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Title: Ned in the Block-House - A Tale of Early Days in the West
Author: Ellis, Edward Sylvester, 1840-1916
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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     [Illustration: THE TELL-TALE ARROW.]



     _BOY PIONEER SERIES._

     NED IN THE BLOCK-HOUSE.

     A TALE OF
     EARLY DAYS IN THE WEST.

     BY EDWARD S. ELLIS,

     AUTHOR OF "FIRE, SNOW AND WATER," "PERSEVERANCE PARKER," "A
     YOUNG HERO," "SWEPT AWAY," ETC., ETC.

     PHILADELPHIA:
     HENRY T. COATES & CO.



"_Mr. Ellis's works are favorites and deserve to be. He shows variety
and originality in his characters; and his Indians are human beings
and not fancy pieces._"--_NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW._


COPYRIGHT, 1883, BY PORTER & COATES.



CONTENTS.


     CHAPTER I.                                         PAGE
     IN THE FOREST                                         5

     CHAPTER II.
     THE BOY PIONEER--DEERFOOT, THE SHAWANOE              18

     CHAPTER III.
     OLD FRIENDS                                          32

     CHAPTER IV.
     THROUGH THE TRACKLESS FOREST--THE CAUSE              46

     CHAPTER V.
     "SHUT OUT"                                           60

     CHAPTER VI.
     THE BLOCK-HOUSE                                      73

     CHAPTER VII.
     THE MESSAGE                                          87

     CHAPTER VIII.
     OPENING COMMUNICATION                               101

     CHAPTER IX.
     WITHIN THE BLOCK-HOUSE                              126

     CHAPTER X.
     FLAMING MESSENGERS                                  140

     CHAPTER XI.
     IN GREAT PERIL                                      154

     CHAPTER XII.
     "BIRDS OF THE NIGHT"                                168

     CHAPTER XIII.
     SHADOWY VISITORS                                    182

     CHAPTER XIV.
     A MISHAP AND A SENTENCE                             196

     CHAPTER XV.
     AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR                               212

     CHAPTER XVI.
     OUT-DOORS ON A DARK NIGHT                           226

     CHAPTER XVII.
     THE LONG CLEARING                                   247

     CHAPTER XVIII.
     THE FIERY ENEMY                                     265

     CHAPTER XIX.
     THE TUG OF WAR                                      282

     CHAPTER XX.
     THE SOUTH WIND                                      298

     CHAPTER XXI.
     CONCLUSION                                          312



NED IN THE BLOCK-HOUSE.



CHAPTER I.

IN THE FOREST.


"Now you've got him, Ned!"

"Sh! keep quiet!"

The boy who was addressed as Ned was kneeling behind a fallen oak, in
a Kentucky forest, carefully sighting at a noble buck that stood in
the middle of a natural clearing or opening, with head upraised and
antlers thrown back, as though he scented danger, and was searching
for the point whence it threatened.

The splendid animal was no more than a hundred yards distant, so that
no better target could have been offered. He was facing the youth, who
aimed at the point above his fore legs, which opened the path to the
heart of the creature.

The lad, who was sighting so carefully, was Ned Preston, and his
companion was a colored boy with the unique name of Wildblossom
Brown. There was not a week's difference in their ages, each having
been born four years before the immortal Declaration of Independence.
As the date on which we introduce him to the reader was the autumn of
1788, the years of the two may be calculated without trouble.

Ned Preston, as he drew bead on the deer, was as certain of bringing
him down as he was of "barking" the gray squirrel, when it chirped its
mimic defiance from the topmost limbs of the gnarled oak or branching
sycamore.

Wildblossom, or "Blossom," as he was invariably called, was anxious
that his young master should not miss, for the chilly autumn day was
drawing to a close, and they had eaten nothing since morning. They
were eager to reach the block-house, known as Fort Bridgman, and
scarcely allowed themselves any halt for many hours; but night was
closing in, and they must soon go into camp; food was therefore as
indispensable as fire.

The deliberation of Ned Preston led Blossom to fear the game would
bound away before the trigger was pulled. When, therefore, the African
saw the long brown barrel pointed for several seconds at the animal,
he became impatient, and uttered the words given above.

The next moment there was a flash, and the buck made a prodigious
bound, dashed straight toward the fallen tree behind which the boys
were crouching, and fell within fifty feet of them.

"Dar's our supper suah's yo' born!" shouted the delighted negro,
making a strong effort to leap over the prostrate oak so as to reach
the game ahead of his companion. He would have succeeded if the oak
had lain somewhat nearer the ground. As it was, he landed on his head
and shoulders, and rolled over; but he was unharmed, and scrambling to
his feet, ran to the deer.

Ned Preston was but a brief distance behind him, trailing his long
rifle, walking rapidly, and very much puzzled over what was certainly
an extraordinary occurrence; for although he had aimed at the buck,
pulled the trigger, and the game had fallen, yet the astonishing fact
remained, that Ned had not fired his gun.

Blossom Brown in his excitement did not notice that there was no
report of the weapon--that, in short, the flint-lock (percussion guns
being unknown at that day) had "flashed in the pan." When he saw the
frantic leap and fall of the animal, he supposed, as a matter of
course, it had been killed by the bullet of his young master; and if
the latter had not stopped to examine his piece, he might have
believed the same, so exactly did the wounding of the game accord with
the useless click of the lock and flash of the powder.

"I didn't shoot that buck," called out Ned, as he ran up behind
Blossom; "my gun wasn't fired at all."

"Dat hasn't got nuffin to do with it," was the sturdy response of
Blossom, who was bent on having his meal without any unnecessary
delay; "you p'inted de gun at him, and he drapped; dat's
sufficacious."

"But _I_ didn't kill him," insisted Ned, more determined on solving
the mystery than he was on procuring supper.

"I tell you dat you did--no, you didn't!"

At that instant Blossom, who had drawn his hunting-knife, stooped over
to apply it to the throat of the buck, when he gave an unexpected
flirt of his head, bringing his antlers against the boy with such
violence that he was thrown backward several feet. When Blossom found
himself going, he made his last remark, inasmuch as the deer just then
proved he was alive in a most emphatic manner.

But it was the last expiring effort, and the negro approached him
again, knowing that all danger was past.

"De way ob it was dis way," he added, turning partly around so as to
face his friend, who was examining his rifle as he poured powder from
his horn into the pan; "you p'inted dat gun ob yours at de buck, and
as he war lookin' dis way he seed you frough de bushes, and he knowed
it war no use; so he jes' made a jump into de air, and come down
pretty near dead, so as to sabe you de expense ob firin' off de
powder, which aint very plenty in Kentucky."

This explanation seemed to satisfy the one who made it, but not his
listener, who knew that the game was brought to earth by some one
else.

And yet he was sure he had not heard the report of any other gun at
the moment the animal seemed to have received its death-wound, so that
it would seem some other cause must have ended its career.

While Blossom was working with his knife, Ned caught sight of
something which gave him a suspicion of the true cause. The game lay
on its side, and that which arrested the eye of the youthful pioneer
was the feather of an Indian arrow.

"Turn him over," said Ned; and the lad, wondering why he told him to
do so, complied.

The truth was then made known. From the side of the buck protruded a
few inches of the shaft of an Indian arrow, to which the eagle's
feather was attached. The flinty head had been driven clean through
the heart and some distance beyond, so that the sharp point must have
been near the surface on the other side.

The deer scarcely ever is known to fall instantly, no matter how it is
shot; so that, with such a formidable weapon dividing the very seat of
life, it still ran several rods before falling.

When Blossom saw the arrow his appetite vanished. He stooped over,
staring at it a moment, and then suddenly straightened up and
exclaimed:

"Let's run; dis aint any place for fellers like us!"

And, without waiting for the advice of his young master, the negro lad
caught up his gun and made a dash for the prostrate tree from which he
had rushed when the buck first fell.

Ned Preston was frightened beyond expression, for that which he had
discovered was proof positive that one red man at least was close at
hand; and when the American Indian was encountered in the Kentucky or
Ohio forest, in the year of our Lord 1788, it was wise to consider him
the most dangerous kind of an enemy.

Ned had poured the powder in his priming-pan and shaken it into the
tube before he caught sight of the arrow, for he had been instructed,
from the first day he carried a gun, that, after discharging the
piece, he must not stir from his steps until it was reloaded and ready
for use again.

The moment he understood what killed the buck he looked around for the
Indian who did it. He could easily tell the direction whence the
missile came, from the position of the game when struck; but the
penetrating eye of the lad could detect nothing when he turned his
gaze toward that, nor indeed toward any other point.

This did not surprise him, for the nature of the Indian leads him to
be secretive in all he does; and many a time has his most destructive
work been done without the sufferer catching a glimpse of him.

The conclusion of Ned was that a party of warriors were in the
immediate neighborhood, and that, as an inevitable certainty, he and
Blossom were at their mercy. If they chose to send in a shower of
arrows, or fire the guns which some of them were likely to own,
nothing could save the two lads.

If they chose to rush forward and take the boys captives, it was
beyond the power of the youths to escape; in fact, as Ned looked at
it, the two were already as good as prisoners, and the Indians were
only keeping in the background for a brief while, for the sake of
amusing themselves, as a cat sometimes plays with a mouse before
crunching it in her jaws.

The situation was an alarming one in every sense, but Ned Preston
showed a courage that his life on the frontier had taught him was the
only wise course in such a trying time. He stooped over the carcase of
the deer, and carefully cutting a choice slice from it, turned about
and walked deliberately back to where Blossom was awaiting him, behind
the oak.

Ned's desire to break into a run and plunge off into the woods was
almost uncontrollable, and the sensation of expecting every minute an
Indian arrow driven into his back, while resolutely keeping down to a
slow and dignified walk, was beyond description.

Blossom Brown, who had started away in such haste, so dreaded some
such shot that he threw himself behind the tree, where he lay still.
He was strongly led to this course by his affection for his young
master, whom he could not desert even for his own benefit.

"Whar am de Injines?" asked Blossom, in a husky whisper, as his friend
walked around the root of the oak and joined him.

"They can't be far off," was the answer of Ned, "and there isn't any
use of trying to run away from them. There must be a war party, and
when they are ready they will come and take us. So let's kindle a fire
and cook the meat."

This was an amazing proposition to make, but it was acted upon at
once, extraordinary as it may seem. Blossom was very nervous while
gathering wood and giving what assistance he could. He continually
glanced around him, and peeped furtively over the trunk, wondering why
the red men did not come forward and take them prisoners.

The youths were so accustomed to camping out that it was an easy
matter to prepare their evening meal. They would have preferred the
venison not quite so fresh, but they were glad enough to get it as it
was; and when they sprinkled some of the salt and pepper, always
carried with them, on the crisp, juicy steak, it was as toothsome and
luscious as a couple of hungry hunters could wish.

True, the circumstances under which the meal was eaten were not
conducive to enjoyment, for no person can be expected to feel
unrestrained happiness when surrounded by a party of treacherous red
men, who are likely to send in a shower of arrows, or a volley of
bullets, just as you are raising a piece of meat to your mouth.

And yet, despite all that, Ned Preston and Blossom Brown masticated
and swallowed the last morsel of the liberal piece taken from the buck
slain by the Indian arrow.

The bleak, blustery autumn day was drawing to a close, when the boys
arose to their feet, uncertain what was the best to do in the
extraordinary situation.

The sky had been overcast during the afternoon, though there were no
indications of an immediate storm. The wind blew strongly at times,
with a dull, moaning sound, through the trees, from which the leaves
rustled downward in showers. Now and then a few flakes of snow drifted
on the air for some minutes before fluttering to the ground.
Everything betokened the coming of winter, and, though it was the
royal season for game, yet there was something so impressive in the
autumn forest, now that the seasons were sinking into decay and death,
that Ned Preston, sturdy and practical though he was, could not avoid
a feeling of sadness when he set out from his home for the Block
House, thirty miles away.

"Ned, what am de use ob loafin' round here?" asked Blossom a minute
after they rose from their supper. "If dem Injines don't want to come
forrard and speak to us, what's de use ob waiting for 'em?"

There was some wisdom in this question, and it was one that had
presented itself to Ned while thoughtfully eating his venison steak.

Was it not possible that the warrior who fired the fatal arrow
believed the boys belonged to a large party of white hunters and
scouts, and had withdrawn long before? Was there not a chance of
getting away by a sudden dash?

Night was not far off, and if they could keep out of the hands of the
red men until then there was good ground for hoping they would elude
them altogether.

Nothing was to be gained by discussing or thinking over the matter,
and Ned acted at once.

"Follow me," he whispered to Blossom, "and don't make any noise."

The young hunter, trailing his rifle, stooped forward as far as he
could without impeding the power to walk, and then ran directly from
the tree, and back over the path that had brought them to the
clearing.

Blossom was at his heels, traveling quite rapidly; but glancing behind
him so often, he stumbled more than once. The negro had quick
eyesight, and once when he turned his head he saw something flutter in
the forest behind him; then there was what seemed to be the flitting
shadow of a bird's wing as it shot by with the speed of a bullet.

But at the same instant a faint whizz caught his ear, and some object
whisked past his cheek and over the shoulder of the crouching Ned
Preston. The African had scarcely time to know that such a thing had
taken place when he heard a quick thud, and there it was!

From the solid trunk of a massive maple projected an arrow, whose head
was buried in the bark; the shaft, with the eagle's feather, still
tremulous from the force with which it had been driven from the bow.

The same Indian who had brought down the buck had sent a second
missile over the heads of the fugitives, and so close indeed that the
two might well pause and ask themselves whether it was worth their
while to run from such an unerring archer, who had the power to bring
them down with as much certainty as though he fired the rifle of
Daniel Boone or Simon Kenton.

But neither Ned Preston nor Blossom Brown was the one to stand still
when he had the opportunity of fleeing from danger. They scarcely
halted, therefore, for one glance at the significant missile, when
they made a slight turn to the left, and plunged into the woods with
all the speed they could command.



CHAPTER II.

THE BOY PIONEER--DEERFOOT, THE SHAWANOE.


Before proceeding further it is proper to give the information the
reader needs in order to understand the incidents that follow.

Macaiah Preston and his wife were among the original settlers of Wild
Oaks, a small town on the Kentucky side of the Ohio, during the latter
portion of the last century, their only child being Ned, who has
already been introduced to the reader. Beside him they had the bound
boy Wildblossom Brown, a heavy-set, good-natured and sturdy negro lad,
whom they took with them at the time they removed from Western
Pennsylvania. He was faithful and devoted, and he received the best of
treatment from his master and mistress.

Ned was taller and more graceful than the African, and the instruction
from his father had endowed him with more book learning than generally
falls to the lot of boys placed in his circumstances. Besides this,
Mr. Preston was one of the most noted hunters and marksmen in the
settlement, and he gave Ned thorough training in the art which is
always such a delight for a boy to acquire.

When Ned was thirteen years old he fired one day at a squirrel on the
topmost branch of a mountain ash, and brought it down, with its body
shattered by the bullet of his rifle. The father quietly contemplated
the work for a minute or so, and then, without a word, cut a hickory
stick, and proceeded to trim it. While he was thus employed Ned was
looking sideways at him, gouging his eyes with his knuckles and
muttering,

"You might excuse me this time--I didn't think."

When the hickory was properly trimmed, the father deliberately took
his son by his coat collar with one hand and applied the stick with
the other, during which the lad danced and shouted like a wild Miami
Indian. The trouncing completed, the only remark made by the father
was--

"After this I reckon when you shoot a squirrel you will hit him in the
_head_."

"I reckon I will," sniffled Ned, who was certain never to forget the
instructions of his parent on _that_ point.

Such was the training of Ned Preston; and at the age of sixteen, when
we introduce him to the reader, there were none of his years who was
his superior in backwoods "lore" and woodcraft.

In those times a hunter differed in his make-up from those of to-day.
The gun which he carried was a long, single-barreled rifle, heavy,
costly of manufacture, and scarcely less unerring in the hands of a
veteran than is the modern weapon. It was a flint-lock, and of course
a muzzle-loader. The owner carried his powder-horn, bullet-pouch, and
sometimes an extra flint. Lucifer matches were unknown for nearly a
half century later, the flint and tinder answering for them.

Ned Preston wore a warm cap made of coonskin; thick, homespun
trowsers, coat and vest; strong cowhide shoes, and woollen stockings,
knit by the same deft hands that had made the linen for his shirt. The
coat was rather short, and it was buttoned from top to bottom with the
old style horn button, over the short waistcoat beneath. The string of
the powder-horn passed over one shoulder, and that of the game-bag
over the other. Neither Ned nor Blossom carried a hunting-bag, for
they had not started out for game, and the majority shot in Kentucky
or Ohio in those days were altogether too bulky for a single hunter to
take home on his back.

Some thirty miles in the interior from the settlement stood Fort
Bridgman, a block-house on the eastern bank of the Licking River. It
was erected six years before the time of which we are speaking, and
was intended as a protection to a settlement begun at the same period;
but, just as the fortification was finished, and before the settlers
had all their dwellings in good form, the Shawanoes and Wyandots
swooped down on them, and left nothing but the block-house and the
smoking ruins of the log dwellings.

This effectually checked the settlers for the time; but one or two
courageous pioneers, who liked the locality, began erecting other
cabins close to the massive block-house, which had resisted the fierce
attack of the red men. The man who had charge of the fortification was
Colonel Hugh Preston, a brother of Macaiah, and of course the uncle of
Ned, the hero of this story. He maintained his foothold, with several
others as daring as he, and his wife and two daughters kept him
company.

There was a warm affection between the brothers, and they
occasionally exchanged visits. When this was inconvenient, Ned Preston
acted as messenger. He often carried papers sent down the Ohio to his
father for the uncle, together with the letters forwarded to the
settlement from their friends in the East.

On the day of which we are speaking he had, in the inner pocket of his
coat, a letter for his uncle, one for his aunt, and one each for two
of the garrison; so that his visit to the post was sure to be a most
welcome one.

Between the settlement on the Ohio and the block-house on the Licking
lay the thirty miles of unbroken forest. Ned and Blossom had made this
journey in one day in the month of June, but their custom was to
encamp one night on the way so as to give themselves abundance of
time; and the trip was generally a most enjoyable one to them.

It must not be supposed they forgot the danger most to be dreaded was
from the Indians who roamed over the Dark and Bloody Ground, and who
held almost undisputed possession of hundreds of square miles of
Kentucky at the opening of the present century.

There were scouts and runners threading their way through the
trackless forests north and south of the Ohio, or coursing up and down
the rivers, or spying out the actions of the war parties when they
gathered near their villages and threw the tomahawk, daubed their
faces with paint, and danced the war dance. These intrepid runners
kept the frontier well informed of any formidable movements
contemplated by the red men, so that no effective demonstration
against the whites was feared.

Weeks and months passed, during which Ned Preston was not permitted to
cross the intervening space between the block-house and the
settlement, for the runners who came in reported great danger in doing
so. Then again it looked almost as if the dawn of peace had come, and
men were not afraid to move to and fro many furlongs distant from
their homes.

Nearly twenty years had passed since the great pioneer, Daniel Boone,
had explored a portion of the wonderful territory, and the numerous
scenes of violence that had taken place on its soil made the name of
the Dark and Bloody Ground characteristic and well-merited.

The several military expeditions which the Government had sent into
the West had either been overwhelmingly defeated by the combined
forces of Indians, or had accomplished nothing toward subduing the red
men. The decisive campaign was yet to come.

But without dwelling on this portion of our story, we may say that in
the autumn of 1788 comparative peace reigned over the portion of
Kentucky of which we are speaking. When, therefore, the letters came
down the Ohio in a flat-boat for Colonel Hugh Preston and several of
those with him, and Ned asked permission to take them to his uncle,
there was scarcely any hesitation in giving consent.

With this explanation the reader will understand how it came about
that Ned and Blossom were in the depths of the Kentucky forest when
the autumn day was closing, and while fully a dozen miles remained to
pass before they could reach the block-house.

They had made a later start than usual from home, and rather
singularly, although they had passed over the route so many times,
they went astray, and lost several hours from that cause.

Soon after their departure from the settlement a friendly Shawanoe
visited the place and warned the pioneers that trouble was coming, and
it was wise to take more than usual precautions against surprise. When
this Indian runner added that he was quite sure an assault was
intended on the block-house, it can be understood that the parents of
Ned were extremely alarmed for the safety of himself and Blossom.

If they should get through the stretch of forest to the block-house,
their danger would not be removed; for an attack on that post was
contemplated, and knowing its precise defensive power, as the Indians
did, they would be likely to render the battle decisive.

"I hope the boys will reach the Colonel," said the father of Ned to
his wife, "for they will have a chance to make a good fight for
themselves."

"But the Colonel may know nothing of the attack intended, and he and
the rest will be taken by surprise."

This doubt so disturbed the husband that he hurriedly sought the
Shawanoe, who was still in the settlement, and asked him whether
Colonel Preston had been apprised of the danger which threatened him.
When informed that he had not, Mr. Preston insisted that Deerfoot, as
the young Shawanoe was called, should make his way to the block-house
without delay. The Indian, known to be one of the fleetest of
warriors, said that he was on the eve of starting on that errand, and
he left at once.

Before going, he was told that the two boys were threading their way
through the forest toward the station, and the anxious father asked
him to bring the lads back, if he deemed it the safer course. Ned was
a great favorite with the Shawanoe youth, and the latter promised to
use every effort to befriend him.

The question left to Deerfoot was whether it was his duty to hasten
forward and apprise Colonel Preston of the peril impending over the
garrison, or whether it would be safe to let him wait until the lads
were conducted back to Wild Oaks. Deerfoot was disposed to hurry to
the Licking; but when a few miles from the settlement he struck the
trail of the lads, which he followed with as much ease as the
bloodhound would have displayed under similar circumstances.

As both parties had started in the same direction, the prospect was
that a junction would speedily take place, and the three could make
the rest of the journey together; but before long Deerfoot was
surprised to discover that Ned and Blossom had strayed from the true
course. He could not understand why this happened, and his misgiving
for Ned, whom he liked so well, led him to resolve to follow up the
boy, and find out the cause.

Deerfoot was pushing forward on his loping trot, which he was able to
maintain hour after hour without fatigue, when his wonderful instinct
or reason told him he was in the vicinity of a large war party of
Wyandots, the natural allies of his own tribe in their wars upon the
settlements.

His belief was that the boys had been captured by them, in which event
little hope remained; but it required no special maneuvering on his
part to learn that his fears were baseless. The trail of the lads made
an abrupt turn, showing that Ned Preston had suddenly "located"
himself, and had returned to the right course. Although the footprints
of the Wyandots actually approached within a hundred yards of those of
the boys, yet singularly enough they came no nearer, and diverged from
that point; so that, in all probability, the war party never
suspected how close they were to the prize that would have been so
welcome to them.

Accustomed as Deerfoot was to all species of danger in the woods, his
dusky face flushed when he looked to the ground and saw how narrowly
the boys had missed a frightful fate.

Such being the case, it became the duty of the Shawanoe to acquaint
himself with the purpose of the Wyandot party. He therefore went
directly among them to make his inquiries. This was a delicate and
dangerous proceeding, for although the subtle Indian had done his
utmost to keep secret from his own people his friendship and services
for the whites (inasmuch as such a knowledge on the part of his race
would have ended his usefulness and life), he knew well enough that
his double-dealing must become known sooner or later to the Indians,
and for a year or more he had never appeared among his people without
misgiving as to the result.

All the wonderful cunning of his nature was brought into play when he
advanced to meet the Wyandots, who were in their war-paint. He saw
there were twenty-three, and that they numbered the bravest and most
daring of their tribe. The leader was the chief Waughtauk, a fierce
foe of the whites, whose tomahawk and scalping-knife had been reddened
with innocent blood many a time.

Deerfoot was received with every appearance of cordiality by the chief
and his men, for all knew what a splendid warrior the young Shawanoe
was, and some of them had witnessed the extraordinary speed which had
saved his life more than once.

It is as easy for the American to play a part as for the Caucasian,
and Deerfoot was not entirely satisfied. He kept his wits about him,
and used extreme care in not placing himself at any disadvantage which
it was possible to avoid; but all the friendship seemed genuine, and
when Waughtauk told him it was his intention to attack the exposed
cabins of the settlers, Deerfoot believed him. When he added that he
meant also to take a survey of the settlements along the Ohio, with
the object of seeing which offered the most favorable opening for a
sudden assault by a large war party, the Shawanoe was quite certain he
spoke the truth.

Deerfoot then asked why they did not assail the block-house on the
Licking, whose exposed situation seemed to invite such attack.
Waughtauk answered that Colonel Preston had proved a good friend to
the Indians who visited him, and it was decided to spare him.

This answer excited the suspicion of the youthful Shawanoe that the
Wyandot chieftain had been deceiving him from the first; but Deerfoot
was too cunning to reveal anything of his thoughts. When he bade his
friends good-by, they at least were misled into the belief that he
held no suspicion of the "double tongue" with which they had spoken.

It was no difficult matter for Deerfoot, when fairly away from the
Wyandots, to shadow them until he learned whether they had falsified
or not.

They kept to the northward several miles, until they had every reason
to believe a long distance separated them from the Shawanoe, when they
changed to the left, turning again a short distance further on, until
their faces were directly toward Fort Bridgman, the block-house on the
Licking.

That settled the question beyond dispute; they had told untruths to
Deerfoot, and their purpose was to descend upon the station defended
by Colonel Preston and only three able-bodied men.

After this discovery, the Shawanoe stood a moment leaning thoughtfully
on his bow; an important truth impressed him:

"They suspect that Deerfoot is a friend of the white man, and
therefore an enemy of his own race," was the thought of the Indian,
who realized the fearful meaning to him of such a suspicion.



CHAPTER III.

OLD FRIENDS.


The discharge of the second arrow over the head and shoulders of Ned
Preston and Wildblossom Brown lent wings to their flight; instead of
coming to a standstill, as they did a short time before, they bent all
their energies to escape, and ran with the utmost speed.

In such an effort the advantage was on the side of Ned as compared
with the negro, for he was much more fleet of foot, and, as a
consequence, within two or three minutes he was almost beyond sight.

"Hold on dar!" shouted Blossom; "dat aint de fair ting to leave a chap
dat way."

Ned Preston could not desert the lad in this fashion, though it would
not help him to stay behind and share his fate.

But his own disposition and the training received from his father led
him to reproach himself for leaving him even for so short a time. He
therefore stopped, and called back--

"Hurry, Blossom; every minute counts."

"Dat's jes' what I am a doin'," panted Blossom, struggling forward;
"but I never could run as well as you----"

At that moment Ned Preston, who was looking toward the African, caught
sight of an Indian close behind him. The warrior was in close pursuit,
though the intervening vegetation for the moment prevented the young
pioneer from seeing him distinctly. Enough was visible, however, to
make his aim sure, and Ned brought his rifle to his shoulder.

"I hear de Injines! Dey're right behind me!" shouted the terrified
Blossom; "get 'em in range, Ned, and shoot 'em all!"

Such a performance as this was out of the question, as a matter of
course, but the boy was determined to do his utmost to help his
friend.

When Ned raised his gun there was but the single warrior visible, and
the sight of him was indistinct; but it was enough to make the aim
certain, and the youth felt that one red man was certain to pay for
his vindictiveness. At the same time he wondered why no others were
seen.

But at the very moment the finger of Ned was pressing the trigger, the
Indian disappeared as suddenly as if he had dropped through the mouth
of a cavern. The target at which the gun was aimed had vanished.

Mystified and astounded, Ned Preston lowered his piece and stared at
the point where the red man was last seen, as if he doubted his own
senses. At the same moment a suppressed whoop was heard, and the
warrior stepped to view from behind the sycamore, where he had leaped
to dodge the bullet of the rifle which he saw aimed at him.

Ned was in the act of raising his gun again, when he almost let it
fall from his grasp, with the exclamation--

"DEERFOOT!"

As the single word fell from his lips, his eyes rested on the figure
of a young Indian of singular grace and beauty, who, without regarding
the bewildered Blossom, walked forward to greet Ned Preston.

  [Illustration: THE MEETING WITH DEERFOOT.]

Deerfoot the Shawanoe, at the most, was no more than a year older than
young Preston. He was about the same height, but of lighter mould, and
with a length of lower limbs and a suppleness of frame which
betokened great natural abilities as a runner: when we add that these
capabilities had been cultivated to the highest point, it will not
seem unreasonable that Deerfoot's unequalled swiftness of foot was
known to several tribes besides his own.

Although a Shawanoe by birth (which tribe at that day had their
hunting-grounds north of the Ohio), Deerfoot roamed through the
forests south, and the exploits of the youth in running were told in
the lodges by the camp-fires of the Shawanoe, the Wyandot, the Miami,
the Delaware, and the Cherokee.

His expertness with the bow and arrow, his bravery in battle, his
skill on the hunt, the fact that his mother was shot by settlers, and
his father was killed in the famous Crawford expedition, caused
Deerfoot to be formally ranked as a warrior when he was only fourteen
years of age.

His deftness with his primitive weapons was no less remarkable than
his fleetness of foot. Had he been living to-day, he would have taken
the prize at the annual archery tournaments, even though he used a
hickory bow instead of the double-backed yew or lancewood, and his
missiles were made of the former material, with a single feather
instead of the three, and were tied instead of being glued in place.

The bow and arrows of Deerfoot would have made a sorry show among
those of the fair ladies and graceful gentlemen at the archery
contests in these times; but those same shafts of the dusky American,
with the keen flint or iron heads, had been driven by him with such
prodigious force that they had found the heart of the deer or bear or
bison at scarcely less than a hundred yards.

Deerfoot therefore refused to use the rifle, but clung to the bow,
whose use he began studying when he was less than three years old.

As we have said, the young Shawanoe, now no more than seventeen years
of age, was graceful of figure, with elastic, supple limbs, and with a
perfect symmetry of frame. When he smiled, which happened now and
then, he disclosed two rows of teeth as white, even, and beautiful,
and free from decay, as ever existed. The nose was slightly aquiline,
the eyes as black and piercing as those of a serpent, the forehead
high, the cheek bones slightly prominent, the whole expression
pervaded by that slight tinge of melancholy which seems to be the
characteristic of the American race.

Deerfoot's costume and dress were those of the defiant warrior, who
was the implacable foe of the white man. His hair, as long, black and
coarse as that of a horse's mane, was gathered in a knot or scalp-lock
on the crown, where it was tied and ornamented with eagle feathers,
that were stained several brilliant hues; his hunting-shirt encased
his sinewy arms, chest and waist, the ornamented skirt descending to
his knees. The whole garment, made of buckskin obtained from the
traders, was of a yellow color, the fringe being a deep crimson.
Deerfoot shared the love of his people for flaring colors, as was
shown by his handsomely decorated moccasins which encased his shapely
feet, the various-hued fringes of his leggings, the string of bright
beads around his neck, and the golden bracelet that he wore on his
left wrist.

The red leathern belt, which clasped the waist of the young Shawanoe,
formed a pretty contrast to the pale yellow of the hunting-shirt, and,
a short distance off, would have been taken for the crimson sash worn
by the civilized officer of modern times.

Behind this belt were thrust a tomahawk and hunting-knife, both keen
of edge and terribly effective in the hands of the owner. The bundle
of arrows was supported by a string passing around the neck, the
missiles themselves resting behind the shoulder, the feathered points
plainly seen by any one as they projected upward in front. In this
place they were so accessible that Deerfoot, in discharging them at a
foe or an animal, would have two or three in the air at the same time,
there being what might be called a procession of arrows from the bow
to the target, whatever it might be.

In the coldest weather, the youthful warrior gathered a heavy blanket
about his shoulders, which hid all his figure, from his chin down to
his twinkling moccasins. During the sultry season he occasionally
threw off his hunting-shirt, except the skirt, so that arm, chest and
neck were covered only by the rude figures which the mother had
tattooed there by a most painful process during the days when
Pa-wa-oo-pa, or Deerfoot, was a stoical papoose, tied to a flat piece
of bark, and swinging in the tree branches, or lying motionless on the
ground with limbs tied, and calmly watching the torturing operation
with the bravery which is a part of the nature of the dusky hunters
of the forest.

The bow of Deerfoot was of seasoned hickory, the string was dried
sinew, and the weapon itself was all of six feet in length; so that,
in discharging it, he did not hold it perpendicular, as is the rule,
but in a slanting position; in short, the young Shawanoe violated more
than one fundamental regulation in archery, but the fact remained that
he could spit the gray squirrel on the top of the tallest oak; he
could bring down the buck when leaping through the air; he had driven
his sharp-pointed shaft through the shaggy body of the bison, and had
brought the eagle flapping and dying to the ground when circling in
the clear air far above his head.

Two years before, Deerfoot was the most vindictive enemy of the
pioneers, who had slain both his father and mother. While attacking
some settlers' cabins near Maysville, with nearly a score of other
Shawanoes, they were surprised and almost annihilated by a party of
whites led by Macaiah Preston, father of Ned. Deerfoot was wounded and
taken captive. He fought like a young tiger, and the settlers, who
knew his extraordinary skill and the injury he had done them,
insisted on putting him to death.

But Macaiah Preston interposed, and would not permit it. He took him
to his own home, and carefully nursed him back to rugged health and
strength.

On the part of the good Samaritan he was assisted by his wife and Ned,
who formed a strong attachment for the captive Shawanoe. The young
brave more than reciprocated this friendship, the sentiment of
gratitude being the most characteristic trait in his nature. He became
henceforth the unfaltering ally and friend of the white race; from the
bitterest enemy he was transformed into the most devoted friend, his
fervency, like that of Saul of Tarsus, being as extreme as was his
previous hatred.

The better to aid the settlers, Deerfoot returned to his own people,
and kept up the semblance of enmity toward the pioneers. He even took
part in several expeditions against them, but all proved disastrous
failures to the assailants, and the youth did most effective service
for those whom he had fought so fiercely a short time before.

It was of the utmost importance to Deerfoot that his true sentiments
and real doings should be concealed from his people; for whenever the
truth should become known to them, the most frightful death that could
be conceived would be visited upon him.

The daring warrior believed his secret must be discovered; he believed
he would fall a victim to their terrible vengeance sooner or later;
but he was none the less faithful to the settlers. He simply resolved
that he would never submit tamely to his fate; but, if the aborigines
secured him for torment, it would be done by superior daring and
subtlety.

Thus it was that the youthful Shawanoe was playing a most perilous and
dangerous part; but he had played it so well that not until to-day had
he seen just cause to believe any suspicion was afloat concerning
himself.

The action of the Wyandots indicated that they preferred not to trust
him with their secret. It was the first time anything of the kind had
occurred, and it could not but cause uneasiness in the mind of
Deerfoot.

It did not affect in the least, however, his course of action. He had
set out to befriend Ned Preston and Wildblossom Brown, and it was his
purpose to apprise Colonel Preston at Fort Bridgman of the danger to
which his block-house was exposed.

"Deerfoot!" exclaimed Ned Preston, stepping hastily toward him and
extending his hand; "I never was more glad to see you in all my life."

