that stole his daughter, and brought her back?"

"Yes; he told father about it when he was at our house. But that was different. If the Wyandots-as I suppose these people are-should find there was any chance of losing us, they would kill us as quick as lightning. The only hope," added Will, with a sigh, "is in Hua-awa-oma."

"How do you make that out?"

"I don't make it out, and more than likely there's nothing in it; but you know Jack told us that he is a chief, and that he gave his gun back to him."

"That was because he beat his boy wrestling."

"Well, it may be that on Jack's account he won't be too severe with us; but," added Will the next instant, "there can't be much chance after all. I wonder whether Hua-awa-oma is among these fellows? I thought that the one who came in with me was he, because he had no rifle until he took mine away from me."

"Maybe he is the chief."

"No; I asked him, and found he couldn't speak English. That fellow who brought you in is the biggest Indian I ever saw, but he can't be the chief."

"No; I know he is not."

While talking, the boys were studying the figures and faces of the red men around them, for they were interesting indeed.

"There's one thing that makes it sure that Hua-awa-oma is absent," said the elder, settling back on the log; "his boy who wrestled with Jack is not here. He is taking him on his first war trail, and he would be sure to keep him near him until they got back."

"Don't you think it strange, Will, that when most of these people have rifles the sachem who leads them should carry nothing better than bows and arrows?"

"That is natural enough: he has probably taken his boy out for a little training, and his father carries his own bow the better to teach him. When the chief comes back to his warriors you may be sure that he will have the best gun in the party."

"It may be that he belongs to another party."

"I have thought of that, but I guess there is only the one company that is on this raid. However, we can talk all day and it won't help us any. Do you know whether any of them can speak English?"

"There is one that speaks it better than any Indian I ever saw: where is he?" asked George, straightening up, and looking around for the warrior who was questioning and threatening him at the moment the elder brother was brought into camp.

"I declare!" exclaimed the boy the next moment, when he discovered that the very Wyandot for whom he was searching was standing directly behind the log on which they were sitting. His arms were folded and he was looking at his friends who were talking so earnestly together, but beyond all question he had heard and understood every word spoken by the boys.

"Well," said the elder, dropping his voice, "we have told all there is to tell, and we may as well keep on talking."

"And that doesn't leave us much to talk about," replied George, who spoke in a louder voice than his brother.

At this juncture the vigorous conversation among the Wyandots stopped; and several of them took seats on the log near the boys.

The brothers, as you may well suppose, felt anything but comfortable when they saw they were the objects of the attention that had been turned away for a few minutes.

The warrior who has been referred to as speaking such good English now addressed himself to Will.

"Where be Jack?"

This question was proof, if any was needed, that he understood what had passed between the brothers during the conversation which I have given.

"I parted company with him on the ridge, and haven't seen him since."

"Which way he go?"

Will hesitated before answering. He could not do anything that looked like a betrayal of his friend. If he answered the question truthfully it might give the very information that would result in the capture of the only one of the three that had been able to keep out of the hands of the Indians.

It would have been easy enough to tell an untruth, but the soul of the boy revolted against it. Besides, the falsehood was almost certain to be discovered sooner or later, in which event the penalty would be visited upon him.

"Don't you know," whispered George, "that you spoke of the route Jack took? The Indian knows it himself."

Of course; why was not Will as quick as his brother to see the trap his questioner was setting?

Will disguised very well the cause of his hesitation. He scratched his head and looked around in the wood, as if uncertain of the point of the compass. Then his face lightened, as if it all had come back to him.

"Yonder is the ridge where we three stood a half-hour ago," he said, pointing in the proper direction; "I went that way; my brother here came straight down to the camp; while Jack turned off so as to go among the trees yonder."

The answer was truthful, as the Indian well knew. He had been misled, too, by the manner of Will, who therefore gained whatever it was worth in the eyes of the Wyandots by speaking with a "single tongue."

"We catch Jack," continued his questioner; "we bring him here; he soon be here; we take him home to Wyandot town; we make 'em run gauntlet; then we kill all you."

I suppose you know what is meant by running the gauntlet. It is a common torture to which the American Indians subject their prisoners. Two rows of savages arm themselves with clubs, and compel the poor captive to run a long distance between them. As he passes within reach, each redskin belabours him without mercy, so that, as the victim has to run a long way, he is almost certain to be knocked to the earth, where more than likely he is beaten to death.

If he succeeds in running the gauntlet he is sometimes spared (as was Simon Kenton), but is often kept for other forms of torture.

What further the Wyandot might have said to the boys can only be guessed, for, as before, he was checked by another arrival that was the strangest and most important of all-one that astonished even the stolid Wyandots themselves.

CHAPTER XVI.
HOW TO CONQUER AN ENEMY

I have told you what befell Will and George Burton when they made their attempt to find out who had kindled the camp fire in the valley below the ridge on which they halted. But the experience of Jack Gedney was the strangest of all.

You have learned enough about this boy to admit that he was bright and alert, and that when he moved through the woods he always kept his senses about him. Like his friend Will, he thought it best to pass slightly beyond the camp before approaching it, though for myself I cannot see the reason for such a course.

Instead, therefore, of taking the most direct route, he moved to the left, so that, when opposite to the Wyandots, he was really farther away from them than while on the ridge. The distance was such indeed that he failed to hear the signal of Will, who supposed it was loud enough to travel a long way through the wilderness.

Pausing for a moment, Jack carefully looked about him, and even among the tops of the trees. The only living thing which he saw was a huge rattlesnake, that was crawling by a stump a few yards away. Like the majority of mankind, the first prompting of the lad was to rush forward and kill the reptile. In fact, he started to do so.

Instantly the serpent twisted itself into a coil, and with its head rearing from the centre, shook its rattle as an invitation to attack. Jack could have easily shot off its head, and he would have been glad to do so, for it was an unusually large and repulsive pest, but to fire his gun at such a time would have been an imprudence for which there could be no excuse.

"I'll let you go," he said, looking steadily at it for a few seconds; "but it's well for you that I didn't meet you before I knew anything about this camp."

The crotalus species is easily killed, but this specimen, finding its invitation to a fight not accepted, unwound, and crawled off.

Seeing and hearing nothing, Jack began moving towards the camp, though, like his friends, he was unable to see anything of the smoke that was their guide when they halted on the crest of the ridge. He had travelled through the forest long enough, however, to keep his bearings, and he was sure that he was going in a straight line for the camp, which, he was almost equally sure, belonged to the Wyandot tribe of Indians.



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