The handsome mouth of the Shawanoe expanded just enough to show the
white teeth between the dusky lips, and he took the hand of Ned and
pressed it warmly, immediately allowing the palm to drop from his own.

Then, without speaking, he turned toward Blossom, who, having seen how
matters stood, was scrambling rapidly forward to greet the young
warrior, whom he knew so well, and who was the most valuable companion
they could have at such a time.

Deerfoot was left-handed by birth, but he had trained himself until he
was ambidextrous, and he could draw the bow, hurl the tomahawk or
wield the scalping-knife with the right as well as with the left hand.

In no single respect, perhaps, was his mental power more clearly shown
than in the celerity with which he acquired the English language.
When several years younger he was able to hold a conversation with the
traders; and during the short time he remained with Macaiah Preston,
before "escaping" to his people again, he became so proficient that he
could readily act as interpreter.

"War dat you dat fired dat arrer at us?" demanded Wildblossom, as he
caught the hand of Deerfoot, who nodded his head, with just a shadowy
smile.

The American Indian, as a rule, does not like the African race, and he
often shows an unreasonable prejudice against him. There seemed to be
such a distaste on the part of Deerfoot, but he concealed it so well
that Blossom Brown never suspected its existence. He treated the negro
lad kindly because he belonged to the Prestons, whom the Shawanoe
loved above all others.

"I thought you war a better shot dan to miss us," added Blossom, with
the purpose of teasing their dusky friend; "your arrer neber teched me
nor Ned."

"Did it hit the buck?" asked Deerfoot, smiling a little more
decisively.

"Dat war 'cause you war so close to him."

"Deerfoot stood further away than did his white brother, who harmed
him not with his gun."

"That was because my rifle missed fire," Ned hastened to explain; "if
it was not for that, the buck would have fallen in his tracks."

"_This_ gun never misses fire," said the Shawanoe, holding up the bow
with no little pride.

"But it misses folks dat it am p'inted at," remarked Blossom, reaching
out and giving Deerfoot a nudge in the back.

"Will my brother with the face of the night, walk a long ways in the
wood and let Deerfoot send a single arrow toward him?"

There was a gleam in the dark eye of the young Shawanoe as he made
this request, and no doubt it would have proven a dangerous challenge
for Blossom to accept. The negro himself did not notice the full
significance of the question, but Ned Preston did, and he trembled
over the temerity of Blossom, who believed that Deerfoot felt as
strong friendship for him as he himself felt for the matchless young
warrior.

Unsuspicious of the slumbering storm, the African lad fortunately took
the very best course to avert it. Shaking his head with a laugh, he
said:

"Dar aint no better rifle-shots dan masser Ned dar; and I'd radder
stand up afore him a hundred yards off, and let him draw bead on me,
dan hab Deerfoot send one ob dem arrers whizzin' arter dis chile."



CHAPTER IV.

THROUGH THE TRACKLESS FOREST--THE CAUSE.


The compliment to the young Shawanoe, although rudely expressed, was
genuine, and at once dissipated the latent lightning that was on the
point of bursting forth.

The lowering eclipse that overspread the dusky countenance instantly
cleared away, and Deerfoot smiled more than before as he turned toward
Ned Preston to see how he accepted the remark of his servant.

The young pioneer was pleased, and, slapping the lad on the shoulder,
exclaimed heartily--

"You show your good sense there, Blossom; and after this, when I hear
the folks say you are the stupidest boy in all Kentucky, I will quote
what you have just said to prove they are mistaken."

Wildblossom raised his cap and scratched his head, somewhat doubtful
as to how he should accept this remark. While he was considering the
matter, Deerfoot and Ned faced each other, and talked concerning more
important matters.

The sun, which had been scarcely visible during the day, was now below
the horizon, and the shadows of night were creeping through the autumn
woods. The air continued chilly, and moaned among the branches, from
which the crisp leaves, turning from bright yellow and flaming crimson
to dull brown, were continually drifting downward. The squirrels
whisked from limb to limb, gathering their winter store of nuts, and
chattering their defiance from the highest branches of elm, oak, ash,
hickory, chestnut, or maple.

Now and then feathery particles of snow whirled around them, so light
and downy that they scarcely found their way to the leaves below. It
was the time of the sad and melancholy days, though the most joyous
one to the hunter.

Ned Preston had been told by Deerfoot that he was the only Indian near
them, and he was vastly relieved that the danger was found to be
scarcely any danger at all.

As it was becoming colder, and night was closing in, the boy was
anxious to go into camp. He could conceive of no reason why they
should push forward any further before morning, as he held no
suspicion of the critical condition of affairs.

But he quickly learned the truth from Deerfoot, who related, in his
pointed way, the story of the Wyandots under the fierce war chief
Waughtauk.

"And they are going to the block-house!" exclaimed the astonished lad.

The young warrior nodded his head to signify there could be no doubt
of the fact.

"Then we had better turn around and go back to Wild Oaks as quickly as
we can."

"Deerfoot must hurry to Colonel Preston and tell him of the Wyandots,"
said the Shawanoe; "that is Deerfoot's first duty."

"Of course; I didn't expect you to go with us; we can make our way
home without help."

"But your feet wandered from the path only a few hours ago."

"We were careless, for we felt there was no need of haste," replied
young Preston; "that could not happen again, when we know such a
mistake might work us ill."

"But that was in the daytime; it is now night."

Ned felt the force of this fact, but he would not have hesitated to
start on the back trail without a minute's delay.

"When we found we were going wrong we could stop and wait till the
rising of the morning sun. I have several letters which you can
deliver to my uncle."

Deerfoot shook his head; he had another course in mind.

"We will go to the fort; you will hand the letters to the white
soldier; Deerfoot will show the way."

"Deerfoot knows best; we will follow in his footsteps."

The Shawanoe was pleased with the readiness of the young pioneer, who,
it must be stated, could not see the wisdom of the decision of their
guide.

If Waughtauk and his warriors were in the immediate vicinity of the
block-house, the boys must run great risk in an attempt to enter the
post. They could not reach the station ahead of the Wyandots, and it
would be a task of extreme difficulty to open communication with
Colonel Preston, even though he knew the loyalty of the dusky ally of
the whites.

Deerfoot would have a much better prospect of success alone than if
embarrassed by two companions, whom the other Indians would consider
in the light of the very game for which they were hunting.

It seemed to Ned that it would be far more prudent for the young
Shawanoe to take the letters and make his way through the trackless
forest, while Ned and Blossom spared no time or effort in returning to
Wild Oaks.

But the matchless subtlety and skill of Deerfoot were appreciated by
no one more than by young Preston, who unhesitatingly placed himself
under his charge.

But cheerfully as the wishes of the Shawanoe were acceded to by the
white boy, the African lad was anything but satisfied. Of a sluggish
temperament, he disliked severe exertion. He had not only been on the
tramp most of the day, but, during the last half hour, had been forced
to an exertion which had tired him out; he therefore objected to a
tramp that was likely to take the better portion of the night.

"We'd better start a fire here," said he, "and den in de mornin' we'll
be fresh, and we can run all de way to de Lickin', and get dar 'bout
as soon as if we trabel all night and got tired most to def."

The Shawanoe turned upon him in the dusky twilight, and said--

"My brother with the face of the night may wait here; Deerfoot and his
friend will go on alone."

With which decisive remark he wheeled about, and, facing southwest,
strode off toward the block-house on the Licking.

"Wildblossom aint gwine to stay here, not if he knows hisself, while
you folks go to your destruction," exclaimed the servant, falling into
line.

The strange procession was under way at once. Deerfoot, as a matter of
course, took the lead, Ned Preston stepping close behind him, while
the African kept so near his young master that he trod on his heels
more than once.

The Shawnee displayed his marvellous woodcraft from the first.
Although the ground was thickly strewn with leaves, his soft moccasins
touched them as lightly as do the velvet paws of the tiger when
stealing through the jungle. Ned Preston took extreme care to imitate
him, and partially succeeded, but the large shoes of Blossom Brown
rumpled and tumbled the dry vegetation despite every effort to avoid
it.

It was not until reproved by Ned, and the gait was slackened, that, to
a certain extent, the noisy rustling was stopped.

There were no stars nor moon in the sky, there was no beaten path to
follow, and they were not on the bank nor along the watercourse of any
stream to guide them; but the dusky leader advanced as unerringly as
does the bloodhound when trailing the panting fugitive through the
marshy swamps and lowlands.

As the night deepened, Ned saw only dimly the figure of the lithe and
graceful young warrior in front. His shoulders were thrown forward,
and his head projected slightly beyond. This was his attitude while on
the trail, and when all his faculties were alert. Eye and ear were
strained to the highest tension, and the faint cry of a bird or the
flitting of a shadowy figure among the forest arches would have been
detected on the instant.

Ned Preston could catch the outlines of the scalp-lock and eagle
feathers, which took on a slightly waving motion in response to the
long, loping tread of the Indian; occasionally he could detect a part
of the quiver, fastened back of the shoulder, and the upper portion of
the long bow, which he carried unstrung in his right hand.

Then there were moments when the guide was absolutely invisible, and
he moved with such silence that Ned feared he had left them
altogether. But he was there all the time, and the journey through the
desolate woods continued with scarcely an interruption.

Suddenly Deerfoot came to a halt, giving utterance at the same moment
to a sibilant sound as a warning to Ned Preston, who checked himself
with his chin almost upon the arrow-quiver. It was different with
Blossom, who bumped his nose against the shoulders of his young master
with such violence that Ned put up his hand to check himself from
knocking the guide off his feet.

Neither Ned nor Blossom had caught the slightest sound, and they
wondered what it was that had alarmed Deerfoot.

No one spoke, but all stood as motionless as the tree trunks beside
them, those behind waiting the pleasure of him who was conducting them
on this dangerous journey.

For fully five minutes (which seemed doubly that length) the tableau
lasted, during which the listening followers heard only the soughing
of the night-wind and the hollow murmur of the great forest, which was
like the voice of silence itself.

Then the faint rustle of the leaves beneath the moccasins of the
Shawanoe showed that he was moving forward again, and the others
resumed walking, with all the caution consistent with necessary speed.

Fully a half mile was passed in this manner, the three advancing like
automata, with never a whisper or halt. Blossom, although wearied and
displeased, appreciated the situation too well to express his
feelings, or to attempt anything to which either of the others would
object.

"Dey aint likely to keep dis up for more dan a week," was the thought
which came to him; "and when I make up my mind to it, I can stand it
as long as bofe of 'em together."

However, Blossom had almost reached the protesting point, when he
heard the same warning hiss from the Shawanoe, and checked himself
just in time to avoid a collision with his young master.

The cause of this stoppage was apparent to all: they stood on the bank
of a creek a hundred yards wide, which it was necessary to cross to
reach the block-house. It ran into the Licking a number of miles
south, and so far below Fort Bridgman that there was no way of "going
round" it to reach the station.

It was the custom of the boys, when making the journey between Wild
Oaks and the block-house, to ferry themselves over on a raft which
they had constructed, and which was used on their return. As they took
a course each time which brought them to the same point on the
tributary, this was an easy matter. During the summer they sometimes
doffed their garments, and placing them and their guns on a small
float, swam over, pushing their property before them.

The water was too cold to admit of any such course now, unless driven
to it by necessity; and as Deerfoot had brought them to a point on the
bank far removed from the usual ferrying place, Ned concluded they
were in an unpleasant predicament, to say the least.

"How are we going to get across?" he asked, when they had stood
motionless several minutes looking down on the dim current flowing at
their feet.

"The creek is not wide; we can swim to the other shore."

"There is no doubt of that, for I have done it more than once; but
there is snow flying in the air, and it isn't a favorite season with
me to go in bathing."

A slight exclamation escaped the Shawanoe, which was probably meant as
an expression of contempt for the effeminacy of his white friend.

Be that as it may, he said nothing, nor did he, in point of fact, mean
to force the two to such a disagreeable experience.

"Wait till Deerfoot comes back."

As he uttered these words he moved down the bank, while Blossom Brown
threw himself on the ground, muttering--

"I would like to wait here all night, and I hope he has gone for some
wood to kindle a fire."

"There is no likelihood of that," explained Ned, "for he is too
anxious to reach the block-house."

"I tink he is anxiouser dan----_See dat_!"

At that moment the dip of a paddle was heard, and the lads caught the
faint outlines of a canoe stealing along the stream close to the
shore. In it was seated a single warrior, who did not sway his body in
the least as he dipped the paddle first on one side the frail boat and
then on the other.

"He's arter us!" whispered Blossom, cocking his rifle.

"Of course he is; it's Deerfoot."

"I forgot all about dat," said the lad, lowering his piece, with no
little chagrin.

Ned Preston now cautiously descended the bank, followed by Blossom,
and while the Shawanoe held the craft against the shore, they stepped
within, Ned placing himself in the bow, while his companion took a
seat at the stern.

Then, while Deerfoot deftly poised himself in the middle, he lightly
dipped the ashen paddle alternately on the right and left, sending the
canoe forward as gracefully as a swallow.

"Whose boat is that?" asked Ned.

"It belongs to some Pottawatomie," answered the Shawanoe, speaking
with a confidence which showed he held no doubt in the matter, though
he might have found it hard to tell his companions the precise means
by which he gained the information.

Deerfoot, instead of speeding directly across, headed south, as though
he meant to follow the stream to its confluence with the Licking.
Suspecting he was not aware of his mistake, Blossom deemed it his duty
to remind him of it.

"You are gwine de wrong way, if you did but know it, Deerfoot; de oder
side am ober dar."

Perhaps the young Shawanoe indulged in a quiet smile; if so, he made
no other sign, but continued down the creek with arrowy swiftness for
two or three hundred yards, when he began verging toward the other
shore.

Ned Preston made no remark, but alternately peered ahead to discern
where they were going, and back, that he might admire the grace and
skill with which the Indian propelled the light structure.

All at once, with a sweep of the paddle, the boat was whirled around
with such suddenness that Blossom Brown thought they were going to
upset and be precipitated into the water. By the time he recovered
himself the delicate prow touched the shore as lightly as if drawn by
a lady's hand.

Ned instantly stepped out, the others doing the same. When everything
was removed, Deerfoot stooped over, and, without any apparent effort,
raised the canoe from the water.

"I s'pose he am gwine to take dat along to hold ober our heads when it
rains."

But Blossom was altogether wide of the mark in his theory. The
Shawanoe carried it only a few paces, when he placed it under a clump
of bushes, pulled some leaves over it, laying the paddle beneath, and
then once more turned to resume their journey.



CHAPTER V.

"SHUT OUT."


Deerfoot informed his friends that they were now within seven miles of
the block-house. Although the night was far advanced, he expected to
reach their destination long before morning. At that season the days
were short, and as the Shawanoe was familiar with the woods, and could
travel with as much certainty in the darkness as the light, there was
no delay counted upon, unless they should approach the vicinity of
some of the Wyandots.

The order of march was taken up precisely as before, Deerfoot warning
the others to walk with the least noise possible, he setting the
example by advancing absolutely without any sound that could betray
his footsteps.

Ned Preston felt the touch of a few wandering snowflakes against his
cheek, but there were not enough to show themselves on the leaves. The
exercise of walking and their thick garments kept them sufficiently
warm, though it would have been different had they been in camp. In
the latter case, as they had no encumbering blankets, it would have
gone ill without a roaring camp-fire.

The journey now became monotonous, even to young Preston, who found it
tiresome to walk so continuously without the least noise or occurrence
to awaken alarm. They must have gone at least four miles in this
manner, Blossom plodding along with a certain dogged resolution which
kept him close on the heels of his young master.

The latter often felt like protesting, but nothing could have
persuaded him to do so. It would have offended Deerfoot, who was the
guide of the party, and who was directing affairs in accordance with
his own theory of strategy. He knew that that scout is sure to meet
disaster, sooner or later, who allows his impatience to influence his
judgment, and who fails to use the most extreme caution whenever and
wherever there is the shadow of danger.

When Preston began to believe they were in the vicinity of the
Licking, Deerfoot came to an abrupt and noiseless halt. This time he
spoke the single word--

"_Listen!_"

The two did as requested, but were unable to detect anything beside
the hollow moaning of the wind through the trees, and the faint,
almost inaudible murmur of the distant Licking. Several minutes
passed, and then the guide asked--

"Do my brothers hear anything?"

They answered that they could distinguish nothing more than was always
to be heard at such times.

"We are close to the camp of the Wyandots," was the alarming
information.

"How do you know that?" inquired his friend.

"Deerfoot heard them," was the explanation, in such a guarded
undertone that his companions barely caught his words.

No one thought of doubting the assertion of the Indian, incredible as
it sounded, and the truth of his declaration was soon manifest.
Certain as he was that they were close to a party of his own race, the
advance was made with greater care than before.

He picked his way with such patience and slowness that Blossom found
plenty of time in which to lift his feet as high as he knew how,
setting them down as though afraid of waking a slumbering baby near
at hand.

Within two rods of the spot where they halted they suddenly caught the
starlike twinkle of a point of fire directly ahead. Instantly all
stopped, and no one spoke; they knew that it was the camp-fire of the
party whose presence the Shawanoe learned a few minutes before.

Nothing more than the glimmer of the light could be seen, because
there were so many trees and so much vegetation intervening.

"Let my brothers wait till I return," said Deerfoot, turning his head
so as not to speak too loud.

"It shall be done," replied Ned Preston, who was on the point of
asking a question, when he became aware that he and Blossom were
alone: Deerfoot had vanished with the silence of a shadow.

"If we've to wait yar a long time," said Blossom in a husky whisper,
"we might as well sot down."

Preston made no objection to this on the part of his servant, but he
remained standing himself, leaning against a tree, while Blossom
supported his head in the same way.

"I don't care if Deerfoot doesn't come back for a week," remarked the
negro lad, with a sigh of contentment that at last he was permitted to
rest his limbs.

"He will not stay long," said Ned; "and the best thing we can do while
he is away is to do nothing."

"Dat's just what I'm doin' as hard as I can."

"I wouldn't even speak, Blossom, for some of the Indians may be near
us."

"Dat suits me jes' as well," assented the other, who thereafter held
his peace.

Meanwhile, Deerfoot the Shawanoe approached the camp-fire of the
Indians with all the care and skill he could command. Possibly he
would have incurred no great risk by stalking boldly forward, for he
was already known among the tribe, which was an ally of the Shawanoes.

But the incident of the afternoon had taught him a lesson, and he knew
such a course would deepen the suspicion which some of the Wyandots
already held against him.

They had given him to understand they were on their way to reconnoiter
Wild Oaks and some of the settlements along the Ohio. If they should
find he was dogging them, what other proof could they ask that he was
playing the part of spy and enemy?

For this reason the Shawanoe determined to avoid observation, and to
make his reconnoissance precisely as though he were an avowed foe of
those of his own race.

He had not gone far when he gained a full view of the camp. That which
immediately caught his attention and increased his misgiving was the
fact that this was a new party altogether. Waughtauk did not lead
these warriors, none of whom was with the company whom the young scout
encountered during the afternoon.

But several other important facts were significant: these were also
Wyandots; they numbered thirteen, and they were in their war-paint.
They had probably left their towns north of the Ohio at the same time
with Waughtauk, and they had separated, the better to carry out some
project the chief had in view.

Shrewd and sagacious beyond his years as was the Shawanoe, he was in a
situation in which he was compelled to do no little guessing. He was
satisfied that the chief and his warriors intended to compass the
destruction of the block-house, sometimes known as Fort Bridgman, and
to massacre every one within it.

The Wyandots, like the Shawanoes, were brave fighters, and why they
had not assailed the post was hard to tell, when it would seem they
numbered enough to overwhelm the garrison. It looked as if Colonel
Preston had discovered his danger, though it was not an uncommon thing
for a war party to delay their attack on a station a long time after
it seemed doomed beyond all hope.

The Wyandots had disposed themselves in a fashion that looked as
though they meant to stay where they were through the night. They had
evidently finished a meal on something, and were now smoking their
pipes, lolling on their blankets, sharpening their knives with
peculiar whetstones, cleaning their guns, now and then exchanging a
few guttural words, the meaning of which not even the sharp-eared
Shawanoe could catch.

"They mean to attack the block-house," was the conclusion of Deerfoot,
who tarried only a few minutes, when he began a cautious return to his
two friends, who were found as he had left them, except that Blossom
Brown was on the verge of slumber.

Deerfoot quickly explained what he had learned, and added that the
difficulty of entering the block-house was increased; but he believed,
by acting promptly, it could be done with safety. Ned Preston was
inclined to ask wherein the use lay of all three going thither, when
one would do as well, and the obstacles were much greater than in the
case of a single person.

But the course of the guide convinced Preston that he had some plan
which he had not yet revealed, and which necessitated the entrance of
the young pioneer at least into the block-house.

"Have you any knowledge when the Wyandots will attack Colonel
Preston?"

"The break of day is a favorite hour with Deerfoot's people, but they
often take other seasons."

"Why are they not closer to the station?"

"They are already close; we are within three hundred yards of the
fort; Deerfoot will lead the way, and if the warriors' eyes are not
like those of the owl, we may pass through the gate before the first
sign of light in the east."

There was no necessity of telling Ned and Blossom that their caution
must not be relaxed a single moment: no one could know better than
they that the briefest forgetfulness was likely to prove fatal, for
the Wyandots were all around them. The detection of either lad would
seal his fate.

The purpose of Deerfoot was to steal nigh enough to the block-house to
apprise the inmates that they were on the outside, and awaiting an
opportunity to enter. Could they succeed in letting Colonel Preston
know the truth, all three could be admitted in the darkness, with
little danger to themselves or to the garrison.

What the Shawanoe feared was that the Wyandots had established a
cordon, as it might be termed, around the block-house. It was more
than probable that Colonel Preston had discovered the approach of the
hostiles in time to make quite thorough preparations.

While this might not avert the attack of the red men, it was certain
to delay it. The next most natural proceeding for the commandant would
be to dispatch a messenger to Wild Oaks, to inform the settlers of his
peril, and to bring back help. The assailing Indians would anticipate
such a movement by surrounding the block-house so closely that the
most skillful ranger would find it impossible to make his way through
the lines.

If such were the case, it followed as a corollary that no friend of
the garrison would be able to steal through the cordon and secure
entrance into the building: the gauntlet, in the latter case, would be
more difficult than in the former, inasmuch as it would be necessary
first to open communication with Colonel Preston, and to establish a
perfect understanding before the task could be attempted.

Deerfoot turned to the right, so as to pass around the camp-fire, but
his advance was with a caution which can hardly be pictured. Ned
Preston could not hear the slightest sound, and where the darkness was
so deep it was hard work to keep informed of his movements.

When the Shawanoe stopped, he merely reached his hand back and touched
Ned, who did the same to Blossom; when the start was made again, a
slight sibilant sound, which a listening Indian twenty feet distant
would not have noticed, told the fact. No one ventured to speak, even
in the most guarded whisper.

Had Deerfoot been alone, he would have advanced much faster; but he
gave his companions time to raise their feet and put them down again
with such slowness and care that not a leaf was overturned.

Blossom Brown did much better than Preston anticipated. The lad
understood the need of this elaborate caution, and as he had the two
in front of him, there was no excuse for his making a false step. Once
he began a sentence in a husky whisper, but before it was half
finished his young master gripped him by the shoulder, as if with an
iron vise, and the attempt was not repeated.

After a time, which seemed almost interminable, the camp-fire was
flanked, though still in sight. The situation of the three, as a
consequence, became more delicate and perilous than before; for, to
effect a safe withdrawal from the neighborhood, they would have to
pass through the lines again, while there could be no doubt "the woods
were full" of other warriors.

Suddenly the serpent-like hiss of the Shawanoe sounded, and all three
came to a stand-still. This was scarcely done when Deerfoot, for the
first time since the reconnoissance proper began, broke silence by
exclaiming, in a voice just audible,

"_Stoop down!_"

His order was obeyed (for his companions knew the danger was imminent)
without a word or a second's hesitation.

Their senses were on the alert, but for a minute or two they neither
heard nor saw anything to explain the cause of the alarm of their
guide. At the end of the brief spell, a faint rustling was noticed
near them, and the listeners held their very breath.

This disturbance of the leaves must have been caused by the feet of
Wyandot warriors, who were altogether closer than was comfortable for
the lads crouching on the ground. In the gloom, deepened by the shadow
of the wood, it was impossible to see a half dozen feet; but while Ned
Preston was peering through the darkness in the direction whence came
the noise, a figure suddenly passed across the field of vision between
him and the camp-fire.

Looking in the latter direction, he could see something moving before
the light. That which arrested the attention of Ned was the head and
shoulders of an Indian warrior, who was gliding with a silence which
led the spectator to suspect at first he was deceived. But the contour
of the scalp-lock, shoulders and chest was unmistakable.

The first had scarcely vanished, when a second and a third followed in
precisely the same fashion; but though the eye strained itself to
catch sight of more, none appeared. The three were all who came so
near detecting the boys.

Ned Preston and Blossom Brown felt that the perfect caution displayed
by the Shawanoe was more than repaid; for had it been less, the
hostiles would have learned their presence before they themselves were
detected.

All at once young Preston became aware that Deerfoot was gone; he had
quietly departed, as was his custom, and would return when he saw fit.
Ned crept far enough backward to allow him to whisper the fact to
Blossom, without any risk of being heard by other ears no matter how
near them.

A full half hour passed, when the Shawanoe returned as silently as he
had departed.

As Preston suspected, he had been off on a reconnoissance, where he
wanted no companions. He announced the result in the alarming words--

"Wyandots are everywhere; we cannot enter the fort."



CHAPTER VI.

THE BLOCK-HOUSE.


The block-house, known near a century ago as Fort Bridgman, stood on
the right bank of the Licking river in Kentucky, and was some thirty
odd miles southwest of the present city of Maysville.

The block-house proper was a substantial structure of heavy logs, and
consisted of only two rooms--one above and below. The lower story was
a dozen yards square, and the upper was two feet greater in each
direction, for the builders followed the frontier fashion of
projecting the second story over the first. This projection being
pierced with portholes, gave opportunity to the garrison to fire down
on the heads of their assailants, who might attempt to batter down the
door, or make a rush for the interior.

The roof was so steeply shelving that the most agile Indian could not
sustain himself on it. On each side was a trap-door, intended for use
in emergency. The roof itself was composed of thick slabs of oak,
and, like the logs, doors, and every portion of the building, was
bullet-proof.

The structure stood at the angle of a square of one hundred feet,
which was inclosed by a strong stockade. This consisted of logs split
through the middle, one end sharpened and driven deep into the earth,
leaving the upper portions, which were of irregular height, nine or
ten feet above the ground.

Standing at the angle of this square, it will be seen that the
block-house formed a part of two sides. On that which faced the
Licking was a door and one window; on the opposite side, which opened
into the stockade or inclosure, were also a door and window. On the
other two sides were two windows, but no door; the former were so
narrow that no Indian warrior could force his way through them, while
the doors of puncheon slabs would have resisted for a long time the
pounding of a battering-ram. The windows were all on the ground floor.

The fort having been built expressly for defensive purposes, where the
peril was known to be great, it lacked nothing which the rude
frontier warfare could suggest. It was so abundantly pierced with
loop-holes that the garrison commanded every approach.

If the red men attempted to scale the stockade at any point, they had
to expose themselves to the bullets of the unerring Kentuckians behind
the logs; while, if they secured a closer approach on in the darkness
of night, the defenders could shoot them through the loopholes in the
projecting floor above.

There was a gate on each side of the stockade, except on that furthest
removed from the block-house. Only one of these was used, and that was
on the southern side. The wooden chimney was at the corner, entirely
within the stockade, and the numerous attacks which the structure had
repelled proved, more than anything else, the strength and power of
resistance of the defence.

The interior of the fort, as some called it, was of the most primitive
character. Below was a rough slab floor, with a fireplace, the smoke
from which found its vent up the wooden chimney. There were a bench, a
table, and several rude chairs, while a barrel of corn-meal was
generally kept pretty well filled against the emergency which all
felt was liable to arise without an hour's notice.

The second story, although larger, as we have already stated, was
furnished with the same simplicity. It was supposed that, in case of
danger, this floor would be used more than the other by the defenders.
It had the two trap-doors in the steep roof, and was liberally
ventilated by means of the numerous loopholes which let in bars of
light from every direction, and permitted the outlook to take in as
extensive a vision as though the spectator was not surrounded by any
walls at all.

Fort Bridgman faced the Licking river on the west, the stockade
extending eastward. It was originally intended to embrace the six
cabins which were put up by the settlers, but these were finally left
outside, and the inclosed square looked like a small parade-ground, to
be used for the benefit of the garrison. It contained near the centre
a well, to be appealed to in emergency, though it was not placed
within the building itself, so as to shut off the possibility of its
being seized by an attacking force. Colonel Preston more than once had
expressed a purpose to have such a well dug, but it was deferred from
time to time until, as is generally the case, the necessity was
forgotten altogether.

In the roomy upper story of the block-house was always kept a barrel
of water, blankets, a few chairs, a number of axes, shovels, spades,
picks, and utensils useful in a new settlement. Fort Bridgman at one
time promised to become an important town in Kentucky; but a fierce
raid by a band of red men, one tempestuous night in mid-winter,
destroyed every cabin except the block-house, in which only a few
settlers found safe refuge from the vengeful warriors.

In the autumn of which we are speaking there were only two cabins
beside the defence. These stood outside the stockade, and one was
occupied by Colonel Hugh Preston, his wife Maria, and his two
daughters--Mary, aged ten, and Susie, eight years old.

Jo Stinger, an old Indian fighter of the early days in Kentucky, made
his home with the family, while Jim Turner and Sam Megill occupied the
other. The last two were brothers-in-law, and it was the intention of
the latter to bring his wife and three children from Wild Oaks in the
spring to live in the dwelling which he had taken so much pains to
erect and fit for their coming.

Such was the garrison of the block-house in the autumn when Colonel
Preston, while hunting in the woods, learned of the presence of a war
party of Wyandots. It was by a pure accident, or rather providence,
that he discovered the alarming fact, and he lost not a moment in
improving the important knowledge.

He hastened home, and the settlers gathered in the block-house, with
such extra provisions, blankets, fuel, and other necessaries as they
could get together. The doors of the building and the gates of the
stockade were fastened, and the men stationed themselves in the most
available points to detect the approach of their enemies.

The little garrison were none too soon in these preparations, for
within the succeeding half hour the Wyandots were seen on the edge of
the woods, and creeping along the bank of the Licking one hundred
yards away. They were quick to note that, with all their secrecy of
movement, their approach had been discovered; if they had any doubts
on the point, they were removed by a couple of rifle-shots that were
sent hurtling among the bushes which partly concealed their bodies.

"It's a great disappointment to them," said Jo Stinger, as he peered
through a loophole, "for they had every reason to believe we would be
surprised."

"I hope it will be so much of a disappointment that they will postpone
the siege," remarked the Colonel.

The old hunter shook his head, and added--

"That depends very much on how many redskins are out there. If the
party is not very large, they will be apt to give it up; but if there
are as many as I fear, the varmints will hang on, in the hope of
cleanin' us out."

"They will have no easy task to do that," remarked the Colonel, with a
flash of the eye; "this isn't the first time it has been tried, and it
won't be the first time it has failed."

"Suppose it is a success?" said his wife gently.

The Colonel turned when he heard the familiar voice at his elbow, and,
as he noticed Mary and Susie playing on the floor, something like a
pang went to his heart. The sight caused him to feel more vividly than
ever before the dreadful meaning of the word "failure," which had
just passed the lips of his beloved wife.

"Failure!" he repeated, as he placed his arm affectionately on her
shoulder; "do you regard it possible, when I have _you_ and the little
ones depending on us?"

"I know every man, and myself as well, will fight to the end, but even
that does not always avail: the bravest must succumb when the
assailants overwhelm them."

Tears glistened in her eyes, as she tried hard to look courageous, but
a mother lives in her affections, and no one could have felt more
deeply than did she, that all she valued in the world was at that
moment within the wooden walls of the block-house, while a merciless
foe was on the outside, as eager as so many jungle tigers to reach
them.

"We have an abundance of ammunition," added the husband, seeking to
hide a vague fear which was creeping over him; "and we can stand a
longer siege than the Indians will care to maintain against us."

"I trust so, but I cannot feel the hope which sustains you: I wish you
would send word to your brother at Wild Oaks, that he may give us
help before it is too late."

This plan, although not named until now, was in the minds of more than
one member of the garrison. Colonel Preston had asked himself whether
it was not the prudent thing to do, and he looked at Jo Stinger to
learn what he thought of it.

The old scout nodded his head in a way to signify he was favorable,
and said--

"It's the right thing, Colonel, and I'm the man to do it."

"But how can you get out? The Indians will be on the watch, and we are
too few in number to spare a man."

"Didn't I carry the news to Wild Oaks two years ago, when it looked as
though all of us was going under sure?"

"You did--that's a fact; but was the risk as great as now?"

"I think this is no greater, and it may not be as great: that's to be
found out. That time, I took three hours to get through the red skin
lines; but when I had shook 'em clear, I done some of the tallest
traveling of my life."

"If you think it best, you may try it after dark."

"I'll do it," said the settler, with a compression of the lips which
showed his earnestness. He had perilled his life many a time during
the years spent on the frontier, and he was not the man to hesitate,
when duty called him.

It was now the middle of the afternoon of the blustery autumn day
which saw the approach of Ned Preston, Blossom Brown and the Shawanoe,
Deerfoot, to the vicinity of the block-house. The garrison were sure
to use the utmost vigilance until the all-important question was
settled, and it was not probable the besieging Wyandots would make any
serious attack before the night was well advanced.

When Megill, a tall, sinewy, iron-limbed pioneer, learned the
intention of Stinger to make the attempt to reach Wild Oaks with a
view of bringing help, he commended the plan and said he would gladly
take his place. But Stinger would not consent, and it was understood
that the dangerous task was to be undertaken by him who proposed it.

As the chilly night settled over river, forest and clearing, every
one in the block-house was impressed with the solemnity of the
situation. Even little Mary and Susie talked in hushed voices of the
wicked Indians on the outside, and wondered why they wished to harm
those who had never harmed them. When they knelt at their mother's
knee, their prayers were touching in their earnestness and simple
faith, and brought tears to the eyes of their parents.

"God will take care of us," said Mary to the elder, with the trusting
belief of childhood; "so don't feel bad, papa and mamma."

The mother had made them a bed in the corner, beyond the reach of any
stray bullets that might find their way through the loopholes; and, as
she tucked the blankets around them and kissed them good-night, she
added her own petition to heaven that it would guard and shield them
from all harm.

Stinger, Megill and Turner were at the loopholes; and, while the
twilight was deepening within the gloomy block-house, Colonel Preston
lingered a few minutes beside his wife, who was seated on a rude stool
waiting for the little ones to close their eyes in slumber.

"Why should we feel alarmed, Maria," he asked, "when, as I told you a
short time ago, we have plenty of ammunition and the means to defend
ourselves? There are five rifles, one for each of us, including
yourself; these walls are too strong to be battered down, and we can
make our aim too sure for the Wyandots to expose themselves long to
it."

"That is all true, Hugh, and I hope that nothing I have said will
cause misgiving on your part; but, at the best, there are only a very,
_very_ few of us, and you know accidents may happen: suppose," she
added in a tremulous voice, "one or two of you should fall----"

"Colonel, begging pardon," interrupted Jo Stinger, at this moment
advancing toward them, "you obsarve it's so dark inside that we
couldn't see each other's faces if it wasn't for that taller candle
burning on the stand, and I don't know of a better time to start for
Wild Oaks."

"Is it fully dark on the outside?" asked the Colonel, glad of excuse
to end the gloomy conversation.

"As dark as a wolf's mouth--so dark that I'm hopeful of getting
through the lines, without any bother; you know that every hour
counts, and I shall have to put in some big licks to reach Wild Oaks
and bring the boys here by to-morrow night."

There could be no disputing this fact, and Colonel Preston peeped
through the loopholes, first on one side of the block-house and then
on the other, until he had looked toward each point of the compass.

It may be said that nothing but blank darkness met his eye. He could
hear the sound of the flowing river, the solemn sighing of the
night-wind among the trees, but nowhere could he catch the glimmer of
the Indian camp-fire, nor hear the red man's war-whoop which had
fallen on his ear more than once since he made his home on the Dark
and Bloody Ground.

This impressive stillness told as eloquently of the presence of the
red man as the sounds of conflict could have done.

"There is no need of waiting longer," remarked the Colonel.

As he spoke, he began descending the ladder, which answered for the
stairs, Stinger following him. On the lower floor there was not the
slightest ray of light, but both were so familiar with the room that
they needed no lamp.

Reaching the door, Colonel Preston placed his hand on the heavy bars
which held it in place, and the two listened for several minutes.
Nothing was heard, and the fastenings were drawn with much care and in
almost complete silence.

"If you have to come back," whispered the commandant, "give the signal
and I will let you in."

"I'll do so;--good bye," and, without any more words, the scout
vanished in the gloom.

To the consternation of Colonel Preston, he heard the familiar whistle
of Stinger a couple of hours later, at which time he hoped he was well
on his way to Wild Oaks.

The messenger was safely admitted within the block-house shortly
after, and his first words were--

"It's no use, Colonel; a rabbit couldn't creep through the lines,
they're watching so close."



CHAPTER VII.

THE MESSAGE.


The declaration of Deerfoot the Shawanoe and of Stinger the scout that
the Wyandots were holding such strict watch of the approaches to the
block-house that no one could leave or approach it, was proof of the
thoroughness of their precautions. It showed still further that the
red men had determined to slay every one within the building.

The first requisite to the success of such a scheme was to prevent any
one going to their help. The assailants knew just how many people
composed the garrison; and, though the provisions might last for days
and possibly weeks, yet the end must come sooner or later, when they
would lose the power of resistance from very exhaustion.

Deerfoot, with all the skill he could command, conducted his two
companions to a point along the river bank nearly in front of the
block-house. This attained, he gave them to understand that they were
in a very dangerous position, and it was necessary to keep carefully
hidden from the Wyandots.

Having gone thus far, it would seem that the subtle Shawanoe ought to
have gone further and secured entrance into the block-house itself.
Had Colonel Preston known the exact situation, this could have been
done, as in the case of the scout Stinger; but it was necessary first
that a perfect understanding should be established. There were
Wyandots everywhere: the watchful Shawanoe heard them moving
stealthily hither and thither, and any one less skilful than he would
have brought on a collision long before.

Any act, signal or communication which would apprise Colonel Preston
of the truth, would attract the notice of the watchful red men
themselves; so it would seem that Deerfoot had all his pains for
nothing. But we shall show that the remarkable Shawanoe youth had not
reached the end of his rope by any means.

A question has doubtless presented itself to the reader as to the
necessity of the lads entering the block-house at all. Inasmuch as
Stinger wished to get out, and they wished to get in, they might as
well have exchanged positions. Deerfoot could turn about and hasten to
Wild Oaks with news of the danger of the little garrison, leaving all
the men to defend it until assistance arrived.

But, as afterwards became known, Deerfoot was following a special plan
of his own. He was quick to discover that Colonel Preston knew his
peril and would therefore do his utmost to defend the post; but the
wily Shawanoe, from what he had learned, believed that the force of
assailants was so numerous and strong, that they were able to carry
the post before help could reach it from Wild Oaks. In his estimation,
the all-important thing was to get re-inforcements into the
block-house without an hour's unnecessary delay: that done, the time
would then come for application to their friends on the Ohio.

If Ned Preston and Blossom Brown could be safely passed through the
door, there would be two guns added to the five within, and such an
addition was likely to prove the "balance of power," that would save
the garrison from destruction.

This was the belief of the Shawanoe, and, though he did not explain
his purpose at first, he was none the less determined that Colonel
Preston should receive the benefit of these two guns, before
application was made to his brother.

Between the block-house and Licking river was a cleared space of one
hundred yards, the cultivated ground on every hand being so extensive
that the stockade could not be approached by any foe unseen, except at
night. The banks of the Licking were from four to six feet above the
surface, while along the eastern shore, in front of the block-house,
was a fringe of bushes and undergrowth, which offered a tempting
hiding-place to a foe.

It was natural to expect the Wyandots to make use of this place, and
they had done so, but they already commanded the situation.

Deerfoot had one important advantage in the fact that the Wyandots
held no suspicion of the presence of any friends of the whites in the
vicinity of the block-house, and consequently they were not searching
for such allies.

But it was easy to lose this ground, and he convinced his companions
that if it should be found impossible to join Colonel Preston, it
would be equally fatal to attempt to leave the neighborhood before
night: detection was inevitable.

Such was the state of affairs when the sun rose on the morning
succeeding Jo Stinger's failure to pass through the lines (which
effort was made a number of hours before Deerfoot and his friends
reached the spot). The sky had cleared, and there was scarcely a cloud
to obscure its light.

Peeping carefully out from among the bushes and undergrowth, the boys
saw the massive block-house standing at the corner of the stockade,
grim, silent, and as forbidding as though no living person was within.
The heavy oaken door, the huge logs, the narrow windows, the steeply
shelving roof, with one trap-door visible, the wooden chimney, the
numerous loopholes, the sides of the stockade stretching away to the
left from the building itself: all these added to the gloom and
tomb-like appearance of the structure.

Not a person could be seen, as a matter of course, nor was any sound
heard from the interior; but while the three were stealthily studying
the building, they observed a faint, steely blue smoke creeping upward
from the wooden chimney. Mrs. Preston had doubtless kindled a fire on
the hearth in the lower story, for the comfort of her little ones on
this crisp autumn morning, or she was preparing a meal for the
garrison.

"If we were sure that door would be opened on the instant," said young
Preston, alluding to the entrance of the block-house which confronted
them, "we could make a dash across the clearing and get inside, before
the Wyandots would suspect what was going on."

Deerfoot nodded his head to signify that his friend was right, but the
problem remained as to how Colonel Preston should be apprised of the
fact that his friends were waiting so near at hand for a chance to
join him.

These boys were huddled as closely together as possible under the
bank, where they were not likely to be seen, because there was no
special reason for the Wyandots seeking the same hiding-place.

Having reached the spot through much tribulation, as may be said, the
friends were careful not to throw away the advantage gained. They
stealthily peeped over the edge of the bank, and their words were
spoken in guarded undertones that could not have been heard by any one
within twenty feet.

"I's got the idee," said Blossom Brown, thrusting forward his dusky
countenance all aglow with pleasure: "I know jes' how we can tell de
Colonel we're out yar, without de Injines knowing a thing about it."

"How would my brother with the face of the night do?" asked the
Shawanoe, turning toward him.

"I'll jes' gib a lot ob hoots like a big owl dat am scared, and de
Colonel will know it's me, 'cause de last time I war at de block-house
I done it to please de little gals, Mary and Susie."

"That will never do," Ned Preston hastened to say; "for the Wyandots
would suspect the truth the instant they heard your hooting, and it
wouldn't be long before they called on us."

"Den," added the African, who seemed to think the responsibility of
settling the question rested with him, "let's jes' set up a yellin'
dat de Colonel will hear, and make a rush for de house: he'll know
we're comin' and will slip down and open de door, or, if he don't, we
can climb ober de fence and run round de back way."

The Shawanoe did not consider the proposals of Blossom worthy of
notice, though they were made in all seriousness. Looking at Ned, he
asked--

"Will my brother let Deerfoot see one of his letters?"

Wondering at the meaning of this request, Preston drew a missive from
the inner pocket of his coat and handed it to the Indian. It was
written on a large sheet of blue paper, the last page of which was
unruled, so as to permit the superscription, for the ordinary envelope
was unknown in those days. The sheet was carefully folded and doubled
within itself, being sealed with a large red wafer, and the name of
Colonel Hugh Preston, and the somewhat voluminous address, were
written in a large plain hand in ink of glossy blackness.

It was the penmanship which excited the wonder of the Shawanoe more
than did anything on which he had looked for many a day. He held the
letter in his hand, and, for several minutes, scrutinized the writing
with an interest that can hardly be described. Through the paper his
keen eyes detected the faint tracery of some of the letters inside.
Balancing the missive edgewise, between his thumb and forefinger, he
gently pressed it until it partly spread open, despite the seal. Then,
raising it before his face, he closed one eye as though he were
aiming his arrow at something, and peeped within.

The glimpse of the writing was as pleasing to him as the sight of the
circus is to the urchin who creeps under the canvas; and, though he
could not decipher the meaning of a character, he stared for several
minutes, almost holding his breath, as though he would force the
secrets from the "Rosetta stone."

He had heard of such things before, but it was hard for his untutored
mind to understand that what a man had said to his friend was in that
little package, and when opened, it would speak the same message to
him. His feelings must have been similar to those of his white
brother, could he have seen the telephone of to-day perform its
wonderful work.

"We write our words on the paper," said Ned, hoping to help the mind
of the youth grasp the subject: "and when our friend gets the paper,
there are the words looking him in the face."

Deerfoot inclined his head, as though he understood the explanation,
but Ned saw that it was like the assent of the school-boy who doesn't
wish his classmates to consider him stupid.

"If I should make a figure on the paper that looked like a deer, and
some one should take it to you, and you looked at it, you would know
that it was meant for a deer, wouldn't you?"

The Indian nodded emphatically this time: he clearly understood
_that_.

"Suppose I should make some lines and characters which you and I
agreed beforehand should mean, 'I am your friend and brother'; when
those lines and characters were brought to you on paper, wouldn't you
remember what they meant?"

The black eyes of Deerfoot sparkled. He had caught, for the first time
in his life, an inkling of the mystery. He saw, as through a glass,
darkly, the achievements of the white man who could forward his words
hundreds of miles, hidden in a small piece of paper.

"Will my brother teach Deerfoot how to send his thoughts to the Great
Spirit?"

There was a wistful expression in the dark eyes of the Shawanoe, which
touched Ned Preston. The voice of the lad trembled, as he answered
impressively--

"You need no such means to reach the Great Spirit, as you must have
heard from your own people: _our_ Great Spirit is always looking down
in kindness on his children, and his ears are ever open to hear what
they have asked him."

"Will my white brother tell Deerfoot of the Great Spirit of the pale
faces, that the missionary talks about?"

"I will be glad to do so, for it is what all of your people should
know; when we can gain the time, I will teach you how to read books
and write letters just as well as any white man can do, for I am sure
that one who is so bright as you, will learn it with much ease."

"Deerfoot will never forget his pale-faced brother," said the Shawanoe
gratefully.

"And if masser Ned don't got de time, den I'll jes' take you hummin'
frough all de knowledge dat you want," said Blossom with an
exaggerated idea of his importance.

"It would be well for you to learn how to read and write yourself,
before trying to teach others," said Preston.

"I reckon dar aint many dat can beat me 'round de settlements; I can
spell 'dog' and 'cat'."

"Let's hear you."

"D-o-a-g, dog; r-a-t, cat--no, dat spells something else,--I forget
what, but I'm dar all de time, jes' de same."

Deerfoot was still holding the letter in his hand and looking
earnestly at Ned, without noticing the words of Blossom.

"Can my white brother write on the back of this the words which
Colonel Preston can read?"

It flashed upon young Preston that the keen-witted youth was
unraveling the plan he had held in mind from the first.

"Certainly I can."

"Write some message on this paper for him."

"But, Deerfoot, I have no pen, nor ink, nor pencil, or I would only be
too glad to do so."

The Shawanoe was prepared for this.

"Deerfoot will bring you something that will do."

He moved away from his young friends, with that silence and stealth
which seemed a part of his nature, while the delighted and expectant
friend turned to Blossom Brown--

"Do you understand what his plan is to reach--"

Ned did not finish the question, for he saw that his servant, despite
the gravity of the situation and the crispness of the air, was lying
on his side sunk in a sound slumber. Fortunately his posture was such
an easy one that he did not breathe loud enough to create any danger
of being heard.

The Shawanoe was gone only a few minutes, when he reappeared holding
in his hand a piece of reddish brown stone, almost as soft as the
mineral known as "red chalk," and which he had evidently broken from
some crumbling rock.

Ned Preston carefully sharpened it to a point, as though it were a
lead-pencil. It could not be said to work very well, when applied to
paper, but he found that patience and care would enable him to write
considerable that would be legible to any one who understood writing.

Accordingly with much pains and labor he traced the following lines,
first consulting Deerfoot as to what should be placed in the
communication--

"DEAR UNCLE HUGH:

"Deerfoot, the friendly Shawanoe, Blossom Brown, our servant, and I
are along the bank of the river, exactly opposite the front of the
block-house. We want to join you, so as to help you fight off the
Wyandots, but they are so plenty all around us that we daresn't try
it, unless you are prepared to let us in the door, the instant we
reach it. When you are ready, wave your hand through the front window,
and we'll make the start.

     "Your affectionate nephew,
                               "NED."



CHAPTER VIII.

OPENING COMMUNICATION.


Ned Preston read the note to Deerfoot, the Shawanoe, speaking slowly
and distinctly each word, while the young Indian listened with an
expression of intense interest and pleasure.

"If the Colonel sees that, then will he read those words you have
spoken to me?"

"They will be the same."

"Then he shall see them."

As the young warrior spoke, he extended his hand for the missive,
which was given him. He deftly drew an arrow from his quiver and began
tying the letter to the missile, doing it with much care, for the task
he was about to essay seemed an almost impossible one.

"We are a hundred yards from the block-house," said Ned Preston; "it
is a long shot for the bow and arrow."

"Would my brother like to use his gun?" asked Deerfoot with his
shadowy smile, his question being intended to remind his friend of
the superiority of the primitive weapon over the rifle, at least in
such an emergency as the present.

"The gun is of no use just now," said Preston, "and I mistrust that
your bow will not serve you as well as you think."

"You shall see," was the comment of the owner, who gave his full
attention to the task before him. He used a shred of deer-sinew and
fastened the letter directly behind the iron barb. That done, the
faithful bow was carefully strung, and then the youth bent himself to
the work.

His intention was to send the arrow, if possible, through the narrow
window to the left of the front door of the block-house. This had no
glass, nor screen, but as it was no more than eight inches wide,
although three times as high, and as the shaft was weighted with a
foreign substance, likely to affect its accuracy of flight, some idea
of the difficulty of the feat may be gained.

Furthermore, it was necessary that the shot should be fired secretly.
Deerfoot had no opportunity of standing out on the open ground, where
his limbs would be unimpeded, but he must aim from behind the bank,
so that no vigilant Wyandot would detect him.

He set to work, standing below the bank and pointing between an
intervening bush or two, making sure, however, that an unobstructed
path was open for his arrow. The missile was pointed at an elevation
of fully forty-five degrees; and, with one eye closed, he slowly drew
back the string until the head touched the right hand, which grasped
the middle of the bow.

It was held thus ten seconds, during which the athlete was as rigid
and motionless as if moulded in iron, while his eye rested on the
narrow slit-like window cut in the solid logs, all of a hundred yards
away.

Ned Preston kept his gaze fixed on the Indian, who at that moment
formed a picture worthy of the finest artist that ever touched brush
to canvas.

Suddenly there was a faint twang, the bow straightened out like
lightning, and the arrowy messenger started on its path weighted with
the all-important message.

Preston instantly glanced at the block-house, centering his eye on the
straight opening, but with scarcely a hope that Deerfoot could
succeed in what would certainly be a marvelous exploit.

As the arrow was speeding directly away from the lads, it was
impossible to distinguish its course through the air, though it could
have been seen easily, had they been stationed at right angles to its
line of flight.

The Shawanoe, having discharged the weapon, immediately lowered it,
and then peered forward to learn the result of his shot.

But Preston had scarcely time to fix his gaze on the distant window,
when he saw something like the flutter of a shadow--so to
speak--directly in the opening itself. It came and went with the
quickness of a flash, and he could not define it.

But where was the arrow?

It vanished from sight the instant it left the bowstring, and Ned had
not seen it since. It should have struck somewhere in a very few
seconds, but had the head buried itself in the ground between the
river and the block-house, the eagle-feather would have been visible.
Had it fallen on the roof, its sharp point would have held the shaft
motionless.

"You must have sent it over the block-house," said Ned, turning to
Deerfoot; "and in that case----"

He stopped, for the same shadowy smile on the handsome face of the
young Shawanoe told the truth: the arrow had gone directly through the
window, and the curious fluttering shadow which caught the eye of
Preston was the missile with its message.

"That is the most wonderful shot I ever saw!" exclaimed Ned in a burst
of admiration; "if I could use the bow as you do, I never would touch
a gun. But, Deerfoot, is there not danger that some of the Wyandots
saw the arrow in its flight?"

"If they were looking across the clearing, they saw it perhaps; but
Deerfoot hopes they did not."

"Suppose you had missed the window,--that the arrow had struck the
roof, or the ground, or the logs at the side of the opening, it would
have buried its head and stayed in plain sight, would it not?"

"Yes, and the Wyandots would be certain to see it."

"And would soon know where it came from?"

"Nothing could have prevented."

"My gracious!" exclaimed Ned; "you ran a great risk."

"We did; there was no way to prevent it."

Ned was almost speechless, when he realized how much had depended on
the success of the shot of the Shawanoe: in fact, had he known all, he
never would have consented that the task should have been attempted.

Had the arrow gone a few inches to the right or left, or had it fallen
short, or flown too high, the Wyandots would have swooped down on the
archer and his friends, before they could have left the spot.

Ned Preston regarded the shot as amazing as the mythical one made by
William Tell; and, but for the urgency of the danger, would have given
further expression to his admiration. Deerfoot himself was somewhat
uneasy, and, for several minutes, glanced right and left, and through
the undergrowth for signs of danger; but nothing appeared, and it
looked as though a piece of extremely good fortune had attended the
remarkable exploit.

Such being the case, Preston now devoted his attention to the window,
from which he expected to see the hand of his uncle, Colonel Preston,
waving in friendly signal for them to make the desperate run across
the clearing.

While he was thus employed, the keener vision of the Shawanoe was
roaming over the open space, each side of the stockade, the woods
beyond, and especially did he scrutinize the two deserted cabins that
stood to the right.

The visual search had not continued long, when it was rewarded by the
unwelcome discovery that in the building nearest him were several
Wyandots, who had probably spent the night there. He saw their heads
and shoulders, as they passed the windows where they were beyond sight
of the garrison, but were in plain view of the Shawanoe.

This cabin was much nearer the block-house than were the boys, from
which the daring nature of the project will be understood. Deerfoot
was hopeful before this that the houses were clear of Wyandots, in
which event his friends would have had a much better prospect of
success.

As it was, it all depended on how complete the surprise could be made
for the red men. If they failed to note the running youths until the
block-house was nearly reached, they would be too late to head them
off, except by a shot from their guns, and this risk could not be
avoided under any circumstances.

"_There it is!_"

It was Ned Preston who uttered the exclamation in such excitement that
his voice was dangerously high.

"Sh! not so loud!" whispered Deerfoot, scrutinizing the window through
which he sent his arrow a few minutes before.

Ned Preston was right: the hand of a person was thrust through the
opening and waved several times. It swayed back and forth, and up and
down, with much deliberation, as though the owner was fearful it would
not be observed by his friends along the river bank.

More than that, Deerfoot was sure he saw the face of the one who
signalled them, though the distance was such that nothing like a
recognition took place.

After withdrawing his hand, it was put forth again, and the motion was
repeated. Colonel Preston evidently meant that, if any mistake was
made, it should not be his fault.

Ned Preston now carefully awakened Blossom Brown and explained what
had been done and what was contemplated.

"You have got to run as you never ran before," said his master, "and
when you have once started, there is no turning back."

"What would I want to turn back for?" was the wondering question of
the African.

"You might think it better to stay where we are, and it may be that it
is; but after the Wyandots learn we are here, it is run or die with
us."

"My brother speaks the truth," said Deerfoot, who was looking across
the clearing at the nearest cabin: "there are red men there, and they
will try and hinder you from reaching your friends."

There was no reason to hope the prospect would improve by waiting, and
it was decided to start at once. Deerfoot, it was understood, was to
remain where he was and to make no attempt for the present to enter
the block-house. It was expected that, after Blossom and Ned were
safely within the building, the guide would hasten to Wild Oaks and
bring assistance to the beleaguered garrison.

When the boys were ready, the Shawanoe impressed one fact upon them:
they were not to cease running for an instant, unless stopped beyond
all power to overcome, but, fixing their eyes on the door of the
block-house, strain every nerve to reach the goal.

Each lad was to carry his loaded gun in his right hand, but not to use
it, unless forced to do so: if Colonel Preston should delay admitting
them, they would be lost; but there was no cause to fear such a
miscarriage.

The boys stealthily moved forward and up the bank, and, pausing near
the margin, awaited the word from the Shawanoe. The perilous point, in
the eye of the latter, was the cabin where he knew the Wyandots to be,
and he watched it closely for several minutes. Nothing was to be seen
of them just then, and he said in a low voice--

"Go!"

On the instant, Ned Preston and Blossom Brown bounded across the
clearing in the direction of the block-house: it was a straight run of
a hundred yards over a level piece of land, on which only a few stumps
remained to show that it was once covered by the forest.

The African, it need not be said, strained every nerve and fibre of
his being to reach the goal. His heavy, lumbering build made him less
fleet than Preston, who could have drawn away from the beginning; but
he could not desert his companion in such extremity and he timed his
speed, so as to keep just ahead of Blossom, and thus urge him to his
utmost.

Crouching under the shelter of the river bank, Deerfoot watched the
run for life with the intensest interest. He grasped his strong bow
with his right hand, while one of his arrows was held in the left,
ready to use on the instant it might become necessary for the safety
of either of the fugitives.

Those who knew Deerfoot best, said he was reluctant to employ his
marvelous skill on any person, and would not do so as long as it was
safe to refrain; but it would have required only a single glance at
his glittering eye and compressed lips, to understand that he
considered the emergency was now at hand.

It so happened that the fugitives had gone no more than ten yards on
their swift run, when the Wyandots in the cabin discovered them and
made known the fact in the most alarming manner.

First several whoops broke the stillness within the building, and then
two sharp reports followed. The Wyandots had fired, but their aim was
so hurried that, as it seemed to Deerfoot, neither of the fugitives
was harmed. At least they continued their flight with unabated speed.

But the efforts of the Wyandots to check the boys was not to end with
the simple discharge of their rifles. The two that had used their
pieces, sprang from the front windows of the cabin and dashed
quartering across the clearing, with the intent to head off the
youths, before they could reach the block-house.

This brought both in range of the terrible bow of Deerfoot who placed
the arrow in position; but it was his intention to hold the weapon
until it should become imperatively necessary to use it, for it will
be seen that, if he took part in the singular contest, it would be
such a complete unveiling of his true character that his usefulness to
the whites would be almost destroyed.

Besides, each boy carried a loaded rifle which he knew how to use, and
it was not to be supposed that either would allow himself to be
tomahawked or taken prisoner without resistance.

The Wyandots who ran forth in the effort to throw themselves across
the path of the fugitives, were as daring warriors as ever mingled in
the fierce fight with settlers or those of their own race. They had
emptied their guns in the futile effort to bring down the boys, and,
throwing the weapons aside, they now sprang forward with the
resolution to make them prisoners, despite the risk to themselves, for
they must have known that the garrison would endeavor to protect their
friends, and they could not help suspecting that there was one or more
along the river bank, who were likely to take part in the singular
struggle.

Be that as it may, the red men ran straight from the deserted cabin
across the path of the boys, who found themselves confronted by the
brawny redskins, before they had gone half the distance to the
building.

"Let's sneak 'round ahind de block-house and climb ober de fence and
hide," said Blossom, when he saw the gauntlet he had to run.

"Straight for the door!" commanded Preston: "that is our only chance!"

But the youth had scarcely spoken the words, when he saw that a
collision with the Wyandots was inevitable: they were between them
and the fort, and there was no possible way of flanking them.

The superior fleetness of Ned held him slightly in advance of his
companion. The former ran until close to the Wyandots, when he turned
to the left. The warriors immediately leaped forward so that they were
still directly in front of the fugitives.

"It must be done!" exclaimed Ned, coming to an instant halt, raising
his rifle and aiming at the nearest Indian, who was in the very act of
poising himself to throw his tomahawk.

Everything passed so swiftly that the spectators could scarcely follow
the movements. At the moment Ned drew his gun to position, he caught
the flash of the implement as it circled with lightning quickness over
the bronzed skull of his enemy.

Young Preston knew what was coming. Pausing only long enough to catch
the gleam of the warrior's eyes, over the sights of his rifle, he
pressed the trigger.

The Indian aimed at the head of the youth and drove the tomahawk with
prodigious force and unerring accuracy; but the blade of the
implement glanced against the barrel of the rifle, sending out a
streak of flame, and, with a tremendous rebound or ricochet, shot by
the shoulder of the lad, touching the ground fifty feet away, and
rolling over and over several times, before it lay still. When it left
the hand of the warrior, it was with a force that would have cloven
the skull of the lad, as though it were cardboard.

The throw and miss were remarkable, but, by a striking coincidence,
the rifle of Ned Preston was discharged at the second the two weapons
collided. The violent shock to the gun turned it aside, and the ball
buried itself harmlessly in the ground, far to the right of the
crouching Wyandot.

The latter saw by what a hair's-breadth he had escaped, and snatching
his hunting-knife from the belt at his waist, he bounded toward the
youth, who, nothing daunted, recoiled a single step, and, grasping his
weapon by its barrel, awaited the attack.

All this took place in a few seconds, during which the other Wyandot,
feeling that the dark-faced fugitive was his own, watched the
extraordinary conflict, with an interest as intense as that of the
other spectators further away.

Had the encounter between young Preston and the sinewy Wyandot been
permitted to go on, there could have been but one result; but
Deerfoot, who was holding his breath, with his eyes riveted on the
combatants, now drew his arrow to its head and aimed at the assailing
warrior.

Although the distance between him and his target was no more than half
way across the clearing, yet the feat was immeasurably more difficult
than that of sending the letter through the narrow window; for,
unfortunately, Ned Preston and the Wyandot were standing so nearly in
a line that the young Shawanoe could only see the head and shoulders
of the powerful savage a few feet beyond.

Beside this, the two were likely to change their respective positions
any instant: they might do so indeed after the launching of the arrow,
which would not only miss the red man at whom it was pointed, but was
liable to strike the boy himself.

Even Deerfoot doubted his own success and he therefore aimed with the
greater care and caution, slowly drawing back the shaft, and with
nerves like iron, looked steadily along the reed and at the tableau
far beyond.

But before the fingers let go the string, the necessity for doing so
vanished. The incidents which we have undertaken to describe, passed
with such swiftness that it would have been hard for a spectator to
follow each phase, few as they were; but it need not be said that
every man within the block-house was watching the extraordinary scene
on the clearing with an interest as intense, as absorbing and
breathless, as that of Deerfoot himself.

Colonel Preston was standing by the door, with one hand on the
cumbersome latch, ready to draw it inward the instant the boys reached
the proper point; while Jo Stinger, Jim Turner and Sam Megill held
their rifles ready to use, the very second it should become necessary.

There was such bewildering rapidity in the events narrated, that the
spectators within the block-house did not comprehend the extreme peril
of young Preston, until they saw the Wyandot advancing on him with his
drawn knife.

"Boys," said Jo Stinger, "it's the opinion of the undersigned that
this is a good time of day to fire off a gun."

"Quick!" called out Colonel Preston from below, as he peeped through
the door; "shoot that Indian!"

"That's just what is contemplated," replied Stinger, whose rifle was
already thrust through a loophole, while he was looking along the
gleaming barrel.

But, to the consternation of the veteran, the moment he drew bead on
the warrior, he discovered he stood in such exact line with young
Preston that it was impossible to shoot the red man without the
absolute certainty of striking the lad directly beyond.

"I've got to wait," called out Jo, by way of explaining his inaction,
"until they shift their positions."

Had the vengeful Wyandot comprehended the vast advantage he gained by
holding the youth directly in front, he would have continued to do so;
but it was almost impossible that he should have been subtle enough to
make such a discovery.

Meanwhile, Ned Preston, daring, resolute and defiant, grasped the
barrel of his rifle, and with one foot thrown forward, and with the
stock of his gun flung back in the position, and with the pose of a
skilled batsman awaiting the pitching of a ball, braced himself for
the assault.

The Indian, powerful, active and alert, bent his knees and back
slightly, like a panther gathering for a leap, and glared in the face
of the youthful David, who so calmly confronted the fierce Goliath.

It was a trying position for the boy, who looked dauntlessly into the
hideous countenance daubed with ochre and paint. It was probably the
truth that the Wyandot was testing the power of his eye, as the
rattle-snake does with the bird. If such were the case, the result
could not have been gratifying to the warrior.

All at once, without removing his eyes from those of Ned, the Indian
deftly extended his left foot slightly forward and a brief distance to
one side. Then he gradually shifted the weight of his body over upon
it, until he had transferred himself nearly a foot out of alignment.

Deerfoot the Shawanoe instantly detected this, and pointed his arrow
with full confidence; Jo Stinger was equally on the alert, and his
keen gray eye glanced along the barrel with more certainty; but, not
unnaturally perhaps, the two marksmen, from opposite standpoints,
understood the peculiar maneuvering which the Wyandot had begun: he
intended to circle slowly around the boy, who stood on the defensive,
watching for an opening, which he would seize with the quickness of
lightning.

If such should prove the fact, the spectators had but a short while to
wait: and such did prove to be the fact.

Once more the Wyandot moved his left foot, almost as far as the limb
permitted, and held it motionless, with the toe resting on the ground.
All the time his black eyes were fixed with burning intensity on the
youth, and his right hand grasped the haft of the knife, as though he
would crush it to nothingness.

Ned Preston suspected the purpose of his assailant and he instantly
turned, so as to face him, who had not such an easy task as might have
been supposed.

For a full minute, the left leg of the Wyandot remained extended, with
nothing but the toe of the foot daintily touching, as though he meant
to draw a line upon the earth with it. Then his weight gracefully
glided over upon the limb, the gleaming eyes never once shifting from
the pale face of the boy pioneer.

Scarcely was this movement--slight as it was--completed, when the
oppressive stillness was broken by the explosive report of a rifle, a
blue puff of smoke curled upward from one of the loopholes of the
block-house, and those who were looking at the Wyandot, saw him
suddenly throw his hands above his head, walk rapidly and uncertainly
backward several steps, and then, with a faint cry, fall, with limbs
outstretched, stone-dead.

The second warrior became so absorbed in the scene that he fixed his
gaze on the two, paying no heed to the African, who, he must have
believed, was at his mercy, when he chose to give his attention to
him.

With a shrewdness hardly to be expected, the servant was quick to see
that another's extremity was his opportunity.

"Nobody aint tinkin' 'bout Wildblossom Brown jes' now," was the belief
of the lad, "which shows dat it am a good time to tink 'bout hisself."

He immediately began what may be called a flank movement around the
three parties, who took no notice of him, although Deerfoot and the
onlookers in the block-house observed the prudent action of the lad.
They were greatly relieved, inasmuch as he could not offer the
slightest help by staying behind.

Thus it came to pass that, at the moment the rifle was fired from the
block-house, Blossom was well on his way toward it, and his subsequent
action was like that of a runner who awaited the report as a signal.
At the very instant it broke the stillness, he made a burst of speed
and ran with might and main straight for shelter. The start that his
own foresight had secured, placed him so far in advance of his enemies
that his safety was virtually obtained.

"Open dat door!" he shouted in a voice that must have been heard a
half mile away; "open her wide, or I'll smash her in!"

He plunged across the clearing like a steam-engine, and the door was
drawn inward, while he was twenty paces distant, so that everything
was in his favor.

Without checking himself in the least he "took a header" through the
entrance and went clean across the lower floor and against the
opposite side of the room, with a force that shook the entire
building.

"My gracious, Blossom, it was a narrow escape!" exclaimed the Colonel,
alluding to the flight of the lad from the warrior who had marked him
for his own.

"Yes," said Blossom; "I like to have knocked my brains out agin de
oder side de ole fort."

"I'm more afraid the block-house has been injured than I am that you
have suffered; but you are safe now, and I can only hope that Ned may
be equally fortunate."

The address and courage displayed by the surviving Wyandot aroused the
admiration of the garrison, for it far surpassed their expectation.

The very instant the first red man was struck, and while he was
staggering backwards, Ned Preston started with might and main for the
sheltering block-house: he was thus quick to adopt the only course
that offered safety, for the other warrior still held his knife and
tomahawk at command, and was more alert, cunning and brave than the
one that had fallen.

Young Preston's promptness gained him considerable start, but he was
no more than fairly under way, when the other made for him with the
speed of a deer. Ned was fleet for his years, but he was no match for
the pursuing warrior, who gained rapidly.

The amazing daring of this pursuit can scarcely be explained: the
Wyandot was straining every nerve to overtake the fugitive, who was
striving with equal desperation to reach the block-house before him.
The red man held his formidable tomahawk in his right hand, and was
running straight toward the building from which the shot was fired,
and from which he must have known others were certain to come. It was
precisely as if a single soldier should deliberately charge upon a
masked battery, of whose precise location he was well aware.

As may be supposed, the Wyandot had not run half the intervening
distance, when another blue puff, floating aside from the loophole,
accompanied the report of a rifle. Jim Turner had fired at the
approaching Wyandot, but he did it so hastily that he missed him
altogether.

  [Illustration: NED MAKES A NARROW ESCAPE.]

"Is there no way of stopping him?" muttered Sam Megill, hurriedly
bringing his gun to bear and discharging it; but, astonishing as it
may seem, he missed also.

Jo Stinger was hastily reloading his piece, determined that the daring
red man should not escape him, when Ned Preston dashed through the
door and was safe.

As the Colonel quickly shut and fastened the entrance, a heavy thud
was heard. The Wyandot had hurled his tomahawk with such prodigious
force at the vanishing fugitive that the blade was buried half way to
its head, and the handle projecting outward, would have required a
power like that of King Arthur to draw it forth.



CHAPTER IX.

WITHIN THE BLOCK-HOUSE.


Having hurled his tomahawk with such venomous force at the vanishing
fugitive, the baffled Wyandot, for the first time, seemed to think of
his own safety.

The momentum of his furious pursuit carried him almost against the
door of the block-house and directly beneath the overhanging floor,
built so as to allow the defenders to fire down on the heads of their
assailants. The rapid shifting of position served to confuse the
garrison to a certain extent, but the action of the Indian was
incomprehensible.

Making a sharp turn to the left, he ran with astonishing swiftness
along the front of the building and stockade, until he was half way to
the north-western angle, around which he had only to dart to be beyond
reach of any bullet; but he seemed to think all at once that he had
made a mistake. He stopped like a flash, turned with inconceivable
quickness, and sped directly over the ground he had traversed,
passing in front of the stockade and the block-house, his evident
purpose being to reach the deserted cabin from which he had emerged in
the first place.

As he was running with tremendous speed in front of the building,
another gun was discharged at him, but he showed no sign of being
harmed, and, without a second's hesitation, made for the cabin, where
a brother brave awaited him.

"I consider that that 'ere beats all creation!" exclaimed Jo Stinger,
aggravated over the repeated escapes of the daring redskin; "all I
want is a chance to get a pop at him."

There was little time to spare, for the movements of the Wyandot
proved him to be no ordinary athlete, and he was going for the open
window of the cabin, like the wind.

Jo Stinger, by the utmost haste, beat him in the novel contest, and,
thrusting his gun hastily through the loophole, aimed and fired with
unusual nervousness.

"I struck him!" he exclaimed in great glee, as the warrior sprang in
air, as if shot upward by a catapult.

"You haven't harmed a hair of his head!" laughed Jim Turner, who was
peering through one of the loopholes; "it wasn't your bullet that made
him jump."

"You're right," muttered the chagrined scout; "if I had another gun, I
would break this one to pieces."

"It wasn't the fault of your _rifle_," was the truthful remark of his
companion.

At the very moment Jo Stinger took his hasty aim and fired his gun,
the fleeing Wyandot was so near the cabin that he bounded upward from
the ground and went through the door, as the performer in the circus
bounds through the hoop covered with paper.

The bullet which so rarely missed its mark did so in this instance by
a hair's-breadth; but under such circumstances, a miss was as good as
a mile, and the courageous Wyandot plunged through the entrance
without a scratch, or so much as the "smell of fire" about his
garments.

He had played a most desperate game and won so brilliantly that the
veteran Jo Stinger, while exasperated over his own failure, felt like
cheering the exploit.

The safety of the brave seemed to be the signal for a general fire
along the lines. The Wyandots began discharging their rifles from the
wood beyond the stockade, north, east and south, while Deerfoot was
somewhat alarmed to hear several shots from the river bank where he
was crouching, and at no great distance from him.

A number crept up to the rear of the nearest cabin, into which they
entered without much danger to themselves, and from the windows of
which they discharged their pieces at the block-house. This seemed a
useless expenditure of ammunition, but there was a chance or two of
doing something. Some of the bullets sent from the woods and cabins
might enter a loophole: a number did pass through the narrow windows
and were buried in the heavy logs beyond.

Unless the inmates were specially careful, one or more of these
invisible messengers would strike them, and it was this hope which led
the assailants to keep up the desultory firing for more than an hour
succeeding the remarkable incidents on the clearing.

The garrison did not throw away their ammunition: they kept a sharp
lookout for signs of their enemies, and, when there was a chance of
doing execution, they were quick to take advantage of it, but there
was no shooting at random, as is too often the case, under similar
circumstances.

While these dropping shots were heard from many different points, the
figure of the fallen Wyandot was stretched on the clearing in front of
the block-house. It lay flat on its back, with the swarthy face turned
upward, still and motionless, and an impressive evidence of the
frightful and inexcusable enmity of the members of the same human
family toward each other.

No one ventured to approach it, although the American Indian leaves no
effort untried to remove his dead from the battle-ground. They would
have gone forward on the present occasion to withdraw the remains, but
they could not expect immunity from the rifles of the Kentuckians.

Under such circumstances, the dead warrior must wait until the
darkness of the night, which is the chosen season of his race for
carrying out his designs against all enemies.

Jo Stinger, who had followed the trail and lived in the woods for many
years, was intensely mortified over his failure, and carefully
reloading his gun, resolved that the blunder on his part should be
retrieved.

He cautioned the new arrivals, and especially the children of Mrs.
Preston, to keep away from the loopholes, through which the leaden
missiles were likely to come any moment, on their mission of death.
The good mother was too sensible of the peril to which they were all
exposed, to allow her children to run any risk that could be avoided:
there were places both above and below stairs, where no bullet could
penetrate, and she made certain that her children never wandered
beyond these somewhat narrow limits.

As soon as the door was securely fastened behind the entrance of
Blossom Brown and Ned Preston, the Colonel, who, of course, was on the
lower floor, grasped each in turn by the hand and congratulated them
most warmly. Mrs. Preston, as soon as it was safe, descended the
ladder and joined in the expressions of thankfulness.

Both the boys were panting from their tremendous exertions, and they
sat down each on a chair until they could recover breath. As Ned drew
forth the letters from his inner pocket and handed them to the
Colonel, he said--

"It was the hardest struggle of my life; I never want to go through
such another."

"Are you hurt in any way?" asked his aunt, laying her hand on the head
of her nephew, who had taken off his cap and was drawing his
handkerchief across his forehead.

"Not in the least, and I thank heaven, for, when that Wyandot let
drive his tomahawk, it came like a cannon-ball, and if it hadn't
struck my rifle-barrel as it did, it would have ended my days. I
wonder whether it hurt the gun," suddenly added Ned, with that rapid
transition from one subject to another which is characteristic of
boyhood.

He examined the weapon, but although the brown barrel was pretty well
scraped, it showed no real injury, and, in accordance with the
teachings of his father, Ned now proceeded to reload the piece, while
the dull reports of the guns, overhead and along the edge of the woods
and the bank of the river, were heard.

By this time, Blossom Brown had recovered his breath, and he imitated
the example of his young master. When he had completed his task, he
regained a great deal of his assurance.

"Tings was sort ob lively for a while," he remarked in his offhand
manner, as though there was nothing remarkable in their escape, "but I
knowed we was comin' out all right."

"How could you know that," asked the surprised Mrs. Preston, "when we
could not be certain, until you were both within the house?"

"I seed from de way dat Injine drawed back his tomahawk and squinted
his eye, dat he wasn't goin' to shoot straight, and I knowed too dat
de tomahawk was gwine to glance along de barrel jes' as it did, which
am why I moved off to one side so dat it wouldn't tech me."

"That won't do," said Ned, with a shake of the head; "you knew just as
much as I did, which was nothing at all."

"P'raps I did and p'raps I didn't," said Blossom in his loftiest
manner, throwing his head back; "I neber brag ob what I'm doin', but I
show from de way I act dat I knows what's what. I seed dat tings was
gettin' mixed, and so I started for de house to impress de Colonel how
it was and to git him to manage tings right."

At this moment, Mary and Susie Preston hurried down the ladder to
greet their cousin.

"O Ned!" they shouted together, as they came near tumbling through the
rounds; "we're so glad to see you!"

And the words were scarcely out of their mouths, when Susie, the
younger, leaped from the middle round straight into the arms of Ned,
which were outspread to receive her. Mary embraced the waist of the
sturdy lad and insisted on attention. So Ned, after kissing the
younger several times, set her down on the floor and did the same with
the elder. Then he resumed his chair, and, holding them on his knees,
laughed and talked as though he had passed through no such fearful
scene as we have described, and as though no peril was yet impending
over their heads.

"I knew the wicked Indians wouldn't hurt you," said little Susie,
turning her pretty face up to that of her cousin.

"And how could you know that, little one?"

"'Cause Mary and I prayed to God, when we saw you coming across the
clearing, to take care of you."

"Well, I prayed hard too," said Ned, "and then did the best I knew
how, and I think God always takes care of those who do that: it isn't
any use of praying unless you try to help yourselves."

This was orthodox, though the sentiment was not very original, and the
little sisters subscribed to it as fully as though they had been
taught it at their mother's knee.

Colonel Preston had delivered the letters to the parties to whom they
belonged, and had read his own. He had looked out for the opportunity
to use his gun, but saw none, and he now turned about and gave his
whole attention to his "recruits."

"Where is Deerfoot?" was his first natural question.

"He was on the edge of the clearing, when we left, and I suppose he is
there yet, unless the Wyandots have driven him out."

"It isn't likely he has been allowed to stay there long, for I notice
that some of the shots come from that direction. How was it he
befriended you as he did?"

"He is a great friend of mine, you know, Uncle."

"That isn't what I mean; how was it he brought you here and helped you
to enter the block-house?"

In a few words, Ned Preston told the story which is already known to
the reader. Before it was finished, the Colonel saw plainly the
purpose of the Shawanoe youth.

"He believed there was instant necessity for me to have more guns at
command, and that was why he used such great exertion to run you in."

"Do you think he did right, Uncle?"

"I must say I cannot see the necessity of his taking such terrible
risks, when your help, although very welcome, was not so all important
that our lives depended on it. Inasmuch as all of you were safely on
the outside, where Jo Stinger tried so hard to get, it would have been
the wiser plan, in my opinion, for you to have made all haste to Wild
Oaks: the distance is not so great that you could not have brought
help to us within two or three days."

"That is just the way I put the case to Deerfoot; but he insisted that
the first thing to be done was to place us inside the block-house, and
nothing could change his view. He knows so much more about such things
than we, that I could not refuse to do as he wished."

"He may have had reasons which he has not made known, for he is an
extraordinary Indian, although still a boy."

"That arrow which came through the window was a surprise, was it not?"

"A very great one: no one had any thought that it was anything other
than a hostile one. I supposed it was intended to set fire to the
building."

"Did you see it coming?"

"None of us saw it; but the thud it made, when it struck, told us its
nature, and I went down to find out whether it was likely to do any
damage. The moment my eyes rested on it, I noticed the paper tied
around the shaft: that told the story, of course, and soon every one
within knew the message. Well, you were not long in getting the signal
you asked for, and you know the rest. That was a wonderful shot of the
young Shawanoe."

"And would you believe, Uncle, that he told me after making it, that,
if he had missed sending the arrow through the window, it would have
been the death of all three of us."

"In what way?"

"The Wyandots would have found it and would have been quick to learn
what it meant: then, as he said, we were in such a position that we
could not get away from them."

"I have no doubt he spoke the truth, which shows what a fearful risk
he ran; but he must have had great confidence in his ability to use
his bow."

"And he has good reason for his confidence, as he has proven more than
once; but, in spite of all his skill, I cannot help feeling that he
has put himself in a trap from which he cannot free himself. Because
the Wyandots have surrounded the block-house, and because some of them
are always watching it, they must have seen the flight of the shaft
through the air."

"If they did, they could not have known its errand."

"No, but they would recall that none of them use the bow except to
shoot burning arrows, and they would be apt to suspect something was
wrong."

"They often use such things to set fire to buildings."

"But this was not one, as they could have seen with but a single
glance; and, had it been, they would have known all about it, if it
was discharged by one of their own party."

"Ned," said Colonel Preston, "I have been talking against my own
convictions, just to see what you thought about it: I agree with you.
Subtle as the Shawanoe is, beyond any of his years, he has done a
thing for which I cannot see the reason, and I believe he has placed
himself in peril that admits of no escape. If such proves to be the
case, he has also deprived himself of the opportunity to do us the
great service we need."

"'Scuse me," interrupted Blossom Brown, who had been showing
uneasiness for several minutes, and who was now snuffing the air in a
suggestive way; "I tinks I smell corn bread, and I haben't dined dis
mornin' yet."



CHAPTER X.

FLAMING MESSENGERS.


Mrs. Preston laughed and asked the boys to pardon her for having
forgotten, in the excitement of the occasion, the duty of hospitality.
The morning meal had been furnished the others, and she now gave her
nephew and Blossom Brown the best she could prepare.

The two were ahungered and ate heartily. It was a striking commentary
on the perils of the life of the early settlers that, while they were
thus engaged, the sound of the rifles was heard, as they were fired
from the upper story, in answer to the shots from the Wyandots.

But we can become accustomed to almost any danger, and the appetites
of the re-enforcements were not affected by what was going on around
them. The windows on the first floor admitted several bullets from the
guns of the dusky marksmen, but every person was careful to keep out
of range. When the meal was finished, all climbed the ladder to the
second story, where the boys were welcomed by the men who stood at the
loopholes with their smoking guns in their hands.

There was more security there, because the openings through which the
leaden balls could enter were much smaller; but, as evidence of the
marksmanship of their enemies, Jo Stinger informed them that three
bullets had struck the interior walls, one of which actually came
along the barrel of a gun, narrowly missing Megill who was in the act
of thrusting it forth.

"That is well for the Wyandots," said the Colonel, "but have you done
anything to teach them that the skill is not all on their side?"

"We suspect we have: Jim caught sight of a warrior creeping along for
a position behind the cabin yonder, and when he fired, the fellow
acted as though something struck him."

"And have not _you_, the best marksman in the company, succeeded in
doing as well as he?"

"He has done better," replied Turner; "for one of the rascals in the
cabin out there had the impudence to thrust forth his painted face in
plain sight; and when Jo drew bead on him and fired, he dropped out
of view and has not been seen since."

"I hope it was the one who flung his tomahawk at me, and which is
still sticking in the door," said Ned Preston.

"It couldn't have been," said the hunter, with an expressive shrug,
"for if it had been, I would have missed him. I never made such a mess
in all my life as I did a while ago."

"Accidents will happen," laughed the Colonel; "and we have every
reason to congratulate ourselves that no one has been harmed, though
we have been exposed to great danger. It was a most providential thing
that I learned of the coming of the war party, before they were ready
for the attack."

"Have you any idea of the number in the woods?" asked Jo Stinger.

"My nephew Ned tells me that Deerfoot the Shawanoe, who ought to be
the best authority, says there are certainly fifty, for he saw nearly
that many, and he thinks it more than likely there are twice that
number."

"I have no doubt there are all of a hundred," observed Jo Stinger,
"judging from the way they sent in the shots a few minutes ago; but
they have stopped, because they must see that nothing can be gained by
such wild firing."

The hunter was right in his last remark, the stillness being as
profound as if no living person was within miles of them.

Colonel Preston told all that had been learned through his nephew of
the doings of Deerfoot the Shawanoe.

"He has put himself in a bad fix," said Stinger, with another shake of
the head: "I know he is one of the cutest varmints in the wilds of
Kentucky, but there are some things which he can't do, and I believe
he has undertook one of 'em now."

"I am afraid so, but I hope not."

"There has been something going on out there by the Licking, where
that arrow of his came from, and, if I ain't mistook, it means they
have dropped down on him this time."

Ned Preston heard these words with a pang, for the death or suffering
of the Shawanoe youth would have been an affliction to him like the
loss of a brother. There was that unswerving loyalty, self-sacrificing
friendship, and astonishing woodcraft which go to make up the ideal
American Indian, and which, though rarely encountered in these later
days, still actually existed a century or more ago, as it does now
among the aboriginal inhabitants of our country. Not often was it
seen, but there are historical facts which attest the truth of such
characters belonging to the Algonquin family of red men.

"It looks to me as if Heaven raised up Deerfoot to be such a friend to
the white people, as Pocahontas was during the early New England
settlements."

Such was the thought that had come to Ned Preston more than once and
which thought was the echo of the one uttered by his father months
before. The lad did not repeat the words now, but the expression of
pain which crossed his face, told his anguish more impressively than
the words themselves could have done.

Without making reply, the youth stepped to one of the loopholes on the
western side of the block-house and looked out toward the river,
fixing his gaze on the point where he had parted company with the
Indian youth.

Everything was as quiet as at "creation's morn." The glimmer of the
flowing Licking, the dim, solemn woods, the unsightly stumps on the
clearing, the blue sky above and beyond--all these wore the peaceful
look they wore when no peril threatened the diminutive settlement.

Only one figure--that of the Wyandot warrior, stark and stiff in the
sunlight--spoke of the dreadful scenes that had been enacted on that
spot such a brief while before.

Ned scrutinized the little clump of bushes which had sheltered the
young Shawanoe, when making his marvelous shot with his bow and arrow,
but not the first sign of life was visible.

"I don't know whether to take heart from that or not," said the lad to
himself; "for, if they had captured Deerfoot, I should think they
would make some display over it, so as to impress us."

"If they got the young redskin," observed Jo Stinger, standing at the
elbow of Ned, "it wouldn't have been _there_; that varmint would have
made a fight, and he would have given them a good run before they
brought him down."

Ned Preston felt the force of this declaration, but he stood silent
several minutes longer, still watching the bushes with a weak hope
that they would give some sign that would bid him take heart.

But he was disappointed, and, withdrawing his gaze, he looked at the
well which stood very near the middle of the square within the
stockade.

"Uncle," said Ned, addressing his relative without regard to his
military title, "I heard you tell father that you meant to dig a well
inside the block-house, so the Indians could not cut off the water."

"I did intend to do so, and it ought to have been done long ago, but
you know that men, like boys, are apt to put off till to-morrow that
which should be done to-day."

"The Wyandots can destroy that well any night, or they can tear away
some of the stockades so as to shoot any one who goes near it."

"That is self-evident, I am sorry to say."

"You have a barrel of water in the house?"

"Yes, an abundance for every purpose, excepting----"

The Colonel hesitated and smiled: all knew what he meant. The most
dangerous enemy they had to fear, was the very one against which no
efficient provision had been made.

When the block-house was erected, and for a considerable time after,
it was practically fire-proof, from the greenness of its timbers. The
hewn logs, plastered between with dried clay, could not be easily
ignited under the most favorable circumstances, if thoroughly seasoned
by the elements; but, when they contained an abundance of sap, there
was nothing to fear from such cause.

It was somewhat the same with the slabs which composed the roof. They
were green at first, but they had been baked for months and years, and
a dry summer had not been long ended, so that they were in reality in
a very combustible state. Such solid pieces of oak do not take a flame
readily, but, to say the least, there were grounds for grave anxiety.

Colonel Preston reproached himself more than did any of his friends,
for this neglect, but it must be borne in mind that the peril was one
which threatened almost every such station on the frontier during the
early days, and it was one which the hardy pioneers had learned to
combat, with a success that often defeated the most daring assailants.

As no immediate attack was feared, the occupants of the block-house
disposed themselves as fancy prompted. Blossom Brown stretched out on
a blanket in a corner and was soon sound asleep. Megill and Turner did
the same, the others occupied seats, with the exception of Mrs.
Preston, who, like a good housewife, moved hither and thither, making
preparations for the noon-day meal of the garrison, while she kept her
children under her eye and made sure they did not wander into
dangerous portions of the building.

Ned Preston played with the little girls, told them stories and taught
them numerous games of which they had never heard, and which he had
picked up for their benefit.

Now and then he walked around the four sides of the room, looking
carefully through the loopholes and exchanging theories with his
uncle, who employed himself in much the same manner.

Thus the time wore on until the day was half gone. The sky was clearer
than twenty-four hours before, and the sun was visible most of the
time, but the air was crisp and wintry, and the slight warmth from the
fire on the hearth down-stairs was pleasant to those who could feel
the grateful glow.

Hours passed without any noticeable change. At noontime, there was a
general awaking, yawning, and stretching of limbs, accompanied by
peeps through the loopholes and an expression of views respecting the
situation. Mrs. Preston passed the dinner to each, and they ate,
sitting on chairs and the bench, drinking sparingly from the water
that had been collected against such an emergency.

Most of the company were in good spirits, for the siege had not
continued long enough for them to feel its irksomeness, nor had the
demonstrations assumed a character to cause real uneasiness and
misgiving of the issue.

After dinner, Colonel Preston and his nephew secured two hours' sleep,
but both were too much concerned to remain unconscious as long as did
the others.

When Ned recovered himself, he walked straight to the southern side of
the room and peered through one of the openings. This gave him a view
of the two cabins, deserted the day before by the pioneers who had
occupied them so long.

He saw nothing alarming on or about these structures, but all at once
something arrested his eye, just beyond the first cabin and on the
edge of the forest. At first, he could not conjecture what it meant,
but as he looked steadily, he observed that it was a smoking point,
showing that an object was burning, although Ned was far from
suspecting its real nature.

Once or twice, he fancied he saw a person moving directly behind it;
but if such were the fact, the individual kept himself well hidden.

Suddenly a tuft of smoke and a fiery point were seen to rise swiftly
in the air, and, curving over in a beautiful parabola, descend toward
the roof of the block-house. A moment after it struck with a quick
thud and then slid down the steep incline to the ground.

Although the burning shaft was intended to stick fast and communicate
fire to the dry roof, it did not do so, but fell harmlessly to the
earth, where it lay smoking and burning directly under the eyes of the
startled garrison who looked down on it.

"I expected it," quietly remarked Colonel Preston, after surveying the
burning missile.

"There will be plenty of fireworks to-night," added Jo Stinger, "for
that's a fav'rit style with the varmints."

This new demonstration had the effect of driving all the garrison to
the loopholes, Blossom Brown being among the most anxious to watch the
actions of the Wyandots.

Even Mrs. Preston looked through the narrow openings with as much
interest as did any of them, while little Mary and Susie must needs be
given a peep at their familiar surroundings.

The red men having discharged one fiery arrow, waited a long time
before repeating the demonstration. As it was deemed likely that the
next missile would be sent from another point, a watch was maintained
on every side of the block-house.

"_Hello, here she come agin!_"

It was Jo Stinger who uttered the exclamation, and he was facing the
Licking river. There was a general rush across the room to gain a view
of the flaming shaft, but before it could be done, it struck the roof
above, held a minute, and then, as if its grip was burned away, it was
distinctly heard as it fell over and slowly slid down the planks and
dropped to the ground, as did the first one.

"If they do that every time," said Ned Preston, "they won't cause us
much harm."

"I don't like it," replied the Colonel; "it kept its place too long on
the roof."

"Not long enough to do any damage."

"I am not so sure: I must see."

Drawing a chair beneath the trap-door, he stepped on it and cautiously
raised the planks a few inches. This permitted a view of all the roof
on that side. He observed a scorched spot within reach of his hand,
but there was no evidence of injury from the flaming arrow which
struck and held a brief time.

The trap was closed again, and the Colonel stepped down from the
chair. All looked expectantly at him, but beyond telling what he had
seen, he said nothing.

The interest of the garrison was such that they kept their places at
the loopholes, through which they scrutinized the clearing, the cabins
and the woods beyond, watchful to detect the first evidence of what
their enemies were doing.

This close attention caused the autumn afternoon to seem much longer
than it really was, but nothing more took place to give the defenders
any uneasiness. They saw the shades of night once more closing about
them, while they were environed so closely on every hand by the
vengeful Wyandots, that flight for any one was utterly out of the
question.

"Wait till night comes," said Jo Stinger meaningly; "then you will
hear music and see sights!"

Every one knew what the old scout meant by his quaint language, and
every one believed he spoke the truth, as in fact he did.



CHAPTER XI.

IN GREAT PERIL.


Deerfoot the Shawanoe had drawn his arrow to the head and was in the
very act of launching it at the Wyandot who was advancing on Ned
Preston, when he saw that it was unnecessary.

The puff of blue smoke from one of the portholes, the whiplike crack
of the Kentuckian's rifle, the death-shriek of the warrior, as he
staggered back and dropped to the earth, told the startling story too
plainly to be mistaken.

With the faintest possible sigh, the dusky youth relaxed the tension
on the string, but he still leaned forward and peered through the
bushes, for the danger was not yet past. He more than suspected the
needle-pointed shaft would have to be sent after the second Indian who
pressed the lad so close; but, as the reader knows, Ned Preston darted
through the entrance in the very nick of time, just escaping the
tomahawk which whizzed over his head and buried itself half way to
the head in the solid puncheon slabs of the door.

"Deerfoot thanks the Great Spirit of the white men," the Indian youth
muttered, looking reverently upward, "that his brother, whom he loves
more than his own life, is unharmed."

The young Shawanoe felt that no time was to be lost in attending to
his own safety. More than likely some one of the Wyandots had caught
sight of the arrow, as it sailed through the air, with its important
message, and the meeting of the previous day told him he was regarded
with suspicion already.

He saw no Indians near him and he cautiously retreated in the
direction of the river, which flowed only a short distance from him.
The bushes and undergrowth, although they had lost most of their
leaves, served him well as a screen, and, when he had advanced three
or four rods to the northward, he began to feel more hopeful, though,
it need scarcely be said, he did not relax his extraordinary caution
in the least.

His purpose was to follow the river bank, until he had passed beyond
the surrounding Wyandots, after which it would be an easy matter to
make his way to Wild Oaks, with the news of the sore extremity of the
block-house. It was reasonable to believe that Waughtauk and his
warriors would guard every point much more closely than the Licking
directly in front of the station, for the one hundred yards of open
clearing made it impossible for any person to approach or leave the
building in the daytime, without exposing himself to a raking fire,
before reaching a point as close as that attained by Ned Preston and
Blossom Brown, when they were checked by the two warriors.

Deerfoot, therefore, was warranted in thinking he had selected the
least guarded point, though he could not be sure of success, after the
discharge of the arrow through the narrow window.

The few rods were passed as noiselessly as the hand of the clock
creeps over its face, when the Shawanoe became aware that he was close
to several Wyandots. He had not seen them, but that strange subtlety,
or intuition, which in some human beings seems like a sixth sense,
told him of the fact.

He immediately sank flat on his face, and, by an imperceptible effort,
continued to advance toward the warriors, at a much slower rate than
before. Ten feet were passed in this guarded fashion, when he stopped:
he had learned enough.

Between himself and the top of the bank, where it was level with the
clearing, was less than twelve feet. This space sloped irregularly
downward to the edge of the stream, and it was covered in many places
by a rank undergrowth, which, when bearing leaves, would have been an
effectual screen for an Indian or wild animal.

Besides this scraggly vegetation, there were logs, limbs and debris of
freshets that had been brought down the river and had collected along
the shores. This will explain why it was that such extreme caution was
required on the part of any one who sought to avoid detection.

When Deerfoot stopped, he was at a point from which he saw three
Wyandots, each with a gun in his hand, gazing over the clearing in the
direction of the block-house. They seemed to be intently occupied, but
no living person could pass between them and the river, which almost
touched the feet of one, without discovery.

It was utterly useless to look for escape in that direction, and
without a minute's pause, the young Shawanoe worked his way back to
where he was standing when he used his bow, wondering as he did so,
why the twang of the string had not caught the ears of the Wyandots so
near him.

He now turned about, so as to face up stream, and tried what might be
called the only recourse left. If he was shut off in that direction,
he was in the worst dilemma of his life.

An almost incredible experience awaited him, for at about the same
distance as before, he discovered he was near others of his enemies,
as he was compelled to regard the Wyandots. Rather curiously, when he
advanced far enough to look through the bushes, he once more discerned
three of them.

They were bestowing most of their attention on the block-house, and
one of them discharged his gun toward it, their friends further down
the river doing the same.

Deerfoot was somewhat closer to them than to the others, for
fortunately he found a partly decayed log, lying directly across his
path, and he used this as a partial screen, though by doing so, he
increased the difficulty of his withdrawal, should it suddenly become
necessary.

The young Shawanoe had scarcely secured the position, when the
warriors began talking in their own tongue, which was as familiar to
Deerfoot as his own.

He was so close that he did not lose a single word of the
conversation, which, as may be suspected, was of no little interest to
himself.

"The pale-face is a brave youth, and he runs like Deerfoot, the son of
the Shawanoe chieftain Allomaug."

"The Long Knives flee, when the Wyandots leave their villages and hunt
for them."

"The Yenghese are not brave," said the third warrior, who had just
fired his gun, and who used another term by which the Caucasian was
distinguished from his copper-hued brother; "they run like the
rabbits, when the hunter drives them from cover; they fled into the
strong lodge, when they saw the shadow of Waughtauk coming from the
north."

"They will hide behind the logs till their brothers along the Ohio can
haste to help them," observed the first speaker, who seemed to be the
pessimist of the party; "their lodge is strong, and the Wyandot braves
cannot break it down."

Deerfoot, from his concealment, saw the painted face of the other
warrior, as it was turned indignantly on the croaker.

"My brother talks like the squaw who thinks the voice of the wind,
when it blows among the trees at night, is that of the panther and
bear that are pushing their noses under her lodge to turn it over; has
Arawa no heart, that he speaks so like a squaw that is ill?"

Arawa seemed to feel somewhat ashamed of himself and made no reply: he
would doubtless have been glad if the drift of the conversation should
change, but as his companions showed no eagerness to change it, he
launched out boldly himself:

"Why did we not shoot the pale-face youth and him with the color of
the night, when they hastened across the open ground? It was ours to
do so."

"We thought there was no escape for them, and there would not be in
many moons should they run again."

"But they cannot save the Yenghese dogs, for the strong lodge shall be
burned down before the sun shows itself again in the east," observed
the optimist.

"Many moons ago, when the face of the sun was all fire, we tried to
burn the strong lodge, but the flame ran away from us and it will do
so many times more."

This was Arawa the pessimist, croaking once more, and the others
scowled so fiercely upon him, that they seemed on the point of
offering violence with a view of modifying his views; but, if so, they
changed their minds, and one of them tendered some information:

"The sun and the winds and the moon have made the roof of the strong
lodge like the wood with which Arawa makes the fire in his wigwam; it
is not as it was many moons ago."

Arawa seemed on the point of opening his mouth to say that, while the
moon and the winds and the sun had been engaged in the drying out
process, the snows and storms and tempests had been taking part; but
if such was his intention, he changed his mind and made a remark of
still more vital interest to the cowen near the log.

"The pale-face dogs, and he with the countenance of the night, must
have had the serpent-tongued Deerfoot to help them."

This startling statement seemed to be endorsed by the other two, one
of whom said--

"Arawa speaks the truth."

"Arawa reads what he sees aright," added the other, while Deerfoot
himself felt that all three had hit the nail on the head with
astonishing accuracy.

"Deerfoot of the Shawanoes is a dog," observed one of the warriors,
"and he shall die the death of a dog."

The individual referred to was rather relieved to hear this
declaration, because in order to inflict the death of a dog on him, it
would be necessary first to catch him--a condition which implied that
the Wyandots would make every effort to take him prisoner, instead of
shooting him on sight, as they often did with others.

Where such a strong attempt should be made, it gave the young friend
of the white men a much greater chance of eluding his foes.

The Wyandots, while grouped together and occasionally firing a gun at
the block-house, continued their derogatory remarks about the young
Shawanoe, who did not lose a word. He could see them distinctly: one
had his back toward him most of the time, but he turned now and then
so that his profile was visible. The lynx eyes of the youth noticed
the flaming red, which was daubed over his face, crossed with
zebra-like streaks of black, with circles on the forehead and
promiscuous dots here and there; the irregular nose, the bridge of
which had been broken, and the retreating chin,--all of which rendered
this particular Wyandot as ugly of countenance as the imagination can
picture.

The others, however, were not much improvement as respects looks: one
had a projecting underchin, the other a very broad face, and the three
were anything but pleasing in appearance.

Stealthily studying them, Deerfoot knew that, like all the other
warriors surrounding the block-house, they were his deadly enemies,
and would leave no effort untried to capture him the moment they
became aware of his presence.

But to escape, it was necessary to pass beyond them, and desperate as
was the chance, Deerfoot saw a faint hope of success, enough to lead
him to make the attempt.

The Wyandots were further up the bank than were the others, and there
was more vegetation and shrubbery there than lower down stream; but,
for all that, the chance was a forlorn one indeed.

Deerfoot relied mainly on the fact that the interest of the warriors
was absorbed in the block-house itself: if they should continue to
give it their whole attention, he might be able to move by them
undiscovered.

More than once, he had scrutinized the Licking, but with no
encouraging result. Had it been very deep close to the bank, he would
have wished no more favorable conditions. He could swim a long
distance under water and dive so far as to elude almost any kind of
pursuit.

But the stream was too shallow to be of any use in that respect, and
he would have been forced to wade a long way before finding a
sufficient depth to benefit him.

Whether he would have succeeded in flanking the Wyandots, had
everything remained as it was, is an open question, for the conditions
were overwhelmingly against him. But an obstacle appeared of which not
even the acute-minded Shawanoe dreamed.

At the very moment he began moving from behind the rotten log, with a
view of pushing beyond, his trained ear caught a faint rattling noise,
like the whirr of a locust. He knew that it was the warning of a
rattlesnake which he had disturbed by his slight change of position.

Singularly enough it was below the log and close to the water: it must
have been moving toward the side where the Shawanoe was hiding, when
it discovered him. It instantly began drawing itself rapidly in coil
and prepared to strike its enemy.

Deerfoot saw that it was at just the right distance to bury its fangs
in his face. He made the quickest retreat of his life. He did not
become panic-stricken, but slid back several feet, so silently that he
made less noise than did the _crotalus_ itself, which was not heard by
the Wyandots, who were so much interested in the block-house and its
immediate surroundings.

The action of the young Indian seemed to surprise the serpent, which
found its prey beyond reach at the moment it was ready to launch its
needle-pointed fangs into his body. With the tail slightly elevated,
the snake continued vibrating it slowly and giving forth a sound like
the faint chirping of crickets.

Deerfoot extracted a single arrow from his quiver, and, while lying on
his face, supported on his right elbow, drew back the missile as
though it was a javelin which he was about to cast at an enemy.

The distance was short, and he knew what he could do. Like a flash his
left hand shot forward, and the flint of the arrow went directly
through the narrow portion of the rattlesnake's body, a few inches
below its head. So powerful was the throw that the upper portion was
carried backward and pinned to the earth.

The _crotalus_ species is so easily killed that a slight blow is
sufficient to render it helpless. The arrow, which had transfixed the
serpent in front of Deerfoot, destroyed the reptile so suddenly that
it made only a few furious whippings, when it was dead.

The youth felt not the slightest fear of the reptile, but he dreaded
lest its threshings should attract the notice of the Wyandots, whom he
furtively watched, until the rattlesnake lay still.

One of the warriors did look around, as though he heard something
unusual, but he seemed satisfied with a mere glance, and, turning
back, sighted his gun at the block-house and threw away a charge, as
so many of his people were doing around him.

"Now is my chance," thought Deerfoot, as he once more began his
stealthy, shadow-like creeping around the decayed log, from behind
which had glided the venomous serpent that confronted him.

The dead reptile still lay in his path, and Deerfoot reached his bow
forward, thrust one end under it and flung it aside, for he shared the
sentiments of the great generality of mankind, who look upon all
ophidians as the most detestable plagues which encumber the earth.



CHAPTER XII.

"BIRDS OF THE NIGHT."


The garrison within the block-house saw the November day draw to an
end, and the darkness of night closing in over river, forest and
clearing, with sad forebodings of what was to come before the rising
of the morrow's sun.

Colonel Preston and Jo Stinger agreed that the experiment with the
burning arrows had resulted more favorably to the Wyandots than to the
whites. The flaming missiles were undoubtedly launched as a test or
experiment. True, each one had fallen to the ground without inflicting
material damage, but one of them clung to its position so long as to
encourage the assailants to repeat the attempt.

"When the roof is stuck full of 'em," said Stinger, "and they're
p'inting upward like the quills of a porcupine, and every one of them
arrers is a camp-fire of itself, why then, look out,--that's all I've
got to say."

"I know of no reason why--hello! there's another!"

The speakers ran to the loopholes and looked out. Megill said it had
been fired from the cabin nearest them: he had noticed the wisp of
burning tow at the moment it sprang upward from the window. The archer
who dispatched it, kept himself out of view, Megill only catching
sight of his brawny hand, as he launched the flaming shaft.

This arrow was not heard to slide down the roof and fall to the ground
as did the others. It kept its place, and so profound was the
stillness within the block-house that every one distinctly heard the
crackling of the flames overhead.

More than one heart beat faster, as the friends looked at each other,
and more than one face blanched, when the full import of this ominous
occurrence became known.

Jo Stinger drew his chair beneath the trap-door and carefully lifted
the slabs a few inches. He saw the arrow, which had been fired with
astonishing accuracy, and which had been sent to such a height that it
descended almost perpendicularly, the flint-head sinking a full inch
in the dry wood.

This rapid sweep through air had fanned the twist of tow into a strong
blaze, and it was now burning vigorously. The flame was so hot indeed
that the shaft had caught fire, and it looked, at the first glance, as
though it would communicate with the roof itself.

This was hardly likely; though, as Stinger himself had declared, the
danger would be very imminent when a large number were burning at the
same time on different portions of the top of the building.

The pioneer extended the barrel of his rifle until he reached the
burning missile, when he knocked it loose by a smart blow. As before,
it slid down the steeply shelving roof and dropped, smoking, to the
ground, where it burned itself harmlessly away.

The expectation was general on the part of the garrison that a shower
of burning arrows would now be sent from every portion of the wood.
The suspense was great, but, to the surprise of all, the minutes
passed without any demonstration of the kind.

The night, like the preceding one, was chilly and crisp, but it was
clearer. A gibbous moon shone from the sky, save when the straggling
clouds drifted across its face, and sent grotesque shadows gliding
along the clearing and over the block-house and woods. A dozen black
specks, almost in the shape of the letter Y, suddenly passed over the
moon, and the honking cry which sounded high up in air, showed they
were wild geese flying southward.

As the minutes wore on without any molestation from the Wyandots, Mrs.
Preston went down the ladder and started the smouldering embers into
life. This was not for the purpose of cooking, for enough of that was
done at noon, and the rations had already been distributed; but it was
with a view of adding to the comfort of those above, by giving them a
little warmth.

She took care to keep out of the range of any lurking red men who
might steal up and fire through the windows on the opposite side, the
only spot from which a shot could reach her; but to attain the point
of firing, an Indian would have been forced to scale the stockade, and
none of them as yet had attempted that.

Ned Preston stooped at the loophole, looking out over the clearing
toward the Licking, from which he and Blossom Brown had made such a
daring run for life and liberty. Out in the darkness beyond, he had
parted from Deerfoot the Shawanoe, the Indian youth who was so deeply
attached to him. Ned more than suspected his friend had given up his
life for his sake. Placed, as was Deerfoot, there seemed to be no
possibility of his eluding the Wyandots, who looked upon him as the
worst of traitors that encumbered the earth.

"He asked me about the Great Spirit of the white man," thought Ned
Preston, as he recalled that conversation over the letter which was
tied to the arrow sent through the window; "and I promised I would
tell him something: I feel as though I had not done my duty."

The lad was thoughtful a moment, oppressed by the remorse which comes
to us when we feel we have thrown away an opportunity that may never
return; but he soon rallied, as he remembered the words so often
spoken by his good mother.

"God knows all hearts and he judges us aright: if Deerfoot was groping
after our Great Spirit, he found him before he died, for God is so
good and kind that he has gone to him, but O how glad I would be, if
I could only believe Deerfoot had got away, and that I shall see him
again!"

Ned Preston was roused from these gloomy reflections by the discovery
that something was going on in front of him, though for some time he
could not divine its character.

The uncertain light of the moon annoyed him, and prevented his
learning what would have been quickly detected by Jo Stinger.

When the moon shone with unobstructed light, Ned could follow the
outlines of the Wyandot warrior stretched out in death on the clearing
in front: when the clouds drifted over its face, everything was
swallowed in darkness.

In the mood of young Preston, a person sometimes shows a singular
disposition to observe trifling details and incidents. On almost any
other occasion he would not have noticed that the body of the Wyandot
lay in such a position that the head was within an arm's length of a
stump, while the feet was about the same distance from another.

At the moment of deepest mental depression, the boy noted this, and he
muttered to himself, during the succeeding minutes, until the moon
came out again from behind the clouds. Just then he was looking toward
the prostrate figure, and he observed that it had shifted its
position.

The head was within a few inches of a stump, while the feet were
correspondingly removed from the other. The difference was so marked
that there was no room for self-deception in the matter.

"It must be he is alive!" was the thought of Ned, "and has been
feigning death all these hours."

He was on the point of calling to his uncle, when he reflected that no
mercy was likely to be shown the warrior, in case he was only wounded.
Ned felt a sympathy for the poor wretch, and, though he had been his
most merciless enemy, the boy resolved that he would do nothing to
obstruct his final escape.

He now centered his gaze on the figure and watched it with deep
interest. So long as the flood of moonlight rested on it, it remained
as motionless as the stumps near it; but at the end of ten minutes a
thick cloud sailed slowly by the orb, obscuring its light only a few
minutes.

As soon as all was clear, Ned exclaimed--

"_He's moved again!_"

"That's so, but he had help."

It was Jo Stinger who stood at the elbow of Ned, looking through the
adjoining loophole. The boy turned to the scout, and said in an
entreating voice--

"Don't shoot him, Jo; give the poor fellow a chance!"

Jo laughed--

"I don't waste ammunition on dead men: that varmint has been as dead
as Julius Cæsar ever since he was shot."

"But how does he manage to move himself then?"

"Bless your soul, he doesn't do it: there's a Wyandot behind that
stump at his head, and he's taking a hitch at him whenever the moon
gives him a show."

Ned Preston was astonished, for the truth had never occurred to him.
Jo added--

"I've catched a glimpse of him once or twice, as he darted from one
stump to another. He came from the river bank, and I could have picked
him off, but I knowed what he's arter, and it's a principle with the
Colonel and me, never to interfere with the varmints when they want to
bury their dead."

Ned Preston was greatly relieved to hear this, but the two said
nothing to the others, through fear that Megill or Turner would not be
so considerate of the wishes of the Colonel, whose authority over them
was more nominal than actual.

The Wyandot who had taken on himself the duty of carrying away the
body of his fallen companion, seemed to acquire confidence from his
success. While Ned and Stinger were watching his movements, and while
the moon shone with unobstructed light, they saw the body drawn
entirely behind the stump, where, after some maneuvering, the warrior
partly straightened up, holding the burden over his shoulders and
back.

Then he sped with surprising quickness for the river bank, down which
he vanished with the load.

His work was done, and the deliverer doubtless believed he had
outwitted the whites, who could have shot him without difficulty as he
ran.

Colonel Preston, and indeed all the garrison, were constantly
expecting the shower of burning arrows, and, because they were
delayed, no one dared hope the Wyandots had given over the intention
of burning them out of their refuge.

When Ned grew weary of scanning the clearing with its uncertain light,
he walked to the northern side of the room which commanded a view of
one portion of the stockade.

Before doing so, he turned to converse a few minutes with his uncle
and aunt. There was no light burning in the upper story, for the
reason that it was likely to serve as a guide to some of the Indian
marksmen who might steal up near enough to fire through the loopholes.

The children had lain down in the corner, where, after saying their
prayers, they were sleeping the sweet refreshing sleep of innocency
and childhood.

"Their mother is pretty well worn out," said the Colonel, "and I have
persuaded her to take a little rest while the opportunity is hers."

"I am glad of that, but there is no telling when she will be
awakened----"

"Hello! there's more mischief!"

The exclamation was recognized as that of Jo Stinger, who had also
shifted his position to the northern side. Colonel Preston and his
nephew instantly hastened to the loopholes and looked out in the
gloom, which just then was at its deepest, as a mass of clouds were
gradually gliding before the moon, which could be seen only very
faintly, when some of the torn edges allowed its rays to steal
through.

"What is it, Jo?" asked the Colonel, rifle in hand.

"About a minute ago, I seen the heads of two of the varmints; I
oughtn't to have hollered as I did, but I was sort of took off my
guard, as you may say."

"Where were they?"

"Out yonder on the stockade; I make no doubt they're climbing over."

"Give them a shot the moment you get the chance."

"You may be sure I will," replied Jo, who was just able to catch a
glimpse of the moon, which seemed to be struggling to free itself from
the clouds that were smothering it.

Colonel Preston and Ned also shoved their guns through the loopholes,
so as to be ready to fire the instant the opportunity offered.

Jo had indicated the exact place, so that their gaze was turned to the
right point. The Wyandots were not forgetful of the uncertain light
which alternately favored and opposed them. When, therefore, the eyes
were directed toward the proper point, nothing was seen but the
sharply pointed pickets pointing upward, and which looked as difficult
to scale as the spiked fences of modern days.

"They're there," whispered Jo, "and when you see a head, blaze away at
it."

The words were yet in his mouth, when the outlines of a tufted crown
appeared above the stockade, where the Wyandot paused, as if peeping
over. Then a second was outlined at his elbow, the two remaining
stationary a full minute.

"Don't shoot just yet," whispered Stinger.

Ned wondered why the delay was suggested, after his previous
instruction; but, a moment after, the two Wyandots, no doubt with the
assistance of others, suddenly rose higher, so that their shoulders
and bodies were dimly seen. They were climbing over the stockade.

"_Now!_" said Jo Stinger.

All three fired, and the red men instantly vanished. It was almost
impossible to take fair aim, but it looked as if the warriors had been
"hit hard."

"We dropped them," said Ned, with some excitement.

"Yes, but they dropped themselves; they're inside the stockade."

"What harm can two of them do, if they _are_ there?" asked Colonel
Preston, quite hopeful that they had slain the Indians.

"There are a half dozen of the varmints at least inside," was the
disquieting statement of Stinger.

"We ought to be able to see them," observed Colonel Preston, looking
searchingly at the spot where the two were discovered.

"When they stand still, you can't see 'em; but when they stir around,
you can just make 'em out."

The reason why the Wyandots had selected this side of the stockade,
was now apparent. The position of the moon in the heavens was such
that the pickets threw a wall of shadow several feet within the
square. When the warriors dropped to the ground, they were in such
gloom that it was almost impossible to see them, except when they
moved away from the fence.

All this being true, it still was not easy to divine their purpose in
climbing the pickets. So long as they remained within the square, they
were in range of the Kentuckians' rifles as much as though on the
clearing in front.



CHAPTER XIII.

SHADOWY VISITORS.


When the eye gazes steadily at the Pleiades, in the midnight splendor
of the starlit sky, one of the blazing orbs shrinks modestly from view
and only six remain to be admired by the wondering gazer below: it is
the quick, casual glance that catches the brilliant sister unawares,
before she can hide her face.

So, when the pioneers within the block-house looked intently at the
stockade, they saw nothing but the wall of shadow and the outline of
the sharp pickets above; but, as their vision flitted along the front,
they caught the faint suggestions of the figures of men standing erect
and doubtless intently watching the block-house, from which the rifles
of the Kentuckians had flashed but a short time before.

Whenever the moon's light was obscured, nothing but blank darkness met
the eye, the line of stockades themselves vanishing from sight. Once
one of the warriors moved a few steps to the left, and Jo Stinger and
Ned Preston detected it.

"Why not try another shot?" asked the Colonel, when the matter was
referred to.

"It is too much guess-work: nobody can take any sort of aim, when it
is so dark in the block-house."

"I wonder what their purpose can be," muttered the Colonel, speaking
as much to himself as to those near him.

"I knows what it am," said Blossom Brown, who had been drawn to the
spot by the firing and the words he had overheard.

"You do, eh?" remarked the Colonel, looking toward him in the
darkness; "what is it?"

"Dey're comin' to steal de well."

"What will they do with it, after they steal it?"

"Take it off in de woods and hide it, I s'pose."

"They won't have any trouble in preventing _us_ from stealing
it,--that is certain," observed the Colonel, bitterly.

"Why can't we dig the well inside the block-house, as you intended?"
asked Ned; "there are shovels, spades and picks, and I don't suppose
it would take us a great while."

"If we are driven to it, we will make the attempt; but there is no
likelihood that we will have a chance. All our attention will be
required by the Indians."

"You can set Blossom to work if you wish to," said Ned Preston; "he is
good for little except to cut wood and dig. If he worked steadily for
two or three days, he might reach water."

Ned was in earnest with this proposition, and he volunteered to take
his turn with his servant and the others; but the scheme filled
Blossom with dismay.

"I neber dugged a well," he said, with a contemptuous sniff; "if I
should undertook it, de well would cave in on me, and den all you
folks would hab to stop fightin' de Injines and go to diggin' me out
agin."

Colonel Preston did not consider the project feasible just then, and
Blossom Brown was relieved from an anticipation which was anything but
pleasant.

Jo Stinger was attentively watching the stockade where the figures of
the Wyandot warriors were faintly seen. He was greatly mystified to
understand what their object could be in exposing themselves to such
risk, when, so far as he could judge, there was nothing to be gained
by so doing; but none knew better than did the veteran that, brave as
were these red men, they were not the ones to face a danger without
the reasonable certainty of acquiring some advantage over an enemy.

"I will risk a shot anyway," he thought; "for, though I can't make
much of an aim, there is a chance of doing something. As soon as the
moon comes out, I will see how the varmints will stand a bullet or
two."

So he waited "till the clouds rolled by," but, as he feared, the
straining eye could not catch the faintest suggestion of a warrior,
where several were visible only a short time before.

They had vanished as silently as the shadows of the clouds swept
across the clearing.

The action of the Indians in this respect was the cause of all kinds
of conjectures and theories, none of the garrison being able to offer
one that satisfied the others.

Megill believed it was a diversion intended to cover up some design in
another direction. He was sure that, when the Wyandots made a
demonstration, it would come from some other point altogether. He,
therefore, gave his attention mainly to the cabins and the clearing in
front.

Turner suspected they meant to destroy the well by filling it up, so
that it would be useless when the supply of water within the
block-house should become exhausted. Precisely how this filling up was
to be done, and wherein the necessity existed (since the Wyandots
could command the approaches to the water day and night), were beyond
the explanation of the settler.

Jo Stinger, the veteran of the company, scouted these theories, as he
did that of the Colonel that it was a mere reconnoissance, but he
would not venture any guess further than that the mischief was much
deeper than any believed, and that never was there more necessity of
the most unremitting vigilance.

Megill asserted that some scheme was brewing in the cabin from which
the two warriors emerged, when they sought to cut off the boys in
their run to the block-house. He had seen lights moving about, though
the ones who carried the torches took care not to expose themselves to
any shot from the station.

The silence lasted two hours longer without the slightest evidence
that a living person was within a mile of the block-house. During that
period, not a glimmer of a light could be detected in the cabin, there
was not a single burning arrow, nor did so much as a war-whoop or
signal pass the lips of one of the Wyandots.

The keen eyes of Jo Stinger and Ned Preston failed to catch a glimpse
of the shadowy figures at which they discharged their rifles, and
which caused them so much wonderment and speculation.

But the keen scrutiny that seized every favoring moment and roamed
along the lines of stockades, further than the ordinary eye could
follow, discovered a thing or two which were not without their
significance.

On the northern and eastern sides a number of pickets had been
removed, leaving several gaps wide enough to admit the passage of a
person. This required a great deal of hard work, for the pickets had
been driven deep into the earth and were well secured and braced from
the inside.

"They needed men on both sides of the stockade to do that," said
Colonel Preston, "and those whom we saw, climbed over, so as to give
assistance."

"That's the most sensible idee that's been put forward," replied Jo
Stinger, "and I shouldn't be s'prised if you was right; but somehow or
other----"

"By gracious! I smell smoke sure as yo's bo'n!"

Blossom Brown gave several vigorous sniffs before uttering this
alarming exclamation, but the words had no more than passed his lips,
when every man knew he spoke the truth.

There was smoke in the upper part of the block-house, and though it
could not be seen in the darkness, yet it was perceptible to the sense
of smell.

Consternation reigned for a few minutes among the garrison, and there
was hurrying to and fro in the effort to learn the cause of the
burning near them.

The most terrifying cry that can strike the ears of the sailor or
passenger at sea is that of fire, but no such person could hold the
cry in greater dread than did the garrison, shut in the block-house
and surrounded by fierce American Indians.

The first supposition of Colonel Preston was that it came from the
roof, and springing upon a chair, he shoved up the trap-doors, one
after the other, to a dangerously high extent. But whatever might have
happened to the other portions of the structure, the roof was
certainly intact.

The next natural belief was that it was caused by the fire on the
hearth in the lower story, and Colonel Preston and Blossom Brown made
all haste down the ladder. Blossom, indeed, was too hasty, for he
missed one of the rounds and went bumping and tumbling to the floor,
where he set up a terrific cry, to which no attention was paid amid
the general excitement.

"Here it is! Here's the fire!" suddenly shouted Ned Preston, in a
voice which instantly brought the others around him.

Ned had done that wise thing to which we have all been urged many a
time and oft: he had "followed his nose" to the north-east corner of
the block-house, where the vapor was so dense that he knew the cause
must be very near.

It so happened that this very nook was the least guarded of all.
Looking directly downward through the holes cut in the projecting
floor, his eyes smarted so much from the ascending vapor that he was
forced to rub them vigorously that he might be able to see.

He could detect nothing but smoke for a minute or so, and that, of
course, made itself manifest to the sense of smell and touch rather
than to that of sight; but he soon observed, directly beneath his
feet, the red glow of fire itself. Then it was he uttered the
startling cry, which awoke Mrs. Preston and brought the rest around
him.

Despite the care and skill with which the station had been guarded by
the garrison, all of whom possessed a certain experience in
frontier-life, the wily Wyandots had not only crept up to the
block-house itself without discovery, but they had brought sticks, had
piled them against the north-east corner, had set fire to them, and
had skulked away without being suspected by any one of the sentinels.

The fact seemed incredible, and yet there was the most convincing
evidence before or rather under their eyes. Jo Stinger gave utterance
to several emphatic expressions, as he made a dash for the barrel of
water, and he was entirely willing to admit that of all idiots who
had ever pretended to be a sensible man, he was the chief.

But the danger was averted without difficulty. Two pails of water were
carefully poured through the openings in the floor of the projecting
roof, and every spark of fire was extinguished.

The water added to the density of the vapor. It set all the inmates
coughing and caused considerable annoyance; but it soon passed away,
and, after a time, the air became comparatively pure again.

Megill complimented the cunning of the Wyandots, but Jo insisted that
they had shown no special skill at all: it was the utter stupidity of
himself and friends who had allowed such a thing to be done under
their very noses.

"And, if it hadn't been for that darkey there," said he, with all the
severity he could command, "we wouldn't have found it out till this
old place was burned down, and we was scootin' across the clearin'
with the varmints crackin' away at us."

"De gemman is right," assented Blossom, as he stopped rubbing the
bruises he received from tumbling through the ladder; "you'll find
dat it's allers me dat wokes folks up when de lightnin' am gwine to
strike somewhar 'bout yar."

"We won't deny you proper credit," said Colonel Preston, "though Jo is
a little wild in his statements----"

The unimportant remark of Colonel Preston was bisected by the sharp
report of Jo Stinger's rifle, followed on the instant by a piercing
shriek from some point near the block-house, within the stockade.

"I peppered him _that_ time!" exclaimed the veteran; "it's all well
enough to crawl into yer winder, gather all the furniture together and
set fire to it, and then creep out agin, but when it comes to stealin'
the flint and tinder out of your pocket to do it with, then I'm going
to get mad."

When the scout had regained something of his usual good nature, he
explained that he had scarcely turned to look out, when he actually
saw two of the Wyandots walking directly toward the heap of smoking
brush, as though they intended to renew the fire. The sight he
considered one of the grossest insults ever offered his intelligence,
and he fired, without waiting till some one could arrange to shoot the
second red man.

With a daring that was scarcely to be wondered at, the warrior who was
unhurt threw his arm about his smitten companion and hurried to one of
the openings in the stockade, through which he made his way.

This slight check would doubtless cause the red men to be more guarded
in their movements against the garrison.

"It has teached them," said the hunter, with something of his grim
humor, "that accidents may happen, and some of 'em mought get hurt if
they go to looking down the muzzles of our guns."

All noticed a rather curious change in the weather. The sky, which had
been quite clear early in the evening, was becoming overcast, and the
clouds hid the moon most of the time. It remained cold and chilly, and
more than one of the garrison wrapped a blanket around him, while
doing duty at the loopholes.

The cloudiness became so marked, after a brief while, that the view
was much shortened in every direction. Those at the front of the
block-house could not see the edge of the clearing, where the Licking
flowed calmly on its way to the Ohio. Those on the north saw first
the line of stockades dissolve into darkness, and then the well-curb
(consisting of a rickety crank and windlass), grew indistinct until
its outlines faded from sight.

The two cabins to the south loomed up in the gloom as the hulls of
ships are sometimes seen in the night-time at sea, but the blackness
was so profound, it became oppressive. Within the block-house, where
there was no light of any kind burning, it was like that of ancient
Egypt.

Colonel Preston could not avoid a certain nervousness over the attempt
of the Wyandots to fire the building, and, though it failed, he half
suspected it would be repeated.

He descended the ladder and made as careful an examination as
possible, but failed to find anything to add to his alarm and
misgiving. Everything seemed to be secure: the fastenings of the doors
were such that they might be considered almost as firm as the solid
logs themselves.

While he was thus engaged, he heard some one coming down the ladder.
"Who's there?" he asked in an undertone.

"It's Jo--don't be scart."

"I'm not scared; I only wanted to know who it is; what are you after?"

"I'm going out-doors, right among the varmints."

"What has put that idea in your head?"

"They've been playing their tricks on us long enough, and now I'm
going to show them that Jo Stinger knows a thing or two as well as
them."

Colonel Preston would have sought to dissuade the veteran from the
rash proceeding, had he not known that it was useless to do so.



CHAPTER XIV.

A MISHAP AND A SENTENCE.


Deerfoot the Shawanoe first pinned the rattlesnake to the earth with
the arrow which he threw with his deft left hand, then he flung the
reptile from his path and resumed his delicate and dangerous attempt
to creep past the three Wyandots who were lying against the hank of
the Licking, watching the block-house, now and then firing a shot at
the solid logs, as if to express their wishes respecting the occupants
of the building.

If the task was almost impossible at first, it soon became utterly so,
as the young Shawanoe was compelled to admit. The contour of the bank
was such that, after getting by the log, he would be compelled to
approach the warriors so close that he could touch them with his
outstretched hand. This would have answered at night, when they were
asleep, but he might as well have attempted to lift himself through
the air as to do it under the circumstances we have described.

Deerfoot never despaired nor gave up so long as he held space in which
to move. He immediately repeated the retrograde motion he had used
when confronted by the venomous serpent, his wish now being to return
to the spot from which he fired the arrow.

The ventures made satisfied him that he had but one chance in a
thousand of escaping capture and death. He could not move to the right
nor left: it would have been certain destruction to show himself on
the clearing, and equally fatal to attempt to use the shallow Licking
behind him.

There was a remote possibility that the arrowy messenger which he had
sent from his bow had not been noticed by any of the besieging
Wyandots, and that, as considerable time had already passed, none of
them would come over to where he was to inquire into the matter.

If they would keep as far away from him as they were when his friend
Ned Preston started on his desperate run for the block-house, of
course he would be safe. He could wait where he was, lying flat on the
ground, through all the long hours of the day, until the mantle of
night should give him the chance for which he sighed.

Ah, but for one hour of darkness! His flight from the point of danger
would be but pastime.

The single chance in a thousand was that which we have named: the
remote possibility that none of the Wyandots would come any nearer to
where he was hugging the river bank.

For a full hour Deerfoot was in suspense, with a fluttering hope that
it might be his fortune to wait until the sun should climb to the
zenith and sink in the west; for, young as was the Shawanoe, he had
learned the great truth that in the affairs of this world no push or
energy will win, where the virtue of patience is lacking. Many a time
a single move, born of impatience, has brought irretrievable disaster,
where success otherwise was certain.

As the Shawanoe lay against the bank, looking across the clearing
toward the block-house, he recalled that message which, instead of
being spoken, as were all that he knew of, was carried on the arrow he
sent through the window. If he but understood how to place those words
on paper or on a dried leaf even, he would send another missive to
Colonel Preston, saying that, inasmuch as he was shut in from all hope
of escape, he would make the effort to run across the open space, as
did his friends before him.

But the thing was impossible: the door of the block-house was
fastened, and if Deerfoot should start, he would reach it, if he
reached it at all, before the Colonel could draw the first bolt. Even
if the Shawanoe youth should succeed in making the point, which was
extremely doubtful, now that the Wyandots were fully awake, the
inevitable few seconds' halt there must prove fatal.

The short conversation which he had overheard, convinced him of the
sentiments of Waughtauk and his warriors toward him, and led the young
Shawanoe to determine on an effort to extricate himself. It is the
very daring of such a scheme which sometimes succeeds, and he put it
in execution without delay.

Instead of crouching to the ground, as he had been doing, he now rose
upright and moved down the bank, in the direction of the three
Wyandots who first turned him back. They were in their old position,
and he had gone only a few steps when one of them turned his head and
saw the youthful warrior approaching. He uttered a surprised "Hooh!"
and the others looked around at the figure, as they might have done
had it been an apparition.

The scheme of Deerfoot was to attempt the part of a friend of the
Wyandots and consequently that of an enemy of the white race. He acted
as if without thought of being anything else, and as though he never
dreamed there was a suspicion of his loyalty.

At a leisurely gait he walked toward the three Indians, holding his
head down somewhat, and glancing sideways through the scattered bushes
at the top of the bank, as though afraid of a shot from the garrison.

"Have any of my brethren of the Wyandots been harmed by the dogs of
the Yenghese?" asked Deerfoot in the high-flown language peculiar to
his people.

"The eyes of Deerfoot must have been closed not to see Oo-oo-mat-ah
lying on the ground before his eyes."

This was an allusion to the warrior who made the mistake of stopping
Ned Preston when on his way to the block-house.

"Deerfoot saw Oo-oo-mat-ah fall, as falls the brave warrior fighting
his foe; the eyes of Deerfoot were wet with tears, when his brave
Wyandot brother fell."

Strictly speaking, a microscope would not have detected the first
grain of truth in this grandiloquent declaration, which was
accompanied by a gesture as though the audacious young Shawanoe was on
the point of breaking into sobs again.

The apparent sincerity of Deerfoot's grief seemed to disarm the
Wyandots for the moment, which was precisely what the young Shawanoe
was seeking to do.

Having mastered his sorrow, he started down the river bank on the same
slow gait, glancing sideways at the block-house as though he feared a
shot from that point. But the Indians were not to be baffled in that
fashion: their estimate of the daring Deerfoot was the same as
Waughtauk's.

Without any further dissembling, one of the Wyandots, a lithe sinewy
brave, fully six feet in height, bounded in front of the Shawanoe, and
grasping his knife, said with flashing eyes--

"Deerfoot is a dog! he is a traitor; he is a serpent that has two
tongues! he shall die!"

The others stood a few feet behind the couple and watched the singular
encounter.

The Wyandot, with the threatening words in his mouth, leaped toward
Deerfoot, striking a vicious blow with his knife. It was a thrust
which would have ended the career of the youthful brave, had it
reached its mark.

But Deerfoot dodged it easily, and, without attempting to return it,
shot under the infuriated arm and sped down the river bank with all
the wonderful speed at his command.

The slight disturbance had brought the other three Wyandots to the
spot, and it would have been an easy thing to shoot the fugitive as he
fled. But among the new arrivals were those who knew it was the wish
of Waughtauk that Deerfoot should be taken prisoner, that he might be
put to the death all traitors deserved.

Instead of firing their guns therefore, the whole six broke into a
run, each exerting himself to the utmost to overtake the fleet-footed
youth, who was no match for any one of them in a hand-to-hand
conflict, or a trial of strength.

Deerfoot, by his sharp strategy, had thrown the whole party behind him
and had gained two or three yards' start: he felt that, if he could
not hold this against the fleetest of the Wyandots, then he deserved
to die the death of a dog.

The bushes, undergrowth and logs which obstructed his path, were as
troublesome to his pursuers as to himself, and he bounded over them
like a mountain chamois, leaping from crag to crag.

There can be no question that, if this contest had been decided by the
relative swiftness of foot on the part of pursuer and pursued, the
latter would have escaped without difficulty, but, as if the fates
were against the brave Shawanoe, his matchless limbs were no more than
fairly going, when two Wyandot warriors appeared directly in front in
such a position that it was impossible to avoid them.

Deerfoot made a wrenching turn to the right, as if he meant to flank
them, but he stumbled, nearly recovered himself--then fell with great
violence, turning a complete somersault from his own momentum, and
then rose to his feet, as the Indians in front and rear closed around
him.

He uttered a suppressed exclamation of pain, limped a couple of steps,
and then grasped a tree to sustain himself. He seemed to have
sprained his ankle badly and could bear his weight only on one foot.
No more disastrous termination of the flight could have followed.

The Wyandots gathered about the poor fugitive with many expressions of
pleasure, for the pursuers had just been forced to believe the young
brave was likely to escape them, and it was a delightful surprise when
the two appeared in front and headed him off.

Besides, a man with a sprained ankle is the last one in the world to
indulge in a foot-race, and they felt secure, therefore, in holding
their prisoner.

"Dog! traitor! serpent with the forked tongue! base son of a brave
chieftain! warrior with the white heart!"

These were a few of the expressions applied to the captive, who made
no answer. In fact, he seemed to be occupied exclusively with his
ankle, for, while they were berating him, he stooped over and rubbed
it with both hands, flinging his long bow aside, as though it could be
of no further use to him.

The epithets were enough to blister the skin of the ordinary American
Indian, and there came a sudden flush to the dusky face of the
youthful brave, when he heard himself called the base son of a brave
chieftain. But he had learned to conquer himself, and he uttered not a
word in response.

One of the Wyandots picked up the bow which the captive had thrown
aside, and examined it with much curiosity. There was no attempt to
disarm him of his knife and tomahawk, for had he not been disabled by
the sprained ankle, he would have been looked upon as an insignificant
prisoner, against whom it was cowardly to take any precautions. In
fact, to remove his weapons that remained would have been giving
dignity to one too contemptible to deserve the treatment of an
ordinary captive.

The aborigines, like all barbarians and many civilized people, are
cruel by nature. The Wyandots, who had secured Deerfoot, refrained
from killing him for no other reason than that it would have been
greater mercy than they were willing to show to one whom they held in
such detestation.

As it was, two of them struck him and repeated the taunting names
uttered when they first laid hands on him. Deerfoot still made no
answer, though his dark eyes flashed with a dangerous light when he
looked in the faces of the couple who inflicted the indignity.

He asked them quietly to help him along, but, with another taunt, the
whole eight refused. The one who had smote him twice and who held his
bow, placed his hand against the shoulder of the youth and gave him a
violent shove. Deerfoot went several paces and then fell on his knees
and hands with a gasp of pain severe enough to make him faint.

The others laughed, as he painfully labored to his feet. He then asked
that he might have his bow to use as a cane; but even this was
refused. Finding nothing in the way of assistance was to be obtained,
his proud spirit closed his lips, and he limped forward, scarcely
touching the great toe of the injured limb to the ground.

The brief flight and pursuit had led the parties so far down the
Licking that they were out of sight of the block-house, quite a
stretch of forest intervening; but it had also taken them nearer the
headquarters, as they may be called, of Waughtauk, leader of the
Wyandots besieging Fort Bridgman.

This sachem showed, in a lesser way, something of the military prowess
of Pontiac, chief of the Chippewas, King Philip of Pokanoket, and
Tecumseh, who belonged to the same tribe with Deerfoot.

Although his entire force numbered a little more than fifty, yet he
had disposed them with such skill around the block-house that the most
experienced of scouts failed to make his way through the lines.

Waughtauk was well convinced of the treachery of the Shawanoe, and
there was no living man for whom he would have given a greater amount
of wampum.

The eyes of the chieftain sparkled with pleasure when the youthful
warrior came limping painfully toward him, escorted by the Wyandots,
as though they feared that, despite his disabled condition, he might
dart off with the speed of the wind.

Waughtauk rose from the fallen tree on which he had been seated among
his warriors, and advanced a step or two to meet the party as it
approached.

"Dog! base son of the noble chief Allomaug! youth with the red face
and the white heart! serpent with the forked tongue! the Great Spirit
has given it to Waughtauk that he should inflict on you the death that
is fitting all such."

These were fierce words, but the absolute fury of manner which marked
their utterance showed how burning was the hate of the Wyandot leader
and his warriors. They knew that this youth had been honored and
trusted as no one of his years had ever been honored and trusted by
his tribe, and his treachery was therefore all the deeper, and
deserving of the worst punishment that could be devised.

Deerfoot, standing on one foot, with his hand grasping a sapling at
his side, looked calmly in the face of the infuriated leader, and in
his low, musical voice, said--

"When Deerfoot was sick almost to death, his white brother took the
place of the father and mother who went to the happy hunting grounds
long ago; Deerfoot would have been a dog, had he not helped his white
brother through the forest, when the bear and the panther and the
Wyandot were in his path."

This defence, instead of soothing the chieftain, seemed to arouse all
the ferocity of his nature. His face fairly shone with flame through
his ochre and paint; and striding toward the prisoner, he raised his
hand with such fierceness that the muscles of the arm rose in knots
and the veins stood out in ridges on temple and forehead.

As he threw his fist aloft and was on the point of smiting Deerfoot to
the earth, the latter straightened up with his native dignity, and,
still grasping the sapling and still standing on one foot, looked him
in the eye.

It was as if a great lion-tamer, hearing the stealthy approach of the
wild beast, had suddenly turned and confronted him.

Waughtauk paused at the moment, his fist was in the air directly over
the head of Deerfoot, glowering down upon him with an expression
demoniac in its hate. He breathed hard and fast for a few seconds and
then retreated without striking the impending blow.

But it must not be understood that it was the defiant look of the
captive which checked the chief. It produced no such effect, nor was
it intended to do so: it simply meant on the part of Deerfoot that he
expected indignity and torture and death, and he could bear them as
unflinchingly as Waughtauk himself.

As for the chieftain, he reflected that a little counsel and
consultation were needed to fix upon the best method of putting this
tormentor out of the way. If Waughtauk should allow his own passion to
master him, the anticipated enjoyment would be lost.

While Deerfoot, therefore, retained his grasp on the sapling, that he
might be supported from falling, Waughtauk called about him his
cabinet, as it may be termed, and began the consideration of the best
means of punishing the traitor.

The captive could hear all the discussion, and, it need not be said,
he listened with much more interest than he appeared to feel.

It would be revolting to detail the schemes advocated. If there is any
one direction in which the human mind is marvelous in its ingenuity,
it is in the single one of devising means of making other beings
miserable. Some of the proposals of the Wyandots were worthy of Nana
Sahib, of Bithoor, but they were rejected one after the other, as
falling a little short of the requirements of the leader.

There was one fact which did not escape the watchful eye and ear of
the prisoner. The Wyandot who struck him twice, and who had taken
charge of his bow, as a trophy belonging specially to himself, was the
foremost in proposing the most cruel schemes. The look which Deerfoot
cast upon him said plainly--

"I would give the world for a chance to settle with _you_ before I
suffer death!"

Suddenly a thought seemed to seize Waughtauk like an inspiration.
Rising to his feet, he held up his hand for his warriors to listen:

"Deerfoot is a swift runner; he has overtaken the fleeing horse and
leaped upon his back; he shall be placed in the Long Clearing; he
shall be given a start, and the swiftest Wyandot warriors shall be
placed in line on the edge of the Long Clearing; they shall start
together, and the scalp of Deerfoot shall belong to him who first
overtakes him."

This scheme, after all, was merciful when compared with many that were
proposed; but the staking of a man's life on his fleetness, when
entirely unable to run, is an idea worthy of an American Indian.



CHAPTER XV.

AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR.


Jo Stinger had decided to venture out from the block-house, at a time
when the Wyandots were on every side, and when many of them were
within the stockade and close to the building itself It was a perilous
act, but the veteran had what he deemed good grounds for undertaking
it.

In the first place, the darkness had deepened to that extent, within
the last few hours, that he believed he could move about without being
suspected: he was confident indeed that he could stay out as long as
he chose and return in safety.

He still felt chagrined over the audacity of the Wyandots, which came
so near success, and longed to turn the tables upon them.

But Jo Stinger had too much sense to leave the garrison and run into
great peril without the prospect of accomplishing some good thereby.
He knew the Wyandots were completing preparations to burn the
block-house. He believed it would be attempted before morning, and,
if not detected by him, would succeed. He had strong hope that, by
venturing outside, he could learn the nature of the plan against which
it would therefore be possible to make some preparation.

Colonel Preston was not without misgiving when he drew the ponderous
bolts, but he gave no expression to his thoughts. All was blank
darkness, but, when the door was drawn inward, he felt several cold
specks on his hand, from which he knew it was snowing.

The flakes were very fine and few, but they were likely to increase
before morning, by which time the ground might be covered.

"When shall I look for your return?" asked the Colonel, but, to his
surprise, there was no answer. Jo had moved away, and was gone without
exchanging another word with the commandant.

The latter refastened the door at once. He could not but regard the
action of the most valuable man of his garrison as without excuse: at
the same time he reflected that his own title could not have been more
empty, for no one of the three men accepted his orders when they
conflicted with his personal views.

In the meantime Jo Stinger, finding himself on the outside of the
block-house, was in a situation where every sense needed to be on the
alert, and none knew it better than he.

The door which Colonel Preston opened was the front one, being that
which the scout passed through the previous night, and which opened on
the clearing along the river. He was afraid that, if he emerged from
the other entrance, he would step among the Wyandots and be recognized
before he could take his bearings.

But Jo felt that he had entered on an enterprise in which the chances
were against success, and in which he could accomplish nothing except
by the greatest risk to himself. The listening Colonel fancied he
heard the sound of his stealthy footstep, as the hunter moved from the
door of the block-house. He listened a few minutes longer, but all was
still except the soft sifting of the snow against the door, like the
finest particles of sand and dust filtering through the tree-tops.

The Colonel passed to the narrow window at the side and looked out. It
had become like the blackness of darkness, and several of the whirling
snow-flakes struck his face.

"The Wyandots are concocting some mischief, and there's no telling
what shape it will take until it comes. I don't believe Jo will do
anything that will help us."

And with a sigh the speaker climbed the ladder again and told his
friends how rash the pioneer had been.

"I wouldn't have allowed him to go," said Ned Preston.

"There's no stopping him when he has made up his mind to do anything."

"Why didn't you took him by de collar," asked Blossom Brown, "and slam
him down on de floor? Dat's what I'd done, and, if he'd said anyting,
den I'd took him by de heels and banged his head agin de door till
he'd be glad to sot down and behave himself."

"Jo is a skilled frontiersman," said the Colonel, who felt that it was
time he rallied to the defence of the scout; "he has tramped hundreds
of miles with Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone, and, if his gun hadn't
flashed fire one dark night last winter, he would have ended the
career of Simon Girty."

"How was that?"

"Simon Girty and Kenton served together as spies in Dunmore's
expedition in 1774, and up to that time Girty was a good soldier, who
risked much for his country. He was badly used by General Lewis, and
became the greatest scourge we have had on the frontier. I don't
suppose he ever has such an emotion as pity in his breast, and there
is no cruelty that he wouldn't be glad to inflict on the whites. He
and Jo know and hate each other worse than poison. Last winter, Jo
crept into one of the Shawanoe towns one dark night, and when only a
hundred feet away, aimed straight at Girty, who sat on a log, smoking
his pipe, and talking to several warriors. Jo was so angered when his
gun flashed in the pan, that he threw it upon the ground and barely
saved himself by dashing out of the camp at the top of his speed. Jo
has been in a great many perilous situations," added Colonel Preston,
"and he can tell of many a thrilling encounter in the depths of the
silent forest and on the banks of the lonely streams, where no other
human eyes saw him and his foe."

"No doubt of all that," replied Ned, who knew that he was speaking the
sentiments of his uncle, "but it seems to me he is running a great
deal more risk than he ought to."

"I agree with you, but we have been greatly favored so far, and we
will continue to hope for the best."

The long spell of quiet which had followed the attempt to fire the
block-house, permitted the children to sleep, and their mother, upon
the urgency of her husband, had lain down beside them and was sinking
into a refreshing slumber.

Megill and Turner kept their places at the loopholes, watching for the
signs of danger with as vigilant interest as though it was the first
hour of the alarm. They were inclined to commend the course of Jo
Stinger, despite the great peril involved.

The Wyandots, beyond question, were perfecting some scheme of attack,
which most likely could be foiled only by previous knowledge on the
part of the garrison. The profound darkness and the skill of the
hunter would enable him to do all that could be done by any one, under
the circumstances.

There came seconds, and sometimes minutes, when no one spoke, and the
silence within the block-house was so profound that the faint sifting
of the snow on the roof was heard. Then an eddy of wind would whirl
some of the sand-like particles through the loopholes into the eyes
and faces of those who were peering out. Men and boys gathered their
blankets closer about their shoulders, and set their muskets down
beside them, where they could be caught up the instant needed, while
they carefully warmed their benumbed fingers by rubbing and striking
the palms together.

All senses were concentrated in the one of listening, for no other
faculty was of avail at such a time. Nerves were strung to the highest
point, because there was not one who did not feel certain they were on
the eve of events which were to decide the fate of the little company
huddled together in Fort Bridgman.

This stillness was at its profoundest depth, the soft rustling of the
snowflakes seemed to have ceased, and not a whisper was on the lips of
one of the garrison, when there suddenly rang out on the night a
shriek like that of some strong man caught in the crush of death. It
was so piercing that it seemed almost to sound from the center of the
room, and certainly must have been very close to the block-house
itself.

"That was the voice of Jo!" said Colonel Preston, in a terrified
undertone, after a minute's silence; "he has met his fate."

"You are mistaken," Megill hastened to say; "I have been with Jo too
often, and I know his voice too well to be deceived."

"It sounded marvelously like his."

"It did not to me, though it may have been so to you."

"If it was not Jo, then it must have been one of the Wyandots."

"That follows, as a matter of course; in spite of all of Jo's care, he
has run against one of their men, or one of them has run against him.
The only way to settle it then was in the hurricane order, and Jo has
done it that promptly that the other has just had time to work in a
first-class yell like that."

"I'm greatly relieved to hear you take such a view," said Colonel
Preston, who, like the rest, was most agreeably disappointed to hear
Megill speak so confidently, his brother-in-law adding his testimony
to the same effect.

"Directly after that shriek," said Turner, "I'm sure there was the
tramping of feet, as if some one was running very fast: it passed
under the stockade and out toward the well."

"I heard the footsteps too," added Ned Preston.

"So did I," chimed in Blossom Brown, feeling it his duty to say
something to help the others along; "but I'm suah dat de footsteps dat
I heerd war on de roof. Some onrespectful Wyamdot hab crawled up dar,
and I bet am lookin' down de chimbley dis minute."

"It seems to me," observed Ned to his uncle, "that Jo will want to
come back pretty soon."

"I think so too," replied his uncle, "I will go down-stairs and wait
for him."

With these words he descended the rounds of the ladder and moved
softly across the lower floor to the door, where he paused, with his
hands on one of the heavy bars which held the structure in place.

While crossing the room he looked toward the fire-place. Among the
ashes he caught the sullen red of a single point of fire, like the
glowering eye of some ogre, watching him in the darkness.

Beside the huge latch, there were three ponderous pieces of timber
which spanned the inner side of the door, the ends dropping into
massive sockets strong enough to hold the puncheon slabs against
prodigious pressure from the outside.

Colonel Preston carefully lifted the upper one out of place and then
did the same with the lowest. Then he placed his hand on the middle
bar and held his ear close to the jamb, so that he might catch the
first signal from the scout, whose return was due every minute.

The listening ear caught the silken sifting of the particles of snow,
which insinuated themselves into and through the smallest crevices,
and a slight shiver passed through the frame of the pioneer, who had
thrown his blanket off his shoulders so that he might have his arms
free to use the instant it should become necessary.

Colonel Preston had stood thus only a few minutes, when he fancied he
heard some one on the outside. The noise was very slight and much as
if a dog was scratching with his paw. Knowing that wood is a better
conductor of sound than air, he pressed his ear against the door.

To his astonishment he then heard nothing except the snowflakes,
which sounded like the tapping of multitudinous fairies, as they
romped back and forth and up and down the door.

"That's strange," thought he, after listening a few minutes; "there's
something unusual out there, and I don't know whether it is Jo or not.
I'm afraid the poor fellow has been hurt and is afraid to make himself
known."

The words were yet in his mouth, when he caught a faint tapping
outside, as if made by the bill of a bird.

"That's Jo!" he exclaimed, immediately raising the end of the middle
bar from its socket; "he must be hurt, or he is afraid to signal me,
lest he be recognized."

At the moment the fastenings were removed, and Colonel Preston was
about drawing the door inward, he stayed his hand, prompted so to do
by the faintest suspicion that something was amiss.

"Jo! is that you?" he asked in a whisper.

"_Sh! Sh!_"

He caught the warning, almost inaudible as it was, and instantly drew
the door inward six or eight inches.

"Quick, Jo! the way is open!"

Even then a vague suspicion that all was not right led Colonel Preston
to step back a single step, and, though he had no weapons, he clenched
his fist and braced himself for an assault which he did not expect.

The darkness was too complete for him to see anything, while the faint
ember, smouldering in the fire-place, threw no reflection on the
figure of the pioneer, so as to reveal his precise position.

It was a providential instinct that led Colonel Preston to take this
precaution, for as he recoiled some one struck a venomous blow at him
with a knife, under the supposition that he was standing on the same
spot where he stood at the moment the door was opened. Had he been
there, he would have been killed with the suddenness almost of the
lightning stroke.

The pioneer could not see, and he heard nothing except a sudden
expiration of the breath, which accompanied the fierce blow into
vacancy, but he knew like a flash that, instead of Jo, it was a
Wyandot Indian who was in the act of making a rush to open the way for
the other warriors behind him.

The right fist shot forward, with all the power Colonel Preston could
throw into it. He was an athlete and a good boxer. As he struck, he
hurled his body with the fist, so that all the momentum possible went
with it. Fortunately for the pioneer the blow landed on the forehead
of the unprepared warrior, throwing him violently backward against his
comrades, who were in the act of rushing forward to follow in his
wake.

But for them he would have been flung prostrate full a dozen feet
distant.

The instant the blow was delivered, Colonel Preston sprang back,
shoved the door to and caught up the middle bar. At such crises it
seems as if fate throws every obstruction in the way, and his agony
was indescribable, while desperately trying to get the bar in place.

Only a few seconds were occupied in doing so, but those seconds were
frightful ones to him. He was sure the entire war party would swarm
into the block-house, before he could shut them out.

The Indians, who were forced backward by the impetus of the smitten
leader, understood the need of haste. They knew that, unless they
recovered their ground immediately, their golden opportunity was
gone.

Suppressing all outcry, for they had no wish to draw the fire from the
loopholes above, they precipitated themselves against the door, as
though each one was the carved head of a catapult, equal to the task
of bursting through any obstacle in its path.

Thank Heaven! In the very nick of time Colonel Preston got the middle
bar into its socket. This held the door so securely that the other two
were added without trouble, and he then breathed freely.

Drops of cold perspiration stood on his forehead, and he felt so faint
that he groped about for a stool, on which he dropped until he could
recover.



CHAPTER XVI.

OUT-DOORS ON A DARK NIGHT.


In the meantime Jo Stinger, the veteran frontiersman, had not found
the "plain sailing" which he anticipated.

It will be remembered that he passed out upon the clearing in front of
the block-house, because he feared that, if he entered the yard
inclosed by the stockade, he would find himself among the Wyandots,
who would be quick to detect his identity.

His presence immediately in front of the structure would also draw
attention to himself, and he therefore glided away until he was fully
a hundred feet distant, when he paused close to the western pickets.

Looking behind him, he could not see the outlines of the building
which he had just left. For the sake of safety Colonel Preston allowed
no light burning within the block-house, which itself was like a solid
bank of darkness.

"It would be easy enough now for me to make my way to Wild Oaks,"
reflected Stinger; "for, when the night is like this, three hundred
Indians could not surround the old place close enough to catch any one
crawling through. But it is no use for me to strike out for the Ohio
now, for the boys could not get here soon enough to affect the result
one way or the other. Long before that the varmints will wind up this
bus'ness, either by going away, or by cleaning out the whole concern."

Jo Stinger unquestionably was right in this conclusion, but he
possessed a strong faith that Colonel Preston and the rest of them in
the block-house would be able to pull through, if they displayed the
vigilance and care which it was easy to display: this faith explains
how it was the frontiersman had ventured upon what was, beyond all
doubt, a most perilous enterprise.

Jo, from some cause or other which he could not explain, suspected the
Wyandots were collecting near the well, and he began working his way
in that direction.

It was unnecessary to scale the stockade, and he therefore moved along
the western side, until he reached the angle, when he turned to the
right and felt his way parallel with the northern line of pickets.

Up to this time he had not caught sight or sound to show that an
Indian was within a mile of him. The fine particles of snow made
themselves manifest only by the icy, needle-like points which touched
his face and hands, as he groped along. He carried his faithful rifle
in his left hand, and his right rested on the haft of his long
hunting-knife at his waist. His head was thrust forward, while he
peered to the right and left, advancing with as much care as if he
were entering a hostile camp on a moonlight night, when the
overturning of a leaf is enough to awaken a score of sleeping red men.

A moment after passing the corner of the stockade something touched
his elbow. He knew on the instant that it was one of the Wyandots. In
the darkness they had come thus close without either suspecting the
presence of the other.

"Hooh! my brother is like Deerfoot, the dog of a Shawanoe."

This was uttered in the Wyandot tongue, and the scout understood the
words, but he did not dare reply. He could not speak well enough to
deceive the warrior, who evidently supposed he was one of his own
people.

But there was the single exclamation which he could imitate to
perfection, and he did so as he drew his knife.

"Hooh!" he responded, moving on without the slightest halt. The
response seemed satisfactory to the Wyandot, but could Jo have seen
the actions of the Indian immediately after, he would have felt
anything but secure on that point.

The brave stood a minute or so, looking in the direction taken by the
other, and then, as if suspicious that all was not what it seemed, he
followed after the figure which had vanished so quickly.

"I would give a good deal if I but knowed what he meant by speaking of
Deerfoot as he did," said Jo to himself, "but I didn't dare ask him to
give the partic'lars. I make no doubt they've catched the Shawanoe and
scalped him long ago."

Remembering the openings which he had seen in the stockade before the
darkness became so intense, Jo reached out his right hand and run it
along the pickets, so as not to miss them.

He had gone only a little way, when his touch revealed the spot where
a couple had been removed, and there was room for him to force his
body through.

Jo was of a spare figure, and, with little difficulty, he entered the
space inclosed by the stockade. He now knew his surroundings and
bearings, as well as though it were high noon, and began making his
way with great stealth in the direction of the well standing near the
middle of the yard.

While he was doing this, the Wyandot with whom he had exchanged
salutations was stealing after him: it was the old case of the hunter
going to hunt the tiger, and soon finding the tiger was hunting him.

The task of the Wyandot, however, for the time, was a more delicate
one than was the white man's, for the dusky pursuer had lost sight of
his foe (if indeed it can be said he had ever caught a view of him),
instantly after the brief salutation between them.

The warrior, when he reached the first opening in the stockade, had no
means of knowing that the pale-face had passed through. Had there
been any daylight to aid his vision, he could have learned the truth
at once; but if there had been daylight, there could have been no such
necessity, inasmuch as Jo Stinger would have stayed in the
block-house.

The fact that he could not trace the daring scout with any certainty,
did not deprive the Wyandot of the ability to do something for himself
and companions.

When Jo Stinger passed within the stockade, he fixed the direction in
which lay the well, and then began advancing toward it. The result of
this venture proved again, how often the most careful preparation is
defeated by some simple obstruction against which a child ought to
have guarded.

"I must be pretty near the spot," thought Jo, when he had groped
vaguely for some distance; "I can't imagine what the varmints can be
doin' here, but they've got some plan on foot which I'm bound----"

At this instant, with a shock which made his hair fairly rise on end,
he stepped directly into the well and went down!

The rickety inclosure of slabs, with the crank and windlass, had been
removed by the Wyandots, so that in case any of the garrison ventured
out, under cover of darkness, to get water, they would be unable to do
so.

The theft of the curb, bucket, and appliances, shut off the supply
from that source as utterly as though it had never existed. And yet,
not a single member of the garrison, knowing as they did that the
Wyandots were carrying out some design, suspected what their real
purpose was.

Providence alone saved Jo Stinger from an ignominious end, for had he
gone to the bottom of the well, the Indians could not have failed to
discover it, and they would have carried out their own will concerning
him.

But the life of peril which Jo had led so many years, greatly
developed a certain readiness and presence of mind natural to him; but
it was probably the instinctive desire to catch himself, which led him
on the instant to place the gun in his left hand in a horizontal
position. The diameter of the well was much less than the length of
the old-fashioned flint-lock rifle; and thus it came about that muzzle
and stock caught firmly, and Jo was suspended in the middle of the
opening by one hand. Hastily shoving his knife back in his girdle, he
seized the barrel with both hands and easily drew himself from his
dangerous position. Then he took out his knife again and indulged in
an expression of opinion concerning his performances of the last
twenty-four hours.

This opinion it is not necessary to place on record: the reader need
not be told that it was the reverse of complimentary, and that it
would have hardly been safe for any one else to repeat the same
vigorous comments in the presence of Jo himself.

He was not without gratitude for his delivery from the consequences of
his own carelessness, but he was exasperated beyond expression by the
stupidity which had seemed to brood over the counsels of the garrison
from the first and to direct everything done.

While a prey to this gnawing chagrin, he suddenly became aware that
one of the Wyandots was at his elbow again.

"My brother treads like the shadows of the clouds which sweep over the
forest: there is no sound, and he glides----"

"This is his style of gliding," interrupted Jo Stinger, who was in a
most dangerous mood, as he bounded like a panther toward him.

The grapple was short and terrific: there was one wild piercing shriek
from the dusky foeman, and then it was all over. Jo hurried from the
spot, for he knew others would be there in a few seconds, and they
would be quick to detect or at least to surmise the truth.

He hastened back over the path by which he had approached the well,
passing through the same opening that had admitted him. Then, with a
view of avoiding any one who might be using the same route, he moved a
rod or two away from the stockade, turning the corner nearly as before
and starting on his return to the block-house.

Jo's belief was that he could accomplish nothing more by staying
outside the building. He had learned that about the well which he
ought to have known long before, and the Wyandots had already
ascertained that one of the garrison, or possibly some friend from
another point, was on the outside. They would take precaution against
his entering the block-house, and doubtless would exert themselves to
detect and slay him.

He felt therefore that it would not do to delay his return. He did not
do so, and yet, quick as he was, he made the discovery after all that
he was just too late. Approaching the door of the building with
extreme caution, it did not take him long to learn that the Wyandots
were there before him.

He withdrew with the same care, and continued stealing some distance
further in a southern direction, finally halting close to the cabin
from which the Wyandots had issued when they interfered with the
flight of Blossom Brown and Ned Preston across the clearing.

Jo felt the situation was becoming serious. He had not thought of
anything like this, and he had made no arrangement for a system of
signals to meet the difficulty. Colonel Preston would detect his low,
tremulous whistle, by which the scout was accustomed to make known his
presence on the outside and his desire to enter; but there was no
means of apprising the Colonel of the alarming fact that a number of
Indians were waiting in the darkness to take his place.

Had Jo thought of all this beforehand, there would have been no such
startling occurrence at the door, as has been described.

He did not believe it probable the Wyandots would emit any signals
which would deceive Colonel Preston into the belief that it was a
friend and not an enemy who was asking admission into the station.

While the pioneer stood aloof in the darkness, debating and asking
himself what was best to do, his keen vision was able to mark the
shape of something which puzzled him only for the moment. It was a
parallelogram of a faint yellow glow only a short distance in front of
him.

"That comes from a light in the cabin, where them varmints have been
loafing ever since the rumpus yesterday morning."

Jo was right in this supposition: he had approached the dwelling,
wherein were several Wyandots who had a fire burning on the hearth.
The yellow reflection showing through one of the side-windows led Jo
to detect its meaning with scarce a moment's hesitation.

As yet he had succeeded in learning nothing of importance, for no one
would attempt to draw any water from the well during the night, and
if the block-house should remain on its foundations until morning,
every one of the garrison could see for himself that the supply was no
longer available.

What secret might not the old cabin give up to him? Was it not there
that he should seek the key to the problem which had baffled him thus
far?

These and similar questions Jo Stinger put to himself, as he advanced
toward the structure wherein he was certain to find more than one
Wyandot.

As his approach was from the side instead of the front, as it may be
called (by which is meant that part of the cabin which faced the
block-house itself), the red men within had taken no precautions
against observation from that direction.

While Jo was yet ten feet from the window, he gained a view of the
interior that showed everything in the room, with whose contour he was
familiar. The sight which met his gaze was a most interesting one
indeed.

There were three Indians seated, cross-legged like Turks, on the
floor, smoking their pipes, while they talked earnestly together. One
of these, from his dress and manner, Jo knew was the chief or leader
of the war party. It was, in fact, Waughtauk who was holding a
consultation with his two lieutenants, if they may be termed such, on
the "conduct of the war."

Jo Stinger had no doubt that such was their occupation, and he was
certain that, if he could overhear their words, he was likely to
gather the very information he was seeking.

As we have already intimated, he understood the Wyandot tongue, and he
was eager to catch the expressions, especially those which fell from
the lips of the chief himself.

"The pale-faces will come from the Ohio," were the first words which
Stinger was able to hear, and they were uttered by Waughtauk himself;
"if we wait until to-morrow, they will be here before nightfall."

This implied rather rapid traveling on the part of the party of rescue
from Wild Oaks, and it was more than likely that the chief, with a
view of adding force to his remarks, exaggerated matters to a certain
extent.

"One of the Yenghese is abroad to-night," said the warrior next the
chief. As he spoke, he took his pipe from his mouth and used it in
gesticulating; "he has slain one of our braves."

"He shall die for his offence, as all the Yenghese shall die," replied
the chieftain, in a voice so loud that the listener could have caught
his meaning had he been a rod further away. "None of them shall see
the sun rise again. They shall be burned in the block-house, which has
encumbered our hunting-grounds too long."

This threat was only what might have been expected, but Waughtauk the
next minute imparted the very tidings which Jo Stinger sought, and for
the sake of which he had risked so much.

"The wind blows strong; the Great Spirit will soon fan the fire into a
blaze, and will carry it from this cabin to the block-house."

There it was!

The whole scheme was laid bare to the scout in the last sentence
spoken by the Wyandot chieftain. The wind was setting in strongly from
the south, that is, from the building in which the three warriors
gathered, directly toward the block-house.

Should the former be fired, the probability was the gale would carry
the sparks to the other and set that in a blaze, in which event there
would be scarcely an earthly hope left for a single one of the
inmates.

Jo had heard enough, and his wish now was to get back to his friends
with the least possible delay, that they might make preparation
against the assault that could not be postponed much longer.

Knowing the superstition of the American Indian, the scout now
resorted to an artifice as daring as it was startling. Although a man
trained in border-warfare, accustomed to the frightful cruelties of
the aborigines, and knowing the fierce purposes of the Wyandots
surrounding Fort Bridgman, he could not bring himself to the point of
deliberately shooting down one or more of the conspirators, who, in
point of fact, were at his mercy.

Many a brave hunter or pioneer, placed in his situation, would have
seized the opportunity to shoot the chieftain himself while sitting in
the cabin, unsuspicious of his danger; but Jo Stinger was not of such
a disposition.

  [Illustration: JOE STINGER PUTS IN AN APPEARANCE.]

Raising his long rifle to his shoulder, he pointed it straight at
Waughtauk, and then advanced until the muzzle was thrust through
the window, while he himself stood no more than a foot outside.

At that instant one of the warriors reached down and stirred the
blazing sticks of wood burning on the hearth. The flames leaped
higher, filling the room with a warm ruddy glow. A slight noise caused
the three Wyandots to turn their heads toward the open window, when
they saw a sight which held them spell-bound.

A tall spare man, in the garb of a hunter, stood with his deadly rifle
pointed straight at them, and the muzzle was not twelve feet distant
from the head of Waughtauk the chief.

Looking along the barrel, pointing like the finger of fate at the
Wyandot leader, the bony fingers of the left hand were seen grasping
the dark iron, while the right hand, crooked at the elbow, encompassed
the trigger-guard, and the forefinger was gently pressing the trigger.
The hammer clutching the yellow flint was drawn far back, like the jaw
of a rattlesnake when about to bury its fangs in its victim, and just
behind that the single open eye of the hunter himself seemed to be
agleam with a fire that was likely to ignite the powder in the pan,
without the flash of the quartz.

The coonskin cap, the grizzly whiskers, the rough garments were
frosted with tiny snowflakes which glistened and glinted in the
fire-light like points of burnished silver. The figure was as
motionless as were the three Wyandots, who could only stare at what
must have seemed an apparition from the other world. As they gazed,
the figure spoke in a slow sepulchral voice--

"Let the Wyandot chieftain and his warriors go back to their squaws
and pappooses, for the pale-face is hurrying through the forest to
burn his lodges and to make captive his children! The Great Spirit
commands that the Wyandots shall go."

Having uttered these extraordinary words, Jo Stinger took several
steps backward, without moving a muscle of the upper portion of his
body, so silently and imperceptibly that he seemed to dissolve in the
surrounding darkness.

The moment after, Waughtauk uttered a cry of such distress that the
Wyandots in the immediate neighborhood heard it and hurried to him.
Stinger was quick to perceive his chance, and hurrying to the door of
the block-house, he rapped so sharply on it that the listening Colonel
Preston hurried down the ladder and approached the entrance.

"Who's there?" asked the commandant, in a guarded voice.

"Me--Jo; it's all right; quick, let me in afore the varmints get
back!"

There was no mistaking the voice, and Colonel Preston removed the
fastenings with a nervous haste, which did not leave him until his
friend was inside, and the bars were replaced in their sockets.

He then grasped the hand of Jo and shook it warmly, for the relief of
all over the return of the invaluable scout was beyond expression.
They hurriedly went up the ladder, where all, including Mrs. Preston,
who declared she could sleep no more that night, listened to the
stirring story which Jo had to tell. His auditors fairly held their
breath when he drew the picture of himself standing at the window of
the cabin, with his rifle pointed at the Wyandot chief, and commanding
him in the name of the Great Spirit to hasten to protect his own
lodges from the invading white man.

"You gave him such a fright that he may strike his tents and leave,"
suggested Colonel Preston.

"No," said Jo; "such things have been done, and Simon Kenton once
played the trick so well that he kept a party of Delawares from
massacreing a white family going down the Ohio, but Kenton had a much
better show than me."

"It seems to me, Jo, you had everything in your favor," said Megill,
who, like all the others, was deeply interested in the narrative of
the hunter.

"There's just the trouble; the chief and his men were scared out of
their moccasins for a minute or so, and if it had happened that I
hadn't showed myself afore, and the Wyandots didn't know I was
outside, the scare might have amounted to something; but when the
other warriors come around the chief, and he learns what has took
place--if he didn't know it all before--he'll see that the whole thing
was a trick, and he will be madder than ever. I think he'll open the
music agin very soon."

"If he fires the cabin," said Colonel Preston, "it will be apt to make
it pretty warm in here, for the wind does come from that direction,
and I wish the thing didn't stand quite so near us as it does. But the
sides of the block-house are not so dry as the roof, and I hope we can
stand more heat from _that_ source than the Wyandots think."

"We have considerable water left," said Jo, "and we must take mighty
good care that none of it is wasted."

"Did you find the tomahawk in the door?" asked Ned.

"I felt for it, but it was gone."

The prospects were discussed in low, earnest tones, while every one
was in a fever of expectancy. There was constant peeping through the
loopholes, and the occasional whistling and whooping were accepted as
signals to open the last decisive attack.

Jo Stinger was moving about in this manner, doing what he could to
cheer his friends, when some one caught his elbow.

"Who is it?" he asked, stopping short.

"It is I, Ned Preston," replied the boy; "I want to ask you a
question."

"Well, younker, what is it?" said the hunter in a kindly manner, and
lowering his voice, so that the others could not overhear them.

"I wanted to ask you whether you learned anything about Deerfoot, when
you were out."

"Nothing partic'lar; I heard his name mentioned by that varmint that
run against me, after I didn't fall into the well."

"How was it?"

Jo related the incident in which he was compared to the young
Shawanoe.

"What do you think about it, Jo?"

"Well, of course none of us knows anything for sartin,--but it's my
opinion--since you ax it--that Deerfoot has slid under for good."

"I am afraid so," said Ned Preston faintly. "Poor Deerfoot!"



CHAPTER XVII.

THE LONG CLEARING.


Deerfoot, the young Shawanoe, despite his extraordinary exertions and
his own wonderful woodcraft, had fallen into the hands of the hostile
Wyandots, and with a grim satire upon the skill which had given the
youth his great fame, Waughtauk, chief of his enemies, had decreed
that his life should be staked upon the result of a race with the
fleetest runners of the tribe.

The captive would have welcomed such a contest, could it have been
conducted on anything like equal terms, but he seemed in a pitiable
condition, unable to bear the weight of his body for more than a
second on one foot. Had it been otherwise, Waughtauk never would have
made the conditions what they were.

The promised enjoyment was so eagerly looked for by the warriors that
the chief decided to gratify them and himself, without delay.

It was now near noon, and the sun shining overhead gave no indications
of the clouds and snow-fall that came with the close of day. The "Long
Clearing," of which the chief spoke, was an open space, beginning
fifty rods north of the block-house and extending for a third of a
mile, parallel with the Licking river. It had a width varying from a
hundred feet to five times that extent. It was a natural clearing or
opening, which, it would seem, offered a much better site for a
block-house than the one selected by Colonel Preston, when he erected
the building now placed in such danger.

It presented an open space for the distance named, and, before the
founding of the settlement, was often used by Indians for their games
and athletic contests: no more suitable place could have been found
for the extraordinary contest decreed by Waughtauk, chief of the
Wyandots.

As this exhibition was ordered during the time when the siege was to
be maintained, it was impossible that more than a fractional part of
the warriors could take part in or witness it. Waughtauk selected six
of his men who were to be the actors in the tragedy, he himself
purposing to be the leader and director.

As the wolf, before destroying the lamb, sought a pretext for his
cruelty, so the chief assumed a certain air of justice in arranging
for what might be termed a race for life.

The warrior who had struck Deerfoot was given his bow, the youth being
allowed to retain his knife, tomahawk, and quiver. None of the
Wyandots were permitted to carry their guns, the only weapon of that
kind being in the hands of the chief, who was also magnanimous enough
to give the fugitive a start of some fifty yards.

Deerfoot was too proud to open his lips, when the conditions were
explained to him. He stood grim and silent, watching the preparations
and noting the exultation which often reached boisterousness.

"Great is Deerfoot, the swiftest runner of the Shawanoes!" said one
mockingly; "he is the eagle, and he will leave the Wyandots far out of
sight, as the great bird leaves the smaller ones in his flight through
the heavens!"

"Deerfoot is the friend of the Yenghese and the Long Knives, who have
come to take away the hunting-grounds of the red man."

"The pale-faces will come to the help of Deerfoot, for who has been a
better friend to them than he?"

These and similar taunts fell upon ears which appeared to hear them
not. Those who uttered the cruel words came close to the youth and
peered into his face, with hideous grimaces, but he stood calm and
silent. He was a shade paler, and there was a strange gleam in his
black eyes, but he looked beyond his tormentors at Waughtauk, who
deliberately paced off the distance, giving liberal measure, as it is
only justice to record.

When the fifty steps had been taken, Waughtauk stopped, stamped the
heel of his moccasin in the earth, and, turning about, beckoned to
Deerfoot to approach. The young Shawanoe, as he hobbled painfully
forward, presented a spectacle which ought to have excited the pity of
the hardest heart; but the Wyandots laughed and were impatient for the
contest, if such it may be called, to open.

Deerfoot limped the greater part of the distance and then stopped to
rest a moment, seemingly unable to advance another step. Several
taunting exclamations followed this display of weakness, and,
summoning his energies, the youth resumed his labored advance, finally
reached the side of Waughtauk, who concealed, as well as he could, his
impatience.

"Deerfoot will stand _here_," said he, pointing to the indentation the
heel of his moccasin had made in the ground; "when he hears Waughtauk
give forth the war-whoop of the Wyandots, he will teach my warriors
how to run."

The young Shawanoe opened his lips to make answer, but they closed
more tightly than before, and not a word was uttered. His
self-restraint was perfect.

Waughtauk walked back to the edge of the Long Clearing, where the six
warriors eagerly awaited the signal for the sport to begin. Despite
the usual stoicism and indifference of their race, the braves were as
frolicsome as so many school-boys. They elbowed and crowded each other
for their places, and one or two vigorous wrestling bouts occurred,
before the chieftain placed them in line.

At last the six Wyandots were drawn up in position, one foot thrown
forward, while they swayed restlessly back and forth, inching along
the advanced foot, like so many runners eager for the slightest
advantage. Each carried his knife and tomahawk at his girdle, but the
arms were free. He who claimed the bow of Deerfoot had thrown it
aside, now that he was about to run.

Waughtauk looked at his men and then he placed himself in alignment at
their right. He still held his loaded gun, probably as an emblem of
his authority, and as a notification that he would use it in the event
of any warrior disregarding orders.

The seven now looked out upon the Long Clearing at the fugitive who
was to go through this mockery of a race with the sinewy-limbed
Wyandots, eager and thirsting for his life.

The pose of Deerfoot was much the same as that of his enemies. His
left foot was in advance of the other, while his weight gently
oscillated back and forth, like the swinging of a long pendulum.
Unnoticed by any of the Wyandots, he had edged fully ten feet beyond
the proper starting-point. His face was turned as if looking at the
autumnal woods on his right, but as his handsome profile was thrown
against the sky beyond, his eyes were scrutinizing every action of his
foes, as they arranged themselves and awaited the signal.

At this juncture it must have occurred to more than one that the
Shawanoe was balancing himself with remarkable ease for one whose
sufferings from a sprained ankle were so acute. If such a thought came
to the Wyandots, they did not lose sight of the fact that the time for
an investigation was past.

For a single minute complete quiet prevailed. The river on the left
flowing calmly northward, the solemn autumn woods on the right, the
stretch of the Long Clearing, with its irregular contour,--the single
solitary youth poised as if he were a Grecian athlete,--the seven
swarthy Indians, like so many fierce hounds, impatient for the moment
when they might spring at the lamb and bury their fangs in its
throat:--these made a picture striking beyond imagination in its
details.

"_Whoop! whoop! whoop!_"

In quick succession the war-cry of the Wyandots rang out on the still
air, and like an electric shock it thrilled through every being who
heard the startling signal.

The ringing shout had scarcely left the lips of Waughtauk, when
Deerfoot made a tremendous leap of nearly a dozen feet, and the
instant he lightly struck the ground he bounded away with a burst of
speed which astounded the spectators. There was no lameness now--there
had never been the slightest. The young Shawanoe when he saw his
capture was inevitable, resorted to this strategy with the quickness
of inspiration. The sprained ankle was a fiction--a fiction not
essayed with any thought that he would be subjected to such a special
test, but with the belief that a chance might come in which he could
make a break for freedom and for life.

A series of fierce shouts went up from the thunderstruck Wyandots, as
they saw the fugitive ricocheting over the grounds, as may be said,
like the ball from the throat of a Columbiad.

The halt and the lame who were the first to step into the pool of
Siloam, after the angel had stirred the waters, were no more quickly
healed than was Deerfoot by the ringing war-cry of the Wyandot
chieftain.

A consuming anger like that of the wolf, when the panther robs him of
his prey, must have fired the hearts of the Wyandots, at the moment
they saw the trick played on them by this despised youth. He, a boy in
stature and years, had pitted his skill, his strategy, his woodcraft,
his brains against theirs, and he had won.

The readiness of Deerfoot added several rods to the advance originally
given, so that a great advantage was thus obtained, and it was
improved to the utmost.

The wonderful youth ran as never before. His lithe legs doubled under
him with inconceivable quickness, the eye seeing naught but the
twinkling of the beaded moccasins. The still wind cut by his face as
though it was a gale. He was a gladiator stripped for the struggle,
and every nerve and muscle was strained to the last tension. He seemed
a swallow skimming close to the ground, or a shaft driven from his own
bow, so graceful was his arrowy swiftness.

There were swift runners among the Wyandots, and the seven warriors
included their fleetest, who now put forth every exertion of which
they were capable. The difference in their speed was shown by their
immediate separation, with rapidly increasing spaces between them; but
the young Shawanoe drew away from them, as a child draws away from the
stationary object which frightens it.

Deerfoot saw the half mile sweeping under his feet, as the steel rails
glide under the plunging engine, and the single glance he threw over
his shoulder told the glad fact that he had not misjudged his own
matchless ability as a runner. Muscle and nerve and sinew never did
their work more splendidly than now, when their existence was staked
on the manner in which that work was to be done. Human ingenuity could
never construct a piece of mechanism which could do such marvelous
service, as did those limbs of the flying fugitive on that crisp
autumn day nearly a century ago, in Kentucky.

Although, as we have stated, there were many rapid runners among the
Wyandots, there was not one who could attain and hold the terrific
pace of the Shawanoe, whose victory, it may be said, was assured from
the beginning. Fired by their fury and chagrin, they made prodigious
exertions to run down the youth, or at least to approach close enough
to hurl their tomahawks; but this was useless, and with an
exasperation beyond expression they saw their victim slipping
irrecoverably from their grasp.

Suddenly a shot rang out on the frosty air. Waughtauk, the chieftain,
and the only one who had a rifle, came to a dead halt and fired point
blank at the vanishing youth, hoping at least to disable him, so he
would fall into their hands. Deerfoot heard the firing of the bullet,
as it nipped his cheek, but he did not hasten his pace, because he was
unable to do so, and no need existed. From the first he had done his
best, and there was no room for an increase in the way of speed.

A third of a mile is soon traversed at such a rate of travel, and in a
brief while Deerfoot approached the end of the Long Clearing. His
swiftness was unabated, but, when he once more glanced around and saw
that the whole seven Indians had given up the pursuit and were
standing at varying distances from each other looking at him, he
instantly slackened his pace.

Coming to a dead halt he faced about and, swinging his arms over his
head, gave utterance to whoops and taunting exclamations.

"Have the Wyandots learned to run? Who is Waughtauk, that a youth of
the Shawanoes should teach him to walk? Let the Wyandots go back to
their lodges and tell their squaws that Deerfoot has taught them
knowledge! Are the Wyandots tired that they must sit down and rest?
Shall Deerfoot come back to them and show them what to do, when their
enemies are around them?"

No more stinging taunts than these can be imagined, and the Wyandots
felt their full force. They were silent, possibly because their tongue
contained no words which could give suitable expression to their
feelings.

Clearly it was idle to maintain the pursuit any longer, and the seven
Wyandots, including Waughtauk the chieftain, stalked back toward the
block-house, for the purpose of pressing the siege with more vigor
than ever.

Up to this point they had in reality accomplished nothing toward the
reduction of the place. They had lost several of their warriors, and
Deerfoot, as they all agreed, would make all haste to Wild Oaks to
procure help for the beleaguered garrison.

An individual capable of such speed as he, would reach the Ohio before
nightfall; and, under the stress of necessity, the settlers would be
at Fort Bridgman before the sun could cross the meridian on the
morrow.

Such was the reasoning of Waughtauk, and all of his counsellors agreed
with him. A brief while before they would not have believed it
possible that help could be brought before the following night; but
since the occurrence just described they were prepared to believe
Deerfoot capable of doing almost anything.

The precise conversation between the maddened red men, of course, can
never be known to the historian, and it is not desirable that it
should be; but the parties concerned were so interested in the words
that they were close to the stockade of the block-house before it was
recalled that the long valuable bow taken from Deerfoot was left lying
on the ground where the new owner threw it when ready to join in the
chase.

This was too valuable a trophy to be lost, and the Wyandot immediately
turned about and hastened toward the Long Clearing to recover it,
while the others passed on to mingle with those who were striving so
hard to encompass the destruction of the little party in the garrison.

The Indian who hurried back, it will be remembered, was the one that
had struck Deerfoot when he was a captive. He had been the most cruel
in his taunts, and his hatred of the youth seemed more malignant, if
possible, than that of the others.

He ground his teeth together, as he dropped into a walk, and recalled
the inimitable cleverness with which the young warrior outwitted them.

"Why did we not know the dog spoke with two tongues? Why did we not
make sure he could not run? Why did not some of our warriors lie in
the woods at the end of the Long Clearing to catch him, if he should
escape us?"

"He is a dog--he is a traitor!" muttered the fierce Wyandot,
approaching the spot where he had thrown the bow, "and he shall yet
fall by my hand----"

He was about to stoop forward to pick up the weapon, when a slight
exclamation caught his ear, and he straightened up like a flash.

Less than twenty feet distant stood Deerfoot the Shawanoe, quietly
looking at him. Both had reached the spot on the same errand, and thus
they met.

The youth had the advantage of detecting the other first, and, as a
consequence, was prepared. In the language of the west, it would have
been said, under similar circumstances, that Deerfoot "had the drop"
on the other Indian.

The latter, as he looked up, saw that the hand of the youth grasped
his tomahawk, which was held so far back of his hip that only a
glimpse of its edge could be seen. The arm extended straight down so
that it needed to be thrown upward and backward, before the formidable
missile could be launched.

Fate seemed to favor Deerfoot that day; for not only had he escaped
from a cruel death, but the being whom he hated above all others, and
with an intensity which only a barbarian can feel, now stood before
him.

There was no misunderstanding the situation on the part of either. The
Wyandot would have resorted to any treachery to slay Deerfoot, and he
was aware that Deerfoot knew it. He had inflicted indignities upon the
young Shawanoe which nothing less than the grace of heaven will
enable the North American Indian to forgive.

The two gazed fixedly at each other without speaking, and for a second
or two neither stirred a muscle. Then, while the Wyandot centered his
burning gaze upon the bronzed face before him, his right hand began
slowly stealing up from his hip to his girdle. It was seeking the
handle of his tomahawk, but, guarded as was the movement, the Shawanoe
saw it.

So absolute was Deerfoot's faith in his own prowess and unequalled
celerity that, knowing as he did the meaning of his enemy's action, he
permitted the hand to touch the weapon, before he affected to notice
it.

The instant the Wyandot griped the tough wooden handle, he snatched it
forth with surprising quickness and threw his hand back over his head
with the purpose of hurling it at the defiant youth.

But the latter was the quicker. His left hand made one lightning-like
sweep, and the tomahawk shot from his grasp with the suddenness of the
thunderbolt. Although the Wyandot threw his almost at the same
instant, yet there was just enough difference in time to make one a
success and the other a failure.

Deerfoot's weapon sped as direct as a rifle-ball, and clove the skull
of the Wyandot as though it were card-paper. The tomahawk of the
latter, which was in the act of leaving his hand, was so disarranged
by the shock that it was thrown up in the air and fell at his feet, as
he toppled over backwards, with a shriek which reached Waughtauk and
his warriors, and whose meaning they knew too well.

Deerfoot advanced and recovered his tomahawk, that had done this
terrible execution. Then he picked up his valued bow from the ground
and examined it to make sure that it had suffered no injury.

He did not stoop to take the scalp of the dead warrior, who hoped so
ardently a brief while before to capture his. The Shawanoe had never
scalped a vanquished foe; but when he caught sight of several Wyandots
hastening to the spot, he flourished his bow defiantly in the air,
gave utterance to several taunting cries, and, turning his back upon
them, plunged into the wilderness with such speed, as to render all
thought of pursuit out of the question.

And as he sped like a hound on a trail, the face of Deerfoot the
Shawanoe was turned toward the settlement of Wild Oaks on the far-away
Ohio.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE FIERY ENEMY.


Every one in the block-house, with the exception of the two little
girls of Colonel Preston, was wide awake. The conviction was so strong
that the crisis was at hand, that even Blossom Brown hunted out his
young master Ned Preston, and placing himself by his side, said--

"I's awoke, suah's yo' bo'n."

"It is best that you keep awake too," replied Ned, "for it is a good
deal better than to be awakened by fire and Indians."

"I can't understood why de Injines don't fight fair," said Blossom, with
a tone of impatience; "we don't use fire on dem, and why can't dey do de
same wid us? If I could talk de Injine language, I'd go down dar and try
to argy de matter wid 'em; I'd show 'em de--de--onscrupulousness ob
usin' de flames to burn us out. If we could only make 'em 'shamed, dat
would be a big p'int gained."

"It is nonsense to think of anything like that, Blossom; the Wyandots
are determined to burn down the block-house if there is any way to do
it----"

He abruptly stopped, for the tramp of feet was heard outside, close to
the front door. Megill and Stinger instantly fired down in the
darkness, guided only by the sense of sound; but the cry that rang out
on the snowy air, proved that execution was done.

Instantly there followed such a prodigious shock, from a blow against
the door, that the whole building shook. Before the men could bring
their guns to bear, the sound of rapidly running feet showed that the
Indians had dropped their battering ram and hurried off in the
darkness.

Almost at the same moment Mrs. Preston, who was peering through the
loopholes on the eastern side, saw an Indian arrow, wrapped with
blazing tow, shoot upward from the edge of the woods, and going slower
and slower, as it curved over, sweep downward with a whizzing rush,
and strike the roof overhead, with the same abrupt thud that had been
heard several times.

It was followed immediately by a second from the same point, which
seemed to take the same course, for it lodged very close beside it,
and also held its place.

Then another flaming missile rose from the northern side, then from
the south, and then from behind the river bank, with still others
mounting from intervening points, until a beautiful and terrifying
scene presented itself.

The blazing shafts followed each other in such rapid succession, that
there were fully twenty ascending and descending at the same moment.
These made all manner of fiery parabolas in the snowy atmosphere. One
archer, who sent his missiles from the upper window of the cabin near
the block-house, and another, who discharged his from behind the
pickets close at hand, pointed them so nearly perpendicularly that
they seemed to shoot downward almost directly through the fiery trail
they made in their ascent. Others came from such distant points that
their parabolas were lengthy, and they only rose a short distance
above the block-house itself, before they plunged into the slabs of
the roof.

These struck the latter at every possible angle, and with every
imaginable result. In some cases the arrow was so warped in its flight
that it took a path almost as erratic as that of the Australian
boomerang. Impinging against the roof at an acute angle, it would
glance far upward, and, turning over and over, come tumbling to the
earth, where it flickered a minute and died out.

Others hit the planks, and, like a mountaineer among the rocks, who
could not retain his hold, slid down the steep incline to the ground.
Still others missed the building altogether, and, plunging their
flinty heads in the earth, were quickly extinguished.

But the alarming fact remained that the majority of the flaming
missiles found a lodgment in the roof, where they burned with a
fierceness which showed they were an improvement on those first sent.
One could not but wonder where the Wyandots obtained all these
weapons: they must have started on the expedition with the expectation
of using this peculiar mode of warfare.

The fiery shower lasted but a few minutes, but at the end of that time
there were fully thirty shafts sticking in the roof and burning
vigorously. Viewed from the outside the block-house looked like some
vast monster whose hide was pierced with flaming spears, but who
slumbered on in the darkness, unmindful of the pests.

This lavish distribution of fire showed that the ground was covered
with a fine sprinkling of snow, which was still floating downward at
an almost imperceptible rate. There was no such mantle on the roof. It
was so smooth and steep that most of the particles ran downward and
off. A thin tiny line of snow-points was continually pouring over the
eaves, where the wind blew it to atoms again.

The twists of flame made the air about the cabin luminous, and the
millions of snow-flakes twinkled and glistened with starlike
brilliancy, as they came out of the darkness and fluttered in the glow
for a moment, ere they vanished again.

Several of the burning arrows were fired against the sides of the
block-house, where they flickered a brief while. These, added to the
other missiles on the ground, threw a dull reflection through the
loopholes, that enabled the garrison to see each other "as through a
glass darkly."

Their figures were easily distinguishable, as they moved carefully
about, and now and then the glimpse of a face was so ghastly and
unnatural that it was hard to recognize it. Blossom Brown was the only
one who was distinguishable at the first glance, and even he scarcely
looked like himself.

One unusually strong reflection from an arrow that imbedded itself in
a corner disclosed the faces of the little sisters Mary and Susie,
sleeping beside each other, with the warm comfortable blankets drawn
close about them.

Each had thrown her arm over the other, and their dimpled cheeks
almost touched, as they slumbered sweetly and peacefully, secure in
that trust in their heavenly Father, whom they had asked to take care
of them and their friends, while the wicked Indians tried so hard to
hurt them.

Taking advantage of the illumination, six or eight of the Wyandots
fired at the loopholes thus made visible; but the garrison knew the
danger and kept out of range.

The most alarming fact about the attack was the numerous burning
arrows on the roof. Colonel Preston and Jo Stinger agreed that, after
all, this was the most vulnerable point of the block-house, and it
was more than likely to ignite, if only a moderate number of the fiery
shafts could be made to hold their place a short time.

Although some of the snow found a lodgment under the overlapping
slabs, there was not enough to affect the bits of flame that were
burning in many places.

"This is bad business!" exclaimed the Colonel, "and must be checked at
once."

As he had done in the previous instances the commandant drew a stool
under the trap-door on one side of the roof, while Jo Stinger did the
same on the other. When these were lifted a few inches, the sight
which greeted them was enough to cause consternation. The light which
entered the upper story through the opening thus made disclosed every
object with great distinctness.

Jo Stinger saw that most of the coils of flame were not of a dangerous
nature and would soon expire of themselves; but there were two or
three that were gaining a headway that was likely to do alarming
injury, unless checked.

"Be keerful, Colonel," said Jo, "the varmints are watching us, and
you'll get a shot afore you know it."

The warning was none too soon. Several of the Wyandots were waiting a
movement of the trap-door. They had stationed themselves in the upper
story of the cabin, which gave them the necessary elevation, while the
flaming missiles themselves afforded all the view required.

Two shots were fired at the slight gap made by the lifting of the
covering, and the Colonel dropped it with a bang and an exclamation.
But he quickly rallied and called into play some of the strategy he
had learned during a long experience on the border.

The really dangerous shots (that is, those from the upper story of the
cabin) must necessarily come from one side of the structure. The
Colonel held a piece of planking so that it would act as a shield, and
catch any of the bullets from that point. Grasping the stock of his
rifle with one hand, he then stealthily reached out, and with much
difficulty and labor managed to dislodge the most threatening brands
in that direction.

This left only one in his "jurisdiction" which he really feared. With
a skill that Jo Stinger could not restrain himself from praising,
Colonel Preston managed to send this arrow with its fiery mane
sliding down the roof, without receiving any harm, though more than
one shot was fired at him.

Much the same task confronted Jo Stinger, and he performed it with the
expertness that was to be expected of such a veteran; but when he had
done all he could, there remained the most dangerous shaft of all. It
had lodged in the very peak of the roof, near the southern end, which
was the closest to the cabin that sheltered the Wyandots, and in
direct range of their fire.

This was burning with a persistency which looked as if the tow had
been soaked with some chemical, although such could not be the fact;
but, having found a lodgment, there it stuck and grew, with every
prospect of kindling a blaze that would soon spread to the entire roof
and building.

Jo Stinger fortified himself as best he could, and took every
precaution. Then, amid the dropping shots of the Wyandots, he
carefully felt his way forward with his rifle, until he could not
extend it an inch further: he still lacked more than a foot of
reaching the dangerous spot.

The red men, who saw the failure, raised a shout, and the scout was
compelled to draw back his weapon and muffled arm, without
accomplishing anything toward the extinguishment of the blaze that
threatened the destruction of the block-house and all within.

"You think 'cause Jo Stinger has played the fool, there's nothing left
of his wit, but you'll soon larn he hasn't forgot everything he once
knowed."

"Is it the only one that endangers the roof?" asked Colonel Preston,
as Jo joined them.

"Yes; if we can get that out, the trouble is over for the present,
though I don't know how long it will stay so."

"Suppose you cannot extinguish it?" asked Mrs. Preston.

"Then the block-house has got to burn."

This announcement caused dismay, for all felt that the few blunt words
of the scout were the simple truth. They so affected Blossom Brown
that he dropped back on a stool, and set up a howling that must have
reached the ears of the Wyandots outside.

"It's all de fault ob dat Deerhead--I mean Deerfoot, dat was so orful
anxious to run us into dis old place, when I told 'em it wasn't wise.
I wanted to go back to Wild Oaks where I had some chores to do, but he
obsisted, but took mighty good care to keep out de block-house
hisself, as I took notice----"

Blossom Brown would have gone on for an indefinite time with his loud
wailing, had not Stinger checked him by the threat to throw him out
the trap-door upon the roof.

Afraid that his bluff answer to Mrs. Preston's question might have
caused too much alarm, the scout added--

"If the varmints don't do any more than _that_, we're all right, for
I'm going to put the blaze out."

"You know the risk," said Colonel Preston, apprehensive that Jo
intended some effort that would expose him to extra peril.

"I reckon I do," was the response of the scout, who was the coolest
one of the whole company.

The situation could not have been more trying to the bravest persons.
In a manner almost unaccountable, a blaze had fastened itself in a
point of the roof beyond the reach of those within. There it was
burning and growing steadily, with the certainty that, unless checked
pretty soon, it would be beyond control.

Jo Stinger was the only member of the garrison who appeared equal to
the task, and more than one feared that to save the block-house he
must assume a risk that was certain to prove fatal.

Ned Preston caught the arm of the man in the darkness and asked--

"Can't you put it out with a wet blanket?"

"Well, you're a boy that _does_ know something!" exclaimed Jo, adding
with a burst of admiration, "Give me your hand, younker; that's the
very idee I had in mind."

This "idee," as the hunter termed it, was the ordinary one of
spreading a blanket, soaked with water, over the spaces endangered by
fire. Probably nothing more effective could have been devised, but it
should have been adopted when the peril involved was much less.
One-half of the entire roof was illuminated by the crackling blaze
which was steadily eating its way into the solid timber.

Jo Stinger, having determined on his course, spent no time in useless
conversation. Under his direction one of the blankets was saturated
with water from the precious supply in the barrel. As it was
necessary to see what they were doing, a tallow dip was lit and placed
where it threw a faint illumination through the interior. The garrison
could distinguish each other's figures, and no one needed any advice
to keep out of the path of such bullets as might enter through the
loopholes.

The scene was picturesque and striking. Mary and Susie still lay
wrapped in slumber, and their closed eyes and innocent faces subdued
every step and word, lest they should be awakened. Father and mother
glanced fondly at them many times, and wondered how long that
refreshing unconsciousness would continue.

By general agreement the entire party centered their attention on Jo
Stinger, who, having soaked the blanket, made ready to throw it over
the stubborn fire. The task of necessity was attended by such extreme
peril that all held their peace, oppressed by the gravity of the
danger. At the same time the crackling of the flames and the
unmistakable presence of smoke in the room showed that, if the
extinguishment was delayed much longer, the attempt would be too
late.

Jo placed the chair directly under the trap-door on the eastern side
of the block-house and was about to set foot on it, when Colonel
Preston stepped forward.

"Jo, you've forgotten; the blaze is further over on the other side."

"That's the reason I'm going to take _this_ side."

The Colonel stepped back, and the scout laid the dripping blanket upon
one arm, as though it were an overcoat. Grasping the edge of the
opening, and helped by Megill from below, he quickly climbed upward,
opening the door at the proper moment by the pressure of his head
against it.

It was not raised an inch more than necessary, when he slowly crept
out, like a crab casting its shell.

The blaze which was the cause of all this alarm and care was started,
as will be remembered, in the very peak of the roof, but from some
cause it had worked its way down the western side, which was
necessarily illuminated through its entirety by the light therefrom.

The shifting of the fire threw the eastern half of the roof in
comparative shadow, though the flickering glow was quite certain to
reveal the figure of any large object on it. The fact that Jo emerged
with his dripping blanket without drawing a shot, led him to hope that
his action was unsuspected.

In order to "play every point," Colonel Preston cautiously raised the
trap-door on the other side a few inches, and, guarding his face and
arm, extended the stock of his rifle toward the blaze, as if he
expected to pound it out.

He advanced the weapon quite slowly and with a movement intended to
impress the sharpshooters with the belief that he had perfected an
arrangement by which he was able to reach the endangered point.

As he anticipated, this diversion drew several shots, which whistled
about his head with a vigor that gave him a vivid idea of the
vigilance of the besieging Wyandots.

While this counter-movement was in progress, Jo Stinger was carefully
making his way along the roof on the other side. The unusual steepness
made this difficult, and had he not grasped the peak and held on, he
would have shot along the slope to the ground, as if sliding down the
side of a tree.

Inch by inch he progressed, expecting every minute that a bullet would
be fired at him. He kept the saturated blanket well rolled together
and in front, so that it served the purpose of a shield against any
shot from the cabin, where the sharpshooters seemed to have gathered
for the purpose of keeping the roof clear of all persons.

Jo Stinger had nearly reached the point from which he expected to
"ring down the curtain" on the flame, when he was confronted by an
experience altogether novel and unexpected.

Inasmuch as the burning arrows had done such good service, one of the
Wyandots on the edge of the woods launched another, which went high in
the air and, curving gracefully over, plunged downward toward the
roof.

Jo had no knowledge of its approach, until he heard the whizzing rush
of the flaming shaft, as it drove its head against the wet blanket,
glanced off and slid to the earth.

"It won't do to loaf 'round here," he muttered, "or I'll be crawling
over the roof with a dozen blazing arrers, and if Jo Stinger knows
hisself, he don't mean to play walkin' lantern for the Wyandot
varmints."

He had attained the position he was seeking, and a most delicate piece
of work was before him, but he was equal to it.

The Indians, who were gathered in the cabin, and collected at
different points in the woods and along the stockade, watching the
flame with no little exultation, saw it creeping downward and
spreading with a rapidity which boded ill for the garrison huddled
beneath.

The fine, silver-like snowflakes glistened in the fire-light, and
floated shudderingly down the roof, without affecting the blaze; but
at the moment when scores of eyes were gleaming like those of so many
wild beasts, a dark shadow suddenly disclosed itself--what seemed an
immense black hand spread out and closed over the dangerous fire,
which was instantly extinguished.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE TUG OF WAR.


The extinguishment of the burning roof, for the time, was complete.
Utter darkness came like the blowing out of a candle in a vault.

"The varmints know what it means!" muttered Jo Stinger, who made a
hurried retreat along the roof toward the trap-door, which had been
thrown wide open in readiness for his reception.

The Wyandots were quick to learn the cause of the sudden darkness, and
they opened a brisk fire on the roof. This necessarily was at random,
and the scout dropped through to the floor, without so much as a
scratch upon him.

Colonel Preston and his friends would have felt like uttering a cheer
over the success of Jo's boldness, but for the conviction that the
worst was yet to come and was close at hand.

One fact was so apparent that it caused a strengthening of hope: the
wind, which had been blowing almost a gale from the south, had
fallen, so that the lull was perceptible. Should the Wyandots fire
the cabin standing a short distance from the block-house, the flames
were not likely to communicate unless the gale appeared again.

All was darkness once more. The wind soughed dismally through the
trees and moaned around the block-house, which was scorched and still
smoking from the burning arrows of the Wyandots. The fine snowflakes
were still sifting downward, and far overhead was heard again the honk
of wild geese flying to the milder regions of the south.

From within the settler's cabin standing near the stockade came a dull
glow, but there was no other sign of life that eye could detect. And
yet the block-house was environed by hostile red men, who were as
eager as so many wolves to break into the fold.

Colonel Preston, Jo Stinger, Megill, Turner, and the boys were at the
loopholes watching and listening. Mrs. Preston alternated from the
side of her children to that of her husband, exchanging words with the
brave man who had been so cramped in his movements for the last day or
two that he was unable to do the service he wished to render his
friends.

The sounds of hurrying feet, the hoarse guttural exclamations and the
bird-like signals showed that the Wyandots were near the fort. They
had taken advantage of the Egyptian darkness to steal up close to the
sides of the building, where their presence could only be discovered
through some movement that made a noise sufficient to reach the ears
of the listeners above.

Several times the heavy log which they had dragged from the river bank
was carried stealthily up to within a few feet of the building, when,
having located the door, they ran forward with the battering ram.
Delivering the blow they dropped the log and scampered to escape the
shots which were sent after them in the darkness.

Now and then some of these bullets found their mark, and the
assailants learned to their cost that it was not simple amusement on
which they were engaged.

Believing they had made some impression on the door, eight Wyandots
stole forward, lifted the tree-trunk from the ground, and stepped
heavily and quietly backward several paces, where they paused to
gather breath for the fierce rush.

At the very moment they had concentrated their strength and were in
the act of moving, a flaming arrow sped upward like a rocket from the
other side the clearing, and, curving over, went a short distance
beyond the block-house, and, by a singular mischance, buried its head
in the log, which was held above the ground and in the act of being
plunged against the door.

The shaft stuck and the flaming twist of tow gave partial glimpses of
the eight swarthy figures laboring toward the building with the timber
between the two divisions. The knowledge that they were exposed to the
aim of the Kentuckians, spread consternation among the Wyandots, who
released the burden so suddenly that it fell upon one warrior's foot.

The pain was so acute that, like a civilized being, he caught the
injured member in both hands and danced round and round on the other
foot, howling with torture, while the others skurried away in the
darkness, as though a bomb-shell had burst among them.

The crack of several well-aimed rifles hastened the steps of these
frightened warriors, and he who was nursing his bruised foot dropped
it and limped off, with a haste that would have been impossible under
other circumstances.

This incident, which was not without its element of comedy, was
followed by a still more singular one.

Despite the vigilance of the garrison, the Wyandots were constantly
tempted to efforts which, it would seem, promised no success at all,
and which exposed them to great danger from the rifles of the
Kentuckians.

We have described the windows on the lower story of the block-house,
which were without panes, long and so narrow that it was not deemed
possible that any person could force his body through.

And yet there was one warrior who had probably spent most of the day
in considering the matter, and who concluded there was a chance for
him to succeed, where all others had failed.

A peculiar noise on the lower floor led Colonel Preston to descend the
ladder to investigate. For some minutes he was unable to conjecture
what the disturbance could mean, but the faint glow thrown out by the
flaming arrow which drove its head into the log, showed that the
window at the right of the front door was blocked up by an Indian,
who was wedged fast, and unable to get in or out.

He was struggling desperately, but could not extricate himself, and
the astounded commandant concluded that, if he was attenuated enough
to enter that far, he was probably capable of going still further, and
must be a curiosity in the way of bulk which was worth seeing.

The Colonel shuddered to think what would have been the result if this
savage had secured an entrance. It would have taken him but a minute
or two to remove the fastenings of the door, when the whole horde of
ferocious red men would have swarmed in.

The officer immediately ran forward and, catching the two arms of the
intruder, pinioned them. Then he began pulling with might and main.
That he might not throw away any strength, he placed both feet against
the logs below the window, and, leaning back, threw all his energy in
the effort.

So great was the force exerted that in all likelihood he would have
succeeded in drawing the exceedingly thin warrior through the window,
had not a couple of friends, at the same moment, seized his legs,
which were frantically beating vacancy, and commenced pulling with
equal ardor in the opposite direction.

The Wyandot was now as anxious to retreat as he had been to advance,
and he strove to help his friends; but his efforts were so handicapped
that he gave them little if any assistance.

The arrow which had burned so brightly for a minute or two expired, so
that all was darkness once more, and the singular tug of war went on.

When Colonel Preston held his breath, compressed his lips and did his
utmost, he felt the Indian move forward several inches in response;
but there were a couple fully as muscular, and inspired by as strong
enthusiasm as the pioneer. The tug which they put forth brought the
brave back again, with probably a slight gain.

The warriors at the heels had the additional advantage of the
sympathies of the one over whom they were disputing, and who bid fair
to become elongated to an alarming extent by this singular
controversy. He kept twisting his hands in such a way that he broke
the hold of Colonel Preston more than once, while he quieted his legs
so as to favor his friends all he could.

The first flirt which the Indian made was so sudden and unexpected
that the Colonel fell backwards on the floor; but he was up on the
instant, and grappled the sinewy arms again.

"If this keeps on much longer," thought the officer, "something must
give way. Suppose we should pull the rascal in two, with half inside
and half out. That might be fair to us, but the Indian, considered
strictly as an Indian, would not be of much account. I wonder
whether----"

"Hello, Colonel, what's going on?"

Jo Stinger had heard the singular disturbance, and, unable to guess
its meaning, was hurrying down the ladder to inform himself.

The exquisite absurdity of the situation caused a momentary reaction
from the gloom which had oppressed Colonel Preston, and led him to
reply--

"I've got a red man here that we're using as a cross-cut saw, and
we've stretched him out to almost double----"

At that instant the individual referred to, knowing that all depended
on one supreme effort, wrenched his wrists loose and, like a flash,
struck the Colonel such a blow in the face that he reeled backwards
almost to the other side the room.

The Wyandots at the other end of the line were reinforced at the
critical juncture by two others, who caught hold of their man wherever
it was the most convenient, and the four gave a long pull, a strong
pull, and a pull altogether, that was sure to accomplish something
definite.

Fortunately for the elongated Indian his legs were equal to the
strain, and he shot backward through the opening like the lady in the
show, who is fired from the giant cannon by the aid of springs alone.
He and his friends rolled over in one promiscuous heap, but were
quickly on their feet and skurried away in a twinkling.

Jo Stinger scarcely credited the singular story when the Colonel
related it, but when the particulars were given, he could not refuse
to believe.

"You could have ended it, Colonel, when you had his head inside," said
the scout.

"I know that, but I did not like the thought of taking such a
frightful disadvantage of an enemy."

"Then you ought to have done it without thinking," muttered Jo, who
was beginning to feel less mercy toward the Wyandots, since they had
made their own furious hatred so manifest.

"If there's any likelihood of that varmint trying the thing over
again, I'd stay here; but a chap who goes through, or tries to go
through what he did, is apt to get enough."

"I am sure of that," assented Colonel Preston, who was still rubbing
his face where the vigorous blow had fallen upon it.

There was no occasion to remain below-stairs, and the two went up the
ladder, where a consultation was held as to what was best to do, if
indeed they could do anything in their perilous situation.

Midnight had passed, and a hope was gaining ground that, if they could
hold out until morning, the prospect of beating off the Wyandots would
be improved. The American Indian seems incapable of doing his best
work except in darkness, and another night of such utter gloom as the
present was not likely to come.

It was not known, of course, that Deerfoot had escaped from his
enemies, and the belief was general that his career had been brought
to an untimely end; but, as we have shown, the young Shawanoe, with
all his fleetness, could not bring reinforcements from Wild Oaks
before the succeeding night, and it would have been a great feat
could he accomplish it in that limited time.

The garrison had enough food to last them a week, and the supply of
water was sufficient for the same time, unless too many draughts
should be required by the work of the torch and burning arrows.

A continuous assault upon the door and the frequent firing into the
loopholes and windows promised something, but the danger and delay
which attended such work were too great for the red men, who knew the
value of time as well as did the settlers themselves.

All within noted the direction and strength of the wind with an
anxiety which cannot be described. The space separating the
block-house and the cabin was so small that a slight gale from the
right quarter was certain to carry the flames from one to the other.
Both parties therefore were watching the indications with an equal
intensity of interest.

Once the wind was just right, but a lull came, as the torch was about
to be applied, and Waughtauk, after recovering from the terror caused
by the appearance of the scout at the window, must have felt a grim
impatience, as he saw the hours steadily slipping away, with no marked
change in the situation.

But the fiery arrows had done excellently well, although at the
critical moment a wet blanket, in the full sense of the word, was
thrown upon the prospects of the assailants. Waughtauk and his
sharpshooters knew how cleverly they had been outwitted, and they were
sure the strategy could not succeed a second time.

The orders were therefore given to try the blazing missiles again, and
in a few minutes a converging fire was opened, which looked as if a
miniature bombardment had begun.

The pyrotechnic display, under the peculiar circumstances, was
singularly striking.

By and by the missiles found a lodgment on the roof of the
block-house, and the twists of flame once more lit up the rough
surface, scorched and blackened in many places, and on which the
flakes, instead of sliding off, as aforetime, seemed to stick with an
unusual persistency.

There were broad patches of snow over the greater portion, and
although some of the arrows held, yet the major number fell over,
after striking and flickering a few minutes, and went out. The flakes
which had collected now helped blot out the flames.

The cause of these changed conditions was due to a number of saturated
blankets that had been carefully spread over the roof. During the
darkness which followed Jo Stinger's exploit, and after Colonel
Preston's failure to win in his tug of war with the Wyandot, the
garrison had wisely improved the time by soaking quilts with water and
laying them over the most ignitable portion of the roof.

Men and boys had given up those appropriated to their use; indeed all
had been taken, except those which protected the little girls while
sleeping. The mother offered those, if needed, willing to enfold and
warm her little ones with her own loving arms, and such few extra
garments as could be gathered among the company; but the scout
declined, saying he had all he could use. At the same time he would
have given anything in his possession for enough material to plaster
the entire surface.

Favored by the sheltering darkness, Jo then stretched these coverings
over the slabs. He fastened them together and balanced them over the
ridge, so there was no possibility of their slipping off.

This was done with such care that no space was lost. The temperature
was so low that in a few minutes the blankets were stiff with frost,
and, although the hunter was toughened by many years' exposure, his
hands became so benumbed he could hardly use them.

It was these frosty blankets which caught the snow and held it, and
which rendered useless so many of the burning shafts discharged by the
Wyandots.

But there were spaces where the seasoned wood was exposed. Several of
the blazing missiles, as might have been expected, lodged there and
began burning their way into the timber.

Furthermore, as these flames lit up the gloom, the Wyandots, eagerly
looking upon the scene from every point of the compass, saw a sight
which must have amazed them: it was the figure of a man stretched out
at full length on the roof, holding on with one hand, while the other
seemed to be occupied in giving the finishing touches to the
saturated goods, which, so far as they went, were an effective shield
against the fire.

Was ever such reckless daring known? It looked as if the scout Jo
Stinger deliberately invited this manner of his taking off, in
preference to torture by flame, or at the hands of his dusky enemies.

If such were the fact, the Wyandots did not restrain their fire. Every
one who commanded the position immediately opened upon the poor
fellow, and the sharpshooters in the cabin near at hand discharged
their pieces with unerring accuracy.

Bullet after bullet struck the figure which, as it lay at full length,
was a fair target for the many rifles. Still he held on and made no
effort to lift the trap-door and drop beyond range of the deadly sleet
hurtling about him.

But there is a limit to the capacity of the strongest, and all at once
the hold was loosened. He seemed to catch vainly at the steep roof,
over which he began slipping; but there was nothing which he could
grasp that would stay his downward flight. Faster and faster he went,
until he shot over the eaves, and, striking the ground, collapsed in
a limp heap in which there was not a particle of life.

The Wyandots, with whoops of delight, dashed forward from the
darkness, each eager to be the first to scalp the man whom they well
knew, and regarded as the most formidable member of the garrison.

Forgetful of the risk they ran (for the spot where the inanimate
figure fell was revealed by the burning arrows), the warriors
scrambled with each other as to who should secure the coveted trophy.

Scarcely a full minute had passed when cries of rage and chagrin were
heard from the disappointed group: for that which they seized and
struck at was not a man at all, but a dummy cunningly put together,
and placed in such a position on the top of the block-house that not a
Wyandot who fired at it had the slightest suspicion that he was
throwing his ammunition away.



CHAPTER XX.

THE SOUTH WIND.


The project of placing a dummy on the roof of the block-house, with a
view of drawing the fire of the Wyandots, was original with Jo
Stinger. It is hard to see what good was attained, for more than
enough ammunition remained to prosecute the battle with all energy,
whenever the opportunity presented itself to the assailants.

The explanation of the act is found in the mental composition of the
frontiersman himself. He had been outwitted more than once by the
Indians, and he wished to show them that he had not lost entirely the
cunning which had made his name known among many of the tribes that
roamed and hunted through Ohio and the Dark and Bloody Ground.

Still further, those men who are accustomed to scenes of danger and
daring are not without a certain element of humor in their make-up,
and when one's spirits are oppressed for a long period, the rebound,
at times, is so sudden that he is impelled to words and acts so
incongruous as to excite the wonderment of friends.

Jo constructed the dummy to look as much like himself as possible. The
clothing and material for this could be ill spared, but he furnished
most of it himself, and when the image was placed in position, he was
as impatient as a child for the sport that followed.

Poor distressed Mrs. Preston could see no justification of such levity
at so serious a time. Megill and Turner enjoyed it scarcely less than
their friend, while the Colonel affected an interest which he was far
from feeling.

Blossom Brown laughed heartily over the discomfiture of the red men,
and Ned Preston forgot his dread and grief for the moment; but they
quickly returned, and the depression of all was doubtless greater from
the temporary lifting of spirits the incident caused.

The Wyandots had hardly discovered the deception, when all three of
the men at the loopholes fired into them. The shots produced results
too, and the assailants became more cautious of the Kentuckians, who
had learned to use their guns with such accuracy of aim.

Jo Stinger, in spreading the wetted blankets over the roof, had shown
not only skill and courage, but good judgment. The protection was
secured at the remotest points, which it was impossible to reach from
either of the trap-doors, without exposing themselves to the certain
aim of the Wyandot sharpshooters. The uncovered portions were those
within reach.

Jo Stinger and Colonel Preston passed to the southern side of the
building, from which they could look out upon the nearest cabin. Here
a number of Indians were gathered, as there had been almost from the
first.

"Your errand, I've no doubt, Jo, is the same as mine," said the
officer, in a guarded voice.

"There's no doubt of that," replied the scout, "always providin' yours
is the same as mine."

"I'm watching the wind."

"So am I."

"How do you find it?"

"It's blowing from the south."

"I am afraid so," remarked the Colonel, with a pang of misgiving, as
he received a puff through the loophole, directly in the face; "is it
stronger than before?"

"It's blowing harder than it did a half hour ago, but not so hard as
two hours since."

"The worst feature about the business is that the wind is not only
from the wrong point of the compass, but it is increasing."

"You speak the solemn truth, Colonel, but it aint sartin the varmints
have got us anyway--helloa!"

To the consternation of every one in the block-house the tread of feet
was heard on the roof at that moment. Some one ran nimbly along the
slabs, stooping down and holding himself from slipping by grasping the
ridge with his hands.

By what possible means he gained this perch, was beyond the conjecture
of any one; but the crisis was too grave to admit of an instant's
delay. The warrior, beyond a doubt, had assumed this perilous risk
with a view of tearing off the blankets, which shielded the roof from
the flaming arrows.

Jo Stinger dropped his gun, sprang upon a stool, and leaped upward
through the trap-door. Had he vaulted upon the roof with less
celerity, he would have been dispatched by the Indian, who would have
had him almost at his mercy; but the first warning the Wyandot
received of his coming was his arrival.

The scout was aroused, and no athlete could have handled himself more
deftly than did he. The very moment he was outside he moved several
feet away from the opening and placed himself astride of the ridge
pole.

This was the most secure position he could hold, and he peered around
in the darkness and listened for something that would tell him where
his enemy was. His unusually keen vision was of no use under the
circumstances. There was not the slightest ember burning near him, nor
was there a ray of moonlight or starlight to pierce the blackness of
night.

But the Wyandot was there. He had removed several of the blankets, and
was working at the others when the sound of the trap-door told him the
important truth that a second person was on the roof.

The warrior could have slid down to the eaves and dropped to the
ground without injury to himself; but that would have forced him to
leave his work uncompleted, and he was too true a brave to do that.

Nothing loth to engage in a personal encounter, he began stealing
along the ridge toward the point where he believed the white man was
awaiting him. As Stinger held himself rigid and motionless, his
precise location could not be determined at once; but the Indian's
approach, guarded though it was, told Jo exactly where to search for
his adversary.

Never was a barbarian taken more completely at fault. He made a fatal
miscalculation, and one minute later, when he fell to the ground, he
was as lifeless as the dummy which preceded him.

How this savage managed to reach the roof, puzzled Stinger beyond
expression. He sat bolt upright on the ridge, looking around in the
blank darkness, listening and thinking, and speculating upon the
all-absorbing problem.

"It must be they rigged up some sort of ladder by cutting down a
sapling; then they've leaned it aginst the eaves and he has shinned
up, almost rubbing agin the muzzles of our guns,--but he won't climb
any more ladders of _that_ kind I reckon."

There was reason to fear the attempt would be repeated, and the scout
retained his perch fully ten minutes, that he might be prepared to nip
such a scheme in the bud.

Nothing to cause alarm occurred. Jo proceeded to investigate as
carefully as he could the mischief done by the Wyandot who paid so
dearly for it.

To his dismay the scout soon learned that the Indian had almost
completed the task he undertook. He had torn off the frosty blankets
and sent them rolling and sliding to the ground, as though they were
so many ribbons fluttering in the wind.

Great damage in this respect had been done, and it was irreparable.

The scout had hitched along until close to the trap-door, where he
paused a moment listening, in the hope of learning something of the
movements of the Wyandots.

Loth as he was to admit it, he could not shut out the terrifying fact
that the wind, which had set in from the south, was still rising and
must soon reach a degree that would tempt the red men to fire the
cabin, with the almost certain prospect of the flames communicating to
the block-house.

Jo was contemplating this terrible contingency, when he heard several
signals between parties near at hand. He had no way of knowing their
meaning, but, while he was looking and listening, another burning
arrow suddenly shot up from the edge of the clearing, in its
curvilinear flight for the roof of the block-house.

"I wonder how near that is coming to _me_," muttered Jo, looking
upward at the comet-like missile; "it turns beautiful--now it seems to
halt like a swimmer looking for a spot where to dive--now it
turns--down she comes--she is going to land on the roof sure--she's
coming for me--_great guns_!"

Up went the trap-door, and down shot the scout like a seal who plunges
into the air-hole just in time to elude the spear of the Esquimaux.

The spot vacated by the hunter was struck the fraction of a second
after by the arrow, which would have played sad havoc with him, had he
been less alert in his movements.

The expectation of the garrison, now that the roof had been cleared of
the blankets, was that the Wyandots would repeat the bombardment of
burning missiles, with an absolute certainty of success.

Such, there is every reason to believe, would have been the case, but
for the favoring air which rendered any repetition of that species of
warfare unnecessary.

It had ceased snowing, and the wind from the south was blowing
strongly. Everything favored the method of attack which Stinger heard
the chieftain Waughtauk declare should be used against the settlers.

By common agreement and without a word, the entire party passed to the
southern side of the building and peered through the loopholes at the
cabin, in which it was known a number of their enemies were gathered.

"If they have fixed upon this plan of assault," said Colonel Preston
to Stinger, "why do they wait?"

"The varmints are good judges of weather, and they may be sartin the
wind will be stronger by and by."

"But it seems strong enough to bring the flames over to us, and----"

"_They've set fire to the cabin!_"

The exclamation came from Ned Preston, who was at the elbow of Jo
Stinger. Every one who was looking out in the darkness saw that he
spoke the appalling truth.

The building nearest them had a door and window on the first floor,
and two windows above, all facing the block-house. It was in the lower
story that Waughtauk and his most trusted warriors had been grouped
for hours, after having decided what should be the line of action
toward the besieged settlers.

From the window on the lower floor suddenly issued a tongue of flame,
which darted out and back with great rapidity. Then the whole interior
became one vivid red glow, fire was seen shooting in every direction,
and volumes of smoke began pouring from the upper windows.

The torch was applied, and the last, final test of the block-house had
come.

The garrison were awed spectators of the scene. All understood what it
meant, and there was no call for words; but as the southern side of
the block-house, as well as the roof, were to be exposed to a
furnace-like heat, the water was gathered in vessels, where it could
be used the instant needed.

The Wyandots had hurried out of the building before the flames were
fairly going, so as not to expose themselves to the rifles of the
Kentuckians; but as the flames spread and the circle of illumination
widened, the dusky foes were seen skulking behind the other cabin,
along the stockade, and in the clearing, watching the destruction, and
the massive block-house, whose heavy logs, steep overhanging roof,
rude chimney and rugged outlines loomed up in the crimson glow against
the background of blank darkness.

There was not a snowflake in the air, but the spotless white on the
ground showed in many places where the mantle had been disturbed by
the moccasins of the Wyandots.

The glare seemed to reach the clouds, and the myriads of sparks which
went drifting to the northward, and falling over an area of many
acres, brought out the gaunt, skeleton-like figures of the trees,
which seemed to look solemnly forth from the dim woods, where the
white and red men only met in scenes of violence and blood.

The garrison allowed themselves to be restrained by no sentimentality,
for it was an hour when every shot counted. The glow of the ascending
flames continually flung back the sheltering mantle of night
enveloping the figures of the warriors, who were not always quick to
remember the danger to which they were thus exposed.

But when four or five well-aimed rifles were fired from the loopholes,
that were lit up with an illumination greater than that of the noonday
sun, the survivors made haste to run back into the gloom, or to throw
themselves behind some shelter.

The situation of those in the block-house became distressing beyond
expression. The wind, blowing strongly in that direction, quickly
filled the room with suffocating smoke, which, for a minute or two,
threatened to overcome every one. The vapor, however, gave way to the
heat, which was uncomfortable, although, so long as the logs did not
take the flames, they could not cause much suffering.

The smoke and its miseries awoke little Mary and Susie Preston, whose
terror, when they saw through the loopholes the burning cabin, and
who were not too young to understand their peril, touched the hearts
of all. They began crying piteously and, trembling in every limb,
threw their arms first about the neck of mamma and then of papa,
sobbing and clinging convulsively to each in turn.

"The wicked Indians will kill you: we know they will; they will kill
papa and mamma, and that will break our hearts."

After a time, the mother was able to quiet them, and then both,
without any agreement, knelt at her knee and prayed with the pathetic
faith of childhood.

"Our Heavenly Father, don't let the bad Indians hurt papa nor mamma,
nor Jo, nor Mr. Turner, nor Mr. Megill, nor cousin Ned, nor Blossom,
nor us. Don't let them hurt anybody; take care of us all; make us good
girls. Amen."

Who shall say that the petition from the hearts of the innocent and
trusting little ones was not wafted upward by the wings of listening
angels, who were quick to bear the message to Him whose ear is never
closed? And who shall say that He, leaning over the celestial
battlements, did not look down on that wild scene in the grim
forests, and stay the hand of the vengeful Wyandot, as it was raised
to smite his pale-face brother to the earth?



CHAPTER XXI.

CONCLUSION.


The wind from the south was so strong that most of the large sparks
capable of carrying the fire were thrown beyond the block-house,
falling about the stockade, on the clearing, and among the trees,
where they kindled spiral serpents of flame and smoke, which quickly
died of themselves.

But as the blaze grew hotter and hotter, it seemed to converge its
fierce heat upon the doomed block-house, as the blowpipe melts the
obdurate metal. The upper room became filled with the quivering air,
and more than one wondered how it was the logs withstood the
furnace-like blast so long.

Although the two cabins were closer to each other than to the fort,
yet the untouched one was in no danger because of the direction of the
wind. The structure which had been lighted, burned furiously, and
those who were watching its progress soon detected smoke from the
block-house itself.

Jo Stinger was surprised to learn that, instead of being on the roof,
it was from one of the windows almost directly under him--almost the
last place where he expected the flames to catch.

While he was peering downward through the openings at his feet, he
discovered the blaze.

A quart or two of water, well applied, extinguished it, and he called
at the others to make known at once any other flame they might see.
The warning was scarcely given, when Blossom Brown shouted--

"Here it am! here it am! burnin' like all creation!"

The dusky lad was not mistaken, for the logs below them had caught
again, and considerable water was required before it succumbed.
However, it went out at last, and the thick smoke and steam climbed
upward into the face of Blossom, who coughed until he seemed nearly
racked to pieces.

Doubtless the Wyandots could have poured in a volley of shots through
the loopholes, which would have slain a number of the hapless
defenders; but now, when nothing could prevent the capture of the
entire party, the red men preferred that the company should fall into
their hands intact.

Ned Preston was standing at the south-east angle of the block-house,
looking toward the burning building, when he saw something which, for
the time, made him doubt the evidence of his own senses.

His position was such that he could look directly along the western
side of the cabin, which was unharmed by the flames. This, it will be
noted, was the portion that adjoined the burning structure. On this
side of the building, which was not burning, the heat was not very
great, but the illumination was so strong that it was as light as
midday, and no Wyandot ventured near it, through fear of the rifles of
the Kentuckians.

The youth was watching the cabin, around and through which the flames
were raging so furiously, when an Indian warrior walked into view.
From what point he came, the watcher could not tell: the first he saw
of him was when he approached the logs of the other structure. He
moved slowly, as if surveying all sides, and when he turned and
reached the door, he was seen to raise his hand and pass within,
where, of course, he vanished from sight.

This of itself would not have been so extraordinary, but for the fact
that the handsome face, distinctly shown in the glare, the slight,
graceful figure, carrying a long bow in his right hand, and displaying
the quiver of arrows over his shoulder, identified the Indian as
Deerfoot the Shawanoe.

Despite the frightful situation, Ned Preston could scarcely restrain a
cheer, for he was thrilled with a pleasure beyond description over the
unexpected discovery that his devoted friend was still alive.

Ned darted to the side of Jo Stinger and told him what he had seen.

"Are you sure of it, younker?" demanded the scout sharply.

"Sure of it? It is impossible that I should be mistaken; I know him as
well as I do you, and he stood in the full glare of the firelight."

"You're right; it _was_ the Shawanoe; I seen him; I thought the young
varmint was dead, but he's a good deal more alive this minute than we
are."

"But, Jo, what does it mean? Why did he come out there where he could
be seen, and go into the building?"

"He wanted us to notice him, and it was the best thing he could do.
The varmints toward the river and in the clearin' must have cotched
sight of him; but before they could larn his name and post-office
address, he was inside."

"But I can't understand his cause for entering the cabin any way; what
good can he do us there?"

"I've my 'spicion--_there_! that's what I expected!"

A crackling, snapping sound overhead told the alarming truth: the roof
was burning fiercely, and there was no possible way of putting out the
flames. In fact, it had been ablaze some time, for the fiery points
were seen in several places along the ridge-pole, fast eating their
way, so to speak, into the vitals of the building.

A minute after the sparks began falling through upon the floor, the
vapor loaded with fire filtered through the loopholes, and the upper
story had become untenable.

"Down the ladder!" said Jo Stinger; "it won't do to wait any longer."

He led the way himself, and the others followed in rather a pell-mell
fashion. All, however, safely reached the lower story, where the
situation was improved for a brief time only.

Smoke and fire were around them; the air was thick with strangling
vapor and blistering sparks; the glow illuminated the interior, as if
with a thousand lamps, and the ghastly countenances were rendered more
unearthly by the lurid light which permeated everywhere.

Megill, Turner and Stinger were grim and silent. They had faced death
before, and they were certain always to meet him with the front of
heroes. The pale face of Mrs. Preston was calm, and she was sustained
by the unfaltering trust of the Christian who forgets not that,
however great the sufferings awaiting him, they can never equal the
anguish of Him who gave up his life on Calvary for the world.

She kept her little ones close to her side. She had held a rifle when
the danger first appeared; but she did not discharge it, and it was
now cast aside. She remained near her husband, who, in a low voice,
spoke encouraging words to her and his little ones, and who was
resolved to die fighting in defence of those who were a thousand times
dearer to him than his own life.

Blossom Brown was stupefied by the overwhelming terror of the scene.
He moved about in a stolid, ox-like fashion, capable of obeying
blindly whatever those around told him to do.

It was apparent even to the little children, who had hushed their
cries, that it was impossible to stay more than a few minutes longer
in the block-house. It was already on fire in a dozen different
places, and was burning furiously. The fugitives might remain huddled
together a short while, but only to meet the most awful of deaths; or
they could venture forth and fall into the hands of the treacherous
Wyandots.

"The door of that cabin over there is partly open, as you can
obsarve," said Jo Stinger; "the logs haven't been scorched by fire, as
you can also obsarve; we'll make a run for that door, and arter we get
inside, we'll fight till the death, as you'll also obsarve."

"But they can shoot us down while we're on the way," said Colonel
Preston.

"They can, but they won't; for they'd rather make us prisoners. No red
varmint shall ever take _me_ captive."

"Nor me either," added Turner and Megill together.

"That seems to be the only thing we can do. We ought to be able to
make a stand there until to-morrow, when there may be help from Wild
Oaks."

"All make ready; I'll lead the way."

There was not a heart from which a fervent prayer was not sent up to
heaven; but the men compressed their lips and nerved themselves for
the final effort. Colonel Preston caught up Mary the elder, kissed and
pressed her to his heart. She returned the caresses, and he held her
on his left arm, while the right hand grasped his rifle. The wife did
the same with Susie, for the weapon she had cast aside was too
valuable to leave behind.

"Hadn't I better lead de way?" asked Blossom Brown, crowding forward.

"Why?"

"'Cause I'll kind ob darken tings, so de Injines can't see us."

"Wait till we start, and then you may lead if you can."

Jo Stinger leaned his long rifle against the wall, and with a firm,
strong hand removed the bars one after the other. Then the door was
drawn inward, he picked up his gun, and looked around at the group.

"Foller me!"

As he spoke, he strode forth, the others close on his heels. Blossom
Brown made a plunge to pass the leader, but as he did not know which
way to turn, he fell back.

The scout diverged to the left, and, with the same deliberate tread,
passed over the open space between the burning cabin and the blazing
block-house. A short time before, this would have been impossible; but
the cabin was so nearly destroyed that the heat could be borne,
although it caused each to hold his breath, it was so intolerable.

Scores of the Wyandots were watching the fugitives, and whoops and
shouts of exultation rent the air, as a dozen advanced to meet the
captives.

The latter hurried forward a few paces more, when Jo Stinger shouted--

"Now run for your lives!"

They were within fifty feet of the open door of the second cabin,
through which he plunged the next instant like a cannon-shot, the
others following pell-mell. The movement was so sudden and unexpected
by the Wyandots crowding forward that it was virtually finished before
they could interfere.

Ned Preston purposely threw himself behind the others, that he might,
so far as possible, help protect his aunt and cousins. He was about to
follow them into the building, when one warrior, more agile than the
other, bounded forward with uplifted tomahawk.

Before he could throw it, and before Ned could use his gun, a
resounding twang was heard from the nearest window, and an arrow from
the royal bow of Deerfoot the Shawanoe transfixed him.

Ned Preston was inside in a twinkling. The Wyandots, infuriated over
the trick played them, made a rush, with the intention of forcing an
entrance at all hazards; but they were met by a rattling fire, which
sent them skurrying like rabbits to cover. Every window seemed to
bristle with rifles, and the shots were so numerous that Waughtauk
and his warriors saw that others than the fugitives were defending the
building.

Such was the fact. When Macaiah Preston, the leading settler at Wild
Oaks, sent Deerfoot to apprise Colonel Preston of his danger, he did
not contemplate doing anything more. But his own son was involved, and
he became so uneasy that he consulted his neighbors, who agreed that
help should be dispatched to Fort Bridgman without delay.

Accompanied by ten skilled riflemen, all of whom had seen service on
the frontier, he set out for the station thirty miles away. He reached
the neighborhood quite late at night of the second day of the siege,
and on the way he met and was joined by Deerfoot, who had started to
obtain his help.

As the Wyandots felt certain of their prey, they had relaxed their
vigilance to a great extent. It was a curious fact that, while Jo
Stinger was engaged on his reconnoissance, Deerfoot and several of the
new arrivals were doing the same, although neither suspected the
presence of the other.

The plan of Waughtauk was soon learned, and it was then decided to
enter the cabin, and be guided by events. This was a task of extreme
difficulty, but with the assistance of Deerfoot, who was the first to
open the way, they got within the building without detection by their
enemies. Then, with loaded and cocked rifles, they held themselves
ready for any emergency.

As the crisis approached, Deerfoot purposely showed himself to the
garrison, that they might recognize him and learn that they were not
deserted. At the same time Macaiah Preston made several guarded
signals to Jo Stinger, which that scout saw and understood, though no
one else did. He said nothing to his friends, but it was this
knowledge which gave such assurance to his movements.

The numbers within the cabin rendered it practically impregnable to
twice the force at the command of Waughtauk, chieftain of the
Wyandots. The illumination from the burning embers was so full that
any warrior who ventured to show himself was riddled before he could
approach within a hundred feet of the building.

This "electric light" lasted until after daylight, at which hour not a
solitary hostile was visible. The single structure that had been left
standing contained a stronger force than that of the red men who had
destroyed the other two.

There was no move made until noon, when Deerfoot ventured into the
woods on a careful and prolonged reconnoissance. When he came back, he
reported of a verity that Waughtauk and his Indians had gone, and in
all probability were miles distant.

It was deemed best, however, for the settlers to stay where they were,
until the succeeding morning. This was done, and, at an early hour,
the whole company started for Wild Oaks, on the Ohio.

The journey was ended without special incident, and just as the sun
went down behind the western wilderness, the settlement was reached,
and all danger was past.

"Thank heaven!" exclaimed Colonel Preston, looking reverently upward;
"we have been saved by fire indeed."

"And did you ever think we wouldn't be?" asked Susie, his younger
daughter.

"Well, I must own that I gave up once."

"That is wicked, papa," said the little one reproachfully; "I _knew_
God would take care of us all, and the bad Indians wouldn't hurt us,
'cause Mary and I prayed to Him, and He heard us."

"God bless you--I believe you!" replied the father, with misty eyes,
as he tossed the darlings in air one after the other, caught them in
his arms, and kissed them again and again.

We have not dwelt on the meeting in the cabin, which survived the
flames, between the despairing fugitives and their rescuers. Its
joyful nature may be imagined. The countenance of the handsome,
willowy young Shawanoe was aglow with pleasure, when he grasped the
hand of the no less delighted Ned Preston, who had believed him dead
until he saw him walk forth in the glare of the burning building.

"You must come and live with us," said Ned, at the end of the journey,
and after the others had thanked the wonderful youth for his services,
which were beyond value.

"Deerfoot will visit his friends," said he, holding the hand of Ned,
and looking affectionately in the face of the youthful pioneer; "but
his home is in the woods. He loves to lie under the trees and listen
to the sighing of the wind among the branches; he loves to watch the
clouds, as they float like snowy canoes across the blue sky; he loves
to listen to the soft flow of the river, to crawl under the edge of
the rock, and hear the snowflakes sifting down on the brown leaves;
his soul rejoices at the crashing of the thunderbolts, which split the
trees like rotten fruit. When Deerfoot is tired, he can wrap his
blanket around him and sleep anywhere; when he is hungry, he has his
bow and arrow which can bring down the deer, and the bear, and the
bison; when he is thirsty, he can drink the cold water which drips
from the mossy rocks; when he is in trouble, he will pray to the Great
Spirit of the white man, who will not turn his ear away.

"No, Deerfoot must live in the forests, but he will always love the
pale-faces, and perhaps," added the Shawanoe, looking Ned Preston
straight in the eye, "it may be the fortune of Deerfoot to be of help
again to you."

"I know how gladly it will be given," said Ned gratefully; "and if
there ever should come any need of _our_ help, it will be the pleasure
of our lives to prove how much we appreciate your friendship."

The sun had gone down, and the shadows of night were creeping through
the dim, silent woods, when Deerfoot the Shawanoe crossed the clearing
which surrounded the settlement, and, pausing on the border of the
forest, he waved a good-bye to his friends. Then he turned and
vanished from sight.

But there seemed to rest the mantle of prophecy on his graceful
shoulders, when he intimated that it might be his good fortune to
render service to Ned Preston and his friends. The opportunity came
sooner than any one anticipated, and what befell the boy pioneer, and
what was done by the young Shawanoe, will be told in the second volume
of the "Boy Pioneer Series," entitled--

_Ned in the Woods: a Tale of the Early Days in the West._



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HORATIO ALGER, JR.

The enormous sales of the books of Horatio Alger, Jr., show the
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Mr. Alger became famous with the publication of that undying book,
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     --_Pleasant Hours for Boys and Girls._

A writer for boys should have an abundant sympathy with them. He
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     --From _Writing Stories for Boys_, by Horatio Alger, Jr.


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     1 vol.    By HORATIO ALGER, JR.    $1.00

=JED, THE POOR-HOUSE BOY.=

     1 vol.    By HORATIO ALGER, JR.    $1.00


HARRY CASTLEMON.

=HOW I CAME TO WRITE MY FIRST BOOK.=

When I was sixteen years old I belonged to a composition class. It was
our custom to go on the recitation seat every day with clean slates,
and we were allowed ten minutes to write seventy words on any subject
the teacher thought suited to our capacity. One day he gave out "What
a Man Would See if He Went to Greenland." My heart was in the matter,
and before the ten minutes were up I had one side of my slate filled.
The teacher listened to the reading of our compositions, and when they
were all over he simply said: "Some of you will make your living by
writing one of these days." That gave me something to ponder upon. I
did not say so out loud, but I knew that my composition was as good as
the best of them. By the way, there was another thing that came in my
way just then. I was reading at that time one of Mayne Reid's works
which I had drawn from the library, and I pondered upon it as much as
I did upon what the teacher said to me. In introducing Swartboy to his
readers he made use of this expression: "No visible change was
observable in Swartboy's countenance." Now, it occurred to me that if
a man of his education could make such a blunder as that and still
write a book, I ought to be able to do it, too. I went home that very
day and began a story, "The Old Guide's Narrative," which was sent to
the _New York Weekly_, and came back, respectfully declined. It was
written on both sides of the sheets but I didn't know that this was
against the rules. Nothing abashed, I began another, and receiving
some instruction, from a friend of mine who was a clerk in a book
store, I wrote it on only one side of the paper. But mind you, he
didn't know what I was doing. Nobody knew it; but one day, after a
hard Saturday's work--the other boys had been out skating on the
brick-pond--I shyly broached the subject to my mother. I felt the need
of some sympathy. She listened in amazement, and then said: "Why, do
you think you could write a book like that?" That settled the matter,
and from that day no one knew what I was up to until I sent the first
four volumes of Gunboat Series to my father. Was it work? Well, yes;
it was hard work, but each week I had the satisfaction of seeing the
manuscript grow until the "Young Naturalist" was all complete.

     --_Harry Castlemon in the Writer._


=GUNBOAT SERIES.=

     6 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $6.00

     Frank the Young Naturalist.
     Frank on a Gunboat.
     Frank in the Woods.
     Frank before Vicksburg.
     Frank on the Lower Mississippi.
     Frank on the Prairie.

=ROCKY MOUNTAIN SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     Frank Among the Rancheros.
     Frank at Don Carlos' Rancho.
     Frank in the Mountains.

=SPORTSMAN'S CLUB SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.75

     The Sportsman's Club in the Saddle.
     The Sportsman's Club Afloat.
     The Sportsman's Club Among the Trappers.

=FRANK NELSON SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.75

     Snowed up.
     Frank in the Forecastle.
     The Boy Traders.

=BOY TRAPPER SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     The Buried Treasure.
     The Boy Trapper.
     The Mail Carrier.

=ROUGHING IT SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     George in Camp.
     George at the Fort.
     George at the Wheel.

=ROD AND GUN SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     Don Gordon's Shooting Box.
     The Young Wild Fowlers.
     Rod and Gun Club.

=GO-AHEAD SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     Tom Newcombe.
     Go-Ahead.
     No Moss.

=WAR SERIES.=

     6 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $6.00

     True to His Colors.
     Rodney the Partisan.
     Rodney the Overseer.
     Marcy the Blockade-Runner.
     Marcy the Refugee.
     Sailor Jack the Trader.

=HOUSEBOAT SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     The Houseboat Boys.
     The Mystery of Lost River Cañon.
     The Young Game Warden.

=AFLOAT AND ASHORE SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     Rebellion in Dixie.
     A Sailor in Spite of Himself.
     The Ten-Ton Cutter.

=THE PONY EXPRESS SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By HARRY CASTLEMON.    $3.00

     The Pony Express Rider.
     The White Beaver.
     Carl, The Trailer.


EDWARD S. ELLIS.

EDWARD S. ELLIS, the popular writer of boys' books, is a native of
Ohio, where he was born somewhat more than a half-century ago. His
father was a famous hunter and rifle shot, and it was doubtless his
exploits and those of his associates, with their tales of adventure
which gave the son his taste for the breezy backwoods and for
depicting the stirring life of the early settlers on the frontier.

Mr. Ellis began writing at an early age and his work was acceptable
from the first. His parents removed to New Jersey while he was a boy
and he was graduated from the State Normal School and became a member
of the faculty while still in his teens. He was afterward principal of
the Trenton High School, a trustee and then superintendent of schools.
By that time his services as a writer had become so pronounced that he
gave his entire attention to literature. He was an exceptionally
successful teacher and wrote a number of text-books for schools, all
of which met with high favor. For these and his historical
productions, Princeton College conferred upon him the degree of Master
of Arts.

The high moral character, the clean, manly tendencies and the
admirable literary style of Mr. Ellis' stories have made him as
popular on the other side of the Atlantic as in this country. A
leading paper remarked some time since, that no mother need hesitate
to place in the hands of her boy any book written by Mr. Ellis. They
are found in the leading Sunday-school libraries, where, as may well
be believed, they are in wide demand and do much good by their sound,
wholesome lessons which render them as acceptable to parents as to
their children. All of his books published by Henry T. Coates & Co.
are re-issued in London, and many have been translated into other
languages. Mr. Ellis is a writer of varied accomplishments, and, in
addition to his stories, is the author of historical works, of a
number of pieces of popular music and has made several valuable
inventions. Mr. Ellis is in the prime of his mental and physical
powers, and great as have been the merits of his past achievements,
there is reason to look for more brilliant productions from his pen in
the near future.


=DEERFOOT SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $3.00

     Hunters of the Ozark.
     The Last War Trail.
     Camp in the Mountains.

=LOG CABIN SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $3.00

     Lost Trail.
     Footprints in the Forest.
     Camp-Fire and Wigwam.

=BOY PIONEER SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $3.00

     Ned in the Block-House.
     Ned on the River.
     Ned in the Woods.

=THE NORTHWEST SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $3.00

     Two Boys in Wyoming.
     Cowmen and Rustlers.
     A Strange Craft and its Wonderful Voyage.

=BOONE AND KENTON SERIES.=

     3 vols.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $3.00

     Shod with Silence.
     In the Days of the Pioneers.
     Phantom of the River.

=IRON HEART, WAR CHIEF OF THE IROQUOIS.=

     1 vol.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $1.00

=THE SECRET OF COFFIN ISLAND.=

     1 vol.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $1.00

=THE BLAZING ARROW.=

     1 vol.    By EDWARD S. ELLIS.    $1.00





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